Monthly Archives: August 2011

MLS rankings: Week 23

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

All times Pacific; first number is current ranking, second is previous ranking. I trust you can figure out the rest…

1 – 1. LA Galaxy beat San Jose 2-0 at home. The Galaxy continue to roll on, winning matches where they don’t even play well, but that’s what champions do. The question is, will any of it matter when the playoffs roll around? Season: 14-9-3, 37 gf, 20 ga; Up next: Sporting Kansas City on Sept. 5

2 – 2. Seattle Sounders won 1-0 at FC Dallas. A win at Dallas goes a long way toward solidifying the No. 2 spot for Seattle. The teams is also doing quite well in Champions League play. Is this the season the MLS is officially on par with Mexican teams? Season: 12-9-5, 36 gf, 27 ga; Up next: Columbus on Saturday

3 – 4. Colorado Rapids drew 2-2 at home against Chivas USA. The Rapids are now undefeated in six straight. They have a shot at the best record in the MLS, though it’s doubtful. Season record: 10-11-6, 39 goals for, 34 goal against; Up next: At Chicago on Saturday

4 – 3. FC Dallas lost 1-0 at home against Seattle. Dallas continues to excel in the Champions League, but their exertions of have started to take a toll on what has been a very good MLS campaign. Season: 12-7-7, 33 gf, 26 ga. Up next: At Sporting Kansas City on Saturday

5 – 6. Columbus Crew won 2-1 at home against Philadelphia. Columbus are interesting in the sense that they never really seem much better than their opposition, yet more often than not, have won. They’re not very good on the road, though. Season: 11-7-7, 29 gf 24 ga; Up next: At Seattle on Saturday

6 – 7. Sporting Kansas City won 1-0 at home against DC United. An exhausted Dallas team gives Sporting a chance to boost their point total before the grind of a tough season-ending stretch of matches. Season: 9-9-7, 36 gf, 31 ga; Up next: FC Dallas on Saturday

7 – 5. Real Salt Lake lost 3-2 at Houston. Unless they completely collapse down the stretch, RSL should be able to get into the playoffs at No. 6 or 7. And as the playoffs have shown, anything can happen – especially for a team with their experience and defense. Season: 10-6-7, 31 gf, 20 ga; Up next: At Chivas USA on Saturday

8 – 8. Philadelphia Union lost 2-1 at Columbus. The Union have only collected 3 points from their last five matches. They desperately need to turn around their poor run of form and start scoring some goals. Season: 8-10-6, 30 gf, 24 ga; Up next: At Real Salt Lake on Sept. 3

9 – 12. Houston Dynamo won 3-2 at home against Real Salt Lake. The Dynamo have three games they should be able to win easily the rest of the season. They probably need to win two to get into the playoffs. Season: 8-11-7, 33 gf, 32 ga; Up next: At Vancouver on Saturday

10 – 9. DC United lost 1-0 at Sporting Kansas City. Good performances recently by Houston and Portland mean United have a big three points at stake on Saturday. Nonetheless, it’s been a heartening season after last year’s struggles. Season: 7-10-7, 34 gf, 35 ga; Up next: Portland on Saturday

11 – 13. Portland Timbers won 1-0 at home against Chivas USA; won 2-1 at home against Vancouver. With back-to-back wins and a favorable season-ending schedule, the Timbers are a dark horse to sneak into the playoffs at No. 9 or 10. Season: 9-5-12, 33 gf, 41 ga; Up next: Vancouver on Saturday

12 – 10. Chivas USA lost 1-0 at Portland; drew 2-2 at Colorado. After a good performance against Colorado, Chivas were poor in Portland. They will struggle to reach the postseason. Season: 7-10-9, 32 gf, 29 ga; Up next: Real Salt Lake on Saturday

13 – 11. Red Bull New York drew 2-2 at New England. Hurricane Irene caused the postponement of the Red Bulls’ match against the Galaxy, and it’s probably just as well, because I don’t see how they could’ve done anything but lose 3-0. Season: 6-14-6, 41 gf, 37 ga; Up next: Vancouver on Sept. 10

14 – 16. New England Revolution drew 2-2 at home against New York. The Revs will be bitterly disappointed to have drawn with New York after being two goals up. Will coach Steve Nicols keep his job? Season: 4-11-11, 26 gf, 39 ga; Up next: Philadelphia on Sept. 7

15 – 14. San Jose Earthquakes lost 2-0 at LA Galaxy. Amazing to think that only a few months ago, the Earthquakes were flirting with being a Top 6 side. I expect some changes in the offseason. Season: 5-10-10, 26 gf, 34 ga; Up next: At Toronto on Saturday

16 – 17. Chicago Fire won 2-0 at home against Toronto. “Operation Salvage Some Sort of Pride” goes into week two with a home match against Colorado. It’s a season of missed chances for the Fire, but Sebastien Grazzini looks good. Season: 3-15-7, 28 gf, 33 ga; Up next: Colorado on Saturday

