Major League Soccer played their final regular season games the past week spelling the end of summer soccer. The playoffs have begun but for the first time in a decade the New England Revolution will not be participating in them. What a year to start following the Revs after all those years of post-season success (albeit without a MLS Cup trophy to show for it).
Summer soccer is one of the idiosyncrasies that set America apart from the major European leagues that play from August to May. It’s not obstinacy on the part of United States soccer, but the fact that parts of the United States have far more severe winters than much of Europe. Teams playing in Massachusetts, Colorado, and New Jersey just could not host home games in the winter, or at least draw a devoted crowd in the midst of a blizzard.
In my ongoing effort to learn more about football worldwide, I decided to see if anyone else plays in the winter. I figured that Russia is a cold, cold place so they must play in the summer. And I was right. Except not for long because Russia will be switching to an autumn-to-spring calendar in 2012-13. Good luck to fans of FC Zenit Saint Petersburg in February. Brrr. Scandinavian nations also play on a summer schedule and, oddly enough, the League of Ireland switched to a summer schedule in 2003 (I haven’t figured out why). The Australian A-League also plays a summer schedule although their summer is our winter.
Anyhow, here’s the matches I’ve watched in the past week and a half.
AFC Ajax 2:1 Auxerre (19 Oct 2010) - This match saw Ajax win their first match of the Champions League this season to go with a loss & a tie. The first half was all Ajax as the Amsterdammers went up 2-0. The second goal in particular was a brilliant example of team passing and running setting up the goal for El Hamdaoui. The second half got a little crazy after André Ooijer’s professional foul earned him a red card and forced Ajax to defend their lead with 10 men. But then the French side went down to 10 men on a handball attempt on the goal. Then in the waning minutes of the game an Auxerre sub was sent off before he even made it on the field! Comical, to say the least. Match report.
FC Barcelona 2:0 FC Copenhagen (20 Oct 2010) – Lionel Messi scored both goals for Barça moving them to the top of Group D in the Champions League. The Danish side had some moments where they seemed to be in control but never really threatened. Really, Barcelona should have taken advantage of their offensive superiority and score more. Match report.
New York Red Bulls 2:0 New England Revolution (21 Oct 2010) – The Revs finished off their 2010 campaign with a road game versus the Eastern Conference champions. It ended as one would expect as a loss, the first time the Red Bulls have defeated the Revs since 2005 breaking a 16-game undefeated streak. New England looked the better side in the second half but failed to score and then gave up a stoppage time goal. Wait ’till next year. Match report.
Tottenham Hotspur 1:1 Everton FC (23 Oct 2010) – One thing I love about European football is the names and there is no better combination than Tottenham and Hotspur who play at the romantically named White Hart Lane. There also a Premier League power nipping at the heels of the big three so it was something for Everton to earn a point and extend their unbeaten streak to four games. Everton scored on a fantastic first half free kick by Leighton Baines. Alas, a rare error by goalkeeper Tim Howard contributed to the Spurs’ equalizer a few minutes later. Match report.
West Bromwich Albion 2:1 Fulham FC (23 Oct 2010) – Speaking of great names, here is West Brom and their home grounds The Hawthorns. Things started well for Fulham with a Zoltan Gera strike (scored as an own goal against West Brom) but in the pouring rain the Baggies (lovely nickname too) were able to equalize and then go ahead before the break. Match report.
Real Zaragoza 0:2 FC Barcelona (23 Oct 2010) – It was all Messi again as Barça earned another easy victory against the La Liga cellar dwellars. I confess I didn’t watch the whole game as I went to the yard to play soccer with my son, but I did see both of Messi’s goals. Match report.
AFC Ajax 3:1 Heerenveen (27 Oct 2010) – El Hamdaoui was the hero again with 2 of the goals in what was a pretty easy victory for Ajax. Luis Suarez had several chances that were either just stopped by the keeper or bounced off the cross-bar (including two in a matter of seconds) so the score could have been much higher for Ajax. Match report.