Friday, August 12, 2011

2011-2012 Premier League Season Preview

The streets of English cities are being set ablaze in anticipation of the upcoming Premier League season. A mass panic hit the masses and they realized that their 36" televisions were simply too small to hold in the glory that is the Greatest League in the World™. They needed that 42" and it just so happened that the store around the corner had plenty in supply.

At least, this story makes just as much sense as the other ones I've heard to describe the motives of the mobs.

But this is no sociological study, this is a look-ahead to the much-loved/hated English/Barclay's Premier League. So, let's get to it!

At the top of the table, competition for the top spot and the Champions League qualifications is going to be rough. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur look to be the ones duking it out to be able to finish in the top 4, but then, if they miss that to adeptly dodge that dreaded 5th place spot and qualification to the annoingly much-maligned Europa League.

Right now, Manchester United looks set to defend their league title and to put even more space between them and Liverpool. At the refreshingly exciting Community Shield, in which United created one of their trademark comebacks, it seemed that United was stepping right back into stride. They have been wise with their purchases, bringing in Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David de Gea, and have kept all the pieces of their title-winning team. Their noisy neighbors, Manchester City, looked decidely disjointed during the Manchester Derby. It's sounds clichéd, but there is an important nugget of truth in the fact that United play as a team, whereas City seem to be a collection of individuals thrown out onto the field. Beyond that, the harder part for City is going to be dealing with their foray into the world of Champions League football. United, Arsenal and Chelsea have played this balancing act between domestic and European play for years; City have not. For City to pose a legitimate challenge, Mancini will need to keep this Frankenstein squad happy and playing together. The addition of Sergio Aguero will be a big boost to the team's hopes, as the young Argentine looks like he could be even better than Tevez.

Arsenal will be putting their best foot forward to tackle the might of United, but the hardest part is that even with the season a matter of hours away, no one knows whose foot that will be. The transfer sagas surrounding Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have become as laughable as they are tiresome. At this point it seems that it might be coming to an end with Wenger finally capitulating to their departure. The loss will be a tough one for the Gunners. Juan Mata looks to be coming in to try and fill that gap, but Arsenal's play is based on the whole team playing as one. When I run this way, you run that way. It takes time to build that sort of connection. Nasri and Fabregas had put that time in; the newcomers will not have. After an embarrasing couple of days at the Emirates Cup, it seems that Arsenal might be just starting with their end-of-the-season collapse rather than building up the hopes of all their fans. How benevolent.

Amongst the overwhelming sea of player transfers, the biggest move of the season might be the acquisition of Andre Villas-Boas from Porto by Chelsea. Roman Abramovich seems to believe that this is the man that will take their storied team to the Champions League glory that they rightly deserve simply because they are Chelsea. That is: he'll believe up until Chelsea don't win the Champions League. Next! The Blues might find that the Essien's absence due to injury could hurt them, but new singings Romelu Lukaku and Oriel Romeu look highly promising. Combined with the return of Daniel Sturridge from a loan spell at Bolton, Villas-Boas will not be lacking in attacking options. They should still finish firmly in the top 4, but United will be just out of their reach. Don't count them out, though. Even after a poor run of form in mid-season, they managed to make up a 18-point gap pull within a single win over United of taking the title.

Read the rest of the article on The Pursuit of Victory here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fulham FC: We're All Going On a European Tour

While a "season preview" might be a misnomer given that the season has already started for Fulham FC, I've yet to find a word that means "a look forward at the future of something that has already started but has really just begun so that the look forward is still relatively profitable." Or at least as profitable as any of these look-aheads are.

The Premier League season begins this Saturday, barring the riots spilling over onto the grounds at Craven Cottage as the angry masses yank the biggest statue they can find from the ground (please don't be Johnny Haynes!) and chuck it into the nearby Thames. Actually, that might be worth postponing the first game. No matter, though; let's focus on the important stuff, which is obviously not the overwrought violence, but football!

Fulham are venturing back into Europe looking for a little more of the magic from two years back, when the Whites ran all the way to the final, taking scalps from the likes of Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and Hamburg. This European adventure is a tad bit longer, beginning in the First Qualifying Round with all the minnows. Before we look forward to what Fulham can accomplish this year, we need to look back at what has been a surprisingly tumultous summer at the Cottage that has settled down into calmer waters.

