footy musings from a (relative) newbie

Archive for October, 2013

I Have El Clasico Fatigue

Truthfully, I’ve had a low-grade version of it since the 2013-2014 La Liga fixture list was released. Because, as Sid Lowe, who covers Spanish football, notes, even when there’s no game being played, it feels like El Clasico is always going on!

For me, this means that when FC Barcelona and Real Madrid meet for the first time in league play this season, I’ll be in the very small minority that will greet the match with a big ol’ yawn.

Look, I get that these are the two biggest teams in world football, and that when they play each other, it’s about more than just football.

But as someone who follows the game intently, I think familiarity with the neverending Clasico has bred contempt. Their weekly results are endlessly compared and pored over; they engage in tit-for-tat battles over player signings, coaching pedigrees and who spent the most money. All of this is covered, not just by the Spanish football press, but by British and U.S. football websites as well. It’s ubiquitous to the point of aggravation.

By the time the actual matches roll around, I’m exhausted and have zero interest in watching them. It doesn’t help that many of the matches turn out to be tedious affairs – so much so, that I almost wish for the inevitable red card and/or fisticuffs to break up the monotony.

The teams may prove me wrong with this latest match, but for now, I’m searching for a cure for my El Clasico fatigue.

(For the record, though, I’m picking Barca to win 3-0. They’re at home and Madrid have been crap all season).

About the Europa League

I like it. I really do.

The knockout stages of the competition beat the Champions League by several miles for games that are actually competitive. (CL matches get so cagey from the round of 16 on).

But in these early rounds? I just can’t bring myself to keep track of all 48 teams (it’s hard enough keeping up with the 32 in the CL).

With that said, one thing I do enjoy about the group stage of the Europa League is finding out about the little known teams that get to play on one of European football’s main stages (Hey, FC Sheriff!) I see you Kuban Krasnodar!). The English-speaking press doesn’t give us much info about these teams unless they a) make the KO stage and b) play a well-known team. The most we get is trivia like this.

And that’s all I have to tide me over until Europa League moves to KO stages in 2014.

Champions League: Quick Thoughts on Matchday 3

Group standings are now starting to take shape. Stuff I’ll be keeping an eye on when Matchday 4 comes around on November 5/6.

  • I’m pleasantly surprised to see Zenit St Petersburg – one of my picks to move on from Group G – are in second place behind Atletico Madrid.
  • With their loss to Real Madrid, Juventus are languishing in third place in Group B. Hmmm…
  • Arsenal vs. Borussia Dortmund lived up to the hype, something of a rarity for marquee matches in this competition.
  • Bayern Munich and Paris St. Germain both slammed down 5-0 wins today. Damn.
  • Chelsea beat Schalke pretty easily, with Fernando Torres scoring 2 goals and continuing his European scoring form. See, I can say nice things about Chelsea.

For now, I’ll stick with my picks for group winners and runners-up (see below) – though Juventus and Benfica are starting to worry me:

Group A

Manchester United

Bayer Leverkusen

Group B

Real Madrid

Juventus

Group C

Paris Saint-Germain

Benfica

Group D

Bayern Munich

Manchester City

Group E

Chelsea

Schalke 04

Group F

Arsenal

Borussia Dortmund

Group G

Atletico Madrid

Zenit St. Petersburg

Group H

Barcelona

AC Milan

Is Shonda Rhimes Writing MLS’ Playoff Race?

Because it has more twists than an episode of Scandal. And as is the case with that show, the twists in the MLS Playoff race have me confused.

Seattle Sounders slumped to their third straight loss, going down 1-0 to Portland Timbers. With the win over their archrivals, The Timbers are first in the West and challenging for the Supporters Shield.

WTH?

Also, while I wasn’t paying attention, Chicago Fire decided to mount a playoff challenge. And New England Revolution still have a chance to get into the playoffs.

Huh?

On a reassuring note, Toronto, DC and Chivas are still terrible. Whew!

Now is a Good Time to Take a Deep Breath

World Cup Qualifying is winding down. To date, 21 teams – Brazil (hosts), Japan, Australia, Iran, South Korea, Italy, The Netherlands, Argentina, Costa Rica, the United States, Colombia, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, England, Spain, Chile, Honduras and Ecuador – have qualified for the 2014 tournament. Teams around the world – including France, Uruguay, Sweden and Mexico – will compete in playoffs to fill the remaining 11 slots.

