CommentaryUnited States

Ready, Set, Rev Up and Get Intergalactic Dyno-mite

November 7, 2011 — by Rob Kirby

In a huge disappointment to fans of dreadlocks everywhere, no white men with dreads are likely to hoist the MLS Cup this year.

Los Angeles will host the Houston Dynamo for the 2011 MLS Cup on November 20, as both teams won their conference finals by a two goal margin last night. Unfortunately for Houston, the Galaxy remains undefeated at home in 2011.

The Galaxy struck first in its 3-1 victory over Real Salt Lake in the 22nd minute of the Western Conference Final. Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez got fouled in the box and Landon Donovan converted the penalty with aplomb, putting to bed the memory of the loss to Real Salt Lake in the 2009 MLS Cup in a penalty shootout. The goal brought his career playoffs goal tally to 19. He had the all-time record before the playoffs began and now just keeps extending it.

In swift answer, RSL equalized two minutes later, when Jamison Olave headed the ball to Alvaro Saborio, who himself headed it in.

David Beckham helped put Los Angeles ahead after halftime, connecting with Mike Magee for the third time in three playoff matches. Once again, Beckham delivered the ball right into the goalmouth with his corner kick and Magee headed it in. The goal was the third goal of the playoffs for Magee, who scored five during regular season. No one in Los Angeles is complaining that he waited until the playoffs to hit his stride.

Hitting the post proved a popular pastime. Kyle Beckerman nailed the post in first half stoppage time, Robbie Keane did so a couple times, and Fabian Espindola hopped on the bandwagon just a minute after Magee’s goal, nearly replicating the first quick-response equalizer that would have made it 2-2.

However, Los Angeles killed off the game in the 68th minute when Donovan found Keane on the left side. Keane cut past Olave and buried the ball in the back of the net to make it 3-1. As Los Angeles prepares for the possible departure of Beckham, perhaps the fans are witnessing the emergence of Keane, who had an outstanding match.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Houston Dynamo defeated Kansas City 2-0 in Kansas City to book its third MLS Cup appearance in six years. They won the first two in 2006 and 2007. To semi-coin a phrase, the team will seek to make it third time still lucky.

Dynamo talisman Brad Davis (“the left-footed Beckham”) exited the scoreless first half with a quad injury, but Andre Hainault and Carlo Costly compensated for his absence. Hainault capitalized on a Kansas City botch job of defending a long free kick in the 53rd minute. Houston then put men behind the ball in numbers, defended tenaciously and waited to hit Kansas City on the counterattack. And right before game’s end, Luis Carmargo served up a great pass to Costly, who had only the keeper to beat.

The sole American MLS Cup contender in the U.S. national team, Donovan will travel home after the game against France, skipping the Slovenia friendly, to allow time to rest and prepare for the cup final. Keane also heads off on international duty, to captain his Ireland side against Estonia in Ireland’s bid to qualify for the European Championship for the first time since 1988. Despite recent fitness questions, he plans to play both legs.

Houston’s Hainault rejected the October call-up to play with Canada against Puerto Rico in order to focus on the playoffs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he received no invitation this time around.

Houston beat Los Angeles handily a month back, but that was on Houston’s home soil. An undefeated L.A. home record tells a story of its own. But records, like rules, were meant to be broken.

CommentaryUnited States

Showdown in the MLS West

November 6, 2011 — by Rob Kirby


The MLS Cup final approaches ever closer, but first there’s the small matter of divisional showdowns. Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles duke it out tonight in Los Angeles (9:00 EST, ESPN), after Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo kick things off in Kansas City (5:30 EST, Fox Soccer Channel). Then, after the two U.S. international friendlies against France and Slovenia (November 11 and 15), East and West face off on November 20.

Anything can happen in the playoffs, but smart money tips the victor of the MLS Western Conference final to hoist the cup. The Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake finished the regular season first and third, respectively. Kansas City and Houston finished in the East’s top two spots, but only fifth and sixth overall. A massive 16 points separated first and fifth. The gulf in quality between divisions is huge. Simply put, the fixture between Los Angeles and Salt Lake will almost undoubtedly decide the outcome of the playoffs. In fairness, however, Kansas City and Houston both managed to take points off both Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake during the regular season, so there’s always a chance.

