Thursday, August 30, 2012

Iniesta


Andres Iniesta was recognized as the UEFA player of the year today at the Champions League draw in Monaco.

Onstage next to the strapping Cristiano Ronaldo with his gelled hair and pretty boy looks, and the diminutive Leo Messi with his weak chin and boyish demeanor, Iniesta looked almost as if he'd been stood up there for filler; like the extra man in a police lineup.

But he was without a doubt the most deserving of the three players for this award.

Iniesta - the pale faced assassin - only slightly taller than Messi, with a hairline like Landon Donovan's, he's not glamorous. And when it comes to the conversation about who is the best in Europe, he's generally overlooked for Ronaldo and Messi. 

But not today.

Sure Messi scored 73 goals for Barcelona and Ronaldo's tally of 60 propelled Real Madrid to their first La Liga crown in the Guardiola era (Is it a coincidence that Pep quit the club within a few days of the season ending?).

But Andres Iniesta, short, pale, balding Iniesta helped propel Spain to victory in the Euros this summer, just as had had in the World Cup two years earlier. And Iniesta, who can corner like a Porsche with the ball at his feet, has been there all along in this Barcelona's nearly four-year run as the best club side in the history of the world. 

He might not enjoy the glamor and the headlines afforded to Messi, or even David Villa, but Iniesta, a product of Barca's La Masia Academy, has been the very heart and soul of the great Blaugrana and Spain teams of the last few years.

Tears gleamed in his eyes as he stood on the podium with his award. It was if he'd been resigned that it would go to Ronaldo or Messi. Even after his name was revealed etched on the back of the trophy, he moved slowly to take it off Sepp Blatter, as if wasn't sure of what he'd just heard.

In the spotlight this awkward little Catalan who moves with a combination of fury and poetry on the pitch, this embodiment of the collective spirit that is Barcelona and Spain, finally had his moment of individual glory.

Behind him, Ronaldo looked predictably smug. He'd been seated with what looked like a pair of European super-models. Iniesta was with his beautiful wife, Ann Ortiz.

Messi on the other hand, looked to have attended the whole thing stag and swayed back and forth awkwardly onstage; looking as if he'd rather have been off kicking a football somewhere. Up there on the glittering stage with Steve McManaman and all the rest of them, he didn't appear the least bit bothered to have lost out to his teammate. And why should he? Messi knows there are plenty more individual honors headed his way.

But today was Andres Iniesta's day, and it's one that he has deserved for some time.

Bravo Iniesta, bravo.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Arsenal: Picking Up the Pieces After Robin van Persie's Departure


As yet another of Arsenal's most talismanic players departs for supposedly greener pastures, fans of the North London club around the world are today faced with a somewhat hollow feeling that's become all too familiar during recent summer transfer windows.

Last year it was the beloved Cesc Fabregas and the not-so-beloved Samir Nasri who led the exodus, to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively. This year of course it's Dutch goal-scoring sensation Robin van Persie who has departed the club and gone to play in the colors of Manchester United.

Losing van Persie who at times almost single-handedly kept the Gunners afloat with his 35 goals last season, to one of Arsenal's direct rivals is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.

The club hierarchy at Arsenal will of course claim they had no choice in the matter.

After all, van Persie is 29 and with one year left on his contract, meaning he could walk for nothing at the end of this season. And certainly it could be argued that 24 million pounds for an injury-prone striker who is nearly 30 and has only one truly notable season under his belt is a tidy parcel of business for Arsenal.

But Arsenal's continued success at running itself based on a self-sustaining model offers little comfort to the club's fans who've now seen the Gunner's trophy drought stretched to seven years. Meanwhile the gap has widened between Arsenal and monied clubs like City and Chelsea, Tottenham have emerged as title contenders, and Manchester United have just prized away their best player, something that would have seemed inconceivable five years ago.

Feelings today must surely be mixed. Obviously, the situation does not seem so dire as it did one year ago when Arsene Wenger let Fabregas and Nasri go, claiming the club would do just fine without them. Then it took an 8-2 thrashing by Manchester United to force the manager to dip into the transfer market.


This year at least the seemingly inevitable loss of Arsenal's best player was tempered by the addition of some proven attacking talent to the club: the German striker Lukas Podolski, the French forward Olivier Giroud, and Spanish attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla have all been acquired this summer.

There are also rumors still circulating that the Gunners will take Nuri Sahin on loan from Real Madrid and buy Fernando Llorente from Bilbao.

Even with van Persie gone, it's not difficult to look at the Arsenal squad that's currently taking shape with at least some cautious optimism. Obviously there are few players in the world one could replace Robin van Persie with.

But in his acquisition of Podolski, Giroud, and Cazorla, Wenger has at least given us some indication of where the goals that last season came from van Persie might come from in the upcoming campaign.

