Crew v. Rapids*: Comparison After Week 1 (Plus, thoughts on the Crew’s win and word of a signing)

(* This project really needs a name – suggestions are 105% welcome.  A five-minute brainstorm yielded “Project Crewpid,” but I think something better is possible.)

I scanned this great sketch of Alejandro Moreno (well…I liked it) and was prepared to post that over a report on the Columbus Crew’s opening day win over Toronto FC.  Turns out I saved the scan as the wrong kind of file, I had too much shit to do yesterday, and there was that weird hangover that hurt my body less than my…my soul, I guess.  So, yeah, the Crew won their opener on the back of goals by Adam Moffat and Alejandro Moreno.  Moffat was most people’s man of the match, which is the point of the leading anecdote: I could draw a decent caricature of Moreno, but couldn’t swing Moffat – so, there you go, Moreno becomes my man of the match.

As for the game itself, it was a good enough win and I liked what I saw generally (though, admittedly, squinting through one eye by the end; where there’s a hangover in the morning, there was a drunk the night before – all y’all know how this works).  And that’s the weird thing – and “the weird” extends to the commentary several of this week’s games: yeah, the Crew won their opener – which seems a rare event, even if may not be (I don’t know) – but keeping the clean sheet required no mean exertion from Will Hesmer.  What I’m getting at, here, is that this was a nice win, but nothing more – so when I see something like where Goal.com placed the Crew in their power rankings, I wonder how I saw so much less than they did. Continue reading

10 Bright Spots of MLS Week 1: The Gambians, Cooke, and a Salute to Youth

1. New England Revolution

Introduce two U-20 Gambian players and succeed? Sure. Steve Nicol certainly knows what he’s doing and his opener – without the services of Twellman – truly pays homage to his ability to man manage and bring along young talent. Let’s not forget Adam Cristman who worked well with Nyassi and Mansally. All three – along with the veteran presence of Steve Ralston (let’s hope that shoulder’s okay) and the patrolling of Joseph/Larentowicz in the middle – helped put together an attack that even Houston’s defense couldn’t withstand. On the other end, however, Parkhurst dealt with Ching effectively, while it’s pretty certain that Wondolowski should not be in there.

2. Terry Cooke

When did Terry Cooke get fast? We knew he had a boot, but his speed and tenacity was the difference versus the Galaxy. Could it have been the Englishman just wanted to show up his former teammate Beckham? If that’s the case – the opening goal in a 4-0 drubbing of the Galaxy and two subsequent assists will do just that. We can expect another big service year from Cooke. Someone explain to me how Cooke got awarded that second assist on Colin Clark’s goal??? Clark dribbled for what seemed like an eternity before beating Cronin near post…at what point does Cooke’s initial pass become “unassisted”? 

3. Kenny Mansally/Sainey Nyassi

These kids can play. Nyassi burnt Houston on the wings and was able to finish his first goal ever in his debut. Mansally had his hand in the first goal and looked strong on the ball with an uncharacteristic poise for a first year striker. If Mansally and Cristman do well enough up top, does Taylor Twellman technically become expendable?? (Answer is probably no…). Sainey Nyassi was hyped up a little less than Mansally throughout the preseason, but he arguably was the more effective player. Not even Corey Ashe had an answer for his speed on the wings. Both players if consistent provide the Revs with a depth that could account for the loss of Dorman and Noonan. Let’s wait for week two though…

4. Maykel Galindo

He did it at the expense if FC Dallas’ new acquisition and Mexican international Diulio Davino, but no matter how it happens, the Goats came away with a point. Davino mishandled a trap and Galindo capitalized by pouncing on it and sending it straight through Dario Sala’s legs to equalize with 5 minutes to go. What it made it more impressive was that Galindo is still recovering from sports hernia surgery and isn’t at 100%. The Cuban international then kissed the Chivas USA shield during his end-of-the-game interview. The guy is class.

5. Claudio Lopez

Eddie Johnson who? Lopez and Ivan Trujillo ripped apart a decent D.C. United defense with the help of Carlos Marinelli. Already, this is shaping up to be one interesting year. If I’m not mistaken though, there were some crazy results at the beginning of last year too. Anyways, Lopez is class and looks like he’ll end up being another DP success. In fact, you could almost say that about all the DP debuts.  

6. Dema Kovalenko

The guy got stiffed by RBNY and sent on over to Salt Lake (stiffed in the sense he’s more of a big city guy, Chicago his “adopted home”, etc.), but he made the best of his first appearance. Dema, within two minutes of coming, served a cross that was redirected into the Chicago goal by young Bakary Soumare. In a questionably sloppy game, Kovalenko got the job done. On top of that, Kova was just recently sworn in as an official citizen of the United States of America.

7. Adam Moffat

One hell of a game winning goal for Columbus from the star of the Crew’s preseason. A developmental contract that looks to make a significant contribution to the Crew’s run this season. Reminds me of a younger Kerry Zavagnin. 

