CHI Challenge: Find Me an MLS Club to Love

As noted in my post on everyone’s remaining schedule, my love for the New England Revolution, which once burned strong and true as blue flame, has cooled to the point where I do nothing but point out their faults.  This happens, I suppose, in every marriage, but, at this point, this moribund marriage survives due only to the absence of inspiration – say, the attentions or enticements of another “woman.”

Now, it’s likely the rumored Seattle MLS club (now downgraded to “rumor” thanks to the few denials emanating from MLS HQ) will sweep me off my feet, but she won’t come a-courtin’ till 2009.  And, where love is concerned, never saying never is often best: who’s to say I won’t discover something alluring and new in a team that’s always been right there in front of me?  Thus would Seattle lose out for failing to carpe my diem…or both of them, for that matter.

And that takes us to the first-ever (well, first-ever that I wrote) Center Holds It Challenge: Pick a team for Jeff to support.

(Now, I doubt I’ll have any takers on this, but, assuming I do,) Here’s the idea: pick an MLS club for me to support and tell me why I should.  If you think this sounds ridiculous or implausible, let’s just say my reasons for supporting the Revolution start and end with The Pictures of Chairman Mao.

So, yeah, this is 90% joke, but I do believe the Revolution really has lost me as a fan.  Having moved out of the area didn’t help, but that didn’t do anything like the damage their style of play has.  If they canned Steve Nicol – kind of like giving up booze, when you think about it – I might fall back into the arms of an old flame…but, I swear, that man is going to die in harness…

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Hope Solo and Speaking Truth to Idiots

Based on my reading, U.S. Women’s ‘keeper Hope Solo’s post-game outburst draws only the rare condemnation and that’s mainly in the comments. It seems all rightthinking people understand that Solo got the shaft, that U.S. coach Greg Ryan is a second-order dolt (scroll down) and a first-order tool, and that a very petty cabal could very well exist within the U.S. team (do look at the post under the phrase “very petty cabal”; the image Who Ate All the Cupcakes chose to make the point is priceless). Talk of boycotting the team till Ryan is gone crops up here and there and, as a Portland, Oregon resident, I have an opportunity close at hand for expressing any outrage I feel in the form of an October 17 friendly between the U.S. and Mexico. Thoughts for a quick, punchy banner to display are welcome (though they’re also likely to go entirely unused).

I have to admit that, after listening to Solo’s comments, I didn’t expect things to get as ugly as they have; the words themselves seemed fair, if a little discourteous. But I’d go so far as calling myself appalled by what her teammates did in particular. Reading accounts that Solo was actually shunned by her teammates lops off at the knees any respect I had for several of these women (Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach, if a couple lines of chatter can be believed). That cliques being formed and friends defended seems to have trumped a decent regard for objective reality dredges up all my ugly biases against all the narcs, toadies, and yes-persons that populate the planet and cheapen our collective lives. Let’s just say loyalty is a virtue qualified heavily by to whom or what one is loyal.

I fully expected the reaction from above, however, which starts with Ryan and works its way up to the pinnacle of company-person assholeism. This reaction follows the same logic Major League Soccer (MLS) applies when, say, coaches and players rip a referee for a call so bad it leaves the blind rolling in the aisles. Hell, the impulse behind all this shows up in everything from government to the biggest of Big Business: don’t bad-mouth the virtuous policies and pronouncements of The Company. The downside of pushing this line internally, and enforcing it on “the merry workers” by means of fines, doesn’t stop at simple cowardice; it amounts to taking a rasp to The Company’s credibility. Just ask the Bush administration about how doling out Happy Talk has helped them keep the confidence of the country.

As for the particulars of what Solo said, there’s just nothing there to fear but fear itself. As with MLS and the Fiesta del Dodgy Reffing, the working assumption seems to be that so long as Solo doesn’t point it out, no one will notice that Brianna Scurry is past it or that Ryan is a lousy coach. But we all saw it and a lot of people pointed it out well before Solo uttered a word: the cat is out of the bag and marking all over the rug.
In the end, I actually admire Solo for speaking up and speaking about reality. It Scurry’s feeling got hurt, that’s regrettable, but I don’t know how she talks about a hard reality without someone taking a hit. The upside to this entire episode comes with knowing that “all right-thinking” people know the score and that these are the people who buy tickets to Women’s National Team matches. The downside: I’m reading in a fair amount of the copy that Ryan might stick around for the Olympics, a sign that, if true, amounts to emperor acknowledging the fact he’s buck-naked. That’s their prerogative, I suppose, but if they think people want to watch them parade their portly asses around the town, I think they’re mistaken.

