Friday, September 25, 2009

Goalden Holden in Scottish Sun

Wilf Thorne pic from Scottish Sun

"I'm settled in Houston but one thing I'll never do is forget Scotland. It's a big part of my life." -- Stuart Holden

With international press run like this, I think it would be a miracle if the Goalden One is back in Orange next year. Still, one can hope that he stays settled here in Houston.

Nice pic here at Robertson Stadium. Read more!

Tipping over: Yallop, the U-20's and the weekend pickfest

This week has me thinking about tipping points. No, not Malcolm Gladwell's book, but rather coaches, teams and the playoff races.

You know, before watching the highlights from the Denver leg of the San Jose/Colorado home and home Wednesday night, I wondered what could possibly go worse for the EQuakes this year.

Now I know. Losing a lead on a stoppage time penalty is gutting enough one time, but for it to happen to you two weeks in a row (and the second time more than deservedly), you just have to wonder if San Jose shouldn't just put us all out of their misery and walk into a shooting range with targets on their uniforms and get it all over with.

This is a team that looks about as organized as an anarchy convention. It makes me think about just how far Frank Yallop has fallen. From winning two titles in San Jose and being hailed as the savior of the Canadian National Team to presiding over the destruction of the 2005 champ LA Galaxy, the GM-ship of Alexi Lalas, the opening rounds of Cirque d'Goldenballs, a bright ray of sunshine of an escape back to the Bay Area, dismal results at Quakes 3.0, another brief ray of sunshine from Huckerby, and now 2009, the worst year yet.

Don't get me wrong. I think Yallop has proven himself as one of the top coaches in the American game, but there seems to be some kind of spectacular rain cloud that follows him around these days. Hopefully he'll be able to escape it before it consumes his career.

One thought, if John Spencer gets a well-deserved manager gig next year, perhaps Yallop comes here to rejoin best bud Dom Kinnear, but with roles reversed from when Frankie hired Dom and lured him into coaching in SJ. Just a thought.

Moving right along to the weekend, my No. 1 footy interest this weekend is in Egypt, following Danny Cruz and the U-20 US team at the U-20 World Cup. The mini-Nats will play Germany on ESPN2 and Galavision at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. Then they face Cameroon on Tuesday at 11:45 am, also on ESPN2 & Galavision, and South Korea at the same time Friday, Oct. 2. You can read more about the tourney here and here.

I don't know enough about the U-20 scene to handicap this tournament, but I do know the US has generally done well there and the team looks good. So, Go USA!!

Back Stateside, after having an absolutely dismal two weeks, my prediction record improved somewhat. The bleeding has stopped, thanks in large measure to Brad Davis, Josh Wolff and David Beckham. Now with the local side taking the weekend off, I can take a better look around the league with these games. I missed the Wednesday night game, which is probably for the better (for my sanity's sake at least), but the weekend looks to be an intriguing list of fixtures, with one in particular.

Last week: 3-4
Overall mark: 77-104 (.425 or 17 games above blind chance)

GALAXY at CREW. 2-2 Draw According to this and this, Becks will miss this game with a possibly suspicious injury. But I really don't think that's going to matter as nothing gets Landon Donovan stoked more than beating down a good team. Of course, the last four points the Crew got should have been only a single one if not for the fact that the Crew go to ground when you breathe too hard in their general direction, then perhaps a LAG win is the most likely result. (Really, Crewtures should be hanging their heads in shame when Lenhart goes in with a flying kick and then has a penalty called against the guy he slammed into last week? That play is the poster child of MLS refs’ inadequacies. The main reason I'm picking this as a draw (Other than the fact that that is the result that most helps Dynamo. I won't lie.) though is that I am a big believer in Schelotto. Dodgy PK calls notwithstanding, the Crew are good. But so is LAG. This just points to a draw for me.

SOUNDERS at REVOLUTION. 2-1 New England The bad times continue for Seattle. The team is having trouble scoring at home (four consecutive Zero Hero performances), but on the road, Seattle has serious problems. The Revs, on the other hand, are making a move in the East, and even though Shalrie Joseph is nursing a sore hip, I fully expect New England to hold serve in Foxboro.

