Tag Archives: soccer

Break from tradition: no tailgating at Minnesota United soccer matches

tailgatingProfessional soccer in Minnesota brings to mind not only a love of the beautiful game but also a thirst for pregame parking lot festivities.

Having a couple of cold ones with a grill going — better known, of course, as tailgating — was a major component of the early big crowds drawn by the NASL’s Kicks in the 1970s out at the old Met in Bloomington.

Of more recent vintage, the ample space out at the National Sports Center in Blaine lent itself well to tailgating fun — a practice that became a staple for Minnesota United’s Dark Clouds supporters group, among others.

But United’s move to Major League Soccer this year also meant a venue shift. The team has its first-ever MLS home game at TCF Bank Stadium at the U of M on March 12. That’s the first of 17 home dates spanning into early October. And the rule is this: no tailgating at any of the matches.

United fans who have heard the news are disappointed. United officials say they are still attempting to work something out with the U. But it’s spelled out quite clearly on the game day rules on the school’s web site: NO tailgating, appearing just as it looks there — all-caps for one word and bold on the whole thing.

The most interesting part of the equation is the “why” instead of simply the “what.” After all, tailgating is allowed in surrounding parking lots for Gophers football games at TCF Bank Stadium. It was also allowed for Vikings games during the two seasons the NFL team used the stadium as a temporary tenant — a similar situation in some ways to United, which is only playing there while its stadium in St. Paul is being built.

Tim Busse, communications director for the U, explained the decision via e-mail. “The University promotes tailgating on Gopher game days as a community-building activity for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. Tailgating certainly enhances the Stadium event experience within a safe, responsible, and controlled environment. However, tailgating for events unaffiliated with the University mission does not serve a similarly important purpose for the University. With eight years of experience, the tailgating culture of Gopher events has been pretty well established. Unaffiliated, third party events bring a great deal more uncertainly.”

When asked why it was allowed for Vikings games but not United games, Busse noted several factors were at play and added that tailgating is not allowed during concerts at TCF Bank Stadium.

“During Viking games, we didn’t allow any other campus events. The Vikings filled the stadium and campus parking facilities and we concentrated all of our resources and efforts on managing the football game. We also knew when they would be playing and could generally plan on a consistent start time,” Busse said. “The United won’t fill the stadium so we won’t have the same prohibition of other campus events during their games. … United games are also scheduled on four different days of the week, with at least six different start times, and stretch from Spring Semester, to Summer Session, and back into Fall Semester. Allowing tailgating for some games and not allowing it for others would be confusing and unworkable.”

That makes a decent amount of sense, but it doesn’t make the decision — made by the Vice President of University Services, “in close consultation with the President’s Office and Public Safety leadership,” Busse said — any more popular with United fans.

Busse encouraged those fans to have their pregame fun at surrounding bars and restaurants — which, it should be noted, are far more plentiful than they were at United’s old home in Blaine. Surly, which fueled many Dark Clouds tailgates at the National Sports Center, has its sprawling brewery less than a mile from the stadium.

Still, if you like a longstanding local soccer tradition — or just the idea of tailgating in general — it appears you are going to be out of luck at United games at TCF Bank Stadium.

Back to my roots: World Cup analyst and ex-Gopher Kyndra de St. Aubin

deStAubin_HSI knew how to call Kyndra de St. Aubin before I knew exactly why I wanted to call her.

A public relations contact from Fox Sports North had pitched the idea of an interview with de St. Aubin, a former Gophers women’s soccer player who was part of the Fox broadcast team during the Women’s World Cup.

But the name didn’t jump out at me — and if someone who at least pays reasonable attention to all the Gophers teams didn’t recognize the name, I figured readers probably wouldn’t, either. It seemed like a marginal connection, and I was set to move on until …

I started tracking back and figured out that her name didn’t sound familiar because it’s her married name. When she played for the Gophers and at Stillwater High before that, she was Kyndra Hesse. (She married Bobby de St. Aubin, a noted soccer player himself, and her high school sweetheart since the 9th grade).

