Monday, March 31, 2008

Sacking Sanchez

My thoughts on Hugo Sanchez's firing for SI.com.

Bouncing celebration

D.C. United will head to Pachuca for the first leg of the clubs' CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinal series on Tuesday. The odds are against D.C. pulling out any type of result. Since the tournament switched to the current format in 2002, Mexican teams hold a 33-6 aggregate score over MLS clubs in games played in Mexico. Still, D.C. held their own in Guadalajara a year ago but came up short 2-1.

Still, D.C. fans may not be too upset with a Pachuca goal or two as long as this fan is there to celebrate.

Nkong to EPL?

Thanks to reader E.A. for this tip...

Alain Nkong has been linked to English side Tottenham in what would be a multimillion dollar deal.

Nkong, the former Rapids washout, saw his stock climb in helping Atlante win the Apertura 2007 title and then scoring a clutch goal in the African Nations Cup. His spot with Atlante, though, is no more as he has not played for them since last year's playoffs.

Anything to help Nkong get some playing time in a top league would be welcomed but such a move would be a fantastic opportunity for the Cameroon striker.

Fuera Hugo

If you've been waiting to hear my reaction to Sanchez's sacking, well, you'll have to wait a little bit longer. I wrote something up for SI.com on the matter and it will be up sometime Tuesday morning probably.

In short, though, Sanchez's bark was far worse than his bite.

One thing I didn't get to in the column was how this could tarnish his reputation as a player. Obviously, no one can take away his remarkable feats with Real Madrid. But will the public be able to separate Hugo the Coach from Hugo the Player? Right now, I would say no, not too easily but in the future, well, time heals most wounds.

Lambo Slaughtered

Yeah, I couldn't resist. But poor Josh really did take a beating.

From the FC Dallas press release:
FC Dallas today confirmed that rookie and Generation adidas goalkeeper Josh Lambo sustained a concussion and fractured jaw during Sunday’s Reserve Division contest against Chivas USA. The 17-year old will have surgery today to repair the fractures and is expected to be released from the hospital on Tuesday. He is expected to be out of action for at least 6-8 weeks.
“We’re obviously saddened with the unfortunate injuries Josh sustained,” said FC Dallas head coach Steve Morrow. “He has made tremendous progress throughout the preseason, but at this moment our thoughts are on his health and well being. We’re comforted that his family is here and wish him a complete and quick recovery.”
The injury occurred when Lambo collided with Chivas USA’s Anthony Hamilton just five minutes into the Reserve match. After being attended to on the field by team medical personnel, Lambo walked off the field and was replaced by guest player Matt Wideman. He was then transported to a Baylor hospital where he remained overnight.
Lambo was selected by FC Dallas with the eighth overall selection in the 1st Round of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. After the team loaned goalkeeper Ray Burse to Portland, Lambo became the backup keeper to Dario Sala in the team’s season opener against Chivas USA.

The announcement



Decio de Maria: The committee presented a detailed report and analysis of the situation and I can inform everyone that two conclusions were reached – the first one, that the relationship between Hugo Sanchez and the national team has been terminated.

Cuidad Juarez Roster

Pia has named her roster for Olympic qualifying.

Any thoughts on who is there and who isn't, share in the comments.

Hugo is gone


Booted from the head coaching job of El Tri. My main man, Jesus Ramirez, is taking over as interim coach. It's possible that "Chucho" could also get the job permanently, like Bob Bradley did the USMNT job. What a fall from grace to straight-out disgrace Hugo had!

Heads will roll

Club America president Guillermo Canedo White has announced his resignation, effective after the season. Club America is in a terrible crisis, having compiled just two wins after 12 weeks of the Clausura 2008 season. Already coach Daniel Brailovsky saw the axe in week 6 but replacement Ruben Omar Romano has won zero games in six league games and two out of four Copa Libertadores matches.

The playoffs are out of reach at this point, so America's only hope is to throw all of its efforts in Libertadores, where they sit even with Deportivo San Martin on six points, and hope to make something out of this wretched season.

Under Canedo, America won the Clausura 2005 title as well as the 2006 CONCACAF Champions Cup. Also, America were beaten finalists in both the Clausura and Copa Sudamericana a year ago.

Change is necessary; the only question being how severe. With Canedo's resignation it appears, however, that the change will be drastic.

Lakota Branch rankings (March 31)

Well, one week is in the books. Not quite time to crown anyone MLS Cup '08 champions or bury any club quite yet. We'll save that for, well, at least April... or maybe a little later than that.

1. New England. Thorough thrashing of MLS champions.
2. Kansas City. Lopez-Trujillo pairing looked dominant.
3. Chivas USA. Withstood unexpected loss of Claudio Suarez and scored clutch late equalizer.
4. Houston. Dynamo struggled in early part of 2007 too and came out just fine.
5. DC United. Did United have Pachuca on its mind?
6. Colorado. Despite losses due to injury everywhere on the field, Rapids looked dominant.
7. Chicago. Blanco needs offensive support.
8. FC Dallas. Seven minutes and a terrible clearance away from opening with home win.
9. New York. Wonder if not playing week one will hurt or help Red Bulls.
10. Real Salt Lake. Defense spotless for 91 minutes, but still not good enough.
11. Columbus. Was Crew that good or TFC that bad? Probably somehwere in middle.
12. Los Angeles. Scary thing is, it can get worse.
13. Toronto. Not even 2,500 traveling fans can motivate this sad sack of a team to score.
14. San Jose. Others' terrible play won't move 'Quakes up the chart... yet.

Actonel Celebrex rankings

1 .New England Revolution - Nicol has added dangerous speed to a strong system with Mansally and Nyassi
2. Kansas City Wizards - They flamed out last season after a fast start, but right now, Claudio Lopez fits in well
3. Colorado Rapids - A number of injured starters didn't faze the Rapids - young players stepped up under the leadership of Christian Gomez
4. Columbus Crew - Moffat makes a great first impression; Hesmer saves a penalty. Sigi is bringing the kids up right.
5. Chicago Fire - Blanco did just what he had to do, right when he had to do it.
6. Chivas USA - Ay Papi! Galindo waits nearly as long as Blanco to pull out the equalizer for Chivas USA
7. FC Dallas - Toja is clearly back to pre-injury form, Cooper clearly isn't.
8. Real Salt Lake - So close to glory there. This team has never had a winning record.
9. New York Red Bull - Altidore and Angel can prove to be a potent combo, just like vodka and Red Bull.
10. Houston Dynamo - Sure, a 3-0 loss is spanking, but the Dynamo are proven winners when it really counts
11. San Jose Earthquakes - Will version 2.0 recall the glory days, or the bumpy path of the Clash?
12. DC United - Gallardo may have the name for DP money, but Gomez had the goods, and now he's gone.
13. Los Angeles Galaxy - The penalty call was atrocious, but so was the 4-0 loss.
14. Toronto FC - Overall play and inability to convert the penalty - poor. The traveling fans - class.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Orozco update

Until recently, Americans abroad updates found regularly across the Web have mostly -if not fully - focused on Americans plying their trade in Europe. Now, Michael Orozco has left his mark on the U.S. national team, albeit the Under-23 side, and suddenly eyes are focused on the Southern California native and his potential future with the U.S.

We'll keep tabs on him right here for those interested in following Orozco's career with San Luis if the Mexican First Division along.

In his first game back with San Luis, Orozco started and played 83 minutes in a 2-0 loss to Jaguares. The setback kept San Luis from slicing into Chivas' lead in both Group 3 and the overall league table. San Luis sits in second place in both, with 22 points from 12 games. Orozco has played seven games this season for a total of 451 minutes. He has two yellow cards as well as a red card this year.

On trial

It's not really a trial but Monday is when the Mexican Soccer Federation will rule on Hugo Sanchez's fate.

