Wednesday, May 27, 2009

 

Matchday: UEFA Champions League Final


"I want the players to feel well, to feel beautiful, to feel like they are playing in front of the whole world, to be daring and to feel that they are here because they deserve it and to show how good we are. It's the best match to show it."


-Pep Guardiola, manager, FC Barcelona, 26 May 2009


Power versus romance, as Phil Ball so elegantly put it.

Even here, in the heart of the imperial capital, in the shadow of the levers of power, I choose romance.

2-1 Barca, as Eto'o sings a redemption song.

Friday, May 1, 2009

 

True MLS Terror, 2009

Schellas Hyndman, you've got problems.

Reading up on Saturday's DC United vs FC Dallas match, I was struck by gut-wrenching dread at the most terrifying words in the modern MLS language:

"...level with the LA Galaxy..."

If you are 'level' with the Galaxy in any form, fashion, criteria or standings, it's time to reconsider everything.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

 

Hay Liga?

No creo.

Oh my! Real Madrid staged a stunning late comeback against Getafe at the Bernabeu, re-igniting Spanish journos' desperate hopes for a photo finish at the tail end of the 08/09 Liga Primera. Real trail league leaders FC Barcelona by six points with six matches to go.

But the ink splashed on Real's 3-2 win hadn't yet dried when Barca proceeded to demolish third-placed Sevilla 4-0 at the Camp Nou:



Thank you for the clip, and your name, RafaNoMeJodas. Whoever you are.

Lovers of the beautiful game are urged to spend a few extra seconds replaying and re-replaying Xavi's extravagantly skilled move around the 8:00 minute mark.

Does that look like a team looking over its collective shoulder?

 

Match night / it right *


* with a nod and HT to the Light of Saba...

We're back, s*ckas. !Y ahora en el twitter, tambien! In the words of The Special One, "Do it."

True story: So the other day I'm pondering the general abundance of negative vibes swirling around DC United fans, media, observers, etc. these days...and then I'm reading the venerable Gabriele Marcotti as he describes how "Europe tipped its collective hat to the Barclays Premier League" in light of the dominance of English clubs in the UEFA Champions League (3 out of 4 CL semifinalists hail from the Prem). One particular graf catches the eye:

Gianluca Vialli, the former Chelsea manager, now a pundit on Sky Italia, pointed out the differences among the English clubs. “Manchester United and Chelsea may have great financial means, but Arsenal do not, at least not relative to the competition,” he said. “So you can’t say it’s just about money. Arsenal are a well-run club who have chosen to go with youth and have been rewarded. This kind of courage, this willingness to give the kids a chance if they’re good enough, is something Italian clubs might want to consider as well. Young players bring enthusiasm and workrate.”


And then on Wednesday night I watch (along with about 787 other people, give or take) DC United's kids put FC Dallas (who have got to be The Crap Team in MLS at the moment, but nonetheless put out a relatively experiened side) to the sword. And I wondered if maybe United has done something right lately after all.

It'll take a metric ton of US Open Cup play-in game victories (and/or promising performances from youngsters therein) to erase that awful funk that's hanging over this club at the moment, however. Blckdgrd will likely require more than 'promising youngsters' to keep from choking on his own bile in the months ahead, for example.

But nueva sangre is buena sangre, right?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

 

Concerning talismans and professors...


From Merriam-Webster:
tal•is•man
Pronunciation: \ˈta-ləs-mən, -ləz-\
Function: noun
Etymology: French talisman or Spanish talismán or Italian talismano; all from Arabic ṭilsam, from Middle Greek telesma, from Greek, consecration, from telein to initiate into the mysteries, complete, from telos end
Definition:
1 an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune
2 something producing apparently magical or miraculous effects


Last Saturday was a busy day of work for me in terms of both my writing and my retail occupations, but I was able to snag some space on my girlfriend's Tivo in order to record the Spain vs Turkey UEFA World Cup qualifier at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, a 1-0 victory for the home side which was every bit as awkward for España as this recap suggests.

Phil Ball is one of my all-time favorite soccer scribes and Morbo, his landmark book on the history and culture interwoven in Spanish footy, is a major reason behind my enduring love of La Liga. I was aggrieved to see Ball step away from his weekly Soccernet columns on the league at the end of last year, but ESPN seems to have done quite well in their search for his replacement, as I have thoroughly enjoyed the work of Eduardo Alvarez -- who offers up another good piece this week, specifically focusing on the national team's boss, Vincente Del Bosque, who seems to have international soccer's in-form team plotting a steady course to South Africa 2010.

