RIP Gary Speed, 1969–2011

This week’s news that former Wales and Premier League star Gary Speed had committed suicide was as mysterious as it was shocking.

The former winger, who stands third on the alltime list of Premiership appearances (behind David James and Ryan Giggs), hanged himself at his home, 45 miles outside of Manchester, just hours after appearing on television and taking in a game at Old Trafford with former teammate Alan Shearer.

Dan Walker, the host of Football Focus, the BBC program Speed had taped on the afternoon of Nov 26, described the Welshman as being “in fine form.”

Shearer sensed nothing amiss while the pair watched Man U take on their old club, Newcastle, at Old Trafford. Speaking to the Daily Mail, the former England striker described Speed as follows:

“[He was] happy, joking. We were having the normal mickey taking that we do out of each other and having a laugh and joke about golf trips and holidays that we went on together last year. We were planning our next holiday in Portugal next summer with the families and the kids.”

Speed leaves behind his wife, Louise, 41, and sons Edward, 14, and Thomas, 13.

Wales FA Chief Jonathan Ford said “we may never know” the reasons for Speed’s action, and those who knew Speed well insisted he was not suffering from depression.

Whether or not Speed was battling depression, his death could serve to raise awareness of that illness. Incredibly, the night before Speed’s suicide, another famous former Premier League star, Stan Collymore, posted a long essay to his Twitter feed, detailing his own battles with the disease (h/t to Martin del Palacio at BigSoccer).

You can read the entire post here. Below are a couple of eloquent excerpts:

“If your mind is empty, your brain ceases to function, your body is pinned to the bed, the future is a dark room with no light and this is your reality, it takes a massive leap of faith to know that this time next week, life could be running again, smiling, my world big and my brain back as it should be. So what do some do? They don’t take the leap of faith, they address a practical problem with a practical solution to them, and that is taking their own life. And sadly, too many take that route out of this hell”.

“I’m typing and my brain is full, cloudy and detached but I know I need to elaborate on what I’m going through because there are so many going through this that need to know it’s an illness, just an illness. Not bad, mad, crazy or weak, just ill.”

By serving to amplify Collymore’s message, and raising awareness of the issue, the awful coincidence of Speed’s suicide could have a silver lining.

Now here’s a clip of fans of Leeds United, where Speed began his career in 1988, chanting “Ohh Gary, Gary, Gary, Gary, Gary, Gary, Gary Speed” at the club’s match yesterday:

They started in the 11th minute (Speed wore No. 11) and kept it going for 11 minutes.

BPFL: Dumped by Numpties, Top of the Table Tilt, and More

Co-comissioner Our Man at the Valley is here with the latest from the Backpost Fantasy League, including a tight top of the table clash, some former Charlton stars making good, and a painful Derby day for Team Backpost. Take it away OMATV:

The match of the week, at least for me, was between my team, DisgruntledNumpties and Sleeping Giant, run by none other than the blogger/editor/soccer connoisseur extraordinaire who cranks out this website, among his other literary pursuits.

Sleeping Giant has been pretty dormant this year, as one might expect from a first-year participant coming to grips with the nuances of the EPL Pool. And while I haven’t performed up to my usual standards this year (top 2% or so in the Pool in each of the last two seasons), I’ve traditionally been a slow starter, and this is typically the time of the season when I get a good grasp on who I should include in my lineup and start racking up the points. Still, we were both coming off good weeks prior to the international break (81 points for me; 68 for the Giant; season’s highs for each of us).

The Giant and I go way back, to the days of the mighty Cahill Towne, and have watched and played a lot of soccer together. So, while you might think I’d have had this week circled on my calendar, I didn’t even realize I was playing the Giant until Old27M pointed it out in last week’s preview. (I really only pay attention to matchups with teams above me in the table.) (Ouch—Ed.).

Granted, in some ways it’s like Man U playing a cup match against their neighbors Oldham Athletic, or the Yankees playing the Newark Bears; an annoyance for the big fish in the pond and one of the few important matches in the small fish’s season (Double ouch—Ed.).

I had played my Wildcard just before the international break, so I was pretty content with my squad and decided to hold my transfer over for another week.

