Saturday, August 30, 2008


Another 24 hours packed with soccer. Charlton's unraveling at Preston North End barely warrants mentioning... I was not able to catch the match on tv or radio, but, by all accounts, Charlton was not very good. One might legitimately ask how many times Pardew can rip the commitment of his squad (as he did throughout the second half of last season and after the Carling Cup disaster against Yeovil prior to the PNE match this season) before he is held accountable as the gaffer of the squad.

On the other hand, Maryland's trip to the Home Depot Center and huge comeback victory over UCLA does seem to justify further elaboration. The football itself was not great but coach Sasho Cirovski's unwavering dedication to winning the match bodes well and evinces massive confidence in his side. Down a goal since the 27th minute, Cirovski brought Omar Gonzalez forward, opting for a three-man backline, and bringing in sophomore Sean Flatley to cover as the lone center back. The Terps consistently threatened but looked awful when any opportunity on goal presented itself. I had resigned myself to a hard-fought, unfortunate loss when Flatley lashed home a Graham Zusi corner with his head forty seconds from time.

For much of the second half, I was disappointed with Rodney Wallace's play who I may have unfairly built up in my mind based on two very good performances last year late in the season. Wallace had an excellent chance on goal late in the second half that he seemed to play poorly and managed only a wayward shot from his left foot that had no chance on goal. I was, therefore, greatly heartened to see Wallace's perfect break seven minutes into extra time that saw him free in the box, juke the goalie with a decoy move to his left, calmly cross back to the right, and net the game winner. Wallace's pace creating the chance and the enthusiastic celebration of the goal made clear why I watch the sophomore play, even when Cirovski has seemingly chosen to use him at fullback, rather than an attack-minded winger.

Tonight I made it to RFK and had a great time. Despite the disappointing result (a scoreless tie), the game was a blast. A full-throated display by United supporters drowned out the meager offerings from the ESC until the very end of the match (the Emperor Supporters Club traveled with only slight more in number than were at the embarrassing thrashing in Annapolis at the hands of Crystal Palace Baltimore). Louis Crayton was phenomenal. Although he may make fans nervous with the flair he shows -- choosing on two separate occasions to dribble around Dane Party Richards rather than clear the ball -- he is rock solid in goal and fully deserved the man of the match designation based on some incredible saves (and his third clean sheet). Gallardo subbed in late and looked healthy. Joe Vide was amazing and continued a run of quality performances with United. Tonight was the first time that I wanted to get an autograph at a United match, if only to commemorate Vide's wonderful effort. (Vide's game follows a great piece last week from Goff on him (registration required)).

Not all was roses. The refereeing for the match was horrible and served as an unfortunate reminder as how generally good the refereeing has been for United's matches this year. The poor, inconsistent calls put the players on the pitch in jeopardy. And while I came into this season with mostly apathetic feelings towards the Red Bulls, I have now developed a healthy antipathy for the club. The classlessness of the ESC at an Annapolis high school during the US Open Cup and the dishonest play of several Red Bulls tonight -- principal amongst them the detestable Mike Magee, who flashed his cleats several times to the back of United players on challenges but whined incessantly when Vide gave him the same treatment (followed up by similar cynical complaints after his manhandling of Moreno lead to an apparently accidental smack to his face; Magee's complaints would be comical if not for the danger he posed to other players on the pitch and the pathos he was able to muster to support his false charges) -- has made them the only side I truly dislike in the MLS.

