Thursday, May 31, 2007

US Soccer Snob’s US Soccer Update – 5/31/07

Welcome to my supersized update.

MLS Week 8 – Rebound

FIRE vs. RBNY – In what hopefully will be the low point of the Chicago season as The Flagship scored their fastest goal in franchise history when Jozy Altidore put one past Matt Pickens with only 0:55 coming off the clock. The second RBNY goal set a MLS record for the fastest two goals scored to begin a game in league history. Let’s look at goal number two as key Chicago defensive weaknesses were exploited: lack of pace and poor central defending. To begin the play, Gonzalo Segares got absolutely smoked by Dan Richards on the right flank. I think Sega is still spinning around in the turf given the pace he was passed with. Richards send a nice, but not deadly cross into the middle of the Chicago box that was met by CJ Brown’s head. Not only was Brown’s clearance poor, but it looped over poorly positioned Jim Curtain, who left his mark to also attempt to clear the ball. That man was Juan Pablo Angel. The ball is about to fall to JPA’s feet when he takes a one touch to settle the ball in the air then hammered home his own volley. A lovely strike and the nail in the coffin for a team that can’t put away more than one than one goal a match. And with Chris Rolfe out of the line-up, this goal a match average is heading south.

Wizards vs. Revs – What a showcase for the league, following a glamour friendly featuring the Irish national team. Unfortunately, the Irish team was rounded up from local Boston pubs by Kevin Kilbane a week earlier and more fans were on hand to see the MLS match than the International friendly. I’m not sure but that might be a first! EJ netted his first MLS hat trick while showing a wide range of attacking skills.

TFC vs. Crew – Welcome back Andy! Another thrilling match played between Eastern Conference rivals saw the teams sharing the spoils. Fresh of a suspension for a vicious elbow, which Mo Johnston and Danny “it’s a mans game” saw nothing wrong with, Andy Herron put two in the back of the net before going down to injury all in the first half. Attacking soccer was on display all evening with Jeff Cunningham back in his old ground and set up pro-wrestler turned soccer player Danny Dichio for the first goal of the match. Toronto tied the game for good of a spectacular Jim Brennan free kick that took goal of the week with a heavy assist from the Toronto faithful In the stands, Toronto’s Red Patch Boys showed Columbus that a group other than Section 8 can take over their stadium at will. Crew fans, if any of you are reading: Why the hell does your team have three separate cheering sections? There the thinning one behind the net, the new seemingly Argie one to the left of that group and now this new one on the sidelines! Do your team, the league and us viewers a favor and consolidate your efforts.

Dynamo vs. DCU – HDNet Blackout warning. Only got to see highlights of this one, but DC United seems to have recovered from its Champions Cup hangover.

Galaxy vs. Rapids – Will this evening go down as the top nights of football in Denver? Huge crowd turns out for MLS and for once isn’t disappointed by the home team! It didn’t hurt that Kyle Martino was rightly sent off in the 25th minute. Herculez Gomez’ snap header off a picturesque Terry Cooke cross to beat Joe Cannon in the second half was all the Rapids needed to finish off a short handed LA team.

FCD vs. Chivas – And then like that Dallas is flat again. Galindo’s brilliance and determination proved the decisive blow to the Hoops, but Chivas quick one touch passing kept the visitors chasing the game all night. Dallas will be the head scratching team of the season and certainly not a team to bet the mortgage on.

RSL vs. FIRE – The FIRE’s effort was far more respectable in this match than their effort earlier in the match week. However, bottom feeder RSL still blanked them on the back of a stellar goalkeeping exhibition from Nick Rimando. The changing of the Curtins was well overdue because the old one was dusty as hell! With the exception of the haircut they look almost identical, except that Jeff, in his first MLS start, looked crisper than his bro has all year.
According to the Chicago Tribune when asked if the FIRE’s recent struggles led to the trial of Marcelo Salas, GM John Guppy said, "It's fair to say that. We need more quality on offense. Obviously, our recent challenges raised our attention to the matter.”
Maybe trading away the vast majority of 2006 goal scorers in the off-season should have raised your attention to that you bumbling fool! FIRE fan’s worst fears of the FIRE becoming Metrostars West with Guppy’s appointment have been quickly realized. We got all the hallmarks of the Metroscum now: underachieving team, attendance worries and worthless management. Thanks those responsible! It’s as if Guppy’s game plan for the season was: Sign Blanco not matter the cost, get revenue, do nothing else other than open the doors to Toyota Park.
Unlike many of the FIRE faithful, I’m not quite ready to throw the gauntlet down on Dave Sarachan yet. Whether it was Steve McClerran-esque desperation or simple injury problems (which most calling for Sarachan’s head seem to be oblivious to) his blooding of the young players against RSL at home was a great move. At least there was a glimmer of light on Sunday for the FIRE. Will Dave’s great drafting/scouting save him again? Tune in next Sunday.

