Friday, August 24, 2007

Abramovic Could Be Gone Soon

Just thought I'd pass this along.

My best friend Sergei just got back Stateside from his annual trip home to see his grandparents. He came with interesting news: word on the streets in Russia is that Abramovic is distancing himself from the club and is already moving on, focusing instead on other personal interests.

If you think about it for a minute, this makes good sense. All those rumors you heard about a row between Mourinho and Abramovic, all those rumors you heard about Ballack and Shevchenko leaving, Mourinho switching to more "attractive," wing-based footy... It all makes sense.

Realize this: Abramovic' portfolio is so much bigger than Chelsea that it makes our splendiferous splurges (read: SWP, Sheva, Ballack, Boulahrouz) look like chump change. He doesn't need Chelsea, and now that Chelsea is financially stable and turning a profit once again, Chelsea doesn't need him. Notice that our transfers are more financially sound and some have even paid for themselves (e.g. Sidwell on free transfer, easy money for Ben-Haim and Pizarro, Robben away for a big fee, Belletti on the cheap). My friend Sergei's words are only rumor, but they make complete and logical sense.

Chelsea is still evolving and this renaissance, begat in 2004, will still be termed the Abramovic Era for awhile yet, but Sergei's words confirmed my suspicions that Mr. Abramovic' days with the Blues are slowly coming to an end.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

US U-17's Fall Again: US 1-3 Tunisia

Highlights here.

This result puts Tunisia through to the round of 16. Spain, Brazil, and Nigeria have also qualified early.

With 0 wins and a goal differential of -3, this result also means that out of 24 teams total, only two have worse records than us: Trinidad and Tobago (!!), with 1 goal for and 9 against, and New Zealand (!!!!), with 0 goals for and 12 against.

I stand by my observation that today's U-17's are more technical than our U-17's of the past, but I'm also realizing that they're still pretty amateur. If someone were to cite their performance vs. Tunisia as evidence that our youth development system is in dire need of reform, I would agree.

Three out of the four goals scored in that match were penalties, granted. Yet Tunisia's last goal just before the whistle, the one goal not taken from the spot, was a damn gift. There were only two US defenders minding the backfield and they were practically shoulder to shoulder in the center of the pitch. Tunisia chipped it wide, blasted down the wing, passed it across the face of goal, and buried the sitter. If the game were any higher than U-17 level, I'd say conceding that kind of goal is shameful.

With two straight losses, the U-17's are very hard-pressed to qualify for the round of 16. According to's write-up:

"With a victory in their final match, the U.S. would be tied with Belgium on three points but would secure third-place in the group due to tie-breakers. At the least, a one-goal victory against Belgium would put the teams tied in goal differential (the first tie-breaker), but the U.S. would have a greater number of goals scored (the second tie-breaker). Whether they would advance as a third-place team depends on the results from the other five groups.
The U.S. could also finish second in the group and secure a spot in the knockout round if they defeat Belgium, depending on the result in the Tunisia-Tajikistan match." Tunisia would have to score an epic win over Tajikstan for this to be true. It's all on the line now.

Jaime Tallies 109th, Sets MLS Record: DCU 3-1 NYRB

Congratulations, Jaime. You deserve the praise.

It was a pretty good day for United fans yesterday.

I understand he didn't want to set the record off a penalty but the onus had been on him to score for several weeks now so I'm glad he took the opportunity. Moreover, I think he's still got it in him to score another two goals at least by the end of the season.

The ball Jaime scored with was presented to his 11 year-old son sitting on the sidelines. Good to celebrate the Atlantic Cup with a bit of MLS history, huh? I was watching Comcast and noticed that it was MLS history indeed: Thomas Rongen, Bruce Arena, and John Harkes were all on hand to witness Jaime make history. Cool.