Kyndra Hesse was a name I definitely recognized. In fact, she was the subject of one of the earliest stories I ever wrote at the Star Tribune, back in September of 1998 when I was here on a six-month temporary job.

Nearly 17 years later, we spoke again Tuesday — about 24 hours before she did the color commentary on the dramatic and heartbreaking 2-1 Japan victory over England, in which the losing side fell on a stoppage time own goal.

As it turns out, we have a lot in common these days.

First, or course, she’s in the media — having fallen in love with the business on a whim in college and stuck with it ever since.

“I was typical – 100 percent focused on soccer and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. It got to be my junior year at Minnesota,” said Hesse, who graduated from Stillwater in 1999 and originally went to Wisconsin before transferring to play for the Gophers. “It was the point where if you want to be eligible, you have to declare a major. … I visited my brother who was doing a radio internship and was like, ‘dude you get paid for that.'”

She landed a sports radio job with ESPN’s local station in Wisconsin after graduation, which led to a radio job in Phoenix as well as some work with the Big Ten and Pac-12 Network doing soccer. That helped pave the way for more soccer assignments and the much larger stage this year with the World Cup.

“I’m the only analyst who didn’t play on the national team,” de St. Aubin said. “You see their bios and they have this many caps or gold medals. It’s a fabulous group.”

Whatever she did, it worked. She was supposed to be done after the quarterfinals, but on merit she earned analyst duties Wednesday as well. It was a professional high for de St. Aubin, though it was also a personal challenge since it meant more time away from her 16-month-old daughter, Adelynne.

It’s the first child for Kyndra and Bobby, so naturally we had to talk for a while about parenthood with our daughters (mine, Anabel, is 15 months) so close in age.

“It’s killing me right now because I was supposed to go home Sunday,” de St. Aubin said, even though she gladly stayed for the semifinal. “She was in Vancouver with me for four weeks because we were stationed there, but this is hard.”

She’s making it work, though, because all of it is a labor of love. “It’s not like I was ever trying to impress people,” de St. Aubin said of being a soccer analyst. “I just love soccer, and when I do a game it’s like watching on my couch with my husband.”

And she’s done it all while managing a serious medical condition. Part of the story I wrote way back in 1998 had to do with how de St. Aubin, one of the top soccer players in the state, had recently been diagnosed with systemic lupus. I shared with her my multiple sclerosis diagnosis from 2014 — the conditions are different, but they are both autoimmune disorders — and we both agreed that the biggest impact is on a person’s life perspective.

De St. Aubin said she had one flareup in 2008 that impacted her kidneys and took a while to clear up. Both of us, however, have been fairly fortunate in the big picture — though obviously she’s been dealing with lupus for far longer than I’ve been dealing with MS.

“I’ve been really lucky,” she said. “I’ve been really healthy most of my life.”

And I was lucky I decided to call. Half a lifetime later, it was nice to catch up.

Good fortune doesn’t diminish U.S. World Cup win

usaAlmost every single sporting event amounts to a series of close calls, near-misses, 50-50 judgments by officials and fortune doled out one way or another — and taken advantage of or not.

This is particularly true of sports in which there is little scoring: hockey, baseball, football (which tries to pretend it is a higher-scoring sport by giving out six points for one score) and yes, of course, soccer (which takes the brunt of low-scoring jokes and should quite possibly start awarding seven points for a goal so it could have bigger scores like 14-7 instead of 2-1).

If you have a sport in which scoring is precious, you are likely going to have a handful of key moments in every game that could go either way — and are probably going to play a large role in determining the outcome. Sometimes it’s a ball or puck off the goalpost … or a ball that lands a couple inches foul … or a pass just a few inches too far for its intended target. But often times it’s a judgment call by an official: pass interference or no? Ball or strike on that 3-2 pitch? Interference penalty and a power play or just a clean check? Some of this messiness has been mitigated by instant replay, but we still rely very heavily on the human element.

In soccer, this manifests itself with perhaps the most important judgment call of all: whether or not to award a penalty kick. There are guidelines to determine when a foul qualifies as a PK, but in the heat of the moment it often must be a wrenching decision to make. Players are selling it. Angles are tough. It’s hard but vital to get it right because a goal in soccer is so very precious.

