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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hi Haters: Landon Donovan Continues To Do Work For Everton On His 2nd Loan

I've never pretended to be the biggest Landon Donovan fan.

In a column last week, Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl referred to U.S. fans as either Donovan supporters or Clint Dempsey honks. Without question, I fall into the latter category but I have to admit that Landycakes is getting it done in Everton, again.

In today's 1-0 win over Manchester City, Donovan had the assist on the game-winning goal by Darron Gibson in the 60th minute.

As you can see in this shaky YouTube highlight that was obviously taken right from a TV, the deflection in the box comes to Donovan. Rather than rush or force a shot, he lays it off softly for Gibson who hammers it in.

If you're scoring at home, this was the fifth assist for Donovan in seven matches (including FA Cup games) with Everton on this loan spell, his second with the Toffees.

A cynic would say where is this guy when the United States plays non-CONCACAF legitimate opponents but hey, at least he is doing this somewhere against top-flight competition. All we can hope is that this pushes him into a great spring and summer with the U.S. as they start World Cup qualifying for Brazil 2014.

PS Tim Howard had the clean sheet for Everton, handing Manchester City only its third loss of the EPL season thus far.

Claudio Reyna & Tony Meola Likely Headed To The Pretend U.S. Soccer Hall Of Fame

Take heart Claudio Reyna and Tony Meola, you are two of the 12 first-time eligible players for the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.

Sure, the facility in Oneonta, NY (truly a wondrous location) closed two years ago but what does that matter?

For real though, it's nice to see one of the greatest midfielders in U.S. men's history-Reyna-and the goalkeeper that was on the 1994 World Cup team get some much deserved praise. Reyna was the first American to really do anything in Europe for a club team while Meola helped some overachieving squads reach heights that they could have never imagined a few years earlier.

The U.S. Soccer Federation said Tuesday other newly eligible players are: Jose Burciaga Jr., Ronald Cerritos, Lorrie Fair, Jen Lalor-Nielsen, Ronnie O'Brien, Ante Razov, David Regis, Thori Staples Bryan, Greg Vanney and Kerry Zavagnin.

Holdovers on the 31-player ballot include Mike Burns, Peter Nowak, Carlos Valderrama and Peter Vermes, all in their final year of regular eligibility.

Players must appear on at least two-third of the regular ballots to gain election. Voters include Hall of Famers, administrators and media.

The veterans ballot includes George Best, Teofilo Cubillas, Shep Messing and Glenn Myernick. The top player on the veterans ballot needs 50 percent for election.

Don't feel bad, if you don't recognize most of those names because for the life of me, I don't know many of them either. Luckily, there's no information when this fake ceremony for the fake Hall of Fame is anyway so I guess we can all just guess when it is on our own and celebrate accordingly.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

U.S. Women Roll 4-0 Over Canada To Win CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Tonight's game between the U.S. women and Canada in Vancouver was essentially meaningless since both teams had already secured a spot in the 2012 Olympics in London but aren't you glad you support the Americans after the 4-0 beating they put on the hapless Canadiens in front of their home fans in Vancouver?

Abby Wambach scored twice to move into second-place on the international scoring list (131, now 27 short of Mia Hamm) while Alex Morgan (2 goals, 2 assists) took advantage of her starting spot as she was the best player on the field. It's baffling to think that she didn't start last week against Mexico, what else does she have to do? She is instant offense whenever she's in a game and she has great chemistry with Wambach as they showed tonight.

When the outcome was still somewhat up in the air, American goalkeeper Hope Solo made a couple big saves to show that she's still the best at her position in the world.

Carli Lloyd hit a long ball that Wambach flicked on to send Morgan off to the races in the fourth minute. She fought off a few defenders and coolly finished.

Morgan returned the favor as she crossed to Wambach for a header in the 24th minute and then gave her a neat little pass in the area that Wambach touched from in close.

With a 3-0 halftime lead, Wambach was subbed out but Morgan capped off her best night in a U.S. uniform by scoring her second goal, this time in the 56th minute off a through ball from Lauren Cheney.

I'm not even sure if Vegas or any sportsbooks put odds on women's soccer but if they do, I will guarantee that the Americans will be the favorites heading into London this summer for the 2012 Olympics. They have the best forward combination in the world, top goalkeeper and other assorted solid roleplayers (Cheney, Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe). Their depth is remarkable and it is one of the main reasons why anything less than a gold medal will be a major disappointment.

