Thursday, March 29, 2012

Week 4 MLS Picks

One of the outlets I did a lot of work for over the last couple of years was a gambling site. It was actually pretty cool. I would write up match previews in a specific format and then I'd make a pick.

I picked every MLS game for that site from 2008 all the way through last season - regular season, playoffs, MLS Cup. Now, unfortunately, that's over. Having to pick all the games meant I had to stay abreast of what was going on around the league.

We're three weeks in now and I haven't picked a game, and this makes me sad. So I will try and pick the weekend's games here.

DC vs FC Dallas

DC United have yet to win this season while FC Dallas are coming off a tough loss at KC. I expect FC Dallas to come out focused and determined to not let another match slip through their fingers, but I don't think that DC will lose this. Therefore, I see a draw.

Toronto FC vs Columbus

Toronto FC will be in the midst of a difficult stretch. The club will have played San Jose at home on March 24, will have hosted Santos Laguna in a CCL semifinal on the 28th, then will have this home game just four days before playing at Santos. Oh yeah, and Torsten Frings is hurt. And, oh yeah, Toronto's form has been miserable in league. The Crew wins this edition of the Trillium Cup.

New York vs Montreal

Poor Impact. Their hopes were high going into the season but now the team is finding out that life in MLS for expansion teams is difficult. Their fragile confidence has been shattered after a come-from-ahead draw to Chicago at home and a bad loss to Columbus on the road. No goals in two road games... make that no goals in three road games. New York takes this one handily.

Philadelphia vs Vancouver

Easily the most-anticipated matchup of the weekend. I mean, it's Sebastien Le Toux's return to Philly for chrissake. Will that make it the best game of the weekend? Maybe, maybe not but I think it makes this the most difficult game of the weekend to pick. On the one hand, Le Toux may come out fired up and might be ready to score two or three goals on Philly. But at the same time, that feeling may make you look away from the facts - Vancouver, for all they've improved, still aren't a proven team (they will need more than just a 1-0 win at Chivas to change that for me) and that makes them unreliable. As a general rule I don't like to take unreliable teams to win road games. So I'm calling this a draw.

Seattle vs San Jose

The 'Quakes put three past Toronto FC but don't be fooled. That had as much to do with Toronto FC adjusting to life without Torsten Frings and their focus on the CCL as it did with San Jose's own attacking prowess. Seattle are strong and at home and perhaps they will run out of magic at some point soon up at Century Link but I don't see it happening this weekend. Seattle wins this one.

Portland vs Real Salt Lake

Dear Portland... what was that? The Timbers put in a miserable performance against what I feel is the worst team in the league in New England, allowing an early goal and putting exactly zero past Matt Reis. Portland's woes on the road continue, but that of course means nothing as they return to Jeld-Wen Field. RSL had their own troubling loss but RSL played well enough to at least get a point away from their match. RSL are more sound and more settled and that will equate to success. RSL takes the full three points on the road.

LA Galaxy vs New England

Don't be fooled. The Galaxy aren't the juggernaut they were in 2011 and they have traditionally struggled against New England, even at home. A year ago, the Revs stole a point from the Galaxy's home opener and New England has won three of their last six matches vs the Galaxy at Home Depot Center. New England will surely try and exploit the Galaxy's woeful central defense, which has been a part of the Galaxy having allowed eight goals in four games across all competitions. New England will play the Galaxy tough and will get a draw from this game.

Colorado vs Chicago

What matters more - Colorado's awful showing from a week ago or Chicago's strong four points? Chicago certainly has more momentum and with Dominic Oduro on a scoring streak the Fire appear poised to challenge. However, consider this: Chicago are 1-3-1 vs. Colorado at Dick's Sporting Goods Park and have won just three games all-time at Colorado. The Rapids will bounce back with a win.

Chivas USA vs Sporting KC

Sporting KC are on a tear. They've bested all competition thus far, whether it's been at home or on the road. Their offense was supposed to produce these kinds of results as CJ Sapong and Kei Kamara from the start of one of the top attacks in the league. Teal Bunbury will return to give Peter Vermes another piece to the puzzle. But Chivas USA came off a potentially defining victory that if nothing else gives the team a load of confidence entering this match. Will that be enough to topple mighty KC? No, but I think it will be enough to earn a point. Look for a draw from this match.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Escaping With A Draw

Toronto FC were strong against Santos Laguna in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal match, escaping with a respectable 1-1 draw.

Toronto FC were a bit unlucky not to get the second goal and take a victory down to Mexico. Santos went down to 10 men for the final quarter hour but Toronto FC were unable to take advantage.

Is this a great result for Toronto FC? Honestly, no. Toronto FC will need to win outright or draw by at least 2-2 in order to win the series. A 1-1 draw sends the match to extra time while a 0-0 draw or a Santos win eliminates Toronto FC.

Toronto FC now have one win and two draws from their CCL campaign while having just two bad losses to show for their league efforts.

What will make it complicated in the second leg will be the absence of Danny Koevermans. The Dutch striker was booked against Santos on Tuesday and will now serve a one-match suspension because of it. Pity, but Toronto FC have Ryan Johnson, Nick Soolsma and Luis Silva to pick up the slack. It's troubling but not disastrous.

I suppose down in the second leg that anything short of a 6-1 loss won't reflect too poorly within MLS. After all, one of the league's best sides fell by that much down in Torreon.