Early Season MLS Awards (one award per player/team)

MVP – (tie) Eddie Johnson (KC Wizards) and Taylor Twellman (NE Revolution) – While asking myself, “Who is the first player I would build a team on the back for the first part of this season?” it always came down to these two players whose teams would be nowhere close to their current standing without them. As lame as it is to: 1) have a tie and 2) it be between the two top goal scorers, I can’t see it any other way. Each player requires the attention of nearly the entire back line. Neither’s team has another player even close to their capabilities and opens doors for their teammates that would only be open with their presence. Isn’t that what an MVP is all about?
Runner-up: Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire) - Win with him, lose without. That is also the definition of Value.

Comeback Player of the 1/3 Year - Clint Mathis (The Flagship) – Who else? Why couldn’t Bruce do this with Cletus on the National Team? Whatever it is, Clint Mathis is the lynchpin to RBNY’s suddenly explosive offense. I’m not discounting the significant upgrades that this team has made, but this seemingly insignificant move to the alleged junk heap has really blossomed for the Bruce. Match after match Cletus’ presence in the middle of the Flagship’s O has been dangerous and effective. Mathis’ strong free kick and dead ball abilities are almost just a bonus this season as his passion and competitiveness continues to drive this team forward.
Runner-up: Herculez Gomez (Colorado Rapids) – Gomez has been a demon on the pitch for opposing defenses and his revenge header this weekend to lift the Rapids over the Gals was a nice bonus for this MLS good guy.

Rookie of the Year (acquired in 2007 Superdraft) – Dane Richards (The Flagship) – Just give him the trophy now! Richards has locked
Runner-up: Michael Harrington (KC Wizards) – Fastest goal by a rookie in league history and a dangerous defender who can push up ala Frankie Hedjuk

Best Designated Player Pick-up – Juan Pablo Angel (The Flagship) -
Runner-up: Claudio Reyna (The Flagship) – Well he’s the only other one to have played in the league and he has yet to justify the money or allocation space.

Newcomer of the Year – Maykel Galindo (Chivas USA) – Robbed of this week’s Goal of the Week away by UFC’s fanbase, Galindo has show some extraordinary pace and acclimation to MLS. His physical presence as a striker is a revelation that hasn’t been seen in LA since Pescadito flopped into town. Do you think his success will convince any other Cuban national teamers to defect during Gold Cup this simmer?
Runner-up: Juan Toja (FC Dallas) – An added dimension. That is what this kid brings to the pitch.

Franchise of the Year – Toronto FC (UFC) – Between the ticket sales, the reaching out to the community, the fan support, the stadium from day one and the assembly of a competitive team, UFC simply has buried the rest of the league off the pitch.
Runner-up: FC Dallas – The Hoops seem to slowly be hooking into a solid fanbase in their new digs. The team hired a coach that is not afraid to shake things up in Steve Morrow. I mean the guy give the armband to Ruiz then benches him once he starts to fade. That will get you the respect of your team and it sends a great message that you have to work hard every week to stay on the pitch. The Richetti and Toja signings are also amongst the tops in the league.

Biggest Disappointment – The Amado Guevara Situation – OK, trade a DP allocation for a career mercurial player, then cut him from the team when he plays the way he always has. There are gutsy moves by coaches or front offices and then there are monumentally idiotic moves and this one qualifies as the latter, particularly for a club such as Chivas USA which could score some seriously bank on a designated player. Was I alone in thinking that they would be one of the first clubs to us this new toy? Now, the club has no true star and no DP allocation until 2010.
Runner-up: Houston Dynamo – If there was one team that spit in the face of the designated player rule it was the Dynamo. The one saving grace for this team has been the announcement of “going exclusive” with downtown Houston for a stadium. Let’s hope this happens because, it would be an instant front runner for best ground in the league.

