Thursday, August 28, 2008

No Adu for the USA?

Coach Bob Bradley's latest USA Men's National Team roster for the upcoming CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup against Cuba and Trinidad & Tobago has a curious absence: One Freddy Adu. Based on his performances in the USA's first two group games at the Beijing Olympics (Adu was suspended for the third match, down to his own petulance), this sort of beggars belief. Now, Bradley may think he has enough of a roster to walk these two matches and let Adu bed in with his new side Monaco (the lads and I have been to their stadium, by the way). But when you are a national-team manager, you have to budget, so to speak, for all outcomes. And if we go deep into the second half against either Cuba or T&T at nil-nil, you need someone on the bench who can unlock a defense and help you steal a result you might not really deserve. And of all the players who have worn a USA shirt, Adu is showing himself to be the most capable of doing so: whether it be a clever backheel, a probing run or that pass that required an extra second before being released. As a 14-year-old, his hype worked against him. But at this point, a USA starting 11 without Adu seems like folly. Just an opinion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Red Bulls Peaking As Season Winds Down

East Rutherford, New Jersey -- The lads and I spent a beautiful Sunday with 12,000-plus fellow fans at Giants Stadium and saw the resurgent New York Red Bulls impose themselves during a comprehensive 3-nil win over the Houston Dynamo in a match that was broadcast nationally on Spanish-language network Telefutura. Give some credit to Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio -- the Colombian has made all the right moves in the "post-Claudio Reyna" era. The signings of Pietravallo, Jimenez and Cichero have added a palpable Hispanic flair to the side, and with Juan Pablo Angel back to his deadly goalscoring form, New York is not a team that any MLS club would want to face in a two-leg playoff. Mike Magee and the blazing-fast Dane Richards also found the scoresheet Sunday, and Rutgers grad Jon Conway shut things down in goal.
The one good aspect about the Bulls' indifferent early season form is that they may now face a weaker Western Conference side in the playoffs, or even this Houston side. Allowing for the fact that Ching and Holden did not start for the Dynamo on Sunday, the Bulls have to be confident in the fact that they bossed the game. Even when Nate Jaqua came on in the second half for Houston, Jimenez had him in his back pocket.
With three-quarters of the season gone, the Bulls still have a chance to move up the Eastern Conference standings. And you get the feeling that Osorio is saving some of his tactical acumen for the postseason. If Angel stays in form, it might finally be a good time to be a Metro/Red Bulls supporter. Eastern Conference final, here we come!

Is This How Sad We've Become?

It's not the fact that we're losing Anton Ferdinand (pictured) to Sunderland, per se. He was always a raw-but-talented defender. In many cases, his penchant for scoring goals seemed to outweigh his talents for stopping goals at the other end, at least in the Premier League. Remember, his best days with Hammers were when he partnered Elliot Ward and helped us win promotion in 2004-05.
Anton was always the consolation, as such, for selling Rio to Leeds for that filthy lucre (18 million pounds-plus) all those years ago. "At least we still have the kid brother," we told ourselves. Raised in the urban environment of Peckham in South London, the Ferdinand parents were the exception to the norm. Their lads Rio and Anton had riding lessons and learned to play musical instruments ... they were not just thick footballers; they were all-rounders, as they say in the U.K. Rio's "forgotten" drug test and Anton's ill-advised trip to South Carolina for a bachelor party notwithstanding, these boys represented the best of the famed West Ham academy.
The fact that Anton sees his future with the ascendant Roy Keane and the Mackems/Black Cats ... and the fact that he can quadruple his wages there ... instead of in East London says a lot about both the limitations of manager Alan Curbishley to rally players around the cause as well as the failure of our Icelandic owners to compete in the financial landscape of the Premiership 2008-09, taking the global "credit crunch" into account.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Key To The Hammers' Season? Carlton Cole

When you think about what West Ham needs to do in order to stay in the Premiership -- and, let's face it, with Curbs as manager and the credit crunch putting paid to the Icelandic-owners consortium's ability to compete financially -- finishing anywhere from 17th and above MUST!! be considered a success. There are a few names that jump out at you regarding how the side can stay afloat .. Robert Green, Matty Upson, Scott Parker and (hopefully) Dean Ashton. But when it comes to the week-in, week-out toil that will actually accomplish the task, look no further than our No. 12 Carlton Cole. His goal totals might not light up the scoreboards, but Colely does all the "off the ball" chores that contribute to getting results. He holds the ball up, knocks the ball down, provides the requisite flick-ons and weighs in with the occasional goal. In summary, the unsung hero who you can see firing the Hammers on a long FA Cup run. Well done, Carlton. Keep up the good work.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Beckham, the Barons and Spurs shirts ... oh, my!

