CCC08: New (Obvious) Angle on Last Night; Previews for Tonight

Because time is short, I’ll start with the preview material for tonight’s semifinal between the Houston Dynamo and Deportivo Saprissa; both come from Soccer y Futbol.  The late edition one kicks out probable line-ups, keys to the game for both teams – plus word of bureaucratic snafus…if our country cared more about soccer, we’d pull this crap deliberately…but, alas…

The earlier edition kicks out all the stops, larding on details regarding the status of several players (Eddie Robinson may play, but is he 80%, 85%, 90%?), quotes and perspectives from the players, etc. – do note Craig Waibel’s statement on what’ll happen if Saprissa comes out onto the field only to enter into a shell…do I buy his take?  Nah…

So, that’s that.  Now, the really interesting thing: J Hutcherson, in today’s Soccer Daily column on USSoccerplayers.com, reviewed last night’s Pachuca/DC semifinal and he hit a huge, red-flag point that came to me as I watched, but that slipped away as preoccupation with the here-and-now became paramount:

“Pity the gentle MLS team that thinks they can play Mexican clubs in Mexico without adjusting to more than the altitude. DC United fell for what were never opportunities, running themselves out of the game in the opening half hour, and letting the obvious play out in the second half.”

“For those of us who watch the Mexican League, we already know they normally don’t tight mark until the other team is closing at the top of the box.”

In DC’s defense, they typically didn’t start pressing until Pachuca reached half-field.  This is a big point, though.  All those forays forward, often 1/2-to-3/4 field sprints getting both forward and back, did look encouraging, but concern about DC burning out kept coming back.

CCC08: Pachuca 2-0 DC: Um…your ball, Houston

Ignore the headline: this wasn’t that bad a loss. Well, it was and it wasn’t. DC United held up pretty well for 70+ minutes and in a tough venue against a savvy team. Moreover, the goal scored by Luis Montes, which undid DC’s worthy fight for a result, was equal parts smart and fluky; never let it be said the Americans gave up a soft goal. OK, the second goal, maybe that one was soft, but the other was a low-mid-percentage rocket: good shot, good goal…y’know, what can you do?

(Hey, hey: interesting side-note: with MLSnet.com eating too much to open, I had to force quit my web browser in order to find an article; the one I did find showed up on Google News’ crawl – that feels so Big Time!)

Without laboring the point, it’s worth noting that Pachuca could have had more: in fact, they squandered a couple positively gilded chances, most notable among them a cross that dropped delicately over a defender to Juan Carlos Cacho, open just outside the six. How the forward managed to fire straight at Wells, I’ll never know (thanks, Goff, for providing names in your piece).

No less significantly, DC had their chances – including a solid spell around the 70th minute, well after their legs seemed to have left them. And, as the report I linked to above mentions the Major League Soccer (MLS) club started pretty brightly, both keeping possession and slowing down the game. Putting the loss down to heavy legs seems wise, but, without having read anything about it, that’s a best guess. On the bright side, though, heading back to DC only two goals down isn’t the end of the world. Unlikely as it may be, this remains a winnable series. So…good luck, DC. Do us proud next week, ‘kay?

I’ll close with some other thoughts, most of them about DC: Continue reading

CCC08: Semifinals Tonight, Tomorrow

I’m presently in negotiations with the wife about catching both semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (no sex for how long, now?), but have kept and will keep as close a watch on the proceedings as I can. As such, a preview post of some sort seems appropriate…even if I’ll be doing more cribbing than original work. A schedule for the semifinals, who plays who when and where, shows on CONCACAF’s official site (tucked way down at the bottom of this)…even if current news too often does not…

CF Pachuca v. DC United (1st Leg; home team first)
(Tonight, FSC, 7 p.m. PST – so, yeah, 10 p.m. PST…wish I lived on the East Coast right now)
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch Pachuca’s escape from Honduras’ CD Motagua in the second leg of the quarterfinals, but know the Mexican team ain’t what it was as recently as one year ago. Still, count Steve Goff – or, looking between the copy and the headline, it’s more accurate to say the Post’s headline writer – among those who still believe DC has their work cut out. He’s mainly using history as the frame, but, as that article points out, DC has done a couple things, both big picture (roster changes) and small (resting people on Saturday; managing their arrival), to get up for this game. Soccer America’s preview goes into a little more detail personnel-wise – and good thing, so you know who you’re watching as well as what – but there’s not a lot about Pachuca’s relative slide since 2007. Here’s to hoping that’s an edge and that a result of some kind will follow. If, however, you want to get really depressed, just review the hard data passed on by Sideline Views…thanks for the smile, guys…

