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. Every week, he tells us what's what and who's who in the Premier League. Dana?
We are through one quarter of the Premier League season and we can now begin to start drawing some conclusions based on the 9 matches played (sample size! Derp!). Before we get to the top televised matches in England over the weekend, I would like to run a quick (ridiculous) theory I came up with last weekend.
The biggest setback for soccer in America during the 1990’s wasn’t the epic failure that was the 1998 World Cup. That certainly didn’t help anything, and taught us a valuable lesson about the detriment of a player sleeping with another player’s wife - but that wasn’t the biggest setback.
The biggest setback was the 1995 movie ‘The Big Green.’ I am serious.
We were in the golden era of underdog sports movies for kids. Mighty Ducks (1992) started the "rag-tag youngers overcome adversity to beat the tougher, more physical opponents" genre that we still know and love today. Baseball got its own flick with The Sandlot (1993) shortly thereafter. There isn’t a man or woman above the age of 20 that doesn’t get a little dusty when Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez steals home with Scotty Smalls on the call.
Then, in 1994, the makers of Mighty Ducks somehow topped the original with D2. Also, with Little Giants, the fine people over at Amblin Entertainment got Devon Sawa to be on the cover of Teen Beat for 42 straight months, and caused me to Facebook the girl that played Ice Box many, many years later.
Then...we come to 1995. Hoping to ride down the smooth path of success already paved by Ducks, Giants and tobacco-chewing 12-year olds, Walt Disney limped to the barn and made The Big Green.
You know how you’re a kid and every show you watch and every movie you see is so awesome? I even knew at the age of 10 that The Big Green was awful. And I loved soccer! First of all, Disney was too lazy to spend more than an afternoon casting the movie, and just tossed in the kid from Sandlot.
Casting director 1: “The goalie is the linchpin to this film and we have to make sure we find the right kid.
Casting director 2: “Screw it. Just call the fat kid from Sandlot and let's go get lunch.”
Casting director 1: “....You read my mind.”
It has been so many years since I have seen it that I can barely remember the specifics of the plot. Something about a teacher from England, a bunch of goobers that sucked at soccer, a goat, and Steve Guttenberg. Thanks, Disney.
The United States would have won the last three World Cups, and LeBron James would have chosen to play soccer, had The Big Green at least been as entertaining as the Yule Log that Channel 45 puts on 24/7 each holiday season. But it wasn’t. And we must continue to press on and do our best not to stop every day and wonder "what if?"
All right, now that the important stuff is out of the way, we can get to the silly matches. There are couple sexy ones pairing top-six teams to highlight matchweek 10:
No. 3: Fulham vs Manchester United at Craven Cottage
When: Saturday at 10AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: United bagged a full sack of points at the Cottage last season thanks in part to a goal by Wayne Rooney in the 79th minute.
Manchester United picked up a crucial three points by coming from behind twice to beat Stoke City at Old Trafford. The scene afterwards was something that is typically reserved for a massive Champions League win, or victory over Liverpool. Fans were jumping and hugging in jubilation, and the players simultaneously applauded the supporters while breathing sighs of relief so big the place almost collapsed.
It was a deserved celebration, as United finally showed the fighting spirit that has made them Manchester United. The commentators were wondering aloud whether or not this win against Stoke could be a turning point in their season, and things finally may be on track for David Moyes as he tries to navigate his first season taking over for Sir Alex Ferguson.
It reminded me immediately of the 2008-09 Chelsea season, when Frank Lampard scored in the 94th minute to (coincidentally) also beat Stoke City 2-1. Chelsea was not living up to expectations after losing to United the year before in the Champions League final. They sat in third place, and had a manager in Luis Felipe Scolari in his first season taking over for club legend Jose Mourinho. Calls for his head were being made, and pressure was on him. The announcers in that match also wondered aloud if this would be what turned things around for Scolari and Chelsea.
It didn’t. At least not for Scolari. He was sacked two matches later, after Chelsea lost to Liverpool 2-0. Chelsea, however, went on to finish third, made a semi-final appearance of Champions League and won an FA Cup under Guus Hiddink. Always putting the fun in dysfunction, those Blues are.
My point is, while the "Is this the moment they turn their season around?" narrative is fun and exciting, it doesn’t exactly pan out that way, and is grasped at way too often. It is up to the veterans on United’s squad to build off this and get their team back to respectability. I think they will, too. They seem to genuinely like David Moyes (for the most part) and want to play for him. In that Chelsea example, it was clear by November that the veterans wanted Scolari gone, and there are legends of secret meetings between the top players and Roman Abramovich.
