Monthly Archives: June 2012

No Goals, No Problem

When a 0-0 draw is no big deal

 

My daughter and I at her first FC Dallas match Saturday night.

Saturday night I went to FC Dallas Stadium to see FC Dallas’ first home match in over a month.  I was excited because my seven-year-old daughter was with me for her first-ever professional soccer match.

The night began well.  We got my regular parking spot (strategically located for maximum post-game traffic evasion).  I enjoyed the way her grip tightened on my hand as the sights and sounds of the looming stadium enveloped her.  Bought her a cute FC Dallas shirt in the team shop.  Saw Dirk Nowitzki towering over a horde of fans, gamely dishing out autographs (he had been the honorary pre-game Lamar Hunt statue scarfer).  I had to explain to my daughter who the giant was and why folks were mobbing him.

My time-conscious daughter was very anxious to get to our seats before game time, so I abandoned my quest to get a program.  What dads won’t do for their daughters!  We made it to our fifth row seats with minutes to spare.  She was impressed with her unobstructed view and our proximity to the field.  I was impressed with our sitting on the shady side of the stadium.  My daughter enjoyed Hooper’s (FCD’s mascot) pre-game antics, though she was too timid for me to summon him for a photo op.

So far I had engineered an ideal start to our first pro soccer outing together.  If the sailing continued to be this smooth, I’d have a lifetime of father/daughter soccer bonding to look forward to.  But just as I was feeling pretty good about myself, I forgot to warn her about the bone-rattling fireworks explosions that always accompany the conclusion of the Star-Spangled Banner at FCD Stadium.  She cowered.  I comforted and apologized for the lack of a heads-up.  Her smile returned.  Whew!  Crisis averted.  When she was five, a similar incident might’ve ended our night at the national anthem.

I was glad to see Brek Shea in the starting eleven after ages away due to suspension and injury.  Things were looking up.  This was surely the night FC Dallas would turn their miserable season around!

And then the game started.  Neither Dallas nor Chivas USA was capable of stringing together three passes.  At one point a dude sitting on our row asked his kids if they “noticed a difference between their [Dallas & Chivas] passing and the game we saw this afternoon [Spain v. France Euro 2012 quarterfinal]?”  He and I exchanged knowing glances and I replied, “Just a little bit.”  I wanted to apologize to my daughter for the choppy, foul-a-minute mess we were witnessing.  But she seemed to think the teams were pretty good.

The real goal-scoring opportunities were few and far between for both sides (only four shots on target all night – 3 for Dallas, 1 for Chivas).  Dallas knocked on the door more often, but couldn’t close the deal.  As the match reached the 80th minute, I really began to sweat because I desperately wanted my daughter to experience a goal at her first MLS game.  Otherwise she might never want to go with me again!  They score actual goals in the soccer league she plays in.  Usually lots of them.  What was this 0-0 madness?

By the time we reached 85 minutes, I wanted to pull my hair out.  Not only were we dangerously close to my daughter not seeing a goal, but I could see the shades being pulled on Dallas’ season!  My daughter even sheepishly admitted she wouldn’t mind if Chivas scored – she just wanted to see a goal!  I wasn’t willing to stoop to that level of goal desperation, but I understood her plight.  The entire future of our father/daughter soccer bonding was at stake and these knuckleheads couldn’t even get a shot on goal!  I suddenly felt the urge to pitch-invade, to sprint toward the FCD players, screaming like a banshee, “Can’t you see my daughter needs you to score?!”

Alas, even with three minutes of stoppage time, Dallas couldn’t find the back of the net.  What a letdown.  What a dreary season.  Dallas’ longest winless streak since 2005.  But mostly I was disappointed for my daughter.  Bless her heart, she kept emphasizing how much she’d wanted to see a goal.  Why did I feel like such a failure?  They’re the ones who couldn’t kick the ball into the giant nets mounted at each end of the field!

But then, the goalless draw – that inexplicable bane of soccer’s existence for average American sports fans – was implausibly redeemed.  We weren’t even out of the stadium yet when my daughter leaned closer and asked, “Dad, can I come with you every time you go to FC Dallas games?”

Hear that, FCD players?  You owe us a couple goals next time.

