Saturday, September 27, 2008

Europa League To Replace UEFA Cup

UEFA announced yesterday that next years it will rename its venerable UEFA Cup tournament the Europa Cup in an effort to boost is prestige and appeal. It will also feature a 48 team field with home and away matches plus a more concerted marketing effort, new sponsorship, and will be more widely broadcast in Europe.

UEFA boss Michael Platini stated that “These changes will improve this historic competition which is very important for UEFA and for European football, as it gives more fans, players and clubs the thrill of European club football” and added that “I am convinced the new format will give the UEFA Europa League a successful new impetus.”

Since the advent of the UEFA Champion's League, the UEFA Cup has been seen as something akin to the NIT tournament when compared to the NCAA basketball tournament. Fans know that the best of the best play in the Champion's League while the rest play in the UEFA Cup so this may be a tough sell. That said, there may be some hope.

Where a new Europa League could find its niche is in selling itself as featuring the best clubs from the less wealthy leagues where the level of play is good but the passion is equal to or exceeds that of the Champion's League. In the same way some Americans prefer college football to the NFL, there are millions of Ukrainians, Danes, Germans, Belgians, Swedes, and others who take great interest in watching their own local teams during European competitions. Capitalizing on that dynamic is what the Europa League should be all about.

Monaco: Adu Ready For A League Start?

Freddy Adu finally made a start for AS Monaco, putting in a solid effort in a League Cup match against Paris Saint-Germain. Unfortunately, Monaco fell to the resurgent PSG 1-0 on a 36th minute goal by Fabrice Pancrate. Adu was replaced in the 70th by Park Ju-Young who was also unable to produce an equalizer.

Adu's performance and good understanding with his teammates bodes well for his chances to start Sunday against Lille. Park still seems to be finding his feet on The Rock so this may be the opening Adu has been waiting for.

The question now is whether coach Ricardo Gomes is ready to pair Adu up top with the 6' 3" Frederic Nimani or start his two new (but smaller) players up top, Adu and Park. Since Monaco traditionally prefers to have a muscular target up front (formerly Jan Koller, now Nimani) with a speedy supporting striker, we could see an Adu-Nimani pairing on Sunday.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mastroeni: New Interest From Spain

As we've reported here before, it appears USA and Colorado Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni is set for a move to Europe in January, the only question is where.

While a handful of Italian clubs (such as Cagliari, Catania, and Palermo) have been whispered to have interest, LFV friend Nick Thomas is reporting that interest is also coming from Spain's Real Betis and Malaga. Check it out here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Now There's An Angle!

Our friend Gruff offers us some fresh perspective on the impact of the US financial sector crisis on a certain Premiership side. Check it out here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bernardo Signs 3-Year Deal With Napoli

US national youth team player Vincenzo Bernardo has just signed a 3-year professional deal with Serie A side Napoli which ties him to the club until 2011. Currently with the Napoli reserve team, the 18 year-old New Jersey native saw his fortunes rise this fall after a strong reserve friendly performance against the first team a few weeks ago.

Head coach Edy Reja was so impressed with the young Bernardo's play in the match that he called him in to train with the first team for a week where he showed well and impressed team scouts (as well as some suitors from England and Spain). By the end of the week, Bernardo's agent called him to inform him that the club wanted to offer him a professional contract and by last weekend, the deal was done. "Its a dream come true, I'm very thankful" remarked Bernardo after a training session today at the club's Castel Volturno training grounds.

While Napoli already has a great deal of first team talent at forward, the club indicates Bernardo is likely to be called into first team training when Reja needs to shore up his options, including during UEFA and Coppa Italia weeks and around FIFA international match weeks when the team loses several forwards to national team duty. While they appear to have future plans for him, whether he can crack the first 18 this year remains to be seen but Bernardo is realistic: "There could be a chance at some point but I need to work hard, be patient, and see what happens. Just to be training with the first team is a good experience. "

On training with players like Argentine internationals Ezequiel Lavezzi and German Denis, or Uruguayan international Walter Gargano, Bernardo remarked that: "It definitely raises the bar on everything you need to do since everyone is watching and you are going up against some really good players - you need to perform. They are not only good players but also great people, they are ready to help you and there is a real good feeling with them."

