CHI’s Best XI of January 2008: Eto’o, Lescott, Casillas, etc.

Well I wanted a new feature this year and, after a long thought process (about a minute or so) I opted for the one that would cause me to get laughed at/yelled at/argued with the most (and guess what? that’s the point). So tell me who I missed, who I should watch out for, and ways to make this more efficient. There is a bit of bias involved and understandably a Thierry Henry could go on there, but let’s just say this is heavily based on statistics for the current month. Winter breaks in Italy/Germany make for a rather England/Spain-centric presence in this month’s rankings.

Samuel Eto’o – Barcelona/Cameroon (F)

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No one can argue against Eto’o as the Barca star made his club and country extremely happy in January. Three goals for the club as he fought to stay a couple days longer in Barcelona so as not to lose more ground to La Liga leaders Real Madrid. In doing so, Eto’o contributed three goals in 2 La Liga wins as Barca managed to close the gap marginally. He then reported for international duty and in the opening (and jarring) loss to Egypt, Eto’o provided a consolation brace. The Indomitable Lions then recovered and dispatched of Zambia (5-1) and the Sudan (3-0), with Eto’o providing three more goals and securing the African Nations Cup All-Time Leading Goalscorer title.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United (F)

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NINE goals for the 22-year old. It’s hard to believe that only a year and a half ago Ronaldo was almost on his way out of Manchester after a World Cup spat with Wayne Rooney. Not to mention, Ronaldo over the past several years has been oft-criticized for his over-exaggerated play, diving, you name it – he’s been scrutinized for it. January 2008 proved to be the world’s acknowledgment that between him and Kaka there is no one better right now. And 27 goals in 28 games this season proves that…many of them in clutch circumstances. His main victim? Who else but Newcastle…a hat-trick spelled the end for Big Sam but Kevin Keegan hasn’t had much luck either. Goals – 1/5, 1/12 (3), 1/19, 1/27 (2), 1/30 (2)

Emmanuel Adebayor – Arsenal (F)

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The powerful Arsenal striker has had one hell of a January (and a lot of it has do with the fact that he has Cesc and Hleb in the midfield feeding him). Eight goals in total – 5 in EPL play and 3 in the domestic cups. Adebayor’s victim of the month was Newcastle. In the span of three days, Adebayor has scored three times against the down and out Magpies, eliminating them from the FA Cup and pushing them further down the EPL table. Arsenal now sits at the top of the standings and look poised to do more damage as long as the Togan’s form continues. Goals: 1/1, 1/12, 1/19 (2), 1/22, 1/26 (2), 1/29

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Crew/Rapids TSII: (Hot) Preseason Action Coming

I see from a post on Down the Byline that the Kansas City Wizards, in the form of a 3-0 take-down of the U.S. U-17s, have already undergone their first preseason test. (And, if you read the details from the in-house Hillcrest Road blog, it sounds like they passed the test with flying colors. (Also, isn’t about time every Major League Soccer (MLS) team had one of these “official blogs” for the fans; just a steady parade of posts that allow fans to wallow in the minutiae of their club’s existence? To answer my own question, yes, it’s time.))

That got me thinking, fairly naturally, about when the Columbus Crew and Colorado Rapids would have their first preseason games. Here’s what I found:

It was pretty easy to find Columbus’ stuff: hell, the Chicago Sun-Times, by way of reporting on their local club, passed on word of a Crew preseason game against the Chicago Fire. That one falls on February 13 – and guess what? That’s not even the first one. In case you hadn’t caught it Crew fans (and seeing as it’s on the official site, I’m guessing you have…look, this is a PSA, all right?), your boys will be in action against KC as soon as February 9th. As in, holy poop, that’s this weekend.

As for the Rapids….um….I didn’t get much. As January 28, the official site has revived the “weekly update” feature for the 2008 season, but there’s nothing in there about preseason matches…just weight training and some stuff about players recovering from injury…oh, and Chase Hilgenbrinck’s opinion of The Dick.

So, if any Rapids fans who happen to visit this space could catch me up on any already-released Rapids’ preseason dish, I’d be obliged.

MLS: About that Tipping Point…

Yahoo! Sports’ Martin Rogers wrote an interesting piece about the mini-exodus of American players leaving for foreign fields…Scandinavia, in particular.  His piece mainly reports on the semi-perverse euphoria among league honchos, who view where Major League Soccer (MLS) is today as as much as they could hope for.  The conclusion to the piece, pulling quotes from that Ivan Gazidis fella, captures this most succinctly:

“But where is it all leading?”

“Well, Gazidis, the South African-born, UK-raised, lifelong Manchester City supporting visionary carries the blueprint for the future inside his brain and believes he has the answer.”

