Thursday, December 22, 2011
With European-based American players in the middle of their club seasons in January, U.S. men's soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann made the right choice to call in a mostly MLS 20-man roster for the team's friendlies against Venezuela and Panama.
All but two play in Major League Soccer, and more than half of the players announced Thursday have two or fewer appearances with the senior national team.
"They are the next in line behind the established players, and this is a chance to prove themselves," Klinsmann said. "We will spend the next few weeks introducing them to our ideas on how we want to play and what it means to be a part of the national team. Ultimately, it will create more depth for us, which you need at this level."
MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez got his first call-up under Klinsmann, as did the league's Rookie of the Year, C.J. Sapong. Gonzalez, who made his U.S. debut against Brazil in August 2010, was a key part of the defense for the MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy, who tied a league record with 17 regular-season shutouts and allowed just 38 goals. Sapong, a forward, led all MLS rookies with five goals and five assists.
Dallas midfielder Brek Shea, one of only three players to appear in all seven matches since Klinsmann was hired in July, is on the training camp roster. So is Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who has made five starts and six appearances under Klinsmann. Klinsmann also called up Ricardo Clark, who has not played for the U.S. since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
"The European-based players and the Mexican-based players aren't available, so this is their shot," Klinsmann said. "Their goal has to be to move ahead of the guy in front of him in their position, and the only way they can do that is to show how good they are."
This camp will take place between January 3-26 in the United States and Panama. The U.S. takes on Venezuela on January 21 in Phoenix before wrapping up with a match in Panama on January 25. Two friendlies against teams that they should be competitive with, even though most of the big names won't take part.
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake)
Defenders: Geoff Cameron (Houston), A.J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles), George John (Dallas), Zach Loyd (Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland, Denmark), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Salt Lake), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt, Germany), Benny Feilhaber (New England), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorad), Brek Shea (Dallas), Graham Zusi (Kansas City)
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New York), Teal Bunbury (Kansas City), C.J. Sapong (Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose).
Not being an MLS fan at all, I'm interested to see the Johnsons, Camerons, DeLaGarzas, etc that I honestly have never heard of, let alone seen compete on a soccer field. There has to be a couple promising prospects in this group of mostly new names.
It'll also be worth watching to see how former Revolution star Michael Parkhurst is doing these days, not to mention see what form Ricardo Clark is in after his disastrous last appearance for the U.S. when they got bounced from the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals (losing to Ghana 2-1).
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
With the year end awards and wrap ups in full swing, it's only proper that the U.S. women's national team gets more recognition.
Today, U.S. women's star striker Abby Wambach was named the 2011 Female Athlete of the Year in the United States by the Associated Press.
She received 65 of 214 of the votes cast with teammate Hope Solo (38) second and UConn basketball standout Maya Moore (35) third overall.
What makes this particularly cool for Wambach and U.S. soccer fans is that she is the first man or woman to win one of the AP's annual awards, which began in 1931.
"We, as a team, did something that no team since Mia Hamm was able to do,'' Wambach told the AP. "Even the team that won the (Olympic) gold medal in 2008 wasn't able to inspire and get people excited about women's soccer. It goes to show you the impact drama can bring.''
Wambach's four goals in Germany give her 13 in three World Cup appearances. That's the most by an American, topping Michelle Akers by one, and puts her third on the all-time World Cup scoring list behind Brazil forward Marta and Germany striker Birgit Prinz. The 31-year-old American ranks third on the U.S. career scoring list with 125 goals, trailing only Mia Hamm (158) and Kristine Lilly (130).
"When she's on top of her game,'' United States coach Pia Sundhage said, "she's one of the best in the world.''
Wambach was certainly at her best at the World Cup, leading the Americans to the final, where they lost to Japan on penalty kicks.
Wambach was also named Sportswoman of the Year by the Women's Sports Foundation, and the victory over Brazil was named the top sports accomplishment of the year in a Marist poll. The Women's World Cup ranked 10th in the voting for AP sports story of the year.
