Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
Dana Wessel produces the Cane & Company morning show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Cane Peterson and Eric Perkins/Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. He stops by SoccerCentric every week to favor us with his Premier League knowledge. Dana?
So...how about that United States Men’s National Team? I don’t know about you, but I am still buzzing three days later from qualifying for our seventh straight World Cup (the longest streak for any nation). Yes, qualifying for the World Cup should be expected at the 100-year mark of United States Soccer, but it never gets old, and each one always feels better than the last. It’s always special.
It has long been discussed how people in sports radio and writing get bitter and jaded towards the sports they cover. I am by no means a grizzled veteran, but in my seven years working various jobs in radio and reporting, I have definitely seen behind the curtain and found out how the hotdogs are made in pro sports. It isn’t just media members either; I think adults in general start to lose the passion for sports they had years ago.
That makes me cherish our beloved Yanks even more. That fire still burns deep with me, and as evinced by the 9,000+ American Outlaws supporters from 49 different states in attendance in Columbus on Tuesday, it still does for a lot of others as well. Watching and rooting for the USA still gives me that child-like glee for sports that sadly gets beaten out of us as adults. And moments like Landon Donovan, the California Kid, the greatest American to ever live, in the twilight of his career, scoring to seal yet another match against Mexico reminds me why we all love sports so damn much in the first place.
We’ll table the US discussion until October 11, when I venture to Kansas City for the World Cup Qualifier against Jamaica. I know a lot of other Minnesotans are going as well. Let me know if you are. Oh, and if you do go, there are a lot of hotels near whatever we are calling Livestrong Park since Armstrong turned out to be a fraud, but none are better than the Great Wolf Lodge. Nothing gets your mind right for a day of BBQ, tailgating, and soccer quite like logging some hours in their indoor water park. Trust me. It is the perfect day-starter for what will be a day you’ll always remember. Last WCQ in KC, after the win, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard went to the water park with us and we went down slides and hung out in the lazy river for hours and vowed to be best buddies forever.
OK. I made that last part up. It was only Dempsey. Timmy wasn’t there.
I know it has been a week, so let's refresh everybody on where we stand in the Premier League. Liverpool somehow have full points and are top of the table, after vanquishing Manchester United 1-0. (Speaking of the former champs, things are getting dicey early at Old Trafford.) Arsenal landed a huge punch in the fight for North London against Spurs by beating them 1-rip and making a shock signing. Chelsea and City are right where they want to be, while the table is just starting to take shape with everyone having played three matches.
Here are the three biggest televised matches this week. Remember, every match can be seen if you download the NBC Sports Live app on your phone, tablet or walkie talkie.
No. 3: Manchester United vs Crystal Palace at Old Trafford
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: There was no last year for newly-promoted Crystal Palace. The last time these two met at Old Trafford was a 5-2 United win December of 2004. Paul Scholes had a brace, and John O’Shea bagged a garbage goal in stoppage time to make the score look more impressive for a Star Tribune blog post he envisioned would happen 9 years later.
As I mentioned earlier, things are already ugly for the reigning champions. Losing at Anfield is troubling enough, but the real trouble is having a disgruntled Robin van Persie before the paint is even dry on a new season.
Reports out of England last week said the Golden Boot winner was frustrated with new manager David Moyes’ tactics and training habits. Three matches into Moyes's tenure, I can’t say I blame RvP. He of course denied the report, because that is how high profile athletes play the game: have someone in their camp “leak” reports to get the conversation started, and then deny any wrongdoing. It is a tale as old as the game itself.
RvP must also feel like the carpet was kind of pulled out from underneath him. Making the move from one domestic rival to another is clearly an emotional move, and he came to United under the impression he’d play many years under Sir Alex Ferguson. We all like to make jokes about Arsene Wenger and his winter coat style, but the guy is a world class manager. Making the move from Wenger to Ferguson was one of the few upgrades possible.
Then, after his first year with United, a trophy-winning year, Ferguson calls it a career and Moyes is brought in to replace him. Nothing against Moyes, sure he is a great dude, and he is welcome to come play Mario Kart with me anytime he is in Uptown, but Ferguson, Wenger, or Jose Mourinho he is not. At least not yet. A bunch of top-ten finishes with an under-funded (compared to big clubs) Everton side is impressive, but they don’t give you a trophy for that.
It is early and all that, but pressure is on Moyes much earlier than a lot of people (including myself) thought. Saturday is a big match for them, and the full three is crucial at home against a soft Palace side.
Dropping points would be rough for United, with a mid-week Champion’s League group stage match looming three days later and, of course, traveling across town to play Manchester City the following Sunday. The debut of Marouane Fellaini and how Moyes uses the Belgian will be very intriguing to see, and should help.
If United run off a couple wins and their big names run off a string of goals, all of this talk will be funny in a few weeks. If not, the pressure only intensifies on Moyes and the whining from RvP and company will only increase.
But so far, the old adage is proving true for Moyes. You don’t want to be the guy that replaces the legend. You want to be the guy that replaces the guy that replaced the legend.
No. 2: Sunderland vs Arsenal at the Stadium of Light
When: Saturday at 9AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Arsenal got the money a season ago at the Stadium Light, winning 1-0 with a goal from Cazorla in the 35th minute.
Mesut Ozil do anything for ya, Gunners? Good. Now quit complaining about your club never making any big signings. Kidding. You still can. One signing doesn’t make up for constant ineptitude.
I personally am excited for Ozil to be in the Premier League even if it is in the shirt of a direct rival. I love the PL, and I want the best players to play in it. It makes things more exciting and that much more rewarding when Chelsea beat Arsenal.
The £42 million pound man from Germany, by way of Real Madrid, joined Arsenal this week for a pair of training sessions. He is almost forced to make his debut Saturday at Sunderland, because the Arsenal training room is busier than a by-the-slice pizza joint at bar close.
(By the way, did anybody else see the pictures of him first photographed at Arsenal? He was wearing a RUN DMC hoody! This fascinates me. What was behind that fashion choice? “First day at my new club, gonna be a lot of pictures taken...hmmmm…a suit? Arsenal shirt? Naw, RUN DMC HOODY!!!!” Was his NWA shirt in the wash? Did his Public Enemy tank top not match his watch? Just awesome. It makes me like the dude.)
Anyway, his fashion sense aside, the guy can play, is only 24, and is a massive signing for a team that looked like they weren’t going to ink anybody. Arsenal supporters should be delighted by this, but it won’t cure all that ails them. One German midfielder can’t plug all the leaks in this ship, especially right now while the injuries linger everywhere else, but his inclusion will likely be enough to hold off a Spurs side determined to snipe a top four spot away from their chief rivals. Unfortunately for Arsenal, holding off Spurs and notching a top four spot is still their ceiling. Ozil doesn’t make them title contenders, he just gives them an even better shot at finishing in the top four and qualifying for Champions League.
While Ozil’s debut is certain, it is a bit less clear if Jozy Alitdore will be joining him on the pitch for Sunderland. Jozy missed their last match against Crystal Palace with a hamstring injury that limited him for the United States. He played 23 unproductive minutes in the 3-1 loss at Costa Rica before getting a selfish, immature yellow card in stoppage time to get him suspended for the Mexico match.
Hopefully Altidore plays and hopefully he scores. I want him in solid form heading into the final two World Cup Qualifiers in October (yes, we qualified, but we still want to win the group. Plus, every match we can get the full team together before next summer the better). But Ozil adds enough intrigue to this match to make must-watch for casuals.
No. 1: Everton vs Chelsea at Goodison Park
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on NBC -- Yeah! Big boy NBC! You have no excuse not to watch it, mom and dad!
Last year: Chelsea beat Everton last December in Goodison Park 2-1 thanks to a pair of goals by Super Frank Lampard.
This one is intriguing match that I’m almost sure will have a winner. These two have only drawn once in their past 10 PL matches, and I just can’t picture Everton starting the season with four straight draws. Plus, this is another one of those fixtures where something goofy or controversial always happens.
Everton had a great transfer window, and will be a fun team to watch. Their season so far depends on the perspective of each individual fan. Haven’t lost! Haven’t won! Three straight draws to open the campaign won’t derail a year but it certainly isn’t ideal, especially scoreless draws against Cardiff and West Brom. Sounds like Gareth Barry and James McCarthy will see debuts, while Everton fans will have to wait to see Romelu Lukaku play, since he was loaned from Chelsea and loaned players are ineligible to play against their parent team.
I was very happy to see man-child Lukaku get loaned over to Everton. It is clearly the best for all parties. I was excited to finally see Lukaku in a Chelsea blue shirt after a great loan last year to West Brom, but he simply became expendable once Samuel Eto’o became available and Demba Ba wasn’t loaned anywhere. Lukaku wasn’t going to see a lot of matches at Chelsea, and he is at the stage of his career where a lot of matches are exactly what he needs. He’ll see plenty of time at Everton with a team that could easily finish in the top 7 or 8 in the league and potentially, if everything breaks right, flirt with that fourth spot.
Chelsea appear to have come back from the international break unscathed, with the exception of Eden Hazard (but reports say he is good to go Saturday if called upon). Although it ended with heartbreak, the Chelsea players must be pleased with their performance against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Super Cup (FYI for Spurs fans, that is the winner of the Champions League vs. the winner of the Europa League). Going down to 10 men and almost holding off the giants from Germany shows that The Special One has the boys playing confidently, and the match was a great test with this season’s Champions League starting the group stage next week.
It’d be cool to see Eto’o make his debut Saturday. If he is motivated and healthy, it could do great things for Chelsea’s ability to score goals, and it could ensure Fernando Torres doesn’t see much of the pitch.
It will be a great match with, hopefully, intriguing debuts on each side. Chelsea need a win to keep pace with the top, and Everton need a win to get their season out of neutral. If you’re looking for a place to watch, the Chelsea fans will be at Morrisey’s in Uptown. Come on by.
Until next week, may your halftimes be filled with orange slices and victories filled with Dairy Queen runs.
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