Thursday, July 31, 2008


The general talking point from tonight's third division soccer match between Real Maryland and Crystal Palace USA will undoubtedly be what appeared to be a stunning blown offsides call that negated a huge Palace error that had been converted into the tying goal. A Palace player, in a moment of an absolute brain freeze, sent a leisurely back pass from Real Maryland's half all the way back to Palace's keeper. The kick rolled right on to the feet of a Real Maryland player who was wildly offside, having largely quit on the game, providing the striker with an unbelievable bit of luck: ball at his feet, no one in front or behind besides the goalkeeper, who he quickly beat and glided the ball into the goal. All negated by an offsides call. Now I cannot convincingly pretend to know the rules of the beautiful sport -- my days of refereeing ended when I egregiously blew a handball call in the goal box during a 10 to 13 year old girl's soccer match that led three young women to break down in tears -- but I am certain that no offsides call lies when a player on the opposing team decides to gift you the ball when you are ten yards offside. And per this nifty explanation of the rule, that's right. Unless something happened that we weren't privy to, Real Maryland got royally screwed by a brutal cock up by the linesman. (According to this account, that is exactly what happened).

Regardless, the Palace player that caused the hubbub in the first place, Mathew Mbuta, is the reason I am smiling at the moment. Never mind the Cubs' decisive four game sweep over the Brewers at Miller Park. Never mind that Luol Deng signed a long term deal with the Bulls. Never mind the rumors flying that the Bears have an opportunity to acquire Favre. Forget that. I just got to watch Mathew Andongcho Mbuta play 90 minutes. Tonight, Mbuta was slotted in at striker for Palace, with Larry Mark playing the right wing, Teixeira on the left, and Paul Robson at right back. Mbuta scored the first goal of the night after an explosion by Mark on the right offered an easy crossing opportunity that Mbuta cracked home. Mbuta thereafter ran roughshod over Real Maryland.

Mbuta was profiled recently by and I share the exaggerated sentiments of the reporter. Perhaps Man United will never be in the cards for Mathew and I wish that he would consider playing for an MLS side (say, perhaps, DC United?), but I don't think it is too much to imagine that Palace may be able to sell Mbuta on before the close of the summer transfer window for a decent return to some European squad (even if only my beloved Keflavik IF). I'll put it this way... I feel so privileged to be able to watch Mbuta play soccer in a little venue at a state university at Maryland that, after having lugged around a Charlton shirt with the thought that I might see what Robson's reaction would be to a request for a signature and then failing to find Robson after the game, I asked Mbuta to sign the shirt. So I've got a throwback "AllSports" Charlton shirt signed by one Mathew Mbuta. I am in my 30s. Whatever. Palace's last two home games -- both against the Bermuda Hogges -- are coming up over the next week and I'm looking forward to both far more than the Wizards-United match slated for RFK this Saturday night.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lowered Expectations

I am generally trying to be circumspect about the Cubs' chances this year. Ernie Banks says this is "the year" for the Cubs. Fine. Santo promised us the same thing in 2003. The bullpen is unsettled, Marquis remains in the rotation, and the offense disappears way too frequently.

But sitting in front of the tube tonight, watching the Cubs play in Wrigley North, building a two game (MLB-best record) lead over the Brewers, I am cracking a little bit. The vulnerability is easy to explain: Marmol's slider is awe-inspiring. The pitches he has just thrown to close out the ninth inning in a close, important game, defy explanation. They are wicked. He has not attempted in any way to reject the pressure that has been placed on his shoulders. Not bad for a converted catcher.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I Don't Mind Just A Little Pain

Eventful, although not necessarily good, week for the teams I support.

Training camp began for the Chicago Bears and on Wednesday Devin Hester let it be known that he would not be reporting until something was done to improve upon the $445,000 he was scheduled to make this season. With some progress apparently made, Hester showed up on Friday but did not practice. While the Bears making a run at Favre would be, without question, the biggest story of the preseason for Chicago, it is unlikely that the team's management would want to invite the attention and potential criticism that would accompany an effort to entice the Packers to send the face of their modern franchise to their most hated, bitter rivals. So with Favre likely off the table, the story is both the uncertainty surrounding the offense (and the Bears did quite a bit to provide a stabilizing force by signing Detroit Lions' castoff Kevin Jones) and trying to keep the players they have under contract happy. On this point, there really is no question that the Bears have to take care of Hester. Watching nearly every Bears game over the last two years and sitting twice in Soldier Field watching him first hand, Devin is unquestionably the most dangerous player on the field everytime he is standing between the sidelines. In every game, the stadium is electric when Hester is back to receive a punt or kickoff and the remarkable thing is that Hester doesn't try to shy away from the attention -- before kicks, Hester generally turns and tries to pump up the crowd in anticipation of what he is about to do. Hester is a once in a generation player -- for fans that are used to thinking of players like Dennis Gentry and Johnny Bailey as difference makers, what Hester has done for the franchise so far is ridiculous. And on every one of these returns -- returns that have mitigated the offensive incompetence manifested under Turner's tutelage -- Hester is risking his career. Given the high wire act and the insane contributions, the Windy City flyer deserves to get paid.

