Thursday, January 19, 2012


As the opening match whistle blew at the Santiago Bernabeu the excitement in the air was palpable.  With Real Madrid is soaring atop the La Liga table, six points clear of their Catalan rivals, they wanted to maintain their good form against what is regarded by most as the world’s greatest football team.  The affair is always something to behold and the lineups that Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola put out on the field were sure to play some entertaining football.


The magic began in the 11th minute when Cristiano Ronaldo found space down the left wing thanks to a wonderful ball from Karim Benzema.  The Portuguese winger showed a trademark quick cut to the outside to open up enough room for a blistering low shot that found its way between Barcelona keeper Jose Manuel Pinto’s legs.  The opening goal was exactly what Mourinho’s side was looking for and it allowed Madrid to use the midfield cluttering style that they prefer against Barcelona.  With Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Ricardo Carvalho, Coentrao, Altintop, and Xabi Alonso usually staying behind the ball, it was up to Barcelona to rise to the challenge that Madrid had thrown down.


So the assault on the Madrid goal began just after the Madrid goal.  It began with Cesc Fabregas lofting a majestic ball over the Madrid defense to Alexis Sanchez who met it with his head.  The ball sailed off Sanchez’ head and looked destined for the back of the net before it crashed into the post and was cleared by Sergio Ramos.  Iker Casillas was forced to make several saves and Barcelona’s best scoring opportunity of the half was wasted by Iniesta due to a poor shooting effort that ended up in the stands. Barcelona would finish the half goalless, but with momentum in their favor.


Barcelona began the second half with the same flying style they finished the first.  Just four minutes into the second half, Barcelona found the back of the net thanks to the unlikely forehead of Carles Puyol.   Xavi struck the corner kick cleanly and Puyol beat Pepe to the ball with a diving header that Casillas had no chance to stop.  Just like that Barcelona was back in the driver’s seat for the two legged tie, but they were not finished.

Fabregas was at it again with his creative touch as he lofted a ball to Iniesta who volleyed it first time towards the goal before it was deflected out of play by Sergio Ramos.  The attacking play of Barcelona was overwhelming the Madrid defense that consisted of Hamit Altintop (in only his 3rd start for Real Madrid) and Ricardo Carvalho (who had missed the previous 21 matches with injury).  Madrid had an opportunity to strike back when Altintop’s cross was met by the head of Pepe, but the Spaniard was unable to put the ball on target and the opportunity was wasted.


As Barcelona rose into the ascendancy, Real Madrid picked up the physical play.  Madrid punished Barcelona both on the ball and off the ball, but the worst display of unsportsmanlike play must belong to Pepe.  Pepe, known for his dirty work, stamped on the hand of Lionel Messi while the Ballon D’Or winner was down on the ground after a hard foul from Jose Maria Callejon.  Callejon earned a yellow card for the foul, but the incident with Pepe went unnoticed to referee Cesar Muniz Fernandez, who took a very lenient view of the game in the early stages.  Pepe may very well be receiving a suspension for the incident due to overwhelming video evidence against him.


As the game went on and the hard fouls added up, Barcelona was still managing to find the space they needed to play their style of flowing football and the chances were still adding up.  Xavi found the head of Sergio Busquets from a set piece, only to have the ball fly over the bar.  Just a few minutes later, Lionel Messi conjured up a little bit of magic to put Barcelona ahead.  Messi found himself space just outside the penalty area and lofted a ball to Eric Abidal who found himself unmarked in the penalty area.  Abidal chested the ball and finished left footed to give Barcelona the go-ahead goal.

Two of the most unlikely scorers had given Barcelona the leg up that they so rightly deserved throughout the game.  Their style, tempo, and squad were superior to the Madrid side that Mourinho decided to field and it became even more apparent in the game’s closing moments when Messi was again hacked down, this time by Ricardo Carvalho.  The final whistle blast signaled the end to the match, but it is only halftime of the tie and it will be interesting to see how Jose Mourinho and his squad decide to approach their upcoming match at Camp Nou.

Ray Hudson provides some masterful commentary on the top Youtube video while you get a closer look at Pepe stomping on Messi's hand in the second. Puyol gets the background for "swinging in like Tarzan".

Posted on Thursday, January 19, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Pittsburgh took the first step towards developing a lasting professional soccer club in the community as plans were unveiled today detailing the 3,500 seat stadium to be built in Station Square.  The privately funded project is expected to break ground in March or April and could be ready for use as early as July.  The facility is expected to have an open view of the river as well as the Pittsburgh skyline, which will make the most of the city’s natural beauty.  The stadium will be host to Pittsburgh’s USL Pro club the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.


