CCC08: CSD Municipal v. Houston Dynamo – Harder Questions

This is where things get tricky…and not a little confusing. To begin, when searching for Club Social y Deportivo Municipal, the “Social y” bit is vital: if you try “CD Municipal,” you’ll hit a wall damned quick. If you look at the Global corner of ESPN.com, you will find a section for La Liga Nacional de Guatemala. But you’ll also notice they’re calling the current campaign Clausura 2007 and, when you check results by club, you’ll see some blank results in the past – all of which tells me they need to either hire more interns to make sense of this mess, or higher a Guatemalan to run the space. Then again, having just checked Los Rojos official site (the club’s nickname, by the way) going Guatemalan may not be the answer. Sure, my severely limited Spanish handicaps the effort, but the site lists a February 24th win over Heredia as the club’s “ultimo partido,” rather than their most recent loss to Jalapa, which came on March 1…incidentally, the worst team in Guatemala’s La Liga…well, that is if you check Puesto en Liga on Los Rojos’ official site and not ESPN.com. Wait. Crap, their last game was actually a loss to Petapa…jesus, people. Hire more interns.

Look, all I want to do is figure out how these guys are doing and I can’t even confirm that the Clausura 2008…sorry, Clausura 2007 (?) started in November.

Then again, that probably doesn’t matter in the grand scheme. The half of Jeff Carlisle’s preview for ESPN.com devoted to the Houston Dynamo’s CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) quarterfinal tie passes on some good dish on the Guatemalan side – specifically, that they have had better periods in front of goal and, by way of curiosity, there are some former Major League Soccer vets on their roster. Guys like old Columbus Crew midfielder Freddy Garcia, to give on example. Turn to the Wikipedia entry on CSD Municipal and you’ll not only learn this is Carlos Ruiz’ former club, but that is Guatemala’s most successful and, apparently, most popular clubs. Not only have they won 25 league titles, plus a buttload of cups, they secured Guatemala’s lone CCC win back in ’74. Club success aside, Municipal still keeps the leading scorer in their history on the books: Juan Carlos Plata, who it seems is tied with Ruiz as all-time scorer with the Guatemalan national team.

Another former Crew player, Mario Rodriguez, rounds up Carlisle’s list of players to watch. That’s not much, but the bigger question is who the Dynamo has available to take on this side. There, the problems begin in the midfield and, potentially, extend back to the middle, where a new Houston player raises cause for concern. Continue reading

Advertisements

CCC08: Harbour View FC v. DC United – The Ever-Deepening Hole

Major League Soccer (MLS) enters the lists for the CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) today, beginning the DC United’s quarterfinal tie against Jamaica’s Harbour View FC (HVFC…hmm, sounds like a communist guerrilla outfit, doesn’t it?). With multiple outlets noting HFVC’s present struggles in their domestic league – I mean, Portmore United is running away with the Jamaican National Premier League (JNPL; can I just call it J-Nipple?) – the temptation to look ahead to the tournament’s semifinals may get the better of fans. Let’s just hope DC’s players don’t succumb as well.

Remember, guys, you’re out there to make all of us look good…and we’ll remember if you cock it up.

It’s not just HVFC’s form that pencils “advantage DC” into the game program. The parade of new faces shapes the talking points for DC as opposed to who’s out through injury – which is in sharp contrast to talk out of the Houston Dynamo camp. Ben Olsen’s absence isn’t great news, but that’s about the end of it.  After that, the focus turns to: how the defensive pairing of Gonzalo Peralta and Gonzalo Martinez works together, a duo Jeff Carlisle dubs the “Gonzo defense.”; how, and how well, Marcelo Gallardo will run the game (or if we will even play); who will pair with Emilio Luciano up top, etc.  Nice problems to have, really, heading into the season’s first real competition. Continue reading

CONCACAF Champions’ Cup: Preliminaries and Previews

UPDATE: And this one has to go up high.  To my shame and embarrassment, I failed utterly to see Amado Guevara’s name on Motagua’s roster.  And, yes, it’s there on the CONCACAF official site roster.  I have no excuse.  Guevara is suited up in #20.

