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Friday, August 27, 2010

Champions League and Europa League group draws set

This week both the Champions League and Europa League final teams qualified for group stage play after home and home games.

One of the most entertaining series was Werder Bremen vs. Sampdoria in which Bremen ultimately lost 3-2 on the scoreboard but advanced thanks to extra time strike that gave the German team a 5-4 win on aggregate. Tottenham also recovered from a shock 3-2 defeat in Switzerland to thrash Young Boys, 4-0 and move on. Liverpool survived to stay in the Europa league, but Aston Villa could not do the same and neither could Celtic, who both exited European competition after shock defeats.

For EPL fans both Manchester United and Arsenal received favorable draws, while Tottenham drew Inter Milan as well as Werder Bremen another dangerous team. It's tough to say how difficult Chelsea's group will be with Russian power Spartak Moscow and a very dangerous Marseille team, but I know nothing about MSK Zilina.

I also think both Barcelona and Bayern Munich will be pleased with their draws whereas Real Madrid and AC Milan, who were drawn for a second successive year into the same group, probably are not too thrilled.

Just looking at how everything stacks up I would say Group A featuring Inter Milan, Tottenham, Werder Bremen and FC Twente is the strongest followed closely by Group G with Real Madrid, AC Milan, Ajax, and Auxerre.

I think the group with the most parity is Group B headed by Lyon, Benfica, Schalke, and Hapoel Tel Aviv. None of these teams are exactly household names in the states but Lyon were semifinalists last year and are generally the best team in France. Benfica are the biggest team in Portugal and have won more league titles than any other team in their country. Schalke are a team hardly anyone knows about from the Bundesliga, but are extremely dangerous. And Hapoel are definitely no slouch.

The Europa League is another story all together. Most new followers to the game don't know much about the competition that often produces many memorable games. These are the teams that finished in the second tier in their domestic leagues. In England, Spain, Germany, and Italy they are the teams that finished somewhere between third and sixth. In smaller leagues like Scotland, Holland, Portugal the teams in Europa may have finished as high second in their domestic leagues.

To be honest I don't know a lot about a lot of these teams, but it's a great competition to follow because it is often where many of the young, up-and-coming talent comes from where big clubs like Chelsea or Real Madrid or Inter Milan or Bayern Munich scout looking for the next big thing.

And the great thing about both leagues is that they are now very well televised. Champions League games air on Fox Sports World and the Comcast channel around here on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Europa League games air on both Fox Sports World and GOL TV on Thursdays and Fridays.

Update on the transfer window

The biggest news coming down in the last couple of days is that Javier Mascherano has finally secured a move away from Liverpool and England to Barcelona and that Brazilian midfielder Diego, who failed to impress after his move from Werder Bremen to Juventus last summer, is on his way back to the Bundesliga to play for Wolfsburg.

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson lit into Mascherano after stating the move would be finalized this weekend ripping the Argentine defensive midfielder for refusing to lace up the boots against Manchester United earlier in the week. Hodgson cited a two players he had coached in the past that had gone through similar incidents as he talked about the negative influence of agents. His tirade was rather amusing, here's a look.

Liverpool did get good news that Dirk "Diggler" or Dirk Kuyt will be staying after reports had linked him with former manager Rafa Benitez at Inter Milan.

Emmanuel Adebayor, a villain to Arsenal fans such as myself for leaving the club for Manchester City, appears ready to leave the Eastlands now after just one season. After City's massive spending spree, Adebayor appears to be one of the players left out in the cold and now is trying to move to either Real Madrid where he likely wouldn't play much or to Juventus where he probably could be a featured forward. Regardless I have to laugh at Adebayor because he's a bit of a bozo, a very good player no doubt and someone that could have been truly superb I think at Arsenal where he was a perfect fit, but he continues to seek out greener pastures where he just isn't good enough.

Robinho, another Eastlands wantaway, could be headed to Barcelona or AC Milan, but apparently must wait to see what Zlatan Ibrahimovic is going to do, according to most reports. Manchester City confirmed both clubs have made inquiries about Robinho. However, AC Milan have made clear their first choice target is Ibrahimovic with Robinho as the backup plan. I think it's obvious then that if Ibra moves Barca would swoop in for Robinho, who I think would be a natural fit for the blaugrana on the left hand side. Think about how delicious it would be to see the combination of Messi on the right, David Villa at central striker and Robinho on the left working together with incredible pace and dribbling ability - maybe a few highlights.

My boy Austin and Tottenham supporters alike today are probably shedding a tear or two that their London club could not muster the funds to snatch up Brazilian bomber Luis Fabiano, who currently plays for Sevilla. Fabiano has stated several times of his intentions to move to Italy or England, and at first did not want to move to Tottenham when the club was interested. But upon finding out Tottenham were both a London-based and Champions League qualified side, his tune changed. Regardless Spurs boss Harry Redknapp revealed his club don't have the funds to meet Sevilla's asking price of £25 million plus.

One player that will be leaving Sevilla for London is France international defender Sebastien Squillaci, who will fill the Gunners desperate need for another central defender.

Ballack has to be fuming right?

I'm not going to sit here and bad mouth one of my all-time boys Michael Ballack. He is unquestionably a German legend and one of the 10 greatest players of his generation in my opinion leading the Fatherland to multiple international finals - 2002 World Cup, 2008 Euro.

That being said here comes the BUT, but Ballack is no longer the inspirational central midfielder that he was eight years ago. In fact you could see the slip in Euro 08 despite the fact he helped lead Germany to the final, he was slower and more marauding, and as a result Spain was able to practically run circles around Germany.

Ask Chelsea supporters like Mr. Slate about Ballack's contributions the past couple of seasons to the London club and they'll tell you Ballack was not one of the key cogs of that team. He was a player who almost took up space behind Lampard almost in a defensive role as a destroyer, but that's never been Ballack's strong suit, he's an attacker whose skills have diminished. Jon Obi-Mikel and Michael Essien simply got better than Ballack at that position, which is why he was not offered a contract after it expired last season and was allowed to leave on free transfer.

I said before the World Cup it would be a good thing that Ballack was injured and could not play for Germany because the team had young talent behind Bastian Schweinsteiger that was ready to replace him and move on. It was almost a classic case of Bill Simmons' Ewing Theory.

That definitely happened. Schweinsteiger filled in for Ballack at his position and was simply sublime partnered alongside Sami Khedira in the middle with Mesut Ozil roaming just in front of them and Thomas Muller and Lukas Poldoski tearing down the wings.

Simply stated this group is better equipped now without Ballack, who would clog up the middle and slow down Germany's most explosive weapon - its speed on the counter attack.

So I am very happy that German coach Jogy Lowe has shown some moxie by not including him in the team's first Euro qualifier against Azerbaijan. Lowe stated he wants Ballack to return to full fitness before he calls on him for the team.

Do I believe that? Well there may be some shades of grey in that statement by Lowe, and he may even have some plans to use Ballack at some point, but no I don't believe that is the real reasoning.

I think this is a calculated and ingenious move by a terrific coach brimming with confidence that knows he has the backing of his federation after heading up a second phenomenal campaign in an international tournament - Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup. Lowe has done a magnificent job with Germany.

I think he knows the writing is on the wall for Ballack, and one of the other little controversies with Ballack is that he wants to return as captain. Well Philipp Lahm did a great job in that role at the World Cup and is not ready to give it up. For me as I've said this is no longer Ballack's team, and I think Lahm or Schweinsteiger needs to go on as captain, which I believe is what Lowe is doing here. He's going to go to Michael at some point in the near future and let him know if he wants any role with Germany, it won't be as captain. It's a sticky situation as England found out with David Beckham.

