Ah, Next Week; Oh, Next Week…A Pre-Season of My Own

Fans of Major League Soccer (MLS) and the broader national team set-up are in for a double-edged treat next week – and one only has to go here (Fox Soccer Channel’s listings page) and pull up the pdf for next week’s schedule to see what I’m talking about. Yessiree Bob, next week soccer fans get Olympic qualifying (three games in five days? Pity the kids, people, pity the kids) and the kickoff of the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Even if one watches only games involving MLS clubs and the “Junior Americans,” that’s five games in four days. Ob-ser-eve (that’s fancy for “observe” and the times are for the live games on Pacific Standard Time listings):

Tuesday, Marcy 11: USA U-23s v. Cuba (5 p.m.)
Wednesday, March 12: Harbour View v. DC United (5 p.m.)
Wednesday, March 12: CD Municipal v. Houston Dynamo (7 p.m.)
Thursday, March 13: USA U-23s v. Panama (5 p.m.)
Saturdady, March 15: USA U-23s v. Honduras (4 p.m.)

Now, I know that sounds like an easy week for the average soccer-geek, but, for some of us, that’s enough to put strain on a marriage. Add in the other CONCACAF Champions Cup games (Montagua v. Pachuca, March 11, 8 p.m.; Saprissa v. Atlante, March 13, 8 p.m.) and I’m basically giving my wife cause to file. On a related note, this really feels like the season coming on even if it’s a month away. Now seems like a good a time as any to work on the diplomatic/marital skills my twin hobbies (e.g. watching/commenting on soccer) require; there’s a full summer ahead of negotiations, trade-offs, even summits to work in all these games. A one-week warm-up seems like just thing to get my mind limber…

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La Liga: Sevilla’s Poulsen May Be Heading to Barcelona

So we get out of the Champions League and now we immediately start selling off players??

I first read this on <a href=”http://spanishfootballsports.blogspot.com/2008/03/fc-barcelona-has-agreement-with-poulsen.html#links”>Spanish Football and Sports</a> that Sevilla midfielder Christian Poulsen is headed to Barcelona come season’s end.

I read the <a href=”http://www.elsesports.cat/pesports/eeItem.jsp?itemid=261751&amp;seccio=barca&amp;item=noticies”>article in TV3</a> (note the article is in Catalan:TV3 is one of the TV stations in Catalunya) and basically it says that the contract has been confirmed, but Barcelona still has to convince Del Nido on the deal.  The sticking point also is that Poulsen has one more year left on his contract at Sevilla and the two clubs will have to come to an agreement on how to handle that.

Poulsen is a good midfielder.  He won’t score you many goals, but he knows how to defend and has played very well this season with Keita.

Barcelona are looking at the Danish midfielder to replace Edmilson who’s contract is up on June 30th and will not resign with the Catalan club.

Apparently White People Like the IDEA of Soccer

Sitting around eating lunch before class, I normally start to troll the internets along with my officemate. We generally come up with at least 2 or 3 funny pictures, websites or something to pass the time.

Today, I found a blog entiled ‘Stuff White People Like’. Intrigued, I looked at the site and found myself liking most of the things they had said white people like. Hell, they must be right.

Going through their list, I came across #80-The Idea of Soccer. I read the article and I loved this line.

Most white people choose a favorite soccer team based on either a study abroad experience or a particularly long vacation to Europe or South America. When they return, they like to tell their friends about how great “football” is and that they are committed to ‘getting more into’ now that they have returned home.

Also, this quote accurately describes me.

In fact, the main reason white people like soccer is so they can buy a new scarf. As ou may or may not know, many soccer teams issue special scarves, and white people cannot get enough of them!

Why? Not because I have lots of team scarves (which I do). But because currently it’s ass cold here in Buffalo, and I’m wearing my Sevilla scarf around my neck.  I find it appropriate to do.

Cold weather + cold neck = Scarf

This thing about newbies liking soccer after being abroad is incredibly true. I remember when I went to Sevilla, my best friend who went along with me pretty much ridiculed me throughout high school for playing soccer. I used to pick on him for being Italian and not liking the game. But, once we came back from Sevilla, he started watching the game, and knew NOTHING about it. To this day, I still have to explain what offsides is, and most recently after Sevilla lost in the Champions League, the next phonecall was attempting to talk about how ”Away goals count as two.”

