Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pumas out, Cruz Azul and Toluca through

Toluca beat Tecos 2-0 in the day's first game, a result that is a surprise to absolutely nobody.

Meanwhile, the real upset was Cruz Azul and Pumas. Cruz Azul took out Pumas with a 3-1 win on Sunday, made even more surprising by Pumas' early goal. Pumas took a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute when Francisco Palencia scored but Cruz Azul got a goal right back as Gerardo Torrado scored in the 6th minute. Goals by Cesar Villaluz and Miguel Sabah scored for Cruz Azul in the second half.

I'll put up the complete highlights later (if and when they are available) but for now here's Francisco Palencia's goal and subsequent celebration. Let me know if the celebration looks familiar.

(Incidentally, aside from "Paco" another of Palencia's nicknames is "El Gatillero" or "The Gunman" or "The Gunner")

And here are Toluca's goals:

What you should watch (Nov 30)

To close out the Thanksgiving weekend as well as the month of November, there are two Mexican league playoff games that should be must-watch games for you.

- Toluca-Tecos; 10 am PT Telemundo
- Pumas-Cruz Azul; 3 pm PT Telemundo.

Pumas-Cruz Azul technically isn't a derby match but it sure feels like one whenever the two teams meet up. This game caps off what should be a good final weekend of the quarterfinal round. Tecos meanwhile needs a win in Toluca in order to advance to the next round but the chances of that happening are pretty slim.

Liguilla as it stands

For those who may not follow the Mexican league closely but still have an interest in it, the playoff system may seem a bit confusing. It's not really but it could seem that way.

For the benefit of those who are wondering what will happen once the semifinal round is over, here's a quick description.

- Eighth-seeded Santos and third-seeded Atlante advanced to the semifinals where they will await the winners of the series between Toluca (No. 2 seed) and Tecos (7) as well as Pumas (4) and Cruz Azul (5). Once the quarterfinals are over, the teams will re-seed and the lowest-remaining seed plays the highest-remaining seed. Thus, Santos will play either Toluca or Atlante in the next round.

- Higher-seeded teams need only draw in the quarters and/or semis to advance to the next round. Atlante and Tigres tied 2-2 after 180 minutes but Tigres did not force overtime or penalties. Atlante proved to be the better team in the regular season and that was a sufficient enough of a tiebreaker to advance. However, there must be a winner in the final. If it's all tied up after 180 minutes and 30 minutes of extra time, then there's penalties.

- Each round consists of home-and-away series, with the lower-seeded team hosting the first leg.

Atlante moves on

Behind this goal from Gabriel Pereyra, Atlante knocked Tigres out of the playoffs after a 1-1 draw on Saturday. Atlante went up early, then made things interesting when they knocked a ball across the goal line late but held on for a draw and a 2-2 aggregate series win.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gol de Cuauhtemoc

Santos knocked San Luis out of the Mexican league playoffs earlier tonight. The defending champs won the match 2-1 and took the series on a 5-2 aggregate.

Santos' hired gun Cuauhtemoc Blanco scored a goal in the game.

EDIT: I'd linked to another video earlier but I've replaced it with this one as this shows all the goals.

El Tri in Europe preview (Nov. 29-30)

The Touchline's Sean Grybos takes a look at Tricolor players in Europe and how they stand entering the final weekend of November.

La Liga

Omar Bravo (Deportivo La Coruña): Bravo came on as a substitute in the 59th minute of the UEFA Cup match versus Feyenoord. Deportivo travels to Almeria this Sunday.

Andrés Guardado (Deportivo La Coruña): Guardado scored again as Deportivo defeated Feyenoord 3-0. The Spanish club takes on Almeria on Sunday.

Rafael Márquez (Barcelona): The defender returned to action in the 5-2 Champions League victory over Sporting Lisbon. Barcelona is away at Sevilla this weekend.

Guillermo Luis Franco (Villarreal): The third-place La Liga club hosted Manchester United in midweek Champions League action. Franco entered late in the match for Giuseppe Rossi.

English Premiership

Carlos Vela (Arsenal): Vela started in the 1-0 Champions League victory against Dynamo Kiev. He was subbed in the 77th minute. Arsenal is away at Chelsea this Sunday.

Nery Castillo (Manchester City on loan from Shaktar Donetsk): Did not factor in the UEFA Cup victory over Schalke 04. Manchester City travels on Sunday for this season’s first installment of the Manchester Derby.

Giovani dos Santos (Tottenham Hotspur): Injured (ankle)

German Bundesliga

Aarón Galindo (Eintracht Frankfurt): Galindo and his teammates travel to face Werder Bremen.

Pavel Pardo (VfB Stuttgart): Stuttgart drew 0-0 midweek against Italian side Sampdoria in the UEFA Cup. Pardo played the entire 90 minutes. Stuttgart hosts fellow UEFA Cup side Schalke 04.

Ricardo Osorio (VfB Stuttgart): Osorio played the entire match versus Sampdoria. He should start against Schalke 04.

Dutch Eredivisie

Héctor Moreno (AZ): First-place side AZ hosts SC Heracles Almelo. It will be a shock if AZ does not take three points from the match.

Carlos Salcido (PSV Eindhoven): Atletico Madrid’s Simão scored early in the Champions League match as his shot went right through Salcido’s legs as the Mexican defender failed to clear. PSV attempts to rebound against Heenerveen.

Francisco Javier Rodríguez (PSV Eindhoven): A deflection in the 26th minute off of Maza set up Atletico’s second goal to doom away-side PSV. As The Touchline’s video of the clearly demonstrated, this was not the Mexican duos finest hour in Europe. PSV travels to Heenerveen on Saturday.

-- Sean Grybos

What you should watch today (Nov. 29)

Do-or-die for some Mexican clubs as the Apertura 2008 Liguilla continues.

- San Luis-Santos, 5 pm PT TeleFutura
- Atlante-Tigres, 7 pm PT Telemundo

Those are the two games you should have on today for sure. Some other potentially decent matchups feature some Tri in Europe players.

- PSV-Heerenveen, 11:30 am PT ESPN Deportes
- Sevilla-Barcelona, 1 pm PT Gol TV

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mexican playoffs, second legs

The Apertura 2008 playoffs will resume on Saturday as the top four seeds will head home. However, only one goes home needing a victory to advance to the semifinals. For those not familiar with the Mexican playoff system, if the series is even at the end of the second leg, the higher-seeded team goes through; road goals also don't count.

1 San Luis vs 8 Santos: San Luis learned the hard way that Santos will defend their title tooth and nail. Cuauhtemoc Blanco played his role of hired gun perfectly as he played a key role in the 3-1 rout of top-ranked San Luis. Santos need only draw to get through; even a one-goal loss will see Santos on to the next round. This game will also guarantee that we'll see an American in the semifinals as Edgar Castillo of Santos and Michael Orozco each went the distance in the first leg, and will likely do so again in the second leg. TV: Saturday 5 pm, TeleFutura.

2 Toluca vs 7 Tecos: Toluca go home lucky to not have conceded a goal. Tecos should have put multiple chances away against los choriceros at home but instead squandered away their home leg and now must head to Toluca in search of a win. If this game comes down to experience, Toluca will rout Tecos. Toluca have won eight Mexican league titles, the last three years ago in the Apertura '05 title. Tecos reached the final in the Clausura 05 season but have just one league title, back in the 93-94 campaign. Complicating matters for Tecos: Toluca were the best home team this season, compiling a 6-1-1 record and a plus-11 goal differential at Nemesio Diez. TV: Sunday 10 am, Telemundo.

3 Atlante vs 6 Tigres: Atlante showed resiliency in overcoming a 1-0 deficit in Monterrey but Tigres sort of dug their own grave by going down a man in the second half. Atlante can now relax and play with a little less pressure at home. Atlante lost just once at home as they ran up a 5-1-3 mark in Estadio Andres Quintana Roo. Atlante's offense was also particularly strong at home as they scored 16 goals at home, a mark surpassed by only Tecos. Still, this game won't exactly be simple for los Potros. Tigres were the top road team in the Apertura 08 season with a 4-1-3 mark away from home. TV: Saturday 7 pm, Telemundo.

4 Pumas vs 5 Cruz Azul: The matchup didn't live up to the hype in the first leg as the third- and fourth-most popular teams in Mexico did not produce a goal. The game moves across town from Estadio Azul to Estadio Olimpico where Pumas will be heavily favored to walk away with the series. Cruz Azul have not beaten Pumas in three short-season playoff meetings. Cruz Azul's overall lack of success in playoffs likely doesn't put much fear into their opponents. Although they reached the final last season, los cementeros haven't won a title since 1997. TV: Sunday 3 pm, Telemundo.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can Seattle compete?

The dust has settled on the 2009 Expansion Draft and Seattle looks like a real team now. Although I'm still hesitant to piece together a starting lineup as I think Seattle could turn around and deal half of these guys, the latest MLS team seems to have drafted players they plan on keeping and using.

Now the big question is will this team be halfway decent or will they be another expansion disaster?

There will be some growing pains, no doubt. Seattle can't expect to shoot out of the gates next season but at some point they will get their first win, their first unbeaten streak and their first signs of respectability.

Anyway, this team actually does not look terrible. I think with each passing year and each passing expansion draft, teams learn from others' mistakes and use all that information to their knowledge. Seattle won't be the favorites to win the West - at this point, Houston will be favored by most although RSL will undoubtedly be up there - but the Sounders may actually put up a fight.

