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Friday, October 22, 2010

(spits out lager) Rooney signs 5-year extension with Man. U?

The latest development in the neverending drama with Wayne Rooney is perhaps the most surprising twist: after bashing Manchester United and showing every indication that he was on the next jet out of town, he signed a 5-year extension to remain there until June 2015.

Haha, what?

Only days after announcing he was prepared to leave the club he joined in 2004 because it was not aggressive enough in acquiring players, the star England striker said he was persuaded to stay following talks with manager Alex Ferguson and the club's American owners, the Glazer family.

The contract extension makes him the highest-paid player in team history and keeps him at United until June 2015.

"I'm signing a new deal in the absolute belief that the management, coaching staff, board and owners are totally committed to making sure United maintains its proud winning history, which is the reason I joined the club in the first place," Rooney said in a statement.

Not surprisingly, his manager Sir Alex Ferguson is ecstatic to have his mercurial star sticking around.

"They've convinced me this is where I belong," Rooney said. "I said ... the manager's a genius and it's his belief and support that have convinced me to stay. I felt I had to get my point across and we finally came to an agreement."

Ferguson signed Rooney six years ago for then more than $40 million. Rooney helped the club to Premier League titles in 2007, '08 and '09, and played on the team that won the Champions League in 2008. He was England's player of the year last season after scoring 34 goals in all competitions.

"I said to the boy that the door is always open and I'm delighted Wayne has agreed to stay," Ferguson said. "Sometimes, when you're in a club, it can be hard to realize just how big it is and it takes something like the events of the last few days to make you understand.

"I think Wayne now understands what a great club Manchester United is. This is a big day for Manchester United."

I would bet anything that he didn't craft it himself, since he's an idiot, but Rooney's publicist/agent/manager made a fair assessment of what he has to do moving forward.

"I'm sure the fans over the last week have felt let down by what they've read and seen," Rooney said. "But my position was from concern over the future. It's up to me through my performances to win them over again."

Following this whole saga is making my head spin, no more Rooney talk (about off the field bullshit) until further notice.


If you are between the ages of 20-30, American and you liked soccer at one point, odds are that Brian McBride was one of your favorite players growing up.

That's what makes seeing McBride retire as well so hard to take.

Who could ever forget his clutch goals for the U.S. national team against Portugal and Mexico in 2002 and the elbow he took in the face vs. Italy in 2006?

He also was a mainstay with Fulham and helped them avoid relegation in 2008 after coming back from a bunch of injuries. Fulham fans liked the Yank so much that they named a bar "McBride's" in honor of him at Craven Cottage, their home stadium.

Watching that Mexican match in the middle of the night after I graduated high school, a couple of buddies and I started calling McBride McPride cause he had so much heart.

That sounds pretty lame but it's true and no strikers have ever put the U.S. on the map like McBride.

"I haven't looked at it from that standpoint," McBride said when asked what he wants his legacy to be. "I hope that I've added quality to wherever I've been and also done things in the right way, with class. Hopefully I've been able to pass on a few words of wisdom."

Eddie Lewis & Chris Klein take a bow

As I always say when one of my favorite athlete retires: I am getting old.

The latest to bid adieu to their playing days in the beautiful game are LA Galaxy midfielders Eddie Lewis and Chris Klein (not the American Pie actor), who are done at the end of the MLS season.

Los Angeles is atop the league standings with 17 victories and 56 points. The Galaxy will finish their regular season Sunday against FC Dallas before attempting to win their first MLS Cup since 2005.

The 36-year-old Lewis played for the United States at the World Cup in 2002 and 2006. After starting his MLS career with San Jose from 1996-99, the former UCLA star and Cerritos, Calif., native spent nearly nine years with four different English clubs before joining the Galaxy in August 2008.

"Eddie Lewis is arguably the finest left-sided midfielder in the history of U.S. soccer," said Bruce Arena, Lewis' coach with the Galaxy and on both World Cup teams. "We will miss having him here with us every day, and we thank him for his outstanding contributions to our organization."

Lewis hasn't scored for the Galaxy this season in 12 games, including one start.

This name probably doesn't register with casual fans (but let's be honest if you're reading this, you're a die-hard like us) however Lewis was one of their most underrated players when the U.S. team began to be respected worldwide. He also was a groundbreaker in terms of being an American playing overseas (England).

Klein's 332 regular-season appearances are the fifth-most in MLS history, and he played in a league-record 141 consecutive games. He has scored 49 goals and 69 assists over 13 seasons with Kansas City, Salt Lake and Los Angeles, which acquired him in June 2007.

The 34-year-old Klein has made 22 appearances with the USA, scoring five goals. He has two assists while playing in 10 games for the Galaxy this season, including three starts.

"Chris has established an outstanding legacy in MLS as an All-Star performer, an MLS Cup champion and a key figure in a historical collective bargaining agreement," Arena said. "Through these endeavors, Chris has always exhibited the character and professionalism that he has become synonymous with."

I don't have such distinct memories of Klein with the U.S. team, I associate him more with his MLS career and he's had a fine one in that.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Is this the mug of the next England coach?

Since they are the Chicago Cubs of international soccer (and yes, I coined that), one of the favorite pub games for English national team fans is who will be the next manager.

This revolving door is always spinning since every new face they bring aboard always falls short of unreasonable expectations within the span of a Euro campaign and/or a World Cup.

I give you Carlo Ancelotti, next Three Lions head coach?

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has declared his interest in becoming England boss in the future.

Ancelotti's contract at Stamford Bridge expires in 2012 - just as Fabio Capello is set to step down as England manager - and the 51-year-old would consider taking up the post currently occupied by his fellow Italian.

Asked if he fancied the England job, he said: "Why not? I would like to do it in the future, to have this kind of experience.

"I have never been the coach of a national team. To manage the national team and manage a club is different.

"Maybe [Tottenham manager Harry] Redknapp doesn't like foreign coaches for the national team, but if you ask me about England, I can say 'Why not?'''

Ancelotti, who led the Blues to a Premier League and FA Cup double in his first season in England, was linked with the Italy job earlier this year, but stressed at the time that he had no intention of replacing Marcello Lippi after the World Cip.