RAPIDS at WIZARDS. 2-1 Kansas City This would be somewhat of an upset, but playing two games in four days for Colorado is going to be tough, and Peter Vermes really does have KC playing better. Cobra Kei is looking to score his first for the Wiz, and I think he gets it at Preston Burpo expense. Also, the Rapids just seem to have a thing about playing in KC. According to the MLS preview, the Rapids haven't won there since the final meeting in 2002, a span of eight games. The Wizards are 6-0-2 in those games, and also won a playoff game in that stretch. So who am I to buck history?

REAL SALT LAKE at FC DALLAS. 2-1 Frisco The previous post linked to Steve Davis' wonderful piece about all that's wrong in Frisco. (Read Davis' blog post here if you missed it.) However, RSL's defense is highly suspect to say the least, and with Jamison Olave serving his suspension for his takedown of Brad Davis last week, I just think that the candystripers have an edge here, even with four players at the U20 World Cup in Egypt.

TORONTO FC at FIRE. 3-1 Chicago Well, this should just about do it for the Reds' playoff hopes. The Fire are still steaming, and rightfully so, about the way their win against the Crew was stolen away from them with that awful penalty call last week. Even though Chicago generally doesn't play well at home, they still play better than Toronto does on the road. If these predictions hold true, then Chicago will be only one point behind the Crew and still very much in the Supporter's Shield and Eastern Conference race. Don't forget the Fire when thinking ahead to the playoffs. The team is dangerous.

RED BULL NEW YORK at Chivas USA. 1-0 las chivitas The Amerigoats barely escaped with the draw in Seattle last week, while RBNY is still pretty awful, though they have been playing better. This game could go either way, but I really don't think it'll be a draw with New York's suspect defense. And with Wolyniec out, I don't see JPA getting any space at all to score. So, over to you Chivas.

EARTHQUAKES at DC UNITED. 2-1 DCU I think San Jose might just lose out the rest of the season. I wish Dynamo played them again this year. As for DC, you would think that a weak opponent like this would be just what the doctor ordered, but nothing ever comes easy for that team. Watch them baaaarely escape with this win. Read more!

Davis post on where it all went wrong for FC Frisco

Steve Davis, who writes frequently at and ESPN Soccernet, posted a wonderfully insightful piece on the trials and tribulations of the Dallas Burn/FC Dallas franchise on his blog the other day. You can read the whole piece here, but here are a few highlights:

Five years ago in August the Dallas Burn became FC Dallas. A year after that, they moved into a dandy little stadium, where tens of hundreds of people now show up 16-18 times a year to watch a poor product while frequently taking a beating in customer service and then putting the cherry on the bad experience sundae by getting stuck in traffic on the way home. (OK, the club has done something about the wacky traffic congestion. By stinkin’ up the joint pretty much everywhere else they have largely eliminated all traffic entanglements. Well done, kids.)

"...tens of hundreds..." Pardon me while I clean up from where I spit Coke through my nose.

MLS teams that continue to struggle simply have to understand that there are no magic formulas. You just have to work at it, and you have to work smart at it. That’s it. There’s all kinds of virtue in hustle, humility and a dogged desire to be better at what you do. You can’t just say you’re a kick-ass club determined to out-hustle, out-perform and out-smart the competition – you actually have to be a kick-ass club that out-hustles, out-performs and out-smarts the competition.

It's easy to see what teams fit that description as it's a rather short list recently. Dynamo are virtually the poster boys for this quality. The Chicago Fire qualify. Columbus Crew. Seattle Sounders. Who am I missing here? New England perhaps. DC United?

The problem is that you can’t just tell everybody that you’re "all that." Pretty soon, people figure it out. You actually have to be "all that." Just one "for instance:" One of Hitchcocks’ peeps was the genius behind the Hoops Nation campaign, one of the silliest ideas in the long, sad history of silly ideas.

Did anybody seriously believe there was a national groundswell to get on board with FC Dallas?

UHRFRGGGLE. Sorry. Coca Cola. Nose. Again.

