Tuesday, March 27, 2012

[VIDEO] Mario Ballotelli Crashes Andrea Stramaccioni's Press Conference in Milan

Yesterday Inter fired Coach Claudio Ranieri and appointed Andrea Stramaccioni, who had been the youth team coach, as his successor, for at least the rest of the season. Today Stramaccioni held his first press conference, which was crashed by former Inter player Mario Balotelli, who currently plays for Manchester City.

US Men's U23 Team Fails to Qualify for 2012 Olympics

Thanks to a 2-0 loss to Canada on Saturday night and a 3-3 draw with El Salvador last night, the United States has failed to qualify for the men's soccer tournament in the Olympics for the first time since 1976. Last night it appeared that, despite the shocking loss to Canada, the US team would advance to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifiers since they were leading the match, 2-3, over El Salvador, as the match went into stoppage time. But then, to American soccer fans, the unthinkable happened as Jaime Alas scored on a howler giving El Salvador the draw as well as earning that country its first trip to the Olympics soccer tournament since 1968.

For those unfamiliar with how Olympic soccer qualifying works, the US team at issue was its U23 squad, not the senior team that features in the World Cup qualifiers and finals. While a knee jerk reaction to the US's failure to make it the Olympics would be to paint a portrait of doom and gloom for the future of the US Men's team, it's way too early to do that. These players are young and still have plenty of time for growth and development before some of them will become regular fixtures on the senior team's bench and later its starting squad. Additionally, there's reason to believe that with all the recent changes that have occurred within the coaching and development structure at US Soccer, the response to this "failure" will be more efficient and creative.

While it is a shame that US Soccer will not have a men's team competing in the Olympics this summer, it's not the end of the world, by any means, for US Soccer. While the Olympics in general are very popular with television viewers in the United States, coverage of soccer has usually received low priority, especially when compared to the "sexy" events like gymnastics, swimming, and track and field. In the bigger scheme of the soccer world, men's Olympics soccer is to the World Cup what the NIT is to the NCAA Tournament (or to make another current cultural analogy, men's Olympics soccer is to the World Cup what Peter Campbell is to Don Draper).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Neymar . . . Copa Libertadores . . . Enough Said

Once again that Brazilian wunderkind worked his magic for Santos in the Copa Libertadores, this time it was against Juan Aurich from Peru.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

MLS in Pop Culture: The Brek Shea is Popular in Kentucky Prisons?

Mags Bennett's only surviving issue, Dickie Bennett, had an important role in one of the developing story arcs during last night's episode of Justified on FX. As you can see from the above picture, it appears that Dickie has been spending his time in prison watching MLS matches and taking hair styling inspiration from F.C. Dallas' forward Brek Shea.

Here's a blast from the past, Jeremy Davies, the actor who plays Dickie Bennett, in a Subaru commercial from 1992:

Video of All of Lionel Messi's 234 Goals for Barcelona

In Tuesday's match against Granada, Argentine International Lionel Messi scored a hat trick to help Barcelona win 5-3. With that hat trick, the 24 year old passed Cesar Rodriguez to become the player who has scored the most goals for Barcelona. Considering that it took Cesar 13 seasons to rack up his 232 goals, there's no telling where Messi's goal total will be when he parts ways with Barcelona. Here's a video with all 234 of Messi's goals:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Messi Scores Another Gorgeous Goal

Barcelona beat Sevilla yesterday, 2-0, one of those goals for Barcelona was this one from Lionel Messi:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dynamo Win Second Straight Match on the Road

Today the Houston Dynamo returned to their old stomping grounds in the Bay Area of California as they faced off against the San Jose Earthquakes at AT&T (nee PacBell) Park in San Francisco. We all know that the Houston Dynamo were once the San Jose Earthquakes and that MLS has created a fiction whereby the expansion Earthquakes get to "keep" the Dynamo's old trophies . . . this means there is a whole lot of bad blood when the teams play.

In light of MLS's decision to make a completely and totally unbalanced schedule this season, the Earthquakes and the Dynamo faced off in the only regular season match they will play against each other in 2012.