More negatives: Emilio looked like he hurt his groin fairly significantly and I cannot imagine that we will see him Wednesday at the U.S. Open Cup final. Moreno's horrific miss wide left on the penalty kick stunned the crowd. Perhaps not as much as the introduction of Dyachenko for the unimpressive Doe, but it is a close call regardless. At this point, there is no reason to have Dyachenko in any close game. The fact that Dyachenko is a senior player on the roster and Vide is now a developmental player is an embarrassment to the club and to all of its supporters. I can understand what Dyachenko is supposed to bring. He's a big target on set pieces and should be able to get his head on some crosses. He's a big target for Crayton to hoof it up to and, to be fair, he had one good flick on off of a Crayton boomer. But United fell apart when he got on the pitch. Rod cannot hold position, cannot distribute, and wanders around aimlessly (at one point, Rod, likely in frustration, showed annoyance with Crayton after a ball was sent up to the other side of the field -- what Dyachenko seems to have not realized is that Crayton had singled him out and was waiting for Dyachenko to set himself up as a target before giving up and launching the ball elsewhere). He was only able to avoid his obligatory yellow card after the clueless ref chose not to punish him for a pathetic late challenge to the back of a Red Bulls player at midfield. Nothing in Dyachenko's fifteen minutes on the pitch justified leaving Quavas Kirk off the bench for this match and I think it is now well past time for Soehn to be called out for his continued reliance on a player that has failed to bring anything to the proverbial table for the bulk of the year. After the game, Dyachenko came over to our section, along with Marc Burch and Francis Doe to sign autographs and thank the fans. While seeing him up close and passing up the opportunity to be an a^^hole, I confirmed that I do not dislike Dyachenko. He is a quality human being. He works hard and he is unfailingly nice to fans. But there are a lot of players who I have liked that were simply not good enough to play even at this level. Last year Kpene and Addlery, two of my favorite players to have ever worn the shirt, were told to look elsewhere. It is pointless to blame the player for his shortcomings, but the same does not apply for the manager that continues, inexplicably, to overlook those failings and put the player in a position where he cannot succeed on a routine basis.

Oh well. I only have to wait until Wednesday before United gets a chance to reverse the disappointment from tonight. Charlton's off until September 13th and the only thing really to look forward to from the Addicks is the departure of Zheng Zhi (really? the only midfielder on the roster that has the ability to get into the box and create goals and there is no serious thought that he might be retained?) and, perhaps, the addition of another Premier league reject who will poison the dressing room -- bitter for having had to slum it in the Championship (at least it won't be McShane, who will have an opportunity to shine in Hull's porous backline).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Junior League

Ives has a remarkable story up on his web-site about the Red Bulls' pursuit of talent from the USL to supplement their surging team. Of initial interest is that the Red Bulls are considering trying to add Mathew Mbuta to the team (why isn't DC United considering Mbuta?), although Mbuta has previously indicated that he is not interested in playing for any other club in the United States and has his eyes set on Europe.

Of more importance, however, is Ives' characterization of the MLS's reaction to the Red Bulls' attempt to acquire Macoumba Kandji from USL1's Atlanta Silverbacks. Per Ives (although the story has been denied by MLS and Red Bulls sources), MLS has vetoed New York's move to obtain Kandji because a $200,000 transfer fee paid to the Silverbacks would create a bad precedent for future transactions between MLS clubs and USL teams.

It is possible that this story is not empirically accurate. Regardless, most U.S. soccer fans who read it will believe it because few have faith that the MLS' leadership is capable of acting in the best interests of the league and its fans.

Any move to try and control the market for player acquisition from lower U.S. club teams -- beyond MLS' already existing complicated and absurd regulations -- would be both stupid and, ultimately, horrendously ineffective. What lesson are USL teams and players supposed to draw from this inanity? That USL teams must hold out for European and Asian clubs to come in and make pitches for their best talent in order to obtain fair market value for such players? That the MLS perceives the USL as such a threat that it must resort to draconian interventions to prevent USL squads from improving their balance sheets?

The possibility of futbol talent being developed at multiple levels in the United States is not just good for fans, it is good for Major League Soccer, as the more meaningful opportunities for players to hone their skills in this country means that the talent pool from which players are drawn is substantially expanded. Moreover, anyone paying any attention to international soccer knows that there is a remarkably fluid market in contractual rights to soccer players. Entities all over the world are focused on discovering any place where arbitrage is possible -- European teams see such opportunities in Africa; DC United in South America -- and club teams outside of the United States will quickly pick up on the possibilities presented by the USL, punishing the MLS for its petty despotism.

The reason any effort by the MLS to prevent USL teams from getting market value for people on their rosters is so incredibly offensive is not simply that such efforts are intellectually (and commercially) indefensible, it is that any such efforts are so obviously and inexplicably incompetent and inept. There is no way that the MLS can force -- on a regular, routine, and continued basis -- the USL to provide it with talent at less than going rates for a player's skill. Clubs outside of the U.S. will see the arbitrage opportunities and they will take advantage of it (perhaps not today, tomorrow, or next week, but soon, very soon), further fracturing the relationship between the USL and MLS. In the interim, the MLS will be denying itself a pool of US-oriented, skilled players (for whom MLS clubs have a competitive advantage in scouting vis-a-vis clubs outside the United States), thereby making the league weaker in terms of the caliber of play and the level of competition on the pitch.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Happy Happy Joy Joy

