Friday, April 27, 2007

Red Bull Defense Does Dallas

John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Paolo Maldini, Rafael Marquez and Fabio Cannavaro have one thing in common: None of them play for the Red Bull. Heck, Jimmy Conrad and Oguchi Onyewu aren't part of Bruce Arena's squad. And while Ronald Waterreus is playing well, 14 saves total in four matches, an average of 3.6 saves per game, is not exactly Brad Freidel-like, standing-on-your-head dominance. Yet, the Red Bull recorded a Major League Soccer-record fourth-straight clean sheet to open a season in last night's 1-nil victory over FC Dallas at Extra Cheese and Double Anchovies Park in Texas.

So, absent superstar defenders (Todd Dunivant, Hunter Freeman, Jeff Parke and Carlos Mendes are playing exceptionally, we'd vote all four onto the MLS All-Star Team, but even the most fanatical RBNY supporter would hesitate before arguing they are world-class players) and Petr Cech-style brilliance between the sticks, how are the Red Bull doing it? Is it the weather? Voodoo? Copious amounts of a certain energy drink with suspect origins and dubious medicinal value?

Sometimes the simplest minds hit upon the most elusive truths and last night's MLS Primetime Thursday telecast featured the following exchange (paraphrasing because we're too lazy to check the DVR, but we swear to Pele Almighty it was along these lines, and we DID NOT get anyone liquored up before misquoting him):

Eric Wynalda: "Look how deep Claudio is playing. The Red Bulls paid Designated Player money to get this guy and look how far back in the field he's setting up. It's like he's a defender, not a part of the offense."

Tommy Smyth: "Oi teenk dat's dee pwoint. Ee's back dair 'elpin' and dey 'aven't been scored on in TREE GAMES!"

Sure and Begorrah, we teenk Tommy may be onto something. Bruce Arena has the Red Bull defending as unit, with not only the goalkeeper and Back Four tasked with keeping the ball out of the net, but Reyna, Stammler, Kovalenko, Van den Bergh, Richards and Altidore -- all of them -- responsible for 1) pressuring the ball and 2) maintaining the defensive shape as a T-E-A-M. And so far, the results have been astounding, as Dunivant and Freeman continued to stifle any attacks from the flanks while Mendes and Parke (with a few exceptions more attributable to positive play by Carlos Ruiz, Kenny Cooper and Ramon Nunez than any glaring errors on their part) kept the middle of the pitch relatively traffic-free.

Wynalda was indeed correct -- c'mon haters, he ain't all bad (YouTube) -- Claudio was playing way, way deep, contradicting pregame prognostications he would move to the top of the midfield diamond in place of the red-card suspended Clint Mathis. If anything, it was Dema who spearheaded the attack up the middle, while the Red Bull concentrated most of their offensive forays through Van den Bergh and Richards on the wings, before whipping in crosses to Jozy. Given Arena's stubborn nature and terrific early results, this is the system the Red Bull will be playing, with minor adjustments along the way due to player availability (Angel's eventual inclusion, the return of The Cletus).

Quick hits on the match:

The Night of the Hunter: Congrats to Hunter Freeman, who returned to his old stompin' grounds and promptly stomped fellow Lone Star-Stater Kenny Cooper by scoring the lone goal of the match. It's always fun when the local kid shines in front of family and friends, especially when it's one of the good guys.

Punch-Drunk Love: Despite being too young to legally drink, 17-year-old Jozy Altidore is indeed the object of many obsessions, namely, every fullback in Major League Soccer wants to punch him, kick him, pull him and trip him. To his credit, Jozy took it like a man, and despite not scoring, did a good job as the target player up front.

Rumble Fish: This is in no way a call to violence, but rather a rhetorical, metaphorical expression of frustration: Someone needs to smack Carlos Ruiz. "El Pescadito" spent more time flapping around on the deck than the extras from The Perfect Storm. Enough. Play soccer and stop trying to bait the Ref. Sheesh.

Little Caesar: After missing one game due to injury and largely playing a supporting role in last week's victory over Houston, Claudio Reyna reasserted himself in Dallas, vociferously demanding the ball in space and castigating teammates he deemed not up to snuff. The glare he gave Van den Bergh after the Big Dutchman didn't properly (in Claudio's view) run onto a pass, was exceeded only by the dismissive head-shake employed after a heavy through-ball (again, in Claudio's view) missed the RBNY captain.

Broadcast News: MLS Primetime Thursday's coverage was pretty good, including Wynalda's personalizing Reyna's performance and demeanor. On the aforementioned through-ball which failed to hit Claudio in stride, Wynalda added (again paraphrasing, lazy not yellow journalism): "Oh, man, I remember learning that lesson. If it isn't right to Claudio you'll hear it." Commentary and analysis of American soccer broadcasts is overly critical in our view, but one pet peeve of ours is apparently becoming a key component of the ESPN offering, so we can bite our tongue (or stifle our keyboard, whatever) no longer. This tracking of the variable heights and speeds of crosses is asinine. Wynalda slammed one cross via the snazzy graphic element because, "that one could've come down with snow on it" or some such snarky slam. Check out the comparatively high and slow cross from Zidane to Henry (YouTube) which booked France into the 2006 World Cup Final. It's not how high or how fast a cross gets there, it's that it arrives at the same time as your teammate, and in the right spot.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

MLS Week Three: In Their Own Words

Patterns are emerging in Major League Soccer's 2007 Season. For instance, the Red Bull is good, and Real Salt Lake and Toronto are ... um ... NOT. Juan Pablo Angel and 15 Argentines have signed with MLS but Zinedine Zidane -- much like Generalissimo Francisco Franco still being dead -- is still not coming. Enough of all that, let's look at Week Three of the MLS Season through the eyes -- and words -- of the players and coaches themselves.