For their part, the Cubs have Soriano back and have acquired what appears to be a healthy and dominant Rich Harden from the Oakland A's. Nevertheless, the team does not inspire a great deal of confidence at the moment and has continued the slide in form that began prior to the All-Star break. Two back to back three to two losses to a weak Marlins team further highlight questions regarding the potency of the offense (which with Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, Fukudome, and Soto should not be struggling as much as it is at the moment) and the competence of the bullpen. It is slightly troubling that there are so many struggling or ineffective veteran pitchers populating the pen (Jon Lieber, Scott Eyre, Neal Cotts, Chad Gaudin, Bob Howry) that are not helping to stabilize the dazzling young talent (Carlos Marmol, Rich Hill, and, now, Jeff Samardzija). The Cubs last victory, the series opener versus the Marlins in Wrigley on Thursday, was a perfect microcosm of the problems Pinella faces when going to his relievers: Gaudin and Cotts load the bases with no one out in the 8th in a 6-2 game; Howry and Marmol combined to allow just one run and get out of the inning; Marmol loads the bases again in the ninth, and with a three-two count and two out the entire stadium (including the bench) has absolutely no idea as to whether Marmol is going to manage to get a slider over the plate or if he is going to miss by two feet. The exuberant celebration over strike three was great for the moment, but did not instill a great deal of confidence in future prospects.

The consensus view from across the pond appears to be that Charlton does not have the resources to bring in new blood and that Madjid Bougherra and Zheng Zhi may still be sold on in the summer transfer window. I am not excited about a Charlton squad without either Magic or ZZ and its too bad that Mr. Grant believes that Sodje is unlikely to join, nevertheless, my impatience for the season to begin has not waned. It will be a pleasure to see what Moo2Kill, Fleetwood, Varney, Shelvey, Wagstaff, Racon, Youga, Sam, Sinclair, Dickson, and, hopefully, McLeod can do with the opportunities they might be granted. Dickson spelled Varney in the second-half of today's friendly against Brighton & Hove Albion and slotted the winner. The results against Dover and Brighton & Hove Albion were not terribly impressive but, still, they don't necessarily bode ill either.

The only live sporting event I took in this week was an unfortunate trip to RFK for the Dynamo-United match Wednesday night. We stayed for the first 53 minutes of the game, hung out for an hour into the delay and then headed back home. The hour of delay on RFK's concourse was the highlight of the trip as Barra Brava did everything possible to keep spirits high. The game itself was an embarrassment both for the fans and the team. Soehn pulled Pat Carroll from right back in the 25th minute and brought in Rod Dyachenko (pushing McTavish to the back line, Fred from CAM to left wing, and Thompson from left to right). Not Francis Doe. Not Quavas Kirk. Rod Dyachenko. To be fair, Dyachenko began with some nifty touches that promised perhaps a rejuvenated attack, but after about five minutes he was back to being a turnover machine. Dyachenko capped his performance by losing a ball at the top left hand of the goal box, failing to get back into position on the counter, and then simply pulling down a Dynamo player in Dynamo's defensive half in full view of the referee and everyone in the stadium to net yet another yellow card. With Rod organizing the offense, DC managed a grand total of four shots on goal. 4. One of those came before Dyachenko entered the match (Emilio) and two came after Doe replaced Thompson in the 64th minute (Simms; Doe). I've perused the comments of other DC United-focused blogs and criticism seems to be bandied about to a number of players for the pathetic performance: Zach Wells was once again ridiculed (although some recognized that Wells had a very good game overall and frequently compensated for bad defending in front of him); Gonzalo Martinez was ripped; as was Fred; even Simms was questioned; and there were many, many questions about the center half pairing of Burch and Namoff. For the most part, most of the critiques seem unfair. Martinez moved to left back to provide an attacking threat on that side of the pitch. Fred played with heart and spent most of the match trying to chase down Dynamo players who benefited from numerous unforced errors in United's midfield. Simms was frequently left on an island by himself and Namoff and Burch, frankly, did everything they could. It is probably grossly unfair to lay the blame for that horrid performance on any one player, but at this point, I have become so sensitive to Dyachenko's poor play that it is difficult to imagine that his absence would not have substantially improved the rest of the team. With Dyachenko behind him, it is not clear what Moreno can do. United looked most dangerous when Thompson or Fred attacked from the wings, but neither Emilio or Moreno could fully commit in the box because any counter would fly right by Rod. Again, I have no doubt that Dyachenko is doing everything he can to help the team and he certainly has talents that could be harnessed, but he continues to be placed in situations where he is a net negative for United. Unless he was hurt, Kirk had done enough in Saturday's final SuperLiga match against the Dynamo to merit a chance as the first sub in on the wing (or, if necessary, at right back).

