Friday, February 27, 2009

Bravo back home

Omar Bravo's European dream is all but shattered. Bravo is on his way back home as he has joined Tigres on loan from Deportivo la Coruna for the rest of the Clausura 2009.

My first thought: what a waste.

My second thought: I am not surprised.

Bravo has always been a decent player but I've always felt he's not as good as he's been made out to be. He's a very popular player, as he gained enormous popularity while playing for Chivas. But he's never done much with the Mexican national team. You tell me he scored two goals in the 2006 World Cup, I'll tell you he missed a penalty kick in that same tournament and wasn't on the field for the deciding match.

Bravo's a bust. Yes, he signed on a free (I believe someone commented on that here before) but that shouldn't matter in determining whether a player failed to meet expectations. Bravo flopped in Spain and now returns to Mexico against his will, to a team that has reached for a high-profile foreign flop before (Francisco Fonseca).

Maybe some time back in the Mexican league will serve Bravo some good. Or maybe he's fallen so far off that nothing will give him a shot with Deportivo anymore. Whatever the case, at least he'll be playing again.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Impactful win

Montreal upset Santos 2-0... but was it really an upset? During the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, Santos lost by two goals at Puerto Rico and at Tauro FC as well. Anyway, you'll have to wait for my Friday SI.com column as I'll be writing about the CCL.

Here are match highlights from the game:

Azul downs Pumas

Cruz Azul beat Pumas 1-0 in a bit of a dull game. Cruz Azul defended a lot after nabbing their goal. Pumas had their chances though and could have made it 1-1.

Ah, the memories

Former blog partner and current Goal.com colleague Andrea Canales put together a bit of a quiz over on the Goal.com blog. It's pretty cool actually. She took a bunch of pictures of players who have moved on, some from the Galaxy, some from Chivas USA, some from other teams. I could probably name them all, haven't tried but I feel I have an unfair advantage since I remember most of the pictures and when they were taken, and even took at least one of them myself.

Anyway, thought it'd be worth a read.

Terrible defending

Chivas beat Everton 6-2 on Wednesday, destroyed them actually. It didn't seem like Everton put up a tough fight. Their defense actually looked downright awful.



Not sure what this means in the grand scheme of things, if Chivas has what it takes to make a run at the Copa title, or if Everton is just a bad team. But for now, it keeps Efrain Flores' job safe and puts Chivas atop Group 6 in Copa Libertadores.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Changes afloat

A lot of good this goal did...



Brandon McDonald, who will be remembered for this nifty goal at the end of last season, was one of five Galaxy players who are now unemployed.

McDonald, Steve Cronin, Troy Roberts, Mike Randolph and Ely Allen are all gone.

Allen also had one goal, though it wasn't a goal of the year finalist like McDonald's.



Colorado again, but a different game, earlier in the season when the Galaxy still had a chance of something.

Both players were rookies a year ago, but now they're gone. Cronin is gone, which is a move that comes a year too late. Cronin was hideous a year ago and was never cut out to be a starting MLS goalkeeper.

Roberts seemed like a decent experienced option off the bench or as a spot starter but apparently Bruce Arena doesn't have that luxury. Randolph looked like he had potential but regressed some a year ago. Todd Dunivant's arrival spelled the end of Randolph.

Becks' secret weapon

Not all David Beckham news are the same old tired tales.

Donovan update

This morning, the Press-Enterprise ran my latest column as I tried to help my PE readers catch up with Landon Donovan and his trails and travails.

A few hours later, we found out that his chance apparently has come and gone. Donovan was included on Bayern's Champions League roster but did not even make the bench for Bayern Munich's game against Sporting Lisbon.

I'd say the tone of the column would change now if I had to re-write it. I'd say I'd have a better chance of learning to speak Mandarin Chinese in two weeks than he does of staying with Bayern Munich.

At least now that's over with and we can all move on to preparing for the Galaxy's season.

Almost. There is that whole Beckham thing that's been in the news of late.

Four in action

Four Mexican teams will be in action on Wednesday and none of the results will count towards league play.

Chivas will play Everton in Copa Libertadores play in Mexico. Meanwhile Santos visits Montreal and Cruz Azul hosts Pumas in CONCACAF Champions League play.

In terms of results, Chivas' poor form could carry over into cup. Chivas need a victory over Everton as they need to maximize their home points. Chivas can ill afford to get a point and put themselves in position to get a road win or two just to advance. If they win, everything's fine in Copa. A draw or loss, and maybe the grumblings over Efrain Flores' job grow louder.

Meanwhile, Santos seems to be taking their Champions League effort seriously - at least that's what coach Daniel Guzman said.

This is in contrast to Pumas and Cruz Azul. However, Cruz Azul have six players out and suspended and will be forced to use backups.

Pumas, meanwhile, is fielding young players. They won't even bother to try and hide the fact that they are using only young players.. but given their horrendous league form, that may be a good thing.

Houston-Atlante highlights

The teams traded corner kick goals and tied 1-1 on Tuesday. The task is now monumental for Houston as they must win outright or tie 2-2 or higher in Cancun next week. They're trying to adjust to life without Dwayne De Rosario, which only makes things more difficult. Atlante could easily sit back and walk out with a 0-0 draw. Their defense is not terrible, so such a scenario is not out of the question.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Houston welcome Atlante

Houston and Atlante will renew hostilities tonight as the two teams will play in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series. The first leg is in Houston and the next leg is scheduled for March 3 in Cancun.

The series will feature a different tiebreaker than the CONCACAF Champions Cup we became accustomed to. This time, away goals will serve as a tiebreaker. With the onus on the road team to score and the hosts to try and maintain a zero, these knockout games might have a bit more intensity.

It also means that Atlante could put a damper on Houston's spirits with one goal, even if the MLS side wins. Houston tied Pumas in Mexico City a year ago, but no MLS team has ever beaten a Mexican team on Mexican soil during a CONCACAF match. Of course, should Houston win tonight and draw next week, that would be enough to see them through no matter now many goals Atlante scores.

Atlante will bring a squad that has played more poorly than not in league this season. With a 1-4-2 record, Atlante are among the bottom of the pack and need to improve quickly to have a chance at the playoffs. Still, Luis Gabriel Rey is a formidable player. Atlante doesn't have the most anemic attack in Mexico but they've scored just eight goals in seven games.

Here are some stories on the game:

Houston Chronicle previews the game

A breakdown by Goal.com

USA Today looks at the tournament

Monday, February 23, 2009

After a long slumber

I swear, somewhere along the line I almost forgot about this. The CONCACAF Champions League returns in full swing this week. Houston will carry Major League Soccer's flag as the Dynamo will play Atlante on Tuesday.

Other quarterfinal series: Cruz Azul-Pumas; Montreal-Santos Laguna; Marathon-Puerto Rico.

There's a chance we could see three Mexican teams in the semifinals... or one. I'd give the edge to a Mexican team in the Cruz Azul-Pumas series for sure. That's my super lock of the year.

Not sure about Atlante. They are in bad form. Still, they are in midseason form however bad that may be, while Houston is in preseason form, and I think that's the excuse MLS teams always fall back on, you know, the whole "we can't win for crap because we're in preseason form."

If I'm a betting man, I'd actually take Houston. Atlante can't score and can't win, at least not recently and I think Houston has had this on their mind for a while. They've had this to prepare for and I think Dominic Kinnear will have his team prepared.

Santos is slowly coming out of their own wretched start to the Clausura and all I know about Montreal is that it is about a six-hour flight from LA. Santos is a tough place to visit so I'd give them the edge on that alone, even if Montreal were at their peak and since the USL season hasn't started, I'm guessing they're not.

If nothing else, it's more soccer and more regional soccer so I'll be watching.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Panchito bags two

Francisco Mendoza scored two goals for Tapatio on Saturday in a 2-2 draw for Chivas' second-division side.

Mendoza combined with Jesus Padilla on the first goal as Mendoza fed Padilla who returned the ball to Panchito, who slid and knocked the ball into goal. In the 89th minute, with Tapatio down 2-1 and with 10 men on the field, Mendoza fired a shot from some 15 yards past the opposing goalkeeper after a brief scramble inside the box.

Panchito might see more action for the first team on Wednesday as Chivas will play a Copa Libertadores match at home.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

One survivor

Chivas USA returned from Guadalajara with Eduardo Lillingston in tow. Lillingston will have the chance to show his worth to coaches in Saturday's games against Hammarby and UCLA.

