Chivas USA 1 – 1 Chicago Fire: 12th Man’s Game

Ah, the sound of crunching tackles…it’s like hearing the rumble of the post-season echoing from the next valley over. Both Chivas and Chicago brought playoff intensity to the late Saturday game, turning in a hard-fought thriller in which either side could have taken the points. In the end, though, splitting them seemed fair enough – even if that’s most definitely less than Chicago, especially, needed.

Unfortunately, referee Tim Weyland’s competence didn’t match the two teams’ passion. By midway through the first half, both teams had lost confidence in Weyland’s management of the game: Chivas after he bit on the “foul” on Blanco that led to Chicago’s goal, and Chicago after Blanco actually was rather unceremoniously hacked down; all that should teach Cuauhtemoc to cry foul, but I’m not holding my breath. In Weyland’s defense, though, he got the PK call correct that allowed Chivas to equalize…the jury in my head, however, wound up hung on Chicago’s late penalty.

On Chivas’ side of the ball, there has to be concern about the collective fatigue hitting the side of late. Strongly as they started – and they looked smoother than warm satin sheets smeared in butter over the first ten minutes – the Fire worked them out by midway through the second half. It did take the crossbar to stop Chivas on two separate occasions, which meant their offense still fired well enough, but every downfield foray looked from the 25th minute forward looked uncomfortable as a run through a raspberry patch. Overall, though, this makes two games featuring an apparent slip from sharpness – that timing is about as bad as it gets, especially with DC making like a razor.

As for Chicago, one can only pity them. This squad plays like the “big brothers” of the puling squad of pre-teens that started the season in Fire jerseys; consecutive 3-0 losses are surely a thing of the past. Unfortunately, these have been replaced with an endless series of draws. Their only solace comes from seeing Columbus choke…again. But winning the race feels like a whole lot less of an accomplishment when all the other runners keep tripping.

In the end, Weyland was too involved. At the same time, equal opportunity incompetence can make for a better game every so often. I wouldn’t go quite that far this time around, but Weyland certainly didn’t ruin this late-season dog-fight.

Other notes:

– How cool is Alex Zotinca? The way he riled Blanco with a subtle shove to the back, drawing the Mexican a card while totally escaping punishment himself? Priceless. Yes, yes, we’re supposed to deplore gamesmanship, but there’s nothing like seeing a hound pull one over on the fox.

– That Preki kid is wound tight. I thought he was going to attack the sideline reporter during “coach’s corner.”

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Portland v. Seattle: A Screed of Independence

“Anonymous said…”“No self-respecting Portlander will EVER cheer for Seattle Sounders. They may attend a match to watch Beckham or root against Seattle with the opposing fans. The Timbers have a strong identity in Portland and the very heated rivalry goes back to NASL days.”

I lifted that from the comments on du Nord’s main post from yesterday. Call the screed below a reaction to several lines of thinking in that comment: what it is to be “a self-respecting Portlander,” what it is to be a soccer fan, and so on. This post has been a long time coming, something I’ve sat on because I didn’t want to listen to any kind of aftermath. The bile contained in it grows from swallowing the irritation of reading the silly shit inherent in the “true supporter” mentality.

Contrary to anonymous’ comment, I’m a self-respecting Portlander and I will be cheering for the MLS Seattle Sounders. And I’ll be cheering for the Timbers. Different teams, different divisions: let’s drop the sad pretense we’re dealing with Liverpool and Everton.

Maybe I should describe myself as a “self-loathing Portlander.” The thing is, I’ve lived in both Seattle and Portland and wound up in Portland because I like it better…or I used to. Time was, I had more fun in Portland, the beer was cheaper, and, for a while anyway, the people who lived here seemed a whole lot less into themselves and less eager to celebrate their choices. They lived here and got on with it. The beer is still cheaper, but the rest has changed. One indicator for that: “Keep Portland Weird” bumper stickers; if you have to keep reminding yourself to “be weird,” chances are you’re entirely normal, in spite of your “creative class” job.

Yeah, I’m also a transplant. Big deal. I’m guessing “anonymous” and a damn big chunk of the Timbers Army are transplants as well. Have I measured that? Nope. Just running the averages: a huge general transplant percentage in Portland probably equals a huge general transplant percentage in the Timbers Army. What’s my point? I don’t get how people get so hopped up on their “Portlandness,” how they embrace it so fervently when, like me, they’re transplants. I’ve lived in the wet side of the Northwest since 1989, excluding a four-year sojourn to the East Coast – and I’ve never had the urge actually mate with my city. Maybe these people want and/or expect more from their city. And, here especially, there’s this suffocating sense of Portland, once a city, now an identity.

