Friday, March 19, 2010


Might as well go ahead and get this up here so we can find it easily ... at least until it's taken down. Hopefully it'll last.

Fulham with an absolutely incredible performance against Juventus on Thursday. To progress to the next round of the Europa Cup. Champions League light it may be, but there's still some damn good football on display. Ignore it, and you're missing out.

Case in point, Clint Dempsey, feared out for much longer after an injury, came back, came on the pitch as a substitute and scored a stunningly brilliant goal. As Ray Hudson, a long-time favourite of Match Pricks, said (quoted quite neatly at new favourite Must Read Soccer), it was a carefully considered strike. Watch it. Enjoy it. Watch it again. Send it to someone who knows nothing about football. Send it to someone who calls it soccer. Send it to someone who doesn't like the game.

And most of all, dig it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Soccer Saturday Podcast


Hopefully you enjoyed the debut of ESPN Radio's Soccer Saturday two weeks ago. We had a blast and are markedly proud to have been a part of the first locally produced soccer radio show in Milwaukee. While the show has a local focus, it indeed carries interest across the country. Grassroots, folks. It really is great stuff and it comes from the people who are planting and watering the seeds of the game in the very villages and cities where we all grew up and now live.

Soccer Saturday also features a "Soccer Around the World" segment. That's where we come in. Last week featured longtime Milwaukee Wave player and one-time Chelsea trainee, Michael King. Jim and I will be back in action again this Saturday.

Of course, we'll be on-air just 24 hours after the draw for the quarter-finals in the Champions League so you can imagine the main thrust of our conversation. Beyond that, of particular interest for us at the very moment, Liverpool just found their way into the Europa Cup quarter-finals and have their hungry eyes focused on Sunday's match against Manchester United. Don't need to tell you that one is always special. Also, Arsenal host West Ham at 12:30 p.m. local time on Saturday and they'll all be eager to hear how the Champions League draw turns out. That's an understatement.

Here's the link to last weekend's show. Listen in and hopefully those of you who are based with us in Milwaukee will help continue to spread the word to fuel the efforts of all of those people working to grow the game.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The tactic that dare not speak its name

The mischievous little shaver in me still obsessed with lighting a match in front of action-trigger-squeezed aerosol cans was left just a tad disappointed by the news yesterday that Steven Gerrard will not face disciplinary action for his double-elbow smash attack on Portsmouth's resident Roger Daltrey look-alike, Michael Brown. A post-match review that resulted in, say, a three-match ban would've set up something I'd be interested in seeing: Liverpool at United on Sunday without their captain.

Anonymous United sources have expressed the club's collective unhappiness with the fact Gerrard didn't get banned for his elbow attack while something similar had earlier landed Rio Ferdinand a four-match ban. (Gerrard probably does deserve it, but that's besides the point.) Well, who would've thunk it? Me and Fergie – uh, anonymous sources – in agreement on something. My twisted curiosity also wants to see Gerrard on the sidelines come Sunday. I'm not sure United's anonymous sources have seen Gerrard play much recently. Must be preoccupied with the ponies. Sitting Gerrard could just be the tactical masterstroke Liverpool needs to make it four in a row against United.

Allow me to explain: Steven Gerrard, at present, is back in his "man without a home" form for Liverpool. You might remember this Gerrard from such appearances as Liverpool's right winger. He wants to be in the center of the 3 in Rafa's 4-2-3-1, with Xabi Alonso behind him doing all the possession winning and connecting-defense-to-attack stuff. That Gerrard was a very thrilling, destructive Gerrard. That Gerrard also is really sad about his form signing with Real Madrid last summer in a £30 million deal.

Lately, Gerrard's position sense is all cocked up because he's either in the 2 of the 4-2-3-1, or he's back in that center 3 spot, but he's dealing with service from Mascherano or Lucas. Mascherano, who on the defensive end makes the Tasmanian Devil look like Droopy Dog, can be found all too often strolling the ball into the opponent's half. He wants to start the attack, and he's being given plenty of space, but he kind of takes on the look of a man from small-town North Dakota emerging from the subway and realizing he's exited in Harlem. It's not Mascherano's fault. Aquilani's on the bench/sick/injured/not picked. Liverpool's midfield, always a picture of calculated play in recent years, now resembles someone scrambling to run away from the grenade they just dropped – only they're not sure where it bounced. Is it under their feet? Did it go left? Don't run left if the grenade went left!

