Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beckham's Absence: Yawn

David Beckham will be absent from the Galaxy's match against Houston. Nothing new, right? Beckham missing a Galaxy game. It's happened quite a bit since he joined the club in 2007.

This time around, though, the reason is different. He's gone not because of England duty, because he's on loan or because he's injured. Nope. This time, it's due to a testimonial match.

Gary Neville's testimonial match was enough to draw Beckham across the pond and force him to skip out on the Galaxy-Houston match.

When rumblings over this very matter began to surface, so too did the all-too-familiar criticism:

Beckham doesn't care! Beckham is not committed to MLS! He's only in it for himself!! How could the Galaxy let him leave? He's turning his back on the club!


Sure, Galaxy ticket holders have some right to be upset. Beckham is the Galaxy's biggest draw, and fans who splurged on this ticket for the chance to see Beckham play may very well be a little irritated.

But firing shots at Beckham or the LA Galaxy is ill-advised. You want to find someone to be upset over? How about Major League Soccer?

What exactly is Beckham missing? Well, he's missing a regular-season game. This is meaningful, right? This is what players get paid to do, to play in these games and to win these games, right?

Perhaps, but Beckham and the Galaxy are not minimizing the importance of this match, because MLS minimized the significance of it a long time ago.

This is a league that has played through each and every Gold Cup since the tournament switched to the current summer format in 2003. This summer's tournament is no different. When the U.S. play Panama on June 11, DC-San Jose and Houston-Chivas USA will be played directly opposite the match. Six matches will be played on June 25, the same day as the Gold Cup final.

This is a league that has scheduled league matches directly opposite World Cup qualifiers involving the U.S. national team.

MLS played right on through the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups before finally wising up and shutting down for two weeks in 2010, but only through the group stage. Then, with the world watching the World Cup knockout rounds, MLS went on with business as usual.

MLS regularly sets aside weekend summer dates for certain clubs for friendlies and crams midweek games throughout the season because of it. The regular season is a priority? Not in June, July and August.

MLS ignores international fixture dates, knowing full well that its product will be cheapened because of the absence of important players throughout the league. The league finally wised up on that - somewhat - as the league has open weekends in September and October of this season. But March 26-27 featured a full slate of games while the international calendar was rather busy as well.

MLS schedules its All-Star Game during the middle of the week, forcing its top stars to travel great distances to play in that match. Even last year, when the Galaxy had a quartet of players in the match, the league placed a greater significance on that game than anything. The Galaxy played a CONCACAF Champions League match the night before the 2010 All-Star Game, and even though Bruce Arena tried to get his four players from having to play consecutive nights in cities hundreds of miles apart form one another, the league said no and forced the Galaxy players to compete in the match.

And, perhaps most importantly, MLS consistently diminishes the meaning of said regular-season games by having a playoff system that rewards mediocrity, punishes successful teams and makes the regular season a moot point.

So Beckham decides to ask for and receives permission to attend a testimonial match and now he's the worst guy in the league, he's turning his back on his club, the team that pays his salary, because he's missing a regular-season game?


Golden Thoughts

So much going on this morning... I'm trying to get my thoughts together for my Press-Enterprise column so this kind of a rough draft for that...

I was originally going to focus on the Gold Cup but there's a lot to get to so I think I'll have my expanded Gold Cup thoughts right here since I've gotta get them out somewhere and Twitter's 140-character limit isn't quite enough.

First, the roster:

GK: Howard, Hahnemann, Rimando
D: Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Ream, Spector, Bornstein, Goodson, Lichaj
M: Donovan, Dempsey, Edu, Bradley, Jones, Feilhaber, Rogers, Kljestan, Adu
F: Agudelo, Altidore, Wondolowski

Some off-the-cusp thoughts...

