Major League Soccer - The League at the Half

MLS’s season pauses this coming weekend for the All-Star game. According to Marc Connolly’s column on the rhythm of the season, the “Dog Days” - e.g. the long summer stretch when there will always be next week - “are officially over” once the All-Star game comes and goes. The question to ask, then, is where all the teams are at this point, the regular season’s second starting line?

Kyle McCarthy took his shot at this over on by organizing a composite league table - i.e. he listed and analyzed each team in the league by total number of points earned. It makes as much sense to acknowledge that, even if the teams in the East all suck, at least three of those so-far-undeserving teams will play in the post-season. So, working by current placement through the two conferences, where are we, or rather MLS’s 12 teams, now?

Western Conference

FC Dallas (39 points, 12-5-3 (W-L-T))
Curse this team for making me believe, for at least the 9th time, they can win it all. A week after sneaking a late win out of Salt Lake City through a half-anonymous substitute (Abe Thompson?), FC Dallas gave Colorado a 4-1 hiding this past Saturday. And, with so much of their attacking talent limping up the sideline - Carlos Ruiz, Ronnie O’Brien, Roberto Mina - this team seems capable of more still when everyone’s back. Now only six points behind a DC United team that, until this weekend, couldn’t stop collecting points, it’s worth wondering whether MLS Cup will have a true home team this season (um, meaning that FC Dallas could reach the final, which will be played at Pizza Hut Park this year - and, by the way, MLS should really ditch the “neutral ground” final...wretched idea...). Like I said, I’m starting to believe again...which usually dooms a team...

Houston Dynamo (32 points, 8-4-8)
Call this time the high-end of schizophrenic. Like a lot of teams in MLS this 2006, during which inconsistency has stood tall, the Dynamo can’t claim to greatness even as they’ve outperformed the majority. Even if it’s one point to your side’s ledger, having an equal number of ties to wins hardly calls for celebration. They’ve looked OK every time I’ve seen them, so it’s hard to say exactly what ails them. But third best, where Houston is now, can’t be enough. The question is, what is needed to take this team a step higher? They’re nearly always hard to beat and they score often enough (30 goals for), so what’s the deal-e-yo? Couldn’t tell you, but something has to change.

Colorado Rapids (28 points, 8-7-4)
Colorado shares the league’s worst defensive record with Real Salt Lake, though it’s fair to note that this weekend’s 4-1 loss to FC Dallas played a part in getting them there. But it’s the goals for category that tells the tale of why, in spite of having won two more games than Chivas USA, Colorado sits only two points above them in the table. More than Houston, Colorado’s season is completely consistent with MLS inconsistent season - call it Parity Gone Mad. Still, changes seem imminent, whether through Pablo Mastroeni going abroad or head coach Fernando Clavijo indulging his nature and shopping for new players as McCarthy suggests. Given their form, this can’t hurt. In the end, they’ll probably do enough to join an LA Galaxy team in squeezing the league’s two expansion teams out of the playoffs.

Chivas USA (26 points, 6-6-8)
The Goats’ past two games, both 3-3 draws (LINK and LINK), the latest to Real Salt Lake, give the impression that this team leaks goals like the Titanic after the iceberg, but, in reality, Chivas’ goals against number is well within league tolerances; they’re tied with three other teams for second-worst defensive record at 28 goals. They’re also six points clear in the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. That’s swell for a second-year team, even in MLS. Moreover, they’re not struggling to score (refer again to the pair of 3-3 draws), like half the league; they’re actually third overall in goals scored. Barring a total collapse, Chivas will enjoy a better 2006 than 2005. The question of whether they hang on for the post-season once the LA Galaxy, their co-tenants in the Home Depot Center, wake up and start playing is something else again. Hope inclines me to say they’ll do it.

Real Salt Lake (20 points, 5-10-5)
My complete embrace of RSL’s suckiness (LINK and LINK) made this weekend's shock win over DC United all the sweeter; folks out Salt Lake way must have had kittens in the stands. Not only did RSL topple the DC United juggernaut, they pulled it off in a fashion so ugly and devastating - two penalty kicks, both after the 85th minute - as to make it beautiful. Think of it: just as DC thought they’d ground out another 1-0 win - POW!! - RSL comes out of somewhere South of Nowhere to shit all over the 14-game streak without a loss. The best results in sports are the ones you don’t expect and the lame joke inserted into last Friday’s previews gets at how unexpected this was. Sadly, these are the moments that will provide all the pleasures in RSL’s 2006 season. Much as I like Mehdi Ballouchy, there’s just not enough on this roster to make even MLS’s softer grade. Again, I'd be pleased to be wrong here. My affection for RSL deepens every week.

LA Galaxy (20 points, 5-10-5)
Sometimes, one needs the numbers immediately before them to make clear just how bad something truly is. This is not a typo: the LA Galaxy, the defending champions of MLS, are dead last in the West courtesy of goal differential. That is, they’re dead last behind R-frickin’-SL, the league's near-term gold standard for incompetence. Given that they’re tied for second-best on goals against, that tied-for-worst goals for figure seems the likely villain. Bad as things may seem in the Galaxy’s half of La-La Land, the silly reality is that two LA wins combined with two losses from Chivas USA brings the former into the playoff picture - assuming, of course, that RSL doesn’t slip the world another mickey. No, this doesn’t speak well of the league. MLS may be one of the few leagues in the world in which first-to-worst can happen, but the odds seem against this happening. If they make the playoffs, I’ll manage. If they pull the same shit they did in 2005 and win MLS Cup, I’ll be so, so indescribably disappointed. We’re talking Postal disappointed*.

*DISCLAIMER: No, I’m not serious. It’s just a game.

Eastern Conference

DC United (45 points, 13-2-6)
That’s the threat for this team: having a great season only to throw it away with a lapse or four in concentration. This weekend’s loss to RSL constitutes the stuff of nightmares for any team. Once the playoffs roll around, lapses are deadly, but not the least impossible. But the reality is, this remains a very, very good team; they’re still the odds-on favorites of reaching, perhaps even winning, the final. In any case, if a lapse must come, better to have it now when the games really don’t’s why...

New England Revolution (26 points, 6-6-8)
19 motherfucking points: that’s the distance between first and second in the woeful East. Fortunately...well, let’s not get carried away...whatever one calls it, I happened to see this weekend’s televised game on FOX Soccer Channel, which featured what were the second and fifth-place teams in the East, the New England Revolution and the Kansas City Wizards. Though he bellowed like a two-year-old, Matt Reis owns the one goal New England gave up. The real pain came with watching New England labor for the equalizer. Sadly, this tells the story of their season: their “money game” - playing down the flanks and crossing in for Taylor Twellman - relies on decent crosses, which were definitely in short (short, short) supply last Saturday. Any team that plays as predictably as New England needs better quality to compensate - and it just ain’t there right now; I haven't even seen glimpses of it. Well, there’s one exception: Clint “Heading Overseas” Dempsey. His sharp pass sent Steve Ralston in for the tying goal, but the play came down the middle, instead of the flanks; all in all, Dempsey was involved in every threatening movement the Revs pulled together. What happens when he goes? The machinery for success is there: two talented first-team strikers (Twellman, when he gets service, and Pat Noonan), a solid midfield (Ralston, Shalrie Joseph, and, now, Andy Dorman), and, normally, a decent back four. Something’s unsettled out New England way. If the quality returns, they’ll do fine - especially given MLS’ super forgiving rules of competition. But that “if” is damn near defining.

