Posts Tagged ‘Association Football’

World Cup Qualifying – A World-Wide Approach?

The past week featured another round of qualifying games for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2014 to be held in Brazil.  Under the current rules, the six association football confederations (loosely representing the 6 continents inhabited by humans) each conduct a qualifying tournament to determine which teams will represent their confederation.  The number of places in the World Cup Finals varies depending on confederation ranging from 14 places for UEFA (Europe) to 0 or 1 place for OFC (Oceania).

I got to thinking that perhaps it may be more fun and fair if for World Cup qualifying, the confederations were dispensed with entirely and qualifiers were played among national teams from around the world just as they play together in the finals.  The confederations are oddly aligned as it is with Australia, a continent in its own right, has been a member of the Asian Football Confederation since 2006 so they could play more competitive matches.  The South American nations of  Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana do not play in qualifiers with their South American neighbors in CONMEBOL but instead compete in the larger Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.  So why not mix them all up and create a world-wide tournament.

My thoughts on the world-wide approach to World Cup qualifying is that it would provide several benefits:

  • Dispense with the somewhat arbitrary number of places awarded to each confederation allowing places in the finals to be earned through qualifying competition.
  • Allow nations with weaker teams to increase their level of competitiveness by matching up against some of the world’s best national teams.
  • On the other hand, the higher ranking teams may use matches against minnows as an opportunity to test younger players under tournament conditions.
  • Increase cultural exchange and international awareness among football players and supporters.
  • Standardize the number of qualifying matches played.  Currently, depending on the confederation, a national team may play as few as 8 matches and as many as 24 matches in qualification rounds, plus intercontinental playoffs for teams that did not qualify directly.  My proposal would have each team that makes it to the finals playing in 12 or 18 games.
  • Extend the drama and tension of the World Cup by having it build up over a two-year period of tournament play with the number of teams winnowed away until the 31 places for the finals are filled.

There are 209 member nations in FIFA.  With the host nation automatically qualifying, that leaves as many as 208 national teams fighting for the remaining 31 spots.  My proposal below works on the premise that all 208 national teams will be participating, although historically the greatest number of teams to enter qualification was 205 for the 2010 World Cup qualifying rounds.

Initially, I considered that the 208 teams could be drawn into 52 groups of four for the first round of qualification.  Then I considered the possibility of high-ranking teams getting eliminated by other high-ranking teams early on while weaker sides advanced from less competitive groups.  So for the round of qualification, some of the best teams in the world will have a bye as is already the common practice in the early round(s) of confederation-based qualification.

FIRST ROUND BYES

32 national teams will be granted a bye from participating in the first round.  The byes may be awarded to the top 32 teams in the FIFA World Ranking at the time qualifying is to begin, or they may be given to the 32 teams that participated in the previous World Cup finals, or some other methodology agreed upon as fair by FIFA member nations.

FIRST ROUND

Up to 176 teams may participate in the First Round of World Cup Qualifiers.  They would be drawn into 44 groups of 4 teams each.  Within the groups the teams play a double round robin (home and away against each opponent in the group) for a total of six games.  The top two teams at the end of group play advance to the second round while the remaining teams are eliminated from qualification.  To determine the order of teams in their group they will be ranked by points,then  goal difference, and then total number of goals scored.  If two or more teams are still equal on all three criteria then they will be ranked on head-to-head points, goal differential, and total goals.  If teams remain tied and it affects what team may advance to the next round then a one-game playoff will be played at a neutral location.

SECOND ROUND

The 88 teams that advance from the First Round and the 32 teams that received first round byes come together for a total of 120 national teams.  These teams will be drawn into 30 groups of 4 teams each.  In this round the top 30 teams will be seeded based on the current world rankings prior to the draw. Once again teams will play a total of 6 matches in a double round robin.  The top two teams of each group advanced to the third and final qualifying round.  The same ranking order and  tie breakers described in the first round apply.

THIRD ROUND

The 60 teams that survive the second round will once again be seeded into 15 groups of 4 with the top 15 teams seeded.  Similar to the first two rounds, the teams play a double round robin within their groups for a total of 6 games.  The top teams from each group advance to World Cup Finals.  Third place teams may have one more chance in a playoff for the final spot.  The same ranking order and  tie breakers described in the first round apply.

