Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Quick picks from the vacation

On vacation this week and grabbing the small Internet time I can to post the following picks.

TORONTO 2, RBNY 0: What's a tonic for a losing streak? Hosting RBNY. Reds romp

RAPIDS 2, FC DISASTROUS 1: See the Toronto note. Anyone who is fooled by Frisco's win last week needs to have their head examined.

CREW 2, RBNY 0: Again, the Toronto lesson from Wednesday night just keeps on giving. JCO may not even get on the plane ride back to New Jersey after this game.

RSL 1, TORONTO 1: Second straight tie for the Royals and suddenly the Reds start feeling good about themselves again.

SOUNDERS 1, RAPIDS 0: Another nice game in Seattle and Keller turns in a gem.

DYNAMO 2, GALAXY 1: Hmmm, makeshft lineups as Hainault, Goal-den Holden and Rico are all gone, with Landon out for the Gals. This has tie written all over it, but I'm thinking an offensive-minded Orange will go through that defense with ease. Read more!

Friday, June 19, 2009

A camera into the future?

Red Bull Arena construction time-lapse: November 2008 from Red Bulls Reader on Vimeo.

Squint your eyes just a bit and it won't be New Jersey you see in the background there, but downtown Houston. (Nothing like a little optimism on a Friday morning!) Read more!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Where do I sign up?

A class in soccer? Sometimes I wish I were still in school. Read more!

Bobby, me and MLS Week 14

Is Bob Dylan a soccer supporter? Well, since his songs are about all of life, I'm going to assume for today that Minnesota's favorite son is indeed and, like his music does in the video above, that his work speaks to this week's somewhat truncated 6-game MLS schedule.

Mr. Zimmerman performed this song regarding a person who has everything going for her and then is out on her own after getting full of herself (Maybe the Christiano Ronaldo Story ca. 2010?). Well, I am not getting full of myself here, despite the fact that after going 4-3 last week (and if I had not brain farted and missed the TFC/RBNY game, 5-3!) my record is on a steady march up. As it is, I now stand 37-54 for the year, which is .407, or seven games over blind chance. This is the best I have been all year, which of course means that an 0-6 week is coming. So I'd back away slowly if I were you or this Siamese cat on my shoulder will tell you I'm not really where it's at.

Still, I'm not going to think twice and it's alright to pick these games this way:

DC UNITED at SOUNDERS: 1-1 draw. A hard rain is almost always falling in Seattle in the summer right? Well, this game tonight at Qwest Field will be something of a watershed for Seattle. Josh Wicks is the real deal, but so is Kasey Keller. This is the best DCU team we've seen in a few years and I fully expect them to make the playoffs this year, but it doesn't take a genius to predict that Seattle can hold serve at home. Jaqua's back for the Sounders, but Ben Olsen is also probably for DCU. This just points to a closely-fought, tough draw for me as every good point for one team is matched by one for the other.

GALAXY at EARTHQUAKES: 1-1 draw So down at the bottom of the table, here are two teams looking to avoid those Subterranean Homesick Blues. The thing is, the Trembles are almost completely woeful, while the Galaxy are just, well, they're just plain woeful, especially without Landon. LA on paper should win this one as they seem to match up better than SJ at almost every position. Plus, this game is over at the Athletics' place in Oakland, which can seem especially cavernous when the Quacks play there. So, why the draw? Because this isn't Dynamo/FC Disastrous here. When it comes to two relatively even teams and you get blood rivalries going, I just think the Trembles will keep from losing. I just don't think they're good enough to do any more than that.

SOUNDERS at NYRB. 1-0 New York. OK, OK, I know that the Steers are really bad, but I also know that when you go coast to coast after a tough game, you can be seriously hampered. That's tougher than it looks people. Plus, when you get there, you're playing on that Giants Stadium tarmac, which, if you're not used to it, can really bite you. If Dynamo tie there, what is Seattle on two days rest going to do? The stars just look aligned for NYRB to knock on Heaven's door and get an answer they like this time around.

CREW at FC DISASTROUS. 2-1 Columbus Where's the mystery here? Anyone who really thought that Frisco's win in Chicago was any more than a fluke or that their four-game unbeaten streak was built on anything other than sand got a rude awakening this past weekend. Well, Columbus is playing their best ball of the season and the candystripers are in total free fall singing the Tombstone Blues. Columbus wins this one going away, though Ferreira or Cooper (What is this team going to do if he gets called up to the Gold Cup team?) scores a late goal when it's all said and done.

