Friday, February 13, 2009

Pardew's Guardian news and notes ...

There's a bit of a format change going on with this post, considering we don't fashion ourselves a news-based Web site as such. Due to my full-time job commitments, I am only able to update this blog occasionally. But while I usually post (ill-informed???) opinions, there are a few things hanging out there that should be addressed in a timely manner: 1) The super soccer Web site Soccer By Ives enjoyed a moment in the sun during ESPN2's broadcast of the U.S. Men's National Team's comprehensive 2-nil World Cup qualifying win over Mexico in Ohio on Wednesday night. The cameras lingered on the "winning" banner (pictured above, top) from a contest on his site he ended up having printed in Columbus the day before the match. My goodness, how we as a soccer community in the United States have come a long way. We are inter-connected via the Internet, cell phones, etc. It's nice to know you have brothers (and, increasingly, sisters) of like mind out there. 2) The U.S. Men's National Team's next World Cup qualifier -- at El Salvador on March 28th -- will be televised live on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. Eastern time. There was some uncertainty regarding a broadcast, but ESPN's Mac Nwulu confirmed to PardsGuard on Friday (after a media e-mail contained an erroneous date for the match) that the game is, indeed, scheduled to air. That match may go down in the annals as the 'Brad Guzan' game (pictured above, middle). Guze, the backup keeper behind fellow American Brad Friedel at English Premier League side Aston Villa, must step in to deputize for the suspended (and, we must add, world-class) Tim Howard. Will that make the difference between a win and a draw -- or, God forbid -- a loss?? We shall see. 3) Back to my earlier report about Inter Milan (and 'Special One' manager Jose Mourinho (pictured above, bottom) playing in New Jersey this summer -- According to well-placed sources, one of whom is in Milan as we speak for the AC-Inter derby on Sunday, a press conference will be held within a month that commits Inter to a Los Angeles-East Rutherford, N.J.-Canada itinerary for preseason. Where there's smoke, there's fire, so we will have to wait and see on this one.

Monday, February 09, 2009

No Freddy Adu? Bob Bradley's Got This One Wrong ...

Fans of the United States Men's National Team have been counting down the days to February 11th (7 p.m., ESPN2), when the CONCACAF Hexagonal gets underway to see which three teams (and possibly a fourth) from North and Central America and the Caribbean get to make the journey to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The luck of the draw would have it that we open the round against our archrival Mexico, with the game set for wintry Ohio. Mexico is reeling under the guidance of ex-England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, but beware the wounded animal. I find U.S. coach Bob Bradley's omission of Monaco midfielder/striker Freddy Adu (pictured above, top) when the roster was announced this weekend to be more than a bit worrying. Granted, Adu is rooted to the bench for the Ligue 1 side, but a player with his special abilities MUST be on the roster at this point. No offense, but you're not going to beat the best teams in the world once we get to the Confederations Cup in South Africa this summer -- where dates with Italy and Brazil await -- with the likes of Ricardo Clark on the field. The roster should be shaped now to hit the ground running with for those big matches this summer, with further tweaking ahead of the Big Show in South Africa in 2010. Yes, Sacha Kljestan is in fine form at the moment and you don't need Adu to beat Mexico, but against Italy or Spain or Argentina, that extra bit of guile he brings to the table cannot be underestimated. And if Bradley is punishing Adu for his lack of playing time in the French league, why name striker Jozy Altidore (pictured above, bottom)? Keep in mind I would never once in a million years ask so daft a question, but it's just for argument's sake. Altidore has just been shipped off on loan from Villarreal to a team in Spain's second division, yet he grabs a spot. Maybe there's something here that's not clearly evident at this time. Could it be that Bradley has doubts about Adu's work ethic? This one merits some close monitoring.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hate To Play Like That And Come Away With Nothing ...

