Champions League Final- Internazionale v. Bayern Munich

May 22, 2010

So here we are, it is May 22nd, and after a tournament full of big upsets and some fantastic goals Europe’s most prestigous club competition culminates in Madrid. 

The location is ironic indeed, given Real Madrid’s unprecedented spending spree last summer got them no further than than the round of 16.  It is also ironic that the two clubs in the final at the Bernabau, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, have been driven by two Madrid castoffs from the summer that brought in the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema. 

Dutchmen Welsey Sneijder and Arjen Robben have been nothing short of brilliant for their respective clubs this campaign, and have shown it on the biggest stage.  So who wins this titanic clash between two of the most famous clubs in Europe? 

Let’s look at at the biggest storylines. 

Jose Mourinho vs. Louis Van Gaal.  It will be a classic chess match between two men who know each other very well.  Mourinho was an assistant under Van Gaal at Barcelona, and along with Bobby Robson the “Special One” credits Van Gaal for helping mold the mind of arguably the greatest manager in the world. 

Maicon vs. Robben.  For my money, there is no better right back in the world.  Maicon is a rarity among modern day world-class full backs, in that his defensive prowess equals his exceptional ability going forward.  As I mentioned earlier, Robben has been lights-out and the German outfit simply would not be here without his late strikes against Fiorentina and Manchester United in the knockout stages.  Expect to see Robben attack from both flanks throughout the contest, as he will try to catch the Brazilian off his guard on the counter.  Easier said than done though, ask that Messi fellow how that worked out for him.   

Howard Webb.  The infamous referee is known for deflecting the attention from the game to his massive ego.  Webb and Mourinho have had their share of run-ins in England, but let’s just hope we won’t be talking about Webb tomorrow.  Webb’s performance has been much-maligned this season, and has done nothing but further speculation that he favors the top clubs.

My prediction:  2-1 Inter.  Mourinho’s ability to expose the weaknesses of any squad is uncanny.  This along with the incredible discipline of his own squad and having one of the top 3 keepers in the world in Julio Cesar will provide too tough for Bayern Munich.  The German club has played beautiful football all season long, but to be fair, they have been pretty fortunate to make it to this point.   The Special One ends the 45-year run of European futility for the Nerazzurri, and expect Jose to start next season where he will end this one in triumph (wink wink).


Brilliant Orange: Why the Dutch Will Win in South Africa

May 20, 2010

I know, I know, I know: every site out there that’s doing their group analyses is using this headline for their selection on the Dutch, sort of. But, come on, look at the name of our blog! I find the concept of total football a personal affection that closely rivals the love of my girlfriend and my infatuation with mongolian beef. Of course, I would be remiss without making a joke towards the Boer Wars, but I’ve got about 600 words before I have to attempt to be witty and make you want more.

2008. It was a simpler time. Only two summers ago we were sitting in front of our newly purchased widescreen TVs and getting excited over watching an entire competition in HD – I’m talking, of course, of Euro 2008. While the World Cup is, without a doubt, THE international competition, The European Championship is acutely more intense, on a much smaller scale. The most notable feature of Euro 2008: an in form Holland. In the 2006 World Cup, the familiar site of the Dutch breakdown occurred. Continually, be it for cultural clashes or overall ego contests, the Dutch have had a notoriously difficult time developing and maintaining a team chemistry that’s vital to succeed in the sport.

Holland was selected for Group C along with Romania, France and Italy – the latter two, of course, being the finalists from the 2006 WC. Romania was written off immediately without a popsicle’s chance in hell. Not far off the pace were the Dutch’s chances in advancing against two sides that had taken the final in 2006 as far as possible to PKs.

What will prove to be the turning point in modern Dutch football, is the game that defined the Dutch style of total football and gave it a long awaited update for the 21st century and re-birthed a style long forgotten in international competition: the Group C clash between France and Holland.

France 1 – Holland 4                                                                                                                                                                                                          Results like this don’t come very often between European sides – let alone against a French side that saw William Gallas start in defense and Frank Ribery and Thierry Henry attempt to connect countless times. The reason for the Dutch victory: unity. Forgive me for stealing away from my North London loyalties, but the crest upon Arsenal reads, “Victoria Concordia Crescit” – Victory through harmony. Needless to say, a clinical header off a corner in the ninth minute form Dirk Kuyt set the tone for the remaining 81 minutes of play. The combination play was brilliant and at one point, the Dutch appreciation for possession saw a combination of over 20 passes with two touches at most, generally one, and over one straight minute of possession. I get a smile, among other things, just thinking about it.