Surprise, Surprise: Freddy Adu is of course the biggest surprise name here. If anyone would have said... really at any point this year... that Freddy Adu would be part of the Gold Cup roster, you'd have laughed that off. It's a testament to Adu on one hand that he re-discovered himself mentally and physically after falling off the face of the Earth. He was all but written off but at age 21 he opted to search for a better opportunity and when it came in 2nd Division Turkey, he didn't pass it up.

On the other hand, though, it seems a bit disappointing that there aren't better options at that position. You never want to give up on a 21-year-old player with talent and ability, but for a tournament of this stature - and with the depth the U.S. has assembled in the midfield - the best thing to do is to have players who can potentially start a match and perform. I don't know that I would feel comfortable with Adu pulling the strings from the start of a match at any given point during the Gold Cup.

Still, that's not what U.S. coach Bob Bradley has in mind, of course. Adu will likely be used as a late-game substitute in case the U.S. needs some offense but also he has Adu in mind for World Cup qualifying, I'm guessing, and this would also serve as a good springboard for that.

No matter how he's used, Adu has returned and he's not the butt of jokes anymore.

Where's The D? The backline could quickly become a liability. Oguchi Onyewu has to show something soon in order to quell such fears. Tim Ream is a great prospect but he's had just a few games to show what he can do at this level, and none of them have been in a tournament setting. Clarence Goodson looked solid before the World Cup a year ago but never got into a game. Yet if Onyewu's health becomes an issue, a Ream-Goodson pairing is what the U.S. will have to go with (unless Bocanegra finds his way back int the middle). If the U.S. plays, say Honduras in the semifinals or Mexico in the final, is Ream-Goodson solid enough to keep opposing forwards from finding the back of the net?

Good On Ya', MLS: In years past, I wondered how serviceable MLS was in terms of feeding into the national team. For instance, I've felt Chad Marshall has been one of the top defenders in MLS for several years now (and given his two MLS Defender of the Year awards, I'm not the only one who thinks that). Yet, when the time comes for the U.S. to fill out the roster, such standout league talents are nowhere to be found. Finally, though, hard work in MLS is paying off with national team appearances. A year ago, Edson Buddle was on a red-hot tear in MLS and worked his way onto the World Cup team. Now, Chris Wondolowski has similarly played his way onto the U.S. team. Wondolowski led MLS in goals a year ago with 18 (!) and he has proven that his goal-scoring total was no fluke. He's got five in 10 games this season, and as San Jose has scored just 12 goals overall, that's a strong amount. MLS is strong enough now - in some parts anyway - that meaningful performances and success in the league can translate into a chance with the national team. Didn't work for Marshall who sadly was left off the squad but Wondolowski beat out foreign-based talents such as Buddle and Herculez Gomez as well as MLS players such as Teal Bunbury and Charlie Davies, neither of whom has been in good of form as Wondolowski this season.

Roster Strength: Overall, this isn't a bad team. There has been a lot of criticism over the roster - nothing new, really,the Bornstein critics are out again, and selecting Robbie Rogers and Adu over players like Alejandro Bedoya and Mixx Diskerud, and also leaving out Timothy Chandler - have all drawn the ire of U.S. fans. But this roster is good. In fact, with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey in their prime (at the tail end of it for both of them) this will be the strongest team the U.S. will be able to field for several years. With players like Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard at Bradley's disposal, this team enters the tournament as the favorites, if not to win the whole thing then at least to reach the June 25 final at the Rose Bowl.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Regrouping Playoffs

Morelia and Pumas will play the first leg of the Mexican Clausura 2011 season tonight, with the return leg scheduled for Mexico City on Sunday. It will be the end of an era as this is the last time the league will decide its champion with a final series preceded by quarterfinals and semifinals.

For the Apertura 2011 season, slated to kick off sometime in August, the Mexican league has changed its playoff format. No longer will the league be divided up into three groups, with the top two qualifying directly and the best third-place teams also reaching the postseason. Now, the Liguilla will live up to its name. Liguilla is Spanish for "little league" or "mini-league" and that's what Mexico has done.

