DS, 10.31: Coaching Theory, Playoff Theory + Playoff Strategery

First of all, Happy Halloween. From what my wife tells me, I’m taking the kids trick-or-treating as a nun, so, yeah, I kinda have to get drunk. Dang it.

Oh, and I think I’ve got to get over shoving every subject under discussion into the title; that’s what tags are for, right? This frees me up to reuse the title “Daily Sweeper,” which, I believe anyway, implies a grab-bag of topics. Are we in agreement? Disagreement? Are you hungry too? I’m craving grease like a hungover pregnant lady…perhaps even a nun. Crap…where am I? Oh yeah.

– Apart from revealing himself to be a nice fella (through his reluctance to ask hunted coaches about their job security), USSoccerplayas.com Ian Plenderleith closed his column on La Vida Coacha with an interesting theory as to why a guy like, say, Sigi Schmid still has a job:

“The Crew is probably not sticking with Schmid because they’re in love with his coaching methods, but because there’s no one else around that could take his place. That’s not the best reason to retain a coach, but if you’re a club executive and the list of alternatives begins with, say, Bob Gansler at the top, you’ve probably no choice but to either keep the man you have, or submit to a prolonged bout of weeping.”

It’s an interesting thought. And it could explain why Frank Yallop feels more optimistic about continuing his mortgage payments in Southern California (wade past all the Chivas’ stuff; it’s in there), or why, in spite of multiple columns criticizing his competence and enthusiasm for his job, Bruce Arena still wears that, um…Tomcat Smirk (trying to come up with a phrase analogous to Chesire Smile, but one that actually matches The Bruce’s permanent expression).

On the other hand, I don’t see the limits to the coaching pool Plenderleith sees in the paragraph that follows the one above. A pool exists between former players and even coaches “tainted” by the college game. None of these will be sure-shots by any means, but the conceptual knowledge will be there. When it comes to managing players’ egos, training them well (enough), and fielding the right players in the right places, a fella will either have it or he won’t; a number of these guys will tank, naturally, but how’s that so different from the “name” guy already pulling the team down into the bowl with them? What the hell, right? Roll the dice. It’s a gamble, but you can’t win if you don’t play.

UPDATE: Longshoe makes this same point only better over on Who Ate All the Cupcakes.  It’s worth checking out.

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EPL Daily Halloween ’07: EPL’s Best Imports; An American in Iran, Palacios, and Wonderkids

About to start a feature of the same name, I came upon The Sun’s version of the EPL’s Top 10 best imports. I would have to agree with most of them and would even put Mikel Arteta up higher on the list but if Arteta is on there – where is Timmy Cahill, who has arguably done the most for an Everton squad that performs well on a consistent basis (unlike say…a Bolton?). Also not included – and it’s clear they opted for the more offensive approach – was Serbian central defender Nemanja Vidic who has been rock-solid for Manchester United in his first year and half in the league. The Sun’s Number One? Cristiano Ronaldo – I don’t think many can complain about that. Any they missed?

Not EPL news persay – but it was in an English publication – Iranian soccer hopefuls don’t know how to react with the prospect of an American citizen Afshin Ghotbi taking over the reins of Persepolis (Tehran’s biggest team) looming over them. Ghotbi hasn’t returned to the country in over 30 years. He began his coaching career at UCLA, found his way onto the USMNT staff for the 1998 World Cup in France and has now acted as somewhat of a coaching mercenary over the past 10 years. Read about it here

Wilson Palacios – the former CD Olimpia midfielder and now Birmingham City man who gave D.C. United a lot of trouble in the early season CONCACAF Champions Cup – has recently found out that his 15-year old brother – Edwin Rene – has been kidnapped. No real news as of yet – Palacios is staying in the UK but apparently has clearance from Steve Bruce and the Birmingham organization to leave if ever he deems it fit to do so.

Yet another 16-year old phenom on the rise? John Bostock of Crystal Palace looks to follow the route of Joe Cole, Wayne Rooney, and Theo Walcott and become the next coveted English prospect. His story is interesting but no one can fathom the thoughts going through Scotskid James McCarthy’s head right now as Barcelona, Liverpool, Celtic, Deportivo, and Arsenal are ALL fighting for his signature. As it seems, he’s pretty content to develop at Hamilton Academical and move on when necessary – but you can bet if Barca comes a-knocking it won’t take too much cash to pry him away.

MLS: Cupcakes/Center Picks Pool, First Round, Second Leg

Welcome to the next round of picks for the Center Holds It/Who Ate All the Cupcakes Playoff Picks Duel (current standings).  My picks appear down below and I invite my colleagues and the guys from Who Ate All the Cupcakes to leave their picks in the comments so they’re all in one place.

