Manning the MLS preview and prediction watchtower

Leave a comment

Secret to life: You should take what you do in this world seriously … but never take yourself too seriously.

I’d say the talented pranksters over at The Shinguardian get it about right.

Great site. Some good laughs. Glorious pop culture references. All built on a sturdy and bountiful foundation of thoughtful analysis when it comes to the beautiful game.

I won’t go so far as to say that “If you only read one MLS preview, make it this one.”  Then again, if I had said that, it would hardly qualify as my worst moment in life.

Oh, if you like a little more meat in your stew, there’s plenty of “the serious” out there. You can find solid sentence structure and ample info (facts, figures, predictions, the whole nine analytical yards) at all the usual soccer stops along the Cyber Express.  You know where they are.  If you don’t have time to digest a Hungry Man’s portion of online material before tomorrow’s MLS first kick (#CantWait!) may I suggest you have a listen to MLS Extra Time (click the March 5 edition).

But for a perfectly balanced cocktail of entertaining enlightenment, you could do a lot worse than the gentlemen of Shinguardian and what they have cooked up. It’s clever stuff – but, again, not merely comic relief. For instance:

The “I should’ve been a DP” award

Jay Bell: Joel Lindpere. New York’s talisman will vastly outshine Marquez yet again, proving that $6 million more per year does not make someone a better player.

Biggerstaff: Javi Morales, who I am least 51% convinced is not a DP and am at least 51% convinced should be a DP. RSL will do some work this year in all competitions.

JRodius: Edson Buddle – by the end of the season he will look a steal at $200k.

Price: This is the Joel Lindpere story.

TSG: Taylor Twellman? So last decade. Andrew Wenger.  1st draft pick. Duke education. Montreal strip joints? Wait, son, you ARE a designated player. Big, big, big And again, it’s not just

Couldn’t. Agree. More. On Joel Lindpere that is. Talk about the straw that stirs the Red Bulls midfield, and someone who has every right to have his soccer shorts in a twist about the club’s raging salary inequities. Lindpere earns so much less money, and yet does more work for the Red Bulls midfield during pregame warmups than Marquez does over all 90 minutes. (I know I promised to lay off Marquez already, but I retain the right to hammer away at his on-field quality.) Heck, when it comes to tracking and tackling and doing the dirty work in the center of the park, Teemu Tainio looks like Michael freakin’ Essien compared to Marquez. (Marquez also earned a couple of panel votes as Most Overrated; I’ll have a quiet word with the three panelists who aimed their poison pens elsewhere in that category.)

I can’t quite get on board with Jay Bell’s choice of Benny Feilhaber as Best American this year in MLS. He’s gonna leave a mark on some teams, for sure. But won’t a certain Landon “Toffeeman” Donovan have something to say about that?

And one other little nitpicky thing: I was slightly surprised there wasn’t just a little more love in the Shinguardian preseason opus for Seattle Sounder mighty mite Osvaldo Alonso. Just when I thought I was making some headway on my one-man mission to get people to stop calling the Sounders’ midfield destroyer “underrated,” evidence drops that he might actually still be a little … nah, never mind.  He’s not underrated. Forget I even went there.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

Photo by Visual China/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

Photo by Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images
Leave a comment

An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

Photo credit: Liverpool FC / Twiter: @LFC
Leave a comment

It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.