(Note: This is a thank you to the first contributors to my Indiegogo Campaign toward my book on the U.S. Men’s National Team and its journey to the 2014 World Cup. Want to know more about that? Just click here.)

First, Some Background (If You’re Wondering, Say, What The Hex Is):

Since February, the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (which we’ll henceforth call the USMNT, or, at least, that’s what you can hashtag on Twitter to keep up to date there) has been involved in the last stage of World Cup qualifying involving the top six teams in CONCACAF, colloquially known as The Hex (as in hexagonal, since it involves six teams). Each team plays a home and away match against the other five teams – this year, it started in February and closes out next Tuesday.

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This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Mario Balotelli:
The world ended this weekend, by the way. After being perfect in penalty kicks for basically his entire career, he missed a penalty for AC Milan against suddenly-on-top-of-Serie-A Napoli. SAVED BY PEPE REINA.

In true Mario drop-the-mic fashion, he later scored a goal from open play — Milan’s only goal in the 2-1 loss — and then got a red card after the match for arguing with a ref. Boom goes the dynamite.

(Also, he angered teammate Stephen El-Shaarawy during team photos by playing with the El-Shaarawy tower of hair, because you would too.)

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Turkish Football Fans:
Turkish football fans are committed, that’s for sure. This past weekend, Besiktas and Galatasaray faced off in the year’s first Istanbul derby at Ataturk Stadium — built for an Olympics that Istanbul never got to host. With Galatasaray leading 2-1, the team’s new Brazilian signing, Felipe Melo, was red-carded for a two-footed challenge in injury time. Somehow, this set off a number of Besiktas fans, who stormed the field, taking plastic chairs inexplicably ringing the pitch, and used them as weapons. The game was abandoned, and the Turkish Football Federation is trying to determine what to do about the outcome.

Here’s how it looked:

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Fulham Fans:
After more than two years of one of the most inexplicable statue tributes in the EPL, the new regime at Fulham has officially taken down the Michael Jackson statue at Craven Cottage. According to the Guardian:

“The controversial Michael Jackson statue that has stood outside Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground for more than two years was removed on Wednesday morning.

The statue was erected behind the Hammersmith Stand in April 2011 at the request of the former owner and chairman Mohamed Al Fayed, who was close to Jackson. Some Fulham fans fiercely opposed the decision to erect the statue, but Fayed responded by telling them to “go to hell”.

Fayed sold the west London club to Shahid Khan in July and, after consulting with supporters, the American businessman decided to pull the 7ft 6in statue down.

On Wednesday morning four workmen cut the sculpture free from its plinth and returned it to Fayed. It is understood that the Egyptian millionaire has received offers for the statue and could sell it to raise money for charity.”

The statue was erected in honor of Jackson being Fayed’s guest for a Fulham match against Wigan in the late ’90s. Because nothing says “someone famous watched our team once” like this:

MJ at Fulham

The top 3 and bottom 3 teams in the MLS Eastern Conference are pretty much set but its a mess in the middle for the 4 teams struggling for the final 2 playoff spots.. Only 3 points seperate the 4th place team from the 7th place team. Here is why those teams will/won’t make it to the post season.

Houston Dynamo- Currently  in the 4th spot with 40 points, only 1 point separating them from the 5th and 6th place spots

Why They Will  Make the Playoffs- They’ve been doing great at home going into Saturday’s game with record of 8-3-3. Of the 6 games they have left, 4 of them are at home. The Dynamo also have the privilege of playing the last place teams in both conferences starting with a home match against the 6 win wonders, Chivas USA. They finish the season away against D.C. United, the worst team in all of MLS who they have outscored 6-0 in 2 matches.

Why They Won’t Make the Playoffs- Remember how I said they play so good at home? Well two of the teams that already beat them at home are coming back and they’re at the top of the conference. First up is Sporting Kansas City who are 1-0-1 against Houston, then conference leaders NY Red Bulls who stomped them 4-1 earlier this month. Throw in another home match against second place Montreal who are leading the series with a 7-0 goal differential and 3 out of those 4 home games don’t look so good.

