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Aug 182013

Logo Eredivisie 300x179 2013 2014 Eredivisie Preview


One of the great things about the explosion of soccer coverage in America is that fans of the game are being exposed to new leagues and new teams to follow. One such league is the Eredivisie, otherwise known as the first division in the Netherlands. While Ajax is a household name in American soccer circles, and PSV Eindhoven and AZ Alkmaar are also known to some, it is still a foreign league to the sports world in the United States when in comparison to the likes of the English Premier League. With games now being shown on ESPN it is a great time to jump on board with one of the most exciting and entertaining leagues in all of club football.

If the different power countries in club football were to be different movies, then the Eredivisie would be an action movie. Much like a movie that features tons of explosions and makes the viewer go “Ooh” and “Aah,” the Eredivisie is a league that provides goals and more goals. When you look at some of the players that have come through the Eredivisie, it reads like an entire wing of the Soccer Hall of Fame.  Names like Johan Cruyff, Denis Bergkamp, Romario, Ronaldo, Marco van Basten, Ruud van Nistelroy, and Luis Suarez all have plied their craft in the Netherlands and used the league to move on to greater success.

The Dutch clubs play a very visually stimulating style of football, obviously influenced by Ajax’s “Total Football” style from the 1970s that is more for the football fan than a football purist.  Defending is maybe the second or third priority for most clubs. That is not necessarily a bad thing. While it is great that there are leagues like Serie A that may be more defensive-oriented, there is a need to develop strikers and to develop the fine art of finishing.

The Contenders


Entering into this season the club that is odds favorite to win the title is Ajax. As I mentioned above, if there is only one Dutch club that most soccer fans throughout the world have heard of, it is Ajax. The 24-time champion, and 4-time winner of the UEFA Champions League/European Cup, the Amsterdam club comes back from the offseason having made very few subtractions. With a core of Strikers Siem De Jong and Cristian Eriksen (12 and 10 goals respectively last season,) Left Back Daley Blind, Midfielder Christian Poulsen, and MF Lasse Schone, Ajax should have all of the tools to win their 4th straight league title and a deep run in the Champions League. The one player to really look out for is Viktor Fischer, who at 18 years old scored 12 goals last season. The Danish international is a very promising asset for the club.

With Ajax, and with all of the top teams in the Eredivisie, the question is not a matter of if other European clubs with big pockets will come in and take their players, it is a matter of when. Dutch clubs like Vitesse and AZ Alkmaar were left off of this list because they have already moved their top players like Wilifred Bony and Jozy Altidore to the likes of Swansea City and Sunderland without a definite backup. And while even a club like Ajax seems to be able to trade assets and replace them with ease, they may find it difficult after having had so many successful seasons in a row. We still might see the likes of Eriksen, Poulsen, and De Jong.

PSV Eindhoven

PSV Eindhoven will look to improve off of last season’s second place finish. The 27-time Eredivisie Champions, and winners of the 1997-1998 European Cup, they have spent the entire offseason retooling a team has had some major departures. Having added Ji-Seung Park in the midfield from Queen’s Park Rangers and Adam Maher from AZ Alkmaar, the club should be able offset the loss of Kevin Strootman, who departed for AS Roma in Italy. I see this season as a rebuilding year for PSV though. Having lost the likes of Strootman, Defender Marcelo, Dries Mertens (Napoli-Italy,) Midfielder Mark Van Bommel (Retirement) and Jermain Lens (Dynamo Kiev-Ukraine) will certainly impact a squad that scored over 103 goals last season (tops in the Eredivisie.) Combined the five accounted for 43 goals and 150 appearances for the club. Being able to make so much may be difficult.

I like what I have seen so far from Zakkaria Bakkali, the 19 year-old Belgian who was added from their youth academy last season. While he is a very young player, he has already shown that he can play at a high level having scored 3 goals in two matches this season. He and Tim Matavaz, who scored 11 goals in 27 matches last season.


While other clubs may place a high emphasis on offense, Feyernoord features one best of the defensive units in the league. Having only allowed 38 goals last season (second only to Ajax,) the Rotterdam-based club employs a four-man backline that is often very difficult to break down. Captain Stefan de Vrij is only 21 years old, yet has over a 150 appearances with the club. He is teamed with Joris Mathijsen, Bruno Martins Indi, and Daryl Janmaat. All four defenders have recently featured prominently in the Netherlands National Team and would certainly be interested in using this European season and the World Cup next year to receive a large transfer to a more prominent club.

Although they do not have a problem scoring per se (they did score 64 goals last season, which was the 4th most in the Eredivisie) they did have a problem keeping up with Ajax (83) and Feyernoord (103). In their matches last season against both teams, they lost by a combined score of 10-3. Their top scorer, Graziano Pelle, has returned after scoring 27 goals in all competitions for the club. Beyond him, though, the cupboard is a little bare. Most other opportunities will go to Ruben Schacken, who has ten goals in 24 appearances for the club. So far they only have two goals this season (both by Pelle and Schacken,) but will need more to compete with the top clubs in the country.

F.C. Twente

The club from Enschede, which is in the east of the Netherlands started out last season in first place for the first five weeks, while managing to play in the Europa League at the same time, ran out of steam in the end and finished in fifth-place.  Much like Feyernoord, they are a team more focused on defense, having only allowed 33 goals last season. The club made very few changes their team from last season, only losing Midfielder Leroy Fer to Norwich City and adding 5 players from their youth team (Midfielders Joey Pelupessey, Quincy Promes, Shadrach Egan Kwesi, Tim Holscher, and Forward Felictano Zschussschen.) Promes, Shadrach, and Zschussschen have all already featured for the club in the first three games, with Promes scoring a goal in the 6-0 pasting of F.C. Utrecht.