Red Bull 1, Dynamo 0 -- "Besides my brother, nobody else has beat me like that," Red Bull wunderkind Jozy Altidore after Eddie Robinson, Wade Barrett and Ryan Cochrane employed a Wedgies, Arm-Burns and Purple-Nurples strategy instead of the more conventional positioning, tackling and defending plan on Saturday night.

Revolution 2, Columbus Crew 2 -- "If you were sitting where I was sitting, it was absolute torture to watch, from the first minute to the last minute," Revs Coach Steve Nicol doing his bit to pump up ticket sales.

Chicago Fire 2, KC Wizards 1 -- "We're undefeated. You haven't seen our best soccer yet. The next three games will be hard games. Two out of three are on an artificial surface. They'll be tough. But we don't fear the road," Fire Coach Dave Sarachan gets all Blue Oyster Cult Meets FDR after nipping the Wiz.

Chivas USA 4, Real Salt Lake 0 -- "Obviously we did not show up today and we got taken advantage of right from the beginning, 30 seconds into the game they scored a goal and that was it," Freddy Adu coming to grips with his decision to leave a winning club so he could get more minutes with a crap expansion team.

FC Dallas 3, Rapids 1 -- "I told Steve [Morrow, Dallas Coach] that I was ready to go. Thank God I was able to prove it on the field because I would have been in trouble," Ramon Nunez after spending much of the week in his native Honduras completing his U.S. residency paperwork.


KC Wizards 3, Toronto FC 0 -- "Well, we are building, and building slow," TFC Coach Mo Johnston blaming the Teamsters for his train-wreck of a squad.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Zebras, Dynamo Can't Stop First-Place Red Bull

It was clear in the first few minutes of Saturday night's Red Bull-Dynamo showdown at the Meadowlands that Houston wasn't capable, willing or even interested in matching their hosts within the parameters of the Rules of the Game. Before we finished our first warm, watered-down beer, speedy winger Dane Richards was literally grabbed by the waist -- with both hands -- and thrown to the turf not once, but twice, by Dynamo defenders unable to dispossess the pacey Jamaican by conventional means. (We'll get to the Jozy Altidore situation later). Luckily for Houston, however, the myopic Referee thought this was perfectly OK, setting up the defining confrontation of the evening: Could the Red Bull keep their cool, stick to their gameplan and overcome both the officiating and the defending Major League Soccer champions? Answer: Yes!

It wasn't easy, though, as Dwayne DeRosario was inexplicably allowed to remain on the pitch after openly, blatantly, unquestionably, indisputably, purposefully handling the ball in the box in order to prevent a Red Bull goal. Clint Mathis' subsequent PK miss was a bit jarring, but more shocking, to the crowd and Red Bull players and staff, was DeRosario's continued participation in the game, despite his transgression. Making matters worse, the aforementioned Cletus was then harshly given a straight red for admittedly a foul, but in no circumstances worthy of a sending-off.

Down to 10-men against the defending champs, the Red Bull responded with the kind of grind-it-out and grab-the-three-points 1-nil home victory of which championships are made. We know...we's way early, but the fact remains: Wins like this build confidence and character, two things that've been as scarce in the Land of the MetroStars-Red Bull as nice weather.

Quick hits on the match:

Catch Me If You Can: Jozy Altidore's combination of strength and skill is something to behold. With Eddie Robinson (a big boy with a nasty streak to boot) and Ryan Cochrane tag-teaming him, it got ugly fast. To his credit, Altidore kept battling and finally got the breakthrough via a terrific Hunter Freeman feed, but there were times Jozy took to the ground a little easily. The kid's only 17, and still learning, but when he figures out how to battle this rough treatment, without resorting to histrionics (a la the lamentable display of DeRosario, who cried to the Dynamo 12th Man ... er ... sorry ... Ref ... every time he lost the ball) he will be one of the most feared strikers in the league. Sadly, here's a prediction: Catch him now while you can, folks. This will be Jozy's last year with the Red Bull and MLS. A player with this much upside and youth is heading abroad for Big Money.

Undercover Brother: In case you hadn't noticed, RBNY captain Claudio Reyna returned to action after a one-game injury absence, but his subdued, understated performance (think Bill Murray in Lost in Translation) suggests he was not 100-percent. On the plus side, Reyna was out there, tracking DeRosario much of the evening, except for one or two occasions where the Dynamo talisman's superior speed left the erstwhile Captain America in the dust. Playing through injuries is a requirement of leadership and Claudio stepped up on Saturday night. Here's hoping he's better in Dallas.

Benchwarmers: John Wolyniec and Seth Stammler were stellar off the bench for the tiring Red Bull in the second half. With Altidore mercifully summoned to the sidelines after sustaining no less than 10 Robinson-directed muggings, Woly provided the perfect change-of-pace, chasing down loose Dynamo passes, setting up in good positions and generally keeping Houston's backline honest. Stammler came on and promptly blew up two successive Dynamo counterattacts, and despite not entering the game until the 54th-minute, he kicked every single Houston player (barring sheltered goalkeeper Pat Onstad) at least once. Great stuff. Joe Vide came on real late, but with too little time to get a fair reading.

The Thin Red Line: Three games, three clean sheets. The Red Bull backline and keeper Ronald Waterreus are stingier than Paulie Walnuts at the Best Western breakfast buffet. Freeman and Todd Dunivant allowed nothing ... zero ... zilch ... down the flanks, while Jeff Parke and Carlos Mendes were solid in the middle (full disclosure: we'd pencil in Stammler as a starter if it were our call.) Waterreus also displayed his much-heralded distribution skills, pumping balls up to Tall Drink of Water Dave Van den Bergh with accuracy and spraying the ball around to Richards and Altidore when Houston's Kelly Gray started man-marking the big Dutchman.

