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.
HEADLINE | Most of the major leagues in Europe are already settling into the status quo. Eleven points already separates first place and fifth place in Spain; the gap is eight points in Italy and seven points in Germany. It's a game of haves and have-nots across the pond, and most of the leagues are a two- or three-horse race, even now, two months into the season.
The same is usually true in England. Manchester United have won the Premier League in 13 out of its 21 seasons. Add in Arsenal's three titles, plus the oil-soaked riches of Chelsea and Manchester City in the last ten years, and the league has been rather formulaic; every year now, it's City, United, and Chelsea for the title, with Arsenal in fourth and occasional cameos by Tottenham, Everton, or Liverpool.
That's why things are so much fun in England right now. First and fifth in Spain are separated by 11 points; in England, first and 18th are separated by just nine. Eleven teams are within six points of league leaders Arsenal.
That includes United, which got two second-half goals from eighteen-year-old Belgian-Albanian-Turkish wunderkind Adnan Januzaj to beat Sunderland 2-1 - thus lifting the league champions all the way to ninth. City also won, 3-1 over Everton, to get all the way up to sixth.
Up at the top of the table, Arsenal needed a second-half Jack Wilshire goal to rescue a 1-1 draw at West Brom, while West Ham scored three times in 13 minutes to humiliate Tottenham 3-0. Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 3-1, with Daniel Sturridge adding to his league-leading goal total. And of course powerhouse Southampton - nearly-relegated-last-year Southampton - beat Swansea City 2-0.
That leaves Arsenal and Liverpool tied atop the table, with Chelsea and Southampton just two points behind and Manchester City and Tottenham one behind them.
Will it last? Probably not. But we can hope. There'd be nothing better than - for once - a seven-way title race in England.
WORLD CUP QUALIFYING | Next week, club soccer takes a break in favor of the international game, with World Cup qualifiers scheduled around the world. Here at home, the USA plays Jamaica on Friday night and Panama the following Tuesday.
Though qualification for next year's World Cup is assured for the Americans, the team isn't set for next summer, and a number of players will be making a push for inclusion. Neither Clint Dempsey nor Michael Bradley will be available for the final two qualifiers, which could open up some playing time for guys like Brad Evans in the midfield or Aron Johannsson up front.
INVERNESS CALEY THISTLE | We are saddened to report that the team with the best name in Europe had its momentum rather arrested this weekend. Caley began the weekend on top of the Scottish Premier League, but got waxed 4-0 by a St. Johnstone team that hadn't won since August 17. The report described ICT as "lethargic," which is not at all what we like to see.
However, last week's update did prompt Twitter user Sam to remind me of one of the great newspaper headlines of all time, following the team's 3-0 win over Celtic in the Scottish Cup in 2000: SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC, CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS. So there's always that.