Sanchez has not lived up to expectations with El Tri since taking over in late 2006. He failed to win the Gold Cup and failed to reach the Olympics despite promises to the contrary - he actually promised an Olympic medal. Also, Mexican supporters have pointed to his tactical shortcomings as additional proof that Sanchez must go.

Mediotiempo.com breaks down exactly what will happen on Monday here. Basically, the league's owners, along with FMF hierarchy, will decide his fate.

The options Mediotiempo gives for what may happen are these:

1. Hugo Sanchez will stay, perhaps with strings attached.
2. Hugo Sanchez will be dismissed and a replacement coach will be hired immediately.
3. Hugo Sanchez will be dismissed, an interim coach will be named and a search for a new coach will begin.

During and shortly after the Olympic debacle, I thought Sanchez should stay. His main job is as full national team coach, not the Under-23 coach. However, I had a friendly chat with a reader recently via e-mail about the matter and I started to feel differently. If Sanchez can't get an Under-23 Mexican team with strong talent out of the group stage, what makes me think he can get the full national team into the World Cup, or even past the semifinal phase of qualifying?

Sanchez always likes to talk about statistics. Here are some statistics regarding Sanchez:

- In 13 friendlies under Sanchez, Mexico has scored 23 goals and given up 19.
- In 11 matches in official competitions under Sanchez, Mexico scored 17 goals and surrendered 9.
- Sanchez is 0-1 in finals, 1-1 in semifinals and 2-0 in quarterfinals.

What do they say? Well, like many things in soccer, it's very subjective. On one hand, Mexico's offense can score goals but the defense is porous at times. In six friendlies, Mexico has given up two or more goals; the semifinal loss to Argentina was by 3-0 as well.

The results are mixed with the senior team but the Under-23 team was a complete disaster.

Mexican supporters seem to have lost faith in Sanchez. In both print and broadcast reports, a majority of supporters have said they feel Sanchez should be fired. Perhaps the league owners feel the same way.

We only have hours to go before we find out Sanchez's ultimate fate, and perhaps they won't be hemming and hawing on the issue like I am.

ADD: This story from Mexican wire service Notimex brings up the issue of lost money. By not winning the Gold Cup and thus not qualifying for the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup as well as missing out on the Summer Olympics, the federation suffered damaging financial losses in potential advertising revenue.

So, aside from the on-the-field results, the FMF will also consider Sanchez's off-the-field losses as well. And the financial losses aren't very subjective, unless you are trying to figure out exactly how much money was lost.

Week one trends

The first week of games in the 2008 MLS regular season is in the books after Chivas USA and FC Dallas played to a 1-1 tie on Sunday afternoon. Some of the trends I noticed from this weekend's slate of games:

- Home teams outscored road teams 13-2 and posted a 4-0-2 record.

- Foreigners accounted for 11 goals. Three American-born players scored - Steve Ralston, Adam Cristman, Colin Clark - while Chicago knocked a goal into the back of its own net.

- Some of the more high-profile acquisitions paid immediate dividends. Kansas City's new frontline accounted for both goals in a 2-0 win over DC United as Ivan Trujillo and Claudio Lopez each tallied in their first game in Kansas City blue. Meanwhile, Christian Gomez scored on a penalty kick in the Rapids' 4-0 rout of the Galaxy.

- New coaches went 0-2-1 in their debuts, though all three debuted on the road. Denis Hamlett's Chicago Fire tied 1-1 at RSL while John Carver's Toronto FC and Ruud Gullit's LA Galaxy lost their MLS coaching debuts. Hamlett of course was the interim boss in Chicago a year ago so if you count that as his coaching debut, then scratch him off this note.

Giants in crisis

The crisis among the giants has reached a new low. The league's richest team has officially bottomed out, after suffering a 4-0 loss to a club barely considered "top flight;" in fact, the club has struggled to compete in the league and should be relegated.

Finger pointing is rampant but there doesn't appear to be anything the club can do except reach deep down inside, find some fortitude and play like their fans expect them to year in and year out.

Panic button? That's already been pushed time and time again, and coaches and some officials may be lucky to still have paychecks in the coming weeks.

Such is life for Club America, after losing at lowly Veracruz by 4-0 on Saturday.

Road goal

The only team to score a road goal on the opening weekend in MLS - barring some last-minute heroics for Chivas USA - was the Chicago Fire. Cuauhtemoc Blanco buried a stoppage-time equalizer as the Fire escaped Salt Lake with a point in a 1-1 draw.

Afterward, RSL coach Kreis admitted that Blanco made a special play, but also took a swipe at the Fire's best player.

It was about one special player who made one special play and didn't do really anything else the entire game - except run around and whine.

ADD: Papi scored! Chivas USA pulled out a 1-1 tie as Maykel Galindo scored in the 84th minute at FC Dallas. That makes two road goals in the five games played this weekend.

From two assists to nothing

Here's audio of what Landon Donovan had to say about the Galaxy's 4-0 loss to Colorado.

Deal with it

I get the sense after the 4-0 loss to Colorado that the big red PANIC button has already been pushed for many Galaxy fans, and perhaps, within the organization as well.
That might be part of the problem, actually.
Last season, the team lacked cohesion and cooperation. Yet, due to the pressure piled up when losses mounted (as well as injuries), the Galaxy roster kept changing. Many trades were made and the lineup shuffled. Guess what? No great improvement in performance.
There were certain factors affecting the match last night. The coaching changes the Galaxy have gone through, for years now, leave each new coach in an interesting position. They are basically stuck with the old coaches' team for a while. Ruud has to play with at least some players Frank Yallop chose, even if he wouldn't have made the same choice. Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz hadn't played a competitive game together yet. Both Landon and David Beckham had to deal with jet lag and weariness from international games on Wednesday. The altitude in Colorado was a factor. The poor penalty call was another negative factor.
Forget the 4-0 scoreline to take a different look. Last night, the Galaxy kept the score versus Colorado close for longer than the Houston Dynamo did the New England Revolution. (2-0 by halftime) Yet I doubt anyone with the Dynamo, fan or otherwise, is freaking out at the team's supposed ineptitude.
What gives a team perspective, though, is history. The Dynamo could be calm, if unhappy about their loss. They're the defending champions of MLS. No 3-0 loss (to a Twellman-less Revs, no less), or 6-1 loss (to Gamba Osaka) is going to take that away and make them panic. They have an off night, they can go back to Houston and regroup. Two MLS trophies in a row give them the confidence to ride things out. A few changes may be made, but the team believes in the core of their players. That familiarity shows on the field, even when they don't have their best day.
The Galaxy meanwhile, have to deal with the taint of the past two years - failure to reach the playoffs. That shame clings, and it probably keeps everyone jittery. The semi-collective meltdown after the bad call reveals this. The fans, both the newbie Beckham arrivals and some of the faithful who remember fondly when Galaxy teams always made the playoffs, are apoplectic. The real impact, though, is if the front office is already planning more moves. So much for building continuity if that starts to happen.
Bottom line, with two championships in hand recently, the Dynamo have more than earned the benefit of the doubt when they take a spanking. They will probably bounce back. The Galaxy haven't that same benefit. Ruud Gullit kept his cool, relatively, but his ability as coach will be tested in this situation - reviving his team after a loss that is so demoralizing and begins his tenure with a losing note.
An even more sour note is the injury to Ruiz.
Here, another team also provides perspective - two veteran players went down with injuries on the first day of this MLS season.
Yet New England regrouped, and the team even scored a final goal with their veteran, Steve Ralston, off the field due to injury. The Revs could have been disheartened, but they continued to take the play to Houston.
Ralston's injury was a fluke, though. He fell over a player and landed badly on his shoulder. It's a shame, but no one is really to blame.
I understand that O'Brien, the young player who felled Ruiz, might be looking to impress his coach, but scissoring tackles from behind aren't the way to do that. Hustle and score, or make excellent plays, like New England's rookies, to make a positive impact.
So the Galaxy might miss Ruiz for a while. The Revs finished off their triumph without Ralston and played the whole time without Twellman. Granted, Colorado wasn't at full-strength, either, but Houston had a tired Brian Ching and no Rico Clark.
Can the Galaxy contain the fall-out of their opening-day fiasco and bounce back? Of course they can - whether they will is another matter. Veteran or rookie, the pressure on the Galaxy is intense by MLS standards. The one player I'm not really worried about freaking out in the wake of the setback is David. He's been hung in effigy after World Cup 1998, for heaven's sake. He can handle this, but he can't carry the team alone. The rest of the players have to toughen up and suck it up, big time. Every team is going to come at them, excited at the attention a victory over the Galaxy will earn. No ref will want to be seen as favoring Beckham's team. That's just the way it is. The Galaxy players have to learn to deal.