The skinny on Lillingston: he's played with Tecos, Santos, Tigres, Toluca and Atlas. He spent the Apertura 03 to Apertura 08 seasons with Tecos. Overall, he's scored 57 goals in 258 games. He's been used mostly as an option off the bench in his career, though, as he's only started 118 games. He's 31 years old.

Lillingston is an interesting player but won't be a difference-maker if he stays. I see him as the fourth option at forward at best, with everyone healthy of course. But that's where he could be of value. If players aren't healthy, Lillingston will be someone Preki can turn to for an experienced option off the bench.

Also, the club wants to bring Arturo Ledesma up as well, but Ledesma is under contract with Guadalajara, so there are some hurdles to overcome before that happens. Ledesma would add good depth in central defense, particularly since Claudio Suarez is not around. Not sure what the deal is with Suarez but he's not signed and not in camp, though not officially retired.

Goals needed

Landon Donovan's stay in Germany is supposed to run through March 8, and although many on this side of the situation have speculated that Donovan is all but set for a transfer, recent articles on that side of the deal have all but indicated otherwise.

Still, Donovan will have a chance to show his stuff now. Bayern Munich have five games from now until the end of Donovan's loan, and with striker Luca Toni injured, Donovan may have his opportunity to play and show his worth.

I had expected Donovan to remain in Germany and I'm still holding out hope that he does. However, in order for that to happen he must show what he can do. And that means goals. If he's not scoring, he's not staying. And if he's not playing, he's not going to have a chance of scoring much.

Bayern play Cologne today and have a Champions League fixture against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday. With Toni out, Donovan may start. Or Lukas Podolski may get the opportunity. Regardless, Donovan has to find the back of the net soon and probably often in order to win over support from the front office.

And even then, there are no guarantees that he'll stay. MLS might set the price too high.

With everything still up in the air, at least this loan isn't a soap opera.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Castillo's hissy fit

Edgar Castillo made noise on Wednesday for all the wrong reasons.

First, the New Mexico native was on the wrong end of a botched clearance. Then, he got subbed out.

Here are the match highlights, though you don't see anything from Castillo except for his horrendous defensive error and him walking off the field:



According to Mural, Castillo was quite agitated after he left the game. After the goal, Mural reports, America assistant coaches conferred with head coach Jesus Ramirez and apparently concluded that Atlas was torching Castillo and America's left flank. Castillo was replaced in the 34th minute, some 10 minutes after his gaffe.

Upon reaching the bench, Castillo yelled and protested his removal, to the point that backup goalkeeper Armando Navarette had to step in and calm Castillo down.

It will be interesting to see if Castillo plays in America's next match, Saturday at Tigres. Ramirez, who took over a week ago, said no player is guaranteed a spot on the team, so if Castillo has been terrible on and off the field, he might not be playing much anytime soon.

Effective victory

The Galaxy are in a final!

Okay, that's a bit waaaay over-dramatic, but it's true. The Galaxy beat Oita of Japan 2-0 in the Pan-Pacific Championship on Wednesday at Home Depot Center.

Ultimately, the tournament itself means little but the way the team played means much more. Their 2-0 win was a product of effective soccer, something that was lacking quite a bit last year.

Here's how they went about obtaining their victory:

Todos los goles

From midweek action in Mexico.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday's Galaxy column

Late start today, again. Argh. Anyway, here's a link to my PE column.

I haven't weighed in much on the Beckham soap opera but, with the Pan Pacific Championship going on tonight, I figured it would be worthwhile to chime in.

I won't be at HDC tonight either, as much as I'd like to. Seriously. I'll take in a doubleheader anytime, even if it's teams I'm unfamiliar with. I'd also like to see what the Galaxy look like at this part of the preseason, with about a month before the start of the regular season.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Power rankings

I might have to come up with a better name, at least one that's more original, but I started some Mexican rankings on Goal.com. I got some collaboration with some of the others who contribute to the site. It was pretty cool putting it together, and it'll be a fixture.

Something about rankings and lists that grabs people's attention...

Becks and LD

I got a late start this morning because I've been working on my PE column, which now runs every Wednesday.

I tackled the David Beckham topic, the soap opera that it is. And while I'll save the actual column until Wednesday, I did want to share a bit of it here right now.

Beckham's made it clear that he wants to stay in Italy. So too has Landon Donovan. Beckham is on loan and scheduled to return on March 9, like Donovan, but if he had his druthers Milan would be his permanent home; Munich would be Donovan's.

So, what's the difference between the two? Why is Beckham vilified while Donovan isn't?

I answered that in my column, at least what I think is the answer, but wanted to see if I'm thinking along the same lines as Galaxy/MLS fans, mostly the former.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Job hazards

My first season of refereeing is in the books, for the most part. I picked up a couple of other non-high school refereeing assignments (one is reffing co-ed intramural games at a local university, grad students mostly, three games, every Thursday night, 100 bucks per night, easy money).

I'll write some more of my high school tales here in the coming weeks. One thing I encountered often, though, was the ball. As in, it flew past me a lot. When I was working alone, I stayed mostly in the middle of the field so the ball was an ever-present obstacle. There were some games recently in which the ball caromed off my leg or thigh or something. One game, the ball nailed me three times in one half. It didn't hurt, but I felt like a moron that couldn't get out of the way of the ball. It's harder than you think, really, to avoid the ball. It's easy to read the game and react to the flow of the game at the JV level for instance. A defender will send a long ball over the top of a group of players but nobody on his/her team is up there waiting for it so you figure the ball will go back down in the opposite direction.

It's when the players can't get out of each other's way that causes problems. Player A tries to dribble through B's defense and Player B takes control, dribbles too long, Player A gets ball back, tries to pass to teammate, stolen by another Player B, who tries to pass it to a teammate out wide - BANG - goes off my leg.

I try to stay as close to the action as possible but not too close because the ball moves around a lot. Sometimes, though, the action gets close to me.

Well, none of the shots I took were very hard. I mean, 15-year-old girls can only kick so hard to begin with. Still, I sympathized with this guy even though his job hazards are much more difficult and potentially damaging than mine.

Skewed perspective

I was right there with this commentary from David Faitelson. He was waxing poetic about Mexico's ills, at first about Rafael Marquez, then about El Tri in general. He alluded to a problem with Mexico greater than its coach, that there is no magic wand, that there aren't 11 magicians out there Mexico could send on the field and restore order. I agreed with him on a lot of things.

Then, he went and ruined it at the end.



Towards the very end, he said that Mexico had two things going for them: 1) Azteca, he said they never lose there and 2) they play in CONCACAF. He said that if they were playing against Brazil, Argentina, Italy or Germany, forget about it.

Now, Azteca is a fortress. But Mexico has lost there twice in the last eight years. One was a qualifier. Still, I'd have Mexico as a favorite against any CONCACAF team there so I don't disagree on him there.

But taking CONCACAF lightly? First, this is a weak region. Let's call a spade a spade. This isn't UEFA or CONMEBOL. However, that doesn't mean Mexico (or the US) can send any players out and expect a win. Worse, the two teams he brings up are teams Mexico has lost to in qualifiers already. Costa Rica won the aforementioned qualifier in Azteca, a 2-1 result in 2001. And Honduras, Mexico lost at Honduras in 2001 (3-1) and 2008 (1-0).

It's this kind of thinking that has sunk Mexico. "It's only CONCACAF so we don't need to worry too much." When you play St. Kitts and Nevis, Belize or Dominica, yeah, you can say that. Those teams are pathetic. But when you are playing a team like Honduras that is itching to tear you apart, like Costa Rica who wants nothing more than another victory in Azteca, the "it's only CONCACAF" saying doesn't fly. These teams endured beatings for many years by Mexico, and now they want to return the favor.

But whatever I suppose. If the media wants to take the rest of the region lightly, then the fallout from further losses will only be louder and more harsh since those are teams Mexico is supposed to beat up on anyway, in their eyes anyway.

Damaged goods

Three days after the deadline MLS set for a decision on the David Beckham transfer saga have passed and things have changed. Milan might be out of the Serie A race after a loss to Inter, while Beckham is now an injury concern as he left the Milan derby with a hamstring injury in the 59th minute.

Becks is still expected back on March 9. However, this is why I still think we won't see it happen. Here's what he said after the match:

"I know it will be difficult to go back after everything that's happened. I've said I want to stay at Milan and I haven't changed my mind, but it's out of my hands. I hope things will go the way I want them to, of course. But if I have to go back, I will be professional, because that's what I have to do."

Here's a link to a story on the matter from the LA Times.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Picante on Marquez

More analysis from the Futbol Picante crowd, this time on Rafael Marquez.

Some of the interesting things the commentators said:

- "It was a cowardly act."

