Juande Ramos vs. Avram Grant – Ramos and Tottenham take the League Cup!

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I had to lead with something a bit uplifting this Sunday in the wake of Eduardo’s career-threatening injury on Saturday. Tottenham’s 2-1 stunner over Chelsea in the final of the League Cup provided a small window to forget about not only Eduardo’s injury though…also I was able to forget that both Reading and Fulham moved closer to certain relegation with time running out, Heerenveen giving up a two goal lead after an ejection left them a man down for 70 minutes, and let’s not forget Houston’s terrible 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Bare and Gamba Osaka. Yikes.

Back to the good stuff though. Juande Ramos has really turned this Hotspur team around. The Spurs have always threatened the Big Four in terms of reputation and the ability to draw young talent, but never have they been able to match the pace and consistency of the Big Four ON the pitch. Tottenham’s 2-1 extra time win today was just what they needed to maybe push them over the threshold.

It was an up and down day for the Hotspur as the match started well, but it was Chelsea who found the net first heading into the end of the half. Didier Drogba – trying to rekindle his pre-African Nations Cup form – hit a free kick that confused the hell out of Tottenham’s Paul Robinson. The Spurs and Ramos felt a bit hard done by that as they held strong the whole half with Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate looking like a Vidic/Ferdinand pairing. The second half – both teams cooled down a bit, but Tottenham came alive late with Aaron Lennon patrolling the wings. His efforts paid off in the 70th minute when Wayne Bridge handled one of Lennon’s attempted crosses with his hands and Berbatov stepped up to coolly finish the penalty.

Regulation-time ended in a draw and changes were made, but the same suspects stood out. Woodgate quarterbacked an efficient defensive corps, while Lennon and Berbatov sparked the offense. The consistent play paid off for the Spurs when Woodgate found Jermaine Jenas’ free-kick with his head (well, it sort of found him) and beat Petr Cech in the 94th minute. They then snapped back to tactical form and denied Chelsea an equalizer for the last 26 minutes. Not even the long awaited return of John Terry and a healthier Frank Lampard could inspire the uninspired. Tottenham’s victory was their first League Cup since 1999.

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Gamba 6-1 Dynamo: Twas no Team; A Typhoon It Was…Arrr.

Well all right. My first pirate-inspired headline.

So…how bad was the Houston Dynamo’s loss to Gamba Osaka? First, there’s the score to consider: any time your bunch gives up six goals, you couldn’t have had a good night. I don’t think Pat Onstad can remember the last time he let in six…assuming it ever happened. Bare got four of Osaka’s goals and, as one of the commentators noted, all four were not just well-taken, but each was a little bit different from the one before (and I felt inspired to ask this, when he had only two).

No, I think the best measure of the complete, um, uncloseness of the Pan-Pacific Challenge final comes with how I managed sleep. Somewhere around the 60th minute, I promised myself I’d go to bed either when Osaka scored its fourth goal or if the Dynamo showed no meaningful signs of life at the 75th minute. Osaka’s fourth came only minutes later. I went to bed assuming things could only get worse and, when I resumed watching in the morning (let us pause to celebrate the successful operation of a VCR), it did: Osaka dropped in a fifth in short order, hit the post once, again forced Onstad into a desperate scramble, scored their sixth – again, over a flailing, bewildered Onstad…you get the idea.

So…6-1. Suddenly, the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 1-0 loss in the semifinal doesn’t look all that bad…

In spite of the walk-over, I don’t think anyone would argue Houston looked worse than the Galaxy. Houston made repeated forays into Osaka’s half through the length of the rout. But they encountered an organized defense on every trip, even the several occasions they managed to create a little chaos, or even hit the crossbar, as Brian Ching did late in the game. Maybe it was the predictability of the Dynamo’s attack that created the sense of Osaka’s invulnerability, that nearly all their success and promising openings came down Stuart Holden’s right and from elsewhere too rarely if at all. Maybe with Dwayne DeRosario in the middle or someone besides Corey Ashe starting and going the full 90 on the left (and I like Ashe plenty as a sub), the Dynamo might have unlocked Osaka’s defenses. They had plenty of the ball, but, in the final tally, simply couldn’t do much with it.

The Dynamo’s defense was something else again. Too often a couple steps out of sync, a little slow, shell-shocked even: we don’t often see the Dynamo surrender six goals over three games, or even four or five. Bobby Boswell and Patrick Ianni have a lot of work to put into their partnership; put another way, Eddie Robinson just witnessed the embodiment of his job security in real time.

And, just to complete the record, I hadn’t counted on the halftime highlight reel of the Galaxy’s 2-1 win over Sydney FC. Good for them!

A couple random points that don’t fit neatly into the above narrative:

– I’d start Holden over Brian Mullan. I think he’s got more upside, thanks mainly to his fewer years. But he’s got great speed and close control, passes intelligently, and so on and so on. Thoughts?

– On a related note, I think I’ve got a live-blogging concept that I think will work for me.  Dropping random questions as they occur to me.  We’ll see how that goes…

– Judging by the tournament, the Pan-Pacific hierarchy goes Japan, U.S., Australia. For what it’s worth, I’m OK with continuing the experiment, perhaps even letting it evolve into something bigger. Why not invite a Korean team next year? Schedule it closer to the Major League Soccer’s (MLS) regular season? Let the U.S. Open Cup winner fly the league’s flag, etc. Have fun with it. It’s a money-spinner.

Is Bare Worth DP Money?

So, as I’m sitting here, seeing Gamba Osaka go up 2-1 on a fairly sharp-looking Houston Dynamo, I’m thinking to myself, “He looks fast, strong, has a good brain in his head, finishes well….is Bare (you’ll have to imagine the accent over the ‘e’) worth designated-player money?”

And I’m watching, thinking to myself, “Yeah…he might be.”

I think what I’m getting at is, thinking in terms of David Beckham or Luis Figo defines the designated player category too narrowly.  The most important thing isn’t how many butts they can put in seats in the short-term, but how much will they help the team look totally killer on the field.  I think Major League Soccer (MLS) is at that point in its evolution.

Thoughts?