Friday, June 25

Key Contests This Weekend

The pro ranks are a little thin this weekend in presenting marquee contests between top clubs in their respective divisions, but here is a quick look at some of the best match-ups around the pro leagues, PDL and W-League.

We start at the top with Major League Soccer, where the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Galaxy head north of the border Saturday to face Toronto FC, who sit third in the Eastern Conference. It should be an interesting meeting as LA is missing several World Cup stars while the Canadian internationals that have been left sitting at home the past two weeks watching the action and wondering what could have been may come out looking to make a point.

In the USSF Division-2 pro league, the sexiest match is in the NASL conference where second-place Montreal travels to third-place Carolina Saturday.

Saturday is the big day around the pro flights as the only intriguing match of two in the USL Second Division is second-place Richmond at fourth-place Charlotte in a rematch of the 2009 Final.

Down in the PDL, the action begins with one sizzler Friday evening as Victoria visits Kitsap in the Northwest Division. Then on Saturday, Ottawa travels to play MPS Portland and Dayton plays host to Chicago. Two more matches on Sunday highlight the slate as Long Island visits Albany and Baton Rouge takes on Central Florida in Orlando.

Saving the best for last, the W-League features three blazing= hot matches this weekend. On Saturday, unbeatens Buffalo and Chicago meet for Midwest supremacy after going scoreless the first time out. On Sunday, the unbeaten Great Lakes leaders Ottawa and Toronto square off for the first time this season and Vancouver plays host to Pali, who is looking to avenge the only loss in their three-year franchise history.

SNA W-League Power Rankings

The midway point of the 2010 W-League season marks the debut of the SNA W-League Power Rankings, featuring the Top 10 teams in the league. Seven clubs remain unbeaten for the season with very impressive defensive records for most of the division leaders.

We start with the top spot going to longtime league power Vancouver reclaiming its former glory after the 2009 season finish below second (fifth) for the first time in team history. The Whitecaps became the first team to hand the defending two-time league champion Pali Blues a loss in their three-year history, claiming a 2-1 victory in California. They also boast a 1-1 draw on the road against the Colorado Rush as the Western Conference has three teams in the Top 10. Pali, fourth on the list, only has the one loss. While the Rush may only have one win in four, their draws against Vancouver and Pali (2-2) are impressive enough to keep them in the mix for now.

The Midwest boast the second and third-best teams at this point with the Buffalo Flash at number two and Chicago Red Eleven at three. Buffalo has not allowed a goal in five games this season while Chicago has only given up one, ironically to last-place Cleveland. The two have squared off just once, finishing in a scoreless draw in Chicago.

The unbeaten Great Lakes duo are in position to move up the table as the season continues, but at this point the fact that they have not faced one another yet has them in the second half of the list.

The SNA W-League Power Rankings

1 – Vancouver Whitecaps (4-0-2): Win at Pali; Draw at Rush; 4 goals allowed

2 – Buffalo Flash (3-0-2): Zero goals allowed; 0-0 draw at Chicago

3 – Chicago Red Eleven (4-0-2): One goal allowed; 0-0 draw against Buffalo

4 – Pali Blues (2-1-2): Draw at Rush; Loss to Vancouver; 6 goals allowed

5 – Washington Freedom Futures (5-0-1): Win at Hudson Valley; Draw at Wildcats; 4 goals allowed

6 – Colorado Rush (1-0-3): Draws versus Vancouver and Pali; 3 goals allowed

7 – Hudson Valley QLB (5-1-0): Only loss 1-2 to Washington; 4 goals allowed

8 – Ottawa Fury (4-0-1): Win at Laval; 2 goals allowed

9 – Toronto Lady Lynx (3-0-3): Draw versus Laval; 3 goals allowed

10 – Atlanta Silverbacks (5-1-1): Four goals allowed; Only loss was to Charlotte, who has allowed just 2 goals

Thursday, June 24

SNA PDL Power Rankings

In this debut edition of the SNA PDL Power Rankings we find ourselves at the midpoint of the 2010 season for most clubs. With the leaders at the top of each of the division tables fairly close in a majority of situations and quite a few clubs possessing less than two defeats on the year, selecting and picking the order of the Top 25 at the current moment was a difficult process. In the end, most assuredly this list will look different at the close of the regular season.