Now, there is one table. The top eight teams will qualify for the postseason, where the teams will be split up into two groups of four. Teams will then play each other team in the group home and away. The group winners will then play for the championship.

Sounds kind of strange, doesn't it? Let's see how this plays out both this season in Mexico and how it would have played out in MLS last season.

The groups are split up into the 1, 3, 5 and 7 seeds and the 2, 4, 6 and 8 seeds, so in Mexico it would have looked like this:

Cruz Azul


You notice the last two teams in the bottom group? That's what the league wants, more America-Chivas matches, and more superclasicos that have a lot riding on them.

This format ensures that the playoffs will go from 14 games to 26, and that will drive revenue and bring in a lot of financial resources to the league.

Now, to put it in MLS terms, the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs would have looked like this...

LA Galaxy
New York Red Bulls
Columbus Crew
Colorado Rapids

Real Salt Lake
FC Dallas
Seattle Sounders
San Jose Earthquakes

What's funny about both of these systems is that the final matchups - Morelia v Pumas, Colorado v FC Dallas - still would have been possible.

It's not a unique system. The World Cup used to use a similar system up until the 1982 World Cup. For 1986, the World Cup went to knockout rounds for good. The World Cup has actually had several different formats for determining the finalists.

It's an interesting system but I wouldn't expect MLS to do anything so drastic as that. Still, with how close MLS and FMF officials are, I would think that MLS suits will keep an eye on the Mexican playoff format, and if they crunch the numbers and figure out how much extra, if any, revenue would be drawn by using such a format, that could speak loudly to the league.

Far fetched? Possibly, but I doubt many onlookers thought the FMF would undergo such a drastic change.

Thankfully, This One Got Away

Do you remember when Ronaldinho was elite? Wait a minute, let me rephrase that, some of you might not be old enough...

Do you remember when the Galaxy was linked so heavily to Ronaldinho? Yeah, that was much more recent. Ronaldinho was the supposed third Designated Player heading the Galaxy's way in 2010 to join Landon Donovan and David Beckham. With Ronaldinho's time at AC Milan all but over in spring 2010, rumors were flying left and right that the Galaxy was interested and willing to welcome Ronaldinho with open arms.

Even RSL owner Dave Checketts hinted at one point that a major Brazilian was heading to MLS, and when the Galaxy strangely dealt away Alan Gordon to clear room on the roster, everything but the red carpet was in place for Ronaldinho's arrival.

Except, it never happened.

And Galaxy fans should be thankful it didn't.

Ronaldinho has received poor reviews during his brief tenure to Flamengo, the club that eventually won his services. The Brazilian side was the one who wound up welcoming the former World Cup winner to their team and the hope was that Ronaldinho would light up the soccer field as he had done for Barcelona and Brazil for so long.

Things have not turned out that way. Ronaldinho's skills on the soccer field have not returned to their glory, or anywhere near it, and he's been living it up off the field as well.

Had Ronaldinho joined the Galaxy, he may have become the second coming of Denilson, widely considered one of if not the worst DP in MLS history. Ronaldinho no doubt would have commanded attention and drawn interest, something that Denilson couldn't quite do, but with the way his skills have deteriorated, the Galaxy would have seen pretty quickly that their investment would have been a bad one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CCL Draw: Challenging Group For Galaxy

The CONCACAF Champions League draw was held Wednesday, finally. The draw was supposed to have been held at 8 a.m. PT but the results were not announced until about four hours later, which made for some frustrating moments.

Regardless, here is how the LA Galaxy fared.

The Galaxy were drawn into Group A and the only team that is for sure in the group is Costa Rica's Alajuelense.

Joining the Galaxy and Alajuelense will be the winner of the Motagua-Municipal series as well as the loser of the Clausura 2011 final between Pumas and Morelia. The Mexican side will need to qualify as they'll face a Caribbean team in the preliminary phase but barring a major upset, Pumas/Morelia will go through.

Dates are still TBD but at least the road to CONCACAF glory is a lot more clearer than it was this morning.