This team may not be a power but they also are survivors. Perhaps nobody outside their locker room believes in them, but that probably won't bother them much at all. That underdog mentality will only help the club down in Mexico, when nobody will give them a chance to do anything against Santos Laguna.

No Chance For Toronto FC?

Toronto FC and Santos Laguna. The two don't belong on the same field let alone in the same competition, right?

After all, Santos Laguna have won Mexican titles before - los Guerreros were the first Mexican team to win a short-season title, capturing the Invierno 96 crown. They may not be one of Mexico's Big Four but they are a well-respected team within their league and one of the few Mexican teams to have built their own stadium recently, a testament to the passionate support the club enjoys in Torreon.

Toronto FC meanwhile... well, they're just a sad sack of a club, or so the perception is. Toronto FC have yet to make the playoffs, yet to win an MLS match that matters, have gone through countless coaches and players in their short existence.

And yet, here they are, these two clubs from opposite ends of the success/respect spectrum, fighting for a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League final.

Toronto FC were not a hapless club against the LA Galaxy. Now there's a team that was heavily favored, was supposed to waltz through TFC, supposed to capture attention throughout the region and the world by making a CCL run and TFC did not care. TFC did not bat an eyelid. When the Galaxy overcame a 2-0 deficit to level terms late in the first leg, ensuring that a low-scoring draw would be good enough to get through to the semifinals, Toronto FC did well to keep a level head. When Toronto FC scored an own goal to tie the second leg and give the Galaxy the edge, the Canadians kept fighting, kept battling and scored, and did not let the high-flying Galaxy back into the match.

And it is Toronto FC who are deserved semifinal representatives. Remember, this is the same Toronto FC squad that tied Pumas at home in the group stage and punched their ticket into the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win at FC Dallas. They earned their spot in the knockout rounds and earned their spot in the semifinals.

Now, their league form is terrible. Two losses by a combined 6-1 is probably most were expecting out of Toronto in their series against the Galaxy. But that matters nothing against Santos.

Of course the Mexicans are heavily favored to win the series. Mexican teams have dominated the CCL. Santos are in fine form in league and demolished Seattle by 6-1 to book their spot in the semifinal round. And with the second leg scheduled for Torreon on April 4, Santos has an advantage in this series too.

But nobody told Toronto FC that they were supposed to lose to the Galaxy. And I doubt they got the message that Santos Laguna should prevail here either.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Developing Winners Or Developing Players?

Something I'm going to explore in my Press-Enterprise column for Wednesday is this topic: if the purpose of the U.S. youth national teams is to develop players, then the Under-23's failure to qualify for the Olympics is bad but not catostrophic.

If this was the senior team who had failed to beat Canada and El Salvador at home in a tournament, then I would say that would be catostrophic. But the aim of the youth national teams is simple - to develop players. Right? Am I right in saying/thinking this? Maybe it shouldn't be, maybe that should be a key part of MLS and maybe US Soccer shouldn't necessarily concern themselves with youth development, but that's the reality. MLS is not yet producing a high number of young talents; sure, clubs are continually taking a more proactive approach to youth development but US Soccer still has to take a load of this responsibility.

Now, these players aren't exactly the same as the U-17s or even the U-20s. At 22 or 23 years of age, players should be well on their way towards a professional career. Soccer age is younger, so a player who is 26, 27, maybe 28 should be at their prime and by 30, 31, 32 it's time to start thinking about life after soccer.

Still, the biggest opportunity lost for this squad was not that they won't get to contend for a gold medal in London (because honestly, a medal would always have been a bit of a miracle) but that these players, this group will not have had the exposure or the chance to play in a major tournament. The soccer part of the Olympics is not necessarily a major tournament but the Olympics themselves, yeah, they're pretty major. And being a part of that would only have helped the development of players like Terrence Boyd, Juan Agudelo, Joe Corona, Brek Shea, Freddy Adu... etc.

Anyway, that's something I'm kicking around this morning. I'll post the finished product here after it runs in the paper.

Loss Doesn't Spell Overall Doom

The United States' loss to El Salvador... wait... draw with El Salvador will lead to lots of fallout. Some will clamor that this was Caleb Porter's fault; others will question the talent pool; still others will say this reflects poorly on the U.S. youth system and the types of players who are being produced.

Now, say what you will about Porter and the rest of the coaching staff; his international inexperience may have hurt the team and I felt he should have rotated more players in and out of lineup given the three-games-in-five-days stretch. But one thing that can't, or at least shouldn't, be questioned is the fallout with regards to how it reflects on the youth setup.

This has zero bearing on the U.S. national team's future. None.

Now, it may seem natural to assume that it does. If this team of Americans cannot reach the Olympics - heck, if they can't beat Canada or El Salvador at home - then surely it has to point to larger problems, no?

Well, no. It does not.

Go back to any youth national team who either competed at or for a spot in a major tournament and you will find a mix of players who went on to excel with the national team and those who vanished and became nothing.

For the purposes of the U-23s, look at the U.S. lineup who failed to reach the 2004 Summer Olympics.

This is the team that lost to Mexico in Guadalajara in February 2004 and did not reach the Athens games.

