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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

3 U.S. Women's Players Nominated For 2011 FIFA Women's World Player Of The Year

2011 has been a great year for U.S. women's soccer. Despite falling in absurdly epic fashion to Japan in penalty kicks during the 2011 Women's World Cup Final, you have to admit that the team is back at the forefront for women's sports in this country after spending a few years on the backburner.

For the most part, they're young, beautiful, athletic, have personalities and they are interesting. A pretty good combination any way that you slice it. Their success on the field and appeal off of it has surely sparked another resurgence in soccer around the U.S. for kids, particularly in girls.

Yesterday, goalkeeper Hope Solo (current star of ABC's Dancing With The Stars) along with forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan were part of the 10 player list nominated for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year award.

Five-time winner Marta of Brazil headlines the other nominees which also include Japan's Homare Sawa (the World Cup's leading scorer and top player) and Aya Mayama. Marta helped lead the Western New York Flash to the Women's Professional Soccer title but she also choked along with her teammates in the quarterfinals to the U.S. in the World Cup. Mostly for that reason and because I like to see different deserving people win awards, I say that Marta should not win this for the sixth time in a row (come on!).

The list was chosen by FIFA officials and journalists selected by France Football magazine so it should come as no surprise that France shamelessly put up its playmaker Louisa Necib for the award.

U.S. women's head coach Pia Sundhage and Japan's head coach Norio Sasaki are 10 nominees (10, really?) for best coach of a women's team in 2011. Sasaki is one of seven men on that list.

The final three candidates will be unveiled on December 5. In addition, stay tuned as next Tuesday FIFA will announce 10 candidates for the best men's player and coach. All of the winners will be feted January 9 by FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland. National team coaches plus captains and journalists vote for these honors.

Put me down for saying that Sawa and Sasaki should win although I fully expect FIFA to bungle it and go for Marta and some no-name coach.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

This Just In: Spain Is Good At Soccer

When you get down to it, what is the purpose of the monthly FIFA rankings? It has to be more than just to tease and remind U.S. soccer fans how far our team has to go before anybody really respects it. Sadly, that seems to be all I think about when I view the latest depressing rankings.

The top five is predictable: Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Uruguay and Brazil. 6-10 are more surprising: Italy, England, Greece and Portugal are tied for eighth, Argentina and Denmark are tied for tenth. The Greeks and Danes were propelled by winning their group stages in Euro 2012 qualifying.

Mexico is the top CONCACAF squad at No. 22 while the U.S. slots in at 34. Ugh terrible but totally deserved. Former U.S. head coach Bob Bradley and his new team Egypt are up seven places to No. 29.

Japan leads all Asian countries (17) while Ivory Coast is the top African squad (19).

Other notable teams include Montenegro (39), who reached the Euro 2012 playoffs, and Estonia (59) which is the lowest ranked of the eight playoff teams.

Wales won two Euro 2012 matches and had the biggest jump, 45 places up to No. 45. Iraq moved up to No. 91 (16 spots higher) after a win in World Cup qualifying over China. Qatar, the controversial 2022 World Cup host moved up to 92 while Oceania's best team-New Zealand-fell to No. 104 (dropping 16 spots) despite not playing last month.

U.S. Men's National Team Set For A Short European Vacation In November

After months of rumors, the U.S. men's national team has finally set its final two exhibitions of 2011 in Europe: November 11 against France in Saint-Denis (outside of Paris) and November 15 against Slovenia in Ljubljana (which apparently is a real place) at Stozice Stadium.

Both matches have some intrigue since the U.S. and Slovenia were in the same group in the 2010 World Cup. Who could ever forget that improbable U.S. tie (2-2)? It was capped off by Landon Donovan's biggest goal of his career. The stakes will be much lower this time but it does mark the first U.S. trip to Slovenia so expect plenty of hype over there; I mean really, what else is going on in Slovenia, ever?

France formerly used to be one of Europe's strongest teams but with the 2010 World Cup serving as the boiling point, they've devolved into a complete mess. Still, they must be taken seriously with extremely talented players like Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka and Bayern Munich midfielder Franck Ribery.

