Getting this going again…

INSPIRATION? I was compelled to commit to writing here again while watching Vicenzo Iaquinta score a penalty against New Zealand in the World Cup.

When I started this blog, I was someone trying to break into the world of sports journalism. I wrote on here a fair bit.

In the intervening period, I have worked at a few different sports desk, reported on football at lots of different grounds, learnt a lot more about the process of writing and generally spend a lot more time-consuming football and sports in many different forms.

Despite this, I have not posted on here in more than a year. I have lost my domain name (which apparently costs a bizarre amount of money to renew) and in general, the foundations are crumbling beneath it.

This could partly be to my increased interest in Twitter (follow me via the link on the left), but it’s a poor excuse really. I used to like writing on here and the debates which arose as a result and, if anything, the added dimension of Twitter would only mean more possibilities to talk people with interesting perspectives on the game.

So here it is. The proverbial kick-start to get this going again. Nothing more grand than that for the time being, but stay tuned.

Battle of the upstarts: Toronto FC v Seattle Sounders preview, MLS 2009 week three

Footage from Toronto FC’s first ever home game in MLS in 2007.

Anyone who saw footage of the MLS’ newest club, the Seattle Sounders, open their campaign against New York Red Bulls could not help but make comparisons with the last team prior to them to have joined the league, dearest Toronto FC.

The Candian club marked their entry in 2007 with sold out stadiums, in fact every home game in MLS has been a sell out, and hugely passionate fans. I mentioned a little while ago when penning my reason for aligning myself with Toronto, how I found it strange to be so loyal to a team with no history (other than bearing your town’s name) but strangely endearing at the same time. The fact they adapted numerous English chants and featured ex-Premiership players such as Rohan Ricketts was just a bonus.

Fast forward two seasons and it was a similar story in Seattle. Their opening game was a hugely anticipated affair with the headline grabbing signing of ex-Arsenal man Freddie Ljunberg catching people’s attention but it was a different Freddie, young Columbian striker Freddy Montero, who was cuasing ripples of excitement.

The state had recently lost it’s basketball franchise to Oklahoma and from listening to experts like the BBC’s Sean Wheelock, as well as reading interviews with club owner and comedian Drew Carey, this massively worked in the Sounders favour to immediately fill the sporting void created by the departed dunkers. Seattle always had a side in the USL (league below MLS) but this fan support was not a long-standing one but rather a group of people riding a wave of intrigue mixed with excitement and just a tinge of hope that the team would give them a sporting reason to be proud again.

Sure enough the beat last year’s MLS finalists New York in the opener with Montero taking the starring role. The Stadium was packed with people waving green scarves vociferously and in the background their multi-millionaire celebrity owner smiled from ear to ear. They had arrived. Toronto also upset the odds in the opening week by defeating Kansas City Wizards away from home 3-2.

Week two and the Seattle bandwagon continues with another home win, this time over Real Salt Lake, while Toronto faced another tricky away tie at Columbus Crew but came away with a point despite a poor penalty being awarded against them, but admittedly thanks to a fortunate own goal late on.

Week three and tonight the two side’s meet for the first time in MLS. The main sub-plot being it is the Sounders first away game and Toronto’s first home game (where they are traditionally a lot stronger) of the season. The main plot of course, is the battle in the stands. Not in a hooligan sense but the two newest clubs who also pride themselves on having some of the best support will no doubt be trying to outdo each other with every decibel and it’s possible the action on the pitch may be an afterthought for some. It will be interesting to see how many Seattle bring to BMO Field as an indication to their dedication of their fan base, considering Toronto took over 2,000 down to the US for the Columbus game.

Amazingly, a massive story to have merged in the past day or so is that superstar striker Montero may not actually play because of flu, the official reason, or on account of allegations of sexual assault and stalking, according to the papers.

If he doesn’t turn out then it will be a massive boost for the Toronto defence, arguably the weakest aspect of the side, with Steve Zakuani still not quite 100 per cent fit after hamstring trouble and Freddy Ljunberg having play barely half an hour (last week) in just over nine months.

For Toronto, it will be Dwayne De Rosario’s first game in front of his home town fans. There are doubts over Carl Robinson and Amado Guevara, who missed the Columbus game due to international duty and also played for their countries in midweek. One point to note, Robinson retired from international football after Wales’ loss to Germany so that won’t be a problem from now on. I suspect they will both be risked and start the game.

The other question is about who do you play in goal. Stefan Frei started the season and did well but Canada international Greg Sutton performed heroics after coming off the bench against Columbus. If Frei is even half then the decision will be made for manager John Carver but if not then it will be interesting to see who he goes with and the story in general will be a sub-text to the season.

