Praise for Peers. Oh, and the CONCACAF Champions Cup Schedule

I don’t have anything to say, at least at this time, about the schedule for the CONCACAF Champions Cup, which was released today…or thereabouts. No, I just want to thank Mike H from My Soccer Blog for visiting the official sites, reading the god-awful press releases, and posting them in a nice, easy-to-read, even eye-pleasing, format. So, thanks, Mike H.  Here’s to you (and ignore that lady in the front row…don’t know what’s wrong with her).

He even posted the TV times, as did Soccer Insider’s Steve Goff (though the link he provides comes out as pdf); choose the format that makes you happiest.

The TV thing is an issue – or at least a potential one.  Let’s just say I’m less concerned with who plays whom just now than I am with insuring that I have cable on March 11…stupid life….

Changes to the U.S. Open Cup…Good Ones

Steve Goff, that sly dog from the Soccer Insider, sneaked the following into his Presidents’ Day review of soccer news (and it occurs to me, only now, that this could be why things seem so damned quiet today):

“*The U.S. Open Cup schedule is much more compact this year. Pending USSF approval, the round of 16 to the championship game will be held over an eight-week stretch between July 1 and Aug. 26. No more late-round matches in the fall, when MLS clubs are focused on the playoffs.”

For what it’s worth, I like it. In the past, I have advocated such wackiness as making the U.S. Open Cup the pre-season tournament for both Major League Soccer (MLS), the United Soccer Leagues (USL), and, well, everyone. Yeah, it would stretch the calendar, but I don’t think we’re doing players any favors by stacking up the games during the season. In my mind’s eye, I’m seeing a mini-tournament to decide the winner that would look like an expanded version of the College Cup – e.g. a one site, perhaps 8, perhaps 16-team tournament, etc.

I’d still like to see that one day, but will take this compacting of the U.S. Open Cup’s schedule; the earlier dates don’t look so bad either. Sure, the Superliga remains a complication (that’s in July, right?), but I want to scrap that one anyway. But the CONCACAF Champions League shouldn’t be a huge problem. So, yeah, let ‘er rip and see how it works.

BONUS: Almost forgot this bit…then again, that could be from a lack of inspiration.  If you’ve ever seen Weebl’s stuff, it’s pretty clever.  The Estate Agent isn’t their best, so far as I’m concerned, but it’s still good for a laugh.  Oh, if you’re offended by non-human, animated nudity, or work with someone who might be, this is NSFW.

Schedule Extrapolation (Incomplete, Based on the Crew’s)

This morning, Shawn Mitchell, of Columbus Dispatch and Covering the Crew fame, posted a leaked 2008 home schedule for the Columbus Crew. This schedule is, as he notes, tentative – as in, we may see something different on Thursday (though he doesn’t see why we would) – but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two from looking at it.

To begin, this home schedule contains 15 games. And, assuming that’s accurate, that tells us….yes, Timmy, that we can expect a 30-game regular season schedule. Don’t know if Major League Soccer (MLS) fans knew that already, but I didn’t and it makes sense seeing as it does match last year’s total. That’s too many games, as I see it, especially with all the other junk going on (Superliga, CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup, money-spinning club friendlies, etc.), as well as the still-bloated playoff format. But I’m not on that committee…so, moving on.

There doesn’t seem to be much for gaps in the Crew’s home schedule toward that late summer gap, but that could be a factor of the club in question – e.g. a club that won’t be participating in Superliga, the Champs’ League, etc.

Speaking of the Crew’s 2007 schedule – and Crew fans might want to look away from the results – I got to wondering if we could use that to fill in a few blanks on Mitchell’s half schedule – e.g. how many times Columbus (along with the rest of the teams) will play clubs inside and outside the Eastern Conference. While I’m guessing this is pretty obvious – e.g. I’m sure there’s a formula for this kind of thing – I’d rate getting some of the league’s tougher teams twice at home instead of twice on the road counts as some kind of advantage.

