MLS Fangirl

Comments from a fangirl's eye-view on Major League Soccer, the American slice of the world's greatest sport.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"Have you seen the vermin? I will kill him."

And this is officially my favorite quote of the day, coming from the esteemed Kasey Keller in U.S.'s All-Access tour of his 1,000-year-old castle near Dusseldorf. I knew he lived in a castle, but it's really cool to see a little tour of it. And this, my friends, is why I love this game, because how many catchers do we have that live in a castle that over its millenium of existence has lost its original gargoyles?

U.S. also has some video of the team meeting injured soliders recovering at Ramstein Air Base. This is really one of those boundary-crossing, national-to-world things that really sum up the game for me. ESPN Soccernet has a really nice story about the team's visit, meeting the soldiers and their families and getting some luv from their fans there, and about how they're expecting a good fan turnout, about 15,000. Of course, with the stadium being so close to Ramstein, it's a cinch that the military personnel will attend to show their national pride.

I'm all psyched about the friendly with Poland tomorrow, as you can tell. I'm trying to figure out how to get to watch this game at work. There's a TV in my office, and it's usually tuned to either CNN/MSNBC or ESPN/EPSN2. There's an off-chance that it might be tuned to the game, probably by accident if it's there at all. The sports fans in my office are generally rabidly anti-soccer. You know that Nike commercial from a few months back where there's the voice-over of the guy talking about how much he hates soccer? Yeah, these are the guys I work with. It's like Franklin Foer wrote the last chapter of How Soccer Explains the World just about them.

But I'm noticing that there's an undercurrent of soccer interest that's starting to build up. I figured there would be, seeing as ABC has invested some money in World Cup coverage this summer that its networks are starting to actually act a little like there's an audience out there for world-stage soccer. They might be starting to draw in some in-general sports fans, to get them in the frame of mind to jump in on the summer's In Thing. Of course, there's also a rumor floating about that if the Wizards jump ship at KC after the 2006 season, they might come to Tulsa, and nothing fires up attention like having a local team to root for.

I personally think that's a load of bunk, because it's not like Oklahoma's really known for having a soccer fanbase. But then again, I hope I'm wrong, because it'd be great to have an MLS team in easy driving distance.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Little slices of heaven

I finally got around to checking out the nominees for the MLS goal of the decade. Checking out the great goals and game highlights is something I do weekly whenever the season is in swing. After all, I live hundreds of miles from an MLS site and Fox Sports World and Direct Kick are only available in my area on satellite or digital cable, neither of which I can afford. It's EPSN2 or nothing for MLS. Thankfully, shows some games live online and by delay, and they always do a nice wrap-up of game highlights, which are great, because I really can't spend the whole day watching fútbol on my computer. The last time I tried to do that the computer got so hot it warped the casing on the laptop and now I've got a little bumpy ridge on the edge of my computer.

Anyway -- goal of the decade. Oh man, what a choice. I admit, I'm a sucker for a bicycle kick. The first time I saw one, I realize that there actually is a God, and that God is a fútbol fan. The contest serves up a nice tasty selection of bicycle kicks from the 10-year buffet, and out of them all I think I liked Marcelo Balboa's from 2000 best. Then again, there's Carlos Ruiz's three entries. I liked his 2003 bicycle kick goal not so much for the goal but for the utterly joyful celebration that followed. That was really sweet.

But then I checked out Dwayne De Rosario's bending shot from 2005 and holy merde, I love it when that happens, especially on a free kick like that. That's not only a sign of divinity, it's a sign of destiny.

So, decisions, decisions. I think I've got to go with DDR for this round, simply because it floored me. But is that really the definition of a good goal? Is it all about the style of the one guy, like this one, or is it about the culmination of skills from an entire team that sets up the shot so the one guy can deliver, like all the rest? The thing I love the most about fútbol is, it's a team sport. Maybe I should have gone with Marcelo's or Carlos' shots after all.

Well, another day. I'll go with the bend for now. Single effort or not, it's still an amazing shot.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sweet fantasy

I'm doing the fantasy thing this season. And it's moments like this that my newbieness just shines right through my passion. I get the idea behind the fantasy league concept -- get a player who plays often and well, and get him for a good price so his value will grow. Like stocks, except this is more fun and yet useless.