Still at the moment, it all amounts to a spoon-full of sugar in a jar of bitter medicine.

Arsenal fans must wonder why it was that their beloved captain Robin van Persie couldn't look on Wenger's new acquisitions with the same sense of hopefulness that they did. Was there never a moment when the prolific Dutch frontman stopped and thought "you know maybe this work?"

At the same time they are faced with the reality that the club hierarchy, rather than doing everything possible to bring a title to the trophy-starved Emirates by holding onto their best player, seemingly prefers to cover its financial bases by selling him to a direct rival.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Clarence Seedorf to Galaxy a No Go as LA Endures Super Clasico Defeat

Clarence Seedorf in LA
 
It could have been so cool and for a moment it looked like it was all going to come together. Clarence Seedorf, veteran Netherlands international and winner of the UEFA Champions League with three different clubs was seen training with the LA Galaxy in Carson this week. While at the same time reports surfaced that Galaxy captain Landon Donovan had put his Manhattan Beach compound up for sale.

Could it be? Was Landon's imminent departure back to the Premier League going to create a designated player spot into which the elegant Dutch midfielder might be able to slip? Alas, no, it would not.

Instead Seedorf has signed a two-year deal with Botafogo in Brazil, as the prevailing view had been that he'd do all along. The 36-year old former Ajax man who has spent the last 10 years at AC Milan has a Brazilian wife.

 Galaxy Let 2 Goal Lead Slip to Lose in California Super Clasico


It's been a week of near misses for the LA Galaxy. After failing to replace the brooding Donovan with Seedorf the team traveled north to Stanford to face the San Jose Earthquakes in front of a racuous crowd of 50,000.

Many had no doubt turned out to see David Beckham, who coincidentally had officially been scratched from Great Britain's Olympic roster earlier in the week.

The atmosphere was fraught from the get-go with tension on the pitch and in the stands palpable. The Galaxy gave up the lead early to a poaching Steven Lenhardt. However they managed to equalize courtesy of a free kick from non other than Beckham, who has seemingly made a career of responding to his detractors on the pitch.

The visiting Gs took the lead thanks to an own goal from Quakes defender Jason Hernandez and Landon Donovan made it 3-1 with a late first half strike.

But before the half had ended Victor Bernandez had halfed San Jose's deficit. The Quakes struck again immediately at the start of the second half, making it 2-3 thanks to a Sam Cronin strike in the 47th.

However it would be who else but MLS league-leading scorer Chris Wondolowski who would slam home the match-winner when he scored a spectacular backheeled goal from a corner kick to give the home the lead in the 61st minute.

Unfortunately for the several hundred Galaxy supporters who'd made the trip up in buses, the reigning MLS champs simply had no response for Wondo's wonder goal and the match ended 4-3 Quakes.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

LA Galaxy Extend Winning Streak with 3-0 Thrashing of Vancouver Whitecaps

(Carson, CA) - The LA Galaxy continued their march up from the bottom of the Western Conference table by registering their third win inside of a week with a 3-0 route of the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night.

"It was a great win tonight for our team," said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena. "We had an exceptional first half and we maybe could’ve gotten more goals. But I’m not being greedy at this point."

The Galaxy first got on the score sheet courtesy of Mike Magee who tapped in a rebound off a David Beckham corner in the 16th minute.

Robbie Keane doubled the Galaxy’s lead right on the half hour mark when he got off a shot under pressure inside the 18 and beat Whitecaps keeper Joe Cannon to make it 2-0.

"There was a lot of bodies around me so it was a matter of just quick feet," said Keane. "I was lucky enough to get through and finish it so obviously I was delighted with that."

The striker, who had just returned from an unsuccessful campaign with the Irish national team at Euro 2012, decided to forego his usual acrobatic celebration and instead held up a shirt with the name James Nolan on it. Nolan was a 21 year old Ireland fan who'd traveled to Poland to watch his team in the Euros and had gone missing before turning up drowned in a canal in northern Poland.

"The whole country is very, very said," said Keane. "I called his father today to send my condolences and say my thoughts were with him and the family. Irish people are very, very close. They stick to each other through good times and bad times."

The Galaxy’s third goal came in the 41st minute when they were awarded  a penalty after Whitecaps defender Jay DeMerit, who was under pressure from Keane, handled the ball inside the area. Landon Donovan stepped up to the mark and having missed two earlier chances, duly converted to make it 3-0 Galaxy with less than five minutes remaining in the half.

For their part, Vancouver were outplayed from almost the opening whistle, failing to register a single shot on goal in the first half.

"I don’t think we gave them a sniff at the goal," remarked Donovan. "And we probably should’ve had five goals in the first half."