The U.S. needs to win at least one of those games and start improving on Jurgen Klinsmann's (1-3-1) less than impressive start to his U.S. head coaching career.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Javier Hernandez aka Chicharito Gets Five More Years At Manchester United

Any U.S. men's national team fan can tell you that Mexican striker Javier Hernandez aka Chicharito is one of the world's best strikers these days. As such, he's one of the reasons that Mexico will likely always be at a level above the U.S. for as long as he laces up his cleats with his buddy Giovani Dos Santos.

Likewise, the 23-year-old made an immediate impact for the world's second best club team-Manchester United-last season with 20 goals in all competitions. Today, he was rewarded with a five-year extension with the English Premier League's top team.

I hate Man U but watching Chicharito and Wayne Rooney work together is beautiful, they're easily one of the top striker duos right now. Just lethal with Hernandez providing the speed and Rooney the power. Some evidence of that will surely be on display Saturday morning as Liverpool faces Manchester United in a huge early season showdown.

His representative Eduardo Hernandez told ESPN Deportes: "The initial contract was good for Manchester and for Javier because it enabled them both to see if they could fit together and if he could achieve what was expected of him. Both sides have met their expectations and United were happy to reward Javier after his very good performances last season.

"I will not talk about numbers, but it is a five-year contract. It is a fixed salary with incentives based on the team's success in each of the different tournaments.

"Javier was not badly paid with his initial contract, but it was his first contract and, with respect, not comparable with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Nani. But today I can say that the contract has just been signed and everyone is satisfied."

The agent also played down recent speculation linking his client with Spanish giants Real Madrid, saying: "It was never likely that Javier would leave.

"Talks began some time ago and United came up with a very good offer and I have nothing but praise for the way they have recognised Javier's performances."

He's been battling injuries this season so he's off to a slow start (2 goals, 7 shots in 6 games) but expect Hernandez to pick it up now that his contract status is all sealed and his health has improved.

Wayne Rooney To Miss All Three Games In Euro 2012 Group Stage

England has qualified for Euro 2012 but they'll be without their best player for the group stage (3 matches) since striker Wayne Rooney was suspended for a sloppy challenge (red card) he committed against Montenegro last week.

Rooney won't be available until the quarterfinals of Euro 2012, should his country advance that far without him.

England have three days to appeal the decision, which seems a formality given the severity of the punishment.

A statement from UEFA read: "The UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body has today handed down a three-match suspension to England forward Wayne Rooney following his dismissal during the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier in Montenegro last Friday, 7 October.

"Today's decision was taken in relation to the red card shown to Rooney for assault after 74 minutes of England's final Group G game, the 2-2 draw with Montenegro in Podgorica. The striker will now be suspended from playing in his country's next three UEFA national competition matches for which he would be eligible.

"An appeal may be lodged against the verdict of the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body within three days of the dispatch of the reasoned decision."

The FA say they will look at the full reasons behind the UEFA decision before deciding whether to appeal.

An FA statement said: "Further to UEFA's decision to impose a three-match suspension on Wayne Rooney following his sending off against Montenegro, the FA await the full reasons from the disciplinary committee, and will give full consideration to the decision internally, before deciding on any response to UEFA or making any further public comment.''

England head coach Fabio Capello said that Rooney will not start any of England friendlies in the run-up to Euro 2012 as he tries to find a system that works without the Man U superstar. Still, if the three-match ban stands he may have to reconsider his place in the squad.

The draw for the Euro 2012 finals is on December 2.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

U.S. vs. Ecuador 2nd half live blog

Bradley and Beasley (95th CAP but still only 29-years-old) are on to start the second half for the U.S. I wholeheartedly approve of that. Spector and Agudelo are also on. Edu, Shea, Altidore and Cherunodlo all off.

Ecuador wins the first corner of the second half but can't do much with it.

Howard makes an easy stop on Arroyo.

Agudelo wins the U.S.' first corner kick in the second half.

Dempsey almost gets sprung for a good chance but he can't get the shot off.

Beasley's pass gets deflected out for a corner. Dempsey gets blocked in the box. Beasley has brought some energy early in the second half since coming on. He won a free kick right outside of the box. Bradley curls it wide and over.