In addition to ending the regular season, Houston also has 3 games in the Champions League tournament. Going on a 9 game stretch in a little over a month is tough any time but at the end of the season it could make for some extreme burnout.

Chicago Fire- Currently in the 5th spot with 39 points and 6 games left.

Why They Will Make the Playoffs- The Fire shouldn’t even be in this conversation but with 6 games left, 3 of them are against the bottom 3 in their conference: Columbus, Toronto, and D.C. The Fire have a combined record of 5-0-1 against those poor bastards. Mike Magee seems to be getting back into form and “The Ecuadorian Enforcer” Juan Luis Anagono has become a constant scoring threat.

Why They Won’t Make the Playoffs- While Houston gets to play the scrubs of the Western Division, the Fire are stuck playing away against F.C. Dallas. Dallas is not the best team in their conference but they’ll be trying to snag the last playoff spot and desperate teams have a way of biting the Fire in the taint. Also, the Fire get to close the season in NY who will be looking for retribution for the 3-1 loss against the Fire back in April.  And let’s not forget Sean Johnson. Rumors were going around for the past couple years about the Fire goalie graduating from MLS and moving over to Europe but dumb plays have left him in MLS. He’s seems either brilliant (as evidenced in the U.S. win against Costa Rica) or clueless (as evidenced on the looping Rowe goal in the Fire’s game last week against New England).

Philadelphia Union- Currently in 6th with 39 points and only 5 games left

Why They Will Make the Playoffs- They won’t. They only have 5 games left. 2 of those games are against Kansas City, and 1 of those is against Montreal. Unless Chicago or Houston shit the bed (entirely possible) they’ll be searching obscure cable networks to watch the playoffs.

New England Revolution-  Currently in 6th place with 37 points and 6 games left.

Why They Will Make The Playoffs- Also with 6 games left and 2 of those are against Columbus to finish the season. They also get a game against the lowly D.C. United. An away game at New York can be tough but after dropping the series opener, they’ve come back to take a draw and a 4-2 win from the Red Bulls.

Why They Won’t Make The Playoffs- Most teams would rejoice at seeing D.C. United as one of their remaining games. The Revolution however, have had some problems. The series is 1-1-1 but New England will be in a 3 point situation against a team who has their number as best as a last place team can have. Then there’s Houston who will be in full on desperation mode and Montreal who defeated them 4-2 earlier this month. Plus Kelyn Rowe is a douche.

I need to write this entry immediately, as Liverpool may not last at the top of the table for much longer.  However, four matches into the season, the Reds are indeed number one with a bullet.  Phil covered a bit of this in the last entry on this site, but now I dare to dream and say that the merseysiders are not a fluke.  Not to say that they’ll win their first title since Home Alone was released, but they just might finish in the top four for the first time in four seasons.  The schedule brings favorable league matches against Southampton, Sunderland, and the mystical Crystal Palace next, so there’s reason to believe that full points are theirs for the taking for the next month.

The quick start can be attributed to Chelsea, Man U and Man City all adjusting to new coaches/special ones.  That coupled with Tottenham fielding a new Bale-less team and Arsenal starting the season without a sexy German passing machine, opened the door for Brendan Rodgers to steady the club through a few tricky fixtures.  It seems that Rodgers has instituted his style with his kind of players to the tune of 10 points out of a possible 12.  With Luis Suarez due to return in a week, optimism is afoot.  That is, until it suddenly isn’t.  Philippe Coutinho, who stirs the Liverpool drink, picked up a shoulder injury that should keep him out for 6 weeks.  Vice-Captain Daniel Agger picked up an injury in the gym? while preventing a dumb-bell from falling on his foot.  (Note: The dumb-bell was not Nemanja Vidic.)  They are without right-back Glen Johnson for a couple more weeks and sleek new left-back Aly Cissokho is also out for a spell.  These loses will test the depth Liverpool has added in the transfer window.  I feel that if they are still able to take maximum points from the next games, ‘Pool will have confidence that they have the interchangeable parts needed to sustain a top four assault.  From there, Rodgers will win his first of 14 titles and statue sketches will be commissioned.

