Thursday, July 26, 2007

Top Ten Footballers in the World

... at the moment. This is a really fickle kind of list because many deserving players go unrecognized and many recognized players aren't so deserving. But here goes:

1) Leo Messi

Pure talent, brazen style, and in a great situation with both club and country. People might argue that he's not number one in the world, though they'll all have to conclude he's definately top five, but my instinct tells me that he's probably the most gifted young footballer alive today. He's the first player I thought of when I thought of "top five."

2) Ronaldinho

Still awesome and still talented, though his prime years may be over, Ronaldinho still deserves to be lauded for seducing the world with samba.

3) Cristiano Ronaldo

One could argue that sometimes his flair gets in the way of team play, but has anyone else noticed that C. Ronaldo has sublime attacking vision? He creates plays out of pure fantasy. A joy to watch.

4) Thierry Henry

An absolutely prolific striker, he may be the only attacker on this list also prized for his defensive skills. He's stylish on and off the pitch, an ambassador of the sport, unselfish, and magical with a ball at his feet. I don't think it's possible that he could fail expectations at Barca.

5) Kaka

It's a shame he was absent for the Copa America because he would have shone without a doubt. The way he can morph from omniscient playmaker to lethal striker is stunning.

6) John Terry

Cannavaro's passed the crown of King Defender. Terry has brilliant positioning and more courage than any other footballer I could name. If only he could capture the same glory with England's MNT as he does with Chelsea.

7) Robinho

It's really hard to shine when you're one of the smallest members of the Selecao, but he manages. His performance in the Copa America is indicative of what Real Madrid expects in the fall, after having won La Liga with them in the spring.

8) Michael Essien

The consummate midfielder. A younger incarnate of Claude Makelélé, Essien fulfills tackling duties on defense and the middle third and is the premier choice for a player who can diffuse an attack before it starts. Furthermore, if you can remember his bomb versus Arsenal last season, you know that he can smack a ball with the best of them. Indispensable for both club and country, for whom is captain and standout star.

(ManU fans might accuse me of being biased for putting two Chelsea players on this list and would rather see Scholes here instead of Essien, but I said this is a list of the best footballers in the world. Scholes is one of the best in England, but Essien is unquestionably one of the best in the world. If I put Drogba or Kalou here instead of Essien, then maybe I could be accused of partisanship. For the record, though, Drogba would be my #11.)

9) Zinedine Zidane. Just kidding.

Try Franck Ribéry.

Signed for a club-record fee of $35.6mil, he is quickly becoming a Bayern Munich favorite and for good reason. Not until the World Cup 2006 had I seen someone outfox the Selecao in a serious international competition, a feat Freddy Adu has emulated since. Ribéry has outstanding work rate, outstanding vision, outstanding style on the ball-- and even when he shared the pitch with Zidane, Ribéry still commanded attention. He is only 24.

And now #10. A million names are running through my head right now: Ibrahimovic, Adriano, Gerrard, Deco, Alex, Shunsuke Nakamura, David Beckham, van Nistelrooy, Eto'o, Rafa Marquez, Wayne Rooney, Luca Toni, Dimitar Berbatov, van Persie-- but none of these seem right. Too many arguments against them. I know I'm missing somebody. The tenth best player in the world has got to be somebody who could potentially usurp one of the higher-ups on a good day... Bright, young, stylish... Creative, inventive... Lethal... I got it--

10) Cesc Fabregas

I often forget that Fabregas is only 21. It seems like he's been a staple of the Premiership for years. He's been absent a few times when Arsenal needed him, but in terms of midfield orchestration he's golden. Irrefutably brilliant at sensing, creating, and changing a play. He's defensive when he needs to be and dangerously offensive at the smallest chance-- Fabregas is definitely one of the best footballers in the world.

Some might argue Drogba over Fabregas. I'd say that Drogba, winner of the 2007 African Footballer of the Year and 06-07 Premiership Golden Boot winner, might be one the most physical players in the world, but in terms of creative brilliance, I wouldn't rate him top ten. Technical ability, leadership, humanitarianism, yeah-- but I really feel that he's only average with his creativity and style, and he really hasn't impressed on the international stage either. Sorry, Dids.

