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The Past Ten Days (or so) in Soccer

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Seeing as how we’ve been outed as a blog of eight white guys these days (c’mon, there’s a little diversity here, one’s Canadian and I have lived in, you know, Europe for over a dozen years), it’s time to revert to type and talk sports.

It’s an international break.  The USMNT beat Costa Rica 1-0 in a bit of a snowstorm on Friday.  This is how we should play Mexico every home game. The official line is a match was scheduled in Colorado in March in order to prepare the squad for playing at altitude, as the next match is at Azteca against Mexico tomorrow. That has some credence, but Costa Rica have filed  protest with FIFA about the conditions. They have a legitimate point. The match between Northern Ireland and Russia was cancelled both Friday and Saturday in Belfast due to “wintery conditions”.

There’s been grumbling about the Klinsmann era, and qualification is more difficult this cycle than we’re accustomed.  The next two matches are away to Mexico and away to Jamaica. Jamaica drew Mexico 0-0 in Azteca on Friday February 6.  There’s two ways to interpret this: pollyanna (hey, Jamaica drew? We’ve got a decent shot against Mexico!) or chicken little (holy crap, we’ve already lost once away to Jamaica during qualifications, and now they’ve got the temerity to hold Mexico to a 0-0 draw? At Azteca? Shit.) I’m not worried — it’s early days, as they say here — but we could be on four points following the first four matches of the final qualification round. Read this if you need a dose of realistic optimism.

Demarcus Beasley received a surprise start, and at left back no less.  I remember when he broke out during the 2002 World Cup, and how he was going to be an omnipresent key component of the USMNT. It didn’t quite work out that way. Oh, and Landon Donovan’s taking a break. Thoughts?

England scored eight goals against San Marino. Why is this notable, aside from a mountaintop of 30,000 with its own international side competing in real matches that matter? It’s England. Not too long ago they struggled somewhat in a WC qualifier against Andorra.

Blackburn Rovers are looking for their fourth permanent manager this season, having sacked the third last week. This was once a proud team, a mainstay in the EPL, where Brad Friedel had 287 appearances in eight seasons. They were relegated last season to the Championship, and under their newish ownership, have become something of a joke for inept administration. While we don’t really have any evidence (yet) of managers in baseball having a measurable, systematic effect on the probability of success of their team (something I posted about a few years ago), apparently the owners of Blackburn believe that its of paramount importance in the second tier of English soccer. I suspect it matters more in soccer, though a) measuring it in a rigorous manner is difficult to imagine, and b) going through at least four managers in one season is perhaps not the best way forward.

Charles Green, chairman of Rangers, has floated the idea of Celtic and Rangers playing in England. This comes up at least once a season. It won’t happen any time soon, much as I’d like to see it. Incidentally, Rangers drew 0-0 to the mighty Sterling Albion on Saturday, so perhaps playing in the English fifth tier does look appealing in comparion. Never mind, Rangers have a 21 point lead in the Scottish fourth tier.

Argyle Watch: my local club, Plymouth Argyle, were in 23rd place in League Two when I last posted on Soccer eleven days ago. As League Two is the fourth tier the English pyramid, that placed them 91st in a 92-team league. They’ve been on quite the roll since I publicised their fight against relegation; they defeated Fleetwood 2-1 at home, beat Southend away 2-0, and had their match at Chesterfield postponed due to conditions (which, ordinarily, would have been a cause for celebration in Plymouth). They now find themselves in 21st, two points above the relegation zone, and with a match in hand versus the three clubs below them and the two above them. Ironically, the defeat of Southend led to the sacking of Argyle legend Paul Sturrock, who had two spells in charge of the club, 2000-04, and 07-09. In his first spell, Sturrock not only saved the club from relegation from the fourth tier (a familiar story down here), but won two promotions in three years, and was poached by Southampton, then playing in the Premiership.

There might be some hope for Argyle’s survival in the league yet.

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