SEL Has Footballitis (Part I)
First of all, I'd like to start off with an apology. I apologize to everybody (namely myself) who has expected a soccer article out of me, since it is 1) inarguably the greatest sport in the history of the world (maybe second best, behind slamball), and 2) it's by far the sport which I'm most passionate about. Completely unnacceptable.
Okay, apologies over. On to SEL's footballitis thoughts:
Chelsea vs. Barcelona
First off, that red card given go Del Horno was bullshit. Yes he came in too hot, but Messi left his feet and jumped into him... both of them went down injured. It should have either been a yellow card to each of them, or nothing to each of them. CERTAINLY not a straight up red to Del Horno. This put Chelsea at 10 men for the final 60 minutes of play, and even though they went up 1-0, they couldn't hold off the fierce Barcelona attack and lost 2-1.
There was a bigger story here besides the shocker red card and Barca breaking Chelsea's 49 game home winning streak: Leonel Messi. This kid can BALL. He is Argentinian by birth, and plays his club soccer at Barcelona. He is currently 18 years old, and was EASILY the best player on the pitch Wednesday afternoon.
People have said that he's the next football savior for Argentina, the next Maradona. Well, Maradona himself has been quoted to say that not only is Messi the new Maradona, but he's already better now, at age 18, than Maradona ever was. Further proof? Ronaldinho (reigning world footballer of the year, and by most accounts the best player on earth right now), in an interview with 4-4-2 magazine, said "...it is ludicrous to call me the best in the world. I'm not even the best in Barça." This is coming from the best player in the world. Talking about an 18 year old kid on his team. Messi is flat out the truth, and should be a superstar at this summers World Cup (plus he has a pretty good Mullet working in his favor).
US Men's National Team
The U.S. has moved up to 6th in the world, trailing only Brazil, Czech Republic, Holland, Argentina, and France (and tied with Mexico and Spain). That means we're ranked ahead of perennial soccer powers England, Portugal, Italy, and Germany. That's pretty boss.
Bruce Arena (The Bruce) has the squad looking in fine form. In our last 3 games, we have pistol whipped Norway (5-0), dominated Japan (3-2... score didn't indicate the domination), and destroyed Guatamala (4-0). It should probably be noted that all 3 of these games were played on U.S. soil, and also that we were basically using our J.V. team (almost exclusively MLS players).
Personally, I like The Bruce's strategy here. He knows our players overseas can ball (Beasley, Onyewu, Keller, Reyna, McBride, et. al), so he's giving some of our bubble players a shot to make the team. We can only take 23 to Germany this summer, so this is a great chance for The Bruce to find out who the last slots are going to go to. He is also naming the team more than a month in advance of the deadline... presumably to give the 23 players the most time to practice, to gel, and to get ready to take on "The Group of Death." (Czech Republic, USA, Italy, and Ghana).
Here is a breakdown of my thoughts concerning our different positions for this summers World Cup (Keepers and Defenders today, Midfielders and Forwards tomorrow):
Casey Keller has the #1 slot on lockdown. The Borussia Moenchengladbach keeper has been in fine club form, and is one of the top 5 international goalies in the world. There is no doubt that old balls should be between the pipes for the U.S. (and that's not gay slang for anything). The discussion comes down to 2 things: how many keepers should we bring (2 or 3), and who should they be?
Personally, I think we should bring 3 keepers. If 1 keeper goes down, you don't have an insurance policy. So if the backup goes down as well (which isn't out of the realm of possibility), you have to put a field player in net. Bad times.
The argument then becomes: who are the 2? By most accounts, people are saying Tim Howard (Manchester United) and Kevin Hartman (Los Angeles Galaxy). Personally, I think Hartman should be the #2 in line. He has had great club success, has been playing every game, and is coming into the World Cup full of confidence. I'm a little leery of Howard. Yes he trains and plays with one of the best clubs in the world (United), but he isn't seeing constant first team action. He'll see a game every now and then, or a half every now and then. I'm just not confident in his ability to step onto the worlds biggest stage and perform like Keller will. Plus he has Tourette's syndrome
3 things to discuss - Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Pope, and Todd Dunivant.
Oguchi Onyewu is a stud. "The Gooch" represents the future of American soccer: bigger, faster, stronger, smarter, and more skillful. The man is a beast (about 6'4", 220), and has the frame of a middle linebacker, not a central defender. Because of his size, he wins everything in the air (just ask Mexico), and wins many challenges on the ground. He is a good communicator and organizer, and will be the backbone of our defense. The only worries about him are his tendency to pick up red cards (at least at Standard Liege). The Gooch makes us much more dangerous on set pieces because of his size and ability to get a head on the ball and put it on net. Look for him to be a star at the World Cup this summer.
Eddie Pope has no business even being in the discussion for making our MNT, but he is. He's old, slow, and bad. He gets beat easily on the ground, he loses his mark often, and can't distribute the ball. The only positives are that he is a veteran, and he is fast. Sweet. Look, Eddie Johnson is TERRIBLE, and his season at Real Salt Lake can only be described as "awful"... and that's being generous. He had a great career, but it's time to let him go, and he shouldn't even be given second thought for making the USMNT (but he will be). I've been a Pope hater for a long time (if you've ever watched a game with me you know this), and I feel that at this point in his career, he's a discgrace to the #23. I also feel that right now I'm a better soccer player than he is, and I'm dead serious.
The Guatamala game didn't really test him, but the game against Japan did... and Todd Dunivant rose to the occasion. The two big question marks about our national team this year are left back, and right mid. Dunivant looked very solid against Japan defensively, and he looked especially dangerous getting forward. He's left-footed, and he led to the U.S.'s first 2 goals against Japan. One was a long ball from about midfield right onto Taylor Twellman's head, the other was a nice pass into Clint Dempsey. I'd like to see him face some stiffer competition (Jamaica?) before the World Cup, but I like what I've seen so far. If the Bruce decides to put him in at left back, I feel good about his decision and think that the unsung Dunivant will do a bang-up job.
(Part II of SEL has Footballitis will run tomorrow, starting off with a discussion of the USMNT midfielders and forwards)