The comprehensive victory seen in Berne that night is one that set the tone for qualification in Europe. The mark had been set and the Dutch were now the team to beat. The only remaining inkling of Dutch football’s personality is that of being choke artists – and some say that the final berths of Euro 2008 showed that’s all they still are.

South Africa 2010 is the chance to prove them all wrong – once and for all – and to establish a European dynasty. Okay, so I don’t have a Boer joke, but how about a Welsh joke? A Welshman walks into the hospital and sees the sign that says, “Admissions”. He walks up to the clerk and says, “I admit it, it was me.”

The Yanks Are Coming– By: Jon Ballenger

May 19, 2010

So after a year-long hiatus, Roman holiday, whatever you like, I am back. Back and better (or worse) than ever.

Among other notable returns this summer include the United States men’s national soccer team back in South Africa. This time, the stakes are just a wee bit higher. If nothing else, last summer’s success in the Confederations Cup gave the Americans the belief they can compete with the best, and experience playing in the host country for World Cup 2010.

The release of last week’s 30-man squad generally evoked three different emotions: thrill, sadness, and curiosity.

How about the players that were notably absent from Bradley’s plans? Let’s start with thrill.

Conor Casey. Let’s face it, the Colorado Rapids striker couldn’t score in the Red Light District. He possesses zero technical ability and his “battering ram” style for which he is totally dependent, makes him no more than an above-average MLS forward.

Freddy Adu. Adu falls somewhere in between the thrill and sadness category. If you quizzed the average American to name as many American players as they could, I would bet that Adu would be more popular than stars such as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Amazing for a guy who is not going to South Africa, and is not even on the preliminary 30-man squad before coaches must cut them down to 23. The reasons for Adu’s lack of progress over the years are wide-ranging and debatable. The most logical conclusion one can reach is the following formula: MLS + 14-year old talent= disaster. More appropriate than disaster would be extremely disappointing. He has failed to find form in Portugal, France, and now Greece, thus effectively ending his World Cup dreams this summer.

In the current climate of U.S. soccer, the word sad is invariably tied with striker Charlie Davies. Davies was an unknown commodity to most U.S. fans when he burst on to the scene last year. We knew he had the blinding pace we’ve seen from players such as Eddie Johnson and Robbie Findley, but he proved his worth in our squad fairly quickly. Davies’ performance in the Confederations Cup (most notably a goal vs. Egypt, and a wonderfully-judged ball back to Landon Donovan who slotted the finish past world-class Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar), and at the Azteca (his early goal gave us our first ever lead at Mexico), cemented his place in the U.S. starting XI. Davies’ path to stardom was tragically deterred on October 13th, 2009, when he was involved in a deadly car crash. The accident threatened Davies career, but he made a miraculous recovery. Davies was said to be training lightly in March with his French club Sochaux, but the club ultimately could not give U.S. Coach Bob Bradley the clearance to select Davies for his World Cup squad. The news is incredibly disappointing to fans because there is simply no replacing him. It appears that Davies will make a complete recovery eventually, but it is unfortunate that it will not coincide with the World’s largest sporting event this summer. Expect to see number 9 in Brazil, 2014.

Kenny Cooper. This time last year, the big target man seemed destined for South Africa. He brings an element to our strike force that has been seriously lacking. He’s capable of playing with his back to goal, nice first touch, and had scored some wonder goals for FC Dallas. The former Manchester United trainee craved a move back to Europe, and ultimately landed with German second division side 1860 Munich. Battling knee injuries, Cooper failed to nail down a starting place in the team, and requested another move in January in hopes of getting back on Bob Bradley’s radar. He was loaned to English Championship side Plymouth Argyle, where his persistent knee problems and tougher competition prevented him from making a start for the Pilgrims. His lack of games gave him no chance to make the trip this summer.

Michael Parkhurst. I’ve been a fan of Parkhurst for since he made his acclaim in New England. He is cut from a different cloth in terms of the American-style player. He is aggressive, and his no regrets tackling made me a big fan. The former 2007 MLS defender of the year moved to Danish side FC Nordsjaelland, where he is starting to become a regular. When it came down to it, his lack of playing time over the last two campaigns likely cost any chance he had of being part of Bradley’s plans.

Other than these exclusions, there were really no big surprises in Bradley’s squad. There is, however, much to be determined in Bradley’s final 23 that he will take to South Africa. This is where the curiosity sets in. So let’s take an in depth look at those who will be in South Africa, and where they fit in with the team, assuming no more injuries.

