Monday, October 31, 2011

MLS Madness: Playoff Update!

If the regular season was any indication of what to expect this year in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the weekend's games proved to be even crazier and more unpredictable than most pundits and fans would have guessed.  If you missed any of the action, we'll catch you up to speed.

The Wildcards:

FC Dallas 0-2 New York Red Bulls
In a cagey, high-tempo matchup in Dallas, the Red Bulls eliminated the Hoops as Joel Lindpere hit the deciding goal from close range.  Thierry Henry iced the cake with another seven minutes into stoppage time.

Colorado Rapids 1-0 Columbus Crew
The Rapids were able to ride Omar Cummings' goal to victory as they put forth a solid defensive performance against Columbus, delivering the Crew's ticket home two years running.

Down to Business:

Real Salt Lake 3-0 Seattle Sounders

Wow...definitely a result that no one predicted!  RSL looked a completely different side that was winless in the last month and a half of the regular season.  And Seattle were uncharacteristically taken apart in their visit to the Rio Tinto.  With goals just before and just after the break, and another just before the final whistle, the Sounders, arguably the most versatile and talented side in the league, will have their hands full crawling out from under such a deficit.  However, if it can be done, Seattle would be the team to do it, as they boast broken records for attendance and goals scored in their home matches this year.  The second leg of this one should be a cracker!

New York Red Bulls 0-1 Los Angeles Galaxy
Certainly the most high-profile matchup so far, the game itself did not disappoint, and there were postgame fireworks to boot!  Galaxy wonder-boy Mike Magee, nudged his side ahead with only a quarter hour gone.  Frustration is a mild term for the emotions experienced by the Red Bulls for it seemed they were simply not supposed to score.  The Galaxy's  Josh Saunders worked miracles between the sticks and singlehandedly preserved LA's lead.  In a furious melee after the final whistle, Rafa Marquez and Juninho were both shown red cards for inciting a hockey-style brawl.  It may prove well for the Red Bulls because Marquez's season long dramatic tirades and antics are more befitting to a third division benchwarmer than a top flight player, not to mention the Mexico National Team captain.  New York will have to make history by winning at the Home Depot Center, but this replay will also be a VERY exciting match.
"Oh, we're just getting warmed up!"
Philadelphia Union 1-2 Houston Dynamo
The Union played host in their first ever playoff match as the Dynamo played spoiler in their first ever win over Philly.  The action was all in the first half, Houston netted seven minutes on and Sebastian LeToux retaliated two minutes later.  The Dynamo completed the win with another goal in the 30th.  The teams will finish the appointment at Robertson Stadium in Houston.

Colorado Rapids 0-2  Sporting Kansas City
Teal Bunbury's brace saw off the Rapids at DSG Park, and the home side was hit heavily by injuries.  An already spread thin Rapids squad will be hard pressed to overturn the scoreline when they travel to Livestrong Park to face an increasing dominant Sporting at home.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Carling Comeback, Arsenal 2-1 Bolton

It doesn't have to be pretty...
The 'Carling Kids' have done it again!  Arsenal dispatched Bolton Tuesday with a brave performance and have progressed to the Carling Cup Quarterfinals.  In an odd twist of fate, Bolton's goal came from a former Arsenal Academy player, Fabrice Muamba.  The competition may stiffen from here on out, but the cup run looks promising as Arsenal await the drawing this Saturday.

All told, the first half was pretty tame stuff.  Perhaps the best news for Gunners fans was the return of center-back Thomas Vermalen a.k.a. 'The Vermanator' into Arsenal's starting lineup.  As usual, it was a youthful side put forth in the cup from the hosts.  Arshavin was given freedom to roam behind the lead striker, much like his role in the Russia national squad.  Arsenal enjoyed most of the possession in the early stages and Ju Young Park had several sharp cracks at goal in the first half.  Darren Pratley led the charge as Bolton briefly asserted themselves but when as the rain began to fall, the hosts resumed dictating the pace of the match.

