Poland 0-3 U.S. – Um, wow.

Here’s the funny thing about last night: we won the game. By that I mean, we have won games in the past – e.g. by the means of scoring at least one more goal than the other team – but the remarkable thing about last night was that we won. And this was in Europe and against a decent team and we looked better, collectively, certainly, but also, in some places, on an individual level. Well, all right.

As you’ll gather below, I’m just in love with the U.S. Men’s National Team right now – or the Yanquis, as I like to call them. Rather than bore you with a blow-by-blow run-down, I’ll bore you with several quick, hopefully interesting observations:

– Was Landon Donovan man of the match? Tempting thought. If nothing else, the man actually delivered solid set-pieces, several of them – a “holy shit” kind of thing all by itself. And I don’t care what anyone says or thinks, he did damn well on that breakaway in spite of missing the goal.

– Speaking of set-pieces, I would be freakin’ the frank out if I was Polish, or just supported their national team; they were all over the place on set-pieces. And against the U.S.

– If you’re wondering about the odd use of the word “frank” above, that was inspired by the show about the ghost hunters from Rhode Island that broadcasts on the Sci Fi Channel. Freaked out and unable to say “fuck,” one of the guys said something like “that is so frankin’ weird.” I just liked the sound of it. Back to the game… Continue reading

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EPL Weekend: Everton Reclaims 4th, Former Goalscorer Forssell returns, Lampard Ejected

Saturday, March 1st

Birmingham 4, Tottenham 1

Not many were expecting this result and it’s pretty certain that not a soul would have expected Mikael Forssell to hit for a hat-trick against the Hotspur no less. Sure enough, that’s what happened. The true ‘nail in the coffin’ came with Sebastian Larsson’s swerving free-kick beating Paul Robinson to his right and putting Birmingham two clear right after half-time. The Blues had Tottenham’s number this season, taking both match-ups, and this is the worst loss Juande Ramos has suffered since his takeover. It’s pretty safe to say that Pascal Chimbonda and Younes Kaboul will never be deployed centrally on defense again. Think of Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu’s worst days together with the Nats and multiply it exponentially. Ramos could barely watch…Birmingham will breathe a sigh of relief though as this puts them a little higher up in the fight for top-flight survival.

Reading 1, Middlesbrough 0

A big win for Reading, against a lesser quality side Birmingham’s opponent Tottenham, but three points nonetheless. James Harper has a knack for scoring those injury time goals then going dormant for a good 10 games, but he made his presence known against M’Boro. The Royals didn’t get many chances, but Shorey and Ingimarsson kept Middlesbrough rather quiet. Bobby Convey didn’t dress.

Manchester United 3, Fulham 0

Brian McBride couldn’t revive his magic versus United as the Cottagers were trampled on from the beginning. Eddie Johnson and McBride coupled up front as Fulham managed several decent attacks, but United got much-needed rest for their stars as their return leg vs. Lyon fast approaches and some contributions from unlikelies. Owen Hargreaves hit his first in a United shirt on a well-taken set piece, while Park Ji-Sung actually tucked away a header to make it 2-0 before half-time. Then with 20 minutes to go, Sir Alex Ferguson put in Ronaldo, Rooney, and Anderson and their entrances quickly pinned Fulham down. A Simon Davies own goal ensured the victory for Manchester and dug a deeper hole for the struggling Cottagers.

Chelsea 4, West Ham United 0

Another outclassing, but this one with a different theme. Lampard converted a penalty early on only to be shown a red after retaliating on a tackle made by Luis Boa Morte. Controversy ensued but by then Chelsea was up 3-0 thanks to Michael Ballack and Joe Cole. An hour without Lampard made Chelsea a much more disciplined squad, taking the chances when they had to. A counter-attack led to Ashley Cole’s first goal of the season (and in a long time) which he converted from a seemingly impossibly acute angle. Needless to say, that was West Ham’s luck. Jon Spector dressed but didn’t play for the Hammers.