Houston Dynamo v. Deportivo Saprissa (same as above)
(April 2, FSC, 7 p.m. PST)
I never thought I’d type this, but, in spite of the fact they’re playing a Mexican squad, I like DC’s chances better. To begin – or to conclude, rather – Saprissa gets the second leg; given what I’ve read about the atmosphere down there, getting a result tomorrow night only grows in importance. Given that, nagging injury issues, players starting out of position (Brian Mullan: you should be farther upfield, son) and hints of indifference in crucial positions (cough…defense…cough, cough) certainly prompt some concern. Things like that need to be corrected yesterday; Jeff Carlisle, in his semifinal preview for ESPN.com, points to why:

“…their opponents, Costa Rican champions Saprissa, will be brimming with confidence. The ‘Monstruo Morado,’ fresh of their 2007 Apertura triumph, have been laying waste to their domestic league in the current Clausura tournament, sporting an unbeaten record that has seen them win nine of their 10 matches.”

As for direct observation, I saw a little of the Saprissa’s first leg, quarterfinal loss to Mexico’s Atlante FC, a game they played from the back-foot. Even then, however, they showed the ability to break quickly. Atlante contained this pretty well on the night I watched, but Saprissa ran them over 3-0 on the return leg. I dunno. Doubts about Houston’s “D” didn’t fully blossom until I got the full measure of how well and often Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi violated it this weekend; confidence, good or bad, carries over from such performances, so it’ll be up to Houston to get their heads back to frosty.

UPDATE: The Houston Chronicle provides word on the latest injuries for both teams – and, hey, it’s three a piece, 50/50.

Well, here’s to hoping I get to catch at least some of both games…without giving up too much…

GREAT OUTDOORS
– Haven’t been doing this lately and I miss it….unlike the Daily Sweeper. In light of the gap, I thought I’d pass on a video clip that has probably made the rounds dozens of times over. But – because key portions of my brain stopped developing around the second grade – I still absolutely shit my trousers every time I watch it. Enjoy.

Motagua 0-0 Pachuca: So, Who Wins a Tie?

Neat game – quite possibly because it wasn’t expected. That goes double for the second half. Between a couple Motagua players and the field, the Honduran team played the stronger game. Pachuca still looked the better team, but that’s only in the abstract: by the end of the first half, I would have pegged the Mexicans to steal it; by the end of the game, I’d say they were lucky things ended as if tonight never happened.

Put those big themes together and one has to think Motagua lost tonight’s game. They chased the Mexicans stupid over the first 15 minutes and showed they could play with them throughout the second half; hell, they showed they could outplay Pachuca from the 55th minute on. What was missing? Maybe that little extra bit of quality, the kind of professional cool and precision Pachuca’s players flashed in the first half? Or maybe it was what was there, namely Miguel Calero. For what it’s worth, Calero played his typical game, but he wasn’t outstanding.

As I see it, Motagua lacked a little in quality. Apart from two, three nearly sure-thing shots on goal that Calero, to his credit, scrambled to safety, they either wasted the chances they had or stumbled a step or two after an alert – and ragged – Pachuca defense. Continue reading

CONCACAF Champions’ Cup: Preliminaries and Previews

UPDATE: And this one has to go up high.  To my shame and embarrassment, I failed utterly to see Amado Guevara’s name on Motagua’s roster.  And, yes, it’s there on the CONCACAF official site roster.  I have no excuse.  Guevara is suited up in #20.

It was a conspiracy, an act of collusion between my two East Coast partners on this site. We entered discussions as to who was going to cover what in this week of tournaments – e.g. Olympic qualifying and the CONCACAF Champions Cup – and, apparently, I lost. We played some game, Ryan had a number in his head, I was supposed to guess the number, I guessed wrong, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I lost, so I’m covering the CONCACAF Champions Cup for Center Holds It. And I’m not happy about it.

OK, that’s a big lie. I volunteered. In truth, I wake up most days thankful the other two contributors tolerate my rambling and off-subject posts. Besides, Breton knows more about the players in Olympic qualifying than I do so it’s a good fit. I, on the other hand, have a lot of learning to do. After all, only two of the clubs in the 2008 CONCACAF Champions Cup come from Major League Soccer (MLS): DC United and the Houston Dynamo. That leaves six clubs, more or less, for me to figure out. That project begins below.

