Coming Soon: LA’s Pan-Pacific Preseason Tourney

Thanks to the guy(s) at The Offside Rules, I got wind of what looks like it will be an annual pre-season tournament featuring clubs from Australia’s A-League, Japan’s J-League, and Major League Soccer (MLS).  (Side-note to the editors at The Offside Rules: if you change your mind and decide to begin a career as a drug mule, could I trouble you to pick me up a little somethin’, somethin’.  Preferably not something that has been up your, or anyone else’s, ass.  Yeah, I know that’s tricky, but I’ll pay.)

(DISCLAIMER: Of course I’m not really requesting drugs over the internets.  Just thought I’d make that clear to all past and future attorneys general.)

Getting back to that tournament, the article on it reports that MLS will underwrite the event – which can only mean that the Los Angeles Galaxy gets an automatic annual bid.  Nice.  Hopefully, they won’t suck in future.  Everyone else has to qualify, however, the Japanese team by winning something called the Nabisco Cup (nope, don’t know what it is; and, with all due respect to Japanese fans, I can’t say I care either), while the A-League and MLS invitees will be champions of their respective leagues.

So…combine this with the pre-season tournament that the New England Revolution should really make out of their annual sojourn to Bermuda – y’know, invite a couple more teams, etc. – add that to Puerto Rico’s preseason tourney, add others as needed till every MLS team has a semi-official event they can attend for preseason warm-ups and – Presto! – we have a shorter off-season.  Everyone’s happy.  Well, they’re happy so long as someone puts these things on TV where non-Hawaiians, non-Bermudans, and non-Puerto Ricans can see them then everyone’s happy.  (I’m at least a year away from easy traveling, so TV will have to do in the meantime.)

Alternately, MLS and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) could run the U.S. Open Cup as a preseason tournament with the semifinal series happening in one happening and warm location and that could work as well.

Early Daily Sweeper: Arena Means the Coaching Carousel Is Swingin’

Holy crap, things are moving quickly today!

As I started my web-trawling, what’s the first thing I see? A “rumor” that Head Coach, Technical Director Bruce Arena got canned by Red Bull New York, one that Sports Illustrated picked off Soccer by Ives, again, a source I don’t feel like publishes stories lightly. So…Arena’s gone from NYC. Hm. I know I’m not the only wondering if Arena will make his way to Los Angeles. I’m not saying I would hire the man, but…still…who else will they get? Who else can LA get?

OK, one more thing: wouldn’t it be super-killer and four-times-funny if Jurgen Klinsmann took over with Red Bull? Now that, folks, is 100% raw, half-comical speculation; don’t take it anywhere near a bank or they might shoot you on principle. But the Arena to LA thing – I think that’s at least something to watch for…even if I can’t see Arena doing it.

One has to wonder, at this point, where Arena’s coaching-cred stands. The subtle tinge of controversy – here, I’m thinking the real-or-imagined spat between Juan Pablo Angel and Arena – recalled his semi-bitter firing from, or rather the decision to let his contract run out for, the U.S. coaching job. So, seriously, where will Arena go from here? Nowhere – aka retiring – seems possible, but I can’t see that either. What about a position in Colorado? Whatever his reputation, Arena looks to be one hell of a wild card for this off-season.

Getting back to the other coaching change – e.g. Frank Yallop – The Bigs (the soccer MSM) are already plugging in some gaps. Sports Illustrated’s Jonah Freedman describes Yallop’s move as a “face-saving” way for everyone now and previously associated with LA to move forward. Jeff Carlisle’s Yallop-clocker for ESPN analyzes the move from a more practical, what-does-it-and-did-it-all-mean perspective.

I suspect I’ll be spinning my wheels on this one all day. I’ll add to this one if I see something that makes us all smarter.

UPDATE: The New York Times’ Goal blog posted something on Arena containing two noteworthy additions to the story. Citing “a number of reports” Goal reports that Arena was fired, as opposed to resigning. The second item is a curiosity: why, as the report suggests, would MLS officials be “worried” that Arena might find work as a television analysts. I know his nasal drawl drives my wife insane – she thinks he sounds…well, best not go into that; feelings might be hurt – but I don’t see why Arena condemning the league on TV matters in the grand scheme.

