Monthly Archives: May 2012

Great Scot!

Thoughts on the United States’ 5-1 wallop of Scotland

Saturday night’s international friendly between the U.S. and Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from a U.S. side.  Seriously.  The peppermint-striped Americans looked nothing like the defensive, lone-striker, mistake-prone teams we’ve suffered with over the years.  Instead, this group was energetic, organized, fast, aggressive, and passing out of their minds!  What is going on here?

The Americans’ shooting and finishing was none too shabby either.  Landon Donovan began the scoring festivities (his first of three!), joined later by a long-distance, half-volley rocket from Michael Bradley, and a header goal by Jermaine Jones.  The U.S. absolutely swarmed Scotland, particularly in transition play where the U.S. had many more options than they usually do.  Michael Bradley was fantastic – I never thought I’d be saying this but he might be the third best American player at the moment behind Clint Dempsey (first) and Donovan (second).  Another standout U.S. midfielder last night was Jose Torres.  I hope Torres continues to get starting nods for the U.S.

The U.S. was defensively firm as well, though Scotland didn’t threaten very much.  Even Scotland’s goal was an own-goal, scored after Kenny Miller headed the ball off U.S. center back Geoff Cameron.  Granted, Scotland doesn’t have the urgency of impending World Cup qualifiers like the U.S. does, but it was still a surprisingly (and pleasingly) dominating all-around performance by the U.S.

The U.S. is in a good place right now personnel-wise.  When is the last time a U.S. coach had this many choices at each position?  The most exciting aspect of last night’s victory was the Americans’ purpose-driven possession.  The U.S. has rarely, if ever, moved the ball so quickly and accurately, with plenty of goals to show for the effort.  Last night’s match was evidence that Jurgen Klinsmann is making his mark on the team as he approaches his first anniversary as U.S. head coach.  It was exactly the kind of offensive performance we hoped he would bring to the table.  This new-look U.S. team will really be put to the test on Wednesday against Brazil in Landover, Maryland.

Speaking of new looks, I was on the fence about those new red/white horizontal striped, Kirk Douglas-in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea-inspired home jerseys for the U.S….

But after seeing the jerseys in action last night, I’m slipping on the negative side of the fence.  They just look a little too much like a costume for my taste.  The light-gray numbers don’t work for me – I’d rather seem them in blue.  While I appreciate the nod to the American flag, and while I’d like to see more red incorporated in the U.S. kit (which has traditionally been navy blue-dominant), I think Nike was trying a little too hard with this one.

What do you think of the new U.S. home kit?  Thoughts on the U.S. performance against Scotland?

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Champions League Final Thoughts

Chelsea finishes season as European Champions

I’m still shaking my head about Chelsea winning the Champions League.  It’s not that I didn’t believe they could do it, after all, once they made it past Barcelona anything was possible.  But Chelsea was so wildly inconsistent this season, it was impossible to predict how the team would fare on the hostile home turf of Bayern Munich.

The final was only slightly less of a nail-biter than the Barcelona semifinals.  I was nervous at the opening whistle when Chelsea’s lineup and configuration immediately indicated they were going to sit back and play defense.  I was hoping they’d take the fight to Bayern a little more, but that Roberto Di Matteo knows his way around the tactical board.  His plan worked!

Defensively, I was uncertain how Cahill and Luiz would hold up after missing so many weeks with hamstring injuries but they did very well.  Particularly pleasing was Luiz’s self-control – he didn’t make the kind of unwise challenges he’s been prone to before in big games.  And what about Ashley Cole?  Talk about an unsung hero for Chelsea this season!  That guy apparently wanted him some of that big-eared trophy badly because he patrolled the Chelsea box like a Doberman.

The pundits were unfair to Chelsea before, during, and after the final.  They seemed disappointed that the supposedly inferior team was hanging in so well against Bayern.  It couldn’t be that Chelsea was putting up a scrappy, unified team effort according to the pundits, Chelsea was just incredibly lucky.  Sure, Bayern had almost all the scoring chances, but they didn’t take advantage of them.  Pundits have been driven crazy by this Chelsea team that was so poor in the Premier League and yet won the biggest club prize in the world.  The attitude seems to be that Chelsea didn’t deserve to win because of their domestic play, so they stole the title by way of dumb luck.  Here’s the deal pundits:  Chelsea’s victory demonstrates what makes knock-out competitions so fun for fans – that you can have a struggling team that may not be as strong on paper, but manages to pull themselves together when the games really matter and end up winning it all.  It may irk the experts to hear it, but Chelsea is the best team in Europe because they won the tournament.

