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One Goal Can Spark A Revolution

 Posted by on October 14, 2013 at 3:50 pm  Blogs/Media
Oct 142013

3d887ff224152b9eaa51fb0aefda5cee 300x199 One Goal Can Spark A Revolution

World Cup Qualifying can bring out the best and worst in football. Because of the dynamics of playing within one’s continent the sharks and minnows are more present than ever. The critics are right: rarely do we get a match where the teams are even, where the millionaires of the sport care enough to work for ninety minutes and give their all. For those who were able to be in the park in Colombia or watch the match from their homes, be it on the computer or beINSPORT, the fans of the international game got their money’s worth with Colombia v Chile on Friday night.

Colombia came into the match with everything working in their favor. A home match in Barranquilla, a place which South American expert Tim Vickery stated on the World Phone In is a place where, “it is so hot that it is even sweltering in the shade with a fruit drink” provided Colombia the spot where their ravenous fans can show their passion. The job seemed simple: get a point and they are in the World Cup for the first time since 1998. It has been a long time since the 1994 World Cup, the golden generation of Colombian where expectations were to win the win World Cup.

I do not necessarily believe in curses, but I do believe that Colombia has needed a change in philosophy since their teams from the 1990s. Players like Radamel Falcao, the striker from AS Monaco striker, and Forward Jackson Martinez, who plays for Porto in Portugal, have shook up the foundation of Colombian soccer and brought the team back to relevance in South American and international soccer. Friday’s match showed how far they have come as they came back from a 3-0 deficit to tie Chile to claim a spot for Brazil.

Losing a player as prestigious as Andres Escobar in such an unfathomable situation will do that to a team and culture within a country. Football is a large part of the reason why Colombia has been embroiled in civil conflict since the 1980’s. Drugs are also another factor. But things are improving. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures economic and social development in developing countries, Colombia has seen a marked improvement in health, education, and income. The football team has also improved, defeating Uruguay 4-0 at home and drawing 0-0 with Argentina in Buenos Aires during World Cup Qualifying.

Chile is no pushover though and showed it. Chilean manager Jorge Sampaoli has played an aggressive style of attack that showed the team going to the round 16 in the 2010 World Cup and on the cusp of the World Cup. Within 15 minutes of the first half, Chile had already gone up 3-0 on a pair of goals by F.C. Barcelona midfielder Alexis Sanchez and a penalty by Arturo Vidal, who plays for Juventus.

For the first 40 minutes, Chile was owning Colombia on all aspects of the game. They were strangling all Colombian attacks in the midfield by playing a tight marking system. Their defense, which has been suspect all during qualifying, was giving a serviceable effort. And of course Chile was doing what Chile does best: pushing the ball to the outside so that they can spread the field for long crosses into their dynamic attacking options. This plan of attack worked for most of the match, but by the end of the second half you could see that Colombia had some glimmer of hope in them.

One of the funny things about soccer is how quickly tempo and confidence can change. We may not be able to quantify it, but it can change with just one simple moment. That happened in the 58th minute when Chilean midfielder Carlos Carmona was ejected from the match for an incredibly reckless challenge. Although he is a young player, such ignorant fouls like the one that he put on should be avoided at all costs. Colombia is not a minnow and giving them an opportunity to have some leverage, even with a deficit of 3-0 going against them, is a costly and foolish decision.

With a man up, Colombia began to show people what they can with some advantage and a bit of life. With a few minutes of the sending off, Forward Jaime Guitierrez scored off of a rebound to give the team some life. Though Colombia’s goal came off of an extremely questionable call, what matters is that Falacao buried the shot in the lower left corner to climb within one. With that goal and the improved play, the roar that the crowd in Barranquila had shown at the beginning of the first half was back. It sounded like 15 years of frustration coming out in one loud rush of emotion. There was joy in the crowd, like people could finally celebrate. As the great Ray Hudson during the match, “What was once a graveyard is now Studio 54.”

After the second goal, Chile looked shocked. They could barely muster a defensive against Falcao’s diving header that went wide in the 77th minute. You would thought that the roles were reversed and that Chile was the team vying for their first World Cup in a generation and Colombia were the seasoned vets. Chile’s poise and confidence was done and another goal for Colombia seemed inevitable.
Clutch goals come from either moments of brilliance or defensive lapses. Colombia’s tying goal came from both. In the 82nd minute, Colombian striker Jaimes Rodriguez took a sprinting cross into the box and was taken down on a very late challenge by the Chilean goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo. Goalkeepers always take a risk by taking out a forward, but with an advantage in the box, he made an incredibly poor choices. Falcao finished the penalty shot and tied Colombian legend Faustino Asprilla for third all-time in goals for Colombia. He also cemented Colombia’s spot in the 2014 World Cup.

Although football fans are often inundated with meaningless matches and uneven World Cup Qualifying matches, Friday’s match between Chile and Colombia proved that there are exceptions to the rule. For a country that has been mired in a football depression for fifteen years, and suffered enough internal strife and terror for a lifetime, it was good to see one of South America’s football powers back to prominence.

Oct 132013

Although the Columbus Crew are still mathematically capable of making the playoffs, I’m going to assume they aren’t getting in for the sake of this discussion. Even if they do manage to sneak, I don’t see making the playoffs as enough of an accomplishment to award the head coaching job to Brian Bliss.

I’m still not entirely sold on Bliss and so I’m going to do the rational thing and create a “pros” and “cons” list to determine if he should in fact take over after the 2013 season concludes.

Pro: He Pushes The Right Buttons

There can be no denying how much more motivated this team has looked ever since Bliss took over for Robert Warzycha. By all accounts the players are more loose in training and that in turn has produced a much more confident group come game day. The question is: how much of this is attributed to Bliss and how much is attributed to the departure of Warzycha? Would any other coach have been able to produce the same results? It’s “chicken vs. egg” question, but it’s also worth considering when discussing the possibility of Bliss taking over permanently.

Con: Conservative Tactics

Brian Bliss is getting results on the field, but he has done so with very little tactical imagination. He has trotted out a very traditional 4-4-1-1 with Federico Higuain tucked in behind lone striker Jairo Arrieta and natural forward Dominic Oduro out wide on the right. Robert Warzycha trotted out this same lineup on several occasions and I was really hoping we’d see something new from Bliss. Oduro isn’t a midfielder and as a result Chad Barson/Josh Williams end up on an island when it comes to defending the flanks. Ultimately I’d like to see someone with less conservative tactics take over this offseason.

Pro: He Helped Build The Current Roster

Since Brian Bliss was a technical director before taking over, we know what he is capable of in terms of scouting and discovering talent. You can’t say that about half of the teams in MLS whose coaches spend more time deferring such duties to a technical director or GM. Bliss is the man who found and helped sign Federico Higuain. He also gave us the aforementioned Arrieta and Oduro as well as 20 year old Wil Trapp, who came up through the academy.

