That's On Point: The Web Site

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End to end

Hey, what do you know? 2010 is over.

And what a busy 2010 it was.

No sense to recap everything I've written here over the last 365. It was plenty. If you're inclined for such things, here are a couple of the tags you might want to delve through:

For all things USMNT, Bob Bradley specifically and for everything from the 2010 World Cup.

It would be almost remiss not to devote a little time re-hashing a few topics from 2010. So here they are, since as a writer I am required to submit these sort of end-of-the-year lists or face expulsion from the fraternity. Either that or lose access to typing with my right hand for six weeks, the pen being mightier than the sword and all.

* A Star is (Re)Born -- Did anyone in 2010 change their image, in a positive way, like Landon Donovan? Michael Vick? Maybe.

Donovan, for the last four-plus years, had been derided by nearly every U.S. fan, or at least fans that go on the Internet and don't buy posters or No. 21 replica t-shirts. Everyone pretty much had the same assumption -- Donovan wasn't tough, instead a whiny SoCal kid who couldn't hack it in Europe.

Beginning in January that all changed with his brilliant run on loan in the short term at Everton. Donovan jumped in the EPL feet first, tearing up the Arsenal flanks in his first game with the Toffees in January. His time in England ended with a victory lap at Goodison Park after a beatdown of Hull City in mid-March. All-and-all, none too shabby.

That positive momentum carried to the World Cup, where the new and improved Donovan shined on the world stage, bearing no resemblance to the laughably bad player four years ago in Germany. It culminated with great goals vs. Slovenia and Algeria, translating into this first U.S. soccer player with an actual Q-rating, who other celebs were happy to be associated alongside. Sorry Alexi.

Maybe this isn't the biggest deal in the world, but now at the end of 2010 Donovan is being mentioned among guys like Drew Brees in the pages of GQ as one of the best athletes of the year on the endless parade of media clip shows, such as "SportsNation." It's an unprecedented step for an American player, though a small baby one in the big picture.

* Half Empty? Half Full -- Six months have passed since Asamoah Gyan put an abrupt end to the USMNT's run, well, entry into the 2010 World Cup. It's still hard to put an accurate, concise ribbon on the team's foray in South Africa. (Writing in June was full of confusion, even with six months of perspective, still unsure how to frame it.)

On the plus side of the ledger, the U.S. handed England a humiliating blow via Clint Dempsey's knuckleball, which chumpatized Robert Green. (A belated thanks to Steven Gerrard for allowing Dempsey two full spins on the ball to set up the shot.) The U.S., too, showed moxie to rally to tie Slovenia from down two goals and also had an apparent winner called off for a phantom call. It's convenient to forget the U.S.'s maddeningly consistent ability to concede early, thus needing the rallies to salvage points.

Nothing, though, approaches the touchstone moment of Landon Donovan's golden moment in the 91st minute vs. Algeria, which gave U.S. fans across the nation a moment to call their own.

The problem, though, is that goal did place the U.S. atop its group, it turned out to be the only time in the World Cup the U.S. actually held a lead in a game. Bob Bradley's team had a path carved out for a possible run to the semifinals, to keep the wave of goodwill growing and propel soccer to another level in the public consciousness.

Ghana, again and four years later, had other plans.

The World Cup was the best and the worst of U.S. soccer. It displayed the rah-rah, moxie of quintessentially American teams. At the same time it showed the American's lack of critical tactical and mental nous when it comes to winning in major international tournaments.

In the end, we'll probably look back at June 2010 as a fond memory and positive, but all the YouTube clips and replays of Donovan's goal -- which still do render goosebumps -- don't mask over the fact the U.S. had as golden opportunity as it'll ever have in a World Cup and whiffed in the Round of 16.

This end of the year saber rattling around the Donovan goal does seem, increasingly, like an opiate for the masses, taking our eyes away from the real issues at hand. Donovan's goal certainly made the biggest cultural impact American soccer has ever witnessed, it did little to change the long term future of the U.S. team on the field, though.