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Thanks for the Memories, Didier

Drogba leaves Chelsea for Shanghai

This week Didier Drogba made it official that he’s joining Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll presumably finish out his remarkable playing career.  He first announced his Chelsea departure the week after the team’s amazing Champions League Final victory in which he scored the winning PK.  If he was going to leave Chelsea, it was understandably an ideal time to depart – going out on top as the hero (not only in the Final, but in several other crucial moments of the season).

If Chelsea hadn’t won the Champions League this year, perhaps Drogba would’ve pushed harder to strike a new deal with the club.  But since they won, he’s moving on to a new challenge.  I’m not sure what he finds appealing about Chinese soccer though.  If he was going to leave Chelsea, I wish he’d chosen MLS.

Drogba has been one of my favorite Chelsea players, but it’s hard to be bitter about his departure.  He seemed genuinely torn up about leaving.  Plus, in today’s transfer happy world, he stayed at Stamford Bridge longer (2004-2012) than a lot of players do at any club.

Chelsea will seem a bit strange for me without Drogba because he was a major reason I became a Blues fan in the first place.  He, along with Michael Essien and Michael Ballack, first really caught my eye during the 2006 World Cup.  Since all three of them played for Chelsea at the time, I quickly became partial to the Blues.

Drogba is a Chelsea legend.  It won’t be the same to tune in Saturdays and not see him in blue, muscling his way around the box, rifling shots from crazy angles.  But it sure was fun while it lasted!

What are your favorite Drogba moments as a Chelsea player?

Happy Blogiversary!

Red, White and Blues began a year ago today

Stoked about Red, White and Blues’ first anniversary: Chelsea’s Frank Lampard*

Okay, blogiversary isn’t really a word, but that’s part of the fun of blogging – you can make up words and there’s no editor to stop you!  Unfortunately, that’s also the downside – there’s no one around to stop you from sounding dumb.  Unless you run it by your wife first, which I’ve done on many occasion over this first year of RW&B.  I didn’t run blogiversary by her.  Probably should have.

Anyway, I’m taking a short break from soccer writing today to say thank you to all who have stopped by to check out the blog this year!  Thank you also to those who have posted comments, “followed” the blog, “liked” a post, or all three.  This has been a fun way to exercise part of my brain and I hope you’ve enjoyed the occasional post.  Please continue to stop by when you’re on the information superhighway and bear with me in my effort to develop this tiny slice of digi-real estate.

My how quickly things change.  A year ago today Chelsea hadn’t even hired Andre Villas-Boas yet, Bob Bradley was still the U.S. coach, and FC Dallas was near the top of the Western Conference!  Looking forward to covering another great year of soccer…

(*Frank Lampard doesn’t actually endorse Red, White and Blues.  Or even know it exists.)

Red Card Rant Follow-Up

FC Dallas Coach Schellas Hyndman talks about team’s discipline

A few days ago I wrote about FC Dallas’ penchant for earning red cards this season, the latest offender being Jair Benitez who was booked against Houston Dynamo last Saturday.  Reckless on-field behavior, including red cards last month by Daniel Hernandez and Blas Perez, and a retroactive league suspension for Brek Shea, have kicked the team when it’s already down with an unbelievable number of injuries.  The cards have been extremely unwise (to put it nicely) given the club’s injury predicament and position in the Western Conference standings (currently last).  It made me seriously wonder what is going on leadership-wise at FCD.

Anyway, check out this interesting admission from Coach Schellas Hyndman posted on the club’s website yesterday…

It’s good to hear Coach Hyndman alarmed at the team’s lack of mental discipline, though I’m surprised there wasn’t already a disciplinary policy (fine, suspension, etc.) in place.  Anyway, it sounds like he’s ready to clamp down on this red card issue.  I just hope it’s not too little too late.

What do you think FC Dallas should do to improve their mental discipline?