By now I have an idea of who's good, in that I know who I like. I know who I like to watch playing, and I know who does the moves that make me believe in all things divine. Who doesn't want to pack her team with starters who perform? But, quite honestly, those are the guys whom I can't afford. I can afford some of them, so I picked up who I could, considered who I knew of that I liked, and felt my way through the rest. I'm thinking that I really should have skimped a bit on a few players so I could afford a good keeper, but oh well. Here's to trades, eh?

I think my best value, however, is Alecko Eskandarian. He's healthy, more or less, he's back in the game and he's got a goal. He's my cheapest player, but I think his value's just going to soar over this season.

But as I was picking through the meat market, I noticed several names that I know are not longer in MLS, such as Preki and Dema Kovalenko. And it got me wondering exactly who else isn't in the league anymore. Checking with team Web sites didn't help much, because they're still listed, and I just don't have the wherewithal to hunt down rumors or info online right now. And then it occurred to me -- it's a World Cup year. What if my players go to Germany? That's months out of MLS play, so there will be no points for months out of them. So it could be that I've picked a team of players that I like or see potential in, but they're not going to be playing for MLS this season. So I might have shot myself in the right foot on this.

Oh well. I got some of the guys I like. The starting 11 for the Vorpal Bunnies are:

Strikers -- Alecko Eskandarian, Santino Quaranta and Sergio Galvan Rey. I think Santino is an awesome young player and he does so well. Sergio Galvan Rey is a MetroStar, which isn't a team I really follow, but I have noticed him. So I like this lineup, except for the fact that Santino is under consideration for the national team.

Midfielders -- Christian Gomez, Ned Grabavoy, Paulo Nagamura and Clyde Simms. Clyde Simms really impressed me last season, he came into the game and turned in some nice plays. Christian Gomez is, of course, a hot player, but I love him especially for his team spirit. Remember when he got suspended for card accumulation and showed up at the game anyway to cheer along with Barra Brava? How cool is that. I have to admit, I don't know much about Grabavoy and only picked him because I know his name and he had good stats. But Paulo Nagamura -- not only is he a fellow haafu, I saw him shine last season. I think that's a good pick there, too.

Defenders -- Frankie Hejduk (of course!), Eddie Pope and Nick Garcia. The only problem with Frankie and Eddie, of course, is that they have a shot on the national team. I saw Nick play when I went to KC last year, and I really liked what I saw.

Keeper -- DC's Troy Perkins. Really, he's all I could afford. I've seen him play a few times, and he's good, but he's second to Nick Rimando, so I don't know how much play he's going to get. So I will probably be looking for a trade.

So I don't know how valuable a team this is yet. But it does add a little to the enjoyment even now. I want to see how my players are going to do. I'm looking forward even more to evaluating players for this.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Agony of no-defeat

This is the year I shake off the MLS-esteem hangover that I've carried around since adopting this wonderful sport into my soul two years ago. After just a few weeks of watching fútbol as addictively as a new user on crack, I came up with a hierarchy -- world level, Olympic level, MLS, college. World was like attending a rock music festival headlined with the best major bands, and MLS was like going to the corner club to hear your favorite local indie band. You love the local guys and really hope they'll sign a big record deal someday, but if U2 is in town on the night they're playing, it's U2 baby, no hesitation.

Don't ask me about Olympic and college levels. It's just too complex.

So I've been an MLS apologist all this time. Yeah, I'd whine to my Premiership friends, I know it's a training ground, I know that I'm just watching the guys before they go off to star in Europe and when they come back to prepare for retirement. I know it's bush league, but it's my bush league. I know world futbol is fantastic to watch, but there's something about my heart that wants race to the sight of homegrown action. I love MLS because it's my fútbol, and it's good fútbol. It's not world fútbol, it's different. And this is the year I stop apologizing for it.

