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Of Liverpool, Torres, Mourinho, and Spurs: Why do I watch so much soccer?

I'm a fickle fan.  When I first started paying way too much attention to European soccer five years ago, thanks in large measure to my passionate dislike of my job at that time, I committed myself to Fulham Football Club.  The team had a veritable truckload of Americans on the team with Kasey Keller in goal, Brian McBride as striker and captain, along with new recruit, Clint Dempsey.  The team also picked up Eddie Johnson, who promptly lost any semblance of ability and was loaned out to a team in Wales.  Around that same time period, Liverpool dropped off a wheelbarrow of cash in Madrid to sign Fernando Torres.  I had been a big fan of El Nino since the 2006 World Cup where he scored an awesome goal or two.  Suddenly I was torn.  My favorite player or my newly picked team?  

Another thing happened at the same time.  I was introduced to the world of Jose Mourinho.  The Special One is no ordinary manager.  He is manager's manager.  If Chuck Norris had a teacher, it would be Jose Mourinho.  Mourinho is a master of the press and a master of mind games.  He manages players brilliantly.  He earned the respect of Sir Alex Ferguson, longtime manager at Manchester United.  Mourniho demanded your attention and you either love him or hate him.  He took a small Portuguese club to the pinnacle of European Club Soccer (losing Tim Howard his job as ManU keeper in the process), went to Chelsea FC and led them to the top of the Premier League, and then went to Internazionale and won the Champion's League again.  Now he is at Real Madrid and you know what?  I finally really care about Real Madrid.  Kent is a massive fan and I always wanted to care about the team, but felt like a Yankee's bandwagoner because Madrid is soccer's most expensive team.  Now, with Mourinho leading the club, I want them to win.  I'm suddenly a fan.

So, back to my fickle fandom.  I've realized that the drama and personalities are what makes the game so intriguing.  It is really this way in every sport (think NFL and Brett Favre -- we're obsessed with a 40 year old washed up QB!) but it is especially true for me and soccer.  I don't have a true team to obsess over because I don't live in Europe so I adopt personalities and drama.  I love the underdog story and the outsized personalities.  It's what makes the game interesting.  So, I'll continue to be fickle.  I'll pull for Fulham, but pay more attention to Torres.  I'll check the score of the Fulham game as I relish another insane Spurs game (what an insane team!  Does Harry Redknapp actually do anything?)  I'l feel a bit guilty, but I'll enjoy it.  

Champions League: Real Madrid Wins But Are Still All Bark and Very Little Bite

Real Madrid beat AJ Auxerre in their Tuesday Champions League match in their now typical 2010 fashion. Lots of possession, some opportunities and very few goals.

Madrid possessed the ball for 70% of the game and had 19 shots compared to Auxerre's 9 shots. Yet anyone that watched the game could tell you that even though Madrid had a lot of possession and shots, they had very few great opportunities.

Granted, Gonzalo Higuain did have a great opportunity in the first half where his shot was blocked by a defender on the line. There were other good moments as well, but you have to expect more out of a team that possesses the ball for 70% of the game and has so many talented players.

It also wouldn't be as big of an issue if this was an isolated incident or one time event. But Real Madrid's lack of scoring production has been an issue and their main cause of concern thus far all season.

Jose Mourinho finally expressed his concerns and feelings about the lack of goals after Real Madrid was unable to score last week against lowly Levante in their La Liga match-up. In speaking about that game Mourinho said:

"We created so many chances, some very good, and obviously I'm worried because you need to score to win. Every point counts, but for us every game we play is one we have to win. So these are two points less than we could have. We're not happy about earning only one point because we must win every match.''

In preparation for the Champions League match against AJ Auxerre Mourinho tried to mix things up and went with Karim Benzema as a starter hoping that he would produce a spark.

Unfortunately for Benzema he looked somewhat lost for much of the game. Not sure if it's his youth or lack of playing time, but he's never seemed to gel or be on the same page with Higuain or the other players. He wasn't terrible last night, but didn't quite produce the spark Mourinho was probably hoping for.

Not that the other players were much better. All the players seem to struggle when they get in and around the box. There are opportunities, but most chances seem to end with a bad pass or Ronaldo getting frustrated and blasting a shot from outside the 18 yard box.

Despite the lack of scoring concerns, there are plenty of bright spots thus far for Real:

1. The defense is much better.

Probably a result of the return of Pepe and shifting Sergio Ramos to play central defense with Pepe. Last year Iker Casillas had to make 2-3 amazing saves a game to make up for Real's faulty defense. This year has been very different.

2. They have a loaded roster.

Madrid isn't like Liverpool or other teams that are struggling and don't have options or solutions. They have players, the just need to find the right combination. Kaka will return soon and he might help. Ozil, although he didn't start last night, has been amazing thus far for the team. He has created numerous opportunities for the forwards. Once he can get on the same page with Ronaldo and Higuain, the scoring flood gates could burst open.

3. They have Jose Mourinho.

He doesn't call himself The Great One for no reason. If anyone can figure out the right combination of players and control all the egos on the roster and get everyone on the same page, it's Mourinho. He's done it multiple times before, no reason to think he won't be able to do it with this talented squad.

Yet the scoring is a concern. Mainly because it needs to get resolved soon. Madrid can get by with one goal against opponents like Auxerre and it can even afford a tie to Levante only because La Liga is pretty weak this year.

But Madrid doesn't spend the money to beat Auxerre and do well in La Liga.

Madrid spends money and brings in Mourinho to win the Champions League and beat Barcelona and win La Liga.

One goal might get you a victory against Auxerre, but it likely won't be enough against Inter, Chelsea, Man U or Barcelona in the knock out stages of the Champions League or El Clasico.

Especially since none of these teams fear Madrid.

Surely they all respect Madrid and the players on the roster. But Madrid has been eliminated from the Champions League in the round of 16 five years in a row. Barcelona has won La Liga the past two years. Teams know that Madrid is a tough opponent, but not unbeatable.

Madrid been a lot of bark and hype, but no bite and results. Hopefully that changes soon. Otherwise, despite the many changes, they will be the same dog as always.

Liverpool Ties Sunderland: Is It Too Soon to Write Off The Reds?

Liverpool suffered yet another draw this weekend. In six games they have three ties, two losses and only one win. Not the most impressive start.

But with yet another tie to Sunderland on Saturday, one has to wonder if Liverpool actually has what it takes to win this season. Only six games in and it may not be too early to write them off.

Normally with most teams, especially a team like Liverpool with a strong history of winning, you could just say that it's early in the season and they are just off to a slow start.

You could also argue that they have had a tough first six games already having played three of the top four clubs in the Premier League - Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City. However, they didn't exactly fare well in those three games having lost to both Manchester clubs and pulling off a draw against Arsenal. Not exactly an impressive record if Liverpool plans on overcoming these teams and competing for the title.

A record against those clubs also wouldn't be as big of a deal if Liverpool was winning their other games. Instead they are struggling to pull off a tie against Sunderland.

Which is why it already begs the question of whether Liverpool can legitimately compete for a title this season or even have a realistic chance of finishing in the top four?

A big reason to already question the team and the season is the turmoil within the club ownership. The ownership problems are by no means a new issue. The team is facing serious debt and the owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, are unable to obtain loans or credits from major banks.

Fans are upset at the owners and it appears to be reaching a boiling point evidenced by the fact that the fans staged a sit-in protest after the Sunderland game.

Granted, Liverpool isn't the only team facing financial problems and isn't the only team with an owner the fans don't like. But the difference with Liverpool is that these issues seem to be impacting the play on the field.

