Monthly Archives: January 2012

Loan Stars

FC Dallas’ Brek Shea and George John hone their skills in Britain

FC Dallas standout Brek Shea capped a successful 2011 with a month-long training stint at Arsenal.  Few expected much to come of the opportunity in terms of a loan deal or something more permanent – least of all Arsenal skipper Arsene Wenger who downplayed their invitation to Shea – but it was a great chance for Shea to train with some of Europe’s best during the MLS offseason.  Between U.S. Men’s National Team call-ups and the Arsenal invite, FC Dallas fans were proud to see one of their best get so much deserved recognition.

Then a few weeks ago came the news that defender George John was heading to West Ham United for a two-month loan spell.  Again fans were pleased to see one of FC Dallas’ outstanding young talents validated with such a high-profile opportunity.  Both Shea and John were also invited to the U.S. Men’s National Team winter training camp, though John is unable to attend due to the West Ham loan.

 

The Shea and John opportunities highlight a catch-22 for American soccer as a whole.  MLS is getting better every year and helping produce world-class players, but they’re not necessarily able to keep those players stateside.  On one hand, the more our best players get to play top-level soccer the better – especially for national team purposes.  On the other hand, it doesn’t bode well for the development of MLS if its best prospects get scooped up by foreign clubs (latest example:  Bolton’s snag of Tim Ream from NY Red Bulls).  I don’t blame players at all for wanting to give Europe a go if a club comes calling – it will probably make them a better player (and make them more cash).  But as a fan, I want to see top players like Shea and John don the FCD red and white for the long haul.

For now, we can supposedly look forward to seeing Shea and John in the FCD lineup when the new MLS season kicks off in March (though John’s deal apparently leaves an opening for West Ham to keep him on if things go well).  I hope we do get to see them back in Dallas, as they’re both rising stars playing for a franchise that needs the potential drawing power of stars more than most other MLS teams.  I think the sky’s the limit for Shea in particular.  He could be the U.S. National Team’s best player in a few years.  FC Dallas fans better enjoy these guys while we can, because the reality is they may soon be too good for a club our size to afford to keep.

What do you think of offseason loan deals for MLS players?  Does it help or hurt MLS?

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Goal-less Blues

Chelsea’s title hopes vanish with 0 – 0 draw against Norwich City

Chelsea is not a championship team this season.  There, I’ve said it.  Now I actually feel a bit better.  If admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, then I’m freely admitting it now on behalf of the Blues:  they cannot win the Premier League this season.  They can’t win any trophy this season playing the way they are.  They simply don’t have the confident, hungry look of the ‘09/10 EPL Champion Blues.  Not even close.  I held out hope through the fall and Christmas season that the team’s veterans would shake off whatever was ailing them, turn the corner on this season, and really grapple with the Manchesters for the title.  But this weekend’s 0 – 0 draw at Norwich City (coupled with the Manchesters winning their Sunday matches) made it official – at fourteen points behind league-leading Manchester City, the title is out of reach.

I just don’t have confidence in Chelsea right now (and haven’t for most of the season).  I want to, but they’ve done nothing to instill any confidence.  Saturday’s game at Norwich was one of those maddening contests in which Chelsea didn’t play poorly at all – they dominated possession and generally dictated the pace – yet they couldn’t cope with that pesky little aspect of the game called scoring goals.

For all the players Chelsea get forward, it’s remarkable how unoriginal the attack was Saturday.  It usually consisted of crossing the ball in front of the goal where it could be headed away or cleared by one of the tall, tenacious Norwich City defenders.  On several occasions Chelsea didn’t even have anyone attacking the crossed ball.  Where’s the urgency?

I’ve ignored the Chelsea naysayers this season, stubbornly insisting that the Blues would turn the ship around in time.  Now I’m concerned the naysayers may be right.  I think it’s now officially a rebuilding year for the Blues.  So I should probably start treating it as such – try to just enjoy the games one at a time and forget about the EPL title for this season.  At least we’ve still got Champions League play (though I can’t realistically see Chelsea beating Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, or Barcelona at this point).  Maybe with the title pressure off I’ll be able to enjoy the games more and stop expecting wins every time out because it’s simply not going to happen this season.

What do you think – are Chelsea’s title hopes out of reach for this season?

The Bison is Back!

Michael Essien returns from injury as Chelsea beats Sunderland 1 – 0

Yesterday’s victory over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge was another serious nail-biter.  Nail-biters have been in plentiful supply this season – with far too many 1 – 0 games excruciatingly equalized in the dying minutes of matches by Chelsea’s scrappy opposition.  Sunderland tried to continue the trend Saturday with some excellent chances near the end that they fortunately bungled.

I was relieved to see Chelsea win of course, but there was another sense of relief accompanying the final whistle yesterday:  seeing Michael Essien – my favorite Chelsea player – not only return to the pitch after a six-month knee-injury absence, but also successfully navigate eighteen minutes of Premier League match time unscathed.  When I donned my Essien jersey for the game yesterday I had no idea he’d even made the bench.  I hadn’t checked the roster prior to the match, and even though I knew he played in a reserves match last week, I figured it was still too early to see him join the first team in the dugout.  So it was a tremendous surprise to see AVB chatting up Essien on the touchline as he was about to enter the game for Lampard!  While Essien’s contributions were relatively low-key, he was immediately involved, stringing together a series of crisp passes that looked like the Essien of old.  I cringed every time he received the ball near a Sunderland player, hoping they wouldn’t recklessly undo six months of difficult rehab.  It is fantastic to see him back and I hope he’ll be among the regular starting eleven very soon.

 

Another Chelsea vet who saw some late action yesterday was Florent Malouda.  I don’t think Malouda’s been given a fair shake so far this season.  In fact, he’s been woefully underused, which has now negatively affected his match sharpness.  Obviously, the Chelsea coaching staff is with him on a daily basis, so perhaps he’s been under-performing in training.  But it’s difficult to understand why he was so swiftly relegated to benchwarmer status especially considering he was one of last season’s EA Sports Index first-team midfielders – for the entire Premier League!  Like Lampard, I think Malouda has plenty left to offer and Chelsea would be foolish to squander it.  With Drogba away on African Cup duty, hopefully Malouda will get some opportunities to show AVB what he’s got.

Speaking of personnel decisions, what do you think about Chelsea’s acquisition of defender Gary Cahill from Bolton?