DC United dominated the Colorado Rapids tonight at RFK and, yet, I cannot publish a first hand account of how (a) Emilio threatened to add to his scoring total throughout the evening (instead settling for a beautiful holdup and feed to Vide for the game winner outside of the box); (b) Patrick Crayton notched his second clean sheet in league play with good work between the posts; (c) Quavas Kirk poached a late goal that sealed the Rapids' humiliation; (d) Santino proved that there is more to his goal-scoring repertoire than cheeky lofts, nailing his own laser into the top corner for DC's second goal; nor can I file a report of how (e) the perennially injured (frankly tragic) former Addick Cory Gibbs played full time in the back line for the Rapids (even managing to collect himself after a knock following a failed block on a shot stopped from the back of the net by the face of Colorado's keeper off the foot of a marauding Emilio).

I cannot report on the above -- despite having tickets in hand and a full intention on making the short trip down to the Capital -- because the Charlton-Reading match was broadcast early this morning. Because, having been treated to a fantastic display of football, my day began at 7:30 am and ended at 10 am.

If there is only one Charlton match that I am privileged to watch this season, I would be hard-pressed to express any regret that it was the one this morning and not any that will come in a season that looks much brighter because of it. The craven attitudes of cavalier players looking for a better deal, a bigger club, more coverage in tabloids, that infested the atmosphere at the Valley last year appears to have been fully wiped away. Left behind, instead, is a team of strivers. Anyone can count up these players' flaws and anyone can claim that there are better footballers out there, but no one can reasonably claim that there would have been a better team to watch today. I woke up a few hours after watching Messi's masterpiece in the gold medal final fully expecting to see a Charlton side whipped by Steve Coppell's impressive group of players. I expected long punts, porous defending, lost possessions, and confusion amongst the players both going forward and back. Instead, what I witnessed was a team that menaced consistently, ran the channels, played dangerous balls into the box, and coalesced as a team. Remarkable. Goodbye Marcus. Goodbye Jerome. Goodbye Amdy. Fare thee well.

While much of the commentary will focus (appropriately) on the effective partnership of Andy Gray and Luke Varney up front, I was more heartened by the promising partnership between Lloyd Sam and Yassin Moutaouakil on the right side. Sam's shortcomings have frequently been lumped in with Jerome Thomas' and I have always believed the negative feelings surrounding him to be unfair. Although I have read some mild criticism of his performance today, I did not see any justification for it. He and Yassin appear to have a good understanding of each other that will likely improve and provide for more excitement in league fixtures to come. On the other side, while Basey looked overmatched and seemed to have had his confidence affected, Hameur Bouazza was tremendous and looked every bit the player I highly rated at Watford two seasons back in the Premiership with Watford. I would tune into Watford matches whenever broadcast simply to watch Ashley Young and Bouazza play on the wings and followed each last year with Aston Villa and Fulham respectively. While Young has flourished, I could not understand why Bouazza could not break into what was not a very good side at Craven Cottage. Bad for him, but, at the moment, great for Charlton.

I still lament the seemingly inevitable departure of Zheng Zhi, a player who I am extremely fond of. But the grief that I may feel has been substantially muted by the addition of Nicky Bailey. It is one thing to lose Zhi and see Darren Ambrose fill his spot (Ambrose is a fine player, but does not pose the same threat to goal that Zhi does). It is another to see Bailey step in, control the center of the field and free up the wings to hammer down on the other side's defense. Nicky Bailey's performance today was the stuff of legend and marks a pitch perfect introduction to home supporters.

I was truly afraid that after Stevey Hunt's ridiculous penalty miss (originating from a Jon Fortune foul that could just as easily have not been called) and the absurd decision forcing a retake, Charlton would wither. They did not and when Varney leapt into the gaffer's embrace, I was dancing around my living room.

Pardew has stressed that his side is young, inexperienced, and that play may be uneven. All of which is undoubtedly true, but the flip side is that the team now plays with genuine desire. The starting XI today were a perfect mixture of players 25 and under (Bouazza (23), Basey (19), Varney (25), Sam (23), Moutaouakil (22), and Bailey (24)) and veterans (Weaver (29), Hudson (26), Gray (30), Fortune (28), and Holland (34)) [note, however, that Pardew's starting XI for the corresponding fixture last year, against Sheffield Wednesday, featured as many U-25s: Reid, Ambrose, Thomas, Semedo, McCarthy, and Bougherra, and, obviously, that did not turn out so well going forward]. Today's performance is the hope that such a side provides and we need only wait a week to see if it will continue at Preston North End.

