Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Grateful for soccer

I suppose this could have been a Thanksgiving column, sort of what I'm thankful for about soccer. But I took the opportunity at the end of this year to look back not on just 2008 but a lot further back than that. I kind of gave reasons for what I'm grateful for in soccer here on my weekly PE Column.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Annual US camp roster

Here is the list of players US coach Bob Bradley called up for the US camp that kicks off here at HDC next week.

I will have more thoughts later since I'm away from my computer but for now here is the list of players.

GOALKEEPERS: Jon Busch (Chicago Fire), Will Hesmer (Columbus Crew), Troy Perkins (Valerenga IF), Matt Pickens (out of contract)

DEFENDERS: Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Danny Califf (FC Midtjylland), Sean Franklin (Los Angeles Galaxy), Cory Gibbs (Colorado Rapids), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew), Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

MIDFIELDERS: Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Brian Carroll (Columbus Crew), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Jack Jewsbury (Kansas City Wizards), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), John Thorrington (Chicago Fire)

FORWARDS: Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire)

Another look back

I suppose I should jump on the year-in-review bandwagon. It is the end of 2008 after all and lots of things went on in and around the area. From the memorable America-Cruz Azul InterLiga finale to MLS Cup '08, Home Depot Center was site of countless memorable moments.

I guess in general I just don't have the energy to go back month by month, game by game, and figure out what moments were the top ones in the area. But I'm glad someone else does. Nick Green of the Daily Breeze took a look back at what he felt were the top five moments for his readers.

Now, I'd agree with three of them. I'd probably replace Shannon Boxx and Joe Flanagan with Chad Marshall and Maurice Edu but that's because those guys are local to my area and had memorable years of their own.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Landin to Cruz Azul

Luis Angel Landin will stay in Mexico after all.

Despite interest from Houston, Landin moved from Morelia to Cruz Azul and will stay in the Mexican First Division. Houston, who lost both Nate Jaqua (expansion draft) and Dwayne De Rosario (trade) this offseason, were looking to fill their offensive shortcomings with Landin, a once-hot prospect who has been rather lukewarm at best during his career in Mexico.

Earlier today, a report in Mural criticized Landin and his father, who doubles as his agent. Landin had reportedly been pursued by European clubs, clubs from Russia, Belgium and Turkey. But the report questioned whether the interest was real, a stretch of the imagination or just plain lies from his agent/father. The report also said Landin's ego is large and if he were as good as he thought he was, Morelia would have used him more often.

In other words, Houston doesn't miss out on anything. Cruz Azul now will try and extract something from Landin. Good luck.

New kid in town

He's not exactly new in town but Panchito Mendoza has only been training with Chivas de Guadalajara for about a week but already he's seen some game action and lived through some moments that had long been dreams of his.

Mural featured Mendoza in a story that ran this morning and here's some of the highlights:

On his ability to play in the Mexican First Division, Panchito responded: "I feel like I am a player who is ready and mature and the only thing now is to have a chance to prove it. But I've always had that in my mind and in my thoughts. A professional player should always challenge himself."

Mendoza is from nearby El Salto, Jalisco, and he got his professional start with Chivas back when Mendoza was in his early teens. A move to Chivas USA in 2005 would ultimately lead to success, a new kind of success for Mexicans in MLS. Mexican soccer players in general have had varied levels of production in the league but Mendoza's is unique as he has only played for an MLS team.

"Just the fact that they've invited me to train with them makes me proud and that motivates me. It's just another challenge in my life that I have to take seriously. Hopefully things work out, either here with Guadalajara or in MLS."

Of all his compatriots, Mendoza is the one who has seen the most game time in Major League Soccer. This will be his fifth year as a professional soccer player no matter where he lines up. But he got some chills before entering Saturday's friendly against Necaxa in Estadio Jalisco.

"More so because it was against a First Division team, so it had the feel of a real game. At first I was nervous but little by little it went away, I got used to the game and tried to do what the coach asked of me."

With only one week of training under his belt, Mendoza has nevertheless seen much difference between leagues.

"Tactically it is 100 percent different. In MLS, there is absolutely zero tactical work. Here, there is a lot more tactical work. In addition, there are players here who are more capable technically and tactically."

As far as whether his stay in Guadalajara will be a short one or a more permanent move, it all remains to be seen. Chivas VP Nestor De La Torre told Mural that Mendoza would be involved in InterLiga but beyond that only time will tell.

"We have to talk about it and give it some time. For now, he is only a reinforcement for InterLiga."

Marquez ready to sign new deal

The 29-year-old Mexican defender is on the brink of signing a new deal with FC Barcelona that would keep him at the Catalan club until 2014. The La Liga outfit, which is currently in first place with 41 points, has revealed its plan to lock up several of the club’s stars. Márquez who has been a consistent presence in the backline since arriving via AS Monaco in 2003 appears to be the first to renegotiate. The El Tri captain has been a part of the club’s two La Liga titles and one UEFA Champions League title team when the Catalans won Europe’s top club prize in 2006.

This is welcoming news for fans of both Márquez and El Tri. Just six months ago there was a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the defender as Pep Guardiola took charge at Camp Nou. Many wondered if he would factor into the new manager’s first-team squad, but El Kaiser de Michoacan has been a key member this season for Guardiola. He recorded his 200th match for Barcelona in the SuperClásico and has appeared in 12 of 16 league matches thus far.

--Sean Grybos

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Panchito debuts for Chivas

Francisco "Panchito" Mendoza made his Chivas debut on Saturday in a 2-1 friendly win over Necaxa. Mendoza replaced Edgar "Tepa" Solis at halftime with the score at 1-1.

I'll have more info as it comes. I've only seen the lineup and a brief recap of the match so not sure where he lined up. Here's what the team looked like at halftime so I suppose you could piece together a formation based on this.

Luis Michel
Omar Esparza
Edgar Mejía
Héctor Reynoso
Gonzalo Pineda
Francisco Mendoza
Javier Báez
Patricio Araujo
Ramón Morales
Alberto Medina
Carlos Ochoa

Friday, December 26, 2008

Year in review time already?

I guess so. The huge letdown known as Dec. 26 is here and now we've got little to look forward to in the next week except a slew of bowl games and wondering where we'll spend New Year's Eve.

One way of passing the time is to look back at the year that was. I can't say I'm much of a year-in-review type person, though if put on the spot I would probably be able to formulate some sort of list.

But saved me the trouble. Now, this doesn't mean that I can't go back and do my own list. After all, it isn't specifically on US-related soccer items. Items 10-4 are but then No. 3... well, not saying it wasn't a memorable moment but come on. So it's mostly US with some Euro stuff at the top.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

An all-time fave

It's Christmas and there isn't much going on except for the unwrapping of presents and eating sugar cookies.

I figured I'd post a clip of one of my favorite goals of all time today, if nothing else for nostalgia's sake.

Dennis Bergkamp was a great goal scorer back in the day but one of the best goals he ever scored - possibly the best he ever scored - came in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina. I really didn't have a rooting interest in the game but I picked the Dutch to win the World Cup that year so I kinda wanted to see them make me look good. After this game, it seemed as if they really had something special going on.

As far as the goal, I don't know how it could get any better than that. The pass from Frank de Boer was perfect, dead-on precision. For Bergkamp to gently control it and slip past the defender and knock it past the goalie all while keeping his poise and wits about him, it really takes a master with the skill of a Bergkamp to have scored that kind of goal.

Seriously, though, what makes this goal even better is this Dutch commentator. I didn't hear this until a couple of years after the goal (I actually found it on Napster!) and only recently re-discovered it on You Tube. If you haven't heard the commentator, it's really great. Just pure emotion at its best.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

LB's Christmas list

I've done a lot of shopping this holiday season but I didn't get around to buying anything for any soccer players, coaches, execs, etc.

But that doesn't mean I don't have ideas on what would have made good gifts for such people.

Panchito: good as gone?

Chivas USA midfielder Francisco "Panchito" Mendoza is off in Guadalajara for some offseason training and has the chance to play in InterLiga before returning to the US for the MLS preseason.

Or is he?

Chivas de Guadalajara coach Efrain Flores told Mural that he doesn't see Mendoza as a player who is simply training with the team.

"There is a chance (he could stay for the Clausura 2009 season). Since we have him here and he's part of the same family with Chivas USA, there is a chance he could take (Antonio) Olvera's place on the roster... I see him as a reinforcement. Of course I hope that in both footballing and contractual terms everything works out well."

What did Chivas VP Nestor De La Torre have to say about the whole deal?