On that, the subject of picks that is, I got about halfway through Jeff Bradley’s “lessons learned” First XI (which is currently formatted in “crazy, oversized” font) when I realized that nothing likely to happen between now and Thursday (or Friday, or Saturday) will give me the seeing-eye tips I need to make lock-of-the-week quality calls on each of the four games.  To give an example, we could learn tomorrow that Maykel Galindo will start for Chivas, but that news must be weighed against how fit he really is and how long he’s been out.  Short of bonding with key players’ psyches – y’know, to see whether they’re up for the game, or just thinking about a nagging ankle, doing laundry, dinner reservations, cruising for prostitutes and blow, suppressing erotic longings for a teammate, etc. – I’ll never get the kind of dish I truly need to make sense of these, frankly, nightmarishly complicated draws and scenarios.

Crap.  Was that even a sentence?

So, with one arm crossed and a dead goat’s organs splayed across my desk (hmm…that liver looks like Ronald Reagan), here are my picks for all four first-round second leg games – with commentary as the spirit moves me.  And, for the record, I changed these things around, literally, half a dozen times – totally against the tried-and-true multiple choice method.  Dammit…

DC United 1-1 Chicago Fire (agg. 2-1 to the Fire): DC will believe they broke the curse till the very end, when some nausea-inducing defensive gaffe kills them dead.

Houston Dynamo 2-0 FC Dallas (agg. 2-1 to Houston): One of these things has to play to type…right?  I am 100% pulling for the upset and had two different scenarios penciled in here featuring a Dallas win.  But, as one should always do when gambling, I’m placing this bet stone-cold sober and with my heart ripped from my chest.  (It hurts…)

New England Revolution 1-0 Red Bull New York (agg. 1-0 to New England): OK, two have to play to type.  As for the game itself, our worst collective expectations come hideously true.

Chivas USA 0-0 Kansas City Wizards (agg. 1-0 to KC): I can’t see Chivas scoring.  I just can’t.

Well, that’s it for self-immolation…now to see what everyone else picks.

DS, 10.30: Bruce-Gate Over Already?; The “Don Garber” Ball; Predictions Fun

With the soccer blogging world struggling for content today, I figure an early edition is in order.

– Few things bring the fun like a he-said/he-said, something happening over the little to-do over Red Bull’s coach Bruce Arena’s seemingly alleged call-out of Juan Pablo Angel after Saturday’s draw with New England.  Soccer Source, an attendee at the post-match presser, provides the full-text of the quote, which, as he points out, is qualified out of “bitch-slap” territory.  Then again, as things work with retaliation versus instigation (just ask Ricardo Clark), the “Arena bitch-slap” lives on: toward the end of Pat Walsh’s Goal.com write-up on The Bruce’s reputation-spraining stint with Red Bull, Walsh faults Arena for driving “a knife into the back of his unsuspecting MVP candidate.”  I’m not really knocking Walsh, so much as marveling at the magical life-cycle of a media myth.

– I didn’t find much of interest in Don Garber’s Q & A session with Sports Illustrated’s Jonah Freedman; the man – that is Garber – is simply too slick to say anything interesting without timing it just so, never mind something shocking or offensive (I’m also guessing I’m the last man to have read the thing).  At the same time, the Garber Years really have been something else – so much so that I predict the following: the future powers-that-be will rename the Alan I. Rothenburg Trophy for Garber.  Oh yeah, I’m feeling saucy today.

– I’ll end (this post) with something of an itsy-bitsy cheap shot – though not one actually intended to insult.  I don’t spend much time on Fox Soccer’s web-site; it just doesn’t it for me.  I meandered over today, perhaps out of boredom, and finally read Keith Costigan’s 2007 playoff predictions.  As noted above, I’m hardly belittling Costigan’s powers of prognostication – especially given how hard I’m struggling with my second-leg picks – but I do find something funny, say, in his expectations of a goal-fest between New England and Red Bull.

OK then….I’ll just keep biding time till Thursday…just like the rest of you.

Then again, I expect I’ll have my picks for the second leg posted by the end of today.

DS, 10.29: Big, Brimming Bowl of Post-Season Links/Chatter

Seriously, what else is there to talk about? The ever-shady FIFA’s decision to end the rotation system – or, as they call it in Geneva, après Brasil, Le Free-for-All? How ‘bout the Portland Timbers beating up on Toronto FC on Sunday night? Nah…it’s gotta be the playoffs.