The other major cog for Twente will be Luc Castaignos. At 20, he has already had a lengthy career playing for the likes of Feyernoord and Inter Milan in Italy. Last year was a bit of a coming out party for him, scoring 13 goals in 24 matches for the club. He has shown promise before with Feyernoord (15 goals in 29 matches in 2010-2011,) only to fail to live up expectations (1 goal in 6 appearances with Inter.) Still at the age of 20, he should prove to be a dangerous option for Twente in their pursuit for a spot in either of Europe’s top competitions.


Projected Finish

1st: Feyernoord

2nd: Ajax

3rd: PSV Eindhoven

4TH: F.C. Twente

American to Watch: AZ Alkmaar FWD Aron Johansson. Johansson, who just gained his U.S. eligibility this week despite the protests from his home country of Iceland, is looking to make a late spot in U.S. National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster for Brazil. While many will criticize the nature of how he gained his eligibility (yet neglect the many other American players who have dual citizenship status) it is unquestionable that he possesses a ton of talent. In the Bosnia-Herzegovina friendly this week, he came late in the second-half and provided an immediate spark to their offense.

What I liked the most was watching his fearlessness as he took on defenders. For far too many years, American forwards have been too timid on engaging the goalkeeper one on one (I blame the system, not the players for the record.) Aron was consistently made many runs up the field and had a few good shots against Bosnian goalkeeper Marko Begovic. With Jozy Altidore having left Alkmaar this off-season for Sunderland and the English Premier League, Johansson should have all the opportunities to show Klinsmann that he is a viable option come Brazil.

Beer of Choice: Tillburg’s Dutch Brown Ale

While of course everyone would think that the best option would be a Heineken, I just cannot stand it. Having had many Heinekens in my lifetime, mostly in my semester abroad in Budapest, I have found that the only time that I can drink the stuff is when it is very cold and strapped to a bungee cord outside of my hotel apartment (mini-kegs do not fit into a mini-fridge, college kids.)

My first rule of thumb for any person who goes into a country and does not know what beer to have is to always go with the Brown Ale. Lagers can be light and IPA’s and Stouts may be too heavy, but a Brown Ale is just the right amount of hoppyness, but not enough to give you a bitter beer face. The Tillburg’s Dutch Brown Ale has a very similar consistency to that of the Newcastle Brown Ale and has a bit of sweet taste to it.

My brother and I first tried this at a Belgian bar called Granville Moore’s. I know its heresy when you are talking about the Dutch to bring up a Belgian bar, but their mussels and beer selection are amazing. It is a great beer when watching one of the best derbies in the world, Ajax-PSV, or if you just want to kick back and sample a good beer on your porch.


Hebben een geweldige week en geniet van het voetbal!


Aug 142013

Week 1 in Germany’s Bundesliga saw quite a few surprises including recently promoted Hertha Berlin putting up six goals in a 6-1 victory over Eintracht Frankurt and Borussia Dortmund’s newest striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang netting a hat trick against FC Augsberg.

Early results aside, however, what can we expect from the Bundesliga in 2013-14? Here’s a few of the top story lines…

Can Anyone Stop Bayern Munich?

The defending Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League…champions…put former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola in charge after Jupp Heynckes stepped down at the end of last season when Bayern thrashed the rest of the league with a whopping 91 points. Guardiola immediately went out and brought in his former Barca winger Thiago Alcantara in addition to Borussia Dortmund starlet Mario Götze. Now the Bavarian giants look unbeatable heading into the new season.

Borussia Dortmund, who fought valiantly against Bayern in last season’s Champions League final, added some reinforcements of their own in the form of striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (who showed us in Week 1 that he should have no difficulty adjusting to his new surroundings) and attacking midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan. The men in black and yellow are likely the only team capable of challenging for the title, but teams like Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04 should have no trouble contending for a Champions League spot.

And speaking of the Champions League…

Who Will Grab The Other 2 Champions League Places

This season third place will earn a berth in the group stage while fourth place goes into the qualifying playoffs. Last season saw Leverkusen take third and Schalke fourth and both will be difficult to overthrow.

Borussia Monchengladbach have some young, up and coming talent in the form of 20 year old Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka, 22 year old German midfielder Patrick Herrmann, and 22 year old Dutch striker Luuk de Jong. They finished a respectable eighth place last season, just a few points away from a Europa League spot. Hamburg SV are led by veterans Rene Adler in goal and former Tottenham midfielder Rafael van der Vaart as well as newcomer Johan Djourou (former Arsenal defender) and longtime midfielder Marcell Jansen. SC Freiburg and Eintracht may or may not have punched above their weight into Europa League spots last season; we’ll see how they do in said Europa League this season. Werder Bremen had a disastrous season last year and will hope to bounce back as well.

Then there’s Hertha Berlin, who have been relegated and then subsequently promoted back-to-back times going back several years. They came out of the gate firing with multi-goal performances from strikers Adrian Ramos and Sami Allagui. American John Anthony Brooks is an up and coming star at center back and Brazilian central midfielder Ronny is always a threat on set pieces. Could this be the year they not only stay up, but also challenge for a European spot; be it Europa League or even the Champions League?

Who Are The Contenders For Relegation?

As mentioned above, Hertha Berlin are always a threat to get the drop. Eintracht Frankfurt and Nurnberg have both gone down in recent years and FC Augsberg always seem to find themselves near the bottom. TSG Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen also found themselves near the bottom last season, but both have too much talent to find themselves so far down again this season.

The “favorites” to hit the drop have to be newcomers TSV Eintracht Braunschweig. History tells us that we can expect at least one newcomer to go back down and Hertha Berlin’s display in Week 1 was pretty convincing. Braunschweig lost a close one to Werder Bremen in their opener. They lack talent across the board but they’ll be hoping for some help from Canadian striker Simeon Jackson, who arrives in Germany after scoring three goals in seven starts with Norwich City last season.