PLAYOFF FOR THE 32nd SPOT

With 30 teams qualified joining the host nation, one last spot remains in the 32-team field.  The 15 teams that finished third place in their groups will be ranked according to their performance in the second and third rounds combined (12 games total), with the top two teams (using the standard criteria for ranking and tiebreaker( advancing to a playoff for the 32nd place in the World Cup Finals.  The playoff would be a simple two-legged home-and-away tie determined on aggregate goals with away goals, extra time, and then a penalty shootout used to break any draws.

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And so we have our field of 32 teams winnowed down from 209.  I’d think as each round progresses the tension and excitement would build leading into an exciting finals.  What do you think?  Would this be a fair and entertaining way of determining which national teams participate in the quadrennial event?  Or would it be bogged down by unbalanced matches between top ranked sides and minnows?  Would UEFA and CONMEBOL dominate the qualifiers and shut out the other confederations entirely or would we learn that the world is more competitively balanced than we ever imagined?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Soccer Spectating Report 7-26 June: Gold Cup Edition

The CONCACAF Gold Cup came and went with the US Men’s National Team’s uninspiring loss. The Boston Breakers are treading water and the New England Revolution are abysmal so things are pretty miserable in my soccer world. Luckily the Women’s World Cup is starting and hopefully that will lift my spirits.

Canada 0:2 United States (June 7)

The USMNT opened their Gold Cup campaign with a satisfying win against our neighbors to the north.  Clint Dempsey’s goal was especially pleasing.  Tim Howard made several dramatic saves in the second half to keep Canada from getting back in the game.

New York Red Bulls 2:1 New England Revolution (10 June)

The Revolution once again fought back late, showing that at times they do have some talent, but it was too little too late to get a point on the road against Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls.

Panama 2:1 United States (11 June)

Hopefully this game can be a wake-up call about underestimating one’s opponents.  Panama is better than expected but the US really shot themselves in the foot in their first ever loss in Gold Cup group play.

United States 1:0 Guadeloupe (14 June)

This was a “must-win” for the USMNT and the game was really not much in doubt, but the result is still startlingly close considering how often the US tested the Guadeloupe goal.

New England Revolution 1:1 Chicago Fire (18 June)

Once again the Revs were shaky in the first half and settled down to play in the second half.  Rajko Lekic got off the schneid with his 48th minute goal, but once again too little too late.  This game was marred also by Gillette Stadium security using excessive force to regulate profanity by supporters in The Fort.  This team and this season are just ugly, ugly, ugly.

United States 2:0 Jamaica (19 June)

After a shaky group stage the USMNT finally appeared to be coming into form with this quarterfinal victory over the Reggae Boyz.  Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scored the goals.

Atlanta 0:0 Boston (19 June)

With the top players off to prepare for the Women’s World Cup and Georgia under some oppressive heat, the two sides endured a grueling if lethargic draw.  Hey, a point on the road, right?

United States 1:0 Panama (22 June)

The USMNT extracted a measure of revenge against the still competitive Panama side with this semifinal victory.  Clint Dempsey once again provided the goal scoring on an assist by Landon Donovan.  Freddy Adu was a surprise substitute and played impressively.

Mexico 2:0 Honduras (22 June)

I had good intentions of watching more than just the USMNT games in the Gold Cup but this semifinal is the only non-US game I caught.  Mexico was truly the class of the tournament but a scrappy Honduran side held them scoreless until extra time.  Then the wheels fell off and Mexico scored twice including a “crotch shot” by Chicharito.

United States 2:4 Mexico (25 June)

First the positives.  It was an exciting, dramatic game and it was great to see the USMNT get off to a hot start with two early games.  After that, it was awful.  The US could not defend to save their lives and Mexico scored four unanswered goals in front of an audience largely made up of Mexico supporters.  Mexico is obviously the better team right now but it didn’t need to be this ugly.  This is obviously a wake-up call for the USMNT if they hope to get the team deep into the 2014 World Cup.

