Friday, October 28, 2011

Sure do wish i could log in on this dern site...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Football is a skill to itself... A whole universe to itself. Me love it because you have to be skillful to play it! Freedom! Football is freedom. -Bob Marley

Monday, July 11, 2011

Much Needed Catching Up

After missing several weeks, jumping right back in is a precarious task, but I will brave the frigid water of blogging...and in the smoldering heat of summer and get back in the saddle. Even before going on hiatus, I went away from previewing and then reviewing matches. I expect to continue that discontinuity for the most part. However, the season is looking pretty good for United after a couple of trades.

Despite my personal belief that DeRo is one of the league's best midfielders, this trade was a real shock. Early in the season, Dax's energy was much needed in the center of the field, but after the first month, what he was delivering was something less than what was expected or needed. In fact, he started to remind me of the section in Soccernomics where Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski discuss the tendency to over-value redheaded players. Specifically, they state that redheads stand out on a soccer field differently from players with black or blond hair. Scouts and other players see them more and can more easily pick out what the redheads do. Sure there are great soccer players out there with red hair, but Dax is just "pretty good".

If you compare DeRo and Dax's successful passes last Saturday to each other, the difference between them is clear. DeRo is involved all over the field and his passes are distributed pretty evenly. In contrast, Dax's passes, were almost all from the defensive middle to either the wings or full backs. Even DC's defensive midfielder Clyde Simms moved around the field more and distributed the ball more broadly than Dax. I do not know how Dax will pan out in New York, but it may be to his benefit to play under a guy like Kyle Beckerman (at RSL) at some point; a tough center-mid playing in a withdrawn position.

The addition of Brandon McDonald is also welcome, and has shorn up our defense the last few weeks. At 25, he provides some experience and greater physicality than our injured young roster. I still feel Julius James got screwed in the off-season and suspect our defense would have been better earlier if we had kept him. However, in MLS we do not need to dominate the table, just fight to make the play-offs; preferably high enough in the table to avoid the mid-week wild card round. With the international transfer window opening on 14 July, we will see if United selects one more player to shore up the defense in order to make up for injuries.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Coming up on the All-Star break, DC United are again plagued with a boatload of injuries. I will not harp on this too much, but we now have Blake Brettschneider's on the injury report with a concussion. I wonder if along with the cliche journalists and soccer geeks once repeated like a mantra ("DC United plays with a certain style"), we will soon start to hear sexy new catch phrases such as "wounded like United" or better yet "get yer head injury on".

Friday, July 1, 2011

Long story short- my computer was stolen and I haven,t been able to replace. Soon though...

Friday, May 13, 2011

This blog is currently on hiatus. I will provide an update in the next day or so.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

United Tie Aganist Dallas: A Respectable Result

Maybe the expectation this week was lower than it was for other games, but DC's tie against Dallas feels pretty good. Dallas came to RFK after a week of rest after beating LA Galaxy at home 2-1. But United was starting it's third game in nine days, and had expended a lot of energy in its 2-1 victory over Seattle (and their arrogant fans) on Wednesday. It was with this in mind that a tie over Dallas was a welcome result.

DC defended well despite playing Dejan "Tacklem' From Behind" Jakovic at centerback, and Josh White, who is inexperienced. The midfield was instrumental to the defense too, because they were able to control possession for large chunks of the game. Even better, for the second straight game, the midfield and forwards linked up well and posed a real threat. Andy Najar again played his game, retaining possession, moving the ball, and distributing dangerously to Charlie Davies and Joseph Ngwenya. DC's best chance was probably in the waning minutes of the game, when a point blank header from Fred should have scored DC's go-ahead goal (pictured above). But an incredible save by Dallas's goal keeper, Kevin Hartman preserved the tie for them.

One more notable point to make has nothing to do with either team, but with referee Baldomero Toledo whose propensity for bad calls or missed calls often makes him the center of a game's attention. This was not the case last night. There were missed calls, and phantom foul calls, but it was not unusually poor and none of these were cause for either team (or their fans) to cry foul.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Olsen's Army Answers Call

The start of this week was tough for DC. After losing three straight games in disgraceful fashion, the boys answered the call on Wednesday, beating Seattle 2-1. Seattle came to RFK (a venue where they have never lost) chasing first place in the western conference, to play a team that had given up 11 goals in the last three games. Under pressure to show signs of life, Olsen rallied his team and ramped up pressure to a level that had not been seen all season. The result was a sucker-punch of a match that gave Seattle more fight than they were expecting.

Many of the players exceeded expectations for them for this game. Charlie Davies scored a goal with an assist from Josh Wolff. In the second half, he returned the favor for Wolff's goal. Both of these came off of balls slotted through by Andy Najar whose technical ability was in top form. The defense gave up only a single goal (on a deserved penalty kick). What about goalie Bill Hamid? His play was outstanding, and kept DC in the lead in the closing minutes of the game.