Can The Germans Impress In Europe Again This Season?

Last season’s all-German Champions League final in London had everyone wondering if Deutschland had conquered Spain. After all, Bayern demolished Barcelona and Dortmund (or rather Robert Lewandowski) crushed Real Madrid before the thrilling final. Schalke had a solid run into the knockout round as well. Borussia M’Gladbach, Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen, and Hannover 96 all advanced to the Round of 32, although Stuttgart were the only ones to advance beyond that point and they were promptly routed by Lazio in the Round of 16 by a score of 5-1.

Still, all eyes will be on the German squads in European competition this season, especially given the overall financial health of the Bundesliga. With an increased emphasis on fiscal responsibility, everyone will want to see if the German model can in fact consistently produce multiple teams capable of competing on the big stages in Europe. This year Bayer Leverkusen are guaranteed a spot at the table with Bayern and Dortmund while Schalke will need to navigate the qualifying round to join them. In the Europa League extra attention will be paid to the German clubs, Frankfurt and Freiburg, because they are particularly “small” clubs in terms of what they spend on players.


Champions League Spots

1st-Bayern Munich

2nd-Borussia Dortmund

3rd-Schalke 04

4th-Bayer Leverkusen (Qualifying Round)

Relegation Spots

16th-FC Augsberg (Relegation Playoff with Bundesliga 2)


18th-Eintracht Braunschweig

Golden Boot

1-Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang

2-Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

3-Adrian Ramos

Soccer Bar Etiquette

 Posted by on August 10, 2013 at 12:02 pm  Blogs/Media, England, EPL, Global Headlines, MLS, United States
Aug 102013

It has become a weekly tradition for those who follow the beautiful game to wake up at ungodly hours on weekends, trudge themselves to their local watering hole, and watch two (sometimes four, sometimes six) hours of soccer.  It does not matter if you live in a big city like Washington D.C. or a town like Frederick, Md the soccer bar culture has taken over America. It does not matter if it is the English Premier League, La Liga (the Spanish first division,) the Bundesliga (German First Division,) U.S. Men’s National Team matches, or America’s own Major League Soccer. Due to the fierce loyalty of the fans of the game, soccer now has a place at every taphouse, brewpub, microbrewery, and Green Turtle in the United States.

Given the dedication of soccer fans in this country, and the negative treatment that the game has received from mainstream sports fans and the media, it can sometimes be an intimidating place for new fans. However, once you get to know some of the tricks of the match and the bar environment, a soccer game at your local tavern at 7am can a very informative and entertaining experience. With the English Premier League season about to get underway this weekend with the Community Shield match between Manchester United and Wigan, here are a few tips on how to make your soccer bar experience a great experience!

#1: Come in With an Open Mind.

First off, it is a weekend and you are at a bar watching sports. That is a pretty damn good way to start your day.

If this is your first soccer match that you are watching, or maybe you have seen a match or two before but are still learning about the game then great! Most of the people you are watching the game with are still learning about international soccer as well. This is not Major League Baseball. Leagues like the English Premier League have really only been showed to major audiences for about 10 years now so there are very few wise sages who understand every in and out of the game. “The greatest thing about soccer fans in the United States is that for the most part everyone is willing to help each other out,” says founder of the Free Beer Movement Dan Wiersema. The Free Beer Movement is a grassroots organization that aims to connect people who are interested in learning more about soccer through America’s love for beer.  “The thing I love about the Free Beer Movement is that you get to meet two great communities who are open and willing to share their respective loves: soccer and beer.”

Everyone from the bartender to the young kid with a fresh Van Persie, to the old Englishman in the corner with the faded Sir Bobby Charlton jersey are still learning about this game. The best thing about a soccer bar is that it is a community to share your experiences, or lack thereof, about soccer and get to know other people. That being said, most of the people there will probably have a good understanding of the game so feel free to ask questions about different players or teams. Unless you can tell that one of your patrons had a long night before or their team is getting beaten by 6 goals (we call them Newcastle fans) most people are friendly and will answer your questions. You may even get the occasional person who will use ketchup bottles and salt and pepper shakers to explain the offsides rule. Take lots of notes about this as you crack open the striker to put him on your eggs.

#2: Wear Some Colors!

So much of waking up to watch soccer is representing the beautiful game in all of its glory. It is part pageantry, part coffee and beer, and part greasy breakfeast. So if you have a soccer jersey, or anything that is soccer-related, wear it! I normally sport my classic Newcastle jersey with the Northern Rock logo. I will also occasionally wear a Serbia jersey that my good friend Djerdj gave me to get girls. Even if all you have is a Galatasaray scarf that your aunt bought you when she was abroad five years ago that is fine. It shows that you are willing to immerse yourself in the culture.

True story: during the 2010 World Cup Washington D.C. was pretty much in soccer euphoria. Embassies were closed for games, workers all throughout the city were taking “business meetings” for two hour periods between 12 and 2, and bars were open at 7 and 9am for pre-gaming. Being young and working dead-end jobs, my friend Andy and I decided to take a long lunch break and catch some of the matches at Ghana Cafe. Knowing of rule #2, I told my friend Andy he needed to bring a soccer jersey. So what did the man bring to a Ghana- Serbia match? A Togo jersey! Togo a team that has a very bitter rivalry with Ghana for years. Had I known my friend would be wearing a Togo jersey, I would have lent him one of mine.

While waiting in line for a beer, there was another gentleman who was kind of pushing his way through to get a beer. This guy was dressed to the nines wearing a Brooks Brothers jacket, snake skin shoes, and aviator glasses. D.C. is full of these high-class citizens. As the bartender came to us he decided to take my friends and I order before the other fellow. Incredulous, the gentleman barked at the bartender, “How could you let this piece of shit order a beer before me. I am from Ghana!” The bartender, looking like he needed a smoke and a drink himself, very calmly said to the man “While he [Andy] may be wearing the jersey of the enemy, at least he is dressed for the occasion.” Andy felt like he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize afterwards.