Con: He Helped Build The Current Roster

For every Higuain on Bliss’s resume there’s a Glauber and a Matias Sanchez. We spent much of this season complaining about how, in the end, most of the players on this roster simply aren’t good enough. Well, Bliss is responsible for that as well. He brought in guys like Tony Tchani, Tyson Wahl, Aaron Schoenfeld, etc. One has to wonder if he is capable of finding 20-25 good players and not just half a dozen.

Pro: He’s Cheap

Bliss was once an interim head coach for Kansas City, but other than that he has spent much of his post-playing career as a technical director. He won’t command very much in terms of salary, even if the Crew do manage to sneak into the playoffs. I’d like to see the organization look outside of former MLS coaches and players, but that will likely cost more in salary than whatever Bliss negotiates.

Con: His Attire Is Cheap

I love the guy, but he looks like he bought his game day attire off the sales rack at Kohls. I’m sure he wasn’t making a ton as technical director, but surely it was enough to afford some nice suits.


At the end of the day, I think there is someone else out there who can take this team to new heights under the new ownership group. This may be the biggest offseason in the team’s history. There is an opportunity to conduct a thorough search for a new head coach and even a new GM/President. If Anthony Precourt and Co. get this offseason right, there’s no reason this team can’t compete for the Supporters Shield and a CONCACAF Champions League spot right away next season. I would love to see an international candidate take over. Bliss can remain on staff as a technical director and explain the roster construction rules to whoever takes over for him. Guillermo Barros Schelotto has already been asked about it and shrugged off speculation saying he’s happy in Argentina and would like to fulfill his current deal which is set to expire in June of 2014.

Bliss has done a great job in the interim role, but at the end of the day I don’t think he’s tactically proficient enough to be in charge of the team going forward. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I’d want to keep him around as technical director is if an MLS outsider comes in to take over. He’s had too many misses when building this roster over the last five years. I want to see exciting, unconventional hires across the board this offseason. I’d like to see this roster blown up now, right after the team has been sold to new ownership.

This is truly the dawning of a new era in Columbus and that means it’s time to take bold risks. It’s time to go off the beaten path. It’s time for a new direction.

Zusi leads States to Victory in Kansas City

 Posted by on October 12, 2013 at 2:47 pm  Blogs/Media
Oct 122013

After a indifferent first half which showed why Jamaica had progressed to this point in qualification the locally based Graham Zusi came on for Landon Donovan as a second half sub and made his impact in scoring the first, and only needed, goal for the US as America defeated the island nation 2-0 at a vocal Sporting Park in Kansas City.

Initially Jamaica showed that they were intending to give their faint playoff hopes credence but it was the extreme measures of Brad Evans who provided the best save as he cleared the ball of the line and saving the United States from being down early in the match.

From an offensive look the States were not good for the attendees money as they struggled to break down Jamaica. But as has been the case in recent times the halftime adjustments have paid off.

With the changes in personnel and changing the shape the United States was making more forays into the Jamaica half culminating with Zusi’s goal which gave the sold-out crowd the desired goal and for all purposes broke the will of Jamaica that everything else that would follow would be seen as a total dominating appearance.

Jozy Altidore was able to score a rather easy goal as he was unmarked and onside for a point blank shot from 5 feet out and the party was in full sway with flags waving, scarves swinging, and voices bellowing their pleasure as the United States firmly established themselves as the best team in the region.

With this win the United States has gone again with winning all their home matches in qualification for yet another cycle.

Something that no nation can claim. An achievement to be proud of.

Oct 102013


Fifa World Cup 2014 Brazil 3 213x300 Weekend World Cup Qualifying Preview

Hotter than a summer in Rio, World Cup Qualifying picked up in September with teams from UEFA, CONMEBOL, and CONCACAF qualifying for next’s showcase in Brazil. Here is the list of teams that have already qualified thus far for Brazil 2014.










Costa Rica










South Korea


United States




With that in mind, let’s get to Friday’s games!

(Note: I did not include any of the friendlies that are being played over the weekend. Since this article is about World Cup Qualifying, it did not seem like a strong fit. Plus I am not sure why Brazil is playing Zambia in China.)


Matches You Will Most Likely Be Watching


Mexico v Panama (9:30pm ESPNews, UniMas)

If you had said to me seven months ago that this would be a “must-win” match for El Tri, I would not have believed. Mexico finds themselves in the dubious position of being in fifth place in the CONCACAF Qualification bracket, behind Panama on goals scored (7-4). Although they should have the advantage playing at home against Panama, fans of El Tri should not sleep on “The Canal Men.”  Panama should actually be ahead of Mexico on points but the club drop two points against Jamaica in a 0-0 draw at home September. Having had the chance to watch them grow over these past few years, you can see that this is a team that believes in themselves and wants the chance to go to Brazil. Their captain, Felipe Baloy, has extensive experience playing in Mexico for Santos Laguna and should provide composure on a very young backline. Also look out for their goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. Although I was a bit skeptical of him in my piece on the Los Angeles Galaxy, that was more to do with him acclimating himself to a new club. With the Panama national team, he has been superb with making key saves and providing leadership for the other players.

I am very concerned about Mexico in this match. Although history tells us that Mexico at home is one of the most surefire bets in professional soccer, this is not the same Mexico team that has terrorized CONCACAF since its inception. It always felt like when I would watch Mexico play that they liked it when the other team scored, that it meant there was a real competition. Well now there is real competition in CONCACAF and Mexico seems to be failing. Although they played very well in the first half against the United States in their last qualification match, their confidence just evaporated after the first goal was scored.  New head coach Victor Vucetich has been successful  with Monterrey, winning the Apertura 2009 and 2010 and is a 4-time winner of the CONCACAF Champions League (2010-2011, 2011-2012, and 2012-2013) so he has some understanding of how football is played within the region. I also like that he was able to convince Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to come back and play. Mexico’s goalkeeping has been terrible for months and Ochoa, who plays for Ajaccio in Ligue 1, should be an upgrade. Mexico needs three points in this match, especially with their final match of qualifying being played at Costa Rica on Tuesday.


United States v Jamaica (6:30pm, ESPN)

I hesitate to put this match as a match worth watching because  it is a match where very little is at stake (the United States has already qualified and Jamaica is all but eliminated,) since it is the United States and it will be shown at every bar during happy hour on Friday it is worth taking a look at. With two matches remaining, the United States will probably use this match as a means to test the team’s squad depth and to see what sort of chemistry can be created. Although international breaks are often criticized (and rightfully so) for being useless, the matches that a team has between the end of qualification and the start of World Cup play are important and very few.  So for the United States, these next two matches are great opportunities to play against teams that are still have a shot at qualifying.

It will be interesting to see how certain players step up given some of the injuries on the team. With no Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Brad Evans, and Jermaine Jones, players like Sacha Kljeistan and Mix Diskerud will be given opportunities to show what they can do and show that they deserve to be in the 18 that is named to play in the World Cup. I am also interested to see how U.S. National Team Jurgen Klinsmann chooses to use winger Aron Johansson. The AZ Alkmaar striker has shown in limited appearances so far that he can be a spark plug off of the bench and provide that little bit of creativity in the box from the forward position that the U.S. has not had in 20 years.