Fernando Torres appears to be increasingly agitated on the field. He was injured over the summer and coming back from an injury can be frustrating. He may just be upset at his own performance and that he isn't performing as well as he would like. But he also appears to be frustrated with his lack of support on the field. He is often left to roam up top alone and many times his only option is to try and take on two or three defenders on his own.

There are also issues with the midfield. Steven Gerrard is always solid and plays his heart out, but even he is aging. The acquisition of Joe Cole was a good step, but it's still not enough for Liverpool's midfield to compete with that of the other top clubs.

Perhaps the poor play on the field and the frustration has nothing to do with the ownership. Maybe it's just due to a lack of fitness or Roy Hodgson not finding the right 11 with the best chemistry yet.

But whatever the issue, it has to be resolved with the current squad as the club isn't in a financial situation to be able to acquire other players. Thus, if the players really don't believe the current squad can compete for a title, their frustration will only grow with each loss or tie as they know things won't get better.

Whatever the issue, based upon the first six games though, something is lacking. Hopefully the issue can be resolved with the current personnel because if it can't, you might as well write off this season as it doesn't appear the club will be getting new owners or players in the near future.

As it stands right now, Liverpool is in 15th place. They are already facing a difficult uphill battle.

They need a spark. Hopefully they find it soon. If not, six games into the season might not be too soon to write them off for the year.

Cristiano Ronaldo: Can He Fill Raul's Shoes and Lead Real Madrid?

Note: This is a variation on a previous post about Raul. This article is also published on Bleacher Report. You can head over there as well if you want to read it.

Cristiano Ronaldo is the new leader at Real Madrid. Although Iker Casillas has taken the captain armband, Ronaldo assumed the on-field leadership position by taking the # 7 jersey after Raul's departure. But is he deserving and ready to lead the team?

This last decade for Real Madrid has been a generation aptly called The Galacticos - The Superstars. The team has a simple business model: buy all of the best players in the world. They seem to operate on the flawed logic that if their roster has all of the best players in the world, then their team must be the best in the world. Other teams, like Barcelona or Arsenal, look more to develop talent, build team chemistry and find the right players for their needs.

The galacticos era essentially started in 2000 when Real Madrid bought Luis Figo from Barcelona. The transfer caused quite the stir and controversy, but was just the beginning. The following season the great Zidane joined. He was soon followed by Ronaldo, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Ruud Van Nistelroy and many others.

Yet despite the world class talent possessed by all of these players, Madrid became and has since been a revolving door. No matter how great a player was or how much money Real paid to purchase the player, any player was pushed aside to make room for the next big signing. These great and fabled players were headlines one day and afterthoughts the next.

Notoriously and most recently, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, two dutch superstars were shown the door before the 2009 season in order to make room for more the newest galacticos - Kaka, C. Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema (who sat the bench most of the season). Fittingly for the karma gods and all non-Real fans, Robben and Sneijder led their new teams, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan respectively, to the Champions League final.

Amidst all the constant changes and chaos that has been Real Madrid for the past decade, there has been one constant: Raul Gonzalez Blanco. He was the lodestar of the galacticos. Raul came up through the Real Madrid youth system and by the end of his tenure he had the most goals of any player in Real Madrid history.

Ronaldo is practically the antithesis of Raul. Raul was not so much the flashy or skilled forward with a blistering shot. Raul was more of the forward that is constantly in the right position at the right time. Ronaldo is always flashy. He never passes the ball without first doing at least one step over. He also has one of the hardest shots and has produced some of the greatest long range goals in history.

Raul has never been red carded his entire career. Ronaldo was red carded twice last season alone.

Raul has five children all from one wife. He kisses his wedding ring after every goal he scores. Ronaldo's female conquests are almost legendary as his soccer play. It's unclear if he even remembers who is current girlfriend is after each goal.

Granted, personal life doesn't really have any bearing on whether a person can be a leader on the field. But Raul's demeanor on and off the field is what made him such a good leader. Raul understood that soccer isn't about individuals but about a team coming together to make beautiful music. He had to understand this as he couldn't do it on his own. For a team that was a revolving door, he was the one constant. He helped keep the many individuals grounded and playing for the name on the front of their jersey and not on the back.

It's easy to question Ronaldo's leadership as he comes across as anything but constant and committed. Even though he signed a massive contract last season, he still doesn't appear very committed to the club. This is likely because he usually displays a "me first" attitude and style of play and often tries to win on his own.

104337745_crop_358x243 Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Phil Ball observed the same when describing Real Madrid's comeback win against lowly Real Sociedad last week.

"Ronaldo, as he so often does when the going gets tough, took on the role of unilateral saviour, assuming that he could solve it all on his own. Poor Gonzalo Higuian spent most of the match watching forlornly at his team-mate ignoring all petitions for a pass and blasting most of his shots into the night sky. Ronaldo is unquestionably brilliant, but often allows his ego to get in the way of any tactical intelligence he might possess."

Like it or not, Raul is gone and the reins have been handed over to Ronaldo. Kaka was the only other option to assume the role but he mysteriously fell into a black hole and no one has heard from him since he came to Madrid. So Real Madrid is Ronaldo's team. No one questions that Ronaldo is a quintessential galactico and fits with business model. But Barcelona is better than ever and Real has faltered in the Champions League over the past six seasons. Real also has Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, Gonzalo Higuian and a crop of other talent to compete for La Liga and Champions League titles. The only question is whether the Ronaldo will be another lodestar like Raul and guide the team to glory; or if he will insist on being a Super Nova, stealing the spotlight and eventually flaming out while he destroys the rest of the team.

Champions League Draw: Real Madrid 2 - 0 Ajax: Jose Mourinho to the Rescue

Real Madrid drew Ajax for their first match in the group stages of the Champions League.  They were clinical in their 2-0 victory over Ajax, as shown in the video below.  The best part about this video is the interview after the game with The Special One, Jose Mourinho.  His presence at Real Madrid makes up for all of the bad signings they've made over the past few years and should give Real fans hope that they get past the first round of the knock-out stage (I'm realizing that there is a lot of insider lingo when it comes to the Champions League so I'll start working on a Beginner's Guide to the Champions League).  The man has more charisma than Barack Obama during campaign season.

After watching Real play a few questions come to mind. 

1.  What are they going to do with Kaka?  Ozil, the German International who signed with Real over the summer, is younger, better, and cheaper than Kaka.  Kaka seems like the odd man out. 

2.  Cristiano Ronaldo is lacking that killer instinct that he displayed at Manchester United right now.  I'm reminded of David Beckham's transition from soccer player to global icon.  The transition made Beckham a fortune but he wasn't quite the same great player that ran the sidelines at Old Trafford for United after he went to the darkside. 

3.  It's great that Jose acknowledges the fierce loyalty of Liverpool fans.  Even when Liverpool was losing at home 4-0 to Chelsea, they continued to sing their support of their team. 

Hercules Hercules Hercules!

Newly promoted Hercules made their mark on La Liga this past weekend by going to the Camp Nou and beating the almighty and all powerful Barcelona 2-0.

Quick note: the promotion/relegation system that they do in the European soccer leagues is the greatest sport invention ever. Here's how it works: In Spain for example, they have various soccer leagues. At the end of each season the bottom three teams in each league are relegated to the league below them and the top three teams are promoted to the league above. So last year the bottom three from the Primera Division - Valladolid, Tenerife and Xerez - were sent down to the Segunda Division while the top three finishers from the Segunda Division - Real Sociedad, Hercules and Levante - were promoted to the Primera Division for the following season. It's just genius. It's an incentive for each team to play hard throughout the season. No more tanking it at the end of the season. No more getting rewarded for losing by getting a high lottery or draft pick. If you lose, then you get relegated which means lower revenue and ticket sales because you are playing lesser competition. Losers don't win and get rewards like they do in the NBA, MLB or other sports.

