(My) MLS News Wire:

Today’s Top Three:

– Tucked inside Ryan Hunt’s weekly wrap of Major League Soccer (MLS; the column is titled Free Kicks), there’s this interesting detail about the rest of Chivas USA’s schedule: ” Of [Chivas USA’s] 13 matches left, 10 are in the Home Depot Center.” Why does that matter? Check the standings and look under the “Home” column on Chivas’ line: yessir, 6-0-1, with 2 goals allowed.

– Kevin McGeehan’s column for USSoccerplayers.com brought offered a mental anti-acid for anyone who agonizes over the “Beckham Effect.” Yes, Virginia, you can make money in soccer…just not that often…

– Confused by the totality of the playoff scheme: Luis Bueno explains it all – specifically, how the seeding stacks up if 5 teams from one conference make the post-season

And, for the record, word of “ape chants” being directed at DaMarcus Beasley, well, that’s just straight-up bullshit. I would have flagged it here, but a refreshing number of people have already made the correct call. Still, call that the official position of this space.

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Revs v. Islanders: Hello Angst!

And so it was that when the Big Picture about Major League Soccer’s (MLS) dismal run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (LHUSOC) came into focus, the worry that we could witness three United Soccer Leagues (USL) teams in the semifinals really kicked in. Worse still, the omens during my walk on the way to work offered little reassurance: just 200 feet from my place, I came across a freshly dead cat that some (un)kindly motorist had left on the sidewalk; midway between that and the train platform I came across three different splatterings of vomit, left, I believe, by two different pukers. Sadly, having not paid sufficient attention to the physical disposition of all these phenomena, I can’t be sure what they tell me.

What I do know, however, is that the New England Revolution, tonight’s MLS entrants, are “coming to win the game.” Well, thank God for that. Before reading that, I feared the Revs might give higher priority to slacking off just one more tournament to soak up all Harrisburg has to offer. But, no, most Boston media agree that the shame of last weekend’s loss to DC United needs avenging. And, fortunately, midfielder Jeff Larentowicz appears ready and able to serve as native guide. So, that’s reassuring, in its way.

Moving to what isn’t reassuring: the Harrisburg City Islanders’ (hmm…sloppy text; that’s the USL entrant) recent run of form. The local side has gone 12-2-1 in their last 15 leagues, a number that bears an ominous resemblance to the Seattle Sounders’ equally estimable run. Dang it.

What’s left of the silver lining comes with word that the Revs are hosting the quarterfinal…wait…is that good news? Eh, 4-2-4 at home; not great, but not horrid either.

It doesn’t matter now, I suppose. Do the league proud, boys. Don’t pull a Clavijo.  Oh, and who do I call to get the city to clean up a dead cat?

Open Cup: Wrapping It Up (Big Question)

Even if I didn’t pay much attention to it, I feel compelled to mention the remaining quarterfinal in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (LHUSOC): the Carolina Railhawks 1-0 win over the Richmond Kickers.  I know nothing more than what I read in the local papers: the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Cary News.  (TIP: Cary = “Containment Area for Relocated Yankees”; I spent a little time in Raleigh, North Carolina and soaked up a little local lingo.)  Congrats to the Railhawks (if I still lived in NC, hell, I probably would cheer for them).

Since I’ve already noted tonight’s remaining quarterfinal somewhere down below, I’ll end here with a hypothetical leading to a question: so, say, the Seattle Sounders beat FC Dallas in their semifinal tie; and say the New England Revolution wins their next two and, thus, reaches the final; where would they play the LHUSOC final?  Given where I live (Portland, Oregon), and my attachment to New England, my interest in this should be apparent?  Do they play the final at a neutral venue?  What’s the story, here?

Open Cup: In Praise of FC Dallas

I’m happy to say I managed to catch one of last night’s quarterfinals in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the one pitting Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas against the USL-1 Charleston Battery.

Now, normally, I’m the type who LOVES upsets; any other year and I would have been root, root, rooting for the Battery, but 2007 is anything but a normal year. Given that, I was fairly anxious that Dallas win this game, if for no better reason than to allow the word “top-flight” to retain any meaning. And that was even before I knew the extent of the violence the Colorado Rapids had visited on the concept.

Happy as I was with the win – and allowing for the double-happiness at seeing my latest man-crush, Arturo Alvarez, score the winner – calling this one an epic doesn’t hold water. I understand about the temperatures and humidity, but there was A LOT of walking. Moreover, the fact this game went to overtime somewhat concealed the lopsided feel of the contest. Over several stretches, Dallas passed around the Battery players at will; they seemed able to attack at leisure and with little in the way of urgency. Pretty as that was to watch at times, the larger feel of the game suggested a scrimmage between varsity and junior varsity – no disrespect intended to the Battery players or fans (ahem).

