Bob: Commence the Experiment

A couple people are posting the U.S. roster that was called in to play Mexico this Wednesday – and at least one person is playing “the roster game” (and having a couple bites at as he does it). On the other side of the affair, Sideline Views’ Luis Bueno listed Mexico’s traveling party and added some analysis for good measure. Much like Luis, I think the Mexican roster looks pretty solid – as in, a whole lot like an A-Team…or maybe that’s just what I think when I recognize many of the names on a Mexican roster.

So, to kill some time on a slow Sunday (the Super what now?), I thought I’d take some time on the question of who should we play against this bunch. Given my present state of, um, underwhelmedness regarding the significance of the result itself, I’m still advocating on-field experimentation. And, in the event we do lose, we can adopt the Mexican tactic of blaming the loss on such externals.

So, below, I’ll trot out the starting XI I’d like to Bradley trot out on Wednesday…and I do so knowing this is not the line-up we’ll see. Before naming names, I should confess I tend to favor 4-4-2’s for perhaps the dumbest reason: I’ve played as a defender in my share of 3-5-2’s and I just hate how exposed I feel back there…absolutely prejudiced me against that formation. What can I say? I view myself as a midfielder…in spite of the few seconds I’ve received on that opinion from the various coaches I’ve had.

Enough preliminaries…here it is: Continue reading

U.S. 2-0 Sweden: Our Depth Beat Their Depth

There was a lot to like about this game. Seriously. Fox Soccer Channel commentator Christopher Sullivan griped at the end about a certain lack of artistry, but anyone who tuned in saw a good, fairly even, pretty up-tempo game. And, better still, the U.S. Men’s National Team (Yanquis) flat won; they gave away fewer chances and played the better game. This is Sweden, mind, not elite, but definitely “real Europe,” even if it wasn’t their first team. That doesn’t matter because that wasn’t our first team either. Sweden’s first team might beat our first team 6 or 7 times out of 10, but the gap is closing – at least that’s what I pick up from watching our B-Team out-play, even out-think, the Swedes B-Team.

The Yanquis did well enough that it’s hard to find sincere fault with anyone’s game – though it’s not like I’m not going to try below. As for the Swedes, well, they settled for average; at times, I thought the game looked like a circa-1996 Sweden v. USA, but with the roles reversed. I can recall one tactically inspired move from Sweden, an overlapping cross-field run that totally isolated Ramiro Corrales on the U.S. left. But one move by the U.S. best illustrates the differences in inventiveness: Pat Noonan broke in on the left, dished to Landon Donovan and continued his run; Donovan holds for a bit, then pokes the ball into Noonan, who taps a lay-off that nearly resulted in a shot; it was all fast, short passes, the Americans trying to pick their way through Sweden rather than hoofing toward space and crossing. No, neither move ended with a goal – in fact, both U.S. goals came off something perilously close to slop – but the Swedes never matched the savvy and understanding on display in the U.S. move. Hell, we almost played “street-ball” right there.

In any case, I’ve got the notes to blab, blab, blab. But I’ll spare all y’all from that and bang out some player ratings – e.g. the refuge of a blogger who can’t figure out a structure for his talking points. Enjoy. Continue reading

Daily Sweeper, 12.10.07: Et tu, Osorio?

As of today, I’m planning on running the Daily Sweeper feature at the end of the day. The odds of this changing are very, very low. But it makes sense, right? I’ll be “sweeping up” all the news from a given day, so it only makes sense that I wait till the day is over. Right?

– I suppose Ives Galarcep provides the big story of the day with his Soccer by Ives exclusive that has the Chicago Fire’s 2007 head coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, moving East to coach Red Bull New York. I’ll throw out the ESPN write-up he did, but the exclusive he posted in his “special place” contains the largely same information, only more of it. And the final paragraph of the exclusive contains a significant teaser as well:

“So who will coach Chicago now? Very good question…Assistant coach Denis Hamlett is deserving of an opportunity, as are several other MLS assistants such as Richie Williams, Paul Mariner and John Spencer.”

I find every last one of those names enticing on one level or another. Should be fun seeing who gets the job.

Getting back to Osorio’s move to Red Bull – and my provocative title – there is something a little sleazy about the whole affair, isn’t there? I’m all for employment mobility, but to jump to a rival and on such short notice? I suppose the first thing I want to know is how Chicago fans are reacting (don’t have time to visit BigSoccer, or I’d just tell you). I’d check in on Chicago’s players next – and hope that Luis Arroyave will fill in some blanks fairly soon. I only know one thing for sure: I expect a duller New York side next season. More successful…mmm, probably. Just make sure to bring amphetamines to the games with you; the combination of Osorio’s tactics and beer should be approximtely equivalent to downing a half-dozen doses of Ambien.

– I would link to something about Mo Johnston killing rumors about his stepping away from the head coach’s role and into the Toronto FC front office, but, seeing as I don’t think it will change anything….whoops. In all seriousness, I may not rate Johnston too highly as a coach right now, but will also admit he’s had some damned tough jobs. Maybe next year, right?

– For his ESPN gig (does he have another one?), Jeff Carlisle threw out five names for U.S. National Team coach Bob Bradley to consider. I like ’em all except that darn Eddie Robinson…just kidding, Martek! He names some names I’d like to see, but, given our left-side injury issues, I’d include another one: Brad Davis.

Goal.com’s Kyle McCarthy compiled a Top Ten List for 2008’s biggest busts. Was there ever any question about #1?

– And, finally, WVHooligan does a brave thing and makes some early predictions for the 2008 season. Yeah, one of ’em went sideways already (see the first entry above), and I think he’s placing way too much faith in the New England Revolution’s operation, but the rest hold up to reason pretty well. That includes his ominous prediction for a Houston Dynamo three-peat. I know I keep coming up empty when I try to think who will beat ’em…maybe someone will sign the right ace. (As a side-note, just watch: now that I’ve ditched ’em, 2008 will be the year Bob Kraft finally reaches the end of his stingy, little rope and goes big to build the team. Just watch.)