Here goes, starting with a copy/paste job of Mitchell’s insider dish:

March 29, 2008, 4:00 PM, Toronto FC
April 12, 2008, 7:30 PM, Chivas USA
April 26, 2008, 7:30 PM, Houston Dynamo
May 3, 2008, 7:30 PM, Kansas City Wizards
May 24, 2008, 7:30 PM, New England Revolution
June 7, 2008, 7:30 PM, San Jose Earthquakes
June 28, 2008, 7:30 PM, Colorado Rapids
July 5, 2008, 7:30 PM, Chicago Fire
July 17, 2008, 8:00 PM, Kansas City Wizards
August 16, 2008, 7:30 PM, FC Dallas
August 23, 2008, 7:30 PM, Real Salt Lake
September 6, 2008, 7:30 PM, New England Revolution
September 18, 2008, 7:00 PM, New York Red Bulls
October 4, 2008, 7:30 PM, Los Angeles Galaxy
October 26, 2008, 5:00 PM, D.C. United

Turning to last year’s schedule, one sees that teams seemed to have played clubs in their conference three times and clubs outside their conference twice; for Columbus, that amounted to 18 games against Eastern Conference opponents and 12 against Western Conference teams. And, right off the bat, there’s a rub: what happens with the San Jose Earthquakes being the 7th Western Conference club? Not so obvious, as it turns out.

In a word, bugger. This effort may not be so productive as I had originally thought. But, seeing as I don’t give up easy, let’s keep pushing a little bit.

Looking over the above tentative home schedule, I’m seeing a couple Eastern Conference teams twice: the Revolution, the Wizards, and…uh-oh, that’s only two teams. Now, you’d assume if MLS were planning on sticking with the three intra-conference games set-up, there would be at least one more Eastern Conference team showing up in there (and do check my work; I’d leave my pants at home if I didn’t have a wife to remind me).

Put it altogether and it gets one wondering. As much as the 13-team set-up seemed designed for scheduling confusion, one has to admit the 18/12 breakdown looks pretty tidy. Now, if I was the guy building a 30-team schedule out of this, I’d stick with the 18 intra-conference games and have the “give” come by axing 4 inter-conference games. Looking at the above, though, it’s not clear that’s what will happen. After all, the Crew gets each Western Conference club once at home and it’s hard to imagine they would get more home games.

Any thoughts? And not just about the Crew’s potential schedule?

BONUS: College Humor dubbed this the 20 Creepiest Album Covers.  But at least a few of these go right past “creepy” and straight to “fucked up.”

– Finally, could someone please win this game and explain it to me?

MLS: The “Penultimate” Weekend and the Short Road Ahead

I got so wired into the whole 30-week season concept that I fully expected two more weeks of Major League Soccer (MLS), but, in reality, next weekend is the end of the line. And Week 28’s results, a parade of the unsurprisingly surprising, left a couple teams twisting in the proverbial wind.

For the record, apart from seeing the two-car pile-up that was Red Bull New York continuing to put the hoodoo on the Kansas City Wizards, I experienced the penultimate weekend’s games at highlight speed. For all the one-eye-on-‘em viewing, results panned out as I expected, by which I mean few of the games ended as they should…hence the phrase “unsurprisingly surprising.” However you slice it, the teams winning now are the ones for whom the playoff bird should have flown…and still they’re there, more revenants given life by the toxic formula that is the MLS playoff format.

Getting back to that Red Bull/KC game, the entire evening quietly screamed for a set-up man, someone to bring the best out of two high-quality forwards. Because neither team has one who neatly fit the bill (Davy Arnaud? eh…), the teams more or less groped for loose balls in the wide band between one another’s penalty areas. The game ended to New York’s advantage due to a positively cursed evening for Jose Burciaga Jr.; he gave the Red Bull’s their first through a generous PK call and gifted them the winner with a pratfall. To the Red Bull’s credit, though, their forward, Juan Pablo Angel, was up to the job: on KC’s side of things, Eddie “EJ” Johnson botched the dubious PK call won by Scott Sealy when he shot hard, but too close to Jon Conway. Game, set, match – and possibly post-season dreams – to Red Bull New York. Kansas City, on the other hand, may wind up in the Inexcusably Absent Club with the Columbus Crew for the third straight season.

