Friday, October 31, 2008

Road trip, baby!

Thanks to the guys over with the Union Ultras, Chivas USA's support group, for this...

I'm going to Salt Lake for the Chivas USA-Real Salt Lake match. Atiba Harris and Alecko Eskandarian won't be there, but yours truly will.

Here's the plan. Bus departs tonight, gets into Salt Lake sometime Saturday morning, I probably won't have slept much but will be there regardless, after the game I'll write as fast as my fingers will let me and then get to the bus for another drive-through-the-night. Maybe I'll try and get the bus driver to stop as Las Vegas for an hour or six.

Anyway, check out the blog tomorrow for full on-the-spot coverage of the game. I will try and post some post-game audio but we'll see how much time I'll have. At the very least, I may do some sort of running blog.

But that doesn't mean this trusty blog won't be updated. Thanks to the wonders of future-dating posts, I will leave a couple of things for you to whet your appetite before the game.

Injury bug

Chivas USA has been struck by the injury bug all season long. So perhaps it's fitting then that the team suffered a pair of big losses ahead of Saturday's playoff game.

Atiba Harris and Alecko Eskandarian are out of Saturday's game at Real Salt Lake.

Both players have played a key role for the club. Harris was fourth in minutes played, scored three goals and had five assists while Eskandarian tied with Sacha Kljestan for the team lead in goals with five.

Harris is out with a quadriceps injury while Esky's knee kept him from traveling.

Best guess, with the players the team has available, here's what a starting lineup could look like:

G: Zach Thornton
D: Francisco Mendoza, Shavar Thomas, Claudio Suarez, Carey Talley
M: Paulo Nagamura, Jesse Marsch, Sacha Kljestan, Dejair
F: Ante Razov, Justin Braun

New York over Houston - can't happen?

Perhaps the most lopsided MLS playoff series is the New York-Houston encounter. Here you have the two-time MLS champions, fresh off their first-ever conference title, playing a team that barely made it into the postseason. New York also has the league's third-worst defense - and that includes teams that did not make the playoffs. In fact, New York allowed the most goals amongst playoff teams.

So does that mean Houston will have it simple against New York? Actually, it is quite the contrary. Houston must worry and stands the most to lose in the first round.

- For three consecutive seasons, MLS has seen a lousy club not only make the postseason but advance out of the first round. It happened last season with Kansas City, who beat Chivas USA by 1-0 in their home leg before heading to Carson to kill off Chivas and the series with a scoreless draw.

- In 2006, Colorado ousted Western Conference champions FC Dallas. Colorado had a losing record that season but still made the playoffs. Actually, Colorado had the league's lowest-scoring offense, the worst defense, the lowest goal differential and still made the playoffs. The Rapids proved to be too tough for FC Dallas and reached the title game.

- The Galaxy padded their record in 2005 against expansion teams Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake, having won six games against their western opponents. The Galaxy finished ninth overall that season and, had today's playoff rules been in place, would have missed the postseason. Instead the Galaxy reached the playoffs, knocked off San Jose and Colorado before beating New England in MLS Cup 05.

So there you have it, three teams who few gave them a chance and instead made noise in the postseason. Of course, it's a complete travesty that MLS allows a team like New York to play against a team like Houston in the playoffs but that's a different topic for a different day.

Two games, four quarters

Chivas USA will play at Real Salt Lake on Saturday in a series that will break down into four quarters. At Rio Tinto Stadium, Chivas USA will try and do well in quarters one and two while coming home for the third and fourth quarters on Nov. 8.

At least, that's the way Jesse Marsch is looking at it. This is what he told me when I asked him about preparing for a two-leg series.

"You almost have to look at each half as a quarter and now try and figure out how to get through each half, or in that particular period, to either be ahead or be tied so that as the series continue, when you get down to the later stretches of the series you are either in position to push for a win or be guarding a win. It’s a mentality that you have to create within a group that says no matter what happens you have to keep going so whether it’s a two goal lead or are down two goals you still have to have a way about you that makes sense within the series or within the game and be prepared to do what the series is going to ask of you."

