Monthly Archives: April 2011

Salt Lake shake things up

At The Rails’ own Ian Harrison weighs in on the success of MLS side Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions League. Make sure to check out his weekly column, Egos & Icons, for Toro Magazine.  He knows stuff.  Stuff about sports. When you read his column, you will too.

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under CONCACAF, Major League Soccer, MLS

The Best of Times, The Blurst of Times

Do Wolves have any legs left?

Call it the Year of the Keystone Kops… a season where clubs have been stumbling over each other to fail.   So forget about Manchester United’s mediocre march to the title (and don’t tell me they’re up for the double by winning Big Ears.  If Schalke doesn’t surprise them, Real or Barca will certainly dispatch them with maximum efficiency).  Forget about Arsenal finding new and novel ways to self-destruct, sending Arsene Wenger further along the road to Nutterville. Chelsea are old.  Man Citeh’s millions couldn’t buy a team.  ‘Arry’s mighty offence petered out.  Liverpool were already falling down the hill.  And as usual, David Moyes’ Everton started too late to matter.

So with the exception of the FA Cup final — whose implications for Europe require an engineering degree to calculate — I’m watching the relegation battle that potentially involves half the league.

Two points separate seven teams: Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Brom, Fulham, Stoke City, Sunderland and Birmingham.  All sit relatively safe.  Next are Blackburn and Wigan in the two spots above the relegation zone that currently contains Blackpool, West Ham and Wolves.  Newcastle and Villa (at 10th and 11th, respectively) have reached the so-called magic number of 40 points.  For the others, the next 5-6 games are critical.

Wide-eyed Woy widing high at WBA

I’m going to go out on a limb and say West Bromwich Albion are safe.  Saturday’s loss to Chelsea was their first under Roy Hodgson, and no club has scored more since his reign began. 

Hodgson’s legacy of going for the draw seems to be lingering at Fulham under Mark Hughes.  The Cottagers’ next two games are at bottom Wolves before they host Bolton, who are woeful on the road.  They should hit the 40-point mark no problem.

Stoke City and Birmingham are the Premier League’s little European embarrassments.  Birmingham is already in the Europa League, via their Carling Cup win… but whether Stoke qualifies is still up in the air.  If they win the FA Cup final, they are in.  If they lose but Citeh qualifies for the Champions League, they are in.  Otherwise the spot goes to the sixth-placed team… I think… carry the one…

Either way, both have not been playing well as of late, with each team only winning two games in their last eight.   The bad news for Stoke is that they must face three other relegation battlers — Blackpool, Wolves and Wigan — plus Arsenal and the aforementioned Citeh.  Birmingham must also face teams fighting for a spot in Europe.  I think they will both stay up… only because there are teams playing worse.  But if they drop, it means two of England’s three Europa clubs won’t be playing in the top-flight at home.

That leaves six teams fighting it out for three spots above the drop.  Wolverhampton Wanderers are 20th, but they will leapfrog Wigan into 17th if they win that game in hand against Stoke.  Many pundits say Wolves are too good to go down… and they took some serious scalps this season.  But despite their recent form, every single one of their remaining games is against a struggling club.  It could be tough going for Mick McCarthy’s men.

Bruce wonders where it went wrong

At the beginning of the season, I picked Wigan Athletic to drop, partly because they barely missed it last year… but mostly because I was irritated that such a small, unsupported club was taking up a Premier League spot.  They also have to play several games against strugglers… as well as a surging Everton.

West Ham United sit 19th.  I thought with the addition of Demba Ba, they might have a fighting shot at making it out alive.  But they remain ensconced in the drop zone due to their inability to go for the jugular.

It’s the three remaining clubs that have the most to worry about.  Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool and Sunderland have been dropping like stones.  Blackburn have performed poorly since the departure of Big Sam Allardyce.  Blackpool and Sunderland seem to be on opposite sides of a mirror.  The Black Cats haven’t been the same since they lost their best player in Darren Bent; the Tangerines have suffered without cashing in on Charlie Adam.  Out of the three clubs, only Blackpool has won a game since the end of January.

In such a topsy-turvy season, I still think we are in for some surprises on the final day of the season… on both ends of the table.  It’s either the best season in years… or English football is at it’s most mediocre.

By the way, here are my picks for the drop: Wigan, Blackpool, West Ham.

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under Carling Cup, FA Cup, Premier League

Lambs to the Slaughter

Preston fans watch Saturday's match against Portsmouth...

If football is religion, then it is a faith — like so many faiths — that loves its miracles.  For those who want to believe, even the smallest scrap of conjecture can turn into hard evidence, like being born again after seeing Jesus in a tortilla.  So you can forgive me if I got a little over-excited about Preston North End’s recent run.