The most important thing about this game may be that when pushed into a corner, Olsen was able to rally his team. As poor as the squad played against the Houston, this week they were in sync. On Monday, Olsen's practice was intense by all accounts. It included a lot of yelling and the team's reaction could well have responded less positively. This was in stark contrast to last year's team, which was demoralized by this time last year and was unable to rally when then-coach Curt Onalfo recited his mantra that the team would have to "Dig a little deeper", after each game.

If United continue to perform well over the course of the season (even if they miss the playoffs), Olsen's effort this week will stand as a defining moment for the coach. "Game 8? Oh yeah, that's the game Benny showed what he could do."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

DC United's Growing Pains

Everyone understood at the beginning of the season that this would be a tough year for DC United. Coach Ben Olsen warned about it. Commentators noted the club's lack of experience regularly. Fan sites expressed positivity that this year's team would be better than last year's (setting the bar extremely low). So a rough spot early in the season, with 27 matches left is not something to be alarmed about. What is more interesting is how the players and coaches deal with this adversity.

DC does not have reliable offensive playmaker. Charlie Davies though leading the race for the Golden Boot, has been better in drawing goal kicks than scoring in the run of play. Attacking midfielder and team captain Dax McCarty his served as the proverbial engine to make the team go. But he has not been the creative player that teams need in that position. Moreover, he's been losing about a million balls per came. To make matters worse, DC seems to have lost Branco Boskovic to an ACL injury, leaving him sidelined for four to six months. Over the last 2-3 games Bosko played, he alone provided an offensive spark, getting several quality shots on goal and scoring twice in Open Cup game last week (where he was later injured). Options are now limited, and it is unclear how Coach Olsen will address the midfield-especially since the team was believed to possess a strong midfield at the start of the season.

During the off-season, Onstad agreed to come to DC United to help develop the extremely young defense. However, an injury to goalkeeper Steve Cronin forced Onstad to come out of retirement to play in goal for several games. In week one the defense looked strong and reliable. By week 4, serious cracks were starting to show. United have allowed 11 goals in the last three games. Now that Onstad has returned to coaching, is it possible he will be able to rebuild the defense's ability and restore some of their confidence? Before that, DC will have a very difficult home game on 4 May against Seattle, followed by a home game against Dallas. Whether Onstad is able to start guiding the defense down a brighter path remains to be seen.

According to Washington Post reporter Steven Goff, Coach Olsen spent much of the practice on Monday 2 May yelling. Unlike during other weeks with short rests between games, United a a full two hour long practice. Throughout the practice, Olsen often stopped the team to reinforce learning points and video footage on the team's website shows him running up behind Charlie Davies and yelling at him about what looked like making a run off the ball. Is the yelling a sign of desperation? Clearly, if DC lose on Wednesday, the team could start to lose faith in their leader and as we saw in 2010, once the team loses faith in the coach the season is done.

DC United's players, coaches, management and (dare I say it?) fans, need to stick to their guns this season. Unlike in other leagues, salary restrictions in MLS require that the team endure a patient building process over a few years. Dallas FC, New York Red Bulls and especially Real Salt Lake are good examples of the process. If Coach Olsen turns the team around by the end of the 2012 season, he will have done precisely what was expected of him. But he will never get a chance to achieve that goal if he is forced to resign in the middle of this season.

Friday, April 8, 2011

DC United Prepares For MLS's Most Expensive Roster

On Saturday, DC United will face west coast juggernauts LA Galaxy in their forth game of the 2011 campaign. DC lost its first two away matches of the season, but triumphed at home in the season opener. LA has played four games this season, winning two and tying another. L.A. appear less sharp than was anticipated before the season started, after the much ballyhooed acquisition of Juan Pablo Angel from New York Red Bulls.

DC will be fair better than in the games against either Colorado or the Revolution, playing at home and getting Dejan Jakovic back (after serving a red card suspension) in a frozen stadium at altitude. Perry Kitchen is also expected to get the start, shore up the defense after the U-20 US men's national team was eliminated from the U-20 World Cup qualifier. Cornerbacks March Burch and Chris Korb are certainly up to the task, but less clear is what coach Be Olsen will do in midfield since Chris Pontius and Andy Najar both played in Wednesday's Open Cup match. While Pontius was subbed in during the second half, Najar played the entire game and whether he's able to recover in time for Saturday remains to be seen.Bill Hamid is expected to start in goal, in his first official MLS game since September.

L.A. Galaxy on the other hand intend to come in to RFK stadium to teach the black and reds a lesson. They may do that too. David Beckham played one of his best matches ever in MLS last week. After improving fitness over the last few games, coach Bruce Arena shift Beckham from the right wing to central midfield where his skill, experience and vision are far more valuable than on the wing. Landon Donovan is also expected to start on Saturday despite sitting out practice earlier this week.