But at least he has a Sevilla scarf.

MLS Season Tickets Update – Thanks to SBJ

The Sports Business Journal will be doing a full MLS preview this year which should be real interesting to read in the next couple weeks or so. It really has been fun to see the amount of MLS/World Soccer headlines in there go up ten-fold over the past year or so. Just wanted to pass on this table of information to you regarding season tickets sold as of 2/17/2008. Might have seen this somewhere else, but there is some good stuff here..

TEAM

2008

2007

% CHANGE

Chicago Fire 2,759 2,553 +8%
Chivas USA 837 858 -2%
Colorado Rapids 2,968 1,866 +59%
Columbus Crew 3,227 3,190 +1%
D.C. United 5,976 4,721 +27%
FC Dallas 3,002 3,134 -4%
Houston Dynamo 4,116 2,205 +87%
Kansas City Wizards 1,539 464 +232%
Los Angeles Galaxy 7,915 9,308 -15%
New England Revolution 4,001 3,502 +14%
New York Red Bulls 3,170 2,391 +33%
Real Salt Lake 4,632 4,421 +5%
San Jose Earthquakes 3,822 N/A N/A
Toronto FC 16,641 12,435 +34%
TOTAL 64,605 51,048 +26.6%

We’ve already heard about Toronto FC selling out a second consecutive year, but let us look briefly at how announcements, stadium construction, on-field performance affects season ticket sales. Colorado Rapids are a pretty big surprise here, up 59% from last year at this time and there on-field play has been sub par at best, no real announcements this offseason. You can’t possibly contribute this to the signing of Christian Gomez? Some of the other teams are little more clear cut. The anticipation of a new stadium and a more aggressive ad campaign has helped the Red Bulls put more butts in the seats. Kansas City’s relocation to their minor league baseball stadium has already increased ticket sales ensuring that intimate stadium feeling they were hoping for. Is it possible that Houston’s successes on the field are translating intermittent fans into season ticket holders? Anticipation of a possible stadium deal as well as the talks between Oscar De La Hoya and the club (which hadn’t been confirmed by 2/17) could have been a factor as well.

It really is good to see New England on the rise in Gillette, D.C. up 27% in RFK, and the Red Bulls up in Giants making the Atlantic rivalries that much more important.

Couple questions to ponder though:

Real Salt Lake’s new stadium is coming, why no jump in season ticket holders? They still sit at the fourth-highest total in the MLS though…

What is Chivas USA doing wrong? Contenders in the Western Conference yet again this year and this still can’t get a fan base.

Does a decrease in the Galaxy’s season-ticket holders this pre-season mean that the Beckham Effect is losing influence?

With Seattle, according to Don Garber, past the 12,000 season ticket mark – where will they be come this time next year? How about Philadelphia?

CHI’s Best XI of February 2008: Toni, Heitinga, Howard, and Gerrard.

Luca Toni – Bayern Munich (FW)

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First Selection

Toni’s February had its’ ups and downs, but his goals came at the right moments. Four in all as Bayern overcame a crowded month and got the results they needed to stay within the UEFA Cup as well as the Bundesliga race. The tall Italian striker hit for a hat-trick against Hannover 96 mid-month, but his only other league goal in was a bit more decisive – the eventual game-winner versus a tough and more organized Hansa Rostock. He also found the time to strike for the first goal in a 3-1 win over Portugal for the Italian national team. Toni has found his niche in Munich, but none of that would be possible without the service of Ribery, Schweinsteiger, and Klose. Goals: (2/1) vs. Hansa Rostock, (2/6) vs. Portugal, 3 vs. Hannover 96 (2/17)

Fernando Cavenaghi – Bordeaux (FW)