For Jamaica, needing three points and A LOT of help in other matches, I hope that they come out of the box swinging. I am not sure what happened between this time last year, when they beat the United States at “The Office,” their home stadium in Kingston, and now. They looked like they were going to be a very difficult team to get points off of when they drew with Mexico in Mexico earlier this year.  The lineup that they will be bringing to Kansas City on Friday night is stacked with players playing in MLS and in England. Players like Defenders Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo) and Adrian Mariappa (Crystal Palace,) and Forwards Ryan Johnson (Portland Timbers,) and Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps) are all quality players who will make life difficult for the United States. The one player to really watch out for though is Forward Deshorn Brown. The 23 year old forward for the Colorado Rapids has had a great rookie season with the club, scoring 7 goals and has helped lead the Rapids back into relevancy.


England v Montenegro (3pm Fox Sports 1)

It is fairly easy to knock the English for their lackluster play thus far in World Cup Qualifying. I am sure that any person in London can pick up a magazine on the street corner and read about how terrible the team is. But I would like to give some credit where credit is due: beyond Moldova and San Marino, England is playing one of the more difficult groups in Europe. Poland, Ukraine, and Montenegro, have all proven to be very capable opponents for one of the “top teams in the world.” Although the English do have two home games to finish off qualification, neither Montenegro nor Poland will be an easy three points.

For the English to win they are going two things to happen. First, Joe Hart is going to have play like one of the best goalkeepers in the world. His play has really suffered since being humiliated in the Euro’s last year against Italy. His play for England has been at best spotty, and he has looked lost for Manchester City. Hart has shown in the past that he can be a dominant goalkeeper, that he can make game-changing plays and dictate the flow of a match. They will need him at the top of his game against the likes of Hart’s teammate at Manchester City Forward Stevan Jovetic.

Second, the Three Lions need for Wayne Rooney to be Wayne Rooney. Rooney has been quite effective for England scoring 5 goals during Qualifying. Although his form his time with Manchester United this season has been turbulent (when is it not?) he always seems to use the international breaks as a release for his frustrations with his club. England has scored 25 goals during Qualification and Manager Roy Hodgson seems to have found a role for the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, and Frank Lampard, with each playing an important part in the English attack. But it is Rooney with his creativity and ability to make plays in small spaces that drives this English attack and will be the deciding factor on Friday’s result.

Montenegro will be a very difficult team to draw three points off of. Bear in mind this is the same Montenegrin team that secured a draw in qualification for the 2012 European Championships.  But they will be without starting forward Mirko Vucinic (Juventus-Italy,) goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic (Tom Tomsk-Russia,) center back Marko Basa (Lille-France,) and midfielder Miodrag Pekovic  (Hansa Rostock-Russia.) The Brave Falcons will have to rely on Defender Stefan Savic (Fiorentina-Italy,) Midfielder Nikola Drincic (Rapid Wien-Austria,) and Forward Dejan Damjanovic (F.C. Seoul) to pick up the slack. Damjanovic has scored 3 goals in Qualification thus far, including the one that secured a draw against England in March.

With injuries piling up, and an automatic three points against Moldova on Tuesday, Montenegro may just try and settle for a point in this match.


Game Worth Getting on the Big Screen At Happy Hour

Ecuador v Uruguay (5pm beINSPORT Spanish)

This is the most important match of this round of World Cup Qualifying.  In Uruguay’s last two Qualifying matches, they turned around what had been a very disappointing campaign. In the teams past two matches, they went on the road against Peru (playing at altitude) and  played  Colombia at home and secured 6 points. Coupled with Ecuador’s 1-0 loss at home to Colombia, both teams are now tied on points with 22.

However it may be too little, too late for Uruguay. They are still behind Ecuador on goal differential (+4,) and would have to secure some kind of result against Argentina on Tuesday. Although Uruguay sports some of CONMEBOLs best strikers in Luis Suarez (10 goals) and Edinson Cavani (4 goals,) Ecuador has only given up 14 goals during Qualification. Of those 14, only 3 were at the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa, their home stadium in Quito. Their defense, which is led by Walter Ayoyi (Pachuca,) is excellent at man-marking and rarely loses their shape.

Ecuador does not have the players up front to go goal for goal for Uruguay, so look for them to try and take their opportunities on the counter when they can run a defensive strategy that emphasizes possession. Spain showed in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup that Uruguay can beaten by maintaining possession and limiting their chances in the final 1/3rd of the field. I would imagine that Ecuador’s manager, Reinaldo Rueda, will try and employ a similar strategy.

Other Games Available to Watch on Television:

Germany v Austria (2:30pm ESPN2)

Sweden v Austria (2:45pm GolTV)

Honduras v Costa Rica (5pm beINSPORT)

Argentina v Peru (7pm beINSPORT)

Senegal v Ivory Coast (Saturday 1pm, beINSPORT)

Tunisia v Cameroon (Sunday 1pm, be INSPORT)


Games Worth Scouring the Internet For

Burkina Faso v Algeria (12pm beINSPORT play)

Although Burkina Faso and Algeria do not have the pedigree of Senegal and the Ivory Coast, or Egypt and Ghana (by the way, why the hell is that game not available on television?) the Stallions and the Desert Foxes should make for an interesting pairing. The two teams play very similar styles that focus on a solid defense and making their opportunities off of the counter-attack. While Algeria brings back a team mostly composed of veterans from their 2010 World Cup, Burkina Faso made it all the way to the final of the 2013 African Cup of Nations. A solid set of games between these two could further prove the need for FIFA to allocate more World Cup spots to CAF.

Burkina Faso rode this style to the final of the African Cup of Nations, where they were ultimately beaten by Nigeria. Their top defender is Bakary Kone who is a regular for Lyon in the French first division. He is a very tall, strong defender who showed in the Africa Cup of Nations that he can hold down tough, imposing forwards. They are going to have difficulty scoring though. The club only scored seven goals in the previous round of qualification, which in Africa’s final round. Burkina will rely on Forward Moumouni Dagano. The former Sochaux and Genk striker is Burkina Faso’s all-time leading goal scorer but has yet to score a goal during qualifying. Their other main target is Fortuna Dusseldorf Forward Artiside Bance, who has scored 2 goals in qualifying.

Although Algeria still prioritizes defense, they have developed a couple of scoring options. Forward Islam Slimani, who plays for Sporting CP in the Portugese Premier League, has scored 5 goals in qualifying and against Burkina Faso in a friendly in June.  They also have Ishak Befodil, who was signed by Inter Milan this summer. The 21 year old is one many Algerian who grew up in the French academy, but chose to play for Algeria. He has only made two appearances for the senior national team, but tremendous speed and upside. Their defense is anchored by Left Back Djamel Mesbah, who plays for Parma in Serie A, and Centre Back Carl Medjani of Olympiacos in Greece.

