Monday, March 30, 2009

a few thoughts on three world cup qualifiers

I haven't seen this Spain team play since their exuberant rout through Euro 2008 and was more than a little apprehensive about how the team would fare without Luis Aragonés, who's moved on to coach Turkey's Fenerbahçe. Vicente del Boque, however, has maintained their streak of 30 undefeated matches, and they're at the top of their group. The team that took the pitch this weekend seemed a bit subdued, and the goalless first half was worrying. Gerard Pique was the surprise hero of the match, scoring his first-ever goal for the national team and the only goal of the game. Iniesta, Puyol, and Fàbregas were all injured, so that may have contributed to the relatively lackluster performance, but I'm hoping to see more fire and flair out of La Furia Roja in later matches--and this summer at the Confederations Cup.

Longtime readers of apm may recall my ambivalent feelings toward team USA, which I cannot help but likening to a boring boyfriend in tan slacks--who, on occasion, suddenly shows this astonishing burst of passion, causing me to regard him (them) in a new light. For most of the match against El Salvador on Saturday I was frankly appalled at the performance of the US team--they should not have struggled this hard against El Salvador, ranked 106 in the world (for whatever FIFA's rankings are worth: not much, plenty would tell you, but still). This wasn't boring; this was shambolic! And then, in the last fifteen minutes, that will and passion suddenly blazed and the squad managed to level the 2-0 score and pull at least a point out of the match. It's always nice to see the US play with that kind of heart, although the 75 minutes that preceeded it were unfortunate, to say the least.

There are always rumblings that the US only makes it into the World Cup because CONCACAF qualifying isn't that difficult compared to some of the other regions, and it's true that we aren't exactly facing the giants of football on the road to South Africa. And partly because of that, I always feel like the US turns up at the World Cup with unrealistic expectations of what they can do and what they're up against. It's disheartening to see this kind of performance against a team they should have defeated handily; at this rate they're not going to see much of South Africa before they're sent home after the first rounds. The US national team will never replace my beloved Spaniards and Argentinians in my affections, but I feel about them the way you do about your relatives: I can trash talk them, but I don't want to hear anybody outside of the family doing it, you know? So I always hope that at the very least they don't embarrass me in public.

Apropos of nothing, it's kind of hilarious to see the pre-game ads; there is such an emphasis on aggression. O the fear of being labeled pansies for handling the ball with your feet, not your hands!

Finally, Saudi Arabia defeated Iran at home 2-1 in a shocker; I only saw the last part of this match but Iran looked shaky and manager Ali Daie's been fired as a result. I couldn't help thinking of the film Offside and hoping women fans didn't put themselves to too much trouble sneaking in to this disappointing match. With a mere six points in five games, sitting fourth place in their group, Iran has a struggle ahead to qualify. One of the announcers for this game mentioned that Iran doesn't get many friendlies and so the squad doesn't play together as often as others; they did seem to lack cohesion. Is it too late for a new coach to come in and turn things around?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Welcome to WPS!

Women's professional soccer is back in the US, and I'm writing this as I watch the inaugural WPS match on Fox Soccer Channel. The WPS website is billing this as Abby versus Marta--that's Abby Wambach---

GOOOOOAAAALLLLL! LA Sol defender Allison Falk scores the first ever WPS goal in the sixth minute!

As I was saying, that's Abby Wambach, familiar as a forward to fans of the US Women's team, and Brazilian forward Marta Viera da Silva, who I wrote about a little bit a couple of years ago (check out the Alex Bellos article I link from that entry).

Right now seven teams make up this fledgling league: today's dueling LA Sol and the Washington Freedom (who comes up with these names?) as well as the Boston Breakers, the Chicago Red Stars, FC Gold Pride (Bay Area), Sky Blue FC (NY/NJ), and St Louis Athletica. Next year the league will expand to Philadelphia and--Atlanta!--so next year I'll be able to blog some live matches from here in the deep South. This will go some way (only some) toward mitigating the pain of being so very far from my beloved Portland Timbers.

I've blogged off and on about women's soccer and issues surrounding women in the sport, though never as consistently as I've wanted to I'll be doing my best in the coming months to write about WPS, the players, and the matches. If you didn't click my link up above, check out the new league's website here. And now I've got a match to follow.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Timbers Enter MLS In 2011

More later....

green is the MLS!

This seems as momentous an occasion as I can think of to restart our footy musings on apm:

Fellow soccer blogger Zach Dundas reflects on the history of the Portland Timbers as the announcement comes that we're moving up to MLS in 2011.

I'm feeling giddy, speechless, excited, apprehensive, relieved, terrified, and really damn proud. Back on the US side of the pond but far from the Rose City, as much as ever I'm Rose City til I die!