Julian Valentin’s Column: Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Looking Back & Looking Ahead

Our game against the New York Red Bulls this past weekend was another wild and entertaining match.  The beginning of the match was sort of back and forth, sort of disjointed, and it took about 15 minutes for the match to settle down.  We got on the board first, silencing the crowd at Giants Stadium, when Edson made a good run on the left side of the field from a perfect Beckham ball.  Eddie was able to get endline, turned the corner, and served a ball across the box, where Carlos was on the other end to bury it with a solid header.  It was great to see Fish get on the scoresheet for the first time this season and hopefully he’ll continue to gain momentum.

New York scored the next two goals with Van Den Burgh striking a second line shot and a pretty goal from Juan Pablo Angel.  On the next one, Angel found himself in the box and hit a cheeky little chip shot to put the Red Bulls up 2-1.  New York continued to pile on the pressure but we were able to keep the same scoreline.  Late in the match, we switched to a 3-5-2, bringing on Alan Gordon.  With the late change, we were able to create a good rhythm in midfield and pushed for the equalizer.  In stoppage time, Landon whipped a ball in from the left side that put the Jon Conway on his back foot and it found its way into the back of the net.  2-2.  With a newfound sense of confidence and energy, we continued to push for the win in stoppage time and nearly stole 3 points on the road when Landon hit the post about a minute after his goal.  It was a crazy ending to the match.  It ended 2-2 – we’ll definitely take a point on the road in the hot conditions, on turf, and it was a good game for the fans to watch.

After a couple days off for the All-Star Break, everyone is back in town and training hard again.  It’s clear that everyone kept their fitness because the sessions have been sharp and everyone looks refreshed and ready to go.  We’re back to conference play this week as we head to Texas to take on FC Dallas.  Dallas is another team who has tied a number of games recently so both teams will be pushing hard, looking for 3 points.  While we’ve been picking up points through draws, we could really use a 3 point victory to put us back on the right track.

This Week

As I said we’re all back at work now, getting ready for Dallas this weekend.  The hard work continues…

This past week was quite nice.  Because I did not make the travel roster for the New York game, I flew home to Pennsylvania when the team left for NYC.  I haven’t been home for about 6 ½ months so it was nice to go home and spend time with my family.  I hadn’t seen a cornfield in so long and forgot what cow manure smells like – and hopefully I’ll forget that odor again soon.

I was actually at the game in the stands with my family so I got an interesting perspective on the match.  Both of my brothers, my little sister, my mom and I made a day trip, getting to the game early for a little tailgate action.  My little brother, Zarek (a member of the US U-20 National Team pool), has his driver’s permit right now and he got in some good highway driving practice on the trip from Lancaster, PA to East Rutherford, NJ.  Because concessions are ridiculous and we didn’t feel like paying $15 for a hotdog and a Gatorade, we decided to put together a little tailgate so that we could eat a good meal before the game.  My older brother was the meat man and made shish-kebobs and burgers while my mom packed all the sides.  It was a great idea and it was a great day for my family.

My family was decked out in Galaxy gear to support the team.  I, on the other hand, wore camo shorts and a plain T-shirt because, well, I felt that was more appropriate for me to wear that.  At one point a loud, drunk lady in front of us turned around and looked at us.  The drunk lady was supporting the Galaxy that day although I don’t think she qualifies as a fan.  Slurring her words she said “You’re cheering loud and have nice clothes on.  You guys are great Galaxy fans…except for you.”  She pointed at me. “You’re not wearing Galaxy clothes and you’re not a real fan.”  If she only knew…

It was great to get some home-cooking.  Although I cook myself some pretty good meals every night (I just bought a Crock-Pot), there’s nothing like having Mommy or Nana cook for you.  My grandma makes the most amazing Puerto Rican food and I spent hours at the dinner table stuffing my face with bistec con cebolla y papas, arroz y frijoles, y platanos fritos!

I also made sure to bring my Sega Genesis back with me!  I’ve already spent many great hours playing NBA Jam, Streets of Rage 2, RBI Baseball (only the Home Run Derby), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I also love to play the old FIFA ’94 and FIFA International games – they’re so great.  Man, this machine takes me back…

Finally, I want to wish Zarek, Coach Thomas Rongen, and the U-20 MNT luck as they take off for the Northern Ireland Milk Cup this week.  It’s a big tournament and wish them the best!

Around the World

For today’s “Around the World” segment, I wanted to take a look into the upcoming Olympic Games.  I love the Olympics and can’t wait for the games to start on 08/08/08.  Cool date.

By now, most of the teams have entered into the final preparations with their full compliment of players.  With no real drama in player release, the US team is currently assembled at Stanford University getting ready for the first match.  The process of having players released is quite different for other nations as some of their eligible players are important members of big European clubs.  There is a strong tug-of-war between club obligations and international opportunities forcing some U-23 players such as Kaka, Messi, Diego, and Rafinha to fight against their club who refuses to release them to participate in the games.  There are countless examples of this and it forced FIFA Chief Sepp Blatter to issue a statement reiterating that clubs must release players under 23 years old to play in the games.  Believe it or not, many people in the soccer world do not weigh the Olympic Games strongly in terms of importance.  Now with those important details out of the way, let’s look at the groups:

Group A’s immediate favorite is a stacked Argentina side and the race for second place in the group should be interesting.  Australia, Serbia, and Ivory Coast will battle it out for the other spot in the knockout rounds.  During the Toulon Tournament a couple months back, we played Ivory Coast and they are an athletic, explosive, and dangerous team that is capable of making it out of the group – and I think I read that Solomon Kalou is on the roster.  To be honest, I don’t know much about Australia and Serbia but if they play like their senior sides, they will be organized, tough, and result-oriented.  It will be interesting to see how this group ends up but count on Argentina to put on a show.