I predict that the Reds will win these matches and continue to hover between third and forth throughout the season.  I base this on something intangible that many Liverpool fans felt during the first match of the season.  With Liverpool up a goal against Stoke, new keeper Simon Mignolet stopped a penalty kick to preserve the win.  A pk save is big, but this one was especially huge.  In the past few seasons, Liverpool have dominated possession, wasted opportunities and held a lead late, only to see it yanked away from a set piece or mental lapse.  THIS was THAT mental lapse.  It felt so familiar.  So when the big Belgian stopped the spot kick and follow-up shot, a certain vibe was created.  The subsequent celebration proved as much.

Hey, hey hey. There’s enough Mignolet to go around, fellas.

I’ve felt this buzz in every match since.  Each fixture has had moments when past ‘Pool teams would have faltered and dropped points, their heads, and in Craig Bellamy’s case, their pants.  Liverpool have finally started a season with a bang and there is new belief that is turning into reality.  I will probably delete this post in three weeks, as they are now doomed to prove me wrong.  But for the meantime, my heart says that something special is coming my way to the tune of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.

Four games into the EPL season, and Liverpool — Liverpool! — is at the top of the table, and they’re the only Prem side to have not lost a game yet this campaign. However, in yesterday’s match with Swansea, they drew 2-2 as Swansea midfielder Jonjo Shelvey (with Liverpool last year) scored in the second minute and then improbably assisted on the match’s other three goals — setting up his actual teammate Michu to tie in the match’s last half hour, but gifting goals to Daniel Sturridge and Victor Moses inbetween moments of actually doing good things for his team. It’s confusing against those former teammates, amirite? Sometimes, instincts just kick in.

Arsenal dispatched Sunderland 3-1 on Saturday with a little help from referee Martin Atkinson, who called a foul on Bacary Sagna rather than award advantage to sparring partner and American Jozy Altidore, whose shot slowly rolled into goal (as revealed by goalline technology and anyone with a functioning pair of eyes). Mesut Ozil (imagine I typed the umlaut just there) took only 11 minutes to provide his first assist, feeding Handsome Olivier Giroud, who all of a sudden, looks elite. Aaron Ramsey scored the match’s final two goals in a ten-minute span in the second half; it’s going to be a frightening year for celebrities.

Arsenal fans, as we do, turned the joy over Ozil’s debut into derisive comments about rival Spurs, saying that it took Ozil 11 minutes to do what Spurs hadn’t done all season — record an assist. No sooner that was said than Spurs scored its first goal from open play this season — on a ball that pinged around the box, hitting every new Spurs acquisition before Sigurdsson slotted his first of two goals on the afternoon. Spurs went on to beat Norwich 2-0, staying level with Arsenal in the standings. If the season ended today, Arsenal and Spurs would both go to the Champions League.

Other results including EPL heavies: Man City could only manage a 0-0 draw against 0-0-draw-gettin’ Stoke City, Chelsea suffered its first loss of the season to Everton on a ridiculous Naismith header, United beat Crystal Palace 2-0, and Newcastle (weirdly in 8th place) dispatched Villa (weirdly in 16th place) 2-1.

Palace, West Brom, and Sunderland are your current relegation teams, and don’t look now, but Blackpool and QPR are poised for promotion with the current nPower Championship League standings.

- Phil West, who still doesn’t get how Newcastle’s in 8th place

On one hand, this two-week period known as the Interlull is awesome — focus shifts from club teams to national teams, more of the top Euro and Western Hemisphere teams inch closer to qualification, and having a USMNT away game allows us to get acquainted with the BeIn Sports coverage team, which is the network most likely to have a “Boom Goes the Dynamite” moment.

But it’s hard to leave the awesome capitalist frenzy of the transfer window closing — the period in which all fake stories and rumors give way to what’s actually real — and enter a brief respite from noise and news.

Here are some things happening now (along with transfer window wrap-ups you want to make sure you’re caught up):

Qatar Is Hot: FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted that Qatar is hot, and that maybe they shouldn’t have accepted a bid from a nation that gets up to 50 degrees (122 for Americans) in the summer for a summer tournament. Also, Qatar and Russia (the 2018 hosts) also happen to have atrocious anti-gay policies, which makes this a whole other level of bad idea. But Blatter seems like he’s going to be able to move the tournament to the winter months — either that, or they’ll just have to give the teams water breaks every fifteen minutes, or games will become an endurance match in which teams will play in ice vests.