17 – 15. Toronto FC lost 2-0 at Chicago. Toronto are all but out of the playoff race after losing at Chicago, but at least they have a match they should win in hosting San Jose on Saturday. Season: 4-11-12, 25 gf, 48 ga; Up next: San Jose on Saturday

18 – 18. Vancouver Whitecaps lost 2-1 at Portland. It says it all about the ‘Caps that their season highlight has to be either a draw against Seattle or a win at home against Toronto, but nevertheless, hey, welcome to the MLS. Season: 3-9-13, 26 gf, 42 ga; Up next: Houston on Saturday

Champions League draw announced, and … and …

UEFA announced the Champions League draw today amid much fanfare and dancing champanzees, bearded women and such. Some of the matchups are interesting. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Group A
Bayern Munich
Villarreal
Manchester City
Napoli
OLS says: This will probably be referred to as the “Group of Death.” In theory, any of the four teams could advance. Despite the quality of the sides, you have to think that Manchester City and Napoli have to be happy to avoid teams like AC Milan, Real Madrid or Barcelona. Likely qualifiers: Manchester City, Bayern

Group B
Internazionale
CSKA Moscow
Lille
Trabzonspor
OLS says: Just as the last one is the Group of Death, this might be the easiest group. Or one of, anyway. Inter should stroll through, though they always seem to struggle in this phase. Likely qualifiers: Internazionale, CSKA

Group C
Manchester United
Benfica
Basel
Otelul
OLS says: United avoids some potential bogey teams (Milan, Shaktar, Dortmund, Villareal), but they were never going to not qualify, no matter who they face in this round. Don’t be surprised if Otelul loses all six games. Likely qualifiers: Manchester United, Benfica

Group D
Real Madrid
Lyon
Ajax
Dinamo Zagreb
OLS says: I bet Ajax and Lyon are mad at having to face Real Madrid seemingly every year in this competition. Could Dinamo Zagreb be a bit of a dark horse? Likely qualifiers: Real Madrid, Ajax

Group E
Chelsea
Valencia
Bayer Leverkusen
Genk
OLS says: Chelsea and Valencia seem to play in this competition every year too. This should actually be a competitive group, as Genk is decent and Leverkusen is arguably as good or better than Valencia. Likely qualifiers: Chelsea, Leverkusen

Group F
Arsenal
Marseilles
Olympiakos
Dortmund
OLS says: A fairly straightforward group, where, even with some of their personnel losses, you don’t expect Arsenal to have too much trouble with Marseille or Olympiakos. Dortmund could surprise. Likely qualifiers: Arsenal, Dortmund

Group G
Porto
Shakhtar Donetsk
Zenit St. Petersburg
APOEL
OLS says: OK, this is the easiest group. Porto and Shaktar are both good, but none of the teams would be considered the quality of the Barcelonas/Man Uniteds/Bayerns/Milans of the world. Likely qualifiers: Porto, Shaktar

Group H
Barcelona
Milan
BATE
Plzen
OLS says: This will be a fun group, and we’ll get to see how Milan come to terms with Barcelona’s attack. The other two teams aren’t very good, though BATE could surprise. More likely is that both Barca and Milan cruise through their other matches then draw in Milan and have Barca roll at home in the rematch. Likely qualifiers: Barca, Milan

Aston Villa 3, Blackburn 1: What we learned

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Kind of a dull match, really, but one where Blackburn rarely threatened and Villa probably could’ve won by a few more goals.
Record: 1-1-0, 3 goals scored, 1 goals conceded, 4 point, 1st place
Goal scorers: Gabriel Agbonlahor (1), Emile Heskey (1), Darren Bent (1)
Assists: Darren Bent (1), Gabriel Agbonlahor (1)
Man of the match: Gabriel Agbonlahor
Next up: Hereford (Tuesday, Carling Cup); Wolverhampton Wanderers (Saturday, EPL)

1. Villa are going to be a good defensive team. This was my same No. 1 from last week, but I thought I’d recycle it. Blackburn did score a goal, but aside from that, they never looked like scoring. This is partly due to the fact that they’re anemically bad, but it’s also because Villa have a strong defensive backbone – one that became unglued last year under Gerard Houllier but is back to the effectiveness of the season before, where they were probably the best defensive team in the league. Is it pretty? No. Can they qualify for Europe with it? Probably. Will they? Stop asking so many questions.

2. Gabby Agbonlahor scores a curler. What? I feel like Gabby is often unfairly vilified by Villa fans, mostly because he has never evolved into the 20-goal-a-season striker that many have hoped he’d become. Though, like last season, he’s been shunted out onto his unfavored left wing, he did a fine job of attacking the Blackburn backline and twisted and turned the defense before curling a shot into the back of the net to get Villa off and running. Though he still all too often runs aimlessly and wastes good break chances with poor decisions, it shows that he still has some good attacking instinct. And lots of pace. He did leave the game at halftime after suffering a knock, though.

