Monthly Archives: September 2009

Carrick scores the winnner… wha?

Michael Carrick celebrates his goal v. Wolfsburg (Getty Images)

Michael Carrick celebrates his goal v. Wolfsburg (Getty Images)

So I’ve started to expect very little from Michael Carrick and, in fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw him play. So, to have him play AND score the winning goal? Dayum.

Of course, Carrick scoring a goal isn’t entirely unexpected since he has scored reasonably often in the past. It’s just that he’s having a completely miserable season so far. Perhaps this will be the spark to ignite his fire, so to speak.

In many ways, Carrick, Nani, and Antonio Valencia (he of the 3 goals last year and yes, he’s expected to replace CRonaldo’s 70-something over the last two years) have been the yang to Ryan Giggs’s yin. According to, some United fans have been agitating for Giggs to be knighted. Where’s the petition? I’ll sign it twice. But I digress. Giggs, once again, fueled United’s fire by scoring his 150th goal in a Red Devil jersey. That’s incredible. Carrick, Nani and Valencia need to sit down with an assistant coach and watch the build-up to each on, just to see what Giggs does and what they don’t.

I am impressed by United’s win. I rate Wolfsburg highly and expected a difficult match. I was worried about their goal-scoring machines Eden Dzeko and Grafite. This was an important match to win in terms of the Champion’s League. Perhaps more importantly, it kept United rolling in all competitions. Once again, thanks to Giggs.


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Hargreaves on his way back… allegedly

Owen Hargreaves

Owen Hargreaves

In contrast to Ryan Giggs, who refuses to stop playing, Owen Hargreaves hasn’t been on the pitch in over a year. But that could change in the next month. The big news is that he’s back in Manchester training with the team after spending a good chunk of the last year in the US being treated by a renowned knee surgeon.

I hope the unlucky bugger has a smooth return because the one thing United are lacking is a midfield pitbull. While they have had a good start to the season, Hargreaves would be a nice addition, even if he doesn’t play every game (I can’t imagine Sir Alex rushing him back and playing him more than part-time for the rest of the season).

From United’s official site:

Owen Hargreaves returned to Manchester this week, and United’s physiotherapists are assessing at what stage he is at in his recovery from double knee surgery to cure the tendonitis that has cursed his Reds career.

The good news is that, after more than a year on the sidelines, the 28-year-old midfielder is tantalisingly close to a comeback.

He will not be rushed, however, and the physio he has worked with during his rehabilitation in America has joined him at the Reds’ training headquarters at Carrington, as United’s medical staff look to ease him back into training.

“He’s back, and hopefully the boy gets a break and continues his progress without any mishaps,” Sir Alex said on Friday.

“He’s been out for a long time, but he has the resilience to see it through. It’ll take about four weeks to get back into the rhythm of training and to the point where we can consider him for match play.

“The physio he’s been working with in the States has come to England with him. He’ll stay for a week for the change over working with our physios. They’re discussing what stage Owen is at.”

A smooth return for Hargreaves is nothing more than he deserves after a torrid time out, and his return would be a major boon for the Reds. “The good thing is that he is young enough to come back from an injury like this,” added the boss.

Thoughts? Concerns?

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Premiership Matchday 7: Manchester United 2-0 Stoke

Dimitar Berbatov scores v. Stoke (Getty Images)

Dimitar Berbatov scores v. Stoke (Getty Images)

Ryan Giggs, the subject of my ode a few a days ago, put in another excellent performance today as United beat Stoke by a score of 2-0. Giggs, the ageless wonder, set up both goals, scored by John O’Shea and Dimitar Berbatov (who deserved that after missing about 9 great chances last week).

I suppose the storyline should be Giggs, again, but it’s more likely going to be Nani’s continuing struggles. After a promising first year in 2007, he appears to be treading water rather than moving forward. To be fair, he played well in a couple of games earlier this season, even potting a goal. But it’s his lack of consistency that bothers me (and F365, for that matter). I admire his confidence – saying that he’s the natural replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo – but I don’t think he has the skill to pull that off. What Sir Alex needs to do is go find a Giggs clone either in January or next summer. Or he could just clone Giggs himself since I’m reasonably certain he can play for another 20 years, until his clone is ready to step in. But that’s an issue for another day.

What’s important about today is that United kept rolling and are now at the top of the table, after Chelsea’s shocking loss to Wigan.

