Yep, the NFL season is as good as over to me, after the Colts took a heartbreaker of a game from the Patriots. True, the Pats' dominance over the horseshoes can't possibly last forever, but I still have too many memories of Manning throwing his coverage under the proverbial bus after a tough loss and complaining to the refs after each play that didn't go the way he wanted it to.
Regardless, for me, it's on to bigger and better things, namely the return of the UEFA Champions' League elimination round on ESPN2 and ESPN classic. There are a lot of English clubs poised to make big strides in the tournament this year: Arsenal is playing great football right now, Chelsea is full of weapons, and those weapons (read: Schevchenko and Ballack) are starting to click and contribute, and ManU is a threat.
You can't count out Barcelona, last year's champion. Once Samuel Eto'o is back and in game shape, if Barca is still in the mix, they could be seeing a repeat of last year. The Italian clubs are strong: Internazionale has bought new players, and could be a threat to win, AC Milan has a good core group (not to mention my fav Brazilian international, Kaka), but I think the team to watch out for right now is Roma. Roma plays a tough game, evidence of which is when they battled back vs. AC Milan in the Italian Cup this past week. Also, Roma have purchased the services of Anderlecht's Christian Wilhelmsson, who could be a good fit and give them more depth to compete with the Inter's and the Chelseas of Europe. I'm again pleased by the appearance of a Scottish club in the elimination round. Like their rivals Rangers last year, Celtic were solid in the group stage. Unlike Rangers, Celtic could easily have the chance to advance deep into this thing. All they have to do is be up for the very tall task of defeating AC Milan in the first round. Unlikely, true, but I'm still glad to see representation from other leagues besides the Premeirship, Serie A, and La Liga Premiera. The best series of the first round? To be non-committal about it, I'd pick any one of these series: Roma vs. Lyon, Inter vs. Valencia, or Barcelona vs. Liverpool. If I had to pick one, I'd say Roma vs. Lyon.
I gave my views on the Beckham scenario last week, as well as views on the state of USA goalkeeping. I was pleased to read this response by fellow Blackburn supporter Anthony regarding Brad Friedel, former USA international from the 2002 World Cup:
"Brad Friedel is a legend, i would argue that he is one of the best in the Prem maybe Cech is better. Liverpool made a mistake in letting him go for nothing."
Liverpool sure did make a mistake. But their loss is the Rovers' gain.
Also, I'm glad to see Blackburn picked up another Liverpool man in the defender Stephen Warnock. That could be a huge deal which will pay divedends down the stretch, especially as the Rovers fight for a spot in UEFA competition (which they are still very capable of getting).
On the Beckham deal:
"I really do think he should have come back to england for a couple of seasons, though i do think he has alot to offer the MLS in its future, but the amount of money he will be getting is outlandish."
I couldn't agree more with the last statement there. He is getting insanely overpaid. But that's what we in America seem to do with our sport personalities. Look at your Kevin Garnetts, your Manny Ramirezes, and your Peyton Mannings. Sure these are all good atheletes, but multi-million dollars worth of good? Anyway, time will tell whether the amount of money Becks is getting ends up softening him until he's appearing in films with Rene Zellweger as opposed to competing on the MLS pitch. Hopefully, such a scenario doesn't happen.
One last point, Anthony mentions that MLS should adapt both a European style of play, and a European transfer system. The European style of play would make MLS matches much more exciting. As it is, I tend not to watch them unless I have tickets to go to Foxboro to see the Revolution. There should be more tenacious and physical defending, and less "let me show the audience what ball-movement and footwork skills I have." As for the transfer system idea, I think it would be great, but my fear is that there is little chance the MLS would implement something like that. It makes sense, and would allow MLS clubs to compete at a similar level with European clubs. On second though, if MLS is serious about increasing exposure of the league and putting a better quality product on the field, then perhaps it is an undertaking that might be within the realm of possibility.
A plea for more footy across the pond...
I'll close this week with a plea that will largely go unheard. I'm talking about more football on basic cable. I am lucky, in that I can TiVo (as you know, TiVo is a verb now) the weekly Fox Sports Premiership game and the Champions' League games. Also, I could get some Liga Mexicana games if I wanted to listen to them en Espanol (which might not be a bad idea, given the quality of American commentary of World Cup). I would love to see more European league matches, maybe one a week, from La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A. Also, I think this might be appealing to many in the Boston area, who, like me, absorb the football coverage given to them and are left thirsting for more.
-Christopher J. Brigham
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