MLS: Remaining Schedules and, Yes, Calling the Final

Well, this is swell.  Ian Plenderleith’s Major League Soccer Week 26 review touches on all the points I intended to make, so I’ll just rip off large portions of his work and enjoy the morning cuppa.  Not only did he provide righteous coverage of everything down to the Rico Clark incident (I posted on this earlier, but feel compelled to link to that post again because the comments it received makes Witness Relocation seem like a good call for Carlos Ruiz), but he pointed to a virtuous trend I don’t generally track:

“The season’s average crowd is now at 16,387, almost 1,000 per game more than last season.  It’s not necessarily a significant increase, given the Beckham push, and it doesn’t reflect actual numbers in the stadium, just the number of tickets sold.  Still, it’s a boost up from the stagnating figures of recent seasons.”

Even though average attendance is just one of those things I typically file and forget, there’s something I have noticed this year above any previous year: the crowds aren’t dying this fall as we head into the playoffs.  Assuming I’m not imagining it, this is the most optimistic indicator I’ve come across in the life of the league as it suggests people committing to MLS as fans.  So, yeah, I hope I’m not dreaming this or that it isn’t artificial.

Getting back to day-to-day realities of the league, though, Plenderleith’s handy and dandy framing of the playoff race paints the big picture:

In the playoffs: DC United, Chivas USA, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution.
In line behind them: RB New York, FC Dallas
No longer quite so sure: Kansas City Wizards
Edging their way in, tie by tie: Chicago
Slipping out the picture: Columbus, Colorado
Never saying die: LA
Looking towards 2008: Salt Lake, Toronto

Looks about right to me, though “in line behind them” doesn’t speak to the death-spiral into which FC Dallas is spinning; his framing on the status of Columbus, Colorado, and Chicago, well, that’s pure, bankable gold.

If there’s one thing that irks me about Plenderleith’s column, it’s the fact he beat me to the punch on a bold prediction I had been planning since just before Houston thrashed Dallas, thereby confirming my general expectations:

“As for goals, they were hard to come by in some places, but if you were at DC there were four goal of the week candidates out of the five scored.  Houston fired three at Dallas, reflecting the fact that these two in-form sides are still convincing favorites to compete for the MLS Cup in November’s final.”

To state that directly, it is looking an awful lot like DC v. Houston in the final.  What is it about the teams everyone expected to reach the final actually reaching the final that is such a buzzkill?  I don’t know…maybe I’m just freaked out by any hints there is no such thing as free will.  And you bet I’m trying to jinx it.

OK, with Plenderleith’s column essentially reprinted there’s nothing left to do but look forward – and I’ll down that down below.  Here are the standings for context and here’s the key to decipher everyone’s remaining games:

Chicago Fire: CF
Chivas USA: CUSA
Colorado Rapids: CR
Columbus Crew: Crew
DC United: DCU
FC Dallas: FCD
Houston Dynamo: HD
Kansas City Wizards: KC
Los Angeles Galaxy: LA
New England Revolution: NE
Red Bull New York: RBNY
Real Salt Lake: RSL
Toronto FC: TFC

Right…now, here goes: Continue reading

EPL Weekend 9.29-9.30: highest scoring match in EPL history; Gunners make it 8; Fulham stays strong

STANDINGS 

Saturday 

Manchester City 3, Newcastle 1

The Magpies had their decent form wrecked by a squad pegged for over-performing, but it seems that after this win many have to recalculate their sentiments towards Sven Goran-Eriksson and his Elano-led squad. The Brazilian was great again, putting on a clinic in forward-thinking passing and then driving home an 86th minute free kick to top it all off. Bulgarian Martin Petrov continued his rekindled scoring drive and former Standard Liege striker Emile Mpenza got in on the action. It was the Magpies’ that struck first, but Citeh then responded with three unanswered strikes. Is Eriksson still just lucky?

Portsmouth 7, Reading 4

Both teams were looking for offensive production and – damn – did they ever get it (in a Philadelphia Phillies sort of fashion; you know score 15 one game, 0 the next). Benjani hit for a hat-trick while a stacked midfield provided the rest – Kranjcar, Sean Davis, Muntari all scored. What happened this game? I couldn’t tell you considering I didn’t have the privilege of watching it, but it certainly hurts the reputation of a normally tough-to-beat, stingy Reading defense led by American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. Shane Long, Dave Kitson, Stephen Hunt, and Nicky Shorey all found the net for the Royals. The shot count was never ridiculous but the accuracy was brilliant and that’s why both teams now have themselves in the record book for highest scoring EPL game.