Most of the time if someone notices you are wearing one of their team’s rivals shirts, they will only throw a few verbal shots at you. Since soccer in this country grew up as an us (being soccer fans) versus them (people that hate the game) there is not the animosity between teams as you see abroad. Even among arguably the fiercest soccer rivalry in this country, Mexico versus the United States, there is mutual respect for one another at the bar. “I live in Texas and of course we are right on the border with Mexico. But I am always the first person to go over to the Mexican fans and say hello and welcome them. I am hoping that maybe fans in this country can avoid all of the negative problems that fans in Europe and other parts of the world face and through our mutual admiration of the game,” said Wiersema.

If you do run across the odd salty turd, explain to them that you just started watching soccer and that you wearing the jersey for *insert reason*. Do not take whatever they say to heart and just keep enjoying the match.

#3 Have a Beer (Or at Least a Coffee)

If you are at a bar at 9 or 10am in the morning, crack open a cold one and join in on the conversation. So much of soccer is tied to beer or at least an appreciation of it. While no one is expecting you to drink a case of beer or to take shots, there is nothing better than having a nice cold Guinness and watching some soccer on the big screen. Most places also have Bloody Marys and Mimosas too, but if you go to a place called O’Finnigans do not expect high-end vodka or champagne.

However, if beer or alcohol is not your thing a cup of coffee is always a good substitute. Most of the bars that cater to the soccer crowd always have at least two pots of coffee boiling so they will be ready for a crowd that is getting up early on a weekend.  It is generally nothing fancy (i.e. not Lattes or Frappacinos) but it does the trick.

Oh, and make sure to tip your bartender or waitress well. They are up early in the morning serving you drinks and food and deserve to be tipped well.

#4 Yell, Hoot, and Holler at the TV to Your Heart’s Content

One of the thing that bothers me about so many bars is the piped in music that they play during American football games. I love Lady Gaga as much as the next person, but when there is a game on I want to hear the array emotions from my fellow bar denizens not about her poker face. Luckily most soccer bars have kicked the Jam Jams garbage to the curb in favor of fans yelling, “Ooh!” “Shoot!” “What the f—k is he doing?” or my personal favorite “Come on Ref!” There is nothing like a half-sober fan trying to break the fourth wall to communicate with a referee who is hundreds of thousands of miles away.

Even though you may hear some fans dropping the occasional f bomb, I would say as a newcomer be careful about your language. While it is true that you are at a bar, many soccer fans bring their kids to the bar because it less about the drinking and more about the game. If it is just you and a bunch of twentysomethings, curse all you like. However, if there are kids around mind your manners.

If you are lucky you may even be at a bar where some of the fans will sing the team’s chants. When I went to my first Newcastle Supporters Bar, Slainte’s Irish Pub in Baltimore, the Mobtown Magpies (the local Supporters Group) made me sing the Blaydon Races which is one of Newcastle’s great songs.  Most times though the other fans will sing with you.  For example, Liverpool fans during halftime may pull out “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the Elvis classic. No one is looking for a pitch perfect voice just someone to sing a tune with.

#5 Bring a Friend!

If you are not exactly a social gadfly or have difficulty making on a friends, it is always good to bring a friend especially if they do have some knowledge about the game. While talking to Mr. Wiersema, he used a term that I thought was very appropriate for these types of people. Lifeguards. “They are people that can help you understand the game when you might be over your head and can act as good ambassadors for the game,” he said to me.  Having watched many matches by myself and many matches with friends or family, I can definitely say that games are much more fun when you are with someone else. And if you have a friend who is already immersed in the soccer bar culture then even better!

My two personal favorite soccer bar patrons are my brother T.C. and his two year old son Jack. Every Saturday or Sunday we would have what is called “Man Day” where the three of us would go to the German Biergarten Hause on H Street Northeast in Washington D.C. While my nephew would be demolishing French Toast, singing “Ole!” and dancing to German Electronic Polka music with his dinosaurs, my brother and I would have a beer and a coffee and enjoy the English Premier League and the Bundesliga. While the game is going on we would frequently talk to people in their Washington Redskins jersey, who are there to pre-game for their noon match. What was really cool would be to see these same people come a little bit earlier every week so they could catch more of the match and talk to the other bar patrons. Oh and to boo the bejeezus out of John Terry. It is part enjoying the game, and part enjoying each other’s company but it is a great time all around.

Having been to many bars for many different types of sports, I can say there are very few games that can be as exciting in a packed or even semi-packed house as a soccer match. For ninety minutes, everyone’s attention is fixed on one thing. There are very few stoppages and emotions are always running high. People are singing, swearing both to their respective god and to inanimate objects, and at the end everyone has a laugh and says their goodbyes for the day. The community that has been built through watching games at crazy hours is a great  group that hopefully will continue to grow through following these tips when a newcomer comes at the pub.

If you have any other rules, or experiences that you would like to add feel free to write them below! Enjoy the matches and Go Toon Army!

Aug 052013

With all due respect to Clint Dempsey, his move to the Seattle Sounders is not even in the top 3 of this list…

Gonzalo Higuain

The Argentinian striker has moved from Real Madrid to Napoli in Serie A where he will be expected to replace the void left up front by the departure of Edinson Cavani.

Raul Albiol

And speaking of Real Madrid players joining Napoli, the veteran Spanish defender joins Higuain and signs a four year deal.

Roberto Soldado

The prolific Valencia striker has completed a (reported) €30 million ($39.7 million) move to Tottenham Hotspur after weeks of speculation and negotiations.