Highmark is expected to the naming sponsor of the stadium while #1 Cochran and Trib Total Media will also sponsor the facility.  The 3,500 seat stadium will leave room for future expansion and will initially boast 16 corporate suites.  Ticket prices will remain in the $10 range that they currently are for Riverhounds matches that currently take place at Chartiers Valley High School Stadium.  The new facility will have concessions as well as pub & grill for hungry fans.

The new $7 million facility will also be host to other sporting events thanks to its hybrid surface, but will have permanent soccer lining ensuring its primary purpose as a soccer stadium.  Design of the stadium was completed by ThenDesign Architecture (TDA).  Their past projects include the Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio, The Gilmour Academy Ice Arena in Gates Mills, Ohio, and Ice Land USA in Strongsville, Ohio.

The Riverhounds have been playing in Pittsburgh for over a decade after being founded in 1999, but have never had a facility of their own.  Their home has bounced around from a few local high schools and Washington, PA’s CONSOL Energy Park, but with this project means that soccer will finally have a home in the ‘Burgh.  The new stadium will already have a strong group of supporters to lead the fans; the Steel Army has been a fixture at Riverhounds games since their founding in 2007.

So with the solid foundation of community support, financial backing, and a stadium design that takes full advantage of its Pittsburgh surroundings, this project will soon bring soccer to the best sports fans in America.  I can’t wait to be cheering in a stand down by the river. 


Posted on Tuesday, January 10, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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FIFA’s annual Ballon D’Or Gala took place yesterday in Zurich, Switzerland.  It was a night to celebrate the beautiful games best and brightest, those who shone above the rest, and as always Lionel Messi stood out a little more than most.  While donning a purple jacket, Messi graciously accepted the award which he pledged to share with teammate Xavi.  Messi beat out Xavi along with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo to win the award, and is already looking to be the favorite for next year’s Ballon D’Or.


Honmare Sawa was awarded the Ballon D’Or for her efforts leading Japan to victory in the Women’s World Cup this summer.  She edged out Marta who had been given the honor the previous five years as well as American Abby Wambach.  Sawa is the first Japanese player to be given the honor, but it was not the only accolade that she would receive on behalf of her country.  Japan was also awarded the FIFA Fair Play Award for the “impressive courage and spirit shown by Japan as they recovered from the terrible earthquake and tsunami that devastated large parts of the nation on 11 March 2011.”  Both awards were truly deserved and Sawa received them both graciously on behalf of the Japanese Football Association. 


Neymar took home the honors for first ever Puskas Award for FIFA Goal of the Season for this masterpiece of a goal that was scored against Flamengo earlier this season.  The 19 year old appeared in a more traditional tuxedo than Messi, but dazzled nonetheless thanks to his trademark orange mohawk, as he received the award from former Mexican striker Hugo Sanchez.  Some would argue that the award should have gone to Hamit Altintop for his thunderous strike against Kazakhstan, but I’ll put them below and let you decide for yourself.


To close out the ceremony, FIFA handed out its annual FIFA/FIFPro World XI awards to the masters of their respective positions.  Iker Casillas, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Nemanja Vidic, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Wayne Rooney all collected their awards from Pele as they were honored as the world’s most elite.

Posted on Tuesday, January 10, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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Monday, January 9, 2012



Over the past several months racism has reared its ugly head once again in English football.  Liverpool’s Luis Suarez was charged with making repeated racial comments to Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during the October matchup between the two sides.  The abuse resulted in a subsequent investigation by the FA and their findings were detailed in a 115 page investigation report, which found that Suarez used the term “negro” seven times towards Evra.  The FA has suspended Suarez for eight matches and fined him £40,000 as a result of this incident.


Another October incident has centered on the always controversial John Terry.  The incident took place during the Chelsea vs. Queens Park Rangers match on October 23.  Terry is alleged to have racially abused QPR’s Anton Ferdinand during an argument that took place in the later moments of the match.  Anton Ferdinand was reportedly unaware of what was said by Terry, but took offense when the incident was discussed on radio call in shows and social networking sites.  On November 2, Terry was placed under police investigation for alleged racist abuse.  He was interviewed on November 25 and on December 21 he was charged with using racist language by the Crown Prosecuting Service.  A hearing is currently scheduled for February 1.


