EPL Daily 2.6.08: Friedel inks new deal, FC Dallas trialist, WCQ/International Friendlies

FRIEDEL: Brad Friedel – which many have overlooked – has the most appearances in Blackburn’s long and storied history. It’s just a shame he wasn’t there when Alan Shearer and the Rovers hoisted the EPL trophy in 1994-95. The 36 year old, internationally retired keeper has signed on until 2010 as Blackburn continues to improve year in and year out.

BENJANI: Even with the transfer window all locked up, one deal was finally brought to a conclusion. Manchester City cited concerns for a knee problem that Portsmouth’s leading scorer Benjani had on surgery to correct 18 long months ago. Their nit-picking – if you want to call it that – allowed Citeh to squeeze out an installment payment plan for the in-form striker. Manchester will pay $7.5 million up front with installments totalling another $7.5 million will follow at Benjani’s 25, 50, and 75 start mark.

SAM STOCKLEY: Although not EPL related and not even really that exciting. FC Dallas will be trialing Stockley – a former Colchester and now Wycombe fullback. At the ripe old age of 30, he has been forced out of the Wycombe line-up and is looking at his options. His contract doesn’t run out until late June of 2008.

INTERNATIONALS: Everton’s Tim Cahill scored the second goal in their first ever Asian World Cup qualifying win. A 3-0 blowout of Qatar. Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung and Fulham’s Seol Ki-Hyeon scored three of South Korea’s 4 goals in a 4-0 drubbing of Turkimenistan. Charlton’s Chinese striker Zheng Zhi scored the equalizer in a 1-1 tie with Iraq to start off their WCQ campaign and kept China from following to a 10-man Iraq side after midfielder Neshat Akram was sent off.

A crap load of international friendlies take place today, featuring all sorts of EPL players – the most notable being: France vs. Spain (17 year old Barca starlet Bojan Krkic was hoping to make his debut but might not due to injury), England vs. Switzerland (England will play its first match under Fabio Capello), USA vs. Mexico, Croatia vs. Netherlands (Holland will be operating with out Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Dirk Kuyt, and Robin Van Persie), Turkey vs. Sweden, Austria vs. Germany, Czech Republic vs. Poland, Italy vs. Portugal, Brazil vs. Ireland (the Irish hope for some luck without a manager on the sideline against the Brazilians, Alexandre Pato will NOT make his debut due to a sprained ankle), Jamaica vs. Costa Rica, and Honduras vs. Paraguay.

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CONCACAF Qualifying: It’s Started….Somewhere…

Wow. If I hadn’t read this MLSnet.com fluff-piece on Khano Smith, I wouldn’t have known that the preliminary qualifying round for CONCACAF had started this past weekend. Obviously, given Smith’s name coming up, Bermuda was one of the participants. Since the article was written on Friday, there’s nothing in there about whether Bermuda beat the Cayman Islands…time to see what I can dig up…

Hmm…ESPN does all right, but only so far as posting the original draw. If there’s a CONCACAF specific corner of the site, I’m not seeing it…wait, no, I found it. There’s a “results” link just above the schedule’s title and that takes you to ESPN’s “Live Scores” section. Click back to February 3 and – voila! – there’s your result: Bermuda 1-1 Cayman Islands (ouch…crappy start…isn’t it? I didn’t even know the Cayman Islands had a team…I mean, I assumed they did, but…you know what I mean. Then again, I probably wouldn’t know much about Bermuda, either, if the Revs didn’t go down there every preseason).

Long parenthetical rambles aside, it looks like more qualifying games are coming on February 6 – including, yep, the relevant-to-Yanks game between Dominica and Barbados. You can get the complete preliminary qualifying schedule on the Khano Smith profile.

So, it has begun…damn shame it’s not on TV. Ugly as I imagine they are, I’d watch these things. The bigger shame, though, is the fact the African Cup of Nations isn’t on a more accessible outlet

(UPDATE: A couple other sites flagged the kick-off of CONCACAF qualifying: Sideline Views and Soccer Insider (quite probably among others).  Steve Goff, author of the Insider and an infernal busy-body to boot, one-upped my “coverage” by doing the obvious: digging up a match report and reaction piece….damn you, Goff!!  As it turns out, though, this was a bad result for Bermuda…and not just because they played this one at home.)

