Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Clasico, Part II

We roll up to the main entrance nearest our gate. Monique and I pull out our borrowed club membership cards -- the first security barrier. We are nodded through, no hesitation from the badge-checker.

I am trembling with excitement as we walk in the direction of out gate, which I had scoped out on a pilgrimage to the Camp Nou a day before.

The first thing I notice that is different from stadiums in the US -- only one tiny stand selling Barca trinkets on the way to the stadium entrance. It is clear that the focus here is football, not merchandising. You can of course, get all of your Barca shopping done at their incredible Botiga, adjacent to the Camp Nou. In we go, then. Up the steps -- here the security guard is eying me suspiciously. I think he knows I'm not a Socio. I swipe the carnet, the green light flashes -- I'm in!

It is not clear which portal we need to go through as we are in between the numbers over the doors. We gamble and go in the lower portal, closer to the actual pitch -- this is it.

There it is -- the beautiful pitch.

Valdez is warming up. My god I've made it. Row numbers nearly match the carnet i'm holding in my hand. I walk down about 12 or 13 steps and find mine -- this is amazing. We are in the corner, but incredibly close to the pitch. I manoever around a few people and Monique and I take our seats. if Marca's Cagometro were measuring my excitement -- it would be off the charts now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Usual Suspects

Leagues are at or are nearing the half way point and we are starting to get a sense for how things will end up. I've caught a good number of Premiership, La Liga and Bundesliga games. Here are my thoughts on the Usual Suspects for winning those leagues.
The Premiership:
Man U is in first place after displacing a Chelsea side that have recently shown that they can be beat. That is a bit a surprise to me as I thought the Chelsea bench was deep, and the motivation to win was still strong. Drogba's illness (malaria) and Lampard's absence due to injury has cost them dearly. Perhaps they can recover after the New Year?
United's bench is starting to look stronger than I initially thought at the start of the year, with Chicharito helpfully scoring valuable goals, Park putting in some good shifts and even Anderson doing his bit for the team.
Some people at this stage are saying Arsenal could challenge for the top but I am not completely convinced (especially after the tame defeat agains United on Dec 13). Arsenal tend to take on injuries at inopportune times in the season. If they can make it through January and February healthy, I may but more stock in their chances.
La Liga
See the next blog for the Clasico eval, surely 3 key points to determine the winner of the league.
As for the also rans, I too have been impressed with Villareal, and deceived by both Sevilla and Valencia. Neither of the latter can put any kind of good run together, and Sevilla, despite having a good squad on paper, are in a downward spiral.

Judging by what I have seen of of them so far this season (admittedly only a few games), Munich don't deserve to win anything. Sure they have been hit by injuries to some key players, but this is Munich. More is expected.
Dortmund -- these guys are playing out of their skin, a mix of confidence and style. Hope they can keep it up after the long break, depite losing their Japanese star to the Asia Cup in January.
Hannover ? I just can't believe their good form will continue after break. Let's hope they can keep it up enough to make the UEFA EuroLiga Cup or whatever it is called.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: Soccerhead by Jim Haner

As any good soccer junkie, I devour any and all interesting-looking books on soccer. I just finished Jim Haner's Soccerhead: An Accidental Journey into the Heart of the American Game (2006, North Point Press). If you are at all curious about the game in the US, or about youth sports in general, I recommend this book. It offers humorous accounts of a no-nothing youth soccer coach (Haner), and his metamorphosis into a full-fledged soccer nut.

It also offers insight to the history of the game in the US. Haner describes how the game predates American football, basketball and baseball by a significant margin, and offers some explanation of how it lost it's status as an American sport over time.

In addition, Soccerhead offers reminders about the nature of youth sport, and the role of parents in youth athletics. Haner interviewed many experts, and spoke from his own experience. The second-most important point, specifically related to soccer, is that the best coaches at the youth level coach the least. The most important point, and this is relevant to all youth sport, is that it should be fun. Period.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So It Begins...

