The Vancouver Whitecaps' Jay DeMerit doesn't go through the motions very often. He's too Midwestern for that. (Respect!)
But attach a bunch of diodes to him and ask him to impersonate -- interpret? -- Manchester City's controversial Mario Balotelli, and he'll gladly fake it. (It's a pretty good impersonation, actually.)
Check out DeMerit and teammate Alain Rochat shadow-playing the beautiful game for EA Sports.
New York's acquisition of Australian attacking midfielder Tim Cahill was expected to have some knock-on effects. Looks like the first victim in the game of dominoes could be Mehdi Ballouchy.
According to this report on BigAppleSoccer.com, the Red Bulls are set to ship the Moroccan midfielder -- who was acquired from Colorado in 2010 -- to the San Jose Earthquakes. Nothing is confirmed by either club, and no word yet on what the Quakes are giving in return.
Ballouchy has made 16 appearances for NY this year, scored one goal, and posted two assists. In his two and a half seasons at Red Bull Arena, he has made a total of 51 regular-season appearances and five playoff appearances. He has scored four goals and added four assists.
Andriy Shevchenko has been regular grist for the MLS rumor mill, including in our very own Rumor Central, ever since he first started having troubles at Chelsea a few years back. Actually, it probably goes all the way back to when he married an American.
Well, starting today, we won't have to hear -- and scoff at -- those Sheva-to-MLS rumors anymore. On Saturday, the Ukrainian icon retired from the game and will now pursue a political career, working with the Forward Ukraine! party.
"Recently, there has been a lot of talk that I could sign a new contract with Dynamo Kyiv or play abroad," he said. "I can say, with confidence, that neither will happen. Perhaps this will shock everyone: I have decided to bring an end to my football career and to enter politics."
Shevchenko's career will go down as one of the most prolific and successful in history. At the club level, he scored 326 goals playing for Dynamo Kyiv, AC Milan, and Chelsea, winning five Ukrainian titles, an Italian title, and the 2003 Champions League.
Internationally, he scored 48 goals in 111 appearances for his country, including his final two in a 2-1 win over Sweden at EURO 2012, which Ukraine co-hosted.
He won the Ballon d'Or in 2004.
"I want to fulfill myself in politics, share the experience I gained in Europe, and do something for my country," he said, according to the Forward Ukraine! press service. "Forward Ukraine! is the party of the future, a party of young leaders, and it is a definite choice between the past and the future."
Could Polish goalscorer Ireneusz Jelen solve Columbus's scoring woes?
According to MLS-News.fr, Crew manager Robert Warzycha is interested in bringing his countryman to the side, which is currently in 8th place in the East and last in the conference in goals scored (17).
Jelen, 31, has been in France since 2006, spending five seasons with Auxerre and one with Lille. He has scored 49 goals in 153 league appearances in Ligue 1.
At the international level, he has 29 caps and five goals for Poland, making three appearances in the 2006 World Cup. But was not part of the recent EURO 2012 squad.
MLS is fast becoming a home away from home for Scottish players. First Kris Boyd inked a deal with Portland. Then his former Rangers teammate Steve Smith joined him in the Rose City. Ex-Celtic midfielder Barry Robson joined the Whitecaps last month, and now it looks like the rumored deal to bring international striker Kenny Miller to Vancouver is done.
“I told Kenny all about the club and he is excited about coming," Robson said, according to The Sun. “Kenny will be a great addition. He’s a top-quality player and everybody will be excited about his arrival. He is the type of player who would fit into any team. He is a goalscorer, he has talent and is intelligent. Kenny will offer a lot to the side with his pace, movement and goals. He is a top player."
Miller, who has spent time with Rangers, Celtic and Wolverhampton, among others, was most recently on the books at Cardiff City, where he scored 11 goals in 50 overall appearances.
“He’s a proven scorer at the highest level," Robson said, "and I’m looking forward to him becoming part of it all."
