Nathan Nipper

Dallas Texas

nipper.nathan@yahoo.com

Nathan Nipper grew up primarily in Arkansas and Dakar, Senegal.  He graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in 1999 with majors in history and communication and Regent University in 2002 with a master’s degree in communication.  He spent several years working as a television writer until 2010 when he began coaching soccer and teaching American history.  His varsity boys high school soccer team won back-to-back Texas private school state championships in 2013 and 2014.  In addition to his blog Total Football Cafe, he is a frequent contributor to World Soccer Talk.  He lives near Dallas – 4,754 miles from Stamford Bridge and 32 miles from Toyota Stadium – with his wife, daughter, and two sons.

Filtering by Category: English Premier League

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?

 This guy was apparently in charge of Man U's transfer deadline day strategy... which explains a lot.

This guy was apparently in charge of Man U's transfer deadline day strategy... which explains a lot.

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.

 Woof.  This jersey deserves a FIFA infinity ban.

Woof.  This jersey deserves a FIFA infinity ban.

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.

 Carlos Bocanegra:  another trusty American soccer warrior retires.  

Carlos Bocanegra:  another trusty American soccer warrior retires.  

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.

 This is Houston beginning their annual end-of-season playoff run.

This is Houston beginning their annual end-of-season playoff run.

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.

Total Football Café Weekly Roundup: Jermaine to Jermain Edition

Wouldn’t you know it, just as I’m putting the finishing touches on last week’s post, in which I mentioned the confusion over this Jermaine Jones-in-MLS-thing, a deal gets finalized sending Jones to play for New England Revolution.  Apparently, MLS’ secret society player allocation process involved the use of the sorting hat from Hogwarts Academy to determine whether Jones would go to Chicago or New England.  The whole episode is kind of strange and evidence of a still relatively young league figuring some things out on the fly as the league grows.  One thing’s for certain – the league will have to relax its grip on its franchises sooner than later and grant them more autonomy in how money is spent on players.

 Behind-the-scenes view of the MLS Player Allocation Thingamajig.

Behind-the-scenes view of the MLS Player Allocation Thingamajig.

Jurgen Klinsmann named his first U.S. roster post-World Cup 2014 for the September 3 friendly at Czech Republic.  The list includes most of the regulars but plenty of newcomers as well.  The newbies include keeper Cody Cropper, midfielders Emerson Hyndman and Alfredo Morales, and forwards Joe Gyau, Jordan Morris, Rubio Rubin, and Bobby Wood.  I’m particularly intrigued by Hyndman (grandson of former FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman) who has started at Fulham in the Championship this season.  Another interesting roster inclusion is Brek Shea, who is rumored to be heading to Southampton.  Shea was a favorite Klinsmann prospect early on in the Jurgen era.  Shea has struggled to find playing time at Stoke City since he moved there from FC Dallas in early 2013.  I thought Shea had a ton of potential in his first couple pro seasons in Dallas.  Now it seems he may have made a premature leap to Europe and perhaps would’ve matured better as a player had he stayed in MLS.  Klinsmann apparently hasn’t thrown in the towel on him yet however, and it’s good to see Shea get another U.S. nod.

 U.S. Shea will take another crack at it in Prague on Wednesday.

U.S. Shea will take another crack at it in Prague on Wednesday.

The Champions League groups were drawn this week.  While one declares groups in the Champs League “easy” at one’s own peril, Chelsea certainly has a cushier than average group.  If they can’t get past Schalke, Sporting Lisbon, and Maribor (from Slovenia’s second-largest city as it turns out – who knew?) then they don’t deserve to darken the UCL door in the first place.  I like Chelsea’s Champs League chances this season.  I’d love to see them knock Real Madrid off their perch in the final.

 Ahh, Champions League nights are about to return.

Ahh, Champions League nights are about to return.

In other Chelsea news, the Fernando Torres fiasco appears to be over as he is going on loan to AC Milan.  I’m pretty sure Chelsea has never had a more frustrating player since I’ve been a fan of the club.  I always wanted Torres to succeed at Chelsea, but it was pretty evident from the start that the club wildly overpaid for him.  My theory is he never fully regained confidence after his 2010 knee injury.  Even if that’s true, however, it’s still baffling how little he resembled the Liverpool version of himself during his time at Chelsea.  Enjoy these vintage Liverpool Torres goals – you won’t recognize him.  For Chelsea it’s good that he’s moving on, but I do hope he goes and lights up Seria A.