It began with the sudden departure of Mark Hughes. The man, who did a proper job with the club during his year-long tenure, declared that he was off to bigger and better things. He was bigger and more ambitious that this small team (who had managed a European final and has finished consistently well in the top league in the world) and was off to bigger and better things. If you thought it was perplexing when that big, ambitious dream lay at Villa Park, imagine how strange it is to find that his final ambitions lie simply on his own couch. How daring! How bold!

It was no problem for Al-Fayed, who simply went out and found the man who he originally wanted instead of Hughes, the affable Martin Jol. Jol came in seeming to be everything that we wanted out of Hughes. He was excited to be here. He was dedicated to the club and didn't just want to use us as a stepping stone to greater things (or to watch those greater things on TV). Looking back, Hughes' departure might be one of the best moves Fulham has made. That's not to say that Hughes did a poor job; he did great job of keeping Fulham completely out of the relegation scrap by the last month of the season even after being plagued with injuries, namely to Bobby Zamora. Jol was the man that was the first choice after Hodgson left and it only seems fitting that he get his chance.

Jol has stated that his policy in the transfer market has been to look for good youth talents. Looking at it now, it is hard to judge how his signings will turn out. Only time can tell on that. Hungarian goalkeeper, Csaba Somogyi, impressed Jol when he went on trial at Ajax. He has only signed a one year deal and looks to serve as an emergency netminder with Mark Schwarzer starting and Neil Etheridge deputizing. Czech midfielder, Marcel Gecov, impressed enough at the European U21 Championships to get named to the team of the tournament to get a signing at Fulham. Jol's other youth signing, thus far, is 2009 U-17 World Cup champion, Pajtim Kasami, a midfielder, who was signed from Palermo. Promising 19-year old defender, Dan Burn from Darlington, along with Everton youth product, Tom Donegan, who defeated the Whites in the Academy League Final, were brought in before Jol and both look like potential first-teamers who could make a good impact. 

Read the rest of the article on The Pursuit of Victory here.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Don't Write Off Dortmund Just Yet

I was told that summertime was going to be a barren wasteland in terms of soccer at the end of the last European season, my first while following the sport. It was a lie. The summer was packed with MLS, Copa America, U20 European Championships, the Women's World Cup, the U20 and U17 World Cups, Scandanavian domestic leagues, South American domestic leagues and a myriad of friendlies. The soccer season never really ends. The focus is now turning back to Europe, as the biggest leagues in the world restart their season. Friday marks the kickoff of the German Bundesliga as defending champions, Borussia Dortmund, face off against Hamburg SV. 

Borussia Dortmund are an interesting team, to say the least. After a surprising domination of the league last year, many are questioning whether or not they have the ability to defend their title. Most commentators are saying that BVB are capable enough to finish in the top 4, but would struggle to defend the title that nearly everyone is handing over to Bayern Munich. I think people are generally underestimating this Dortmund team, much like last year, and--don't take this the wrong way--are overstating the impact of Nuri Şahin's loss. 

The main reason that people see Dortmund falling down the table is the loss of the amazing Turkish midfielder to Real Madrid. Şahin is an absolutely fantastic player. He sprayed the ball around expertly to his forward midfielders and was a goal threat on late runs. It appears that Dortmund will not be able to replace him. And, I believe that appearance is true. But, Dortmund doesn't need to replace Şahin to be just as good or even to get better. Dortmund simply needs to adapt to their new players and work with who they have. Ilkay Gundogan doesn't need to play exactly like Şahin, he needs to play like Gundogan. The production that Şahin brought does not need to be replaced one-for-one, but rather needs to found throughout the squad. If Dortmund have anything, they have the ability to improve on last season, because they are such a youthful squad. 

