The Week Ahead (CCC08) and the Season Ahead (Umm…)

With the countdown to First-Kick showing just 12 days+some minutes, it’s becoming jarringly apparent that Major League Soccer (MLS), um, soccer will commence seriously humping my brain…and several days before I’m prepared for the trauma. Here I thought I’d have time for as many season previews as I cared to type. It’s time to ratchet back and plan ahead a little – a process that starts with this week.

Today to Friday ought to be pretty easy: I’ll be watching and pondering the CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) quaterfinal second legs. FOX Soccer Channel’s schedule tells me I’m only on the hook for three games this week: DC United v. Harbour View FC (that’s Tuesday, March 18, 8 p.m. PST (yeah, I’m watching the replay); Houston Dynamo v. CSD Municipal (Wednesday, March 19, 5:30 p.m. PST…going to be tight); and Deportivo Saprissa v. Atlante FC (March 20, 9 p.m. PST). Truth to tell, the absence of CF Pachuca v. CD Motagua disappoints just a little, but I’ll take the game off as well. Expect previews for the quarters involving MLS clubs at the very least – and feel free to read ahead with Jeff Carlisle’s CCC08 preview for ESPN.

But it’s the shape of the season coverage that really has me thinking. Whatever I do, I’m planning on a split that roughly follows this pattern: 1/2 my Columbus Crew/Colorado Rapids project; 1/2 everything else MLS. How to handle that remains a bit of a mystery. For instance, how to mention my piqued curiosity about Red Bull New York flirting with Claudio Reyna as attacking mid (receives some discussion in ESPN’s ’08 Red Bulls preview)? Or pointing to the factors I believe will make Real Salt Lake 2008 (or, RSL.08) the strongest team in that club’s short history? Or what about one-time #1 draft-pick Chris Carrieri’s retirement?

The more I think about it, the more I lean toward reviving the Daily Sweeper – that’s in spite of all the nasty things I’ve written and thought about it. Add that to the power rankings, collective power rankings, watching a bunch of Crew and Rapids games and, yeah, I think that’s enough for one hobby (what on earth will happen to my enthusiasm for collecting men’s room novelty condoms?!).

That’s what to expect for MLS coverage on my corner of Center Holds It in the year ahead. I’m guessing my co-authors will add some things of their own, but won’t make them promise anything.

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Mexico heads home, Canada through in crazy last match day

You beat someone 5-1 and you pretty much expect to qualify for anything, right?

Mexico did that – destroying Haiti 5-1, with the opportunity to hit for even more. But they didn’t – and it cost them. Hugo Sanchez and his boys new full-well they needed to win by 5 in order to get through. Canada – the same one that was beaten by Haiti a couple days ago – came out in Tampa and put on a scoring clinic for the impotent Guatemalan offense. Will Johnson and Tosaint Ricketts were the show – 4 goals between the two of them and Josh Wagenaar made some decent saves to secure a shutout in which Guatemala had almost double the scoring chances, but not a goal to show for it.

Mexico, however, had more than enough quality to get it done and you could even argue it gave them more of a sense of urgency. You could tell from the get-go, a rout was on hand. Minor detail: they couldn’t find the back of the net on a steady basis. They could build, collect, keep patient, and pick an opportune time to shoot – but nothing was going in. At least for a solid 60 minutes. Cesar Villaluz did break through Johnny Placide’s man-made wall in the 18th minute and the chances didn’t cease. If anything, the chances on goal increased exponentially – especially with the ejection of Haiti’s Judelini Avesta in the 28th minute. The goals eventually came, four more to be exact, but they needed another to overcome Canada’s 5-0 shocker. Another ejection with 5 minutes to go aided Mexico’s cause, but once again, too little too late. It was Canada’s day, after bouncing back from a 2-1 loss to a Haitian team that Mexican swept under the table, and Mexico was sent home. An Olympics without Giovanni Dos Santos, Omar Esparza, Guillermo Ochoa, Carlos Vela, and Andres Guardado will definitely be a weird one. But, more importantly, what will happen to Hugo Sanchez? He’ll stick around – but is seat definitely got a lot hotter.

Canada’s win will pit them against Altidore and Adu in the semifinals in a do-or-die match-up on March 20th in Nashville. Should be a good one.

Crew Stocking Up; Balance Shifting?

In a case of life imitating art (or whatever the hell it is I do ’round here), the Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew waited for their luggage side-by-side at same airport a week or so ago. My apologies for missing this significant event last week. It’s like God is telling them that somewhere, someone is forcing a comparison between their teams…the question is, who will respond?

Let’s just say it’s possible that the Crew’s recent ambition changes what I wrote just nine days ago. Reports of players coming on board and the roster taking shape emanate from Central Ohio and the keyboard of the Columbus Dispatch’s Shawn Mitchell. A blog post on the various incarnations of the Crew slapping around Ohio Dominican not only talks about who looked good (Andy Moffat, Brian Carroll, Chad Marshall, Alejandro Moreno – especially the latter, albeit against weaker opposition), but also reports Gino Padula and Emanuel Ekpo should be “in the fold this week” and that their also working on signing Guilherme So. A piece in the main pages of the Columbus Dispatch on Nicolas Hernandez’s enthusiasm for playing with Boca Juniors legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto also speaks to the club’s ongoing ambition to sign another forward…possibly at Hernandez’s expense. Continue reading