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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reis is staying with the Revs

I've explained it a million times that I'm not an MLS fan anymore. I used to be when I was kid and I didn't realize there was a whole other (better) world of club soccer out there. Plus, I went to a bunch of games at Foxboro Stadium and Gillette Stadium when the New England Revolution were great but couldn't get over the hump and win an MLS Cup.

That pointless introduction was to segue to the news that Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis signed a new contract with the team.

Reis has set team records for games by a goalkeeper (188), wins (75), saves (757) and shutouts (50). He appeared in 14 games last season, after being sidelined until June following preseason shoulder and knee operations. He then had a season-ending ankle injury in October.

The 35-year-old has made two appearances with the U.S. national team, in exhibition wins over Canada in 2006 and Denmark the following year.

I wish him good luck and health and better results for the Revolution next year (I paid just enough attention last season to know that they were awful).

Good news for all the soccer loving ladies out there (other than my gf)

Don't worry, we're not going to become TMZ or Perez Hilton but I thought this bit of soccer news from off the pitch was too juicy to pass up: Landon Donovan has filed for divorce from actress Bianca Kajlich.

It might be because I just posted about him the other day (not getting loaned to Europe this season) or I recently started following him on Twitter but I feel like LandyCakes is everywhere I look at the moment. Kinda creepy.

Being alone around the holidays is rough though so hopefully some U.S. men's national team groupies can be there for our boy if he needs anything.

Donovan, who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy, cited irreconcilable differences for the split with Kajlich after nearly three years of marriage.

Kajlich currently stars in the CBS comedy "Rules of Engagement."

They were married on New Year's Eve 2006 and have no children together. He states the couple separated in October 2009.

In a statement, the former couple says, "We remain the closest of friends and will always be important parts of each others lives."

Can't say I have ever seen Kajlich mostly because I'm opposed to watching any sitcom on CBS until I'm at least 50 but from the looks of a quick Google search, she appears to be hot but hey, you can do better than a C-list TV star.

Barcelona: US-bound in summer of 2011

Not that you need anymore reason to look forward to next summer already but you have a little more incentive since it was announced that Barcelona is hitting the United States for three stops in 2011.

The only bad news for people in New England (ie. most of our readers) is that they're not coming to Gillette Stadium. Nope, they'll play Manchester United on July 30 in Landover, MD. They take on AC Milan August 3 in Miami and conclude their visit with a match against Club America (the Mexican club) in Dallas on August 6.

The Spanish club also said it will play preseason games in Munich, Germany and Split, Croatia.

The club hopes the six-date tour, which includes three matches in Europe before the team departs for the U.S., will net Barcelona $8.1 million. Matches are being arranged in conjunction with Major League Soccer's Soccer United Marketing and the Creative Artists Agency.

Contracts for venues and opponents have not been finalized.

Barcelona toured the U.S. as part its preseason preparations in 2008 and 2009.

Now comes the only bad part.

The Blaugrana are likely to be missing star forward Lionel Messi, right back Daniel Alves and midfielder Javier Mascherano because of the Copa America in Argentina, which ends July 24. Messi and Mascherano are regulars on Argentina's national team and Daniel Alves on Brazil's.

Robbie Findley, headed to the UK

Interesting news dropping today that U.S. men's national team striker Robbie Findley has inked a 2.5 year deal with England's Nottingham Forest (a League Championship team), assuming he secures a British work permit.

The 25-year-old Findley was a free agent after leaving Real Salt Lake at the end of the Major League Soccer season.

"We had a lot of competition in the race to sign Robbie and there's no doubt that we had to work very, very hard to try and convince him this was the right place to come," Forest manager Billy Davies said.

"It's a great challenge for him and a great challenge for us as well but there's no doubt that he can score goals and, more importantly, with the pace he's got he can be a real handful."

Findley has no goals in 11 appearances for the U.S. national team and started three matches at the World Cup in June.

Forest (7-4-9) is eighth in the Championship, four points shy of the promotion playoff berths.

The club, which is based in central England, won the European Champions Cup in 1979 and 1980.

If you followed our World Cup 2010 coverage, you'll know that Shimer and I are not huge Findley fans. Yes he's fast but his foot skills and general knowledge of the game both appear to be lagging behind.

However, as always, I am pleased to hear that he's pushing himself out of the MLS bubble and giving it a go in the UK (albeit one level below the EPL). If you need a League Championship team to root for, I think we found a solid candidate.

Findley could be joined in England by World Cup teammate Edson Buddle, who has been on trial at Premier League club Birmingham. The Los Angeles Galaxy forward's hopes of securing a transfer depend on how successful Birmingham is in pursuit of its preferred striking options.

"He has gone back (to the U.S.) and we will keep the door open," Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said Thursday. "We are not in the position to make any offers at the moment because we are looking to try and bring a more-experienced player into the club. We've not closed the door. He did OK."

This is van der sar's swan song

I have to give Edwin Van der Sar his due credit: when I saw him playing for Fulham in the winter/spring of 2005, I figured he was close to wrapping up his EPL career.