Americans in Mexico - catching up with the lads

Mexican-Americans have made great strides in Mexico. Some time ago, it seemed Americans' only chance of playing top-flight soccer was in MLS. But a young resurgence has opened the doors to more and more American-born players south of the border.

I'll be following the exploits of our boys in Mexico here. For now, I wanted to get you up to speed on what's been going on with the American contingent in Mexico.

Jose Francisco Torres:
Torres has played in 11 games this season and has six starts and has played in 653 minutes overall. A week ago he went the distance in a 1-1 draw with Morelia. Torres is not quite a key player for Pachuca this season - eight players have started 10 or more games - but he's still a valuable player nonetheless. A tough match against Cruz Azul awaits Torres and Pachuca on Saturday as los Tuzos are in third place in Group 1 on 16 points, three back of Santos.

Michael Orozco: Leaving his club team to represent the United States Olympic team didn't exactly sit well with club officials and Orozco had to earn his way back onto the squad. It also didn't help that San Luis started off the season playing very well. But Orozco worked his way back into the squad and has regained his starting spot. He's played in four of the last six games for San Luis and has played 90 minutes in all. Orozco will likely once again man the backline for
San Luis against Necaxa.

Edgar Castillo: Inactivity for the national team means Castillo has been quite active for Santos Laguna. Castillo has played in all 14 of the club's games and has started all but three. He hasn't quite yet caught Sven Goran Eriksson's eye, at least not enough to play in a World Cup qualifier, but Castillo's play may eventually get him back into the national team. Santos play Tigres, which will be anything but a simple task for Castillo and his side.

Daniel Hernandez: Jaguares are a terrible club but it's not for lack of effort from Hernandez. The Texas native has played in 10 games for Jaguares and has in fact only missed time due to suspension. He missed the first two games of the season for his involvement in last year's playoff brawl with Cruz Azul and missed another game after he was sent off in Week 7. Jaguares need a minor miracle to reach the playoffs. The club visits Morelia on Sunday.

Marco Antonio Vidal: The Dallas native seemed to have re-established himself in the middle of the season as he appeared in five consecutive games. But since then he has not played a match in the First Division. Overall, Vidal has played in six games for 353 minutes. Indios will try and keep ahead of Puebla as the two teams are last and second-to-last in Group 1.

Jesus Padilla: So much for Padilla's breakthrough season. Padilla scored a goal against Morelia on Aug. 30. The goal was his first in the First Division and came in the third of four games he'd played. Since then, he's played in exactly two minutes in the top flight. He's back as a starter for Tapatio, languishing in the second division while youngster Omar Arellano enjoys a bit of a breakthrough campaign.

Sammy Ochoa: The Michoacan-born, Riverside, Calif.-raised Ochoa has been his usual stellar self in the second division. A week ago, Ochoa scored the lone goal for Tecos in a 3-1 loss to Irapuato. Ochoa has four goals in nine games this season for Tecos' Primera A side but has not yet played in the First Division.

Carlos Borja:
The Orange, Calif., native has played in 11 games for Tapatio, 10 as a starter, and is a reliable part of the team. While First Division time may be a ways away, he's secured his status as a decent prospect with the solid season he's piecing together.

Miguel Gonzalez: The former Revs prospect has played in four games this season but much of that was early on.

Noel Castillo: Edgar's younger brother has played only twice for second-division side Indios but is at least still getting a chance. He was an unused substitute in last week's match.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Following Thursday's training session, Atiba Harris was in doubt over whether he'd play on Saturday as he picked up a quadriceps injury, according to a team source. Alecko Eskandarian is also in doubt as Esky has been taking it easy in training this week.

Should neither be available to start against Real Salt Lake, I'd expect to see Justin Braun start alongside Ante Razov at forward and possibly see Dejair back in the midfield, occupying Harris' spot.

