10 Bright Spots of Week 3: A Different Becks and A Good Weekend to Have a Keeper

BIGSOCCER: 10 Bright Spots of Week 3

1. Kyle Beckerman

Someone pinch this guy. Two goals, one a possible goal of the week, against a revamped D.C. United squad that looked helpless at the machinations of a fluid RSL attack. Beckerman was overwhelmingly the reason for that. He won balls in the midfield, showed near-perfect passing abilities, and never let up. Let’s not forget his long range shooting. Beckerman’s second goal was brilliant…Findley laid the ball off after posting up in the penalty box, Beckerman took a field goal’s three steps and fired a shot that powered past the flailing Jose Carvallo.

2. Arturo Alvarez

Alvarez gave RBNY a taste of their own medicine in a 2-0 shutout at home. He mirrored Dave van den Bergh, who scored the fastest goal in RBNY history in last week’s home opener – a 2-0 win over Columbus. Alvarez showed poise, blazing speed, and a general lack of respect for a fumbling New York backline. New York showed most of the attacking prowess, but Alvarez made his contributions count, scoring that quick goal and taking a lot of pressure off of big-man Kenny Cooper, who was able to grab his third of the young season.

3. Bouna Coundoul

Easily, save of the week and game of the week for the Colorado keeper. Coundoul weathered a storm of Revolution shots, 9 on goal total, to help Colorado to a 1-0 shutout. His goal line saver on Kenny Mansally was the most entertaining of the bunch, but Coundoul kept the Rapids from another Kansas City let down. The Revs almost found their equalizer late but it was Bouna time and he embraced it, parrying away a late free kick and a breakaway from rookie speedster Kheli Dube. 

4. Robbie Rogers

First this game made me dizzy. Secondly, Rogers exploits on the wing made me harken back to the U-20 World Cup when Zizzo and Rogers ruled the touchline. His industrious work on the left almost went unrewarded until he received a nice through ball from Schelloto (one they had been trying to get to work all game). Rogers made the most of it, feigning a shot to the far post and firing near. His second shot was a product of gasp! – a mistake on Brad Guzan’s part! – but his decision to shoot early threw last year’s MLS Keeper of the Year for a loop. Best game of the weekend… 

5. Landon Donovan

If Donovan had put some earlier chances in (turn your body, Landon, turn your body), the Galaxy might have overcome their defensive mishaps. He did however manage to score both of LA’s goals which was pissed all away after Greg Vanney decided to forget about Jeff Cunningham on the game-winning goal. I like him in the Galaxy’s offense this year and I see only a career year for him – if he stays healthy and Beckham too.

6. Maurice Edu

The man called for goals and he got them. Wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Edu covering every inch of the field like a madman. He was everywhere, winning balls, breaking up Galaxy advances, and giving new acquisitions Guevara and Robert the freedom to move with the ball. The Galaxy should have probably still won that game, but Edu delivered on his promise of a win and goals. And they did it in Los Angeles… 

7. Nick LaBrocca

Why not give #7 to the man from New Jersey who has “graduated” from the Colorado reserves and embraced his role in the Rapids midfield. Between LaBrocca and DiRaimondo, scrappy might describe both of them but when you have Gomez (let’s remember the Argentinian had to leave the field this weekend with a knee injury) in front of them, winning challenges and distribution is the name of the game. LaBrocca grabbed the winner for Colorado over a New England team that was putting a lot of pressure on Colorado offensively. Scrappy can win games though and Colorado came away with three.

8. Shea Salinas

Yep, along with #10, you’ll see two pity picks in this week’s Bright Spots. Salinas was the perfect injection for San Jose in the second half against Chicago and it almost paid off. Almost. He worked his ass off on the wing, getting open consistently, and finding himself in the right place at the right time…but he couldn’t convert. Most noticably from 2 yards out. A deflection off the post fell right to his feet and all Salinas had to do was beat Jon Busch far post, but instead he tried to slot over the sprawling Busch and into the upper corner. Didn’t work, he skied it, and that was that…win for Chicago. Great stuff from a rookie though…look for him to get better and better.