Vancouver's best chances came in the second half, and were both courtesy of the Brazilian Camilo. The first one came in the 52nd when the pacy forward found space inside the area and got off a shot that went just wide of the far post. Then  in the 70th minute Vancouver were awarded a free kick which the former Corinthians man put on target only to have his effort saved by Galaxy keeper Josh Saunders.

With their third win inside of a week, the Galaxy now find themselves in fifth place and back in playoff contention. They also appear to have been revitalized by the international break and look to have regained the form that made them MLS champions just over six months ago. However they will need to remain on point as they head north next Saturday to face the conference-leading San Jose Earthquakes.
"Unfortunately we’re still up against it," said Donovan. "We’re not in a position to just relax and chill out now so we gotta keep going. A few days off now to rest and then a big game against a really hot team."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Netherlands Announce Euro 2012 Squad

With friendly losses mounting and recriminations already beginning to fly, the Netherlands named their 23 man squad for Euro 2012 on Saturday.

The ever-formidable trio of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, and Dirk Kuyt will lead the attack with Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder providing fire support. Meanwhile Mark von Bommel and Nigel DeJong will set up their usual midfield karate dojo.

Everton's Johnny Heitinga leads the defensive lineup along with Malaga's Joris Mathijsen, Ajax's Gregory van der Wiel, and Stuttgart's Khalid "The Cannibal" Boulahrouze. Not sure why he's called "The Cannibal," but assume it's because he looks like Richard Kiel's "Jaws" character from those '70s Roger Moore Bond films.

A trio of goalkeepers has been selected that along with regular starter Martin Stekelenberg of Roma, includes Newcastle's Tim Krul and Michel Vorm from Swansee.

In addition to other familiar standby supporting players such as the formidable Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Barcelona midfielder Ibrahim Afellay, and PSV defender Wilfred Bouma there are a number of less familiar faces in this summer's team.

FC Twente striker Luuk de Jong has been included in the attack as has Heerenveen's Luciano Narsingh. De Jong provided a crucial goal for the Oranje in qualifying against Finland last fall. The striker also notched up 25 goals on the season for Twente, making him the club's top scorer.

Feared throughout the Eredivisie for his speed and dribbling skills, Narsingh made his international debut in last week's friendly loss to Bayern Munich, during which he scored one of the Netherlands' two goals in that 3-2 defeat.

Midfielders hoping to somehow elbow their way into the lineup ahead of the usual crop of coveted maestros, include Stijn Schaars and Kevin Strootman. Schaars is an attacking midfielder who currently plies his trade at Sporting Lisbon. He was with the Dutch squad in South Africa two years ago but saw little to no action. Strootman is a central midfielder at PSV who has one previous international goal to his credit.

Feyenoord's Ron Vlaar and PSV's Jetro Willems are both new additions to the defense since South Africa. Vlaar has actually been in and around the team since 2005 while Willems is previously uncapped.

Saturday the Dutch suffered a surprise defeat to Bulgaria in a friendly leading up to the tournament, which begins in 12 days.

Oranje coach Bert Van Marwijk laid much of the blame on Heitinga.

"A pass like Heitinga's is just forbidden," said Van Marwijk to SBS. "You just don't do that."

Despite back-to-back warmup friendly losses against Bayern and Bulgaria, the Dutch remain among the favorites for this summer's tournament, along with Spain and Germany. Holland's only previous major trophy was a European Championship title they won in 1988 with a team that featured the likes of Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Galaxy Snatch Defeat from Jaws of Victory in Thrilling California Super Classico

(Carson, CA) -Despite being reduced to 10 men with 30 minutes left to play, the LA Galaxy snatched a 2-0 lead Wednesday night, only to see it evaporate into a 3-2 California Super Classico defeat at the hands of the visiting San Jose Earthquakes.

A makeshift Galaxy side that was without Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane took an early lead, courtesy of Hector Jimenez. The Galaxy midfielder, who was making his MLS debut, collected a pass from Chad Barrett inside the 18 and slotted it home to make it 1-0 Galaxy in the 3rd minute.

However following a first half in which the Galaxy enjoyed the majority of possession and seemed to resemble last season's championship side for long periods, Jimenez went from hero to zero when he was shown a red card just on the hour mark for a reckless tackle on San Jose defender Steven Beitashour.

"I felt good, I felt like I was doing good and unfortunately I put my team in a tough position with the red card," said Jimenez. "I talked to the guys and they said it was a red card and it’s a bad tackle and unfortunately things happen."

However not everyone in the Galaxy locker room was convinced the referee got it right.
"I don’t know. It could go either way," said David Beckham. "Obviously he sent him off but I think there’s a chance there he wouldn’t have sent him off. Unfortunately we had someone in control of the game that tonight that every time that we’ve had him, he wants to be the star and that’s what happens when you have a referee that wants to be on Sports Center."

