To the Superdraft! …and better days ahead…

Like Laurie over on the LA Galaxy Offside, I really, really want to dig into whole upcoming Superdraft explosion, but….well, here I am some considerable yet unknown number of days after Buzz Carrick posted the first of his Superdraft scouting series for ESPN (goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders; forwards are pending) and I’ve still got nuthin’. With all the little links poised on my little on-screen post-it I figure it’s time to just bang out something or those things will wait till my computer goes obsolete several times over.

Now, in real terms, if you want to get smart, read Buzz’s stuff. I have only one thing to add to that data-dump: a half-baked stew of loosey-goosey research with a dash of, possibly, dodgy memory. Here goes:

If I’m not mistaken, most people viewed the 2007 Superdraft class as a little underwhelming, at least up until and immediately after the selections; that’s the memory piece. The research component came with looking over the 2007 draft – still helpfully hanging around MLSnet.com – and here’s what strikes me: some steady starters came out of the top 10, guys like Maurice Edu, Wells Thompson, and Michael Harrington. Keep traveling down the list and the names – Robbie Findley, Ty Harden, Corrie Ashe – keep coming. Hell, you can go all the way to #48 and you’ll still see a player who hung something on the right side of tough in the Rookie of the Year polling: Adam Cristman. Dane Richards, one of the hottest players of 2007, came out of this bunch.

Assuming I’m remembering the pre- and post-Superdraft chatter correctly, all those players came out of Superdraft that was widely regarded as weak. Still, 20 of the 52 players listed picked up some minutes and, at a minimum, 14 played major minutes for their new clubs. And, if I’m correctly recalling the chatter heading into the 2008 Superdraft, the smart set views this as a stronger class; Carrick certainly speaks well of the draft pool for defenders, even if he’s less jazzed about the options at midfield and at ‘keeper; maybe the forwards will be super-hot…I don’t know these things.

So, what am I saying? Get excited, people! The fresh blood smells sweet! Woo-hoo! Woo! Woo. Woo…um…

The problem is, that isn’t working for me. I just think I’m more visual, that I have to see a player before I know what to think about them. In other words, I need games – real ones, ideally, but it takes a stupid beggar to spite a penny. I expect the off-season funk will continue till March. Yeah, March. Things will look better in the lamb/lion season, when those pre-season friendlies and tournaments get started. Then I’ll know what to make of some of the new kids who come through the draft. Ah, who knows…maybe I’ll find some solace in February.

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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

DS, 10.29: Big, Brimming Bowl of Post-Season Links/Chatter

Seriously, what else is there to talk about? The ever-shady FIFA’s decision to end the rotation system – or, as they call it in Geneva, après Brasil, Le Free-for-All? How ‘bout the Portland Timbers beating up on Toronto FC on Sunday night? Nah…it’s gotta be the playoffs.

– A good number of people seem to be lining up for kicks at the set-up after the first leg of the MLS post-season – and, for the record, I find it kind of relieving to know I wasn’t the only one to almost fall asleep (screw it; I actually did) at one point. Some of my favorites:

“It’s just odd that we spend six months and 195 games building up towards this — a long Saturday night of anti-soccer ruled by the tactics of fear and caution.”
– Ian Plenderleith, USSoccerplayas.com (LINK)


“We entered the playoffs without a single team carrying anything resembling momentum. It was more like eight runners stumbling towards the finish line and struggling to push through the tape. Combine that with the dour playoff psychology of ‘not losing’ and you get 3 goals in the opening round of matches. Ugh!”
– Um…Mr. Fullback, The Fullback Files (LINK)

Good plugs to be sure, but few crystallized the blue-balls mood of the weekend so well as The Beautiful Game. Open this link and enjoy.

The uninspired opening weekend has a couple people talking about changing the post-season formula (again); for instance, Soccer by Ives suggests a return to best-of-three series. For the record, WVHooligan’s drew epperly doesn’t think that would matter all that much. Here’s my two cents – and it’s informed by a lot of the same bitter-tasting shots of reality cited by mr. epperly: if everything must stay the same, make the playoff single-elimination from start to finish with the higher-seeded team hosting. Nice, neat, and simple as you please…next! Continue reading

Revs Break Duck Over Dallas’ Heart

It wasn’t till Taylor Twellman’s post-game interview, when he smiled about seeing “Rally” (Steve Ralston) and “Heapsy” (Jay Heaps) in the first flush of final victory the New England Revolution had ever known, that real contentment about the state of things filtered in. Even if a sprinkling of New England fans made the trip to Frisco to share the moment, trophy ceremonies in disinterested, or even hostile, environments lack for the due fullness of joy. But calm, happy expression on Twellman’s face and the realization that Ralston, Major League Soccer’s (MLS) answer to Cal Ripken Jr., would collect at least trophy in his relentless career bridged the gap between what I hoped to see and what I got. Call it the difference between a cozy little wedding and a drunken tear through a Vegas chapel: both can make you happy, but one is definitely more fun.