9. Jon Busch

San Jose had the offensive edge at home but Busch made it look the other way around. Saved by the post and only really threatened with shots that were a bit manageable, Busch has proven already that he can be the first team keeper that the Fire desperately need this year. It’s clear some defensive issues are going to need to be worked out, but Chicago still sits at the top of the table with Blanco already poised to surpass his output from last year.

10. Tony Caig

I know, I know…most of you are saying no way to this pick. This guy had a terrible showing in his first two matches only to come back this weekend and shut out a prolific Kansas City attack. The Wizards have been caught on a bit of a downturn in form, but Caig held his own. Basically, this is a pity pick.

2008 MLS Pre-Season Power Rankings: Science!

I’ll begin by apologizing for the constant need to explain my posts and myself. Sorry.

Welcome to the first, and first-ever, Major League Soccer (MLS) pre-season power rankings I have ever compiled. In the past, too few teams playing meaningful games equaled too many unknowns, so I didn’t see the point. I don’t really now….good times, aside. Oh, how we’ll laugh when we look back. That confessed, I’m going to embrace this form wholeheartedly and dress it in the available trappings of science.

I’ll begin with methods, a problem I never resolved during 2007 (mainly because I caught the issue too late in the game). By judging teams on different criteria at different points in the season, I tarnished the results. I started, if memory serves, by ranking MLS clubs based on form – e.g. a broad-brush impression of which team would beat which on the Saturday ahead. By the end of the season, however, I altered the formula to address something that seemed more important: the teams I believed would make the playoffs took the top 8 spots and I placed the teams I thought would go deeper in the post-season nearer the top, regardless of form. I move that the last organizing principle be branded as stupid and relegated to the Hole of Non- and Never-Existence.

With that in mind, the methods employed in the season ahead will adhere closely and permanently to those that first guided me – that is, I expect the team above to beat the team below 6 games out of 10 at a minimum; a brief explanation of my thinking will follow each team listed and each post will close with a discussion of trends and points of interest – assuming any come to me. With consistent methods in place, sound results, analysis, and conclusions should follow – if only logically…and internal logic at that. And – voilà! – we have science…of a sort.

And, later today, I’m going to up the science a little more by roping in all the pre-season power rankings I have seen so far in order to revive the Collective Power Rankings from last season. But, after the jump, I’ll lay out how I see all 14 MLS teams entering this deeply fascinating 2008 season. It promises to be a wild one, (but, c’mon, we all know deep down it’s going to peter out into a dogfight involving the usual suspects…I mean, how many people are rating Red Bull New York…pssh). Continue reading

MLS 2008 Eastern Conference Preview: Contenders, Dark Horses, Filler, and C.H.U.D.s

(It looks like I got a little ahead of myself down below…if only by implication. Expect the Western Conference Preview tomorrow and pre-season power rankings Friday. Which is how god intended it.)

Between the super-abundance of variables – some directly inter-related, some not – and the parade of blind-spots steadily unspooling behind me, any attempt on my part to provide a detailed and precise run-down of what will happen to each of Major League Soccer’s (MLS) 14 teams between now and MLS Cup 2008 seems either silly, pompous, or slated for failure – or all the above. Given that, I’ll keep things loose. Rather than exactly predicting who will finish where in the standings, this preview, and the one to follow, stops short of ranking teams in the order they will finish, but instead places them into four broad categories. To make things still more vague, I list more than eight “playoff-capable” teams – and I’ll get to the name for that below – an obvious issue with only eight playoff slots available.

This is intentional…I meant “loose” in the first sentence literally…judge me as you will. But, before charging me with cowardice, consider instead that these are the fruits of parity.

To introduce the categories, each team will be tagged with a label: Contender, Dark Horse, Filler, or C.H.U.D. The first two are pretty obvious – e.g. “Contender” attaches to a team with a clear shot at the title, while “Dark Horse” flags a team with the talent and depth to steal the title, but only provided good form and luck through ‘08. For “Filler” teams, the playoffs are within reach, but the title…well, it ain’t gonna happen. Finally, “C.H.U.D.s” – aka, “Cannabalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers”: these are the teams that will suffer in the confines of MLS’s cellars, only coming out for rare feasts on the flesh of the living.

