EPL Daily 1.9: Yanks transfer news hits the other side of the pond…

BRAD GUZAN: Brad Guzan’s transfer speculaton hit SkySports for the first time adding credibility from both sides of the pond to his potential suitors. Celtic is the most recently named party interested in the shotstopper, while we have all heard the rumors involving Arsenal. Some other suitors include Liverpool, Auxerre, and Greek champions Olympiakos. In terms of playing time, Guzan’s best bet would be at Auxerre where 26-year old Olivier Sorin mans the net. They have Lyon-product Remy Riou as back-up, but neither have impressed much as Auxerre has sputtered to 15th place. Liverpool and Arsenal would be a grooming back-up role, as would Celtic. The difference with the Hoops, however, is that Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc has recently signed a new deal with a reported “get-out” clause in which if a suitor comes along and gives the right price (number set in the contract), Boruc would move on. Guzan could go in, learn under the wing of Boruc, and wait for his exit someday soon. Olympiakos could be an ideal place as well as age is what will wipe out the two top goalkeepers there now – Antonios Nikopolidis (36) and Tomislav Butina (33). The real question is: if Guzan leaves, what happens at Chivas?

TWELLMAN: Though Preston North End isn’t the EPL, a Twellman bid is something every American fan wants to hear about. PNE would be a fantastic place for Twellman to restart his European career, but the bid was already rebuffed according to Mike Burns. SkySports caught wind of it and placed the transfer fee at $1.5 million.

JOHNSON: Soccer365 has gotten us all confused now. What is different at Derby County (other than a record MLS transfer fee) now that Eddie Johnson would even consider a move to Derby? All things considered, a lot has happened since this article (1/4/2008) was published. Manager Paul Jewell brought in Argentinian striker Emmanuel Villa for $4 million making it unlikely for EJ’s destination to be Derby. There are others interested out there though……..

MOMO SISSOKO: Ever since Javier Mascherano came to Anfield, the big defensive midfielder from Mali hasn’t had the best of times. Raw talent left unused, however, never goes unnoticed as many of the top European clubs watched Momo has he grew not unhappy, but underappreciated, with the Reds. The problem with Liverpool is Mascherano is a question mark in his own right with his contract status pending, so expect Benitez to beg for Sissoko to stick around a little bit longer. Unhappy though? Enter Juventus…

CARLING CUP: Chelsea 2, Everton 1

Everton went down 1-0 early to a Shaun Wright-Phillips 26th minute finish, but all hopes were revived when Jon Obi Mikel unleashed a ridiculous studs-up tackle on Phil Neville which had him sent to the showers. Chelsea was left to survive 40 minutes a man down. Kind of funny isn’t it? – Chelsea fights to keep Mikel around for at least one more game heading into the African Nations Cup and the Nigerian gets himself sent off, offering no help at all. The Blues paid for it as Yakubu fired home a shot, upper-90 after a scrum in the penalty box with about 15 minutes to go. Then it happened…a goofy cross in injury time left Shaun Wright-Phillips unevenly matched in an aerial battle against the big Joleon Lescott. SWP jumped in full-force forcing Lescott in cringe, close his eyes, and head the ball into his own net. A 1-0 win will do it back at Goodison Park, but Everton will be without their rock in the back, Joseph Yobo. Chelsea will be hurting as well, but in terms of depth, one can never bet against the Blues.

Today’s Carling Cup Semifinal – Arsenal v. Tottenham (expect a young Arsenal squad to take the pitch against the Spurs)

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You Hear about EJ, that New Tech Stock?

Parties, concerned and those with only a professional interest, are referring to Eddie “EJ” Johnson as all but gone from Major League Soccer (MLS) as well as Kansas City metro area. WVHooligan even speaks of a transfer fee that will “put…to shame” the money England’s Fulham FC paid to hire Clint Dempsey – and, coincidentally, Fulham is one of the clubs in the hunt (there’s plenty of general transfer talk behind that WVHooligan link, so do check that out).

