Archive for July, 2010

Are You Ready For Some Football?

Spurs on their warmup jog. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

On October 31st of this year, the San Francisco 49ers will play the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL’s global outreach football program.

Last Wednesday evening, Tottenham Hotspur landed at San Francisco airport, and Thursday morning had an open practice for fans at the Earthquakes’ training facility.

Tom Huddlestone's hiked up shorts were quite the distraction...and not in a good way. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

People in the two teams’ marketing departments must have realized at some point that they could form a partnership that would be entertaining to fans from both teams. So the 49ers sent quarterback Alex Smith, offensive tackle Joe Staley and kicker Joe Nedney to the Spurs’ practice to meet some of the players, try some kicking and get a view of the “other” football practice.

I have a friend who works for the production company that does 49ers Total Access, a TV show that tends to follow all things Niners. He called me up as they knew nothing about soccer and asked me if I knew anything about “the TottenHAM Hotspur.” I said, “A little, their manager is named Harry –” “You’re hired,” said my friend.

I assumed I would be there as a liaison of sorts – pointing out certain players to the cameramen, giving them a bit of history and facts so that the interviewers would come off as knowledgeable, etc. Turns out it was just me and one cameraman – I was the interviewer AND and I had to come up with my own questions! What follows are my notes about the whole affair which lasted over two practices.

The practice itself

Keanos' still got it.

About half of Spurs’ starting eleven were not there as they were still on post-World Cup holiday. So sadly no Crouch (yes, I would have asked him to do the robot). Defoe, Gomes, King, Lennon, etc. were also absent. Still, Spurs are a talented team and many of their superstars were on show. Some bullet points:
- Luka Modrić is tiny and looks like a 10 year old schoolboy. He was also the best player on the pitch by far and his ball control is spectacular.

- Tom Huddlestone is a big boy. He also likes “hiking” his shorts up to uncomfortable levels.

- Younes Kaboul is bigger still, but he looks in shape.

- Robbie Keane really does bark and yap, and is still a very skillful player.

- Gareth Bale has simian-like features.

- Cudicini ALWAYS has a scowl on his face.

- Roman Pavlyuchenko is known as “Pav.”

- Hutton never shuts up and is really funny (if you can understand him).

- There was a definite distinction in skill between Modrić, Bale, Pav and a few others versus the rest of the squad.

The 49ers arrive

Joe Staley and Alex Smith of the 49ers get their Earthquake jersey's. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

The first day Alex Smith and Joe Staley showed up midway through practice. The obvious thing one notices is how big they are, especially in relation to the Spurs players (yes, even Huddlestone). Even Joe Nedney, the kicker, was bigger than most of the soccer players.

I talked first to Joe Staley, the gregarious tackle. Both he and Alex Smith were surprisingly knowledgeable about soccer. They both not only avidly followed the USMNT, but they watched most of the other World Cup games as well, and both gave perfect descriptions of what offside meant in soccer. Most surprising to me was that they also knew all about the significance of Wembley Stadium and its importance as a national venue, and were incredibly excited to play there.

I asked Staley what he thought of the soccer practice and he mentioned that the biggest difference is that there is a lot more scrimmaging between the entire team. In football, the players tend to work on their positions more and there isn’t nearly as much running.

When posed the question whether “any of these players could make it as a NFL football player,” Joe quickly shook his head and said, “No”…until he saw Huddlestone and said, “Well, he could!”

Clive Allen.

Alex Smith was a little more serious. His views on instant replay in soccer were very well thought out, and, in my opinion, spot-on. He said that it should be in use for goals and major incidents in the penalty area, but for everything else, just let the game flow.

The US athletes were much more comfortable talking to me and the camera than the English ones were. 49er All Access wanted me to interview the English players as opposed to Modrić, Ćorluka, etc. Although polite and obliging, the soccer players answered the questions quickly and without any embellishment. They also knew nothing about American football (though a couple of them do watch it occasionally). The one exception was Clive Allen, one of the Spurs coaches.

Clive Allen is a Spurs and QPR legend who played with many teams throughout his successful career. A gifted striker, he also, as I found out, was the kicker for the London Monarchs in NFL Europe. He was fantastic to interview.

Completely engaging and very knowledgeable about both sports, he too was a big advocate for goal line technology and instant replay. He also still had the ability to kick the hell out of a football (pigskin) when Nedney challenged him to a kicking competition.

Athletes are athletes
At the end of the first practice, there was a shooting practice on the Spurs’ keepers. Staley and Alex Smith were encouraged to join in with Keane, Bale, Pav, Kranjčar, Huddlestone and a couple of others.

