10 Bright Spots of MLS Week 1: The Gambians, Cooke, and a Salute to Youth

1. New England Revolution

Introduce two U-20 Gambian players and succeed? Sure. Steve Nicol certainly knows what he’s doing and his opener – without the services of Twellman – truly pays homage to his ability to man manage and bring along young talent. Let’s not forget Adam Cristman who worked well with Nyassi and Mansally. All three – along with the veteran presence of Steve Ralston (let’s hope that shoulder’s okay) and the patrolling of Joseph/Larentowicz in the middle – helped put together an attack that even Houston’s defense couldn’t withstand. On the other end, however, Parkhurst dealt with Ching effectively, while it’s pretty certain that Wondolowski should not be in there.

2. Terry Cooke

When did Terry Cooke get fast? We knew he had a boot, but his speed and tenacity was the difference versus the Galaxy. Could it have been the Englishman just wanted to show up his former teammate Beckham? If that’s the case – the opening goal in a 4-0 drubbing of the Galaxy and two subsequent assists will do just that. We can expect another big service year from Cooke. Someone explain to me how Cooke got awarded that second assist on Colin Clark’s goal??? Clark dribbled for what seemed like an eternity before beating Cronin near post…at what point does Cooke’s initial pass become “unassisted”? 

3. Kenny Mansally/Sainey Nyassi

These kids can play. Nyassi burnt Houston on the wings and was able to finish his first goal ever in his debut. Mansally had his hand in the first goal and looked strong on the ball with an uncharacteristic poise for a first year striker. If Mansally and Cristman do well enough up top, does Taylor Twellman technically become expendable?? (Answer is probably no…). Sainey Nyassi was hyped up a little less than Mansally throughout the preseason, but he arguably was the more effective player. Not even Corey Ashe had an answer for his speed on the wings. Both players if consistent provide the Revs with a depth that could account for the loss of Dorman and Noonan. Let’s wait for week two though…

4. Maykel Galindo

He did it at the expense if FC Dallas’ new acquisition and Mexican international Diulio Davino, but no matter how it happens, the Goats came away with a point. Davino mishandled a trap and Galindo capitalized by pouncing on it and sending it straight through Dario Sala’s legs to equalize with 5 minutes to go. What it made it more impressive was that Galindo is still recovering from sports hernia surgery and isn’t at 100%. The Cuban international then kissed the Chivas USA shield during his end-of-the-game interview. The guy is class.

5. Claudio Lopez

Eddie Johnson who? Lopez and Ivan Trujillo ripped apart a decent D.C. United defense with the help of Carlos Marinelli. Already, this is shaping up to be one interesting year. If I’m not mistaken though, there were some crazy results at the beginning of last year too. Anyways, Lopez is class and looks like he’ll end up being another DP success. In fact, you could almost say that about all the DP debuts.  

6. Dema Kovalenko

The guy got stiffed by RBNY and sent on over to Salt Lake (stiffed in the sense he’s more of a big city guy, Chicago his “adopted home”, etc.), but he made the best of his first appearance. Dema, within two minutes of coming, served a cross that was redirected into the Chicago goal by young Bakary Soumare. In a questionably sloppy game, Kovalenko got the job done. On top of that, Kova was just recently sworn in as an official citizen of the United States of America.

7. Adam Moffat

One hell of a game winning goal for Columbus from the star of the Crew’s preseason. A developmental contract that looks to make a significant contribution to the Crew’s run this season. Reminds me of a younger Kerry Zavagnin. 

8. John DiRaimondo/Nick LaBrocca/Kosuke Kimura

LaBrocca, the NJ native, and DiRaimondo really frustrated the hell out of an almost non-existant Los Angeles midfield. Fernando Clavijo’s injury predicament forced him to go with a lot of new blood. Kimura held his own at right back, keeping Donovan pretty quiet throughout the whole game. From the get go, it was clear who wanted to win the game and all three were a huge part of that.

9. Traveling Toronto FC Fans

TFC had something like 2,000 supporters travel down to Columbus to take over Columbus Crew stadium. The Crew still outplayed them in the end, but Crew Stadium was still Toronto’s for the afternoon. Take those supporters away and you have one pitiful Columbus crowd. Mr. Gillett, you want a team? I got one for you…

10. Jon Busch

The seemingly eternal back-up began his Chicago starting career with a big game. A potent Real Salt Lake offense tested him again and again, forcing him into 8 saves. Busch, who last started regularly in 2004 with the Columbus Crew, looked shaky in the beginning but ultimately showed well and solidified his number one spot. In 2004, Busch was the brightest spot on a decent Columbus team – he posted a 1.07 GAA and a 12-5-12 winning record. Then he was replaced….Here’s to hoping he finds that success again.

