FC Dallas’ Brek Shea and George John hone their skills in Britain
FC Dallas standout Brek Shea capped a successful 2011 with a month-long training stint at Arsenal. Few expected much to come of the opportunity in terms of a loan deal or something more permanent – least of all Arsenal skipper Arsene Wenger who downplayed their invitation to Shea – but it was a great chance for Shea to train with some of Europe’s best during the MLS offseason. Between U.S. Men’s National Team call-ups and the Arsenal invite, FC Dallas fans were proud to see one of their best get so much deserved recognition.
Then a few weeks ago came the news that defender George John was heading to West Ham United for a two-month loan spell. Again fans were pleased to see one of FC Dallas’ outstanding young talents validated with such a high-profile opportunity. Both Shea and John were also invited to the U.S. Men’s National Team winter training camp, though John is unable to attend due to the West Ham loan.
The Shea and John opportunities highlight a catch-22 for American soccer as a whole. MLS is getting better every year and helping produce world-class players, but they’re not necessarily able to keep those players stateside. On one hand, the more our best players get to play top-level soccer the better – especially for national team purposes. On the other hand, it doesn’t bode well for the development of MLS if its best prospects get scooped up by foreign clubs (latest example: Bolton’s snag of Tim Ream from NY Red Bulls). I don’t blame players at all for wanting to give Europe a go if a club comes calling – it will probably make them a better player (and make them more cash). But as a fan, I want to see top players like Shea and John don the FCD red and white for the long haul.
For now, we can supposedly look forward to seeing Shea and John in the FCD lineup when the new MLS season kicks off in March (though John’s deal apparently leaves an opening for West Ham to keep him on if things go well). I hope we do get to see them back in Dallas, as they’re both rising stars playing for a franchise that needs the potential drawing power of stars more than most other MLS teams. I think the sky’s the limit for Shea in particular. He could be the U.S. National Team’s best player in a few years. FC Dallas fans better enjoy these guys while we can, because the reality is they may soon be too good for a club our size to afford to keep.
What do you think of offseason loan deals for MLS players? Does it help or hurt MLS?
Michael Essien returns from injury as Chelsea beats Sunderland 1 – 0
Yesterday’s victory over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge was another serious nail-biter. Nail-biters have been in plentiful supply this season – with far too many 1 – 0 games excruciatingly equalized in the dying minutes of matches by Chelsea’s scrappy opposition. Sunderland tried to continue the trend Saturday with some excellent chances near the end that they fortunately bungled.
I was relieved to see Chelsea win of course, but there was another sense of relief accompanying the final whistle yesterday: seeing Michael Essien – my favorite Chelsea player – not only return to the pitch after a six-month knee-injury absence, but also successfully navigate eighteen minutes of Premier League match time unscathed. When I donned my Essien jersey for the game yesterday I had no idea he’d even made the bench. I hadn’t checked the roster prior to the match, and even though I knew he played in a reserves match last week, I figured it was still too early to see him join the first team in the dugout. So it was a tremendous surprise to see AVB chatting up Essien on the touchline as he was about to enter the game for Lampard! While Essien’s contributions were relatively low-key, he was immediately involved, stringing together a series of crisp passes that looked like the Essien of old. I cringed every time he received the ball near a Sunderland player, hoping they wouldn’t recklessly undo six months of difficult rehab. It is fantastic to see him back and I hope he’ll be among the regular starting eleven very soon.
Another Chelsea vet who saw some late action yesterday was Florent Malouda. I don’t think Malouda’s been given a fair shake so far this season. In fact, he’s been woefully underused, which has now negatively affected his match sharpness. Obviously, the Chelsea coaching staff is with him on a daily basis, so perhaps he’s been under-performing in training. But it’s difficult to understand why he was so swiftly relegated to benchwarmer status especially considering he was one of last season’s EA Sports Index first-team midfielders – for the entire Premier League! Like Lampard, I think Malouda has plenty left to offer and Chelsea would be foolish to squander it. With Drogba away on African Cup duty, hopefully Malouda will get some opportunities to show AVB what he’s got.
Speaking of personnel decisions, what do you think about Chelsea’s acquisition of defender Gary Cahill from Bolton?
Chelsea settles for a point against Valencia
I’m still smarting from Chelsea’s draw at Valencia in Wednesday’s Champions League group stage match. Chelsea seemed in utter control of the game. The Blues played well – not great – but their effort seemed to be more than enough to secure three points. But they only got one point thanks to an 86th minute PK scored by Valencia after Kalou hand-balled on a Valencia corner. Very frustrating.
Chelsea never should’ve been in danger of drawing as they had some seemingly easy scoring opportunities swatted away in the second half by Valencia’s acrobatic goalkeeper Diego Alves. Ramires had one such opportunity. I’m growing frustrated with Ramires because he seems to have trouble finishing. I love his endurance, work ethic, and willingness to ram the ball ahead, but he really must come through with his finishing.
Finally, Frank Lampard got the better of Diego Alves when Malouda sent a smart diagonal pass through the box which Lamps lethally one-timed into the back of the net with one of his trademark grass-scorchers. It was a great goal and a well-timed “shut up” to the over-eager soccer pundit boneheads who’ve lately been trying to read a lot into Lampard’s recent time on the bench for Chelsea and England. Giles Smith had some great things to say in Lampard’s defense in his weekly Chelsea blog. I agree with Smith that Frank still has much to contribute to the team.
Now back to that Kalou hand-ball in the game’s dying minutes… wow. Seriously? I’ve been impressed thus far with AVB’s handling of the squad, but it was definitely a mistake to insert Kalou. When I saw Kalou warming up alongside Drogba, I had a feeling AVB was going to go with Kalou because Kalou hasn’t seen much playing time lately, the game seemed to be in the bag so it might be a good chance to show Kalou some love, etc., etc. But it was the wrong game at the wrong time to show Kalou love. Why not just let the veteran Lampard see out the game? What on earth was Kalou, a striker, supposed to contribute in the last eight minutes? It seemed to be one of those political moves managers feel obliged to do at this level – giving run-outs to players who have lately been out of the rotation.
Balancing playing time is surely one of the trickiest aspects of managing a club with Chelsea’s talent. But Kalou should’ve remained on the bench. AVB understandably didn’t toss Kalou under the bus in his post-match comments, but I will: what was Kalou thinking? He wasn’t match-sharp and he ran out there and blew a perfectly good win. Sure, it’s early in Champions League play, but those squandered points could certainly come back to haunt! I’ve always had doubts about Kalou – the necessary consistency just doesn’t seem to be there. If I had to pick anyone to consider off-loading come January, it would be Kalou.
Anyway, it’s back to Premier League play tomorrow for Chelsea at Bolton. The pesky Manchesters are still refusing to lose domestically, so a win over Wanderers is a must for Chelsea!
What do you think – am I being too harsh toward Kalou?
Blues dominate at Sunderland
The big news before today’s match was that Torres would start… on the bench. Word is that AVB ain’t all that thrilled that Nando left his magic scoring boots in Liverpool.
On the good news front for Chelsea: Cech was back in goal today. It was also great to see David Luiz again, even if it was just on the bench.
Overall, a rather un-dramatic match today. It was pretty much a walk in the park for the Blues. But after the last couple nail-biters, this Chelsea fan welcomed the break. Here are a few of my game notes:
-Early on, some classic Cole runs up the left wing from the back. Ashley Cole is an unsung workhorse for Chelsea. He’s so reliable in his position that it’s easy to take him for granted.
-11th min: Mata made a great run into the box, but Anelka couldn’t do anything with Mata’s cutback pass. In fact, Anelka was virtually absent for the first 10 minutes.
-18th min: Fantastic finish by Terry for a Chelsea goal! And nice cross from Sturridge to kick off the frantic sequence in the box, which led to the goal.
-First quarter of the game was nothing for Chelsea to write home about. Not bad, but nothing flashy. Expected a little more precise possession. Apparently they’re still working out the kinks with new players in the lineup.
-Mata was a very bright spot for Chelsea in the first half hour. Always moving, trying to make things happen. Some smart and spot-on passes from him.
-Sturridge was energetic, trying hard to get involved, though he missed a great low-level cross from Bosingwa in the 37th minute.
-By the end of the first half the game was very casual with Sunderland content to let Chelsea bring the ball forward.
-51st min: Great 40-yard pass from Anelka to Sturridge who then cleverly back heeled the ball into the goal!
-63rd min: Awesome on-goal half volley from Malouda (in his very first touch of the game), but it was saved by Sunderland’s keeper.
-75th min: Torres replaced Mata. Probably a well-timed choice by AVB to get Torres into a low-pressure situation. Unfortunately, Torres barely touched the ball.
-79th min: Oriol Romeu made his Chelsea debut, replacing Anelka for the game’s home stretch. He didn’t see the ball enough to make much of an impression.
-91st min: Chelsea allowed a very disappointing Sunderland goal to make it 2 – 1.
-94th min: Scariest minute of the game as Sunderland suddenly sprang to life, launching several balls into the Chelsea box. Chelsea had a sudden 3-on-1 offensive situation after Cech launched the ball downfield out of danger. Torres received it and had a wide-open Ramires to his right, but made an absolutely dreadful waste of a pass that went out of bounds. Fortunately for him, the game was over seconds later!
So, a solid win for Chelsea, even though it wasn’t the kind of commanding victory that the Manchesters have produced. After Man U thrashed Bolton today, I’m leery of the Blues’ trip to Old Trafford next weekend. Before psyching themselves up for that one, Chelsea turn their attention to Bayer Leverkusen in Champions League play on Tuesday. Things are about to get interesting!
What did you think about Chelsea’s performance against Sunderland? How will Chelsea fare against Bayer and Manchester United next week?
Chelsea’s preseason ends on a high note
Chelsea won their last preseason match, defeating Glasgow Rangers 3 – 1 on Saturday. The victory capped an undefeated preseason and confirmed that Blues fans have reason to be very positive about the upcoming season, which is now one week away.
Chelsea is flying under the radar to start the new season, which is a great place to be. While all the attention has been on the Manchesters and Arsenal’s will-they-or-won’t-they-lose-their-superstars soap opera, Chelsea has quietly gone about their business in a methodical, un-glitzy fashion. Aside from the summer-long Modric question, even Chelsea’s transfer dealings have been pretty quiet. The deals that have been made are smart – the most recent being Oriol Romeu and (just Saturday) Romelu Lukaku. Unfortunately, Yury Zhirkov is departing the team, presumably to make room for these new signings, however, if you had to lose someone, Zhirkov is a smart choice. Not that he isn’t a top-quality player; he just never quite became the regular starter (partially due to injury) that might have been expected when he came to Chelsea two years ago.
Speaking of exciting, Daniel Sturridge scored two goals Saturday against Rangers. He has surely earned a starting forward spot with his preseason fireworks. Problem is, he was red-carded during the final game of last season (while on loan with Bolton) and is therefore suspended for the first three matches of this season. Tough break for Sturridge – and Chelsea. The other forwards might want to use the first few games to make a case for themselves because Sturridge’s case is currently the most convincing.
What do you think of Romeu and Lukaku – smart acquisitions or wasted transfer opportunity?