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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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

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