Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hanging with Chad: Ochocinco gets MLS tryout

The threat of a looming NFL lockout is apparently of little concern to crazy Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocino. He’s making plans to give up the gridiron and play proper football instead. Number 85, a noted soccer fan who played the game in his youth, has signed on for a four-day trial with Sporting Kansas City. Hachi Go will hit the pitch next Tuesday, hoping to fulfill what he calls “a childhood dream.”

If you follow Chad on Twitter, you’ll know already that he’s a serious footy fan: he travelled to Europe to meet top players and attend both matches and training. But trying to win a spot with Sporting KC, and not a top team across the pond, means Ochocinco is falling short of the plan he proposed for his footy career a couple of years back, when he mused about a stint in Serie A.

At The Rails would like to wish Johnson/Ochocinco the best of luck with his trial. Rejects from the EPL aren’t likely to put bums in the seats, but if Chad hangs in KC, he might bring more attention to the middling league than David Beckham ever could.

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Filed under Major League Soccer, MLS

Hammer Time?

Ba Humbug for West Ham's opposition...

It doesn’t happen very often.  But sometimes, I get it wrong.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re saying to your computer screen, “That’s not true, Brent.  You’re being modest.  Give your head a shake and have a beer on me…”

Alas, faithful readers, I have erred. It turns out that I am not the reliable prognasticator I once thought I was.  And it’s all thanks to a certain Israeli manager who manages a certain East London club.

I had predicted in early December that Avram Grant would be fired by Christmas.  West Ham were at the bottom of the table and were up against the wall.  I said how the holiday swing was going to kill the team — and the career of the gaffer.  Indeed, through December and the first half of January, with the Hammers going 2-3-3, it seemed like curtains for both Grant and the club’s Premier League hopes.

But then a couple of cup runs seemed to give the Irons a spark.  They won their 3rd round FA Cup tie against Burnley 2-0.  Then three days later, they beat fellow Premier League strugglers Birmingham in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final.  Since then, they have gone 5-2-3 in all competitions.

It could be that Avram Grant finally has a team that is “too good to go down”.   The team has scored thirteen goals in their last four games.  It’s likely no coincidence that this spurt is due to the arrival of striker Demba Ba (you don’t say his name, so much as let it spill out of your mouth) from TSG Hoffenheim in February.  In the five games he has played, both Ba and strike partner Carlton Cole have each scored four goals.

Parker does his Christian Bale impression...

But the keystone of West Ham’s mini-turnaround has to be Scott Parker.  The midfielder and captain has been bossing the centre of the park, marshalling his teammates both physically and mentally as they have clawed their way out of the relegation zone… at least for the time being.  Many of his teammates — as well as English pundits — say Parker should be named Player of the Year for his pluck in the face of West Ham’s dreadful first half of the season results.

I’m not going to say that they won’t go down.  West Ham are only just above Brum in the relegation zone… and the Blues still have two games in hand.  The Hammers still have to face Spurs, Chelsea and Man City away, as well as play first-place Manchester United at home. Plus, they still have to continue their FA Cup run, facing sinking Stoke again for the second time in a week.

With the Boleyn Ground averaging about 33-thousand fans a season — and the brand spanking new Olympic stadium waiting to be taken over — West Ham is a biggish club that thinks it has a brighter future.  I’d tell you where that future lies… but I’m afraid of being wrong again.  That would be just scary…

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under Carling Cup, FA Cup, Premier League

Fergie’s Fantasy: Crunch Time

Little Leighton feels comfortable at home....

Toffees and the Carling Cup Champs
We are heading into the home stretch and while I never, ever, recommend spending transfer money (maybe if you can’t field a starting 11 but even then it may not be worth spending four points), you have to start maximizing your weekly returns.  If you are watching the fixture list like a hawk, as you should be, then you have a spotted an opportunity.  Everton and Birmingham City both play twice this week so you should spend at least your free weekly transfer on a player from one of these teams.

Everton
Coming off a clean sheet last week, Everton’s defenders — as well as keeper Tim Howard — are pretty good bets. The Toffees are away to Newcastle and then home to Birmingham City.  Two of the top three fantasy performers on Everton are on the back line: Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman.  Baines gets lots of offensive points by being the primary corner and free-kick taker, along with making some decent runs down the left side.  He’s pricey but worth it.

More affordable and a bit of a fantasy rule-breaking grey area is Seamus Coleman. That’s because while he is listed in the game as a defender, he’s playing as a midfielder.  This means when he scores or gets a clean sheet, your team will be credited with more points than you normally would if he was listed correctly.

Saha may light up the league this week... if he can avoid the knock...

Up front, Everton also have a couple of in -orm strikers in Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford. Beckford notched two goals last game to give him three in his last three games.  Saha came up empty but he is always deadly as he showed in his four-goal performance a few weeks ago.