But even with 10 men the Galaxy remained dangerous, scoring on the break in the 73rd when Beckham crossed the ball to Mike Magee who rounded Quakes keeper Jon Busch and tucked away what at the time seemed like the goal that would all-but-guarantee the Galaxy take full points from the match.

But just three minutes later San Jose striker Steven Lenhart put the Quakes on the score sheet when he connected with a corner from Marvin Chavez and headed it home to make it 2-1.

Five minutes later Beckham appeared to handle the ball in the box while blocking a shot from Jason Hernandez. The veteran midfielder was shown a yellow card and San Jose were awarded a penalty which Khari Stephenson duly converted to level the score at 2-2.

"I just turned my back and my arms were as close to me as they could be," explained Beckham. "They weren’t outstretched yet it hit my hand, but could’ve gone either way. In the first half one of their guys falls on the ball in the penalty area he rolls over it couple of times touches it with his hand a couple of times, everyone else sees it apart from the star."

As the now-contentious match ticked into extra time it seemed headed for a draw. But second half Quakes substitute Alan Gordon had other ideas. The former Galaxy striker, who has a habit of scoring against his old team, received the ball inside the 18 and headed home the match winner just seconds before the final whistle was blown; leaving the Galaxy and their supporters stunned and despondent in the face of a 3-2 loss.

But despite Wednesday's disappointing result there were positives to be gleaned from the team's performance and Beckham for one, was at least optimistic.

"Overall I think it felt a better team performance and one of the better team performances this season," said the former Manchester United man. "I think when you’re on a run like this sometimes you need a little bit of a break and a little bit of luck. I think that we haven’t had that. But we’ll be fine, we’ll bounce back it’s good to have a tough game at the weekend so soon."

The Galaxy are now win-less in their last six matches and in dire need of a turnaround if they are to retain any hope of defending their MLS title. The LA side  have a season record of 3-7-2 and will head into their match away to the Houston Dynamo on the weekend sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference table.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fear and Loathing Sets in for LA Galaxy

By Alex Baker
(Carson, CA) - The LA Galaxy lost their fifth match of the season, going down 1-0 at home to a Thierry Henry-less New York Red Bulls on Saturday night.

"It's a bit of a broken record," admitted LA coach Bruce Arena, who seemed to have reached new levels of frustration and irritability in the post-match press conference.

"We haven’t found the player that can consistently get us goals," said the coach. "There've been plays when the balls gotta end up in the back of the net and it isn’t, and it’s costing us dearly."

New York's match-winner came in the 19th minute, courtesy of Joel Lindpere who got off a shot under pressure from the edge of the 18, beating Galaxy keeper Bill Gaudette at the far post to make it 1-0.

Lindpere's effort was the Red Bull's sole shot on goal of the match. The Galaxy meanwhile registered a total of five shots on target but were unable to find the back of the net once.

As the catalog of missed chances mounted up the match began to feel like a microcosm of the Galaxy's season thus far.

"I think it’s getting even more frustrating week after week" said LA midfielder David Beckham. "We had our chances, we didn’t finish the chances off that we had. We got sloppy in defense with a couple of plays. Obviously it’s disappointing to lose at home again."

Having gone undefeated at home all last season, Saturday's loss was their third at the Home Depot Center this year.

"It’s something that we were proud of last year, having our home ground as somewhere where it was tough to come and play against us," said Beckham. "That obviously went the first time we lost this season and it’s continued. It’s something we want to change because we want to make it hard for teams to come here and play and right now teams and individuals are coming here and enjoying it."

New York were without their star player and leading goalscorer Thierry Henry along with other key players, Rafa Marquez and Teemo Tainio. Still they put in an organized and disciplined performance, managing to defend a 1-0 lead for 70-plus minutes.

The Galaxy built last term's championship season largely around getting a single goal and shutting down the opposition. However coach Arena bristled at the suggestion that New York had beat them at their own game.

"All this horseshit about 1-0 this or that that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life," said Arena. "New York would gladly take a 1-0 win tonight. Any time you win by a goal you should be thrilled."

While the Galaxy's early-season defensive frailties seem to have been rectifed, they're currently suffering from a serious problem with converting opportunities on goal; which is surprising considering that on Saturday night they fielded a squad that in addition to Buddle and Keane, included Landon Donovan, Pat Noonan, and Mike Magee.

"In the early going, we made some defensive mistakes for sure," admitted Arena. "But we’ve produced enough chances to score more goals this year and haven’t gotten it done. Whatever that reason is you’ve got me because there’s been enough chances since early March for us to be scoring more goals."

With a record of 3-5-1, the Galaxy currently sit third from the bottom of the Western Conference table and desperately need to find their winning ways when they travel away to face Montreal Impact next Saturday.

"We keep saying we’re not worried about it," said Beckham. 'There’s gonna be a point where we need to be worried about it and we’re close to that now."