Red Bull New York (24 points, 5-6-9)
Gawd, that’s nauseating. A 5-6-9 record should never snag anyone third place in any competition, but it only took a 3-1-1 streak for Red Bull to pull that off. All in all, there are players on this team to admire - Edson Buddle and Seth Stammler, to name two - and back-up ‘keeper Joe Conway made some fine saves Saturday (see Sights & Sounds for this, and the Revs equalizer, my goal of the week), but these guys are playing above themselves - and they still ain’t much. Given everything - mainly, that the East just sucks - they’ll probably make the post-season once again. Just getting Bruce Arena in the coach’s chair - a man who knows how to limit damage - should see to that. But - good Gawd! - they won’t deserve it.

Chicago Fire(22 points, 5-5-7)
Kyle McCarthy raises a good point on this one: where’s the grumbling about head coach Dave Sarachan’s continued tenure in Chicago? If it’s down to the question of who would replace him, that’s one thing. But, looking at results alone, he’s hardly making a great case for holding onto it. With the exception of what I said about changes being on the way, most of what I wrote about Colorado applies here as well: this is simply one more mediocre team in a league that seems full of them. There’s some quality and potential quality on this roster (Diego Gutierrez, Ivan Guerrero, Thiago, and C. J. Brown for the former, Chris Rolfe and Justin Mapp, for the latter; Nate Jaqua is in between, but increasingly leans toward the former), but it’s either green or not gelling. Count Chicago - along with Red Bull New York and the two teams to come below - as being in a four-way race for the honor of getting knocked out of the first round of the (ridiculous, bloated) playoffs.

Kansas City Wizards (21 points, 6-11-3)
Something is clearly wrong in Kansas City. A team with KC’s roster should not be on the outside of the (ridiculous, bloated) playoff picture looking in. And yet they are. As mentioned above, I saw them play this weekend and they played tolerably well. Oh, something else I saw: EDDIE JOHNSON IS OVERRATED; he served as little more than a distraction in KC’s attack, which can’t be excused given his salary; this kid is making star money for this league and it’s past time he earned it. He certainly didn’t show well on the one or two breakaway(s) either. With Bob Gansler gone - and rightly so - it’s very difficult to recommend a fix for this team. Of all the teams in the four-way race, however, count the Wizards the likeliest candidate for a Phoenix-esque, late-season recovery. But there’s also reason to suspect it will take the off-season to fix this team.

Columbus Crew (20 points, 4-9-8)
With 21 games played - one more than the other two teams on 20 points (LA and RSL) - it’s official: the Columbus Crew is the worst team in the league heading into the All-Star break. Having seen them exclusively in highlights - for which I’m grateful - I don’t have much insight into what’s wrong. Whatever it is, though, it’s very, very wrong and it starts with their -12 goal differential and meager 16 goals scored. Beyond saying this is just one more team in the dreaded four-way race, there’s nothing more.


Well, that’s the story. The only other interesting item comes with the curious and happy reports that Brian McBride has generated unwanted transfer rumors. Good for him; I take that as a sign of respect.

ESPN finally got their Power Rankings worked out, but haven’t yet made them accessible (ah, here they are - and look who got passed). Maybe I’ll put those out tomorrow. With the All-Star game coming this weekend, Lord knows I’ll have ample time to post fluff...

...or will I? Round Four of the U.S. Open Cup does start tomorrow night. Go Roma FC!!

Portland Timbers - The Bad Math

So the Portland TImbers pulled together a positive result on Saturday night. Well, more accurately, they managed a result that wasn't negative. Saturday's away tie to the (heretofore woeful) Toronto Lynx, at least lifted them from the 20 points on which they had stalled. For that to get them into the post-season, however, will take a series of minor miracles and major collapses.

A casual glance at the standings doesn't reveal the near-death realities of the Timbers 2006. After all, they're presently only four points away from the post-season promised land; they've got 21 points, while team in the final playoff spot has only 25. It's only when you look at the teams above them whom they can reasonably catch and compare the Timbers' 21 points from 22 games played to, say, the...

Atlanta Silverbacks' 28 points from 18 games.
Puerto Rico Islanders' 28 points from 18 games.
Virginia Beach Mariners' 27 points from 18 games.
Seattle Sounders' 25 points from 22 games (Yessss!!!).
Miami FC's 23 points from 19 games.

...and it's just looking grim. Given Portland's form - e.g. they're really unlikely to win the rest of their games - Seattle's the only team within plausible reach. But what are the odds of Atlanta, Puerto Rico, or even Miami, failing to pick up any points in those three or four "bonus" games? Pretty damn long. Actually, given current form, the Timbers should count themselves lucky if the "heretofore woeful" Toronto Lynx don't catch them.

Ah well. A longer off-season just means more time for the annual tradition of worrying about the Timbers' future in Portland (though last I heard this was somewhat secure).


Question for Soccerblogs Nation

How many folks out there regularly produce picks for MLS' weekly action?

I figure plenty of you do it, but don't want to do the legwork to find out. I'm mainly looking for places to go and see what other folks are seeing ahead of the games. A second piece is weighing my record on predictions - which sucks - against other pundits.

I should be doing A-League predictions as well, but it's all I can do to cover the Portland Timbers.

Timbers: Put a Fork in It + MLS Week 18 + Dempsey

I had a “last-man-standing” battle with a bottle of whiskey last night. The bottle went down ‘round 10 p.m., but I’m still not sure who won. That’s all to say not to expect too much out of me today.

A couple things happened in Timbaland (or, um, Portland, Oregon). The Portland Timbers added a pair of players with interesting-for-the-A-League pedigrees: Yuri Morales and Mike Chabala. Judging from the write-up, the Timbers also completely friggin’ collapsed toward the end of last night’s game against Virginia Beach. On the positive side, Morales set up the Timbers’ lone goal (scored by Luke “Krispy” Kreamalmeyer...who also missed a penalty). Yuri, Mike, welcome to the team. Now, get ready for next year ‘cause this one’s over.

Turning to MLS, it’s Friday, which, of course, means previews. Before getting into that, though, there’s been scattered talk about the coming TV deal for the league. A Columbus Dispatch article snuck it in at the bottom and quoted some tall talk from MLS Commissioner, Don Garber:

""ABC, ESPN, Univision, Fox, HDNet. It’s going to be a game-changer, in terms of respect for our game."


