MLS Daily Sweeper, 12.12: Gimme a Boswell for a Cochrane

If I learned just one thing yesterday, it was that waiting till the afternoon only caused storms in my brain. Hence, the Sweeper returns to its normal date and time. Not that this affects anybody, but I’m also considering changing my online handle…more on that when I figure it out.

– Here I thought Steve Goff’s recap for the “real” Washington Post (that’s as opposed to the blog they run to satiate the 24-hour cycle) on yesterday’s madness drained the power of the trade whirlwind currently tossing about DC United. As it turns out, a little dust-devil spun off the mother storm, sending Bobby Boswell to Houston in exchange for their back-up ‘keeper Zach Wells and “a future draft pick.” This gives us one more fact on the ground than we had yesterday and, thus, something concrete to talk about. Bueno.

Part of me is sad I won’t get that live experiment I wanted that would compare DC’s defense with Joe Cannon in goal instead of Troy Perkins. On the upside, I get to replace that with finding out just how good a defender Boswell is. To lay down my marker, I think Boswell will do well in Houston’s back-line; that admittedly relies on the theory that the man only needed a little guidance back there, but I think we can all agree that the shit is tight on the Dynamo back line. And even if Boswell doesn’t replace Patrick Ianni outright, this gives Houston a pretty solid back-up. The bastards…

But there’s so, so much more going on with DC. Another Goff post has Perkins’ move abroad looking near-certain (the same post clocks reports that Guillermo Barros Schelotto might return to Argentina; you’d think this would deflate my interest in following the Columbus Crew, but nothing would be further from the truth; this actually makes them more interesting; sorry, long digression). And, if MLS Rumors can be believed (still haven’t run the percentages on that) we should be hearing, oh, today, that Juan Sebastian Veron will announce his intentions to leave Argentina’s Estudiantes for DC United; the rumor/report says more stuff will follow in short order, but let’s see how that first one goes. Perhaps now is when I start counting MLS Rumors’ reliability… Continue reading

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MLS Daily Sweeper, 12.11: CWC, CONCACAF, Atlante, TRADE MADNESS…AHH!!

Jesus balls! What a day! So many major and minor things to discuss….best start with the little stuff to warm up. Just like before playing, right?

– One little thing to keep an eye on: I seriously don’t know how teeny-tiny Major League Soccer (MLS) rosters will cope with the scheduling insanity if the powers-that-be follow through with their threat to create a CONCACAF Champions Cup. FC Rocky looked only at Houston’s schedule, but a couple teams will be eating the same shit sandwich.

– The Club World Cup continues (very early) tomorrow morning (report tomorrow) when Etoile Sportive du Sahel enjoys their one-night stand against Boca Juniors. Naturally, Boca is trotting out the typical “we’re not overlooking anyone” business, but one suspects they’re grinning like cats when no one’s looking. Then again, Jonah Freedman’s look at how the world’s mighty have fallen cautions against complacency.

– Don’t know how far behind I am on this (so much for following the Mexican league…oh wait, I couldn’t, not with my cable package), but Atlante, the latest hot thing in Cancun, Mexico, won the Mexican Primera’s Apertura. That makes them the “other” Mexican club for this spring’s CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, right? Wikipedia says it does – smack at the bottom of their brief history of the club. Do note the move from Mexico City to Cancun in August 2007. Luis Bueno wrote a nice recap of Atlante’s accomplishment as well. But the most interesting thing to come out of any of these pieces appears at the bottom of that first link – and it doesn’t deal with Atlante so much as MLS’ future prospects in our local, international tournaments:

“One-time models of success, Pachuca have hit rock bottom. The record-setting club lost 1-0 in the opening round of the Club World Cup to little-known Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel. Los Tozos went to Japan who had high expectations, but the club that could do no wrong for most of 2007 — winning the Clausura championship, the CONCACAF Champions Cup, and the Superliga title — has not played well of late and they failed to make any accounting of themselves on the world’s stage.”

So that’s one CONCACAF Champs’ participant sucking wind. Maybe we’ll get a club to the final in 2008?

OK. Now the big stuff (and the accompanying thought-sprawl): Continue reading

DC Goes Home: Thank You, Mr Simms.

A lot happened in the final 30 of the Chicago Fire’s tighter-than-a-preacher’s-butt win over DC United – as much as the game as I caught after getting home from work, picking up the kids, feeding the kids, etc. While that shortened viewing time limits my ability to speak to big concepts like Justice (upper-case? oh yeah), I can at least speak to the Justice of the last 30.On that score, it’s a wash: referee Jair Marrufo didn’t call a penalty when DC ‘keep Troy Perkins fouled Calen Carr just inside DC’s area, but he also caught a tricky one when Christian Gomez nudged the ball with his left arm with what, for all the world, looked like the DC’s series equalizer. As for the rest, Marrufo might have missed some calls against Cuauhtemoc Blanco – though that serves the bastard right for going down easy as he does often as he does – and he overreacted by sending off Rod Dyachenko at the death, but, fortunately, the ref didn’t turn this game in a meaningful way…at least not that I saw.