So what will their team look like? Here's what their lineup could look like next season:

G: Kasey Keller
D: James Riley, Jeff Parke, Tyson Wahl, Nathan Sturgis
M: Sanna Nyassi, Brad Evans, Peter Vagenas, Freddie Ljungberg
F: Nate Jaqua, Sebastian LeToux

The back line lacks a true standout. Parke is out of contract and likely could wind up in Europe if an offer comes along. Seattle should still be in the market for a central defender and overall depth across the backline as that is the place where most expansion teams had struggled before the 'Quakes played well defensively a season ago.

I don't think that Seattle is done dealing. I think we could see a lineup that is quite different than this one come March. But time will tell if the Sounders approached this the right way.s

Hexagonal Preview: El Salvador

El Salvador

Believed to be the weakest of the six national teams, El Salvador enters the final qualifying phase looking to gain regional and even global respect as the country faces off against heavyweights Costa Rica, Mexico, and the USA. A fight over 4th place in the group will more-than-likely be waged against T&T and the two border nations Honduras and El Salvador.

Match Schedule

Feb 11: Trinidad & Tobago at El Salvador
Mar 28: USA at El Salvador
Apr 1: El Salvador at Costa Rica
Jun 6: Mexico at El Salvador
Jun 10: El Salvador at Honduras
Aug 12: El Salvador at Trinidad & Tobago
Sept 5: El Salvador at USA
Sept 9: Costa Rica at El Salvador
Oct 10: El Salvador at Mexico
Oct 14: Honduras at El Salvador

With three of the first four matches at home, El Salvador must come away with a minimum of 5 points to have a shot at fourth place in the group. After hosting El Tri on June 6, the team plays the next three on the road beginning with Honduras and ending with the USA.

Meet the Members of the Team

Mexican manager Carlos de los Cobos oversees the national team. He signed on in August of 2006. Three of his core players who will factor include:

Alfredo Alberto Pacheco: The 25-year-old defender has played for Club Deportivo FAS since 2001. Known as a fierce competitor, he is the captain of the national team.

Eliseo Quintanilla: The midfielder enjoyed a short stint with DC United. After two injury-riddled seasons, he returned to Central America. The 25-year-old has been a key contributor in qualifying. This past June, he scored two goals in the match with Panama allowing El Salvador to advance to the third round.

Rodolfo Zelaya: The forward was the top goal scorer of the third round after his hat trick against Haiti. The 20-year-old ended the round with four goals. Is his offensive output going to carry over into the fourth round?

Key Match: Honduras at El Salvador (October 14, 2009): Realistically, these border nations could be fighting for 4th place and a potential spot in the World Cup.


Best Case Scenario: Fourth place and a berth in the intercontinental play-off against the fifth-place team from South America’s qualifiers. The two countries will compete over two legs with the winner moving on to South Africa.

Worst Case Scenario: Sixth place and a scenario where de los Cobos uses the final matches to gain the young prospects (Rodolfo Zelaya, Cesar Alexander Larios, and Benji Oldai Villalobos) some valuable experience.

--Sean Grybos

Struggling defenders

The Touchline's Sean Grybos will have this as part of his El Tri in Europe recap but I wanted to post this video nonetheless.

PSV Eindhoven's Mexican defenders had a horrendous match against Altetico Madrid in a Champions League match on Thursday. Both Carlos Salcido and "Maza" Rodriguez made terrible mistakes inside the box and each led to a goal as Madrid won the game 2-1.

The match was played in an empty stadium as crowd troubles in a previous Champions League match led to a ban on fans for this game.

And as far as this video goes, I have no idea what they're saying.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Copa Sudamericana final, first leg

Internacional went down to 10 men but still managed a 1-0 win over Estudiantes de la Plata. Alex scored the only goal of the game on a first-half penalty kick.

Here are the highlights. The foul didn't really look like much contact and although there was, the Inter player dived to the ground as if nailed by a truck.

Houston goes through

Houston came up way short of domestic glory but international success is not out of reach.

Houston beat Luis Angel Firpo 1-0 on Wednesday and advanced to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. The match had been rescheduled due to Hurricane Ike.

Houston was the heavy favorite to come out of the West and reach MLS Cup but fell to New York 3-0 at home and a third consecutive title went by the wayside. But Houston still made history this year as they became the first MLS club to reach the knockout rounds of this new-look tournament.

In an interesting side note, Nate Jaqua started and played 68 minutes for his now-old club. Jaqua was selected earlier in the day by Seattle in the expansion draft.

Highlights, in case you missed them:

Hexagonal previews

One of our favorite topics here on The Touchline is the Hexagonal. Six nations' quest for World Cup qualifying will result in success for three, heartbreak for two and more nerve-wracking games for another side, and we love every minute of it.

Although the Hex does not begin until quite a ways away, it is never too early for us here at The Touchline to provide you with coverage of World Cup qualifying.

Over the next week or so, we'll roll out previews of each team as they stand in late 2008. We're starting from the bottom up, the bottom of our projected standings, as El Salvador will be first up. Look out for that early Thursday morning.


Chivas USA waived Alex Zotinca. Not a big loss. He was useless in the playoff match in Utah and a big part of the problem for why Chivas couldn't get their attack going in that loss. Along the right side, he's become less valuable, especially if Carey Talley and Lawson Vaughn are each healthy. Jonathan Bornstein also showed he could do well on the right side if need be.

Another big name

Here's another name to possibly throw in the mix to join an MLS team.

Jared Borgetti is out of contract with Monterrey and has been told by the club that he will not be brought back for the Clausura 2009 season.

Borgetti of course has long been linked to MLS, but there wasn't really much to that before since he was under contract and that would require a transfer fee. Now that his options are limited he might be willing to give MLS a more serious look.

Now, that's not exactly the best way to get a player - wait for his opportunities at home to dry up and consider MLS as a last resort. While I don't think it's quite that dire for Borgetti, I do feel he can still score goals and can still be an asset for an MLS team. Should he get designated player money? No, absolutely not. But would he be worth whatever money you can get him for under the cap? Probably.

Anyway, expect Borgetti's name to come up a bit during this offseason.

Galaxy roster for New Zealand

The Galaxy released its 19-man roster for their friendly against the Oceania All-Stars in New Zealand on Dec. 6.

GK: Josh Saunders, Josh Wicks
D: Sean Franklin, Michael Gavin, Leonard Griffin, Chris Klein, Mike Randolph, Troy Roberts, Julian Valentin
M: Ely Allen, David Beckham, Eddie Lewis, Brandon McDonald, Mike Munoz, Josh Tudela
F: Tristan Bowen, Alan Gordon, Bryan Jordan, Jovan Kirovski

Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle were among a group of players that will stay behind "to rest and receive treatment." Leonard Griffin is officially a guest player, joining the Galaxy for the trip from Portland.

Seattle has a team now

It's official. Seattle has a team. Well, they had a team all along but they have a roster now. Here are the players they selected in the Expansion Draft:

1. Nate Jaqua (Houston Dynamo)
2. Nathan Sturgis (Real Salt Lake)
3. Jeff Parke (New York Red Bulls)
4. Jarrod Smith (Toronto FC)
5. Khano Smith (New England Revolution)
6. Peter Vagenas (Los Angeles Galaxy)
7. Tyson Wahl (Kansas City Wizards)
8. James Riley (San Jose Earthquakes)
9. Stephen King (Chicago Fire)
10. Brad Evans (Columbus Crew)

Some thoughts:
- Galaxy fans will probably NOT be upset at Peter Vagenas' selection. It's kinda strange that Vagenas was taken considering his reluctance to leave the Galaxy. He loves the Galaxy, has bled for the Galaxy and had wanted to stay with the Galaxy until his days were done. Now this. If Sigi Schmid is taking over the team as has been rumored, this makes sense. Otherwise, I'm not sure. I've always admired Pete, always felt he was a great and underrated leader but it seems his heart is with the Galaxy.

- Chivas USA fans can now breathe a huge sigh of relief over Jorge Flores. "Sueno" was not taken and it appears Seattle made a glaring mistake. Flores is a talented player who will undoubtedly clamor for playing time next year. Even if Seattle did not see a need for him, certainly they could have dangled him as trade bait to another team that did. Also, Lawson Vaughn and Carey Talley were not taken so the club will move forward with business as usual.

- Nathan Sturgis is probably the player with the biggest upside on the roster. He's battled nagging injuries and will no doubt be an asset to Seattle if he can get over them.

- Not sure of Nate Jaqua's contract status. If he's not out of contract and he ends up suting up for them, Seattle just got themselves a talented scoring option, something expansion teams don't normally have.

Still waiting

We've been trying to follow the progress of the MLS Expansion Draft but so far no word on who has been taken and what the new-look Sounders FC will look like.

The draft was supposed to have happened at 10 am PT but now I'm hearing not until noon. So one more hour at the earliest until we find out. If and when I hear anything, I will report back. Until then, here's a highlight of one player we know will be on their roster:

Gazidis is gone

MLS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis has jumped ship and left his post to become the new top executive with Arsenal.

Gazidis is now the Chief Executive Officer with the storied EPL side and will face quite a bit of challenges in his new role. Already demands have been placed on him by the locals, who hardly seem excited that he's coming from MLS.

This is a loss for MLS but fresh blood and new ideas will help move the league forward.

No venue yet for US-Mexico

Since the CONCACAF Hexagonal Draw came out and it was determined that the US would host Mexico in February, speculation has swirled about a possible venue?

Would Columbus play host to the game for the third consecutive time?

How about, as a reader suggested here, Rio Tinto Stadium? It may still draw quite a few green-clad supporters but February in Utah could be downright bitter.