Group B is the Group of Death.  There are 4 strong sides, all of whom are capable of making a serious run at a medal.  Many people feel that Holland is the favorite in this group but I feel that it’s not as open and closed as many people think.  The Dutch certainly have a strong side, headlined by Ryan Babel, Affelay, and over-aged legend Roy Makaay, the Oranje have what it takes.  Japanese teams are always fast, fit, and technical and this team will be no different.  Many of the players will be similar to those who represented Japan in the Toulon Tournament and they showed well there.  Nigerian sides are always dangerous and have a strong history of winning international youth tournaments.  They have the talent with players like John Obi Mikel and Victor Anichebe of Everton and many of their other players play at a high level in Europe.  The US team is, arguably, the best that we’ve ever fielded for the Olympics.  With a mix of European-based players and MLS players, we have a team of seasoned players who have been on this type of stage before in youth World Cups and Full National Team Caps.  Going to these types of international competitions, it’s important to test yourself against the best in the world.  The US team will have the opportunity to do this and I feel good about our chances.

Group C is will go to a ridiculous Brazilian team and the race for second will be like Group A.  Tradition and the paper roster says that Belgium might be the next strongest team with Vincent Kompany and company, but don’t count out the host nation.  Asian teams are always a handful and don’t be surprised to see China in the knockout rounds.  Sorry to New Zealand but I don’t know if they can compete after a near guaranteed entry due to Oceana qualifying.  I say Brazil and China from this group.

Group D immediately stands out because of the mix of playing styles.  I think it’s safe to say that Italy will go through led by highly rated Sebastian Giovinco who put on a show at the Toulon Tournament and New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi who had a great year at Villareal.  Count on the Italians to be organized defensively, composed all over the pitch, and dangerous as they link up in the attacking third.  I think that CONCACAF’s Honduras will be the odd man out of this group as Cameroon and South Korea battle it out for a quarterfinal spot.  This group will be interesting to watch as there will be four different styles on display.

After the group stages…blah blah blah…I can’t wait to see the Argentina-Brazil matchup.  Not only is it a great rivalry but it will be an amazing match to watch with the players these teams have brought – that’s what they Olympic Games are all about.  With all of this in mind, I honestly feel that the US team has what it takes to take home a medal and surprise a lot of people.  We have the players, the experience, and the coaching.  But only time will tell…

Q & A

  1. What are your thoughts on Abel’s release? And his comments about coach Gullit? There is also a big rumor going around about Donovan potentially moving to the premiership, any thoughts? Dig the blog! I saw The Dark Knight by the way, it was AWESOME!

-Melissa H

Melissa H – A lot of hard-hitting questions here!  Personally, I really like Abel I’m sad to see him go.  I respect him so much for what he’s done in the game and he was a great locker room guy.  At the same time, I understand that a decision had to be made and I definitely respect the decision that was made.  Clearly things went bad between Coach and him and created a poor working relationship between the two.  I wish Abel the best of luck in the future and thank him for helping me adjust.

I’ve also read all of his recent comments and I have to say I was surprised to see him express his feelings so explicitly.

Next, when someone is playing as well as Landon has played this year, there will always be speculation about a move.  It happens on all levels, in all nations.  I’ve read the reports and right now it’s all just talk but all of the discussion is warranted.  Of course, if this talk is true and Landon was to leave it would be a big blow to the team.  But it would also be important that he considers all options, the pros and cons, and makes the best decision for him and his family.

I’m aware of the cop-out answer these questions – haha.

Told you The Dark Knight was great!2. Julian, I was curious to know your predictions for the upcoming Premier League season. Repeat for Man United? Will any of the promoted sides stay up? Thanks!

-Steve D, San Diego

Steve – I can’t wait for the upcoming EPL season.  I think it’s going to be an exciting one with lots of drama and I don’t think that Manchester United will win it.  3 in a row would be unbelievable and I just don’t see it happening.  The only time there’s ever been a 3-peat is when Man U did it from 1998-2001 (thanks Wikipedia) but I think that this will be Chelsea’s year.  If Scolari is able to hang on to Drogba, I think that they’ll be set for the title.  I look at their depth and they could field two strong sides.  They’ll be hungry after the way the end of last season panned out and they will be itching to go.  So I say it now: Chelsea.

For those of you interested, this is my EPL Fantasy Team: Peter Cech, Chris Kirkland, Glen Johnson, Jonathan Woodgate, Paul Scharner, David Wheater, Paul McShane, Cesc Fabregas, Deco, Stewart Downing, Niko Kranjcar, Simon Davies, Fernando Torres, Peter Crouch, Dave Kitson.  I’m feeling confident with that squad!3. I was curious, while playing in a game, do you ever hear any specific people in the crowd? Do you chuckle a little bit on the inside if someone yells out something amusing? Or are you so focused on the game that you don’t hear any of that?

-Shorey K

Shorey K – Usually when I’m on the field I’m focused and naturally block things out.  There are times, however, when a single person or group can be heard.  If you go to the corner flag, it’s impossible not to hear some heckling.  And I’m sure the streamers are impossible to ignore.  It’s really easy to hear people while warming up on the sidelines.  These types of comments usually go something like “you’re just a bench player” or “stop running…you’re not going in!”

Well that’s all that I have for this week’s installment.  I hope that you enjoyed it and I’ll be back next week!  Take care.

-jules

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