Tuesday, November 8, 2011

This ain't your Daddy's EPL

Who could have imagined that eleven matches into the EPL season,
Liverpool and Arsenal are not qualifying to compete for any hardware,
City are not only unbeaten, but sitting atop the EPL table by five
full points and coming off the worst beating of Man U since (insert a
non-offensive analogy here), and the Blues are already so far back of
the leaders that moves are being contemplated on how to get back into
the mix. It’s the type of season that perpetuates the fairy tale for
the fans of a second division club being promoted and someday actually
becoming relevant while having the football purist calling for another
pint at the pub to help eliminate any remaining traces of the latest
failure to get a decision. All the while an entire generation is
turning over in their graves over what has become of the old guard
this season, no doubt this is not your Daddy’s EPL.

I suppose it should be stated that I’m not a cynic but I would be
remised if I didn?t state the obvious that there is a serious lack of
parity that has become as prevalent as those who never walk alone,
strolling with the Gunners down in 6/7th place. If you look at the
correlation between the top of the table and those facing regulation
it looks like oscillating stock market days this year with Everton,
Bolton, Blackburn, and Wigan with three wins out of the last 18
combined, while City, U, New Castle, and Chelsea are the exact
reciprocal, and the middle of the pack is not much of a middle at all
with 8th place Aston Villa needing to double their season output and
still be one point out of the top spot. It is truly some big fish at
the top getting fat off a lot of feeder fish at the bottom.

Understandable the season isn’t half over and I’ve already eliminated
75% of the field but unless some sides make dramatic moves or the top
of the table suddenly forget what got them there, this is going to be
a three maybe four horse race for the majority of the campaign with
the only drama being who qualifies to salvage their season with
tournament hardware and who fights to stay above the water level, and
that’s not worth watching. You may not agree with me but your father
would understand.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Early surprises from the first month of the EPL

If week one is any harbinger of things to come then we are in for one wild EPL campaign. True, the rich got richer and Manchester United looked like they never took any time off starting the new season with nine points in three matches including a dropping an 8-spot on Arsenal over the weekend, forcing them into “rebate mode” to keep the fans from boycotting. However it is a bit of a surprise to see Wolves up near the top of the table unbeaten after three matches but we’ll have to wait and see if they come down to Earth or if challenging for a chance to win some hardware will become the norm. They have an opportunity to really get off to a great start as their next two matches are at Molineux, and another six points should get them back into the top three but the true litmus test will come on the 24th when they travel to Anfield to take Liverpool and their singing supporters. The Blues came out flat to start the season and paid for it by only picking up one point at Stoke, but have since won two straight but may be without the services of Didier Drogba took one on the chin (and head) against Norwich but should have him back in time for the Sept 18th showdown with the Reds from Man U. Although the afore mentioned sides have stolen the recent headlines the biggest story/disappointment may be how Spurs are still stuck in the gate after two matches. Great things were expected from the High Road natives from London after finishing in the top five for the last two years. It’s not so much the 0-2 start that’s disturbing but having the 2nd worst goal differential at -7 in the EPL shows there’s quite a bit of work to do on the defensive side if they’re going to climb the table and get back to where they’ve been the last three years. A dearth of offense has scored only 1 goal in two matches so pick your poison on where you’re to begin your work but they’d better do it fast as the schedule doesn’t get any easier as they’re on the road to take on the upstart Wolves, then come home to host Liverpool, and sandwiched between them is a Europa League qualifying match. What do you think is the biggest story of the young season? Let us know here and in any of the quick links.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Move over Billy you’ve got company

A recent poll asked what sportsfans felt was the biggest choke in sports history with the top ten put to a multiple choice. Options included the Oilers collapse against the Bills in the AFC Championship, Scott Norwood’s wide left, Greg Norman’s Master’s collapse, etc. At the top of the list (which I personally disagreed with) was Billy Buckner’s 86’ World Series through the legs error. Well, misery loves company and now Billy has some after the US Women’s Soccer Team literally gave away the World Cup on Sunday.