I live in the US and as a result have limited access to European matches. I am a cheap-o and only subscribe to basic cable, giving me both Univision and Telemundo. Unfortunately they don't cover Europe. The only games I get to watch are those that are played on ESPN's handy ESPN3 online player; oh, and the occasional game that I will take in at my fav local pub, the Druid.

ESPN3 is hosting Premier League games this season for the first time ever, I believe, and I am ecstatic about that. They also host a lot of La Liga matches.


The 2010 PL season has begun. The team I support in that league, Arsenal, drew at home to Liverpool. That is probably a decent result for both sides as neither would want to lose face against one another. I don't expect either of them to win the league.

My early prediction for the PL:

1. Chelsea, AKA the Evil Empire
2. Manchester United, they will be in the race until late
3. Man City, Apprentice to the Evil Empire
4. Arsenal, they will just edge out arch rival Spurs
5. Spurs
6. Liverpool, again no CL football for them
7. Everton
8. Villa
9. Fulham
10. Blackburn
11. Bolton
12. Newcastle
13. Stoke
14. West Ham
15. Sunderland
16. Wolves
17. Wigan
18. Blackpool
19. Birmingham
20. West Brom

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Henry to NY

So Thierry Henry is coming to America -- incredible. I wonder how he will adapt.

I was thrilled when he moved to Barcelona -- I thought the move was a smart one for both player and club. Henry at the time was 29 years old and had done pretty much all one could have done with Arsenal in London. He topped the Arsenal all-time goal scoring charts. Helped them win the league twice, going undefeated in one season. He nearly won the Champions League with them, only to lose to...Barcelona... in the final.

While he led that Arsenal team with arrogance and at times petulance, he also did so with tremendous style and flair. Henry made a significant contribution to the Barcelona teams that won the last two league titles -- but it was hard for him to shine in a team with so many amazing players. Perhaps that is a credit to him -- he proved that he could adapt and contribute to a team effort after playing the role of superstar for so long at Arsenal.

Among the many different types of players in the game -- the industrious worker-bee types, the hard-men tacklers, the playmakers -- players like Henry, Ibrahimovic, Zidane, Larsson, Maicon, Luis Fabiano, Kaka are a class above. The have a certain coolness, a confidence and grace that distinguishes them from the rest -- good though they may be.

Michael Jordan had that grace; many say Lebron James has that grace now. You could argue that Tiger Woods is of the same ilk, though his crass life choices have tarnished his reputation.

I think Henry will find it rough going in the MLS. Hopefully he can avoid the tackles from the graceless cloggers that abound in our league here.

The run out in New York will be a new adventure for him. Welcome to America, Henry - and good luck to you.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

El Clasico!


The 2010 La Liga schedule came out today, July 20. By chance, the Clasico falls on a date when Leo, the Missus and I will be in Barcelona.


Since I learned of this, I have been fervently contacting Barcelona family members in hopes of lining up tickets. They are not even on sale yet to my knowledge.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Viva Espanha!

Full disclosure -- my wife's family is Catalan; I'm a Barca fan. This, however, is not an all Barca or all Spain blog.

Having had a few days to reflect on the match, my opinion remains the same -- the best team won. It was not a pretty match, but I can't say I expected it to be. Spain playing in its first ever final, versus a Dutch side that isn't nearly as classy as previous incarnations.

Both teams looked nervous at that start, Spain especially. Ramos was ever eager to receive the ball, but got rid of it immediately afterwords. Xavi must have had adrenaline coursing through his veins -- he was not his typical calm, thoughtful self.

Much has been said about the ref, Howard Webb. I though he did a decent job in a very tough game. Both teams made rough fouls - Webb did his best to keep the game moving.

Highlights: Incredible finish at the death by Barca forward/midfielder Andres Iniesta. Incredible performance from Iker Casillas, the Madrid goalkeeper. Robben running at Casillas in a couple of one on one situations caused the heart to flutter -- thankfully Casillas was up to the challenge on one play; Puyol, of course, managed to bump Robben off the ball for the other. Robben wanted a foul but, as others have pointed out, perhaps that non-call was retribution for the Van Bommel or DeJong fouls earlier in the game.

