Changes to the U.S. Open Cup…Good Ones

Steve Goff, that sly dog from the Soccer Insider, sneaked the following into his Presidents’ Day review of soccer news (and it occurs to me, only now, that this could be why things seem so damned quiet today):

“*The U.S. Open Cup schedule is much more compact this year. Pending USSF approval, the round of 16 to the championship game will be held over an eight-week stretch between July 1 and Aug. 26. No more late-round matches in the fall, when MLS clubs are focused on the playoffs.”

For what it’s worth, I like it. In the past, I have advocated such wackiness as making the U.S. Open Cup the pre-season tournament for both Major League Soccer (MLS), the United Soccer Leagues (USL), and, well, everyone. Yeah, it would stretch the calendar, but I don’t think we’re doing players any favors by stacking up the games during the season. In my mind’s eye, I’m seeing a mini-tournament to decide the winner that would look like an expanded version of the College Cup – e.g. a one site, perhaps 8, perhaps 16-team tournament, etc.

I’d still like to see that one day, but will take this compacting of the U.S. Open Cup’s schedule; the earlier dates don’t look so bad either. Sure, the Superliga remains a complication (that’s in July, right?), but I want to scrap that one anyway. But the CONCACAF Champions League shouldn’t be a huge problem. So, yeah, let ‘er rip and see how it works.

BONUS: Almost forgot this bit…then again, that could be from a lack of inspiration.  If you’ve ever seen Weebl’s stuff, it’s pretty clever.  The Estate Agent isn’t their best, so far as I’m concerned, but it’s still good for a laugh.  Oh, if you’re offended by non-human, animated nudity, or work with someone who might be, this is NSFW.

Daily Sweeper, 10.5: The Pain of Losing, (Some) Awards, and Week 27

If the Ricardo Clark debate weren’t swallowing so much bandwidth, what has already been a diarrhea-mouthed day would have been even runnier. Now that you’re nauseous…

– There’s a lot to love in DJ Walker’s reminiscences of last Wednesday, when he watched his much-beloved FC Dallas come in second-best in the U.S. Open Cup final. A personal highlight comes with what he has to say about Carlos Ruiz and Dario Sala during the meet-n-greet.

– As much as I don’t often pay attention to the various awards MLS dishes out annually, Climbing the Ladder pulled together all the awards, rules, and candidates so nicely that I’m going to take the time to vote on ’em….well, the ones I care about at least. My votes (and why, where necessary):

Coach of the Year: I’m torn between Preki and Tom Soehn, but I’m going with Preki; DC has enough trophies.

Rookie of the Year: Maurice Edu– largely because I think this should go to the player who helped his team most irrespective of the success of said team. He also impressed me as having the most promise.

Referee of the Year: No vote here, but I also think it’s worth pointing out that I don’t really see the refs, even when I see them. They’re kind of like cops to me; all I see are the uniforms.

Fair Pla…: Screw it. So long as they don’t give it to the wrong guy, I don’t care.

Comeback Player of the Year: Pat Noonan, ’cause I like him better than the rest. Clint Mathis is up there too, but I think Noonan’s got more upside right now.

Newcomer of the Year: Tough one, but I’m going with Luciano Emilio based on consistency. I like watching a lot of the other players more (Schelotto, Blanco, Galindo, Toja, etc.) more, but Emilio earned this one.

– Finally, the weekend. I think my viewing plans are pretty set: I’ve got Fox Soccer Channel’s airing of Columbus hosting FC Dallas penciled in and know I’ll watch New England v. Chicago – in spite of elements of self-loathing inherent in the endeavor. Time permitting, I do want to see how KC and DC match up – and, yeah, I’m pulling for KC. The power and lifestyle of an Eastern potentate couldn’t lure me to watch the final game on offer, the Rapids hosting Toronto FC; that’s strictly for punishing the worst of the worst while in lock-up. And curse the league for sticking Houston v. LA on a channel I don’t get.

Well, that’s it for me. It’s a little frustrating to know that we’ll probably know little more Monday than we do today.