The truly mysterious thing to me: not a whole lot really separates the two cities – certainly, the people don’t. I used to think Portland occupied a higher rung in Yuppie Hell, but I think it’s starting to drift down the rungs to meet Seattle. The fans do seem to hate each other – and I can only call that a mystery. That’s not to say, the rivalry isn’t fun – it is – but to take it seriously…I don’t get it. Maybe it’s a function of that weird inferiority complex Portland has always seemed to cart around, this ridiculous chip on its shoulder about being the “junior city.” I saw much the same thing between Boston and NYC when I lived in the former – and, yeah, I do find my preference for “second cities” a little peculiar…probably grows from a general desire for being outside the loop. Maybe it’s simple misanthropy.

With all that off my chest – whew! (and I’m waiting on the angry rebuttals) – the main thing is, I agree with most of what Portland fans seem to want. If an MLS club comes to Portland, they should play in PGE Park or another downtown facility – check. The Timbers’ Army sings at games and they liven up PGE Park – and I appreciate that, down to the foul language it foists on my kids (better learn it there than somewhere unsavory, I figure). And based on what I’ve seen, they’re a more boisterous supporters group than Seattle’s – check, so far as I find that interesting or important (not far). I should like a Portland soccer team more than a Seattle one – check.

So, I’m a card-carrying Portland fan…except for that whole thing about hating Seattle. I’ll readily root for a Seattle team provided, 1) they don’t play in the same division as a Portland team, and, 2) they’re not playing against the Timbers in whatever capacity. But week in, week out, what the fuck does it matter that I pull for a Seattle MLS team? In what way does this diminish a Portland team? When, or even if, an MLS team moves to Seattle, I’ll keep going to Portland Timbers’ games; when they meet in the U.S. Open Cup – assuming that tournament doesn’t go poof under the current pressures – I’ll pull even harder to Portland over Seattle. If Portland gets an MLS team, great, I’ll keep pulling for Portland…unless I move…then, who knows what?

Clearly, I can just ignore what anonymous wrote and just get on my life, right? So, why do I let it get up my ass? I don’t know. I guess it’s just the strong-arm, almost Bushian thinking anonymous’ statement and “true fandom” too often embodies: if you’re not with us, you’re with the enemy. Maybe I can’t stand being told what to think when what I’m being told is asinine. We’re talking about watching a bunch of dudes playing a game. They’re not our personal friends, we don’t have to pay Seattle tribute when we lose, they don’t charge down from the North and steal our virgins. They win or we win; both sets of fans go home and get drunk.

One-liner guide to La Liga–Jornada 6 ¡Qué guay!

I moved my One Liner guide to La Liga over to ¡Hay Liga! this weekend.

Pop over there and give it a look.

LA 1-0 KC: The Joys of Catching Up Mid-Game

There’s something vaguely enlightening about catching a game midway through – though, obviously, not as enlightening as seeing one unfold from start to finish.  Still, there’s this process, a step-by-step weighing of the successive moments you’re seeing on the screen against the expectations you had for the game before kick-off.

For instance, when I tuned in around the 60th minute to last night’s MLS Primetime tilt between LA and KC, I noticed the scoreline first.  1-0 (where the score would remain): this was only mildly surprising given LA’s relative improvement.  At the same time, I figured one of the teams would have scored: LA by countering against KC’s weak defense or KC just by piling on an LA squad that can be nervy top-to-bottom.

That made it time to reassess.  To begin, KC seemed pinned in their own end; that wasn’t so expected.  For a few minutes, KC couldn’t clear the ball beyond their half line and they didn’t seem to have players forward.  The mystery behind that came to an end, thanks to ESPN/Americans deep appreciation for graphic overkill: (well) within five minutes I discovered KC’s Jimmy Conrad had been sent off earlier – the 57th minute to be precise (as opposed to the 17th minute my eyes kept seeing; shit, I need new glasses).

The game went forward from there and, suddenly, what showed on the screen made sense: KC fighting off LA and breaking forward on occasion in one to three-man forays.  LA attacked, but not too sharply, hoisting crosses over the scrum in front of goal again and again; in one memorable moment, (I think) Mike Randolph ran down the touch-line and, after seeming to tire, whacked to attempted crosses against a KC defender.  Pretty pathetic stuff and all the above factors pointed to a goal-less draw.

With dinner in progress and things looking as they did, the motivation to stick by the TV didn’t hold.  Then came the shouting – Gavin Glinton scored – and then came Davy Arnaud’s wicked challenge on Pete Vanegas, who I read was the victim of the first red-card challenge as well.  Game over, really.