Let's get to the meat. Player ratings:

Perkins - 7

Burch - 7

McTavish - 6.5

Vanney - 6.5

Namoff - 6

Simms - 7.5

Olsen - 8

Gomez - 8

Fred - 8

Emilio - 8

Moreno - 9
(8 for the game, +2 for the record, -1 for the record by penalty)

Rongen said the first fifteen minutes of the game witnessed DC's best offense all season. I wouldn't go that far, but they were solid for those fifteen and other than conceding a goal, they were solid all game. So much so, in fact, that Mathis almost got the jump on us towards the end. Perkins proved useful yet again.

Other than Jaime's penalty (equal, if not better to, Angel's masteful finish), none of our goals had any class. They found net, true, but only because they bounced of a Red Bull first. However, the fact of the matter is that United consistently produced throughout the match. As exemplified by Clyde Simms, we fought Red Bull for every first, second, and third ball and won the majority of them. Red Bull started and finished by giving us more space than we needed to complete our crosses and slot our through balls. Five out of six Atlantic Cups don't lie: United knows exactly how to break down NYRB's defense and does it on a regular basis. This suits me just fine.

Our chances of reaching the finals at RFK this year just doubled, by the way. Or so I calculate.

Other notes:

- Did you see Burch's lofted give-and-go towards the end of the game? I know you did. It was beautiful. The bonus? He's still our left back. Our left back. The one we'd been missing for half a season. I really appreciate that Burch is regularly going box to box, making a positive contribution on offense while maintaining good presence on defense. It's a good thing we bumped him up to the senior roster ( $30,000 > $17,500) because we're going to have a hell of a time holding on to him during the close season.

- Did you see Burch leg-lock Angel's ankle? I know you did. It was beautiful. This brings up a good point, though. Which would you have preferred-- the penalty, or Burch's ejection? I think I would have preferred the penalty.

- It was a cheap penalty though. Richards went down from a touch softer than Downy. I'm fairly certain that the ref made a conscious decision that instead of punishing United with a red he'd gift Red Bull with a goal. If Richards hadn't gone down and Red Bull hadn't scored on the play, Burch would have been off.

- Speaking of Richards, he's fast as hell but has all the creativity of a blank piece of paper. Other than run with it, Richards never does anything with the ball.

- Sorry to see you sitting out, Gros. Hope you make the best of your time off.


Kallstrom's Rocket Sinks Bradley's Euro Coaching Debut: US 0-1 Sweden

I have a good many things to discuss about this game, more than I expected considering how unenthused I am about the result and how tired I am today.

First, Gooch had one of his best MNT performances in a long time. Gooch really contained Zlatan to the best of his ability. This means Zlatan still had two or three quality chances early on which could have resulted in just as many goals, but considering that Gooch is still plying his trade in Belgium with Standard Liege, I'll give him an A for effort/C+ for achievement. A good result for him, considering the opponent.

Second, Kamani Hill didn't turn the game, but he added more spice than I would have expected. He has more scrap than his slight build would indicate, something I'm sure he's learned from trying to crack a Bundesliga squad week in, week out with Vfl Wolfsburg. Furthermore, he found quite a creative rapport with Charlie Davies late in the game when Davies came on and switched to the left flank. Good for them.

And finally, Zizzo got his first cap making him an official member of the U.S. men's national program. Not that anyone was worried he would jump ship, but he was also eligible to play for the Italian MNT because he parents were born there. Welcome to the fold, Zizzo.

Bruce McGuire over at duNord is concerned that this is the first time the US has lost four straight in ten years. I mean, I'm sorry we lost, too, but considering Bradley's primary concern is breeding and blooding a competitive squad for the 2010 World Cup, let alone the Confederations Cup, dropping a one-nil decision to a side filled with tried-and-true players and veritable international stars is not something to fret about. Howard was outstanding as usual, Gooch played well, Feilhaber played well, Beasley played well, Bradley, Hill, and Davies got their minutes-- we're doing alright. Here's my issue: if we can't score at home, regardless of who we're playing, we've got a scoring drought on our hands and it deserves serious attention. Until then, however, I'm at ease.