Look, I could go on and on about bad print ads, nonsensical media buying strategies, ridiculously failed DP bids, money wasted on ballyhooed partnerships with foreign clubs, about running out of pizza countless times at Pizza Hut Park, about out-dated marketing strategies, about the long-term scourge of artificially inflated attendance numbers, about the mindless pursuit of the suburban family dollar, etc.

This time I had the good sense not to drink the soda before reading the "running out of pizza" line.

This is an excellent, excellent point, which Davis makes in other places in the piece. There are other discussions here about stadia, etc. But this is a serious point that applies here in Houston and on other discussions here. The stadium must be built downtown. PHP is a serious warning sign to all and sundry that a suburban stadium is a recipe for a disaster.

This is a brilliant piece from Davis and it should be required reading for MLS front offices, except perhaps Dynamo's because it's very clear that these are not the sort of mistakes made in the Republic of Orangia. Read more!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The worst defensive performance EVAH!

12 goals AND penalties decided this game between Haaglandia/Winston and Excelsior Rotterdam in the KNVB Beker Tuesday.

This game was 2-2 at the half and then home side Haaglandia/Winston, went up 5-2, but anyone who thought it would be over at that point was wrong.

Very, very, amazingly wrong.

I heard about this listening to yesterday's World Football Daily podcast. Kenny Hassan thinks that if this is what we can expect, then every country should follow the Dutch lead and legalize pot right now.

Question: When you see this game, does it make it better while on pot, because just watching these highlights can make you more than a little swimmy. Read more!

Friday, September 18, 2009

MLS predictions: Out of the Fog and back to winning

The Houston Dynamo are not the only ones suffering through a run of bad form in recent days. I need to come in out of the fog as well.

Three weeks ago, I was swimming along with a .452 prediction rate at 70-85, feeling pretty good about myself at 19 games above just throwing darts blindfold at a board. Since then, well, perhaps it would have been good for someone to give me a red card as well. In the last three weeks, I have gone 3-15 (2-5, 0-3 and 1-7), hardly the stuff that legends are made of.

(Of course, who was the person that predicted that FC Dallas (!) of all teams would drop a six spot on the LA Galaxy in the Home Depot Center or previously moribund las chivitas would destroy the New England Revulsion? Or, or, or... Not that I'm blaming others for my own suckitude, mind you. HAH!)

Anyway, I have six weeks to turn this puppy around, and hopefully that will begin this weekend. I need some kinda shot in the arm, and maybe Dynamo coming home for the first time in a month this weekend can return some of my mojo. Though, to be truthful, if I could just get a crystal ball that didn't have all of these hexagonal marks all over it, maybe I could see the future just a little clearer!

On to the weekend:

Last week: 1-7
Overall: 74-100 (.425 or 16 games over blind chance)

REVOLUTION at RED BULL. 2-1 New England OK, OK, Maybe I was being a bit bitter when I made that Revulsion crack above. No player makes more difference for New England than Shalrie Joseph (not even the estimable Stevie Ralston I would wager) and he was missing last week serving a red card suspension. This week, ShalJo is back and that ought to be enough for the Revs against NYRB. To be fair, New York has been playing better (even though they screwed the pooch against KC last week), and this is something of a rivalry game, so you really never know in those types of situations. The two teams do NOT like each other. But still, New England ought to have enough, even without the suspended Edgardus Jankauskuskuskuskuskus (his real name), and Wells Thompson to come home with full points.

RAPIDS at EARTHQUAKES 2-1 Colorado Hmmm. The Rapids play four of their final six games on the road. San Jose hasn't played since August. Colorado is without the thug Mastroeni (though perhaps the scum should learn from this Mastroeni about hitting someone). San Jose has made several roster moves recently and key players hurt. This one is hard to predict, except, oh, Conor Casey is playing? OK then, Colorado takes this one handily.

CHIVAS USA at SOUNDERS. 2-0 Seattle I'm sure the Amerigoats are all psyched up after pounding the Revs 2-0 last week. But I'll have to see more from them before I believe that their downward momentum has been reversed. A road win or draw at Qwest Field would convince me, but I just don't see it happening. Seattle is at full strength, coming off an impressive road win and very much in the Western title and playoff hunt. Both teams should share the same sense of urgency, but I think Seattle at home has more ability to do something about it than Chivas.