You know where this system would be great? College Football. I hate the BCS as much as the next guy, but one way to fix it and settle the debate of whether the Boise State's and the TCU's of the world can play a full season in the Big 10 or SEC would be to promote them to the BCS conferences. Each year they should send the top three teams from the WAC, Mountain West, Conf-USA and the other non-BCS conferences to one of the BCS conferences and send the bottom three teams to non-BCS conferences. Those teams deserve to get relegated anyways. Washington State and Vanderbilt didn't even win a conference game last year. Maybe Boise State wouldn't run the table in the Pac-10 or the SEC, but they would at least win a couple games and do a whole lot better than Washington State and Vanderbilt do each year.

Sorry, I digressed a bit there. Just trying to show that Fútbol is once again superior to Football as Fútbol has a better system in place. Back to Hercules.

Some people were already anointing Barcelona as champions after only one week and saying ridiculous things like they shouldn't even play bother to play out the season as Barcelona will clearly win it all. Somebody is eating their cyber words. Not really actually. I don't think this changes anything. I don't want to take anything away from the win. It's impressive. But Barcelona has too many weapons and is still too good and they will run away with the league this year. To reassert their dominance they came out and beat Panathinaikos 5-1 in the Champions League yesterday.

Regardless, a 2-0 win at Barcelona is something Real Madrid can't even do and something only 1 or 2 other clubs will do all season. Is Hercules here to stay? Who knows, but they at least deserve a brief spotlight:

Name: Hercules Club de Fútbol

Location: Alicante, Spain.

Nicknames: Herculanos and Blanquiazules. Herculanos (Herculeans) by the way, is an awesome nickname. Almost as awesome as their club logo.

Although, their logo designer must have been fired or something because check out this year's away jersey:
Mother of Zeus those things are hideous. Even Hades can't stand them (I'm here all night).

Their home jersey is much better. I particularly like that they are sponsored by Ciudad de la Luz. Apparently that is a film studio in Alicante. Pretty awesome sponsor. I also like that their jerseys are made by Kelme. A great soccer brand that you don't see that often. Lots to like about the Herculeans.

Players: Not too many household names on the Herculean squad.

They do have Nelson Valdez. Apparently he's good or something. He scored the two goals against Barcelona. He's got some great hair. I wouldn't expect anything less from a Paraguayan (not sure what that means exactly).

They also have Royston Drenthe. Not exactly a household name but he did play for Real Madrid. Yet another martyr to their system. He played some his first year on the squad, sat the bench the second year and transferred out the third. Vaya Madrid!

So there you have it. Some basics on the Herculanos. Not too much info but probably 100% more than what you already knew. Hopefully they have continued success and maybe even beat Barcelona again later in the season. It's possible, but probably safer to hope they don't lose by more than 5 goals.

Here are the highlights from the game:

Fabio Capello: Getting it Right for His Undeserved Second Chance

England played its first Euro 2012 qualifier this weekend. They easily handled Bulgaria and won 4-0. While it was a good victory for England, I feel like it was an undeserved second chance for their coach, Fabio Capello. England went with a different lineup from what they used two months ago in the World Cup. Here are the starting 11 from their first game at the World Cup:

Robert Green (G)
John Terry (D)
Ledley King (D)
Ashley Cole (D)
Glen Johnson (D)
Steven Gerrard (M)
Frank Lampard (M)
James Milner (M)
Aaron Lennon (M)
Wayne Rooney (F)
Emile Heskey (F)

And here are the starting 11 from the qualifier on Saturday:

Joe Hart (G)
Phil Jagielka (D)
Ashley Cole (D)
Michael Dawson (D)
Glen Johnson (D)
Steven Gerrard (M)
Gareth Barry (M)
James Milner (M)
Theo Walcott (M)
Jermain Defoe (F)
Wayne Rooney (F)

There are quite a few changes. Granted, there were many changes even during the World Cup. England had an all around poor showing at the World Cup and few players were solid throughout the tournament, so changes were necessary. Jermain Defoe didn't get the starting nod at the beginning of the tournament, but he was starting by the end of the tournament. Why he didn't start in the first place was puzzling considering he had such an amazing season prior to the World Cup. Tottenham qualified for the Champions League for the first time ever and that was largely due to Defoe. He was their offense last season. I guess no one could have foreseen that Wayne Rooney would be completely absent during the World Cup and Capello probably expected more scoring from Rooney, but still, you have to start Defoe after how great he had played. Defoe started yesterday's game and finished with a hatrick. He's a scoring machine. This isn't a new revelation either.

Not starting Defoe was bad, but the failure to play Joe Hart was a catastrophe, especially since goalkeeping woes plagued England throughout the Cup. Joe Hart has been simply amazing this season. Granted, there have only been three league games, but he has risen to the occasion in each of the games. His debut game for Man City against Tottenham was one of the greatest goalkeeping performances I have ever seen. He was bombarded with shots and came up big each and every time. Even yesterday in the game against Bulgaria he had a couple of huge saves. He completely changes the England squad. The players have confidence in their goalie and don’t consider themselves as much of a liability defensively and it changes the entire mentality and course of the game.

But here’s why I think that this is somewhat of an undeserved chance for Capello: yesterday's game wasn't 4 years after the World Cup where some players have changed and others have developed and different players are available. The World Cup was two months ago. So any player or any combination of players that are being used now were available two months ago. But Capello didn’t find or use that combination even though it was at his disposal, which is somewhat inexcusable considering it’s the World Cup. He used the World Cup as his experimental stage or try outs and now seems to have figured things out…in time for the Euro 2012 qualifiers? It like a band getting the chance to open for U2 and playing their B-sides and then busting out all their great stuff a few weeks later when they are playing at local clubs and dive bars. Seems a little backwards.

And it may be a little harsh to hold Capello to such a high standard and scrutiny, but he's getting paid millions and the World Cup only happens once every four years. If he could try again in six months and he wasn't getting so much money I would give him a pass. But for what they are paying him (more than any other national team coach in the world), the expectations are higher and the room for error is smaller, especially since he is proving that his errors could have been corrected since he has apparently corrected those errors only two months after the tournament.

I actually like Capello. He had a great run at Real Madrid and improbably controlled all the egos and led them to a league title. I think he is a good coach and I thought he should have been given more time with Madrid and not run out of town for the next big coach. He must have kept that second chance token he should have received from Madrid and he’s now cashing it in with England. He was gracefully given another chance and seems to be finally getting it right, just in time for the local club and dive bar tour.

Blind Soccer

While there is plenty of football this weekend there isn't much futbol happening overseas as all of the leagues have the weekend off so the national teams can play in their Euro 2012 qualifiers. Hopefully France will provide some fun drama over the weekend so there is something to talk about.

In the meantime, here is a video my friend sent me from Kottke was providing the video and a recap from a wired article. So it's traveling from an article to a website to a blog and now to you. It's simply amazing. The video that is. I can't believe these people are playing blind and/or blindfolded.


UEFA Bans the Vuvuzuela: Well, At Least They Resolved One Issue

Of all the many storylines and issues from the World Cup this past summer, two stand out: 1. Instant Replay and 2. the Vuvuzelas. Many English Premier Teams have already banned vuvuzelas, but UEFA came out today and banned them from their tournaments - the European Championship and the Champions League.