Opening slowly

My story for The Press-Enterprise.

All told, three stories written, plus several blog posts, plus another non-Galaxy story written for MLSnet.com.

I better get to sleep.

Disjointed squad

Greg Vanney said he felt the Galaxy was disjointed from the start. Audio of his thoughts here.

Bad altitude

Luis has his article on the Galaxy's reaction up.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Becks and Ruud

Audio of the Galaxy's post-game press conference.

At Abel's request

Just got back from the locker room and Abel Xavier walked by a couple of us media guys. As he walked by, he, uh, well, um...

"The ref is a fucking disgrace. Put that in the paper."

You got it, Xavi.

EDIT: I heard "big letters" but I was mistaken apparently. Xavi's accent sometimes gets the best of me.

Injury woes start

Just got off the phone with the Galaxy press rep. Preliminary diagnosis on Ruiz - a right medial collateral ligament sprain.

In case that sounds familiar to Galaxy fans, that's what Beckham got late last season. The Galaxy are going to follow up with their doctors once the team gets home, but it looks like Ruiz will be out for some time - a month if it's a medium sprain, a few months if it's a bad one, or a couple of weeks if it's a light sprain. The way he was screaming when he went down, I'm not optimistic.

Rapids/Galaxy running blog

Colorado has been hit heavy by injuries. They've got a very young lineup in. No Ugo or Herc.
The Galaxy have Ruiz, Donovan and Beckham, all their big guns, out there.
3 - Colin Clark beats the LA defense, but his cross goes out. Doesn't bode well for the LA D, though, already criticized for being old and slow.
5 - Touches are a bit off for both teams. The Galaxy don't show the cohesiveness in attack of the Revs. In fact, they hold off a Rapids attack in the box - Steve Cronin catches the ball.
7 - The altitude isn't going to help Landon or Becks recover from jet lag. Ruiz may be the one who comes through. Ely Allen wins a good ball, gets it to Becks, long pass to Ruiz, he goes far post, but not much on the ball, Bouna Coundoul saves.
11- GOAL! Pete can't get the ball from Christian Gomez, falls down, then Xavier fouls CG. Christian sends in the FK - it's as excellent as he usually hits, bisects the wall, off the post, falls to Terry Cooke, who first-times it into the net past Cronin. Yowzer! 1-0 Colorado.
15 - Clavijo may be coaching his way out of danger. The Rapids may be reaping the benefits of good reserve play (they won the reserve league twice) here, because their players look comfortable.
17- Jose Burciaga charges upfield and lets loose from long distance.
18 - Beckham cross to the box cut off by Coundoul.
21 - Galaxy working the ball around, trying to find space in the tight, pressuring Rapids defense.
23 - Pires earns the Galaxy a FK with a surging run. Beckham takes, Coundoul catches. Rapids counter, but the Galaxy recover.
26 - Donovan and Ruiz interchange, DiRaimondo fouls Ruiz. Long FK for Becks, but he gets the ball to Donovan -almost - Coundoul picks it off .
27 - Another FK - it's in the box, pops out, Donovan heads it back in, Bouna catches.
28 - Galaxy FK - Becks takes, Erpen touches it out before Ruiz can get there. Corner.
29 - Donovan takes the corner - goes far post - misses pretty much everybody, though. Too high.
30 - The Galaxy had a decent run of possession there, but it appeared very deliberate and slow - not dynamic. This squad has yet to gel. Becks crosses for Ruiz, Erpen heads it away, out for a throw. The Galaxy work the ball around, then Gavin kicks too long, out for a goal kick.
33 - Basic possession seems to be such an issue for the Galaxy. They work so long and hard just to hang on to the ball, let alone push it forward - Beckham sends a long pass to lead out both Donovan and Ruiz. Coundoul goes down battling for it. Hangs on.
36 - Bouna bleeding a bit, but he swishes his mouth out and looks ok. It might be that he bit his lip in the fall.
38 - Colorado counter! Gomez sends the ball forward, it's crossed to Clark, Vanney just hits it off Clark to go out. So close to the second.
39 - Colorado corner. It's cleared, Donovan loses the ball, Gomez gets it, shoots, Cronin barely punches it over. Colorado corner. Cleared.
42 - Deep Galaxy throw. Colorado counter. Cooke can't beat Gavin for a cross, but the Rapids to keep the ball to provoke a foul and then a FK. Good position. Pete heads the service away for a FT.
44- Galaxy D hassle Cummings into putting the ball out. GK. Ruiz gets fouled near midfield. Beckham serves it in - HOW IS THAT NOT A GOAL? The ball gets to Donovan, who beats Coundoul's dive, lays it back for Ely Allen. On the replay, though, it was tough for Allen to poke the ball in - A Rapids defender was well-placed to hold him off, even as the ball bounced invitingly close.
45 - Beckham puts in another excellent ball for Ruiz - who is very close to making contact to score, but just misses. The Galaxy are gaining momentum, but the Rapids escape to halftime with their lead intact.

LB here, interjecting on AC's great running blog. Some on-the-site observations: it's cold but not as cold as I thought it would be. The press box here is out in the open so I'm prepared for a chilly evening but so far it hasn't delivered. Landon and Carlos aren't connecting but they haven't played much together, in fact, it's the first time they've played in the same game together and it shows. Beckham's had some chances but the Rapids are doing well to turn away the crosses, well, most of them. However, the Rapids are giving up a lot of free kicks in their own third, and they're playing with fire there. The atmosphere is, well, not quite as amped up as it should be. The stands are packed but it's been fairly quiet. Okay, off to the warmth of the indoors for a few minutes before the second half starts.

And now, back to AC ...