With Algeria’s attacking advantage, it will be difficult for Burkina Faso to make it through to the World Cup. But this is a team that showed by beating Mali and Ghana en route to the African Cup of Nations that they can play with teams that have skills advantages by remaining composed on defense and making the most of their limited chances on the attack. Despite their lack of football history, the Stallions can defeat Algeria.

Croatia v Belgium (noon, ESPN3 and ESPN Deportes)

There may be many other games this weekend that have much more at stake, but there are few matches that provide the quality of players like this Croatia and Belgium match. In order to receive the automatic qualification spot in Group A, Croatia would have to win their next two matches and Belgium would need to lose their next two matches.  Despite how unlikely this situation would be, Croatia is bringing all of their starters into this match. If nothing else, it will provide an excellent opportunity for their starters to have one more quality match before the UEFA playoffs begin.

Of course, when one looks at the roster of Croatia names like Mario Mandzukic of Bayern Munich, Luka Modric of Real Madrid, and Nikica Jelavic of Everton automatically pop out. Croatia has always been known for their outstanding offensive players. But it is this team’s defense that has really led the way. The team has only allowed 5 goals in qualifying and was able to secure a draw 1-1 against Belgium in Brussels in June. They are going to have their hands full against the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Christian Benteke, and Eden Hazard tomorrow but they should have adequate resources up front to counter any Belgian attack.

Although the Belgians have been quite impressive in qualifying, losing Vincent Kompany to an injury on Sunday will make things more difficult for this squad. Belgium is immensely talented, but they are also very young and still gaining experience. In Kompany’s absence, they will look to Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen to replace him. That is a pretty good replacement, but they are going to need someone to step up and replace Kompany’s leadership and ability to keep a team composed under duress. The Belgians are lucky in that they only need to get a point in the next two matches to secure the automatic qualification place in Group A. But a loss against Croatia would make things interesting going into Tuesday’s match with Gareth Bale and Wales. If nothing else, this should be an excellent chance for anyone who wants to watch two of the best teams in the world try and prove who is better.


Other Notable Matches Available on Standard Internet Packages (Check out ESPN3 and beINSPORT Play for the Full Slate.)

Netherlands v Hungary (2pm, ESPN3)

Slovenia v Norway (2:40pm ESPN3)

Colombia v Chile (7pm beINSPORT Play)





Which Wrestling Villain Is Luis Suarez?

 Posted by on October 8, 2013 at 8:10 pm  Blogs/Media, England, EPL, Liverpool
Oct 082013

International breaks suck. Especially when your favorite nation (USA!!! USA!!!) has already qualified and doesn’t really have a shot at playing for a seed.

I could continue to harp on how bad of an idea Liverpool’s new three center back system is. If I wanted to, I could talk about how super awesome Daniel Sturridge is. Heck, I probably SHOULD be writing about how it’s okay for us to go ahead and believe that title No.19 is quickly becoming a legitimate possibility.

But that’s boring and there’s a million places you can go for such talk. I’m here to talk about the real issues.

Like which professional wrestling villain is more comparable to Luis Suarez.

Suarez is despised by just about everyone who doesn’t support Liverpool (and even some Liverpool supporters have been turned off by his summer antics) but at the end of the day he’s still must-see TV. He’s arguably the third best player in the world. He loves to go to ground easily around the box. He’s got all the ingredients to be a classic wrestling villain. Let’s see how he stacks up to the some  of the greatest villains in wrestling history, with their ranking according to a recent WWE list (which can be found here)…

*Full Disclosure: I’m 25 years old, so unfortunately you won’t find any discussions of Sgt. Slaughter or Killer Kowalski in this list*

Vickie Guerrero

Excuse me…Excuse Me…EXCUSE ME!!!

Technically she never enters the ring, but the former GM of Monday Night Raw is incredibly annoying. “Annoying” is probably the one word that best describes Luis Suarez. Guerrero is always being interrupted by the crowd and constantly has to ask for everyone’s attention to get her message out. Suarez also tends to find his runs into the box interrupted by defenders and often has to plead with the referee for some attention.

Iron Sheik

This is about as old school as it will get in this discussion (other than my top pick, who will be revealed shortly). An over the top stereotype, the Iron Sheik loved to run his mouth and still does quite  a bit on Twitter these days. He was often the embodiment of America’s political enemies. Suarez doesn’t really fit in here except I think there’s a bit of an element of racism in the way he is treated. Plenty of players dive as often as he does, but in general I think Hispanic players bear the brunt of the wrath of the general public. There’s an unfair association with diving and Cental/South America and Suarez embodies that association.


No comparison here, I just wanted to give a shout out to (Spoiler Alert!) the Undertaker’s brother. Kane is absolutely terrifying and let’s no man intimidate him. Luis Suarez does not have any such characteristics.

Randy Orton

Orton’s nickname is “the Viper” and Luis Suarez is often viewed as something of a snake. I don’t disagree. Both of these men love to lie low and strike at the most opportune moment.

Edge, The Rated-R Superstar

Edge is just a flat out unlikable d-bag. Most people outside of Liverpool’s loyal ranks would probably tend to agree. His finishing move (SPEAR!) is a little too physical for the likes of Suarez, but the level of contempt among the general population for both is pretty comparable. Edge often likes to whine when he doesn’t get his way and Suarez was pretty whiny over the summer when he tried to force his way out of Liverpool.

Chris “Y2J” Jericho

Now we’re getting closer to a legitimate comparison. Jericho’s ego is one of the largest in the history of professional wrestling (and that’s saying something) and Suarez showed us a glimpse of such ego during his summer drama. Both of these men love to troll their haters and seem to feed off of the hatred. They are the best at what they do and are incredibly entertaining, no matter how despicable they may behave at any given time.

Ric Flair (1…2…3…WINNER!!!)

Here’s my pick for the most accurate comparison. Flair is an all-time great among the wrestling ranks. Suarez still has a way to go in his career, but his ability easily belongs in the Top 5 of current footballers. Like Jericho, Flair fed off the negative energy and entertained even the most ardent of his haters.

The biggest trait they both share is their “sneakiness”. Flair resorted to downright dirty tactics and did whatever it took to win. Likewise, Suarez has earned his reputation as a diver and is no stranger to dirty tactics (see: Branislav Ivanovic’s arm). It is the combination of this “sneakiness” and their ability (both of which are simultaneously connected and completely separate) that makes such a match made in infamy.

Both of them also have a…here it comes…FLAIR for the dramatic!!! Goodnight everybody!


What do you think? Is there another wrestling villain out there who is comparable to the polarizing Uruguayan?

The Kid is the Real Deal!