"In the future we may be able to work something out with him. He's part of Chivas. He's a Chivas player but he has a responsibility to Chivas USA."

For his part, Mendoza said he's enjoying the entire process and doesn't want to close any doors.

"I don't know anything about (a deal with Chivas). I have a contract with Chivas USA. I'm here to train but I would not say no to pursuing that in the future."

Arias effect on Orozco?

Michael Orozco, up-and-coming US national team prospect, went down to Mexico after completing high school here in the US, to pursue his fortunes with Necaxa. He didn't spend much time there as he eventually landed on and came up with San Luis, the only Mexican club with whom he's seen first-division action.

Orozco followed Raul Arias to San Luis. It was Arias, after all, who brought Orozco in when he was at Necaxa. But the longtime Rayos coach left and headed for a chance with San Luis, and he eventually brought the young American over with him, groomed him and placed him in the center of the defense at San Luis.

Success followed Orozco as the Orange, Calif., native played for the United States in the Olympic qualifying tournament, then the Olympics followed by the senior national team. He also helped San Luis to the best regular-season record in the Apertura 2008 season.

Now, however, Orozco's club future is as uncertain as it has ever been. Arias has left San Luis to take over his old job with Necaxa. Los Rayos finished at the other end of the table in Mexico, having won just once last season.

Orozco is staying put. His name hasn't been linked to any club, neither in nor outside of Mexico. But Orozco will need to prove himself to a new coach, though. He needs to show his worth to maintain the starting spot he struggled to recapture upon returning from the Olympics.

And if he does choose to leave San Luis for another Mexican club, it seems Necaxa would have a great chance of landing his services.

Boca champions

Boca Juniors lost to Tigre 1-0 on Tuesday night but walked away with the Argentine league title nevertheless. Boca Juniors won the championship on goal differential. Had Tigre won by two goals, they would have won the championship.

Here's the goal that helped Tigre get close but not close enough to glory:

And here's the glory Boca tasted for the 23rd time:

Sanchez back again

Remember Hugo Sanchez? Of course we all do. How could we forget him? Well, we may have forgotten some of his tenure, some of the overblown promises he made when he took over as Mexico coach in 2006. I do recall, however, his desire to coach in Spain. Somewhere along the line he said something to the effect of 'I will coach Real Madrid after winning a World Cup' or something.

Well, he fell waaaay short of winning a World Cup and now he's fallen waaaay short of Real Madrid. Sanchez is back in coaching as he is now coach of Almeria in the Spanish first division.

Technically Almeria are in the same league as Real Madrid but they aren't in the same class as Sanchez's former club. It will be interesting to see if Sanchez is a different man, perhaps a quieter one, someone who doesn't promise the moon and the stars only to deliver rocks and some dust.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Subotic is Su-bye-bye

Greg Seltzer over at No Short Corners gives us the scoop on Subotic. I'd linked to a report last week about Subotic's decision to play for Serbia and not the United States but several people here and elsewhere said 'Not so fast.'

Now Seltzer has dispelled whatever doubts there were regarding the youngster's decision.

It's a shame on one hand as Subotic could have stepped in and started at central defense immediately. But as I said before he wasn't born here and may never have felt comfortable here in the US. It's one thing when you are born here and go to school here from kindergarten all the way to high school and all that and then you skip out on the national team. But in Subotic's case, he was born in Europe and came over here when he was already well into his childhood.

The United States' loss is Serbia's gain apparently.

Galaxy's new 'keeper

The Steve Cronin Era is over, thankfully.

The Galaxy made it official on Tuesday, signing Jamaican international Donovan Ricketts to a deal and becomes the club's first major offseason move.

Ricketts is an upgrade over Cronin, who will go down as one of the worst starting goalkeepers in MLS history. However, whether or not this is a positive move remains to be seen. Ricketts may be the second coming of Shaka Hislop, an aging goalkeeper from the Caribbean who didn't exactly cut it in MLS.

That Ricketts is an upgrade over Cronin isn't saying much either as many, many goalkeepers would have been a better choice than Cronin. Between Cronin and Josh Wicks, the Galaxy's problems in goal were vast.

Ricketts at least gives them someone who has played at a high level before. But whether this a stop-gap measure or a long-term solution remains to be seen.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Becks' new team

On Sunday, David Beckham watched his new team from the stands. His new team is a little bit more effective in keeping balls out of the back of the net than his old team, which is actually still his current team.

I wonder how much playing time Beckham will actually get with AC Milan, though. If they keep scoring this efficiently, it may be hard for him to crack the lineup.

The next Paco Torres?

In an article on Pachuca's exit from the Club World Cup, a Tuzo executive talked about the club's youth movement. Pachuca fielded a 16-year-old at the end of their third-place match. The exec, Guillermo Rivarola, talked about the future of the club and upcoming players. At the end, he talked briefly about a young American player who is in the club's youth ranks.

Jonathan Barron may indeed be the next Jose Francisco Torres. Barron, though, is starting out his Tuzo experience a few years earlier than Torres. At 16, Torres dropped out of Longview High and went to Pachuca. Barron is part of the club's 94s, which makes him around 14 or 15.

Rivarola explained to Reforma what they think of Barron:

"(Barron) is from Washington and Chelsea wanted him. He decided, and then his parents did as well, to come here to Pachuca. Soccer has no nationality. The only thing that matters is playing soccer well."

The story said Barron's mother is from Colombia while his father is American. Not sure if Washington means the state or DC, and also not sure if Jonathan was born in the US or not.

We'll keep him on our radar, though, and see if he develops into anything. As a member of Pachuca's youth system, though, chances are that he has a great shot of developing.

Panchito to Guadalajara... sort of

Francisco Mendoza was supposed to go to Guadalajara following the 2007 season. That's what he said was promised to him by Chivas Guadalajara executives. Nothing, though, ever came of it and he spent all of 2008 with Chivas USA.

Now, Mendoza is getting a chance to show his worth. Mendoza is supposed to report this week to Chivas' preseason training camp. Technically, it's a bit of a short-term loan, the kind that is all the rage nowadays in MLS. Mendoza could play for Chivas during InterLiga, for instance. If he does well during his time with the parent club, it seems that he could make his stay an extended one.

Panchito has been a trooper and has always worked hard here with Chivas USA. Still, he's longed for a return to Mexico and now he has his best chance he's had to show his stuff. If it doesn't work out and he's back here for the start of training camp and/or the regular season, we can expect more of the same hard-working Panchito Mendoza.... which would be fine if he could only learn to finish.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sven, Decio and Justino get down

It's Christmas and the spirit is alive and well.

Send your own ElfYourself eCards


First MLS abandoned me. Now the Mexican league season is over. I don't know what to do with myself now.

In the absence of any Mexican league games, here's a video of champions Toluca and their five best goals of the season. Notice who makes the list twice - Israel Lopez. I know he's not highly thought of but he may be one of the most under-appreciated players in all of Mexico. Not saying he's national team caliber necessarily but you could do a lot worse than him in the midfield if you're putting a team together. I love his set piece ability.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another one that got away

Add Neven Subotic to the likes of Guissepe Rossi and Edgar Castillo as good Americans playing for other countries.

Subotic, who unlike Rossi and Castillo was not born in the US, has opted for Serbia over the stars and stripes.

I don't think this is as egregious an oversight as Castillo or the inability to convince Rossi to stay home and give back to his birth country in a soccer sense but Subotic was a part of the Under-17 national team. Something about his experience here did not make him want to be a part of the senior team or represent this country.

It's a shame for the US national team because Subotic could have stepped in and challenged for a starting spot right away. I know the entire lot of US supporters is in love with Oguchi Onyewu but Subotic could have given him a run for his money. At worst, he would have made Bob Bradley's decisions much harder and would have upped the level of competition in camps.

Regardless, Subotic is history in terms of US national team prospects and the task of finding more central defense depth becomes more pressing.

Champions League draw

The draw for the Champions League knockout rounds was held on Friday and here's what we have before us:

Manchester United vs Inter Milan
AS Roma vs Arsenal
Panathinaikos vs Villarreal
Barcelona vs Lyon
Liverpool vs Real Madrid
Bayern Munich vs Sporting Lisbon
FC Porto vs Atletico Madrid
Juventus vs Chelsea

To me, the two most attractive matchups are Man U-Inter and Liverpool-Real Madrid. Each team is capable of making a deep run in the Champions League but two of their respective dreams will be shattered almost immediately.