Not so much. He took the unusual path of bouncing from Fulham to Manchester United and he's been a respectable goalkeeper on the much bigger stage.

Today, United coach Sir Alex Ferguson said that he thinks this is Van der Sar's final professional season.

The 40-year-old Dutchman has featured 19 times this season, helping United reach the Premier League summit and the Champions League knockout phase.

But Ferguson said Thursday that "we are planning for this being his last season.''

Van der Sar has won three Premier League titles and the Champions League since arriving in 2005 from Fulham and has a contract until the end of this season.

There could still be a coaching role for Van der Sar at United in the future.
Ferguson says that "We have not discussed it, but Edwin is a player who would be of interest in terms of his knowledge and standing in the game.''

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No Donovan in Europe this season

Landon Donovan has to be the most exhausted player from the U.S. men's national team. It was a long grind of a year for Donovan: from a loan with Everton last winter, to the World Cup 2010 and back to his club team the LA Galaxy in the MLS.

He rightly deserves a break and it came today in the form of no loan to Europe this winter.

On the surface, it looks bad and we were the bloggers who demanded for Donovan to stay in Everton when he was playing the best soccer of his life. He did not but we can't argue with his personal results for the U.S. team in a successful run in South Africa. However, at this time it doesn't do his body any good to grind it down more.

Donovan scored two goals in 13 matches during a loan to Everton from last January to March, helping the Toffees beat Chelsea and Manchester United, and draw against Arsenal. Everton manager David Moyes appeared open to having the 28-year-old return.

"While I enjoyed my time at Everton last season and still appreciate all the support their fans have given me, I feel that it is important to continue to rest and recover this offseason as opposed to going on loan," Donovan said in a statement Tuesday. "I never considered being loaned to a club other than Everton, but I have been playing nearly nonstop for the past two years and I believe that this decision will allow me to perform at my best for the Galaxy and the national team throughout the upcoming year."

Donovan spent the early part of 2009 on loan to Bayern Munich, then rejoined the Galaxy. After a summer in which he played for the U.S. at the Confederations Cup, he returned to the Galaxy, took a short break, then joined Everton. That started a 10-month stretch that included the World Cup, where he had three goals for the Americans, including a stoppage-time score against Algeria that advanced the U.S. to the knockout phase.

Donovan said during the MLS playoffs last month that overcoming the mental fatigue was more challenging than dealing with the physical. Despite missing time for the World Cup, Donovan scored seven goals for the Galaxy and led MLS with 16 assists.

"We think (it's) in the best interest of the club and the player that Landon continues his postseason break and begins preparations for what will be a challenging year in 2011 at both the domestic and international levels," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said.

Donovan and all other veterans were bypassed for the U.S. training camp ahead of a Jan. 22 exhibition against Chile. He likely will rejoin the national team for a contemplated March 26 home exhibition against Argentina.

If you're not employed by an MLS team, good luck finding a name you recognize for the next U.S. friendly

The U.S. training camp roster for their friendly against Chile on January 22 in Carson, California was named today and I must say, it's a random one.

Los Angeles Galaxy defenders A.J. DeLaGarza and Sean Franklin were among 12 players with no international experience selected Tuesday for a U.S. national team training camp ahead of the Americans' exhibition against Chile.

Six of the 24 players on the roster for the Jan. 22 game at Carson, Calif., have played just one game for the national team, all in the second half of 2011. Orebro midfielder Alejandro Bedoya is the senior player on the roster with six international appearances.

Others with no international experience include goalkeepers Dominic Cervi of Glasgow Celtic, Sean Johnson of Chicago, Matt Pickens of Colorado and Anthony Wallace of Colorado; defender Zach Loyd of Dallas, Ryan Miller of Sweden's Halmstads; midfielders Eric Alexander of Dallas and Jeff Larentowicz of Colorado; and Chivas USA forward Justin Braun and San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski.

Among those with just one appearance are defenders Omar Gonzalez of Los Angeles and Tim Ream of New York; midfielders Brek Shea of Dallas and Mikkel Diskerud of Norway's Stabaek; and forward Juan Agudelo of New York and Teal Bunbury of Kansas City.

San Jose midfielder Bobby Convey, a member of the 2006 U.S. World Cup roster who revived his career in 2010, was among the veterans not picked.

Twenty of the players are from Major League Soccer and three from Scandinavian teams on winter break. Players are scheduled to report to the Home Depot Center on Jan. 4. The average age is just over 23, and veterans will be mixed in later in the spring as the U.S. prepares for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The U.S. is likely to host Argentina on March 26 at a site still being negotiation and probably will play another match three days later.

"We have some younger players that we think, with time, can grow into important roles with our national team," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We also understand going forward that it's an opportunity to at least begin the process of looking at some under-23 players, players that will be able to play for our Olympic team in qualifying. We really tried to focus on players that have not been in January camps so that we could see what some of these new faces are all about and get to see them in this situation."