Friday, January 27, 2012

U.S. Women Secure Their Spot In London With A 3-0 Win Vs. Costa Rica

From all I read, it wasn't a classic performance by any means but all that matters is the final result: the U.S. women's team is going to the 2012 London Olympics thanks to their 3-0 win vs. Costa Rica tonight in Vancouver, British Columbia.

It was a semifinal in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament; host Canada beat Mexico in the other, setting up a fun but ultimately meaningless (since they're both in already) final on Sunday night (8 p.m. on NBCSports) between the two rivals and neighbors.

Tobin Heath had the first goal, a header in the 16th minute but the top ranked Americans were only up 1-0 at halftime against a team ranked No. 41 that had never been to the Olympics or a World Cup and also had never scored a goal against the U.S. in eight previous encounters.

The U.S. settled down in the second half as Carli Lloyd blasted one in during the 72nd minute and Alex Morgan wrapped it up with a goal in the 89th minute off the bench.

Hope Solo earned the shutout by making a big-time stop in the 20th minute, she also benefited from a Costa Rica shot in the 27th minute that rocked the crossbar.

This contest was certainly tighter than the first two games in group play: the U.S. rolled 14-0 over the Dominican Republic and 13-0 over Guatemala before a 4-0 win over Mexico and finally, this 3-0 triumph.

The United States will enter London this summer as two-time defending gold medalists. Ironically, both titles came after not winning the ultimate prize-the World Cup.

The tournament includes the UK, Japan, North Korea, Cameroon, South Africa, France, Sweden, Brazil, Colombia and Canada. The final team will hail from Oceania. You'll notice that Germany isn't on that list which means that the U.S. will likely be the favorite.

We all fell in love with this group after their incredible run last summer; let's hope that it continues, albeit with a win in their final match and another Gold to bring home.

If nothing else, it's a delectable side dish to what is shaping up to be an incredible summer of the beautiful game: Euro 2012, London Olympics and World Cup qualifying starts plus some awesome friendlies (Brazil vs. Argentina in NJ).

Team Donovan & Howard (Everton) Beats Team Dempsey (Fulham) 2-1 In FA Cup

I have no idea where U.S. men's head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was today but I would guess that he parked himself in front of a TV this afternoon to watch his three best players-Tim Howard, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey-compete in an FA Cup match.

Howard and Donovan's club Everton won 2-1 over Dempsey's Fulham in a fifth-round game. What's more, Donovan (playing in his sixth game while on loan) provided both assists on strong aerial crosses from the right side.

It marked the first time that Everton beat Fulham in an FA Cup match after four consecutive losses.

"Landon's been great since he's been here,'' Everton assistant manager Steve Round said. "He's a real diamond of a guy, he's a very intelligent footballer and the lads all like him. You've seen the quality of his end product, whether it be from crosses or set plays.

"He's a top player."

Donovan and Dempsey had played on the last two World Cup teams for the U.S. and I would argue that they are the two best male field players that the United States has ever produced. This was only the seventh time that they'd played each with the last time taking place six years ago in MLS when Dempsey's New England Revolution topped Donovan's LA Galaxy 4-0.

After Fulham's Danny Murphy converted on a penalty kick in the 14th minute, Everton equalized in the 27th minute thanks to Denis Stracqualursi's first goal for the Toffees. Donovan's cross was perfectly placed as Stracqualursi headed it into the corner past Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale.

It was a quiet day for Dempsey, his most notable chance was a header early in the second half that went over the crossbar. Donovan tried his luck from distance, to no avail but once again he showed off his underrated passing (specifically crossing) ability.

He whipped the ball to Marouane Fellaini, who put the header in the top corner for the game-winner in the 73rd minute.

Howard didn't have to make any crazy saves but you can bet that if Everton continues to advance in the FA Cup, it will be thanks to him. Apropos of nothing, he's still wearing that camouflage goalkeeper jersey that I've never seen anybody else have.

Another American Will Play In The English Premier League: Tim Ream Goes To Bolton

Ironically on a day when four Americans face off in an FA Cup match pitting Everton (Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann and Landon Donovan) vs. Fulham (Clint Dempsey), another U.S. teammate Tim Ream officially completed his signing with Bolton.

He inked for 3.5 years with the EPL squad that is struggling to stay above relegation. Bolton is currently 17th out of 20 teams (the bottom two get relegated) over halfway through the season (22 of 38 matches played already).

