Claudio, tell me what you really think…

Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer got a story’s worth over in Salzburg as he was over there for Red Bull New York’s training at their sister club’s complex. Apparently, a scrimmage today between the Salzburg reserves and New York got chippy and prompted a normally quiet Claudio Reyna to say this…

“I played in Germany and this is how it is always with Germans and Austrians, diving and cheats,” he said. “It’s how they are. That’s how they always play. It’s a shame.”

Bold statement, but frankly, many would agree. Dane Richards is now injured with a sprained MCL thanks to an errant tackle from one of the Salzburg reserves. If you read the rest of the article you will see that Reyna wasn’t the only one with harsh words to say…

What do you think? February’s BEST XI to come later…

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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.

Red Bull New York 2007 Review: An Atypically Typical Year

Red Bull New York
Record (W-L-T): 12-11-7; 47 GF, 45 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
All in all, and perhaps a little sadly, this was a pretty typical year for Major League Soccer’s (MLS) New York franchise: uneven, unsettled, and, as always, unrewarded.  But a couple oddities put a fresh twist or two on the familiar: a start to the season strong enough to convince a few that the team had rounded a corner; the simple, frankly shocking presence of a reliable scoring tandem; finally, the year of the designated player, the Year of the Bruce and how those factors interacted.  In a sense, then, the narrative for 2007 was all wrong in that it offered Red Bull New York something positively foreign: hope and promise.  That they kept that alive until, arguably, August inches a little bit further from the “typical.”  But Red Bull’s season ended as they always do, which means that even if things didn’t quite go to Hell after August, they got close enough to make legible the famous statement about hope posted on the gate.

Now, where does that leave us?  It was a typical year, but it wasn’t?  Damned unsatisfying, that, but it seems accurate.  For instance, in the typical column you had Clint Mathis back with the team and starring in the early going (not to mention getting sent off twice by early June – neat trick for an offensive player).   In the atypical column, the Red Bull roster featured one of the hottest American prospects in Josmer “Jozy” Altidore and one of the league’s deadliest forwards in Juan Pablo Angel.  Back in the typical column, Bruce Arena played the role of high-profile coach, while, almost tragically, Claudio Reyna played the too-familiar, over-priced under-achiever. Continue reading

LA 1-1 Red Bull: A Call for Group Therapy

If you care at all, you know that LA and Red Bull tied 1-1 last night – even if, at time of writing, MLSnet.com’s headline reads “Galaxy win again, keep hopes alive.” But, I ask that you bear with me through a digression – which relates to that game – to get at something about that draw.

Back in high school, we had this program called Natural Helpers. Comprised of students, Natural Helpers were meant to provide peer counseling, a kind of sympathetic ear that troubled students would be more willing to talk into as they sorted out teenage doubts and frustrations. Their fellow students volunteered people for the program, presumably due to their talent for listening or capacity for sage advice.

No one ever volunteered me for Natural Helpers (vague misanthropy fits poorly with the program), but one of my sisters made it in, allowing her to tell me a bit about the group – and, more specifically, about orientation. Everyone knew about the retreat, which involved a chaperoned weekend in the woods for all the new recruits. Everyone also knew what went on over that weekend: the kids got drunk, smoked acres of weed, shed tears over the tyranny of parents/social institutions and the cruelty of kids at school, and, after drying the tears, vigorous, healing sex ensued.

At least that’s what happened at my high school…I still regret that negative creep vibe.

But, if 60 Minutes (or maybe 20/20) is to be believed, the Natural Helpers program at my school might have been an aberration. A report I saw some years back portrayed a very different, deeply earnest program. Students in this version of Natural Helpers attended workshops on peer pressure and conducted trust exercises – all while sober. One workshop in particular got to the students: one where they had to walk a circle of their friends/fellow-Helpers, look them in the eye, and say “NO!” to them. They would all collapse into sobs by the third, or even second, friend. Very emotional stuff. Continue reading

MLS Week 24: Four Teams, Two Games, Two Levels

I held true to my viewing schedule for once: my Saturday featured Red Bull New York’s gutsy draw against the Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution’s (at-long-last-hallelujah) sharp win over visiting FC Dallas. By coincidence, both games threw two roughly equal teams into contention. By lesser coincidence, the gap in quality between the respective teams showed in the quality of the games – simply put, FC Dallas and New England look playoff-primed. Chicago and New York…eh, less so.

Dallas and New England went at one another with unrelenting pace and energy. Dallas, in particular, aggressively pressured every ball anywhere inside their half – defenders attached not only to the player on the ball, but the team as a whole shifted quickly to cover any nearby players as well. The amazing thing: quick movement and passing generally allowed the Revs to play out of that pressure, while smart, well-executed dribbling took care of the rest. Dallas, facing similarly intense attention, very nearly managed as well…the final score, of course, speaks to where they failed.

Individual efforts on both teams added still more to the equation. Khano Smith ran the Dallas right side stupid, while Pat Noonan’s general unpredictability in the area sporadically unhinged Dallas defenders. James Riley served as the shaky presence in the Revs’ back-line, which Carlos Ruiz exploited a couple times; bustling efforts by Dax McCarty and Abe Thompson demanded the studied attention of the rest of New England’s defenders. In fact, it’s worth wondering whether the Revs’ defense is their greatest weakness going into the post-season; with Dallas, that’s less a question than a living example of an Achilles’ heel.

In the big picture, though, both Dallas and New England appear confident enough with most their players not just singing from the same sheet, but singing a decent song and well. Sure, Dallas would have looked that little bit better with Juan Toja on the field and they’re still figuring Denilson into the attack, but they’re up to beating any given team on the right day…obviously, Saturday wasn’t it for them. As for New England, let’s just say that was something else: a win they fully earned through hustle, smarts and coordination, as opposed to God punishing Carlos Mendes for…I dunno, idolatry or some such… Continue reading

Easing into MLSWeek(end) 23; It’s Prediction Season

Weeks go by that end with a sense of rest well-earned. The news-tap runs at a trickle and the stage looks ready for the show, leaving one free to idly lean back and take it in.

And that makes it something of a shame that Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Week 23 isn’t quite doing it for me.

For instance, I can chuck three of the weekend’s matches into the dumpster with a second’s thought: FC Dallas v. Toronto FC (preview), the Houston Dynamo v. Real Salt Lake (preview), and the Los Angeles Galaxy v. the Colorado Rapids (preview). If I may speak for neutrals everywhere, Contenders v. Spoilers games don’t cut it; unless you care about the particular teams’ fortunes (e.g. unless it’s the entertainment option of your particular choice out there on the field), you expect the expected pounding and don’t care much about upsets. That’s the first two games done. As for LA v. Colorado, that one could have worked were we talking about LA fighting up the standings and the Rapids sucking wind in Shitsville. This being the other way around, eh, not so much. Continue reading

Many (Tangential) Talking Points: RBNY v. Chicago

As noted below (no need for pingbacks; just scroll down for the good stuff), I hadn’t intended to post the notes I scrawled through one closed eye while watching New York edge the Chicago Fire 1-0. But since it contained a couple Big Picture, Major League Soccer (MLS)-wide talking point that bubbled up as I watched, it seemed worth passing on to the curious. A personal favorite came in the 35th minute, when I concluded that Cuauhtemoc Blanco is better for the league long-term than David Beckham: he brings this whole pro-wrestling villain vibe to games – just awesome to watch.

There are many more besides, good, conversation/argument-starting talking points (like the one on Osorio coming to coach). Enjoy.

Here goes…and, as always, I’m not promising coherence and anything not lifted from my notes verbatim appears in parentheses: Continue reading