Week 4: Big Wrap Before the End

Since I’m waiting on tonight’s game before knocking out the usual power rankings and things of that sort, I built on that break with tradition by reading as widely as possible on the past weekend’s action. I’ll pass on links for further reading and what commentary as occurs to me on Saturday’s and Sunday’s games below and will try to make the big picture coherent come tomorrow. And, as I like doing, I’ll mark the games I watched in their entirety with an asterisk.

Needless to say, it was kind of a wacky weekend - a notion captured in a series of more general wraps from MSM outlets and a few blogs. Before going to the individual games, here are some general wraps of Week 4 in Major League Soccer:

- Dan Loney looks at how the "champs of April" of seasons past ended up.
- Ives Galarcep sees an early trend of a "deeper, stronger" East.
- A general wrap of the week's action appeared on USA Soccer Spot.
- Ditto on Who Ate All the Cupcakes, who took some time after Saturday's game to catch his breath and take stock.
- WVHooligan weighed in with a pair: one a Saturday wrap, the other a mirror-image look to Galarcep's at the seemingly weaker West.

Turning now, to the games:

Toronto FC 0 - 1 Kansas City Wizards
As nearly everyone pointed out, BMO Field rocked for Toronto’s first-ever game; damn shame they rocked to a stale, painful tune - e.g. no goals, another loss, and so on. Still, giving up one goals instead of three or four must feel something like progress. The big news out of this one was Eddie Johnson’s (EJ) ongoing rehabilitation - even if that one needs a big asterisk given the teams against which he’s scored. Another concern is word of a hamstring “tweak” to Carlos Marinelli, who has been dang impressive so far. For all I see Kansas City near the top of the East, what applies to EJ applies to KC: it’s hard to put much stock in that 3-1-0- record when two wins came against Toronto and the other against a decidedly wobbly DC United.
Further reading:
-MLSnet.com match report
- Kansas City Star - report, which notes Marinelli's hamstring
- The Toronto Star's main report has it all, from talk of stumbles in singing the U.S. anthem, to holding up the game, to an overall ebullient opening day. That's seconded by another atmosphere piece.
- Down the Byline turned in a tidy match report on behalf of the blogoverse.

Columbus Crew 1 - 0 DC United
Dude - and I mean that on two levels. One “dude” goes to DC - as in, “Dude, what the hell is up with your team?” The second is more of a happy surprise - as in, “Dude, those three ties suddenly look pretty killer, seeing as you’re undefeated and all.” Put another way, three ties look a hell of a lot better rounded out with a win - which says “hard to beat, yet just dangerous enough,” as opposed, “can’t fucking score with a blind, randy octogenarian on ecstasy,” which is a possible message sent by three draws and a loss. Three loses on three games sends a message, too, and it’s something like the one sent by a person with two advanced degrees in engineering answering a question about what she does for a living by answering, “I work graveyard at 7-11.” In all seriousness, DC fans must feel about as low as possible after this one - and not because they lost to the Crew, who has really shown some positive signs this year; it’s more to do with things going wrong on both ends of the field, as opposed to only the defense.
Further reading:
- I plugged a lot of links into the summary/(blind) analysis I did for the Crew Offside, so you'll find several good bits over there.
- DCenters weighed in with a worried pair of offerings: one a debriefing, the other a considered explanation of why firing DC head coach Tom Soehn isn't justified. For the record, he is/they are right; it's only three games!
- Quarter Volley says plenty by writing less.
- Steve Goff over at the Soccer Insider turned in a pair of post-match pieces, one extended quotes from Tom Soehn, the other a series of quotes from DC personnel; on the second one, the points of interest come in the comments.

LA Galaxy 3 - 1 Chivas USA*
I found a great, one-paragraph on this game on USA Soccer Spot (link above). Here’s that:

"The Galaxy made the most of their chances and deserved their win. Chivas looked the better team much of the match but were missing something in the final third. Besides, Goalkeeping played a part with Joe Cannon saving several shots destined to reach the back of the net while Brad Guzan's mistake gave LA an easy first goal and his continued lack of confidence showed with tentative movement the rest of the match."