Hi Luis! Nice to have you pop in for a visit.
48 - Gavin in on the attack - but the ball pops out on him for a GK. Alan Gordon is in for Allen.
49 - Brandon McDonald is in for the Galaxy.
50 - Gordon fouls Gomez, who goes down very hard.
52 - Passes going awry for the Galaxy - they're not in sync and give up a corner. Cooke sets up. It's cleared.
57 - Ruiz caught offsides. It was a good run, but the connection problems of the Galaxy continue.
58 - A PK!? Wow. I didn't see that. Xavier poked at the ball from behind Cummings, who kept his feet, but Abbe Okulaja blew the whistle immediately. Huh. It's both amazing that that PK was called, but especially amazing that Abbe called it. He usually is leaning very far to the other side - calling very few fouls. Xavier is livid. Becks hold him off, even as he argues, too. Landon is yelling at Abbe.
59 - It's to no avail. Gomez takes the PK. He's very good at these. He sends Cronin the wrong way. GOAL. 2-0. Rapids.
Ruud is upset, yet trying to calm his players at the same time.
61 - Pires to Gordon in the box - but Coundoul is out to smother the shot.
Fox loses signal. Or my cable company does. No fun.
65 - Troy Roberts coming in for Michael Gavin. Colorado has yet to make a sub.
67 - But why mess with what is clearly working? GOAL! Colorado counter impeccably - Cooke to Cummings with a precise throughball that leaves Cronin exposed. He comes out fast, but Cummings evades his dive and pushes the ball into the open net. 3-0.
69 - Obviously, the Galaxy were pushing high to score, but they're getting spanked here.
72 - Herculez is in the game. He just got a yellow. This will confuse the announcers. Hey - Herc has his first name on his jersey again. Last year, the league made him put Gomez.
75 - Donovan in the box, can't put the ball in against Coundoul, out for corner, cleared.
78 - Galaxy knocking it around more calmly. They're looking to learn, perhaps from this match, take a consolation goal. But Colorado still on the attack. They launch a counter. Cronin catches the shot.
80 - GOAL! Colin Clark beats Xavier on the dribble, Pires tries to cover, but Clark gets by him and puts it fast and low between the post and Cronin. 4-0.
This could match the Galaxy's worst defeat ever - in 2002 to New York, which was a 5-0 loss.
84 - Almost! Herc in the box, beats Cronin, shoots, but Xavier just footsaves it. Rebound to Terry Cooke - Galaxy defenders falling in the box. Finally, the ball gets cleared.
89 - Fernando Clavijo looks so happy. His job has been in jeopardy. Now a high-profile win.
90 - Xavier tackle - he gets in Abbe's face and it's a red!
Xavier is out of the game. The Galaxy are down to ten men. They clear the FK, Ruiz at least is still trying to play, he runs out the ball - oooh, tackle from behind. Cieran O'Brien. That seemed unnecessary. They're already up by four, and that was a scissor tackle. Ruiz goes down screaming, clutching his knee.
Landon is there two seconds later, screaming at O'Brien. He shoves him and yells. Defending Ruiz. LD might get carded out. Abbe restores order, finally, and then red cards O'Brien. LD still upset. Ruiz still on the ground. He gets stretchered off. That might be bad.
FK, Galaxy get a header - Gordon, I think, but it pops wide of goal.
Final Whistle

Revs/Dynamo running blog

Pregame show is still on. It's strange to see Chris Albright in a Revs jersey. He's probably relatively comfortable on the squad, though. He knows quite a few of the players from national team camps, for example.
Max Bretos and David Beckham, one on one. Max can't keep his hands still. David looks far more calm. Shots of Ruud and Cobi, standing together, coaching. If Ruud grows his dreads again, Cobi will resemble a smaller version of Ruud. No one, not even Beckham, got a bigger cheer at the FanFest than Cobi, by the way.
Max gets the skinny on David Beckham's plans - he says he sees himself in Los Angeles for a long time, even beyond the end of this contract. So much for those in England who expected their glamor couple back immediately.
Chris Sullivan makes Max's hands look lazy. He's moving them at hyperspeed.
LD gets the sit-down with Max. He talks about spacing and having new attacking options with David healthy and Ruiz on board.
Great montage of Dynamo/Revolution duels. When it mattered, though, the Dynamo kept coming out on top. On the other hand, NE would like revenge any time, so they should come out tough in front of their home crowd.
2- NE come out charging. Larentowicz just wound up from outside. Onstad took care of it. He also had a foot save on a Castro shot.
7 - This game may be called First Kick, but another MLS game has already started and is almost finished. Real Salt Lake leads the Chicago Fire by a goal.
10 - Houston is getting their legs underneath them, having more success hooking up with Wondolowski. Taylor Twellman didn't start for the Revs, by the way. Adam Cristman is in. Turns out that TT's right knee is sore. He was a late scratch.
12 - CK for Houston. Holden takes it. Robinson heads it down, but a bit wide.
13 - Abdoulie Mansally nearly links up with Cristman in front of goal. Brian Mullan lost the ball and
Mansally took advantage, drawing out Onstad, then passing to Cristman, who couldn't quite get there.
16 - GOAL! Mansally shoots after Sainey Nyassi slips into the box. The new guys are fast. Onstad dives, saves, but the rebound falls to Steve Ralston, trailing the play. Ralston buries it. 1-0 Revs
17 - Mullan going the other way crosses for DeRo, but he can't quite get his header attempt down and into the goal.
I'm not sure why, but Fox isn't running a game clock or score graphic on the game. It sucks because I'm not keeping track, so I have no idea how much time has passed.
25 - Mansally goes by Kenny, by the way, in case anyone was confused by me using his proper first name at the start of this blog. He's a good pick up for NE, adds a lot of speed to the attack. That gives him an advantage of sorts over Pat Noonan, who now plays in Europe. Pat brought class play and a great touch, though.
30 - Hey, the score graphic is back. Thank God. Houston sets up for a FK. Cleared out by Nyassi, who headed the ball way out of the box. Nice.
32 - GOAL! New England gets a FK of their own. Jeff took it, hit really hard it the way he always does, and Onstad saved it by knocking it down - right to Adam, who headed it into the goal. 2-0 New England.
34 - Houston goes the other way, Holden gets a good pass but misses the ball a bit, shot goes wide. Oooh, the other way, Adam has a chance, puts it wide.
35 - Corey Ashe gets a nice pass from Holden - puts it high.
37 - A shot of Houston coach Dom Kinnear. He's yelling, but he doesn't look terribly upset. He knows the season is a marathon, not a sprint. Well, it's a marathon until the playoffs, then it's a sprint for the championship.
40 - Mullan isn't having a great game. He's usually one of my favorite players, tricky and skilled, but the pressure from NE is troubling him and he keeps giving up the ball.
42 - NE look really good. Dorman who? Twellman who? Nicol has these guys solid. Cristman sneaks a shot , but Onstad saves.
44 - I shouldn't pick on Brian, though, no one for Houston is having a great game. They might be distracted by their upcoming CONCACAF match, because they seem a bit distracted.
45+ DeRo with a driven shot just before halftime - it bends wide. He might be working his way into this match, however. I look for the entire Houston team to regroup and come out charging in the second half.
Halftime
"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Houston has come back before, specifically against the Revs, so I don't expect New England to let up, even though I think the Dynamo will challenge them
50 - Sure enough, the energy of both teams is high. NE still has the upper hand, though, and nearly added a third goal..
56 - Rev FK, cleared, but Revs recover and still pressure the goal.
60 - SAVE! Holden a classic cross, Mullan dives for the header, Mat Reis dives to make a great save. So close.
61 - Ralston is on the ground, having fallen heavily on his shoulder. He doesn't look happy.
63 - Subs come in, while Ralston walks off. Pat Ianni is in for Brian Mullan. Gary Flood is coming in for Ralston. Ashe moves to right back for Houston.
65 - The Revs look shaken at the loss of their veteran leader. Houston looks to take advantage, but Boswell skies a shot after a scramble from a Houston corner. That's not going to do it.
68 - Franco Caraccio is in for Wondolowski. NE's tactic of defending by controlling the play and pushing forward is done. They've dropped back without Ralston, and Houston has a lot more of the ball.
69 - Heaps on a counterattack, puts his shot wide.
72 - Shalrie into be box, his cross gets put out for a corner. NE looking better, though the Dynamo escape when Jeff's soft shot gets easily caught by Onstad.
76 - Cristman on the breakaway! He jukes his defender, he's in alone against Onstad! He drives the ball - right into Onstad's knee. Funny. The announcers give Onstad credit for a great save. Bogus. If you don't move, it's not a great save, it's the attacker hitting you with the ball and you just happen not to fall over.
80 - Holden puts a shot high. Thing is, it's been NE doing as much attacking as Houston, so the Dynamo are starting to look a little desperate and tired.
81 Kenny Mansally is going out, and getting a big cheer from the crowd. He has looked great. Kheli Dube comes in for him.
84 - Ching earns a corner. Mulrooney to take. Reis comes out for it - he catches it.
86 - Wade Barrett earns another corner for the Dynamo. Caraccio has a snap header to the far post, but it goes wide.
87 - Ching goes out, Geoff Cameron in for him.
88 - Caraccio with a bike in the box! Sweet, but sadly, it's high and wide. Nice try. Houston throwing themselves at the NE goal, but the Revs are hanging tough and still looking to punish the Dynamo on the counter.
90 - Props to the Rev fans. It must be very cold, but they sound loud, and they're cheering hard for their team's great start as time ticks down. Well done.
90 +Wade with a late charge in the box, tries a cross and/or shot, but it hits side netting.
GOAL! Nyassi picks off a Mulrooney pass, runs the ball all the way into the box, gets a bit of space with a stepover, then fires a hard shot that beats a diving Onstad. Kickass, that was. 3-0 - Revs dominate versus their championship nemesis.

