Not Soccer-Related, but Huge: Evel Knievel Dead

Evel Knievel died today.  Why do I feel like my childhood just ended?

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Methadone Days Coverage: More Resolutions, UEFA Cup, FA Cup, Mexican Primera

This whole off-season thing has me thinking about what I want in soccer competitions to get me through the Major League Soccer (MLS) off-season.  To begin, I want a little relevance; hence my excitement about the upcoming NCAA tourney and the Mexican Primera…at least what I can see of it; at least a couple NCAA players will make the jump to MLS (that’s where I first saw Ned Grabavoy to name one player) and the Mexican league makes sense due to Superliga, etc.

The same may apply to the Argentine league, which I can follow tolerably well through Fox Soccer Channel, so maybe I’ll sneak in that as well (or sub it in for the Mexican Primera, which can be hard to follow for a fella whose cable package sports only Univision).

After relevance, what comes next?  Modesty.  With MLS being something of a modest league, I’m finding it hard to watch the Glamor Boys duke it out, whether in their domestic leagues or the bloated and disgusting Champions League (do I mean the “bloated and disgusting” sincerely?  Nah.  Just thinking about Ren & Stimpy for some reason).  So I think I’m going to be a UEFA Cup man instead, a tournament that includes good, honest teams like Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, and…let’s see…who do they have Tuesday…Zenit St. Petersburg.  The kinds of teams for whom the UEFA Cup is their only genuine shot at a title of any kind.  Yes, yes, yes!  (Sorry, that last one is a habit borrowed from a minor character in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle).

And, just as I’m wondering what to watch this weekend – hello! – what do I see but Harrogate Railway v. Mansfield Town in the second round of the FA Cup?  So add the FA Cup to the list.

There…that ought to keep my busy.  I’ll keep tabs at least with the FA Cup and UEFA Cup, while picking up stray snippets of the Mexican and/or Argentine leagues.  I don’t think Mexico will keep me all that busy; my issues with coverage aside, they’ll be knocking off for a while between the Apertura and Clausura tournaments.

OK, really, that is all for today.  Fix achieved, etc.  I’ll wrap up the rest of the 2007 season reviews next week and normal service should resume thereafter.

I Think…Yes: My Two Teams for MLS in 2008

A while back, and it hardly matters when or where, I suggested that I would switch up my approach ever so slightly for the 2008 Major League Soccer (MLS) season. My plan was to focus on two teams for the season, as opposed to following the grab-bag, where-the-spirit-moves-me approach of years past. And I intend my use of the word “focus” – as in “focus on” – to mean that I’ll make a concerted effort to watch all their games and generally – and only generally – keep tabs on them. Sure, this means I’ll miss some gossip, skip a shitload of match reports, etc., but I think one can learn plenty about a team – if not enough – by watching them play.

After some deliberation, a little soul-searching, some nibbling, a couple nights’ sleep, the discovery that, yes, I really hate trying to pan-fry chicken, I came to this:

I WILL FOLLOW THE COLUMBUS CREW AND THE NEW-MODEL SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES IN 2008.

Not much will change on readers’ end: the only thing you should notice is that all my match reports will be on the Crew and New-Model ‘Quakes. Things like power rankings and collective power rankings will persist…and, arguably, diminish in quality since I’m watching fewer general-interest games…buyer beware, etc. Otherwise, things will look basically the same.

What does this mean for me as a fan? Will I suddenly become a fan of Columbus or San Jose, lose what’s left of my waning interest in New England? No clue, but I think that’s part of my half-conscious plan. I’ll have to see what happens.

What does this mean to me as a soccer blogger? I may find myself reverting back to the grab-bag approach by Week 10. I know what posting on the Crew does to a fella’s traffic count…and it ain’t pretty.

That is all.

Chicago Fire 2007 Review: Lazarus Rises, Plays Stubborn D…and…

Chicago Fire
Record (W-L-T): 10-10-10; 31 GF, 36 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
Do you remember, kids, just how goddamn awful the Chicago Fire seemed in May? It wasn’t so much that they handed Toronto FC their first win in franchise history, but the utterly supine crouch from which they did it. That was only one of several lopsided losses (ouch!, ouch!, ouch!) – e.g. any game in which a team gives up three goals and loses by at least two – from the first half of the season: May featured three such losses and the Fire added one in June, as well as a 4-0 collapse to the Houston Dynamo in July.

As MLSnet.com’s review of the Fire’s 2007 points out, that big ol’ loss to Houston also happened to be Juan Carlos Osorio’s debut as a coach in Major League Soccer (MLS); he took over from former coach Dave Sarachan in early July. Given what the rest of their season looked like perhaps it’s fairer, then, to credit that loss to the Sarachan hangover – a period characterized by what looked like racking self-doubt among Chicago’s players. But those lopsided games left after that loss to Houston, never to return for the rest of the year. There’s no question that Chicago turned around their season under Osorio, but the extent to which they did so, as well as how they did so, bears noting.

