Pan-Pacific: Post-Mortem or Obituary (+ Some Silliness)

A number of people have flagged a Los Angeles Times article that contained some surprisingly harsh comments about the recently-concluded Pan-Pacific Challenge (PPC) from Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don “The Don” Garber. Now, we all know the field sucked (seriously, I looked like the blue crap I once played on in Moscow, Idaho’s Kibbie ASUI Dome, pictured left; at least the turf used to be blue).

But more than the turf provoked The Don’s wrath: gates unworthy of David Beckham also rankled as, no doubt, did seeing goals getting piled on against MLS’s actual crown jewel, the Houston Dynamo.  The language remains diplomatic – at least where everything but the field is concerned (“We are very disappointed with the field surface,” Garber said. “Our players said it was perhaps the worst surface they had played on.”  oh….that’s what happened…) – but it’s fairly clear that Soccer Marketing United (SUM) wouldn’t have minded had ESPN Classic taken on pass on televising the event.

There’s talk in the article about rotating between sites in Japan, Australia, and the U.S. – and that isn’t a terrible one – but I liked Hawaii because it felt a little closer to neutral ground.  That said, there’s no denying the facility is (cavernously) problematic.  Surely, there’s a field with grass somewhere in Hawaii, one either big enough, or one that could be expanded without too much money and effort? If not, yeah, move the PPC.  Or just kill the thing and televise, I dunno, the Carolina Challenge Cup instead.  Just don’t think about it too hard.  Sure, I liked the thing, but it’s hard to justify agonizing over it.  And there’s no way in Hell to justify a soccer-specific stadium in Hawaii… Continue reading

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Gamba 6-1 Dynamo: Twas no Team; A Typhoon It Was…Arrr.

Well all right. My first pirate-inspired headline.

So…how bad was the Houston Dynamo’s loss to Gamba Osaka? First, there’s the score to consider: any time your bunch gives up six goals, you couldn’t have had a good night. I don’t think Pat Onstad can remember the last time he let in six…assuming it ever happened. Bare got four of Osaka’s goals and, as one of the commentators noted, all four were not just well-taken, but each was a little bit different from the one before (and I felt inspired to ask this, when he had only two).

No, I think the best measure of the complete, um, uncloseness of the Pan-Pacific Challenge final comes with how I managed sleep. Somewhere around the 60th minute, I promised myself I’d go to bed either when Osaka scored its fourth goal or if the Dynamo showed no meaningful signs of life at the 75th minute. Osaka’s fourth came only minutes later. I went to bed assuming things could only get worse and, when I resumed watching in the morning (let us pause to celebrate the successful operation of a VCR), it did: Osaka dropped in a fifth in short order, hit the post once, again forced Onstad into a desperate scramble, scored their sixth – again, over a flailing, bewildered Onstad…you get the idea.

So…6-1. Suddenly, the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 1-0 loss in the semifinal doesn’t look all that bad…

In spite of the walk-over, I don’t think anyone would argue Houston looked worse than the Galaxy. Houston made repeated forays into Osaka’s half through the length of the rout. But they encountered an organized defense on every trip, even the several occasions they managed to create a little chaos, or even hit the crossbar, as Brian Ching did late in the game. Maybe it was the predictability of the Dynamo’s attack that created the sense of Osaka’s invulnerability, that nearly all their success and promising openings came down Stuart Holden’s right and from elsewhere too rarely if at all. Maybe with Dwayne DeRosario in the middle or someone besides Corey Ashe starting and going the full 90 on the left (and I like Ashe plenty as a sub), the Dynamo might have unlocked Osaka’s defenses. They had plenty of the ball, but, in the final tally, simply couldn’t do much with it.

The Dynamo’s defense was something else again. Too often a couple steps out of sync, a little slow, shell-shocked even: we don’t often see the Dynamo surrender six goals over three games, or even four or five. Bobby Boswell and Patrick Ianni have a lot of work to put into their partnership; put another way, Eddie Robinson just witnessed the embodiment of his job security in real time.

And, just to complete the record, I hadn’t counted on the halftime highlight reel of the Galaxy’s 2-1 win over Sydney FC. Good for them!

A couple random points that don’t fit neatly into the above narrative:

– I’d start Holden over Brian Mullan. I think he’s got more upside, thanks mainly to his fewer years. But he’s got great speed and close control, passes intelligently, and so on and so on. Thoughts?

– On a related note, I think I’ve got a live-blogging concept that I think will work for me.  Dropping random questions as they occur to me.  We’ll see how that goes…

– Judging by the tournament, the Pan-Pacific hierarchy goes Japan, U.S., Australia. For what it’s worth, I’m OK with continuing the experiment, perhaps even letting it evolve into something bigger. Why not invite a Korean team next year? Schedule it closer to the Major League Soccer’s (MLS) regular season? Let the U.S. Open Cup winner fly the league’s flag, etc. Have fun with it. It’s a money-spinner.

Is Bare Worth DP Money?

So, as I’m sitting here, seeing Gamba Osaka go up 2-1 on a fairly sharp-looking Houston Dynamo, I’m thinking to myself, “He looks fast, strong, has a good brain in his head, finishes well….is Bare (you’ll have to imagine the accent over the ‘e’) worth designated-player money?”