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Does this make me a heretic?

Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs

I am about to commit heresy. And I’m okay with that. If you’re uncomfortable reading the words of a heretic, please feel free to skip to another post.

Ryan Giggs, not Roy Keane, was the heart and soul of all those medal-winning Manchester United teams of the 1990s and 2000s.

Sure, Keano was the firebrand. He was the one who got up in everyone’s face except Fergie’s. He kept the snot-nosed brats, and the hardened vets, in line. He was the one who led the team onto the field more often than not. He was the hard man in the middle. But, for all of that, he was eminently replaceable.

Giggsy is not. Now aged 139, he’s been a Red Devil for at least three of my lifetimes. Perhaps he is a descendant of Galahad and partook of the Fountain of Youth (or maybe he is Galahad; he still looks about 25 years old to me). He is every bit the leader Keano was but he’s also a calming influence. The current United squad looks more confident when he’s on the pitch; it looks like it can take on the world.

Add to that his considerable skills, which haven’t diminished (aside from declining speed). He’s the best free-kick taker on the current roster; his corners and free kicks have been excellent all season long. Add to that his superb passes to the feet of Wayne Rooney and Mickey Owen and it’s plain that his skill far exceeds Keano’s, even at this age. He is one goal short of 100 in the Premiership and it says here that he’ll get it in the next month.

It seems to me that Giggsy’s sublime runs – today he nutmegged one defender and juked around another, creating a scoring chance – have been consistently underappreciated. He is more than a cog in Sir Alex’s machine; he is, perhaps, the driving force. The same cannot be said for Keano or Paul Scholes or Gary Neville or even Rio Ferdinand. Keano’s number wasn’t retired when he left; I think it’s entirely possible that nobody will wear number 11 for a good while after Giggs finally hands up his boots(of course, number 7 wasn’t retired for George Best so perhaps I’m wrong).

He is the slightly gaunt face of Sir Alex’s time at United and, for that, he needs to be recognized.


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Premiership Matchday 6: Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City

Michael Owen scores versus Manchester City on 20 September 2009

Michael Owen scores versus Manchester City on 20 September 2009

In perhaps the most anticipated Manchester derby in recent years, the two teams failed to disappoint. The match was marked by quick pace and possession; there was nary a negative play in sight, even in the last 5 minutes when prudence dictated that United turn to defensive tactics. But more on that in a second. I feel like I have to address the extra time issue first. Mark “Sparky” Hughes is certain to be angry, since 4 minutes were indicated and nearly 6 were actually played. But midway through the third minute, he was stalking the sideline and by the time the clock turned to 4 minutes, he was nearly as red in the face as Sir Alex. To be fair, Sparky may have a point, though 30 seconds were added for the substitute (Carrick for Anderson) and at least 30 second for Bellamy’s fantastic goal in the 90th minute. In short, the referee probably has a defensible position.

But the match. Oh, what a match! I thoroughly enjoyed it in its entirety. Hands up everyone who saw Darren Fletcher ever scoring two goals in one game, let alone two headers in one game. Put your hand down, you liar! And Craig Bellamy who, in one commentator’s words, plays best when he’s angry. And boy was he angry. He looked like he felt slighted for the entire game and put that to good use, embarrassing England’s best defender, Rio Ferdinand, in the 90th minute to tie the match at 3. My heart sank when that happened (while Ferdinand was beaten like a rented mule, Ben Foster should have made a better play for the ball, but I digress). And then little Mickey Owen came to the rescue.

I’ve been on board with the Owen signing from the beginning. I think he can do exactly what he did tonight: come on and bring a fresh burst of energy in the second half (that’s not to say he can’t start the odd game, I’m thinking mainly domestic cup matches and some Premiership matches). In today’s case, he burst down the left side and received a brilliant cross from the peerless Ryan Giggs and slotted home the winner 5 minutes into extra time. It was breathtakingly quick and ruthlessly efficient.

My fascination with Manchester City remains. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on there, though I do know that they missed Emmanuel Adebayor today. I also know that Craig Bellamy is remorselessly effective yet he’ll be stapled to the bench once Adebayor and Robinho return. Their mids – esp. Nigel de Jong – are impressive at all times and appeared to have the run of the place until Sparky changed from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2. It is their backline which causes the problems. Micah Richards is a hothead and is frequently caught out of position (kind of like how Patrice Evra used to be). Square-headed Joleon Lescott was less than effective today and doesn’t seem to be worth the money City spent on him. Wayne Bridge was overmatched. Only Kolo Touré, who was basically a holding mid all match, looked like he belonged.