Secret Agents for United?: The Ander Herrera story was weird on the transfer window’s last day, and it’s getting even weirder. The story that slipped out on the last day of the window that the three lawyers claiming to work on United’s behalf in dealing with Atletico Bilboa were actually imposters — yet there are more recent reports that the lawyers are reputable Spanish sports lawyers who were actually working with United. Then, also, they didn’t land Fabio Coentrao from Real Madrid due to allegedly getting the paperwork in late, and Fabio’s done the post-almost-transfer thing by reassuring Real fans, “I’m already at the best club in the world.” On the bright side, they did get Fellaini.

Marica!: After signing Mesut Özil and certainly changing the fortunes of Arsenal to the good forever, the newly-ballin’ team is looking to shore up its striker core with Ciprian Marica, a Romanian international who was released by Schalke, meaning he can be picked up now without transfer fee drama, which is just how Arsenal likes it. I look forward to all the awesome chants that can be made with Marica.

Wind Beneath My Odemwingie: Also, in case you missed it, Peter Odemwingie finally escaped West Brom, for Cardiff City, with not as much deadline-day hilarity as he managed in January when he drove to QPR headquarters on a mission to get signed to a relegation-bound, Redknapp-managed team who wasn’t sure what was going on. (Again: relegation-bound, Redknapp-managed.)

-Phil West, who wonders why Qatar just can’t spring for retractable roofs and boatloads of AC

The greatest head of hair in Spurs history is gone. In what was the most drawn-out/least surprising trade of the window, Gareth Bale and his well-coiffed mane are off to Real Madrid. His 21 goals led the Spurs. By a lot. That’s a lot of goals. So how does one fill that man’s shoes? With a millions and millions of dollars and tons of dudes!

Before the check for Bale was written, the Spurs went ahead and spent a record amount of cash for Paulinho and then broke that record when they signed Roberto Soldado less than a month later. Pile on Christian Ericksen, Erik Lamela, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue, and Vlad “The Impaler” Chiriches and you’ve got a ton of new talent. None of them can measure up individually to Bale’s talent but one man does not make a team as evidenced by last season’s 5th place finish. Also, none of these guys do the emo heart thing like a 13-year-old at a Fall Out Boy concert after they score. This new crop will be rad eventually. Eventually.

Soldado has already scored 100% of the Tottenham goals! Okay, it’s only 2 goals. Okay, okay, they were penalty shots. But still, he’s having an immediate impact and even though they’re neck-deep in the feeling out process, they’ve got 6 points in 3 games. They looked good in the loss to Arsenal and Villas-Boas has an off week to get his shit together.

The Spurs were smart enough to get as much money as possible for Bale and to trade him out of the league where he and Ronaldo can swap styling tips and clog the locker room drains with copious amounts of pomade. Unfortunately, they traded him out of the league to a team that already had an excellent player in Bale’s position. Ozil and his crazy eyes are coming to Arsenal and that’s pretty much the best snag for a Premier League team.

Those lousy fuckers.

- Tim Stafford

A year ago, this Liverpool fanatic was up in arms that the Reds “missed out” on Clint Dempsey.  It wasn’t exactly Dempsey I was pining for, it was any striker who could ply some considerable attacking trade alongside Luis Suarez. Brenden Rodgers has promised at least one or two attacking players to be on the way in when Andy Carroll was loaned out, and ownership failed to fulfill their new manager’s promise. It was enraging. To say Rodgers had his hands tied was an understatement. He was full on The Gimp in Pulp Fiction. Sure enough, ‘Pool got off to a slow start, lacked depth in attack…

Owner John Henry to Rodgers: Eeny, meeny, miney, mo.

In comparison, this transfer window was a smashing success. Liverpool added plenty of depth, admitting that an actual second left-back is a thing.  They made shrewd moves in Kolo Toure and Simon Mignolet. In Victor Moses, they loaned in a wide player over the age of 19! Soul-sucking wages were cut. In the final day, they went from having thin, out-of-favor central defenders, to a surplus of experience and talented youth.