To me if Ballack wants to continue to play with Germany he needs to follow the path of another German legend - Lothar Matthaus. Matthaus was the attacking midfielder for Germany when they won the 1990 World Cup but was at the end of his rope, so he switched positions to sweeper to be able to continue. I see that as something Ballack would be capable of, but I'm not sure he will do it.

Unfortunately I see this shaping up as a messy divorce for a man just doesn't have much to give his country anymore after having poured his blood, sweat, and tears into this team for years. But that's typically the case with the greats, they don't know when there time is up until it's passed them by.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

With only days left the transfer market is heating up

Much like in baseball where there are all kinds of wheelings and dealings right around the end of the trade dead line, it is always fascinating to see whose coming and going at the end of the transfer market.

At the moment there seems to be all kinds of deals in the works, and topping the group for my money is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

"The magnificent nose" as he is nick-named seems to be surely on his way out of Barcelona after a somewhat up and down first campaign at the Nou Camp. I was surprised to learn that Ibra is only 28 and also that he scored 23 goals in La Liga as well as nine more in the Champions League, he just never really seemed to fit with that team last year and was very much overshadowed by Lionel Messi's incredible goal scoring exploits.

I have said it before, I think Ibrahimovic is a good player, just not a great one. He seems to be able to pick off lesser defenders fairly easily, but when it comes to the biggest games he too often disappears, and I think that was one of his biggest problems at Barcelona.

Not only did I think Barcelona vastly overpay for the Swedish international by giving up €46 million and striker Samuel Eto'o, I just didn't think he was the right fit for that team. Barcelona needs a central forward that wants to look for his own shot, a poacher, and a finisher - Ibra likes to set up as much as he likes to finish, which is not a knock on him, but Barcelona has plenty of playmakers already.

In contrast David Villa I think is the perfect player for Barcelona, which is one reason if I was making a wager right now I would pick Barcelona to win the Champions League.

Anyway to get back to business, Ibrahimovic is practically demanding a transfer to either AC Milan, Real Madrid or Manchester City. He apparently had a bust-up with Barca boss Pep Guardiola, which has made matters worse, and the most likely destination appears to be Milan because obviously Barca would not sell to bitter rivals Madrid and Ibra had his best years in Italy. However, don't rule out Manchester City yet, they have the deepest pockets in football right now Jose Mourinho stated yesterday.

Javier Mascherano is another player that wants out of his current club Liverpool and has essentially gone on strike to force a move from Anfield. Liverpool have set a price of £25 million for Mascherano, which no one appears ready to offer.

Barcelona are the team making the public push for Argentina captain, but so far have only offered £18 million along with Alexander Hleb. However, Liverpool appear to want only money for the defensive central midfielder.

It's interesting to me that Barcelona are making such a strong push for Mascherano. They must feel like they want a replacement for Yaya Toure, whom they sold to Manchester City earlier this summer. I've always thought Mascherano to be a little over-rated as well, but he certainly had an excellent World Cup.

Another misfit, Robinho, has wanted out of Manchester City for quite some time and has made himself quite clear first forcing the club to allow him to move back down to Santos on loan to end last season then demanding he be sold when City would not accept another loan from the Brazilian team.

To me Robinho's story is quite hilarious. The rumor goes that when he wanted to leave Real Madrid the team went to the Brazilian and told him Manchester City were interested in buying. Not paying any attention, Robinho thought Real Madrid meant the other team from Manchester as in Manchester United and accepted the move only to find out he would be dressing up in light blue instead red.

Robinho appears set to leave the Eastlands for either some club in Spain or Turkey have already turned down the opportunity to play for Fenerbahce in Turkey. Joining him on the way out the door from City is Paraguayan strike Roque Santa Cruz, who looks likely to join Lazio in Italy.

My main man Philipp Lahm wants to stay with my main team

I've been on the record as stating I think Philipp Lahm is one of the two or three best outside backs in the world maybe even the best because he can handle either side of the pitch despite his short stature - he's only 5-7 - and his preference to play on the right side as he does now for both club and country.

So I am more than happy to read that the German international is ready to commit his future to my favorite team Bayern Munich for the future.

"There will definitely be talks about my contract his season," he told the Bildnewspaper. "I assume that the club will approach me.

"I can imagine signing for the long term, because as a player in the coming years at Bayern you will play for international titles.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pipe down Eddie

Does Eddie Johnson realize he is Eddie Johnson?

Currently at Fulham, Johnson hopes to sway new manager Mark Hughes that he is good enough to stay with the club this season instead of being loaned and to gain regular first-team action. The sometimes U.S. international, who got as far as the 30-man preliminary World Cup roster before being axed for younger and hotter forwards to play in South Africa, said yesterday that U.S. players are struggling to be respected in the English Premier League.

Now I don't know who he was talking about considering Clint Dempsey is one of the stars now in the league - ask fans of Fulham about Demps and they will talk about his legendary chip against Juventus in the Europa League last year - Timmy Howard and Brad Friedel are each considered two of the top 5 goal keepers in the league, and Landon Donovan made a pretty nice splash from January to March when he helped Everton accumulate top-notch scalps of both Manchester United and Chelsea.

In fact if you look around Europe the Americans are doing pretty well from Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo in the Bundesliga to Maurice Edu in Scotland to Charlie Davies in France to Jozy Altidore perhaps finally in Spain and Stuart Holden in England, U.S. players are certainly making in roads and names for themselves. And each year there are more and more.

Eddie's problem is that he has not been able to make headway in the Premiership because he is not that good and he does not work hard enough on the pitch. NOt to put down the U.S., but he couldn't even crack the roster for the World Cup. It seemed he had a bit of a resurgence when he was loaned to Greek side Aris with Freddy Adu, but to be perfectly honest Johnson probably never will be a regular first team player for any team that is in the EPL because he's just not skilled enough.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What about Bob? (starring Bob Bradley)

Bob Bradley is a smart man: he did go to Princeton after all so he has to know that his time coaching the U.S. men's national team is running out.

This should help explain why he's making every effort to get his name out there for the Aston Villa job.

It's turning into a very bizarre situation and hopefully having a lame-duck coach doesn't happen or at least not for too long. Shimer and I both like Bradley but we agree that to take the U.S. to the next level, they'll need a coach with more star power and a more impressive resume than Bradley.

Seeing this set of musical chairs as Bradley likely pursues his next job is not a good look for any involved. The U.S. has to make a decision (and fast!) to figure out if they want Bradley or not. If they do, lock him up through the next World Cup. If not, get his diplomas off the wall and send him packing.

There are four years between World Cups but with qualifying, friendlies and countless other tournaments, the time goes by much faster than you'd expect.

United States coach Bob Bradley says he is keen to hold talks with Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner about being their next boss following Martin O'Neill's exit earlier this month.

Bradley, who led the USA to the last 16 of the World Cup, has had no formal talks with Villa's American owner but his representatives have made contact with the club.

"I think Aston Villa is a massive club with great history and a great following and those type of opportunities would of course be of interest," Bradley told BBC Radio Five Live. "I would certainly be honoured to have that conversation but I'm impressed with the way things have been handled so far and we'll see what the future holds."

Ironically, Newcastle (in its home opener since returning to the EPL) embarrassed Aston Villa earlier today 6-0. Villa has Kevin MacDonald as its interim manager; they won their first match but without a suitable replacement for Martin O'Neill, it's hard to see Villa having a good season.