At the top, it was an easy selection for Number 1 as the Portland Timbers U23 development team is absolutely dominating play. Perhaps inspired by having been edged in US Open Cup qualifying via tiebreakers after finishing 4-0-0, the Timbers have yet to lose, avenging that loss in tiebreakers by beating the qualifying club Kitsap in a 3-0 thumping. The fact the club also has only given up two goals in nine games is also quite impressive.

With their only blemish coming at the hands of the Timbers, Kitsap was a natural second choice as half of the six goals allowed on their 7-1-0 slate were given up in Portland. Staying in that position may be difficult as they have Victoria on the agenda Friday evening.

The Southeast is a tough lot with four clubs finding it difficult to defeat one another. Baton Rouge and Mississippi with unbeaten records and great goals against ratios were eye-catching despite the division’s rare prominence in the postseason.

See the notes below for more on the Top 10 as well as the complete list of the Top 25 in the SNA PDL Power Rankings.

1 – Portland Timbers U23s (9-0-0): Only perfect record; Wins over Victoria and Kitsap by 7-0 aggregate; Only 2 goals allowed

2 – Kitsap Pumas (7-1-0): Only loss is to the perfect Timbers; 6 goals allowed

3 – Baton Rouge Capitals (5-0-3): Draws versus Atlanta and Mississippi; 8 goals allowed

4 – Mississippi Brilla (4-0-3): Three road draws at Central Florida, Baton Rouge and Atlanta; 6 goals allowed

5 – Ottawa Fury (6-0-2): Two wins over Albany; 3 goals allowed

6 – Orange County Blue Star (8-0-3): Seven consecutive wins, but have not played Hollywood or Ventura County

7 – Reading United (7-1-1): Only loss to Ironbound; 4 goals allowed

8 – Forest City London (4-1-2): Win over Cincinnati and draws against Dayton and Michigan; Only loss to Chicago; 6 goals allowed

9 – Chicago Fire (7-2-1): Both losses to Cincinnati; 5 goals allowed

10 – Dayton Dutch Lions (4-1-5): Only loss to Indiana

The Rest of the Best: 11 Long Island Rough Riders; 12 MPS Portland Phoenix; 13 Central Florida Kraze; 14 Cincinnati Kings; 15 Michigan Bucks; 16 DFW Tornados; 17 Atlanta Blackhawks; 18 Victoria Highlanders; Albany BWP Highlanders; 20 West Texas United Sockers; 21 Thunder Bay Chill; 22 Rochester Thunder; 23 Real Colorado Foxes; 24 Ironbound Express; 25 Hollywood United Hitmen


This may be the World Cup of the underdogs. Going in, I think most would have expected one or two African nations to be tagged as the surprise teams performing above expectations, but the results are proving otherwise. Although some of the teams going through were not the favorites, my congratulations actually go to two teams that did not advance.

I think it is more than safe to say that South Africa (ranked 83) and New Zealand (78) - only North Korea was worse (105) and the next best was South Korea (47) - were not expected to earn any points in the tournament, let alone register a win or multiple points.

Although South Africa will probably be the lone host nation, for quite some time going forward, to not advance, their performance was superb. A tie against Mexico and a victory defending finalist France were two results that deserve far greater recognition around the soccer world than will be given with their exit from the tournament.

