CCC08: Pachuca 2-0 DC: Um…your ball, Houston

Ignore the headline: this wasn’t that bad a loss. Well, it was and it wasn’t. DC United held up pretty well for 70+ minutes and in a tough venue against a savvy team. Moreover, the goal scored by Luis Montes, which undid DC’s worthy fight for a result, was equal parts smart and fluky; never let it be said the Americans gave up a soft goal. OK, the second goal, maybe that one was soft, but the other was a low-mid-percentage rocket: good shot, good goal…y’know, what can you do?

(Hey, hey: interesting side-note: with MLSnet.com eating too much to open, I had to force quit my web browser in order to find an article; the one I did find showed up on Google News’ crawl – that feels so Big Time!)

Without laboring the point, it’s worth noting that Pachuca could have had more: in fact, they squandered a couple positively gilded chances, most notable among them a cross that dropped delicately over a defender to Juan Carlos Cacho, open just outside the six. How the forward managed to fire straight at Wells, I’ll never know (thanks, Goff, for providing names in your piece).

No less significantly, DC had their chances – including a solid spell around the 70th minute, well after their legs seemed to have left them. And, as the report I linked to above mentions the Major League Soccer (MLS) club started pretty brightly, both keeping possession and slowing down the game. Putting the loss down to heavy legs seems wise, but, without having read anything about it, that’s a best guess. On the bright side, though, heading back to DC only two goals down isn’t the end of the world. Unlikely as it may be, this remains a winnable series. So…good luck, DC. Do us proud next week, ‘kay?

I’ll close with some other thoughts, most of them about DC: Continue reading

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CCC08: DC 5-0 HVFC, The McTavish Scoring Machine

“The game is opening up. Harbour is getting their chances.”

I wrote that into my notes sometime in the late 50’s, thinking it spelled the beginning of a period when Jamaica’s Harbour View FC (HVFC) would threaten DC United’s lead and survival in the CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) quarterfinal. Instead, not much more than 10 minutes later, DC had extended their lead by three goals – not the prettiest things, but they all count – leaving the Jamaicans completely demoralized. I turned off the game before DC scored their fifth, but saw plenty ahead of it. HVFC had actually lost their way just before the half, but, finding themselves four goals down in abrupt fashion, they hesitated to go forward for fear of suffering another dizzy spell in front of their own net.

And, to think, DC owed so much to Devon McTavish. Without his first half goal – a goal allowed by fundamental errors that don’t belong at the professional level – HVFC would have had less need to compress the field and send players forward. Once exposed, they defended desperately and, unfortunately, not so well. A fortunate bounce here – I mean, how often does a back-heel carom off a defender directly into the path of your star forward? – and defenders chasing the play everywhere, it took only well-placed finishes to put the game to bed.

Mark Rogondino said sometime after the fourth goal that DC’s performance put the rest of Major League Soccer (MLS) on notice. I don’t buy that. They played well, but also benefited from HVFC’s struggles with possession and their players’ preference for too clever play; I can’t count the number of times, when, presented with an easy pass, HVFC’s players opted for another slick, individual maneuver; this threw a wrench into the team’s rhythm and stranded players – the wide ones who proved effective in the first leg, especially – when they made useful runs. At any rate, the analogy rings false because I don’t think many MLS teams, organized and energetic as they tend to be, will shower them with so many give-aways. Continue reading

CCC08: DC v. Harbour View Talking Points (Some Pointed)

I laid down the big picture perspective on DC United’s 1-all draw with Jamaica’s Harbour View FC (HVFC) last night. Bottom line, DC did well enough for a two-legged game – especially one this early in the season and all that implies – but clearly faded down the stretch. And, to give commenter Longshoe his due (who writes over on Who Ate All the Cupcakes; worth checking out), United let up a little early, whether by fatigue or tactical adjustment.

Below are some bulleted talking points that come to me…um, in the absence of the notes I took last night. One last thing to note: the visual contrast between last night’s games.

