116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Coming To Terms

It's about time that I took this step; I now see that there are times when one must face facts and acknowledge certain truths previously ignored. That's right, I am going to do the unthinkable and give Didier Drogba his due. I can't recall dissing Drogba here on the site (which is fairly surprising considering the number of shots I've taken at Spurs over the same time period), but private conversations here on 116th Street have yielded a plethora of insults. We've hammered Didier over his lack of technique, lack of goals, perceived arrogance, perpetual diving, theatrics rivalled only by his drama queen of a manager, his first-choice status over Hernan Crespo, his benefit of playing alongside the World's Most Expensive Decoy (Andriy Shevchenko), and, first and foremost, that hideous perm. Plainly speaking, we are player-haters.
So maybe it is that we're in a slightly sympathetic mood towards Chelsea because of John Terry's injury, or perhaps Drogba's new cornrows instill a newfound sense of respectability, but we are here to say (gulp) that Didier Drogba is indeed a great striker. Where we once scratched our heads over his inclusion in the Chelsea side at the expense of Crespo, we now wonder where the Blues would be without him this season. Watching him in the Carling Cup final today (by the way, is it me or did Chelsea seriously over-celebrate that trophy?) there was no question that he was the most lethal threat by far from a fairly pedestrian Chelsea attack. The Arsenal back four was traumatically overmatched against him, and he's been doing this all season, in all competitions. With most of Chelsea's attackers underperforming this season, he's taken it upon himself to carry the load, and he's likely to finish at 35 goals or higher this season. Did the Shevchenko signing motivate him? Had he finally become fed up with Frank Lampard leading the squad in goals every season? Did his FIFA 07 rating really piss him off that much? Perhaps it's just that he's finally settled in England, or maybe he decided to really go after that Vidal Sassoon money, but either way, he's having a hell of a season. Didier Drogba, I salute you; now drop those braids and let that soul glow!

Friday, February 23, 2007

And In Other News...

Didn't I write about this (mostly in jest) just a few months ago?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Gangsta's Paradise

While watching Craig Bellamy, John Arne Riise and the rest of the Liverpool Karaoke All-Stars deliver a nicely placed nine-iron to the knee of mighty Barca last night, I couldn't help but notice the lack of form displayed by many of the Champions League's leading lights. Barcelona, known for its nearly-telepathic on-field chemistry, snipped and griped with each other as if they had suddenly been body-snatched and replaced with Madridistas. How fiercely does this Samuel Eto'o fire burn, that they cannot summon the teamwork required to dispatch a team who recently had one star player beat the $#!+ out of a teammate over a few notes of karaoke?
But no matter who you are (we're looking at you, Rafa Marquez), you have to give credit where it's due, and Liverpool were never rattled, even after going a goal down in the Camp Nou pressure-cooker. While nobody ever said the Reds don't have any fight in them, their ability to come from behind in pressure situations is beginning to border on legendary. Milan, West Ham and now Barca fans know of Liverpool's fighting spirit, but Craig Bellamy wants to make sure everyone knows just how ballsy they are:

That's right, kids; he celebrated his goal with a golf swing! Craig Bellamy is straight up gangsta.

Speaking of goal celebrations, Mark van Bommel's "up yours" to the Real Madrid supporters was pretty classic as well. Sure, Bayern lost the match, but they are steps closer to winning the war, getting two key away goals before heading home. Real Madrid, after looking unstoppable in the first half, wilted away in the second, and the infighting has begun anew at the Bernabeu. While it's true that it's only Jose Antonio Reyes doing the yapping (he always seems to be whining about something), there can be no doubt that Fabio Capello is losing the squad. How can you not second-guess Capello after seeing the nearly-banished David Beckham dominate the first half so thoroughly? To give (begrudging) credit to Reyes, he has a fair point; Capello's tinkering with positions and playing time has undermined the confidence of his squad. Real's failure to bury their old German rivals underscores this point.

In light of the situation at Lille, as well as in Italy, I don't think there's any question that the Premiership is poised to run away as the best league in soccer over the next few seasons. With so much TV money coming in, along with new investors and stadiums to provide stability, as well as overseas marketing clout, the league already has a leg up on its less-organized European counterparts. Add better security and safety for fans and players than is available elsewhere, and I don't see how more of the world's top starts choose not to play there. Serie A's problems are so severe and unfixable, expect a mass exodus to England by its biggest stars in the near future.

In the same vein, watching the Dynamo play in that unsafe stadium in Costa Rica makes the think that SuperLiga is an especially good idea. Nothing against the CONCACAF Champions Cup, but the field conditions and security situation in some of the smaller island countries is not on par with a Champions-League style tournament. In future years, SuperLiga should add a play-in round to add one club from a smaller country entry into the tournament, similar to the play-in rounds of the Champions League.