The Los Angeles Galaxy booked their spot in the conference final by knocking out the New York Red Bulls 2-1 in the home fixture, both goals coming off dead balls, both involving David Beckham—a corner and a penalty kick. (The former England international also provided the assist in L.A.’s 1-0 first leg victory in New Jersey.) Red Bulls’ Luke Rodgers had drawn first blood, doing well on an excellent through ball from Thierry Henry in the 4th minute that tied everything up on aggregate, but ultimately it didn’t matter. The Red Bulls couldn’t find another and they couldn’t defend what they had. The Galaxy’s Mike Magee scored a second goal in as many games, and Donovan converted the penalty to further his record as all-time highest scorer in the playoffs (18 total). Beckham delivered a classic corner kick for the first and earned the penalty that set up the second. Red Bulls, cup contention, no more. Blame the Brit (or perhaps the defensive frailties). In the final year of his five year contract, Beckham’s going full tilt for the cup, having never yet won the silverware (L.A. Galaxy lost the 2009 MLS Cup final on penalties–to Real Salt Lake, no less). He’s playing excellent soccer despite a back injury. The fans who once heckled him after the loan stints at AC Milan now write banners pleading with him to stay. 

Real Salt Lake can thank their goal scoring ability in the first leg (3-0) for securing passage to the conference finals. Seattle led the league in goals during the regular season, but three goals was always a big ask, even at home. They nearly pulled it off, though, winning the second leg 2-0. Kasey Keller pulled off save after save and went out fighting, but the men in lime green sherbet ultimately faltered. The defeat puts an end to Keller’s 20 year career between the sticks, domestically and in Europe. Seattle vs. Los Angeles would have been a tasty fixture, but the goal deficit was too much to overcome, even with Salt Lake missing both first choice centerbacks. Both Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers exited with quad injuries in the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Los Angeles conceded the fewest goals in the league, 28, but they lost at Salt Lake 4-1 in March, so nothing is a foregone conclusion on that front. Of note, the Galaxy remains undefeated at the Home Depot Center, with 9 straight home victories, 10 clean sheets and a scoring differential of 30-9 in 2011, so Real Salt Lake will most likely need to stage an encore performance, except at Los Angeles, this time. Fortunately, forwards Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola have shown they have what it takes to do so. And with Kyle Beckerman marshalling the midfield, with Argentinian Javier Morales moving runs on the wing, they can certainly make things happen.

Eastern Conference supporters may feel the focus on the West gives them short shrift, but realistically, the MLS Cup final begins tonight, and not in Kansas City. Upsets happen, but Los Angeles has the best defense in the league, coupled with Beckham, Magee, Donovan, Chad Barrett and Robbie Keane leading the attack, anchored by Juninho in midfield. They look unstoppable. Of the three teams in contention to stop them, Salt Lake has the best shot. And so it begins this evening.

CommentaryUnited States

The Bullfight Resumes at the L.A. Slaughterhouse

November 2, 2011 — by Rob Kirby


The L.A. Galaxy takes to the pitch Thursday night at home (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2) with a one-goal lead in the second leg of the MLS Western Conference semi-finals, having beaten the New York Red Bulls 1-0 in New Jersey on Sunday.

One might ask why an Eastern seaboard team finds itself in the Western conference side of the playoffs. The reason’s too long and too boring to go into. (In briefest explanation, New York won a 2-0 Wild Card round victory against FC Dallas the previous Wednesday.)

Mike Magee scored the lone goal against his former club, meaning the Red Bulls must win by a scoreline of 2-0, 3-1, etc. in order to progress outright. (Scoring, as with the Champions League, is done on aggregate.) Alternately, they must win by one in regular time, which would force 30 minutes of overtime. If still level on aggregate at 120 minutes, the team that shoots penalties best wins.

With a one-goal lead, Los Angeles can play for a tie at home and advance. Unfortunately for New York, no team has defeated the Galaxy at home this season, due largely to defensive stalwarts Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza. The Galaxy has won 8 straight at home, kept 10 clean sheets and outscored its opponents 28-8 in 2011. Unbeaten in 18 straight regular-season home games overall, Los Angeles enjoys the fourth-longest home record streak in the history of the MLS.

The Red Bulls trailed the Galaxy by 21 points and nine places in the standings at end of regular season. Were Kansas City to be adjudged “Western,” the Eastern Conference leader would have slotted in at fifth in the Western conference. It calls into question the legitimacy of having separate conferences, with one so far superior to the other. For now, however, it’s the system in place.

In the first leg, English superstar David Beckham, 36, in the fifth and final year of his MLS contract, served up a perfectly looped assist with pinpoint delivery for Magee to nab the match winner. Beckham finished second in the league with 15 assists and finds himself in realistic contention for league MVP. As does Landon Donovan, who scored 12 goals (tied for fifth in MLS) and holds the record as all-time highest goal scorer in MLS postseason. The Beckham Experiment may just conclude with an MLS Cup trophy, after all.