And for those disappointed that a keeper didn't make the list, if Didier is my #11, Jose Reina is my #12.


I'll Say It Again: Alvaro Recoba for United's DP

Goff had an interesting sitdown with Kevin Payne and was very pointed about getting some answers about DC United's transfer interests. Without saying anything specific, Payne indicated that his visit to Argentina concerned sealing the Veron deal (which didn't happen) and scouting two young Argentinean talents for DCU's reserves (which may or may not happen).

Here's the meat of Goff's interview with Payne:

"Let's just say we certainly have an interest in making our team better and we think the advent of the designated player rule is a new tool for all of us. We really admire what the Galaxy has done and the chance they took with Beckham. It seems to be paying off for everybody. AEG has really stepped up and taken our league to a new level. From our point of view, we would like to find a player who has significant name recognition, who fits the culture of our team (winning championships) and is Latin. Our team has always had a Latin flavor and we think that is the direction we will continue to go in. Veron certainly fits that profile. He's been a great, great player, one of the best players in the world for a long time and still has a lot in the tank. So he would certainly be a guy on our radar screen, but we've looked at other players as well."

So let me get this straight: D.C. United is looking for a talented Latin player with significant name recognition. Veron fits this profile. Leo Messi fits this profile. Juan Roman Riquelme fits this profile. Ronaldinho fits this profile. Robinho, Anderson, and Carlos Tevez fit this profile. And though he may not have as much name recognition as the others, you know who else fits the profile?

Alvaro Recoba.

You know, the one-time Latino prodigy from Inter Milan? The one on his way out? The one who's headed back to Uruguay looking for first-team minutes? The striker of a calibre that DC sorely, sorely needs? The striker who DC could easily persuade Stateside for $15mil or less? I've already posted about why signing good attacking talent is better than signing good defensive talent and why a striker would be a better use of our DP slot than a d-mid or defender. Alvaro Recoba meets these criteria.

Kevin Payne is looking to emulate LAG's Beckham signing with a Latino one of our own, and while I don't think Recoba will melt panties like Beckham, I do think that his performance on the pitch will more than make up for it.

Alvaro Recoba for DP.

EDIT: People are touting J.R. Riquelme, currently of Boca Juniors, as the ideal candidate for the designated player slot. I agree. However, the reason I'm pushing for Recoba over Riquelme is a) because Recoba is known to be looking for other options, b) because Recoba would probably come cheaper, and c) because Recoba is a striker, which is what we really need right now. If we entered into talks with both Riquelme and Recoba, I'd pick Riquelme in a heartbeat, but I just think Recoba is the more likely signing and one that could help us win the playoffs this year as opposed to next. And for the record, if the same situation occurred between Riquelme and Veron, I'd still take Riquelme without hesitation. He's unreal. (Which is why I think Recoba is a more likely signing.)

[UPDATE: You know what else would be sick, though absolutely unlikely? Ronaldo for DC's DP! Equally sick and equally unlikely? Shevchenko for DC's DP! But for pure realism, Recoba is more likely than either of them.]

[FURTHER UPDATE: Well, I guess it's not just tribalfootball anymore: AS is reporting the same story about Ronaldo. Why is it that when it says MLS is inquiring, everyone assumes NYRB are behind it? DCU needs to get on top of this, dammit!]

Aha, Well Now... News and Notes 7/26

Most of these are also late. Apologies.

- Sal Zizzo has gone straight from UCLA to the big time in Europe, joining fellow Yank Steve Cherundolo at Hannover 96. Apparently Cherundolo played a large role in securing the deal. One thing is for certain: Americans everywhere will be following the 07-08 Bundesliga come fall. This is getting really exciting.

- Adu to Benfica? Almost, not quite. MLS agreed to a transfer fee ($2mil? I paid more on FIFA) but negotiations stalled over contract issues. It looks like the deal's off for now. Updates are soon to follow, I'm sure.

- Eddie Johnson's turned down Derby of the English Premiership. You can find your own article on this one; they're everywhere. He turned them down for personal reasons. I understand the deal was "95% done" but Johnson felt that his confidence is extremely high at Kansas City and that this confidence is key to his success both at home and internationally. Considering his timid performances this summer, I would have to agree. Good luck with yourself, Eddie.

- Yanks Abroad had it first, and with much more intimacy and detail, but MLSU has posted a condensed summary of Americans playing in the Big Four (EPL in England, Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, and La Liga in Spain). I wouldn't have posted it because I feel it's common knowledge, but one of the comments on the post enlightened me to the fact that there are two Americans playing under youth contracts in Spain, of all places: Brandon Manzonelli was recently signed by Villareal and Peter Speigelberg is plying his trade with Atletico Madrid B. Very interesting.

The Pitch Sneezed: DCU 1-1 Morelia

I'm late on this one so there are plenty of recaps out already. DCenters, BDR, QuarterVolley, Fullback Files, and An American's View all have good stuff.

This game made me realize that we need depth up top more than we need it at back. Gros, McTavish, and espeically Burch showed very well considering how long they've been playing those positions. (You can't blame them at all for Morelia's lone goal, nor could you blame Troy; that strike was brilliant.) McTavish is constantly proving that defenders can have a bit of flair with their feet and Burch is consistenly showing that Vanney isn't the only left-footed defender who can serve a ball. Gros is a workhorse as ever.

But can the same be said for Dyachenko and Addlery? I haven't seen Addlery challenge a keeper with his feet yet this season and I'm utterly confused as to Dyachenko's role on the field as yet. Other than Dyachenko's service-gone-awry, I really didn't see anything from the twain which justified their presence on the pitch.

Here's what I'm saying: McTavish and Burch are really stepping up and performing well while Dyachenko and Addlery are still fumbling for form. Once Jaime sits down, Emilio seems lonesome, no matter who's on the pitch. I don't know which players are in Soehn's transfer scope right now, but I can only hope that they would have more to offer than Dyachenko and Addlery.

Kpene, you'll have a lot to disprove once you're healthy. Let's hope you exceed expectations once you step onto the pitch.
Other notes:

- Gomez scored a gem for DCU to take the lead. Why did he regress back to typical 2007 form immediately afterwards?

- Fred and Olsen looked exhausted. Emilio looked tired, too, but he always looked like he could pull out that last ounce of hustle to put one away. His presence on the pitch was somehow reassuring.

- I want to know exactly what Soehn thinks of this match.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Aha, Well Now... News and Notes 7/24

Surprising how quick the rumors fly, isn't it?

- Firstly, YA has a solid article about Ferrari's prospects with Sampdoria for the coming season. There's a new coach and a long line of strikers ahead of him, but everyone's optimistic that Ferarri can get involved and make an impact. I sure hope that's the case because he wasn't afforded much of an opportunity to impress at the U-20 World Cup. Let's go, Ferrari.

- Danny Szetela is headed somewhere, even though he says he might like to stay in the MLS. Here's a list of all the clubs I've heard being linked to Danny up until now: Roma, Parma, Siena, Everton, Middlesbrough, Rangers, Celtic, Galatasaray. This whole situation is becoming way too vague and speculative for my liking. Well, MLS deadline's August 15th. Let's hope something happens by then.

- The Daily Mail and Yahoo! Eurosport are claiming the same thing: Reading wants Gooch for 1.5 million pounds. I sincerely hope this is the case. Starts at Liege are better than nothing, but I think that Gooch will get a fair shot at the starting squad with Reading. Go for it, Gooch.


US MNT Depth Chart: 7/24 Update

This is gonna become a regular thing, now that the Gold Cup, U-20 WC, and Copa America are finished. I'll keep tabs on our past, current, and future potential Gringos as they prepare for Confederations Cup and ultimately, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Are you reading Yanks Abroad? You should be. They're probably the most authoritative US soccer news source that's not in print. The same guys who run this site also run the American Soccer Daily. They really know their stuff.

