Monthly Archives: March 2012

Blues Best Benfica

Chelsea defeats Benfica 1-0 in first leg of Champions League quarterfinal

Where has this defensive discipline been all season for Chelsea?  For most of the match at Benfica yesterday they looked like the stubborn Chelsea defense of old.  Even Cech looked much better than he’s been for much of this season with several fine saves.  Sure Benfica threatened here and there, but the back four of Luiz, Terry, Cole, and a very surprising Ferreira remained focused, unified, and got the job done.

When I initially heard Di Matteo was starting Kalou and Mikel, I was a bit concerned.  They’ve both had rough seasons, particularly Kalou who has barely earned a start this year.  But, they were both spry, didn’t seem a bit rusty, kept mistakes at bay, and had an all-around excellent game.  Kalou even punched in the goal via a smart pass from Torres.  Speaking of, Fernando had a solid outing as well.  Like many other Chelsea fans, I wish he’d go on a scoring rampage, but the important thing is to keep winning and he definitely helped Chelsea do that yesterday.

Surprisingly, Mata had an off night.  He seemed tired (rightly so after all the big games he’s played in such a short span) and I was surprised he wasn’t subbed in the second half.

Ramires drove me nuts with his poor final passes, until the qualities I admire about his game actually initiated Chelsea’s goal.  It was his acceleration and tenacity that got the ball to Torres up the right wing, which was followed by Torres’ pass in to Kalou who scored.

It was pleasing to see Chelsea take care of business so matter-of-factly, with no major defensives gaffes and no goals allowed.  It was also great to see them get the result using several players who haven’t been in the lineup much recently (wish Malouda had also participated) – that must be a morale booster for both starters and bench-warmers, as well as good for locker room harmony.

So now, with things looking grim in the Premier League for Chelsea, the club finds itself one game away from a Champions League semifinal spot.  Who would’ve thought that was a remote possibility back in December?  Benfica visits Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, April 4 for the return leg where Chelsea will have to resist the urge to relax with their 1-0 lead, and remain vigilant to finish off sure-to-be-feisty Benfica.

Will Chelsea advance to the Champions League semifinals? 

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Blues Soldier On

Thoughts on Chelsea’s 2-1 loss at Man City and 0-0 draw with Tottenham

After the generally dismal season Chelsea fans have endured, the past couple weeks have been a very welcome respite.  Just a month ago, a loss at Manchester City like the one this past Wednesday would’ve seriously irked Blues fans.  But there is enough positive afterglow from the Champions League comeback against Napoli to outshine the disappointing loss at Manchester City.

This EPL season was a lost cause for Chelsea long ago.  It’s all about Champions League survival now – advancing in the current tourney and qualifying for next season’s edition.  It doesn’t render EPL games unimportant of course – a win Wednesday would’ve been very helpful, but yesterday’s clash with Tottenham at Stamford Bridge carried the most significance.  Even interim Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo admitted a loss to Spurs might have put next season’s Champions League berth out of reach.

Chelsea and Tottenham played the whole match Saturday like they were afraid to lose.  Mission accomplished as neither team scored.  The goalless draw was more disappointing than the loss at Man City since no progress was made toward reducing the five point gap separating Spurs (in fourth place) and Blues (in fifth).  It was a disheartening missed opportunity for Chelsea.  Though there are eight league games remaining, it is a very tall order for Chelsea to overtake Tottenham.  Failure to qualify for Champions League play next season would be a huge disappointment.  It’s hard to imagine that competition without Chelsea!  Still, there are eight games left.  Chelsea must take care of business and hope Spurs sputter badly.

Meanwhile, there’s the little matter of Chelsea’s trip to Benfica Tuesday for the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal.  Can’t wait for that one.  It’s going to be a suspenseful April for Blues fans!

What do you think – will Chelsea earn a Champions League slot for next season?