A wet but content crowd of almost 57,000 vocalized their support throughout the match and they were certainly given more to cheer about in the second half.  However, two minutes from the restart, it was Fabrice Muamba of Bolton who would draw first blood.  It would be interesting indeed to discover Wenger's thoughts as he watched the ball pop into the roof of the net, having come from the boot of a former Arsenal Academy lad.  A sparkling goal and individual effort to be sure...thankfully, the Wanderer's lead would last only five minutes.  Arshavin orchestrated the attack from his free-form position culminating with a retaliatory strike that leveled the game.  The ever-smiling Russian shared the ball and the joy five minutes later when he fed the ball to a crashing Ju Young Park whose clever timing had kept him onside.  The South Korea skipper looped a swerving shot round Bogdan that just squeaked in the far post.  The Professor's face revealed his pride (and relief) but Arsenal were soon forced to defend their lead.  Gary Cahill, the summer's would be Gunner, provided a constant goal threat despite his defensive role in the lineup.  As Bolton pressed to tie the game, Fabianski was tested on several occasions.  Bolton swapped in Chris Eagles and Robbie Blake (both signings Owen Coyle brought along from his Burnley side) and Arsenal countered with Ryo Miyachi and Oguzhan Ozyakup.  Promising runs by each team, but the story of the match had already been told.

Its on to the next round for Arsenal, with eight teams left in the competition.  The selection draw takes place on Saturday and odds are the Gunners will draw a stiff Premier League rival.  That tie falls short of top priority at the moment, however.  Saturday, the Battle for North London commences as the Gunners travel to Stamford Bridge in the London Derby, and then host Marseille Tuesday in the Champions League.  Come on You Gunners!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

MLS Cup Playoffs Underway!! FCD 0-2 NYRB

Last night, in an action-packed wildcard playoff match, the New York Red Bulls traveled to Pizza Hut Park to face FC Dallas in the first postseason game of the 2011 MLS season.  New York just notched their playoff berth with a win over Philly in their final regular season game last week.  Dallas on the other hand were gasping for air after their unimpressive slide in recent weeks.  Either way, both sides had been good enough to make it and both sides looked hungry for a win.

The home town crowd did their part in lifting the Hoops and the first half hour was all FCD.  Dallas had several chances to go in front but the finishing was missing from their play.  New York finally switched on and were clearly happy to have their resident legend Thierry Henry back in the lineup.  Big shots and feverish pace characterized the first half but neither team could shake their opponent.

Lethal Lindpere
The second half proved more exciting than the first and Dallas looked to score by means of a set piece but free kick missed the target by inches.  So many shots in this game would be tortuous to witness as a fan in the stands.  Often when the ball slams into the side netting, without the perspective of instant replay, you're convinced you've got a goal.  This playoff fixture was filled with such attempts, serving to ratchet up the intensity of the crowd's participation.  FCD surrendered the ball cheaply in the 61st minute and Joel Lindpere, NY's clutch man, rifled a shot almost immediately.  The effort was stuffed but Red Bull's Dane Richards collected the rebound and passed to Ballouchy who dangerously slid the ball into the box.  Lindpere would not be stifled twice and easily converted the goal from close range.  Dallas nearly netted an equalizer moments later, but New York's defense was able to hang tough.  With ten minutes left in the game, the Red Bull's had a player sent off for a dangerous challenge and FCD took advantage of the red card.  Try as they might, Dallas could not find the leveler and seven minutes into stoppage time, it was Thierry Henry who put the match to bed.  Seizing on a long ball, the Frenchman strode goalwards and assaulted a threadbare Hoops defense.  His initial shot was blocked, but the front man's quickness allowed him to easily tap in the rebound and effectively silence Pizza Hut Park.

Wildman & Co take on Rapids
The good news is that this is just the beginning!!!  New York play host to the LA Galaxy Sunday (Oct 30th)in the first of a two leg aggregate series.  Tonight in another HUGE wild card showdown, the Columbus Crew face defending MLS Cup Champs the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The healthy Columbus side boasts some terrifying offensive options including our own former Charleston Battery forward Tommy Heinemann.  The game can be viewed via for FREE!  Look for another spectacular matchup and don't forget the MLS Cup final in Nov 20th!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vintage Arsenal Stifle Stoke, Arsenal 3-1 Stoke City

3-1.  The scoreline itself is a tonic to those questioning Arsenal's Premier League credentials.  Not a close scrape, not a last gasp winner, but a solid, confident three goals and three points.  The Flying Dutchman scored yet another brace, this time from the bench.  The tally gives Van Persie 7 on the season and it seems the striker can't keep from scoring at the moment.

Van Persie: Goal Machine
The opening of the game was a quiet one.  A spurned chance here and there but the tone was decidedly in Arsenal's favor.  The quickness of Gervinho had whispered of the impending goal.  Arteta made a move downfield and eventually, the midweek hero Aaron Ramsey scooped a pass over the Stoke defense.  Gervinho collected and brought the goal home.  He showed a good bit of skill to beat the offside trap.  Seven minutes later, the Gunners were guilty of a similar sluggishness.  A seemingly innocuous free kick was dropped into Arsenal's box and Stoke's quick pinball passing resulted in Peter Crouch finding the net.  Throughout the season, that leveling goal has been the Arsenal's undoing.  The break came at a good time for them and the players were able to respond to the familiar situation positively.