Looking at the Giant’s pre-transfer lineup, I felt confident of winning. On Friday afternoon, I was already adding 3 points to my total and figuring out how many teams I’d pass on my way up the table. The Giant’s team looked good, but too many of his players were up against good teams. Five were playing in Man City–Newcastle, and four were slated to play in Chelsea–Liverpool. I figured I was safe unless he played his Wildcard. (Saving it for the big spring climb up the table—Ed.)

As it turns out, the matchup wasn’t much of a battle. (Excellent use of understatement—Ed.)

Arsenal’s Robin van Persie was my captain, and he scored twice in the early Saturday game and picked up 3 bonus points, giving me a 26-point cushion to work with. Though Wigan keeper Ali Al Habsi’s clean sheet lasted for all of 60 seconds, Jon Walters, my Stoke City midfielder in striker’s clothing, scored a few minutes later. Jack Rodwell was mysteriously absent from Everton–Wolves, but that allowed me to claim Sunderland defender Wes Brown’s clean-sheet points.

To be fair, the Giant’s squad was beset by injuries and my favorite NBA statistic, “DNP – Coach’s Decision.” The Giant brought in Fulham striker Bobby Zamora in place of injured Newcastle forward Leon Best. Man City’s Edin Dzeko was on the bench, and he was the Giants’ captain and big scorer in the previous Gameweek. The Giant might have benefitted from Dzeko not playing at all, rather than the 10-minute cameo he did make, since that gave Luis Suarez double points, but the Uruguayan had a relatively quiet day during Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Chelsea.  Final score, 60–30 for DisgruntledNumpties. (“The scoreboard doesn’t lie.”—Charlie Sheen)

As for the rest of the EPL, Newcastle finally lost. Chelsea continued to struggle. Man U scraped past Swansea, and Man City continued to look like the cream of the crop.  Also, there were goals from QPR’s Luke Young and West Brom’s Jerome Thomas, and an outstanding display from Tottenham’s Scott Parker. It all made this Charlton fan quite wistful. Oh, for the Halcyon afternoons at the Valley watching those three perform!

Team of the Week and Unlucky Loser

First-place Coloradokeeper played his Wildcard and held off third-place Herk City, 78–52. Interestingly, Herk City paid a 4-point penalty to make an additional transfer (Wes Brown’s clean sheet netting Herk City +2 on the move). It really was a matchup worthy of the top of the table. Coloradokeeper’s 78 points made him the Team of the Week, and Herk City was our Unlucky Loser as his 52 points would have beaten 30 other competitors. Coloradokeeper maintains the league’s only unbeaten record and faces my co-commissioner, Old27M, this week.

Elsewhere in the BPFL, Stemmy woke up from an early season slumber, made his first transfers of the season and gave second-place Ahmad Haziq Hashim a run for the money, eventually prevailing after a couple of automatic substitutions lifted him to a 52–50 win.

At the foot of the table, YourAdHere notched his second win of the season, beating struggling Abe’s Army 49–42.

Thanks, OMATV. Good luck this weekend, everyone, and Happy Thanksgiving to all Statesiders.

Here’s Beckham and the MLS Cup Trophy on Jimmy Kimmel Live

He says the postgame party at the Staples Center went till 3:30 a.m. Monday morning. If that’s true, he bounced back pretty well for this Tuesday afternoon appearance.

Part 1

Part 2:

Beckham didn’t tip his hand about whether or not he’ll be back in LA next season. But speaking to the BBC recently, he did pretty much rule out a return to England.

The 36-year-old has offers from “a couple of big European clubs,” he says, and of course, the Galaxy has an offer on the table. (“He has the information he needs” from LA, coach Bruce Arena told ExtraTime Radio yesterday.)

So now it’s just a matter of him making up his mind.

But what about LA? What if they were to decide to move on? They could let Beckham go, along with the now retired Gregg Berhalter and possibly Jovan Kirovski and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, then use the freed-up cash to go get another marquee player.

Either way, the 2011 champs are in a solid position heading into 2012.

BPFL: Praise the Dutchmen and Pass the Antacids

Co-commissioner MGlo had a tough time sweating out the international break, hoping his latest Dutch imports didn’t pick up injuries.