And I’m watching, thinking to myself, “Yeah…he might be.”

I think what I’m getting at is, thinking in terms of David Beckham or Luis Figo defines the designated player category too narrowly.  The most important thing isn’t how many butts they can put in seats in the short-term, but how much will they help the team look totally killer on the field.  I think Major League Soccer (MLS) is at that point in its evolution.

Thoughts?

Houston 3-0 Sydney + a Big, Blog-Link Semifinal Wrap

Was that a first half to savor or who?  Houston was everything the Los Angeles Galaxy was not.  While LA looked collectively confused, even panicked, not only did Houston look sharp and organized collectively, every player on orange looked comfortable and switched on to their roles.  I gave up watching around the 80th minute, but that was mainly down to Houston appearing so clearly in command.   Sydney FC, to their credit, set up a couple scrambles and  forced Houston ‘keep Pat Onstad into a save or two, including at least one tough one.  But the night was Houston’s without question.

In LA’s defense, they’re just in a different place than Houston right now.  Houston had every motivation to start a strong line-up; “real” competition is just around the corner for them and it’s big – the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.  They have the title of best club team in the region to spur them on and the possibility of December games against the best in the world as a kicker.  More to the point, the Dynamo returned so much of last year’s MLS Cup squad that the players already know one another.  That the players look ready to roll going into a heavy March warms the heart.

LA, on the other hand, can politely be called “in transition.”  Their situation showed in who they fielded – plenty of rookies and trialists.  LA has the luxury of time that Houston doesn’t.  And, even with a manifestly improved second half, the clearly need that time.  It’s hard to say what should cause LA fans more worry in last night’s performance – the confused, even appalling static performance or signs that several players they took with them looked unprepared for prime time.

To wrap it all up, we got a look at the current pecking order in Major League Soccer (MLS).  I can’t say I expected the gap between the two MLS teams to yawn so wide.

Some other random notes on players and happenings: Continue reading

PPC: I Have to Say…

It’s only three minutes into the Houston Dynamo v. Sydney FC game, but I have to say, thank God.  At least Houston looks like a professional team…you know where I’m going with this….

Gamba 1-0 LA: A Better Feeling

Which is to say, it feels nice to feel something other than shame…

A much-improved second half by the Los Angeles Galaxy, though I always wonder how much of that has to do with one team as much as the other – e.g. did Gamba Osaka lay back a little bit? I can’t answer that, but what I can say is the LA’s defensive set featuring – and it’s worth emphasizing these are rookies – Sean Franklin and, um, Valentin (Julian, I think) looked several orders of magnitude better that the Greg Vanney-led set LA played in the first half.

On the attack – hey, hey – LA had a chance or two. If ____ MacDonald (OK, I checked; it’s Brandon) could shoot for shit, we might have watched a tie and a penalty shoot-out. Hell, even Edson Buddle had a late crack at salvaging some pride for Major League Soccer (MLS), but it wasn’t to be. And, perhaps, that was just.

I won’t bore you with much – this is pre-season after all – but I thought I’d close out with a series of unconnected, yet still related, thoughts. Continue reading

At the Half: LA 0-1 Gamba Osaka…could have been much, much more

That, my friends, is rust, leg-locked, bumbling rust. No nice way to say this, the Los Angeles Galaxy looks like crap. Surrendering possession like the French surrendered half their country, miscuing one pass after the next like a drunk on the tenth round, and defending like….holy shit, the right words elude me.

Osaka has outplayed LA in every facet of the game – quicker brains, smarter movement, better touches, and sharper passing. If LA ‘keeper, Steve Cronin, hadn’t readjusted his gloves, the half-time score would read something closer to 3-0…and that’s giving Cronin more credit than he deserves. LA has too few answers for Osaka’s two Brazilians – Bare, especially. Against that, the Japanese team keeps pouring forward over an LA defense that looks painfully like they met for the first time tonight.

OK. I think I’ve stretched plenty of metaphors and expressed due horror. Now, some general thoughts…

– All is not lost for LA. Alvaro looks pretty good – as in, sign him. Josh Tudela has his moments, as does um…um…David Beckwell? Seriously, Beckham has provided good service, but his energy and short passing haven’t been the best. Alvaro – the dude wearing the “Pires” jersey – looks sharp as anyone for LA. I haven’t seen Kelly Gray do too many things wrong, either, but only a doting, drunken mother could applaud the collective effort.

– The turf sucks. Even if Osaka has coped pretty well, that turf looks hard as it does ugly. But LA’s guys look flustered and overwhelmed at every touch.

– Cronin has the tools, his basic shot-stopping looked sound (enough), but does he need the confidence to command his penalty area. An early headed near-miss said it all: Cronin has to come out and he hesitated.

– You want a horrifying thought? Edson Buddle looks the likeliest offensive threat. Ely Allen, who probably came closest for LA, seemed choked up and hesitant on his one clear chance…too much time around Buddle, perhaps?

OK, all for now. I’m going to go wash out my eyes and pray they don’t get defiled again in the second half.