MLS Daily Sweeper, 01.02.08: Trade Rumors to Dull the January Jones

Last night I told my wife I was happy to have an off-season from soccer, just a little time off from building my life around the domestic calendar’s schedule.  These are the little lies that sustain a marriage…

– …and I say that ’cause a wicked craving hit the second I checked the upcoming calendar on soccertv.com. What is the next game involving either a Yank club or the Yanquis proper?  The Pan-Pacific Tournament – a.k.a. the LA Galaxy’s latest whip-round for cash – doesn’t kick off till mid-late February – and that’s more like cut-rate codeine than methadone.  I suppose the U.S. Men’s National team get first crack with the January 19 game versus Sweden, but that’s also a friendly, just like the Mexico game in early February.  So, yeah, we’re a long way from competitive soccer featuring enough Yanks to kill my personal jones; we’re probably looking at Olympic qualifying before anything else….shit.

– Speaking of those friendlies – and I know I’m way behind on this – the U.S. men have a couple camps going on, one for the full national and one for the U-23s.  That Oursports Central site has a one-stop release (yeah, I know they lifted it, but it’s where I look) that lists players for both sides.  And, quickly, here’s who either “turns” my crank, “piques” my curiosity, or makes me “titter” for the full national side: Will Hesmer (titter; where’s Ray Burse?); Zach Wells (titter); Eddie Robinson (turns; make room on the damn bandwagon); Marvell Wynne (piques); Maurice Edu (turns); Brad Davis (turns); Josmer Altidore (piques); Jeremiah White (piques); Justin Mapp (turns); Eddie Johnson (titter).  The rest strike me as more of the same…and that’s not necessarily bad.

So, yeah, we’re all standing here just biding time and holding our most precious body parts as we do so…so let’s get to the big rumor floating around. Continue reading

Advertisements

2007: A Look Back on the Domestic (e.g. U.S.) Scene

The long-promised look back at 2007 in U.S. soccer unfolds below. The talking points – 15 in all (what? you wanted a Top 10? I’m nothing like that disciplined; see, I slipped to 17) – come in, at best, half-random order; put another way, I ranked these things a certain way, but it has as much to do with themes intelligible only to me, as opposed to significance. They also came to me after only 15 minutes (or so) thought, so odds are I missed a thing or two; feel free to add any omissions in the comments.

Right. Here goes…

1. David Beckham. May as well start with the elephant in the room (propped up handsomely next to his wife with the weird tits). Beckham garnered (OK, sucked up) enough attention to transcend even the rule that bears his name – that will come in a separate section – which is perhaps why his arrival sits on our collective stoop like some kind of wet turd the neighborhood kids were too lazy to set on fire. He came, we obsessed, he went down injured, and, with an exception here or there, his team did better without him on the field. Sure, he made the Los Angeles Galaxy, and Major League Soccer (MLS) as a whole, a chunk of change, but the whiff of an injured, conceivably over-the-hill player that attached to him also revived the Ghosts of the NASL. Better luck next year, Tiger (with stuffed shorts).

2 . MLS Overview: My belief that, in 2007, MLS actually felt “Major League” for the first time in its existence doesn’t strike me as a lonely one. It’s not so much that the league has arrived in terms of media exposure, money, etc., and it’s not as if problems don’t exist (refereeing, gridlines, playoff format, small rosters, payment structure, the Colorado Rapids, etc.) than things seem to be headed in the right direction, complete with a “Big Mo” tailwind. On-field play looks better than ever, stadiums are popping up at a steady clip, the scouting system looks more established, and we have yet to see what kind of talent the league’s nascent youth academies will turn out. Hell, the league could even be making more money than ever…not that we’d ever know that given how firmly they hold shut the books. So, yeah, good trends, people. Let’s keep ’em up. Continue reading

Chicago Fire 2007 Review: Lazarus Rises, Plays Stubborn D…and…

Chicago Fire
Record (W-L-T): 10-10-10; 31 GF, 36 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
Do you remember, kids, just how goddamn awful the Chicago Fire seemed in May? It wasn’t so much that they handed Toronto FC their first win in franchise history, but the utterly supine crouch from which they did it. That was only one of several lopsided losses (ouch!, ouch!, ouch!) – e.g. any game in which a team gives up three goals and loses by at least two – from the first half of the season: May featured three such losses and the Fire added one in June, as well as a 4-0 collapse to the Houston Dynamo in July.

As MLSnet.com’s review of the Fire’s 2007 points out, that big ol’ loss to Houston also happened to be Juan Carlos Osorio’s debut as a coach in Major League Soccer (MLS); he took over from former coach Dave Sarachan in early July. Given what the rest of their season looked like perhaps it’s fairer, then, to credit that loss to the Sarachan hangover – a period characterized by what looked like racking self-doubt among Chicago’s players. But those lopsided games left after that loss to Houston, never to return for the rest of the year. There’s no question that Chicago turned around their season under Osorio, but the extent to which they did so, as well as how they did so, bears noting.