The reads, roughly, like the game I watched. Apart from a rickety opening ten minutes, Chivas commanded two-thirds of the field for two-thirds of the game; if you sat down an uninterested party to watch ten randomly selected minutes and didn’t show them the score, I’m guessing they’d tell you Chivas looked like the better team. But better possession and passing aside, LA played the sharper soccer when and where it counted and Galaxy ‘keeper Joe Cannon made it stand. My take-away from this: LA isn’t as bad as many have assumed, while Chivas isn’t as good; with the latter, especially, think of the games they’ve won (Toronto, Real Salt Lake) and think again.
Further reading:
- MLSnet.com match report
- LA Soccer News match report
- LA Times, match report, in which I learned of Guevara's meltdown, which I only just registered when watching the game.
- There's a great glimpse into the fevered mind of a Chivas fan posted on the Chivas Offside.
- Whereas on the LA Galaxy Offside, things look pretty sunny - especially where Donovan and Cannon are concerned.

FC Dallas 0 - 1 New England Revolution
This one proves very hard to sort out from the Quick Kick highlights and match reports, the latter of which, especially, speak of the game in contrary terms. The one thing everyone agrees on is that Dallas was visibly tired when they needed energy most - e.g. toward the game’s end, when they needed to press for an equalizer. That suggests this may not tell us as much about Dallas as one might think; there’s also much being made of Carlos Ruiz’s scoring rut, but his apparent hamstring issues leaves that one on the table as well - at least as I see it. On the other side of the field, I can’t shake the feeling New England is worse than their record. They didn’t sound all that impressive here, which matches games I’ve seen from Columbus to their opener against Chicago. But one who really is impressing? Taylor Twellman. That guy is playing his skin off. Fantastic stuff - well, for the right kind of people anyway.
Further reading:
- MLSnet.com match report, which notes the horrid attendance and Twellman's 14 goals from 12 games haul against FCD.
- Dallas Soccer News match report, hits on Dallas' fatigue.
- Dallas Morning News match report
- Boston Globe match report, plus a bonus feature on Twellman and general player notes.
- Boston Herald match report
- FC Dallas Updates features informative bullets for the discerning FCD fan.

Houston Dynamo 0 - 1 Chicago Fire*
Holy shit, this one was hard to watch. I spent half the time chasing my three-year-old all over the apartment and it still felt like an eternal midfield scrum. Credit Chris Rolfe for a well-taken goal - likely as not, it will be a goal of the week contender based on this week’s somewhat thin offerings - and credit Chicago with what looks like a formidably solid defensive shape. I mean, holy hell, these guys are hard to score on. When they face Red Bull later this season, the intensity of the boredom might be such that it stops time. Making it worse, with both teams doing so well, we’ll all feel compelled to watch the thing. As for Houston, what can I say? They’re off. I followed a link to my site from a BigSoccer message board, the author of which seemed to be jabbing me for calling Houston a paper tiger. The more I weigh that judgment, the more I feel I may have overstated the case. But they’re not doing much right now, either. So, Houston’s somewhere between paper tiger and good team; I can’t say where, but they need to win at some point or their quality on paper becomes academic.
Further reading:
- MLSnet.com match report
- Chicagoland Soccer match report
- Windy City Soccer match report - for my money, the best I've read
- Chicago Tribune match report, the first to remind me that Houston has scored only once in 2007.
- Houston Chronicle match report
- Chicago Offside, who admits his team won ugly
- WVHooligan, after watching the game, wondered briefly if Houston sucks.

And, again, I'm spent.

Open Cup: A Proposal to Canales' Laudable Gripe

I think Andrea Canales' frustration with how Major League Soccer (MLS) and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) have permanently back-burnered the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has made the rounds by now (seeing as I found it on du Nord, I'm confident that it has).

Taking it as a given, then, that folks have read Canales' piece (if not, here you go), I'll go straight to my proposal for bringing this tournament to (back to? nah) deserved prominence - and if you've heard this one before, please politely sit on your hands:

Make the U.S. Open Cup a short, sharp preseason tournament for MLS - all levels of club soccer in the U.S. really.

