Friday, October 30, 2009

Tuning the crystal ball to the playoffs

Apparently, there are six other playoff teams out there fighting for second place. And, get this, they actually all will play their entire ties BEFORE Dynamo run the Greens on Nov. 8. (Homer? Me? What ya talkin' about?)

So now I turn my prediction energies to the postseason, and just to help myself out I will only predict the first legs (The more games I predict, the better my chance to finish with something approaching respectable. That or crash and burn with great alacrity!). And well I should worry, since last week I went 4-4 in the final week of the season to conclude my regular season prediction rampage at 91-125 for a percentage of .421 or 19 games over blind chance. That's 19 games over, which means that no one, but no one should base any bets here. Or this might happen to you:

But undaunted, we forge ahead. The playoffs are a new season and time to plunge ahead for first leg picks:

DYNAMO at SOUNDERS 1-1 Draw Yesterday's post contains this pick and in keeping with my season-long practice of counting the result and not the score, I start the weekend already up 1-0. We'll see how long that lasts!

CREW at REAL SALT LAKE 2-1 Columbus I know it has become something of a trendy call to have RSL win or tie here as if Rio Tinto is Fortress Utah or something. But you know what, RSL is the weakest team in the playoffs. And of course, so was New York last year, claim the trendmeisters. I concede the point. But eventually, lightning does not strike the same place the same way. I don't think that Crew's recent MLS form is any indicator at all. So go ahead, RSL, prove me wrong.

FIRE at REVOLUTION. 1-1 Draw Chicago is not really an offensive powerhouse, while New England will not be surrendering many chances at home. The Revs have owned this playoff series recently, especially in Foxboro. But I will not pick them to win this game because, let's face it, without Stevie R., they just are not that good, and Larentowitz can not strike cannon shots into the back of the net every week. Fire do what they need to do here to bring the series home next week.

GALAXY at CHIVAS (or is that the other way around?) 2-0 Gals In what the inestimable Dan Loney has termed the PooperScooperClasico, las chivitas is going to be exposed as the pretenders they are. I think the Gals are going to go through Chivas like you-know-what through a goose. But you want to make it interesting? More Loney: "Ideally, this would be a Loser Leaves Town match. If the Galaxy wins, Chivas moves. If CUSA wins, Beckham never returns. I could handle that." You and me both Dan. And while I am really rooting for the Amerigoats here so that the Western final could be here at Robertson, I honestly don't see how that team can beat that team. So Chivas, do your best out there and give us all an upset to remember, equivalent to when KC whipped you in 2007. But don't expect me to put money on you. Read more!

Dynamo beat Sounders 0-0

So let's start the discussion. Here are some of my initial thoughts from tonight:

1. The Onstad Bump: After the game, Alexi Lalas showed the smarts that made him the GM he was when he said that Onstad should have gotten a red card for that contact. "99 times out of 100, that's a straight red," ranted his Gingerness. Well, back here in the real world, if that's a red card offense then it's a sorry state of football we would have here. Instead, Ricardo Salazar (more on him in a sec), figured out what happened, awarded the justly-deserved yellows, and we went on.

Personally, I don't think the bump was intentional at all. Onstad wasn't even looking at Fredy the Flopper when he ran into him. Then Montero went down like he was shot and the party began. So a yellow to Onstad for not paying attention and one to F the F for being a moron. Sounds fair to me.

The event had another beneficial effect as well in that it defanged Montero. How many more times in the game did you see that guy be at all threatening? Heck, Patrick Ianni was more threatening than Montero. If this is what happens, I think Pat ought to bump someone every game.

2. This time, the clear off the line gets called a clear off the line. Well done Mully. Remove the nongoal goal from Seattle's arsenal and what do you have?

3. Salazar. Wow, a quality MLS ref. How did that happen? Can we get that guy every game? He had total command of the game from start to finish and while there were some fouls not called, it seemed to me that that went both ways all night. On balance, for the most part, you weren't aware the guy was even there, which is what we all want from the ref, now isn't it? (Aside from the fact that guy was ripped. I think he could have out bench-pressed everyone on that field. What guns!),

4. Did anyone else find Dominic Kinnear's subs an interesting couple of calls? There you are, fighting in the first, away leg of the tie. Score is knotted all zeros. Game is getting late. You think, well, by the book, the away team will play for the draw and pack it in. Except that you would not be reading Dominic Kinnear's book. His two subs were both forwards for other forwards. Offensive subs. Kinnear was going for the kill. And indeed, towards the end, I think we almost had one. Seattle was clearly tiring and knotting up, while Dynamo were nutting up. More solid link-up play from the midfield to Landin and Weaver and the Orange could be coming home with a lead.

5. The result was far from perfect of course. Landin continues to show that he's slow, though his touch is a wonder to behold. When he came on late, there were just one or two too many passes that, if delivered well, both to Landin and from, would have resulted in clear scoring chances.

Also, the take on Dominic Oduro stays the same, meaning that if the guy had any kind of finishing touch or physical toughness at all, he would be a force in this league. His speed is truly awesome, but all too often, he'll lose the ball on the dribble to even the weakest challenge, or sometimes with no challenge at all. He doesn't read the defensive movement closing in on him quickly enough to find the open guy. And while he had no real scoring chances tonight, how much of that was because he didn't fight off the ball to create those chances? To be fair, his speed constantly stretched the Sounder defense, and with those wheels, he brought something to the table that no one else on the team could bring, especially with Corey Ashe still out. How much slower did Landin look simply because he wasn't Oduro? So Dominic, get in position and beat Keller on Nov. 8, and I'll take back all the bad things I have written about you.

