Tuesday, December 02, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: USA-Mexico qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, plus other musings ...

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last two months, but we should be back with news and opinions on a regular basis now, so thanks (to all 13 of you!!) for your patience.

-- First off, a highly placed, reliable source in the U.S. soccer community told pardew's guardian on Tuesday that the February CONCACAF 2010 World Cup qualifier between the United States men and their arch-rivals Mexico will be held at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. An official announcement should follow shortly. As far as I can tell, this news has not appeared anywhere else online or in print. While I was hoping for RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., or (in a fantasy world) Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey or Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia so I could attend -- and, imagine, 60,000 fans attendng the match, with allegiances split 50-50! -- the cold-weather location mirrors the 2001 qualifier at the same venue. Josh Wolff (pictured at top) and company bossed the game against Mexico, winning 2-nil and setting the mental stage for the USA's win by the same scoreline in the 2002 FIFA World Cup round-of-16 game in South Korea. This upcoming match will be interesting for a variety of reasons. Obviously, the last team the U.S. wanted to start with would have been Mexico, but drawing them at home is obviously an advantage to Bob Bradley's squad. It will be interesting to see if Bradley selects the players that merit inclusion (Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, et al) in the starting 11, or if he will play it safe. That could backfire if Sven Goran Eriksson figures out that Mexico plays best when passing the ball along the floor and pulls a tactical rabbit, so to speak, out of his experienced hat. Still, a 1-nil USA win, with goalkeeper Tim Howard shutting things down at the back, would get the Americans' Hexagonal campaign (3 of the 6 teams make the Cup, while the 4th-placed team makes a playoff) off to a wondrous start.

-- West Ham have fashioned 3 straight clean sheets in the Premier League. Manager Gianfranco Zola has finally righted the ship, not with champagne, attacking-style football but with the tried-and-true solid back four. Matty Upson and James Collins, I think, rival Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic as one of the best central-defensive pairings in the league. Some of you who don't watch the Hammers may scoff, but Upson has obviously caught England manager Fabio Capello's eye and is now a regular member of the national squad. Keeper Robert Green (pictured second from top) has regained the form that had Hammers supporters calling for his England inclusion, will Collins (No. 19, pictured third from top) is an old-fashioned central defender who is just a pleasure to watch. He must have a magnet in his head! The ball finds his ginger noggin at least 30 times a match; it's almost uncanny. With striker Carlton Cole holding the ball up as the main striker and Scott Parker showing his skill in the midfield, I expect the Hammers to stay just above the relegation mire. But, things are so tight in the Premiership, you can't really be sure this season.

-- Juan Pablo Angel might be the best player to ever wear an MLS uniform. I will write more about the Red Bulls' improbable run to MLS Cup sometime soon (Alex, Ben and I were season-ticket holders in 2008), but it has to be acknowledged that this Colombian striker (pictured fourth from top) has shown talent rarely seen on these shores over the last two seasons. His 34 goals speak for themselves, but it's Angel's intelligence on the pitch that just has to be seen to be believed. You can't really tell when watching on television, but his movement, anticipation and sheer quality must rank him even with or above Marco Etcheverry, John Harkes, Landon Donovan or any other MLS great. I think it's a huge indictment of the coaching at Aston Villa that one season after Angel scored 24 goals in the Premiership, he was marooned on the bench for most of the following year. I think he could still play in the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A even now.