Jose Mourinho's former club failed to beat Manchester United a year ago in this same tournament with Chelsea. Can he overcome his former EPL nemesis in Man U with a different team? Meanwhile, Liverpool (five titles, last in '05) and Real Madrid (nine titles, last in '02) each have had their share of success in Champions League as this is the series with the most history behind it.

Every one of these matchups is top-notch, which is what we've come to expect from the Champions League.

Pardo returns home

Pavel Pardo is no longer part of El Tri in Europe contingent.

America has re-acquired Pardo's services from Stuttgart and the former America captain will once again defend America's colors.

For America, the move is great. They bring back a former star who knows very well what it takes to succeed with America. Pardo helped America win two championships during his time there. He brings instant leadership as well as capable soccer skills. America has struggled in recent seasons and along with Edgar Castillo and Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Pardo makes America's offseason acquisitions a decent catch.

For Pardo, though, the move is questionable. Pardo had done well in his time with Stuttgart and was a key part of their 06-07 championship and can still play in Europe. However, personal reasons many times trump sporting ones and a return to Mexico was what suited Pardo best right now.

ADD: I inadvertently left out a link to the story from Universal.

To kill a pigeon

Poor pigeons. During the San Lorenzo-Tigre playoff match in Argentina, Gaston Aguirre tried to clear a ball out of danger but instead nailed a group of pigeons, killing one in the process.

Here's how the pigeon's life ended:

Still, that wasn't the best pigeon death we've seen on a sports field. Not even close.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dealing rights

Aaron Galindo has been a target of Chivas de Guadalajara for some time now, and it looks as if the club is closing in on bringing the talented central defender back home.

But there is one snag, and it may be the most infuriating one possible.

In Mexico, there is a long-standing agreement, or a Pacto de Bandoleros is Cancha referred to it, where teams must compensate other teams for players. So, if Team A wants a player who last played for Team B, Team A must give up something in return.

This isn't part of any laws or anything. An out-of-contract player can walk if he so chooses; it's not like MLS where the league owns the contracts and there isn't really any free agency. Under this "Pacto" Chivas has to give up something to Galindo's last club, Cruz Azul, in order to welcome him onto their team.

Eintracht Frankfurt, of course, has Galindo's rights. Cruz Azul has nothing except the distinction of having been Galindo's last Mexican club he played for.

This is common in Mexico, though, but many fans aren't really aware of this front-office agreement. Myself, I didn't even know a whole lot about it before Juan Pablo Garcia's signing in 2005. Atlas, Garcia's former club, wanted Chivas to give them something in return but Chivas declined because Garcia was going to a foreign league. I think when Garcia finally returned to Mexico either Tigres or Chivas settled the debt.

Really, this whole Pacto thing seems asinine to be honest. I really see no benefit to it in terms of where the players are involved. None. I wonder though if it has any effect on player movement. Maybe it's a big ado about nothing since it's just at a higher level and only benefits management.

And as far as Galindo and Chivas are concerned, Cancha said that Chivas is willing to offer their "rights" to Omar Bravo. In the offseason, of course, Bravo left Mexico and joined Deportivo la Coruna on a free transfer. Deportivo has his rights but if Bravo wants to return to Mexico and Chvias deals his "rights" to Cruz Azul, he would either need to play for Cruz Azul or another club would have to give up something to Cruz Azul to get him.

Oh, what a tangled web.

Forget about Paco

Any Chivas USA fans who had it in the back of their minds that someday Francisco Palencia would return to the club, forget it.

Palencia told reporters on Wednesday that he plans on spending the rest of his career with Pumas.

A fan favorite during his time with Chivas USA, Palencia said he would be open to returning to the club someday. But that door is pretty much closed now that he's set his sights on playing out his days with Pumas.

The bad thing, of course, is that Palencia has continued playing at a high level for Pumas. Had he stayed with Chivas USA, he would have been at the same high level and he would have continued to have been a huge influence on the club.

Ni modo...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Matkovich leaves Chivas USA

Chivas USA assistant coach Mike Matkovich as left his post and will take over as the United States Under-18 national team coach. Matkovich spent one year with Chivas USA before moving on to the national team program.

"While we are sorry to see him go, we know the U.S. Under-18 head coaching position represents a great opportunity for Mike and we wish him the best of luck,” said Chivas USA Vice President of Soccer Stephen Hamilton said in a statement. “We will now begin the process of searching for a replacement to be named to Preki’s technical staff in the weeks ahead."

Uh... begin? Didn't that process begin several days ago?

When Luis Manuel Diaz was tabbed as Chivas USA assistant coach by Jorge Vergara on Monday, I initially wondered if the club was going to have to get rid of an assistant. I guess I won't have to wonder any longer.

Americans abroad

For my weekly PE column, I took a look at the year several Americans had while plying their respective trades in their respective foreign leagues. I may have missed a player or two, but not really. I actually didn't try and rank the players' seasons and wanted to include some Americans who do not play for the US national team.

I don't know about others but I think it's a big deal that Americans have found success on top clubs in Europe and Mexico, even if they don't play for the US. It's a signal that there is talent to be unearthed here and MLS and US Soccer just need to do a better job of grooming that talent and keeping it home (at least with regards to the national team).

Sigi in Seattle

Sigi Schmid was officially presented as the Seattle Sounders head coach on Tuesday. One of the main non-soccer reasons he chose Seattle was his family ties to the area. His brother Roland lives in Seattle and Schmid had a son who attended the University of Washington.

As far as the footballing aspect, it will be really interesting to see how Seattle enters 2009. The expansion club will have problems as all recent expansion teams have had early on but Schmid is, in my opinion, the best coach in MLS history. He's won two MLS Cups and another coach with a similar resume helped turn things around quickly in his expansion season. Frank Yallop guided San Jose to... okay, last place, but the team was in a much better position during the second half of the season than it was from April through June.

Schmid has more to work with at the start of the season than Yallop did - Darren Huckerby didn't get there until the summer - and Schmid has yet another expansion team to look at and see what went right and wrong for them and try to avoid doing the same mistakes.

Whatever happens in 2009, one thing is certain - if Schmid and Yallop stick around, the Western Conference will be quite strong as the pair plus Dominic Kinnear will head three formidable teams. Bruce Arena, of course, is also out here so the soccer minds running their respective teams are strong. The only thing with Arena is the volatility of the situation with the Galaxy but if he can stabilize things, this conference could potentially have some great and proven MLS coaches pulling the strings out here for years to come.

One, not two

The Mexican Soccer Federation announced that it will keep its domestic-based national team players together following the third week of the Clausura 2009 season. This means that following the Mexico-Sweden game on Jan. 28, players will return to their clubs for Jornada 3 and then reconvene some 10 days before the game against the United States.

The European-based contingent (minus the suspended Carlos Vela) will likely join up following games on Feb. 7-8.

Adios Tuzos

Pachuca's hopes of reaching the FIFA Club World Cup final ended in disaster as los Tuzos crashed out with a 2-0 loss to Liga de Quito earlier this morning.

The first goal was a nightmare as it took a strange deflection off a defender and went right into the path of a Quito player. The second goal was a well-taken free kick. Pachuca, though, used their magic to come from behind against Al-Ahly and had little left in the tank to mount another such comeback.

Here are the goals, and I'm not sure Miguel Calero could have done much more to stop either goal:

First, the deflection.

Here's the free kick goal:

Preki is still coach

...and will be coach for the foreseeable future.

Not a whole lot is certain with Chivas USA this offseason in terms of what players are coming and what players are going. But one thing is pretty much set in stone: Preki is and will be coach. Multiple sources within the club have told me as much.

Regardless of what a report in Guadalajara's Informador said, the incoming assistant coach will not report to the incoming head coach.

Now, as far as the assistant coach goes, it's all news to everyone. Even Preki. I had the chance to talk to him on Tuesday. He was in Europe somewhere but we chatted. He knew nothing about the assistant coach. But then again neither did anyone at Chivas USA. Or Chivas Guadalajara. Chivas head coach Efrain Flores reportedly knew nothing about it. And neither did the assistant coach himself, Luis Manuel Diaz.

A lot of this stems from Jorge Vergara and, as one reader put it, his mamadas. Vergara says a lot and talks a lot but whether there is anything substantial behind it is a different story. Remember the young goalkeeper from Saprissa he said was on his way here to replace Brad Guzan?

So take things Vergara says with a grain of salt.

Columbus after all

Tried to post this Wednesday but post didn't make it apparently and I didn't realize until this morning...

Looks like all the reports out of Mexico weren't quite on target after all.

The US will host Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium on Feb. 11 in the opening match of the Hexagonal, US Soccer has announced.

