Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Spurs and More -- Week 1 Roundup of the Barclay's Premier League

photo by Jimmy_Joevia PhotoRee

Ed's at it again:
Well, it seems the bossman has forgotten where his crayons are, so here’s my post on the weekend’s action:
On Spurs v. the Hammers:
This Spurs team doesn’t appear richly talented, but they are young and used their depth well this weekend.  I also think the expectations for the team are a bit lower, which I think will help them at least until or unless the pressure builds as the season wears on.  Spurs players are younger and I don’t think they feel as much pressure when games like this one remain close for so long. 
I enjoyed watching Holtby and Townsend come off the bench and inject some intensity and pace into the game.  Immediately Holtby had a steal that led to a break.  I also liked Pochettino’s confidence in the bench and the very young players on the squad.  This is not to denigrate Erik Lamela, who looked confident on the ball and much better than he did in any of his appearances last season.  He clearly has talent, now he just needs confidence, and Pochettino is clearly trying to help him get it.
Benteleb played okay, but I found it interesting that he was out there rather than Paulinho or Sandro or Dembele, none of which made an appearance.  In light of Spurs interest in Morgan Schneiderlin from Sunderland, I’m wondering if each or all of these players may be headed out of White Hart Lane.  I think this would be a curious choice, despite the fact that Etienne Capoue played well in the role of the disrupter.  Perhaps there are injuries that I am unaware of? 
Adebayor played well, though not well enough to score.  Erikson was quiet and ineffective.  Spurs will need much more from him from week to week as he’s one of the few creative players in the lineup.

Harry Kane was brought on instead of Soldado.  Not only did the Spaniard show little last year, he also showed little in preseason.  Often players with talent from the Spanish league don’t translate to the Premier League.  I suspect this is because defenders are bigger and faster from top to bottom in the BPL.  Soldado lacks pace, isn’t a strong target man like, say, Lambert, and isn’t a shifty quick release guy like Lewandowski.  It would seem that he’s the Spanish version of Chris Wondolowski – which makes me think he just might not be good enough for Spurs. 

Hugo Lloris showed why he’s the best keeper on the team despite his relatively small size.  His quickness kept Spurs alive in a game they could’ve lost and probably should’ve tied.

Younes Kaboul looked very mediocre, but then there was Eric Dier, the Spur’s hero who neatly dribbled pass the Hammer’s keeper after a perfect pass from Harry Kane in extra time.  It’s so nice to see a new signing perform well out of the gate – not the typical thing for this team.

Of course, it’s impossible to make any big conclusions after just one game.  Perhaps the Hammers are awful, or perhaps they are terrific.  One never knows at this point . . . .

On the Rest of the League:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fired Up

Ed's ready for the season:

How fired up am I about the 2014/2015 season?  Well, right now my anticipation has me on the same hair trigger as the Bossman when he panics his way out of the bathroom midstream after hearing Ian Dark scream “Rooneeeeey” in the other room.  As the young people say, I’m completely off the chain right now.


Why is it going to be that good this year?  Well, how could it not?  This year seven teams – seven! – are going to be in a mini-tournament for the top 4 spots of the premier league.  There’s clearly disparities among them, and it’s very likely the top four will be teams we are so regrettably familiar with, but even so, at least one of these giants of the BPL is going to be left out of the party.  Who will it be?  Liverpool, United, Chelsea, City, Arsenal?  The story lines abound.  Here are those from the top 7 clubs:
1.       Will the Special One continue his second season magic?  Will Matic be the ultimate BPL Cleaner?  Is Diego Costa that good or will he become the BPL’s next Roberto Soldado?
2.       Will Liverpool survive the departure of the biter?  Will Gerard finally get his title?  Will Coutinho and Sterling become dominant BPL players?  Is Sturridge going to be as effective now that he draws all the coverage?  Is Brendan Rodgers actually that good a manager? 
3.       Will Arsenal contend for a top spot?  Will a team made better over the summer finally compete with the top four?  Will Ramsey get through the season without injury and take over Ya Ya Toure’s spot for the best midfielder in the BPL?  Is Mikel Arteta even close to fast enough to be captain and holding midfielder?
4.       Is Louis Van Gaal really that good?  Will he steer a United team that looked really good this pre-season back into the contenders that they once were?  Will Van Persie stay healthy?  Will Rooney continue his pre-season form?  Will the lack of European play propel them to the title?  Will anyone be able to play defense? 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pinch This