FC DALLAS at WIZARDS. 2-2 Draw Boy, what strange team this FC Frisco squad has turned out to be this year. From absolutely horrible to a pair of huge goal explosions, denying the Galaxy the top spot in the West with a six-pack of a road win with the last one, and total stink-up-the-place-itude in between. I have no idea what to make of that team. However, I also know what Kei Kamara can do when focused and motivated, which I assume he will be in his first game in KC. So I think this one is a total toss-up. My biggest prediction, this game will be unwatchable for long stretches.

TORONTO FC at GALAXY. 2-0 LAG Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Gals surrendered six goals to Frisco and Toronto took out a playoff-contender last week. You think that is going to happen again? I'm going with the safe bet here. Though this game has one of my favorite injury lines: FW Alecko Eskandarian (head). OOOH, my brain hurtzz.

REAL SALT LAKE at DYNAMO. 3-1 Orange Sometimes, when you reach rock bottom, you realize there is nowhere to go but up, and so you do. In the previous post, I went on at length about Dynamo's attempts to get out from under a blood red sky they seem to be under. And I would feel confident in their ability to accomplish same, but a quick look at the game preview shows me that the execrable Baldomero Toledo will be the ref Saturday night, so all bets are off. Still, my feeling is that the Kamara trade, Cam Weaver's return and a general feeling of homecoming will carry the Dynamo to the win here. That, and the fact that RSL is beyond horrible on the road. Just remember guys, 11 on, 11 off.

CREW at FIRE. 3-2 Chicago I think this is going to be a really good, really tough (maybe kinda chippy) legendary game. It was just a few weeks ago that I thought Chicago was about to be in the midst of a Chivas-like topple. And I am still not convinced that the team will go anywhere. However, Brian McBride is back. Sr. White is back. John Thorrington is back. Well, two out of three ain't bad y'know. Columbus is playing right now like the defending champion and the teams have tied in their two games this season, but I think Chicago knows this is the statement game, that the squad is for real as a title contender instead of just a talented pretender. Read more!

Orange and red. And red, and red, and red, and red, and...

My old dad had a simple saying for me: "When you start something, finish it."

The Houston Dynamo could use a little bit of that right about now. Check out this little stat:

Red cards issued to Houston Dynamo in all competitions since the MLS All-Star Game: Eight
Red cards issued to Dynamo in all competitions before MLS All-Star Game: One (to Mike Chabala against NYRB in the 93rd minute April 11)

That truly is an amazing statistic. And now another one:

Dynamo record in all competitions before the avalanche of reds began: 11-7-6
Dynamo record in all competitions since: 3-4-3

Goals for and against since that same date: 11-13 (-2)
And before: 30-20 (+10)

Clearly, frustrations are winning through. And even though you can dispute many if not all of those red card decisions (three of course were in the Arabe Unido "game"), the fact is Dynamo has not been playing at anywhere near the form they showed in May, June and July. This current three game losing streak has the team looking several shades below title-quality.

So perhaps shedding the moody Kei Kamara and having his spot taken by El Escorpion and Cam the Killer Weaver will help. Kamara's sudden departure reminds me of the Rockets' elision of Vernon Maxwell prior to their 1995 title run. We can only hope for such a similar happy ending this time around.

The thing that makes this so frustrating from the stands is that this team clearly is among the league elite. When their form is on, there is no other team in MLS that can hang with them. The mental and defensive toughness, skill , precision and flair that have always been part of the Orange Way are all still there. But this challenge is unlike any I have seen the team face since coming to Houston in 2006. Champions adjust, and only time will tell whether this team will be able to do so. Finishing more scoring chances than you surrender would be a good start, though. Landin and Ching each missed clear chances in Columbus last week.

As for the Kamara trade, a few thoughts:

He clearly wasn’t enamored of the Landin signing (as Kyle McCarthy points out in this article on , especially since Landin would fill Kei’s spot opposite Ching. Once Landin signed, Kamara started his sulk. And we all know how much time Dom has for players who sulk.

