Soccerology

Part News, Part Analysis, Part Opion. Soccerology gives you a unique, in-depth look at the world of Soccer. That is, the world, as we see it.

Name:
Location: United States

Standing on the Eastern Shore of the USA, I look North, South, East and West for all that is interesting and noteworthy in the world of soccer.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Welcome Back - Stevie C

Welcome back – But is it time to go?

Sorry for the long gap in between posts. It won’t happen again.

- MKO


Lately, we’ve been thinking about the future of Steve Cherundolo. After leaving the University of Portland in 1999, the 27 year-old American right back took a chance by starting his professional career in Germany and can safely call the move a success. In that time, the trajectory of his career has followed that of his club, Hannover 96. They have seen their stature rise from that of a modest 2.Bundesliga (German 2nd division) outfit – the type that would take a chance on a college sophomore from the American west – to an established Bundesliga club. ‘Dolo, (as Cherundulo is known in US Soccer circles) got in at the ground floor and is one of the architects of the club’s golden age.

The San Diego native took little time acclimating himself to his new surroundings. In less than a season, he won a place in the Hannover starting XI. Five years later, the classy defender is a near automatic selection in the lineup for both club and country. On this side of the Atlantic, observers have noted his progression whenever he returns to don the national team jersey. Always a steady defender, Cherundolo’s professional development has seen him add a level of comfort and confidence on the ball that coaches worldwide covet in their outside backs. Barring injury, he will start at right back for the United States in their opening match of World Cup 2006 against the Czech Republic.

Which brings us to the point of today’s post: Is it time for Steve Cherundolo to move on?

Hannover’s slow start to the 05-06 season had club directors fearing a season-long struggle with relegation, so they fired manager Ewald Lienen in November, replacing him with Peter Neururer. They have not lost since Oct. 30, a 4-1 drubbing loss to Arminia Biefeld and their 10 game unbeaten run has the city dreaming of a place in next year’s UEFA Cup. Their home stadium was refurbished ahead of this summer’s world cup, providing the team with the kind of match-day revenue that will help them cement a position in the heights of the German game.

If Hannover finish in the top five, they will win a place in European competition. Cherundolo will surely stick around to enjoy such fruit. But the smart money says they will not be able to sustain the momentum and their current form may represent the apex of their fortunes. Though the squad is full of unity and industry, they lack the firepower in the attack to break down the defenses of Germany’s elite teams. There is not enough talent to realistically challenge for the Bundesliga title. Eventually, a bigger club (either from Germany or abroad) will come calling for the experienced American fullback.

Cherundolo has stated publicly that is 100% committed to Hannover, but the lure of European football and million dollar salaries are enough to tempt the most loyal of servants. There were rumors that Schalke 04 were tracking him last year, but the man who first brought Cherundolo to Germany, is no longer their manager. New talk of interest from abroad (England being the most likely destination) persists and it seems that a move from Hannover is inevitable, though not imminent.

Soccerology says that consistent European competition is the next logical step in Dolo’s development. As a 26 year-old defender with over 100 games worth of top-flight experience and 31 caps, he has all the necessary qualifications of being a world-class fullback. By lining up against Europe’s most potent attacks, he will improve as a player and fulfill national team coach Bruce Arena’s (circa 2000) prediction of being the USA starting right back for the “next decade.”

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Zizou Return does no Favors for France

Zinedine Zidane is the best soccer player of his generation. The best the world has seen since one Diego Armando Maradona. He’s won every major trophy available and no one in their right mind can second-guess his accomplishments or legacy.

A little over a year after retiring from international soccer, Zidane announced yesterday that he is doing an about face and will return to Les Blues to help jumpstart their sputtering World Cup qualification campaign. France is currently fourth in their group, just three points behind Group 4 leaders Ireland, though they have a game in hand.

Zidane bowed to the pressure of the consistent calls for his return. Even future UEFA President Franz Beckenbauer recently said that a World Cup without France would be a ‘disaster.’ France Head Coach Raymond Domenech has left the door open from the start of qualification.

Mr. Zidane, if you are reading this blog, please rethink your decision. For you are making a mistake that is doing a disservice to your country.