On a jet plane

Luis is either in Denver already or in flight right now to catch the Galaxy in their opener. Meanwhile, here is his Galaxy preview.

Counting down

I started out with a simple premise, find today's news articles about Beckham and make a list of a trend I'd noticed - Beckham articles that don't mention the name of the team he now plays for vs Beckham articles that do. Then I realized that there's a heck of a lot of news articles on Beckham, even in one day. Anyway here's a sampling. I got tired after about 20 articles.

Becks (no Galaxy mention): One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven


Becks (with Galaxy mention): One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten

Friday, March 28, 2008

Kickabouts

I'm not really sure what Lawrence Donegan is on about in this article, saying that 600 journalists were locked out of Beckham's presentation last year. I was probably among the last three reporters to get credentialed and hustled inside the event, and there were not a bunch of press kept out anywhere that I know of. Strange inclusion of something that, to my knowledge, never happened.

I'd agree that there is pressure on the Galaxy. There should be. That's what professional sports is about.

Finally, the baking sun in Carson? It's nice mild sunshine out here right now. Wait for summer to trot out the baking references.

Orozco content

A little article on Michael Orozco's return to San Luis. He mentions specifically that he was glad to help the U.S. qualify for the Olympics, and that he's excited about the possibilities reaching that goal may hold for his career and his family.

Shaka blog

Shaka Hislop is writing on MLS this year for the Guardian, which may end up being more of a contribution to the league than he made when he was actually playing here.

Shaka doesn't seem to have kept up on the trade of Chris Albright to New England, but he does laud the defender's skill. I agree. That's why I put Chris on my fantasy team. Shaka should join our experts league on Soccernet. I'd be curious to see how an ex-MLS player would evaluate former teammates and rivals.

Play prophet

This question isn't the usual quiz. This is the roster pic page in the USMNT media guide. Most years, there are a couple of players pictured who barely end up playing any national team games at all. Then there are unheralded players who didn't make the pic page who end up contributing to the national team in a big way. In your opinion, who is missing from the page? Who is there, but won't impact the team much? For example, before the Poland game, a few people might have said Eddie Lewis for the second question. Anyway, prophesy here and make a case for your choice. If you were right, when we revive this post towards the close of the year, you can gloat.

Galaxy Update

All players except Ante Jazic and Charles Alamo got on the bus for the flight to Denver. Yes, that means Julian Valentin is traveling. He didn't participate today in the practice, but he ran a little on the side and could be set for the reserve match on Sunday.

Galaxy sign Pires

Alvaro Pires is now officially part of the team. Good thing, too, since the Galaxy had already included him in the media guide.

Abracadabra

Which MLS team has the 2nd thickest media guide?

Which MLS team has a columnist on the field?

Which MLS team did not play most games for twelve seasons in the state that makes up part of its name?

Which MLS team is the favorite of Brit Tim Lovejoy?

Which MLS team could conceivably feature a "Cat in a hat-trick"?

Click to preview.

Signed up

Apparently there are mini-leagues allowed in the ESPN Fantasy format, but I'm required to join the expert one with a bunch of other soccer writers, so no little Sideline Views minileague - unless someone else (cough, cough) wants to start one.

I was so intent on bargain-hunting my team that I had money left over. I might go back and make changes. I thought about turning my managership into a proxy for readers here - Hey readers, who should I trade?-type of thing, but I've decided that I've got to suck it up and figure the fantasy thing out on my own. More or less. Suggestions and tips are welcome.

I named my team FirstTime, not only for the obvious (I'm a fantasy-league newbie), but also, that's how I like my strikers to take shots.

I won't reveal my entire player list (not sure if that's not easily accessed by outsiders on the site, though), but if anyone cares enough to ask if I signed a specific player, I'll answer.

Crystal ball

It's the day before the 2008 MLS season opens, which is the perfect time to pick your MLS champion. Me, I decided on DC United. I see United winning their fifth league championship right here at Home Depot Center.

Please share with us your own predictions, whether it's the league champ, the MVP, goal-scoring leader, etc. Right now is the time to tell me you think RSL will shock the world, or that Houston will become the first club to win three cups in a row, or that the Galaxy will return to glory, or whatever club you fancy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Trillium Cup


What is a trillium? Well, here's a picture. Now, who can explain what the Trillium Cup is?

Let's get this season started!




Whooo, hooo! I'm ready. The MLS team media guides came in. Mine got a little scratched up in transit, but that just makes them look like I've already been hard at work.

Anyway, whose cover do you like the best? I split the pics up by conference.

Phone call

Me: I didn't see the England/France game, but I read a lot of articles about it. It's interesting to contrast that with the pieces written about the Galaxy preseason. Have you noticed how when Beckham plays with the Galaxy and his teammates blow the crosses he sends in, it's all proof of how they're not good enough to play with him? On the other hand, when he plays with England and sends in crosses that aren't converted, it's not his teammates who are at fault at all. It's MLS play that is dragging Beckham down - if he wasn't a member of the Galaxy, he'd be sending in more and better crosses, apparently.

Well, yeah. That's just the way it is.

Next step

My Chivas USA season preview for MLSnet.com is up. It's actually divided into two stories. For the main story I talked to some of the guys about what the goals were for this season and how they felt their squad measured up. The other one is more of the club's framework, with the projected starting lineup and more of the statistical stuff.

FCD's position

FC Dallas GM Michael Hitchcock told me straight out that they will not trade thier DP slot away. He also said they wouldn't be interested in trading for a DP slot, so when it comes to filling DPs, they will keep their eyes open and try for the right player if he comes along. They felt the right player was Denilson a year ago but that did not turn out as they had hoped.

You'll have to read the SI.com story to see what else Hitchcock said about the DPs, both in terms of his club and in the overall effect of the league.

Anyway, FCD fans, how do you feel about your club's position? Happy that they aren't afraid of pulling the trigger on such a deal? Or anxious to get that spot filled?

RSL and their DP

In my conversation with RSL coach Jason Kreis, we discussed the Designated Player rule. RSL is not shy about making deals and in fact have been an active club in recent months. I wanted to get his take on the DP to see if they were planning on using it, if trading it would be an option and how they valued their DP.

You'll have to read the story I linked below to see exactly what he said but in short RSL listens to offers. Kreis sort of alluded to some offers being nothing short of ridiculous.

Now, I don't know the RSL front office very well and I've only spoken to Kreis a few times but based on our conversation I don't think we'll see RSL use their DP spot soon. And Kreis even said they'd listen and have listened to offers for their DP spot.

What do you think, RSL fans? Would you want to see your team trade away the DP slot? Do you want the club to pursue a DP in the summer or by the end of the year or do you want to see how this club evolves first? After all a DP does not equal success, as last year's MLS Cup finalists would attest to.

ADD:

I also asked Jason Kreis about how he handles outside expectations, high or low, as the opinions regarding RSL range from darkhorse to bottom-of-the-table material.

It’s important to establish where those expectations are coming from. We certainly can’t control what people are saying or what they’re thinking about our club so it’s important for us to not worry about it. It’s important that we choose what we’re going to focus on, stay focused on that, try to improve on the areas we need to improve upon and if we do those things we know that in the end the results will come.

Pricey tale

Alright, the story on the Designated Player rule is up on SI.com.

It actually started because I was telling my editor Jonah Freedman about the ages of certain players and then I realized that most of the DPs had in fact played three World Cups ago. So I wanted to see what people around the league thought.