 This guy never arrived at Chelsea.

This guy never arrived at Chelsea.

Chelsea’s 6-3 win at Everton Saturday - wow.  If you didn’t see the match, I’m sorry.  It was awesome.  Chelsea’s back line will want to spend some time reviewing the game tape, but overall it was a terrific win.  Perhaps most encouragingly, Diego Costa scored twice – four goals in his first three Chelsea matches.  I was really uncertain about the Costa acquisition, primarily because he was injured and ineffective in the Champions League final and a non-factor for Spain at the World Cup in Brazil.  I thought it might be another case of Chelsea buying damaged goods.  But so far, he has been precisely the missing striker link Chelsea needed.

 Already the man at Chelsea:  Diego Costa.

Already the man at Chelsea:  Diego Costa.

FC Dallas’ 10-game unbeaten streak unfortunately ended Saturday night in Chicago.  They were on the verge of snaring a point, but an 83rd minute Chicago goal ruined the plan.  You knew the streak would eventually end, but I was hoping they’d ride the wave until they were on top of the Western Conference.  Instead, they’ve slipped to fourth place with 42 points, one point behind Real Salt Lake and four behind LA Galaxy.  Seattle is still in first place after beating Colorado to go up two points on LA.  Dallas is still relatively comfortably in a playoff position (8 points ahead of fifth place Portland).  With eight games remaining however, FCD cannot get too comfy.  Dallas’ next match is a biggie:  at RSL this Saturday.

 FCD Head Coach Oscar Pareja:  "Do not tell me another player is injured..."

FCD Head Coach Oscar Pareja:  "Do not tell me another player is injured..."

The remarkable thing about FC Dallas this season is their resiliency with so many injuries.  If you’d told me at the start of the season they’d be in fourth place at the beginning of September with midfielder Mauro Diaz missing most of the year and center back George John missing the entire year, I would not have believed it.  That said, Dallas could really use a healthy roster for the home stretch.

Looks like Toronto FC fired their entire first team coaching staff yesterday, including head coach Ryan Nelsen.  I’ve never really understood coach firings this late in a season – especially when your team is (somehow) still in playoff contention (they’re in a three-way tie for third place with 33 points).  It’s just really weird how incompetent things seem to be at Toronto FC.  Once they were one of the league’s most promising franchises, perhaps even a potential MLS “super club”.  Now they’re a cautionary tale.  MLSsoccer.com even has a blurb about Toronto “mulling” offers for their 2014 mega DP signing Jermain Defoe.  After all that hype and cash-splashing, now they might just let him go after less than one season?  Very odd.

 "Ah well, it's super cold up here anyway.  What about that new Miami team?"

"Ah well, it's super cold up here anyway.  What about that new Miami team?"

Finally, thank you to everyone who entered the GoodReads contest to win a copy of my book Dallas ‘Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer.  The contest is now closed and the winners have been drawn.  If you didn’t win this time, don’t let that prohibit you from reading the book as it is readily available in paperback and Kindle versions

Total Football Café Weekly Roundup

I’m not sure the new EPL season could have had a better opening weekend, primarily because Manchester United lost, at home, to Swansea City.  If Man U keeps up this utter mediocrity, which began last season, I might eventually have to stop disliking them so much.  It’s interesting to me how much disproportionate post-match hand wringing has occurred about the sky falling at Manchester United.  It is only the first game of the season, and like the best action-movie villains, you predict Man U’s demise at your own peril.  They will live to attack another day.

 "Zero wins."

"Zero wins."

While I greet each opening weekend of the EPL season with as much enthusiasm as the next fan, it’s always a little disappointing starting every season knowing that only five or six teams have much of a chance of winning the league (with the exception of Chelsea of course – I always want them to win it).  What I mean is, aside from the fun of occasional upsets, three-quarters of the league’s teams have very little chance of actually winning the title.  I wish the EPL had a bit more parity.  I’ve read the anti-parity arguments, that every league needs its super clubs (Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski make a good case for this in one of my favorite soccer books Soccernomics), but I just think it would be more fun if an Aston Villa or Stoke City had a realistic chance of challenging for the title.  At least the EPL has a handful of teams that could win the title – the parity (at least as far as how many teams could actually win the league) seems much worst in La Liga and the Bundesliga.