The specific figure WVHooligan cites is $6-7 million. That’s not a lot for a quality striker in the European game, but it could be more than too much for a player like Johnson.

Consider the current state of the conventional wisdom on the man: a fairly generous interpretation would dub him “streaky,” but his numbers across seven MLS seasons could just as easily be read as him having only two good years out of seven; if there’s such a thing as a “big-occasion player” EJ ‘s play at club and country level puts him closer to antonym than synonym; while it’s true that he scored 15 goals in his most recent, “renaissance” season, six of those came in two games, which leaves 9 goals spread across the remaining 28 games; his total haul across those seven years is 41 goals in league play. And that, my friends, is in MLS – not the EPL where Johnson will, presumably, have less time to think/react and against better players.

The issue goes deeper than numbers, however. The most persistent mental images I can conjure of Johnson playing are: 1) of him struggling to get the ball up to his speed as he bolts toward goal with defenders closing on him; 2) of him receiving the ball on the flank, where he either a) gets the ball picked clean when he pushes it too far in front of him, or, b) him dropping the ball back to the midfielder/defender coming up the wing; 3) of him checking back and mis-hitting a fairly simple possession pass. These are not the habits, decisions, and tools of even a 10-goal-a-year forward. Even if EJ draws something closer to Dempsey’s fee ($4 million), that’s not such a swell return.

So, no, I’m not high on EJ’s chances abroad. Still, best of luck to him – assuming he goes – and the team who signs him. He’s got more athletic ability than most will ever know and he seems to know what he wants to do out there. Maybe he’s just a project and will respond to the right kind of training/education. Nothing would make me happier than a productive, happy EJ who reaches his potential; any national team fan would be crazy to want anything else. But, given the past seven years of watching him play, the idea that some English (or Portuguese) team is about to get saddled with the soccer-playing equivalent of stock options from a late 1990s internet start-up seems a bit closer to reality.

EPL Daily 1.2.08: SAF Lashes Out; Eddie Johnson where?; Rumors; and a New Year’s Run-Down

I’ll have a quick breakdown of readers’ allegiances and what not coming up either later today or tomorrow…for now, however, let the January transfer window commence as the EPL starts to heat up. I will post every significant transaction along with analysis as they arise. EPL match capsules below…

SAF: Sir Alex Ferguson lashed out at Manchester United’s supporters for Glazer-bashing and the fact that Old Trafford sounded like a ‘funeral’ during Man Utd’s 1-0 win over Birmingham yesterday. Carlos Tevez provided something to cheer about, but the atmosphere didn’t last for long. Maybe we should ask for competitive parity in the EPL before we require that supporter’s groups actually get excited to play a Birmingham City! Ferguson also slammed supporters on the topic of Glazer-bashing.

EDDIE JOHNSON: The Times Online UK has listed the suitors for Kansas City Wizards forward Eddie Johnson while the Daily Mirror has thrown one into the mix at well. A combined list includes Fulham, Manchester City, Reading, Derby County again, Middlesbrough, and Benfica. Johnson’s addition to Fulham would give the Cottagers an American army consisting of Keller, Bocanegra, Dempsey, and McBride. It seems Fulham will only make the move if their attempt to sign Liverpool’s wantaway Harry Kewell.

STEVEN PIENAAR: The South African winger for Everton is a rising stock in the EPL and his club loyalty confirms that. Pienaar has asked for special leniency to delay his African Nations Cup call-up in order to play in the Carling Cup semifinal against Chelsea on January 8th. The first match of the  African Nations Cup is January 23rd, but South African national team players are expected to report January 5th in order to prepare. He should find out either today or tomorrow.