"I am not interested in the national team," Ancelotti said in March. "I prefer to remain in London at Chelsea and lead the team to a Champions League final."

If you've paid attention at all, you've probably noticed that I'm a Chelsea fan through and through. However, if you think I support this notion of Ancelotti as England head coach, you're nuts.

In most cases, I don't believe that foreign managers can do the best job of coaching national team players. Cultural differences, not to mention language barriers and playing styles all come into effect when you hire someone that isn't of a certain nationality.

Furthermore, Ancelotti is a figurehead at Chelsea and if he actually had to do some real work with the English national team, I think he'd fall flat on his face like his boy Fabio Capello.

Harry Redknapp can often sound like the stereotypical English crank but in this case, I think he's correct. As long as he's not promoting himself as the English head coach, the Tottenham coach is onto something: no more foreigners!

Rooney wants out of Man. U

You've got to hand it to Wayne Rooney, with David Beckham's career quickly washing away in Hollywood (the site of so many failed dreams), the Manchester United striker is really carrying the English newspapers, tabloids and gossip websites.

Like any good star, Rooney's exploits on the field these days are far outweighed by his neverending list of transgressions off the pitch.

After starting Saturday's game vs. West Brom on the bench and failing to help his club recover for a win (they tied 2-2), Rooney wants out of Manchester United (if you believe widespread reports).

It is said that well-placed United sources are suggesting that Rooney is refusing to sign a new contract to stay at Old Trafford and that irreconcilable differences with manager Sir Alex Ferguson are said to be at the root of his desire to leave the club he joined in 2004.

Rooney was a mere substitute, and an ineffective replacement when coming on with just 18 minutes to play of Saturday's 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion. That team selection came after Rooney had denied in midweek that he has been suffering the ankle injury that Ferguson had stated was the reason behind his repeated absence from United's line-up.

The 24-year-old is yet to reignite the form that saw him win the PFA Player of the Year award in the 2009-10 season, and has looked rather more akin to the ailing figure of the summer's World Cup finals. He has also been under a heavy media glare after tabloid revelations about his private life were splashed across newspapers in September.

The Daily Mail suggests that Rooney was telling England colleagues before the Euro 2012 qualifier with Montenegro that his time at United is coming to an end, and that Rooney has been unhappy about his non-selection against Fulham, Everton, Sunderland and Valencia.

Ferguson is no stranger to fall-outs with his leading stars, and, with Rooney having just over eighteen months on his contract then it is highly possible that if any such rift continues then he may even be sold in January 2011.

Sunday morning reports planted the seeds of such a schism between Rooney and the club he has repeatedly said he would like to stay at for the rest of his career before an official United statement dismissed the reports as "nonsense".

Where he would end up is another story for another cold English winter night.

Prepare to hate this man (we think), starting tomorrow or something

Not many things drive me to blind hate but anything having to do with the Mexican men's national soccer team makes that very short list.

Tomorrow, the U.S.' most bitter rival will possibly/definitely announce a new coach: Jose Manuel De La Torre.

Victor Manuel Vucetich, the coach of Mexican club Monterrey Rayados and the favorite for the national team job, pulled out of the selection process Saturday for personal reasons.

Like many things in Mexican soccer, however, it's not quite so clear cut.

Mexican club owners who vote for the national team coach must now decide whether to hand the job to De La Torre, considered the second-choice candidate, or opt for more debating while other names are considered.

The national team has suffered a meltdown since losing to Argentina in the second round of the World Cup and the uncertainty surrounding the new coach is hardly the ideal way to start over.

The defeat to Argentina in South Africa was followed by the resignation of Javier Aguirre, with two interim coaches -- Enrique Meza and Efrain Flores -- taking the reins.

A group of 11 players, including World Cup captain Rafael Marquez, then threatened to go on strike in protest at national team director Nestor De La Torre's decision to fine them for holding an all-night party in Monterrey following a friendly match with Colombia in September.

Two players -- Carlos Vela of Arsenal and Efrain Juarez of Celtic -- were suspended for six months after the same incident. The players eventually turned up for a friendly with Venezuela in October, but Nestor De La Torre resigned from his post hours before the game.

The team has only won once in its last four exhibition matches.

As if that storyline wasn't juicy enough, there is a nice subplot of nepotism since De La Torre seemingly isn't getting this job just based solely on his own merits.

In a curious twist, Jose Manuel De La Torre -- coach of Mexican club Toluca and Nestor's brother -- now seems the only viable option to rebuild El Tri's fortunes after Vucetich withdrew.

"Let's wait until the federation itself makes it official, but thank God I'm calm," said Jose De La Torre. "I didn't know what was going on with him."

Before pulling out, the experienced Vucetich -- known as "King Midas" for his success in the Mexican domestic league -- was considered the preferred choice.

"The family aspect is not an issue that changes overnight and I've always said I work for the family," Vucetich said. "You are required to spend a long time with the national team and that would be complicated for me.

"I'm conscious that it was a great opportunity, but I don't want to wake up tomorrow and regret anything where my children are concerned ... there are more important things for me and my priority right now is them and that's why I took this decision."

If De La Torre is picked, the national job will cap a rapid rise through the coaching ranks.

De La Torre started his career as head coach in the 2006 Clausura tournament and already has three national titles to his name, building his Toluca side into arguably the most consistent performer in the Mexican league in recent years.

"The directors will decide the timetable, let's wait and see what happens and that's all, we're all waiting," De La Torre said. "I feel ready, if I didn't, I would have dropped out."

This whole strange saga South of the border makes Bob Bradley's situation look much more bland in comparison and that's a good thing.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

DeMerit in the MLS? Sure, why not?

Besides having one of the most inspiring stories (that is ripe for a Disney movie) of any international player that I know of, U.S. men's national team defender Jay DeMerit can still play (as evidenced in the 2010 World Cup when he played every minute for the U.S.).

However, he is currently unemployed after his contract at Watford ended in May and he's contemplating a final tour in MLS.

Various reports had linked DeMerit with English Premier League side Everton, as well as Wolfsburg of the German Bundesliga.

But given the tepid state of the player market in Europe, DeMerit indicated via e-mail that signing with MLS is now his preferred option.