8. John DiRaimondo/Nick LaBrocca/Kosuke Kimura

LaBrocca, the NJ native, and DiRaimondo really frustrated the hell out of an almost non-existant Los Angeles midfield. Fernando Clavijo’s injury predicament forced him to go with a lot of new blood. Kimura held his own at right back, keeping Donovan pretty quiet throughout the whole game. From the get go, it was clear who wanted to win the game and all three were a huge part of that.

9. Traveling Toronto FC Fans

TFC had something like 2,000 supporters travel down to Columbus to take over Columbus Crew stadium. The Crew still outplayed them in the end, but Crew Stadium was still Toronto’s for the afternoon. Take those supporters away and you have one pitiful Columbus crowd. Mr. Gillett, you want a team? I got one for you…

10. Jon Busch

The seemingly eternal back-up began his Chicago starting career with a big game. A potent Real Salt Lake offense tested him again and again, forcing him into 8 saves. Busch, who last started regularly in 2004 with the Columbus Crew, looked shaky in the beginning but ultimately showed well and solidified his number one spot. In 2004, Busch was the brightest spot on a decent Columbus team – he posted a 1.07 GAA and a 12-5-12 winning record. Then he was replaced….Here’s to hoping he finds that success again.

The Team Alexi Has Built: A Visual Reaction

My first attempt at capturing the spirit of this game was a sketch of me covering my eyes, an appropriate choice because that’s how I watched the the final fifteen minutes of the Los Angeles Galaxy’s season opener. But the image at left, which captures my reaction to the Colorado Rapids’ third goal and the degenerating mess that was LA, poses the question that came to me at the time: what the frank was Alexi Lalas thinking when he built this team? Max Bretos (or was it Christopher Sullivan) said enough when he wondered aloud what good it does LA to have three all-stars in the front line when they don’t have the players behind them to get the ball upfield.

Some other quotes, this time from Bretos, as he watched the game:

“Like lambs to the slaughter….”
(Just before Colin Clark’s goal, which Colorado’s fourth.)

“Like a hot knife through butter.”
(Right after Clark’s goal. And it was that bad.)

Without laboring the point, something I’ll be doing later on the Rapids Offside, I want to kick an idea out there: how is Alexi Lalas still employed? And isn’t it just a little insulting to your understanding of the game that he still is? This is just a guess, but I’m thinking if you ran the roster and some video past, oh, 85% of soccer fans they’d immediately question both the roster and the assumptions behind it. I mean, there’s taking risks (driving fast) and there’s being just plain stupid (driving fast and stumbling drunk…toward a brickwall…probably one with that big picture of Beckham in underwear).

The painful thing is, the weakness is exactly where everyone expected it – even if I’m pretty confident no one anticipated the degree of the problems. It’s important to put this in perspective: LA just had their defense mauled by the Colorado Rapids. Yes, one of the worst offensive teams from just one year ago…and one missing a bunch of starters to boot. Michael Gavin is, quite possibly, the worst left-back in MLS; Abel Xavier is starting to show his age (did you see what Colin Clark did to him? Sheesh.): but, generally, they’re disorganized, unsure of their roles, they may not be collectively competent for all I know…just a friggin’ mess.

Notes from MLS Week 1: An Invitation for Answers

OK, peoples: here’s the deal. While I can watch only so many games, I review the highlights for all of them. Naturally, this provides only three to four mintues worth of information and perspective on a 90-minute event. So, for the games I don’t watch, I’m just going to post a series of impressions and questions the day after and invite anyone so inclined to fill in the blanks. The idea is to make me smarter about what I’m watching every week.

My comments appear below: have at ‘em. MLSnet.com match reports are embedded in the scoreline; yeah, I could read those, but they’re boring; I trust all y’all to give me better dish. Continue reading

Red Bulls: A New Player?, Kassel to MLS?, and VDB fires RBNY into the new season…

Busy weekend in world soccer and before we get to all that, I figured why not focus on the team that didn’t play a competitive match this weekend.  

– Haven’t seen much in the way of written press on this, but there isn’t anything to refute. During FSC’s broadcast of the MLS openers yesterday, there was talk of Gretna’s demise over in Scotland. 22 players have left the club and apparently captain Chris Innes is on his way to trial with New York. If that’s the case, that’s leadership and depth added in defense as well as a deep midfield role. Innes is 31 years old and was a vital part of Gretna’s quick three tiered rise to the SPL. Since then, things have gone bad and RBNY as well as First Division squad Morton has shown interest. Innes has stated as recent as 3/26 that his goal is to stay within the SPL.

UPenn graduate and rising goalkeeper Danny Cepero has been sent out on loan to USL-2’s Harrisburg City Islanders. The Islanders won the second division last year and Cepero looks to get the starting nod, preparing him for a bright future with RBNY. Harrisburg has yet to confirm it on their website.
– Ives Galarcep has stated that youth academy star Matt Kassel is in preliminary negotiations with RBNY. If signed, he could become the first real product of the newly implemented youth academies. It’s college or pros for the youngster. I still would expect him to head to college. He held his own though when invited to camp in late January, so who knows?

