CCCO8 Semis: Strategery Before the Second Leg

I think that sums it up nicely.

The general mood of optimism going into the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals renders the funk looming over the second leg all the more blue. I’ll be surprised – and, for the record, damned happy – if either DC United or the Houston Dynamo make the final. It’d be one thing if only a handful, or even half, the pundits I read shared my view, but even the bigs (ESPN.com and Soccer America) put out previews with a funereal, almost post-mortem tone – e.g. it’s more lessons learned for the next go-around than what to do about tonight.

One can even find such talk out of the proverbial horse’s mouth:

“’I was thinking about that while I was watching the [Pachuca-D.C.] game the other night, and boy, we’ve got to do better,’ said MLS commissioner Don Garber. ‘For this league to win over the core audience, we’ve got to be able to be among the best clubs in North America.’”

Fortunately, the future is not now…or, rather, it better not be because there’s not a lot anyone besides Houston and DC can do today to get the MLS clubs through (well, there’s the ref, I suppose…).

So, to throw out a question before (briefly) digging into some thoughts and details, which club would you rather be coaching today? Or, more practically, if you had to put money on DC or Houston to overcome the odds and advance to the final, which would it be?

My answer will appear at the bottom and after the jump; for now, here are some thoughts kicking around in my head these few hours before kick-off. Continue reading

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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

MLS Daily Sweeper 12.20: Atiba Harris Traded; RSL’s Future in Doubt*

* I think the punchline here is that this, literally, constitutes the biggest news of the day…at least in the soccer-playing world. Steve Goff’s Soccer Insider won blog of the year from someone or another – and that’s cool, ’cause he’s really good – but…I don’t know. It is what it is. I don’t think much about awards.

In totally unrelated news, I think I’ll can the Sweeper for tomorrow, my last posting day of 2007, in order to post the best look back on the year I can manage given the virtual war I’ve waged against my brain cells…the bastards must pay…

– Getting back to the soccer stuff, it is indeed true that Real Salt Lake (RSL) traded Atiba Harris for…let’s see…a six-pack of warm Joose. No, it was for a draft pick, the 37th overall…FYI, I’d take that six-pack…even without being completely sure Joose comes in six packs. Chivas USA Offside covered this and led with concerns about RSL’s team-buidling philosophy; RSLFM Report clocked the Harris trade plus much, much, much more. To follow up on some of the comments left on The Offside post, I’m of the camp that sees Harris as a midfield destroyer.

The Offside Rules flags Austrian Markus Schopp’s retirement…an event that came a year too late, really. But SF gets to the important stuff as well: Red Bull New York now has some rebuilding money for that defense.

3rd Degree fleshes out some chatter into a report on some promising players that FC Dallas might sign from brother-club Club Atletico Paranaense of Brazil

– Turning to the bigger picture – e.g. the U.S. Men’s National Team – Clemente Lisi compiled a list of eight players who deserve a look-in with the full national squad for USSoccerplayas.com. And, topping that list….dammit: Eddie Robinson. So, yeah, I give up: Robinson deserves a shot. It’s not like the defense looks strong and settled of late; anyone who has watched the U.S. in 2007 should appreciate that – and that goes double for the center. So, by all means, give “E-Rob” his shot.

– Fun stuff now: The Black Panther Blog linked to a site where one can discover his (or, presumably, her) Brazilian soccer name. Mine was “Beta.” And, as always, my number was 13.

– Finally, for some reason or another, Oz City has been poking around alternate logos for the Kansas City Wizards. They did something yesterday (I think), but it was the big rollout of options posted today that finally prompted me to post it. No offense intended to anyone on that site, but all the options look freakin’ awful…or, more politely, none fit my scheme. Personally, when I think “wizard” I think heavy metal – hence, something inspired by the first image one gets in a google search for the word “wizards”; again, that’s not the actual image, but inspiration for it. Even within what I presume to be the sporting world, the Waco Wizards came up with something better. Still, something like this, or even this, comes closer to what I’d paste on the Wizards’ jerseys.

Then again, I’m a big fan of the current, um, “rainbow theme” and all that implies…even if it lacks the “Welcome to the Bathhouse” vibe that makes Columbus Crew’s badge the pick of MLS.

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: The Revs’ O versus Houston’s (Formidable) D

(UPDATE: Blue Blooded Journo is plugging away at match-up previews of his own. Do check out his latest on Shalrie Joseph (and others) v. Dwayne DeRosario (and others).)

Ever start a project only to realize you’ve built in some redundancy? It only occurs to me now as I’m sitting down to write this, how much of the offense/defense stuff I covered in yesterday’s post on the midfield match-up. That said, I’ll be tightening the focus today, keying in on how, and how well, each team’s forwards coordinate with their midfield. And, for no particular reason, I’m going to start with New England’s offense versus the mighty, mighty Houston Dynamo back four.

By coincidence (and we’re talking big coincidence ‘cause I really haven’t poked around much today) MLSnet.com posted an ode to the Dynamo back line by freelancer and Very Smart Man, Steve Davis. There, you’ll find both bang-up stats and some entirely valid thoughts as to what makes the four-man team of Craig Waibel, Ryan Cochrane, Eddie Robinson, and Wade Barrett effective to the point of making history.

In his piece, Davis points to the mystery of why these four clearly quality players have earned so few caps for the U.S. National team. The answer centers on the Dynamo’s one weakness, one that focuses, in the main, on one man: Eddie Robinson. And what’s that answer? Robinson plays hard – if a little too hard; in my mind, he pushes the “thug” envelope to the breaking point; when the bitter sets in, I tend to view him as a dirty player. Robinson’s 70 fouls put him second in the league (behind Juan Toja) and his 11 cautions put him in first (stats here, but you’ve got to find ’em), both of which tell me that the refs see at least some of what I do. So, to answer Davis’ question directly, Eddie won’t get a call up because he’ll confront his teammates with a conga line of free kicks.

So, yeah, I’m no fan of Robinson. And his problems with fouls have a meaningful practical downside – not just the free kicks I alluded to above, but there’s also card trouble and what that will do to his play if he picks up one early. Fortunately, he’s got first-rate help all around him: Waibel holds down Houston’s right brilliantly with hard, clean play (take note, Eddie); I rate Cochrane higher than Robinson on both offensive and defensive terms; and I think Barrett is pure class, one of the league’s most complete and accomplished left backs. Add ‘keeper Pat Onstad and it’s no wonder these cats made history in 2007.

And, with regard to how this group works together, do note the stats at the end of Davis’ piece – specifically, the shots and shots on goal allowed.

What do the Revolution bring against this highly formidable back four – a unit that receives useful, at times ample, help from midfielders like Richard Mulrooney and Brian Mullan? Put it this way: I don’t know how many free-kicks “Red Rage” Robinson would have to surrender before the Revolution can exploit one, but suspect it’s higher than he’ll achieve over the course of 90, or even 120, minutes. So, let’s take a look at Plan B (I kid, I kid; this is Plan A). Continue reading

RSL 0-1 Houston: Fine Pat Onstad

To the Powers that Be:

Fine that cheating geezer, Pat Onstad.  Do it for the integrity of the game and for the dignity of regional theater – and introduce your referees to those giant digital video boards most stadiums seem to have these days before they find themselves both embarrassed and obsolete.

What had been a half-decent contest between quality (Houston Dynamo) and pride (Real Salt Lake) unraveled during the second half into a cynical sham.  First came the decision to eject Eddie Robinson: hopefully, referee Tim Weyland knew beyond doubting that Robinson ran across Kyle Beckerman’s trailing leg, because absent perfect knowledge, a red card to Robinson shouldn’t happen.  On the other hand, Robinson might have thought he could get away with it given Weyland’s indulgence of a series of early, rough challenges from Craig Waibel and a string of cynical fouls by Ryan Cochrane that also went unpunished.  Maybe Robinson ran off the field as a scapegoat for Houston.

It’s a little bizarre to be writing this because one talking point that occurred to me as I watched last night amounted to dubbing Houston’s backline one of the best  in Major League Soccer (MLS).  There’s no question in my mind it’s effective, but every time I see them, I’m struck by the low-blow thuggishness with which Cochrane and Robinson, in particular, play the game.  This doesn’t quite reach the realm of, “kids, don’t try this at home,” but it’s hardly something to be encouraged either for reasons of player development or sportsmanship. Continue reading