Backpost on the Road

BP World HQ went dark for the holidays on Wednesday evening, as we were dislodged from the couch in our parents’ basement until the New Year.

But we’ll be posting from the road, when time and computer access allow, starting with a Yank-centric roundup of the busy holiday Premier League action.

Until then … and Happy Holidays to all.

January Training Camp—New Faces

U.S. coach Bob Bradley summoned 30 players to the national team’s first camp of 2010, calling it “the start of six months of preparations for the World Cup.”

With most European leagues in full swing, the group consists of 25 MLS players and five who ply their trade in Scandinavia, where leagues are on their winter break. The players will gather on January 4 at the Home Depot Center and face Honduras in a friendly there on January 23.

Say what you will about Bob Bradley, but he is leaving no stone unturned, and he is staying true to the promise that good form in MLS or abroad will be rewarded: There are nine players on this roster who’ve never been capped, and several whose standout seasons in 2009 earned them this call-up.

Click here for the complete list of 30, and read on for a look at five of the more interesting first-timers, in alphabetical order:

Alston has wheels, and is strong in the tackle, as Brian McBride learned.

Kevin Alston, D, New England Revolution:A speedy outside back who likes to get forward and can play on the left side (despite being naturally right-footed), Alston may not solve the U.S. left-back problem in time for SA 2010, but Bradley obviously thinks he’s worth an audition. The 21-year-old Silver Springs, Maryland, native played for the U.S. at the 2005 U-17 World Championships in Peru.

Bedoya earned Bradley's call with a strong year in Sweden.

Alejandro Bedoya, M, Örebro SK (Sweden):This skillful, attack-minded midfielder was a two-time nominee for the Hermann Trophy while in college (he went to Farleigh Dickinson University and Boston College). He signed with Örebro in late 2008, after his senior season at BC, and made his debut for the club this past spring. Bedoya scored two goals in 13 appearances in 2009.

LLJB: And he's 22, not 16, as you might guess from this photo.

Justin Braun, F, Chivas USA: One of the best stories in MLS in recent years, or ever, Braun was plucked from a rec-league tournament two years ago by Chivas USA coach Preki. For real. After seeing him in an amateur tournament at the HDC in January 2008, Preki invited Braun to Chivas USA’s preseason. He not only made the team but also scored four goals in the regular season and one in the playoffs. And look at him now.

McDonald joins a crowded field of candidates in central defense.

Brandon McDonald, D, San Jose Earthquakes: We’ll be honest, we didn’t catch a lot of Earthquakes games this year. Between the team’s poor form, Bobby Convey’s fizzling return to MLS and Darren Huckerby’s September retirement, it was a tough year for the Quakes. But there were bright spots, and McDonald’s play in central defense was one of them.

Marcus Tracy, F, Aalborg (Denmark): If you’re looking for a late-breaking addition to the 2010 World Cup roster, you could do worse than the 2008 Hermann Trophy winner out of Wake Forest. He was widely regarded as a top pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, but Tracy opted to sign with Danish club Aalborg instead. He scored two goals in 21 appearances for them this year, including this one below, where his hops and athleticism are on clear display:

From the NFL to the CSL

If you follow the NFL, you might remember running back Amos Zereoue, one-time understudy to Jerome Bettis of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Zereoue also spent one season each with the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots, racking up 2,137 career yards rushing, and a respectable 3.9 yards a carry.

Pub-league defenders probably think twice before getting stuck in against Zereoue.

But it turns out, as good as he was at girdiron football, Famous Amos’s true love was the other kind, aka soccer. He was born in the Ivory Coast, and when his father moved his family to Hempstead, Long Island, the 10-year-old Zereoue was a french-speaking soccer player. His years in the U.S. converted him to football, and he became a star at West Viriginia before being drafted by the Steelers in 1999.

His NFL career over, he’s back to playing soccer, suiting up on Sundays for the Central Park Rangers in the first division of New York City’s competitive amateur circuit, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League.  The New York Daily News spotlighted Zereoue’s return to his roots in its Saturday edition.