Or maybe some other small, out-of-the-way site like Rentschler Field in Hartford, where the US has already played a World Cup qualifier?

Or how about the Rose Bowl? What about that? It's not small. It's not out-of-the-way. It's not freezing cold. And it's certainly not difficult for thousands of Tri fans to get to.

But it's a huge game, possibly the most important US home game since, what, the Gold Cup final? Or the last US-Mexico qualifier? Regardless, home games against Mexico are huge and when they have added implications they take on even greater significance.

Now, the Rose Bowl idea is not mine. Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes about that as a venue option the US should consider but probably won't. Before you dismiss that as silly - and for the record I don't think it's silly - read the story and hear him out because he brings up some good points.

For starters, history suggests the US will not lose that game. They haven't lost a home qualifier to Mexico since Sept. 10, 1972. Twice in the 80s the US hosted Mexico and Mexico couldn't beat the Americans. Playing before 90,000 anti-US, pro-Mexico fans is nothing new to the Americans. You think that would rattle Landon Donovan? Or Tim Howard? Or Clint Dempsey? These guys have all played in big games against Mexico and have done well.

Anyway, read the rest of the story. And at least try and not dismiss Zeigler as easily as the federation apparently has.

Breaking down the changes

I expanded some of my thoughts on the upcoming changes for the 2009 MLS season for my Press-Enterprise readers.

The only change I'm excited about is the prospect of MLS shutting down to accommodate the national team. It's long overdue and the league should never schedule games on the same day let alone the same time as the national team but I'm still happy they finally dealt with the issue.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Clasico InterLiga

The schedule for next year's InterLiga was announced, and finally after five editions we'll get to see Chivas play America. Unless you're in Houston or will travel to the game, though, most of us will have to watch it on television.

Top two teams in each group advance to the finals, and the winners will go to Copa Libertadores. Because of their participation in the CONCACAF Champions League, Santos, Atlante, Cruz Azul and Pumas are not eligible to participate in this tournament. San Luis already has a spot secured in Copa Libertadores.

First, the groups and then the schedule.

Group A: Toluca, Tecos, Morelia, Pachuca
Group B: Tigres, Chivas, Atlas, America

Dates and venues:

Fri Jan 2 - Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, Texas
Toluca-Morelia, Tecos-Pachuca

Sat Jan 3 - Robertson Stadium, Houston, Texas
Tigres-Atlas, Chivas-America

Mon Jan 5 - Robertson Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Tecos-Morelia, Toluca-Pachuca

Tue Jan 6 – Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, Texas
Tigres-America, Chivas-Atlas

Thu Jan 8 – Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
Morelia-Pachuca, Toluca-Tecos

Fri Jan 9 – Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
Atlas-America, Tigres-Chivas

Sunday Jan 11 - Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.

Expanding little

It seems like it's an annual thing now, this MLS Expansion Draft. Every year, right after MLS Cup, a team gets to choose from marginal players, young guys, out-of-contract players, basically the scrap heap. There are inevitably some good players on the list, some talent, but ultimately this draft is a process of getting the new team from nothing to something. This isn't about team building, it's about getting some guys in only to get rid of them later.

I've followed expansion drafts closely since 2004, when I was at the Chivas USA expansion draft get-together they had at the ESPN Zone in Anaheim. And I've followed their progress and Real Salt Lake's and kept a close eye on Toronto and San Jose in their expansion seasons. I've really come up with one conclusion: the expansion draft is not how incoming teams build up their rosters.

Back in '04 both Chivas and RSL tried to build their rosters somewhat with the expansion draft. And I think that's where things backfired on them. Chivas and RSL initially had different ideas of how to build a team - Chivas wanted a Mexican presence and took guys like Arturo Torres, Francisco Gomez and Antonio de la Torre and all were gone by season two (the latter was gone before preseason). Orlando Perez was a good catch for them but he wasn't the backbone of the team or anything. RSL's last remaining player from the expansion draft is Andy Williams, who was a good catch for them as well but they too had trouble even getting those guys in and keeping them around.

They had terrible seasons, so in turn that forced Toronto to take a hard look at how they wanted to approach the draft. They dealt players away, most of them actually. They traded away nine players after the draft, including Danny O'Rourke and William Hesmer to Columbus, as the only player to actually make the season was Paulo Nagamura, who was then dealt away four games into the 2007 season.

San Jose last season did the best job of actually building its team from the expansion list as five players are still on the roster from last season's draft. But three have not been protected so it gives you an idea of how much value those remaining players have.

Seattle will have their first-ever team assembled on Wednesday, but if you are going to scour the expansion draft list and try to guess their opening day lineup based on that and the players they have already, forget it. Now, that doesn't mean they won't go after guys to fill specific roles - Lawson Vaughn of Chivas USA would be a great pickup for Seattle, for instance. So too would would Corey Ashe of Houston. But mostly, this draft will come and go and little impact will remain.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The list: Chivas USA

Here are Chivas USA's protected and exposed players ahead of Wednesday's expansion draft.

Protected players: Jonathan Bornstein, Justin Braun, Bobby Burling, Alecko Eskandarian, Maykel Galindo, Atiba Harris, Sacha Kljestan, Jesse Marsch, Francisco Mendoza, Paulo Nagamura, Shavar Thomas.

Exposed players: Kraig Chiles, Jim Curtin, Eric Ebert, Dejair, Jorge Flores, Anthony Hamilton, Dan Kennedy, Gerson Mayen, Roberto Nurse, Daniel Paladini, Lance Parker, Ante Razov, Keith Savage, Claudio Suarez, Carey Talley, Zach Thornton, Lawson Vaughn, Sasha Victorine, Raphael Wicky, Alex Zotinca.

I wouldn't make too much of Ante Razov not being protected. He's out of contract and would be pricey to re-sign, two things that probably would scare away Seattle coaches. In general, I just don't think it's wise to draft players out of contract, especially 34-year-old ones who have had injury problems for five years running.

There are three players on here that I think may be gone. Jorge Flores is the most obvious. He's young, talented and has shown success when given the time with Chivas USA. He'd be a good selection for Seattle.

Carey Talley would be a great fit for Seattle with his veteran leadership and quality on the backline. He has some wear on his legs, though, as he's been around for about a decade so Seattle may want to go younger. Still, it may not be the worst thing to have a veteran around to help stabilize things.

Still, the player I think is the most attractive option is Lawson Vaughn. He could step in and start right away for Seattle. He's an attack-minded right back who can hit a nice cross in from the right flank. He's inexpensive, making just $33,000 a year. And he's young, just 24 years of age. Injuries sidetracked him this season but he was primed to take another step in his development in 2008.

The list: Galaxy

Here are the players the Galaxy protected and left exposed ahead of Wednesday's MLS expansion draft.

Protected players: David Beckham, Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan, Sean Franklin, Alan Gordon, Ante Jazic, Bryan Jordan, Eddie Lewis, Brandon McDonald, Alvaro Pires, Troy Roberts.

Exposed players: Vardan Adzemian, Charles Charles, Ely Allen, Jeremy Barlow, Steve Cronin, Eduardo Dominguez, Joe Franchino, Michael Gavin, Jovan Kirovski, Chris Klein, Mike Munoz, Mike Randolph, Josh Saunders, Josh Tudela, Peter Vagenas, Julian Valentin, Josh Wicks

The team didn't need to protect Israel Sesay or Tristan Bowen as both players are Generation Adidas.

The list doesn't come as much of a surprise except for a pair of players. Mike Randolph is a decent young player who did well at times for the Galaxy. He's got upside, doesn't command a high salary and can play a pair of positions. He may be a decent option for Seattle, probably not an immediate starter for them but certainly someone who can challenge for a starting spot.

Jovan Kirovski is on this list. Yes, the same Jovan Kirovski who stumbled for a season and a half with the Galaxy before he was dealt away to Colorado. Bruce Arena must see something in him that most of us don't. The Galaxy dealt for him earlier in the day, giving up a conditional supplemental draft pick for him.

You so totally rock!


Frankie Hejduk is a surfer through and through. Surfing and soccer are his two passions outside his family life of course. Now, Hejduk's reputation as a soccer-playing surfer carries over into the surfing world. Hejduk's accomplishment of winning MLS Cup has landed a mention on the front page of this surfing site.

That's Hejduk, spreading the good word of soccer into the world of surfing.

Let the dealing begin!

That didn't take long. It seems the first offseason move has been worked out between Kansas City and New England. The Revs shipped forward Adam Cristman to the Wizards in exchange for allocation money and KC's third round draft choice in the 2009 SuperDraft.

Cristman had a good rookie season in 2007 but suffered through injuries this season. He had six goals in 18 games.

El Guille

It's hard to put things in perspective sometimes right after championships. After teams win trophies, everything seems to have gone perfectly and judging them against past teams, players, coaches, whatever, is hard to do.

But there's one thing that is not up for debate. Guillermo Barros Schelotto is easily one of the best players in MLS and one of the most talented players ever to compete in this league. He won the regular season MVP award and the MLS Cup MVP award, just the third time that's happened and first since Carlos Ruiz did it in 2002.

Each of his assists got better in quality on Sunday. First, he did well to steal a ball on the left flank and slipped a pass perfectly to Alejandro Moreno, who took advantage of poor defending to score the first goal. Then, after helping his team make adjustments at halftime, he went near post on a corner kick and Chad Marshall buried the shot in the back of the net.

But he saved his best for last, when he somehow found Frankie Hejduk inside the box.

There were dozens of Boca Juniors shirts at HDC on Sunday, and also one other former Boca Junior legend. Former xeneize coach Carlos Bianchi was around and Guille told reporters afterward that he felt with his former boss in attendance, he could not allow his team to lose.