KEEPERS: Tim Howard- he will start, no debate here. I would have argued before the season that Bradley should entertain bringing back Brad Freidel for one last hurrah, but their respective forms in England this year ended any such thought.

It gets interesting when talking about the backup situation. Rumor has it that Bradley may be inclined to bring only two keepers with him, which presents a dilemma. Ultimately though, expect all three to be part of the 23-man squad.

Brad Guzan- was almost certainly going to be the backup. Guzan is being nurtured as the guy in the future, but his lack of playing time at Aston Villa is troubling if something were to happen to Howard. This leads us to our next keeper…

Marcus Hahnemann- the 37 year-old brings a lot of club experience, but little international experience. He’s always been in the shadow of Kasey Keller, Freidel, and now Howard. He had a really good season with newly promoted side Wolves, and was vital towards their survival in the Premier League this season. Don’t be surprised if this form has won him the backup spot.

DEFENDERS: Carlos Bocanegra (C): Since we are healthy at the CB position, Boca is all but certain to play left back for us this summer. The versatile captain gives us experience, and is better served at fullback given our general weakness at the two positions. He’s had a recent injury setback with French club Rennes, but it should not cost him any time with the U.S.

Oguchi Onyewu: There was much excitement surrounding Guch’s transfer to AC Milan last summer. All of which has been blighted by poor form and a season-long injury. Guch went down in the last WC qualifier vs. Costa Rica, but his form at AC Milan resulted in no competitive starts for the American, and it really showed in the Costa Rica game before he was injured. He must regain his Confederations Cup form for us to have a chance this summer. If healthy, he will start at CB.

Jay Demerit: Demerit has battled an abdominal strain for much of this season at Watford, but appears to be healthy enough to go this summer. Demerit was one of the few bright spots for the relegation strugglers this season, and played really well for the U.S. last summer. The Watford captain has a lot to prove this summer, as it appears his club can’t afford to keep him, meaning he has the biggest stage to prove he is capable of playing for a bigger club. If healthy, he will partner with Guch at the back.

Jonathan Spector: Spector is still likely going to start at the right back position, but has been in abysmal form with West Ham of late. To be fair, England’s Scott Parker was the only player at Upton Park who wasn’t piss-poor this season. Spector has proved his worth on the squad. He is versatile, and has successfully deputized at the centre-halve position for the U.S. Spector is our best fullback going forward, and it will be interesting to see how Bradley judges his recent form with the relegation strugglers.

Steve Cherundolo: Plighted by injuries in 2008-2009, Dolo has played well for Hannover 96 of the Bundesliga. His form, along with Spector’s declining form, have him back in the fold for a starting job. Dolo is solid, and he brings a wealth of experience at the club and international level. While not as capable as Spector going forward, he has an outside shot to start at right back.

Jonathan Bornstein: A natural left back, who has shown some flashes over the last two years. Like Spector, Bornstein gives up more options in attack. Fair or not, he shouldered a lot of the blame for our performance against the Dutch back in March. Bornstein is a Bradley favorite, and should be safely on the 23-man squad. He would likely start if an injury at CB forces Bocanegra to move over.

Expect two of the following three to get the axe:

Clarence Goodson/ Chad Marshall/ Heath Pearce: My choice is Clarence Goodson. Despite being largely unheralded, Goodson has been one of America’s most successful European exports. Each defender has about the same amount of international experience, but Goodson’s success at a higher level at Norwegian Club IK Start makes him more dependable than Marshall in my eyes. They are similar centre-halves, big and physical, but vulnerable to getting beat directly. Heath Pearce is a long shot to make it, with injuries at full back his only real shot of going to South Africa. He does have a better shot than the odd-man out between Goodson and Marshall though.

MIDFIELDERS: Landon Donovan: No longer can you call him “Landy Cakes”, nor can you ridicule him for not testing himself (successfully) in Europe. His loan spell with Everton sparked a remarkable run of results for the Merseyside club, and you can’t help but wonder where the Toffees would have finished had they not gotten off to such a terrible start. Over the last two years Donovan has proved to be a facilitator, and the U.S. squad goes as he goes. He is a markedly improved passer. His performance in the Confederations Cup last summer had him labeled as “unmarkable” by both the Italian and Spanish press. Our hopes rest on his performance, and he has a real shot to cement himself as the greatest American player of all-time. In a perfect world, he would play in the hole behind our two strikers. Given our weakness on the left flank, Donovan almost surely will continue that role for the U.S. this summer.