Much is said about the difficulties Soehn is facing without Olsen, Gallardo, Peralta, and Mediate. Three of those four would certainly be in the starting XI if healthy. Nevertheless, D.C. United does have, at least on paper, some depth and none of that appears to shine through in the matches that Soehn has skippered. Instead, Soehn has used Dyachenko the way that Dusty Baker used to utilize Jose Macias... a serviceable player is subjected to the hatred of a team's fans because the gaffer insists on putting them in situations where they are not equipped to succeed.

Oh well, Palace USA will try and recover from a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of the Charlotte Eagles tonight with a home fixture against hapless Real Maryland this Thursday. Perhaps that will be slightly less eventful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


When leaving Charlton to return to Reading, Sam Sodje was quoted as saying: " I've had a good experience with Charlton, playing week in and week out . . . I came here to help get Charlton promoted so I'm disappointed we didn't achieve that, but I'm a local lad and to play for my local team has been a really good thing for me."

Quotes from athletes tend, of course, to be fake and self-serving; to provide vapid sentiment and insincere praise. But there is something to be said for even attempting to give supporters a reason to like you and, further, there is something about what Sodje said (or is said to have said) upon departure that cuts against the cynicism that many of Pards new acquisitions last season brought to the Valley. Charlton appeared inundated with mercenaries last year and, according to most commentary, this led to listless, heartless performances on the pitch. Thus, if there was one player of the lot to bring back on board, it would appear to be the one who, at least in public comments, stressed some type of passion, some measure of emotional attachment to the performance of the squad. And that player would be Sodje.

According to local reports today, Reading's manager, Steve Coppell, has told Sodje that he might be better served as an employee of another club. That report, hopefully, is enough to peak Charlton's interest a second time. The lack of any cover at center half, the apparent lack of value that Sodje has for Reading in the Championship, the familiarity of those at the Valley with the player, and the (relatively) small amount of compensation that would be needed to insure that Reading did not take a loss on the transaction (Sodje arrived with 350,000 quid going back to Brentford in July of '06) would seem to make this an obvious move for Charlton.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pretty Vacant

I was thankfully excused from Tuesday night's debacle at RFK by a vacation out of the city. Outside of a text message from my sister telling me that "United is playing like Crap," I managed to load the game on the high-speed internet at a crappy, overpriced hotel in Philadelphia in time to see Rod Dyachenko come in for Burch... and promptly shut it off and turned on "In Bruges." I had time, while waiting for that insipid film to end, to read the comments of far more devoted DC United supporters than I and was impressed by how universal the frustration with Dyachenko is. DCenters has ably catalogued commentary on Rod's poor run of play of late; and fellow United/Terps supporter DCUMD states:

What more is there to say about Rod Dyachenko? I guess just that it's unfortunate that he is having his worst year as a professional in his third season with the club.

I'd like to see things this way as well -- rather than being angry at the player, feel bad for the circumstances of the failing. If anything, at least Dyachenko plays... Quavas Kirk apparently has not shown enough in training to even get on the pitch (check that, actually this thought leads to difficult questions about the judgement of my fellow native Chicagoan Soehn).

In any event, I am skipping going to RFK tomorrow night but will instead watch it on television where I can turn away when it gets ugly... and it will inevitably get ugly early and often.