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Soccer Spectating Report 16 May-6 June

With the Champions League final, the European season comes to the end. I watched a lot of teams and lot of games and determined that the clubs I like best are Everton of the English Premier League and Ajax of the Dutch Eredivisie. Next year I’m thinking I’ll try to watch as many games featuring those clubs as possible as well as pick out one other “game of the week” featuring European sides. I’ll also continue following Ireland in their Euro 2012 campaign. Of course I plan to continue supporting my home teams the New England Revolution and the Boston Breakers and maybe check out some games from Mexico, South America, Australia and Japan. But I do plan to lower the intensity and I don’t intend to continue writing about it.

I figured this would be my last soccer spectating report, but with the USMNT competing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the USWNT hoping to regain the Women’s World Cup, I think I will make two more soccer spectating reports before I quit.

United States 2:0 Japan (18 May)

Another Women’s World Cup warm-up for the USWNT and it felt like it.  It was not an exciting win and Japan seemed overmatched while both sides were more focused on testing things out.  But a win’s a win.

Everton 1:0 Chelsea (22 May)

An exciting final game for Everton who defeated Chelsea on a late-game goal by Jermaine Beckford after they’d been reduced to 10 men.  Everton’s  late season form helps them finish in 7th place which is about as good as one can expect right now with the Big 6 dominating the top 6 spots.

Sporting KC 5:0 New England Revolution (25 May)

Egads, the Revs crushed all the hopes built up by their good performance in their game against DC United in this truly awful US Open Cup qualifier in a torrential downpour in Kansas City.  Well, let’s hope they can make something of the league season at least.

Barcelona 3:1 Manchester United (28 May)

United started off strong, and the goal by Wayne Rooney was impressive, but otherwise were totally overmatched by Barcelona in this UEFA Champions League final.  Barça showed that they are truly great teams of all time by dominating the English league champions.

New England Revolution 0:1 Los Angeles Galaxy (28 May)

The Revs showed some signs of life in the second life, but not enough to avoid yet another shutout.  One kind of hopes that they’ll finally pull things together and start playing more competitively for all 90 minutes, but the season is slipping away.

United States 0:4 Spain (4 June)

I had tickets to this game but did not see it live because after being stuck in horrendous traffic was faced with paying $40 for parking at Gillette Stadium who would not accept credit cars.  So rather than find a bank and pay extortionate rates for half a  game I gave up.  It’s really a shame that the Krafts built their temple of greed in the middle of nowhere rather than in the urban core near public transportation.  We watched the replay on ESPN3 and it was disappointing as well.  Spain started their best players and dominated.  Bob Bradley tinkered with his lineup – perhaps a little understandable with the the Gold Cup coming up – but disappointing to people who paid a lot of money to see (or not be able to see) their team compete.

Macedonia 0:2 Ireland (4 June)

Ireland kept themselves in a good position for Euro 2012 qualifying with captain Robbie Keane scoring both the goals.

Boston Breakers 2:1 magicJack (5 June)

Boston picks up another 3 points against the worst-named team in WPS with Meghan Klingenberg scoring her first goal for the team.

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Soccer Spectating Report 10-15 May

Palermo 2:1 AC Milan (10 May)

It’s been a while since I checked in on Italian football so when I saw that my putative favorite Serie A side was hosting the home leg  of the Coppa Italia semi-final, I decided to check it out.  It was a fun game with some  exciting goals and Berlusconi’s Bandits reduced to ten men.   It looked closer than in reality since the Milan goal did not come until stoppage time.  Palermo are now through to the Coppa Italia final for the first time since 1979 where they face Inter.

Western New York Flash 3:2 Boston Breakers (13 May)

I’m kind of stretching the limits of soccer games I watched since there was no tv or radio coverage of this game and thus I was left to following the online match tracker.  Western NY are rapidly becoming the team to beat and hated rivals as they were able to defeat Boston without Marta, Christine Sinclair and Alex  Morgan playing. The Breakers managed to make things respectable by coming back from 2 goals down twice and playing a good second half but too little too late to steal a point.