Mentioning the Crew provides a nice segue into the rest of the weekend’s action. Columbus finally won, and in some style thanks to the thing of beauty that Guillermo Barros Schelotto launced off his right boot; Eddie Gaven also played the game of his season a few games too late. Perhaps Gaven, along with the Crew as a whole, suffer from what ails Real Salt Lake, the inability to win games when it matters. The other big loser of the weekend was surely Chivas USA, who gave up their first home loss of the season when they gave the Colorado Rapids just their third road win. Apart from being depressing, this is hardly the kind of result to kill off suggestions that Chivas may have peaked too early; along with the team Columbus beat, the New England Revolution, form looks to be going sideways at precisely the wrong time for the clubs formerly known as MLS’s top-tier. Elsewhere, Chicago and DC looked to have played the proverbial Game of Two Halves (yes, caps seem appropriate): Chicago owned the first half, but couldn’t break through; the same snake bit DC in the second. There was one more game, of course, but in keeping with superstitions that hold that which goes unnamed can’t harm you, I’ll stay silent in this space and hope the haunting ends.

Well, that’s the week behind us, condensed as I saw it play out (and I invite visitors to fill in the blanks). My take on the short road ahead – mashed up with some observations on the week behind – comes below. And, as you look over my ramblings, do consider the standings. Continue reading

DS, 10.11: Chivas Notes; Single Table Rumors; It’s Gotta Be St. Louie + More

There’s so much good stuff out there today…let’s just say I had to cut more than I wanted up to and including those Seattle announcement rumors (crap…there it is; for the record, I don’t buy them). Moving on…

– A half-mysterious injury to Maykel Galindo makes for one of the less-reported items coming out of the Chivas USA camp. As much as that impacts tonight’s game against FC Dallas (great preview), there’s the longer term to consider – as in what this does to Chivas’ MLS Cup chances.

– “Operation: Improve MLS” gets a quantity of suggestions equal to or, possibly, exceeding the number to fans of the league. Believe me when I say I’m not making fun; I come up with an idea per day on my own. But the hoariest of these tinkerings got new life today when the ever-entertaining MLS Rumors floated another one about MLS going to a single table in 2008. It occurs to me now that I should one day track MLS Rumors’ record against reality, but for now, I’m just going to point readers to a semi-formal single table v. status quo poll set up by the Toronto FC Offside. Let’s just say I surprised myself with my answer:

“I never thought I’d write (or say) this, but I’m going with the playoffs. I think it was Craig who helped me see the light. At the same time, I’d shrink Craig’s playoff pool, even as I have to admit that in a 20-team league, eight teams making the playoffs wouldn’t look f-ing ridiculous as it does with 13 teams. Fundamentally, though, I like how baseball, the most patriotic of all American sports, limits the post-season party to a few teams. I’d go with a four-team post-season, two from each conference. We’re looking for the best of the best, right? “

Inexplicably absent from all that is the central reason for sticking with the status quo: the U.S. is f-ing big y’all; conferences make sense given that reality. Whatever you think, All y’all should head over to join the fun.

– In one of my favorite pieces of the day, Bill Urban wrote up all the reasons why David Beckham should NOT make a “glorious return” for LA Galaxy’s post-season run. My favorite line:

“Instead of admiration for their surge into playoff contention, the work the Galaxy players have done to get into that position would be cheapened, denigrated, and lost in the media spasms of the Return of the King.”

Yes, yes, yes. One other thing puzzles me – and I noticed it from the earlier Beckham games: what the hell was Pete Vagenas doing riding pine when Beckham is on the field? That doesn’t add up for me.

– Whoops. Botched my order. More good news out of St. Louie, though of the variety that comes short of guarantees. Even so, I don’t know how they don’t become MLS’s 16th franchise, I really don’t…which isn’t to say I’ll be surprised when they get skipped (and Portland is out there as well; a lot of people are picking up on that today; sorry, no links though).

– Finally, I didn’t think I’d like this, but it left me grinning so it must be good, right? Dave Martinez, who toils (what other verb applies when it comes to Red Bull?) on the Red Bull New York Offside, got to play FIFA ’08 with Josmer Altidore. An entirely charming story, as well as a good interview, came out of that….and, yeah, he’s a nice kid and all, but I think Jozy is a bit nuts for thinking Red Bull has a shot at MLS Cup.

For the record, I’m still rocking the Stone Age with FIFA 2004 – and I suck at it. FIFA ’08 sounds too hard.