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To the Superdraft! …and better days ahead…

Like Laurie over on the LA Galaxy Offside, I really, really want to dig into whole upcoming Superdraft explosion, but….well, here I am some considerable yet unknown number of days after Buzz Carrick posted the first of his Superdraft scouting series for ESPN (goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders; forwards are pending) and I’ve still got nuthin’. With all the little links poised on my little on-screen post-it I figure it’s time to just bang out something or those things will wait till my computer goes obsolete several times over.

Now, in real terms, if you want to get smart, read Buzz’s stuff. I have only one thing to add to that data-dump: a half-baked stew of loosey-goosey research with a dash of, possibly, dodgy memory. Here goes:

If I’m not mistaken, most people viewed the 2007 Superdraft class as a little underwhelming, at least up until and immediately after the selections; that’s the memory piece. The research component came with looking over the 2007 draft – still helpfully hanging around MLSnet.com – and here’s what strikes me: some steady starters came out of the top 10, guys like Maurice Edu, Wells Thompson, and Michael Harrington. Keep traveling down the list and the names – Robbie Findley, Ty Harden, Corrie Ashe – keep coming. Hell, you can go all the way to #48 and you’ll still see a player who hung something on the right side of tough in the Rookie of the Year polling: Adam Cristman. Dane Richards, one of the hottest players of 2007, came out of this bunch.

Assuming I’m remembering the pre- and post-Superdraft chatter correctly, all those players came out of Superdraft that was widely regarded as weak. Still, 20 of the 52 players listed picked up some minutes and, at a minimum, 14 played major minutes for their new clubs. And, if I’m correctly recalling the chatter heading into the 2008 Superdraft, the smart set views this as a stronger class; Carrick certainly speaks well of the draft pool for defenders, even if he’s less jazzed about the options at midfield and at ‘keeper; maybe the forwards will be super-hot…I don’t know these things.

So, what am I saying? Get excited, people! The fresh blood smells sweet! Woo-hoo! Woo! Woo. Woo…um…

The problem is, that isn’t working for me. I just think I’m more visual, that I have to see a player before I know what to think about them. In other words, I need games – real ones, ideally, but it takes a stupid beggar to spite a penny. I expect the off-season funk will continue till March. Yeah, March. Things will look better in the lamb/lion season, when those pre-season friendlies and tournaments get started. Then I’ll know what to make of some of the new kids who come through the draft. Ah, who knows…maybe I’ll find some solace in February.

New England Revolution 2007 Review: Taylor and Steve and Me

New England Revolution
Record (W-L-T): 14-8-8; 51 GF, 43 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
I’m going to play this one a little loosey-goosey – e.g. relying less on specific match reports, player bios, etc. – and touch on things I don’t normally do. Why? First of all, because I can; I follow the New England Revolution more closely than any other Major League Soccer (MLS) team. Second, this represents my first conscious attempt to say goodbye to a team I’ve supported..well, followed, since the late 1990s. As such, an element of the personal enters into the thing. And, to mention the most loosey-goosey aspect, the end of my era with the Revs feels to me like an end of an era for the club. To put it bluntly, I don’t think they’ll be back for a fourth straight crack at MLS Cup.

With New England, it seems useful to consider the team through my odd relationship with one of their talismanic players: Taylor Twellman. I view Twellman through the sharpest of love/hate lenses. The love part is easy: the man scores goals, something one llikes to have on one’s team generally. But the hate part looms large – arguably larger. And here it is: I find Twellman dead boring. For all his take-a-touch-and-shoot efficiency, Twellman dribbles with the grace of a horse running on pavement; his passes too often recall kicking a playground ball at a brick wall. Bottom line, he has mastered two facets of the game – eluding defenders and finishing – and, to some weird aesthetic part of my brain, such talents are too transferable to “sports” in a generic sense. In other words, the sense that Twellman is a jock first and soccer player second stands as my dominant impression of him as a player.

What I think about Twellman mirrors my impression of the team as a whole: the Revolution team in my head is efficient, athletic, and, when you get down to it, dull. I can think of few less inspiring things than a generic New England goal: ball goes down the flank, wide player crosses to Twellman, Twellman scores. The occasional switch-up aside – say a long-bomb from Jeff Larentowicz on a dead-ball or one of Pat Noonan’s weird headers – the template seems fixed. Continue reading

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