 Posted by on October 7, 2013 at 2:43 pm  Blogs/Media, England, Manchester United, Sunderland
Oct 072013

Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United
70303547 adnanjanuzaj1 The Kid is the Real Deal!Absolutely abject throughout, squeaky-bum time turned out to be two quick farts from a brilliant Adnan Januzaj to kill off a hard-working but painfully impotent Sunderland side at the Stadium of Light. Inept and completely void of communication, United were clearly intent upon losing a third successive league game in a row for the first time since December 2001 as Phil Jones, Nemanja Vidic and even Rafael Da Silva unleashed a plethora of comedy capers, as one embarrassing blunder at the back followed another. Had Sunderland owned the least iota of moxy vis-a-vis finishing, Kevin Ball would now have a full-time job as their manager. Unfortunately, still at the bottom of the table with just one point, caretaker boss Ball’s side missed a slew of sitters as United, collectively terrified of the bulk of the big Yank, Jozy Altidore, repeatedly avoided making even the slightest contact with him.

When Adnan Januzaj grabbed two clever goals in the second half, the hugs and kisses of pure relief planted on his forehead by Patrice Evra were those of a man pardoned at the last second in front of a firing squad. Making his first start for United, the 18-year-old enjoyed a dream debut. Save for Sunderland’s Adam Johnson, who took turns switching wings and humiliating both Rafael and Evra throughout the match until his puzzling substitution, Januuzaj conjured up a brilliant man-of-the-match performance and a plethora of comparisons to the likes of George Best, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs. Although he still looks only about twelve-years-old this little pocket Exocet–who we managed to nick from Anderlecht’s academy almost three years ago–absolutely oozes quality. He may not be the immediate cure for Mr. Moyes’ sack full of problems, but he at least seems to put us back to where we were at the beginning of last season: Ready to return to that persona of comeback heart-attack kids.

“We gave away a terrible goal and needed David de Gea to keep us in the game, but apart from that we played some really good stuff,” the United manager said. It was yet another Moyesie ‘Say What?’ moment. And, as much as I refuse to jump on the bandwagon that wants to prematurely give him the heave-ho, I really question the shepherding abilities of someone who expresses himself in a manner that opens him up to such easy ridicule. Sometimes you can insinuate the most by saying the least!

United got off to exactly the sort of start Moyes must have been obsessing on avoiding all week during training, going a goal down inside five minutes through a defensive mix-up. When Emanuele Giaccherini’s cross went straight to Phil Jones, he had a panic-attack, half-heartedly pushing his clearance in Nemanja Vidic’s direction. This had the shocked United captain tripping over the ball, before it somehow trickled away from him and landed in front of Craig Garner on the six yard line. Gardner didn’t hit it cleanly, but there was enough venom on the twisting ball to carry it past a wrong-footed David De Gea. Three minutes later, the journeyman Gardner almost had a brace, nicking the ball off the feet of Jones as he made one of his patented funny faces by the penalty spot. Luckily, with Vidic screaming at him, Jones managed to launch himself out of his foggy fugue and retrieve the ball before Gardner could shoot.

Minutes later, Januzaj’s first attempt on goal went wide. A beautifully struck piledriver from the edge of the area, it only missed by inches. Nani then went even closer midway through the first half with a right-foot volley. On a day when his dribbling skills were all systems go, his decisions about what to do with the final ball were frustrating throughout. Unmarked at the far post just before half-time, the Cape Verdean winger should have made short work of one of Patrice Evra’s few good crosses but somehow botched it.

With Cleverley and Carrick firing blanks and casually letting themselves be taken out of the game by Lee Cattermole’s relentless pressing game, they were a non-factor in the first half. With Rooney and Van Persie forced to go back into midfield to collect the ball, United made heavy weather of imposing themselves on Sunderland. The two strikers worked hard, but had a tough time of it, trying to do two jobs at once. Indeed, the visitors would have gone two down just past the half hour but for a wonderful save from David de Gea. Giaccherini’s header from Adam Johnson’s excellent cross was text book, sending the ball back the way it came and bound for the inside of De Gea’s right hand post, before the catlike goalkeeper sprang back across his goal to claw it away. Nani also brought a fine save from Keiran Westwood before the interval as United continued to impress going forward. Still. they were repeatedly unable to cash in on these counterattacks and there remained every chance that another lapse of concentration at the back would undo their few moments of good work. The lively Giaccherini should have increased Sunderland’s lead on the stroke of the interval but shot wastefully high from a good position, set up when Johnson retained control on the left of the area after avoiding ineffective lunges from both Jones and Vidic. Five minutes later, an even better De Gea save from Adam Johnson stifled them yet again.

Maintaining a Belgian presence for United in the absence of the injured Marouane Fellaini, Januzaj looked absolutely confident and fearless. In a single moment of immaturity, the kid got himself booked by the referee for diving at the start of the second half, but then he quickly redeemed himself by scoring the equalizer. 55 minutes in, Januzaj fed Evra on the left, before moving up to accept the return and place a side-footed shot beyond Westwood. The baby-faced killer’s first ever Premier League goal was deliciously elegant in its execution.

Yet we only had to wait six minutes more to see something far more awesome for his second goal. It came after an awkward headed clearance by John O’Shea of a dipping Nani cross. It flew straight to the left corner of the penalty box where Janizaj was loitering with calm intent. A thing of hard, deliberate beauty, the ball came in on him at mid-thigh level and young Januzaj shifted sideways, cocked himself and calmly volleyed it right past Westwood into Sunderland”s net.

Most of the fortitude left Sunderland then. In spite of much running and being able to maintain the lion’s share of possession against an ineffectual Manchester United even then, the Mackems never looked like they could steal a victory over the last 30 minutes of the match. Stuck on one point, their owner Ellis Short needs to make some important decisions concerning the club quickly.

As for United, it was interesting to hear from Wayne Rooney the next day that he fault the team had very much let their new manager down. With all the relentlessly percolating gossip in the rumor mills about Rooney leaving for Paris St, Germain or Chelsea, it was good to hear what sounded like a verbal olive branch being offered by the England striker. On a weekend where Tottenham Hotspur lost at home and Arsenal were held to a draw, it became readily apparent that this season has a long way to go and that anyone who totally writes off Manchester United will live to regret it. Bad on the night? Yes! Comeback kids? Yes also. The season will surely get a lot stranger yet!
Manchester Uniteds Adnan 001 The Kid is the Real Deal!

Oct 042013

Shakhtar Donetsk 1-1 Manchester United
Shakhtar Donetsk v Manche 007 Davieball At the DonbassManchester United got it done for the very first time this season. They may not have won the game and been only able to muster a single shot on the Donetsk goal; nevertheless, they acquitted themselves well. They were disciplined, communicative and full of fight: Everything they have not been since the beginning of the season. For the disgruntled United fans out there who don’t like new manager David Moyes’ tactics, it won’t be much of a comfort at all, but this is the kind of strategy that impressed his predecessor, Sir Alex Ferguson in the first place. It’s what my Everton fan mate, Stocker Stew, calls ‘Davieball.’ Led by a surprisingly motor-mouthed, tough tackling, well-rested captain, Nemanja Vidic, United were determined to get the job done away from home against the solid Ukrainian champions, and did so. Coming out of Donetsk with a point, in spite of the beautiful stadium’s loud, raucous partisan fans, was a fine achievement. Actually, save for the one superbly taken equalizing goal from the talented Taison in the 76th minute, United nearly got away with a cheeky bit of smash-and-grab.