TRANSFER RUMORS: David Villa to Chelsea, David Bentley to Chelsea or Atletico Madrid, Emmanuel Villa from UAG Tecos to Derby County, Dean Ashton to a number of clubs, but it was Liverpool midfielder throwing out the ultimatum – saying Liverpool either signs him soon or he’s out and it wouldn’t be very hard for him to find a home. I bet Mohamed Sissoko would like that…

New Year’s Day Matches

Chelsea 2, Fulham 1

A Hodgson-led Fulham side looked much more engaged and ready to play, but the Cottagers – thanks to a botched PK call on Michael Ballack – still took the loss. Danny Murphy put away Fulham’s PK chance in the 10th minute, but it was Salomon Kalou who has become a fixture in Chelsea’s first team who powered home a close-range header to start a 10-minute double salvo that pushed Fulham deeper into the relegation zone. Both Americans – Dempsey and Bocanegra – played all 90-minutes, while Brian McBride is apparently on the hot trail to return by the end of the month.

Arsenal 2, West Ham United 0

First twenty minutes and the game was already put away as the rising duo of Adebayor and Eduardo da Silva each grabbed a goal to ensure Arsenal’s first place position. Both goals were equally ‘magical’ – to quote Ray Hudson. Adebayor’s was put away at the most acute angle possible and Eduardo’s was a half volley with a feint of sorts that threw Robert Green off his mark. Carlton Cole made Manuel Almunia’s life on the pitch a miserable and deceivingly tough one, but the Spanish goalkeeper prevailed. The win over Man Utd put a noticeable fatigue on West Ham’s midfield but it was the early goal that took the wind out of their sails.

Manchester United 1, Birmingham 0

United kept pace with the Gunners and the scoreline looks tighter than it probably should have been. The Devils wasted several chances – especially a three-yard miss from Cristiano Ronaldo that could put away the game. Carlos Tevez scored the game’s only goal early on though and Carlos Quieroz kept them attacking, but nothing would go in. Sir Alex Ferguson’s discontent was somewhat visible as he sat in the crowd serving the second of his two-game sideline suspension. Park Ji-Sung – though regaining match fitness – showed glimpses of his old self, while Michael Carrick had his worst day in a while – bad first touch, terrible vision, etc. Overall, it was clear the West Ham loss took a bit out of the Devils. Tevez paid for his goal as it looks like the forward will miss the FA-Cup match against Aston Villa coming up with severe brusing in the ankle.

Portsmouth 2, Reading 0

This game marked a great day for Marcus Hahnemann – despite the loss and two goals conceded. The American keeper triggered a clause in his deal that guaranteed him a new deal if he played in 20 EPL games on the season. Mission accomplished and Hahnemann stays a Royal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that Pompey unravelled the Royals led by Sol Campbell. Reading didn’t do much for themselves though as three minutes in Ibrahima Sonko was sent off after levelling Benjani in the box. Niko Kranjcar missed the attempt, however. John Utaka added the clincher in the 66th minute as Reading fought against a potent offense that never once let up. For those of you worried about Bobby Convey leaving in the 7th minute, it was merely a tactical decision made by Coppell in reaction to Sonko’s ejection.

Everton 2, Middlesbrough 0

Finishing and a man known as Tim Howard set the tone for Everton’s 2-0 shutout of Middlesbrough. Howard made some remarkable saves allowing Everton’s offense the time to finally put one home. It took until the 67th minute but Andrew Johnson found net and opened the door for James McFadden to add another 5 minutes later. Other than that, the rainy day made it a scrappy affair but Everton corrected their form and seem ready to resume their challenge for Europe.

Aston Villa 2, Tottenham 1

A pair of defenders were the difference on both sides of the field as Villa shut down Berbatov and company. Heading into January, Juande Ramos’ biggest concern his holding onto the Bulgarian striker with Darren Bent most likely on his way out too. Olaf Mellberg powered home a header early on only for it to be snuffed out by Jermain Defoe’s late strike in the 79th minute. Martin Laursen – another central defender – albeit one with 5 goals! – put one home in the 82nd minute off yet another set piece. Michael Dawson was made to look like a lost little puppy by the defenders who scraped and clawed their way to freedom in the penalty box. At least, in post-game interviews, it was reiterated that Berbatov will, in fact, stay at White Hart Lane.

