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CFC to NYC

Chelsea wraps up Seattle leg of U.S. tour

 

Chelsea had one more training session this morning in Seattle before hopping a plane bound for New York City.  The club faces their former manager Carlo Ancelotti and his current team Paris St. Germain in another preseason friendly Sunday.  It will be the first ever soccer match to be played at the new Yankee Stadium.

While the team trains and tours in the U.S., the deal making for new players continues in London.  Here is the latest rumor rundown:

Coach Di Matteo confirmed the club is in talks to get Victor Moses from Wigan.  Apparently Wigan wants several more buckets of cash than Chelsea has offered so far.  I can take or leave this deal.  Chelsea certainly shouldn’t overpay for him.  A better striker option would be checking to see if Newcastle’s Demba Ba or Papiss Cisse have any brothers in Senegal.

Thorgan Hazard may become a Chelsea player within a day or two, but nothing official from Chelsea yet.  If the deal goes through, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fairly quickly loaned to another Premier League club given he’s only 19-years-old and Chelsea has a very packed roster right now.

Chelsea may be after Marseille’s 22-year-old Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta.  Chelsea could use some back line bolstering, so this deal could be interesting.  I bet there’s going to be a whole lotta soccer wheeling and dealing going on with all these under-23 national teams in London for the Olympics!

Check out this New York Times story exploring why some of America’s most famous baseball stadiums are hosting big international soccer club matches this summer.  Wondering how a soccer pitch is going to work in Yankee Stadium?  Check out the diagram below and these photos of the pitch being prepared.

Apparently starring in a classic soccer comedy like Kicking & Screaming (I’m not being sarcastic – I actually think that movie’s hilarious) affords you lifetime access to Chelsea FC.  Check out Blues fan Will Ferrell and comedian Zach Galifianakis chillin’ with Chelsea (and with the European Cup) in Seattle yesterday.

I particularly like the random autographed St. Louis Rams helmet Will and Zach apparently gave Chelsea.  I have no idea why it was a Rams helmet, but it’s pretty vintage Will Ferrell.  Good times!

Thoughts on the potential Moses, Thorgan Hazard, or Azpilicueta deals?

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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?

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?

MLS is a Dream Come True

Why watching a 0 – 0 tie between FC Dallas and DC United is a pleasure

I spent Saturday night at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.  It was approximately 150 degrees Fahrenheit and the game ended in a scoreless draw – with most of the players rendered as listless by the heat as the fans – yet I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I always enjoy trips to PHP (well, except for that life-threatening monsoon/mega-thunderstorm I got caught in when FCD hosted the Galaxy in May), because every time I go, I’m living the dream.

I moved to France in 1988.  I was eleven years old.  The year I spent living there with my family cemented soccer as my life-long sporting love.  How could it not?  Soccer saturated French culture.  It made the front page of major newspapers.  Often!  Surprisingly (considering I was from Arkansas, traditionally a statewide soccer ghost town), I was already a soccer enthusiast before moving to France, having played for three years in the Heber Springs Optimist Club league.  But living in France elevated my footballitis (soccer fever) to the highest level, a condition from which I’ve yet to recover.

After living in France, we moved to Dakar, Senegal where I spent the remainder of my adolescence playing as much soccer as possible.  I spent countless hours in our front yard juggling and pounding the ball against the concrete wall that surrounded our compound, daydreaming about a real professional soccer league in the U.S.  I picked cities, made up team names, designed uniforms, and selected the NFL stadiums we would surely use (the brilliant concept of “soccer-specific” stadia was beyond my imagination).  It was the early 90s, pre-World Cup ’94 even, and my American pro soccer league was a very distant, lofty dream.

Fast-forward twenty years or so.  I’m sitting in the second row, at midfield, watching my local professional club in a sparkling (if architecturally bland), soccer-specific stadium.  It’s Major League Soccer!  Okay, so the quality of play isn’t among the world’s elite leagues.  Yet.  But it’s getting much better (FC Dallas is one of the league’s best squads by the way).  And maybe there are only 10,802 fans in a stadium that can hold twice as many.  And maybe the refereeing is atrocious.  And there are cheesy cheerleaders.  And there are few shots and no goals.  But it’s pro soccer.  In America.  It’s my childhood dream come true!  Granted, I was supposed to be on the field rather than in the seats according to my dream, but that’s another story.

Perspective is important for American soccer fans.  Every time I go to an MLS game I soak in the atmosphere and smile contentedly, remembering that kid kicking the ball in the yard in West Africa who could only dream of such a thing.