Monthly Archives: January 2011

In praise of Clint Dempsey

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Clint Dempsey is generally a player who divides US soccer fans. Though he has been a lock in the US national team squad, he isn’t a tricky, speedy winger, nor is he an out and out goal scorer, for country or club. He has also been painted in some circles as a bit too cocky or a bit too flair-oriented, something that bothers some who want their players to bleed red, white and blue, or white and black, depending on what team he’s playing for.

This post is not one to criticize Dempsey, though. Rather, my purpose is to praise. It’s true that his goal-scoring ratio isn’t overwhelming at the country or club level. In 133 Premier League matches, he’s scored about one goal per 4.5 appearance for Fulham. His ratio is slightly better for the national team, where he scores about once every 3.5 games. To talk about his stats is slightly unfair, though. In his career, he’s never been a permanent fixture in the Fulham line-up. Often under Roy Hodgson he played in midfield or came off the bench. This year he has been a regular starter for new manager Mark Hughes, and he has responded with 8 goals in 23 matches – better than such heralded stars as Wayne Rooney and Marouane Chamakh, and only one less than Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres. And he has done so for a team that doesn’t score an excess of goals or create a ton of chances – Fulham has 25 this year. He has also assisted on three goals, which means he has scored or assisted on 44 percent of Fulham’s goals this year. Compare that to Spurs’ much hyped Rafael Van Der Vaart (9 goals, 5 assists on Spurs 32 goals – or 43.7 percent) or Torres (9 goals, 2 assists – 35.5 percent of Liverpool’s). This isn’t to suggest that Dempsey is a better player than Van Der Vaart or Torres – both generally accepted as world class players. Dempsey is more of a workman-like player than either one. But I think it’s certainly foolish to deem Dempsey “a nice spark off the bench.”

For the national team, Dempsey has scored several key goals, and his goal to game ratio is similar to Jozy Altidore, who he has often been forced to partner in the US attack thanks to a lack of options up front for Bob Bradley. He has scored key goals for both the US and Fulham. He is one of only three US players to score in more than one World Cup (2006 and 2010. He has scored in the final of an intercontinental tourney (against Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup) and a major European Cup final (against Atletico Madrid in the 2009 UEFA Cup). His first goal for Fulham was a match-winner against Liverpool. He scored ‘the most famous goal in Fulham’s history,’ chipping Alex Manninger to give the team a win over Juventus in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals. He scored in the US team’s upset win over Spain in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup, one of only three defeats Spain has suffered in the last four years. He also scored to secure a draw (albeit with the help of Robert Green’s blunder in goal) in the 2010 World Cup against heavily favored England, a draw that helped the U.S. win their group.

It’s true that Dempsey might not offer the physical power of Altidore or the trickiness of Donovan, the overall class of Torres or Rooney, or the speed of Fulham teammate Andy Johnson. But he does offer one thing few players offer: Consistency and big-game dependability. We should be glad we have a player like him on the US team. As for the club game, I’d take him on Villa any day.

Jeremiah’s Weekend Picks: Jan. 28-31

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Big weekend in store for soccer fans. The Asian Cup final and 3rd place matches are this weekend. And look, people seem to think that because it’s the Asian Cup it won’t be fun to watch. That’s not true. There are lots of stars from famous leagues playing for teams like Japan, Australia and South Korea, and all the teams play nice football. Well, maybe not Australia, but at least they sound funny when they talk. Both the final, between Australia and Japan, and the 3rd place match, between Uzbekistan and South Korea should be fairly open fun games of football. In club football, there are some intriguing matches. In England, it’s the FA Cup, which is either exciting or boring, depending on what you think about knockout tourneys featuring smaller clubs. I won’t watch the League Two teams play, but I will hope they pull an upset off against the likes of Manchester United. No big, bit matches in the other major leagues, but I’ve highlighted a few you might like. Also, there is a big matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Brazil, which will probably be pretty exciting. As always, go to athde.net or myp2p.eu for streams.

Friday

Uzbekistan v South Korea. (Asian Cup runner-up match, 8 a.m.) For those of you who can’t get enough of the Asian Cup. Anyone? Anyone? Hey, I’ve enjoyed it. Uzbekistan were flying high until getting demolished 6-0 by Australia. South Korea were perhaps a bit unlucky (or too defensive-minded) in getting ousted by Japan on penalty kicks. You would have to think South Korea will win this, but it should be a good match, with goals, since 3rd place games tend to be a bit more free-flowing. Player to watch, as always, is Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung, on the Korean team.
Prediction: Uzbekistan 2, South Korea 4

Saturday

Australia v Japan. (Asian Cup, 8 a.m.) After a couple crushing victories in the tournament (Albeit versus Uzbekistan and India), Australia are probably slight favorites to win this match and the tourney. It will also help them that word from the streets is Borussia Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa might be out for the season after being injured in the win over South Korea. Japan have been a bit Jekyl and Hyde in this tournament, either looking dominant or mediocre. Australia have been professional and have yet to really be tested. Danger men for each side are former Liverpool winger Harry Kewell and Everton’s Tim Cahill for Australia and Japan’s Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow), especially since Kagawa is injured.
Prediction: Australia 2, Japan 1