The roster:
Goalkeepers: Dominic Cervi (Glasgow Celtic, Scotland), Sean Johnson (Chicago), Matt Pickens (Colorado), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake)

Defenders: A.J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles), Sean Franklin (Los Angeles), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles), Ugo Ihemelu (Dallas), Zach Loyd (Dallas), Ryan Miller (Halmstads, Sweden), Tim Ream (New York), Anthony Wallace (Colorado), Marvell Wynne (Colorado)

Midfielders: Eric Alexander (Dallas), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro, Sweden), Sam Cronin (San Jose), Mikkel Diskerud (Stabaek, Norway), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado), Dax McCarty (D.C.), Brek Shea (Dallas)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New York), Justin Braun (Chivas USA), Teal Bunbury (Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose)

Bedoya is the former Boston College star that Shimer wrote about this past summer. He's a young player to keep an eye out for. For once, I like Bob Bradley's thinking for this camp. It's the obvious time to bring in a bunch of new names and see what they can do. No matter what, a few are bound to stick out that they didn't know much about previously.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Leave it to the French to upset you during the holidays

What's that? You thought you had heard the last mention of the 2010 World Cup disaster by France?

Well my friend, in the spirit of the holiday season, here's (hopefully) one final nugget from this fiasco. Apparently, Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka have yet to formally give up their World Cup-related bonuses, the French soccer federation (FFF) said on Tuesday.

French newspaper Liberation reported that the two strikers had refused to sign the paperwork stating that they would give up the bonuses, but the FFF said that was not exactly the case.

"They have not replied but they have not refused," FFF communications director Francois Manardo told Reuters.

Federation president Fernand Duchaussoy said last month that the France players who took part in this year's World Cup would give their bonuses, amounting to some 3 million euros ($3.95 million), to amateur clubs.

After their shock first-round exit in South Africa, the players promised they would give up a share of sponsorship revenue.

France's dismal World Cup campaign also included a players' strike in protest at the decision to kick Anelka out of the squad for insulting then coach Raymond Domenech.
Chelsea striker Anelka was banned for 18 matches by the FFF.

Henry has always been and will always be one of our all-time favorites. This doesn't help his cause but we can forgive him since he seems to be a decent guy. However, even though Anelka is on Chelsea (my favorite EPL team), I have to state that I'm not a fan. Like at all. Yes, he's very talented and fun to watch on a soccer field but the guy just doesn't get it. Never has and never will. He's the rare player that you makes you shudder every time he does something like this, despite the fact that he constantly delivers on the pitch.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eto'o named African player of the year

Fours must have been lucky today for players of the year as Samuel Eto'o picked up his fourth African player of the year award.

The forward for Inter Milan and Cameroon finished ahead of Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan and Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba in votes cast by the coaches of African's 53 national teams.

Eto'o, who also won the award in 2003, 2004 and 2005, helped Inter Milan win an unprecedented treble of Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League titles last season.
Abedi Pele and George Weah each won the award three times.

Ghana won the team of the year award and Serbian Milovan Rajevac, who quit as Ghana coach's in September, was voted coach of the year.

Ahmed Hassan won the African-based player of the year award after leading Egypt to the African Cup of Nations title.

Tevez is not leaving Man. City, at least not right away

Nothing like a public spat with your team played out in the British tabloids. I've found that always solves my problems.

Carlos Tevez must agree as his latest drama has involved his should I stay or should I go deal with Manchester City. The newest chapter is that he withdrew his transfer request, he must be in the holiday spirit.

City announced that Tevez's contract, which has 3 1/2 years to run, remains unchanged and that the Argentina international has "expressed his absolute commitment to the club.''

Tevez retained the captaincy for Monday's game against Everton and received a warm reception from the home fans, but could not prevent his side slipping to a 2-1 loss that leaves City third, two points behind leader Manchester United.

The defeat soured the mood at Eastlands following the earlier news that Tevez, the club's top scorer and highest paid player, had had a dramatic change of heart.

In a total PR damage control move, Manchester City tried to sweep all of this under the rug. Nothing to see here folks.

"Manchester City can confirm to its fans that 'clear the air' talks have been held with Carlos Tevez,'' the club said in a statement. "During the meeting Carlos expressed his absolute commitment to the club and formally withdrew his transfer request. Carlos' contract remains unchanged and both Carlos and the football club are keen to focus on the opportunities that lie ahead.''

Tevez is seen as pivotal to City's hopes of winning the top flight title for the first time since 1968. His 10 league goals have put City on course for a top four finish and qualification for the Champions League.

"Carlos is a world class player whose contribution since he joined the club has been invaluable,'' City manager Roberto Mancini said. "I am pleased that we are now able to focus on pure football matters and to be able to look forward to Carlos continuing to play a significant role in the club's progress.''

The statement contained no direct comment from the 26-year-old Tevez, and Mancini did not reveal what had prompted Tevez to change his mind.

"I think that it's not important,'' Mancini said "It's important that the situation was clear in this moment and everything went in a good way, that's important.''

This will be something to pay attention to as the EPL season goes by and depending on how Manchester City ends up. For Tevez and the team, it has to be Champions League (top 4) or bust.