I do say “in comparison” though, because there were major low points.  We were promised a “Marquee Signing.” Fans were told that a bit of class was to be added to the front of the attack.  The Merseysiders lost out on Henrik Mkrtchyan, who has dazzled with Dortmund so far.  On the plus side, I won’t have to spell his name again.  Diego Costa said, “No thanks. New contract at Atletico?  Cha-ching!”. Willian did “The Willian”. Juan Mata was courted late. So a marquee, big splash never materialized.  And then there’s the biting, Uruguayan elephant in the room, who is none to happy with his situation and is known for keeping his cool when he’s rattled.

The end result of the transfer window is that Liverpool beat Man. U, so to hell with transfer analysis. I can ride Sunday’s result straight through the International break and not worried at all until Daniel Sturridge cracks his ankle in half while Suarez does an Amanda Bynes impression against Sunderland.

With love from the frontline,

Joelseppi

So, Deadline Day tomorrow, on what has been the most teeth-gnashingest, hand-wringingest, f-bombingest transfer windows to date for the Arsenal faithful. There was a month of our lives we’ll never get back where we were in for Suarez, in which Liverpool somehow found that a £40 million plus £1 bid to be trolling them (which, in all honesty, it probably was).

There were confirmed bids for Higuain (who went to Napoli when Real Madrid realized they had a striker in a market where strikers were going for nearly twice their valuation in any other year), Lars Bender (who Bayer Leverkusen couldn’t lose when they sold Schurrle to Chelsea as part of Chelsea’s quest to amass enough midfielders to play a 1-8-1), Luis Gustavo (who opted for Wolfsburg instead, which means that he values first-team football over nightlife and culture), and Clement Grenier (who apparently will stay at Lyon even though they won’t get Champions League football because they were paired against Real Sociedad in qualifiers and were victims of completely insane goals worth watching again and again).

There were also rumored bids or some level of interest for Bernard (or, as a contributor to The Short Fuse called him, “Nard Dog,”), Julio Cesar, Ashley Williams, Michu, Wayne Rooney, Erik Lamela, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Etienne Capoue, and assorted other players who either publicly pledged to their current teams or were woefully underbid for, causing embarrassment to everyone involved. Arsenal fans pined for a goalie to push Szcz, a real CDM, a “world-class” striker (before realizing that they might actually have this with Giroud), and depth for injuries (which of course hit the team right away, badly, dramatically).

But there’s hope that this transfer window will bring more than Yaya Sanogo (a 20-year-old French striker in on a free from Auxerre, which is basically like an Onion story about Arsene Wenger’s transfer policies come to life) and Mathieu Flamini (also in on a free, coming back to Arsenal for a second go-around). Mesut Özil, one of the best playmakers in the world, is rumored to be coming to Arsenal days after pledging his allegience to Real Madrid (but then being benched as Real prepared for Gareth Bale’s we’re-not-overpaying-him-at-all arrival), and there are other enticing possibilities in the last day of the window that — if they come to fruition — will be so awesome that Arsene’s “Baby, please, just one more chance” plea with Arsenal fans will be heard and met with metaphorical (we’ll assume) affection.

Given that this is happening on the same day that Arsenal beat its hated rivals 1-0 in the season’s first North London Derby, in a game where Olivier Giroud scored his third EPL goal of the season (giving him a goal a game), in a game where Kyle Walker’s assclown finishing ensured that Arsenal would get the three points, in a game where Spurs saw its open-field goal drought expand to three games, on the day that it was revealed that Heart-Hands was indeed moving from White Hart Lane to the Bernabau (though Real officials had to dismantle the stage they were building to welcome Heart-Hands to Spain) . . . it’s a cross between Christmas and the day your ex breaks up with the (expletive of your choice) s/he left you for.

Because it’s the transfer window, and it’s Arsenal, things could go horribly, horribly wrong in the last day, but given that we’re liking this to Santa coming, no one would dare shoot Santa with a harpoon, would they? 

- Phil West, who still wants a CDM in his stocking

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