Read the rest of the article on The Pursuit of Victory here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The US Open Cup and Soccer in the USA

The US Open Cup may not receive the coverage the MLS enjoys but its place in the USA's sporting history is bigger than many may realize 
Pleasant surprises: those wonderful little moments of unexpected glee. We all love them and we all experience them. They make life enjoyable and can give us that extra lift to get through the day. And I had one of the best of all time.
My hometown team, Sporting Kansas City, was having to qualify to enter the 2011 version of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and the first qualifier was that night. We were fighting for the last two MLS spots to this national cup competition and our first match was against the Houston Dynamo. I went to wikipedia, my source for most of my sports scores, and searched "US Open Cup". Every page for a competition has this nifty link at the bottom of the info box on the right side that takes you directly to all the information about the current edition and the US Open Cup page was no different. 
Before I reached that expertly placed link, I was pleasantly surprised. 
Wait. That's probably understating it, though. 
No. That's definitely understating it. 
It was much more of an stupendous shock. The sort of moment that takes your breath away and makes your heart stop for half a second. Above the link to the 2011 US Open Cup was one simple piece of information about this cup. It stated simply: "Founded: 1914." I was dumbfounded! I was still in the middle of learning a lot about soccer in America and it was only a few weeks before this that I began to hear tales of the mythical North American Soccer League that brought professional soccer to the States way back in the 1970's. I was stunned when I heard that the Portland Timbers were not merely an expansion side and that the Cascadia Cup was not a new competition. Not at all! The Timbers and Sounders have been duking it out for decades. American soccer had history! We've played for over 40 years! 
But, nearly 100 years? Since 1914? Surely not!
It was all true, though. The United States has a rich footballing history and the US Open Cup is the best example of that fact. 
To understand the US Open Cup, you actually have to go even farther back into history to 1884. In this year, the first organizing soccer organization, the American Football Association (AFA), was born. It only covered regions around New Jersey and New York, but was still ground-breaking. Most importantly for this story, the AFA organized America's first non-league cup, the American Cup. The first American soccer dynasty of sorts came about as Clark ONT, a team from northern New Jersey sponsored by the local Clark Thread Company, swept the first three American Cups. Teams from New Jersey and Massachusetts dominated the competition until 1897 when the Philadelphia Mainz defeated the previous year's champions, Paterson True Blues. 
Read the rest of the article on In Bed With Maradona here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All the World's a Stage. Especially the Pitch.

The whole night reeked of archetype. And, unfortunately for Sporting KC, the archetype places David as the firm victor over Goliath. 

The crowd was excited for this match-up. We were in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup, 3 victories away from our first piece of silverware in 7 years and a birth to the growing CONCACAF Champions League. Plus, we were matched up with the only remaining non-MLS team. We could prance into the semi-finals! 

Just like the Crew did into the quarters.

The Kickers are no joke. They play solid, disciplined defense, which is absolutely vital, if you hope to upset more talented teams. Richmond's defensive 4-4-1-1 spoiled wave after wave of attack and even sprouted a few dangerous counters. Sporting put plenty of shots on goal, but Richmond never allowed more than a half-chance at goal. It certainly helped them that Sporting, especially Teal Bunbury, seemed to lack that killer instinct. Players seemed to be trying to score the perfect goal at times rather than simply trying to score. When the referee blew for halftime with the match still scoreless, things looked troubling both on the pitch and on the horizon.

A storm brewed in the distance. Thunder. Lightning. Huge downpours. A chance of hail and maybe even a tornado. It was going to be destructive. It was going to ruin our Open Cup dreams. It was more than just a little rain. It was a tragedy on its way to Livestrong Sporting Park. 

After 20 more minutes of scoreless play, the storm stopped the game. Lightning was in the area. The game was delayed for an hour and a half. For 90 minutes, fans worried about the worst possibility. Sporting rued missed chances. And, the Kickers went down to the brook and found 5 smooth stones to slay the giant. The symbolism was not favoring us and we could all sense it. That ugly sense of foreboding that seemed inescapable was attacking our spirits and it wasn't a welcome feeling.

Read the rest of the article on The Pursuit of Victory here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The (Seemingly) Forgotten Cup

In the process of learning some of the history of the Beautiful Game, I was reading up on the Cup Winners' Cup. It was a fascinating competition put on by UEFA from 1960-1999. The winners of the domestic cups in each country were allowed to compete in a straight knockout tournament. In effect, it was an extension of the domestic cup tournaments taken to the international level. 