Diego Lugano

The veteran Uruguayan center back has completed a two year move from Paris-Saint Germain to West Bromwich Albion.

Kevin Gameiro

The French striker leaves his native Paris-Saint Germain and signs a five year deal with Sevilla in La Liga.

Morgan de Sanctis

The former Napoli goalkeeper has completed a two year move to AS Roma for a reported fee of just €500,000 ($662,000) where he will replace the recently sold Maarten Stekelenburg.

Loic Remy

The QPR striker joins Newcastle on a season long loan after arriving in the EPL back in January.

Gary Hooper

The former Celtic striker completed a three year to move to Norwich City after much speculation about whether or not he would stay in Scotland.

Yannick Sagbo

The Ivory Coast international departs Evian (France) and joins newly promoted Hull City and signs a two year deal for a reported fee of £3 million ($4.6 million).

Lucas Biglia

The former Anderlecht central midfielder completed a five year move to Serie A’s Lazio.

Joel Campbell

For the third time since being bought by Arsenal three years ago, the Costa Rican striker will go on loan for the season, this time to Olympiakos.

Derk Boerrigter

The Ajax winger has transferred to Celtic where he signed a four year deal with the Scottish giants.

Steven Caulker

The former Spurs defender has completed a four year move to recently promoted Cardiff City.



Jul 262013

With a traveling inflatable MLS All Star jersey moving from iconic KC location to location already underway and plenty of activities from service projects to Macklemore concert and fan interaction activities including a FIFA 13 tournament the 2013 MLS All Star Game looks to be a very exciting time for Kansas City, close to what the city experienced with last summer’s MLB All Star Game.

The game itself will have ample chances for media coverage as both AS Roma and the MLS All Stars will be given the royal treatment(not like the British Royals who had a baby). AS Roma has slightly modified their crest, hired a new manager, and brought in quite a bit of talent while spending close to $93 million this transfer window.

Extensive coverage will be coming every bit of the way.

Good thing this writer has been brushing up on Italian.

Jul 242013

chicago fire 300x169 Know Your MLS Teams: Chicago Fire


You’re going home in a Cook County Ambulance!

Founded: 1997 (Started Play in 1998)

Pedigree: 1998 MLS Cup Champions, 2003 MLS Eastern Conference Regular Season Champions, 1998 MLS Western Conference Champions, and 4-time U.S. Open Cup Champions (1998, 2000, 2003, and 2006.)

Supporters: Section 8 (this is actually an association of the various Supporters Groups,) the Arsonists, Husaria, Fire Ultras 98, Partisans , the Red Scare, Sector Latino, the Western Front, Ultras Red Side, and the Whiskey Brothers Aught Five  

Current Record this Season: 7-9-3 (Currently in Seventh Place)

Coach: Frank Klopas

Top Returning Players: GK Sean Johnson, DEF Janil Anibaba, DEF Austin Berry, MID Alex, FWD Patrick Nyarko, and FWD Chris Rolfe.

Key Additions: DEF Bakary Soumare (Philadelphia Union,) MID Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids,) MID Dilly Duka (Columbus Crew,) FWD Maicon Santos (D.C. United,) and FWD Mike Magee (Los Angeles Galaxy.)

Key Departures: DEF Cory Gibbs (Retired,) DEF Dan Gargan (San Jose Earthquakes,) DEF Arne Friederich (Retired,) MID Pavel Pardo (Retired,) and FWD Dominic Oduro (Columbus Crew.)

Key Players to Watch: Dilly Duka


The Chicago Fire enter into the All-Star break a completely changed team from their opening game of the Major League Soccer season. At the beginning of the season, this Chicago team looked flat. Having lost three players due to retirement, and one of their top forwards in Dominic Oduro in a trade with Columbus Crew. They just could not score. In ten of their first eleven games, the Chicago Fire only scored five goals. This was a team that was going to nowhere. And then they traded for Mike Magee.

Now I do not want to disparage Robbie Rogers or anything that he is going through. The courage that he has shown to come out and be one of the first professional athletes who are openly gay is remarkable. Once he gets off the soccer rust, he will be a very good player for the Los Angeles Galaxy. That being said: the clear winners of the Robbie Rogers-Mike Magee trade are the Chicago Fire. In his seven matches with the Fire, Magee has scored five goals and the club has only lost two games. With the six that he scored with Los Angeles Galaxy, he is currently tied for second in the league in goals with Marco di Vaio. He is very good on second chance shots, and just never seems to stop on any play. Before the Magee trade the Fire seemed flat. It seems like someone has finally lit the match with this team.

The reason why he is such a great playmaker, and why he has been such a great addition to this Fire staff is that he exudes confidence both on and off of the pitch. He seemed to be lacking it in his early years with Los Angeles. But at the end of last year that things started turning around for him. You can also always tell a good striker from a bad striker by their ability to score in clutch situations. In 15 playoff appearances in his MLS career, Magee has 8 goals. The second goal that he scored against D.C. United on the June the 1st was one of the best goals that I have seen all season.

The trade for Magee would only have worked if it galvanized the entire team, and so far it seems to have done so. At the beginning of the season, their other two forwards Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko have returned to their natural positions on the wing, rather than in the center. Both players are excellent distributors and good second options but not the true center forward that the Fire needed. That is ok. Both Rolfe and Nyarko have shown in the past that they are excellent pieces to quality squads. I really like the work of Nyarko, in particular who has shown that he is able to break multiple defenders and either make his own shot or send it in to Magee from the left wing.

Rolfe is probably one of the most unheralded players in Major League Soccer. He does not score many goals as a forward, but he is very good with the last pass, and is able to toss crosses to the streaking attacker on the other side of the field. But he is probably best as a 65th minute super-sub now. “The problem is that Chris Rolfe came back from Denmark a different player,” says Scott Fenwick, Founder of the website On the Fire “He had a nice run in the second half last year, but fell off badly as the Fire backed into the playoffs. This year, he’s disappeared during games for long stretches at a time. Quality MLS defenders have figured out how to shut Rolfe down.”