Whatever the TV deal amounts to, I’m seeing MLS games where I’ve never seen them before - e.g. Fox Soccer Channel. Guess who’s carrying this weekend’s game between the New England Revolution and Kansas City Wizards? Are they jumping the announcement?

Since that’s the one on the tube, I’ll start the previews there. As always, home team appears first and the official previews are embedded:

Kansas City Wizards v. New England Revolution
Both teams look about as threatening as wet kittens, which makes this one hard to call. On the one hand, it’s in KC and the Revs aren’t much on the road. On the other hand, KC’s carrying a one stray-dog-ugly streak into this game. With all due respect to Kyle McCarthy, I can’t bring myself to call this a draw - mainly because something’s got to give for one of these teams. So, leading with the “chin” of assuming one team or another is “due,” I’m going to call this a win for the home team (KC) and, hopefully, a wake-up call for my New England.

FC Dallas v. Colorado Rapids
Even with half their offensive starters MIA - Ronnie O’Brien, Carlos Ruiz, Roberto Mina - FC Dallas still tops the West. So, are these cats for real? The performance they turned in against Chicago a while back tells me yes, as does the many, many different players who have covered for the usual suspects by scoring goals when it matters. Throw Colorado’s road record into the mix and one has to call this a win for Dallas.

Houston Dynamo v. Red Bull New York
Someone pointed out that Red Bull’s three-game win-streak came against some of the league’s, ahem, lesser lights. True, but given that Red Bull can reasonably be dumped into the same rotten barrel, it seems fair to wonder whether this doesn’t mean they’ve got their hands on the rim and are pulling toward daylight. We’ll have to wait to see whether this second proposition holds true, because playing Houston away - especially a Houston team pissed off about a loss on Wednesday - provides a sterner test than Red Bull can handle. Houston’s just a better team and will win it.

Chicago Fire v. Columbus Crew
I need some kind of symbol to denote a long-shot pick that I’m really feeling will pan out. Kind of along the lines of a “Lock of the Week,” but not lifted directly from an old Simpsons episode. Whatever I come up with, this one is this week’s: Columbus wins away. Don’t ask me why, I’m just feeling this one.

Real Salt Lake v. DC United
Ah, ha ha hhaaaa, haaa, HHHAAAA!! Whoa, nelly. Hee-hee-hee-hee. Anyway, yeah, DC United win, but God love RSL.

Before wrapping for today, thought I’d pass on a tid-bit or three. Earlier in the week, Marc Connolly wrote an interesting piece on the rhythm of the MLS season; I think he’s pretty close, most of all on the start of the season. But there’s also some good background. Finally, Frank Dell’Appa looks at Clint Dempsey’s future - oddly, without seeming to know more than I suspect, e.g. that Dempsey’s is likely to leave after the ’06 season, though where to is anyone’s guess. I’ve got one thing to add, though. Dempsey strikes me as a “junk bond” kind of player, by which I mean he could go either way: he’ll either be a relatively low-cost, high, if not very high, return player, or he’ll suffer a sulking implosion. I don’t generally get this latter vibe from Dempsey, who’s got passion to spare and, seemingly, the respect of his teammates. But, every so often...I don’t know. It’s a sense thing, I guess.

But Dempsey's departure was as close to a given as anything in U.S. Soccer. Just ahead of his previews, Kyle McCarthy named another player expected to move overseas: Pablo Mastroeni. I hadn’t heard that one, but would love to see it and figure he’ll show well.

Well, that’s it for this week’s magic. If I can rouse myself Sunday night after barbecuing - and all that often entails - I’ll chat about the results.

The First Team from Utah I've Liked

Have I mentioned my growing love for Real Salt Lake (why, yes, only yesterday). From angry fans, through angry assistant coaches, high-stress stadium issues, all the way down to this wunder quote from (current) Head Coach John Ellinger:

""There's something that goes in a jock strap, I guess you got to have that to play this game."

...this franchise continues to accidentally entertain (sorry, had to bold that one). God bless ‘em. By the way, reports of the match that don't discuss the coach’s opinion of his players’ balls do mention several cracking goals. And, checking out Sights & Sounds, I see they’ve got a highlight reel. I’ll be looking in on that later tonight.

Again, God bless RSL. As much as last night must be doubly painful for Carey Talley, who both hates losing and who reportedly scored a whopper of a goal last night, I hope he understands that being the worst at something, or just being part of that, is just another form of perfection. His contribution as the agonized vet is appreciated.

Highlights won’t be available for the Colorado Rapids' 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo (as usual - don’t they have TV cameras in friggin’ Colorado?), so, um, there’s that. Not much to add there beyond noting that I just learned today that some cat named Terry Cooke leads the league in assists. And, turns out he’s English. I mean, whodathunkit? Wherever he comes from, that turning maneuver he pulled against Chivas this weekend is worth several ganders (again, Sights & Sound; it came with the Rapids’ third goal).

Turning to the A-League, pleased as I am to see that the Seattle Sounders lost away (OK, it was away and to the best team in the division), it won’t mean a dang thang till the Portland Timbers start winning games. They get their shot tonight with the first of their final two road games of the season. After the Virginia Beach Mariners this evening, they’ll roll (hey, it’s just a little hop!) to Toronto, where they’ll take on the mighty Lynx Saturday night.

Yeah, the A-League’s road schedule rises to the cruel and unusual range, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Timbers can only reach the playoffs by doing their bit.

With the action out of the way, I thought I’d close with a odd pair of articles. The first comes, once more, from The Soccer Daily’s J. Hutcherson, who puts out a quick survey of candidates to fill Brian McBride’s shoes. Most of the names are familiar - Eddie Johnson, Brian Ching, Taylor Twellman, etc. - but he sneaks in a pair who went missing during the The Bruce Regime. That pair - Ante Razov and Jeff Cunningham - are good players and I admire both of them enough that I found myself quietly wondering during the World Cup whether either (OK, only Razov came to me at the time) could have helped our squad in Germany 2006.

Then again, as much as I love Hutcherson’s work and value his opinion, those two will be damned long in the tooth come 2010; Razov will be 36 and Cunningham 34. It’s better, I think, to build for the future. It could be that Hutcherson does as well; he does mention Conor Casey toward the top.

The last article is a wonderful piece of bum-fluff. It turns out the New England Revolution’s Jay Heaps is a fashion whore with a shoe fetish to boot. So, yeah, it’s fluff, but I learned something in reading it:

"'It’s tough for soccer players to shop,' [Heaps] says. ‘We talk about it in the locker room. Soccer players have big butts and big thighs. Seriously. It’s hard to find pants that fit.'"

Thoughts on McBride's Retirement

I doubt I'm first on this, but would also hate to be the last. Looks like Brian McBride has retired from international soccer.

Now I could wait a day in order to drink in every weepy, overwrought professional obit on the subject, but my thoughts on this are simple enough. McBride was a good egg and a quintessentially American one at that. He played with more eagerness and energy than grace and guile. That spirit, the belief that outright effort can compensate well enough for basic competence, has always been McBride's calling card as much as it was that of our national team.