 Ladies and gentlemen... Fabian Castillo!

Ladies and gentlemen... Fabian Castillo!

Meanwhile, over in the ol’ MLS, FC Dallas is turning into quite the story this season.  Despite a ton of injuries to key players throughout the year, they keep on keeping on.  They’re building a lot of confidence at a key point in the season and might just end up winning the Western Conference.  I was skeptical about rookie Tesho Akindele during his first few appearances this season, but he has steadily improved and now looks like a future franchise DP and permanent starting striker (especially after his hat trick at San Jose last Saturday).  FCD’s other current standout star is Fabian Castillo who is probably the league’s fastest player in the final third with the ball at his feet.  I wrote about Castillo in my book, mostly marveling about his speed with the ball, coupled with his very poor finishing and passing ability in the final third last season.  This season he has finally matured and is living up to his potential.  His decision-making in the box is significantly better.

 I can't really stand RSL, but this guy's cool.  How could he stand those dreads in Manaus though?

I can't really stand RSL, but this guy's cool.  How could he stand those dreads in Manaus though?

Real Salt Lake is my least favorite team in MLS.  Their “Goal Gong” at Rio Tinto Stadium makes me dislike them even more.  I don’t have a rational reason per se, the “Goal Gong” just strikes me (pun intended) as cartoonish-ly goofy and all wrong for soccer.  Because of my disdain for RSL, I reveled in being at Toyota Stadium Friday night to see FC Dallas defeat them 2-1 (Castillo scored his 9th goal of the season, a career high).  FC Dallas won playing with 10 men in the second half no less, after Blas Perez received a second yellow card just before halftime.  Perez frequently brings these punishments on himself with diving, embellishing, and generally running his mouth, but in this case he was innocent of both cards.  It was a ridiculous decision by the referee.  But, beating RSL with 10 men just made victory all the sweeter.  Remarkably, Dallas is now in a three-way tie for first in the Western Conference with RSL and Seattle.

 It's gonna be a good season...

It's gonna be a good season...

In other favorite team news, Chelsea looked comfortably dominant in their season opener at Burnley.  As with the Manchester United hand wringing, the media overhyped Chelsea’s win a bit – this was just newly promoted Burnley after all.  But, Chelsea looked very good.  Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas made more of an immediate impact than I anticipated.  Costa scored a goal that strikers should score, but frankly, it was the kind of goal poor Fernando Torres has missed buckets of the past few seasons, so it was great to see Costa smash the ball in with such authority.  That Fabregas pass to Schurrle for the second goal was jaw dropping.  I also got a thrill out of seeing Didier Drogba jog onto the field for a few minutes at the end.  It’s going to be fun having him around this season.

 You'll always be number one in our hearts.  And so will that helmet.

You'll always be number one in our hearts.  And so will that helmet.

The only mixed feelings issue I had with Chelsea’s opener was seeing Thibaut Courtois replace Petr Cech.  I understand progress and I’m not surprised that Courtois got the starting nod.  And a big part of me wants to transition to Courtois because he’s so awesome.  But I mean, Petr Cech.  And Petr Cech’s helmet.  And it almost doesn’t seem like a legit Chelsea match without the helmeted Cech tending goal.  If this transition to Courtois is permanent, I think it would be easier to swallow if we had a proper changing of the guard ceremony.  Maybe Cech could remove his gloves and hand them to Courtois.  And then Cech could remove his Cech helmet, place it on Courtois’ head, and fasten the chinstrap.  Sorry Courtois, but if Cech has to go, the helmet has to stay.  From this point forward Chelsea keepers should have to wear the Cech helmet.

 "Ha, ha!  Take that, FIFA ban!"

"Ha, ha!  Take that, FIFA ban!"

In other soccer world news, Luis Suarez’s appeal of his post-bite suspension partially worked.  He’s now allowed to train with Barcelona and even featured in a friendly last week.  I already thought he was getting off easy with the length of his “ban”.  Now it’s barely a ban at all – it’s a paid vacation.  He gets to train and play in meaningless friendlies without the pressure of performing in legit matches.  Ridiculous.