3. Fabian Delph might be good enough to start. I was a little surprised that manager Alex McLeish elected to start Fabian Delph over Jean Makoun or Steven Ireland in midfield, but he’s played pretty well so far – certainly better than his partner Stiliyan Petrov, who has long been a good player for the team, but is slow and more notable for his unstable temperament than anything else. Anyway, Delph was my runner-up for man of the match. He was calm in possession and tackled well. My one complaint about him might be that he doesn’t seem to often look to attack, instead passing the ball around. But there are certainly worse traits than that in a midfielder.

4. Charles N’Zogbia still struggling a bit. N’Zogbia got mentioned last week as having a bit of a rough game, and though I don’t think he had a bad match this week, he has yet to look like the offensive dynamo he’s supposed to be. But with that said, he’s only played a couple matches, so hopefully once he reaches full match fitness …

5. Albrighton, Makoun and Ireland? Marc Albrighton has played in the two matches so far, but has started neither. Jean Makoun and Stephen Ireland – both expected to be integral parts of the team – haven’t played at all. I’m not sure what that suggests, other than McLeish seems fairly happy with Heskey on the wing – for some reason – and Delph in midfield, which is fine. You’d have to think all three, as well as forward Nathan Delfouneso, will start Tuesday in the Carling Cup.

Match grade: A-

MLS weekend preview: August 20-21

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood*Games to watch ^Games not to watch
All times Pacific, as usual

Saturday

New England (3-5-4 at home) v New York (1-8-4 away). (4:30 p.m.) New York somehow contrived to draw at home with Chicago in a match they might even have been lucky to draw. New England continues to be terrible, getting hammered at Columbus. The Revs are virtually out of the playoff race at this point. New York is treading dangerously close to dropping out of it themselves. But, and this seems to be an ongoing mantra with this team, they should be good enough to win this game. But … Prediction: 2-2

*Columbus (7-4-1) v Philadelphia (3-4-4). (4:30 p.m.) Columbus hammered New England to pull alone into first in the East. Philadelphia is running second after escaping with a home draw against Dallas. This will be an important game in the race for first in the East, though I’m not sure that really matters anyway. Prediction: Columbus 2-1

Houston (7-3-3) v Real Salt Lake (2-3-4). (5:30 p.m.) Houston have been a decent team at home, most recently beating Seattle and Portland there. Real Salt Lake have been disappointing this year, though they figure to be dangerous when they reach the playoffs. Prediction: 1-1

*FC Dallas (8-3-2) v Seattle (5-5-3). (6 p.m.) Dallas should have beaten Philadelphia last week, only to have George John sent off and then conceding a penalty late in the game. They did become the first MLS team ever to win in Mexico after beating Pumas in midweek in the Champions League. Seattle have been good this year, and also won convincingly in the Champions League. The question with this match is, will two sort of tired teams cancel themselves out? Prediction: Dallas 1-0

Colorado (5-6-2) v Chivas USA (3-5-4). (6 p.m.) Colorado continues to roll on. They’ve only lost once in their last 10 in all competitions, and that was a close match against Seattle. They won in midweek Champions League play despite having a player sent off and being horrendous in defense. Chivas have played well lately, though it remains to be seen if Juan Pablo Angel revitalizes one of the weaker attacks in the league. I’m going to say, probably not. But still, they look like they could be a playoff team.  Prediction: Colorado 2-1

Portland (6-2-4) v Vancouver (0-4-9). (7 p.m.) Normally this match would be a match not to watch, but given that there is a regional rivalry born in the USL here, and the fact that Portland HAS TO win this match, it could be a fun match. Vancouver could pull this out – Portland are playing their third match in a week, but more likely is that the Timbers will win. Still, they’re probably not reaching the playoffs this year. Prediction: Portland 2-0

LA Galaxy (7-5-0) v San Jose (2-3-5). (7:30 p.m.) This match will be interesting because Robbie Keane – who I expect to be very good in the MLS – is playing his first match for the Galaxy. He makes probably the best team in the MLS even better. San Jose are lousy and are probably one more loss from just playing out the string. You have to feel sorry for Frank Yallop – his player decisions sounded decent in theory, but the players drafted in to replace those moved on just haven’t produced. Prediction: LA 3-0

Sunday

^Chicago (1-8-2) v Toronto FC (0-6-7). (4 p.m.) Both teams are fairly bad, though Toronto are undefeated in six, which is probably why I have to pick this as a draw. Prediction: 68-68

Sporting Kansas City (5-4-1) v DC United (4-4-3 away). (5:30 p.m.) United are making a serious bid for the playoffs, or possibly (though unlikely) the top spot in the East. Kansas City have also been great since their great road trip to open the season ended. KC are almost done with their enormous stretch of home matches, so they need to get three points here. Prediction: KC 2-1

MLS rankings: Week 22

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

All times Pacific; first number is current ranking, second is previous ranking. I trust you can figure out the rest…

1 – 1. LA Galaxy did not play. The Galaxy get a week off and trade off one foreign striker (Juan Pablo Angel) for a younger version (Robbie Keane). Season: 13-9-3, 35 gf, 20 ga; Up next: San Jose on Saturday