First Selection

A relative unknown (unless of course you have played Football Manager at some point), Cavenaghi is back to his pre-Russia form. The Argentine stuck it out in the cold at Spartak Moscow until a Bordeaux forked over the cash for the striker. His start in Ligue One was slow, but he has since found sizzling form and February was an extension of that. Although Bordeaux crashed out of the UEFA Cup with a 3-2 aggregate loss to Anderlecht, their form within Ligue One has Lyon sweating bullets. Cavenaghi made sure of that by hitting for two important braces against Metz and Monaco (a 6-0 blitz). With 13 goals overall this season, Cavenaghi along with David Bellion have Bordeaux only three points away from the French giants. Goals: 2 vs. Metz (2/9), 2 goals vs. Monaco (2/17), 1 goal vs. Anderlecht (UEFA Cup, 2/21)

Marco Borriello – Genoa (FW)

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First Selection

Genoa could not have had the February it did without the 5 goals an Borriello is the definition of Serie A’s journeyman, having been cast aside by AC Milan on many occasions in the form of loans to Triestina, Torino, etc. Genoa, in fact, co-owns Borriello and have really reaped the rewards of giving the AC Milan striker a shot as they now sit in 8th after being promoted just this season. He has hit for 16 league goals and sits at the top of the Serie A scoring charts. Marco’s February followed suit with his second hat-trick versus Udinese this season and a couple noteworthy penalty conversions. The abundance of goals comes from Borriello making up for lost time and it doesn’t look to stop any time soon.

Xavi – Barcelona (MF)

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First Selection

Even a team of stars needs that overshadowed player to decide a game for them every once in a while. February was a month in which Barcelona needed Xavi most and he delivered with a couple timely goals as Barca tries to keep pace with Real Madrid. The first was an 88th minute strike that broke a frustrating deadlock versus Osasuna. His second came about a week later against Sevilla away from home Xavi overcame Diego Capel’s early strike in the 76th minute to give Barca a hard-earned point. He was also instrumental in Barca’s 5-1 romp over Levante adding a goal and having a hand in two others, but a lot of Xavi’s play goes unnoticed organizing the midfield, winning challenges, and breaking defenses. One thing is for sure, if there was no Xavi – Barca would be up to 4 points further behind Real at the top.

Marcelinho – VfL Wolfsburg (MF)

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First Selection

Between Marcelinho and Grafite creating up front and Alexander Madlung patrolling in the back, Wolfsburg could not have asked for a better February. Marcelinho was the driving force in pushing a sluggish Wolfsburg back into Bundesliga’s mid-table. The aging Brazilian regained his form that saw him called up several times for the Brazilian national team, providing several game-winning assists (to Grafite no less) and an important goal in the process. The most important being an extra-time winner versus Hamburg in the quarterfinals of the DfB Pokal.

Steven Gerrard – Liverpool (MF)

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First Selection

Okay, okay, okay…we all know that Barnsley upset Liverpool to push through in the FA Cup, but if there was one Red that wasn’t going to let that ruin their month it would be Gerrard. If you take a step back and look at it, Liverpool didn’t have that bad of a month. Save the loss to Barnsley, Liverpool blanked Inter Milan 2-0 in Champions League action, (with return leg tomorrow) deadlocked Chelsea, and beat both Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Gerrard was the foundation, along with Javier Mascherano. The midfielder also scored the crucial second goal against Inter, fed Fernando Torres on several of his February goals, and inspired his team to keep in the hunt for a Champions League spot next year.

Diego Capel – Sevilla (MF)

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First Selection

Anyone could have picked Luis Fabiano, but that’s only if they forgot Diego Capel’s early February performance (2/9) versus Barcelona. He turned on, twisted, and borderline embarrassed a normally organized Barca defense. The young Capel along with Luis Fabiano led a small resurgence of Sevilla within La Liga and their only real hiccup of the month was a 3-2 away loss to Fenerbahce in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. Capel’s play even prompted a personal acknowledgement to the media stating that he is happy to be Rojiblanco and agreed that he was, in fact, ‘on fire’. Between Dani Alves and the 20-year old Capel, they account for over half of Sevilla’s service. Therefore – Luis Fabiano? Kanoute? You now know who you have to thank…

Phil Jagielka – Everton (MF/DF)

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First Selection

David Moyes is quickly becoming a guru at picking up lower league talent and turning it into Premiership quality. Jagielka, formerly of Sheffield United, is one of those finds and has somehow found his way into the already crowded Everton midfield of Arteta, Carsley, Cahill, Fernandes, and Osman. He is versatile, can switch back to defense and can score goals on occasion. Toffees faithful enjoyed a better February than January and Jagielka owes that to their focus on defense in winning these EPL games. It’s always easy to say let’s just worry about defense when you know you have Yakubu and Andy Johnson up front. Regardless, Jagielka thrives as Everton pushes onward in the UEFA Cup and up the EPL tables. His game-winning goal against Reading didn’t hurt either.