Joe Staley scoring off a volley. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

Clive Allen would stand at the byline of the penalty box and whip in balls either in the air or on the ground for the players to either trap and shoot or one-time towards the net. Keeping in mind that the Americans hadn’t played organized soccer since they were 5, they acquitted themselves pretty well. They both trapped the ball on the chest as if they had been playing for years. Admittedly Staley’s chest is pretty huge, but their ball control was good.

Staley even scored a goal which was followed by an equally impressive goal celebration (based on the Bafana Bafana World Cup goal celebration dance). Both Bale and Modrić were incredible during this drill and slammed the ball in the back of the net with deadly precision.

After this it was the NFL players’ turns to throw American footballs with the Spurs squad. Surprisingly no one aside from their 49 year old coach (Clive Allen) could run AND catch the football. Some notes:
- Huddlestone has great hands. The boys were challenging Alex Smith to whip it at him, and though he would cower a bit, he caught every single one of them.

- Bale has an arm, a cannon even. He kicks with his left, but throws with his right.

- Jenas should never be a wide receiver.

- Whenever he has a free moment, Redknapp is ALWAYS on the phone.

- Hutton never shuts up and is really funny (I was finally beginning to understand him).

Gareth Bale - Back up QB. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

During the second practice, Nedney challenged Clive Allen and the two young keepers (Cudicini didn’t seem to be in the mood) to a kicking competition with the American football. The keepers, after a couple of miss-hits, really could hammer the ball. They need to work on their aim (their shots would hook to the left), but if it doesn’t work out with Spurs, I’m sure an NFL team could pick them up.

Equally impressive was Nedney’s distance and accuracy on goal kicks, and shots on goal with a soccer ball. On penalty kicks, Nedney buried half of them in the top corner. The rest were well saved by the keepers (who were also adept spot kick takers). However, neither could hold a candle to Allen, who never missed.

At the end, both the players of the two sports left with a mutual admiration for what the other does.

All told it was an entertaining two days. I got to watch a professional Champions League-bound team practice and be put through their paces, as well talk to some NFL players who were funny, intelligent and knowledgeable.

One note to leave you with: in the interchange of trying out the different sports and positions, taking penalty kicks or passing the ball, the one area that the NFL players could not get and failed at – keeper!

Galaxy vs. Quakes Sort Of Commentary

I’m not your game review guy (we don’t have enough staff).

Move over Bornstein, TSG's got a new--well not so new--HDC fave...

So instead of tweeting, I’m just going to put some comments up here on the 1st half of the Galaxy vs. Quakes game this evening. The “B” game to the Thierry Henry Classico that went on earlier. Good opener from the former Invincible.

2nd half

• Rare mistake from Omar Gonzalez as the corner squibs through and he’s on the back of his man.

• Galaxy squandering go-ahead opportunities.

• Commenting with “Unknown Man” of UnprofessionalFoul.com that Galaxy are playing splendid two-touch soccer…and BAM! goal off 4-player 2-touch sequence.

• Buddle has gotten loose a few times this evening, but Ike Opara…and Burling are doing an admirable job of standing him up.

• Juninho has quicker feet than the roadrunner. That is all.

1st half:

• Sean Franklin–as you well know if you read this publication–is fast becoming a “do no wrong” in TSG’s eyes. Actually, Franklin has impressed with forward runs, a plethora of different ways to attack headers (that I hope to ask him about), and some nifty spacing. That said….

• Even without Berhalter, the Galaxy’s back line zonal marketing is very well schooled. No useless running…with the exception of Leonardo who one can tell is still green.

• San Jose has played the ball down their right flank as much as possible to offset Donovan. Convey after his initial goal moved to the San Jose right flank, to which the Galaxy answered by moving the pride of Manchester City–kidding–Landon Donovan over to that flank.

• Cornell Glen should really be played over the top more by San Jose. That said, he’s been offsides–egregiously a few times–and his flopping is resulting in non-calls from the refs.

• Alan Gordon is a bull in a China shop. I know a few of you labeled him an all-star. On the “strength” of tonight’s performance, he’s more a product of teams being worried about other Galaxy attackers.

More coming…

Don’t Sleep On These Ten La Liga Matches

Sure, the talk might be off EPL “B” teams touring the United States or Jozy Altidore transferring out of La Liga, but…with Jose Mourinho providing a foil to Messi, Guardiola and Barca….

and with storylines around Valencia decimated by player loss, Atletico coming on real strong off a Europa Cup win oh and with a Spain win at the World Cup…La Liga might be the “Don’t Miss” league on the 2010-’11 season.