This Is Not A Discarded ‘Monty Python’ Sketch

Cleese en route to the Dubious Goals Panel.

A tipster points us to this odd bulletin from something called the Dubious Goals Panel. No, really. This in an actual panel, or committee, convened by the Barclays Premier League, apparently to ensure that goals—deflected ones, in-the-mixer tallies, own goals etc.—are credited to their proper source for the official record.

At least that’s our understanding of it. Who knew there were so many ‘dubious goals’ in soccer? The report covers 19 of them in two months of Premier League action. And here we thought it was a simple game.

Also, what’s up with the “…has been confirmed as a John Carew goal” versus “…has in fact been confirmed as a James Beattie goal” verbiage distinction?” Anyone with insight here, please advise.

But that name—’Dubious Goals Panel.’ A friend of the site points out it’s a bit “Ministry of Silly Walks.” Yes, or maybe it was a byproduct of the sessions that created this one:

“Aristotle very much the man in form.”

Sure, but would he be the best qualified to determine the certainty of a given goal? Not for us to say, but you wouldn’t want George “Matter Does Not Exist” Berkeley for the job, that much we can tell you*.

*Philosophy-major humor.

//Ducks tomatoes fired toward head.

Break Up the Cottagers!

Fulham stunned Manchester United 3-0 on Saturday, getting its second goal just after halftime when American Clint Dempsey knocked down a Damien Duff cross directly into the path of Bobby Zamora and the in-form striker made no mistake about it from about eight yards.

Danny Murphy had opened the scoring in the 21st minute with a strike from distance after dispossessing Paul Scholes, and Zamora later set up Duff for the third, in the 75th minute.

Here are the highlights:

The impressive win stretches Fulham’s home unbeaten streak to six. The West Londoners are also unbeaten in their last five games, home or away, and sit ninth in the table, just one point behind Liverpool, with a game in hand on the scousers.

Brad Friedel and Aston Villa continue to make a genuine push for a Champions League spot, getting three points from what we in the U.S. would call a “trap” game against Stoke. Having achieved impressive road wins over Manchester United and Sunderland in the past week, Villa did not let down its guard against mid-table Stoke on Saturday, grinding out a 1-0 win on John Carew’s 60th-minute header from a great cross by Ashley Young.

The Villans have won four in a row and have been beaten just once in their last 12 games. They remain tied for third with Arsenal, which rolled over Hull 3-0 on Saturday. Jozy Altidore did not dress for Hull.

Marcus Hahnemann continued to make his case for a spot on the U.S. World Cup roster, and Wolves coach Mick McCarthy was vindicated for his decision to start essentially a second team against Man U last week, as Wolves downed Burnley 2-0 at home. Hahnemann made five saves in the game, and Wolves moved three points clear of relegation in a very crowded bottom half of the table, where only five points separate 12th place from 20th.

Tim Howard went the full 90 in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham.

Jonathan Spector sat the bench (again) as West Ham drew first-place Chelsea 1-1. Both goals were scored from the spot, with Chelsea’s Frank Lampard having to take his kick three times due to encroachment.

In the Championship, Jay DeMerit got another start for Watford, but his team fell 2-1 to Peterborough United, and Frank Simek came off the bench for a 36-minute appearance in Sheffield Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Swansea City.

In Scotland, DaMarcus Beasley continued to demonstrate his resolve to be on the U.S. charter flight to South Africa next June, scoring a goal and setting up another as Rangers trounced Motherwell 6-1. Here are some more grainy, pixillated highlights from the Highlands (or rather, east of Glasgow):

Yanks of note in the Bundesliga, Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo, both started and played 90 minutes and both suffered 3-2 losses. Bradley and Borussia Moenchengladbach fell to Bayer Leverkusen, while Cherundolo and Hannover 96 lost to Vfl Bochum. Loss aside, Cherundolo, with his regular PT, is probably nosing ahead of Spector for the U.S. right back spot right now, as Spector hasn’t seen the field in a couple of weeks now.