Dave Van den Bergh scored on a rocket to wrap up the Red Bulls’ preseason with a 1-0 win over the Carolina Railhawks. Odd to see Angel and Altidore being snuffed out in almost every preseason game…should RBNY faithful be worried???

Crew & Rapids: Anti-Parity – Thoughts on the Eve Of

Beyond mentioning I’m thrilled the parties involved went with the “outer-space-esque” Trillium Cup for the rivalry/cup between the Columbus Crew and Toronto FC, I have nothing immediately relevant to add. That said, I’d recommend checking out the previews for both Columbus’ (LINK – Julius James is out for TFC, eh?) and the Colorado Rapids’ (LINK – holy crap! that’s half of Colorado!) openers, both of which are home games, to check for any players missing through injury.

What I wanting to do here is quickly set the stage for what I’m watching for as I follow both the Crew and the Rapids through the 2008 season. To start with what I will literally watch – e.g. the games for both teams – I suspect I’m in for a healthy share of 0-0, 0-1, and 1-0 games. The two teams I’m watching are, by general consensus, two of the worst teams in Major League Soccer (MLS); according to a sample posted earlier, 9/10th and 11th. No, this does not particularly excite me.

The thing is, that’s kind of the point. The more I mull over what drew me to those two teams, the better I’m understanding why they sprang to mind. As most readers of this site know, MLS is built on parity (OK, the vast majority of you know this, but…) a system of rules backed by systemic compensations designed to help struggling teams and rein in the stronger ones. In spite of this arrangement, both Colorado and Columbus have rarely impacted the league in a meaningful way, never mind threatening to join the league’s elite. Instead, one mediocre season follows the one that came before. I’d argue this applies more to Columbus, especially where continuity is concerned, but Colorado, for all their playoff appearances, made MLS Cup exactly once – and no one thought they’d win it. In a sense, these guys’ combined records point to the limits of what parity can accomplish; they’re like anti-parity, evidence of bad judgment’s capacity to undo the intentions of central planning.

Guesses at why neither team has risen above their mid- or low-table status certainly exist: cheap front offices, less-than-glamorous markets, low local interest, a kind of paralyzed attachment to the Status Clavjio…er, status quo. But the point of this project is to see what happens this year, specifically, to either keep them down or allow the teams to thrive. For example, will a mid-season coaching change for either team demonstrate that coaching has been the problem all along?  Hopefully, I’ll get some answers to compensate for the pain I’ll endure if neither team sorts it out.

That said, I settled on these two teams in the hopes that they would figure it out – though I have to admit that applies more to the Crew than the Rapids. Will this be the year Columbus beardless youths become woolly mountain men? Will Colorado’s decision to throw so many of their hopes in Christian Gomez’ basket pay off?

Stay tuned…

EPL Daily 3.28: Hislop has a blog? and it’s all drama.

March is closing out and so does a crazy month of soccer, but all that’s really grabbed the headlines is drama. But before we get to the drama, take a look at former FC Dallas keeper Shaka Hislop’s new blog with the Guardian.

Hislop calls the Houston Dynamo the favorites for the upcoming 2008 MLS Season. I love it. He writes well, he analyzes well, and people will read him. He actually barely talks about the Dynamo, but focuses mainly on his former team Dallas and Beckham’s Boys.

Now on the neverending drama:

GILLETT and HICKS: George Gillett is still trying to figure out how to get rid of his Liverpool share without selling it off to his partner Hicks. The American’s rant paints Hicks as a crazy man who is impossible to work with. Could be. Plus, Gillett has already found another outlet in the Saputo Family and the Montreal Impact. Man, would that be awesome. Saint Louis and Montreal for the next two teams?

TIM CAHILL: I feel like this headline pops up once every 6 months and it really is a shame. Cahill is easily one of the best midfielders in the EPL when fit and to see him struggle mightily with injuries not only hurts Everton, Everton supporters, but the general spectatorship. The guy has all the tools to help lead Everton into the Big Four. To prepare for the future, David Moyes has already been forced into lining up replacements like Lyon’s Kim Kallstrom.

MASCHERANO: Javy Masch’s bitching and moaning got him a $200,000 fine of 2 weeks’ wages for his outburst last weekend against Manchester United. On top of that, he’s got to serve an initial one-match ban which could be increased once revisited by the FA. For many, this all seems unwarranted…but it just goes to show they weren’t kidding when they said they’d give out bookings like mad if you continually bitch to the ref.

ROY HODGSON: According to various sources, striker David Healy will not play the rest of the season for Fulham and be released from his contract at the start of the transfer window. He can hit for his country, but has done nothing for his club. Jari Litmanen is in the same boat as he has yet to don the Cottagers jersey. Apparently, Hodgson hit out at the Finnish legend saying, “he has not played one game in a Fulham shirt but he has played two matches for Finland”. I ask again, is Hodgson the right guy for the job in Fulhamerica?

DROGBA: Chelsea’s saving grace and brace scorer in last weekend’s win over Arsenal is yapping quite a bit. He has apparently told teammates he’s headed to Inter in the offseason. Add this to Ronaldinho’s possible move away from Barca and you got yourself a fun-filled summer coming up.