I had done a lot of"gum flapping during the week leading up to Sunday's Hammers v. Manchester United match at Upton Park in what turned out to be a rainy-but raucous East London, based on the television sights and sounds. Although the Hammers were unbeaten in 8 matches, I wasn't promising a win against the defending champions. However, I thought the in-form Carlton Cole, the clever David Di Michele or even our bumper new signing Savio Nsereko could be the one to dent Man United keeper Edwin van der Sar's clean-sheet record. If not a strike from one of our front men, then maybe a well-placed header from one of our sterling central defenders, Matty Upson or James "Ginger" Collins. If nothing else, the odds were in our favor. Van der Sar couldn't keep this up forever, plus Hammers' midfield of Valon Behrami, Scotty Parker, Mark Noble and Jack Collison has a great balance of guile and grit at the moment. Throw in the tactical nous shown in recent weeks by Gianfranco Zola and No. 2 Steve Clarke, and the pieces were in place for a memorable afternoon in the East End. And damned if the home side didn't almost get it done! We had stretches of skillful possession, a chance or two off of corners and by newly-called-up England striker Cole and, in general, matched Man United's tenacity and pace all over the field. Leave it to the old warhorse, Ryan Giggs, to be the difference-maker. Our Aussie right back and captain, Lucas Neill, played another blinder on Sunday, but his one moment of hesitation in closing Giggs down in the box gave keeper Robert Green -- another England player for the Hammers, alomg with Upson -- no chance on the right-footed shot. That proved to be the only goal of the game in a 1-nil win for the visitors/Premiership leaders. Kudos to Zola for staying positive and throwing on Nsereko and Diego Tristan in search of an equalizer. Nsereko got about 15 minutes, but anyone can see that this Uganda-born German is the real deal. He oozes skill and talent, and my guess is he'll be plying his trade at Arsenal or Old Trafford within three years' time. That's just the sad reality of supporting Hammers, but, all in all, we put up a noble fight in the East End on Sunday. We didn't do enough to win it, but nil-nil would have been a result no one could have quibbled with.

Friday, February 06, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Hot Rumors Regarding Inter Milan v. Chelsea at Giants Stadium ...

Sources tell Pardew's Guardian that a huge announcement about summer soccer in New Jersey could be made this weekend. The Clark, New Jersey-based Inter Club Giacinto Facchetti of New Jersey holds its annual dinner in Newark this weekend. This is an organization committed to spreading the Inter gospel throughout the United States. As a Lazio supporter, I have not been sucked in (and, like any good sons trying to upset their dad, Alex and Ben support Roma; the three of us traveled to Bordighera, Italy, with Victoria a few years ago) but I respect the passion and commitment shown by the Facchetti members. We even have a few locals -- Ocean City Barons principals Neil Holloway and John Granese, both of Ocean City by way of England and Italy, respectively -- making the journey to Milan soon for the big derby at the San Siro. Lucky lads!! The account given to me this week is that a television crew from Italy will be present at the Facchetti dinner to film proceedings and get New Jersey-based reaction to the announcement regarding the Inter v. Chelsea match at Giants Stadium. If this happens, timing will be everything, of course. If it's an early-summer match, the rosters will most likely be weakened, but if the game bumps up against the start of the Premiership and Serie A, expect the likes of Inter's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka (both pictured above) to grace the turf of our beloved "stadium in the swamplands." Stay tuned on this one.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Tremendous Run, And Still In The FA Cup

Good times all around in East London, in a footballing sense, and we have a tight-knit squad and the coaching/managerial talents of assistant Steve Clarke and head man Gianfranco Zola, respectively, to thank for that right now. Unbeaten in 8 after Saturday's nil-nil result carved out against Arsenal at The Emirates, the Hammers are finding themselves as the 2008-09 season head into what's commonly known as the "business end." Let's start at the back -- you can't say enough abut the quintet of goalkeeper Rob Green, outside backs Herita Ilunga and Lucas Neill and, most importantly, the center-back pairing of Matty Upson and James Collins. Seriously, other than the fact that he represented homegrown talent, does anyone miss the erratic form of Anton Ferdinand? He was a touch-stone for us at Championship level and during that blissful first year back in the Prem, but Upson and Collins are the real deal. These guys don't let opposition strikers get a sniff. As stated before in this space, Collins' forehead is a ball magnet, and Upson must use his arms for balance more noticably than any defeder in the top flight. When you think of Iluga's play, does anyone really miss George McCartney? Or, more importantly, does the sale of Macca to Sunderland really stand up as a reason for Alan Curbishley to resign his position? And that's a good transition to Curbs' ridiculous views on the acquisition of Italian striker Davide Di Michele, which have also been documented here. After a week in which Zola and Clarke have sung No. 32's praises, it's easy to see that Upton Park needed the fresh eyes of Zola and technical director Gianluca Nani to make a push for the UEFA Cup places. Plus, a home tie in the fifth round of the Cup v. Middlesbrough puts us in great position to reach the final 8 (round 6). Also, factor in the continued good form of Coley plus the capture of club-record signing Savio Nsereko, and all signs point upward for the Hammers. No wonder !! my personal life is in such shambes. Oh, well, as they say ... Fortune's always hiding!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

8th Place in The Prem, and Round 5 Beckons ...