New England Revolution 1:0 Vancouver Whitecaps (14 May)

The Revolution are taking their time getting things together as a team, but this game was mostly another positive step forward.  The Revs earned a win and their second straight shutout under sloppy, wet conditions.  Benny Feilhaber drew a penalty shortly after halftime and Shalrie Joseph converted the penalty kick.  Feilhaber should have doubled the score but his goal was erroneously called back as offside.  The Revs strong second half also saw a good shot by Sainey Nyassi stopped by Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly.

Ajax 3:1 FC Twente (15 May)

One of the downsides (for me) of European football it lacks the drama of an end-of-season match to decide the league championship.  By serendipity the Dutch Eredvisie season ended with the first place team Twente (71 points) playing at second place Ajax (70 points) effectively making the final game of the season a championship game.  Twente had the advantage of a win or tie giving them the title, while Ajax had home field advantage.  Siem de Jong scored 2 goals for the home side and a Twente own goal gave Ajax a comfortable win for their first championship in 7 years and 30th total.  It’s very exciting to see one of “my teams” earn a championship.

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Soccer Spectating Report 19 April-9 May

The European season is coming to an exciting conclusion while the MLS gets into full swing. Here’s three weeks of soccer highlights.

New England Revolution 3:2 Sporting Kansas City (23 April)

This game was the culmination of an exciting week – striker Rajko Levic’s first home game, the debut of midfielder Benny Feilhaber and the premier of the Revolution’s new shirt sponsor.  While I’m not too excited by corporate advertising on the jerseys themselves I do appreciate that it will improve revenue for the team.  The game was exciting come from behind win with Feilhaber helping set up the first goal and Lekic scoring the game winner with captain Shalrie Joseph scoring as well.

DC United 2:3 New England Revolution (26 April)

The Revs traveled to Maryland for a US Open Cup qualifier, playing an almost entirely different lineup from their previous game against Kansas City.  It was a good sign of the depth of the team as the Revs easily took a 3-goal lead with two goals by Kheli Dube and one by Alan Koger.  They let up towards the end of the game allowing United to get back two points but the Revs held on for the win and advance to the next qualifier versus KC.

Real Madrid 0:2 Barcelona (27 April)

This game had everything: the mad rants and eventual expulsion of José Mourinho, Real’s negative play and hard tackles,  Barça’s excessive play-acting, and lots of fisticuffs on and off the field.  Of course none of these were good soccer and an embarrassment to the game.  Imagine a novice soccer spectator being told that two of the best clubs in the world were playing in the world’s premier tournament and then seeing every soccer stereotype acted out.  Luckily there is Lionel Messi whose two brilliant goals in the final 15 minutes were a joy to behold.

Real Salt Lake 0:1 Monterrey (27 April)

I rooted against Real in the afternoon in one Champions League and for Real in the evening in another Champions League.  Real Salt Lake historically made it to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League and tied against Monterrey 2:2 on the Mexican leg of the final.  Unfortunately, RSL was not able to secure a MLS bye in the Club World Club despite a lot of pressure on the Monterrey goal and good chances in the final 20 minutes.

Chivas USA 3:0 New England Revolution (30 April)

Hello gut punches, I remember you!  The new players and wins against KC and DC built up a lot of excitement for the road game against one of MLS’s weaker sides.  The Revs lost and lost bad as the Goats scored twice in the first half and sealed the game in the 57th minute.  I guess it was lucky that I wasn’t able to get video of the game, just audio from the Revs website.  And the audio cut out after the third goal and I couldn’t restore it.

SC Herenveen 1:2 AFC Ajax (1 May)

An exciting Eredivisie season is coming to a climax and Ajax came from behind to win their second-to-last match.  Herenveen scored in the 19th minute but Ajax calmly responded in less than a minute with Miralem Sulejmani’s equalizer.  Christian Eriksen put Ajax ahead for good right at the start of the second half.  Ajax stands in second place one point behind FC Twente and face that team at Amsterdam Arena for the final game of the season on 15 May that will decide the Eredivisie championship.  Interestingly the same two teams met for the Dutch Cup final on 8 May which was won by FC Twente 3:2.  Hup Ajax!