That's not to say this will be simple, but I think there's a lot to recommend this. First, this would capture the undivided attention of U.S. soccer fans in the depths of their off-season jones. Second, even if they're players show up fat, between vying for a real trophy and getting ready for the MLS (or USL) season, they'll have ample motivation to shape up fast. And while it would lengthen the season, it would help in the middle with fixture congestion.

The tricky piece to all this will be the qualifying rounds; for instance, do teams qualify for this early spring tournament in the previous season or do they - especially professional and amateur teams from our nation's frozen North - find places to play where they can (in front of, well, nobody)? The tournament finals, on the other hand, would be a breeze: once you get down to the final 16, make it a formal tournament in one venue and make hosting this all-at-once tournament as big of a deal as possible. Getting back to qualifying, I'd lean toward, effectively, bookending the MLS/USL seasons with Open Cup play - the preliminary rounds would happen after the season and, after a winter break, would start up again in the spring.

Anyway, that's what occurs to me. Or you can go with the plan Canales fed Chicago Fire coach Dave Sarachan: make winning the U.S. Open Cup a way into the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, possibly at the expense of the Supporters' Shield (DISCLOSURE: I don't count the Shield for anything personally; you either have the playoffs or you don't; that's just a bias of mine). But I like my idea better - not least because it means more soccer, more often.

ON A RELATED NOTE: Andrea Canales strikes again, this time with a look at the difficulties of moving to a split season with a summer break. The god-awful weather around some of this year's openers, especially, gave MLS honchos serious pause about pushing closer to winter on either end of the calendar. And they've got a point. Going back to the above, though, that's why I'd go with qualifying across the country in the fall and hosting a one-spot tournament in a warmer clime during the spring.

But the most reassursing thing I've read all week came with the signs that MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Co. continue to think about these sorts of things. Here's to hoping the Open Cup doesn't get lost in the shuffle.


See Paul Allen. Run, Southampton. RUN!!

Having watched Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen run the local NBA sports franchise from a front-row seat of sorts, I have some advice for the citizens, supporters, and owners of England's Southampton in the wake of speculation that he may purchase that club: Run. For the LOVE OF GOD, run.

By way of rough translation, if the pro basketball in the States featured promotion/relegation, and if it were possible to plumb the depths of regional, non-conference play, the Portland Trailblazers would be doing it. They'd be two years away from scratching at the basement door to the friggin' Continental Basketball Association right around now.

Think about it.

Visit our friend which explains how to make money doing nothing right from Your home.

Dude. The Bruce Is a Dick!

Now, I know this is old, old news to the soccer-watching world and, for the record, I like the man just fine. But every so often something I read or see reminds me of just how big a dick Red Bull head coach Bruce Arena can be. Observe:

"ESPNsoccernet (Kristian Dyer): After the World Cup, you made some critical comments about the MLS and its affect on the national team. This led to a spat of words from the league headquarters and apparent bad blood. Now with a partial season under your belt in the league and an offseason, have there been any sentiments of negativity towards you, within the league?"

"[Bruce Arena]: Anyone that attended my last press conference with the national team knows that I didn't have any bad words against MLS. For some reason, somebody began a campaign that was actually very inaccurate. I did not have any bad words against MLS and I would ask anyone to prove that."

Good Lord, man. This was not the "vast, right-wing conspiracy," but people filling in blanks, and in an entirely defensible way, based on this quote:

"And the way for us to get our players to get better is: We do need to get more of our younger talented players in Europe," said Arena, who won two of the first three titles in MLS with D.C. United. "We need them in a year-round soccer environment. We need them playing in more intense games to help develop them mentally, as well as soccerwise."

Yeah, a closer reading suggests he's bashing college and youth development in the States more than MLS - and that's hardly rare in the many spaces that talk about soccer. But it's not surprising people read that as a slur on Major League Soccer, as plenty seem to have done. His response to the "Brooklyn boy" question is equally precious.