Ride With the Devil: Dema Kovalenko was demon on the night. The hard-charging 18-to-18 effort by the 29-year-old Ukrainian didn't directly contribute to the match-winning goal, but his indefatigable performance in the middle of the pitch was surely a key -- if not the key -- factor in the victory. Dema may not be racking up Fantasy Points, but he's shaping up as the most indispensable Red Bull of 2007.

Little Men Tate: Eight-year-old expert Leo (an EPL fanatic thanks to Fox Soccer Channel) summed up the Dynamo: "They're Bolton. They kick you and pull your shirt and throw you on the ground, and then when you take the ball off them, they dive (YouTube) and start crying to the ref. They're Bolton." Thank you, Leo, and now over to six-year-old expert, Deco, who questioned the officiating: "Why does the Ref hate the Red Bulls?" I don't know, Deco, I don't know.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Angel Joins Red Bull, Now What?

For starters, the Red Bull needed to make room for the classy Colombian striker on the roster and Marvell Wynne was the odd man out, reuniting with Mo Johnston and struggling (on the field, that is, ticket sales are reportedly brisk) expansion squad Toronto FC.

Why Wynne? Let us count the reasons:

1) Ability: The No. 1 pick of the 2006 MLS Draft, Wynne is mad fast and extremely athletic. But as his dismal display in the season-opener at Columbus demonstrated, he has not progressed to the point where he can contribute to a team seriously considering a run at the MLS Cup. He simply couldn't keep attackers in front of him, and the Red Bull were lucky the Crew didn't score on any of the three times Wynne was totally undressed. Wynne may indeed put it all together, a la Kerry Zavagnin who blossomed after leaving MetroStars-Red Bull, but the time is now for Arena, Marc de Grandpre and Dieter Mateschitz. Let Mo develop Wynne. The Red Bull need wins now.

2) Team Spirit: Nothing fractures a locker room like a guy getting minutes based on reputation, draft status or marketing considerations instead of his on-the-field performance. Arena has already taken a few shots at his predecessor, "We played and looked like a pub team," why not buttress the point by sending a popular, high draft-pick of the former regime packing after a crap game? Ruthless competition for playing time and roster spots is a hallmark of championship teams.

3) Money: Wynne reportedly made $150,000 last year, a pretty big nut, comparatively, for a guy who couldn't keep Joseph Ngwenya from traipsing into the Red Bull box with impunity.

Whattabout the Lineup?

OK, with the short-term roster change prompted by the Angel acquisition complete, another situation which needs to be addressed is the starting lineup itself. Soccer By Ives has an interesting interactive exercise along these lines, and the thinking here is as follows:

1) Stay Calm: Lineups almost always work themselves out, so there's no need for hand-wringing at this point. True there are seven guys (Reyna, Kovalenko, Richards, Van den Bergh, Mathis, Altidore and Angel) and only six midfield-forward slots, with Markus Schopp and Mike Magee convalescing in the background. So what? Angel hasn't got his visa yet and Claudio's thigh is purpler than Prince's nurple. Why borrow trouble?

2) Depth: Should Angel and Claudio be available quickly (April 26 at Dallas, or May 5 at Utah?) it's all good. Depending on injuries, current form and tactical adjustments tailored to opponents, Arena will probably start a formation featuring Reyna, Dema, Van den Bergh, Mathis, Altidore and Angel, with Richards as a terrific Plan B and motivation for the Dutchman, the Cletus and the Kid (Jozy) to keep producing or find a seat on the bench.

3) Chemistry: Angel makes the players around him better by holding the ball up and unselfishly dishing to the open man. Mathis, as witnessed by Sunday's match, has similar passing qualities. Reyna has always been a great distributor of the ball. Altidore is a budding star (YouTube) in the classic striker mode and Richards is one of the fastest players in the league. Dema tackles and releases with uncommon quickness, while Van den Bergh, at least initially, seems committed to keeping the ball moving into open spaces. On paper, an impressive mix of talents, but the undefinable alchemy necessary for winning team chemistry can't be forced, or rushed.

More Angel-Related Links

Big Apple Soccer: Player reaction | Free transfer, big salary

Official Red Bull site: Angel quotes

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It's Official: Red Bull Land Juan Pablo Angel

UPDATE BELOW: Toronto FC, Mo Grab Marvell Wynne
Done deal. Juan Pablo Angel has signed with the Red Bull of Major League Soccer. We've already explained why we think this signing is fantastic, but listen to Angel, Bruce Arena and Jeff Agoos:

"I am delighted to be joining the New York Red Bulls," said Angel, age 31, who scored 62 goals in his six-year stint with Aston Villa and 45 goals for legendary Argentine club River Plate . "I cannot wait to start this new exciting challenge. I believe Major League Soccer is growing fast and I am very keen to be part of this."

"I am thrilled about acquiring Juan Pablo for the New York Red Bulls," said Arena, basking in the glow the blockbuster signing, especially when considering some of the lesser names bandied about the past few weeks. "It is no secret that we have been searching for a striker since the end of the 2006 season, and Juan Pablo has been at the top of my list since Day One."

"Juan Pablo has both the physical attributes and the intellect of a world class striker that will certainly help us become a better team," said Jeff Agoos, the oft-criticized, but ultimately successful point-man in the Red Bull Striker Hunt Sweepstakes. "He is a natural leader up front with the ability to finish plays off, which is something we have been looking for since the end of last season. We are extremely excited to bring a player of his caliber to the New York Red Bulls."

So there you have it. We'll post links below as they pop-up on the internet tubes (YouTube), especially those which try and ferret out the actual particulars of the deal (ie, when is Angel coming? how much did he cost? how long will he be staying? etc. etc). But for now the speculation is over and a squad featuring the versatile attacking talents of Claudio Reyna, Clint Mathis, Jozy Altidore, and now, Juan Pablo Angel, will soon be unleashed on MLS.

