The Beauty of the Beautiful Game

As I looked up at the ceiling, both arms raised in triumph, the beer showered down on me. It soaked my clothes, got in my eyes and even found a way to trickle in to my left ear. As unappealing as it may sound, it was a sweet moment, one I will cherish for years to come.

After allowing Portugal an early goal by pressing the self-destruct button, the USMNT clawed back into the game. Jermaine Jones equalized just after the hour mark with an unstoppable effort.

With 10 minutes remaining, a glorious chance fell to the man everyone dreamed it would fall to. The skipper made no mistake. Clint Dempsey just about managed to scramble the ball across the line, and he just about managed to blow the roof off of the Varsity Theater in Baton Rouge.

In that moment I was flooded with emotions. The raucous celebrations ignited by Clint’s scrappy finish reminded me why I love the beautiful game.

I was filled with pride. My country had fought back from a goal down against the #4 ranked team in the world. We managed to keep the reigning world player of the year quiet. Only a handful of teams have displayed guts like that in this tournament.

I felt relieved.  For much of the second half I thought someone would have to scrape me off the floor as I anxiously watched near misses at both ends. My heart raced for an hour and a half up until the second goal.

At the time, the goal meant we were going through to the knockout stages. I felt confident we could see the game out. That was a feeling of ecstasy. A feeling of pure bliss. Qualifying for the latter stages before Germany… who would have thought that was possible?

Dempsey’s goal threw the kitchen sink of emotions at me… and a little bit extra. The emotional roller coaster was incredible to ride, but that was only a slice of something special.

After a few seconds of embracing the beer shower with my eyes closed and letting the emotions overtake me, I scanned the room to see what I was missing. Before I could get a good look, a stranger hugged me tight and picked me up. Next thing I knew, I was in the center of a seven-man group hug.

Being crushed by drunken strangers was never something that I considered fun. In this moment, it was wonderful.

I was reminded as I stood sandwiched and covered in beer that THIS was the beauty I saw in the beautiful game. It has brought people together from all over the globe, people from anywhere… and everywhere.

I’ve experienced the game’s ability to unify the most random individuals firsthand over the last four years. Playing pick up games in Baton Rouge and Ruston, I’ve met people from over 40 countries and six continents.

I have friends from many corners of the world, and a few of them have become brothers.

Would one of these unknown guys squeezing the life out of me become the next friend I made because of my passion for the sport?

All these thoughts ran through my mind as I watched the dying moments of the match.

Silvestre Varela silenced the crowd with his last-gasp header. Watching the ball hit the back of the net was deflating. It was gutting. I must have looked deflated leaving the Varsity. I soon realized that I missed the biggest takeaway of the day.

I remembered that seven strangers became best friends, at least for a moment in time, with no knowledge of each other’s personal lives. This silly, wonderful, beautiful game was the reason. The game I owe so much for giving me some of my best friends… better yet, brothers. This is what I took home from the Varsity.

Moments like these are why I watch, and it’s moments like these that have me buzzing for Thursday morning!

My 2014/2015 Squad

 

 

 

 

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This is my somewhat realistic squad for next season. Some transfers in/out are more realistic than others. Mourinho seems set on a 4231 or a 433 so I tried to hold true to that. Although it is not likely, my ideal squad gives youth a chance. I want to see some of the potential future players get starts in cup games and get minutes anywhere possible. Loans are great, but learning how to play with the current first team is the best way to grow in my opinion. 

I think the club will shop Ba and Torres, and Eto’o seems set on leaving (although wages could be a setback). I appreciate what all three strikers have done, but I think there is just too much baggage and a fresh start is needed. I opted to clear all three out. Costa seems to be a done deal and I believe he will get the nod up top. I’m not his biggest admirer, but I am hopeful that he will prove me wrong and win me over. I would love to see the club capitalize on the opportunity to bring Balotelli in and to keep Lukaku in London next season. I think those three would form a formidable strike force (Mandzukic would also be nice).

