Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Enough with the preseason excuses

D.C. United lost to Pachuca by a 3-2 aggregate despite winning the return leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinal match. Houston is done also, as they are down by two in the second half and a miraculous comeback notwithstanding MLS will again see their clubs bowing out before reaching the final.

I've heard so many things tonight and had read so many things leading up to these games about the preseason and how MLS were at a disadvantage because of that. Frankly, it's getting old. Now, I understand that the MLS teams might be a bit rusty in April. Lack of competitive games is a hindrance. But the preseason excuse doesn't hold water when players can't finish. "Preseason" can't excuse the miss Luciano Emilio had earlier today. "Preseason" can't excuse the spectacular whiff Richard Mulrooney had on a failed clearance that led to Saprissa's second goal. Tenacity and aggressiveness are qualities that cannot be diminished by the preseason but frankly they were lacking from DC and Houston in this semifinal round.

The one thing I always say about this competition is that MLS is on a bit of uneven footing in terms of competing against Mexican and Costa Rican teams, and it has nothing to do with the preseason. Costa Rican clubs are not held back by a salary cap. Mexican clubs are free to pursue whatever players they see fit and have only their own officials and fans to answer to. MLS clubs have a pathetically low salary cap and roster restrictions that make it difficult to field teams with true depth. Most MLS teams are a hamstring away from having their seasons go down in flames simply because they don't have quality depth.

Yet all we hear about this competition is how DC will be a better team come July and the sad reality is that this tournament is played in April. Well, May or June or October or whenever, the teams will have the same roster disparities any time of the year which leads me to believe that these same results would occur at any time of the year.


Anonymous said...

Agreed. As American fans we are quick to point out the excuses of others and fail to notice we do the same thing all the time...

Anonymous said...

I agree. Although I'm a MLS fan I see that the attitude of the players and media is the teams can't win outside of the US. if you look at teams like Pachuca, they have swagger and play like they are at home where ever they are. Americans need to learn that swagger and not play with fear. DC in pachuca didn't play like DC in DC and Houston played with much more fluidity at home. Soccer is soccer you should be able to play the same where ever you are. I think the last peice is when americans learn to control the mental aspect and learn to not respect other teams so much they play tentatively.

Anonymous said...

Excuses do only go so far. The ball is round and the pitch is flat, well usually. We(MLS fans and the league) need to forget about blaming the artificial turf, the altitude, ect. "I'm" tired of making excuses myself for our domestic teams. We need to make adjustments, both financially and schedule/season-wise. Yes, let's give our teams a reasonable chance to compete, but lets accept we've got a long way to go. It seems like we have to "MacGyvor-together" teams by using scaps, retreds,and leftovers.
I'm still pissed about our Champion's Cup results. DC looked preseason for much of tonight's match and Houston simply looked atrocious and embarrassing. For the he first leg, just reverse the performances. When will we get a Damian Álvarez or a José Francisco Torres coming off the bench? And what's with this Tony Caig? Are you kidding me? Does MLS know "scrub" means the same thing in England? Damn!

Phillip said...

I will always believe altitude is a legitimate reason.

enganche said...

I've always admired how Mexican clubs whether in league play or in international competitions like the Copa Libertadores or CONCACAF Champiosn Cup always look to attack even when on the road. Rarely do you see a Mexican club adapting ultra defensive tactics on the road.

About preseason, I agree it is an excuse. A team in preseason may not be playing at 100% but they also won't be suffering from the niggly injuries clubs in midseason will. Plus the team knows the inetrnationals chedule ebforehand and should prepare itslef accordingly.

Look at Zenit St. Petersburg of Russia in the UEFA Cup. While still in their preseason, they defeated both Villarreal and Marseille in UEFA Cup elimination games and only a two weeks or so into their new season they went on the road at Leverkusen and beat Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 last week! A team which takes the right attitude on the road can achieve good results whether they are in preseason or mid season.

East River said...