Guille is a superstar, a breath of fresh air. He's as classy a player as we've seen come through MLS and the league is better with him in it than not. Here's hoping we get to see more of his talents in 2009.

Bang for your bucks

Here's a different look at the starting lineups and goals from Sunday's MLS Cup match.

Columbus Crew: $70,000; $175,000, $148,000, $69,147.71, $145,000; $126,250, $375,000, $57,500, $165,000; $33,000, $131,000.

New York: $12,900; $60,000, $12,900, $70,986.50, $77,750; $33,000, $17,700, $33,000, $274,583.33; $68,906.25, $1,593,750.

1 Crew - $131,000 ($375,000), 31st
2 NY - $68,906.25 ($33,000), 51st
3 Crew - $ 148,000 ($375,000), 53rd
4 Crew - $175,000 ($375,000, $165,000), 82nd

El Tri in Europe recap Nov. 22-23

Several of the European-based players rested this weekend after El Tri’s midweek match against Honduras.

La Liga

Omar Bravo (Deportivo La Coruña): Did not play in the 3-1 result versus Athletic Bilbao.

Andrés Guardado (Deportivo La Coruña): Played the entire match and scored late in the victory over the Basque outfit.

Rafael Márquez (Barcelona): Did not play in the 1-1 tie against Getafe.

Guillermo Luis Franco (Villarreal): Played the entire 90 minutes in the loss to Valladolid.

English Premiership

Carlos Vela (Arsenal): Entered in the 70th minute for Abou Diaby. Like the rest of the squad, he was a nonfactor in the 3-0 loss at the City of Manchester Stadium. His one shot in the 82nd minute was high and wide to the left.

German Bundesliga

Aarón Galindo (Eintracht Frankfurt): Did not play in the 4-0 shutout victory over Hannover 96.

Pavel Pardo (VfB Stuttgart): Did not play in the 4-1 loss at VfL Wolfsburg.

Ricardo Osorio (VfB Stuttgart): Did not play at Wolfsburg.

Dutch Eredivisie

Héctor Moreno (AZ): Moreno played the entire match as AZ vaulted back atop the Eredivisie table with a 2-0 over Ajax.

Carlos Salcido (PSV Eindhoven): Started but was subbed off in the 67th minute of the club’s 4-0 win over SC Heracles Almelo.

Francisco Javier Rodríguez (PSV Eindhoven): Played the entire match. He opened up the scoring with a goal from 25 yards out.

--Sean Grybos

Numbers game

Sunday was the fourth MLS Cup I've covered. I was at the 2005 one in Dallas, the 2004 one here and MLS Cup 98 at the Rose Bowl. It's hard to believe that 10 years have passed since I first attended MLS Cup. I was just starting out that year as the LA Galaxy's 1998 team (one of the best teams in MLS history) was my first pro beat.

Anyway, there were 51,350 people in attendance at the Rose Bowl that day. It was an astonishing number then and it's even more astonishing now. I wonder if Sunday's game had been played at the Rose Bowl if there would have been anywhere near that amount of people show up.

Maybe it was the fresh new smell the league had back in 1998. Many people were excited about the league back then, about the prospects of the future, just excited to have a professional league in the United States. Maybe it was the Galaxy's success as they appeared all but certain to host MLS Cup that year before the Fire knocked them out. I remember how the PA announcer called out the Galaxy's name for some reason and how the stadium immediately grew quite loud. Deafening even.

Perhaps it was a combination of both the excitement over the third-year league and the Galaxy.

Whatever the case, the excitement from 1998 I don't think was matched on Sunday, 10 years later. Maybe it's complacency. Maybe we've come to expect more of the same from MLS. The league does not have dynamic players now as it did back then, although it's getting back to how it was.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Liguilla Day Two

Santos-San Luis highlights are on the post below, and those are the only ones that feature a goal.

Tecos and Toluca tied nil-nil but Tecos could easily have had a few goals against Toluca.

El regreso de Cuauhtemoc

Cuauhtemoc Blanco went the distance for Santos and helped the club open defense of their Mexican league title with a 3-1 thrashing of top-ranked San Luis on Sunday afternoon. Blanco did not score a goal but was involved in the first two Santos goals. He distracted defender Oscar Mascorro on a set piece and Mascorro scored an own goal. Then, Blanco made a fine pass to Daniel Luduena who finished off a counterattack.

Here are the highlights of the match:

Deserving winners

It's not often we see dominance from start to finish in Major League Soccer. In the league's early days, we saw some Supporters' Shield winners walk away with the league title - four of the first seven MLS Cup champions won MLS Cup - but not since the 2002 LA Galaxy have we seen the best team in the regular season win the league title.

Columbus was the best team this season. Sure, at times New England held that moniker. Chicago was also dominant at times. Houston was no slouch either. But in terms of consistency, effectiveness on defense, mastery on offense, there was no better team.

The postseason awards spoke to that. Sigi Schmid won Coach of the Year, Guillermo Barros Schelotto won Most Valuable Player, Chad Marshall won Defender of the Year and three Crew players (Barros Schelotto, Marshall and Robbie Rogers) were on the MLS Best XI.

The Crew carried that success over to the postseason and dispatched Kansas City, Chicago and New York with precision and effectiveness.

Where does this team rank among the all-time greats? Well, it's too early to have that discussion. But if and when it's time, the Crew will have plenty of ammo on their side as they'll try and stake their claim as a superior side that will be remembered for some time to come.

Marshall's winner

A fine goal by a fine player.

MLS Cup running blog

Welcome to Home Depot Center. It's time for MLS Cup. I tried to get on here earlier but it's been pretty much a madhouse here today, way more crazy than the usual regular-season zaniness that's found here.

Anyway, the stadium is very colorful today. We've got one corner full of yellow-and-black clad Columbus supporters and on the opposite side we have the MetroStars supporters. Yeah, I said MetroStars. Many of them have MetroStars jerseys although there are also quite a few Red Bulls shirts too.

All in all, there is a fairly large crowd both on the concourse and up here in the press box.

I'll be on here throughout the match. I just have the one story to write and since I have an early deadline I won't be hard-pressed to have a 500-word story set to go by the end of the match. Which means more time to blog about the onging action.

Here are the starting lineups:

Columbus: William Hesmer; Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall, Danny O'Rourke, Gino Padula; Eddie Gaven, Brian Carroll, Robbie Rogers, Guillermo Barros Schelotto; Brad Evans, Alejandro Moreno.

New York: Danny Cepero; Chris Leitch, Diego Jimenez, Carlos Mendes, Kevin Goldthwaite; Dane Richards, Luke Sassano, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Dave van den Bergh; John Wolyniec, Juan Pablo Angel.

1 - Okay, the game is finally underway. It's 12:50 and I figured it would have started at 1:00 so we're a little early I suppose. I got here at 10:20 and the morning flew by.

2 - Columbus trying to break through New York's defense early on, NY gets a counter but Angel is offside. Not sure if NY will play defensively and try and counter. We'll see if that's how the game shapes up.

4 - Chris Leitch gets a yellow for flattening Robbie Rogers near the left side. Barros Schelotto sends a cross in but Crew are offside. I believe it was Rogers who put the ball in the net but it didn't count.

5 - Van den Bergh wins a corner as Gino Padula knocks his cross out of bounds. Van Den Bergh's cross goes right to Hesmer.

10 - New York wins another corner This time it's Ubiparipovic with the cross and again Hesmer plucks it out of the air.

12 - John Wolyniec flattens Hejduk but does not get a card. I still can't believe that John Wolyniec is starting in the MLS Cup.

13 - New York nearly gets a clean look at goal. Van Den Bergh whips in a cross and Wolyniec nearly gets to the ball but it bounces away from him and Hesmer smothers it. Now, Wolyniec gets a shot off but skies it over the crossbar.

15 - Moreno goes down outside the box but doesn't get a call.

16 - Van Den Bergh is getting room on the left side and whips another cross into the box but neither Wolyniec nor Angel can get to it.

18 - Another corner kick for the Red Bulls. Van Den Bergh again takes it from the right corner and Goldthwaite flicks a header on goal but it goes just wide of the far post.

21 - New York knocking the ball around as Columbus can't get possession.

23 - Dane Richards gets loose inside the box but can't find anyone as his cross goes horribly wide. New York definitely has the better of possession and momentum in the early going.

24 - Padula goes down. Looks like he's in real pain, not feigning anything. Knee might be the issue.

27 - Eddie Gaven lines up a shot from 20 yards but it goes right to Cepero. The Crew get the ball back and Rogers tests out his fortune from the other side of the box but his shot goes right to the goalie again.

28 - And finally a Crew corner kick. The ball goes towards Marshall but doesnt get to him as Angel jumps and clears it. Then, Angel nearly has a breakaway but O'Rourke gets back and claers the ball out of danger.

29 - Richards gets past three defenders and swings a ball over to Angel who tries a left-footed volley but sends it well over the crossbar.

31 - GOAL!!! Cash in your ticket if you had Alejandro Moreno as scoring the first goal in the game. Guille sets him up as he takes a ball away from van den Bergh, lays it softly to Moreno who races down the right side of the field. Moreno turns "Tepa" Jimenez around and fires a slow-rolling ball on goal that gets past Cepero and trickles over the goal line.

34 - Moreno had 5/1 odds of scoring the first goal, not a bad payoff I suppose.

35 - Another Crew corner. Guille sends it in and nearly puts one past Cepero but the rookie punches it away.