But it extended not just the format, but also all the exuberance and anxiety that comes with a knockout tournament. It was all or nothing. No wishy-washy round robin format. You won or went home. It didn't matter if you were Barcelona and they were Slovan Bratinslava (1); you still had to go out and win the game. The Cup Winners' Cup filled us with thrilling tales of underdog victories over European giants. One of the most notable was MTK Budapest's overtaking of Celtic in the semi-finals of the 1963-64 version of the tournament. Celtic took a comfortable 3-0 lead into the second leg, but Hungarian giants, but relative minnows in Europe, stormed back to win 4-0 in Budapest to go to the final against Sporting Clube de Portugal, who they pushed to a replay that they lost 1-0. 

Cup competitions are one of my favorite things in the world of football. The FA Cup was absolutely thrilling this year. Leighton Baines' amazing equalizer that pushed Everton's 4th Round replay with Chelsea into penalties was only topped by Reading's victory over that same Everton team in the next round. Leyton Orient's late strike from Jonathan Téhoué to force a replay against Arsenal was stunning. The Manchester derby in the semi-final was a superb match that could be looked back upon as the first signs of a slow changing of the guard in the city. The rest of the cup tournaments had just as much excitement. Cristiano Ronaldo's header in extra-time of the Copa del Rey final was one of the few beautiful moments of the series of Clásicos. The Coppa Italia, Coupe de France, Taça de Portugal, and the rest of the cup competitions contained some of the greatest games of the season.

Which is why I was so stunned when only 4500 people showed up to Livestrong Sporting Park on Tuesday night for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match against Chicago Fire PDL. And that was one of the higher attendances amongst the 8 games that night in the United States' cup competition. It confounded me as to why American audiences were not interested in the competition. 


Read the rest of the article here on The Pursuit of Victory.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Dastardly Deed of Diving

On Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium, a tragedy occurred. After 83 minutes of grueling soccer, Real Salt Lake held a slim 1-0 lead over DC United. It was a hard-fought game and DC were hoping to be able to nab a point at one of the toughest places to get points from.

Enter Charlie Davies.

After receiving the ball between the midfield at the 18-yard box, he begins his run down the right side of the box. Defender Chris Wingert steps over to stop the run. He slides in front of Davies, knocking the ball away slightly. It looks to be clean. He didn't touch Davies. He got the ball. Good play. Except for one small thing: Davies dived. He fell straight forward, as if he had been touched, and the ref awarded him a penalty. He grabs the ball, lines up for the penalty, slots it nicely in the bottom-left corner, just underneath the diving Rimando and wheels away to celebrate the point taken from Rio Tinto.

And, in this instance, taken should include all the negative connotation that you can imagine. RSL were robbed of 2 points and Davies had no shame in it.

Diving has been a controversial topic, especially in American circles, and most of the flak seems to revolve around Charlie Davies (or Diveies, if you like), as this is not his first dive in DC United colors. His actions are an absolute disgrace to the beautiful game, to MLS, to DC United and to himself.

All sports are mainly built around showing off physical ability and talent. For a striker, this means showing off your ability to get the ball past defenders and the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Few things are as beautiful as watching a devastating attacker weave through defenders and slot the ball past the goalkeeper. On the other hand, there is nothing beautiful about pretending to be tackled. But, unfortunately, with the rules as is, there is greater incentive for attackers to fall over at the slightest contact (or even the possibility of contact) rather than try to create a wondrous goal to wow the audience. It is even worse when watching a player like Davies do it, because he has the talent and the ability to create great-looking goals, but instead he opts for diving.

That's part of what is harming a lot of South American players. In Brazil, Argentina and the rest of the continent, diving is part of the game. Players dive at midfield when touched in hopes of getting a free kick from 60 yards away. Once they're in the penalty box, its only a matter of time before players are rolling on the ground. Play-acting to get cards and free kicks is not a beautiful thing to watch. The world didn't fall in love with the Brazilian style of play because they were really good at diving to get penalties. We fell in love with them because of the amazing individual skill: the glorious backheels, gorgeous dribbling and exquisite finishing. And the fact that they did it all with the biggest smiles on their faces, not the fake grimace that fills the faces of delinquent divers.