"I'm not a person who cares much about (individual) awards, but I really appreciate you guys recognizing this team,'' Wambach said. "It helps keep this sport alive, and it's really important.''
Wambach takes her role as ambassador for the game seriously, recognizing that time in the spotlight is still rare for women's soccer and it must be taken advantage of. She is as accommodating a star athlete as there is, happy to sign autographs, pose for pictures or do interviews. This is how the game is grown, and that, not the goals or the scoring records, is what she hopes her legacy will be.
"Hopefully when I'm long gone, this team is so good that people don't even talk about (me),'' she said. "Truthfully.''
Not that Wambach is going anywhere.
The Americans are the defending Olympic champions, and Wambach and her teammates are currently training for next month's regional qualifying tournament. She hopes to be healthy enough to play at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, and fill that last gap in a resume as dazzling as anyone who's ever worn the U.S. uniform.
"I have to say, of all people, I think she is one of the best role models: interacting with fans, saying good things about the game, saying good things about this country, saying good things about her teammates,'' Sundhage said. "I'm very proud of the fact I've had the chance to coach her for so many years. It will be a highlight of my career.''
This validates soccer in a big way that even an old established thing like the AP can't ignore it anymore. People are watching it, talking about it, kids all play it and many more people are starting to care about it more. These are all great things that we should all celebrate as 2011 ends.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
The U.S. men's national team is improving its coaching staff even more as they hired former Austrian star Andreas Herzog to be an assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann. Details of his new U.S. deal were unavailable.
Herzog was a midfielder for Austria and he scored 26 goals in 103 international matches between 1998-2003. That impressive goal total for a midfielder is the most ever among all Austrian players.
Most recently, he was Austria's under-21 coach. He left that position on Friday according to the Austrian federation.
Herzog and Klinsmann should have natural chemistry since they were teammates with Bayern Munich when the German club captured the UEFA Cup in 1996.
"Jurgen Klinsmann and I have been close friends for many years now. I face this new challenge with great confidence," Herzog said in the Austrian federation's statement.
Herzog played for Rapid Vienna, Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich, before coming to the United States and MLS with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2004. He was an assistant to Austria coaches Josef Hickersberger and Karel Brueckner before taking over the under-21 team in March 2009.
His first match as an assistant to Klinsmann will be a January 21 friendly against Venezuela, followed closely by a friendly against Panama on January 25.
Like I said when the U.S. hired Klinsmann, the more foreigners the better for the U.S. men's national team (in terms of naturalized players and coaches). We've seen how far U.S. born coaches can take us, we need more experienced guys internationally that can overhaul our youth programs and change our playing style. It's the only hope we have to ever get over the hump and be a serious World Cup contender in our lifetimes.
Friday, December 16, 2011
It's been hard to keep up with the UEFA Champions League but with today's draw for the round of 16 (which begins with the first legs on February 14), things are starting to get clearer and easier to focus on.
The knockout pairings with the group winners listed first:
Arsenal vs. AC Milan
Chelsea vs. Napoli
Barcelona (defending champions) vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Real Madrid vs. CSKA Moscow
Bayern Munich vs. FC Basel
APOEL Nicosia (no clue who that is) vs. Lyon
Benfica vs. Zenit St. Petersburg
Inter Milan vs. Marseille
For my money, the most tasty matchups are Arsenal vs. AC Milan, Chelsea vs. Napoli and Barcelona vs. Bayer Leverkusen. You'll note that Manchester United is nowhere to be seen there since mighty FC Basel eliminated them in the last round.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, there's a 25% chance that no English club (there's only 2 left) reach the quarterfinals. If that happens, it would be the first time since 1995-96 that no English teams were in the final eight. Something to pay attention to when these games start up again.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Injuries are always around the corner in professional sports but that doesn't make them any easier to accept no matter how many times they occur.
I woke up this morning and checked Twitter, like I always do, and was disheartened to find the news that Barcelona and Spanish star striker David Villa broke his leg.
It happened today while he was playing with Barcelona in a Club World Cup semifinal match against Al-Sadd.