Prediction. DC United can get three points out of this game, despite playing against a solid team. The return of Perry and Jakovic could not be soon enough and if Hamid is in form, it will be very difficult for the Galaxy to score. Expect to see week 1's starting line-up, despite Najar's mid-week 90+ minutes, but he will also be subbed-out during the second half in return for Santino Quaranta or Branko Boskovic. Charlie Davies should also make his return to the field this week, but not until the second half. Expect a fierce midfield battle between Donovan and Beckham against Clyde Simms (also back from injury)and Dax McCarty. Final score this week will be a 2-1 victory against Arena's usual tough defense.

CONMEBOL's Uncomfortable Copa America Situation

With less than three months left before the start of Copa America, CONMEBOL is in a tight predicament. Japanese officials gave notice that due to the devastation wreaked on them by the earthquake and tsunami, they would not be able to participate in this year’s competition. Immediately following the disaster, the J-League (Japan's 1st division soccer league) suspended the rest of its season so that players, teams and officials could attend to more pressing matters. Things like whether players' houses were blown away or what happened to missing family members had to be addressed. While their withdrawal from the cup was not immediate, they recently announced that they were withdrawing their participation. CONMEBOL’s dilemma is figuring out how to proceed.

Copa America’s format has traditionally included all 10 members of CONMEBOL and usually two invited CONCACAF teams (although Japan was invited in 1999). Desire to invite Japan again this year looks to have been driven by expectation that the likelihood of selling television rights for a more lucrative sum. In fact, the expectations were met, and the rights were sold before the catastrophe in Japan took place. The result now is that CONMEBOL officials are concerned with the economic (and legal) impact of what it could mean to them.

For now, CONMEBOL have asked the Japanese FA to reconsider their decision, and given them until 15 April to make a decision. The idea has been also been floated to request that Spain fill the slot left vacant by Japan, which could potentially also pay a lucrative fee. While the possibility was initially greeted with excitement by Spanish FA president, Spanish La Liga officials are opposed, preferring instead that their players take the offseason to rest instead.

Several of the last minute ideas are half baked. For example, if Japan were to play, where would they practice? These guys have not been playing at all, so expecting them to compete internationally seem ludicrous. On the other hand, if Spain agreed to send a team, would it be the world champions, or would it be a team made up mostly of reserves? What is the likelihood that Spain would send a U-20 squad? Finally, it is unclear whether anyone has considered whether it is unethical to invited clubs to the Cuopa America who are nowhere from the Americas? It would be a real embarrassment if Spain did send its senior, World Cup team and then won the Copa America. This would result in the Cope America held by a team from no where in the Americas!

This cup takes place in June; roughly the same time period as when the US is hosting the Gold Cup (a tournament for CONCACAF countries). For this reason, CONMEBOL is having a eck of a time finding a worthy participant. But perhaps this predicament will also shine a light on an important issue. Do CONMEBOL and CONCACAF countries actually need separate championships? Perhaps when June's competitions conclude, it will be time to reconsider combining these competitions to form a regional super-championship.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Update: Michael Jackson Statue Revealed At Craven Cottage

It has been an open secret for several weeks that Fulham FC was set to unveil a statue that owner Mohammed Al-Fayed commissioned to commemorate Jackson's legacy. The question of course, is "what is Michael Jackson's legacy in relation to soccer?" Your guess is as good as mine.
In response to Fulham fans' criticism of the hideous statue, Al-Fayed said that “If some stupid fans don’t understand and appreciate such a gift, they can go to hell. I don’t want them to be fans. If they don’t understand and don’t believe in things I believe in, they can go to Chelsea.”

It is true. This has to be one of the ugliest statues on the planet, and it is just plain weird. But there is also something endearing about the Al-Fayed's eccentric tribute. Some fans may be annoyed by this statue, but telling people you've seen it in person (especially if there is photographic evidence) would be fun. A trip to Craven Cottage could yield the entertainment of watching a good game, and a picture of someone standing next to (or just under) MJ. Of course, I certainly wouldn't want to see in front of my home team's stadium.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

DC United Gets Butt Kicked by Colorado Rapids

The still-frozen field, cold, thin air, and great play by Colorado was too much for United to handle on Sunday night.

The environment was strange from the beginning. Snow was plowed off the field just a few hours before the start of the game. The ball bounced oddly, moved quickly and was very difficult to control. Coach Ben Olsen withdrew Charlie Davies from the lineup when he was injured before the game. Instead, Blake Brettschneider, the 19-year-old rookie, debuted in his first ever game with the first team with Chris Pontius (leaving both Joseph Ngwenya and Josh Wolff on the bench). Olsen surprisingly did not start Najar in this game, going with Branko Boscovic in midfield instead and adding Santino Quaranta in the extra midfield slot.

During the first half, DC played well despite giving up a goal. That first goal was hard fought-for by Rapids' Caleb Folan, as the Rapids capitalized on a long ball and brilliant footwork from Folan. For the first twenty-five minutes of the second half DC played fairly. They kept the ball more but the speed of play had slowed noticeably. Quaranta scored on an excellent cross from rightback Chris Korb in the 25th minute, but that excitement lasted less than a minute as Jamie Smith beat United's defense with a header; this was then followed up with two additional Colorado goals to which DC was unable to respond.