Donovan and Wambach named U.S. players of the year

It wouldn't be the end of the year without an insane amount of awards and lists coming out.

Today, the U.S. soccer federation named its male and female players of the year: Landon Donovan and Abby Wambach.

It is the fourth time both have earned this honor.

Donovan scored against Slovenia, Algeria and Ghana at the World Cup. He had an injury-time goal against Algeria that put the U.S. in the second round.

Wambach had 16 goals in 18 games for the national team. She has 117 goals, third on the American career list.

Donovan is the first four-time winner of the male award. He also won in 2003-04 and last year. Wambach also won in 2003-04 and 2007. Wambach trails only five-time honoree Mia Hamm.

Defender Gale Agbossoumonde was cited Monday as the top young male athlete. Goalkeeper Bianca Henninger is the female winner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Charlie Davies hopes to fully return this weekend for his French club team (Sochaux)

Since the car accident happened in the fall of 2009 and Charlie Davies' life was changed forever, we've had to completely alter our expectations for his professional career.

Paired with Jozy Altidore, they formed perhaps the most talented set of strikers in U.S. men's national team history. They were young, fast, skilled and hungry. That all changed with the accident and now, we just hope that Davies can reach even a sliver of his potential.

Reports out of France say that Davies could make his return to Sochaux this weekend.

The 24-year-old American, who missed this year's World Cup after failing to recover from his injuries, says he is now at "90 percent" and ready to play against Bordeaux on Saturday.

Davies was a passenger in a car accident Oct. 13, 2009, in which another passenger died. He 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.

Davies played in several exhibition games for Sochaux in July and has since taken part in several matches with Sochaux's reserve team. His last competitive match was the United States' World Cup qualifier at Honduras on Oct. 10 last year.

"I'm feeling good. Physically I haven't felt this good in a year or so, so I'm feeling like my old self which is great because that's the most important thing because we all know the football will come by itself," Davies said. "I'm sure, if I could just get a few minutes out on the pitch, then I could make the most of that chance."

Davies has started to score again with the Sochaux reserves and is hopeful he will be rewarded with a chance to dress against Bordeaux.

Playing on Saturday night would bring back nice memories to Davies, who celebrated his home debut with Sochaux last season by scoring twice against Bordeaux.

"I really can't think of a better way to make my comeback than against Bordeaux, in the game where it all began, and come back after over a year out of the game against one of the top teams in France," Davies said. "It would be astonishing to finally get my chance."

But Davies is facing a sharp competition from strikers Brown Ideye and Modibo Maiga, a situation that has led Sochaux coach Francis Gillot to suggest it might be better for the American to leave the club on loan after the winter break.

"There are two guys ahead of me in the pecking order who are scoring goals left and right and playing well together, as well," Davies said. "But if I could get 15 or 20 minutes and make a difference and turn a few heads and suddenly people would be thinking, Sochaux with Bobby [Brown], Modibo and Davies, have three strikers that can all contribute and offer different things. I don't know which way it's going to go, so I can't really say anything about a loan just yet."

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

He reiterated his desire to play in the Premier League in the future.

"My long-term goals have definitely not changed, they're just maybe taking a little longer to achieve," he said. "But in terms of moving to England and hoping to play for Arsenal one day and making a difference with the national team and helping the USA to a top-four finish at the World Cup and just to be that player that everyone can count on, that hasn't changed at all."

You have to choose your words carefully when you talk about Davies since he was lucky enough to survive and he has made a remarkable comeback to even return to the soccer field. You know the whole story will make for a great book and movie in the future, we can only hope that it has a happy ending.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy Holidays Anderson, here's a dump truck full of pounds

If you've paid close attention to Manchester United at all this season, you've noticed that Brazilian midfielder Anderson has really started to come into his own.

For his juicy potential, he was rewarded today with a three-year deal which extends his stay in Manchester until June 2015.

The 22-year-old Brazil international joined United on a five-year contract from FC Porto in 2007.

Having returned from long-term knee problems that ended his chances of going to the World Cup, Anderson has featured regularly for United in recent weeks.

He netted only his second goal for the 18-time English champions last week to secure a 1-1 draw with Valencia in the Champions League and featured in a 1-0 victory over Arsenal on Monday.

United manager Alex Ferguson said on the club website that "Anderson has developed tremendously since joining the club and he has fantastic potential.''

I guess they're OK: Spain finishes 2010 atop FIFA rankings

This was such a forgone conclusion that even FIFA couldn't screw it up: Spain finished No. 1 in the final FIFA rankings of 2010.

The Netherlands, which lost to Spain in July's World Cup final, is second while Germany has moved ahead of Brazil into third since last month.

Argentina and England remain fifth and sixth. Spain has finished No. 1 for the third straight year.

Egypt leads the African nations and climbs one place to No. 9, while the United States tops the CONCACAF region, rising six spots to No. 18.

Australia drops six places to No. 26 but still heads the Asian confederation.
One of the biggest movers over the last year has been Montenegro, which has soared to No. 25 from No. 74.

