Monthly Archives: December 2010
By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
Hi everyone, I’m currently in the middle of a cross-country room. Once I get settled in an reasonable access to the Internet, general service will resume. We at Only Love Soccer hope your new year is a good, and safe one.
by Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
Scorers: Aston Villa — Albrighton (82); Tottenham Hotspur — Van Der Vaart (25, 67)
Aston Villa line-up and ratings: Friedel – 6, Warnock — 6, Collins — 6, Cuellar – 5.5, Lichaj — 7, Hogg — 5.5 (Petrov — 6), Delph — 6 (Pires — NR), Downing – 6, Albrighton — 7.5, Agbonlahor – 6, Heskey — 6.5 (Delfouneso — 5)
Tottenham Hotspur line-up and ratings: Gomes — 5, Assou-Ekkoto — 6.5, Kaboul — 8, Dawson — 7.5, Hutton — 6.5, Palacios — 7, Modric — 8 (Corluka — NR), Van Der Vaart — 7.5 (Crouch — NR), Bale — 7, Lennon — 7 (Jenas — NR), Defoe — 3.5
Spurs stayed within striking distance of Champions League places by holding off Aston Villa at Villa Park, despite being down to 10 men for the final hour of the match.
Both teams started brightly. Villa nearly scored inside the first two minutes, James Collins heading on a Stewart Downing free kick before Marc Albrighton had his shot blocked. Shortly thereafter, an Albrighton cross fell to Emile Heskey, who was brought down by Spurs keeper Gomes. It looked like a clear penalty, but one wasn’t given, and Heskey ended up being taken off later after apparently being injured on the play.
Tottenham had the ball in the back of the net first, Younes Kaboul with the volley, but the goal was chalked off for the cross going out of bounds. Then Agbonlahor raced clear of the Spurs defense, but Gomes blocked his shot before saving Agbonlahor’s header off the rebound. Spurs finally took the lead in the 25th minute, when Luca Modric sent a picture perfect pass ahead of Aaron Lennon on the right wing, and Lennon’s cross was tucked home by Rafael Van Der Vaart, giving the Dutchman three goals in two matches against Villa this year. Only two minutes later, Spurs striker Jermain Defoe was shown a red card for what looked like an unintentional elbow to Collins’ face.
This didn’t slow down Spurs however, who controlled possession for the rest of the half to go into the second half with a 1-0 lead. On the bright side for Villa, Spurs had only managed one clean sheet the entire season. Could they hold out in the second half?
And the answer was, well, no. But it didn’t matter, because after Gareth Bale raced clear of Collins, rounded Cuellar and set up Lennon, who then dropped his pass off for Van Der Vaart to strike on goal, it was 2-0. Villa dominated possession in the second half, but their consolation, via an Albrighton cross that evaded everyone and dropped into the net, was symptomatic of a team that never really looked like scoring.
Despite being one man down for virtually the entire match, Spurs were rarely tested, and probably could have won by a larger scoreline. Van Der Vaart continues to prey on weaker opposition, with four goals in two matches against Villa. You have to believe that for Spurs to take the next step, they need a better keeper than Gomes, who seems to make multiple blunders per game. For Villa, the question remains whether they have enough to evade the relegation zone, something that would’ve been inconceivable eight months ago when they were fighting for a Champions League spot. Ashley Young was left out of the team, and Fabian Delph was given a surprise start in midfield. Villa are looking toothless in attack, and as charming as it is to see the youngsters playing big minutes in midfield and elsewhere, aside from Albrighton and right back Eric Lichaj, it’s debatable they’re ready to compete at this level on a week to week basis. Their survival — and Gerard Houllier’s as manager — might depend on who stays and goes in January.