Nevertheless, this was a match for the ages. It was impressive all around and should whet everyone’s appetite for the return leg in a few weeks. This was a classic match with everything you want from soccer – speed, tackling, offensive play, and brilliant goals. I’m not sure what it means in the larger sense yet but I’ll figure that out. For now, I’m going to enjoy the victory.

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A good day for Toronto FC

TFC celebrates Dwayne de Rosario's goal

TFC celebrates Dwayne de Rosario's goal

I am talking, of course, about 12 September 2009.

The Designated Player, Julian de Guzman, has been officially introduced and is in Toronto. The only reason he didn’t play against Colorado was that paperwork wasn’t completely finished. For the record, he will wear number 6, meaning the useless Nick Garcia will have to change numbers.

And, perhaps more importantly, TFC defeated Colorado by a score of 3-2, meaning they are still in the playoff hunt with five games to play. Hopefully, de Guzman will suit up for all of them. Goals from Dwayne de Rosario, Nana Attakora, and O’Brian White led the Reds to victory.

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Premiership Matchday 5: In which we all realize that Peter Crouch is ginormous

Anderson and Robbie Keane do battle (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)

Anderson and Robbie Keane do battle (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)

Yes, Peter Crouch is huge. He demonstrated that over and over again as he battled Nemanja Vidić in front of Ben Foster today as Manchester United beat Spurs 3-1 at White Hart Lane.

The Gangly One was a decidedly important player as he was a menace inside the box. In theory, he should have provided more space for Robbie Keane, who shifted to the wings, and Aaron Lennon, who used his speed to great effect when he didn’t fall into the black hole that apparently materialized and swallowed him for about 2/3 of the match. The main beneficiary was Jermain Defoe, who has been playing out of his mind lately. He scored an absolutely ridiculous bicycle kick goal less than a minute into the match. And who created that goal? The Gangly One, of course.

After that, it was downhill for Spurs. United bounced back and played rather well, except for the aforementioned Vidić and the red card earning Paul Scholes (while Ryan Giggs continues to be class, Scholes continues to show that he only plays because Sir Alex can’t bear to cut him). On the other hand, Wayne Rooney continued his stellar form and showed why England’s goal-scoring hopes (and United’s, for that matter) revolve around him and will revolve around him for the next few years. He had two excellent runs, one of which produced another goal. Giggs and Anderson, who scored his first-ever goal for the Red Devils, rounded out the scoreline.

What can we take from this match? First, United ruined Tottenham’s great start by handing them their first loss of the new season. Second, Peter Crouch is quite useful and he would have a place on my team, as long as I wasn’t managing one of the Big Four. Third, Wayne Rooney, when he’s not blowing his top, is incredible to watch right now; F365 have validated my opinion on that score. Fourth, Rio Ferdinand is a calming influence and ensured that none of Vidić’s mistakes haunted Foster or Sir Alex.

United are a different team now, without Cristiano Ronaldo, but I can see hints of what’s to come. The big match is next week when the Manchester derby takes on a whole new significance.

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On baby farming

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager

Chelsea signed French striker Gael Kakuta. Manchester United signed French midfielder Paul Pogba. A few years further back, Arsenal signed Spanish midfielder Cesc Fàbregas from the Barcelona system. And then, yesterday, Manchester City signed two 14-year-olds from Leeds United in an act Leeds chairman Ken Bates called “baby farming.” Manchester City executive chairman Garry Cook said, “Everything to do with this is under the microscope, call it child trafficking, baby farming, whatever you like, it has opened up a Pandora’s Box, with everyone looking into that box, and clubs like ours are being unfairly pinpointed for all sorts of reasons.” And that’s exactly what it looks like: a non-denial denial. So what, if anything, should be done to prevent big clubs from signing talented youngsters from smaller clubs?

Of course, most of the big clubs have no come out in support of a ban on under-age signing but that smacks of covering their own asses. It’s now politically unacceptable to sign players who are under 18.