Look, I walk a fine line of Liverpool fandom when it comes to Gerrard. On many matchdays you can spot an expression of this at in the occasional references to the Steven Gerrard Give-A-Shit-O-Meter™. In more honest moments, you can catch me talking about how I don't really trust him. I'm a fan of Gerrard while also regularly being unhappy with Gerrard, if that makes any sense. For one, I can't get over the corner kicks. Why someone else doesn't stroll up to Stevie and say, "Let me try, just this once. If I beat the first man, maybe I can try again? If I hit the first man, you can resume your duties." Watching the Portsmouth match Monday, I actually became convinced I could get it past the first man if I was allowed the opportunity – and I've never played a competitive match while my age was in double digits. It's beyond aggravating. It smacks of undeserved deference. I can't believe nobody else takes them for Liverpool. Lucas would be better at corners. I guess Mascherano stays back out of concern for a quickly sprung counter, but if that's not an issue, he should give it a shot. Just let anybody else do it for one match and see what happens.

But why stop at just the corners for the match against United? What if they just let somebody else play for him? Aquilani apparently has another virus/knack/disease/adjustment problem and won't play against Lille on Thursday. I hope like hell Aquilani will be available against United. It would present options. It would present a change of pace. It would set up Liverpool to work the ball smoothly from defense to attack – and Rafa could play a few guys in that center 3 behind Torres, not just Gerrard. The Talisman didn't play in the first match this season, and that one didn't exactly end with misery and dread pounding Liverpool supporters into deep depression. The match at Fratton Park did that.

In the end, Gerrard's going to play come Sunday's kickoff. The unimaginative/sane nook of my brain understands having him in the lineup is part of Liverpool's "best-possible" team these days, but I'm not enthused about the possibilities for a great performance from him. If Liverpool win, it'll be thanks to something Torres did to re-create this event. If Liverpool lose, it'll likely happen because Torres didn't do anything, or Wayne Rooney ate Daniel Agger whole before heading in three Antonio Valencia crosses.

For Gerrard, I'll start my expectations at a corner that clears the first man and work up from there. Heavens to Betsy if he actually scores.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A brief comment

This one files directly under, "If it takes more than one tweet, it's a blog."

For starters, if you're not on Twitter fix it. Get aboard. It's like a vineyard of football writers. You just walk along and pluck away to taste what you like. I've recently started following a certain @PhilippeAuclair. Full disclosure: I know very little about who this person is. But I have been enjoying his observations on the football. In particular, this little diddy from just a short while ago ...

Jose: "I'm happy with our happiness, not their unhappiness". A classy performance all round from Inter and their maestro.

This is just so nice to see and really falls in line with something I've been thinking for quite some time. 

Why do people feel the need to express a win as something that makes you better than someone else? Or rather, why would you use a win to exert some divine right, or a higher status ... like a right of way? You win a game, your team is better at the game. Your team gets to celebrate the win. But it doesn't mean your team is the light, the savior or simply ... the right team. It doesn't mean the other team is wrong and that those who support that team are lesser beings who deserve to be disrespected. It doesn't mean those people have opted to be unhappy. It doesn't mean those people are wrong.

As Jose said when he wrapped his comments, "That's life."

There's a deeper thought in here that I've been munching on but that must be saved for another time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Questioning their raison d'être in Wigan

As I'm typing this, Colin is at home, snuggling up with his DVR and watching this afternoon's Arsenal-Porto Champions League second leg "live" after shutting off the outside world during work. I imagine when he takes his turn later/tomorrow/after the hallucinogenic, Bendtner-fueled transformational experience ends, he'll dwell on matters slightly more uplifting than meeting one's end slumped over at a $5 blackjack table on a Tuesday morning in Atlantic City, the victim of a massive heart attack.