While McBride could never be confused with the world's best players, he was certainly one of the bravest (my wife would say, potato, pot-ah-to...); if the scientific community wants to look into whether soccer players can get brain damage playing soccer, they'd be well-advised to give him a call. There were times - roughly from the mid-1990s to around 2003 - when he seemed more comfortable playing the game with his head than with his feet; I can't precisely recall when I first noticed he actually had feet, but I seem to recall requiring multiple confirmations before believing he scored the second goal against Mexico in the 2002 Cup with his right foot.

It's fair to say that the U.S. Men's team won't be the same without McBride. The question of whether that's a good thing is an open one. I think I got all my mourning out of the way just after the Yanks' World Cup exit; I've been fixated on the future for a while now. McBride deserves a plaque in the Soccer Hall of Fame and I'm confident he'll get it; after all, he's already got a day named after him in Columbus (July 1, 2002, in case you're curious).

Inevitable as it was, I'll keep looking on top for some big blonde fella when the U.S. takes the field in next year's Gold Cup. Ah, well. He had his run and it was one to be proud of.


Conrad's Return & World Cup 2010 Roster

Hey, have I been reliable this week or who? Um...moving on...

Seriously, the link-rich spazzing you see below is what happens when I skip a day.

I like starting with games, so let’s do it: there are two MLS games this evening; the “Newbie Derby” between Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake, which the latter will host and a more interesting affair between the Houston Dynamo and the Colorado Rapids in Colorado (previews embedded). In hopes of maintaining my perfect run of poor predictions, and against Houston's more impressive, steady record, I’m calling this a win for home team Colorado. Eat a lack of oxygen, you Houston bastards!

For the other, my growing fascination with Real Salt Lake (RSL) has clouded my already foggy predictive lenses. Between their growing list of injuries (see preview) and articles wondering whether this season may best be described by the wrong kind of superlative, I can’t get enough of RSL. The part of me that appreciates perfection - even the awful variety - wants them to lose so, so badly, even if Carrey Talley will hate me for it. Against that, there’s the recent trade that sent Chicago’s Jack Stewart Salt-lake side; given their defensive woes, it can’t come soon enough and Stewart, based on what I’ve seen of him, seems better than adequate coverage.

Hell, with it: I’m calling this one for Real Salt Lake. Chivas’ defense ain’t all that hot either.

There’s one other bit of action involving an MLS team: the Columbus Crew plays England’s Everton FC tonight, a game that ESPN2 graciously opted to show.

I’m going to interrupt the rest of the MLS news to give the U.S. Open Cup’s Cinderella story better play. FC Roma’s dream run is attracting attention in some interesting places, the New York Times and the San Diego Tribune to name two mainstream outlets; if you’ve got time for only one of these, the Trib’s item tops the Times’. Given that Roma plays their next game against the LA Galaxy in LA on Tuesday, August 1, call these weird, if encouraging, editorial decisions. And, c’mon you Gypsies!

OK, with that done, some interesting stories about the league popped up across the Web. While pretty damn good overall, the most interesting aspect of the Boston Globe’s piece on New England’s budding efforts to build a soccer-specific stadium comes with who’s leading the charge - it doesn’t sound like it’s the Krafts. A less optimistic look at the general stadium “situation” appears in Jay Hutcherson’s The Soccer Daily; he makes a compelling case that building the things isn’t enough when the product fails to draw. His overview ‘graphs are worth noting:

"Two new stadiums that have done relatively little to increase market share in the greater metroplex that are Dallas and Chicago. New attendance problems in New England, the same issues in Columbus. Two clubs openly talking relocation. An open question in New Jersey."

"What's left are the usual suspects: the Home Depot Center clubs doing fine along with DC United, even if their stadium situation isn't exactly optimal and threatens their long-term viability. Throw in Houston and Colorado, and five of the twelve clubs have no overwhelming short-term issues."

Turning to coaching, I’ve got a pair to pass on. The first item looks at something that I’ve paid a good deal of attention to: Sigi Schmid’s “Five Year Plan” for the Columbus Crew. Let’s just say, for all attempts at neutrality, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want Schmid to succeed...and, no, he probably doesn't really have five years to get this right. In the better of the two, Ives Galarcep wonders what The Bruce Regime will look like when Bruce Arena finally takes over in New York. As much as it won't look like the old days, you get the feeling Galarcep thinks Arena will do just fine:

"One characteristic of MLS that Arena won't mind exploiting is the relative mediocrity of a large portion of the league's teams. Aside from D.C. United, and to a lesser extent FC Dallas and Houston, the rest of the league's teams are inconsistent, underwhelming and in some cases just terrible. If MLS is mediocre, then the Eastern Conference is downright awful."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Metros curse is still the Metros curse. This will be a good one to watch.

Before wrapping up today, I’ve got two to pass on from national team news. First, as much as I like Kansas City’s Jimmy Conrad as a player, I really like the columns he chucks onto ESPN’s site from time-to-time. This one serves up memories of his time in Germany 2006 and his efforts to recover. Even if the scale doesn’t come close, if you’ve ever been called on to play in a game when you weren’t ready or didn’t feel comfortable, his memories of coming on against Italy should ring familiar:

"I hurry over to the designated area and launch into a full sprint. Holy crap, I might get to play ... in a World Cup. Holy crap. Should I stretch? Eddie Pope was marking who? Don't pass it to the other team. That other team is Italy by the way -- no big deal. It's not like they are supposed to win it all or anything. I probably shouldn't have eaten that Gatorade energy bar at halftime. How was I supposed to know Eddie would get ejected two minutes into the second half? Let's be honest: the chocolate chip ones are really good. Focus. Deep breath. Focus. Are my shoes tied?"

Even if you can't relate to that, his conversation with his grandmother is definitely worth the click.

Of all the stuff I read today, Yanks’ Abroad’s look ahead to who will make the 2010 World Cup roster offers by far the best chatter-fodder (so I buried it...go figure). They divide the groups between “Pack Your Bags, Boys,” “Nearly a Lock,” and take it all the way down to “Other Bubble Battlers.” The list speaks for itself well enough, but let’s just say the names you know aren’t nearly as interesting as the ones you don’t.

Of the more obscure names I’m seeing, here’s a short list of the ones I’m watching: Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas); Jay DeMerit (Watford FC - hope to see him more with Watford playing in the Premier League again); Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo - like another pundit, I have faith in this one); Brad Guzan (Chivas USA); Justin Mapp (Chicago Fire - interesting, but he really needs to pick it up); Eddie Gaven (ditto, but not as much 'cause he's a yout'); Edson Buddle (Red Bull New York); Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo); Alecko Eskanadarian (with bells on; I like this kid); Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew); Pat Noonan (New England Revolution); and Nate Jaqua (Chicago Fire).

If you’re seeing a shortage of defenders there, I’d only point out that we’re not so bad at the back. You’ll see why if you look at the list between “Pack Your Bags, Boys” and “In a Battle.”

