In the end, the game itself disappointed as much as the final, goalless score. In spite of the healthy number of chances (duly recorded in Soccer America’s write-up) the entire affair felt a little flat – especially from the Houston Dynamo’s point of view. For what it’s worth, I credit Deportivo Saprissa with pacing this game – an ominous sign given what that meant last night and what it will mean on the return leg. Then again, perhaps the various intrusions into my viewing experience detached me from the game (I have to ask: how the hell did my ten-year-old beat my three-year-old in falling down the stairs?).
OK, new approach: I’m just going to name the first five – I dunno – notions, concepts, or….sensory impressions?…that pop in my head and assume they’re the most important items.
– DeRo, A Man Alone: Not quite that, but Dwayne DeRosario was one of two offensive players for Houston who looked remotely switched on; the other, Corey Ashe, continues to impress me – quite a bit, lately (and Pat Onstad played another beauty in goal). Maybe Houston’s offense is like an old Ford truck; maybe it can’t fire properly till it’s warmed up. Even missing critical players – here, I’m thinking Brad Davis and Brian Mullan – Houston worked the ball forward pretty well; they even found seams in Saprissa’s back-line. But, like a synapse firing sideways, a half-step separated ball-from-player and player-from-player nearly every time. Getting back to DeRosario, between setting chances with seeing-eye flicks and making runs at Saprissa’s goal, some of them desperately lonely, he served as the fulcrum for an attack that never quite came off. That was through no fault of his own; so far as I’m concerned, the rest of his side let him down. Especially…
– Starting to “Hate” Brian Ching: Not literally, of course – I mean, who can think ill of the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” – but, last night, Ching did a great impression of Taylor Twellman at the national team level. He has for the past few months. (UPDATE: Glad I read the big quote in the middle of this; what a nice man.) Saprissa defended well enough, but Ching had at least two clear-cut chances, plus a couple others with which he really, really should have done better. So, is this a write-off? Not at all: Ching remains valuable for his hold-up play, but it’s hard to rate him as a forward these days. And that sucks not only for Houston, but for the U.S. National Team as well, where Ching remains in the running as the least bad option. (Speaking of which, if you didn’t read Andrew Dixon’s column on Eddie Johnson, I’d recommend checking it out.)
– Healthy Right Back Needed: Richard Mulrooney does the jack-of-all-trades thing as well as anyone in Major League Soccer (MLS), but he has simply lost a step or two. That’s not to say that he didn’t play credibly, but that so long as he’s out there, Houston’s right is vulnerable to speed. Isolate Mulrooney and you will get off a cross.
– Saprissa’s Anti-Freeze Approach: Something I watched once (The Sixth Sense? NBC’s Dateline?) told the story of a woman who poisoned a love one using anti-freeze. She didn’t just pour her victim a cup and say, “bottoms up!” Instead, she poured in a tablespoon here and there, allowing the anti-freeze to slowly and fatally corrode the poor sap’s gastro-intestinal tract. That’s how Saprissa managed last night’s game: they’d get the ball and just kind of meander and dally away the time. Houston, probably trying to keep shape, didn’t pressure well or quickly – maybe this is where I got that “flat” impression? – which allowed Saprissa to slow down the game…almost suffocate it at times.
– The Return Leg…for both MLS Clubs: So, DC United plays CF Pachuca at home under a two-goal deficit, while Houston travels to Costa Rica on equal terms: Which team would you say has it worse? I’m asking because I have no firm answer. But here’s a soft one: the part of me that thinks Houston assumes they can get their offense firing again. Maybe FC Dallas will suck eggs this weekend and get their goal-scoring boots straight again, but I can also see another scorless – or, at best, one goal – 90+ minutes. Given that, I have to go with DC. Playing at sea level should restore the movement they need to make their game work. If I’m being honest, though, this feels more like “better luck next year.”
Now, go out there and prove me wrong. Dammit. I’ll bake a cake, write “better luck next year” on it and eat the whole thing in one sitting if you do. Win impressively and I’ll wash it down with something disgustingly sweat – maybe Joose? C’mon. You know you’d like to see it.