2 – 2. Seattle Sounders drew 0-0 at home with Chivas USA. The Sounders probably feel a bit hard done by in drawing at home to Chivas. After an impressive Champions League win, can they keep their momentum going? Season: 11-9-5, 35 gf, 27 ga; Up next: At FC Dallas on Saturday

3 – 3. FC Dallas drew 2-2 at Philadelphia. Dallas is having a bit of a hiccup in regular season play after losing to LA and drawing against the Union in a match they dominated, though they did manage to become the first MLS team ever to win in Mexico, in midweek. They get another big test this weekend. Season: 12-7-6, 33 gf, 25 ga. Up next: Seattle on Saturday

4 – 5. Colorado Rapids won 2-1 at San Jose. Colorado continues to steamroll the opposition in MLS play and opened their Champions League campaign in impressive fashion despite some horrible defense. Season record: 10-10-6, 37 goals for, 32 goal against; Up next: Chivas USA on Saturday

5 – 4. Real Salt Lake lost 1-0 at Toronto. A stop-start season continued with a loss at Toronto. Where is the RSL attack of a year ago? Oh, it’s probably on the sideline, injured. Season: 10-6-6, 29 gf, 17 ga; Up next: At Houston on Saturday

6 – 6. Columbus Crew won 3-1 at home against New England. The Crew could benefit from not having to deal with midweek Champions League matches like other teams – oh wait, none of the Eastern teams except for Toronto are in the Champions League. Nevermind. Season: 10-7-7, 27 gf 23 ga; Up next: Philadelphia on Saturday

7 – 8. Sporting Kansas City won 3-1 at home against Portland. After the blip at home against Seattle, it was business as usual for Kansas City in hammering Portland at home. Season: 8-9-7, 35 gf, 31 ga; Up next: DC United on Sunday

8 – 7. Philadelphia Union drew 2-2 at home against FC Dallas. The Union were somewhat lucky to escape their match against Dallas with a draw. Their match against Columbus could go a long way toward determining who finishes first in the East. Season: 8-10-5, 29 gf, 22 ga; Up next: At Columbus on Saturday

9 – 10. DC United drew 1-1 at Chicago; won 4-0 at home against Vancouver. United are on a nice run of form, but winning at Kansas City is going to be a difficult task for this team. Season: 7-10-6, 34 gf, 34 ga; Up next: At Sporting Kansas City on Sunday

10 – 9. Chivas USA drew 0-0 at Seattle. Chivas added Juan Pablo Angel to a fairly weak attack. Can he partner up well with Justin Braun? Season: 7-9-8, 30 gf, 26 ga; Up next: At Colorado on Saturday

11 – 11. Red Bull New York drew 2-2 at home against Chicago. Lack on concentration on defense? Overconfidence? Whatever the cause of the Red Bulls struggles, Thierry Henry was right when he said their match against the Revs is a must-win. Season: 6-13-6, 39 gf, 35 ga; Up next: At New England on Saturday

12 – 13. Houston Dynamo drew 1-1 at New England; won 2-1 at home against Portland. The Dynamo might have played their way back into the playoff race with a string of good results. Can Carlo Costly enliven their attack?  Season: 7-11-7, 30 gf, 30 ga; Up next: Real Salt Lake on Saturday

13 – 12. Portland Timbers lost 3-1 at Sporting Kansas City; lost 2-1 at Houston. The Timbers are struggling to stay in the playoff race. They must beat Vancouver if they still have hopes of making the postseason – plus, it’s a totally winnable match. Season: 7-5-12, 30 gf, 40 ga; Up next: Vancouver on Saturday

14 – 14. San Jose Earthquakes lost 2-1 at home against Colorado. The Earthquakes continue to struggle to beat … anyone. Despite having a relatively easy run-in, it’s hard to see this team challenging for the playoffs. Season: 5-10-9, 26 gf, 32 ga; Up next: At LA Galaxy on Saturday

15 – 16. Toronto FC won 1-0 at home against Real Salt Lake. Toronto’s recent run of success – undefeated in their last six in all competitions – has a good shot of continuing in their visit to Chicago. Nonetheless, their defense is stunningly awful. Season: 4-11-11, 25 gf, 46 ga; Up next: At Chicago on Sunday

16 – 15. New England Revolution drew 1-1 at home against Houston; lost 3-1 at Columbus. The bad news: The Revs have struggled to beat anyone this year. The good news: They’re taking on New York. Nonetheless, a wasted season is almost over. Season: 4-10-11, 24 gf, 37 ga; Up next: New York on Saturday

17 – 18. Chicago Fire drew 1-1 at home against DC United; drew 2-2 at New York. It must be excruciating to be a Fire fan (right, Fire fans?). They often play decent football and counter attack with pace. They’re also horrible defensively and incredibly bad finishers. Season: 2-15-7, 26 gf, 33 ga; Up next: Toronto on Sunday

18 – 17. Vancouver Whitecaps lost 4-0 at DC United. Vancouver is pretty bad, but they have a good chance at beating struggling Portland – who are playing their third match in less than a week. Season: 3-9-12, 25 gf, 40 ga; Up next: At Portland on Saturday

Rating the MLS’ current crop of designated players

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

It seems MLS teams have fully embraced the Designated Player rule, with a whole slew of them now in the league and rumors of a new one coming in soon (Robbie Keane to the Galaxy). Some of them (Eric Hassli, Fredy Montero) have been an unquestionable success. But the rest? Well, let’s take a look. Here is a look at all the current designated players in the league.