When New Zealand struck for the late equalizer against Slovakia, it was a stunning result for the Kiwis. It was great pride for the nation and many heralded it as what would stand as their shining moment of the tournament. But the All Whites shocked Italy for an early go-ahead goal and were only undone by an Italian penalty for a second straight 1-1 tie. And today, against group-leading Paraguay, New Zealand earned a third consecutive tie to finish unbeaten and ahead of the defending World Cup Champions. They will finish as the only unbeaten that did not advance, and are currently one of 10 teams without a loss in the group phase with four of them yet to play.


Wednesday, June 23

Three Games, Three Comebacks

The heart naturally picks up in pace when the stars and stripes take to the pitch. But this team certainly has a flair for the dramatic. For the third consecutive time, the US found themselves trailing yet again.

Sure, the scoreboard in Pretoria read 0-0 for 90 minutes and the post-game analysis is rightly focusing on the game-winning goal. But what is being lost is that the US again spent much of the contest behind, this time to an opponent 588 miles away in Port Elizabeth as England had scored 23 minutes into their match.

Needing a victory or a finish equal to or better than England, the US again found themselves in a hole. Thankfully, Rafik Djebbour’s shot just minutes into the match after Jay DeMerit missed a bouncing long ball clanged off the crossbar or the Americans would likely be headed home.

Although some people are giving Bob Bradley some credit for this result, I think we still need to look at the bigger picture once this tournament is over. Six of their 10 CONCACAF qualifiers also saw the US trail only to see them rally for three wins and two draws against one loss. At some point, somebody needs to address this concern. But for now, wheh!

My suggestion for Saturday: Bob Bradley needs to tell the boys as they walk out on the pitch that Ghana just scored.

The Two Escobars

It was a long and varied day of soccer, watching all four World Cup contests, hitting the pitch for a rec match and meeting up with the teammates afterwords at Tank's Tap Room where we watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary special, The Two Escobars.

For those not familiar, Andres Escobar was the team captain for Colombia when they came to the United States for the 1994 World Cup and were eliminated via a second-game 1-0 loss to the US in the group phase on an own goal which Escobar struck. As most of us remember from back then, Escobar was murdered just days after his return to Colombia.

I was interested to see the documentary and must say that it was very good. Granted, the viewing experience was imperfect due to being in a bar and not having any volume or see every moment, but since most of the interviews were in Spanish, the subtitles worked perfectly for the situation - and I will be watching it again from the comfort of my couch. I thought it was a great historical piece that anyone interested in the sport, or history in general, should see. It also details the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, the infamous leader of the most powerful drug cartel in Colombia. The story in the US started with the own goal and ended with the headline of the murder. This documentary, a worthy two hours with commercials, chronicles how the drug trade, and Pablo Escobar in particular, played a key role in Colombian soccer (as well as the nation's life, culture and politics) during the eighties and nineties from club football to the national team. I was surprised to see how the team was already in disarray prior to even leaving Colombia for the World Cup in the US and what transpired while they were here. The full picture is definitely worth seeing (for those who are not squeemish).

The drama of what happens to the Colombian National Team, as detailed in The Two Escobars, puts the circus of the current French National Team in great perspective. A once great soccer nation has never been the same while insanely compensated, spoiled European players (this covers the English too) whine about who their coach is instead of just doing their jobs on the field.

Future airtimes on the ESPN networks [+]

Tuesday, June 22

WC Thoughts

As I sit here between games at my local watering hole, Beef O'Brady's, I thought I would take a few moments to put together some of the other random thoughts after watching Uruguay continue to prove the validity of yesterday's post about Maradona.

Deja Vu: Handball on the Goal Line

With all of the drama centering around the 'phantom' call on the apparent US winner against Slovenia, I think many have missed another moment that was eerily similar to a previous call that proved pivotal for the United States. Australia's Harry Kewell was sent off as they were leading 1-0 against Ghana three days ago, leading to a converted penalty that proved to be the only other score in the 1-1 result.

It was like watching a flashback of the US-Germany contest in the Quarterfinals where Greg Berhalter's redirection of a corner kick was stopped on the line by the loose arm of a German player manning the post, which was not ruled a foul.