40 - Angel can't get loose inside the box but wins another corner, I think their fifth of the game. Maybe 4. Hesmer punches it away though. No harm done.

41 - Van den Bergh lines one up from 25 yards but it goes over the crossbar.

43 - Hejduk goes down, his second flop of the match on the right side of the field.

44 - Guille steals one from Jimenez and draws a foul. It's a dangerous spot as he's well down the right side of the field. He knocks it in but right to Cepero.

45 - Two minutes of stoppage time.

HALFTIME, Columbus 1, New York 0.

So far, it's been pretty even and, in fact, the Red Bulls may have even had the better of play. Still, it's Columbus who has the lead. Not the prettiest goal but they don't care. They are 45 minutes away from their first MLS Cup title.

50 - Okay, second half is underway. Yay. Sorry, I was busy typing something. Not much has happened and there werent' any subs.

51 - GOAL!!! It's Wolyniec who gets the equalizer! Dane Richards went past Padula inside the box and slipped a ball to Wolyniec who somehow got a ball to it in the middle of traffic and poked it into the back of the net.

52 - I can't believe Wolyniec started an MLS Cup, and I really can't believe he scored a goal in an MLS Cup.

53 - GOAL!!!! Chad Marshall!!!! Score one for the hometown hero!! Off a corner kick, Marshall races in there and buries a shot in the back of the net. Golazo!

54 - Much of the Marshall clan is out here in support of their son brother, nephew, friend. I ran into an aunt and uncle of his before the game and had wanted to meet up with his parents but I never did. I can imagine how happy they are right now, along with the entire southwest corner of the stadium.

57 - New York on a counter. Dane Richards races down the right side but his ball into the box goes to Hesmer, who collects it as Wolyniec whizzes past.

59 - If you took Marshall to score the game winning goal, you're sitting on a 30-to-1 winner! Plus, he's at 25-to-1 to win MVP so that double stands to pay off quite a bit if the score holds and Marshall wins MVP. A bit of nothing of course as those were my odds, just for kicks.

65 - Not much has gone on the past few minutes. Though the Red Bulls just won a free kick from about 35 yards out. Juan Pablo Angel's on it.

66 - Angel sends his shot very high, almost to the stadium club.

68 - Moreno nearly gets past Jimenez again but can't. Now ball over to Hejduk and he crosses but Cepero gets to it. Richards breaks down on a counter and gets past Padula, who takes out Richards from behind and earns a yellow. Lucky he didn't get a red.

71 - Columbus is 19 minutes away from winning MLS Cup!

75 - Columbus is doing well to keep possession. They're not sitting back quite yet and have had the better of the possession for most of the second half.

77 - Guille!! He nearly scores a grand goal as he rattles a shot off the crossbar from 25 yards out.

82 - GOAL!!! Frankie Hejduk!! Guille sets him up with a wonderful chip over the defense and Frankie runs under it, heads it over Cepero's head and across the goal line. What a play.

90 - It's all but over. The Crew will win their first MLS Cup title and Barros Schelotto will surely win the MVP. Columbus absolutely deserved this championship. From start to finish, they were a strong team this season. Their win was a product of itely finishing, strong defending and set piece mastery. New York put up a good fight and can walk away with their heads held high. They just lost to a superb team.

FULL TIME: Columbus Crew 3, New York Red Bulls 1!!! Congratulations to the Crew!

Marshall goes for glory

It's not often we get a local presence in MLS Cup, and by local I mean Inland Southern California. Of course, there's Landon Donovan who is from Redlands and won three MLS Cup titles. Ante Razov (Fontana High grad) has played in a few. Orlando Perez (AB Miller) is another one, but I'm not sure of any others.

Chad Marshall will add his name to the list. A product of Rubidoux High, Marshall has been tremendous this season and deservedly won Defender of the Year. His presence on the backline, his ability in the air and his growing leadership skills are all areas in which he made great strides.

It's a wonder he's not part of the US national team picture. Now, had Columbus not reached the final I'm almost certain Bob Bradley would have called him up for the Guatemala match. But Marshall still has barely played for the US despite a solid 2004 rookie campaign and good seasons in '05 and '06. Concussions set him back a year ago but he's been a pillar of strength from the start of this season and hasn't gotten a whiff.

The United States' loss is Columbus' gain. Here's my profile of Chad Marshall for The Press-Enterprise.

What you should be watching (11/23)

Three important playoff games today in two countries:

- MLS Cup 2008: Columbus vs. New York; 12:30 pm ABC
- Mexican league playoffs: Tecos vs Toluca, 2 pm Azteca America
- Mexican league playoffs: Santos vs San Luis, 4 pm Azteca America

The MLS Cup should be interesting as upstart and huge underdog New York will try to knock off the best team in MLS in the Columbus Crew. New York has only allowed one goal in the playoffs while Columbus has been impressive in picking apart Kansas City and overcoming a defecit against Chicago.

Meanwhile, the second playoff game pits an American against a fellow American as Edgar Castillo's Santos side hosts Michael Orozco's San Luis team. San Luis finished with the best record in the regular season but Santos won the title and will be out to try and defend that. And, of course, Santos now have Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mexican Liguilla, Day 1

I had wanted to do a preview of the Mexican league playoffs but with other duties getting in the way, I wasn't able to do the types of previews I wanted to.

Anyway, the Mexican playoffs, or Liguilla, got underway on Saturday with a pair of low-scoring games.

Cruz Azul and Pumas, the most attractive matchup in the playoffs, failed to score a goal and tied 0-0 in Cruz Azul's home leg. Now, Cruz Azul needs to win at Pumas next weekend in order to advance. A draw benefits Pumas as the tiebreaker is regular-season record, and Pumas finished with the better regular season record.

Meanwhile, Atlante and Tigres also did not produce a winner. Tigres took an early lead as Hugo Sanchez Guerrero scored in the seventh minute but after a Tigres red card in the 62nd minute Atlante were able to get the equalizer and the match finished 1-1. Like Cruz Azul, Tigres need a win in Cancun in order to advance.

I'll post video clips if and when they become available.

ADD: They became available.

First up is Tigres' early strike. Hugo Sanchez Guerrero knocked a ball in off a center.

Then, not sure what Tigres were doing pushing forward but they got killed on a counterattack as Luis Gabriel Rey finished off the effort with about 20 minutes left.

2008 MLS Best XI

The league has announced their Best XI and I don't know if it could have been any more predictable.

G: Jon Busch
D: Jimmy Conrad
D: Chad Marshall
D: Bakary Soumare
M: Robbie Rogers
M: Guillermo Barros Schelotto
M: Cuauhtemoc Blanco
M: Shalrie Joseph
M: Sacha Kljestan
F: Kenny Cooper
F: Landon Donovan

Cooper also won Comeback Player of the Year.

Confederations Cup draw

Remember Benny Feilhaber's goal against Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup final?

Well, it was that strike that led to the United States' participation in the 2009 Confederations Cup.

And here is how the groups look:

Group A
1. South Africa
2. Iraq
3. New Zealand
4. Spain

Group B
1. United States
2. Italy
3. Brazil
4. Egypt

The US will have an extremely tough go at it. The U.S. gets Italy, Brazil and Egypt. The US and New Zealand were the last two balls in their pot and with Group A featuring South Africa, Iraq and Spain, the US missed out on the chance to join that group and will instead play the last two World Cup champions.

June 14 - US vs Italy
June 17 - US vs Brazil
June 20 - US vs Egypt

The draw

The draw for the 2009 Hexagonal was held. Although I will have the full schedule later today or at some point, here is how the road looks for the United States and Mexico.

United States

Feb 11: Mexico at US
Mar 28: US at El Salvador
Apr 1: Trinidad at US
Jun 3: US at Costa Rica
Jun 6: Honduras at US
Aug 12: US at Mexico
Sep 5: El Salvador at US
Sep 9: US at Trinidad
Oct 10: Costa Rica at US
Oct: 14 US at Honduras

Initial thoughts: You knew that the US-Mexico game would be one of the first two dates. That was a given. To have Mexico at home to kick things off is a plus; that the game is in February is an added bonus. As they did in 2001 when US-Mexico opened the 2001 Hex, the US will likely search for a cold-weather venue to maximize their home field advantage. Locations have not been announced but a third consecutive meeting in Columbus would seem likely.

The US can't leave anything for chance. If the US needs points entering the last match, things will get extremely complicated. Perhaps one disadvantage for the US is that the team does not host consecutive home matches. Still, three of their first five are at home and the US could have three home wins plus a road win (at El Salvador) entering the second part of the cycle, which kicks off in Mexico on Aug 12.


Feb 11: Mexico at US
Mar 28: Costa Rica at Mexico
Apr 1: Mexico at Honduras
Jun 6: Mexico at El Salvador
Jun 10: Trinidad at Mexico
Aug 12: US at Mexico
Sep 5: Mexico at Costa Rica
Sep 9: Honduras at Mexico
Oct 10: El Salvador at Mexico
Oct: 14: Mexico at Trinidad

Initial thoughts: If Mexico's nightmare semifinal round carries over into the Hex, El Tri is in trouble. Already Mexico face long odds in having to open at the US. Mexico then must host Costa Rica, the only team that has beaten Mexico in Azteca in a World Cup qualifier in recent decades. Then, Mexico must travel to Honduras a few days later.

Mexico will get to host two consecutive home games late in the Hex (Honduras, El Salvador) before closing out at Trinidad. If Mexico should falter early, El Tri would still have those home fixtures from which to possibly pull points out of. But the key for Mexico will be a strong start.