Today, many Brazilian stars have to take at least a year or so to acclimate to the referring climate when they move to Europe. Even when they move to Spain or Italy, the refs are cracking down more on diving than in their home leagues. Neymar is the next in line to make that transition. After getting a booking in the Copa Libertadores final for diving (continental competition in South American is tougher on diving than the domestic leagues), Neymar was forced to stay on his feet for the rest of the game. Even though he wasn't at the top of his game, he still looked very good and showed off some wonderful skill. When he makes a move to Europe, especially if he moves to England, he is going to have to retrain himself to stay up when people come near and not fall over, lest he be ejected for his play-acting.

The world watched in horror as Barcelona and Real Madrid fought back and forth for the title of who would dive the most in the first leg of their Champions League battle. That spectacle was made even worse by the fact that neither of these teams need to resort to such petty tactics to get good results. After the game everyone agreed: that was not a good match. It was not beautiful. Arguably, the two best teams in the world put on one of the ugliest matches ever. It was a poor advertisement for the beautiful game.

As an American fan, I'm always working hard to get more American fans to support the game. Luckily, I had not convinced any of my friends to watch this game with me, because had they seen it, I would have never gotten them to watch another game. It was everything that was bad about the game crammed into one game. Save for Messi's brilliance at the end, it was nothing but a desolate wasteland.

To me, the only thing more aggravating than watching that wreck of a game or watching Davies dive to steal a point off of RSL is listening to people try to defend these actions. The apologists of diving are just as bad as those who are out on the field diving. If they cared about maintaining the beauty of this game, they would understand that diving has no place in this sport.

Some have pegged diving as the attacker's last refuge of safety against growing defenders who can push them around the pitch. This is disastrously wrong-headed. The attacker has an array of weapons to combat against defenders who might be much bigger. The biggest advantage is their smaller size. They are quicker. They maneuver better and should use this to get around defenders rather than running at them in the hopes of drawing a soft foul. The battle of big versus small, quick vs tough, is a classic match-up in all sports. To claim that the only way that the small, quick players can get by is to dive is to underestimate their ability tremendously. Also, there is no reason to think that all attackers are small and all defenders are big oafs. Bobby Zamora is one of many strikers who beat up and bruise defenders with their big size on their way to goal.

Others have argued that in the battle between defenders and attackers, defenders often use professional fouls to stop the run of play when an attacker has a goal-scoring opportunity. Therefore, attackers ought to be able to use diving. Both are against the rules, but most don't see professional fouls as some attack against the integrity of the game, so neither should they seeing diving in such a negative light.

This blurs the distinction between diving and professional fouls. The main difference is deception, specifically towards the referee. Deception is part of all sports. You want to deceive the opposing team into thinking that you are going one way when you are going the other or that you are going to run one play when you are actually running another. Deception is a key part of soccer, especially from a tactical point of view, but also when dealing with individual skill, but only when that deception goes as far as the opponent. During the course of the game, it is the referee's duty to mete out justice: to keep the game fair for both teams. In order for this to be successful, the referee cannot be deceived. In a court of law, deceiving a judge can see you imprisoned for perjury. On the football pitch, deceiving a referee ought to be met with punishment as well and should not be praised. It stifles the game and creates an unfair match.

Chris Wingert had done nothing wrong when he knocked the ball away from Charlies Davies, but he was punished for it, because Davies deceived the referee. Would the defenders of diving feel the same if instead of giving a PK, Wingert was given a prison sentence because Davies deceived a judge? The principle is the same in both situations. Deceiving that person who is duty-bound to dole out justice is not a moral action. (This rule comes with one exception: if that judge is not doling out justice correctly, then you ought to deceive the judge to make sure that his or her false sense of justice is not taken out on innocent persons. This exception will never appear on the football pitch, though, even if it is quite common in the court of law.)

Diving is wrong, because it attempts to deceive the referee and causes him or her to mete out justice incorrectly due to false information. Professional fouls are perfectly fine, because they in no way attempt to deceive the referee. The player engaging in a professional foul understands what they are doing and what the consequences are and ought to be willing to pay them as they are spelled out. That's why I had no problem with Suarez using his hands to keep the Ghanaian shot out of goal, but am deeply troubled by Davies' dive against RSL.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Deutscher Meister See Their First Transfer

It had been predicted for months now. Dortmund were going to win the league, but were going to struggle to keep their young teams of up-and-coming stars together through the summer. The first name to fall was Nuri Sahin, Dortmund's fantastic midfielder whose distribution has been key to BVB's success. His importance to the team was apparent in the last couple games that he has not played due to a leg injury. Instead Antonio da Silva has had the unenviable position of trying to fill the shoes of one of the Bundesliga's top players of the year. He did a good job in his role, but it was obvious how much Sahin was missed.