The third notable racism incident took place just this past weekend. Fresh off former Liverpool great Robbie Fowler appearing in black face as Lionel Ritchie, Liverpool fans at Saturday’s FA Cup matchup against Oldham are accused with racially abusing 20 year old midfielder Tom Adeyemi.  Adeyemi left the field in tears after Liverpool fans repeatedly taunted the young player when he touched the ball and a Luis Suarez chant went up immediately after the incident occurred.  For this to happen during one of the most important nights of the young player's career is especially terrible.  Oldham captain Dean Furman summed it up by saying “What happened should not happen in the game. It (racism) has been highlighted over the last few months and it is an absolute disgrace.”  A 20 year old Liverpool fan has since been arrested, but it is hard to believe that all the abuse stemmed from one individual.


Despite the work of the FA and the Kick it Out Campaign, racism is still finding its way from the fringes, into the mainstream of English soccer, going as high as Fabio Capello’s selection for England captain.  These accused incidents are categorized as isolated, yet players and fans alike have quickly rushed to defend the likes of Suarez and Terry, despite the evidence pointing against them. 

Liverpool is a club that can be found at the center of these two incidents and has a checkered history of racial abuse towards opposition players from their fans.  Former Liverpool player and current Pool manager Kenny Daglish had his players train in t-shirts with the Uruguayan’s visage shortly after the incident, which should have been found to be in poor taste by any player with a modicum of self-awareness. Daglish also promoted the theory that this was another example of the FA, media, and Manchester United teaming up to tear down the storied club.


If the hearing on February 1 confirms that John Terry used racist language towards Anton Ferdinand he should be stripped of the England captaincy immediately.  As a Chelsea supporter, I found his behavior to be disgraceful to the club and would accept any punishment that the FA then deems necessary.  I am very thankful that Chelsea has chosen to handle the situation much better than Liverpool.  

Racism is something that has no place in a game that brings so many people together. As I’ve said before, football is culturally universal, played in every country around the world.  Bringing the divisive elements of racism into football is counter intuitive to all parties involved.  It turns players and clubs into villains, it makes sponsors less likely to approach athletes and clubs for endorsement, and worst of all it brings attention to the beautiful game for the wrong reasons.  The English Premier League and FA Cup are two of the most exciting competitions in modern football and to have international attention given to football for this nonsense is unacceptable.  Every effort should be taken to ensure that these incidents do not occur again.

If you want to learn more about what you can do to keep racism out of football, visit www.kickitout.org

Posted on Monday, January 09, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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Thursday, January 5, 2012


Here we go:

Newcastle:


After yesterday’s heroics against Manchester United, Newcastle will likely look to improve the existing squad to continue their early season push that had them sitting as high as third.  Despite the need to improve, they may find it difficult to hang on to their existing squad considering Fabricio Coloccini and Chiek Tiote have both found themselves earning the attention of top clubs.  Providing none of the core players at Newcastle are sold, expect Newcastle to make another move Swansea’s CB Ashley Williams and despite being initially turned down by the Swans, I expect them to cave once their reported £8 milliion asking price has been met.  Newcastle has also been linked with a loan move for Juventus’ Vincenzo Iaquinta to add some striking depth.  Newcastle have also had a £4 million bid for West Ham defender James Tomkins rejected, but another move could be in the making in the upcoming days.  Newcastle has also been rumored to approach Montpellier for their 22 year old defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.

Stoke City:


Stoke City’s success has been largely because of their heroic defending led by captain center back Ryan Shawcross.  Shawcross has already attracted the attention of his former club Manchester United, so the fight will be on for Stoke to keep him at the Brittania.  Stoke has so far been rumored to be chasing Birmingham’s Liam Ridgewell in addition to being on the laundry list of clubs interested in Manchester City’s Nedum Onuoha.

Norwich:

Norwich overachieved in the first half of the season since their return to the Premier League thanks in large part to Grant Holt and Steve Morison.  The Canaries are expected to make a move for Nottingham Forest defender Chris Gunter, but the asking price has not yet been met.  Norwich has built their squad by poaching players off teams in the lower leagues so look for this trend to continue as they seek their place in next year’s Premier League campaign.

Sunderland:


After an early season struggle which led to manager Steve Bruce’s departure, the Black Cats have rebounded fantastically under new manager Martin O’Neill.  Sunderland has been linked early in the transfer window with Tottenham midfielder Steven Pienaar.  While O’Neill has expressed interest in creating a Manchester City-esque revolution around the club, he has acknowledged that it will likely come without the massive financial backing that Roberto Mancini has enjoyed.  Midfielder Stephane Sessegnon has been unsettled at Sunderland in recent months and a few clubs including Marseille are reportedly interested in him.  Good news for Sunderland fans though as the club has signed a two year contract extension with their midfielder Jack Colback. 