USA: D.J. Countess; Chris Wingert (Kyle Beckerman, 46), Nat Borchers, Chad Marshall, Ricky Lewis; Logan Pause, DaMarcus Beasley, Brad Davis (Eddie Gaven, 76), Bobby Convey; Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson (Alecko Eskandarian, 63). Subs Not Used: Doug Warren; David Stokes, Brian Carroll, David Testo.

Let's see... there's an MLS Most Valuable Player there, an MLS Defender of the Year, finalists for both MVP and Defender of the Year, players who have played and excelled abroad, players who are fixtures and key players on their MLS clubs... sure, there are some washouts and players who amounted to nothing but there's some solid talent in that group.

That loss then did not reflect the level of talent found on that team. And who knows, if that semifinal was not played in Guadalajara before 60,000 passionate Mexican supporters, perhaps we're not having this discussion.

But it happened and we are. And it happened again on Monday, so we discuss.

Now, that U.S. team was, I'd argue, more talented than their Mexican counterparts. Here's El Tri's lineup...

Jesús Corona; Aarón Galindo, Francisco Rodríguez, Ismael Rodríguez; Mario Pérez, Gerardo Espinoza, Diego Martínez; Sergio Ponce, Luis Ernesto Pérez (Luis Alonso Sandoval, 78), Juan Pablo García (Gonzalo Pineda, 67); Rafael Márquez Lugo (Ismael Iniguez, 83). Subs Not Used: Cirilo Salcedo; Juan Carlos Cacho, Jaime Duran, Hugo Sanchez Guerrero, Rodolfo Espinoza.

Mexico's best player from this squad was Francisco Rodriguez, better known as Maza. Jesus Corona has been one of Mexico's top goalkeepers in last decade or so, and Luis Perez and Juan Carlos Cacho have enjoyed league and some national team success, Gonzalo Pineda played in a World Cup... but Donovan and Beasley are better than anyone Mexico had that day.

This U.S. team now has some top-notch talent. Brek Shea, Terence Boyd, Freddy Adu, Joe Corona... pick your poison. These players will be influential for club and country before it's all said and done. Just because they failed collectively does not mean that individually they're garbage.

In many ways, the youth setup is like the game of soccer itself. Scoring goals is important yes, but creating chances is probably more important. The more chances you create, the more likely it is you will find the back of the net. But you can generate chance after chance and fail to score, just like you can churn out top youth talent but fail to win. Lack of goals does not necessarily indicate massive deep-rooted problems in a given team's attack, and lack of a youth team's clutch victory does not indicate if the youth system is strong or not.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Talent Can't Save U.S. Olympic Dreams

The dream is over. The U.S. lost to El Salvador. Well, it was a draw technically but the U.S. Under-23 national team needed to beat El Salvador to advance to the Olympic qualifying semifinals but failed to do so, surrendering a 3-2 lead in the fifth minute of stoppage time on Monday.

And the mighty giant has fallen.

Alright, the U.S. is not the mighty giant, and anyone who thinks this team was actually a gold-medal contender now knows how foolish that notion ever was. This is... WAS... a team with talent, sure, but talent does not win games alone. It never has. These Americans are far more talented than their Central American counterparts; many of these U.S. players will go on to have standout careers in leagues and clubs bigger than El Salvador's players will, but none of that matters. It certainly did not matter during the game.

What mattered was heart. The U.S. looked like it had heart there in battling back to take a 3-2 lead after trailing by a goal at halftime and into the second half. But no, this team ultimately lacked the heart and desire and courage necessary to close out the match. Perhaps it was El Salvador's tactics - elbowing players, reckless fouls, etc. - that got the U.S. players off their game or maybe the Americans just thought they had the game in hand and got overconfident. Whatever the case, the U.S. could not see the job through.

For all of that, though, if Sean Johnson makes a save on Jaime Alas' shot from distance - and it appeared to be a rather routine save - then we're talking about how the U.S. dodged a bullet and now will have a few days to recover before facing Honduras (likely) in the semis.

But soccer can be cruel, and the ball just did not go the way the Americans wanted on Monday. The dream is over and the American lads won't be in London vying for soccer glory.

Ultimately, this is just a case of a team who failed to see the job through. A talented team, yes, but a flawed team as well. And a team that won't be anywhere near London this summer.

Too Much U23 Hype?

The sky is falling out from the United States' beloved Under-23 national team.

Or so you may think.

The U.S. Olympic squad may not actually ever be an Olympic squad if the U.S. does not take care of business against El Salvador tonight. Of course, this wouldn't be an issue had the U.S. lived up to the hype and beaten Canada but instead the Canadians stunned the U.S. with a 2-0 win on Saturday.

Shocking? Has to be, right? This is Canada after all, and these are the Adu- and Shea-led Americans, a squad loaded with talent who was supposed to walk right through this round.

Well, the U.S. may never have been or may never be gold medal favorites, at least in 2012. But the U.S. is not an also-ran in CONCACAF either. Somewhere in between is the U.S. And that's probably what makes the loss to Canada seem so stunning. This U.S. squad is loaded with talent - Freddy Adu, Brek Shea, Joe Gyau, Joe Corona, Juan Agudelo, Bill Hamid, Teal Bunbury, Mix Diskerud.... salivating, eye-popping, mouth-watering - insert your preferred adjective about the squad here.