Here he is with the latest on his BPFL title hopes, last week’s best and unluckiest performers, and his recent move to Tums E-X:

We are back from the last international break of the year, and hopefully all of your players returned healthy.

Before the last Gameweek, I was concerned about my two incoming transfers, Robin van Persie and Rafael van der Vaart, who have a habit of getting hurt during their international forays. Spending a lot of money on these two for just one week would not have helped the ulcer I have been developing as of late.

Sure enough, RVDV was injured in the Netherlands’ first match, but it appears that he has recovered sufficiently to face Aston Villa on Monday. Fortunately, RVP was rested for the second match, and the Rolaids were shelved for another week. (Though now the site has just listed RVDV as doubtful. Pass the Tums!)

Speaking of gastro-intestinal medicine, if you have stock in any of the companies that make these products, you may have noticed a spike in their dividends recently. That was me. You’re welcome. After sailing through the first seven weeks undefeated, I have now lost three in a row.

It got so bad, I even tried to change my team name to the SS Titanic, but the site would not allow it. Hopefully I can turn things around quickly, and I am banking on the above-mentioned Dutchmen playing a big role. Sitting 7 points behind leader coloradokeeper, the only unbeaten team remaining, I have my work cut out for me. But a head-to-head meeting next week represents a huge opportunity to gain ground. Putting him in his place would be enjoyable as well!

Matches of the Upcoming Week: Coloradokeeper will be looking to keep his unbeaten run going, but this week he travels to Herk City, winners of six of their last seven, and just four points behind the leader. The other match of note has DisgruntledNumpties hosting Sleeping Giant. This match goes beyond just wins and losses, with pride and bragging rights the real prizes at stake. [Co-commissioner Our Man at the Valley manages the Numpties, and we are Sleeping Giant. Let’s just say we’ve hit the snooze button for the last time!—Ed.]

Performance of the Week: DisgruntledNumpties was the big winner with an 81-point haul. Captain Robin van Persie led the way with 22 points, followed by Chris Eagles’ 15, Stephen Ward’s 10 and youngster Jack Rodwell’s 9. Nani and Laurent Koscielny added 7 and 6 points, respectively, as my co-commissioner got the full worth of his wildcard. Time will tell if he has played it too early.

Unlucky Loser: We might have to rename this award in honor of EPL Quakes, as that team has won it in two of the past three weeks. Last week’s 62-point total was good enough to beat 33 other teams—but not the Quakes’ opponent, Bryan O4 Leverkusen. Turns out the frustration might cause a shakeup. Reached at their training ground, EPLQ’s manager said, “Maybe I should take ‘Quakes’ out of my name.  [San Jose Earthquakes coach] Frank Yallop is always saying how “we should’ve won that one.”

Thanks, MGlo. Good luck, everyone, and don’t forget to set your lineups tonight.

Your 2011 MLS MVP is—No Surprise Here—Dwayne De Rosario

MLS wrapped up its 2011 Awards season with today’s announcement that DC United attacker Dwayne De Rosario has been named Most Valuable Player.

The Canadian international, who also played for Toronto FC and New York this season, adds the MVP trophy to the Golden Boot he won earlier as the league’s leading scorer.

De Rosario racked up 16 goals and 12 assists this year, totals that no doubt boosted his MVP candidacy, but we think we can pinpoint the moment he sewed up the award. It was during this three-goal, one-assist, 31-minute flourish against Real Salt Lake in September:

De Rosario edged Houston’s Brad Davis and FC Dallas’s Brek Shea for the award.

Here’s a bonus De Ro 2011 highlight clip:

Terrence Boyd: Ready for His Call-Up?

Meet Terrence Boyd, a 20-year-old reserve player for Borussia Dortmund. He is yet another player born in Germany to a U.S. serviceman father and a German mother.

He’s already suited up for the U.S. U-20 team, and he has scored two goals in two appearances for the U.S. U-23s in their current training camp in Germany.

Here’s the second of those, which came yesterday in a 1-1 tie against Bayer Leverkusen (Mixx Diskerud with the assist):

Klinsmann might want to call Boyd in to the January camp and cap him with the senior team—before Germany beats him to it.

