Houston 0-0 Saprissa: “Better Luck Next Year” Already?

In the end, the game itself disappointed as much as the final, goalless score. In spite of the healthy number of chances (duly recorded in Soccer America’s write-up) the entire affair felt a little flat – especially from the Houston Dynamo’s point of view. For what it’s worth, I credit Deportivo Saprissa with pacing this game – an ominous sign given what that meant last night and what it will mean on the return leg. Then again, perhaps the various intrusions into my viewing experience detached me from the game (I have to ask: how the hell did my ten-year-old beat my three-year-old in falling down the stairs?).

OK, new approach: I’m just going to name the first five – I dunno – notions, concepts, or….sensory impressions?…that pop in my head and assume they’re the most important items.

– DeRo, A Man Alone: Not quite that, but Dwayne DeRosario was one of two offensive players for Houston who looked remotely switched on; the other, Corey Ashe, continues to impress me – quite a bit, lately (and Pat Onstad played another beauty in goal). Maybe Houston’s offense is like an old Ford truck; maybe it can’t fire properly till it’s warmed up. Even missing critical players – here, I’m thinking Brad Davis and Brian Mullan – Houston worked the ball forward pretty well; they even found seams in Saprissa’s back-line. But, like a synapse firing sideways, a half-step separated ball-from-player and player-from-player nearly every time. Getting back to DeRosario, between setting chances with seeing-eye flicks and making runs at Saprissa’s goal, some of them desperately lonely, he served as the fulcrum for an attack that never quite came off. That was through no fault of his own; so far as I’m concerned, the rest of his side let him down. Especially… Continue reading

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Gamba 6-1 Dynamo: Twas no Team; A Typhoon It Was…Arrr.

Well all right. My first pirate-inspired headline.

So…how bad was the Houston Dynamo’s loss to Gamba Osaka? First, there’s the score to consider: any time your bunch gives up six goals, you couldn’t have had a good night. I don’t think Pat Onstad can remember the last time he let in six…assuming it ever happened. Bare got four of Osaka’s goals and, as one of the commentators noted, all four were not just well-taken, but each was a little bit different from the one before (and I felt inspired to ask this, when he had only two).

No, I think the best measure of the complete, um, uncloseness of the Pan-Pacific Challenge final comes with how I managed sleep. Somewhere around the 60th minute, I promised myself I’d go to bed either when Osaka scored its fourth goal or if the Dynamo showed no meaningful signs of life at the 75th minute. Osaka’s fourth came only minutes later. I went to bed assuming things could only get worse and, when I resumed watching in the morning (let us pause to celebrate the successful operation of a VCR), it did: Osaka dropped in a fifth in short order, hit the post once, again forced Onstad into a desperate scramble, scored their sixth – again, over a flailing, bewildered Onstad…you get the idea.

So…6-1. Suddenly, the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 1-0 loss in the semifinal doesn’t look all that bad…

In spite of the walk-over, I don’t think anyone would argue Houston looked worse than the Galaxy. Houston made repeated forays into Osaka’s half through the length of the rout. But they encountered an organized defense on every trip, even the several occasions they managed to create a little chaos, or even hit the crossbar, as Brian Ching did late in the game. Maybe it was the predictability of the Dynamo’s attack that created the sense of Osaka’s invulnerability, that nearly all their success and promising openings came down Stuart Holden’s right and from elsewhere too rarely if at all. Maybe with Dwayne DeRosario in the middle or someone besides Corey Ashe starting and going the full 90 on the left (and I like Ashe plenty as a sub), the Dynamo might have unlocked Osaka’s defenses. They had plenty of the ball, but, in the final tally, simply couldn’t do much with it.

The Dynamo’s defense was something else again. Too often a couple steps out of sync, a little slow, shell-shocked even: we don’t often see the Dynamo surrender six goals over three games, or even four or five. Bobby Boswell and Patrick Ianni have a lot of work to put into their partnership; put another way, Eddie Robinson just witnessed the embodiment of his job security in real time.

And, just to complete the record, I hadn’t counted on the halftime highlight reel of the Galaxy’s 2-1 win over Sydney FC. Good for them!

A couple random points that don’t fit neatly into the above narrative:

– I’d start Holden over Brian Mullan. I think he’s got more upside, thanks mainly to his fewer years. But he’s got great speed and close control, passes intelligently, and so on and so on. Thoughts?

– On a related note, I think I’ve got a live-blogging concept that I think will work for me.  Dropping random questions as they occur to me.  We’ll see how that goes…

– Judging by the tournament, the Pan-Pacific hierarchy goes Japan, U.S., Australia. For what it’s worth, I’m OK with continuing the experiment, perhaps even letting it evolve into something bigger. Why not invite a Korean team next year? Schedule it closer to the Major League Soccer’s (MLS) regular season? Let the U.S. Open Cup winner fly the league’s flag, etc. Have fun with it. It’s a money-spinner.

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 Week 23 Power Rankings: Formula MLS

A couple new things to flag this week: first, some major rearranging blew through the Top, um, 9 this week, the result of some sober reconsideration of a couple teams; second, now that we’re clearly in crunch-time I’m going to list the next “Week’s” game(s) for each team after I rank ‘em.  And, as always, last week’s ranking appears immediately after this week’s in parentheses.

So…what’s “Formula MLS”?  It’s pretty straight-forward: build a team that’s simultaneously athletic and hard-to-beat, top it off with a striker or two capable of a telling moment of magic.  This applies to more than one team below; not coincidentally, the teams that work this well hang around the top of the rankings.  Now…on to this week’s rankings:

1. (1) DC United
Back when I followed the Premier League, during those long, dark years when Manchester United couldn’t stop winning, it seemed like they never suffered a single injury and all their players looked fresh and rested every game – all the while, The Plague seemed to have walked off with half your team.  Things seem the same for DC this year, as if nothing can so much as harm them, never mind stop them.
In Week 24: Real Salt Lake (9/12; home)

2. (4) Chivas USA
What can I say?  I’m convinced: a solid team with a good mix of weapons up top spells success – they almost fit Formula MLS, but I detect a dash of something else.  They’ll be a seeded team, which, given their home record, should be enough to take Chivas to the second round of the playoffs.  But they do have to keep plugging away in the meantime.
In Week 24: LA Galaxy (9/13; home); Colorado Rapids (9/16; away)

3. (5) Houston Dynamo
As much as I believe they’ll hold on for one of the Western Conference seeds, these cats don’t convince.  The Dynamo works Formula MLS as well as anyone in the league, especially with Dwayne DeRosario out of sorts and Brad Davis injured.  As such, they rely on a “big body” to make it come together these days, which means they need Nate Jaqua to become/remain productive when Brian Ching is out.
In Week 24: LA Galaxy (9/16; away) Continue reading

MLS Week 22 Perspecto-Scope: Statements of Intent

It was a weekend of statements.  From DC United’s “knock this battery off my shoulder…bitches,” through Red Bull New York’s, “don’t call it a come-back,” all the way down to the Los Angeles Galaxy reeling out a quiet “Yeah…it can get worse, actually” while longingly eyeing the last day of the regular season, the league looks to be gradually sorting itself out.

Then again, a couple key games ended in ties, thereby giving ambiguity another day in Major League Soccer (MLS).

I caught a few games this weekend and would have typed them up – specifically, Red Bull v. Chicago, which turned out to be the most educational of this weekend’s games – but, between family and squelching various crises, too much time slipped by to post them.  It’s a shame in a way…they were good notes….but this perspective piece will have to do.  May as well start with the boldest statement… Continue reading