Other notes:

- Michael Bradley was particularly ineffective on offense. This is largely due to the fact that it only took four or five Swedes to penetrate our defense, leaving the rest of the squad to defend their half. The consequences were twofold: (a) we needed constantly needed Bradley on defense and (b) no less than two and usually three Swedish defenders were on hand every time Dempsey, Donovan, Bradley, Feilhaber, or Beasley was ready to penetrate their defensive third. Our offense started out as a dynamic, ground-based thing but quickly resolved into useless motions in the midfield and impotent crosses. The only reason I'm singling out Bradley is that he was a revelation during the same strength-in-numbers strategy at home versus both Mexico and Ecuador. Now that Bradley is a legitimate member of the Heerenveen gameday roster, I expect him to learn quickly how to deal with these stifling situations.

- Thinking back on it, though the Swedes do possess more attacking prowess, they didn't capitalize on our poor defending like they should have. On top of that, we got our jabs in, too. The match was largely a back-and-forth affair. It took a piece of individual skill from young Kallstrom to decide the match.

- Gooch is often criticised for his lumbering tackles and excessive body contact ("... he forgets he's not playing American football..."), but I'm of the opposite opinion. I wish he would knock more. There are reasons why he cannot and should not be more aggressive, but these reasons usually amount to card accumulations and juvenile referees blowing on him whenever he touches someone from the other team. If I had my druthers, Gooch wouldn't hold back at all and would be allowed to really step up and seize the role of international bruiser. I want him at the core of our defense, destroying anyone who thinks they're brave enough to come through the middle. I want the Gattuso's and Koller's of the world to realize that while the US' defense might lack anticipation, they'll never beat us for physicality. I really want this. I don't think Gooch will ever really fulfill expectations until he's allowed to perform to the best of his ability, and whenever that should happen, the US' international presence will win at least a hundred times more respect than it has now. Or so I guesstimate.

- Bocanegra is a good defender but he needs to learn to coordinate the entire defense and keep them coordinated throughout the match. Step up and be a leader. Howard, you too. Communication is key.

- Bornstein looked better than Cherundolo for the most part. That's alarming.

- If I haven't made myself clear about this already, let me make this perfectly understandable: JOSMER ALTIDORE SHOULD BE CALLED UP IMMEDIATELY. After watching the US offense scrap with the Swedish defense, I watched D.C. United's defense scrap with Jozy Altidore. He already has more physical presence than many an international and his technical ability is good and becoming great. This makes the formula very simple: the more A-level experience Altidore has, the better 2010 will be.

- Adu also deserves a call-up. He's already been capped (and set the record for youngest A-level call up in US history) but he, like Jozy, needs MNT experience now. His absence from the squad vs. Sweden is obviously excused as not only is he new to Benfica and Portugal, but he's new to Coach Camacho after Santos was fired. After his awesome display against their U-20's, I think there's a strong chance he'll be called up vs. Brazil's senior squad.


Monday, August 20, 2007

U-17 World Cup: US 3-4 Tajikistan

I wasn't going to post about the U-17 WC at all except FIFA is providing excellent coverage of the entire tournament, replete with live online broadcasts of every game and highlights afterwards. Great stuff. US-Tajikistan highlights here.

In a nutshell, US let the Tajiks back into the game. Tajikistans' first two goals were gifts; poor, unmotivated defending is to blame. Their second two strikes were great, no doubt buoyed by the confidence gleaned from their earlier goals. Our young guns look more technical than ever before and their prowess with a dead ball indicates cohesiveness, teamwork, and good practice ethic, but what gives? They face Tunisia on Thursday; to be honest, they look fearsome. Let's hope we get it together and start looking a bit more fierce-- otherwise I predict utter pwnage. Not pretty.