Here's the full CONCACAF slate.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Changes afoot

MLS announced several changes for the 2009 season. I haven't yet decided if I like all of them or not.

- The Reserve Division is no more. The funds will be diverted from the Reserve squad to help solidify the senior roster as well as the Generation Adidas program. Roster size will decrease to 24 and teams may have up to 20 senior roster players.

- Opening day will be March 21, 2009, a change that will help clear some space in the calendar so as not to conflict with United States World Cup qualifying matches.

- There will be eight Western Conference teams and seven Eastern teams, with expansion Seattle taking up the eighth spot in the West.

- Top two teams in each conference get into the playoffs and will be joined by the next four teams with the highest points, regardless of conference. In other words, it will revert back to the 2007 format.

- MLS teams will not be allowed to participate in both the CONCACAF Champions League and SuperLiga; it's one or the other... or neither for the mediocre to bad teams.

- 2009 CONCACAF Champions League participants: Columbus, New York, Houston, DC United.

- 2009 SuperLiga participants: Chicago, New England, Chivas USA, Kansas City.

There you go. My initial thoughts: I like the either/or for international competitions. This not only gives more clubs more international exposure, it alleviates the clogged schedule four MLS teams had in 2008.

The one change I was foolishly hoping would happen did not. The playoffs will remain with two legs in the first round and one-off games the rest of the way. Of course, that was not going to happen. But I am glad to see that Western teams will have to earn their way into the playoffs and not by beating up on the expansion Sounders.

Confidence is slipping

Guess who is taking the blame for Mexico's recent form?

Sven Goran Eriksson. Big surprise there, I'm sure. Something is wrong with Mexico and it must be the coach's fault, right?

That's apparently the overwhelming sentiment amongst Tri fans. Cancha did a survey and found that 60 percent of the people they polled wanted Eriksson out, 64 percent said they were embarrassed with how Mexico qualified to the Hexagonal and 72 percent were not sure if Mexico would play well in the Hex.

Furthermore, 29 percent said they felt Mexico would not qualify for the World Cup. Cancha asked the same question in August and September and on both occasions only seven percent felt Mexico would not qualify.

Deja vu

Just like they did in 2008, the United States will open next year's calendar with a match against Sweden at Home Depot Center.

The US announced their first fixture of 2009 - vs Sweden in Carson on Jan. 24.

Maybe by then it will be cold here in SoCal. Its hot as shit here today, definitely shorts and sandals weather.

Hesmer speaks on Guille, Cup

I made it out to the very end of the Columbus Crew's training session on Thursday. I needed to talk to Chad Marshall and was able to chat with him (I'll post that audio later). Afterward I had the chance to jump in on an interview with William Hesmer. The other reporter started and asked him several questions and I got to ask Hesmer about the 2008 Defender of the Year.

The first part of the interview, though, Hesmer talks about Guilermo Barros Schelotto. Hesmer was glowing in his praise for the league's Most Valuable Player. Here's audio of the interview.

I've transcribed the first portion of it.

"For a guy who has accomplished as much as he had in his career, the status he has as an individual, you see a lot of guys who would come into this league who have maybe a little bit of an attitude or maybe a little bit of "Oh... I might take it a little bit easier today." But that's the exact opposite from Guillermo. He is hungry. He wants championship after championship. Every day at practice he's demanding. He wants to see the best of the team. He is demanding of others and himself. I think that's really taken us to the next level."

Then, the reporter asked him how important winning MVP was to Guille.

"I don't think being MVP means anything to him, honestly."

The Landon fallout

When I talked to Landon Donovan after the season ended about the possibility of going to Europe, I specifically asked him if he thought he had something to prove and if that was a reason behind his desire to go try his luck in the Old World again.

He said no, flat out, he didn't need to prove himself to anyone.

I'm not sure it's that straightforward, though. Landon is a polarizing figure, which is perplexing. He's the best American soccer player ever. I don't think you.... no, I know you can't argue that. His accolades and statistics and accomplishments speak for themselves. But I would venture to guess that he isn't, I don't know, in the top three of most popular American soccer players. Tough to say. He may be, although Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore have huge followings as well.

But that may be the difference right there. Dempsey and Howard long ago left MLS for good, haven't returned and haven't mentioned a desire to return. Altidore's popularity is fueled by his potential; that he's now on a Spanish club team has only fed into that.

Donovan's time in Europe didn't work out. He came here to MLS, tore it up and many wondered why he couldn't do the same in Europe, where it supposedly really counts.

So now Donovan is back on his way. And he needs to prove himself. Now, here's where the thoughts may differ. Paul Oberjuerge wrote a piece on his blog about Landon's return to Europe and how he feels it's fueled precisely by the constant insults and jeers he gets from the same American soccer fans who massively cheered his goals in the 2002 World Cup, the same American soccer fans who would plug him into their preferred U.S. lineup, the same American soccer fans who have cheered after scoring each of his record 37 U.S. goals, and yes the same fans who were disappointed in his performance in the 2006 World Cup.

I tend to think that Landon is tired of many things; the league, the Galaxy, maybe the relative routine his life has settled into, maybe the long MLS offseason, and the insults and jeers as well. But I do think he has to prove himself. I think he has to prove to himself that he can hack it, that he can succeed at the highest club level possible.

Anyway, check out Paul's post. He includes his dream scenario for this entire Donovan-to-Bayern situation.

El Tri in Europe: Nov. 22-23 preview

The Touchline correspondent Sean Grybos takes a look at Tricolor players in Europe ahead of this weekend's slate of games:

Deportivo La Coruña enters a crucial stretch in which the club must balance the demands of La Liga with those of the UEFA Cup. The club hosts Group H foe Feyenoord on November 27th and then plays away at Polish side Lech Poznan on December 4th. In La Liga, the club faces Athletic Bilbao, Almeria, and Málaga in its next three matches.

Is Deportivo going to make it through this stretch intact? The club lacks midfield depth. On Wednesday, several midfielders competed at the international level including Guardado. Up first for Deportivo is a home match against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. This week’s El Tri in Europe preview is found below.

La Liga

Omar Bravo (Deportivo La Coruña): Bravo has seen the bulk of his playing time in the UEFA Cup. Look for him to play next on Novemeber 27th when the club hosts Feyenoord. When will Omar Bravo have the breakout match that he is capable of? It will more than likely come in UEFA Cup action versus this weekend’s home match with Athletic Bilbao.

Andrés Guardado (Deportivo La Coruña): He played the entire match against Honduras. I would be surprised if he started, but coming on as a substitute against Bilbao is not out of the question.

Rafael Márquez (Barcelona): The defender also played the entire 90 minutes at the Francisco Morazan. Barcelona is at home against Getafe.

Guillermo Luis Franco (Villarreal): Franco was not on international duty and should factor into the match on Saturday against Valladolid.

English Premiership

Carlos Vela (Arsenal): Vela came on in the 57th minute for El Tri. He was sent off near the end of the match after an ill-timed tackle. If he sees the pitch this weekend against Manchester City, it will be as a substitute.

German Bundesliga

Aarón Galindo (Eintracht Frankfurt): Galindo also played the entire match versus Los Catrachos. Precariously near the drop zone, Frankfurt should look to have Galindo in the lineup at home against Hannover 96. Three points is a must.

Pavel Pardo (VfB Stuttgart): As with the majority of this list, the midfielder competed against Honduras. He should play this weekend along with his fellow El Tri teammate this weekend as the club travels to VfL Wolfsburg. Stuttgart also plays Sampdoria next week in UEFA cup action.

Ricardo Osorio (VfB Stuttgart): I am looking forward to how Osorio responds after his own goal on Wednesday. Is the defender going to rebound now that he has two tough matches against Wolfsburg and Sampdoria in the next seven days?

Dutch Eredivisie

Héctor Moreno (AZ): The club fell back to fourth place after last weekend’s draw with Vitesse Arnhem. He was an unused sub in Honduras and should be ready to compete on Sunday against Dutch leader Ajax.

Carlos Salcido (PSV Eindhoven): The club looks to rebound after last weekend’s embarrassing 4-1 defeat against Ajax. PSV sits sixth in the table and need to take three points at home against SC Heracles Almelo. Salcido is needed but after competing against Honduras and traveling back to Holland, will he factor? The club’s next UEFA Champions League match at Atlético Madrid looms on Wednesday.

Francisco Javier Rodríguez (PSV Eindhoven): As an observation reader at The Touchline noted, PSV has recently failed when both Salcido and Maza are in the lineup. While Salcido may rest this weekend in preparation for the match in Madrid, Rodríguez should play against SC Heracles Almelo.

--Sean Grybos

MLS Cup - the odds

Although I don't make it out to Las Vegas nearly enough, nor do I have an account with an online gambling site, I like to follow the betting odds. I've always been intrigued by the line and even if I don't have anything riding on them I keep tabs on the favorites and underdogs in any given sport during the year, though most of my attention is with American football.

Soccer and in particular MLS, of course, doesn't get the publicity many of us want it to get here in the United States, and that is also true in the gambling world. I've been to Vegas sports books and have been able to bet on the weekend's English Premiership matches or lay money on World Cup futures but haven't seen MLS games there.

I scoured the web and was able to find a couple of places to bet on the game, with Tijuana-based Caliente. Columbus is a slight favorite and the over-under is at 2.5 (I'd have to take the over). Another sites that has the match is, which also has lines on the Mexican league playoffs as well as all the top European leagues. Then there is the site I contribute to, where all season long I've written match previews with predictions.

