Sergio Ramos

I saw this a few minutes ago and nearly died laughing!  If you don’t follow soccer, the Copa del Rey is a Spanish football tournament that in Spanish means “the King’s Cup”.  It is a tournament in which teams from both Spanish leagues compete in knockout style matches over the course of the season.  Approximately 40 teams compete in the Copa del Rey and winning the tournament is a HUGE deal in Spain.  The 2011 Copa del Rey final was held a yesterday or the day before (forget!) and Real Madrid were this year’s victors after a completely un-Real Madridlike trophy drought.  It is customary for the tournament winners to celebrate with a trophy parade through their city on a tour bus while displaying the trophy for all the fans to see.  The trophy itself is like a little silver idol to the players and fans alike and they go absolutely bonkers over the trophy.

The reason why I laughed hysterically is because Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid’s left-back is hoisting the trophy…then drops it!  Not only does he drop it, it falls underneath the bus and gets crunched!  It’s like the football gods are not only mocking Madrid but also saying “Screw you guys!”  It’s hilarious because the newscasters who are covering the parade get so concerned about the trophy when it gets dropped!  You can clearly detect worry for the trophy’s safety when the bus rolls over it even though their speaking Spanish.  So I’ll stop talking and let you watch it!

I’m Blue ’til I die!

As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them,  join them.  Or in Chelsea’s case, if you can’t stop him, buy him.  The day that Chelsea fans have been dreaming of for almost four years since his arrival at Liverpool has come and passed.  After having a forgettable first half of the 2010/11 campaign, want-away and “skulking” striker Fernando Torres has landed at Stamford Bridge to the delight of West Londoners and fans worldwide.  It was believed that the £50 million striker would experience a rejuvenation at Chelsea with a new coach, new teammates, new atmosphere, etc…but the script has been torn up and the expectations we had for “Nando” now seem like a childish fantasy, just like the dream of winning the Champions League.  The Torres goal watch is now up to 650 minutes of goalless football.  Twelve hours of match time have passed since his last goal for either Liverpool or Chelsea.  Ten of those hours have come with Chelsea as the drought becomes of ever-increasing concern with every match that passes.  Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is desperately looking for a return on his £50 million investment and there is heavy speculation that if there is no goal for Torres by the end of the season manager Carlo Ancelotti could face the sack.  It has been proven that billionaire Abramovich’s patience and forbearance is not one of his strong qualities.  Only a few years back, Jose Mourinho was the victim of the Russian’s impatience.  After delivering back-to-back Premier League titles in 04/05 and 05/06, Mourinho was sacked after Chelsea went through a bad mid-season slump and Guus Hiddink was chosen to replace him.  Hiddink was let go after guiding Chelsea to the Champions League final in 2008, loosing to Manchester United on that infamous penalty shootout.  Although Chelsea did experience an awful mid-season slump which saw them drop from first to fifth in the league table, Ancelotti managed to survive with his job intact and a few new players to boast as well including Torres.  Fellow winter transfer David Luiz has found the back of the net twice already from the center-half position with strikes that gave Chelsea crucial victories against Manchester United and Manchester City.  The only question is how tightly are Torres’ goal drought and Ancelotti’s job bound?

Fernando Torres' start with Chelsea has been one to forget

Torres was one  linesman’s flag away from ending his drought today against West Bromwich Albion when he was brought on as a substitute in the 81st minute.  With the game already comfortably in the books at 3-1 there was a confident attitude from the away fans that Torres would net against a lack-lustre WBA defense.  Flourent Malouda served Torres a great ball in the penalty box and Torres’ first touch was supreme in poking around the goalkeeper to cooly slot the ball into the net and the Chelsea supporters went nuts!  But it was short lived because Torres was ruled offsides by the slimmest of margins, or perhaps not at all.  It certainly looked like he was level, at least from my angle on my couch.  Nevertheless, Fernando Torres’ Chelsea horror story continues.  But the way I see it things are starting to look up for the Spaniard.  At least now we know that he is capable of making a ball go in the net with his foot.  For a while we all thought that he had somehow left that skill in Liverpool, or even in South Africa.  But now that we’ve seen it we know it is still possible.  In a game that was comfortably controlled by Chelsea I’m OK with his goal being disallowed because it sure is a step in the right direction for a man who seems to have lost his form.  That “goal” sure seemed like something the old Torres was doing at Liverpool and Atletico Madrid.  The verdict on Torres for now, be patient with him.  We don’t necessarily need a breakout from him at this point in the season because we’re only competing on one front now and there are only 6 games left.  If he’s not in form, don’t play him.  He’s under contract until 2017.  He’ll come good for us eventually.  Play the strikers now who give you the best chance to score, and now that happens to be Drogba and Anelka and perhaps Kalou.  Substitute appearances are fine until he regains his form (which we all know will happen), but don’t dwell on the massively huge transfer fee that brought him in.  Chelsea will likely have a massive offload of players this summer to try and reduce the age of the squad.  With players like Drogba, Lampard, Terry, Malouda, Anelka, and Ferriera all over 30, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a couple names from that list sold before next season.  It is likely that Ferriera will go, Drogba might be a casualty also, and even Lampard’s or Terry’s place in the squad is not guaranteed with Luiz and Ramires proving their worth since January.  A Torres-Kalou strike force next season would be very enticing and potentially deadly if both strikers can find form.

