Side Kicks: I love it when a plan comes together

We’ve got a lot of questions this week, so I’ll just make quick mention of the Gold Cup final.

On second thought, the less said the better.

It was pretty awful to watch (the second half at least), but deep down I really didn’t think this squad had a chance against Mexico. Truth be told, I didn’t think the U.S. would get past Honduras in the semifinals.

That being said, I think it’s still a pretty solid accomplishment for that particular group of players to have reached the final. It wasn’t all that long ago that our ‘A’ team was hard-pressed to get a result against the top clubs from the region.

We’ve gotten so used to being dominant in CONCACAF that any loss’ sting is magnified. In principal, that’s a good thing, except when it obscures the facts. Our starting central midfield pair was Kyle Beckerman and Logan Pause … and you expected a victory against El Tri?

The U.S. gave it all they had in the first half, and that was good enough to stay level. But Mexico had guys like Carlos Vela and Guillermo Franco to throw into the mix against tired second half legs. Bob Bradley? Yeah, let’s throw that Cronin kid in there.

If you think I’m criticizing the team, I’m not. Like I said, I think they did a great job just to reach the final. I also like to imagine that it’s going to fire up the rest of our squad to secure our first-ever win at Azteca on August 12.

Sweet, sweet revenge.

Let’s do this thing …

With Real Madrid buying everything in sight, people are already claming that they are the best club in europe. Lets not get ahead of ourselves. Do you remember the last time they did this? The only hardware they got was La Liga. I know that Kaka and Ronaldo are great players but do you think that they can mesh and play world class football this year? Or do you think it could take some time for them to devlop?

Joshua Rinard of Cape Coral, Fla.

Robert: It will take a little bit of time, but their class on the pitch will show. We’re talking about the last two FIFA World Players of the Year here … it’s not rocket science. Individually, they’ll be brilliant as usual, and complement each other well.

Team success is another story. What the other players around them do to take advantage of all the attention on the dynamic duo will ultimately tell the full story of Galacticos 2.0’s success.

I can guarantee you one thing, though &#151 everyone, and I mean everyone, will be watching to find out. The idea of those two amazing stars pushing the action alongside guys like Raul, Benzema, Sneijder, Higuain, Ruud and Robben is absolutely tantalizing.

Unfortunately for Real, they’ve addressed very few issues with their backline during the transfer season. Ramos and Pepe will be strong, but what about the other backs? Marcelo is still very young and prone to the odd mistake now and again, while Metzelder has so far failed to produce the kind of form he displayed for Dortmund and Germany.

At the end of the season though when trophies matter, it might prove to be that Raul Albiol was the biggest (and most important) newcomer to the squad. He has loads of top-quality experience after all his years with Valencia, and might just be the savior that Iker Casillas has been hoping for to really shore up his wall of defense.

And don’t forget that Barcelona is still pretty darn good. I don’t expect them to get all starry-eyed and just lie down for the Whites. Right now, they’re still the best team in the world and a hungry Ibrahimovic might make them even stronger than they were last season.

John: Part of what makes both Kaka and Ronaldo such great players is the fact that they make their teammates around them better. I’m not suggesting others improve their skills from merely being in their presence (although I do wonder what the going rate would be for a sample of their DNA), but opposing defenses need to account for and focus on them so much that it opens up space for other players on the field to do their thing.

I’m not guaranteeing Real Madrid is set to go on some kind of insane run like AC Milan’s 58-match unbeaten streak during their golden years, but if I had those two at my disposal, I’d really like my chances against any other side in the world. Let’s face it — they’re just too good to fail to get results. You’re going to see that pair dance through defenses like Kevin Bacon in Footloose time and time again.

Great column guys, thanks for the weekly entertainment. I’ve been following soccer for a few years now and I’ve recently been wondering about transfer requests? As with Xabi Alonso, how does the submission of a request negate a legal contract between club and player? Is there a clause in these players contracts that allow for them to leave if the put it in writing? I’m a little confused.

Alejandro of Washington, D.C.

John: Contracts? I wish we had one of those little rolling on the floor laughing icons we could paste in here. It typically depends on how the contract is written, but even that doesn’t matter all that much anymore in this day and age. Players can basically whine their way away from one team and on to another if they sulk about it enough.

Robert: The transfer request doesn’t negate the contract, but it lets a player gain some leverage with the club by publicly airing any grievance(s). Think of it like your wife showing up with divorce papers.

Now it’s time to negotiate. If a solution can be found and both parties agree to it, then the transfer request will be taken off the table. If not, then it’s up to the team to decide if they want to keep an unhappy player.