– The Harbour View game looked and sounded like a United Soccer Leagues-1 game. The small, quiet, almost milling crowd, the crappy, bouncy pitch, even the camera-work: all spelled “minor league.” No offense intended to the good people of Jamaica…besides, your team played above the visuals.

– There’s a lot to love in the Jamaican player; even the defenders look comfortable and inventive on the ball – an oddly tentative second-half spell on defense notwithstanding. Even tactically, the Jamaicans moved the ball well, though only at their best outside DC’s attacking third. They switched the ball well and often and, particularly through Robert Scarlet on their right, found plenty of space down the flanks. Work on their crossing and they’d have something.

– Apart from Scarlet, “The Two Jermaines,” Jermaine Hue and Jermaine Taylor, showed pretty well, even if they too often received the ball in a swarm of black-and-red clad defenders; again, I blame the crossing. Continue reading

EPL Daily 1.16: Capello to be probed?, Diarra finds a home, and Avram Grant makes his second signing (plus FA Cup replay round-ups!)

FABIO CAPELLO: The new coach of the Three Lions has had to assure people that he will not be joining Joey Barton behinds bars due to tax issues. The claims of a full-scale investigation into Capello’s tax history are coming out of Italy and regarding his time as manager of AS Roma and Juventus. Capello assures his tax affairs are in order.

LASSANA DIARRA: 22-years old and he’s already been to two world-class clubs. In order to get proper playing time, Diarra has now moved on – in a reported $10 million move – to Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth. Kind of seems Diarra’s request for more playing time will come with much competition still as Pompey’s midfield is pretty damn good. Niko Kranjcar, Papa Bouba Diop, and Sully Ali Muntari man the middle – he’s got a chance to Redknapp he deserves it though as both Diop and Muntari are at the African Nation’s Cup.

BIG TRANSFERS: Lyon’s Fred looks to be on his way to White Hart Lane to play for the Hotspur; former Chelsea midfielder Maniche got picked up on loan by Inter Milan;  in some sort of a transfer coup 20-year old Argentinian starlet Mauro Zarate – playing with Al-Sadd in Qatar – could be on his way to rescue Birmingham from the Blues; Chelsea have joined in on the Eastern European fun, by signing their own version of Man Utd success story Nemanja Vidic – this central defender, Branko Ivanovic of Lokomotiv Moscow, is also a Serb, already with a work permit, and worth about $20 million. We’ll see if THAT pans out.

FA Cup Round 3 Replays

Bury 2, Norwich 1

The League Two side sparkled against Championship side Norwich. Dion Dublin found the net for the green and yellow, but it was purely consolation. Bury had already ‘buried’ two – Ben Futcher in the 18th and Andy Bishop in the 61st. A whopping 67% scoring percentage.

Tottenham 1, Reading 0

Robbie Keane the hero – again – although it’s been Berbatov’s name on the scoring charts as of late. Tottenham’s newest signing Chris Gunter got the start and did well, while Bobby Convey played all 90 minutes for the Royals making life difficult for Chimbonda on the right. Hahnemann was given the night off along with some other key players and the Royals still were dangerous, but it was the Hotspur who converted their chances and all it took was one.

Millwall 2, Walsall 1
Zak Whitbread’s squad went on and won with out the American back.

Liverpool 5, Luton Town 0

The first half Reds were silent, but once half-time broke, it was all class. Ryan Babel started things off right. Steven Gerrard then promptly stole the show, unleashing his inner frustrations on the Luton Town defense, scoring three over the course of the second half. Only Sami Hyypia could take the spotlight off of Gerrard for more than a minute when he hit home in the 57th minute, confirming the rout was on. Jamie Carragher played in his 500th game for the Reds.

West Brom 2, Charlton 2 (W.B.A. wins 4-3 in penalties)

The Baggies recovered, after giving up a two goal lead, and won 4-3 in penalties. Darren Ambrose and Chris Dickson led the come back charge for Charlton, only to see their FA Cup hopes dashed after Zheng Zhi’s spot-kick was saved by W.B.A.’s Dean Kiely.

Today’s Games
Havant and Waterlooville vs. Swansea
Tranmere vs. Hereford
Newcastle vs. Stoke (save face Magpies, save face)
Manchester City vs. West Ham United

EPL Daily 1.8.08: A Carling Cup of Rumors – Anelka, Cisse and Rafa’s found a back

DERBY TRIO: The Derby Rams are going for a complete makeover. After having already captured UAG Tecos striker Emmanuel Villa for $4 million and Manchester City wantaway Danny Mills, Paul Jewell will not be stopping there. Laurent Robert – the wing midfielder who cost Newcastle around $20 million back in 2001 with decent returns – is expected to sign today barring international clearance. At 32-years old, it looks like Jewell is going for the veteran leadership aspect, confirmed through the apparent courting of Blackburn’s out-of-favour midfielder Robbie Savage (33yo). This certainly doesn’t bode well for Benny Feilhaber who sits uncomfortably far down in the pecking order right now. Not done there though as reports have linked Tottenham misfit midfielder Hossam Ghaly with Derby as well. It isn’t likely all three would sign, but Ghaly looks to be a viable option as a loanee.

FRED CHAVES: The still-young 24 year old Brazilian striker has seen better days at Lyon. Once put on the transfer list, plenty of interest has already been shown – predominantly from Brazil, but some English clubs have thrown their wallets into the mix. Tottenham and West Ham are the latest to have shown some interest, but the likely destination seems to be Ligue One rivals Paris St-Germain. The asking price is a cool $20 million. Fred’s descent at Stade Gerland has been countered by the rise of starlets Hatem Ben Arfa and Karim Benzema as well as the formation which puts the young Benzema at the lone striker positon. Worst of it is, it’s been working…(Benzema has 12 goals, Lyon is in 1st). Regardless, over three years and 55 appearances, Fred still managed 25 goals. It’d be a hell of capture for either West Ham and Tottenham, if they’re willing to part with the cash (which has never been a problem).

LIVERPOOL: Ready to go Eastern European in the back. Hard not to after watching the success of Serbian Nemanja Vidic in the center of defense for champions Manchester United. The cat is out of the bag on Eastern European defenders in general as there will be no more lenient price tags. Rafa’s target is Martin Skrtel – a 23-year old Slovakian centreback, capable of playing on the left as well. As he has passed his medical, all that’s left is formalities and Skrtel will become Liverpool’s most expensive defender at $13 million. Defense has become somewhat of urgency at Liverpool as Sami Hyppia has been hit with injury to add to the already injured Daniel Agger. Skrtel, playing for Zenit St. Petersburg now and used to European competition, will fit the bill. Read up on Skrtel here.

FRENCH STRIKERS: Nicolas Anelka wants to be at Stamford Bridge. Bolton says no, but Chelsea is still hopeful they can get a deal done. The bid was apparently laughable to Bolton at $24 million and with Manchester United also actively searching for a striker, should Chelsea be biding their time with a bid like that? Djibril Cisse, the former Liverpool strikeman, is ready for a Premiership return but his stock has taken a hit following two major injuries over the past several years. Marseille’s President Pape Diouf has already followed an apparent bid for Cisse from Manchester City with a resounding no.

OTHER RUMORS: Lassana Diarra to Newcastle; Jermain Defoe open for the bidding even after scoring 5 in his last 7 appearances – destination: Manchester United?;  

CARLING CUP: 1st Leg of the Semifinals today and tomorrow – Chelsea vs. Everton (Tues.) and Arsenal vs. Tottenham (Wed.). Here’s a quick preview of this week’s games from the Carling Cup site. Predictions – Everton comes out of Stamford Bridge even, while Arsenal outclasses Tottenham at home. Especially if the in-form Eduardo is on the field.

DC Routs RBNY – On a Roll? (I Think So)

Watching last night’s game has me feeling a lot like right about Red Bull New York and DC United – though more about the latter than the former. As you’ll see in the (barely coherent) notes transcribed below, I’m thinking DC is rounding into their formula.

On a very basic level, the secret of DC’s success boils down to having good players playing a simple and correct game; the crucial thing comes with getting the players singing from the same sheet – as DC is doing right now. They get into this rhythm and, every time the other team presses – as Red Bull tried to do late – DC, down to a man, can cope. It’s the combination of passing and moving. You can teach a fucking monkey to do this, but too few teams do.

In a moment of some extravagance (what can I say? I get a little, um, “loose” when I watch a game…or is it tight?), I wrote, “This is the future of American soccer: teaching these basics – e.g. passing and movement off the ball – to the players.” That’s not it, of course: we’ll take the next step, as a league and as a national team, when players can build from those basics, but kind of nuts and bolts of that kind matter to the point of being fundamental.

As for Red Bull, I’m back to thinking I had them pegged a week or so ago; this simply isn’t that good a team. They struggle to use the good parts they have, against decent opposition at least. More significantly, Red Bull didn’t look all that different in last night’s loss than they did in a recent(-ish) win over Toronto: actually, they kept more passes in play last night, but the passes out of the back failed to find their mark, while DC’s pressure kept them from playing through the midfield.

Moving on to my notes…which are amended in parentheses where necessary…which seems too often by far… Continue reading

DC’s Statement over the Crew

So, my weekend viewing went a little sideways. My original plan had me taking in Red Bull v. LA – and I’m very glad to have stuck with that. The other one-to-two games I expected to watch were Columbus Crew v. DC United (first) and Real Salt Lake v. Chicago Fire (second); I sorta managed the former – by which I mean, I watched it in archived chunks, mainly because I ran across the final score before watching. I caught highlights for Salt Lake v. Chicago – great goal by Cuauthemoc Blanco, by the way (look for it on Youtube…now) – but otherwise blew off. I don’t know that I missed much – I mean, RSL lost…again – while Chicago’s new toys worked as advertised. At the same time, I can’t say New England v. Kansas City was a better game; I’d be surprised, in fact, if it was.

So, with the caveat that I didn’t watch every minute in real time, Columbus versus DC looked like a pretty educational affair. The scoreline flattered DC, if only just: by that I mean, Columbus isn’t significantly worse, but their attack suffers from fairly severe limitations; put in more blunt terms, this team really needs a “go-to” forward. In players like Luciano Emilio and, on Saturday, Fred, DC has those players – and that’s why they won.

It’s not all a wash for the Crew, though. The recent defensive stability of Columbus seems to have left the buidling with Chad Marshall; his replacement, Ezra Hendrickson, struggled all day – and he was almost completely at fault for DC’s insurance goal. I’m not a firm believer in Rusty Pierce, either, and, looking at the line-up, I wonder how much the decision to shift Stephani Miglioranzi into midfield (and I’m assuming this is what happened) hurt the Crew.

For all that, however, the Crew kept the ball about as well as DC and did, for as much of the game as I watched, limit their chances while setting up enough of their own. Those chances weren’t great ones – call the majority of ’em half- or even quarter-chances – but the Crew have enough in defense and midfield to keep DC out of their defensive third. Again, they just don’t have enough to win against a team as good as DC.

DC continues to impress me. Their success is not built on great players – I find DC’s roster good in spots, but overall underwhelming – but on their capacity to play as a team. The movement is crisp and coordinated, they shrink the field to a postage stamp with pressure well up the field, and, when they’re in position, they’ve got the talent to exploit the opportunities. It’s a good formula, one I think has been part of DC’s approach since the Piotr Nowak took over. Whether I’m right or wrong here, one thing is for sure: DC is a team to watch down the stretch. Put another way, I think they’ll be number one again in my rankings at least.