Before getting to that, CONCACAF’s official site posted a couple useful items: rosters each of the eight clubs will take into the quarterfinals. They also posted a tournament bracket, so we can all see who gets who now and in the semifinals to come. One thing that caught my eye there: assuming all three get past the first round, DC, not the Dynamo, gets Mexico’s CF Pachuca; here I thought there was some kind of rule. Again, assuming all goes as expected, Houston would get Mexico’s Atlante FC in the semis.

Rounding out the eight-team competition bracket are Harbour View FC (Jamaica), CD Motagua (Honduras), Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica), and CSD Municipal (Guatemala). I’ll get previews ahead of all the games, hopefully sooner than I did today. Ideally, future editions will gain from observations made during previous games. For now, though, I’m stuck with the web…and my gringo-specific/limited research skills. Opening day features just one game: CD Motagua versus CF Pachuca. I mentioned everything going according to plan in the previous paragraph; a big theme of these previews will be the odds of the smaller teams upsetting plans. What can we expect out of Motagua tonight?

Who is this Club Deportivo Motagua? First, let’s pause to thank that nerd for inventing Wikipedia….OK, done. The wiki entry dubs Motagua is “one of the most successful and renowned in Honduras.” Then again, it also contains some beautiful, Babelfish passages:

“The metropolitan club is one of the best of Honduras and Central America and already has accumulated many championships, being also an old acquaintance of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, where has participated in diverse opportunities although yet has not been able to arrive a final hostess; in 1986 had her but noticeable action al to achieve the fifth position.”

and:

“Pitifully in 1972-73 the national championship was declared nil, depriving him to Motagua to be judged the title that it had almost in the market, since carried an almost insurmountable advantage on its escort to few dates of the end.”

OK, Babelfish fun aside, one can learn a thing or two between the Wikipedia entry and links therefrom. Motagua has, in fact, won quite a few titles, eleven, by my count; and, down the years, they placed and showed plenty besides. Their fifth-place ranking in the current campaign may look like a falling off, but that’s one tight pack – we’re talking MLS tight. Probably nothing to worry about there.

If you want something to worry about, that comes with Motagua’s history in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The club’s 12 appearances amount to a parade of beat-downs at the hands of Costa Rican and Guatemalan teams – if memory serves, Comunicaciones and Municipal for Guatemala and, generally, Saprissa for the Costa Ricans; this last bit means Motagua’s win over Saprissa in last year’s Torneo Interclubes de UNCAF must have tasted of the sweetest nectar. Motagua has even faced Yanqui opposition in the Champions Cup, losing to the LA Galaxy in the 2003 tournament and, incredibly, the New York PanCyprian-Freedoms in 1983. (Who says we only hit the world stage in 1994?) Anyway, you can read about Motagua’s international struggles here.

So, what players are likely throw a counter-punch in the face of that sorry history? Well, naming Motagua players to watch gets a little tricky. The official page of La Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional (LNFP) seems a little light on links; if there’s a way to a team page from there, I can’t find it. Wikipedia’s entry contains a bunch of links to Motagua’s players on the squad, but, lacking context, they’re just names to me. What I can say is that Motagua’s Josimar Nacimento sits on five goals for the current campaign (see LNFP link and “Tabla de Goleadors”), good to tie him for third. The same player, incidentally, scored the winner against Saprissa in the Torneo Interclubes de UNCAF. For now, call him the danger man and we’ll see what we learn tonight.

MLS fans, at least the closer observers and Dynamo fans, are familiar by now with Pachuca. I think Houston played them more often than they played the Columbus Crew in 2007. To refresh fans’ memory, though, you may remember Pachuca from such lofty victories as last year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup final and their penalty kick victory over the LA Galaxy in the Superliga final; you may also remember them eating a big, nasty one in last December’s FIFA World Club Cup. OK, it wasn’t that bad – or at least I didn’t view as such at the time – but closer observers like Sideline Views’ Luis Bueno noticed cracks in Pachuca’s recent dominance before the World Club Cup and going into the Mexican Primera’s 2008 Clausura campaign. If memory serves, this was nothing huge, just players getting older and Pachuca’s front office failing to reload/keep up with the rest of the Primera. By way of hard data, the current standings for the Primera show Pachuca playing to a .500 record, a detail that makes their second place standing in Group 1 a little less impressive.