CONCACAF Qualifying: C’mon, People, Worry With Me!

I don’t like this particular line of thinking from Greg Lalas’ look ahead to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s (aka, Yanquis) 2008:

“All of that [ed. – “what’s ‘that’ you’re asking? Well, read his article and find out.”] will pay massive dividends come ’09, when the U.S. heads to South Africa for the Confederations Cup and World Cup 2010 qualifying opponents are not pinpricks on the map. Clichés exist for a reason. Because they’re true. Sophomore slumps also exist for a reason. Because you’re preparing for what comes next.”

Well, yeah. But what if “what comes next” never comes because you didn’t sweat the necessary stuff that comes before it?

The whole tone of that article, along with the idea that we’re entering something of a “nothing” year with 2008, irks me a little. The list of probable 2008 opposition on our way to the 2010 World Cup does have a kind of “who’s that?” feel. We start in June with either Barbados or Dominica, whichever of them makes it past their upcoming home-and-home ties in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament’s first round (are these things being televised, by the way; if not, why not? I’m seeing a shitstack of “FA Cup Films” out of Fox Soccer Channel and, no, I don’t stick around to watch them). Sure, we should beat either team, and handily, but…well, what if? I know two things about this: 1) my world would, personally, end; 2) am I alone in detecting some shaky moments in our defense, specifically our central defense? And what happens when we go down a freak goal at home and need to score – as we did against Guatemala in last year’s Gold Cup – and we just….can’t….do….it? Shit…I lost a few more hairs just thinking about it.

Speaking of Guatemala, they’re one of our likely opponents in the round-robin semifinal Hexagonal that will round out our qualifying schedule for 2008, them along with Trinidad & Tobago and Cuba (you can piece together pretty easily from this page). Going by the tentative Yanquis’ schedule Du Nord slapped on the ol’ left-hand sidebar, we’ll be five games into the six required to wrap up the penultimate Hexagonal by the end of this year – and this is a time when Lalas recommends we “afford some of the players some necessary rest?” Now, this could just be the anxiety talking, but am I alone in thinking all three of those teams are entirely capable of forcing ties with the U.S. team? We know Guatemala is a pain in the ass, that the Cubans get up for games against the Yanquis like no one else (half of them, no doubt, by way of putting on a pre-defection audition), and Trinidad had it’s moments in the 2006 World Cup (does Tobago get pissed when people leave them out?). For all that the odds favor the Yanquis, accidents happen…sometimes several of them in a row.

The point is, the Canadians look like they’re approaching qualifying with due and healthy anxiety (and, provided they play in 2008 like they played this summer, they can definitely survive a group comprised of (again, this is likely) Mexico, Jamaica, and Honduras; and, for the record, I’m glad that’s the Canadians’ group and not ours. So count me happy we’re not in that (highly comparative) Group of Death, but I don’t like so much as the possibility that Lalas’ positively sanguine mood lurks in more hearts than his. We’re the better team – and by far; I have absolutely no doubt of that – but this is about guaranteeing success, as opposed to expecting it.

I mean, how painful would it be to fly to the Confederations’ Cup in 2009 with no South Africa 2010 to follow?

MLS (Semi-)Daily Sweeper, 12.18: The REAL Dull-Drums, A World Cup Qualifying Must-Read

With the FIFA Club World Cup and the NCAA Championships done and dusted and half of Europe taking a winter siesta, things look to have really wound down for 2007. Speaking specifically about the U.S., a look at Fox Soccer Channel’s 15-day domestic forecast says it all: the only thing more pointless than an international club friendly is a days-old, tape-delayed international club friendly…that it stars the Major League Soccer (MLS) dog-n-pony show only makes it that much worse.

Given that, I’ll be going into a winter break of my own till the New Year, but won’t start that till the end of this week. I’ve got Christmas BS throughout, in any case, and will thus be too busy with food, euchre, presents, running my kids around, and having drunkenly aimless, yet unbelievably passionate arguments about everything under the sun to get to much for posting.