When asked if he'll be getting any future chances with the US National Youth teams, Bernardo stated: "Its always an honor to be called in represent your country. If they call, I'll be there any time they want me.

In the meantime, Bernardo will continue to train alternately with the reserve and first teams and is looking forward to the reserve team's first league match against Ascoli on October 11th.

Serie B: Szetela Goes Distance in Losing Effort

American Danny Szetela kept up his string of 90 minute performances for Serie B side Brescia tonight in a losing effort to Ancona 2-0. The loss left Brescia in ninth place with six points after four matches. The home side, Ancona got its first win of the year while Brescia has a chance to redeem itself against Parma at home this Saturday.

Goal Of The Year (So Far)

OK everyone, the season is still young but Fenandinho's 36 meter free kick for Shakhtar Donetsk against FC Basel last week is my first nomination for goal of the year. In case you missed it, watch it here.

Donovan Linked To Bayern? Doubtful

This week Andrea Canales got the US faithful abuzz with a nice article on a potential Landon Donovan return to Europe. Your faithful vagabond has been sniffing about this week checking on the possibility that Landon Donovan has attracted interest from Bundesliga power Bayern Munich. So far the results indicate that people have taken Andrea's speculation and twisted it into something it is not; a rumor. Even when quoted in her article Donovan caveats the idea with the key phrase; "...if there is interest."

While Bayern coach Juergen Klinsmann is well aware of Donovan and his abilities, my spidey sense tells me its hard to see the club bringing him in as a 4th striker right now (unless someone gets injured). Even if Donovan came aboard, competing for playing time with Luca Toni, Miroslav Klose, and Lukas Podolski (three of Europe's most storied attackers) seems like a bridge too far.

So, as the MLS season winds to a close and Donovan's MLS contract comes up for renewal, expect more rumors and innuendo with the occasional fact popping out every now and then. We'll do our best to help you tell which is which (and welcome your inputs as well).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Americans Abroad: Sunday Results

It remained a busy weekend for American players in Europe today as Carlos Bocanegra put in a good 90s minutes for Stade Rennais as they drew Nancy 0-0. Rennes is off to a slow start, currently sitting in 12th place with seven points.

Down in Spain, Jozy Altidore dressed but did not play for Villarreal in their 2-1 win over Numancia. Up in England yesterday, Clint Dempsey watched from the bench as Fulham, fell to Blackburn Rovers 1-0. With Brad Friedel between the pipes, Aston Villa won the midlands derby with West Brom 2-1. While beaten once in the 33rd minute, Friedel made several good saves to preserve the lead and the win.

In Germany, Neven Subotic and Borussia Dortmund took a beating from Bundesliga newcomer TSG Hoffenheim in a 4-1 drubbing. Subotic was beat on the 4th Hoffenheim goal by Luis Gustavo while Felipe Santana prevented a goose egg for Dortmund during injury time.

AS Monaco's Freddy Adu is listed in the first 18 for tonight's big match against arch rival Olympique Marseille. A win puts Monaco in the top three while a Marseille win would solidify their second place position and pull them within two points of leader Olympique Lyon. Its not clear yet if Adu will start or make a substitute appearance but the word from Monaco is that they are planning to get some offensive production from the young American tonight.

Update: Freddy Adu did not play in the lackluster 0-0 draw but given how poorly playmaker Park Chu-Young played, he may get his chance next week.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Americans In Action All Over Europe This Weekend

American Jozy Altidore was named to the squad for tonight's match against Primera newcomer Numancia. Given that coach Manuel Pelligrini is without three starters due to injury and is just coming off a midweek Champion's League draw with Manchester United, and Altidore's encouraging debut last week against Deportivo, there is a good chance that Altidore will see more playing time this week.