Everton v Chelsea. (English FA Cup, 5:30 a.m.) I know what you’re thinking: “What, you’re not picking Torquay United v Crawley?” Well, as big of a fan as I am of Crawley’s Matthew Tubbs and other lower league stars like Burton Albion’s Keith Gilroy (I don’t actually know either player), I’ll stick with the bigger names. Plus, as nice as it is to see smaller teams make it in the tournament, no one wants to watch them actually play a fellow minnow. Anyhoo…Everton v Chelsea. This is the rare FA Cup early round game with big clubs. Chelsea have seemed to finally break out of their midseason slump, hammering Ipswich in the cup earlier, then beating Blackburn and Bolton consecutively without conceding a goal. Everton have yet to return to the form you expect from them most seasons, but they do tend to turn it on a bit in the second half of the year. Didier Drogba is the player to watch for Chelsea – big surprise there. For Everton, umm…Cahill is out…Steven Pienaar is mediocre, umm, I mean, he’s with Spurs. Mikel Arteta is back! OK, Arteta is their player to watch.
Prediction: Chelsea have won the FA Cup three times in the last four years, scoring more than two goals a match. Chelsea 3, Everton 1

Werder Bremen v Bayern Munich. (German Bundesliga, 7:30 a.m.) I will resist the impulse to pick a Borussia Dortmund match like I do every week, even though they are playing Wolfsburg, who are coached by former England manager Steve McClaren. Bayern have experienced a bit of a revival in recent weeks as well, though it’s probably too late for them to catch Dortmund unless they collapse in epic fashion, which probably won’t happen. Bayern beat Kaiserslautern 5-1 over the weekend, then moved on in the German Cup with an equally dominant victory over Alemania Aachen, who have really ugly uniforms. They have looked a different team since the return of Arjen Robben, which isn’t really all that surprising. As for Werder Bremen, I like their uniforms, and they tend to score/concede a lot of goals.
Prediction: Werder Bremen 2, Bayern Munich 3

Atlas v America. (Mexican league, 7:45 p.m.) Atlas are the early leaders in Mexico this season, even though they were awful last year. America have never really become the dominant force they usually are. Having Salvador Cabanas retire after being shot last year doesn’t help, nor does Cuahtemoc Blanco moving to the Chicago Fire in, what, 2007? Anyway, they’re still one of the biggest clubs in the country, and it’s up to them to prove that their bad start (1 point in three matches) is just a fluke. GOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLL!!
Prediction: Atlas continue their hot start. 2-0

Sunday

Espanyol v Villareal. (Spain’s La Liga, 1 p.m.) OK, here are two reasons why you should care about this match, American soccer fans: Jozy Altidore and coulda-been-an-American Giuseppe Rossi play for Villareal, though I use the term “play” very loosely when I refer to Altidore. Rossi is one of the better strikers in Spain, though, even though he plays for the Italian national team now, cheating jerk. Espanyol continue their surprisingly successful season, though I have trouble rooting for a team that was largely the oppressive face of General Franco in Catalonia during Spain’s years under dictator control, but that’s neither here nor there.
Prediction: Villareal rolls on, 2-1

Juventus v Udinese. (Serie A, 12:45 p.m.) Udinese comes into this match undefeated in their last four (3 wins, 1 draw) in a run that has seen them climb the table after a rough start to the season. Thanks to veteran goalscorer Antonio Di Natale and young Chilean star Alexis Sanchez, who has been courted by Chelsea and is a fantastic young player in the mold of Cristiano “Where did I put my face mask, Claudio?” Ronaldo. Juventus is undefeated in three, pending the result of their Coppa Italia quarterfinal match with Roma today. Juve underwent a huge slump to start of 2011, but now looks to be playing better football. Their danger man, as he has been all season, is Serbian midfielder Milos Krasic, though they are experiencing a bit of an injury problem at forward. The winner of this match will be in a good position to challenge for a Top 4 stop, with only Napoli and Milan looking especially dominant this year.
Prediction: It’s Italy, so it has to be 0-0.

Fenerbahce v Trabzonspor. (Turkish Super Lig, 10 a.m.) I rarely get the chance to push Turkish teams in here, so this is exciting. This match features two of the Top 3 teams in Turkey right now. Fenerbahce have won 26 league titles, the last coming in 2007. They have quite a few famous names world football fans know (Joseph Yobo, Mamadou Niang, Daniel Guiza, Alex, Andre Santos), though their best attacking player is probably Turkey international Semih Senturk. Trabzonspor, the pride of Trabzon, Turkey, have won the league six times, most recently in 1983. Offensive stars are Burak Yilmaz, Jaja and Umut Bulut, who have combined for 24 goals between them this year. Umm…yeah, that’s the extent of my knowledge on this match.
Prediction: 1-1, Trabzonspor stays seven ahead

Sao Paulo v Santos. (Brasileiro, noon) This is a match between the Top 2 teams in the Brasileiro, and for people who don’t endlessly follow world football, probably two of the most famous names in the country. We’re super early in the league so far, but Sao Paulo are the leaders. Joining them will be Rivaldo, who I think is 38 now, and though he’s still a handy player, is probably not the world-beater he was back when he played for Barcelona, oh, 15 years ago. I have to confess I don’t know much else about their team, though since their Brazilian, they should be fun to watch. Santos is Pele’s old club. They feature Ganso, who will probably be a Brazilian you’ll hear a lot about in the future. He’s only 21. Elano, also a regular in the Brazil squad, is also on the team, as is 18-year-old Neymar, who is another guy who will probably be gushed about for years to come. Wow, Santos are stacked. I didn’t realize all these guys played for them.
Prediction: I will operate under the assumption that a battle-hardened Sao Paulo side can hold off Santos’ young guns. 2-1, Sao Paulo

MLS club rankings, Jan. 25

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Hi all. Welcome to Onlylovesoccer’s first ever MLS rankings. Sure, you might agree or disagree, find us repulsive or compulsively readable, but either way, comment!

1. Colorado Rapids. Yeah, some have argued the Rapids were just a flash in the pan, like Real Salt Lake the year before – oh wait, they were good last year. Hmm…anyway, they’re the champs, so they start off in first. Colorado added Sanna Nyassi and Tyrone Marshall to the MLS Cup-winning squad. And perhaps Omar Cummings’ time training with English squad Aston Villa will only make him more dangerous.