Basically, the DP rule has been a boon. Club and league officials are excited at the types of players that have been brought in and everyone I talked to compared it favorably to one of the best elements from the early days of MLS, when there were international characters like Marco "El Diablo" Etcheverry, Jorge Campos, Carlos "Pibe" Valderrama and Roberto Donadoni. The league went away from that, probably because of salary concerns, but now that those issues can be dealt with we are starting to see a new wave of players come in. And those who I talked to were excited about that.

Many might assume that since a guy is 32 and is now in MLS, it's a last resort and the player couldn't really hack it elsewhere. To a certaint extent, there is some truth to that though I wouldn't put it so bluntly. Juan Pablo Angel had fallen out of favor at Aston Villa while Marcelo Gallardo was in a bleak situation in France. But to say that it was either MLS or off to the retirement home wouldn't be putting it correctly. Like Francisco Palencia said a year ago, MLS isn't a graveyard for elephants. I mean, America probably would love to have Cuauhtemoc Blanco back.

Anyway, as the story points out, it's unrealistic to assume that an MLS team would be in the running for a mid-20s world star even if the team could afford his salary. Transfer fees would likely rule out any such move, and an MLS team couldn't compete with the deep pockets of some of the world's upper crust.

The story is kind of a progress report on the DP rule if you will. Some teams have used it, some teams have traded it away and other teams are waiting for the right player to come along. I asked Michael Hitchcock about the possibility of seeing all 14 DP slots used this year or all 15 being used in 2009 and he said he didn't think that was likely to happen. In a way, it's kind of like the sponsorship deals. Some teams went out and signed those deals right away and others haven't yet done so. Like everything else in this league, the DP rule is evolving and will continue to do so. But this is one of the things, though, that has been a positive for the entire league even if only a few teams have taken advantage of it.

DP thoughts

I just filed my latest SI.com column. In the piece, I explored a bit how the DP dynamics have worked and how the market sort of set itself in terms of older players being the targets. It's no coincidence really how every designated player enterting this year is older than 30. Denilson was 29 when he came here but he thus far has been the exception.

Anyway, as I say in my column, it's not necessarily something negative.

I talked to FC Dallas GM Michael Hitchcock and RSL coach Jason Kreis about the DP spots. I wanted to talk to those two clubs specifically because FC Dallas used theirs and has it back available for use and RSL hasn't used theirs and is on the outside looking in. I asked each how it's helped the league, their goals for the DP slots in terms of bringing in players, what the value would be in terms of trading a DP slot and if they'd consider trading it. You'll have to wait for the column be published to find out what they said, but I'll be posting more about it later once it hits the Web.

In the meantime, it's more writing for me. Got a Sacha Kljestan feature I need to get cracking on.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Muy barato!

Cuauhtemoc Blanco, that is. He's a good buy in the fantasy league.

Here's the Spanish version.

Martin on Becks

Martin goes into more detail about the Beckham Fanfest injury.

First opponent

Barbados beat Dominica 1-0 in Bridgetown and won the series on a 2-1 aggregate. Barbados will now play the United States in a two-leg series for the right to advance to the semifinal phase of World Cup qualifying. The first match will be played June 15 at Home Depot Center.

Ruud fires up the troops

Ruud Gullit was game, but the best Fan Fest rally speeches need to follow simple rules - be loud, be simple, be brief. The most memorable speech of this kind still belongs to Laker guard Byron Scott, way back in the Showtime Era, after the Lakers had won championships twice in a row.

"Threepeat!"

It's perfectly appropriate, it gives the crowd something to chant, but realistically, can only be used this season by the Houston Dynamo. Anyway, I'm sure Ruud's speeches will get better. David Beckham's was actually worse. He didn't get close enough to the microphone, so no one heard anything he said.
video

England/France result

A one-goal win.

More trivia from the record book

Who was the first player in league history to be named MLS Player of the Month twice in the same season?

Jonny reacts

I had the chance to talk to Jonathan Bornstein on the phone just now, after the United States' 3-0 win over Poland. I had intended to talk to him about the upcoming season but I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the US win.

I first asked him what his thoughts were on the game.

"It's a huge win. Obviously in the past the United States has not always got the result they wanted when they went to Europe. To go to Poland and get a 3-0 victory is very big. I thought we scored some great goals, played some good soccer and it was pretty exciting to watch."

Bornstein knows Bob Bradley well, having played for him both with Chivas USA as well as with the national team. I asked Bornstein what Bob's reaction was probably like in the locker room after the game.

"I think he's just letting them enjoy the victory. When he was here with Chivas, whenever we had a big win he just let the guys enjoy it. But then it will be back to work the next time they have a chance. There's a lot you can get from a win like that. Obviously there were some good things and things that need to be fixed. He'll just let the guys have a good time and enjoy the victory as much as they can."

Bradley called on three MLS-based players but Bornstein was not one of them. It's difficult to bring guys in without having played a competitive match in months, as is Bornstein's case. Offseason surgery kept him from participating in the United States' January camp and kept him from playing against Sweden and Mexico earlier in the year. I asked Bornstein how this match motivated him in terms of his upcoming prospects with the national team.

"It definitely motivates me a lot. I'm watching the positioning of our current fullback Heath Pearce and taking a look at the job he's doing and just trying to learn as much as I can by watching it from a different perspective. Hopefully I'll get the chance to be on the team again and be in a position where I'm the one who is performing. So it's definitely motivating in a positive way."

Latecomer's blog dos

Mexico vs. Ghana - Hugo's last game?

I'm late to this one, too, having just switched over after the U.S. game finished.

Mexico is losing by a goal, scored by Essien. I interviewed Essien when he was here - he was a decent interview, though he maintains this interesting nonchalant, above-it-all air that I think he picked up from Mourinho.

65 - Franco (El Naturalizado) nearly evens things up with a header. Very close.
67 - Guardado is chasing balls around like crazy, but to no avail.
72 - Nery wins a FK on the corner of the box, but the service isn't great and Ghana clear.
74 - Sinha (El Naturalizadito) is in the game now, and he hit a burner of an outside shot that went wide by not a lot.
75 - Nery into the box but doesn't get a shot or a pass off. That looked more promising, but turned out not so.
77 - GOAL! Mexico takes advantage of a poor backpass, by Essien, I think, and an even worse decision by Ghana goalkeeper Fatau to not straight clear the ball. He tries to take a touch instead, and the ball rebounds invitingly towards Carlos Salcido. Fatau panics and lunges for the ball feet first, missing most of it and pushing the ball against Salcido's legs. It bounces over the fallen keeper leaving Salcido an open goal. Hilariously bad, but it's a goal still. 1-1.
79 - Bofo is in for Nery now. If Mexico pulls out a win helped by such a bad Ghana error, will Hugo keep his job?
82 - Mensah gets a yellow for a handball near midfield. Junior Agogo leaves the field for Eric Bekoe.
Guardado works hard, hassling a defender deep into Ghana territory, prompting a bad pass that gets to Bofo, who goes into the box and gets fouled by Eric Addo. PK!
86- Pavel Pardo to take. GOAL! He nails it. Absolutely textbook. I wish Guardado could get an assist or something, because he did the hard work to set up that play. He did it on tired legs, too, since Bofo just came in. 2-1, Mexico.
88 - Hugo Sanchez should buy Fatau dinner or something. The Ghanian goalkeeper didn't look horrible on the PK, but he was beyond-words bad on the first goal.
90 - Ghana with a chance, but Ozzy (no-relation-to-Hugo) covers it.
90+ Essien nearly scores again, but it's wide. CK last gasp for Ghana. Cleared.
Final whistle. Hugo may live on, but not if the fans holding up signs of Hugo, Fuera! get their way.

Alexi answers

I had the opportunity to talk to Alexi Lalas on the phone earlier today. I’m working on my Galaxy season preview for The Press-Enterprise and I figured it would be good to talk to the Galaxy’s general manager about his club.