Villa, 30, was carried off on a stretcher six minutes before half-time at International Stadium Yokohama after appearing to land awkwardly and was taken to hospital for tests.
Barcelona confirmed that Spain's all-time record scorer had "suffered a fracture to the tibia in his left leg" and is likely to miss the majority of Barca's Primera Division and Champions League campaigns, but could be available to world and European champions Spain for Euro 2012, which begins in June.
A statement from Barcelona read: "In the coming hours, Villa will return to Barcelona, via Frankfurt, to be operated on. He will be accompanied by doctor Ricard Pruna and Manel Estiarte. The approximate time he will be sidelined is between four and five months.''
Head coach Pep Guardiola said after the match: "He will now travel to Barcelona as soon as possible. He will be greatly missed as a colleague and as a player. I hope everything goes well.
"He will be a long time. It's a big blow to the team. We just hope that he can play again as soon as possible.
"David is very dear to us. The injury has saddened us all. Everyone can put themselves in his place and know how they would suffer if it happened to them. They feel for him. We must accept it and encourage him in his recovery.''
Guardiola insisted now was not the time to discuss January reinforcements in the light of Villa's absence.
"Let us have compassion and respect,'' he said. "Let's give it time. Now is not the time to talk about it.''
The blow follows a report on Wednesday in Marca that claimed Villa could leave Barca in the January transfer window as the striker has started only half of his side's La Liga matches this season.
Guardiola moved to reject the rumour, branding it as a "lie", and defended his decision to leave Villa on the bench for their El Clasico victory over Real Madrid at the weekend.
Villa has scored five times in 15 league matches this season, following on from his 18 goals in 34 games as Barca won the league title last term. He has made 75 appearances for the club in all competitions, scoring 32 goals.
Villa is projected to miss four or five months, meaning the rest of La Liga (Barcelona is tied with Real Madried at the top) and Champions League campaign (Barce is the defending champ in that too) is likely over for one of the world's greatest goal-scorers.
It is never fun to see a good player in any sport you enjoy pick up a serious injury. Let's all hope that Villa heals properly and is back doing his thing for his country in June at Euro 2012.
Great news today for U.S. men's soccer team fans as it was announced that Landon Donovan will return to Everton in January for a two-month loan with the Toffees.
His Major League soccer team, the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy, broke the news which will give Everton some attacking help as they try to improve on a particularly slow start in the English Premier League.
The Toffees are currently in 12th place (out of 20) in the EPL and if anything, they're lucky to be even that high since they've scored a measly 15 goals in 14 matches.
Donovan will be eligible to play starting January 4 as Everton hosts Bolton. He will be there for nine matches (8 EPL, 1 FA Cup), through a farewell game on February 25 at Liverpool.
Unfortunately, in that time frame Everton won't play Fulham and Donovan's U.S. teammate Clint Dempsey but they have notable matches Jan. 11 at Tottenham, Feb. 1 they host Manchester City and Feb. 11 they host Chelsea.
Tim Howard is still Everton's No. 1 goalkeeper so Donovan will be reunited with him. You probably remember that the first time around (January-March 2010) that Donovan scored two goals in 13 matches for the Toffees but most importantly, he won over the fickle English fans who understandably doubted his abilities.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Let's be honest, the path to the 2012 Olympics in London is pretty easy for the U.S. men's team.
It was announced yesterday, the U.S. men's under-23 team (aka the Olympic squad) will face Canada, Cuba and El Salvador next spring in Nashville, TN for regional qualifying. They are coached by Caleb Porter, also the head coach at the highly successful University of Akron.
I'm not predicting 5-0 wins in each game but come on, the U.S. should roll over each of those garbage teams. Sorry, this isn't hockey (Canada) or baseball (Cuba). El Salvador isn't known for anything else, they just blow.
These games should serve as a sort of a warmup for the Olympics not to mention the World Cup qualifiers that some of the more talented team members will also participate in.