Russia, which won the right to host the 2018 World Cup earlier this month, stays at No. 13, while 2022 host Qatar drops a place to No. 114.

Samir Nasri voted best French player of the year

With rare exceptions (Henry, Florent Malouda, Ribery), we don't tend to be big French soccer fans, look no further than their fiasco in the 2010 World Cup for some reasons why.

However, Arsenal's Samir Nasri is quickly earning our love with his stellar play this season for the Gunners in the EPL and Champions League.

For his work this season, he was voted France's best player of the year by France Football Magazine.

Nasri wasn't involved in France's World Cup fiasco. Then-coach Raymond Domenech left the midfielder out of the squad that crashed out in the first round in South Africa.

New France coach Laurent Blanc recently said Nasri - who finished ahead of Chelsea winger Florent Malouda and Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the voting - is currently the best French player.

The 23-year-old Nasri has already scored 10 goals in the Premier League and Champions League this season for Arsenal.

If France is going to region its top form with the national team, odds are Nasri will play a vital role in that turnaround.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Adios Big Sam

These are rough days in the EPL as another manager was fired: this time it was Blackburn's Sam Allardyce or Big Sam, that was shown the door.

His assistant manager Neil McDonald is also out, effective immediately.

Allardyce leaves the club, who have just been taken over by Indian chicken company Venky's, in 13th position in the Premier League. Chris Hughton, sacked by Newcastle last week, is among the early favourites to take over.

A statement on the Blackburn website read: ''The Venky's Group, owners of Blackburn Rovers Football Club, has today [Monday] confirmed the departure of manager Sam Allardyce and assistant manager Neil McDonald with immediate effect.

''First team coaching duties will be taken on by Steve Kean [currently 1st team coach] for the immediate future.

''We have taken this decision as part of our wider plans and ambitions for the club. We would like to put on record our thanks to Mr. Allardyce for his contribution to Blackburn Rovers Football Club.''

So you're wondering, how does Sam feel about this simple twist of fate (nods head to Bob Dylan)?

Allardyce said in a statement: "I am very shocked and disappointed to be leaving Blackburn Rovers. I am extremely proud to have managed this club and I enjoyed a fantastic relationship with the players, my staff and the supporters during my time in charge. I now wish them and the football club every success for the future."

At least Allardyce went out with a bang, a quality zinger about his now former team.

Rovers lost 2-1 to ten-man Bolton at the weekend, with Allardyce accusing his players of ''defending like a bunch of old women". However, that defeat still left them five points clear of the bottom three and in no obvious danger.

Richard Bevan, chief executive of the League Managers Association, said: "When new owners take over a club, sadly, the manager's position often hangs by a thread. To Sam's great misfortune this has now happened twice and, on both occasions, it has been extremely difficult to understand the thinking behind the dismissal. It is ironic that one minute Sam can be proposed as the next England manager and the next, he finds himself out of work.

"He is widely acknowledged within the game as one of the most progressive and forward thinking managers, embracing new concepts and technologies to create an environment which leads to success for his club. It will not be long before Sam, with his exceptional management experience, is back in a managerial post."

It's not all doom and gloom though as it looks like Big Sam will find another job in no time. Still, it has to be painful to have the whole world know when you've been fired/let go.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A little hatred goes a long way

Ahead of Monday's big match: Manchester United vs. Arsenal, Man U star Patrice Evra took some time out of his day to make fun of the Gunners.

Arsenal is a point clear of second-place United, which has a game in hand, heading into Monday's match at Old Trafford but Evra has cast doubt on the Gunners' title chances.

"For me, it (Arsenal) is a training center,'' said Evra, speaking on Canal+ Sport show Les Specialistes on Thursday. "I hear them being compared to Barcelona but people in 20 years' time aren't going to remember Arsenal's football.''

The France left back said defending English champion Chelsea, which is a point further back in third, is United's main threat in this campaign.

"Arsenal is a great club which hasn't won anything in five years - that's a crisis,'' Evra added. "Our real rival is Chelsea.

"We can lose against them (Arsenal) but then what is there? There is nothing. There's no trophies, nothing.''

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger shrugged off Evra's comments.

"We do not want to go into any unneeded talking before a game like that,'' he said. "We want to focus on the way we want to play and ignore any provocation before a game.

"We are motivated by the desire to win the game and by the quality of the football we want to play. Personally, I believe if you are a big player you always respect your opponent and that is what we try to do.''

I love stuff like this, there's not nearly enough of it in professional sports these days. Not to sound like your grandfather but sports were always more interesting when guys genuinely hated each other, versus these days were they're all best friends and overpaid mercenaries.

All I know is this makes me even more excited for the game. It only adds to the hype after Ferguson told his home fans not to rip Wenger. I'm sure that'll work out for Sir Alex.

U.S. vs. Egypt slated to happen

It appears likely that the U.S. men's national team will play Egypt on February 9.

Egypt Football Association chairman Samir Zaher said the match probably will be in Cairo. The U.S. Soccer Federation said Friday that negotiations are not yet complete.
Egypt is tenth in the latest FIFA rankings. Team USA is 24th.

