Thursday, January 5, 2012

MLS Should Say Good Riddance to Thierry Henry

Thanks for coming Thierry
So Thierry Henry is on his way back to Arsenal. Great (yawn). Maybe Henry and David Beckham can share a row in first class on their way back to jolly ol' England. Personally, makes me no never mind whether Henry returns to the Gunners. It's just the symptom of bigger issues on both sides of the pond.

MLS continues to spiral down this NASL-like path of being a destination for older, fading European and South American stars who want the fan worship and exposure here and maybe cash in on some valuable marketing dollars. The ulterior motive from a football perspective is a little more subtle--MLS essentially becomes an offseason training camp for these older players who either are pining for one last fling with their national team (ahem, Becks) or last-gasp return to glory--and paycheck--with the club with whom they made their name. Go on MLS, keep bringing in the likes of Henry, Beckham, Roy Keane et al. These soon-to-be 40-somethings are just using you and taking up a roster spot for someone young you could develop.

Henry had a good year with Red Bull scoring 14 goals in 26 games. The 34-year-old is Arsenal's all-time leading scorer and the club recently unveiled a statue of the French star at the Emirates Stadium. His move to Arsenal is a two-month loan that will end Feb. 16 after Arsenal's next Champions League match. Arsene Wenger is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle bringing in Henry as Arsenal is in a desperate fight for fourth in the Premier League, which guarantees the Gunners a spot in next season's Champions League.

Will he help? Probably since Henry is in shape and will certainly have momentum, adrenaline and fan support on his side. Will he stay? Depends, but if he has any kind of success, then change that "depends" to a yes. As Beckham did with AC Milan, Henry is likely to tell Red Bull "see ya in May" if he pots a few goals and Arsenal gets into contention for the title or at a minimum, Champions League qualification. The latter is likely and if Henry is making any kind of impact, he's gonna "Beckham" Red Bull the same way Becks did to the Galaxy.

I've said it before; MLS needs to discipline itself and not whore itself out to these guys  just to sell jerseys and tickets. There has to be some long-range vision here; ask Jurgen Klinsmann whom he's rather see on the Red Bull roster: Some young potential USMNT player, or Henry, Beckham or Zidane? Bringing in the Thierry Henrys of the world doesn't grow the game in America, it just pads the players' wallets, MLS' pockets and does nothing to advance the game in this country.

Tim Howard Goal v. Bolton: Real Reason to Root for Howard

Tim Howard is a class dude. Not only is he a world-class keeper, but seems to be a quality guy.

Yesterday the Everton and US national team keeper scored a goal for the ages. He bombed a 90-yard clearance from his own goal area in a Premier League match against Bolton. A fierce wind turned what should have been a three-quarter pitch reset ball into an historic goal. The ball bounced shy of the Bolton box and took a vicious hop over a flummoxed Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan into the goal. Everton led 1-0 and Howard, win or lose (yes Everton lost 2-1) was the story. He was mobbed by teammates, glorified in headlines, and got the spotlight.

Yet Howard wasn't enjoying the celebration. Maybe inside he chuckled. Maybe inside his heart took a dozen or so extra beats. But he wasn't showing it at Goodison Park yesterday. Nope. He stayed stoic; kinda deflected hugs and headslaps and went on with his evening.


Adam Bogdan, his counterpart. The guy flailing on his back desperate to stretch to reach Howard's "shot". The guy who would be the goat of the day. Howard felt compassion for him because he knew his wonder goal was a fluke. He knew his was an accident the ball went in. He knew it was an honest mistake that Bogdan misjudged the ball and was out of position.

Howard told SkySports after the match:

"I was delighted that we were in the lead and would hopefully go on to get three points, but it's not a nice feeling for a keeper. It's really awful actually. For the back four and the goalkeepers at both ends, there was an awful wind swirling. You could see everybody was mistiming balls. Defenders were missing clearances that normally they would put up the field. I think the wind is the hardest condition to play in. Snow, rain, sun doesn't matter, but the wind really does play tricks on you. I let him know that I was feeling for him. It's not a nice place to be. I've been there before, a long, long time ago, and that was why I didn't celebrate."
That's all you need to know about Tim Howard. Class.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Americanized Exceptions to Football I Can Live With

Angelina-Jen: A Derby for the Ages
I'm staunchly opposed to the Americanization of football. I don't want overtime, shootouts, substitutions on the fly, bigger goals or shorter fields. I don't want instant replay, playoffs or field turf.

There's a  lot of don'ts and won'ts in there. There are also exceptions to every rule. Two things American sports do well are create events and honor their best.

I want a Winter Classic-style football event. And I want a world football hall of fame.