Finances are always a big deal. The guy was going to be out of contract at the end of the year and he clearly wanted more money. If they did not deal him now, they would have gotten nothing for him after the season. Now, you could argue that Abe Thompson isn’t that much above nothing (and you’d be right), but Abe Thompson’s contract plus the allocation dough they got in this deal is more than they would have gotten had they allowed Kamara to play out his contract and let him leave because they weren’t going to pay him what he wanted.

The forward situation is not really all that dire right now, even without Kamara. In addition to Ching, you have Cam Weaver, who works better with Ching than Kamara did anyway, and Landin, with former FC Worthless teammates Thompson and Dominic Oduro (the latter of which I have no faith in) coming off the end of the bench. That’s three players playing in two spots and two more guys pushing from behind. Where was Kamara going to fit into that picture, especially since he was sulking?

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Kei Kamara and thought he was yet one more successful reclamation project from the Canetti/Kinnear/Spencer pipeline. But I think Weaver has more upside, has shown more killer instinct for the ball and the goal and like the tandem of Ching/Weaver/Landin more than Ching/sulky Kamara/Landin/Weaver.

Now this does not include a look at next year, when this team could be fundamentally altered. I’m thinking both Clark and Holden will be gone and Ching’s effectiveness will be even more on the wane as he ages. Right now, I think at this time next year you could be looking a lineup like this:


With a bench of: Ching, Cochrane, Mulrooney, Barrett, Danny Cruz

Plus whatever moves might also be made.

For now though, the focus is on getting on form, winning games and taking big points. That and trying to make sure that everyone who starts the game finishes it. After all, it's all about finishing isn't it? Read more!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fare thee well Smooth Kei-riminal

Finances are finances and realities are realities. I personally think that Kei Kamara had his limitations as a striker, and we all know what they were and need no further enumeration.

However, the man's sense of fun is something I'll definitely miss. That big kid sure knows how to entertain.

I wish you well Kei. Enjoy KC.

Read more!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Emerging out of the vortex

Not even the Guardian of Forever can bring me back far enough in the past for this it seems. Man, do the last two weeks feel like an eternity or what? It seems like forever since Dynamo last played a game, instead of the two weeks since the loss to Colorado.

Hopefully, plenty has changed over that time, and if you need a positive sign, there's this from the Boz' Facebook page on Sept. 4:

Prolly the hardest 2 days of practice I have had since joining the Dynamo.

So apparently Dom and Spence have been working the guys hard these past two weeks and we'll see this weekend what they have to show for it. I know for a fact that this is a team that generally saves the best for the stretch run, but it doesn't get much tougher in MLS right now than a road game in Columbus (the half-strength Crew's loss to NYRB there in August notwithstanding).

As for those Dynamen who did not get much of a layoff, namely Brian Ching, the Goalden One and Super Rico, as a Dynafan myself, I couldn't be happier with the amount of work they received in the El Salvador and T&T wins. Ching is never better than when he's pissed off, and not getting any significant PT in those wins is bound to gnaw at him. Stewie barely played in T&T and should be well-rested and ready for Columbus. Rico, meanwhile, had a workmanlike effort in T&T before blowing in his howitzer of a golazo and did not even suit up for the El Salvador game (another of Bob Bradley's mystery lineup decisions). So while I was worrying two weeks ago that they would resume MLS play tired, I now see my concerns were unfounded. Nice that.

Speaking of World Cup Qualifying, all I have to say is that I'm glad we don't play Mexico anymore. Talk about a woken up squad. Even with the subpar performance against Honduras in Azteca this past week, El Tri is studly right now and easily playing the best of any team in CONCACAF. With games left only against El Salvador and the Soca Warriors, while the US has a road game in Honduras and home against Costa Rica, I fully expect Mexico to win the Hexagonal and the US to finish second. That is unless our Nats come out with a monster game in Honduras. We'll see.