Clint Dempsey: While Donovan is our best all-around player, I would argue Dempsey is our most technically gifted player. He has come on leaps and bounds the last two seasons with Fulham, and played a huge part in their run to the Europa League final. His goals against Stoke and Juventus this season were two of the finest strikes produced in England this past season. While I have him in the midfielder category, I am of the opinion that he should start up front with Jozy Altidore. As I mentioned earlier, there is no replacing Charlie Davies with our other out and out strikers. Dempsey gives us more up front than any other option available. His biggest shortcoming is his tendency to get lazy out wide, and his inability to track runs could well cost us against the likes of England.

Michael Bradley: Yeah, he’s the coach’s son. Nonetheless, he is one our best XI. Bradley is a versatile central midfielder, having been employed as an attacking midfielder and a defensive midfielder for both club and country. He has been a success overseas, impressing in Holland, and now for his current German club Monchengladbach. He is a box to box midfielder, and arguably the hardest working player on the team. His enthusiasm for the game is quite obvious in the way he plays. His biggest flaw might be his emotions out there, and we’ve seen him make some rash challenges. Bradley will be tested big time from the get go, and breaking up the attacks from the likes of Lampard and starting them the other way will be a stiff test. He’s got the experience, and an impressive showing could land him with a bigger club in England or Germany.

Maurice Edu: The Rangers centre-mid has been in fine form this season. Known for his defensive prowess, Edu is a masher with excellent tackling and work rate. There is more to his game than though, and he has the ability to play as a deep-lying midfielder given both his ability to dictate tempo. He is a good passer, and scored some big goals for Rangers this year, most notably in February’s Old Firm winner. Edu has almost certainly snatched the other CM job from Ricardo Clark, and I expect a big showing which could see him move south of Scotland, to play in the best league in world next season.

Stuart Holden: Very interesting case here. As I mentioned earlier, I think we would be best served with Clint Dempsey up front with Jozy. If this is the case, Stuart Holden will start wide right. Holden was actually signed by English club Sunderland out of college in 2005, but never made an appearance as he was attacked at a bar by a fan of rival club Newcastle. He had a fantastic season with the Houston Dynamo in 2009, and was signed by Premier League club Bolton Wanderers back in January. He started two games, and was one of the best players on the pitch in both contests, before he was unnecessarily injured in a friendly an international friendly at Holland. Sorry to break away from the professional nature of this piece, but I hope Dutch midfielder Nigel De Jong shatters both legs this summer, rendering him incapable of playing for the Oranje or Manchester City ever again after the way he played against us (wasn’t booked for a number of outrageous challenges). Holden has an outstanding right foot, and is easily the best crosser of the ball for the Americans. He doesn’t have a whole lot of pace out there, but his technical ability is enough to warrant a starting spot in my opinion. His game is similar to that of England’s David Bentley, and his threat from set pieces could be the difference in a game for us. He will either start at RM, or be a key substitute this summer.

Jose Francisco Torres: One of the brightest young American talents, but Bradley has yet to figure out where he is best suited for the Stars and Stripes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll see the best from him until Bradley is ousted. His biggest challenge is that he is not a “Bradley player”. The Pachuca man has been one of the best players in the Mexican Primera for the last couple of seasons. When he made his first start for the U.S. at Costa Rica in an embarrassing WC qualifier, he was by far our best in the first half. On an awful pitch, Torres was our only composed player on the ball playing out of his natural position. In a bizarre move, Torres was off at half-time. Torres is one our most technically gifted players, right now, but is probably a World Cup away from really making a difference. Torres is an attacking midfielder, and was the only player who looked like scoring in Amsterdam back in March. Torres should be safe to make the final 23, and should get some playing time in the World Cup off of the bench.

Ricardo Clark: Clark is a defensive midfielder, who has exceeded expectations for the national side. Another Dynamo export, his performance landed him a contract with Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt last summer. Clark was a fixture in the U.S. XI in last summer’s Confederations Cup, and really did a nice job breaking up play against the likes of Spain and Brazil. Clark’s passing is horrible at times to put it nicely, and he will have to improve if he is to make a career at the top level in Europe. He scored an important goal at Trinidad& Tobago, which ultimately was the difference in the U.S. finishing first in CONCACAF. He was injured much of his debut season in Germany, but is safe to make the squad. Expect him to play, particularly coming on late for a striker if we’re trying to hold on to a result. He has almost no shot to start over Edu now, but will have a role this summer for the U.S.