Still, at least ONE MLS club upheld the dignity of the league…and with a little style; again, in spite of the score, we’re talking different level. So, good stuff, guys. Now put them Seattle Sounders in their place; they’re getting a little uppity (see the bit about “they might as well be part of MLS already”).

Turning now to some random notes:

– With the number of times he’s worked the same move, Alvarez is starting to look at lot like the second coming of Preki. Until someone stops him from cutting in from the left, holding and carrying across the top of the 18…holding, then firing, well, he’s just going to keep doing it, isn’t he?

– Nevermind the lopsided head-to-head record: the USL owns MLS on the online video feeds as well. Not only did the game archive immediately, I could blow up the picture – and it held together pretty well at the expanded size – and suffered fewer interruptions than I ever do with MLSnet.com’s subscription service. They’re getting killed across the board this year. Shit.

– I like that Dax McCarty fella.

– Much has been written about the FC Dallas back line – not least by me – but I think I’m finally cottoning to a Drew Moor, Clarence Goodson, Chris Gbandi, Adrian Serioux back-four…at least till you get to Serioux. He made suspect decisions more than once last night and looks a little shaky in the fundamentals. Maybe central defense isn’t his spot. But whatever improvement has come to the Dallas back-line, I’m no longer certain that Serioux is the cause.

– Regarding Serioux, that’s not a fixed opinion by the way; I’m willing to believe he had an off-night. But I’m definitely going to keep an eye on the Canadian.

So…that’s what I saw. Feel free to add your two cents.

Open Cup: Sounders v. Stupids

A fairly exciting night last night in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (LHUSOC), what with two close games – one of them requiring overtime to resolve matters – and the other, a blow-out goal-fest.

Returning to a theme I hammered on the old site (I even used the same language), I was a little relieved to see that no Major League Soccer (MLS) team lost last night. I mean, think about it: two USL-1 teams in the semifinals – and maybe more, depending on what happens tonight between the New England Revolution and the Harrisburg City Islanders. I mean, that would have been SO embarrassing for the MLS.

So, again, good night last night and no MLS teams lost. I kid, I kid…or am I? In all seriousness, though, do the Colorado Rapids count as an MLS team at this point? I think my colleague, Josh (who live blogged the Sounders/Rapids game; good on ya, lad), whether consciously or not, said what needs saying: “”So is the MLS this bad? Granted Seattle is tied for first place, come on…”

Contrary to the evidence foisted on us by the current edition of the LHUSOC, no. The Rapids, however, are that bad. If, as rumored, the Rapids front office is too cheap to fire him, head coach Fernando Clavijo simply needs to step down. The house is on fire and denying it doesn’t put out the flames. STEP DOWN, FERNANDO. You’re doing the coaching equivalent of walking around with your pants around your ankles with peanut butter smeared all over your ass.

So, how bad was it? “The five-goal deficit was the worst suffered by an MLS team in Open Cup history.” Yes…

Where are the home fans on this (well, except these guys)?  Figuring that the mainstream Denver press would pull its punches (they did their glass half-full best), I ambled over to FC Rocky, the Rocky Mountain News’ soccer blog. Here’s their take: “quite possibly the worst moment in franchise history.” Again, yes…

Jesus, Fernando. What more do you need? Your dignity has already left the building; why don’t you go catch up with it?

Alves looking for a bit of Respect

I hope that this doesn’t come to fruition, but Dani Alves has made it clear the last few weeks that he is looking to get out of Sevilla and land in a ‘bigger’ club, even if that means a paycut.

When I was reading the Spanish dailies today, Dani Alves said in the AS

“La quiero aprovechar. Por respeto a mí lo tienen que hacer. Me he portado bien en estos cuatro años y medio, y exijo que el Sevilla también se porte bien, en el sentido de valorar una oferta”

Now I always like to give the Spanish actual text because sometimes I feel sentiments get lost in the translation but I will translate for everyone.

‘ I want to take advantage of it. They have to do it in order to respect me. I have behaved over these four and a half years and I expect that Sevilla behaves the same way, in the sense of considering an offer.’

Alves is worried that Sevilla won’t entertain an offer for him from Chelsea, who seem to be the front runners to acquire the Sevillista.

At 24, Alves is in his prime, and was magnificent last year as Sevilla made their run through the UEFA and La Liga. Alves has the ability to defend well and to attack and overlap on the wings. Chelsea would love to have Alves right now as their teams only fielded 11 ‘match-fit’ players for training on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.

I hope that Sevilla does afford Alves with the respect that he deserves, but at the same time do not want to see him leave Sevilla. He has been a cornerstone of that back line and Ramos would have some big boots to fill if he does leave.