The final of the 2014 World Cup is two years from today. Amazing, huh? Seems like only yesterday, we were all huddled in soccer pubs and living rooms and tapas bars watching Spain beat the Netherlands in the final in Johannesburg.
But, in reality, that was a while ago. And now, everything is focused on 2014. Samba on the brain. Caipirinhas before dinner.
Seems like a good to look at what Jurgen Klinsmann's US national team needs to do to get to Rio.
Qualifying – "The Semifinals"
Technically, the current round of qualifying is called the Third Round. It's a group stage, and the US are in good shape after two matches. They beat Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 in Tampa on June 6 and then drew with Guatemala down in Central America four days later.
So at this point, the US are tied with Jamaica at the top of Group A, with four more matches to play.
That Guatemala away game would traditionally be the most difficult one of this round. But this cycle is a little different.
The trip down to Jamaica – who have improved greatly in the past few years – on September 7 will not be a Rastafarian walk in the park. It's made trickier because the two nations square off just four days later in Columbus. Klinsmann will have to manage his roster and squad smartly to avoid fatigue and any letdown in the second match.
Other than that is the away game in Antigua and Barbuda, on October 12, which will indeed be a walk in the park. The return match against Guatemala, at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City on October 16, won't be an easy three points, but the hope is that by then, the US won't need points. By then, they should've clinched a spot in the next round.
My guess is that the US will get nine more points – I think they'll struggle in Kingston – and move on without too many issues.
Qualifying – "The Hex"
Everyone's favorite game of Russian Roulette – the final round of qualifying for CONCACAF. Here are the most likely countries with bullets in the chamber:
Mexico: The Gold Cup champions are perfect in qualifying so far and will eventually cruise through.
Costa Rica: Los Ticos have been here before, and although they slipped up at home against El Salvador, they have enough firepower and experience (e.g. RSL's Alvaro Saborio) to make it.
Honduras: Loaded with familiar names, such as Sporting KC's Roger Espinoza and New England's Jerry Bengtson, los Catrachos are not the powerhouse they were a few years ago, but they still have enough to make the Hex.
Jamaica: This is the year for the Reggae Boyz – led by Colorado's Omar Cummings and Vancouver's Darren Mattocks – to make another serious run at a World Cup berth for the first time since 1998.
The sixth country is probably going to be either Panama or Canada.
Panama look very good through the first two matches, securing two wins, including a 2-0 shocker in Honduras. The other one, though, was a squeaker at home to unfancied Cuba. Still, Blas Pérez and the Panamanians are alone at the top of the Third Round Group C.
But Canada are nipping at their heels after battling for a win in Havana and then earning a draw at home against Honduras. They're in a good position, but will probably need to beat Panama at home and earn a result on the road against either Honduras or Panama.
No matter who makes it, the Hex will be rough road for the US, as it always has been. Klinsi got his first taste of life in CONCACAF when the US went to Guatemala. But the quality is better in the Hex. And the urgency, too.
The US has done well in the Hex recently, coming on top of the final six in each of the past two qualifying tournaments. But this is a different Mexican team than in the past – maybe the best Tri we've ever seen.
But the Yanks don't have to top the group. Just finish in the top three. Most likely, the cut-off for qualifying will be 16 points. That's what it was in 2010 and 2006. It was 17 in 2002, the last time the US qualified in the third spot.
Qualifying – Interconfederation Playoffs
What if the US stumble in the Hex and somehow finish out of the top three? Well, all is not lost. In fact, this year, the scheduling gods have smiled on CONCACAF: The fourth-place team in the Hex will still have a chance to get in through an inter-confederation playoff against the top qualifier from Oceania (a.k.a., New Zealand).
Last time out the playoff was between CONCACAF's fourth-place finisher and South America's fifth-place finisher. Costa Rica lost to Uruguay, as expected.
The hope for US fans, of course, is that it never gets to that point.
EA SPORTS is running the Imagine Yourself Here sweepstakes on MLSsoccer.com that could win some lucky fan two seats in the Sideline FIFA Soccer Lounge at the 2012 AT&T MLS All-Star Game, taking place July 25 at PPL Park.