Friday, August 22, 2008


A tough week at work that prevented any time for enjoying sport gave way tonight to what may prove to be a far too packed schedule of soccer. It started tonight with our attendance of a preseason scrimmage between the University of Maryland men versus the University of South Florida, will continue with the Nigeria-Argentina match for Olympic gold in a few minutes, a brief break before Charlton-Reading on Setanta USA tomorrow morning at 7:45 am, then a chance to catch up with former Addicks Andy Reid and Darren Bent as Sunderland-Tottenham is broadcast live on the Fox Soccer Channel at 10 am, and then perhaps a nap before the DC United-Colorado Rapids match at RFK tomorrow night.

Although the score line for the Maryland scrimmage will indicate that USF won two to one, the match has me fairly excited about the upcoming season. Coach Sasho Cirovski chose to give freshman Zach MacMath, the keeper for the U.S.'s U-17 team, serious minutes in goal. MacMath looks to be a very strong keeper, despite being beat successively in a horrendous minute of play by a free kick that shouldn't have been given and then on a breakaway in the box where Maryland's right back, Rich Costanzo, was badly out maneuvered. Jason Herrick, the sophomore (red-shirted) striker from Elmhurst, got three good chances on goal with his head (and seemed to be a near constant threat off set pieces) and converted one that gave Maryland a lead that the Terps did not look likely to relinquish. I went to the game to watch Rodney Wallace play the wing but ended up spending most of it impressed by the performance, skill, and leadership of Omar Gonzalez. I know next to nothing about the technical aspects of the game, but Maryland's number 4 is fun to watch. The 6'5" junior center back's play makes it easy to imagine him playing in the top professional ranks of U.S. soccer. The only thing that was at all troubling was Maryland's midfield play, which was not nearly as competent or confident as one might expect given the talent and depth that the Terps claim at the position. Neither Herrick nor Casey Townsend ever got a ball to their feet that allowed them to pose any threat to USF's defense. Can't imagine that this will be a theme for the Terps season, however.

While typing this out, I've had the first half of the White Caps-Timbers USL1 match on in the background and it is nice to see DC United alum Nick Addlery net two goals for Vancouver. Addlery won my respect and the affection of an entire gaggle of 10 to 13 year old girls with his patient coaching/babysitting of the youth team at a clinic graciously hosted by MLS at RFK.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back to School

The number of season tickets we hold for various local teams has been steadily creeping up the last few years, a fact that my wife laments. Having dropped our commitments to the Washington Nationals and the Washington Mystics, we have found a number of other squads that we enjoy supporting and seem to build on that group each year. This fall, we will be all about collegiate sports, adding Maryland Men's Soccer and Maryland Women's Basketball to our season passes for Georgetown Men's Basketball.

For even the most casual fan of soccer, there is an embarrassment of riches of the sport in this region. In addition to three professional teams in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, the collegiate soccer offered at the University of Maryland is remarkable. One of the Terps' finest, Maurice Edu, is reportedly leaving MLS's Toronto FC for Rangers, netting an impressive $5 million transfer fee. Edu was one of three former Terps representing the United States in Beijing, as he was joined by Chris Seitz and Robbie Rogers. Stephen King, a midfielder for the Chicago Fire, who stood out in both of our trips to see the Terps play last year, looks like he should settle in well in the MLS.

Whatever the history, we will be going Ludwig Field more often this season in the hopes of seeing Rodney Wallace build on what was a great freshman season. Wallace started all 21 games for the Terps his first year and he is exactly the type of player that I've grown to overvalue. Like CP Baltimore's Mathew Mbuta, he's a winger with pace who is always a threat to score (Unlike, for example, Jerome Thomas...).

First exhibition match at home is next Friday at 7:30 (free to anyone who wants to check the game out) against the Big East's South Florida.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Back from an enjoyable playoff match between CP USA and the Harrisburg City Islanders. The length of the match (FT, ET, and then PKs) gave me plenty of time to reflect on the past couple of days.