Note that I didn’t say damaging your own reputation. Zidane can still dominate at the highest level. He was one of the stars of Euro2004 and Real Madrid will go deep into this year’s Champions league, with the French maestro directing the attack. That much is certain.

The sooner the French wean themselves off of their dependence on yesteryear’s stars, the better off they will be in the long run. Their quarterfinal round elimination from Euro2004 at the feet of the eventual champions Greece, was an honorable swansong for a number of players from the team that once simultaneously held the World Cup and European Championship trophy.

Zidane, Lillian Thuram and Claude Makelele passed the torch to new generation of talented Frenchmen, who are led by today’s superstars namely Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera. The Luic Guily’s, Jerome Rothen’s and William Gallases of the world need a chance to sink or swim on their own because it is these players that must live up to the lofty expectations of French soccer.

France’s embarrassing exit from World Cup 2002 was partially blamed on the fact that they were automatic qualifiers as defending champs. With no grueling qualification campaign to endure, France never had the chance to forge a collective identity. When they went down a goal to Senegal in the opening match, they did not know to whom they needed to look for a lift. Most would say, “that’s easy. It’s Zidane. Or Viera. Or Henry.” But until a team is tested in a game that matters, they cannot be certain of the answer.

Zidane and Makalele are returning to Les Blues. Thuram is close to doing the same thing. They will add loads of talent and hundreds of caps to a quality team that is finding its way. But their presence means that France will continue to reach into the past in order to win tomorrow’s games. That in itself is a mistake and Zidane, as great a player as he is, is leading the charge.

Monday, July 25, 2005

US Triumphs in Gold Cup Final

Some say familiarity breeds contempt. That’s not necessarily true, but after yesterday’s affair at Giants Stadium, I like to think it increases the likelihood of some crazy isht going down.

Having played eachother just over a month ago in World Cup qualifying (US won 3-0 at Panama), the US National team survived a sun-drenched epic-length affair and defeated Panama on Penalty kicks to clinch their third Gold Cup championship. Ninety scoreless minutes were followed by thirty fruitless ones in extra time before the heavily favored Americans prevailed 3-1 in the penalty shootout.

With temperatures hovering around 90 degrees in the dead of the afternoon, both teams labored through the match, showing a lack of sharpness around the goal and an unwillingness (or inability) to make the most out of any decisive moments that presented themselves.

To be fair, the goalless draw was also down to some terrific goalkeeping as the USA’s Kasey Keller and his counterpart Jaime Pinedo were the game’s stars. Each made big saves when called upon and were nearly flawless in their positioning and command of the penalty area. Pinedo was named the most outstanding goalkeeper of the tournament, while Keller received honorable mention.

The US had saw their best scoring chances of the match come in the first half, only to be foiled by Pineda’s heroics. Midfielder Clint Dempsey had his powerful header pushed over the bar in the 38th minute. Three minutes later Josh Wolff’s flick on header sent DaMarcus Beasley into the area, but Pinedo gobbled his shot and didn’t allow a rebound.

Panama had their share of opportunities to win the game and veteran striker Jorge Dely Valdes will be most disappointed as he hit the post in the 74th minute and saw a sure-goal excellently saved by Keller in the 6th minute of extra-time.

From that moment, the inevitable march to penalties was on. Both sides attacked eachother on the counter, but the attacking players did not provide the final pass or accurate shot to score.

When the match went to penalties, most would have favored the Americans due to the superior level of experience their players possess. Panama’s squad consisted of a talented group of largely semi-pro players, while the US squad is made up of full professionals playing in either domestic or European first divisions.

Keller saved the first penalty, correctly diving to his left. Substitute Santino Quaranta scored for the US. Dely Valdes put one off the bar giving the US a chance to take a two-goal lead, but Chris Armas shot directly at Pinedo. The drama was back. Landon Donovan scored the second, to match Panama’s. Brad Davis, making his third appearance for the national team won it, going for placement over power.

“What we tried to do was go to school on the penalty kicks they took in the quarterfinal round and in doing that I saved the first one,” said Keller. “For the most part, we stepped up and made ours and they missed theirs. It was a total team effort today.”

