By Neil W. Blackmon
In the wake of a busy midweek featuring more MLS roster-shuffling, the return of Charlie Davies and of course Champions League and Europa tilts, we have an FA Cup weekend in England highlighting a less than full, but still juicy, slate of soccer action across the pond. Everyone that comes to The Yanks Are Coming these days knows we’re USMNT-focused first and foremost, so our new weekly “Weekend Preview” piece will try to break down the weekend with an eye towards the American fan and viewer. We’ll go in order of intrigue and importance, making your slotted footie viewing time a bit more easy to manage. So grab those Hi-C Boxes or Capri Suns, have yourself an orange slice or two and lets’ get started, shall we?
THREE NOT TO MISS
THE OLD FIRM: Rangers at Celtic, Sunday, February 20, 2011
One of football’s most violent, treasured and filled with biography rivalries resumes Sunday afternoon at Parkhead in what promises to be a thrilling clash. Maurice Edu was brought in off the bench last weekend for Rangers but he is back near complete fitness after an injury spell and could figure in the Starting 11 for Rangers, who desperately need a victory to close the gap with the first-place Hoops. This match is SPL, of course, which doesn’t always conjure up images of Dutch “Total Football” or Brazilian “joga bonito”, but these matches bring out the best (and worst) Scottish football has to offer and you can expect this one to be no different. It has been an up and down year for Edu’s Rangers, and you can bet they’ll at least want a point on the road with two games in hand on their green and white rivals. If you aren’t sold on investing time Sunday to watching the Hoops and Rangers duke it out—there are a couple of remedies that may pique your interest. For a shorter primer on the history of the Glasgow rivalry, check out this Sky Sports story recalling the best matches in the history of the tilt. For a longer yet more worthwhile investigation, read the chapter on the Old Firm in Franklin Foer’s “How Soccer Explains the World”. You won’t be disappointed. It was with that book in mind that we at TYAC were delighted to hear that Scotland has launched a new campaign to combat racism and domestic violence the Friday before the Old Firm rivalry resumes. Old hatred and rivalry die hard, but things are getting better in Glasgow, if ever so slowly.
FA CUP: EVERTON AT CHELSEA, Saturday, February 19, 2010
Tim Howard and Everton head to the Bridge for a replay of the 1-1 draw at Goodison Park, a match thoroughly dominated by the Toffees that turned on a defensive lapse and some fascinating pieces of refereeing. In all honesty, this is a must win match for an Everton side who simply aren’t getting to European football any way outside of the FA Cup. It has been a miserable year at Finch Farm, one that looked to be turning around two weekends ago against Blackpool but has been swiftly brought back to earth by a dismal loss to Bolton and the injury to Louis Saha, who had revitalized the Everton attack by finding his form at just the right time. Sadly for the Evertonians, it is hard to see a way past the 4th Round with Saha ruled out by a hamstring injury and Didier Drogba back in the lineup for Carlo Ancelotti’s man. One thing is certain: David Moyes is one of the finest managers in the world and he absolutely is aware of how essential this fixture is for Everton. Picked by many analysts to finish in European position, and by a few to reach the top four—things have gone horribly wrong this season. There is speculation by many, myself included, that Moyes himself is tired of the gig and the tight-wallet he has to work with, and last week’s defeat to less-historically significant and smaller Bolton only echoed those concerns. Saturday’s match is, as this blogger writes, a “defining moment for David Moyes”, and when clubs on the ropes face defining moments—they need the best out of their best. In Everton’s case, that means immense performances from their best players, midfielders Marouane Fellaini, Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill, and goalkeeper Tim Howard.