This match was destined to be a battle for DC. With most of the starting defense injured or otherwise away, DC's makeshift back line simply was not up to the task. Starting Woolard at centerback was a mistake; it should have been the more experienced Mark Burch. Morsink disappeared for much of the game and Pontius looked to be playing more on the left wing than as a striker at times. Pat Onstad played poorly today; in both of the last two goals he had a legitimate chance to stop the ball but did not react quickly enough (possibly because playing goalie in weather that cold probably slowed his ability to react quickly or he may simply have been encased in ice). The most concerning thing for this team right now, is that there is still a lack of creativity up front. Crosses into the box look haphazard, and too often players seem to try to score by running or shooting generally toward the goal.

What's going on? DC United are going through a tough week right now. They played Sunday, they play an Open Cup qualifier on Wednesday and they play on Saturday against LA Galaxy. DC's defense will improve as players return, and we may have just seen Pat Onstad's final game. But it could be that the selection of Brettschneider and Pontius up front, was intended to keep Ngwenya and Wolff relatively fresh for the next two games. DC has not won anything since the 2008 Open Cup and they will need to play-in to get a shot at this bit of silverware. Perhaps, starting different forwards today, will allow DC a better shot at winning this week's next two games. Besides, it is too early in the season to worry about the grey clouds.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

DC United Against A Good Colorado Rapids Team

DC will face one of the few opponents they defeated last year, when they meet Conor Casey and the Rapids in Colorado. The home team is off to a great start this season, scoring four goals and being rewarded with two wins. Colorado is expected to start the same line-up they played on opening day which scored three goals. While Casey is a big target in the middle, his link-up play with Omar Cummings in the match. This combination will give DC's make-shift backline a a serious challenge. At midfield, Kurt Morsink and Dax McCarty will also need to fight to protect the ball and avoid goofy give aways that allow Colorado opportunities.

United's back line will again be without Perry Kitchen, but neither will DC have Dejan Jakovic (despite the league's quiet agreement that the red card last week was a poor call). DC United has options: Daniel Woolard played well in preseason and continues to do well in the reserve league, while Chris Korb (another one of those "Akron guys") was impressive in his first ever MLS start last week. However, goalkeeper Pat Onstad will have his work cut out for him, as he works to get this collection of good players to defend cohesively.

United will start a different attacking tandem than in the first game this week as Josh Wolff was downgraded to "out" on Thursday, due to a hamstring strain. Olsen has options here; Charlie Davies may be fit enough to start the game, while rookie Blake Brettschneider has been scoring regularly on the reserve squad and may get the call to start on Sunday night.

Prediction. Davies will start the match on Sunday, but don't be surprised if Brettschneider makes his MLS debut after the half (whether for Davies of Joseph Ngwenya). At midfield, last week's lineup will remain intact, but if Morsink is subbed-off during the second half, Olsen may well try Branko Boskovic, whose absence on the field this year has raised questions (and an admission by the coaching staff) about his lack of fitness.
On defense, Mark Burch may shift to centerback due to his experience, leaving Woolard to fill the left-back slot and deal with Cummings. An aggressive Colorado, hosting DC's make-shift defense, and a touch of altitude sickness will combine to vex DC; this game can well end 2-1 Colorado... but this author hopes he's wrong...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

US Men's National Team: Can't Touch Dis!

Thinking diverges broadly on the status of the USMNT. Tie to Argentina on 26 March? Awesome! Lose 1-0 to Paraguay the 29th? Miserable! Paul Kennedy, writing for Soccer America, makes it sound like this was the US-Argentina match was the worst game he had ever seen in his life (clearly he's never watch Stoke City play). To read Kennedy’s various articles in Soccer America, there is very little that USSF can do right-or has ever done right. In contrast, MLS Soccer's Talk's Daniel Feuerstein raves about the team's style of play after that game and after the 1-0 loss to Paraguay as well. For Feuerstein, the game did not matter much because it was an exhibition, but 19-year-old Juan Agudelo's goal on Saturday was the greatest thing on Earth since Fidel Castro invented the cigar.

Not losing - and not being intimidated by Argentina - a team led by the greatest player currently in the game was impressive. In a game where our veterans (Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, etc. did not play well), Tim Howard's 13,000 saves kept us in the game, and Agudelo was able to notch his second goal in three appearances with the USMNT.

In the Paraguay game, the line-up was a bunch of guys that Coach Bob Bradley would ever start in a relevant match (World Cup, Gold Cup or even an exhibition against Argentina). This is the starting line-up that wouldn’t! Even in this game however, the team played fairly, despite the Paraguayan players hacking down US players every time they were beaten by individual efforts.

On a happy note, a groundswell of support has triggered a multitude of comments from unlikely sources:

- Col Muammar Gaddafi- that Juan Agudelo kid is brilliant, I wish he played for Juventus!