MLS Week Three: Real Salt Lake v Columbus Crew

I wasn’t planning to write about this game but having just seen the MLS highlights package I felt a compulsion to do so.

The primary point being that the theme of the MLS so far this season is just how bad the defences are. I mentioned it repeatedly when watching a selection of the games from week two but if this game is anything to go by then it may be the rule rather than the exception.

To put this into context, Columbus are not a joke. They reached the league’s showpiece final last year and are generally quite well respected. Even in a more fair league like major league soccer, where it’s not a matter of who has the most money wins, there are still some sides better than other and ahead of this season Columbus were still expected to be a strong outfit.

However, how can a side of this level (and American soccer heads with a knowledge of the English game compare the level to the English Championship) have such a comedy goalkeeper. While I’ve probably seen William Hesmer play before, in a league where so many of the players  are unknown to me it is only the truly exceptional or the exceptionally bad who stand out on a first viewing. Unfortunately his name is now ingrained into my consciousness and not for the good reason.

For the first RSL goal, a somewhat powerfully-struck free kick spins straight towards him. The very top keepers may have caught this but any solid professional would parry it away from danger or turn it around the post for a corner. The one thing you don’t do it palm it straight out in front of your box, get up slowly but quick enough to see the ball go past you into the goal. 1-0.

Then after his side had worked to get an equaliser he miscues a long punt up field, under no pressure at all, straight into the feet of the massively advanced Findley who rounds him with ease and tucks into an open goal. 2-1. By this point Findlay is on the verge of a hat-trick without having had to do any real work.

The third goal was not outright his fault but he annoyed me nonetheless with his moaning as soon as the ball hit the net, because a defender at the near post failed to head away a corner and the Findlay headed in his third. His mannerism was almost like “Oh God, what chance do I have with this type of defending?” when in reality this goal would have been no more than an equaliser had you performed competently at all.

For what it’s worth, I actually just think this was a good goal. It was a perfectly whipped in corner by Clint Mathis which was too high for the near post defender but dipped perfectly into the path of Findlay who powerfully headed home. Questions can be asked about the marking but I ultimately think it was just good forward play.

Everyone is entitled to a bad game and I will try to keep an open mind on him when I see him play next. Ironically he did make two good saves, both from Yura Movsisyan (good name), who, after the second one was turned away, had a flabbergasted look on his with the sheer disbelief at this Jekyll and Hyde goalkeeper who gifted his teammate two thirds of a hat-trick but worked wonders to deny him when the game was already lost.

More MLS Week Two thoughts

I watched most of Toronto’s game last night and then this morning I awake to see highlights of the other games waiting for me. The novelty of this great value twenty dollar online season ticket has not yet worn off.

Read more of this post

Columbus Crew 1, Toronto FC 1

Two away games, four points, unbeaten and (at the time of writing) top of the league. Not a bad start to the season for Toronto FC.

(North American readers will notice that I put the scores with the home team first, followed by the away in the European manner. I am too long in the tooth to adapt to your methods even when discussing the MLS.)

So last week I got my timing all wrong and missed a lot of th Toronto FC and unsusprisingly I did so again! But at least I know why now. That being inferior other continents and their choosing to move clocks forward three weeks earlier than the civilised world.

So a random tweet from Richard, or AMSL fame, alerte me the game was in progress and just some short credit card shuffling later, I was on paying the $19.95 for an online season ticket and then, as if by magic, LIVE and LEGAL viewing of Toronto FC. Glorious…

Not that glorious is an adjective which could be used to preface many of the asects at this game but it was still very cool them watch live and in 800k.

Some match thoughts:

– I tuned in after we had gone 1-0 behind but havng seen the replays I think it’s obviously a harsh decision and very similar to one that was given in the game I covered in England during the afternoon. I can’t make too many comments on the first half but by all accounts Frei in goal was good until a back injury forced him to be replaced by Greg Sutton at half time.

– I must give a shout out to the good people over at the GoTFC site who had a live interactive blog of the game which I joined in and very much enjoyed. I’ll be there again in future when I can watch games live.

– From what I did see, Greg Sutton wa pretty consistent in the net and bailed us out on a couple of occasions. I’m not sure how the concept of having two front line keepers compete for a place is going to work out long term (or three if you include Edwards) and it will be interesting to see who is preferred against Seattle next weekend.

– Defensively however we were not so sound. I am big fan of ‘Marvellous’ Marvell Wynne and think he could be very effective in a top European league when he has a bit more experience, but the centre backs next to him are not the strongest. Brennan at left back is an experienced head but there are gaping holes in the middle and Serioux expecially seems a bit ogf a liability.