Looking from the outside in, I assume 2007 was hell on Chicago fans. Sure, they started well, but when they went down – holy shit – did they go down. It played out on the field like some kind of unspoken campaign in support of relegation in the American game. Their late-ish summer rally (August, September) only looked impressive against what came before; that the teams they beat – Toronto, the Columbus Crew, and the Kansas City Wizards – impressed fewer than most always left open the question of whether Chicago was for real. No less significantly, they followed this with a string of ties – four straight, in fact – that, at the time, might have been mistaken for little more than slow steps toward respectability. Continue reading

Eastern Conf. Final: Reputations Polished and Dented

Is that all there is? The New England Revolution beats the Chicago Fire, who beats DC United? Will it take the revival of Kansas City, or the arrival of Red Bull New York, or – god forbid – the Columbus Crew to confound this predictable procession? Lord, I hope not, because the status quo sure looks set to hold for a damned long while.

Not that I’m complaining – writing, after all, as a Revs fan – or not that I don’t think New England deserved to win. Truth be told, the Revs played as well last night as they have all year, smartly ceding possession to Chicago where it couldn’t hurt them and clamping down like a pit bull where it mattered on defense and creating space and possession in the attacking third. If there’s a complaint to level against them, it’s that they were a little slow to fire into half-openings; worse, when gifted a couple glorious openings, key, veteran players – Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph – fired embarrassingly high and appallingly wide.

Of course, the offense – or, rather, Taylor Twellman – got it together the one time required, scoring off a bicycle kick that, even in real time, somehow developed in slow-motion; with the ball arching in the cold air, Twellman squared his body with his back to the goal, while Dasan Robinson and (was it?) C. J. Brown quickly closed the space until there was nothing much wider than a foot’s width opening through which to strike. Twellman’s foot squeezed through, the ball bounced into the corner of Matt Pickens’ goal, and that, though we sensed it more than knew it at the time, was the end. From there, the entire team scrapped all over the field to make that lone goal stand up.

In fact, the Revolution looked more like scoring a second than Chicago looked like scoring a first. What Chicago didn’t miss, Matt Reis swallowed up. Worse, things too rarely reached that point. Chicago’s forwards struggled in particular: Chad Barrett by bolting aimlessly around and Paulo Wanchope by lumbering a step or two behind every play. New England shut off supply by shutting down Blanco and Rolfe, the latter of whom the Revs abused just shy of illegality. Referee Kevin Stott admirably let the teams play, but, in what had to be one of the greater surprises of the night, both teams played a fairly clean game, leaving Stott little cause to wave around cards; maybe yellow card trouble isn’t always a bad thing.

For my money, two things, one avoidable, the other not, sunk Chicago. First, the unavoidable piece: their most effective players on the night – Gonzalo Segares and Wilman Conde – played too far back and had too many defensive responsibilities to help with the attack. As for the avoidable, that came with choices of personnel and substitution: subbing Barrett, whose sheer effort may have produced something eventually, didn’t add up, nor did introducing Calen Carr with only minutes remaining. But, to return to something I commented on last night, the biggest problem came in the personnel department: starting Wanchope can be excused, but leaving him on at least 45 minutes too long cannot. And, of course, Justin Mapp finally came on the field for the Fire, but a visible disconnect between him and the rest of the team came with him. Continue reading

New England v. Chicago Preview (All Right, All Right; I’ll Do It)

I’m about to do something I almost never do: preview a game, namely, the Eastern Conference Final pitting the New England Revolution against the Chicago Fire. For the record, I blame the quality stuff other people are turning out. Even MLSnet.com’s typically tepid preview contains a vital information-nugget: Shalrie Joseph will have to sit out the final if he picks up a yellow in the semifinal. That’s pretty big, bigger than Taylor Twellman being in the same situation to be sure. I also learned that Kevin Stott will officiate…though I can’t remember whether I have an opinion on him or not.

Before getting to my thoughts, here are the other “inspirations” that got me thinking too much about tomorrow night’s game. Ives Galarcep turned in pre-game analysis for ESPN that hits plenty of useful highlights, most notably the potentially defining match-up between Joseph and Cuauhtemoc Blanco – more on this later from me. A couple people took up the rivalry thing: Blue Blooded Journo conducted a Q & A with himself in which he looks into everything from Chicago’s fans to the horror that is Blanco’s face…Chicago fans may want to skip that one. Finally, even though Luis Arroyave failed to get “bulletin board material” out of either side of the rivalry, he passed on an absolutely brilliant alleged quote from Clint Dempsey:

Just last year, a scuffle nearly broke out in the Toyota Park tunnel with Fire defender Gonzalo Segares and ex-Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey. Sources said Dempsey yelled ‘I don’t care–take me to jail’ as teammates tried to restrain him.”