Daily Sweeper, 10.4: Where’s the USOC? Seattle, Rumors +, MLS Love

– Martin Rogers, Yahoo! Sports’ guy, wrote an article wondering – or, rather, explaining – why the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup gets overlooked year after year.  Lots of good points get in – notably, the familiar one about how the Open Cup looks too much like Major League Soccer’s (MLS) playoffs – including one I’ve never yet considered:

“Perhaps the Open Cup’s history is also part of its problem. Whereas MLS is a relatively young product that is confident in its future prospects, the Cup dates back to an era where there was little interest in the game.”

Elsewhere, as if trying to prove Rogers’ point both Sports Illustrated and ESPN ran the same Associated Press article.  Way to celebrate the tradition guys.  At least the bigger, soccer-specific sites came through (or at least  the ones I visit): and GOAL, especially, turned in swell write-ups.  The little guys – e.g. amateur blogs (like this one!) – did their part as well, but, twit that I am, I didn’t lift the links as I traveled.  My bad.  Still, I’ll link to the FC Dallas Offside’s lamenting write-up ’cause he deserves some sympathy after a tough loss.

– A couple MLS-to-Seattle tidbits to pass on: first, MLS Rumors (GOD!! I LOVE THAT SITE!!!), is doing its normal business of spreading, well, rumors (caveat, caveat) that a Seattle MLS club could start play early as 2008.  Mmmm…not the best idea, as I see it – or at least it’s one that will continue the lopsided conference issue…though that could be fudged by going single-table.  In related news, American Soccer Daily reminds all  of us about the big concern about a Seattle franchise:

“Plans for a soccer-specific stadium, a requirement for any new MLS franchise, have not been mentioned, making 67,000 capacity Qwest Field with its FieldTurf surface the likely home for the club.”

Yeah, that does suck…not getting around that really.  There’s also the issue with jacked-up security dudes at Qwest (NOTE: This comes from the Timbers Blog, which doesn’t mean it’s manufactured or unfair necessarily; it’s just that Timbers’ fans hold all things Seattle and Sounders in the same regard as a herpes rash.)

– Finally, Dan Loney really does Says It All by sharing what makes MLS so darn endearing.  All those precious mistakes…as fun as watching a toddler fall down…

Revs Break Duck Over Dallas’ Heart

It wasn’t till Taylor Twellman’s post-game interview, when he smiled about seeing “Rally” (Steve Ralston) and “Heapsy” (Jay Heaps) in the first flush of final victory the New England Revolution had ever known, that real contentment about the state of things filtered in. Even if a sprinkling of New England fans made the trip to Frisco to share the moment, trophy ceremonies in disinterested, or even hostile, environments lack for the due fullness of joy. But calm, happy expression on Twellman’s face and the realization that Ralston, Major League Soccer’s (MLS) answer to Cal Ripken Jr., would collect at least trophy in his relentless career bridged the gap between what I hoped to see and what I got. Call it the difference between a cozy little wedding and a drunken tear through a Vegas chapel: both can make you happy, but one is definitely more fun.

As for FC Dallas, it’s something more than there being no joy in Frisco. A suicide watch might be in order.

In practical terms, I caught about 65 uninterrupted minutes, I saw three goals scored, heard the noise that attended the other and caught the replay, and still have no clue how New England scored their third, or who did the scoring. My apartment building – God bless it and the nuts who live there – was evacuated when the fire alarm went off, something that happens way more often than it should. Based on as much of the game as I saw, though, the story line going in held up – e.g. the Dallas’ defense would sabotage their offense. And thinking of that defense only reinforces all the questions about why a team desperately in need of defensive solidity went and bought a circus animal named Denilson.

The Dallas defense committed something worse than sabotage, really – at least where the two New England goals I saw were concerned; we’re talking Rube Goldberg goals, improbable progressions of events concluding with finishes so easy you’re almost willing to buy the mouse-trap. I’m wondering whether Steve Morrow even bothered yelling at his defenders; after all, what would Dallas’ defenders learn from abuse what they don’t already know? What’s the sense of piling pain on top of humiliation?