It would be a rematch of the nations' meeting at the 2009 Confederations Cup, won by the U.S. 3-0.

The U.S. opens its 2011 schedule against Chile on Jan. 22 at Carson, Calif. The Americans also have been negotiating to host Argentina in March as they prepare for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June.

This would be a great way to start 2011, against one of the best teams in the world that didn't make the 2010 World Cup out of a loaded African region. Having the match in Cairo would help the U.S. too, facing a top notch team on their home turf.

Not for sale bitches

Sure Fulham is floundering dangerously close to the relegation zone (as usual) but apparently, you won't see them selling off American star Clint Dempsey anytime soon according to manager Mark Hughes.

The 27-year-old forward and midfielder from Texas is Fulham's top scorer this season with six goals, including five in the Premier League.

"I'm sure there is interest in Clint. Most good players are mentioned at some point in time leading into a window,'' Hughes said. "There's been no contact from any clubs for Clint or any other player nor would we encourage it because Clint's very happy here, is enjoying his football and is having an impact for us.

"If there are any inquiries about Clint, they'll be getting short shrift.''

As we always say regarding our U.S. men's national team players, all we care about is seeing them play at the highest level possible. The absolute worst case scenario here is that Fulham gets relegated. In that case, Dempsey would probably be sold since they'd be gushing money at that point.

Hopefully that nightmare doesn't happen, Fulham will probably do what they usually do: get hot later in the season and finish up above relegation. They had a scoreless draw with Sunderland this morning.

Nothing like a little fashion controversy

On top of being a legendary coach, you have to admire (or loath) Sir Alex Ferguson for seamlessly transitioning to a cranky old man in the EPL before our very eyes.

His latest bat shit crazy rant was about snoods, the neck warmers used by players.

He has banned his Manchester United players from wearing the latest innovation in EPL fashion.

The thick, circular neck-warmers are being increasingly used by players in the English league to combat freezing temperatures that have swept across Britain over the last couple of weeks.

Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez is arguably the most well-known snood wearer, while Arsenal attackers Marouane Chamakh and Samir Nasri have also donned the accessory in recent matches.

United defender Rio Ferdinand said on Twitter "U won't see a Man Utd player wearing a SNOOD.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Good day to be a Barcelona fan

It seems too good to be true (assuming you're a Barcelona fan) but their superstar trio of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Alonso have all been nominated for the FIFA Ballon d'Or award, with the winner to be crowned the world's best player in 2010.

The FIFA Ballon d'Or combines the two major player prizes - the FIFA World Player of the year, voted for by players and coaches, and the Ballon d'Or, which was handed out by journalists via France Football magazine - for the first time next month.

Messi picked up both awards last year but is the outsider to claim it again in Zurich on January 10 despite a phenomenal 12 months. He netted 34 goals in Barca's 2009-10 La Liga success while he has started the new season in blistering scoring form claiming 22 goals in just 18 games - with 19 of those coming in his last 12 appearances.

The only blemish for the diminutive playmaker was a goalless World Cup for Argentina, as Diego Maradona's side exited at the quarter-final stage to Germany. That is the main reason why the award is likely to go to one of Spain's world champions.

In contention to usurp Messi as the world's best player are his club team-mates Xavi and Iniesta - who are joint favourites to win the award. The midfielders have enjoyed a wonderful year at both domestic and international level, having triumphed in the Primera Division with Barca and the World Cup with Spain.

Any award ceremony and nomination list is never complete without some tough omissions and this one is no different in that regard. Um Wesley Sneijder anybody?

Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti criticised the absence of Inter and Holland midfielder Wesley Sneijder from the shortlist. Sneijder was widely regarded as Inter's best player in their treble-winning season and also impressed as the Dutch reached the World Cup final.

''I find it very unfair,'' Moratti said on Inter's official website. ''Sneijder had a phenomenal year, won everything he could have won. For me he deserved the Ballon d'Or. It seems unfair the award is to be given to someone who, although a great player, didn't have the same level of performance throughout the year.''

For the women, take your pick between Marta (the Brazilian who has won it four times) or the German duo of Fatmire Bajramaj and Birgit Prinz.

Barca's Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, who won an unprecedented Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League treble with Inter Milan before switching to Real Madrid in the summer, and Spain's World Cup-winning coach Vicente del Bosque were the choices for the male Coach of the Year award.

Maren Meinert (Germany Under-20 national team), Silvia Neid (Germany national team) and Pia Sundhage (United States national team) make up the women's category.

Ajax coach Martin Jol is out; Newcastle lets Chris Hughton go, wait what?

Big doings today in the coaching ranks of European soccer.

Ajax's coach Martin Jol resigned and Newcastle got rid of its coach Chris Hughton.

What makes this story even more interesting and connected is the rumor that Jol might be next in line at Newcastle.

Newcastle took the shock decision to axe Chris Hughton on Monday afternoon, citing a desire to bring in a manager with greater experience. Peter Beardsley has been placed in temporary charge while the club seek out a successor and a host of names including Martin O'Neill and Alan Pardew have been linked with the role.