Benny Feilhaber: Benny plays as a centre-mid with club AGF in Denmark, but is truly more of an attacking midfielder. He seems to make things happen when he gets his chances, but injuries have not allowed him to do s a consistent basis. He is most memorable for his exquisite volley that sunk the Mexicans in the 2007 Gold Cup Final. Benny is a skillful player, who shows great composure on the ball, and he has been on the verge of being a regular starter for the U.S. The best display of his skill was his creation of the second goal in the monumental upset of Spain. Benny and Torres will likely duke it out for playing time off the bench in South Africa, with the two upcoming friendlies to be the best measure of their respective forms.

Of the remaining four midfielders on the 30-man roster, expect at least 3 to get cut.

Demarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, and Robbie Rogers will fight for MAYBE one spot on the final roster. Rogers and Bedoya really have no shot of making the team, but were merely rewarded for their efforts both club and country in the past year. Bedoya is still a few years away, but his form with Swedish club Orebro seems to indicate he has a nice future ahead of him. Rogers has loads of pace as left winger, but hasn’t really progressed at Columbus Crew as some had hoped for the WC. When he has had his chances at the top level on international football, he has failed to impress. Maybe one for the future, but virtually no chance to make it to South Africa. Kljestan is similar to Rogers in that he hasn’t been as dominant in MLS as American fans had hoped. His hat trick against Sweden last year raised many eyebrows, but he has followed that up with a string of disappointing appearances. Good on the ball, but that’s all I can say for Kljestan at the moment. He has a very slim shot of making it, but will have a chance to impress vs. Czech Republic and Turkey next week. This leaves veteran Demarcus Beasley. Four years ago, it would have been unfathomable to imagine Beasley not even part of this squad. As a result of injuries, Beasley has had little playing time for Rangers the past season two seasons, leaving doubts as to what he has left in the tank. It wasn’t long ago, 2007, where Beasley was influential in some great victories for Rangers in Europe, including a 3-0 romp over French Champions Lyon. Bob Bradley’s famed Beasley at LB experiment last year could only end in disaster. It did. This, combined with injuries, and crimes against him in Scotland (had his BMW set on fire among others), have done nothing to help his chances. In the end, I think Beasley will make it because of his experience, and his versatility. I think ultimately it could be down to him and Heath Pearce for the last spot on the team, with Beasley getting the nod (if he’s in shape).

FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore: Altidore had a forgetful season at Hull City this season, but still remains a lock to start for the U.S. His experience in Europe so far has been a humbling one, scoring just two goals over the last two seasons in England and Spain. It’s no secret that he is supremely talented, and clearly has chemistry with his American teammates that seem to be nonexistent for the Jersey native overseas. By now, everyone has seen his goal against Spain that exhibited just how strong the youngster is. He abused Barcelona and Spain star Gerard Pique; shielded him off wonderfully, and sent a rocket that Iker Casillas could only push into goal. This summer will be a strong indicator as to whether or not Jozy’s performance this past season was due to dire circumstances at the Northeast England club, or if his training efforts are as a lackadaisical as the clubs portray. He will start, and he must produce for this summer to be a success.

Brian Ching: A solid bet to make the team, despite being injured of late in the MLS. The Dynamo forward brings the most experience (sadly) to our frontline, but we know exactly what we’re going to get from him, and it’s not enough in the World Cup. If Dempsey doesn’t start up front, it will either be Ching or the in-form Edson Buddle. He will have a role with this team, and expect to see him off the bench.

Edson Buddle: Really? I know, it’s shocking. I can’t help but laugh every time I hear some U.S. fan of late say, “We need to bring in young guys like Edson Buddle”. Edson Buddle is 29. To put it in perspective, he’s older than both Landon Donovan and Demarcus Beasley who have featured in the last two World Cups. Buddle is absolutely “en fuego” with the L.A. Galaxy at the moment, and seems to be a good bet to make the final 23. Buddle has almost no experience internationally, with his only cap coming back in 2003. Even before this season, he had a good scoring record in the MLS. He has developed great chemistry with Donovan in L.A., which really boosts his chances not only to make the final 23, but possibly even start. His form might have boosted him ahead of Brian Ching in Bradley’s man, and it will be most interesting to see how they are prioritizeds in next week’s friendlies. Buddle is very strong in the air, and has improved immensely with his touch and finishing. He should at least play in the WC, with the possibility of starting if Bradley decides Dempsey must stay at RM.