In addition to dominating from the opening kickoff, which they stole and had a golden opportunity to score in the first quarter minute, they outshot the Japanese 12-5 in the first half but most of the good opportunities did not even end up on goal. Like so many other monumental upsets, if you let the sleeping dog lie around long enough they will wake up and bite you and that’s exactly what happened here as Japan was winless against he US in 24 previous attempts. Despite the plethora of scoring chances the US never had more than a goals worth of separation and when presented with the opportunity to simply go into ‘lock down’ phase and hold possession they failed not once but twice. Allowing goals inside 11 minutes in regulation time to allow the tie and then amazingly repeated the feat at the end of extra-time inside 4 minutes on a corner to send the match to PK’s where they simply didn’t show up scoring only once.

After calling their shot stating they didn’t want to be compared to the 99’ team that hoisted the cup, they failed to “back the smac” and instead were the winners of front row seats to the Japanese Cup celebration. Furthermore, Hope Solo’s rant after the last US cup exit at the hands of the Brazilians and persisting that she’s the man, ends here career in a dubious position never reaching the heights of Bandice Scurry whom shut down her opponent in the shoot out leading to that 99’ Cup championship that now still stands as the greatest moment in US soccer history. It’s true this team did erase the memory of the 99’ club but not in the way it anticipated.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Will the Women’s World Cup Team finally score at home?

We’ve been here before. 1999, Brandi Chastain lining up the penalty kick at the Rose Bowl. A crowd of over 90-thousand, standing with anticipation. The part time defender and midfielder approaches the ball, blast the leather with her left foot and finds the back of the net! As the Chinese Keeper looks on in disappointment the stadium erupts and Chastain goes shirtless! The rest is history! The second Women’s World Cup Championship in the history of the United States. That team with superstars such as Chastain, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy found fame and fortune with the results of that tournament. The team still lives on in historic proportions as far as women’s soccer goes, but that’s it.

While the popularity of the women’s game picked up after that dramatic victory 12 years ago, it never reached the same heights as the men’s game. While youth soccer leagues all over the country flourished it never translated into the sports psyche of the adult American sports fan. In 2003 the WUSA a major women’s professional league, folded before the world cup of that year, and just four years after the historic United States win in ‘99’. While the men’s game remains dominant all over the world, it still takes a backseat here in the good old USA. The NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and NHL control the sports entertainment dollar no matter what seems to take place in the World Cup for the men or women. Now, the men probably have plenty to do with the lack of carry-over popularity here at home. The best the fellas have ever finished in the World Cup Tourney, third place way back in 1930.

So here we are again. On Sunday the United States, with a new crop of stars, goes after history one more time. Not only can the red, white and blue capture the Cup Championship with a victory over Japan in Frankfurt, Germany, the U.S. can become the first women’s team in history to win a third World Cup Title. Not only has the team reached the championship match, but the stars, Wambach, Rapone, Rapinoe, Solo and others have done it in dramatic fashion! In the quarter-finals Abby Wambach scored the latest goal in cup history, sending the match against Brazil to penalty kicks. In the semi-final it was Wambach again with the late header in the 78th minute to secure victory for the Americans. This has been stuff only Hollywood writers usually come up with!

But history has taught us, no matter what the outcome on Sunday, this is as far as the popularity train will roll. While the match against Brazil was the most watched television audience for the women, since the win over China in 1999, they still don’t excite the country about the “beautiful game”, the way the men could. The reason for this has to be because the United States men’s squad is still far behind the elite teams in the rest of the world. That means it’s a challenge for Americans when we watch the men try to battle Brazil, England or the Germans. Our country loves a good challenge and the rest of the world enjoys being able to beat us at something. If the men could ever find the success of the women in international play that would change the dynamic of soccer’s place here at home. The players would share the stage with the Peyton Manning’s and Kobe Bryant’s in American Sports Heroism. Look at how popular the Wayne Rooney’s of the world are in their respective countries. That in turn, would grab the attention of the best young athletes in our country and steer them in the direction of a soccer field. The best young athletes in the United States hit the hardwood, football field or diamond. That’s where our stars shine. Until there are male soccer stars on the big stage of the American sports conscious, Sunday’s outcome for the ladies will be just another kick for soccer in this country, but not a score.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Perhaps the US Women can win back some respect