That brings us to last night’s U.S. vs. Germany Women’s World Cup semifinal. Germany was awarded a penalty kick in the second half of a scoreless game after American defender Julie Johnston was called for a foul in the penalty area. The call was mostly correct, though Johnston very easily could have been given a red card instead of simply a yellow, which would have left the Americans a player short the rest of the way. But it wasn’t called that way … and Germany missed the PK … and the match stayed completely even.

Not long after, Alex Morgan made a dash up the middle of the field for the U.S. and was taken down near the penalty area. She dove, fell in a heap, and a PK was rewarded to the Americans. My initial reaction was that there was no way it was the proper call, and I was stunned as they lined up for the penalty instead of a try from 19 or 20 yards out. Replays confirmed that the awarding of the penalty was, at best, iffy — and if we’re being honest, incorrect.

But that was the call. Carli Lloyd calmly took the kick and buried it for a 1-0 U.S. lead. I tweeted that the penalty was not well-earned but the kick was certainly well-taken, and it was met with a dose of angst and skepticism from some U.S. fans.

Perhaps saying it wasn’t earned was a bit too far, but the reaction underscores how a lot of us watch sports these days, I think: with every good break justified and every bad break an outrage. The mere suggestion that the U.S. didn’t fully earn it’s PK, in the eyes of some, would diminish the goal and taint the victory — so let’s never speak of it that way.

But really, that’s not true. As noted before, these are the very plays that determine almost every game. Some are more front-and-center than others, but regardless: it doesn’t diminish or cheapen an accomplishment to admit your team received some good fortune along the way because that’s fundamental to pretty much every win in a game like this.

At the same time, I also reflected on the tweet after the fact and recognized that as a journalist I’m strangely situated to watch games through an objective lens, even when I have a rooting interest and no working interest. As such, I would imagine I am quick to judge what is a break or what isn’t a break even if it casts the team I’m rooting for in the “lucky” category. (Famous personal example: My blog post from five years ago in which I honestly determined that Drew Pearson did not really push off after watching the play repeatedly). This probably makes me really fun to be around (though anyone who has watched me watch a Vikings game knows that the veil of objectivity can be lifted quickly and with vulgarity).

Maybe it’s no fun to think of sports as a series of random events determined partially by the skill and moxie of the competitors but so often by luck and judgment (or maybe that randomness is the very appeal of sports). Regardless, if you would have complained bitterly about the penalty that ultimately led to the winning goal for the U.S. had it happened the other way around, it is fair (perhaps even essential) to acknowledge the tremendous break as a gift.

It is nothing that needs an apology attached to it. You get or overcome breaks. You win or lose as a result. That’s sports.

Nuclear Wessel: Saturday is for football, and not the college kind

nuclearDana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show with Rider, Eric Perkins and Rena Sarigianopoulos on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am.

Greetings friends, family, lovers, soccer fans and people who came to RandBall blog and are annoyed to find a soccer post.

Week 15 already? Where has the season gone? Even crazier, because of the holiday fixtures, we will be past the halfway point of the season by New Year’s Day. Time to find out who is serious about their top-4 prospects, which relegation fodder are resigned to their fate and if anybody feels like giving Chelsea and Manchester City a serious run.

The schedule is very front-loaded this weekend. The Sunday matches are about as appealing as a turpentine cocktail so we’ve got ourselves a nice little Saturday triple-header! So get up early, hunker down and avoid any real responsibilities for six straight hours of Premier League goodness.

Also, don’t forget. MLS Cup between the LA Galaxy and New England Revolution is Sunday afternoon at 2:00. It is the last ride for Landon Donovan. Tune in and say goodbye.

No. 1: Newcastle vs Chelsea at St James Park

When: Saturday at 6:45am on NBC Sports Network

Last year: Newcastle took all three points from this one last November. Chelsea fell behind 1-rip in the 68th before current Blue Loic Remy added a dagger in the 89th to make an impressive 2-0 scoreline for the Geordies.

Gonna be an early wakeup for the proprietor of this here webspace. I gotta be honest though, I really like the 6:45am match. Due to the hours that I keep for work, 6:45 is like 11:00am for me. But more importantly, sporting events at random hours are just fun. Makes it feel like more of an event.