“‘I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that MLS will be a major soccer league in the world,’ he said. ‘Growth is inevitable, both because of demographics and because of how the world is bound together.'”

“‘It is happening under our noses right now. I have seen it from the beginning. We have been pushing to the tipping point for years, and we feel it has tipped already.'”

Rogers’ piece is a fascinating read for what it is, but there’s this irksome feeling that should lurk in the back of all of our heads when we read things like this.  And it arises from something very similar to what J Hutcherson describes in what is really just the latest piece to gripe about MLS and its relationship with the media.  Starved as we are of hard information on the league’s finances, what it spends on players and travel, versus what it takes in on ticket sales, advertising, transfers, etc. how does anyone independently assess the reality of that tipping point?

CONCACAF Qualifying: It’s Started….Somewhere…

Wow. If I hadn’t read this MLSnet.com fluff-piece on Khano Smith, I wouldn’t have known that the preliminary qualifying round for CONCACAF had started this past weekend. Obviously, given Smith’s name coming up, Bermuda was one of the participants. Since the article was written on Friday, there’s nothing in there about whether Bermuda beat the Cayman Islands…time to see what I can dig up…

Hmm…ESPN does all right, but only so far as posting the original draw. If there’s a CONCACAF specific corner of the site, I’m not seeing it…wait, no, I found it. There’s a “results” link just above the schedule’s title and that takes you to ESPN’s “Live Scores” section. Click back to February 3 and – voila! – there’s your result: Bermuda 1-1 Cayman Islands (ouch…crappy start…isn’t it? I didn’t even know the Cayman Islands had a team…I mean, I assumed they did, but…you know what I mean. Then again, I probably wouldn’t know much about Bermuda, either, if the Revs didn’t go down there every preseason).

Long parenthetical rambles aside, it looks like more qualifying games are coming on February 6 – including, yep, the relevant-to-Yanks game between Dominica and Barbados. You can get the complete preliminary qualifying schedule on the Khano Smith profile.

So, it has begun…damn shame it’s not on TV. Ugly as I imagine they are, I’d watch these things. The bigger shame, though, is the fact the African Cup of Nations isn’t on a more accessible outlet

(UPDATE: A couple other sites flagged the kick-off of CONCACAF qualifying: Sideline Views and Soccer Insider (quite probably among others).  Steve Goff, author of the Insider and an infernal busy-body to boot, one-upped my “coverage” by doing the obvious: digging up a match report and reaction piece….damn you, Goff!!  As it turns out, though, this was a bad result for Bermuda…and not just because they played this one at home.)

Bum Sneaks into NE Revs Practice

This one’s below the belt, but, Jesus, I couldn’t say nothing about the photo of Steve Ralston the Cape Cod Times opted to run with their “state of the player” profile on Ralston.

To dwell on this a bit (and just a bit), that article made the piece of me that wants Ralston to get a new team a little bigger.  This is the passage that did it:

“Ralston is one of four remaining Major League Soccer ‘originals,’ who’ve played since the league’s 1996 inception, and he’s the only one without a championship.”

That’s just unfair, given how much Ralston has given to every team of which he’s been a part.  At the same time, my New England days aren’t so far gone that I don’t appreciate what getting Ralston to a winning team would mean for them – e.g. they would be really rogered, given the state of things.  Still, the respect I have for Ralston makes me really want to see the guy lift an MLS Cup.  And if things don’t change abruptly in New England – as in before 2008 kicks off – I’m seeing a short future of futility on a team in transition.

As much as I doubt a trade could happen, one really has to wonder what New England could get for the player.  Maybe Columbus and New England could arrange some kind of “autumn-spring” trade, get the age of their respective rosters somewhere closer to the middle?

African Cup of Nations: Agogo strikes again, puts Ghana in the semis

Today’s games: Egypt vs. Angola, Tunisia vs. Cameroon 

Ghana 2, Nigeria 1

Yakubu put the Nigerians up after a harsh Eric Addo tackle at the 35 minute mark. The starpower of Ghana took over after that – starting with Michael Essien’s equalizer at the stroke of half-time. Then in the 60th minute, Ghana’s captain John Mensah gave Nigeria exactly what they needed, a stroke of good fortune. The big Rennes defender was ejected after a last-man foul on Peter Odemwingie. The fortune wasn’t about to last as former MLS player Junior Agogo took over, tapping in a Sulley Muntari effort to push Ghana through to the semis.

Ivory Coast 5, Guinea 0

It was a reality check for the Guineans as Didier Drogba, Kader Keita, and Solomon Kalou took turns knifing through the Guinean defense. All three combined for 4 of the 5 goals. Bakary Kone added the fifth. It was clearly a disappointing end to a decent tournament for the Guineans but ultimately Ivory Coast proved they deserve the finals.