Boston Breakers 1:0 Sky Blue FC (1 May)

The Breakers won their first home game and broke a two-game losing streak on Rachael Buhler’s goal in the 53rd minute.  A week later though, they lost 2-0 away to Philadelphia.

Barcelona 1:1 Real Madrid (3 May)

A better game than the first tie of the Champions League semi-finals with the home side dominating the first half and going up 1-0 in Pedro’s goal in the 54th minute.  Real Madrid made things interesting when Marcelo Vieria equalized ten minutes later but it was too little too late.  Barça advances to the final against Manchester United at Wembley on May 28th.

New England Revolution 0:0 Colorado Rapids (7 May)

Accentuate the positive: the Revolution got a point from the defending MLS Cup champions and their first shutout of the season.  On the downside, the Revs failed to score themselves despite having long periods of dominating the attack and shots by both Ryan Cochrane and Benny Feilhaber hit the crossbar and Shalrie Joseph missed a golden opportunity.  I guess this is baby steps for recovering from the Chivas lost and bringing the team together.

Fulham 2:5 Liverpool (8 May)

Things got ugly quick at Craven Cottage as Fulham went down by three goals to Liverpool in the first 15 minutes. Maxi Rodriguez would net a hat trick in this laugher for the Liverpool side.  It’s quite a recovery for Liverpool who were in the relegation zone a few months ago and now are challenging for a spot in the Europa League.  I just wish the Red Sox ownership purchased Everton instead.

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Soccer Spectating Report: Boston Breakers Home Opener

I only managed to watch one soccer game in the past week but I watched it live and in person at Harvard Stadium in Allston, MA.

Boston Breakers 1:2 Western New York Flash (17 April)

Western New York are a WPS expansion team but they have several good players (including some from defunct WPS champions FC Gold Pride) such as Canadian international star Christine Sinclair and rookie and #1 draft pick Alex Morgan.  They also have the best player in the world, Brazilian international Marta, but she was not available for this game.  Sinclair and Morgan seemed to be constantly attacking the Breakers’ nets and the Flash definitely played the better game.  In the first half there were several close calls including one shot that got past Alysa Naeher but was fortunately cleared at the last moment by Breakers’ defender Stephanie Cox.  Western New York’s inevitable first goal came in the 64th minute on a counterattack by the ever-pesty Morgan who fed the ball to Sinclair for the goal.  Gemma Davidson put it out of reach in the final minute of the game.  In stoppage time, Breakers fans did get to cheer Kelly Smith’s goal but it was too little, too late.

My companion for this game was my 3 1/2 year old son Peter.   Heading home from child care on Friday night we passed Harvard Stadium and saw it being set up for the Breakers.  From that moment on, Peter asked over and over again to go to the Breakers’ game.  I figured that we’d end up walking around the stadium, visiting the concession stands often and leaving the game early.  Surprisingly, Peter was entranced by the game, watching the whole thing and asking lots of questions.  He even made us move down to the front row so he could peek over the wall for a better view.  Late in the game he started cheering and shouting for the Breakers and every time the Flash approached the net he would shake and yell “Stop black team, STOP!”  His attention wasn’t totally undivided as he liked watching the drummers in the hardcore supporters section, the frisbee dogs at half-time, and taking dozens of pictures with my camera, but I was pretty impressed.  He enjoys playing soccer with  his friends in the playground which often ends up with them tackling one another to the ground and piling on.  He noticed that the Breakers and the Flash did not tackle one another like this, so perhaps it will inspire a new era of clean soccer tactics at child care.

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Soccer Spectating Report 5-10 April

Barcelona 5:1 Shakhtar Donetsk (6 April)

Barça made quick work of their Ukrainian opponents with half the starting squad scoring goals in this laugher at Camp Nou.  [Note:  I didn’t watch the second leg, but Barcelona won it as well 0-1 for a 6-1 aggregate victory and a secure spot in the Champions League semifinals).

Chelsea 0:1 Manchester United (6 April)

I didn’t plan to watch this game, but it was on the TV in the pub.  I can’t find a rooting interest in the contest of these two clubs because it’s like watching the Yankees play the …. well, the Yankees.  I was impressed by the passing, ball possession, and up-tempo run of play though.  Got to admit that these sides have good quality.  Wayne Rooney score the loan goal.

