Crew v. Rapids*: Comparison After Week 1 (Plus, thoughts on the Crew’s win and word of a signing)

(* This project really needs a name – suggestions are 105% welcome.  A five-minute brainstorm yielded “Project Crewpid,” but I think something better is possible.)

I scanned this great sketch of Alejandro Moreno (well…I liked it) and was prepared to post that over a report on the Columbus Crew’s opening day win over Toronto FC.  Turns out I saved the scan as the wrong kind of file, I had too much shit to do yesterday, and there was that weird hangover that hurt my body less than my…my soul, I guess.  So, yeah, the Crew won their opener on the back of goals by Adam Moffat and Alejandro Moreno.  Moffat was most people’s man of the match, which is the point of the leading anecdote: I could draw a decent caricature of Moreno, but couldn’t swing Moffat – so, there you go, Moreno becomes my man of the match.

As for the game itself, it was a good enough win and I liked what I saw generally (though, admittedly, squinting through one eye by the end; where there’s a hangover in the morning, there was a drunk the night before – all y’all know how this works).  And that’s the weird thing – and “the weird” extends to the commentary several of this week’s games: yeah, the Crew won their opener – which seems a rare event, even if may not be (I don’t know) – but keeping the clean sheet required no mean exertion from Will Hesmer.  What I’m getting at, here, is that this was a nice win, but nothing more – so when I see something like where Goal.com placed the Crew in their power rankings, I wonder how I saw so much less than they did. Continue reading

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Crew TSII: More Tufts of Grass to Trip Over in Zurawski Chase & More

Soccer America’s Ridge Mahoney turned his pre-season maneuver series to the Columbus Crew this morning. While the piece focused on Guillermo Barros Schelotto – who seems both a wily one and happy to be in Columbus – some of what happened with the Argentine legend impacts the Crew’s surprisingly tricky pursuit of Celtic FC’s Polish forward, Maciej Zurawski.

Beyond discussing how the Crew plan to play Schelotto in their offensive scheme for 2008, Mahoney’s piece mentions that the team bumped his pay – quite probably by way of thanking him for 2007 and sweetening him on staying in Ohio (or bribing him to do so; interpretations can be tricky). The key details:

“Columbus doesn’t seem willing to pay DP prices for Zurawski, and with some allocation money being paid to Schelotto, might not have the funds necessary to buy out Zurawski’s contract and offer him an acceptable salary….Celtic had slapped a transfer price of $1 million on him and he’s also attracted offers from Germany, but after tomorrow those doors will close, so it may behoove the Crew to sit tight.” Continue reading

Editorial Business: “TSII” Posts for Rapids, Crew

With the calendar turning from January to February tomorrow – which, if you adopt a really broad definition of time, puts the kickoff to the 2008 Major League Soccer (MLS) season just one month away – now seems the time to organize myself for what’s ahead. And this all needs to fit within the scheme I chose for the year – e.g. following, and that verb is crucial, the Columbus Crew and the Colorado Rapids.

To refresh some memories, and to introduce the concept to anyone new, I’ve adopted the Crew and Rapids for 2008. The unifying theme in this little study is to observe these two clubs – both MLS originals that, for some time now, have seemed weak at best, marginally competent at worst – as they try to get back to winning ways. A couple details about each club make for significant sub-plots, which lends subtle complexity to stories that seem similar on the surface. To give an example, one gets the feeling the Crew would sack Sigi Schmid if results in 2008 don’t come early while, based on the past year, one really wonders how many puppies Rapids Coach Fernando Clavijo would have to kill before losing his job.

The central effort in following those teams will be the most straightforward: watching their games, as many as I can; and when I can’t see the games – as I suspect will happen in preseason in particular – I’ll have to read match reports (lord help me). But this post is intended to introduce and explain the secondary piece in this project: “This Shit Is Important” Reports, or TSII Reports.

I have a small number of sites I visit for news on both clubs (may as well plug them: Covering the Crew; Soccer by Ives (which, for some reason, does well with Crew news); FC Rocky; The Colorado Rapids Offside (when it’s operating); Black Panther: A Soccer Blog; Rapids Class VI; and View from the Couch. I’ll use those to keep current on team news, but I won’t pass on everything I read – which is where the TSII distinction comes in.

As I follow these teams, I’m mainly interested in things that effect on-field performance – e.g. the fitness and well-being of the players, what the teams are doing tactically, their respective forms, how they stack up against their conferences, etc. But things like what’s going on with each clubs’ supporters’ groups; front office personnel movement; player interviews or their happy accomplishments (e.g. Bouna Coundoul getting the nod for Senegal): I’ll generally ignore that….well, to the point where I can report open fan revolts against – oh, I don’t know – Fernando Clavijo, which has the potential to unsettle the on-field dynamics. In other words, the first category falls under the TSII label, at least in my view, while the second piece does not.

