CCC08: Municipal v. Houston – Stay Frosty, Creamsicles

In spite of the fact I’m going to skip a preview for tonight’s CONCACAF Champions Cup (CCC) quarterfinal between CD Saprissa and FC Atlante, credit last night’s quarterfinal between CSD Municipal and the Houston Dynamo for compelling me to watch it…probably in the wee hours of tomorrow.

Getting back to the game, I posted a loosey-goosey perspective on last night’s goalless draw, but wanted to follow up with some talking point here.  To reiterate just a little, it seems Houston brought a little luck with them to Guatemala; the Municipal really took it to them and really should have put away at least one.  A roll-out of the reasons they didn’t,  plus a lot more, comes below.

– To begin, my general ignorance of their team leaves me feeling I’m doing to the Guatemalans.  They played a good game from front-to-back and I wish I could credit the players by name.  This is something I generally hate about watching teams with whom I’m unfamiliar (and why I’m becoming so MLS-monogamous).  That said, Mario Rodriguez buzzed like a mad bee, causing the Dynamo headaches all night; I remember hearing Israel Silva’s name plenty, as well as Gonzalo Romero.  With Freddy Garcia, who didn’t stand out as much for me, they led the Municipal attack better than ably.

– Though it bears noting that it was Romero who conspired to miss a goal that a blind, one-legged man could have put away.

– This also occasioned the best commentating moment of the match.  FSC commentator Christopher Sullivan exclaimed “impossiblé” on watching the replays and, for reasons beyond knowing, decided to mention this means “impossible.”  FSC’s play-by-play guy, Max Bretos, clearly unable to resist, chimed in with “Is that what it means?”  A cheap-shot to be sure, but what can you do when Sullivan leads with that big chin?

– Yeah, I like the broadcast team.  I know that’s a lonely view, but they make me laugh.  OK, back to the game. Continue reading

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Gamba 6-1 Dynamo: Twas no Team; A Typhoon It Was…Arrr.

Well all right. My first pirate-inspired headline.

So…how bad was the Houston Dynamo’s loss to Gamba Osaka? First, there’s the score to consider: any time your bunch gives up six goals, you couldn’t have had a good night. I don’t think Pat Onstad can remember the last time he let in six…assuming it ever happened. Bare got four of Osaka’s goals and, as one of the commentators noted, all four were not just well-taken, but each was a little bit different from the one before (and I felt inspired to ask this, when he had only two).

No, I think the best measure of the complete, um, uncloseness of the Pan-Pacific Challenge final comes with how I managed sleep. Somewhere around the 60th minute, I promised myself I’d go to bed either when Osaka scored its fourth goal or if the Dynamo showed no meaningful signs of life at the 75th minute. Osaka’s fourth came only minutes later. I went to bed assuming things could only get worse and, when I resumed watching in the morning (let us pause to celebrate the successful operation of a VCR), it did: Osaka dropped in a fifth in short order, hit the post once, again forced Onstad into a desperate scramble, scored their sixth – again, over a flailing, bewildered Onstad…you get the idea.

So…6-1. Suddenly, the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 1-0 loss in the semifinal doesn’t look all that bad…

In spite of the walk-over, I don’t think anyone would argue Houston looked worse than the Galaxy. Houston made repeated forays into Osaka’s half through the length of the rout. But they encountered an organized defense on every trip, even the several occasions they managed to create a little chaos, or even hit the crossbar, as Brian Ching did late in the game. Maybe it was the predictability of the Dynamo’s attack that created the sense of Osaka’s invulnerability, that nearly all their success and promising openings came down Stuart Holden’s right and from elsewhere too rarely if at all. Maybe with Dwayne DeRosario in the middle or someone besides Corey Ashe starting and going the full 90 on the left (and I like Ashe plenty as a sub), the Dynamo might have unlocked Osaka’s defenses. They had plenty of the ball, but, in the final tally, simply couldn’t do much with it.

The Dynamo’s defense was something else again. Too often a couple steps out of sync, a little slow, shell-shocked even: we don’t often see the Dynamo surrender six goals over three games, or even four or five. Bobby Boswell and Patrick Ianni have a lot of work to put into their partnership; put another way, Eddie Robinson just witnessed the embodiment of his job security in real time.

And, just to complete the record, I hadn’t counted on the halftime highlight reel of the Galaxy’s 2-1 win over Sydney FC. Good for them!

A couple random points that don’t fit neatly into the above narrative:

– I’d start Holden over Brian Mullan. I think he’s got more upside, thanks mainly to his fewer years. But he’s got great speed and close control, passes intelligently, and so on and so on. Thoughts?

– On a related note, I think I’ve got a live-blogging concept that I think will work for me.  Dropping random questions as they occur to me.  We’ll see how that goes…

– Judging by the tournament, the Pan-Pacific hierarchy goes Japan, U.S., Australia. For what it’s worth, I’m OK with continuing the experiment, perhaps even letting it evolve into something bigger. Why not invite a Korean team next year? Schedule it closer to the Major League Soccer’s (MLS) regular season? Let the U.S. Open Cup winner fly the league’s flag, etc. Have fun with it. It’s a money-spinner.

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

Revs v. Dynamo: First Preview of Four (on the Way to Brainwashing); The ‘Keepers

I’m putting the Daily Sweeper on hiatus for the remainder of this, Championship Weekend, in order to truly obsess over the upcoming MLS Cup Final. Said obsession includes plans to not only dissect the teams to the point of creating a bloody mess, but also to:

1) convince myself that the New England Revolution can, in fact, win the game.
2) push myself into a game-time frenzy powerful enough to scare my children.

Now, the obvious sub-text of #1 is that I expect the Houston Dynamo will leave RFK’s cold/soggy/cold-soggy field as the 2007 Champions of Major League Soccer (MLS). (NOTE: THIS IS NOT A FORMAL PREDICTION AND IN NO WAY REPRESENTS MY WAGER FOR THE FINAL INSTALLMENT OF THE CENTER HOLDS IT/WHO ATE ALL THE CUPCAKES PLAYOFF PICK DUEL.) Perhaps all those caps aren’t necessary, though, since the text of #1 clearly points to an intention to arrange my mental space and, hence, my wagering around a New England Revolution win…I’m just not sure I’m ever going to get there.

Anyway, getting back to the plans for the weak, I plan to build the week’s posts around a four-day breakdown of components from both teams that will face each other on the field – e.g. the Dynamo defense versus the Revolution’s offense; the Revolution’s defense against the Dynamo’s offense, etc. Today will begin with a very brief, gut-reaction overview of the match-up, followed by an equally brief analysis of the on-field, essentially indirect positional showdown between the ‘keepers. One last thing: I invite anyone out there to drop their thoughts on the match up – whatever they happen to be and whether they’re on topic or not – into the comments. I’m especially looking for the insights of “interested parties” – here, I’m thinking of Martek and Jimmy Chowda.

That said, here come my two cents: 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