- Dr. Doom: Chandler's crosses are so beautiful, my iron mask almost rusted from the tears.

- Donald Rumsfeld: As I recall, that Bob Bradley assured me there was WMD in Iraq.

- Ghost of X-Mas Present: The Gold Cup is going to be awesome this year!

- Alexis Lalas: Dude, where’s my car?

- Diego Maradona: Tuesday I wished I’d been playing for Paraguay, because I would have loved to kick Clint Dempsey in the knee-cap!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MLS's "Tradition" Problem

One of the issues that has gotten tiresome over the years with MLS is the league's incessant need to constantly push recognition of team and league traditions. Tradition is extremely important in soccer and all of the great South American and European clubs have been around close to a hundred years (Santos for instance), if not more (Manchester United). But MLS, now in just its 17th season, has less traditions to tout. There are not really any derbies to be played since only Los Angeles hosts more than a single team. But there are not several London teams or Buenos Aires clubs to challenge each other. There are also relatively few celebrated former players: the Jaime Morenos and Brian McBrides of the world. So MLS is constantly trying to artificially create club cultures.

This issue is apparent once again as Real Salt Lake is seriously considering retiring Coach Jason Kreis's #9 jersey. This number actually does have a prominent role in soccer culture globally, so the fact that the team is thinking about retiring it (or any other number) is really absurd. Retiring jersey is much more closely associated with NFL, where great players' numbers are no longer given to other players. For the Miami Dolphins, there will never be another #13-that honor will always belong now to Dan Marino. But Marino played his entire career in Miami, whereas Kreis's best years (1996-2004) were all in Dallas (91 goals in 247 appearances), not RSL.

Another trend that has grown tiresome, are the preponderance of artificially created rivalries. The term "rivalry" is thrown around my MLS and in MLS press coverage all the time. Before Philadelphia Union had played its first MLS game in 2010, reference to a rivalry with DC United and New York Red Bulls was already commonplace. Perhaps drawing from major college "bowl games" (i.e. the Orange Bowl or the Rose Bowl), the MLS has a preponderance of little recognized rivalry-based cups. For instance, the "Atlantic Cup" which DC United has won 7 times (woot-woot) against the Red Bulls (twice) and the "Trillium Cup" (Columbus Crew vs Toronto FC) which was not invented until 2008.

All this is to speculate on a question: rather than rigging schedules to draw attention, could it be that the side spectacles (mini-cups and marches to stadiums and such) are taking away from what is most important to MLS's fans: enjoyment of their teams. Why not encourage media coverage of the CONCACAF Champions' League or the US Open Cup? The Champions' League winner afterall, would get to play in the FIFA Clubs World Cup and highlight the growth of MLS and American soccer to the world.

Maybe in 2011, it is time to put the gimmicks aside.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

DC United Week 2: What the Heck Was That?

Maybe it was New England's turf field. Maybe United were still excited about last week's win. Perhaps three players who started for the first game of the season was too many to deal with. It does not matter, DC were flat in their first away game of the season. In contrast to last week, there was a lack of vigor on Saturday and at times (especially in the first half) it looked like Joseph Ngwenya and Chris Pontius were the only ones working.

For most of the game, United's players looked like strangers on the field, there was little coordination and several times it looked like players were not expecting to ball to come toward them. Najar fought for the ball, cross it into the box, only for no one to be on the other end. What happened to the link-up play?

But if United needed a boost, it was New England who received it early in the game after a clear handball five feet from the goal by Zack Schilawski, went uncalled in the eighth minute. A few minutes later, Shalrie Joseph converted on a penalty kick after Dax McCarty jumped tried to clear the ball in the box with a wild kick that caught a sparrow-in-flight-like Pat Phelan in the shin. In total, there were five yellow cards called in the game and one red card. There was also a penalty kick taken by Charlie Davies in the 89th minute, but it was too little too late.

Coach Olsen tried to compensate for New England's midfield in the second half, changing his 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 and bringing two subs on.

Attitude Adjustment Needed?
It is unclear what happened this week. Maybe the pressure of facing the Revolution at Foxboro? Afterall, in an era where MLS is trying to play-up team rivalries, the differences between these clubs are real. This is not like last year's "rivalry" between United and the expansion Philadelphia Union; two teams that had never played each other, but which journalists parroted MLS in playing up the rivalries between these cities in other sports. Oddly enough, perhaps the missing ingredient this week was character. It was disconcerting watching Charlie Davies pat Revs goalie on the back after saving a goal and smiling and hugging other players at different times. I think most people want to see him do well, but we also want to see him less chummy with opposing teams.

Friday, March 25, 2011

DC United to Face Key Rivals, New England Revolution

DC's 1st away game of the season promises to be a tough slog, as they travel to Boston to face New England Revolution.