This isn't surprising for a couple of reasons:

1. Vuvuzelas are as annoying as a mosquito flying into your eardrum, laying eggs and harvesting a community of mosquitoes in your ear.

2. The Euros love hearing themselves sing. That's why they listen to so much techno. They prefer music with beats and sounds. If they want vocals, they add it themselves.

The combination of an annoying sound that drowns out their singing makes for a fatal instrument. So the ban wasn't too surprising.

But the best part about the ban was the way the president phrased the reasoning and justification for the ban.

"In the specific context of South Africa, the vuvuzela adds a touch of local flavor and folklore."

That's a very diplomatic statement. It's almost as though he is saying that the vuvuzela contributes to the atmosphere of the game, well, as long as that game is in South Africa. But he makes it sound like they actually liked the vuvuzela. Like they really believe it contributed to the World Cup experience. But that's totally false because only deaf people and teenagers would think it contributed to the experience. And, if it did contribute, a ban probably wouldn't be necessary.

The president continued:

"The magic of football consists of the two-way exchange of emotions between the pitch and the stands, where the public can transmit a full range of feelings to the players...

"UEFA is of the view that the vuvuzelas would completely change the atmosphere, drowning supporter emotions and detracting from the experience of the game."

So in South Africa there was no magic? The vuvuzelas drowned out the emotions and changed the atmosphere so football lost the two-way exchange and thus the magic, right? But I thought he just said that it contributed to the game.

I'm actually all for the ban. I think those things are terrible. It's just entertaining to read the UEFA representative try and dance around the subject and not offend anyone. Who is he concerned about offending? He clearly hates the things and so do all the fans. There doesn't seem to be much of an uproar in Europe over this. He shouldn't have tried to appease the very small minority that likes the vuvuzela. These people don't care about you or your opinion. If they did, they wouldn't stand behind you and blow into an instrument that destroys your eardrum. The UEFA president should have just said: "Look, drunk British men may not always be on key with their singing, but at least they won't destroy your eardrums. Plus, I am concerned if we allow vuvuzelas there will be rioting in the stadiums and public stonings. I hate them, you hate them. They are annoying and they destroy the game. Banned."

Regardless of how he went about it, the end result is the same, no more vuvuzelas. This was the easy issue though. Now on to instant replay...

Just Give Them the Championship and Cancel the Season

Less than three minutes into their first game of the season, Lionel Messi scored for Barcelona. I realize that the season literally just started and that there are still 9 months to go, but why even bother playing it out? Just last week I was saying that the English Premier League is exciting because you can't predict much this early in the season. You have a decent idea of who will likely finish at the top, but you don't know exactly who will win or in what order the teams will finish. That isn't really the case in La Liga. Barcelona completely dominated last year. If by chance there was anyone out there that questioned if they would dominate again, they wasted very little time answering the question.

The goal, although seemingly simple, is rather brilliant. Iniesta provides a great pass after drawing the defense to the left. Once everyone shifts, he just provides a beautiful through pass to Messi. Then Messi takes over with his amazing speed. He runs faster with the ball than the defender can run without it. But it's not just the speed, but also the fact that the ball stays so close to his feet the entire time. A lot of players are fast but they will often run so fast and touch the ball too far in front of them so that the goalie or a defender can move in and take the ball away. Not Messi. He keeps the ball so close. Which allows him to finish here with the soft chip over the goalie. It's world class all the way. So soft and so smooth.

To add to the early dominance, the newly acquired David Villa also scored in his Barcelona debut. This team is ridiculous. Just crown them champions now and cancel the season or acknowledge that everyone else is already playing for second place.

Somewhat related, but not really, Carlos Tevez had a fantastic miss on Sunday. It's only somewhat related because two months ago in the World Cup it seemed like Tevez couldn't miss, well, until he and the rest of Argentina met Germany. But Messi, much to the surprise of most fans, didn't score a single goal in the World Cup. Now that La Liga is back up, Messi seems to already be back in stride and looks like he hasn't missed a beat. Not that Tevez is off in the Premier League by any means. I just love the announcer when Tevez misses. He's as surprised as everyone else.

Raul - The Lodestar

La Liga starts tomorrow. As always, there were numerous numerous off-season transfers and roster changes. As a Real Madrid fan, this has been par for the course the past few years. Each year there are numerous changes as the roster is a revolving door of players. Players come and go with increasing frequency. There has been little consistency with their roster for the past decade. This has never been more apparent than this season as the one consistent part of the roster, Raul Gonzalez, will not be on the roster for the first time since 1994.

This last decade for Real Madrid has been a new generation aptly called The Galacticos. The Superstars. The business model has been simple: buy all of the world's best players. In theory, all teams are trying to get the best players, or at least the best players for their team or their system. They are trying to find all the right pieces for their needs. Real literally just tries to buy the biggest names in soccer and assumes those are best players and thus the right pieces. If these are the best players in the world, and your roster is full of those players, then your team must be the best in the world. This galacticos generation started when Real bought Luis Figo from Barcelona back in 2000. It caused quite the stir and controversy. Barcelona fans were so upset about it they threw pig heads at Figo when he played his first game back in Barcelona as a Real Madrid player.

Figo was just the beginning though. The following season the great Zidane joined. He was soon followed by Ronaldo, Beckham, Michael Owen, Ruud Van Nistelroy and many others. Yet despite the world class talent possessed by all of these players, Madrid became and has since been a revolving door. No matter how great a player was or how much money Real paid to purchase the player, any player was pushed aside to make room for the next big signing. These great and fabled players were headlines one day and afterthoughts the next. Granted, a lot of the galacticos were aging and sort of past their prime, but even the young superstars and players in their prime had a hard time sticking around.

Notoriously and most recently, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, two dutch superstars in their prime were shown the door last season in order to make room for more stars - Kaka, C. Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema (who sat the bench most of the season). Fittingly for the karma gods and all non-Real fans, Robben and Sneijder led their new teams, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan respectively, to the Champions League final. Madrid has taken on an image and mentality. Forget developing players. Just let others develop them and then buy the best and hope they mix well. It has yet to be proven to be effective.

Amidst all the constant changes and chaos that has been Real Madrid for the past decade, there has been one constant: Raul Gonzalez Blanco. He's been the lodestar of the galacticos. The one familiar face that always remained on the roster. He started in the Real Madrid youth system in 1992 and made his first appearance with the Madrid C-team in 1994. By the end of that season he was on playing for the top team and he never looked back. It's a storied career. More goals than any other Real Madrid player in history. Three Champions League titles and numerous league titles.

His style of play is anything but flashy. He has never been the type of player with individual skills to be able to create many shots on his own. His Top 10 goals aren't exactly amazing. They are really good and quality, but when you compare them with Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry, Denis Bergkamp or any of the other legendary forwards or players, they don't exactly match up. He's not so much of the skilled forward with the blistering shot.

Raul was more of the forward that is constantly in the right position at the right time. Always knowing exactly where the pass was going to be or the exact place to be to receive a cross so that he could put it in. He definitely relied on other players to help him score goals. I don't say that to take away from any of his efforts or make it seem like he didn't work hard for his goals. Much to the contrary I think he was the hardest working man on the field and the ideal team player (except for maybe Guti). Raul understood that soccer isn't about individuals. It's about 11 people coming together to make beautiful music. When it comes to winning games, you need 11 players in concert with one another. In a club that has become completely self absorbed and entirely about personal image and being a galactico, Raul was the lone man that always stood out. Not because he was flashy or trying to steal the spotlight, but because it was evident that he was always playing for the name on the front of his jersey.