photo by BrentDPaynevia PhotoRee

Ed is back, and even Pep Guardiola can not escape his withering glare:
WTF with Pep avoiding the Timbers coach after the MLS All-Star game on Wednesday night and refusing to shake his hand?  The coach isn’t out there tackling people, the players are.  And is it a surprise that MLS players after being summarily rejected by their European counterparts have a bit of an inferiority complex and want to come out strong against Bayern?  I always thought Pep was the good guy in the Bizarro World run-ins with the Special One (the face pinching incident is particularly repulsive and mind-blowing reminder of how European soccer coaches can behave) but now I’m beginning to wonder.  Especially after his “we will prepare more next year” comments, as is the MLS all-stars have been sequestered at a compound reviewing tapes and preparing sets for the All Star Game.  What it does scream, in no uncertain terms, is “Sour Grapes!”  Here’s the deal, Pep:  you lost 2 - 1 against a team that was better than you yesterday – partly because they were in full season form, partly because they gave more of a damn about the game, partly because some of those guys are good**, and partly because neither Ribery nor Robben were playing. 
Plus, losing this game might actually be a good thing for you to do.  Remember Pep, America is an ATM for clubs like yours as many of the GM’s in Europe have attested to.  But can you really be surprised or outraged at two tough tackles?  When your club took the substantial jingle to come here it did so with the knowledge that it would have to play a competitive soccer game, too – see the last ten or so years of this game – and that it wouldn’t be a mere roll-over for your players to waive their hands and walk away with a 5-0 victory.  Playing the part of the petulant child who turns his back to an MLS coach doesn’t go over well in the GDUS of A.  If you want to get into it with the other coach, we expect you to go all Jim Harbaugh on him, not to just present your back or pinch the assistant coaches face.  We are honestly so shocked at that kind of wimpy adolescent behavior that we usually respond with bewilderment rather than anger.  Losing sucks, we all know that, but you ought to get used to it because the USA is starting to wake up to soccer in the same way it did for the Olympics, and I think you know what happened there.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Manchester United 3 - Liverpool 1 -- From a Liverpool Fan's Perspective

Happier Times for Scott and Cole

Liverpool-lovin' Scott owes the Bossman a beer -- preferably craft:

This one is hard to write.  But, for posterity, my memoirs and pursuant to several clauses in my farlieonfootie contract, I am obligated to recount at least some of the events that transpired on Monday night at Sunlife stadium.  My son Cole and I, along with Ajax supporter John and his son, planted our tailgating flag in a barren, easily-found patch of parking, ignoring the consternated gesticulations of the parking staff who preferred we wedge our car between several behemoths already there. Correspondent Ed arrived late sporting a vintage Spurs jersey and a cooler of craft beer, perhaps equally vintage.  The Bossman blamed the weather and the NSA for an arrival that was so tardy as to rule him out of our rain-spattered tailgate. Correspondent Mark, however, emerged from a sleek, black SUV, supported by a substantial family entourage (thank you for the cookies, Theresa) and waxing positively poetic having just returned from a English multi-stadium tour evidenced by four ill-made Man United t-shirts, an out-of-focus Chelsea poster (since discarded) and one photo of Steven Gerrard's shirt/locker that started a bidding war on eBay. 
Despite the inclement weather and lack of a soccer ball to kick about (big shout-out to the nice gentlemen who loaned us one), our group found shelter under our surprisingly large pop-up tent for an earnest discussion of which of Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool Mark and his progeny should support.  Cole and I were emphatic with our Liverpool case while John, ever the contrarian, half-heartedly supported the Evil MU Empire.  Alas, while the subject was not definitively decided, I fear the result of the ensuing game may have influenced the final decision.
This was my first live Liverpool game.  So it goes without saying that it was also my son's first game as well, and his excitement was not to be contained.  Having refreshed his memory of all the words to "You'll Never Walk Alone", and sporting a Gerrard shirt and hat, my 10 year old was nothing short of effervescent as the lineup was announced during our bathroom pit stop (I did mention the craft beers).  Much relieved, we found our seats just behind the goal where Liverpool was warming up.  Unfortunately the first of several disappointments then descended on my little Liverpudlian fan as the warmup abruptly ended to make way for a somewhat entertaining but thoroughly deafening firework display that blanketed the pitch with a smoky haze which never seemed to fully exit the stadium.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Liverpool Fan's Thoughts on the Departure of Luis Suarez

photo by Hamed Sabervia PhotoRee

Scott sends off Luis Suarez with an appropriate mixture of emotions, at least for a scouser:

