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Pinch me, I must be dreaming

Do you believe in miracles?

Watford FC

Of all the lousy, two-bit, ill-starred woeful teams to have fallen for, this one tops the list. Watford have seen any number of talented players pass through the side, only to move on to bigger and better things, including quite a number of talented goalkeepers (coincidence? I think not). They have had the good fortune to have had Elton John's interest and occassionally money, and benefitted from the tutelage of an excellent manager in Graham Taylor. Still, Sir Elton has quit the board, Taylor has gone off to other pastures, and Watford had just that one brief shining moment of glory, coming in second in the old First Division and losing in the Cup. For the rest of their unstarred existence they have been, as one commentator had it "a bye-word for suburban mediocrity". Doesn't matter. I still love 'em, even if I now live too far away to see them play.

Question: "Why do you follow Watford?"
Answer: Blind, stupid, and desperate.

San JosÚ Earthquakes

There was a time when one had to be blind, stupid, and desperate to watch the Quakes (or the Clash, as they were then known), but no longer. Gone are the Heart-Attack kids who would blow leads in the last 5 minutes in the most distressing fashion, followed by a heartrending loss in a shootout. This is a team that knows that football is a team sport and plays with a lot of energy and style. Hard-working midfield, genuine superstar-in-the-making up front, and a rock-solid defense in the back. Pure fun.

Dear Santa: all I want for Christmas is a team that can have fewer than 5 players on the injury report every week.