Stuart Holden was solid off the ball, though I would like to see him do more with the ball. He seems to be reverting to the extra pass-happy guy who started the season. I'll say now what I said then: Young man, you have a Howitzer out on the end of that leg. Use it.

6. Draw me with a smiley face. Overall, I am happy with this result tonight. Drawing the away leg and winning at home is a time-honored tradition and I am all for it. If anything, it sent the message that 40K or no, Dynamo is not afraid of this team of no-destiny. What's more, what I saw was a Dynamo squad eager to exorcise once and for all the ghosts of 2008. The team seems focused and ready to do what it needs to do at the Rob Nov. 8. I can't wait. And if anyone knows if Drew is coming, here's a message for you:

Read more!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kevin Payne's fine = Complete joke

So once again, right here on the cusp of the playoffs, when we should all be feeling good about MLS and the competition and the soon-to-be champion, we get reality smacking us in the face that this is a league that is run by a bunch of marketing executives who think that selling toothpaste is the same as running a sports league.

DC DC United president Kevin Payne was fined $5,000 dollars for telling the Washington Post's Steven Goff: "We don't want to play like Colorado or New England, which most of the season sat with eight or nine guys behind the ball. How many people go to watch Colorado or New England play? That's a problem for our league. We can't play like we're a team desperately trying to remain in 14th place in the Premiership. Our market isn't there yet. They want to see something that is entertaining, and DC United has always had a way of playing. Given a choice, we would rather attack than cynically defend. You look at the way Real Salt Lake played when they came here [a 0-0 tie in May] and sat 10 guys behind the ball. You don’t have to do that. Sometimes that is the best way to get a result – if you don’t care about the product, if you don’t care about advertising your league. Long term, who wants to watch that?"

The fine was levied directly by MLS commissioner Don Garber. The official announcement referred to Payne's comments as "detrimental to the public image of the League."

This is nonsensical. Payne was right on the money. Teams that play back, that play anti-football, need to be called out for doing that. No matter what you think about DCU, the sentiment he expressed needed to be said.

I think this is wonderful, like when Landon Donovan incited the crowd in Dallas a few years ago. This is one of those things that makes sports fun.

What's worse is the fact that it would have been so much better for Garber to say something along the lines of: "Well, that's Kevin Payne's opinion and he's entitled to it. If I were New England or Colorado, I might take offense to it, but they can settle that on the field."

Now THAT'S what a commissioner ought to say. Here's where you see a look into the kind of "leader" that Garber is, and by extension, the kind of organization that MLS is: Way, way too much marketing and placement thinking and way, way too little competition and fire. Stir the pot. Get people talking about something real instead of something you're trying to make them talk about through preordained advertising.

This is nonsense and it's Garber, not Payne, who has put the league in a bad light. Read more!

The Orange Ring of Death

After a second half of the season that was a tad weird to say the least, Dynamo get a chance to put on their Tri-umph faces and Lay It on the Line for that third title.

I think this video above truly expresses my feeling about Seattle tonight. And while the truth is I have never once flipped the toggle on an XBox, or done a 360 on top of one, I know for a fact that an Orange Ring of Death exists on those consoles, and that's what I am expecting to see over these two legs, starting tonight.

For a Dynamo team that rarely received red cards, it seems more than passing strange to notice that two games in a row without one is atypical. Hopefully, what this actually means is that the bleeding has been stanched. But we'll see. A stern, disciplined approach is what's called for in these 180-minute ties, especially when you get the second leg at your own playpen.

But I worry about the guys keeping their cool. In the three games watching the Seattles this season, I have noticed a certain behavior among the Greenclads that could be called, er, what is the word? Chippy? No. Dirty? Not yet. Thuggishness? Hmmm. Ah heck, let's just go for D: All of the Above. For a squad that has such a solid attack with pace and creativity and physical presence from Frjeddji Ljungbjerg (Or howjever that's spjelled), Jaqua, Montero and Zakuani, to see players like Hurtado and Brad Evans and the like dishing out the cheap fouls is incongruous to say the least. Hopefully the refs will call the game tight, which can only help. (And this doesn't even include mention of Montero's incessant diving. If Ricardo Salazar falls for that garbage tonight, teh frustration will mount.)

And right here I'd to insert my oft-stated objection to playing this or any game on the fake grass. Both Mullan and Mulrooney suffered injuries playing on State of Washington-approved artificial surfaces, the latter injury a season-ending and potential career-threatening one. All I have to say is that if Major League Baseball can completely eliminate artificial surfaces (with the exception of the Rogers Centre in Toronto. What is it with Toronto anyway?), then so can MLS. The horror must end!

Back to tonight, clearly, composure will be key. Seattle will come out on fire and probably finish in a flurry as well. As I wrote on Glenn Davis' blog the other day: The problem is that without Richard Mulrooney out there keeping everyone cool (see previous paragraph), Dynamo have had a hard time maintaining composure for a full 90. Also, asking an attacking team like Dynamo to play back and patient and wait for their chances is difficult at best. Perhaps this merits Barrett's inclusion in the starting XI?

However, champions adjust and I was heartened to see Brad Davis talking right away on Sunday or Monday about defense winning championships. I think this is where experience means something. Pretty much the entire Dynamo squad have been in these situations many times before, most in Orange, while there are many players in Seattle who have not. There is no substitute for playoff experience, so if the team opens up loose, calm and confident and STAYS that way throughout the game, they will be able to exert pressure and strike when Seattle makes their mistakes.