In the interim, my enthusiasm for the sport has not waned and I am eagerly awaiting the beginning of the fizzy pop's season on the second weekend of August. When Charlton opens against Swansea City, I will, alas, not be at The Valley, but, at the same time, neither will Marcus Bent (and he will be screwing up team chemistry at Birmingham?; brilliant). While I doubt that the majority of Charlton supporters are happy with the composition of the squad at the moment, I am enthusiastic. The team has a good mixture of youthful untapped talent and veteran workmanship. My lack of technical understanding of the sport means that I am once again excited about Zheng Zhi, Lloyd Sam, Yassin Moutaouakil, Izale McLeod, Chris Dickson, Jose Semedo and Jonjo Shelvey's prospects with the first team this year. With the exception of Moo2kill and Shelvey, most of the commentary I read from other supporters seems to be very much down on these players, but I am ever hopeful that they will redeem themselves in the eyes of the red army this season.

The promise of a new season, of Saturday mornings spent reading updates on Charlton Life and following matches on ESPN's Gamecast, and of idly looking for fares to the UK from Dulles on VirginAtlantic, has me a wee bit pumped about soccer and I was able to focus some of that enthusiasm by attending my first home league fixture for Crystal Palace USA, who took on Western Mass tonight at UMBC.

This was the second chance I have had to see Crystal Palace USA live and in both matches they were, by far, the better team. Against Western Mass, they simply dominated the game and I cannot, for the life of me, fathom how this team loses any matches in the second division of the USL. The talent level on Crystal Palace's squad is beyond any reasonable explanation given the humble level of the league.

Shintaro Harada, who netted Crystal Palace's second goal of the match tonight, apparently logged significant time in the J League before deciding to come to the United States to play third division soccer because David Beckham came to the U.S.(?!)

Gary Brooks, pictured below in preparation for a bicycle kick that would put Palace on top, hearkens from far more humble beginnings, but still stepped down from the USL first division to play for the second division club.

Val Teixeira, Matthew Mbuta, and Larry Mark (as a sub for Mbuta) were, again, extremely impressive on the wings, but the player I was most interested in seeing again was Paul Robson. I am fascinated by Robson's story. After starting off as a Premier League player with Charlton, Robson made Crystal Palace USA only after surviving tryouts earlier this year against players with nothing even remotely approximating Mr. Robson's pedigree. Nevertheless, for the second game in a row, I walked away seriously impressed by Robson's skill and performance and cannot come up with any plausible explanation for what he is doing here. As pointed out on this CP Supporter message board, it is extremely difficult to gauge talent at this level, but Robson looked more than competent. He and Teixeira frequently switched positions to allow Teixeira breathers at the back and Robson acquitted himself well on the left wing. Robson made impressive runs from the back, was credited with an assist on Harada's goal, and shut down one side of Western Mass's admittedly anemic attack. I doubt anyone reads this drivel, but in case anyone does I would be grateful for any insight on Robson as his tenure with the Addicks (2001 through 2003) precedes any knowledge I have of the club.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Point

MONKEY [Reporter]: If, say, you win here in South Carolina, what do you do then?
[Mike] MURPHY [McCain's Chief Campaign Strategist]: Fly to Michigan that night.
MONKEY: And what if hypothetically you, say, lose here in South Carolina?
MURPHY: Fly to Michigan that night win or lose.
MONKEY: Perhaps you can explain why?
MURPHY: 'Cause the plane's already paid for.
MONKEY: I think he means: can you explain why specifically Michigan?
MURPHY: 'Cause it's the next primary.
MONKEY: I think that we're trying to get you to elaborate on if you will, Mike, is: what will your goal be in Michigan?
MURPHY: To get a whole lot of votes. That's part of our secret strategy for winning the nomination.

exchange recounted in David Foster Wallace's Up, Simba from "Consider the Lobster"

One would be hard pressed to imagine a more ridiculous, although entirely predictable, turn of events today as Iwelumo is off to the Wolves and Marcus Bent is, well, Marcus Bent. Iwelumo packed up and moved to Molineux, to the (at least to me) inexplicable delight of a significant number of Charlton's faithful. Iwelumo plugged in 18 goals for Colchester in the Championship the season prior to joining the Addicks. 18. Pause on that for a moment. In Marcus Bent's entire career, according to ESPN's profile of him, Bent managed a high of 11 goals in one season with Ipswich in the Championship. 11 goals. As New York Addick notes, Bent netted a meager number of goals (five times over three years) in a Charlton kit. A younger Iwelumo has far more impressive numbers.