Jol was prominent in a number of bookmakers' lists for the position and he would now appear free to discuss his future with any club after tendering his resignation at the Amsterdam Arena.

Ajax announced on their website that former Holland defender Frank de Boer would take temporary charge until the winter break, while Jol claimed the criticism the club have got for their stuttering form has caused unrest in the squad.

The former Hamburg and Tottenham boss told the club's official website: ''With pain in my heart I say goodbye to this wonderful club.'We started something last summer that I would have finished. But I have come to realise that the expectations after last season were too high.

''We cannot meet such expectations. The amount of criticism that the club has had to endure daily has led to unrest in the club and among players.

''I take this decision consciously before AC Milan v Ajax (in the Champions League) is played (on Wednesday).

''The coming weeks are very important and I sincerely hope that something happens in the squad to make it in the short term a winning team.''

The Amsterdammers finished second in the league last term, a point behind FC Twente, scoring 106 goals and with a staggering goal difference of plus 86. They have struggled to repeat their end-of-season form in the early part of this campaign, though.

While Jol's removal was somewhat understandable, Hughton's seemed unexplainable, especially to his players.

Sol Campbell, who made his 500th Premier League appearance this weekend, told ESPNsoccernet: "Chris is such a lovely guy. Top man. This will hit the players hard. The players admired him, and liked him, and won't be happy now he's gone like this."

The former England, Arsenal and Tottenham centre-back added: "You have got to ask yourself why this has happened because it makes no sense. Here is a guy who has done an unbelievable job. He got the club back into the Premier league and any manager would have been rewarded for that with a new contract - but Chris wasn't.

"The players are sure to be asking themselves 'what the hell is going on?', that is only natural.

"We all had a good relationship with the players, and when we left training this morning none of the players had a clue this was coming.

"But word started to spread that the bookies had stopped taking bets and the players started texting each other with the news.

"Yes, it has come as a shock, and it will affect the dressing room there is no doubt about that."

Stay tuned to see what shakes out with both of these high-profile teams in the near future.

Friday, December 3, 2010

For the 2018 World Cup, Russia was my last choice but I can be convinced otherwise (namely by these two dimes)

If you think NCAA sports or the BCS are corrupt (and boy are they ever), you have seen nothing yet until you witness FIFA award World Cup bids to undeserving countries.

I specifically woke up early yesterday to catch the announcements live. I should have known it was doomed from the start since I couldn't find decent coverage on TV so I was forced to retreat to my computer. Watching it on, I was annoyed that it was delayed 30 minutes, another bad sign.

Finally, after all the pomp and circumstance come the bids. First up was 2018: (my order of preferences) England, Spain/Portugal, Belgium/Netherlands and Russia.

Of course Russia received 2018 and their committee of stereotypical tall, scary Russian guys and nameless babes celebrated and then made a brief, awkward speech on stage.

Shimer already told you how Qatar received the 2022 bid so I'll let that one stand on its own. Obviously, I was more disappointed with the latter since it affects me in a much bigger way but seeing Russia win was also puzzling.

Clearly, FIFA voters accepted bribes like you read about, it's the only way to explain the curious choices of Russia and Qatar. Both nations are filthy rich with oil money and under the auspices of expanding to new horizons, FIFA can say that they want to see the game develop more in virtual backwaters.

Whatever. Nobody in their right mind can make a logical case that Russia is more into soccer than England, Spain/Portugal and Belgium/Netherlands. For the bozos and clowns that get paid handsomely (legally and illegally as my man Lupe Fiasco would say), all that matters is that Russian officials and Qatar officials would line their pockets with all the money they would ever need and by the time these tournaments occur, they'll be retired and on some island.

I am 27-years-old so it's hard to surprise me these days, especially when it comes to matters in sports. However, I will say that yesterday definitely changed the way I will look at FIFA forever. Thinking that the U.S. had a shot was a waste of energy and it's going to take a long time to get over the anger associated with this ignominious day and these laughable decisions.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How do you spell flabbergasted? Q-A-T-A-R

Qatar really, we talking about Qatar here, hosting the World Cup not a game not a game not a game, we talking about the World Cup man, Qatar, the host of the game that I love, it's most coveted prize that happens once every four years, Qatar - World Cup 2022 hosts as voted by you FIFA selection committee.

That was my initial thought when Slate texted me this morning to let me know the tiny little nation that juts out off Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf like Cape Cod does off Massachusetts. By the way can you spot it on the map, if I hadn't given you all the hints above it would've kind of been like playing "Where's Waldo."

Unfortunately the night before when I was having beers with another one of my good buddies, a huge soccer fan as well, while watching Duke kick the crap out of Michigan State, I told him I had a really bad feeling about the draw as far as the U.S. was concerned.

For some reason when I had heard that Qatar was telling the FIFA selection committee that it could regulate the temperature of its stadiums, the tone in which reporters were depicting FIFA's thoughts on that "magical technology" gave me insight that it was enough to put Qatar over the top.

