I think that sums it up nicely.
The general mood of optimism going into the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals renders the funk looming over the second leg all the more blue. I’ll be surprised – and, for the record, damned happy – if either DC United or the Houston Dynamo make the final. It’d be one thing if only a handful, or even half, the pundits I read shared my view, but even the bigs (ESPN.com and Soccer America) put out previews with a funereal, almost post-mortem tone – e.g. it’s more lessons learned for the next go-around than what to do about tonight.
One can even find such talk out of the proverbial horse’s mouth:
“’I was thinking about that while I was watching the [Pachuca-D.C.] game the other night, and boy, we’ve got to do better,’ said MLS commissioner Don Garber. ‘For this league to win over the core audience, we’ve got to be able to be among the best clubs in North America.’”
Fortunately, the future is not now…or, rather, it better not be because there’s not a lot anyone besides Houston and DC can do today to get the MLS clubs through (well, there’s the ref, I suppose…).
So, to throw out a question before (briefly) digging into some thoughts and details, which club would you rather be coaching today? Or, more practically, if you had to put money on DC or Houston to overcome the odds and advance to the final, which would it be?
My answer will appear at the bottom and after the jump; for now, here are some thoughts kicking around in my head these few hours before kick-off.
DC United v. CF Pachuca (2-0 to Pachuca on aggregate)
DC’s Santino Quaranta seems to think that being down two goals is a good thing, a position as odd as it is lonely (I’m kidding Tino; I get your point). Scoring three goals against any team ain’t easy, but against a veteran-of-the-wars club like Pachuca it could very well prove impossible. We know, or rather expect, that pressing for three will leave DC vulnerable at the back; and we all know that, if Pachuca scores one, DC suddenly needs four, if they score two, and so on. How anyone can like those odds, I don’t know.
I would argue, then, that the central question lurking under all this points directly at DC’s defense: will five, four, or even three of them be able to contain the several, inevitable counter-attacks Pachuca will send their way? I put it this way because, yes, I do believe DC can score on Pachuca…not Franco Niell, though, because he never shoots the damn ball. As much as one hopes it helped their confidence, faith in DC’s attack doesn’t come from the romp over Toronto FC; from what I’ve read, a team of blind, one-legged school girls could have banged in half as many. So, yeah, with the home support bouncing madly behind them, I think they can score against the Mexican club…but can they open up enough to score at least twice before the full 90 goes?
Sadly, I won’t be able to see how this one pans out – timing, you know – so I’m counting on DC to make me regret having a life outside soccer.
Deportivo Saprissa v. Houston (0-0 on aggregate)
Whatever disadvantage DC faces for playing a savvy club and being down two, Houston’s list of absentees allows them to nose ahead of them in the “Crappy Scenario Stakes.” Missing Bobby Boswell? Most people would point confidently to Patrick Ianni, if not more confidently. Missing Pat Onstad? Er….Tony Caig…say, from the second half of last Sunday’s game. Missing Eddie Robinson? Aw, c’mon! Like some shaggy-dog tale of woe, the Dynamo’s tournament gets worse – and, conceivably, more absurd – as it goes on. The real shocker comes with the fact that, given Stuart Holden’s absence, things don’t look all that much better further upfield.
To point to a concern both related and subtler, even the starters at available to Houston aren’t exactly in prime condition. We shouldn’t expect full 90 form and fitness for Brad Davis and Brian Mullan; the same applies Craig Waibel at the back. The first leg raised questions about where to play Richard Mulrooney, who struggled to keep up with Saprissa’s wide players. Bernardo Fallas laid out a possible starting line-up in his preview/primer, but backed it with the question of whether Mulrooney should start wide or centrally. To be blunt about it, that’s a hell of a problem to have and boils down to one, key question: where do you want Ianni’s comparative speed? No matter how you cut Fallas’ line-up – and it seems a likely one to me – Houston will field a defense in which three of four parts ain’t the fastest.
Fortunately or not, I’ll get to see the Houston game in slow, possibly agonizing, real time. Huzzah! I’m still pulling for ‘em,
Now, to answer the question floated above, I think that, today, I’d rather be DC United. Houston’s injury situation decides it.
Filed under: CONCACAF Champions Cup, Uncategorized | Tagged: CF Pachuca, DC United, Deportivo Saprissa, Eddie Robinson, Gonzalo Martinez, Gonzalo Peralta, Houston Dynamo, Patrick Ianni, Richard Mulrooney, Tony Caig |