Category Archives: 12/13 Season

The Things We Do for Love

How I almost missed the dramatic U.S. victory over Jamaica

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I received an email from Stampede Sports, the name of the indoor soccer facility where I’ve played on a team the past couple years. It was an invitation to come watch the US v. Jamaica World Cup qualifier in Stampede’s bar area, creatively dubbed “The Corral”.  The email made the event sound very exciting, including that it would be the first gathering of the Southlake chapter of the mighty American Outlaws (the US men’s national team supporters group).  I’m certainly not in the habit of watching my soccer matches in pubs or bars, primarily because I don’t drink.  But in this case I perked up since all of the US’ away qualifiers are only televised on the be In Sports channel, which I don’t get on my cable package.

So, right after I read the kids a goodnight story I threw on my US jersey from World Cup 2010 (the one with the beauty pageant sash) and headed for Stampede Sports in Southlake (about a 20 minute drive).

I arrived at “The Corral” at 8:30, just in time for kickoff, but there was no soccer on the single big screen TV hanging above the bar.  The few patrons seemed oblivious to any imminent World Cup qualifier.  There were no American Outlaws in sight.

I found a flight of stairs.  Aha!  I wasn’t aware that Stampede had an upper bar area.  The gathering must be upstairs.  I jogged up the stairs, afraid that I’d miss an early surprise goal by Clint Dempsey or more likely a squandered chance by Jozy Altidore.  Alas, no one was upstairs and the sole TV was turned off.

I jogged back downstairs.  The bartender changed the channel… to a Texas Rangers game.  I nearly broke into a cold sweat.  Did I dream up this qualifier?  It was June 7th, right?  I checked my watch to verify.

I suddenly remembered there were a couple party rooms at the far end of the arena.  Duh!  Why hadn’t I thought of those in the first place?  Surely the big watch party was there.  I jogged down to the rooms only to find them completely empty, lights turned off, doors locked.  This was not cool.

Ten minutes of the match were already gone.  I jogged to the front desk and asked where the game was being shown.  The teenaged girl manning the desk barely looked up as she replied (as if it were no big deal), “Oh yeah, we’re not showing it.  We don’t have that channel.”

“We don’t have that channel”?  Don’t have that channel?  But what about the email invitation?  What about the American Outlaws?  Why was I the only one that seemed to care that there was a crucial World Cup qualifier in progress?  I could feel my pulse in my temples.  This was turning into one of those dreams I periodically have where I’m running all over trying to find something or someone and never succeed.

I jogged back to my car without a plan.  Where could I possibly watch this game?  If I were in Europe or South America I’d probably just have to drive a couple blocks and look for a crowd spilling out of a shop or café broadcasting the game.  But not in Southlake, Texas – the ultimate suburban oasis.  If I wanted a designer latte, fancy ice cream, to see a movie, or purchase an Apple product, I’d be in business.  But finding a place to watch US v. Jamaica here on short notice?  I might as well be in the Australian outback.

I thought about calling my friend Kristian, but I was pretty sure he didn’t get be In Sports either, plus he lived in Arlington which would be another 30 minute hike from Southlake.  I thought about my friend Jim (the former professional mascot) but it was getting late, he’s working on his doctoral thesis, and his wife is pregnant with their second child, so I didn’t really want to bother him.

I hopped in my car, started driving, and dialed up the only fake person I could think to turn to:  Siri.  I asked her for Buffalo Wild Wings locations in Bedford.  I hadn’t been to a BWW in probably a decade, but I remembered they have lots of TVs.  Surely one of them was tuned to US/Jamaica.  Siri zapped me a map in a flash.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the strip mall parking lot where I thought the Buffalo Wild Wings used to be.  It was gone.  Had Siri led me astray?  I checked her map again.  No.  I was wrong – the restaurant moved in the decade since I’d been there and was now on the other side of the freeway.  I checked the time, disheartened.  It was nearly halftime already.

As I drove to the Buffalo Wild Wings I refreshed the match score on my phone… the US had scored!  I whipped into the parking lot and could already see multiple TVs tuned to the game.  Yes!