But while Bradley, 52, has a contract with the United States which runs until the end of the year, he is ambitious to manage in Europe.

He said: "I've always been excited about being a manager in Europe but at the same time I'm proud of the work we've done with the US team over the last four years. It is important to consider that as a challenge as well. So we'll see what happens.

"There have been discussions with some of my representatives to at least find out the situation but Aston Villa seem to have taken a good stance where they have been patient.

"They have a very good man in Kevin MacDonald who is highly respected in the club so I think on the one hand they are probably putting a list together and on the other making sure Kevin has the time to consider his future as well. It has been handled very well.

"I had some people do some checking just to find out where things stood."

Reading the tea leaves, it's obvious that Bradley knows he's done with the U.S. and he's giving his due diligence to see what's available in Europe.

Like any U.S. player, we encourage our coaches to go abroad and coach at the highest level; it can only help the USMNT and soccer in our country to see more Americans succeed.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The most predictable list you'll see this year

Anyone with a pulse in the United States that likes soccer even a little bit would ace this exam: who is the highest paid player in Major League Soccer?

Answer: David Beckham. About as predictable as that, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez come in second and third respectively.

Henry and Marquez, who joined the New York Red Bulls from Barcelona following the World Cup, are the league's second- and third-highest paid players, according to the latest MLS Players Union salary list.

Henry, a World Cup and European champion with France and a Champions League winner with Barca, will earn $5.6 million in guaranteed compensation this year. Marquez, who captained Mexico in South Africa, will earn $5.54 million.

Marquez's Mexico teammate Nery Castillo, who joined the Chicago Fire last month on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine, will make $1.79 million.

Beckham, who hasn't played for the Los Angeles Galaxy this season because of a torn Achilles' tendon, tops the league at $6.5 million.

Beckham's signing has been mostly a nightmare as we all know but I'm more confident that Henry and Marquez (coupled with their sweet stadium and the fact that they're near a great sports city) have much more lasting power than Becks in the States.

Gallas turning up at Tottenham

Once upon a time, William Gallas was one of the top defenders in the world. He played for Chelsea then Arsenal domestically and was a stud for France.

Father time has caught up to the former Arsenal captain and that's why his free transfer move to Tottenham is hardly headline material anymore.

He will undergo a medical exam tomorrow at Tottenham and then he can move to White Hart Lane.

Gallas, 33, looks set to be added to Spurs' defensive ranks as Harry Redknapp looks to strengthen his squad before the end of the transfer window.

Spurs looked decidedly unconvincing at the back during their 3-2 Champions League qualifying play-off defeat to Young Boys, and the arrival of Gallas would offer them some much-needed top level experience.

Gallas has been available on a free transfer since June, having been released by Arsenal after being unable to agree a new contract at Emirates Stadium.

And the France international, who played for Les Bleus during their disastrous World Cup campaign, will become only the sixth player to have joined Spurs having played for their bitter north London rivals.

The last player to do so was David Bentley, while Rohan Ricketts, David Jenkins, Laurie Brown and Jimmy Brain are the others to have crossed the divide.

Gallas played for Arsenal for four years after moving from Chelsea in 2006, making 101 Premier League appearances for the Gunners.

Neymar breaks my heart, stays with Santos

Shimer said last week before he left that Chelsea was on the verge of signing Neymar. As you can imagine, I was pumped since the Blues need an infusion of young talent as my colleague pointed out and they don't get more tantalizing than the 18-year-old Brazilian.

Uh nevermind. Neymar signed a five-year deal to remain with Santos.

He has followed the advice of Pele and new national team coach Mano Menezes to stay in Brazil, at least for now.

Neymar, who scored on debut for Brazil against United States last month, said: "The final decision always rests with the player. My father always will want what is best for me. I talked to him and decided to stay. Money alone does not bring happiness. I'm happy here and I want to continue being so. It was a complicated decision, very difficult. But God gave us the wisdom and power to make the best decision. Now it's time to only think about Santos and winning more titles.''

Santos' president Luis Alvaro lauded Neymar for his "courageous decision'' to stay in Brazil and said he hoped the move would spark an end to the relentless talent drain to Europe.

"We've built a different possibility,'' Alvaro said. "We no longer accept the idea that we're an underdeveloped nation always at the mercy of the powerful European clubs.''

This is all well and good and I applaud Neymar for taking the road less traveled (ie. not following the money). However, I'd be shocked if he plays out the length of this contract with Santos. This guy is too good to not be playing in England, Spain, Italy or Germany.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

U.S. coming to the Windy City

If you're in the midwest, mark your calendars: the U.S. men's national team will play Poland in an exhibition on October 9 at Soldier Field, home of the NFL's Chicago Bears.

I've only been there for one short trip but Chicago is easily one of the best U.S. cities. The fact that there's such a big Polish population in the Chicago area made this matchup a no-brainer.

The United States has won seven of its 16 matches against Poland, including three of the past four. The previous time the teams met in the United States was in 2004, also in Chicago, when the Americans got an equalizer from Carlos Bocanegra in the 88th minute.

The game is on a FIFA fixture date, meaning clubs are required to release players to national teams.

"We know this is an important opportunity for Poland as they prepare for the 2012 European Championship, so we expect a challenging game," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "Chicago has a fantastic tradition of supporting soccer and the U.S. national team, and with the large Polish community in the area it should make for an exciting atmosphere."

Poland is co-host of the 2012 European Championships with Ukraine. Though it does not have to qualify for the continental tournament, it has exhibitions scheduled in September against Ukraine and Australia.

As of right now, this is the only U.S. match remaining in 2010. Their first game after the 2010 World Cup was the 2-0 pounding they received from Brazil on Aug. 10 at the New Meadowlands.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Milner leaving Aston Villa, shipping up to Manchester City

It was a move that was whispered for weeks and possibly months, now it's official: James Milner is done at Aston Villa and bound for Manchester City.

Milner, 24, will undergo a medical at Eastlands on Tuesday afternoon and City midfielder Stephen Ireland will move in the opposite direction to Villa Park.

City manager Roberto Mancini hopes to tie up all the loose ends by Wednesday at the latest.

"I hope we can close it between today and tomorrow,'' Mancini said. "I think that Milner is a good player, an English player which is important. I think that Milner can play in different positions.''

City have been pursuing the England international all summer and had an initial bid rejected before the start of the World Cup. The final fee is reported to be around £20 million.

Milner played his final game for Villa in their opening Premier League fixture on Saturday, starring and scoring in a 3-0 home win over West Ham. He received a standing ovation from the home fans.

The midfielder moved to Aston Villa in 2008 having enjoyed a successful loan spell at Villa Park during the 2005/2006 season. Last term he was named the PFA Young Player of the Year and was also selected in the Premier League's Team of the Year.

Aston Villa is good but Manchester City is better, expect them to finish in the top four in the EPL this season and qualify for the Champions League after they just missed out last season by finishing fifth. They lacked an English presence so Milner is a good choice since he's young and his best years should be ahead of him, particularly when you surround him with such talent.

Ozil going to Real Madrid

For those of us who don't live and breath the German national team (cough, cough Shimer), Mesut Ozil was one of the breakout stars of the 2010 World Cup.

The silky smooth midfielder is only 21 but he was one of the top playmakers and offensive minds in the world. Therefore, it should be no surprise that he's taking his talents elsewhere: Real Madrid.

The former Werder Bremen star, reportedly signed with Real Madrid for around 15 million Euros.

Werder turned down an offer which was described as "risible" by general manager Klaus Allofs last week but have now reached an agreement for Ozil, who would have been available on a free transfer when his contract expired in 12 months.