Apparently it did if you believe this nugget of info from Ravi Ubha's ESPN column --

"So what went wrong for the U.S.? Given FIFA's thinking, it's hard to know. Perhaps there was no wow factor, an area in which Qatar prospered with its ultramodern stadiums of the future."

I also thought Australia would give the U.S. a run for its money because of the way soccer is developing in that country -- its essentially on par with where the U.S. was 15 years ago having a relatively new professional soccer league that is not quite at the level of Major League Soccer (although the LA Galaxy did lose to a team from Australia last week) -- and also because of the fact Australia has never hosted a World Cup and has a great infrastructure to be able to do so.

So no I am not shocked although if you have the time here are a few stories to describe how completely bogus the decision was. They map out a lot of the discrepancies and senseless logic that went into these decisions on who was to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups:

Let's just break down a few things about Qatar itself.

It has never qualified for the World Cup or even come close and although I don't put a whole lot of stock into the FIFA rankings it's pretty telling that they currently sit at #113. They are not good, period.

The country is very rich, last year it had a nearly $12 billion profit thanks to its oil and natural gas industry.

As a nation it has a population about the general size of the greater metropolitan area of Las Vegas or 1.5 million people and is about the size geographically of Connecticut. And not to be an alarmist, but let's look at the region of the world Qatar is located - directly next to Saudi Arabia, which has huge problems with terrorist camps, just a small body of water away from Iran, and in an area where pirating is still very prevalent, that sounds lovely to me. At least it's borders are small, so hopefully it's tough to get into.

As for infrastructure only 3 of the 12 stadiums it needs to minimally host the World Cup are built, just nine to go, and when they are built they will all be within 20 miles of each other. Talk about a traveling nightmare, I hope the public transportation is amazing. And by the way Qatar also plans to sell off and dismantle much of the stadiums it builds after the tournament is over according to this article from the NY Times Blog FiveThirtyEight:

"And if the downside to the Qatari bid was high, its upside is also questionable. The country has only 1.5 million people, according to the World Bank, but most are expatriates or migrant workers: the citizen population is closer to 200,000. Although Qatar might be thought of as staging the tournament on behalf of the Middle East in general, the region itself also has a fairly small population — about 350 million as the area is traditionally defined. And much of the infrastructure that Qatar develops for the tournament will be superfluous: all 12 of the stadiums that it constructs will be partially dismantled after the tournament (their spare parts, Qatar says, will be shipped off to developing countries after the World Cup)."

And here's the greatest kicker, or blind being pulled over your eyes, as I mentioned before Qatar claims it has the technology to be able to regulate its temperatures inside its stadiums through some sort of air conditioning mechanism to what I have heard will be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, a relatively pleasant temperature for a game considering its summer time.

However, let's just remember this is also the BIGGEST TOURNAMENT IN THE WORLD. Sorry for the capital letters, but I felt like it needed the emphasis. This is a month-and-a-half long tourney from the start of June until middle July and we're talking about the potential for millions of fans to flock to this tiny nation. Can Qatar also regulate the temperatures of its downtown city or cities - I'm not sure that it has more than one major city by the way - because it's going to be pretty frigin hot out there too. In fact Qatar averages temps of 115 at that time of year, AVERAGES! Yikes. So when they're packing all these people into this tiny country like sardines, and everyone is stuck in traffic, we're going to be cooking the sardines too. Tasty.

Does that sound like a great pitch to host the 2022 World Cup or what? I think so. Lest I forget that Qatar was also the only "high risk" nation assessed by FIFA's governing body itself, the only of the nine other countries that were in contention for both the 2018 and 2022 cups.

Oh and you want me to believe this uber wealthy nation didn't bribe other FIFA selection committee representatives as the BBC uncovered about the Tahiti representative and the Nigeria representative -- coughing-noise (BULL-SHIT)-under my breath.

Yes I understand the Middle East has never hosted a World Cup and 350 million people live in that region of the world, but Qatar was not the answer by a long shot. If you're looking for the right nation it has got to be either one of two countries - Turkey, which I understand is now a part of the European Union, but still is technically in the Middle East region or Egypt, which I again understand geographically is in the continent of Africa, but for some strange reason on this latest vote of the Executive Committee was a part of the Asian voting group with Japan, Qatar, South Korea, and Thailand. Those two countries are passionate about soccer, those two countries have great national soccer teams who could do well in the tournament, those two countries are big enough to be able to handle the demands of a major tournament, those two countries will feel more of a lasting impact on growing the game of soccer in their own countries after the tournament is over.

You don't really need me to explain why the U.S. would the best candidate to host its second World Cup extravaganza. I think most of the points are pretty obvious just looking at the growth in the game since the 1994 Cup came to the states really exemplifies that point as does the fact that we are without equivocation the greatest sporting nation in the world and that cannot be argued. Virtually 80 percent of the world's wealthiest franchises reside in the states with amazing facilities that could have gone towards hosting an amazing tournament. And if you are trying to grow what is already the World's biggest game, why not continue to do so in a market that has shown signs with a young growing foundation of fans but still has the potential for huge expansion. Need I say more.