Blackburn 1, Newcastle 0

Newcastle’s losses have become less embarassing at least, but regardless, their slide continues. Actually the only real embarassment in this match-up was missed chances. Obafemi Martins is his 30 minutes couldn’t find the target, nor could Michael Owen (who later apologized publicly to his teammates for his inaccuracies). One person who did find the net was young Rover striker Matt Derbyshire and he did it in dramatic fashion, 90th minute to push Newcastle farther down the table. Roque Santa Cruz tested Newcastle’s defense all day, but it was David Bentley who put Derbyshire through for the injury-time clincher. Brad Friedel played all 90 and once again led the Rovers to another shutout.

Other Results:

Manchester City 0, Wigan 0 – Sven-Goran Eriksson was understandably angry after this one as Citeh looks nothing like the first half of the season, Wigan held strong though

Derby 0, Sunderland 0 – Another angry manager in Roy Keane, but at least Paul Jewell should feel an ounce of happiness after this. Poor guy. Eddie Lewis went the whole 90, Benny Feilhaber dressed for the first time in a long time, but overall it was the worst played game all weekend.

Sunday, March 2nd

Liverpool 3, Bolton 1

The Reds were fortunate to be given a 12th minute gift of an own goal. Jussi Jaskaleinen – a keeper not used to odd mistakes like this – seemed to be tracking a Gerrard shot wide but instead corralled it into his own net. The play seemed to demoralize the Wanderers defense as Jussi was busy the rest of the game, playing rather well. Liverpool’s offense was too strong however. Though rumored to be restless at Anfield, Ryan Babel put together a fantastic game scoring the go-ahead goal and terrorizing the wings. Fabio Aurelio added the third with 15 minutes to go with a Jon Arne Riise-like strike. New signing Tamir Cohen pulled back a consolation goal for the relegation strugglers as their job was made worse by yet another home loss. Martin Skrtel is really starting to settle down in the back for Liverpool, but it’s going to take a while before anyone can compare him to Liverpool’s Nemanja Vidic.

Everton 3, Portsmouth 1

Someone should discipline Yakubu more often. David Moyes spouted praise for the Nigerian striker after he struck for yet another two goals in an organized victory over European competition hopefuls Portsmouth. Pompey fielded an odd line-up with Muntari and Kranjcar moving equally on the wings as well as in the middle, but Everton stuck on the course. Yakubu hit for an early goal in the 1st minute only to see Jermain Defoe continue his scoring run with new club Portsmouth and equalize before halftime. Tim Cahill came to the rescue with a high-flying header, wide open, but extremely acrobatic to break the deadlock. Yakubu added the insurance goal with about 10 minutes to go, giving him 18 for the season. With the win, Moyes got the added bonus of rest for an injury-hampered Mikel Arteta who they will certainly need for their final push. Even with the 3 points, Moyes is relatively certain it is Liverpool that will pull out the 4th place finish. What words can I even say about how Tim Howard is playing right now…

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.

The Yanquis Got Poland…The Yanquis Need More.

So, I see we picked up an international friendly against Poland on March 26 – and that’s good so far as it goes. It wasn’t till I read My Soccer Blog’s post on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s (Yanquis) schedule for 2008 that I got to thinking we really need another couple games. At time of writing, the Yanquis have three friendlies scheduled this year before we begin World Cup qualifying. And that ain’t enough.

Part of it grows from my late (over-wrought) anxiety about the Yanquis stumbling at the first Caribbean hurdle. Intellectually, I understand that just about any plausible U.S. team will beat either Dominica (think I’ll pull for these guys) or Barbados – and probably like a gong at that. But that reality hardly makes a case for approaching this thing casually.

An article posted by “the editor” on USSoccerplayers.com gets at why, if only indirectly. Lamenting the practice of calling in long-shot players for the Yanquis current January training camp, “editor” (I think this is probably J Hutcherson, but I’m having fun) questions the value of mixing these players with more regular candidates – after all, how often will they take the field together again? I subscribe to the urgency of “editor’s” beef – e.g. the clock is ticking, people – but see value in ongoing experimentation. As “editor” ticks down the list of invitees, I see him taking some eye-catching things for granted. For example:

Tim Howard and Kasey Keller should feel little threat from the keepers currently in Carson.”

