Daily Sweeper, 10.5: The Pain of Losing, (Some) Awards, and Week 27

If the Ricardo Clark debate weren’t swallowing so much bandwidth, what has already been a diarrhea-mouthed day would have been even runnier. Now that you’re nauseous…

– There’s a lot to love in DJ Walker’s reminiscences of last Wednesday, when he watched his much-beloved FC Dallas come in second-best in the U.S. Open Cup final. A personal highlight comes with what he has to say about Carlos Ruiz and Dario Sala during the meet-n-greet.

– As much as I don’t often pay attention to the various awards MLS dishes out annually, Climbing the Ladder pulled together all the awards, rules, and candidates so nicely that I’m going to take the time to vote on ’em….well, the ones I care about at least. My votes (and why, where necessary):

Coach of the Year: I’m torn between Preki and Tom Soehn, but I’m going with Preki; DC has enough trophies.

Rookie of the Year: Maurice Edu– largely because I think this should go to the player who helped his team most irrespective of the success of said team. He also impressed me as having the most promise.

Referee of the Year: No vote here, but I also think it’s worth pointing out that I don’t really see the refs, even when I see them. They’re kind of like cops to me; all I see are the uniforms.

Fair Pla…: Screw it. So long as they don’t give it to the wrong guy, I don’t care.

Comeback Player of the Year: Pat Noonan, ’cause I like him better than the rest. Clint Mathis is up there too, but I think Noonan’s got more upside right now.

Newcomer of the Year: Tough one, but I’m going with Luciano Emilio based on consistency. I like watching a lot of the other players more (Schelotto, Blanco, Galindo, Toja, etc.) more, but Emilio earned this one.

– Finally, the weekend. I think my viewing plans are pretty set: I’ve got Fox Soccer Channel’s airing of Columbus hosting FC Dallas penciled in and know I’ll watch New England v. Chicago – in spite of elements of self-loathing inherent in the endeavor. Time permitting, I do want to see how KC and DC match up – and, yeah, I’m pulling for KC. The power and lifestyle of an Eastern potentate couldn’t lure me to watch the final game on offer, the Rapids hosting Toronto FC; that’s strictly for punishing the worst of the worst while in lock-up. And curse the league for sticking Houston v. LA on a channel I don’t get.

Well, that’s it for me. It’s a little frustrating to know that we’ll probably know little more Monday than we do today.

The Clark Suspension

“Clark will serve the nine-game suspension throughout the remainder of the 2007 regular season, MLS Cup playoffs and into the 2008 Regular Season until the nine MLS games are complete.”

It’s official: the Houston Dynamo’s Ricardo Clark picked up the biggest suspension/fine combo I’ve ever seen; I don’t see anything in the release, or elsewhere, on punishment for Carlos Ruiz.

So, what are people’s thoughts on this? If you think the suspension is too high, at least the $10,000 fine won’t put too much strain on Clark’s reported $195,000 pay-check (details here). But no playoffs for Clark means there’s no question in my mind the player is being punished; there’s also no question the Houston Dynamo get caught up in that. Given all that, then, is Don Garber’s version of justice too much, too little, or just right?

UPDATE: It occurs to me I ought to say what I think. If interpreted as a form of protest against Carlos Ruiz’, um, on-field tactical decisions, I think Clark’s kick draws a lot of sympathy. But the way he did it – wailing away in front of god, Don Garber, and everybody – gave the league very little choice. In that sense, it fits; a statement really does have to be made. In terms of justice – and, here, I’m speaking more personally than practically – I accept that Ruiz is definitely dirty, but he’s rarely outright vicious, so I think the punishment fits well enough. I have, literally, never seen something so blatant that it can only be called an attack.

UPDATE II: It seems fair to give a dissenting view some pride of place. Sure, it’s an interested opinion – being the Houston Offside and all that – but it’s also a respectable case for casting Ruiz as the villain, or, at very least, seeing that he burns along with Clark.

UPDATE III: For the sake of equal time, Sideline Views posted an unequivocal defense of the MLS Commish Garber’s suspension…this makes me feel like a weenie.

The Most Evil Team in MLS History: An Informal Poll

Apropos to a stray comment in the playoff post below, I’m taking votes for the most evil team in Major League Soccer (MLS) history.  My candidate was the MLS Cup-winning 2005 Los Angeles Galaxy, the unofficial poster-boys in most campaigns against the current playoff format.  I base that call on the frequency with which that specific team is condemned.

There is only one ground rule for this poll: I’m after year-specific teams only, so no posting “The RedBullStars, every year” – though I have no way of stopping you from doing so…and it’s not like I’ll delete  the post either.

So, let ‘er rip.  I posted this one because I really couldn’t think of any other team.

MLS Playoffs: Lucky #8 and Merit v. Excitement

As Major League Soccer (MLS) heads into the playoffs once again, a pair of fine bloggers (Climbing the Ladder and WV Hooligan) has revived the 12-year tradition of grumblingly dissecting the upsides and errors of the standing playoff format.  And with them, I come today to bury the playoff format, not to praise it….he wrote with a wink.