So, if you’re popping by for Crew and/or Rapids news, look for the “Crew TSII” or “Rapids TSII” labels. As for match reports, they’ll be pretty obvious – e.g. “Crew 0-0 Red Bull New York: Another Fucking Draw?” After that, regular service will continue. Hope this works for everyone…and me. And you’ll be seeing the first edition of one of these – a report on the Crew as it happens – pretty soon.

Columbus & Colorado: Two Founding Teams on the Skids

OK, I think I’ve settled on my two teams for 2008 as well as a proper theme to unite them…beyond the fact they both hail from places that start with the letter “C”.

The teams will be the Columbus Crew and the Colorado Rapids. While this will mostly involve watching them at every chance I get once the season starts*, I’ll also pay more attention to both teams’ 2008 draft, their signings, etc. For now, though, there’s no time like the present to start reading up.

MLSnet.com’s Columbus Crew Season Review
MLSnet’com’s 5 Big Questions for Columbus
MLSnet.com’s Colorado Rapids Season Review
MLSnet.com’s 5 Big Questions for Colorado

As for the theme, it’s two-fold: part one is a coach’s death-watch for both Colorado’s “10 Lives” Fernando Clavijo and Sigi “He Ate the Damn Pie Store” Schmid; OK, and where Clavijo is concerned, I have to admit to a modest longing for justice.  Part two comes with seeing which of these MLS originals will re-join respectable post-season company at the end of 2008 – a notion that assumes one of them will.  I know I’d put my money on Columbus today, but things could change abruptly if, say, Colorado drafts well and dumps “10 Lives” Fernando early – or, against all that is holy, he actually does a good job with the team in ’08 – while Columbus holds onto Schmid through August and loses Guillermo Barros Schelotto by June or July.

Anyway, the basic story is to see which team can avoid getting overtaken by the several recent and incoming expansion teams for the (thankfully) ever-dwindling supply of post-season spots. For what it’s worth, I think this story takes on a kind of urgency amid talk of Major League Soccer (MLS) expanding to 18 teams by 2010; if these teams keep falling behind one has to wonder how they’ll catch up.

One final note: I’m pretty stocked up on resources for the Colorado Rapids (Rocky Mountain News, FC Rocky and hard-copy; The Denver Post; Class IV; Black Panther, etc.) and I do all right with the Columbus Crew (Columbus Dispatch; Hunt Park Insider; some Columbus-area weekly, etc.), but I’d be obliged to anyone who can pass on further resources (and, please, don’t make me go to BigSoccer…so much bullshit to wade through…).

(* All of this is 100% contingent on MLSnet.com again offering MLSlive.tv. Failing that, this whole “two-team” project will fail and I’ll just watch and comment on whatever MLS deems fit for national broadcast.)

Columbus Crew 2007 Review: Mid-Summer Mirage

Columbus Crew
Record (W-L-T): 9-11-10; 39 GF; 44 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
Streaks are part of the game. They happen for a lot of reasons – a missing player, bad vibes begetting more bad vibes, etc. And it’s worth suggesting upfront that “bad vibes” seem to have a special attachment to the Columbus Crew, a team that with 2007 missed its third consecutive Major League Soccer (MLS) post-season. Still, for a couple mid-summer months, the Columbus had good reason to believe they would break this jinx.

That brings the discussion back to streaks: Columbus experienced something closer “spells” in 2007. For two happy months – June and July, as it happened – the Crew rose to within one point of DC United for the Eastern Conference lead. Had the players looked down from that mid-summer peak – a little Midwestern Eden, if you will – they would have sighted two blighted valleys extending on either side, where bitter losses followed throw-away draws. Consider this: after picking up a gutsy, “hell-of-a” draw against the New England Revolution on June 16, the Crew went 4-1-1 – that could be 5-1-1 if you count the win over Toronto FC after the All-Star Break. Before this happy period, however, they cooked up a stinking 1-4-6. After, they passed a messy and painful 1-6-3, before wrapping up the season with two useless wins (over good teams…go figure).

Call it a what-the-hell kind of mystery – and, here, memory plays a role. It seemed like a lot of talk during the late summer slump rested on the view that all hope centered on a healthy Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Apparently, such stories grew larger than reality because a review of the record shows Schelotto missed only the month of September. While that certainly didn’t help, it’s worth pointing out that the Argentine played every game in the Crew’s crappy August. Continue reading

DS, 10.31: Coaching Theory, Playoff Theory + Playoff Strategery

First of all, Happy Halloween. From what my wife tells me, I’m taking the kids trick-or-treating as a nun, so, yeah, I kinda have to get drunk. Dang it.

Oh, and I think I’ve got to get over shoving every subject under discussion into the title; that’s what tags are for, right? This frees me up to reuse the title “Daily Sweeper,” which, I believe anyway, implies a grab-bag of topics. Are we in agreement? Disagreement? Are you hungry too? I’m craving grease like a hungover pregnant lady…perhaps even a nun. Crap…where am I? Oh yeah.