Yes, a few thoughts about Wigan v. Liverpool from Monday. I just can't get past it. I've seen some horror shows this season as I've repeatedly convinced myself that this match would be the one where Liverpool turns it all around during the 2009-10 campaign. I imagined all sorts of outlandish excuses last night as I went through my own "DVR and watch 'live' after work" experience. First I thought they might all have the flu, but a suggestion from Run of Play on Twitter sent me into a more absurd direction: Liverpool played so horribly because the ESPN UK pitchside reporter (Kelly Cates? Rebecca Lowe? Someone else?), while they lined up in the tunnel, revealed to each of them how they will die.

After all, how could Gerrard be expected to play a sideways pass anywhere near a teammate in his own half when he's just been told his kids will stop talking to him in 2029? You think Lucas wants to clear the ball near his own box when he's only 16 all-too-brief years away from a brain tumor? It's no wonder Yossi Benayoun looked so dispirited last night, what with having to know now that his beloved woodcarving habit will bring about his sudden demise. Hell, Sotirios Kyrgiakos is the only one that ends up with a proper funeral.

As a fan, however, the deepest cut was in the office this morning, as the resident Arsenal fan and United fan took turns consoling me. That's when you know the show's over, folks. You don't get a lot of sympathy calls from people who view the number 19 as a sort of ultimate pinnacle that, in a way, serves to vanquish a significant part of their rival's legacy. If I get a pat on the shoulder and a warm "There, there" from a Newcastle supporter, I'm liable to just go and try to learn the damn rules for cricket or rugby. Anything to get my mind off of things for a few months.

UPDATE: Latics-flavored condolences aren't much fun to swallow, either.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ramble on

We like Zeppelin at Match Pricks. A lot. I mean really, there's not much better than a good face melting with some Led Zeppelin. All the better when there's actually a kick ass Zeppelin tribute band that plays every couple of months and obliges us with a good old fashioned face melting.

But that's beside the point.

As you may have seen, Jim and I had the honor of joining the new Soccer Saturday radio show from ESPN Radio in Milwaukee. They even let us talk. We each took a few more hacks at a topic that is well worn over at this point. I promise, we're moving on now ... really.

Here's the link to the podcast. Give it a listen. You'll hear yours truly, Jim and host Matt Salmon. Hopefully you'll enjoy it. We're definitely looking forward to more in the future. More importantly, listen to the other segments. Of note, the show is brought to you by the Milwaukee Wave. If you're unfamiliar, the Wave is an indoor soccer team and we are proud to say that they are the longest running professional soccer team in the United States. I'll be honest, that's a statistic I wasn't aware of before this weekend's show. See? Listen to the rest and you'll get all sorts of little nuggets.

It's wonderful people working hard to make football (soccer, in this case, I guess) work in Milwaukee, the state of Wisconsin and across the country.

Cheers for now!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Let's put a bow on this package

It's old news now. Still, the world needs to know what I think. I was going to avoid adding more pixels to the burgeoning mountain that grew over the week but I need to have my say. Are you out there world? It's me, Colin.

Aaron Ramsey, the fantastically talented 19 year old midfielder for Arsenal, broke his leg last weekend after a poor tackle from Stoke's Ryan Shawcross. It's never easy when someone gets hurt playing the game they love and the game we love watching them play. There is, though, a deeper cut when the player is coming into prominence as Aaron Ramsey is or indeed as Eduardo was in 2008 when he suffered that horrible injury against Birmingham. It's not fair but the emotion feels, for its part, more raw and more out of your hands. Then, Eduardo was shipping buckets of goals for Croatia in qualifying for the European Championships. He was among the reasons we gave Slavan Bilic the nickname, The Man With All The Answers. Bilic was a Golden Boy and Croatia looked a real threat, particularly when led by Eduardo and that fantastic little pixi Luka Modric. On top of it, Eduardo, it seemed, was finding his pace in the Premier League and had begun to transfer his natural ability to picking up those scrappy goals from those impossible angles that Arsenal had lacked for as long as I can remember (editor's note: my memory is poor). Move ahead to the Arsenal match last weekend at Stoke and football loses an incredibly promising youngster. Aaron had, in his second season with Arsenal, forced himself into Arsene Wenger's first team. He was already featuring for his Welsh national side where, last fall, he scored one of the most magnificent goals I can remember. I'll be damned but I can't find the thing anywhere online. For my part, it'll end up as a true fish story - better with age. I swear he beat three defenders, letting the ball run for some 20 yards without a single touch before he converted. He's one of those players, like Cesc Fabregas or even little Jackie Wilshire, who you get excited about not because of the tools or physical attributes he possesses but because of the way he sees the game. It's the difference between an artist and a painter. They're using the same tools, the same medium yet one completes while the other soars.