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I asked to be seated outside on the patio because the night air was unusually pleasant for north Texas in June.  I got a table and a menu just as the players left the field for halftime.  As soon as I sat down, the only other groups using tables on the patio finished up and left and I was suddenly sitting outside, in the darkness, all alone, in my US jersey.

Though I’d already had dinner and wasn’t hungry, I felt obligated to order something.  But my wife Trevlyn had me on the caveman diet, so a soda was forbidden.  I gritted my teeth and ordered an unsweet tea.  I hoped Trevlyn would forgive me for the chips and salsa I also ordered (chips aren’t caveman diet approved either).

The waitress asked me if I’d like to have the sound turned on outside.  I certainly did.  Soon, I was kicked back with my own snack, two high-def TVs, with surround sound, and a cool breeze blowing.  Did it make up for missing the entire first half?  Probably not, but it wasn’t a bad consolation.

Still, it wasn’t quite the same without any fellow fans to cheer on the US with.  I called my brother Dan, who has started his extreme busy season as a summer camp director, in the off chance that he was actually getting to watch the game live.  He’d just started watching the recording so we couldn’t discuss the action or gripe about players in real time.  He said he couldn’t stay on the phone long because he didn’t want to read any spoilers in my tone, but we started talking about Star Trek Into Darkness and ended up on the phone ten more minutes anyway.

Into darkness is exactly where I and all other true US soccer fans plunged when a victory that seemed relatively in hand disappeared with a Jamaican equalizer in the 89th minute.  I blamed Graham Zusi.  The Sporting KC midfielder lazily mistimed his jump for a header against a Jamaican player who won the ball and might have raced past Zusi had Zusi not tripped him and earned a yellow card.  The match commentators commended Zusi for a “smart” foul, but I’m not convinced the play would’ve been much of a threat had he not fouled.  Jamaica lined up the resulting free kick within easy distance of the US box.  Sure enough, the ball floated in and Jamaica’s Jermaine Beckford easily waltzed through and headed the ball into the goal past a frozen Tim Howard.

All my effort scrambling around suburbia like an obsessed treasure hunter suddenly seemed madness.  Why did the US team constantly break my heart so?  Why can’t they finish out games when they have the lead?  Why did I have to be on this wretched caveman diet when I’m not even a caveman?

As I stewed and pouted into stoppage time, the US pushed the ball up field with semi-urgency.  They earned a corner kick.  Michael Bradley played it short to Zusi, who wisely returned it to Bradley.  Bradley turned sharply toward the end line trying to beat his Jamaican marker.  Bradley looked covered but he struck a pass anyway.  Brad Evans received Bradley’s pass with his back to goal, spun and ripped a desperate shot that zipped into the upper right corner past Jamaica’s Hulk of a keeper Donovan Ricketts.

I was dumbfounded.  This.  Never.  Happens.  To.  The.  US.

I suddenly wanted Brad Evans posters for my office.  I even contemplated not cheering against him next time Dallas plays Seattle.

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Sure, a draw wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but the away win provided the US with some welcome breathing room.

I paid my bill and walked to my car.  The restaurant seemed unusually empty for a Friday night.  What a match!  The whole spectrum of sports fan emotion, dejection to elation, in under five minutes.  America doesn’t know what it’s missing.

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Shea it ain’t so, Brek!

Brek Shea will be missed in Dallas

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Brek Shea has been the face of FC Dallas the past two seasons, but now he plays for Stoke City.  I’m glad for Shea.  It’s always good to see American players get a shot in the perceived top league in the world.  But since I just bought an FC Dallas season ticket a few weeks ago, this is not welcome news.

I first saw Shea play in person in 2010, the season he made his first professional start and really came into his own for FC Dallas.  He almost immediately caught my eye as a special player.  It wasn’t just the flashy shock of ultra blonde hair.  He hustled his tail off and wasn’t afraid to run with the ball at opponents.  He had height, strength, speed, and all-important feistiness.  He could scoot around the edges and get passes across the box or get shots off when other players would have lost possession.  He spent that 2010 season under the radar and I shared FC Dallas fans’ pride of recognizing potential that the wider world hadn’t fully noticed yet.  I even called my younger brother and soccer confidant Dan to tell him about this Brek Shea and how he could be on the national team someday.