Now, typically American sports leagues' playoff games and especially the championship final(s) carry with them all sorts of different crazy bets: who is going to score the first goal/run/points? what will the combined number of hits/points/touchdowns/fumbles/etc. be in the first half? which player(s) will have more combined hits/runs/yardage/three-pointers/etc. in the game?

I couldn't find any such bets for the MLS Cup. So I figured I'd make some here, just for kicks. If you want, you can send me money for bets but the house wins all bets regardless so you probably won't get anything in return.

Who will score the game-winning goal in MLS Cup 2008?

Robbie Rogers, Crew - 5/1
Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Crew - 8/1
Alejandro Moreno, Crew - 12/1
Eddie Gaven - 15/1
Brad Evans, Crew - 18/1
Chad Marshall, Crew - 30/1
Steven Lenhart - 40/1
Pat Noonan - 50/1
Jason Garey - 60/1
Field - 100/1

Juan Pablo Angel, NY - 6/1
Dave van den Bergh, NY - 10/1
Dane Richards, NY - 15/1
John Wolyniec, NY - 25/1
Mike Magee, NY - 50/1
Macoumba Kandji, NY - 75/1
Field - 100/1

Who will score the first goal in MLS Cup 2008?

Robbie Rogers, Crew - 3/1
Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Crew - 5/1
Alejandro Moreno, Crew - 5/1
Eddie Gaven - 8/1
Chad Marshall, Crew - 20/1
Brad Evans, Crew - 40/1
Steven Lenhart, Crew - 60/1
Pat Noonan, Crew - 60/1
Jason Garey, Crew - 70/1
Field - 100/1

Juan Pablo Angel, NY - 2/1
Dave van den Bergh, NY - 5/1
Dane Richards, NY - 7/1
John Wolyniec, NY - 18/1
Kevin Goldthwaite, NY 40-1
Field - 100/1

Over-under goals for the first half


Over-under cards for game


Over-under set-piece goals


Who will be named MLS Cup Most Valuable Player?
Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Crew 5/1
William Hesmer, Crew 8/1
Robbie Rogers, Crew 10/1
Eddie Gaven, Crew 12/1
Alejandro Moreno, Crew 15/1
Frankie Hejduk, Crew 20/1
Chad Marshall, Crew 25/1
Field, Crew 75/1

Juan Pablo Angel, NY 6/1
Dane Richards, NY 10/1
Danny Cepero, NY 15/1
Dave van den Bergh, NY 18/1
Juan Piatravallo, NY 40/1
John Wolyniec, NY 40/1
Kevin Goldthwaite, NY 50/1
Mike Magee, NY 75/1
Field, NY 100/1

Will there be extra-time?

Yes + 140
No -130

Will there be penalties?

Yes + 160
No - 110

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Christmas in November

I have to admit, in the world of soccer nothing excites me more than the World Cup. I love the World Cup. It's far and away my favorite sporting event, tournament, whatever.

Part of the World Cup, of course, is World Cup qualifying. And if there is something I like as much as the World Cup itself, it's World Cup qualifying. It's a long and arduous process and the teams that get in put a lot of time, effort and work into the campaign.

In our corner of the soccer world, we have nearly reached the final round. All the participants are in and the dates are set. The only thing that awaits is the draw itself to pair team versus team and fill out the calendar.

We'll find out the draw on Saturday. And we won't have to wait around too long either. The draw will be held at 3 am PT, which I believe is in the middle of the day in South Africa. It will be coupled with the draw for the Confederations Cup - an added bonus for US fans at no additional charge.

I'm debating whether or not I should set my alarm and get up to follow the draw. I may just get up at my usual time of 4:45 - for some reason, my body is programmed to wake up at 4:45 every morning, which pretty much blows.

The matches I'm most looking forward to:

- US at Mexico. In this region, it really doesn't get better than this. I made a promise to myself in 2005 that I'd go to this game, and so far I intend to keep my promise. I figure I don't have any concrete plans for 2009 so I'll just plan my year around this game. I'm hoping it's on March 28 as it was in 2005 (well, last weekend in March anyway).
- Mexico at Honduras. A re-match of Wednesday's game. I can't imagine Mexico will have forgotten everything that transpired during the trip, from the jeers and insults in the airport to the own goal and red cards and the loss of the game itself.
- US at Costa Rica. The US has never won in Costa Rica, never even come close. We'll see if the Ticos can handle the Americans yet again down in the horror known as Estadio Saprissa. I'm thinking this one will be one of the June games.
- US at Trinidad. If there was one game I could go to, it would be US-Mexico. But if there was another game I'd like to attend, it's this one. The game might be good but Trinidad is a beautiful country and I'd love a return visit. This one kicked it off last time around so I wouldn't expect it to happen soon again. I'm guessing sometime in September.
- El Salvador at US. Okay, I'm thinking that if the HDC plays host to one game, it's this one. Yeah, I know I'm dreaming but I'd like to see a Hexagonal match played out here in Casron. I'm thinking this one will be possibly April 1 or maybe late in the calendar, possibly October.

Barros Schelotto wins MVP

Guillermo Barros Schelotto was named the 2008 MLS Most Valuable Player as the Crew now have three individual award winners this year.

Barros Schelotto pieced together one of the finest individual campaigns in MLS history as he scored six goals and had 19 assists. Although the voting was tabulated before the season ended, Barros Schelotto is one of the main reasons why Columbus are in the MLS Cup final.

The breakdown of the voting is interesting. It was done in three parts - coaches/GMs; players; media. Schelotto had about a 2-1 edge in the coaches/GMs but the players were splite nearly evenly between Schelotto and Landon Donovan. The media, though, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Crew's superstar.

Barros Schelotto finished with 54.14 percent of the votes, Donovan behind him with 19.13 and Cuauhtemoc Blanco rounded out the field with a whopping 3.0 percent.

Here are the breakdown of the stats in percentage:

Guillermo Barros Schelotto: 53.13 coaches/GMs, 29.67 players, 79.63 media
Landon Donovan: 25.0 coaches/GMs, 26.83 players, 5.56 media
Cuauhtemoc Blanco: 0.0 coaches/GMs, 5.28 players, 3.70 media

Barros Schelotto won the MVP, Sigi Schmid won the Coach of the Year and Chad Marshall won Defender of the Year, which is a pretty good score for Columbus. Of course, an even better one for them would be a victory on Sunday.

Landon back to Germany

Three of the top figures in MLS are leaving the league on short loan spells. First, it was David Beckham going off to Italy and AC Milan. Then, it was Cuauhtemoc Blanco shipping off as Santos' hired gun in the Apertura 2008 playoffs (which begin Saturday). Now, it's Landon Donovan who will head over to Germany.

Donovan turned his 10-day trial with Bayern Munich into a two month loan, which I'd imagine would come with a chance at being sold to the Germany giants if he proves his worth. A full transfer would not be out of the question as Donovan has a huge supporter in Bayern coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who last week called Donovan the premier player in CONCACAF.

This may be the beginning of the end of Donovan's days in MLS, at least for the short term. He'd always have a home here in this league no matter how much time he spends in Europe. But now is when the timing is best and when his stock is the highest. The Galaxy and MLS stand to make quite a bit of cash if Donovan does prove his worth and Bayern does want to purchase him outright. Bayern, after all, isn't exactly hurting for funds.

It may seem a bit strange that Donovan would be so adamant about going over to Europe in a rather quick amount of time. Now, he did say before that he'd like to try his fate in Europe again but that seemed to be more a pat answer without much sentiment behind it. But his thoughts and emotions seemed to turn towards Europe at a fast rate during the 2008 season. Perhaps after Jurgen Klinsmann showed interest in Donovan over the summer, the thought became more concrete and he really started to think seriously about it. Or maybe he really did mean what he said all along.

I have my guesses as do other reporters but nobody outside of Donovan's inner circle really knows what makes him tick, what motivates him. And as far as reporters go, there's only one reporter who came close to breaking into that inner circle, well, as much as a scribe can really break into it I suppose. My former editor Paul Oberjuerge knows Donovan the best. I don't care who else has covered Donovan or who else he's talked to over the years, Paul O has everyone beat. Problem is, Paul wasn't covering soccer regularly or even semi-regularly this year. Then he was a victim of a layoff. Now, he's living in Hong Kong. Crazy story, I know.

Anyway, Paul has quite an insightful post on Landon Donovan on his blog and I think anyone who is a fan of Landon, the Galaxy or the US national team should read it.

As far as the move goes, I think it's a positive move. I hope Donovan goes over to Germany and stays there. It goes without saying that Bayern and the Bundesliga is a top-notch environment for him and I think he can still improve both personally and professionally. And I respect his decision to continue to try and test himself.

Do I think it will happen? Actually, if I had to make a bet right now, I'd say he does not come back to MLS. If you heard the audio of our six-minute chat, you can hear his desire to move on in his voice. He seems disgruntled with MLS as a whole and I think he would welcome a chance to move abroad.

Fears abound

Cancha's cover today. The headline reads "I'm frightened, I'm frightened, I'm very frightened"

Subhead: "With a painful performance and loss, Mexico barely gets through to the Hexagonal on goal differential; if Eriksson's Tri continues this way, the next phase will be dreadful."

At a glance: 2009 Hexagonal

The semifinal round is finally over and now we've narrowed the field down from 12 to six. The Hexagonal, CONCACAF's final World Cup qualifying round, is set and now each respective nation can focus on their opponents as 2009 starts to come into view.

The final piece of the puzzle will be revealed on Saturday as the Hexagonal draw will be held. But the field is complete, and here's a quick and early breakdown of the field of six.


