Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Its the Second Qualifying Round already!

And what a round it was.

Four of the clubs that advanced from the First Qualifying Round won, and three drew. The biggest victor without a doubt was Artmedia Petržalka/Bratislava defeating Finland's Tampere United 3-1 on the road. And although at home, Anorthosis Famagusta still cruised to a 3-0 victory over Rapid Wein. The largest margin of victory though goes to Denmark's Aalborg BK who crushed Bosnia's FK Modriča Maxima 5-0. Rangers fan shouldn't start panicking, but a scoreless draw with Lithuania's Kaunas at the Ibrox is a bit unsettling. Venstpils and Drogheda United almost walked away with moral victories, whereas Inter Baku barely escaped an imminent exit. And BATE of Belarus definitely deserves mention as pulling off one of the biggest upsets, defeating Anderlecht 2-1 in Belgium -- it'll be difficult for Gooch's squad to come back from that one.

Below are the full results:

Rangers 0-0 Kaunas
Brann 0-0 Ventspils
Inter Baku 1-1 Partizan Belgrade
Tampere United 1-3 Artmedia
Anorthosis 3-0 Rapid Wien
Domžale 0-3 Dinamo Zagreb
Panathinaikos 3-0 Dinamo Tbilisi
Göteborg 1-1 Basel
Sheriff Tiraspol 0-1 Sparta Prague
Drogheda United 1-2 Dynamo Kyiv
Anderlecht 1-2 BATE/Valur
Beitar Jerusalem 2-1 Wisła Kraków
Fenerbahçe 2-0 MTK Hungária
Aalborg BK 5-0

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Champions League First Qualifying Round Second Leg

That title is a mouthful, huh?

Anyways, the second leg of the Cupcake Round (oops!) was completed today when nine of the fourteen participating clubs did battle. Lithuania's Kaunas and Sweden's Göteborg won big, Inter Baku advanced on away goals, and Aktobe and Llanelli couldn't advance despite winning the first leg. Below are the overall results (but home teams listed second):

FC BATE (Belarus) 2-0 Valur (Iceland)
still in progress...BATE leading 1-0...will update.
Drogheda United (Ireland) 1-0 Levadia Tallinn (Estonia)
Drogheda advances 3-1
Aktobe (Kazakhstan) 0-4 Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova)
Sheriff Tiraspol advances 4-1
Dinamo Tirana (Albania) 1-2 Modriča (Bosnia/Herzegovina)
Modriča advances 4-1
F91 Dudelange (Luxembourg) 0-2 Domžale (Slovenia)
Domžale advances 3-0
Tampere United (Finland) 1-1 Budućnost (Montenegro)
Tampere United advances 3-2
Inter Baku (Azerbaijan) 1-1 Rabotnički (Macedonia)

Inter Baku advances on away goals
Anorthosis Famagusta (Cyprus) 2-0 Yerevan (Armenia)
Anorthosis advances 3-0
Llanelli (Wales) 0-4 Ventspils (Latvia)
Ventspils advances 4-1
Murata (San Marino) 0-4 IFK Göteborg (Sweden)
Göteborg advances 9-0
Santa Coloma (Andorra) 1-4 Kaunas (Lithuania)
Kaunas advances 7-2
Dinamo Tbilisi (Georgia) 0-1 NSÍ Runavík (Faeroe Islands)
Tbilisi advances 3-1
Valletta (Malta) 0-1 Artmedia Petržalka (Slovakia)
Artmedia advances 3-0
Linfield (Northern Ireland) 1-1 Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
Zagreb advances 3-1

So the first leg of the Second Qualifying Round is practically all set to begin next week, July 29th and 30th, and here are the pairings:

Rangers (Scotland) vs. Kaunas
Brann (Norway) vs. Ventspils
Inter Baku vs. Partizan (Serbia)
Tampere United vs. Artmedia
Anorthosis vs. Rapid Wien (Austria)
Domžale vs. Dinamo Zagreb
Panathinaikos (Greece) vs. Dinamo Tbilisi
Göteborg vs. Basel (Switzerland)
Sheriff Tiraspol vs. Sparta Prague (Czech)
Drogheda United vs. Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine)
Anderlecht (Belgium) vs. BATE/Valur
Beitar Jerusalem (Israel) vs. Wisła Kraków (Poland)
Fenerbahçe (Turkey) vs. MTK Hungária (Hungary, duh)
Aalborg BK (Denmark) vs.