In the end the Houston Dynamo bested their foes 1-0 thanks to San Jose's keeper Jon Busch fouling Brian Ching in the box. Brad Davis converted the penalty and that's all Houston need to pick up it's second straight road win of 2012.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The MLS Schedule Conundrum That, Well, Isn't A Conundrum

The 2012 Major League Soccer season kicked off this past weekend with a noticeable difference, the first match of the season was not broadcast on national television, in fact it wasn't till Sunday afternoon that an MLS match was broadcast nationally. While the realization of no national broadcast dawned somewhat late on many MLS fans, it did not go unnoticed on Saturday as fans scrounged to find free previews of either MLS's internet/cable season subscription packages or for an unsanctioned online feed. In recent years, MLS usually kicked off the season with a marquee match broadcast on ESPN2 on a Thursday evening, but such an option was not available since MLS started the season a week earlier than last year and its two English language national broadcast partners, ESPN and NBC Sports, were locked into broadcasting the various NCAA Conference Basketball Tournaments. In the past, MLS's opening match was often in competition with the NCAA Tournament, but CBS owns those television rights so ESPN could easily fit MLS into its broadcast schedule.

Not surprisingly, the fact that the MLS season seemed to start with a whimper instead of a bang resulted in two intertwined issues rearing their heads in some circles of MLS fandom: 1. the MLS schedule; & 2. the place of MLS in the US sports hierarchy.

I say these issues are intertwined because MLS fans often feel victimized in how MLS is treated by national broadcasters viz-a-viz how said broadcasters treat other sports. I lost count of the number of times last season a Twitter uproar occurred when some sporting event on ESPN went longer than its scheduled broadcast time, bleeding into a MLS broadcast. The reality of the sports broadcast business is that events sometimes take longer than expected and its the rare occasion that a network can or will break away from an ongoing sporting event to go to another sporting event.

Then there is the other often complained about issue of MLS starting its season at the zenith of the college basketball season and having its playoffs in the middle of the NFL and college football seasons. While I know some MLS fans are general sports fans and grew up watching other sports, I also know there is a good number of MLS fans who do not follow many of the other professional/collegiate sports that get the bulk of the American sports fan's attention. So for those who don't really follow other American sports here's something to keep in mind: there are only two truly "slow" periods on the American sports calendar.

The first slow period runs from early February into early March. This period starts after the Super Bowl and ends with the start of NFL free agency and NCAA Conference Tournaments. During this period you have NBA, NHL, and college basketball, but from a national perspective those leagues are in the doldrums and nothing else too exciting or earth shattering is occurring during this period.

The second slow period runs from late June into late July. This period essentially starts a little after the NBA Finals and runs till the start of NFL Training Camp. Yes, the MLB All-Star game takes place during this period, but it is not as big of an event as it used to be and this period of time marks the doldrums for MLB.

So, unless MLS wants to confine its season to these two short, slow periods on the US sports calendar, the league is going to find itself in competition with other sports when it comes to butts in the seats and eyes on the tv screen. Instead of focusing on the perceived slights towards MLS by its national broadcast partners, MLS fans need to keep it all in perspective. They need to remember that all of the professional leagues in the US fight for national broadcast airspace, and that all of the professional leagues in the US rely heavily on regional broadcasting for the bulk of their broadcast coverage. This includes the NFL, because not all of its Sunday games are available in all markets, many are only shown in certain regions of the country. The fact that there was a small battle over a portion of MLS national broadcast rights, a battle that has resulted in NBC Sports getting an MLS deal, is something that MLS fans should take as a positive. While there is some concern

I know there is a huge emphasis in MLS fandom and journalism to "grow the sport," but, in the end, the growth of the sport is going to have less to do with national broadcasts or competition from other American sports. The key to growing the sport is putting a good product on the pitch, a product that's quality will translate to televised matches, even if those matches are only televised on regional sports networks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

U8 Match Abandoned Because of Polish Hooligans?

This has to be one of the weirdest videos from a U8 match that I've ever seen. It appears that the match had been abandoned prior to the camera rolling and the poor kids were trying to clean up the streamers that littered the basketball court turned indoor football pitch.

The Ginger Assassin Gives The Houston Dynamo A Win in 2012 Season Opener

While the bulk of the sports world in the United States was focused on the various conference tournaments and the draw for the NCAA Tournament this past weekend, Major League Soccer kicked off its 2012 season with eight matches. One of the most notable things about this opening weekend slate of matches was that none of them ended in a draw.

For the bulk of the Chivas USA - Houston Dynamo match at the Home Depot Center on Sunday it appeared that the match was headed towards a nil-nil draw, but in second half stoppage time, defender Andre Hainault managed to score the game winner on a set piece. Despite being a defender, Hainault also picked up crucial goals for the Dynamo in 2011 playoff games against the Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City.