Oh, you didn’t realize the schedule came out Tuesday?

Can the Special One bag tropphies in Year One...or will he have to babysit new dad Ronaldo?

TSG opens our La Liga coverage with a guest piece from La Liga expert Donald Wine.

Top Ten La Liga Matches For The 2010-2011 Season

By Donald Wine II

The Spanish Primera released their 2010-2011 schedule Tuesday, and it was the first chance for La Liga fans to see where their favorite teams were playing and when.  While Real Madrid and Barcelona are expected to go toe-to-toe once again for the title, several upstart and strong teams, from Villareal and Atlético Madrid to Sevilla and Valencia, will have something to say about that.  On the other end, La Liga welcomes Real Sociedad, Levante and Hércules FC back to top flight football, and all three will be looking to plant their roots in La Primera beyond this season.

While every match is important, there will be some matches where the 3 points will be essential, where the outcome will determine one’s place in the table, or where you will simply see the best players in the world battle each other for bragging rights and club glory.  Here is the list of the top 10 must-see matches that will take place this season in Spanish football.

Bye-bye...

10. Valencia-Atlético Madrid – September 22, Estadio Mestalla

Valencia has been decimated with the loss of its two major stars, David Silva (to Manchester City) and David Villa (to Barcelona).  Yet, the Mestalla will be rocking for the first major test to see how Valencia will handle its loss of talent as they take on Atletico.  The Mestalla is one of the toughest places to play in Spain, and Valencia will need their fans’ support in showing the rest of the table that the reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated.

9. Hércules-Athletic Bilbao – August 29, Jose Rico Perez

Jose Rico Perez should make for a special venue as La Liga welcomes Hercules back into the fixture list for the first time in 13 years.  They play host to a formidable Athletic Bilbao in their first game in the Primera, a team that should have aspirations of qualifying for Europe this season.  Hercules will want to use the heavy crowd support to gain a result in their first match to hopefully give them some momentum and keep them from their expected place at the bottom of the table.

8. Barcelona-Espanyol – May 8, Camp Nou

The Catalan Derby is always a hands-on experience...

The Catalan derby will be a great test for Espanyol to steal some points away from Barcelona, who will likely be in a dogfight with Real for the crown at this point in the season.  With only a couple matches after the derby for both teams, points will be essential to either win a title (Barca) or qualify for Europa (Espanyol).

7. Sevilla FC-Real Madrid – May 8 Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan

Top 4 finisher Sevilla has a very strong lineup that did not suffer any major departures.  They will be once again vying for a Champions League spot, and Real will look down the barrel of two loaded weapons in Sevilla and Villareal back to back to either hold off Barca or hope Barca falter.  Sevilla is definitely the tougher of the two, and Real will have to focus all their attention on beating this terrific side.

6. Sporting Gijon-Racing Santander – May 15, El Molinon

Sporting Gijon and Racing Santander will likely be playing to stay in the Primera by this point in the season, which makes this match so important.  The winner of this match will have a great chance of avoiding relegation, while the loser will need to start making plans for La Segunda.

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Donovan to City Still Plausible

Update here, 07/21:

Sky Sports is reporting that Landon Donovan to Manchester City is still a possibility for Roberto Mancini and crew.

Below our opine on the potential move right after the conclusion of the World Cup.

Here, our thougths on Don Garber’s commentary on Donovan from a week ago.

“Hey Garber, say Manchester City offers something you can’t refuse, what are you going to tell Los Angeles Galaxy ticket holders who you promised that Donovan wasn’t going anywhere?”

According to a great many responses on Twitter, it’s “Ronaldinho.”

…and the, uh, Manchester City community is not to keen on this possibility.

——

Lando headed eastward...and just a tad further?

From June 27th:

Just a brief moment here on this story that Landon Donovan is in consideration for a transfer to Manchester City.

Beyond the obvious–that is Manchester City played a 4-3-3 last year and Donovan would be an ideal option on the right wing to replace Craig Bellamy opposite perhaps Adam Johnson–Manchester City was recently deemed by Forbes one of the “poorest” clubs in the world. (Read the description here of why.) The Yahoo story title from the link above is not only a misnomer; the headline is just plain wrong.

TSG mentioned two months ago  that the 300M people in the United States represents a major, potential, source of supporter dollars for a club that needs to diversity its revenue stream.

