The $20 Million Dollar Man: Ever Banega

Ever Banega with Boca

The past year and only 42 appearances in a Boca uniform has seen this young 19-year old Argentinian midfielder – very much in the vein of Javier Mascherano at Liverpool and Fernando Gago at Real Madrid – help Boca Juniors win the Copa Libertadores, while ALSO hoisting the World Cup with the Argentinian U-20s. Valencia has finally won his signature after fending off the challenges of AC Milan and Juventus.

All that’s left is paperwork, but Banega has already left to join his new teammates at the Mestalla. His arrival spells the end for former Spanish international David Albelda who has recently been liked with Everton and Barcelona. Albelda is one of three veterans that have effectively been “dropped” from Valencia’s seventh place squad due to underperformance and inconsistencies – the other two being Miguel Angel Angulo and GK Santiago Canizares. But out with the old and in with the new, but at Boca who replaces the young Banega who in turn had replaced the young Gago? Banega’s deal at Valencia runs for 4 years. Look him up on YouTube if you want to check him out and remember his name as many also peg him to be the future replacement for Riquelme.

Now I ask La Liga specialist Ryan: is Banega a project or he could he be the one to wake a sleeping giant?

Ryan:  I’ll figure I’ll jump in right here instead of making a comment.  I honestly haven’t seen much of Banega to give an opinion of him on the field.  However, Valencia is in a VERY precarious position right now.  They are in all sorts of trouble with Cañizares and now are being taken to court by David Albelda due to Valencia’s new position consisting of ‘Instead of releasing our players, we’ll just have them sit the bench for us’.  That’s not sitting too well for the former captain.  Valencia is simply in a tailspin as of late and maybe Banega is the spark to bring them out of it.

My firm stand on younger players is this: Any young player is always a project.

He will face a different game in La Liga.  Sure, the Clausura isn’t a cakewalk, but you have to adjust to a different system, coach, country, all of the things he currently has in Argentina.  He is also a youngster at only 19 years old.  From the photos he looks as if he will need to mature a bit to not be forced off the ball easily and is still going to grow as a player.  It’s a shame that he couldn’t learn from Riquelme now that he is back at Boca.  A year or two next to Riquelme may have paid large dividends to the young Argentinian.

Koeman won’t waste much time in putting the 19 year old to work at the Mestalla.  There is no better time to give Valencia a boost than the present.   I just hope that Banega is ready for an entire city’s weight to be on his shoulders.  Playing at Valencia is no easy task.

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

CWC: Boca Jrs. 1-0 Etoile Sportive du Sahel…

…um…all I know about this game comes from FIFA.com’s site; here, in fact.  Some jackass (me) blew setting the VCR, entering p.m. where he needed a.m.  (Yeah, I’m still on old technology; I also rocked K-Mart duds through elementary school and rode a hand-me-down girls bike with a peppermint-candy banana seat for years; such trends are powerful, only the details change.)  Sounds like it was a close game.

So, I missed this one.  I’ll try again for tomorrow’s game: AC Milan v. Urawa Red Diamonds.  I’m still pulling for an upset in the Club World Cup; hopefully, Milan will oblige.

MLS Daily Sweeper, 12.11: CWC, CONCACAF, Atlante, TRADE MADNESS…AHH!!

Jesus balls! What a day! So many major and minor things to discuss….best start with the little stuff to warm up. Just like before playing, right?

– One little thing to keep an eye on: I seriously don’t know how teeny-tiny Major League Soccer (MLS) rosters will cope with the scheduling insanity if the powers-that-be follow through with their threat to create a CONCACAF Champions Cup. FC Rocky looked only at Houston’s schedule, but a couple teams will be eating the same shit sandwich.

– The Club World Cup continues (very early) tomorrow morning (report tomorrow) when Etoile Sportive du Sahel enjoys their one-night stand against Boca Juniors. Naturally, Boca is trotting out the typical “we’re not overlooking anyone” business, but one suspects they’re grinning like cats when no one’s looking. Then again, Jonah Freedman’s look at how the world’s mighty have fallen cautions against complacency.

– Don’t know how far behind I am on this (so much for following the Mexican league…oh wait, I couldn’t, not with my cable package), but Atlante, the latest hot thing in Cancun, Mexico, won the Mexican Primera’s Apertura. That makes them the “other” Mexican club for this spring’s CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, right? Wikipedia says it does – smack at the bottom of their brief history of the club. Do note the move from Mexico City to Cancun in August 2007. Luis Bueno wrote a nice recap of Atlante’s accomplishment as well. But the most interesting thing to come out of any of these pieces appears at the bottom of that first link – and it doesn’t deal with Atlante so much as MLS’ future prospects in our local, international tournaments:

“One-time models of success, Pachuca have hit rock bottom. The record-setting club lost 1-0 in the opening round of the Club World Cup to little-known Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel. Los Tozos went to Japan who had high expectations, but the club that could do no wrong for most of 2007 — winning the Clausura championship, the CONCACAF Champions Cup, and the Superliga title — has not played well of late and they failed to make any accounting of themselves on the world’s stage.”

So that’s one CONCACAF Champs’ participant sucking wind. Maybe we’ll get a club to the final in 2008?