- "If he did this over there (in Spain) and repeated it in a Real Madrid-Barcelona match, the fans would not have him back, and neither would the club."

- "What he should do is take the captain's armband, turn it in and say 'I made a mistake.'"

They're also not thrilled about Marquez not talking to the media before the game, then running to the press afterward to get his apology out.

Mexico recap

Saturday was an exciting day in the Mexican league... but when does a Saturday during the season go by without being exciting?

Some of the highlights:

* Pachuca beat Pumas 3-2 and stayed atop the overall league lead.
* Jesus "Chucho" Ramirez debuted as America coach in 0-0 draw at Jaguares.
* Juan Pablo Garcia scored the game-winner in Tigres' 1-0 win over San Luis

Check out Goal.com for more coverage. I've got you covered.

General commentary

A little late in linking to this, but my former boss Paul Oberjuerge wrote about US-Mexico and it's worth reading no matter how far removed from the game we are. Paul has a great perspective on the game as he has covered many US games in his day, including the US-Mexico game in Azteca in 1997.

Anyway, Paul offers his thoughts on the match here.

One of his first thoughts...

"Once we get past the instinctive 'beating Mexico is always good news' … it occurs to us that Mexico is barely a worthy opponent anymore. The American team is getting better, yes … but Mexico seems to be regressing into fairly thorough mediocrity."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mexico's Five Deadly Sins

Mural ran a story on Friday breaking down Mexico's most recent failures. Under Sven-Goran Eriksson, Mexico has hardly been a strong side, and barely a productive one. Mexico is winless in its last four qualifiers, having just one draw to show for games in Jamaica, Canada, Honduras and the U.S.

Mural took a look at all 10 games Eriksson has been part of, and here's what they pointed to as reasons for Mexico's slump (along with a brief paraphrase of their analysis):

1. Few Variations: In 7 of the 10 games, simple passes have failed the team in the final 20 minutes, the units blend together and players are sent off in desperate moves, such as Marquez against the US and Torrado and Vela against Honduras. All five games in which Mexico has trailed in the 70th minute have been losses; only twice has Mexico come-from-behind. The substitutions have not worked and have been straight position-for-position swaps. Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela have been part of all the official games, even though they've not functioned well.

2. Offensive Shortcomings: Mexico has now gone 270 minutes (three games) without scoring; none of the 15 forwards who have been called up have been effective. Of the 11 goals, only three have come from forwards. Only two players have scored more than one goal: Pavel Pardo and Matias Vuoso. The eight forwards that made up the recent roster have combined for 31 goals [in league, presumably] since August - Carlos Ochoa and Alberto Medina account for 18 of them.

3. Costly Misses: Seven of the 11 goals allowed have come from defensive errors: Ali Gerba's goal for Canada was a shot that Oswaldo mis-timed; Ricardo Fuller's goal in Jamaica was the result of a defensive turnover, and the subsequent shot deflected off Marquez and into the goal; in Honduras, Osorio scored an own goal; Wednesday, Marquez lost Donovan on the first goal, and Oswaldo had a "bad bounce" in front of him for the second goal.

4. Set Pieces: Defending against set pieces has been ineffective. In two losses, Mexico has given up a total of three set-piece goals. On the attacking side, because of their lack of offense Mexico has relied heavily on set pieces. Pardo, Guardado and Salcido have scored directly off free kicks; Marquez scored on a header off a free kick while Vuoso scored off a corner kick.

5. Lack of Rhythm: Vela, Dos Santos, Castillo, Franco and Bravo are riding the bench on their club teams; Vela finds it difficult to play more than 15 minutes; Dos Santos missed time due to injury and has only played in 11 games since August and has no goals in that time; Nery, zero games with Man City and has yet to play an official game with Shakhtar; Bravo three goals in 17 games, Guiller two goals in 19 games.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Still around... for now

Looks like David Beckham won't stay in Italy after all. Well, not sold on that but that's what the Galaxy said earlier today.

Here's the official statement from Bruce Arena:

Today's deadline imposed by Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber regarding a resolution of David Beckham's potential transfer to AC Milan has passed and we did not receive an acceptable offer for the player. As a result, David remains an LA Galaxy player and we look forward to having him back with the club starting March 9.

My take: I don't believe we've seen the end of this. The Galaxy know they have the advantage in this situation. They don't have to do anything; they don't have to get rid of Beckham, they don't have to meet any deadline (today's deadline wasn't imposed by them), they don't have to negotiate for anything. Beckham is their player and that's that. Milan is the club that wants him, and Beckham wants to stay. So Milan will have to pay extra to get him because the Galaxy don't have to get rid of him.

Now, the Galaxy also knows that Beckham has an escape clause, at least that's what has been reported. If he can walk at the end of the 2009 season, then maybe it's something to consider. But there's no guarantee that Milan would want him back in October or November or whenever he'd be free to go abroad, reportedly.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see more negotiations on the part of Milan. Supposedly they were sending some people over to talk to the Galaxy face-to-face. If they turn up, what are the Galaxy going to say: Mr. Garber says we can't talk anymore? No. Not a chance. If Milan people show up, expect the Galaxy to listen.

Besides, there's the negative PR that could come from all of this. Many Galaxy fans have expressed some form of dissatisfaction with Golden Balls, and frankly I can't blame them. On the field, the Galaxy is a shadow of its former greatness. Off the field, there are priorities in place that weren't there four years ago. The atmosphere at times around the Galaxy is arrogant and pompous, and that certainly wasn't the case four years ago, even after they won the double. A lot of that has to do with Beckham, because they certainly haven't won jack since 2005. The Galaxy would be better off continuing to negotiate with Milan and try and get rid of Beckham. I'm sure that Milan will come back with another offer, probably higher than the $10 million or whatever has been reported. That's a nice bit of money for any player, even Beckham. They can start putting the focus back on soccer - they're going to make money anyway, with or without Beckham.

Anyway, Beckham is still property of the Galaxy, and the team still is counting on him to return on March 9. But that does not mean we've seen the end of this drama.

Paco, Captain Marquez

Had a question below in the comments, actually a couple of questions. Figured I'd answer them here.

1) Paco Ramirez and the slapping incident. I haven't seen anything from Paco Ramirez himself. I've seen some commentaries online about the incident, saying it was bad on the part of Ramirez, but mostly there hasn't been discussed much. If I come across something more on it, I'll pass it along.

2) There are some who think Rafael Marquez shouldn't be captain anymore. I can't say I disagree. There are even some who think he shouldn't be called back in at all. I think that's a bit too excessive, though. I think Carlos Salcido or Pavel Pardo would make good captains. I'd probably opt for Salcido, though. He's got more years left in him than Pardo and you could build some longevity and consistency with Salcido as captain.

Picante analysis

This is some pretty good stuff here. It's the Futbol Picante crew talking about the US-Mexico game. Good analysis.



I won't take the time to translate all of it for you English-speaking readers but I will sort of paraphrase one part towards the end.

One of the commentators talks about how, even though Mexico lost to the US again, he doesn't think the US is an equipazo, a great team. The other commentator says "They're not, but neither is Mexico."

They go back and forth. The one falls back on the security blanket many Mexican media are seemingly clinging to, and says that the US would play the same in Azteca and that Mexico would play better in Azteca, and that no matter how bad Mexico was they wouldn't lose to the US in Azteca.

The other commentator returns to the debate over the US and Mexico and brings up a question Ricardo Osorio fielded, where he said he didn't think the US was a great team. He says he would have fired back to Osorio "And what about your team?"

Not enough

I'm sorry but I can't get enough of US-Mexico and the Hexagonal in general. The games are over, there are lots of MLS and Mexican league stuff going on but, damn it, the national teams are still captivating me.

Some of the things I've come across and kicked around on the web this morning:

* Manuel Lapuente seemed concerned over the state of El Tri. He even seemed to go against the grain and said that a home loss was possible.

* Nery Castillo admitted that he had felt some discomfort before the US game and that he may have torn a muscle. (link's in Spanish)

* Here are highlights from Wednesday's other qualifiers:

Trinidad has nobody to blame for blowing a 2-0 lead but themselves:



Costa Rica is dominant at home:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sven should stay

I organized my earlier thoughts from yesterday into a column for SI.com and added some quotes from a press conference that was held in Mexico City.

I stand by my original statement that Sven-Goran Eriksson should not be fired, and apparently the FMF bosses think so too.

Now, that doesn't mean things won't change if the unimaginable happens... well, at least it seemed unimaginable until recently. If Costa Rica somehow beats Mexico in Azteca on March 28, then Mexico goes to Honduras three days later. Things might change quickly after that.