RSL at DYNAMO. 3-1 Naranja Wow, seven whole days off! RSL may have blown out a Landon-less Galaxy team on the road last weekend, but that's a big difference than going against a rested Dynamo team firing on all cylinders at Robertson. To be fair, you overlook RSL at your peril and I was there at Robertson when a 4-0 blow out lead was turned into a narrow 4-3 win against RSL in 2007. Still, down, dirty and focused on finally rising over the MLS landscape like a full shining Houston sun, Dynamo will close these guys out with aplomb.

DC UNITED at RAPIDS. 1-0 Colorado. If it weren't for picking NYRB, this would be the biggest upset of the weekend. Here's what I think will hurt DCU: Playing on short rest, at altitude, against a good Rapids team fully rested and ready to prove itself at home. I just think a draw is the best the Washingtonians can hope for here, and I don't think they're going to get it in the face of some Thunder on the Mountain. Read more!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Quick picks for the weekend

OK, starting this weekend off already 1-0 is a nice, nice way to begin, let me tell you.

It just continues my roll, where I finished 4-4 last week, good for a nice (or at least nicer than it has been) 33-51 mark. (not including Dynamo's solid win against the las chivitas).

So here's the weekend, as I see. Not much time to go into much detail. And as always, if you use this info for betting purposes, there are many voluntary organizations that I think you should check out for your own good.

FIRE at DC UNITED. 1-1 Tie I know everyone's looking for this to be the stellar clash between the beasts of the east. Godzilla vs. Mothra and all that. But you know, Chicago played well against us and has had a week to lick the wounds of going 0-for-Texas after going 0-for-Frisco the week before (Those two are not the same thing and we all know it). The Fire are good, make no mistake, and DCU will miss Emilio and Olsen more than the Fire will miss Soumare and Prideaux. Mister White scores in his return to the Fire lineup.

DYNAMO at FRISCO. Don't insult me. 2-1 Orange. We take a wounded animal for granted at our peril, but that being said, Dynamo will close these guys out. Will the fans in orange outnumber the FC Worthless front office staff at Robertson North? Probably not, but the mere fact that we're having this conversation says loads.

REVOLUTION at WIZARDS. 2-1 New England. KC missing too many to hold off this improving side. Will Twellman play? If no, how far has that guy fallen since the whole Preston North End fiasco?

RSL at GALAXY. 2-0 LA. I said I would no longer pick RSL and I mean it, even against this team.

EARTHQUAKES vs. SOUNDERS. 3-1 Seattle Wondo scores meaningless goal in the second half. This could be Yallop's swan song. Maybe we can find a slot for him in the Orange front office.

las chivitas at CREW. 2-1 Columbus Schelotto will be too much for that back line. Jorge Torres? You have got to be kidding me. With two games in hand, Dynamo tie Chivas in points and never look back. Read more!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Seven things to think about for the week

(Posting this video is horrifying to my son, to which I say, if you can't embarass your kids, then as a parent, you're just not trying hard enough!)

After a nice weekend of soccer, here are seven random thoughts heading into the week:

1. It's looking increasingly as if only an injury to someone else will get Wade Barrett back on the field. Is Captain Wademerica done? And if so, a long term thought on this point, could he be John Spencer's heir apparent should Spence ever get a No. 1 job?

2. I understand MLS' long-held and oft-stated position on scheduling opposite international games, but can they not make an exception when it comes to the US Men's National Team? The two games played Saturday night were Chivas/Seattle and Rapids/RSL. Could those games not have been played earlier in the day? This is ridiculous.

3. Rico Clark showed the form against Honduras that we have come to expect week in and week out here in Dynaland. He was the Man of the Match for denying two almost-certain scoring chances. He saved the US.

4. Mexico is in deep, deep trouble. If they just draw in any of their home games, they are done. Three points in four games? This is a team that wanted to get out of CONCACAF to join CONMEBOL remember? Right now, they might wind up being the fifth-best team in the region. They're the Newcastle United of CONCACAF and have only themselves to blame.

5. Heard people say Dynamo were lucky to get their win in Chicago last Friday, and that may be so as Nyarko missed two sitters. However, Chivas was also lucky to get a win at the HDC with Jaqua doing similarly before he got his red. Sometimes, you get lucky, which is one of the elements of any unbeaten streak.

6. FC Useless have not lost since they were at Robertson Stadium, a four-game unbeaten streak. But have you seen any of the quality of those games? Last weekend's was the worst yet, managing only a 2-2 tie at home against the Trembles in front of their customary gathering of front office staff and passers-by. That franchise is, deservingly, in serious trouble. If the Hunts weren't the owner, how quickly would this team have moved to either San Antonio or St. Louis? Maybe they still should. What do you think?

