The Third Half Update

20 October 2009

This blog has been a long time coming from me.

First off, I deeply apologize to those who read this blog for not updating it as frequently as I should. I make no excuses, it's all on me.

I have to be frank when I say I'm not happy with myself. I'm not happy with the amount of content on this site, I'm not happy with the content on the podcast, and above all I'm not happy at myself for allowing such matters to get in such disarray.

I know some of the more frequent visitors to the site will think I'm being too hard on myself. I can reassure you that I'm not.

When I got into blogging just a few short years ago, two things I told myself was that I would be personal with my work and that I would strive to have the highest quality possible. I think the quality has only be okay, I do not think I've been personal with my writing. While the opinions have been mine, I don't think I've done a good job of expressing those opinions in a personal manner.

What I do know is I need to get back to my fundamentals. I feel guilty that I have let those who have followed my work from day one down. Everyone who reads this blog or listens to the podcast deserves the best I can give. Quite frankly I've let everyone down in that regard. I haven't given you my best and for that all I can say is sorry.

Expect that to change post haste. Sometimes looking at one's self in the mirror and realizing you have to do better is the only thing one can do to improve. I can accept that I haven't given my best. All I can do now is do exactly what I wanted to do from day one.

It's time to get back to being a personal guy with a no nonsense attitude on the leagues I follow and love. It's time to get back to the analysis on both the blog and podcast that was impassioned and purposed. Most importantly, it's time for me to go back to what I know. The same things that kept you around to begin with: here, on the podcast, an on twitter.

Again, I apologize for not doing so as frequently as it should have been done.

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Top of the Table Clash Highlights Bundesliga Weekend

15 October 2009

Coming off the international break, the Bundesliga has two massive clashes at the top of the table. The warm-up match occurs Saturday at 9:30 am Eastern when Werder Bremen hosts Hoffenheim in a 4 v 5 battle from the Weser-Stadion. The main event takes place at 12:30 pm when Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen play at the HSH Norbank Arena (live on GolTV).

Both Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen come into this clash unbeaten with six wins and two draws; Hamburg has yet to lose at home while Bayer have three wins and a draw away from the Bay Arena.

It will be interesting to see how Hamburg start up front. Before the international break, Mladen Petric suffered an ankle injury and won't be seen from until the new year. That, along with the cruciate ligament rupture Juan Paolo Guerrero suffered in September, sees Hamburg down two strikers who have combined for six of their team's goals this season. Will Bruno Labbadia go with only one up front, or will he stick with his 4-4-2 formation? If I had to guess, Marcus Berg will play up front alone, Labbadia going 4-5-1.

If anything for Hamburg, the midfield partnership of David Jarolim and Ze Roberto will have to come up big. Ze Roberto currently leads the team with four goals (tied with Guerrero, but he won't be heard from again more than likely until next season), and can get forward. Jarolim will need to hold the ball up in the midfield. The back hasn't exactly been steady, only seeing one clean sheet to start the season. However, they have only allowed two or more goals once. To have any realistic shot of winning on Saturday, knowing the situation up front, Hamburg will need a clean sheet.

Away from home, Bayer Leverkusen have scored eleven goals. The partnership of Stefan Kiessling and Eren Derdiyok have accounted for half the teams goal output. In fact, the entire spine of Bayer Leverkusen has been pretty resolute with Arturo Vidal and Simon Rolfes in the midfield along with Friedrich and Sami Hyypia at center back. Rene Adler has only allowed five goals this season because of the support he's had in the center of the park.

If there is a weakness for Bayer Leverkusen, it's at left back. Eight games into the season, three players have played at least two games in that position. Michal Kadlec, the man who started the season at left back, hasn't played since match day four. It's got to the point Gonzalo Castro has played the last two games at left back, when he's a natural right back. I expect Castro to play again at right back, with Kadlec going back to the left side.

When it's all said and done, I predict Bayer Leverkusen will continue to lead the Bundesliga. Bayer are pretty settled right now; while I think Ze Roberto will try too hard, attempting to put Hamburg on his shoulders. Expect this to be a tight tense affair, with my prediction being a Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 win.