FA CUP: Bolton Wanderers at Fulham, Sunday February 20, 2011
Does it get much better than this? Well—because it conflicts with Old Firm viewing, we at TYAC think it does. But maybe not for the run of the mill USMNT supporter. Here the FA Cup matches up two of the Yanks performing at the highest-level overseas, midseason EPL Player of the Year candidate Stu Holden and American hero (or anti-hero) Clint Dempsey. Dempsey is coming off a devastating missed penalty that would have defeated bitter London rival Chelsea earlier in the week, but most viewers and Deuce supporters can rest assured that as hard as they took the miss, no one is more disappointed than Clint Dempsey himself. Stu Holden, meanwhile, has played two consecutive outstanding matches (one against Bolton and one earlier in the week) to earn this shot at the fifth round, an accomplishment only one Bolton side has managed in FA Cup play over the past four seasons. It is a tall task for Wanderers, one would think. No man as a player and coach collectively has seen his sides participate in more medal ceremonies at Wembley than Fulham’s Mark Hughes has in his career, and at home the Cottagers have been, as usual, extraordinarily difficult to break down. That said, Bolton seemed to have recovered from a post holiday swoon and are certainly in striking distance of Europe, though they’d love to just earn a spot by winning the oldest competition in England. While we like the home side to advance, this match is certainly TIVO worthy and may in fact turn on which American has the better day, an area where a distinct advantage is hard to figure.
OTHER INTRIGUING FIXTURES:
St Etienne at Marseille, Saturday at the Velodrome—Home matches have been a fortress for a Marseille side still firmly in the Ligue 1 Title race. The holders will have to play a desperate St. Etienne side led by American skipper Carlos Bocanegra, however, and with Boca’s boys still themselves within striking distance of European football a tight, defensive-minded tilt is likely on tap.
Gaziantepspor at Bursaspor, Turkey, Saturday—Third place meets fifth place in another match with significant European implications. Gaziantepsor are a young, quick and offensive-minded side that will likely make the game a very interesting watch. Jozy Altidore turned some heads with a brilliant turn and subsequent goal-creating pass last week for the third place Green Crocodiles, and they will hope their new loan product can get on a good run of form to assure European football down the stretch.
Pachuca at Chivas de Guadalajara, Saturday—Pachuca look to continue rebounding from a dreadful start to the campaign that finally seemed to turn around last week with a win over Puebla. Any trip to Guadalajara is a frightening endeavor for a Mexican side, but this year’s version of Chivas is also struggling, still trying to find an offensive spark to replace the departed Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, now a fixture at Manchester United. Jose Torres and Herculez Gomez both started last week for Pachuca, and there is little reason to believe both will not figure into the lineups for Saturday evening’s tilt.
Tigres at Monterrey, Saturday – Tigres have opened the season in brilliant form and will hope a visit to rival Monterrey is not an antidote Saturday night in what will be American defender and Honduran hero Jon Bornstein’s first experience in the Clasico Regiomontano. A win here would go a long way in showing that Tigres are indeed a threat to win the Clausura title. They currently sit atop Group One with thirteen points, but only four ahead of their rivals who are in the same group. From a Yanks perspective, what is most fascinating about this match is where the aforementioned Bornstein will start—he has been playing the role of holding midfielder for Tigres and while he has yet to play a full ninety minutes, it will be interesting to see if the positional change holds.
ALSO ON TAP:
Oguchi Onyewu and Twente play NEC Nijmegen on Sunday.
Marcus Hahnemann and Wolves play EPL league football against West Brom Sunday in a fixture with immense relegation implications.
Jon Spector and West Ham play Burnley Monday in FA Cup action.
Sacha Kljestan and storied Anderlecht play Belgian league counterpart KVC Westerlo Sunday night.
Steve Cherundolo and DaMarcus Beasley try to keep Hannover 96 on a Champion’s League path against FC Kaiserslautern Saturday night.
USWNT ALGARVE CUP NOTE:
USWNT manager Pia Sundhage named the 24 women who will travel to Portugal today, in fact, in preparation for the upcoming Algarve Cup. The USWNT’s match times have been finalized and the Americans, looking for their eighth-ever Algarve Cup championship, will open play March 2nd against Japan. While mainstay Heather Mitts is injured and not traveling with the USWNT, fellow Florida Gator Abby Wambach is back with the women as is goalkeeper Hope Solo, who has not yet been cleared to play recovering from injury but is training with that goal in mind. More on the Algarve Cup next week. The rest of the roster, courtesy of Soccer 365, is here.
Have a great weekend, ya’ll. Be safe.
Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.