The playmaker, who helped Germany reach the semi-finals of the World Cup in South Africa, will undergo a medical in Madrid on Wednesday. Allofs said: "We are respecting the player's wishes to take the next step in his career immediately.''

A statement on Madrid's official website read: "Mesut Ozil lands at Real Madrid after a standout performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The midfielder earned a permanent spot on Germany's senior side by the age of 21 after winning the 2009 Under-21 European Championship.

"His unique touch, unmatched individual technique, excellent ball control and deadly last pass make the German midfielder one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in European football.''

Werder had opened up new contract talks with the Ozil a year ago, but the player officially rejected the club's final offer prior to the World Cup. From that moment, it was clear Bremen would be forced to sell the 21-year-old.

Earlier on Tuesday, Werder claimed they would play Ozil in the Champions League on Wednesday, leaving him cup-tied, unless a deal was agreed in the next 24 hours.

"If a club is looking to sign Mesut to play Champions League, then that club needs to make a decision before Wednesday," Allofs said. "If Mesut Ozil is a player of Werder Bremen on Wednesday, we are going to play him against Sampdoria."

However, Ozil did not take part in the club's final training session ahead of the clash as Real moved quickly to complete the deal.

Picturing Ozil dishing to Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain, not to mention all the Spanish national team stars around him, is mouth-watering. Somebody give Ray Hudson a few moments alone.

Nice going France

In case you somehow forget about France's comedy of errors at the 2010 World Cup, today served as a beautiful reminder of what a mess that turned out to be: the France Football Federation suspended Nicolas Anelka (18 games), Patrice Evra (5 games), Franck Ribery (3 games) and Jeremy Toulilan (1 game).

The fifth player involved in the mutiny, Eric Abidal, didn't get suspended.

All 23 players on France's World Cup squad boycotted a training session in South Africa to protest Anelka's expulsion after he insulted then-coach Raymond Domenech during a 2-0 loss to Mexico.

But the French federation only summoned the five players who played a leading role in the mutiny. Ribery and Anelka -- whose dressing room rage triggered the strike -- sent lawyers. Ribery, who was vice captain at the World Cup, did not attend the hearing because Bayern Munich refused to release him ahead of its opening Bundesliga match on Friday against Wolfsburg.

Only Evra, Abidal and Toulalan showed up at the hearing, federation official Yann Le Guillard said.

"The players seemed sincerely sorry for what happened," said former France team director Jean-Louis Valentin, who resigned when the players refused to take part in a training session and, instead, sat in the team bus under the eye of cameras from around the world. "I felt they were very affected by that event.

"It's obvious that if they had to do it again, they wouldn't do it," Valentin said.

Domenech was among those who attended Tuesday's hearing, along with then-FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes and assistant coach Alain Boghossian.

Valentin, who attended the hearing as a witness and was the only one to comment later, expressed a clear measure of sympathy for what he said were chastened players. As far as he is concerned, he said, "everybody has the right to a second chance."

He said that dialogue within the group called to testify was "excellent" and that Domenech was "dignified."

"We talked again about the events. In some ways, there was a very good dialogue that was, at times, moving," Valentin said. "Everybody was aware that there was a collective mess-up, and now we have to turn the page and move on."

France was eliminated after the first round of the World Cup without winning a match. But it was the players' actions, including the squad's sit-in on the team bus, that drew condemnation from the French public, President Nicolas Sarkozy and other political leaders.

The players already have been punished financially, with the federation withholding their World Cup bonuses. Hardliners such as Lilian Thuram, a former international and a member of the FFF council, said Evra should never play for France again.

France coach Laurent Blanc dropped all 23 players for his first match in charge last week -- a 2-1 loss to Norway in an exhibition. He'll be without Anelka, Evra, Ribery and Toulalan for the 2012 European Championship qualifier in September against Belarus.

Blanc has done the right thing by trying to move on from this dark chapter in France soccer history but it's going to take a long time to erase the bitter taste of this group's pathetic actions.

Cameroon names Clemente as its new head coach

There were few teams at the 2010 World Cup that were a bigger disappointment than Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions lost all three games and today they tried to wipe the slate clean from that debacle by hiring former Spain coach Javier Clemente.

Clemente succeeds Paul Le Guen, who resigned in June. Clemente was Spain's coach from 1992 to 1998 and guided the country on a 31-game unbeaten run. He also coached Serbia's national team.

The Cameroon soccer federation said Clemente agreed to a two-year contract that he will sign in the nation's capital no later than Sept. 28.

Clemente's first test with Cameroon will be to qualify the four-time African champion for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. The country's next international game is a Sept. 4 qualifier in Mauritius.

Former Cameroon players Francois Omam Biyik and Jacques Songo'o will be part of Clemente's coaching staff.

Clemente played for Athletic Bilbao and coached the team to Spanish league titles in 1983 and 1984 -- the first of three stints in charge of the club.

He has been a coach for 15 years and most recently coached Real Valladolid, where he replaced Onesimo Sanchez in April. He was unable in eight games to prevent the team from relegation from Spain's top division.

It was pointed out numerous times in South Africa that African teams are best served when they're coached by a fellow African. Clemente is most certainly an outsider but you can't argue with his coaching credentials. No doubt, his first order of business will be to kiss up to mercurial Cameroon star striker Samuel Eto'o.

Honduras appoints a new head coach

Honduras named a new head coach today: Juan de Dios Castillo replaces Reinaldo Rueda, who brought the team to the 2010 World Cup.

Castillo's contract will run through December 31, 2011 according the Honduras soccer federation.

The 59-year-old Mexican will debut with the national team on Sept. 3 in a friendly against El Salvador in Los Angeles.

Castillo has won club championships in Honduras with Real Espana and Olimpia.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

News and Notes before I take off for a week of peace and relaxation

So the English Premier League kicks off the 2010-11 season today, but there have been a number of very intriguing stories that have popped up in the last few days.

The first of which is that Arsene Wenger committed to Arsenal until 2014, great news for Gunner fans. I've stated this many times, no one does more with less money than Wenger, whom I consider to be the top manager in England. He consistently buys young talent for cheap then develops it into players like Cesc Fabregas and Samri Nasri and Thomas Vermaelen.

Another big headline is that FIFA President Sepp Blatter is saying the governing body is considering eliminating ties in all World Cup games, which would dramatically affect the competition as we know it. Blatter is of the opinion, and so am I, that the change would make the tournament more interesting. What would happen if the group games ended in a tie is likely they would go either straight to a shootout or into sudden death overtime. This would eliminate teams from playing negative football and force teams to go all out every game, something you don't see a lot of the time.

England manager Fabio Capello essentially retired David Beckham from national team football after England's friendly vs. Hungary the other day. When asked if Beckham would feature in the team again as it tries to qualify for the 2012 Euro Cup, Capello said Beckham was too old at this stage in his career to help the team that the Italian is trying to refresh after a disastrous 2010 World Cup. Capello offered Beckham the opportunity to play in some sort of friendly match down the road as a sort of charity send-off match, however, Beckham rejected that offer stating he would only play for England again if his form called for him to be used.

Australian and current Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer is apparently the man Arsenal have singled out to end the Gunners' nightmare at first-team keeper, which Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski have primarily filled the past two years. Fulham originally was not going to sell the 37-year-old Schwarzer, however, Schwarzer handed in a transfer request to Mark Hughes, the new Fulham manager stating that he feels this is his last chance to go for an English Premier League title. Arsenal's first offer was rejected for the Australian, but now they likely will come calling for him and be able to sign him because Fulham will not want the distraction of an unhappy keeper.