American Toffeemen

Landon Donovan’s loan to Everton is official, and will make him the fourth American to play for the club, following Joe-Max Moore, Brian McBride and current goalkeeper Tim Howard.

How will he stack up? Let’s check the record:

Tulsa Roughneck: the Oklahoman was the first Yank at Everton.

 

Joe-Max Moore is perhaps not as well remembered as he should be among U.S.  fans: He scored 24 goals in 100 appearances for the national team, including the winner in a 1-0 upset of Argentina in 1999. For Everton, he got off to a cracking start, bagging a goal in five straight games at one stretch, and finishing his debut season with eight.

Appearances: 44

Goals: 10

Highlight: An injury-time equalizer against Tottenham in January 2000 in his second full game with the club.

Fan Favorite? The site “ToffeeWeb.com” refers to him as a “nippy little Yank”—is that a backhanded compliment, or a direct insult?—with an excellent attitude and impressive work rate.

Grade: B+

McBride left ’em wanting more at Merseyside.

 

Brian McBride lived a charmed life in England, whether he was suiting up for Preston, Everton, or Fulham. Much like Moore, he got off to a white-hot start at Everton, scoring four goals in his first five games. But he was only with the Toffees on a two-month loan, which was not renewed.

Appearances: 8

Goals: 4

Highlight: Goal against Spurs in the first ten minutes of his debut.

Fan Favorite? An Everton chat-room denizen gives him an ‘8’ out of 10, and Toffee supporters are well aware of what he went on to do at Fulham, where the Cottagers have named a pub after him. He’s one that got away.

Grade: A-.

Howard holds the Everton season record for clean sheets.

 

New Jersey native Tim Howard is in his fourth season with Everton and already on the path to legendary status. He set the club record for clean sheets last year (16), and has racked up six of them this year. On Dec 6 he saved a stoppage-time penalty from Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe to preserve a 2-2 tie for the Toffees.

Appearances: 158 and counting.

Goals: n/a

Highlight: In April 2009, saved two penalties during FA Cup semifinal shootout against his former team, Manchester United, sending the Toffees to the final vs Chelsea.

Fan Favorite? Most already rate him the club’s No. 2 keeper all-time, behind Neville Southall.

Grade: A

Donovan could suit up for Everton against Arsenal on January 9.

 

Many observers have suggested that the Premier League is too rugged for a relatively small (5’ 8”) player like Landon Donovan, but that wasn’t a problem for Moore, and Donovan is much faster and more athletic than Joe-Max ever was. He’s also hungry to finally prove himself abroad, and if the pressure that goes along with that (it’s his fourth stint over there, after all), or fatigue, don’t prove too much for him, there’s no reason he can’t shine for the Toffees.

Backpost Announcer Spotlight—Brian Dunseth

 There was a time, not too long ago, when soccer announcers in this country were straight-up embarrassing. When Backpost was just a youth-size Pugg goal, we remember announcers constantly comparing the game to “American” sports; we specifically recall one guy remarking to his color-analyst, after noting a 2-1 scoreline in a game: “So that’s like 14-7 in football.”

 Uh … yeah. Except, no.

Thankfully those days are behind us. We are currently blessed with enough competent announcers that we can actually evaluate them, and we’ll be doing that semi-regularly here at BP World HQ . First up: Brian Dunseth.

With an eight-year career in MLS and stints with both the U.S. U-20 and U-23 national teams (he was on the 2000 Olympic team), Dunseth brings a pretty seasoned perspective to the announcer’s booth. He’s also articulate, and adept at ferreting out and expressing subtleties as they happen in a given game.

He does have kind of an odd voice, though—‘wooly’ is the word that comes to mind. Seriously, he might be able get work on Sesame Street. Once you get past that, though—and you will (unless you’re our buddy Marc, who just can’t, for some reason)—you’ll realize that he’s one of the best color-analysts on the domestic scene.

He’s also a co-founder of the killer soccer-fashion line, Bumpy Pitch.