– Apart from revealing himself to be a nice fella (through his reluctance to ask hunted coaches about their job security), USSoccerplayas.com Ian Plenderleith closed his column on La Vida Coacha with an interesting theory as to why a guy like, say, Sigi Schmid still has a job:

“The Crew is probably not sticking with Schmid because they’re in love with his coaching methods, but because there’s no one else around that could take his place. That’s not the best reason to retain a coach, but if you’re a club executive and the list of alternatives begins with, say, Bob Gansler at the top, you’ve probably no choice but to either keep the man you have, or submit to a prolonged bout of weeping.”

It’s an interesting thought. And it could explain why Frank Yallop feels more optimistic about continuing his mortgage payments in Southern California (wade past all the Chivas’ stuff; it’s in there), or why, in spite of multiple columns criticizing his competence and enthusiasm for his job, Bruce Arena still wears that, um…Tomcat Smirk (trying to come up with a phrase analogous to Chesire Smile, but one that actually matches The Bruce’s permanent expression).

On the other hand, I don’t see the limits to the coaching pool Plenderleith sees in the paragraph that follows the one above. A pool exists between former players and even coaches “tainted” by the college game. None of these will be sure-shots by any means, but the conceptual knowledge will be there. When it comes to managing players’ egos, training them well (enough), and fielding the right players in the right places, a fella will either have it or he won’t; a number of these guys will tank, naturally, but how’s that so different from the “name” guy already pulling the team down into the bowl with them? What the hell, right? Roll the dice. It’s a gamble, but you can’t win if you don’t play.

UPDATE: Longshoe makes this same point only better over on Who Ate All the Cupcakes.  It’s worth checking out.

Continue reading

DS, 10.16: US v. Swiss, Rosters and Previews; Onstad: Am I Crazy?; Ives Eyes Some Scalps

– Tomorrow’s friendly against Switzerland sucks up ever more copy and ether as we get closer to it. Among the highlights: Jeff Carlisle’s preview for ESPN, because it contains good stuff on the Swiss…of whom I’m more or less ignorant; USSoccerplayers.com answers the inevitable “Who’s that now?” about four new faces on the U.S. roster; and Ives Galarcep unrolled his regular post on who Bob Bradley should start…so, check out the (updated) roster and see what you think. Speaking for myself, I don’t care who we start so long as we field an experimental line-up; the obvious adjunct to that is that I don’t care so much if we lose either. I just want to sound our depth a little bit; we’ve got two years to mold a roster – and before you point out that World Cup qualifying starts well before then, let me me just say, dude, it’s CONCACAF and there are 3 1/2 spots up for grabs…we’ll make it.

– After posting an angry rant against all things Pat Onstad this morning, I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m the only one who saw what I saw. So, what did I see? Pat Onstad watching Yura Movsisyan out of one corner of his eye while RSL players cleared the area; when Movsisyan got close, Onstad stopped, stood in his way, and then collapsed when the Armenian shoved him; that’s when Onstad bolted up, eyed the ref, then flailed his arms wildly as two Houston players barged into Movsisyan. In other words, that’s all Onstad in my book. But here are excerpts on the incident from two Salt Lake City papers:

(Deseret News) “Two minutes later RSL was reduced to 10 men as well when Yura Movsisyan was sent off for apparently trying to take a swing at Houston keeper Pat Onstad.”

(Salt Lake Tribune) But Beckerman couldn’t convert the ensuing free kick – Houston’s Richard Mulrooney cleared it from the left post – and moments later, RSL’s Yura Movsisyan appeared to throw a punch at Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad after a scramble in front of the goal. At some point amid the pushing and shoving that ensued, Onstad was knocked to the ground, and an infuriated Movsisyan had to be restrained by his teammates.”

Now, I’ll grant that Movsisyan had to be restrained, but he was probably incensed about getting attacked by Houston players after Onstad played him as the chump. Well, I’ll have to review the video later today when I have a machine that groks MLSnet.com’s feed.

Whoops. One more thing: the pre-game ceremony for Jason Kreis and Eddie Pope was a really nice touch. Both men seem the decent sort to me and I wish ’em both the best.

– Getting back to Mr. Galarcep, he’s doing a little reputation busting over on Soccer by Ives, posing two career-defining questions in one day: 1) is Denilson a bust? 2) should Sigi Schmid keep his job? Answers:

1) Yes. The Brazilian suffers horrible from comparison to young American Arturo Alvarez, so, yeah, do the math and swap their salaries.

2) How long has Schmid been in Columbus? Two years. OK. While this is by no means an easy call, I’m with Ives: let Schmid stick around. I think they’re a better team to watch than in 2006 and expect more in 2007, now that I’ve decided to be a Crew fan…we’ll see how long that lasts.