That was clearly evident this past year when Raul lost his starting position and would occassionaly come in off the bench. He would get subbed in for the last 10 minutes of the game and run around like an 18 year old making his first appearance and trying to impress the coach. You wanted him to score more than anything. Not because he needed yet another goal to pad the resume. But much like you root for the young player trying to get his break, you also cheer for the veteran who still plays his heart out and acts like this is his last game ever.

I think that is the biggest concern about the loss of Raul this season. He was maybe the last emotional connection to the players. Of course there will always be a soccer fanatic, team dedicaton connection where you will cheer for them no matter what. But the team is increasingly filled with superstars from all over the globe that come and go and don't seem to care about Real unless they receive a check each week. With Raul you could point to him and say, "There. There is our Madrileno." There is our noble representative. The player who has never been redcarded in his entire career that would sacrifice his life for our club. The player with five children - all from the same wife - that kisses his wedding ring after every goal he scores. The player that despite all of the poor and outrageous signings, still makes you proud to be a Real Madrid fan.

Granted, the fans will always be proud. And as long as the current ownership is in place the galacticos and all of the good, bad and outrageous signings will continue. Real Madrid isn't going anywhere, even if Raul is gone. Which is how Raul would like it. He just wanted to be a part of the great machine and contribute to it moving forward. Which he did, and it will. Let's just hope these galacticos know where to go without their Lodestar as the guide.

March Madness in September

We had a little vacation, but a new season has started and we are back in the blogging saddle. Two weeks into the Premier League and it looks like the trend is to score six goals. Gone are the days when you would win 1-0 or 2-0. 2010 is all about 6-0. But the best part about the start of the Premier League is that it is just like the first rounds of the March Madness tournament. Anything can and does happen.

Chelsea came right out of the gate like a #1 seed and thumped West Brom 6-0. That result wasn't too surprising. Chelsea is the defending champion and West Brom was promoted to the Premier League this season. But then Chelsea matched the impressive debut and beat Wigan 6-0 yesterday. Again, Wigan isn't exactly the toughest foe, but six goals is always impressive. Especially when it comes in back to back weeks. Two weeks in and they have a +12 goal differential. That's good or something.

Blackpool is the low-seeded team full of white boys that comes out in the first round and pulls off a huge victory by raining threes. Blackpool was recently promoted from the League Championship. Not much was/is expected of them this season. But then they opened up against Wigan and won 4-0. An impressive debut in the Premier League. Granted, again it was Wigan so it wasn't like David slaying Goliath. But it made Blackpool look like a legitimate team. That was until they met Arsenal on Saturday. Any excitement or confidence Blackpool may have gained about their team this season was quickly squashed as Arsenal came out and put them in their place by thumping them 6-0. Blackpool turned out to be the Cinderella team that isn't really a Cinderella team because before they can even think about winning it all a Kansas or North Carolina thumps them by 35 in the second round. The Arsenal game wasn't even that close. Arsenal dominated from the kickoff.

Newcastle is the intriguing 8 or 9 seed. No idea what to make of them. A storied history. They fell on bad times and were relegated two years ago. Last year they finished at the top of the League Championship division and they were promoted back to the Premier League. They struggled against Manchester United and looked like they might not be ready for the Premier League, but then they came out in the second week and crushed Aston Villa. Final score: 6-0 of course. Losing to Man United is understandable. But 6-0 against Aston Villa? That's impressive and makes them all the more intriguing. A classic 8/9 seed. You feel good about them against some teams, but would struggle picking them against a 1 or 2 seed, like Man United.

Anyways, what does this all tell us and what do we know after two weeks? Just like the start of the March Madness tournament, we know nothing. Chelsea is good and Wigan blows. They are likely the top and the bottom of the league, but everything in the middle is still a crapshoot. Which is great. Anything can and does happen at the start of the season.

In the end Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal (the #1 seeds) will likely finish in the top 4. Tottenham, Man City and Liverpool (#2 seeds) will then follow in some random order. It may end differently, but that's how it will probably be in May. Like the end of the March Madness tourney. It's fun to predict the underdogs and Cinderellas, but in the end, it always the #1 and #2 seeds. Somewhat predictable and expected. Not that it's a bad thing since the end of the season and race to the finish is always exciting. But there is plenty of joy to be had in the journey. We may know how it will end, but it will likely be chaotic and unpredictable getting there. Arguably the best time of the season. March Madness in September.

Summer Transfer Romance

It's summertime, which means it's transfer season for the European clubs and leagues. Transfer season is just like a summer romance. Lots of break-ups and hook-ups are happening. Even more rumors of break-ups and hook-ups. Some are true, most are false. Some hearts are broken only to then be healed by the rumor of a new romance. Many new romances are full of hope and optimism. You don't quite know how it will play out in the long term, but it's the start of a budding relationship so you are excited and believe that only great things lie ahead. In a few months it could all end miserably. But at least for the time being, it's July and things look good.

Liverpool fans are really running the gauntlet of emotions this summer. Lots of signings, lots of departures. Not to mention the ongoing saga with Fernando Torres. He's the hot girl that is with you, but sort of has a wandering eye. On one hand you want to just say good riddance to her and that she should just leave if she wants to. You think you would be better off with someone that wants to be with you and just you. Plus, it's summer, so you feel confident of your possibilities. But on the other hand, she's really hot and you don't really want to let that go. Frankly I don't know where most Liverpool fans stand with the Torres issue. No team wants unhappy players. But can you really compete without Torres? Many fans may not like that he's looking elsewhere as they think that he should feel honored to play for the wonderful and storied Liverpoool. Whatever their outward opinion, I think deep down they know they need him and that they'll have to live with the wandering eye.

If you are a Barcelona fan, you have once again had a great summer. Barcelona is the guy that is dating the homecoming queen while also dating the head cheerleader and the dance team captain. He's also flirting with the other really hot girl that isn't involved in any outside activities, but is just hot. Basically, all the ladies want him. He's not cheating on any of them as he's not "exclusively" dating any one of them and they all know he has "friends" all over the place. And although he has all the attention he could want and any guy could need, it's rumored that the hot volleyball player (Cesc Fabregas) is now interested. He by no means needs the extra attention, but he still goes after it. Why? Because he knows she's interested and more importantly, because he can. Barcelona is completely stacked and loaded with talent. As great as Fabregas is, they don't really need him. But he, along with most every other worldclass player, seems to be interested in playing for Barcelona. Great coach. Great core of old and young talent. Great team chemistry. Summertime really couldn't be better in Barcelona.

It's hard if you are a Valencia fan. You sold your two best players: David Villa and David Silva. But you knew it was a long time coming as your team is broke. You are just glad they didn't have to sell the team altogether. The silver lining is that you qualified for the Champions League last year. So although your really hot girlfriend bolted on the first sunny day of summer, you are optimistic because you are heading to a new school this year where there is endless potential. But it's cautious optimism at best and basically just trying to cover up the lack of self-esteem. Poor Valenicia. They are holding on to their last string of hope. Hopefully things go well for them. At the same time though, without talent, they could bow out of the Champions League early and not finish at the top of La Liga and their financial woes could really get out of control. You hope for the best at a new school, but the anxiety of the unknown is enough to kill you and ruin your summer.