A couple of big transfers finally went through. Mario Balotelli completed his switch from Inter Milan to Manchester City. The Brazilian Ramires completed his switch from the Portuguese side Benfica to Chelsea. James Milner appears just about ready to complete his move from Aston Villa to Manchester City, the only hold-up is that Stephen Ireland - who would go to Villa as part of the deal - wants a cool $2 mill before he makes the switch. Craig Bellamy also appears ready to exit Man City as Mark Hughes wants him at Fulham.

Just the other day after watching Chelsea play Manchester United in the Community Shield I said the blues needed to make a splash in the transfer market as the team looked old. Well they have completed the move for one Brazilian as already mentioned and now appeared to be going after perhaps the most talented young Brazilian in young Santos 18-year-old forward Neymar. Santos have warned Chelsea they must pay his release clause of $80 mill or (£28.75 million) and will report the English club to FIFA if they continue to pursue a transfer for a smaller fee. Somehow I see this deal getting done as Chelsea really need a player like Neymar, who can inspire right now and later become perhaps a potential FIFA Player of the Year caliber player. And yes Neymar is the guy that scored that dirty header for Brazil against the U.S. Tuesday night in New Jersey.

John Rooney of Macclesfield Town in England's League Two recently had an audition for the Seattle Sounders. Haven't heard of him before, well perhaps the name Rooney sounds familiar as in Wayne Rooney - John is his 19-year-old brother. Seattle manager Sigi Schmid gave him a look along with a few other players. John Rooney however would have to enter the MLS Super Draft and then be drafted by the Sounders, he cannot simply straight sign with them for some reason.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The face of U.S. soccer, on the Jimmy Fallon show tonight

Quick question: are you sick of Landon Donovan yet?

Me neither. After his great showing with Everton last winter and of course with the U.S. in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, Donovan can do no wrong at the moment.

He used to be an all-around dud since he didn't have much personality and he always failed in big games. No longer, he's a new man and one of the best players (best ever?) that the United States has ever produced.

Most of his teammates last night looked overmatched vs. Brazil but Donovan played very well. This is all a long way to say that you should watch the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon tonight (12:30 a.m. on NBC) since Mr. USA is one of the guests.

Donovan is in New York since the Brazil friendly was in East Rutherford, NJ and the LA Galaxy play the New York New York Red Bulls on Saturday night at Red Bull Stadium in one of the marquee games of the MLS regular season.

More Premier League on ESPN family of networks, less filler garbage (Sportsnation, Cold Pizza, etc.)

Some nice news for fans of the English Premier League living in the U.S.: ESPN sublicenses more EPL games to its family of networks.

ESPN reached an agreement for multimedia rights to Barclay's Premier League Soccer for the next three seasons. Up to 74 matches the next three seasons will air in the United States on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Mobile TV.

Last season, ESPN televised 46 Premier League matches under a sublicense from Fox Soccer Channel, which has been broadcasting the EPL in the U.S. since 1998.

ESPN's U.S. coverage begins Saturday with the Premier League opener, which has Manchester City at Tottenham, starting at 7:45 a.m. ET.

This is clearly a sign that ESPN had good responses from last season's small dose of EPL. Coming off the very successful 2010 World Cup, this is smart business from a company that doesn't usually show this amount of common sense.

Sorry Becks, get off Capello's fine Italian lawn

Getting older is a fact of life, it happens to everyone. What separates professional athletes from you or I is that they rapidly age in the public eye, while I can sit behind a computer and seemingly never age.

Random tangent aside, David Beckham found out today that he was "too old to play for England," at least according to head coach Fabio Capello. Last I checked, his opinion was somewhat important in those matters for the Three Lions.

Capello said the 35-year-old midfielder will have the chance to play in a friendly "farewell game" but will not be part of England's team in qualifying for the 2012 European Championship.

Beckham has played 115 times for England, second behind only goalkeeper Peter Shilton's 125 from 1970-90.

Beckham has repeatedly said he has no plans of retiring from playing for England. He went to the World Cup in South Africa in June as a member of Capello's off-field staff after being sidelined following Achilles' tendon surgery.

Appearing on ITV television in Britain, Capello was asked whether Beckham would be part of the England squad in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012.

Capello laughed and said, "Thank you for helping me during the World Cup, but probably (he) is a little bit old."

Later, after England's 2-1 victory over Hungary in a friendly at Wembley, Capello said: "I hope he can play one more friendly game to say bye bye."

"I won't be picking him for any more competitive matches," Capello added. "David is a fantastic player, he was really important, but we have to see the new players for the future because the age is important for a lot of people, not only for David."

Seeing Beckham on the bench (in a suit) in South Africa was depressing enough and Beckham's ill-fated MLS tour has only gotten worse (he's out until at least Sept. 4 with that achilles injury).

We wish Becks the best but let's not make this a mockery Brett Favre style. Hold your stylish head up and retire Beckham after you play this one corny game. It's what England wants, not a soap oprea. Then again, nothing moves the dial in England like Beckham so maybe he will hang around forever.

Good day mate: Australia names new coach

If you've ever heard of German Holger Osieck, raise your hand. If you knew Australia was getting a new coach, raise your hand. Nobody?

Well that's why I'm here, Osieck was named Australia's coach today.

A former assistant to German legend Franz Beckenbauer, Osieck was officially announced as the new Socceroos boss by FFA chairman Frank Lowy on Wednesday.

The 61-year-old is a surprise choice, with the FFA having initially set its sights on South Africa coach Carlos Parreira and Cameroon boss Paul Le Guen as Pim Verbeek's successor.

Osieck enjoyed a modest playing career in Germany before coaching stints with Fenerbahce in Turkey and Urawa Red Diamonds in Japan's J-League.

He was an assistant to Beckenbauer when Germany won the 1990 World Cup and spent four years as Canada's national coach, guiding the team to success in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2000.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Explain to me again why Pato and Neymar didn't go to South Africa?

I had heard about Neymar before but I had never seen him (besides YouTube highlights) until tonight.

In his debut for the Brazilian national team, 18-year-old Neymar scored a goal as the Selecao defeated the U.S. 2-0 at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

This was Mano Manezes' first game as Brazil's coach and the team's first match since their quarterfinal loss in the 2010 World Cup to Netherlands.

It might have been because 14 of the 23 players that suited up for Brazil were making their first or second international appearance or because Dunga was sent packing with his ill-fated defensive style but for one night, Brazil looked like the fun-loving machine they always seem to be.

Neymar scored in the 28th minute with a header off a cross from Santos. I don't think Neymar could have done much more tonight, everything was perfect including his sweet mohawk.

In the 46th minute, Alexandre Pato, another guy that was left out of South Africa, showed why that was a terrible mistake. He scored after a defensive breakdown by the U.S.' central defense (sound familiar?) and a great through ball by Ramires.

Pato had an earlier goal waved off after he clearly ran over U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Brazil deserved to win by multiple goals but there were some near highlights and solid performances in the loss for the U.S.

Right off the bat, Landon Donovan sneaked through and should have scored in the second minute after a clever touch from Edison Buddle. Donovan was slowed up by a foul but there was no call for a PK.

The second half was even more wide open. Pato should have scored his second goal in the 46th minute after a sweet ball from Robinho. In the 53rd minute, Robinho hit a shot off the post and the U.S. looked to pull one back in the 57th minute when Michael Bradley headed in a cross from Sasha Kljestan.