Biggest Surprise – Quality of Play – Wasn’t there a talent diluting expansion draft this past year, which Mo turned into his personal swap meet? Note: Not one of the players selected in the expansion draft ever stepped foot on the pitch for Toronto in an MLS match. Instead of talent dilution, MLS countered the effect with the passage of the designated player rule that did exactly what everyone hoped it would do. Get David Beckham! Just kidding, but not really. The acquisition of Becks paved the way for talented players such as Andy Welsh, Carl Robinson, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Carlos Marinelli and many others who may have not considered MLS without his presence. The additional spotlight created by this and the new TV contracts has created and great incentive for players who typically regard the regular season as next to worthless.
Runner-up: KC Wizards – While Carlos Marinelli is no small addition, Curt Onolfo has been the difference maker and has embrace entertaining soccer at all costs.

MLS creates YouTube Channel
Following in the footsteps of the NHL and MLB, not much else to say. I guess it can’t hurt.

Team to Know
Making it to the final 16 of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup: Lynch’s Irish Pub. The boy’s from Jacksonville’s finest tap travel to Charlotte to take on USL-2’s Eagles on June 12th.

Quote of the Week:
“I tend to not concentrate the whole 90 minutes” – Jeff Cunningham to The Globe and Mail this week.

FIFA Says Getting High is Bad
Last week FIFA has banned international matches in stadiums above 8,200 feet sea level for health related reasons. Unfortunately, nemesis to the US national team, Stadio Azteca, sits at 7,800 feet above sea level. Amazingly that is over 2,800 feet above Denver's Mile High Field. No mention of any minimum air quality standards. A FIFA sanctioned air quality rule might do more to save the earth than 50 Al Gores!

Beckham’s Recall and MLS
David Beckham has been recalled by skittish England skipper Steve McClarren onto a desperate side for an upcoming Euro 2008 qualifier again opening the door for the uninformed MLS boo-bird from across the pond continue to trash the league. I just have to ask, where the hell to these fools get off bashing MLS? Their team is worried about a match with Estonia!!! Is that what the “supremacy” of the EPL gets you? This from the league where Teddy Sherringham continues to play? Players that are expected to struggle against Estonia? I watched “The Miracle Match” (a.k.a. The Game of their Lives” this weekend and it contained the perfect line about the British. “Just because they invented the game they believe it is their God given right to be the best at it.” Now, the entire island can’t see that their best day of their national team are well behind them. Only in betting parlours across the UK did anyone realistically think that the team that showed up for World Cup 2006 had a chance in hell in taking home the trophy.

Last week, Becks correctly stated that his conditioning will be better that it currently is after his first Galaxy tour due to the demands of playing in MLS in heat and style of play. This statement was met with dismissals from the likes of Sir Bobby and current teammate Ruud Van Nistelroy lamenting the summer move of Becks. The same papers that wrote Beckham off six months ago are now crying over his eminent departure from so-called “top flight football.” Certainly any football fan can see that there is a gap in the quality of play between the top American level and the top leagues in Europe, but while the sensationalists will describe this gap to be roughly the distance of Los Angeles and the last recognized planet in our galaxy, reality would place it much closer than that. Witness that every player that has made the leap from England or other top flight areas express surprise at the level of play in MLS. UFC’s Robinson continues to play for Wales as his manager made the astounding statement that he would make his decision on Robinson based on his current form rather than geography. What a novel concept! This policy paid off as Robinson rated above the likes of Ryan Giggs and Simon Davies in the most recent friendly with New Zealand according to the Daily Post. Luckily for MLS fans and Becks, McClerran has affirmed that despite playing in MLS, Beckham will be counted on, depending on form, throughout the Euro 2008 campaign.
For MLS this is a double edged sword. Thousands of tickets have been sold on the promise of the global superstar being on the pitch for the Gals. And man do they need him! The Galaxy currently sit in last place in the combined MLS table. Another challenge for the Galaxy and other MLS front offices is the lack of understanding about international duties among the casual American sports fans expected to turnout in droves for Becks. At the same time, MLS could have the good fortune of having a current England national team player on their league. If he continues to play for her Majesty’s team after while plying his trade with the Galaxy, the profile of MLS will be raised beyond its wildest expectations and may help shatter this retirement/semi-pro league moniker that the league has been saddled with overseas. However, MLS believes it can consistently attract this level of player it will have to begin to adhere to the international calendar. This summer the depth of MLS rosters will be tested like never before and while the growing reserve system helps offset this problem, nothing makes up for losing all the top players for league matches.
Here is a list of affected matches that and FIFA dates that may cause a problem with Lalas and Becks:
Aug 10 DC United (a)
Aug 13 New England (a)
Aug 15 Friendly v Germany (h)
Sep 2 Real Salt Lake (h)
Sept 8 Euro qual v Israel (h)
Sep 9 Colorado (h)
Sept 12 Euro qual v Russia (h)
Sep 14 Chivas (a)
Oct 13 Euro qual v Estonia (h)
Oct 14 Toronto (h)
Oct 17 Euro qual v Russia (a)
Oct 19 New York (h)
Nov 21 Euro qual v Croatia (h)