Striker Juan Agudelo is on the U-23 team and other guys eligible include goalkeeper Bill Hamid, defender Timothy Chandler, defender Alfredo Morales, midfielder Danny Williams, midfielder Freddy Adu, midfielder Brek Shea and striker Jozy Altidore. They have all been invited to the senior national team's camps and in some cases, they are already some of their top players.
The team can also call in three overage players for the Olympics, something to keep in mind as next summer approaches. As I said last week with the Euro 2012 draw, next summer is going to rule. Between Euro 2012, London Olympics, Champions League and World Cup qualifying, there is going to be plenty of world-class soccer around every corner.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Big news for Manchester United and Mexico fans not to mention those of us that despise both of those teams: striker Javier "Chicarito" Hernandez will likely miss a month of action with torn ligaments in his ankle.
On Saturday, in the first half of Man U's 1-0 win at Aston Villa, Hernandez was taken off on a stretcher.
The Red Devils had a Champions League match tomorrow afternoon against Basel and they also have seven games in the next four weeks. A busy stretch of the season for the defending EPL champs and Champions League runner-up.
"I think it is torn ligaments in the ankle and he'll be out for four weeks," Sir Alex Ferguson said. "We are having a bad time with injuries at the moment but that is why we have a strong squad."
The injury to Hernandez compounds Ferguson's selection headaches. He is already without midfielders Tom Cleverly and Anderson. In recent weeks, he has used forward Wayne Rooney in the midfield. Danny Welbeck is the only available first-team striker that has seen significant playing time in recent months. Ferguson plans to take a patch-work approach to the attack in the coming weeks.
"Danny Welbeck is fit again and fortunately he got 15 minutes (against Villa) which is good, so he is an option for Wednesday," Ferguson said. "He has not had a lot of football recently which is something I have to consider.
"But Nani did alright through the middle and Antonio Valencia did very well for us when he came on, he was excellent. So I have some options up-front. We may have Berbatov fit for Wednesday also, but we are getting our fair share of injuries at the moment."
I'm sure scummy Mexican fans (some of the worst on the planet) would cheer if U.S. men's national team stars like Landon Donovan, Tim Howard or Clint Dempsey got hurt but I'm going to take the high road here. Mostly because I love soccer and whenever a great player like Chicarito misses time, we all lose.
Monday, December 5, 2011
U.S. soccer fans were treated to an excellent (minus a bogus red card) Fulham vs. Liverpool match on ESPN2 this afternoon.
It was particularly notable to U.S. fans since one of our country's greatest ever exports-Clint Dempsey-broke Brian McBride's English Premier League record with 37 career goals abroad. Oh and by the way, it was the game's lone goal as Fulham got a big 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage.
I missed the game since my cable went out (not happy at all) but let's read Soccer By Ives' account (an excellent soccer blog): Clint Dempsey's legend at Fulham continues to grow with every goal he scores.
The Texas native did it again on Monday, scoring an 85th-minute winner for Fulham in a 1-0 victory over Liverpool. Minutes after hitting the crossbar with a bending effort from the top of the area, Dempsey found himself in perfect position to slot home a spilled rebound by Pepe Reina from close range.
With the goal, Dempsey set a new standard for Americans in the Premier League. He entered the match tied with Brian McBride with 36 Premiership goals but now owns that record for his own.
I tried to find a highlight of the goal, a rebound from right on the goalmouth but the YouTube police were out in full force taking them down. My best advice is to watch Fox Soccer Channel or maybe they'll show it on Sportscenter.
The greatest rivalry going in club soccer has extended to year-end award shows as well. Barcelona stars Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez along with Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo were named finalists for FIFA's Ballon d'Or after outlasting 20 other nominees.
Messi also won the award two years ago when France Football magazine chose the best player in Europe. The Ballon d'Or is now merged with FIFA's player of the year award to create one trophy.
"As I've always said, it's great to win individual awards, especially the prestigious ones, but what comes first for me is winning matches and titles,'' Messi said.
Messi and Ronaldo have already scored 17 league goals this season. They face each other in the Spanish league on Saturday.
"It's great to be again nominated as one of the FIFA Ballon d'Or final 3 contenders,'' Ronaldo said on his Twitter account.