Neymar got some time and space and nearly scored his second goal in the 61st minute. His stepovers froze the U.S. defender but his shot was stopped by Brad Guzan, who had a superb second half.

In the 70th minute, Neymar was sprung on a breakaway but Guzan came out to cut down the angle and stop it.

Brazil was unlucky, hitting the post once again in the 78th minute with Gonzo's long blast.

Guzan absolutely robbed Eduardo in the 83rd minute from a few feet away.

The U.S. almost snuck one in late when Jonathan Spector's cross was headed by Herculez Gomez. Brazil's goalkeeper Victor deflected it just wide.

Guzan had one more memorable save in the last minute of stoppage time and that was it.

Only time will tell if this was Bob Bradley's last game with the U.S.

For now, I will remember it for Neymar and Pato's brilliance. These guys are absolute studs that will be around for a long, long time.

Still crazy after all these years

It's probably a few years too late but Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Mourinho have reportedly been reunited once again: this time at Real Madrid where the former tries to keep his career going and the latter begins his latest coaching stint.

The pair were together at Porto in their native Portugal before Mourinho took over at Chelsea and brought in one of his favorite defenders.

Carvalho has agreed to a two-year deal worth approximately eight million pounds.

A club statement read: "Chelsea Football Club can confirm it has agreed terms with Real Madrid for the transfer of Ricardo Carvalho. The transfer is subject to a medical and the player agreeing personal terms. Chelsea would like to thank Riccy for his six years of service, and we wish him well in his future career."

At the weekend, Jose Mourinho suggested that Carvalho's advancing years meant he was unlikely to link up once again with the defender, who under the new Real coach won the 2004 Champions League with Porto and two Premier League titles with Chelsea.

However, Real saw their bid to sign Inter Milan right-back Maicon collapse and while Benfica's David Luiz and AC Milan's Thiago Silva were alternative targets, they have turned to Carvalho in an effort to improve their defence.

Carvalho, who joined Chelsea from Porto in the summer of 2004 for a fee of £19.85 million, recently claimed he has been given permission to leave Stamford Bridge and that he would go to Madrid "swimming or running", such is his desire to be reunited with Mourinho.

The Portugal international picked up a third Premier League title last season but has seen his first-team chances reduce in recent seasons, with Brazilian defender Alex finding favour under Guus Hiddink and then Carlo Ancelotti.

If Carvalho does complete his move to Real then he will join Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Deco and Juliano Belletti in leaving Stamford Bridge this summer.

I'm Portuguese, Mourinho is my favorite manager in soccer and I was a big Carvalho fan when he was at Stamford Bridge. However, I'm a realist and I realize that he probably won't have much of a role at Real Madrid and therefore, this will not end well.

Bob Bradley: a coach facing an uncertain future

Tomorrow night when the U.S. men's national team takes on Brazil at the New Meadowlands, what happens on the field is quickly becoming a mere subplot to what will happen with U.S. head coach Bob Bradley.

Not only is he facing an uncertain future with the U.S. team, now there are plenty of rumors (coming out of England) that he might be in line for the vacated Aston Villa post.

His contract with the U.S. is up in December and he's supposed to have a converstation with the U.S. soccer federation after the Brazil exhibition.

"I think some general starting points were laid out and I think it was agreed at that time that with this game coming up so quickly that it just made sense to use the starting points," he said Monday. "Both sides, you know, could think a little it about what was laid on the table and then we could pick up following the game."

British media speculated Monday that Bradley would be considered for the Aston Villa job that opened when Martin O'Neill quit Monday, five days ahead of the club's opener.

"I've said over and over as well that [I'm] always excited about new and different challenges," Bradley said. "Certainly coaching in Europe at some point is something that I would love to do. At the same time I also consider it a challenge when you finish one cycle and begin the process of working on another one."

Bradley said he never made direct contract with Fulham about its job, another one British media had speculated he would be considered for. Mark Hughes was hired after Roy Hodgson quit the Cottagers to become Liverpool's manager.

"People spoke to Fulham on my behalf," Bradley said. "I did not actually speak to anyone at Fulham."

Bradley is still firmly entrenched on the job but this story also noted who might be waiting in the wings (fingers crossed) should he be replaced: Juergen Klinsmann.

Shimer and I talked about that dream scenario tonight and we both believe Klinsmann would take the U.S. to new levels by focusing on improving the U.S. youth programs and just the structure of soccer for our best and brightest.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Bradley is still the U.S. coach until further notice. Like we say with his players, we want to see them compete at the highest level (ie. abroad) so it would also be great to see a U.S. coach try his luck overseas in the best soccer league in the world: the EPL.

U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan thinks Bradley deserves a shot in England.

Guzan, the backup to Brad Friedel on Aston Villa, said O'Neill's decision was a surprise. Guzan thinks Bradley is up to managing in the Premier League.

"He's obviously a good manager," Guzan said. "When you're at that level and you've put in good performances, it's going to go noticed by big clubs all around the world. And so for him, obviously I'm sure he's honored by being put in the mix.

Take a number: Bayern Munich hates the French too

No professional sport in the world has quite the same dynamic as soccer in the sense that club teams hate seeing their players compete for their home country and vice versa. Players are investments and only bad things can happen (in the clubs' minds) when the players leave them.

Along those lines came news today that Bayern Munich won't release its star Franck Ribery for an upcoming hearing by the French soccer federation on the national team's disaster at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The club complained Monday that it "had to learn from the media" of plans by the federation to summon Ribery and others to Paris for a hearing Aug. 17.

The German champion said that FIFA rules oblige it only to release players for competitive matches on the international soccer calendar.

Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge informed French federation president Fernand Duchaussoy of the decision in writing, Bayern said in a statement.

"It cannot be the case that the French federation arbitrarily hauls Franck Ribery out of his commitments at Bayern Munich," Rummenigge said. "The club's preparations for the new Bundesliga season now have priority over the French federation's processing of the World Cup."

The club said Ribery would be playing a German Cup match against Germania Windeck on Aug. 16 and would start preparing the following day for the season's first Bundesliga match, against 2009 champion Wolfsburg on Aug. 20.

The French federation opened a disciplinary case last Friday against Ribery and four others who went on strike at the World Cup -- Nicolas Anelka, Eric Abidal, Jeremy Toulalan and captain Patrice Evra.

Don't ask me why this hearing is happening so long after the World Cup, when clubs are clearly gearing up for their long campaigns. Then again, who else would this whole situation happen to but the French?

Wolfgang Sidka, come on down

Iraq agreed to terms with a new coach today, German Wolfgang Sidka.

According to the Iraqi Olympic committee, he signed a one-year deal for $500,000.

Committee spokesman Mouanis Abdullah says Sidka will hold his first training session next month.

Iraq is the defending Asia Cup champion, but has struggled on and off the field recently. A dispute over who should run the soccer federation led to a missed deadline to elect new leaders. FIFA gave Iraqi officials an extra year in office to prepare for elections.

Monday, August 9, 2010

No one can blame O'Neill for leaving Villa

Marin O'Neill is one of the best coaches in the English Premier League or should I say was. Now the former Aston Villa boss, O'Neill vacated his post today resigning due to the club's perplexing strategy to continue selling off its top talents.

A year ago Villa sold Gareth Barry, the team's captain, to Manchester City. Now it appears they will do the same with James Milner set to make the same switch, and with that comes the news that Ashley Young - a brilliant young forward - is also being scouted for a potential transfer move.