Now, on to the weekend. I love the stretch run in MLS. I wish dearly that the Supporter's Shield was a bigger deal, which I don't think will happen until you change its name. The season champ should be called the Season Champion, while the postseason minitourney should stay MLS Cup. That being said, I also like the postseason tourney, the playoffs, whatever you want to call it. This period from now until mid-November is a lot of fun, and if it gets colored Orange, even more so.

Last week: 0-3 (Yes, you read it right. My first ever 0-fer week. Oh the shame!)
Overall: 73-93 (.440, or 18 games over blind chance)

WIZARDS at DC UNITED last Wednesday In my last post on Wednesday, you'll see that I predicted a DCU win and as it turns out I was right, so I'm already ahead of last week. Baby steps.

RAPIDS at TORONTO FC. 1-0 Colorado In the back end of the home-and-home, the situation could not be more dire for the Reds. Adrian Serioux is out with a red, Dichio just retired and de Guzman isn't there yet, Toronto is falling behind in the playoff chase and what's worse, Baldomero Toledo is the ref of this game. (RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!) That last one affects both teams, but I think Toronto's only hope is that De Rosario just goes wild. Haven't seen it yet, so I've got to give it to the team playing well.

WIZARDS at RED BULL NEW YORK 2-1 NY The win against New England and the close loss to DC notwithstanding, I still am not believing that KC is all that. Add to that the fact that they will be one of the only MLS teams this weekend not rested and I see New York's resurgence continuing.

SOUNDERS at DC UNITED 1-1 Draw This is going to be a slugfest. The USOC championship game did not end well for DC and that is not a team that has responded well to adversity this year. Not only that, Seattle is (Yes, I'm going to say it), a chippy, bordering on dirty team, and in this contest they will be playing with a collective chip on their shoulders. Someone (or perhaps more than one someone) is going to get carried off the field in this one.

FIRE at RSL. 2-1 Chicago RSL is already shorthanded with Morales and now without Beckerman and Grabavoy, who are suspended, their lack of depth will be exposed. I'm not sure Chicago is good enough to blow out this team on the road, but they're definitely better than RSL.

FC DALLAS at LA GALAXY 1-0 LAG I hate to write that as it would mean that the Gals, no matter how temporary, would leapfrog both Dynamo and Crew in the Supporter's Shield race, but come on now, what other prediction even makes sense. Eskandarian, Buddle and Kovalenko are out for the Gals, but Frisco is just not a very good team right now. Maybe they'll pull it together and the resuscitation of Cunningham will carry them, but if I had money on this game, it's very simple who I would take.

REVOLUTION at CHIVAS USA. 2-0 New England This will be the point at which it all unravels for las chivitas. Galindo and Saragosa are out for the Goatlings, while the Revs are without Shalrie Joseph on suspension, but this hurts Chivas more than the Revs. Here's a fun fact from MLSnet: Chivas USA have not defeated the Revolution since June 30, 2007, a stretch of four matches. NE has won the last three meetings between the teams, with shutouts in the last two, including the 2-0 win July 19 this year. Make those numbers five, four and possibly three.

DYNAMO at CREW. 2-1 Houston Brad Davis is out, which means the midfield delivery might be suspect for the Orange, but then again, maybe that brings us Landin's first start (Dale Escorpion!). My head tells me that this is a draw for Houston, but my heart says to go with the win for the boys. If Dynamo wins this game, they'll deserve the Supporter's Shield. Read more!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Howard Power and tonight's qualifier links

This just about sums up everything I'm thinking tonight.

I am sick to the teeth of the US playing so shakily the last few games. Just good enough just is not good enough for me. So I'm getting a bit nervous. But Tim "Greatest American Hero" Howard seems to working the problem, or so he says here.

I have to admit, I've been so busy to start this September that my footy blogging has been somewhat limited limited to whatever I can put together or crib here and there. So that wonderful piece of art up top is courtesy of The Offside Rules, yet one more footy blog that is on my short list of those I check almost every day. I can't recommend SF's work enough.

Also, if you're looking for a clearinghouse of sites previewing tonight's game, check out the always-great du Nord.