Talkin’ Sash

Chelsea’s new away kit is pretty cool except…

Chelsea recently released their new away kit for the 2012/13 season.  The Adidas duds are primarily white and classy overall – until you get to that baby blue sash.  The sash… arrrrgh!  It’s so overrated and overused in world soccer at the moment.  Nike used it pretty effectively for the U.S. national team at the 2010 World Cup in a nice nod to the 1950 U.S. World Cup squad who pulled off that famous upset of England.  But the last couple years have seen an outbreak of frequently hideous sashes (exhibit A in the hideous department is Sweden’s current away jersey, which resembles a road sign).  And now the sash has infected Chelsea.

Pumped about the sash: Frank Lampard, Daniel Sturridge, John Terry, and two unidentified summer transfers…

The new Chelsea away kit is almost an instant classic with its uncluttered, clean look, and tasteful Adidas shoulder stripes.  Many soccer fans hate all white uniforms, but I’ve always liked them.  The plainer white the kit, the better as far as I’m concerned.  But then they have to go and add that diagonal sash.  To be fair, the Chelsea sash isn’t a disaster as sashes go.  It’s simply unnecessary to the uniform.  Sorry to be such a sash basher, but they always remind me of beauty pageant contestants and dictators.

I also think if you’re going with a mostly white uniform, you need to complete the ensemble with white socks.  But this getup’s socks are black.  Oh well.  It could be worse.  I do like that they went with different shades of blue rather than off-the-wall colors that are totally unrelated to the club’s core colors.  Overall, it’s a mixed review.  Certainly not bad, but I’m not going to rush out and get this one.  Blame the sash.

What do you think of Chelsea’s new away kit?

Big D (for Disappointing)

FC Dallas’ meltdown continues with 2-1 loss at Houston

I’d really like to write something positive related to FC Dallas this year, but they’re making it very difficult.  I was hoping the long break after a busy stretch of games in May would recharge the team and turn around their increasingly dismal season.  Instead, fans got more of the same from the team’s visit to Houston last night.

The first hour went very well, with the team looking much livelier than we’ve seen since the first couple weeks of the season.  But then fans were treated to another completely boneheaded move from a veteran who should know better.  Jair Benitez earned a red card for elbowing (off-the-ball no less) Houston’s Colin Clark in the head.  Benitez’s inexcusable and inexplicable action killed FCD’s momentum and flushed away their remaining chance at possibly getting a much-needed win.

It’s understandable that players can lose their cool in the heat of battle, but Benitez’s ejection came when FCD was doing quite well in the game.  They were enjoying most of the possession at the time, had just tied the game a few minutes earlier, and had decent momentum.  What was Benitez thinking?  He wasn’t and that’s the problem.  Several FCD players haven’t been thinking this year.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend some time around the FCD coaching staff at a clinic and was impressed by their affable, down-to-earth style.  But I’m beginning to wonder if that easy-going atmosphere unintentionally allows lapses in players’ on-field discipline.  These FCD red cards are getting ridiculous.  The club should fine Jair Benitez.  Whether or not issuing fines is an effective means to chastise professional players is beyond my realm of expertise, but something must be done.  The card blunders this season are baffling considering the team’s injury woes.  The red cards have completely changed matches that FCD legitimately might have won.  It is also discouraging for fans – who are already disappointed that so many FCD stars are out injured – and have to endure further benchwarmer misadventures when players like Benitez are suspended for red cards.

Speaking of frustrating benchwarmers, it’s certainly not substitute Andrew Wiedeman’s fault that Dallas lost, but seriously, what was with his two awful corner kicks late in the match?  Before the first one, he squandered a shot opportunity in the box by trying to take a controlling touch when the team really just needed him to blast it at the goal.  On both corner kicks, he sailed the ball completely over the cluster of FCD players in the box.  It was a maddening waste since chances were precious with FCD down to ten men.

On the plus side, Castillo showed some real spark in the first half and Jackson played out of his mind.  Jackson showed amazing speed and tremendous stamina.  He scored FCD’s only goal and later saved a goal off the line.  The problem with Jackson and Castillo is their propensity for holding onto the ball a couple seconds too long.  They both have too many turnovers in the critical final third.

It would be easy for the team, and fans, to blame FC Dallas’ poor season on all the injuries.  But FCD has been very competitive in most of their matches this year, and should have won many of them, despite their missing starters.  This is no longer a slump – it’s a crisis.  Adversity often reveals what a team is truly made of, and right now I’m pretty disappointed with what I see.