Alex, Ben and I left the house at 7:15 a.m. on Saturday, July 19th and spent the day at Fort Dix in 97-degree heat as the lads were playing in the Central Jersey Invitational Cup as part of the South Jersey Barons summer select U-11 soccer team. We then headed up to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford to be among the 46,000 to watch the host New York Red Bulls tie David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-2 in Major League Soccer that evening.
Commentator and fine human being Max Bretos of Fox Soccer Channel arranged "Family & Friends" passes for us, so were were able to be near the locker rooms and on the field level before and after the game. Beforehand, the lads met Galaxy coach -- and AC Milan and Holland legend -- Ruud Gullit. Afterward they got a huge hug from Bretos, who has followed their progress over the years with as much interest as a relative would. Max is truly one of the good guys out there in the media. He is genuine, not fake. Thanks, Max.
The boys also got a towel tossed to them from the Bulls' Juan Pablo Angel, and later got him to sign it. But the highlight was meeting Becks, who was classy and made small talk with the lads and all the other kids around. I shook "Our David's" hand and even made him laugh by asking him why an East London boy like himself didn't sign with West Ham!
The photos of Becks on the field were taken by Alex from our seats right on the corner flag. Steady photographer's hand from young Alex!
On Sunday, July 20th with the lovely Victoria along for the trip, it was out of the house at 8:30 a.m. to trek back to the extreme heat of Fort Dix for Day 2 of the Central Jersey Cup. The Barons boys made semifinals of their age group, where they turned in a great performance in defeating a Dutch Total Soccer academy team 4-1. The Barons boys then lost a heartbreaker to the MAPS select team in the final, 3-2. The Barons team (including Alex, Ben and Trevor "The Pony" Holak) is pictured above, receiving their second-place medals. Alex played ALL 300 MINUTES in the five games over the two days at left back. Ben started every match and every second half as a central midfielder and played about 80 percent of the total minutes. Home at 8 p.m. on the Sunday. A proud dad I very much was!
Fast forward one week: Alex, Ben and Trevor, along with massive Spurs fans Michael and Jonathan Sturman from England, won their Sunday group in our local Mainland United 3 v. 3 soccer tournament. After a tough opening 2 games, Dave "The Horse" Holak took over the tactical duties from me (hey, I still 'stretched' the lads!) and our boys -- competing as Tottenham, complete with "125 years" jerseys supplied by dad Jim Sturman; please know that I wore my No. 32 West Ham "Tevez" shirt in proud protest! -- went 3-0 with 28 goals scored and just 4 given up over the last 3 matches to grab first place in their group. Well done, the lads!

From The Horse's Mouth: Marketing Beckham -- A Missed Opportunity

(photo by Alex Clark)

Unfortunately, I think MLS has fallen into the same marketing philosophy many businesses, big and small, fall into in regards to David Beckham ... make the big initial "grand opening" push and get the snowball running downhill, and once it starts rolling it will get bigger and bigger. When Beckham signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, they did a good job of getting the buzz out -- moving Beckham #23 jerseys and selling out stadiums across the country for his first visit.
But we're in Year 2 now, and the "smell of something new" is wearing off, which was painfully apparent by the completely empty third level of Giants Stadium on Saturday, July 19th, when the New York Red Bulls hosted the Galaxy (a match I, "The Horse," attended with my wife Carrie "The Mare" and our son Trevor "The Pony." Yes, we drove to the game in "The Stagecoach." Hey, what can I do? James Clark edits the site!)
Sure, 40,000 fans is a huge bump from the standard 15,000 the Red Bulls play in front of on a typical Saturday night, but this is David Beckham (oh yeah, and Landon Donovan). The optimist says, "that's a 25,000 fan bump", but  the smart businessman says "where are the additional 30,000 fans that were here last year?" That's almost a 40% drop in business and that's not good using anyone's math. MLS can argue they anticipated a bubble in Year 1 but with a 40% drop in Year 2, in my opinion, the potential of the Beckham/MLS era is being wasted. 
MLS will never be La Liga, the EPL or Serie A -- I don't suffer from those delusions -- but being a soccer fan who appreciates what Beckham brings to the field, I'm incredibly disappointed that the buzz is gone. Last week marked Beckham's first MLS All-Star appearance as a fit player ... did anyone outside the dedicated soccer community know that ???? 
Why didn't MLS partner Beckham with the "other stars" or the "future stars" of the league in a marketing campaign. (MLS, you can feel free to send me a small conceptual-development check!) Every day, the clock is running out on the Beckham coat-tails ... so, ride them!
Compare MLS with Apple Computers and imagine, for a minute, that Beckham's arrival was the launch of the first iPhone. How has MLS followed up on the launch? A few weeks ago, Steve Jobs launched the same iPhone he launched a year ago with a few design tweaks and some new features. People lined up around street blocks all over THE WORLD to pay $200 plus service fees to get one. 
Why? Because Apple understands that it's all about marketing. Unfortunately, MLS does not. Now, I'm off to get some oats and sugar cubes.
(All "equine" joking aside, Dave Holak runs a cutting-edge graphics and advertising company called make-it-pop. Check it out online; the guy knows what he's talking about! James Clark)