United’s pre-match prep was not helped by another training-ground injury to Wayne Rooney. The club’s stand-out performer of the season thus far suffered a shin injury on the eve of the game. Rooney’s absence took the number of changes to the United team beaten by West Bromwich Albion on Saturday to nine. Only David de Gea and Michael Carrick remained from the third defeat in four Premier League matches. United kept it compact and disciplined from the start, clearly focused on muting Shakhtar’s high-quality Brazilian front line led by the buccaneering Douglas Costa and Taison. Fellaini, Carrick and Cleverley kept their shape in central midfield, although their dreadful passing patterns–so very, very predictable throughout–did them no favors at all. With Patrice Evra pinned back by the pure speed of Dario Srna and Taison, Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia were more auxiliary wing backs than support for a lonesome Robin Van Persie.

Shakhtar remained equally as cautious in the first half. The tricky Costa and Luiz Adriano each did well to dispossess Fellaini a couple of times deep in the Donetsk half, allowing the home side to break forward unimpeded. Rafael da Silva could barely cope with Costa and he found Adriano, whose low cross teased its way across De Gea’s six-yard box but found nobody, a handful also. Then United got a moment of maximum luck when Cleverley clearly caught Alex Teixeira late inside the penalty area. Fortunately, the referee, Pavel Kralovec, dismissed Shakhtar’s appeals for a spot kick.

70245734 70245537 Davieball At the DonbassCleverley created United’s first chance of the match when he chipped a high pass over Shakhtar’s central defence for Van Persie. The Dutchman shifted to his right and unleashed a trademark shot with his left, only to see the ball rise over Andriy Pyatov’s crossbar. Fellaini had problems keeping possession early on, but his presence began to tell later in the match as, playing with his back to the opposition goal, the Belgian warrior wore them down with his tackling and ability to fill in midfield holes. He may indeed not look like 30 million quid, but, once he gets used to his teammates, his kind of obstinate, albeit often awkward, determination is going to be a major factor in breaking down opponents late.

Eighteen minutes into the first half, Rafael’s throw-in found Fellaini, who muscled away his marker, crossing low to the near post where Shakhtar’s big awkward center-back Yaroslav Rakitskiy lost his footing. Welbeck then managed to slip inside unmarked and softly flick home Fellaini’s delivery beyond Pyatov into the far corner of the net. The loud Donbass Arena fell silent, except, of course, for the freezing United fans up high in the cheap seats.

The Ukrainians enjoyed the majority of possession without ever giving De Gea much trouble. Fellaini and Vidic both went into the referee’s book in rapid succession for professional fouls on Taison and Costa respectively, both fouls presenting Shakhtar’s captain, Dario Srna, with direct free-kick opportunities from 25 yards out. One that he smashed into United’s wall, another which was wasted. Fellaini was withdrawn shortly afterwards and his replacement, Ryan Giggs, playing in the 145th game in the Champions League surpassed Raul’s record number of appearances in the competition. The big-hearted Donbass crowd, in spite of their team loyalty, stood up and gave Giggsy a long round of passionate applause.

United held fast with nine men behind the ball and really looked like they might pull off a famous away victory until the 75th minute when the Shakhtar’s big central defender Rakitskiy, out to make up for his crucial early mistake, strode down the left flank and fired a cross into the heart of United’s box. Vidic managed to block it, but it got away from him, bouncing to Taison who beat De Gea with an unblockable rocket into the roof of the net from 12 yards out. Six minutes later, Taison almost scored again with a deflected shot off Smalling but De Gea reacted brilliantly, tipping it over the bar.

When the whistle blew, the relief on David Moyes’ ruddy face was there for everybody to see. A good, albeit not great, evening’s work.Shakhtar Donetsk v Manche 011 Davieball At the Donbass

The Playoff Push

 Posted by on October 2, 2013 at 5:22 pm  Blogs/Media, MLS, United States
Oct 022013

MLS Cup 300x169 The Playoff Push

Robbie Keane’s face told the story. After heading in a Landon Donovan free kick in the 90th minute to put the Los Angeles Galaxy level with the Portland Timbers, his face went from incredible joy to sheer anguish as the referee raised his flag and called for an offsides on Keane. Keane looked disgusted, but he also looked slightly despondent. He knew how much that goal meant to the Galaxy and their season. The Galaxy had the chance to go level on points with the Timbers in the standings in the Western Conference. Instead, the club sees themselves four points behind the Timbers and only a point ahead of fifth-place Colorado and sixth-place Vancouver. On a weekend with so many exciting matches and so many different teams in playoff contention, Major League Soccer was able to show one of the true assets that it has over so many other soccer leagues: the playoff push.

One of the major criticisms that Major League Soccer receives from fans, ex-players, officials, and pundits is the supposedly awkward arrangement that it has between their regular season and the playoffs. Supposedly, the existence of the playoffs cheapens the regular season and devalues the merit of winning the supporter’s shield. Most experts in professional football will tell you that the best system is a single table system where each team plays every other team twice. Never mind that the United States is about 2-3 times as large as most European countries and has twice as many time zones. And never mind that that the English League Championship has a playoff system to determine who will be promoted to the Premier League. Or that the Champions League has a playoff system based off of seeding.  It is supposedly important that we implement this square peg of a “traditional” system into the round hole that is American geography. We have to be exactly like everyone else. Or at least the way the Europeans sometimes play.

Although it sounds tempting to once again follow the Europeans and do exactly everything that they do (sometimes,) let’s do some thinking outside of the traditional box of soccer. Although there are some flaws with the current Major League Soccer system (playing on international dates and too many international matches with foreign clubs come to mind,) the current playoff system does provide for tons of intrigue and can allow for many exciting games as the season winds down. If you look at this weekend’s slate of games, only one match did not include at least one team that has a shot at making the playoffs (Toronto- D.C. United.) In every other match, each team has a decent chance at winning a spot in their respective Conferences playoff spot.

Major League Soccer is just a very different league than many other professional leagues throughout the world, and that is not a bad thing. Variety is good. It makes things interesting and gives fans plenty to talk about. Although I wonder what a Premier playoff would look like, I do understand that the last few weeks of a Premier League season can be quite dramatic. It was like that two years ago, when Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero scored against Queen’s Park Rangers in the last game of the season to claim their first Premier League title while Manchester United was still on the pitch hoping a result in their match would keep them alive.