A Sunday match with Fulham at Upton Park was on the cards -- and, more importantly, on the telly here in New Jersey. The Hammers entered the game in good form, with the Zola regime seemingly taking root. Continental, cultured and easy on the eye. The color commentator on the broadcast even made the allusion that Hammers, under Gianfranco, are playing with a similar tactical nous as did Arsenal in their heydey. He mentioned that Valon Behrami and Jack Collison are mirroring the positioning taken up by Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg, respectively, with the Gunners a few seasons ago. Namely, playing wide but pinching in and narrowing the midfield. Those players had Theirry Henry running rampant up front, but Hammers are quickly finding out what a striker we have in the ranks in one Carlton Cole. With his goal today, Coley became the first Hammer to score in 5 consecutive matches since Teddy Sheringham in 2004. He really is in England form at the moment, and Fabio Capello was in the stands. But Coley's goal came from a perfectly weighted pass from Italian striker Davide Di Michele, who also scored Hammers' opener. You dozens of pardewsguardian readers who check in regularly will know I have been calling for Di Michele's inclusion, at the expense of Welshman Craig Bellamy. With recent developments -- the petulant Bellamy seems headed to Manchester City after refusing to train and play for our side -- that seems a bit prescient, doesn't it? Sunday's 3-1 win puts us 8th with 29 points, and with 16 league matches left we seem to be rising above the relegation mire. Next up? A tricky 5th-round FA Cup tie at Hartlepool United. Most importantly? The match is live on the telly this Saturday, 7:30 a.m. East Coast time on Setanta. Come on, you Irons !!!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Cruising into Round 4 !!!

The FA Cup is special to me. In my mind and sense of football consciousness, it represents everything beautiful about The Beautiful Game (TM), especially in England and Wales. The Coppa Italia and Copa del Rey (in Italy and Spain, respectively) certainly have their merits, but it's the FA Cup that captures imaginations throughout the world. West Ham did well to impose themselves at home v. Barnsley on Saturday, avoiding the usual banana-skin result against lower-league opposition. A comprehensive 3-nil win, with goals by Herita Ilunga, Mark Noble and the ever-dependable Carlton Cole sets the stage nicely for a massive tie in Round 4 (the final 32). I just get the feeling that gaffer Gianfranco Zola is really getting a grip on this side and the English game in particular. I'm not there to witness them, but I must imagine the training sessions run by Zola and his assistant, Steve Clarke, are among the best since the Hammers' heyday under Greenwood and Lyall. Harry Redknapp was a superb gameday manager, but -- as good a source as John Harkes has told me -- training was not his strong suit. The Cup also holds a very special place in my Hammers' fandom, which began officially with my attending a match at Upton Park in 1999. The 2001 4th-round upset of Manchester United (nil-1 to the Hammers at Old Trafford) saw me amongst about 8 Hammers supporters set against 70 or 80 Red Devils partisans while watching the match live at the Dickens Inn in Philadelphia. When Di Canio scored, the small contingent of Irons whooped, hollered and embraced (beers spilling left and right), sharing a moment that may never be equaled. Fast forward to spring 2006, and Andy Stubbs and I, as well as my lads, watched the final against Liverpool at Atlantic City Bar and Grill, located about 15 minutes from our home in South Jersey. Big Ron Garofalo was pouring the pints, and we took 2-nil and 3-2 leads, only to be pegged back by Gerrard. When Nigel Reo-Coker's second-half extra-time header was pushed onto the bar by Pepe Reina, I knew it was not to be our day. The penalty shootout confirmed that, with only Sheringham converting. But I get the feeling that Zola can bring us a trophy. From my lips to God's ears !!!