The 24-year-old defender, formerly of the New York Red Bulls, had to cut short his honeymoon in Tahiti to head to England.

Ream convinced Bolton manager Owen Coyle of his worth while training in December with Bolton's squad and completed a transfer from Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls on Thursday.

"I was married for all of 24 hours when I got the phone call," Ream said. "The manager asked if I'd be willing to cancel the honeymoon and come to Bolton and honeymoon here. As much as we were disappointed that we had to pass up the trip, I think we both knew it was in our best interests. Hopefully, it shows my commitment to being here and doing well here."

Ream's wife took a little more convincing.

"I can't really repeat what she said," Ream said. "But her and I have talked, and as long as we're together in whatever we do I think both of us will be happy. She wants the best for me, and I just want her to be happy.

Ream fills the gap in Bolton's roster created by the sale of Gary Cahill to Chelsea earlier in Europe's January transfer window.

Stuart Holden, an American midfielder, is also on Bolton so Ream will have a familiar face around the training grounds and at the games.

Ream's transfer fee of $2.75 million is the highest ever for an MLS defender and sixth highest for an American player-behind Maurice Edu, Jozy Altidore, Stern John, Howard and Dempsey.

"I knew there was interest in me when I came over last year and trained for a couple of weeks, and then after Christmas time things really did start to ramp up," Ream said. "Negotiations started, and that's when I knew things were getting serious. Even before that week I aimed to challenge myself in England and, if an opportunity arose, I wanted to come over and try to make it here."

Coyle is sure Ream has what it takes to succeed in the Premier League.
"He is a U.S. international - a player that year-on-year has progressed and got better, and he will continue to do that," Coyle said. "Tim is everything that we want in the players we are bringing to the club when we spend in the transfer market. He is young, has a tremendous attitude and a winning mentality."

A finalist for the MLS Rookie of the Year award in 2010, Ream was selected to the MLS All-Star team last year and has played seven times for the U.S. national team.

"This was a hard decision for me considering the fact that I enjoyed playing for the Red Bulls and was looking forward to the upcoming MLS season," Ream said. "However, after consulting with those closest to me, I decided that this was a once in a lifetime chance that I could not pass up."

Let's cross our fingers for a couple things: Holden's health, Ream getting playing time and of course, Bolton not getting relegated. This is a great move regardless, but it definitely loses some shine if they get bounced from the EPL this spring and fall back down to the League Championship.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

U.S. Men Top Panama 1-0 In A Battle Of JV Squads

I can't sit here and pretend that I'm proud of what I did this evening. Yes folks, I wasted two hours of my life sitting at a computer, watching the U.S. men's B squad take on Panama's B squad on

After watching Liverpool-Manchester City in the Carling Cup and Real Madrid-Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey earlier today, this nightcap felt like drinking a warm 40 of Steel Reserve after a day filled with Guinness and Hoegaarden, but I digress.

All you need to know is that the U.S. won 1-0 in Panama City for Jurgen Klinsmann's third straight win (4-4-1 overall since taking over last summer).

In his second CAP, midfielder Graham Zusi scored his first international goal while goalkeepers Nick Rimando and Sean Johnson (not the former U.S. gymnast) split halves and the shutout.

Don't ask me how a full U.S. squad lost 1-0 to Panama last summer in the first round of the Gold Cup because from what I saw tonight, Panama is awful. They had way more chances than the U.S. and led 6-1 in corner kicks. What's more, U.S. defender (and URI alum) Geoff Cameron was sent off in the 51st minute after a bogus red card for taking down Panama's Blas Perez on a breakaway (outside the box).

I'll give props to the Americans for holding the fort on the road while they played with 10 men as the U.S. improved to 2-0-1 all-time in Mariano Rivera's native land.

From the start, all signs pointed to this being a joke of a game. You'd figure Panama doesn't have too many big events like this yet the stadium was half-full. At least Panama's head coach dressed up like he was going to dinner on a cruise-wearing black pants with a belt and a green polo shirt. The commentators were Taylor Twellman and Ricardo Ortiz, an underwhelming duo if I've ever heard one. Just a very strange night all around.

Zusi got in the board early as he followed up Zach Loyd's cross and deflection off Teal Bunbury to slot it home in the upper corner.