So it's finally official: Luis Suarez is going to Barcelona, ending 2.5 years of on-field brilliance and mystifying moments of lunacy. Concluding how to feel about this transfer requires a serious mental inventory, such was our emotional investment. On the one hand, there is no doubt that Suarez is one of the main factors in Liverpool's return to Premier League relevance. It would be hard to find a fiercer competitor and, if all his teammates' comments are to be believed, a more committed team player (when not wanting away, of course). He is a player who raises the level of both play and expectations of everyone around him. And he should rightly be considered, as a snapshot in time, among the absolute best in the game right now, to be mentioned in the same breath as Messi and Ronaldo.

Then there is the significant monetary investment in the troublesome Uruguayan. Setting aside the 35 million-ish paid to Ajax, there is the PR sunk cost of dealing with Evra Part 1 (the comment), Evra Part 2 (the handshake that wasn't) and then the Ivanovic Bite. That we now have to distinguish which bite, never mind the Eredivisie counterpart, speaks volumes about the further spinning of the PR machine that would be required. Not to mention the sheer emotional and psychological toll expended (and yet to be expended) by players, coaches and fans alike during each of his past and future bans.

To Liverpool's great credit, there was no circling of the wagons this time around. Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me thrice... (it defies cliche).  I know I was. First there was seeing the uniquely talented forward around his family and hearing his teammates wax on about his attitude and work ethic. Then, most importantly, we observed concrete, significant progress of his rehabilitation in the English Premiere League - nary a moment of lunacy all year, calmer demeanor on the field even during trying times and, to the immense pleasure of any American proselytizing for the sport in the US, a reduction of diving to near zero level.

By all accounts the narrative was fulfilling its own prophesy - that of the underprivileged, angry youth who escaped his humble beginnings to be with his beloved and play his beloved sport in ever-higher arenas. Significant lapses of decorum marred his way and, sure, it took the polemic prodigy a few more raps on the wrist to finally learn his lesson. But a settled year at the Liverpool club who patiently stood by their admittedly flawed star, a new long-term contract and statements by all about the mutual contentment of the evolving situation and prospects for the future - surely, this Merseyside cautionary tale would find its Hollywood ending.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong type of Hollywood that emerged - one of addiction and relapse. Forgive me the rough edges of this analogy, but there were glaring similarities to Suarez' World Cup cameo. After a year of clean living in the hard knocks but mostly stay-on-your-feet world of English soccer, Luis was surrounded by the environment of catty, diving soccer that international soccer can be. Away from the Liverpudlian support group, the Uruguayan simply relapsed into his old ways, shattering all the rehabilitation he had achieved in his record season with that bite and hardening the hearts of those who really thought he had gotten past it all.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Game Day Beer Review: Sierra Nevada / Cigar City Yonder Bock Tropical Maibock

The Location: Residential neighborhood, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Date: Thursday, July 17th

The Time: 8:15pm, Eastern Daylight Time

The Weather: 81 degrees, soft breeze blowing
The Scene: Backyard beer drinking

The Music: Mandolin Rain, Josh Kelley

The Beer: Sierra Nevada / Cigar City Yonder Tropical Maibock, Sierra Nevada / Cigar City Collaboration (7.70% ABV)

The Review: Yonder Bock poured a deep copper penny color with the whitest of white, fluffy heads; considerable lacing developed on the glass surface as the head receded.   The smell was mild and bready, with the faintest hint of tropical fruit scents.  The beer's taste was malt-forward, succeeded by tropical fruit favors including pineapple and guava, and followed by the drying effect of  a well-hopped beer.  Yonder bock has a medium mouthfeel, and is well carbonated and tingly on the tongue.

The Feel: Summer evenings are tailor made for relaxing, and this beer more than fits the bill.