To the issue, there are tackles to win the ball and there are tackles to take the body out of the play. Neither, I think, are generally malicious. No one wants to hurt someone else, or boasts and dreams of violence unless you've fully lost the plot and no longer have touch with reality. Or if you're Sir Alex Jintao and just by opening your mouth you hurt people's very soul but that's beside the point. The tackle from Shawcross was not a ball-winning tackle. It was a tackle to disrupt body and psyche in the hopes that it would influence the further outcome of the game. Like a war attrition, the man who delivers such a tackle does so in the hope and assumption that that particular space will be his later in the game. Deliver tackle. Pound chest. Pee on ground. Space. Mine. Rar.

Unfortunately, there are often consequences. And, much like punching someone in the face to take ownership of the center of the pitch, it should not be allowed.

Disagree with me if you will, and I'm quite sure many of you will, but I strongly believe an inferior team reverting to tackles like that in an effort to discover whatever small tactical edge they may is wrong. And, disagree with me if you will, but I firmly believe that there are teams that accept that as a tactical approach in an effort to salvage what is indeed a very precious point in their battle for survival in the top flight. As my counterpart Jim very rightly pointed out yesterday in our first contribution to the new Soccer Saturday radio show, the terrible injuries suffered by Arsenal players in the last four years have come against just such opposition. Sunderland, Birmingham and now Stoke. While they are teams that carry qualifications for their own part, it's certainly not as if they are school boys. They can play the game and compete to the point where they win points (trust me, it happens, take a look at the results). Still, they approach contests with Arsenal as a lumberjack approaches a tree or like Patton approached Sicily. And it's all in a clear attempt to throw the team off of their game through fear-inducing violence. Not through football.

What's wrong with this? Surely teams should be allowed anything at their disposal to try an beat their opposition. Right, but the problem for me comes when tackles that are clearly conceived to attack the body are allowed to rest at 'their disposal.'

To finally get to my point, the more officials allow players to pour in with such reckless tackles, the more likely it will be that people will continue to suffer terrible injury. And we surely need not point to further evidence that teams do indeed target Arsenal in such a way. Look, people get hurt in sport and football is a contact sport. Still, there comes a point when the degree of that contact must be measured and the officials - be they the governing bodies or the arbiters of any given match - must be prepared to put a halt to such a tactical approach when it's clear what the intent is and that the intent is well and truly there.

Now this is a big point ...

The intent is not there to hurt. That is clear. However, the intent does exist to throw in a reckless tackle that is precisely designed to disrupt rhythm and to frustrate. Disrupt and frustrate to your heart's extent, oh opposition, but we must find a way to eliminate those who attempt to disrupt and frustrate with tackles that are quite clearly reckless enough to end in a horrific injury. If you need to put 10 across the back to stop a team that "plays the ball too quickly" then by all means please do so.

And don't tell me about nostalgic hard men and hard tackles.

In the National Football League in America, there's a great lust for the "big hit". Time was, linebackers would clothesline the opposition, nearly ripping their heads off. Time was, the defensive backs would clobber wide receivers, leading with the crown of their helmets and spraying concussions all over the field. Oh, those grand old days, right? Hardly. The laws of the game have been adjusted and hits of that kind are no longer allowed. In fact they are looked down upon. A last straw that should never be clutched.