Rimando doesn't look very athletic on first glance but he was scrambling around in the first half and he made some nice saves.

The only other real chance for the U.S. was in the 30th minute as Jones unleashed a blast from distance but Panama's goalkeeper Luis Meija dove to stop it then somehow dove again to keep Chris Wondolowski's follow up header out of the net. I'd guess that if anyone in Bristol, CT was paying attention, that will be in Sportscenter's Top 10 plays this evening.

Jones picked up a yellow card on a challenge that was physical but not cardworthy. I fear that he earned it simply on his growing bad reputation, which is not a good thing.

More than anything, this international friendly was about getting young guys experience in tough (kind of) environments. On Saturday vs. Venezuela, Hamid, Sapong, Zusi and Delagarza all appeared in their first U.S. match.

Delagarza got a yellow after dribbling back towards his own goal for a while then trying to turn, losing the ball and then taking down his man. Ugly.

Brek Shea played in his ninth match for Klinsmann, the only player that has done that but you'd be hard-pressed to find any highlights from him in this one. He was a ghost, albeit a ghost with that awful haircut.

Panama completely bungled a couple easy chances late in the game. A header off a cross went inches wide and a shot from in close inexplicably went wide. Bottom line, if the U.S. was facing a real opponent, they would have lost.

All I know is that the next U.S. men's match is February 29 in Italy and it is going to be like night and day compared to this snoozefest. All the big guns from European clubs should be there, relegating most of these MLS All-Stars to the bench or better yet, back home where they belong. U.S. vs. Italy will be great, in fact I might try to sleep until then.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Clint Dempsey Becomes 1st American To Notch Hat Trick In An EPL Match

(Pardon the video's quality, it's the best I could find on YouTube. I'm not sure of the UK laws but it looks like the EPL doesn't allow YouTube or other websites to post highlight videos of their games. Weird).

No matter what you did today, odds are that Clint Dempsey had a better day than you. The U.S. national team star scored a hat trick for Fulham this afternoon in their 5-2 win over Newcastle.

Dempsey became the first American ever to score three goals in an English Premier League game. What's more, his first of the match was the 50th of his career. He now has 15 (2 more than his career-high from last year) for his club this season, including nine in EPL contests.

"We never found our rhythm in the first half but we began to get into their penalty area in the second half,'' Dempsey said after taking his Premier League tally to nine goals. "Danny Murphy scored the first goal and then we kept going and going. Luckily the ball kept going in. We never took our foot off the gas and we took our chances.''

Fulham manager Martin Jol was delighted with the American's performance and was keen for it continue as the team moved eight points away from the relegation zone.
"Clint Dempsey is our top scorer,'' Jol said. "He is doing what he does best. Clint scores goals and if he can score 12 goals this year and some other players do we will be fine.''

This came two weeks since Dempsey's first career hat trick: in an FA Cup game against Charlton.

It'll be interesting to see if Dempsey gets transferred to a bigger English club (cough cough Arsenal or Liverpool) that needs a goal-scorer. You never know, it could happen.

Cleaning Up Some Odds & Ends With USMNT & USWNT

I was all set to watch the U.S. men's friendly vs. Venezuela tonight (first game in 2012) until I realized it was a B-Squad operation all around.

Not only were both teams fielding rosters made up of youngsters and backups but it wasn't on TV, just After going out for the night and seeing score updates on Twitter, I decided I was best served to save my time and just watch the highlights.

Ricardo Clark (remember him?) scored the game-winner in the 97th minute as the U.S. squeaked by Venezuela 1-0 in Phoenix, Arizona. Jermaine Jones apparently had a good match and he hit the corner that Clark scored off of. The U.S. men next play at Panama City on Wednesday against Panama.

In other U.S. soccer news, the U.S. soccer foundation handed out their 2011 awards the other night. Abby Wambach was voted top women's player, for the fifth time which broke Mia Hamm's record. Clint Dempsey was the top male player, winning it for the first time since 2007 which is hard to believe.

Brek Shea (male) and Sydney Leroux (female) were also the top young athletes.

Wambach previously won in 2003, 2004, 2007 and last year. Hamm (aka Mrs. Nomar Garciaparra) won from 1994-98.