He also was ‘rumored’ to be a possible target for Liverpool, but those rumors quicky went away. I don’t understand why Alves wouldn’t want to go to the Spanish colony that is Liverpool, but that’s his own decision.

CHI’s English Premiership 2007-08 Season Preview, Teams 1-10

1. Manchester United (1)

manchester_united_fc.png

Man Yoo has strengthened their squad significantly over the summer and has begun to trim off the excess fat – in the form of Kieran Richardson to Sunderland, Alan Smith to Newcastle, and striker Guiseppe Rossi heading to Villareal – as they try and make room for their new acquisitions. With Nani and Anderson coming in, the young talent looks to learn from the best in Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes with the hope to one day inherit their everyday spots. The price was steep, but an injection of renewed competition and youth into the line-up is probably the best thing Sir Alex could do for them. For an added veteran presence, Ferguson picked Owen Hargreaves out of Munich and the England international should fit easily into center of the field with Carrick, Scholes, and Darren Fletcher. A solid back-up for keeper Edwin Van der Sar in Tomasz Kuszczak arrived on a permanent basis. Their efficient off-season, however, has been tarnished by two pending disturbances, the Gabriel Heinze saga that still pushes on and the Carlos Tevez transfer, who for all intensive purposes IS a Red Devil but it’s just a matter of when he arrives and for how much. If the Heinze to Liverpool issue doesn’t escalate and the Tevez legal issues don’t infiltrate the locker room, we could see a repeat Championship year out of this squad.
Because I Think’s Player to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo, last season was nothing short of phenomenal. No Champions League glory, though, and it will be interesting to see if Ronaldo can follow up last season with another of respectful proportions. He’s got added support this year so look for the snazzy playmaker to take more chances.

Predicted Line-up
GK: Edwin Van der Sar
LB: Patrice Evra
CB: Nemanja Vidic
CB: Rio Ferdinand
RB: Gary Neville
LM: Ryan Giggs
CM: Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes
CM: Owen Hargreaves
RM: Cristiano Ronaldo
ST: Louis Saha (it is most likely Ronaldo will be up here, with Anderson at RM)
ST: Wayne Rooney

2. Chelsea (2)

Chelsea

Undoubtedly, based on the strength of their line-up, the Blues should win this year’s Premiership title. Unfortunately, it comes down to…..what do you call it…..chemistry. Chelsea’s morale drops at the hint of failure and this year could be no different. Mourinho has good faith in new striker Claudio Pizarro, who has impressed in recent preseason matches. The Portuguese skipper has also added Tal Ben-Haim from Bolton to bolster the backline, especially since Khalid Bhoulahrouz has been sent on loan to Sevilla. If Andrei Shevchenko can improve ever so mildly on his “botched” freshman season (it really wasn’t THAT bad, it just wasn’t 40 goals in 35 matches good), Chelsea can win it all. John Terry has signed on for good at a hefty price while Frank Lampard announced his intentions to do the same. A framework has been set and the roster turnover is lighter this year with the other acquisitions keeping tame monetarily, including Reading project, Steve Sidwell and former Lyon wing midfielder Florent Malouda. Malouda should influence this team more than oft-injured and speculated-to-leave winger Arjen Robben. Didier Drogba will need to have help this year on the scoring end – if he receives it, we could see Chelsea lifting the Premiership title among other things. To do that, tremendous progress will need to come from the young’uns Jon Obi Mikel and Solomon Kalou. Injuries to Frankie Lampard, Didier Drogba, and John Terry have hindered squad progress, but their showing against a stronger ‘on-paper’ Manchester United should have them somewhat hopeful. Before this weekend, I wouldn’t expect any more signings…but once the first games pass and Mourinho can assess the squad in competitive fashion – we could see one or two more faces. Their failed bid to sign Franck Ribery earlier in the summer could prove key to Chelsea’s fate this season as his tenacity and ‘balls-to-the-wall’ nature is really something they could have used.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Florent Malouda, we saw his skill and technical prowess in the Community Shield but he has been known to be fragile in his Lyon days and fragility is not something that Jose Mourinho can endure right now. He needs to start investing in some hard-nosed, durable players.

Predicted Line-up
GK: Petr Cech
LB: Ashley Cole
CB: John Terry
CB: Ricardo Carvalho
RB: Tal Ben-Haim
LM: Florent Malouda
CM: Michael Essien
CM: Frank Lampard (if injured for the beginning of the season, Jon Obi Mikel)
RM: Joe Cole or Shaun Wright-Phillips
ST: Andrei Shevchenko
ST: Didier Drogba

3. Liverpool (3)

Liverpool

The Hicks and Gillett era began with a bang with stadium plans, roster turnover, and BIG, expensive transfer targets. Key players shown the exit were Robbie Fowler, the volatile Craig Bellamy, Jerzy Dudek, Bolo Zenden, attacking midfielder Luis Garcia, and striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle. Rafa Benitez did his homework, though, and picked up what he thought necessary to rescue this Reds franchise from Premiership title purgatory. The biggest of the bunch was Fernando ‘el Nino’ Torres, who had a up-and-down year for Atletico last year, but looks to use his new surroundings to reinvigorate his young career. Yossi Benayoun was brought in to serve as that Ribery-type figure mentioned above, as he has served as the lifesaver many times before with West Ham United. Ukrainian Andrei Voronin will share time with the fearsome foursome of Peter Crouch, Torres, and Dirk Kuyt, while Dutch youngster Ryan Babel will mostly serve his time on the left wing considering that depth at the striker position. Babel was snapped up from Ajax, while Voronin joined in a pre-arranged transfer from Bayer Leverkusen. A host of youngsters have been scouted by Rafa and signed up to join the pool of future stars he’s already got brewing. The list including promising young’uns from Hungary (Andreas Simon and Kristian Nemeth) , Brazil (Lucas Leiva), Argentina (Sebastian Leto), Spain (Miki Roque), Bulgaria (Nikolay Mihaylov), and finally a little domestic flavor, Ryan Crowther. Add that to current Reds young’uns Paul Anderson, who could see some time on the wing this year, and Argentine Emiliano Insua and you’ve got some scary looking future prospects. Javier Mascherano could be the difference maker this year as his productivity was somewhat mired by lack of playing time at West Ham and legal issues involving his transfer to both West Ham and then to Liverpool. Look for him to be a big force this year though. Unfortunately, despite the expenditures – and Liverpool’s normal lack of consistency involving form – I don’t think they’ll be cracking that top two, but I would certainly like to see it happen.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Alvaro Arbeloa, if Steve Finnan falters (although his form near the end of last season proved otherwise) expect this Spaniard to fill in; not quite a ‘Riise of the right side’ but Arbeloa is certainly capable of moving forward, overlapping, and adding an offensive pop every once in a while

Predicted Line-up
GK: Pepe Reina
LB: Jon Arne Riise
CB: Daniel Agger
CB: Jamie Carragher
RB: Steve Finnan
LM: Harry Kewell
CM: Xabi Alonso
CM: Steven Gerrard
RM: Javier Mascherano
ST: Dirk Kuijt
ST: Fernando Torres

4. Tottenham (5)

Tottenham

The Hotspur come into this season with even higher expectations than the last. With Dimitar Berbatov now a proven Premiership goalscorer and Robbie Keane still producing, you would think the offense would be the last on their most-wanted list. Not the case, as Tottenham splashed over $30 million for the prolific Charlton Athletic striker Darren Bent while also holding onto the immensely talented but currently underused English international Jermain Defoe. Defoe was linked to Man Utd for a while, but as of late, the talk has faded. Between Liverpool and the Hotspur you would have to reference child-labor laws as both have deemed themselves in need of significant youth talent. The Spurs sprung for young German starlet Kevin Prince-Boateng from , Southampton wunderkid Gareth Bale, a permanent deal for Lens midfielder Adel Taarabt, Leeds young’un Danny Rose, and Lille native defender Dorian Dervite. The French connection continues, as well, with a more-established French bruiser in the form of AJ Auxerre’s Younes Kaboul. All are 21 years old or younger. You add this to the already burgeoning youth crop of Tom Huddlestone and speedster Aaron Lennon, the team looks poised to make its’ biggest fuss a couple years down the road from now. Stalwarts Ledley King and Wigan recruit turned White Hart Lane success Pascal Chimbonda would like this youth to transition to wins though and with a bolstered defense, this could be the year to make a push for the top three.
CHI’s Player to Watch: Gareth Bale, no one is sure as to how much the Southampton jewel is going to play. A left back by trade, the opening is their but Martin Jol might not want to season the youngster so soon. Ricardo Rocha could fill in their or Paul Stalteri (which might be why they’re hanging on to the Canadian).

Predicted Line-up (4-4-2)

GK: Paul Robinson
LB: Gareth Bale or Ricardo Rocha
CB: Younes Kaboul (as Ledley King is out injured for the start of the season)
CB: Michael Dawson
RB: Pascal Chimbonda
LM: Aaron Lennon (who might be out injured, if so expect Wayne Routledge)
CM: Didier Zokora
CM: Jermaine Jenas
RM: Steed Malbranque
ST: Dimitar Berbatov
ST: Darren Bent or Robbie Keane (from the looks of pre-season, Bent)

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