A cool, calm, composed game and coming home ahead, drawn or no worse than a one-goal deficit and I will consider tonight a success.

Hey, did anyone else notice that Bernardo Fallas gave the goalkeeping edge to the Sounders? (Ratings here.) Even though Fallas does pick Dynamo to take the tie 3-2 on aggregate, this should at least have been even. Odd, is all I'm saying.

So here are my predictions for this series:

Tonight: 1-1 Draw. My worries center mainly around dealing with Seattle's pace and the turf-related injuries. Knee tendinitis and artificial turf are a witches' brew, which will have me watching Landin closely, not to mention Rico (should he play) and Ching. I would like to see a line-up like this:


Subs: Chabala, Weaver, Oduro, Robinson, Waibel, Thompson, Hall

The reason I'd like to see Barrett get the start is for his experience and calm demeanor out there. As a captain, he is solid, to say the least. That being said, as the game goes down the wire and we are protecting a lead or a draw, or even going for a late goal, I'd pull him for Chabala and his speed or Johnny Rocco Robinson and his toughness. And depending on the situation, I'd also get Weaver and head-bump Waibel in there as well.

Like Fallas, I am also predicting Dynamo to go through to the Cup semifinals (this whole "Conference semi," "Conference final" stuff is confusing terminology and it must end), by a 3-2 agg. Both teams have shown difficulty scoring of late, but getting out of here tonight ahead or drawn will be huge for Dynamo.

Just remember boys, this is it:

Read more!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Order from chaos, final weekend picks

"We adore chaos because we love to produce order."
~ M.C. Escher

In the delicious disorder that has marked the final weeks of the MLS season will come some order after this weekend, and it all started in that mudpit in Bridgeview last night.

So did anyone check out that Chicago/Chivas game last night? What a messy, messy beast. And I'm not talking about the weather. I honestly think Chicago's only hope in the playoffs, and I think they are a very, very good side, is to have games go to penalty kicks. Patrick Nyarko has go to be one of the worst-finishing starters in the MLS.

But as for the factors that mean something to the Naranjaverse, I would have to say that we all saw Chivas exposed again for what they are, a slightly above-average side with serious holes in the back filled by the aging Zach Thornton and an attack that can only be described in a way that does disservice to all those out there who are really are anemic. Yesteday I remarked on ow Dynamo is out of sync. But the comparison is that Dynamo is a Maserati that needs some new spark plugs, while Chivas is some random GM car trying to convince themselves and everyone else when they say "May the best car win."

So what I saw warmed my heart for the weekend and has me actually feeling some of that playoff mojo. I can only hope that those guys out on the near left edge of the color spectrum feel the same way.

As for the playoffs, here are my predictions from Oct. 2:

Crew, Dynamo, LAG, Fire, Rapids, Toronto, Sounders, Chivas

If the season were to end right now, I would be dead on with that prediction. Eight for fuh-reakin' eight. I would only have missed on the order, but hey, when you're sitting where I am on the weekly prediction, I will not quibble. However, I will not be counting those eggs just yet as there is some more hatching to be done over the next few days. The Rapids and Toronto have some work to do in order to make my ocho de perfecto come to pass, and you know what, I think they're going to do exactly that.

But before I get to that I just want to interrupt this prediction fest (my final one of the regular season, to offer a very short defense of the MLS playoffs. I know all about the arguments from purists (and I sympathize and agree to a point with ALL of them) that playoffs are anti-football, anti-tradition and make a mockery of the regular season. I agree. However, I also know some things, one is that if there were no playoffs there would be no interest in any games this final weekend. Instead, 11 teams (that's 11 out of 15 people) are playing meaningful games, important games, games that could turn the season on its head. Six of the eight playoff slots have been decided and still, every single game in the final weekend (including last night's of course) is crucial to one or both teams. That my friends is an argument right there for a meaningful post-season tournament. I have written before that the Regular Season Champion needs to be called that, (instead of the nominally meaningless Supporter's Shield) and that is an argument to note. That team, even though it's supported by the execrable Nordecke bunch, should be celebrated and awarded a meaningful trophy. But do not under any circumstances eliminate the postseason tournament. The MLS Cup winner is also a fitting championship and the two honors should sit side by side.

So that's my little soapbox moment, which deserves a separate discussion all of its own. Time to move onto the weekend, and these meaningful games I profess to love so much.

Last week: 3-5
Year to date: 87-121 (.418 or 18 games over blind chance)

TORONTO FC at RBNY. 2-1 Reds Toronto books passage into the postseason with this win, the final one at that awful pit known as Giants Stadium, thus ensuring that Costa Rica's Saprissa Stadium is far and away the worst soccer pitch in the New World. Now, being that this is the final Giants Stadium game, and that Red Bulls are trying to bury this awful season, they will come out inspired, or at least as inspired as they can be. But that turnip can only bleed so much. RBNY will take the early lead and then TFC will return with an improbable goal brought about by RBNY's own incomparable incompetence. Then I fully expect Big Game Dwayne to send his Reds over the top and into the playoffs. (I want so badly for TFC to play the Crew in the first round just because those games are always bloodbaths.) The not-altogether-healthy Stefan Frei steps up big.

(That)D(amned)CU(nited) at WIZARDS. 1-1 Draw Personally, I think Tom Soehn will have a very long and enjoyable offseason, unemployed though he will be as DCU expires with a whimper at the hands of the playing-for-pride Wizards. And just to add insult to injury, I think KC will score late with a goal past Steve Cronin (How bad is Kocic if Cronin is an improvement?) to sink DCU's hopes. And you know, this might just be the best thing for that organization, which is too good to be in this situation.