Real Madrid is having their typical summer. Just a cold, heartless player. Cruising the beach looking for the most attractive eye candy and going after it. Somehow (he's so smooth and has money) the ladies always want to take a ride and seem to wait in line for their turn. It's the most ridiculous summer romance. And it happens every year. He's the guy that goes off to some random summer camp every single week and woos a different girl. All the girls know that the relationship is likely going to be short lived and that they have tons of competition and that they will likely be an afterthought come fall, but they all are interested. Its uncanny. You see it happening year in and year out. You think that one summer he will calm down and maybe take a break and work with what he has and see if he can't take one of current flings and turn it into something meaningful. But nope, summer rolls around and just like the previous year, he heads to the beach or camp and starts the process all over again. Pushing out last year's talent for new, fresh, and often unproven faces.

Not quite sure what to make of Manchester City. He's pulling a Real Madrid and going after a new girl a week and trying to make the most of his summer. But there is a little more of a party edge or feel to it. Real is the guy that dates all of the girls seperately and tries to keep them isolated until they all meet up in the fall and everything blows up. Man City is the rich guy that is inviting all the girls over at the same time for the pool party and bbq. Everyone is having a great time. Which is all fine and good for the summer, but at some point this has to end poorly right? I mean, how many midfielders can one team sign? Are they going to start 5 midfielders and 4 forwards and just play with a sweeper and a goalie in the back? Maybe. Who knows? It's carefree Man City. Live for the moment. You have the money, so spend it. It's summer. You'll figure it out somehow in the fall. And somehow they probably will, and it will likely end up better than most other teams in Europe.

So here we are. There are still 3-4 weeks of summer left for most teams. Plenty of time to do some damage and break some hearts or take on a new romance. It's all very exciting and fun in July when it's warm and life is good. Hopefully the romance still exists come November when it starts to get cold and bleak. Nothing is worse than the temperatures dropping and realizing that your summer of love was just a bad romance. At least there is a bright side. If things are bad, you can always look towards the December transfer window and hope for a nice short holiday fling to come around and get you through the rest of winter.

MLS vs Europe

A few European clubs are in the states for their pre-season tour (jersey sales/martketing). Let's recap how they've been doing. Keeping in mind the following arguments:
-MLS teams are in the middle of their season, and are fit, Euros are in pre-season.
-Euro teams are fielding weak lineups, stars aren't playing.
-MLS teams try hard, and have a point to show the big boys that they can wear pull-ups now.

MLS vs Europe
Philadelphia Union 0-1 Manchester United
San Jose Earthquakes 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur
DC United 4-0 Portsmouth
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
New York Red Bulls 2-1 Manchester City
Kansas City Wizards 2-1 Manchester United
..and a few more are still to come, including Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

Originally, I figured that the big Euro clubs saw the USA as an un-tapped market to sell their marketing and jerseys, and gain a few fans. But now it seems that some decent footie is being played, and the MLS clubs are actually turning in decent performances. Dare I say that the drop-off in talent from Europe to the MLS is not that large anymore?

What about big name players. MLS allows each team to have 3 Designated Players. Some have chosen to use this option (LA, New York, Chicago), others have decided that the team is the star (RSL).

David Beckham: washed up, marketing legend, right? Over the hill, came to the States for the paycheck, can't play in the big leagues anymore. Then...goes on loan to AC Milan, sees some first team minutes, and contributes at the highest level, interesting.

Freddy Ljungberg: was going to show up in the MLS, and tear teams apart. After 2 years, he is now "exploring other options".
2009 - 2 goals, 9 assists (made all-star team)
2010 - 0 goals, 3 assists
He gets paid 1.3 million this season to yell at the ref, and get injured. Next.

Thierry Henry: Just signed with New York Red Bull
Nery Castillo: Just signed with Chicago Fire
Rafael Marquez: Rumors say that the deal is all but done for him to join Henry in New York.
Ronaldinho to LA Galaxy? They sure hope so. Galaxy are looking for a player with a name big enough to "move the needle", and $24 million for 4 years is waiting for him.

To sum up. I think the MLS is gaining credibility. Teams are getting better, over-aged yesterdays are finding out you can't just show up and get paid. The MLS is a physical playground, and are gaining ground on other leagues in the world. One more test will be conducted on Wednesday, July 28th, when the MLS All-stars take on Manchester United. True, the All-stars have never lost this game....but then again, they've never played the Red Devils, who are coming off a loss to a 10-man Kansas City Wizards. (Who?)

The Fantastically Horrible Thierry Henry Interview

Some people may have already seen this interview, but it's worth sharing. It's fantastically horrible on so many levels. I'm not sure what the goal of the interview is, but if it is to portray stereotypical ignorant Americans that know nothing about soccer, then they pulled it off flawlessly. Here is a video of the interview:

Let's run through the choice moments:

1. Henry's shoes.

Not really related to the interview, but what are those things? They look like the shoes Michael J. Fox wears when he goes to the future in Back to the Future II. I would mock them except that the Euros are always ahead in fashion so it's only a matter of months before things like that are all over the streets in the US.

2. Best. Question. Ever.

The interview starts off simple enough until the female co-host ("fo-host") jumps in with this fantastic line: "So you just won the World Cup, right?"

Excellent. You couldn't script a worse line. Look, I realize soccer isn't a mainstream sport in the US. I realize that many people don't even follow the World Cup at all. But really though? How does she say that? She can't know anything about soccer. If she did, she would have known France didn't win the World Cup. But these co-host people are so plastic there is no way they are writing any of the material. How did no one on the staff not know that France didn't win the World Cup? It must have been some bitter staff member who got edged out by the fo-host for the lead position and she was exacting her revenge.

But it's especially bad since not only was France not even close to not winning the Cup, they had one of the worst World Cup showings ever. It's like Andy Roddick losing in the first round of Wimbledon and then having an interview after the tournament and someone saying, "So, how does it feel to be the Wimbledon champion?" Good stuff.

3. The highlight video.

So the fo-host somehow makes her way through that last question with some awkward laughter and staggers through the next question about excitement and playing here in the US. The best part though is that while Henry is talking they show the video of the most controversial goal ever. The one that Henry scored off a handball. The goal that sent France to the World Cup and sent Ireland home. You can see in the video all of the Ireland players running and complaining to the ref. It's easily the most controversial goal in Henry's career and one of the more controversial international goals. Henry has had an amazing career. He was a human highlight film in his prime and had some remarkable goals. Is this the best they could come up with? They probably just googled his name and posted the first video that came up. What makes it even better is that they show the clip two more times during the interview. Either these people are utterly clueless or they are just sick and twisted co-hosts - not out of the realm of possibility by the way.

4. The racism question.

This question is actually fine. I'm not saying racism doesn't exist in Europe for some of the players. It's pretty well documented that it does. It's only great because with how little these people seem to know about soccer in general, the fact that Henry is saying that part of the reason he wanted to come here to play was to escape some of the racism probably leads them to believe that black players in Europe have to fly on separate planes or can only wear used jerseys worn by other players.

5. The reason Americans don't like soccer? Blowouts.

Another great statement by the mo-host. I don't think it's the blowouts. No one likes a blowout - in any sport. I think it's the lack of high scoring or general lack of understanding of the sport that turns people off.

6. The MLS season:

This is actually forgivable offense, but still funny. At the end of the interview the mo-host says, "When does [the MLS season] start by the way?" Um, four months ago. We are right in the middle of it. Hard to blame him on that one though since many soccer fans don't even that the MLS exists, let alone when the season starts. Of course, if I was interviewing an MLS player, when the season started is a simple fact I might bother to research prior to the interview. You know, along with other simple and basic information about the guy, like if their country won the most recent World Cup. Stay classy and cheesy co-hosts. I know you will.

New York, New York

Henry to Red Bulls
New York have been thru some ups and downs, mostly downs. It looks like they are getting close to completing their puzzle.