What should FC Dallas do to correct its course?

Di Matteo’s Upgrade

Roberto Di Matteo is finally Chelsea’s “permanent” manager

On Wednesday, Chelsea announced they are upgrading Roberto Di Matteo from “caretaker” manager to full-blown regular manager.  He has apparently signed a two-year contract, which is three months in Abramovich years.  Just kidding, Romovich.  Just a little sacking humor.

Actually, Di Matteo’s hiring shows some good common sense from the Chelsea brass.  Sure, he’s not on the big-time fancy manager short list (at least not yet anyway).  But why on earth wouldn’t you give an extension to the guy who was at the helm for an F.A. Cup title and the club’s first Champions League title – all in his first few months on the job?  It only seems fair that he would get the chance to manage Chelsea for a full season.  Chelsea has chosen wisely.

Di Matteo proved adept at getting Chelsea ready for big matches and guiding them in sticking with the game plan.  I wish I knew exactly what he did so differently from Andre Villas-Boas behind the scenes, but whatever it was it worked.  Di Matteo apparently has great rapport with the Blues squad.  It takes time to develop trust and quality relationships between coach and players, so why bust up something that works?

In the excellent (and recently revised/updated) book Soccernomics, the authors statistically show that, generally speaking, the amount players are paid has more bearing on a team’s success than who manages the team.  So if you have a manager the players trust, who is strategically competent, and a good ambassador for the club, you might as well stick with him.  Save the big bucks for your players rather than blowing it on a ritzy-name manager.

The challenge for Di Matteo next season will be incorporating new players and building for the future, while still satisfying the fans’ (and owner’s) hunger to win.  Another potential challenge will be maintaining the team’s drive after already winning the biggest club prize in world soccer.  But as anyone who followed Chelsea last season knows, despite winning the Champions League, there is plenty of room for improvement!

What do you think of Di Matteo’s appointment as Chelsea manager?

Allez Les Bleus!

Why I’m rooting for France in Euro 2012

A lot of people don’t like France.  Or maybe it’s French folks they dislike.  And I can understand that a little.  They can be culturally snooty sometimes; though so can pretty much every other nationality on earth.  And from a soccer standpoint I can understand why people wouldn’t like the French national team seeing as two of the most infamous meltdowns in World Cup history were perpetrated by les Bleus.  There was Zinedine Zidane’s head butt of Italy’s Marco Materazzi that may have cost France the World Cup title in 2006.  Then there was the undetected hand-ball by Thierry Henry that unfairly sent France instead of Ireland to World Cup 2010 in South Africa.  The team imploded in South Africa, with coach Raymond Domenech kicking Nicolas Anelka off the team and the rest of the squad refusing to practice at one point in protest.

Particularly after the World Cup 2010 incident, the French team gained the reputation (whether accurate or not) as selfish mega-stars that cared more about themselves than representing their country honorably.  Since then, the French Football Federation wisely dumped strange Coach Domenech and hired Laurent Blanc, an alum from the World Cup ’98 winning French side.  Blanc has successfully overhauled the French squad, giving new youngsters a chance while reincorporating the megastars.  France has plenty of megastars by the way, including Benzema, Ribery, Nasri, Malouda, and Ben Arfa.

So why in the world would I root for France in the Euros this summer?  It’s a personal connection.  I lived in France for nine months when I was eleven-years-old.  Nine months can make a big impression at any age, but especially when you’re eleven.  I really liked soccer before we moved to France, but I really loved soccer within a couple weeks of living in France.  It was very contagious.  I was playing pick-up games with neighborhood kids the first day I was there!  Couldn’t understand a word they were saying at that point, but soccer bridged the gaps.  And the soccer never relented the whole time I was there.

Since I attended a French public school in Tours, France, I was naturally influenced by their player and team preferences, which of course included the French national team.  Euro ’88 was my first European Championship experience.  I was hooked.  I ended up cheering on Holland because I liked Ruud Gullit and because France hadn’t qualified.  The French weren’t too happy about that, particularly since they’d won the title in 1984.  I’ve rooted for France ever since my time living there, with a couple of exceptions – if they’re playing the U.S. obviously, and at the 2002 World Cup I cheered for Senegal over France because I also lived in Senegal for five years.  But that’s another story.