But there’s always today and the rest of the week – and, as Steve Goff points out on Soccer Insider, today is positively stuffed with activities. The time being what it is, I’ll get to those tomorrow…it’s not like the story is going to change on me. So, on with the show, this is it….literally…

– On ESPN’s site, Steve Davis posted the quintessential hubris-checker regarding the United States’ road through World Cup qualifying; those wanting a clearer explanation of what the hell he’s talking about can get that through My Soccer Blog’s road map for the first part of the journey. The latter is useful for Davis’ column, but by no means necessary. Speaking for myself, I’m most worried about the one I’m assuming worries everyone else least: the play-in home-and home versus either Dominica or Barbados. Yes, either team is miles below us, both in the FIFA Con-jo…er, World Rankings, and quality of play, but it’s the lower margin of error that brings the anxiety, not to mention the potential for MASSIVE, unbearable humiliation. The thing is, if the U.S. finds themselves in a funk, or if Barbados (to pick one at random) somehow steals a goal and plays killer, athletic defense…well, that’s it. Unlike in the round-robin stages, both games against whichever Caribbean minnow we face matter, at least so long as we don’t carry a butt-stomping lead into the second leg; anything less than a 3-0 lead going into the second leg and I’ll be more nervous than I ought to be given the opposition. This is the point of Davis’ column: weirder things have happened in World Cup qualifying. So, stay frosty, people. Continue reading

Premature World Cup Predictions: UEFA

So the UEFA Groups are set. Group of death…sorta…Group A? An England – Croatia rematch! Israel’s chances looking decent. It looks to be a long road for all.

The top teams from each of 9 groups qualify outright, while the 8 best runner-ups compete in a playoff to determine the final four spots. That’s 13 spots overall available for Europe.

Now let’s go group-by-group.

GROUP A

Portugal
Sweden
Denmark
Hungary
Albania
Malta

Portugal, Sweden, Denmark look to fight for the automatic out of this group and this could arguably be the “Group of Death”, except I think Portugal is going to come away with the spot on this one while Sweden, Denmark, and possibly even an on-form Hungary fight for two. Expect Sweden though to take second and qualify for the play-offs.

GROUP B

Greece
Israel
Switzerland
Moldova
Latvia
Luxembourg

Either way, we’re going to see a team we haven’t seen in the World Cup a while here. The Euro 2004 champs – Greece – have looked decent as of late, but they haven’t matched the form of Israel who is my pick to take this group. A little bold as they haven’t appeared since 1970 – but crazier things have happened and I look forward to watching both Ben Sahar and Toto Tamuz take bigger roles on front line. If Israel even slips in the slightest – Greece will take the number one, but I’d peg them for two and a trip to the playoffs.

GROUP C

Czech Republic
Poland
Northern Ireland
Slovakia
Slovenia
San Marino

There’s only one walk-over in this group as Czech Republic faces some tough depth of competition. They’ll still come out far and away on top and I see Poland grabbing second, but it is hard to dismiss Northern Ireland’s renaissance. Their hopes – however – depend solely on the continued productivity of David Healy who has looks to need a finishing clinic based on his most recent EPL performances. As one of the three spoilers – along with Slovenia and Slovakia – any of them can upset Czech Republic and Poland so expect a couple surprises here and there.

GROUP D

Germany
Russia
Finland
Wales
Azerbaijan
Liechtenstein

Somewhat clear cut for me. Germany and Russia have proven they’re for real. Yes, Russia hiccupped in form, losing to Israel with a Euro 2008 qualification in their sights but if Guus Hiddink is still in charge, you can expect an even more consistent Russian squad to contend for a trip to South Africa. Unfortunately, the Germans are in the way and I just don’t see anyone impeding them…

GROUP E

Spain
Turkey
Belgium
Bosnia
Armenia
Estonia

Spain and Turkey look to be the favorites and as always, I’d expect Spain to punch an automatic ticket based a phenomenal squad of players, decent depth, and real veteran leadership – but once in South Africa, expect that Spanish underperformance again. Will we be seeing the youthful exuberance of Bojan Krkic and possibly De la Red? Probably not if David Villa is firing on all cylinders. La Roja have lost only once to Turkey in 8 match-ups but the Turks seem to always surprise people, especially if the team has at their disposal the young Nuri Sahin, and veterans Nihat and Emre. Belgium can contend, but there’s no Marc Overmars to captain that team to consistency. Your best bet at a spoiler comes in the form of Bosnia who has been slowly gaining respect from their opponents throughout the Euro qualifiers. Spain on top, Turkey second. By the way, is FIFA expecting us to believe that Armenia/Turkey match-up wasn’t intentional?!?!