But was it just too much hype and too much excitement for this squad that fueled the hype and caused this squad to be a bit inflated? Perhaps. Certainly the United States' dominant 2-0 win over Mexico in February did not help matters in terms of inflating this team's stature.

The problem with perception really is not a problem unless players believe the hype and overconfidence creeps in. Sure, we may all believe one thing that isn't but that's on us for buying into hype. Once players start believing the hype, bad things happen. And maybe there was some of that with this team, if not believing hype from the media and outsiders then possibly feeling overconfident because of their own previous performances.

And let's also not diminish what Canada did. The U.S. probably has more talent than Canada but Canada did very well to take it to the U.S. and shut down the Americans' engine right from the start of the match.

Still, the bottom line about the U.S. is this - if the Americans can't beat El Salvador in a must-win match, they don't belong anywhere near the Olympics.

Week Three Rankings

Lots of movement in this week's rankings, but how far did top-ranked RSL slide after losing at Rio Tinto? And how far up did the bottom-feeding Revs move after picking up their first win of the year?

1. Seattle Sounders: Another convincing victory
2. Sporting KC: Flying high after another high-flying win
3. LA Galaxy: A badly-needed week off should bode well for Revs' visit
4. Real Salt Lake: Choke job? Wake up call? Whatever it was, loss to Chivas was not good
5. Chicago: The Birdman flyeth once more
6. FC Dallas: Villar has discovered his scoring touch
7. Houston: Success in Seattle was always going to be difficult
8. Vancouver: Should have done better against weak DC side
9. San Jose: A veritable goal explosion for the 'Quakes
10. Columbus: Solid, tidy victory
11. New York: Cooper playing like the FC Dallas version
12. Colorado: Where was that jogo bonito versus the Red Bulls?
13. Portland: Lots of supposed attacking prowess but failed to score on hapless Revs
14. Chivas USA: Stunning result; perhaps this is start of something good
15. New England: Early goal led to confidence, three points; something to build on
16. Montreal: Road goals - let alone points - will be tough to come by
17. Toronto FC. So much promise, so horrid a start
18. DC United. Clean sheet, but that's about the only good thing that happened on weekend
19. Philadelphia. No Doop in Doopville tonight

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Frings Injury No Death Blow For Toronto FC

Throughout Toronto FC's CONCACAF Champions League series with the LA Galaxy, I was most impressed with two playres - Ryan Johnson and Torsten Frings. Johnson needs no explanation - his goals were clutch and well-taken. He nearly scored the dagger with a rocket from outside the box late in the second leg but still had a tremendous series overall.

Frings meanwhile was the architect to the defense. Normally a central midfielder, Frings was always a step ahead, a thought ahead of the Galaxy. Playing primarily a three-man backline, Frings was able to help keep both Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle off the score sheet as the Galaxy could only score two goals (from their own players' feet anyway) in 180 minutes. I told some colleagues that if Frings were to play the entire MLS season at defender, he'd be a strong candidate for Defender of the Year.

Now word comes out that Frings is injured. A hamstring injury will sideline him for 4-6 weeks according to Toronto FC. That means he will miss both legs of Toronto's CONCACAF Champions League series against Santos Laguna and may not return until May.

A death blow for Toronto, right?

Well, in Champions League it may be. Toronto will be massive underdogs against Santos Laguna, who polished off Seattle with a 6-1 drubbing in Torreon a week ago. Toronto need to head to Mexico with at least a two-goal edge in order to have a chance but a home win of any kind seems difficult against the Mexicans. With Frings, perhaps. Without Frings... massively challenging.

In league, though, their chances may not be as bleak. Consider this: Toronto FC will play four of their next five matches at home. Their upcoming schedule:

March 24: San Jose
March 31: Columbus
April 7:  at Montreal
April 14: Chivas USA
April 21: Chicago

Four matches at home, the fifth away to the expansion Impact in what could be a charged bit of a rivalry match.

The next four games are also favorable... well, aside from the first one...

April 28: at Real Salt Lake
May 5: DC United
May 19: at DC United
May 26: Philadelphia

It seems what could save Toronto during this time is that they play in the Eastern Conference. Their toughest match is the away fixture to Real Salt Lake. Aside from Chivas and San Jose, not exactly Western powers, the rest of the schedule is filled with Eastern clubs.

Losing Frings may have killed Toronto FC's CCL hopes but their league campaign should be strong. And if it doesn't, it won't be something their fans aren't used to.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Week Two Rankings

After Week Two, here's how the teams stand in my eyes:

1. Real Salt Lake: Strong, convincing victory; Espindola and Velasquez each off to tremendous starts.
2. Seatte: Who needs Fucito (or EJ for that matter) when you've got Estrada?
3. LA Galaxy: Keane finally finds his confidence, Galaxy reap rewards.
4. Sporting KC: SKC's attack just gets scarier and scarier every game.
5. FC Dallas: Perez with the first of his double-digit goal total this year.
6. Portland: Showed grit to overcome road deficit
7. Houston: A pair of 1-0 road wins to open season; not bad.
8. Colorado: Surprising 2-0 start? Playing a bad Philly team helped.
9. Vancouver: If Whitecaps can score consistently on set pieces, watch out.
10. Chicago: Weathered Montreal's impressive crowd and tough team for a valuable road point.
11. Columbus: Week off for the Crew, but still move up because they're not as bad as others.
12. San Jose: Offense can't be just a one-man show.
13. New York: Defense/goalkeeping has been abysmal so far.
14. Toronto FC: Backline was in shambles throughout the loss in Seattle but Johnson's a star.
15. Montreal: Deserved to win the match, but nobody is feeling down about their crowd.
16. Chivas USA: Something has to start happening up top; no difference makers in there now.
17. Philadelphia: MacMath has some maturing to do, and needs to do it quickly.
18. DC United: Pitiful showing; DeLeon helps save some face.
19. New England: Don't worry Revs, you probably would have lost 3-0 with 11 men.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Galaxy Lineup Difficulties