Prediction tonight: USA 3, T&T 1

(And tonight, I also see that there is an MLS game going on opposite the US MNT AGAIN!!!!!!! I ignore these games that don;t involve Dynamo because I think scheduling like this is an abomination. But just to keep my predictions as complete as possible, here's the one for tonight: DC UNITED 3, KC WIZARDS 2. More on this in my MLS prediction post later this week.) Read more!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy 30th birthday ESPN

Now get some more MLS on there and there's nowhere to go but up. Read more!

Great, great feed for the winner

It's worth seeing Jozy's winning goal again. What a great feed from Landon Donovan. Read more!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Three and a Big One. Weekend picks

So I was reading an excellent piece from Steve Davis (link here) about the US-El Salvador game tomorrow at Big Sandy. Davis speculates about line-up options for the US and also includes this little tidbit:

(Brian) Ching is almost sure to be in the lineup. His ability to rattle around and make things happen by winning second balls will be critical against what is sure to be a crowded Salvadoran defensive third.

He also mentions that Rico Clark and Goalden Holden are likely to see time. And it doesn't take a genius to see that all three will play as well at Hasley Crawford Stadium in T&T on Wednesday.

So the point I'm winding around to is that while it is nice for Dynamo to have this week off to get set for a serious September-November run (more on those in a sec) and rest, three crucial cogs in the Orange Machine won't be taking any rest at all. It all goes back to that eternal soccer conflict of Club v. Country. In a tortured fashion, I usually wind up on the side of club emotionally. Let's face it, I frequently watch US games that involve Dynamo players and wonder how it will affect Dynamo, but I rarely ever see a Dynamo game and wonder how it'll affect the US MNT. Does this mean I did not scream myself nearly hoarse when Charlie Davies found net at Azteca? Hell no. I'm just confessing my sins as an American that's all.

So, that being said, I also think the US will roll over El Salvador and Benedict Arnold Alvarez in Utah. (And no, my admission of a C v. C conflict up there does not DQ me from making that comment about Arturo, who dumped my alma mater St. Thomas HS to attend Katy Mayde Creek. If that guy goes all Giuseppe Rossi on us, his record of ever having attended STHS will be purged. Take that!) The key will be, as Davis pointed out in his piece, to get through ES' defensive shell because you know almost no member of that team will venture beyond midfield. So pinpoint passing will be key. That's why I think Rico might get subbed early in the second half if it's still 0-0 and also why I included that piece about the Flyin' Hawaiian above.

The US will take this game 2-0 handily, though there will be a few scary moments, especially with Onyewu sitting out.

As for the Wednesday game in Warneristan, check this out, courtesy of duNord:

Nine USA players are carrying Yellow Card cautions into the El Salvador match, meaning their next Yellow will trigger a one-game suspension: Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, Conor Casey, Steve Cherundolo, Ricardo Clark, Jay DeMerit, Clint Dempsey, Donovan, and Benny Feilhaber.

That is muy mucho amarilla. But, on the Orange side, if Rico sees yellow, he's that much fresher for the Supporter's Shield battle at Columbus Sept. 13. So at least we have that going for us, whoever us is at any given moment.

On to MLS play, there are three games this weekend, with very little impact on Dynamo's fortunes. Maybe in terms of playoff foes, but that's about it. And two of the games are being played AT THE EXACT SAME TIME as the US/El Salvador game. I have written frequently in the past that I think this is a disgrace on MLS' part. You're telling me that these games could not have all been played on either Friday night, Saturday afternoon or Sunday? Three lousy games and two of them have to run opposite the United States? No need to continue this rant as it has fallen on deaf ears from the mouths of various and sundry in MLS HQ for years now, but the point has to be made every so often that when the National Team plays, everyone else on the pyramid stops what they're doing and watches. This is a simple lesson and they need to learn it.

On to the picks

Last week: 2-5
Overall: 73-90 (.448 or 19 games over blind chance)

WIZARDS at REVOLUTION 2-0 New England The Revs have the best record in the league since mid June and, let's be honest, do you see any reason why they wouldn't win at home against a Wizards team that has completely quit? You fire the coach because you can't fire the players, but Onalfo wasn't really the reason for KC's demise. The guy now coaching, Vermes, put that team on the field, and now he's reaping his own private whirlwind. The Wizards have an, ahem, broken wand.