2. LA Galaxy. The Galaxy, Beckham, Donovan, Buddle, et. al, stormed through the regular season, finishing in first place, but showed a worrying tendency to fold in big games, losing in the conference finals, at home to FC Dallas, losing in the US Open Cup to Seattle and getting shocked by the Puerto Rico Islanders in the CONCACAF Champions League. Buddle has left for a second-division German team, Beckham as always is linked to European clubs, Juan Pablo Angel is now a member of the team. Will they be good? Yes. Will they win the MLS Cup? Well, maybe.

3. Real Salt Lake. RSL have been a bit of a nonentity in the MLS so far, something that changed when they won the MLS Cup in 2009. Despite being considered something of a fluke, they were very good last year, finishing second in the table to LA Galaxy, scoring the most goals and actually topping their group in the CONCACAF Champions League. Robbie Findley has left for English second division team Nottingham Forest, but with Arturo Alvarez joining the team you could still argue that they are the best attacking force in the U.S.

4. Red Bull New York. Poor Red Bull New York, who made big waves last year with the signing of Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry, finished first in the Eastern Conference in points, then were thumped by San Jose in the Eastern Conference (yeah, I don’t get it either) semifinals at home. They also lost Juan Pablo Angel to the Galaxy in the offseason, though, let’s be honest, he’s like 58, that’s not that big of a deal, right? The team will still retain Henry, who fans like me are desperately hoping becomes the player he was not last year in his first year in the MLS and Marquez, who is a solid defensive mid who makes bad decisions often. In addition, they have Juan Aguedelo, who will be a star, soon. Don’t be shocked if the RBNY is very very good this season.

5. FC Dallas. FC Dallas were possibly denied an MLS Cup by a bit of a fluke goal in the final against Colorado. They are also my adopted MLS team (Long story, don’t ask) If FC Dallas hopes to have a similarly successful season, they’ll have to overcome the loss of Dax McCarty, Jeff Cunningham and Atiba Harris, all fairly big losses. Will it happen? Well, I don’t really think so, but you can never count out a team with pint-sized dynamo (No, not from Houston) and MLS MVP David Fereira in the squad.

6. Seattle Sounders. The Sounders have been pretty impressive their two years in the league, being surprisingly good their first season, winning the US Open Cup their first two years and finishing strongly to make the playoffs in their second year. They also are by far the most popular team in terms of filling the stadium (Come on Portland and Vancouver – let’s see what you got). They lost Sanna Nyassi, Nathan Sturgis and Tyrone Marshall in the offseason, while gaining O’Brien White and Erik Friberg from Sweden’s Hacken. They have also recently been linked with Uruguayan World Cup star Diego Forlan, who would be a MASSIVE signing in the MLS, though it is just a rumor. With their success comes expectation. The question is, will they live up to expectations?

7. Sporting Kansas City. Sporting KC made a lot of headlines with the name change, which is either hokey or a smart decision, depending on who you talk to. On the field they’ll add Mexican hero Omar Bravo, who should have the quality to succeed in the league, but sometimes it’s hard to tell with Mexican players. Whether or not he does will factor heavily in Sporting’s success. I’m going to say he’ll be a very good player for the team. Losing Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff might be seen as a negative, but both are getting a little long in the tooth, if you know what I’m saying.

8. San Jose Earthquakes. San Jose have had a bit of a rough go of it in their return to the MLS, but they’ve shown a slow but steady improvement. This offseason, they added Steven Lenhart, who scored six goals for the Crew last year. Is he a star? No, but he has cool hair. I don’t have much to add about the Earthquakes, but I expect continued improvement.

9. Toronto FC. Toronto is another team like San Jose that has been sort of slowly, slowly moving toward being a consistent playoff team. Their fan supports has been great so far, but they have yet to consistently win. No team with Dwayne De Rosario is every terrible, and if Julian De Guzman lives up to his reputation, they could be in for a nice year.

10. Columbus Crew. The Crew haven’t lost much in the offseason this year, but failed to resign Guillermo Barros-Schelloto, who thought fairly ancient in footballing terms, was the heart and soul of the team, and has been for the past few years. Will they succeed without him? Well, maybe, but I’ll have to see it on the field first.

11. Philadelphia Union. The Union are a good young team who are being well set up for success. It might not be coming this year, but they should certainly be in the conversation for the playoffs, which is a step in the right direction. Look for 19-year-old Danny Mwanga to continue blossoming into a star.

12. Portland Timbers. The Timbers are attempting to follow the blueprint set by the Sounders, and to a lesser extent, Philadelphia, by building a strong team that looks to be competitive its first year. Draft pick Darlington Nagbe could be a star, and he has a nice partner in Kenny Cooper, finally returned from a few long cold winters in Europe. Ryan Pore hopes to transfer his success from whatever the second division in the US is called now to the MLS, and former Arsenal youth player Kerrea Gilbert could be an interesting signing. The Timbers are sure to have fantastic support and might be a dark horse for the playoffs.

13. Chivas USA. New signing Victor Estupinan has already made a few waves (or as many as a Chivas USA player can make at this point) by targeting 30 goals in his first season in the MLS. Considering he comes into the year with 3 senior goals to his credit with LDU Quito, pardon me if we’re a bit dubious. Anyway, Chivas isn’t a bad club, but it’s hard not to feel like they missed the boat from the freewheeling fun attacking side they were a few years ago.

14. Houston Dynamo. I have trouble putting the Dynamo so low, but they’ve faced such a dramatic loss in key players in the last few years (Stuart Holden, De Rosario, Ricardo Clark, young Brian Ching) that it’s hard to see the team making the playoffs unless one or more of their young players really takes a big step up into stardom this year.