In addition to the trade of Magee, the other major improvement that the Fire made this past offseason was to completely remake their Midfield. With the additions of Dilly Duka, the Fire have added some much needed youth to what was an aging line. Duka, who was traded for Oduro last offseason has shown that he is one of the best young midfielders in all of MLS. In the match against the Colorado Rapids, Duka won that match for the Fire because of his pace and the runs he was able to make off of the ball. “What’s most encouraging about him [Duka] is his ability to play with his head up in and around the box. He’s had a lot of success pushing the byline, beating his man, and then making perpendicular cuts into the box, where he’s getting good shots on target and service to attacking teammates,” said Fenwick. He still needs to improve on his shooting a little bit. He only has two goals out of his fourteen shots on goal. That being said, he is only in his third full season and his goal really should not be to shoot but to open the field up for his forwards.

I also really like the trade that the Fire made in the offseason  for Jeff Larentowicz.  Larentowicz seems to have regained some of the form that made him a U.S. National Team fixture. He is a strong midfielder, who is able to pull a lot of high balls down, and is very effective with his first touch after a chest trap. He also likes to take the long shot from outside of the box, and has been pretty effective with it.

The only real problem that I see with this team is their defense. I have never been the biggest fan of Bakary Soumare. He always seems to have trouble with his clearances, and sometimes get lost coming back from a run on offense. Janil Anibaba definitely seems to have improved over last year’s implosion against Will Bruin and the Houston Dynamo. He is a quality asset on set pieces as he is very good on headers. However, in Sunday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps he was beaten very easily on some simple possessions.

The one player on defense who I think has the most upside is Austin Berry. The 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year, Berry seems to be the most comfortable taking on their opponent’s top striking option. He also has some skills on offense as well. I am a sucker for scissor kicks, so naturally I want to make sure people see Mr. Berry’s goal against the Colorado Rapids. Beyond Berry, Soumare, and Anibaba though the cupboard is bare. This team sorely misses the veteran presence of Arne Friederich and would be wise to trade for an additional 1-2 defenders to supplement their starters.

Though the Fire defense has shown some creaks, there are no creaks with Goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Having seen many of MLS young goalkeepers (Hamid, Hall, McMath, etc.) I have to say that Johnson is the most polished out of all of them. Part of the reason why this team is in the place that they are is because Johnson kept them in it. Even when they were struggling for goals, the Fire were in games because Johnson was able to make some spectacular saves.

There is no greater example of his work this season than the save that he made against the Montreal Impact in Week 9. Not many goalkeepers can make a save like that. It requires excellent positioning, vision, and some confidence in your surroundings to not only make the save, but make sure that you are not exposing yourself to an opponent on your blind side.

Despite Sunday’s loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Chicago Fire have turned a wasted season into one that has infinite possibilities. During the past few matches the club has finally started functioning as a proper unit. Although they are in eighth place and eight points behind the Houston Dynamo, this is a club on the rise having won four of their past seven matches.

In my conversation with Scott Fenwick he pointed out to me a pretty damning statistic: the Fire are 1-7-3 against teams that would be in the playoffs should they start today. With upcoming matches against the Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union, the Montreal Impact, and a semifinal match against D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup the Chicago Fire will have every opportunity to prove that they are still a playoff team and able to win trophies this season.

Beer of Choice: Old Style Beer

While I usually use this space to give a beer of a local micro-brewery in the area that produces a quality brew that is not in a can, for the Chicago Fire there is only true beer. Old Style Lager is just a simple lager that has been brewed since 1902 and is a staple of Chicago culture. There are three truths that I have learned about Chicagoans, from their native son and my good friend Rob Goeke. One, that they are some of the most loyal sports fans in the United States. Two, they have a bizarre taste in pizza (Thin crust>Deep Dish.) And three, a love for Old Style Lager.

I have seen the complex array emotions that Chicagoans have gone through in my friendship with this guy. They wear their team’s colors as if it is a badge of pride, eat insanely hot pizza because the weather is so damn cold, and drink a beer that never wavers. With a team that has supporters unions who only speak in Polish, who grit out victories, and never out of any match, Chicago Fire style is Old Style.

In the words of my friend, the aforementioned Mr. Goeke: “The Cubs are partially symbolic of the Gatsby-esque north shore suburbs. The Fire’s stadium is built in a location to maximize interest in Chicago’s Mexican community. What’s one thing that could unite them? Cheap, serviceable beer. Bebe una cerveza frio, Chicago!”

Author’s Note: As I was finishing this article, I heard the terrible news that actor and legendary Chicagoan Dennis Farina had passed away. In honor of one of Chicago’s own, and of the great Old Style beer, please enjoy this amazing Old Style commercial with Farina from the 1980’s.

Also, a big thanks to Scott Fenwick and the website On the Fire for his help on this article!

Jul 212013

No time to waste so let’s go to it!

Edinson Cavani

The Uruguayan center forward, long rumored to be on the move from Napoli, has finally completed a transfer: to Paris-Saint Germain. The leading scorer in Serie A last season, Cavani joins the Ligue 1 side after they ponied up a reported €64 million ($84 million) transfer fee.

Thiago (Alcantara)

The Barcelona winger was supposedly headed to Manchester United, but in fact joins German champions Bayern Munich for a new four year deal and a reported €25 million ($32.8 million) transfer fee. The move unites Thiago with his former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.

Alvaro Negredo

The former Sevilla striker has joined Manchester City for a reported £20 million ($30.5 million) transfer fee.

Stevan Jovetic

In addition to Negredo, Manchester City have also procured the services of former Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetic. The transfer fee is a reported €23 million ($30.2 million).

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

The highly sought after Shakhtar Donetsk attacking midfielder joins Borussia Dortmund for a reported €27.5 million ($36 million) transfer fee. Dortmund were able to beat out Liverpool, who were very much interested in the midfielder’s services.

Pepe Reina

The Liverpool goalkeeper is on his way to Napoli for a season long loan after the former went out and bought Belgian international Simon Mignolet.

Kevin Strootman

The PSV/Netherlands central midfielder joins AS Roma in Serie A for the next four years.

Jose Callejon

The highly scrutinized Real Madrid youth product has completed a permanent move to Napoli. Callejon has been the subject of several loan deals ever since coming out of the youth ranks in Madrid.

Oriol Romeu

The 21 year old Chelsea holding midfielder will join Valencia on loan for the upcoming season. Romeu came to London via Barcelona last summer.

Victor Wanyama

The central midfielder who helped Celtic advance from the group stage during the UEFA Champions League last season has joined Sunderland for a reported £12.5 million ($19 million) transfer fee believed to be a club record.

Jozy Altidore

And staying in England, Sunderland have purchased AZ Alkmaar striker Jozy Altidore and signed him to a four year deal.

Giovanni dos Santos

The Mexican international has completed a four year move from Mallorca to newly promoted Villareal in Spain.


The Atletico Madrid defender joins Portugal’s Benfica on loan after spending 2011-12 on loan at Deportivo.

Gerard Deulofeu

After an impressive performance at the U-20 World Cup for Spain, the young forward joins Everton on loan from Barcelona.

Carlos Bacca

The former Club Brugge striker joins Sevilla for a new five year deal and a reported €7 million ($9 million) transfer fee.

Joel Robles

The Atletico goalkeeper who spent last season on loan at Wigan is returning to England after joining Everton to sign a five year deal.

Marcus Berg

The Swedish international striker moves to Panathanaikos (Greece) from Hamburg and signs a new four year deal.

Giorgos Karagounis

And speaking of Greece, the veteran Greek center back has signed a new one year extension to remain at Fulham.

Martin Olsson

The Swedish defender completes a four year move from Blackburn to Norwich City.

Grant Holt

And last but not least (for now) the former Norwich super sub has completed a three year move to Wigan Athletic.

Jul 132013

Bale 300x199 Take the money and run: Why Tottenham should cash in on Bale this summer

The Gareth Bale to Real Madrid transfer saga is set to run for the remainder of the summer, with Tottenham and Andre Villas Boas continuing to insist the player is not for sale.  Conventional wisdom says that Bale will give Spurs one more year before answering the calls from Florentino Perez and Zinedine Zidane to join Los Blancos, or even nouveau riche PSG, who have reportedly entered the race to sign the player.  Parallels could certainly be drawn with the summer before Christiano Ronaldo’s last season an Manchester United. The two players undoubtedly have many similarities, both in terms of style of play and image.  So perhaps it makes sense for Spurs to ask last year’s PFA player of the year to give them one more great season, push his stock even higher, get the club into the Champions League, and then reinvest Bale’s transfer fee to strengthen the squad.

Yet there is reason for Spurs to seriously consider cashing in on Bale this summer, with PSG willing to outbid Madrid with an astronomical fee of up to £85 million, as reported by the Daily Mail.  The Welsh international has increased his goal output from 11, to 12, to 26 goals in all competitions the last three seasons; comparable to Ronaldo’s return of 9, 12, and 23 goals in a similar stretch of his career.  However, the Portuguese international was 22-years-old at this point in his career, while Bale will turn 24 in a few days time.  Furthermore, there is no guarantee that Bale will go onto score the 42 goals in all competitions Ronaldo managed in his next season.

Though Bale is an incredible athlete possessing great pace and capable of single-handedly winning games with his direct play, I get the sense that he is nearing his ceiling as a player, at least at Tottenham, as ridiculous as that might sound considering his age and the season he had.  The reason I say this is that players who base their game around great athleticism or speed sometimes fail to develop in other aspects of their game.  Michael Owen springs to mind.  The same could be said of very left footed players.

Now I am not saying Bale is necessarily set to become the next Arjen Robben, whose one dimensional play can be both scintillating and frustrating in equal measure.  The Welshman has clearly been working on improving his overall play under AVB, playing well in a central, free role this season for Spurs, with his ability to score with his head, right foot, and from free kicks all showcased this campaign.  Nevertheless, in the area of assists , Bale could improve, recording only four assists in the league while playing as winger/attacking midfielder.  This statistic is indicative of the fact that Tottenham have increasingly looked like a one man team, and if the club do not bring in a real quality striker and/or midfielder this summer, other clubs in the Premier League will start to focus exclusively on shutting Bale down, as happened to Spurs on occasion this past season.

As great as a player as Bale is, I find it hard to believe he will be able to significantly raise his level of play this coming season, especially when he finds other teams setting up to stop him from being able to run into space every time he takes the field.  It would make sense for Bale’s development as a player to make a move to a club where he will be able to play Champions League football now, not sometime in the future, and be surrounded with truly world-class teammates.  A move outside of England would allow the the Spur’s winger to assimilate new ideas from the continent, perhaps under the tutelage of a manager of the stature of Carlo Ancelloti, and develop parts of his game not emphasized in the always entertaining but not always technical or tactical Premier League.

For these reasons, it makes most sense, both for Bale and Tottenham, for him to leave this summer, as the amount of money reportedly being offered is not guaranteed to still be at the same level in a years time.  Injuries happen, players lose form, sometimes its hard to keep the same level of desire when a club like Real Madrid is  courting you.  I believe Gareth Bale is a great player and will have a very successful career barring injury; however, to me he lacks the insatiable hunger for success, supreme self confidence, flair, exceptional technique and uncanny finishing ability to one day be in the top one or two players in the world, like Christiano Ronaldo.  Therefore, my advice to Daniel Levy would be take the Ronaldo level money now with Bale’s stock unlikely to increase substantially in a year, and reinvest in some key positions to make Spurs a more balanced, complete team capable of securing a Champions league berth.




Jul 122013

Guidolin1 300x168 Who is the most valuable manager in Serie A?

Calcio is well known for producing top quality mangers, with the generation including the likes of Sacchi, Lippi, Capello, and Ancelloti passing the torch to the current crop of elite managers in Serie A. Conte at Juventus, Mazzarri at Napoli and now Inter, Montella at Fiorentina, and to a lesser extent Allegri at Milan, all have received accolades for the jobs they have done over the last season, and not without good reason.

However, a manager closer in age to the previous generation, Francesco Guidolin, does not always get the credit he deserves for the incredible job he has done at Udinese. Yes, his name is usually mentioned in the conversation regarding manager of the year, but if you compare what he has achieved relative to the resources at his disposal, it becomes obvious how underrated he still is as a manager.

Guidolin has led Udinese to 4th, 3rd, and 5th place finishes in the last three seasons, after the club finished 15th the year prior to his arrival. The team has consistently been in the top five despite losing players such as Sanchez, Inler, Zapata, Asamoah, and Handanovíc during this time.

Udinese’s wage bill at the beginning of this season according to Gazzeta dello Sport was just over 21 million euros, the joint 6th lowest in the division and far behind the figures spent by Milan (120), Juventus (115), Inter (100), and even Roma (95). Likewise, a study done by from 2001 to 2011shows that Udinese have had the greatest positive net transfer balance while Juventus, Napoli, and Fiorentia made up the top three in the opposite category.

While Conte has been instrumental turning Juventus back into one of Europe’s top clubs, he has also had the most talented and well balanced squad in Serie A to work with. Likewise, though Napoli’s squad is not as complete as Juve’s, it is full of experience and Mazzarri has been able to rely on the league’s best goal scorer, Edison Cavani.

Montella’s situation is slightly different in that Fiorentina experienced a huge turnover in the players in the offseason and the manager deserves much praise for creating an attractive, attacking side. However, he was not exactly starting from scratch. While Borja Valero may have been unproven in Serie A, he was clearly a quality player having already been capped by Spain. Similarly, David Pizzaro, who started his career at Udinese under another often overlooked manager in Luciano Spalleti, was an additional proven player at Montella’s disposal.

Apart from the evergreen Di Natale, Guidolin has had to build his squad each year from a relatively unproven group of players. While credit must also go to Udinese’s excellent scouting network in South America, the speed at which Guidolin has been able to develop potential into real ability is extraordinary. This, coupled with his ability to set his side up to absorb pressure and play effective on the counter attack, has turned Udinese into a very difficult team to beat, home or away.

In time when Serie A’s profile globally is waning and even the top clubs struggle to compete economically with Europe’s other big spenders, it is important for Italian football to recognize and continue to develop managers like Guidolin who are not only adept at the tactical side of the game, but are also able to coach and develop younger players.


Jul 072013

As always, these are deals that have been confirmed by multiple news outlets and/or the clubs involved…


The 24 year old Brazilian midfielder, fresh off solid performances in the Confederations Cup, has completed a move from Corinthians to Tottenham for a reported £17.1 million ($25.5 million) transfer fee.

Nicolas Anelka

After a stint in China, the former Chelsea striker returns to the English Premier League and signs a one year deal with West Bromwich Albion.

Marco van Ginkel

And speaking of Chelsea, the Blues have signed highly touted Vitesse midfielder Marco van Ginkel to a five year deal.

Marko Marin

With the arrival of Van Ginkel, Chelsea have sent Marko Marin (purchased last summer from Werder Bremen) to Sevilla on loan for the upcoming season.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

The Gabon international striker has completed a five year move from Saint-Etienne in France to Germany’s Borussia Dortmund.

Adam Maher

The highly rated 19 year old midfielder has completed a five year move from AZ Alkmaar to PSV Eindhoven after much speculation he would join Ajax.

Antonio Cassano

The 30 year old Italian striker has transferred from Inter to Parma and signed a three year deal. Cassano leaves Inter after arriving their via a rare player-for-player swap with archrivals Milan.

Yaya Sanogo

The Auxerre/France U-21 striker has joined Arsenal on a free transfer and signed a long term deal with the London club.


The attacking midfielder (not the right back at Bayern Munich) has signed a three year extension with Barcelona and appears to be headed to Celta Vigo on loan next season, although that still has not been 100% confirmed at this time.


Speaking of Celta Vigo, they’ve also signed Benfica winger Nolito for a reported €2.5 million ($3.2 million) transfer fee.

Johan Djourou/Francis Coquelin

This Arsenal duo has completed loan moves to Hamburg and Freiburg respectively for next season.

Christopher Samba

After being sold just six months ago in January, the center back returns to Queens Park Rangers after a less than stellar stint with Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala.

Luca Toni

The Fiorentina striker has completed a one year move to newly promoted Hellas Verona.

Jonjo Shelvey

The England U-21 captain has left Liverpool and joined Swansea for a reported £6 million ($8.9 million) transfer fee.

Alejandro Pozuelo

The Swans haven’t stopped their. They also signed Real Betis midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo to a three year deal.

Georgi Milanov

The Bulgarian midfielder has completed a five year move from Liteks Lovech to CSKA Moscow.

Joan Oriol

The former Villareal left back has left on a free move to join Osasuna for a three year deal.

Hector Herrara

The Pachuca midfielder has completed a four year move across the pond to Portuguese giants FC Porto.