However, as long as Thierry Henry can walk and kick a ball, it’s unwise to entirely count out the Red Bulls. He played tenaciously on Sunday, a bit overly aggressively, even, and his leap into the air for a powerful bicycle kick showed him a 34-year-old with yet more gas in the tank. At 14 goals, he racked up the league’s third highest goal tally in the regular season, and his strike in the match against Dallas helped book a spot in the conference semi-finals.

Recent absentees Donovan and former Spurs man Robbie Keane (or, Roibeárd Ó Catháin, for those who speak Irish) have returned from injury, recovering from a quad strain and adductor injury, respectively. Both look likely to start Thursday, having suffered no setbacks in the first leg. Red Bulls managed to contain and shut them down on Sunday. They’ll likely need an encore performance to have any hope of progressing.

Goalie Josh Saunders notched his ninth shutout in 19 matches this season for the Galaxy, who lost 2-1 to the RBNY earlier this month at the Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls need goals, but Saunders and the L.A. back four don’t often concede.

The defensive story on the New York side reads quite differently. Confusion over Keane and/or Magee being offside in the 14th minute of the first leg played a not insignificant part in the goal. And central defender Tim Ream dubiously tried to out-Terry John Terry, tripping himself up and faceplanting into the ragged pitch a day after the Chelsea captain’s farcical rendition in England. As for transfer rumors linking Ream to Arsenal, West Brom or Everton, even aside from the klutzy faceplant act, the Red Bulls conceded the most goals (53) in the league this season. Hardly compelling credentials.

The commentators made a meal of Henry facing Keane for the first time since Henry’s double handball denied Ireland the 2010 World Cup by setting up a William Gallas goal, but they predicted the wrong scufflers on that one.

Instead, a postmatch melee erupted at the final whistle involving the Galaxy’s Donovan (alleged trash talker), Adam Cristman (shover) and Brazilian midfielder Juninho (face elbower) against Mexican defender Rafael Márquez (ball thrower, puncher and Academy Award hopeful) and defender Stephen Keel (face elbowee) from Red Bulls. Donovan may or may not have said something snipish to Márquez, who grabbed the game ball and fired it at Donovan’s leg. Bodies closed in, Cristman shoved Marquez, who retaliated with a punch, later falling down from a phantom air blow. Juninho, meanwhile, delivered an actual punch to Stephen Keel’s face. Márquez and Juninho both earned red cards and now miss out on Thursday’s match.

Juninho’s lone goal against Honduran club Motagua fired the Galaxy into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals in March 2012. The Galaxy will face one of Salvadorian club Isidro Metapan, Seattle Sounders or Toronto FC. The loss of Juninho, on loan from São Paulo, in the current match presents L.A. with a selection headache, while many in the Red Bulls fanbase see the erratic Márquez missing out as a plus.

Real Salt Lake awaits in the Western Conference finals, having sealed a 3-2 aggregate win over Seattle Sounders, who went into last night’s second leg with a three goal deficit. Both teams shut each other out on home soil, but Salt Lake’s 2-0 victory last night fell just short of forcing extra time.


Landon Donovan Takes a Rest

December 22, 2010 — by Sean

Sorry lads, not this season.

After his fantastic showing in Liverpool last winter, Evertonians were abuzz over bringing the little speedster back to Goodison. They weren’t alone. Plenty of us in the States were hoping for his return to the people’s club, and a good many of us were hoping for a more permanent move. Everton is a club that’s easy to follow for the drama alone – they’ve a solid squad with an attractive style that tends to get down before fighting back in the second half of the season. Donovan as part of that struggle made for great drama, and his quality displayed on such a big stage brought some tiny increase in respect for the game coming out of america.

Were the Merseysiders really that enamored of the man? Just check out the 400 pages of comments in this Everton forum: Sir Landon of Donovan.

But while he would’ve been very welcome on loan, Landon has sat himself out for the winter, and who can really blame him? He’s played almost nonstop for two years, what with the spring-fall MLS season, loans to Bayern Munich then Everton in the winters, and the World Cup last summer, he’s had all of 2 months off out of 24. Let’ snot forget he’s pushing thirty, and those muscles and joints starts to ache all the more at the turn of one’s third decade (just ask anyone in La Liga Fabulosa).

So we’ll see him again with the Galaxy come Spring, and maybe he’ll have Ronaldinho alongside him in attack? According to certain sources, the Galaxy have made a $40M offer to Milan for the chubby Brazilian. We’ll see about that, but one thing is for certain, Donovan will stay in LA for the time being.


MLS Creeping Toward Championship Final

November 9, 2010 — by Sean

The MLS season ended a couple of weeks back, and then the top half of the league were pitted against one another in goal-aggregate, home-and-away series. What does that mean exactly? For one thing, it means all the games the Galaxy won during the season to earn first place are half worthless. They still would’ve made the playoffs with 12 less points—why not take a page from city associates the Lakers and play at half speed until the playoffs, when you can come out limber but rested?