Match-up: USA vs. PanamaDate: July 24, 2005Competition: CONCACAF Gold Cup - FinalVenue: Giants Stadium - East Rutherford, N.J.Kickoff: 3 p.m. ETAttendance: 31, 018Weather: Mostly cloudy, 85 degrees

Penalty Summary:PAN: Tejada (save), Dely Valdes (crossbar), Baloy (goal), Blanco (high)USA: Quaranta (goal), Armas (save), Donovan (goal), Davis (goal)

Lineups:USA: 18-Kasey Keller (capt.); 2-Frankie Hejduk, 12-Jimmy Conrad, 4-Oguchi Onyewu, 3-Greg Vanney; 14-Chris Armas, 5-John O?Brien, 10-Landon Donovan; 8-Clint Dempsey (21-Brad Davis, 84), 16-Josh Wolff (9-Santino Quaranta, 62), 7-DaMarcus Beasley (15-Ben Olsen, 114) Subs not used: 1-Marcus Hahnemann, 22-Tony Sanneh, 24-Matt ReisHead Coach: Bruce Arena

PAN: 1-Jaime Penedo; 2-Carlos Rivera, 3-Luis Moreno, 4-Jose Torres, 5-Felipe Baloy; 6-Gabriel Gomez, 8-Alberto Blanco, 10-Julio Medina (17-Luis Henriquez, 87), 20-Engin Mitre (21-Angel Luis Rodriguez, 43); 7-Jorge Dely Valdes, 18-Luis Tejada.Subs not used: 11-Roberto Brown, 12-Jose Calderon, 14-Roman Torres, 16-Ubaldo Guardia, 19-Gustavo AvilaHead Coach: Jose Hernandez

Stats Summary: USA - PANShots: 23 - 18Saves: 5 - 10Corner Kicks: 10 - 5Fouls: 26 - 21Offside: 1 - 5
Misconduct Summary: PAN - Gabriel Gomez (caution) 62nd minuteUSA - Brad Davis (caution) 86. USA ? Frankie Hejduk (caution) 120.
Officials:Referee: Carlos Batres (GUA)1st Asst.: Hector Vergara (CAN)2nd Asst.: Arturo Velasquez (MEX)Fourth Official: Peter Prendergast (JAM)

ussoccer.com Man of the Match: Kasey Keller

Courtesy of US Soccer

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Victory Train vs. Qualification Train

Here’s a riddle: If the “Victory Train” and “Qualification Train” depart from opposite ends of the same track, what happens when the two collide in a New Jersey swamp?

The United States and Honduras answered the riddle Thursday evening at Giants Stadium when they met in the Gold Cup semifinals. The US edged past Honduras 2-1 thanks to a late header by defender Oguchi Onyewu and secured a place in Sunday’s final against either Panama or Colombia.

Four players were injured over the course of the match with three requiring substitutions. Only the luck of the Irish allowed the Americans to escape wreckage that would be the upset.

The Hondurans were surprise participants in the semifinals after defeating their Central American rivals, Costa Rica, 3-2 on Saturday in Foxboro’s (MA) Gillette Stadium. After the match, they traveled from Boston to NYC on an Acela (Amtrack) train, dubbed the, “Victory Train” by the Honduran media.

Such an achievement was significant for the Hondurans. After their elimination from World Cup Qualifying in the semifinal round, much of the media forgot about the talented group that missed out on a place in Korea/Japan by the slimmest of margins. The Americans became the new favorites to win the entire thing after Mexico fell to Colombia on Sunday in Houston.

The game was played at a frenetic pace with an energetic crowd of some 25 – 30,000 providing the buzz a game of this stature deserved. The decidedly pro-Honduras crowd nearly exploded when forward Wilmer Velazquez, the tournament’s joint top scorer, went in alone on US ‘keeper Kasey Keller, but his weak shot was saved by the reliable keeper.

However, the crowd carried the Hondurans forward and they asserted themselves throughout the first half. They controlled and passed the ball with flair to which their fans roared in approval. Much like the call and response between the preacher and the audience at most black churches, the players called, the crowd responded.