Shea and FC Dallas made it to their first and only MLS Cup Final in 2010 where they lost to Colorado.  By the start of 2011, the cat was out of the bag with Shea and opponents started marking him tightly.  It was a tougher season for him (and FC Dallas), yet he was still a standout and a finalist for the league’s MVP.  Buzz began building about him.  In the offseason, he got to train for a few weeks at Arsenal.  FC Dallas wisely signed him on through 2015.  By the start of last season, the media spotlight on Shea was blinding.  Even in Dallas he was becoming a household name (okay, still mostly just among us soccer nerds).  US National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann jumped on board the Brek train too, granting Shea several consecutive caps.

Then the 2012 MLS season got under way and Shea fizzled on field.  A turf toe injury sidelined him for several weeks.  I actually observed him up close as he was nearing recovery from that injury when he participated in a demonstration drill run by FC Dallas Head Coach Schellas Hyndman at Hyndman’s annual clinic for local coaches.  I was impressed and surprised that Shea turned up for the demo – something he certainly wasn’t obligated to do on such a hot May afternoon.  The demo was a mix of academy players and FC Dallas reserve players, but Shea played as hard as if he were trying to earn a starting spot.  Afterwards he affably hung around to chat with coaches and pose for photos.  He certainly didn’t appear too overwhelmed by stardom that day.

Shea continued struggling with injuries throughout 2012, but even when he was in the lineup he couldn’t recover his near-MVP form from 2011.  Fans grumbled impatiently.  Brek and Hyndman got into a spat on NBC when Hyndman benched him late during a contentious match at San Jose.  Shea the wonder boy suddenly seemed mentally and physically drained.

Now it looks like the business side of soccer has reared its necessary and sometimes ugly head with Dallas apparently eager to cash in on Stoke City’s interest in the 22-year-old Shea.  Shea was a rare rising star for Dallas, a real potential franchise player.  I had a feeling it would just be a matter of time before a bigger club snatched him up – Dallas is too small a club to retain stars for very long.  The only real surprise is why now?  Shea had such a dismal 2012 MLS season that I was confident he would be in Dallas at least through 2013.  I was really looking forward to this being a comeback season for Brek.

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I should have been suspicious when Zach Loyd began featuring a bit more than Shea in FC Dallas’ promotional efforts toward the end of last season.  Considering that and the rift between Hyndman and Shea, the writing has likely been on the wall for several months.  I wish Dallas would splash the Stoke cash they get for Shea on a replacement star, someone for season ticket holders like myself to get jazzed about.  But I won’t hold my breath.

It’s a catch-22 for American soccer fans when deals like this come along.  On one hand, you want to see U.S. players get opportunities in the world’s top league – it’s great for their development, enhances our national team, and improves American soccer’s reputation.  On the other hand it highlights where MLS falls in the pecking order of the world’s soccer leagues.  It seems difficult enough (particularly in a market like Dallas) to get fans to support MLS teams that actually have an American star or two, much less when those stars get shipped to more prestigious European leagues.

I wish Shea all the best at Stoke City.  This FC Dallas fan will definitely miss him.

Your thoughts on Shea’s transfer to Stoke City?

Happy Blue Year

The January transfer window is open and Chelsea changes are afoot

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

Rah, rah, sis boom Ba!

Chelsea’s post-Club World Cup recovery was going great with a League Cup victory against Leeds, followed by three successive EPL wins over Aston Villa, Norwich, and Everton.  Plenty for fans to be enthused about over the Christmas holiday.  All that came to a frustratingly screeching halt Wednesday with the 1-0 home loss to QPR – who just happen to be the worst team in the league.  Simply unbelievable.  The slim hope of catching up to Manchester United by season’s end has all but vanished now.  It will be a dogfight just to qualify for the Champions League.

The QPR loss confirms that Chelsea is not an elite team right now.  There are currently only two elite teams in the EPL and they’re both located in Manchester.  The Manchesters repeatedly demonstrate their knack for winning games they should win, as well as clawing their way back into games when they’re not performing at their best.  They always seem to find additional goals, even when they’re letting goals in themselves.  Chelsea has not shown the same ability this season.