Initial thoughts... it's not an easy group. Pumas are the stronger side and are favored to beat Morelia, but either team would be difficult. Pumas have been the more consistent side so if Morelia upset Pumas, than the Galaxy would really have it difficult. Still, Morelia are no slouches and getting a result from Estadio Morelos would be challenging.

Motagua and Municipal each pose problems. Motagua feature several former MLS players, including Guillermo "Pando" Ramirez, whose goal in MLS Cup 2005 gave the Galaxy their second MLS Cup title, as well as Ivan Guerrero and Amado Guevara. "El Lobo" was a star for New York and is very much a formidable player still. Motagua would be the tougher of the two but Municipal have a lot of supporters in Southern California.

Alajuelense meanwhile are the only known commodity. The Costa Ricans won the 2004 CONCACAF Champions Cup, going through San Jose and Monterrey en route to the final. Alajuelense beat bitter rivals Saprissa to win the championship but did not get to participate in the Club World Cup as it was on hiatus then. Alajuelense are based just outside of the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. The Galaxy has some history there as in 2006 the Galaxy led 2-0 at halftime against Saprissa only to see the lead crash and lost by a 3-2 score.

Games will be played in August, September and October, which will test the Galaxy's depth and roster. Presumably the club will be battling for the Western Conference title, if not the Supporters' Shield, and balancing both league and cup tournaments will be tricky.

If nothing else, it will be interesting to see the Galaxy play in competitive games against Mexican and Central American competition. It will make for some very interesting and entertaining midweek games in late summer and early fall.

The rest of the tournament shaped out this way:

Group B
Colorado Rapids
Real Espana (HON)
Santos (MEX) or Olimpia (HON)
Metapan (SLV) or Caribbean Club champ

Group C
Pumas/Morelia winner
Tauro (PAN)
FC Dallas or Alianza (SLV)
Vancvouer/Toronto or Nicaraguan qualifier

Group D
Monterrey (MEX)
Comunicaciones (GUA)
Seattle or San Francisco (PAN)
Herediano (CRC) or Caribbean Club 3rd place

The Preliminary Round will be held in late July and early August and will determine the rest of the field but for now, this is what the tournament looks like.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Butting Heads

How bad is this headbutt?

Well, it's pretty bad, but what's the punishment worth?

Check it out:

The headbutter (I know that's not a word but work with me) is Jesus Corona of Cruz Azul. The person who received the headbutt is Sergio Marti, a trainer with Morelia.

This happened on Sunday at the end of Morelia's 3-0 win over Cruz Azul. Morelia reached the final of the Apertura 2011 season because of the victory but a brawl marred the end of the series.

Anyway, because of this, Corona lost his spot on Mexico's Gold Cup squad. Corona had performed admirably for Mexico in a 2-0 win over Bosnia in February and seemingly had just as much of a chance to play in goal for Mexico as the other goalkeepers on the roster - Guillermo Ochoa and Alfredo Talavera. Instead, he's done, off the roster and replaced with Jonathan Orozco.

It seems like a stiff price to pay, though. Even though this was a horrendously cowardly act - headbutting anybody like that is just in bad taste to say the least - this wasn't necessarily a crime that needed to have been punished by removal from the Gold Cup roster. Maybe it's Corona's sordid past - he was not called on by Mexico prior to the 2010 World Cup because of off-the-field issues - or maybe it's more of a moral-clause-type thing, maybe it's manager Jose Manuel De La Torre saying he doesn't want these types of players on his team.

Whatever the case, Corona's rage got the best of him again and not only does he make himself look bad, he ultimately hurts both his club team and the national team.

Latte Brewing Rankings (May 16)

My MLS rankings. I put way too much thought into these.