Alvarez refers to "El Profesor" Del Bosque's strength as a field general in the center of the park during his playing career, comparable to current stars Xavi (of Spain and FC Barcelona) and Andrea Pirlo (Italy and AC Milan). This type of midfielder is a fascinating concept, and most great teams are paced by at least one such personality.

DC United played their home opener at RFK Stadium on Saturday night and while there are many talking points to consider -- and The DCenters' beautifully exhaustive post-match debriefing does a better job of rounding them all up than I could ever hope to equal -- I find myself most intrigued by the role of Ben Olsen, who I see as the closest thing to "El Profesor" for this year's United squad.

As far as midfield talismans go, DC fans may think of playmakers like Christian Gomez and, going further back in history, Marco Etcheverry. But after two games -- which, admittedly, tell us only so much about his left ankle's long-term durability -- I am convinced that Olsen is head coach Tom Soehn's key to holding his squad together, at least in terms of match performances in the short term.

Steve Goff has examined this angle already, and in the days ahead I will be doing a piece on other aspects of #14's role this season. But it's clear to see how few teammates can match his blend of intelligence, intensity and guidance. For now, I don't see how The Black-and-Red can contend for positive results in league play on a weekly basis without him playing regularly. He's too smart not to be in the first XI when fit.

This also has tactical implications. Whatever Soehn says about his plans to tweak DC's formation, he will have to use 3-5-2 more often than not when Olsen is available. Olsen's reduced mobility means he needs a greyhound like Clyde Simms alongside him to cover ground and make life easier for Gomez at the top of the midfield. Given that a timely intervention of talented youth (ie Pontius and Wallace) means United seem to be surprisingly well-endowed on the flanks this year, how else does Soehn get his most important performers on the field at the same time?

Coaches, parents and fans out there: does your team have a midfield "profesor"? What about a talisman? If so, who -- and is it a good thing? What does it mean for the squad as a whole?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

 

Rookies beware!

Soundtrack for this post, courtesy of the Black Keys:





So D.C. United starts two rookies and two brand-new arrivals in last Sunday's 2-2 draw against the Galaxy.

And so maybe those rooks held their own, and one -- the one who took the starting spot normally occupied by a club legend who also happens to be the league's all-time leading scorer -- even chipped in with an important golazzo in the second half.

So yeah, D.C. rookie attacker Chris Pontius enjoyed an outstanding professional debut, and some people even wrote some pretty glowing features about it. But he and the rest of the 2009 crop have got a long way to go, as aforementioned club legend and club captain Jaime Moreno alluded to after United's training session on Thursday:


It’s a long season and there are a lot of things to learn, and to prove, for young guys. You can get excited in the beginning but it’s a long season and you’ve got to maintain that level. You’ve got to keep working the same way and keep the same level, getting better at the same time.

So for me it’s too early to talk. I always like to establish something, if it’s not the middle of the season – or better, after – because at the end of the day what matters here is playoffs. You’ve got to be consistent and maintain that level to take you all the way to playoffs, and hopefully, the final, to be the champ. To do that, you’ve got to maintain that level so that the team does better and yourself, too.


It should surprise no one that Moreno is never happy to spend time on the bench and to be fair, United boss Tom Soehn was all set to throw the Bolivian into the fray on Sunday. But that's when Devon McTavish and Greg Janicki knocked heads on an aerial challenge that left both players bleeding profusely and when McTavish was unable to continue, Soehn had to alter his final substitution and bring on Marc Burch instead.

The 34-year-old Moreno is undoubtedly aware that his squad can benefit from an injection of youthful vigor. But he still harbors enough smoldering intensity to make me second-guess any thoughts of his impending marginalization:

I just want to make sure I’m here to contribute to the team. The coach is the one who decides if I start or if I come off the bench. But every day I work to be in the first XI. I’m not a guy that – I don’t feel comfortable being on the bench. I’m sure a lot of guys don’t [either], so that’s why you work from Monday to Friday to get a place on the first XI. If not, then you’ve got to do something better to get you there. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve done everything that’s in my hands to be in the first XI. Then there is a head coach – he is the one who decides who plays.

Friday, March 20, 2009

 

Fredy is ready for MLS

Sounders FC 3 - 0 NY Red Bulls

Big up Seatown!


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