10 Bright Spots of MLS Week 1: The Gambians, Cooke, and a Salute to Youth

1. New England Revolution

Introduce two U-20 Gambian players and succeed? Sure. Steve Nicol certainly knows what he’s doing and his opener – without the services of Twellman – truly pays homage to his ability to man manage and bring along young talent. Let’s not forget Adam Cristman who worked well with Nyassi and Mansally. All three – along with the veteran presence of Steve Ralston (let’s hope that shoulder’s okay) and the patrolling of Joseph/Larentowicz in the middle – helped put together an attack that even Houston’s defense couldn’t withstand. On the other end, however, Parkhurst dealt with Ching effectively, while it’s pretty certain that Wondolowski should not be in there.

2. Terry Cooke

When did Terry Cooke get fast? We knew he had a boot, but his speed and tenacity was the difference versus the Galaxy. Could it have been the Englishman just wanted to show up his former teammate Beckham? If that’s the case – the opening goal in a 4-0 drubbing of the Galaxy and two subsequent assists will do just that. We can expect another big service year from Cooke. Someone explain to me how Cooke got awarded that second assist on Colin Clark’s goal??? Clark dribbled for what seemed like an eternity before beating Cronin near post…at what point does Cooke’s initial pass become “unassisted”? 

3. Kenny Mansally/Sainey Nyassi

These kids can play. Nyassi burnt Houston on the wings and was able to finish his first goal ever in his debut. Mansally had his hand in the first goal and looked strong on the ball with an uncharacteristic poise for a first year striker. If Mansally and Cristman do well enough up top, does Taylor Twellman technically become expendable?? (Answer is probably no…). Sainey Nyassi was hyped up a little less than Mansally throughout the preseason, but he arguably was the more effective player. Not even Corey Ashe had an answer for his speed on the wings. Both players if consistent provide the Revs with a depth that could account for the loss of Dorman and Noonan. Let’s wait for week two though…

4. Maykel Galindo

He did it at the expense if FC Dallas’ new acquisition and Mexican international Diulio Davino, but no matter how it happens, the Goats came away with a point. Davino mishandled a trap and Galindo capitalized by pouncing on it and sending it straight through Dario Sala’s legs to equalize with 5 minutes to go. What it made it more impressive was that Galindo is still recovering from sports hernia surgery and isn’t at 100%. The Cuban international then kissed the Chivas USA shield during his end-of-the-game interview. The guy is class.

5. Claudio Lopez

Eddie Johnson who? Lopez and Ivan Trujillo ripped apart a decent D.C. United defense with the help of Carlos Marinelli. Already, this is shaping up to be one interesting year. If I’m not mistaken though, there were some crazy results at the beginning of last year too. Anyways, Lopez is class and looks like he’ll end up being another DP success. In fact, you could almost say that about all the DP debuts.  

6. Dema Kovalenko

The guy got stiffed by RBNY and sent on over to Salt Lake (stiffed in the sense he’s more of a big city guy, Chicago his “adopted home”, etc.), but he made the best of his first appearance. Dema, within two minutes of coming, served a cross that was redirected into the Chicago goal by young Bakary Soumare. In a questionably sloppy game, Kovalenko got the job done. On top of that, Kova was just recently sworn in as an official citizen of the United States of America.

7. Adam Moffat

One hell of a game winning goal for Columbus from the star of the Crew’s preseason. A developmental contract that looks to make a significant contribution to the Crew’s run this season. Reminds me of a younger Kerry Zavagnin. 

8. John DiRaimondo/Nick LaBrocca/Kosuke Kimura

LaBrocca, the NJ native, and DiRaimondo really frustrated the hell out of an almost non-existant Los Angeles midfield. Fernando Clavijo’s injury predicament forced him to go with a lot of new blood. Kimura held his own at right back, keeping Donovan pretty quiet throughout the whole game. From the get go, it was clear who wanted to win the game and all three were a huge part of that.

9. Traveling Toronto FC Fans

TFC had something like 2,000 supporters travel down to Columbus to take over Columbus Crew stadium. The Crew still outplayed them in the end, but Crew Stadium was still Toronto’s for the afternoon. Take those supporters away and you have one pitiful Columbus crowd. Mr. Gillett, you want a team? I got one for you…

10. Jon Busch

The seemingly eternal back-up began his Chicago starting career with a big game. A potent Real Salt Lake offense tested him again and again, forcing him into 8 saves. Busch, who last started regularly in 2004 with the Columbus Crew, looked shaky in the beginning but ultimately showed well and solidified his number one spot. In 2004, Busch was the brightest spot on a decent Columbus team – he posted a 1.07 GAA and a 12-5-12 winning record. Then he was replaced….Here’s to hoping he finds that success again.