15. Vancouver Whitecaps. The Whitecaps have followed a bit more of a “win-now” mentality than Portland, signing some proven MLS vets (Atiba Harris, Joe Cannon, John Thorrington, et al…) and have also been linked with Tottenham’s Robbie Keane, who let’s be honest, might actually get signed, what with his trouble finding a new team in England. Will it all gel? Well, history says no…Also, the jury is still out on No. 1 draft pick Omar Salgado, who probably is at least a couple years away and might not get to play this season, or at least until late in the year.

16. New England Revolution. It’s a shame to see how far the Revs have fallen in recent years. Steve Nicol will have a hard time rebuilding what was once one of the most dangerous squads in the MLS, and this year looks to be another rebuilding time year. Will they make the playoffs? Probably not. Will they be competitive? Maybe…

17. DC United. United have really struggled in recent years, due in a large part to their over-reliance on aging veterans who have fallen out of step with the MLS game. Now they’re in rebuilding mode, and that starts with the signing of Dax McCarty and Perry Kitchen. They probably won’t be great this year, but the future is being set up nicely for this team.

18. Chicago Fire. Oh, Chicago Fire. This pains me greatly, because I have some friends who love the Fire, but this team has had no success hanging onto players or attracting new ones lately. This is partly due to their over-reliance on expensive, aging talent (see DC United), but also to their attempts to attract a market as opposed to signing players that benefit the team (we’re looking at you, Nery Castillo.) Brian McBride is retired, Freddie Ljungberg is gone, Wilman Conde is gone, John Thorrington is gone. And Corey Gibbs is probably not the answer. Will the Fire sign a DP who will excite Chicago soccer fans? The odds are probably good. But it also probably won’t lead to them making the playoffs.

World Club Rankings: Jan. 25

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

The big news in the rankings this week is Chelsea and AC Milan surging back into the Top 10. Though Chelsea still finds itself behind Manchester City in the Premier League table, City’s uneven play coupled with Chelsea’s first two wins in a row in who knows how long has seen them back in the Top 10. As for AC Milan, the Serie A leaders have dealt with a brief bump in the road and have won their last few matches impressively on the back of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I would say Barca must be regretting letting him leave the team on loan, but since they’re still in first place, well, probably not. The other big news of this week is France’s Lille – the Ligue 1 leaders – making their first appearance in the rankings at No. 25. Good luck!

1. Barcelona beat Racing Santander 3-0 in La Liga on Saturday. In 2010-11 season — 25-5-2, 92 goals scored, 19 goals against. Titles won: Supercopa de Espana. Still competing in: Champions League, Copa Del Rey. Up next: Almeria in La Liga on Wednesday
2. Manchester United beat Blackpool 3-2 in the Premier League on Tuesday. Overall, 22-11-1, 70 gs, 31 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, FA Cup. Up next: At Southampton in FA Cup on Saturday
3. Real Madrid beat Mallorca 1-0 in La Liga on Sunday. Overall, 25-5-2, 80 gs, 23 ga. Still competing: Champions League, Copa del Rey. Up next: At Sevilla in La Liga on Wednesday
4. FC Porto beat Beira Mar 1-0 in the Portuguese Liga on Saturday. Overall, 27-3-0, 74 gs, 14 ga. Titles won: Portuguese Supercup. Still competing: Europa League, Taca de Portugal. Up next: Nacional Madeira in Portuguese Liga on Wednesday
5. Borussia Dortmund drew 1-1 with Stuttgart in the Bundesliga on Saturday. Overall, 19-5-4, 61 gs, 19 ga. Up next: Saturday at Wolfsburg in Bundesliga
6. Arsenal beat Ipswich Town 3-0 (3-1 aggregate) in the Carling Cup on Tuesday. Overall, 23-5-8, 81 gs, 33 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, Carling Cup, FA Cup. Up next: Huddersfield in FA Cup on Sunday
7. Bayern Munich
beat Kaiserslautern 5-1 in the Bundesliga on Saturday. Overall, 18-6-5, 67 gs, 32 ga. Titles won: German Supercup. Still competing: Champions League, DFB Pokal. Up next: At Alemania Achen in DFB Pokal on Wednesday
8. AC Milan
beat Cesena 2-0 in Serie A on Sunday. Overall, 16-7-5, 47 gs, 25 ga. Still competing: Champions League, Coppa Italia. Up next: At Sampdoria in Coppa Italia on Wednesday
9. Chelsea
beat Bolton Wanderers 4-0 in Premier League on Monday. Overall, 19-5-8, 68 gs, 30 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, FA Cup. Up next: At Everton in Premier League on Saturday
10. Inter Milan
lost to Udinese in the Serie A on Sunday. Overall, 16-7-7, 54 gs, 37 ga. Titles won: Supercopa Italia, Club World Cup. Still competing in: Champions League, Coppa Italia. Up next: At Napoli in Coppa Italia on Wednesday
11. Manchester City
lost to Aston Villa 1-0 in the Premier League on Saturday. Overall, 17-9-7, 55 gs, 32 ga. Still competing in: Europa League, FA Cup. Up next: At Notts County in FA Cup on Sunday
12. Villareal beat Real Sociedad 2-1 in La Liga on Sunday. Overall,  21-6-7, 65 gs, 36 ga. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: At Espanyol on Sunday in La Liga
13. Shaktar Donetsk didn’t play. Overall, 22-0-2, 52 gs, 11 ga. Titles won: Ukrainian Super Cup. Still competing: Champions League. Up next: Feb. 16 vs AS Roma in Champions League
14. Valencia beat Malaga 4-3 in La Liga on Saturday. Overall, 17-7-6, 57 gs, 32 ga. Still competing: Champions League. Up next: At Racing Santander in La Liga on Monday
15. Marseille beat Auxerre 2-0 in Coupe de Ligue on Wednesday. Overall, 14-8-6, 43 gs, 21 ga. Titles won: Trophee du Champions. Still competing: Coupe de France, Champions League, Coupe de Ligue. Up next: At AS Monaco in Ligue 1 on Sunday
16. Bayer Leverkusen beat Borussia Moenchengladbach 3-1 in Bundesliga on Sunday. Overall, 16-10-3, 65 gs, 34 ga. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga on Friday
17. Napoli
beat Bari 2-0 in Serie A on Sunday. Overall, 16-8-5, 42 gs, 27 ga. Still competing: Europa League, Coppa Italia. Up next: Inter Milan in Coppa Italia on Wednesday
18. Estudiantes La Plata didn’t play. Overall, 15-3-3, 34 gs, 10 ga. Titles won: Argentine Primera Division. Still competing: Copa Libertadores. Up next: Newell’s Old Boys on Feb. 13 in Argentinian Primera Division
19. Tottenham Hotspur drew 1-1 with Newcastle United in the Premier League on Saturday. Overall, 15-8-8, 60 gs, 44 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, FA Cup. Up next: At Fulham in Premier League on Sunday
20. FC Copenhagen
didn’t play. Overall, 19-5-3, 57 gs, 25 ga. Still competing: Champions League. Up next: Feb. 22 vs Chelsea in Champions League
21. Zenit St. Petersburg beat AEK Athens 3-0 in the Europa League on Thursday. Overall, 16-5-3, 56 gs, 23 ga. Titles won: Russian League. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: Feb. 17 at Young Boys in Europa League
22. PSV Eindhoven beat VVV Venlo 3-0 in Eredevisie on Sunday. Overall, 20-7-3, 77 gs, 23 ga. Still competing: Europa League, Dutch Cup. Up next: At Twente Einschede on Wednesday in Eredivisie
24. CSKA Moscow didn’t play. Overall, 17-6-1, 54 gs, 13 ga. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: At PAOK Salonika in Europa League on Feb. 17
24. Glasgow Celtic
beat Aberdeen 1-0 in Scottish Premier League on Saturday. Overall, 21-4-4, 61 gs, 24 ga. Still competing: League Cup, Scottish Cup. Up next: Heart of Midlothian in Scottish Premier League on Wednesday
23. Lille
beat Wasquehal 1-0 in Coupe De France on Sunday. Overall, 16-11-5, 57 gs, 31 ga. Still competing: Coupe de France, Europa League. Up next: Lens in Ligue 1 on Saturday