Johnny Heitinga – Ajax Amsterdam (DF)

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First Selection

The 24-year old Heitinga has had a career month for Ajax as they try and keep pace with a reeling PSV Eindhoven. A nine-point deficit is going to make that pretty difficult. Heitinga has kept them in it, straying from general expectations to do so. In other words, Ajax’s defense has been awful, so Heitinga has taken it upon himself to score. Two goals in a six goal romp over Sparta Rotterdam, the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over NAC Breda, and the first goal in a 3-0 shutout of rivals Feyenoord.

Jonathan Woodgate – Tottenham (DF)

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First Selection

Pretty arguable selection but his haphazard goal – a Carling Cup winner versus Chelsea no less – and the resurgence of a Hotspur backline justifies his selection. A little more than a month ago, Woodgate was wallowing in the mediocrity of Middlesbrough (much like Stewart Downing just signed up to do for 4-5 more years). Fast forward a month and he’s playing for a much respected (unless you’re a Sevilla faithful) manager, on a team with a huge upside, and a Carling Cup champion. Plus, we now know what Tottenham looks like WITHOUT Jonathan Woodgate…see March 1st 4-1 beating at the hands of Birmingham.

Tim Howard – Everton (GK)

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First Selection (1 Bench Selection)

Howard could have been penciled in as Best XI goalkeeper for January but Iker Casillas got the nod last month instead. Howard continues to consistently turn out results for Everton pushing his team into Champions League contention for next year, a UEFA Cup Round of 16 appearance (so far), and a position for him at the top of EPL goalkeepers . Do you think Sir Alex Ferguson ever wishes he still had Howard or is that just wishful thinking? Howard is responsible for helping the Toffees to a 4-0-1 February with 4 of those 5 games clean sheets. Only goal scored against him was in Everton’s UEFA Cup rout of SK Brann. Shutouts: (4), 2/2 vs. Blackburn, 2/9 vs. Reading, 2/13 vs SK Brann, 2/25 vs. Manchester City

_____________________________________________________________________________________

BENCH: Brad Friedel (GK-Blackburn), Fernando Torres (FW-Liverpool), Joseph Yobo (DF-Everton), Kevin Kuranyi (FW-Schalke 04), Salvador Cabanas – (MF/FW-Club America), Roger (MF/FW-Gremio), Lionel Messi (MF-Barcelona), Dani Alves (DF-Sevilla), Mohamed Aboutraika (MF-Al Ahly), Grafite (FW-VfL Wolfsburg), Hakan Suker (FW-Galatasaray)

See who made the Best XI last month…

TSII: Crew Roster Talk – When Do You Stop?

Back from the little hiatus, time to get right back to it: Covering the Crew posted the latest full roster for the 2008-vintage Columbus Crew. You can check the post for names, details, plus more. I’ll steal his roster layout to frame the discussion, but I won’t borrow the commentary…that’ll come after the stuff I stole. Here goes:

Senior roster (17 of 18 slots filled)
Goalkeepers: Will Hesmer, Andy Gruenebaum.
Defenders: Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall, Danny O’Rourke, Ezra Hendrickson, Leonard Griffin, Andy Iro.
Midfielders: Brian Carroll, Duncan Oughton, Stefani Miglioranzi, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Eddie Gaven.
Forwards: Alejandro Moreno, Nicolas Hernandez, Jason Garey, Brad Evans.

Developmental roster (10 of 10)
Goalkeeper: Kenny Schoeni.
Defenders: Andrew Peterson, Jed Zayner, Ryan Junge, Ryan Miller.
Midfielders: Robbie Rogers, Adam Moffat, Kevin Burns.
Forwards: Steven Lenhart, George Josten.

OK, so who’s new here? And I don’t promise a complete list, necessarily, but a useful approximation. Continue reading