My First Trip of 2012 to FC Dallas Stadium

In which FC Dallas gifts Portland Timbers a goal for 1 – 1 draw

I spent St. Patty’s day, or evening actually, at FC Dallas Stadium (formerly Pizza Hut Park).  I wasn’t able to make it to the season opener last Sunday versus NY Red Bulls as I was traveling with my family on spring break.  I enjoyed watching FCD beat the Red Bulls on NBC Sports Network though and thoroughly enjoyed their coverage.  NBC didn’t dumb anything down at all (unlike a certain channel that starts with an “F” and ends with an “ox” during their nationally televised Champions League final).  So Saturday night was my first opportunity of the 2012 season to see FCD live as they battled the ax men from the northwest, better known as the Portland Timbers.  Here are my random musings on the match experience:

FCD’s new forward Blas Perez of Panama (I think he should go by that full moniker, including “of Panama” just for fun) has been impressive in his first two games.  He kept the Timbers on their toes in the first half (scoring FCD’s only goal), but in the second they paid closer attention to his wily maneuverings and that, coupled with a lack of offensive support from his FCD cronies, kept him from threatening as much.

Enjoyment of a match in person is seriously affected by those seated around you.  Most of my experiences at FCD games have been quite positive, but last night I had a trio of male knuckleheads babbling incessantly behind me.  They quickly beat everyone over the head with the fact they are Timbers fans, though only one had on a Timbers jacket (the other two inexplicably wore a Man U jacket and an old Dallas Burn jersey).  They regaled the rest of us with comedic gems like “Nice dive!” (directed at an FCD player), quickly followed by “Nice scuba suit!”  They also got a kick out of “Hey linesman, your sports bra too tight?” which I thought was a blow aimed at the poor linesman’s manhood until I realized that he actually was wearing some sort of clearly visible sports bra-like device under his ref jersey.  As if fans need further excuse to ridicule refs!  Not sure what that was all about – perhaps MLS is tracking refs’ vital signs this year via the bra, I mean device.  The Timber Trio’s favorite barb of the night though was their admonishment to any FCD player who got knocked down to “Hit the weights!”  They apparently thought this sage advice since they screamed it approximately one thousand times during the match.  Oddly enough, the motor mouths didn’t appear to be drunk at all.

Vuvuzelas mar the soccer world.  Unfortunately, the plastic horn menaces – that sound like a cross between a wounded Wookie and an elephant – are a perpetual presence at FCD matches.  I much prefer the steady crowd roar, singing, and chanting of European matches to vuvuzelas and drum beating.  The honk of the vuvuzela is a truly melancholy wail that sounds downright depressing, particularly in the 88th minute when your team is tied or losing and could use an aural spark.  That’s the main problem with vuvus – they’re not peppy in the least.  Perhaps the suits think vuvus help create “atmosphere”.  They are mistaken.  Vuvus sound ridiculous and aren’t festive in the least.  The only good thing about vuvus is that every time I hear one I’m reminded of Will Ferrell as “Jeff Vuvuzela” at the Espy’s a couple years ago.

FC Dallas has made several improvements to the match experience for fans.  I like the new seating right behind the north goal, which helps a bit to enclose the cavernous stage/beer garden space.  The halftime videos hosted by Vydra were very well done and quite entertaining – I particularly enjoyed the Q&A with Ricardo Villar in which he had to choose between random things like “Man City or Man U” (I forgive him for choosing Man U – was hoping he’d say “neither”).  One improvement the club still desperately needs however is a larger on-site team store.  The current shoebox size shop is entirely inadequate.  Saturday night before the game they had to use a frazzled bouncer to allow folks in a few at a time, but even then, once finally inside, the shop was literally shoulder-to-shoulder which made it impossible to fully browse the merchandise.

 

As for the match, Dallas controlled the first half, but the Timbers adequately adjusted after halftime and came out looking like a different team.  Even so, the Dallas defense (led by Ugo Ihemelu and Zach Loyd) was solid and likely would’ve held on to win were it not for Kevin Hartman’s uncharacteristic blunder in which he booted the ball straight up to the top of his own box where Portland’s Darlington Nagbe was waiting to pounce and slipped in an easy goal to tie the game.  Unfortunately, Dallas often found themselves short-handed on the attack as the spark provided by Loyd’s wing runs in the first half virtually disappeared in the second.  There was precious little offensive creativity from Dallas in the second half (which only encouraged the restless vuvuzela blowers).  FCD really needs David Ferreira back from injury and Brek Shea back from Olympic qualifying duty!

Despite the vuvus and obnoxious Timbers fans, it was a good time as usual at FC Dallas Stadium.  The draw was disappointing, but Dallas generally looks strong and should be very competitive this year.