A team’s fortunes don’t rest entirely on one player of course, but Man U does have the remarkably reliable Robin Van Persie at striker, and Man City has the similarly prolific Edin Dzeko.  Chelsea has Fernando Torres.  Yeah.  I know Torres has scored much more this season, but would anyone really put him in the same league as Van Persie and Dzeko right now?  Well, Chelsea may be about to get a lift in that department…

Today Chelsea made it official that Demba Ba is joining the club from Newcastle.  Now that the remote possibility of Didier Drogba joining the team on loan from China seems to have vanished, the arrival of Senegalese striker Ba is great news for Chelsea fans.  If his Newcastle stint is any indication, he will be a physical handful in the box for opponents – something Chelsea has desperately missed since Drogba’s departure.  For all the deft, speedy skill of Hazard, Mata, and Oscar, they are small guys who frequently get muscled off the ball, so having Ba’s strength and nose for goal will be a welcome addition to the offensive mix.

The only things tempering my enthusiasm over Ba are his past knee-injury struggles and the fact that he’s 27-years-old.  I’m not saying 27 is old, I just wish Chelsea would find an elite under-the-radar striker at the beginning of his career rather than splashing mid-season cash for perhaps final-third-of-their-career guys.  I thought they had done that with young Lukaku last season, but they let him languish on the bench before loaning him to West Brom for this season.  Still, getting Ba was much more economical than the rumored move for Atletico Madrid’s Falcao.  Overall, I’m quite glad Ba is a Blue.  Having lived in Senegal for five years as a youngster, I always root for Senegalese players.  Hopefully Ba will accelerate his scoring prowess for Chelsea over the next few seasons.

On the flip side of the January transfer window fun, new arrivals usually mean departures as well.  Daniel Sturridge moved to Liverpool this week.  I like Sturridge and think he has a lot of potential that was never fully explored at Chelsea.  He deserved a lot more playing time this season in place of the bland Torres.  I wish him the best at LFC.

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

Seriously, who would let this guy go?

The other big name in Blues news this week is one of my favorite Chelsea players (isn’t he everyone’s?):  Frank Lampard.  It seems unthinkable that Chelsea would even consider letting this legend go and yet that seems to be what’s happening.  Lampard’s contract is up at the end of this season and Chelsea doesn’t seem eager to re-sign him.  I don’t understand this.  Lampard is beloved by fans, a leader on the field, and still produces goals at the highest level.  Just look at Scholes and Giggs at Man U – guys older than Lampard who still contribute.  Lamps has a few more seasons in him and Chelsea should allow him to end his career as a Blue.  He has certainly earned it.

What do you think of Chelsea’s transfer window action so far?

Christmastime at Chelsea

It’s been quite a month for the Blues

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My how much can change at the ol’ Chelsea Football Club in such a short amount of time!  You go a month without blogging about the Blues and look what happens.  Benitez becomes the new coach…  Fans repeatedly boo Benitez…  Chelsea gets bounced from the Champs League…  Chelsea gets bounced from the Club World Cup… Torres struggles at striker…  wait, that last one’s no different from any other of the nearly 24 months since Fernando became a Chelsean.  Anyways, very eventful weeks since I last updated this blog.

"See, you must pass it directly to his feet.  Even then, it's iffy..."

“See, you must pass it directly to his feet. Even then, it’s iffy…”

My soccer-coaching season is in full swing and life has been hectic, so that’s my excuse for the silence on all the upheaval at CFC – that, and the fact that I’m still disappointed by the Di Matteo canning.  The coaching carousel at Chelsea has become so absurd that you really just have to throw up your “whatever!” hands.  I guess if you buy a pro soccer club with your bazillions, you can do whatever you want with your club, even firing beloved managers.