Vancouver Whitecaps 1:1 New England Revolution (6 April)

A weird game which saw two Whitecaps and one Rev sent off.  Weirdest of all is Vancouver’s Eric Hassli scoring on a penalty kick and then being immediately red carded for removing his jersey (under which he was wearing an identical jersey).  The Revs were up 11 men to 9 for a good part of the game but failed to score.  Ilija Stolica scored a last-gasp goal in stoppage game to save a point for the Revs.  A point on the road amidst a wild crowd and crazy officiating isn’t a bad thing, but the Revs could’ve/should’ve done much better.

Atlanta Beat 1:4 Boston Breakers (9 April)

The Breakers opened their season with an impressive goal barrage in Atlanta.  Not that I got to see this game as there is no web streaming (is there any TV coverage at all?) so I just followed a web cast.  Jordan Angeli, Keelin Winters, Kelly O’Hara & Kasey Moore all scored.  The bad news is that Angeli has suffered an injury that will keep her from playing the rest of the season.

Real Salt Lake 2:0 New England Revolution (9 April)

The Revs undefeated start to the season came to the end with this loss in Foxboro.  Not surprising considering their weak performance and luck in previous matches not to mention that RSL is  one the top sides in MLS.  Still it’s disappointing as the Revs were anemic on the attack and poor at passing.  The officiating once again made itself too well known with three players (2 NE, 1 RSL) finding themselves red carded.

I haven’t been able to (wake up early enough) to watch my favorite European sides lately but they’re doing well.  Everton dispatched Wolverhampton 0-3 this past weekend to extend their unbeaten streak to 6 gamesAfter all the worries about relegation, Everton are now in 7th place with a chance of unseating Liverpool for 6th place, but hopes are slim to none for getting a bid in European competition.  Ajax are also on a hot streak playing 7-2-1 in a recent stretch.  They’re in third place, 3 points behind the table toppers FC Twente who will be there opponents in the final match of the Eredivisie season.

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Soccer Spectating Report 31 March-4 April

England 1:2 United States (2 April)

Bad news:  The US women’s team is clearly outplayed and loses to a much lower ranked England side.  Good news: It was just a friendly and the World Cup is still months away.  Bad news:  The US team lost to Mexico in the World Cup qualifying and should be getting their act together to avoid shocking losses.  Good news:  They played much better in the second half, putting a lot of pressure into the attack and just missing several chances at goal.  Bonus: England’s Kelly Smith played an excellent game and she also plays for the Breakers whose season begins on Saturday.  Also have to appreciate the really great goal by Rachel Yankey and the fact she scored it against the Yanks.

New England Revolution 1:1 Portland Timbers (2 April)

Bad news:  I was not able to find a stream to watch this game online.  Good news:  At least I got to hear the end of the game on streaming audio.  Bad news:  The Revolution failed to defeat an expansion team at home, played sluggishly, and passed poorly.  Good news:  They held on for a tie and continue their unbeaten streak to start the season.

Catania 4:0 Palermo (3 April)

Bad news:  Sloppy defense on Palermo’s part contributed to a second-half barrage of goals for Catania.  Good news: I really have no emotional investment in Italian football whatsoever.  Yay goals!

 

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Soccer Spectating Report 21-30 March

Ireland 2:1 FYROM (26 Mar)

Ireland’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign resumed with this succesful home match.  The Irish capitalized on errors by Macedonian keeper Edin Nuredinovski for goals by Aiden McGready and Robbie Keane.  Ireland were obviously the better side although they rested on their laurels enough to allow Ivan Trickovski to cut the lead just before the half.  Still, Ireland hung on through second half to preserve the win and an important 3 points.

New England Revolution 2:1 DC United (26 Mar)

The Revolution want you to know that you shouldn’t tune in late for their games as for the second time these season they scored an early goal.  Eight minutes in the game, Shalrie Joseph set up Zack Schilawski (both of whom had an excellent game) for the opening goal.  In the 17th minute, Joseph doubled the score on a penalty kick.  Matt Reis had an excellent game in the net keeping DC scoreless until a penalty kick by Charlie Davies in the 91st minute.  There was some officiating weirdness in this game (benefiting the home side) but overall it was a positive result and a continuation of a great start to the season.