Stat of the day: Villa wingers Marc Albrighton and Stewart Downing completed only five of 28 attempted crosses.
|Aston Villa||Tottenham Hotspur|
|58 %||Possession||42 %|
|10||Shots on target||4|
|14||Shots off target||4|
by Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
Scorers: Newcastle — Carroll (72); Manchester City — Barry (2), Tevez (5), Coloccini (OG — 82)
Newcastle United line-up and ratings: Krul – 5, Enrique — 6, Coloccini— 4, Taylor – 6, Simpson — 5, Barton — 6, Tiote — 6.5, Jonas – 7.5, Nolan — 6.5, Routledge – 6 (Ranger — 6.5), Carroll — 8.5
Manchester City line-up and ratings: Hart — 7.5, Kolarov — 7, Lescott — 5.5, Kompany — 7.5, Boateng — 6, Barry — 6.5, De Jong — 6, Milner — 6, Silva — 6.5 (Johnson — 6.5), Toure — 6 (Viera — NR), Tevez — 9 (Balotelli — NR)
Carlos Tevez scored twice, one a deflection off Fabricio “Can you believe I have started for Argentina?” Coloccini, and set up Gareth Barry for the other as Manchester City jumped out to a 2-0 lead at Newcastle after five minutes and then barely hung on for a 3-1 win.
Newcastle dominated for huge chunks of the match as Man City could do little with the aerial power of Andy Carroll, but in the 82nd minute when Tevez played a 1-2 with Adam Johnson, then saw his shot bounce off Coloccini’s back and wrong-foot Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul, it was game over, for all intents and purposes.
Newcastle got off to the worst start imaginable, Krul hitting a clearance straight to Tevez, who teed up Gareth Barry for the easy goal after only two minutes. Tevez made it 2-0 only three minutes later, taking a cross from James Milner and sliding it past Krul as Coloccini again looked on. From there on out, though, it was essentially all Newcastle.
Just a few minutes after Tevez’s goal, Carroll looped a header that City keeper Joe Hart barely palmed away. Newcastle’s strategy pretty much centered on booming the ball up to Carroll and having him either head the ball on goal or flick it on for Kevin Nolan. For their part, City were content to just stay back organized and let Newcastle hoof the ball forward. Vincent Kompany in particular looked solid, though it always makes a defender look better when his partner is Joleon Lescott, who was utterly unable to deal with Carroll’s strength. Newcastle outshot Man City 12-6 in the first half.
In the second half, Newcastle looked slightly less toothless, but nonetheless, Carroll’s physical dominance paid off when he beat Lescott to a Joey Barton corner and headed it past Hart. Newcastle nearly drew level when Nile Ranger headed the ball on to Nolan, who diverted it narrowly wide, and Tevez made them pay with his late goal.
For Man City, it’s the kind of win that good teams get. They looked dangerously close to conceding an equalizer for, well, the entire match, but defended well against the Newcastle onslaught. Tevez was excellent, and their defense is among the most well-organized in the league, as much as people disparage Roberto Mancini as being too negative. For Newcastle, they were the better team for most of the game, but failed to take the chances that Carroll set up. They can take heart from playing so well in defeat, but Coloccini is a disaster at this level.
|Newcastle United||Manchester City|
|57 %||Possession||43 %|
|5||Shots on target||4|
|19||Shots off target||6|
By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
Since pretty much the only functioning professional soccer leagues actually having matches over the next few weeks (except for Belgium) lie in the British Isles, you can expect our weekend picks to have a decidedly English slant, though they often do anyway, sorry about that. With another round of matches starting on Tuesday, I might do another round of picks.
Sunday (All times Pacific)
Queens Park Rangers v Swansea City. (English Championship, 5 a.m.) QPR have led the Championship for pretty much the entire season, but have encountered their first bump in the road — after starting off 19 matches unbeaten — with back to back defeats, at home to Watford and then at Leeds, who are currently second in the Championship. If they’re hoping for automatic promotion to the Premier League, they need to get going again, and fast, because a loss to Swansea would likely drop them to second for the first time in ages, and would pull Swansea, currently in fourth, within only one point.
