MLS Daily Sweeper, 03.25: Temptation + Yanquis Chatter

– Damn the MLS Newsstand for linking to so many articles from Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal.  All those tempting articles, each boasting a teasing title more tempting than the last: “Leading the League’s Expansion Drive”; “Agent Business Evolves as Sport Grows”; “Talks to Start Soon on New Labor Deal.”  I gave up plenty of information – too much, in fact, and given how far I went, they probably already have it – before panicking at the fine print on Street & Smith’s (non-) privacy agreement (e.g. “We reserve the right to announce your browsing history to your mother on national television….and she will cry…”  and “Please forward your child’s name, a photograph, and a short list of things that will lure him/her into a car with strangers.”)  Anyway, those sound great…I’m sure I’ll cave later…damn them.

– I know all y’all know about tomorrow’s friendly between the U.S. Men’s National Team (Yanquis) and Poland.  But I thought I’d pass on what I counted as the most interesting items on that – for instance: Soccer America’s piece calling on Bob Bradley to seek alternatives to perennial automatic Landon Donovan; ESPN.com’s preview (from Jeff Carlisle) which features a public flaying of Benny Feilhaber’s attitude, courtesy of Mr. Bob Bradley (to which Feilhaber should retort, “Well, well…Donovan is your security blanket…so there!”); finally – and this only related because the main article is about the Yanqui roster for the Poland game – the draw for the Beijing ’08 Olympics is on April 20.  I didn’t know that till then…it’s possible I’m behind the curve.

– Lastly, but not leastly, did anyone else know Shalrie Joseph coulda/mighta played for our beloved Yanquis?  Thoughts on this less-than-relevant revelation?  Here’s mine: as much as I believe Joseph would be an upgrade as a deep-lying, central mid and as much as his physical presence would truly be something, we’re pretty stacked in that position.  So, yeah, I’d like him to be there, but it’s not the end of the world that he isn’t.  I just wish Dwayne DeRosario 1) was American instead of Canadian, or, 2) that he hated being Canadian and loved the U.S. of A.  Anyway, good luck in qualifiers, Shalrie.  I’m pulling for Grenada.

So…right…that’s it.  I mean, no one’s going to vote to call Seattle’s expanion team “Seattle Republic.”  Otherwise I’d have to say something about that.

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New England Revolution 2007 Review: Taylor and Steve and Me

New England Revolution
Record (W-L-T): 14-8-8; 51 GF, 43 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
I’m going to play this one a little loosey-goosey – e.g. relying less on specific match reports, player bios, etc. – and touch on things I don’t normally do. Why? First of all, because I can; I follow the New England Revolution more closely than any other Major League Soccer (MLS) team. Second, this represents my first conscious attempt to say goodbye to a team I’ve supported..well, followed, since the late 1990s. As such, an element of the personal enters into the thing. And, to mention the most loosey-goosey aspect, the end of my era with the Revs feels to me like an end of an era for the club. To put it bluntly, I don’t think they’ll be back for a fourth straight crack at MLS Cup.

With New England, it seems useful to consider the team through my odd relationship with one of their talismanic players: Taylor Twellman. I view Twellman through the sharpest of love/hate lenses. The love part is easy: the man scores goals, something one llikes to have on one’s team generally. But the hate part looms large – arguably larger. And here it is: I find Twellman dead boring. For all his take-a-touch-and-shoot efficiency, Twellman dribbles with the grace of a horse running on pavement; his passes too often recall kicking a playground ball at a brick wall. Bottom line, he has mastered two facets of the game – eluding defenders and finishing – and, to some weird aesthetic part of my brain, such talents are too transferable to “sports” in a generic sense. In other words, the sense that Twellman is a jock first and soccer player second stands as my dominant impression of him as a player.

What I think about Twellman mirrors my impression of the team as a whole: the Revolution team in my head is efficient, athletic, and, when you get down to it, dull. I can think of few less inspiring things than a generic New England goal: ball goes down the flank, wide player crosses to Twellman, Twellman scores. The occasional switch-up aside – say a long-bomb from Jeff Larentowicz on a dead-ball or one of Pat Noonan’s weird headers – the template seems fixed. Continue reading

MLS Cup Preview: Dynamo’s O versus Revs’ D

Welcome to this, my last MLS Cup preview, where I’ll turn my (divided) attention to how the Houston Dynamo’s offense matches up with the New England Revolution defense.  I’m burning out ever so slightly on this project, less because it doesn’t interest me than it only feels like more blah-blah-blahing as we get closer to the point where all the talk becomes immediately irrelevant – e.g. kick off.  On the upside, this will be my shortest selection…I hope.

Before getting into my copy, I want to flag Allen Hopkins’ (exceedingly lazy) column for ESPN, the one where he turns over his space to an anonymous player and coach and has them breakdown the game (nice work if you can find it).  At any rate, that both seem to favor New England is only the most curious part of an interesting read.

But that’s there stuff.  Here mine…which, not surprisingly low-balls the Revs’ chances: Continue reading

MLS Cup Preview: The Battle of Midfield

Ugh. My head feels it’s stuffed with cotton this morning, so I can’t promise quality, never mind brilliance. This is kind of a tragedy because, today, I’ll examine the pivotal match-up in this Sunday’s MLS Cup: the Houston Dynamo’s four-man midfield versus the New England Revolution’s five.