David Beckham (LA Galaxy) – Signed in 2007, 36 years old, English, $6.5 million salary
Season so far: 2 goals, 11 assists
Beckham has been a success in terms of the publicity he has generated for the league, though some of his performances have been so-so, and the ping-ponging back and forth between the U.S. and Europe got a bit annoying. He’s having a good year this year, though, leading the league in assists.
Rating: A-

Juan Pablo Angel (LA Galaxy) – Signed in 2011, 35 years old, Colombian, $1.25 million
Season so far: 3 goals in 22 matches
Angel hasn’t had a good year, but he’s been a quality designated player for four years now, so we’ll let him take his paycheck and ride off into the sunset.
Rating: D for this year, A overall

Julian De Guzman (Toronto) – Signed in 2009, 30 years old, Canadian, $1.9 million
Season so far: 1 goal in 12 matches
De Guzman has been a bit of a high-profile disappointment as a designated player, though some of that could be because he was envisioned of a goal-creating midfielder, and he’s emerged as more of a small holding midfielder – not what he is paid the big bucks for.
Rating: D+

Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) – Signed in 2010, 29 years old, American, $2.3 million
Season so far: 11 goals in 15 matches
Donovan is the only American designated player and is probably the best of the bunch, particularly considering how much less he makes than Beckham and Thierry Henry.
Rating: A+

Branko Boskovic (DC United) – Signed in 2010, 31 years old, Montenegran, $525,000
Season so far: 0 goals or assists in 4 matches
So far as I know, Boskovic is out for the season through injury. The signing of Dwayne De Rosario has only served to emphasize how much better of a player De Rosario is though he’s not a DP (He does get paid more). The only saving grace for Boskovic is that he’s not paid as much as some of the others.
Grade: D-

Thierry Henry (New York) – Signed in 2010, 33 years old, French, $5.6 million
Season so far: 12 goals in 19 matches
New York has been awful, but Henry would probably be a candidate for player of the year were they a little better. But the MLS being the MLS, he’ll probably still win it. He started poorly last year, but he’s shown his class (as well as his petulance) this year.
Grade: A

Alvaro Fernandez (Seattle) – Signed in 2010, 25 years old, Uruguayan, $366,000
Season so far: 6 goals in 20 matches
Fernandez has quietly been one of the best designated player signings, and he is a fine example of the slightly more intelligent decision-making on the part of Seattle in signing a younger player with international experience as a DP. He has helped make up for a fairly poor season by Fredy Montero with six goals of his own.
Grade: A

Rafael Marquez (New York) – Signed in 2010, 32 years old, Mexican, $4.6 million
Season so far: 11 appearances in defense
Rafa is a huge star in Mexico, therefore he gets a free pass thanks to all the publicity he generates. Unlike Beckham, he has not brought New York success. Always a bit dubious in defense, his decision-making has only looked shakier since joining the RedBulls.
Grade: C+

Omar Bravo (Sporting Kansas City) – Signed in 2011, 31 years old, Mexican, $170,000
Season so far: 17 appearances, 6 goals
It has been a bit of a mixed bag for Bravo, who scored twice in the season opener, was sent off in the second match and subsequently was injured. He helped spearhead Kansas City’s 14-match unbeaten streak before ending it by getting sent off against Seattle. Surprisingly, he is one of the lowest paid DPs.
Grade: B

Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake) – Signed in 2010, 29 years old, Costa Rican, $305,000
Season so far: 6 goals in 12 appearances
It’s been a hit and miss season for Saborio, who didn’t score his first goal until June 25 (thanks partly to injuries and partly due to the Gold Cup, but he has scored six times in his last six matches. Looking at his stats shows how important he is to RSL: When he plays, they’re 7-3-2. When he doesn’t, they are 3-3-3. In the four matches he’s scored in, they’re 3-1-0 and have scored 13 goals.
Grade: B+

Fredy Montero (Seattle) – Signed in 2010, 24 years old, Colombian, $636,000
Season so far: 6 goals, 5 assists in 21 matches
Montero, who could be moving to Ajax Amsterdam in the offseason, according to reports. He was made a designated player after his first season in Seattle. He hasn’t had a great year this year, but still remains Seattle’s most dangerous player.
Grade: B (this season), A overall

Eric Hassli (Vancouver) – Signed in 2011, 30 years old, French, $900,000
Season so far: 10 goals in 16 appearances
Hassli, a journeyman who has played in several leagues in Europe, was one of the least-known DP’s coming into this season, but he has had a barnstorming start to the year, scoring a bunch of goals, including probably the goal of the season in the MLS and getting sent off a bunch of times for a terrible Vancouver team. Whether they are competitive next year is pretty much down to who else they add to the team … uh oh, their other DP is Mustafa Jarju. Whoops!
Rating: A+