“Eddie Robinson, meanwhile, may not be contending with Carlos Bocanegra or Oguchi Onyewu for a regular starting spot, but he’s a fringe candidate to fill in when the going gets tough in World Cup qualifying.”

“Ed Johnson has proven he can score in meaningful games and should be in the conversation for the first choice strike partnership atop a 442 or 352.”

My first question is why I can’t make the bold font from the original article go away?

But other, more relevant questions (and answers) follow: Is Kasey Keller really still in the goalkeepers’ pool? (A: He mentions Brad Guzan for ‘keeper, and that’s a start, but I’m inclined to look to the future for ‘keeper. I’d keep looking.) Has the combination of Onyewu and Bocanegra inspired confidence? (A: Frankly, no. Too often, they’ve left me feeling more jittery than a wet cat hooked up to a 9-volt battery. I’d keep experimenting through April, then name the best available pair.) Johnson has shown he can score in the past, but how often? (A: Given our, um, situation at forward and given Johnson’s erratic form, I think the best you can say is he’s an option; that means keep looking.)

It should be pretty clear where I’m going with all this. I agree with “editor” that we’re to a point where we should cut out fringe players. But, for the plausible candidates – e.g. Michael Parkhurst, Eddie Robinson, anyone at forward – we need more games, preferably early in 2008, to gauge their abilities or, if nothing else, to push the guys we do have. We’re simply not strong enough in too many positions to call an end to Bradley’s experiments. That time is coming, but the bigger issue as I see it is getting these players games. Sterner tests would be nice, but I’d cast a wide net for friendlies….hell, the Caribbean seems a great place to start. What’s Grenada doing this year?

MLS Rumors Watch: Fun While It Lasted and, Hey, Ends on an Up

Call it the last of a long line of projects I assign myself, only to discover the mechanics of the thing proved more difficult than anticipated. The plan to track MLS Rumors’ success rate ended today when they posted a rumor with a four rating and a damned long timeline; the simple reality is, I’m unwilling to keep track of a rumor that won’t come together for 2 years, as is the case with Major League Soccer’s (MLS) possible, future inclusion in the Copa Libertadores. I think I’ve mentioend this in the past, but I’m lucky to leave the house with pants most mornings; I’ll be lucky if I remember my fucking name by the time an MLS team takes the field in the Copa Libertadores…a move I wholly endorse…provided we kill Superliga…which, according to MLS Rumors’ write-up, may yet become MLS clubs’ entry point into the Copa…or something to that effect.

Even without highly complicated timelines, I never quite settled on a way to cope with something like, say, the Eddie “EJ’s” Johnson to Fulham rumors. The basic concept has been floating around for over a week on sites like Down the Byline and damn near everyone (including me) made mention of what looked like multiple suitors for EJ’s hand….or rather, feet. Given the age and general knowledge of that one, and knowing I have neither the time nor inclination to discover whether their January 3 post was the first to mention it, I can’t comfortably credit MLS Rumors for getting it right – even if, as happened today, they whittled a wide-open field down to Fulham FC (with Steve Goff’s help) and predicted that Fulham would be the place in that January 3 post….when Derby seemed more possible…or something to that effect.

Long story short, rumors move too quickly and have too many moving parts. I imagine/hope I could do this if this was all I wanted to do, but it isn’t. So, I’ll just call things even – and they are, literally, at 2-2 – and walk away.

What took the MLS Rumors to a .500 record? I’m calling the Gonzalo Martinez to DC United rumor in the site’s favor. It’s not wrapped, sealed, and signed, but between the deal entering final negotiations prompting Steve Goff to advancing the story from his blog to the regular pages of the Washington Post and The Fullback Files telling me that Wikipedia (oh, bastion of truth) already has Martinez off to DC, things look pretty certain to end with Martinez wearing black and red. So, congratulations to MLS Rumors on a 50% success rate. I could only hope to do as well.

Now…let us never speak of this again…

EPL/World Soccer Daily 1.14: Starbucks FC? Disney FC? EJ to Fulham talk again…and more!