United will almost surely bag another three points on the road against a Fulham outfit that has dropped two their last three at home and look in utter disarray. That must be tough for my colleague Eric Perkins who has adopted Fulham as his favorite club. He is serious about it, too. He asks me questions every morning and his laptop is routinely on Fulham sites during breaks. Perk even made it out to Craven Cottage for a match while he was in London covering the Vikings. I love to see stuff like that. People you’d never expect to see soccer are beginning to be passionate about it.
But, unfortunately for him, United will roll Saturday. Also, I totally went back on my promise not to talk about Chelsea. I owe you all a beer. (Editor's note: We didn't believe that promise for a second, Dana.)
No. 2: Arsenal vs Liverpool at Emirates Stadium
When: Saturday at 12:30PM on NBC - Yes, the big boy NBC.
Last year: This match ended in a 2-2 draw a year ago after a wild seven minute stretch where 3 goals were scored.
What a spicy little first vs. third matchup this will be. Absolutely cannot wait for this one, and making things even better is that it falls on a Saturday, rather than a Sunday. I guess the schedule makers also thought these two teams would be competing for fourth place and not the top of the table.
Liverpool can go top of the table by a point, while Arsenal could go five points clear of the boys from Anfield. Gunners may be tops a quarter of the way through the season but they’d be lying if they said they felt like they were in command. Although they are unbeaten in their last eight league matches, they have been reeling in other competitions; they lost at home in the Champions League last week, and were dumped out of the "Capital One Card Cup: Brought to you by the Fine People of Playtone Records and formerly known as Carling Cup."
I read some quotes from Arsene Wenger where he barely stopped short of calling it a must-win match. As I wrote about last week, Hell Month is about to begin for Arsenal, and they didn’t exactly end their October hitting the highest of notes. A loss to Liverpool could easily send them snowballing downhill in a stretch of matches where traveling to Anfield is one of the easier tasks on the docket.
Liverpool have gotten the full twelve points in their last four matches, and have been scoring so often they are killing the grass on the inside of the nets. Their confidence will be further boosted by the return of Philippe Coutinho. Arsenal may have the longest unbeaten streak in the league right now, but it just feels like things are starting to turn. The trainer’s room has been jam packed all season and it is bound to catch up with them eventually. Meanwhile, Liverpool are playing with confidence and seem to be relishing the increased expectations brought by their hot start.
This one will be fun, plus it will end right before Gopher kickoff. Get comfortable on the couch, you deserve it.
No. 1: Everton vs Tottenham at Goodison Park
When: Sunday at 7:30AM on CNBC. Yep, CNBC. This one got bumped for race car driving. Vroooooom!
Last year: Spurs appeared to be cruising to a 1-nil win last December, thanks to a Clint Dempsey goal in the 76th - but Everton had other plans, getting an equalizer in the 90th and a winner in the 92nd. It was one of those matches you want to burn onto a DVD, fashion it into a Chinese throwing star and chuck it at someone who says soccer is boring.
First vs. third and fourth vs. sixth? Well, isn’t this just a spicy little weekend in our favorite league.
Both teams enter this match in excellent form. Everton have won five of their last six, having only dropped points in a 3-1 loss at Manchester City. Tottenham has been almost as impressive over the same stretch, winning four, drawing against Chelsea, and somehow managing to lose at home to West Ham.
A lot on the line for both teams as they fight for top four immortality. Everton have not lost at home and handed Chelsea their only league loss of the season within the cozy confines of Goodison Park. Spurs manager Andres Villas Boas might actually be pleased this match isn’t at White Hart Lane after he cut a WWE-style promo on the fans not being loud enough at last weekend’s 1-0 win over Hull City. Hey, AVB, maybe have your men playing well enough that it doesn’t take them until the 79th minute at home to score against Hull City?
You have to go back to 2007 to find the last time Spurs won at Goodison Park and as long as Timmy Howard has his neckbeard, I refuse to bet against the Toffees. This one is early but will be worth tuning into if you’re up early Sunday morning and can actually find CNBC on your cable package. I know I have it, but it will probably take me 30 minutes to find it.
Alright boys and gir...OK, lets be honest, I doubt any girls read this...until next time, may all your penalties be converted and your trips to Dairy Queen come no matter the final score.