Manchester City will take some time–and may never be–number one in Manchester. The big four–still–of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool dominate revenues in the English Premier League. So here is way to gain a whole new set of fans, in a potential lucrative market.

Really a no brainer when you consider Donovan’s present abilities.

Welcome, Blackpool

One of my–and Shaun’s–favorite things since starting this publication is meeting a wide variety of fans that comment on the site.

Many time, I learn more from our community than I do if I was listening or reading some of the most venerable columnists online or elsewhere.

Steve & Ade (rt.) Whitaker watching Blackpool earn their promotion in May

Due to some folks across the pond that liked and linked one of our pieces on the lack of merit to a potential Blackpool transfer for Michael “Junior” Bradley, I got to–virtually–meet Ade Whitaker on Monday who took the time to respond to our “Wading Through US Transfer Rumors” piece with an “Ode to Michael Bradley Transfer” comment.

Ade is –well, I’ll let him tell you about his fanaticism for the Tangerine….

I first went to watch matches, with my late father, Brian, in the mid 1960′s, when Blackpool were a top flight, First Division club, with attendances treble what we’re getting now.

Jimmy Armfield

Cap'n Armfield in action...

A certain Alan Ball, later to become a World Cup winner with England had just started his career with us at that time.  We also had England defender and ex captain, Jimmy Armfield, who although in the World Cup winning squad of ’66, was injured and missed out on the finals. (He WAS recently presented with a belated World Cup winning medal) meaning,Blackpool are now credited with having TWO World Cup winning players.  Chelsea FC, can’t match that.

Combining with meeting estimable and opinionated people, another thing I relish about soccer and commentary on it, is the first few weeks of the Premiership season when I am introduced to one of the new squads that has been promoted for the campaign.

In a sport and league where the focus on player aloofness are crescendoing with their rising salaries, I always welcome the newly promoted for what typically is a swashbuckling verve they bring to their matches accompanied with a wet-behind-the-ears conviction that “they belong.”

For this season and from my brief site and email dialogue with Mr. Whitaker, I’m more than excited to watch the Tangerine take the pitch for the first time in the upcoming campaign.

Our next entry in our “The Fan In You” Series: A conversation with a Blackpool faithful on the dizzying array of transfer rumors around Blackpool and what promotion means to the citizens of Blackpool.

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Tuesday 2nd Cup of Joe Hitters

Apologies in advance here…a lot of “we told you so” in these bullets.

Won’t happen again. Scout’s honor.

Go:

Gerrard, excited to be at Liverpool again?

• Steven Gerrard reassured Liverpool fans with comments made in the wake of the Joe Cole signing, saying he was excited by the opportunity to play next to Cole and was impressed with new boss Roy Hodgson’s plans for the future.

For my two cents, I think now is the time to transfer Steven Gerrard…if he wasn’t the soul of the team.

I know I’m in the minority, but I’ve long been a demoter of Steven Gerrard and for Liverpool to build with a new manager around him….well I think that would be a mistake.

Get top dollar for the limited Gerrard now.

• Well we told you Eric Lichaj is a prospect on both rear flanks.

Lichaj started for Villa in a friendly Sunday against League One side Petersborough. Villa came away with a 3-2 win.

Beyond heading in the game-winner, Lichaj went 90+ at left back for the Villains.

TSG will say it for the first time now. Lichaj will start over 10 games for Villa this year across multiple competitions.

…and we’ll say it again for the umpteenth time: Lichaj should have gotten more than a cup of coffee from Bob Bradley during the 2010 qualifying cycle.

Oh and one more note on the friendly: Villa went with a starting defense of: Friedel (G) and Lichaj, Richard Dunne, James Collins, Habib Beye…that’s pretty darn close to first string there.

• More Aston Villa…

McCready's star is already in the making...

If you are an ardent TSG fan and memorize all of our columns….well then you would be the first to memorize any column….but also…

…you would also know about our fondness of Irish national Aiden McGeady who we first mentioned back in September 2009.

McGeady who now appears to be the apple of Martin O’Neill’s eye. Rumor has Villa making a play for the current Celtic star.

McGeady is going to be a household name when he makes his next jump….he’s kind of like, generously, one-third Florent Malouda, one-third Franck Ribery, one-third Clint Demspey. He’s got moves, can cross it, but he can also take it to the hole with a defender on his hip.

Had Ireland trumped France for a World Cup spot this year, McGeady would have been on our  “one of the players to watch” list.

Note, since McGeady is rumored for a move, he is not currently traveling the States with Celtic.

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