"Since playing back in the U.S. was always something I wanted to do, and have yet to do, it seems like the time is right," he said.

Without delving into specifics, DeMerit indicated that several MLS sides have shown interest. Earlier reports had expansion side Vancouver chasing the U.S. defender, and given that the Whitecaps occupy the top spot in the league's allocation rankings for U.S. international players, they would appear to have the inside track.

It is by no means a certainty that he'll end up in British Columbia. Should DeMerit prefer to play elsewhere, Vancouver could always trade the top spot in exchange for draft picks or players.

DeMerit spent the early portion of his career with the Chicago Fire's entry in the USL Premier Development League, which comprises the fourth tier of U.S. soccer, and a return to the Midwest would appear to suit the Green Bay, Wisc., native. A Fire spokesman denied that the team was pursuing DeMerit, however. DeMerit also didn't completely rule out the possibility of staying in Europe.

"Until I sign a contract with any club, of course I'm open to anything," he said. "But my main focus at the moment is
coming back to the MLS. I know things can always change in a second in this sport."

He is one of my favorite U.S. players in recent memory based on his toughness and fearless style so I would be psyched to see him play for the New England Revolution and to a lesser degree another MLS franchise (Vancouver or Chicago both make perfect sense).

No Diggler for a month, sorry ladies

More bad news for one of our favorites here at Red, White and Blue Army: Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt will be out for three to four weeks with the ankle injury he suffered playing for Holland against Sweden on Tuesday.

In a further blow for Roy Hodgson, defender Daniel Agger had to come off in the first half of Denmark's clash with Cyprus, throwing his comeback from a groin problem in doubt ahead of the weekend's crucial Merseyside derby against Everton.

Dutch forward Kuyt was taken to hospital in an ambulance after landing awkwardly following an aerial challenge in the first half. Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said he feared the injury was "serious" and that initial predictions forecasted a long time on the sidelines for Kuyt. However, the news is better for Liverpool.

"The initial rumours coming out of Holland were that it was going to be a really long injury, maybe months," Hodgson told "But our Doctor and our sports science people are much more optimistic. They think it is more likely to be one month - or if we are lucky three weeks.

"He seriously twisted his ankle with ligament damage and we are going to miss him for some matches that's for sure."

He added: "He does recover very quickly and the thing about Dirk is that he is always anxious to get back on the football field. If it can done in three weeks it will be three. If it can be two he'll do it in two - but we are looking at a lay-off.

"It's disappointing because it is the second time he has gone away with the national team and come back and missed weeks for us."

I can only imagine how crazy Kuyt goes when he's injured and can't get on the field for a prolonged period of time. He's such a cartoonish character when he's playing that he must be a mess right now. Godspeed Dirk!

Benayoun out for six months

Bad news for Chelsea and Israel midfielder Yossi Benayoun, who is now expected to be out six months following surgery on his achille's tendon.

Benayoun suffered a torn calf muscle during the Carling Cup defeat to Newcastle last month. He subsequently joined up with the Israel national side but suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during training, and further tests have revealed the extent of the problem.

A statement on the club's official website read: "Yossi Benayoun will undergo surgery on his Achilles on Monday. The Israeli international returned to the club from international duty last week, and will now be out of action for approximately six months."

Benayoun has yet to start a Premier League game for Chelsea after joining the club from Liverpool in the summer and admitted he was surprised that the club failed to pick up the problem earlier.

"The truth is that this entire situation is very strange," Benayoun said. "I had three MRIs and three ultrasounds and they all said that there was no problem, and it was just a small tear.

"I came to Israel ready to play and they told me it was a big tear. Chelsea were sure it was something small. They have compared all the images and they do not understand how they missed it. They said it is unusual to have such a big tear and not be in terrible pain. Even
now I am not in pain but I cannot take one step by myself until I undergo surgery."

As noted, Benayoun's time with the Blues thus far has been a complete disaster so this injury certainly doesn't help his cause to show he was worth Roman's precious oil money.

Please Bob Bradley let's learn from these mistakes

I'd like to start out by saying Rich hit the nail on the head on just about every point I was going to make from the two U.S. friendlies over the last week.

Jermaine Jones introduction to the MNT was easily the highlight over the course of one thrilling draw and one of the more boring 0-0 games you could watch. I wish Jones was the playmaker that he showed on the brilliant lefty chip pass to Jozy Altidore, but the truth of the matter is Jones is another in the long line of fantastic U.S. defensive center mids -- a point I will touch on in my next post. Jones plays for Schalke, a perennial top-10 team in the Bundesliga (although they are not doing too well right now), and he is known for his toughness and bone-crunching tackles. There was plenty of evidence of that in the two games for the U.S. including the challenge he made just before he assisted Altidore.

What I love about Jones is the fact that he starts for a team like Schalke, plays big minutes, and is one of their best players. The U.S. needs more players that start on teams in the Big 4 of Europe -- La Liga, Italian Serie A, the English Premier League, and the Bundesliga. If you at the best 4 or 5 players from the U.S. in the World Cup they all started or played bigger clubs in those leagues -- Landon Donovan for Everton before returning to MLS, Steve Cherundolo for Hanover 96 in the Bundesliga, Tim Howard for Everton, Clint Dempsey for Fulham, Michael Bradley for Borussia Monchengladbach.

Stuart Holden absolutely showed that he is the future of this team when guys like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will be in their 30s come the next World Cup, Holden will be perhaps the biggest creative influence on the field for the U.S.

Jozy Alitdore continues to disappoint me. He finally, finally scored for the U.S., but he bungled a host of other easy opportunities against Poland and really for my money should have scored a hat trick no problem. In the game vs. Columbia I will mostly blame the formation Bob Bradley instituted -- a terrible 4-3-3 -- and the awful service he got from what I saw in the first half. I'll admit I turned off the game before the end of the first half because the game was so dull, but the U.S. were trying to playing long balls for the majority of the first half into Jozy and count on him to hold the ball up for a couple of seconds against 2 and 3 defenders - shockingly it didn't work.

