116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dubious Mid-Season Awards

When Michael Packard sent me this piece for the guest-blog, I knew he wasn't the sort to celebrate Christmas, because it was impossible to edit! So while it took me until the day after Christmas to get this up, I soldiered on nonetheless, maybe not in time to coincide with Fabio Cannavaro's fleecing of the Player of the Year award, but on a somewhat reasonable schedule regardless...

When I got this opportunity to guest write in this footy blog, I had so many ideas. The USMNT is always an interesting subject, but that's been covered already. I was thinking about writing a mid-season report card on the Premiership as the title race is shaping up to be so very exciting this year. Let's be honest, there are enough pundits covering that subject as well. There are also so many great goals to talk about as well, such as Matty Taylor's 45-yard strike against Everton, or Crouch's athletic bicycle kick against Galatasaray. The beautiful game is alive and well in England, so why should I state the obvious?
I was feeling so very cheerful this holiday season, celebrating the festival of lights and X-mas, drinking Guiness to wash down my latkes and holiday cookies, but nonetheless have decided to write about those players and managers that irk me. I think it's great that there are awards that honor the best in the game, but we need to also acknowledge those people in the game who are just absolute @$$&^!*$. I have watched so many games already this year, and from my personal experience it seems that everyone in the pubs around NYC have their own opinion on this matter.
I have "honored" both a Premiership manager and a player with my first First Annual Landon Donovan W@^%*r of the Year Award. I figured that was the only way Donovan would have any association with the Premiership so i was trying to be nice. My apologies to Max Bretos and Tommy Smyth as the award was this close to being named after you two +#*+$. Obviously the finalists for the manager award came down to the big three, Mourinho, Wenger, and Sir Alex. Although Mourinho and Ferguson both have a tendency to moan and blame everyone from refs to supporters to stewards for their clubs' losses or draws, I feel that they do have a shred of likeability. Mourinho can make us all laugh with some of his quotes and SAF does get under all of our skins, but he has been at Man U forever and I just think we have to accept his gruff demeanor.
The manager I have chosen to receive this prestigous award is a slam dunk and Arsene "I didn't see it" Wenger is a deserved winner. Congrats Mr. Wenger. Your fight with Martin Jol last spring made us all warm and fuzzy inside, but it was the exchange of handbags with Alan Pardew this year that made this decision a lay-up. No one likes you, except for Gooner supporters, and what does that tell you? While I was writing this article last Saturday you also had the courtesy of justifying my decision by getting sent to the stands against Pompey. You, my friend, are the definition of w@^%*r. Good work.

The decision of who was most deserving of this award from the field of play was not as easy as Mr. Wenger's landslide victory. I mean with Robbie Savage, Gary Neville, Craig Bellamy, El-Hadji Diouf, Ben Thatcher, Arjen Robben, Wayne "I will stomp on your nuts" Rooney, etc., etc., the list just goes on, but I have chosen three finalists for the coveted award. Cashley Cole from Roman's blue army is an obvious choice. I mean who the hell can live on 85 grand a week at Arsenal? To claim how poorly he was treated just makes him even more out of touch with reality (The only good news about Cashley going to Chelsea is if Wayne Bridge has any sack he will leave in January and go to a certain club in close proximity to Cole's old stomping grounds who could desperately use a left-sided defender. C'mon Wayne, don't let Jose ruin your career. Look at SWP sitting next to you.). The second finalist is a certain greasy-haired Portuguese flopper who likes to leave his feet all too often. His skills are world class but his antics do make many sane men want to pick up a gun and shoot. The third and final player I have chosen is Jens Lehmann. Let's be honest Gooner supporters, he is a psycho, there are no two ways about it. His little song and dance with Didier (would have been nominated last year but his diving has stopped and he is in a rich vein of form) Drogba two weeks ago was laughable. He seems to always be yelling at the referees and pretty much just losing his mind on a regular basis. His entertainment value is high, but he is a w@^%*r nonetheless.

The winner was a rather easy decision. Ronaldo gets eliminated because he is the best player in the Premiership. Even with all of his antics, how can you dispute that? I would normally let Lehman join his manager at the award podium, but do not want to be accused of bias against a certain North London club (OK, thats not the truth. There are two huge Germans who drink a lot at my local pub who have a strong affinity for Jens, and if they knew I spoke poorly about him they might hurt me. I mean really hurt me.). So without further delay, in my humble opinion the biggest W@^%*r, *^&+, @$$&^!*, etc., etc. in the Premiership is Cashley Cole from Chelsea. I think it is rather nice of me to reunite Mr. Wenger and Mr Cole. with the Donovan awards, mazel tov to both of you. I am sure many of you do not agree, but it really doesnt matter because I thought of this award. Enjoy the rest of the season!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

If You Haven't Heard, There's A Team Called Chelsea

Two weeks without posting to this blog, plus I haven't done one iota of Christmas shopping yet; I am a restless mess. Thank god for guest bloggers, such as Paul Kanarek, who has a Chelsea prediction in mind...