Monday, July 14, 2014

The Final Word: Germany 1 - Argentina 0 (ET)

photo by Miriam Poppevia PhotoRee

Scott has some final thoughts about the Final:

  • Germany didn't look nearly as dangerous as they have in previous games but they did just enough.
  • I can't help thinking that a healthy DiMaria might have swung this game the other way.
  • That was a spectacular take and finish by Goetze.
  • Messi looked so dangerous throughout and it was almost a pity to see him go home empty handed. His last gasp free kick, however, perhaps belied his concentration.
  • I never thought I would see they day when more Germans were diving than South Americans.
  • Except for getting the Neuer/Higuain clatter spectacularly wrong, this was a well-officiated game.
  • I really love how the refs were instructed to hold their cards as the more free-flowing games were very entertaining. Only the Brazil-Colombia game got out of hand. 
  • Is Muller a diver?  He sure went down easily a couple of times.
  • Higuain blew 2 primo chances - the first because it seems he is intimidated by Neuer and couldn't get a 1 on 1 shot even on target and the other because he doesn't seem to understand the concept of offside even when he has a clear view of the last defender.
  • Manuel Neuer is a studly sweeper-keeper. Did you see him take the throw in!?
  • Argentina chicks are hot.
  • Ian Darke is one of the best announcers ever - astute, witty, knowledgeable and gracious. Plus, I feel like I'm playing FIFA Soccer on the Wii when he speaks.
  • Schweinsteiger looked like the Allstate mayhem guy by the end of the game.
  • Bottom line - this game could have gone either way but Germany were the better team over the tournament so I suppose it's fitting that they won.
  • Does Klinsmann get any credit?
This is farlieonfootie for July 14.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Aftermath: Belgium 2 - USMNT 1 (Continued, Part 3/3)

photo by U.S. Department of Statevia PhotoRee
More analysis of the reasons behind the USMNT's 2-1 loss to Belgium:
Ed: I think the European leagues are better, but I don't think the MLS is a bad training ground.  The problem is not training -- that's coming around pretty well in the USA -- it's just that the players aren't that good.  Deondre Yedlin is all USA and all MLS, but he's clearly a talent.  Landon Donovan was the same.  Plus there are lots of guys who didn't make our roster who've been hoofing it in Europe for a while.  Eric Lichaj pops to mind....  And how much did Sunderland help Jozy Altidore's game?

Along these lines, please remind me which basketball academy produced LeBron James and Michael Jordan, and how going to college hurt Tim Duncan's game.  (My delusional 9 year old has already told me that he was going to go to college first rather than just trying to go pro even though the latter is probably  better -- I can only imagine he overheard a Coach Mark diatribe on that one).  The idea that we need a European-style academy system for soccer has always seemed a bit silly to me.  It's too much along the lines of those people that think they could make the PGA tour if they just trained more as a kid....  Or even the coaches at the Barcelona camps that will train your kid to be as good as Xavi and Iniesta.  Come on!

I agree with the line regarding Adrian Peterson, but think that day is already here with guys like Yedlin making the team.  When we get to a critical mass with these type of guys we will become dangerous.  I would love to see Sergio Ramos try to mark Adrian Peterson (or Yedlin for that matter), or any NFL-level running back or defensive back that decided to play soccer instead.  Football youth participation is already down due to concussions; soccer is up due to TV.  TV will eventually make the difference, though for some reason I think the journey will be more fun than the destination in this case.  There's a certain charm to being an underdog that you don't get when you're expected to win.  Plus I want my kids to get playing time before all the elite athletes jump in!

Mark: The target striker issue that B* mentioned is dead on. With as many quality defenders and even midfielders (albeit defensive ones) that we have produced, we can't seem to find one good target striker out of 25 million soccer players. That's kind of nuts. In our history there has only been one true US target player that has ever played in one of the four major leagues (Brian McBride). He wasn't sensational, but he did the job even at the Premier League level. Not being able to win a ball at the forward spot was as big as issue yesterday as not having the precision playmaker.
Altidore is probably the closest thing to a target player, but he's only a hair above six feet tall and is of average pace, when most countries have a 6'2 or 6'3 guy or a guy who's just really strong and fast. Altidore has not been able to crack the Premier League yet which tells you where our best stands.