This means the US game will not be played at Rio Tinto Stadium as had been reported by multiple Mexican media outlets.

This marks the third consecutive time the US will play its home World Cup qualifier against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium. Both other matches ended in 2-0 US victories, so apparently the US figured why mess with success.

Hopefully this excitement over the possibility of the match being played at Rio Tinto carries over into another qualifier in Salt Lake City. In 2005, Salt Lake played home to the US-Costa Rica qualifier so it's been home to an important match before.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Castillo presented in new colors

Edgar Castillo was presented as one of America's newest players. The New Mexico-born Castillo joined America following six successful seasons with Santos Laguna. Now, he'll man the left side of the defense for America.

Here's what he had to say during his presentation:

"I'm very happy to arrive here. It has been a dream of mine to play with a giant club. This jersey is heavy but it has been a dream to play here and I'm ready to play."

He said he was looking forward to two games in particular: Jan. 3 against Chivas de Guadalajara in InterLiga and the Clausura 2009 season opener at Santos. He will likely spend a lot of time in the lineup during InterLiga to get used to new teammates and a new system and by the time league starts will likely have adapted himself to his new surroundings.

I wonder though what his nickname will be. America already has a "Gringo" in Jose Antonio Castro, though he was reportedly being courted by Tigres. The national media in Mexico has labeled him Gringo just as they have Jose Francisco Torres, and Jesus Padilla's carried the Gringo nickname for a while. At some point, that gets old.

However, the local papers in Torreon referred to him as "Homie" which is pretty cool: Edgar "Homie" Castillo. If that nickname sticks, I wonder which one of these he most resembles.

New assistant for Chivas USA

Jose Manuel Diaz is on his way from Guadalajara to Carson as he will take a spot on the bench as an assistant coach. Jorge Vergara announced the move during a press conference on Monday. Omar Arellano Sr. has joined Chivas de Guadalajara as an assistant to Efrain Flores and Diaz was bumped to the MLS club to make room for Arellano Jr.'s father (Chivas' bright young forward).

It has been reported that Chivas USA will supposedly get a new coach, though I'm not sure the validity of the original report as it appeared in only one source (neglected to mention earlier but Cancha is the best and, to me, the only reliable source out of Guadalajara). I've checked in with the club and as far as everyone knows Preki is still coach. Also in that report was the possible exit of Francisco Mendoza, who along with Aaron Galindo (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Sergio Amaury Ponce (Toluca) are being tabbed as the club's reinforcements.

We'll definitely keep tabs on those developing stories, though.

For the meantime, here's a bit more on Diaz, which I translated from a Q-n-A on Chivas web site.

"It's a great opportunity after having had a thorough learning process here with Chivas. I've passed through many different stages, from youth team coach as well as coach in different professional divisions and ultimatley an assistant coach with a first division club.

"I feel like I have to learn more, look for more opportunities to continue learning and growing. Now I have a wonderful opportunity to do so and have high hopes that everything will turn out well. If management's desire is for me to go to Chivas USA, then I welcome the opportunity and am very hopeful that everything will go well.

"Over the last two or three years, we have had the chance to face many MLS teams. It is a league that deserves all of our respect. I know how they prepare themselves. I've followed them closely and know more or less the product. I know it's a tough league, one that will teach me a great deal."

Extended prep time for El Tri

Mexican soccer officials said Monday that the likelihood exists of an extended training camp ahead of Mexico's opening World Cup qualifier against the United States, which will be played Feb. 11 with all signs pointing to Salt Lake City as the venue of choice.

The plan, FMF exec Guillermo Cantu told reporters, is to have domestic internationals stay together from the days before their scheduled Jan. 28 match against Sweden in Oakland until Feb. 11, thus maximizing their time together and trying to enter the Hexagonal as prepared as possible. European-based players would probably not join up with the team until days before the match.

Typically, the US has an extended training camp at the start of each year since MLS is not in season and the domestic players need to be in shape for the late winter/early spring. In this case, the US will again continue with such an extended camp so expect the Americans to be well prepared in February.

Perhaps it's the significance of the Hex, the poor form El Tri had to close out 2008 or maybe it's even out of respect for the US but for Mexico to dedicate such time and resources to prepare for the US game is a bit out of the ordinary. The league will play on and always plays on during that time of year so players would be out of action for the first several weeks of the Clausura 2009 season. Usually El Tri only disrupts league play in this manner during the lead-up to the World Cup.

However, given the team's terrible run, a World Cup berth is not a given for Mexico.

Cantu also said the team would come together for a similar camp leading up the Aug. 12 qualifier, which kicks off the second part of the Hexagonal calendar. Their opponent? The United States.

So maybe there is something to that respect thing after all. Or is it fear?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Highs and lows

If the US-Mexico game goes off at Rio Tinto Stadium as has been reported, Mexico will likely face its most difficult regional opponent in challenging weather conditions.

How challenging?

According to, the daily average temperatures for Salt Lake City on Feb. 11 are 42 degrees and 29 degrees, respectively. That is, the average high on Feb. 11 has been 42 degrees and the average low has been 29. Not sure how far back it goes, but it goes back at least 20 years.

Over that time, the record high has been 55 (in 1987) and the record low has been 19 (in 1989). The average sunset time has been 5:57 p.m. as well.

Needless to say, it will be biting cold that day. And having been to Rio Tinto, I can say that there is hardly anything obstructing wind from getting into the stadium. It sits right at the base of a mountain range and if the winds whip through there, the stands will hardly provide any cover. From the street leading into the stadium, you can see pretty much the entire field. The one level of stands will hardly do anything if any wind picks up around the venue.

Coliseum friendly

El Salvador and Ecuador will square off in a friendly at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 11. The match will serve as preparation for each team's respective World Cup qualifying campaign.

For El Salvador, the game may be the last tune-up ahead of their first Hexagonal appearance since 1997. The cuscatlecos may have a full-strength squad, and against a team the caliber of Ecuador many questions about their own strength could be answered. Can El Salvador compete against its regional foes? Will El Salvador be able to keep up with and stay competitive in the Hex? After this game, we'll know more about their chances of success.


My trusty readers... I've got a question. I'm writing my PE column and wanted to mention Edgar Castillo's accomplishments in 2008 (it's part of a column on Americans abroad).

Anyway, thanks to a reader I know Castillo was the second American-born player to score a goal in the Mexican league playoffs but how many other Americans have won league titles before? Jose Francisco Torres won a league title with Pachuca in 07 so that's one.

Any others? I could research it (and probably will when I have time later, way later) but just wanted to fact-check with my trusty readers.

I can't think of any others off hand...

The color from Sunday's final

What was being at Sunday's final between Toluca and Cruz Azul like? Televisa took a look at the game from a different angle. From the seemingly mandatory fan clashes before the game to Toluca players draping each other in celebration afterward, it's a great look at what emotions the final brought about and what the scene really looked like.

Highlights from Sunday

And here they are, some highlights from the game. Pretty concise highlights, though not the greatest angle. It's not from one of the television broadcasts but this has all the goals. They even break out the cool old-school flashing R to signify a replay.

US-Mexico at Rio Tinto

So says Esto's Fernando Schwartz. The US-Mexico World Cup qualifier on Feb. 11 is set to be played at MLS' newest stadium in Sandy, Utah.

The last two US-Mexico qualifiers on American soil have been played at Columbus Crew Stadium so it's a good thing that the game has been moved to a different venue.

Initial thoughts (and I'll have more as I organize these):

- This is great for Sandy and Salt Lake. It's a real affirmation that the area is seen as more than just a bit player in the soccer landscape in the United States. Not only has the stadium added a lot to MLS but now the federation has decided the stadium worthy enough to host possibly the most important game in several years. This isn't just some random friendly or even your ordinary qualifier; this is US-Mexico.

- The weather will be a factor. This game was not going to be played in an area that wasn't going to offer the chance of freezing weather and all the nastiness the bitter winter has to offer. The US doesn't have much in terms of home-field advantage when it comes to supporters but this vast country has all sorts of climates and the US is certainly using that to their advantage.

- On a personal level... can you say roadie? I'm all over this game. This is about a 10-hour drive from my house and I should be there for all the action. I'm not much of a fan of cold weather but that's not going to stop me from making the drive. Hopefully it won't be the only roadie I make for US-Mexico in 2009 (I'm hopeful to make the ultimate roadie to Mexico City in August) but it will be memorable regardless of what other games outside of SoCal I make it out to.