Prediction: QPR to turn it around, 3-1
Blackpool v Liverpool. (English Premier League, 7 a.m.) Normally, a match between these two teams wouldn’t be one to watch, but Liverpool have a chance to exact some revenge on a Blackpool side that shocked them 3-1 at Anfield earlier in the season, while also setting them up nicely for the two home matches that follow in the festive season, Dec. 29 against struggling Wolves and Jan. 1 against Bolton. It isn’t inconceivable that a win in this match could spark them to nine points from three matches, and with Blackburn Rovers following, the Reds could be back in the reckoning for Europe when they take on Everton on Jan. 16. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Blackpool, as always, are happy to be here, and playing with little fear.
Prediction: Liverpool should win this match, but their away form has been atrocious. Blackpool 2-1
Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur. (English Premier League, 9:30 a.m.) Villa have had little to cheer about in a stop-start season, but with injured players slowly starting to trickle back into their line-up, they will fancy their chances against a Spurs side that has struggled to beat them at Villa Park the past few years. With none of the Top 4 sides convincing on a week-to-week basis, Spurs will have to win to keep their title challenge — or at least Champions League qualification — alive. Spurs are undefeated in their last eight matches in all competitions, but injury concerns continue, with Ledley King still out and William Gallas undergoing a late fitness test.
Prediction: Aston Villa 2, Tottenham Hotspur 1
Brisbane Roar v Gold Coast United. (Australian A-League, 2:14 a.m.) Brisbane Roar look to extend their 17-match unbeaten streak, and their lead atop the A-League with a win against Gold Coast United. 20-year-old New Zealand forward Costa Barbarouses has scored 10 goals in 23 matches for the Roar and has established a dynamic partnership with 22-year-old Costa Rican Jean Carlo Solorzano (9 goals) for the A-League’s top scoring team. In fourth-place Gold Coast United, they host the team with the stingiest defense in the A-League, who are also competing for a spot in the playoffs.
Prediction: Roar 2, United 0
Arsenal v Chelsea. (English Premier League, noon) Last week’s big match was Chelsea v Manchester United, which was snowed out. The previous week, Arsenal traveled to Manchester United and laid an egg in a poor 1-0 loss. What will happen this week against the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the EPL? Well, both have to win to keep up with Manchester United, who have to be favored in their match against injury-depleted Sunderland. Arsenal’s record vs. Chelsea has been terrible lately, but the Blues are still struggling to win matches, having picked up only three points in the last two months. They will look to arrest their slide with the help of Didier Drogba, who has scored 13 goals in 13 matches against Arsenal.
Prediction: I’m tired of picking Arsenal to win matches only for them to disappoint. Chelsea, 2-0.
By Dan Hagan
John Spencer is a Colorado Rapids legend who in just four years with the club became second all-time on the team in goals scored (37), third all-time shots on goal (115), second all-time in game winning goals (10), first all-time in penalty kick goals (9), second all-time in goals per game (.42), third all-time scoring percentage (14.3%), third all-time in shots on goal percentage (44.6 percent), and he was inducted into the Rapids Gallery of Honor two years ago as only the fourth player ever.
Up next for Spencer is the goal of trying to defeat this very same team that honors him as a legend. Not only is Spencer squaring off against his former team (and some former teammates) in his first game, but he will be taking the expansion Portland Timbers into the home pitch of the MLS Champions. This is exactly the tough, gritty underdog mentality that IS Spencer.
Spencer is only 5-6, so he knows it takes hard work and intensity to compete against guys who are usually bigger. As head coach, Spencer will apply this attitude to club management instead of players. This perceived inferiority motivates Spencer and now the Timbers. The idea that the MLS champions will dominate, at home, over a “rookie” head coach for a “rookie” team is the accepted predictable outcome for matches involving expansion teams. Even Toronto is already anticipating easy wins over both expansion sides in their first two weeks. Even ignoring Seattle’s successful first MLS season, Toronto expects the Timbers to struggle as much as they have in their first years in the MLS.