The real tragedy is one glorious goal the Dallas’ defense canceled out. When Arturo Alvarez picked up the ball on the touch-line near the cameras, you knew something good would follow. But something better still came as Alvarez rushed toward the Revolution goal and launched a shot past Matt Reis that defied centuries old laws of geometry. After pulling that one out of the top drawer, I’m betting Alvarez had the sadly sparse Dallas crowd on its feet when, a few minutes later, he took off on a run straight through New England’s center. That Alvarez enterprising wizardry came up just short typified Dallas’ night: good, but painfully short of good enough.

Getting back to New England, even as they didn’t look so special at any time I watched, I got to wondering about what this win will do to the Revs’ still-live bid for MLS Cup. Even with everyone pointing to DC United and Houston, or even a Chivas USA team that seems to be fading, the prospect that anyone watching had just watched a kind of exorcism occurred to me. What kind of a lift could New England get from this?

Well, that’s me waxing poetic. I had a couple nuts-n-bolts points to pass on in the form of player ratings – though with a little twist. It occurs to me that when a given player turns in an unremarkable performance, it makes sense to not remark upon it. With that in mind, I started writing down the names of people and/or entities that did bear pointing out. Here’s that little role call: Continue reading

US Open Cup Primer: Predictions from Alternate Reality

In the world in which we walk and work, no one, but no one, knows the Lamar Hunt Krispy Kreme U.S. Open Cup (LHKKUSOC) Final takes place tonight. But in this crazy little niche existence that is the soccer blogosphere it’s the event of the day and previews of the game abound. Don’t believe me? Check out the Fiesta del Links posted on 3rd Degree. I tell you, it’s a veritable orgy of previews.

As we all know – or, as you will have found out after wading through all those previews – this year’s final pits an imploding FC Dallas side against a New England Revolution team made up of talented players serving life sentences in Steve Nicol’s system (wow, am I doing a lousy job of selling this one). In all seriousness, there’s something to love in almost every game and Dallas’ state of free-fall provides a pretty good story-line for this one.  With enough skill between them, the teams should put on a decent final – and at least Dallas should be  either willing, or compelled by their fans, to open up the game.  The wild card – and it’s about as “wild” as a seven of clubs – is the extent to which New England will go along.

But the most immediate question is, who will win? I found a couple people calling this one during my rounds on the Web:

Dan Loney Says It All: picks FC Dallas. picks FC Dallas (after reviewing DC’s loss to Chivas).

3rd Degree: picks New England…and it’s a Dallas outfit; go figure.

I invite anyone else out there to make a call, but here’s mine. I’m going with New England. Why? With Dallas’ confidence curled up at the bottom of the shitter, I trust New England’s organization and physical style to bully the Dallas attack – and that’s even with Shalrie Joseph sitting this one out.  In the end, New England only needs to buy enough time either Khano Smith, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, or, hell, even Adam Cristman to find a way through Dallas’ six-directions-at-once back four. Put another way, I think Nicol has at last found an opponent in a final that fits his coaching methods through an unlucky accidents of circumstance (horrible run of form) and personnel (green, and as 3rd Degree points out, leaderless defense).

What am I hoping for? Good question. Nice as it would be to see the home team win, it is New England after all. You yell loudest at the ones you love most…or at least I do…and random strangers who harass cyclists…shit, that’s going to get me killed one day…

Unfortunately, that leaves the extremely small panel represented on this post divided 2-2 on who’s going to win. Anyone out there care to break the deadlock?

Daily Sweeper, 09.05: Ivan Gazidis’ Shame; More USOC; Bradley; WUSA

– I’m a little shocked at how few people picked up on the wholesome whack-job on Major League Soccer’s Developmental Contracts that Kristian Dyer wrote for ESPN. Then again this is kinda old news, so maybe that’s it. At any rate…

A good place to begin is looking at some details I didn’t know about regarding how those contracts are structured:

“The contract, in part, holds that the player will be paid at the ‘rate of $1,075 per month gross of taxes’ from March 1 to Dec. 31. In addition, the contract spells out incentives that can be earned as follows:

“1. MLS team 75 percent start: $5,000 if you start in 75 percent or more of the MLS league season games (including MLS regular-season and playoff games but not including the U.S. Open Cup or other tournaments) of the MLS team to which you are assigned.”