I also feel that the midfield needs another revolutionary signing like Matic. Lampard is old. Luiz looks to be on his way out. Mikel looks to be on the way out. Ramires is… well… Ramires. Gundogan just signed a new contract, and Pirlo is set to follow suit. Vidal and Pogba seem unbelievably expensive. Toure and Fernandinho will stay put. Ramsey will stay put (this list could go on and on). Therefore, I opted for Strootman. He isn’t as flashy as Pogba or Vidal. He isn’t exactly the maestro that Pirlo is either. However, he distributes well. He gets forward more than we’ve seen Matic do. He’s bagged a respectable amount of goals and assists, and he doesn’t shy away from a tackle. His pass accuracy is slightly above 88% and that number hardly drops in the opposition half. He’d be a great buy for the midfield. It would also be fun to steal a United target this season.

Lastly, I would love to see the club bring in Alex Sandro. Ashley Cole is on the way out, and Ryan Bertrand doesn’t look likely to ever see significant minutes at the club. Dave did a fantastic job playing on the left for most of the last campaign, but I would love to see the fullbacks play a bigger role in the attack. Sandro can get forward, and having Azpilicueta on the right would allow him to get forward a little more frequently.

 

 

Not Pictured but in the Squad:

Lukaku (It’s time he got a proper chance to fight for a place in the team.)

Kalas (Hopefully he gets some first team action in cup games and some league matches.)

Schwarzer (I would love to keep him around… especially if Cech doesn’t enjoy the bench.)

Zouma (He could benefit from a loan, but he would also benefit greatly from studying under JT/Cahill and by playing in cup games.)

Nathan Ake

Piazon (Stellar first half with Vitesse, woeful second half. He seemed to wear out. Could get some minutes in cup games and start to train with the first team. Would be nice to play where he isn’t relied on so heavily at such a young age.)

Ramires (I wish he was leaving, but I know he will be here to torment me further. I’m hopeful he proves all the critics (myself included) wrong next season. Come on, Ramires!)

 

Players In:

Balotelli

Costa

Strootman

Sandro

 

Players Out:

Mikel

Ba

Luiz (There’s been a lot of smoke coming from the Camp Nou for several windows. Sooner or later there has to actually be a fire producing said smoke)

Cole

Torres

Eto’o

 

Positives

Your team can’t experience glory every year. It will not happen. It is hard to believe once you taste success, but every time the season wraps up, a trophy or winner’s medal does not materialize.

This is meant to serve as a reminder to many top clubs, but this season it is aimed toward Chelsea fans. The return of Jose Mourinho gave fans a high level of confidence entering the season and a hope of bringing the Barclays Premier League trophy back to London. However, Mourinho’s first season back in charge will end without a trophy. Great wins were a major theme, but there were just enough painful losses scattered throughout the season to derail sky-high ambitions.

Rather than continuing to look back and say “what if” it is time to take the season for what it was and look ahead.

It will end without a trophy, but there were plenty of great moments along the way that made it worthwhile to be a Chelsea. The wins were great, but some tasted even sweeter. Beating Manchester City at home was fun. Watching Torres pounce on a mistake to win the match was priceless! Watching the team respond to going a goal down to Liverpool at home was breathtaking. Hazard’s goal was a stroke of genius. Ten-man Arsenal did not know what hit them when they conceded six at Stamford Bridge. The win at the Etihad was enthralling. If you watched the buildup you knew that Chelsea “had no chance.” The win at Anfield was nothing short of brilliant. Tomas Kalas marked Suarez out of the game in his full debut. Most impressive. Torres passing to Willian for the second goal may have been my favorite moment of the season.

Oh, and let’s not forget the second leg against PSG. The cries of “We’ve Done It Before” echoing from the crowd gave me chills. Every near miss and “almost” moment made me cringe. When Ba scrambled the ball over the line, I cried out in joy! It was a sense of relief from stress I had not felt from watching a sporting event since Drogba scored the decisive penalty in Munich.