UPDATE: Because my brain is barely working, I can only just recommend reading what comes below. As much as I feel like there’s good stuff in there, it rambles as if I’m speaking in tongues. Here’s a quicky summary for those interested in ducking all the half-coherence below:

– I expect Houston to attack to better effect down the flanks and see New England struggling to respond in kind. If the Dynamo can’t break through on the flanks – something I rate as a very real possibility – the middle becomes crucial. Assuming that scenario comes to pass, here are my key players for each team:

Richard Mulrooney (Houston): It’s not just that DeRosario is in a funk. Mulrooney will be the one switching the Dynamo’s point of attack and keeping the Revolution pinned in their own end. New England will be hard to break down, so buying time to create the chances matters.

Steve Ralston (New England): If you read below, you’ll see I don’t think much of the Revs’ chances down the flanks, at least by the straightforward, put-yer-head-down-and-run approach. For the Revs to have a shot at scoring, Ralston needs to serve as the pivot point, the means through which New England moves the ball across the field and into gaps in the defense. It’s a role similar to Mulrooney’s, but, ideally, it will happen closer to Houston’s defensive third.

OK, that’s it for this segment. If you’re up for making sense of the gibberish below, have at it.

Because it’s good, relevant filler, I’ll start by listing the anticipated personnel:

For Houston
Brian Mullan (R); Richard Mulrooney (CDM); Dwayne DeRosario (CAM); Brad Davis (L)

For New England
Wells Thomspon (R); Shalrie Joseph (CDM); Jeff Larentowicz (CDM); Steve Ralston (CAM); Khano Smith (L)

Reviewing those names as a New England fan, I can but tremble – at least where the attacking side is concerned. On the upside, throw both midfields into a Texas Cage Match (ringed with barbed wire, a curtain of blue flame, and a host of bellowing midgets), I’d bet my house on New England’s, um, tough customers…OK, thugs. Then again, that’s just Joseph and Larentowicz – and Joseph brings a considerable level of culture to his tough edge; Ralston, as I see it, brings the distilled talent.

I’ll expand on that later, but boiled down to the central strengths of each side it’s attacking ability versus classy thuggery. Advantage to…?

Let’s start with some assumptions: the goal of soccer is to win; a team wins by scoring goals; ergo, the team better-suited to scoring goals should hold the advantage.

As noted above, I think Houston holds the edge in midfield where attacking is concerned. Both teams like to work the flanks, but Mullan and Davis provide better service – especially Davis. Both teams also use their width to make space for the “operators” in the middle: DeRosario for Houston (with help from Mulrooney) and Ralston and Joseph for New England. I’ll get to those specific match-ups below, but most people – and I include myself in this bunch – expect what goes down on the flanks to decide the game. Continue reading

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

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

DS, 10.18: The Beckham Singularity; Rich Joseph; Milosevic(?!); King Diablo + Thoughts on the Final Weekend

– Having already rambled at length on David Beckham’s black-hole-esque capacity for distorting LA’s play, adding even a little more seems like overkill.  Still, a quote from Andrea Canales’ ponder piece on the Beckham-effect for ESPN sufficiently reinforced a key point in my thesis – e.g. that LA, as a team, remains in awe of Beckham – that I feel moved to pass it on:

“We need a little more time training together to get in sync more. We’re all missing that from David’s perspective, I think,” said Landon Donovan. “It’s a tough thing to try to work him back now, but we have no choice.”

Here’s the thing: LA’s future is right now, which points to the wisdom of continuing to do the things that got them back in playoff contention in the near term.  Beckham has ample talent, but he’s not helping the team right now.  Long story short: the Beckham singularity – the weight of his stature and personality – has disjointed LA again.  If the team isn’t firing with him on the field yet, don’t play him.

– New England Revolution (or, probably, the league) finally made Shalrie Joseph one rich Grenadian (I must credit USSoccerplayas.com for getting the story to me first).  This makes New England’s long-term future look quite a bit different than it did at the end of 2006, when Dempsey left and Shalrie looked all but gone.  This significantly shortens Steve Nicol’s shopping list.  Oh, and Jay Heaps re-upped as well.  I don’t mind Jay so much…not a popular opinion, I know.

– Sorry, hung up on New England.  They should do two things in 2008: go out and spend on quality players to fill out an already solid roster, as opposed to trying to plug gaps with rookies out of college.  That and go to a back four.

– Looks like former Aston Villa (and many more) man Savo Milosevic is getting in an early tryout with Toronto FC.  I wonder about his age.  That is all.

– Word of the Marco Etcheverry testimonial has me wishing I still lived in DC.  The shirts they’re hawking – thanks to The Offside Rules for posting the image – has me wanting to buy gear for the first time in forever as well.  I tell ya, it’s got a nice concert T-shirt vibe.

Finally, the weekend…

I’m still waiting for MLS to pass rights to Sunday’s final regular season game between LA and Chicago to the ESPN “family” of networks; then again, that one might not matter as much when the sun comes up on Sunday.  I’m happy to see the Fox Soccer Channel has a good one for this weekend – Chivas hosting Houston for the Western crown – so no tiny, computer screen window for at least one game and it should be worth it.  Tiny-screen viewing will be in order for at least one of the weekend’s other games, though it most certainly won’t be for DC United v. Columbus; not a lot to play for there.  If I’ve got time for only one game (as it looks like I do), I think I’m going to have to go with FC Dallas v. KC; if there’s a runner-up in the mix, that would be Colorado hosting RSL.  New England v. Toronto….eh…