Mbuta was, unfortunately, not terribly impressive... both he and Mark appeared to leave the match with knocks. Frankly, Crystal Palace did not deserve to win, but the performance and enthusiasm of Shin Harada, who was called on to play center back and settle a backline that had given up eight goals in the last two league fixtures, made the trip worthwhile. And after I thought that Mateus dos Anjos had a really poor game in the first match against Bermuda in Baltimore, Anjos was great at fullback tonight. A Gary Brooks header and a great Teixeira cross to Healey accounted for CP's two goals. When the match went to penalty kicks, Brian Rowland managed to get his hands on one shot during the first five but could not steer it away from the goal. Rowland seemed to be bothered by the lost opportunity, but the next time he made contact with the ball, it did not go in (pictured). Sergio Flores finished things off, stripped off his shirt and ran into the crowd of over 1,300 to celebrate. When we left UMBC, Harada was wandering around the pitch pumping his fists -- hard not to love Shin.

I was quickly distracted by the news (delivered to my blackberry) that the Cubs routed the Braves in a doubleheader 18 to 2. The Cubs are now 26 games over .500 (9 more wins will guarantee a winning season) and have scored 155 more runs than they have given up. Only the Red Sox can claim a positive differential of over 100 runs (118). Just an amazing run (and people can write all they want to about CC Sabathia's impact on the Brewers, but Cubs fans have to be savoring the addition of Rich Harden who was, again, tremendous tonight).

Next up for CP is the seemingly impossible task of taking on Charlotte this Saturday away. Charlotte dominated CP during the season, beating them 3-0 both home and away. Whatever happens, it has been an enjoyable season and I am grateful for having been able to witness it.

Tuesday night we were at RFK as United took on the second/third team of the New England Revolution (for perspective, the Rev travelled with as many players as the Bermuda Hogges). It was great to be able to give full throated cheers for United again in a fairly vacant stadium... only 6,000 there. DC United, at times, looked as worrisome as ever. Gonzalo Martinez seemed to be on the receiving end of finger pointing from Jaime Moreno and, more notably, from McTavish on New England's lone goal. Guerrero was a revelation on the wing and he has certainly proved his worth in just a short time with the team. Emilio netted twice -- his second goal can be largely credited to a great run by Fred that distracted the Revolution's center halves enough to give Luciano sufficient space to score -- and Santino popped a great ball over the Rev's keeper to give United a lead that was not relinquished. Otherwise, I thought Quaranta gave up the ball too quickly in the midfield and seemed to want to distribute the ball on attack through very narrow lanes. My sister was particularly impressed with Peralta's performance in the first game we saw him play since surgery. The man of the match, to my mind, was Bryan Namoff, who was fearless throughout the game. I don't often notice Namoff on United's backline, but last night he made expert tackles and refused to back down to a frustrated Revolution side that took numerous cheapshots.

Because the Battery took care of Seattle in the other semifinal of the US Open Cup, United will host the Open Cup final with an automatic berth to the CONCACAF Champions League in 2009 at stake. United is certainly a much better side with Guerrero and Vide on the team and with Quaranta and Peralta back from injury. The return of Gallardo will hopefully be heralded this Saturday, but it does seem that the only way that United will find itself in the Champions League next season is if they win the Open Cup in early September.

Prior to heading to RFK, I sat in my office stewing at the live updates of Charlton's disastrous aborted Carling Cup run. Yeovil should not have been able to escape the Valley with a win and I fear an inability to score goals without Andy Gray or Zheng Zhi (should he even be an option) or Chris Dickson on the pitch will be a recurring theme throughout the season. In any event, Southend's announcement that Nicky Bailey's move to SE7 would be shortly confirmed removed some of the sting of the disappointing showing at home and has me a little more optimistic for the visit to Watford this Saturday.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Thanks to the good folks at CharltonLife, I was not forced to rely exclusively on spotty match text commentary to follow events at The Valley. Instead, my morning was spent listening to highly entertaining Swansea radio commentary at the highest decibel the external speakers plugged into my laptop would allow (and educational too, who knew that you could finance the purchase of a car in Wales at an average APR of 29%? Thank heavens for securitization).

