DS, 10.15: Week 28 Bonus Notes; DC…yeah, yeah, yeah; The Chris Rolfe Experiment + More

– Tolerably pleased as I am with my (repeatedly edited) wrap of Week 28/9, the need for brevity kept me from dwelling on a point or two. Surprisingly, most said dwelling focuses on a game I didn’t watch: New England v. Columbus; no less strange, most of it deals with Columbus.

Before getting to that, though, Steve Ralston shows a mastery for understatement more than once in a write-up on New England’s loss to Columbus; in that same muted tone, however, he says what needs saying about the Revolution at this late, momentous point in the 2007 season:

“’In the first half, we had the better of it,’ Ralston said. ‘We played well. But we have to start playing well for 90 minutes.’”

Is there anything to say, but great googly-moogly? August was the time to “start playing well” over the length of the game, if not before.

In spite of the loss, however, the Revs have a post-season to look forward to, while the conquering Crew do not. There’s something very baffling about that after seeing something so sublimely pretty as Columbus’ second goal, which came from Eddie Gaven’s pinpoint lofted cross to an onrushing Stefani Miglioranzi. Columbus possesses sufficiently talented players; playing alongside Eddie Gaven, you’ll find Robbie Rogers, who, over the past few games I’ve caught, seems to have found his MLS legs. Referring back to Ralston’s quote, not to mention the box-score and game summary, Columbus never really got it going till Guillermo Barros Schelotto hit the field. Add that one-game reality – so aptly noted in the Columbus’ Dispatch’s box summary – to the larger slump that “mysteriously” coincided with Schelotto’s absence from the Crew and it looks like a case of the Crew’s youngsters genuinely needing Schelotto to perform well. While this passes for conventional wisdom – and there’s no denying that Schelotto wears the word “special” fairly well – there’s still something incredible about it. These are professional players, after all, and fairly good ones; surely, they can’t be that mentally fragile …can they? Ah well, I’ll have to study this one. (By the way, this is how my “fan brain” works; I just kind of get fixated on things and that’s how my weird version of soft, subtle fandom creeps in.) Continue reading

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MLS Playoffs: Permutations, Predictions, Contentment

With the end of Major League Soccer’s (MLS) regular season less than one week away, I think…yeah, I am…I’m finally ready to put my amateur pundit reputation on the line with definitive calls on which teams will make the post-season cut and how they’ll fit into the brackets. Again, this assumes I’m reading the damn formula that appears on the bottom of MLS’s playoff standings correctly.

It seems wise to confess right now that the math is damned complicated. How complicated? Goal.com’s Kyle McCarthy wraps it up in three paragraphs:

“Los Angeles, winners of five straight, needs to win out and boasts a 2-1 record against its two remaining opponents, Chicago and New York, this season (the only loss was a 5-4 reverse in New York on Aug. 18).”

“Chicago needs to finish on more points than both Kansas City and Colorado in a three-way tie situation because it loses the tiebreaker to both teams (The Fire split with KC and KC has a superior GD; Chicago tied both games with Colorado and Colorado holds the superior GD).”

“Colorado needs to defeat Real Salt Lake at home and hope Chicago draws against Los Angeles or Kansas City loses to in order to make the postseason. The Rapids could qualify if Kansas City draws and Colorado defeats RSL by three or more goals. The two teams would end tied on goal difference if the Rapids won by a pair, but the next tiebreaker is goals scored and Colorado would have to score 15 to qualify (and that’s only if Kansas City is held to a scoreless draw).”

If you’re looking for another take, Yahoo! Sports’ guy, Martin Rogers, does the same trick longhand…just don’t expect that his stuff won’t make you go just as cross-eyed.

After reading both of these and going cross-eyed myself, I figured that sizing up the schedule and writing what I think will happen is the quickest way to uncross my eyes. So, what’s going to happen, in the games that matter at least? Drum-roll please…

FC Dallas will beat Kansas City
Colorado will draw Real Salt Lake
LA will beat Red Bull
Chicago will beat LA
Elsewhere, Houston will win their last two over RSL and Chivas

So, assuming I get all those right, that means, Chicago will finish in 7th on 40 points, KC will finish in 8th on their current 37 points, leaving both LA and Colorado sitting on the outside, idly licking the playoff glass on 36 points; at the top of the Western table, Houston will end the year on 54 points, two points over Chivas, who will have lost all ability to score by that time.