In the case of big stars like Alonso, this adds to the pressure to sell him as other clubs can now make increasingly absurd bids to unsteady the selling club — in this case, Liverpool. At the end of the day, it’s nothing more than a ploy to put the wheels in motion for a player who wants out.

Liverpool would also like to sell Alonso at this point to make some money rather than let him go for free when his contract is up. However, the Reds are sitting tight and waiting for an offer of £25 million or more for Alonso which is quite a tidy sum for main bidders Real, especially after having spent so much for Ronaldo, Kaka and Benzema.

There is also a sell-on clause attached to any deal for the Spanish midfielder. This means that if Liverpool sells Alonso, they’ll have to pay a fee to the club they bought him from — Real Sociedad.

Should be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Dear Side Kicks, great articles I look foward to them every Friday. Here is my dilemma: I am a Manchester United fan, kinda. While I do support Manu, Rooney, and the like, I do not support AIG. I am appalled at their practices and that they got and unwisely spent all that money from the United States Government. As soon as the Red Devils change sponsors, I plan on getting the first jersey off the presses. Am being hypocritical? Should I not let my beliefs get in the way of my passion for a football team? Am I overthinking this? Because I don’t want it to seem like I am hopping on the Manu band wagon.

Kevin of Hatfield, Mass.

Robert: I’ve been a Red Devil supporter for over a decade now and not once have I given a rat’s ass if it read ‘Sharp’ or ‘AIG’ across the players’ chests. If you’re a fan of the team, then support them for what they show you on the pitch — forget all the rest.

So yes, you’re tragically overthinking this and letting politics get in the way of your fandom. Buy the jersey and be proud of the badge, not the sponsor. That badge will always stay the same and represent the club you love, while the ‘Walmart’ on the kit will be replaced by ‘LG’ next year.

As far as the ‘bandwagon’ thing goes, it comes with the territory. Unless you’re a centenarian who grew up on the same street and went to the same grade school as Sir Matt Busby, you’re going to be called a ‘bandwagoner.’ Get used to it …

But hey, it’s Man United. It’s a pretty good bandwagon to ride.

John: I’ve got news for you, Kevin — anyone who claims they like Man United nowadays are bandwagon fans. I don’t care if you actually lived in Manchester … I’d bet the majority of “lifelong fans” who support them every week don’t even know that Old Trafford isn’t even in the city of Manchester, or that Man United actually has been in the second division as recently as the 1970s.

I have a better idea for you, though. Take your $100 that you’ll spend on a new jersey, roll it up and smoke it. You’ll get much more satisfaction from doing that than you would from wearing their jersey, which to me is kind of like rooting for slot machines to take money from players.

I am not a fan of the MLS all star game, but it does gather interest for the league. Chivas aside, they have only had opposition from British clubs. What is the reason for this? Do you think we will ever see the likes of powerful South American clubs ala River Plate or Corinthians? Do the MLS want to focus on Euopean teams?

Trent of Saugerties, N.Y.

John: I don’t know if MLS actually has some kind of standing agreement with the FA, but it gives English teams a chance to play in a semi-competitve match and train for the upcoming season while giving our All-Stars a chance to showcase their skills against a team which is (in theory) better than your average MLS team.

And say what you want about whether Everton gave maximum effort the other night, but Team MLS deserved to win that game. Damn it, Landon … how did he smack the ball off the post from five yards out? Oh well … better he does that now than next summer in South Africa.

Robert: There’s a special connection between soccer fans in America and the Premier League. Perhaps it’s the shared culture and language, but whatever it might be, there’s simply no denying the fact that the Prem is the most watched and followed football league in the United States.

That in mind, I believe that MLS is really targeting Premier League clubs to draw on that following, while the English clubs are here to grow their brand in the most affluent nation on earth (we still are, aren’t we?). It’s quite a symbiotic relationship, really.

But is it exclusive? No, not at all, but MLS is trying to maximize its presence for soccer fans in the U.S. who don’t necessarily follow the league in their own backyard very much. Those fans will recognize an Everton or a Celtic more than they would a smaller club from South America or one of the other leagues in Europe.

However, if the scheduling worked out for it, I don’t think Don Garber would think twice about the opportunity to send out his All-Stars against a Barcelona or Juventus. Clubs that big would trump just about anyone else. Let’s hope we get a chance to see it.