MLS: Week of Good, Week of Evil and the Schedule Ahead

The part of Week 27 that mattered ended with Los Angeles rolling to another win (psst…Colorado beat Toronto…no, I don’t care either).  That damnable pack of revenants keeps shuffling and scratching on some unholy quest to, once again, mock the regular season.  If a simple demonstration of the stupidity of it all WAS the mission, I could get behind it.  But we all know it’s a simple selfish quest for undeserved glory and, seeing as we’re dealing with the undead, probably brains.  I keep telling these fucking twits, the head!  Shoot for the goddamn head!  That’s the only way to bring them down.

I didn’t see that game, in any case…stupid Telefutura…only reminds me of my linguistic limitations…

No, I witnessed other games – among them, an indirect, rear-guard sally to stave off the walking dead (maybe the plan is to corral them into a valley and raze it with fire; hadn’t considered that).  Even with my love for New England returning to its steady psychotic girlfriend/controlling boyfriend state, too much good comes from the Chicago Fire’s win over them for me to care.  On the downside, other teams just might take note of the way, first, Chad Barrett, then Cuauhtemoc Blanco kept finding space wide of the Revs’ back three; a better player than Barrett, or one less tanked than Blanco, could have helped that 2-1 win into a bloody rout, but Barrett was good enough for man of the match honors and the blows landed all the same.  Even allowing for fatigue and acknowledging a hard-fought game from both sides, if I had to face one of them just now, it would be New England. Continue reading

MLS: Remaining Schedules and, Yes, Calling the Final

Well, this is swell.  Ian Plenderleith’s Major League Soccer Week 26 review touches on all the points I intended to make, so I’ll just rip off large portions of his work and enjoy the morning cuppa.  Not only did he provide righteous coverage of everything down to the Rico Clark incident (I posted on this earlier, but feel compelled to link to that post again because the comments it received makes Witness Relocation seem like a good call for Carlos Ruiz), but he pointed to a virtuous trend I don’t generally track:

“The season’s average crowd is now at 16,387, almost 1,000 per game more than last season.  It’s not necessarily a significant increase, given the Beckham push, and it doesn’t reflect actual numbers in the stadium, just the number of tickets sold.  Still, it’s a boost up from the stagnating figures of recent seasons.”

Even though average attendance is just one of those things I typically file and forget, there’s something I have noticed this year above any previous year: the crowds aren’t dying this fall as we head into the playoffs.  Assuming I’m not imagining it, this is the most optimistic indicator I’ve come across in the life of the league as it suggests people committing to MLS as fans.  So, yeah, I hope I’m not dreaming this or that it isn’t artificial.

Getting back to day-to-day realities of the league, though, Plenderleith’s handy and dandy framing of the playoff race paints the big picture:

In the playoffs: DC United, Chivas USA, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution.
In line behind them: RB New York, FC Dallas
No longer quite so sure: Kansas City Wizards
Edging their way in, tie by tie: Chicago
Slipping out the picture: Columbus, Colorado
Never saying die: LA
Looking towards 2008: Salt Lake, Toronto

Looks about right to me, though “in line behind them” doesn’t speak to the death-spiral into which FC Dallas is spinning; his framing on the status of Columbus, Colorado, and Chicago, well, that’s pure, bankable gold.

If there’s one thing that irks me about Plenderleith’s column, it’s the fact he beat me to the punch on a bold prediction I had been planning since just before Houston thrashed Dallas, thereby confirming my general expectations:

“As for goals, they were hard to come by in some places, but if you were at DC there were four goal of the week candidates out of the five scored.  Houston fired three at Dallas, reflecting the fact that these two in-form sides are still convincing favorites to compete for the MLS Cup in November’s final.”

To state that directly, it is looking an awful lot like DC v. Houston in the final.  What is it about the teams everyone expected to reach the final actually reaching the final that is such a buzzkill?  I don’t know…maybe I’m just freaked out by any hints there is no such thing as free will.  And you bet I’m trying to jinx it.

OK, with Plenderleith’s column essentially reprinted there’s nothing left to do but look forward – and I’ll down that down below.  Here are the standings for context and here’s the key to decipher everyone’s remaining games:

Chicago Fire: CF
Chivas USA: CUSA
Colorado Rapids: CR
Columbus Crew: Crew
DC United: DCU
FC Dallas: FCD
Houston Dynamo: HD
Kansas City Wizards: KC
Los Angeles Galaxy: LA
New England Revolution: NE
Red Bull New York: RBNY
Real Salt Lake: RSL
Toronto FC: TFC

Right…now, here goes: Continue reading