The Squad

1 Jon Conway
Keeper. He's not a bad keeper, really, but the whole defense looks less organized and solid when he's in goal. Can flail hideously on a high cross.
2 Eddie Robinson
Defender. Robinson has really improved and stepped up to fill in for injured players. He doesn't make those scary defensive blunders he once did. On the other hand, his tackling can get wild at times, and he gets close to losing his temper completely one game in three. If he picks up one yellow card in a game, it's even odds he'll head for the shower early.
4 Chris RonÚr
Midfielder. Has had more playing time this season, due to the Great Injury Crisis, and has looked speedy and creative when he's come on. And getting more playing time buys you an accent on the line-up card and correct pronunciation of your name, apparently.
5 Ramiro Corrales
Midfielder. Corrales looks more sure and solid with every game. His shooting, however, continues to be wildly off target more often than not, and he has an unfortunate tendency to attempt to beat defenders instead of laying the ball off. Unfortunate, because he lacks the ability to beat defenders and loses the ball when he tries it. Every. Single. Time.
6 Ronnie Ekelund
Midfielder. Ekelund has spent some time on the injury roster this season, and has looked quite unfit when he has played. More recently he has looked more like his old self, coordinating the midfield with well-directed passes. He has also shown a certain amount of hustle, and attempts on goal, which borders on the shocking coming from him.
7 Ian Russell
Right wing. Russell works immensely hard every game, and is still the only Quake who can put in a good cross on a consistent basis. When he moves inside a bit, he can really help put the pressure on and get more involved. When he hangs out on the right, the rest of the team frequently ignores him, even though he is taking up good positions.
8 Richard Mulrooney
Midfielder. Mulrooney epitomizes what the Quakes are all about: not flashy, just a lot of hard work and hustle. To watch Mulrooney play you would think he was a thirty-something grizzled veteran. He works harder than any other two men on the field. He never stops. He tackles hard, and often. He is relentless. There he is in defense, slicing away the ball from the attacker that beat Agoos. There he is in midfield, chasing every loose ball, every 50-50 ball, every 30-70 ball, heck, every ball. There he is slinging line-drive corners low into the box. There he is. Every game, every where, always. It is nice to see Arena giving him some time on the national team.
9 Brian Mullen
Forward. Mullen has been the brightest spot in the Quake's attack this season. Works extremely hard, and can pull a pass out of midair on to his foot with the loveliest of touches. Scores goals, and makes a lot of goals for others to score.
10 Landon Donovan
The poster boy of US Men's Soccer continues to shine and we'll see flashes of what makes him great every game, but truth be told, poster boy's heart hasn't always been in it this season. Defenders have learned that Landon can get put off his game by roughing him up early and often. While he has learned to dodge ankle-crushing tackles, and has perfected that charming move where he throws his head back as if poleaxed, he gives up 30 pounds and 4 inches to most players he's up against, and doesn't always get the call when he goes flying, or deserve it. While it is a tremendous joy to see Donovan streak away to the far left corner and slot one in from a ridiculous angle, goalies seem to have wised up to that move, and there has been more than one occasion when he had a better shot before he took the ball wide. Still and all, my god, he's fun to watch! Deft quick touches of breathtaking skill and vision, blazing well-timed runs. Watch carefully while you may, you won't see something like this for a many a long and dismal year.
11 Manny Lagos
Midfielder. Lagos is another one who's spent some time on the injury roster. When he is fit, he is a fine dribbler of the ball, albeit with a deceptive style that looks almost clumsy. Not flashy, but with solid technical skills. The cleanest tackler of the ball. Takes shots when he has a chance, but usually poor ones. This season, primarily due to the ravages of injury in the team, he has been playing in a forward spot, which is a tooth-gnashing exercise for fans, who much prefer to see him working the ball in midfield.
12 Jeff Agoos
Defender. I have to take back everything I've said about the slowness of Agoos. He is looking a great deal trimmer and fitter than he has in years, and has picked up a bit of pace. No, he is never going to beat Donovan (or most anyone) in a flat sprint, he isn't getting outrun on a regular basis. The best reader of the ball out there, Agoos anticipates trouble so well that he will snuff it out before it became a problem. A sharp tackler, but (usually) a clean one.
14 Dwayne DeRosario
Forward. Sometimes you wonder is DeRosario has some kind of gypsy curse on him. All set to be able to get more playing time at the beginning of the season, and he goes down injured. He never, ever, gets the call from referees, even when he deserves it. (Be it said, however, DeRosario has gone down rather too easily, rather too many times, so the boy who cried wolf factor is at play here.) We love his energy. He runs hard every second he is on the field. Many a defense has been surprised and dismayed to see DeRosario come charging in after a back pass late in the game, regardless of the score, when everyone is exhausted already. He makes a lot of chances for other people, pulling defenders and hustling for the ball deep into enemy territory. We were happy to see him come on and score against New England. The funky chicken walk has been long absent from Spartan.
16 Craig Waibel
Defender. Another one who has been called in to patch the Bleeding Injury Dike. Solid enough, although he puts in a lot more high tackles than I like to see.
17 Todd Dunivant
Defender. Plays left back like a man with about 15 more years experience. Extremely sure-footed, reads the game well. Comes forward to very good effect, where he can beat defenders and lay in a sweet ball to the middle. To top it all off, he has a throw-in that can make it two thirds the way across the field (well, at Spartan, at any rate). If this kid isn't rookie of the year, there ain't no justice in the world.
18 Pat Onstad
Keeper. We will, eventually, forgive Onstad for the own-goal in his debut, where he softly patted an easy catch into his net. Well, OK, we do forgive him. When he is in goal, the whole defense plays with more coordination and confidence. Great in the air, astonishing reflexes, and a throw that can reach the other half of the field.
19 Troy Dayak
Central defender. A rock. Dayak anchoring the center of defense with Agoos -- what more could you ask for? Well, keeping them healthy, for one thing. Dayak has spent more time on the injury roster than off it.
22 Jamil Walker
Forward. Light and lanky, Walker runs like a colt. Has a lot energy and skill on the ball. Needs to learn that the pros run a lot faster than the college kids.
25 Brian Ching
Forward. We love the way Ching and Donovan were working together on those few occasions when injury and national team duties didn't interfere. It was starting to look like the beginnings of a beautiful scoring partnership. We hope to see more of it next year. Ching is a big lad, who knows how to throw his weight around. He makes excellent runs, and takes chances when they present themselves.
26 Arturo Alvarez
Another one of the skillful new kids, whom we haven't seen much of yet.
29 Johanes Maliza
Looks very skillful as he plays with the ball in warm-ups, hasn't had enough playing time to tell much.
30 Josh Saunders
Keeper. We've heard good things about Saunders, but I haven't seen him play yet.
Rodrigo Faria
Forward. So new, he doesn't have a number yet.