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Fulham - America's team in the English Premier League (EPL)

If you're an American without any natural ties to a team in England, then I've found one for you to follow. They are a team from London without an ugly history of Hooliganism. They are underdogs to their local rivals Chelsea, Arsenal, and West Ham. They currently have USMNT member Clint Dempsey. Their captain, up until a few years ago, was USMNT great Brian McBride.

The team is Fulham FC. They don't have much in the way of history or trophies. In fact, they were fighting just to stay in the EPL in 2005 when I started following them. Their manager Roy Hodgson made his bones coaching in Europe but was never considered for jobs at big clubs in England. Now he has lead Fulham to the Europa League Final against Atletico Madrid.

Fulham isn't a flashy team like Arsenal. They don't have Chelsea's money. They're not the favorite team of sportswriters like West Ham. They're simply well organized players with a lot of heart.

The biggest moment of the season for Fulham was when the team overcame a 4-1 deficit to Juventus in the Round of 16. The highlight was when USMNT's Clint Dempsey scored the goal to that sent them through. It was a massive goal on the biggest stage.

Jump on the bandwagon.

Nike Fulham Youth Away Replica Soccer Jersey

The Champions League Final is set - The Special One Triumphs in Barcelona

Jose Mourinho, the Special One, has lead another team to the Champions League Final. It was an incredible match.

Here are the highlights:

Busquets feigned a massive injury to the face when it wasn't even a flesh wound. The result was a straight red card to Thiago Motta. This put Inter on the defensive and changed the team's mentality. Suddenly it was them against the world. Busquets antics turned him into the goat of the game.

In honor of Jose's greatest moment so far, here is a hilarious show that used to air on Setanta Sports:

A few questions remain for me. First, what are the implications of this Champions League draw on the World Cup final (there were a lot of Brazilians and Spaniards on the field)? Second, if Inter win, what does it say about Mourinho's ability to coach underdogs to victory, but inability to get Chelsea to a Champions League victory?

The Champions League Final is set for Saturday, May 22, 2010 when Bayern Munich and Internazionale will face off at the Santiago Bernebeu in Madrid.

Still A Year Away

The much anticipated, but somewhat uneventful El Clasico happened on Saturday. It's the biannual meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid. It was "the game" in La Liga not just because the two teams were tied for first in the standings, but also because La Liga has pretty much been a two horse race this year. Valencia, the team currently in 3rd place, is 20 points behind Barcelona and Real Madrid. Even if Barcelona or Real lost the rest of their games, Valencia still couldn't catch them. The two teams have been completely dominant this year which makes for good drama twice a year when the two teams do play each other, but leaves a lot to be desired the rest of the weeks. As exciting as it may be to watch Real and Barcelona play each other or other teams, the league is definitely better off when the there is talent accross the board.

Even that sentence however may be a little incorrect as it lumps Real into the same category as Barcelona. While other teams may not be able to compete with Real, Real still can't compete with Barcelona. Barcelona is like the varsity sports team of the world right now and everyone else is JV. No one can compete with them. On some days the JV teams might surprise or shock the varsity team and pull out a tie, maybe even get really lucky and pull out a win. But whenever that happens, the varsity squad just comes out the next day and thumps the JV team and reminds them that they can't really compete despite their victory. The perfect example of this was a couple weeks ago in Barcelona's Champions League game with Arsenal. In the first leg of the series that was played at Arsenal, the two teams tied 2-2. Despite Barcelona going up 2-0, Arsenal clawed their way back to a tie. It was an exciting and inspiring victory by the JV squad (Arsenal). So what happened next? The following week when the teams played the second leg at Barcelona, Barcelona came out and thumped Arsenal 4-1. Any slim hope or belief that Arsenal had that they could actually compete with Barcelona was smothered by the end of the first half.

So on Saturday, I was curious to know if Real Madrid, with all of their off-season acquisitions, was still a JV team or if they had made the jump to varsity. Could they really compete with Barcelona? Well, no. They couldn't. Here's three reasons why:

1. Dominant center midfield.

Good night Xavi is ridiculous. Every Spain fan has to be salivating in anticipation for the World Cup this summer. Xavi and his passes and the way he controls the game are...well, Zidane like. I said it. I'm surprised as well that I went there, but Xavi is deserving. He's up there with the finest in the game right now. His vision and control of the game and his incredible through balls are just lovely. He's so great to watch. He just takes over the game and controls the pace and the tempo and controls every player on the field. It's magnificent to watch, unless of course you are rooting against Barcelona in which case its incredibly frustrating. But yet you have to admire his skills, which makes the situation even more frustrating. I hate you Xavi and Barcelona, but you are so good.

Real doesn't have that player at the moment. Kaka was supposed to be that player and was that player with AC Milan, but he was injured on Saturday and he's been nonexistent all year. The huge contract and huge expectations have really made him seem lost. Real also has Guti, but he's so erratic. Sometimes brilliant but sometimes dismal. He was actually brilliant on Saturday and provided the beautiful pass that set up Real's best moment of the game, but again, he's not a consistent player unfortunately.