Other Games This Weekend

Saturday 9:30 AM
Eintracht Frankfurt v Hannover 96: Frankfurt have yet to win at home this season. I don't think that changes here. Prediction: Draw
Koln v Mainz: Mainz have allowed thirteen goals in eight games while Koln have only scored five. If there was any game that Koln could get goals, this is it. Prediction: Koln sneaks a late winner.
Nurnberg v Hertha Berlin: MOMMY DO I HAVE TO! 17 v 18 in the Bundesliga, enough said. Nurnberg can't buy a goal right now, Hertha can't stop giving them up. Prediction: a draw that does nothing for either team.
Freiburg v Bayern Munich (Live on GolTV): How badly do Bayern Munich need Luca Toni up front? Even with Robben and Ribery on the wings, it still isn't clicking on all cylinders. Freiburg though are not playing well at home. The same could be said for Bayern Munich on the road. Prediction: Bayern Munich win this with a late second half goal.
Stuttgart v Schalke (Live on ESPN360): Schalke haven't lost on the road, I don't expect that change here. Prediction: Schalke in a blowout.
Werder Bremen v Hoffenheim: It's an injustice this game is not being shown on TV here in the states. Both sides play technically sound attacking football. The defense is pretty good also. Prediction: a high scoring draw that we won't get to see.

Sunday 9:30 AM
Wolfsburg v Borussia Monchengladbach (Live on ESPN360): Wolfsburg can score, but have given up their fair share of goals. Gladbach have given up their fair share of goals, but haven't done a good job scoring. Prediction: Wolfsburg wins; Michael Bradley plays, but doesn't have a good showing.

Sunday 11:30 AM
Borussia Dortmund v Bochum: Bochum have point blank been dire on the road. While Dortmund haven't scored many at home, I don't think they will have much trouble. Prediction: Borussia Dortmund wins by two.

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US Gets Late Draw to Put Honduras in World Cup

The hours between 8 pm and 10 pm may have been some of the most exciting we've seen in CONCACAF in a long time. When it was all said and done, 95th minute magic by a side already in the World Cup put the side they defeated on Saturday in.

I will be honest from the outset and say that I did not see all ninety minutes of the United States's clash with Costa Rica. What I saw from the first twenty-five minutes sickened me. Conor Casey found his national team form we all came to hate and despise, Jozy Altidore was walking the tightrope of being sent off; and oh yea, after missing at least 2 golden scoring opportunities, Costa Rica in the span of 3 minutes went 2-0 up. The first goal was simply worthless defending from Gooch, the second coming down to poor defending off a throw in. That said, Ruiz's second goal from the edge of the penalty area was a thunderbolt very few keepers in the world would have saved. I was so disgusted I didn't even bother turning on ESPN360, but turning on Mun2 instead to watch Trinidad and Tobago against Mexico. At the time that game was goalless.

What I wasn't expecting to see was T&T looking the stronger team. Mexico looked like it has already checked out of qualifying, already knowing they were heading to South Africa. What I wasn't expecting was T&T to take the lead. In truth, the referee had no choice but to give T&T the penalty when Torrado used his hand to play the ball. Kerry Baptiste though, placed his penalty perfect past the diving Ochoa.

The second half was pure drama. From Mexico getting their first equalizer, to Baptiste putting T&T back in the lead, the action was just beginning. Then Carlos Pavon put Honduras ahead in El Salvador and gave them hope. However, at that time, it looked grim as Costa Rica was still two goals to the good. At about the same time (with me deciding to throw on ESPN360 to see end the end of the game), Mexico equalized and Michael Bradley pulled one back for the United States. I'm not fond of Michael Bradley right now. He is not playing well at Gladbach right now, but it was his goal that gave the United States hope of an unlikely equalizer.

Then tragedy for the United States. Already using three subs, Gooch tears his Patella Tendon. It was about this moment Costa Rica, I felt, thought they had qualification already secured and let up their play. The United States on the other hand, kept huffing and puffing for an equalizer that would see them top the hex. If it couldn't get any worse for Costa Rica, their manager and assistant manager were sent off for protesting too much on a foul late. That gave us five minutes of second half stoppage time and the unlikeliest of hero's in Jonathan Bornstein. It was a perfect corner; how 11 men could leave a side down to ten unmarked is beyond me. But Bornstein finished the header perfectly to cap off qualifying on top, and well as putting Honduras into the World Cup.

If there is any story that is not getting the play it deserves tonight, it's that Honduras is going to the World Cup. After their heartbreaking loss to the United States last Saturday night, I did not expect them to go to El Salvador and win. Carlos Pavon with one header went from zero to hero. After all the political turmoil, after being so close for so long, Honduras deserves this opportunity.

For the United States, they willed themselves to this late draw while Costa Rica imploded. When it's all said and done, Costa Rica more than likely played their way out of the World Cup.

