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.

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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

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

One Last Plug for the Pan-Pacific

I finally made my way over to MLSnet.com’s official propaganda page for the Pan-Pacific Tournament (kicks off tonight; check ESPN’s listings for times and channel…it’s in there…and all times are, helpfully, GMT). Can’t say I regretted avoiding it until now: even the news/headline section overflows with the usual airy features and quote-filled pap about how seriously all involved will take proceedings. This, for instance, is not a preview, but a series of throw-away quotes held together by a bit of context.

Tragically, the mainstream media isn’t doing much better. I have seen about two dozen variations on this story since Monday; only subtle differences in the completeness of the quotes and changes to word order separate this one from all the rest. But, here and there, one comes across actual news – e.g. the fact all games will be played on turf (to Ruud Gullit’s clear chagrin…he’ll get his back by playing rookies) and allusions to future expansion of the tournament should it prove a hot ticket. And, in defense of the general shortcomings, word that Landon Donovan will miss tonight’s semi first came my way through the official site.

As they sometimes do, blogs led the way on the Pan-Pacific Challenge. For instance, I liked Dan Loney’s pre-tourney musings almost as much as the one I posted yesterday (tee hee hee). But I owe most my current knowledge of how LA looks going in to 100 Percent Soccer, who identified the 27 players the Galaxy flew to Hawaii, as well as posting a situation review from training camp (for the curious, it’s about what one would expect: the attack looks all right, while the defense looks a little green). Can’t say how they’ll stack up against Japan’s Gamba Osaka, but the latter has issues of its own in the form of key players missing through injury and (if memory serves) national-team commitments (sorry to stiff you on links). Will it be a good game? Hope so. Failing that, though, I’ll take funny.

Credit Nutmegged for doing something clever for “the other game” – e.g. the late tilt of the Houston Dynamo v. Sydney FC. Nutmegged’s Martek compared notes with an Australian fella who runs a site called The Football Tragic, each telling the other what to look for from the oppostion. Enjoy The Football Tragic’s take on Sydney here and Nutmegged’s evaluation of their home-team Dynamo here.

As for me, I’ll try to do some jottings on the games between tonight and tomorrow. Expect the usual rambling, if not a little more of it, as I’m trying to get away from anything that resembles a typical match report. This being pre-season – for at least three of the teams – there’s not a lot to read into this anyway.

BONUS Continue reading

Pan-Pacific Challenge: Hyping That Which Cannot Be Hyped

It’s possible Steve Davis (whoops…It’s actually Jeff Carlisle, who) said it best in the preview of the Pan-Pacific Challenge (PPC) he wrote for ESPN:

“While the PPC isn’t the UEFA Champions League, it is a sign that the beginning of the MLS season is inching closer, and the fact that some international sides are tagging along for the ride at least raises the interest level a smidgen above a typical preseason friendly. With the inaugural PPC trophy at stake, here’s how the participants stack up.”

I love Davis’ (whoops, Carlisle’s; I like his) work, so don’t get me wrong when I say I can read his comparative enthusiasm for the PPC in the copy. Naturally, all the teams involved are making obligatory noises about taking everything seriously, not being there “to get a suntan” blah, blah, blah. Contrary, however, to The Honolulu Advertiser’s headline, this is just a friendly competition…it’s pretty hard to get around that.

That’s not to say, however, that I’m not irrationally geared up. I am wound-up for the PPC to the extent of asking my wife to alter her work schedule (and the effort succeeded; kick ass). And that’s less about the international sides in attendance, than the presence of a couple teams with which I’m familiar returning after a seemingly eternal hiatus. Continue reading

Coming Soon: LA’s Pan-Pacific Preseason Tourney

Thanks to the guy(s) at The Offside Rules, I got wind of what looks like it will be an annual pre-season tournament featuring clubs from Australia’s A-League, Japan’s J-League, and Major League Soccer (MLS).  (Side-note to the editors at The Offside Rules: if you change your mind and decide to begin a career as a drug mule, could I trouble you to pick me up a little somethin’, somethin’.  Preferably not something that has been up your, or anyone else’s, ass.  Yeah, I know that’s tricky, but I’ll pay.)

(DISCLAIMER: Of course I’m not really requesting drugs over the internets.  Just thought I’d make that clear to all past and future attorneys general.)

Getting back to that tournament, the article on it reports that MLS will underwrite the event – which can only mean that the Los Angeles Galaxy gets an automatic annual bid.  Nice.  Hopefully, they won’t suck in future.  Everyone else has to qualify, however, the Japanese team by winning something called the Nabisco Cup (nope, don’t know what it is; and, with all due respect to Japanese fans, I can’t say I care either), while the A-League and MLS invitees will be champions of their respective leagues.

So…combine this with the pre-season tournament that the New England Revolution should really make out of their annual sojourn to Bermuda – y’know, invite a couple more teams, etc. – add that to Puerto Rico’s preseason tourney, add others as needed till every MLS team has a semi-official event they can attend for preseason warm-ups and – Presto! – we have a shorter off-season.  Everyone’s happy.  Well, they’re happy so long as someone puts these things on TV where non-Hawaiians, non-Bermudans, and non-Puerto Ricans can see them then everyone’s happy.  (I’m at least a year away from easy traveling, so TV will have to do in the meantime.)

Alternately, MLS and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) could run the U.S. Open Cup as a preseason tournament with the semifinal series happening in one happening and warm location and that could work as well.