footy musings from a (relative) newbie

It’s been a minute (well, more than a minute) since I’ve posted. That’s partly due to being busy (new job, big vacation). But it was also due to not being inspired to write about football. The conclusion of the European season was so lackluster, I couldn’t think of anything significant to say about it (actually, I couldn’t think of a thing to say about it at all).

Summer soccer – specifically, Women’s World Cup – has me excited again. I wish I could say the same about the Gold Cup.

While I’m at it, I’ll throw International Champions Cup in the DGAF pile too.

But the thing that’s really entertaining me soccer-wise these days is the amount of shade being thrown within the soccer family.

You could say Pia Sundhage got the Summer of Shade off to a good start in this pre-WWC article in which she threw shade at several of her former charges in the USWNT.

“I said that to Abby,” she recalled. “I told her: ‘If I stayed, you would be a sub. The best sub ever. But a sub.’ There was no question about that in my mind.”

Oh damn.

Then Victor Valdes threw subtle shade in response to Louis Van Gaal’s accusation that Valdes refused to play for the Manchester United reserves last season.

In other MU Shade news, new signing Bastian Schweinsteiger had his own to throw in response Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer’s remarks that Basti wouldn’t be able to handle the Premier League and maybe should have gone to MLS instead.

“I don’t know when Beckenbauer moved to America, but I am 30,” Schweinsteiger said. “It is a challenge for me to prove I can do it here, but I am confident I can adjust to the Premier League.”

Well damn.

But the Shade Kings of this Summer of 2015 (at least so far) have to be the MLS players who took to Twitter last week with their thoughts on Commissioner Don Garber’s picks of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard for the MLS All Star Game  XI (Yes, the same Gerrard and Lampard who have played exactly one MLS league game between them).

Basically.

As I noted in a tweet of my own on the ASG

It’s that time of year again when teams once excited about being in the Champions League see their hopes of more Great European Nights™ swiftly dashed (So long, Liverpool. Fare thee well, Atletic Bilbao.) This is also the time of year when I tend to get philosophical about the Champions League and its much maligned sibling, the Europa League. Because this week’s match reports will invariably talk about how a team’s elimination means it’s been “relegated” to the Europa League. Often peppered in are references to the horror of having to play on (gasp!) Thursday nights.

What is with this belittling of the Europa League?

As I’ve written before, the Europa League – particularly in the knockout stages – can feature genuinely competitive matches played by teams who are truly hungry to show their quality on the European stage. I love the Champions League as much as the next fan, but let’s face it – the UCL increasingly features only a handful of teams who can hope to genuinely compete for the title, making the Europa League a far more attainable goal for the vast majority of European football clubs.

So, why denigrate it?

There are certainly aspects of the competition that can – and, IMO, should- be tweaked (For instance, teams exiting the Champions League at the Group Stage shouldn’t be allowed to join the Europa League) But it’s still a worthy competition and shouldn’t be diminished in an attempt to mock teams that have failed in the Champions League.

*steps off soapbox*

Anyway, draw day for both competitions is a few days away. I’d look forward to it more if I didn’t know Uefa was going to find new, dumb ways to drag out the draw ceremony.

It’s that time of year – when MLS teams start getting eliminated from playoff contention (so long, Impact de Montreal). When teams that were once dead and buried suddenly find themselves in the scrap for those precious playoff berths. When Seattle Sounders begin their annual implosion, and when the New York Red Bulls give me hope that this might be the year the can go all the way (And this year, those two things have coincided)
Last year, I wrote about how whiplash-inducing the MLS Playoff race can be, and it’s no different this year with just five games left in the regular season. I hate math, so I will not be breaking down how many points Team X needs to get into the playoffs, but kudos to the MLS website team for making The Race for the Red line a thing.

Whenever this tournament starts a new season, it feels as if it never left. Sure it’s been 116 days since Real Madrid snagged their 10th European Cup in Lisbon. But that was last season. Thirty-one teams are now on a mission to dethrone the reigning champions and grab the cup themselves in Berlin on June 6, 2015.