I can’t put everything he said on here; after all, I’ve got to save some of his better stuff for the PE. But I had some leftover quotes and wanted to share them here.

This year, the Galaxy is quite possibly the largest unknown quantity in the league. The collective exploits and talents of David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz are well known, as are Chris Klein and Greg Vanney but the squad could go either way in terms of how much the young players contribute, how the team comes together and how the Galaxy’s depth responds when called upon.

I asked Lalas if he felt he had done enough to put together a competitive squad.

“For all intents and purposes we have three designated players in Landon, David and Carlos,” Lalas said. “There is a lot of talk about all of our eggs in one basket and the lack of depth but I think you are going to see some young players come to the front. I think you are going to see some of the players have the experience of 2007 really blossom this year.”

As far as adding to the roster, Lalas ruled out the possibility of bringing in any player from outside of the league before the summer. While the team has three players whose salaries do not count against the cap, Lalas said the club’s hands were tied when it came to adding players, just like any other club in the league.

“We have a core of players… that have incredible experience and are adding to this team,” he said. “Every MLS team wants to have as much depth as possible and it’s difficult in our league because of the lack of mechanisms and were no different than any other team.”

Given that the Galaxy has missed out on the MLS postseason in each of the last two seasons, making the playoffs this year might be an acceptable goal or accomplishment. However, Galaxy players have talked often during the preseason about winning championships and not just making the postseason. I asked Lalas what he would consider to be a successful year.

“I hesitate to lower our expectations or dumb it down because the fact is that regardless of the performance for the last couple of years – and not making the playoffs, which is an incredible disappointment and unacceptable for the Galaxy – the expectations continue to be high both internally and externally.”

Clearly, the expectations for the Galaxy are to reach the playoffs and make noise once there.

“For us, we expect to make the playoffs and expect to challenge for cups,” Lalas said. “But we are approaching this year very differently in terms of the philosophy we are pulling from training to games to the off the field way we treat this team.”

Latecomers blog

Hi ya'll

The blog starts now because I'm finally home from the other, bill-paying job.

The U.S. has a 2-0 lead on Poland. Headers from Bocanegra and Onyewu on corner kicks from Landon Donovan, yeah, that guy who should have been left at home, right?

Timmay, C-Boc, Baby B, Heath (the one still alive), Stevie C, Demps, EJ, LD, Chingy, Rico(not-always-sua-ve), Gooch,

46- Donovan CK - Maybe he's picked up tips from Becks, but Landon's kicks are looking pretty good.
48 - Weird defensive choice from Bocanegra there. He won the ball, then hit a softy to a covered teammate to lead to a FK in a good spot, Poland serves it in, it's headed away - Landon is out on the break - chip him, dang it, he goes for the post and misses by inches.
50- Poland is definitely looking to attack now. If the defense can hold, the U.S. should get chances on the counter.
52 - Correction - LD's first assist was off a free kick, not a corner.
54 - I kinda like the anthracite, but I'm not sure anything about it says US - except maybe it's a reference to our military domination?
54 - A chilena! A bike clearance, by Rico, I think. I hate the Fox Sports guys - they didn't even notice it. Dang, Spanish announcers love that stuff.
55 - Stevie C shows he plays in Germany - Look Ma, no gloves! Matusiak shoots- just over the bar.
57 - Poland is circling the U.S. goal. They'll succeed or give up a counter.
Counter chance, EJ out on the break, he corrals the ball in the box and then hits the most aimless cross ever. It goes all the way to midfield, and only the speed of Rico manages to get to it and continue the attack. Rico gets back upfield, beats Boruc, rebound is up, Ching is surrounded, Dempsey gets to it, shoots into someones legs, can't quite get the rebound, Poland clears.
64 - Poland isn't pushing quite as hard. The U.S. hasn't scored again, but has established a credible enough threat on the counter, that Poland can't just attack.
66 - Smolarek gets a half-shot off, but it's over the bar.
69 - Oh, yeah, the U.S. subbed out Brian Ching, LD, and Gooch. In came Jay DeMerit, Josh Wolff, and Eddie Lewis, who just took a corner kick. Poland cleared it.
71 - If the U.S. beats Poland soundly, does that raise U.S. assistant coach Peter Nowak's profile to get the Poland job someday?
73 - Specs is in for Stevie C - also with no gloves. GOAL! Dang, the old man of the U.S. team still has it - or maybe those "American Beckham" jokes from years ago were somewhat valid. Eddie "Not a Lamb Chop" Lewis nails the FK right into the goal. 3-0.
76 - Poland CK It kind of misses everybody, but a Dempsey foul at the top of the arc leads to a Poland FK. It hits the wall.
79 - Lewie, Lewie, oh, baby - stands over another U.S. FK and swerves it in to the box. Jay DeMerit gets there and nearly heads it in for another goal. So close.
82 - Poland's frustation shows in a pushing foul on Wolff.
84 - Lewie Prima! He shakes his defender on the wing and crosses - it's de-lovely, but the U.S. forwards are offsides. Dang, that was pretty.
85 - Hale and hearty Heath is off, subbed for Bennyboy, the other Derby guy.
87- Now Rico gets the ragdoll toss from the grumpy Polish players. The FK is a long one, but still gets into the box and almost to Johnson in a dangerous spot.
89 - Feilhaber puts a through ball behind the defense into space. There's a delay of "who, me?" and then Dempsey runs for it. Looked like a miscommunication there, or maybe Clint is tired.
90 - Poland FK, looking for the consolation. Nothing doing.
EJ with a late run into the box, but he makes a poor choice as soon as he gets there with the ball and loses it.
Final Whistle. The U.S. wins in Europe, elevating Bradley's stats on that count a bit.

Start it up

Becks in the lineup.

Not found in the MLS record book

Which new Galaxy signing was born in Germany and can thus go play abroad if he impresses this season with the team?

Bragging Rights

ESPN's new MLS fantasy game has a bit of a twist. There's an "experts" group comprised of some writers and editors that cover soccer. I'm one. It will be my first fantasy league of any kind, actually, so I'm not sure I'm qualified as an expert.

Last year, Luis and I ran a simple "pick 'em" game of sorts right here on the blog, where we chose the winners of the MLS match-ups every week. He pretty much ran away with that one, although at one point late in the season, I started catching up. Then I decided the Galaxy's lucky streak couldn't last and kept picking them to lose or tie. They kept winning, and that messed up my comeback completely.

I've always preferred the artistry of soccer to the statistics, and since fantasy play, I've been told, is stat-dependent, I'm not optimistic about my performance. Even if people don't sign up for the league, they can probably check in on occasion to see how horribly I'm doing.

JOB on the beach

"Where did John O'Brien go?" say the plaintive emails I get every now and again. It's not that I'm ignoring the requests, but Johnny O. seems to prefer a low profile.

Short of stalking the guy, I can't really track his whereabouts. I've put in a few requests for interviews, but he's declined to talk about what he's up to these days. I did hear that he'd occasionally pop up for a soccer game here and there, with Hollywood United F.C., for example.

Anyway, he's now supposedly playing in this beach soccer tournament.

So, he's not dead, or in the Witness Protection Program, still getting in a little soccer, and working on his tan, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Donovan's Polish exam

The U.S. will face a tough European test in Krakow on Wednesday as a Polish squad with its sights set on Euro 2008 will stand in the Americans' way.

The roster was nearly composed of all European-based players save for three MLS standouts, one of them being Landon Donovan. The Galaxy ace will undoubtedly go down as the United States' all-time caps leader when all is said and done, but there are some questions whether Donovan should have even been called into this match. Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America brings this up here.

He makes a strong case for not having called in Donovan. There tends to be a comfort factor when Donovan is on the field, and without him there another player would be forced to step up and take a more assertive role. Granted, Donovan has been rather quiet in recent U.S. games but that doesn't diminish his usefulness to the team.