7. Very much looking forward to Wednesday night and am seething with jealousy for those who made it up to Chicago last weekend and will be going to Frisco this weekend. My spirit will very much be with them, though my body will be here in Houston. Pick for Wednesday night: Tough, tight, chippy 2-0 Orange win.

And here's another nice video for you all:

Read more!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hey, where'd everybody go?

To the international games or just home messing with the Xbox, that's where. Absences due to either call-ups or the sudden abundance of red cards are going to affect more than one game in MLS this weekend. I long for the day when MLS is mature enough of a league to suspend play due to the former, but I am told that is not where we are, so fortune will have to favor the deep benches.

Overall, I have been in favor of all of the card dealing by MLS refs this season, though I would like to point out that I have not noticed it actually applying to Dynamo foes (with the exception of Armas' back elbow job on Brian Mullan's jaw). Still, any downgrade in the excessive physicality on the pitches out there is a good thing to those of us who enjoy attacking soccer (and who doesn't really?). Eventually, as long as the officials are consistent, the players will adjust, we'll get a prettier game out of it and the card distribution will go down. Too many MLS refs lose control of games in about the 7th or 8th minute (and those are frequently the good ones!), so it's about time they exerted a little fortitude.

So after last week's 3-5 mark, I am sitting here at 29-47 on the year, a mark of .382 and maintaining my three-game lead over blind chance. But like a guy sitting at the dollar slots, I'm putting that next token in, knowing that this is the spin where it all comes my way. Just what it is that's coming my way, though is where the whole theory breaks down. But moving right along into the fog:

RBNY at DC UNITED. DCU 2-0. Red Bull is in some kinda free fall. JPA finally scored last week, but on a PK that was nearly blocked! Shep Messing is convinced Angel is hurt and not telling anyone because he just doesn't suck this bad. But the thing is, without him at 100 percent, just what else in attack does RBNY have? The I'm Not There brigade: DC: Avery John (Trinidad & Tobago; June 6 vs. Costa Rica) ... NY: Andrew Boyens (New Zealand; June 6 vs. Botswana); Alfredo Pacheco (El Salvador; June 6 vs. Mexico). Not to mention that NY is also possibly without Kandji. This will be over by halftime.

DYNAMO at FIRE. 2-1 Orange I've always been told that predicting a 2-1 scoreline means you should play at the front tees with your pants around your ankles. But I am doing it now because, (a) Chicago will not be shut out at home two weeks in a row, and (b) this is not the Fire team that so dominated earlier this season. Check out this international absence list: CHI: Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Mexico; June 6 vs. El Salvador); Bakary Soumare (Mali; June 6 vs. Ghana); Gonzalo Segares (Costa Rica; June 6 vs. Trinidad & Tobago); HOU: Brian Ching, Ricardo Clark (USA; June 6 vs. Honduras). Also, Wilman Conde is doubtful and has not been training. Our defense is wholly intact, while theirs is in total tatters. Mulrooney is back to move into his natural position of holding mid in place of Rico. Akinbiyi wants to break out so bad, it's all but visible. Dynamo all the way, and they never trail.

GALAXY at TORONTO FC. 1-0 Reds Finally, the Galaxy do not tie a game. Donovan is, of course, in Chicago for the USMNT game, as is Marvell Wynne. But without Landon, what does LA have? After losing to us and the Whitecaps over the last week, Toronto rights the ship against a depleted side that will be hanging back in anti-football mode all game.

CREW at WIZARDS. 1-1 Tie Here are two teams that have frustrated me all year. Columbus is better than they've showed and Kansas City is playing better than they really are, I think. Columbus' defensive woes will continue to haunt them as they give up a lead for the second consecutive game.

RAPIDS at RSL. 3-1 Colorado Two weeks ago, I swore I would not pick RSL again. Last week, I broke my vow and regretted it as the Royals got punished, PUNISHED by none other than San Jose! Oh. My. Goodness. That's it. No more mercy. Rapids, do your stuff and demolish those guys.

SOUNDERS at CHIVAS. 2-1 Seattle. Bizarro Chivas is winding down ever so slowly, and even though Seattle has had trouble on the road recently, Sigi loves taking teams into the HDC and wreaking havoc. This is all setting up perfectly because, if this goes according to plan (my plan, admittedly), las chivitas comes into here next Wednesday just three points up on Dynamo and taking on water. BWAH-HA-HA-HA! Jaqua, do you stuff.

