As Usual, Taiwanese Animators Nail It, this Time with Eden Hazard Ballboy Incident

Chelsea winger Eden Hazard was red-carded for swinging his boot at Swansea City ballboy Charlie “Needed for Time-wasting” Morgan late in Wednesday’s League Cup semifinal between the Blues and Swansea in Wales.

For the best recap available, we turn the floor over to NMAWorldEdition, who cover all sides of the story, including the one with the panda stunt-riding a motorcycle:

We first saw the incident in one brief replay that included only Hazard’s kick, and none of the buildup to it. After handsome devil Prison Mike called our attention to the kid’s very obvious time-wasting move that provoked the kick, we looked a little further into the incident.

Turns out the 17-year-old Morgan is the son of a hyper-rich Swansea executive and had boasted on his Twitter feed about his time-wasting ability as a ballboy.

He didn’t get into his acting skills, which were also on prominent display in the clip.

In our view, Hazard was definitely trying to kick the ball, and not the kid, but considering the kid’s flop onto the ball beforehand, we half agree with noted voice of reason Joey Barton that “Hazard’s only crime is that he hasn’t kicked him hard enough.”

Our other half acknowledges that Hazard was stupid to even appear to be kicking a ballboy. He lost his cool, and he’s going to pay for it. The FA announced today that he’ll be charged for the incident, which could add games to his mandatory three-match suspension for violent conduct.

Fortunately, Morgan, the teenage “prat,” as Stan Collymore called him, has been absorbing some richly deserved punishment on Twitter, as the #prayforballboy hashtag proliferated yesterday. Young Master Morgan has also seen his Twitter following balloon from 600 to more than 87,000. It’s doubtful, though, that he’ll be tweeting about any future ballboy experiences.

The game, by the way, ended 0-0, which meant Swansea, 2-0 winners of the first leg, advanced to the League Cup final, where they’ll meet upstarts Bradford City.

Frank Lampard Headed to Los Angeles?


If a report published late last night is to be believed, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard will join the Los Angeles Galaxy on a free transfer at the end of the Premier League season, becoming the second marquee midfielder from England to join the club in the past half-decade, after uh, … whatsisname, blonde guy, good-looking—you know the one.

Lampard is one of the highest-scoring midfielders in Premier League history, with 194 goals in 584 appearances for Chelsea, and even though he’s 34, he still has something left in the tank, having scored seven goals in 14 games this season.

A source quoted in the report, says the transfer is “all but done,” and Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, speaking to reporters at the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis, said the club would make an announcement about its third Designated Player next week:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next week or so we’re going to have some kind of decision we’re going to make with a Designated Player. We wouldn’t rule that out. It’s always a possibility.”

Arena and LA would also like to make an announcement soon about the future of the best player in club history, the currently in-limbo Landon Donovan—and preferably one that involves him returning to the Galaxy in 2013.

Because while a Lampard–Robbie Keane combination in their attack would be nice, a Donovan-Lampard-Keane troika would make LA the prohibitive MLS favorites (again).

MLS All Stars 3, Chelsea 2: Highlights

As we said the other day, the MLS All-Star Game is a different animal when Alex Ferguson and mighty Man U are involved. The Red Devils manager pointed his side’s summer U.S. tour toward the game for two years running, and the results reflected that.

Enter Chelsea (or reenter; they played the ASG in 2006), the reigning UEFA Champions League titlists, who took a less single-minded approach to the event, and add a well-balanced, talented team of MLS stars, and you get an entertaining night of soccer.

Take a look:

How about Jay DeMerit’s tackle at about the 1:50 mark? He was a beast all game, and as Martin Rennie, his coach in Vancouver, said recently, “If Jay DeMerit can’t make the U.S. team, then they must be very strong indeed at centerback.” The Rise and Shine star is back in form, and he deserves a look from Jurgen Klinsmann.

DC United midfielder Chris Pontius also had a good night, scoring the tying goal and winning the game MVP award, and San Jose wingbacks Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow—aka the $44,100-men—didn’t look the least bit out of place facing Chelsea’s millionaires.

All in all, a fun 90 minutes in Philly, and a solid night for the league. Here’s a bonus clip of Thierry Henry talking to Jimmy Conrad, postgame:

Adidas MiCoach Debuts in MLS All-Star Game Tonight

The debut of “smart soccer” is nearly upon us. In a few minutes, the MLS All Stars will kick off against reigning European champions Chelsea, and each player will be wearing data-tracking technology between his shoulder blades.

