116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Big Finish

Let's take a moment to generously welcome Michael Owen, Sunderland (we see you, Keano), and Birmingham City back to the Premiership. Generally speaking, we here on 116th Street are big fans of promotion/ relegation, but with that being said, there is no way I'm getting up in time to watch Wolverhampton vs. West Brom at 7:15 AM on Sunday. Nevertheless, there is so much drama taking place this weekend that it puts a nice cap on a generally lackluster season.

Clint Dempsey is now a goal hero for Fulham, and Rafa Benitez has his third-place spot on the line. He may not care at all, considering that winning the Champions League this year is more important than playing for position in next season's tournament, but with Arsenal bearing down on the Reds, you have to wonder what kind of lineup he's going to field against an already relegated Charlton side. It will be interesting to see how hard Charlton plays on Sunday, particularly in light of a Portsmouth-Arsenal match in which the Gunners should be throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Pompey.
Any Wolves fans out there? I like their logo, and generally like to see teams get into the Prem who haven't been there in a while. Nevertheless, I'm hitting the snooze button on the Championship until the final. After all, with such a tight race (not to mention later games) in La Liga, I can only devote my time to so many races! Seriously, does anybody want to win that league? Saturday brings us Real Madrid vs. Espanyol, as well as Sevilla playing Recreativo Huelva, with Barcelona matching up against Real Betis on Sunday. You never know which team is going to fold from week to week in Spain, so this ought to be fun. I say the Madridistas take the title, but then again, I've never been any good at predictions. So this is it, last weekend of the Premiership, last truly exciting weekend before the Champions League final. What am I going to do with myself when the season is over?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Ascension?

While far from a fan of either side, I can say with full honesty that I was hoping for a Manchester United vs. Chelsea Champions League final. Here on 116th street, we love the unprecedented and the unusual; thus the thought of two teams meeting head to head three times, once to decide the Premiership, once to decide the FA Cup and once more to decide the Champions League, had us in full salivation mode. Now, thanks to Bolton Wanderers, Liverpool and AC Milan (in addition to the phenomenally generous contributions of the aforementioned Manchester United and Chelsea), very little of this will actually come to pass, and we are forced to look elsewhere in our search for footballing perfection.
Where will we look? As exciting as it may be to wait for Steven Gerrard to bail out Liverpool in yet another cup final, I've just about had it with Bolo Zenden, Peter Crouch and the rest of the Reds' decidedly unimaginative band of scrappers. Ronaldo, Rooney and the rest of Man U were pretty crappy against Milan yesterday, and while they may yet shine again in the FA Cup final, I can't shake the feeling that their opportunity for true magic this season vanished at the San Siro. No kids, there is only one place to look for redemption for this dreadful season (what absolutely terrible league champions we've had to endure this season, all across Europe; does anyone in Spain even deserve to win?); all objections to catennaccio and match-fixing aside, we must look to Italy to find our answer.

The greatest philosophical minds couldn't have said it any better; "Reality is Kaka." Long-overshadowed by more famous teammates such as Shevchenko and Maldini, I believe we have finally arrived at the point in which Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (hereby dubbed "Reality") makes his mark upon football history. He was brilliant for 45 minutes two years ago against Liverpool, but bad tactics, Liverpool's resilience and Steven Gerrard robbed him of his moment. He is back for revenge this year, and I surely hope he gets it, for the sake of all that is beautiful and right about the game. I want the diamond to make a comeback. Nothing against flashy wingers like Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, but I want my Zidanes and Rui Costas back. Kaka embodies that spirit, the spirit of the perfect through ball, the trailing finish, the unselfish playmaker. Not reliant upon dribbling, but still capable of dribbling circles around the opposition, he is the player at the top of the diamond that we desperately needed during a World Cup of 4-5-1's and "magic squares." So while my distaste for Italian soccer makes me feel somewhat guilty for saying this, I will be rooting for Milan, for Kaka, for the hope of the spectacular, in the final. May he finally take his place alongside the icons.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Young & The Trophyless

Heading into the home stretch, with the final legs of the Champions League semifinals today and tomorrow, a Serie A champion already crowned, the Premiership all but decided and La Liga limping into a hazy conclusion, I've had to stop and ask myself the question of what actually constitutes success in the footballing world. I recall teasing Chelsea for what I thought was an over-celebration of the Carling Cup, with at least one Chelsea fan telling me such a celebration is warranted, a trophy is a trophy, after all.
Thing is, after watching the events of the past weekend, is there any question that the Blues will be more than dissatisfied if the only thing they walk away with this season is the Carling Cup? What if they "only" claim the FA Cup this year? Would they then look upon the season as a success, or is it Premiership, Champions League or bust?
Gennaro Gattuso is shocked at how far Milan have come in the Champions League. Nearly relegated at the start of the season, deducted eight points and forced to go through European pre-qualifying, the Rossoneri find themselves down 3-2 on aggregate to Manchester United, but hold two away goals going into the second leg. For Milan, this season did not begin with the usual expectations, yet they stand a more than reasonable chance to achieve European glory yet again. Should they fail, would their loss be the icing on a disappointing season, or do they walk away with their heads held high, morally victorious? Does Milan ever even consider a moral victory to be a legitimate outcome?
Manchester United, within sniffing distance of the Premiership title, doesn't really have to worry about moral victories or what ifs, barring a total and unlikely collapse. They are focused on the league, pushing for a double and dreaming of a treble. What a luxury it must be, the ability to dream this big this late in the season. Suppose they do pull off the treble this year, leaving a Carling Cup to Chelsea and scraps to Liverpool and AC Milan. Suppose, going further, that Liverpool beats Chelsea to make the Champions League final. Would that give a trophy-less Liverpool team a better season than Carling Cup winners Chelsea? Would AC Milan have the most to be proud of, considering all they've been through? I can't say I can really sort any of this out, but it is fascinating to contemplate.