What’s next for Chelsea?  For now it’s Birmingham City at the Bridge on Wednesday night.  The long-term future?  Well that’s difficult to see but no matter what  you can be sure that I’ll be Carefree ’til I die!  I wouldn’t have it any other way!  If you’re a Chelsea fan and you’re feeling down, take heart because we’ll surely qualify for the Champions League next season!  We’ll be back for sure!  Until then, keep the Blue flag flying high!

Publicity Stunt?

Major League Soccer doesn’t usually, if it all, make the front page news on ESPN (at least not in this country).  With the NCAA tournament in full swing and Opening Day baseball right around the corner, it’s hard for anything but those two events to break through the clutter.  But the last couple days have been different.

Major League Soccer has been the United States’ domestic league for the last 15 years and has been the most successful US soccer league to date.  There have been a few other now defunct leagues in the country since but MLS has seen the greatest fan support and revenues of all the previous professional soccer leagues.  There has, however, been tons of criticism from FIFA as well as local supporters about the structure of the league, from ownership to the league season calendar, to extra-time structure.  MLS has always done things a little differently from the rest of world because soccer is generally speaking, “the new kid on the block” in this country.  Our nation has grown up with American football and baseball for the last five or six generations.  Association football(soccer) has been established in Europe since about the late 1860’s in countries such as England, France, and Germany.  American football began in the 1890’s and baseball not long before that.  Soccer in the United States was actually the first professional league formed in 1884 as the American Football Association.  The name “football” actually wasn’t dropped until 1974 with the word “soccer” being introduced in 1945.  In 1863 the Football Association of England drafted “The Laws of the Game”to unify the many and diverse clubs throughout the country.  The first match played by the FA’s Laws was played between Princeton University and Rutgers University in 1869.  From that point until 1967 there were multiple leagues moving in and out of existence and in 1968 the more stable North American Soccer League was formed which was the most successful league in the pre-MLS era.  The United States Football Association was formed as the sport’s governing body on April 5, 1913 and the body, though now called the U.S. Soccer Federation, still governs the sport today.

Unfortunately for the U.S. Football Association, the sport never caught on the way it had in Europe.  Ironically, the earliest forms of soccer played between New England universities actually turned into rugby-like sports that were the precursors to modern day American football.  American football and baseball were uniquely American sports and were embraced as a part of the culture in a way that a foreign sport such as soccer couldn’t compete with.  The NASL eventually folded in 1984 and the sport saw a dark period in the U.S. for a little more than a decade with the exception of Major League Indoor Soccer (MISL) which actually became popular during the 80’s and 90’s.  The turning point for U.S. soccer came when the U.S. Soccer Federation submitted a bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup.  The bid was successful and the World Cup was a huge success for U.S. soccer.  The final match played by Brazil and Italy at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA set attendance records that still stand today.  Part of the bid proposal was a promise to create a new professional domestic league.  In 1996 MLS made its debut season and has reaped the benefits of the success of the ’94 World Cup.  The league has expanded from 10 original clubs to 18 at the start of the 2011 season.  The league fields teams from the United States and Canada and competes in the SuperLiga which is an annual competition between MLS and the Mexican Premiera Division and the CONCACAF Champions League.  MLS has continued to grow and evolve over the last 15 years and has seen increased revenues and support every season.  But without a doubt one of the biggest publicity aides for the league has come from an unsuspecting ally.