UPDATE II: As one would expect, Soccer by Ives is following the Arena canning fairly closely and has posted some great updated material.  First, a post about Claudio Reyna’s  future – interesting in its own right – mentions a “falling out” between Reyna and Arena some time during the year – which begs the question of why every last single one of us didn’t know; these guys are famous (well, semifamous) and, hence, have no right or expectation of privacy.  An earlier post considers where The Bruce’s coaching talents met Red Bull management’s expectations for success.

MLS Conference Finals Picks: Don’t Think, Meat. It’ll Only Hurt the Ball Club.

Refraining from over-analyzing the second leg of the first round seemed to pay off, so, to rip another line from Bull Durham, smart players know to respect a streak…’cause they’re special and they don’t happen that often.  With that in mind, I’m going to throw my next set of picks for the Center Holds It/Who Ate All the Cupcakes Playoff Picks Duel.

New England Revolution 1-2 Chicago Fire – the Fire win it in OT.  As much as I rather they would, I can’t see New England taking it.  This just isn’t the same team from last season.  Chicago, on the other hand, is playing very solid, very composed soccer and have the “special” players to win the game…then there’s that whole “Juan Carlos Osorio, Genius!” thing rattling in my head, something that should work well against what looks like an increasingly static New England/Steve Nicol formula.  The Revs will go down fighting, but they’ll go down.

Houston Dynamo 2-0 Kansas City Wizards – I just can’t see this going any other way, even if I don’t necessarily mean the score.

That’s it for me.  And, again, I invite Team Cupcakes and my colleagues to place their picks in the comments below.

Two Quick(-ish) Thoughts: The Juan Carlos Osorio Experiment & MLS in EPL

A couple ideas came to me late last night.  These aren’t grand theses so much as the beginnings of a thought process on a couple themes familiar to any fan of MLS.

– First, seeing where the Chicago Fire are today has me thinking back a Halloween piece Ian Plenderleith posted on, the one where he talks about MLS teams’ limited options when it comes to replacing – how do you say? – sub-standard coaches.  My reaction at the time (which I’d rate at 50% knee-jerk) amounted to faith that some diamonds lurk in the college coaching rough.  Since posting that, however, Chicago’s Juan Carlos Osorio keeps cropping into my head as a kind of counter-argument.  The Fire doesn’t look anything like the team that started the season and, as much as people hang the laurels on Cuauhtemoc Blanco, he’s only half the equation.  What about the steady, smart organized feel with which Chicago approaches the game?  That’s not Blanco, or Chris Rolfe for that matter.  Think back to the shambling mess the defense was earlier in the year under Dave Sarachan; think of those back-to-back-to-almost-back games where Chicago gave up three goals.  The question is the extent to which Osorio gets credit for that.  Speaking for myself, I’d say he’s making the case that foreign coaches have something American coaches lack, whether it’s in organization, tactical adjustments, ego management, etc.  Maybe there is something to that foreign coach thing – even if the mini-parade of tried-and-failed foreign coaches for the MetroStars  act as counter-arguments.  Rather than buying into that “he knows the American player” spiel, maybe looking abroad is the answer.  Anyway, I plan to keep watching  this for as long as Osorio stays in MLS.

– Second, I got to thinking last night – while watching Bolton draw West Ham, as it happened – that most higher-end MLS players would do just fine in the English Premier League.  This is not to say even the majority of the league’s players are even the low-end of EPL caliber; even a fair number of the players I rated as “good” in my list of “All-Time ‘Good’ MLS Players” wouldn’t make the cut.  But here’s where I’m going: a solid MLS player – it was Shavar Thomas who got me thinking about this (and, yep, he’s on the list) – would probably do well enough on an EPL team to be anonymous – e.g. he would neither stink up the joint nor star.  Put another way, I peg the top third of MLS talent somewhere between a decent role-player and a credible contributor on an EPL team.  Any thoughts out there?

Yallop Ditches Star-Struck Team

I don’t often “go to press” – e.g. post on the fly – just because I see a big thing ambling down the pike (though, yes, I’m a on-his-back whore for rumors). But with ESPN reporting with faith in “multiple sources” that Frank Yallop will step down as head coach of Los Angeles Galaxy, there’s just too much juice in play. Then again, it’s not often that I’m trolling soccer sites at 10 p.m. PST on a Sunday.