STARBUCKS FC: No, I’m not talking about the possibility of Seattle’s expansion squad being named after the biggest coffee chain in the country. I am, however, implying that Starbucks is looking into (and take this with a Daily Mail grain of salt) an EPL club to invest in. Who may that be you ask? Who has absolutely no chance of staying up this year, with an American influence to boot? Not Fulham….but Derby. Apparently an American hedgefund, Shamrock, run by Roy Disney himself (‘guardian of the Walt Disney Empire’), will take a majority shareholding in the club despite it’s feeble prospects as a Championship club next year. Just read on yourself…

EDDIE JOHNSON: I’m not one to argue with the Washington Post’s Steve Goff, and this time is no different. Goff is reporting that Johnson left USMNT Camp the other day to finalize talks with Fulham USA. The Cottagers need all they can get to avoid the relegation zone which they firmly stuck in at the moment.

JURGEN KLINSMANN: Apparently Tom Hicks and George Gillett (owners of Liverpool) were in advanced talks with Jurgen Klinsmann to bring him to Anfield. That was until he took the job with Bayern Munich. Now instead of covering it up, Hicks has come out and publicly stated that his intention was to sign Klinsmann as Rafa Benitez’s time at Anfield might be coming to an end.

KEVIN KEEGAN: Now the popular vote over at St. James’ Park to be Newcastle’s new victim…er…manager. Many – including myself – would like to see him link up with Alan Shearer, grooming Shearer to be the eventual successor. Doubt it will happen though.

ALEXANDRE PATO: The 18-year old AC Milan starlet was given his first start yesterday and he did what he was supposed to do…score. On top of that, Ronaldo looked like his youthful self making it seem that he most likely will be sticking around Milan for another year or so. It was a 5-2 victory for Milan and possibly a turn around point now that the crowd has their trio – chanting “Ka-Pa-Ro” a good amount of the game. Ka = Kaka, Pa = Pato, Ro = Ronaldo. Pato had about 4 clear chances on net before he actually put one in, Ronaldo had a brace after 2 days of training and 14 double cheeseburgers, and Kaka added his name to the mix as well.

TIM BOROWSKI: German international Borowski is set to make the switch from Werder Bremen to Bayern Munich at the end of the season making him new hire Jurgen Klinsmann’s first signing. Klinsmann himself won’t arrive til the end of the season, but he is already starting to put the pieces into place. Borowski didn’t even give Bremen a shot at re-signing him as he jumped at the chance to work with Klinsmann, former national team coach.

TRANSFERS: Klinsmann to Bayern, Anelka signs for Chelsea

JURGEN KLINSMANN: The former German national team coach has come out of hiding and spurned speculation that he would take over for Rafa Benitez at Liverpool. Instead, starting in July – Klinsmann will focus his efforts on returning Bayern Munich to dominance in the Bundesliga and Europe. Ottmar Hitzfeld is set to step down at season’s end.  Munich is at the top with company – Werder Bremen keeping pace and HSV 4 points behind.

NICOLAS ANELKA: $30 million is what it took in the end as Bolton’s French striker and leading scorer is out the door to Stamford Bridge. It is Avram Grant’s first signing in charge of Chelsea and there’s no doubt this will be a good one – Anelka seems to have found his old stride (Arsenal days) after bouncing about for a good 10 years. Maybe the years have tempered him. Either way, Anelka should provide support for Shevchenko in the goalscoring department and his signing was almost a necessity for Grant as Chelsea are nursing stars John Terry and Frank Lampard, missing four in Kalou, Drogba, Mikel and Essien to the African Nations Cup, and dealing with a somewhat suspect backline. Anelka’s department of scoring goals – if efficient – could jumpstart Chelsea to a second-half run. Chelsea currently sit in 3rd – six points behind the leaders.

Other key transfers so far today: Liverpool finalized the signing of Slovakian defender Martin Skrtel for $9 million; Derby captured it’s fourth in Tottenham wantaway midfielder Hossam Ghaly (on loan)

And yes, we have heard that Clint Mathis is on his way to Ergotelis of the Greek SuperLeague on top of Clarence Goodson to IK Start in the Norwegian second division (Adeccoligean). I’m sure my colleague Jeff will have something to say about that. Eddie Johnson’s transfer prospects have taken a hit as well with Peter Vermes saying that no new bids have been tabled for the striker since Derby last summer.