Crew Preview: How, And How Well, They’ll Defend

For all the frustrations of the past season – missing the playoffs again, struggling offensively at the wrong time, etc. – I thought the Columbus Crew fielded a pretty solid defense in 2007. It turns out, however, the 44 goals they surrendered tied them for sixth in goals-against; middle of the pack sounds all right, until one considers 49 goals allowed set the mark for league-worst (Go Toronto FC!). So…remind me again, what exactly went right last season?

I kid. Middle of the pack is middle of the pack, so things could have gone worse. But with the Crew opening 2008 with one high-profile departure from the defense, the possibility things could go worse this year lurks. Marcos Gonzalez, rated by a solid majority as the Crew’s best defender, returned in the off-season to his native Chile. His immediate replacement – Andy Iro – is a first-year pro, something to watch no matter how his resumé reads. A clutch of second-year pros – Ryan Junge, Jed Zayner, and Andrew Peterson – will vie with Iro for that opening in central defense, as might midfield players like Danny O’Rourke, if some reports are to be believed (can’t find said reports; you’ll have to take my word for it…or just not believe me).

Given all that, how will the Crew’s defense fare in 2008? By way of an answer, I’ve named the players on the roster whose first job amounts to either defending the Crew’s goal directly or breaking up the opposition’s forays in midfield. I confess I’m not totally up-to-date on how Sigi Schmid will line up his team – and that’s whether in terms of formation or personnel – as such, what unfolds below amounts to a best guess as to what Schmid will do and the quality he has at his disposal. Continue reading

Olympic Qualifying, USA vs. Canada: “Join or Die”

No. – Name – Pos. – D.O.B. – Club
1 – Asmir Begovic – GK – 20.06.1987 – Portsmouth FC/ENG
2 – Graham Ramalho – DF – 12.01.1986 – FC Groningen/NED
3 – Jacob Lensky – MD – 16.12.1988 – Feyenoord Rotterdam/NED
4 – Dejan Jakovic – MD – 16.07.1985 – U. Alabama-Birmingham/USA
5 – Andrew Hainault – DF – 17.06.1986 – Sparta Prague/CZE
6 – Nikolas Ledgerwood – DF – 16.01.1985 – 1860 Munich/GER
7 – Andrazes Ornoch – MD – 21.08.1985 – Esbjerg FB/DEN
8 – Ryan Gyaki – MD – 06.12.1985 – Hansa Rostock/GER
9 – Andrea Lombardo – AT – 23.05.1987 – Toronto FC
10 – Will Johnson – AT – 21.01.1987 – De Graafschap/NED
11 – Tosaint Ricketts – AT – 06.08.1987 – U. Wisconsin-Green Bay/USA
12 – Diaz Kambere – DF – 18.10.1985 – Vancouver Whitecaps
13 – Kyle Hall – AT – 27.01.1986 – Syracuse University/USA
14 – Tyler Hemming – DF – 09.05.1985 – Toronto FC
15 – Tyler Rosenlund – MD – 13.09.1986 – no club
16 – Keegan Ayre – MD – 04.07.1988 – Berwick Rangers FC/SCO
17 – Marcus Haber – AT – 11.01.1989 – FC Gronengen/NED
18 – Joshua Wagenaar – GK – 26.02.1985 – no club
19 – Isidro Sanchez – MD – 05.06.1987 – no club
22 – David Monsalve – GK – 21.12.1988 – no club

Our boys must be pretty happy with their steady progress heading into the semifinals, with Nowak’s trial by error tactical approach working somewhat decently without any dire consequences. Canada, however, just came off one hell of an emotional roller coaster in which it took them 5 goals and a trouncing of eventual Group B winners Guatemala to squeak by an uneasy Mexico. Both Will Johnson and Tosaint Ricketts had braces in the win and Josh Wagenaar won the war in between the posts, but does dramatic momentum outweigh rest for your stars? Freddy Adu, Altidore, Maurice Edu, etc. have all gotten the full rest they deserve after getting beat up in their first two games [Altidore especially – taking hits from eventual Cuban defector Yendry Diaz]. I just hope it doesn’t come down to an arguably botched call like in last summer’s Gold Cup. With Jonathan Spector in there now and Orozco, Sturgis, and Edu looking good – we should have solid enough back four to keep anything suspect from happening. The Canadians are going to have a handful with Altidore (as any team does) without the presence of a bruiser like a Yendry Diaz, i.e. someone that can handle Jozy’s physical presence. That certainly doesn’t mean the tone of the whole game won’t be physical. It’s more of a product of an opponent’s placement of mroe defenders behind the ball than real quality man-to-man marking. Therefore, expect it to be crowded in the middle, but if they stick to their wings – as they have tried – the goals should come. That’s the biggest question though – who to terrorize the wings? Holden seems a lock. It’s either Zizzo and Gaven for the other spot as Findley and Davies still haven’t won me over since the first game against Cuba. I’d pick Zizzo (even though Jeff might disagree) based on speed although Gaven has been slowly getting more and more comfortable out there. Zizzo, on numerous occasions, was able to work his way into the box, finding the easy square pass, and creating the chances.

Watch Out For:

FW Tosaint Ricketts – the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay striker has that speed and strength combo that made Cuba’s Linares so dangerous and he’s really come into his own so far this tourney. Ricketts has done admirably well in Green Bay, but he is still relatively new to the international scene only joining the national team program last winter. What a better way to make a name for yourself then score the goal that sends your team to the Olympics?

FW Will Johnson – You could just as easily put Andrea Lombardo in here, but the truth is, Johnson has his name at the top of the scoring charts. A former Chicago Fire discovery signing, Johnson now is on loan at De Graafschaap in the Dutch Eredivisie from Michael Bradley’s Heerenveen. He has also spent time in Blackburn’s youth set-up and has worked well enough within the national team to earn 3 senior caps.