But the really amazing thing about this one was the 180 change in tone from the time I started watching to the end of the game. When I tuned in, DC’s body language whimpered “beaten.” The thing of beauty that Clyde Simms knocked into Chicago’s net more than changed the mood, it reminded DC of who they were: the best team in Major League Soccer. From that goal forward, DC piled on 20 minutes of non-stop hurt and pressure – until they finally, and almost invisibly, petered out somewhere between the 88th and 92nd minute. The way I figure it, Clyde Simms’ teammates owe him a pint for every minute of that short life.

Fluky as DC’s in-game equalizer proved to be, the moment I thought they’d clawed back came with a gorgeous one-two that played Christian Gomez in on Chicago’s left; with him behind the defense and a tie on the aggregate seemingly seconds away, it looked like overtime at least. Instead, things wound up as it seemed they would when Chicago was up three goals on aggregate.

Getting back to the notion of what turned this game, I did see something in the highlights from before I tuned in: what looked an awful lot like the wrenching defensive lapses that have killed DC United time and again. As well as Chad Barrett and Chris Rolfe took their goals, the shitty thing for DC fans is that both players barreled into the area facing goal and with no one on their backs. It’s like the definition of insanity, those lapses, and I can’t believe that DC won’t focus on correcting the defensive problem between now and the 2008 season instead of, again, bringing in still more offensive ringers. The latter look prettier, but the defensive problem is like a cancer.

Over the course of the season, I’ve seen the notion that there are no moral victories pop up a couple times on DC fan sites. I suspect we’ll see some of that tonight and tomorrow. Even if I wasn’t pulling for DC (no, not remotely), their team turned in something special tonight, the kind of passion on the field that keeps all of us watching the game. I don’t so much expect DC fans to find solace in that, as I would hope they’d appreciate the pride their team showed in fighting back from what looked a lot like a state of beat-down death.

As for Chicago, who I managed to almost completely ignore in this narrative (so what? they’ll be back), I’m guessing they’re looking at each other in the locker room right around now and, with a quick exchange of glances, acknowledging they just walked out of a war zone. They don’t get closer than tonight very often. Matt Perkins, among others, won’t sleep soundly tonight.

Fire 1-0 DC: Rugby Meets Soccer

At its worst, last night’s Eastern Conference semifinal between DC United and the Chicago Fire looked like a pugnacious midfield scrum in which every ball seemed 50-50, not unlike an endless series of drop-balls put in play by an angry god. Think a lower-tier game in the English Premier League, but without the skill. At its best, the game pitted a DC team moving the ball slickly up to Chicago’s attacking third against a Fire team hunting for DC’s defensive mistakes.

The final score – 1-0 to Chicago – signals one successful kill, but the echoes from a couple other shots were heard around Bridgeview.

Call ‘keeper Troy Perkins DC’s man of the match. His defense left him for dead on the goal, but he saved two other dead-certain goals at least, most notably his brave challenge when Calen Carr broke through late. Given the way DC essentially controlled two-thirds of the field, that one goal disadvantage keeps them well within the margin for recovery for the home leg; emphasis belongs on the word “essentially,” though, because the brittleness of Black and Red’s defense wound up gifting Chicago more clear-cut chances than DC created at the other end. That’s a worrying sign because those breaks came under minimal pressure.

Against that, Chicago’s advantage doesn’t feel all that safe. Their collective struggle to generally connect left them facing relentless pressure, too often close to their own goal. To their credit, though, they limited DC’s chances to a near-range header here (Christian Gomez should have done better) to long-range efforts there; Fred took a number of these and Ben Olsen lashed in low crosses from the right, but neither approach really threatened Matt Pickens’ goal. DC had the rhythm, while Chicago’s rare moments came from smart dribbles out of danger by Wilman Conde, Chad Barrett’s energetic chasing, and Chris Rolfe’s tight control. Speaking of Barrett, losing him for the second game strikes me as a significant loss; who can see Paulo Wanchope causing the stir Barrett did in DC’s back line?

It says plenty about this game that Chicago looked the more menacing side in spite of being hemmed in for long stretches. The rare occasion when things opened up in front of goal, it happened in front of Perkins; when DC reached the Fire’s defensive third, players in red shirts looked so thick on the ground one might think the Fire fielded 15 defenders; Dasan Robinson, in particular, played like two men. And he had to due to Chicago’s repeated problems with playing out of the back.

