2007: A Look Back on the Domestic (e.g. U.S.) Scene

The long-promised look back at 2007 in U.S. soccer unfolds below. The talking points – 15 in all (what? you wanted a Top 10? I’m nothing like that disciplined; see, I slipped to 17) – come in, at best, half-random order; put another way, I ranked these things a certain way, but it has as much to do with themes intelligible only to me, as opposed to significance. They also came to me after only 15 minutes (or so) thought, so odds are I missed a thing or two; feel free to add any omissions in the comments.

Right. Here goes…

1. David Beckham. May as well start with the elephant in the room (propped up handsomely next to his wife with the weird tits). Beckham garnered (OK, sucked up) enough attention to transcend even the rule that bears his name – that will come in a separate section – which is perhaps why his arrival sits on our collective stoop like some kind of wet turd the neighborhood kids were too lazy to set on fire. He came, we obsessed, he went down injured, and, with an exception here or there, his team did better without him on the field. Sure, he made the Los Angeles Galaxy, and Major League Soccer (MLS) as a whole, a chunk of change, but the whiff of an injured, conceivably over-the-hill player that attached to him also revived the Ghosts of the NASL. Better luck next year, Tiger (with stuffed shorts).

2 . MLS Overview: My belief that, in 2007, MLS actually felt “Major League” for the first time in its existence doesn’t strike me as a lonely one. It’s not so much that the league has arrived in terms of media exposure, money, etc., and it’s not as if problems don’t exist (refereeing, gridlines, playoff format, small rosters, payment structure, the Colorado Rapids, etc.) than things seem to be headed in the right direction, complete with a “Big Mo” tailwind. On-field play looks better than ever, stadiums are popping up at a steady clip, the scouting system looks more established, and we have yet to see what kind of talent the league’s nascent youth academies will turn out. Hell, the league could even be making more money than ever…not that we’d ever know that given how firmly they hold shut the books. So, yeah, good trends, people. Let’s keep ’em up. Continue reading

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FC Dallas 2007 Review: Succeed…Choke…Repeat

FC Dallas
Record (W-L-T): 13-12-5; 37 GF, 44 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
Some recent constants held for FC Dallas in 2007: lead the Western Conference in the early-mid part of the season – check; head into the post-season like a pack of whipped dogs – check; consequently, lose in the first round – check; have at least one offensive player enjoy a stellar season, Arturo Alvarez’s 2007 to Kenny Cooper’s 2006 – check; have the work of the offense compromised by a shaky defense – check…well, sort of. A lot of similarities tied the campaign just past to the one that came before and upgrades in personnel, changes to the coaching staff, none of it seems to matter.

It’s got to be the grand narrative – the whole pattern of “succeed…choke…repeat,” familiar since 2005 – that most pains Dallas fans and players. It’s like the definition of insanity – e.g. doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results – except Dallas should have a choice. You’d think the coaching staff would order the players to take it easy during the first half of the season, have them rest through August – something – to switch it up. But the pattern persists and has over the past couple seasons.

For all the similarities, some changes did occur on the detail level. Combining an exciting offense with a dodgy defense has been part of Dallas’ reputation since Carlos Ruiz joined the club. That was definitely part of what I expected to discuss when I sat down to type this review. Even knowing Ruiz had an off-year and that Cooper went down after June 9, seeing a meager 37 goals still came as a shock. What about Juan Toja’s arrival? Alvarez’ breakout season? It’s not until you get down to individual stats (all available here) that it adds up, beginning with the fact that Ruiz’ seven goals led the team. This team, possessed of so many well-known weapons, finished fourth from last overall in scoring. Continue reading

DS, 10.29: Big, Brimming Bowl of Post-Season Links/Chatter

Seriously, what else is there to talk about? The ever-shady FIFA’s decision to end the rotation system – or, as they call it in Geneva, après Brasil, Le Free-for-All? How ‘bout the Portland Timbers beating up on Toronto FC on Sunday night? Nah…it’s gotta be the playoffs.

– A good number of people seem to be lining up for kicks at the set-up after the first leg of the MLS post-season – and, for the record, I find it kind of relieving to know I wasn’t the only one to almost fall asleep (screw it; I actually did) at one point. Some of my favorites:

“It’s just odd that we spend six months and 195 games building up towards this — a long Saturday night of anti-soccer ruled by the tactics of fear and caution.”
– Ian Plenderleith, USSoccerplayas.com (LINK)


“We entered the playoffs without a single team carrying anything resembling momentum. It was more like eight runners stumbling towards the finish line and struggling to push through the tape. Combine that with the dour playoff psychology of ‘not losing’ and you get 3 goals in the opening round of matches. Ugh!”
– Um…Mr. Fullback, The Fullback Files (LINK)

Good plugs to be sure, but few crystallized the blue-balls mood of the weekend so well as The Beautiful Game. Open this link and enjoy.