RAPIDS at RSL 2-2 Colorado Conor Casey will be a beast in this game as Colorado books passage through to the postseason with the draw. RSL salvages some pride with a late goal to draw level, but the Rapids' quality does exactly what they need. Jason Kreis, who deserves to stay coach of this team, will have a long time over the offseason to find out what he needs to do to transition this squad back into the championship contender they were in 2008. Unfortunately, with this draw, Colorado finish with the eighth seed and face Columbus for that great Col v Col match-up instead o the blood battle that Col(umbus) v Tor would make.

FC FRISCO at SOUNDERS FC 3-2 Seattle The Battle of the Dreams. And this, my friends, is where the dallas' dream comes to an end for dallas for a lot of reasons, the first of which is that it's running smack into the face of bigger dream. It has been a truly amazing season for the Seattles, with a USOC trophy, a playoff berth, a chance on the final day of the season to win the West, 30K in attendance every game at home, etc. etc. I hate them grudgingly for all of that, but I'm also realistic enough to see that a final regular season home game with all of that going for them is going to be too much for a Schellas Hyndman coached team, with Superman Cunningham or no. Also, the truly awful Baldomero Toledo will be reffing this game, the same guy who gifted Seattle with that goal that Chabala knocked off the line back in July. That's mojo that Seattle doesn't need, but will enjoy. I think Cunningham will definitely score, but Dallas will fall short here.

EARTHQUAKES at GALAXY. 2-2 Draw I just have to tell you that there is no way on Earth I can be objective in assessing this game. For the Naranjaverse to evolve as it needs to, the Gals MUST lose or draw this game. The thing is, San Jose is a truly awful, awful side, not RBNY awful, but still, you know, B.A.D. Now San Jose helped us last week as much as they could by drawing with Chivas at the HDC, so is it too much to ask for them to do it again? I'm not asking for anything superhuman here, just a draw against their most-hated rivals. Let's face it, as any Bay Area person can tell you, screwing LA is enough motivation no matter the situation. Well, beating them will screw LA the most, but I'm not too sure that's possible. I mean, they're not Rubin Kazan here. But they are a Bay Area side with a chance to really deliver a nasty blow to a SoCal team. So I'm relying on that to beat Donovan, that English guy and Ricketts. My head says there's no way that a team with the quality of LA, in the most important game they've played since the 2005 final, should lose or draw here. But my heart, the organ in my body that is 100 percent Orange, will NOT be overruled. Go San Jose, you bastards, GO!

REVOLUTION at CREW 1-1 Draw And here's where you see the end of the road for Steve NIcol's playoff run. Mister3D and I have spoken often how much we respect what he's accomplished, but also how much we hate the way his teams play, chippy, defensive and quick counter attacks. To be truthful, you can't but respect Shalrie Joseph and those guys, but the Revs have just been snakebit all year, the final blow coming when Steve Ralston went down with that horrific injury. For them to make the playoffs would be amazing considering, but they just would not be able to advance far and provide just a simple, simple opponent for whomever they face. The Crew, on the other hand, have looked nothing like the worldbeaters they were in August and September, but that could be attributed to a number of facts, the main being the early date at which they earned their berth. So I think they'll do just enough to keep from losing at home and then put their focus on the playoffs.

And finally:

DYNAMO at las chivitas 1-0 Orange Dynamo will be without Ching and Ashe (thank you Rayados), and Cam Weaver and Ricardo Clark are nursing knee injuries. However, I still think this team has enough to deny the Amerigoats and come out of the HDC with the top spot in the West. Now, to be sure, things can happen to give us that second leg of the Western semis at home with just a draw here. But Seattle would have to tie or lose to FCD at home to open that window, which I don't expect to happen. So just for once this season you Orange, win and make it simple for all of us. Might this be the game where Luis Angel Landin finds his communication with Brad Davis, Stuart Holden and, most importantly, Brian Mullan? Here's the lineup I would like to see:


But if Rico and Cam can't go, how's this one:


Option B is not as good as Option A up top, but to beat Chivas, the strength will have to come in the midfield and a tough as nails back line. Option B might just be a tougher back line than A with ERob in there. And if Thompson can hold and create space for Landin and Holden on dangerousrun, it might just work. We'll see. Just win baby. Just win. Read more!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Grumbling (and stumbling?) into the postseason

There's a red storm raging and it's threatening to overwhelm the Houston Dynamo, if it hasn't already.

So yes I'll start. I am quite bummed about the guys losing to Metapan, who had neither won nor tied a single game in group play before last night. So, not to be a downer here, but it's very possible that the season, which we all hope lasts five more games, might just be over in three.

Here's what I've been seeing from Dynamo over the last couple of months. Fine play, great effort, but all in support of performances that are just short of winning. The team shows flashes of brilliance both offensively and defensively, but none of the 90-minute effort that was so in evidence this past May and June.

At this point, it's hard to see the team winning at Chivas this weekend, must less doing much in the first round of the playoffs. If they hit a hot team like Seattle in the playoffs, I now am almost expecting Dynamo to lose.

The team is clearly not in sync, and playing with low confidence at the moment. There is no doubt about their effort as the guys are clearly putting everything they have into every moment on the pitch. However, it is clear that they are having difficulty communicating up and down the field. Here are some random thoughts and observations:

1. The red cards. So big props to the team for finishing with 11 players last night. And since when has that been all that big of a deal? The red rash has become both symptom and disease here. At first, it was so improbable as to be laughable. Surely this will stop. But it has been going on for two-and-a-half months now, and it hasn't really stopped. It's hard to have a synced lineup when key players, and usually a different one each time, are missing. And then, playing frustrated and out of sync, stupid things happen and you get more red cards. Champions adjust, and I have not seen much in the way of adjustment here.