If the Europeans would like to have a single table system with no playoffs, then go ahead. But given the relative age of Major League Soccer and how most clubs outside of the Northwest are still growing their fanbases it makes more sense right now to have a playoff system. Our country loves playoffs and we love the drama that leads up to it, even if the team we support has no shot of winning it all. It is why the NCAA tournament so huge. People in this country want to believe that their club has a chance. They don’t want to be complacent with mid-table.  And it is good for the teams to use situations like the playoffs to build support for their team. It is good for a team like the New England Revolution who has not been a relevant team for 4-5 years to show their fans that they are respectable again because they have a shot at the playoffs.

Having this many teams with a chance for a playoff spot spurs interest in not only the players, but the fans as well. Due to the parity of the league, any team has the chance to knock off any other team at any venue. This why you were able to see the Philadelphia Union shock Sporting Kansas City 1-0 on Friday night at Live Strong Park. It’s why the Columbus Crew was able to go down Dallas Park and eliminate their Pioneer Cup rivals F.C. Dallas. And it’s why a team like the Portland Timbers was able to step up in a rainy mess at Jeld-Wenn field in Portland and pull out an important 1-0 victory. In each of these matches, because other games were going on at the same time, you would see fans pulling out their iPhones to check updates on other games, to see where their teams would be in the standings, and to try and cheer their fellow fans up who feel like all hope is lost. As sad as it sounds, one of the true signs that I have seen all season of the attachment that has grown for Major League Soccer with the supporters was when Tim Cahill scored to even it up for the New York Red Bulls against the Seattle Sounder. There is nothing like seeing and hearing an arena of 50,000 supporters completely deflated.

I had the pleasure of watching last year’s slugfest between D.C. United and the Columbus Crew and seeing the playoff push firsthand. Both clubs were tied on points for the fifth and final playoff spot. In a match where the game was 2-1 throughout the majority of the match, members of the Barra Brava the D.C. United Supporters groups seemed to lose interest as it dawned on them that they would have to go to Bridgeview and get a result against the Chicago Fire. Fans were routinely checking their iPhones for the latest results from the Houston Dynamo match or waiting for any information from RFK Stadiums decrepit scoreboard. Although any fan would be happy with clinching a playoff spot anywhere, there is something special about doing it at home. United ended up scoring the tying goal in the 59th minute, which then led to Lewis Neal scoring a game-winning goal in the 91st minute to send D.C. United into the playoffs. Although the club has won three MLS titles, if you ask any member of Barra Brava what their favorite moment in D.C. United history is, I would imagine that Neal’s goal is up there.

Although this weekend did not provide any playoff-clinching goals, there was no short of theatrics. The San Jose Earthquakes continued their Cinderella run by beating Chivas U.S.A. 1-0 on a goal by Forward Chris Wondlowski in the 87th minute (And yes, you even got to see Steven Lenhart get sent off.) Houston- New England played to a draw keeping both of their playoff hopes alive. Real Salt Lake, playing a mostly reserve team in preparation for Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final with D.C. United, managed to shock Vancouver away from home and further tighten their lead on first-place in the Western Conference. Chicago blew a two goal lead to the Montreal Impact and nearly could have won the match had Mike Magee, one of the league’s leading candidates MVP, hit a penalty kick off of the crossbar dooming his team to a draw and possibly a 7th place finish in the Eastern Conference.

Even the D.C. United- Toronto F.C. match featured a beautiful volley by D.C. United forward Jared Jeffrey and even more amazing scissor kick goal by Toronto F.C. forward Daryl Russell. Whether you were watching a match at the park, the bar, NBC, or on whatever D.C. United is using for coverage now, you got to see two teams playing hard for nothing more than a spot on the team.

While no MLS match could feature players of the quality of the Premier League or any of the other top European leagues, each came with its own set of drama and flair. Having watched enough Premier League matches at the end of the season when players go at half pace and where things feel predetermined. I still remember being completely shocked last season when Queen’s Park Rangers were relegated and seeing the players laughing and feeling just terrible for their fans. Rather than seeing a team work hard and try to gut out a victory, they seemed like they did not care and were more interested in just collecting their paycheck. At least Chivas U.S.A., a club who may not exist next season, tried to keep up with the Earthquakes and put on a good show for their fans.

In the weeks ahead, the number of teams that are still eligible to make the playoffs will be trimmed. F.C. Dallas was knocked out this weekend and I would suspect that there will be a few more casualties this weekend. For some fans, the end of the season will just be another stepping stone towards the playoffs and hopefully towards an MLS Cup. For other fans, they will reflect upon missed opportunities in June and July, on injuries, and on player management. But until then if you are an MLS fan you should turn your television and watch the emotions  of October soccer.

Oct 012013

I think this post warrants a disclaimer: I’m crazy.

I’m crazy in that I have a dream of promotion and relegation coming to the United States. I believe wholeheartedly that every town in the United States able to field a soccer team deserves the opportunity to play their way into the big time. A fundamental part of such a vision includes 100% independence for all of those teams.

Recently Tim Holt, the president of the United Soccer League-Pro, reiterated his desire for his league to form an affiliate relationship with MLS. This season has seen MLS teams like Philadelphia and Kansas City become affiliated with USL Pro sides Orlando and Harrisburg respectively. As part of such an affiliation the MLS teams sent their bench warmers down to these USL Pro teams for playing time. In other words, Orlando and Harrisburg became the AA-affiliates of their respective MLS overlords a la professional baseball in this country.

I hate this. A lot.

I’ve long thought Orlando was worthy of joining MLS, although the hoops the league is making them jump through makes me rethink such a vision. They’d be better off following the path of Indy Eleven and the New York Cosmos: they should join the less restrictive North American Soccer League. But I digress. My point is that setting professional soccer in the US up in the mold of professional baseball is the wrong way to go.

Columbus (and most of the other current MLS sides) saw fit to simply field a reserve team and play a home and home with Dayton Dutch Lions rather than use a current USL Pro side as a storage closet. Now Holt has said he thinks it would be a good idea for MLS teams to go ahead and simply field a “B team” that competes within the USL Pro. I’m fine with that as well. At least all teams involved can maintain their own independence, even if promotion into the NASL and MLS isn’t available for them.

This doesn’t just boil down to my personal ideology though. There’s a developmental benefit to Columbus fielding a “B team” instead of having Dayton (or even Pittsburgh) be their minor league bitch. Kansas City saw their young draft pick Dom Dwyer dominate while with Orlando, but he has yet to take off since being recalled from there. The quality of play across the board in USL Pro isn’t quite up to par with that of MLS (though Larry Johnson makes a compelling case otherwise over at Massive Report) and playing time against such competition isn’t necessarily a good thing for the player’s development. Fielding a “B team” also means the Crew can impose their preferred philosophy/playing style on their younger players without interruption. A minor league affiliate may not necessarily want to play the same way the Crew do and thus the player’s development is hindered even further.

If the Crew are going to completely remake themselves into a world class organization, there has to be one plan in place from top to bottom. That can’t happen if players are consistently being shipped back and forth between Dayton and/or Pittsburgh. Let the younger/reserve players continue to play with one another as the do now and develop some chemistry. Moving them down to a random team simply for the sake of giving them playing time is useless.