The losses were painful, but it’s time to take them on the chin. Losing to Bayern in the Super Cup hurt, but the team went toe to toe with the reigning champion of Europe with only 10 men. The leagues bottom sides proved to be the most difficult roadblocks. Finding positives here is much harder; Losses to Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Aston Villa in just over a month were not the mark of a title winning side. The loss to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League was a combination of a very well drilled Atletico side seizing the moment, bad luck and bad defending. A draw with Norwich to start the month of May in the Premier League killed off what little title hopes remained, and it too makes it hard to find positives.

Looking back, the images I will associate with this season are not grounded in winning or losing. Seeing John Terry curled up on the floor after heading past Petr Cech against Palace springs to mind. The sight of Terry crying after the loss to Atletico is also etched in my brain. Seeing Ashley Cole completely distraught after the Norwich match is another mental snapshot I took. I can’t think about this season without thinking about Dave running all over the pitch. Closing someone down. Out of position. These images tell me that we have a group of players that will run through a brick wall for their manager and for their fans. They give it all for the club they love. They leave nothing in the tank. They will play on either flank, in the center or in goal if it leads to three points.

I see Mourinho running all the way down to the corner flag against PSG to give defensive instructions to his team in order to see the game out. I see Mourinho beating his chest after the second goal at Anfield. These two images tell me that Chelsea’s manager is committed to success. Style of play and reputation fall behind winning in his mind. Free flowing football is fun to watch as a neutral, but winning is the most fun. Mourinho loves the club so much that he will do whatever it takes to win.

It didn’t quite work out this season, but with a manager committed to winning above all else, the future is bright. If that doesn’t work out, a team of players that love the club like Chelsea’s players do will have me beside them no matter where they go. Whether it is a title challenge, fighting for fourth place, shooting for mid table or trying to avoid the drop, this season reminds me that I am Chelsea through and through. “Boring, Boring Chelsea” may be the chant but supporting the club is far from it. For this, I am thankful.

 

 

Script Writing

This is what we like to refer to as wild speculation. This is one of those potential scenarios that leaves pundits saying “Who is writing this stuff.”

I’m writing it. It’s me. This is how the Barclays Premier League will finish if Chelsea are destined to win the title.

This weekend, Manchester City travel to Anfield. City have a chance to silence the “We’re Gonna Win The League” chants that are becoming unbearable. However, in this scenario Liverpool knock off City and the chants grow louder. (Don’t know how we put up with them then). At this point Chelsea will be 5 points ahead of City who still have 2 games in hand. Liverpool will lead the league on 77 points. Chelsea will be on 75. Man City on 70.

City will make up 3 points against Sunderland that next week. Updated standings will be Liverpool on 77, Chelsea on 75 and city on 73. All three teams win that weekend. Liverpool on 80. Chelsea on 78. City on 76. 

Chelsea then must travel to Anfield. Liverpool’s last real roadblock to the title. The fans can feel the trophy coming home. However, it isn’t to be. Mourinho’s Men do whatever it takes and leave Merseyside with a scrappy 3 points. City win at Palace. Chelsea on 81. Liverpool on 80. City on 79. The next weekend Chelsea handle Norwich. Liverpool handle Crystal Palace. However, Man City aren’t so lucky.

They face a trip to Goodison Park. It’s never easy for visiting teams. City manage to find the back of the net and take the lead, but Everton are relentless. As the game winds down, the hosts are in need of a goal. Romelu Lukaku finds that goal very late to steal a point. The Belgian celebrates madly. Chelsea fans rejoice. They were angry he was loaned out, but he has now handed Chelsea a chance to clinch the title by beating Cardiff on the last day. Once again, Mourinho looks is a genius. Mourinho knows.  

Chelsea on 84. Liverpool on 83. City on 80.

Midweek, City take 3 points from their remaining match in hand against Villa. They’re level with Liverpool on points, praying that Chelsea slip.