“2. MLS All-Star: $5,000 if you are named to the official MLS All-Star team.”

“3. MLS Rookie of the Year: $5,000 if you are selected as the official MLS Rookie of the Year.” Continue reading

US Open Cup: MLS Recovers…Sort of

Looks like we have an all-Major League Soccer (MLS) final for the Lamar Hunt Kelloggs’ Rice Krispies U.S. Open Cup (LHKRKUSOC) on our hands – though it didn’t look that way till very late with both MLS teams relying on overtime to get through the semifinals.  Moreover, judging by FC Dallas’ win, one could argue the top-flight teams relied a little on a seemingly superior talent for conning the ref for their chief competitive edge.  I’m not talking egregious examples, mind you, but that’s kind of the point; it’s a subtle art and FC Dallas, at least, certainly had it down.

Could that really be the final piece to building a better professional?

I didn’t see the New England Revolution’s (slim) win over the USL-1 Carolina RailHawks and can therefore only pass on what I read: ‘twas a tight game, not unlike Dallas’ (slim) win over the Seattle Sounders…speaking of which…

The notes I took on last night’s game didn’t merit posting – I can’t say whether that’s down to the game or where my head was last night.  On the other hand, I can say the fact that few would mistake this game for a classic came to me around the end of regulation.  Was it close?  Certainly, though that applies to any game settled in overtime.  Hard-fought?  On one side, yes; that would be the Seattle side.  Whether Dallas suffered from fatigue or complacency I never quite pinned down, but they adopted a static, ball-watching approach that amounted to passing the ball to a succession of their players to watch them run at Seattle’s defense (e.g. “Here’s the ball, Juan.  You run at ‘em and we’ll keep an eye on things back here.”  “Here’s the ball, Arturo.  You run at ‘em…” etc.).

Both sides had their chances, though I’d give Seattle the edge in quality and menace over the game’s first 60 minutes.  Leighton O’Brien certainly kept Dallas’ defense busy as did (I think this is his name) Sebastian Le Toux and Taylor Graham (I watched extended stretches without sound, so I’m a bit weak on the names).  Dallas did have their forays toward Seattle’s goal, but it definitely took them a while to either warm to the task or get used to Qwest Field’s turf.  By the end of the game, though, Dallas’ attack gained momentum and urgency, even if the organizational side of things made only rare and feeble appearances.  All the same, the slightest whiff of the inevitable attended Dallas’ first goal.

Two more goals came – one a penalty-kick that simply had to be called, the other pulled back by Seattle too late to make a difference – but the first one decided it.  Hell, one could say Seattle hitting the crossbar once and failing to capitalize on multiple corners decided the game.  Dallas, to their credit, scrambled bodies across the defense when it counted, Sala came up big enough, and the MLS club even offered a half-competent attempt at killing off the game in the overtime period – though it’s here where the ref’s love of theater entered the game.  Dallas players not only made the most of any contact, but conjured a few game-delaying performances where no contact was made.  The online feed came from a Seattle broadcast and the Sounders’ homer announcers howled and laughed through all this.  And it was cynical, to be sure, but it also worked.  So, yeah, welcome to the Big Time, rubes.

Taken together, MLS upheld the top-flight’s reputation, if only just, but at least one of the finalists hardly covered themselves in glory in doing it.  As for Seattle, they argued more forcefully than any club in the country that the gap between the best of the USL and MLS isn’t as big as we might think it is.

And that was with a designated player (Denilson) on the field.

(Dang it.  I did want to mention one possibility here; it occurred to me as I watched that the introduction of Denilson might be at least a partial culprit for the timing and movement issues in the Dallas.  Then again, they looked just plain lazy/tired with fair frequency.  At least Denilson and Toja combined well here and there.)

Daily Sweeper, 09.04: Ticking Clocks; Lotsa Open Cup (+ Blasphemy); Yallop’s Lifeline(?); St. Louis Update…Gasp!

– I’ll lead with a doozy of a concept. A Houston Chronicle article on the local team’s recent staggers pointed out that said local team has only SIX regular season games remaining. Nah, I said. Then I checked the standings. Holy crap. The same applies to Kansas City. It’s crunch-time, people. Good stuff.