Best wishes go out to U.S. women's defender Ali Krieger, who tore her ACL and MCL last night in the U.S.' 14-0 drubbing of the Dominican Republic. It was the first match of Olympic qualifying for the U.S. ahead of this summer's 2012 games in London. Krieger is expected to miss eight months of action.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Steven Gerrard Will Apparently Be On Liverpool For The Rest Of His Career

I have always been a proponent of keeping legends on your club for their entire careers, if that's possible and also assuming that they don't become a distraction or unruly as their skills diminish.

Liverpool midfielder and captain Steven Gerrard has always been one of my favorite players so I was psyched today when I read that he'll be there for the foreseeable future after signing a new contract.

Premier League side Liverpool confirmed the news on Thursday, stating Gerrard, 31, has "committed his long-term future" to the Reds, while he will also take up an ambassadorial role when he retires.

The deal caps an excellent 24 hours for the midfielder after he scored from the penalty spot on Wednesday night to help his side to a 1-0 Carling Cup semi-final first leg with over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

After emerging through the youth ranks at Anfield, Gerrard has gone on to make 561 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool, winning both the FA Cup and League Cup twice as well as claiming Champions League glory in 2005.

The England international has recently endured a torrid time with injuries, but he made his comeback in September and has since steadily returned to form and fitness.

Of his contract extension, Gerrard told the club's official website: "I'm very happy. It's a very proud day for myself and my family.

"It comes on the back of a fantastic team performance last night when we got the result we were looking for. Hopefully we can finish the job off in two weeks time and take all of our magnificent fans down to Wembley for a day out.

"The contract extension coming the day after has been the icing on the cake so it has been a perfect 24 hours. This is the club I love and is the club I have supported since I was a young boy. I am living the dream as the captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world.

"I love coming to work every day and the experiences I have had since I was eight years of age and first signed for the club, I wouldn't change them for the world. To extend that and to hopefully have some more good times in a red shirt is what I want.

"There will be more highs and lows, there's no doubt about it as that's part and parcel of being a football player at a top club. The important thing is that you react well to the lows and experience more of the highs.

"I'm confident moving forward that the club is going in the right direction. We've got a fantastic team, we've got the right owners in place and the right team behind our team, so I'm really confident we'll have more good experiences in the future."

Reading those quotes from Gerrard, what more can you ask for? It's not just smart PR, you can tell the guy truly loves his club and playing professional soccer for a living. Plus, he's still energized and looking forward to the future rather than sitting back and resting on his laurels and impressive resume. This all makes me love him even more and root for the Reds to do well for the rest of his career.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Official Trailer For "Laduma" Released

I just wanted to pass along the YouTube of an official trailer for a documentary entitled "Laduma" that my college buddy has been working on since the 2010 World Cup.

As you can see, it ties into our blog very nicely since the movie is all about following U.S. men's national team supporters in South Africa and also what the event means to the African nation.

I ran into this friend at last summer's U.S. vs. Spain match at Gillette Stadium and he's been keeping me up to date on this project since then. He works for a film company in New York and he majored in film at Ithaca College so needless to say, he knows what he's doing.

There is an impressive array of experts featured in "Laduma" including ESPN's Bob Ley and Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, two of the foremost authorities these days on soccer in the United States.

Another side note, the song in the trailer is called "Jason" and it's by The Biltmores. I went to college with the guys in that band too and they are an awesome group. They are on iTunes, check them out. You won't be disappointed.

For more information on Laduma, their Twitter handle is @OneGoalUSA and their website is

Robbie Rogers Is Going To England, Assuming He Can Obtain A Work Permit

It looks like U.S. midfielder Robbie Rogers is headed to England to play for Leeds, a second-tier club that used to be in the English Premier League but was relegated.

The only hang up is that Rogers needs to get a British work permit (visa).

Rogers is not automatically eligible for a work permit in Britain because he has not played at least 75 percent of competitive matches for the U.S. in the last two years.
On the Leeds website, manager Simon Grayson said that "as soon as the work permit business is complete he will be an immediate part of our plans and have an opportunity with the first team.''
Grayson added that "we believe he will make an impact here.''

Rogers is 24-years-old and he was a free agent after completing the 2011 season with the Columbus Crew in MLS. He came onto the U.S. national team radar under new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and he appears to have some promise.

My dream is that one day all U.S. men's national team players will play for European club teams rather than MLS. As long as they still rely on guys that compete in MLS full-time, they will never be able to take the next step and become one of the world's consistently top national teams.

Fingers crossed that the work permit comes through for Rogers, and since he's a pro athlete and not some random dude I think it will in short order, and he can play for Leeds right away.

