Crew v. Rapids: The Intra-Conference Situation (And When Did They Change the Playoff Set-up?)

Lately, I’ve poked around the question of where I think both the Columbus Crew and Colorado Rapids are with regard to building their rosters for the 2008 season (hint: check the links). Both efforts tend to vagueness, but they’re a starting point for discussion at least. This current post starts the project of pulling together something more concrete – namely, where each team fits within their respective conferences.

To begin, I’m assuming Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Competition Committee hasn’t again changed the….dammit. They did. MLS has, again, changed qualification for the post-season (from the rules of competition posted on the official site):

“The top three teams in each conference qualify and are seeded 1, 2 & 3 in their respective four-team playoff conference brackets.”

“The two MLS teams with the next most points, regardless of conference, receive “wildcard” berths.”

Under last year’s rules – that is, the top two teams from each conference qualifying for the post-season, with the remaining four spots being wild cards – the way any given team stacked up against its intra-conference rivals definitely mattered. Obviously, three qualifying teams makes intra-conference comparisons even more relevant. And that’s what this post will begin examining – i.e. how the Crew and Rapids stack up against conference rivals – i.e. the teams they’ll play more often and who will thus mean the most in determining their separate, yet cosmically-bound post-season fates (are multiple “i.e.’s” allowed?).

That said, it bears noting that several teams are still tinkering – Columbus among them, judging by some unfamiliar names in the line-up that lost today to Everton’s reserves. Also, current results matter and they don’t; by that I mean, some results impress me – for example, it’s not so much that FC Dallas beat Atletico Paranaense’s B-team, as my impression that they did it well – while I’m not sure what to make of others. But these are just caveats, excuses perhaps for when what I write below gets proved very, very wrong by later events.

But, within that frame, where do I peg Columbus and Colorado relative to their rivals in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively? And what does that mean for their post-season fortunes? Continue reading

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Revs v. Dynamo: First Preview of Four (on the Way to Brainwashing); The ‘Keepers

I’m putting the Daily Sweeper on hiatus for the remainder of this, Championship Weekend, in order to truly obsess over the upcoming MLS Cup Final. Said obsession includes plans to not only dissect the teams to the point of creating a bloody mess, but also to:

1) convince myself that the New England Revolution can, in fact, win the game.
2) push myself into a game-time frenzy powerful enough to scare my children.

Now, the obvious sub-text of #1 is that I expect the Houston Dynamo will leave RFK’s cold/soggy/cold-soggy field as the 2007 Champions of Major League Soccer (MLS). (NOTE: THIS IS NOT A FORMAL PREDICTION AND IN NO WAY REPRESENTS MY WAGER FOR THE FINAL INSTALLMENT OF THE CENTER HOLDS IT/WHO ATE ALL THE CUPCAKES PLAYOFF PICK DUEL.) Perhaps all those caps aren’t necessary, though, since the text of #1 clearly points to an intention to arrange my mental space and, hence, my wagering around a New England Revolution win…I’m just not sure I’m ever going to get there.

Anyway, getting back to the plans for the weak, I plan to build the week’s posts around a four-day breakdown of components from both teams that will face each other on the field – e.g. the Dynamo defense versus the Revolution’s offense; the Revolution’s defense against the Dynamo’s offense, etc. Today will begin with a very brief, gut-reaction overview of the match-up, followed by an equally brief analysis of the on-field, essentially indirect positional showdown between the ‘keepers. One last thing: I invite anyone out there to drop their thoughts on the match up – whatever they happen to be and whether they’re on topic or not – into the comments. I’m especially looking for the insights of “interested parties” – here, I’m thinking of Martek and Jimmy Chowda.

That said, here come my two cents: 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

Revs Advance + The Great Chicago Mystery

Well, to the sound of much gnashing of teeth and almost paralyzing consternation from across Major League Soccer’s (MLS’s) other teams, the New England Revolution has advanced to the third consecutive MLS Cup Final.  But I’ll get to that tomorrow.  And, yes, unlike – oh, 90, 95% of you – I’m pleased to see the Revs advance.