As far as the match goes, a win or a tie for Chelsea on Saturday and they become the 4th Premier League team in history to make it through their first 15 matches without a loss. It would also set a new club record for an unbeaten streak (24 games).

But despite their 3-0 win against Spurs mid-week, this one has Chelsea fans shaking in their Stamford the Lion boxers briefs a bit. Jose Mourinho has never won a Premier League match at St James Park and Chelsea have lost there in consecutive years.

Chelsea were without prolific striker Diego Costa against Spurs and will be without another vital player Saturday. Nemanja Matic acquired 5 yellow cards (I hope his mother is mad at him like mine used to get at me) and will miss his first minutes of the Premier League season. Matic has solidified a defensive midfield position that had been a revolving door the past few seasons.

Newcastle have come back down to earth a bit after their 5-match win streak that vaulted them into the top-4 for like 24 hours at one point. But a loss to West Ham and a draw with Burnley has left them looking more like the drop-zone contenders they were the first month of the season. What does that mean? They are likely somewhere in-between.

Chelsea are the favored side. A Newcastle win is the least likely of the three potential outcomes*. But this will not be a laugh for Mourinho and his undefeated squad. Looks to be a very entertaining match.  

*I guess technically there are more than three potential outcomes. Ninja monkeys could invade the pitch and the match would be abandoned. Wouldn’t that be cool? 40-years from now we could be sitting around a pub, talking about the time the ninja monkeys invaded St James Park and bit Oscar before Branislav Ivanovic killed all of them.

No. 2: Liverpool vs Sunderland at Anfield

When: Saturday at 9:00am on NBC Sports Network

Last year: Liverpool beat the Black Cats 2-1 at Anfield last March. It was in the middle of their 11 match win streak and just one match before they overtook City for top spot in the league.

Liverpool are on TV a LOT. They are the only team to have 100 percent of their matches televised this season. I get it. They have a lot ton of fans here. And win or lose, it usually happens in spectacular fashion. But they are like the Braves in the 1990s. No matter where you live, you can always watch them, whether you want to or not.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers finds himself with some crucial matches coming up and some difficult lineup decisions. Liverpool have won a pair of matches after losing three straight and find themselves in eighth place and five points out of the coveted 4th spot in the table.

Sunderland are Sunderland, but Liverpool cannot overlook the lowly Black Cats with Tuesday’s must-win Champions League match looming. Steven Gerrard scored midweek against Leicester City but does Rodgers roll out the 34-year old midfielder and hope the can be ready to play his third match in six days come Tuesday?

Rogers said recently he knows he is a sack-candidate. This month will determine his fate. On on one hand, a win Tuesday and a strong December in the league and he could have them in the Round of 16 in Champions League and in the thick of a top-4 fight. On the other, they could get run by FC Basel Tuesday, be eliminated from Champions League, stumble through the rest of December and be in the bottom half of the table come New Year’s Day. If that’s the case, Rodgers could be watching the rest of the season on TV.

But all that will come in due time. All they can worry about is Sunderland. The Black Cats got beat by City 3-1 on Wednesday but did manage to become the first team this season to hold Chelsea scoreless.

Despite a rough start, it is still there for Liverpool to have a successful season. But they have to get fat at home — where they have won just two of the last six — against teams like Sunderland. However, I think this one has draw written all over it.

No. 3: Manchester City vs Everton at Etihad Stadium

When: Saturday at 11:30 on Big Boy NBC

Last year: City fell behind 1-0 early in this fixture last year thanks to a goal from Romelu Lukaku. But City responded with three goals (one scored by Everton keeper Tim Howard) for a 3-1 win.

You’re killing me, Everton. I got bold and slotted them to finish in the top 4 this season and so far they’ve let me down. They sit in 11th place in the table on 18 points. The most disturbing part, however, is that World Cup hero, All-American, and future President of the United States Tim Howard has looked like that kid on a U-11 team that was forced to play goalie against his will.