The new grass turf was ordered by CONCACAF for the event, but it had yet to take hold after less than a week in place. Players were slipping and sliding throughout the match, which made for nervous moments throughout.

Chicago Fire midfielder Ivan Guerrero scored for the Hondurans in the 30th minute and confirmed their intentions of advancing. Forward Tyson Nunez received a pass in attacking third and the US defenders were woefully out of position. He played it over the top to Guerrero who beat the offside trap and shot past an onrushing Keller.

The US were disjointed in their play and created few threatening opportunities. When they presented themselves, misfortune would intervene. Around the 20th minute, DaMarcus Beasley was taken down in the box by goalkeeper Victor Coello, but the American midfielder handled the ball while breaking his fall and referee Peter Prendergast allowed play to continue.

Both teams limped into the locker room, out of breath from the action-packed half. Each team had a goal called back because of late offside flags. Josh Wolff and Tyson Nunez were feeling hard done by, I would imagine. The first half ended with a casualty list reading as such: Defender Eddie Pope re-injured his sprained ankle and was substituted in the 15th minute. Honduras Coello suffered a shoulder injury and had to be substituted in the 51st+ minute (of the 1st half!). Nunez was momentarily knocked unconscious after colliding with Jimmy Conrad.

Defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni took a stud to the ankle and had to be substituted in the real 58th minute.

The second half brought the same action and energy level as the first but added the drama that makes this game so gripping. The US were unable to crack the Honduran defense and when they did, new ‘keeper, Junior Morales was up to the task of saving his defenders.

Onyewu flashed a header just wide of the post early in the second half. He usual meets his headers with power, but went for placement instead.

In the 59th minute, Chris Armas was whistled for a foul that could have been called either way and Prendergast and US Head Coach Bruce Arena wrote another chapter in their story of animosity. The American Head coach was ejected for whatever he said after the call and had to be escorted from the field.

Prendergast sent Arena off in 2000 for protesting a hand-ball that cost the US a tie in Costa Rica.

During the match, Spanish television reported that Arena reportedly was communicating with his assistant Curt Onolfo via some electronic device. Stay tuned for more on that one.

It looked like the Hondurans would be able to pull off the shock upset late in the match. The Americans were dominating possession, but were not able to beat Morales. Pat Noonan and Landon Donovan both had headers from close range saved. Each was aimed within the grasp of morales, but were hit hard enough that they would score nine of ten times.

In the 86th minute, midfielder John O’Brien tied the score at 1-1. Donovan took a header from substitute Pat Noonan in the box but was tackled by defender Erick Vallecilo. O’Brien was standing nearby and the ball fell his feet. Without moving, he swung his leg and swept the shot into the net for his first goal for the US since the one that woke the country at 5 A.M. against Portugal (World Cup 2002, if you don’t know).

With extra time looming, Onyewu won it in the 92nd minute. Donovan floated in a free-kick and the massive defender got a running start and powerfully headed it past Morales.

The answer to the riddle: The best game involving the US national team in recent memory and a trip to the finals for the Qualification train.

Friday, July 15, 2005

So just Donde Va Borgetti anyway?

So just donde va Borgetti anyway?

Mexican international striker Jared Borgetti is nothing less than an icon in the eyes of our neighbors to the south. His exploits over the better part of the last decade have put him alongside the greatest goleadores in the history of Futbol Mexicano. With his next goal for the national team, he will become his country’s all-time leading goal scorer. He is also the fourth all-time leading goleador in Mexican first division history.

Most view the soccer world in a Euro-centric light. We concern ourselves with the game that takes place across the pond and little else. This makes it easy to mis-underestimate the high standard of play and talent that exists in countries outside of the belt of traditional world powers. Borgetti is a prime example.

Currently playing for Pachuca, Borgetti’s performances at last months Confederation Cup made European clubs take notice of the prolific scorer. Finally. He scored three goals in five games and speculation about an imminent move began almost immediately after the final whistle. In the last few weeks he has been linked with moves to a number of clubs, including German sides Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt. There was even speculation that Saudi-Arabia’s Al-Ittihad was ready to splash some oil money to bring him to the kingdom.