Chelsea do not slip on the final day. A trip to Wales is merely a trip to claim the title. The Blues win comfortably. City and Liverpool take care of business against West Ham and Newcastle respectively, but it doesn’t matter. The trophy comes home to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea finish on 87 points, Liverpool and City on 86.

Oh the scenes. The fans doubted Mourinho for loaning Lukaku out, but the Belgian has essentially handed the title to his parent club. Blue Heaven.

 

 

Chelsea Cruise

Chelsea completely outclassed and humiliated Arsenal in a 6-0 pounding at Stamford Bridge.

Samuel Eto’o, Mohamed Salah, Andre Schurrle, Oscar, and Eden Hazard all got involved in the scoring with the Brazilian netting twice.

Eto’o found the net inside five minutes with a curling left-footed effort to finish a counter attack set off by a poor give away in the Arsenal midfield. Schurrle struck minutes later to double the Blues lead.

The game was already slipping away from the Gunners on Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge, but it got even worse when Andre Marriner sent off Kieran Gibbs for a handball committed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Hazard curled a right-footed effort that looked like it was just about going wide, but Oxlade-Chamberlain could take no chances standing on the line. He threw his arm in front of the strike, and Marriner pointed to the spot. In a strange turn of events, Marriner sent off Gibbs in what was assumedly a case of mistaken identity despite Oxlade-Chamberlain’s admission of guilt.

Hazard converted from the spot to put the Blues in front 3-0. Down three goals and a left back, the Gunners looked understandably deflated and many of the fans who made the trip from North London headed to the exits.

Any questions of whether Chelsea would let off and allow complacency to take over were answered before halftime when Oscar tapped in from close range to give the Blues a 4-0 lead at the interval. They started the second half slowly but the fifth goal came 20 minutes after the break courtesy of Oscar again.

He made way for Salah after the goal, and it didn’t take long for the Egyptian to get involved in the action. He ran in behind the back four and finished calmly by sliding the ball past a helpless Wojciech Szczesny to make it 6-0.

The crowd belted out Mourinho’s name and taunted Wenger with a “specialist in failure” chant throughout the match to add insult to injury.

The final whistle blew and Mourinho had already made his trademarked early exit to reportedly “tell his wife the score.” Wenger was left on the pitch alone and humiliated on what was supposed to be his special day. It turned out that it was not a special day for Wenger, but it was a special day for Jose Mourinho as his Blues look to keep the pressure on Manchester City and Liverpool in the race for the title.

 

 

 

What I’m Watching This Week

Didier Drogba returns to play at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. It’s his first time playing in front of the Chelsea supporters since he beat Manuel Neuer from the penalty spot to give the club its first UEFA Champions League crown. However, Drogba won’t be wearing blue. He’ll be suited up for Galatasaray aiming to knock his previous club out of the world’s most elite club competition. The tie is poised at 1-1 and could swing either way. Chelsea fans will be praying that they do not have to watch a Drogba strike eliminate their club from the competition. Expect a warm reception before the match but the pleasantries to disappear as soon as the match kicks off.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. March Madness is here. Florida, Wichita State, Arizona and Virginia all received #1 seeds for the tournament. The Gators are the top overall seed. It will be another exciting year to watch and another year to weep openly over brackets that are trashed after a couple rounds (you could probably just start crying over your picks now). Chaos could (and most likely will) reign again this year. There is very little disparity between the top 4 seeds in each of the regions. Expect upsets and expect another year without a perfect bracket despite Warren Buffett’s billion dollar incentive.

The Midwest’s top seed, Wichita State, will have trouble remaining undefeated in a group where it could meet a talented Kentucky in the second round, a streaking Louisville in the Sweet 16 and either Duke or Michigan in the Elite 8. Arizona faces a potential second round encounter with Oklahoma State led by Marcus Smart and possible match ups versus the streaking Baylor Bears, Creighton and POY lock Doug McDermott or a very sound Wisconsin team if it reaches the Elite 8. Virginia perhaps has the worst luck of the #1 seeds. They face a potential Sweet 16 game against a now healthy Michigan State, and Tom Izzo has taken less talented teams deep in the tournament. Florida has rolled over everyone in SEC play, but they’ll have to get by Syracuse (who started 25-0) or Kansas (a real threat if Embiid is healthy) in order to get out of the region.