OK. Maybe it hasn’t been that bad, but man, oh, man Timmy. Letting balls go through his legs, getting beat near post, yelling at defenders much more than he usually does. Everton have given up 22 goals this season, good for second-worst in the league behind Crystal Palace and Sunderland with 23. Bums me out. I like Tim Howard more than I like most of my friends. I hope he turns it around.

Everton gave up a late equalizer at home to Burnley on Wednesday after falling at Spurs on Sunday. The odd thing is, their form in Europa has been great. They need that European form to start carrying over domestically.  

But Timmy and Everton will be up against it Saturday at the Etihad against City and Sergio Aguero. How ridiculous has he been? Teams could play with three goalies in net and he would still find a way to score. He scored two more midweek against Sunderland is sitting on 19 in all competitions. He is just downright scary.

So are City. They have overcome their early season lumps, have won three straight and are just six points behind Chelsea. The race for top of the table is shaping up to be the heavyweight slugfest between Chelsea and City everybody thought it would be.

I’d like to say I see Timmy and company fighting the good fight but it is still early Friday morning as I write this and haven’t had any booze yet. City extend their win streak to four and keep the pressure on Chelsea is the obvious result here. Hope I am wrong!

Alright, enjoy logging hours on your couch for the triple-header Saturday. If the pub is your route, be sure to tip your waitress and thank the owner for opening up early. Until next week, keep your wall tight and your free-kicks direct.

Vikings to show renderings of new stadium outfitted for soccer next week

The race for a Major League Soccer franchise is quite possibly nearing the finish line, and ahead of that one of the Minneapolis groups vying for a franchise is making one more push for visibility.

Two different Minnesota groups — the Vikings’ group led by the Wilf family and the Minnesota United group led by Bill McGuire — joined groups from Sacramento and Las Vegas last week in New York to make pitches to bring an expansion MLS franchise to Minnesota.

The United group would build a new soccer-specific stadium; the Vikings’ group would have a team play in its new under-construction stadium, and next Tuesday the Vikings are having an event at which they plan to unveil renderings for how pro soccer would look in a reduced-capacity version of that stadium.

The event — which is not open to the public — is at their stadium preview center, which is across the street from the new stadium site.

Also making an appearance at the event is ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman, who will “discuss the 2014 MLS season, preview the Dec. 7 MLS Cup and share why Minnesota should be excited about a potential MLS franchise,” per information from a media invite about the event.

The MLS Board of Governors will discuss expansion on Dec. 6, the day before the MLS Cup, and a decision to award an expansion franchise could come from those meetings.

Nuclear Wessel: Same great English Premier League chatter, in a new location!

nuclearDana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show with Rider, Eric Perkins and Rena Sarigianopoulos on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. He is our Premier League expert and we love him dearly. He is testing out a new home in the RandBall space in exchange for some delicious boneless chicken wings. We also made him a logo! Dana?

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You can stop pacing around the house and breathing into a brown paper bag, the Premier League is back this weekend and with it comes an edition of Nuclear Wessel so scorching with hot takes that I wouldn’t be surprised if it causes the internet to explode.

But before we get to this week’s slate, I want to share my experience I had out east last weekend seeing Landon Donovan’s final match with the United State’s Men’s National Team.

It was a perfect fall night for soccer in Connecticut. It was one of the coolest nights of my life. And I didn’t even get to see him play.

Yep. I traveled across the country to see my favorite athlete’s final match and I didn’t even see him play. Ill spare you all the planes, trains and automobile story*, but the long and short of it is we didn’t get there until the 50th minute and Landon was subbed off in the 40th

*Let this be a lesson to all of you. Bad things happen occasionally when you travel. That is the risk you take. It’s part of life. Nobody wants to hear your sob story about a flight delay or how a rental car wasn’t ready. It happens to everyone. Sometimes life hits you in the midsection. Wear a cup.

But just being there for the 30 or so minutes after the match made it all worth it and made it a night I’ll remember forever. They played a video tribute after the match with all the players standing next to Donovan watching it. The entire crowd went crazy when they showed the Algeria goal as if it had just happened live. Landon got on the mic to thank the fans and promise he’d start hanging out and drinking beer before matches with us.  Then came the victory lap. that he ended by climbing into the American Outlaws section to lead us all in rousing rendition of ‘I Believe’ while wearing AO sunglasses and scarves people in the front gave to him.