The Dynamo, who don't play a home match until May 12th, head to San Jose next where they'll face their old nemesis, the San Jose Earthquakes, on Saturday at 4:00pm central time. The match will be televised on Fox Sports Net Houston Plus.

Friday, March 9, 2012

David Beckham vs. The Beer Can

On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Toronto FC treated soccer fans to a very entertaining CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal 2-2 draw at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Despite two excellent early goals from Toronto and then LA's efforts to battle back and pick up two away goals, the most memorable moment of the evening was in the 88th minute when, despite a wall of security guards, a beer can was hurled at David Beckham as he prepared to take a corner kick. Beckham picked the can up in anger, yelling about it to officials, and Bruce Arena was seen pointing at his watch in effort to make sure the officials accounted for this in extra time, then Beckham settled down, took the corner which Landon Donovan managed to put into the goal for LA.

It's interesting to note that this incident occurred about a week after MLS handed down sanctions on Houston Dynamo supporter groups for incidents that occurred last season in MLS, and despite all the fuss that created within the soccer fan community, Wednesday's incident indicates that the projectile issue in North American soccer hasn't disappeared.

Since Wednesday's match was a CONCACAF game not an MLS game I'm not going to pontificate on what the suits should do about the incident, rather, I think the incident highlights that it is a difficult issue to police, even within the supporter groups cause all it takes is one drunken fan to throw something without warning. Policies on beverage containers vary from stadium to stadium, but even in stadiums where all drinks are served in plastic cups, those cups can become projectiles too - I vividly recall that happening during a Mexico-Panama match at Reliant Stadium.

I really don't have any good solutions for this issue. I really don't have a strong stance one or another regarding MLS's sanctions of Dynamo fans. What I do know is that throwing projectiles is wrong, and, with the start of the 2012 MLS season tomorrow, I'm hoping the projectile issue won't be a big issue this season.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

When Neymar is Neymar: He Scores a Copa Libertadores Hat Trick

There's probably no young South American talent that the big clubs in Europe are drooling over than Brazil's Neymar, and in last night's Copa Libertadores match between Neymar's Santos and Internacional he once again showed why this is the case. In Santos' 3-1 victory over Internacional, it was all Neymar as he picked up a hat trick, including the amazing second goal, which is shown in the first video below. Not only is much of the football world in awe of Neymar's performance, but even Neymar was a bit stunned:

"I cannot explain what I did tonight. I need to watch the TV to see what I did on the field. I knew I dribbled past a lot of rivals. That's the only thing I know," Neymar told Globo TV.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is it Diving if Your Unconscious?

The above video is from a provincial league match between Templeuve and Quevy in Belgium. As seen in the video, it appears that midfielder Julien Lecomte took an elbow to the back of the head/neck and went down in a pile in the box. Despite getting carted off the pitch, Lecomte received a yellow for diving, and since it was apparently his second yellow of the match, the red card came out. Reports indicate that Lecomte was diagnosed with cracked vertebrae and a concussion.

Can You Tell the Difference Between Mancini & Balotelli?

I know that both Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli are from Italy, and they're both at Manchester City now, but I think I could tell them apart . . . this British reporter, he had some trouble doing that:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Derby della Capitale March 4, 2012

The Derby della Capitale is this Sunday, those of you in the United States can watch it on Fox Soccer Channel Sunday morning:

Your Friday Goals

We just had a few days of International Friendlies, the MLS season will be starting soon, the Derby della Capitale is on Sunday, so how about some lovely goals on this lovely first Friday of March?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mexes Apologizes for Punching Borriello

This past Saturday's match between Milan and Juventus at the San Siro had been billed as the decisive battle for the top spot on the Serie A table; however, the match ended in a 1-1 draw thanks to goals from Antonio Nocerino in the 14th minute for Milan and from Alessandro Matri in the 83rd minute for Juventus. In the end, the occurrence during the match that proved to be the news maker of the day was Philippe Mexes' off the ball punch of former Roma teammate Marco Borriello.

Although the match referee did not see the incident during the match, the television cameras picked it up and the hot headed French defender was given a three match ban.

Mexes is now attempting to make amends, having apologized to the referee, Paolo Tagliavento, who was officiating this week's friendly between Germany and France, and is now expressing the desire to apologize to Borriello.

Milan, who are one point ahead of Juventus on the table, head to Sicily on Saturday to play Palermo while Juventus host Chievo Verona on Saturday evening.