I think the 4-2-3-1 could be a formation the U.S. look to go to in the future, however, let hope we don't see any semblance of the 4-3-3 in terms of formation or the players that were slotted into those positions for quite some time. The MNT looked good attacking wise against Poland, with the exception of about a 20 minute period in the first half where the Poles dominated and scored. I think the players in the U.S. pool right now fit the parts necessary to play a 4-2-3-1, the question is where will the defenders come from, but that formation could give the U.S. more cover on defense.

The 4-3-3 on the other hand looked terrible, as was talked about in this ESPN article, that experiment looked terrible. The U.S. failed to sustain any sort of regular attack and Columbia was not exactly a world-class opponent. Brek Shea looked over-matched and nervous. And the thing that I really did not like about that game was that Bradley tried to force three players that are essentially the same player in the 3 in the midfield - Jones at left mid, Maurice Edu at center mid, and Michael Bradley at right mid. Ultimately that team became too defensive and slipped into more of a 4-5-1 where Altidore was left alone without enough support much of the time.

Onyewu and the center of the defense looked shaky at best, terrible at worst again. Guch has to find a club in Europe where he can play, a point a whole-heartedly agreed with the announcers on. It's nice that Guch offered to play a year for free at AC Milan after he tore his Patella Tendon and had to miss essentially all of last season, BUT, and I emphasize BUT, HE HAS TO PLAY! He hasn't touched the pitch in a game this season and there's no reason to believe he will any time soon.

AND (sorry for the caps, but I need to hit these points home) Maurice Edu cannot play center defense. Edu tried the role in the U.S. friendly with the Czech Republic that Rich and I attended and he was absolutely exposed. Against Poland, Edu was better but not by much. He still looked lost back there and it's not surprising -- he doesn't play that position at all during the year, he plays defensive center mid for Rangers and that's where he looked very good for the U.S. during the World Cup.

Lastly I haven't touched on it at all but I was vastly dismayed and perturbed that again the U.S. Federation again failed to get the coach that would bring them to the next level -- Jurgen Klinsmann. Bradley has done a nice job for the U.S. to fill the void since Bruce Arena was let go, but traditionally coaches aren't given more than one term because they get stale and are seen as lame duck pushovers as Rich eluded to before.

See Arena, his tactics were fresh and vibrant going into the 2002 World Cup, but at a time when the U.S. was seemingly on the verge of a breakthrough in 2006 despite being slotted in the group of death with Italy, the Czech Republic, and Ghana, Arena's folded electing to play far too conservatively against teams he could ill afford to concede any ground. As a result the U.S. collapsed under the pressure.

I worry after another terrific WC performance -- which realistically should have been better -- that the U.S. could take another step back in 2014 when players like Dempsey, Howard, and Donovan will be the old guard, each into their 30s as a I previously mentioned, an age when soccer players are considered over the hill.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Must not see TV

Other than Rays-Rangers Game 5 of the ALDS last night, there really wasn't anything on TV in terms of sports besides the U.S. vs. Colombia friendly in Chester, PA.

I watched bits and pieces of the soccer game (mostly for the site) between the baseball game and when I saw it ended 0-0 I should have just caught my losses there.

However like a drunk or drug addict, I couldn't say no and I found myself watching it last night at home while Shimer simultaneously watched it at his house. I made the mistake of watching the second half while he made the wise decision to turn in for the night.

With a new 4-3-3 lineup and five changes from the Poland game, it had all the makings of an ugly, forgettable match and it lived up (down?) to those low expectations.

Forward Brek Shea and defender Eric Lichaj both made their U.S. debuts, probably the most interesting aspect of the last U.S. home match of 2010. Shea looked completely overmatched and was rightly subbed out at halftime.

Lichaj came on to start the second half and the young Aston Villa product looked very promising in his short 45 minute spell. He wasn't afraid to go forward, as best evidenced by his great cross in the 86h minute to Jozy Altidore that the striker headed right to Colombia's goalkeeper. Is he the answer for a U.S. defense that continues to look for answers? It's impossible to make that grand statement yet but his debut makes him worthy of many more looks.

Oguchi Onyewu captained the team for the first time, foreshadowing how many of the good players were back with their clubs (Bocanegra, Cherundolo) or started out on the bench (Dempsey, Howard).

One of the few U.S. players that stood out besides Lichaj was my man Stuart Holden. During the broadcast, it was noted that he leads the EPL in tackles and while he's not a dirty player by any means, he clearly excels in the physical rigors that the EPL demands.

The U.S. is now 3-9-4 all-time vs. Colombia; they last beat Colombia in 2007 in Copa America. The last U.S. match of the calendar year is November 17 back in South Africa.

On the other side, Colombia (one of the top teams of the 1990s-see ESPN'S 30 for 30 "Two Escobars") last made the World Cup in 1998. In qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, they came one point short of Uruguay, who won its playoff vs. Costa Rica then surprised everyone by finishing fourth. I wasn't impressed by Colombia, they lack a goal-scorer (they scored 14 goals in 18 World Cup qualifiers) and any real game-breaking talent. The U.S. should have beat them on most nights.

Michael Parkhurst, the former New England Revolution, was another sub to start the second half. It was his first U.S. appearance in over two years.

Altidore had another uneven game. He cannot take guys on so it was hard to watch him do that multiple times last night and fail. The goal vs. Poland was his 10th with the U.S. but he bungled what was the U.S.' best chance last night: he was offside as he received a free kick pass and then passed it to Michael Bradley (also offside) who scored. He received a yellow for a rough challenge.

Jermaine Jones had a more stable performance after Poland's up and down debut. He was booked late with a yellow for a Colombia flop but I already enjoy the toughness and smarts he brings to what is a loaded U.S. midfield. Looking forward to watching him with Donovan and the full squad. He had a nice ball to Altidore that Jozy couldn't do anything with.

Brad Guzan played goalkeeper and other than an early diving stop, he wasn't forced to do too much.

The U.S. is 0-7-1 in its last eight matches vs. South American teams.

Do yourself a favor and don't watch this game if you still have it on your DVR, frankly it's a waste of your time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jermaine Jones, another piece of the U.S. men's soccer team puzzle

I'm a man of my word so late last night, I watched the U.S. vs. Poland match from Soliders Field in Chicago on Saturday.