Anyone remember what happened the last time Mexico hosted Costa Rica and then went down to Honduras in a Hexagonal?

But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. And I say let Eriksson try and avoid that bridge.

Again and again and again

Mural ran this on the cover of the sports section on Thursday:


Translation:

AGAIN
... El Tri loses 2-0 in Columbus
... Marquez is sent off
... The coach's moves don't work
... They give up a set piece goal
... El Tri plays long ball
... Oswaldo gives up a howler

In reserve

This cartoon ran in Thursday's edition of Cancha:


Javier Aguirre stands behind Sven-Goran Eriksson and says (presumably to Lil' Tri): You, calm down... I rescued "Ojitos" once.

(Ojitos is Enrique Meza, who was Aguirre's predecessor in 2001 when Mexico struggled in qualification)

Mexico players: good and bad

Here's what I thought about some of the Mexican players and their performances in Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the US:

GOOD

Pavel Pardo: His set-piece ability is strong and it showed against the US. He wasn't active a lot going forward in the run of play but his presence was valuable.

Carlos Salcido: Another solid effort by Salcido. He's Mexico's best defender by the way. He is always in a good position, doesn't get beat easily and can add to the attack. And he doesn't lose his head; at least not on the soccer field.

Nery Castillo: Limited time on the field but he created the early chance that Dos Santos couldn't put away. I wonder how much his relative inactivity over the last year or so contributed to his injury.

Leandro Augusto: He did well to break up the American midfield. He didn't add much offensively but I'm not sure he was supposed to. He's also a set-piece specialist but with Pardo around he didn't have the chance to show that part of his game off. I'd say he's an upgrade over Gerardo Torrado because he's not a yellow card waiting to happen.

BAD

Rafael Marquez: I don't know about this guy. Marquez, the polished defender from one of the world's biggest clubs, makes a play that would be inexcusable from a 15-year-old. He begged for forgiveness right after the game but it's the same story with him. This is the third big red card of his career. If we haven't crossed it already, at what point does "El Kaiser" stop becoming and asset and start becoming a liability? And regarding his apology, I don't know if he apologized to Tim Howard or not. I wonder if he did. That's the least he could do.

Oswaldo Sanchez: He was actually having a decent game until the late error that cost Mexico a goal. Michael Bradley's shot had a lot on it, but "San Oswaldo" should have stopped it. Still, you can only do so much in a game like that if you are the goalkeeper. I don't think he had a bad enough game so where people will start to clamor for Guillermo Ochoa. This job should still be Sanchez's to lose, and he didn't lose it Wednesday.

Carlos Ochoa: Sven-Goran Eriksson has been a supporter of Ochoa's and has fielded him often, but Ochoa's leaves you wondering... why?

Giovani Dos Santos: I'm actually not going to be as hard on him as others because I thought he did a decent job. He dribbled past US defenders and was active at times during the match, but his early chance that he squandered was was mind-numbing.

Aaron Galindo: Jonny Magallon, where are you? Your club teammate struggled in this game, against a team you scored twice on last year. Yes, you committed a foul against this same team in the 2007 Gold Cup final, Galindo committed many more of those same types of fouls on Wednesday, only they weren't in the penalty area.

Marquez poll

Mural ran a poll on its web site today about Rafael Marquez. As of 6:20 am PT, here are the responses along with the percentages:

Considering Rafael Marquez's red card... :

* he should not be called back into the national team - 63.6 percent
* we're used to this type of stuff - 7.6 percent
* he's the captain - he deserves another chance - 7.6 percent
* he'd be better off selling perfume in Barcelona - 21.2 percent

US players: the good and the bad

Some thoughts on some of the US players and how I felt they performed in Wednesday's 2-0 win over Mexico:

GOOD

Michael Bradley: He scored both goals so of course he did well. But more than just the goals themselves were the positions he put himself in to score those goals. The first goal, he did well to find room amidst a crowd and did equally as well to finish the ball. It wasn't an easy tap-in as he had to elevate his foot to get to the ball. Oswaldo Sanchez made a gaffe on the second goal, but Bradley had the presence of mind to lay into a long-range shot and did well to get it off. He did his usual grunt work in the midfield as well.

Brian Ching: He didn't score a goal and wasn't involved in the goals but he was far from inactive on the night. He was a physical presence that the Mexican defense couldn't easily deal with. He drew some key fouls early on and helped set up some early chances for the US.

Landon Donovan: Mexico did well to stifle Donovan for most of the game, but Donovan still was a key part of both goals. He had the presence of mind to drift to the far post, underneath a ball that appeared to have been sailing far out of anyone's reach. He beat a pair of defenders to the ball and sent it right to Oguchi Onyewu, whose header and subsequent rebound led to the first goal. Donovan assisted on the second goal as well, and he drew three defenders towards him moments he passed the ball off to Bradley. Coupled with Mexico's red card, the move helped create the space Bradley needed to settle the ball and unleash his shot on goal.

Tim Howard: He came up big several times. He was in perfect position to stop Giovani Dos Santos' close-range shot in the opening minutes and he was in a good spot for much of the game. He took the brunt of the damage from Rafael Marquez's cleats and did not seem rattled by it.

DaMarcus Beasley: Beasley showed why he's a first-choice player. His speed is lethal out there, as he was very active on the flanks. His touch inside the area might need some improvement but that's never been a big part of his game. He's most dangerous when he makes runs and puts himself and teammates in position to do damage, which he did a lot on Wednesday.

Frankie Hejduk: Anyone still doubt Hejduk's ability to perform and contribute at this level? The guy does not stop working, and he plays as hard and as all-out in 2009 as he did in 1998.

BAD

Oguchi Onyewu: Yes, he played a key role in the game's first goal but too often Onyewu was in bad spots on the field and gave away several bad fouls. The knock on Onyewu before was his penchant for giving away silly fouls in inopportune spots and that was what we saw a lot of yesterday. I'm still not convinced that Onyewu is the beast of a central defender seemingly everyone makes him out to be.

Clint Dempsey: He spent as much time diving as he did trying to get into the game. I can't remember... when was the last great game he had while playing for the US? He had a terrible game against Cuba a year ago but still got the game-winning goal in the game down in Havana, so I wouldn't necessarily call his last great game. I expected more from him and also expected Bob Bradley to have replaced him with Jozy Altidore, but neither happened.

Heath Pearce: It's not that he played a terrible game - I thought he did well at times to play the ball out of danger - but some of his crosses were gawdawful. I guess you could say I'm back on the Bornstein Bandwagon.

Sacha Kljestan: Again, not a completely terrible game but his contributions offensively were nil. He had what could have been a chance for about a 25-yard shot in the first half but the ball bounced way off his foot and got away from him. "Kleckstein" - as the Univision announcers called him - would have been hard-pressed to have a good game though. It was his first game against Mexico, and coupled with it being a World Cup qualifier, well, nerves possibly got to him.

US-Mexico highlights

Some of you probably will watch all seven minutes of this, while others wouldn't glance at this for any reason. But here are the highlights of Wednesday's US-Mexico game.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One fan's view

I saw this on Mural and I couldn't resist putting it on here. A fan submitted this in the comments section of the US-Mexico match report.

"Es una pena ver como un fútbol tan pateti o como el de usa domina a todavía un fútbol mas patetico como es el mexicano. Ericksson no tiene la culpa de nada! El debería de renunciar solo por como se maneja nuestro fútbol mediocre. Giovani de titular en un partido como este jaja el niño mimado a jugado 45 minutos en los últimos 3 meses en su club. Quein chingados es el jager Martinez? Es patético ver la actitud de nuestros jugadores "Europeos" jaja pinches niñitas mimadas pocos huevos, no por jugar en europa les da el derecho de pensar que con pararse en la cancha pueden ganar un partido. Ojalá y ericksson renunsie y salve su reputación como técnico y no sea afectado por está mafia de fútbol que tenemos frente a nosotros. Bola de rateros golozos pero ya les llegará su hora perros"

"I'll try and translate... ahem... It is embarrassing to watch a soccer so pathetic as the United States continue to dominate an even more pathetic soccer that is Mexico. Eriksson is not at fault for anything! He should resign simply because how our mediocre soccer is run. Giovani a starter in a game like this, haha the boy has just played 45 minutes of soccer the last three months. Who the fuck is Jagger Martinez?... "

I may translate the rest later but I'm kinda busy., just saw that and wanted to get it out there.

United States wins again

The United States continued their home dominance over Mexico with a 2-0 victory over their biggest rivals.