The question that will be answered on March 19 will be: are the MLS champions hungrier than an expansion team? There is no doubt that the Rapids playing together through the season, helped build the repoire that only comes from time spent on the pitch. Though they struggled with the addition of Kanji late in the season, they jelled at the very end for all to see. Add to that the sobering statistic that not since 2003 has Colorado lost its home opener, it would seem that Spencer and Timbers’ fate is sealed.
But the team Spencer has put together has played together and are familiar with each other. Six players are returning from the Timbers last year; Eric Brunner and Adam Moffet played together last year at Colombus and roomed together on the road. Rodney Wallace played with Jeremy Hall in college three years ago and played last year with new goalie Troy Perkins at D.C United. This may be an expansion team but they are professionals who know each other well.
Though the Timbers face a huge challenge in their season opener and first season in the MLS, they will hope to emulate the Sounders success on the pitch in 2010, starting off with their match against the defending champs. Like they say here in Cascadia, “The bigger the tree, the harder the fall.”
By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood
The offseason is always interesting in Major League Soccer because it affords fans the opportunity to dream of what kind of famous players their team might, just might bring to the team this year. Robbie Keane, Ronaldinho and Raul are among the high-profile names who have been linked with the MLS this season, though it looks increasingly likely that of the three, only Keane seems like a legitimate candidate to show up on our shores this year. Recent designated player signings have ranged from the good (Alvaro Saborio, Alvaro Fernandez) to the jury’s still out (Thierry Henry) to the downright terrible. (Mista, anyone?) It does at least look like some MLS executives are bucking the trend of signing overpaid, ancient European greats in the hope of getting a few extra people in the seats, thanks to the success of players like Saborio, Fernandez and Seattle Sounders’ Fredy Montero.
Here are a few players Only Love Soccer wouldn’t mind see donning an MLS uniform sometime in the near future. Disagree? Have other suggestions? Leave a comment.
Rio Ferdinand. I know it might seem ridiculous to some, but if you had said Thierry Henry would be playing in the MLS four years ago, people would laugh in your face. Ferdinand is in his thirties, has been injured more often lately, and is a known fan of the USA already. The change to a spring-to-fall season might help erase his injury worries, and a defender of his class and composure would be a boon to the MLS no matter his age. Plus, his charisma and social adeptness would make him an ideal star to bring to the league.
Giovanni Dos Santos. Some might also scoff at this suggestion, since Giovanni is one of the brightest stars of the current Mexico team and plays for Tottenham Hotspur, who are currently competing in the Champions League. However, it’s become readily apparent that Spurs manager Harry Redknapp doesn’t consider Giovanni, no matter his exploits with the national team, as good enough to be a Spurs regular, so it might be in his best interest to go elsewhere. And why not the MLS? Though his wage demands are certainly higher than most MLS players, they wouldn’t be more than Henry or fellow Red Bull and Mexico captain Rafa Marquez. Playing in MLS would afford Giovanni to live a comfortable lifestyle while keeping his place in the Mexico team. And we think he’d be a huge star in the MLS.
Mohamed Aboutrika. Aboutrika is the rare player who, despite undoubtedly having the talent to play for a big club in Europae, has chosen instead to stay in his native Egypt, playing for Al-Ahly. And it’s a shame really — it would be fantastic to see a player who is widely considered one of, if not the best, players never to play in the Champions League or one of the biggest European leagues. The brief moments he has had on the world stage, he has shined — he was twice the top scorer in the Club World Cup, named one of the best XI in the 2009 Confederations Cup and scored the winning goal in the most recent African Cup of Nations for Egypt. It’s true that he probably will never leave Egypt, but we’d love to see him grace an MLS pitch.
Thomas Rosicky. To our knowledge, Rosicky has never been linked with a move to the MLS, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him join former teammates Henry and Freddy Ljungberg on these shores. Rosicky, the captain of the Czech Republic, is the kind of player, like former MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelloto, who would excel in the league with his range of passing, ability to coach while on the field and powerful shooting.