Timbers Collapse + MLS Week 17: Status Quo Ante

“Now we need to patch things together as best we can with a team that is struggling. We need to look for small pieces of success throughout the rest of the season and build on that.”
- Timbers Coach, Chris Agnello, after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders

Some phrasing can be simultaneously subtle and blunt. Translated to English, Portland Timbers' head coach Chris Agnello just admitted to the dreaded "year of transition." Saturday's loss, when combined with a loss to the same Seattle Sounders at home the night before, spells "d-o-o" for the Timbers' season; all that's missing now is the final "m." Then again, it could be that I’m reading my own pessimism into Agnello’s comments...yeah...right.

As the Portland Tribune pointed out, the math is getting ugly:

"Puerto Rico and Atlanta not only are five points ahead of Portland, but they also have played four fewer games. Seattle also is five points ahead of the Timbers and has played one fewer game. Virginia Beach has a one-point edge on Portland and has four more games remaining than the Timbers."

And that doesn’t even get into form, as in a six-game losing streak with fewer plausible excuses to answer for them. I still hope to make a few of the final games of the season – perhaps looking for the same thing Agnello hopes to see – but visions of the playoffs, never mind success in them, will take a definite back seat to salvaging the best out of a season now limping to a quiet demise.

On the evidence, my A-League season is over. Sadly, the same seems to apply to the season of my MLS team: the New England Revolution. After going up on a sloppy (own) goal, they slipped (again) to a(nother) useless draw. Sigh. Tell me again why I watch sports? It’s sure as hell not for the my simple pleasure. OR maybe it is... :)

With few exceptions, though, Week 17 wasn’t much about pleasure. This weekend, and the few weekdays that preceded it, was all about ties – I suppose a league-wide holding pattern fits as an analogy. That’s not to say no team has cause to smile through practice this week, but that outright joy should be in short supply.

With the exception of Red Bull New York’s continuing, baffling, winning streak (three wins in a row? Red Bull?! That Red Bull?!?) – for the record, they beat Kansas City on the back of Mike Magee’s crafty little goal – only the Chicago Fire and the Columbus Crew snatched anything of note from the jaws of defeat. But given that these were draws at home in both cases – versus DC United and the LA Galaxy, respectively – we’re talking something well below bragging rights.

After that, it’s all disappointment, major-to-minor in scale. As noted above, New England’s fitful season plods on, which should make the Houston Dynamo rue to failed opportunity to put them away; given “The Streak,” Chicago’s draw was DC’s stumble, and so on. Of all the draws, only Columbus’ seems noteworthy – when you suck, and Columbus does at this point, one point can seems like a lot.

One game did play “to form” – FC Dallas’ win over Real Salt Lake – but, I dunno, the expected is, by definition, expected.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to see among this weekend’s highlights. For instance, as frustrated as DC United may be with the draw to an inconsistent Chicago, Alecko Eskadarian has got to be thrilled with his goal in that effort; seriously, watch the tape (again, Sights & Sounds) because it’s a thing of beauty...we’re talking national-team-caliber thing of beauty. After that, “The Thing” to see is Colorado’s third goal against Chivas USA; Terry Cooke’s over-head flick on the right flank stands as one of the highlights of this season. And, OK, I like Eddie Gaven’s header against LA, but that’s more to do with wanting Eddie Gaven to reach the heights than being particularly impressed with the goal itself.

All in all, it was a lackluster week in MLS. That beats what happened in the A-League, I suppose, which, from my perspective sucks on bloody ice cubes.

To crib a concept from Kyle McCarthy’s Monday column (check the bottom to see what I’m talking about), there are some questions begging answers as MLS drags through the traditional late-July/early-August muddle:

1) What the hell is wrong in Kansas City? When off-field distractions ruin a season to the extent they have in Kansas City, it reaches a point when some heretofore solid players are looking at soiled resumes.

2) Can New England turn their season around? I’m thinking no. But don’t listen to me; I’m pissed off.

3) Again, what the fuck is going on with Red Bull? I want to write them off – more to keep the math simple than out of any hostility – so, y’know, what gives with the winning?

4) How low can Real Salt Lake go? How about Columbus? And welcome to the whipping post, Columbus? Red Bull warmed up your spot.

5) Of all the question begging answers, is FC Dallas for real? DC United’s form is what it is; they’ll either hold it together in the playoffs or they won’t. But FC Dallas is something else. Have they taken the next step?

6) Of all teams in MLS, at this point two have the greatest wild card potential – i.e. there are two teams I can see pulling it together and winning MLS Cup out of the blue: the Houston Dynamo and the LA Galaxy. Basically, and prior to the (ridiculous) All-Star Break, I see the championship as a four-horse race: the Dynamo, the Galaxy, FC Dallas, and, the obvious favorites, DC United.

MLS Previews in Summer's Doggiest Days

For the first time I can recall, I can say to people across the country, "Damn, it's a hot one out there today." That will apply equally to Saturday when MLS plays the rest of Week 17's games.

Before moving to the result from last night’s MLS game and previewing this weekend’s slate, however, I wanted to flag a pair of semi-fluff items.

First, for those with the broadcast teams from Germany 2006 on your mind, Sports Illustrated posted a pretty interesting piece reviewing those performances and what we can expect in the future. The possibility of Bruce Arena being a studio or game-time color analyst leads the article - for what it’s worth, I think would do all right and he’d certainly be opinionated - but I took more interest in how ESPN’s high-honchos rated the people they had. To provide a peak, Marcelo Balboa came off worst, John Harkes and Eric Wynalda came off best, and Dave O’Brien’s going to get a lot of practice with MLS broadcasts to warm him up for South Africa 2010.

On a personal note, as much as O’Brien wasn’t my favorite, all the abuse he took has me pulling for him. It’s just a fucking game, people. If it’s that bad - and it nearly always is - turn off the volume.

While the second item, a look at Landon Donovan’s complicated path to redemption, isn’t much to read on its own, I actually admire what Donovan had to say about our performance in the Cup:

"'I'm sorry about what happened in Germany,' he told questioning media weeks after his return. 'It was a shame. I hope that everyone remembers that we're people, and it was very hard for us, too. We wanted to win. We wanted to play better. It didn't happen. It's in the past now, and we need to move forward.'"

See? Nice,, go to Europe, kid. If you want to lose that timidity (mentioned elsewhere) go play where the atmosphere doesn’t recall the third day in a friendly cricket match. Go play where the same thugs you’ll be playing against in South Africa play, so that you learn how to beat them.

And I know Alexi Lalas (see article) doesn’t agree with me, but, hey, as the general manager of the LA Galaxy team that pays Donovan to play, he’s got a vested interest, doesn’t he?

Now, turning to last night’s game, yeah, I blew another one. The Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA played to a 3-3 draw. The write-up made this sound like a good one, with goals going back and forth and Colorado’s Mike Petke getting sent off; and, what do you know, Clint “Cleetus” Mathis scored another one - I still have a soft spot. Too bad nothing was decided on the field.