For now, I want to address something unusual about tonight’s game.  In most soccer matches there are four posts, specifically, the two posts holding up the crossbar for each of the two goals.  Tonight, there were five posts.  Your fifth post: Paulo Wanchope.

Why the hell did Wanchope play the full 90?

More tomorrow.

Daily Sweeper, 11.8, Game-Day: Gullit to LA; Flagging an Oversight; Burnishing Soccer-Nerd Cred

This monkey is breaking out of his cubicle early in order to catch tonight’s Eastern Conference Final between the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire.  And, no, I didn’t play sick, but simply said to my boss, “Sir, I must go home, strap a foam-dome on my head, and watch soccer.  I bid you good day!”  Such displays help me hang onto what was once a crazy stockpile of Soccer-Nerd cred.

– Speaking of tonight’s game, credit to Jimmy Chowda of Blue Blooded Journo for catching a possible – and possibly major – “X-Factor” in tonight’s game.  The turf, man, Gillette Stadium’s lush, and comparatively inexpensive expanse of green!  He flagged that in a tidy preview for tonight’s bloody-knuckles brawl…or, at least that’s what we’re both expecting.  Then again, Mike H on My Soccer Blog flagged the turf angle as well; more significantly, he called the game for New England, something I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do, not even Ms. Mike H.

– More on tonight: USSoccerplayas.com’s Ian Plenderleith offended the Revolution Front Office’s self-image, inspiring them to defend the Revs’ approach to the game over email.  Polite as the tone may be, the Revs’ flak’s apologies for Revolution soccer provides a moderately embarrassing read because it kind of misses what people find so unappealing about the Revolution.  Count me very impressed with how well Plenderleith describes it:

“There are enough talented attacking players in the Revs’ line-up, but it’s a tactically tight ship that Steve Nicol runs.  He has no time for players who don’t stick with the game plan, and as a coach that’s his prerogative.  There are many good New England players, but rarely ones that produce breathtaking moments.  You won’t find a Revs player who regularly takes on, and beats, defenders, for example.  Sure, it’s a quality and consistent team on many levels, especially in the context of MLS, but it’s also a team that, to me at least, lacks a certain character and passion”

All I can say to that is, “yup.”

– Moving to what should count as The Big News of the day, it appears that former Dutch great Ruud Gullit will coach the Los Angeles Galaxy next season.  There’s a Daily Telegraph article floating around that says so fairly definitively, but the most confident article I remembered to flag was Martin Rogers’ column for Yahoo! News.  So, is this good?  Bad?  What is it?  I figure it could be either; neither walloping failure nor torrid success would surprise me…though I expect the former if LA doesn’t upgrade their line-up between now and next April.  I mean, did you read what happened in Vancouver, BC last night?  Two articles tell me the Vancouver Whitecaps “dominated” the match.

– Good news out of Kansas City: the team cleared another hurdle on its way to building a soccer-specific home.  Something called the TIF Commission voted unanimously in favor of a development plan that includes a Wizards’ stadium.  Good stuff.

– Speaking of KC, Jeff Carlisle, in the Western Conference Final preview he wrote for ESPN, flags the New Restraint in the Wizards’ approach to the game.

All right.  It’s almost game time.  Wish the team of your choice luck – and a pox on yer ding-ding if you pick the wrong one!