– The midfield was missing Carl Robinon and Guevara who are two big players so that was always going to have an effect. I didn’t see much of Ricketts before he was subbed but his replacement, Johann Smith, did not impress me. His first touch is pretty poor and he doesn’t seem as good as Ricketts when on form. De Rosario tried too many touches at time but you can tell technically he is still a step above most others on his side.

– I didn’t see us equalising and when it came it was lucky but I think overall a draw was probably a fair result. Columbus looked stronger defensively and we didn’t create too much but… actually I can’t really justify we deserved a draw other than saying Columbus were equally as impotent in attack as us. talking of forwards, I wonder why Dichio isn’t starting instead of Chad Barrett. Maybe next week.

I’ll post the video when it arrives on youtube. Comments welcome as always below.

Toronto FC begin with a win

I mentioned on Friday how excited I was for the new Major League Soccer season to kick off and it’s only heightened after last night’s festivities.

In the effort of full disclosure I should point out that I horrifically mis-judged the time difference and didn’t get the chance to watch the full match line on the internets as I had hoped for.

After walking into the house at 1.55am on Sunday morning, I thought I had five minutes to fire up the laptop and put the kettle on before kick off but to my horror I then saw 72 minutes had gone and TFC were 3-1 up. Obviously pleasing but disappointing to have missed the bulk of the action, but after unsuccessfully messing around with Bet365 and Betfair streams of the game it may have been an even more frustrating operation had I got in on time.

I plan to try and catch the whole game or at least more extended highlights at some point but until then, some observations from youtube:

– There was much made of the fact that Toronto are going to play with Guevera and De Rosario in a kind of ‘double pivot’ at the head of midfield. It’s a very bold tactic and one that will likely be exploited by the more acute teams in the league after few games. However that it worked so well last night is a credit to John Carver.

– All of Toronto’s goals were pretty well-worked. Brennan’s opener was particularly impressive and you have to say the goalkeeping was very poor for our third though.

– I do not think Kansas’ first goal crossed the line. Great shot but the replay was inconclusive and appeared to bounce on the white dust rather than behind it. Luckily it did not come back to haunt us.

– No doubt about their second goal to make it 3-2 though. Cracking strike. I’ve never seen Davy Arnaud play before but he seems to be one to keep an eye on. Wikipedia says he is in his 29th year though so I am hardly ahead of the pack on this observation.

– Judging from th live updates on the Red Patch Boys forum (your home for anything TFC related) De Rosario missed a late penalty, and Soccernet confirms this, but it was not shown on the highlights. Seems a pretty big thing to omit.

– Not really a game observation, but just to re-state how amazing the MLS Youtube channel is. They will have highlights of every game this season, hours after it is played, so people anywhere in the world can see every goal despite the lack of global TV coverage. I know legally it wouldn’t work in every country, but other sports could learn a lot from this great use of technology and approach to make fans’ lives easier.

– I wasn’t aware of these stats before but last night was the first time Toronto had won their opening game in three attempts and amazingly only the fifth away in their MLS history. The omens are good…

Suggested reading:

The Kansas City press perspective
Soccernet’s stats
CBC’s (Canada) report

MLS 2009 kicks off

The new Major League Soccer season kicked off in America last night with the latest team (not franchise, team) Seattle Sounders earning a win over last year’s runners-up New York Red Bulls. (video above)

I’ve ebeen excited about the start of the new campaign since January’s draft and am contemplating watching Toronto FC’s kick off when I get in on Saturday night as it should be about a 2am start UK time on Sunday morning.

If the first game is anything to by then it should be a good season, albeit a very Amdricanised one. The openeing encounter itself was lalmost Hollywood-inspired with the new boys upsetting the odds and winning their first game 3-0 in front of a sold out stadium, full of jubilant flag-waving fans. And, for good measure, an owner who also happens to be a major tv personality in Drew Carey.

There are obvious comparisons with Toronto FC, the most recent MLS expansion team before them, who also have sold out every home game in their history despite than thrilling results in their opening two seasons.

The star in the opening game was Freddy Montero who applied two superb finishes which would be impressive at any standard of football but the defending for the third goal is questionable to say the least.

So we’re back and off to a flyer. I think I am largely alone, maybe not in the blogosphere but certainly in the real world, in my affection for Major League Soccer, but I am excited for the new season and can’t wait to actually get out there and see a game live later in the year. But more of that nearer the time…

Suggested reading:

Players to watch in 2009
Carey full of ideas as MLS owner
Canadian Press on the opening game