"Purely technical rationale"

Bruce Arena called David Beckham's three-month loan to AC Milan as "purely technical rationale." Beckham wants to continue playing for England and with the Galaxy done with league play from now until next spring, chances are Beckham could fall off the England team altogether with so much inactivity.

Hence, the move.

Still, it just seems like an odd move. As a reader pointed out, this sort of loan deal has happened before, with Henrik Larsson. But in MLS, it hasn't happened this way perhaps ever. Sure, when prominent Mexican players joined MLS teams, notably Carlos Hermosillo and Luis Hernandez in the late 90s, they too went to ply their trade in foreign countries during the MLS offseson. But that was different in the sense that MLS didn't really follow FIFA rules. Transfer windows and the like weren't part of MLS when Hermosillo and Hernandez were in their heyday.

Becks is gone for the winter now and the Galaxy as well as MLS need to hope that he returns not only in top physical condition but in good form in order for this move to pay off.

On the field of course. This loan probably would not have happened if it weren't going to pay off financially.

Nery set to return

Not too long ago, Nery Castillo was a key player for the Mexican national team. His performance at the 2007 Copa America was grand and left Mexican fans salivating at the prospect of watching him guide the Mexican attack for years to come.

Then, he fell off the face of the earth. A move to Spain fell apart and Castillo remained with Manchester City. Another move, this time to Chivas de Guadalajara, also did not happen. Castillo has yet to play for City this season.

But word came out of Mexico City that Castillo would be brought back into the national team picture regardless. Castillo is set to appear in Mexico's friendly against Ecuador on Nov. 12 in Phoenix, a week before their do-or-die qualifier in Honduras.

If Castillo had stayed with Olympiakos, perhaps he would never have fallen off the national team picture. But his turbulent club career hardly left Mexico coaches any choice but to leave him out of the picture. This might not be his last chance to show what he's got but it's an audition nonetheless.

It's a bit ironic in that the first time Castillo was called up to the national team, Mexico played the U.S. in February 2007. To think that in a span of 18 months of so since then he would have gone back to Europe undecided about his national team future (remember, he was eligible for Greece and Uruguay as well), would debut for Mexico, play well in both the Gold Cup and Copa America, would switch clubs twice, fall off the picture for both club and country and now is trying to resurface for both.

After all this turbulence, banking the future on a player the likes of Castillo may not be the best thing no matter how talented he is.

Playoff preview

Okay, so I realize the playoffs have already started. Chicago and New England are scoreless in the first half.

But I wanted to post my playoff preview for After all, three of the series will start on Saturday and I wrote it in a way that it would not fall apart because of or depend on the result of the match.

Well, I did pick one of the teams in tonight's game to win it all. I'll give you a hint who I picked: the team's name rhymes with "liar."

First-round challenge

Chivas USA has been around four seasons now and they've had a decent time in MLS, except for that lousy 2005 season of course. The club has made the playoffs three consecutive seasons, which is a feat on its own.

But now, the pressure will be turned up quite a bit. Chivas has been successful in some respects but in others, they've done little. Success in the playoffs, for example, falls under the having-done-little part of their history.

Playoff success is a must this season. This is the year Chivas must get out of the first round. If the team goes out in the first round again, it will be inexcusable plain and simple. Now, had the club gotten into the playoffs the way New York did, perhaps another early exit would be understandable. But Chivas finished with the fifth-best record in MLS and are the higher seed in their playoff series.

Perhaps as an exclamation to the need to win, Chivas is going up against Real Salt Lake. Should Chivas lose to fellow '05 expansion side RSL, it would be insult to injury. After all, RSL has done virtually nothing in their time in MLS. This season was far and away RSL's most successful season.

Chivas has the tools to get it done but whatever happens in the postseason, anything short of reaching the conference final will be a major disappointment, a complete and utter failure.

Back to Europe

I think it was Alexi Lalas who said that the Galaxy would never loan David Beckham. He's not around anymore, obviously, and neither is that sentiment. Becks is on his way to AC Milan, a deal much discussed for several weeks now.