The match was more of the same for both teams: the Americans played disciplined, organized and took advantage of their opportunities; Mexico meanwhile faltered all over the field and two of their most dependable players (Rafael Marquez and Oswaldo Sanchez) made glaring mistakes.

I will have more on this result later, what it means for both sides and who some of the players that did well and who let their teams down were.

Chucho takes over

Jesus "Chucho" Ramirez took over as coach of America Wednesday, a day after America fired Ramon Diaz.

Ramirez led Mexico to the U-17 world title in 2005 and has stayed with the federation since then. However, he left now to take on the task of managing a giant, and perhaps the allure of America was too much to resist.

America have been a mess since Cuauhtemoc Blanco left, and haven't reached the playoffs since the Clausura 07 season. Daniel Brailovsky seemed to have been doing okay but he was fired before he really had the chance to get his feet underneath him and since then America has gone through Ruben Omar Romano and Ramon Diaz since.

Around the region

Lest we forget... and it's hard to remember that there is more going on today than US-Mexico...

Honduras visits Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier today. Here's a brief write-up with probable lineups.

Trinidad & Tobago will play at El Salvador in the other contest.

Oh Captain, My Captain

Goal.com's Allen Ramsey compares the respective captains of the US and Mexico national teams.

Here's his take on Carlos Bocanegra of the US.

And here's the write-up on Rafael Marquez of Mexico.

Whole greater than sum of parts

If you want to read an excellent story on the US national team ahead of tonight's game against Mexico, look no further. Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune chimes in with his usual gem.

Curbing instability

Mexico would be a stronger team right now had they kept Ricardo Lavolpe.

Now, I'm not saying that Lavolpe is a better manager than Sven-Goran Eriksson, or that the Mexican media and supporters would have put up with Lavolpe after the 2006 World Cup, when Hugo Sanchez was all the rage.

But I am saying that Lavolpe had one thing that Eriksson didn't, and that's time. Lavolpe was hired to take over Mexico in late 2002 and had time to build the team, bleed new internationals and weed out veterans, guide the team through a tournament like the Gold Cup... all before he played a single World Cup qualifier. And then, Mexico had a waltz through the semifinal round before qualifying for the World Cup with two games to spare.

Eriksson was thrown into the fire, and by his own admission had little knowledge of the Mexican league and its players. In a few months, he was asked to guide Mexico through qualifying against some decent competition. Having had little time to prepare and zero experience in managing a CONCACAF team against other CONCACAF teams.

So what happened? Mexico went out and struggled on the road, and everyone was surprised. There has been little continuity in Mexico since 2000. Manuel Lapuente had some good teams at the turn of the century but he moved on, and Enrique Meza took over. That's one coaching change in the midst of a World Cup cycle. Meza lasted not even a year on the job as he nearly sunk Mexico's World Cup 2002 hopes. Javier Aguirre came in, did well to lead Mexico to the World Cup, and moved on after '02. Lavolpe came in, and after the '06 World Cup, enter Hugo Sanchez.

Sanchez actually had the team in decent shape. Where he failed was 1) the Olympic team, which he never ever should have coached, and 2) bringing in the foreigners he so harshly criticized. He may have been able to weather that storm had his popularity not sunk like a stone in the ocean.

Out with Sanchez, in with Eriksson, and that's three coaching changes in the midst of World Cup cycles. And that's just since 2000.

Now there's rumors and speculation about Eriksson own future. If he loses, he's toast seems to be the gist of most of them. While it may seem logical to remove him - a struggling team struggles again, which will only lead to more struggles - if history has shown anything, it's that the lack of continuity has gotten Mexico to where it is today; a talented team with lots of resources and support but also lots of questions and instability.

But if Mexico does lose tonight, Eriksson should stay. Even if its a bad loss, he should stay. If it's a win, everybody is happy and all is right with the world, right? Not exactly. Eriksson has lots and lots of work to do, no matter the result. And he should be given the time to do the work.

After all, if the Mexican federation brought him in as coach, let him coach.

US-Mexico Countdown: No. 1

1. 2002 World Cup; Jeonju, South Korea; June 17, 2002: US 2, Mexico 0

The unthinkable happened in 2002 when the United States and Mexico took their budding rivalry to the global stage. The US had stumbled badly in the group stage closing match, losing to Poland 3-1. Still, a 3-2 win over Portugal and a draw against the hosts was enough to see the Americans through to the Round of 16, where a mighty Mexico squad awaited. Mexico had been one of the better sides in the group stage in the entire tournament and fans began to dream about a deep run into the World Cup. Instead, those dreams seemed on the brink of disaster early on when Brian McBride scored not even 10 minutes in. Mexico responded with a furious onslaught but could not break through against US goalkeeper Brad Friedel. In the second half, the Americans put the game away when Eddie Lewis sent a cross into Landon Donovan, who buried a header past Oscar Perez. The US held on to win and claimed the ultimate result in CONCACAF's greatest rivalry.

Lineups

US: Brad Friedel; Tony Sanneh, Eddie Pope, Greg Berhalter, Claudio Reyna, Pablo Mastroeni (Carlos Llamosa, 90), Landon Donovan, John O'Brien, Eddie Lewis, Josh Wolff (Earnie Stewartm, 59), Brian McBride (Cobi Jones, 79).

Mexico: Oscar Perez; Manuel Vidrio (Sigifredo Mercado, 46), Rafael Marquez, Salvador Carmona; Jesus Arellano, Johan Rodriguez, Gerardo Torrado (Alberto Garcia Aspe, 78), Braulio Luna, Ramon Morales (Luis Hernandez, 28); Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Jared Borgetti.

Goals
US - McBride 8
US - Donovan 65

US-Mexico Countdown: No. 2

2. 1998 World Cup qualifier; Mexico City, Nov. 2, 1997: US 0, Mexico 0. The United States entered this game desperately needing a point to try and boost their chances of reaching France 98. Mexico, meanwhile, seemed certain to beat the Americans once again on Mexican soil. History was on Mexico's side as the United States had never even managed a draw from a game in Mexico, let alone any level of success in Estadio Azteca. Although the Americans weathered an early storm, Mexico received a boost when Jeff Agoos was given a red card in the first half. Mexico had more than 50 minutes to pile on the goals, except they ultimately could not score one. American goalkeeper Brad Friedel and a determined American squad shut Mexico out in Azteca, which remains as its best-ever result there.

Lineups unavailable

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New trialists

Chivas USA has welcomed Eduardo Lillingston and Arturo Javier Ledesma to their stay in Guadalajara and the two players could soon become reinforcements for Chivas USA, provided they catch the coach's eye.

Lillingston, a forward who spent time with Tecos and Santos in the Mexican first division, was a scrappy, useful player during his prime but was never a standout performer. Ledesma, meanwhile, has some upside as well as height and could help boost a position of need as Claudio Suarez is still apparently decided regarding his future.

The two players are also joined by Diego Scotti, formerly of Audax Italiano and Newell's Old Boys.

Chivas USA will play a friendly against Tapatio on Thursday morning. It will be interesting to see who plays for Chivas USA aside from these trialists, provided they see action. Javier Hernandez and Jesus Padilla, both of whom have spent a lot of time with Tapatio over the last several years, have been linked to Chivas USA, as well as Antonio Salazar.

Catching up

Busy day today for me. Been running around as usual but wanted to take time to share a few stories.

* Club America sacked coach Ramon Angel Diaz. No big surprise. Diaz's America team looked average at best, and that's not the way you want a team to look after investing millions of dollars on offseason acquisitions.

* We're about 24 hours away from US-Mexico. The last time the US played Mexico to open the Hex was in 2001, and I watched the game at the Royal Falconer pub in Redlands. I was a metro reporter (no sports writing, lame!) back then so I left work early to watch the game, and that was one of the few places showing it (I worked in Moreno Valley at the time, some 20-40 minutes away depending on traffic).

* I thought about doing a positional comparison between the US and Mexico but Goal.com did it for me. It's worth a read.

* So is this. My man Joel Aceves getting bit-time play, in the LA Times. Nice. It's a column by LA Times columnist Hector Tobar, trying to paint a picture of the game and the rivalry for non-sports folks.

* And I leave you with a song that I've been humming to myself the last few weeks. Can you guess why?

Not if but how many

According to Mural, Chivas USA will leave Mexico with at least one, if not two or more Mexican players. CD Guadalajara Vice President Nestor De La Torre told Mural that the club is weighing options and has not made a decision regarding reinforcements for Chivas USA, and did not deny the possibility of some of the names the paper mentioned who could join Chivas USA.

The names tossed around are Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Jesus "Gringo" Padilla and Antonio "Hulk" Salazar.

