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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spector scores twice against Man. U? Is this real life? Answer: sort of

When I was going through Associated Press stories tonight and noticed West Ham played Manchester United in the Carling Cup, the result stuck out like a sore thumb: West Ham 4, Manchester United 0.

Even crazier than that score was the fact that American Jonathan Spector (moved from defense to central midfielder) bagged a pair of goals in the win.

Before you get too excited, realize that both squads used a mix of reserves and younger players with the more seasoned pros in this barely relevant midseason tournament.

Only time will tell if this is a defining moment in Spector's career that gets him back on track or a puzzling performance in a disappointing stay with the Hammers.

Carragher out for three months

Just when it looked like Liverpool was out of the woods a bit - to borrow an English phrase - playing decent soccer and getting out of the relegation zone, they're hit with another huge injury.

Defender Jamie Carragher will be out three months after dislocating his shoulder in Sunday's 2-1 loss at Tottenham.

After being assessed on Monday and Tuesday, the club informed the player he would have to have an operation on the problem.

Carragher told the club's official website: "I'll be having surgery at the end of the week. The average is about 12 weeks. I'd like to come back before that but I've got to make sure it's right.

"It will probably be late February or early March when I'm looking to come back. It's difficult for me when I'm injured. It hasn't happened very often, and I'm very lucky with that I suppose, but maybe it's caught up with me a little bit now.

"I've been here before with a broken leg which put me out this length of time. It's not easy but you've got to get on with it, and it makes you more determined to get back.

"I'm sure towards the end of the season when people are maybe feeling a little bit tired I'll be raring to go."

Liverpool expects to get Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole and Daniel Agger back soon which is good news for the Red Sox and new Liverpool owners Tom Warner and John Henry.

Monday, November 29, 2010

U.S. bringing out all the stars to woo FIFA's executive committee for 2022 World Cup bid

You might not know it but this Thursday could be a seminal moment in U.S. soccer history.

The U.S. along with Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea are all scrambling to host the 2022 World Cup.

Ask anyone who was alive and old enough to know what was going on during the 1994 World Cup (also held in the U.S.) and they'll tell you it was one of the biggest turning points for the beautiful game in the States.

Fingers crossed, having the World Cup in our backyard once again would undoubtedly take it to another level in terms of respect from American sports fans not to mention how the rest of the world would view us (provided we put on a good show).

I don't want to get too ahead of myself but it's hard to believe any of the other countries have put together a more impressive or random group of stars to get the bid.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will join former President Bill Clinton and Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman on Wednesday at the final presentation to FIFA's executive committee of the U.S. bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

The hosts for the 2018 World Cup will also be decided on Thursday as England (YES!), Portugal-Spain (also fine), Russia (boo) and Belgium-Netherlands (ehhh) all try to win that one.

Holder also will meet with executive committee members, who will vote the following day.

American bidders said Monday that U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati and American national team star Landon Donovan also will take part in the 30-minute presentation.

Freeman portrayed former South African President Nelson Mandela in the movie "Invictus" about the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

Always looking for an excuse to look up Heather Mitts on Google images: U.S. women get tough draw in 2011 World Cup

I was tempted to blog about it over the weekend but I thought it wasn't worthy since the U.S. women's national team has higher expectations than simply qualifying for a major tournament.

Being forced to beat Italy in a home and home series for the last spot in the 2011 Women's World Cup (in Germany) isn't exactly the way you want to get in there but they won 2-0 on aggregate so let's move on.

The draw was held today and no surprise, the top-ranked Americans have a tough road ahead with Sweden (No. 4), North Korea (No. 6) and Colombia.

"It's good because it's a very strong group. That's the best thing that could happen to us,'' U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said Monday from the draw in Frankfurt, Germany. "That will be inspiring for us, the fact we're playing high-ranked teams like Sweden and North Korea and a new team Colombia, which will be so enthusiastic going into the World Cup.''

The U.S. opens with North Korea on June 28 against North Korea. It's the fourth straight time the two teams have met in the group stage. The U.S. won 3-0 in 1999 and 2003 but tied 2-2 in 2007.

They meet newcomer Colombia on July 2 then wrap up the group play with a match against Sweden on July 6.

The Americans cannot play Germany until at least the semifinals. The Germans beat the U.S. 3-0 in the 2003 semis but the Americans are 5-0-2 against the world's No. 2 team since, including a 3-2 victory in the Algarve Cup final this year.

I can't say we'll have much about the Women's World Cup 2011 before next summer but it's a good bet that once the men's domestic seasons and Champions League have concluded in the spring, we'll start to think about this event.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This has not been the best year of John Terry's life

It was bad enough that Chelsea did not show up against Sunderland last weekend (a pathetic 3-0 defeat) but now comes word that John Terry could be out for months with a back injury.

The star defender did not play last weekend in Chelsea's 3-0 loss to Sunderland in the Premier League because of a nerve problem that he has had since last season.

Terry also will miss Saturday's game against Birmingham and says his absence "could be weeks, it could be months."

