Monday, May 19, 2008

MLS Match Report 3: Red Bulls 1, Kansas City Wizards 1

East Rutherford, New Jersey -- Some of the scuttlebutt surrounding the Northfield, New Jersey Massive! (TM) has been, to say the least, scandalous. How can you be a crew, a firm, a massive (the doubters say, all the while clinging to their quaint views of football fandom, circa 1979) when you are comprised of just 3 members? Well, there are a few things those on the outside could never endeavor to know. For one, my fanny pack comes in hard-man black, thank you very much. Secondly, Alex spent Sunday afternoon in the hospital after rearranging (unintentionally, of course!) the underside of a fellow youth soccer player's cranium with his calcium-fortified forehead. And, to top it all off, Ben is a Newcastle fan, despite Damien Duff's tenure with the club. If that's not someone who specializes in pain, I don't know who is! As Marvin Gaye once sang, "Let's get it on!!"
*** OK, here's we separate the wheat from the chaff, among soccer fans, anyway. Anyone who knows the modern game will know that all this hoolie-chic talk is just that -- talk, and only for a laugh, at that !! Who is not repulsed by the scourge of violence that blighted the game (at least in England in the 1970s and '80s) ?? It's the idea of completely-friendly 'confrontation' and witty banter amongst the fans that excites and lives on. Real violence in the name of football is absolutely repugnant. The associations are just like a good punk-rock album -- think Green Day or, their predecessors, The Clash --- in that it's all about the figurative suggestions and portraits you render. Anything beyond that is pure and utter folly, as well as small-minded !! The Beautiful Game is much too precious to be made intentionally ugly. ***
With that said, the Massive! took on members of the Nutile clan for Saturday night's visit of the Kansas City Wizards to play the host Red Bulls at Estadio de Gigantes. When we arrived at the stadium (after U2's "Achtung Baby" and Stereophonics' "Performance and Cocktails" got us the 120 miles up the Parkway), the wind was whipping. Sam got out his mini-grill and needed about 38 match strokes to get a light, while the lads were joined by Tyler and Nicky ("The One") for small-sided games in the parking lot. Only, there was a slight problem. I had forgotten the beer! Inexcusable! Or, as Sam said, "I am going to kill you." Yikes. The saddest part is that I had individually wrapped a cooler full of Coors Light 16-ouncers with ice packs, so they would be cold and frosty upon arrival. Alas, they remained in the freezer as my mind went completely blank.
But, where there's a will there is always a way, and I quickly found a collective of families from Brooklyn who were overflowing in suds. Having gained access to as many pint-cups of Yuengling Black & Tan as we wanted, Sam grilled up some awesome sausage, burgers and dogs. By 6 p.m., it was time to head inside.
Eventually, a crowd of about 16,000 filed in, making some nice noise during a match the Bulls never seemed to gain a foothold in. USA defender Jimmy Conrad gave the Wizards a 1-nil lead with a headed goal, and KC had some nice possession, but the chances were primarily created by New York. Juan Pablo Angel showed his usual nice touches, and Dane Richards was a revelation out wide on the right. As the rain started to fall down, Bulls rookie Danleigh Borman equalized late in the second half during a sequence when Jozy Altidore seemed to come alive for the home side.
Thanks to my RBNY contact, the lads and dads made it down to the tunnel after the match, and the boys got their shirts signed while I chatted about injuries with Claudio Reyna and Mike Magee. Cool stuff, and lucky to boot.
The ride home was all about 80s hits on Sirius and Sam snoring! Oh, and the lads singing "Crank that out, Soulja Boy" about 675 times. You gotta love pre-teens, iPods, North Jersey, Parkway rest-stops and, mostly, MLS.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Italian Serie A on TV this Sunday ...

Everything's left to play for this Sunday in Italia, as Roma has closed the gap on the seemingly-insurmountable Inter. 
The TV lineup in Estados Unidos on GolTV:
9 a.m. (EDT) Parma v. Inter Milan (live); 11 a.m. Catania v. Roma (same-day delay); 1 p.m. AC Milan v. Udinese (SDD).
If Roma emerge victorious, they must still make up a point on Inter, plus a -6 goal difference. There have been bigger mountains to climb, but it doesn't seem in the cards for it to happen this time. 

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How Good Is El Nino ??

So many storylines defined the Premier League this season, and there are still more to play out this weekend. (And don't forget the bonus coda in Moscow in a few weeks' time!) But to these eyes, the emergence of Fernando Torres as a goalscoring force for Liverpool tops the lot. Why? He's a throwback, a nod to the target-man striker who does the business with either foot. He's also product of a more-muscular Premiership, even from the one on display a few seasons ago.
Take as a case in point Thierry Henry. Before he found so much glory with Arsenal, Henry was a little-used midfielder in Italy. Credit Arsene Wenger for seeing the potential, but Torres is the 2010-type version of a club's main scoring threat. The Premiership is so tightly wound (think of how physical David Moyes' Everton side can be) that a destroyer like Torres can tip the balance. And to think, while with Atletico Madrid, they said 'The Kid' couldn't find the net when it really counted. Seems they were wrong.

Another Reason To Love Robert Green ...

Er, well, not literally ! But take a look at this photo of Greeny calling out the play-acting Nani during last Saturday's 4-1 Hammers' capitulation at Old Trafford. We have had some good keepers during the recent years -- Shaka Hislop, David James, Ludo Miklosko ... and if you go back to Phil Parkes, there's a fine tradition of Hammers' shot-stoppers to choose from. Tony McDonald, the proprietor of EX magazine, has rightly pointed out that Parkes' lack of more England caps is a travesty, but we might have a keeper who can get a dozen or so games for Ol' Blighty if he stays in form over the next few seasons. Greeny's appearance on the subs' bench in the Paris friendly v. France was a good sign, and the lads and I actually saw him play for Sven's England v. Colombia in New York. (Actually, it was New Jersey, but nevermind.) One Robert Green! There's only one Robert Green!

Monday, May 05, 2008

La Liga ramblings from a Real Madrid fan (Vol. 4)

Down a man and a goal, Real Madrid stormed back to claim their 31st La Liga title on Sunday. Osasuna went up 1-nil following Francisco Punal's penalty. It resulted from one of the many questionable refereeing decisions on display in this match.
Even though Real Madrid fell behind and saw a mystery 2nd yellow card that resulted in the sending off of Fabio Cannavaro in the 46th minute, manager Bernd Schuster might just be claiming the the title of "The Special One" from the currently inactive Jose Mourinho. On more than one occasion this season, Schuster has made a substitution at the perfect time. A few weeks ago, he inserted Robinho and Gonzalo Higuain (pictured above) late in a match only to see Higuain's first touch lead to a perfect pass that resulted in Robinho burying the ball in the back of the net.
On the ropes against Osasuna, Schuster pulled the strings perfectly again. After Arjen Robben found the net with a brilliant header for an equalizer, late substitute Higuain buried an 89th-minute rocket into the back of the net to assure Los Blancos the 2007-08 trophy. Unlike last season's heavy-handed moves by Real Madrid boss Fabio Capello that allowed Sevilla and Barcelona to hang on in the championship race until the final week, Schuster seems to have a solid understanding of his players. He gets where they fit into the puzzle and knows when to coach and when to let the players play. It's been brilliant in what could have easily been considered a rebuilding year.
Wednesday's match against Barcelona has now turned into a spoiler's role for Real Madrid, who can kick Barca when they're down. Villarreal are in 2nd place, and Barca desperately need points to secure an automatic qualifying place for next season's Champions League.