UPDATE: Soccer By Ives is reporting Marvell Wynne has been dealt to Mo Johnston and Toronto FC, as Bruce Arena continues to put his personal stamp on the Red Bull franchise.

Juan Pablo Angel to Red Bull of MLS Links Below:

Big Apple Soccer: Angel | Five Questions | Arena

Soccer By Ives: Nice new haircut | Who should start?

YouTube: Juan Pablo Angel Uploaded Angel Exits Aston Villa

Soccernet: Martin O'Neill and Aston Villa

Major League Soccer's article | Official Red Bull release

Red Bull Rising: Why Angel Rumor Makes Sense | Deal Imminent

Tuesday Morning Odds and Sods, Volume 9

It's a happy day in the Land of the Red Bull, as the Sports Gods have answered our prayers for an experienced, efficient striker with a Colombian Angel. In this spirit of celebration, our regularly scheduled Tuesday Morning Odds and Sods features the positive, wonderful side of The Beautiful Game.

Red Bull 3, FC Dallas 0 -- "Clint's a great player, so it's easy to play off of him. He has a great nose for the game and whenever he's around, you feel you can always put that one-touch ball to him and spin off," said teenage striker Jozy Altidore, who will be getting more one-touch passes than he can handle once Angel arrives and Reyna gets healthy.

FC Dallas 2, LA Galaxy 1 -- "We scored two great goals in the first half. In the second half we knew it would be a matter of standing up and staying calm against a forceful Galaxy attack and we did. Hats off to the defense for the way they stood up to it," said FC Dallas keeper Shaka Hislop, who probably kept his hat on after the Red Bull loss.

Columbus Crew 0, Real Salt Lake 0 -- "Freddy [Adu] played well. He was stuck playing a very good defender in Frankie Hejduk; the guy has played in two or three World Cups," said RSL Head Coach John Ellinger after his squad posted a second straight point off a draw.

KC Wizards 4, DC United 2 -- "Eddie [Johnson] and Scott [Sealy] were dangerous tonight. And I think we need to win every game we play because we're playing better than pretty much any team in the league," said Wizards captain Jimmy Conrad, challenging every other club in the league to try and beat the juggernaut from Kansas City.

NE Revolution 4, Toronto FC 0 -- Obviously (on the) the second [goal], it’s Rally (Ralston) and I doing what we do best, and Stevie (Ralston) played a dime. All I had to do was put it on goal … All 11 guys today were on the same page, and it showed," said Revolution striker Taylor Twellman, presumably keeping a straight face while referring to teammate Steve Ralston as "Rally."

Houston Dynamo 1, Chivas USA 0 -- "Brad Davis dropped in a good ball, and I was in the right place at the right time and headed it in. Brad serves in a good ball, and I was just trying to get free from my man and was able to put it in the back of the net," said Dynamo striker Brian Ching, describing (what else?) another headball goal.

Chicago Fire 1, Colorado Rapids 1 -- "We stuck to our plan, even after the red card, playing tight and compact. We wanted to choose our moments, maybe nick one and hold them and I think we did just that. It's unfortunate that (Chicago) scored that goal, but it's soccer and I think it shows our character coming back and playing a man down again a team like Chicago," said Rapids playmaker Herculez Gomez, after 10-man Colorado held Chicago to a draw.

Report: Angel to Red Bull Announcement Imminent

The Red Bull are on a roll, ladies and gentlemen, as fresh on the heels of a terrific home-opening victory on Sunday, the club is about to sign Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel (YouTube).

The Official Red Bull website currently refers to the acquisition of an unnamed player at 11 am ET, but Big Apple Soccer is once again all over the story with a published report confirming it is indeed Angel, the tricky, intelligent, potent forward from Aston Villa of the English Premier League. Villa boss Martin O'Neill chipped in with his blessing this morning, so it appears the Red Bull have made a giant leap toward challenging for an MLS championship this season. Yes, folks, Angel is that good. Stay tuned for official confirmation and links.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Perfect Storm: S.S. Red Bull Sinks FC Dallas

A funny thing happened on the way to another bad week for the Red Bull -- Clint Mathis and Bruce Arena, two people with about as much in common as Don Imus and Vivian Stringer, got together and said "No Way!" Mathis, called into emergency playmaking action because of the absence of injured captain Claudio Reyna, delivered an alltime clutch performance. And Arena, faced with the prospect of an empty stadium, horrible weather and irritable fan base, devised a lineup and gameplan which couldn't have worked any better.

Inspired by Bruce and The Cletus, the Red Bull recorded a thorough, dominant 3-nil victory over FC Dallas at rain-soaked Giants Stadium on Sunday, and perhaps set a new standard for this renamed, new-fangled, star-crossed franchise.

On offense, Mathis was a revelation in "the hole," that mystical place between the midfielders and forwards where unconventional, fluid, creative players go to work their magic. Jozy Altidore, the lone striker with John Wolyniec mercifully benched, flourished up top, deftly converting a nifty Mathis corner for the first Red Bull goal. Newbie Dane Richards jetted up and down the right flank with verve and purpose, assisting Mathis on the second Red Bull tally, and Dave Van den Bergh was rewarded for his hard work on the left with an injury-time score to complete the rout.

The Mathis-for-Wolyniec move will understandably get more attention, but the inclusion of Hunter Freeman at the expense of Marvell Wynne was a master stroke by Arena. Freeman's steady positioning on the right allowed Richards the freedom to do his thing on the wing, and the rookie improved greatly on his Columbus performance, causing Dallas all kinds of problems throughout the game. An added benefit of the Wynne benching is the signal it sends to the squad: Play as bad as Marvell did last week and you will sit. Period.

