CCC08: Semifinals Tonight, Tomorrow

I’m presently in negotiations with the wife about catching both semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (no sex for how long, now?), but have kept and will keep as close a watch on the proceedings as I can. As such, a preview post of some sort seems appropriate…even if I’ll be doing more cribbing than original work. A schedule for the semifinals, who plays who when and where, shows on CONCACAF’s official site (tucked way down at the bottom of this)…even if current news too often does not…

CF Pachuca v. DC United (1st Leg; home team first)
(Tonight, FSC, 7 p.m. PST – so, yeah, 10 p.m. PST…wish I lived on the East Coast right now)
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch Pachuca’s escape from Honduras’ CD Motagua in the second leg of the quarterfinals, but know the Mexican team ain’t what it was as recently as one year ago. Still, count Steve Goff – or, looking between the copy and the headline, it’s more accurate to say the Post’s headline writer – among those who still believe DC has their work cut out. He’s mainly using history as the frame, but, as that article points out, DC has done a couple things, both big picture (roster changes) and small (resting people on Saturday; managing their arrival), to get up for this game. Soccer America’s preview goes into a little more detail personnel-wise – and good thing, so you know who you’re watching as well as what – but there’s not a lot about Pachuca’s relative slide since 2007. Here’s to hoping that’s an edge and that a result of some kind will follow. If, however, you want to get really depressed, just review the hard data passed on by Sideline Views…thanks for the smile, guys…

Houston Dynamo v. Deportivo Saprissa (same as above)
(April 2, FSC, 7 p.m. PST)
I never thought I’d type this, but, in spite of the fact they’re playing a Mexican squad, I like DC’s chances better. To begin – or to conclude, rather – Saprissa gets the second leg; given what I’ve read about the atmosphere down there, getting a result tomorrow night only grows in importance. Given that, nagging injury issues, players starting out of position (Brian Mullan: you should be farther upfield, son) and hints of indifference in crucial positions (cough…defense…cough, cough) certainly prompt some concern. Things like that need to be corrected yesterday; Jeff Carlisle, in his semifinal preview for ESPN.com, points to why:

“…their opponents, Costa Rican champions Saprissa, will be brimming with confidence. The ‘Monstruo Morado,’ fresh of their 2007 Apertura triumph, have been laying waste to their domestic league in the current Clausura tournament, sporting an unbeaten record that has seen them win nine of their 10 matches.”

As for direct observation, I saw a little of the Saprissa’s first leg, quarterfinal loss to Mexico’s Atlante FC, a game they played from the back-foot. Even then, however, they showed the ability to break quickly. Atlante contained this pretty well on the night I watched, but Saprissa ran them over 3-0 on the return leg. I dunno. Doubts about Houston’s “D” didn’t fully blossom until I got the full measure of how well and often Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi violated it this weekend; confidence, good or bad, carries over from such performances, so it’ll be up to Houston to get their heads back to frosty.

UPDATE: The Houston Chronicle provides word on the latest injuries for both teams – and, hey, it’s three a piece, 50/50.

Well, here’s to hoping I get to catch at least some of both games…without giving up too much…

GREAT OUTDOORS
– Haven’t been doing this lately and I miss it….unlike the Daily Sweeper. In light of the gap, I thought I’d pass on a video clip that has probably made the rounds dozens of times over. But – because key portions of my brain stopped developing around the second grade – I still absolutely shit my trousers every time I watch it. Enjoy.

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The Crew Attack: Columbus’ Hopes and Options

With the Columbus Crew’s defense preview out of the way, it’s time to turn to the Crew’s offense. Before going any farther, let me just acknowledge one thing: offense and defense don’t separate perfectly in soccer; anyone who has seen Frankie Hejduk blaze down the right side to fire in crosses (of whatever quality) knows this. That said, the discussion below focuses on players for whom offense is the primary responsibility.

Before looking forward, however, let me take a second (or a paragraph) to look back – though, given 2007, I don’t expect Crew fans to feel enthusiasm for joining me. Until the arrival of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the Crew struggled with scoring – and things didn’t so much turn around as improve thereafter. The 2007 Crew would never be mistaken for an offensive power. Most observers point to the absence of a quality forward and, for what it’s worth, I agree with most people. The Crew tried to address this problem in the off-season, but they have so far failed to find their man (thanks for the freakin’ memories, Maciej Zurawski).

Even if they missed out on a high(er)-profile acquisition, the Crew has done some restocking with players on trial like Nigeria’s Emanuel Ekpo and Brazilian Guilherme So; neither player has formally signed with the club, but both were in the works last I read with Ekpo being the closer. There’s also Nicolas Hernandez’s arrival to consider with the question of whether this is “Nico Mark’06” or Nico Mark’07” preceding him. Talk of a couple forwards shipping to Columbus from the Honduran league (Brazilian Jocimar Nascimento and…some other dude) means more reinforcements may yet show.