– A good number of people seem to be lining up for kicks at the set-up after the first leg of the MLS post-season – and, for the record, I find it kind of relieving to know I wasn’t the only one to almost fall asleep (screw it; I actually did) at one point. Some of my favorites:

“It’s just odd that we spend six months and 195 games building up towards this — a long Saturday night of anti-soccer ruled by the tactics of fear and caution.”
– Ian Plenderleith, USSoccerplayas.com (LINK)

“We entered the playoffs without a single team carrying anything resembling momentum. It was more like eight runners stumbling towards the finish line and struggling to push through the tape. Combine that with the dour playoff psychology of ‘not losing’ and you get 3 goals in the opening round of matches. Ugh!”
– Um…Mr. Fullback, The Fullback Files (LINK)

Good plugs to be sure, but few crystallized the blue-balls mood of the weekend so well as The Beautiful Game. Open this link and enjoy.

The uninspired opening weekend has a couple people talking about changing the post-season formula (again); for instance, Soccer by Ives suggests a return to best-of-three series. For the record, WVHooligan’s drew epperly doesn’t think that would matter all that much. Here’s my two cents – and it’s informed by a lot of the same bitter-tasting shots of reality cited by mr. epperly: if everything must stay the same, make the playoff single-elimination from start to finish with the higher-seeded team hosting. Nice, neat, and simple as you please…next! Continue reading

MLS: The Song of My Belly, Looking to the Second Leg

The underdogs ruled the first leg of Major League Soccer’s playoffs.  Not powerfully or even always well, but every lower-seeded team picked up a result at the very least.  One big-picture similarity between the four games obviates any real need to write game-by-game analyses: nearly every contest turned on the inability of the Top Dogs to score on the road.  Some teams came close while others looked as it they could play for three weeks before they’d score, but they all suffered from that same bug.

Technical difficulties with MLSlive.tv kept me from viewing all four games – I missed FC Dallas edging the Houston Dynamo, even if I saw Dwayne DeRosario shank a certain equalizer – but caught the other three more or less uninterrupted.  While I don’t we’re looking at a situation in which none of the top seeds get out alive, I’m feeling pretty confident that at least one of them won’t.  Who is the question that needs answering – and this is no small question with dining on regional delicacies versus drowning in fortified wine riding on the answer.

Fortunately, I’m doing pretty well in the Who Ate All the Cupcakes/Center Holds It Playoff Pick Duel.  Team Cupcakes was good enough to embed the current standings in their sidebar.  I’m not savvy enough to do that, but will replicate their table below:

Points after Matchday One
El Güero: 4
Jeff: 4
Breton: 1
ECB: 1
Ryan: 1
Longshoe: 0

Nice as sharing the top spot feels, now comes the pressure of staying up there.  Given the way the first leg shook out, the temptation to approach the next round of picks like a multiple-choice exam is a strong one – e.g. what’s your gut telling you, son?  Then again, we live in days when “gut-check decisions” suffer by comparison with decisions made on the level of world events, which justifies a more pain-staking analytical approach.  So, time to get cracking… Continue reading

Red Bulls – Revs Live Blog

FINAL TIME – It’s gonna be a tough one at Gillette Stadium next Saturday. Thoughts?

90′ – Riley in for Wells Thompson who was pretty much non-existent out there

88′ – Adam Cristman in for Pat Noonan, first Revs sub; Mathis also came in for Claudio Reynawho had a decent day; three minutes of added time

82′ – Leitch is already beaten to the ball by Twellman who fires a close-range shot on Conway; Conway parries it away

78′ – Chris Leitch is coming on for Dave van den Bergh who looks like he picked up a knock, limping on the left leg

73′ – blatant push on Jozy Altidore earns Parkhurst a yellow but effectively stopped the flow of the counter attack

72′ – Seth Stammler tries to clear a dangerous cross and almost powers it past Jon Conway into his own net

68′ – Ubiparipovic in for Doe as Doe was woeful; maybe Sinisa can put on a technical clinic on how to cross a ball as that department is clearly suffering after the half

60′ – cross by van den Bergh started a scrum in the middle in which it looked like Angel was pushed and pulled every which way, but he still almost got a shot off – the game is definitely more back and forth now

58′ – Noonan was sprung on a breakaway but opted for a square pass instead of a shot on Conway; the ball was cleared awkwardly by Jeff Parke; less than a minute later Shalrie Joseph ripped a close shot from about 30 yards out – missed wide right

54′ – Angel and Noonan scuffle when Noonan elbows the Colombian right in the noggin going up for a headball; New England still not working well together but it doesn’t really matter as New York can’t score

50′ – Dane Richards has forgotten how to effectively cross again.

Davy Arnaud goal in 33′ for Kansas City. 1-0 KCW.

46′ – No changes. Not even Francis Doe out despite his suspect play. Clarence Goodson has put Dallas ahead in Frisco against the defending champs.

Halftime – the Red Bulls dominated offensively but without a goal so far and New England potent on the counter, a collective breath is held every time the ball does find New England’s front men – it should be an interesting second half, there are shades of early season New York here as Reyna is firing on all cylinders and van den Bergh is fitting in nicely at left back

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