It was a conspiracy, an act of collusion between my two East Coast partners on this site. We entered discussions as to who was going to cover what in this week of tournaments – e.g. Olympic qualifying and the CONCACAF Champions Cup – and, apparently, I lost. We played some game, Ryan had a number in his head, I was supposed to guess the number, I guessed wrong, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I lost, so I’m covering the CONCACAF Champions Cup for Center Holds It. And I’m not happy about it.

OK, that’s a big lie. I volunteered. In truth, I wake up most days thankful the other two contributors tolerate my rambling and off-subject posts. Besides, Breton knows more about the players in Olympic qualifying than I do so it’s a good fit. I, on the other hand, have a lot of learning to do. After all, only two of the clubs in the 2008 CONCACAF Champions Cup come from Major League Soccer (MLS): DC United and the Houston Dynamo. That leaves six clubs, more or less, for me to figure out. That project begins below.

Before getting to that, CONCACAF’s official site posted a couple useful items: rosters each of the eight clubs will take into the quarterfinals. They also posted a tournament bracket, so we can all see who gets who now and in the semifinals to come. One thing that caught my eye there: assuming all three get past the first round, DC, not the Dynamo, gets Mexico’s CF Pachuca; here I thought there was some kind of rule. Again, assuming all goes as expected, Houston would get Mexico’s Atlante FC in the semis.

Rounding out the eight-team competition bracket are Harbour View FC (Jamaica), CD Motagua (Honduras), Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica), and CSD Municipal (Guatemala). I’ll get previews ahead of all the games, hopefully sooner than I did today. Ideally, future editions will gain from observations made during previous games. For now, though, I’m stuck with the web…and my gringo-specific/limited research skills. Opening day features just one game: CD Motagua versus CF Pachuca. I mentioned everything going according to plan in the previous paragraph; a big theme of these previews will be the odds of the smaller teams upsetting plans. What can we expect out of Motagua tonight?

Who is this Club Deportivo Motagua? First, let’s pause to thank that nerd for inventing Wikipedia….OK, done. The wiki entry dubs Motagua is “one of the most successful and renowned in Honduras.” Then again, it also contains some beautiful, Babelfish passages:

“The metropolitan club is one of the best of Honduras and Central America and already has accumulated many championships, being also an old acquaintance of the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, where has participated in diverse opportunities although yet has not been able to arrive a final hostess; in 1986 had her but noticeable action al to achieve the fifth position.”

and:

“Pitifully in 1972-73 the national championship was declared nil, depriving him to Motagua to be judged the title that it had almost in the market, since carried an almost insurmountable advantage on its escort to few dates of the end.”

OK, Babelfish fun aside, one can learn a thing or two between the Wikipedia entry and links therefrom. Motagua has, in fact, won quite a few titles, eleven, by my count; and, down the years, they placed and showed plenty besides. Their fifth-place ranking in the current campaign may look like a falling off, but that’s one tight pack – we’re talking MLS tight. Probably nothing to worry about there.

If you want something to worry about, that comes with Motagua’s history in the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The club’s 12 appearances amount to a parade of beat-downs at the hands of Costa Rican and Guatemalan teams – if memory serves, Comunicaciones and Municipal for Guatemala and, generally, Saprissa for the Costa Ricans; this last bit means Motagua’s win over Saprissa in last year’s Torneo Interclubes de UNCAF must have tasted of the sweetest nectar. Motagua has even faced Yanqui opposition in the Champions Cup, losing to the LA Galaxy in the 2003 tournament and, incredibly, the New York PanCyprian-Freedoms in 1983. (Who says we only hit the world stage in 1994?) Anyway, you can read about Motagua’s international struggles here.

So, what players are likely throw a counter-punch in the face of that sorry history? Well, naming Motagua players to watch gets a little tricky. The official page of La Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional (LNFP) seems a little light on links; if there’s a way to a team page from there, I can’t find it. Wikipedia’s entry contains a bunch of links to Motagua’s players on the squad, but, lacking context, they’re just names to me. What I can say is that Motagua’s Josimar Nacimento sits on five goals for the current campaign (see LNFP link and “Tabla de Goleadors”), good to tie him for third. The same player, incidentally, scored the winner against Saprissa in the Torneo Interclubes de UNCAF. For now, call him the danger man and we’ll see what we learn tonight.