Expect one of the following three to make it to South Africa, in the crapshoot of all crapshoots.

Eddie Johnson has the best shot of making it, just because of his experience. The guy scored bucket loads of goals at the youth level for the U.S., but has been lost since making the move from MLS to England. He has played well since his loan move to Greece, and actually scored two goals against the Greek giants Olympiacos. He has electric pace, but not much else. Robbie Findley is a very similar player, lot of pace, little ability. He has far less experience at the international level, and has failed to impress in his three caps. He is a bit faster than Johnson, which is his only real advantage. Herculez Gomez is the final player in question. He currently holds the distinction of being the first American to lead a foreign league in goals with Mexican Club Puebla. Gomez failed to impress in the MLS (awful sign), but he is probably the best finisher of these three. Gomez’s little international experience, comparable to Findley, leaves him almost no shot to make it. Next week’s friendlies will likely decide who makes it of the three, but given his recent form and experience, it should be Eddie Johnson.

So, if you didn’t know much about our squad, now you do. The U.S. can realistically expect to advance out of their group, but probably not any further. However, Algeria and Slovenia both like to pack it in, and breaking them down will not be near as easy as some are suggesting. There are no easy games in the World Cup, but I think this squad has the firepower to live up to the expectation of getting to the round of 16, maybe even the quarters with some luck.

We are the U.S., the mighty fucking U.S.

Kop Talk: Mr. Benitez, are you walking out that door? – By: Julian Kersh

May 17, 2010

With a daunting summer ahead of myself and other Liverpool FC supporters, I reflect.

You see, I have to reflect because I’m far too stubborn and optimistic when it comes to my Reds. My reflection, on the other hand, will tell me straight up, and that handsome guy staring back at me is telling me Benitez is out, and not just him.

At this point, not even Pepe Reina could save Benitez. See what I did there? Rafa had a train wreck of a year. After falling two points short of that long awaited EPL title last year, he quickly found himself trying to keep his head above water when his main goal became securing a spot in the Champion’s League.

Three positions later, he finished up the season in seventh position, the club’s worst finish since 1999. Even worse, the Red’s coach couldn’t help but be red-faced after he calmly and consistently guaranteed a fourth place finish when things were looking grim.

And for me, that’s not even the sealer. I really see him going out the door because he looked bored on the sidelines in the second half of the season. If he weren’t sitting across from Sir Alex, Ancelotti, Wenger, Mancini or Moyes, he looked bored – like he wouldn’t give two shits about the result if it didn’t have an effect on his job.

It doesn’t help that he’s linked with a new job every week. Since late 2009 reports have seen him linked to Juventus, and since Real Madrid and Inter Milan’s names have come up. It looks very plausible that Jose Mourinho will end up taking over the disappointing Real (which is why the Inter spot is rumored to be open), but that still leaves the Juve spot.

Will it comes down to finances? Possibly. Having lost some 54 million this season and already staring down another 350 million in debt, LFC may not be able to afford a new coach. But if Benitez walks away rather than waiting on the axe to fall, we could see a new man sitting in Anfield’s throne.

I’d just hope Benitez has the decency to walk away. I’m sure he almost knows for sure where he’ll be next year, and knowing the financial state of the club, and if he has any more care for its wellbeing, surely he’d walk away and not force LFC to pay him the rest of the contract if they’re forced to fire him.

I like Benitez – always have. I like having a Spaniard over on the sideline in a league managed mainly by a gang of United Kingdomers and Italians. I like his gestures. He has particular favorite of mine where he extends an arm toward the pitch and seems to be stirring some sort of stew with four fingers. I like that he’s always scribbling notes. I mean, for all I know they say “I hope I can make it home to catch the new ‘Inbetweeners’” or “Rafa, I bet you we concede a stoppage time goal… I’m not taking that one,” but I still like that quality in him. Heck, I even like his goatee.

Where does that leave me? I’m not really sure how I feel about it. Why am I writing this then? That’s a fair question – I suppose it’s a way of airing my concerns and venting a bit. I think this is where I lie: Even though on many occasion I’ve looked into ordering an “In Rafa We Trust” T-shirt, I wouldn’t hate seeing Mr. Benitez leaving Anfield. It’d be a bittersweet departure, but I’d wish his the best with the next club he manages.

