Soccer Experts

Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Year in Review: Part II

A Year in Review: Part II

From biting, sextuples, and Gareth Bale to stadium collapses, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Brazilian flair, 2013 had no shortage of interesting headlines and compelling stories. Starting with the record growth in American soccer, here's the second of a two-part rundown (click here to read Part I) examining the year's most newsworthy items.

6. MLS and Clint Dempsey Raise Profile of the American Game

It was a busy year for Major League Soccer and the U.S. men's national team, to say the least. Like the current EPL campaign, parity was the keyword for the entirety of MLS's season--all but three of the league's 19 teams had realistic hopes of making the playoffs at one point or another. In the end, though, Sporting Kansas City captured the franchise's second MLS Cup with a win on penalties over Real Salt Lake. Although the final failed to capture great TV ratings, it was the first time the game was held in a mid-level market and contested by two squads from mid-sized cities--in all, the supporters' passion was plain for all to see.

American players Clint Dempsey, Robbie Rodgers, and Landon Donovan also captured headlines of their own. Dempsey's move from Tottenham to MLS's Seattle Sounders received a mixed reception, but there was no denying the fanfare surrounding the American captain's transfer. Unfortunately, the midfielder struggled to find his footing on American soil as the Sounders crashed out of the playoffs.

Donovan, meanwhile, returned from a hiatus in Cambodia to lead the U.S. to another Gold Cup crown while working his way back into Jurgen Klinsmann's starting eleven. That core of American players led the national team to a first-place finish in their World Cup qualifying group and will head to Brazil as the most talented American side to date.

Finally, Rodgers garnered acclaim for a wholly different reason as he became the first openly gay active professional soccer player with the LA Galaxy. While his on-field contributions may not have elicited praise, his social impact has undoubted significance.

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Manchester United - Tottenham Preview: Old Trafford Meeting Provides Opportunity for United's Rise, Spurs' Reshuffling

Manchester United - Tottenham Preview: Old Trafford Meeting Provides Opportunity for United's Rise, Spurs' Reshuffling

Wednesday’s headlining Premier League fixture will feature two sides who have both endured plenty of hardship as Manchester United welcomes Tottenham to Old Trafford.

The sides may be level on points—the Red Devils sit in sixth, one place above Spurs via goal differential—but their season stories couldn’t be any more different. For United, who endured a rocky start to the campaign under new boss David Moyes, things are finally coming together in the form of four straight victories and a quiet ascent up the table. Although the champions trail league-leaders Arsenal by eight points, the Mancunians look to be gathering steam for a late-winter push for, at the very least, a Champions League place.

Still, it hasn’t been quite as easy compared to the dominance of recent years. United’s last two victories, which saw them edge Hull City 3-2 before squeaking past Norwich City 1-0, were far from convincing, and the absences of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney left Moyes’ attack with little punch. There’s hope that Rooney will return for tomorrow’s encounter—if not, Danny Welbeck, who scored the winner against Norwich, will have to lead the line.

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Weekend Review: Arsenal Top, Celebrations Steal Headlines

Weekend Review: Arsenal Top, Celebrations Steal Headlines

Despite a Premier League-heavy weekend due to the winter breaks of other European leagues, there was still plenty of action for club football fans. Here's a brief look at the top items from the past few days.

Chelsea Top Liverpool, but Arsenal Go Top

The weekend's top-billed fixture saw Chelsea edge Liverpool 2-1, but Arsenal climbed back to the top of the Premier League with a 1-0 victory over Newcastle.

In a gutsy display at St. James' Park, the Gunners went ahead through Olivier Giroud and turned away wave after wave of Magpies attacks to earn a well-deserved three points. The win comes as another indication of the Londoners' title credentials in addition to cementing their New Years lead for the first time in recent memory.

The Blues, meanwhile, did enough to see off Liverpool at Stamford Bridge behind first-half goals from Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto'o. Even with Martin Skrtel's early opener for the visitors, Chelsea rebounded to limit the Reds' chances on the day and keep red-hot Luis Suarez at bay. The visitors may have had several penalty claims--and Mamadou Sakho had an effort strike the bar--but Jose Mourinho's side will covet the win, which takes them to within two points of Arsenal.