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Charlie Davies: A Lesson in Personal Responsibility

13 October 2009

I'm going to admit right off the bat this blog won't be for everyone. This by far was one of the most difficult blog posts I've ever written in the three plus years I've been blogging. Much of this piece comes from the life experience I've had in my twenty-five and a half years on this earth. I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority on this one, and I'm well aware of that.

When I read the news this afternoon at about 5 pm goofing off at the office, my stomach knotted. When I see any news story involving a car accident with a fatality, I momentarily think about the family of the deceased... and then I went 'why am I reading this on ESPN'.

Never in a million years did I expect to see the name Charlies Davies in the news story.

Charlie Davies, a passenger in a SUV, was involved in a single car crash. Ashley Roberta, the other passenger died, the condition of the driver as far as I've read is still unknown. What we know of Charlie Davies injuries are pretty severe. A fractured right Tibia, right Fibula and left elbow, a lacerated bladder, and facial fractures are what we know about. Davies will be in the hospital at least another week, and he can expect more surgery than the five to six hours he had today. At best, rest/recovery/rehab will be about six months, but it could take as long as twelve. With just that on the table, who cares if he ever plays professionally again at a high level. While it's very likely he will, I'm thankful he's just alive.

Charlie Davies came into quick prominence during this summer's Confederations Cup, scoring the critical first goal against Egypt and setting up a goal in the final. It helped earn him a move to Sochaux, who are now down an attacking option as well.

The more I've read on this story, the more I reflect back on my life. When I was 23, the toughest decision I ever had to make was if it was time to put my dad in a nursing home. At the same time though, this angers me. Charlie Davies was a man who was on the verge I feel of having it all with this US National Team. One moment in the middle of the night changed all that, and Davies is hurt in an accident, knowing that someone else in the vehicle was dead. His career secondary to rehab and getting over the potential emotional scars of that night.

Above all, and this is where I expect to come into the most criticism, I have to question what was he thinking. At first I was angry at the US National Team staff for not setting a curfew. When I saw that Davies had missed curfew, I had to shake my head. I will be the first to admit I've never been a professional athlete, but I've never in my life missed a curfew. I also know the risks of staying out too late. If there was one thing my dad taught me, it was staying out too late always leads to something bad. When you're a professional athlete, I just feel you have to go 'okay for the sake of being at my best I need to cut out at a reasonable hour...I'll have time to party later'. When a professional athlete knows what time curfew is, honor it. Hell if anything, if you have a work deadline, beat it.

If anything, let's all look back on this accident and in the future be more careful in some of the decisions we make. They don't just effect us, but many more around us.

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Avram Grant Makes Smart Move To Portsmouth

07 October 2009

Avram Grant's going back to a place he should be comfortable at, while getting his old job back in the process. It's not the manager's position at Chelsea, but the Director of Football role at Portsmouth.

With Abdullah Al Faraj now in control of the Fratton Park outfit, the focus has quickly shifted to make sure the backroom staff is in place to guarantee Premier League survival. When it comes to a football mind that can come into a backroom and help fulfill the vision of Paul Hart, Avram Grant is that man.

Looking at Grant's accomplishments, he was largely responsible for assembling a squad that went undefeated in 2006 World Cup Qualification. Yes, they missed out on the playoffs due to goal difference, but the talent of Israel's squad had no right being that competitive in a group that included France, Switzerland and Ireland. In his previous run at Portsmouth, Avram Grant got along well with Harry Redknapp and helped shaped the squad that eventually won the FA Cup. At Chelsea, he was thrown to the wolves when Jose Mourinho was sacked. What's even worse about the way he was treated at Chelsea was it was not his fault Chelsea lost the Champions League final.

I'm convinced that Avram Grant has picked this job as a way to vindicate everything that happened at Chelsea. Despite what some Telegraph hack wants to believe (paging Henry Winter), Paul Hart can't do this by himself. He needs help. He needs someone who can take his vision and translate it into players who will not only work hard for him in the second half of the season to stay in the Premier League, but will also in case they do get relegated. Grant is not there to work against Hart, but to use the money that will be on offer in January wisely. That is something Grant will do.

If anything, this relieves some of the pressure on Paul Hart. Those who were at Portsmouth when Grant was there before remember him fondly. Hart will be able to focus more on the training and giving Grant the profile of player he wants. It won't be Avram Grant just biding his time to take over the Portsmouth managerial role.

Besides, my gut feeling is Avram Grant doesn't want to manage in the Premier League anytime soon.

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About This Blog

Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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