The Swansea commentary and the corresponding broadcast of fan reaction left the impression of a game where Charlton largely held on and survived numerous threatening situations. Charlton's offense did not seem to improve even after Monk was dispatched and Swansea were reduced to 10. BUT, all's well that ends well. Two goals in -- both from set pieces, both initiated off the feet of promising youngsters (JonJo and Basey) and both headed home by Championship veterans (Hudson and Gray) -- and none allowed with praised heaped on the "well organized" backline by Swansea partisans. And three points is three points, much better to have on August 9th, than to have first achieved the figure on August 25th.

As with last year, Charlton opened at home against a team that topped the table in League One (Scunthorpe had 91 points in 2006/2007; Swansea 92 points in 2007/2008). While Scunthorpe was not terribly impressive in that first match despite winning a share of the points (and, indeed managed to martial only 45 more points over the course of the season), all reports appear to indicate that Swansea does pose a bit of a threat in the Championship this season.

So, nice way to start the year.

Yeovil in the Carling Cup at home on Tuesday; I'll be at DC United's semi-final in the US Open Cup against the Revolution at RFK Tuesday evening, and then CP Baltimore, which got destroyed by the Richmond Kickers today (5-0), look like they intend to lay down in front of the Harrisburg City Islanders to begin the playoffs on Wednesday night at UMBC...

Starting XI

Woke up this morning to the happy news that Hameur Bouazza came to the Valley on a season-long loan in time for today's test against Swansea. Two seasons back, when both Watford and Charlton were in the Premier League, Bouazza and Ashley Young made Watford an entertaining side even in Marlon King's absence due to injury. Bouazza's talent is, I think, self-evident and equally self-evident is that the effectiveness of Bouazza's tenure with Charlton will be largely determined by the attitude he brings to the club. In any event, its nice to have replaced one Algerian international (Madjid) with another (Hameur).

But Bouazza's loan move raises a question that has bugged me since last season... what is Hodgson doing at Fulham and why is anyone letting him do it? I pay attention to Fulham largely because of the number of American players featured in last year's squad. This season, Bocanegra, Keller, and McBride have moved on, but Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson will likely see their talent buried in the massive mediocre Premiership talent Hodgson has now accumulated at Craven Cottage. Absent an injury plague of biblical proportions, Eddie Johnson will not feature in southwest London this season -- EJ has got to be frustrated to look up and see not only Andy Johnson ahead of him, but Nevland, Zamora, Collins John, Kamara and David Healy (?) blocking any chance he might have to get Premier League experience. And despite what I thought was a great year from Clint Dempsey last season, Hodgson's midfield, which now features Iran's Andranik and WBA's Zoltan Gera, may not permit Dempsey as many first-team opportunities this season (although a failure to harness Dempsey's energy, drive, and talent, would be a powerful indictment of Hodgson's coaching ability).

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal

Last year, when we were headed across the Atlantic for a wedding in the Cotswolds conveniently scheduled to follow the opening of the Coca Cola Championship season, I was certain that we would be greeted with glorious victory over the Iron in what would be a triumphant romp through second division football for Charlton. Those hopes came crashing quickly as a lackluster effort by Charlton and my unfortunate decision to sit in the southern portion of the West Stand instead presented us with an enthralled Scunthorpe side and delirious away fans. It was, at least, an appropriate harbinger for the 07/08 season. Charlton would frequently take opponents for granted or field players that cared little for the shirt or for the supporters in the stands. For me, however, the season was a joy regardless. Charlton's troubles gave me extended opportunities to learn about new teams in a division unfamiliar to me; it also presented the opportunity for new heros to emerge from the ashes of a fetid premiership side (Chris Dickson?; Moo2Kill?; Lloyd Sam? JonJo?).

Now, on the eve of the 08/09 season opener, I am even more excited than I was last year. Absurdly, inexplicably excited; 10-year old on Christmas eve excited -- because this year I am going to enjoy the ride, even if I will not be able to participate first hand. While there is still hope that a return trip to West Africa may involve a slight detour to SE7 this fall, I doubt I'll be able to take in anything Charlton does with my own eyes. That is, however, ok. I am happy to rely on the good folks at Charlton Life (whenever the forum is free of technical hangups) for a narrative description of events. And I will be keenly interested in developments, because I am excited about the squad. For the most part, the players that emphasized prestige over effort and heart have moved on to suck the life out of some other club. They will be replaced by folks who may have limitations, but at least instill some confidence that they are poring every fiber of their being into the team every single fixture. I am thrilled to read on Charlton-related blogs a near unanimous call to get behind this squad and universal condemnation of the kvetching about the state of the club that seems to have prevailed over the last month.