Getting rid of Di Matteo was dumb, and Chelsea fans’ negative reaction to Benitez’s arrival has been humorous, but in the spirit of Christmas, it’s probably time to get o’er it, stop badgering Benitez, and get back to cheering on the Blue boys.  After all, they’ve got Europa League to play for, and Capital One Cup!  Yes, I’m being sarcastic, but it’s just because I’m so disappointed that Chelsea’s out of the Champs League.  I haven’t even checked this week’s draw for the knockout round because it’s just not the same without the Blues.  The day Chelsea got eliminated (thanks to Shakhtar’s sudden, complete soccer ineptitude – at home no less!), a package actually arrived at my house containing Kings of Europe, the Chelsea Champs League-winning commemorative hardcover book I’d ordered for my birthday.  I was left thumbing through the pages with the hollow knowledge that Chelsea are the first Champs League champs in history not to make the knockout round the following season.  The book is terrific by the way and would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for that special Chelsea fan in your life.  But it’s kind of a sad gift now, what with all the full-color pics of Di Matteo and Drogba celebrating with the big-eared trophy.  Sniff, sniff.  There are even some shots of Michael Essien.  I miss those guys.  In today’s soccer world, it sure doesn’t take long to seriously alter a team’s identity!

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On the plus side, Chelsea is still a good team.  The new guys are doing well:  Hazard, Oscar, Moses.  Lamps is back from injury.  And who knows, maybe the lack of Champs League travel and distraction will help Chelsea claw their way back into Premier League title contention.  Here’s hoping anyway.

Merry Christmas to all and thanks for reading this year!

Thoughts on Chelsea’s busy month?  Feel free to share below…

Di Matteo Fired

Chelsea continues their boneheaded ways with managers…

I woke up this morning contemplating Chelsea’s recent awfulness and what, if anything, original could be said about it.  That led me to thoughts about Roberto Di Matteo, that maybe I’d write a little something in his defense since I was slightly surprised to hear commentators emphasizing how under fire he is after Chelsea’s poor Premier League form and Champions League struggles.  These were my pre-morning coffee thoughts, but then I flip on the ol’ internet machine and the first thing I see are the Di Matteo’s-been-fired headlines.  What?  Seriously?  What?

I’m actually shocked by the news that Di Matteo’s been given the boot.  I shouldn’t be of course, given Chelsea’s managerial revolving door the past few years, but I’m still kind of shocked.

Chelsea’s current performance problems are player-related and not Di Matteo’s fault.  The timing of this firing is very poor.  Who are they going to get to replace him at this point in the season?  Is another “caretaker” really a better idea than just sticking with Di Matteo for the rest of the season?  I don’t think so.  Managers have to do the best they can with the players they’re given.  Di Matteo has done that.  It’s not his fault that Torres can’t score, or even hold onto the ball for more than 0.5 seconds (and Chelsea’s woes aren’t solely Torres’ fault either – I can’t remember the last time the defense had a shutout).

By firing Di Matteo, Chelsea are seriously impeding their long-term progress and unnecessarily complicating this season’s quest for success.  A team’s fortune can change pretty quickly – if Chelsea had given Di Matteo just one more week, Chelsea could potentially beat Premier League leader Manchester City this Sunday, and qualify for the Champions League knockout stage with a win next week.  It’s hard to imagine them canning Roberto in those circumstances.  Alas, we’ll never know.  At some point Chelsea is going to have to learn real patience with managers or the club will be in a perpetual state of rebuilding.

What do you think of Di Matteo’s firing?

Dear Didier

A Special Invitation from Chelsea* to Drogba…

Dear Didier,

How’s life in China?  How’s the food?  The weather?  How’s your Chinese coming along?  Hope all is well.

Here’s the deal, Didier, we miss you at Stamford Bridge.  We really need you to come back.  Like this week.  I know we parted ways on great terms, with you having just won the Champions League for us and all.  If you were going to leave the club, it was the perfect time to do so.  We were all very understanding, but let’s face it, our Champions League-winning high clouded our judgment.  Now that we’ve had time to ponder… we think we made a big mistake.

Did you see our draw today against a very beatable Liverpool?  Their striker Suarez saved the day for them again – a lot like you used to for Chelsea.  We need a big time lethal striker again.  That’s where you come in.  We’ve got some great new guys this season we think you’ll really dig – guys like Hazard and Oscar.  They’ve been creating great ball movement with Mata, but the problem is they need a real strongman in the box to feed the ball to.  No one wreaks havoc in the box like you do.  We really miss your ability to hold the ball and invent crazy-angled shots out of nothing.  In case you’re wondering about Torres, well, we’re not exactly sure what to do about that yet.  But it probably involves selling him for as much cash as possible come January.  Look, Fernando’s a great guy and we wish him well, but he’s no Drogba.