Where do you think FC Dallas will finish in the Western Conference standings this year?

Bravo Blues!

Chelsea defeats Napoli 4-1, advancing to Champions League quarterfinals

Wednesday’s second leg round of 16 clash with Napoli at Stamford Bridge was hands down Chelsea’s biggest win of the season.  It was a crackling night of classic and dramatic Champions League action that saw Chelsea overcome a 3-1 aggregate deficit by netting four goals.  The game was thrillingly suspenseful for 120 minutes, having been forced into extra time since the aggregate score was 4-4 at the end of regulation.  In the 104th minute, Ivanovic scored the winning goal for Chelsea in the kind of triumphant moment reminiscent of the Blues’ better days from the past several years.  It was the kind of moment that makes soccer fans swoon, the kind that have been unfortunately few and far between for Chelsea supporters this season.

Particularly gratifying in this match were the unified heart and fighting spirit the team demonstrated throughout.  It was the kind of will to win that has been oddly absent for much of this campaign.  The fact that three of Chelsea’s four goals were scored by Chelsea’s “old guard” (Drogba, Terry, and Lampard respectively) was also quite gratifying.  Their goals and leadership were emphatic parries to critics’ jabs this season that Chelsea would be better off without these “geezers”.  What is remarkable about this rampant critical ageism is the double standard demonstrated by the rave reviews heaped on Manchester United’s own geezers Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.  Wednesday night’s performance proved that Drogba, Terry, and Lampard are not done yet!

The victory over Napoli keeps hope alive that perhaps something magical can be salvaged from this otherwise dreary season for the Blues.  Today’s Champions League draw determined that Chelsea will now travel to Benfica for the first quarterfinal leg on March 27th.  Here’s hoping that Chelsea’s recent recovery blossoms into a resurgence that will propel them all the way to the final in Munich!

How will Chelsea fare against Benfica in the quarterfinals?

Managerial Blues

Andre Villas-Boas gets fired after 1 – 0 loss to West Brom

I have mixed feelings about AVB’s canning on Sunday.  On one hand, I generally liked the guy.  I liked his passion on the sideline.  I liked the way he took the job with gusto last summer and the way he sometimes blamed himself in the press when results were less than rosy.  But at the same time, something is seriously awry at Chelsea FC this season.  It makes one nostalgic for the mere “dip” in form last season that saw Chelsea finish second in the league.  Second!  Hard to believe that was just last season.  Are the Blues’ current problems AVB’s fault?  Partially it seems, but impossible to know just how much without being inside the locker room and on the training pitch regularly with AVB and the squad.

Ultimately, I suppose, Chelsea fans have to trust that the CFC higher-ups are correctly aiming their blame, in which case showing AVB the door (even at this awkward point in the season) is a good thing for the club.  Problem is, owner Roman Abramovich is completely trigger-happy when it comes to firing managers.  Taking that into consideration, it seems quite possible AVB may not be entirely at fault for Chelsea’s current woes.

As I’ve mentioned here before, the managerial Ferris wheel at CFC is a real problem.  The club must find a manager they’re willing to stick with for several years!  The frustrating thing is I thought AVB was that manager when he was hired last summer.  I though Abramovich had turned over a new leaf and was willing to reboot.  Instead, think of all the millions that have been blown on managers the past several seasons!  Imagine how many players could’ve been brought in with that cash instead!  I thought firing Ancelotti last year was a mistake.  Now it looks like a huge blunder.  It’s hard to fathom why he was sacked after winning the Double and finishing second in the league last season.  Makes this season look even bleaker!

I wanted AVB to succeed, not only for stability and growth at the club, but I also wanted to see this young dude (only a year younger than myself by the way) defy the odds and prove that a young, relatively inexperienced manager could make Chelsea champs again.  It must be extremely frustrating for AVB personally to have not been able to win with the kind of talent the Blues have.  It’s very weird.  After the smoke clears, I hope some insights materialize as to how this season went off the rails for Chelsea.

For now, the club has a real mess on its hands.  Where do they go from here?  Some rumored names are already surfacing as replacement managers, but I’ll have to leave that for another day’s exploration…

Did Chelsea do the right thing by firing AVB?

