Total Football Café: International Break Blues Edition
So this was week one of one of those two-week FIFA “international breaks” in which national teams around the world assemble their stars for mostly meaningless friendlies. This is the international break that always sneaks up on me because of its awful timing. The new Premier League season is just gaining momentum when FIFA slams on the brake (pun intended) and makes fans wonder what to do with all this extra weekend time on our hands. Meanwhile, MLS sails along with regularly scheduled matches as if FIFA doesn’t exist. The more we learn about FIFA’s hulking, iron-fisted ways, the more I kind of love it that MLS continues to just do its own thing.
Before the international break really got rolling with friendlies however, we had transfer deadline day to keep us entertained. I still don’t understand why the transfer window closes several games into most European league seasons, but I’ve never really investigated. Seems it would make more sense for the window to close before the first match of the season, but then when do the decisions of monolithic soccer governing bodies like UEFA make much sense?
Speaking of not making sense, for all of pro soccer’s supposed modernization with technology, analytics, etc., transfer deadline day reveals many clubs still seem to be flying by the seat of their pants. You would think the mega super clubby clubs would have access to the best intel and thus spend their riches wisely. Yet this year Real Madrid seemed most interested in buying up dudes who can help them sell the most jerseys, never mind whether they’ll have chemistry in the way of an actual formation or anything. I mean, Chicharito? What do they need that guy for? On second thought, they need all the help they can get selling that hot pink away jersey which is hands down the current worst jersey on the planet. Manchester United’s transfer strategy seemed mostly reactionary to their awful start to the EPL season – just throwing player ideas at the wall to see what sticks. For once, Chelsea came out of this window looking calm, cool, collected and downright genius. They even scooped up a decent substitute striker in Loic Remy to replace Torres who was loaned to AC Milan.
Even though I’m bummed to miss EPL games during international breaks, I do look forward to seeing the U.S. in action every time, even if it is just a friendly. Wednesday’s match in Prague versus Czech Republic reminded me of a freshman game after a big group of seniors graduates. Though there were many familiar faces from last summer’s World Cup squad, we also got to see a lot of young newcomers. It was a reminder – particularly in a week when former U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra announced his retirement at the end of this MLS season – that the U.S. is undergoing a major changing of the guard ahead of World Cup 2018. My favorite newbie in the U.S./Czech match was forward Joe Gyau. He is certainly raw, and perhaps didn’t help defensively as much as he might’ve, but I loved his speed and assertiveness with the ball. There is a lot of potential there. While I didn’t relish my man Petr Cech getting scored on (by Alejandro Bedoya), we are talking about Team USA here, so I’ll take that 1-0 victory any day.
On the MLS front, LA Galaxy have turned on the afterburners. LA stomped the Colorado Rapids 6-0 on Friday night. Landon Donovan looks so relaxed and unstoppable since his retirement announcement. If the World Cup were next month, would Klinsmann leave him off the U.S. roster? Two months ago, LA seemed pretty ordinary. Right now they’re clearly one of the best teams in MLS.
Last night FC Dallas lost a painful one at Real Salt Lake 2-1. Dallas didn’t play poorly, the top four teams in the Western Conference (Seattle, LA, RSL, Dallas) are just closely matched. Dallas should still make the playoffs without a problem, which would be a definite improvement over the last two seasons, but they’ll still have to muster their utmost discipline. They play nothing but big Western Conference games from here on out, including home and away against LA, and home against Seattle. Good times, but nervous times.
For much of the season Sporting KC seemed a lock to win the Eastern Conference, but now they’ve lost four in a row and look all vulnerable. Meanwhile, Houston is just now starting their season as usual. They never start playing until August, thereby conserving energy for most of the season and disguising themselves as mediocre, before springing a trap on unsuspecting teams in the run-up to the playoffs. Dynamo are now just three points out of a playoff spot in a conference that is mostly wide open for the taking.
If you need a good way to get yourself through week two of the international break blues, check out my soccer fan memoir Dallas ‘Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer. Here is a review from a recent reader:
“Dallas ‘Til I Cry" is a fun, quick read. I personally have an issue with American soccer fans who refuse to acknowledge the growth of or lend support to Major League Soccer, so it was refreshing for me to read of the author's journey from "Euro snob" to purposefully giving MLS support a chance… Overall, this a great read for FC Dallas fans, MLS fans in general and those interested in knowing a little more about what it means to support the top-tier domestic league in the United States.”