Among the many reasons you can point blame to for the Galaxy's CCL debacle is the lineup choices. Bruce Arena sent out nearly the same lineup for the Galaxy's three games of the year. The following players have started every game: Josh Saunders, Todd Dunivant, AJ De La Garza, Sean Franklin, Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Mike Magee, Edson Buddle and Robbie Keane. In case you're keeping track, that's nine players. All but Magee and Franklin played every minute of the first three games.

Under those circumstances, it's difficult to win games, particularly when the opponent has had more time to rest, which was the case against Toronto FC on Wednesday.

Anyway, despite what Bruce Arena has said about players needing rest, he has shown the opposite. No rest for the weary.

DC United will be the Galaxy's last game until March 31 - they will have a bye week next week. Since they won't be playing on the weekend, the Galaxy will have ample enough time to rest up. Plus, since the Galaxy have not been able to win yet this year, the match against DC will be a bit of a must-win.

Therefore, I don't expect to see much change in the lineup. My guess: Saunders, Dunivant, Meyer, De La Garza, Keat; Magee, Sarvas, Beckham, Donovan; Buddle, Keane.

It's certainly great to have players like Keane and Beckham, but it's also a bit of a curse. You almost have to start them every game. It's tempting to let them sit and rest and get their confidence back but at the same time no matter who else you turn to, you're not going to find a better option on the bench. Additionally, those players handcuff Arena because if the Galaxy are trailing, there's no way Keane or Beckham sit. If the Galaxy are winning, that's fine but if they're not those players will keep playing 90 minutes over and over again

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Fuming

Horrors! The Galaxy bounced from the CCL while the defending champions of MLS? It's so 2006. That was a bad year for the team due partly to scheduling, but also partly due to the lack of coaching foresight to cope with the scheduling and either be creative with the lineup or kick up a bigger fuss to get games moved. The Ghost of Galaxy Coaches Past, Frank Yallop, is visiting Bruce Arena right now to say, "Whatever you do, don't miss the playoffs." Actually, it was MLS Cup-winning coach Steve Sampson who lost the CCL game in Costa Rica, then was fired midway through that debacle of a season, but it was Yallop who got saddled with a crazy Beckham-fueled schedule in 2007 that helped hobble the Galaxy to yet another playoff-missing season. Ah, memories. 

I'm taking a break from grading essay  papers to post here on the revamped Sideline Views, where I will pretty much be cheering Luis on, but probably not posting a lot of original news myself. For those who care to know, I've returned to teaching (morning and evening classes which pretty much wipe out time for reporting anything). I've also bought a fixer-upper property. It turns out that transformations are not as easy as the DIY Channel makes things look, so that's a lot of ongoing work.

I always wanted to write about topics that tended to be overlooked and bring new and different stories to readers, so I haven't taken down my freelance badge. I still write for Futbol Mundial on occasion. I still get a happy thrill when a player I picked out early for stardom has a good game. It's always fun to see a quote from a player I personally know is a great interview, kind and fair to reporters. If I recognize a byline from a writer who was friendly in the pressbox, I'll still feel collegial camaraderie. I'm always proud to see bylines of writers I personally worked with and tried to help. Life goes on though, and my spot on the sideline these days is closer to the couch. 

Of course, that doesn't mean I can't snark from there about how the Galaxy should have done better against TFC.  Luis covered the details of that, already, though. I'll just add that those who thought an MLS Cup win bought Bruce Arena a lifetime appointment as Galaxy coach, think again. Every coach before him who won the Cup (Schmid and Sampson) was fired by the organization. The AEG shakeup of the Galaxy admin staff (where they let Galaxy president Tom Payne go, among others) also reveals an impatience for any results deemed poor. Losing to TFC in the CCL, and starting the season with a losing record at home won't get Arena fired, but those are definitely poor results for the Galaxy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

CCL Debacle

Nearly 24 hours have passed since the LA Galaxy were bounced prematurely from the CONCACAF Champions League, and I've decided that it is indeed a debacle.

This was something the Galaxy had invested heavily in, this tournament. The Galaxy fancy themselves a global club, a brand, an identity that goes beyond your average MLS club. Their brand transcends borders - they're quick to point out that no other MLS club could stage an Asian tour like the Galaxy can. Theirs is the big club, the super club, the jewel of the league, right?

And yet, there goes the Galaxy, out in the quarterfinal phase of the CONCACAF Champions League, ousted by a team that's never made the MLS playoffs, that is an afterthought in the league. An also ran. Supposedly, right?

What went wrong is up for debate. You can blame the defense. Tommy Meyer was not as solid as he could have been and neither was AJ De La Garza. Todd Dunivant drew the ire of David Beckham while Bruce Arena said afterward that Sean Franklin was gassed.