Defensively, Carlos Mendes joined Jeff Parke at center fullback, with Seth Stammler in the defensive midfield role and Dema Kovalenko slotting into the Claudio spot. All four did fine work shutting down the Dallas Big Two -- Carlos Ruiz and Kenny Cooper -- while Todd Dunivant and the aforementioned Freeman were stellar on the flanks.

For Dallas, there's not much to say. Granted, they just flew in from LA on Friday, but Ruiz and Cooper had very few touches and the team as a whole seemed overwhelmed by the horrible conditions and didn't come close to matching the Red Bull intensity.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Why Angel To Red Bull Rumor Makes Sense

The speculation surrounding a Big Splash International DP signing by the Red Bull of Major League Soccer has been fevered and largely fantastical. Ronaldo. Zidane. Figo. There's also been some more realistic (if not advisable) rumors, like Delgado, Salas and Edmundo. But the latest report via Big Apple Soccer and the Manchester Guardian that Aston Villa's Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel may be headed to the Red Bull, soccer-wise at least, makes a helluva lotta sense.

1) He's not too old. Angel is 31 but not yet showing the telltale signs of an aging, washed up athlete. His skills, vision, creativity and intelligence around the goal are still functioning on a high-level.

2) Villa don't want him. Martin O'Neill will surely be cleaning house after this, his first full season at Villa Park, and with massive target-man John Carew starting well (YouTube) and local youngsters Gabriel Agbonlahor and Luke Moore (both Birmingham boys) demanding playing time, Angel is surplus to requirements.

3) His style fits MLS. Angel's 58 goals in six seasons with Villa have been scored against high-pressure, physical defending, the defining characteristic of MLS backlines (except the EPL is still much better). Juan Pablo is accustomed to holding the ball up and passing to overlapping midfielders/wingers as well as taking on defenders himself (YouTube) and sticking the ball in the back of the net.

Granted, financial and league-office considerations will make this deal difficult to close, and this is the umpteenth rumor of the year, but unlike many of the previous whispers, Juan Pablo Angel joining The Red Bull on the field of play, with the current roster of potential teammates isn't Silly Talk, but actually Smart Thinking.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Brazilian Animal Edmundo To Run With Red Bull?

The South American wild striker hunt has taken another turn as Brazilian forward/madman Edmundo is the latest player linked to The Red Bull of Major League Soccer. For those keeping score at home, the targets have been Ronaldo-Rivaldo-Delgado-Angel-Salas and now it's Edmundo, the man dubbed The Animal by those who know him best.

Edmundo is 36, has changed clubs 17 times, has more bridge-burning experience than Bill Holden and is fond of monkeys. On the plus side, he can score goals, including 30 for his current team, Palmeiras (Brazil) since 2006. Did we mention he was 36? As always, things are sketchy, but rumor has it The Red Bull may be able to land him on the cheap (ala The Cletus) and short-term, perhaps without even clogging up a DP slot. Stay tuned.

  • Speaking of The Cletus, Soccernet has an interesting story here.

  • In case you missed it, MetroFanatic has a terrific piece on Markus Schopp's sports hernia injury, a malady which has relentlessly haunted the MetroStars-Red Bull here.

  • Soccer By Ives chronicles the tug-of-war over Clifton, NJ's Tedd Niziolek here.

  • Argentine Carlos Marinelli has signed with KC Wizards. Check out the MLSnet release here.

  • And last but not least, Sports Bog looks at five DC United rookies playing house here. (hat tip to du Nord)
  • Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Boca's Barros Schelotto Considering New Crew

    Argentine Boca Juniors legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto may be headed to Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Barros Schelotto has scored 87 goals and won 15-championships in his illustrious 10-year Boca career which is reportedly winding down with the emergence of younger players Martin Palermo and Rodrigo Palacio (hat tip to Soccer Legends).

    "I really can't comment until we have some signed documents in hand," Crew coach Sigi Schmid told The Dispatch. "We think the experience he has and his character, if he is in fact a player we (sign), would be good for us." Ya think?

    GBS (if he does indeed come to MLS, there is no way in Hades we're gonna keep typing out Guillermo Barros Schelotto, so let's try this for now, see how it works. *update below) is affectionately known as El Mellizo, The Twin, for obvious reasons, making him the most beloved Twin in Argentina, edging out two upstanding American siblings who recently took the country by storm.

    YouTube (what else?) has video of GBS here, here and here.

    MLS Underground published a fan email which captures the passionate feelings toward GBS in Argentina. If a fraction of that enthusiasm can be transplanted to Columbus and MLS, sparked by inspiring, creative on-the-field excellence, this is a very welcome development.

    *Update: Noting the usage of "Guille," which is better than our lame GBS. We'll act accordingly.

  • Fellow Argentine Pablo Ricchetti signed with FC Dallas awhile ago and despite early confidence he would be playing by Opening Day, visa and league issues (h/t FC Dallas Updates) are still being hammered out and Ricchetti doesn't even appear on the Dallas website's team roster. So Guille's actual arrival date, in addition to the official consummation of the transfer, is not yet set in stone.
  • Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    Tuesday Morning Odds and Sods, Volume 8

    The internet tubes are chock-full of keyboard strikers pontificating on Week One of the 2007 Major League Soccer season (present company included), so howabout we mix it up a bit and check out the commentary directly from the Horse's Mouths?

    Red Bull 0, Crew 0 -- "To be honest it was really sore and its completely swollen up now. It wasn't ideal," said Red Bull captain Claudio Reyna after crumbling to the pitch in a lump, courtesy of newbie Dane Richards' hardest tackle of the night, which unfortunately felled one of the guys in blue shirts, not yellow. "It's disappointing, but I think in four or five days it should be OK." Reassured much folks?