In any other country a 2-0 lead in soccer (football, fusbol etc) means game over, stick 10 men in the box and play d, perhaps get a freak corner kick or header but go home with the hardware 2-1 and let the paramedics sort out the bodies outside the stadium. Not here, not in the US, and NOT in So. Cal. Only here could we have over 100k at the Rose Bowl, the majority going the way of the tri-colors, take a 2-0 lead only to give up 4 consecutive goals without any form of reciprocity. Mexico tooled the US again in the Gold Cup Championship game 4-2 to take the trophy again, this time in our own house. This was worse than the 5-0 loss because it proved that even when we catch a break we’re not good enough to hold on. It shows that even getting spotted two touchdowns we can keep them out of the endzone. It shows exactly how much we have fallen behind the top countries of the world, and Mexico is not rated in the top five. It also is a harbinger that we’ve got three years to do something miraculous before we get embarrassed again at the world’s largest sporting event in Brazil next time around. Fortunately, the US Women’s Team will be attempting to capture the World Cup this month in Germany. One of the favorites with a very winnable group, the US Women, unlike the US Men, are a side no one wants to play and handle their business on the pitch against teams they should beat and rest assured if you fall down2-0 to the US Women, your will leave with stadium with an L. So perhaps it will again be the women that get the respect (and the mojo) back for US Soccer.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

US tries to change more than just Gold Cup history

The US grinded out a win over Panama 1-0, a side that previously beat them in the tournament, to advance to the finals of the Gold Cup on Saturday against Mexico. The Tri-Colors also struggled but scored twice in extra time to leave no doubt as they beat Honduras 2-0 for their path to the finals. The countries may share a border but to say that the US and Mexico are rivals in this tournament would be similar to comparing Ohio St. and Michigan football programs in recent years (although that may be subject to change) and the US hopes change their future as well. The U.S. and Mexico have played in the last two Gold Cup finals and split the two but the overall history has been one of domination as Mexico has outscored the US 14-1 en route to a 4-1 record. Additionally Mexico is undefeated in its last 11 Gold Cup games capped off by a 5-0 ownage of the States in last year’s final. To make matters worse the US will be without the services of Jose Altidore, the equivalent of their clean-up hitter, due to injury. So much like in the World Cup the US comes in as big dogs, but that seems to be when they do their best work and this is their first chance to make up for what many felt were failed expectations in South Africa after such a favorable draw. This would be an opportunity to take down a World Class opponent in a tournament they typically own and the type of statement that would build much needed momentum for the country’s program that has certainly lost its mojo after not reaching a lowered bar in 2010.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spanish continue to own the English when the metal is at stake

On paper it was it may have been 1-1 at halftime but it seemed like Barcelona had a the lead as the constant pressure of trying to keep up with the pace set by the Spanish side looked to be wearing on Manchester United. When Wayne Rooney scored to even the match with just over 10 minutes to in the half it looked like Man U. had seized the momentum but they were unable to add another before the break and Barcelona made some adjustments at the break, then came out and dominated the second session. The win not only marked Barca’s reign as the best in the world but continued the Spanish string of victories over English sides then hardware is at stake to 5, going back ten years to when Liverpool beat Alaves 5-4 in the UEFA Cup Final in 2001. It was more precision than power football, which is exactly the way the Devils rolled through the EPL this season, but David Villa, Xavi, and Messi beat them at their own game. So now the two sides both have questions to answer, what can Barca do to continue its stigma as the best in Europe, as winners of three of the last six Champions League titles? Going forward what can Man U., or other English sides for that matter, do to step their game up one level to match clubs like Madrid, Barca, and Inter when the chips are on the table? Fergie gave them all the credit but you can tell he was fuming and will have some more weapons at his disposal next time around. Cross town, Chelsea is singing the blues about their second place finish in the EPL and making moves as Carlo Ancelotti has been sacked for “failing to reach expectations” so they may be going into a restructuring period. In the meantime is there anyone out there to derail the Spanish train? Let us know here and in any of the quick links.

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