I was certain Chelsea was defeated when Bayern scored with less than ten minutes to play.  Drogba’s header goal just a few minutes later was so shocking in its suddenness and skillfulness that I laughed out loud.  Then I thought the nail in the coffin for Chelsea was the penalty kick awarded after Drogba felled Ribery in the box.  But no, Petr Cech snuffed out Robben’s shot.  Amazing.

I next thought Chelsea were goners in the shootout – first when they lost the toss and had to shoot second, then especially when Mata’s first shot was blocked by the Hulk, I mean Neuer.  Bayern was already up by two when Luiz stepped up as Chelsea’s second shooter.  He backed up for the longest running start in the history of shootouts (I can’t actually verify that as fact) which I was sure would put the ball somewhere in the Bavarian countryside.  Instead he practically blasted a hole in the back of the old onion bag.

Lampard, the most reliable PK taker on earth (I can’t verify that either) stepped up next and scored to make it Chelsea 2 – Bayern 3.  Hope was still alive.  Time for some Cech heroics next, as Petr batted away Olic’s shot.  Now things were interesting.  Ashley Cole tied things up in what looked like relaxed fashion.  Schweinsteiger’s stuttered approach to his shot seemed uncertain and the result proved it as the ball dinged off the post.  Now it was all up to Chelsea’s final kicker:  Drogba.  He set the ball down, adjusted his socks, and tucked the ball into the left corner of the goal, making Chelsea European Champions for the first time.

Chelsea tried the patience of even the most fervent Blues fans this season.  Chelsea’s roller coaster season demonstrates why people follow teams and watch sports, because every once in a while you get to be part (even if it’s a tiny part and from a distance) of something inspiring and great.

Plus, it sure is fun.

Any thoughts on Chelsea’s championship season?  Feel free to share below…

Champions At Last!

Chelsea defeats Bayern Munich to win the Champions League

 

 

Chelsea’s Turn

It’s now or never for Blues veterans in their quest to be European Champions

When Chelsea overcame Barcelona to make it to the Champions League Final, I wrote that I was afraid the final itself might seem a bit anticlimactic after such an epic, heroic effort.  I hope I’m wrong!  Unfortunately, Chelsea squeezed in some pretty anticlimactic (and downright depressing) Premier League matches between the Champions League semifinal and tomorrow’s final.  To defeat Bayern Munich in their home stadium will require another heroic effort.  Chelsea can do it – Bayern isn’t as good as Barcelona.  But the gutsy, smartly aggressive, unified Chelsea team will have to show up in Munich, not the lackadaisical squad that lost to Newcastle and Liverpool over the past couple weeks.

On the eve of the world’s biggest club competition final, most pundits are pegging Chelsea as the underdogs.  The pundits are probably right.  If the Blues can keep from conceding a goal in the first half hour, I like their chances.  Offensively, Drogba and Lampard need to have a big game.  I hope Torres gets to start up front with Drogba – I think they could create some good space together.  Mata’s final-third passing must be sharp.

The area I’m most nervous about is defense.  With Cahill and Luiz just now returning from hamstring injuries, I’m afraid they may not be up to speed enough to adequately fill in for the suspended Terry and Ivanovic.  But then, who would’ve thought Jose Bosingwa (who replaced Cahill when he pulled his hamstring in the second leg against Barcelona) would be such a defensive rock against Barcelona?  If Luiz gets the starting nod, he must play with absolute discipline, as he is susceptible to clumsy fouls in dangerous areas.  I think Ashley Cole can hold off Arjen Robben on the right wing, but I’m not sure Chelsea has a defender that can consistently occupy Franck Ribery on the opposite wing.  I’d also feel better if Terry was able to mark Mario Gomez in the middle.

If Chelsea weathers the early Bayern onslaught, I think we’ll be in for a great back-and-forth battle.  Of course, I’d definitely trade back-and-forth for a comfortable two or three goal Chelsea lead for most of the match!