When it comes to the Euros, I love watching the tournament, but the fun is enhanced when you have a team to cheer on.  France has their issues, but I’m sticking with them.  Not because of particular players, but because when I watch them, I remember the faces of all the French classmates I ran with at school and on the playground, whose exuberance for les Bleus and football itself had an effect on me that has never quite faded.

(France plays their opening game of Euro 2012 against England on Monday, June 11, at 11:00 AM (Central) on ESPN)

Who will you root for in Euro 2012?

Scorin’ in the Rain

U.S. defeats Antigua & Barbuda in so-so fashion

The fact that fans are so critical of the U.S. national team is a positive indicator that U.S. Soccer is on the right track.  The team has made so much progress over the past twenty years that fans now hold the team to a higher standard.  I recall the days when a 3-1 victory like last night’s win over Antigua & Barbuda was a celebrated rarity.  Now we grumble that Antigua & Barbuda actually scored.

 

The U.S. wasn’t awful last night, just not as smooth as they were against Scotland a couple weeks ago.  Primarily, there was the defensive leak caused by Onyewu in the second half that granted A&B their goal.  Unfortunately, Onyewu just doesn’t seem up to the task right now.  He has a very long way to go to recover his starting spot.  Other issues included too many second half giveaways by the U.S., and a general concentration lapse in the last fifteen minutes that allowed A&B to press the U.S. goal.

It wasn’t a close match.  Most of the action took place in A&B’s half of the field.  But the U.S. couldn’t finish precisely enough to run up the score (which is important since goal differential matters in qualifying).  Granted, the monsoon weather conditions didn’t help.  A&B also had the box well clogged for most of the game.  The U.S. needs to shoot from outside the box more to draw out defenses, which in turn will sometimes open up space for those darting runs into the box that Donovan, Dempsey, and Gomez (last night) do so well.  Dempsey and Bradley tried a couple distance shots that proved tricky for the A&B goalkeeper.  The U.S. needs to increase outside shooting because most of their CONCACAF opposition will employ the same defensive strategy of stuffing the box.

On a positive note, Herculez Gomez has been such a breath of fresh air at forward instead of Altidore.  He works much harder – on and off the ball – than Altidore and will actually hustle back to pitch in on defense.  His hard work paid off with a goal last night.  I’ve been saying for a long time that Altidore has received far too many chances to prove himself, so it’s great to see Klinsmann open to trying Gomez instead.

It was great to open World Cup qualifying with a win, but the real test will come Tuesday night in Guatemala.  If the U.S. can improve their concentration and tighten up on defense, they should be fine.

How did you think the U.S. looked against Antigua & Barbuda?

Coach Klinsmann

Exploring Past and Present with U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann

Euro 2012 starts today.  In fact, Poland and Greece are battling it out in Warsaw as I write.  But don’t forget the U.S. starts their World Cup qualification journey tonight against Antigua & Barbuda!

In anticipation of tonight’s CONCACAF qualifier, check out this vintage Sports Illustrated article about Jurgen Klinsmann from 1994.  I was cleaning out some files recently and found some Sports Illustrated issues from World Cup ’94.  In SI’s World Cup preview section (yes it was just a section and didn’t even make the cover!), I was surprised to rediscover a profile of Jurgen Klinsmann who was playing for AS Monaco in 1994.  It’s a great piece and provides some insight about Klinsmann you may not have known.  There is also an amazingly ironic photograph of a decal Klinsmann had on his car at the time of Snoopy in a rowboat wondering (in German), Is it much farther to America?  Weird!

I also highly recommend USsoccer.com’s Behind the Crest series of videos, which features surprising behind-the-scenes access to the U.S. national team that you won’t find anywhere else.  One of the most recent videos gives a very interesting look at the whole team (during their recent Orlando training camp) listening over breakfast as Klinsmann announced which four guys were being cut from the squad.  There is also a well-done series profiling various U.S. national team members in the European cities where they play.  Great stuff!

What are your predictions for the U.S. v. Antigua/Barbuda match?