Looking from the outside in, I assume 2007 was hell on Chicago fans. Sure, they started well, but when they went down – holy shit – did they go down. It played out on the field like some kind of unspoken campaign in support of relegation in the American game. Their late-ish summer rally (August, September) only looked impressive against what came before; that the teams they beat – Toronto, the Columbus Crew, and the Kansas City Wizards – impressed fewer than most always left open the question of whether Chicago was for real. No less significantly, they followed this with a string of ties – four straight, in fact – that, at the time, might have been mistaken for little more than slow steps toward respectability. Continue reading

CHI’s Top Prospect List by Country: Teams 41-50

In the vein of World Soccer’s Top 50 Exciting Youngsters and Ives Galarcep’s comments on it – I figured I’d take it one step further. This is mostly because I live for the challenge of scouting from my computer chair – looking up obscure results, finding as much information as possible about the future of each football country, and even e-mailing their equally obscure teams to get some sort of profile on the kid (not that most of this stuff couldn’t be found on Wikipedia). Generally, it’s the international tournaments that bring these kids to the forefront and I’d like to put it all in one list. I will use the top 50 teams in FIFA’s November rankings.

50. Slovakia – Marek Hamsik (Napoli)

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A testament to the youth movement happening within Slovakian soccer these days – Hamsik, a central midfielder, is said to rival a young Pavel Nedved. He made the jump from Slovakian domestic leagues to the Italian Serie A (not an easy transition) when he was 17 years old, signing with Brescia. Their subsequent relegation to Serie B was the best thing that could have happened to Hamsik – upping his playing time and allowing him to develop against managable competition. It paid off as he appeared 40 times the next year, scoring 10 goals and earning him after several seasons, a profitable transfer to newly promoted Serie A side Napoli. In four appearances this year, he netted twice and earned himself a call-up to the Slovakian national team. His sights are set on one day moving to the EPL with Manchester United, Chelsea, and Tottenham all keeping tabs on him.

Others: Lubomir Michalik (Bolton), Dusan Svento (Slavia Prague)

49. Belgium – Marouane Fellaini (Standard Liege)

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Picked by World Soccer, he is born to Moroccan parents and had often entertained the idea of playing for Morocco. That never materialized as Belgian head coach Rene Vandereycken was smart enough to bring him into the fold when he became coach in 2006. Fellaini has 8 caps and a lone goal to his name but at 20 and surrounded by such potent young talent like Vandenborre, Vertonghen, Defour, Dembele, and Kompany the future of the Belgian national team looks extremely bright.

Others: Vincent Kompany (HSV), Anthony Vandenborre (Fiorentina), Steven Defour (Standard Liege)

48. Australia – Matthew Spiranovic (Nurnberg)

Matthew Spiranovic

A bit of a pleasing surprise to all Australian faithfuls. This 19-year old central defender broke through the ranks of Nurnberg this year – a significant German Bundesliga contender – to start in several games. Known to some as the Australian ‘Vinnie Jones’, Spiranovic is big, imposing, and physical – the “enforcer”. The Socceroos need someone like that. He has already announced his intention to play for the Aussies even though his parents are English and Croatian. He has appeared several times at the youth levels (U-20s) for Australia and at some point the Aussie coaching staff should wise up.

Others: Nathan Burns (Adelaide United), Adam Federici (Reading)

47. Tunisia – Yassine Chikhaoui (FC Zurich)

His play has already warranted 2 caps for the Tunisian national team – which sadly has been losing its form as of late. Zurich fought heavy interest from Marseille and Racing Lens for the striker and even though the Swiss club just brought him in, Ajax has already expressed their intention to sign the 21 year old at some point in the near future.

Others: Nour Hadhria (Club Africain), Youssef Msakni (Stade Tunisien), Mohamed “El Rojo” Karoui (Carthage Eagles)

46. Mali – Mohamed Sissoko (Liverpool)

Mohamed Sissoko

Seemingly a seasoned veteran to some, many forget this kid is only 22 years old and doing a stand-up job at the heart of the Reds’ midfield. He is big, strong, and to many, his biggest weakness, is his attitude. Many remember one of the big reasons he was shipped out at Valencia was due to training absences, late night excursions. Sissoko has found a happy medium at Liverpool and is beginning to come into his own. In three seasons of play, he has amassed 60 appearances for the Reds often fitting nicely into the rotation of Gerrard, Mascherano, and Xabi Alonso. At one point he was excelling in the French youth system only to represent his true heritage – Mali – but even since that decision, his international caps have come sparingly.

Others: Sidi Yaya Keita (RC Lens), Adama Tamboura (Helsingborgs)

45. Chile – Matias Fernandez (Villareal)

‘Matigol’ is a 21 year old who has already won the title of South American Footballer of the Year. ‘Nuff said, right? There’s more. Fernandez grew up under the watch of Colo Colo, youth hotbed of Chilean soccer. There he won the 2006 Apertura and Clausura and attracted interest from Chelsea and Real Madrid – it was Villareal that swooped in first shelling out a whopping $12 million to get his services. Less than year after his arrival in La Liga, Fernandez is a regular in his Villareal squad (30 caps) as well as breaking through on the international forefront (18 caps, 4 goals). Known within Chile as the Peruvian killer – as 3 of his 4 goals have been against Peru. Watch for Matias to make a big splash during the 2010 CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers.