DC UNITED at FC DISASTROUS. 2-0 Frisco This would normally be a tough one to predict, but I think DCU's loss in the US Open Cup, especially the Wicks incident, is going to haunt that squad. DC hasn't been an especially brilliant road team, and while Frisco is worse without Drew Moor than with him (think about THAT for a second), they clearly are playing with nothing to lose. DCU is the better team, but I think they will not be focused and Frisco will slip in there. I don't normally pick Frisco to win anything at all (and I'm usually right!), but this time, I'm thinking it's going to fall right for them. The applause, er, the few claps, er, the echoes will be deafening.

TORONTO FC at RAPIDS. 2-1 Reds I finally saw the hit that Mastroeni put on Hainault last week. Wow. Rarely do I get intensely ticked off at something that happened several days ago, but seeing that little punk writhing on the ground, clearly faking the whole thing since he had just leveled someone, just sent me over the edge. I dearly, dearly hope we get to play the Crapids in the first round of the playoffs to administer a little frontier justice. Two games is not enough for that hit. He should be banned for the season. So is that emotion coloring my pick here? Maybe. But let's consider the situation a bit. Colorado is out all four Cs (Colin Clark and Conor "Wisdom Teeth" Casey), out that punk I mentioned above, and plugging in the newly-acquired Drew Moor in place of Ugo Ihemelu, a step down. Toronto is rested and ready and missing only Amado Guevara. I think TFC will get a rare road win here and restart their push for a playoff berth. One other factor: DDR will be a beast in this game. He loves playing in Colorado. Read more!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Finally, some actions taken on bad refereeing

2008 MLS Referee of the Year Jair Marrufo (pictured above with Sr. White), Michael Kennedy (hearing it from Jay Heaps to the left and below there) and the reliably bad Abbey Okulaja (who is so bad I will not stoop to searching the Internet for an image of him)have all been suspended for the rest of the season by the USSF.

Steve Goff in his Soccer Insider blog (link here) reported this was going on. Here's Goff's blog entry from Tuesday:

3 MLS Refs Done for Season

Three veteran referees, including 2008 MLS referee of the year Jair Marrufo, will not be assigned to any more MLS matches this season, the Insider has learned.

Marrufo was removed from the assignment rotation for "poor performances" over the course of the season, according to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which oversees officiating in American leagues. Meantime, Michael Kennedy and Abbey Okulaja have been sidelined for failing midseason fitness tests that involve sprints and long-distance running. Kennedy and Okulaja cannot work in any competitions the rest of the year. Marrufo, a FIFA referee, remains eligible for other events.

According to Insider research, Marrufo has not worked an MLS match since June 24. Okulaja has been out since July 18 and Kennedy since July 25. Kennedy was a finalist for MLS referee of the year in 2006 and '08. Marrufo won last year and was a finalist the year before. Okulaja won in 2004 and was runner-up in '05.

This year Kennedy was the referee in 11 games and the fourth official in four; Okulaja seven in each role; and Marrufo seven as the referee.

Kennedy and Okulaja will not have the opportunity to be tested again until before next season. Marrufo's status as a full-time referee employed by the USSF -- Ricardo Salazar, Baldomero Toledo and Terry Vaughn are the others -- will be evaluated.

Earlier this year, Marrufo was suspended two matches by the USSF for accepting Chicago star Cuauhtemoc Blanco's jersey after a game. In June, he was cited for stopping a game in Houston to administer a water break, and in March he was criticized for allowing play to continue after two D.C. United players suffered head injuries in a collision.

By Steve Goff | September 1, 2009; 8:33 PM ET

Personally, I couldn't be happier. "Water break" Marrufo has been beyond odious this season, while Kennedy and Okulaja were just their normal standards of horrid. My only regret is that Baldomero Toledo (below), he of the phantom goal call against us in Seattle and thus defeinitely off of Mike Chabala's Christmas Card list, was not on that list.

Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a real turnaround. Though I am not holding my breath. Read more!