Arsène Wenger is one of the few to suggest that “baby farming” is an acceptable practice. “Look at the alternative. If you ban players from moving before the age of 18, you know what will happen? The player will be sold anyway,” he said. “To whom? To agents. At what age? At 13, 14. Where will they go? Not to top-level clubs with top-level education.” You know what? That makes sense to a certain degree, if only because it was Wenger who said it and he strikes me as believable.  But it only makes sense where there isn’t enough regulation.

I am thinking of South America, where third-parties are allowed to own economic rights, as a case on point. There, and in other places, FIFA needs to step in and police the domestic leagues. Oversight is necessary. FIFA needs to start earning the billions of dollars it takes in by ensuring that all those youngsters around the world who are trying to be professionals have some protection from unscrupulous agents.

The answer to this vexing problem lies, of course, at the intersection of competition and economics. At what point does competition trump economics? Or vice versa? When it comes to young players, the goal is to provide two things: soccer education and proper academic education. Perhaps the answer, in poorer nations, is FIFA-sponsored national academies, akin to the current projects in South Africa.

This is a prime opportunity for FIFA to step forward and be a leader. It should not be passed up.

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Toronto FC’s first massive signing

Julian De Guzman (ISI Photos)

Julian De Guzman (ISI Photos)

With the news that Danny Dichio retired yesterday, the path is cleared for Toronto FC to sign its first ever Designated Player (DP); and that player will be Canadian international Julian de Guzman.

First, a note on Dichio. Rob Longley’s tribute says it all: the journeyman striker will always have a place in TFC fans’ hearts not only because he scored the team’s first goal (in its fifth game in the 24th minute, the reason Dichio is still serenaded in the 24th minute of every TFC game) but because he gave a complete effort in every single match. And if there’s one thing Canadians appreciate from their sports figures, it’s effort.

The real story, though, is Trader Mo Johnston signing himself TFC’s first ever DP in Julian de Guzman. Make no mistake: this is a coup. No matter what the cost is (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment can afford it), it’s worth it. De Guzman is a talented holding midfielder who is a stalwart on the Canadian national team (that’s not really saying much but it still counts for something); as such, he’ll provide vision and intelligence in the middle of the pitch. He still won’t be able to make up for Nick Garcia’s boneheaded plays but he should help forestall some of them.

I’m not sure when de Guzman will make his debut; I assume sometime in the next couple of weeks (he was a free transfer, so he can be signed anytime, not just within the transfer window). The upshot is that TFC now has the two best Canadian players on its team: de Guzman and Dwayne de Rosario. This is a good thing.

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US World Cup ladder, version 2.0

Here’s the updated version of the World Cup roster ladder for the United States. There were a bunch of changes in the middle but the top remains mostly unchanged. At this point, with the US at the top of CONCACAF qualifying (I’m assuming Honduras won’t beat Mexico in Mexico City tonight), there’s really only one starting position up for grabs: left back. Other than that, the bench needs to be filled out, likely with 2 keepers, 4 defenders, 4 midfielders, and 2 strikers, though versatility will play a role.

With that said, here’s version 2.0 of the US World Cup roster ladders (red = moved down, green = moved up).

1. Landon Donovan, M/F

2. Tim Howard, GK

3. Oguchi Onyewu, D

4. Michael Bradley, M

5. Clint Dempsey, M/F

6. Carlos Bocanegra, D

7. Charlie Davies, F (9)

8. Jozy Altidore, F

9. Jay DeMerit, D (7)

10. Ricardo Clark, M

11. Benny Feilhaber, M (12)

12. Stuart Holden, M (17)

13. Chad Marshall, D

14. Brian Ching, F (15)

15. Brad Guzan, GK (14)

16. Jonathan Spector, D (11)

17. Clarence Goodson, D (16)

18. José Francisco Torres, M

19. Jonathan Bornstein, D (21)

20. Steve Cherundolo, D (19)

21. Kenny Cooper, F (20)

22. Robbie Rogers, M

23. Conor Casey, F

24. Sacha Kljestan, M

25. DaMarcus Beasley, M

26. Jermaine Jones, M

27. Luis Robles, GK

28. Kyle Beckerman, M

29. Heath Pearce, D

30. Santino Quarenta, M/F

31. Maurice Edu, M

32. Michael Parkhurst, D

33. Marvell Wynne, D

34. Danny Califf, D

35. Sam Cronin, M

36. Davy Arnaud, M

37. Jay Heaps, D

38. Jimmy Conrad, D

39. Troy Perkins, GK

40. Freddy Adu, M

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