Either way, the agony and the ecstasy in a matter of days.

* Deja vu all over again -- Hi, Bob!

For better or worse or more accurately, continued flirtations with mediocrity, Sunil Gulati found it his infinite wisdom to retain Bob Bradley as U.S. National team coach for another four years. Hoo-ray.

Back in August this hardly inspired any confidence, as four years of the same (sometimes boring) Bradley roaming the sidelines was about as exciting a prospect for U.S. fans as a ski trip to Kansas. (I wrote extensively about this at the time in August over a series of posts.)

At least there's a sense of hope, or freshness, heading into 2011 coming from the final U.S. match of the year, a friendly victory over South Africa which included new players like Juan Agudelo and Mikkel Diskerud. The bigger hope for Bradley going forward with the USMNT is he figures out a way to transfer Stuart Holden's sterling form with Bolton in the Premier League to international success.

Oh, and finding a way to unseat Mexico at the top of CONCACAF in the Gold Cup will be huge, especially with the proposed tweaks in the qualifying cycle where the two rivals might not play each other.

* Hot Chip -- No, Clint Dempsey's Golazazazazazaz-o for Fulham in the Europa League vs. Juventus never, ever, gets old.

* Still Special -- Honest question: Is there a bigger rock star on the planet right now than Jose Mourinho? Or maybe more specifically does anyone possess that steering, self-centered, cocksure posturing of an old-school frontman like the Portuguese legend? Factor in the surreal delight that is "Special1 TV" and there is literally no one else on the planet anywhere near Mourinho.

In 2010 we watched Mourinho lead Inter Milan to the Champions League title, besting mighty Barcelona along the way, in a match that probably made people cry considering the way Lucio, Maicon, Walter Samuel and the rest of the Nerrazzurri muscled around the Angel of Football -- Lionel Messi.

Mourinho's year didn't end on the best note, as Real Madrid were stomped 5-0 by Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

At least we'll always have this classic celebration.

Shine on your crazy diamond.

* Boom, boom ... lemme hear you say, Bale Baaaa-le -- Just like the Four Loko craze came literally out of nowhere to wreak havoc on American college campuses, the same could be said of Gareth Bale's sudden rise to become the most exciting player in the Premier League in 2010. Okay, that's not exactly the best example of all time considering Bale is a noted teetotaler, but you get the point.

Maybe there is a massive overreaction to Bale, being a goofy looking Welshman and all, yet the guy continues to bring the goods, even as recently as Wednesday against Newcastle with a dance-and-shake up the sideline for a goal. There's nothing quite like that audible gasp at White Hart Lane these days when the ball touches Bale's feet and the crowd expects a galloping, 60-yard knifing run through the defense.

Is Bale realistically going to remain in the Top 10 of the World come 2011? If he does it'll be something to behold considering how magical his 2010 was.

The Taylor Swift inspired heart shaped celebration? Guess everyone has a weak spot.

* Teams Fight Back -- Perhaps the most noteworthy trend for the Premier League in the 2010-11 season was teams deciding it made more sense to put up a fight against the supposed best teams in the league, as opposed to sitting back and taking their medicine.

Is it the only reason the table is as bunched up as it is right now, with five teams within five points of each other at the top? Not necessarily, but it's a factor.

It's definitely a good thing to enter the new year with no idea who's going to win the title, instead of the same, boring, static two-horse races of which we've become accustomed.

* Xavi & Iniesta ... best. teammates. ever? -- About the only thing the Barcelona/Spain duo hasn't done at this point is film a slow motion high-five sequence like those old NFL "Teammates" ads of yesteryear. Now, admittedly, I'm in the about roughly 0.00000004 percent of soccer fans who aren't totally gaga for every single touch of the ball by Barca.

Nor did Spain's World Cup triumph fill me with rosy feelings.

Still, you have to respect greatness and the tic-tac, E.S.P.-passing by the pair is the best thing in soccer going right now. Nobody seems to know how to break it up or slow down the possession. The kind of chemistry these two have with each other is what LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can only dream about.