    Fire 1, Revolution 0 -- "It's the same old, same old. MLS and the Revolution have closed the door," said disgruntled hardman Shalrie Joseph prior to missing New England's first game with a "calf strain." Uh-huh. Yeah. Right. "They don't want to talk anymore about contract stuff with me ... I was really hoping it would work out well where I would sign a long-term contract and finish my career here. But that wasn't possible ... They don't value my services." It didn't take a genius to see this one coming, did it?

    FC Dallas 2, Real Salt Lake 2 -- "It was unlucky," said Real goalkeeper Nick Rimando after his howler gifted Dallas an undeserved draw and caused almost as much drama in Utah since Bill Paxton and Jeanne Tripplehorn arrived.

    Chivas USA 2, Toronto FC 0 -- "We should have ended up winning. We had five chances to put it in the back of the net. There's five goals and it's 5-0 at halftime," said Toronto FC defender Jim Brennan, struggling hard not to strain his back while tossing Edson Buddle and Alecko Eskandarian under the bus.

    Rapids 2, DC United 1 -- "The field's enormous," said Rapids midfielder Herculez Gomez, once and for all putting to rest the debate over whether or not Size Matters at Dick's Park in Colorado. "We kept moving around, we had players in the midfield, we got players in the back, spray the ball around wide, go through the middle. So it's definitely to our advantage."

    Galaxy 0, Dynamo 0 -- "Once I see Dwayne De Rosario and those guys on the other side my blood boils," said LA's Peter Vagenas, debunking the Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder Theory.

  • Speaking of Vagenas, did you see Eric Wynalda's anatomically graphic proposition of shock-jock-turned-jackass-TV-personality Jim Rome? Sheesh. Not that there's anything wrong with that (YouTube), but c'mon guys, rent a room and leave us out of it. When not shamelessly courting Rome, Wynalda seems oddly fixated on Landon Donovan. "I don’t know if getting married is going to help him," said Dr. Phil Wynalda. "But he has already been in a situation where I think a lot of the decisions he has been making have been about his personal life, about being happy, about being where he needs to be." Memo to Eric: Less Deepak Chopra and more Christian Gomez.

  • Speaking of talking out of your well, you know, here's the latest on the Colorado Rapids-Arsenal saga:

    "At this point, there is no interest or intention from KSE in buying any shares or any pieces of Arsenal Football Club or any club in the English Premier League," -- Jurgen Mainka, Official Mouthpiece, Colorado Rapids, denying reports KSE would purchase ITV's 9.9 percent stake in Arsenal, exactly ten days before KSE did indeed buy the British Broadcaster's shares in the Gooners. Evidently, Mainka's initial statement, the emphatic denial, is no longer operative.
  • Saturday, April 7, 2007

    Red Bull Grab Ice-Cold Point In Season Opener

    Well, they didn't lose. The Red Bull kicked off the 2007 season in rather inauspicious fashion on Saturday night, holding Columbus to a scoreless draw before an announced crowd of 13,782 hearty and frigid souls at snowy, frosty Crew Stadium. Considering the Crew dominated most of the second half, including hitting the woodwork behind goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus, the Red Bull should be happy with the point gained and focus on what worked -- and what didn't -- in preparation for the home-opener on Sunday, April 15 versus FC Dallas at the Meadowlands.

    So, what conclusions can be drawn from a nil-nil draw?

    Defensively, the Red Bull were shaky but ultimately held on. Waterreus made two splendid saves, but needlessy bobbled an easy ball which easily could've resulted in a Crew goal and half-heartedly waved at Ned Grabavoy's 87th minute shot which rattled off the upright. Seth Stammler, Carlos Mendes and Todd Dunivant were solid, if unspectacular, while Marvell Wynne was totally torched several times, including twice by Joseph Ngwenya on the exact same inside-out move, cutting from the left wing into the box.

    On the plus side, Dema Kovalenko and Claudio Reyna were terrific breaking up Crew forays into the Red Bull third of the pitch and have already established an intuitive relationship in the defensive midfield. Dave van den Bergh showed flashes of offensive intelligence and ability, but the early struggles of youngster Jozy Altidore and veteran John Wolyniec up top and newbie Dan Richards out wide left him with few options and precious little opportunity for connecting play.

    Altidore's match can be summed up in one play, where his first touch failed him miserably in the Crew box, as a ball at his feet was played up over his head into the path of two Columbus defenders. Jozy then justified his slot in the starting lineup by promptly turning the two defenders, lowering his left shoulder to gain a yard of space and firing a great shot which flashed across the goalmouth past the keeper and just wide of the far post. Wolyniec, on the other hand, seemed to age before our eyes as the match progressed, getting slower and slower and grayer and grayer until the mercy of the final whistle. The effort and industry in the box are there, but this match proved nothing if not that Wolyniec can best serve the club coming off the bench rather than starting. Richards unleashed his blazing speed a few times, but to little actual effect. If his touches and ability to hold the ball don't improve, and Markus Schoop is destined for an extended stay on the injured list, the Red Bull will need an upgrade on the wing.

    A slightly pudgy-looking Clint Mathis came on in the 61st minute and his touches were true and his passes were sharp. If fitness allows, The Cletus should be installed in the Red Bull starting lineup quickly, perhaps even next Sunday. Sinisa Ubiparipovic came on late and didn't make any glaring errors in his first Major League Soccer action.

    On the Crew side, Frankie Hejduk was all over the field and rarely out of position, Eddie Gaven was protective of the ball while confident enough to make incisive, positive, attacking decisions and Grabavoy did enough dirty work in the middle of the pitch for two players. Like the Red Bull, however, it's hard to get a solid read on Columbus due to the windy, freezing temperatures and stolid, choppy nature of the game itself. Either both teams are pretty good, or both are lousy. Or they were just cold. We shall see as the season progresses.