After taking the German domestic title, the team cheered and partied in front of the famed yellow wall of Westfalenstadion. The roar was tremendous and the players were hyped up, save for Sahin, who looked almost uncomfortable. It seemed that he knew he was leaving this and it was a tough goodbye for him. "Saying goodbye to my team-mates was very, very difficult. They are all so close to my heart and it was a very emotional goodbye. Everybody did everything for each other in this team and this is a fantastic team which has won a fantastic title," said Sahin. This was more than just a talented group of players. It was a team that played and lived together. You could see it in their play. They loved playing for each other. They loved playing for their manager, Jurgen Klopp. And, most of all, they loved playing for the 80,000 roaring fans decked out in black and yellow. Its a tough place to leave, but Real Madrid is a tough gig to pass up.

Real Madrid is now stacked with midfielders and could be planning on offloading at least one or two. With Ronaldo, di Maria, Kaka, Diarra, Xabi Alonso, Ozil, Khedira, and now Sahin, as well as Gago, Granero, Leon, and Canales all available to play midfield for Mourinho, its becoming a bit of a log jam. It'll be interesting to see if any of the big names move out of Madrid.

On the other hand, Borussia Dortmund now have a hole that needs to be filled. Fortunately, the front office has already planned ahead for just this thing happening. They have already lined up to sign on Ilkay Gundogan, who currently plays for Nuremburg. He netted 5 goals and assisted on 2 in 21 appearances for his club. "Ilkay has an excellent passing game and is overall a very high quality player who fits perfectly into our system," commented Klopp after announcing news of his transfer to Dortmund. 

It appears the Dortmund will not miss a beat. Losing Sahin will be a big blow, but the front office at Westfalenstadion has vowed to keep their players here. If they stay true to that promise and Sahin is the only big name to leave, Dortmund could represent a big threat in next year Champions League. They were incredibly dominant in Germany this year, scoring 64 and only letting in 21 goals with 1 game left. The squad is young and growing. Signs are pointing to this team only getting better with the only caveat being that they have to stay together. The unity of the squad, the fans, and the city ought to be a big draw for the club. I, for one, cannot wait to see them play mid-week games in the Champions League.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fulham v Liverpool: Picking Up the Pieces

32 seconds into the game and Schwarzer is picking the ball up from out of his goal. We all knew it was going to be rough from there, but it wasn't until 17 minutes later when we knew exactly how rough it was going to be. We were bad tonight. The defense looked poor. Maxi and Suarez ran around Hangeland and Hughes and the fullbacks did little to stop Liverpool from attacking down the flanks. There are a myriad of reasons (see excuses) that we can give. Hangeland is still recovering from his virus. We have nothing to play for, with no chance at relegation or a European position through our placement in the table. Nine days of no play left us rusty and killed our momentum.

Ultimately, we just had a bad night. The whole team looked flat and unenthusiastic, while Liverpool were up for playing and had a lot to play for. Suarez was brilliant on the ball and Maxi's hat trick struck a dagger into Fulham's heart. The back 4 was uncharacteristically poor. Even Schwarzer was miserably out-of-form, letting in Kuyt's shot that should have been easily saved. It'd be easy for me to go on about how miserable we looked, but I'd like to try and find at least a few positives, so here's my week attempt.

I think we found where Dembele needs to be placed. That is, in the midfield and not as a striker. I know that is a small sample size, but I think it holds a wider truth. Dembele is much more effective in the midfield than as a striker. He has shown off excellent ball skills, but hasn't shown great form at the tip of the attack in front of goal. In the first half, when he was playing as a striker, he completely whiffed at his one attempt on goal. In the second half, when he was playing deeper, he came in and attacked from a deep position to net our first goal. He looked more effective farther back; he was able to show his ball skills and passing skills.