Week 4 Picks

Curse my duplicity! Had I stuck with the pick I sent over to the Real Salt Lake Offside, I would not only have pegged the damn score, but would be sitting pretty on a 10-11 record. Instead, I called a tie (well, fuck you too Hunter Freeman) and now look the fool with a 9-12 mark. Well, may as well do some more damage while I’m here. And, seeing as I don’t feel like finding the ground rules again, I’ll just note the most significant of them: I don’t call specific scores, just the results.

Oh, and I posted a more considered preview (e.g. high-falutin’) for Write On Sports and, thanks to my day “job” with The Crew Offside, I elaborated on the particulars of that game in that space. Moving on....

Toronto FC v. Kansas City Wizards (preview)
Watching TFC play thus far recalls a dogfight matching a shih tzu puppy against an adult bull terrier on a cocktail of crank and steroids. With my stomach barely holding as is, TFC needs any kind of positive from their home opener - a goal will do - or I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to continue watching them. Seriously, though, can you see them winning this? The shih tzu gets the once-over twice...or even thrice. WIZARDS WIN.

Columbus Crew v. DC United (preview)
On one level, DC’s panic-prone defense seems just the remedy for the Crew, who needed assists from Shalrie Joseph’s hand and the hole in James Riley’s foot to score for the first time last week. On another, the Crew defense hardly inspired confidence against the Revs either. As such, I’m seeing a fretful, perhaps even high-scoring, affair - and seeing how that favors the visitors, Columbus gets the worst of it: DC WINS.

Los Angeles Galaxy v. Chivas USA (preview)
Ah, the SuperClasico. I almost hate the league for filling this weekend with so many viewing options. Expectations seem pretty high for this one, though I’m a little dubious as to why. LA’s been pretty punchless thus far and Chivas has struggled against defensively stout outfits, a description I believe applies to LA. This call will leave everyone about as satisfied as I expect the game will: A DRAW - though I’m pulling for a Chivas win.

FC Dallas v. New England Revolution (type faster, you interns)
Dang me, this stuff is hard, y’all. Put it this way: New England may have the tools, but they were more opportunist than good against a wobbly Columbus without being opportunist enough. Going the other way, they’ve got enough holes and FC Dallas has the players to exploit them - especially at home: FC DALLAS WINS.

Houston Dynamo v. Chicago Fire (type faster, you interns)
There are two kinds of heavyweight fights: a Mike-Tyson-style beat-down that ends before it starts or those god-awful affairs featuring to big, sweaty dudes throwing slow, heavy punches between extended grapples (factually, there are more kinds of heavyweight fights, but bear with me). This game has the words “labored” and “1-0” written all over it. I’m going to say HOUSTON WINS, but that’s only because I predicted a bad year for the Fire and a good one for the Dynamo.

Real Salt Lake v. Colorado Rapids (OK, it's a Monday game)
Will my wife leave me if I watch four games in one weekend? Will she threaten to? You may find out Tuesday morning ‘cause I’m damned curious about this game and mainly to see Colorado, in whom I still possess a kind of half-absurd faith. But for reasons for which I cannot account, I think John Ellinger picks up a reprieve on this one as the Rapids’ road woes bite again: REAL SALT LAKE WINS - and the doubting time begins (or maybe continues) in Colorado.

FCD 0 - 1 RBNY: Observations from a Glimpse

Having watched, literally, ten sporadic minutes of this game, what comes below hardly counts as Gospel. But a couple things do occur to me about the little I did see:

- Without knowing much about what came before, Red Bull killed last night's game - by which I mean they controlled the final 10 minutes - as well as any Major League Soccer (MLS) team I have ever observed. Either Dallas was that bad, or Red Bull was that good and confident in keeping possession, hitting 'em where they ain't, etc.

- Hunter Freeman? Hunter Freeman? Wow.

- And still, no one has scored on Red Bull; that's 360 minutes. Who saw that coming? It looks like Real Salt Lake (RSL) gets the first crack at it...and I assume you're thinking what I'm thinking (well...maybe; one could assume I mean RSL is hardly the team to breach the Red Bull goal; alternately, they could remember that it was RSL that ended DC United's streak last season.