Last but not least, congratulations to AEG and the Los Angeles Galaxy for essentially getting David Beckham for free. If the San Diego Union Tribune is to be believed, bidding for the Galaxy's shirt-sponsorship rights is up to $49 million for 5 years, with Citibank holding the edge at the moment. That would more or less cover Beckham's salary, wouldn't it? We'll keep an eye on this one.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Garbage, Garbage Arsenal

Tomas Rosicky couldn't get them to follow. For all of his bounce, zip and attacking might Tuesday evening, Rosicky couldn't get one of his famous teammates to follow his passionate example: Thierry Henry's theatrics of fatigue were not matched by his actual work rate; Gilberto Silva could not make an imprint on the match if he tried (and he could have tried harder); Alexander Hleb seemed overwhelmed by the whole thing, and William Gallas is nowhere near match-ready at the moment; as for Emmanuel Adebayor, was he even playing the same match as everyone else?
Arsenal's ineptitude yesterday could be blamed on a number of maladies, whether Gallas' propensity for giving the ball to players in the wrong shirt, Henry's ineffectiveness against PSV's Brobdingnagian center-half Alex, or Adebayor's curious decision making process (at times I think he thinks he's playing a video game out there, the way he tries to go one-on-eleven), but after watching last night's match, along with several other lackluster Arsenal affairs, we here on 116th Street think it's time to focus our lens squarely on the boy wonder himself, Cesc Fabregas.
Far be it from us to go overboard in criticizing a 19-year-old starting in the spotlight of one of Europe's most glamorous clubs, but it was around this time a year ago that Cesc first started earning plaudits for his play in Arsenal's stunning run through the Champions League. Cesc was composed on the ball, capable of threading a perfect pass, and confident in his marking assignments; he remains all of those things today, and while he was no more or less passive than any of his teammates yesterday, the fact is that his spirit means more to the success of the club than that of any other player, just as it did when Patrick Vieira was captain at Highbury.
Arsenal's renowned style is dependent upon a quick transition from defense to attack, usually generated by a composed, decisive central midfielder; thus it is that when Fabregas plays slow, Arsenal plays slow. For the Gunners, Henry may be captain, and Gilberto may be the heart and soul of the side, but Cesc is the engine. That may be more pressure than should be given to a 19-year-old (and Arsene Wenger might do well to alleviate Cesc some by playing the 4-5-1 that worked so well last season), but for the club to improve it will need more urgency from its precocious midfielder. Thankfully for The Arsenal, time is on the side of Cesc Fabregas.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Major League Posing

We here on 116th Street are very big fans of the Champions League. It is, in fact one of the primary things that attracts us to the game, and the fact that it has been on hiatus for the better part of a month gives us no joy (in fact, one could even go as far as to say that the lack of Champions League activity and the lack of posts on this blog have more than an indirect relationship). We are also big fans of any tournament idea that tries to mimic Champions League-style action, which is why we are such strong proponents of the SuperLiga. There is, however, one thing that is presently bugging us to no end, and that is Major League Soccer's attempt to not only recreate a Champions League-style competition, but to seemingly recreate the clubs of the very league on U.S. soil.
To recap: months ago, rumors of a rebrand of the Colorado Rapids began surfacing on BigSoccer.com; part of the speculation became reality when the Rapids' claret and sky blue uniforms were leaked not long ago. The second part of the rumor, a proposed name change to "Colorado Arsenal" was summarily brushed aside as a dead-end proposal, until yesterday. Once the lords in charge of the Rapids' website got caught testing a few pages online, some of which contained Colorado Arsenal imagery, the cat was out of the bag, and the fires of Rapids rebranding innuendo ignited once again.
While we here on 116th Street are not MLS aficionados, per se, we do like the league well enough and hope for its success. So while we can go along with a couple of FC's (Dallas and Toronto are tolerable, but no more after, please), we cannot justify the total ripoff of a more famous club's identity for the sake of luring in more "hardcore" supporters. So while we know that there is more than one United, Real, Inter and even Arsenal in the world, we also know that having a United, Real, Arsenal, and Inter (which was going to be Toronto FC's name, I don't care how anyone spins it), not to mention a Chivas, Dynamo and Red Bull (not quite as easily associated with European soccer but still the name of another team) is an effing joke. How can you have six teams in your league that share a name with a club overseas, plus a couple of "FC's" and convince anyone that you're not a bunch of posers?
So this is what we've come to, Arsenal vs. United, with nary a Champions League berth or Premiership standing on the line. Nope, we won't have any North Londoners or Geordies or Hammers or Red Devils supporters around. Next time Arsenal plays United, there will be more Broncos and Redskins colors on display than anything else. Sure, if you own an MLS team you can name it whatever you want; but isn't this naming thing running a little rampant? After all, if I ever really wanted to watch a fake Champions League club, I'd just watch Tottenham.