Humberto Suazo. Humberto Suazo is a Chilean striker who has scored goals pretty much everywhere he has played, particularly in Chile and Mexico, where he has scored 59 goals in four seasons with Monterey. Though his physique — he is only 5-7, and probably best described as robust — he is a player who would score and score and score in the MLS. It’s possible that at 29, he might feel like he has achieved all he wants to achieve in Mexico. Why not come here?
By Dan Hagan
With the recent announcement that American star Robbie Findley is close to accepting a contract offer from English Championship team Nottingham Forest, it seems clear he won’t be in Major League Soccer for at least a few years. When Findley decides to return to MLS (if he does), the Timbers will have his contract rights, either to negotiate with or utilize him on the roster.
How did Nottingham Forest F.C. snatch Findley before any other club in Europe? That question may be answered via an odd connection. Having spent time scouting the forward for the expansion draft, the Timbers took Findley knowing he had no intention of staying in MLS. How did a second division English team grab a talent so quickly on his first visit? The manager of Forest is Billy Davies. Davies is Timbers head coach John Spencer’s brother-in-law.
Not only could Forest have access to the Timbers scouting reports and player info, it would only have benefited both teams to secure a relationship through Findley before and after his signing. It will help the Timbers see how he develops through their close relationship with the English club. If Robbie Findley lives up to expectations the Timbers may convince him to rejoin MLS perhaps as more of the finished article.
By Dan Hagan
The Portland Timbers are coming out of the fog of uncertainty regarding the team, will it be an attacking team or a defensive one? The team has made some decisions recently that seem to point to an emphasis on toughness. With the signing of midfielders, defenders and a trade for a new goalkeeper, the Timbers have revealed their intention to show other clubs that scoring will not be easy. By making trades like Dax McCarty for defensive player Rodney Wallace of DC United, the Timbers are hoping to ensure that there is little to exploit offensively their first season.
One of the dominant features of the team is how big the new players are. Eric Brunner, who helped the Columbus crew stand alone atop the Eastern Conference for most of last year with his physical play and defense, is 6-4. In the 2009/10 CONCACAF tournament, Brunner played five games and was given two yellow cards and one red card, showing he’s certainly not a pushover. David Horst is 6’ 4” and 210 pounds and a former USL Development Defender of the Year. Timbers fans and Whitcap fans may recognize him from his time on loan with the Puerto Rico Islanders last season. He helped the Islanders become one of the best teams in the USL in 2010, culminating in a 4-0 shutout of LA Galaxy at home. Even the former Timber defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso, just recently re-signed, is no slouch at 6-3.
The second aspect of the team is smaller fast players like Rodney Wallace, who is very quick and can help swarm on defense. Plus, he has experience with newly acquired goalie Troy Perkins as the two played together in Washington D.C. Perkins has European experience at Norwegian side Valerenga IF and was the Goalkeeper of the Year in 2006. Perkins has had to be tough and scrappy to make his way from unsigned rookie to a starting role in the league in his first two years, showing he has the work ethic that Spencer is looking for from his players. Kerrea Gilbert is one of the smallest players on the roster (yet still towers above manager John Spencer by 3 inches), but is also a fast harassing style Premier League defender. Having a few years of European experience, both with Arsenal’s reserves and youth team and a variety of lower league teams in England should help him adjust quickly. Jeremy Hall will be playing only his third year professionally so his youth should also help the Timbers. Not only is he a great defender but also an offensive threat. He led the University of Maryland with 14 goals his senior year.
All of this is supported by former USL Timbers Danso, Kalif Alhassan, defender Kevin Goldthwaite and midfielder James Marcelin. This familiar combination will help the Timbers when they need to travel for CONCACAF games to keep newly-signed MLS starters as rested as possible. They will be crucial late in the season when teams have shown sluggishness after extended trips. With all three Cascadian teams having some of the longest distances to travel, the depth of the roster is a more important consideration than for many other teams.