2. Team Chemistry and Rhythm

This is another one that is just awesome to watch unless you want Barcelona to lose. Barcelona is just one fluid mass moving up and down the field. They will possess the ball and barely advance it for 5 minutes and just frustrate the other team. They are so patient and every player is moving and knows exactly where they need to be. They have a lot of veteran players and a lot of role players. Everyone knows where they need to be and they all do their job. Xavi and Iniesta control the midfield and the game, Puyol and Pique take control in the back and Messi scores the goals. All the other players understand that, respect it and play their supporting role as needed.

Real has no chemistry. For one, their midfielders that are supposed to control the game, Kaka and Xabi Alonso are new to the team this year. Granted, the season is almost over, but as mentioned, Kaka has really struggled to take the reins of the team. That's probably because he has to deal with C. Ronaldo running all over and trying to keep him satisfied, which is no easy task. Speaking of which:

3. Barcelona has the best player in the game

Remember how two years ago when Ronaldo set those crazy scoring records in the Premier League and he was considered the greatest player in the world, and then the following year Messi and Barcelona went on to dominate the league and people started to wonder who was better, Messi or Ronaldo? Then everything culminated in the Champions League final last year when Messi's Barcelona palyed Ronaldo's Man United. Messi scored, Barcelona won, and Ronaldo, who had little impact during the game, eventually left Man U for Real Madrid in the offseason.

Now, I'm not saying that C. Ronaldo isn't an amazing player, but can one honestly argue that he is better than Messi? Last year it was a great debate. Now, not so much. Ronaldo is still probaby the second best player in the world, but no one can compete with Messi right now. And that's mainly because Messi always comes to play. I mentioned above that Messi is on a team with better chemistry and a better midfield, but it's not that Ronaldo is playing with chumps. Ronaldo is surrounded by great players, just like he was at Man U. Yet for some reason, in the last couple of big showdowns, Messi has proven that he is the better player. Yet again on Saturday Messi scored a goal and had a few other great opportunities. Ronaldo was fairly silent throughout the game. He didn't create much for his team and he didn't do much on his own. Again, not saying he's a bad player by any means, but until something changes, the debate is over as to who is the better player.

So even though Barcelona proved that they are the varsity squad and that Real Madrid is still a JV team, the nice part about JV is knowing that you are so close to making the jump. Which is where Real is right now. Assuming they don't fire their coach and blow up their current team (which is more likely to happen than not), they could easily make the jump next year and finally compete with Barcelona. Between Kaka, Xabi and Guti, they have the midfield playmakers. They have Higuain and Ronaldo that combined can be as great as Messi and in a year they will have a defense and a team that has had time together to form and identity and chemistry. They are close. You can tell that the pieces are there and that they want to be considered a varsity team. But they aren't. They are still a year away.

Sir Alex the Fantastic

As mentioned in the previous post, Manchester United lost in the Champions League to Bayern Munich. As expected, Manchester's coach, Sir Alex Ferguson came out today with some nice 'gems' about the game. From ESPN:

"Ferguson was furious about the manner in which the Bayern players had put pressure on the referee to show Rafael a second yellow card after tugging back Franck Ribery.

"The young boy showed a bit of inexperience, but they got him sent off, everyone sprinted towards the referee - typical Germans," [Ferguson] said. "They were never getting through that tie. With 11 men, we had no problem."

Fantastic comment. Typical Germans? What does that even mean? Only Germans yell at refs when there is a foul and try and get the ref to make a call in their favor? I suppose that makes sense. I mean, its not like Manchester United players ever argue with the refs. It's also interesting that he says that this behavior of complaining about the refs is typical of Germans yet in the process of saying Germans complain about refs, he too was complaining about the poor calls made by the refs. But Ferguson is Scottish, not German. And this isn't the first time he's complained about the officiating. Someone should tell him to retract his comment to say, "typical Germans, and Scottish." Then it would be a little more accurate. We don't want Sir Alex to look like a fool with his comments.

Seriously though, I have no problems with a coach being upset at some of the calls that happened during the game. I understand that calls can influence a game. But when your team gives up a two goal advantage at home, and your best player, who is also arguably the best player in the league right now, had to sit out the entire second half because of a busted ankle, then maybe it was your team, and not the "typical Germans" that are responsible for the loss. Just a thought. Not that you need to go out and blame it on your players, but perhaps a little perspective could improve your comments and thus prevent snide remarks from the bored bloggers.

Recognize this Face?

This is the "Aw Snap, I Just Made a Wicked Goal and Knocked Your Team Out of the Champions League with My Sick Volley that Sort of Even Surprised Me, but Not Entirely Because I Knows I Gots Mad Skills So Much So that It Almost Causes Me Pain But Not Really Because Ohhh That Was So Nice" face.

The goal and face come at the 5:20 mark.

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