The second leg should look roughly the same – a somewhat dreary notion that we should all hope doesn’t pan out. About the only escape from a second game of rugby posing as soccer (or is it soccer posing as rugby?) comes with DC scoring – and more than once. I don’t see Chicago leaving its shell for anything less than two unanswered goals. But if the second leg winds up fighting last night’s war a second time, that’s fine too; last night made up in tension what it lacked in grace.

The weekend should be good.

I don’t know how many DC or Chicago fans visit this site, but I’m curious as to how last night’s game looked to you. What do expect for the second leg? Are you approaching with a knot in the stomach or the sun on your back?

MLS Week 21 Perspecto-Scope: Boys Pegged; What About the Men?

Holy hell, was Week 21 a busy thing.  But for all the running, kicking, and noise, does anyone feel like they’ve got a bead on which team – or even teams – stand as best in Major League Soccer (MLS)?  I know I can’t.  On other end of the table, however, MLS’s whipping boys bared their sensitive bits to yet another thrashing, so the “boys” of the league have stepped up, or rather lain down, to be counted.

Rounding into September and the playoff push, here’s the real question about the playoffs’ first round: have the top teams made the long trek through puberty and into manhood?  Or will we all be treated to a series of boys-versus-boys dirt-clod skirmishes?

Dispensing with the “boys” who won’t even make the dirt-clod fight seems a good place to start.  Real Salt Lake (RSL) met expectations this weekend by losing on the road to a Chivas USA team that not only never loses, but that rarely concedes a goal at home.  Odds are RSL would have lost at home as well; for all the admirable fight they showed down the stretch, this simply isn’t a good team.  Speaking of which, the Los Angeles Galaxy did RSL one better by sliding past expectations on the way down to contempt: suffering a rout at the hands of a typically goal-shy Colorado Rapids all but mathematically slaps a “road-kill” stamp on the Galaxy’s 2007 season.  Finally, Toronto FC added another franchise first in their weekend loss to DC United, a stain of sorts they won’t likely get out before switching to a new kit: MLS Canadian team have, officially I believe, gone longer than any team in league history without scoring a goal.

In a sense, the wins by Chivas and Colorado tell us less about each team, than they amount to a kind of pillow mercifully smothering the miniscule flickers of life left in their hapless opponents; it doesn’t take a lot to beat on the infirm.  DC is another story, though, and I’ll get to that below.  Even so, I’d be getting nervous about Chivas if played for or coached FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. Continue reading

Yeah…That Goal…and Everything about It

“As soon as the free kick was given, I don’t want to sound too confident, but I felt that I was going to score as soon as I had the ball in my hands,” Beckham said afterward. “It felt good. Sometimes you feel like that, sometimes you don’t get any feeling. But tonight, I had the feeling that I was going to score.”
(LINK)

I didn’t see it till this morning – and one can find the video on MLSnet’s main page; no shock there – but, yeah, it finally happened. And exactly as The Powers That Be would have wanted it.

Returning to my bag of first-date/sexual tension metaphors, the American soccer public has at long last enjoy its first true, hot roll in the hay from one David Beckham and, in truth, it was pretty top-notch (for the record, I’m talking about the goal here, which I happened to see on a reasonably smooth video feed, as opposed to the game, which I did not.) On the other hand, the most interesting thing I saw in the video was watching Kyle Martino as Beckham took the kick. Watch closely and I think you’ll see Kyle studying the physical mechanics of Becks’ free-kick from the best seat in the house.

Shh…he’s thinking… (oh, Dreamcast! where did it all go wrong?)

Good as it was to see Major League Soccer’s highest-priced toy working as advertised, imagine the moment for the player. To be absolutely sincere about it, even more than the goal itself, I wanted to see some pure form of joy and relief – a moment of catharsis – that makes sports of all kind worth watching. All the contrived goal celebrations in the world don’t hold a candle to those rare instances of pure, genuine excitement; think Carlos Ruiz falling to his knees when he scored the winner for the Galaxy in 2002’s MLS Cup.

Did we get that with Beckham’s goal last night? I think so. If the man himself lacked in enthusiasm – and I don’t think he did – his dog-piling teammates made up for it.

Oh yeah…and I here DC United was involved in some way. Good for them. And, in the video, did I see a trace of smile on Troy Perkins face? Much like Kelly Gray, who I think was the first MLS player subbed out for Beckham, Perkins owns the strange honor of being the first ‘keeper to be “Beckhamed.”

With regard to that last paragraph, frustrating as it may be at times to have so many discussions and commentary wend their way back to Beckham, there’s no point trying to wriggle away. Love him or hate him, Beckham is the story and will be for a while.