However all those pan out, what we can all count on is the return of some players, plus signs of promising development for them. The Crew appears as ready as they’re going to get for the 2008 season. The question is whether it’s enough. Continue reading

Crew Preview Coming…Followed by Other Junk….Help!

It has been said that the first day of any league’s season feels like Christmas Day.  If that hasn’t been said, well, I’m saying it here.  The thing is, this cuts both ways: much like with Christmas, you find an avalanche of obligations on top of you before you know it, never mind being prepared.

I seriously need to write team-specific previews for both the Columbus Crew (here) and the Colorado Rapids (there) before the season starts.  But I’ve got a couple big items I promised myself I’d do prior to the start of the season as well.  But because I take the verb “need” seriously, I’ll be cranking out the Rapids and Crew previews over the next two days.

By way of format, I’ll break down each team in the two vaguest possible ways: defense and offense.  And I think that’s appropriate: midfield complicates position-by-position reviews because what is a midfielder but a forward playing farther from goal or a defender pushing the bubble of safety further upfield?  Don’t answer that, by the way.  It’s just rhetorical justification.

So, look for previews of both team’s defenses tomorrow and for both team’s offenses on Friday.  The Big Picture stuff – conference previews and the ever-dodgy preseason power rankings – come before Thursday next week, just in time for First Kick.  And there’s more CONCACAF Champs’ Cup stuff to do before this week is over.

One last thing: the Daily Sweeper won’t be daily for the next couple weeks, especially on the days I’m doing Major League Soccer Links for Laurie on The Offside while she’s away.

OK, that’s it.  Daily Sweeper coming later.

GREAT OUTDOORS
– From Fark.com comes this reminder of how geeks shared their geeky obsessions before the Web: fanzines.  The page displays covers from old Sci-fi fanzines inspired by Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, hell, even Quantum Leap (“I am Scott Bacula!  I’ve come to suck your blood!  Bleh!”).  The Star Wars covers are the most, um, out there.

How long do friggin’ Tuataras live?  (Fark.com)

– It seems different cultures count money in different ways.  (haha.nu).

CCC08: Dynamo v. Municipal, A Modest Preview

What’s the balance between the differences and similarities heading into Leg #2 of the CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal between the Houston Dynamo and Guatemala’s CSD Municipal? In other words, how much work do I have to do in order to update the information from the mess of a preview I compiled before the first leg?

Well, why not start with that first leg? Municipal proved a better team than I expected certainly. Even before pre-season conditioning and the altitude got the better of the Dynamo, the Guatemalans rather reliably menaced the Dynamo goal; I’d actually argue that, in spite of the increased general pressure, they looked better in the opening half…though, at the same time, they had their best chance early in the second (and I’m still thanking Gonzalo Romero for the nearly implausible shank). The Dynamo held fast in the end and even managed to send a fright or two into Municipal’s defense. Continue reading

CCC08: DC v. Harbour View, on RFK’s Resplendent Surface

Given the stillfrequent references to the playing surface in Jamaica, I expect DC United will elevate their play to the realms art tonight, stroking the ball across the canvas that is RFK’s playing surface.

I kid, I kid. I imagine a plug-ugly win will send DC fans home happy.

We’re not far from the kick-off of the decisive second leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) quarterfinal series between DC and Jamaica’s Harbour View FC (HVFC). Only a couple minor changes to report: DC will, indeed, miss Jaime Moreno for tonight’s game, but the Jamaicans arguably have it worse: they’ll be missing Rafeik Thomas, a semi-hot scorer for the club of late, and Kemeel Wolfe courtesy of visa issues. And don’t forget the team chef…that one’s a killer. Otherwise, the preview that preceded the entire series covers the Big Picture…though, there’s that little matter of the first leg to cover.

(UPDATE: USSoccerplayas.com linked to a Jamaica Gleaner article that does really well with flagging HVFC’s players to watch, what to expect for tactics (more of the same).  And, to add a personal emphasis unrelated to that, I wanted to highlight my concerns about DC’s ability to get its offense firing.  They’re not exactly ripping the nets, with one goal per game setting the high-water mark in recent outings.  I get into my belief they need to score early below, but it bears emphasizing: finding the net is plenty hard, but trying on tired legs only makes it harder.)

I’d argue DC held the edge in both play and style over the first 50, 60 minutes, before pre-season legs undermined their efforts. One competitive game and one week’s further conditioning shouldn’t greatly alter that equation so pressing for an early advantage seems a good tack to take for the hosts. Their capacity to make that pressing count relies on their ability to score – which relies in turn on syncing their play, something Jeff Carlisle smartly flagged in his one-stop CCC08 second leg preview for ESPN.com: Continue reading

The Week Ahead (CCC08) and the Season Ahead (Umm…)

With the countdown to First-Kick showing just 12 days+some minutes, it’s becoming jarringly apparent that Major League Soccer (MLS), um, soccer will commence seriously humping my brain…and several days before I’m prepared for the trauma. Here I thought I’d have time for as many season previews as I cared to type. It’s time to ratchet back and plan ahead a little – a process that starts with this week.