DF Andrew Hainault – captains a defense that has only faltered against Haiti but held strong with a tie against Mexico and a Guatemalan team that – despite the 5-0 win – managed to threaten the Canadian defense on occasion. Hainault plays in the Czech Republic with powerhouse Sparta Prague as one of the only foreigners on the team. His play there has earned him 9 caps with the senior side as well.

Regarding the XI, I would expect for the US:


Holden ————Adu——————Zizzo





Beckham makes the 30, eyeing the 23 – England/France

England Provisional Squad vs. France (30) 

Goalkeepers (3): David James (Portsmouth), Scott Carson (Aston Villa), Chris Kirkland (Wigan).

Defenders (10): Wayne Bridge (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), David Wheater (Middlesbrough), Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd), Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), John Terry (Chelsea), Wes Brown (Man Utd), Joleon Lescott (Everton), Matthew Upson (West Ham), Jonathan Woodgate (Spurs).

Midfielders (11): Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), David Beckham (LA Galaxy), Jermaine Jenas (Spurs), Owen Hargreaves (Man Utd), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Ashley Young (Aston Villa), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), David Bentley (Blackburn).

Strikers (6): Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), Michael Owen (Newcastle), Wayne Rooney (Man Utd), Peter Crouch (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Portsmouth).

That’s 30 people for an eventual 23-player contingent taking on a pretty powerful French squad consisting of a young core that hasn’t been one to balk at experienced, veteran players like Beckham, Owen, or Terry. Saturday is the day Beckham will find out whether or not he’s part of Capello’s 23 heading to Paris next Wednesday. Beckham is searching for his 100th cap, while of the 30, Gabriel Agbonlahor and David Wheater are the only ones searching for their first. For France, you will get a glimpse of the highly coveted ‘next generation’ Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Karim Benzema as well as the usuals – Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery, Lillian Thuram, and Patrick Vieira. Domenech has chosen 9 Lyon players and 10 from the EPL (39 overall). That will be shaved down by the weekend as well, so expect some changes. I’ll have a more detailed breakdown as Wednesday draws near.

And yes, it’s true a May 8th match-up of USA and England is confirmed. At new Wembley no less!

CCCo8: Houston 3-1 Municipal – Hey, Houston, It’s Corey Ashe Night!

Not much to say about that one – and I’m trying to be more brief, generally – but the Houston Dynamo did Major League Soccer (MLS) proud in the other CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal. And I’m happy to report that Corey Ashe, my personal liability for the first leg, turned in the man-of-the-match performance that made it possible.

Who can say what happened between last week and tonight’s game? Did Dynamo coach, Dominic Kinnear, force Ashe to work on his crosses again and again and again, until he could send on to the six in his sleep? Probably not. After all, the best balls Ashe played skimmed close to the ground, much like the one he fired at Chris Wondolowski for the Dynamo’s third goal. Ashe also earned the penalty that put the Dynamo up 2-0, “soft” as it was (yeah, I’m sayin’ it: the severity of the contact doesn’t really matter does it? I mean, isn’t about a foul in the penalty area in the end?).

Not surprisingly, Dwayne DeRosario garnered his share of the credit as well. Between his opportunistic (and, possibly, illegal) goal that essentially started the second half and his cool conversion of the PK Ashe created, “DeRo” decided the game and settled his teammates. His finishing touch? The cross-field ball to Ashe that set up the Wondo goal.” Game, set, match, Houston.

Another big star on the night: Pat Onstad, who saved, by my count, two dead-certain goals. The first one of them, a point-blank stuff on CSD Municipal’s Mario Rodriguez, could very well have defined the series. I mean, what might have been had Municipal scored the first goal? A team possessed of that kind of savvy could surely have killed this game dead. But Onstad stoned him inside the six – as well as keeping the Dynamo’s clean-sheet on several opportunities before and after.

The main take-away from all this: damn good game. It’s a shame that CCC games can’t all be like this: great, lively crowd, quick, hard-fought, even-uncompromising play from both clubs until 2/3 into the proceedings. After that, Municipal seemed to feel the weight of the score and, even as they pressed and earned a penalty of their own, they didn’t appear nearly as alive and menacing as they did in the first.

So, that’s to MLS clubs in the semifinals. They passed the audition; good stuff. Now, they just have to get past the Mexican clubs…or the Costa Rican one. Whatever happens, the fun begins next week.

La Liga: Getafe Advance to 2nd Straignt Copa del Rey Final

Getafe, the little club that could, earned their 2nd consecutive spot in the Copa del Rey final with a 1-1 draw against Racing Santander Wednesday night.  Getafe advance to the final under first year head coach Michael Laudrup.

The 1-1 draw puts Getafe through 4-2 on aggregate.  El Geta now wait for the winner of the Valencia v Barcelona match to be played Thursday at 3:30pm.

The game wasn’t played without a bit of controversy however.  With Getafe down 1-0 Uche made a hard challenge against Garay, which sent the Racing player to the ground.  Uche appeared to plead for his teammates to play the ball out of bounds but to no avail.  Getafe continued with the play, and Albín passed the ball to Casquero who in turn scored.

Racing players were livid and went in search of an answer for not playing the ball out of bounds.  With Getafe simply giving shoulder-shurgs, Racing preceded to give Getafe a rough last 10 minutes, flying in with some terribly late and rough challenges, which saw Serrano sent off (but this was before the goal).  It’s a wonder that all of the Getafe players escaped without any injury.

Now the little team from outside Madrid will wait until tomorrow.  See a preview for Barcelona here at The Offside Barcelona (props to my friend Isaiah).