The Hall of Fame is easy. Unlike the shit show that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there are clear guidelines a football hall could follow. Such as: Be out of the game five years before you're eligible; you're eligible for only 10 years (if you're not a Hall of Famer in year 1, chances are, you're not one 10 years later); Weighted voting on by journalists and players; and (gulp) FIFA runs it--boy am I asking for a corruption disaster there, aren't I? But if there's one thing they can get right, it's this.

Today's generations, unless they're brow-beaten by overbearing dads, uncles and grandpas, don't know who DiStefano or Eusebio was. Pele? Yeah, he played for the Cosmos! Eusebio? He was in the hospital last week. Second best player to Pele during his time? Really? Hmm?

A Hall of Fame, a museum where careers, players and the game is honored is long overdue for the world's most popular game. It's a destination stop for families on vacation. It's a place players can shoot for once they're done with the game. "I may not win a Champions League or World Cup, but I can still be immortal in the Hall of Fame."

To be done right, it has to be hard to get in. Only the elite get in. I don't want to see Joe Cole's name on the ballot, nor do I want to see John Harkes' even though he's somehow in the US Hall--another story for another day.

The Hall of Fame is easy. The Winter Classic is difficult. The NHL puts two teams on an outdoor rink built inside a football or baseball stadium. It's played on New Year's Day--or thereabouts--and it's a great event. The players love it, the fans love it, the NHL loves it.

For football--I don't want a gimmick. The game still has to count. It has to be played on a regulation field and count in the table. I don't want it indoors, on fake grass, or on ice skates for that matter. But there has to be something big, something that counts, something that would be a legitimate event.

My best effort is a derby day in the same stadium. London is easy: Arsenal-Tottenham; Chelsea-Fulham; West Ham-Millwall. All three games at Wembley; all of them count. In Lisbon, it's Belenenses-Setubal, Sporting-Benfica. In Madrid, it's Real Madrid-Atletico, Getafe-Rayo Vallecano--and so forth.

Imagine the hype of putting all these games in the same park on the same day! Rotate the stadia year after year, charge a lot of money, put it all on TV, whatever it takes. Make it a worldwide derby day where every country's greatest derbies are contested simultaneously.

It's a win all around if you ask me. But this isn't a dictatorship. If you have better ideas, send them along and I'll post them all.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Don't Get Apocalyptic About Football in 2012

If this is the apocalypse, gimme some
It's been almost five months since I've posted something fresh to my blog. That's downright apocalyptic, which is apropos given it's after all 2012. Kinda sad for footie fans if the Mayans are right. After all, we're stuck with 2010 as the last World Cup--aside from Spain establishing itself as the best national team in a generation, the Mundial didn't give us much more. The U.S. bombed out, and even that wasn't enough to cost Bullet Bob Bradley his job until 2011! A loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final apparently means a lot more to the ever-provincial US Soccer Federation.

Barcelona, meanwhile, continues to dominate club football. Real Madrid has its most potent club in a long time and cannot make a dent in Pep Guardiola's armor. Jose Mourinho's Year-2 legacy of winning big as a sophomore is in serious jeopardy if the last Classico was any indication. Cristiano "ARod" Ronaldo just can't get over the Messi hump. It's a messy situation.

The Champions League? Still sucks. Which is too bad. I still want the 64-team NCAA Tournament-style knockout tournament to come back. I think that still satisfies the Platinis of the world who want the minnows to cash in. It also satisfies the giants who if they're dedicated enough, can stomp through the early rounds and make for a juicy Sweet 16 and beyond. Maybe someone should buy Platini and company tickets to this year's NCAA Final Four. Maybe it will spur him on. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

So what do we have to look forward to this year? A Porto-Sporting Sweet 16 in the Europa League? How cool would that be? Only thing cooler would be a Sporting-Braga final. But that's just silly me being silly selfish.

Euro is this summer. Hopefully the solar flares won't be kicking up too bad in Poland and Ukraine and ESPN won't lose its' feed a la the 2008 Euro. The GOD group, i.e., Portugal-Holland-Germany-Denmark (Seriously, what sick fuck thought this shit up?) is unquestionably cementing Euro's status as the best football tournament in the world. What a bloodbath those group games are going to be. Portugal and Holland hate each other (see 2006 World Cup). Germany and Holland have history. Portugal cannot beat Germany--and apparently cannot beat Denmark either. And Denmark, yeah, it beat Germany to win the '92 Euro for whatever that's worth.

All I know is that if Portugal somehow escapes the group stage, somewhere along the way it will play England -- and beat England -- in penalty kicks. Make book on it. Otherwise, it's difficult to bet against a Spain-Germany final, which is a tasty treat for sure given the young Germany powerhouse that country is building, and Spain, of course, being Spain.

And then it's downtime until Dec. 21, which could be the be-all, end-all of ... The Club World Cup?