    Red Bull Saturday Night Chillin' Wit Da Crew

    The Red Bull kick off their 2007 season at the Columbus Crew tonight, and you can check out various previews here, here and here. But the crucial game information is contained in the weather report, which currently calls for SNOW and a windchill factor around 15-17-degrees, and yes folks, that's Fahrenheit, not Celsius. So as you hit the couch this evening for the Big Game, with your favorite beverages and snacks, raise a glass to tonight's participants at Crew Stadium -- players and supporters alike -- who will be freezing their fannies off for club, country, glory and The Beautiful Game.

    Friday, April 6, 2007

    Trialist Toure Departs Red Bull, Returns to Thunder

    Word out of St. Paul is that forward Ansu Toure has left the Red Bull and is returning to the Minnesota Thunder of the USL First Division. Toure had impressed the Red Bull staff early in his two month tryout, but the continuing emergence of neophyte Jozy Altidore, the re-acquisition of controversial striker Clint Mathis and the potential signing of a Big Shot Designated Player (Angel? Salas? Zidane? Berger? Fowler?) has apparently made Toure surplus to requirements with the Major League Soccer club.

    High Drama as Last Gasp Pachuca Edge Dynamo

    Superior speed, strength and skill, combined with shoddy officiating and a wonderfully raucous home crowd advantage, drove Mexican club Pachuca to a thrilling 5-4 OT aggregate victory over a game, but ultimately outgunned Houston Dynamo in the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals on Thursday night at Estadio Hidalgo.

    The CCC Finals will now be an All-Mexican affair, pitting Pachuca vs. Chivas of Guadalajara, who dispatched DC United on Tuesday as both Major League Soccer squads fell just short of their rivals South of the Border in the semifinal round despite encouraging results in the US-hosted first-leg matches.

    Houston showed real spirit after falling behind quickly 2-nil (thanks to a clearly offside opening goal and a soft PK) with Brian Mullan scoring off a neat Brian Ching to Dwayne DeRosario connection. Another trademark header from Ching appeared to secure the Dynamo's passage into the Finals in the 79th minute, despite a second questionable PK call and conversion for Pachuca, but the Mexican club, sparked by the brilliant Christian Gimenez, would not be denied. The Tuzos knotted the tie at the close of regulation, forcing OT, where Gimenez completed his hat trick with an inspired left-footed screamer past a helpless Zach Wells.

    The end result, 5-2 on the night for Pachuca, will surely lead to gloating on the Mexican side and some overwrought hand-wringing in the United States. Neither should get too carried away. Pachuca are clearly a better side, and yet, required a gargantuan effort to get past Houston. The message from this matchup, and the DC-Chivas clash, is unmistakable: MLS clubs are gaining on their Mexican cousins. For fans on both sides of the Rio Grande, this is a terrific development, as the drama and spectacle fifty miles east of Mexico City and 7,960 feet above sea level was something to behold. North American professional club soccer has truly reached new heights.

    Wednesday, April 4, 2007

    Bittersweet Butterfingers in Guadalajara

    It was always going to be difficult for DC United to hang with Chivas on Tuesday night. Despite the first-leg success MLS clubs had against their Mexican counterparts in the CONCACAF Champions Cup Semifinals, accomplishing the same result in the hostile environment South of the Border was an entirely different proposition -- possible, yes, but not likely. And once Gonzalo Pineda's routine shot slipped through DC goalkeeper Troy Perkins fingers for a 2-1 Chivas lead, the difficult became impossible, as United bowed out of the competition.

    Chivas wasn't dominant by any means, but for DC to book passage into the CCC Finals the same grit, determination and grace under pressure employed at RFK was needed in Guadalajara, in addition to the avoidance of the Big Mistake, a blunder which, on the road especially, results in defeat. To their credit, United came up with the former, but unfortunately they also allowed the latter. As the 2007 MLS season approaches, DC is playing quick, attractive, attacking soccer with flair on offense and bite, if not consistency, in the back. Christian Gomez, Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno knocked the ball around with an uncanny familiarity which should give pause to MLS defenses.

    If defending Major League Soccer champs Houston Dynamo were overconfident going into the other second-leg semifinal match on Thursday in Pachuca (8:30 ET, FoxSoccerChannel), United's hard luck may not have been in vain. Despite a two-goal aggregate lead, the Dynamo now know they will need to be extremely sharp in the high-altitude of Pachuca's Estadio Hidalgo. While they're at it, they better stay clear of The Big Mistake.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2007

    Tuesday Morning Odds and Sods, Volume 7

    Initiatives, and their radical cousins, Mission Statements and Manifestos, are usually a bunch of bunk guys in suits toss out in a futile attempt to convince the masses/plebes that they "feel your pain" and "share your passion." But you gotta hand it to MLS this time, the "Game First" changes released yesterday are pretty darn good.

    Here's a quick breakdown:

    Hat Tricks:
    The Game Presentation fixes are spot on, like an Ante Razov PK. For too long, players have taken the field in a haphazard manner, three or four guys now, one later, here comes another three guys. Oh, wait, there's some guys from the other team. No more. Coming out single file, next to the opposition and behind the ref sets the a proper, respectful tone for task at hand, a hard-fought professional soccer match that fans paid good money to watch.

    Until we've actually heard it, we'll reserve judgement on the anthem recorded in the Czech Republic for some reason (perhaps Patrik Berger's sister plays violin and they figured, hey, any little edge in getting Patty over here, let's try it). Speaking of hearing, cutting back on the PA announcements is as brilliant as the shine off Matt Reis's bald head. PA intrusions are an ugly, ever-expanding blot on the American Sports landscape and it's terrific that MLS is bucking the trend in order to provide an improved atmosphere in their stadia.