1. Real Salt Lake - An uninspiring draw for sure, but not damaging enough to knock them from the top perch.

2. LA Galaxy - You know things are going well when Juan Pablo Angel scores.

3. New York - Three of last four goals allowed have come on set pieces.

4. FC Dallas - Wasn't losing David Ferreira supposed to be damaging? Hoops have been 3-0-1 without him - and overcame a 1-0 deficit on the road in the game he was hurt.

5. Seattle - Too bad they don't get bonus points for their tifo display.

6. Portland - Timbers haven't won on the road yet but overcoming a deficit at Qwest Field shows the team's ever-improving mental toughness.

7. Columbus - Ugly performance. San Jose had a lot to play for but Columbus showed nothing.

8. Chivas USA - This team's for real - believe it.

9. Philadelphia - Has it been all smoke-and-mirrors for Philadelphia?

10. Colorado - Back to being a middling team.

11. Houston - A much-needed shutout at Rio Tinto.

12. Chicago - Nice comeback; two goals for a team that has question marks up front is a good sign as well.

13. San Jose - Just when you're ready to write off the 'Quakes, Yallop's boys lay a 3-0 whipping on a good Columbus team.

14. New England - A win, yes, but this team is just so uninspiring.

15. - DC United - Davies is going to be gone one way or the other, either with the Gold Cup or injury. Doesn't bode well.

16. Vancouver - What happens when you prioritize the Canadian Championships - a miserable, ugly performance.

17. - Toronto FC - A tie that felt like a loss; at least Plata looks like he can be good.

18. - Sporting KC - Miserable performances from Harrington, Kamara, Zusi. Is there any hope for this team?

Gold Cup Predictions

I guess since everyone else is doing it, I may as well fill out my US Gold Cup 2011 roster.

Now, this isn't who I think Bob Bradley should select but rather who I think he should select. Two different things. For instance, I wouldn't have picked Robbie Findley for my 2010 WC roster but I always thought he would be on it.

Anyway, here's position-by-position with some thoughts afterward:

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

This is about the only position where there shouldn't be any surprises. Tim Howard starts most games, with maybe Brad Guzan getting into a group game. Maybe.

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, Jonathan Bornstein, Timothy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo

No Jay DeMerit because he recently came back from a six-week layoff. Need guys who are match fit. If Oguchi Onyewu is not healthy - and chances are he may not be - Clarence Goodson would get the call. Tough to leave Eric Lichaj off but cover on right is there.

Midfielders: Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Alejandro Bedoya, Mixx Diskerud, Jermaine Jones, Benny Feilhaber

Versatile, well-stocked, talented - even without Stuart Holden.

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Charlie Davies

Jozy Altidore is the most frustrating addition. Of course he's on the roster but at the same time, he's not the most exciting player on this list, or close to it. Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury fill the excitement quota. Edson Buddle is here because he can still score goals and Charlie Davies, unless his injury over the weekend is worse than feared, could work his way back into the fold by the time the knockout rounds arrive.

Overall, this is a talented roster with a good mix of veterans and youngsters. The biggest question mark is up top. While Agudelo and Bunbury are exciting, they are not proven. And at times, experience counts a great deal in tournaments like this. Still, a bit of that youthful ignorance - they may not know that they're supposed to be nervous - is helpful at times.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Beckham Resting... Or Not?

Is David Beckham injured? Is that why he missed the Galaxy's match at Philadelphia on Wednesday?

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said Beckham was left behind to rest up his aging body. Beckham of course just turned 36 years and has logged a lot of air miles this year already, what with having spent the first part of 2011 training with Tottenham and having participated in the Royal Wedding at the end of April.

It makes sense, right? Rest up your star midfielder, leave him at home for a ridiculously-scheduled midweek match clear across the country and save him for the home match coming up.

I can't really believe much of anything Bruce Arena says these days, however. When it comes to injuries or rest or anything of that nature, Arena has as much credibility as News of the World, although perhaps not quite as outlandish.

Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was injured during a friendly on March 2. He did not train the week after (the final full week of the preseason) and when we asked Arena about Ricketts' possible availability for the season opener against Seattle, Arena was adamant that Ricketts' injury was "nothing."