You can also blame the offense. Robbie Keane looked timid and hesitant inside the box and saw one excellent opportunity turned away. Landon Donovan also had a chance inside the area but saw the ball get away from him, then could not get the official to bite on a dive.

You might even blame the officiating. Mike Magee was incorrectly ruled offside on a play that saw him find the back of the net. Who knows how that would have affected the outcome, though?

You can definitely blame Bruce Arena. He said he mishandled the lineup on Saturday vs. RSL, then turned around and sent nearly the same lineup out against Toronto FC.

Wherever you place the blame, though, this is a debacle. Absolutely without question. Had the Galaxy gone out in the semifinal round, then perhaps it wouldn't be so much. If they had gone out against a Mexican club in the quarterfinals, it is understandable.

But against Toronto FC? That's just unacceptable.

Now, this is not an anti-Toronto FC post. Like a lot of others, I quickly have become a believer in Toronto FC. Danny Koevermans is the real deal and if Torsten Frings plays the entire season on defense, he's definitely a Defender of the Year candidate... frontrunner even.

But Toronto FC aren't heavy favorites to win MLS Cup. The Galaxy, with all their glitz and glamor, are. That the Galaxy failed to win under those circumstances screams debacle.

Collective Failure For Galaxy

The LA Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League run ended prematurely.

No battles with Santos Laguna or any other Mexican club. No deep run into this tournament. No captivating series of games coming up. Nothing now but league play.

The Galaxy lost to Toronto FC by 2-1 on Wednesday in Carson and dropped the series by a 4-3 aggregate. Toronto FC moves on while the Galaxy now must sift through the mess left behind by this unexpected defeat.

What went wrong? Plenty. The defense failed to execute. Robbie Keane was unable to put away one of two clear chances he had inside the penalty area. Other players were unable to generate their own scoring chances. In fact, if it wasn't for former Galaxy defender Ty Harden sliding and knocking a ball in the back of his own net, Toronto FC may have walked away with a clean sheet.

A team with David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and Robbie Keane is not supposed to get shut out, right? At least, isn't that expected, that that quartet will score goals by the boatload?

Goals of any kind did not happen Wednesday and frankly haven't happened enough in the early going. The Galaxy have scored four goals in three games, a decent output, but clearly more is expected from the attack. The punchless attack, particularly on Wednesday, has now cost the Galaxy a semifinals berth.

Defensively the team has confirmed its worst fears - Omar Gonzalez's loss will be devastating. The MLS Defender of the Year left a huge hole in defense and so far, the team has not come close to filling it. Seven goals allowed in three games is nowhere near the level of stinginess the Galaxy enjoyed a year ago. There were no three-game stretches that saw the Galaxy allow seven goals in 2011.

This Galaxy team was not just built to win trophies but rather to do so in style. These are attention-grabbing players who put fans in the seat just as much as they put balls in the back of the net. For them to go out in the quarterfinal round, to an MLS club who has never made the playoffs no doubt, is a major disappointment.

And just as they all trumpeted after MLS Cup 2011 that everyone was responsible for that triumph, everyone is responsible for this failure, from the coaching staff down to the last player on the field.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Galaxy-TFC: We Got Links

In case you haven't read them, here are the links to the stories I've written ahead of the LA Galaxy's game tonight versus Toronto FC.

Lineup changes coming vs Toronto (even though we all know they're not)

And here's something I wrote up for The Press-Enterprise on Landon Donovan and his chance to make history with the Galaxy here in the CCL.

Galaxy-Toronto FC: Leftover Items

Some notes and loose ends from the Galaxy's critical CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series against Toronto FC.


The Galaxy were the only CCL entrant to play in the league's opening weekend. Seattle and Toronto FC each had the weekend off, but the Galaxy played against one of the league's best teams, hosting Real Salt Lake.

Now, let me say this real quickly - the Galaxy do not have a match the weekend of March 24-25, which would mean should the Galaxy advance to the semifinals, they will have gone from March 18 until March 28 without a game. Both Toronto and Seattle have games that weekend. Take that for what you will.

Also, the league moved RSL's league match scheduled between the first and second legs of the final, and I would absolutely fully expect that whether it's Toronto, Seattle or the Galaxy in the final.

Anyway, here's what Bruce Arena had to say on Tuesday about the scheduling portion of this whole thing.

"It is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about it. In the future, I’m going to make much more responsibility in the scheduling and we as an organization, we have a protocol in place to where we’re not going to put ourselves in this position again. That’s that. It’s over with. I accept the responsibility for the scheduling the way it is. We’re moving forward. What’s done is done. We’re going to do everything we can to get out of this leg and then get ready for Sunday. That’s what we’re dealing with now and that’s the way it is."


Another quirky thing from this game is the attendance cap of 7500. Because of some lame agreement between the club and Cal State Dominguez Hills, there is a cap in place. It's ridiculous but for now, it stands. I do hope it's abolished in the future, as soon as possible.

Anyway, the crowd then could drop about 40,000 from last week to this week. A week ago, more than 47,000 crammed into the cavernous Rogers Centre, and now there will be an intimate gathering at Home Depot Center.

The crowd had an effect on the match in Canada - at least the start of it - but that's not to say that a smaller crowd won't do the same for the Galaxy.