Everton:


After beginning the season hovering around the relegation zone, Everton has recovered quite well and now find themselves in eleventh place.  Their transfer business has already began as Landon Donovan has agreed to another two month load deal with the club, bringing in the American captain as they have done in the past.  Everton despite their financial difficulties are looking to target French striker Guillaume Hoarau as well as his PSG teammate Mevlut Erdinc.  Everton will also have to deal with the attention on their young starlet Ross Barkley who has attracted the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson.  Everton are also expected to reach a contract extension with midfielder Sylvain Dystin which will keep him at Goodison Park until 2013. 

Swansea:

The Premier League’s first Welsh representatives have done well for themselves, climbing to 12th position in the table thanks in large part to the heroic goalkeeping of Michel Vorm and some timely goals from Scott Sinclair and Danny Graham.  Swansea already finds one of their key players Ashley Williams receiving the attention of Newcastle United.  Swansea are rumored to be in the market for two Barcelona B players, defender Sergi Gomez on a loan deal, and striker Jonathan Soriano who may be available on a permanent deal if personal terms can be agreed between the player and club.

That’s all for today. Back tomorrow with the bottom of the table rumors and maybe an FA Cup preview.

Posted on Thursday, January 05, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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Before I get to part two of the transfer overview, let’s take a look at what went on in the Premier League yesterday:

Bolton vs. Everton


Landon Donovan’s first match back with the other Toffees club did not go as planned, and Bolton managed to secure themselves three valuable points in their battle against relegation, but the highlight of the night has to belong to Tim Howard. Howard took advantage of a charitable wind gust that sent his booming clearance bouncing over Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan’s head and into the back of the net for the match’s opening goal.  Howard seemed genuinely shocked by what had happened, but celebrated his goal in a style reminiscent of Dimitar Berbatov.  After Howard’s 63rd minute opener, the Toffees let the game slip away from them, conceding two goals in the match’s final 25 minutes.  The first goal went to David Ngog who received a pass in the penalty area, but dribbled between two Everton defenders and finished past an outstretched Tim Howard.  The wind again played a factor in Bolton’s second goal after a Tim Howard punch was corralled by Chris Eagles and moved along to Tim Cahill who smashed it home for the games winning goal.  After this match the question burning on everybody’s mind is who will finish with more Premier League goals, Tim Howard or Fernando Torres?

Bolton 2, Everton 1

Tim Howards Goal:


Full Match Highlights:

Manchester United vs. Newcastle United


The match started off a tenuous affair, with both sides earning chances in the match’s opening moments.  Manchester United was denied a goal off of a Dimitar Berbatov header that deflected off Davide Santon struck the post before running out of play, but from there out the match belonged to Newcastle.  After shouts for a penalty went unheard in the 25th minute, Demba Ba opened the scoring for Newcastle after latching onto a Shola Ameobi ball and volleyed it past Lindegaard.  The first half ended with a couple more scoring opportunities for Newcastle, but they were unable to add to their tally before the halftime whistle.  That changed just after the kickoff for the second half, when Yohan Cabaye unleashed a fantastic right footed free kick into the top left corner of the net.  Man U’s best opportunity to score came when Wayne Rooney got his foot to a cross and set it past Tim Krul, but Danny Simpson was in the right position and cleared the ball off the line to keep the clean sheet for Newcastle.  The woes continued for the Red Devils as Phil Jones headed a long ball past Lindegaard for the final goal.  A rough day for Manchester United at St. James Park as they lose pace with Manchester City who remain in sole possession of first place.

Manchester United 0, Newcastle United 3

Full Match Highlights:

Posted on Thursday, January 05, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012


As the ball touched down on New Year’s Eve, the January transfer window was thrown open.  Clubs around the world are now scrambling to make the signings and secure departures that will allow them to push for the title, build for the future, or offload some talent that has become “distracting” (in Chelsea’s case all three).  With the window just recently opened, let’s look at what to expect from Premier League teams in order of their current standings:

Manchester City:


After starting out the season on fire, City has cooled off towards the end of 2011.  After suffering losses to Chelsea and Sunderland and drawing to West Brow, but recovering to beat Liverpool handily just yesterday, the top ranked club is not expected to make any big splashes in the transfer market.  However, that may quickly change if the unhappy Carlos Tevez can be sold early in the window.  Rumors already have the Citizens linked with Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi.  Rossi is rumored to have been given a contract ultimatum that is due by Friday, if nothing is signed expect the midfielder to move.  De Rossi would add depth to the City midfield that will miss Yaya Toure for the upcoming African Cup of Nations.  The move would also give support to David Silva who has struggled in recent weeks, but if no move is made it could be summer signing Samir Nasri who is forced to step up after a lackluster first half of the season.