The other thing we can take from this game is that the team didn't give up or lash out when they went down so quickly. At 0-3 down, I was worried about two things: that we would drop out of the game completely and lose by 7 or 8 and that our players would get angry and play rashly, causing us to pick up red and yellows that could hurt our chance of a Europa League spot through the Fair Play table. Thankfully, neither happened, though the first did a little. I was impressed by how the team fought back at the beginning of the 2nd half. We placed a lot of pressure on Liverpool and there was a lot of spirit in the team after Dembele's goal. Maxi's hat-trick-completing goal put a damper on that, unfortunately. In the last 5 minutes of the game, the Whites still had some fight in them. After Sidwell's goal--which was a gorgeous strike--Kakuta ran to the goal to get the ball quickly in order to get the game started again. Soon after, Schwarzer made a really good diving save, which was encouraging after his miserable mistakes earlier in the game.

The game was a bad one, but there were some positives, even if they are small. Let's hope this was a one-off thing and we can rebound against Birmingham this weekend. COYW!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fulham v Liverpool: The Reds Come to Town

Mark Hughes has told us all season that Fulham is a top 10 club and it hasn't been until two straight convincing 3-0 wins really convinced the fan base that the manager might just be on to something. The team has played really cohesive, flowing football that has been an absolute treat to watch. Furthermore, its offered a small taste of the potential within this team that many, including myself, are hoping blooms big within the next couple years. Zamora has been in tip-top form since coming back from his injury. Davies has shown what he can do in midfield. Dempsey has shown off his work rate on and off the ball and his ability in front of goal. Hangeland and Hughes have proven themselves as a powerful duo in the center of a defense that has let in more goals than only Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City.

Fulham rides this wave of good results back home to face a Liverpool team that has surged since January and is looking to snag 5th place and its corresponding Europa League spot. While the Reds have looked very strong and their new signings, especially Suarez, who has been absolutely brilliant since going to Anfield, have given them a big boost, their away form has not been spotless. In 4 away games since February, Liverpool has only taken 4 points, with the one win coming at slumping Sunderland and losses coming to bottom-table West Ham and West Brom.

Liverpool will be a tough match, but its certainly one that Fulham can take 3 points from. After 9 days off, all the minor injuries ought to be gone and Hangeland and Dempsey ought to be back in the line-up. And, we're going to need both, but Hangeland especially. Suarez and Kuyt have been lethal in front of goal. Suarez's play inside the box has made defenders look silly and has been incredible to watch. The defense will need to be compact enough to give him little space to move about.

Our defense has been excellent all season, but has turned it up a notch further in recent weeks, especially when playing in the banks of the Thames. We just don't seem like conceding here. After beating Liverpool at home last year, only letting in a goal in this season corresponding fixture off of Pantsil, and with Gerrard off the pitch, Liverpool look ripe for being clean-sheeted. It will take a really good effort from the Whites, but we have it in us.

With Dempsey back and Zamora in top form, it would be quite a task to keep us out of goal. I see Fulham taking this mid-week match 2-0.

On a different note, I'm excited to see QPR take the Football League Championship trophy and its more valuable prize, promotion to the Premiership. Doubling the numbers of West London derbies ought to make Fulham football that much more exciting next year.

If you can't tell, I'm really excited about what's in store for the Cottagers next year!

Waterboarding and Hypothermia

With the recent killing of Osama bin Laden, many commentators have jumped at the opportunity to claim that extra-legal prisons, like Guantanamo Bay, and enhanced interrogation techniques (see torture) have been the key to the government's ability to knock off #1 from the FBI's Most Wanted list. While these claims ought to be questioned, as all pronouncements from government ought to be, for the purpose of this entry, I'll grant that claim: one of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay was unwilling to hand over vital information, but after being waterboarded and left in freezing cold prison cells, the prisoner gave the information necessary to find Al-Queda's leader.

The question we are still left with is: does that make these interrogation techniques legal? And, more important, moral? Is it permissible to engage in these activities just because they give us information that might save lives? The answer is no.

In the 1940's, Nazi doctors performed a variety of experiments on prisoners. Most notably, they did a wealth of research on how the human body reacts to freezing temperatures. Doctors forced young and healthy men into icy vats of water after placing a thermometer into the subject's rectum to record their internal temperature. They collected data to see how the human body responded to the harsh cold. It is reported that around 100 people died due to these experiments.