On the fringes: AS Roma (Italy), Espanyol (Spain), Olympiakos (Greece), Sunderland (England), Trabzonspor (Turkey), Lyon (France), FC Groningen (Holland), Benfica (Portugal), Brisbane Roar (Australia), Sevilla (Spain), Liverpool (England), Atlas (Mexico)

Jeremiah’s Weekend Preview: Jan. 21-24

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

I’m taking a slightly different tact today as since there aren’t a ton of great matches, I’ll highlight what’s going on of note around world football. Matches are in Mountain Standard. I know, that’s weird, but tough.

The Asian Cup moves into the knockout stage, which is welcome for those of us who don’t feel like watching India or Saudi Arabia get crushed by the heavyweights off the conference (Australia, Japan, South Korea, et al.) No huge upsets so far. Qatar emerged from a bad loss to start the tournament to qualify at the expense of China. They will take on Japan (Friday at 6:25 a.m.), who have scored 8 goals in three matches, five against the Saudis. Probably two of the biggest surprises so far are Uzbekistan and Jordan, who also meet Friday, at 9:25 a.m. Saturday’s matches feature Australia v Iraq, and Iran – the only team to win all their matches so far – against South Korea, at 6:25 and 9:25 a.m. respectively. Look for Japan and Uzbekistan to emerge from Friday’s matchups and Australia and, well, I’m not sure about the second match, but you’d have to favor South Korea…

England. There aren’t an excess of huge matchups taking place in England this weekend. Leaders Manchester United host Birmingham at Old Trafford (8 a.m. Saturday) in what should be a routine 3- or 4-0 win. Manchester City take on struggling Aston Villa, who are hoping the addition of Darren Bent will bring some goals. That match takes place at 10:30 a.m. The best of the remaining weekend matches in the EPL for me is Bolton hosting Chelsea, one sure to have goals. That’s on Monday at 1 p.m. The biggest match in the Championship this weekend is probably Cardiff v Watford, 8 a.m. Saturday, but good luck finding a stream of that one.

Spain. La Liga is especially dull this weekend. Pretty much all the top teams in the division have matches against struggling clubs, the lone exception being Real Madrid, who host Mallorca (11 a.m. Sunday), who are currently ninth. Unfortunately, it’s in Madrid, which means it should be a relatively easy win for Madrid. If you don’t feel like watching one of the Big 2 thrash all their Spanish opponents, watch Getafe v Espanyol (9 a.m. Sunday), probably the best of the rest of the matches, though Espanyol are mediocre away and Getafe aren’t too impressive at home.

Italy. I always try desperately to watch Serie A matches, but they’re so slooooow. Italy is like the Mexico of European football. Anyone? Anyone? Highlights of this weekend include Inter Milan, winners of four straight, visiting Udinese and starlet Alexis Sanchez. The drawback? It’s on at 4:30 a.m. Sunday. Sorry. Failing that, Sampdoria v Juventus (9 a.m. Sunday) showcases two teams with aspirations of European football, though Juve have been miserable so far in 2011.