So it really helps that MLS champs the LA Galaxy drew (nearly won, too, but, y'know, hand grenades, horseshoes, etc. ...) with Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa in the first game of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup quarterfinals Thursday night and the New England Revolution drew with Alajuelense of Costa Rica on Wednesday in Hamilton, Bermuda. That's a good showing in addition to the top-notch performance that the MLS-packed US National roster has shown in the international friendlies of the past month.

The bad news -- the Galaxy's Todd Dunivant strained left hip flexor, and the Rev's Pat Noonan got a hamstring injury, so neither will be going to Germany for Wednesday's USMNT exhibition game against Poland. Salt Lake's Chris Klein, who rocked last week in Frisco, will take Noonan's place. Rather than put my crush Frankie Hejduk in, Bruce Arena is just leaving Dunivant's spot blank. Oh well. I can't watch that game anyway since I'm working that day so I'll be MatchTracking.

This leaves eight out of 19 spots that are filled by MLS players, which ain't too shabby. And I can't argue against any of the European contingent, because they are great. I luuuuuuuv Kasey (yeah, that'd be my Germany-based keeper crush ... hmmm, long hair and no hair, what is it with me?), I adore Carlos Bocanegra, and Brian McBride is just on fiyah lately.

I'm just going to have to promise unnatural favors to the guys manning the TV at my office to get them to flip the channel to ESPN2.

Other notes:
Only five more weeks until the MLS season begins.
A little more than 3 months until World Cup.
And I notice that Houston is still the 1836.
And Peter Nowak still has a job.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Victory in Frigid, Texas

The U.S. Men's team braved uncommonly freezing temperatures to play out a full 90 minutes and handily take in a 4-0 victory over Guatemala in Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. Sitting 180 miles north in OKC and sharing the front that brought the cold, all I had to do was walk outside to get an idea of what it was like down there. I almost bought tickets for this game, which would have been great, but oh my crap. Not only could I never have gotten there in this sleet, but the very idea of sitting through 2 1/2 hours on a plastic chair in this weather makes my sympathetic nuts freeze right off. If I want that experience, I can just go take a wee in my own bathroom, thanks. I can't get warm, even inside. I can't believe 14,000 people IN TEXAS showed up for this game in this weather. Texas is getting a harder core of fans than I gave them credit for. I'm not sure if I would have gone even if I lived in Dallas, I'm too allergic to the cold. I'm a bad fan, I guess. At least the guys on the pitch were running around, which actually probably sucks in this temperature. I felt so bad for these guys, who were breathing steam like dragons and not dripping sweat so much as acquiring an icy glaze. But the cold did do nice things for Frankie Hejduk's do, it was all bouncin' and behavin'. Usually it gets all matted down with sweat within 20 minutes.

I felt especially bad for Guatemala, who you know wasn't prepared for this kind of winter. Pobre La Azul y Blanco no tuvo camisetas interiores para jugar en el frio, y tenía que pedirle prestado algunas a los EEUU. As for the US, the blue uniforms looked good, especially with gloves. They looked much better on than I was anticipating, but I think the long sleeves did the trick. The shorts still made me wince, especially since they were playing in freezing weather.

Speaking of fashion, I checked out the MLS photo spread in Maxim, and it was quite disappointing. Yeah, they look nice and all -- nice crisp white linen suits ("They're not afraid of anything, not even grass stains," the caption declared.) plus very colorful soccer shoes. But it really didn't say antyhing about the players or the game. But daaaamn if Pablo Mastroeni wasn't looking particularly nice, and even Landon Donovan, whom I love for his talent but I loathe for his cockiness, looked good enough for a second glance over the glossy.

Play started off choppy at the beginning of the half, with the ball pinballing back and forth in the midfield, but the U.S. took control and started pressing the advantage. Seemed like the refs were on our side in the first, ignoring the falls from Guatemala, who, like all teams from down South, I've noticed, have only a passing acquaintance with the concept of offsides.

Goal scorers in the first half were:

Ben Olsen in the 38th minute! Is the beard good luck? Good strong kick from a fair way out, catching Jerez off guard and hitting the back of the net. Makes up for a Rolfe goal that was called back for reasons I didn't catch.