Manchester United 1, Birmingham 0

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first of the year in the 51st minute and helped the Red Devils extend their streak of consecutive clean sheets in the EPL to five. Edwin Van der Sar will be missing the Devils’ next match-up however after picking up some ankle trouble before half-time. Either way, Man Utd has shown they can overcome adversity and early shaky play to pull out a result and with Ronaldo back and firing on all cylinders, we should see a very different Manchester United in the weeks to come.

Other Results:

Liverpool 1, Wigan 0

Benayoun is the savior putting the Reds past the Latics in the 75th minute.

Chelsea 0, Fulham 0

The Blues dominated but Kasey Keller stayed strong and only had to deal with 4 on frame (18 overall). Clint Dempsey went the whole 90 again as Fulham got a huge away point. Further bad news for Avram Grants and Chelsea as captain John Terry is now out with a possible fractured cheekbone.

Blackburn 2, Sunderland 1

Brad Freidel took care of a stingy Sunderland squad with the scoring support coming from David Bentley and Roque Santa Cruz in a two-minute double salvo. Grant Leadbitter scored the consolation goal with time running out.

Arsenal 1, West Ham United 0

The sliding Hammers keep on their path downward after Robin van Persie reintroduced himself to the goal in the 13th minute to ensure the Gunners’ 8th straight victory.

Derby County 1, Bolton 1

Derby grabbed a point to the tune of Kenny Miller’s strike as he continues to make his way into the Derby faithful’s hearts. The Scotsman watched as class Nicolas Anelka tied it up less than 15 minutes later. At least the Rams are grabbing some points.

Sunday

Everton 2, Middlesbrough 0

The Toffees welcomed Timmy Howard back to the line-up with a great on-field performance led by the also-returning from injury, dynamic and often forgotten about Mikel Arteta. He hides some games and then struts his stuff against the lower tier teams. Consistently, he’s good – don’t get me wrong, but he puts in world class performances at times and then disappears from the radar for a while. Joleon Lescott is another guy who probably doesn’t get the attention he well deserves. Not only did he score early, but he shut down Mido effectively. Between Arteta and Pienaar, that second goal was one of the best I’ve seen all weekend.

The Rage of Ricardo Clark

First of all, is this a fair rundown?

“Things finally boiled over between the rivals in the 89th minute when Ruiz and Clark got tangled near the far post. While Ruiz was on the ground, Clarke kicked him in the right shoulder and was summarily sent off by Gonzalez with a straight red card. Clarke had previously been shown yellow in the 81st for a professional foul.”

“Ruiz was also sent off after the melee with a straight red after kneeing Clark in the back after the play. The Guatemalan international had been booked in the 17th minute, an infraction that put him over the limit for yellow card accumulation. He will now miss FCD’s next two matches.”

This came at the end of the Houston Dynamo’s 3-0 drubbing of the free-falling FC Dallas.  The thing is, I’ve seen the video several times now and what I saw was Ricardo Clark just hauling off and kicking Carlos Ruiz while he was on the ground – kicking him hard and with as much intent as you’ll ever see on a soccer field.  The baffling thing comes with this not matching my perception of Clark as a player; by that I mean Ruiz must have done something seriously painful for Clark to react as he did.

Whatever Ruiz did, though, it doesn’t really matter.  What Clark did was flat-out dangerous.  What if Ruiz sees it coming, moves the wrong way, and the kick contacts his head – which is how “el Pescadito” sought to make it look in a twist that is more than a little ironic.  I suspect – no, I know – a fine is coming and a whopping one at that, along with a suspension.  So, good as Houston looked, and good as I suspect they’ll be heading into the end of the season, this won’t help them.

Whatever happened, I’m still trying to get my jaw back up to where it should be.  What a moment of madness that was.

Oh, and Dallas looks like they’ll exit the playoffs as meekly as they have the past two editions.  Sad….

NE 1 – 0 Colorado: “You Do This, Tricky Pony!”

 (* The title gets explained all the way down at the bottom.  I bury leads with the best of ’em.)

Not even a late goal could retrieve the game that struck me as the snoozer of Week 26.  Only the most rabid of partisans would call New England’s win over the Rapids anything like just or deserved.  There is justice of a kind in the fact that neither team really gained, though: New England’s performance sends them into the playoffs sailing into the wind, while Colorado looks less like a playoff-bound club with each passing week.

Returning to an old tradition, I watched this one…a little sideways.  Just for the record, fortified wine can come in some surprisingly clever containers.

The stream-of-consciousness “half-dead” blog follows, typed now as I wrote it down then…in a steadily deteriorating hand.  Oh, I use parentheses and, um these thingies – [] where I feel like explanation is necessary.  Here goes: Continue reading