David Ferreira (Dallas) – Signed in 2011, 32 years old, Colombia, $705,000
Season so far: 3 goals in 6 appearances
Ferreira has been with Dallas since 2009, but was made designated player after his MVP season last year. Unfortunately, his season was ended with an injury in sixth match. It hasn’t stopped Dallas from winning, though.
Rating: B, but undoubtedly a class player

Andres Mendoza (Columbus) – Signed in 2011, 33 years old, Peruvian, $595,000
Season so far: 7 goals in 18 appearances
Apparently Mendoza was made a designated player after scoring twice in 8 matches for the Crew in 2010. Regular readers of the blog know I’ve been critical of him, but this is mostly because he alternates between being a fine, serviceable athletic forward and a nightmarish black hole of wasted opportunities. When he’s on, he’s a decent player (though not worth the exorbitant salary). When he’s not? Ugh.
Grade: C+

Fabian Castillo (Dallas) – Signed in 2011, 19 years old, $42,000
Season so far: 2 goals in 15 appearances
Castillo, by far the lowest-paid DP (and the youngest), is a bit of an anomaly in the sense that he represents one of the few times the MLS has taken the step of paying money outside the country for young, relatively unproven prospects. Will it pan out? Well, I don’t know. He’s certainly shown flashes of talent, and at 19, he can suck for three more years without being considered a failure. And at $42,000 (still more than I make), his bright attacking play is more than worth the price.
Grade: B+

Diego Chara (Portland) – Signed in 2011, 25 years old, Colombian, $143,000
Season so far: 16 matches in midfield
Chara, another of the relatively low-paid DP’s, nonetheless has failed to impress for Portland. He’s not an awful player, but he doesn’t have a great first touch, isn’t much of a holding player and offers nothing in attack. To put it another way: He’s a fair-to-middling MLS player, not a designated player.
Grade: D

Torsten Frings (Toronto) – Signed in 2011, 34 years old, German, No Salary Listed
Season so far: 4 matches
Frings is undoubtedly a quality player, albeit one who looks a bit chunky at this point in his career. If you
earn 79 caps with the German national team, you are a quality player, and he has looked a step above other Toronto players just in the short time he’s been there. Actually, scratch that: He has looked three steps above most other Toronto players. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s just getting paid to play in the Champions League, since Toronto won’t make the playoffs.
Grade: Almost incomplete, but I’ll give him a B+

Danny Koevermans (Toronto) – Signed in 2011, 32 years old, Dutch, NSL
Season so far: 3 goals in 4 matches
In just over a month with Toronto, Koevermans has shown why he’s been prolific anywhere he has played. Like Frings, the Dutch international is probably too little too late to save Toronto’s playoff hopes, but he should make them a tough team to beat in the Champions League.
Grade: Almost incomplete, but I’ll give him an A

Mustapha Jarju (Vancouver) – Signed in 2011, 25 years old, NSL
Season so far: 1 appearance
I hadn’t heard of Jarju when he was signed by Vancouver, and he’s only played once so far. In a team that has struggled on defense and midfield, and one that already has Camilo partnering Eric Hassli in attack, you have to question the wisdom of signing an untested Gambian forward as your designated player, but there has to be a reason Vancouver is one of the worst teams in the league. Maybe Jarju will turn out to be awesome, but the one match I saw he played in, I didn’t even realize he was playing.
Grade: Incomplete

Koke (Houston, now released) – Signed in 2011, 27 years old, Spanish, NSL
This season: 1 goal in 7 games
Koke is one of the examples for me of a designated player signed because he is foreign who never lived up to their billing and then left under questionable circumstances. He scored once in seven matches before announcing that he couldn’t adjust to living in America, and then after leaving complained about the club and the MLS. All that aside, we’re talking about a forward who has tallied 50 goals in 254 matches in his career. What a waste.
Grade: F

Frank Rost (New York) – Signed in 2011, 38 years old, German, NSL
This season: 2 appearances
Rost is one of the more ballyhooed DP signings of the year. He joined the Red Bulls in July and has made two appearances. There’s no questioning his pedigree – he has played extensively in the Bundesliga and has experience with the German national team. And he will probably be a decent MLS goalkeeper, but for what is probably big money, you could argue that New York should’ve just signed Marcus Hahnemann – or heck, throw some money at Brad Guzan, who isn’t getting playing time at Aston Villa and has won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in the past.
Grade: Incomplete

Jeferson (Kansas City) – Signed in 2011, 27 years old, Brazilian, NSL
Season: 2 appearances
Jeferson is another late DP signing for Kansas City. I was initially dubious of his quality – he is a player who has only played sparingly for decent Brazilian teams – but upon watching him, he is a decent enough player. I guess my ongoing issue with DPs is that you expect them to be the best player on the team, not decent squad additions. Which will Jeferson be? Well it’s hard to say. He does look like a player with potential, though that’s based on the one match I watched him play.
Rating: Incomplete

Milton Caraglio (New England) – Signed in 2011, 22 years old, Argentinian, NSL
Season so far: 1 appearance
No idea what to make of Caraglio. I haven’t seen him play yet (though I’ll probably watch his debut tonight or tomorrow). I have to give New England kudos for signing a young DP who can possibly develop into a talented player. One of my biggest misgivings about the MLS is their over-reliance on players in their 30s who have been marginal players in Europe or elsewhere to become starters in the MLS. Bring in some young talent (A la the Sounders’ personnel decisions).
Grade: Incomplete

Important MLS news!