Update: Semifinal record - 5-1-0, 14 gf, 3 ga, 15 pts. The United States breezed through qualifying, claiming a spot after four wins in four games. Had the U.S. taken its full squad to Trinidad, the Americans likely would have been a clean six-for-six. At home, the U.S. was nearly perfect, allowing only one goal in three home games.
Outlook: The U.S. won all five of its home games in the 2005 Hexagonal and won four of five in 2001. It seems difficult to imagine a scenario in which the U.S. would lose a home game next year. With 15 points from home games, the U.S. would likely need one win and a result or two more from its five road games - which the U.S. could do without trying too hard.


Update: Semifinal record - 3-1-2, 9 gf, 6 ga, 11 pts. Trinidad nearly blew its qualification when it failed to put away Guatemala in Port-of-Spain on the second matchday. Trinidad took a late 1-0 lead but squandered it away and tied 1-1. However, Trinidad recoverd nicely by pulling out a draw from Guatemala City. The win over the U.S. was their clutch victory and will serve as motivation next year.
Outlook: Trinidad finished fourth in 2005 and with the experience of the World Cup should enter this Hex in much better shape than four years ago. What will determine Trinidad's fate will be their play at home. Port-of-Spain is hardly a palace for the Trinis but it needs to be as their road form has traditionally been poor. If Trinidad leaves it for chance on the road, a repeat appearance in the World Cup will be out of the question.


Semifinal record - 4-2-0, 9 gf, 5 ga, 12 pts: Honduras went through on a convincing 1-0 win over Mexico, a fitting end to an all-around strong effort by a strong CONCACAF nation. With a spotless record in San Pedro Sula, Honduras went through in first place of Group 2. Honduras was also strong on the road and actually held a late 1-0 lead in Estadio Azteca before allowing a pair of goals in a 2-1 loss to Mexico.
Outlook: As is seemingly always the case, Honduras is a darkhorse to advance to the World Cup. Flashes of brilliance coupled with some quality players gives Honduran fans reason to hope but prior history suggests said fans should also prepare for heartache and disappointment. Honduras was in position to qualify for the 2002 World Cup but failed to beat an already-eliminated Trinidad side at home and eventually bowed out of the Hexagonal quietly. In 2009, Honduras promises to be the most unknown side and could finish anywhere from second to sixth when all is said and done.


Update: Semifinal record - 3-2-1, 9 gf, 6 ga, 10 pts: More was expected from Mexico. Their giant status subsided long ago but now they struggle to justify being a strong team. Mexico won three home games but only one was a convincing victory. Had Mexico not come from behind in Edmonton to rescue a point from their game against Canada, El Tri may very well have been knocked out of World Cup qualifying.
Outlook: Something's amiss with Mexico. Coaching is not the problem. Lack of starpower is. Even though he's old and slow, this team is screaming for Cuauhtemoc Blanco to come back and save the day once more. Blanco has done well to maintain a high level of play in MLS and his prior accomplishments speak for themselves. Blanco would be a welcomed addition to El Tri. Still, Blanco or not this team has issues. And the top two nations entering the Hex will be the US and Costa Rica.


Update: Semifinal record - 6-0-0, 20 gf, 3 ga, 18 pts. Once Costa Rica was drawn with three relative lightweights, Tico eyes grew large. After the semifinal phase, the Costa Ricans did not disappoint. Costa Rica did what needed to be done and beat teams they needed to beat. Costa Rica dominated their group and scored 20 goals in six games.
Outlook: Costa Rica has advanced to the previous two World Cup finals with several strong performances. The Ticos have gone through without having beaten Mexico in Costa Rica or the United States on American soil. Costa Rica needs to show more consistency at home but that's nitpicking. Costa Rica need only live up to their billing in order to succeed in the Hex.


Semifinal record - 3-2-1, 11 gf, 4 ga, 10 pts. The single-greatest beneficiary of the draw, El Salvador did not beat Costa Rica but went 3-0-1 in their other four games. That the other teams were weaklings Haiti and Suriname mattered little to El Salvador. The Central American nation has not reached this stage since 1997.
Outlook: Likely most pundits' choice to finish sixth out of six, El Salvador faces long odds of finishing among the top three. All five other teams will circle their home dates against El Salvador and count those as expected victories and it will be up to los Cuzcatlecos to show otherwise.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blanco back to Mexico

Cuauthemoc Blanco will play for a title after all. Blanco will join Santos Laguna on loan for the upcoming Apertura 2008 season, multiple Mexican publications reported late Wednesday.

According to reports, Blanco will join Santos effective immediately.

"It's a done deal," Reuters quoted Santos president Alejandro Irarragorri as saying. "He's a warrior with all of his soul and he will come help our club. We are very satisfied that we were able to reach this deal. Everything is in place for Cuauhtemoc to join us and once again be a champion."

Didn't see that one coming. Just one week ago the Fire were preparing for the Eastern Conference final and now they loaned out their top player and biggest draw to Santos right in time for the Mexican league playoffs. Of course, Blanco is fit and won't need much time to get acclimated to his new team. But for the Fire to loan Blanco out so quickly after their season was complete might be a bit troubling. Why risk the chance of injury? Santos probably paid a hefty sum of cash in order to acquire Blanco's services in the short term but would money be worth it if Blanco gets hurt?

For Blanco, the move is positive. Had he not done this, he would have had inactivity from now until February, and for a player at his age such a long rest is probably not beneficial. The need to play in competitive matches played at a high level grows stronger and what better way to fill the need than to join a team on the eve of the postseason?

Anyway, the story just broke earlier Wednesday so expect to see more of the details falling out in the coming days.

Youth comes through

The United States did not need to win Wednesday's game against Guatemala to advance to the Hexagonal - four wins in their first four games helped keep the final game little more than a tune-up.

But several young players needed to perform, and that's exactly what happened on Colorado. Kenny Cooper and Freddy Adu scored second-half goals and the U.S. beat Guatemala 2-0 to close out their qualifying campaign with a 5-1-0 record.

Now, Cooper isn't exactly young - at least not compared to Adu - but he showed why he belongs on the United States. Cooper made a perfect run on a well-placed cross from fellow striker Jozy Altidore and did well to finish his opportunity.

Later in the second half, Adu knocked a well-struck free kick into the back of the net to seal the victory.

Adu and Cooper are both fan favorites, both whom many expectations have had placed on them. Warranted or not, the two players have a lot to live up to and anything short of goals and consistent play will likely be considered failure.

For Cooper, though, all he needs is an opportunity. Despite scoring 18 goals in league, Cooper had not played in any World Cup qualifiers and was always the most bizarre omission whenever the national team roster came out. Cooper's supporters (of which I am one) must now keep from saying "I told you so" and need to hope Wednesday's performance was strong enough to allow for future call-ups.

Adu, meanwhile, showed why he can be so dangerous. His passing skills are an asset for sure but often Adu overdribbles and does not utilize his teammates to his best ability. But while that part of his game will continue to develop, his set piece ability is extraordinary. Wednesday's goal was no bit of luck as Adu did exactly what he intended to.

Adu and Cooper each have a long way go but the two gave hope for the future of the United States, hope that if nothing else the depth will increase substantially entering 2009. With 10 World Cup qualifying games and participation in the Confederations Cup, the U.S. will likely need every last bit of depth in a busy and important year.

Mexico-Honduras highlights

One thing that does not bode well for Mexico is their ability to completely fall apart at the seams. When all hope was lost at the end of Wednesday's game, Mexico unraveled. First, Gerardo Torrado was sent off for a challenge from behind. Then, and perhaps more surprisingly, Carlos Vela was sent off for a tackle from behind. Vela is supposed to be a polished European-based talent but he's apparently not immune to cheap shots.

Anyway, here are the highlights. First the goal, then the parade of rough challenges from Mexico.


Mexico lost to Honduras 1-0 on Wednesday night in San Pedro Sula in a result that sent both teams through to next year's Hexagonal. Jamaica beat Canada 3-0 but fell short of advancing on goal differential.

Honduras, though, was the only team to actually earn their ticket on Wednesday. Mexico closed out a horrid three-game road stretch that saw them pick up just one of a possible nine points. However, the one point was enough to get Mexico through.

Final group standings:
1. Honduras 4-2-0, 12 points, plus-four
2. Mexico 3-2-1, 10 points, plus-three
3. Jamaica 3-2-1, 10 points, even
4. Canada 0-4-2, 2 points, minus-seven

In the end, Mexico went through on goal differential.

The dust won't settle for weeks if not months on Mexico's current state. A team that fancies itself a World Cup quarterfinalist has struggled to get past the semifinal round, a phase that should be merely a stepping stone for the Hexagonal.

The problem, though, is not with the coaching staff. Sven-Goran Eriksson may very well be in the hot seat but a coaching change would be the worst thing Mexico could do right now. Since Ricardo Lavolpe was not brought back following the 2006 World Cup, El Tri went through Hugo Sanchez in a matter of 18 months, as he went from the sure-fire, number one choice to the problems behind Mexico's ills. To blame this horrid performance on another coach would be misguided blame once again.

Mexico is clearly not the same team as it has been in the past. Whether it's the field that has all but leveled out in CONCACAF or Mexico's lack of a true superstar or the mentality or whatever, something is amiss with El Tri.

The Hexagonal field is set, and at this point, based on how each team played in the semifinal round, Mexico is not a sure thing to advance.

Costa Rica
El Salvador
Trinidad & Tobago
United States

The way Mexico played on Wednesday, games in the US and Costa Rica would be sure losses while Trinidad would also stand a good chance to win. Only El Salvador would be hard pressed to beat El Tri.