- On the other side of the ball, what does this 1-0 loss mean to FC Dallas? In the little I saw of the game, the Texas team looked less coherent and composed. But, given how the Bulls looked - or how Dallas made them look; again, I can't speak to firmly to that - it's entirely possible there are worse results. Put another way, there's still more to learn about Dallas.


Primetime: ESPN Doin' Good, Records, Pick

I like the way ESPN has hyped the Primetime Thursday matches. And it's not so much on TV - I know nothing; I only watch the games and generally know when they're on - as to how they handle them on their site. Every week, they've done a "special" preview, all of them written by Jeff Carlisle so far. And, in my estimation, he's done really solid work on these: he frames them well as well as highlighting players and storylines to watch. Check out the latest and see if you don't agree.

I did, however, note a weird comment in his "stories to follow" segment:

"2. Are the Hoops legit?"

"While New York's early success has made people take notice, Dallas' record of 2-1-1 might qualify as a bigger surprise. When [Dallas coach Steve] Morrow opted to dismantle the side put together by predecessor Colin Clarke, it was thought that the slew of new faces would take time to gel. But FCD has fashioned a solid start to the season, despite playing three of their first four games on the road. And while Dallas has been outplayed at times, it has still managed to get some good results.

In fairness, I think I know where he's going here - e.g. it's surprising because all the changes Morrow made in the off-season and the starting road-trip. But it goes down a little sideways because the absence of commentary on the fact that Dallas has a history of starting well: for instance, in 2006 and 2005 they started 3-0-1, and they weren't too shabby in 2004 either (2-0-2). The point is, Dallas doesn't have a problem with their starts; it's the endings that kill them (and get their players suspended, etc).

Also, for the record, Red Bull New York can make their way into the league history books if they can keep FC Dallas from scoring for 75 minutes - so that's kinda cool.

At any rate, this should be a good game, maybe even a great one - and there are previews out there (MLSnet.com (LINK) and Ian Plenderleith offered some good details as well).

Finally, time to name (guess?) the winner ahead of kick-off. This is a tough one, one of the toughest of the season so far. In spite of what I said for my entry in the predictions league run by Ian on the Real Salt Lake Offside (where I called a 1-0 win to RBNY), I'm making a DRAW the official call for this space.

On the other hand, since I failed to make an entry in this space for last night's game, my thoroughly accurate prediction in that league will stand for this space (for all those calls, scroll down to my second comment - the one that comes after my realization that I suck at predcitions). And that takes my total for the year to 9-11...getting better...

Kljestan's Defense...sort of...

Having made a bit of a deal out of this yesterday, I feel somewhat obliged to wrap up the tale of Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan's two-game suspension and modest fine. Kljestan made himself available and offered, not so much a defense for, as an explanation of the incident:

"I was just tired in my brain, like just not thinking at the time. It's just a play where you think, `Oh I want to slow down the play, I want to prevent a counterattack' and you just don't think for a second and you just try to make the tackle or a foul or just poke the ball out of bounds."

"I jumped from the wrong angle and I got his foot underneath me, so it ended up looking pretty dirty when I meant no maliciousness or any intent to hurt anybody."


Anyway, I'm still dubious on the size of the punishment, as well as the irksome impression that this play wouldn't have been reviewed at all except for the injury. That's probably what's making this so hard to digest. The thing is, if the league wants to crack down on a behavior, the existence of an injury shouldn't be necessary. Put more directly, an injury shouldn't be the trigger for review; the tackle should be the trigger and the injury an aggravating factor. There's just this sloppy, central-planning mind-set in setting this ruling that makes me feel like the process operates on a cart-before-the-horse basis.


I Can Pull for Pachuca

Sports Illustrated reported this morning that CF Pachuca won the CONCACAF Champions' Cup by beating CD Chivas de Guadalajara on PKs. The way I see it, when a Major League Soccer (MLS) club failed in this year's tourney, Pachuca became my second choice. It could have been the free admission ploy that won me over.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to pulling for Pachuca (which reads dirtier each time I type it) in the World Club Championship this December.


MLS Snobbery: Confirmed

I don't think there's a clearer sign that I've lost interest in following the club game around the world, than the decision I made yesterday.