Houston Dynamo 2007 Review: …the Bastards.

Houston Dynamo
Record (W-L-T): 15-8-7; 43 GF, 23 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
This one is pretty uncomplicated.  Houston had a straight-up kick-ass 2007.  It’s not just that they won MLS Cup (more on this later), but how well they carried themselves through a duo of international tournaments, the CONCACAF Champions Cup and the inaugural Superliga.  There’s also the incredible 11 games without a loss that carried them through June and July, a period when they went 8-0-3 in league play.  Houston’s didn’t enjoy start-to-finish dominance – they suffered spells where they just…could…not…score – but, on the most fundamental level, Houston started 2007 where they ended it: as the best team in Major League Soccer.

Before going any further, I want to get one thing out of the way: I should hate this club.  I probably want to hate them.  And yet I can’t.  They just seem so dang nice.  Getting back to it…

As almost every MLS fan can tell you, Houston had the best defense in the league, allowing just 23 goals over 30 games.  This is precisely what made MLS Cup, and its clichéd “Tale of Two Halves,” so outright bizarre.   They obviously won in the end, but no one watching the final’s opening 45 would have considered it possible: the New England Revolution had not only dominated the midfield, they had achieved the unthinkable: they totally flummoxed Houston’s vaunted defense.  While the change after the half stopped just shy of night-and-day, the Dynamo’s winning goal revealed what makes these guys champions.  I can still see it (and here’s about how my reaction sounded live): “Whoa…who’s that?  Shit!  It’s [Brad] Davis!  Close him down!  Close him…close him…wait!  No!  Dammit…” Continue reading

MLS Cup Preview: Dynamo’s O versus Revs’ D

Welcome to this, my last MLS Cup preview, where I’ll turn my (divided) attention to how the Houston Dynamo’s offense matches up with the New England Revolution defense.  I’m burning out ever so slightly on this project, less because it doesn’t interest me than it only feels like more blah-blah-blahing as we get closer to the point where all the talk becomes immediately irrelevant – e.g. kick off.  On the upside, this will be my shortest selection…I hope.

Before getting into my copy, I want to flag Allen Hopkins’ (exceedingly lazy) column for ESPN, the one where he turns over his space to an anonymous player and coach and has them breakdown the game (nice work if you can find it).  At any rate, that both seem to favor New England is only the most curious part of an interesting read.

But that’s there stuff.  Here mine…which, not surprisingly low-balls the Revs’ chances: Continue reading

MLS Cup Preview: The Battle of Midfield

Ugh. My head feels it’s stuffed with cotton this morning, so I can’t promise quality, never mind brilliance. This is kind of a tragedy because, today, I’ll examine the pivotal match-up in this Sunday’s MLS Cup: the Houston Dynamo’s four-man midfield versus the New England Revolution’s five.

UPDATE: Because my brain is barely working, I can only just recommend reading what comes below. As much as I feel like there’s good stuff in there, it rambles as if I’m speaking in tongues. Here’s a quicky summary for those interested in ducking all the half-coherence below:

– I expect Houston to attack to better effect down the flanks and see New England struggling to respond in kind. If the Dynamo can’t break through on the flanks – something I rate as a very real possibility – the middle becomes crucial. Assuming that scenario comes to pass, here are my key players for each team:

Richard Mulrooney (Houston): It’s not just that DeRosario is in a funk. Mulrooney will be the one switching the Dynamo’s point of attack and keeping the Revolution pinned in their own end. New England will be hard to break down, so buying time to create the chances matters.

Steve Ralston (New England): If you read below, you’ll see I don’t think much of the Revs’ chances down the flanks, at least by the straightforward, put-yer-head-down-and-run approach. For the Revs to have a shot at scoring, Ralston needs to serve as the pivot point, the means through which New England moves the ball across the field and into gaps in the defense. It’s a role similar to Mulrooney’s, but, ideally, it will happen closer to Houston’s defensive third.

OK, that’s it for this segment. If you’re up for making sense of the gibberish below, have at it.

Because it’s good, relevant filler, I’ll start by listing the anticipated personnel:

For Houston
Brian Mullan (R); Richard Mulrooney (CDM); Dwayne DeRosario (CAM); Brad Davis (L)

For New England
Wells Thomspon (R); Shalrie Joseph (CDM); Jeff Larentowicz (CDM); Steve Ralston (CAM); Khano Smith (L)

Reviewing those names as a New England fan, I can but tremble – at least where the attacking side is concerned. On the upside, throw both midfields into a Texas Cage Match (ringed with barbed wire, a curtain of blue flame, and a host of bellowing midgets), I’d bet my house on New England’s, um, tough customers…OK, thugs. Then again, that’s just Joseph and Larentowicz – and Joseph brings a considerable level of culture to his tough edge; Ralston, as I see it, brings the distilled talent.

I’ll expand on that later, but boiled down to the central strengths of each side it’s attacking ability versus classy thuggery. Advantage to…?

Let’s start with some assumptions: the goal of soccer is to win; a team wins by scoring goals; ergo, the team better-suited to scoring goals should hold the advantage.

As noted above, I think Houston holds the edge in midfield where attacking is concerned. Both teams like to work the flanks, but Mullan and Davis provide better service – especially Davis. Both teams also use their width to make space for the “operators” in the middle: DeRosario for Houston (with help from Mulrooney) and Ralston and Joseph for New England. I’ll get to those specific match-ups below, but most people – and I include myself in this bunch – expect what goes down on the flanks to decide the game. Continue reading