Now, I admit to being unrepentantly American. And, as such, I admit to a focus on statistics that is inappropriate for the beautiful game. But goals, after all, are goals. Indeed, goals are the very purpose of the game, being the "goal" and all that. And, so, when a player leads your team in goals slotted and managed to put through double digits of them at that, it is a difficult thing to look around and say with conviction that the squad could have done better. The "secret strategy" of winning a soccer game is, ultimately, scoring goals.

Also, admittedly, Bent scored seven goals with Wigan last year in the Premiership. And he had previously managed Premier League goals with Everton. But Bent was not productive, in any sense of the word, as a member of Charlton Athletic. And as the reports today indicate, he may not be any time soon. I've thought of pejorative terms to use for the player (perhaps circumstances such as these are what lead folks to refer to others as "gits" or "wankers"), but, in the end, I can only feign outrage. Bent blow off a physical and then announce he is going to play for someone else? Why not? What are the chances that burning that bridge to Wales will ever haunt him down the line (after all, he'll undoubtedly stay with Birmingham for the remainder of his prolific career)? The worst thing that Bent has done is toy with Charlton's supporters. They (we) want him to go. It can't happen soon enough. And, nevertheless, at day's end, he's still around, lurking around menacingly like some unkillable psychopathic subhuman tormentor from a teenage slasher flick.

Iwelumo out, Bent still hanging around = net negative for Charlton Athletic.

Which brings me back to the block quote above -- totally tangential to the plight of Charlton. However, Charlton Life features a fascinating thread on the financial state of the club. There is much speculation surrounding the dire (or not so dire) circumstances the team finds itself in and no end to prescriptions. Some of this is fashioned by the hysteria of the summer transfer window, some from a failure to come to grips with a fall from Premiership, and some, no doubt, is generated by Pards' bizarre statements about moving bodies in and out of the squad. Whatever the prescriptive value of any of these claims, the fact remains that soccer is a simple sport... the team that scores the most goals in a match wins the game; the teams that manage the best and second-best record in the league are promoted back to the land of milk and honey. Whatever else there might be, right now, the point is to win with the squad before you.

All of the foregoing constitutes talking loud without saying something, but this is largely because I am resigned to a longer stay than anticipated in the Championship. It is not a good thing that both Dowie and Pardew appeared to believe that scouting could be more effectively done after a player had been acquired rather than beforehand. Nor is it a good thing that players shuttle in and out of the squad. But, most of all, it is not a good thing that after all these moves, there is little confidence by the gaffer that the team could manage well on its own as it currently stands. I am simply unwilling to accept this conclusion. I've seen most of the current squad play. These lads are talented -- having enough to at least compete competently on the Championship level. And, yet, nowhere do I hear the praises of the squad ringing out from the hilltops. Instead, it is blither about how ZZ is not strong enough to compete in the Championship or how Jerome Thomas has worn out his welcome or that Ambrose and Holland simply are not good enough. That is not what I've seen -- what I've seen is untapped potential (not Ron Turner levels of untapped potential, but something reasonably approaching that level).

The secret strategy for winning promotion is winning more games than your competitors by, largely, putting in more goals than you give up. In the Championship, Charlton already has the tools to implement this strategy and I hope that before August, this view is echoed by those in charge.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


When you wish upon a star... "Premier league hotshot" (????) Marcus Bent will be off to Wales after all. (For? One million pounds? Perhaps Cardiff's first offer really was only for free petrol for the team carriage to the away fixture). And so, Charlton are down a striker. Not to worry. There are, apparently, other options. (If you are keeping track at home, those other options are: Svetoslav Todorov; Andy Gray; Luke Varney; Chris Dickson; Izale McLeod; Stuart Fleetwood; and, for the time being, Chris Iwelumo).

Two things today temper the good news of Mr. Bent's imminent departure (he's fit, right?). The first is how Pardew's comments today unfortunately intertwined the fates of Chris Iwelumo and Marcus Bent. Iwelumo is undeserving of being mentioned in the same breath as Mr. Marcus. Whatever one thinks about Iwelumo's skill set (and on this point, a brief digression: how can Iwelumo be blamed for the team reverting to hoofing it whenever he was up top? Isn't the style of play the responsibility of the gaffer? If he can't keep discipline with the Scotsman at the point, then what does he do? Just change the pieces?), at no point did Iwelumo act as if he was too big for this little club. Iwelumo did not openly pine for premiership privilege and certainly did not receive premiership wages. It may be that with seven strikers, Iwelumo is the logical odd man out and, indeed, fixtures may be more interesting next year if Varney, Dickson, Fleetwood and McLeod are afforded significant opportunities to ply their trade. But I do not take solace in his departure and part company with those who think this is a good development for the team. Further, it is also an all to obvious reminder of Pards' obsession with tinkering. The gaffer seems to be intent on plugging men in who are of similar skill levels to those that exit: effectively, the tactic is rolling "bodies" in while others roll out. I fail to see the utility in this particular strategy, nor does it seem particularly fan-friendly (although it does fill content on message boards).