Diablos campeon

Cancha's cover says it all. It was a great finale indeed, riveting, dramatic, undecided until the very end. Colorful too, with Cruz Azul's blue and Toluca's red dominating the field and dividing the stands of Nemesio Diez.

Metallica - the rundown

I wrote about the Metallica concert for a while so I figured it would be good to write about it after the fact. The show was amazing. Energy and intensity were in high supply on Friday night. The best part of the show, though, was the setting itself. Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario is a relatively small venue. We had seventh-row seats and they were good seats but I honestly don't think there was a bad seat in the house.

I was able to secure some audio from the show. Figured some of you may enjoy it.


Nothing Else Matters and Enter Sandman



You may see more links to more songs. I was able to secure audio of the entire show. But for now I wanted to add the setlist, which I copied and pasted from a Metallica fan board; I was trying to remember the songs and then thought about going through the audio but someone saved me some time:

That Was Just Your Life
The End Of The Line
Ride The Lightning
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Broken, Beat & Scarred
Sad But True
All Nightmare Long
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Master Of Puppets
The Day That Never Comes
Nothing Else Matters
Enter Sandman
Stone Cold Crazy
Seek & Destroy

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Toluca-Cruz Azul penalties

I wasn't expecting Sunday's final between Toluca and Cruz Azul to go into extra time, let alone penalties. Cruz Azul were all but given up for dead - at least by yours truly - and it seemed just a matter of time before Toluca put a dagger in Cruz Azul's hearts. But La Maquina played with the heart of a champion and knocked off Toluca 2-0 in regulation to send the match to extra time. After no goals in 30 minutes, the two sides went to penalties.

But Cruz Azul was doomed. Even though their penaty-kick takers were doing the job, goalkeeper Yosgart Gutierrez was utterly lost in goal. On Toluca's first few shots, Gutierrez seemed at least confident although he guessed wrong. But somewhere around Toluca's third or fourth shot, Gutierrez's confidence was shot. It seemed only the posts or crossbar would stand in the way of Toluca's title.

In fact, the crossbar nearly helped out but on Toluca's sixth shot the ball hit the underside of the crossbar, bounced off Gutierrez's back and into the net. Then, Hernan Cristante did what he needed to do and stopped Cruz Azul's final shot and Toluca celebrated their ninth league championship.

I'll post highlights if and when they become available.

Toluca wins it

In what will surely go down as a classic match, Toluca beat Cruz Azul to win the Apertura 2008 title, their first championship since 2005. Cruz Azul showed great heart, though, as they won the match 2-0 and sent the match to PKs.

But Toluca was too much as Hernan Cristante made a save in the sixth round of penalties to give Toluca their ninth title.

I'll have plenty more thoughts - and hopefully highlights - later. The game, though, was fantastic to watch. I can tell you that much right now.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Arriba los Tuzos

Pachuca beat Al-Ahly of Egypt 4-2 in the FIFA Club World Cup earlier this morning. The Egyptians went up 2-0 at halftime but Pachuca did well to get back in the game. Los Tuzos tied it up on set piece goals from Luis Montes and Christian Gimenez and won it in extra time on goals by Damian Alvarez and Gimenez.

Pachuca plays Liga de Quito in Wednesday's semifinal.

Here are the highlights. You could probably skip the first two minutes and be okay.

Marshall's plan

For a while now, I've been somewhat a supporter of Chad Marshall, as much of a supporter as you can get as a reporter I suppose. He's a local product, from Riverside as well, and went to a high school from the same school district that graduated yours truly.

I'm excited then that Marshall has the chance to go abroad. He's on trial with second-division German side Mainz and should he land there would be a standout player in a short amount of time.

Marshall has the chance to go abroad before. Fresh out of high school, he was offered a contract with Hamburg but his family as a whole decided that Stanford would be the best option for Marshall, not necessarily for the soccer but for Chad, the 18-year-old recent high school graduate.

It's been six years now and Marshall is far more mature and capable of handling life in Europe than he would have been had he gone straight to the Old World.

Now, second-division soccer isn't the greatest honestly. Even the German second division is still the second division. But is that a better option than Columbus? I'd say at this point of his career, for Marshall it is. Why? He'll be in Europe for starters. He will come cheaply for Mainz - it doesn't get cheaper than a free transfer - and that certainly helps. If he goes in there and performs well, he will be noticed. It may be that another German team takes notice of Marshall in the summer and snatches him up. If he comes back to MLS, it will be more of the same.

Where has that gotten him? Well, accolades for one. A relatively nice paycheck for another. And, oh yeah, he is a league champion. That counts for something. But where has it not gotten him? It's not gotten him on the US national team. Sure, he got a sniff of the big time but he's been overlooked in quite possibly the second-most glaring oversight in recent years (Kenny Cooper anyone?).

Not sure if a move abroad will mean more playing time with the national team. Just like with Cooper, I don't know what more Marshall could do to earn a call-up. He was not called in at all in 2008 despite piecing together his finest pro season. We don't get Marshall but we get a physical specimen lacking footballing IQ in Oguchi Onyewu but I suppose that's Bob Bradley's loss.

Regardless of how it benefits his national team standing, Marshall needs to get to Europe now. If it's with a second division side, so be it. If it's for a top-tier club from a second-tier league, that's fine too. It's time to get Marshall abroad because he's done all there is to do in MLS.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Next year's Chivas USA squad?

No word yet of any possible reinforcements or who is going to stick around from '08 to '09 but sometimes actions speak louder than words.

On their official blog, Chivas USA has been doing Q-n-As with several players about their plans for the holidays and their thoughts on 2008. While it's all rather harmless - no real news there - the players they are highlighting probably will stick around for 2009. I mean, they aren't going to ask Roberto Nurse about his holiday plans, for instance.

So who has been asked? Jesse Marsch, Paulo Nagamura, Francisco Mendoza, Jim Curtin, Justin Braun and Dan Kennedy so far.

I'm hoping to see Ante Razov's Q-n-A. I'm, uh, interested in his holiday plans.

Painted trees

This has nothing to do with soccer... but just wondering...

If you've ever visited Mexico, you probably noticed that a lot of trees are painted white. Well, not the whole tree but rather a portion of the trunk. Anyway, just wondering why that is? Is there a story behind that?

I think it looks good and in fact told my wife that I wanted to paint our trees at our house in similar fashion. She balked, but she may come home one day to a painted tree trunk.

DeRo goes home

Dwayne De Rosario is headed back home. Canadian international Dwayne De Rosario was dealt from Houston to Toronto FC in exchange for Julius James and allocation money. In one fell swoop, two teams' fortunes have changed.

For Toronto, this is the best move they possibly could have made this offseason. De Rosario is a legitimate talent, a proven MLS superstar who has won championships in this league before. That he's Canadian makes this move a natural fit and one many speculated on since Toronto joined the league. De Rosario has been the backbone of Houston and San Jose before that for years and will do the same with Toronto. With Amado Guevara to pair with in central midfield, Toronto suddenly has a strong and potent midfield.

Not sure about this move from Houston's point of view. Houston likely cashed out early with De Rosario, probably feeling that he's on the wrong side of 30, will fade quicker than some would think and better to get something for him now than nothing for him a year or two from now. Also, players such as Stuart Holden are more than ready to move into a starting role as Houston's depth is as good as there is in MLS. Initially, Houston might struggle without their heart-and-soul but they will be fine. Solid coaching and a core group of players - even without De Ro - will keep Houston strong.

Glut in central midfield

US national team coach Bob Bradley was a guest on Glenn Davis' radio show earlier this week and provides some of the highlights from the appearance.

One of the more interesting things that caught my attention was Bradley's thoughts on playing several central midfielders with similar qualities, such as Michael Bradley, Pablo Mastroeni and Ricardo Clark.

"I get annoyed with everybody that goes into that line of thinking,. We have two-way players. Players that make it hard when the other team has the ball. Players that do a good job of finding some of our more attacking players and I find it hard to understand why that becomes such a topic all the time."

While I have wondered the same thing as many others - Bradley and Clark paired together, for instance, doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense - it actually has worked well. The elder Bradley does have a point; when the other team has the ball, having ball-winners like Bradley and Clark in there helps clog up the middle.

As far as creativity goes, however, that is an area where having both those guys in there is lacking. I would rather have one of those players playing behind, say Landon Donovan or Freddy Adu in the midfield. That way you get more bit from the middle of the field. Still, I don't see that happening often. I think we'll see more Bradley-Clark or Bradley-Mastroeni pairings in central midfield in '09. It's not the worst thing, those guys have talent and experience, but I don't know that the US is going to generate as much offense as it could that way.