With three or fewer games remaining for 11 of MLS’s 13 teams, the exact playoff picture remains in play.  While this beats seeing 13 clubs going through the motions for all of October, the old problem with giving entirely mediocre (OK, read as: shitty) teams two or more leases on life persists.  The possibility of a crap team suddenly getting hot raises unwelcome memories of the 2005 LA Galaxy, perhaps the most-loathed single team in MLS history.  And, horrifyingly, the Galaxy may yet pull the same trick this season…which is why all good people should be pulling for Houston to kick the unholy shit out LA this weekend, if not drive a stake through their hearts over a center circle painted as a pentagram after the victory…some things are truly too evil to live.

Then again, something else occurs to me.  But I’m getting ahead of myself: here’s a look at how the playoff brackets would look based on today’s standings…wait….you know what?  The logic of the seeding (described here and, disappointingly, here; did they make this up on the fly?) is totally daffy, thanks to rules that discard conferences for qualification only to reapply them when it comes to seeding.  That’s just silly.  Anyway, here’s what we’re looking at…I think…I’ll my lawyer in the morning to review the language:

Eastern Conference Bracket
DC United (1) v. Kansas City Wizards (7th and 8th all at once!)
New England (2) v. Red Bull New York (7th?  In this dimension?)

Western Conference Bracket
Houston Dynamo (2nd/1st) v. Chicago Fire (honorary WC member)
Chivas USA (??) v. FC Dallas (does it matter?*)

* The asterisk points to the rub.  On the one hand, we all know the merit argument: a team that slacked, stumbled, or froze like shocked deer through the regular season have no business winning the league title.

Against that, however, there’s the excitement argument, one that, given the trends, only LA – and, maybe, Chicago – can credibly make.  Look at those pairings: does anyone see Kansas City toppling DC over two legs?  What about Red Bull knocking off New England (after last night especially)?  I’m also guessing that Chivas’ slowing tops Dallas’ broke-down roadside demise.  But Houston v. Chicago – or better still, an LA team that beat them in Week 27 – well, now I’m seeing some possibilities.

Disappointment in, or even contempt for, the current playoff format is the proper response; in my book, LA is on their fifth life, Chicago is on their third, and neither deserved their second.  I agree the current system should be scrapped and the number of teams qualifying reduced.  At the same time, love ‘em or hate ‘em, that #8 seed, whomever takes it, seems the best hope for excitement for the 2007 playoffs.  Call it the best-case outcome of a screwy playoff format.

Ha ha ha ha ha!!

Given I’m the MLS guy on this blog, you probably know what I’m laughing about.

Not to kick Red Bull fans while they’re suffering, but it’s the fact I half-saw this coming that makes me find Red Bull New York’s loss to lowly Toronto FC so funny (from yesterday’s collective rankings): “[Red Bull] didn’t suffer much for last weekend’s draw to RSL (much like they won’t suffer much tonight when they draw at TFC).”  It wasn’t the specific result I felt coming, but that Red Bull would somehow screw up that which seemingly could not be screwed.

And, lordy, how did they screw it!  Chris Leitch’s wonderful finish into his own goal approached Platonic idealism for the essential concept of “mistake.”

It seems important to mention I didn’t see so much as a second of this game till I caught the highlights minutes ago.  It’s possible, even, that Red Bull played Toronto off the park, but the final score tells the relevant story in the end, especially as we approach the playoffs.  For all the love for Angel and Altidore, for Dane Richards’ speed wunnerful, wunnerful speed, for all the shining promise of Red Bull’s incredible start, the hard reality is observers don’t believe in this team – and for good reason.

That’s it from me.  I welcome more informed views on the game down below.

EPL Daily 10.5: Kroenke to start another EPL Cold War?; ten Cate to Stamford?

Henk ten Cate – Ajax boss – looks poised to join Avram Grant at Stamford Bridge in the capacity of assistant coach. Grant has already said he wants to improve the backroom staff – bringing in one big domestic target and a foreign coach who already backs the style Chelsea likes to play. ten Cate lost out on the Dutch Eredivisie Championship last year by one goal and the pinnacle of his career might have already passed as assistant coach to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona. At he seemingly doesn’t want to budge from his position at Amsterdam ArenA after giving a press conference that states just that.

The big-bad American doesn’t look so bad after all as Arsenal Peter Hill-Wood has looked to American billionaire and Colorado Rapids owner Stan Kroenke to counter the questionably-intentioned Russian Alisher Usmanov. About 45% of the Arsenal shareholders have signed a ‘lockdown’ agreement to ensure the Usmanov and Kroenke don’t launch a takeover bid, but now Kroenke’s 12% share is seen as friendly instead of hostile. Can’t wait to see how this one pans out.

An England squad that has several surprises will take on Russia and Estonia in about 2 weeks. Michael Owen was included despite injury, Dean Ashton found his way back onto the shortlist, and Joleon Lescott will get a go at his first cap. Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick are the biggest injury disappointments (and you can’t help but feel a tad sorry for Sir Alex Ferguson on these losses).

Full England squad: Robinson (Tottenham), James (Portsmouth), Carson (Liverpool, on loan at Aston Villa), Richards (Man City), Brown (Man Utd), Ferdinand (Man Utd), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Chelsea), P Neville (Everton), Campbell (Portsmouth), Lescott (Everton), Shorey (Reading), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Barry (Aston Villa), J Cole (Chelsea), Downing (Middlesbrough), Lampard (Chelsea), Young (Aston Villa), Bentley (Blackburn), Owen (Newcastle), Rooney (Man Utd), Smith (Newcastle), Ashton (West Ham), Defoe (Tottenham), Johnson (Everton), Crouch (Liverpool).