Which is why I always read their "23 Bags" updates. Outside of Ives getting bored and posting his own preferences, these are the most comprehensive, informed lists of US national team depth. They've published this one well ahead of time as we don't have our international friendly in South Africa for several months, and 2010 is a few years away. Nonetheless, the article is a great assessment of the US MNT roster post-Gold Cup/Copa. I disagree that they rank Johnson higher than Ching, and that they'd still take Keller over Guzan. (Comparing Keller to Dino Zoff is just stupid.) But they're spot on about Freddy and Altidore, so at least the rest of the article's good.

(That was a relatively shameless pitch, wasn't it? Well then, let me say this: Yanks Abroad is a bunch of old ninnies who don't know a thing about decent soccer. Neener neener.)


Veron: "not rite now l8r tho ttyl! lol"

Yeah, I thought so: Veron has chosen to stay in Argentina with his beloved Estudiantes, saying, "Today my answer is no. But in a few months, maybe in December, who knows?"

I figured as much. Veron's considering the Apertura just as we're considering the playoffs and it looks like he's chosen country over club. Perfectly honorable decision. I'm sure if he left to DCU right this minute he would face heavy criticism at home for selling out, and I'd rather not set a player up for that kind of talk.

Despite the rejection, I'm thrilled about the offer. The management was willing to splash $15mil for our potential DP; that's a fair sight better than the $4-6mil I projected earlier. It's not Beckham money, but it's better than Angel money.

I hope Veron realizes, though, that he's much more valuable to DCU right this very minute and not a few months from now. He'll have to continue to prove he's worth $15mil and DCU's only DP slot. He's an outstanding player and I'd love to see him on the team, but he wants us to wait; meanwhile, he's not getting any younger and quicker. I have a feeling that Soehn & Co. want a quick fix to help us with the playoffs, and if Veron isn't the answer, we'll have to find someone who is.

I'm fine with our midfield. I really am. There are definite flaws, but they're a capable and talented group, the lot of them. Problem is, without Jaime up front, Fred has no one to serve no, Gomez is lost and afraid, and Emilio has no one to work off of. I think a forward equal or greater to Jaime's stature would focus the offense and allow everyone to settle into their proper roles, Carroll, Gros, and Simms included. So let's get us another forward.

Here's my bid: Alvaro Recoba. He's been out of favor at Inter and has announced that after this season, he'll be looking elsewhere, primarily for first-team football. He's older than thirty but younger than Veron; at 31 years of age I'd say he's a prime target for MLS. He's certainly capable of the kind of magic that JPA and Guillermo Schelotto have exhibited. I'd say Recoba would be $15 million well spent if we could sign him in time for the playoffs.

Payne, don't unpack. You've got some serious wine-and-dining to do.

Another Yank Abroad: DJ Countess

He's a young and very talented goalkeeper. Another Project-40 product, he's been hiding in the Chilean 2nd division and is on the verge of signing with Club Atletico Tigre who will play in the Argentine 1st Division in 2007-08.

Countess had a prolific, though brief, MLS career, setting the MLS record for penalties saved in a season (4) and penalties saved in a game (2). He was Dallas Burn's Defender of the Year in 2003. He left the States early last year, signing for Osters IF in Sweden.

His extensive Wikipedia article also wants us to know that he's an avid humanitarian and began a non-profit organization to fund health care for needy children during his time with Real Salt Lake. (He must have a good agent.)

By the looks of him, he's got fantastic reflexes and good, long distribution a la Chris Seitz. He's only 25, so he's got the better half of his career ahead of him. I think he would rank as an outstandng MLS keeper, just below Brad Guzan and Chris Seitz, just above Troy Perkins, Joe Cannon and Matt Reis. He's definitely on a fast track upward, making him a player to watch for in the future.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Somebody Step Up: DCU 0-1 RBNY

The scant positives:

Gros is proving a very valuable member of the squad indeed, sliding back into his old position with little difficulty. He penetrated up front more than a few times and fulfilled his defensive obligations well. Burch did admirably, making only one rookie error as far as I could tell and serving a couple good balls into the box. McTavish continues to prove he belongs in the first team. Fred continues to prove that sometimes, he's got more class than the rest of the team knows what to do with.