Chelsea making it to the Champions League Final feels like the club is living on borrowed time.  It’s almost like a bonus – of the best kind – that the team barely deserves after their awful Premier League season.  Yet they do deserve to be in the final because no other team clawed their way through the tournament like Chelsea did.  The Champions League and Premier League were odd dual seasons for the Blues this year – with their Champions League performances reminding us what they’re capable of.  Chelsea has the chance on Saturday to turn a most forgettable season into an unforgettable one.  For Chelsea veterans like Drogba and Lampard, you can be certain they’re going to leave it all on the field to ensure the team doesn’t waste this very rare opportunity.

Will Chelsea win their first ever European Cup on Saturday?

Chelsea’s Champions League Week

Blues wrap up EPL season with win, now focused on Champions League Final

Another Premier League season came to a rousing close on Sunday.  Though I can’t stand either of the Manchester teams, I was glad to see Man City snatch the title from Man U at the last second.  It was the lesser of two evils I suppose.

On the relegation side of things, I was disappointed to see Bolton go down instead of QPR.  I don’t like QPR – too many thugs.  I do like Bolton coach Owen Coyle though and never expected them to be relegated this season.

As for Chelsea, their 2-1 win over Blackburn on Sunday was devoid of any suspense since Chelsea had completely tanked against Liverpool the previous Wednesday (losing 4-1).  It was quite a bizarre defeat on the heels of beating Liverpool just three days earlier in the FA Cup Final!  It was such a frustrating loss, I couldn’t bear to blog about it until now.

I’m not sure how Chelsea was so bad in the Liverpool loss, particularly since it was their last chance to possibly salvage a top four finish and ensure Champions League play next season.  I really wanted to see them have that insurance just in case things go poorly in the Champions League Final in Munich this Saturday.  Now there is added pressure because if they don’t beat Bayern Munich in the Final, Chelsea will suffer a yearlong Champions League drought.  Not cool.

Chelsea previewed their new kit Sunday against Blackburn (see below).  I like the classy, simple design.  I was iffy about the gold lettering/stripes at first, but I think it’s going to work.

Conspicuously missing from the club’s ad campaign for the new Adidas kit is Didier Drogba.  I hope his absence doesn’t mean he already has a foot out the door.  If he does, everyone is keeping their lips impressively sealed.

When Di Matteo put Drogba in the game in the second half against Blackburn, the moment, and the crowd’s reaction, had a farewell vibe to it.  Drogba has always been one of my favorite Chelsea players.  I really hope he has a huge Champions League Final that will help motivate him to stay with Chelsea a couple more seasons.

This week is all about Champions League Final prep for Chelsea.  Cahill and Luiz apparently trained with the team today, so hopefully they’ll be fit by Saturday.  With all of Chelsea’s injuries and suspensions, I’m not feeling particularly confident at the moment.  I’ll have to remind myself for the rest of the week that they got past Barcelona, so anything’s possible on Saturday, right?

What do you think of the new Chelsea kit?  Do you think Drogba will be at Chelsea next season?  Feel free to weigh in below…

Seeing Red

Hernandez & Perez lack common sense in 2-0 loss to Colorado

FC Dallas has had an awful start to the 2012 MLS season.  Not so much in terms of points (12 so far from 10 games, in 6th place in the Western Conference), but because of injuries.  The injured list is so ridiculously long that the club had to bring in an extra player last week (former Timbers man James Marcelin) to augment the weakened squad.  It’s a nightmare scenario for manager Schellas Hyndman, as even Brek Shea missed Sunday night’s home clash with Colorado due to turf toe issues.

Knowing the team is scraping to get by, veteran (and former captain) Daniel Hernandez received two yellow cards in short succession, earning himself an early trip to the showers, all in the first half hour against Colorado.  Two minutes after the Hernandez ejection, new FCD forward Blas Perez received a red card for a bone-headed, cleats up collision with the Rapids’ Drew Moor.  Suddenly, with nearly an hour of the match remaining, Dallas had nine players and little chance of winning an important match.

The Perez red card might’ve been debatable, but it was probably deserved.  Hernandez’s two yellows were certainly deserved.  They were both very petty offenses committed by veteran players who should know better.

The Hernandez cards were particularly problematic because he received the first one for mouthing off at the ref.  It was ridiculous, immature, and unacceptable behavior from one of the team leaders.  Hernandez is a tough dude and has been a solid midfielder for Dallas the past few seasons, but he is too mouthy, and this time it is really going to cost his team.  Hernandez has earned two red cards already this season.  He seems to have lost a step, which has made him prone to irrational challenges.  He would be much better suited to a substitute role this season, but Dallas’ current injury situation makes that difficult.