I first started supporting my beloved Blues in 1966. I think it was a combination of the blue togs, the cool looking lion and the fact that my father was an avid Tottenham Hotspur supporter. There were two great lessons that the old man taught me from his own errors - don't smoke, and never be a Spurs fan. Every year, he would pore agonizingly over the squad sheets, look at the fixtures and forlornly repeat his mantra of, "Looks like another mid-table finish for the lads but maybe they'll have a nice FA Cup run." The first was always true and the second remained as useless a hope as intelligence in the Oval Office.
But I digress. I said it before the season started and I repeat it here now. My Chelsea will not lift the Premier League trophy this year. If the maxim that "the hardest thing to do is repeat a championship run" is true, then it becomes exponentially more difficult to manage the trick three times on the trot, and while the flesh is willing, I think the spirit is just a little bit weaker this year. This Chelsea team rarely plays the inspired, flowing football of the previous two seasons, and I can see them wilting slightly under the feral and inspired efforts of the rest of the Premiership. Jose, the board and his players have set their eyes on the European prize and you can see it in the level of their play against the continent.
Yes, the Arsenal draw and Newcastle and Everton wins were all brave and showed the grit and determination that any fan loves to see in his team, but I think this is the season where Chelsea finally makes its Champions League run and settles for a solid second in the home league. How wonderfully ironic would it be if the Blues were to fall 2 points short based upon Spurs’ once every 16 years victory? 2-1 and someplace Daddy’s eyes are smiling.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Malicious Matchups

Seems as though our guest bloggers have the state of the U.S. game on their minds. Today we have Joe Sweigart, who seems to want the USMNT to go up against... the Axis of Evil? I'll let him explain further...

What’s more exciting to an American sports fan than The Grudge Game? Redskins vs. Cowboys. Yankees vs. Red Sox. Islanders vs. Rangers. Who can forget the days of Dr J’s Sixers taking on Larry Bird’s Celtics? You find yourself drawn to the contest. The drama of the contest draws you deeper into the sport. You find yourself talking about it. Looking forward to the next Grudge Game. Checking the papers, researching statistics on the Internet, watching SportsCenter for highlights, team news and gossip. And that, simply put, is what is missing from U.S. football.
Other than Mexico, the USMNT rarely plays meaningful games against quality opponents. Even for the rabid football fan it’s tough to get excited about watching USA vs. Jamaica (again). You can sell it (I paid $20 to watch England vs. Macedonia from the comfort of my sofa), but only if there is the promise of something better (like England vs. Croatia) coming soon. The matches against Mexico are always highly charged affairs that even the novice can appreciate. We’ve all seen it happen; our regular footie bar is invaded by people we’ve never seen before, and they lose their minds screaming “USA! USA!” when we score. They sense the animosity on the
field. They sense the passion in the crowd. They get caught up in the moment at the bar. Naturally, the next game the USA plays is against Canada (Yawn). There is no momentum, people lose interest, the fan base doesn’t grow.
If the big brains in charge of the U.S. program are serious about building the sport, give the public something to get excited about and a reason to follow it. How about a whole grudge series? USA vs Mexico followed by USA vs. Russia, Iran, North Korea. How about giving everyone in the world with a chip on their shoulders about America a chance to take a shot at us on the pitch? And how about this for a dream; schedule a double header on ABC – USA vs. Russia, followed by an international “friendly” between England and Argentina. Promote the hell out of it and show the American public what football – proper football – is all about. And for the love of all that is holy and true, hire Andy Gray and Martin Tyler to do the commentary.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Blatherers United

Real-life obligations have caused me to neglect the blog a bit more than I'd like lately, and will do so for at least one more week. Since we here on 116th Street often feel terribly guilty about not posting, we have assembled a crew of moderately decent people to take us to the doorstep of the January transfer window. This crew assembles every Saturday morning to watch matches, drink Guinness, discuss the issues of the game and display a seriously backward version of male camaraderie; thus do I name them Kinsale Blatherers FC.