U.S. 3, Slovenia 2: The Highlights

As a YouTube commenter wrote, this is the second time the U.S. has beaten Slovenia 3-2. Ha.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra earned his 100th cap for the U.S. in this game, and Slovenia presented him with a commemorative jersey before kickoff. Classy gesture.

Check out the goals and highlights below.

For five thoughts on the current state of Klinsmann’s boys, click here.

Darlington Nagbe’s Juggling Volley Named Goal of the Year

There were plenty of fantastic goals in MLS this year—more, it seemed, than in any other of the league’s 16 seasons. From Adam Moffat’s long-distance rockets to Juan Agudelo’s flip-and-rip golazo to Eric Hassli’s audacious volley, voters had a surplus of worthy candidates for 2011 Goal of the Year.

In the end, they went with this bit of magic from Portland rookie Darlington Nagbe, and it’s hard to argue with the choice:

Nagbe is just the second rookie in league history to win the Goal of the Year award, following former Chicago striker Damani Ralph, who won it in 2003.

Five Talking Points on the November Friendlies

The U.S. lost to France 1-0 in Paris on Nov 11, and defeated Slovenia and their Charlie Brown shirts 3-2 in a wide-open game in fogbound Ljubljana today.

While the Americans were pinned back for much of the game against France, mustering only two shots on goal, they flew forward from the opening whistle against Slovenia, generating plenty of chances and scoring three times in the first half.

The pair of wildly different matches wrapped up 2011 for the team and gave the U.S. a 2-4-1 record under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

So what have we learned this month?

Here are five notions:

1. Michael Bradley should be a starter. He’s getting regular PT with Chievo in Serie A, and he looked sharp against Slovenia. He was penciled in as the right midfielder, but he frequently drifted into the middle, and linked up dangerously with Dempsey and the strikers. Also, as always, he worked his tail off from box to box on both sides of the ball.

2. Klinsmann should ditch the one-striker setup. The U.S. doesn’t have the horses in midfield to run it. (Not at the moment anyway.) The result is that the lone striker is stranded on an island far, far away from midfielders who are struggling just to possess the ball. And on the rare occasions that the striker gets the ball, he has to make a Herculean effort to possess it under enormous pressure until his teammates can get forward. That was Jozy Altidore against France on Friday. He actually did an excellent job of trying to hold the ball in the final third–and the U.S. still mustered just two shots on goal. When Altidore was partnered with Edson Buddle today against Slovenia—presto—the U.S. broke out for three goals, and more importantly, plenty of chances. Granted, Slovenia is a step (or two) down from France, competition-wise, but they’re not a bad team. They’ve qualified for two of the past three World Cups.

3. Shaky All Over. The first two minutes of the Slovenia match, which produced clear chances for both teams, set the tone for the match: back-and-forth all night. The U.S. offense did wake up for the first time under Klinsmann, but the flipside was that they surrendered almost as many chances as they created. It made for an entertaining game, but a better team might have  punished the Americans for some of their lapses and giveaways. For an extended sequence before Slovenia’s second goal, the U.S. backline was in complete disarray. Against France, they played better defense—their 4-5-1 formation almost guaranteed that—but still were carved open on several occasions and relied on Tim Howard‘s brilliance to keep the scoreline respectable. This team needs to improve its possession skills, defensive organization, and ability to manage games.

4. Beckerman is not the guy, despite Klinsmann’s endorsement. We love Kyle Beckerman. He’s an honest, hardworking player, and a good one. But after seeing him at the international level for an extended period, we’re starting to wonder if Klinsmann’s recent faith in him is actually a ploy to motivate Michael Bradley. If so, it worked.

5. Bring on the new blood. The U.S. will reconvene in Carson, CA, in two months for the annual January camp, during which they will play two matches, one away, one home. You never know, but it seems like a logical time to bring in some new  faces to try to inject some freshness into the side on the road to Brazil 2014. A few players we’d like to see: CJ Sapong, Herculez Gomez, Terrence Boyd, Benny Feilhaber, Mix Diskerud, Graham Zusi, Josh Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant (he’s not young, but he’s had a fantastic season in LA) .