Last weekend United's defense stymied Columbus Crew, allowing just one goal behind the leadership (and communication skills) of the ridiculously young Perry Kitchen. Kitchen will not play this week however, because he has been called up for international duty to the US U20 team. United can also miss out on the services of right-back Jed Zayner, who has been nursing a hamstring most of the week and still listed as day-to-day on Thursday. To plug these holes, DC is likely to call on Rodrigo Brasesco (an Uruguayan defender signed in the offseason in place of Julius James) at centerback and Chris Korb, a former team mate of Kitchen at Akron to fill in for Zayner.

While DC’s midfield should remain intact, it is less clear whether Coach Ben Olsen will leave the attack or start Charlie Davies. Davies’s two goals last week (one from a free kick) made great headlines and this storyline will continue to play out over the next eight months. But is Davies a better option up front that Joseph Ngwenya? Ngwenya, a strong and physical attacker, played the first fifty minutes last week, running down balls, holding up the ball and providing some assistance on defense. However, his shots on goal were a little overzealous and they were all way over the bar.

For New England the picture is less clear as the team continues to struggle with injuries to three probable starters, All-Star Kevin Alston (right back), and new additions Ousmane Dabo (defensive midfield) and Didier Domi (left back). Last week, Coach Steve Nicol opted to field a 4-5-1 against L.A. Galaxy in L.A., this week again Nicol’s selection of a starting lineup and formation will be equally difficult, despite playing at home. The Revs backline will again be missing key players, and Marko Perovic (who started last week) has also picked up an injury.

Prediction: Expect New England midfielder Shalrie Joseph to shine again as the Revs will find it extremely difficult to find goals elsewhere. Nicol will go again with a 4-5-1, with Ilija Solica perhaps replacing Perovic in the midfield. DC’s Chris Korb will be tested and but Brasesco’s experience will fortify the center. An aggressive DC will win this one 2-0.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Michael Jackson Statue at Craven Cottage? Really??

In what has to be one of the strangest tributes of all time, Fulham FC owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, has announced that he has commissioned a statue of Michael Jackson. Sources announced on 16 March that a gold-face statue of the late dancer sitting with Bubbles the Chimp, will be unveiled at Craven Cottage on 3 April before Fulham's game against Blackpool.

Jackson and Al-Fayed became friends over several years, and Jackson is known to have attended a Fulham game in 1999 during his umbrellaed widow phase.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

DC United Wins 2011 Opener in Style

There was something hanging over DC United, prior to their season opener. There were many questions that needed to be answered. How would this team react to so many new faces? How would the team react to the start of a new season after what was an embarrassing effort in 2010? Would Andy Najar still have his mojo? Would McCarty's leadership translate to DC? Would Charlie Davies deliver the goals and excitement that the fans hoped he would? DC's opening match answered all of these and more.

The first half of tonight's game was painfully even. Neither DC nor Columbus was especially sharp, despite a coupe of great efforts by Andy Najar (M), Chris Pontius (M) and Joseph Ngwenya (F). Josh Wolff started the route in the 51st minute, beating a defender, positioning the ball with his left foot then putting it in the back of the net with his right. In the 52nd minute, Ngwenya was subbed off and Charlie Davies entered the game. His speed and touch clearly changed how Columbus tried to defend. Davies played further back, and nearer the wing than Ngwenya had, giving the defense trouble the rest of the game. Davies converted a free kick in the box in the 53rd minute and then scored again in the 77th minute. On opening night, DC lived up to the off-season hype.

There were a few surprises on Saturday night. Woolard, Boskovic and Davies did not start. Instead, it was Josh Wolff, not Davies who coupled with Ngwenya up front. Mark Burch started at left back and Pontius started on the wing instead of Boskovic. Burch did not feature at preseason games, and Wolff had not played at all. This lineup was clearly difficult to predict and it will be exciting to see how the line-up will shake out over the next couple of months.

It is difficult to know what this success means so early in the season, but there are a few things worth mentioning at this stage. Perry Kitchen's performance was outstanding; his communication with the players made them more effective. Santino Quaranta came on late in the second half and I will expect that to continue for regular-season MLS games. The expanded roster and number of experienced players on the bench, will allow DC to compete in Open Cup this year. Andy Najar picked up where he left off last year, although he is a little taller and stronger-looking this season. One final note: Pat Onstad played better tonight than anyone expected him to play. He was in the air and on the ground many times; until we get Bill Hamid back and in form, Pat Onstad will be a fine goalkeeper.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Two Days To United's 2011 First Kick

With just two days to go before the start of the season for DC United, the anticipation is almost overwhelming. DC United have increased their public profile in recent months by ramping up PR across the region. Meet the Coach events, happy hour with some players, revealing the new all-red kit at a car show, even commandeering U street's Ben's Chili Bowl for St. Patrick's Day. It is clear DC United is trying to reinvigorate public support.

Despite the public efforts, all of this will be a wasted effort if the team fails to perform on the field. Charlie Davies's loan has provided an enormous boost to ticket sales according to team officials, but if they do not start the season strong, the specter (and bad luck) of last year's poor performances can return to wreak havoc.