As for resources, what comes below relies on only a few: WVHooligan’s most current list of off-season player movement and Climbing the Ladder’s best guess at starting elevens for the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Finally, if this seems a little weenie, don’t worry: I’ll make an ass of myself tomorrow when I post pre-season power rankings. Odds are I’ll do the same here in any case. Time to get on with the game…for clarity’s sake, teams are listed from Contender to C.H.U.D. Continue reading

LA: If It’s Conventional Wisdom Is It Still a Rumor?

Sorry about the slow day…y’know, life.  MLS Rumors posted an interesting tid-bit over this weekend:

“Now we hear that sparks have been flying and fires stoked during the Galaxy’s Asia tour and World Soccer Daily is reporting that the rumor in LA is that Lalas will be gone by July. Gullit’s no non-sense approach to squad selection has rubbed Lalas the wrong way.”

I’m not so much interested in the truth of this one – though it would shock me about as much as the sunrise – as I’m wondering where rumors end and conventional wisdom begins.  The real question is how this hasn’t happened already.

MLS Season Tickets Update – Thanks to SBJ

The Sports Business Journal will be doing a full MLS preview this year which should be real interesting to read in the next couple weeks or so. It really has been fun to see the amount of MLS/World Soccer headlines in there go up ten-fold over the past year or so. Just wanted to pass on this table of information to you regarding season tickets sold as of 2/17/2008. Might have seen this somewhere else, but there is some good stuff here..

TEAM

2008

2007

% CHANGE

Chicago Fire 2,759 2,553 +8%
Chivas USA 837 858 -2%
Colorado Rapids 2,968 1,866 +59%
Columbus Crew 3,227 3,190 +1%
D.C. United 5,976 4,721 +27%
FC Dallas 3,002 3,134 -4%
Houston Dynamo 4,116 2,205 +87%
Kansas City Wizards 1,539 464 +232%
Los Angeles Galaxy 7,915 9,308 -15%
New England Revolution 4,001 3,502 +14%
New York Red Bulls 3,170 2,391 +33%
Real Salt Lake 4,632 4,421 +5%
San Jose Earthquakes 3,822 N/A N/A
Toronto FC 16,641 12,435 +34%
TOTAL 64,605 51,048 +26.6%

We’ve already heard about Toronto FC selling out a second consecutive year, but let us look briefly at how announcements, stadium construction, on-field performance affects season ticket sales. Colorado Rapids are a pretty big surprise here, up 59% from last year at this time and there on-field play has been sub par at best, no real announcements this offseason. You can’t possibly contribute this to the signing of Christian Gomez? Some of the other teams are little more clear cut. The anticipation of a new stadium and a more aggressive ad campaign has helped the Red Bulls put more butts in the seats. Kansas City’s relocation to their minor league baseball stadium has already increased ticket sales ensuring that intimate stadium feeling they were hoping for. Is it possible that Houston’s successes on the field are translating intermittent fans into season ticket holders? Anticipation of a possible stadium deal as well as the talks between Oscar De La Hoya and the club (which hadn’t been confirmed by 2/17) could have been a factor as well.

It really is good to see New England on the rise in Gillette, D.C. up 27% in RFK, and the Red Bulls up in Giants making the Atlantic rivalries that much more important.

Couple questions to ponder though:

Real Salt Lake’s new stadium is coming, why no jump in season ticket holders? They still sit at the fourth-highest total in the MLS though…

What is Chivas USA doing wrong? Contenders in the Western Conference yet again this year and this still can’t get a fan base.

Does a decrease in the Galaxy’s season-ticket holders this pre-season mean that the Beckham Effect is losing influence?

With Seattle, according to Don Garber, past the 12,000 season ticket mark – where will they be come this time next year? How about Philadelphia?

MLS HAS CONFIRMED.

READ HERE. To be held tomorrow at 2:00pm, Turbine Hall, The Wharf at Rivertown, Chester, PA, 19103.

Just please don’t call the team Philadelphia Independence.

Please?

MLS Philly: Getting Closer, Ives takes a look at Philly

Ives Galarcep does a great piece on the prospects of a Philadelphia Major League Soccer franchise.

I will be heading to a Meet the Owners party tomorrow for it. Hopefully, I’ll bring back some pictures and a few concrete facts……..