As stated before, it ended in a 2-2 tie but I thought I'd share some things I jotted down while I watched what turned out to be a pretty entertaining match in front of a split (half Polish, half U.S.) crowd.

No matter how his career with the U.S. national team ends up, this one will always be remembered for midfielder Jermaine Jones' long-awaited debut for Bob Bradley. He had some highlights: the lovely chip that led to Jozy Altidore's goal and some forgettable moments: failing to clear, leading to the second Polish goal. Shimer and I had a running conversation through text messages while I watched and we agreed that having another guy that plays in the Bundesliga on the team is a good thing. He's used to play at a high, physical level for Schalke and I'm sure he'll play better as he gets more comfortable.

Speaking of Altidore, his goal was great (in the 13th minute) but is it too much to ask to have Jozy shoot at a little higher percentage? In our unofficial count, he had two or three other chances that most above average strikers would bury without problems. Thankfully he's still very young but we do get paranoid about Altidore since Hernandez is tearing it up for Mexico and Manchester United. After a great buildup by Jones, Holdan and Michael Bradley, Altidore smashed one off the crossbar in the 42nd minute then a few moments later, he was free for a header but put it wide.

One of my personal favorites showed up in a big way vs. Poland. Stuart Holden looked great in the midfield, linking up with Altidore and showing the toughness and finesse that he needs with Bolton in the EPL. One of the great unknowns is how much better the US would have been in South Africa with him and or Jones (since both were out with injuries).

Please don't make Maurice Edu a defender. The U.S. defense is still a mess (witness Poland's two laughable goals that were off bad U.S. clearance attempts) but Edu isn't the solution. He's a good midfielder and it's a big adjustment to play in the back. Maurice was burned on a couple plays by Poland, who had serviceable midfielders and forwards but nobody world-class at all.

Oguchi Onyewu continues to be the most frustrating player on the U.S. roster. He has always had the size and power but the big guy still has a brutal touch. His two dual roles of hero and villian were on full blast as his bad header led to the first Poland goal but then he scored in the second half on a great corner by Holden, heading it in. I guess we have to accept him for what he is at this point, Onyewu will never become smoother.

Seeing Bob Bradley on the sidelines for the first time since the U.S. failed to get
Juergen Klinsmann was a disappointing feeling. Sure Bradley improved to 38-21-9 (a fine record) but you have the sense that he's analogous to a lame duck politician. He's good but he won't get you to the next level.

The U.S. had a bunch of chances to score in the last minute as a corner bounced in the box for as long as I can ever remember but nothing came of it. Poland almost put an own goal in but it was saved off the line.

In the end, the 2-2 result was fair since Poland dominated for a stretch in the first half and the U.S. did likewise in the second half before a Polish snipe tied it up.

The U.S. is in Chester, PA tonight to face Colombia in another exhibition. Which reminds me, if you haven't seen the ESPN 30 for 30 about the Colombian soccer team in the 1990s and the defender that was killed, you have to see it. That series for the most part has been terrible but that's the one that they really got right. Powerful stuff.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I agree, being the No. 3 goalkeeper is pretty depressing

You have to admit that Wolves goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann is not stupid.

He sees the writing on the wall: he's 38 with Tim Howard and the emerging Brad Guzan ahead of him on the depth chart for the U.S. men's national team and he realizes that he won't be playing much save for the random friendly or match against a CONCACAF punching bag.

Therefore Hahnemann is considering retiring from international play and can you blame him?

I'm writing this while I watch Brett Favre play beyond pathetic for the Vikings, a great team that he has completely screwed over by coming back from retirement (twice).

The hardest thing to do in life as a pro athlete is to know when to retire and I applaud anyone who does it with grace, at the right time.

No Cherundolo vs. Colombia

We're a little backlogged here at Red, White and Blue Army. I know that the U.S. tied Poland 2-2 on Saturday in a friendly but I haven't watched it yet. Fear not, it's on my DVR!

I'm planning on viewing it tonight when I get home and then I can post some real thoughts. There's some urgency to that since the U.S. is playing Colombia tomorrow night.

Steve Cherundolo won't be in the lineup as he's already been excused to go back to Germany to play for his club team Hannover (he's the captain).

Cherundolo, who played all 90 minutes in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Poland in Chicago, was allowed Monday to go back to Hannover, which is currently third in the Bundesliga and travels to Bayern Munich this weekend. U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra had previously been released to return to Saint-Etienne in France.

Major League Soccer players Brek Shea and Heath Pearce joined the U.S. team after the Poland game, giving coach Bob Bradley 18 players for the exhibition.

Submitting my application to become Charlie Davies' personal driver

When the news broke late last week that Charlie Davies was pulled over in France for speeding (125 mph), I didn't know what to do.

I saw Shimer over the weekend and we both agreed that while we didn't want to talk about this mess of a situation, it is news that's fit to print.

The latest chapter is that Davies was fined along with teammate Jacques Faty, who depending on who you believe was the real driver.

This blog isn't meant as a morality stage but come on Charlie. Whatever the case was with Faty, is it too much to ask to get a driver or assistant to shuttle you around? In light of Davies' brutal car accident last fall, you'd assume that he would ultra sensitive about getting into a car.

U.S. soccer player Charlie Davies was fined $1,040 and his license was suspended by French police because of a speeding violation in which he said a teammate was driving.

Davies was with Sochaux teammate Jacques Faty when they were pulled over in the early hours of Oct. 3 after being clocked at 125 mph in France's Jura region. Faty and Davies have both said Faty was driving, but they switched positions because Faty thought his license was still suspended from a previous speeding infraction.

A French police official, who was not authorized to be publicly identified, said Monday that Davies has been fined. The official said neither player has officially contradicted the original version of events to police.

The 24-year-old Davies was a passenger in a car accident Oct. 13, 2009 in which another passenger died. Davies was left with two broken bones in his right leg, a broken and dislocated left elbow, a broken nose, forehead and eye socket, a ruptured bladder and bleeding on the brain.

He returned to training with Sochaux in March but missed the World Cup and has not played for either Sochaux's first team or the national team since.