2. Conspiracy theory note: It seems that the rash of red cards started after the whole non-goal goal in Seattle. Kinnear said on air that the ref (Toledo) was the same one that screwed us in Salt Lake last year, Ching had his Twitter moment about the event, and before you know it, the refs start passing out the reds like candy at Halloween. I don't endorse this theory, mind you, I only mention it. The truth is, tight refereeing or no, the team has to man up here and take personal responsibility. Ching did that last Sunday when asked about his red, he did not say one bad thing about the borderline nature of the card. He just said "The ref got it right." That's playing it smart because if this happens in the first round, we will have a long winter.

3. Questionable wing play. Mister3D and I noticed a real shortfall here in the LAG game this past Sunday. Chabala (maybe his worst game this season) had a hard time linking up the wing, as did Hainault on the other side. I was beginning to seriously hope for a move to bring in Eddie Robinson for Chabala and move Cameron over there, or even Barrett and sacrifice speed for more solid passes from the back. If Dynamo can't link up the wings, they don't win. It's that simple.

4. Missing Richard Mulrooney. How different would this team look with his calmness and presence in midfield or on defense? I think of all of this season's injuries and absences, his might just be the most significant in terms of keeping the team cool and focused when things start going all weird out there. We miss him in a big way.

5. How many times have you noticed the team over the last few months seem to have no general plan, no focus on what they need to do to break the other team down? I think this can be attributed in a large measure to the injuries (Mulrooney, Weaver, Ashe), international absences (mainly Holden and Clark) and red cards (pick 'em). When was the last time Dynamo fielded the same starting line-up two games in a row? I'll tell you when. It was April 19 and and May 3, which were both wins, against, respectively, Colorado at home and New England on the road. Not only that, but that was the same line-up that played April 11, a 0-0 home tie vs. New York. Those are the only three games all season (!) that Dynamo started the same line-up in successive games. How on Earth do you build up a rhythm and confidence playing together when there are so many different line-ups on the pitch out there at all times?

So this is my somewhat frustrated rant about Dynamo's play (and you notice that I went through this whole post without mentioning Dominic Oduro even once because he's a frustrated rant of a blog post all on his lonesome!). What are your thoughts about what's wrong and what needs to change if we hope to see Dynamo hoisting the Uncle Phil Anschutz Trophy next month?

(And by the way, I full expect the Chicago Fire to take it to Chivas tonight. If the Fire hope to finally put things together tonight at home, with Temoc facing those las chivitas stripes, and clinching a playoff berth on the line, they need to destroy those pretenders. I'm picking Chicago to win 4-2.) Read more!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Goalden One talks some trash

A truly awesome interview with our boy Goalden Holden, who dishes on Rico and "Fat" Ching. Read more!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Six on the undercard and the Main Event

Just in case you needed any help getting fired up for Sunday. And if you're looking for further inspiration there's this:

But before we get to Sunday, we'll spend some time on the weekend undercard:

Last week: 1-3
Year to date: 84-116 (.420 or 17 games over blind chance)

REAL SALT LAKE at TORONTO FC. 2-2 Draw So RSL defeats NYRB late Wednesday night (Q: Were they showing the US game on the screens at Rio Tinto before that game started? And if not, why does RSL hate America?), a result I predicted, which isn't anything to be all that psyched about. I mean, RSL at home is mediocre, while NYRB without JPA can only dream of mediocrity. Now RSL heads north of the border to a TFC team that watched its playoff dream go on life support when they let San Jose draw late in stoppage time last week (screwing with my prediction in the process like they didn't even care). Simply put, both teams truly NEED full points here. Anything less and you can cross them both off your playoff predictions. However, Toronto just seems to come short all too often this season, while RSL is woeful on the road. So, my pick is they'll go over the Reichenbach Falls together, though unlike Holmes, neither will be seen again.

FIRE at REVOLUTION. 2-1 New England If Chicago wins this game, they are in the playoffs and guaranteed to host the return leg in the first round against whomever they play. The Fire are a very good, very dangerous team that is set right on the verge of a truly awesome run. And hence, I am predicting that not only will the Fire get doused in Foxboro, but it will be costly (maybe with an injury) and painful (late strike from Shalrie Joseph or a bad, or rather, standard call from ref Jorge Gonzales). Nothing has come easy for the Fire this season, so why should playoff qualification? As for the Revs, without Stevie R, the team is a shadow of its former self. But the Fire will just not be able to crack Fortress Nicol.

CREW at DC UNITED. 2-0 Crew. Ben Olsen and Chris Pontius are out for DC, while Emmanuel Ekpo misses for the Crewtures.DC is also missing Quaranta and Namoff to injuries and has Milos Kocic in goal. DC, I know you guys are technically still in the playoff race, but let's face it. United has lost three in a row, all at home, and this game will be over by halftime. The only question is whether that will also apply to Tom Soehn's reign as DC boss.

RAPIDS at FC FRISCO. 1-1 Draw. You know, I know that FC dallas is all f'shizzle about their playoff run, and Jeff Cunningham yadda yadda yadda, and they're only two points out of the playoffs and they're at home in front of their tens of "fans," and the Rapids are missing two players to suspension. Yeah freakin' yeah. But you know what, spare me. The team is mediocrity personified. But then again, what do the Rapids have? Conor Casey, that's who, despite his completely ridiculous and worthless miss in the 9th minute at RFK Wednesday (how great would that have been?). The only question about Dallas' run is when will it end? Well, reality is here and Colorado will administer the paddle here. The draw ought to end that playoff run and at the same time complicate Colorado's.