The uninspired opening weekend has a couple people talking about changing the post-season formula (again); for instance, Soccer by Ives suggests a return to best-of-three series. For the record, WVHooligan’s drew epperly doesn’t think that would matter all that much. Here’s my two cents – and it’s informed by a lot of the same bitter-tasting shots of reality cited by mr. epperly: if everything must stay the same, make the playoff single-elimination from start to finish with the higher-seeded team hosting. Nice, neat, and simple as you please…next! Continue reading

DS, 10.16: US v. Swiss, Rosters and Previews; Onstad: Am I Crazy?; Ives Eyes Some Scalps

– Tomorrow’s friendly against Switzerland sucks up ever more copy and ether as we get closer to it. Among the highlights: Jeff Carlisle’s preview for ESPN, because it contains good stuff on the Swiss…of whom I’m more or less ignorant; USSoccerplayers.com answers the inevitable “Who’s that now?” about four new faces on the U.S. roster; and Ives Galarcep unrolled his regular post on who Bob Bradley should start…so, check out the (updated) roster and see what you think. Speaking for myself, I don’t care who we start so long as we field an experimental line-up; the obvious adjunct to that is that I don’t care so much if we lose either. I just want to sound our depth a little bit; we’ve got two years to mold a roster – and before you point out that World Cup qualifying starts well before then, let me me just say, dude, it’s CONCACAF and there are 3 1/2 spots up for grabs…we’ll make it.

– After posting an angry rant against all things Pat Onstad this morning, I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m the only one who saw what I saw. So, what did I see? Pat Onstad watching Yura Movsisyan out of one corner of his eye while RSL players cleared the area; when Movsisyan got close, Onstad stopped, stood in his way, and then collapsed when the Armenian shoved him; that’s when Onstad bolted up, eyed the ref, then flailed his arms wildly as two Houston players barged into Movsisyan. In other words, that’s all Onstad in my book. But here are excerpts on the incident from two Salt Lake City papers:

(Deseret News) “Two minutes later RSL was reduced to 10 men as well when Yura Movsisyan was sent off for apparently trying to take a swing at Houston keeper Pat Onstad.”

(Salt Lake Tribune) But Beckerman couldn’t convert the ensuing free kick – Houston’s Richard Mulrooney cleared it from the left post – and moments later, RSL’s Yura Movsisyan appeared to throw a punch at Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad after a scramble in front of the goal. At some point amid the pushing and shoving that ensued, Onstad was knocked to the ground, and an infuriated Movsisyan had to be restrained by his teammates.”

Now, I’ll grant that Movsisyan had to be restrained, but he was probably incensed about getting attacked by Houston players after Onstad played him as the chump. Well, I’ll have to review the video later today when I have a machine that groks MLSnet.com’s feed.

Whoops. One more thing: the pre-game ceremony for Jason Kreis and Eddie Pope was a really nice touch. Both men seem the decent sort to me and I wish ’em both the best.

– Getting back to Mr. Galarcep, he’s doing a little reputation busting over on Soccer by Ives, posing two career-defining questions in one day: 1) is Denilson a bust? 2) should Sigi Schmid keep his job? Answers:

1) Yes. The Brazilian suffers horrible from comparison to young American Arturo Alvarez, so, yeah, do the math and swap their salaries.

2) How long has Schmid been in Columbus? Two years. OK. While this is by no means an easy call, I’m with Ives: let Schmid stick around. I think they’re a better team to watch than in 2006 and expect more in 2007, now that I’ve decided to be a Crew fan…we’ll see how long that lasts.

DS, 10.11: More FCD v. Chivas, DP v. Salary Cap, Pennies From Heaven for LA, and Bachelors

I’ve really got to work on  tightening up my titles, making them more thematic.  Till then, though, expect sprawling lists…

– Naturally, people are following up today on last night’s draw between FC Dallas and Chivas USA, though no one took quite so much offense to Brian Hall as I did…probably on the logic than bad calls from American refs are the norm.  Then again, Ian Plenderleith seized a bit of dudgeon at a blown offside call that nullified a legitimate goal by Francisco Mendoza.  Now, Plenderleith has this right on three critical levels: 1) it was a blown call, 2) that no righteous anger followed, and 3) refs really don’t read the rule correctly.  And he’s correct in pointing out that these calls both cheapen the game and that they somewhat mysteriously roll right off our backs; I mean, I didn’t remember the blown call till this morning.  What did I remember?  That Mendoza later missed a close-range header…that and Arturo Alvarez’s hair’s-breadth miss in injury time.

In other news from last night, Chivas’ Ante Razov left the field wounded, a tough break for Chivas, especially with Galindo operating at less than full strength.  Also, as MLSnet.com’s write-up on the game pointed out, Adrian Serioux doesn’t look so bad in Dallas’ midfield.  You know who doesn’t look so good?  Denilson, as  alluded to in the Fullback Files post-game wrap under the section titled “Send in the clowns.”  More to the point, think of where Dallas looked more effective last night: Arturo Alvarez’s right side or Denilson’s left…or, less euphemistically, the place where promising attacks go to die?  The Brazilian stoops low as the worst DP signing so far.

– Speaking of which, a couple reports suggest that the league is considering adding a second DP slot for each of MLS’s teams (credit (or fault) Luis Bueno for finally getting this issue in my head).  The conversation so far consists of a Jeff Carlisle piece that dubs the rule “a clear success” and a Pat Walsh article that’s is less satisfied and leans against the league doubling down on the rule.  I line up behind Pat Walsh and question the use of “clear success” – at least on the field.  The only designated player I would accept as a clear improvement over the general MLS mob would be Cuauhtemoc Blanco – all the others come with a variety of qualifiers (e.g. Luciano Emilio, a non-DP, stacks up just fine against Juan Pablo Angel; both Claudio Reyna and David Beckham have suffered on-off availability, though Beckham definitely delivered the dinero; Denilson does a poor imitation of Arturo at – what? – five times the cost?).  Basically, most of MLS’s best haven’t been DPs; if I had a vote, I’d say just raise the cap (as Steve Goff says seems likely about 4/5th the way down the page) and hold off on adding another DP slot.

– Looks like LA’s deal with the devil is still working: Toronto FC comes into this weekend’s game with a mix of youngsters, absentees, and gimpy players.  Hmmm…on second thought, change “pennies from heaven” into “Nickels Kissed by Satan.”

– Looks like we have a stupid-good weekend ahede

– I’ll end with a bit of fun.  Hearing about (the now-unemployed) RSL defender Jack Stewart’s inclusion among Cosmo’s 50 Hottest Bachelors, the Chicago Tribune’s Luis Arroyave responded by posting a bachelor profile of his own…one that suggests eerie similarities between his personality and mine (especially the pick-him-up pointer).  Still, differences exist so, in hopes of moving this concept to the amateur soccer ranks, here’s my Cosmo profile (sorry, ladies; profile aside, I’m a taken man):

Name: Jeff “Balding Adonis” Bull

Hometown: Portland, OR

Occupation: Office Pinky at undisclosed location, though not an employee of Dick Cheney.

Personality Profile: Mildly paranoiac, often silent due to the parade of unmentionable thoughts rattling through brain, and I make me laugh, though no one seems to join in.

Girlfriend Must-Have: General and profound stores of patience because the many, many pointless thoughts in my head distract me from the business of daily life; a willingness to endure aforementioned parade of unmentionable thoughts – I recommend a steady diet of drugs and booze to facilitate the latter.

Pick-Him-Up-Pointer: A total absence of ambiguity in communication and courtship.

Favorite Female Body Part: The body, by which I mean the whole woman; I find disembodied parts off-putting.

Turn-Him-On-Tactics: Anything this side of active or passive shunning.

Why Do Women?: I know exactly zero women who do anything that Cosmo purports their readers do.  That’s in spite of having three sisters (and no brothers), one wife, and two daughters.  All of them continually amaze me with their superior talents for functioning on a day-to-day basis.

Daily Sweeper, 10.3: Copa Losses, Cup Finals, LA Rising

Yes, it’s back.  Yes, I’m weak.  What can I say?  My feature ideas are like zombies.

– In the wake of DC United’s loss last night in the Copa Sudamericana, The DCenters compiled a list of off-the-shelf coping mechanisms to help with yet another loss to a Mexican club…the same damn one, in fact.  Other commentaries – and they’re pretty sharp – look at the state of U.S.-Mexico relations at the club level (Sideline Views and FanNation).

– Writing for ESPN, Steve Davis tries to make official the idea that Denilson stands proudly as the first Total DP* Bust.  (* for the untutored, “DP” = Designated Player.)  It has been said before, but this is ESPN, people.

– Damn it all, but the Stars [May Yet] Align; Nick Green explains.  Let’s just say if LA makes the playoffs, I’ll be surly for a month.  If LA wins MLS Cup, I’ll attend the next MLS Competition Committee in person and conduct a sit-down/no-bathing strike till MLS brings sanity to the playoff format.

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