My boy Brian Ching nailed it in the 45th, just before stoppage time, catching the ball and firing it from the middle of the box right over the head of Jerez. Nice job!

No stars here, as I said before, this was a solid team effort. They're thoroughly proving why they're sixth in the world, much to the chagrin and annoyance of all the worldwide naysayers. How I love that "This American Game" campaign from Nike that pretty much sums up the state of U.S. fútbol.

Into the half: Who else thinks that Marcelo Balboa needs to talk more? And what the hell is up with the Nike Soca Bonito campaign?

Eddie Johnson went in for Josh Wolff (note his new haircut, short and tight, a change from the longer locks he sported last summer) in the second half and caught his first goal in Pizza Hut Park in the 47th, just booting it over Jerez's head and giving a little 'tude by pointing at his number to remind us all who he is. As if we can forget.

There was harder gameplay in second, with La Azul y Blanco showing a little more piss and vinegar, including one hard clip against Johnson which took him to the grass. Guzan really didn't have too much to do today, and neither did Zach Wells of the Houston-whatever-we're-calling-them-now. But that's OK. That's a good day. And holy merde, what did that Guatemalan player call our player as they were running the ball out of bounds? This is when I wish my street Spanish was stronger.

Chris Klein popped out a goal in the 71st out of a choppy corner, right through traffic and past Jerez. What was I saying earlier about the refs being on our side? Man, I was wrong, We were just piling up the fouls and cards.

Coach Arena used the entire roster, and I just loved the way Frankie switched from player to cheerleader the second he stepped off the pitch. Any other reason needed why I adore him? Great player who goes all balls for a full 90, and he supports his team.

This was a good game. I didn't get the sense that this was a walkthrough for the US like I did in the last three games. Even though Guatemala did not qualify and never have qualified for the World Cup, they still played a hard game in a harsh environment. This is a good sign going into the European plays next month, and I can't wait!

Good game, guys. Now go get warm.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Expansion exhibition upsets

I wasn't planning on posting today, but browsing on ESPN Soccernet I came across this little tidbit:

Longtime Mexican national team defender Claudio Suarez headed in Juan Pablo Garcia's corner kick in the 76th minute for the tiebreaking goal as Chivas USA defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-1, in a Major League Soccer exhibition game Saturday.
Chivas USA took a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute on Ante Razov's goal.

And I've got to say, wow, good going Goats. I had great hopes for the Chivas expansion throughout the 2005 season, even though it came in dead, dead, shoot-it-again-just-to-make-sure dead last in the Western Conference. They're having a not-too-bad week, after losing 3-2 in a scrimmage Wednesday with the U.S. Men's team. Normally a loss isn't something to cheer about, but after a first year to wince at, I say that's a good result for this team, and both results may spell a new start. I'd like to see Chivas give the rest of the teams, especially intracity rival and 2005 Cup Champs the L.A. Galaxy, a run for their money. It wouldn't cross my eyes at all to see the US franchise of the Goats at the top of the conference all year.

This is a day after reported that my beloved D.C. fell to my arch-nemesis Real Salt Lake 3-1, thanks to Jeff Cunningham, formerly a member of the Crew and of late of the Rapids, and who should have been the real MVP of the 2005 All-Star Game. RSL did a good thing when they landed him.

What does this mean? I'm not sure, yet. Several D.C. players are away to take part in tomorrow's international friendly in Frisco, but other top talents, including new proud papa Jaime Moreno, Christian Gomez, Clyde Simms, Jamil Walker and wunderkind Freddy Adu, were playing. They still couldn't match up against Cunningham and his hat trick. This is RSL's fifth victory in the preseason, so it's doing pretty damn good. I guess one season of being second-to-last on the board is one too many for RSL and it's decided to be a force to be reckoned with in 2006. It also could mean that the bleahs that dogged D.C. in the middle of the season are following them into the new one. RSL certainly is showing signs that it means business this season, which means the Black-and-Red needs to pull it together and decide that they're here to play a full 90 every time.