Over the weekend, Davies played for Sochaux's reserves in a 2-0 win against Auxerre, while Faty played for Senegal in its 7-0 win over Mauritius in African Cup of Nations qualifying.

"Assisted on game winner today. We won 2-0. My best outing yet!" Davies said on his Twitter account after Sunday's game. "Feeling great and I'm so very close to 1st team action."

Le Progres newspaper reported on its website Sunday that Davies and Faty could face six months in jail and a far heavier fine of $10,400 each for lying to police. The police official, however, said he was not aware of any further investigation.

Davies was behind the wheel when he and Faty were questioned by the police, and so only Davies has been fined, the police official said.

Sochaux players had four days off after beating Lens 3-0 on Oct. 2. Davies flew to Boston, where he played at Boston College. Davies said he doesn't drive in France and, knowing Faty was going back to Paris, he asked for a ride.

Faty thought he would be jailed but police would only fine Davies, the U.S. player told The Associated Press. Faty told the AP he had panicked and plans to go to police this week to clear up the matter.

Davies said he was lying down in the passenger seat of the Audi Q7 as they drove. The windows of the SUV were tinted, so police couldn't see the players switching seats. Davies said he was hesitant about agreeing to the switch.

Davies said the police asked if he knew how fast he had been going. Davies said he didn't, and the police took both players to the police station.

While there, police ran Faty's record and told him his license was no longer suspended. Davies was told his license would be suspended, and he wouldn't be able to drive in France for six months.

Now it's time to get off my soapbox and wish Davies well in his return (fingers crossed) to the Sochaux first team sooner rather than later.

Friday, October 8, 2010

My thoughts on the big Red Sox/Liverpool news: you might want to sit down this could take a while

The Boston Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club appear ready to merger under the roof of the current Red Sox ownership New England Sports Ventures (NESV) after the Liverpool board of directors voted unanimously 3-2 to sell the English Premier League club for the bargain basement purchasing fee of £300 million or just over $476 million two days ago.

Friday step two was completed as the Premier League approved the sale to NESV headed by financier John Henry.

There is, however, the small issue of the current owners Tom Hicks’ and George Gillett’s lawsuit to block the impending sale, which if completed would render the duo with £144 in losses ploughed into the team since their purchase in 2007 and without any semblance of a profit from the sale – the biggest two sticking points for why the club had not been previously sold.

In fact Dubai International Capital (think Dubai Bank), Chinese investor Kenny Huang with backing from the Chinese government, and Syrian businessman Yahya Kirdi had all made previous inquiries into purchasing the club after the current American owners announced their intention in April to sell Liverpool and appointed British Airways chairman Martin Broughton as Liverpool chairman in charge of overseeing the formal sale.

Each proposed buyer all later withdrew their interest – codeword for scared off – thanks to Hicks and Gillett’s lofty price tag for buying Liverpool (having valued the club at around $800 mill) coupled with the amount of debt that would have to be paid off (the Royal Bank of Scotland is owed £237 mill or $455 mill) as well as investing in a new stadium and new players seemed to be a package deal no potential buyer was interested in being bullied into.

The driving force behind the current deal is the ticking clock with the looming date of October 15th as a pressure point fast tracking this potential sale to NESV. On that date the Royal Bank of Scotland can call in Hicks’ and Gillett’s debt (£237 mill) from the bank loans and penalty charges assumed over the previous three years.

According to reports, Hicks and Gillett are essentially tapped in terms of their capability to draw further credit to pay down their debt meaning if the sale failed to go through and Hicks and Gillett could refinance their liabilities or move them to another company, Royal Bank of Scotland would have the power to assume control of Liverpool likely meaning the club’s holding company – Kop Football – would be forced into administration, a form of bankruptcy protection.

Under Premier League rule, what that would mean for the team is it would face a nine-point deduction off of whatever final tally Liverpool had at the end of the year or quite simply eliminating three wins off the team’s record for the year and devastating any chances the Reds would have at qualifying for European action next year. Last year Portsmouth underwent administration and were relegated from the Premier League to the Championship – essentially England’s Triple-A of soccer. Now Portsmouth reside just one position above the relegation zone in the Championship and could face dropping into League One – you guessed it the Double-A for English soccer.

Broughton along with managing director Ian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre comprise the three board members trying to force through the current sale that levied the three votes necessary to outvoted Hicks and Gillett. Interestingly enough none of the three hold any share in the club, and Hicks and Gillett claim they replaced Purslow and Ayre on the board with Hicks’ son Mack and the financial controller to Hicks Holding (Hicks’ company) Lori Kay McCutcheon – two individuals that would side with the current American owners trying to reject the sale of the club.

The civil war for the battle of Liverpool should take place in the courtroom early next week, and legal experts are mixed as to what the current outcome might be, but with next Friday’s foreclosure date creeping oh so close it’s likely the whole of England and many stateside will do everything within their power to get the situation resolved as quickly as possible.

Why this could be a match made in heaven

In my opinion, there is a distinct model behind Henry and NESV’s thinking. Nine years ago the New York Yankees and Manchester United secured a marketing partnership to package both teams as a bundle to sponsors, broadcasters, and merchandisers.

Manchester United were and still are the number one name in soccer world wide – the world’s biggest sport. The New York Yankees were and continue to be the number one name in baseball world wide – a sport that continues to grow in popularity.

And although the two organizations do not reside under the same ownership in any capacity each franchise the partnership clearly was for the better as each team has continued to grow in value. Forbes recently ranked Manchester United as the world’s richest sports franchise at $1.83 billion and the Yankees at the No. 3 spot on the list at $1.6 billion.

Liverpool FC is a world-renown brand more so than the Boston Red Sox, who are beginning to be world-renown brand. Interestingly enough though, it’s the Red Sox that rank slightly higher than Liverpool on the same Forbes’ of the top 50 wealthiest sports teams in the world, 35 to 41 respectively with the Red Sox franchise valued at $870 mill and Liverpool FC at $822 mill.