From this, to this:

From Giants Stadium, to Red Bull Arena


1999 "the worst soccer team in the world", following a disastrous 7-25 mark and a last-place finish.


2010 , currently 2nd in the Eastern Conference.

So, is Henry the answer. Will he give New York the additional firepower that they have been looking for? He will be 33 years old next month, and will partner with Juan Pablo Angel on the forward line. If the Red Bulls can serve their two deadly forwards the ball, I think the lethal duo will answer with alot of goals. Maybe the only thing the team is lacking is an experienced defender to shore up the gaps. Rafa Marquez.....we're looking at you.

World Cup Recap

It's all over. All is right in the world since Spain won. So many great things happened, so much to talk about, so little time. So here are just a bunch of random thoughts on it all:

The final:

I was on the edge of my seat, but I can admit that it was a boring final. If I didn't have a strong rooting interest in one of the teams, I would have been a little bored. The final is always tough though. The last thing teams want to do is have a mental breakdown and give up a cheap goal. So everyone is always a little cautious.

But both teams were sloppy. The Netherlands couldn't complete a pass in the midfield and while Spain did control the ball better, they couldn't pass and attack nearly as well as they could against other teams. I would credit that to the Netherlands, but I don't think they deserve credit for it, just like Spain doesn't deserve credit for the bad passes by the Netherlands. Both teams were just a little subpar, which is unfortunate for the final.

Not sure why the Dutch continue to complain. Both teams had their chances. The Dutch were complaining about all the cards, what did they expect? They played like barbarians. The Spanish were dirty too. It just wasn't clean soccer. I didn't get the impression the ref was against the Dutch. If anything they were lucky. If this play comes any later in the game or is in any other game that isn't the World Cup final, it's a straight red card. I'm sure the ref just didn't want to determine the game early on with a red card. That or he didn't see it clearly. It's just brutal.

Iniesta had already scored this goal in his career, and now he has scored this one. Just amazing.

This post-game video of Casillas has been all over the internet. Matt already posted about it. It's fantastic and worth posting again. It's a great moment. The reporter, who happens to be his girlfriend, asks how he is feeling, he basically says, "Honestly, what do you expect me to say? I feel great, amazing, the best, etc." He then starts to thank people, his parents and other significant people. He pauses before mentioning her and almost acting a little cautious and caught up in some emotion and not sure whether to mention it, or how to mention it. She understands the moment and says, "No worries" and proceeds to move on and keep the interview at a professional level. Bu then he cuts her off and kisses her. Which is fantastic. He plays the "You are my girlfriend. I want to kiss you. I'm kissing you. Oh, and I just won the World Cup I can do whatever I want on TV or anywhere" card. Just outstanding. I especially like how the video adds music.

The dominance of Forlan: Not just in hair, but also in play. He was named MVP of the tournament and I couldn't agree more. Villa was of course great, as were other players, but no one did more with less talent. Plus, his goals were amazing. I'm glad he shined on the world stage. He plays for Atletico Madrid and he has been fantastic for them. But Atletico isn't the biggest or most widely recognized club in Europe. So it's good to see a great player that plays for smaller club, receive some recognition. And he deserves his due, he was amazing. Check out these goals. This goal in the 3rd place game still blows my mind. It's such a strong strike. He bends it around the defender and skips it off the ground like a rock on a pond. Just remarkable.

Speaking of remarkable: David Villa is playing with Barcelona next year. That means that the starting two forwards for Barcelona will be Villa and Messi. Both of them will have Xavi and Iniesta feeding them the ball. Why even bother fielding an opposition? Teams should just forfeit. But speaking of Villa, here is a video of all of his goals at the World Cup. I'd post the Messi goals video as well, but, oh right, his World Cup goal highlight video is as long as Rooney's. Maybe in 2014 boys. By the way, this video has some AMAZING Euro music compilation/mash-up/mix-up/not sure what it is goodness.

My favorite call of the cup: I couldn't find the video of the call. It came during the Germany/Argentina game after Germany scored their 4th goal. The announcer yelled, "Beautiful! Efficient! Glorious! Germany." It was great and so perfectly captured the moment. Germany was really good. W well-oiled machine and when they got rolling in the second half of the Argentina game, it was the most beautiful and efficient soccer played by any team in the Cup.

Since I couldn't find the above call, I'll just post this video of the Spain announcers during the winning goal in the final:

These are the images I'll miss: You don't get gatherings like this with any other sporting event. Seas of people dressed in their country's colors flooding the streets to watch the game.

Or great celebrations like this:

Best goal: Almost too hard to determine. I was going to post some of the top videos, but then I saw this video compilation and I realized that there are so many great goals that I forgot about. Plus, it's so hard because each goal is unique in its own right. The Suarez goal against Japan is amazing and clutch. I think though I have to give the honors to Giovanni Von Bronckhorst. His goal comes at 2:19 in the video below.

The greatest summer that could have been: This was making some headlines prior to the final, but Wesley Sneijder, the Dutch midfielder, had the chance to have the greatest soccer year in the history of ever. His club team, Inter Milan, won the Serie A league title, The Coppa Italia (the Italian interleague cup tournament) and the Champions League. On top of that, if he would have scored a goal in the final and if the Dutch would have won the cup, he could have won the World Cup and would likely have received the golden boot for the most goals in the World Cup not to mention he would almost for sure win the Footballer of the Year award, AND he is getting married this summer. It was too perfect to be true. I don't even think there is a sports comparison for what he could have done. It would be like someone in baseball winning the World Series, World Series MVP, Triple Crown, Olympic Gold Medal, World Baseball Classic and the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year. Only it still wouldn't be the equivalent because no one cares about Olympic baseball or the World Baseball Classic.

The other great part about Sneijder: He was one of the many players run out of town by Real Madrid last summer when they went on their spending spree. He was let go to make room for Kaka and other signings. Kaka was largely absent for Real Madrid last year and poorly performed during the World Cup. But hey, he was a big name, so Real went after him. They sacrificed quality talent for talent with a bigger (although not better) name. Nice business model.

Band Recap:

So before the Cup we compared all 32 teams to bands. It was good fun. There is no need to review all of them, but some are worth revisiting:

What we got right:

Germany: Spot on with Coldplay. Above average and top-notch, extremely consistent, never the best. Germany is consistently really, really good in the World Cup. They have finished third in the last two World Cups and they were runners-up in 2002. Always good, maybe even great. But not quite the best. Like Coldplay.

England: Just like Kanye West. Overinflated ego and they think they are better than they really are. The unfortunate thing is that they are really talented individually, just can't put all the pieces together.

Algeria and Taylor Hicks. I'm actually not sure that they were spot on, but I'm just happy that Taylor Hicks and/or his fan club president visited our site and got so upset about our comparison.

New Zealand and Flight of the Conchords. We weren't sure if New Zealand was an actual soccer team like we aren't sure if Flight of the Conchords are a real band. We still aren't sure but it is evident that FotC are very creative and talented. Same thing with NZ. They definitely proved they have talent and they put on a great show, still not a world class team though.

Where we were a little off:

France and Green Day. It's an insult to Green Day to compare them to France. What happened there? I think a more appropriate comparison would be Oasis. Wildly talented, but totally crazy and way too many fragile egos. Complete self destruction. Watching France this summer was like being at an Oasis concert.

Ghana and Poison. This one is hard because we were off in that we didn't expect much from Ghana. But it actually works as a comparison because Ghana was very talented, but somewhat erratic, undisciplined and unpredictable.