Now we know you left Chelsea primarily because Shanghai-whatchamacallit offered you a bazillion dollars.  Very understandable.  We didn’t think we could match their bazillions.  But this week we found out we actually made a profit for the first time in something like a decade (thanks to the Champions League riches you helped us get), so, since we’re not used to operating in the black anyway, we thought we’d just give you all that excess profit if you come back.

By the way, in case it’s not all about money, you saw where Chelsea fans recently voted you one of the greatest Blues players in club history, right?  That’s pretty sweet.  The fans would welcome you back in a heartbeat.  Just sayin’.  We know you have a soft spot for Chelsea in that lion heart of yours, so we want to remind you that John Terry got knocked out of the Liverpool match today with a potentially season-ending injury, Lampard is still out with a calf thing, and we loaned Michael Essien to Real Madrid for reasons we’re still not entirely sure about (okay, we brought that last one on ourselves, but we’re just pointing out the dearth of Blues vets currently on hand).

Just in case you feel a little weird about the idea of coming back to Chelsea so soon after leaving, it’s not unprecedented.  Paul Scholes returned to Man U after retiring for a while last season.  Thierry Henry even went back to Arsenal on loan earlier this year.  It’s obviously not our first choice, but we’d settle for you returning to Chelsea on loan whenever the Chinese league’s over (sorry, we’re not sure when their season ends – until you went there we didn’t even know China had a pro league).  Whatever it takes, Didier, that’s what we’re saying.

Admit it, you miss the Premier League.  The high-pressure matches.  The packed, historic stadiums.  Cup finals.  Champions League nights around Europe.  Eccentric gazillionaire Russian owners.  Causing Sir Alex heartburn.  Democracy.

We don’t want to pressure you too much, but we have slipped from first to third in the table within a couple weeks, so we kind of need an answer ASAP.  Only you can help prevent one of the Manchesters winning the league again.  Chelsea’s fate is in your hands.  Okay, that may be overstating it a bit, but come on man you’re playing in China for goodness sakes!  No one watches Chinese soccer!

Come home, Didier, come home.  You know you want to.  We can have a jet there in a matter of hours.

Love,

Chelsea Football Club

 

P.S.  Say hello to Anelka for us.

 

*Unfortunately this letter does not represent an actual invitation from Chelsea Football Club to Didier Drogba.

Chelsea is Clicking

Chelsea topples Tottenham 4–2

So far this season I’ve enjoyed Chelsea’s undefeated run and top place in the table with fingers crossed behind my back.  Things have gone very well of course, but there have been a few shaky moments and based on the past two roller coaster seasons, I’ve kind of been waiting for the other shoe to drop for Chelsea, you know, like a multi-match losing streak and a late-season fight for the last Champions League spot.

After yesterday’s defeat of Tottenham at White Hart Lane however, I’m starting to believe.  I don’t want to jump to any conclusions – it is still very early in the season, and if nothing else Chelsea still has four Manchester (United and City) showdowns to contend with (those four matches alone could determine the title).  But Chelsea hasn’t looked this poised and confident since the last time they won the Premier League in 2009/2010.  They’re constantly a scoring threat and the defense, while still occasionally leaky is playing quite cohesively.  Cole and Ivanovic are even supplying regular attacking options down the wings.

Chelsea showed positive mental toughness in not only recovering from the second half Tottenham onslaught that put the Spurs up 2–1, but recovering with authority by scoring three second half goals.  I still miss Drogba in attack – he would add strength, aerial threat, and finishing power to a physically small offense.  To my surprise though, the Blues are getting the job done without him (and in spite of a still so-so Torres).

The new recruits, particularly Hazard and Oscar, are already clicking with the team.  I didn’t expect results this good so early in the season.  These new guys are still gelling with the team, so imagine where they could be in a few months as long as everyone stays healthy!