A Terrance Boyd/Altidore progression might get us there, but there are not many target choices out there at any level of US soccer. Was really surprised Boyd or Eddie Johnson didn't come as they give us at least so backup combination of size and speed up front.
On another note, the MLS is creeping up the ranks. I believe it had 37 players in the world cup which was behind The Bundesliga, English, French League, Italian and Spanish but ahead of Holland which is considered a pretty good league. The new $90 million dollar TV contract will raise level of play another notch.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Aftermath: Belgium 2 - USMNT 1 (Continued, Part 2/3)

photo by robert.melokvia PhotoRee

Mark: When you look at it from a shots-on-goal standpoint it's easy to be dark. We spent most of the tourney on the wrong end of a shooting gallery. But that happens when you are playing counter attacking soccer. The problem was we left the only good counter attacking player in the country at home. I don't think green was the answer although he had a big play. I think we did "ok" but I think it was in spite of our coaching not because of it. My coach rank for Cups is Bruce Arena, Bora Milutinovic followed by a tie with Bob Bradley and Klinsmann,  and Steve Sampson is a distant last.

B* (Name changed to protect the innocent): I agree. No one will ever be able to convince me that Klinsmann does not regret his choice to exclude Landon Donovan. More specifically, I believe that regret flashed brightly in front of him when Chris Wondolowski missed from point blank, as Donovan buries that goal. US soccer is heading in the right direction, but we need goal scorers in a major way.

Scott: I'm still sick about the whole thing. Wondo was put in the game for exactly that reason. Feel bad for him.

I'm probably too much of an optimist, but I disagree with Mark about Klinsmann's ranking and I think he is dragging US soccer forward. The problem is, we all want it to happen faster than it is. We are light years away from 1990 and 1994, and we will only continue to improve. Just look at where our expectations are now and how disappointed we are when we get knocked out. I wish there were a way we could do it every year, because we improve every cycle and, mark my words, in another 20 years USA will be among those teams that can actually win the whole thing. Granted, I said something similar after 1994 - it's just happening slowly....

I have to agree with the comment about MLS. For us to do significantly better before 20 years from now, we need more players playing in top leagues. MLS will catch up one day (or at least close the gap enough) but until that happens it doesn't give our national team players what they need, with few exceptions.

We said all along that we would need to play our best and then get lucky to go very deep in this tournament. Well, we got lucky against Ghana and then Belgium for 90 minutes, but only Tim Howard played his best so we got bounced. And yet, it was still there for the taking with Wondo's miss and when we had them pinned to the ropes for the last 10 min of extra time.

Searching for the good, I point at those last 10 min. Quite frankly, I think it is more amazing that we didn't score during that time.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Aftermath: Belgium 2 - USMNT 1 (Part 1)

The inter-office debate rages on:

Mark: Well that was a heart breaker. My random thoughts: we are back at 1994 watching "Bora Ball" and the all-heart team try to dodge twenty shots and then steal the game with a goal. That wasn't the style Klinsmann was supposed to bring in. This was a great exhibition of heart, but we got outshot and outpossessed dramatically in three of the four games. There could have been some very lopsided losses in this Cup for us.
Ed: That's a step too far< I think.  Klinsi didn't promise possession, just more attacking soccer.  And when we got the ball we did attack in numbers.  Plus there was no team that played a tougher four opponents.  But no, we are not as technically gifted as Belgium's golden generation or Germany.  But we were surprisingly close to Portugal on that regard.
Mark: Michael Bradley is the toughest player to ever play for the US national team, but should never play another game as an attacking midfielder. Klinsmann really did a poor job of casting him.
Ed: Completely agree.  He never looked better than when he orchestrated from the holding position in extra time.  I was reminded how solid he is back there where he should be.  He simply doesn't have the speed or creativity or desire to take on players and space in the attack.  Dempsey does, and dempsey also looked better when he returned to the number 10 spot.
Mark: Jermaine Jones is a beast, but like Bradley was expected to carry the team offensively and he just does not have the distribution ability.
Ed: Agreed again!  A tough holder who makes for a great spine.  Guys like that thrive on the premier league and his muscle made us better.  But destroyers are never also creators.
Mark: Kyle Beckerman is a tremendous position player, and we missed him today. The middle was far more open without him in there. Belgium had far more opportunities than German which is a stronger side. Was shocked he got pulled.
Ed: Can't say, really.  Cameron made Fellaini look pretty ineffective.  But Beckerman had a good tourney for a slow dude with big hair.
Mark: Why does it seem like we switch formations every game in the World Cup under Klinsmann?
Ed: I think that's called tactics and I'm okay with it.  The Dutch switched their formation at halftime against Mexico and it paid off, we can switch game to game if we have too.