Best of U.S. Soccer — 2009

The 2009 Best of U.S. Soccer Awards are trickling in, and the honor for Best Assist goes to….

Donovan’s laserlike through ball is a worthy winner, for sure, but we wouldn’t have argued if the prize had gone to Charlie Davies for his perfect pass into the path of LD on the U.S.’s lethal counterattack goal against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final last summer.

They won’t announce the winner for Best Goal until tomorrow, but we’d be very surprised if that one didn’t get the nod. Check it out (again):

Premier League Midweek Review-Preview

Down and out at Upton Park.

There were four Premier League games yesterday and four today, with Americans featuring (or missing a chance to) in three of them.

On Tuesday, Brad Friedel backstopped Aston Villa to a 2-0 road win over Sunderland, while his understudy and fellow Yank (and fellow Brad) Brad Guzan sat the bench. Villa midfielder James Milner drilled a goal from 25 yards in the 60th minute to seal the win. Villa is currently tied for third with Arsenal.

West Ham’s Jonathan Spector dressed but did not play for the second game in a row as the Hammers dropped a 3-1 decision to Bolton and fell to 19th place in the table. Things are most definitely not looking up in Upton Park: former England international midfielder Kieron Dyer returned to action after three months away due to injury … only to limp off after 20 minutes with another injury. Then goalkeeper Robert Green handed Bolton the winner in the 76th minute by spilling a bouncing shot from Gary Cahill (Ivan Klasnic buried it from there).

At Old Trafford, Wolverhampton Wanderers may or may not have been mullered (Mick McCarthy didn’t say), but they were definitely blanked 3-0 by Manchester United, and they also suited up 10—count ’em—10 different players from the lineup that edged Spurs this past weekend. Pacific Northwester Marcus Hahnemann, who twice denied Wayne Rooney from point-blank range in this one, was the only holdover from that group in what was apparently a long-term tactical decision by McCarthy:

“At the end of the season I will be judged on whether Wolves have stayed in the Premier League or not. It was my strongest team – because it was a team with fresh legs. I have a squad of 21 to pick from and I regard them all as first-team players.”

Unlike McCarthy’s last postgame quote, this one is easy to translate:

“We had no shot of winning this game, so I decided to rest my first team and save them for this weekend’s home game against 13th-place Burnley, in which we have a realistic chance of getting three points.”

Fair enough.

In the other Tuesday game, Birmingham won its fifth straight Premier League game (the first time the Blues have done that, ever), downing Blackburn 2-1, with both goals coming from Cameron Jerome. Birmingham is now tied with Liverpool, for God’s sake, in fifth place. MLS alum Ryan Nelsen hit back for Blackburn in the 69th minute, but it was too little to late.

Wednesday’s action was bereft of Statesiders, but not of surprising results: Burnley battled Arsenal to a 1-1 draw at home, where they have picked up 18 of their 19 EPL points thus far. (Gunners midfield maestro Cesc Fabregas left with an injury at halftime.) And Tottenham romped to a 3-0 win over Manchester City at White Hart Lane. City has only two losses on the season, but eight draws. In the other games, Chelsea clipped Portsmouth 2-1 and Liverpool beat Wigan by the same score.

In the weekend ahead, Yanks Abroad will have close encounters with the top three in English football as Clint Dempsey and Fulham host Manchester United, Jozy Altidore and Hull visit Arsenal, and Spector and West Ham welcome Chelsea. Friedel, Guzan, and Aston Villa play at home against Stoke City.

Enjoy the games.

Donovan to Get D.P. Money

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff reported this as a possibility a couple of weeks ago, and Ives Galarcep is confirming it today: Landon Donovan has signed a new, long-term deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy, one that will put him in the financial company of the Blancos, Ljungbergs, and Angels of Major League Soccer.

The Galaxy has a press conference scheduled for 3:00 EST today. We should find out more then, but supposedly the loan deal to Everton is still on. Galarcep also suggests that the new deal will include an inexpensive buyout clause should Donovan want to explore other options after the World Cup.