Chelsea is fun to watch again…

Any thoughts on the Blues’ win at Tottenham?  Feel free to share below!

International Break Blues

Will Chelsea’s momentum stop after the latest international hiatus?

The International Break is a necessary evil I suppose.  It’s fun sometimes, particularly during World Cup Qualifying.  Well, if your team wins that is.  I love supporting the USMNT (I always want to read that as U.S. Mutant Ninja Turtles), but it kills momentum for clubs.  It’s like tennis matches that get rain delayed overnight – it gives the guy who’s losing the match opportunity to regroup, rest, and heal if necessary.  Sometimes it totally changes the match.  And that’s what I’m afraid of because Chelsea has been on a roll, but now the international break – the IB if you will – has stopped the Blues in their tracks.

Compared to the past two seasons, this campaign is strange for Chelsea fans in that the team is sitting relatively pretty for a change, atop the league table, four points above the Manchesters.  So far we haven’t had to deal with the kind of angst that plagued us the past two seasons.  Yes, it’s hard to justify complaints when your team won the Champions League last season, but as anyone who followed that saga knows, it was the most stressful possible tournament in which Chelsea repeatedly cheated death, somehow escaping Munich with the big-eared trophy in their clutches.  By comparison this Premier League season has been downright docile.  So far at least.  That’s the main reason I’m concerned about this most recent momentum-killing IB.

I’ve really enjoyed watching Chelsea go undefeated this season – it’s been refreshingly un-stressful.  But now the team has to shake off their jet lag (Chelsea players are on a lot of national teams) and get their groove back in time to do battle at Tottenham this Saturday.  Add in the weirdness factor that they’ll be facing their old manager Andre Villas-Boas for the first time since Chelsea fired him last season and you have the makings of a potential perfect storm.  You can bet your booty AVB will have his Spurs revved up for maximum pride salvaging (meaning AVB’s pride).  It’s certainly not the cushy assignment a first place team would prefer to get to ease back into Premier League play after a tiring IB.  On the other hand, resuming the season with a dogfight like this may be the best way to get Chelsea back in the full swing of things.

Saturday’s game at Tottenham is a bigger match than initially meets the eye.  It is a crucial encounter that could mean the difference between establishing dominance in the league and giving the Manchesters a toehold.  The Manchesters do not need toeholds given to them.

Will Chelsea be able to regroup and shake off the cobwebs in time for the big clash with Tottenham Saturday?

Chelsea’s Iffy Week

Chelsea’s draw with Juventus and win over Stoke

It wasn’t an altogether happy week to be a Chelsea fan.  I guess it sounds ungrateful to gripe about a Champions League draw (against Juventus last Wednesday) and Premier League win (over Stoke yesterday) – particularly if you’re, say, a Liverpool fan – but there are some frustrating aspects to the Blues’ recent performances that have made for some nerve-wracking matches.

Let’s start with that mid-week Champions League season opener against Juventus at Stamford Bridge.  Plenty to be excited about in the first half thanks to new Blue Oscar’s two sweet, long-range goals.  Plenty to be frustrated about too though, thanks to Chelsea’s ongoing inability to protect a lead.

For all of Chelsea’s intricate passing prowess – and they’ve certainly improved in that area this season – they’ve had far too many giveaways the past few matches.  Mikel got a lot of heat for his careless turnover pass that led to Juventus’ equalizing goal, but Ramires has had an alarming number of errant passes recently.  As a side note, Mikel’s error was extra painful after watching former Chelsea favorite Michael Essien excel in Real Madrid’s big Champions League win over Manchester City Tuesday.  It underscored my feeling that Essien was unfairly (and unwisely) pushed out the door in favor of Mikel.  I like Mikel, but I still think Essien is a more complete and reliable midfielder.

Chelsea squandered a great opportunity to beat Juventus and now faces a slightly more uphill Champions League climb than should’ve been necessary.

