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As we head into the Halloween weekend and everyone's trying to decide what their costume is going to be for whatever hell-raising parties they plan on attending, here's my random thoughts for the week this Friday:
1. The U.S. U-17s aren't the same team I saw last year. Based on the poor performances for the first two games of the U-17 World Cup, it's clear that the U.S. team isn't operating at anything close to peak level, and that's mostly a result of the absence from the starting lineup of Charles Renken, Joseph Gyau, and to a lesser extent Sebastian Lletget and Carlos Martinez. Gyau and Renken in particular gave the team a rare (for the U.S.) level of creativity and ability to break defenders down off the dribble, while Martinez is surprisingly on the bench as the far more limited Alex Shinsky starts.
Having said all that, I want this particular squad to do well so that it justifies the decision of the USSF to go with Wilmer Cabrera as the coach. Cabrera should be lauded for the changes in attacking style and philosophy that he's tried to bring to the U-17s. As for Jack McInerney, this is the first time I'm seeing him up close, and I'm wondering what all the fuss is about. Unless McInerney experiences a significant growth spurt, he's basically doomed to be a tweener at the pro level since he plays like a target man striker but without the power or physical presence required. He also appears to lack the technical skill or dribbling ability to compensate for that or work effectively as a link-up player or second forward.
2. When a handball supposedly isn't a handball. If there's one thing that continues to irk me, it's the illogical interpretation of the handball rule by referees, particularly as it pertains to penalties. Wednesday's Carling Cup game between Arsenal and Liverpool highlighted this perfectly. Referee Alan Wiley denied Liverpool a clear penalty late in the game when Alberto Aquilani's overhead kick was blocked by Arsenal's Philippe Senderos with both hands. The argument here is that Aquilani's shot was considered ball to hand and hence not a penalty. However, while that certainly should apply for crosses or wayward shots, when a defender's hand prevents a goalbound shot from scoring, then in my opinion it should be a penalty whether intentional or not. As an aside, I have no doubt that Aquilani, provided he stays healthy, will make Liverpool fans forget all about Xabi Alonso.
3. Strange uniform designs. OK, so as we all know, soccer teams continually change their uniforms to line their own pockets and to force fans to keep buying new merchandise. I get that, not saying it's right, but it's understandable from a business perspective. However, who gets to approve these uniform choices? Last week Arsenal lined up against West Ham in an away kit that had a shocking resemblance to archrival Spurs' traditional home kit. And each year, Manchester United's top looks closer and closer to something you'd find at a Star Trek convention
4. Real farce. One of the most highly amusing results I have witnessed in perhaps the last 15 years occurred Tuesday when the new age Galacticos of Real Madrid lost 4-0 to Spanish third-tier side Alcorcon in the Copa Del Rey. Now usually in the early stages of the Copa Del Rey most Spanish La Liga teams field youngsters or fringe players. However, while Real rested the likes of Iker Casillas, Kaka and Xabi Alonso, the lineup was composed solely of first-team players, including Karim Benzema, Rafael Van der Vaart, Raul and Esteban Granero. In fact, the starting lineup Real put on the field was worth 110 million euros.
Compare that to Alcorcon's team, made of mostly part-timers and checking in at an entire cost of 2 million euros, and yet Real lost, and lost badly -- the final scoreline was actually flattering to Real. What's even more interesting about Alcorcon is that its average salary on the team is a mere 36,000 euros a year -- practically MLS-like, which means two things: First, MLS might want to look into signing up some of Alcorcon's players, and second, Manuel Pelligrini is sure to be an ex-Real coach soon.
5. Houston vs. Seattle. Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal between these two teams ended in a 0-0 draw, although with a bit more luck, former Dynamo Patrick Ianni could easily have scored twice for the Sounders. I think the winner of this matchup has a very good shot at going all the way, although with Seattle's team speed on offense, I suspect the Galaxy (assuming they beat Chivas USA) would rather face Houston in the Conference final. As for Seattle, I've got a soft spot for Sigi Schmid's men because the Sounders are undoubtedly the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch in MLS. (Let's face it: There's some truth in what D.C. president Kevin Payne said the other day about MLS games in general, not any teams in particular.)