It's a brand new year, and maybe last year was just practice for these two expansions.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Round tres

Just a day and some change until the US Men's team meets Guatemala on Sunday in the US's first play at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. Once again the roster is packed with MLS players, plus one international player, defender Heath Pearce of FC Nordsjælland in Denmark. But Coach Arena said bye c'ya to the Galaxy and Revolution players, which include heavies Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman, who performed ever-so-nicely against Norway, garnering a lovely hat trick, and got a goal and some set-up credit against Japan.

This is the US team's third match against Guatemala in a year, starting with a 2-0 win in Birmingham last March followed by a lackluster draw in Guatemala City in September just a few days after the men qualified for Germany. Facing them for Guatemala, once again, is FC Dallas tough guy Carlos Ruiz. reports that the 14 MLS players on the roster are:

Keepers: Brad Guzan of Chivas and Zach Wells of Houston 1836 (and lord, that name's going to take me some getting used to. Do I call them just Houston? Or the 1836ers? The 36?). I think Guzan's a pretty solid keeper, so I'm looking forward to seeing him play again on the international level.

Defense: D.C.'s Bobby Boswell (who had the misfortune of committing three own-goals last season, but he seems to have shaken that bad run off nicely to rebound at the end of the seaon), Jimmy Conrad from Kansas City Wizards, my other futbol crush Frankie Hejduk (why? I dunno, I like the hair. And the big-O phuque U attitude he carries about with him like a big chip on his shoulder. But mostly it's the hair.) of the Crew, and national team regular Eddie Pope of my nemesis Real Salt Lake.

Midfield: Three -- count em, three! -- from the Black-and-Red, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen and Santino Quaranta, who played in the scoreless draw against Guatemala in September and turned in a good effort, Real's Chris Klein, Kyle Martino of Columbus, and Kansas City's Kerry Zavagnin, who's played in the USMT's past three international friendlies and caught my eye with his good, reliable play.

Strikers: Brian Ching of Houston-formerly-San Jose (whom I adore because I gotta give luv to my fellow Asian-Americans out there), Eddie Johnson now of the Wizards but last week of FC Dallas, the Fire's Chris Rolfe and the ever-awesome Josh Wolff of the Wizards (did I ever mention I'm partial to the Wizards? Yeah, I love them, too. In my region, I have the Wizards and FC Dallas. Dallas is three hours away, KC is six, but I'd take KC any day. Nothing against the club, really, I just hate the Dallas metrohell).

Hmmm, looks like the only Dallas represenation on the field will be Ruiz. LA and the Revs players are absent, of course, in order to prepare for CONCACAF Champion's Cup play next week. No Colorado or Metrostars players, either.

But this is a good lineup, especially going in against Guatemala, who is part of the intercontinetnal rivalry of the US vs. the rest of the Americas. It's a good thing, actually, that the MLS heavies of Donovan, Twellman and Dempsy are absent, as the

last three games were pretty much walks in the park, made easier by their stellar talent. This is a team that will have to be a team to get on the board, and without the distraction of the popular crowd, they can do it. Some of my Premiership friends would call this lineup the C team, but I disagree. I can sense some good team play out of this bunch, and that's what I always tune in for.

And ooh-la-la, fashionista week wraps up this weekend as the team trots out the new threads.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My Comeback Kid

I'll confess right upfront, I'm a D.C. United fan, in the beginning for no other real reason than Alecko Eskandarian. But after two years of watching this team through its highs of winning the 2004 MLS Cup through its not-quite-as-stellar 2005 season, my support for this team is fairly safe with or without Alecko's presence.

But why Alecko? Well, I'll be honest, at first it was simply because I could spot him easily from the camera's eye-view on ESPN2. I was a newcomer to the joys of soccer in 2004. Oh yeah, I was one of those strange souls in 2002 who got up at 4 in the morning to watch World Cup matches from Japan and South Korea, but that was more for the novelty than anything else, a way of marking difference in a state that lives, breathes and eats American football. The rest of the 2002 and 2003 seasons just passed me by, but in 2004, thanks to Olympic soccer, I got thoroughly hooked. As soon as Argentina claimed the gold, I started scouting around for more futbol must have more futbol!!! I quickly became enraptured with D.C. United and this solidly built powerhouse of a guy with a name that just rolled off my tongue: Alecko Eskandarian. Say it three or four times and just savor it. Doesn't hurt that he's cute as a button to boot, but that boy can play, and he proved it by becoming the MLS Most Valuable Player for 2004 when the Black-and-Red took the title.