Today to Friday ought to be pretty easy: I’ll be watching and pondering the CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) quaterfinal second legs. FOX Soccer Channel’s schedule tells me I’m only on the hook for three games this week: DC United v. Harbour View FC (that’s Tuesday, March 18, 8 p.m. PST (yeah, I’m watching the replay); Houston Dynamo v. CSD Municipal (Wednesday, March 19, 5:30 p.m. PST…going to be tight); and Deportivo Saprissa v. Atlante FC (March 20, 9 p.m. PST). Truth to tell, the absence of CF Pachuca v. CD Motagua disappoints just a little, but I’ll take the game off as well. Expect previews for the quarters involving MLS clubs at the very least – and feel free to read ahead with Jeff Carlisle’s CCC08 preview for ESPN.

But it’s the shape of the season coverage that really has me thinking. Whatever I do, I’m planning on a split that roughly follows this pattern: 1/2 my Columbus Crew/Colorado Rapids project; 1/2 everything else MLS. How to handle that remains a bit of a mystery. For instance, how to mention my piqued curiosity about Red Bull New York flirting with Claudio Reyna as attacking mid (receives some discussion in ESPN’s ’08 Red Bulls preview)? Or pointing to the factors I believe will make Real Salt Lake 2008 (or, RSL.08) the strongest team in that club’s short history? Or what about one-time #1 draft-pick Chris Carrieri’s retirement?

The more I think about it, the more I lean toward reviving the Daily Sweeper – that’s in spite of all the nasty things I’ve written and thought about it. Add that to the power rankings, collective power rankings, watching a bunch of Crew and Rapids games and, yeah, I think that’s enough for one hobby (what on earth will happen to my enthusiasm for collecting men’s room novelty condoms?!).

That’s what to expect for MLS coverage on my corner of Center Holds It in the year ahead. I’m guessing my co-authors will add some things of their own, but won’t make them promise anything.

(What Passes for) Columbus Crew News

On the soccer front, this is one slow friggin’ week in Columbus Crew news.  The only thing going seems to be Eddie Gaven’s “superb ball” or “excellent serve” to Josmer Altidore, which set up the penalty kick in the “Mini-Yanquis” win over Panama.  Good to see the kid do something positive.  (Now shave.  Wait.  Don’t.  You’re probably sick of getting pulled over by cops for driving underage.  But, dude, your beard looks worse than mine.)  After that, it’s all rumors of coming players, pissed-off fans, and ’08 season previews.  Oh, there’s also the front office, non-soccer bullshit that MLSnet.com official sites enjoy posting.

Taking them in turn…

Soccer Insider reported that the Crew are taking an interest in Flavor-of-the-mon…, er, Argentine d/m (that’s defender/midfielder, not dungeon master) Matias Almeyda.  My first question is how an Argie ended up in Norway.  Less mysterious, after a moment’s thought, anyway, is why the Crew would go after a defender/midfielder given their more desperate need at forward: in a name, Marcos Gonzalez and, in a (conjugated) verb, gone.  WVHooligan gives a bit of history on the player, while a (new-to-me) site, Crewture, digs around what could motivate Almeyda to head to Columbus….and, for what it’s worth, he seems simultaneously skeptical and hopeful about the potential move.  Put me down as skeptical as well…moving on…

– Maybe Guillermo Barros Schelotto hepped him to life in Columbus.  Then again, maybe not…and the locals are pissed.  Really pissed.  For what it’s worth, fans – e.g. people madly in love with their team – get kind of weird about players.  Well, they can’t all be Duncan Oughton, I guess.  It’s worth remembering real people wear your club’s jersey  and, face it, real people are fickle, weird, and neurotic animals; they can screw up, wind up unhappy on the job, etc., just like anyone else.  Another part of it is the automatic – dare I say robotic? – adulation players give, and are expected to give, to the fans.  I guess what I’m getting at is, I’d pay less attention to what a player says – which, judging by the repetition of some particular inanities are pure pre-programmed bullshit 80% of the time – than what they do on the field.  If Schelotto dreams of Argentina every time he passes the ball, I can live with it; just so long as he passes the ball well and to the guys in yellow (or black).

– It’s preview season and I saw my first one for the Crew: WVHooligan’s.  I’ll turn in one of my own before the season starts – I anticipate an exhaustively, even stupidly, thorough affair – but recommend that one (and, thank the maker, that’ll be the only one this year; I’m doing conference previews only).  I’ll flag other ones as I see them.

– Finally, the corporate garbage…nah, I’m not going to post it.  I can’t see the point unless I’m going to mock it.