Funny thing MLS teams are not in preseason! Both Houston and DC have had at least 2 league games. An they should be healthy. The team (DC) actually looked good out there. The back three held up well until they started pushing up higher in last night's second half. Martinez, Parralta, and Nameoff are great together. But Emilio choked TWICE!!I mean really just shoot the freaking ball man. And that guy wanted DP $? Speaking of depth, that actually worked for DC for a change. Remember last, 2 of DC's subs scored, and Mark Bursch was also very effective when subbed in. But it was not just Pachuca's deep bench that game through it was DC's 1st team's inablity to score that was the problem.

As for the turf, that is some serious BS FSC was pulling. As we all know MLS teams play on turf such as Salt Lake, Toronto, New England, and New York so the turf is a problem just doesn't fly not one bit.

Until MLS teams can go down to Mexico and Costa Rica and get a draw then win at home or hold on to a lead and win an away 2nd leg. They simply can not say MLS is on par with the Mexican league. Quality finishers is a big problem in MLS right now, thats guys who score when its needed the most.

EdTheRed said...

@9:28 PM: More like "MacGruber":

Cobbling rosters together out of USL players!
He's got a miniscule salary cap and ham-handed owner!
The guys a freakin' genius!

Seriously, though, DC lost their series, but they weren't outclassed. They ran out of gas at altitude in the second half of the first leg and weren't able to keep it to a one-goal loss, and then blew some chances in the first half of the home leg. So they lost. It's what happens when you play a team as good as Pachuca and don't capitalize on your opportunities. I think the series was a pretty accurate representation of what happens when one of the better MLS teams plays one of the better Mexican teams (and Pachuca is definitely rounding into form now, despite their early-season struggles) in a fair series over two legs.

Anonymous said...

Didnt America the yellow bellys say that they were in preseason last year??

Anonymous said...

We'll see if the results are different in the fall now that they are moving to a new format for the CONCACAF Champions League.

I think we might see some differences, Luis.

Anonymous said...

plain and simple it comes down to economics and depth...the other difference is that in Costa Rica you have a team like Saprissa which is a million times better than the last place team in their league where here the difference between first and last is not that big...over there you can create a super club and stack it up but here you can' yes there is a huge disadvantage

The Hammer said...

=] If Pachuca can win the final series they'll confirm their status as the best team in CONCACAF.

Last year I thought the semifinals threw the final off. Houston was a better team than Chivas, and had they faced them instead of Pachuca, they would've been in the finals.

This year, I think the same of DC. Had DC played Saprissa instead, I think they would've come through to the finals.

Jon said...

I don't consider it a pre-season excuse, but Houston was missing: Onstad, Robinson, Boswell, Waibel, Holden.

Houston's failure to finish its chances in the first leg was a bigger factor in the loss than the second leg. And I disagree with Luis - the fact that it's early in the season CAN affect finishing. I think you will find Ching and other forwards like Emilio will find a groove that is currently missing as the season goes along.

That said, I'm with you on no excuses. Both MLS teams lost to Central American teams that are, right now, better. The group stages of the Champions' League ought to be interesting, though distracting from the playoff push.

Nathanhj said...

Hello, echo chamber!

I agree with almost everything in this post. MLS won't compete with top CONCACAF clubs until teams are allowed to build with real depth. Houston's real problem last night was not being able to field a team in which every player could make the first team. You can't win when you lose Onstad, Waibel, Robinson, Boswell, and ... one more guy and your back-up keeper is formerly from a 3rd division Scottish team. (There isn't ANYONE in the USL better than that guy?)

Double the salary cap and let the roster size grow to at least 33.

My disagreement was noted by someone else before me: being in the early stages of the season does, IMHO, affect finishing. You gotta get in a groove and that's more likely to come deeper in the season. Having said that, strikers get paid the big bucks, generally speaking, so they need to deliver no matter what time of year it is.

Anonymous said...

If pre-season is a bad excuse, let's hope you cast the same critical eye on the Mexican teams in the Superliga this summer.

L.B. said...

Champions Cup = apples
SuperLiga = oranges

Can't compare apples with oranges.

papa bear said...

Luis: I agree the FMF teams have more depth, but you fail to notice or willfully omit that when this tournament was held in the fall when MLS teams were in season they routinely made the semis and won a few times. This was 7-10 years ago when I don't think anyone would argue that MLS teams were of lesser quality.