The longer I watch this competition, the more it both frustrates and delights me. I love the Cinderella stories like Bulgarian champions Ludogorets’ remarkable run to this year’s Group stage; and the return of Cypriot team Apoel FC, after their own heroic run to the quarterfinals in 2012. On the other hand, it’s disheartening to see the latter stages of the competition become more and more of a closed shop.

I’ll still totally be watching, though, because it is some of the best football you’ll see anywhere on the planet. And that means I’ll also be making predictions about which teams will be celebrating passage into the round of 16 after Matchday 6. Cuz my prediction skills rock. Not.

Group A:
Atletico Madrid
Juventus
Olympiacos
Malmo
Winners: Atletico Madrid, Juventus

Group B:
Real Madrid
Basel
Liverpool
Ludogorets
Winners: Real Madrid, Basel

Group C:
Benfica
Zenit
Bayer Leverkusen
Monaco
Winners: Benfica, Zenit

Group D:
Arsenal
Borussia Dortmund
Galatasaray
Anderlecht
Winners: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund

Group E:
Bayern Munich
Manchester City
CSKA Moscow
Roma
Winners: Bayern Munich, Manchester City

Group F:
Barcelona
PSG
Ajax
Apoel Nicosia
Winners: Barcelona, Ajax

Group G:
Chelsea
Schalke
Sporting Lisbon
Maribor
Winners: Chelsea, Schalke

Group H:
Porto
Shakhtar Donetsk
Athletic Bilbao
Bate Borisov
Winners: Athletic Bilbao, Porto

Group C and Group H are pretty wide open, so I reserve the right to change my mind on which teams will advance from those groups.

With the World Cup behind us, it’s time for European clubs to prepare for their seasons, which begin in mid- to late August. This means we USA-based fans get to see some of our favorite teams and players on our shores, as they arrive for pre-season tours.

These tours have been known to give us treats like training sessions open to the public and ripe for ogling; European players trying to understand and/or master baseball (who can forget Cristiano Ronaldo’s throwing out the first pitch at a Dodger’s game during last year’s pre-season); showboating antics that lead to scolding from their coaches, and the like.

This year, the last two UEFA Champions League winners – Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – will be here, as will AS Roma, Tottenham Hotspur, Inter Milan, Manchester City, A.C. Milan, Manchester United and…well, I could just name 90% of the squads from the Big Four European leagues, but I’m too lazy.

I’ll be watching as many of these matches as I can, though I confess: I still can’t get myself terribly excited about that International Champions Cup Fox Sports keeps flogging.

Thank you, USMNT

There will be time in the coming days and weeks and months to criticize and second guess, but right now, I want to thank my team for giving me more wonderful World Cup memories.

Thank you, Jermaine Jones for everything you did in this tournament, but especially for that goal against Portugal. Thank you Kyle Beckerman for your gritty performances and for your dreads. Thank you Matt Besler for your heart and maturity. Thank you Julian Green for letting us leave this tournament on a note of hope by scoring that beautiful goal. Thank you Tim Howard for those 16 saves and the many, many more you made throughout this tournament. Thank you DaMarcus Beasley for your years of service to this team.

Thanks to all 23 of you for representing us so well, and for showing the rest of the world that we – yes, the Yanks – belong.

And what a thrilling Group Stage it was. Colombia, Chile and Costa Rica surprised. Luis Suarez showed both the positive and negative sides of himself. Team USA survived the Group of Death (thanks again, CR7!) And Algeria made history.

Among the things that stood out for me

John Brooks’ game winning header vs. Ghana: I’ll never forget the look of shock/disbelief on the 21-year-old American defender’s face. Priceless.

Concacaf REPRESENTIN’: The red-headed stepchild of confederations has three teams in the knockout round. We Concacafians have to stick together!

Mark Geiger: The New Jersey native has refereed two games at this World Cup. Go Jersey!

Knockout stages here we come!

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