The Perez challenge was very unwise considering that Hernandez had just been ejected.  Perez seemed to be a great acquisition at the season’s start, but I’d like to see more goals and fewer off-the-ball shenanigans from him.  Just play the game!

The mental lapse of two players with so much experience hurts Dallas during a crucial week with Seattle visiting on Wednesday and a trip to Columbus Saturday.  Having lost to Colorado, these next two matches are even more important.  The ejections were also a slap in the face to FC Dallas fans that didn’t pay to see the team limp their way through an hour of the match with nine men (as valiant as they were) on their way to a 2-0 defeat.

What do you think?  Am I being too harsh with these red card criticisms?

Good Times!

Chelsea beats Liverpool 2-1 in FA Cup Final

Liverpool looked like the Chelsea of a few months ago – which isn’t a compliment – in Saturday’s FA Cup Final.  Chelsea wasn’t fantastic, but they were more than good enough to claim their seventh FA Cup title in club history.

Ramires (who scored first for Chelsea in the 10th minute) has poured it on in recent weeks.  He seems to be hitting his stride right now – fantastic at open field runs with the ball, and much more efficient at finishing than he was earlier in the season.  Chelsea was wise to secure Ramires in a long-term deal this year, as he looks likely to be a key player for the club in the next several seasons.

Drogba added the Blues’ second goal in the 51st minute.  The guy is a clutch performer.  Chelsea will need him to show up in a major way in the Champions League final.  He just knows how to get the job done when a lot is at stake.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t be in favor of resting him so much between matches as Di Matteo has preferred lately, however, the extra rest hasn’t seemed to rust Drogba at all.  I’d really like to see Torres paired up front more with Drogba as opposed to this constant either/or situation.  For the Munich Final, Torres could get plenty of crosses in to Drogba as well as free up some space for him by pulling defenders out of the middle where Drogba usually lurks.

Petr Cech has also improved over the past couple months.  It’s easy to take Cech for granted because he’s been so consistently good for Chelsea for several years.  This hasn’t been a strong season for Cech overall, but like a true pro, he has upped his game at crucial times for the club recently.  His saves were huge in keeping Barcelona at bay in the Champions League semis, and Saturday’s point-blank deflection of Andy Carroll’s header late in the match preserved Chelsea’s lead and ultimately led to their fourth FA Cup title in six years.

Chelsea’s FA Cup triumph is a nice consolation of sorts for what has been a stinky Premier League season for the club.  It’s also another important confidence booster ahead of the Champions League Final on May 19.  Can’t wait for that one!

Who do you think were Chelsea’s key performers in the FA Cup win over Liverpool?

Not Good Enough

Newcastle dashes Chelsea’s Champions League hopes for next season

It’s been such a great month for Chelsea that it almost seems ungrateful to complain about their 2-0 loss to Newcastle Wednesday.  But I was pretty mad about it after watching the game last night.

Winning has a way of spoiling fans.  We very quickly come to expect it every single match, even though winning every time is rarely realistic.  It’s been a dismal season for the Blues overall, which is why this great run under Di Matteo has been so fun.  No one saw it coming.  And it just kept going and going before it apparently peaked with the Blues’ gutsy elimination of Barcelona from the Champions League.

The fact that defeating Barcelona was so fun made Wednesday’s loss to Newcastle all the more jarring.  Against Newcastle, Chelsea resembled the Villas-Boas era Blues:  some decent and sometimes fancy possession with absolutely nothing to show for it.  To be fair to Chelsea, they were scored on by two of the awesomest goals of the entire Premier League season (both by Senegalese striker Papiss Cisse).  But it was still upsetting that the team that shut down Barcelona for 180 minutes got beat twice by the same guy (and couldn’t muster any goals themselves)!

Losing to Newcastle is depressing because the match was Chelsea’s last hope for insuring a Champions League spot for next season.  There’s still a sliver of hope of course – they’ll qualify for the next UCL season if they win this season’s UCL final against Bayern on May 19.  But that’s just the thing – I’m not feeling confident that Chelsea will able to beat Bayern in Munich.  I’m afraid the Barcelona semifinal was the high point of Chelsea’s season.  I hope I’m wrong.  I don’t know about other Blues fans, but my heart is set on the Champions League title.  Yes, the FA Cup Final is Saturday and it would be great to win it, but for me it’s all about the Champions League Final.

Who do you think will win Saturday’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool?