Around the Soccer World – Tidbits
Been struggling today trying to figure out how to process the mess in Las Vegas. Been wanting to put up an article on some highlights of the soccer world and now seems like a good time. I wish I was still in my playing days because I have never found anything that could totally refresh my mind like 90 minutes on the pitch. Fishing and hunting are close but there is too much slow time where the mind can wander. Not so in a tough soccer match. Total 100% focus on the ball and the players around you. So for those who are still in your playing days (even if its some other sport) cherish every moment you have on the field. And press on and keep at it as long as you can. Ok so what’s on my mind. Lets get to to it!!
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
US Men’s National Team
Well this is right up front and center. The final two matches of the hexagonal qualifying are this Friday at home in Orlando against Panama then next Tuesday away at Trinidad and Tobago. No sugar coating this. The MNT is not in the best of positions for qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. Here’s a look at the current standings. The MNT sits in fourth place. Recall that the top three teams qualify and the fourth place finisher has a home and home play in series against either Syria or Australia which would be played in November.
|Home Team||Away Team||Total|
So that’s the bad news. We aren’t sitting in the best of shape. Now for the good news. We are quite clear of Honduras with the tie breaker (goal differential) thanks to the 6-0 drubbing we handed them back this spring. Secondly, our last two matches are both very winnable games. Panama is a tough side and is likely to play a defensive bunker against us. But we do have them at home and frankly if we can’t beat Panama at home then should we be going to Russia anyway? Then the last game is away at Trinidad and Tobago. They are eliminated from qualifying so have nothing much to play for except pride. So I see several ways we can qualify. Win both games or win one and draw one as four points should get us through.
Coach Bruce Arena has called in 26 players for the camp this week. Although note that Gyasi Zardes has already withdrawn with an injury. Here’s who is in camp.
U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; WCQ Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 15/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 37/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake; 0/0)
DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 35/6), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 12/1), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 24/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 16/0), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/MEX; 6/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 6/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 4/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; (8/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 20/3)
MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 5/0), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution; 0/0), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 5/1), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 9/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 38/7), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City; 6/0), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 9/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 11/5), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy; 4/1)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 39/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 41/18), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 12/4)
The soccer boards are pretty lit up with lots of discussions about whose in and whose not. Some curious names included (again) that have not shown much lately and you have to wonder why they are still getting looks (Zusi, Wondolowski, Beasley, and Ream)??? Yet several players have been performing well and are missing again (Miazga, Horvath, Mackennie as examples). I think that Arena is going with the more experienced players given the pressure of these next two matches. I understand that however I also believe that I would prefer to have a more talented player who is currently in form than a weak veteran. We shall see. As the week progresses and we hear news from the camp I will get a better idea on the formation and lineup I expect to see. I’ll post that in the thread on the team.
UEFA Champions League
I did a preview of the UCL back in September. The main point was that big time soccer is a money driven sport and the clubs with it are powerful and the ones without it have a tougher time of it. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the UCL. Typically the clubs from the big five European leagues are a bit flush with cash compared to those teams from the smaller leagues. Certainly they can and do compete but over the course of a long tournament its tough for them to come out on top. So how have things shaken out so far?
Group A - Manchester United is on top as projected but Benfica is currently struggling in last place with zero points. They have dug themsleves quite a hole. Can still climb out of it but its a hole nonetheless.
Group B - Paris Saint Germain and Bayern Munich were my projected top two. They are on track so far although Bayern has not looked well in either the UCL or the German Bundesliga. To the point where the Bayern coach was fired last week. Carlo Ancelotti was fired a mere five months after leading them to their fifth straight Bundesliga title. The line “what have you done for me today” seems appropriate.
Group C - Chelsea and Atletico Madrid with a potential for Roma to sneak in is playing out just that way. Chelsea is on top followed by Roma with Madrid sitting in third.
Group D - No surprises so far with Barcelona and Juventus sitting in first and second. Although Juventus is currently tied with Sporting (Portugal).
Group E - While projected winner Liverpool is only tied for second at the moment looking at the schedule explains their situation. They have played the other two quality teams in the group (Sevilla and Spartak) but they have not played bottom dweller Maribor yet and both Sevilla and Spartak have gotten points in their match against Maribor. Look for Liverpool to move up as they play Maribor in two weeks.
Group F - As projected Manchester City is the class of the group and Napoli and Shaktar are tied for second and playing well. What is surprising is that Dutch club Feyenoord is not. They have lost both their matches to date having scored but one goal while allowing seven.
Group G - While not a surprise Besiktas is leading the group having won both their matches so far and looked good in doing so. Porto has also looked pretty decent but Monaco and Leipzig have not.
Group H - The Group of Death has certainly been just that. Bundesliga current leader, Dortmund, finds itself in tied for LAST place with zero points in their two matches with APOEL. Real Madrid and Tottenham both have won their first two matches and are tied in first. Things may get shaken up a bit in the next two match days. Dortmund and APOEL play each other home and away while Real and Tottenham have a home and away series. This one could get really interesting!
English Premier League
Not quite 20% of the way into the EPL season but so far there isn’t much doubt as to who the class of the league are so far. It depends on which side of the city you are from but its all Manchester so far. Manchester City and Manchester United sit atop the EPL with 19 points. Five points clear of third place Tottenham. Anyway you want to slice it these two teams are ahead of the pack right now. In seven matches both Manchester teams have six wins and a draw. No other team has more than four wins and every other team has at least one loss so far. Ok so they have great records but are they playing exciting attacking soccer? Well unfortunately for the rest of the teams, they are. Man City has a plus 20 goal differential and Man U has a plus 19. The next best side has a plus nine and the next best after that is plus six. Will this continue? Certainly I don’t expect both Manchester clubs to continue pounding their opponents into submission but they are very deep and very talented.
At the other end of the spectrum there are three clubs (Leicester, Swansea, and Bournemouth) with just five, five, and four points respectively. Dangerously toward relegation. That same Leicester City that won the EPL just two short years ago. At least, though, they can feel slightly better in that they aren’t at the very bottom. That low position rests with Crystal Palace. In their first seven matches they have allowed 17 goals. Offensively? Well they are flat offensive all right. They have not tallied a single goal this season on their way to seven straight losses. They haven’t even managed a draw so far. Say hello to the Championship next year. Although its early I just don’t see how they will avoid relegation.
Well that team currently sitting at the bottom of Group H in the Champions League is sitting atop the Bundesliga. Just like the Manchester clubs in the EPL, in the first seven matches Dortmund also has six wins and a draw outscoring their opponents for a plus 19 goal differential. And they are also five points clear of second place, Bayern Munich, the team that fired their coach last week. Dortmund has been firing on all cylinders and its pretty apparent that the addition of Ukranian striker Andrly Yamolenko was a great fit in replacing Ousmane Dembele who transferred to Barcelona.
At the bottom of the table sits poor FC Koln. Although they have faired a tiny bit better than Crystal Palace in the EPL. In their first seven matches they have managed to score one draw so they have at least got on the board.
Other European Leagues
Paris Saint Germain is clearly the class of the French Ligue 1 and Neymar has made a huge difference to that club. Over in Spain its once again all about Lionel Messi. In Barcelona’s first seven matches they have come away with the W in all seven. Outscoring their opponents 23-2. Of those 23 goals, Messi has figured in 13 of them with 11 goals and two assists. Dude is playing scary good right now. As a goalkeeper, I relished being able to face shots and especially free kicks. But no way I would have wanted to have Messi with a free kick anywhere inside 30 yards. He’s money.
Down in Italy in the Serie A Napoli is atop but followed closely by Juventus and Milano. I don’t see much Italian football except for those teams that play in the Champions League and of course their national team. But want to see solid fundamental soccer especially on defense? Watch the Serie A.
Major League Soccer
There are barely three weeks left in the MLS regular season. Six clubs have clinched a playoff berth (Toronto, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, Columbus, and Vancouver) while three clubs have already been eliminated from playoff contention (DC, Colorado, and Los Angeles). Toronto has amassed the most points, 65, and should be the home team for all of the playoffs. That’s bad news for their opponents. Very bad news. In 16 matches played at home so far, Toronto has gone 12-1-3 with their lone loss two weeks ago to rival Montreal 5-3.
With goals becoming increasingly difficult in the playoffs its hard to imagine that this year’s winner of the MLS Cup won’t come from the Eastern Conference. Sporting Kansas City is the only team in the Western Conference with a goal differential of more than plus eight sitting at plus 13. Four teams in the Eastern Conference have better goal differentials. The one positive on the side of KC is that have an incredibly stingy defense. While they don’t score much they don’t give up hardly any. They have only allowed 24 goals in 30 matches. By far the lowest goals allowed per game in the MLS. So who knows how this will play out. With the final slated for December 9th, it may well come down to the weather. How interesting would it be if the final pitted KC at Toronto. A defensively masterful team versus the high powered attack. What would have more bearing on the outcome? The home crowd advantage or poor weather favoring the defense.
Whatever happens its been a strong season across the board and the last couple of weeks should be fun!!
So there you have it. Don’t forget to tune in to ESPN2 this Friday at 5pm Eastern. And if you are anywhere close to Orlando, grab some friends and go to the game. We need that stadium to be rocking for the home team.
USA USA USA!!!!!