The first question, of course, is why? I remember reading pieces as recently as last week talking up Yallop’s plans for next season. This raises great following questions such as, what did San Jose offer (whoops; that’s where Yallop looks like he’s headed; sorry, didn’t mention that)? More significantly, from where I sit at least, why the brave face? Why does Yallop pretend he’s going to stay around? Better still, was he planning on staying around until the very next offer came his way – which only gets back to the question of what San Jose offered.

All those questions aside – e.g. best still – does this mean Los Angeles Galaxy General Manager Alexi Lalas will be on board for another season? If so, that would be enough to make me leave if I were Yallop.

At this point – e.g. looking at a rumor that looks solid; ESPN doesn’t usually run something unless it’s pretty safe – two thoughts sit squarely in front of my brain. First, I can’t wait to see the “whys” of this one sort out. Second, assuming this is true – because, yes, this could explode in my over-eager face by tomorrow morning – I can’t wait to see LA play San Jose next season. Those are going to be rip-shit affairs.

Good night. And good luck, Frank. You got a raw deal in LA.

MLS Conference Semis: It’s a Wrap

As The Hives sang not so long ago, hate to say I told you so. Before you think I’m feeling cocky, let me just confess right now that getting all Saturday’s picks dead right cost a tiny sliver of my soul. I didn’t read the document all the way through, but I’m pretty sure it was just a sliver I sold.

But no one wants to hear about my triumphant stand atop the table of the Center Holds It/Who Ate All the Cupcakes Playoff Picks Duel (see the sidebar; god bless those Cupcakes lads…so on top of things). No, people who come to this site come to read about the games. So, let’s get to ’em…very, very briefly. I mean, you know what you saw, right?

Houston Dynamo 4-1 FC Dallas

Curse the damned distractions in my life, but did I see that correctly? Did Arturo Alvarez really whack the Houston player in the pills? That’s a guaranteed sending-off, son, not to mention drawing the silent, collective condemnation of all male viewers. Oh well. A Houston win was always just a matter of time; the extra man only made it more emphatic. The personal highlight for me? That tasty through-ball Dwayne DeRosario slotted to Brian Ching. So, FC Dallas season ends where it usually does. Even so, you have to feel they feel better about losing this one than the past few to the Colorado Rapids; being on the wrong-side of a Texas ass-kicking can’t hurt nearly as bad as getting out-coached by Fernando Clavijo…twice…oh, the humanity. I could write more, but the bottom line reads pretty straight: this series was over the minute Houston leveled the aggregate.

New England Revolution 1-0 Red Bull New York

The game doesn’t deserve analysis. It deserves the finger. The rare moment of brilliance – well, not brilliance, so much as the odd bright spot – typically came to nothing. My personal highlight? Bruce Arena having the good sense to pull Juan Pablo Angel. Don’t trifle with head injuries. The toothpicks propping open my eyes snapped more than once, though. And New England’s goal…well, that just had to be heartbreaking for Jon Conway.

Chivas USA 0-0 Kansas City Wizards

As if proving the adage about some goalless draws providing more entertainment than wins and losses, this one kicked the holy crap out of the above. Too many things jumped out at me to record in this space, but the real kicker was how frustratingly far Chivas seemed from scoring – and that’s in spite of hitting the post on several occasions. Oxy-moronic (or, perhaps, just plain moronic) as that sounds, I’m trying to get at something deeper: to dominate possession and aggression to that extent without scoring takes some doing. Maybe it was Chivas’ apparent yen to score from within the six-yard box that did them in; they tried so many times to pinch inside, even when playing from the flanks; maybe it’s their trouble with getting in crosses that forced this. To name names, I have never been so underwhelmed by Francisco Mendoza, the worst culprit for the troublesome offensive habits described above. Going the other way, Eddie Johnson looks somewhere between eager and sharp – good news for Wizards fans. In fact, KC looks like they’re playing as well as they ever have this 2007. Doubtful as it may be in the end, upsetting Houston isn’t beyond them. They’ll need to tighten up things at the back when they face a team that knows how to fire in crosses – one that lives on them, in fact.

Well, that’s all from me today. Looking forward to the conference finals.