Chivas USA 2007 Review: Stalking Horses…with a Limp

Chivas USA
Record (W-L-T): 15-7-8; 46 GF, 28 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster (whoa…updated already)

It can’t possibly be so simple, can it?  Surely, the reasons for Chivas USA’s first-round exit from the playoffs don’t begin and end with the absence of starting forwards Maykel Galindo and Ante Razov.  There has to be something else.  Right?

The truth is, I don’t really know.  On some unconscious level, Chivas USA has taken over the role that the Kansas City Wizards had held previously – e.g. they’re the team I’m most likely to forget.  The funny thing about that is the impression that I’m not alone.  For those unfamiliar with the regular season practices of this space, I compiled something called Collective Power Rankings, which amounted to averaging all the independently compiled power rankings I could find and averaging the numbers.  Somewhere way back – further back than the oldest collective rankings I could find (well, that used Chivas USA as a tag) – I, along with everyone except Sideline Views’ Luis Bueno, suddenly noticed a couple things about Chivas USA.

First, they had a stellar record at home.  More significantly, however, they had an unbelievable defensive record at home: by the time the All-Star break rolled around, Chivas had surrendered just two goals at home on the season (OK, this gets a little silly because when they play the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center – e.g. their home ground – Chivas counts as the home team only half the time).  No less significantly, a weird, early-August layoff from league play had them slowly gaining games in hand over their Western Conference rivals; and all of them – except the Houston Dynamo, who were tearing shit up around the same time – were stumbling. Continue reading

DS, 10.31: Coaching Theory, Playoff Theory + Playoff Strategery

First of all, Happy Halloween. From what my wife tells me, I’m taking the kids trick-or-treating as a nun, so, yeah, I kinda have to get drunk. Dang it.

Oh, and I think I’ve got to get over shoving every subject under discussion into the title; that’s what tags are for, right? This frees me up to reuse the title “Daily Sweeper,” which, I believe anyway, implies a grab-bag of topics. Are we in agreement? Disagreement? Are you hungry too? I’m craving grease like a hungover pregnant lady…perhaps even a nun. Crap…where am I? Oh yeah.

– Apart from revealing himself to be a nice fella (through his reluctance to ask hunted coaches about their job security), USSoccerplayas.com Ian Plenderleith closed his column on La Vida Coacha with an interesting theory as to why a guy like, say, Sigi Schmid still has a job:

“The Crew is probably not sticking with Schmid because they’re in love with his coaching methods, but because there’s no one else around that could take his place. That’s not the best reason to retain a coach, but if you’re a club executive and the list of alternatives begins with, say, Bob Gansler at the top, you’ve probably no choice but to either keep the man you have, or submit to a prolonged bout of weeping.”

It’s an interesting thought. And it could explain why Frank Yallop feels more optimistic about continuing his mortgage payments in Southern California (wade past all the Chivas’ stuff; it’s in there), or why, in spite of multiple columns criticizing his competence and enthusiasm for his job, Bruce Arena still wears that, um…Tomcat Smirk (trying to come up with a phrase analogous to Chesire Smile, but one that actually matches The Bruce’s permanent expression).

On the other hand, I don’t see the limits to the coaching pool Plenderleith sees in the paragraph that follows the one above. A pool exists between former players and even coaches “tainted” by the college game. None of these will be sure-shots by any means, but the conceptual knowledge will be there. When it comes to managing players’ egos, training them well (enough), and fielding the right players in the right places, a fella will either have it or he won’t; a number of these guys will tank, naturally, but how’s that so different from the “name” guy already pulling the team down into the bowl with them? What the hell, right? Roll the dice. It’s a gamble, but you can’t win if you don’t play.

UPDATE: Longshoe makes this same point only better over on Who Ate All the Cupcakes.  It’s worth checking out.

Continue reading

MLS: Cupcakes/Center Picks Pool, First Round, Second Leg

Welcome to the next round of picks for the Center Holds It/Who Ate All the Cupcakes Playoff Picks Duel (current standings).  My picks appear down below and I invite my colleagues and the guys from Who Ate All the Cupcakes to leave their picks in the comments so they’re all in one place.

On that, the subject of picks that is, I got about halfway through Jeff Bradley’s “lessons learned” First XI (which is currently formatted in “crazy, oversized” font) when I realized that nothing likely to happen between now and Thursday (or Friday, or Saturday) will give me the seeing-eye tips I need to make lock-of-the-week quality calls on each of the four games.  To give an example, we could learn tomorrow that Maykel Galindo will start for Chivas, but that news must be weighed against how fit he really is and how long he’s been out.  Short of bonding with key players’ psyches – y’know, to see whether they’re up for the game, or just thinking about a nagging ankle, doing laundry, dinner reservations, cruising for prostitutes and blow, suppressing erotic longings for a teammate, etc. – I’ll never get the kind of dish I truly need to make sense of these, frankly, nightmarishly complicated draws and scenarios.

