CONCACAF Champs Cup: What We All Saw

It only occurs to me now that I should have written this one first...oh well.

In spite of what wound up being an impressive stupor (hey, it was my birthday) I managed to retain a thing or two about both of last night's CONCACAF Champions Cup games: CD Olimpia v. DC United and Puntarenas FC v. Houston Dynamo. I'll start with what everyone else has said before adding/seconding comments of my own.

It seems wise to start with a couple articles that discussed both games, one by Jeff Carlisle for ESPN (LINK - they're covering this tournament pretty well so far) and the other by Marc Connolly posted on (LINK). Steven Goff, the Washington Post's soccer guy, somewhat naturally emphasized the DC game, and I'm guessing it's not just because he's a local - i.e. DC's was the more remarkable game; but he turned in a pair, one for his blog and the other for the Post (LINK). And, to get all the MSM stuff into one paragraph, the Houston Chronicle devoted all their copy to Houston's loss to Puntarenas.

And, oh my god, I'm a monster. I haven't gotten to the scores yet:

Puntarenas FC 1 - 0 Houston Dynamo
CD Olimpia 1 - 4 DC United

It's that second score that explains why the DC United corner of the soccer blogosphere is so happy today. An American's View posted a nice wrap, though it's worth mentioning that this was the most critical report I've seen on DC's performance; he also found a highlight reel from YouTube, so's all you late-comers can see what you missed (NOTE: worth viewing for Christian Gomez's first and Luciano Emilio's goal alone). DCenters produced a pair (if not more), one written in the first flush of victory, the other after some sober (hungover?) reflection. By the way, I know of no Dynamo blogs apart from Soccer y Futbol, but would invite anyone to pass along links/info if they know of others.

So...what did I see and think? Here goes:

Puntarenas v. Houston
Truth be told, I started fast-forwarding the VCR around the 88th minute thinking that Houston had gutted out a zero-zero draw. Even with the tape spinning faster, the opening through which Puntarenas' Kurt Bernard scored (off a deflection) was big enough that I actually stopped the tape in time to see the goal in real-time. So, yeah, pretty big hole and that lends some credence to the Chronicle's contention that fatigue sunk the Dynamo. Overall, the Dynamo looked ragged - damned ragged at that - and only offense that comes to mind came through Paul Dalglish and Brian Mullan. Otherwise, they looked nothing short of pinned in. To be sure, the field was a factor. Not only was the playing area tight and hemmed in by walls, but it sucked; the thing looked a step down from the junior varsity field I played on in Pullman, Washington and that wasn't even a true rectangle (one corner pinched in leaving no more than three yards on one side of the penalty area). Still, they defended well, even after going down a player with Eddie Robinson's mystery ejection. And, yeah, the officiating wasn't all that good, but it was expected...DC got lucky there.

For all that, though, I'm with the consensus view that Houston is hardly out of the tournament. I mean, if they play like this next Thursday then, yesh, they're doomed. But I don't see that happening. This one ought to be close...

CD Olimpia v. DC United
...unlike the second leg to this one. Dang. I'll start by admitting that when you program your brain a certain way, train it to expect a given outcome, that can really color what you see. I figured that when Olimpia tied the game, thereby cancelling out what could very well have been a moment of brilliance from Christian Gomez (that first goal was beautiful...seriously, go watch, I expected the game would then shape up as expected. This isn't what remotely happened, of course, and it was fun to watch.

Two things - one good, one bad - stood out most for me about this game: Good, DC United passing circles around Olimpia in the opposition's half right around the 73rd minute, which was both incredible and ominous; Bad, the number of times DC's first touches got well away from them - Olimpia gave them insane amounts of space. On this last bit, I know DC will tighten up the touches in the regular season, but I also expect that MLS clubs will press more.

Still, this was a very, very impressive performance for DC; as someone commented after DCenters "first impressions" post, the rest of the league's teams must have been watching this, thinking about their own rust, and thinking, "Oh shit, they're back." (that was from BigKris, for the record). A couple mystery bootings from Facundo Erpen and Clyde Simms' loose marking on the Olimpia goal aside, they even defended fairly well - and those Hondurans had some tricks. On an individual level, I may as well mention what everyone already knows: Christian Gomez is really, really good; another commenter (Matt Y) to the same post got it essentially correct when he advised DC to "pay him whatever he asks." They'd be stupid not to. Also, Luciano Emilio met the expectations I had for him; the (nice, clever) goal aside, he holds up the ball quite well and has great awareness of the players around him; he looks like a rock-star acquistion. The only part of this "attacking triangle" who didn't impress me was Jaime Moreno. He didn't play horribly - apart from a give-away in the first half, which he didn't even bother to chase down (tsk, tsk, tsk) - but he also didn't look like the player he has been up to midway through 2006. That bears watching as the season progresses.

Still, the MLS delegation did us proud - proud to bursting in DC's case. Nice work, fellas.

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