Holidays in Milan

Not sure where the Beckham family will spend Dec. 25 but on the 29th Beckham will join his new team for their training camp in the Middle East, according to reports. Not the worst way to ring in the New Year I suppose.

Becks will be in Italy by Dec. 20 as he'll be presented that day. Sometime in January he'll probably make his Serie A debut and by mid-March he's supposed to come back to the United States. If and when he does, he will have had a few months of Italian football under his belt, which is a great way to spend the winter... if it doesn't lead to anything more, of course.

MLS and Barcelona

For, I wrote about what sorts of challenges Barcelona would face in running an expansion team in Miami. You've got to read the story to see how I feel but in general there are lots of question marks surrounding this deal.

If I had to make a bet, I'd say the bid goes through successfully because it's Barcelona behind it. There are lots of worthy bids out there backed by strong finances but Barcelona's got a brand name that is golden and MLS would be wise to continue their dealings with the Catalan giants. That doesn't mean it's the most deserving bid per se but Barca has power that you just can't deny.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Toluca takes advantage

It's hard to say that a series is over after just one game but that wouldn't be accurate for the Cruz Azul-Toluca final.

This one was over after one half. Toluca took a 2-0 first-half lead and held on to win by the same scoreline and will head into Sunday's second leg with a clear advantage and a great chance to win their ninth Mexican league championship.

Here are the full highlights:

Liguilla Final, first leg

Toluca and Cruz Azul will play the first leg of the Apertura 2008 final tonight at Estadio Azul in Mexico City. It should be a great matchup between two teams who are playing their best soccer of the year entering the game. They're doing it differntly, though, as Toluca has won by defense and key goals while Cruz Azul has overwhelmed their opponents with insurmountable goals.

Here's a look at each club entering tonight's game, which will be on Azteca America at 6 pm PT:


Los Diablos Rojos are trying to capture their first championship since the Apertura 2005 season. Toluca has been a monster for the past decade, having won championships in impressive fashion at the turn of the century. This team, though, is different. Defense is this team's strength as veteran goalkeeper Hernan Cristante has discovered the fountain of youth. Until allowing a goal in the second leg of the semifinal series against Santos, Cristante had gone 772 minutes without conceding a goal. Defender Paulo da Silva and Edgar Duenas lead this impenetrable defense.

Still, this team isn't exactly lacking firepower. Hector Raul Mancilla has been a find for Toluca this season. After coming over from Veracruz, Mancilla broke through with 11 goals in the regular season and another pair in the playoffs.

This team has been built on playoff success. Toluca won championships in Verano 98, 99 and 00 as well as Apertura 02 and 05 and also reached the final two other times in that span. That's five championships in the last 10 calendar years. This team knows what it takes for postseason success.


Because of their checkered past, few expected Cruz Azul to reach this stage again. La Maquina surprised many by overcoming obstacles to get to the final last season but here they are again. The club has been scoring goals at the right moments as 3-1 wins over Pumas and Atlante were enough to tilt the scales in their favor.

Cruz Azul have a balanced attack as midfielder Pablo Zeballos led the club with seven goals. However, Miguel Sabah, Cesar Villaluz, Nicolas Vigneri and Gerardo Lugo can all contribute with goals. So too can Gerardo Torrado, who is the team's heart and soul. Torrado, though, can play with reckless abandon quite often, and if he earns a yellow card tonight will be out of Sunday's return leg.

Like Toluca, Cruz Azul have own eight Mexican league titles. However, when Cruz Azul won number eight, Toluca had just three to their name. Cruz Azul's drought dates back to the Invierno 97 season, and many agonizing seasons have passed from then until now. Cruz Azul has limited postseason success to draw back on - their run to the final last year has to count for something - but the club needs to focus on the present and ignore the past. Otherwise, they stand no chance of success.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hexagonal Preview: Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago

In 2006, the Caribbean nation became the smallest country to ever qualify for a World Cup. Bolstered by the confidence of its run to Germany in ’06, the Soca Warriors want to make it two World Cup appearances in a row.

Match Schedule

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

T&T does not have the luxury of playing two home games in a row. This home-away-home-away format means fatigue will certainly be an issue for the players as the team works through the Hexagonal. The only saving grace comes with the final two home games. These last two are against the USA and Mexico. Hopefully, the US and El Tri will have locked up bids to the World Cup. The two powers might simply send the B-teams down to the Port of Spain. If this is the case, T&T could be gifted a trip to South Africa.

Meet the Members of the Team

Colombian manager Francisco Maturana leads the Soca Warriors into the Hexagonal. This experienced team is looking for one last international run. With two top players returning from retirement, the squad certainly has the veteran savvy component covered.

Russell Latapy: Returning yet again from international retirement, Latapy sealed T&T’s advancement into the Hexagonal with some late qualifying heroics. Originally slated to be an assistant coach on the team, the 40-year-old returned to the pitch in September. His opening goal in the 2-1 victory over the USA on October 15 only added to his legendary fame on the islands. Is the playmaker going to retain his current form in 2009?

Julius James: When I spoke to the 24-year-old defender this past February I asked him about his thoughts on a future call-up with the Soca Warriors. He remarked, “I hope that becoming a professional, playing, and improving can get me a chance.” The future came in September when James earned his first cap against Guyana. The Toronto FC player has the right blend of athleticism and competitive drive. You have to admire someone that notes “I never really share my goals, but I intend to make them.”

Stern John: The Southampton forward, on loan at Bristol City until January 2009, is the second most capped player in the history of the team. The 32-year-old is also the all-time leading scorer with 69 goals. If Kenwyne Jones’ knee injury hinders his performance, can Stern John carry the attack?

Dwight Yorke: The 37-year-old, who scored the second goal in the crucial 2-1 victory over the USA, also came back from retirement to save T&T.

Key Match

Costa Rica at Trinidad & Tobago (June 6, 2009): A loss or a draw could prove disastrous for T&T. Three points are vital here in the race for third place.


Best Case Scenario: 3rd place. The Soca Warriors make it two in a row as T&T returns to the World Cup.

Worst Case Scenario: 6th place. Don’t forget this team narrowly escaped early in qualifying as Bermudian striker John Nusum scored twice to take a 2-1 advantage back to Bermuda. T&T luckily overcame this embarrassment in the second leg to move on.

--Sean Grybos

Mandatory Metallica - two days from show

So the concert is a pair of days away. It's going to be at the new Citizens Bank Arena here in nearby Ontario and I've got seventh row seats so you'll have to bear with me and my excitement.

A song that I'm certain to here is One. It's actually the song that got me into Metallica. I was a bit of a late bloomer in that sense as I didn't get into them until after And Justice For All came out. Once I saw this video I was hooked. This song is great, a true classic.

Burling goes under the knife

Bobby Burling had ankle surgery on Tuesday and will be out for up to eight weeks. It's good that this was done now as the end of his recovery time will coincide with the early part of the preseason.

Burling will likely play a key role for Chivas USA in 2009. With Claudio Suarez a question mark next season, Shavar Thomas is the only sure bet to start at central defense. Thomas is a rock back there but Jim Curtin is not. Suarez was injured and if he returns there is no guarantee he won't have an injury-riddled campaign.

In college, Burling was a striker and picked up defense only after he joined Chivas USA. He didn't play in 2007 but was tossed into the fray this season out of necessity. He held his own and I thought was fairly valuable in the middle part of the season. With some more seasoning, I could see Burling holding down a starting spot soon enough.

Injuries did not escape Burling though and now he's on the shelf. But at least he should be healthy February.

Sigi's gone

Sigi Schmid is gone. In a move that surprises few people, Schmid will no longer coach the Columbus Crew.

Schmid, who is easily one of the best coaches in Major League Soccer history, is likely to take over the expansion Seattle Sounders, which would be nothing short of a coup for the first-year club.

Schmid won MLS Cup titles with the Galaxy in 2002 and this year with Columbus and also has US Open Cup and CONCACAF Cup titles to his name.

We saw how successful a two-time MLS Cup-winning coach was this year with San Jose and Frank Yallop - the club was horrid early but improved vastly over the course of the season. Thus, I'd expect Seattle to be competitive next year; maybe not from the start but Seattle will be heard from at some point in 2009.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Salcido back to Mexico?

Carlos Salcido is interested in leaving PSV Eindhoven while his former club is interested in having him back in tow, so says Cancha.

Salcido and Chivas VP Nestor de la Torre met in Europe a week ago about the possibility of acquiring his services for the Clausura 2009 season. According to de la Torre, Salcido has caught the attention of other European clubs but the clubs would supposedly not want him until the summer transfer window. Instead of languishing with a club he already outs of, de la Torre said a loan to Chivas would be best.