But the principal reason that my mood is sobered is D.C. United's performance tonight against Chivas Guadalajara in the SuperLiga. Check that, the performance of two D.C. United employees tonight: Coach Tom Soehn and Rod Dyachenko. I have now, I believe, reached the point that if Dyachenko starts a game for United, I need to either walk out of RFK or shut off the television. Dyachenko clearly adds value as an attacking sub late in games. He takes risks and occasionally creates chances that challenge the other side's defense. He also appears to be a nice person and is a much better athlete and soccer player than I will ever be. But he is not an MLS starter. He may not even be a USL starter. After a nice first touch to begin the game, Dyachenko was horrid until being asked to give way at the opening of the second half for Doe. His deficiencies were spotlighted on both ends of the pitch and, frankly, I have no idea why Soehn took so long to pull the trigger on his one and only substitution of the game (a game coming four days after a number of his players logged 120 minutes at the Maryland Soccerplex). D.C. United's performance in the second half improved markedly after Dyachenko's departure (at some points it looked like Rod was Chivas' 12th player, while United tried to defend with 10) and Emilio continued to look incredibly dangerous at the point. Zach Wells, although I wonder about his positioning on the free kick leading to the second goal, generally looked better than he has been in a while at the back. A quick exit from group play may be the appropriate outcome in the SuperLiga, but United should pose some difficulties on Tuesday night for an Atlante team that was thoroughly embarrassed tonight by the Dynamo.


Boyds, Maryland is a long, long way from College Park, Maryland, a fact I had not fully appreciated prior to Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup match between D.C. United and the Chicago Fire at the Maryland Soccerplex. The distance, moreover, is made all the more greater when taking five children along for the ride.

With that said (and admitting that we got inside the stadium shortly before the thirty-fifth minute), it would be difficult to find a better venue to watch a meaningful match between two MLS teams with a large number of children than the Soccerplex. Even at $25 per ticket (total entry cost for us = $275), the format could not have been friendlier and each of the kids -- ranging in age from one month to 13 years -- remained entertained throughout extra time.

There is much that we missed during the match, including MLS-All Star Cuauhtemoc Blanco's horrific reaction to being booted from the proceeding, but what we did clearly witness was remarkable in its own right.

D.C. United's backline was, once again, impressive. Namoff, Burch, McTavish, Martinez, and, much later, Peralta, individually and collectively severely reduced any threat posed by the Fire's offense. Although one down by the time we arrived, D.C. United looked to be in control of the match up through the second extra period, with the Fire only offering meek, hopeful threats to D.C.'s goal (although Wells' play on these few chances for Chicago did not inspire great confidence). More importantly, we were at Boyds in time to see Rod Dyachenko being replaced by Jaime Moreno and watch the single substitution change the competence of D.C. United's game. Leaving aside Moreno's remarkable shot off the left post that had no business being even close to the goal, Moreno's run of play through most of the second half up through his departure in favor of Peralta ably demonstrated Dyachenko's deficiencies. I have nothing personally against Mr. Dyachenko and everything I see from him indicates that he expends every ounce of effort and skill he has for the betterment of the team, but I shudder every time I see him on the pitch. Dyachenko is not dangerous as a striker and the 24-year old lacks the discipline needed to play an effective midfielder. At his feet, the ball was frequently relinquished to the Fire despite quality runs and positioning by his teammates.

Craig Thompson, on the other hand, acquitted himself nicely on the right wing. I think Boehm's article on the official site did a great job at conveying what we witnessed first hand. Thompson's play was, at first, shaky, but as he built confidence, Thompson's exuberance and hustle starkly contrasted with Fred's approach on the left wing. Nice sliding tackles and quality touch passes excited the group of United partisans behind the post and his dispossession of Segares led to Doe slotting in the equalizer. I'm looking forward to seeing what he brings the rest of the season, with Ben Olsen's ability to contribute this season hampered by what must be very frustrating injury concerns.

