Crew TSII: Crew Coming Into Focus; Nifty Friendly (that sounds less nifty when you think about it)

(Just a quick FYI: I think I’ve got a good set-up in mind for the Rapids/Crew updates. Those will come early in the morning, the rest will follow. At least that’s the plan today. And, oh yes, I will miss breaking stories…that is all.)

It takes covering the Colorado Rapids to truly appreciate the true meaning of crap coverage. The comparative radio silence of Rapids-Land gives the several reports and updates from outlets official and private on the Columbus Crew a sense of things afoot. Good lord, it might even be a buzz.

Tucked in the middle of a weekly update focused on Eddie Gaven’s and Robbie Rogers’ call-up(s) to the U-23s, you’ll find the first and second half line-ups for the Crew’s embarra…I mean, loss to the Ventura County Fusion. You’ll see some familiar names from this pre-season in there – Emanuel Ekpo, Guilherme So, Sandro Jose, even Mamadu Bah – but it takes Covering the Crew’s latest post to get a bead on where these guys stand. To sum up – for those not interested in the expanded version: So and Ekpo look like they’ll sign – the latter, it seems, has really impressed; the team wants more time to evaluate Bah and talks with Sandro Jose remain stuck. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s talk of an imminent waiver in there as well: so long, Ricardo Virtuoso(?). Continue reading

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EPL Window Shut – A Recap, Winners, Losers, Spenders…

Most EPL followers are sitting here bummed that there were no real high-profile moves in the January transfer window. No Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid. No David Villa to Liverpool. Hell, Manchester United didn’t even make one single move. But why should they?

Somehow, $300 million were spent on new players by EPL clubs, breaking the previous January record set last year of $130 million. Most of the spending was done rather harmlessly. There was no $100 million spent by Chelsea (about $50 million) and ManYoo, Arsenal, and Liverpool kept themselves from overspending. Who are the big spenders, winners, and losers then?

TOP 5 TRANSFER WINNERS (January 2008)

1. TOTTENHAM – New boss, new money and a team that started the season dismally is now on its way up the ranks. Jonathan Woodgate was brought in from Middlesbrough for a believed $15 million, while right fullback Alan Hutton came from Rangers for $16 million. Young Chris Gunter arrived for $4 million early in January and has already made several appearances, while Gilberto (Hertha Berlin) was a truly ‘deadline’ deal. The long and short of it is that weaknesses were addressed. Gilberto, a strong Brazilian left back, will fill the gaps until Gareth Bale returns to health. Hutton could push Chimbonda into the middle or replace him all together. Both have the attacking prowess that suits Juande Ramos’ style of play too. Going out was a good amount of the dead weight that has only been hurting the wage bill as of late – Hossam Ghaly to Derby on loan, Paul Stalteri on loan to Fulham, the $25 million departure of Jermain Defoe to Portsmouth, underplayed winger Wayne Routledge to Aston Villa, and last but not least Anthony Gardner on loan to Everton. Spent – around $40 million.

2. CHELSEA – It’s too early to tell but the Blues seem to have gotten their man in Nicolas Anelka. $30 million was what it cost to pry him away from Reebok Stadium, but he has already shown – in 2 appearances – what kind of attention is drawn to him on field. If Anelka doesn’t work out, wait a year or two, and new $7 million striker Franco di Santo will gladly take his place. Highly coveted after the U-20 World Cup, this guy has a really promising future. On the defensive side, realizing their mistake with Tal Ben-Haim was the biggest reason Serbian Branoslav Ivanovic was brought in from Lokomotiv Moscow. Depth at defense is a big problem for Chelsea and Ivanovic (with the hope that the 23-year old will be Chelsea’s Nemanja Vidic) will help address that – more so with his versatility at right back, centreback, and in a defensive midfielder role. Spent – $48 million.