This takes us to the final talking point, the playoff pairings. Assuming I understand this crap – and, in all honesty, days go by when I figure I should just sit tight and see how it pans out – here’s what we ought to see when the playoff begin:

Eastern Conference
DC United (E1) v. Chicago Fire (E4)
New England Revolution (E2) v. Red Bull New York (E3)

Western Conference
Houston Dynamo (W1) v. Kansas City Wizards (W4-honorary)
Chivas USA (W2) v. FC Dallas (W3)

The best thing about all this? With no one hitting the post-season in full stride, the above-described series – or even the ones we’ll see if results break another way (for instance, Rogers has LA and KC making it) – have a half-perverse up-in-the-air feel; things could get pretty random when all’s said and done. Put another way, the generally “spent” vibe now hitting the league ain’t all bad

MLS: The “Penultimate” Weekend and the Short Road Ahead

I got so wired into the whole 30-week season concept that I fully expected two more weeks of Major League Soccer (MLS), but, in reality, next weekend is the end of the line. And Week 28’s results, a parade of the unsurprisingly surprising, left a couple teams twisting in the proverbial wind.

For the record, apart from seeing the two-car pile-up that was Red Bull New York continuing to put the hoodoo on the Kansas City Wizards, I experienced the penultimate weekend’s games at highlight speed. For all the one-eye-on-‘em viewing, results panned out as I expected, by which I mean few of the games ended as they should…hence the phrase “unsurprisingly surprising.” However you slice it, the teams winning now are the ones for whom the playoff bird should have flown…and still they’re there, more revenants given life by the toxic formula that is the MLS playoff format.

Getting back to that Red Bull/KC game, the entire evening quietly screamed for a set-up man, someone to bring the best out of two high-quality forwards. Because neither team has one who neatly fit the bill (Davy Arnaud? eh…), the teams more or less groped for loose balls in the wide band between one another’s penalty areas. The game ended to New York’s advantage due to a positively cursed evening for Jose Burciaga Jr.; he gave the Red Bull’s their first through a generous PK call and gifted them the winner with a pratfall. To the Red Bull’s credit, though, their forward, Juan Pablo Angel, was up to the job: on KC’s side of things, Eddie “EJ” Johnson botched the dubious PK call won by Scott Sealy when he shot hard, but too close to Jon Conway. Game, set, match – and possibly post-season dreams – to Red Bull New York. Kansas City, on the other hand, may wind up in the Inexcusably Absent Club with the Columbus Crew for the third straight season.

Mentioning the Crew provides a nice segue into the rest of the weekend’s action. Columbus finally won, and in some style thanks to the thing of beauty that Guillermo Barros Schelotto launced off his right boot; Eddie Gaven also played the game of his season a few games too late. Perhaps Gaven, along with the Crew as a whole, suffer from what ails Real Salt Lake, the inability to win games when it matters. The other big loser of the weekend was surely Chivas USA, who gave up their first home loss of the season when they gave the Colorado Rapids just their third road win. Apart from being depressing, this is hardly the kind of result to kill off suggestions that Chivas may have peaked too early; along with the team Columbus beat, the New England Revolution, form looks to be going sideways at precisely the wrong time for the clubs formerly known as MLS’s top-tier. Elsewhere, Chicago and DC looked to have played the proverbial Game of Two Halves (yes, caps seem appropriate): Chicago owned the first half, but couldn’t break through; the same snake bit DC in the second. There was one more game, of course, but in keeping with superstitions that hold that which goes unnamed can’t harm you, I’ll stay silent in this space and hope the haunting ends.

Well, that’s the week behind us, condensed as I saw it play out (and I invite visitors to fill in the blanks). My take on the short road ahead – mashed up with some observations on the week behind – comes below. And, as you look over my ramblings, do consider the standings. Continue reading