You could tell by the Jumbotron shots and the pictures afterwards just how much it meant to Landon to get one last ovation from the fans. You could also tell by the watery eyes of everyone in the stands just how much it meant to give it to him.

After giving us 14 years, 157 matches, 57 goals, three World Cup appearances, four Gold Cup trophies, the legend of ‘Dos a Cero’ and single-handedly making US soccer not only cool in this country but feared and respected in every other country, it was the least we could do.

 

No. 1: Manchester City vs Spurs at Etihad Stadium

When: 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: Yeah, this one didn’t go too well for the visitors last week. City won 6-0. Spurs gave up a goal in the first minute, the last minute (90+2), just before halftime (41), just after halftime (50) and own goal somewhere in between (34). Short of your entire team forgetting to wear shorts,  I don’t think you can be more thoroughly beaten and humiliated than that in a soccer match.

Whenever they do a Reward Challenge in Survivor (yes, Survivor is still on. Yes, I still watch. Yes, it is my second favorite sport behind soccer), host Jeff Probst unveils some type of delicious platter of food or some sort of comfort item that the deliriously hungry, sleep deprived contestants want so bad they almost start crying. Probst then always asks, in almost taunting fashion, “worth playing for?”

Whenever I am checking out the weekend Premier League schedule I first glance at the 6:45AM game and ask myself, in full Probst voice, if it is worth waking up for.

This one? Definitely worth waking up for. Kinda. So set your alarm now or just make it an all-nighter.

Spurs fans still likely have night terrors about both City matches from last year, or the last few years for that matter. They have just one win in the past seven against the current trophy holders.

But there is hope! Kinda. Or maybe I am just trying to talk myself into this being worth a 6:40am alarm. A year ago, the Etihad was like the castle in Super Mario Bros 3. You left battered, defeated and your spirit (and your controller) broken. But it has been a different tune early on this season. They have already dropped four points at home in four home matches after dropping just three in 19 a year ago. So, as Martin Tyler would say, where there is life there’s hope.

But that’s about where the hope ends. You’d think the news that Yaya Toure might not play would have Tottenham fans turning cartwheels and doing jazz-hands but it will be Spurs-killer Frank Lampard starting in his place.

Lampard scored eight goals in 13 games against Spurs during his time at Chelsea and seems to enjoy rubbing their faces in it. There is a loosely attributed quote from Lamps where he said, “It is always horrible losing to Tottenham because they make DVDs of the one victory they had over you for the next 10 years.” I have never seen where/when he actually said it, but it is a popular internet meme, and internet memes are more binding than the United States Constitution as far as I am concerned.

Both sides come into this match in good form. Spurs beat Southampton their last time out, one week after earning a point at Arsenal. They sit level on points with Manchester United (what?) in fourth despite scoring just nine goals so far. City sit five points behind Chelsea and will be desperate not to lose more ground to the title co-favorites.

Hoping Spurs makes this one worth the alarm clock but I am not hopeful. I see City winning and Lampard scoring (FANBOY FOR LIFE!!!!). But just think Spurs fans, no chance it can be as bad as last season. Unless of course they come out in their skivvies and lost 7-0 this time around.

No. 2: Crystal Palace vs Chelsea at Selhurst Park

When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: Chelsea were unbeaten against the top four teams last year but it was matches like this that caused them to finish third. Palace beat them last March 1-0 with the lone score coming on an own-goal from Chelsea captain John Terry.

BREAKING NEWS: DIEGO COSTA’S STATUS IS IN DOUBT FOR SATURDAY’S MATCH, ACCORDING TO JOSE MOURINHO.

Yep, just like every other match this season. But watch, since I am acting like a dill weed about it, he actually won’t play. Hope that isn’t the case. Didier Drogba isn’t healthy yet. Sounds like Andre Schurrle isn’t either. Could be 90 minutes of Loic Remy!!!

But we all know it is a lot of smoke from Jose. He is doing what he does. I hope.