In theory short range, one-touch passing shouldn't be so hard to master. It's the second nature between Xavi and Iniesta that allows all those little dings back-and-forth to slowly gain momentum into a swirling maelstrom, sucking up and destroying everything in its path.

A vow to improve -- There is shame in daily life. Like clicking on a dreadfully stupid Yahoo! Top News story featuring Snooki. Or stealing a grape at the supermarket. Or admitting you might actually like Katy Perry solely based on her music.

Then there is predicting that Joe Cole would be the best summer transfer in the Premier League back in August. Yup, I wrote it. Can't live it down. Couldn't have been more lost. Atrocious job out of me. That awful decry, along with my picks make me feel awful sheepish trying to tweak professional athletes.

Having said that, as always, major appreciation for everyone who's stopped by to drink at the trough of this little ol' splash in the Inter-nets waters. Wouldn't be carving out time on a weekly basis to do this without you. Also, a special set of thanks to everyone that decided to follow me on Twitter. Entered 2010 leery of the service and instantly became addicted to it, as it became a quick, easy and (mostly) snarky way to complement the blog.

Onward, 2011!


Round 21 EPL Picks:

* West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester United -- (Live, ESPN2, 7:45 a.m.) In a strange way, Manchester United is probably the most responsible for the Premier League being as wide-open as it currently stands. If United get the job done and hold out at Fulham, Everton and Birmingham City, the Red Devils are six points clear at the top with two games-in-hand over second-place Manchester City. In fairness, the goal Birmingham City scored to draw the match Tuesday at St. Andrews was ridiculous with Nikola Zigic climbing over Rio Ferdinand's with about as much grace as Shaquille O'Neal going for a rebound these days. Oh, it hit his hand, too, but nobody is going to cry for Sir Alex Ferguson. West Brom actually drew United at Old Trafford, the team's only blemish at home, thanks to a Patrice Evra own-goal and a gaffe by Edwin van der Sar. The Baggies have lost three straight heading into this match, though the way this season is going that note means nothing. Still ... West Brom 1, Manchester United 2

* Tottenham v. Fulham -- Too bad ESPN couldn't flex its schedule to air this, because, really who's getting up at 7:30 East Coast time on New Year's Day for Manchester United? This is the game to watch. Who needs NCAA Bowl Games when you've got Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey? Not sure which impressed me more in the midweek, Fulham getting two goals from Chris Baird to win a road game at Stoke City or Tottenham winning its second straight match with only 10 men? For some reason Spurs seem due a "rocking chair" game, well, without a clean sheet of course. ... Tottenham 3, Fulham 1

* Sunderland v. Blackburn Rovers -- It's fairly safe to say that Sunderland isn't a team that deals with success too well. Nor is it a club very well equipped for two matches in three days, as evidenced by dropping the first game of the season on Tuesday at the Stadium of Light, losing to Blackpool. Blackburn comes in off a 3-1 win at West Brom and have gone from crisis to top half of the table in 90 minutes. Yay hyperbole. When Rovers actually show up and play, they can be tough to handle, or at least a bit of a pest. Guess Sunderland deserves some credit for maintaining it's seventh-place position despite the fact Darren Bent hasn't scored since Nov. 27. ... Sunderland 1, Blackburn 0

* Liverpool v. Bolton -- (Live, FSC+, 10 a.m.) On the plus side for Liverpool, this match will be played in 2011. Maybe that brings a change. Hard to believe we live in a world where the mighty Reds go down limper than a early 1990s WWF jobber at Anfield to Wolves, while Bolton puts up a tough fight only to lose 1-0 at Stamford Bridge to Chelsea. Roy Hodgson has been King Midas in reverse at Liverpool, while Owen Coyle has been a godsend to Bolton. At least Liverpool fans have had ample practice of jeering and protesting at matches lately, as many might be rooting for a loss to finally ease Hodgson out the door. Crazy, too, where re-inserting Steven Gerrard into the XI ends up being a problem. ... Liverpool 1, Bolton 2