Mural's story included a quote from Preki, who told the paper was not "antimexicanos" - anti-Mexican - and preferred to have good players from Guadalajara, not just players who were not going to be in the mix at all for Chivas.

Both Hernandez and Padilla (who was born in California) have played in the Clausura 2009 season. Hernandez even scored a goal, in a 2-1 win in Monterrey. Salazar, who is also a forward, has not played for the first team this season.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sven going away?

Portsmouth sacked manager Tony Adams on Monday in a move that at first seemed to have little consequence on this side of the pond.

However, English tabloid Mirror reported earlier today that Portsmouth would be interested in bringing Sven-Goran Eriksson in as manager to help the struggling club find itself as soon as possible.

According to Mirror's report, Eriksson has told friends that he would be willing to "walk from Mexico back to London" for the Chelsea job (Chelsea also sacked their manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, on Monday) but that the Portsmouth job might be more attainable.

I'm not sure about reports like this. In some ways, any job that opens up is supposedly going to be filled by some big-name candidate who is employed at the time. It stands to reason then that Eriksson would get linked to a position in the English Premiership. However, if this is true, how much has he been focused on the task of qualifying Mexico to the World Cup, of helping Mexico start the Hexagonal in the best manner possible?

A lot will happen in the next 48 hours that will determine both his own fate and the team's chances in qualifying as well. Only time will tell if this report has any meat to it, and luckily for everyone involved that time will pass soon enough.

On the case

Mural already has a story up on Chivas USA. No link but here's the gist of the story:

Chivas USA is here, they have one player who has Mexican roots (trailist Cristian Cortez) and have brought along 20 players. Claudio Suarez is not with the team as he is still pondering retirement. Chivas USA will try to get two friendlies while here, and likely opponents are Tapatio and Tecos' Primera A team.

Apparently, the team traveled yesterday and trained in Guadalajara today.

There's some fight in Tecos after all

I don't usually use pictures from Mexican news sites but this was too good to pass up. Mural had pictures of a scrap that broke out between Tecos players during training on Monday. The fight involved former Red Bulls defender Diego Jimenez and Jorge Zamogilny when the latter took exception over an apparent rough challenge from the former.



Not sure if either will become a welterweight fighter or join the mixed-martial arts circuit anytime soon, but by the looks of it, they should stick to soccer.

US-Mexico Countdown: No. 3

3. Copa America ’95 quarterfinal; July 17, 1995; Paysandu, Uruguay; US 0, Mexico 0, US wins 4-1 in penalties

Having reached the final in their first-ever Copa America tournament, Mexico had high hopes of not just getting back to the final but walking away with the championship. The U.S., meanwhile, entered the tournaments as lightweights yet again, but carried a bit more respect in 95 than they had in 93 after having beaten Colombia in the World Cup the year before. Even after a historic 3-0 upset victory over Argentina in the group stage and finishing atop the group, the Americans were underdogs against the more experienced Mexico side. However, the Americans rose to the challenge that El Tri presented. Mexico had several standouts from the 1994 World Cup team on the field, including Marcelino Bernal, Luis Garcia and Alberto Garcia Aspe but the U.S. did well to keep Mexico from scoring. After 90 minutes did not decide a winner, the match went to penalties. Eric Wynalda, Luis Garcia and John Harkes converted for their respective sides to start the shootout but Brad Friedel stood firm in goal and blocked a key shot by Carlos Hermosillo. Paul Caligiuri scored to make it 3-1 in favor of the U.S. while Alberto Coyote missed his attempt for Mexico. When Frank Klopas scored the fourth and decisive penalty, the U.S. had pulled off their second major upset of the Copa America and their first win over Mexico in an international tournament played outside its confederation. Mexico, meanwhile, were left scratching their heads over their early exit.

Lineups

US: Friedel - Burns, Caliguri, Lalas, Reyna (Sorber, 71), Stewart, (Klopas, 68), Dooley, Harkes, Jones (Ramos, 84), Moore, Wynalda

Mexico: Campos - J.Rodriguez, Suarez, Gutierrez, Vidrio, Bernal, (Ambriz, 79), Garcia Aspe, Coyote, Espinoza (Galindo, 68), Salvador (Hermosillo, 68), L.Garcia

Flashback

Chivas USA is en route to Guadalajara. The MLS club will train in Guadalajara for the next 10 days, the first time the club has trained there since the 2005 season.

I'll try and provide whatever coverage comes out from Mural that I can, as I'm sure they will report on the club in some fashion or another. I wonder how much they'll write about Sacha Kljestan and/or Jonathan Bornstein when the duo joins up with the club after the US-Mexico game.

Not sure in what conditions the team will return but let's hope they bring back a Mexican player or three from the parent club.

New role

I have some good news to share with you guys. I was hired on by Goal.com to take over their Mexico coverage. Unlike my former blog partner, giving up my blog is not part of the deal so this trusty blog will continue moving forward.

Now, I'm just getting my feet wet over there but I have some ideas in terms of covering the league and national team. All the news will be in English of course so it's a good chance to provide a steady stream of coverage for one of the most popular but underrepresented (in media terms) leagues in the Western Hemisphere.

I'm starting off slowly of course but once we get the ball moving, it's going to move at a brisk pace.

Albert, wanted to share this with you. I wrote something on El Tri along the lines of what you'd asked a couple of days ago. That's my first official Goal.com column.

Anyway, I'd be glad to hear from readers about any suggestions of features they'd like to see in terms of the Mexican league and national team.

Here is a link to the Mexico page on Goal.com. I've got updated league roundups and some news on El Tri there, plus writer Cesar Garcia has his latest Mexicans Abroad column on there. Plus we'll have more stories there on the Mexican national team and whatever league news I can get to.

Enjoy.

Hexagonal preview: Costa Rica

Costa Rica

We are back with the final three Hexagonal previews. Up next is Costa Rica, a team that also qualified for the 2006 World Cup.

Match Schedule

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

La Sele’s schedule is one of the most advantageous in the entire Hex. The team has four of the first seven matches at home with away tilts at T&T and Honduras nestled in there. Realistically, Costa Rica could have at least three, potentially four wins, by the time Mexico arrives on September 5th.

Meet the Members of the Team

53-year-old Rodrigo Kenton Johnson took over in June of 2008. He worked under Velibor “Bora” Milutinović when Bora was the coach of the Costa Rica NT in 1990.

Álvaro Saborío: The FC Sion striker played at Deportivo Saprissa for several years and he always welcomes a return to his former club’s home ground. Known as “le Gigì", will he have the goal scorer’s touch this summer?

Randall Azofeifa: The midfielder plays for Blegium’s K.A.A. Gent and has the necessary international and club experience to be a factor in the Hexagon. With over 15 caps already, look for a big qualification round from the 24-year-old.

Gonzalo Segares: The Chicago Fire defender has been an important part of his MLS club, but until recently he did not factor in the national squad. Is he going to continue to get call ups?

Key Match

Mexico at Costa Rica (September 5, 2009): At stake could be second or even first place in the Hexagonal. Will El Tri survive a trip to Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Aymá? I doubt it.

Predictions

Best Case Scenario: 1st Place. The USA loses one or two crucial games setting the stage for Costa Rica to top the group. While unlikely, Costa Rica has the depth of talent to survive the summer.

Worst Case Scenario: 4th Place. Also an unlikely situation, but one that is possible if T&T or one of the border nations (Honduras/El Salvador) plays lights out.

- Sean Grybos

Sunday, February 8, 2009

US announce roster for Wednesday's game

Here it is, the United States' roster for the Mexico game.

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Danny Califf (FC Midtjylland), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Houston), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Robbie Rogers (Columbus), José Francisco Torres (Pachuca)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Xerez C.D.), Brian Ching (Houston), Charlie Davies (Hammarby) Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Bayern Munich)

My initial thoughts:

* I'm surprised to see Robbie Rogers and Charlie Davies in there. I would not be surprised to see neither of them on the gameday roster but that they are each here speaks loudly in terms of what Bradley has in mind for them (or at least what he hopes they will be able to contribute) for this year and beyond.

* Steve Cherundolo is the biggest absence. He ultimately could not overcome his hip injury. That leaves the door open for either Frankie Hejduk or Marvell Wynne to step in and start.

* Overall it's a pretty strong roster. Eight players from the Carson camp made it and the 12 that are in Europe are experienced and have qualities that speak for themselves.

* An interesting battle will be for the starting left midfield spot. Does Bradley go with the tried-and-true DaMarcus Beasley, even though he hasn't been playing much for Rangers, or does he tab youngster Jose Francisco Torres, who has been playing regularly with Pachuca and knows all about the Mexican team and its players?