Germany. Bayern Munich will hope to avoid dropping points in another match they should win when they host Kaiserslautern (7:30 a.m. Saturday) in their basically dead attempt at catching up with Borussia Dortmund (7:30 a.m. Saturday). Dortmund at least has a match which should represent something of a challenge, as they’re hosting Stuttgart. Dortmund have steam-rolled over everyone this year, expect it to continue in this match. The only other team who has looked like staying within shooting distance has been Bayer Leverkusen. Unfortunately, they were drilled by Dortmund last weekend. They visit Moenchengladbach on Sunday at 7:30 a.m. and need to win to keep up their Champions League hopes.

Elsewhere. I wish I could highlight some other key matches this weekend. Sadly, there aren’t any really. If you’re not satisfied with what’s on offer, watch Pachuca travel to Santos (6 p.m. Saturday), featuring two of the heavyweights in the Mexican league. As always, go to http://www.atdhe.net for good streams of live soccer.

Three reasons to watch U.S. v Chile

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

At 8 p.m. Saturday (I’m on Pacific time, folks), the U.S. men’s national team will give some time on the pitch to some prospects as they take on Chile at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Oh how I wish I could go. USMNT coach Bob Bradley called up a team comprised mostly of younger talent from the U.S. pool. The entire team has 23 caps between them, the most from midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who has six. They’ll be taking on Chile, praised for being one of the most stylish teams at the 2010 World Cup, at least until they were tanked by Brazil. Chile are coached by Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa, who led them to the World Cup, then resigned in unhappiness over the appointment of Jorge Segovia as head of the Chilean football federation. But apparently he’s still the coach? I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe he’s coaching, maybe he’s not. Find out on Saturday! Here are three reasons to watch the match if I haven’t sufficiently whet your whistle so far.

1. The U.S. is, well, not great, but getting better. I know it’s annoying to hear people champion the U.S. national team, and then nonsoccer/football fans like yourselves spend two hours you could use watching replays of the Insight.com Bowl only to see the U.S. lose a match against a team from a country you’ve never heard of (Ghana is in Africa, by the way). But with that said, Brazil didn’t win five World Cups with the help of Brazilian apathy and complaining. The U.S. team has come on in leaps and bounds since, say, the 1998 World Cup where they finished 32nd out of 32 teams. In 2002, we beat Portugal and were sort of cheated by the Germans in the quarterfinal, and in 2006 … well, we drew with Italy, which counts for something, right? In 2010 we topped a group that included England. The point is, we shouldn’t look at every sport like if we don’t win, it’s not worth watching. We dominate every country in everything else, enjoy us actually having to compete in a sport for once.

2. The U.S. has some good young players. I am a firm believer that we’re only a few years away from a point where we’ll have several U.S. national team members performing at the highest level on the world stage. Already, players like Tim Howard (Everton), Jozy Altidore (Villareal) and Stuart Holden (Umm…Bolton Wanderers) are competing for strong teams in some of the world’s best leagues. Could the U.S. have a Messi or Ronaldo coming through the pipeline? Well, don’t be someone who comes late to the party. Players like Omar Gonzalez (22 years old – the MLS Rookie of the Year), Mikkel Diskerud (playing in the Champions League with Norway’s Stabaek) and Juan Agudelo, and 18-year-old who scored in his first appearance for the U.S. national team, will all get the chance to show what they can do. You should watch.

3. Chile aren’t too bad. Though they won’t be featuring the talents of mercurial players like Alexis Sanchez (“Sorry guys, I’m playing against Inter Milan this weekend”) or Bayer Leverkusen’s Arturo Vidal, at this match, both due to European league play, Chile are still, apparently, coached by Bielsa, who is renowned for his tactical moves and attacking play. They are currently ranked No. 15 in the world and will use this match to blood some young player with limited experience. But don’t think this mean’s they will be tentative. The squad will still feature players like Esteban Paredes (35 goals in 52 matches for Chilean powerhouse Colo-Colo) and Fernando Meneses, who has scored six times in 30 matches for Universidad Catolica. In fact, the entire Chilean midfield is made up of Universidad Catolica players, which begs the question: Is the Universidad Catolica team better than the U.S. second team? Find out on Saturday!

World Club rankings: Jan. 18

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

No huge changes in the Top 25 this week. Barcelona steam-rolled Malaga as Real Madrid could only draw with Almeria. Manchester United drew at Tottenham Hotspur, which opened up the title race in England a bit, with both Arsenal and Manchester City winning. AC Milan continues to stumble in Italy, but Inter Milan seem to be the only Top 5 team playing well at the moment. Umm…what else? Lille looks poised to crack the Top 25 if they win this week.