The equipment will transmit each player’s on-field metrics to his coach on the sideline, in real time.

SB Nation filed a report today on the landmark technology. Take a look:

It’s a brave new world.

As for the game, we like this MLS linuep: Wondolowski and Henry up top, trailed by a midfield of De Ro, Osvaldo Alonso, Beckham and Donovan. The backline is De Merit and Aurelien Collin in the middle and Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour on the flanks.

Not bad. Morrow and Beitashour are not experienced, but they are both talented and on the rise. This will be a great test for them.

MLS All-Star Game Preview: How Alex Ferguson Changed the League’s Midseason Showcase

The MLS All-Star Game has historically been the most watchable midseason showcase, by far, among North American professional sports.

We made this point a couple years back, and though it still stands, the game has changed slightly in its past two editions, for one simple reason: Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson is a competitive S.O.B.

Back in 2005, when MLS started inviting European clubs to play in its All-Star Game, the sides were well-matched: A decent-to-excellent European club comes over in preseason form to play a friendly against a hastily composed team of Major League Soccer’s best players.

The European side was still  in preparation mode, and the U.S.-based side had never played together before. But both teams were motivated to win and put on a show, and the combination worked to produce a worthwhile event. It even stoked some MLS pride as the All-Stars reeled off wins against Fulham, Chelsea, Celtic, and West Ham from 2005 to ’08.

After the 2009 game versus Everton ended in a 1-1 draw, Manchester United came calling. Now it’s one thing for Fulham or even Chelsea to lose to the MLS All-Stars in a preseason exhibition, but for a global brand like Man U—and a prideful Scot like Ferguson—that just wouldn’t do. Especially as Man U’s presence alone ensured the game would have a higher profile. The scoreline had to reflect Man U’s status in the soccer universe, and therefore, the team would gear its preseason preparation toward the ASG to a far greater extent than previous European participants.

There was something else, too: On July 25, 2010, three days before they would compete in the All-Star Game, Ferguson’s boys lost 2-1 to the Kansas City Wizards in front of 52,342 fans at Arrowhead Stadium. They didn’t play all of their starters, but you can bet the boss didn’t enjoy the experience, full-strength or not.

The upshot was that Man U came in to that year’s ASG in front of 70,728 fans at Houston’s Reliant Stadium raring to go. Their near in-season condition upset the balance we mentioned above: Now they had a cohesion and sharpness that the MLS All-Stars, convened just two days earlier, couldn’t match.

The result was a 5–2 romp for the visiting giants, and when they were invited back the following year, Ferguson had this to say:

“We’re delighted to have been invited to play the MLS All-Star Game for the second year running. Last year’s game was a special occasion in front of a noisy, passionate crowd.  Obviously we’ll be looking to repeat the performance and the scoreline, but it will be a great spectacle for everyone involved.”

Emphasis ours, but Ferguson’s choice of words, regarding an exhibition game, was telling. Sure enough, Man U ran off 4-0 winners in the 2011 game—even though the match was more competitive, especially in the first half, than the scoreline suggested.

So this year the league has invited Chelsea, reigning Champions League titlists, and the Blues have brought all of their big guns, from John Terry and Frank Lampard to Fernando Torres and David Luiz, along with new signings Marko Marin and Eden Hazard.

What form are they in? Well, they’ve dispatched Seattle 4-2 and tied PSG 1-1 so far on this tour, but they substituted freely in both games and some players, including Torres, have only just drifted in to join the U.S. tour. But they’ll be taking the game seriously, and coach Roberto Di Matteo told the MLS website he’ll keep the team’s core on the field for the bulk of the 90 minutes. Chelsea will also want to maintain the standard their hated Premier League rivals have set for the game.

As for the MLS team, they’ll trot out Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan, David Beckham, and Dwayne De Rosario, but they’ll have just one day of preparation with the full team.

Kickoff is at 8:55 ET tomorrow, and TV coverage begins at 8:30 on ESPN2.

Will Ferrell Meets Petr Cech, Offers Helmet Upgrade

Chelsea FC is in the midst of a preseason tour of the United States—they’ll face the MLS All Stars tomorrow night in Philadelphia—and last week they met up with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis in a Seattle hotel.