New Jerseys

Spring brings new kits for U.S. Men and FC Dallas

I’m on the fence about the new U.S. away jersey.  At first glance last Wednesday against Italy I was iffy about the white sleeves because it made the sleeves look like cut-offs.  But I’m starting to come around.

The new design retains the retro diagonal stripe, though it is now black.  I’m not a fan of the new penchant to include black in the red, white, and blue mix (like the all-black U.S. Women’s uniforms).  Like many U.S. fans, I’d like to see the red third shirt become a mainstay.  Nevertheless, the new away look is slowly growing on me, and of course it doesn’t hurt that it is now associated with that historic 1-0 defeat of Italy!

FC Dallas also unveiled their new home and away jerseys on Thursday.  I think the home shirts are a classy, subtle improvement on the now familiar horizontal red/white stripes.

I also really like the return of some gray in the blue/white away shirt.

A lot of fans would like to see FCD join the ranks of teams with sponsored jerseys.  I would be fine with it as long as the sponsor’s logo doesn’t radically clash with team colors (i.e. Philadelphia’s Bimbo shirt), but in the meantime I like FCD’s uncluttered jerseys.

It would be fun to see FC Dallas throw a third jersey into the mix, perhaps a departure from the usual “hoops”.  Other MLS teams are starting to experiment with third jerseys (I think the Timbers’ third shirt for this season is pretty cool).

The unveiling of new jerseys means the new MLS season is just around the corner!  FC Dallas kicks off (at home) against NY Red Bulls next Sunday, March 11 on NBC Sports Network.

What do you think about the new U.S. and FC Dallas jerseys?

The Italian Job

Thoughts on U.S. Men’s 1 – 0 defeat of Italy…

Yes, it was “just a friendly”, but the U.S. win over Italy on Wednesday is a very big deal.  A little historical perspective helps in fully appreciating just how far U.S. soccer has come the past twenty years.  For those who don’t remember the deer-in-headlights U.S. team of Italia ’90, trust me, we’ve come a loooooong way.  So even though it was a friendly, it is a very significant win for the U.S. – in Italy no less – that should give Klinsmann and company plenty of confidence heading into World Cup qualifying this summer.

It was still primarily a defensive effort from the U.S., but the apparent game plan worked.  They made the most of their few chances, with one of them finally paying off in Dempsey’s grass-burner of a goal early in the second half.  It was the kind of goal Dempsey seems to score almost weekly now for Fulham.  Too bad the World Cup isn’t this year in order to catch this guy in his absolute prime.  Still, as long as he stays healthy, he should be a major contributor in 2014.

In midfield, Michael Bradley was mature and poised.  His stint in Serie A this season is obviously paying off.  He needs to start every U.S. qualifier.  Maurice Edu was also very effective and I hope we get to see more of him.  Brek Shea didn’t have one of his better games.  His decision-making needs honing as he too often tries to dribble guys he shouldn’t and sometimes passes to covered teammates.  But he’ll grow out of that.  He makes up for his mistakes by hustling back on defense.  I like his work ethic and speed.  I hope he continues to get U.S. team minutes because he could be a huge factor by 2014.

The defense was leaky in the first half, but fortunately the Italians were repeatedly offside.  The last ten minutes were nerve-wracking, but the defense got the job done and Howard came up with some quality saves.  It’s no small feat to keep Italy scoreless in Italy!  I hope Klinsmann can settle soon on a core back line so they have plenty of time to gel in qualifying.

My only real beef with the U.S. lineup was Altidore.  Has any American player been given so much opportunity with so little to show for it?  Commentators continue to heap praise, but I don’t see what the fuss is about.  Against Italy he received raves for assisting Dempsey’s goal.  Sure, it was good that he saw Dempsey’s run, but it was a very routine layoff that every player on the field could have made.  Altidore just isn’t enough of a scoring threat.  If he has speed, he rarely uses it.  He’s strong, but rarely uses his strength to force his way toward goal with the ball.  Most of the time he seems content to try to draw fouls.  Yawn.  For my money, if the U.S continues to do the lone striker thing, Dempsey’s the ticket.

It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a unified effort from the U.S. to get a memorable win.  It’s a very long road to Brazil 2014 but the first couple steps are looking good.

Which U.S. players were standouts against Italy?  Feel free to weigh in below…