I’m writing this piece as I watch Mexico play Brazil in the semifinals of the under-20 World Cup in Colombia.
One week ago we saw United States’ substitutes make up the difference against Mexico in the second half at Philadelphia.
The New York Red Bulls continued to suffer mediocrity in all parts of the field on Saturday, even though Stephane Auvry proved more helpful than I had given him credit ahead of time.
Tottenham Hotspur Football Club sat idle on the opening weekend of the season due to the riots that rampaged North London and other major cities in England.
Rochester Rhinos claimed first place in the 2011 USL Pro National Division with their win against Pittsburgh on Saturday and face the same team in conference semifinals at home on Friday night.
The USMNT looks to develop into something exciting in the coming years. In the time left in this cycle (until World Cup 2014 in Brazil) Jurgen Klinsmann has the chance to implement attractive attacking soccer in the United States. A plethora of quick young players, like Brek Shea and Alejandro Bedoya, look able to slot in next to the established stars of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Jozy Altidore finally has a club he can call home, AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie, and looks set to get his career shocked back to life. Another young veteran given a lifeline is former wunderkind Freddy Adu, who recently signed with Philadelphia Union of MLS. Adu seemed humbled by his failed European experiment and earnestly excited about playing in America again.
Every story I read about the under-20 World Cup sends a twinge of pain through my heart. This tournament is one that the United States should definitely be participating in. Thomas Rongen’s failure to qualify is an embarrassing black mark that will not be repeated by the manager Klinsmann appoints to take the helm for the next youth cycle. Hopefully we will be able to find the balance of success on the field and meaningful development for the future in the youth system.
The New York Red Bulls have become the joke of the MLS. As the club with the most expensive player salaries in the league, the Red Bulls should be blowing away their competition. Superstar and Designated Player Thierry Henry is doing his part, scoring 12 goals so far this season. Last year’s team player of the year Joel Lindpere has made a habit of digging deep late to keep his side in games. Goalkeeping, which has been a laugh all season, was particularly comedic on Saturday when back-back-back up keeper Chris Konopka parried the ball directly to the foot of a surging striker for the second goal. Then again, Rafa Marquez was beat on the play and never tracked back his man who happened to be the goal scorer Grazzini. Marquez and Ream have been porous since the Gold Cup and the match against Chicago highlighted the lack of speed in NY’s central defense. Someone tell me how a defense with two senior national team center backs can give up so many high percentage shots to their opposition. At this point the squad is like a kid trying to plug a whole in a dam with his finger; whenever one spot seems safe, a crack appears somewhere else. The only difference is that NY has Mehdi Ballouchy who keeps hitting the dam with a pickax.
Tottenham got to rest on the weekend as London Metropolitan Police advised the Football Association that supporters would be in danger if they attempted to attend the match at White Hart Lane. This gives Tommy Huddlestone a chance to recover from the mystery ailment he has one day and not the next (Spurs reported an injury and two days later he was seen in full training, but then still listed as injured the next day). As Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool all stuttered in the first weekend with draws, Tottenham are sitting pretty with that game in hand against Everton.
Thursday they travel up to Edinburgh to face Hearts in the Europa League qualifier. The level of play in Scotland is quite sad compared to England, the Scottish Premier League would be somewhere beneath the English Championship in terms of quality, so under normal circumstances a victory in this match would be a shoe-in. However, we will be without Tom Huddlestone, Sandro, Jermaine Jenas, Wilson Palacios, and Steven Pienaar due to injuries. Luka Modric is a scratch, perhaps due to a groin problem, or perhaps due to an imminent sale to Chelsea. This leaves central midfield rather barren. Also out are center backs William Gallas and Ledley King, meaning Dawson’s partner in the back is either Bassong or Kaboul. I hope it’s Kaboul because Bassong has been terrible when given an opportunity to play with Daws. Alan Hutton is also injured, but that could be seen as a positive, opening up the possibility Kyle Walker gets the start at right back. I’d really like to see the wingers, Lennon and Bale, absolutely dominate this match and I’ll be disappointed if Spurs aren’t up 2 goals by halftime.
And finally onto the Rochester Rhinos. In recent years the Rhinos have followed a similar arc to their season. They typically start slow, shake things up and try different line-up combinations before starting to gel in the second half of the season. This carries over from a solid final stretch of the regular season into a strong showing in the playoffs. 2011 didn’t exactly follow this path, but let’s hope head coach Bob Lilley can figure out how to make the team fly offensively soon.
In the game last week, the Rhinos dominated possession in the first half but couldn’t follow through on their chances. This has been the only problem (barring injuries to defenders, like last week’s meniscus tear to starting center back Tyler Bellamy) the Rhinos have had all season, aside from one or two off-days. Rochester has needed a selfish, poaching out-and-out goal scoring. We have a strong center forward in Isaac Kissi. We have a good inside forward coming off the wing in J.C. Banks. We have players who can play that second striker / attacking midfield role in Rosenlund and Jagdeosingh. But the one thing we don’t have is a natural goal scorer. Maybe one more go at the chalkboard with X’s and O’s will prove the charm for the Rhinos coaching staff. Rochester has more than enough quality to see off the challenge from Pittsburgh in their first playoff game. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Friday’s match won’t just be about that result. Rhinos’ fans expect, even demand, success at home on Friday in front of 8000 maybe 9000 in the crowd. A repeat of last week’s match gives Bob Lilley a chance to tinker with the formation once more and see if he can get everything to fall into place for a very talented Rhinos squad.
Sahlen’s Stadium, 7:30; Tickets are $10. No excuses. Make some noise, Rochester.
Mexico’s under-20 team lost to Brazil, more on that later. And I’ll have something after Toronto’s match in the CONCACAF Champions League on Thursday night about the MLS clubs participating in continental competition.