By Neil W. Blackmon
Weekend preview time, folks!! With MLS just around the corner, our wandering Anglophile eyes can shortly turn a lonely eye homeward—but this weekend there are several critical matches in England, Spain, France, Germany and the beleaguered Serie A—and at least a few of those matches involve your Yanks. So go ahead and log off http://www.livethesheendream.com/ and strap in—here’s your Americanized weekend viewing guide—Capri Suns and Hi-C’s provided by soccer Mom’s elsewhere.
THREE NOT TO MISS:
Blackburn Rovers at Fulham, Craven Cottage, Saturday, 10 AM
Ah that rivalry as old as time itself— the Jones-Dempsey Derby. Clint lost his earlier derby to Bolton Wanderers and a particularly active Stu Holden, so he’ll certainly want to acquit himself and his side better this weekend against potential new midfield mate Jermaine Jones and Blackburn. Dempsey hasn’t found the net in a couple of weeks—but he’s been extremely active and dangerous nonetheless, particularly against Manchester City, where he worked and worked and reached 11,000 meters (wow) in addition to essentially challenging the entire Manchester City team to a fight. A rather poor moment occurred, I thought, when the announcer said “Dempsey grew up in a trailer park”—I know the roots were humble—but there was a rather tasteless connotation in the statement, not to speak of the mild hyperbole. Expect big things from Duece against a Rovers defense that looks about as stable as Charlie Sheen’s brain—difference of course being that leaking goals at their present rate won’t lead to much “winning.”
As for Jones, count me not entirely among the converts. I understand he is a dynamic player. In fact, based both on experience and present form, I would be tempted, as I’m sure Bob Bradley is when he’s not being a father, to start Edu and Jones in the center of the American midfield. The problem with that approach, however, is that MB 90 is easily more essential to the team this cycle, and there simply are a number of credible criticisms/concerns about Jones.
First, he is far too card-heavy—something the Americans simply can’t afford (see the 2009 Confederations Cup, games 1 and 2; the Olympics 2008, etc.) Three yellows in his first six games at Rovers—that’s a concern. Second, he hasn’t stuck anywhere—and at some point, isn’t there a reason for that? At Schalke he was in and out of the manager’s doghouse—in one instance for being ill-tempered and confrontational with teammates, which I can forgive and chalk up to hyper-competitiveness—and in another instance for a “lack of effort”, according to manager Felix Magath. A lack of effort isn’t forgiveable, and certainly won’t warm him to his American teammates, who are a gritty, grinding, blood on the jersey unit.
At base, these fears seem enough to me to at least adopt a “Missouri Show Me” stance towards Jones. Yes, his talent is immense. He can step in and immediately be the best passer on the entire team, with all due respect to Stu Holden and the inconsistent but certainly gifted mover of the ball, Jon Spector. He also defends his rear off when he’s so inclined, and in that sense is probably an upgrade over MB 90, who, as he matures, seems better suited to his Herenveen role as a drift forward central mid than as the box to box player we saw at the World Cup, where he was in impeccable form. The Americans will need a tenacious center willing to do the dirty work and make their tackles felt to defeat Chicharito and Mexico this summer—but let’s make SURE Jones is up to being a team player and can reign in his hot-headedness before we slot him into the starting 11. At this point, I’m still firmly behind Rangers stalwart Maurice Edu. Anyone who still has nightmares about the Ghana match last summer should be too.
Villareal at Atletico Madrid, Saturday, 4PM
Okay, okay—I know the only American involved in this match is Giuseppe Rossi, but if you want up and down, free-flowing attacking soccer sure to bring goals—this is the match for your Saturday afternoon. As one I can’t see live—it’s my TIVO pick of the weekend.
Bayern Munich at Hannover 96, Saturday, 930 AM
I don’t care how you manage to watch this match—just find a way. You can flip over to Fulham and Blackburn at halftime and see a good deal of the first half of the happenings in England. Two thoughts/observations on this match: first—it has enormous Champions League implications now that Germany has earned the additional spot in the competition traditionally reserved for Serie A, a league mired in misery. Hannover sit on the edge of that spot, and a result at home would go great lengths to ensuring a shot at European glory. Second reason of course is that Hannover are captained by American Steve Cherundolo, who really might be the most unappreciated/undervalued American in Europe. You don’t hear much about James Milner’s Daddy in the newspapers, but he’s a tremendous leader, a stout defender, and a threat when he needs to be in attack, and late in his career, we should all be pulling for him to pull this Champions League spot out. Who knows, maybe DaMarcus Beasley will get in the side and into the match too—one can dream.
ALSO ON TAP:
St. Etienne at Caen, Saturday 1PM—Now seven points out of Europa, Carlos Bocanegra’s side absolutely must get full points away at struggling Caen, who feature one of Ligue 1’s most porous defenses. A loss or even a draw probably ensures a lack of European football for the American captain’s side.
Stoke City at West Ham United, Saturday 10AM—The introduction of the oft-injured German to the Hammers midfield has kept Jon Spector relegated to mostly cameos as the Hammers fight relegation. Meanwhile, Stoke’s European dreams, like St. Etienne’s, appears to be fading and they now trail Liverpool by five points for the final spot (assuming an already-qualified side win the FA Cup). I don’t think they’ll find much success at Upton Park. Granted, predicting a West Ham win is a fool’s errand, but not as much these days thanks to Demba Ba, who I really feel will ultimately save the Hammers from two dates with Milwall next year.
Everton at Newcastle, Saturday 10 AM—After controlling over sixty percent of possession Tuesday and still managing to lose to lowly Reading and find themselves out of the FA CUP, David Moyes’ boys turn their focus to making a late push in the EPL campaign. Our own Dru Boyer asked earlier this week if Tim Howard was underappreciated at Everton—I think it is a fair question, especially given how essential Howard has been to what, despite the Reading defeat, has been a positive few weeks at Finch Farm.
Aston Villa at Bolton, Saturday 10 AM—Not certain if the world is ready for a Stu Holden-MB 90 Derby quite yet—and given Junior’s lackluster performance midweek in the FA Cup—I’m not certain Gerard Houllier is ready for it either—and that’s the only figure who matters. Do I think MB 90 will eventually settle in at Villa? Yes. But there is no question his form is a bit down right now and he has looked lost defensively, affected a bit by the pace of the English game compared to what he grew accustomed to in Germany. Meanwhile, ol’ 11,000 meters himself Stu Holden keeps on keepin’ on for Bolton. The guy is very good. Can’t wait to see him in a full-fledged featured role for the Americans. If you just keep saying that out loud—surely Bradley will oblige, right? Either way, this is a big match for Brad Friedel and the Villans if they hope to avoid complicating themselves in this testy relegation fight.
OTHER ACTION OF NOTE:
Oguchi Onyewu plays at home for Twente against NAC Breda Saturday afternoon. Let’s hope he’s back in action after a week on the bench…Mo Edu and Rangers head to St. Mirren Sunday afternoon in a match they must win to keep fading Scottish title hopes alive…Jozy Altidore is feeling better and hopes to figure in Bursaspor’s home match Sunday afternoon against Istanbul (Not Constantinople) BSK. That should be a pretty good match as BSK is fighting for European position as well…Sacha Kljestan plays at home today againt Bent in a match with ENORMOUS JUPILER Championship implications—good luck Sacha!! Several other matches are also on the slate—but we think this will more or less keep you occupied for the weekend. Enjoy. 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.