Dynamo meet the Prez
Dero and the boys got to press the flesh with George W. Bush Tuesday as he congratulated the team for their MLS Cup victory. Thanks to the efforts of Houston retailer, Lucho, the reigning champs will be stylin! Lucho tailored 26 custom suits complete with orange and gold ties for free. Maybe they could get some tips from him and Karl Rove on how to steal a victory or two. It might help them out on their current campaign.

Euro-Snob of the Week
This goes out to new soccer “fan” ESPN’s Bill Simmons who pledged his allegiance to Spurs after loving the World Cup so much. So first the former-Boston Sports Guy disses his local team for a foreign club based on reader suggestions, which is about as low as one can get in my book. Then in his recent continuing series of why he loves sports, he finds the MLS DirectKick commercial offering every MLS game for $74.95 guffaw worthy. Bill, if you need some guffaws or just straight laughter look at how much ink, money and time you’ve devoted to the Celtics over the last year. That is something to laugh or more likely cry at! The NBA lottery was just deserts for you buddy.

MLS Prediction Central
Last Week (3-4)
SEASON (15-27)

Colorado v. Toronto – Toronto was always going to be amongst the teams most hurt by International callup. Take the Rapids here.

RSL v. Revs – Another depleted team, the Revs, will fall as a full strength RSL gets their first win on the road.

RBNY v. KC – The Wizards made the first part of the statement last week, now they make the second part of that statement topping The Flagship.

DC v. LA – One of the hottest teams in the league against one of the coldest. DC over the languishing Gals. Boo birds come out at the HDC.

Hoops v. Dynamo – The I-41 rivalry and “El Capitan” is on the line. Without DeRo on the pitch the Dynamo focus more on the flanks. Brad Davis and Brian Mullan start targeting Brian Ching and the Dynamo get a much needed win.

Crew v. FIRE – Was there ever a match that had more of a draw feel around it? Oh, that was last week’s game vs. RSL that I picked wrong. Two teams looking distinguish themselves.

The Dynamo Power Hour with Glenn Davis
These broadcasts are taking on a bit of a funeral type feel these days aren’t they?

(NOTE: If you know a Podcast that needs to be added please let me know and post a link)


Nathan said...

Loved this post. Very meaty. I especially enjoyed your defense of the quality of play in MLS. Europeans won't get it for years, but thay just means they will be continuously surprised.

One thing though, on your predictions. I'm assmuing when you say that the Revs are depleted that you mean by call-ups not injuries. If that's true, then they don't lose their US team players until after their game. Canada didn't make the same decision, calling in most of their players before the weekend MLS games.

Soccer Biz Mark said...

Excellent point Nathan! I’m sure some other parts of my unabomber-like post could use some fact checking as well. You are correct in that Twellman, Ralston and Parkhurst will not be leaving for the US team until after Saturday’s match. I’ll keep my current prediction for two reasons: 1.) Mostly, I don’t like going back and editing my words like I suspect Jamie Trecker of doing and 2.) I still think (foolishly) that RSL can get a win. The Revs defense looked terrible last week and you just have the feeling that RSL is ready to burst offensively! Far too much talent on that team to get the results that they have been harvesting, however I’ve been saying that for over two years now.