MLS fans, at least the closer observers and Dynamo fans, are familiar by now with Pachuca. I think Houston played them more often than they played the Columbus Crew in 2007. To refresh fans’ memory, though, you may remember Pachuca from such lofty victories as last year’s CONCACAF Champions Cup final and their penalty kick victory over the LA Galaxy in the Superliga final; you may also remember them eating a big, nasty one in last December’s FIFA World Club Cup. OK, it wasn’t that bad – or at least I didn’t view as such at the time – but closer observers like Sideline Views’ Luis Bueno noticed cracks in Pachuca’s recent dominance before the World Club Cup and going into the Mexican Primera’s 2008 Clausura campaign. If memory serves, this was nothing huge, just players getting older and Pachuca’s front office failing to reload/keep up with the rest of the Primera. By way of hard data, the current standings for the Primera show Pachuca playing to a .500 record, a detail that makes their second place standing in Group 1 a little less impressive.

For all that, a middling team in the Mexican Primera shouldn’t struggle too mightily against a middling team in the Honduran LNFP. And names I recall from past viewings of Pachuca – Juan Cacho, Damien Alvarez, Gabriel Caballero, Andres Chitiva, Christian Gimenez – are not only still around, but their goals tell me they’re still contributing (see sidebar to current standings). And they’re producing in the Primera. With Motagua hosting the first leg, who knows? A crappy field, incompetent refs, bags of urine hitting Pachuca players: any of these could force a draw or even a loss. But Pachuca is pretty experienced on the international stage. I rate the likelihood of an upset pretty low here.

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

Daily Sweeper, 11.8, Game-Day: Gullit to LA; Flagging an Oversight; Burnishing Soccer-Nerd Cred

This monkey is breaking out of his cubicle early in order to catch tonight’s Eastern Conference Final between the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire.  And, no, I didn’t play sick, but simply said to my boss, “Sir, I must go home, strap a foam-dome on my head, and watch soccer.  I bid you good day!”  Such displays help me hang onto what was once a crazy stockpile of Soccer-Nerd cred.

– Speaking of tonight’s game, credit to Jimmy Chowda of Blue Blooded Journo for catching a possible – and possibly major – “X-Factor” in tonight’s game.  The turf, man, Gillette Stadium’s lush, and comparatively inexpensive expanse of green!  He flagged that in a tidy preview for tonight’s bloody-knuckles brawl…or, at least that’s what we’re both expecting.  Then again, Mike H on My Soccer Blog flagged the turf angle as well; more significantly, he called the game for New England, something I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do, not even Ms. Mike H.

– More on tonight: USSoccerplayas.com’s Ian Plenderleith offended the Revolution Front Office’s self-image, inspiring them to defend the Revs’ approach to the game over email.  Polite as the tone may be, the Revs’ flak’s apologies for Revolution soccer provides a moderately embarrassing read because it kind of misses what people find so unappealing about the Revolution.  Count me very impressed with how well Plenderleith describes it:

“There are enough talented attacking players in the Revs’ line-up, but it’s a tactically tight ship that Steve Nicol runs.  He has no time for players who don’t stick with the game plan, and as a coach that’s his prerogative.  There are many good New England players, but rarely ones that produce breathtaking moments.  You won’t find a Revs player who regularly takes on, and beats, defenders, for example.  Sure, it’s a quality and consistent team on many levels, especially in the context of MLS, but it’s also a team that, to me at least, lacks a certain character and passion”

All I can say to that is, “yup.”

– Moving to what should count as The Big News of the day, it appears that former Dutch great Ruud Gullit will coach the Los Angeles Galaxy next season.  There’s a Daily Telegraph article floating around that says so fairly definitively, but the most confident article I remembered to flag was Martin Rogers’ column for Yahoo! News.  So, is this good?  Bad?  What is it?  I figure it could be either; neither walloping failure nor torrid success would surprise me…though I expect the former if LA doesn’t upgrade their line-up between now and next April.  I mean, did you read what happened in Vancouver, BC last night?  Two articles tell me the Vancouver Whitecaps “dominated” the match.

– Good news out of Kansas City: the team cleared another hurdle on its way to building a soccer-specific home.  Something called the TIF Commission voted unanimously in favor of a development plan that includes a Wizards’ stadium.  Good stuff.