Separately, we were disappointed to learn, via blackberry, that Crystal Palace had fallen to the Revolution in penalty kicks away, thus precluding a Palace-United confrontation at RFK in August. AU's Larry Mark appears, from press accounts, to once again have proved dangerous as one of Palace's wide men. A Palace victory would have meant that four of the five MLS teams in the quarterfinals would have been dismissed, but as it stands, because of Charleston's upset over FC Dallas and Seattle's PK victory over the Wizards, one non-MLS team is guaranteed the opportunity to challenge for a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2009.

Finally, I am amused by the fact that the biggest news surrounding Charlton's efforts to date in the summer transfer window have swirled on what will hopefully be Marcus Bent's departure from The Valley. I was, to be frank, gravely disappointed with Pards' statement indicating that the club had rejected an approach by Cardiff City for our wayward striker and hopeful that, in fact, the gaffer is correct and there is not only one club with money simply burning holes in their metaphorical pockets such that other (better?) offers will be entertained. Although Bent was responsible for the one and only goal I saw live last year, I have never been thrilled to see him in a Charlton strip and wish him the best wherever else he, with luck, will land next season.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


"To be honest, without sounding too confident, it [the win] doesn't surprise me. We have a very good team. We hit the post twice. We missed two wide-open opportunities in front of the net. To be honest, it should have been 4-nil, and we were playing a man short."

-- Crystal Palace co-coach Jim Cherneski on his squad's upset win over the New York Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup Tuesday night.

Cherneski was being kind. Crystal Palace USA not only beat the New York Red Bulls, the team dominated their MLS opponent. By our humble accounting, the score could easily have been five to zero late in the second half. But before further treatment, a digression:

I had planned, for some time, that my daughter's first live sporting event would be D.C. United versus the LA Galaxy at RFK this last Sunday. We had 18 tickets for the match, greatly enjoyed last year's installment of the game, and believed that, once again, this game would be more pageantry than competition. Of course, plans frequently change, and a business trip out of the country scuttled these ones. Instead of watching D.C. United rip apart the star-studded Galaxy in yet another convincing home win, I was in Bangkok Sunday trying to figure out how to get to a local university to catch an 11 am match between Customs Department FC and the previous year's Thai Premier League champion, Chonburi FC. My efforts were pointless given a lack of familiarity with Thai language. The concierge at my hotel responded to my requests for help at organizing a trip to the stadium as if I was a lunatic. In broken english, the concierge stressed that I should limit myself to the Euro2008 final broadcast at 1:45 am Monday morning in my room and wondered why anyone would want to watch Thai clubs play soccer. This response coupled with better developed site-seeing plans for that morning were enough to dash my shallow dreams of attending the game and I missed Chonburi's one to nothing victory over the Customs Department.

The inability to get information (admittedly in English) sufficient to get myself to the appropriate place to watch the match was not expected. At first glance, Bangkok is, at least superficially, soccer mad. Walking down a street in Bangkok inevitably leads one past Thais rocking Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Real Madrid jerseys. On Sunday I was tastefully decked out in an FC Schalke 04 shirt (I was, after all, on a business trip) and stood on Silom Road late in the afternoon, mouth agape, while someone else in an FC Schalke 04 jersey passed me by on the street. The billboards on the Rama highways feature the stars of European soccer and Chang Beer's (Everton's kit sponsor) street ads feature three anonymous players engaged in soccer game movements. Throughout the city, boards were placed up in public areas offering a full and comprehensive recounting of the progress of Euro2008. Nevertheless, the citizenry does not appear to be all that fond of Thai soccer. Neither the Bangkok Post nor the Nation (again, two English language papers) breathed a word about the full slate of Thai Premier league games played over the weekend -- the first weekend of such fixtures after a long suspension of match games while the Thai national team burned out (horrifically -- in six matches, Thailand managed one draw and five losses) in the group stage trying to qualify for the World Cup. Simon Hill's very perceptive piece for FoxSoccer back in March helps to provide some perspective on the current state of Thai soccer and my brief experience in the country lends further credence to Mr. Hill's observations.

So, instead of being at RFK for the United-Galaxy game or at Kasem Bundit University for Customs Department-Chonburi, I settled for Spain-Germany on the television at 1:45 the next morning. Such is life.