Chad Ochocinco of the Cincinnati Bengals has been a fan of soccer since age four and grew up playing the sport in recreational leagues.  Chad grew up in Miami, FL playing soccer and football and decided to go to college to play football over soccer.  While he excelled at wide receiver and was drafted by the Bengals in 2001, Chad has remained an avid fan of soccer and a supporter of Real Madrid C.F.  The current political troubles of the NFL have allowed Ochocinco to chase his other dream of being a professional soccer player.  In an effort to stay in shape for whenever the next NFL season is, and to just have fun, Ochocinco was invited to run a trial for the MLS club Sporting Kansas City.  The trial is slated to last four days which began on March 25, 2001 and after two days of training was asked to participate in a reserve match on Monday (today).

Ochocinco (center 85) in training with Sporting Kansas City

I believe this is a blessing in disguise, or maybe not in disguise, for MLS because Chad Ochocinco is one of American sports’ most electrifying and controversial figures of the last decade.  Known for his on the field and off the field antics, Ochocinco has captured the love and hate of sports fans across the nation.  His antics include the infamous “List” from 2005 of the cornerbacks who covered Ochocinco during the 2005 season and his “Future HoF 20??” jacket worn during a Monday Night Football game against the Ravens in 2007.  Always in the media limelight, Ochocinco is a prime candidate to draw more attention to MLS which deserves to make the newspaper headlines for once.

In all reality, Ochocinco’s trial will probably come to an end relatively soon.  He is humble about his soccer skills saying that he hasn’t played a competitive match since age ten but showed a ton of effort and gained the support of his Kansas City teammates.  His first day of training was rough as expected and was mostly used to get Chad used to the flow of the match and to get the rust off his boots.  The second day of the trial went much better for Ochocinco and was followed by the team’s manager calling Ochocinco into his office and asking him to play in KC’s reserve match.  Should he impress during the match, the trial may be extended to see if he has the quality to possibly be used on either the reserve team or first team.

The sports media has been divided on whether this is good for MLS and Ochocinco.  Media pundits have deemed the trial a publicity stunt for Ochocinco who might not be able to cause mayhem on and off the gridiron this fall and a way for him to keep his persona in the media.  Others suggest, like Ochocinco, that this is something done honestly to stay in shape and will benefit both Ochocinco and MLS.  The longer his trial, the longer MLS stays in the headlines.  And if he makes the team AND if there is no 2011 NFL season Ochocinco could be on the verge of a breakthrough.  In all reality, there probably will be a 2011 season and Cinco’s trial will probably be cut short but I say good for him doing something he loves and is trying to benefit his NFL career by staying in shape.  If along the way a well-deserving MLS gets more publicity then I’m all for it!  It can only be a good thing if MLS gets media attention during the NCAA Men’s tournament so I am emphatic about Ochocinco’s trial with Kansas City!  I wish Mr. Ochocinco luck as he competes in his match today and look forward to the 2011 MLS and NFL seasons!

Aftermath

I think I have officially turned a page in my life.  Following this past weekend’s slate of divisional playoffs I saw my two top teams, Ravens and Patriots, crash out of the tournament.  I am left with the two teams I loathe more than any other, Steelers and Jets.  Arch-rivals Pittsburgh have had the supreme beating of the Ravens for the last 3 years and it’s pretty discouraging being a Ravens fan after a second loss to Pittsburgh in the playoffs in three years.  As much as I hate them (which is a lot), I think deep down there is some kind of respect form them because they’re so good and have sustained high quality football for decades.  But being division rivals you have to hate them on principle.  The way I see it is sort of like Darth Vader turning good at the end of Return of the Jedi.  It took Anakin Skywalker getting humiliated by being beat by his own son in a lightsaber duel.  Only after his humiliation in front of the Emperor and loosing his hand as a result did Anakin see the futility of his ways.  He had compassion on Luke while watching him be tortured by the Emperor and decided to throw the Emperor down a bottomless pit.  Then at the end of his life, Anakin repented of his Sith-ness.  I’ve watched my team get humiliated by the Steelers again and now I’m forced to concede that they are a damn good football team.

But now the unthinkable has happened!  Since the Jets are the Steelers’ next opponent in the AFC Championship game, my loyalties have been turned completely upside down!  I am going to support the team in the black and gold!  Not because I’m suddenly a fan of the team from Pittsburgh, but because the Steelers and I have a common enemy…Mark Sanchez and the Jets.  I could rant on about how much I hate that team, but I’ll limit it to the fact that Sanchez is an average at best quarterback and the only reason that team is any good is because of its defense.  Now you won’t sooner see me wearing a Troy Pololulu or Hiney Hole Ward jersey this weekend than Rex Ryan wearing flip-flops in public, but I will make my support for them known.  Hate me if you want.