He adds that his injury is at a point "where I cannot carry on with it."

The home defeat to Sunderland cut Chelsea's lead at the top of the Premier League to two points.

This is not good at all. Chelsea without Terry in the back is simply not the same team and if he's out for anywhere as long as he thinks, they are in trouble. True, they have enough talent to stay in the top four but I'm going to say they don't win the EPL if he's out for months.

Reminder: U.S. vs. South Africa (and a bunch more friendlies) tomorrow

This is basically a public service announcement to remind you that U.S. vs. South Africa is tomorrow night.

It is the U.S.' last friendly this year and it takes place in Cape Town.

Also, it was just announced that the Bob Bradley's boys will open next year's schedule with a friendly against Chile on January 22 in Carson, California.

The game announced Monday will be used as preparation for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. It is not on a FIFA international fixture date, so the American roster figures to be limited to players from Major League Soccer and Scandinavian teams who are in their offseasons.

The U.S. may play Argentina on a FIFA fixture date in March. Seattle has been one of the sites discussed for that match.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Revolution's Twellman retires

When I think about the New England Revolution over the years two players distinctly come to mind - Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman. Yes this was a club originally founded on players like Alexi Lalas and Mike Burns, but it was Dempsey and Twellman that brought New England to new levels.

Dempsey long ago back in 2007 left the Revolution for Fulham in the English Premier League, but Twellman stuck around to become the Revolution's all-time leading goal-scorer with 101 goals in 174 games - a remarkable clip for such a small player in such a physical game. He may be listed at 5-11, but I've met Taylor on several occasions, he can't be taller than 5-7, 5-8. That total was good for 5th all-time in league history and also earn him five all-star appearances.

After the Revs drafted Twellman second overall in the 2002 Super Draft, the Revs would go on to four MLS Cup championship games -- 2002, and 2005-07 -- reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2003 and 2004, won the U.S. Open Cup in 2007 and became the first MLS team to win the SuperLiga championship in 2008.

Concussions ultimately derailed the now 30-year-old's career in 2008 when he received a blow to the head on August 30 from LA Galaxy keeper Steve Cronin. He finished the regular season but had to sit out the playoffs after the concussion. He returned for a brief stint at the tail end of May, but suffered another bad concussion after being struck this time by DC keeper Josh Wicks, and although he would score a pair a week later that would essentially be the end of Twellman's career.

Although Twellman was small in stature, he was fearless in the air and I often found it frustrating that the U.S. never fully utilized his talents at a time when were looking at guys like Brian Ching to carry the torch from Brian McBride after the 2002 World Cup. I thought Twellman was one of the best candidates to play in the 2006 World Cup, but Bruce Arena did not even select him for the roster largely because the two had a well-know icy relationship.

In all Twellman only had 30 caps for the Men's National Team and scored six goals, a fair hull.

Anyway the Revolution are a team in flux, Shari Joseph is their leading player, but outside of that there are few links to the glory days earlier this decade. It's a team in transition, and one of their greats is transitioning to the booth.

Meet Messi's new BFF

Argentina will always be one of the highest profile national teams in soccer so it is big news that they officially announced Maradona's replacement as head coach - Sergio Batista.

Batista was appointed as coach of Argentina on Tuesday, just over three months after Diego Maradona departed in the wake of the country's loss to Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Batista had been the acting coach since Maradona's contract was not renewed in late July and his appointment to a four-year contract by the Argentine Football Association was widely expected. In charge for three matches, he has won two, including a 4-1 victory over World Cup winner Spain. The only blemish was a 1-0 loss last month against Japan.

Batista's first match as the permanent coach will be Nov. 17 against archrival Brazil in Doha, Qatar. The team for the match was also announced Tuesday, headed by Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Batista, who turns 48 next week, was Maradona's teammate and a defensive midfielder on the 1986 team that won the World Cup. A youth coach for the Argentine Football Association, his name began to take on a higher profile after leading Argentina to the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The new coach seems to have the support of stars like Messi, who also spoke favorably about Maradona's 21 months in charge. In that period, Argentina won 18 of 24 games but also suffered shocking losses, including a 6-1 hammering at Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier. The 4-0 loss to Germany in the quarterfinals was humiliating for one of soccer's most fervent nations and two-time champions.

Maradona still has his supporters and, as recently as last week, said in an interview he expected to return one day as the national team coach.

"It is my destiny," said Maradona, who turned 50 on Saturday.

First of all, Maradona is a clown and I have to applaud Argentina for finally getting it right and kicking him to the curb. They walked a tight rope having him in charge and while it went well for a while, it predictably went down in flames when they played a great team (Germany).

Maradona is a legend obviously but he's not a good coach by any means. I can't say that I know too much about Batista or his coaching style but I'm going to guess he's a little more organized and knowledgeable of the game since he's had to work his way up, rather than just bank on being a God in his homeland.

It will take time to judge Batista while he's in charge of Argentina but this is definitely one of the most interesting developments in the coaching world to follow in the near future.