However, yesterday’s news out of Mexico news reported that he was ready to sign for Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League. So what’s the best move for this legendary Mexican soccer player?

Keep in mind that he is 31 years old and not getting any younger. At his age, most would agree that he is nearing the end of his prime. Speed, quickness and other physical attributes are not what they used to be at 31. However, so long as I have seen him, Borgetti’s game has never been based on footspeed. He’s not apt to run at defenders from deep positions (with or without for the ball). What he does is play as close to goal as possible. With his back to goal, he holds the ball, knocks it down with his head or brings his teammates into the attack better than most. With the ball in the air, there are less than a handful of strikers in the world that can call themselves his equal. If people think his his improbable goal against Italy in World Cup 2002 was lucky, then he put all doubts to rest when he dominated the Germans (those set-piece kings) in the air during the third-place match at the the Confederations Cup. His strength, power and aerial ability can last through the years and his positional sense is excellent as well.

A veteran with over a decade of professional experience, Borgetti will not be looking to necessarily go to a club where he will improve as a player or ‘prove’ himself at the ‘highest level.’ Top Mexican players do very well for themselves in the pay department, so we can assume that Borgetti and his family are taken care of financially.

He’s not going to Saudi Arabia. Pachuca President Jesus Martinez dismissed that as wild speculation. Hertha Berlin had the inside track for a while, but they reportedly were not willing to meet his salary demands. Interest in Frankfurt seems to have cooled. At least publicly.

At this point, a move to England seems the most plausible one. Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce has a history of finding bargains in the foreign player market and fitting them seamlessly into his squad of misfits, eccentrics and personalities. Bolton will spend between $1.6 and $2.3 million (reports vary) to bring someone in that will be on the end of the crosses that fly from everywhere in English soccer.

Bolton will also be playing in Europe this season and that is the clincher that will end the Borgetti saga. The UEFA Cup, though not the Champions League, is a fitting stage for a player of Borgetti’s talent. Having proven himself at every level in which he has played, the hero to legions of Mexicans will undoubtedly be a hit at the Reebok Stadium. Their fans that will follow them to grounds across continental Europe will take to him if he plays to his abilities.

If the rumors are true, congratulations. If not. Then sorry.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Viera to Juventus!

Wow.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

How Good Is Matt Reis?

Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis was on his game Saturday against the Fire. His second half penalty-kick save, along with a string of stops of sure-Fire goals had me wondering just how good a #1 the Revs have in Reis.

To answer, let’s first put this question into proper perspective. From Jim St. Andre to Walter Zenga to Jurgen Sommer to Adin Brown, the Revs have always started a name goalkeeper capable of not only commanding the respect of their teammates, but also inspiring them with their play. Don’t believe me? Have a look at the tapes of Adin Brown in New England’s late season run of 2002. You can almost see Brown’s teammates being lifted off the ground as their goalkeeper was playing the best soccer of his young career.

Reis has been named the MLS starter in this month’s All-star game against Fulham. As opposed to the East-West format the game traditionally follows, by pitting the All-Stars against a foreign “power” (hahaha, Fulham, I know) this team better represents the league’s top players. And in goal is New England’s own bald wonder.

If there is one position in which we can clearly see one’s highs and lows it is the goalkeeper. Spectacular saves show up on highlight reels while mistakes carry names such as ‘howler’ and ‘calamity.’ Reis’s season has been characterized by an absence of miscues. When threatened by a hard shot he is as good as any at holding on to it, if possible, or pushing it out of play. He then marshals his defense into position and the Revs usually kill the threat. Standout rookie defender Michael Parkhurst is good, but not that good. He's got a world class keeper behind him, bolstering his seemingly uncanny positional sense and calling out moves before they happen.

Reis not only has made few, if any, mistakes. In fact he most often covers for other peoples.’ When Brown bolted for Europe after last season, I was not worried. It has been roughly a season since Reis made the starting job his and he has hardly put a glove wrong since. He has been as good as any of the names mentioned above. For that reason he is simply the latest torch-bearer in a long line of great Revolution goalkeepers.