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

Daily Sweeper, 11.6: Calling the Final (Wha? Already?) and Protection from the Draft

– A couple pieces out today are already guessing that we’ll get a repeat of MLS Cup 2006: Houston Dynamo v. New England Revolution. Jeff Bradley started his most recent First XI saying he “fully expects” a repeat while, less surprisingly, the Houston Chronicle sees the same thing…though they do acknowledge the potential for those “meddling kids” from Chicago and Kansas City to louse up the plan. I’ve already voiced hope that both Bradley and the Chronicle will be proved wrong in the comments of another, bigger forum and I stand by that down to the reasoning. More curiously still, it’s New England – who are my team, if only allegedly – that I don’t want to see. This may be hard to understand, but all I can say is not all fans support their team in the same way. For instance, I fall somewhere between the “Ever-Disappointed Parent” category and the “Next-Underdog Bandwagon Jumper.” In practice this means, if my team can’t be great and play beautifully, they shouldn’t bother being good; that would only mean I’ll start ignoring them to watch the plucky underdogs from the next town over (or, in very un-p.c. terms, “Why can’t you be more like your retarded brother? At least he tries. You make me sick!” Curiously, I’m not like this with my real kids – and, yes, I’m a big John Waters fan).

– Speaking of my oft-abused team – again, that’s New England, though you’d hardly know it – they seem to be getting more preview ink, probably due to the fact they play the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference final on Thursday. A couple things to update there: Red Card reports that Justin Mapp “could be available” for the game, something that have me shouting “hallelujahs” about picking Chicago to win if I didn’t have doubts about Mapp’s ability to seriously contribute after such a long lay off. Also, Frank Dell’Appa gave plausible reasons for both teams to feel confident heading into the Big Game.

– To pick up on a new story-line, people are already looking ahead to the expansion draft that will build the new San Jose Earthquakes. I’m thinking Steve Goff got the ball rolling on Monday, and he’s been followed since (consciously or not) by 3rd Degree, who talked about who they expect their beloved FC Dallas to protect and expose, and The Fullback Files, who did the same for DC United. For the record, 3rd Degree helpfully highlighted the expansion draft rules in their post. In the same spirit, I thought I’d do a half-ass job for two teams: the New England Revolution, because I spitefully support them, and the Columbus Crew because I’m not sure anyone else will. I’m only going to name the 11 players on each team that I would protect – the rest would, obviously, remain exposed. And, word to the wise, the likelihood that I’m going to screw up and protect a player who can’t be protected is somewhat high. I’m going through this exercise, I suppose, to identify the players on both teams who I rate – and I placed an asterisk next to any protected player I’d use as trade-bait opportunity permitting:

New England Revolution (the link goes to the roster)
1. Taylor Twellman
2. Pat Noonan
3. Steve “Dog Chow” Ralston (my wife’s nickname)
4. Matt Reis
5. Michael Parkhurst (even if he may leave; see below)
6. Shalrie Joseph
7. Andy Dorman*
8. Avery John*
9. Adam Cristman* (they’d have to pay)
10. Wells Thompson*
11. Jeff Larentowicz

Columbus Crew (ditto)
1. Guillermo Barros Schelotto
2. Eddie Gaven*
3. Ned Grabavoy
4. Frankie Hejduk
5. Stefani Miglioranzi
6. Danny O’Rourke*
7. Robbie Rogers
8. Tim Ward
9. Alejandro Moreno
10. Marcos Gonzalez (I had to)*
11. Jacob Thomas*

This is actually an educational process, figuring which players you’d expose. As you can see, I view a good chunk of the Revs’ line-up as expendable; moreover, I can’t believe how healthy they managed to remain this year. Good fortune of that sort makes me think they might win MLS Cup after all. As for Columbus, they have so many intriguing building blocks, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit my list of un-expendable players didn’t end around #7.

– Finally, as we head into the off-season, one has to think that MLS Rumors will once again start cranking out content. They got off to a decent start today with posts on England coach (is it former yet?) Steve McClaren looking into the LA Galaxy job (or vice versa; I’m in a hurry) and one about Michael Parkhurst joining the U.S. Men’s Nationa…I mean, Fulham FC in the Premier League. On this last one, though, The Offside Rules found something debunking that one (and I join his “WTF?” on Brian Hall winning referee of the year). And, honestly, I can’t see the Galaxy hiring McClaren, never mind McClaren taking the job – which, again, hardly means I won’t happen; I can’t see a lot of things that come together.