I will be happy when it’s over and even happier when the WC group stage draw is revealed on December 6 (That’s also when I’ll feel comfortable predicting anything about the tournament).

Until then, fans of already-qualified teams can relax, fans of playoff-bound teams can hope for the best, and fans of the teams that will miss out on Brazil 2014 can lament that fact and think about what could have been over a few beers (I’ll join even though my team’s already qualified because I like beer).

This lull is also a good time to remember that there are 9 months between now and the start of the tournament on June 12. In that space of time, any number of factors can affect a team’s prospects, including player injuries and teams’ loss of form. It is a little early to declare which teams will and will not be successful.

So calm down, everyone. The real competition is still quite a ways off.

MLS Playoffs – Did I Speak Too Soon?

Moments after posting about my frustrations with the MLS Playoffs, I checked the scores of this week’s fixtures and saw that the Seattle Sounders – the league’s in-form team just weeks ago – lost 4-1 to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Favorites for the Supporters Shield through the end of the summer, the Sounders have given up a total of 9 goals in their last two games, while scoring only two.

This change of fortunes reminded me of something I actually do like about the MLS playoff push: its unpredictability. In contrast to the sometimes numbing predictability of the European leagues (the champions of Europe’s top 4 divisions last season were decided weeks before the season ended in May), the run-in for MLS’ playoffs is whiplash-inducing. And it’s not just a one-season phenomenon either. The by-design parity of the league means that a team can change its luck within the space of just a few games.

That can be fun for both neutrals and supporters of particular team.

Did your team start the season terribly? Fear not: they could still make a late run to the playoffs? And if your team barely made it into the playoffs, there’s no reason to lament, for they might still end up winning MLS Cup when all is said and done.

I still have issues with the structure of the playoffs, which doesn’t really reward the teams that have been consistent throughout the regular season, but it was nice to get a reminder that the MLS playoff race has its own particular charms to offer

Here Come the MLS Playoffs

I am not ashamed to admit that I don’t always understand Major League Soccer’s (MLS) byzantine rules surrounding which teams get into the playoffs. I get that 10 teams – 5 each from the Eastern and Western conferences – qualify for the knockout tournament that is the road to MLS Cup, and…that’s pretty much where my understanding ends. This isn’t entirely my fault, as MLS seems to change the playoff entrance rules fairly frequently.

As a fairly new fan of soccer and MLS, the marriage of American sports’ playoff tradition with the beautiful game took some getting used to. I spent the early months of my soccer fandom following the European game, where league titles are decided by end-of-season point totals. When I started following MLS, the idea of deciding the league champion via playoffs seemed odd – even though I’d grown up surrounded by American sports’ playoff driven culture.

And as previously mentioned, it didn’t help that MLS was in the midst of changing the rules of the playoffs.

With that said, a part of me – I guess the part raised on NBA and Major League Baseball playoffs – embraced the American-ness of playoff soccer. Here was a good way to put an American stamp on the world’s most popular game, one that was far less obnoxious than some of the other ways MLS had tried to stamp “Made in the USA” on its growing but still young game.

Yet each year, when the playoffs roll around, I find myself feeling frustrated. I think it’s mostly because oftentimes, the team with the best regular season record rarely ends up in the title deciding game (see 2012 San Jose Earthquakes). Yes, the Supporters Shield winner gets a place in CONCACAF Champions League and the bragging rights of being Shield winners. But the fact that that’s all a team can achieve upon posting the best regular-season record makes the season seem meaningless.

There’s also the fact that I genuinely don’t understand how these playoff work – even after reading the league’s own website, the MLS Playoffs Wikipedia page and multiple blog posts on the subject.

I’m not sure what the solution is – or if having playoffs for MLS is even really a problem in need so solving (For various reasons, some, like this writer, think it is).

In the past, it’s been suggested that MLS move to a European model – i.e., allowing the end-of-season point total to determine the league champion – while still keeping MLS Cup as a separate competition similar to England’s League Cup (to go along with the U.S. Open Cup, our version of England’s legendary FA Cup).

That sounds like a plausible alternative, but I am not sure how it would work logistically. Would this mean going to a single league table (as is the custom in most of the world’s domestic leagues), and would that once again open up the promotion/regulation argument?

Not sure about the answers to any of these questions.

In any event, with the season winding down, the playoffs will soon be upon us. One team – the New York Red Bulls – has already qualified. More teams to follow in the coming weeks, but between now and whenever the playoffs begin, I can’t say I’ll have a better grasp of how they all got there.

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