I think the greatest joy for me however, was seeing Barca and Madrid players look genuinely happy playing together. It be foolish to say that they put history behind them completely, but it does seem like they've made some sort of peace with it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Final: Spain v. Holland

Hooray! Spain v. Holland in the final is a dream match-up this year. Great that neither of the two finalists have ever won it before, and that that is the case on a continent where the Cup has never been played before.

Brazil, though dear to my heart, has won it five times previously and will win it again in four years at home; Germany has won the cup several times already; France were unworthy, egocentric blowhards; Italy weren't good enough; England were, as always, an entertaining diversion. Uruguay were inspirational, but are happily eliminated. Holland is truly one of the best teams around. Spain is incredible.

In their last game, you could see that the key Dutch players had seemingly resolved whatever differences existed, and were playing to their potential. Van Bommel has really become a commanding presence in the center of the pitch. On their day, there is no stopping the Robben/Schneider/Van Persie combination.

Many are picking Spain to win this Cup. I hope they do -- my missus is half-Catalan; my favorite team is Barcelona; many on the Spanish national team are Barca players. But I want them to win mostly because I admire the way they play -- the way they hold possession and steadily build their attacks though a combination of passing moves and individual technique. I like that there is dynamism in the team -- they are tough in defense, thoughtful in midfield, quick on the wings and skillful in attack. There is also great cohesion in the team. When the attacking-midfielders and forwards are having difficulty breaking through the opposition defense, a defensive midfielder or full-back will move forward to provide another option. In defense, the forwards will drop back to recover possession. Also, everyone in the team defends -- a Barca tactic of late that has translated well to the national side.

Will Kuyt and Van Bommel control the game? Or will it be once again the Xavi and Villa show? My hope is for the latter, but will be entertained in any case by this historic game.

Happy watching!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I don’t know if there is any stopping this German team. Confidence must be soaring. Who will come in for Mueller? It hardly matters I think. Loew and co have outsmarted opponents regardless of the cast (wasn’t everyone thinking they’d be rubbish w/o Ballack?!). It will be an interesting match – del Bosque is no tactical schmuck.

Spain has weaknesses, I think; the holding midfield players (Busquets and Alonso) are more creative than they are defensive. In any given German counter-attack - and they have been so effective in counter-attacks this tournament - expect one or both to be lazily retreating when they should be sprinting. Our captain courageous, Puyol, is wonderfully dedicated to the cause but is also slow and in generally not as good as his German counterparts. Del Bosque took him off in the last match, though; I wonder if he may start someone else for the next game.

Does Germany have a weakness?

Will Holland will beat Uruguay? Perhaps so without Suarez, but I’m not convinced it’s already been decided. Holland in their last game looked a bit uncoordinated. Individuals (Schneider, Robben, V. Persie) did remarkable things, but there didn’t seem to be much cohesion in the team. As much as I like Holland, I am hoping Uruguay makes it to the final (against Spain ;-)

Happy watching indeed!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

World Cup 2010 - Group and Round of 16

The Round of 16 has just finished. The States are out, no surprise. I was not surprised that we nearly did not make it out of the group. The playing fields are reasonably level these days. Algeria (although many of their players were born and live in France) produces good futebol players, as does Slovenia. Any 11 decently skilled and fit players, on their day, stand a decent chance of beating any given 11 from anywhere.

We (the US) were nearly beaten by Slovenia in the group phase, and had to claw our way back to tie. the last minute winner against Algeria was good, though.

Ghana beat us fair and square. Poor decision making on Clark's part; he coughed up the ball and the Ghanaian forward took full advantage. Well done to him. In extra time, I thought Bocanegra and DeMerritt (sp) had the long ball covered -- apparently not.


Thanks for visiting!

This is my first personal blog entry ever.

My hope is that you have stumbled onto this blog because of a love for futebol, and are a thoughtful person who has insightful comments and will leave them here for me and for others to see. The hope is to engage the reader, whoever you may be, in a dialog on something related to our shared interest.

My good wife Monique recommended i start a blog on this topic seeing as futebol (AKA futbol, football, soccer) is one of the few things in my life that makes me truly happy.