UPDATE 1/19: Rogers' work visa was approved today.

Holy Boners: Argentina Will Take On Brazil June 9 At The Meadowlands In New Jersey

It's been a long time since I've taken a trip down to the Garden State (New Jersey) but I might have to do that this summer.

Yesterday, it was announced that Argentina will face Brazil on June 9 at the new Meadowlands (where the Giants and Jets play) in East Rutherford, N.J.

If you live in New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey or basically anywhere on the East Coast and you call yourself a soccer fan, you are most likely salivating over this dream matchup between two of the top countries in the world with some of the most exciting and aggressive styles.

This friendly takes place on a day designated for international friendlies, which is a great thing since it means that Lionel Messi (Argentina), Neymar (Brazil) and all of their other European-based teammates should be available for this game.

Since this will take place so close to New York City, the most diverse city in the United States, I bet that tens of thousands of Brazilians and Argentinians will be in attendance or simply tailgating in the parking lots. If you've never been to a big time soccer match, I highly recommend it since it should be a top-notch atmosphere that is rarely seen in the United States. The amount of smokeshows should likewise be through the roof, the beer and delicious meats will be plentiful and it's June so it will be warm. What are you waiting for? Get tickets (and invite me)!

The U.S. Men Will Face Italy On Feb. 29

I don't know how this huge news item eluded me for a few days but the U.S. men's national team will meet Italy on February 29 in Genoa, Italy in a friendly match.

That is the final date that national teams can have friendlies before they reconvene in May for the start of 2014 World Cup qualifying. What better way to get ready for the rigors of CONCACAF (dying laughing) than by playing the four-time World Cup champions, who are still one of the top teams on the planet as much as it pains me to say that.

Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. local time and 2:30 p.m. for those of us that live on the East Coast. It will be live on ESPN2 with both teams likely fielding stacked rosters.

“Obviously we are very excited to be playing a team of such high quality,” said Jurgen Klinsmann. “We are slowly trying to raise the bar for our team, and this is an awesome opportunity for the players to be challenged against one of the top teams in the world.”

The match in Genoa will be the third meeting on Italian soil between the teams and the first since 2002, when Italy snatched a 1-0 victory in Catania in a tune-up for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The United States has never beaten the four-time World Cup champion, holding a 0-7-3 lifetime record.

The teams have played four times in major international tournaments, including the thrilling 1-1 draw in the second match of group play in the 2006 FIFA World Cup on June 17, 2006, in Kaiserslautern. One of the finest performances in team history, that match is as memorable for the massive support of U.S. fans as for holding off the Italians after being reduced to nine men. The most recent encounter came in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, when the Italians captured a 3-0 victory in group play against a U.S. team reduced to 10 men.

The ninth-ranked Italians have a storied history that includes four World Cup titles, the most recent from the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. They are preparing for the 2012 European Championship, having been drawn into a monster group that includes defending World Cup champion Spain, as well as Ireland and Croatia.

Going to Genoa will also be a homecoming of sorts for Klinsmann, who played in the Serie A from 1997-98 for Sampdoria.

At the moment, the U.S. men are training in Phoenix, AZ getting ready for two friendlies later this month. They will host Venezuela on Saturday, January 21 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. That match will be available on ESPN3 (which is a fantastic site, I watch it all the time for college sports) and Galavision.

On January 25, the American men will travel to Panama City to face Panama in a game that will also be broadcast live on Galavision.

I look forward to all U.S. games but I have to say that seeing the Italy match on the horizon is much more appealing than either Venezuela or Panama. The U.S. men should beat those nothing teams, hopefully setting up a tasty game with one of the world's most hated squads in February.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thierry Henry Returns On Loan To Arsenal In Smashing Fashion With A Winning Goal

It's pretty rare in professional sports that we see moments that can only be described as magical. It takes a lot for a cynical person like myself to sit back and say wow but yesterday's FA Cup match between Arsenal and Leeds provided such a moment that I will honestly never forget.

Thierry Henry made his debut for Arsenal; the former Gunners icon is on a two-month loan in London from the New York Red Bulls (MLS). Would you believe that after coming on as a substitute, he provided the winning goal in a 1-0 game that propelled Arsenal to the fourth round of the FA Cup?

