Found Three! The Cubans have resurfaced…

…in Los Angeles. But not with Chivas USA as expected.

Defender Yenier Bermudez, midfielder Yordany Alvarez, and goalkeeper (hero of the 1-1 tie vs. the US U-23s) Jose Manuel Miranda – the all-star of the bunch – are now on trial with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

With WIcks and Cronin, I see Galaxy giving a long look at Miranda and most likely signing him. Bermudez was fantastic in the backline, while Alvarez showed some decent stuff. If anyone, expect Miranda and Bermudez to join the team on developmental contracts.

Hope these guys can latch on somewhere in the US. Just saw that Osvaldo Alonso – of the 2005 Gold Cup defectors – landed a contract with the Charleston Battery of the USL First Division. Alonso joins Lester More who signed for the Battery earlier this year.

Now where are the other four??

Red Bulls: Goodbye de Grandpre, Angel to sit Saturday?

Michael Lewis over at Big Apple Soccer reports that Juan Pablo Angel is questionable for this Saturday’s match-up vs. FC Dallas.

Ives Galarcep finally got Juan Carlos Osorio to admit his interest in Jorge Alberto Rojas, the second most-capped player in Venezualan history. He also mentions that Chris Innes should be signed. He organizes well, holds the line, and is dominant in the air.

Marc de Grandpre has officially resigned as Red Bull New York’s Managing Director. He is one of few that survived the Red Bull takeover and spent 9 years with the team. Why now? Apparently, a offer to good to refuse was tabled for some other position in the business community.

26-year old defender Alex Yi – who has been a staple in the back four for Dallas over the past couple of seasons – has retired due to continuous hamstring injuries. Moor, Davino, Wagenfuhr, Wagner, Rhine are all healthy so it’s not like Dallas will be really hurting on Saturday.

Kevin Goldthwaite is honored with The Offside Rules’ first-ever “Goal of the Weak”. It showcases the week’s goal lacking the most aesthetically. I can’t argue. A goal’s a goal though…right?


CCCO8 Semis: Strategery Before the Second Leg

I think that sums it up nicely.

The general mood of optimism going into the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals renders the funk looming over the second leg all the more blue. I’ll be surprised – and, for the record, damned happy – if either DC United or the Houston Dynamo make the final. It’d be one thing if only a handful, or even half, the pundits I read shared my view, but even the bigs ( and Soccer America) put out previews with a funereal, almost post-mortem tone – e.g. it’s more lessons learned for the next go-around than what to do about tonight.

One can even find such talk out of the proverbial horse’s mouth:

“’I was thinking about that while I was watching the [Pachuca-D.C.] game the other night, and boy, we’ve got to do better,’ said MLS commissioner Don Garber. ‘For this league to win over the core audience, we’ve got to be able to be among the best clubs in North America.’”

Fortunately, the future is not now…or, rather, it better not be because there’s not a lot anyone besides Houston and DC can do today to get the MLS clubs through (well, there’s the ref, I suppose…).

So, to throw out a question before (briefly) digging into some thoughts and details, which club would you rather be coaching today? Or, more practically, if you had to put money on DC or Houston to overcome the odds and advance to the final, which would it be?

My answer will appear at the bottom and after the jump; for now, here are some thoughts kicking around in my head these few hours before kick-off. Continue reading

CHI’s Best XI of March 2008: Newbies Outweigh the Usual Suspects

Fernando Torres – Liverpool (FW)

First Selection

The Reds had an amazing month of March with the only real blemish being a 3-0 loss to a unflappable Manchester United squad. Torres was the biggest reason for Liverpool’s success in March. A total of 7 goals, three of which were gamewinners. A lot of people doubted the effect Torres would have in English football and he has managed to prove the critics wrong and transplant that success in European play as well. Liverpool are now through to the semifinals in the Champions League after beating Arsenal in April and March’s road went through Inter Milan. No easy tasks. After Morientes, after Baros, there comes Torres and 21 goals in the Premiership. Regardless, however, Liverpool sits in fourth and quite a distance from third. Not somewhere 21 goals in the EPL should put you…

Goals: 3 goals vs. West Ham United (3/5), 1 goal vs. Newcastle United (3/8), 1 goal vs. Inter Milan (3/11), 1 goal vs. Reading (3/15), 1 goal vs. Everton (3/30)

Jermain Defoe – Portsmouth (FW)

First Selection

Take that Tottenham. Take that Martin Jol, Juande Ramos. Defoe gets his starting role back at Fratton Park and has since been very unkind to opposing goalkeepers. The speedy striker has 8 goals in 7 appearances with his new club and 6 goals in 4 games during March. Pompey are in a race for a spot in Europe as they sit 4 points outside of 5th with 5 games to play. Defoe is still an outright idiot for cheating on his popstar girlfriend.

Goals: 1 goal vs. Everton (3/2), 2 goals vs. Birmingham (3/12), 1 goal vs. Aston Villa (3/15), 2 goals vs. Wigan Athletic (3/29)

Claudio Graf – Veracruz (FW)

First Selection

After wasting away at Lanus in the Argentinian Primera Division, Graf has found a new home with Veracruz of the Mexican Primera. He has struck for 10 goals this year, 7 in March alone. The 32 year old has had a journeyman’s career, playing for 11 teams in almost 15 years of work. His newfound consistency has pleased Veracruz fans and almost caused them to take to calling him San Graf (Saint Graf), a nickname given to him in 2004-2007 stint with Lanus. It started fast and furious with Lanus and then waned in the homestretch, now let us see if he can continue the form that has him beloved in Veracruz in just 12 appearances.  