Villarreal's current predicament is exactly the reason Pellegrini decided not loan out Altidore at the beginning of the season. If the young American can make a positive impact in the coming weeks, it will reduce the chance that he is loaned out in January - the club's current plan.

Playing center-left midfield of a 3-5-2 for Brescia, Danny Szetela went the distance again in a 2-1 win over Ascoli this afternoon. Meanwhile, Gabe Ferrari and Perugia are set to take on Pescara tomorrow in Lega Pro (Serie C) action. Elsewhere in Italy, Napoli reserve team player Vincenzo Bernardo picked up an injury while training with the first team and missed the last two reserve matches. Nonetheless, his performances in training with the first team has seen his stock rise, leading some locals to speculate on a future role with the senior squad.

Hannover got a spanking at BayArena as they fell to Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 on Friday night. American Sal Zizzo came on the 50th minute for Hannover with the team already down 2-0 while Steve Cherundolo did not play due to injury. Neven Subotic and Borussia Dortmund take on Bundesliga newbie Hoffenheim on Sunday. Heath Pearce went the distance for Hansa Rostock as they drew Rot-Weiss Ahlen 2-2. Ahlen's Grover Gibson did not play due to a nagging injury.

Also in Germany, Borussia Monchengladbach dropped its second straight match, this time to Hertha Berlin 1-0. Michael Bradley made his Bundesliga debut as started and played a solid 65th minutes but was not able to convert any chances for the Foals. Bryan Arguez did not play for Hertha.

Up in France, Carlos Bocanegra and Rennes will be looking to earn a much-needed three points tonight against Nancy while word out of Monaco is that Adu may have a larger role in tomorrow's match against arch rival Marseilles.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Edu And Adu Make Club Debuts, Subotic and Dortmund Avoid Disaster

Fresh home from international duty this week, Maurice Edu was not expected to play for Rangers this week against Kilmarnock. A late failed fitness test by Kevin Thopmson pressed Edu into duty as a starter in his debut for his new club before 50,000 home fans. Fellow American DaMarcus Beasley, also fresh back from Chicago, was also on the field as the Ibrox club found themselves down 1-0 in the early going.

Shortly after the Kilmarnock goal, Beasley had a chance to even the score on a nice through ball from Edu but he was tackled off the ball by James Fowler. A tiring Beasley was replaced at the half by Nacho Novo, who drew a 58th minute foul in penalty area to allow Kris Boyd to even the score at 1-1. Boyd would score again four minutes later to make it 2-1, a tally which turned out tho be the game winner. Edu acquitted himself adequately in his debut, playing the full 90 minutes.

In an interview with the Rangers' official website, Edu expressed his thoughts on the debut: "It was a great experience. The fans are amazing. It was great to get a win in my first game, especially as we had to battle back from a goal down but I think that just shows the confidence that the team has and the strength and character of the squad."

Up in Germany, Neven Subotic's Borussia Dortmund had their hands full with arch rival Schalke 04. A 20th minute Subotic handball in the penalty area allowed Schalke to take a 1-0 lead on a Jefferson Farfan penalty. By the 60th minute, BVB was down 3-0 before Subotic got one back in the 67th to put Dortmund on the board (his third goal of the young season). A pair of Alexander Frei goals allowed Dortmund to finish the game at 3:3, completing an impressive comeback to earn the point.

In French action, American defender Carlos Bocanegra put in a solid 90 minutes in Stade Rennais' 1-1 draw with Havre FC. Also, American forward Freddy Adu made his first appearance for AS Monaco, coming on in the 79th minute of a 2-0 win over FC Lorient. American Andrew Jacobson did not dress for Lorient.