As for FC Dallas, it’s something more than there being no joy in Frisco. A suicide watch might be in order.

In practical terms, I caught about 65 uninterrupted minutes, I saw three goals scored, heard the noise that attended the other and caught the replay, and still have no clue how New England scored their third, or who did the scoring. My apartment building – God bless it and the nuts who live there – was evacuated when the fire alarm went off, something that happens way more often than it should. Based on as much of the game as I saw, though, the story line going in held up – e.g. the Dallas’ defense would sabotage their offense. And thinking of that defense only reinforces all the questions about why a team desperately in need of defensive solidity went and bought a circus animal named Denilson.

The Dallas defense committed something worse than sabotage, really – at least where the two New England goals I saw were concerned; we’re talking Rube Goldberg goals, improbable progressions of events concluding with finishes so easy you’re almost willing to buy the mouse-trap. I’m wondering whether Steve Morrow even bothered yelling at his defenders; after all, what would Dallas’ defenders learn from abuse what they don’t already know? What’s the sense of piling pain on top of humiliation?

The real tragedy is one glorious goal the Dallas’ defense canceled out. When Arturo Alvarez picked up the ball on the touch-line near the cameras, you knew something good would follow. But something better still came as Alvarez rushed toward the Revolution goal and launched a shot past Matt Reis that defied centuries old laws of geometry. After pulling that one out of the top drawer, I’m betting Alvarez had the sadly sparse Dallas crowd on its feet when, a few minutes later, he took off on a run straight through New England’s center. That Alvarez enterprising wizardry came up just short typified Dallas’ night: good, but painfully short of good enough.

Getting back to New England, even as they didn’t look so special at any time I watched, I got to wondering about what this win will do to the Revs’ still-live bid for MLS Cup. Even with everyone pointing to DC United and Houston, or even a Chivas USA team that seems to be fading, the prospect that anyone watching had just watched a kind of exorcism occurred to me. What kind of a lift could New England get from this?

Well, that’s me waxing poetic. I had a couple nuts-n-bolts points to pass on in the form of player ratings – though with a little twist. It occurs to me that when a given player turns in an unremarkable performance, it makes sense to not remark upon it. With that in mind, I started writing down the names of people and/or entities that did bear pointing out. Here’s that little role call: Continue reading

Revs Top KC: Pretty as Building a Suburb

Keeping score during the Beckham Challenge (intro/results)kind of turned me on the idea of taking notes during the games I watch. I tried it again during New England’s narrow (and dull) win over the Kansas City Wizards – one of several games that tweaked the meaning of the week’s power rankings. I’ll reproduce those below (and amend them; look for the parentheses), afer this brief interruption.

I finally figured out why MLSlive.tv, which has no real business working, um, works pretty well. Sure, there’s that teeny-tiny little screen, but what appears in that space approximates the visual scale of what one sees live – e.g. the players’ apparent size roughly matches their scale from fairly decent seats at a live game. In other words, so long as the feed works – i.e. absent any hiccups – it’s a decent, if circumscribed view of the action. So…way to go there.

Now, to the game…the discussion of which begins with what came to me around the 88th minute.

I like KC, but think they’re missing something. They seem kind of soft and small – so I guess it’s “steel” or balls they’re missing. Against that, New England has to be hard to play; so physical and big. KC plays this pretty version of the game (looking for quick combinations, playing up the middle, generally “keeping it positive,” etc.) as if they didn’t share the league with assholes like the Revs. They are, of course, and that’s why they lost – and not just last night. What happened out there shows the distinction between losing a game and getting beat. New England just kind of muscles around the field, knocking people down, going in for every 50/50. It’s not dirty (at least not always), but it’s hard as hell. So, narrow as the loss is, you know the players have aggravating knocks and bruises, all of them reminders of the loss.

In a related note, this gets at why I struggle to be a New England fan (and still I am; I cheered for the goal…pity my soul). Assholes are great when they’re losers – lovable, scrappy underdogs and all that. But they really suck when they’re on the cusp of being winners. It means asshole-ism wins.

Moving on, now, to the actual as-they-happened game notes: Continue reading