For reasons not worth discussing, I happened to be at home, which made sitting down to take in the Champions' Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Chelsea easy enough (result - for the curious). And yet I arranged my day to see the Kansas City Wizards take on Toronto FC. Moreover, I found that plenty interesting and don't remotely regret my choice.

It's a curious path I'm on with regard to Liverpool, who was once "my team," and the EPL in general: I spent one season (late 1990s; couldn't say when) drinking a shot of gin for every goal Liverpool scored (the famous 4-3 fight back against Newcastle was the closest I've come before or since to getting cut off); when I saw Liverpool win the League Cup in 2001, the relief was such that I felt some tickling of nausea. Fast forward to (was it?) the 2005 Champions' Cup victory, the one where Liverpool looked all but dead against Barcelona before a dizzying 5-10 minute spell got them right back in it - I didn't see even one of those goals, but stuck around for the PKs that decided. And it was merely OK.

That takes the story to yesterday. If I ever doubted my interest in the EPL has ended, I don't any more. And don't interpret this as self-congratulation because I'm not proud of this or anything - more surprised, I suppose, given the years spent going to a smoky bar every weekend to catch the Premier League. And Lord knows I'm not claiming Major League Soccer is in any way superior. It's closer to the truth to acknowledge that as irrelevant. Put another way, I don't know how this happens; I only know that it can.

KC 3 - 0 TFC: Some Thoughts

Between my time-zone of choice (PST) and Major League Soccer's game-bookers, I caught this one in pieces; I still have yet to see Eddie Johnson's opening goal (whoops! till now...thanks quick kicks!). Here are some brief observations based on what I saw, starting with the Toronto FC side of things:

- Dude, Toronto FC is in for one long motherfucker of a year. Till this team improves defensively, it might be advisable to place an asterisk next to these wins and keep a separate ledger for the goals they allow.

- On the same subject, Toronto glumly demonstrated last night that simply packing 10 players behind the ball - as they appeared to be doing after KC's first goal - isn't sufficient; they still have to be organized.

- On the other end, Alecko Eskandarian came close enough that I believe Toronto capable of scoring - and almost expect that will happen this weekend. If it doesn't, holy crap...I don't know if I can watch this team. Too painful...

- Speaking of bright spots for Toronto, Carl Robinson doesn't look half bad. He's no All-Star at this point, but he's showing signs.

- Think of what the recent trades must feel like for Marvell Wynne and Kevin Goldthwaite - and this goes double for Wynne, who left the team everyone's talking about right now. The only comparable experience that comes to me would be getting picked early when the captains divvy up teams - y'know, like they used to do in gym class or on the playground - only to be shipped to the crappy side to help for the sake of closer balance.

From the KC side:

- I have read, and have probably written as well, that Eddie Johnson should concentrate on getting back to form with a club team before he gets a shot with the national team again; based on the past two performances I saw, EJ is making progress.

- And a big part of that, last night at least, came courtesy of Carlos Marinelli. He delivers a pretty good ball and looks like a good find for the Wizards.

- Hartman showed on at least one occasion the importance of having a good 'keeper; his near-post stop on one of Eskandarian's attempts was impressive.

- Sadly, though, the jury has to stay out on this Wizards team - and probably through the weekend. Given not just last night, but Toronto's season as a whole, betting on the Canadian team to win seems like a brave call.


Suspensions: Herron...Kljestan?!

Major League Soccer (MLS) disciplined Columbus Crew forward Andy Herron this morning to the tune of a four-game suspension and a $3,000 fine. Seeing as I already wrote about this in another space, I'll send persons interested in reading about it to that space (short version: Herron got off light, but I'm still OK with it).

Seeing as a suspension of some sort was a given with Herron, that's done and dusted. But something in the same press release has me thinking a bit:

"The disciplinary committee also suspended Chivas USA defender Sacha Kljestan two games and fined him $1,000 for a serious foul play."


"In the Kljestan incident, although the referee saw the incident and exercised his on-field judgment not to award a red card, a serious injury to Williams resulted. In this circumstance, the committee reviewed the play and concluded that the challenge was an unequivocal red card offense and egregious. Therefore, the committee decided to suspend Kljestan two MLS Regular Season games and fine him $1,000."