– The semifinals for the Lamar Hunt Head-On/Activ-On U.S. Open Cup (LHH-OA-OUSOC) go down tonight – but all y’all knew that, of course, and planned accordingly. I know what I’m doing tonight (unless the wife says otherwise…yes, dear) and will duly prime myself with previews from both games:

FC Dallas v. Seattle Sounders
US Open Cup unofficial site
Nice bit from FC Dallas Updates – especially the crack about Seattle humidity

New England Revolution v. Carolina RailHawks
US Open Cup unofficial site

By time of posting, the New England/Carolina game should be close to underway – so I’ll be missing that one – but the Seattle/Dallas Super-Epic-o will air online tonight. Huzzah! I would live blog the game, but…well, I’m not sure how it’s done – on a practical level, I mean. That’s to say, I have an approach in mind – e.g. watch the game and write comments, posting them as they come to me – but that seems like such a pain in the ass. Is that how people do live-blogging when they do it?

Anyway, I’ll probably do my usual thing, wife and kids allowing – e.g. “Brain-Dead Blogging,” where I write down a bunch of crap in a whiskey-juiced haze and foist it on all y’all later. Continue reading

Open Cup: Revs Win (Hello Dignity!); The Future

Having missed the game, I can’t speak to anything but the final score with a whole lot of confidence, but, suffice to say, the New England Revolution reached the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (LHUSOC) courtesy  of last night’s win at home over the Harrisburg City Islanders.

The local media for each city doesn’t cite refereeing errors or anything of the sort, so it seems we can chalk this one up to superior play trumping heart.  Or, to paraphrase New England head coach Steve Nicol, taking the evening as a whole, the Revs felt comfortable.

For the record, this marks only the second time in club history that the Revs have reached the LHUSOC (or even the USOC) semifinals; the last time came in 2001…and they made the final that year…where they lost…to Los Angeles…again…  (The official U.S. Open Cup site has nifty records of the MLS era, by the way.)

So…with all the LHUSOC quarterfinals wrapped up, who would you (yes, you, the person reading this right now) dub the tournament favorite?  Is it the upstart Seattle Sounders?  The “upstartier” Carolina Railhawks?  Or do the MLS clubs, faith-abusing FC Dallas or the New England Bridesmaids…er, Revolution, hold the upper hand?

My vote: Seattle.  In all seriousness, I’d be crapping my trousers right now if I were either MLS franchise.  And I’m still waiting word on where the final will be played.

Revs v. Islanders: Hello Angst!

And so it was that when the Big Picture about Major League Soccer’s (MLS) dismal run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (LHUSOC) came into focus, the worry that we could witness three United Soccer Leagues (USL) teams in the semifinals really kicked in. Worse still, the omens during my walk on the way to work offered little reassurance: just 200 feet from my place, I came across a freshly dead cat that some (un)kindly motorist had left on the sidewalk; midway between that and the train platform I came across three different splatterings of vomit, left, I believe, by two different pukers. Sadly, having not paid sufficient attention to the physical disposition of all these phenomena, I can’t be sure what they tell me.

What I do know, however, is that the New England Revolution, tonight’s MLS entrants, are “coming to win the game.” Well, thank God for that. Before reading that, I feared the Revs might give higher priority to slacking off just one more tournament to soak up all Harrisburg has to offer. But, no, most Boston media agree that the shame of last weekend’s loss to DC United needs avenging. And, fortunately, midfielder Jeff Larentowicz appears ready and able to serve as native guide. So, that’s reassuring, in its way.

Moving to what isn’t reassuring: the Harrisburg City Islanders’ (hmm…sloppy text; that’s the USL entrant) recent run of form. The local side has gone 12-2-1 in their last 15 leagues, a number that bears an ominous resemblance to the Seattle Sounders’ equally estimable run. Dang it.

What’s left of the silver lining comes with word that the Revs are hosting the quarterfinal…wait…is that good news? Eh, 4-2-4 at home; not great, but not horrid either.

It doesn’t matter now, I suppose. Do the league proud, boys. Don’t pull a Clavijo.  Oh, and who do I call to get the city to clean up a dead cat?