Reportedly Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have shown interest in Salcido but neither would be able to use him for their respective European efforts.

Apertura 2008 Liguilla Final - Stadium Previews

Where will the Apertura 2008 final be played? Here's a look at where Cruz Azul and Toluca call home.

Estadio Azul
Opened: January 1947
Location: Mexico City
Capacity: 35,000
Rank: 8th largest in Apertura 2008

One of Mexico’s oldest sporting venues, the Blue Stadium, is known for the odd distinction of having the pitch below street level. Thus, players literally play in a pit. During Apertura 2008, Cruz Azul won four, drew three, and lost two at home. In January 2009, work will begin on the club’s new stadium – Nuevo Estadio Azul.

Estadio Nemesio Díez
Opened: August 1958
Location: Toluca
Capacity: 27,000
Rank: 11th largest in Apertura 2008

La Bombonera is another old venue. Unlike Estadio Azul, the stadium hosted matches in the 1970 and 1986 World Cups. Up until the club’s entrance into the Copa Sudamericana, the stadium was without lights and played all matches during the day. The estadio was a fortress for Toluca during the Apertura 2008, as the club won six, drew one, and lost one at home.

-- Sean Grybos

Gone to Denmark

Revolution defender Michael Parkhurst has walked away from New England and Major League Soccer as the out-of-contract former Defender of the Year joined Danish side Nordsjaelland on a free transfer.

The move is a good one for the 24-year-old as he was primed for a move abroad. For MLS, it's a blow but likely just one of several other moves that will see players head across the pond in the coming months.

Not sure if MLS can really do anything to stop this. Typically these are four-year deals players are completing before moving abroad. Players wouldn't be too wise or well-advised if they signed anything longer than four years, at least players at the beginning of their careers. For players like Brad Guzan a year ago, the league has an even more difficult choice. Guzan had drawn interest from abroad and was entering the last year of his deal. Re-signing was not the best option since salaries abroad are greater than they are here. So with the possibility of a free transfer highly likely at the end of the year, it's better for the league to cut their losses with the player and try to maximize their finances while they can. Getting something for a player is better than getting nothing.

Which is what Parkhurst ultimately netted MLS - nothing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Chivas USA's year gone by

Okay, so I'm a few days late in posting this link. But nothing has changed much since the story was published.

I took a look back at Chivas USA's 2008 season for and, really there was just one theme throughout the entire campaign. Injuries destroyed whatever chance Chivas had at gaining and building momentum and thus it was hard to get things going right until the very end.

I also tried to gauge what five big questions faced Chivas ahead of next season... well, some of them point directly towards next year. The "Biggest Moment of '08" really has no bearing on 2009, and was actually difficult to come up with. It wasn't the goal I mentioned but rather what it started.

Most and least impressive

With MLS out of the way, I'm dedicating Tuesday's column to the Champions League. I haven't yet checked in on the Champions League this season (okay, maybe I have and I just don't remember it but off the top of my head I don't recall a CL column). So it's good to check in on the league and try to put some sort of wrap on the group stage.

I figured I'd divide it up into the most impressive and most disappointing clubs, with three teams in each category. You'll have to wait until the column comes out to see who I've got in each category but there weren't too many disappointments in the group stage thus far. I'm not sure any team that was supposed to have gotten through is now sitting on the outside looking in.

There were various levels of ineptness that I capitalized on in terms of the bad clubs, but overall the teams that were supposed to go through have or on the verge of doing so. You could argue that some of those teams haven't been as impressive - Chelsea for instance still hasn't clinched a spot in the knockout rounds. If that happens, they of course would head the list. But for now, they just missed my cut.

As far as impressive teams go, I don't think you could leave out Barcelona. Four wins and a draw thus far has been impressive. But they aren't the only teams who have yet to lose - Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United, Villarreal, Arsenal, Juventus, Lyon and Bayern have yet to lose through five matches. And I picked two of those to round out the list.

Noticias y mas sobre el Galaxy

In case you missed it or have yet to see it, the LA Galaxy launched their revamped Spanish-language Web site. It's the offseason now but once the preseason starts and the season gets underway it will likely serve as a reliable source of Spanish-language info on the club.

Anyway, the site address is

Americans in Mexico: two playoff goals

Trusty reader Albert wisely corrected me on Sunday regarding my initial thoughts on Americans and Mexico and playoff goals.

Edgar Castillo scored for Santos in the Mexican league playoffs on Sunday but he was not the first American to score a goal in the playoffs. As Albert pointed out, Gerardo Mascareno scored a goal in a 5-1 rout Atlas had over Monterrey in the Invierno 96 season (I scoured You Tube and sadly no highlights of this classic strike).

Castillo's goal was the second such strike, a goal knocked in by a native of the United States. Now, there have several Americans to have played in the Mexican league playoffs but none found the back of the net. Marcelo Balboa, Cle Kooiman, Mike Sorber and Tab Ramos were among the Americans to have played in the Mexican league playoffs prior to the days of MLS but none found the back of the net in the postseason.

I didn't compile a list of statistics in terms of how many games Americans have played in total during the Mexican league playoffs - that may take a while, if anything to scour the web for dates, statistics, etc. Still, while that may provide a bit of perspective, for an American to score a goal in the Mexican liguilla is memorable and, as you can see, a bit of a rarity.

El Tri in Europe recap Dec. 6-7

La Liga

Omar Bravo (Deportivo La Coruña): As noted in last Friday’s preview, Bravo was due. The forward entered at the beginning of the second half and provided the Galicians with their second goal after being taken down in the penalty area. He converted the penalty kick in the 69th minute.

Andrés Guardado (Deportivo La Coruña): Started but subbed in the 58th minute of the 2-0 victory.

Rafael Márquez (Barcelona): The defender played the entire match as the Catalans cruised to a 4-0 victory over Valencia.

Guillermo Luis Franco (Villarreal): Did not dress as Villarreal’s match against Getafe ended 3-3. Now that Turkish international Nihat Kahveci has returned Franco’s days look numbered at the Spanish club.

English Premiership

Carlos Vela (Arsenal): Vela was an unused substitute in the 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic.

Nery Castillo (Manchester City on loan from Shaktar Donetsk): Did not dress as City took a point at Fulham.

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

German Bundesliga

Aarón Galindo (Eintracht Frankfurt): Did not dress in Frankfurt’s 4-0 victory over VfL Bochum.

Pavel Pardo (VfB Stuttgart): Did not dress for the 3-0 victory at Energie Cottbus.

Ricardo Osorio (VfB Stuttgart): Played the entire match as Stuttgart took three away points at Energie Cottbus.

Dutch Eredivisie

Héctor Moreno (AZ): Started and played all 90 minutes as AZ dispatched of SC Heracles Almelo by a score of 2-0.

Carlos Salcido (PSV Eindhoven): Played the entire match as PSV defeated Groningen.

Francisco Javier Rodríguez (PSV Eindhoven): Unused substitute in the 4-2 victory over FC Groningen.

-- Sean Grybos

Edgar Castillo to America

A day after scoring his first career playoff goal, Edgar Castillo is on the move.

Castillo left Santos following the club's playoff exit and will now play for Club America. Regardless of America's standing in league, they've been dreadful now for several seasons, this is a great move for Castillo. He now joins an elite club in the Western Hemisphere even though they've not been contenders now for three seasons. With America, he will be under the spotlight each and every week and will have the chance to break through on a greater stage.

As a speedy left back who did not often find the back of the net, Castillo's play at times was seemingly overlooked or taken for granted. But now he will be analyzed and criticized the way only players on elite clubs are. It will be a great mental and emotional test for Castillo to play with America.

Not 100 percent sure, but I believe that Castillo becomes the first American to play for America. We had a trusty reader help out with past accomplishments Americans had in Mexico (and I'll get to that more in detail later) but I can't recall off hand an American who played for America.

What this means for the short term is that Castillo will not get a chance to rest much. He will now participate in InterLiga, which kicks off in the first few days of January. And as if he needed much reminding about the challenging parts of playing for a regional giant, his first game could be against Chivas in Houston.

The above link is from El Siglo De Torreon. Apparently, he's known as "Homie" around Torreon, so the headline says "Homie says goodbye."

Metallica Monday

When I first started The Touchline, I let it be known that I reserved the right to blog about non-soccer stuff. I haven't done so until today, but dammit I'm flying head first into it. Why? At the end of the week, I'm going to see Metallica here in Ontario, CA, and I must say I'm enthused. Quite a bit enthused.