Ricketts missed the first three games of the season.

On April 5 and 6, Landon Donovan did not practice with the club. When we asked Bruce Arena about Donovan's absence, he seemed a little agitated that we would even ask - I mean, why bother asking if the team's captain and possible MVP isn't around, right? But we asked and Arena, seemingly irritated, said "he doesn't need to be out here for this" - this meaning practice.

Queue Allen Iverson - We're talkin' 'bout practice, man.

Donovan, of course, was coming off having played two games with the U.S. national team and had played all 90 minutes in the Galaxy's 1-0 win over Philadelphia on April 2. I asked Arena if the decision to rest Donovan was made before the Philly match or if it was made as a result of the game. Arena said they had two choices - not play him against Philly or give him a couple days of rest, and he left it at that. That, to me, seems like it was a predetermined decision.

Turned out, Donovan was not only injured but was injured to the point that he missed three consecutive matches. Donovan picked up an injury during the Philadelphia match and had he not, he presumably would not have rested at all and would have made the Galaxy's three-game road swing.

So now Arena is talking about resting Beckham and I wonder if he's just selling us all a bill of goods once more.

Does it really make sense to rest Beckham? If anyone should be rested, it should be Donovan. He's going to have the Gold Cup to deal with in June and will be logging a lot of travel miles as a result of it. Maybe spare Donovan the six-hour flight from LA to Philly and take Beckham instead. Becks after all isn't having any participation with England this summer. Or maybe rest Angel; maybe a little rest can get him back to scoring goals and being an actual threat.

I'm in a wait-and-see mode on Beckham. Maybe he needed some extra time to recover from the match.

But Arena's even been dodgy about Beckham's fitness this season. He claimed that Beckham was fine with Tottenham, that he wasn't missing anything, that Beckham's fitness was ahead of where he would have been had he been with the Galaxy during the preseason but after the Galaxy's game against Philly on April 2, Arena said Beckham was finally getting to the place he needed to be fitness-wise.

Is Beckham injured? Is he merely resting?

I guess we'll all have to wait and see.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Suspending Stars' Attackers

Javier Morales is the latest victim of MLS's rough play.

Chivas USA's Marcos Mondaini slid into Morales from behind and took out the RSL star. Mondaini broke Morales' ankle and the injury required surgery and will knock him out of action for at least four months, possibly the rest of the season.

Morales joins David Ferreira and Steve Zakuani on the sidelines, and if you add Branko Boskovic to the mix (the DC midfielder was victim of a tackle during a USOC match and tore knee ligaments as a result of it) then you have a handful of standouts who will no longer be able to play with their teams.

Is the league's rough play finally coming to the forefront? Or are these just isolated incidents that all happened to come together at the same time?

Whatever the case, suspensions are one way to prevent would-be tacklers from going at other players too viciously. Tackles are a part of the game but not every tackle needs to result in an injury, let alone a catastrophic one. Brian Mullan, who took out Zakuani with a grisly tackle, was slapped with a record 10-match suspension and fined $5,000.

Will the league follow suit and slap Mondaini with a 10-match ban?

I don't see the same circumstances at all in play with regards to the two tackles. Mullan looked angry at not having gotten a call and seemed bent on taking someone out. Mondaini looked more like a clumsy oaf lunging at a ball.

A three-match ban would be fair for Mondaini, but a ban of up to five games might be reasonable. Anything more is overreaction, not just because of what happened to Zakuani but what happened to Ferreira and what could happen to the next name player.

Having said that, I expect the league to overreact and give Mondaini seven games. For the record, Jonathan Leathers who took out Ferreira with a tackle, was not suspended and was not even called for a foul on the play. After all, not all tackles are dirty, nor are they vicious. There is a fine line between tackles and there's even a finer line between dirty tackles like Mullan's and clumsy tackles like Mondaini's.