After an extended run of bad results left them at the foot of the Championship table for most of the season, their new-found winning ways had a whiff of near-impossible.  They beat struggling Coventry City and Scunthorpe United, and then put a dent in Swansea City’s promotion hopes.  Was it the sign that Lilywhite fans were hoping for?  Could they overcome a massive deficit and pull themselves out of the relegation zone?  Might they find redemption that would wash away the sins of this season?

Old Nick, er, Phil...

Sadly, the answer looks a likely “No”.   A 2-1 loss to Reading, followed by a draw to Portsmouth has them seven points from safety with only six games left.  If you take Lanthier’s Law (sort of like Coughlin’s Law, only without Elisabeth Shue and the cool boat) that any club seven points or more above the relegation zone is safe, the only team that PNE could hope to catch is Crystal Palace.   But the Lancashire side is not known for having divine intervention on their side. 

Preston is not a clutch club.   They’ve made the promotion playoffs four times in the last ten seasons, but each time they have been denied entry. They remain in second-tier Purgatory… and now they may pay for their transgressions by being cast down into the depths below.  Yet still, Preston fans seek salvation, looking for someone to answer their prayers.

Brent P. Lanthier

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Craven image at the Cottage

Sorry, Fulham fans. Apparently the history of your football club is so thin and weak that there’s no one from your inglorious past to immortalize with a statue outside your West London stadium. But it gets worse: your wacky owner feels the need to fill that empty space with a (simply dreadful) statue of deceased drug addict  and child-molesting pop star Michael Jackson, who attended one (yes, one) FFC match back in 1999. And there’s more. At this weekend’s unveiling, when footy fans and even art critics got their backs up about this nonsense, that same crazy conspiracy theorist, better known as Mohamed Al Fayed, called you all “stupid” for questioning his choice of Craven Cottage imagery, and tells you to “go to hell.” If distressed Fulham supporters decide to take Al Fayed up on that offer, at least they won’t have far to go: Chelski’s ground is less than a mile down the road.

Ian Harrison

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Dumbfounded by DeRo’s departure

What if your favourite team just doesn’t want to win?  This is what I ask myself as Toronto FC reveals that it has traded Dwayne DeRosario to the New York Red Bulls.

First let’s look a little closer at the man known as “DeRo” and the reasons I hate this trade.

1) DeRo is the best Canadian player in MLS.  This is really not a debatable point, it’s a fact.   Oh and TFC, you have a quota of Canadian players.  You need three.  You will have three worse than DeRo.

2) Not only is he Canadian, he’s a hometown boy from Scarborough!  A great example for budding local soccer stars that they should stick with it.

3) He already has one goal this year out of the four that TFC have scored.  By the way, he had 15 goals last year and TFC scored 33.  Let me repeat, he had 15 of his team’s 33 goals.  And who knows how many of the other goals he set up.  In 57 total games for Toronto, he had 27 goals.

4) Next, I know he wanted a raise, but how could anyone blame him when he scored nearly half of the team’s goals and got paid $443,750.  Julian de Guzman, his far less valuable teammate, made $1.7 million.

5) I own a DeRo T-shirt.

So yeah, he publicly embarrassed the team a couple times with his cheque signing ceremony and taking off to train with Celtic.  But Earth to TFC… you should have paid him more in the first place. Who else on your team would be invited to train with Celtic!?!?!?!?!?! His contribution in his short time easily equals that of Danny Dichio and Jim Brennan, so I guess his jersey is going on the Hall of Fame wall? I won’t hold my breath.

Does anyone remember when we traded Edson Buddle to L.A. for Tyrone Marshall?  Buddle went on to score roughly 20 goals the following season.  I forget where Marshall is now.  Or trading Carl Robinson, another fan favourite, because we got de Guzman?  I really don’t see a huge difference in the two aside from Julian being younger.  And Robinson had a couple of sweet goals to his name during his time with TFC.  While I go over the recent calamities, why was Toronto the only place where Jeff Cunningham couldn’t score?   And why did we trade Marvell Wynne?  He’s only on the U.S. national team… but I guess Nick LaBrocca is better.  Oh wait, we traded Nick LaBrocca.

TFC, you are killing me.  Aron Winter: you are making me miss Mo Johnston.  I look forward to DeRo and Robinson lifting the MLS Cup for the New York Red Bulls this November.  Oh, and by the way, DeRo has won the MLS Cup four times.  TFC has never made the playoffs.  Gee, I can’t figure out why trading all the good players isn’t working for them…

Angry diatribe by fantasy guru Scott Ferguson, who also still misses Jim Brennan

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