Even if Costa can’t go, this is still a game that Chelsea could and should win if they are serious about lifting a trophy in May. The match at Palace was one of the stumbling blocks for Chelsea last season. They had no problem beating the sharks but couldn’t beat the minnows.

But the minnows are much more rested than the sharks, in this case. All but three of Chelsea players were out on international duty, traveling a combined 90,000+ miles, according to The Mirror. Palace, on the other hand, had everybody but three players staying home during international break, doing all sorts of British type of things like writing Harry Potter fan fiction and, I dunno, that is the only stereotype I can think of right now so Ill just stop.

So City come into this match rested and with only one loss in their last five, a streak that includes a 3-2 win at Everton. But Chelsea are deep. They were built for things like overcoming international breaks and nagging injuries. Most importantly, they have been going at this table like they are The Wolf from Pulp Fiction.

I see Chelsea getting all three points. At least, I hope they do. It is my girlfriend Heather’s birthday on Sunday and I can’t afford to be in Crabby Chelsea Mode all weekend long.

No. 3: Everton vs Aston Villa at Goodison Park

When: Saturday at 9AM on NBC Sports Extra Time

Last year: Everton scored two goals late to beat Villa 2-1 at Goodison Park last February.

This one kicks at the same time at as Chelsea/Palace but it is a great alternative for neutrals who are sick of watching Chelsea every weekend or folks who want to watch a goalie showdown between two true American Heroes like George Washington and Nic Cage.

Now, this is by no means the first time Tim Howard and Brad Guzan will face off each other in the Premier League but this matchup takes on a bit of heightened meaning. Tim Howard announced in August that he is taking a year-long sabbatical from the United State’s Men’s National Team.

That leaves the National Team keys firmly in the gloves of Guzan for the next year. He will lead the USMNT through the Gold Cup next June and possibly beyond. It will be interesting to watch and compare Guzan and Howard going forward. Timmy is not guaranteed the job when he returns next August. Klinsmann has shown that he isn’t afraid to send a legend to the Island of Misfit Soccer Players*.

*The Donovan-Howard comparison isn’t exactly apples to apples. Donovan bailed in the middle of a World Cup qualifying cycle (although it was totally understood, especially with his recent announcement that he was/is battling depression) and Howard waited until after the World Cup to take time off during a relatively down period, and, if it wasn’t for him the U.S. would have lost 12-0 to Belgium in the World Cup.

Timmy will have to earn his way back into the lineup when he returns. Guzan had a pair of shutouts in World Cup Qualifying in 2013. He was the starter in the 1-0 Snow Match against Costa Rica in Colorado and the historic 0-0 tie against Mexico at the Azteca. It’s very possible that Timmy could get Wally Pipped during his time off.

That’s what makes head to head* matches like this so intriguing. The next year will tell a lot about the future between the bars for the USMNT and it is awesome to see them play on the same field in the Premier League.

*I always find it funny when they say head-to-head match ups between goalies or quarterbacks. It isn’t like Tom Brady is going to pick off Peyton Manning or Guzan is going to have a hatty against Timmy.

As far as this match goes, Aston Villa, as expected, have fallen off the face of the earth since their unbeaten start. After going unbeaten in their first three matches, they’ve lost their lost three by a combined 8-0. In their defense, the matches were against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. Also, they did recently beat Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield. But regardless, numbers don’t lie and Villa have somehow only managed to score four goals in seven games. Not exactly giving Guzan much help, aye?

Everton have fared even worse. My prediction of them finishing top four isn’t looking so hot. They sit in 17th place and have given up a league-worst 16 goals in seven matches. Again, that can’t all be pinned on Timmy,  but it certainly doesn’t paint a flattering picture of the guy who set a World Cup record for saves in a game in June.

This one could be a goal-fest or a zero-zero draw. I really have no idea. Put that hot take in your pipe and smoke it! I am just excited for the Guzan/Timmy bro-hug afterwards.

Alright friends, soccer fans and supermodels who read Nuclear Wessel. That’ll do it for this week. Enjoy the matches. Until next time, keep your free kicks direct and your runs to the far post.