The hope is this trend of stars falling by the wayside ends.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Late Blast Rankings (May 9)

1. Real Salt Lake - How long do they last at this spot without Morales?

2. New York - Very impressive at times, looked vulnerable at others.

3. LA Galaxy - See above.

4. Columbus - One goal - chance for draws; two goals - chance for win

5. Seattle - Did well to recover from midweek loss at DC United

6. Philadelphia - At some point this season, and soon, Philly's gonna have to start looking to go forward more often

7. Portland - Learning how to win close games at home; now we just need to see that on the road

8. FC Dallas - Gutted out a road shutout

9. Colorado - Slowly coming out of it; that it's without Casey is a good sign

10. Chivas USA - Mondaini's tackle = moronic; Chivas USA had chance for road draw

11. Houston - Looked good for a long stretch but was it for real?

12. Chicago - Draws could give some confidence for a team that needs it

13. Vancouver - Showed some resiliency in earning first road shutout

14. New England - Effort improved, but Revs are back to not scoring

15. - DC United - Snapped two-game, eight-goals-allowed streak with scoreless draw

16. - San Jose - 'Quakes got confidence-booster in USOC win over Portland

17. - Toronto FC - A win! Finally

18. - Sporting KC - It's not Sporting KC's year - they don't even play and drop into last place

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Not dead, just busy

I'm back to an old theme that has a new resonance given the recent expansion teams allowed into Major League Soccer.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In Reserve, Chivas Wins

The Track and Field Stadium at Home Depot Center was the site of the latest edition of the Super Clasico between Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy.

Okay, it was just a reserve match but it still was Chivas-Galaxy match.

Victor Estupinian had two goals while Gerson Mayen added two assists as Chivas won 3-1.

Some things of note from the match for both sides:

* Chivas looked very solid in this match, particularly in the midfield. Mariano Trujillo and Francisco Mendoza offered quite a bit for Chivas and really helped dictate the possession. With those two holding down the midfield, it allowed Mayen the freedom to create and Mayen had little trouble carving up the Galaxy's backline. He sent a perfectly-placed ball to Estupinian on Chivas' second goal, the eventual match-winner, for his best assist of the afternoon but also set up the rookie earlier in the half.

* By contrast, the Galaxy's best asset was Adam Cristman. The club's new forward played for the first time in a Galaxy uniform and showed his worth in just 45 minutes of play. He was a bit of a load for Chivas' backline to handle. Cristman accounted for the Galaxy's only goal when he lifted a ball over from the left side of the box to the right side and Hector Jimenez got to the end of it and put it away.

* The Galaxy were likely encouraged to see both Cristman and Gregg Berhalter play. Each player is capable of contributing and would add a great deal to the club's depth, which will be tested this summer. Cristman played 45 minutes, said he may have been able to play another 15 while Berhalter played 30 but may have been able to go 45.

* When reserve team coach Curt Onalfo took Cristman out in favor of 16-year-old Jack McBean at halftime, the Galaxy lost a bit of their bite up front. It's understandable of course, given that McBean is far from being even a player of Cristman's caliber.

* Chivas' third goal came from Chris Cortez, who had done little to distinguish himself. The longtime trialist was not aggressive on a few plays where he should have been and had a dodgy first touch. But Panchito Mendoza sent him a nice through ball and Cortez was able to evade Josh Saunders and tucked it away. Before the goal, he had a dreadful encounter. That he scored makes his afternoon decent but I didn't see much to make me think he can contribute.

* Estupinian, on the other hand, looked dynamic and dangerous. He finished off two chances and had a few others that he may have done better with. Jovan Kirovski was unable to contain him.

* By contrast, the Galaxy's 2011 first-rounder showed he still needs to polish a bit more. Paolo Cardozo had the responsibility of managing the Galaxy's attack and was unable to pull the strings much. He had two free kicks that whistled the goal but aside from that he did not distinguish himself.

* Here's what the men in charge had to say...