"They certainly started well and you can at least partially attribute that to the crowd," Landon Donovan said. "(Wednesday) night it will be loud. It won’t be the same type of environment but it will be loud. Our fans will be loud. It will be a good night, not quite the same, but we need to make sure we use that to our advantage this time."


Todd Dunivant on playing a massive series so early in the year: It’s different coming straight out of preseason. Edson and Robbie had their first game together last Wednesday in Champions League. They’re still getting to know each other and the team is still gelling but there’s no excuse. This is the hand we’re dealt and we’ve got to deal with it. It’s not easy but it’s what we’ve got to do to advance and we’re not going to make any excuses.

Donovan on leaving Saturday's loss behind and focusing on Toronto FC: "Bruce is very good with that. Had we won the game on Saturday it would have been the same mentality but I think everyone is chomping at the bit because we’re a little frustrated with how the game ended the other night."

Dunivant on the backline's performance (five goals allowed in two games): "We’re aware that we want to tighten it up. We had a similar issue last year, we started off kind of slow and gave up a big game against Salt Lake at their place. It’s not new to us and coming out of preseason we have been a little bit not as sharp as we need to be. Getting those zeroes was a big source of pride for us last year and we have to get that back and we know that as a backline."

Galaxy-Santos? Epic Storylines

We're not daydreaming here at all. Well, maybe a little but we're looking ahead at the potential Galaxy-Santos matchup and, well, we like what we see.

That's not to say a Galaxy/Toronto-Seattle series wouldn't be grand. It would mean a lot to MLS to have another Champions League finalist, but the possible series between the Galaxy and Santos Laguna is brimming with storylines, possibly the grandest storylines of any potential matchup anywhere down the road in this tournament.


* Herculez Gomez vs. LA Galaxy - The legend of Herculez was created at Home Depot Center. Gomez was one of the bright spots in a successful 2005 season, and the breakthrough kid won over hearts while consistently filling the back of the net. Gomez was dealt away a year later and after mixed success in MLS found his form in Mexico.

* Landon Donovan vs. Oswaldo Sanchez - Do we really need to say more? Well, okay. Donovan and Sanchez had some epic battles in previous US-Mexico games. A lot of back-and-forth and trash-talking has gone on, with Donovan usually having had the last laugh. Donovan scored on Sanchez in a friendly in 2007, afterward Sanchez slid into Eddie Johnson; later that year, Donovan buried a penalty kick past Sanchez in the Gold Cup final.

* Landon Donovan vs. Mexico - Santos is not representative of Mexico but anytime Donovan steps on Mexican soil (in a soccer capacity anyway) he instantly becomes Public Enemy No. 1. His reception in Morelia last year was hostile, and Torreon should be equally as inviting.

* David Beckham's first trip to Mexico - That was supposed to have happened when the Galaxy played in Morelia but Beckham was left behind in order to give him some extra rest - three games in eight days was too much for Becks in 2011. Beckham would presumably visit Santos and touch off a frenzy, as he did in Costa Rica and Honduras a year ago.

* MLS vs. Mexico - This is an ever-present storyline and one that will not cease to exist. How do MLS clubs fare against their Mexican counterparts? In this case, the question will be how does the top team in MLS, the one with the high-priced big-name stars, fare against a solid Mexican club.

I may have missed a storyline there somewhere but I think those would be plenty to grab attention on both sides of the border to begin with.

Of course, I'm not necessarily hoping this happens. In all honesty, I'd like to see another MLS team in the final, and an LA/Toronto vs Seattle series would guarantee that, but the games will have to be played before we can really start hammering out story ideas.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Changes? Don't Expect Any

After Saturday's loss to Real Salt Lake, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said he would "have to make changes against Toronto."

He made two changes to the lineup from Wednesday's game in Toronto, and apparently fatigue forced the Galaxy to crash and burn in the end. Changes then seemed not only likely but necessary.

Except when you actually look at what Arena is dealing with.

The Galaxy's game against Toronto FC is not a win-or-else match; they can tie 0-0 or 1-1 and go through. But the series is an advance-or-else series. Not getting past Toronto FC would be a catastrophe and would be well short of where the Galaxy figured they'd advance.

With that scenario then, who does Arena rest? David Beckham? Landon Donovan? Robbie Keane? Absolutely no chance any of them rest.

Todd Dunivant? AJ De La Garza? Sean Franklin? No, no and no.

Juninho is a lock to return to the lineup since Marcelo Sarvas is cup-tied. Josh Saunders is not going anywhere.

Edson Buddle? Highly unlikely. Mike Magee? Same as Buddle, to a little bit of a lesser extent.
That leaves the center back spot. Tommy Meyer could start and be fine - he did not play in Toronto. But that's hardly a massive change either way.

So if I'm a betting man, then I'd place my wager on this lineup:

Saunders: Dunivant, De La Garza, Meyer, Franklin; Magee, Juninho, Beckham, Donovan; Keane, Buddle.

Gee, that looks very familiar.

CCL: Most Likely Matchups

Well, we're a day away from the decisive CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal legs; the ones involving MLS teams anyway. We'll have one guaranteed MLS semifinalist and the other MLS side is ahead on aggregate in their series.

But what matchup will we get?

In order of most likely to least likely...

LA Galaxy vs Santos Laguna: Yes, the Sounders lead the series heading into the second leg but Santos are not in an uncomfortable position. A 1-0 win does the trick for the Mexicans.