Through the death, though, the Nazis learned a great deal. In fact, the Nazi research is effectively the entirety of mankind's knowledge on how the human body reacts to freezing and hypothermia, and its not a stretch to see how this sort of information has saved human lives.

Here is the dilemma that the supporter of waterboarding must face: if waterboarding is perfectly moral, because it helped provide vital information to save lives, they must be willing to admit that people like Josef Mengele were not monsters of medicine, but rather misunderstood saviors of mankind. The principle is the same in both: the horrific pain inflicted upon a few people (or the people killed) is less important than the new data that could be extracted from that pain.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sunderland v Fulham: Leaving Home

After our dominating 3-0 victory over Bolton inside the glowing confines of Craven Cottage, Fulham has to head out into the dark woods of another away game. The Cottagers head north on Saturday to face an injury-riddled Sunderland team that picked up their first victory since January 22 last week when they beat Wigan. Its been the same question all season: can we take the good things that we show at the Cottage and take them on the road? Its been a miserable, constant pattern.

In January, we beat West Brom 3-0 at home and then drew at Wigan 1-1. We beat Stoke 2-0 at home and then lost at Anfield 1-0. We beat Tottenham 4-0 in the FA Cup and drew Newcastle 1-1 both at home and then drew Aston Villa 2-2 away. In March, we looked good at the Cottage when we beat Blackburn 3-2 and then lost 2-1 at Goodison Park. Finally, after beating Blackpool 3-0 at home earlier this month, we lost 2-0 at Old Trafford and drew Wolves at Molyneux. 

It has been a puzzle that is driving all Fulham fans nuts, including me. We have played some very good football inside the Cottage, but it seems that the moment the team leaves the banks of the Thames, they lose their ability. Its an issue that must be overcome if the club hopes to make the next step. If we hope to consistently qualify for European competition or win some domestic silverware, we have to take more points away. Its as simple as that.

I'm hoping this game against Sunderland will be a good starting point for us turning around our away form heading into next season. If we can't beat a team in miserable form that is absolutely rocked with injuries simply because we aren't playing in the Cottage, we are going to find it difficult to raise the level of our competition. 

To take the 3 points at the Stadium of Light, we are going to need another solid performance from the midfield, especially defensively. The midfield players were dominant against Bolton. They closed down any attack that they tried to make and gave them fewer passing lanes, making it easy for the back four to make interceptions. The opposite fixture in this matchup ended up as a goalless draw. I doubt this one will end the same. 

My prediction for the game: I think we'll take the points. This could be wishful thinking, but we have the quality, the momentum and Sunderland has the injuries. They are going to struggle immensely up front with no true striker on the pitch for them due to injuries. Hangeland, Hughes and Schwarzer ought to be able to keep their attack in check. With Zamora, Johnson, Dembele and Dempsey looking good, its hard to imagine us leaving the pitch without a goal. I tip us for a victory: 0-1.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Fog Fighter

Its an admittedly strange title to take on, but its one that I believe that I can take pride in and that will define the purpose of this measly blog. Its my outpost of clarity--a small sliver of lucidness in a world that seems bent on obfuscation and confusion when dealing with even the most simple of problems. I've been told I have an ability to make confusing things simple--to clear the fog. Its only recently that I've found some version of poetic irony in that my last name, Nebel, is German for fog.

Thus arose the decided title for this blog. Its a bold goal. Much too bold for anything I hope to actually accomplish. Especially since I'll probably just end up scribbling every so often about the upcoming Fulham match or an interesting song I just heard or my rage-filled ramblings after leaving an economics lecture--that is, if this just doesn't get abandoned entirely. Hopefully that doesn't happen. Hopefully, this is a place where I can begin to accomplish a wider goal of clearing the fog for people.

Removing veils.

Uncovering truths.

Whether it be about grandiose spiritual truths, vital economic doctrine, or who Dortmund ought to sign if faced with the sad reality of Nuri actually leaving in the summer. I want to uncover it all, because I like teaching and I like learning. And the most important part of that is being able to understand amongst all the fog.

Or I'll realize that this is another throw-away Blogger account...