Ferrell did not forget to bring the funny:

The Blues knocked off the Seattle Sounders 4-2 last Wednesday before heading to New York, where they tied Paris St. Germain 1-1 in the first soccer game played at the new Yankee Stadium (the old one has a long history of hosting footy, including being the home stadium for the New York Cosmos in 1971 and ’76).

After taking on the MLS side tomorrow night, the reigning European champions will head to Miami’s Sun Life Stadium for a scrimmage with AC Milan.

Prediction for that one: Plenty of heat and humidity.

See to it that Your DVRs Are in Working Order: Colossal Weekend Ahead

Major League Soccer kicks off its biggest weekend of the season to date with Friday’s “Soccer Night in America” on Fox Soccer Channel (10:30 EST).

The following night, ESPN2 (and Deportes) will carry the marquee New York vs Los Angeles matchup (11:00 EST), and on Sunday morning at 11:00, Fox Soccer will have the titanic Premier League clash between Manchester United and Chelsea, who are three points apart atop the table with three games to play.

There are also, of course, about 261 other interesting games—including a chance for Barcelona to clinch La Liga against Espanyol, a crucial relegation tilt for U.S. defender Jonathan Spector and West Ham, and a potential title clincher for AC Milan against Roma.

So don your agoraphobic sweater, shutter the blinds and stick some fresh batteries in the remote, it’s going to be a busy weekend.

Fox’s new “Soccer Night in America” telecast will feature a revamped set and state-of-the-art replay and graphics technology as it broadcasts Portland vs Philadelphia from the Rose City’s JELD-WEN Field.

Portland is unbeaten in three games at home this season—can Peter Nowak’s grind-it-out side, currently second in the East at 4-1-1, be the first team to get a result at JELD-WEN? We shall see, and appreciate once again the incredible atmosphere in Rip City.

Unlike last year’s two versions of the New York–Los Angeles matchup, tomorrow night’s meeting between MLS’s two biggest clubs will feature a record five designated players in the starting lineups.

Last season, an injured David Beckham missed the Aug 14 matchup (a 1-0 win for LA at Red Bull Arena) and Thierry Henry sat out the Sept 24 meeting (a 2-0 win for New York at the Home Depot Center).

Tomorrow night, both of those players are expected to start, along with New York’s Rafa Marquez and LA’s Landon Donovan and Juan Pablo Angel. (Angel, of course, played for the Red Bulls for four years before signing with Los Angeles, and is New York’s alltime leading scorer. It will be interesting to see him face his old team, which probably could have handled his exit more gracefully.)

Add the Red Bulls’ Dwayne De Rosario—one of the best attacking midfielders in league history—and young U.S. internationals Omar Gonzalez (LA), Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo (both NY), and you have a game that could really scratch your footy itch.

There is one potential absence, though, that could be huge—big enough, in fact, to tip the outcome of the game. New York holding midfielder Teemu Tainio—whom coach Hans Backe has said may be the best MLS signing of 2011—has been declared a “question mark” for the game. Tainio has become very important very quickly for New York, settling the team’s midfield and helping to impose its possession style on opponents.

The Finnish veteran of the Dutch first division and the Premier League left last week’s game against Kansas City at halftime with a groin injury, and did not train on Monday or Tuesday of this week. His replacement in the second half against Kansas City, Carl Robinson, was a parachute-drop of a step down.

We are on the record, repeatedly, regarding Robinson, the 34-year-old Welsh midfielder, and if he starts against LA, well, we highly recommend that you bet big on the Galaxy on Saturday night. Backe does have other options in that spot (Mehdi Ballouchy, Jan Gunnar Solli, even youngster Matt Kassel), so it’s not  a foregone conclusion that Robinson will get the nod.

As for the Man U–Chelsea affair, we have to go with the Red Devils. Alex Ferguson rested something like seven starters in the midweek Champions League game against Schalke (and still cruised to a 4-1 aggregate victory), and his first unit should be perfectly primed for this one. Our crystal ball is showing images of Ryan Giggs factoring in big.

On the other hand, a Chelsea win would certainly inject some interest into the remaining two games. After Chelsea, Man U plays at Blackburn then home to Blackpool, while Chelsea’s final two matches are against Newcastle and at Everton.

Give us your predictions in the comments, and enjoy the games.