Charlton's strikers (all 50 of them) are pure promise. With the exceptions of veteranos Gray and Todorov, the others -- Varney, Dickson, Fleetwood, and McLeod -- have shown flashes of brilliance in lower divisions and, as such, the hope of quality in second division football. JonJo, Sam, Racon, Semedo, and, with luck, Zheng Zhi make for a potentially exciting, if nerve-wracking, midfield. Holland, JT and Ambrose are the only old hands available to provide a steadying hand. Amdy Faye may not be available in that vein, but the Potters intend to keep Addicks on edge for at least the week (technically, five days) as they decide whether to sign the phenomenal, unparalleled talent that is the Senegalese international (he played Champions League football last year!). While Faye may go, the Shrimpers may provide another young talented midfield player, Nicky Bailey, who has termed a potential move to The Valley "a dream" (Bailey apparently has Charlton as much on his mind as I do). With the departure of Magic, the backline is where most questions revolve. But, even there, the players merit tremendous support -- Moutaouakil, Youga, and Basey, will be joined by Fortune and the new captain Hudson at the back. While I was hopeful that Sam Sodje would provide some cover, reports indicate that injury woes might keep him from contributing to any team for a month.

At this moment, there are less than 12 hours until Pards' limited squad is given its first meaningful test. 10 am EST. Charlton-Swansea. Good times.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Well, that seems deserved; karmic even. Expecting another trouncing over Bermuda's struggling squad that would once again spotlight the remarkable talent accumulated on Crystal Palace USA, the family headed up to UMBC Wednesday night (this time arriving only fifteen minutes late). And what we witnessed was remarkable. Horrid, but remarkable. On the field were two center halves that were routinely outplayed by a very poor attacking side, an attacking pair that looked woefully out of touch with each other -- Mbuta and Pat Healey seemed to be constantly running to the same spaces (Healey also lacked the pace to catch up to at least two promising balls knocked his way at the beginning of the second half), and generally heartless play by those wearing Palace shirts. In the stands, where Paul Robson took in the game, many likely missed Robson on the backline. Perhaps the only positive was an improved performance by Mateus dos Anjos at left back.

This was the first game we had been to this year where Mbuta's insane talent was not fully on display and where Larry Mark did not impress at right wing. Val Teixeira's crosses were great, but until Gary Brooks subbed in for Healey, there was no one on the other end.

A few issues with the club's summary of the game: Mbuta's wide shot was taken immediately after he was victimized by one of multiple questionable offside calls by the linesman on the far side of the field. Watching USL2 referees has me hopelessly confused about the offsides call. And calling Kevin King's shots "wide" doesn't begin to describe how far afield Mr. King's attempts were -- never mind how strange King's positioning was after his entrance into the game (what position was he playing, exactly? Attacking roamer? Shin left for that?). His second colossal miss on a sitter led to shrieks of exasperation from me that woke my two month old with such a start that a ten minute screaming fit followed (I hold you responsible, Mr. King).

Not the ideal way to close out the home fixtures. Playoff game next Wednesday; CP still has a chance to earn the third spot on the USL2 table. Cleveland is a point ahead with a game in hand, but has to face both first place Charlotte, which leads the Richmond Kickers by two points, and Wilmington, a win for the Hammerheads will net them a playoff spot. CP has one game left, playing the Kickers in Richmond, so not an easy road for them either and I think it is safe to assume that they'll be the fourth place team headed into the postseason.

Additional note: the photographs below should help to explain how troubling CP's loss was to the Hogges. The first shot is of Bermuda's bench towards the end of the match, the second is of Palace's bench.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Must See CPFC

This is troubling. I am a Charlton supporter, but the roots are not terribly deep. After decades of being an ardent sports fan whilst ignoring the beautiful game, my conversion was sudden and intense. I became an acolyte and after a pair of trips to the Valley, I found a home. Fast forward a few years and I am not only happy with the English team that I have come to love, but I am an ardent supporter of my local MLS side and am so impatient to watch the sport that I follow the college game at the University of Maryland and became a season ticket holder of the nearest lower level U.S. team. And therein lies the problem. As this summer has worn on, the sporting event I enjoy the most, ahead of DC United, ahead even of watching the Cubs prolific run this season (22 over .500; 134 more runs scored than given up?), is heading to ridiculous venues to watch a third division side called Crystal Palace USA. And what started as mildly disinterested conversations at the local watering hole flowered into unexpected affection after a win over the Red Bulls at an Annapolis High School and has now exploded into a demeaning but exhilirating affair consumated over the play of one Mathew Mbuta. I have fallen. Before we were just the ridiculous family that showed up to games in Charlton shirts; now we are the ridiculous family that shows up in a mixture of Charlton shirts, hats, and * gasp * Crystal Palace gear.