When the 2005 season started, I was in front of the TV and ready to watch, waiting for the Eagles and Alecko to repeat their victories. Alecko had a tough start to his season -- only 12 games with seven starts, he just never found the goal to deliver that punishing finish that I came to know and love so well the previous year. And then in June, he got knocked out of play -- literally -- when the knee of New England keeper Matt Reis connected with his head in a terrifying blow that resulted in a severe concussion.

On the injured list he went, and I waited week after week after week for him to resume play. A concussion, I learned thanks to EPSN Soccernet, is no small matter, a deceptive injury that can blindside its sufferers with crushing headaches, fatigue, memory lapses and nausea, for weeks, months or sometimes years at a time, with no real indication that you're actually healing. I waited and worried for this guy that I so loved to watch, and post-season, I fretted some more, hunting for any sign that he would make a return in the 2006 season. We're miles past my personal desire to get my fix of good play. I just want this incredible talent to continue to shine.

Happily, provides a nice story reassuring me that Alecko Eskandarian is back in full form -- almost, he's nursing a little groin injury acquired from going at it all balls. But there's six weeks until the season opens, plenty of time for him to heal up.

So, like the fangirl I am, I'm waiting a little too eagerly for April 2, so I can see my favorite guy play again. Like a teenage girl with a crush, I'm doodling Alecko's name on paper (well, fantasy league lists) and wondering if I can get a D.C. shirt with his name on it. Way to come back, Eskandarian. I'm looking forward to recognizing you from the camera's eye-view again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dig those new threads

Fashionista week for the US Men's Team. Nike has released the team's uniforms for the World Cup in June. Thank ye kindly, U.S., for posting the photos. But take a gander:

OK, I gotta say, I like the home uniform. The stripe going down the left side there is kicky and kinda cool. Also, I'm dying to see how many little rebels wear the left sock on the right leg, just to screw a little with the uniformity. C'mon Landon, prove you're the little showoff that you've always been and come out with the sock on the other leg. I dare ya.

But the blue away uniforms? Maybe it's just me and my anti-white pants bias, but I just don't see any oomph there. It reminds me of junior high gym outfits. And why blue? US futbol fans, we wear red when we support our team. Red's an agressive color. Red screams fire and passion and blood and heat and all the things that make this sport what it is. Hell, Nike's fan apparel for the US team is red. So why oh why go with blue, a color linked to passive daydreaming Zenlike calm? Maybe it's to lull all the other teams into a snoozy calm, to reinforce the "Oh, it's the US, we don't even have to break a sweat to beat them" attitude that no doubt many teams will bring in playing us.

Four and a half months and counting. Germany, we will rock you.

Don't forget that the US Men play a friendly with Guatemala on Sunday at 1p.m. CST. Coming off a 3-2 win over Japan and a 5-0 stomp on Norway (a cakewalk on both parts, with the opposing teams, quite frankly, just phoning in their performances), this might prove to be a toughie for us, thanks to our intercontinental rivalries of US vs. the rest of the Americas. These games are always fun. If The Bruce includes them again, Kerry Zavagnin and Todd Dunivant are the one's I'm watching, both of whom I thought played solidly in the last two games. Sure, everyone loves Taylor Twelleman, but that's just my deal of loving the guys on the support crew. While everyone goes for the lead singer or lead guitarist, give me the bassist any day. But Kerry and Todd have a tough row to hoe to earn a spot on the national team once the European players (how I miss you Kasey!) cross the pond to play for US. Still, I'm all about ya, guys.

But hey, speaking of fashion and MLS players, check out the March edition of Maxim magazine, which will feature a photo spread of some of MLS's brightest and hunkiest -- including Taylor, Landon Donnovan, Brian Ching, Pablo Mastroeni, Chris Albright and Clint Dempsey.