Crap.  Was that even a sentence?

So, with one arm crossed and a dead goat’s organs splayed across my desk (hmm…that liver looks like Ronald Reagan), here are my picks for all four first-round second leg games – with commentary as the spirit moves me.  And, for the record, I changed these things around, literally, half a dozen times – totally against the tried-and-true multiple choice method.  Dammit…

DC United 1-1 Chicago Fire (agg. 2-1 to the Fire): DC will believe they broke the curse till the very end, when some nausea-inducing defensive gaffe kills them dead.

Houston Dynamo 2-0 FC Dallas (agg. 2-1 to Houston): One of these things has to play to type…right?  I am 100% pulling for the upset and had two different scenarios penciled in here featuring a Dallas win.  But, as one should always do when gambling, I’m placing this bet stone-cold sober and with my heart ripped from my chest.  (It hurts…)

New England Revolution 1-0 Red Bull New York (agg. 1-0 to New England): OK, two have to play to type.  As for the game itself, our worst collective expectations come hideously true.

Chivas USA 0-0 Kansas City Wizards (agg. 1-0 to KC): I can’t see Chivas scoring.  I just can’t.

Well, that’s it for self-immolation…now to see what everyone else picks.

DS, 10.11: Chivas Notes; Single Table Rumors; It’s Gotta Be St. Louie + More

There’s so much good stuff out there today…let’s just say I had to cut more than I wanted up to and including those Seattle announcement rumors (crap…there it is; for the record, I don’t buy them). Moving on…

– A half-mysterious injury to Maykel Galindo makes for one of the less-reported items coming out of the Chivas USA camp. As much as that impacts tonight’s game against FC Dallas (great preview), there’s the longer term to consider – as in what this does to Chivas’ MLS Cup chances.

– “Operation: Improve MLS” gets a quantity of suggestions equal to or, possibly, exceeding the number to fans of the league. Believe me when I say I’m not making fun; I come up with an idea per day on my own. But the hoariest of these tinkerings got new life today when the ever-entertaining MLS Rumors floated another one about MLS going to a single table in 2008. It occurs to me now that I should one day track MLS Rumors’ record against reality, but for now, I’m just going to point readers to a semi-formal single table v. status quo poll set up by the Toronto FC Offside. Let’s just say I surprised myself with my answer:

“I never thought I’d write (or say) this, but I’m going with the playoffs. I think it was Craig who helped me see the light. At the same time, I’d shrink Craig’s playoff pool, even as I have to admit that in a 20-team league, eight teams making the playoffs wouldn’t look f-ing ridiculous as it does with 13 teams. Fundamentally, though, I like how baseball, the most patriotic of all American sports, limits the post-season party to a few teams. I’d go with a four-team post-season, two from each conference. We’re looking for the best of the best, right? “

Inexplicably absent from all that is the central reason for sticking with the status quo: the U.S. is f-ing big y’all; conferences make sense given that reality. Whatever you think, All y’all should head over to join the fun.

– In one of my favorite pieces of the day, Bill Urban wrote up all the reasons why David Beckham should NOT make a “glorious return” for LA Galaxy’s post-season run. My favorite line:

“Instead of admiration for their surge into playoff contention, the work the Galaxy players have done to get into that position would be cheapened, denigrated, and lost in the media spasms of the Return of the King.”

Yes, yes, yes. One other thing puzzles me – and I noticed it from the earlier Beckham games: what the hell was Pete Vagenas doing riding pine when Beckham is on the field? That doesn’t add up for me.

– Whoops. Botched my order. More good news out of St. Louie, though of the variety that comes short of guarantees. Even so, I don’t know how they don’t become MLS’s 16th franchise, I really don’t…which isn’t to say I’ll be surprised when they get skipped (and Portland is out there as well; a lot of people are picking up on that today; sorry, no links though).

– Finally, I didn’t think I’d like this, but it left me grinning so it must be good, right? Dave Martinez, who toils (what other verb applies when it comes to Red Bull?) on the Red Bull New York Offside, got to play FIFA ’08 with Josmer Altidore. An entirely charming story, as well as a good interview, came out of that….and, yeah, he’s a nice kid and all, but I think Jozy is a bit nuts for thinking Red Bull has a shot at MLS Cup.

For the record, I’m still rocking the Stone Age with FIFA 2004 – and I suck at it. FIFA ’08 sounds too hard.