Ben Olsen has done a great job assembling this team however and his work ethic seems to have already transcended onto his team. Midfielder Dax McCarty promises to anchor the center of the field with a burst of energy that drove Dallas FC for several years and a young US National team in January exhibition games. Add a recovering Davies (still with something to prove) and a strong forward like Joseph Ngwenya, and you now have an attacking core that will give defenders different things to worry about. Add to that, a strong support cast of wingers and defenders, and what you have is a young team that has every reason to at least qualify for the playoffs.

PREDICTION: Against a Columbus Crew that is looking to find its identity, DC United will win their home game 2-1 on Saturday night.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Lost Art of the Album

Several people I have spoken to lately have commented on my CD collection. I have been collecting these since around 1993. I presently own over 400 in multiple languages and music styles, each with its own charms. Prior to starting this collection I bought cassette tapes that I played until they wore down, warped or otherwise stopped playing. But for almost twenty years now, I have been growing my collection even as many of my friends have turned to media downloads.

Downloads are easier to store. You do not have to go to a store for them (although sometimes you can buy a card at a store that allows you to download the music) and you can get what you’re paying for almost immediately. However, the argument for buying CDs is much stronger. With these, you can copy your CD to your PED or delete it as you wish without worrying about losing your music. More importantly, I think that while buying individual songs is okay, you completely miss out on receiving a more comprehensive piece of work that the artist is trying to use to convey a message.

While CDs are more difficult to store than downloads (which live inside of electronic devices), they come with album covers and artwork that convey some sort of idea; an extra insight into the band or singer’s work.

The album cover has been important to how bands portray since the 1960s. To this day, many people (the author included) can be moved to buy an album based exclusively on the cover. How does a band project its image? Who are they? The 1980 KISS album “Unmasked” for instance pokes fun at their make-up and commercialism, and remains a favorite album cover for many fans.

The inlay cover is also a neat part of a cover. For a band with a revolving- door of musicians, Guns n’ Roses for instance, a listing of who plays what on which track is greatly appreciated. To learn songs when I was growing up, the lyric sheet was essential. Finally, the liner notes that often accompany remastered “classic” albums usually provide great insights into the recording of the album or why it mattered. For instance, the liner notes of Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunter” provides context to the album. What was Herbie doing before and after that album? How does this relate to other contemporary music? Read the liner note.

While instant gratification is a clear advantage that downloads have over albums, the latter provides more to the listener than just the music. It provides a more comprehensive understanding of the artists and their music.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Do I Write?

I made a chart for myself today to try and figure out what it is that I like about writing. What I learned was that there is I write for several reasons, not one thing. I write to humor myself, to entertain, to communicate and to organize. In short, to share something. At different times, I have written for different reasons; sometime because I was in school or because I had an idea for a story to tell. I knew why I wrote when I had to, but the idea of writing specifically to share something is new to me.

This is different from "writing for the sake of writing" which would mean I can do it in a notebook no one sees. To be fair, I do that too, but that is when I am trying to visually organize thoughts or put down ideas without consideration for an audience.

Here is an example of what I mean about sharing. At bed time I often read stories to my daughters. The younger of the two wants me to read her the classics: Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree or Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are or sometimes that magnum opus of children's literature Barbie's Mix and Match Fashions. I enjoy reading these very much (mostly).

Reading to my ten-year-old is more difficult because she prefers I read chapter books. She has read all the Harry Potter books, the Percy Jacksons, she has memorized factoids for many children's series. Nonetheless, she will ask me to read to her from these books. While I do not dislike them, I find it difficult to read aloud at bedtime. My eyes are tired and my thoughts are on resting, not on building a story I will not finish in a few minutes. In addition, she often wants me to start reading half-way through the story. Maybe it would be different if she asked me to read from the beginning, but even then I would last only a few short pages. In order to vary the stories or keep them somewhat concise, I have started writing down or memorizing children's stories that I have made up, which I can then read to them, discuss with them or improvisationally change for effect.

What I am trying to do, is convert story reading time into storytelling time. Here I can use classics already written, or employ some of my own stories. This allows me to add variety and turning a bedtime exercise into more of an experience; a finished product, instead of a random idea.

Writing to share something is great! The experience of sharing with my girls? Amazing!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Can DC United's Schedule Help the Club?

The announcement of this year's schedule came last Thursday; it was a long time in coming. With the season kicking off in just over a month, MLS took until the last possible moment to announce who would be playing which team, where and on what date. What stood out most for many DC United supporters, was that the first five home games or so are truly the MLS’ top clubs. Front loading all these teams seemed odd at first. Why would they do that? Given that MLS takes into account who teams want to play on specific days, is it fair to believe that DC United had something specific in mind?

Over the last few months, it has become clear that United’s owner, William Chang, is working through two challenges: a search for a co-owner to help alleviate the financial burden, and a need to find a stadium deal. By front loading United’s schedule with MLS’s top teams-clubs that fans would want to watch play live- United will kickstart the season and game attendance.

