Pioneer Cup: First - and only - Impressions

General, Non-Soccer Business
First off, it was good to see two teams from Major League Soccer (MLS) duke it out - even if the opening coin toss and sparse crowd made for awkward spectacle; then again, it's good, every so often, to be reminded that the entire country isn't waiting for MLS's regular season with baited breath; that brings one down to earth. Second, did the game remind anyone of a PBS pledge drive? And the player interviews? Apart from Ned Grabavoy - who opted for "uh" where everyone else went with multiple "y'knows" - those recollections of Lamar Hunt won't make Bartlett's Familiar Quotations any time soon. But, of course, that's not what we're paying these guys for, so I neither expect nor demand better.

For all that, a good time was had by all....even me....OK, except maybe FC Dallas. And that's what inspired me to write anything at all.

Game Notes
For some inexplicable reason, I think this game foreshadowed the season ahead for both teams. That's not to say that FC Dallas will be as dire as they were in the game's second half (I just saw, but have not yet read, about fatigue being a factor), but there was something significant in the serious defensive lapses in the Dallas back-line. And that's the rub - at least for Dallas. If anyone asked me what I counted as FC Dallas' greatest need for the 2006-07 off-season, I would have said "defense" and without hesitation. But FC Dallas' roster shows a team one injured player away from the 2006 status quo; even when Adrian Serioux gets fit, I'd be shocked if he can make Dallas' green bunch the brick wall they need to be when the offense doesn't click - much like it didn't today.

On the other side of the ball, I'm going to say it: if the Columbus Crew stays healthy, I think they'll make the playoffs. That's to say, I like the way Columbus played today. Moreover, they've got a solid starting eleven (out of this roster); not a stellar one, mind you, but a good one, filled with some of the league's more under-rated players: Grabavoy, Joseph Ngenwya, Duncan Oughton, and more besides (I especially like the idea of shifting Ezra Hendrickson inside). So, underestimate these cats at your own risk. I'll elaborate on this tomorrow over on The Offside, but I'm kind of buzzing (and anxious) about the concept right now.

Team/Player Notes
FC Dallas: If Ramon Nunez is going to demand the star's job, he's got to show more; I think Nunez may have it in him, though, by which I mean I don't think offense will be FC Dallas' problem this year; they were rusty today, but there's too much talent in this group for the good stuff not to come. But the back four, frankly, scares me. And it's a weird thing. They'll make completely solid plays for extended periods then - POW!! - they screw up, Dallas almost inevitably gives up a goal and, in so many words, that's been the problem: their mistakes are nearly always fatal. One player-specific note to pass on: now that I've seen him, I liked Dax McCarty well enough.

Columbus Crew
Because it's the only way I ever see a player in college, I caught Ned Grabavoy playing for Indiana University on accident, but I liked him even then; he's got a very efficient game featuring little fluff and a lot of accurate passing. When I say the Crew has under-rated players, he's the guy I'm thinking of as much as anybody. Seriously, though, think of a midfield featuring Ngwenya, Grabavoy, Oughton, and Ricardo Virtuoso; then consider there's also Jacob Thomas lurking out there, and even Danny Szetela. Eddie Gaven can sneak back or go up front, where he can join Andy Herron, whom I've always liked; add Kei Kamara to the mix along with Jason Garey and you've got some decent options. Then there's Robbie Rogers, who, unfortunately, didn't play much today, and one walks away with the sense that the Crew has fairly quietly built a competitive team on offense; on the other side, their defense never scared me much.

If calling a spot for Columbus in the playoffs seems a bit nuts, who after DC United looks automatic out of the Eastern Conference? Put another way, I'm seeing a stressful year ahead - and that's largely a good thing...except where your own team is concerned.

As for the Western Conference, I'm saying it here and now: barring a major acquisition, FC Dallas won't make the playoffs.

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