This isn't a woe is me and woe is the Arsenal thought. It happens everywhere. I'm not saying you need to take good firm tackles out of the game (and that Arsenal have themselves been guilty is beside the point here, there are no "yeah buts" in this argument, it goes both ways). What I am saying is when it is quite clear that a team is consistently flying in and through players with destructive tackles, and it is quite clear that it's not a one off incident, it is very much time that the leaders of the game stand up and say enough is enough. And yes, it is very well the point also that officials take heed in advance of such matches that this will happen. When you see a Stoke or a Blackburn line up against Arsenal or Manchester United, the official should be prepared to recognize the situation and address it as the unique entity that it is.

The approach must be stopped.

To close I'll direct you to rational and reasonable comments from Cesc Fabregas here and Abu Diaby here, who suffered just such an injury in 2006.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Somewhere between schadenfreude and indifference

You might have heard the news today that Michael Owen is done for the season after a hamstring injury Sunday in the Carling Cup final. Excuse my reaction if it sounds unbecoming, but thank goodness that's over with now.

Owen and I have a somewhat unique history, seeing how he's the reason I'm a Liverpool fan. The 10-cent version of the story is that, like many Americans raised in the Upper Midwest, I came to football late. It took Fox Sports World, the lazy-days schedule of college life and an open mind to turn me on to the game. I remember it as being somewhere around 2000. Watching one game with an open mind led to watching another. Then another. When I realized I was hooked on the sport and wanted a team to follow, the only player I was really aware of was Michael Owen – thanks to France '98.

A goal like that, even before social networking, was readily available over here for anyone with an interest in sports and an ability to look at a television. It caught my eye, reminded me of how I watched the Americans' match against Brazil with my mom and grandma during USA '94, and pretty much helped create the guy banging out these thoughts right now.

Anyway, Owen and I go way back. His departure from Liverpool for greater glories was always sad, but I never held a grudge. During the Super Cup in 2005, when Cissé came on, I agreed with the Liverpool supporters in Monaco who lustily rang out with, "There's only one Michael Owen!" We wanted him back. Then Cissé ended up the man of the match, thanks to an unseen handball – these sorts of things benefit us all every now and again – and I just sort of went on with things. The Newcastle move was curious, and based on money, so Owen just kind of drifted away. His injuries were always sad, but I had the 2001 FA Cup final on the DVR for a good long while and watched his goals every few months as a pleasant reminder.

But the United move this year was too much. Look, I'm not pretending I'm the only Liverpool fan to be upset by it, but there was an extra sting in the jibes of all the United fans who looked at me and smiled as they relished in Owen playing this season in one of "their" shirts. As a fan, it sucked.

Now, at least that part of this season's fan experience is over. It's not like following Liverpool during 2009-10 has been trying or anything, right? Several weeks ago, I accepted the team's fate and that it'll be a series of grinding performances. No matter what happens – finish fourth, end up lower than that, lose 9-0 at Old Trafford, beat United with an own goal deflected off Gary Neville's crotch – Liverpool's not going to be viewed in any way this season as a beaming spotlight of hope, beauty and glory. It'll be whatever it ends up being, and then we'll all start getting silly and happy for the World Cup.

It's still unfortunate that Michael Owen is winding things down with a series of injuries. The "What if?" tag was practically created with Michael Owen's career in mind. In this case, though, I'm relieved I don't have to ask, "What if Owen scores a late goal that delivers United its 19th league title?"

It's goofy being a fan like this, – especially at my age – but this is what you sign up for. It's not really enjoyable to know Michael Owen is hurt again. I'm not going to church to light a votive candle about it either.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Match Pricks joins ESPN Radio's Soccer Saturday

Both Jim and I are excited to share some good news this week.

Through the efforts of our good friends at the Milwaukee Wave, Milwaukee's indoor soccer club, we are proud to announce that we will be a part of Milwaukee's first locally produced soccer radio show, Soccer Saturday, beginning March 6. The show is scheduled to run every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. (CST). Listeners can tune in at 540 AM as well as via the live stream at The show will also be available via podcast. There will be news updates and interaction with the show's host through @SoccerSat540. Full details are available in the press release.

As ever, more immediate information, thoughts, discourse and general sweet delights can be found through @MatchPricks on Twitter.

We appreciate everyone's support and feedback over the last one and a half years and we're really looking forward to all that is yet to come. Thanks for visiting and thanks for tuning in.

All Match Pricks readers are greatly appreciated.