It's too bad because O'Neill had this young side ready to do great things had the team not only been kept together but made a few positive moves instead of negative ones. After finishing in 11th place his first season with the team four years ago, Villa finished in sixth place the last three seasons and were knocking at the door of the Champions League top four teams threatening to become one of England's great clubs again.

Villa is not only one of the oldest teams in England they are one of the most storied having won seven EPL titles, seven FA Cups, and one European Cup in 1981-82 which is now the Champions League. Villa are just one of four English teams to win European Cup/Champions League title.

And if you look at the Villa roster they have some nice pieces with Brad Friedel in net, maybe still the best keeper in England, the previously mentioned Ashley Young and James Milner, Richard Dunn in the back, the speedster Gabriel Agbonlahor (my favorite name in England), Nigel Reo-Coker, John Carew, and a few others.

Villa were a club that could have knocked off one of the big four or competed with Manchester City and Tottenham for that elusive fourth spot in the Champions League, but now it appears to me that they are taking several steps back instead of moving forward.

Chelsea look old and Mexico has a better young forward than the U.S.

OK so I've been following Manchester United in a few of their preseason games because they made a nice little trip through the states playing MLS teams as well as the MLS All-Stars.

Yesterday Man U essentially opened the English Premier League season with a 3-1 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield - a game between the previous season's league champs and FA Cup winners, or if one team won the double as Chelsea did last season the previous season's league runner's up in this case Man U.

Anyway a couple of side notes I wanted to address.

Michael Essien is finally back and healthy, and he looked very good for Chelsea playing the role that Michael Ballack had assumed before Chelsea did not re-sign him after last season. By the way can we put out an APB for Ballack, the only news I had heard about him in recent weeks since his ankle injury in the FA Cup final that ruled him out of the World Cup was that he wanted to get his captaincy back for the German team when he was fit. I had to dig deep into research to find out he had decided to return to the club that made him famous, Bayer Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga.

I also have to say that I think Mexico's Javier Hernandez or Chicharito as it says on the back of his shirt meaning "Little Green Pea," right now is a better forward prospect than Jozy Altidore, which does not bode well for the U.S. as it tries to hold onto its dominance in the CONCALF region. Chicharito has been marvelous in his brief preseason career with Man U scoring a couple of goals in the team's American expedition, including one in the MLS All-Star game, and yesterday he scored the second goal vs. Chelsea, albeit an awkward one. He is fast on the ball, confident, and from what I've seen of him during the World Cup and 3-4 games with Man U is that he has a much better work rate than Jozy, something I have always been critical of him for. I think Chicharito is going to get a lot of playing time at Man U right away, he looks to be the second or third choice forward on this team already. Meanwhile Jozy, about a year and a half younger than Hernandez, is struggling to latch onto a club in Europe. His first season after Villarreal bought him he was loaned twice. Last year he had somewhat of a disappointing spell with Hull City in the EPL, and now he may finally play with Villarreal in La Liga as he did score against the very good team from Turkey in Besiktas. Only time will tell who will have a better career, but right now Chicharito has looks to have the inside track to greatness.

My last point and what I really want to talk about is that Chelsea are an aging team, and I think this could be the last hurrah for many of these players. It was very surprising to me that they made no major moves in the summer transfer window, in fact their biggest buy was former Liverpool player Yossi Benayoun - a player brought into essentially replace Joe Cole.

Look at the core nucleus of Chelsea and you will see a club that is pretty old: John Terry 30 in December, Didier Drogba is 32, Nicolas Anelka is 31, Frank Lampard is 32, Florent Malouda is 30, Ashley Cole will be 30 in December, Ricardo Carvalho is 32, Michael Essien is 28 and is coming off a bad knee injury.

Now you may not think 30 is that old for an athlete, but as I mentioned in a recent post 27 is considered the prime year in a soccer player's career. Consider most top flight players start playing professionally between 18-20, and that once they reach first-team action they play a nearly 10-month long season. You thought MLB had a long year, these guys are going at it through tough European winters, 40-game league seasons, whatever domestic tournaments their clubs are playing in, whatever European tournaments their clubs are playing in, and then they have international duty. Then you maybe have June and July to relax, if your team is not touring a country like many clubs did this summer, and then you're right back at it. The schedule is brutally grueling.

Chelsea to me are beginning to look like a team that are showing its age. They've lost four straight preseason games, including the only one that really mattered, yesterday's community shield, and they have no real reinforcements on the way.

Now did they look terrible yesterday? No, but Manchester United looked better and more youthful. Consider Man U have players that are entering their prime looking better and better each season, guys like Wayne Rooney, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Chicharito, Darren Fletcher, and two players that I think are going to make a big splash this season the Brazilian twins Rafael and Fabio. Are there players getting old on Man U as well? Yes, Paul Scholes is no spring chicken at nearly 36, but he gave up playing international football at an early age. Ryan Giggs is also nearly 37, Edwin Van Der Sar is 40, Rio Ferdinand is 32, Park Ji-Sung and Patrice Evra are each 29. But from what I can tell the Man U youth players are better than Chelsea's. The Red Devils have players like Darren Gibson and Federico Macheda coming through the ranks making splashes, while I can't name one Chelsea youngster that has done the same.

I think Chelsea will continue to compete for the EPL title this year, but I don't see how this team as currently constituted competes for what Roman Abramovich has desired most since Jose Mourinho left - a Champions League title. The one thing they do have are Abramovich's deep pockets to go make some good buys, but the former Russian oil tycoon is no longer the biggest fish in the sea with Manchester City's owners far dwarfing Abramovich's fortune and Liverpool looking now to become the richest team in the world with a Chinese businessman looking to buy the club.

So again I say this might be the last rodeo ride for guys like Terry and Lampard to get something done before this team is for all intents and purposes blowed up (Michael Holley quote).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Altidore scores for Villareal

Sometimes you have to step back and remember that Jozy Altidore is still only 20 years old (born Nov. 6, 1989).

He has all the potential to be one of the greatest players in U.S. men's national team history when it's all said and done so long as he continues to develop and gets meaningful minutes for good clubs.

The sunny news out of Spain today was that Altidore scored for Villareal in their 2-2 exhibition tie vs. Besiktas (a Turkish club).

Altidore scored with a right-footed volley from six yards out off a cross. It was in the 79th minute and it was the tying strike.

He'll be in the lineup for the U.S. on Tuesday when they play Brazil in the highly-anticipated friendly at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

I think we can all agree that we'd like nothing more than to see this be the beginning of a beast mode season for Jozy with Villareal and the U.S.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hometown boy not going home et

Cesc Fabregas went public finally stating that he will be staying at Arsenal this season. My favorite player on my favorite team, however, also intimidated that the allure to come home to his home club where he began his career was almost too much to turn down.

Before the World Cup he asked the two clubs to settle where he would end up before the tournament started so that the pressure would not be weighing on him while he was playing for Spain. That did not happen, but he still was able to help Spain win lift its first Jules Rimmet trophy providing the game-winning assist to Iniesta in extra time of the final.

Fabregas statement today was very classy admitting he essentially asked to go back home to Barca, his hometown and most likely the greatest team in the world. However, he also stated that he owes plenty to Arsenal and especially Arsene Wenger, who helped him reach the levels that he has gotten to now as the 23-year-old superstar captain of the North London team.

Fabregas has five years left on his current contract and Barcelona only ponied up somewhere in the region of £30 million, and offer Wenger was unwilling to accept. Surely Fabregas was worth far more than that with David Villa (6 years older) collecting a fee of somewhere near 42 mill Euros, a year before Ibrahimovic being worth Samuel Eto'o and another cool 40 mill Euros. Fabregas is entering the prime of his career.