3. MANCHESTER CITY – Doing next to nothing was good for a City team that has become a bit erratic but generally has stuck to the course. A big coup for Sven’s men was the arrival of winger Nery Castillo from Shakhtar. Castillo gives them a viable winger option that will draw the pressure and attention away from Elano, whose form has dropped as he struggles to deal with the physical nature of the EPL. City then were in an inch away from grabbing Benjani from Portsmouth for about $24 million, but it fell through at the deadline. Instead, Felipe Caicedo – a 19-year old Ecuadorian from Basel in Switzerland – has come in to help replace the losses of wantaways Giorgios Samaras to Celtic and Rolando Bianchi on loan to Lazio. His prospects are huge as Juventus and AC Milan have both been tracking the youngster at Basel for the past several years. The price tag was a cool $10.5 million. Overall, two big upgrades for a rather tame price. Not bad on Eriksson’s part. Spent – around $15 million.

Biggest Busts

1. NEWCASTLE – Kevin Keegan promised high-profile, new faces. Magpie fans got Ben Tozer, Wesley Ngo Baheng, and Tomas Kadar. Heard of’em?

2. MIDDLESBROUGH – A great signing in Afonso Alves, but with it they might have brought themselves legal problems. Not to mention, WHY would you not address your biggest weakness…defense. Still Alves and Tuncay (as I’ve said before), can make something happen up front.

3. LIVERPOOL – Got a decent centerback in Slovakian Martin Skrtel (who debuted with an own goal), but they lost Momo Sissoko to Juventus and failed to sign Javier Mascherano permanently. All the while Ryan Babel has come out and said he’s not cut out for EPL style play. Recent form doesn’t help either. Hopefully, they can rebound but it looks like it’s a three way horse race for the title and Liverpool are once again left behind. Now the fans are hoping to oust Hicks and Gillett by pooling their money together and buying the club!

MOST ACTIVE

1. DERBY – Brought in no less than 7 players, none of which have helped the cause so far. Key arrivals – Hossam Ghaly from Tottenham, Emmanuel Villa from Tecos, Alan Stubbs from Everton, Mile Sterjovski from Gencerbiligi, Danny Mills from Man City, etc.

2. FULHAM – See a pattern? Cellar dwellars = most active, Fulham opted for 7 new players as well. Key arrivals – Eddie Johnson from the Kansas City Wizards, Brede Hangeland from Copenhagen, Leon Andreason from Werder Bremen, Toni Kallio from Young Boys, Jari Litmanen, Erik Nevland from Groningen, and Canadian Paul Stalteri on loan from Tottenham.

3. WIGAN ATHLETIC – I can’t see Wigan staying up, but there doing their damnedest to try. Three CONCACAF stars in Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios (remember him from CD Olimpia vs. DC United?) and Marlon King have arrived. One on loan, one finally permanently, the other costing $10 million. Seasoned left back Erik Edman came in from Rennes and Norwegian Erik Hagen from Zenit St. Petersburg come in to shore up the defense. Lastly, young Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia arrives from Villareal and is a great grab by the Latics.

Shock Deadline Moves: Benjani, Guzan’s Work Permit status

Benjani to Manchester City (very close at least)! Portsmouth’s best forward move has made Harry Redknapp’s life a living hell now, unless he’s got transfers lined up today. Benjani’s exit, Utaka and Kanu at the ANC, and Dave Nugent out with an injury leaves Portsmouth rather thin at the forward line. Milan Baros has arrived and Jermain Defoe is apparently VERY close to a $26 million move from Tottenham.

Alan Hutton finally completed his move to Tottenham, giving the Spurs a viable right back option and possibly spelling Pascal Chimbonda’s end at White Hart Lane. He can definitely move to the center, but if there’s one person it spells the end for…it’s Canadian Paul Stalteri. Walter Smith is going to like the $16 million that came from this transfer…wonder what he’ll do with it.
Apparently, Brad Guzan’s move to Aston Villa is on the verge of collapsing. The initial reuqest for a work permit has been denied – a subsequent appeal will tell the tale.
Afonso Alves has secured a work permit to play for Middlesbrough. Deal should be completed very soon. With Alves and Tuncay up front, Boro’s front line finally rivals their past pairing of Mark Viduka and Yakubu. Inter starlet Goran Slavkovski might be on his way to Boro which further improves their striker situation. Now what about that defense?

Fulham have signed not one, but THREE strikers in January. Finnish legend Jari Litmanen just arrived and at the age of 36, the former Liverpool, Ajax, Barcelona striker will vie for a starting role with Eddie Johnson and FC Groningen’s Erik Nevland. Does this mean Dempsey will move back to his true position?

Manucho, the Angolan and Manchester United striker who has been making waves at the ANC, is set to move on loan to Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos. He looks to have a very bright future at Old Trafford but will have to wait his turn.

Last but not least, David Beckham – no not transfer news – has to wait for his chance at an 100th cap as Fabio Capello is afraid that celebrity friendlies don’t constitute being “fit”. Hasn’t Capello learned his lesson about leaving Beckham on the sidelines??? No worries as Capello’s roster picks have some people thinking he’s completely insane. Emile Heskey, Curtis Davies (7 total EPL appearances this year, maybe 8), and Michael Owen (who has looked like shit recently), Peter Crouch in. Who deserved the call-up?

Danny Szetela loaned out to Brescia

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Steve Goff at the Washington Post has thrown this little teaser in his early evening round-up. It apparently is with an option to buy. Haven’t seen it anywhere else yet. Not even in the Italian press.
Szetela originally turned down an August offer from Brescia to sign for Racing Santander. With his Santander first-team hopes pretty remote, Serie B is not a bad destination for the midfielder. Even better, the Biancoazzurri are sitting in 6th place with close proximity to the leaders and promotion into Serie A. All with around 20 games to go.

He’s going to shine here. I have no doubt about it. Not only that, he gets to play some pretty damn good players – former Italian internationals Alessio Tacchinardi and Fabio Bazzani and 19 year old Hungarian starlet Adam Vass.

He’s going to prove himself in Italy.

EPL Daily 1.29: Woody with Spurs, Sissoko, Baros, Guzan, coming down to the wire

JONATHAN WOODGATE: The former Real Madrid central defender has been stuck in the mediocrity of Middlesbrough. After a transfer bidding war between Newcastle and Tottenham, the Spurs have come out on top – addressing a big issue within their line-up. Michael Dawson can’t be trusted and who knows when Ledley King is ever going to be fully fit again. Only Pascal Chimbonda can say he’s doing anything worthwhile. Woodgate went to Real Madrid as a young 24 year old, but with one major problem, huge injury issues. He solidified himself as a first team central defender but then the injuries hit, limiting him to 9 games over 3 seasons. Tottenham apparently picked Woody up for $16 million, but guess what? – a hamstring injury should keep him from joining their starting line-up for another 2-3 weeks. The Hotspur also look to finish up a deal for Scottish international and Rangers fullback Alan Hutton soon. The figure seems to be around $18 million. Clearly, Juande Ramos is addressing their major weaknesses and not afraid to spend the cash for true talent…less so potential.

MO SISSOKO: The Mali international got his wish and hell of a wish come true at that. 22-year old Sissoko was pissed at not getting the chances he deserved at Anfield and wanted more playing time. Can’t really blame the kid as he was asked to wait behind the likes of Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, and Xabi Alonso. His time looks to increase two-fold at Juve with an aging Pavel Nedved, Cristiano Zanetti, and inexperienced Antonio Nocerino leading the way. Juventus’ midfield has provided only 7 of the 46 goals scored this year. Sissoko is generally considered a defensive midfielder but don’t count out the possibility of him getting a little more free reign at the Delle Alpi. The proceeds from Sissoko’s transfer looks to be the money Liverpool needs to pay for a permanent capture of Javier Mascherano.

MILAN BAROS: …………..is back!! The underperforming former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker has returned to the EPL from French juggernauts Olympique Lyonnais and this time with his scoring touch, hopefully, intact. This one flew under the radar as Baros will be moving on loan. His reasoning? What else but lack of playing time. Milan – if you scored more and bitched less, you’d be starting in Lyon. Regardless, he will get the playing time needed at Pompey under Redknapp cause they’re dealing with Kanu and Utaka gone at the AFC and David Nugent just picking up an injury. We’ll give him props for at least a year over at Stade de Gerland.