Coming from the tunnel, Arsenal exhibited a more attacking edge.  A pair of dangerous crosses signaled the host's intent and once Robin Van Persie took the field, the offensive machine clicked into gear.  Six minutes later Arshavin's introduction only heightened their sense of urgency.  The Gunners were rolling and the goals were on the way.  At 73 minutes, Gervinho slipped a clever cutback to RVP who stabbed home from close range.  It was a lead, but this inspired side were not quite finished.  A close call resulting from Stoke's offensive substitution sobered Arsenal and it was time to complete the task.  With pace, Gervinho glided down the left wing, and again with a slick cutback passed to Van Persie who put the game beyond doubt with eight minutes to play. 

The Arsenal are developing well and are continuing to climb the table.  Gervinho's form in this match was fantastic as he more than adequately played the role of striker and supplier.  Despite its grim beginning, Arsenal's Premier League aspirations are looking better with each match.  Well Done Gunners!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gunners Down Marseille with Late Strike, Marseille 0-1 Arsenal

Snatching victory through injury time, the Arsenal have topped Group F in the UEFA Champions League. A hard-fought match on foreign soil seemed destined to remain scoreless, but the Welsh Wonder dubbed "Rambo", Aaron Ramsey, broke the deadlock with seconds to spare.  With two of their three remaining group fixtures at home, Arsenal are in the driver's seat and look to finish group play with a top seed in the knockout round.

The Stade Velodrome boasts one of Europe's most spirited (and vocal) atmospheres and 1400 Arsenal fans skipped the channel to find themselves in the midst of a fiery cauldron of Marseille support.  Dismantling Dortmund 3-0, the French side were looking to bide their time and use counterattack technique to undue the Arsenal.  Early on, Jenkinson looked impressive down the right flank for Arsenal, spending more time in Marseille's half than ours.  The first half was full of intensity from both sides and thirty minutes into the fixture, either squad had reasonable appeal for a penalty.  Neither would have their complaints heard and for all the back and forth football, it was nil-nil going into the break.  

Jubilant Gunners celebrate 'just-so' victory
The second half was much like the first.  All buildup, no result.  Substitutions on both sides.  Seemingly no avail.  Despite the scoreline, it was an encouraging performance by the Gunner defense.  Undoubtedly, the achilles heel of recent Arsenal performances, the backline was showing a determined solidarity.  It was good play by the hosts and visitors alike, unfortunately nothing could separate the two.  The draw looked inevitable as injury time ticked away and then, out of nothing, a goal!  Second half sub Johan Djourou sent a searching ball into the box.  Nudged ever so slightly by Gervinho, another second half installment, the ball wound up at the feet of Ramsey.  Without a moment's hesitation, the ball was flitted into the net and the match was over.  

The win gives Arsenal 7 points and command of the group.  This side is on the rise and look more dangerous with every game.  The Gunners 'never say die' attitude brought home all three points in this crucial Champions League game.  Look for them to grow stronger as the campaign continues.  Cheers Rambo!!  Come on You Gunners!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Workhorse Win, Arsenal 2-1 Sunderland

Not every win will be glamourous and glorious.  Not every victory contains the stuff of legend.  However, the workhorse wins and "ugly points" are what it takes to win championships.  Arsenal earned themselves such a win Sunday afternoon.  Those three points lifted Wenger's men out of the cellar of the Premier League and Arsenal are finally sitting at the top half of the table.

Every fan loves goals, there's no doubting that.  But players like Robin Van Persie cause loyal fans problems, leaving supporters kicking themselves for missing by moments the opening of the game.  The goal was scored in the first minute, but lets be a little more accurate:  the goal was scored before 30 seconds had ticked off that big clock on the wall of Emirates!!  The official had barely finished with the opening whistle when Gervinho slipped a delicate pass to RVP who cooly fired the Gunners ahead long before the sellout crowd had even taken their seats!!  Clearly football is a team sport, but in the opening quarter hour of the match, Van Persie was taking on the visiting Sunderland side almost singlehandedly.  On twelve minutes, the Dutchman scuffed the inside left post with a chip reminiscent of his preceding Arsenal legends.  The ball drifted haplessly square across the goal line and was regrettably cleared by a scrambling Sunderland defence.  Arsenal, with tempo and possession were quickly hemming them in.  Three minutes later another RVP strike ripped by the upright.  But this game was not without twists.  With half an hour gone, Sunderland had become the beneficiaries of a handball called against Arteta.  It just so happened that Sebastian Larsson is set piece specialist and given the chance he tied the game by putting the freekick beyond Szczesny's reach.  The effort was laudable, however, it hardly seemed just that the two were on level terms.  Sunderland looked to capitalize on their momentum and pushed for the second goal.  The Gunners left the pitch looking rather sheepish as the first half concluded.