Like Ridge mentions, I can see why Bob Bradley called him in. He's a valuable player and will be for the foreseeable future. Without Donovan on the team, the U.S. would still have the games against England, Spain and Argentina to get Donovan and his teammates ready for World Cup qualifying.

Anyway, what do you think? Should Donovan be an automatic call-up? Or should Bradley keep him off the team in select matches?

More trivia

Another question, or questions I suppose, and a bit more difficult than the first one.

In the 1996 Inaugural Player Draft - the one where Brian McBride was taken first overall - five current MLS head coaches were among the 160 players chosen.

1. Name the five coaches.

2. Which one was drafted first?

Can it be Rio?

The first two names on my England captain poll were easy ones, then I added Beckham because of John Terry's own suggestion (not to me personally, I'll hasten to add).

I thought about the last name to add for a bit. Wayne Rooney? Too young. Rio Ferdinand? Too stupid, I thought. Come on, people, remember the missed drug test? That was completely dumb. So I settled on Hargreaves, though he didn't turn out to be a popular poll choice.

Capello, the vote that really matters, picked Rio.

I didn't see that one coming at all. So much for thinking Capello was a logical guy.

A Logical Man

Fabio Capello, that is.

First player of month

A little trivia courtesy of the Fact and Record Book.

Who was named Player of the Month for April 1996, the first such award in league history?

Change in playoffs

According to the MLS Fact and Record Book, there will be a shift in the playoff format for the 2008 season. Eight teams will still get in but this year the top three teams in each conference are guaranteed of a spot. After the top three from each conference, the two teams with the most points will go regardless of conference.

It's a slight shift from last year when the top two in each conference were guaranteed a spot followed by the four teams with the most points. The format allowed the Kansas City Wizards to get in as the four seed in the West as they finished even with Chicago with 40 points but lost out on the tiebreaker. Under the previous system, Colorado would have gotten in with 35 points.

It's a minimal change, but a change nonetheless. It would not have affected last year's playoffs, for instance.

Preseason rankings

Here's how I see the teams entering the 2008 MLS season.

1. Houston. Defending champions already have quarterfinal win under their belt.
2. DC United. Like Houston, CONCACAF Cup campaign successful thus far.
3. Chivas USA. Brad Guzan a green light for the opener.
4. New England. Pat Noonan's loss significant but Revs still more than solid.
5. Kansas City. Claudio Lopez and Carlos Marinelli will shred defenses this year.
6. Chicago. Depth is question mark with this squad.
7. Colorado. Christian Gomez leads league's deepest midfield.
8. FC Dallas. Offensive strength in numbers with Toja, Cooper, Rocha, et al.
9. Los Angeles. Big Three a pretty damned good trio, but defense huge question mark.
10. New York. Instability reigns with Red Bulls.
11. Real Salt Lake. Collection of South Americans needs to shine.
12. Toronto FC. Roster offers better starting point than a year ago.
13. Columbus. Losses outnumbered gains.
14. San Jose. Only one way to go.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Preview piece

My Galaxy preview is up now.

U.S. is tops

U.S. is number one. Mexico is number two.

But I don't mean in footballing terms.

On the doorstep

It's not every day you get an MLS Fact and Record Book delivered to your doorstep but that's what showed up in front of mine. I'll probably be spending lots of time with this during the season.

What I like about this one more than the last two editions is that I don't have to look at some screaming Houston players every time I want to check a fact or a record. The last two covers featured Dynamo players celebrating with the MLS Cup. Simplicity is better sometimes.

Road less traveled

I first covered an MLS game in 1998 - DC 1, Galaxy 0 at the Rose Bowl - but I don't usually get to travel much. I've been to Pizza Hut Park and went to Spartan Stadium in 2005 for a game but that's about the extent of my MLS travels. As a freelancer, you have to foot your own bill for traveling, and there's no way I'd come close to selling enough stories to cover my losses.

So when the chance arose to go to Colorado this weekend for the Galaxy's season opener, I took it. It's actually a three-for-one trip, as my wife can use a few days in Colorado for business purposes and we can visit family that lives in Colorado Springs.

Anyway, this will be the first away season opener I'll be at and I'm looking forward to it. I can't really picture the game yet - I still can't imagine Christian Gomez wearing a Colorado jersey fighting against Carlos Ruiz wearing Galaxy colors. But it should be an experience I'll hopefully share with a sold out Dick's Sporting Goods Park crowd. It's been in the 80s out here in SoCal so I just hope that the dip in the weather isn't too severe.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Better late

Hopefully the next time the US plays a game, we'll find out who is on the squad before the entire team is all but together. The US is in Krakow for a match against Poland but the roster wasn't revealed until around 72 hours before the start of the match.

The Under-23's Olympic qualifying games probably had something to do with the timing of the roster announcement, as it was not until Saturday that the roster was posted on US Soccer's Web site.

Only three MLS players made the cut, and it's no surprise two of them came from Houston who just played two CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal matches. Match fitness is lacking across MLS and it wouldn't have made much sense to take guys who, in some cases, haven't played a competitive game in months.

Landon Donovan is the exception, of course.

Goalkeepers: Marcus Hahnemann (Reading FC), Tim Howard (Everton FC)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham FC), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Jay DeMerit (Watford FC), Cory Gibbs (Charlton Athletic), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)

Midfielders: Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Benny Feilhaber (Derby County), Eddie Lewis (Derby County)

Forwards: Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Clint Dempsey (Fulham FC), Eddie Johnson (Fulham FC), Josh Wolff (1860 Munich)

For the title

The U.S. and Honduras are battling it out for the title in Olympics qualifying. It's mostly a prestige thing now, since both teams have qualified. Honduras hasn't gotten a shot on goal, but has held off the U.S. all game long. The match is now in overtime.
10th minute of overtime: Gaven is down in the box. It looks like it should be a PK, but nothing given.
13th: GOAL! Marvell Wynne gets called for a foul. Honduras sets up, gets the ball into Georgie Welcome, who gets a bit of space and smashes the ball past Dominic Cervi. It bounces off the crossbar and in. 1-0.
15th. I started blogging mostly because I expected this to go to penalties, and I wanted to analyze the U.S. strategy in such a situation, but Honduras now holds the lead. Michael Orozco and Pat Ianni were both beaten on the play that led to the goal.
2nd overtime period. CK for the U.S. comes to nothing. Kamani Hill was cramping, but he's back up now.
19th - CK for U.S. comes to nothing. The Honduran fans are thrilled and noisy.
20 - The U.S. is no doubt frustrated, because they pushed the pace of the game and created the vast majority of chances, but that's no excuse for not executing.
22- Gaven helps earn another CK, but the U.S. does nothing with this one as well.
23 - Another CK for the U.S. Nothing working for the U.S. in that regard.
24- Jozy bike in the box - he misses the ball. The U.S. players are tired; their passes are going awry, but they keep pushing. That deserves credit.
25 - The U.S. is missing key players who were released once the team qualified. Freddy Adu, Sal Zizzo, Charlie Davies and Jonathan Spector have gone back to their teams in Europe.
28 - Honduras playing the same smart, not-pretty defense that simply works.
29 - Wynne gets booked for a yellow. He walks away from a writhing Welcome and snaps at his old UCLA teammate, Ianni, when Ianni says something to him after the card is given.
30 - Now Ianni gets called for the foul on Welcome, as he throws out all his limbs while going down.
Final whistle. The U.S. is resigned - the Honduran players celebrate with their fans. Honduras is the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying champ. This might be the beginning of a renaissance for Honduran soccer, which had slumped for a bit. The U.S., meanwhile, learns a lesson in wasted opportunities.

Alexi Lalas to STH

Season ticket holders had the opportunity to hear a speech from Lalas about the Galaxy and to ask him questions (this clip is from the first few minutes of the openingspeech). Lalas was upfront with everybody, but he does tend to be long-winded at times. At one point, a Riot Squad member nearby muttered, "Lexi, we'd like you more if you didn't talk so much. Let's get to the next question, please."
video