Landon Donovan: Always a ladies man

Fulham 0, Aston Villa 0: What we learned

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

Villa drew 0-0 at Fulham in a match that was fun to start, then turned into a boring, slogfest with few chances in the second half. A point is a point, I guess, right?
Record: 0-1-0, 0 goals scored, 0 goals conceded, 1 point, 4th place
Goal scorers: none
Assists: none
Man of the match: Shay Given, GK

1. Villa are going to be a good defensive team. After the nightmare of a season last year that saw Villa give up 59 goals – 40 on the road – there was no place to go but up, really. And after shutting an OK attacking team in Fulham, Aston Villa certainly look better than at any point last year on defense. Part of the key was Shay Given, who was rarely tested in the first half and took care of everything Fulham threw at him in the second half.

2. Charles N’Zogbia has to be better. Right? N’Zogbia is Villa’s big money signing of the summer and scored 10 goals from the wing for Wigan last season. His debut for Villa? Not so much. After a couple nice crosses in the first half (as well as a shot he ballooned over the bar), N’Zogbia was ineffectual at best in the second half. He looked nervous, and we all know he’s a better player than he showed today. Or he better be, or this is going to be a long season.

3. Emile Heskey isn’t good enough. I guess what worries me about this match is the level of caution we played with – which isn’t surprising with new manager Alex McLeish. But the team never set out to get three points in the second half. Most endemic of this was the fact McLeish left Emile Heskey in for the entire match. Heskey is a veteran player who has logged thousands upon thousands of minutes in the Premier League. He also is a forward who rarely scores, and he showed why today, heading well wide or over in two good first half opportunities and then passing up a good chance to shoot and then losing the ball in the second half. I get the point of playing a player known for setting up teammates along with one of the better forwards in the league in Darren Bent, but Heskey offered very little to justify his inclusion.

4. Villa need better wing play. As noted, N’Zogbia struggled. Gabriel Agbonlahor was game on the left wing, but he’s not a winger – he’s a forward. I’d much rather see him play up front with Bent and let Marc Albrighton (who was substituted in for N’Zogbia in the second half) play on the left wing (or right with N’Zogbia on the left). It doesn’t do much good to have one of the league’s premier goalscorers if there is no one there to give him the ball – and that was the big concern with Ashley Young and Stewart “I’ll do anything for a buck” Downing leaving.

5. Warnock is back! Stephen Warnock was frozen out under previous manager Gerard Houllier, but he’s back in the team under McLeish, and, aside from Given, was probably Villa’s best player. Nice to see him out there and playing well.

Match grade: B

MLS weekend preview: August 13-14

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood*Games to watch ^Games not to watch
All times Pacific, as usual

Saturday

Seattle (6-3-2 at home) v Chivas USA (3-4-4 away). (1 p.m.) Seattle returns home after ending Kansas City’s 14-match unbeaten streak with a late 2-1 win last week and are currently in third place in the West. A win in this match, couple with a Dallas draw or loss, would see Seattle pull into second, four points behind the Galaxy. Chivas won at New England and have only lost once once in their last seven matches. As well as Chivas is playing, it’s hard to see them winning in Seattle. Prediction: Seattle 2-0

Toronto (3-5-4) v Real Salt Lake (2-3-3). (4 p.m.) Toronto somehow contrived to draw at DC United despite being a man up for 83 minutes and leading after 86 minutes. This was mostly due to the fact that Andy Iro is my new nominee as the worst defender in the league. Seriously, the way Toronto is playing, it doesn’t seem to matter who is playing defense, any team can score on them. With that said, their attacking play lately has certainly been improved. Unfortunately, they have to beat one of the league’s better teams, possibly without keeper Sebastian Freis. Real Salt Lake ended their 2-match losing streak by thumping terrible New York in Salt Lake City. They’re not as good away from home, but they should have enough to beat Toronto, though they’ll have to do it without Ned Grabavoy and possibly Jamison Olave. Prediction: Real Salt Lake 2-1

New York (5-4-2) v Chicago (1-6-5). (4:30 p.m.) New York are having a nightmare season where, despite having one of the best rosters in the league – and possibly the best player in Thierry Henry – they have somehow contrived to pick up only 15 points from their last 16 matches. In Chicago, they’re playing a team that has two wins on the entire season, and none since June 12. Their last match was an awful 4-2 loss to Vancouver, and Yamith Cuesta did his best Andy Iro impersonation. As bad as New York has been, this should be about as easy as it gets. Prediction: New York 3-0