I’ll be asking for a t-shirt for Christmas, along with another inspired by Britney Spears (credit to Ann Romano from the Portland Mercury): “Rehab Is Hard Y’all.”

Now, for my look ahead to Those Things That Will Loom Large in tomorrow night’s game. Continue reading

More About Socctober! (More about, um, DC*)

(* Anyone know where I can find a good Chicago Fire blog?  I mean apart from Luis Arroyave’s.  I haven’t seen The Fire Offside in forever.  I only ask that it runs through Bloglines all right.)

I was going to roll this into the Daily Sweeper thing I like doing, but I wanted to delay posting that till later today…and all this stuff was just sitting there…I dunno…just thought I’d get it over with.

First, an angry man named jon, who happens to post on the DC United Offside, reminded me of Rob Stone’s appalling intro segment, during which he hurt all our brains by coining the phrase “Socctober” (um…sp?  No, never mind…don’t dignify this) to celebrate Major League Soccer’s (MLS) post-season tournament.  Yes, this is incredibly stupid.  It’s also harmless.  Soccer fans spend a lot of time agonizing over the often shocking state of American televised commentary; even if jon doesn’t do this in his post, rants against the people foisted on us by ESPN, Fox Soccer, etc. get fair play on soccer blogs and message boards.  But the only thing that surprises me about all this any more is that fans continue to be surprised.  It’s par for the course, right?  These idiots are the norm.  I say revel in it.  Milk it for the “so-bad-it’s-good” humor.  And then you will actually enjoy listening to Max Bretos.  Trust me.

If you’re looking for the link to jon’s post, I held off because the stuff about Socctober doesn’t enter into beyond the title; the body of his comments look at what went wrong for DC last night and asks the question I had while watching last night: where was Bobby Boswell?

Naturally, there are many, many more posts and articles on last night’s games and I’ve got a modest collection of them below.  Enjoy.

Cuauhtemoc Blanco showed up in a couple commentaries.  In one rare stand-out article likely to blind DC fans with rage, Blanco plays the victim and talks of sending video to the refs to reveal the suffering he endured.  Maybe that’s why DC’s players are sufficiently pissed to air their (slightly sad) frustration as Marc Burch did to Yahoo! News’ Martin Rogers:

“It is far from over,” Burch said. “We are going back to our place and we are really good there. We are the best team in the league. We don’t back down. We don’t shy away from tackles. We may play the best football, but I want us to be the toughest team out there as well.”

Images of a slightly tipsy, very thin man being hauled out of a bar with a black eye and bloody nose come unbidden.

Turning to more substantive subjects, DC-philic bloggers weighed in with great commentary.  The DCenters first impression post called out DC’s defenders by name, eviscerating them over the course of a few short sentences, while their full debriefing went deeper still and links to more items than I have here (including me; thanks!).  Max J., jon’s partner-in-crime at the DC United Offside, faulted DC’s Coach, Tom Soehn, for playing poker with his cards lying face up on the table.  And, finally, The FullBack Files flagged the defensive miscues, faulted the refs, but still held on to hope for Leg #2 – appropriate under the circumstances.

More later today…though not on this subject.

Daily Sweeper (DS), 10.10: US Roster Talk; MLS to PDX (Still?); SEVERE TV Issues; Best Dang DP

I’m going with an acronym for this feature: DS. That way I have more room for witticisms in the title…

– My colleague Breton already tackled the heavy lifting and thinking regarding the just-named U.S. roster for next Wednesday’s friendly against Switzerland. Read his stuff, of course – he thought about it more, after all – but I stand by the comments I made to close his post, particularly that these out-o’-the-ass lineups make these friendlies worth watching; real shockers like Robbie Findley and Maurice Edu only add intrigue…

…and then along comes USSoccerplayer.com’s Ian Plenderleith to take a big ol’ poop on my fun by pointing out that a few of these players owe a debt to circumstance for their call-ups (thanks a lot, friend). Looking elsewhere, Goal.com’s Ben Brackett seems wary of fielding such a green lineup given his opinion that the U.S. Men need to start winning on European soil. Eh, maybe. I’m not to worried about that, nor am I much concerned about building team chemistry for World Cup qualifying. Sure, we’ll have to get to latter one of these days, but with qualifying not starting till some time later than early 2008, I figure we have time to experiment. As for the European soil thing, it’ll come.

– It looks like the possibility of Major League Soccer (MLS) coming to Portland remains live. Better still, some relevant parties seems interested in placing the team in PGE Park and moving the Portland Beavers (baseball) to another facility. This would be a good thing. No, a great thing. The only piece to the conversation I think they’re missing is what happens with Portland State University’s football team? Then again, since they’re not mentioning it, maybe it’s not the issue I think it is. Anyway, great to hear that Portland’s still in the hunt. Continue reading