With the exception of Tampere and Artmedia (who play another), each advancing club will have some difficulty moving onto the Third, and final, Qualifying Round. Even Kaunas and Gothenburg, who shelled their opposition, have tough opponents in Rangers and Basel respectively. It'll be interesting to see who, if any, survive.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

UEFA Cup First Qualifying Round

Oh, yeah, the UEFA Cup also began their qualifying procedures today. Now, this is way more complicated than the Champions League qualifying where victors of cupcake nations get to battle it out (before third and fourth place teams from big nations also get to play, inexplicably). Instead third place teams and domestic cup winners of cupcake nations get to battle it out. Sheeeeesh.

Lets just take a step back for a second and recap the competition. All in all 122 clubs will participate throughout the competition. Here's the breakdown:
  • Associations 1-6 each have 3 teams qualify
  • Associations 7-8 each have 4 teams qualify
  • Associations 9-15 each have 2 teams qualify
  • Associations 16-21 each have 3 teams qualify
  • Associations 22-37 and 39-50 have 2 teams qualify
  • Associations 38 (Lichtenstein), 51 (Andorra), 52 (San Marino) have 1 team qualify
  • Association 53 (Montenegro) have 2 teams qualify
  • 3 UEFA Fair Play entries
  • 11 Winners of the UEFA Intertoto Cup 2008
  • 16 Losers from the UEFA Champions League Third Qualifying Round
  • 8 third-placed teams from the UEFA Champions League Group Stage
Too much numbers for ya? Well, its gets worse. The First Qualifying Round, has 74 teams in all. 33 Cup-winners from associations 21-53, 32 runners-up from associations 19-37, 39-50 and 53, 6 third-place finishers from associations 16-21, and 3 entries through UEFA Fair Play (which should have been Fulham) all take part.

I'm not going to recap the results of the first leg because there were 37 of them. So just go here. There weren't any surprises in the results, other than Red Bull Salzburg scoring 7 on Banants Yerevan of Armenia, and HSC Berlin winning 8-1 against Nistru Otaci of Moldova. Gotta love mismatches! And Vaduz, who won the Lichtenstein football Cup (thus qualifying them for the competition as Liechtensteiner clubs play in Switzerland) lost to Bosnia's Zrinjski Mostar. C'mon Residenzlers!

The second leg reconvenes in two weeks, where they'll join 27 other clubs in the Second Qualifying Round. My head hurts.

UEFA Champions League Qualifying

Believe it or not, but the UEFA Champions League begun Tuesday, and continued Wednesday. Okay, so its the first round of qualifying, but still -- the long road to Rome is underway. As far as I know, no club has ever progressed from the First Qualifying Round to the Group Stages. So this may all be a moot point, but whatever.

The 28 Champions of associations 25-53 take part in the first round. A nation's association is determined by their UEFA league co-efficient. In this round, Sweden has the highest ranked league, whereas San Marino has the lowest (I was unaware San Marino had a league -- but they do have a funny entry in the Onion's Our Dumb World). Lichtenstein do not qualify for the Champions League, as they don't have a league. Per usual, each qualifying round is two-legged. So, without much ado, below are the results for the First Qualifying Round. And as always, home team listed first:

FC BATE (Belarus) 2-0 Valur (Iceland)
Drogheda United (Ireland) 2-1 Levadia Tallinn (Estonia)

Aktobe (Kazakhstan) 1-0 Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova)

Dinamo Tirana (Albania) 0-2
Modriča (Bosnia/Herzegovina)
F91 Dudelange (Luxembourg) 0-1 Domžale (Slovenia)
Tampere United (Finland) 2-1 Budućnost (Montenegro)

Inter Baku (Azerbaijan) 0-0 Rabotnički (Macedonia)

Anorthosis Famagusta (Cyprus) 1-0 Pyunik Yerevan (Armenia)

Llanelli (Wales) 1-0 Ventspils (Latvia)

Murata (San Marino) 0-5 IFK Göteborg (Sweden)

Santa Coloma (Andorra) 1-4 Kaunas (Lithuania)

Dinamo Tbilisi (Georgia) 3-0 NSÍ Runavík (Faeroe Islands)

Valletta (Malta) 0-2 Artmedia Petržalka (Slovakia)

Linfield (Northern Ireland) 0-2 Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)

The second leg continues next week, July 22nd and 23rd.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

On to the Round of Four

In what probably the most exciting round yet, two USL-1 sides upset their big MLS brothers, and Crystal Palace Baltimore came within a fraction of defeating the defending champions. The best part about the entire round though was the free live radio and streaming video from the Revolution, MLS and USL. Thanks guys -- Europe could learn a lot from that.

Gearing up for their inaugural SuperLiga appearance this weekend, the Revolution put out their JV squad against cinderella's Crystal Palace Baltimore/USA. Yet it almost went pear-shaped, as the USL-2 side took New England to the very brink, losing 5-3 on penalties. Charleston told FC Dallas that the third time ain't ever the charm, as they cruised to a 3-1 upset in Frisco. It took the Seattle Sounders seven attempts in the penalty shootout to dispatch the Wizards 6-5. I watched most of this match via streaming USL video, and was quite impressed with the Sounders play. Their stadium was empty, as predicted, but they should do quite fine next year in the MLS.