USA 1:1 Argentina (26 Mar)

Although ESPN acted as if it were “The Lionel Messi Show” this was in fact a home game friendly for the United States Men’s National Team.  The US was clearly outplayed in the first half with an Argentine goal inevitable.  They held out into the 42nd minute when Messi dribbled pass the defense passing to Angel DiMaria whose rebounded shot was sunk in the net by Esteban Cambiasso.  Tim Howard – deservedly the man of the match – was rightfully angry with his defenders for failing to help clear the ball.  The US made some positive changes during the half, most importantly adding Juan Agudelo to the attack and Agudelo would equalize for the US in the 59th minute.  The US played a much more positive game in the second half and together the two teams played a fun and exciting game before a massive crowd in New Jersey.

USA 0:1 Paraguay (29 Mar)

Coming after the high of the Argentina game, this was a bit of a disappointment as Paraguay scored early and the US failed to respond.  The home team did play well in the second half putting a lot of pressure on the opposing goal but did not capitalize.  It’s worth noting that it’s a friendly and with Bob Bradley trying out a new lineup it will hopefully be a learning opportunity to help improve the team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

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Soccer Spectating Report 22 February – 20 March

Lots of catching up to do.

USA 3:2 El Salvador (22 February)

I managed to tune in to one match in the 2011 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, this quarterfinal match.  It was odd to watch what looked like a high-school game (albeit highly-skilled) played in a mostly empty stadium in Jamaica.  It got to a rocking start with each side scoring within the first 10 minutes.  Then it slowed down until the 95th minute when Mario Rodriguez put the USA up 2-1.  Another goal by Marc Pelosi in the 112th minute seemed to seal the deal for the USA.  Then it got weird.  Three players (2 USA, 1 El Salvador) got sent off in the final minutes and El Salvador capitalized on a penalty kick, but the USA held on for the win.  I didn’t watch any of the rest of the tournament but the USA U17 team won the semifinal versus Jamaica 2-0 and the championship versus Canada 3-0.

Ajax 2:0 Anderlecht (24 February)

The Europa League duel of the Low Country capitals continued with another easy win for Ajax who won 5-0 on aggregate.  This competition is derided for being meaningless but the fans at Amsterdam ArenA were having a great time.  Ajax advanced to the Round of 16 versus Spartak Moscow where alas they would lose 0-4.

Everton 2:0 Sunderland (26 February)

Everton continued a successful spell with an easy victory over Sunderland.

Mallorca 0:3 Barcelona (26 February)

Despite missing some key players, Barcelona won another easy game on the road with goals by Messi, Villa, and Pedro.

PSV 0:0 Ajax (27 February)

The Amsterdam side had a chance to gain ground in the Eredivisie but failed to do so in this dull, scoreless tie.

Manchester City 1:1 Fulham (27 February)

There was a soap opera plot regarding former City/current Fulham manager Mark Hughes, but the drama was pretty apparent on the field in this tense match.  Damien Duff earned a point for Fulham with his late first half equalizer.

Everton 0:1 Reading (1 March)

After the high of defeating Chelsea in the the FA Cup replay and some good wins in league play, Everton’s anemic attack and loss at home to Championship side Reading was a huge disappointment. Now Everton doesn’t have much to play for the rest of this season, except to avoid relegation.

Ajax 4:0 AZ Alkmaar (6 March)

Willem II Tilburg 1:3 Ajax (13 March)

L.A. Galaxy 1:1 New England Revolution (20 March)

The Revs kicked off their 2011 MLS season in an uncharacteristically wet and windy Southern California against the defending Supporters Shield champion LA Galaxy.  Shalrie Joseph put the Revs on the board in the first three minutes and then the Revs mostly defended against a relentless Galaxy attack.  New England also benefited from the referees calling back three goals on LA, but the refs called it right on at least two of them.  A nice scrappy point well-earned against one of the top teams in the MLS.

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