1. Barcelona beat Malaga 4-1 in La Liga on Sunday. In 2010-11 season — 24-5-1, 88 goals scored, 16 goals against. Titles won: Supercopa de Espana. Still competing in: Champions League, Copa Del Rey. Up next: At Real Betis in Copa Del Rey on Wednesday
2. Manchester United drew with Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 in the Premier League on Sunday. Overall, 20-11-1, 62 gs, 29 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, FA Cup. Up next: Birmingham City in the Premiership on Saturday
3. Real Madrid drew 1-1 with Almeria in La Liga on Sunday. Overall, 23-5-2, 78 gs, 23 ga. Still competing: Champions League, Copa del Rey. Up next: At Atletico Madrid in Copa Del Rey on Thursday
4. Borussia Dortmund beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Thursday in the Bundesliga. Overall, 19-4-4, 60 gs, 18 ga. Up next: VfB Stuttgart in the Bundesliga on Saturday
5. FC Porto beat Naval 1º Maio 3-1 in the Portuguese Liga on Sunday. Overall, 26-3-0, 73 gs, 14 ga. Titles won: Portuguese Supercup. Still competing: Europa League, Taca de Portugal. Up next: At Beira Mar in the Portuguese Liga on Saturday
6. Arsenal
beat West Ham 3-0 in the Premier League on Sunday. Overall, 20-5-8, 72 gs, 32 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, Carling Cup, FA Cup. Up next: At Leeds United in FA Cup on Wednesday
7. Inter Milan
beat Bologna 4-1 in the Serie A on Saturday. Overall, 15-7-6, 50 gs, 32 ga. Titles won: Supercopa Italia, Club World Cup. Still competing in: Champions League, Copa Italia. Up next: Cesena in Serie A on Wednesday
8. Bayern Munich
drew 1-1 with VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga on Saturday. Overall, 17-6-5, 62 gs, 31 ga. Titles won: German Supercup. Still competing: Champions League, DFB Pokal. Up next: Kaiserslautern in the Bundesliga on Saturday
9. AC Milan
drew 1-1 with Lecce on Sunday in Serie A. Overall, 14-7-5, 42 gs, 25 ga. Still competing: Champions League, Coppa Italia. Up next: Bari in Coppa Italia on Thursday
10. Manchester City
beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-3 in the Premier League on Saturday. Overall, 16-9-6, 51 gs, 29 ga. Still competing in: Europa League, FA Cup. Up next: Leicester City in FA Cup on Tuesday
11. Chelsea beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 in Premier League on Saturday. Overall, 18-5-8, 64 gs, 30 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, FA Cup. Up next: At Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League on Monday
12. Villareal beat Osasuna 4-2 Saturday in La Liga. Overall,  20-6-6, 63 gs, 32 ga. Still competing: Europa League, Copa del Rey. Up next: At Sevilla in Copa Del Rey on Tuesday
13. Tottenham Hotspur
drew 0-0 with Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday. Overall, 15-7-8, 59 gs, 43 ga. Still competing in: Champions League, FA Cup. Up next: At Newcastle in the Premiership on Saturday
14. Shaktar Donetsk didn’t play. Overall, 22-0-2, 52 gs, 11 ga. Titles won: Ukrainian Super Cup. Still competing: Champions League. Up next: Feb. 16 vs AS Roma in Champions League
15. Valencia beat Deportivo de La Coruna 2-0 in La Liga on Sunday. Overall, 16-7-6, 53 gs, 29 ga. Still competing: Champions League. Up next: Malaga in La Liga on Saturday
16. Marseille beat Bordeaux 2-1 in Ligue 1 on Sunday. Overall, 13-8-6, 41 gs, 21 ga. Titles won: Trophee du Champions. Still competing: Coupe de France, Champions League. Up next: At Auxerre in Coupe de Ligue on Wednesday
17. Bayer Leverkusen lost to Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Thursday in Bundesliga. Overall, 15-10-3, 62 gs, 33 ga. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: At Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Bundesliga on Sunday
18. Estudiantes La Plata didn’t play. Overall, 15-3-3, 34 gs, 10 ga. Titles won: Argentine Primera Division. Still competing: Copa Libertadores. Up next: Newell’s Old Boys on Feb. 13 in Argentinian Primera Division
19. Napoli drew 0-0 with Fiorentina on Saturday in Serie A. Overall, 14-8-5, 38 gs, 26 ga. Still competing: Europa League, Coppa Italia. Up next: Bologna in Coppa Italia on Tuesday
20. FC Copenhagen didn’t play. Overall, 19-5-3, 57 gs, 25 ga. Still competing: Champions League. Up next: Feb. 22 vs Chelsea in Champions League
21. Zenit St. Petersburg beat AEK Athens 3-0 in the Europa League on Thursday. Overall, 16-5-3, 56 gs, 23 ga. Titles won: Russian League. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: Feb. 17 at Young Boys in Europa League
22. PSV Eindhoven beat Roda JC 3-1 in Eredevisie on Sunday. Overall, 19-7-3, 74 gs, 23ga. Still competing: Europa League, Dutch Cup. Up next: Jan. 23 at VVV Venlo in Eredivisie
23. Lyon beat Lorient 3-0 in Ligue 1 on Saturday. Overall, 12-8-7, 41 gs, 33 ga. Still competing: Coupe de France, Champions League. Up next: At Nice in Coupe de France on Sunday
24. CSKA Moscow
didn’t play. Overall, 17-6-1, 54 gs, 13 ga. Still competing: Europa League. Up next: At PAOK Salonika in Europa League on Feb. 17
25. Glasgow Celtic
beat Hibernian 3-0 Saturday in Scottish Premier League. Overall, 20-4-4, 60 gs, 24 ga. Still competing: League Cup, Scottish Cup. Up next: Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League on Saturday

On the fringes: Lille (France), AS Roma (Italy), FC Groningen (Holland), Espanyol (Spain), Olympiakos (Greece), Sunderland (England), Trabzonspor (Turkey), Racing Genk (Belgium), Brisbane Roar (Australia), Lazio (Italy), Hannover 96 (Germany), Benfica (Portugal)

Match report: Birmingham City 1, Aston Villa 1

by Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Scorers: Birmingham City — Johnson (49), Aston Villa — Collins (73)

Birmingham City line-up and ratings: Foster – 6.5, Ridgewell — 5.5, Johnson — 7, Murphy – 6, Carr — 6.5, Fahey — 6, Ferguson — 7, Hleb – 7 (Zigic — NR), Gardner — 6, Bentley – 6.5, Derbyshire — 5.5 (Bowyer — NR)

Aston Villa line-up and ratings: Friedel — 5.5, Dunne — 6, Collins — 7, Clark — 7.5, Walker — 6, Petrov — 6, Reo-Coker — 6 (Bannan — NR), Downing  — 6, Albrighton — 6.5, Agbonlahor — 6, Carew — 5.5 (Delfouneso — 7.5)

James Collins’ 73rd minute deflected goal gave Aston Villa a 1-1 draw in the second match of the Second City Derby, with both teams fighting against relegation.