Hey guys, I hope you did well at your soccer tournament. I wanted to ask you about the whole Ferguson Tevez affair. I have always respected Ferguson’s decision and nine times out of ten, he always looks the wiser. I never thought Tevez fit into United but Ferguson seems bitter about him leaving. Tevez was rarely played when it mattered and It’s not like he wanted him their in the first place. Would Manchester United have purchased him in the first place just to keep him away from other English Teams (ala like NY Yankees do in baseball). Is SAR sour about Tevez heading to Manchester City. Manchester United have been poaching for years (Carrick, Van de Sar, Valencia, Berbatov, Rooney), why the resentment for Man City.

John of Scarsdale, N.Y.

Robert: First off, Tevez contributed a ridiculous amount in 2007-08 when United won the Premier League and the European Cup. He had a wonderful knack for putting in vital goals at the most critical times — in fact, you could easily say that the Red Devils wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did without El Apache that year.

Last year, with the very expensive arrival of Dimitar Berbatov, Tevez’s role diminished. How could it not? You don’t buy a Ferrari to leave it sitting in the driveway, right? In order to justify the price, Sir Alex felt compelled to give the Bulgarian perhaps more chances than he deserved, and a good portion of the time, he delivered.

It’s easy to understand why Tevez was frustrated and wanted out — it’s also just as easy to see why fans were so annoyed not to see his name in the starting XI more often, too.

So when Cristiano Ronaldo bailed for Madrid, it was time to woo back Carlitos. Unfortunately, he wasn’t having any of it. And with his shady agent Kia Joorabchian pulling the strings on a big-money deal across the city, it was only a question of time.

Sure, Fergie might be a little bitter, but he’s been through the wars and knows what it means to lose players. He’s even kicked a few out in their primes, like Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy. He’s no stranger to change.

I just can’t wait for the first derby match this season between the two clubs. Can you say ‘tension?’

Oh yeah, my team (Chelsea) went two and out at the first annual Fox Soccer Channel tournament. It was hot. I wasn’t properly hydrated. An ocelot stole the ball. Any more excuses? Okay, fine … I stink. There. You happy?

John: You’re probably a little off base when you say Tevez didn’t play many important matches for United. He did, and he seemed to pop up and knock in an important goal for them every so often.

But yeah, you’re probably correctly sensing a few sour grapes from Big Al. Funny … he didn’t seem to mind the poaching, but he pretends to be outraged when another team does it to him.

Now he knows how 16 of the 20 clubs in the Premiership have felt time and time again throughout the years. I think we’re actually coming close to the end of the Man United era of dominance, and I can hardly contain my excitement.

Is it just me, or are American soccer commentators not up to par with their European counterparts? Every time I watch a match with American TV commentators (most recently the World Football Challenge, but it seems to be across the board for all channels) it seems as though all they say is the names of who has the ball. Terry to Lampard. Drogba receives Lampard’s pass, now over to Malouda, etc., etc. Little technical analysis and passion. Are they dumbing down the broadcast for Americans, or are they just not as experienced as the Europeans? It makes me not want to watch a match with American broadcasters, as I enjoy the commentators from across the pond much more. Your thoughts?

Josh of Rowlett, Tx.

John: I don’t know why, but soccer matches seem strangely more entertaining when there’s a British accent describing the action. It just seems more congruent, and if you think I’m wrong, imagine Martyn Tyler and Andy Gray announcing an NBA or NFL game. “LeBron James with a fantastic finish, there … and the Cavaliers take a two-nil lead to open up this contest against the … Miami Heat.” It would sound completely awkward, bizarre and clumsy.

Remember though, they’ve been doing it for years while we’re still catching on. I do like the way JP Dellacamera announces U.S. games (he gets genuinely excited when the U.S. scores a big goal), and John Harkes does a pretty good job of breaking down the technical aspects of the game. Maybe if they spent a few years living in London and picking up British accents, it’d be better … ?

Robert: It’s true that bad announcing can really ruin a game … never more so than during the 2006 World Cup when Dave O’Brien was asked to figure out the entire history of a hundred year-old sport in the two weeks before the opening ceremony in Munich.

It was pretty painful.

And while Johnny is surprisingly lauding John Harkes’ in-game analysis, I still prefer Wynalda’s candor from the same seat. I will agree with Juhasz though when it comes to JP Dellacamera … he does a fine job.

But it all goes back to that old saying ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’ If JP was spending more time telling little stories about individual players or inserting a humorous anecdote here and there, people would gripe about him not letting them know who was on the ball more often.

Johnny’s also right about the accent … I would hate to hear Martin Tyler call one of Kobe’s drives to the basket.

Just try not to let the commentary get in the way of the game on the field. That’s all that really matters in the end.

Robert Burns is the senior editor of and John Juhasz is a fantasy writer for