As for this weekend’s games, apart from Kyle McCarthy’s shorter, but still useful, thumbnail previews, I'm topping each of my previews with links to MLS's big, sprawling pre-game wraps.

Right. Here’s what I’m seeing - and, as always, home team first:

Columbus Crew v. LA Galaxy
Yeah, speak of the devil and he shall appear. Landon leads LA to central Ohio and, unless I miss my guess, he and they walk away with the W. As much as Sigi Schmid has made some eye-catching changes in personnel, the new boys haven’t had enough time together to cure the Crew’s allergy to scoring - an allergy, by the way, that LA shares in equal measure (each team has scored a league-low 15 goals this season).

Red Bull New York v. Kansas City Wizards
McCarthy plays it safe and calls this one a draw - and, assuming he’s talking a goal-less one, he’s probably smart to do so. Being an idiot, I’m going to call this one a win for KC: while it’s time to impress the new boss in both camps, in Brian Bliss, KC’s guys have the added incentive of playing for an interim coach with some potential to stick around.

Houston Dynamo v. New England Revolution
Am I bitter? Possibly. New England’s loss last week to Real Salt Lake not only inspired unhealthy experiments with varieties of alcohol, it also convinced me that New England has slipped away from the league’s elite; McCarthy, who is clearly not as cranky, calls that loss an aberration, but I’m not convinced. Given that the Houston Dynamo is still in the club and given they’re playing at home, I’ve got to call this one a win for Houston. Returning to the Revs, head coach Steve Nicol has got to do something about that defense; it’s distracting the offense.

Chicago Fire v. DC United
Yes, I’m doing it: this is the game that ends DC United’s streak. The maddeningly inconsistent Chicago does its “Doctor Jekyll” this week. I’m going against a lot on this call: not only is McCarthy high on DC - and defensibly so - but USA Today ran an item yesterday that examined the mechanics of DC’s success. In other words, everyone's seeing what DC is doing and loving it. Only a fool would bet against it. I am that fool.

Real Salt Lake v. FC Dallas
I think McCarthy’s got a typo on this one because he calls this game a home win, while also figuring that FC Dallas’ Kenny Cooper scores the winning goal. I don’t know who will score the goal, or goals, that ruins RSL’s Saturday, but, along with the rest of the world, there's no way RSL plays above themselves two weeks in a row.


Well, that’s all for this week. Unfortunately, “other stuff” will keep me from seeing either this weekend’s game (Columbus v. LA; 1 p.m. on ESPN2), or tonight’s broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel of the Portland Timbers v. Seattle Sounders (it's in here, along with every other broadcast of U.S. soccer over the next 15 days). Of those two, I’m most upset about the Timbers game…dammit.

Talk at you Sunday or Monday.

Timbers: The Future Was Yesterday + Jon Stewart & MLS

I’ll start by confessing what should already be obvious to any long-time visitors to the site: my coverage of the Portland Timbers, and the A-League as a whole, is lacking to the point of sucking. By way of excuse, I can only point to the combination of finances and life that has kept me from all but two Timbers games this year. Without the Timbers as a “hook” or a means to keep me interested in the league as a whole, I really, really struggle to make time for America’s second division.

The absence and disinterest continue this weekend when I’ll miss the Timbers’ home game against the Seattle Sounders; they play Seattle again the following night and in the Emerald City (you can find it on the full league schedule for July; the one on the Timbers' page doesn't make for easy linking). Um, go Timbers. Sorry I’ll miss it.

One last thing on this subject: the Timbers’ official site has yet to preview this weekend’s two-city double-header, but I came across an interesting bit of information in a relatively old post on The Oregonian’s Timbers Weblog:

“The United Soccer League’s version of the Portland Timbers has never had a losing season and the club has qualified for postseason play all but one time in five seasons. With 11 matches remaining - starting tonight in Atlanta – the Ax Men [ed. - that’s the Timbers, in case that’s unclear] need to begin grinding out results if their five-year run of success is to continue.”

This post, it should be mentioned, predated the ass-whuppin’ given by the Atlanta Silverbacks last weekend. So 11 games is now 10 games and it will be 8 come Sunday morning. And, since I’ve got it handy, here’s what the Timbers have left for games, opponents and home versus away (home games listed in bold):

Seattle (July 21)
Seattle, July 22
Virginia Beach, July 27
Toronto, July 29
Minnesota, August 4
Virginia Beach, August 10
Puerto Rico, August 18
Montreal, August 31
Charleston, September 3
Atlanta, September 7 that extended home-stand to end the season, but a gander at the standings seems advisable in order to gain greater sense of what they’re looking at. (Question: What the hell does “magic” mean in the last column? And does the A-League put any kind of cap on Magic Users above the 4th level?) You can begin by writing off the August 31st against Montreal; that’ll be a tie at best. In spite of this season’s play, the Timbers are above Minnesota, Toronto and Seattle, though by only one point with regard to the latter. Against that, we’re behind, though not by much, the remaining teams - except Montreal, who has 12 points on us.

So, things look all right on paper. Good stuff. And I’ll try to improve my A-League stuff.

Turning to MLS, the big news out of Kansas City was the "resignation" of their long (long, long)-time coach, Bob Gansler. I’ll just say it was past time for this move and leave it there. Even when I called for this coach’s head (in here somewhere), that call was never in anger; he seems a good sort and a good manager. And he certainly deserved better than a public revelation that he resigned at the request of the organization - last time I checked, that’s called firing.

Here’s something I just bumped into: one paper reports that John Harkes will join Bruce Arena as an assistant at Red Bull New York. Well…I’ll be damned.

In general MLS news, Neal Thurman, who writes for the Yanks Abroad site, wrote an interesting column on how the U.S. Soccer powers-that-be can cash in on momentum from this summer’s World Cup. It’s not easy to summarize, so I’ll only note that The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart is a lynchpin in his plan and leave it there; one can only hope that Thurman is right in thinking ESPN has the same notion somewhere on the stove, even if it’s only, as he believes, the backburner.

Turning to actual games now, as if more proof were needed, last night’s game between the Columbus Crew and Red Bull New York again confirmed the complete unreliability of my powers of prediction: Red Bull New York not only won, but won away from home and crawled out of last place; it should be noted that they have their Eastern Conference peers to thank for their tied-for- third position. I didn’t see the game, or even the highlights and, as such, don’t have much to add. Well...except this: keep your eye on that Edson Buddle kid; he’s doing good things.

The win also raises a question: Is the coaching prowess of Bruce Arena such that he can will wins in his absence?

A couple exhibition games took place last night, but I want to begin a tradition of ignoring such things outside of pre-season. Two clubs fielding their bench in a game that counts for nothing? Rah, rah...

Because they’re complete a-holes, MLS scheduled still another game for tonight: Chivas USA will play the Colorado Rapids a mile in the sky (preview). Were this just any ol’ home game for Colorado, I’d pick them to win it - and 1-0 at that; they’re not an exciting team - especially with Chivas' Ante Razov sitting out through suspension. But this game will be the first of a double-header, with the second game featuring two clubs from Mexico. In the past, this has translated into a big chunk of the Colorado crowd pulling for Chivas. The Rapids, for their part, expect that to happen tonight.

