Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bizarro World!

Good Lord! Has the football world gone mad overnight? After eight years of guiding Bolton till they're within spitting distance of UEFA qualifications, Big Sam Allardyce walks without warning! And that's not all. "Eccentric" (some say that's a nice word for what he is) former France national keeper Fabian Barthez is attacked by fans, trades fisticuffs, and flees town with his family! At this rate, next thing we'll learn there's some truth to the ridiculous rumor about Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon joining Mexican side Necaxa! Naah...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Fan for a Day: Espanyol v Werder Bremen

Werder Bremen strode into the Estadi Olimpic de Montjuic, home of Barcelona's other team Espanyol, the clear favorites... but by the end of the 90 minutes it was equally clear that the aging Espanyol squad had not yet heard the news that their own UEFA Cup semi-final dreams were to remain just that. Bremen moved menacingly toward goal in the early stages of the game, but a steady and contemplative Espanyol slipped the first dagger in via a splendid corner kick by Ivan de la Pena to Francisco Rufete who subsequently crossed to an eager Moises Hurtado for a goal in the 20th. In the opening stages of the second half, Bremen were still focused and attack-minded, but disaster struck in the 50th minute when Espanyol's Walter Pandiani headed in the ball past Bremen keeper Tim Wiese. And it was downhill from there.... Eight minutes later the home side's Raul Tamudo broke free from his defenders in the midfield and kept the advantage as he sprinted toward a second goal, curving his body and ball past the charging Wiese. Unfortunately, a body can only twist so much and Tamudo's ability to stay on his feet was tested by a cynical Wiese, who I guess was more at ease with a red card than with yet another goal slicing past him. It would have been a beautiful goal and moment for Tamudo and Espanyol's feverish supporters, but that third goal would have to wait until later. With Wiese off, Bremen put in 38-year old Andreas Reinke to man the posts, but his valiant efforts to stave off a third goal dissolved in the 88th when substitute Ferran Corominas shot one into the net, solidifying a well-deserved first leg victory for the Spanish club who has not exactly been burning up the standings in La Liga this season. Espanyol win 3-0. Next week's second leg match at Bremen, it goes without saying, should be mandatory viewing for fans of the Spanish game and anyone else out there who is more than a little disappointed/underwhelmed by the remaining teams involved in that other European tournament.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Man of the Match: Alan Ball Jr. 1945-2007

It's always sad when a legendary footballer dies. And when you were a vital component of an equally legendary squad--say, the English team from '66 who won the World Cup against West Germany--it's even sadder.

I wasn't even born yet when the Three Lions raised the Jules Rimet trophy for the first and so far only time.... I've watched that color footage over and over again in an attempt to time travel back to Wembley, wondering what it must have been like to witness such a feat. I can only imagine.

The stocky midfielder, who was the youngest player on the '66 team, also played for numerous clubs, including a short stint with the Vancouver Whitecaps back in '79-'80.

I guess Mr Ball died not long after watching the Man U v AC Milan match last night. There are certainly worse ways to go....

You can read more about the flame-haired legend here and here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Man U v AC Milan 3-2

Despite a Manchester United goal in the fifth minute by Gabriel Heinze--no, strike that! A goal by the twinkle-toed Cristiano Ronaldo--damn it! Okay, it was a blasted own goal by Milan's stalwart Brazilian keeper Dida--#&*%!

I guess it was Ronaldo after all. Unfortunately I still think Dida flicked it into his own net. No matter. A goal is a goal is a goal and Man U wasn't going to argue it. They were on the scoreboard and ready to fire more against a stealthy but aging Milan squad who looked a little unsure of themselves in those opening moments. Luckily for the supporters of the Rossoneri, the magnificently composed and dangerous Kaka generated some serious comeback thrills by scoring in the 22' and 37' minutes respectively, immediately lowering the crowd volume and expectations at Old Trafford and seemingly casting a divine light upon the veteran Italian team.

But the football gods are a fickle bunch and by the time Rooney awkwardly managed to fumble a ball past Dida in the 59th (thanks to a plucky Paul Scholes pass), it was becoming increasingly clear that Milan would be lucky to leave with a point. This was not the same goal-crazed Man U that dismantled Roma a few weeks ago with that 7-1 embarrassment, but they nevertheless managed to remain focused, patient, and deadly when need be. And in the 90th... with the clock ticking down... Rooney made sure that he would be the one to keep Man U's crusade to the Champions League finals divinely alight. I still think that Milan can pull off the win next week at the San Siro, but that dream of European victory for the controversial, battered, and weary squad looks a little dimmer. And though I would love to see a rematch between Liverpool and Milan in the finals, something tells me that this year may belong to Mourinho and The Blues after years of European disappointment.

Portland Boys, We Are Here

A revamped Timbers squad--retaining a mere handful of players from last year's disastrous run--took to the pitch on Saturday night against the Puerto Rico Islanders. Among the more painful losses: longtime Timbers Byron Alvarez (gone to Charleston), fan favorite Hugo Alcarez-Cuellar (snapped up by--this one hurts--arch-rivals Seattle Sounders), and Josh Saunders, who was in the goal for Puerto Rico Saturday night. It's always wonderful, of course, to see Scot Thompson back, but why hasn't a European side offered him a decent contract yet?