10 Bright Spots of Week 23: things got weird when Jaqua hit for hat-trick

1. Nate Jaqua – it seems every time Luciano Emilio has a great week, someone has an even better one; Jaqua scoring a hat-trick was certainly not something I was expecting from the big man; he scored one in the first half and added a brace in the second to help Houston squeak by Real Salt Lake 4-3 – kind of an odd game

2. Luciano Emilio – four goals in two games for the machine as his rate is skyrocketing and he now sits solely at the top of the scoring tables with 18; none of this would be possible without the service of Gomez, Fred, Olsen, and recently Brian Carroll

3. Maykel Galindo – are defenders worse this year or are the new additions of Angel, Galindo, and Emilio just enough to outclass a plateaued level of defensive talent? after being kept quiet against DC United, the Cuban struck for two against a tired and undermanned Red Bull squad

4. Wilman Conde – a really inspiring first game for the Colombian as it looks like everyone of their summer signings have started strong; he added an assist in Chicago’s 1-0 win over Columbus; I think Conde is the guy that’s gonna put the Fire through to that last playoff spot

5. Marc Burch – this guy has become D.C. United’s most consistent performer day-in and day-out and a damn-good defender at that; the 23-year old former Terp has certainly proven to be a bargain (3rd Round Supp. Pick) plucked from Columbus

6. Corey Ashe – had himself a phenomenal weekend and introduced RSL to his newfangled partnership with Nate Jaqua as he provided the target man with everyone of his services; between Ashe (a rookie) and Stuart Holden (2nd year) Houston looks to have a promising corps of youth for the future

7. Pete Vagenas – he must have been channeling the injured Beckham as his passes were accurate and good enough for two assists – one to Alan Gordon and another to Edson Buddle: hopefully he can channel Goldenballs for the rest of the 10-game stretch they have as it might be helpful to end the year on a good note

8. Brad Guzan – a 3-0 shutout of the Red Bulls made up allowing 2 goals against D.C. United; Guzan has also been Chivas’ MVP all season, even more so than Galindo

9. Cobi Jones – he seems to really help out when the Galaxy are otherwise in dire straits but it would probably be better if the veteran had evened the ship before it hit rock bottom

10. Christian Gomez – two assists and a smidgen of his former self showed this past week; if Gomez wakes up to the tune of last year’s performances, we could see ourselves one hell of a postseason

The SuperClasico: Kicking His Majesty

 Though I was otherwise occupied last night, I did catch the highlights for this one last night. Wow, what a result! 3-0 to Chivas USA: a rough, involuntary proctological exam given by the Home Depot Center’s “junior tenants” to an increasingly desperate LA Galaxy. I do have a thought or two, but will begin – and this is with all due and sincerest apologies to LA Galaxy fans – ahem…ha, ha ha ha ha! Oh, sorry. Very sorry. But…holy ouch! That must be demoralizing.Turning from gloating to game, some nice goals came out of this one – thank you, Maykel Galindo (honorable mention to Francisco Mendoza’s) – but the thing that really stuck with me was Jesse Marsch’s ruthless kick to David Beckham’s mid-section. What the hell was that? I see Kevin Harmse and Alex Zotinca got chucked for their part in the brawl that ensued, but I’m not seeing Marsch’s wild, miles-from-ball lunge as anything less than a red card offense. And, yes, there’s that little evil part of me gleeful that Beckham finally got that cheap-shot “welcome to the league” that I always knew he’d get, but it was still a shitty foul. Furthermore, tough as Marsch is, I didn’t peg him as a natural for the welcoming committee. Interesting…

Any wagers on the size of the fine heading Mr. Marsch’s way?

UPDATE: Judging by the three, four articles I’ve so far read, mine stands as a minority view on the severity of Marsch’s foul.  The fullest explanation of the incident I’ve so far seen appeared in an Associated Press write-up run on Sports Illustrated’s site.  Here’s the key excerpt:

“Marsch came running up behind Beckham and applied a high kick to the Galaxy captain’s upper right hip during injury time at the end of the first half of the Major League Soccer game.”

“‘He kind of got a piece of me the play before that and so it was somewhat of a retaliation, somewhat of a tactical foul because he was on the break,’ Marsch said. ‘It was harder than I would have liked it to have been. I apologized to him and I told him I respect what he’s about. He was kind of dumb with me though.'”

Well, there’s one side of the story, anyway.  Even if the kick went to the “upper right hip” instead of the belly, as I saw it (stupid Lite beer…), Marsch missed the ball by a mile.  But getting kicked is part of the game, right?  So, I’m revising my thinking a bit: cynical twice-over as the foul was, I’d be at least mildly surprised if Marsch got fined.