For me, I just think the Reds are in need of a radical change, and the best place to do that is in the manager’s seat, because I don’t want to see any of our boys leaving – which I’ll get to next time around.

Until next time, crack yourself a Carlsberg.

(PS – A long overdue revision to previous Kop Talk: “It’s Easy Being a Liverpool Fan” is in order. Remember when Yossi Benayoun’s goal was disallowed at Atlético Madrid when he was ruled offside on an undeniably incorrect call? I most certainly do. I don’t know which reason is more responsible for me remembering. Was it because I immediately jotted the incident down knowing its significance, or because that moment still wakes me in the middle of the night in a cold sweat? Whichever, that blatantly awful call kept us out of the Europa League final – a shot at a piece of silverware that could have changed the look of next year’s squad more than we’ll never know. Yep, it’s easy all right.)

“Open Tryouts – A National Crisis” By: Rob Dominguez

May 9, 2010

**Hey! It’s been, a while. As Jules has said, we (especially me) are a bit late in posting. However, as I sat on the pitch for….twelve hours yesterday, I did have a wee bit of time to jot down my ranting and post this morning before I headed off for my first day off in five months.**

With the World Cup edging closer and closer every day, it’s getting pretty hard to restrain my excitement. However, it’s also getting hard to restrain my general worry for our national team. Through recent musings, the question came up: is this really the best we have?
In my formative years of getting to watch the US play in the ’96 Olypmics against Argentina, every now and again discerning who a player was in FIFA and – predating the ease of google and instant-knowledge of wikipedia – I would research to the best of my abilities to find out who these guys were.
Then, I grew up. With that maturation, came the removal of my kid-lenses and my realization of the fact that we’re in a national crisis when it comes to fielding a truly competitive MNT. The question, though, remains: why?
Is it the fact that we don’t develop players? Possibly. Look at our youth system. We’re a capitalist society that’s focused on being competitive. However, the model that we’ve adopted is focused on wins/loses. With my job, I struggle with non-soccer (read: non athletic) people in positions of power at clubs who constantly ask, “Where are the results?”
Well, Circle-Jerk, why not look at the players themselves? The model that needs to be adopted, and has started growing with the complete advent of these “Super Clubs” in US Youth Soccer, is to focus on developing the players. Thus a developed player, is a better player and better players win games. So, maybe it’s because this focus and shift on development is so young that it’s just starting to spread across the country and reach all clubs in Disconnected-Middle-of-Nowhere-Banjo-Pretty-Mouth-Music, Alabama.
To give you a for instance, when I was 15, I met one of my best friends who I coach with – Mason Cook. Mason was living in Dallas at the time and I in Birmingham. I played for a RIIIPL team out of Mountain Brook and Mason for, what in Dallas, was a team full of third division players. What was the result? An ass-kicking on scale with Eric Cantona’s Jet-Li…ing of a fan talking shit. A third division squad from Dallas, beat Alabama’s finest in Memphis that night. Clearly, Dallas has it right (in most respects).
So, maybe we can’t blame the style of development being used in this country. Maybe, it’s political…
I really prefer not to go down this road as to not step on anyone’s toes that I know in the soccer community, because – as we know – it’s pretty damn small (That’s what she- …you get the idea).
All that can really be said is that there’s a problem. However, the nature and definition of this problem remain to be elusive. Step one: identify. Step two: fix. Step three: continue on with repeat choruses of “Ole, ole, ole…!” and round after round of Guinness (or domestic if we’re sticking American) to celebrate our 2034 WC final win.

Re-Taking the Pitch – By: Julian Kersh

May 8, 2010

Editor’s Note: To our four readers, I sincerely apologize for the recent lack of posts. Between the alumni game that you will soon read about, the release of the Halo: Reach BETA, my two weeks of unemployment, um, my lack of final exams, my sleeping until no earlier than 11, I’ve been extremely busy. But we’re back, and with only 34 days remaining until the world’s greatest sporting event expect our excitement to generate more content for you guys! Again, I’m sorry. I know these past two weeks have been tough.

Last Saturday Homewood High School alumni gathered for the first installment of what will hopefully become the annual alumni game. While it wasn’t the ideal event by a long-shot, I still can’t remember when I’ve had that much fun.

Yours truly and fellow blogmaster Rob coordinated the event, losing hours of sleep and diligently sending out voice mails and Facebook messages to gather up the best group of guys we could. We got a decent bunch of alumni out there, but our opponents were lacking.