* Manchester City v. Blackpool -- (Live, FSC, 10 a.m.) Fun game for FSC to pick up for broadcast. Isn't it crazy that nearly every touch of the ball, every facial expression, every sneeze by Manchester City is analyzed like it's the modern day Zapruder Film? Halfway through the season it's pretty clear City can win the title, but it'll more likely be they'll zip to the top if Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham falter. City, as constructed, will have hiccups but they'll also have spurts in games for five, 10 minutes where they can score two or three goals, allowing them to sit back and defend the lead like Roberto Mancini wants. Coincidentally enough, City have five home wins this season, while Blackpool has five road wins. That's why this will be a good test for City, since Blackpool isn't going to sit back and allow them to pick them apart. If City ever develop the ethos Ian Holloway has cultivated at Blackpool, the rest of the world better watch out. ... Manchester City 3, Blackpool 1

* Stoke City v. Everton -- Congrats to Stoke City. Halfway through the year, the Potters are the median of the Premier League. Tenth place, 23 goals scored and 24 goals allowed. The very definition of average. Everton could make a solid claim for this illustrious position, too, sitting in 11th place with a similar -1 goal difference. The Toffees even own a joint division-high 10 draws, which makes them all the more average. Flip at coin for this one, though expect a headed goal from one of the sides. ... Stoke City 2, Everton 1

* West Ham United v. Wolves -- You know what this is? RELEGATION SIX-POINTER!!! Both teams have played better, giving their supporters hope for 2011. West Ham are unbeaten in three, with a win over Fulham, while Wolves have won 2-of-3, including Wednesday's historic victory at Anfield. The problem for these two to get out of the relegation jail, is it'll be difficult to role doubles, nor can they afford to pay the $50 fee. Monopoly jokes aside, is there's a lot of teams ahead of them to leapfrog, without a hapless, dead 3-point ATM behind them. Avram Grant and Mick McCarthy need to hope that Fulham and Aston Villa can't get their acts together, since Wigan Athletic has that knack for survival and 17th place. Recall, Wolves won last season at Upton Park. ... West Ham 1, Wolves 2

* Birmingham City v. Arsenal -- (Live, FSC, 12:30 p.m.) Let's hope Alex McLeish rolls the dice and plays Zigic from the start. The thought of the 6-foot-8 Serb leaping, elbowing and shoving around the Arsenal backline has unlimited comedy potential. Arsene Wenger didn't out-and-out admit he might have the wrong defensive player policy, but after Wigan snatched a 2-2 draw Wednesday due to atrocious set piece defending, the Frenchman admitted the lack of leadership and communication in the Gunners back four. The English media love to use the fact Arsenal has an entirely Francophone defense and a Polish keeper as the reason for the yearly foibles and inability to protect leads. That seems like a pretty easy excuse. What Arsenal need is a presence back there. You can tell opponents don't fear the Arsenal defense and relish the chance to go at them. In short, Arsenal's defense is soft and everyone knows it. Laurent Koscielny seems to have gotten worse, or at least his confidence has waned. Sebastian Squillaci is nothing more than a stopgap. Johan Djourou is solid, when he plays, which seems to be on the Ledley King once-a-month plan. Imagine how much screaming Tim Howard would do on a game-by-game basis if he played keeper for Arsenal. It'd rival those old Vince Lombardi clips. If Arsenal are going to win the title, they'll need to score two or three goals a match. No easy feat. Then again, when Andrey Arshavin is scoring like he did against Wigan on Wednesday, it makes you think it might be possible. ... Birmingham City 1, Arsenal 2