* Another battle might be up front. Will Landon Donovan play up top alongside Clint Dempsey? Does Bradley start Donovan in the midfield (God forbid on the right!) and pair Dempsey with another player? If so, who? Jozy Altidore, who scored against Mexico last year? Brian Ching, who does all the little things so very well?

* I think it's a given we'll see Howard; Pearce, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Bradley, Donovan and Dempsey in there, with Kljestan right there as well.

US-Mexico countdown: No. 4

4. 2001 World Cup qualifier; Mexico City, July 1, 2001; Mexico 1, US 0

Everything was set up for a historic and monumental upset. Midway through the Hexagonal, the United States sat atop the table with a near-perfect 4-0-1 record. Mexico, meanwhile, had lost two consecutive matches, including an unthinkable and ultimately unpardonable loss in Estadio Azteca, a 2-1 setback to Costa Rica. After a 3-1 loss in Honduras, Mexico's World Cup hopes were on life support, and coach Enrique Meza was out in favor of Javier Aguirre, who initially dropped such Meza stalwarts as Victor Ruiz, Jose Manuel Abundis and Luis Hernandez. One player who had had a mountain of rising support for a national team call-up was Alberto Garcia Aspe, and Aguirre tabbed him along with six players from a Cruz Azul squad who had just finished losing to Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores final. With a makeshift squad and little time to prepare the team, Mexico nevertheless reminded the Americans why they had never won in Mexico City. Garcia Aspe sent a free kick into the penalty area early in the match and Jared Borgetti powered it past a helpless Kasey Keller as Mexico opened the scoring early. The rest of the game saw the Americans run futilely around the field while Mexico regained its confidence and a bit of its swagger, which ultimately helped El Tri surge towards qualification for the 2002 World Cup.

Lineups

US: Kasey Keller; David Regis, Jeff Agoos, Carlos Llamosa, Steve Cherundolo; Chris Armas, Joe-Max Moore (Cobi Jones, 46), Earnie Stewart, Tony Sanneh; Ante Razov (Chris Klein, 82), Jovan Kirovski (Brian McBride, 61)

Mexico: Oscar Perez; Jesus Arellano (Jose Hernandez, 87), Claudio Suarez, Manuel Vidrio, Melvin Brown; Johan Rodriguez (Victor Gutierrez, 66), Gerardo Torrado, Alberto Garcia Aspe (Octavio Valdez, 74), Tomas Campos; Francisco Palencia, Jared Borgetti

Goal
Mexico - Borgetti 15

Sound familiar?

Mural gave Francisco Mendoza a 6 out of 10 rating for his 20-something minutes of action on Saturday against Necaxa. Here is their assessment of his match (in Spanish):

"Corre mucho, dribla, pero no con profundidad, no hizo desbordes de peligro"

So what do I have to say about that?

Y sigue con las mismas pendejadas!

And in case you're interested...

Michel 7, Ponce 6, Reynoso 5, Mejia 6.5, Magallon 5.5, Solis 6, Araujo 7, Baez 6.5, Morales 8.5, Hernandez 6, Borgetti 5; Fabian 5.5, Mendoza 6, Padilla 5.5; Flores 6.5

Saturday, February 7, 2009

US-Mexico countdown: No. 5

5. Gold Cup '93, Mexico City; July 25, 1993; Mexico 4, US 0

That whole thing about Estadio Azteca and the Americans' supposed fear of the place... this is where it all began. Sure, the United States had played in Mexico before this game but this match featured many players who would go on to play prominent roles in the 1994 World Cup and beyond, and they were reduced to rubbish one hot summer afternoon in El Coloso de Santa Ursula. Mexico and the United States had reached the Gold Cup final. The Americans, though, did so in the comforts of home, having played their entire slate of games at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Thus, the United States was unprepared on two levels; physically the team never did adjust to the altitude and smog and mentally the 100,000-plus crowd and environment were a stark contrast to the 14,000 or so that turned out to watch the US win a semifinal game agaisnt Costa Rica. It's still uncertain whether Mexico performed a zapateado or jarabe but whatever it was the Mexicans danced all over the US. Nacho Ambriz scored in the 11th minute while Desmond Armstrong knocked in an own goal some 20 minutes later to give Mexico a 2-0 edge. Two goals in a 10-minute span in the second half sealed the victory for Mexico.

Lineups
United States: Meola, Kooiman, Doyle, Armstrong, Lalas, Dooley, Wegerle, (Moore 78), Harkes, Jones (Kinnear 52), Henderson, Wynalda.

Mexico: Campos, Hernández, Ramírez Perales, Suárez, Ramírez, Mora (Cantu 76), Ambriz, Del Olmo, Rodríguez, Salvador (Noriega 76), "Zaguinho" Alves.

Goals
Mexico - Ambriz 11
Mexico - Own goal 31
Mexico - Zague 69
Mexico - Cantu 79

Highlights are below. If you want to get a sense of what it was like for the US on the field that day, read this story Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union Tribune wrote to preview the last US-Mexico game in Azteca, a 2005 qualifier.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Experience counts

I wrote this story for SI.com and it was published earlier today. I'm just now getting around to linking to it though. I ran eight miles today and my legs are still trying to recover, but at least I didn't have a game to officiate.

Anyway, when I talked to Hejduk about US-Mexico, things weren't quite clear on his chance to make the roster. Now, Steve Cherundolo seems to be on the outs with a hip injury so Hejduk could play an important role in the game.

Day of Rest

With six days left before Mexico's crucial World Cup qualifier against the U.S., what did Mexico spend time on? Did they practice tactics? Maybe try and work on the attack? Possibly set pieces?

No. Mexico did nothing.

Tri coach Sven Goran Eriksson gave the team the day off as he celebrated his 61st birthday.

Mural ran this cartoon today:


The American says: I have studied you well... I know all of your defects and virtues.

The Tri guy points to Sven and responds: Tell him, he's the one who doesn't know me.

A vote for the Americans

Earlier this week, Zinha told reporters in Mexico that the U.S. was overrated and assured everyone that Mexico was superior.

Now, Manuel Lapuente has said the exact opposite. Lapuente said the U.S. is the stronger side and that results show just that. Lapuente coaches Tigres in Mexico and used to coach the Mexican national team, twice actually. He had a very strong Mexican team in the late 1990s, and led them to the 1999 Confederations Cup title.

Anyway, Lapuente said that the U.S. isn't necessarily a powerful side but all they have done is beat Mexico time and again, and that counts for something.

Now, Lapuente was never a supporter of Sven-Goran Eriksson. Lapuente was one who felt the post should go to a Mexican coach after Hugo Sanchez was fired. Perhaps his motives for speaking out this way are as much of a vote of no confidence against Eriksson than they are his true feelings. Or maybe he wants to remind everyone that he was in charge of Mexico back when El Tri could come to the U.S. to play the Americans and expect to walk away with a victory. Or maybe he really feels that way and his opinions catch people off guard because of what he's saying.

Whatever the case, there seems to be a wide range of feelings over Mexico's standing with respect to the U.S.

Luckily for everyone involved, the teams will have a chance to settle things on the field in a few days' time.

US-Mexico countdown: No. 6

6. Gold Cup ‘98 final; Los Angeles; Feb. 15, 1998: Mexico 1, US 0

Days after beating Brazil by 1-0 in a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal, the United States hoped its momentum would carry on into the final against Mexico, who survived an overtime semifinal affair with Jamaica to reach the final as well. Any momentum the Americans had after defeating the selecao went by the wayside, however, as Mexico flexed its muscle against its regional foes. As the game was not broadcast live, the excitement among area Mexican supporters for this match was over the top. A monstrous pro-Mexico crowd of 91,255 packed the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the game, and another several thousand fans who did not get tickets sought refuge in the nearby LA Sports Arena to watch the game on closed-circuit television. Luis Hernandez ensured that the masses that turned out would not go home disappointed as he buried a point-blank header in the back of the net just before halftime, a goal that gave the Mexicans a commanding and ultimately insurmountable lead. With the win, Mexico piled up its third consecutive Gold Cup title while the Americans were left scratching their heads and searching for answers.

Lineups

United States: Kasey Keller; Mike Burns, Alexi Lalas (Brian McBride, 82), Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos; Frankie Hejduk (Claudio Reyna, 76), John Harkes, Joe-Max Moore, Cobi Jones; Eric Wynalda, Roy Wegerle (Preki, 46).