So as much as you may not like it, the pre-season/early season 'excuse' has more validity than you are willing to give it.

I'm not saying that either of the teams that went through was incapable of beating their opponents because they are (and showed it) but there is a disadvantage in the placement of the finals.

When the CL rolls around it will be more telling since half of it is in pre-season/early season and the finals are in the end of the season.

John said...

It's still an "excuse" papa bear :-). You are making "excuses".....

EdTheRed said...

Um, PapaBear? When the tournament was held later in the year, it was a single-elimination tournament at a single site...and that site was often an MLS team's home city (like when DC and LA won).

Home-and-home total goal series are a much tougher challenge for MLS teams, as demonstrated by their inability to get past the semis since the tournament changed to this format.

Still, DC United is undefeated against Mexican teams at RFK (5-0-4), so at least they're not a total pushover.

L.B. said...

ed the red beat me to the punch. The Galaxy and DC each won their CCCs when they were played here in the US.

Since the tournament switched to the current format (home-and-away) MLS teams haven't reached the final. I think MLS teams are something like 0-12-0 and have lost by a combined 35-6 in Mexico. How can you blame all of that, or even a majority of it, on preseason form?

Anonymous said...

I can't say the same for Houston, but the preseason excuse does have some legitimacy for DC. We have a new keeper, a new playmaker, new central defenders, and a new third striker. We are missing our emotional leader to injury (Ben Olsen), and our #2 striker to injury also (Moreno). So the team last night had at least six starters that they did not have six months ago, not to mention Quaranta. All these new starters need to get used to each other and learn each other to play effectively together, and this takes time. In years past, when DC had little offseason change to the team (2004-2005 perhaps), the preseason excuse boiled down just to the preseason rust. This year the overhaul was dramatic, and our early struggles are showing that. We are getting better each week as we round into form. By the time of the SuperLiga, we should be scary good.

East River said...

Thats the other excuse either its preseason or we are getting use to each other. But when Sudamericana comes its we are trying to balance Open Cup and making a run for the playoffs. We are tired its a long season. Blah blah blah. I own a DCU jersey but enough already with the excuses!!! No MLS team won Superliga last year despite every single game being played on US soil. Sudamericana is played in the last third of MLS's season and what does DC have to show for its in-season form? NADA!!!

MLS don't have the talent necessary to win on the (international) road. Nor do they have the talent to score under pressure. But they are learning. But they just haven't gotten over the hump yet.

Anonymous said...

Why is it when Euro teams lose to MLS teams and use the pre-season excuse US fans call it bs, but when MLS teams lose because of "pre-season" form all of a sudden the excuse is valid. You can't have it both ways.

Either it's a legitamate excuse or it's not and I don't think it is.

Phillip said...

I think MLS is really damn good considering the payrolls of these Mexican clubs are 5-10x more than us.

dan said...

What's the point Luis? Pre-season isn't an excuse, but salary cap is?
Altitude isn't an excuse but playing away (like the old CCCs) is? Injuries aren't an excuse but single elimination is? Please, let us know which excuses are valid in your book, we're dying to know.

Anon: I'd put it the opposite way. Big Euro teams in their pre-season come and lose to MLS teams and no one thinks we beat a legit Chelsea or Barca squad. Why? It's pre-season! They're not used to each other, it's not a league match, they don't have all their stars available, etc.

elopingcamel said...

The fact of the matter is that altitude, pre-season form, not having sufficient time to gel with your team, away games, and injuries are all legitimate excuses. However, LB is right about there coming a time when excuses are not enough to explain consistent losing. We are getting to that point.

MLS has consistently lost international competitions against Mexican teams and until our league increases the salary cap we will continue to consistently lose (even if by just a little) with occasional wins. The fact that we are able to do so well against teams with deeper rosters, more talent, and bigger pocket books speaks well of us, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Let's hope the next CBA helps make professional soccer an actual reality for the younger players who are "almost" living the dream (but still busing tables or whatever to make $$$ on the side to survive).