* Chelsea v. Aston Villa -- (Live, FSC+, 8:30 a.m.) Wednesday vs. Bolton, Chelsea looked like Chelsea, at least, for a few spurts. Teams have clearly gone to school on the Blues, trying to cut down those deadly, odd-man counter attacks triggered near midfield. Bolton played a little too high, Didier Drogba got behind the defense and played a perfect ball for Flourent Malouda to tap-in. That's Chelsea's "A" game. The Blues only other options seem to be set pieces or Frank Lampard penalties. If Aston Villa decide they actually want to put up a fight as they slink toward the Championship, sit back and defend in numbers it should be able to frustrate Chelsea. Ashley Young (if he plays) and Gabriel Agbonlahor, who has one Premier League goal this season. It would make some sense, in this crazy season, for Villa -- losers of 5-of-6 -- to go to Stamford Bridge for a result. This team, however, is lacking serious guts. At least we can see how Eric Lichaj handles the trickery of Ashley Cole. ... Chelsea 2, Aston Villa 0

* Wigan Athletic v. Newcastle United -- (Live, FSC, 11 a.m.) Wigan ought to replace the tree in its crest with a banana peel. The Latics just have that innate knack for being a thorn in everyone's side. Nobody embodies that more than Hugo Rodallega who is a walking, corn-rowed spoiler ... and a pretty good player. If I'm an MLS team I keep my eyes on him for four, five years down the road. His style of play would bring a team plenty of goals, assuming he was motivated. Newcastle United gave Tottenham a game on Tuesday and even dusted off Alan Smith in the old fashioned "hard man" role. Fortuantely he's ditched the bleached blonde look, since it's hard to be a tough guy looking like that, unless you're a pro beach volleyball player. Andy Carroll has likely unfit for the match, knocking it down a major peg in the viewing priority list. ... Wigan 1, Newcastle United 1

Last round: 3-7
Season: 82-108

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2 Responses to “End to end”

  1. # Blogger Simon

    Another top post.

    And to think that Bale video doesn't even include all his "beasting" in the first half of the year, when he got John Terry sent off and scored the winner against Arsenal over eight days.

    While he certainly hasn't had the impact Liverpool would have hoped, I do think the Joe Cole transfer may have had the biggest effect on the league as a whole. Cole's second most likely landing spot was Tottenham.

    If Spurs get Cole, they wouldn't have signed van der Vaart, Levy wouldn't be willing to take on two big wage players at once. Instead, send the Dutchman to Chelsea or United, and we've got a very different league on our hands.  

  2. # Blogger 30f

    Sharp ending to another great year, 'dillo.

    I didn't know Joe Cole was a possibility at White Hart Lane. You are dead on Simon, that VDV playing at another one of the big teams would be giving us a very different Premiership (and Champ League) for 2011.

    I think that the USMNT likes playing from behind because then they know what to do. This is still a team without a great soccer brain/instinct - with a few players excepted, of course. Down a goal it is dead obvious what must be done, so the team actually gets its brain out of the way and puts in all the Yankee endeavor that is necessary. Obviously it doesn't always work and I'm not suggesting this is a GOOD thing, just that the team seems to like that position of not having to make any big decisions or read the game in any meaningful way. The USMNT needs to get passed that 'just tell me my job and I'll do it' stage and become pro-active and more aware of what is going on. I reckon we're getting there ...

    I have certainly been one of those Lando critics. My biggest problem wasn't with him but rather with how he was treated by USSF and the US media. It always felt a little AYSO and cheerleader-ish when he was given Honda awards in seasons where he didn't really play all that well. I felt like Lando was often held up because we needed someone to hold up (hello, Freddy Adu), rather than because his actual play had deserved it. I am happy to say that has changed. Donovan and his game have earned all the praise.

    I am with you on the 'fight back' angle. The talent gap between Man United and (say) Birmingham City is objectively smaller. United still has better players, and by a wide margin - but not as wide as in seasons past. But the way that Brum and Bolton and Blackpool and others are willing to challenge the Big Boys - even when the Biggies are at home - has made the outcome of each and every game much more in doubt. This is definitely good news.

    Fulham tap dancing above the relegation zone, not quite such good news.

    Best in 2011!  

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