Kansas City Wizards 2007 Review: Limits of Positive Thinking

Kansas City Wizards

Record (W-L-T): 11-12-7; 45 GF, 45 GA

Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

 

(NOTE: Sorry about the format – e.g. the automatic, uncorrectable double-spacing; I transferred this from Word – which, curiously enough, works on a Mac. CHRIST, I hate when these fucking machines make my formatting decisions for me. Fuck you Bill Gates! You don’t know what I want!)

Overview

New England Revolution fan that I am (even if I run hot-cold), it’s not too surprising that I gathered my impression of the Kansas City Wizards 2007 season through that team – specifically, a late May 4-3 run-‘n’-gun win and a pair of bustling, barging losses in August. The former confirmed reports of a new, attack-happy approach under new coach Kurt Onalfo; the latter, on the other hand, revealed its limitations against a team willing to play the heavies. The dates of both games are crucial as well: the forward-looking style had KC creeping toward “darling” status in the season’s early going – as in, thank God, a team that tries to win – while the August loss came during a time when it seemed like they’d again miss the post-season. They made it in the end, of course: they even won their first-round series against Chivas USA. But it wasn’t as the same team that started 2007.

 

Like a couple other Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs, KC was one of the hot start, cool finish sides – and there’s some truth to this narrative, though it’s more complicated than that. KC definitely started well – going 6-2-2 from the April opening to the first weeks of June – and the rot did sneak in immediately after in the form of a six-game winless streak. What followed, however, constitutes one of the weirder pattern of results I’ve ever seen….or, perhaps, noticed. Apart from a “blip” in July when they picked up two wins, the Wizards kind of staggered through the remainder of 2007 and into the playoffs on the back of just one win per month. Continue reading

MLS Conference Semis: It’s a Wrap

As The Hives sang not so long ago, hate to say I told you so. Before you think I’m feeling cocky, let me just confess right now that getting all Saturday’s picks dead right cost a tiny sliver of my soul. I didn’t read the document all the way through, but I’m pretty sure it was just a sliver I sold.

But no one wants to hear about my triumphant stand atop the table of the Center Holds It/Who Ate All the Cupcakes Playoff Picks Duel (see the sidebar; god bless those Cupcakes lads…so on top of things). No, people who come to this site come to read about the games. So, let’s get to ’em…very, very briefly. I mean, you know what you saw, right?

Houston Dynamo 4-1 FC Dallas

Curse the damned distractions in my life, but did I see that correctly? Did Arturo Alvarez really whack the Houston player in the pills? That’s a guaranteed sending-off, son, not to mention drawing the silent, collective condemnation of all male viewers. Oh well. A Houston win was always just a matter of time; the extra man only made it more emphatic. The personal highlight for me? That tasty through-ball Dwayne DeRosario slotted to Brian Ching. So, FC Dallas season ends where it usually does. Even so, you have to feel they feel better about losing this one than the past few to the Colorado Rapids; being on the wrong-side of a Texas ass-kicking can’t hurt nearly as bad as getting out-coached by Fernando Clavijo…twice…oh, the humanity. I could write more, but the bottom line reads pretty straight: this series was over the minute Houston leveled the aggregate.

New England Revolution 1-0 Red Bull New York

The game doesn’t deserve analysis. It deserves the finger. The rare moment of brilliance – well, not brilliance, so much as the odd bright spot – typically came to nothing. My personal highlight? Bruce Arena having the good sense to pull Juan Pablo Angel. Don’t trifle with head injuries. The toothpicks propping open my eyes snapped more than once, though. And New England’s goal…well, that just had to be heartbreaking for Jon Conway.

Chivas USA 0-0 Kansas City Wizards

As if proving the adage about some goalless draws providing more entertainment than wins and losses, this one kicked the holy crap out of the above. Too many things jumped out at me to record in this space, but the real kicker was how frustratingly far Chivas seemed from scoring – and that’s in spite of hitting the post on several occasions. Oxy-moronic (or, perhaps, just plain moronic) as that sounds, I’m trying to get at something deeper: to dominate possession and aggression to that extent without scoring takes some doing. Maybe it was Chivas’ apparent yen to score from within the six-yard box that did them in; they tried so many times to pinch inside, even when playing from the flanks; maybe it’s their trouble with getting in crosses that forced this. To name names, I have never been so underwhelmed by Francisco Mendoza, the worst culprit for the troublesome offensive habits described above. Going the other way, Eddie Johnson looks somewhere between eager and sharp – good news for Wizards fans. In fact, KC looks like they’re playing as well as they ever have this 2007. Doubtful as it may be in the end, upsetting Houston isn’t beyond them. They’ll need to tighten up things at the back when they face a team that knows how to fire in crosses – one that lives on them, in fact.

