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

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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: 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).

MLS Daily Sweeper, 03.24: Resources, Riots, and Goal-Scoring Mysteries

Again…most go quickly…no photos, etc.

Climbing the Ladder – god bless ‘im – posted something wonderful: expected starting elevens for every team in Major League Soccer (MLS), broken down by conference (Eastern and Western).  I will be using those for my upcoming conference previews (Tuesday? Wednesday? just some time before Saturday)…unlike the, um, previews I’ve been saving for the past two weeks.  Also, go vote in his MLS survey.

MLS Rumors picked up reports of fan/security misbehavior during last week’s CONCACAF Champions Cup quaterfinal between Deportivo Saprissa and Atlante FC.  If you don’t trust MLS Rumors, there’s video in the post as well as a link to an article from Medio Tiempo…unfortunately, I don’t speak Spanish and don’t have time for (the ever-comical) Babelfish, so will just pass it on and let you make of it what you will.  Assuming it’s all accurate, it’d be interesting if Saprissa got slapped with a stadium ban for the semifinal v. Houston.  It will also be interesting if they don’t.  Suppose that makes this win/win, right?

– This one is just a little fun.  Who scored the winner in the Kansas City Wizards’ win over Real Salt Lake?  Was it Jimmy ConradScott Sealy?  Drum-roll, please…by a score of two sources to one, Conrad has it!  The more surprising thing is how anyone confused Sealy and Conrad…

– Finally, fans of the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC: click those links and enjoy your gloom.  Hmm.  Not there yet?  Well, try this, Toronto fans!  And this, Chicago fans!

MLS Daily Sweeper, 3.21: Seeing to my CCC08 Duty; Beckham’s Clause

This will be quick:

– Holy crap!  Deportivo Saprissa mugs Atlante FC and steps over the battered body into the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals.  All right, Dynamo, don’t you get to relaxing because the Mexican team crashed out; Saprissa are recent champs after all.  Credit to My Soccer Blog for carrying my water.

WVHooligan, among others who shall go unlinked, got wind of an alleged (this is 60 Minutes reporting), very special clause in David Beckham’s contract: an option to buy an MLS club at the end of his contract.  There’s something devilish in that, but I don’t object either. He’ll still be famous then, so what’s the harm?

Have a good weekend, people.  I kicked my own ass today.

CCC08: Atlante FC 2-1 Saprissa – Tournament’s Best?

Again outwitted by VCR programming – this time, due to neglect to keep the time current; damn thing started recording at 9:00 p.m.  I’ll spare you the full, profanity-laden story.

The upshot, though, is that I didn’t see this whole match – only enough of it to know Atlante FC was a little better than good for the win.  How good?  I started watching after the half and was able to turn it off around the 80th minute, thoroughly secure in the knowledge that the Costa Rican club (Deportivo Saprissa, for the record) would never equalize.  They created their chances, even made Atlante’s show-boat ‘keeper use all his tricks, but Atlante kept Saprissa on the back-heel with strong tackling and an impressively speedy attack.

Still, cracking goal from Saprissa’s Walter Centano.

Getting back to the Mexicans, how they attack is worth noting: they poured forward in a way you don’t often see, with players running ahead of the ball into gaps that allow short, diagonal forward passes to their feet.  Either it was something they Saprissa allowed through zonal marking, or Atlante is just that proficient at their game.  The won on a pretty goal, one involving this quick little bugger named Bermudez, but it was the vision and precision of the final ball that most impressed me.  They tackled hard in the middle as well, imposing themselves on the game generally.  Tough customers, these guys, perhaps even the class of the tournament.

The Costa Ricans know how to play as well.  Seeign what they can do on the return leg should prove interesting….not Houston v. Municipal interesting, but this quarterfinal seems more evenly matched than the other two.

For the record, though, if it’s a matter of who gets through to the semis, I’m definitely pulling for the Costa Ricans.  Unless, they had a banner day, I’m not liking the Major League Soccer clubs’ chances against these guys.