Galaxy reserve team coach Curt Onalfo

Chivas head coach Robin Fraser (Carlos Llamosa is the reserve team coach)

No Flight In Angel's Wings

Juan Pablo Angel was supposed to have been the missing piece to the Galaxy's puzzle, the prolific scorer who would continue to blossom under Landon Donovan and David Beckham.

But as he prepares to face his former team, it looks like that team saw something the rest of the league hadn't quite expected.

Angel is slowing down.

Through eight games, Angel has all of one goal. At this rate, he will score four goals this season, which would be his worst production by far since joining MLS. Angel scored 13 goals for New York last year and had 58 regular-season goals before the Galaxy made him their third Designated Player.

Angel has yet to look comfortable since arriving in Carson.

On the second day of preseason, Angel fielded questions from the media and his demeanor was that of a newcomer - other players came off the field smiling and chatting with others presumably about their offseason antics. Angel looked like he was all business, not really talking with others, devoid of smiles and conversation. Three months later, Angel still gives off some of that same vibe. Most of the time I've seen him, Angel has walked off the training field alone. Since he's a DP, he's only made available to the media usually once a week so I haven't gotten the chance to talk with him as much as other players.

But when we do talk to him, he just talks. He's all business, doesn't chit-chat, doesn't joke around, at least not with or around us.

Now, it's probably tough to feel as if he's truly arrived when he doesn't have a place to live. Unless things have changed in the last two weeks, he still hasn't settled in anywhere and his family is still not with him. Being a family man myself, I can understand how difficult things would be if I were to live apart from my wife and children. They would be on my mind a lot, maybe even more on my mind than my work. And if I was living in a situation where it wasn't permanent, either in a hotel or with other people, it would probably carry over into my work as well.

Angel hasn't pointed to those things for anything, and I even asked him about his family and if that would make him feel more comfortable and still he said that that doesn't have much bearing to on-the-field stuff.

I don't know what the answer is when it comes to Angel. Clearly there is something amiss. The team's offense took off with him on the bench, scoring four goals in two games with him not on the field, and when he returned to the starting lineup against FC Dallas, the Galaxy reverted back to their early-season form of scoring one goal a game.

Maybe when Angel faces his former team on Saturday something will re-ignite within him. Maybe when he settles down, he'll truly be able to settle down.

Until then, his production will continue to be minimal and the team's offense will continue to suffer.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Laser Blast Rankings (May 2)

Here are the latest rankings. The separation the top three had is still there but with more losses, even if they came on the road, it won't be for much longer.

1. Real Salt Lake - Had to figure the team was due for a letdown even though Portland is a tough place to play.

2. New York - Took the throttle off after one goal, but it was more than enough to silence KC.

3. LA Galaxy - Wonder if they'll chalk this loss up to bad weather?

4. Philadelphia - Overcame an early red card to win; takes a strong team to do that.

5. Seattle - No Zakuani, no White, no Rosales and they still get three goals.

6. Columbus - Two goals? In one game? Crew won't lost many times when that happens.

7. Houston - Will Bruin is finishing off goals that Brian Ching may not have.

8. FC Dallas - Survived the rain and lightning and got three well-earned points.

9. Portland - Stunning defeat against a team that hadn't lost an MLS game in a while.

10. Chivas USA - Thorough whipping of New England but real tests come soon - at RSL, at NY, vs LA.

11. Colorado - Casey is missed, badly, strange considering how well Folan, Amarikwa, Cummings looked; depth just isn't there.

12. Chicago - A gritty result, could have left Dick's with three points.

13. Vancouver - Salgado's first MLS goal only positive souvenir from Ohio.

14. New England - A horrible effort against Chivas.

15. San Jose - When you go up a man on the road, you're the team that's supposed to win.

16. DC United - Well, that was fun while it lasted.

17. Sporting KC - The offense was the only thing that's supposed to keep these guys in games, so if they can't score, they have zero chance.

18. Toronto FC - So much for that momentum from the win over Edmonton.