Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
Starting today, Madrid-based Reuters sports correspondents Iain Rogers and Mark Elkington will be writing a regular Monday column on La Liga for the Reuters soccer blog.
In its inaugural edition, Iain looks at the how the great rivalry between Spain’s dominant clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid has taken on an added piquancy this season and reviews some talking points from the weekend league action.
Barca and Real facing off on three fronts
Catalonia versus Spain. Barcelona versus Madrid. Pep Guardiola versus Jose Mourinho. Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo. Sandro Rosell versus Florentino Perez. Victor Valdes versus Iker Casillas and so on and so on.
The well-documented and often bitter rivalry between Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid stretches back many decades and across many levels.
The new Major League Soccer season got underway this weekend and Reuters Soccer Blog will have a regular Monday morning lookback at the main talking points from each weekend of action in the North American league from Simon Evans in Miami along with video goal highlights.
Last year’s MLS campaign ended in rather unimpressive fashion with the championship game in a cold and half-interested Toronto but on Saturday the new season got under way, also in Canada, and the scenes in Vancouver offered a much brighter picture for the league’s future.
The Vancouver Whitecaps’ debut in MLS, after years of treading water in the second tier leagues following the collapse of the old NASL, was always going to be a moment of celebration for the soccer-loving public in British Columbia but what made the event truly memorable was the game itself with the Whitecaps crushing their fellow Canadians Toronto 4-2 in a hugely entertaining and open game.
It was a reminder that for all the emphasis on stadiums, organization, marketing and image-management, important though they all are, it is the ‘product on the field’, the game itself, which is going to make the lasting difference and take the league to the next level. Questions could certainly be asked about Toronto’s defending but both teams moved the ball well with the Whitecaps swift breaks and intelligent angled passing particularly catching the eye. The Vancouver fans will also be delighted that their ‘designated player’, Frenchman Eric Hassli, hardly a ‘Beckham rule’ signing in terms of profile, turns out to be a smart striker with an eye for goal – claiming two on his debut.
But not surprisingly most of the attention this weekend was on the response of the fans to the return of top flight soccer to Vancouver – Cam Cole’s report in the Vancouver Sun captures the mood of excitement and fulfillment.
Welcome back to a new week of football stories but not before we’ve taken you through our roundup of the weekend’s action around Europe.
Well well well. Now the Champions League really is wide open..
So here’s that quarter-final draw again:
Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea v Manchester United
Barcelona v Shakhtar Donetsk
Inter Milan v Schalke 04
As Gary Lineker put it, there will be an English team in the semi-finals, but could Tottenham make it two sides? Real are certainly not invincible.
Now, before taking a look at all the domestic leagues over the weekend, a recap of Thursday’s highlights from the Europa League. Quite a night of upsets.
So Real Madrid finally broke their last 16 jinx and made the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2004 with a solid home performance against Olympique Lyon. Can’t imagine anyone left in the draw would like to face Jose Mourinho’s men when the last eight and semi-final draws are announced on Friday.
Which team would you want? Managerless Schalke 04? Real are divided on that given they would then face former striker Raul. Or Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk? Tottenham Hotspur would appear to be another one of the weaker teams left but at this stage of the competition any side is a threat.
With the NFL entering a lockout due to a dispute between players and owners over a new collective contract, Cincinnati Bengals wide-receiver Chad Ochocinco is to join Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City on a four day trial next week.
With that news in mind, here are five other NFL players who could have the attributes to switch codes and some light-hearted suggestions on where in MLS they might play:
That Champions League and drama undoubtedly go hand in hand was again in evidence after another tense night in Europe, with one blog even describing Inter Milan’s comeback victory over Bayern Munich as one of the best Champions League matches of all time.
As if that’s not enough, a “Little Pea” was scoring a double for Manchester United to send them through to their 11th quarter-final in just 19 years of the competition. No club has reached the last eight on more occasions.
MLS’s foreign imports have grabbed most of the headlines over the past few years, understandably given the name recognition of players such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, but one of the most fascinating aspects of this season will be the progress of a new generation of American players on the fringe of the national team. Sporting KC striker Teal Bunbury and New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo are fancied by many as a future pairing for Bob Bradley’s team but they will need to deliver week-in-week-out in MLS. Red Bulls defender Tim Ream had an excellent first year and will likely be scouted heavily by European clubs this season. Portland Timbers attacker Darlington Nagbe was born in Liberia but is seeking naturalization and there is a lot of buzz about his potential.
DIG THE NEW BREED
The Pacific North-West should provide plenty of lively derby action this year with the Seattle Sounders, the best-supported team in the league, joined by two new teams — local rivals Portland Timbers and Northern neighbours Vancouver Whitecaps. Both clubs are technically ‘expansion franchises’ but don’t confuse them with recent creations such as the Philadelphia Union and Real Salt Lake who started from scratch. Both the Timbers and the Whitecaps existed in the old NASL and continued in second tier soccer up until last season. Both have good fan-bases who expect an instant impact. Both were able to build upon their backroom and on-field staff from the second tier. In short – both are more like typical promoted teams in European leagues – they have to step up to a new level on the field and can expect some fresh impetus off the field. It should be fascinating to watch how they fare in their first season with the big boys. Who will make the bigger impact?
SHINY, HAPPY PEOPLE?
The Kansas City Wizards were not one of MLS’s big success stories having averaged crowds of around 10,000 for most of their existence – initially playing at the 80,000 capacity Arrowhead Stadium, home to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and then at a cozier but not-very soccer friendly minor-league baseball park. This season all that changes. The rather silly-sounding Wizards name has been dropped in favour of Sporting Kansas City – mocked by some as being a pretentious Euro-wannabe name (Sporting Club being a historic team in Lisbon, Portugal) but surely an upgrade on the Wizards? This season the team also move into their own, shiny new, purpose built 18,500 venue – Livestrong Sporting Park. The venue isn’t quite ready so the first eight games of the season for Sporting will be on the road but it will be interesting to see if the rebrand and the new home manage to attract more fans. That certainly helped New York Red Bulls last year – when they moved into Red Bull Arena their average home gate rose from 12,229 to 18,441.
Scotland’s soccer team return to London for the first time since 1999 at the end of this month — but they won’t be playing England at Wembley.
Instead they will face five-times world champions Brazil in a high profile friendly at the Emirates Stadium which should be filled close to its 60,000 capacity.
The pain for Arsenal fans just rolls on it would seem, as a trip to my office’s kitchen confirmed on Monday when I heard two voices grumbling about “Van Persie” and “not enough shots”.
The North London club’s woes of the last two weeks or so have been much publicised, but perhaps at last there is some news to cheer Gunners fans up in the return of former keeper Jens Lehmann? Who would you prefer in goal? Lehmann, or Arsenal’s only currently available goalie Manuel Almunia, in good form in the last two matches against Barcelona and Manchester United?