GROUP F

Croatia
England
Ukraine
Belarus
Kazakhstan
Andorra

For the English, the ditch couldn’t get any deeper – or so they thought. Three Eastern European teams does not bode well for the Lions. Will Lampard, Gerrard, Terry, and Rooney let them miss a second major competition though? I can’t see it happening, but that certainly doesn’t mean it won’t. Croatia’s new generation of Luka Modric and Eduardo da Silva has already left an indelible scar on English football. This will either be a dominant performance from England or they will scrap their way through leaving it to chance on the final day. England will rebound with – gulp – renewed vigor while Croatia will outperform Ukraine for second. Believe it or not, a key (one of many) to England’s success seems to be the inclusion of David Beckham and that all depends on England’s pick of gaffer.

GROUP G

France
Romania
Serbia
Lithuania
Austria
Faroe Islands

Serbia underperformed this past year and I would expect them to come back strong, but France will prove to strong for either. The French will take first, while Serbia and Romania will battle for second. Romania is on the rise as could be seen by their recent performance in the Euro qualifiers, while Serbia – after their split with Montenegro – has been struggling but I wouldn’t exactly say they were on their way down. Plus, I could never bet again a healthy Nemanja Vidic captained back-line. Serbia goes second.

GROUP H

Italy
Bulgaria
Ireland
Cyprus
Georgia
Montenegro

Ireland is really going to like their chances in this group but it will really depend on their performances against the lesser – but equally dangerous – sides of Cyprus, Georgia, and Montenegro. Italy will run away with it, while Ireland and Bulgaria duke it out for second. Only Italy out of this group as both the Irish and Bulgarians will get swallowed up in any sort of playoff.

GROUP I

Netherlands
Scotland
Norway
Macedonia
Iceland

The group of five is deep. Holland has a little leeway to give in terms of form and what not, but Scotland and Norway will be ready to pounce on any inconsistencies with the Dutch. Scotland will beat Norway, finish second and join the playoffs. Norway only finished a point out of Euro qualification and could benefit from possible underestimation as their string of results went largely unnoticed. This is all in contrast to the run of Scotland who scared both France and Italy before bowing out gracefully in the homestretch.

RECAP

Automatics (9): Portugal, Israel, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, Italy, England, France, Netherlands

Playoffs (8): Scotland, Serbia, Turkey, Greece, Sweden, Poland, Russia, Croatia

Final Spots (4): Turkey, Sweden, Russia, Croatia

What are your thoughts? Any match-ups your looking forward to? Players that are going to make their mark?

Daily Sweeper (DS), 10.10: US Roster Talk; MLS to PDX (Still?); SEVERE TV Issues; Best Dang DP

I’m going with an acronym for this feature: DS. That way I have more room for witticisms in the title…

– My colleague Breton already tackled the heavy lifting and thinking regarding the just-named U.S. roster for next Wednesday’s friendly against Switzerland. Read his stuff, of course – he thought about it more, after all – but I stand by the comments I made to close his post, particularly that these out-o’-the-ass lineups make these friendlies worth watching; real shockers like Robbie Findley and Maurice Edu only add intrigue…

…and then along comes USSoccerplayer.com’s Ian Plenderleith to take a big ol’ poop on my fun by pointing out that a few of these players owe a debt to circumstance for their call-ups (thanks a lot, friend). Looking elsewhere, Goal.com’s Ben Brackett seems wary of fielding such a green lineup given his opinion that the U.S. Men need to start winning on European soil. Eh, maybe. I’m not to worried about that, nor am I much concerned about building team chemistry for World Cup qualifying. Sure, we’ll have to get to latter one of these days, but with qualifying not starting till some time later than early 2008, I figure we have time to experiment. As for the European soil thing, it’ll come.

– It looks like the possibility of Major League Soccer (MLS) coming to Portland remains live. Better still, some relevant parties seems interested in placing the team in PGE Park and moving the Portland Beavers (baseball) to another facility. This would be a good thing. No, a great thing. The only piece to the conversation I think they’re missing is what happens with Portland State University’s football team? Then again, since they’re not mentioning it, maybe it’s not the issue I think it is. Anyway, great to hear that Portland’s still in the hunt. Continue reading