SOUNDERS at WIZARDS. 2-0 Seattle Josh Wollf and Davy Arnaud are probable while nursing injuries, but it won't be enough. Seattle secures a berth here with a win and pulls into a (highly, highly temporary) tie atop the West. Jaqua and Montero both score off feeds from Ljungberg.

EARTHQUAKES at las chivitas 2-1 San Jose. It's no secret what result I want to happen here. I want the Earthquakes to drill these guys, robbing them of all hope and confidence, doubting not only their skills as players but continued existence as human beings. I want goat meat served from all tables in California up and down the coast, instilling the San Jose organization with a heretofore missing sense of optimism for the future. What I expect to get, however, is something totally different. San Jose is beyond awful, and while their late goal salvaged some pride for them in Canuckistan last week, I just am not sure they can pull that off against a Preki-coached side in the running for the top spot in the West. One ray of hope, take a look at this injury report (notables highlighted): CHIVAS USA - OUT: DF Jim Curtin (L ankle surgery); MF Kevin Harmse (R knee tendonitis); GK Dan Kennedy (R knee surgery); FW Ante Razov (R ankle tendonitis); MF Bojan Stepanovic (R knee injury); MF Sasha Victorine (concussion); QUESTIONABLE: GK Lance Parker (R quad strain); FW Maicon Santos (R knee injury); GK Zach Thornton (lower back strain); PROBABLE: FW Justin Braun (lower back strain); MF Paulo Nagamura (L foot contusion); FW Jesús Padilla (R ankle sprain) ... SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES - OUT: MF Darren Huckerby (R hip surgery); MF Andre Luiz (L knee sprain); DF Jason Hernandez (L ankle fracture/sprain); FW Chris Wondolowski (R knee sprain); FW Cornell Glen (R knee sprain) So who's healthy in goal for Chivas anyway? That's three keepers on that list! So I'm going with my heart here and picking San Jose. Screw my record. Screw what's probable. And screw the goatlings San Jose.


GALAXY at DYNAMO. 3-2 Orange The Dynamo are going to miss seriously Corey Ashe and Cam Weaver, and who knows why Chingy did not dress for either US game, and that is the last worrisome thing you will read from me. This is going to be a game for the ages. I firmly expect that Landon Donovan will be a beast, that that English guy who's name escapes me will be delivering dead-on balls and that Donovan Ricketts will be amazing in goal. And then this is what I also believe: 30,000+ people will spur Dynamo on to a crushing win. Davis will be in full delivery mode, putting in two perfect crosses for goals to add to another one from Holden on a set-piece to rip the hearts out of those pretenders. Like the penalty save against Conor Casey earlier this season, this game will be the spur to a six-game unbeaten run (7 if you count the Isidro Metapan game next week) that ends only because the season does, with the reigning Rothenberg Trophy winners holding up the Anschutz model in Seattle. Man of the Match for Dynamo in this game: Johnny Rocco, (aka Eddie Robinson).

And just in case you guys don't get the message:

Read more!

The World Cup qualifying road 2009

And here, courtesy of duNord, are highlights from each game in the Hex. This is my final US Soccer post before completely switching my attention to Dynamo and MLS Cup.

What's your favorite goal/moment?

Dos a Cero

The beginning of the late comeback trend that was so helpful to all of our cardiologists this year.

Who knew that Timmy Howard lived in Memphis? I didn't until the USMNT beat T&T in the Music City.

When they finally blow up Saprissa Stadium, can I be there? Can I push the plunger? And can I just award a Nobel for Great Contributions to the Beautiful Game to whoever does actually blow this place to smithereens?

More comebackery and cardiology.

My favorite moment was Charlie Davies' smooth finish here. But if Davies had gotten his head to Holden's late cross, it would have come in second.

I think I'm going to just give my heart surgeon the keys to my bank account.

And down goes Warneristan.


For you CD9. And how many children in Honduras will be named Jonathan Bornstein now?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Over there

You betcha guys!

For sheer comedic value, read the second half thread on BigSoccer (link here). I'm not certain that some of those guys made it alive through to the end of that game!! I almost had a heart attack reading it today and I know the result! HAH!

Over theeeeeere! Over theeeeeere! Send the word, send the word. Over theeeeeere!

... Read More
The drums rum tumming everywhere!
So prepare, say a Prayer, send the word, Send the word to beware..
We'll be over, we're coming over. And we won't be back till it's over over there! Read more!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Three alive, the weekend in MLS

(I know that picture has nothing to do with this post, but thought it was great!)

Wow, is MLS actually taking (gasp!) an international break this weekend? Not really, but only three games are scheduled after Dallas' completely undeserved win courtesy of that clear offsides from both Dax McCarty and Jeff Cunningham in San Jose the other day. Now I want little d to qualify, but only if Dynamo get to play them in the first round and kick their teeth in for them.

Have very little time to blog today, but here in quick order are my picks for the weekend:

(Whoops, time out of time here. In San Pedro de Sula, the US puts past performances behind them and secures passage through to South Africa with a 2-1 win at Honduras. Charlie Davies and Landon Donovan both score, with at least one on an assist from Goalden Holden.)

