CCC08: Done, Dusted…and Ugly…just Ugly

Well, that sucks.  As any who cares by now knows, both of Major League Soccer’s representatives in the CONCACAF Champions Cup have exited the tournament, the Houston Dynamo with a whimper, while DC United went down with fists flying…well, judging by the scoreline at least; I didn’t see the DC game.

Being pressed for time today, I’ll have Jeff Carlisle’s double-bubble wrap on both semifinal series speak for the full record.  The comments below, a genuine post-mortem of sorts as opposed to yesterday’s gloomy prognostications, will be 1) brief, and 2) directed solely to Houston’s loss.  Nice picture, yes?

Deportivo Saprissa 3-0 Houston Dynamo: Ban Artificial Turf
That title should inform all that I intend to eat my sour grapes.  Saprissa’s stadium is a shitbox.  OK, that’s not right.  The stadium actually looks pretty awesome with the stands stacked over the field and so on; the field itself doesn’t look bad, either.  It’s the turf that sucks, sucks, sucks.  Watching Houston over-hit one pass after the other – a malady that played its most fateful role when Dynamo players got excited about an opening upfield – leads me to call for a ban on artificial turf (not seriously, no, but I do hate it).  It’s like Home-Field Advantage-Plus (H-FAP?).  If I had to name an iconic image from the game, it would be Dwayne DeRosario desperately chasing the ball through a seam he slit through Saprissa’s midfield; if memory serves, he caught that damn ball all of once.  Houston simply never got it going, not anywhere near where they had to.  They played the ball forward often enough, but their attack looked positively Columbus-esque in terms of menace.

None of this is intended to excuse Houston.  They had two legs, the first of them on favorable ground and featuring multiple opportunities.  Houston blew every one of them by the end of the first leg, leaving the far harder task of winning on the crap-factory field.

Getting back to the whole “ugly” notion, that first goal was uglier than the guy up top.  The second one, while a little better…still ugly.  By the time the third rolled in, depression rendered me unable to appreciate aesthetics; if anything, the goal looked like dull pain.  Feel free to add your thoughts below.

Well, that’s a wrap…I guess.  It sucks to type it, but…better luck this fall…dammit.  To think things looked so promising on March 31…

CCCO8 Semis: Strategery Before the Second Leg

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. Continue reading

Houston 0-0 Saprissa: “Better Luck Next Year” Already?

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… Continue reading

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.

MLS Daily Sweeper, 03.27: Josh Wolff, Punishment, Ugly Distractions

I am slowly killing myself…most slow down…

– One left over piece of business from the U.S. win over Poland, something I forgot to mention in my earlier post: I would take Josh Wolff over Eddie Johnson at forward.  Yeah, he’s older, but I think he is also a better player.  And, no, I am not kidding. J Hutcherson hints at why in his write-up for USSoccerplayers.com.

Soccer y Futbol reports that Deportivo Saprissa avoided a stadium ban for the, um, “monkey shines” their fans got up to when Mexico’s Atlante FC came to visit for the CONCACAF Champions Cup.  There’s stuff in there about how they intend to cope (pleading, mainly, backed by some security measures that seem pretty hard to enforce…so…hope is your strategy?).

– Luis Arroyave’s Red Card blog (finally) gives the latest on the Wilman Conde situation…and it ain’t good, at least not from his teammates’ point of view.  And, for the record, the fans aren’t wild about it either.  He also posted some nifty Q & A’s with plentiful of points of interest for Chicago (and Lost) fans – Part I and Part II.

– Finally, a couple sites posted “bold predictions” – and I say, good for them!  I liked what I read from 3rd Degree, but only got to the first couple on WVHooligan’s post before coming here.  Gotta get the hell offline, man….I’m going crazy….kinda like this guy (not soccer-related and long, but pretty worth the read).