UEFA Champions League: Ronaldo and his “big head”, a 17 year old bails out Barca

Manchester United 2, AS Roma 0

It’s called ‘having a team’s number’. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney made sure of that. The heart of the Red Devils scored the first away goal without the aid of his backheel but instead it was his head and it put one foot for Manchester United into the Champions League semi-finals. Roma was without their usual maestro Francesco Totti and it showed with a lack of definitive finishing – but he will be back next Wednesday for the return leg. A 2-0 defeat at home will mean all things will have to go Roma’s way at Old Trafford. United was not without their inconsistencies, however, as Roma dominated the run of play for the first 15 minutes only to curse themselves over missed opportunities and the superb acrobatics of Edwin Van der Sar. Roma has a knack of scoring away from home, having done so twice this competition so far, and they will be looking to exploit a possible gap in defense left open by an injured Nemanja Vidic. Oh – by the way – it was Ronaldo’s 36th goal of the season. Unreal. It prompted Roma’s midfielder David Pizarro to call Ronaldo a “big head”.

Barcelona 1, Schalke 04 0

17-year old Bojan Krkic grabbed a much-needed away goal early in the match and led Barca to a 1-0 win in Germany. Highlighted by physical play, Rafa Marquez and Puyol organized a stingy defense capable enough of keeping Schalke’s big men Altintop and Kuranyi away from Valdes’ net. Nothing went on target for the Germans, whereas Thierry Henry troubled a weak left side and supplied the winning square pass to Krkic (the first of only 4 chances throughout for Barca). Near the end, things got sloppy, the crowd became weary, and whistles were heard in an attempt to prod Schalke into action. No luck, Barca takes the away goal back to Nou Camp. With Krkic’s goal, he became the youngest player to score in Champions League history.

TODAY’s GAMES: Liverpool vs. Arsenal, Chelsea vs. Fenerbahce

CCC08: Two Draws Tonight – MLS Shakes Off the Rust

Some quick thoughts on both of tonight’s CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinals come below. I’ll offer more detailed thoughts on the game tomorrow, but figured I’d get something up while the memory is still fresh. I invite anyone who cares to to drop their thoughts in the comments below.

Harbour View FC 1-1 DC United
This one stumbled out of the blocks; more than just the general start-stop, it seemed fair to wonder around the fifteenth minute if DC would lose too many players to complete the game. But they settled down before long and, until their legs ran out late in the second half, the MLS club enjoyed the better of the play. When DC snuck a goal off a slop-scramble at the (very) end of the first half, it was as much as they deserved. Even so, a lot of the game – too much, even – took place in the middle third. For their part, Harbour View worked the ball down the flanks pretty well – and they’ve got some damned speedy players out there – but too many of those moves ended with crosses to the top of the 18, which left all DC’s defenders behind the ball. Harbour View’s equalizer came with another slop-fest, this one at the (very) end of the second half and off a corner in front of DC’s goal. A fitting end, as I see it.

CSD Municipal 0-0 Houston Dynamo
What…a…friggin’…game. True, this one died with Houston’s legs – though, to their credit, the Dynamo managed a super-late rally – but to that point, this game was a pants-in-the-air affair. Municipal started better and, by the end, had the better chances; actually, it’s fair to say they should have won it when Gonzalo Romero broke free on Pat Onstad inside the 6, but – impossiblé! – he pulled a certain goal wide. Municipal ran Houston ragged for much of the second half, launching chance after chance toward goal.  Houston had it’s share of misses going the other way, even in the second half. For what it’s worth, I’d call the first half even, but the second half – that was just about all Municipal. Good game and, better yet, it promises more to come. By that I mean, if you can’t see Municipal stealing this series in Houston, you’re not looking hard enough.

Well, good night overall – though the nightcap definitely had something on the opener. Both MLS clubs control their fate – and that’s a good thing. But there’s 90 minutes of work left to do. All for now.

One Main, Late Thought on LA Gals v. Hong Kong Union

Yeah, I actually watched this game in the wee hours of Saturday night.  I know this is almost absurdly late to post on any game, never mind a warm-up, and many of you have already read good write-ups on the game – for instance, Soccer America’s entirely deserved praise of David Beckham’s play or the LA Offside’s notes on promising contributions from Ely Allen and Sean Franklin (I second jen’s thoughts on Franklin, especially, though Allen’s not bad).

Given my tardiness, both comparative and real, I’ll only say I enjoyed the game enough, though LA’s difficulty with making more of their edge over Hong Kong surprised me more than a little; with a defense balanced between green (rookies/youngsters) and gray (geezers), they need that offense to fire cleanly and often.

Generalities aside, one thought stuck with me since Saturday: after being fairly impressed with Alvaro Pires play, particularly against Sydney FC, his limitations stuck out like a sore thumb wrapped in ten feet of gauze on Saturday.  He runs at players well enough and he can play a decent short pass, but after that…it’s pretty bad.  He put several hundred pounds too much weight on lofted passes, through-balls, etc.  In other words, anything other than a short, possession pass and Alvaro brought too little for a pro.  The only upside I see in him over Kyle Martino?  He’s healthy.  That’s it.  I’d pass on him and, so far, LA has.  We’ll see what they do down the road.