First up is
Steve Quattrociocchi, a friendly sort who has been known to sport a Vialli-era "Autoglass" Chelsea shirt in an ill-fated attempt to prove to everyone that he's not another Chelsea poseur. He was nice enough to be the sacrificial lamb of the group and go first, so here are his words:

As tempting as it is to use this opportunity to rail against the hypocritical mewlings and delusional rants of Arsene Wanker, I thought I’d use this opportunity to discuss U.S. Soccer.

Folks, you need to wake up. U.S. Soccer is leagues away from truly competing on the world stage – either in International or Club competitions. Worse, we’re heading in the wrong direction. Whatever momentary optimism is to be found in inspired efforts against over-confident Portuguese, German and Italian sides in recent Cups, the reality is that the US program is comparable to Korea and Australia . The idea that we are anywhere near ready to compete against even quality African sides on a consistent basis is laughable.

MLS play is poor. Sure, the game is beautiful even in its lower levels. I enjoy watching early round FA Cup fixtures. I pull for, and enjoy, Peterborough in the English fourth division. But the Champion Houston Dynamo would be second, or even third, division in the Spanish, English, Italian, German, and Dutch leagues. And this is where we are developing our young talent? Eddie Johnson is going to become a world-class talent in this environment? You’re surprised he’s backsliding? Really?

Internationally, we rely on the likes of Landon Donovan. Landon’s lazy, self-satisfied refusal to get off the beach and submit himself to the highest competition is borderline treasonous – but that point has been made and really is inarguable. U.S. Soccer’s unerring faith in him is symbolic, however, of what is wrong.

Yes, we have great athletes. Yes, our high-workrate, heart-over-style personality is something to build upon. But neither will overcome squandering talent and lazy, PR-driven hype of the likes of Freddy Adu. Our athletes and our personality are foundations, not football power in themselves.

The entire system needs to be overhauled, from the youth program (where I coach and watch my colleagues systematically destroy our future with their emphasis on unselfish play and basketball-like tactics at the expense of joy and ball skill) on up through the academies to our relationship with Europe. MLS should end the salary cap nonsense and sell its clubs to crazy egomaniacs who will spend what it takes to build quality and dominate the league. As to the Nats, Juergen Klinsmann was the perfect man for destroying and rebuilding U.S. Soccer, but there are others. Anyone Dutch would be nice. Forget Bob Bradley, god save us from Pekerman or Houllier. God Bless Clint Dempsey.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Major Disaster Averted!

Yes, I did accidentally almost erase the entire blog, but it is back up and in working order, although it is missing quite a few links at the moment. I'm pretty worn out from redoing the HTML, so I'll finish up the links tomorrow. In any case, I am very happy to report that this site is nearly 100% restored, sorry for all the technical glitches lately.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

One More Item Today...

Adam over at This Is American Soccer has written a must-read, live and direct from Bradenton; some U.S. Soccer reactions to the Klinsmann/Bradley saga.

Status Quo

Out of the fog of the Klinsmann debacle/Bradley appointment, comes the most pertinent question facing the National Team; how much of an overhaul does USA Soccer really need? We spent most of the past four-and-a-half months believing that this entire program needed rebuilding from the ground up, beginning with Bruce Arena but ultimately filtering down to even the grassroots levels of the game. American players need to learn a new style, we said. Natural evolution was no longer enough, we needed a Jurgen Klinsmann to inject a whole new outlook on the way we play the game. The cautious counterattack of Bruce Arena's era would give way to a Jose-Pekerman-esque style of flowing, attractive football, and a new generation of talent, divorced from Arena's steady, low-risk/low-reward system, would lead the new frontier of American soccer.
Now we have Bob Bradley, quite the competent individual, but in the minds of fans, sponsors and everyone who has some kind of stake in the U.S. game, not the man who will overhaul the game. We look to Sunil Gulati, the "superfan" seemingly most actively advocating this new version of USA Soccer, to provide answers as to how so much of the status quo has been reestablished. When one is talking about radically changing the landscape and culture of the game in this country, how much meaning does a word like "control" hold in the conversation? Without clear knowledge of the issues at stake, we fans cannot justify how such a deal does not come to be. How do I wish I could talk to Sunil Gulati over the next few weeks and find out what exactly went wrong with the Klinsmann hiring; of course, that will never happen (or will it?)...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Couldn't Close the Deal

If Jonah Freedman is to be believed, it looks like Bob Bradley will take over as interim U.S. coach now that Klinsmann is out, with an eye towards an eventual permanent position. These are uncertain times for USA fans, indeed. While I will be rooting for Bradley, or Jose Pekerman, or Sigi Schmid or whoever ends up taking over this team, I can't help escape the feeling that the status quo won out this time. I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

And While We're Still Talking About Diving...