Germany No-Call [+]
Kewell Red Card [+]

I completely understand the ball-to-hand part of how the infringement is judged and have no problem with that and the new passive offside rule. What I do have issue with is that 'ball-to-hand' must not be the guideline for goal line (six yard box) situations. Any player who is guarding the post or the immediate vicinity of the goal should be well aware of the handball rule and that they need to be particularly careful. Therefore, there needs to be greater adherence to the rule. In my opinion, in the six yard area or, at the very least, on the goal line, the rule should be that the officials must not be able to see space between the arm and the torso. If this is not the rule, it encourages players to continue to hold their arms out in space in what appears to be a natural position to make themselves bigger defensively, which is against the spirit of the rule. Making this rule adjustment would make the calls easier for the officials and create less debate on whether it was hand-to-ball or ball-to-hand.

How Not to Play with Extra Man

Debate on the Kewell handball aside, Ghana provided an instructional video the rest of the match of how not to play with a man advantage. Despite playing fairly well with good possession and passing, the Black Stars took a baffling number of unnecessary shots from long range when they could have penetrated the Socceroos defense. It was a shocking display as they continued to fire from distance time after time, looking like they were the team playing a man down against a stout defensive side.

Dutch Performance not Good for Dayton

The launch of the Dayton Dutch Lions in the USL Premier Development League has gotten off to good start on the pitch with a 4-1-4 record and the concept of bringing the well-regarded Dutch playing style to the United States is a great idea. The way the Netherlands are playing in the World Cup, however, is not exactly a great advertisement for what the new club is doing in Ohio. Sure, the Netherlands were one of two teams to clinch a spot in the Second Round after two games, but the quality of play has not exactly been all that inspiring. Hopefully, with nothing much on the line Thursday, they will open things up a bit against 0-2 Cameroon.

Monday, June 21

Apology FOR Maradona?

Typically, it is Argentine great Diego Maradona in the position of 'needing' to apologize for his latest situation, whether it be for the team's performance on the field or for the latest event in his headline-making personal life activities.

Ironically, it appears that the media and Argentine fans are now in the position of needing to apologize to him after what Maradona's side has done, along with other results and events around the tournament.

Argentina has won twice with five goals for and one against through two games. But more importantly, the other four South American sides are unbeaten through two games (Chile's match pending) for a total record of 7-0-2 (W-L-D) for the continent. Maybe, just maybe, Argentina's struggles in qualifying were due to the fact that all the teams they were competing against were good too. Uruguay, who had to qualify via a playoff against Costa Rica, is 1-0-1 with three goals for and none against. The Netherlands and Portugal are the only other teams through two games who have not been scored upon.

In comparison, the 'host' African teams have been struggling and the European sides have not exactly been blazing through the competition. Spain lost to Switzerland. Germany were stunned by Serbia. Italy was shocked by New Zealand for a draw. And England, held for two draws in poor performances.

And then there is France. If there were odds heading into the tournament which team would find itself in off-the-field disarray, Argentina would probably have been the most likely to be the winners with all the pre-tournament Argentina preview discussions partially centering on Maradona being crazy. Well, the three-ring circus is featuring the French instead.

Is this the end of French dominance? Team captain Patrice Evra said they are now a "small football nation" after the 2-0 loss to Mexico. The debacle that has ensued off the field is the third act for a nation now becoming a regular around the world footballing headlines for bizarre events. The first was the infamous Zinedine Zidane headbutt in the championship game of the last World Cup. The second was the notorious Thierry Henry handball that put France through to the tournament instead of Ireland, which would have had a chance to qualify had the contest continued to penalty kicks. The drama now seems to have engulfed the entire organization.

Update: Another game, another South American victory as Chile tops the Swiss, 1-0, to pick up their second win. That makes the continent 8-0-2 for the tournament with all five teams leading their groups.