I think the point is, seeing the game unfold as it did gave me new things to think about KC’s defense first and LA’s offense second.  I still think of KC’s defense as their Achilles’ heel, the thing most likely to keep them out of the post-season.  Seeing LA’s offense struggle – and it did, awfully at times – against that defense makes reassessing the Galaxy’s capability as spoilers seem wise.  And for all I heard about KC ruing blown chances from the game’s earlier, halcyon minutes, the question of whether their offense will be enough to bail out that dicey defense bears watching as well.

KC’s not in the playoffs yet.  If I were a Wizards fan, I’d stock up heavily on whatever it takes to calm me.

MLS: My All-Time “Good” Players List

We all know about “the Greats” of Major League Soccer (MLS), but we too rarely acknowledge, or even celebrate, “the Good.”  These are the kinds of players who, during their best years, showed up every week and played the game at a level befitting a pro; and plenty of them are still doing it.  Begging the gods to deliver these players to your team isn’t going to happen, but, in the event they do pull on your side’s jersey, you’re confident they’ll wear it well.  Bottom line, these players are the real lifeblood of MLS, the half-anonymous guys whose consistence and quality make possible an American top-flight.

With that fuzzy sub-ideal in my head, I went over to MLS’s all-time player register and wrote down all the names deemed to match it.  After refining the criteria bit by bit – and this was damned subtle at times – I compiled the list below….and then struggled for a while with what to name all these players.  In the end, I went with stating the matter plainly: MLS’s All-Time Good Players.  Here are the criteria for making the club:

A minimum number of games: I went with around 50 starts/games.  This operates on a loose, four good year rule.  Playing for a few teams works better, but “super journeymen” work all right as well.
Awards winners/”Arguably, the best ____”: This is about recognizing the unrecognized, so MVP awards or ____ of the Year (except Comeback Player or Humanitarian) disqualifies a player.  Also, any player you can see discussed as “arguably, the best ____.”
National team experience: the less experience the better. World Cup participants are right out, as are past and future long-time regulars in the pool.   Let’s call a hard ceiling of 20 caps.  (Great resource for counting caps.)
– MLS should be the peak of the players’ ambitions/abilities; modest European Escapes (e.g. no top 5 leagues) are allowed, but only after a long time in MLS – say, six years.
– I’m going by my faulty, much-abused memory; I won’t name anyone I don’t at least vaguely remember.  I’m leaning on MLSnet.com to catch awards and that’s much to my chagrin: I’m leaving off a lot of guys I feel are appropriate.

With that out of the way, I want to emphasize something: this isn’t me issuing The Word from the Mount; I absolutely invite people to question my choices, and to lobby for players they view as appropriate.  Drop candidates or question choices on the list in the comments below (or email me) and I will answer – even if I don’t agree.  I’ll add and subtract where I can be convinced.

Now, without further ado, commentary, without additional asterisks, my list of the All-Time Good Players in MLS History appears below (don’t ask me why the names are capitalized).  Players with asterisks next to their names are the All-Time Good Player All-Stars, which is awarded based on playing at a consistent level for a long time in relative anonymity: Continue reading

He’s Legit, so I’m Posting It: MLS to Seattle in 2009

I think the title says plenty.  And the “he” referred to there is Ives Galarcep.  I don’t think he’d post it if it wasn’t solid.

Seattle becomes Major League Soccer’s 15th team in 2009.

To think, just a short (exceedingly boring) drive from where I live…

Who is Michael Mifsud? The Maltese Man Yoo Killer?

There is a history behind the guy who single-handedly acted as executioner in Manchester United’s 2-0 loss to Championship side Coventry City in the Carling Cup.

Mifsud scored an early goal and a clincher in the 70th minute to put the Red Devils on edge in front of over 70,000 at Old Trafford. Man Utd’s Anderson and Nani as well as seasoned defenders John O’Shea, Wes Brown, and Phil Bardsley could do nothing to stop the veteran.

First surprise: Mifsud is from Malta. You don’t see that many from Malta making an impact in international soccer (remember the guy fantastically named Chucks Nwokwo? Nigerian heritage, Maltese wife). Secondly: he has been nicknamed ‘Mosquito’ by former goalkeeper Tim Flowers for his peskiness and determination despite a small frame. The 26-year old actually should have had three as he missed an open sitter – or could it have been he was toying with Man U’s piecemeail back-line. Nah – there is, after all, a reason why the guy has been looked at but never snapped up by real ‘high-tier’ clubs. Mifsud did light up the Norwegian Tippeligean with Lillestrom as early as last season, as he struck for 17 goals in less than 50 appearances. His time with Coventry City, however, has actually been a bit up and down finding only 4 goals in 19 Championship appearances so far. Most of his goals have come in the Cup competitions, but his recent partnership with Dele Adebola has supporters’ optimistic of heightened production. Key word being ‘height’ as Mifsud, 5’5″, acts as the little in the big/little combination that the Blues have going.