The game was at Arsenal's home stadium, the Emirates, so Henry gets the proper reception when he comes on, after he scores and at the final whistle. Granted, there probably won't be many more goals or moments like this for Henry in the next few months but how sweet was last night? It proved that he still has something left in the tank after a long and glorious career.

On first blush, the classic finish by Henry into the side netting appears to be very close to offside but notice that Leeds has a defender on the other side of the box. That guy kept Henry onside; props on the through ball from Alex Song. It was perfectly placed, right on his foot. All Henry had to do was take one touch to settle it before curling it around Leeds's goalkeeper.

Just from my studying abroad experience in the winter and spring of 2005 in London, I will always have fond memories of Henry. He was at the top of his game then and he will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest goal-scorers of his generation. Furthermore, he's a good guy and he has done so much for the game of soccer both internationally (for France) and domestically (Arsenal, Barcelona).

Monday, January 9, 2012

It's Lionel Messi's World, We're All Just Living In It (Even The Lovely Shakira)

Lionel Messi was the big winner earlier today in Zurich since the Barcelona star captured his third straight player of the year award.

The Argentine midfielder joins Ronaldo (1996, 1997, 2002) and Zinedine Zidane (1998, 2000, 2003) as the only three-time winners of the most prestigious award in soccer, the 2011 Ballon d'Or.

With 48% of the vote, Messi beat Cristiano Rondaldo (22%) and Messi's Barcelona teammate Xavi (9%).

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was chosen men's coach of the year ahead of Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho and Manchester United's Alex Ferguson.

Japan's Homare Sawa won the women's player of the year, ending Marta's five-year reign at the top. Her coach Norio Sasaki was the top women's coach, ending a remarkable year for Japan.

Apropos of nothing, I'm pretty sure I predicted all the winners back when I blogged about the nominees in December. Wish I could have made a profit off of those layup choices!

All three Ballon d'Or nominees were part of the 2011 all-star lineup. It is a team entirely made up of Barcelona, Madrid and Manchester United players.

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas
Defenders: Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Nemanja Vidic
Midfielders: Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso
Forwards: Messi, Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney

No clue why FIFA holds the awards in the next calender year and not in December around the holidays, when there's not much else going on. Oh well, what else would you expect from an ultra-corrupt governing body that's still run by an uberbozo like Sepp Blatter?

Clint Dempsey Notches The First Hat Trick Of His Professional Career, For Fulham

Pardon the delay but we'd like to catch up on something that happened over the weekend while the NFL playoffs began stateside.

Clint Dempsey scored the first hat trick of his professional career, something that he never did with the New England Revolution either, when he scored three times for Fulham on Saturday at Craven Cottage in a 4-0 win over Charlton in the 3rd round of the FA Cup.

The three goals pretty much summed up why Dempsey is such a feared goal-scorer. The first was a through ball that he finished over the goalkeeper with his right foot. Then he had a similar goal, except with his left. Finally, he stepped up to the line for a penalty kick and blasted it in while the crowd went crazy.

It topped off a big week for the pride of the United States since Dempsey made his Twitter debut (@clint_dempsey) a few days earlier. Normally, I wouldn't note something trivial like that but 1) I'm hopelessly addicted to Twitter and 2) Dempsey is by far the most successful American abroad. Needless to say, if you're on Twitter (step it up Shimer!), you need to follow Dempsey.

He's always been a pretty guarded and quiet guy so I'm looking forward to getting to know him better through Twitter. Now all we need is Tim Howard to follow his lead and get a Twitter handle, that would make my life complete.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

It Seems Jermaine Jones Is A Ruthless Goon; Suspended For 8 Weeks in Germany

Some disturbing news from Germany where U.S. men's national team midfielder Jermaine Jones plays for Schalke: he has been suspended for eight weeks (6 Bundesliga games, 2 Europa League games) for intentionally stepping on an opponent's injured foot.

Take it away AP
"After first saying it intended to appeal, Schalke said Thursday it will accept the penalty.

The control committee of the federation found Jones intentionally stepped on the left foot of Borussia Moenchengladbach midfielder Marco Reus during a Bundesliga match last month. Reus was nursing a broken left small toe and was playing with a specially designed shoe. He still scored two goals in a 3-1 win for his team.

The incident early in the game was not noticed by the referee, but was caught by television cameras. The disciplinary panel used video footage to file ''grave misconduct'' charges against Jones, who was ejected at the end of the match in an unrelated incident. It was the fourth red card of his career.