BRAD GUZAN: No need to recap this. You all read it on Soccer by ives.

RUMORS: Barcelona’s Eidur Gudjohnsen back to the EPL, this time with Bolton (still need that Anelka replacement); Afonso Alves to Middlesbrough is still in the works, getting closer apparently; Joleon Lescott to either Manchester United or Arsenal

OTHER COMPLETED MOVES: Dennis Wise (head coach at Leeds United) to Newcastle in the position of Executive Director (whatever that means); Aston Villa’s Olof Mellberg to Juventus (Bosman ruling, Summer 2008); Manchester City’s Giorgios Samaras to Celtic on loan; Racing Lens’ Jimmy Kebe to Reading

EPL Daily 1.25: Shearer says ‘no-go’; Liverpool refinancing; Chelsea signing, etc.

ALAN SHEARER: The former Newcastle and Blackburn striker was widely seen as Kevin Keegan’s best candidate for top assistant coach at Tyneside. A meeting between the two end up with Shearer stating he would not like to be considered for the assistant coach positon. Apparently, a future meeting will determine if Alan Shearer could have a role within the new Newcastle regime.

LIVERPOOL: American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have firmly solidified their intentions at Liverpool amidst heavy scrutiny as well as a recent failed takeover bid from Dubai. A $700 million re-financing should ensure for all Liverpool supporters that a new stadium at Stanley Park will get done on time and in perfect order. In the same breath, both Hicks and Gillett have expressed that they are behind Rafa Benitez, even despite media reports otherwise.

MARLON KING: The Jamaican striker was angry to see a transfer to Fulham fail due to fee negotiations, but Wigan has come in to rescue King and offer him Premiership football. The fee was undisclosed but expected to be in the range of $ 6-8 million. Watford was quick to try and bring a replacement, securing 22-year old Dutch misfit Collins John from Fulham on a season’s-end loan.

FRANCO DI SANTO: One of the stars of the U-2o World Cup in Canada for champions Argentina, Di Santo has been snapped up by Chelsea, who continue to nurture their young stars rather effectively. Look at Jon Obi Mikel, Solomon Kalou, and Scott Sinclair – all have continued to progress and provide decent appearances for the Blues. Di Santo should be no different. Chelsea came out on top of the battle for Di Santo’s signature which has been wrestled for over the past 6 months. At 19 years old, nothing crazy is expected of the 6’4″ Audax Italiano (CHI) forward, but with comparisons to Diego Maradona abundant (but which Argentinan youth star isn’t compared with Diego), many Blues fans aren’t looking for him to wait in the reserves for long.

THEO WALCOTT: Signed at 16 and now only 18, some Arsenal supporters are already calling Walcott a dud. I’d give him until at least 22 before you decide that, especially considering you paid around $15 million for the kid. Regardless, there was speculation that Wenger might loan him out to see if he gain some much-needed experience (how’s a cap for England for experience?). Wenger has declared those claims untrue. The rumors put him going to Stoke City (the Championship squad whose owner recently secured a USL-Division 1 expansion squad in Austin, Texas – the Aztex).

EPL Daily 1.23: EJ to England, Cousin to follow? but Fulham knocked out the FA Cup

EJ TO ENGLAND: Eddie Johnson has signed for Fulham to join an ailing strike force of Shefki Kuqi, David Healy, and Diomansy Kamara. Johnson joins as part of new coach Roy Hodgson’s turnover of the Cottagers as they sit in a dead heat for a relegation battle. Defensive reinforcements have already been brought in in the form of Norwegian Brede Hangeland and creative Danish midfielder Leon Andreasen. There are talks taking place with unsettled Glasgow Rangers’ striker Daniel Cousin as well. The deal is for 3 1/2 years.

BERBATOV: Dimitar Berbatov’s wrestling with Tottenham quieted down a bit after the Hotspur’s trouncing of a young Arsenal side in the Carling Cup semifinals.

BIANCHI: Rolando Bianchi – Manchester City’s . His time with City started strong and fizzled recently. Bianchi admitted he 1. hates England 2. hates English football and 3. wants back to Italy. Well to Italy he goes – on loan to Lazio.

MCFADDEN: The wantaway Everton striker has completed his move to Birmingham as the Blues became rather keen on him after his recent form. The Scotsman moved for $10 million. Birmingham has done well this transfer window – bringing in young Argentinian striker Mauro Zarate on loan and keen to bring in Guglielmo Stendardo in on loan from Lazio.

FA CUP ROUND 3 REPLAYS:

Bristol Rovers 0, Fulham 0 (Bristol R. wins 5-3 on penalties)

Roy Hodgson played a rested squad in their replay with Bristol Rovers. Dempsey and Bocanegra went all 120 minutes in a losing cause, one that many expected Hodgson to lay in to his players for. Instead, he defended them and placed the blame on himself, but the truth is, they’re still looking for a win in Hodgson’s reign. Jimmy Bullard played the bad man, missing the PK that allowed Bristol to move ahead.

Derby County 1, Sheffield Wednesday 1 (Derby wins on penalties 4-2)

A Kenny Miller saved the Rams from embarrassment putting their only shot on goal in the back of the net. The match went to overtime and Derby played like the underdog most of the way, throwing hard tackles left and right. Eddie Lewis came in for an ineffective Giles Barnes (rare) and wreaked havoc for a solid 80 minutes on the left side. Deadlocked through overtime, it came down to penalties and Derby didn’t disappoint. Sheffield Wednesday missed their first two, while Eddie Lewis and Kenny Miller converted theirs making it somewhat of a no-contest.

Barnet 0, Swindon 0 (Barnet wins 2-0 on penalties)

In the ugliest display of penalty taking I have seen in a long time, Barnet came out on top. Billy Paynter had probably the most up and down, roller coaster day of his career. First, he scored in the 42nd minute to put Swindon Town up 1-0. Ten minutes later, however, he was hiding in a corner after he put one in the back of his own net. Then to end on a definitive note, Paynter botched his PK attempt as all Swindon Town penalty takers went on to miss their respective attempts.

CARLING CUP SEMIFINALS:

Chelsea 1, Everton 0 (3-1 on aggregate)

Chelsea booked a place in the final as Joe Cole drove the proverbial nail in Everton’s coffin snuffing out in the process a spirited effort from the Toffees. Everton fought with tough tackling and relied on a couple players returning from injury to test the Chelsea defense. Andy Johnson was scrappy as usual, while Manuel Fernandes returned for what seems to be his 40th stint with the club. Either way, Chelsea is through to the final against Tottenham.

Tottenham 5, Arsenal 1 (6-2 on aggregate)

Odd game – but Tottenham pulled apart a shaky Arsenal defense consisting of no one particularly guilty of inconsistent play. The backs were captained by Bakary Sagna and William Gallas, while young goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski got the start in goal. Other surprising names included Justin Hoyte, Denilson, Armand Traore. These youngsters aren’t exactly scared of the spotlight, but no one could cope – not even Gallas and Sagna – with the quality of Jermaine Jenas, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Keane, Berbatov, and a nasty shot from Frenchmen Steed Malbranque. Wenger put on the studs too late – with Adebayor, Eduardo coming in later in the game (Adebayor eventually bagged the lone Gunner goal) and Cesc Fabregas in right after Wenger got a whiff of trouble – the 20 minute mark. Tottenham got the result they deserved in this instance, as last week in the first leg – they came out with a 1-1 draw after firmly holding the upper hand. On top of that, as seen above, a Carling Cup final might be what the Spurs need to keep Dimitar Berbatov around. Best Arsenal moment of the night was probably the friendly fire – Bendtner vs. Adebayor (it’s off in the distance, watch for it). Investigation to follow.