Others: Alexis Sanchez (River Plate), Arturo Vidal (Bayer Leverkusen), Mauricio Isla (Udinese)

44. Switzerland – Eren Derdiyok (FC Basel)

Turkish-born but committed – it seems – to the Swiss national team, this forward has lit up the U-21 international age group with 7 goals in only 5 caps so far. At 6’2″, he is powerful in the air even at a young age. He also scored 7 in 7 caps for the U-19 team. His domestic career has been put on hold as inconvenient injuries have popped up during the preseason keeping him out. The Swiss national team is currently trying to find a way to cap-tie him, but the choice to play for Turkey is still a very real one. The Bundesliga will most likely be his first step in the coming years once consistency sets in.

Others: Johan Djourou (Birmingham), Julian Esteban (Rennes)

43. Ghana – Ransford Osei (Kessben FC)

Ransford Osei

Also picked by World Soccer, Osei was one of the most exciting talents at this past summer’s U-17 World Cup in South Korea. He was second on the scoring charts with six but showed a prowess and tenacity that will likely get snapped up in the coming months. At the age of 16, however, the chase for teams will be a long and arduous one. Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool Bayern Munich, and Hamburger SV have all lodged at bids at one point. He was close to Chelsea before Jose Mourinho stepped down. Just recently, Osei received his first international call-up giving Theo Walcott a run for his money. One of many to come. As a striker, Osei highlights the newest and most exciting crop of young’uns to come from Ghana.

Others: Daniel Opare (AshantiGold), Andre Ayew (Marseille), Yahaya Mohamed (Nice)

42. Korea Republic – Young Rok Shin (Suwon Bluewings)

Impressed at U-2o World Cup in Canada, scoring 2 goals in three appearances for an extremely tough Korea Republic squad. Along with Young Sum-Shim, he is part  the most promising offensive duo that South Korea has possessed, in terms of youth. Labelled the “S-Line Duo”, both feature for their respective K-League squads with Young Rok-Shin getting the brunt of the praise due to his teams increased global exposure. Rok-Shin has scored 5 for the K-League giants and played well during Suwon’s friendly trip to America a couple months ago.

Others: Young Sum Shim (Jeju United). Lee Keun-Ho (Daegu FC)

41. Egypt – Mahmoud Abdoul-Razeq “Shikabala” (Al-Zamalek)

A controversial figure in the youth ranks of Egyptian football. This 21-year old is contracted ot PAOK of the Greek Super League but had to return to Egypt for military duty which put him back with his youth team – and Al-Ahly’s biggest rival – Al-Zamalek. The controversy is with his international career, however, as behaviorally he earned himself a one-year ban from the Egyptian federation. None of this takes away from the fact that he is one of the fastest and most skilled attacking midfielders in Egypt’s youth ranks, but most are going to have to wait until July 23rd 2008 – when the ban is lifted – to find out. For now, you can find clips on YouTube.

Others: Hossam Ashour (Al-Ahly), Shikabala , Ismael Saleh (Al Esmaily)

Teams 31-40 will come next week. Stay tuned!!

The Picture of The Day

My own creation, thanks to the 3-2 beating at the hands of Werder Bremen, this picture has some meaning this week.

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Phew! It was good to get that off of my chest!  Now only if Sevilla can win domestically, I will finally be able to sleep at night.

Kansas City Wizards 2007 Review: Limits of Positive Thinking

Kansas City Wizards

Record (W-L-T): 11-12-7; 45 GF, 45 GA

Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

 

(NOTE: Sorry about the format – e.g. the automatic, uncorrectable double-spacing; I transferred this from Word – which, curiously enough, works on a Mac. CHRIST, I hate when these fucking machines make my formatting decisions for me. Fuck you Bill Gates! You don’t know what I want!)

Overview

New England Revolution fan that I am (even if I run hot-cold), it’s not too surprising that I gathered my impression of the Kansas City Wizards 2007 season through that team – specifically, a late May 4-3 run-‘n’-gun win and a pair of bustling, barging losses in August. The former confirmed reports of a new, attack-happy approach under new coach Kurt Onalfo; the latter, on the other hand, revealed its limitations against a team willing to play the heavies. The dates of both games are crucial as well: the forward-looking style had KC creeping toward “darling” status in the season’s early going – as in, thank God, a team that tries to win – while the August loss came during a time when it seemed like they’d again miss the post-season. They made it in the end, of course: they even won their first-round series against Chivas USA. But it wasn’t as the same team that started 2007.

 

Like a couple other Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs, KC was one of the hot start, cool finish sides – and there’s some truth to this narrative, though it’s more complicated than that. KC definitely started well – going 6-2-2 from the April opening to the first weeks of June – and the rot did sneak in immediately after in the form of a six-game winless streak. What followed, however, constitutes one of the weirder pattern of results I’ve ever seen….or, perhaps, noticed. Apart from a “blip” in July when they picked up two wins, the Wizards kind of staggered through the remainder of 2007 and into the playoffs on the back of just one win per month. Continue reading