Against Stoke yesterday, we saw more of the same shiny Chelsea possession that fails to create many actual scoring chances.  Hazard continues to provide tremendous spark and creativity, and Oscar continues to show potential.  Mata, Hazard, Oscar, and Ramires constantly buzzed around the box, and constantly got knocked off the ball or fouled.  These are small guys.  Fast guys, but small guys.  Chelsea lacks attacking muscle.  Chelsea desperately needs a striker like, well, I hate to say it but, like Drogba – someone who can hold the ball in the box, create something out of nothing, or dish it off for another shooter.  Torres is not that guy.  I’m completely frustrated with Torres.  Victor Moses provided much more energy when he entered the game in the 61st minute (though I don’t understand why he replaced Hazard).  Moses should start over Torres immediately.

It was fitting that Ashley Cole got Chelsea’s only goal yesterday.  He continues to be a bit of an unsung hero for Chelsea, a defensive stalwart whose hustle and drive never seem to waiver.

It’s great to see Chelsea atop the league of course, but they’re barely squeaking by right now.  To maintain their position (and control their Champions League destiny) they need more consistency on defense and need to convert their offensive passing creativity into goals.

Your thoughts on Chelsea’s Champions League opener and/or victory over Stoke?

Red, White & Blues Roundup

Thoughts on last week’s big matches for U.S., Chelsea, and FC Dallas

There is a reason this blog has been mute this week, even as my three main teams were in action.  And it’s not a pleasant reason.  I’m calling out Time Warner Cable as the worst TV/internet provider in these United States!  My cable went out first.  It was gone for a week, forcing me to watch the Chelsea/Newcastle match at my non-soccer-fan in-laws house.  But thank goodness they have Fox Soccer!  And their big screen isn’t too shabby either.  My Time Warner internet “service” was also out during the cable outage.  Services were restored for a week, then this past Monday Time Warner decided they hadn’t quite scared me away as a customer so they knocked out my internet for another week.  They finally showed up to repair it Friday night.

Then yesterday, just to kick me while I’m down, Time Warner inexplicably pulled the plug on Fox Soccer Channel in the 67th minute of the Chelsea/QPR match!  The horror!  I think that was actually worst than not having cable at all because I didn’t have time to crash my in-laws for the game.  Of course, Time Warner finally restored Fox Soccer a couple hours later, but the damage to my fanhood had already been done.  Time Warner, you are a truly terrible service!  I will be dropping them as my cable/internet provider as soon as possible!

Now back to this week’s soccer action…

First, it was a great, relieving win for the U.S. over Jamaica Tuesday night.  The U.S. looked encouraging in the first half, rattling the post three times.  I started to get that uneasy feeling you get when your team is dominating but can’t quite find the net.  But Hercules Gomez finally created some breathing room with his amazing free kick in the second half.  The U.S. should’ve had more, and they allowed some nerve-wracking moments during the final ten minutes, but the three points were secured and hope is thankfully alive again for World Cup qualification.

“Herculez! Herculez!”

The Chelsea/QPR game was a scrappy one – at least the 67 minutes of it Time Warner allowed me to see.  It ended up a scoreless draw, so at least Chelsea retains first place in the league this week.  It wasn’t a great offensive Blues performance.  Torres was back to his thumb-twiddling ways up top.  Ramires was much weaker than usual.  Hazard continues to be pretty great though.  If his teammates learn to link up with him, Chelsea will generate a lot of goals this season.

Hazardous to defenses (I know, I know. I had to do it just this once.).

On the home front, I was at FC Dallas Stadium last night for the next-to-last FCD home game of the season.  It was a must-win match for FCD against Vancouver Whitecaps if Dallas has any hope of making the playoffs.  The play was extremely physical, the refereeing atrocious, and Dallas’ strike force woefully lacking in urgency (Blas Perez and Brek Shea looked downright lethargic).  The score remained 0-0 until the 96th minute when Julian De Guzman rocketed in one of the shots of the season.  Just minutes earlier I had lamented in my mind that De Guzman had done nothing of note since his arrival in Dallas a few months ago.  I’ve repented of that lament.  The crowd exploded after De Guzman’s amazing goal and it was probably the most exciting MLS match moment I’ve ever experienced in person.

The U.S. men and FC Dallas are off for a while, but Chelsea has a big week ahead with Juventus on Tuesday in Champions League action and Stoke visiting on Saturday.  Good times!

What was your favorite soccer moment this week?