– Speaking of KC, Jeff Carlisle, in the Western Conference Final preview he wrote for ESPN, flags the New Restraint in the Wizards’ approach to the game.

All right.  It’s almost game time.  Wish the team of your choice luck – and a pox on yer ding-ding if you pick the wrong one!

New England v. Chicago Preview (All Right, All Right; I’ll Do It)

I’m about to do something I almost never do: preview a game, namely, the Eastern Conference Final pitting the New England Revolution against the Chicago Fire. For the record, I blame the quality stuff other people are turning out. Even MLSnet.com’s typically tepid preview contains a vital information-nugget: Shalrie Joseph will have to sit out the final if he picks up a yellow in the semifinal. That’s pretty big, bigger than Taylor Twellman being in the same situation to be sure. I also learned that Kevin Stott will officiate…though I can’t remember whether I have an opinion on him or not.

Before getting to my thoughts, here are the other “inspirations” that got me thinking too much about tomorrow night’s game. Ives Galarcep turned in pre-game analysis for ESPN that hits plenty of useful highlights, most notably the potentially defining match-up between Joseph and Cuauhtemoc Blanco – more on this later from me. A couple people took up the rivalry thing: Blue Blooded Journo conducted a Q & A with himself in which he looks into everything from Chicago’s fans to the horror that is Blanco’s face…Chicago fans may want to skip that one. Finally, even though Luis Arroyave failed to get “bulletin board material” out of either side of the rivalry, he passed on an absolutely brilliant alleged quote from Clint Dempsey:

Just last year, a scuffle nearly broke out in the Toyota Park tunnel with Fire defender Gonzalo Segares and ex-Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey. Sources said Dempsey yelled ‘I don’t care–take me to jail’ as teammates tried to restrain him.”

I’ll be asking for a t-shirt for Christmas, along with another inspired by Britney Spears (credit to Ann Romano from the Portland Mercury): “Rehab Is Hard Y’all.”

Now, for my look ahead to Those Things That Will Loom Large in tomorrow night’s game. Continue reading

(Late) Playoff Links & Rambling

With the Major League Soccer (MLS) playoffs kicking off today with DC United’s visit to the Chicago Fire’s Windy City, previews and predictions litter the soccer blogo-verse.  Let’s get to those up top before going into some barely-shaped ramblings after the jump.  Here’s the good, good stuff from around the soccer blogo-verse (posted far too late; holy shit, was today busy!)

Previews and predictions come in diverse forms.  There are the preview-pick variety, which answer the question of who will win and why: for that see ESPN’s Eastern and Western Conference previews (written by Ives Galarcep and Jeff Carlisle, respectively) and Martin Rogers’ column for Yahoo! News.  Luis Bueno put a little spin on his playoff preview for Sports Illustrated by opting to dub contenders and also-rans instead of picking winners for all the series.  MLSnet.com’s previews passed on calling winners and instead just broke down the Eastern and Western playoff teams by various categories – a decision, perhaps, to treat all their children as equal and maintain their independent brand viability (you all get trophies!!).

Good and sober as all the above are, Luis Arroyave wrote the single best prediction post on his Red Card blog.  He only calls one series – DC v. Chicago – but he pours enough angst into the effort that it feels like there’s a life in the balance.

Useful items that aren’t previews cropped up here and there as well.  USSoccerplayas.com (has so far) eschewed a “pan-MLS” approach for tidy features on individual teams heading into the series: for instance, are the Fire the favorites or can Red Bull New York beat their post-season jinx?  (My take: maybe and nope!).  Elsewhere, some power rankings survived the post-season: The Fullback Files compiled a set including only the playoff teams, while Dan Loney based his rankings on the number of injuries for each team (he ends the post with each club’s record for September and Octorber).  All y’all know this already, but, in case you’ve forgotten, du Nord’s round-up of any given day’s stories will keep you plenty current on injuries and tactical doings.

And now my thoughts – and these won’t be predictions because my powers of prognostication are such that I couldn’t pick the winner of a race after it was run (see the bottom of this and follow the links).  This didn’t stop me from making picks, of course (see the bottom of this), but those are short-term, game-to-game kinds of things and new details will inform each successive prediction; besides that, I’m a fiend for betting. Continue reading