Unfortunately it seems likely such affiliate partnerships will eventually take hold and we’ll see more and more MLS teams shipping their fringe players off to strange teams in strange places and harm said players’ development severely. I hope Anthony Precourt and his new front office staff think long and hard about this issue whenever it comes up during the off-season. He’s made a great first impression so far and maintaining the team’s independence (while allowing USL Pro teams to do the same) would earn him a lot of respect in my eyes as a loyal Crew supporter.


Oct 012013

Manchester United 1-2 West Bromwich Albion
The only nice thing about getting hammered by Manchester City was that it was a can of wupass which came with its own built-in excuse(s). Something about all the dosh City have spent, or the naiveManchester United woe v West Brom 3011412 Dem Home Town Baggie Blues! ref, the pile-up of tough fixtures. or Patrice’s legs have gone, or… But, now, the truth, the uncomfortable truth, and not the abstract truth, that David Moyes has to deal with after getting our noses rubbed in Baggie poo in our very own Theater of Dreams, is that Manchester United really are in trouble.

The team Moyes trotted out made a shrugging sort of sense as Alexander Büttner, Anderson, and Javier Hernández, were put out there by Moyes to test the waters. Javíer Hernandez was also enjoying a rare start because of both Robin Van Persie’s problematic hamstring, and as a reward for performing so well against Liverpool on Wednesday. Tinkering against a less risky opponent like West Brom surely seemed logical to the new United brains trust.

Yet Shinji Kagawa, playing on the left flank, repeatedly showed a dithering tendency to zigzag back and forth in a search for possession, looked both bemused and lost. Along with refusing to play Wilfried Zaha, whom he insists is not ready, Moyes has already badly bruised the fragile egos of two other players who are being stalked by Borussia Dortmund (Kagawa’s old club), Juventus and Manchester City in Kagawa and Januzaj. “We want Shinji to feel he’s getting an opportunity to show what he can do. His best position may be Number 10, but even for Japan he plays off the left as well so it’s not something which is strange to him or not his position so he’s used to that. But there’s a lot of competition here and we want to push each other on to give performances and improve.” Say what? Thus, despite all of Moyes’ verbal diarrhea, Kagawa was removed at half-time for another unhappy camper, the 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj. Moyes, confirming this was a tactical substitution after the game, added. “I just decided that I wanted to try and make a change, try and inject a little bit of something and I thought Adnan showed what he could do,” he said.

Unfortunately, Steve Clarke’s Baggies’ were more than up for a bit of diligence against the champions. Dominant in the first half, they pressed hard, gummed up central midfield and the flanks with pure, unadulterated hustle, and had both Stephane Sessegnon and Scott Sinclair come close to scoring in the first half. As fate would have it, with Scott Sinclair too hurt to return in the second half, Clarke brought on a young academy player, Saido Berahino, who, in switching wings and speedily, seamlessly shifting in and out of the box, gave Phil Jones, Alexander Büttner, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans all fits. It proved to be a masterstroke on Clarke’s part.

Meanwhile, United, with Anderson wearing the face and body language of someone with his head elsewhere–probably the meat buffet at Fogo de Chao–and Michael Carrick simply unwilling to run, Albion’s perpetual motion midfield of Christian Kalumbu, Morgan Amalfitano and an absolutely superb Claudio Yacob, cleverly fired keen little passes hither and thither, all the while picking off each Carrick and Anderson pass attempt at will. Indeed, after Saido Berahino scored the winning goal, Carrick and Rio Ferdinand stood there scratching their barnets like a couple of aging heroin addicts waiting nervously for their fix. Having now fallen into twelfth place with only seven points, a sense of self-pity and helplessness was distinctly palpable.

W.B.A.’s goals were a masochistic pleasure to behold. First, in the 54th minute, Morgan Amalfitano took possession of a long clever pass from Gareth McAuley, bobbed and weaved around Rio Ferdinand, nutmegging the aging Peckham reprobate, before stutter-stepping towards David de Gea and then firing a sublime chip over the advancing keeper.

Yet, within two minutes United were level. Once again, Wayne Rooney, an angry focused bear these days, was there to fire home his fifth goal in six games. His free-kick bending exquisitely to the the left, flying round Albion’s fixed defense and totally freezing their goalie Boaz Myhill to tie things up. Another United on another day would have kicked into gear at this point, but this team went back to the same casual game plan, as if they already owned a huge lead. A few more duff Carrick attempts at supplying Rooney with long-distance pass attempts went for nought and he seemed to jack it in for the rest of the evening thereafter.

West Brom simply shrugged off United’s burp of a revival, though. Amalfitano nearly added a second with a perfectly placed howitzer of a free-kick that De Gea tipped over the bar superbly. Then, the Frenchman, on loan from Marseilles, picked up a clever short pass from Sessegnon in the 67th minute which he had the delicate eye to fire on into Saido Berahino’s path. The Anglo-Burundian, who showed a lovely, assured and delicate touch throughout the second half, took his chance ruthlessly, burying it under a diving David De Gea.

Manchester United have become only the second top-flight English champions, after Blackburn in 1995-96, to begin the following season with three (or more) defeats in their opening six matches since Leeds did so in the 1974-75 season. All is certainly not lost, to be sure. The forward line will start scoring goals in bunches eventually, but the mental and physical vulnerability of our back four, having twice been casually burgled and humiliated, can not be fixed by switching personnel. Blaming our full-backs for advancing and ‘marooning’ whoever plays center-back is ridiculous, too. Last season our defense was a perpetually leaky sieve, too, but counting on scoring more than we let in this season is only going to work with a handful of opponents this time around. To be sure, I’ve been saying that Rio and Evra are both past it and sliding backwards down a slippery slope.

As much as this is true, there can also be no doubt that it’s a tactical issue, too. No team ever proved this better than the geriatric, injury-prone defense fielded by Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan from 2002 to 2007. Somehow the noble old guard that formed a defensive back line featuring Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini. Kaka Kaladze, Alessandro Costacurta, and, for a shorter period, the ex-United star, Jaap Stam, all got it done. Indeed, despite being the source of much amusement to the pundits of the game, the team won two E.C.C. finals and lost another. Slow as molasses, they were all, nevertheless, collectively intelligent and almost religiously dedicated to their fitness and careers. Unfortunately, only Nemanja Vidic and Rafael Da Silva show this kind of dedication for United. Patrice Evra is still capable of inspired moments but refuses to realistically adjust his game now that his legs are gone. Although Rio talks the talk, he is far more dedicated to his career in the media(last week it was his football awards show!) than getting it done in the field. Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling are fine athletes who have not improved and the jury is out on Phil Jones. Time for Moyes and Phil Neville to come up with something strategically practical for the defense now!
Manchester Uniteds Wayne 006 Dem Home Town Baggie Blues!