With a return to the states scheduled for Tuesday morning, I became a bit obsessive about compensating for the missed opportunities for live soccer on Sunday. U.S. Open Cup matches in two different locales in Maryland offered some hope of satiating this ridiculous demand and, so, shortly after landing and catching a quick nap, we set out to Annapolis to see how Crystal Palace would manage against the better, meaner, more fit Red Bulls. The initial intention of the trip was largely as a lark -- two teams with more famous European versions (Red Bulls Salzburg and the hated Crystal Palace FC for the Coca Cola Championship) lining up on a high school field in Annapolis for a tournament even soccer fans in the United States ignore. We took our time in getting to Broadneck, an inevitable byproduct of bringing along a three week old infant, but were heartened to see that the home side had built up a one goal lead by the time we arrived.

Shortly after our arrival, Crystal Palace's captain Ibrahim Kante was shown a straight red (after having already received a yellow, thereby doing something one rarely witnesses by managing to effectively pick up three cards in the course of a game) and we waited for the inevitable let down as the Red Bulls' reserves took advantage of the overmatched 10 man squad from Crystal Palace. But that never happened. Ives running commentary provides probably the most in-depth coverage of the match, but the piece in no way reflects what actually happened (at least from our perspective) in the game. For example, Ives focuses principally on the Red Bulls' failings and appears to offer excuses ranging from the state of the stadium to the width of the pitch. What we saw was a Red Bulls squad get its ass handed to it by a faster, more committed side of pretty damn good players who were routinely and disastrously disrespected by what was, frankly, a less talented squad masquerading in the uniforms of an MLS team. Ives calls Matthew Mbuta a "decent" player. The "decent" wing player, however, ran roughshod over the Red Bulls' defensive player of the year through the entirety of the second half. Mbuta, who will apparently represent Cameroon in Beijing, was far and away the best player on the field. In the face of what was supposed to be a clearly superior team, Mbuta had no interest in backing down and added insult to injury with stepovers that beguiled and bedazzled Parke on numerous counterattacks. American University's Larry Mark was impressive on the other side of the midfield for Crystal Palace and towards the end of the game the Red Bulls had no answer for the marauding runs of Mark and Mbuta when New York's team predictably gave up possession on lazy passes or inept touches. We do, however, heartily agree with Mark's friends sitting behind us... you could have done better from nine yards out... but no one will hold it against you. CP Baltimore's keeper, Matt Nelson, who Ives' incorrectly refers to as Brian Rowland, had an almost unreal game where, with one notable exception, he kept himself in great position and showed amazing reaction time to the few chances that the Red Bulls created for themselves. A man down, the defensive work of Shintaro Harada (with hyperbolic, yet infectious enthusiasm) and former Addick (?) Paul Robson was more than competent -- both routinely frustrated the Red Bulls anemic attempts at attack and allowed Mbuta and Mark to flash out on looping, dangerous runs. Indeed, the whole of Crystal Palace's team looked to be fairly accomplished, fairly talented professional soccer players that perhaps have not had the fortune of the MLS stand-ins who blew a golden opportunity to prove their mettle.

The upshot was that our first Crystal Palace match could not have turned out better. At the end of the game, as we waited to leave, Nelson walked over to us to thank us for coming out and wave to our daughter and in so doing, I think, guaranteed that we'll be seeing them a few more times this year.

One more note: Ives waxes poetic about the performance of something called the Emperor's Supporters Club -- apparently a group of scores of Red Bulls "fans" that showed up in dribbles to cheer on a reasonable facsimile of their team -- and scornfully contrasts the praise for the ESC with condescension towards the supporters of Crystal Palace FC. The treatment is remarkable insofar as the ESC was pathetic. On one side of the field, a group perhaps sixty strong, sang inane ditties that would crack up Barra Brava or the Screaming Eagles, while on the other side, 1,500 enjoyed an absurdist romp on a high school pitch, while scores of children (equal to, by the by, the number of ESC members at the game) played their own soccer game in front of the metal stands. Crystal Palace USA supporters didn't sing and looked across the pitch at the ESC with slight amusement. The "You're Not Singing Over There" effort by the paltry number of Red Bull enthusiasts was more pitiable than remarkable. In short, the effort that the Red Bulls gave on the field was, by any objective assessment, fully equivalent to the effort expended by its supporters in the stands: the Red Bulls might be mistaken for an MLS team and the ESC might be mistaken for football supporters at first glance, but given time, both might have been better served by just staying home.