Tonight, at a high school in Baltimore, in the midst of the city's International Festival, with local acts performing on a stage just 500 yards from the field marked for American football, we were privileged to have yet another opportunity to watch Mathew Mbuta play ninety minutes of football. I know far too little about the sport to try to make any comment authoritatively, but when the ball is in Mbuta's vicinity, he is electric. Playing up front again while Gary Brooks serves the remainder of a suspension for a prior red card, Mbuta was both worth the trip and the price of admission. Mbuta's angling, receipt of balls, beautiful crosses, and effortless beguilement of overmatched Bermuda defenders made for a stunning display of soccer. None of this, however, should be taken in any way as diminishing the performances of Mbuta's teammates, particularly Larry Mark (who scored twice), Val Teixeira (who scored the goal between Mark's two), and Shintaro Harada, but Mbuta is a cut above anyone else we have seen in this league.

I cannot imagine that Mbuta will be in the United States for another season and, as such, I am eager to see Mbuta on the pitch this Wednesday in CP's final home fixture and, with luck, the team's first playoff match the Wednesday following. As much as I enjoy the small (perhaps better described as tiny) turnout for games, I hope that somehow soccer fanatics in the DC-Baltimore area will take the time to watch this 22-year old play in at least one of these last two games (or in Richmond in the final fixture of the season this Saturday against the Kickers). While the chances of Mbuta ever realizing his dream by playing for Man United are probably low to non-existent, he should get a shot to play in Europe, and the chance to watch him in a far more humble environment is simply too good to pass up.

But again, Mbuta is not the only reason to check out CP Baltimore. They are a fun team to watch play. They have a number of highly competent, honest ballplayers that seem to take pride in both effort and craft. It's just, did it have to be Crystal Palace? Of all the teams in the world, Crystal Palace located a U.S. affiliate a thirty minute drive from my home? Not quite Capulets and Montagues, but disquieting nonetheless.

Note: Useful background on CP's US outfit was provided in an article Goff wrote for the Washington post last year.

Also, good description of the strange events at the last home fixture at UMBC against Real Maryland provided by a blogger-fan. Fully agree with the following sentiment: "Palace has a frustrating habit of playing down to the level of its opposition" However, this was at least not true tonight and hopefully CP will have a similarly easy time of it this Wednesday against the same opponents.


Having taken too long to return from a short trip to South Jersey, we were unable to get down to RFK in time for tonight's United - Wizards match. Nevertheless, albeit fifteen minutes into the game, we were able to get home in time to watch the game on television.

Wow. There are many things that I do not understand, but two have gnawed at me about DC United: first is the (albeit meager) defenses offered of Dyachenko's horrible play and second is the vitriolic criticism of Fred's play. Both viewpoints, I think, were laid bare tonight. Amazingly, all it took was the addition of a couple veteran midfielders -- Joe Vide and Ivan Guerrero -- to settle United's play. Vide, replacing Dyachenko in the midfield, and Guerrero, spelling Thompson/McTavish on the wing, completely changed the face of DC United's defense and, more importantly, their attack. Fred once again looked dangerous on the wing and was part of at least two beautiful offensive sets in the first half, while Guerrero impressed on the opposite wing. The partnership between Moreno and Emilio looked great, largely because Vide played back in the center midfield in front of Simms and closed down glaring holes that seemed always open when Dyachenko was forced to play CAM. After offering only four shots on goal in the last league home fixture against the Dynamo and generally looking inept and impotent, United only managed to double that shot total tonight but threatened to rain down a number of shots with slight improvements in timing and consistently pressured the Wizards' capable backline.

Emilio's goal was, although not particularly aesthetically pleasing, a shining example of what makes him so good -- Emilio got a good ball to his feet in the goal box and he converted. Moreno's goal was remarkable (how do you head the ball with that curl off the back of your head?).

Happy days are here again.