In typical DC United and Chicago Fire fashion, there were more bookings than goals. Yet this battle royale – which included 9 bookings – went into extra time, where a Bryan Namoff goal in the 99th put Barra Barra's boys ahead 2-1 for good. The biggest intrigue of the match was (another) brawl between Blanco, who just entered, and Marc Burch. The Washington Post has the best examination of the fracas:

In addition to his on-field conduct, which according to D.C. United defender Marc Burch included both punching and eye-gouging D.C. midfielder Clyde Simms, Blanco also allegedly head-butted a D.C. United operations employee as he was being escorted off the field, according to sources.

Here is D.C. United’s comment on the situation: “As a result of incidents last night, Major League Soccer has requested video footage, which we are preparing and will be sending to the league,” United spokesman Doug Hicks said. Hicks said MLS will have the video today.

I too am attempting to find that video, and video highlights of all the other matches. I did however find some photos which are here and here, and some vids here. So if you have any of either, do pass them along. Below are the results, home team listed first:

New England Revolution 1-1(5-3PK) Crystal Palace USA/Baltimore
DC United 2-1(AET) Chicago Fire
FC Dallas 1-3 Charleston Battery
Seattle Sounders 0-0 (6-5pk) Kansas City Wizards

The Cup goes on hiatus until August 12, four days before the Premiership starts. Here's the semifinal pairings, which, thankfully, allow a USL-1 side to make the final and, hopefully, win it:

New England at DC United
Seattle Sounders at Charleston Battery

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

US Open Cup Quaterfinal Preview part deux

Remember that (crappy) preview I wrote yesterday? Well, the cup's website did the same and its quite better than mine.


Monday, July 7, 2008

US Open Cup Quaterfinal Preview

Believe it or not, but its already the quarterfinals.

Four MLS teams are still in it, two USL-1, and one USL-2. Hopefully the Cinderella's will continue to dance, but its going to be a tough round of tango ahead.

Crystal Palace Baltimore at New England Revolution
Can the Eagles keep the momentum? The biggest underdogs of the tournament face the toughest opponent, last year's cup victors. For some reason this is occurring in New Britain, CT -- a place I've been and don't necessarily want to go back to. Nonetheless expect Stevie Nichol's side to be well equipped and mentally ready for the task at hand.

Chicago Fire at DC UnitedThe Fire are one of the few clubs that take this competition seriously -- which is a good thing. Yet DC United seem to have Chicago's number. I'm just glad this match pits two MLS sides against another, which means only one can advance. The less, the better!

Charleston Battery at FC Dallas
The Battery have to manage the Texas two-step, for the third straight year, if they want to advance to the semifinals. FC Dallas turned things around against Miami FC, and should be the favorites. Yet the Battery are, thankfully, the only club with an adequate match preview.

Kansas City Wizards at Seattle Sounders
Seattle fans may have had a miserable week with the stealing of the Sonics, but at least they have a future-MLS team to look forward to. Sebastien Le Toux, paid like an MLS star, has played like one too with five goals already. Kansas City were gifted advancement thanks to Carolina's collapse, so a presumably half-empty Qwest field should see their defeat.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A little break from footy...

But with the recent dealings in Seattle I just had to voice my growing discontent on professional sports in this country. In fact, I plan on publishing a book soon Why I've begun to hate American Sports.

And this whole debacle will be a chapter titled "Franchising is the death of everything: How public tax dollars are wasted on private sports ventures, which in turn screw the public."

There are countless other examples throughout the current and historic American sportscape. And will continue to be because they're not teams belonging to communities or cities, but "franchises". And the organizations that run the leagues are somehow continually getting away with taxing the public for private business. It would be one thing if a museum, library, or other civic institution was constructed -- but professional sports only exist to pad the pockets of the billionaire owners.

Now, this shouldn't be new to anyone with a brain. And I'm sure you're all aware of what has been transpiring in the Emerald City: how Howard Schultz was an inept owner, sold it to some OK City carpetbaggers who demanded a king's ransom to renovate a 13-year-old stadium, and Seattle (in typical city politic fashion) took the money to line their pockets. And the tyrannic David Stern, obviously not caring about public image after it was all but proven that his league is as palatable as boxing, welcomed the move.

I know MK Dons attempted this route, but it went through much negative hubbub. And, although some doom-sayers otherwise, it will probably never happen again. But, as far as I know, this type of greed would never be allowed to occur in English and European soccer. Yes, there was the Wembley racket and Cardiff's Millenium Stadium was financed partially from public funds. But those are national stadiums, used for a variety of events.