Let’s save the full rant for another day, but let’s just say I’m not in love with the playoff system in the MLS. Moving on, the chart below represents the final standings of all teams in the MLS, regardless of division. (Give LA a trophy I say…sorry, another day, another day)

Remaining at this point are the Galaxy vs Dallas, and San Jose vs Colorado. Very left coast, must be the bountiful full-year playing surfaces. And do note their season-ending positions (but I will not continue my rant).

How do the playoffs work then, you ask? Well I can’t be bothered to explain it myself, so here’s a bit of description from the public domain after the bump:


What to Watch This Weekend (Oct 30-31)

October 29, 2010 — by Suman

We’re back once again with our recommendations on when exactly you should plant yourself on your couch or local pub stool this weekend.  Again using SoccerInsider’s full TV listing as a reference, here we go, with some notes from various members of the CultFootball collective:

Saturday Oct 30

Striker, Goal Scorer, Contortionist

Manchester United-Spurs 12:30 p.m. FSC: a matchup of the 3rd and 5th place teams in the EPL table, with goal-scoring players in form on both sides (Chicharito and Nani for Man U, Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart for Spurs)

Barcelona-Sevilla 4 p.m. ESPN Deportes: One of the more challenging La Liga games for Barca, especially since Sevilla seems to finally coming into form (6th in the table) after a slow start, and their Brazilian WC2010 star Luis Fabiano back in the lineup and finding the back of the net.

Those are the two matches to make time for, but if you need a couple additional matches to fill out your day:

Hercules-Real Madrid 2 p.m. GolTV: It’ll be interesting to see if Real Madrid can keep up their recent dominating form (well, last week’s scoreless draw against 3rd division Murcia in a Copa del Rey game excepted), or conversely whether Hércules can pull off another upset.

AC Milan-Juventus 2:30 p.m. FSC: AC Milan is 2nd in the Serie A table, and has an exciting set of big names in attack: Ronaldhino, Pato, Robinho, Ibrahimovic, Seedorf, while Juve is in 5th.  See’s rundown of key individual matchups here.

And since the MLS playoffs have started, a Saturday night special…

San Jose-New York 10 p.m. Telefutura:  Sounds like Thierry Henry will miss this match due to an injury, but the Red Bulls have a number of players to watch: Rafa Marquez, the Mexican international recently arrived from Barcelona; Estonian Joel Lindpere; Jamaican Dane Richards; and Senegalese-American goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul (see this NY Daily News article about his journey from Senegal to the Bronx to high school in Manhattan, and eventually to the MLS).

Sunday Oct 31

Palermo-Lazio 7:30 a.m. FSP: Roman side Lazio sits atop Serie A, while Palermo is in 8th.  We’ll refer you to for each side‘s rosters, recent team news, and standard formations.

Stan Cummins (sunderland) 1980's tyne-wear derby

Newcastle-Sunderland 9:30 a.m. FSP: The Tyne-Wear derby. Overlooked step-sister Sunderland have held their own against Newcastle on the pitch over the years, if not in international fame. Always good to share your name with a tasty brew.

Bolton-Liverpool noon FSC: Liverpool played well last week, and Fernando Torres finally scored, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can build on that—and work their way up in the table.

And one more—another MLS playoff game, featuring the star-studded Galaxy:

Seattle-Los Angeles 8 p.m. ESPN2

CommentaryUnited States

How to Attend to a Soccer Game: A Beginner’s Guide

August 19, 2010 — by Sean

As I watched the nearly sold-out USA v Brazil game, I was reminded of thoughts I’d had while watching the sold-out Red Bulls v Galaxy matchup: New Yorkers don’t know how to get to a soccer game on time. It’s obvious when you tune in to watch on TV and see over half the stadium empty for the first 15-20 mins. But don’t blame the fans entirely. Baseball, (American) Football, Basketball—our homespun sports are very forgiving to the tardy and have surely created a mindset that simply isn’t applicable to the footy.

I can’t be bothered to look up the actual statistics, but I imagine baseball games average 3 hours. Football always seems to take four, but I’m usually watching at home (pre&post-game etc.). Basketball seems like it moves along more quickly, but there’s still plenty of breaks in play to get up and refresh a drink or grab a bite.

Soccer isn’t like this at all. You can’t be fifteen minutes late for soccer, because then you’ve missed nearly 17% of the game, and it’s not coming back. You can barely get up at halftime to grab a drink before the play is back on. And I don’t know about you, but unless I have a beer somewhere within reach I’m not completely enjoying myself at a professional sporting event.