The obvious question then, is whether these are in fact the teams that fans want to watch? In an online pole posted on United’s website, the games most respondent wanted to watch were the home opener against Columbus, and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th matches (against LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and Seattle, respectively). Because of fan interest, this may allow for attendance at these games to break the 20,000 mark, and help bolster United’s value.

In dealing with possible investors, Chang will need to demonstrate that the club retains a high level of support despite missing the playoffs for a few years now and last year’s atrocious record. A turnout of 20,000+ per game would pay dividends on this end.

Secondly, a good turnout will also help Chang when dealing with DC city officials. At present, the city earns ~10% from sales at Nationals Stadium concession stands and merchandising. If DC United are hoping the city provides them with some assistance, or builds the stadium, they will need to demonstrate that they can generate approximately the same attendance per game as the Nationals average at their 22,000 seat stadium.

The frontloading of the home schedule will have additional indirect benefit. By playing this many of the league’s toughest home games early in the season, United ensure that they will not have to face them at home late in the season, when the race for the playoffs commences.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What Signing Charlie Davies Could Mean to DC United

The news last week that Charlie Davies was going to DC to trial with DC United generated much media attention, but whether or not he plays in DC remains uncertain. A host of interviews and press conferences led to only a single conclusion: Coach Ben Olsen will only retain Davies if he believes Davies can improve the club ability to compete in 2011. There are three key variables here that I think the club should account for in determining whether or not to accept the terms of the loan: health, competitiveness and ability to sell tickets.

Prior to his injury, Davies was easily the best US forward on the national team. In 2007, he scored 4 goals in 17 games in international competition. Whiles he only scored twice for Sochoux in 2009, he only played 8 games. Prior to that (2007-09), Davies scored 21 goals in 56 appearances for the Swiss club, Hammarby. Numbers alone can only tell so much, but it is clear that Davies found the net frequently in the two years before his injury. In order to reestablish himself, Davies will need to be in top physical form; not only to play 90 minutes (or close to that) per game, but also to heal quickly enough between games to be able play again or train.

At his best, Davies’s game is very physical; he is very fast and aggressive in the attack. This is important because Davies will be considerably less effective if he is not as quick as he used to be and therefore less confident. As a member of DC United, Pablo Hernandez arrived in camp mid-season last year. Interviews and articles indicated he was good on the ball. But he never developed much chemistry with the rest of the team; he kept the ball too long and his shots on goal lacked any real conviction. This is because the focus, confidence and determination that great strikers have were not exhibited by Hernandez.

Finally, DC United needs to benefit by selling tickets. Attendance was low last season, owing to the team’s poor performance. This season the team is aiming to increase per-game turnout and Charlie Davies’s signing could lead to just that. A source in the ticket office told me as soon as Davies’s name was mentioned, season ticket requests started coming in. This should not mean anything to Coach Olsen. But for DC United’s front office, increased turnouts and public support could yield increased revenue and perhaps a slightly better chance of coming to an agreement to build a new stadium.

So far, Davies seems to be doing well. He scored Friday in an inter-squad scrimmage and today had a goal and an assist in 74 minutes against the Canadian U-20 squad. Most importantly: for now he is showing that he can play long minutes and score at the same time.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

DC United Themes for 2011

With DC United players reporting for camp last Friday, the promise of the new season is upon us. Nowhere is a new season more welcome than in Washington DC, where our once-mighty club had the worst professional season (2010) of any club in MLS. United finished last in the league, scored the fewest goals in the league, had no hope for a stadium deal and a head coach who was never given a fighting chance to do well.

The lead-up to the 2011 season started with a bang, as Ben Olsen was officially handed the reins, and led the club through an extremely busy off-season. The off-season included the unexpected arrival of midfielder Dax McCarty from Dallas FC and despite bidding farewell to many players; DC United is unlikely to miss any of them except perhaps Rodney Wallace. I believe this team will do very well this season, specifically because coach Ben will fashion this team in his own never-give-up image.

There are on-the-field questions, but perhaps most intriguing among them is whether the team will stay healthy this year. Accidents happen and players get injured, but is DC addressing the preventative aspects of training? Who is the strength and conditioning coach? It is clear that the team struggled to overcome fatigue last season and that most of the goals DC gave up were toward the end of the game. Then the team’s injuries started to increase, possibly as players’ training schedules were adjusted to compensate for insufficient conditioning in preseason. 

Finally, this season will also bring an added off-field dimension, as attention to a stadium deal is renewed. A stadium deal at Poplar Point in ward 8 collapsed in 2009 under the weight of the financial crisis and never recovered. Now the issue has resurfaced after the City of Baltimore released a feasibility study, which concluded that a new mixed-use stadium would generate $3-4 million per year in revenue and create several hundred jobs. Within a few weeks, the issue has already revived and info has come to light that there are at least two sites that are up for discussion. Add to this the arrival less than a month ago of a new mayor in Vincent Gray, with some experience stemming from the Nationals Stadium, and you now have all the necessary ingredients for off-field stadium drama.