Thankfully, Emirates witnessed a stronger more determined Arsenal emerge from the tunnel.  The home side began to dominate once more and the Professor's attack minded substitutions added aggressiveness.  The tone was set, the roles defined.  The hosts played at arsony, and Sunderland were left desperately putting out flames. The visitors gifted Arsenal a free kick just outside the box with only seven minutes remaining.  The resident clinical finisher took his place and Van Persie confidently scored his seventh of the campaign.  The final minutes featured surprisingly end-to-end football and perhaps both were relieved by the final whistle.  Arsenal had eventually found a way to victory and the unimpressive win certainly nudged them in the right direction.

Onwards & upwards in the EPL!
The win and the points were a relief, but it was the start of a big week for Arsenal.  Wednesday held a trip to Marseilles and a crucial group stage tie in the Champions League.  With confidence and a few more able bodies back from injury, the Gunners toasted the win but began preparations for entering enemy territory.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Dismal Derby, Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal

Well, the international break has given me a chance to catch up a bit, as well as some other things.  During the break, there were some spectacular matchups and a few big upsets as well.  I hope to get to those in a later post, but for now let's take a look back at the infamous North London Derby.

The Spurs could smell the blood in the water and were looking to pull one over on their weakened rivals.  White Hart Lane was rife with anticipation and the hosts took the pitch with confidence.  Coming off a nervy Champions League win at midweek, the Gunners looked timid, fully aware of the test that lay before them.  Tottenham were poised to strike and easily controlled the opening play.  There were faint glimmers of Arsenal brilliance but communication was lacking and the passing was sloppy.  With half an hour gone, the Spurs' Defoe fed Van der Vaart with a lovely cross and the Dutchman forced a save from the Arsenal keeper.  Nerves were subsiding and the Gunners began making good runs forward.  Gervinho edged a shot wide and then it was Walcott's turn to miscue his strike.  The shots were off target but they were finally moving in the right direction.  All that would end in just a moment's notice.  On the 40 minute mark, former Gunner Adebayor lifted a ball over the defense to the waiting Van der Vaart who chested the ball before placing it out of reach in the top corner of the net.  There were several appeals for handball but the play stood.  It was the goal the crowd had been waiting for and the celebrations were uninhibited.  Tottenham surged, looking to finish the tie.  However, after the break momentum had swung in the visitors favor.

Sensing the urgency, the boys in red responded.  Minutes after the restart, Alex Song exploded in miles of space down the left side.  He swung in  a cross at the near post and Aaron Ramsey smashed home the goal.  Until the score, the Welshman had had a disappointing game to say the least.  Arsenal were back in it with the scores level and everything to play for.  Applying more pressure, the visitors were nearly stung by a Spurs counterattack.  Adebayor somehow managed to find himself alone with the keeper, but in a twist of delicious irony, the no-longer Arsenal forward could not find the net against his former team.  Szczesny had one more to add to his bag of fine saves on the afternoon.  Unfortunately, the failed attempt inspired the hosts and they renewed their offensive.  Wenger subbed in Jenkinson for the injured Sagna and installed Benayoun to help protect the young back.  His experience however, was not enough to prevent another Tottenham strike.  Song blocked an effort by Modric, but the ball fell to the Spur's Walker who ripped his shot past an off balance keeper.  Advantage Spurs.  Arshavin was enlisted to aid the comeback with even Mertesacker and Szczesny crowding the box for a pair of corners deep into stoppage time.  It was not enough and Tottenham would see their lead through to completion, taking advantage of a young defense.

Keep it coming!
The win gives Tottenham two in succession over their North London rivals.  Last season the Gunners lost at home to the Spurs for the first time in a decade.  Arsenal did not seem themselves in the match.  There's at least one fan hoping the Gunners can regroup and refocus during the break and finally get the Premier League campaign on track when they host Sunderland at the Emirates this coming Sunday.  A bright side on the day, is that this match was broadcast in the US on Fox immediately following an NFL game.  Ratings numbers were good and this is a promising development for EPL fans stateside.  There is another Fox Sunday afternoon game slated for November 27th featuring Liverpool and Man City at Anfield.  Lets keep those numbers up so we can see more EPL games on regular television!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Seattle Three-peat, USOC Final: Sounders 2-0 Fire

The Sounders have done it again!  Defeating the Chicago Fire 2-0, Seattle claimed the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for the third consecutive year.  The game had all the makings of a cup final classic, including a record crowd of 35,615.  The two sides are no strangers to the cup and their experience was evident as the teams took the pitch.

