CCCo8: Houston 3-1 Municipal – Hey, Houston, It’s Corey Ashe Night!

Not much to say about that one – and I’m trying to be more brief, generally – but the Houston Dynamo did Major League Soccer (MLS) proud in the other CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal. And I’m happy to report that Corey Ashe, my personal liability for the first leg, turned in the man-of-the-match performance that made it possible.

Who can say what happened between last week and tonight’s game? Did Dynamo coach, Dominic Kinnear, force Ashe to work on his crosses again and again and again, until he could send on to the six in his sleep? Probably not. After all, the best balls Ashe played skimmed close to the ground, much like the one he fired at Chris Wondolowski for the Dynamo’s third goal. Ashe also earned the penalty that put the Dynamo up 2-0, “soft” as it was (yeah, I’m sayin’ it: the severity of the contact doesn’t really matter does it? I mean, isn’t about a foul in the penalty area in the end?).

Not surprisingly, Dwayne DeRosario garnered his share of the credit as well. Between his opportunistic (and, possibly, illegal) goal that essentially started the second half and his cool conversion of the PK Ashe created, “DeRo” decided the game and settled his teammates. His finishing touch? The cross-field ball to Ashe that set up the Wondo goal.” Game, set, match, Houston.

Another big star on the night: Pat Onstad, who saved, by my count, two dead-certain goals. The first one of them, a point-blank stuff on CSD Municipal’s Mario Rodriguez, could very well have defined the series. I mean, what might have been had Municipal scored the first goal? A team possessed of that kind of savvy could surely have killed this game dead. But Onstad stoned him inside the six – as well as keeping the Dynamo’s clean-sheet on several opportunities before and after.

The main take-away from all this: damn good game. It’s a shame that CCC games can’t all be like this: great, lively crowd, quick, hard-fought, even-uncompromising play from both clubs until 2/3 into the proceedings. After that, Municipal seemed to feel the weight of the score and, even as they pressed and earned a penalty of their own, they didn’t appear nearly as alive and menacing as they did in the first.

So, that’s to MLS clubs in the semifinals. They passed the audition; good stuff. Now, they just have to get past the Mexican clubs…or the Costa Rican one. Whatever happens, the fun begins next week.

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CCC08: DC 5-0 HVFC, The McTavish Scoring Machine

“The game is opening up. Harbour is getting their chances.”

I wrote that into my notes sometime in the late 50’s, thinking it spelled the beginning of a period when Jamaica’s Harbour View FC (HVFC) would threaten DC United’s lead and survival in the CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) quarterfinal. Instead, not much more than 10 minutes later, DC had extended their lead by three goals – not the prettiest things, but they all count – leaving the Jamaicans completely demoralized. I turned off the game before DC scored their fifth, but saw plenty ahead of it. HVFC had actually lost their way just before the half, but, finding themselves four goals down in abrupt fashion, they hesitated to go forward for fear of suffering another dizzy spell in front of their own net.

And, to think, DC owed so much to Devon McTavish. Without his first half goal – a goal allowed by fundamental errors that don’t belong at the professional level – HVFC would have had less need to compress the field and send players forward. Once exposed, they defended desperately and, unfortunately, not so well. A fortunate bounce here – I mean, how often does a back-heel carom off a defender directly into the path of your star forward? – and defenders chasing the play everywhere, it took only well-placed finishes to put the game to bed.