In the expectation that it will keep my .0000 record alive, I’m calling still calling this one a win for Colorado.

Midweek Musings

MLS’s site keeps telling me that the Kansas City organization will make “a major announcement” some time around 11 a.m. today. Given how flaky Blogger has been this morning, I’m not inclined to wait on that before posting.

After that, though, today is one for speculation - whether about the future of the U.S. coaching position, The Big Bruce’s (Bruce Arena’s) tenure in the Big Apple, or something as straight forward as who will win tonight’s match between Red Bull New York and the Columbus Crew (I’ll take care of this one right off the bat; I think/want the Crew; and here’s a preview).

To begin (outside the parentheses at least) with the Bruce, a couple of items look at the obstacles now confronting America’s former #1. For what it’s worth, I think ESPN’s Kristian Dyer does a better job than the New York Times' reporter, but the latter contains an interesting comment from Arena about the players he intends to build around:

"'The team is already at the bottom, but there are some players to build around like Amado Guevara, Todd Dunivant, Marvell Wynne and Seth Stammler,' Arena said. 'But there is only so much you can do this year. There is only so much we can do in the short term.'"

Any thoughts? Misgivings? Expressions of disbelief or contempt? I get two of those. Building around “Mad” Amado Guevara strikes me as folly and Marvell Wynne is just a rookie; maybe there's some there there, but I'd wait before rearranging the furniture. In any case, as both articles point out, The Bruce has got his work cut...out.

Sticking with the league, a pair of players should see their MLS debuts this weekend: Columbus has Ryan Coiner coming on as a forward, while the Kansas City Wizards bring on one of the more interesting signings I’ve seen in a while: Chris van Den Bergh. I’d never heard of the guy, but he’s played for some high-profile outfits in his native Netherlands. With KC struggling for offense as they are, he could provide a lift; at worst, he can’t hurt can he? In any case, good luck to both; make the league look good.

One last note on the domestic league: have I mentioned the All-Star roster that will face FC Chelsea on August 2nd? If I have, I doubt I explained all the nuances. Because it’s an All-Star game, though, I don’t have much interest in doing so now and will instead leave that to the Chicago Sun-Times (LINK). Just to let you know, the nuances come with who was selected by whom (fans/media/commissioner etc.) and who will actually start (don't know this, barely care).

Turning the job opening with the men’s national team, I suspect we’ll see a hell of a lot of WAGs (wild-ass guesses) and chatter until the position is filled - after that, of course, the ensuing chatter will focus on one person instead of dozens. Still, being in the days before the appointment, people now busy themselves talking about who they’d like to see and why. The pair I came across today - one from ESPN’s Jen Chang and the other from FOX Soccer’s Jamie Trecker - are borderline contemptuous of the domestic scene: for both of them it’s a foreigner or nothing.

Chang throws a couple new names into the hat (well, new to me as candidates, anyway) - even as he’s pretty sure we’re going to end up with Jurgen “Klinsi” Klinsmann. The new names, though - Bruno Metsu, who led Senegal into Japan/South Korea 2002, and current Galatasaray manager Eric Gerets, who, given that job, knows from pressure - are intriguing enough. Chang also mentions the familiar long-shots: Luis Felipe “Big Phil” Scolari and Guus Hiddink. With these two, he at least acknowledges the problem posed by their current employment, though he glosses over the same a bit cursorily for my liking; after all, what kind of self-regarding coach would take the U.S. job on the understanding that he’d lose it once either of these guys came free?

Trecker, for his part, strays even further from the real world. Check out the names on his shortlist: in addition to Metsu, Klinsmann, etc. he suggests Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho, Barcelona’s Frank Rijkaard, even Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger. Yeah...right...

As, well, silly as his shortlist is, Trecker’s column contains one pretty sound suggestion: making a technical director position separate from the coaching/manager job. As he sees it, this would obviate the need for any coach we hire to understand the “American player” and the American scene. I like this idea even if we find a coach who understands the American player as if he married one. Basically, get past the fantasy in Trecker’s column and there’s some good in there.

One last thing on the coaching carousel: the Colorado Rapids’ Fernando Clavijo would like to volunteer his name for the job. No, I can’t see it either, but do like his moxie. But, if you turn to Trecker’s technical director notion, he might do well in that spot.

The Bruce vs. The Augean Stables

Let’s rock this bullet-style:

- Looks like the rumors were true: Bruce Arena took (all) the reins of Red Bull New York this morning. Given the Red Bull’s history (mind you, as the MetroStars; try as they might there are some things you can’t bury), this is a bold, bold move for a man looking to remove some tarnish from his reputation. If he succeeds, though, he’ll have another “famous first” under his belt.

At long last, this is one I’m not fool enough to call. What will happen will happen.

- Naturally, the speculation on the U.S. men’s job continued today. For instance, there’s some guy named Don Cuddy, who writes for Soccer365, forwarding the New England Revolution’s Steve Nicol for the job. Elsewhere, there’s Ives Galarcep who’s entirely convinced we only have to wait out a “decent interval” between Jurgen Klinsmann’s departure from the Germany job before landing him.

If I haven’t done so before in this forum, I’m going to throw one MLS coach’s hat into the ring: DC United’s Peter Nowak. I already went into the reasons for Nowak over Nicol, along with Nowak’s overall credentials, in an email exchange I happened to join a while back; fortunately, I got a reply to one comment earlier today and don’t have to type it all up again:

“I'm a fan of both New England and Steve Nicol, but one really does have to take a hard look at why he's never put a very good Revolution team over the top. They've made the final at least twice under his guidance and came home empty-handed both times. Is that something missing down to Nicol or choking players? Don't know, but the USSF ought to figure that out before signing him.”


“Out of the domestic coaching scene, I'd give Bob Bradley a semi-serious look, in spite of his time with the Metros and Chivas USA's Wednesday night loss to an amateur club. Another name I haven't heard is Peter Nowak, who single-handedly resuscitated DC United from the Thomas Rongen/Ray Hudson years. At present, DC is running away in the MLS standings, they had a solid 2005 and they won it all in 2004 [ed. - his first year as a coach, mind] - all under Nowak. Having played in Germany at (I think) the top level, he's got the 'Euro thing' (tactics, professionalism) down and he's got MLS experience as both player and coach. Overall, he's doing enough that I'd look at him before I looked at Nicol. To top it all off, he's already handled a tricky player situation in Freddy Adu and come out on top (so far; you've got to wonder if Adu wouldn't suddenly like the idea of Ghana if Novak took charge of the U.S.).”

As noted in there, I am genuinely surprised Nowak hasn’t even been mentioned. He seems like a pretty competent coach. One potential drawback, mentioned by one of the correspondents in the thread, is a “racist” incident during Nowak’s coaching tenure in DC.