    The Designated Player Rule is a no-brainer. David Beckham and Claudio Reyna are very good professional soccer players who are now (or will be very soon) playing in Major League Soccer. 'Nuff said. The Youth Development and Transfer Fee advancements are also moves in the right direction. Clubs who locate and nurture local talent should get first dibs on signing the player and get the lion's share of any financial windfall should he end up transferring to Europe.

    The SuperLiga structure looks good, and the MLS Cup Champ and the Supporters Shield Winner gaining entry to the CONCACAF Champions Cup is another strong idea. This way, should a hot team streak through the MLS playoffs, there is still some cover provided by rewarding the winningest team during the regular season. The new MLS playoff setup is another solid idea, where the best teams make the playoffs, not the fourth best team in a crap conference.

    As far as the Officiating changes go, we're down with yellows for diving and for the petty, unsportsmanlike wave an imaginary card to try and get the ref to show a real one nonsense.

    Yellow Card Cautions:
    The South American consultant is OK, we guess, but will any efforts be made to import the great things about South American soccer, the skill, creativity, vision and passion, while avoiding some of the unsavory aspects, like diving, surrounding the ref and screaming at him, and time-wasting?

    Increased access to locker rooms and sideline interviews for national broadcast partners is a good idea on paper. Unless it means more forced, "controversial" bon mots and rants from Eric Wynalda, a bright well-spoken guy who desperately needs a TV producer with the stones to say, "Um...don't do that," every now and then. Despite what the suits in Bristol think, MLS doesn't need a huckster Dick Vitale-type or a snarky, so-hip-he-can-hula Stuart Scott wannabe. If, on the other hand, the improved access results in someone like Julie Foudy doing her thing, which is asking pertinent, insightful questions about the game, or some pre-determined featurish spot, then it's all good.

    Which leaves us with Strategic Relationships, and full disclosure here, we're extremely suspicious about this stuff. Until we hear actual concrete reasons and goals for these partnerships, as opposed to lame spin and dubious Office Space-like corporate jargon about how "to glean the best applicable practices" and "maximize connectivity to the global soccer marketplace" our default position is they're really just blowin' smoke up our nether-regions and embarking on some scheme we'd all really hate. Other than that, I guess it's OK.

  • Speaking of Wynalda, one of his old Team USA compatriots, Tony Meola, got a few things off his chest via Big Apple Soccer. Tony discussed his Red Bull exit, dished on front office intrigue and shared his views on retirement. His comments on how LA handled Cobi Jones' swansong, as opposed to the breakups between the MetroStars-Red Bull and Tab Ramos and Meola himself hit home. In time, the Red Bull would do well to reach out to both ex-players as the organization could certainly benefit from their wealth of experience in American soccer.

  • Click here for's Red Bull 2007 preview. And click here for another excellent photo gallery.

  • PS. We know it's late, but it's gotta be morning somewhere.

    Monday, April 2, 2007

    It's Not Personal, Sonny. It's Strictly Business

    Clint Mathis is quite a personality. The red-clay of Georgia upbringing, the hideous excuse for a Mohawk, the check-the-Timex taunting of his tardy Teutonic taskmaster. The Red Bull acquisition of The Cletus, however, is, as Michael Corleone calmly explained to his hot-headed big brother, not personal. It's strictly business.

    The Red Bull is slated to kick off the 2007 season in six days with Jozy Altidore, John Wolyniec and Dave van den Bergh the options at forward, putting aside the various attacking midfielders and newbies/draftees trying to crack the lineup. Nothing against those players, but any club seriously harboring any hope at all of making the playoffs must have at least one striker on hand who has scored lots of goals. Mathis has found the back of the net 53 times in his 184-game MLS career, many of those in the Meadowlands.

    Granted, The Cletus has evidently deposited more Cheetos down his ever-expanding gub than balls past goalkeepers recently, and his fitness regimen is probably more John Daly than Lance Armstrong. Early reviews of Clint Redux include the following raves: Disaster. Laughable. Bruce Arena, however, thinks it's worth a shot, which brings us back to business.

    According to The Denver Post (hat tip to Soccer by Ives) Real Salt Lake is on the hook for most of Clint's 2007 salary, with the Rapids chipping in a few bucks, leaving the Red Bull only about $100K out of pocket for the deal. Compared to whatever the other supposed options were -- Zidane demanding Beckham money, Juan Pablo Angel asking for over $2Mil, Mo Johnston apparently seeking way too much for Eski -- this is a daring, but prudent piece of business, which doesn't preclude a Big Splash DP signing in the immediate future. The latest rumor is Chilean firebrand Marcelo Salas (h/t MetroFanatic). Worst case, The Cletus bombs and The Red Bull drop some chump change while maintaining a healthy cap number. Best case, well, who knows? But don't be surprised if Mathis is energized by the change of scenery and his return to the Big Stage.

  • Speaking of Salas, another guy who was great 10 years ago and is now looking for a final financial score while chillin' in America and not bothering to play hard, Blanco has signed with the Chicago Fire.
  • Sunday, April 1, 2007

    Red Bull March Out Like a Lamb

    The Red Bull preseason record went flatter than ginger ale left out on the sun porch this week, with losses to Toronto FC and defending MLS Champion Houston Dynamo in South Carolina providing more than a bit of anxiety as the season opener beckons on Saturday in Columbus.

    Local starlet Alecko Eskandarian and former Red Bull Edson Buddle did the honors for Toronto in a 2-1 victory on Wednesday, while a Brian Ching header (what else?) coupled with an Alejandro Moreno winner gave Houston an identical 2-1 scoreline over the Red Bull on Saturday night. Dave van den Bergh opened the scoring against Houston and John Wolyniec found the net against Toronto, as the Red Bull finished the games that don't count with a mediocre 5-3-4 record after a promising start in Florida.