The latest injury reports have the great Aussie midfielder Tim Cahill out for three weeks so avoid him, along with the giant afro-sporting Marouane Fellaini, who is out for the season.

Birmingham
The Carling Cup winners have likely just peaked on the year, but they do have some players worth considering.  This week, they are home to West Brom and away to Everton.  Their top player this season has been goalkeeper Ben Foster who would be a solid pick this week as well.

Johnson points out how he's a solid choice.

The most in-form player on the team has to be Nikola Zigic who has three goals in his last four Premier League games, including one in the Carling Cup final.  He’s also quite affordable.  Same for Barry Ferguson who is having a solid season, but he’s a better long term investment then someone who will score big points in one week. New signing David Bentley has also impressed, though I’d like to see how consistent he is before grabbing him for my squad.

Finally, if you need a defender, Roger Johnson is a solid choice at the back.  He won’t provide a lot of offence but he and Foster have a good chance of getting clean sheets against West Brom.

Scott Ferguson

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Filed under Fantasy Football, Premier League

Patience is a Winter virtue

Rodin's 'Thinker' has nothing on our gaffer.

A rather prominent member of the U-Sector, with close ties to the hierarchy of Toronto FC, told me before the MLS Cup Final last year that a tide was turning at the club, and that those moaning in the various other supporter clubs were acting like spoiled children. I agreed with him on the latter viewpoint: we certainly have a boisterous, opinionated set of fans.

But it was the second point I couldn’t agree with. Only the Sunday before I had watched Columbus’ ‘keeper equalize in the dying minutes as the woeful TFC defence played musical statues. Add that to the recent fan protests that made continental news and the tide-turning seemed little more than evaporation.

That was until I took a few days off and watched various pre-season games in Turkey and at Disneyland (that still makes me cringe). Gone was the apparent feeling of cluelessness, and in came a new, improved vigour, confidence and free-flowing football. If the much-publicized Dutch style Mr. Winter has been adding has shown us one thing, it’s this: we have players who will run with the damn ball.

Last year, even on the hottest of summer days, the ball spent so much time in the air it had snow on it. It was frustrating, demoralizing football that drained the crowd and added to their venting. As of late, the ball rarely goes above knee-height, like you were always taught as a kid, and players are encouraged to express themselves and look for the short, snappy pass.

Fancy, perhaps. The right way, arguably yes. It doesn’t come overnight though, in fact maybe not even this season, but it will. The younger players I saw on the pre-season tour are the best I’ve seen in TFC colours, way better than last season’s crop.

So instead of supporter groups showing disharmony and painting a picture of doom and gloom, they need to realize that football teams don’t change overnight, and given time, this really is a team that will grow to be Canada’s finest.

Sam Saunders

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Sing when you’re… well, just sing.

That's right, lads. Put on a brave face...

Derby fans are a bit special, you have to admit it. I know a couple of kids from the East Midlands who might not agree, but the Derby supporters stick with their team through thick and thin. Lately though, it’s been as thin as gruel.

County’s 1-0 victory over Sheffield United on Saturday was its first in 10 matches. That includes their humiliating away defeat to non-league Crawley Town in the FA Cup. But even gaffer Nigel Clough admitted that it was not an inspiring perfomance for the 2,300 fans who made the trip to Yorkshire. Cloughie told a post-game press conference that it was the worst passing he had seen from his team all year.

What’s worse is that the Rams have not won at home since their  3-0 victory over lowly Scunthorpe United on November 20th… the last of six straight victories at Pride Park. 

It’s a bitter pill to swallow for fans who pack the place week in, week out.  Derby averages just over 26,000 fans per game, good enough for 2nd in the Championship… and better than about 40 percent of clubs in the Premier League.  Remember too that these fans were voted the best in English football after an infamous season, when the Rams were relegated with the worst-ever record in the Premier League: just one win and only 11 points.

What has two thumbs and got the hell out of Derby? This guy...

The Rams’ main problem seems to be finding the back of the net, having failed to score in six of their last 10 games.  Perhaps they are rueing the sale of local hero Kris Commons to Celtic last month.  But they boast a solid backline of John Brayford, vice-captain Shaun Barker, Liverpool import Daniel Ayala, and even central midfielder-cum-emergency right-back Paul Green.

Derby County are in that nebulous area of the Championship table, where they are probably safely above the relegation zone — unless their string of bad runs continues.  Their goal difference suggests they are a mid-table team that could go either way. 

That makes Derby not so different from Ipswich, Portsmouth, Coventry City, Bristol City or Barnsley.  It’s great if you are a die-hard supporter of one of these clubs, but really, where’s the fun in it?

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under Championship, Uncategorized