Here’s a passage on that:

“For the uninitiated, a Feb. 17 scrimmage between Real Salt Lake and D.C. United boiled over when some physical challenges from RSL forward Atiba Harris -- who is black and hails from the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis -- went unpunished by the referee. According to a statement released by D.C. United general manager Kevin Payne, this development drew the ire of Nowak, who is alleged by the Real Salt Lake bench to have said, ‘Send that guy back to Africa.’"

To reveal (once again) something of an indulgent streak, this was certainly dumb and unsophisticated and so on. But racist? It speaks to a certain attitude toward African players - and not a good one. Even so, Nowak works with a number of black players day-to-day - Jamil Walker, Clyde Simms and some kid named Freddy Adu; if he treats black players differently than the rest, I figured they'd be the first to know about it. Ask them what they think. If they don’t see a problem, I figure this could be massaged into a really stupid slip made in the moment.

- For the rest, there’s the usual stadium/relocation news: MLS officials are off to St. Louis to look into moving a team there if and when everything falls apart in Salt Lake City; the same team has some fella interested in moving the team to bum-fudge nowhere, Utah. I mean no offense intended to the residents of Vineyard, Utah, but check out where that is and read a bit about it here; doesn’t sound promising. Finally, as bullish as he is about the future of soccer in the U.S., Kansas City Wizards/Columbus Crew owner, Lamar Hunt, still has to acknowledge that the KC franchise remains on the edge of moving as well.

MLS: Weekend 16 Review

I won't take the time to cover the news today - well, apart from passing on ESPN's power rankings (whoops. As yet unavailable). So, without further muss here's what happened, including how badly I blew my predictions for this weekend. And, as always, you can see highlight clips for all the games listed below by hitting MLS's Sights & Sounds.

New England Revolution 1 - 3 Real Salt Lake
No. No, no, no, NO! This is not what teams I like need to be doing with their home games - e.g. sucking rotten eggs against a team widely acknowledged to be league whipping boys. Fortunately, the problem here was pretty clear: the Revs' defense gave Real Salt Lake (RSL) - and not just anyone on the team, but their key players like Jeff Cunningham and Jason Kreis - WAY too much room in the attacking third; the marking was sloppier than shoddy and the precision in New England's attack somewhere in the ballpark of a drunk's driving with one opened eye. Horrible performance. One has to wonder if things haven't gone stale around Gillette Stadium.

Alternately, it could be that they're trying out the LA Galaxy's strategy from last season - lay low during the regular season and rally big in the playoffs....yeah....right....

Pick it up you assholes.

Red Bull New York 1 - 0 Colorado Rapids
From the looks of it, a game only a mother could love - and we're talking a heavily-medicated mother. Red Bull continued to look feeble, but they must love the win. Colorado...I dunno. Maybe they can only play a mile high.

Chicago Fire 2 - 3 FC Dallas
Given the appalling conditions (120-degree Midwest summer day, anyone?), this game was a beauty. Both sides pressed, fought, and ran further, harder and faster than I would have thought possible. And the score changed hands plenty of times: Dallas opened the scoring with a nice goal from Ramon Nunez; Chicago's Andy Herron first leveled the score, then put the Fire in the lead with two well-taken goals of his own; then, from somewhere deep up their butts, FC Dallas ripped an equalizer through Bobby Rhine, and, finallly, the winner from an inexcusably unmarked Kenny Cooper. A good advertisement for the U.S. game all 'round - well, apart from the defending.

The win came at a hell of a cost, though, as FC Dallas left players down all over the field. David Wagenfuhr, who seems (seemed?) fairly key with Ronnie O'Brien down, was run over by Chicago's Justin Mapp (no fault of the latter) and left with a concussion and, no doubt some bruises. New man, Dominic Oduro, also hobbled off with what looked like a boned knee. Finally, after working valiantly to set up Dallas' tying goal, left-sided defender Chris Gbandi went down in a heap on Chicago's end-line. As I said, depending on the duration of these injuries, plus others like Carlos Ruiz', this may count as a decidedly Pyrrhic victory.

And that's a shame because it was a hell of an effort for July.

DC United 3 - 2 Columbus Crew
If you've got time for the highlights, give this one a look. Apart from the first goal - and, OK, Columbus' first - the rest of the goals were things o' beauty. Bobby Carroll's 23-25 yard rocket, in particular, merits mention, as does Ben Olsen's clever pull-back across the grain. Since I only caught this one on the highlights, I can only say that it looked as even as the score suggests - something that augurs well for Columbus. Still, chalk up another win for DC, making #13 (the bastards). You've got to wonder how long they can keep pulling together one-goal wins. And it's worth wondering how important Brandon Prideaux' absence is on DC's defense; giving up two goals against the heretofore struggling Crew should at least receive mention.

Well, that's all the games I either saw or chose to see. MLS didn't produce a highlight reel for the Houston Dynamo's 3 - 2 away win over the Kansas City Wizards; I couldn't be bothered to watch the highlights for the goalless "Super Clasico" between the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, but do count myself pleased with the result. Go Goats.

And so another week goes in the books; here's where everyone is (e.g. here are the league standings). There's still plenty of time for the playoffs and shifts in positions among all the teams - except run-away Eastern Conference leaders DC United. They ain't gettin' knocked out of the playoffs by nobody.

Finally, the Portland Timbers (and I've really got to set aside one day a week to veg on them and the A-League, don't I? They seem a bit lost in the current format; I'm working on it), had a rough weekend. First, they lost Friday night (somewhat predictably) to the same Charleston Battery that ousted them from the U.S. Open Cup earlier in the week (and cost me a chance to see the Timbers play - and, oh yes - defeat FC Dallas in that competition) and completely frickin' collapsed against the Atlanta Silverbacks the following night. Leaving aside the complete madness of playing away games on back-to-back nights, this doesn't augur well for the Timbers' 2006.

The Timbers now rest uneasily in 8th place in the A-League standings. Time to pick it up, boys, or write this off as the infamous "season in transition."

Right. All for now. I've got to get this site up to shape, get it linked to the outside world, etc. etc. Talk at you tomorrow.


I've got to test this thing in order to make some changes. As mentioned (I started with the word "announced," but this is a fucking blog; something that reaches only 5 people shouldn't be called an announcement) on my other site, I'm going to devote this space to blogging about soccer - primarily U.S. soccer. A chunk of the coverage will focus on the local team, the Portland Timbers. I say "a chunk," but it will likely be a small chunk: I don't have the time or freedom to get to many games and it's a bit hard to follow the A-League online when, like me, you like to actually see the action on the field in either clip or full form.

The remaining, and larger, chunk will focus on Major League Soccer (MLS) and the U.S. National team. I hope I enjoy doing this and hope other enjoy reading it.

For the record, this space started as a blog called Time-Clock Lobotomy. In the middle of trying to change the name to this one and, if that works, you'll see this under another title. If not, it'll keep the same, half-stupid/half-relevant and soldier on.

Well, let's get started.