Down in Italy, American midfielder Danny Szetela went the distance for Serie B side Brescia in a 1-1 draw with Bari. Elsewhere in Europe, Jozy Altidore is listed as among the 18 for Villarreal's Sunday match with Deportivo La Coruña.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Come on Folks! 11,452 Fans For a WC Qualifier?

Its great to see the USA has collected all nine points possible in World Cup qualifying so far with a 3-0 win over Trinidad last night. What bothers me is not the quality of play (which my friend Bob Wagman describes well here), its that only 11,452 fans showed up to watch the match in Bridgeview, Illinois - and some were cheering for the Soca Warriors.

Come on folks, we had that many US fans at the USA-Poland match on a wintry night in March 2006 in Kaiserslautern, Germany! We had twice that many cross the ocean to watch the Nats during the last World Cup but in our own country and not to many miles from Soccer House itself, all we get is a paltry crowd which left over 8,000 seats unoccupied.

Its a shame that for years, our US players felt like the visiting team when playing in some stadiums (such as in LA) but this was downright pathetic. If you live in the greater Chicago area (that includes you too Hoosiers from Lake County and those in southern Wisconsin) and call yourself a soccer fan and weren't there, you've got some 'splainin' to do.

We expect much from these players who fight jet lag after jetting in from Europe or the coast to battle for 90 minutes before hopping back on a series of long flights home, only to play for so few (and thanks to those who were there). They deserve better. Its time we started expecting more from ourselves and remember these words; never again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Annother Minnow To Beat Up On

So, in about six hours the US team will take on Trinidad and Tobago in first round World Cup qualifying after tallying a wins in Cuba and Guatemala. A win tonight in Chicago would give the USA nine points and all but assure a trip to the CONCACAF final six.

Not to disrespect T&T, who put forth a fine effort in the 2006 World Cup (nearly nicking a point from England) but they aren't quite the same squad these days under Francisco Maturana. Now that the recalled Dwight Yorke is not available due to injury, the Trinidadians won't be able to threaten Tim Howard's goal much during the run of play, although with their team speed, they will make the USA work for 90 minutes.

The US team still needs to generate more offensive punch - something they should be able to do against the minnows of the region. That is why, given their lack of goal production, I'm scratching my head why coach Bob Bradley continues to call in Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson. Of course, Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu need time to get integrated with their new clubs so Bradley is left with few other options aside from the usual forwards in Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Still, it would be nice to see some younger players get a try.

I predict a workman-like 2-0 win for the USA with goals from Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley.

The complete US lineup:

Goalkeepers (2): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tim Howard (Everton FC, England).

Defenders (8): Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes, France), Danny Califf (FC Midtjylland, Denmark), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96, Germany), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew, Major League Soccer), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liège, Belgium), Michael Orozco (San Luis, Mexico), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock, Germany), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC, MLS).

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo, MLS), Maurice Edu (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA, MLS), Eddie Lewis (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS).

Forwards (4): Brian Ching (Houston, MLS), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles, MLS), Clint Dempsey (Fulham FC, England), Eddie Johnson (Cardiff City, England).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Altidore Scores Hat Trick in Exhibition Match

While their American brothers were picking up a 1-0 World Cup qualifying win in Cuba this weekend, a pair of young American players kept their shooting boots sharp in a pair of friendlies across the pond.

In Spain, Jozy Altidore tallied a hat trick for Villarreal in a 7-1 romp over semi-pro club San Rafael del Rio. Coach Manuel Pelligrini is still indicating that he may decide to loan out Altidore in January but first wants to get a good look at what he can do. Two clubs in the running for a future loan appear to be Real Sociedad and Valladolid. Of course much can change between now and December.

Over in Italy, Danny Szetela appears to have secured a starting position with consistent strong play, including in a recent Coppa Italia match which Brescia lost 2-1 against Serie A side Torino. This weekend, he scored a goal in Brescia's 7-0 first team exhibition over their own youth team.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Can I Get An Amen?