Villa had the better of the chances early on, hitting the bar three times in the first half, twice through John Carew headers and once from a Ciaran Clark cross. Their best chance came inside the first minute, though, when Gabriel Agbonlahor grabbed a Ben Foster clearance, skipped around Roger Johnson, but then shot over the bar with only Foster to beat. Birmingham City’s best chance of the first half came when former Villa midfielder Craig Gardner stole the ball off Kyle Walker – in his first Premiership start for Villa at right back, and then sent a low cross in for Matt Derbyshire, but needing only a slight touch on the ball to score, Derbyshire missed it completely.

After the early spell of sustained pressure by Villa, City where probably the better side for the last 20 minutes of the first half, but failed to score. Both sides looked a bit more defensive than their fans probably would’ve liked.

In the second half, the Blues got the breakthrough, a Craig Gardner free kick flicked on by David Murphy into the path of Johnson, who beat Friedel. After that though, Villa were once again the dominant side, with Clark having a deflected effort go narrowly wide and then Stewart Downing having his shot saved by Foster. Villa finally found the equalizer when Marc Albrighton’s cross was headed on by Agbonlahor, and then Villa defender James Collins volleyed the ball into the net off former Villa defender Liam Ridgewell.

Villa continued to press after the goal. Downing had his shot saved by Foster after build-up involving Agbonlahor and substitute Nathan Delfouneso. Collins had a header cleared off the line by Ridgewell, and then Delfouneso strode through the Birmingham defense before taking a shot narrowly tipped off the bar by Foster. Birmingham City had one more chance in injury time, when Foster took a free kick and Villa goalie Brad Friedel made the rash decision to try and claim the ball, only for Birmingham substitute Nicola Zigic (I have no idea if that’s how you spell his first name) to beat him to the ball and head it just wide of goal with no one covering.

A point each was a fair result, though both managers probably would have to hope they had picked up the three. Villa were the better side for most of the match, but like many of their games this season, were indecisive with their finishing. They just aren’t playing with the confidence they have the past few years. Birmingham City had a nice few moments of interplay between Alexandr Hleb and new signing David Bentley, but Matt Derbyshire was woeful as the lone striker. They’ll struggle to score goals this season. The draw offers a bit of a stay of execution for Villa manager Gerard Houllier – at least with the fans, who seem to increasingly want him out, even if owner Randy Lerner doesn’t.

Stat of the day: Birmingham City keeper Ben Foster only completed 16 out of 48 passes. Of those, 19 were goal kicks, and only 3 reached a Birmingham City player.

Match Stats

Birmingham City
Aston Villa
52 % Possession 48 %
3 Shots on target 3
10 Shots off target 11
6 Blocked shots 3
5 Corners 7
14 Fouls 15
1 Offside 1
1 Yellow cards 2
0 Red cards 0

Fire say Castillo returning

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

According to Mlssoccer.com, Nery Castillo will rejoin the Chicago Fire for the upcoming season, even though there have been several reports linking him to transfers overseas, particularly Greece, where he experienced his most (or some might say, only) successful seasons. The question is, do Fire fans care? Castillo failed to score or supply an assist for the Fire in 8 appearances last year despite making $1.8 million.

Castillo is a player who has never lived up to the promise he showed in the 2007 Copa America tournament, where he scored four goals, including a brace in a 6-0 win over Paraguay. Since that tournament, he’s scored one goal for the national team, and a grand total of two goals in 34 appearances, all competitions for Shaktar Donetsk, Manchester City, Dnipro and the Fire.

It’s safe to say that if he indeed shows up this season, it’s a make-it-or-break-it one for him. There might be clubs in Greece clamoring for his return, but it’s doubtful his former team Olympiakos would be in for a player who hasn’t scored a goal in league play since 2008. As much comment is made about Freddy Adu’s struggles to find a team since leaving the MLS, Castillo has now reached what should be “the prime” of a soccer player’s career.

Here is a video of Castillo highlights, all pre-2007:

 

Whitecaps select Salgado with No. 1 pick

The MLS SuperDraft, not to be confused with the NBA UltraDraft or NHL Xcellent Draft, kicked off, and the Whitecaps picked U.S. youth international Omar Salgado, something of a surprise pick, with the 1st pick. Salgado spent time on the Chivas de Guadalajara youth team and recently courted some controversy by switching international allegiance from Mexico. Salgado has scored once in 9 youth appearances for the U.S.

The Portland Timbers picked second and grabbed Darlington Nagbe, a forward/midfielder from national championship-winning Akron University. Nagbe was an All-American as a junior and the MAC player of the year.  The Timbers also traded their 20th pick and allocation money to the Seattle Sounders for the Sounders’ 11th pick and an international roster spot. The Timbers have also been linked to Kenny Cooper, who has been a bit of a bust in Europe.

The draft so far:

1. Vancouver – Omar Salgado (F, US U-20)
2. Portland – Darlington Nagbe (MF/ F, Akron)
3. D.C. United – Perry Kitchen (MF, D Akron)
4. Chivas USA – Zarek Valentin (D, Akron)
5. Philadelphia Union – Zac MacMath (GK, Maryland)
6. New England Revolution – AJ Soares (D, Cal)
7. Houston Dynamo – Kofi Sarkodie (D, Akron)
8.Vancouver Whitecaps – Michael Nanchoff (MF, Akron)

 

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