Mark Rogondino said sometime after the fourth goal that DC’s performance put the rest of Major League Soccer (MLS) on notice. I don’t buy that. They played well, but also benefited from HVFC’s struggles with possession and their players’ preference for too clever play; I can’t count the number of times, when, presented with an easy pass, HVFC’s players opted for another slick, individual maneuver; this threw a wrench into the team’s rhythm and stranded players – the wide ones who proved effective in the first leg, especially – when they made useful runs. At any rate, the analogy rings false because I don’t think many MLS teams, organized and energetic as they tend to be, will shower them with so many give-aways. Continue reading

CCC08 Quarterfinals Wrap: Correctives, Additions from Around the Web

I posted my usual ramblers on the CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinals involving Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs down the page (Harbour View v. DC and Municipal v. Houston). In my usual rounds around the Web, however, I found plenty more thoughts on all this – the majority of them coming from DC-related sites (hey, Houston fans, where are you guys?). A few of those disagreed with my copy to varying degrees, so I thought I’d pass on those to give all y’all another perspective. That way, we all get smarter (and they get plugged!). There is also one area of broad agreement that I’ll flag as well.

May as well start with Houston, ’cause they didn’t get as many. Well, actually, may as well plug Jeff Carlisle’s quarterfinals review for ESPN.com. He turned in his usual quality stuff on both games, but took a harder line on DC’s draw; his singling out of DC’s flank defending as “shaky” also bears noting; after all, that could be why Harbour View did so well down the flanks, right? WVHooligan also combined both games in one post and, while he didn’t think much of either team’s performance, he took a dimmer view of Houston’s game. So, who’s right? Got me. You figure it out. Continue reading

CCC08: DC v. Harbour View Talking Points (Some Pointed)

I laid down the big picture perspective on DC United’s 1-all draw with Jamaica’s Harbour View FC (HVFC) last night. Bottom line, DC did well enough for a two-legged game – especially one this early in the season and all that implies – but clearly faded down the stretch. And, to give commenter Longshoe his due (who writes over on Who Ate All the Cupcakes; worth checking out), United let up a little early, whether by fatigue or tactical adjustment.

Below are some bulleted talking points that come to me…um, in the absence of the notes I took last night. One last thing to note: the visual contrast between last night’s games.

– The Harbour View game looked and sounded like a United Soccer Leagues-1 game. The small, quiet, almost milling crowd, the crappy, bouncy pitch, even the camera-work: all spelled “minor league.” No offense intended to the good people of Jamaica…besides, your team played above the visuals.

– There’s a lot to love in the Jamaican player; even the defenders look comfortable and inventive on the ball – an oddly tentative second-half spell on defense notwithstanding. Even tactically, the Jamaicans moved the ball well, though only at their best outside DC’s attacking third. They switched the ball well and often and, particularly through Robert Scarlet on their right, found plenty of space down the flanks. Work on their crossing and they’d have something.

– Apart from Scarlet, “The Two Jermaines,” Jermaine Hue and Jermaine Taylor, showed pretty well, even if they too often received the ball in a swarm of black-and-red clad defenders; again, I blame the crossing. Continue reading

Rapids TSII: Pre-Season Game(s) and Early Analysis

Given the low frequency of these posts, it no doubt seems I’ve stopped keeping tabs on the Colorado Rapids. If any Rapids fans out there feel chagrined, don’t fret: I posted something on the Crew a couple minutes ago with an introduction that reads exactly the same, only with the names changed around (or does it?).

The same explanation applies here: I can’t see practices (and they probably aren’t open anyway), the Rapids have a tight-lipped presence online, they haven’t done much since the Gomez trade, etc. So, as with the Crew, I’m kind of biding my time till the regular season starts. In fact, I was going to post on the basic notion of biding my time about Major League Soccer (MLS) generally, when it occurred to me this was 1) self-evident, and 2) no one wants to read about my personal problems with soccer coverage (does anyone want to read this? Hmm….).

That said, as with the Crew, I’m going to post something – anything – on the Rapids at least once a week. A round-up, some thinly-supported observations about the road ahead: something. I’ll try to make it worth your while, but no promises.

Fortunately, a couple things showed up today (and days earlier this week) that reveal signs of life out of Colorado. For one, the Rapids played two simultaneous games against every MLS club’s pre-season warm-up favorites, the United States U-17s (seriously, is there an MLS team those youngsters haven’t played?) View from the Couch turned in a report based on (inevitably) the write-up on the Rapids’ official site. Unsurprisingly, View from the Couch’s report reads better and he flags potential injury issues for a couple players.