I will not be surprised to see him go next summer, but Barcelona will have to be willing to probably come up with a fee closer to £50 mill.

The picture is starting to come into focus

I've long thought Kaka to be over-rated, a very nice player and someone that certainly reached the pinnacle of his career when he helped AC Milan win the Champions League in 2007. He was the best player on the best team, which is why he won all the hardware he won that season including the FIFA Player of the Year award, although I thought at the time Cristiano Ronaldo was still better than him.

He didn't have as dismal a tournament as some would make out, 3 assists in four games helping Brazil to the quarterfinals. In fact as Austin and I stated before the tournament we hated the team that Dunga had selected not including people like Pato and Ronaldinho and not placing Dani Alves in the starting lineup. I'll put far more blame on the selections and style Dunga chose to play than what Kaka did or did not do in South Africa.

That being said he Kaka certainly was not at his explosive best. When Kaka is in top for he is as graceful as any player on the planet seemingly gliding by players, meticulously finding teammates, and making difficult goals look effortless. That Kaka did not show up at the 2010 World Cup, and as Rich said yesterday he just had surgery that will keep him out 3-4 months, surgery on his MCL.

Anyway that buy is looking worse and worse. They say soccer players hit their prime at age 27, Kaka just recently turned 28. Kaka has been a part of 3 World Cups for Brazil, not many players play in that many tournaments because of the wear on the body through the massive travel - you don't get much time off for your body to recover after long taxing seasons. And Kaka has been playing at the highest level in Europe with AC Milan and now Madrid since 2003.

Like I said Kaka has not looked right since 2007, he's got plenty of miles on his legs and now he has a bum wheel. He may still have a little magic left in those brilliant Brazilian feet, however, I would guess it will be far more fleeting and much more inconsistent.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Altidore & Gonzalez in, Jones and Marshall out for U.S.-Brazil friendly

Strange stuff for the U.S. men's national team as they switched up two players for the roster against Brazil next week.

After being named to the initial 23-man roster yesterday, Jermaine Jones and Chad Marshall had the rug pulled out from under them with Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez replacing them.

Jones had been set to make his U.S. debut after playing three exhibitions for Germany and being approved for a switch last year by FIFA. The U.S. Soccer Federation said Thursday that after accepting the invitation, he decided to remain with his club ahead of its opener at Hamburg on Aug. 21. Jones missed last season because of a shin injury.

"I would like to thank Bob Bradley and the U.S. federation greatly for my first official invitation," Jones said in a statement released by his agent. "It is an honor that I have been working towards for over a year, and while I initially felt like I was ready to make my first appearance, it is also extremely important to me that I am 100 percent fit for my first national team game and that I make a good impression on the manager and my teammates.

"I hope to receive another invitation and finally fulfill my goal of playing with the U.S. national team in the very near future."

Gonzalez, last year's Major League Soccer rookie of the year, could make his international debut.

Altidore, who has nine goals in 29 appearances, returned to Spain's Villarreal this week after being loaned to Hull last season.

Ticket sales for the match at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., have topped 58,000 for the match, the first for both nations on the road to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Personally, I am disappointed that we won't see Jones yet but if he thinks he's not ready, that's understandable. Chad Marshall doesn't do anything for me and while I love Jozy Altidore, it didn't break my heart to not see him on this roster since we'll get our fill of him for the next 10+ years.

Omar Gonzalez is an intriguing wild card and since I don't follow the MLS at all, I honestly had never heard of him before today. Sad, I know.

Kaka out 3-4 months following knee surgery

It has not been a good few months for Kaka and it just got even worse.

The Brazil and Real Madrid star midfielder will be out for the next 3-4 months following knee surgery.

The Spanish club said Thursday that Kaka left the team's camp in Los Angeles to have the operation on his meniscus in Antwerp, Belgium.

Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said "if we lose him for some time it's no drama, we have other players, but he's one of the best in the world."

The team said a routine medical exam performed on Kaka after the Brazil international returned from vacation revealed a problem with his left knee.

Hindsight being 20/20 as always, perhaps this is why he wasn't up to his usual sublime standards at the 2010 World Cup. Or maybe he just didn't play well, who knows? Regardless, hopefully he gets better and can go back to being himself, an out of this world talent for both his club and country.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Just call me the Ghost

So I got a text from Rich last night, "where you been man? I know you were in Ohio, but you've been a ghost lately."

Truthfully there's no real explanation, I've just been stuck in a rut and haven't gotten myself back into a rhythm since the World Cup ended. I definitely needed a little time there to recharge the batteries, but Rich has been completely carrying the team as we begin to near the new European campaign. Well starting today is where I get out of my Big Papi like 2-45 April slump and get back on the horse.

We don't know how much longer Bob Bradley will be in charge of the Men's National Team, his contract expires in December. I honestly have to applaud Bradley, and maybe even give him a standing ovation because I think he's done a sensational job building the team back up after their terrible World Cup tournament in 2006 under Bruce Arena.

I for one wanted Jurgen Klinsmann to take over the position after his brilliant performance guiding Germany to third place in that same 2006 tournament, but instead we got Bradley - a man at the time I did not know much about other than the fact a somewhat mixed performance as a coach in the MLS.

Yet Bradley has done yeoman's work guiding the team to the 2007 CONCAF Golf Cup title, a shocking runner's up place at the 2009 Confederation's Cup in which the team upset then No. 1 ranked Spain and nearly pulled of another monumental upset over Brazil, and then most recently helped the U.S. win its group stage for the first time in 80 years. You can't deny all of those were fabulous.

Additionally, Bradley has been responsible for capping many young players and sticking with them. Players like Michael Bradley, Charlie Davies, Jozy Altidore all received their first senior team caps under Bradley and these are a few of the guys that will be the core nucleus for the U.S. for the next couple of World Cups.

That practice will continue next week likely as Jermaine Jones was called into the fold as part of the 18-man roster for the U.S. match against Brazil in the New Meadowlands. After FIFA allowed Jones to switch alliances to the U.S. (his father is an American) after having made three appearances for Germany, he likely would have been a contributor in South Africa had he not broken his shin this past season. But it will be interesting to see what the defensive Schalke midfeilder could potentially matched up with Michael Bradley in the middle as that combination could be the future center midfield tandem for the U.S.

Three other players were picked that were cut off the 30-man preliminary roster before the World Cup: Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Alejandro Bedoja (Orebro), and Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht). I will be very interested how the 25-year-old Marshall plays considering the entire makeup of the defense could and should be different entering the next World Cup, and Marshall was likely the last cut off the defense before the tournament. Only really Steve Cherundolo had any semblance of a good tournament in the back in South Africa, point in fact he was terrific, but he would be 35 at the start of the 2014 World Cup, so he probably won't make it.

The last 14 guys on the roster are all World Cup players, which I am happy to see. Brazil may be sending a young team, but this young team is filled with guys that are already established stars like Pato and Robinho and potential future stars like Santos striker Neymar and Manchester United defender Rafael.

Here's the breakdown:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tim Howard (Everton, England)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Saint-Etienne, France), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA),Steve Cherundolo (Hannover, Germany), Clarence Goodson (IK Start, Norway), Chad Marshall (Columbus), Jonathan Spector (West Ham, England)

Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro, Sweden), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach, Germany), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Maurice Edu (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus, Denmark), Jermaine Jones (Schalke, Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht, Belgium)

Forwards: Edson Buddle (Los Angeles), Robbie Findley (Salt Lake), Herculez Gomez(Pachuca, Mexico)