Well, that’s all from me today. Looking forward to the conference finals.

DS, 10.15: Week 28 Bonus Notes; DC…yeah, yeah, yeah; The Chris Rolfe Experiment + More

– Tolerably pleased as I am with my (repeatedly edited) wrap of Week 28/9, the need for brevity kept me from dwelling on a point or two. Surprisingly, most said dwelling focuses on a game I didn’t watch: New England v. Columbus; no less strange, most of it deals with Columbus.

Before getting to that, though, Steve Ralston shows a mastery for understatement more than once in a write-up on New England’s loss to Columbus; in that same muted tone, however, he says what needs saying about the Revolution at this late, momentous point in the 2007 season:

“’In the first half, we had the better of it,’ Ralston said. ‘We played well. But we have to start playing well for 90 minutes.’”

Is there anything to say, but great googly-moogly? August was the time to “start playing well” over the length of the game, if not before.

In spite of the loss, however, the Revs have a post-season to look forward to, while the conquering Crew do not. There’s something very baffling about that after seeing something so sublimely pretty as Columbus’ second goal, which came from Eddie Gaven’s pinpoint lofted cross to an onrushing Stefani Miglioranzi. Columbus possesses sufficiently talented players; playing alongside Eddie Gaven, you’ll find Robbie Rogers, who, over the past few games I’ve caught, seems to have found his MLS legs. Referring back to Ralston’s quote, not to mention the box-score and game summary, Columbus never really got it going till Guillermo Barros Schelotto hit the field. Add that one-game reality – so aptly noted in the Columbus’ Dispatch’s box summary – to the larger slump that “mysteriously” coincided with Schelotto’s absence from the Crew and it looks like a case of the Crew’s youngsters genuinely needing Schelotto to perform well. While this passes for conventional wisdom – and there’s no denying that Schelotto wears the word “special” fairly well – there’s still something incredible about it. These are professional players, after all, and fairly good ones; surely, they can’t be that mentally fragile …can they? Ah well, I’ll have to study this one. (By the way, this is how my “fan brain” works; I just kind of get fixated on things and that’s how my weird version of soft, subtle fandom creeps in.) Continue reading

MLS: The Bad Kind of Tripping + Updated Remaining Schedules

Did Week 25 seem wholly educational or what? Well, educational in the sense that we have new data to weigh, but one hesitates to call it clarifying or entirely enlightening.

Can’t pretend I caught all 90 of all the games (for the record, I watched RSL v. Colorado and Chivas v. KC), but, on the principle of all W’s counting as W’s and all L’s counting as L’s, it’s possible we’ll squeeze in a couple trends before the regular season ends…and, here, I’m talking about teams like FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids; and, unlucky as they were, KC toyed with soccer suicide by surrendering a late, late goal to keep even 7th place in play. In general, some late-season games that looked easy a couple weeks back don’t look so easy any more, not with the way some highly relevant teams are playing.

But I’ll get into all that later. First, here are the standings…those help to make sense of all this. and the key I’ll use to shorten team names for the schedule bit follows:

Chicago Fire: CF
Chivas USA: CUSA
Colorado Rapids: CR
Columbus Crew: Crew
DC United: DCU
FC Dallas: FCD
Houston Dynamo: HD
Kansas City Wizards: KC
Los Angeles Galaxy: LA
New England Revolution: NE
Red Bull New York: RBNY
Real Salt Lake: RSL
Toronto FC: TFC

Right…now, here goes: Continue reading