According to a press release, Beckham will join AC Milan effective January 2009 but will report back to the Galaxy "for training and the start of the 2009 MLS season."

Now, this deal does not signal the end of the Becks experiment. Rather, it's being spun as a move to help further Beckham's international career, and of course AC Milan likely stands to make millions in jersey sales and such.

But this move on many levels does not make sense? What of the Galaxy and his priorities here? Beckham is the team's best player... supposedly, though Landon Donovan made a good case for his significance this season with 20 goals and nine assists. What message does Beckham's move overseas send about his commitment to the Galaxy? And to MLS?

This type of deal is unprecedented, I believe. I don't recall player for whom rules were bent so it's difficult to put into context. If Beckham is injured and misses significant time with the Galaxy next season, the deal will be severely frowned upon. If Beckham does well with Milan, however, and gets back to his top form - which he clearly was not at in 2008 - perhaps it is of benefit to the Galaxy. Regardless, though, it seems as if there are many negatives - if not more - than positives on Becks' trip back across the pond.

Bruce Arena will be on a conference call later this afternoon. If I have a chance, I'll jump on it. If not, there will be plenty of stories on the matter later.

Here we are again

After not blogging for a week, I've come to the realization that I need to blog. It feels like the soccer world is whizzing past me and I'm just a bystander on the side of the street. Sure, I've had my say on several things this week, have gotten a few stories published but I've stifled myself. There have been plenty of thoughts that have surfaced in my mind that I've not been able to express. I mean, I couldn't exactly talked about the Galaxy in my MLS playoffs preview, right?

I've got some audio clips to put up, some stories to share, thoughts to peruse but nowhere to do it. Sure, I could have stayed on with Sideline Views and kept that running but that was really something that was an LB and AC creation. I felt like I need my own space, set up my own standards and build something from the ground up.

So if you're here, thanks for checking out my now trusty blog. I hope you will bookmark this page and check back every now and again to see what I've got to say about the world of soccer. Lord knows, I've always got some sort of opinion on something.

Anyway, I wanted to set down some ground rules or expectations or whatever you want to call them. Not that I really had any before - I let the readers dictate where I wanted to take the blog - but now I feel like I am way more prepared with this blogging thing that I was before.

- Breaking stories or providing updates is not necessarily the theme of this blog. The one thing I want for this blog to be is fun. I want it to be fun and exciting when I think of it and if I start to post scores and stuff from around the soccer world it will become not fun. Not fun means less posts. If it were not fun and I were getting paid, well, that's a different story. But being as I am not getting paid (and I'll get back to this point), I want this to be a fun experience for me and you.

- On the payment part, I don't expect to get paid. I'm not looking to get enough readers to try and sell ads or anything.

- It would be great to have an abundance of readers but that's not my goal. If you come here and like what you see, come back. If you come here and don't care for what I'm providing, move on. There are lots of other soccer blogs and sites out there.

- This is my blog. If I want to cuss, that's my fucking prerogative.

- I reserve the right to post on non-soccer things. I like music and movies and all that so I may chime in on, say the Metallica concert I'm going to here in Ontario in December or whatever. They may be random and may only appear every now and then but don't be surprised if you see them. I'm not going to bore you with that stuff but I'll throw some things out there time and again that have nothing to do with soccer.

- I hope to post daily, in fact multiple times a day, but sometimes I may have real life issues that need dealing with. If so, give me some time. I've decided to make this commitment so I intend on following through with it.

- These are the things that interest me the most in the footballing world, so these are the things I will post about: Major League Soccer, Mexican soccer, US national team, Mexico national team, Chivas USA, Los Angeles Galaxy. To be honest, I don't give a fuck about English soccer. Sorry. I would rather watch Columbus play Real Salt Lake than watch Liverpool play West Ham.

Well there you go. I may add some more later. But for now, I wanted to put this up and let you know that I'm back and on my own.