Mexico: Oscar Perez; Pavel Pardo, Duilio Davino, Claudio Suarez, Salvador Carmona; German Villa, Roberto Medina, (Raul Rodrigo Lara, 66) Ramon Ramirez (Enrique Alfaro, 85), Javier Lozano (Braulio Luna, 55); Luis Hernandez, Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

Goal
Mexico – Hernandez 43

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Desperate times call for Loco

Tigres is hard up for goals apparently. How hard up are they? Juan Pablo Garcia has been training with the first team this week as the Monterrey-based club is in search for some offense. Tigres sits at the bottom of the overall table in Mexico and has scored two goals in three games. Their minus-eight goal differential is the worst in all the league.

Garcia, a former MLS standout, scored a goal for Tigres B in the second division last weekend, which was apparently good enough to land him some time with the first team. Reportedly Tigre coach Manuel Lapuente may consider Garcia as an option for playing time against Cruz Azul on the weekend.

Sorting out US roster from down south

Mural ran a short story today about some players the U.S. has apparently called in for the Mexico match next week.

According to the story, a U.S.-based source told Mural that the following players have been called up for the game: Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Clint Dempsey, Francisco Torres, Brad Guzan. It did not say that these were the only European-based players coming (where's Bocanegra?) but it said these were for certain called up.

Stories like these might seem useless to US supporters but you'd be surprised how much attention has been paid to the camp that is ongoing in Carson has received abroad, in terms of what players are there and what players aren't. This story is sort of a reminder to folks in Mexico that the United States is indeed calling on all their big guns, as if they need a reminder.

The story makes mention of the camp and says that among the players who will stay with the team include Brian Ching, Sacha Kljestan and Frankie Hejduk.

Mexico back on March 11

Mexico fans won't have to wait too long after their game next week against the U.S. to see their beloved national team on American soil again.

Mexico will play Bolivia on Wednesday, March 11 in Colorado. The game will be played at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. The match will also serve as a tune-up for Mexico's second World Cup qualifying match, against Costa Rica in Mexico City on March 28.

Pachuca's out

No Copa Libertadores for Pachuca.

Universidad de Chile lost in Pachuca 2-1 on Wednesday but the Chileans got the road goal they needed and won on the tiebreaker as the aggregate series finished tied at 2-2.

The following statistic would take some actual research but it's been a while since Mexico did not get three teams into Copa Libertadores. Not sure how many years but it seems each year three Mexican teams are in the tournament and most of the time they all get past the first round.

Here are the highlights:

US-Mexico countdown: No. 7

No. 7. Gold Cup 2007 Final, Chicago, June 24, 2007. US 2, Mexico 1.

Although it happened quite regularly in the 1990s, the United States and Mexico had not met in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in nearly a decade. This time around, though, the teams avoided upsets along the way and met in a highly-anticipated final. Mexico finally broke through its scoreless streak and tallied a goal against the United States on American soil for the first time in eight years as Andres Guardado knocked a ball into the goal late in the first half, which sent most of the 60,000 fans in attendance into a frenzy. The goal forced the United States to try and come from behind to win, which they did. Mexico's Jonny Magallon helped fuel the comeback as he was whistled for a foul inside the penalty area. Landon Donovan converted the penalty kick and leveled the score. Some 11 minutes later, Benny Feilhaber scored what might be the most aesthetically-pleasing goal in the rivalry's history with a long-range volley. Mexico mounted a furious rally and came close to scoring a few times but in the end the Americans held on to win the Gold Cup title at Mexico's expense.

Lineups

US: Tim Howard; Jonathan Spector (Frank Simek, 72), Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein; Clint Dempsey (Taylor Twellman, 69), Benny Feilhaber, Pablo Mastroeni (Ricardo Clark, 46), DaMarcus Beasley; Brian Ching, Landon Donovan

Mexico: Oswaldo Sanchez; Jonny Magallon, Carlos Salcido, Rafael Marquez, Ricardo Osorio; Alberto Medina (Cuauhtemoc Blanco, 78), Pavel Pardo, Jared Borgetti (Omar Bravo, 40), Jaime Lozano (Adolfo Bautista, 81), Andres Guardado, Nery Castillo

Goals
Mexico - Guardado 44
US - Donovan 62
US - Feilhaber 73

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ciao Becks

Becks wants out.

"I have expressed my desire to stay at AC Milan now and it’s just down to Milan and Galaxy to come to an agreement," Beckham said following Milan's friendly against Rangers.

And with that, it looks as if his stay with the Galaxy is all but over.

Process of elimination

Mexico already has called in their group of 23 players for the game against the U.S. next week but as far as Bob Bradley's task goes, there is still some time left before the U.S. releases their roster and selects their own set of players for the game.

While the international contingent will be revealed after the weekend's slate of games (I'm assuming we won't know until at least Sunday the final list of foreign-based players), in camp there are plenty of players from whom Bradley could sort out his roster.

I'll try and figure out here with some rationale as to who I think will be on the roster, stands a chance of making the final cut and won't participate in the game at all.

Certain: Brian Ching, Sacha Kljestan. I don't think there is any doubt over the status of these two. In fact, I'd say to go ahead and pencil them in the starting lineup. Ching's experience and Kljestan's form will come in handy against Mexico.

Possible: Jonathan Bornstein, Frankie Hejduk, Marvell Wynne, Ricardo Clark. I would be surprised if we saw all four of these players but I'm expecting at least two. Bornstein, Hejduk and Clark have played and had success against Mexico. Bornstein and Clark were on the field for both U.S. wins over Mexico in 2007, including the Gold Cup final. Hejduk's accolades and experience speak for themselves. I think it comes down to one spot for Hejduk and Wynne, and if that's the case I'd take Hejduk. However, Bradley could opt for some cover in case Steve Cherundolo cannot recover in time to play in the match. Gun to my head, I'm picking Bornstein and Hejduk to join Kljestan and Ching.

Try for El Salvador/Trinidad: Jon Busch, Will Hesmer, Matt Pickens, Ugo Ihemelu, Chris Wingert, Brian Carroll, Eddie Gaven, Jack Jewsbury, Robbie Rogers, John Thorrington, Kenny Cooper, Charlie Davies, Chris Rolfe. Carroll played in Bradley's first win over Mexico in 2007 so that may count for something, but more than likely none of these guys will join the international-based players in Columbus. That's not to say they aren't valuable - in fact, I think 2009 will be an important year for several of these guys, and that Bradley will call on several of these players for qualifiers/cup matches. But now is not the time for them, mostly because they either lack experience or have too many players in front of them to stand a chance of making the roster (Cooper, for instance, is a fine player but you've got plenty of other experienced options up front).

Dream over

While thinking back to last February, I realized that there is something missing this year that was going on the last two years at this time: there is no Sueno MLS.

Two words sum up how I feel about that: Thank God.

Chivas USA got lucky with Jorge Flores, the winner from year one, even though he doesn't play and figures to have an uphill battle for playing time. Last year's winner isn't a part of the club anymore last I heard: no Under-18, Under-19, whatever the case may be. He's not around.

Let's hope that competition doesn't resurface in the future.

Damage been done?

David Beckham wants to stay in Italy and his lawyers are working on trying to make that happen, according to reports. On loan from the Galaxy to AC Milan, Beckham might not return in early March like he's supposed to.

While that may not have been much of a surprise to some, the idea was that he would return and play in his third season with the Galaxy. But now that he's apparently decided on trying to make a go of it in Italy for good, has he done irreparable damage? Would he be accepted by Galaxy fans and MLS fans in general should he come back?

If so, why bother bringing him back? AC Milan is willing to deal for him and rumors vary from $6-20 million in terms of the money the Italian club is willing to shell out for his services.

It just seems that the Galaxy stands more to gain at this point than to lose. They could ship out a player who may not necessarily want to be with the club, attempt to put a focus back on the field and on their soccer product, and make some money while they're at it. It might be a bit of a PR disaster for a while but perhaps that's a storm worth weathering.

Out another game

Mexico will have to do without Carlos Vela for two qualifiers now instead of just one.

Already out for their opening qualifying match against the U.S., Vela must also sit out the March 28 date against Costa Rica after FIFA extended his automatic one-match ban for another game. Vela picked up a red card against Honduras in Mexico's final semifinal qualifying match after chopping down a Honduran player with a tackle late in the game.

More inflated hijinks

On the heels of the overrated comment, this cartoon ran in today's edition of Mural:


Tri: I think you are just overrated.

USA: That's what you said about the dollar, and now it's worth 15 pesos.

(A little note, "inflado" literally translated is "inflated" or "blown up" or "exaggerated" so in the sporting context "overrated" is probably the best way to translate that)