Last week: 2-4
Year to date: 82-113 (.421 or 17 games over blind chance)

EARTHQUAKES at TORONTO. 3-1 Reds. Toronto will keep their slim playoff hopes alive with this win. They've got everything going for them here. San Jose just lost a gutter on a phantom noncall at home to Frisco, which officially eliminated them from the playoffs. That game was on the west coast on Wednesday, while this one is in a tough place to play against a quality contending team that needs a win and in Canada to boot (eh). There may be a path to victory for San Jose here, but I don't see it, unless, that is, the Reds underwhelm, which wouldn't be the first time!

CREW at (Dance, Dance) REVOLUTION. 2-1 Revs Wow, suddenly is the Supporter's Shield a race again? Crew are missing Rogers, Heydude and Moreno to international callups, as well as Danny O'Rourke to a suspension. As long as Shalrie Joseph has room to operate, the Revs are highly dangerous. The Revs are at home and in desperate need of points for a berth, while the Crew are shorthanded and playing on the fake stuff away. The Revs are going to seriously miss Stevie R, but with Stevie N as coach in a crucial late-season match, I'm picking them.

WIZARDS at CHIVAS USA. 1-1 Draw Hmmm, both teams are on late-season undefeated streaks. Both need points. Chivas is at home and teh Wizards' run is somewhat improbable. Still, KC has a lot of positives to take out of last week here at Robertson, while Chivas took advantage of a DCU squad in free fall and with Worf Wicks out for the season. I'm thinking the Wizards will either draw or win here, but right now, for some reason, I'm picking draw. Read more!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Props where props are due: FC Frisco (But let's not go overboard here)

FC Dallas, of all teams, are starting to get some major run, first for their improbable run to the brink of a playoff berth (Hey don't laugh. How great would it be to play those guys in the first round?) and the second for hosting a viewing of US v Honduras at Robertson North on Saturday night.

As for the first, I still don't see it happening. The Friscites play at San Jose tonight, and while the Trembles are missing Arturo Alvarez, Ramon Sanchez and Simon Elliott to World Cup qualifying (the first two to El Salvador and the third to New Zealand. Raise your hand if you knew that a woeful team like San Jose had three internationals on their squad!), I still fancy their chances of holding serve at home.

dallas will be missing los dos thuggos Atiba Harris and Andre Rocha, which means that team might actually play something vaguely resembling a clean game (Hey, it can happen, right?). And even though Jeff Cunningham has been so far off the planet as a goalscorer I expect to see him on the International Space Station firing on target any day now, I really see a draw here.

And here's the thing, a draw basically ruins both teams. San Jose is all but eliminated from the playoffs right now, and anything other than a win will knock them right out in fact. For dallas, a draw might as well be a loss as the road then gets even steeper for them. So my official pick is a 1-1 knot with Wondo and Cunningham (hey, right now it's bigger than all of us) both scoring.

As for hosting a USMNT viewing party in their house, all I can say is, good show FC Dallas. The team is claiming that PHP is the only place in all of the DFW area to have an English-language broadcast of the game, which I find something waaaay north of amazing. Keep this up and you might start resembling a real soccer team.

That is, if they can outdraw the crowds the Richmond Arms and Stag's Head Pub will get individually Saturday night.


Naah. Read more!

Monday, October 5, 2009

US U20 "Deep Dip in Egypt" underlines need for development

Today I have seen two different pieces on what the US U20's bomb out in Egypt means for player development in the US. (See these great pieces, Phil Schoen's here and Glenn Davis' here.) Player development in the US, or at least what passes for it, is a serious problem. I’ve always maintained that the elimination of the MLS Reserve League was about one thing only, reducing the player pool available to potentially strike or (more likely) be locked out should the negotiations for the new CBA somehow fail. Once a new CBA is in place, I firmly expect the Reserve League to make a return in some form, with perhaps the core of it being filled out by the dissident USL clubs.

The performance in Egypt is telling about Thomas Rongen’s limitations as a coach, but more telling about the USSF’s inability to see past its own little turf battles and monopolies to establish a true player development system. In sports, perhaps unlike life, it is better to have the players celebrated and the leagues and governing bodies in the far background. Unfortunately, this is a lesson the USSF seems unwilling to learn.

I have always sympathized with Glenn Davis' oft-stated points about getting men's soccer programs at Rice and the University of Houston, among others, in Texas. But the combination of Title IX equivalency requirements and bloated football budgets make for a witches' brew that will prevent this from happening.

As many know, for every men's scholarship slot, Title IX requires there to be a women's scholarship slot, a situation that has been an absolute boon to women's college soccer in the US, as well as softball and volleyball. However, for schools that have Division I football programs, some of which can tie up as many as 20-30 (or perhaps more) scholarship slots, there is no way to afford the creation of a non-revenue-generating men's team sport such as soccer, with a large travel budget and upwards of 10-15 (or perhaps more) scholarship slots. This would mean not only the creation of that program, but also the creation of an equivalent number of women's scholarship slots in some other (even less revenue-generating) sport (since in Rice and UH's case, both already have women's soccer programs). The costs start escalating rapidly, and very few of those outlays will be reimbursed.

Ultimately, colleges fund athletic programs to give the community something to do together. But the budget for this is not unlimited. Division I men's football and basketball generate untold sums of money, obscene sums. Other collegiate sports do not come anywhere near that. And with Title IX restrictions, which have produced wonderful things, in place, Division I colleges and universities will not create new programs where none heretofore existed.

What does this mean as far as American player development? Simply put, Division I colleges and universities are not going to be the place for player development to occur in the US. And this, in my opinion, is an altogether good thing. Player development is too important to be left to colleges and universities, whose aims are not to develop talent but to win their leagues (and as has been very often pointed out, with different rules, unlimited substitutions and at times a strange resemblance to what we know as the Beautiful Game). With Title IX, that ship has sailed and good riddance to it.