For all that, a middling team in the Mexican Primera shouldn’t struggle too mightily against a middling team in the Honduran LNFP. And names I recall from past viewings of Pachuca – Juan Cacho, Damien Alvarez, Gabriel Caballero, Andres Chitiva, Christian Gimenez – are not only still around, but their goals tell me they’re still contributing (see sidebar to current standings). And they’re producing in the Primera. With Motagua hosting the first leg, who knows? A crappy field, incompetent refs, bags of urine hitting Pachuca players: any of these could force a draw or even a loss. But Pachuca is pretty experienced on the international stage. I rate the likelihood of an upset pretty low here.

MLS Daily Sweeper, 12.11: CWC, CONCACAF, Atlante, TRADE MADNESS…AHH!!

Jesus balls! What a day! So many major and minor things to discuss….best start with the little stuff to warm up. Just like before playing, right?

– One little thing to keep an eye on: I seriously don’t know how teeny-tiny Major League Soccer (MLS) rosters will cope with the scheduling insanity if the powers-that-be follow through with their threat to create a CONCACAF Champions Cup. FC Rocky looked only at Houston’s schedule, but a couple teams will be eating the same shit sandwich.

– The Club World Cup continues (very early) tomorrow morning (report tomorrow) when Etoile Sportive du Sahel enjoys their one-night stand against Boca Juniors. Naturally, Boca is trotting out the typical “we’re not overlooking anyone” business, but one suspects they’re grinning like cats when no one’s looking. Then again, Jonah Freedman’s look at how the world’s mighty have fallen cautions against complacency.

– Don’t know how far behind I am on this (so much for following the Mexican league…oh wait, I couldn’t, not with my cable package), but Atlante, the latest hot thing in Cancun, Mexico, won the Mexican Primera’s Apertura. That makes them the “other” Mexican club for this spring’s CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, right? Wikipedia says it does – smack at the bottom of their brief history of the club. Do note the move from Mexico City to Cancun in August 2007. Luis Bueno wrote a nice recap of Atlante’s accomplishment as well. But the most interesting thing to come out of any of these pieces appears at the bottom of that first link – and it doesn’t deal with Atlante so much as MLS’ future prospects in our local, international tournaments:

“One-time models of success, Pachuca have hit rock bottom. The record-setting club lost 1-0 in the opening round of the Club World Cup to little-known Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel. Los Tozos went to Japan who had high expectations, but the club that could do no wrong for most of 2007 — winning the Clausura championship, the CONCACAF Champions Cup, and the Superliga title — has not played well of late and they failed to make any accounting of themselves on the world’s stage.”

So that’s one CONCACAF Champs’ participant sucking wind. Maybe we’ll get a club to the final in 2008?

OK. Now the big stuff (and the accompanying thought-sprawl): Continue reading

CWC: CONCACAF’s Pride and Place in the World

Etoile Sportive du Sahel 1 – 0 CF Pachuca

It wasn’t as if Pachuca didn’t do itself, or the CONCACAF region, proud last night. Outside the first twenty minutes and off the score-sheet, they carried the game in terms of possession and aggression. In spite of the general advantage, however, Pachuca couldn’t force clear-cut openings in the Etoile Sportive du Sahel (hereafter, ESS or “the Tunisians'”) defense. As such, when ESS finally scored – off the kind of narrow chance, in fact, that characterized the game – Pachuca couldn’t swing the reply.

Even so, Pachuca looked the better team; play this game 10 times and Pachuca wins about seven of them. Thanks to the skill and understanding in the side, their passes slipped into and out of the narrowest confines everywhere on the field but the Tunisians’ defensive third; there, they tried plenty of quick give-and-goes – and pulled off a couple, at least in the wide portions of the field – but found themselves thwarted again and again by the second-to-last defender. They still created some openings where a Pachuca player had at least part of the goal to shoot at and room to fire, but the angles were such that the ball always seemed within the ESS ‘keeper’s reach – or it went just over the bar.

To give them credit, ESS just proved hard to beat; the quality of their defending limited Pachuca’s opportunities. And given the kind of opportunity that the Mexicans couldn’t finish all night, their guy (Moussa Nary) put it away – albeit, courtesy of a deflection. Their capacity to concentrate defensively, however, should do them some good when they meet Boca Juniors in the semifinals. Going the other way – e.g. on offense – well…maybe the team should lengthen the prayer they offered just before kick-off against Pachuca. Continue reading