Dempsey drops back into the box and blocks a shot out for an Ecuador corner. Jefferson Montero shoots wide for Ecuador, their best shot so far. It just skipped wide by a few feet.

First sub for Ecuador, Montero out for Jamie Ayovi.

Beckerman with a terrible giveaway leads to Bocanegra being forced to take down an Ecuador's Benitez, he gets the yellow card he deserves.

Second Ecuador substitution, Christian Suarez on for Antonio Valenica.

Edson Buddle in for Williams. I liked what I saw from Williams in his second appearance for the U.S.

Begging for the U.S. to take some shots and Beasley obliges by hitting one way wide with his right foot. Now I see why he never uses it. Minutes later, he has a better shot with his favored left. Beasley hasn't scored for the U.S in three years.

Last U.S. sub with Tim Ream on for Bocanegra. Thierry Henry was shown at the game with a hooded sweatshirt on and more interested with his phone than the action in front of him.

Chandler with a nice run down the left side, he wins a free kick outside the box. Bradley with a perfect ball in, deflected out by Ecuador for a U.S. corner (sixth of the game). Haha it drops to Onyewu who turns (good) but shoots it about as badly as you'd expect.

Ream gets beaten to a header by Jaime Ayovi (from his brother Walter) who puts it in for Ecuador. He was right on top of Howard so he had not chance to stop it. 1-0 Ecuador in the 79th minute.

Two U.S. corners lead to a nice save on Spector's redirect and a header out of bounds.

Wasteful cross by the U.S. goes over the net. 2 goals in previous 4 games under Klinsmann. John Harkes rightly points out that when Dempsey gets the ball right now, nobody is giving him a target or making a run.

Another Ecuador sub: Paredes on for Arroyo.

Pathetic dive by Ecuador, Onyewu goes up for a 50/50 ball, bumps the other guy and gets a yellow card. Ecuador's player was holding his head (which wasn't touched) even before he hit the ground. Ugh.

Four minutes of stoppage time. The U.S. wins a corner but Bradley hits it too long for Dempsey.

In 2011, the U.S. is 5-6-3 with 13 goals in 14 games. Not so good.

Gooch plays a nice ball to Dempsey, his shot is deflected into the side netting. Gotta be the last U.S. corner. Dempsey crosses it but it's no trouble to Banguera, that should do it.

Final: Ecuador 1, U.S. 0

Klinsmann falls to 1-3-1 but the U.S. played well, especially in the first half. One glaring defensive mistake cost them dearly and they still are really struggling to find a way to score goals. Onyewu and Beasley were pleasant surprises. Ecuador is a good team too, no shame losing to them.

U.S. vs Ecuador 1st half live blog

It's been four years since the U.S. has beaten a South American country so what better time than to do it against the same team (Ecuador) that they did it last time? This friendly takes place at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ, home of MLS' New York Red Bulls.

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann (1-2-1) goes for his second straight win after his squad beat Honduras 1-0 on Saturday night in Miami.

Here's your starting 11 for the US:
Tim Howard in goal
Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Timmy Chandler in the back
Kyle Beckerman, Danny Williams, Maurice Edu and Brek Shea in the midfield
Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore up top

The U.S. subs tonight include Rimando, Spector, Ream, Bradley, Beasley, Buddle and Agudelo.

Williams makes a nice run and move before getting it to Shea. Long hard shot knocked out for a U.S. corner. Ecuador's goalkeeper punches it out and Beckerman kicks it way wide.

U.S. free kick from outside the box, hit right into the Ecuador wall.

Ecuador's first good chance as Jefferson Montero beats Cherundolo and his shot is tipped wide by Howard.

Classic Gooch: he intercepts a bad through pass and then hits an ever worse ball that's easily picked off by Ecuador. Story of his career.

Dempsey finds Shea on the flank, he takes on a Ecuador defender and wins another corner kick. The U.S. hits a good ball but it's knocked away by a defender. The Ecuador goalkeeper Maximo Banguera (who's wearing a DirectTV HD hat, really) runs into a U.S. shoulder and fakes an injury for a few moments.

Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden get their first mentions of the night. Wish that the U.S. had either of those guys available tonight.

Can someone please cut Brek Shea's hair? He's becoming a good player, he can ditch the JV hairstyle now. It makes him look like a goof.

Ecuador doesn't have Brazil in its World Cup qualifying group, giving them a much better chance to advance to Brazil 2014.

Antonio Valencia is one of Ecuador's top players and also a member of Manchester United. He's a right back.

The U.S. gets some good pressure on a cross into the box but Williams' shot is blocked by a defender.

Ecuador counterattacks and wins their first corner kick.

As expected, tons of Ecuador fans in the NY/NJ area and at the game tonight. Let's be honest though, what else is there to do in Ecuador?

Great passing by the U.S., one touch from Shea, to Dempsey but Edu blows it by hitting it right to Benguera.

Altidore hit Williams with a nice pass but he slipped before he could get into the Ecuador box.

Bocanegra shields an Ecuador attacker and allows Howard to get to a 50/50 ball first.

So Jurgen has Chandler and Williams, any other German players that have shaky connections to the U.S. that we can exploit? Haha, it's for the good of our country.

Altidore gets poked in the eye on the edge of the box but no foul call. Jozy has three goals in eight league matches so far this season with his club team in Holland.

Oh nice, Ernie Stewart works for the team AZ Alkmaar that Altidore currently plays for. Stewart was one of the most underrated U.S. men's players in the 1990s.

Third U.S. corner after Dempsey just mistimes a header.

Dempsey with a volley that goes over, it didn't miss by that much. If anyone on the U.S. is taking that shot, you want it to be Clint.

Altidore gets in the face of Ecuador's Arroyo after the latter hacked him from behind to give the U.S. a free kick. Nice to see some emotion and toughness from Jozy as he got right in his face.

Shea called for shaky foul in Ecuador's box, he would have had a nice chance otherwise to cross it or hit a shot on goal.

Edu had a tricky ball bounce to him at the top of Ecuador's box but he completely whiffed. And that's why you're Maurice Edu, you'll never be known for your goal-scoring prowess.

Two minutes of added time.

Klinsmann looks like he's been playing with some balloons, haha his hair is standing up.

Halftime: U.S. 0, Ecuador 0

One of the best halves under Klinsmann for the U.S. They owned possession and seemed to be in Ecuador's end for most of the first 45+ minutes. They need to make more of their chances offensively but that's been true with the U.S. forever. A win against a quality opponent like this would be a nice development.

Everton's Goalkeeper Coach Joins U.S. Staff

Tim Howard is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world and as far as I know, there's nobody in the U.S. men's national team system that is pushing to take playing time away from him anytime soon.

That's why it makes perfect sense that U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann added Chris Woods to his staff. Who is Chris Woods you ask? He's been Everton's goalkeeper coach for the past 13 seasons which just so happens to be the club that Howard plays for in the English Premier League.

I don't think goalkeeper coaches do much, especially at that level, but I'm all in favor of doing anything that keeps Howard happy and performing at the level he's been at for years now. It's clear that he must have a close relationship with Woods at Everton so why not bring him to the U.S. for his international matches?

This hire doesn't require much creative thought but I'll venture a guess that the former Bruce Arena regime failed to think outside the box on a simple concept like this.

PS. The U.S. men meet Ecuador tonight at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ (7 p.m. on ESPN2). Stop by here because I'll be doing a live blog as Klinsmann tries to get his second straight win with the United States.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

There's Only One Clint Dempsey

I'm in New Hampshire for the long weekend so I only caught bits and pieces of the U.S. vs. Honduras match tonight but I had to post this highlight. The U.S. won 1-0, Jurgen Klinsmann's first win, in Miami and it was all thanks to Clint Dempsey's excellent strike. Tim Howard earned the shutout.

I have the game sitting on my DVR at home. It didn't seem to be too exciting overall (it was pouring) but if I decide to watch it (good chance), I'll write a more detailed summary at some point next week.

Until then, say it with me: there's only one Clint Dempsey! What a goal, there's nobody else on the U.S. that could even dream of pulling off a move like that.