Now, I wouldn't say Metallica is my favorite band to be honest. I'd have to say Rage Against the Machine is probably still number one and then from there on it just depends on lots of things as to who falls behind it. However, Metallica is up there.

As far as the show on Friday, a friend of a friend got us four tickets, something like within the first 10 rows, for about 60 bucks a pop. Pretty good deal! And he still handed us the tickets even though he was offered $1,000 for the same four seats he got us.

Anyway, I'm hoping Metallica plays some of my favorite songs of course. I'll be posting Metallica videos all week as I count down to the show but today's will be their newest song. I know d asked about the new album yesterday; well, I haven't heard the whole thing but what I've heard I've enjoyed. This song, for instance, starts a bit slow but it gets good and has some of the classic Metallica elements. I don't think this CD is like St. Anger, which really was mediocre.

If you've got any thoughts on Metallica or have seen them recently, feel free to let me know what I have coming towards me.

Here's the song, The Day That Never Comes.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Toluca finalista!

Obligations got the best of me today so I'm just getting around to this but Toluca bested Santos today in Nemesio Diez. Edgar Castillo scored for the visitors but Toluca was too much in the end as Edgar Duenas and Hector Raul Mancilla scored goals for los Diablos Rojos.

I will post highlights when I get home.

Toluca will now play Cruz Azul in the Apertura final. We will offer you plenty of analysis leading up to the finals here on The Touchline.

ADD: Here are the highlights. Also, as far as I can tell Edgar Castillo is the first American to score a goal in the Mexican league playoffs.

TV Sunday

Your best bet for TV games today is Toluca-Santos on Telemundo at 10 am PT. Santos needs a win which means they should come out fired up and attack-minded. Although I have no rooting interest in this game, though I have always been a bit of an admirer of Toluca, I hope Santos gets through if nothing else to see Cuauhtemoc Blanco in the final. That would keep some interest among MLS fans alive at any rate.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

La Maquina goes through

Cruz Azul is back in the final.

With a 1-1 draw, Cruz Azul advanced to the Mexican league final for the second consecutive season. Whether or not La Maquina can actually win a title for the first time since 1997 remains to be seen but they've got a shot.

Here are the highlights:

You're the tin pot, buddy

If you read my first-ever post on The Touchline, you know how I feel about the English Premier League. I've pretty much always felt like that. To many, I suppose I'm missing out or less of a soccer fan or whatever because I don't get up early and spend all my Saturdays watching the EPL.

I got an e-mail last night that gave me absolutely no desire to change my position. I don't much care for arrogance.

This is from some wanker named Keith near London, who felt the urge to write to me about my most recent column for

Cuauhtemoc Blanco! Never heard of him untill he was at the Fire..hmmm hardly a legend in the making, lets be honest if he as anygood he would be over here and not in a tin pot league like the Mexican or the MLS!

What you should watch today (Dec. 6)

You could spend your day watching English, Spanish or other footy from Europe but make sure you watch the Atlante-Cruz Azul game. It starts at 5 p.m. PT on Telemundo.

Atlante badly needs a win, in fact a convincing win. Cruz Azul heads to Cancun for this match with a 3-1 advantage in their semifinal series. Atlante beat Cruz Azul in the playoffs a year ago so expect La Maquina to be extra prepared and focused on this match because of that.

Success in Auckland

The Galaxy knocked off the Oceania XI by 3-0 on Saturday. Jovan Kirovski, Alan Gordon and Brandon McDonald scored the goals for the Galaxy.

I'll post the lineups and highlights when they are available.

As far as the result, it may seem encouraging but I'm not sure this result means much of anything. This team could look quite a bit different come the start of training camp and whatever positives were gained from this match probably won't carry over.

After all, Clint Mathis and Carlos Pavon scored goals for the Galaxy in New Zealand and that didn't exactly carry over into anything.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Davino's out

Duilio Davino and FC Dallas parted ways as the club bought out Davino's contract.

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a bust, though. A bust would be when a lot is expected of a player, lots of money and/or resources are used to obtain him and the player does not live up to expectations. That would be someone like Marcelo Gallardo.

Anyone who had paid any attention to the last several Mexican league seasons could have told the FC Dallas front office that Davino was not worth a bag of soccer balls, let alone $400,000. He played with the speed of said bag of soccer balls and was a terror on the FC Dallas backline, a terror for all the wrong reasons.

Now Davino is free to explore his options in Mexico. Not sure how vast those options are but he could probably still land a job somewhere. Maybe.

Influential Blanco

Earlier this week, I wrote about Cuauhtemoc Blanco for the Press-Enterprise. Today, I took a different look at Blanco's return to Mexico, this time for

Blanco's team got shut down yesterday as Toluca stopped Santos cold but I wouldnt' necessarily call it a bad performance by Santos. Toluca is on a roll, and Santos didn't do enough to break through. Santos has a chance, although it will be tough, to reach the final by winning in Toluca.

With Blanco on their side, though, their chances are pretty damned good.

Also, I linked to three You Tube clips of memorable Blanco goals - two of which came in games Blanco played at Toluca.

El Tri in Europe, Dec. 6-7 preview

La Liga

Omar Bravo (Deportivo La Coruña): Deportivo hosts Málaga on Sunday. Is this the week Bravo breaks through?

Andrés Guardado (Deportivo La Coruña): Guardado should play the entire match against Málaga.

Rafael Márquez (Barcelona): The Catalan club sits in first place and hosts third-place Valencia on Saturday.

Guillermo Luis Franco (Villarreal): Franco’s club hosts Getafe. The three points are crucial for the second-place side as both Real Madrid and Valencia could jump over the Spanish side if it stumbles. Franco has seen his playing time decrease since the beginning of the La Liga season.

English Premiership

Carlos Vela (Arsenal): The club is about to add another attacking option as Eduardo will be returning from injury. It will be interesting to see how that impacts Vela’s playing time. The club is home to Wigan Athletic.

Nery Castillo (Manchester City on loan from Shaktar Donetsk): City is at Fulham.

Giovani dos Santos (Tottenham Hotspur): Injured (ankle). Spurs are at West Ham United.

German Bundesliga

Aarón Galindo (Eintracht Frankfurt): The club hosts VfL Bochum. Frankfurt sits in twelfth place in the table and Bochum is in sixteenth.

Pavel Pardo (VfB Stuttgart): After the vital victory to Schalke 04, Stuttgart will attempt to take at least one point when the club travels to Energie Cottbus.

Ricardo Osorio (VfB Stuttgart): Along with his El Tri teammate, Osorio should see significant playing time in the match at Energie Cottbus.

Dutch Eredivisie

Héctor Moreno (AZ): After last week’s victory over FC Groningen, SC Heracles Almelo travels to the DSB Stadion. AZ should take three points.

Carlos Salcido (PSV Eindhoven): PSV is home to FC Groningen. The clubs are separated by a single point.

Francisco Javier Rodríguez (PSV Eindhoven): Sixth-place PSV hosts fifth-place FC Groningen on Saturday.

-- Sean Grybos

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Toluca walks away with advantage

Toluca held serve on Thursday in holding Santos to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their semifinal series. Toluca needs only a draw at home on Sunday to advance to their first final since the Apertura '06 season.

Santos, meanwhile, squandered away a chance to put themselves in a good position to reach their second consecutive final and now need to win a playoff game in Estadio Nemesio Diez, not exactly the easiest task.

Here are highlights of Thursday's game:

Ambassador Beckham

David Beckham and the Galaxy are off on their brief barnstorming tour of New Zealand. Here's a video of a press conference Beckham and the Galaxy held in Auckland.

Nurse departs

Roberto Nurse is now all but a former Chivas USA player. Nurse will likely return to Mexico, back to the Primera A, possibly with Veracruz, according to this MedioTiempo story (thanks for the link albert).

Some of the interesting parts of the story:

He was asked why return to Mexico, why not stay with Chivas USA and he responded:

"The truth is that the soccer there is different. I just went for the adventure. I didn't know the coach or the players and honestly it is difficult to go like that, and more so when the coach does not like your style of play or does not like you as a player. That was the case with me, because I responded in training, in games and he never felt an affinity towards me. I told myself, 'Well, I didn't come here to not play.' I prefer to return to Mexico and test my luckthere once again."

It's too bad that Nurse leaves so quickly, really without even having gotten an opportunity. He should have played more, plain and simple. With all the injuries the team suffered through, especially in the forward line, for Nurse not to have played more was simply puzzling.