Seattle Three-peat!!!
The first half yielded no goals but the Chicago GK Sean Johnson would be happy to shoulder the blame of that statistic.  Seattle's Mike Fucito created several scoring chances for the Sounders throughout the first half but the Fire's defense weathered the storm.  The half ended as Freddy Montero clanged a shot off the bar, but for all their effort, the teams were level at the break.

It was Fucito who looked to ignite the crowd only minutes into the second half, but his effort struck the post as Chicago dodged yet another bullet.  A goal was in the offing and the raucous rave green mass could sense it.  The Emerald City boasts perhaps the most terrifying atmosphere anywhere in the U.S. and the Fire were feeling the pressure.  The Sounders began the barrage and it was simply a matter of time until the levy broke.  With each shot and save the intensity and volume continued to skyrocket.  The Sounder's Erik Freiburg sent in a corner which was met by Brad Evan's on target header.  Once again, Windy City shot-stopper thwarted the attempt, but only to deliver the ball to Seattle's familiar Colombian hero, Freddy Montero.  Needless to say, the Sounder's frontman ripped the ball into the net as the expectant crowd erupted in jubilation.  In desperation, the Fire made a pair of substitutions and began to fight for their equalizer.  Surprisingly, the visitors forced a miraculous save from Keller, but the effort was adjudged to be offside.  Deep into stoppage time, former Charleston Battery player Osvaldo Alonso weaved through a weary Fire defense and slotted home to ice the cake and the game.  The whistle sounded seconds later and the Seattle Sounders made cup history with the 2-0 win.

The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is the oldest cup competition in the country and one of the oldest competitions of its kind in the modern sports world.  Seattle are on of only three sides to ever win three consecutive USOC titles.  Sounder's GK and former US National Captain, Kasey Keller, has said the team are far from finished as they rush towards the MLS Cup playoffs and have progressed to the knockout stage in the CONCACAF Champions league.  Seattle are certainly the most exciting team to watch and will undoubtedly exhibit some fantastic football in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gunners Edge Greeks, Arsenal 2-1

The Professor was in the stands for the second time this campaign.  Coming off the draw in Dortmund, Arsenal needed a strong performance at home to solidify their position in the group.  The "Ox" got the nod, and the stage was set for an important battle.

Plenty of Greek Londoners were in attendance and soon made their presence known.  The game begin quickly and as many were still finding their seats, in the 8th minute Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain had already found the net!  The Ox became the youngest Arsenal Englishman to score in the competition!  He seemed to surprise himself with the effort and no doubt delighted the sellout crowd.  Arsenal were looking dangerous, controlling the game with Mikel Arteta to thank for it.  With twenty minutes gone, Santos was released from the back and went ripping down the left flank.  In moments, the Brazilian had slipped a ball in from a very difficult angle to score his first goal in red and white.  The visitors had conceded but not capitulated.  Seven minutes later, the visitors had halved the deficit and were intent on overtaking it.  Scoring from a corner, the Greek champions displayed tenacity as they battled for the upset.  At the break, Arsenal had the lead but were not controlling the game.  Olypiacos had left the pitch as the more dominant side.  
'The Ox' leads the charge
The second half was more nervy than the first and the Greek champions nearly leveled at the restart.  Arsenal defended their slender lead but the play soon became end to end football, a little too reminiscent of the Dortmund game...The Gunners backline looked as comfortable on the field as Arsene Wenger did in the stands.  After an alarming close-call that left the crossbar trembling, Wenger's stand in, Pat Rice knew it was time to make changes.  Robin Van Persie replaced Chamak who had played an impressive game up front.  Aaron Ramsey came in for a tired Oxlaide-Chamberlain.  Finally Gibbs relieved Arshavin, joining Song who was filling in on defense.  It was a tense game to be sure, but the Gunners withstood the pressure and won the match.  

Santos' first goal for Arsenal!
Although we got the right result, it was a little disappointing to see the Gunners on the back foot against what should have been our easiest competition in the group.  Also, our next two Champs League games are against Marseille who trounced Dortmund 3-0 in matchday two.  The outcome of those two fixtures will have a tremendous effect on result of Group F.  Arsenal may not have played with full conviction today but we still hold second place with four points against Marseille's six.  However, the margin for error is becoming smaller and smaller as the tournement progresses.

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