Manchester United:

Manchester United finished the year where Fergie wanted, in a deadlock with Manchester City for the top spot, but last season’s champions now see themselves 3 points behind with a game in hand before today’s match with Newcastle.  United have had unfortunate luck this season with a season ending knee injury to captain Nemanja Vidic  as well as smaller nagging injuries popping up throughout the squad.  Phil Jones who was signed during the summer transfer window has stepped up tremendously for the club, and United will hope that their January signings will have a similar impact.  Rumor has it United is targeting Inter midfielder Wesley Sneijder.  Rumors have had Sneijder linked with Sir Alex’s squad since last summer, but as Inter’s title hopes dwindle for this season a move may be in the making.  United could also be in the market to reacquire Ryan Shawcross.  Shawcross was sold from the club in 2008, but has since become the hero-captain of Stoke City.  An exit could be on the horizon their Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berabtov, whose uncelebrating goalscoring ability is always in demand.

Tottenham Hotspur:


Spurs have certainly proven a lot thus far this season.  After Harry Redknapp refused to sell midfielder Luka Modric to Chelsea in the summer window, the midfielder has been a revelation for Spurs helping the team to their current position in 3rd.  With a solid midfield, pacy wingers in Lennon and Bale, and a solid defense led by Michael Dawson, Redknapp doesn’t expect Spurs to be big spenders during the January window.  However the squad could use some added depth up front, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Spurs sign a striker during the window.  If they do enter the market look for them to target Lille’s Moussa Sow, Marseille’s Loic Remy, or possibly Blackburn captain Christopher Samba.  Spurs have also been linked as a potential landing for the troubled Carlos Tevez, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Chelsea:


Another transfer window begins with Chelsea expected to be big spenders.  After splashing £50 million on Fernando Torres last January, the Spaniard has only found the net three times.  With Didier Drogba, Solomon Kalou, and John Obi Mikel all leaving for the African Cup of Nations, as well as Nicolas Anelka’s sale to Shanghai and Florent Malouda’s possible exit, Chelsea will need to enter the transfer market.  Michael Essien’s return to the squad will help cover for the missing players, but Chelsea’s inconsistency throughout the first half of the season has shown that the club will likely be big spenders during the January window.  They have been linked with a wide range of players from Real Madrid’s Kaka to Napoli’s Marek Hamsik and Edinson Cavani.  Chelsea were rumored to have closed a deal for Bolton’s Gary Cahill a few days ago, but that deal seems to have hit a snag regarding wages and a guaranteed spot in the starting eleven.  Regardless, I still expect the Cahill transfer to go through and would not be surprised to see Chelsea splash big for one of the previously mentioned players or possibly one of Villas-Boas’ former players from Porto.

Arsenal:

After an appalling start to the season Arsenal has recovered well to earn their spot in 5th place.  Robin Van Persie has been on form for nearly the entire season, notching 17 Premier League goals thus far.  For Arsenal to continue to succeed, Van Persie must continue his form and Wenger must make a splash in this transfer window.  Arsenal has already been linked with Lille’s Eden Hazard along with the previously mentioned Loic Remy and Moussa Sow.  Rumors have also linked the London club with Sunderland’s Kieran Richardson, German striker Lukas Podolski, and a little known 24 year old right back from Oman, Saad al-Mukhaini.  It wouldn’t be the first relatively unknown player than Arsene Wenger has brought in, but we all know of Wenger’s inability to reach into his pocket.  None of these rumored signing do much to bolster the Arsenal defense, which is an area that the club is certainly lacking.

Liverpool:

With Liverpool beginning the year slightly below where they expected to be and Luis Suarez’s eight match ban for racist comments, you can certainly expect the Reds to spend big during the January window.  Last season’s big signing of Andy Carroll has proven thus far to be a bust, but they still got the better end of the Fernando Torres deal, which is why the Spaniard has been linked with a possible loan move back to Anfield.  Liverpool has already been linked with Crystal Palace striker Wilfried Zaha along with Porto midfielder Fernando.  Darren Bent could possibly move to the Merseyside club, but expect the club to go with Esteban Granero or Nikica Jelavic from Rangers to bolster the squad while remaining within their budget.  Fernando Reges from Porto has also been linked, but that would likely cost more than Kenny Daglish and Co. may be willing to spend. 

That’s all for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with Part 2.

Posted on Wednesday, January 04, 2012 by Alex Schaffer

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