I found this little goodie on Caught Offside:

Legalize Diving?

Who Ate All The Pies? has a pretty good set of quotes today from Wigan manager Paul Jewell, who, in an interview with Sky Sports News, has started advocating the legalization of diving in the wake of Saturday's Middlesbrough incident.

"The pubs open 24 hours a day and everybody was worried people would be drunk on the streets, well there are less drunks on the streets now than when they used to close at three o'clock. So we just allow it and stop everyone talking about it. One week you get away with it, the next week you wouldn't. So stop it in my opinion. People say it is cheating, but you ask any supporter and if one of our players goes down in the box and we need a penalty to stay in the league or win a cup. Do you know what they are going to say?"

This is an interesting opinion, and sure to be unpopular, but let's take some time to consider it. Would legalized diving take the pressure off of referees? If accountability is a two-way street, what protection would defenders have from facing yellow cards, following the embellishment of an attacker? Perhaps Jewell is right, however, and there really is nothing to see here. Taking away restrictions on diving could be interpreted as a sign of faith in the officials, who then might train a sharper eye towards recognizing play-acting; maybe officiating as a whole might improve.
The real question isn't whether or not diving should be legal, but whether or not it already is by default. Players go to ground all the time and get away with it, whether to earn free kicks, penalties, draw yellow cards on defenders or simply to catch a breather. The FA set a precedent earlier this year in choosing not to punish Didier Zokora after his dive against Portsmouth, and on pitches worldwide the idea of not going to ground is often considered a tactical miscue. I'd go so far as to say that most fans actually tolerate diving, so long as it's not carried out on a regular basis.
With all of that being said, of course diving should be punished. If defenders aren't allowed to hack away at attacking players, then strikers and wingers the world over shouldn't be allowed to act like they've been amputated by a challenge either. If anything, diving should be punished more often, and punitive measures such as video replay and retroactive yellow cards ought to be initiated. Such steps might not eliminate the practice altogether, but they may help make diving illegal, for a change.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

So Yeah...

Sorry if you've been having trouble viewing the site, I've been trying to add a few elements, if you will, without causing too many intrusions or aesthetic interruptions. Thanks for being patient, I promise not to go overboard...

West Ham Rapids

Here's a first live-action look (via sportslogos.net), at the new Colorado Rapids kit:

They are pretty much in line with the specs that Logan's Revenge put up in October, and I have to say that I quite like them. Nevertheless, we here on 116th Street feel compelled to send a little urgent memo over to Colorado: no more color changes, ok?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Do I Really Have To Write About Spurs Again?

Cristiano Ronaldo is a splendid talent, but also a serial diver who should face some kind of punishment for what he pulled Saturday night; of course, had he stayed on his feet, he would have scored anyway, so if I'm slightly less than sympathetic to the cause of Middlesbrough, please don't vilify me. In fact, if there is a theme to be found in this weekend's games, it would be that of not blaming the official for a loss, as exemplified by Tottenham boss Martin Jol following Spurs' defeat in the North London Derby.
In a match in which three "dubious" calls (a non-offside and two penalties) led to three goals for the home side, how could Tottenham blame the officiating when they weren't even aware that a match was being played that day? Those Ambien-ed zombies in white who took the field against Arsenal on Saturday showed none of the passion usually reserved for one of English football's most revered and contentious rivalries (perhaps not beating a side in seven years numbs the emotions of a derby). If all you need is "a team of Robbie Keanes," perhaps an investment in eleven alarm clocks should be in order as well.
Alright, I hear you, I'm being a bit harsh on Tottenham Hotspur; there were fleeting moments of passion, such as Benoit Assou-Ekotto's personal vendetta against Freddy Ljungberg, as well as a 15-20 minute stretch early in the second half in which Lee Young-Pyo (on for the dreadful Assou-Ekotto) and Jermaine Jenas helped establish some semblance of attack. Tottenham, who couldn't find the net if you spotted them a compass, two atlases and a freaking net, might even have been remedied by the insertion of Jermaine Defoe for the comatose Keane, but by the time he got on in the 80th minute, there wasn't much to do except get ready for Tuesday's Middlesbrough clash. How could Jol blame the officiating when he was just as asleep at the wheel as his players?