The English Premier League got off to a good start when Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney got goals either side of halftime, John O’Shea and Roy Keane punching through from back of midfield and with Everton never really troubling new keeper Edwin van der Sar. I think the problem is obvious, the Toffees need more double vowel players! Their only boy, James Beattie, went off injured at 20 minutes.
My Reds, while bettering last season’s loss on the Teeside grass, couldn’t take advantage after Middlesboro defender Ugo Ehiogu took a red card bringing Gerrard down just outside the box (though surely saving a goal for his booking) despite pounding Mark Schwarzer for the remaining 20 minutes. Stevie was bitterly unlucky as he was probably within 12 inches of scoring at least three times.
On the plus side Liverpool did the job in midweek winning the away leg of their third round Champions League matchup with CSKA Sofia on the back of goals from Djibrill Cisse and Fernando Morientes. Neither were big impact players last season, the first for each with the team, due to injury and orientation difficulties respectively but must step up this term.
Milan Baros seems destined to take his deception and attitude elsewhere and unless prodigal son Michael Owen makes an unlikely (and I think unnecessary) return Cisse and Morientes will be required to score to make Rafa Benitez’s lone striker formation for road games. I don’t see Peter Crouch, tall and expensive as he is, playing that role even if he can stay healthy for long stretches; at best he will be the late pair of fresh legs with the occasional start at Anfield.
The two games reminded me clearly of the difference between a topflight league like the Premiership and Major League Soccer. I got a hint a couple of weeks ago watching the Chelsea-DC United friendly. The claim that American clubs don’t play with the same speed and power is absolutely true. Of course today’s four teams all finished in the top six last season but I have little doubt that if the three newly promoted sides came and played a half dozen meaningful games each against MLS clubs the record would be no worse than 15 wins and three draws. Maybe one loss in a lucky, close match.
In any case, I’m still thrilled to see the Earthquakes quietly sneak into first place in the West and overall with a 7-1-1 run. Doesn’t hurt that Dallas and the Galaxy have fallen flat though seeing Ricardo Clark named player of the month for July is really quite a shock. Since most of these matches haven’t been televised and I haven’t had the patience to watch on the PC, I must have missed an amazing transformation. If the Quakes can keep going through October, a Brian Ching return could see us with a very good opportunity to take a third (and last?) league trophy.
Next big match on my schedule is Wednesday’s US World Cup Qualifier with Trinidad & Tobago coming to Hartford, CT, for the first game of the second half of the final round. A win won’t clinch a berth in Germany but with group leader Mexico hosting third place Costa Rica three points will end the question for all practical purposes. Should both squads win this week the next WCQ, with the Mexicans coming to Columbus in early September, could easily determine the final rankings.
This has got to be my favorite time of the sports year, MLS moving into high gear, EPL starting fresh and the US Men working hard for a good seeding at World Cup 2006.