Mid-Week Report

Bracelona 1 (3) • Real Madrid 1 (1)

Different referee same result.  And now Barcelona has punched its ticket to Wembley for the Champions League final.

Ok, if no-one in the media who covers soccer has the balls to say it, I will.  The fix was in.  There was no way EUFA was going to miss out on the opportunity to have Barcelona in the final at Wembley, and they did everything in their power to alter the two results of this tie.  Did Barcelona need the help?  Probably not, but they got it.

Even before Higuain’s perfectly legal goal was disallowed, there were other subtle calls.  Like calling offsides on Higuain in the 30th minute when he was perfectly level with both center backs.  Even though it would not have turned into a scoring opportunity the linesmen’s overzealous flag waved off the attack before it could ever become anything anyway.  Danger averted for EUFA.

As for the disallowed goal?  Had it counted, it would have completely changed the complexion of the entire semi-final.  Real would have been a goal away from extra time and we, the fans, would have been in for one hell of a finish.  But like the first leg of this tie, the fans got screwed.

And Barcelona, for all their skill, they act as if its an absolute insult to receive a hard tackle.  Like its going to stain their “beautiful game”.  Maybe they expect opposing teams to throw bouquets and part like the red see and let them score goals.  Because unless they are playing Real Madrid, that is what its like to play in La Liga.

Its matches like these that want to make me weep for the game I love so much.  Games like the France Ireland qualifier that saw Thierry Henry use his hands to set up the game winning goal.  Like Barcelona, France was just more sexy, and thus must have been deemed more tournament worthy by Michel Platini and EUFA.  And Platini?  He has the ax-men at his disposal to do it:  The referees.

Like Henry two years ago, everyone wants to brand Real manager Mourinho the villain.  Well don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Here’s hoping Manchester Unites Thrashes Barcelona in the final (sorry Schalke).

Red Bull New York 1 • Kansas City 0

Don’t know what you got until its gone.  

The great thing about a sub-woofer is its really unobtrusive.  You don’t really know the depth of support it gives your music until you turn it of.  Then you here all the cracks and holes of sound it was filling in.

The same can be said about Red Bulls holding Midfielder Teemu Tainio.  You don’t notice him much when he’s on the pitch.  But when he came off at half-time against Kansas City, the Red Bulls were a different team.  No longer did they dominate possession, they were far less organized, and didn’t create nearly as many quality scoring chances as they did in the first half.

But, style points aside, they got the result and that’s all that matters.

Red Bulls face the Galaxy in a must-watch game on Saturday (11 pm, ESPN2).

The Brian Mullan Incident

Like I had predicted (sort of), The MLS suspended Brian Mullan for ten games for his brutal tackle on Steve Zakuani.  Although harsh when judge against the MLS’s own track record, it was fair and just.  Now lets move on.

Soccer Night in America

This Friday, FSC will debut Soccer Night in America.  Basically they are re-branding their remaining Friday & Saturday night broadcasts under this new franchise.  Eric Wynalda and Christopher Sullivan will handle pre-game, half-time and post-game coverage.

Love Wynalda, and I here their will be some sick technology used in the broadcast.

The first program will be broadcast live from Portland this Friday at 10 pm as the Timbers take on Philadelphia.

USA vs. Slovenia - Is this Rugby?

One Last Thought

Watching the referees playing such a vital role in the outcome of big games is just really gut wrenching.  And if I am appalled, imagine the bemusement of the casual fan.

When a player errs in judgment you can be sure he will be reprimanded by the governing body.  But when a a referee makes a mistake mums the word.  Why is it that we can criticize players and tactics but its almost sacrilege to criticize a referee?

If FIFA wants to really clean the game up they need to knock the ivory towers down that referees currently reside in.  Here are some of my ideas:

• All referees should be made available in post-match press conferences

• Just as a player, referees should be called out and even fined for bad judgments

• The game has become far to subjective and needs to be more by the book.  If a referee sees a blatant hold in the box on a set piece, as we do week in and week out, call the penalty!

• Add an additional head referee and have the two referees on the field patrolling each half.  The game has evolved and gotten much faster and there are too many missed calls because the referee is behind the play.

• Remember, its the players the fans come to see.  Not the referees, and certainly not Platini or Blatter.