Goals (7): 1 goal vs. Necaxa (3/1 GW), 1 goal vs. Pachuca (3/8), 1 goal vs. Chivas Guadalajara (3/14), 1 goal vs. Atlante (3/23), 3 goals vs. Club America (3/29)

Cristiano Ronaldo – Manchester United (MF)

Second Selection

These stats speak for themselves. In four of out five March matches, Cristiano Ronaldo either scored or assisted EVERY goal. He had a hand in over 90% of the goals scored for Manchester United. Then add to that the intangibles, the stats you don’t see on a scorecard. Against Liverpool, he dictated the run of play, confused defenses, threaded perfect through passes. Still only 23, there’s not much more you can say about this guy without admitting a mancrush. You do have to admit, though, he’s got one hell of a supporting cast. It is Ronaldo’s 2nd selection in 2008 and I think I foresee a couple more.

Goals: 1 goal vs. Lyon (3/4), 1 goal vs. Derby County (3/15), 2 goals vs. Bolton (3/19), 1 goal vs. Liverpool (3/23), 1 goal and 3 assists vs. Aston Villa (3/29)

Alex – Fenerbahce (MF)

First Selection

After a historic night in Sevilla and a berth into the Champions League quarterfinals, Fenerbahce – led by the artistry of veteran Brazilian Alex – destroyed Turkish Super League competition. Alex provided 3 goals and had his hand in over 3/4 of a 15 goal March. Without Alex, Mateja Kezman, Deivid, and Colin Kazim-Richards would have very little to run on to. The 30 year-old not only creates the plays, but he finishes them too. Over 70 goals for Fenerbahce proves that. Long rumoured to be moving to a bigger league, it looks to actually happen this summer as many are starting to wonder after 4 years at the Turkish club, when does loyalty get in the way of ambition? The highlight of March was a two goal performance that dismantled fellow Turkish giants Besiktas 2-1.

Kader Keita – Olympique Lyonnais (MF/FW)

First Selection

Lyon exploded for a great March only to be blemished by a loss to Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League. Kader Keita, however, took March as a chance to establish his position at Stade de Gerland. You can’t say that Juninho is fading, but Keita has impressed enough to provoke talk of him being the new playmaker for OL. It is certainly a closer year for Lyon, who is looking for their 7th consecutive Ligue One title, but Keita’s efforts (4 goals, 4 assists) has kept OL with a 6 point lead over 2nd place Bordeaux. Let’s remember not to lose his name in the midst of Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa.

Aldo Duscher – Racing Santander (MF)

First Selection

Where is Santander coming from?? The veteran midfielder Duscher has sparked an upstart Racing squad to fight its way into the top 5 and a fight for Europe. He started off March by scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Valladolid and followed it with the game winner over Betis. The Argentinian has acted as the glue between a defense that played much of March without their talisman, Ezequiel Garay, and the offense which has produced over 2 goals a game this past month. Along with Jorge Lopez, Duscher has been a big reason Racing now fights for a place in Europe instead of a place in the Primera.

Edson Braafheid – Twente Enschede (DF)

First Selection

Last thing anyone was expecting from Twente was a 5 consecutive win streak in April. Braafheid captained a Twente defense that was the strength of a team now fighting for a spot in next year’s European competition. A 4-3 win over Vitesse Arnhem was the lone defensive hiccup. Braafheid – 24 years old – was the toast of the Dutch Under-21 squad and his homeland Suriname but could never secure a spot on a more competitive team, eventually falling off the radar. Is that the next step? The talent and work is there, but where are the suitors?

Jose Bosingwa – FC Porto (DF)

First Selection

Bosingwa continues to attract interest from the rest of Europe – including Manchester United, Liverpool, Aston Villa, and Tottenham. Understandably so due to his role in an undefeated March for Porto. Every game for the Portuguese giants was remarkably close and if it weren’t for Bosingwa and his backline, each one of those games could have taken a turn for the worse. Plucked from the youth ranks by Jose Mourinho, Bosingwa – Congolese born, now Portuguese – looks poised to lead Porto their second consecutive Portuguese SuperLiga title.

Rio Ferdinand – Manchester United (DF)

Second Selection

Rooney and Ronaldo take care of the offense, Ferdinand’s job is the defense. The combination of both has Manchester United tearing through EPL competition. One stinger will be the loss to Portsmouth in the FA Cup, but the eye has been the EPL crown and it looks like United is on their way to grab it. Ferdinand’s EPL accolades have paid him the ultimate dividend – captaincy of the English national team under Fabio Capello’s new regime.

Manuel Neuer – Schalke 04 (GK)
First Selection

Manuel Neuer

It certainly wasn’t a bad month for Schalke even as they struggle to hold on to a Champions League spot in the Bundesliga. It could have been a lot worse without the 22-year old, baby-faced Neuer in net. Schalke started off March with 2 straight 1-0 losses, one which still ended favorably however. Porto beat Schalke in the return leg with 31 shots. Neuer put in the performance of his life and miraculously kept the score at 1-0 and gave the Germans a chance in penalties. Schalke won to move on to the UCL quarterfinals.

Bench: Mario Gomez (VfB Stuttgart, 4 goals), Ivan Cvetkov (Sivasspor, 5 goals), Klaas Jan-Huntelaar (Ajax, 6 goals), Daniel Guiza (Mallorca, 6 goals), Marek Hamsik (Napoli), Allan MacGregor (Rangers), Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers), Marcos Gomes Araujo (Kashima Antlers)