Soccer update

    
June 20th, 2007

1. Gold Cup Semifinals
Well, the Gold Cup is down to its final four, and three of the remaining countries were expected to be here. The United States, Canada and Mexico have done what they were expected to thus far, albeit in underwhelming fashion. Joining them in Chicago on Thursday night is Guadeloupe, an overseas department of France that isn’t even recognized by FIFA, soccer’s governing body (yet Turks & Caicos is).

Now conventional wisdom would lead many to anticipate a US/Mexico final, but given some dangerous offensive options for Canada (Dwayne DeRosario and Julian DeGuzman) and Mexico’s tendency to play to the level of their opponents, who really knows what could happen on Thursday night. But look for the two favorites to play better than they have and move onto Sunday’s final.

2. How can CONCACAF ensure the growth of its “other” nations?
It’s pretty much become a given that two of the region’s slots in World Cup qualifying will go to the United States and Mexico. And when you can make an assumption like this, you have to look at the other nations and wonder what can be done as a group to make them stronger. Jamie Trecker of foxsoccer.com made a good point in an article that he wrote this past weekend on making players in the region exempt from MLS foreign player rules (http://msn.foxsports.com/soccer/story/6926522), but there’s another area that CONCACAF really needs to look into: officiating.

If you’ve watched any of the Gold Cup to this point, then you know that some of the match officials have been an outright disgrace. Of course, with the amount of diving taking place in some of these matches, it has to be more difficult than usual to distinguish a malicious act from an embellishment. But a lot of these officials seem to lose control of the match at the first hint of trouble. Handing out cards like candy does nothing to ensure the quality of the match; it only escalates things. And until a lot of these game officials realize this, the region’s going to end up with two teams capable of making noise every four years, and an also-ran or two happy just to make an appearance on the world’s stage.

3. The United States: who’s done well and who’s hurt themselves on the market?
There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of a controlling presence in the midfield for the US since the international retirement of Claudio Reyna. This is still evident in some of their performances in the Gold Cup, and there may not be an opponent that can properly expose this (and make them pay) until a possible meeting with Mexico in the final. But, one can’t help but be impressed with the play of youngsters Benny Feilhaber and Michael Bradley. Despite their lack of experience on the international stage with the USMNT, both have done well in their time of the field. Others who have impressed me to this point in the Gold Cup are Clint Dempsey, DeMarcus Beasley, Taylor Twellman, Jonathan Spector and Carlos Bocanegra.

As for the flipside, you have to wonder what clubs in the EPL thinking of signing Oguchi Onyewu are thinking right now. Gooch did redeem himself somewhat in the final group match against El Salvador, but he looked out of sorts in the opener against Guatemala, receiving two yellow cards in the process. In fairness, however, it must be noted that the Guatemala match was a chippy affair, one in which a defender of his size is very likely to get booked due to the official not keeping a lid on things. With his contract not picked up by Newcastle after this season, Onyewu really could use a couple of good performances to finish up the Gold Cup, and solid play in Copa America in a couple of weeks wouldn’t hurt either. Also in need of a boost is the ability of the players up front to take full advantage of their scoring opportunities, especially Landon Donovan (although he’s tied for the team lead in goals), Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson. Far too many chances have been left on the table, but they haven’t run into a side that can fully make them pay as of yet.

4. What’s going on in MLS?
Quite simply, the East is far superior to the West at this point in the season. While the majority of pundits concentrated on Red Bull New York and New England at the beginning of the season, Kansas City made a run that saw them at the top of the conference for a short time. And don’t look now, but DC United is unbeaten in their last seven to move within four points of first place Red Bull New York. And newcomer Toronto has proven to be anything but a pushover in their inaugural season, soundly beating Western Conference (and league leader) FC Dallas 4-0 on Sunday.

It doesn’t help that Dallas will be without forward Kenny Cooper for awhile thanks to a broken leg, but they do get back Carlos Ruiz from his tour with the Guatemalan National Team. Chivas USA, Houston and Los Angeles have all been hit hard by national team call-ups, so maybe things will improve once they get all their players back. But with the new playoff rules (the top two teams in each conference qualify, then the next four regardless of conference), there may not be a lot of time left for these squads to make dent in the playoff race.

5. How do my MLS Power Rankings look?
1. Kansas City
2. Red Bull NY
3. New England
4. DC United
5. FC Dallas
6. Chivas USA
7. Toronto FC
8. Houston
9. Colorado
10. Chicago
11. Los Angeles
12. Columbus
13. Real Salt Lake

And an extra point, or penalty kick if you like: Can anyone out there understand the European transfer system? Seriously, I have a hard time comprehending some of the moves and figuring out if they're fact or fiction. Case in point, David Suazo. A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that the Cagliari forward was on his way to Inter Milan. However, news over the past couple of days like the Honduran to Inter's chief rival, AC Milan. Both claim to have signed Suazo, leaving one sure truth to this episode: David Suazo will be playing his home matches at the San Siro. But for which team? Sorry to drop this on the college hoops page. Have a good day.