In another bit of good luck, I stumbled across a couple massive early analyses on Class VI. Informally polling some Rapids fans/bloggers, Class VI made an apparent stab at creating the conventional wisdom on the various parts of the Colorado Mark ’08. One clocked expectations for the (Christian) Gomez-powered midfield, while the other looked at prospects for the defense, a unit that performed very well last year and experienced little turnover. A look at the forwards is in the pipeline, no doubt, and I fully expect an invitation to participate; I don’t know why, in fact, I wasn’t invited to participate on these two… (NOTE: I’m KIDDING. All those polled look like actual fans, whereas I’m, really, just a tourist at this point with more to learn than say). Anyway, these are educational, both for the awareness of the personnel and for seeing what Colorado fans think of their team’s chances.

What do I think of Colorado’s chances? In all honesty, I can’t say I have really even thought about it. It occurred to me today that I’ve essentially reserved judgment on anything to do with all MLS clubs’ regular season performance until after the March 3 roster cut-off. Too many things remain in flux and, empiricist that I generally am, I feel like too many variables remain in play. In fact, March 3 looms rather large in my head. I’ll start cranking out previews and generally prognosticating shortly after, and not just for the Crew and Rapids, but for all MLS clubs. So, look for ’em then.

Houston 3-0 Sydney + a Big, Blog-Link Semifinal Wrap

Was that a first half to savor or who?  Houston was everything the Los Angeles Galaxy was not.  While LA looked collectively confused, even panicked, not only did Houston look sharp and organized collectively, every player on orange looked comfortable and switched on to their roles.  I gave up watching around the 80th minute, but that was mainly down to Houston appearing so clearly in command.   Sydney FC, to their credit, set up a couple scrambles and  forced Houston ‘keep Pat Onstad into a save or two, including at least one tough one.  But the night was Houston’s without question.

In LA’s defense, they’re just in a different place than Houston right now.  Houston had every motivation to start a strong line-up; “real” competition is just around the corner for them and it’s big – the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.  They have the title of best club team in the region to spur them on and the possibility of December games against the best in the world as a kicker.  More to the point, the Dynamo returned so much of last year’s MLS Cup squad that the players already know one another.  That the players look ready to roll going into a heavy March warms the heart.

LA, on the other hand, can politely be called “in transition.”  Their situation showed in who they fielded – plenty of rookies and trialists.  LA has the luxury of time that Houston doesn’t.  And, even with a manifestly improved second half, the clearly need that time.  It’s hard to say what should cause LA fans more worry in last night’s performance – the confused, even appalling static performance or signs that several players they took with them looked unprepared for prime time.

To wrap it all up, we got a look at the current pecking order in Major League Soccer (MLS).  I can’t say I expected the gap between the two MLS teams to yawn so wide.

Some other random notes on players and happenings: Continue reading

Gamba 1-0 LA: A Better Feeling

Which is to say, it feels nice to feel something other than shame…

A much-improved second half by the Los Angeles Galaxy, though I always wonder how much of that has to do with one team as much as the other – e.g. did Gamba Osaka lay back a little bit? I can’t answer that, but what I can say is the LA’s defensive set featuring – and it’s worth emphasizing these are rookies – Sean Franklin and, um, Valentin (Julian, I think) looked several orders of magnitude better that the Greg Vanney-led set LA played in the first half.

On the attack – hey, hey – LA had a chance or two. If ____ MacDonald (OK, I checked; it’s Brandon) could shoot for shit, we might have watched a tie and a penalty shoot-out. Hell, even Edson Buddle had a late crack at salvaging some pride for Major League Soccer (MLS), but it wasn’t to be. And, perhaps, that was just.

I won’t bore you with much – this is pre-season after all – but I thought I’d close out with a series of unconnected, yet still related, thoughts. Continue reading