That could drastically change for Liverpool should the sale fail and the team be foreclosed on, but for the time being let’s assume Henry and NESV get their team, the marketing possibilities for both teams would be enormous. This Red Sox ownership has shown incredible creative thinking in terms of branding their product, buying real estate around the ball park, purchasing NASCAR teams, using Fenway Park as attraction not just for the Red Sox but for concerts and other events like this past winter’s Winter classic with the Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia and this summer’s showcase soccer match between Celtic (Scottish League) and Sporting Lisbon (Portuguese League).

I am quite sure that possibility of getting Liverpool to America on a showcase tour headlined by some sort of epic match in Fenway Park is a mouth watering dream not only for the current Red Sox ownership, but to soccer fans worldwide. And I’m also quite sure as baseball continues to try to figure out ways to expand its brand to new markets that the idea of sending the Red Sox over to England perhaps for some sort of preseason or regular season opening series like they did in Japan several years back is another idea that is being tossed about.

But let’s look past how NESV will look to continue to lines its pockets because the parallels between Liverpool and the Red Sox run much deeper than monetary values alone.

Historically speaking Liverpool and the Red Sox are held within the highest stature in each of their respective leagues because of each team’s rich legacy.

Their story lines are eerily similar.

Liverpool was founded in 1892, the Red Sox were founded in 1901.

Fenway Park – opened in 1912 – is often referred to as “America’s most beloved ballpark,” while Anfield – opened in 1884 – is just as historical and well thought of in England. Both stadiums are cozy and considered small in their respective leagues with Fenway holding a capacity of 37,402 fans and Anfield holding a capacity of 45,276 fans.

Five times Liverpool have been crowned champions of Europe and another 18 times the Reds have won the English Premier League, yet they own an inferiority complex to Manchester United (considered the Yankees of Europe). Seven times the Red Sox have been crowned World Series champions, while owning 12 American League pennants. And with things like “the curse of the Bambino,” “the evil empire,” and “Yankees suck” being spewed about until the team’s recent triumphs – Red Sox fans know all about inferiority complexes.

Further cementing this bond, Red Sox Nation as our fans refer to themselves and the Kopites or Scousers as Liverpool fans refer to themselves, each own their songs. Every seventh inning stretch Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” can be heard being belted out throughout the rafters and around the park at every Sox home game. Singing is a huge part of many clubs’ fan bases all throughout Europe, which is part of what makes the atmosphere so festive and unlike any real experience here in American professional sports, and Liverpool may have the grand daddy of them all – “You’ll never walk alone.” The song has become so ingrained in Liverpool FC’s culture that the words now literally adorn the top part of the team’s crest placed on the top left breast of each jersey.

Be careful what you wish for

There is a huge and growing faction of English Premier League supporters that hate American owners – mostly fans of Manchester United where the Glazier family (who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and fans of Liverpool where Hicks and Gillett have owned the club since 2007.

The biggest reason these fans protest against and abhor their ownership is over the vast debt the owners put their respective clubs in after buying their respective teams.

At Liverpool Hicks and Gillett made all kinds of flamboyant promises about not putting the club into debt, pouring money into buying new players for the team, and putting aside money for a brand new state of the art stadium.

Of course virtually none of those promises was kept, the biggest reason why the fans turned on the American pair with signs like “Liverpool FC, built by shanks broke by yanks” and “thanks but no yanks” adorning around the stadium at home matches.

It would seem really any ownership that could get the team out of debt and reinvest in the team would be welcome buyers by the Kopiters, but only time will tell.

What Henry and his ownership group must realize is that soccer is a different animal than baseball or NASCAR, it is religion in England – a sport the fans are violently passionate about (see the movie “Green Street Hooligans” and you will get a better idea about the fan bases across the country).

What could make this a great purchase is that NESV are only essentially having to pay off the debt accumulated by the previous owners and will end up buying Liverpool for a little over half what he club is actually worth, according to Forbes’ value of the club.

However, there still lie several huge financial issues.

Liverpool is either in need of a new stadium – and there has been talking of building one in Stanley Park for a rough cost of a little over £200 mill – or refurbishing Anfield to add new seats and luxury boxes bringing the stadium closer to modern times. The problem is Liverpool fans seem divided on the issue with the majority likely leaning towards a brand new facility.

Looking at Henry’s track record with the Red Sox where they decided to make several renovations over the course of several years to improve and add seats in the ballpark at a much lesser cost, it would seem likely NESV would opt or prefer to go with that same line of thinking, which could upset the masses.

The Scousers and Kopiters of Liverpool also demand trophies like Red Sox nation demands World Series titles and American League pennants, and the Reds of Liverpool are in as about as bad a shape as the Red Sox were when Henry’s group bought the Red Sox.

If you remember back to 2001 the Red Sox were in complete turmoil with players like Dante Bichette and Mike Lansing revolting in the clubhouse due to lack of playing time, general manager Dan Duquette firing manager Jimy Williams mid season and simultaneously replacing him with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, and the team ultimately collapsed down the stretch finishing 82-79 missing the postseason.

That seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far far away after ending an 86-year drought with two World Series titles, but it took a monumental effort to find all the right pieces to fit together.

Henry and company will be faced with that task once again. Liverpool replaced manager Rafa Benitez in the offseason with former Fulham boss Roy Hodgson. Yet, the team sits currently third from bottom in one of the deadly three automatic relegation places with just seven points from six matches and if the season ended today Liverpool would be relegated from the Premier League to the minor league Championship.

The question becomes how committed will NESV be to turning around this team. Liverpool fans expect at a minimum to be a top-four team in the EPL to earn one of the automatic qualification spots for the Champions League – a vast moneymaker for the club, but more importantly the league where all the best teams from Europe compete.

Soccer operates in a completely different forum than baseball. Players are developed at a young age through various clubs throughout the world, but rarely do they end up staying with that one team if they are good enough to move on to bigger and better things. The best players are bought and sold through the transfer market for fixed prices generally without any exchange of players or any sort of trade. For example two years ago Manchester United sold off the world’s best player Cristiano Ronaldo to Spanish club Real Madrid for the hefty price of 80 million Euros, a world record fee.

If you look closer at that summer where Ronaldo was sold, Real Madrid as a club spent well in excess of 200 million Euros on players to turn around its club – and that was just for the fees to buy those players, that did not include those players’ annual wages.