Red Bull New York Thrash DC United

Red Bulls 4 • DC United 0

Well its still April, but the Red Bulls are looking like the the class of the East, and maybe even the entire MLS.  Their nationally televised drubbing of DC United was just another example of their superior quality in their possession style game.  And after taking a few weeks to gel, it seems the Red Bulls are playing chess while the rest of the league is playing checkers.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

Watching Right Full-Back Solli get down the wing time and again and whip a great ball into the box was a was just a joy.  In the first four games, Roy Miller has been the likelier of the fullbacks to push into the attack, but he lacks quality with his final ball.  So, hopefully Solli will continue the trend as he’s settles in with his new team.  Because it led to goals.  Three of them to be exact.

In the twelfth minute Minute Dane Richards and Solli worked a beautiful give and go at midfield that sprung Solli down the right wing.  Solli whipped a ball into the box to an unmarked Henry and it was easy pickings for the French International.  Henry blasted a header into the back of the net for the his first goal.

The two would team up again to provide Henry’s second goal in the thirty eighth minute.  This time Richards played a sneaky little chip to Solli, who muscled off his defender and powered a low cross and Henry made no mistake in blasting home his second.

•  Given the rock solid defense played by Ream and Marquez you could have turned your TV’s off then.  Bad corner kicks aside, Rafa Marquez might have had his best performance as a Red Bull.  And right now he and Ream are the best center back tandem in the MLS.

•  Overall, Red Bull NY must be giddy with Henry’s last two performances, when he is on his game the gap in quality between he and everyone else on the pitch is a wide one.  Quite frankly, he plays the game at a different level.  And I love his tenacity in pressuring the ball high up the pitch because for the second straight game he stole the ball from a defender and played it to a team-mate for a scoring chance.

•  Holding Midfielder Teemu Tainio is quietly having himself one hell of start to his Red Bull career.  His ability to clog up the middle on attacking mid-fielders has really been a force and that frees up De Rosario and lets him do his thing.

•  If you haven’t seen Agudelo’s goal you missed a piece of wizardry that just can’t be taught.  Either you have it or you don’t, and the kid has it.  He just needs to figure his role alongside Henry and needs to up his work-rate off the ball.  Luke Rodgers is a chaser and will happily play provider.  Agudelo needs to emulate those traits.

•  Let’s hope not, but I have a feeling Lindpere is in for rocky season as far as his knee is concerned.  He has been able to play through it for the most part, so lets hope he can manage it successfully.

Time For MLS To Set Harsh Precedent

After watching the Red Bulls thoroughly enjoyable display of technically sound football I had the agonizing experience of watching Colorado Rapids Brian Mullan break the leg of Seattle Sounders Forward Steve Zakuani live.  It was so grotesque I had to turn away for the replay.  It was a vicious challenge that has no place on the pitch.

Zackuani is a gifted young player who may never be the same after breaking his fibula and tibia.  So I really hope Garber throws the book at Mullan.  Ten games without pay might be a fair starting point.

You may think that is extreme, but in a time when the MLS is trying to grow the game and attract top flight players, hacks like Mullan only make it harder.  Who knows, maybe Mullan senses that his (and players like him) days are numbered as the league becomes more skillful and technically sound.

Stay tuned for my next post where I will breakdown the first legs of the two Champions League Semi-Finals.


Some thoughts on Copa Del Ray

Real Madrid 1 • Barcelona 0

Well Iker the Octopus predicted Real to win the Copa Del Rey, but it was the Iker between the woodwork that can be thanked for this victory.  The best goalie on the planet showed you why he is regarded as such.  He halted Barcelona’s vaunted attack with a half dozen ridiculous saves, including three finger tip saves.  Had it been ant other goalie, Barcelona wins going away.

And Ronaldo?  He may be a superstar, but he works his ass off, and that hard work was rewarded when he blasted a header into the back of the net in the first overtime to seal the victory.  So he dives (sigh), they all dive! Especially in La Liga.  His possession played a major role in alleviating pressure on his back four.  Especially in the second half.  And he wants the ball, what a fit!

This game was very much a tale of two halves.  Real Madrid dominated the first half with new holding midfielder Pepe completely disrupting everything Barcelona tried to do.  But the amount of work Real put in left them tired in the second half.  With stodgy legs on the other side Barcelona found their rhythm while dominating the ball.  But they just could not find a way past the great Casillas on this day.