Other notes:

- The hallmark of this year's U-17 WC seems to be bad goalkeeping. I've witnessed only a handful of mentionable keepers and these belong to Argentina (Luis Ojeda, 17, Union de Santa Fe/ARG), Syria (Ahmad Madnia, 17, Teshrin/SYR), and England (Alex Smithies, 17, Huddersfield/ENG).

- There's another team I'd tip as most ferocious in the Cup, and that team is Spain. Bojan Krkic already has a brace, and his teammates ain't no scratch neither. This, of course, assumes that Brazil is a given.

- My picks, top five strongest-looking sides at the Cup: Brazil, Spain, Tunisia, Ghana, and Argentina. Next would be Germany, England, and Japan.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fred Starts, Luci Finishes: DCU 2-0 Columbus

It does the heart good to see Emilio two goals up on Angel for the MLS Golden Boot. And I'll be honest-- to see Altidore up there, albeit at the bottom of the list, warms my heart a bit as well. Glad he didn't double up on us.

(Off topic: Ives reckons Altidore will be the MLS' first ever eight-figure transfer. I'm disagreeing with Ives on this one. I predict that come Christmastime he'll be worth more than what Adu went for, but Adu only went for 2.5 mil. Eight or nine mil for Jozy, methinks, not a stupendous eight-figure transfer fee. How much of that would Red Bull see, anyways? The bigger question is where he'll be a year from now. That's a thinker.)

I am relieved to no end that Soehn stuck Burch immediately back into his starting spot on the left. I'm not so relieved to see Vanney back on the field. He's got a trumped-up sense of how good he is with his left foot, though the bigger threat to United's defense is his trumped-up sense of how well he positions himself under pressure.

Equally worrisome is Gros' early exit from the game. Didn't look like a blowout a la McBride (Fulham will be missing him for three months after he dislocated his knee vs. Middlesborough on Saturday) but it was enough for him to beg substitution after only eight minutes. I'll be waiting for Goff to come back with good news tomorrow.

Fred is magical. I said so this past Wednesday when we lost out to Beckham's team, but today he really endowed my words with the honest truth. It wasn't just his strike, which opened the scoreboard as well as United's attack. It was Fred's urgency, which ensured positive movement up the pitch; it was his persistence, which ensured focused, dynamic attack on goal; and it was his thrilling movement on the ball, which ensured that the audience was at the edge of their seats and that the Crew were at the edge of their collective wits. Simply put, United is better as a team when Fred is on the field. I hope he realizes that his every last effort, no matter how trivial, is bringing United closer to RFK on November 18th. Keep it up, Fred.

This is a great result to have as the playoffs loom close. Thanks to this win, at least Soehn will be sleeping easier. With a real sense that his performance as head coach was under serious scrutiny, his halftime pep talk must have been the stuff of legends. It worked, anyways.

Other notes:

- Moreno looked slow. I'm sorry that this is typical of him these days. Let's hope he breaks his record vs. Red Bulls on Wednesday so Soehn can put him on the bench more often.

- Gomez' form was good last night, another pre-playoff reassurance. We can see he's picking his head up.

- The announcers last night were Thomas Rongen and that guy who announces United's games for 1160AM radio. I wish I knew that guy's name. He was decent.

- When I say that Perkins' bravery gifted us the shutout, I literally mean that Perkins' bravery gifted us the shutout. He has the stones to get behind every ball humanly possible, impending feet and knees regardless. His insurance premiums must be phenomenal.

- Danny Szetela was particularly unremarkable. Is he really headed to AS Roma this winter?

- Alejandro Moreno is definitely an MLS-quality striker, which is to say, he might put his chances away but he won't change the momentum of the game. The Jaime of old was one such game-changer. I want that guy back.

- This question is weighing heavy on my mind these days: if not Veron, then who? It doesn't matter right this minute, but I wonder if, or even when we'll start to regret we never signed anyone this season.

Good night.