Samuel Eto'o wheels away after scoring Chelsea's second goal against Liverpool, which would prove to be the winner in a 2-1 victory. (Eurosport) Samuel Eto'o wheels away after scoring Chelsea's second goal against Liverpool, which would prove to be the winner in a 2-1 victory. (Eurosport)
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A Year in Review: Part I

A Year in Review: Part I

From biting, sextuples, and Gareth Bale to stadium collapses, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Brazilian flair, 2013 had no shortage of interesting headlines and compelling stories. Starting with one of the most successful seasons in the history of club football, here's the first of a two-part rundown examining the year's most newsworthy items.

1. Bayern Claim Historic Sextuple

Not four, not five, but six--six trophies for Bayern Munich made 2013 one of the most successful seasons in club history and equaled Barcelona's record haul from 2009. The German champions, who had already collected a Bundesliga title, DFL-Pokal, DFL-Supercup, UEFA Champions League title, and a European Supercup by the time they lifted the Club World Cup two weeks ago, also hold a record 41-game unbeaten run in league play.

All of the gaudy numbers point to one of the world's strongest squads, which includes attacking talents like Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, and Thomas Mueller as well as standout defenders Philip Lahm and David Alaba. From front to back, Bayern's team is supremely talented and can match up well with any opponent--just look at last season's thrashing of Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals.

That humbling of current boss Pep Guardiola's former side was just one of Bayern's feats of 2013 as the German giants cruised to crushing wins and enjoyed an average possession of 75 percent throughout the season. More impressive, perhaps, was Guardiola's seamless transition into the side, which also added stars Mario Goetze and Thiago Alcantara to a daunting lineup. In all, don't expect Bayern to slow down anytime soon--the rightful champions of the world are on quite a roll.

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Chelsea-Liverpool Preview: Blues Hope to Maintain Home Form against Shorthanded Reds

Chelsea-Liverpool Preview: Blues Hope to Maintain Home Form against Shorthanded Reds

Just days after Jose Mourinho said his Chelsea side were only gunning for a place in the top four, the Blues will come up against one of the teams Mourinho thinks can take the title: Liverpool.

“If I have to say, and I know you’d like me to say, Manchester City are the big, big, big favourites. Liverpool are there, then Manchester United, in spite of being a few points behind. Leave us there, behind them. We’ll try and do our job and finish top four,” said the Chelsea boss in an ESPN FC article.

However, it’s Liverpool who currently sit behind the Blues in the Premier League table and come into tomorrow’s match off of a defeat to Manchester City. The Reds’ visit to Stamford Bridge won’t be any easier with a threadbare squad, either—Steven Gerrard and Steven Flanagan won’t recover in time while Victor Moses will be ineligible due to the terms of his loan deal from the Blues.

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The Puskas Award: Reviewing the Top Strikes of 2013

The Puskas Award: Reviewing the Top Strikes of 2013

I'm sure we all remember this moment fairly well, but it's worth another mention. With Sweden leading England 3-2 in a friendly matchup from late last year, a Swedish midfielder hoofed the ball upfield with just seconds remaining. A miscommunication between goalkeeper Joe Hart and his defenders ended with Hart heading the ball a few yards behind the onrushing Zlatan Ibrahimovic. No matter, though--launching himself into the air, the big forward looped a bicycle kick into the near post from 30 yards out, resulting in the goal that headlines this year's batch of Puskas Award nominees.

While the other nominees may have trouble measuring up to Ibrahimovic's wonder-strike, several of the finalists make strong cases for goal-of-the-year honors.

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Boxing Day Recap: Sunderland Shock, City Victorious

Boxing Day Recap: Sunderland Shock, City Victorious

A full slate of Boxing Day action was marked by surprising results, great individual efforts, and another impressive statement from Manchester City in the headlining game against Liverpool. Starting with a shocking upset on Merseyside, here's a look at all of the day's matches.

Everton 0-1 Sunderland

In perhaps the most surprising result of the day, last-place Sunderland produced a gritty display to beat Everton 1-0 at Goodison Park. Once again, it was Ki Sung-yueng who delivered the winner, slotting home a penalty after Tim Howard was adjudged to have taken out the midfielder. Howard's penalty and subsequent red card--the first of his career--proved costly as the Toffees failed to convert any of their opportunities. Despite a late flurry for the hosts, the Black Cats managed to stave off an equalizer and pick up just their third win of the season, a victory that moves them to within one point of West Ham.

Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool

The day's marquee matchup saw the Citizens maintain their 100 percent home record with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium. First-half goals from Vincent Kompany and Jesus Navas were enough to carry City into second, one point above the Reds. Despite Philippe Coutinho's opener and good play for much of the game, the hosts managed to contain the red-hot Luis Suarez and limit the visitors' chances on the night.

There was a moment of contention, however, as a Raheem Sterling strike was wrongly nullified for offside with the teams scoreless, and, given Simon Mignolet's error on Negredo's winner, the final score could very well have been in Liverpool's favor. Still, City will point to the result as another important win in their title pursuit.

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Breaking Down the Top Breakout Players of 2013

Breaking Down the Top Breakout Players of 2013

These days, the world's most talented young players are commanding record fees and making instant impacts within their sides--as such, 2013 offered plenty of emerging stars in all of the major European leagues. Here are six of the best, starting with a young defender who had quite the year for himself as well as his medal cabinet.

1. David Alaba

As a key cog in Bayern Munich's historic calendar sextuple, the 21-year-old left back has proven his talent both in defense and within the German squad's left-sided attack. This season, the pacy Austria international has scored three while providing six assists in all competitions, and Bayern don't look like slowing down any time soon.

The newly-crowned Club World Cup champions will also have Alaba's services for several more years--the Austrian recently signed a contract through 2018. Given his current skill level and consistent role on one of Europe's best back lines, the young star seems poised to become one of the strongest defenders in the world.

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Boxing Day EPL Preview: City-Liverpool Matchup Leads Holiday Playbill

Boxing Day EPL Preview: City-Liverpool Matchup Leads Holiday Playbill

Boxing Day--which originates from a tradition of servants receiving gifts, or a "Christmas box," from their bosses--may not mean much to Americans, but stateside Premier League fans can look forward to a full slate of matches tomorrow. Here's a rundown of all the holiday fixtures, headlined by a star-studded clash between Manchester City and league-leaders Liverpool.

Manchester City vs. Liverpool

After going into Christmas on top of the table for the first time since 2008, Liverpool will look to solidify their lead when they visit the Etihad Stadium and third-place Manchester City. Free-scoring Luis Suarez should fancy his chances against a shaky back line, but the Citizens have plenty of attacking weapons of their own in newcomers Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas.

Just days after Yaya Toure proclaimed that City will become "the greatest club in the world" over the next few years, the hosts will have plenty to prove against a Liverpool side that's rolled to victories in their last four fixtures.Tomorrow's marquee matchup kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET and will air on NBC Sports Network.

West Ham vs. Arsenal

Second-place Arsenal will look to right the ship against struggling West Ham in another London derby for the Gunners. Following a dour draw with Chelsea, Arsene Wenger's side can only hope for better showings from midfield duo Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil as well as forward Olivier Giroud--overall, Arsenal haven't tasted victory in three consecutive games in all competitions.

As for the Hammers, last week's Capital One Cup win over Tottenham brought a momentary lift before a rout at the hands of United dragged Sam Allardyce's side back to reality. Now, they'll hope for a result to keep them out of the drop zone--West Ham currently sit in 16th, one point ahead of both Crystal Palace and Fulham. Kick off is set for 10:00 a.m. ET with the game airing on NBC Sports Network.

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I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Whether your holiday season has been marked by snow or sun, there's no denying the effect of inclement weather on the beautiful game. I'm sure most of us can remember the "Snow Game," where Clint Dempsey and the U.S. defeated Costa Rica in blizzard-like conditions and any hopes of a possession-oriented strategy were rendered moot. I'm sure most of us also remember the Ticos' vociferous appeals to FIFA over the difficult conditions, but hey, winter weather isn't for everyone.

In celebration of gloves, highlighter-orange balls, and everything else that makes snow soccer such an entertaining spectacle, here are some of my favorite images of white pitches and cold players.

u9035 The San Siro sits empty after a December 2001 game between AC Milan and Lazio was called off. (Giancarlo Colombo/EPA)

u9036 Conditions were tough for Ipswich Town's 3-0 win over Leicester City in December of 2010. (Andrew Couldridge/Action Images)
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