 "Just call me Super Mario.  No, seriously, that's the only thing you're allowed to call me.  Because I'm Super.  Mario."

"Just call me Super Mario.  No, seriously, that's the only thing you're allowed to call me.  Because I'm Super.  Mario."

In other wacky-player news, Mario Balotelli is apparently now a Liverpool player.  Not sure what Brendan Rodgers was thinking.  It’s hard to see much upside in that acquisition.  I certainly wouldn’t want to take a risk on Balotelli.  At least he probably won’t end up at Chelsea now.  Speaking of Liverpool, Fox Sports must give us a where-are-they-now-type Being Liverpool special so we can see what football poet Dave Kirby’s been up to.  Plus, I’d still like to know who was in the three envelopes!

 All other keepers wish they were Tim Howard.  Except Petr Cech who is his own brand of cool.

All other keepers wish they were Tim Howard.  Except Petr Cech who is his own brand of cool.

Then there’s the business of Tim Howard announcing he’s going to step away from the U.S. national team for a year to spend more time with his family.  I say more power to him.  It shows he has his priorities straight.  Plus, it’ll probably just make him all the hungrier to return and make a big impact when his sabbatical is over.  In the year leading up to World Cup 2014 I was ready to see Brad Guzan take over for Howard.  I thought Howard’s best goalkeeping was behind him.  Then he goes and has an amazing World Cup.  Howard’s not done yet.  I hope he enjoys the break and then returns to his Matrix-like shot-stopping ways for Team USA.

 Random pic of Brad Evans in a Crew warm up suit because I did not remember Evans ever played for Columbus.

Random pic of Brad Evans in a Crew warm up suit because I did not remember Evans ever played for Columbus.

The Columbus Crew announced this week they’re unveiling “new branding” in October.  The only surprise here is what took them so incredibly long?  That Crew crest has befuddled me since the league kicked off in ’96.  The new crest could be a plain white circle with “Crew” written on it in Sharpie and it would be a vast improvement over The Village People that populate the current version.

 Atlanta.  Georgia.  United States of America.

Atlanta.  Georgia.  United States of America.

Speaking of new stuff in MLS, the latest expansion franchise in Atlanta announced they’ve already sold over 14,000 season ticket deposits and the team doesn’t even kick off until 2017.  Very impressive.  Good job Georgians!  Now let’s just hope the club doesn’t get named Peach Fury or anything like that. Or have any Village People in the crest.

While I’m all about healthy, responsible MLS expansion in cities where there is demand, MLSSoccer.com ran an article this week about Austin, Texas making overtures about landing an MLS franchise.  Though I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and would enjoy seeing another intra-state MLS rival for FC Dallas, I don’t think an Austin franchise is a good idea.  Dallas and the Houston Dynamo should be league powerhouses in attendance and support, but they are not.  Despite enormous soccer communities in the big Texas cities, we still don’t support the MLS teams we have well enough.  I say give the next franchise to a city with Seattle/Portland-type demand.  That means Miami should also be scratched off the list.  Sorry, Miami.

 "Hey, I'm just as confused as you are here..."

"Hey, I'm just as confused as you are here..."

Lastly on the MLS front, this Jermaine Jones saga is weird.  No one understands MLS’ “allocation” process, except MLS and maybe Alexi Lalas, but seriously, why can’t the league just sign Jones already?  The World Cup is long over and he could’ve been playing for an MLS team all this time.  Who is dragging their feet in this deal?  If Jones wants to keep playing pro soccer anywhere, why would he allow such a long delay?  If MLS isn’t going to work out, he’s already missed the beginning of the Euro league seasons.  Strange stuff.

I’m doing some more regular articles for World Soccer Talk in case you’re interested, including a piece on yesterday’s Chelsea v. Leicester City match.

There is only one week left to register to win a free copy of Dallas ‘Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer from GoodReads (see the box at the top of this page).  And if you don’t want to go the contest route, the book is available on Amazon.

Feel free to leave a comment, email me, or follow me on the Twitter machine.  Thank you for your support!