The plentiful negatives:

Why didn't we have a single person who could put away what Fred provided? Emilio was absent, Gomez was appalling, and Addlery was incompetent. Fred made the most of every opportunity and no one could do the same.

I hereby condemn the 4-5-1 from Soehn's playbook. It's useless. Instead of creating more opportunities, it actually crowded the midfield and allowed Red Bulls to play zone defense with ease. Gros might be the kind of player to pound the endline and find service in the box, but Fred certainly isn't. When you've got players like Fred, Gomez, and Emilio being the vanguard of your attack, you need service on the ground, into the box. Soehn commented at halftime that the team wasn't exposing the flanks enough. Why did this concern him? Instead of taking issue with how the players were adjusting to the formation, why not simply adjust the formation? Remove some dead weight (Carroll, Addlery, Simms) from the midfield and allow for some penetrating runs and smooth passing. Don't force flank play on these brilliant creative minds.

Speaking of brilliant creative minds, Addlery isn't one of them. He can't finish, either. At least Carroll is useful in the backfield.


In the second half I found myself cussing the same as when the U-20's lost to Austria. Seeing my beloved United flounder so badly had that kind of effect on me. With the schedule getting more and more difficult these next few weeks and our first Superliga match this Wednesday, I think my profanity is justified. We need results fast.

Other notes:

- The sooner Altidore turns 18, the better.

- Comcast has a very tidy scoreboard. ESPN, please adjust accordingly.

- Vanney and Perkins can be blamed with equal measure for conceding the goal.

- I'm starting to see merit in the arguments against Carroll. He looks like dead weight. Let's get Olsen back immediately.

- The way Gomez missed was disgusting. It's not like he clipped a post or sent it straight into Conway's hands -- it's that from the six yard box, Gomez completely missed the goal. Squarely over the top bar. Nasty.

- Our brief glimpse of the 3-5-2 wasn't pretty. Let's not revert.

- I'm honestly curious to see what Tom Soehn's blood pressure is. Does he stress about this team as much as I do? If so, he should probably seek out some prescription blood thinners. Aspirin at least.

- I excuse Fred for his red card. I hold him absolutely blameless. The referees missed some blatant jersey pulling, blatant even for a free kick into the box, and then Red Bulls got indignant when they discovered that Fred was a little ticked. The red was harsh, even -- there was very little contact and Fred had an honest view of the ball. Shoddy refereeing and a really unfortunate series of events for Fred. Dane Richards is shameless.

- I'm really sorry Gomez can't find his form. We sorely need his good touch and smart dribbles. I wonder, what is it about Fred and Emilio that disrupts him?

Injured Terry Scores Again: Chelsea FC 1-0 LAG

Florent Malouda took a corner kick, Galaxy cleared it poorly, Joe Cole slaps one into the box, the ball smacks Kalou's knee right at Terry's feet and he snaps one lefty onto the far post. Joe Cannon never stood a chance.

Other notes:

- Beckham's made his debut. Can things start dying down now?

- Florent Malouda brings a whole different dynamic than Arjen Robben. No more the fancy dribbling onto a defender's foot, no more the sprawling and complaining. I was seeing a lot of creative service from the left side (Malouda, Ben-Haim) and a lot of hopeful shots from the right side (Joe Cole)

- Who still wants to let Andriy Shevchenko go? Keep that guy around, he's class. We've already spent the money-- now let's let him play for what he's worth.

- I'm surprised Drogba didn't get on the scoreline -- should've, except for the offsides call.

- Ben-Haim wears his uniform like it's 1995. Untuck your jersey and pull your shorts down a bit, son.

And just in case you missed it, Bryant Gumbel's won himself some admirers for being spot on about American-brand soccer: