Eastern Conf. Final: Reputations Polished and Dented

Is that all there is? The New England Revolution beats the Chicago Fire, who beats DC United? Will it take the revival of Kansas City, or the arrival of Red Bull New York, or – god forbid – the Columbus Crew to confound this predictable procession? Lord, I hope not, because the status quo sure looks set to hold for a damned long while.

Not that I’m complaining – writing, after all, as a Revs fan – or not that I don’t think New England deserved to win. Truth be told, the Revs played as well last night as they have all year, smartly ceding possession to Chicago where it couldn’t hurt them and clamping down like a pit bull where it mattered on defense and creating space and possession in the attacking third. If there’s a complaint to level against them, it’s that they were a little slow to fire into half-openings; worse, when gifted a couple glorious openings, key, veteran players – Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph – fired embarrassingly high and appallingly wide.

Of course, the offense – or, rather, Taylor Twellman – got it together the one time required, scoring off a bicycle kick that, even in real time, somehow developed in slow-motion; with the ball arching in the cold air, Twellman squared his body with his back to the goal, while Dasan Robinson and (was it?) C. J. Brown quickly closed the space until there was nothing much wider than a foot’s width opening through which to strike. Twellman’s foot squeezed through, the ball bounced into the corner of Matt Pickens’ goal, and that, though we sensed it more than knew it at the time, was the end. From there, the entire team scrapped all over the field to make that lone goal stand up.

In fact, the Revolution looked more like scoring a second than Chicago looked like scoring a first. What Chicago didn’t miss, Matt Reis swallowed up. Worse, things too rarely reached that point. Chicago’s forwards struggled in particular: Chad Barrett by bolting aimlessly around and Paulo Wanchope by lumbering a step or two behind every play. New England shut off supply by shutting down Blanco and Rolfe, the latter of whom the Revs abused just shy of illegality. Referee Kevin Stott admirably let the teams play, but, in what had to be one of the greater surprises of the night, both teams played a fairly clean game, leaving Stott little cause to wave around cards; maybe yellow card trouble isn’t always a bad thing.

For my money, two things, one avoidable, the other not, sunk Chicago. First, the unavoidable piece: their most effective players on the night – Gonzalo Segares and Wilman Conde – played too far back and had too many defensive responsibilities to help with the attack. As for the avoidable, that came with choices of personnel and substitution: subbing Barrett, whose sheer effort may have produced something eventually, didn’t add up, nor did introducing Calen Carr with only minutes remaining. But, to return to something I commented on last night, the biggest problem came in the personnel department: starting Wanchope can be excused, but leaving him on at least 45 minutes too long cannot. And, of course, Justin Mapp finally came on the field for the Fire, but a visible disconnect between him and the rest of the team came with him. Continue reading

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New England v. Chicago Preview (All Right, All Right; I’ll Do It)

I’m about to do something I almost never do: preview a game, namely, the Eastern Conference Final pitting the New England Revolution against the Chicago Fire. For the record, I blame the quality stuff other people are turning out. Even MLSnet.com’s typically tepid preview contains a vital information-nugget: Shalrie Joseph will have to sit out the final if he picks up a yellow in the semifinal. That’s pretty big, bigger than Taylor Twellman being in the same situation to be sure. I also learned that Kevin Stott will officiate…though I can’t remember whether I have an opinion on him or not.

Before getting to my thoughts, here are the other “inspirations” that got me thinking too much about tomorrow night’s game. Ives Galarcep turned in pre-game analysis for ESPN that hits plenty of useful highlights, most notably the potentially defining match-up between Joseph and Cuauhtemoc Blanco – more on this later from me. A couple people took up the rivalry thing: Blue Blooded Journo conducted a Q & A with himself in which he looks into everything from Chicago’s fans to the horror that is Blanco’s face…Chicago fans may want to skip that one. Finally, even though Luis Arroyave failed to get “bulletin board material” out of either side of the rivalry, he passed on an absolutely brilliant alleged quote from Clint Dempsey:

Just last year, a scuffle nearly broke out in the Toyota Park tunnel with Fire defender Gonzalo Segares and ex-Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey. Sources said Dempsey yelled ‘I don’t care–take me to jail’ as teammates tried to restrain him.”

I’ll be asking for a t-shirt for Christmas, along with another inspired by Britney Spears (credit to Ann Romano from the Portland Mercury): “Rehab Is Hard Y’all.”

Now, for my look ahead to Those Things That Will Loom Large in tomorrow night’s game. Continue reading

Two Quick(-ish) Thoughts: The Juan Carlos Osorio Experiment & MLS in EPL

A couple ideas came to me late last night.  These aren’t grand theses so much as the beginnings of a thought process on a couple themes familiar to any fan of MLS.

– First, seeing where the Chicago Fire are today has me thinking back a Halloween piece Ian Plenderleith posted on USSoccerplayas.com, the one where he talks about MLS teams’ limited options when it comes to replacing – how do you say? – sub-standard coaches.  My reaction at the time (which I’d rate at 50% knee-jerk) amounted to faith that some diamonds lurk in the college coaching rough.  Since posting that, however, Chicago’s Juan Carlos Osorio keeps cropping into my head as a kind of counter-argument.  The Fire doesn’t look anything like the team that started the season and, as much as people hang the laurels on Cuauhtemoc Blanco, he’s only half the equation.  What about the steady, smart organized feel with which Chicago approaches the game?  That’s not Blanco, or Chris Rolfe for that matter.  Think back to the shambling mess the defense was earlier in the year under Dave Sarachan; think of those back-to-back-to-almost-back games where Chicago gave up three goals.  The question is the extent to which Osorio gets credit for that.  Speaking for myself, I’d say he’s making the case that foreign coaches have something American coaches lack, whether it’s in organization, tactical adjustments, ego management, etc.  Maybe there is something to that foreign coach thing – even if the mini-parade of tried-and-failed foreign coaches for the MetroStars  act as counter-arguments.  Rather than buying into that “he knows the American player” spiel, maybe looking abroad is the answer.  Anyway, I plan to keep watching  this for as long as Osorio stays in MLS.

– Second, I got to thinking last night – while watching Bolton draw West Ham, as it happened – that most higher-end MLS players would do just fine in the English Premier League.  This is not to say even the majority of the league’s players are even the low-end of EPL caliber; even a fair number of the players I rated as “good” in my list of “All-Time ‘Good’ MLS Players” wouldn’t make the cut.  But here’s where I’m going: a solid MLS player – it was Shavar Thomas who got me thinking about this (and, yep, he’s on the list) – would probably do well enough on an EPL team to be anonymous – e.g. he would neither stink up the joint nor star.  Put another way, I peg the top third of MLS talent somewhere between a decent role-player and a credible contributor on an EPL team.  Any thoughts out there?

Daily Sweeper, 11.2: MLS Playoffs, Past and Future + Enough Crap to Fill 10 Outhouses

– Before looking backward, let’s take a glance forward. I’ve got my picks laid out, but here’s what people have to say about this weekend’s conference semis – all except that one no one seems to care about. Shhh….

New England Revolution v. Red Bull New York
Now that I think about it, I didn’t see – or rather, I didn’t read – a lot of copy on this one. But the unpaid interns (they just have to be, right?) at MLSnet.com turned in their preview. Elsewhere, Clemente Lisi wrote a bolder preview for USSoccerplayas.com framed around the possibility that Gillette Stadium might be the Last Chance Saloon for Red Bull’s coach Bruce Arena. I don’t know about that – I bet The Bruce gets another year regardless – but Lisi does well enumerating the man’s sins.

Houston Dynamo v. FC Dallas
I’ll start by confessing that I rarely want to lose bets, never mind badly. C’mon Dallas: prove me wrong.

Previews abound for this one, but you can find most of what you want to read on tonight’s game in 3rd Degree’s daily round-up. Time’s short, though, so get cracking. But MLS’s interns did their bit, as did Goal.com, and Yahoo! News.

If gambling were legal in this damnable country, I’d be running an over-under for how quickly Dallas succumbs.

– Now to look back. I posted my piece last night – an ode to Clyde Simms as it turned out. It’s funny, though: I’m able to celebrate this game and DC’s part in it, but that’s down to a coincidence that I caught them after they woke up. From what I’ve read, my thoughts would have been vastly different had I caught the first half.

Moving on to what other’s thought, this one got picked apart – and, this time ‘round, I’ll take a broader view (e.g I won’t essentially ignore Chicago). To follow up on that aside, I’m going to lead with Chicago. Continue reading

MLS: Week of Good, Week of Evil and the Schedule Ahead

The part of Week 27 that mattered ended with Los Angeles rolling to another win (psst…Colorado beat Toronto…no, I don’t care either).  That damnable pack of revenants keeps shuffling and scratching on some unholy quest to, once again, mock the regular season.  If a simple demonstration of the stupidity of it all WAS the mission, I could get behind it.  But we all know it’s a simple selfish quest for undeserved glory and, seeing as we’re dealing with the undead, probably brains.  I keep telling these fucking twits, the head!  Shoot for the goddamn head!  That’s the only way to bring them down.

I didn’t see that game, in any case…stupid Telefutura…only reminds me of my linguistic limitations…

No, I witnessed other games – among them, an indirect, rear-guard sally to stave off the walking dead (maybe the plan is to corral them into a valley and raze it with fire; hadn’t considered that).  Even with my love for New England returning to its steady psychotic girlfriend/controlling boyfriend state, too much good comes from the Chicago Fire’s win over them for me to care.  On the downside, other teams just might take note of the way, first, Chad Barrett, then Cuauhtemoc Blanco kept finding space wide of the Revs’ back three; a better player than Barrett, or one less tanked than Blanco, could have helped that 2-1 win into a bloody rout, but Barrett was good enough for man of the match honors and the blows landed all the same.  Even allowing for fatigue and acknowledging a hard-fought game from both sides, if I had to face one of them just now, it would be New England. Continue reading

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

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