Most of the top teams across Europe operate at some sort of a loss each year, something Henry has shown he is not willing to do stateside. In 1999 Henry purchased the Florida Marlins only to sell off the team three years later because they were turning the sort of profit margins he was looking for, and so that he could subsequently buy the Red Sox.

Additionally from the perspective of a Red Sox fan, it has become apparent the team is not willing to go the extra mile to always sign the best players available during free agency. Take a look at two winters ago when the Sox and Yanks went down to the wire with Mark Teixeira, who the Sox ultimately did not sign and allowed to go to the Yankees where he helped New York win a World Series last year.

Should NESV assume ownership those types of cost-benefit moves will not be accepted by Liverpool fans, who will turn just as quickly on these new Americans as Hicks and Gillett if promises are not kept. Liverpool have not won a league title in 20 years and Manchester United is slowly creeping past them in the annals of English football - that alone to a Kopiter feels like 86 years.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Red Sox owners taking over Liverpool any day now

Big news coming out of the EPL as Liverpool has reportedly been sold to the Boston Red Sox' ownership group.

At first blush, I can't decide if this is a good thing or not since I'm a fan of both teams. The Red Sox are clearly in need of some player changes after they missed the playoffs this season so I'd love to see the ownership to devote their full attention to improving that product.

However, they're billionaires and I'm not stupid enough to think that billionaires get their bankrolls by just sitting around and letting their money accumulate (that comes much later).

The owners of the Boston Red Sox got approval from Liverpool's board Wednesday to buy the storied but struggling Premier League club, pledging to wipe out the team's debts if their bid withstands a court challenge.

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton said the Red Sox owners have offered to pay $477 million, which is likely to cover the debts and bank charges stemming from the leveraged 2007 takeover by Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. but no more.

Despite the opposition of Hicks and Gillett, who own all the shares in Liverpool, Boston's offer was accepted by the three non-owner board members: Broughton -- who was hired by Hicks and Gillett in April to sell the club -- plus managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre.

The Premier League said in a statement it should be ready to approve the takeover by Friday.

John Henry, Tom Warner and Larry Lucchino clearly could sense that there's plenty of money to be made in soccer worldwide, hence why they had the Football at Fenway match this summer (Sporting vs. Celtic which I attended).

Broughton is set to go to court next week to reinforce his authority over the sale and challenge the owners' attempts to remove Purslow and Ayre from the board. Broughton said he expects the sale to be completed in about a week.

Hicks and Gillett say the Red Sox group's offer "dramatically undervalues" the 18-time English champions.

The prospective Boston owners, meanwhile, already are planning for the future of a team languishing in the relegation zone.

"NESV wants to create a long-term financially solid foundation for Liverpool FC and is dedicated to ensuring that the club has the resources to build for the future, including the removal of all acquisition debt," the company said in a statement. "Our objective is to stabilize the club and ultimately return Liverpool FC to its rightful place in English and European football, successfully competing for and winning trophies."

The turmoil comes after Liverpool lost to Blackpool on Sunday, continuing the club's worst start to a league season since 1953. Liverpool hasn't won in five matches in all competitions and is currently near the bottom of the Premier League's standings. The team also was recently knocked out of the League Cup by Northampton, a club struggling in the fourth tier of English football.

"NESV wants to help bring back the culture of winning to Liverpool," the company statement said. "We have a proven track record, shown clearly with the Boston Red Sox. The team has won two World Series championships over the past six years. We will bring the same kind of openness, passion, dedication and professionalism to Liverpool FC."

Liverpool is one of four Premier League clubs under American ownership, along with Manchester United, Aston Villa and Sunderland. Most prominent are Malcolm Glazer and his sons, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who took over Manchester United in 2005 in a leveraged buyout worth $1.4 billion.

Hicks is the former owner of the Texas Rangers and currently owns the NHL's Dallas Stars.

The Red Sox ownership signaled its soccer interest last summer by hosting an exhibition match between Celtic and Sporting Lisbon at Boston's Fenway Park.

The ownership group is headed by financial trader John Henry, with two other principals: Tom Werner, who made his money producing hit shows on U.S. television, and Larry Lucchino, a longtime baseball executive.

Reached late Tuesday night, Lucchino declined comment. Henry has not responded to e-mail messages left by The Associated Press.

Hicks wants to sell for about $951 million, a figure that has forced several investors to end their interest. The owners bought the club for $275 million, taking on $71 million of liabilities.

"The owners have invested more than $270 million in cash into the club. And during their tenure, revenues have nearly doubled, investment in players has increased and the club is one of the most profitable in the [Premier League]," Hicks and Gillett said in a statement. "As such, the board has been presented with offers that we believe dramatically undervalue the club.

"To be clear, there is no change in our commitment to finding a buyer for Liverpool Football Club at a fair price that reflects the very significant investment we've made. We will, however, resist any attempt to sell the club without due process or agreement by the owners."

Broughton is encouraged by how the Red Sox ownership group revived the baseball club's fortunes after buying it in 2002 for $660 million.

The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007 -- their first since 1918. Liverpool won its 18th English championship crown in 1990 and its fifth European Cup in 2005.

One of the priorities at Liverpool will be to replace the 45,000-capacity Anfield with a newer and bigger stadium, but Broughton says the Merseyside club could emulate the Red Sox by refurbishing an existing ground.

"At Fenway they chose not to build a new stadium -- they will want to make sure that they do the right thing, [but] we will have a stadium which holds 60-odd thousand," Broughton said. "Whether that is the new stadium as designed or not, that is not a commitment, but will we have stadium development? Yes."

Broughton acknowledged the ownership turmoil has affected the squad.

"You can see one or two of the players playing with the world on their shoulder -- there will be money for investment in the squad," Broughton said. "There has been this huge amount of negativity around Liverpool -- the fans demonstrating against the owners."

Those protests have been led by the Spirit of Shankly, a fan group named after legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who won three league titles, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup from 1959-1974.

"It's just another part of the ongoing soap opera at Liverpool," Shankly spokesman James McKenna said. "We just want a resolution to it sooner rather than later. It leaves fans wondering what's going to happen next."

Stay tuned, we'll have more thoughts when this gets official and the court case is settled which hopefully will be in a short amount of time.