We were guests of a generous friend who had tickets for seats just above the beer garden, which provided an excellent view of the players, the pitch, and a magnificently loud and magnificently full North End! The Timbers Army can no longer be contained in one, two, or even three sections! Also, I cannot quite believe that this is still coming up--but anyone who claims that the Bad Words of the TA go ringing throughout the park, scarring small children for life and setting them on a sure path to juvenile delinquency, is a dirty liar--the only obscenity which can be discerned is the tiresome, charmless, please-God-let-it-be-retired-already "You suck, asshole!" which is really offensive on account of being, well, lame.

Aside from the fantastic vantage point, lordy, those seats have nothing to recommend them, unless you enjoy a soccer match with all the atmosphere of a Midwestern Lutheran church service as described by Garrison Keillor. We were anxious to get back to our people and fled to our fellow hooligans for the second half. Kudos in particular belong to the youth of Rose City--we saw lots of enthusiastic teens and, uh, young people (we'll just be over here adjusting our walkers) filling out the sections. A fantastic and enthusiastic turnout on a cold, rainy, miserable night.

And the match! Josh Saunders, who gave us some good years as keeper before succumbing last year to the same loss of form as everyone, let three goals get past him. (Honestly, we like Saunders a lot and think he's a good keeper, and wish him much success and many clean sheets in his future, as long as he is not facing the Timbers.) The formerly-evil Andrew Gregor shed his bad-guy Seattle duds and opened the match in spectacular fashion, scoring the first of his two goals in the second minute (although he apparently has also spent some time training with England's national team, judging from the quality of his penalty kicks). Luke "Use the Force" Kreamalmeyer headed in our other goal for a final score of 3-1. Our new keeper, Josh Wicks (formerly of the Vancouver Whitecaps) looks pretty good, as does the rest of the new squad. (My friends pointed out that since the new keeper is also named Josh, I won't even have to scribble out the name I have written all over my pee-chee. I'm sure I have no idea what they're talking about.)

For an actual match report and incisive commentary, see Allison and Roberto.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Birthday To Us

A pretty move, conceived in a fever of excitement over the impending 2006 Portland Timbers season, the World Cup in Germany, and late-night, possibly drunken ramblings that kept ending on a note of "Hey, we oughta start a soccer blog!" is one year old today. Happy birthday, apm!

We've had a few changes around here since then, perhaps most notably the move of one of us to a largely soccer-free zone (we'll see her back in these parts once she's getting regular broadcasts again). It's been a fun little experiment so far and we thank everyone who's read, linked to, and commented on our idiosyncratic and erratically maintained blog.

We, uh, seem to have gone on something of an accidental hiatus recently, not for lack of interest or things to write about but mostly due to (sigh) other commitments. But the start of an exciting new season for the local Portland Timbers should see us back on track. Last night's 3-1 triumph before a crowd of nearly 8,000 was a fantastic opener and we'll be writing about that tomorrow.

In the second year of the life of a pretty move we anticipate continuing with our usual obsessions: La Liga, the Czechs, the soap opera that is West Ham, the Argentinean national team, and various other diversions. And while 2008 is a long way off, sometime around the New Year we should have some dramatic and interesting changes to our football-watching habits and coverage. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reserving Our Energy

The offices at a pretty move have been pretty quiet of late (for no particular reason, mind you) and though we've been watching a few games here and there, nothing of note has really excited us. And the games that we have eagerly wanted to view, e.g. West Ham's last couple of matches, Barca's last two games, and Sunderland's match-up against Wolves this past weekend, have simply not been in the cards. It happens. Oh well. Perhaps we're just reserving our energies for the upcoming Portland Timbers season which starts up in the next couple of weeks.

Even the Champions League has failed to inspire us ever since Barcelona was booted out by Liverpool--oh the agony!--and our Spanish club allegiances were diverted to nifty-footed Valencia. I enjoy watching Valencia play, and really hoped that they could turn last week's 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge into their advantage today at home, subsequently moving on to the semi-finals. But it wasn't meant to be... and now there could possibly be three English clubs in the semis if Liverpool win tomorrow against PSV. Ugh. No offense to any Premiership freaks out there... but I can't help but feel a bit pissed at seeing the Spaniards fall out. But there's always the UEFA Cup, right? Woo Hoo!

Okay... enough bitching. That Man U game against Roma was sort of incredible, I guess, even though I can't stand Rooney/Ronaldo and company. But there was something sort of impressive about the whole pummeling. Three goals in 19 minutes, and the last two within a couple of one another! Yeah, there was something sort of brilliant about it. And Roma return home, hopefully without any violence erupting in England tonight... though god knows the dark, unruly clouds of hooliganism have been ever-present of late. I just wish that fleet-footed petulant Ronaldo would slip on the proverbial banana peel at some point. Damn, he's good. Perhaps I'll change my mind about him at some point considering I sure did an about-face regarding Drogba....

Nah. I don't see it happening either.