With this victory, Real Madrid finally stopped being Barcelona’s doormat.  And it sets-up one hell of a Champions League Semi-final.

Red Bull New York Finally Find Their Form

I thought I was watching a top-flight European team as the Red Bulls exacted some measure of revenge against the San Jose Earthquakes.  As you might remember, it was the EarthQuakes who knocked the Red Bulls out of the playoffs last season.

Truth be told this was an absolute drubbing.  Red Bulls won 3-0, but it easily could have 6 or 7.   San Jose had no answer for Red Bulls team that dominated possession as if it were a training session.

The constant motion and fluidity Red Bulls displayed in a torrential downpour was a joy to watch.  Ream always had a mid-field target out of the back (while Marques, once again had Tim Ream) to link up with, the same can be said from mid-field to forwards.   With Luke Rodgers making himself a central target with quick, well timed runs, it left a lot of room for Henry to be creator and orchestrator.

This performance will certainly raise awareness around the league.  And With his Goal out of the way, and the emergence of a new strike partner, expect a freer and more expressive Henry the rest of the way.

Henry can only stand to benefit by Luke Rodgers emergence.  Rodgers, a speedy hard-nosed player, possesses a number strengths that Henry will love; he’ll run all day long and will relish the opportunity to feed the Captain the ball.  Plus his physical and mental toughness to set camp in the middle of the field and not be lured to the flanks will allow Henry to do what he does best, which his exploit the space on either side of Rodgers.

As for Agudelo, there is no shame in being third best to a world-class player in Henry and a wily veteran like Rodgers.  Plus, he’ll be able to see the spaces that Henry and Rodgers like to exploit and be a better strike partner at the end of the day.

The only negative has to be watching Marques trot 50 yards up field only to float lazy corner kicks everywhere except on target.  Can we have someone whip the ball into the box?  Or how about more short corners and just maintain possession?

Red Bull Preview
Red Bull NY vs. DC United (Thursday, 7:30).  If you’re an American football fan it doesn’t get any better than this.  Charlie Davis is back and making us remember why he was first choice up front with the US Nats. when healthy.  And the emergence of Tim Ream, who in my opinion, is the future Skipper for club and country provided he stays state-side makes this a must watch as they will be crossing paths often.

Add in Agudelo for a little spice at the end and you have three of the biggest reasons why the future is a bright one for the US Mens National Team.

Other Notable Games
Hardcore fans may want to take the week off!

Tuesday sees Manchester United attempting to put yet another, and maybe final nail in the Arsenal coffin in the Barclay’s Premier League title race when they face Newcastle

Also, the first Coupe de France semi-final ties Nice &. Lille is on Tuessay.

Cope Del Ray on Wednesday.  Need I say more?

Also on Wednesday, Tottenham Hotspur vs. Arsenal with both playing everything.  Tottenham is three points off Champions League football next season, but only four points ahead of Liverpool for the only Europa League spot.

Rounding out Wednesdays festivities is second Coupe de France semi-final, which pits Angers vs. Paris St Germain

Check out ESPN3.com for times.

Philly Stadium & Fans
Went to the Philly Union Red Bull game last week and I must say, that’s a really nice stadium with a really good atmosphere.  But that was a derby and we traveled a nice army of Red Bull supporters.  Which had every inebriated college aged Union feeling insecure and threatened. So they acted like Philly fans.  Enough said.

Giggs & Raul
Great to see two of the all-time greatest performers shine once again on crucial European nights.  Giggs was absolutely ridiculous in setting up both goals for the Red Devils as they ousted Chelsea from the Champions League.

And Raul.  What can you say about his goal and assist ousting defending Champions Inter Milan.  Truly the epitome of elegance for Shalke.

The old Champions League foes with square off against each other for the right to play in the final at Wembly.  Not to be missed.

Messi & Ronaldo
From current legends to future legends,  Messi and Ronaldo are neck and neck in a torrid scoring competition that sees Messi with 48 goals in all competitions while Ronaldo has 42.  Impressive numbers, but how many patsy’s do these two teams get to play during the season?  La Liga is always a two-headed race.  Its Real, Barca and then all the have nots.

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