Japan and the Spice Girls. Turns out Japan is legit. Who knew? They aren't a powerhouse by any means, but they were an impressive squad. Just lacking in offense.

Slovakia and Pras. We guessed Pras, probably should have gone with Lauryn Hill. Slovakia was better than a one hit wonder like Pras. But not much better. More like a one album wonder like Ms. Hill.

Spain and Zeppelin. This one is also hard. Spain isn't quite as exciting as Zeppelin. They are more of a finesse team that endures and outlasts the competition. Maybe more like a U2. Just a great band that is outlasting everyone else.

So there you have it. 2010 wrapped up. Here's to live blogging from Brazil in 2014. And here's to the Furia Roja and a repeat of the 2010 glory in 2014.

2010 World Cup: Spain's Iker Casillas after the Match

Most of those who care probably already saw this.  This video has subtitles.  The music in the video is a bit much, but the emotion captured by the video is very raw and shows how much the win means to Casillas, the team, and Spain.

2010 World Cup Final Preview: Why Spain Will Beat the Netherlands

It's finally here. The World Cup final. Netherlands v. Spain. Two countries, one winner. Matt in the previous post gave the Dutch preview and explained why the Neurotic Oranje will win. Here is why Spain will win:


Here's the best part about Spain's jersey, this Cup and even in the past, it's a legitimately good looking shirt that almost doesn't look like a jersey. Sure it has the number and the crest. But they are never wild or hideous looking jerseys. It's a solid blue or red with small, limited and necessary symbols and stripes. A very classic and simple look. If it didn't have the number and you saw it on a rack at the store, you would actually buy it because it's a great looking shirt.

Team Legacy: This one is sort of difficult for Spain. What legacy? There is no legacy. Well, up until 2008 it was a legacy of losing and under performing. For a team with such a rich soccer history, it's amazing that before this year they had never made the World Cup semifinal, let alone final. The Oranje have at least been to the final twice, even if they did lose. This would be more concerning were Spain not the reigning Euro champions. So they have at least been in a big game final before, and won. But this is the World Cup. Big boy soccer. Hopefully the losing demons of the past don't come back to haunt them on Sunday. Either way, some sort of legacy will be written.


We have tied music into most all our World Cup posts for some reason. So of course it will be a factor in the final (?). Let's be honest, unless you have lived in Spain, you probably don't know their music. If you have lived there, you know that most of the stuff they listen to is Euro Disco Trash a.k.a. Trance or House music. Yet the best Trance DJ's are Dutch. No good. Unless you are in the club in Ibiza in which case it's great.

Spain does have musicians. Alejandro Sanz, Monica Naranjo, Radio Futura etc. Those are decent names, but none of them really made a huge impact in the US. At least not yet. Arguably one of Spain's biggest rock groups, La Oreja de Van Gogh, is clearly inspired by a Dutch artist. Also not good.

So we are left with Paco de Lucia and the Iglesias father and son duo. Enrique is/was big. He's fading though. I guess you can't beat Paco on the guitar. You can't beat it technically, but he's not exactly getting you pumped up or your blood flowing - unless you are engaged in other activities while listening to his sweet serenades. Maybe I'm missing someone. If not, it's not the most impressive list.

Let's hope that if Spain wins, we get a better song than this one that Enrique did for the Euro 2008 Cup. I love that they performed it right before the final. So fittingly Euro.

Bad Karma:

A couple of things:

1. No team that has ever lost the first game of the World Cup has then gone on to win it. Spain of course lost 1-0 to Switzerland in their first game.

2. This Spain team is dominated by a Barcelona midfield as the controlling midfielders all play for Barcelona. Thus, they sometimes tend to play a Barcelona style. Barcelona seemed invincible in the Champions League last year until Inter Milan came in and shut down their midfield. The leader of that Inter squad: Wesley Sneijder. The same man that has been an integral part of this Netherlands team. Not good. They know how to beat Spain. Well, at least the Barcelona version of Spain National Team.

Good Karma:

Paul the octopus has chosen Spain! Don't pretend like this isn't a big deal. He's a German octopus that correctly picked the winner for all of Germany's games. It really wasn't that big of a deal before the semifinal match because he had picked Germany in all the games. A German octopus picking Germany to win. Typical. But to pick Germany in all the previous games and then go with Spain before the semifinal shows that this octopus knows his soccer. He's not your typical octopus that will always pick his favorite team or side with his countrymen. No way, he picks winners. He's a winner.

And now he is picking Spain again! As mentioned in the article, Carlos Marchena, Spanish defender is trying to downplay it all and said, "It's only an octopus." Look Marchena, there is no room for negative players on the team. It's that type of disbelief that keeps you on the bench. Of course, he may have been just trying to keep his head in the game and not get too carried away. In which case, I suppose his answer is fine. Seriously though, at this point, just give the Cup to Spain. Why even bother playing? The psychic cephalopod mollusk has spoken.

Starting 11:

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas - He's solid. Maybe not the best in the world, but definitely in the conversation. He's good for a couple of brilliant saves a game.

Defense: Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevilla.

Interesting that it's Carles not Carlos and Joan not Juan ("It's not Ryan it's Ryne"). It's a solid line. Puyol was the hero in the last game. Ramos does like to play forward more than most defenders. It didn't pose a problem against the counterattacking Germans, so hopefully it doesn't cause problems with the dutch. That is really the only weakness here though.

Midfield: Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Xavi.

Love the Xabi and Xavi. Nice to get the Basque representation on the team from Alonso. All three have been great. I have been critical of Xavi because he seems to play without urgency sometimes and prefers to pass and control and not attack. But it worked brilliantly against Germany.

Attacking midfield: Pedro - He started for the semifinal game. Not sure if he will start in the final. I still don't forgive him for this move.

Iniesta - He has been great. I was critical of him after the first game and he didn't start the second game. But since coming back he has been attacking a lot more and making great runs. He definitely helps Xavi move the ball forward and attack more.

Cesc Fabregas - Not a starter, but usually comes off the bench. A great spark and excellent player. He would start on any other team in the world. Shows you how strong the midfield is.

The midfield as a whole has been great. Spain has to have the advantage. The midfield can control the game better than any other team in the world. So long as they have their rhythm, they should be fine.


Fernando Torres - Probably won't start, but will likely come in off the bench. He's been sort of out of form, but I think he should start as I think he has the greater potential to change the game than any other bench player.

and of course:

David Villa - El guaje. Really, the starting 11 are the only thing that matters on this list. If they are clicking and playing like they did against Germany, they will win. They know it, the Netherlands players know it, everyone knows it.

But Villa is a main reason Spain is untouchable when playing at their best. He's been incredible throughout the tournament. If Spain wins he is without question the MVP of the tournament. We heralded him well before he was becoming a household name. Not that it matters. It's just important that he is finally getting his due. It's the biggest stage in the world and instead of shrinking under the pressure he is rising to the occasion to become a national hero. A true clutch performer. 5 goals in 6 games. Here's to hoping he makes it 7 in 7.

Prediction: The Oranje are neurotic and as they have demonstrated, they have the talent to beat any team in the tournament. Spain's biggest enemy is being overly confident and coming out sluggish like they did against Paraguay or Switzerland. Makes me nervous thinking about it. I'm hoping they aren't that foolish and that they rise to the occasion like they did against Germany and are too much for the Dutch, and that they prove they have the best collective talent and are the best team in the world.

Villa finds the goal early and Torres finally pokes one in as well. Give the Dutch some credit though, Robben will also find the back of the net. Unfortunately, it's not enough: Spain 2 - Netherlands 1.
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