Ronaldo won the Golden Ball award in 2008, and his quest to overtake Messi as the world's top player has seen the Portuguese star playing probably the best football of his career over the past year.
He broke the Spanish league scoring record with 40 goals last season, including 11 in his last four games.
Messi scored fewer - 31 league goals - but set up more than Ronaldo. He also walked away with the Champions League and Spanish league titles, while Ronaldo only won the Copa del Rey, or Spanish Cup, scoring with a bullet header in the final against Barcelona.
The winner will be announced on Jan. 9 in Zurich, Switzerland.
If Messi wins the award for the third time, he will join former France midfielder Michel Platini, and former Netherlands greats Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten as three-time Golden Ball winners.
The 24-year-old Messi scored in the 3-1 win over Manchester United in last season's Champions League final.
Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho, Manchester United's Alex Ferguson and Barcelona's Pep Guardiola are in the running for best coach.
Messi hailed Guardiola's influence and the way he has modernized the club.
"His leadership is so important to us, not just in the day-to-day but in the way he prepares games and keeps us motivated,'' Messi said on FIFA's website. "His attention to detail also makes a huge difference. When he came in, for example, he decided that we should start having lunch at the club and that the doctors and our (physiotherapist) should keep a closer eye on us.''
Madrid currently leads the Spanish league ahead of Barcelona, but last season Mourinho was powerless to stop the Catalans from dominating Europe. Barcelona beat Madrid 3-1 over two legs in the Champions League semifinals, with Messi scoring twice in Madrid. Ronaldo failed to score and cut a downcast figure as he was totally outshone by Messi.
Messi, Neymar and Wayne Rooney are shortlisted for the best goal award.
My money is on Messi to win since he's the best player on the best team. Plus, he's coming off the best season. Ronaldo and Xavi (in that order) are worthy choices too but it just feels like Messi's resume is better and it's his time to win, again.
Friday, December 2, 2011
I spent a decent amount of time this afternoon watching Fox Soccer Channel, in anticipation of the Euro 2012 draw. It was tedious but in the end, holy crap. This is going to be an excellent tournament starting next June 8 in Poland with the hosts facing Greece at 1:00 ET and Russia facing the Czech Republic at 3:45 ET.
The Polish got a gift as Group A appears on first blush to be the easiest of the four. Along with Greece, they have Russia and the Czech Republic. None of those teams are great by any means, they all could win it.
Group B is the Group of Death, which is a staple in every major soccer tournament. Poor Denmark is stuck with Portugal, Germany and Netherlands. Good luck with that Danes. That means in group play alone, we will be treated to Portugal vs. Germany and Portugal vs. Netherlands. You won't find many juicier international matches than those.
The defending World Cup and European champions Spain lead Group C and it looks like the Spanish have a relatively easy road to the knockout stage. Ireland, Italy and Croatia make up the rest of that group. You could make a case for any of those three coming in second so that should be an interesting race to watch.
Group D features another one of the great opening round matches pitting France vs. England. Ukraine and Sweden make up the rest of that group which clearly is wide open and could be topped by any of those four teams.
Is it too early to be pumped for next summer? Between Champions League play in the spring, the London Olympics in the summer and Euro 2012, it promises to be an unbelievable time to be a soccer fan. Nothing is better than a big-time international soccer tournament. I can only hope that I get to Vegas before then or at least earn enough scratch to get on Bodog and throw some money down. Haha gambling makes everything more exciting damn it!
Must see games:
Saturday, June 9-Germany vs. Portugal, 3:45 ET
Sunday, June 10-Spain vs. Italy, 1:00 ET
Monday, June 11-France vs. England, 1:00 ET
Wednesday, June 13-Netherlands vs. Germany, 3:45 ET
Thursday, June 14-Spain vs. Ireland, 3:45 ET
Sunday, June 17-Portugal vs. Netherlands, 3:45 ET
Monday, June 18-Spain vs. Croatia, 3:45 ET
Monday, June 18-Italy vs. Ireland, 3:45 ET