I was going to sit down and write something interesting, perhaps funny, and hopefully relevant last night with lots of ideas and a few imported Tecates swimming through my head. Then I saw what my buddy Greg Seltzer wrote about MLS management and heard myself saying "yeah, yeah" over and over.

So, instead of my cheeky offerings today, I offer you Greg's excellent description of how MLS continues to shoot itself in the foot. Check it out here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Subotic Named To European Team Of The Week

Borussia Dortmund's Bosnian-American Neven Subotic was named to La Gazzetta Dello Sport's European Best 11 today after another strong performance this weekend. For the second time in three weeks, he combined stout defending with offensive contributions, scoring the game winnner for the second time this season, this week against Energie Cottbus.

Subotic is also one of three finalists for the Bundesliga Player of the Month, a contest which is decided by the fans by calling in with their mobile phones.

Questions still remain in what country Subotic will play for since he is eligible to play for the USA (of which he is a citizen), Bosnia, Serbia, and even possibly Germany. Dortmund teammate Sebastain Kehl has been advocating that Subotic be brought into the German team and when asked by Kicker yesterday, Subotic remarked that "I can play for several countries, maybe Germany as well."

For more transfer news (with a sense of humor) check out Adam's great article here.

Onyewu: No Need To Sell

It looks like Oguchi Onyewu will spend at least another half season at Standard Liege after the transfer period came and went without any deal being made. It seems the board at Standard would rather keep him onboard to help the team to another title and to see how far they can advance in the UEFA Cup now that they have been knocked out of the Champion's League.

It also seems that Standard will not be hard up for cash this year, having just sold Belgian midfielder Maroune Fellaini to Everton, for a record $30 million fee. The team can still garner a respectable transfer fee for Onyewu in January or next summer, especially if he signs a contract extension to 2010, which would put an upward pressure on his transfer value.

Its also hard to say whether some of the situations on offer were not to Gooch's liking. If it was not a deal to make him a starter and play at a higher level, why leave?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Update: Michael Bradley to Borussia Moenchengladbach

Borussia Moenchengladbach sports director Christian Ziege has just confirned that American Michael Bradley may spend the next few seasons plying his trade at Borussia Moenchengladbach. Ziege told the Rheinisher Post that Bradley is a "dangerous, versatile player but also a classic playmaker. He may be young be mentally, he is much farther along." Further details of the transfer deal are not yet available.

Bradley was in Moenchengladbach today for his unveiling and he is expected to arrive permanently on Thursday. With just two days on the ground prior to Saturday's match against fellow American Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96, he is not expected to suit up for Gladbach until their home match against Hertha Berlin in two weeks.

With the transfer, Bradley will become the second American ever to have played for the Bundesliga side after goalkeeper Kasey Keller spent a few productive years at the club.

Transfer Season: By Midnight We'll Know

OK folks, now that Michael Bradley has found a new home at Borussia Monchengladbach, we still have 12 hours before we know if Oguchi Onyewu is going to PSG, Espanyol, Lazio, Bologna, or someplace England. The Italian deadline is at 6PM (12 PM EDT) so if its a Serie A move, expect to know earlier in the day. After the rollercoaster ride that Gooch's last transfer turned out to be, we'll need to hear the fat lady signing on this one before we know for sure.

We'll also soon know whether Heath Pearce will leave Hansa Rostock for greener pastures. My spidey sense (which seems to be spreading like an epidemic these days) tells me that Pearce will stay at Hansa since the club has mentioned him as someone they are counting on to help them win promotion back to the Bundesliga.

Also in Germany, Die Welt is reporting that VFL Wolfsburg's American Kamani Hill is on the auction block but its not clear yet who the suitors may be.

Regarding Pablo Mastroeni, while there has been interest from Cagliari and some Serie B clubs, word on the street is that any move would not happen until the January 2009 transfer window. My spidey sense places Catania and Palermo on the list of interested clubs as well.

So, don't wait for the mailman, just stay tuned here...