LA Galaxy vs. Seattle: Having said that... if Seattle can score the first goal, they will instantly put themselves in the driver's seat. An early goal would force Santos to win 3-1 in order to win the series outright, while a 2-1 Santos win would push the series into extra time. The series could come down to who scores the first goal.

Toronto vs. Santos: A Toronto FC victory seemed improbable weeks ago but the Galaxy have shown some flaws, having allowed five goals in two games. If Danny Koevermans is on, anything is possible.

Toronto vs. Seattle. This may not be the most attractive matchup but it would produce an MLS finalist.

Monday, March 12, 2012

MLS Rankings: Week One

Alright, let me try my hand at these...

1. Real Salt Lake: Tore apart defending champs at their place.
2. Seattle: Will get more accurate read once league play starts.
3. LA Galaxy: Um... they're still pretty good.
4. Sporting KC: Took a late winner but got job done.
5. FC Dallas: Blas Perez will be solid, and if Villar can score regularly, watch out.
6. Portland: Were very impressive in come-from-behind win.

7. Houston: Dull but effective; a bit fortunate to have gotten a point.
8. New York: Cooper had a nice goal; perhaps he should start.
9. Vancouver: Le Toux-Hassli could be nasty.
10. Colorado - Can Rapids be halfway exciting for a change? Pareja might make em so.
11. Chicago - Love the Arne Friedrich signing. Love love love it.
12. Columbus - Lots of work for Warzycha to do.
13. San Jose - Wondo scores, 1-0 win... formula for success.
14. Toronto FC: If Torsten Frings plays defense all season, he's a Defender of Year candidate.
15. Philadelphia: Sorry Philly, but this team's not very good
16. DC United: Gonna be a long season in nation's capital.
17. Chivas USA. Deserved better than to lose at the death.
18. New England. Not much to take away from San Jose, except knowledge that Revs are punchless.
19. Montreal. Sorry, but expansion teams start at the bottom until they can prove otherwise.

Galaxy Can't Have It Both Ways

The Galaxy loaned out Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan in January and December, respectively, and supposedly it was really no big deal. At least, that's what the consensus was from the coaching staff. Keane and Donovan were key parts of the club, sure, but they were quite familiar with the players, system, tactics... etc. Their absence wouldn't be felt much and, in fact, would be a benefit because they would hit the ground running after having spent two months in England.

After their first leg in Toronto, though, the tune was a little different.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena lamented that his team had had just two training sessions together, and on Friday said that was the first time he'd had his team full team together all year. Other players too said after the Toronto match that it was a difficult encounter in part because of the lack of familiarity the Galaxy players had with one another.

Landon Donovan, after the Toronto match: "We’ve probably had two full training sessions together and we’re a team that has probably had eight weeks’ worth of training. We have to do some figuring out on the field, when we get a chance to settle down and do  some training, I think that it will help."

AJ De La Garza: Yeah, it was our first time with the whole group, but that’s no excuse for a corner kick… and not marking in the box. You can’t use that as an excuse, but after the first 20 minutes, I thought we kind of settled in and started playing well.

Of course, De La Garza was quick to not make it an excuse but the first thing he brought up was the unfamiliarity with one another.

Did that hurt the team on Saturday? Bruce Arena blamed fatigue, not the unfamiliarity, on the 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake. Perhaps the defensive breakdowns were indeed caused by fatigue, maybe they were caused by not having played together as a unit very much, or maybe it was a combination of both.

Whatever the case, the season has not gotten off to the start many had hoped or predicted - five goals surrendered in two games is not ideal - but the Galaxy can sort things out fairly quickly with a triumph over Toronto FC in Wednesday's return leg. Should they book a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, this topic will be a bit moot.

But if they don't, then the short-term winter loans will be wide open for debate.

Is This Thing On?

Hey, what's up? Thanks for reading.

I'm going to give this here trusty blog thing another go. An honest one. Not that I didn't do an honest one last time, in the second go-round here on Sideline Views, but the last time real work got in the way and since I don't get paid for this, I had to make a choice.

But lately things have changed. About two weeks ago, I had three outlets I wrote for -, The Press-Enterprise and a gambling site. They all paid about the same, so each was essentially one-third of my income. In the last two weeks, though, the gambling site dropped me (well, they didn't drop me in the traditional sense but they're out of action for the year which means so am I) and the PE's shift away from LA sports coverage has also forced me out a bit, if you will.

So I suddenly have some time on my hands.

I have no expectations for this go-round. I find that in life when I have go into something with no expectations, I actually do well but if I set myself up for expecting something by making expectations, I fail. I'm not going to get into a philosophical discussion here but I suppose what I'm saying is that I'm not trying to build something grandiose. It may be, probably won't be, but I don't know. I'm just going to re-discover my blogging voice and provide some opinion and insight for you, loyal reader.

I don't want to let you down, so I debated doing this for awhile since I know that if I do this, I've got to do it right. Otherwise I'll just come across as some giant douche.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Lest I forget, Andrea. I'm not going to say too much about her but I will say that she's lamentably not writing about soccer these days. If she had her druthers, she would be I'm sure. If she chimes in, great. If not, hopefully my prose will make up for that. It won't but I'll try.

So, on with the show.