The Premier League race seems to get tighter every week. Arsenal visits Stamford Bridge this weekend. After some questionable calls from Chris Foy saw Chelsea drop three points at Villa Park on Saturday, this game has become even more important. With very little between the leagues top four sides, it is a must win game for both teams as they aim to keep pressure on Liverpool and Manchester City. At the bottom of the table, Norwich and Sunderland square off with both sides needing three points desperately to avoid the drop. Sunderland have games in hand, but they’ll want to make them count as they attempt to get out of the relegation zone.

Mourinho’s March

Jose Mourinho’s men continued their march toward to the Barclays Premier League title by thrashing Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Samuel Eto’o pounced on a horrendous back-pass from Jan Vertonghen to open the scoring, Eden Hazard added a goal from the penalty spot and Demba Ba came on to bag two late goals to secure the three points.

Although the final score was emphatic, the result was in question for much of the first half.

Jose Mourinho opted to set up his side in a defensive 4-3-3 and allow Tottenham to control possession in first half. His Chelsea side looked to absorb pressure and strike on the counter. Tottenham did little with their share of the ball and rarely looked a threat.

For as little as they accomplished offensively, Spurs did a great job frustrating Chelsea’s rapid forwards. On the break, Eden Hazard rounded Hugo Lloris but could only manage to hit the side netting. A half chance for Eto’o was just about the only opportunity Chelsea could manage to carve out against a well organized Spurs side.

As the teams headed down the tunnel at halftime, Tottenham would have been pleased, minimizing Chelsea’s chances. With their share of possession, perhaps they even thought they might have a chance to end their 24 year drought at Stamford Bridge by nicking a winner. Sherwood would have most certainly been the more happy manager at the interval. 

At halftime, Mourinho opted to bring on Oscar for Frank Lampard and Chelsea resumed their more natural 4-2-3-1 shape. Oscar was a spark. The Chelsea attackers began to see more of the ball and began to impose themselves on the Spurs defense.

About 10 minutes after the break, Vertonghen found himself being pressed by Andre Schurrle. He slipped and panicked as the man coming off a hat trick closed him down. His attempted back-pass to Lloris was optimistic at best.

Eto’o was already breaking toward the goal before Vertonghen played the ball. His reward was to squeeze the ball between two pairs of legs and into the back of the net. He ran to the corner flag and hunched over, holding his back. Despite criticism of being too old, Eto’o had no problem being a thorn in Spurs’ side.

Minutes later, Younes Kaboul was adjudged (perhaps harshly) to have brought down Eto’o in the box. Michael Oliver immediately pointed to the spot and showed Kaboul the red card. Hazard stepped up and fired home the ensuing spot kick to give Chelsea breathing space.

Chelsea continued to control the game and make use of their man advantage. The Blues didn’t rest on their laurels as the continued to look for more goals. Hazard missed a chance to set up Eto’o running unmarked into the box in the 75th minute.

Ba came on for Eto’o in the 76th minute and made the most of his minutes which have been hard to come by this season.

In the 88th minute Ba pounced on a failed clearance from Sandro and rifled home from close range. The points were secure and Chelsea fans cheered as the club opened up a seven point gap at the top.

Ba added insult to injury as he bagged his second and Chelsea’s fourth moments later. Kyle Walker attempted to head a looping clearance nearly 30 yards back to his keeper, but it was Ba lurking this time to feast on another defensive collapse. Ba won the ball before Lloris could get there and tapped into an open net. 

With Hazard, Eto’o and Schurrle all scoring hat tricks in recent months, with the league’s best defense and with Mourinho at the helm, it looks like the title may be returning to Stamford Bridge in May.