DC United (2-6-3) v Vancouver (0-4-8). (4:30 p.m.) United escaped with a draw against Toronto, though that was due more to Toronto’s incompetence than anything they did – though Dwayne De Rosario had a great match. The big concern for United is that backup goalkeeper Sam Cronin is starting this game, and he was very poor against Toronto. Vancouver finally won another game, thumping Chicago. Eric Hassli scored twice for the ‘Caps, and the team was great in attack, though their defense is still a bit shaky. Prediction: United 2-1

Columbus (6-4-1) v New England (1-5-6). (4:30 p.m.) Fun fact: Columbus’s lone home loss is to Chicago. Who would have thought? The team is certainly playing better, and Robbie Rogers looks like a player reborn after sucking for half the year. They will be playing without Eddie Gaven, which is a bit of a loss. New England are having a forgettable season, though they have been a little better on the road lately. Prediction: Columbus 1-0

Philadelphia (5-5-1) v FC Dallas (4-3-4). (5 p.m.) Philadelphia welcomed in new signing Freddy Adu today. He will definitely improve an attack that has struggled recently, though you could argue some other teams could have used him more (namely, Chicago and Portland). Dallas got a disappointing performance from keeper Kevin Harttman, not for the first time this season, in losing at the Galaxy. A draw seems most likely in this match. Prediction: 1-1

San Jose (3-7-3) v Colorado (4-4-4). (7:30 p.m.) San Jose are attempting to give Vancouver, New England, Chicago and Toronto a run for the worst team of the year award. Their most recent match was a 1-1 draw at home with Portland, but they’ve only scored four goals in their last 10 matches and haven’t won any of them. They’ve especially missed Ryan Johnson and Steven Lenhart lately. Colorado have been in great form recently, beating Columbus, New York and Philadelphia and drawing with New England. Their main concern would be that they have a busy schedule the next two weeks. (5 matches) Prediction: Colorado 2-1

Sunday

Houston (6-3-3) v Portland (1-3-6). (6 p.m.) Houston are coming off with a late draw with Philadelphia. They have been decent at home, miserable on the road. They welcome new signing Carlo Costly, who should be a good fit for the MLS – something that’ll help a team missing Will Bruin. Portland haven’t had much success on the road, and it doesn’t figure to change with this match. They are undefeated in their last three matches. Prediction: Houston 3-1

Jeremiah’s Every other league in the world preview

Marek Hamsik: And you thought bad hair was solely the domain of the Americans and the Japanese

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

In lieu of writing 2,000 words on Spain, Germany, Italy and every other major league in the world, I thought I’d do a super-easy wrap-up of the other “big” leagues (that I feel like addressing). It isn’t scientific, and I don’t know everyone who was signed, but heck, I’ll be right at least some of the time (like in predicting Barcelona and Real Madrid will finish in the Top 2 in Spain).

Spain
As I complain about regularly, Spain bores the me. It’s not that some of the teams don’t play nice football, it’s just that the way their TV payments system is set up, the only teams that are truly competitive are Real Madrid and Barcelona. And now we get news the season openers might be postponed because some of the teams can’t afford to pay their players. Blah. Anyway, here’s my picks:
Champion: Real Madrid; Champions League: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Villareal, Valencia; Europa League: Malaga, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao; Relegated: Rayo Vallecano, Granada, Levante; Top scorer: Lionel Messi, Barcelona; Player of the season: Lionel Messi, Barcelona

Germany
I enjoy the Bundesliga a lot. It offers the high-paced play that you see in England, but without the obvious discrepancies between the top teams and other teams in the league (though this is often due to poor play on the part of Bayern. Meanwhile, teams like Borussia Dortmund and Leverkusen play free-flowing attacking soccer with players who are up-and-coming as opposed to tired retreads living on past glories (I’m looking at you, Frank Lampard).
Champion: Bayern Munich; Champions League: Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen; Europa League: Stuttgart, Mainz, Hamburg; Relegated: Moenchengladbach, Freiburg, Augsburg; Top scorer: Lucas Barrios, Dortmund; Player of the Season: Franck Ribery, Bayern

Italy
It’s been a rough couple years for Italy. Even though Inter Milan won the Champions League a couple years ago, coach Jose Mourinho bailed, and all the other Italian teams have been miserable in European play. AC Milan won the league last year with a season that could probably best be describe as uninspiring. Though it was nice to see teams like Lazio, Napoli and Udinese play strongly last season, you have to believe at least one of those teams (probably Udinese) will drop back this season. Also on the horizon? An end to Inter’s recent dominance in the league – though they should still have enough to qualify for the Champions League.
Champion: AC Milan, grudgingly; Champions League: AC Milan, Napoli, Roma, Inter Milan; Europa League: Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina; Relegated: Atalanta, Lecce, Novara; Player of the season: Marek Hamsik, Napoli; Leading scorer: Antonio Di Natale, Udinese

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