MLS Results and Moves: A Soft-Lens Impressions

Having been “underground” when Major League Soccer (MLS) Roster Compliance Day came and went (and, to celebrate, I threw out tons of crap, just like the teams I like!), motivation to soberly analyze all those rosters isn’t coming; besides, fans and fan sites have probably did all this to near-death earlier in the week. Moreover, not knowing much about the players coming in, I’m not really equipped to do a hard-data write-up. As such, a looser approach feels more appropriate – or, as I put it in the title, a soft-lens impression, which I’ll form based on what I recall of each team’s results (I’ll provide links when I have ’em) and the moves each team has made so far. I’ll be using Soccer America’s round-up of off-season moves for this last bit.

And away we go…

Continue reading

Crew TSII: Wait, what? Make that 4-3-0.

Covering the Crew is telling me that the Columbus Crew lost to the Ventura Co. Fusion, a team whose name I feel compelled to abbreviate for reasons unknown. No word yet (that’s 2:36 p.m. PST) on the official site and I can’t say I blame ’em. I’d had that one like a drunk uncle. This is the team, after all, Real Salt Lake (RSL) fuckin’ shellacked a couple weeks back. Covering the Crew’s makes no mention of the score – though the url for the post hints at a 1-0 loss – so…if you add up the goals, this like losing to RSL 8-0. (What? Don’t you tell me what is and is not mathematically valid. I’m a scientist!)

At any rate, the talk of the Crew’s record in yesterday’s post seems rather cocky in retrospect. I’m not expecting a whole lot this season, but I do expect games like this to spark a little optimism all the same.

UPDATE: With a happy hat-tip to du Nord, I can now pass on a local write-up on the game, though that’s as much a thumbnail sketch of how to build a PDL team than a match report.  There’s also something I forgot to mention: Covering the Crew points out that a few Crew trialists played with the Fusion.  For what it’s worth, this excuses nothing.

Crew TSII: Break-Even Weekend, Good-Look Rook, Other Junk

If you smush together the Columbus Crew’s 1-2 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes (et tu, Kei?) and their 2-1 win over Chivas USA, they wind up breaking even on the weekend. And that’s good stuff: ending at .500 in MLS gets a team into the playoffs about half the time, right?

In all seriousness, the real good stuff – or at least the stuff that means much – comes with the details, namely, who scored goals and who’s trying out with the team. If there’s a big bright-spot, in my mind at least, about the Crew’s pre-season, it’s seeing Eddie Gaven’s and Robbie Rogers’ names continuing to show up in the box scores. The Crew’s present, um, difficulties with bringing in impact players turns up the pressure on the guys they’ve got. If you review the Crew’s pre-season results – which one can easily do on a numbers and goal-scorers level, courtesy of the team’s official web-site – you’ll see both players’ names twice. Better still, you’ll see rookie “Meet” George Josten’s name three times – and that’s just what it takes to get flattering copy in in-house perspective pieces.

Fortunately, a couple trialists have joined the Crew on their way to compiling an impressive (and largely irrelevant) 4-2-0 preseason record (that’s W-L-T; and use the “numbers and goal-scorers” link for verification; and, seeing as they play the Ventura County Fusion next, I’d expect that record will go to 5-2-0). I’ll admit I can’t pick ’em all – even after reviewing the current roster – but these are the unfamiliar names I’m seeing: Emmanuel Ekpo, who I believe is a “midfielder,” type unknown…to me, anyway; Ryan Miller (?); Sandro da Silva, who, according to a report by Covering the Crew, may not stick around; and, Mamadu Bah, who, according the the report linked to in the previous sentence, is a Sierra Leonian striker. Damn shame about not seeing his name on the score-sheet, ’cause that’s where the Crew need the most help. Continue reading

Rapids TSII: Pre-Season Game(s) and Early Analysis

Given the low frequency of these posts, it no doubt seems I’ve stopped keeping tabs on the Colorado Rapids. If any Rapids fans out there feel chagrined, don’t fret: I posted something on the Crew a couple minutes ago with an introduction that reads exactly the same, only with the names changed around (or does it?).

The same explanation applies here: I can’t see practices (and they probably aren’t open anyway), the Rapids have a tight-lipped presence online, they haven’t done much since the Gomez trade, etc. So, as with the Crew, I’m kind of biding my time till the regular season starts. In fact, I was going to post on the basic notion of biding my time about Major League Soccer (MLS) generally, when it occurred to me this was 1) self-evident, and 2) no one wants to read about my personal problems with soccer coverage (does anyone want to read this? Hmm….).

That said, as with the Crew, I’m going to post something – anything – on the Rapids at least once a week. A round-up, some thinly-supported observations about the road ahead: something. I’ll try to make it worth your while, but no promises.