Jones is be banned from any competitive and exhibition matches until March 1. He will miss six Bundesliga games and two Europa League games but remains eligible for selection for the U.S. national team's exhibition game at Italy on Feb. 29.

Jones, who has made 14 appearances for the United States national team, apologized to Reus shortly after the incident.

Soccer is unlike football or hockey in the sense that teams aren't really required to have physical enforcers. Soccer is rougher than critics give it credit for but there's no place for bush league tactics. I haven't followed Jones' career close enough to know if he's always on the edge or this was a one time crazy lack of control. Let's all hope he learns his lesson and cleans his game up (steps off soapbox).

UPDATE 1/13: Jones was called into U.S. camp, since what else does he have to do at the moment, so look for him to play in the upcoming friendlies for the U.S. in January.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Suarez made an example of FA's tough stance against racism

The buck-toothed bandit did not get off scott free after all, neither did his team appeal his lengthy ban. Luis Suarez will be missing in action for eight English Premier League matches for Liverpool, which started with Tuesday's 3-0 loss to Manchester City.

Initially denying he had used any racially insensitive language directly aimed at Manchester United's Patrice Evra, Suarez later said he did use the word negro. However, after everyone was done giving testimony, Suarez's comments really spoke for themselves (pun very much intended).

One of the key passages of the report centres on what was said between the two players during the flashpoint.

It reads: "Our findings of fact which are directly relevant to the Charge are as follows: (1) In response to Mr Evra's question 'F*****g hell, why did you kick me,' Mr Suarez said 'Because you are black'.

"(2) In response to Mr Evra's comment 'Say it to me again, I'm going to punch you,' Mr Suarez said 'I don't speak to blacks'.

"(3) In response to Mr Evra's comment: 'Okay, now I think I'm going to punch you,' Mr Suarez said 'Okay, blackie, blackie, blackie'."

Suarez's defense that his comments were common-place in Uruguay his home country were refuted by language-specialists from Uruguay. The rest of his defense was deemed inconsistent and unreliable.

Liverpool slammed the ban and defended their player after the ruling, and said they would appeal initially before backtracking.

Not really surprising since A. Evra is not one of the most well-like people in football today, just ask the French Football Federation (Evra as the captain for France was suspended five game by the FFF after his huge controversial stance against coach Raymond Domenech at the World Cup last summer) and B. more importantly Suarez has been the Reds' best player since he joined the club from Ajax last January.

However, both the club and the player himself decided to accept the ban after the FA threatened that an appeal might lead to an even lengthier suspension.

The suspension means he will miss crucial league fixtures against both Manchester United and Tottenham, which could really hamstring his club's efforts to try to regain their place in the top four for a Champions League place.

Regardless, this week's events finally draw a conclusion to what has been a black eye to the sport.

Tim Howard is more talented than you

Tim Howard is world-renown for his shot-stopping ability. Ask England manager Fabio Capello what he remembers from Howard's exploits during the World Cup -- the American keeper single-handily kept the U.S. in the game.

But as amazing an athlete as Howard is and as truly great a keeper he is, one area of his game that is constantly criticized is distributing ability. It is one reason he failed with Manchester United and has not received any interest from other top clubs around Europe since. If you watch, Everton don't play the ball back to their American keeper with much confidence and when they do he certainly does not resemble the Xavi of keepers, far from it. Most of those passes end up several rows into the seats.

Not to be overly critical of the outright outrageous goal, the pass-converted-goal was a somewhat typical clearance effort from Howard -- knocked as far up field on a one touch. However, this time the ball played from inside his own penalty area some 100-yards from the opposing goal was aided by the blistering wind at his back at the far end of the pitch at Goodison Park, which took a bounce approximately 25 yards away from goal and swerved and blew right over Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan's head and in. At an estimated 105 yards it was the longest goal in EPL history.

Although the goal gave Everton the lead in Landon Donovan's debut during his second loan stint with the Liverpool-based club, the Toffees could not hold on losing 2-1.

Interestingly enough Howard was the first keeper to do so in the EPL since another outstanding American keeper with poor distributing ability did so back in 2004 for Blackburn -- that goalie would be Brad Friedel. The other two keepers to score in the run of play Peter Schmeichel, who many consider to be the greatest keeper of all-time, and Paul Robinson -- all modern-era keepers.

Anyway enough talking more what you came here to see, the actual goal: