The Yanquis Got Poland…The Yanquis Need More.

So, I see we picked up an international friendly against Poland on March 26 – and that’s good so far as it goes. It wasn’t till I read My Soccer Blog’s post on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s (Yanquis) schedule for 2008 that I got to thinking we really need another couple games. At time of writing, the Yanquis have three friendlies scheduled this year before we begin World Cup qualifying. And that ain’t enough.

Part of it grows from my late (over-wrought) anxiety about the Yanquis stumbling at the first Caribbean hurdle. Intellectually, I understand that just about any plausible U.S. team will beat either Dominica (think I’ll pull for these guys) or Barbados – and probably like a gong at that. But that reality hardly makes a case for approaching this thing casually.

An article posted by “the editor” on gets at why, if only indirectly. Lamenting the practice of calling in long-shot players for the Yanquis current January training camp, “editor” (I think this is probably J Hutcherson, but I’m having fun) questions the value of mixing these players with more regular candidates – after all, how often will they take the field together again? I subscribe to the urgency of “editor’s” beef – e.g. the clock is ticking, people – but see value in ongoing experimentation. As “editor” ticks down the list of invitees, I see him taking some eye-catching things for granted. For example:

Tim Howard and Kasey Keller should feel little threat from the keepers currently in Carson.”

“Eddie Robinson, meanwhile, may not be contending with Carlos Bocanegra or Oguchi Onyewu for a regular starting spot, but he’s a fringe candidate to fill in when the going gets tough in World Cup qualifying.”

“Ed Johnson has proven he can score in meaningful games and should be in the conversation for the first choice strike partnership atop a 442 or 352.”

My first question is why I can’t make the bold font from the original article go away?

But other, more relevant questions (and answers) follow: Is Kasey Keller really still in the goalkeepers’ pool? (A: He mentions Brad Guzan for ‘keeper, and that’s a start, but I’m inclined to look to the future for ‘keeper. I’d keep looking.) Has the combination of Onyewu and Bocanegra inspired confidence? (A: Frankly, no. Too often, they’ve left me feeling more jittery than a wet cat hooked up to a 9-volt battery. I’d keep experimenting through April, then name the best available pair.) Johnson has shown he can score in the past, but how often? (A: Given our, um, situation at forward and given Johnson’s erratic form, I think the best you can say is he’s an option; that means keep looking.)

It should be pretty clear where I’m going with all this. I agree with “editor” that we’re to a point where we should cut out fringe players. But, for the plausible candidates – e.g. Michael Parkhurst, Eddie Robinson, anyone at forward – we need more games, preferably early in 2008, to gauge their abilities or, if nothing else, to push the guys we do have. We’re simply not strong enough in too many positions to call an end to Bradley’s experiments. That time is coming, but the bigger issue as I see it is getting these players games. Sterner tests would be nice, but I’d cast a wide net for friendlies….hell, the Caribbean seems a great place to start. What’s Grenada doing this year?

March 29: Some Resolutions

Thanks to The Offside Rules, I know I have big plans for March 29 – or, as many of you know it, the opening day of the 2008 Major League Soccer season. That site flagged Fox Soccer Channel’s decision to air a first-ever double-header, five solid hours of soccer goodness. The games on offer aren’t half-bad – Houston v. New England and LA v. Colorado – but with the yen built up over the winter off-season at its highest pitch, I expect I’d watch MLS players do calisthenics in tighty-whiteys by then.

Still, this is clearly something special. And, to celebrate the event, I (tentatively) resolve to do the following:

– Spend that extra $5 to buy a brand of whiskey that doesn’t erode the lining of my stomach as it destroys my liver.

– Throw a shitload of meat into a crockpot – along with some kind of liquid, obviously – and eat that with a loaf of bread. Some kind of dip is in order as well, I’m thinking something shocking orange and spicy.

– Build a fort in front of the television out of blankets and couch cushions. I will not be disturbed.

– Physically detain any family members who so much as think about changing the channel through the entire five-hour period. If they have any idea what is good for them, they’ll simply leave the house for the day…and only return the following day some time after noon. Between the whiskey and the planned culinary delicacy, some time will be required to revert to human form.

The Math for Bringing Back Benny F.

In an attempt to improve on covering stories until they reach an end, I updated my earlier post on Benny Feilhaber’s now-kiboshed move to Maccabi Tel Aviv; England’s Derby County rejected the move.

There was more to the story – and I covered it in the update – but there’s more still yet in play…enough so that to warrant a new post. A blurb by Richard Jolly for ESPN noted “a lot of interest” in moving Feilhaber to Major League Soccer (MLS). There’s a lot to like about this and on a couple levels. First, unless fans across the country all rate him higher than MLS’s coaches, Feilhaber will get plenty of playing time in the States. That plays into a secondary element: keeping Feilhaber fit and available – i.e. more than he is currently – for the U.S. National Team. And that’s a good thing, even if he doesn’t pan out for the U.S.; at least we’ll know, right?

The tricky bit comes with the money side – and this something a few people are kicking around today, WVHooligan among them. Even setting aside a transfer fee – and that could hurt badly enough – the trickier part is Feilhaber’s pay. Is he worth designated player money? Much as I like Benny, he’s too green, too unknown to justify that kind of money. So, does he want to play badly enough to take what would likely be a whopping pay cut?

Curiously, it’s MLS Rumors that came up with a plausible, even likely, solution (I went with “curiously” because I count on that site for rumors first and analysis second):

“According to a source it is quite possible Derby will send him to MLS on a loan deal and if that happens his most likely destination is San Jose.”

Ta-da! Benny gets to play, Derby keeps an asset, and, assuming I understand how loans work, pays Benny’s bills. Whether or not this comes together, the mechanics of the deal “a source” describes sounds workable.

FA Cup Replays: Havant and Waterwho?-ville

Two big upsets and an EPL squad gone.

Havant and Waterlooville – a Non-League squad of part-timers – stormed out to a 3-0 lead over League One and heavy-favorites Swansea. Jason Scotland was part of the mini-comeback for Swansea as they replied with two, but it was Leon Britton’s 42nd minute penalty-miss that set the tone for the game and had Havant and Waterlooville thinking victory. The game was sealed in the 65th minute and a date with one of the biggest clubs in English football was confirmed. Havant and W. vs. Liverpool – January 26th.

Hereford – League Two – turned in a convincing upset of the League One Tranmere Rovers. A late 72nd minute goal from Simon Johnson helped Hereford grab its first spot in the FA Cup’s Fourth Round in 16 years.

Newcastle had everything set up for either dramatic failure or resurgence. A replay against a stiffly-defensive Stoke. A new boss in Kevin Keegan – one who had some success at the Toon in the 1990’s. A rough crowd not ready to be plunged deeper into the underperformance curse. And lastly, a 29th minute red card for Turkish international Emre. Didn’t matter though – Michael Owen scored himself a goal in the 8th minute and Cacapa calmed the worried crowd after Emre’s ejection with a quick goal as well. It’s Keegan’s third time at Newcastle, but you could tell his philosophy for the Stoke game was simply, “go out and play”. James Milner and Damien Duff added the two clinchers to make it 4-1. With St. James Park ecstatic at the refreshed (too soon?) Magpies, the only thing that could make this resurgence much better is the return of Alan Shearer to be Keegan’s (his former manager) right-hand man. Newcastle is going to need all the help it can get as Arsenal is next up in the FA Cup 4th Round.

Manchester City owes Elano quite a bit this year. Regardless of whether or not he’s at full tilt, the Brazilian playmaker seems to influence games by sheer presence. A goal with 20 minutes to go was the decider and even crazier yet – the former Shakhtar man found the net with his head. Another former Shakhtar player had a less agreeable day, however. Loan-signee Nery Castillo dislocated his shoulder about 30 minutes in and will miss up to a month or so before he steps back on the field. No Jonathan Spector, dressed but didn’t play.

Fourth Round Draw (Jan 26/27)

Arsenal v Newcastle
Coventry v Millwall
Oldham v Huddersfield Town
Swindon/Barnet v Fulham/Bristol Rovers
Wigan v Chelsea
Liverpool v Havant & Waterlooville
Southend v Barnsley
Southampton v Bury
Man Utd v Tottenham
Portsmouth v Plymouth
Derby/Sheff Wed v Preston
Watford v Wolves
Peterborough v West Brom
Sheff Utd v Man City
Mansfield v Middlesbrough
Hereford v Cardiff

La Liga: Another One Bites The Dust

Notice who is missing from the above quarterfinals in the Copa del Rey?

Already proclaimed La Liga champs Real Madrid were knocked out today by lowly Mallorca with a 1-0 loss at the Bernabeu.

Apparently 25 points separating the first place madridistas from the 13th place barralets. That didn’t stop an Ibagaza goal in the 83rd minute from spoiling the treble and a supposed 900,000 Euro bonus from Vincente Calderón from bringing home the Copa del Rey, Champions League and La Liga titles this season.

To say Mallorca ‘parked the bus’ today is a slight understatement, as a super-ultra-almost sickening-defensive Mallorca took to the field against a depleted Real Madrid squad, starting countrymen Jerzy Dudek in goal. Madrid dominated the game as Mallorca only were playing to not concede.

The Man of the Match was Mallorca keeper Moyá, who was absolutly fabulous in goal today. What a game he had.

The quarterfinals are set to begin on the 23rd of January and finish up on the 30th.

The rest of today’s results are:

2 – 1 MALLORCA – R. MADRID 1 – 0
3 – 0 GETAFE – LEVANTE 1 – 0
1 – 1 ZARAGOZA – RACING 2 – 4
1 – 2 BETIS – VALENCIA 1 – 2