Sounds pretty cool. And it got us thinking about what the sensual experience of sitting sideline might actually be like.
So we asked New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty.
If someone has a sideline seat, what can he or she expect you hear?
McCarty: Honestly, it’s a mix of Al Pacino in Scarface and Tupac. It can get a little intense with the heat of the competition. Things get said that you wouldn’t say to your Mom. But there’s also lots of communication. It’s like you have 11 guys all playing quarterback, barking out instructions, encouraging other guys.
What will they see?
McCarty: The subtle connections players have, like the movement of, say, the right back and right midfielder. You’ll see the playmaker’s subtle movements and the runs off the ball. For example, if the center back has the ball, you’ll notice a guy like Thierry Henry breaking off to run onto a long ball. You see the play before it happens.
What will they smell?
McCarty: Ha! Dirty laundry. Or a locker room. Definitely odors you don’t experience in the second deck with the hot dogs and nachos. It’s musky. You also can sometimes smell freshly cut grass. And dirt when the turf comes up on a slide tackle near the sidelines. But the muskiness outweighs the grass.
What will they taste?
McCarty: The moisture and the sweat of 22 guys running around. But it’s also metaphorical. You can taste the effort.
What will they feel?
McCarty: You might feel the grass under your feet. You feel how hard the field is or how soft it is. But mostly, you feel the emotion. You feel how much everyone wants to win.
Dave Wangerin, author of Soccer in a Football World and Distant Corners: American Soccer’s History of Missed Opportunities and Lost Causes, died on Friday, June 29, 2012.
I never knew David Wangerin, but I feel like I did.
His life story is eerily familiar: born in the Midwest, in love with writing, fascinated by soccer’s rich and woefully overlooked history in America.
His articles for When Saturday Comes and his 2006 book, Soccer in a Football World were — and remain — required reading for anyone in the US soccer scene. His regular appearances on various podcasts were always enjoyable.
Wangerin chronicled soccer here from its immigrant beginnings through the 1970s disco heyday of the NASL to the launch and slow rise of MLS. It was all part of his story.
Sadly, we will only be able to imagine the stories he might have told about the future of the game he loved.
What some of my colleagues have said:
RIP David Wangerin, US soccer history expert, who wrote the excellent book "Soccer In A Football World"
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 30, 2012
Enormously sad to hear about the passing of David Wangerin, author of the wonderful "Soccer In A Football World". Far, far too soon.
— Tom Dunmore (@pitchinvasion) June 30, 2012
But now he gets to go to Poland and Ukraine for EURO2012?
Now, I've been to a World Cup, a Confederations Cup, a Gold Cup, and an Africa Cup of Nations. But I've never been to a Euro tournament. They say it's the best of them all, at least on the field. All those great, highly paid Europeans doing what they do best.
But come on, Jimmy. Do you need to go over there and drive around and watch soccer and hang out with fans in Warsaw and Kiev and Gdansk? And someone else is footing the bill? Really?
Yes, Jimmy, I am jealous. Very jealous.
At least bring back some real kielbasa. That's the least you could do.
The rumors have been swirling around about a possible -- no, probable move away from Fulham for USMNT star Clint Dempsey this summer. The player himself has been very vocal about his desire to play in the Champions League.
"I've always said I'm grateful for everything Fulham has done for me," he said recently. "Some of the best memories I have in soccer have been there. But the fact remains that I want to play in Champions League. I want to play at the highest level possible."
That could become a reality this summer, if a big club comes along to pluck the EPL's 4th top scorer this season. All it will take, according to The Guardian, is £15 million ($24.5m). The English paper rates Dempsey #42 out of the top 50 transfer targets this summer, just behind Chelsea defender David Luiz and just ahead of Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel.
Is that about where Dempsey sits in the pecking order? Probably, though, I think I speak for most US national team fans when I say, someone is going to get a deal if they pick him up for just £15 million this summer.