The emphasis on defense can be attributed to General Manager Gavin Wilkenson. As head coach of the Timbers he consistently had one of the best defensive teams in the USL. Wilkenson’s defensive vision along with John Spencer’s offensive tactics could make for a powerfully balanced tandem this year.
Spencer has repeatedly talked about how an aggressive attacking style of offense is the way to succeed in MLS. Citing Seattle and Real Salt Lake as examples of this style of offense, he wants the TImbers to use a similar 4-4-2 formation to keep pressure on the backline of the opposing teams. With the success of Seattle and Real, it’s hard to not look at what is working offensively and what isn’t for teams around MLS. Spencer, himself a forward, grew up in Scotland playing this style of game and has learned that it is very appropriate for the MLS.
The Timbers have only two forwards signed, both from the USL. Eddie Johnson and Bright Dike are both former USL Timbers forwards. In addition, midfielder Ryan Pore was the league’s top scorer in 2010. The three players will help form the attacking foundation for the Timbers, and all have quite a bit of potential.
The Timbers are still scouting the world for talented players that are both affordable and available and have a designated player spot available if they find one. They may have spotted several players on their recent trip to South America, but that’s pure speculation.
With the season only about two and half months away it’s comforting to know that the Timbers are heading into the new year with a tough defense. Now they just need to add more attacking players for a balanced team.
By John Kennedy
Vancouver Whitecaps were handed a home game against arch rivals Toronto when the opening-day fixtures of the 2011 MLS season were released today. The game at Empire Field on Saturday, March 19 represents the first time two Canadian sides have met in the MLS.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi was delighted with the home venue and the opposition. “The fact we’re actually kicking off is a big deal,” he said, “but the fact we’re playing Toronto makes it a massive deal.” The two clubs have met six times since Toronto was founded in 2006. The ‘Caps hold a 2-1 advantage, with three of the games (including the last two) ending in stalemate.
The large following the Toronto Maple Leafs took to Vancouver for the recent NHL fixture with the Canucks has led many to speculate a similar number will travel for the historic MLS opener. Bob Lenarduzzi, however, thinks the Reds fans might be shut out. “The way ticket sales are going right now,” he said, “there’s not going to be a lot of available seats for Toronto fans. Maybe we can sell out the building.”
The Whitecaps first game on the road is a trip to the banks of the Delaware River to play Philadelphia Union at the PPL Park. Tickets will go on sale in January, but those for the remaining fixtures of the regular season won’t be available until the full MLS schedule has been released in early February.
Taking on the challenge of the MLS for the first time, the ‘Caps will be encouraged by the poor form Toronto and Philadelphia Union showed last season, both finishing in the bottom half of the MLS Eastern Conference. Toronto won only three MLS away games, drawing two and losing 10. Philadelphia Union failed to make the most of home advantage in nine of their 15 games at PPL Park, winning six, drawing six and losing three.
Below is a full list of MLS 2011 Home Openers for each club.
Tuesday, March 15
Seattle Sounders v LA Galaxy
Saturday, March 19
Vancouver Whitecaps v Toronto
DC United v Columbus Crew
New York Red Bulls v Seattle Sounders
FC Dallas v Chicago Fire
Houston Dynamo v Philadelphia Union
Colorado Rapids v Portland Timbers
Chivas USA v Sporting Kansas City
San Jose Earthquakes v Real Salt Lake
Sunday, March 20
LA Galaxy v New England Revolution
Saturday, March 26
Chicago Fire v Sporting Kansas City
Columbus Crew v New York Red Bulls
Philadelphia Union v Vancouver Whitecaps
Toronto FC v Portland Timbers
New England Revolution v DC United
Real Salt Lake v LA Galaxy
Thursday, April 14
Portland Timbers v Chicago Fire
Thursday, June 9
Sporting Kansas City v Chicago Fire