You see, there was an obvious error in translation from our English to the Homewood varsity coach’s Scottish. He seemed to believe the alumni game was geezers vs. geezers. We wanted the alumni to play (and trounce) the current varsity squad. This confusion caused for some last second rallying, so about 10 minutes before the scheduled kick-off, our 15 or so alumni were warming up and staring down one high school senior and a handful of JV’s finest.

Given that I played JV soccer at Homewood no less than nine years ago, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of trying to outplay an eighth-grader. Fortunately, calls were made from the field and we shared some of our alumni to outfit a borderline respectable opposing squad.

With the smell of the freshly cut pitch and IcyHot in the air, and after a typical Homewood warmup of blasting shots on goal for a half hour, we were set to kick off. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. After arguing over who would take that spot out on the wide right that no one was willing to take due to predicted fitness issues, I jogged out to the touchline so we could start… I was itching to fall back into my groove in the center midfield, but I just wanted to play so I bit the bullet.

Immediately I sank into my old routine… or one of them, I should say. Some games in the past I’d have the routine of giving the ball away or mouthing off to the ref, but I didn’t find myself in either of those grooves last Saturday. Fortunately, I wasn’t giving the ball away at all (if I remember correctly) and the referee was a volunteer guy from the varsity squad so I’d have to be a pretty huge jerk to jump on his back.

No, I got into my routine of being vocal. When I’d put on the captain’s band back in the day, I certainly wasn’t the best guy on the pitch, but I’d do my damnedest to make sure I was the loudest.

From Saturday’s first whistle, I was calling everything out. “Man on!… One more!… Switch!… You’ve got your drop!… Push him right!”
And yes, I did whip in our first corner that was met in the air by an alumnus who jumped over some poor kid, who had probably just grown his first few facial hairs, for the match opener.

Playing 11v11 on a full-sized pitch was a fantastic feeling – a feeling I never fully appreciated when I was doing it once a week several years back. But truthfully, the best part was playing with all the guys.

There was something truly special about the group of guys we had at Homewood when we all graduated. More than half of that team first started playing together at the age of eight, and the majority of us were close friends. Throw in a weekly team dinner to Quizno’s or at my house for some of the world’s best enchiladas, a collective, burning passion to play and two of the best, most-relatable coaches you could ask for and we had a tremendous camaraderie.

Getting to relive just an inkling of the olden days was fantastic and worth every bit of effort put into organizing out first alumni game. Who cares if it wasn’t the perfect turnout? For one, it was a prototype, more or less, and will get better, but the people who mattered were there.

I’ll never undervalue my time playing varsity soccer at HHS. It’s hard for me to make it back for games these days, but on the rare occasion I get to catch one, I always have this daydream. It’s that I’m back to watch a game and am sitting off to the side of the halftime talk after a tough first half. Once Coach McBride is done reaming the guys for their poor performance, he turns to me and asks if I’ve got anything I’d like to add. And each time, I tell them the exact same thing.

I tell them not to take it for granted. As cliché and Disney as that sounds, I mean it with all sincerity. Not a day goes by since high school that I don’t miss getting to play games with all of my best friends in front of decent crowds, and I know the other guys feel the same. Even the ones who didn’t let on to caring that much four years ago, when I see them at college the conversation invariably gravitates toward that topic and how much we miss it.

I’d tell the guys not to waste games feeling sorry for themselves or being too hard on themselves for a bad performance. They’ve got to pick themselves up and play until they have to crawl off the field. I wasted far too much of my time out there getting down on myself and taking myself out of games because I had made some mistakes.

Now I’d go back and kick myself in the pants and assure myself how quickly high school soccer would be over and how much I’d miss it years later, and I’d relay that same information to those guys who currently sit in the locker room.

If anyone is reading this and scratching their head thinking, “What’s this guy talking about? It’s a high school varsity sport. Big deal,” then I feel sorry for you that you didn’t get the same experience I had with my boys at HHS.

I can’t stress enough how close we all were, how well we played together, and what it meant to to share the pitch with all of them over those years. And to dispel any suspicions that this is some feel-good story where I loved playing and loved the camaraderie, but we were still a really terrible team, I’ll just stick my hand out and let you gawk at the two state rings..

For all those guys who made it out to the alumni game: Thank you. For an afternoon, you guys helped take me back to some of the best years of my life. Here’s to doing it next year! *raises his Carlsberg*

(And for the record, I don’t still wear my state championship rings – that was a figure of speech. I’m proud of our accomplishments, but I’m no THAT proud, nor that much of a douche.)