EARTHQUAKES at FC HORRID. 2-2 tie The Suck Bowl. Ummm, I'd stay well away from Frisco on Sunday if I were you. This game might spill on your clothes.

NYRB at REVOLUTION. 2-0 New England. New York is picking a bad time to face a resurgent Revs squad. If they go all 180+ mins of play starting tonight with no goals scored, as is entirely possible, Osorio and Agoos are outta there. Though there's always a bright side. Maybe they'll get hired in Frisco.

Enjoy the week.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bradley and Ching, a winning pair

Victor Decolongon/GettyImages

It's no secret that this week can be a crucial one for the United States men. The opportunity to make the rest of the year an easier one exists, as well as, unfortunately, the exact opposite.

Team America play at Costa Rica on the painted over runway strip that is Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Wednesday night and then come home after just under three days of rest to take on Honduras at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday. (BTW, Rico Clark got added to the team today to replace the injured Frankie Hejduk. Read that here.)

As Jeff Carlisle points out (in a great ESPN Soccernet piece here), the compressed World Cup qualification schedule is a result of the fact the US will play in the Confederations Cup in South Africa this summer. Carlisle's piece analyzes the difficulty faced by the team very well. Hot weather and a tough team in Costa Rica, followed by a trip of several thousand miles and then a rested and ready team that would like nothing more that to escape Chicago with at least a point. It's a tough challenge, and it requires a mentally tough and focused squad.

And this is where I come to praise a certain Princeton and Ohio University alumnus named Bob (don't call me Robert) Bradley. Whatever you might think of Bradley's in-game tactics, the one thing I have noticed about the man is that he continually has the team focused and ready to play (the draw in El Salvador earlier this year notwithstanding) over a wide variety of conditions. That team and organization is focused on both near and long term goals, near being occupying and maintaining the position of top dog in CONCACAF (mission accomplished and continuing) and long being success in the World Cup (talk to me in August 2010 about this one). Here's a great quote from one Mr. Brian Ching:

"We're an extremely talented team, and I think Bob has done a great job of instilling his work ethic and his tough mentality into the team," added Ching. "So regardless of who we put on the field, we know our roles and we're going to make it difficult to break us down and we're going to create chances going forward."

It's that winning attitude, that expectation to fight and fight and fight some more, that was clearly lacking under Bruce Arena, Steve Sampson, Bora, you name it. And if you had to pick a reason to pimp the good qualities of the Americans, start here.

And that brings up the topic of our own national teamer, Brian Ching. In another Soccernet piece by Kristian Dyer (read that one here), the point is made about how many people diminish the talents and skills of the Flyin' Hawaiian with evident relish. Dyer speaks both to Dominic Kinnear and Ching about this topic and both are very clear and to the point about how ridiculous the notion is. Here's The Dom:

"His strike rate is pretty incredible," said Kinnear, who compares Ching favorably with former national team striker Brian McBride. "Sometimes I troll the message boards a bit -- I don't make a habit of it too much -- and I am surprised by what these people have to say. I don't think most of them could coach any soccer team, judging from what they have to say. I laugh because these fans don't get the chance to see a player every day."

And that last point is a crucial one. None of us are at practice every day, see the players and their work when the lights are off and observe a continuum from there to when the lights are on. As any scout will tell you, this perspective is absolutely essential. We get to see Ching Kong every week in Dynaland and appreciate our incredible good fortune, but even we don;t know his true value. The guy just brings it night after night after night. Here's a great quote from Gonzalo Segares in the Dyer article:

"I know I will be sore the next day," Segares said. "I will be limping and bruised."

Dyer compares Ching to Brian McBride and I would definitely link to that iconic moment of McBride walking off bloody in the US/Italy game from 2006. We've seen that same scene from Ching as recently as against San Jose, and again last year at least once. The two Brians are linked more than just in name, that is true.

And looping back to the Bradley points above, it's hard to imagine a player more suited to that tough as nails, win, win, win approach that Bradley has instilled in the Snakes. Or as Ching himself says:

"I think what Bob has brought to the team is a shake-up of attitude," Ching said. "Personally, I thought that some players got to comfortable under [former U.S. national team coach] Bruce [Arena]. Not knocking anyone, but when players know that they are going to play regardless of how they perform, it's natural for some to not perform at their best.

"Bob has done a good job of having a focus for the team and always reminding us of it and pushing us towards it."

So Wednesday and Saturday, let's just win boys, and bruise and bleed to qualification. As we all know, Chingy will. Read more!