Fortunately, a couple things showed up today (and days earlier this week) that reveal signs of life out of Colorado. For one, the Rapids played two simultaneous games against every MLS club’s pre-season warm-up favorites, the United States U-17s (seriously, is there an MLS team those youngsters haven’t played?) View from the Couch turned in a report based on (inevitably) the write-up on the Rapids’ official site. Unsurprisingly, View from the Couch’s report reads better and he flags potential injury issues for a couple players.

In another bit of good luck, I stumbled across a couple massive early analyses on Class VI. Informally polling some Rapids fans/bloggers, Class VI made an apparent stab at creating the conventional wisdom on the various parts of the Colorado Mark ’08. One clocked expectations for the (Christian) Gomez-powered midfield, while the other looked at prospects for the defense, a unit that performed very well last year and experienced little turnover. A look at the forwards is in the pipeline, no doubt, and I fully expect an invitation to participate; I don’t know why, in fact, I wasn’t invited to participate on these two… (NOTE: I’m KIDDING. All those polled look like actual fans, whereas I’m, really, just a tourist at this point with more to learn than say). Anyway, these are educational, both for the awareness of the personnel and for seeing what Colorado fans think of their team’s chances.

What do I think of Colorado’s chances? In all honesty, I can’t say I have really even thought about it. It occurred to me today that I’ve essentially reserved judgment on anything to do with all MLS clubs’ regular season performance until after the March 3 roster cut-off. Too many things remain in flux and, empiricist that I generally am, I feel like too many variables remain in play. In fact, March 3 looms rather large in my head. I’ll start cranking out previews and generally prognosticating shortly after, and not just for the Crew and Rapids, but for all MLS clubs. So, look for ’em then.

Houston 3-0 Sydney + a Big, Blog-Link Semifinal Wrap

Was that a first half to savor or who?  Houston was everything the Los Angeles Galaxy was not.  While LA looked collectively confused, even panicked, not only did Houston look sharp and organized collectively, every player on orange looked comfortable and switched on to their roles.  I gave up watching around the 80th minute, but that was mainly down to Houston appearing so clearly in command.   Sydney FC, to their credit, set up a couple scrambles and  forced Houston ‘keep Pat Onstad into a save or two, including at least one tough one.  But the night was Houston’s without question.

In LA’s defense, they’re just in a different place than Houston right now.  Houston had every motivation to start a strong line-up; “real” competition is just around the corner for them and it’s big – the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.  They have the title of best club team in the region to spur them on and the possibility of December games against the best in the world as a kicker.  More to the point, the Dynamo returned so much of last year’s MLS Cup squad that the players already know one another.  That the players look ready to roll going into a heavy March warms the heart.

LA, on the other hand, can politely be called “in transition.”  Their situation showed in who they fielded – plenty of rookies and trialists.  LA has the luxury of time that Houston doesn’t.  And, even with a manifestly improved second half, the clearly need that time.  It’s hard to say what should cause LA fans more worry in last night’s performance – the confused, even appalling static performance or signs that several players they took with them looked unprepared for prime time.

To wrap it all up, we got a look at the current pecking order in Major League Soccer (MLS).  I can’t say I expected the gap between the two MLS teams to yawn so wide.

Some other random notes on players and happenings: Continue reading

Gamba 1-0 LA: A Better Feeling

Which is to say, it feels nice to feel something other than shame…

A much-improved second half by the Los Angeles Galaxy, though I always wonder how much of that has to do with one team as much as the other – e.g. did Gamba Osaka lay back a little bit? I can’t answer that, but what I can say is the LA’s defensive set featuring – and it’s worth emphasizing these are rookies – Sean Franklin and, um, Valentin (Julian, I think) looked several orders of magnitude better that the Greg Vanney-led set LA played in the first half.

On the attack – hey, hey – LA had a chance or two. If ____ MacDonald (OK, I checked; it’s Brandon) could shoot for shit, we might have watched a tie and a penalty shoot-out. Hell, even Edson Buddle had a late crack at salvaging some pride for Major League Soccer (MLS), but it wasn’t to be. And, perhaps, that was just.

I won’t bore you with much – this is pre-season after all – but I thought I’d close out with a series of unconnected, yet still related, thoughts. Continue reading

Pre-Season Results: The Cruelest Blow Yet…

…and who else would it fall on the Real Salt Lake (RSL)?

Real Salt Lake 1-2 Lynn University
RSL’s ongoing pre-season victory parade through colleges of which I have never heard and Premier Developmental League teams continued…right up until they hit the brick wall that is Lynn University (see the third “section” here for some details).  Brutal, brutal stuff.  After crediting Lynn for sticking it to ’em, RSL GM Garth Lagerwey expressed hope this result will lead to “two steps forward down the road.”

Yes, some days this thing does write itself…

Back, again, to the silly.  I shouldn’t love this as much as I do.  But the formula is so simple: find photographs of high school students caught in one of their worst moments – e.g. presenting projects at the Science Fair – and memorialize it by highlighting out the very worst in those photographs.  Magical.  I will look at this whenever I feel sad.