Imagine if Niall Quinn decided "screw it, Sunderland sucks. I'm moving elsewhere"; or if the new American owners of Derby County attempted to relocate to a larger locale because the public wouldn't fund a new stadium. Would anyone in England tolerate this? Would the BPL chairman Sir Dave Richards sit glumly by? Even I would probably riot in the fans' favor. Yet in America this happens all the time. And the league's allow it to, because it would terrible PR for them to be rebuffed by the people who actually pay for the event (consumers rejecting a product -- what a novel thought!).

I feel sorry for Seattle, but I also feel sorry for every team in every league. A precedence and formula has been established to make more money: purchase a team, alienate its fan-base, demand public funds to renovate stadiums that don't really need it in the first place, buy off the city government through graft, and then eventually move to your future destination. There are a few teams that would never move without some serious bloodshed (e.g. Red Sox, Yankees, Red Wings, Packers, any Philly team, Giants, Jets, Celtics, Knicks -- see a trend?), but every 'mid-table' club is hereby vulnerable.

And with the closed leagues, rewarding draft picks for under-performing, and salary caps, the trend will only continue to get worse.

Which is why any Rochdale, Bury, or even Liverpool fan can rest assure that their club will never relocate. Because their sports system does rely on money, yes, but mostly on results. The same cannot be said of here, where, allegedly, its about competition and the best being allowed to succeed.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

US Open Cup Third Round recap

Finally, some giant killings!

The biggest of 'em all though was my adopted club Crystal Palace USA, the USL-2 minnows, defeating the corporate giants Red Bull New York/New York Red Bulls/the New York Red Bulls 2-0 with just 10 men. Charleston and Seattle were the other underdogs to prevail, defeating Houston and Chivas USA respectively. But, with all do respect, is defeating reserve and fringe squads really an upset? I say not really, but thats up to you.

When most bigger clubs participate in their opening rounds, several stars are rested. NYRB left out Jon Conway, Dane Richards, Seth Stammler, Oscar Echeverry, and Dave van den Bergh; while Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna were out with injuries. Their absence greatly affected the side, as Crystal Palace's Ibrahm Kante was given a straight red in just the 34th minute, yet it availed to nothing. Yet Palace, who were without striker Kevin King and coach Pete Medd, didn't seem to mind all the absences and cruised to the victory thanks to goals by Andrew Marshall and Gary Brooks.

With Pat Onstad and Craig Waibel on the bench, and no Dwayne De Rosario, Brian Ching, or Ricardo Clarke, it was déjà vu for the Houston Dynamo. For the second year in a row they bow out to the Charleston Battery in extra-time. Or after extra time, as this year's match went to penalties. Whats empathic about the Dynamo's loss is that two Battery players were sent off. In fact, 10 players were booked between both sides. Although Houston tied up the match at 1-1 in the 89th, Charleston hung on until penalties whereupon they squeaked by 4-3.

Chivas USA have a brief history in the MLS, which has a brief history in of itself, but they're already on the fast track to being the biggest bottlers of the league (if only New England would win a damn title). Again with the déjà vu stuff, Chivas exits the competition early by the hands of the Seattle Sounders. Yet unlike NY and Houston, Chivas fielded a halfway decent side as USMNT future hopefuls Brad Guzan and Sacha Kljestan featured. Yet Taylor Graham and Sebastian Le Toux's goals were enough to see Seattle through.

Other highlights of the third round were Kansas City's comeback victory against Carolina, and FC Dallas' last second victory against Miami. Already down 2-0 in the 57th minute, KC kept plugging away at the lead -- or Carolina choking it away. Wizard Claudio Lopez's goal from the penalty spot in the 81st minute sent the match to extra time, wherein Ivan Trujillo scored his second of the match, and Ryan Pore added another goal from the spot to advance KC 4-2. And FC Dallas were en route to embarrassment as visiting Miami jumped out to a 1-0 lead in just the 7th minute thanks to Alex Alfonso. Yet Abe Thompson's goals in both stoppage times, including a fanciful header in the 92nd, was enough to redeem the home side, and save off any upset.

Below are the results, home team listed first (who went 7 for 8):

Seattle Sounders 2-0 Chivas USA
DC United 2-0 Rochester Rhinos
Carolina RailHawks 2-4(AET) Kansas City Wizards
Charleston Battery 1-1(4-3) Houston Dynamo
FC Dallas 2-1 Miami FC
Crystal Palace USA 2-0 New York Red Bulls
New England 3-0 Richmond
Chicago Fire 4-1 Cleveland City Stars