Academies like Brad Freidel's in Cleveland, the USSF's in Bradenton, the Dynamo Academy both here and in McAllen, and the extremely important resumption of the MLS Reserve League (or perhaps creation of MLS-2) are the elements of the path forward. Clubs need to take control of development, and they need to be empowered to do that by the USSF. Big kudos to Dynamo for thinking ahead on this issue and pushing for in-home development that is really the envy of the league, with the European trip indicative of an emerging "Dynamo Way."

If this all happens, then perhaps the US U-20's Deep Dip in Egypt will in the long run produce laudable results. But I really think that the MLS clubs have to take it upon themselves to force these changes. As is abundantly clear, US Soccer will not accomplish this on their own. Read more!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Playing the (playoff) slots and weekend picks

Wow, and here I thought with Shalrie Joseph still playing and (reasonably) healthy, the Revs would be OK and make the playoffs, even without Steve Ralston.

And then came the Debacle at the Cotton Bowl, losing 1-0 and being run around and off the field by FC Dallas (FC DALLAS!) Wednesday night. You know, even though some prominent Houstonians are promoting the unlikely Frisco Playoff Push, I really don't see it. So here are Martek's official predictions of qualifiers for the MLS Playoffs:

The Easy Ones: Crew, Dynamo, Galaxy, Fire

Anyone can pick those four. It's the next four that will separate the winners from the losers, the true visionaries of the future from the ones who will level a curse with their predictions and single-handedly be the cause for elimination and thus dashing the hopes of the faithful. So firmly hoping I'm a member of the latter, here's my prediction:

FC Dallas

OK, OK, now my real predictions for the final four qualifiers. (And I'm not saying I'm not a curse-leveler here, just that I am trying my best to tell you what I really think.)

Six contenders for the four final slots: Rapids, las chivitas, Sounders, Revolution, (That)D(amned)CU(nited), Toronto FC

Still alive but fugeddaboudit: RSL, FC Frisco, Wizards.

Here's the remaining schedule and points so far for the Still-alive Six

Rapids (39): host Revs, at FCD, at RSL
Chivas (38): at DCU, host KC, host San Jose, at Fire, host Dynamo
Sounders (38): at Crew, at KC, host Dallas
Revolution (37): at Colo, host Crew, host Fire, at Crew
DCU (36): host Chivas, host Crew, at KC
Toronto (35): host San Jose, host RSL, at NYRB

Now you may wonder why I'm saying that Toronto, at 35 points, has a chance while RSL, at 34, FCD, at 33, and KC, at 31,, have no chance. Well, I have two reasons, one is this guy and the other is that schedule. The two worst teams in the league and one of the worse road teams in MLS history, and I think TFC comes down the stretch with at least seven points and possibly all nine. The only worry here is that TFC won't be playing, and thus won't be knocking off, any of the teams ahead of them. This could be the fatal flaw, but then again, I think after it's all done, the points total will be:

Rapids (46):
Toronto (44)
Sounders (43)
Chivas (42)
DCU (41)
Revolution (40)

Not only that, but when Dynamo destroy Chivas on the final day of the season, it still won't matter as with five games left, the Amerigoats will barely make it in over DCU. And my favorite thing about this prediction is that for the first time in awhile (ever?), there will be more Western Conference teams than East.

So chime in here, what are your predictions?

On to the weekend.

Last week: 3-5
Year to date: 80-109 (.423 or 17 games over blind chance)

FIRE at GALAXY: 1-1 Draw Becks will be playing and Blanco may not, but I think the Fire are getting it together now. I still think the Gals will not lose this one at home, and the Fire seem to have trouble closing out games, but overall, I'm seeing this as a draw between two teams fighting for playoff position.

CHIVAS USA at DC UNITED: 2-1 CUSA The win in CONCACAF propels DC and gives them hope, but in the end, it won't be enough for that team. But Milos Kocic, you are no Josh Wicks, and while that means you may have to spend less in anger management classes over the long run, for now, it means that you cannot lead DCU to a win here. (This game will haunt the Black and Red all offseason, especially if, nay when, my predictions above come true.)

SOUNDERS at CREW. 1-1 Draw Hear that? That's the sound of the Crew putting the finishing touches on the Supporter's Shield race, and at Sigi Schmid's expense. NO WAIT!! Ljungberg sends an awesome ball through to Montero in the 92nd minute, beating Hesmer and Seattle draws this game for a crucial point they need in playoff race!! You heard it here first.

REVOLUTION at RAPIDS. 1-0 Colorado New England, you can't beat Dallas in midweek at the Cotton Bowl and think you can sneak by the inconsistent Rapids? Without Steve Ralston? Well, Preston Burpo is in goal for the Rapids, while you guys have Matt Reis, so you might just have a shot there. But then again, Reis isn't going to score for you there, so put those hopes behind you because you're going down in flames here.

NYRB at EARTHQUAKES. 0-0 Draw Oh. My. God. Back away. And not slowly either. Scooby, LET'S GET OUTTA HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WIZARDS at DYNAMO. 3-1 Orange My main prediction here is that Kei Kamara will shoot, and shoot and shoot some more, and he will not put a single one on frame. I love Cobra Kei, don't get me wrong, but I find it hard to believe he's going to be all that focused. Remember how poorly he played against San Jose when he was in Orange? Expect to see that Kamara Sunday. Meanwhile, Holden, Landin and Weaver all score for Dynamo, who are never seriously threatened. Read more!