OK. Now the big stuff (and the accompanying thought-sprawl): Continue reading

CWC: CONCACAF’s Pride and Place in the World

Etoile Sportive du Sahel 1 – 0 CF Pachuca

It wasn’t as if Pachuca didn’t do itself, or the CONCACAF region, proud last night. Outside the first twenty minutes and off the score-sheet, they carried the game in terms of possession and aggression. In spite of the general advantage, however, Pachuca couldn’t force clear-cut openings in the Etoile Sportive du Sahel (hereafter, ESS or “the Tunisians'”) defense. As such, when ESS finally scored – off the kind of narrow chance, in fact, that characterized the game – Pachuca couldn’t swing the reply.

Even so, Pachuca looked the better team; play this game 10 times and Pachuca wins about seven of them. Thanks to the skill and understanding in the side, their passes slipped into and out of the narrowest confines everywhere on the field but the Tunisians’ defensive third; there, they tried plenty of quick give-and-goes – and pulled off a couple, at least in the wide portions of the field – but found themselves thwarted again and again by the second-to-last defender. They still created some openings where a Pachuca player had at least part of the goal to shoot at and room to fire, but the angles were such that the ball always seemed within the ESS ‘keeper’s reach – or it went just over the bar.

To give them credit, ESS just proved hard to beat; the quality of their defending limited Pachuca’s opportunities. And given the kind of opportunity that the Mexicans couldn’t finish all night, their guy (Moussa Nary) put it away – albeit, courtesy of a deflection. Their capacity to concentrate defensively, however, should do them some good when they meet Boca Juniors in the semifinals. Going the other way – e.g. on offense – well…maybe the team should lengthen the prayer they offered just before kick-off against Pachuca. Continue reading

World Club Cup: The Day Before* the Brawl

* Or is it? I don’t pay enough attention to how the International Date Line works, so maybe the opening game already happened already, at least in terms of the date. Probably not, though…moving on…

Kick-off for the World Club Cup play-in, which pits Iran’s Sepahan against Waitakere United’s (part-timers) from New Zealand comes in, oh, 13 hours (full TV schedule; a more detailed layout appears on soccertv.com). With the tournament so close, I’m working on getting psyched up for the thing, but I’m finding myself reliant on official sources – e.g. FIFA.com’s official site – in order to do so.  They certainly try by frequent uses of the adjectives like “ultimate” and “prestigious” for describing the trophy…here I thought the whole thing was just one more straw laid gently on players’ backs by FIFA and the clubs, all done with the apparent goal of breaking them without anyone noticing…

Knowing that official sites are ever-willing to stroke their product, I thought I’d poke around for some kind of buzz in non-official outlets. Sadly, a search of Google news – using “2007 FIFA World Club Cup” as the search words – hit only a few items and most of those coming from FIFA.com. Now that I’ve got a viewing schedule nailed down, I fully intend to do my bit to provide independent content, but FIFA.com looks like the well-spring for any pre-tourney hype (he writes without checking club sites).

Grousing about corporatist media outlets out of the way, I can say that the news section of FIFA.com’s site at least has plenty of content. That’s where I learned that all the World Club Cup tournaments operating under the present format have crowned Brazilian clubs as champions (Corinthians (2000), Sao Paulo (2005) and Internacional (2006)). That will change, if nothing else, thanks to the absence of Brazilian clubs in the 2007 tournament. Obviously, Argentina’s Boca Juniors and Italy’s AC Milan enter the lists as favorites, but we can imagine a different outcome…can’t we? Then again, Milan’s stars – guys like Kaka and Clarence Seedorf (shit…how old is that dude?) – wax eloquent in pre-game interviews about their “burning desire” to lift the World Club Cup (to which my first response as the interviewer would be, “No shit? C’mon, the tape recorder is off…now, tell me: you feel like well-compensated chattel don’t you?”

As a side-note, I should mention that Kaka seems equally up for the 2009 Confederations Cup…and guess who will be in attendance at that one? (HINT: Bob Bradley coaches this “mystery” team.) Continue reading

Methadone Clocking: The World Club Cup! Saved from UEFA Cup Viewing!*

* I kid. I kid. I just won’t get to it this week.

It’s only when the desperation gets one poking under the cushions of soccertv.com that one truly realizes the full-time nature of the global soccer calendar. I see now that waiting won’t be at all necessary, not with the U.S. U-17s in action all weekend long; they start Thursday, in fact. And the opposition – the U-17 teams from Brazil, Turkey, and Russia – should make for some fun viewing.

But that’s not if I’m not too busy watching the World Club Cup. Yippee!! Tournaments! What better way to justify recording all kinds of soccer, hogging the TV, etc.? That one kicks off Friday with a play-in game between Iran’s Sepahan (looks like soccertv.com has a typo) and New Zealand’s Waitakere United. The games follow hot and heavy from there with Mexico’s CF Pachuca taking on Etoile Sahel from Tunisia. This one only lasts till December 16, so you might miss it if you blink. On a side note, go, our region!

Credit to Sports Illustrated for the reminder. Surely, there’s an official site out there somewhere….ah, here it is. Full schedule, teams, and so on. The only question now is how I’m going to watch the NCAA finals with this going on. What are my priorities?

So, in all seriousness, I’m going to take a crack at catching/covering most of this one. I hope it’s fun.