Those interested in a second look can find video to all of these incidents. My video feed is boned, so I'm currently unable to review the Kljestan "incident," but this still strikes me as harsh. I'm OK with the fine - I'd even be comfortable if they doubled it so long as they withdrew the suspension, or keep the fine and suspend him for one game, as if it had been a red card - but that's a pretty stiff punishment for a bad foul in the run of play. And it was a bad foul, no question. I like Andy Williams plenty and respect him more (especially how huge a mensch he is for even playing given everything) and this is definitely tragic. But I don't think the simple existence of the injury has a role in setting the punishment.

UPDATE I entirely accept the possibility that my take on the Kjlestan incident doesn't make sense - and if I find out Sacha didn't visit Andy in the hospital (barring accidents of travel, etc.) I'll rescind the statement entirely. In any case, a couple other people weighed in on this, so I thought I'd link to them: Ives Galarcep and Steve Goff, though with the latter, I'm pointing more toward the comments.

Fans Crowning Saviors

""In America too many people are in a hurry to anoint the 'American Pelé.' We saw that to some extent with Bobby [Convey]."
- Kevin Payne, DC United GM, ESPN, 4.22.07 (LINK)

If that statement applies to Convey, think of what it meant to Freddy Adu (who's already getting called out (hat-tip: Offside Rules) and accused of failing to notice the existence of his right foot) or what it means now to Josmer Altidore.

Being the cautious sort (except when it comes to making miles-off-target predictions), I do try not to go in for this. And, in the fantasy space that is my head, I somehow believe I don't. Taking a more realistic line, though, I'll assume I do - and that takes one to the next question: Why? Why is it so easy to get sucked into hype, whether it's about a player or this year's hot-shit team (think DC United)? More specifically, what's the dominant impulse that allows it - the fan or the amateur scout?

I can only answer the last one for myself: it's the amateur scout for me and the impulse grows from nothing more than wanting to seem "wise" (as in, "in the know"; this is why I dub Houston "paper tigers" after just three games). I came across a great example of the "fan impulse" today; an admirably excited Chivas fan already expects Maykel Galindo's player of the week honors to translate to player of the year. Personally, I think Galindo's doing great and wish him the best with that...but I'm not counting on it based on him making Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC look foolish.

The most remarkable thing is how quickly it strikes: for instance, Juan Pablo Angel has just arrived and, before he's kicked a ball in MLS, he's already the missing piece that will make Red Bull New York overnight contenders (for example); a muted version of the same mania struck DC fans when Fred was signed - damn shame about the defense rendering all that irrelevant.

Where am I going with this? I'm not 100% sure. It's just a peculiar thing, that's all. But on a fairly simple level, it's just kind of fun getting sucked in. But there's also something about waking up without immediately assuming that every freakin' day is Christmas that keeps one grounded. On the flipside of that metaphor, I imagine that the players we all hype would appreciate not feeling as if they spoiled Christmas every time they leave the field without sending fans into orgasm.


Herron's Elbow: Well...We're Waiting (+ Video)

One of the "great" talking points of Major League Soccer's (MLS) Week 3 was almost certainly the elbow Columbus forward Andy Herron planted on New England defender Jay Heaps' head. It turns out this shot left Heaps with a concussion plus a happy flutter of butterflies where his memory of the end of the first half, halftime, and the early parts of the second half should be.

That's an ugly scene, no doubt, but the questions central to this with the words "suspension" on nearly everyone's tongue (though nothing showing, as yet, on MLSnet.com's discipline report) are intent and self-defense - e.g. was Herron swinging "to kill" and was he retaliating? And some interesting answers to these points have shown up here and there as the week progresses.

USSoccerplayers.com scribe Ian Plenderleith opened the defense by noting something the Greek Chorus in the announcing booth might have missed:

"...as any viewer could see from the 15 or so replays of the incident, the not-so-angelic Heaps clearly does something in the back to Herron at below camera level as the ball is played, and that is what Herron responded to. Not that this mitigates Herron's disgraceful violent conduct, but it puts the incident in a context that the commentators for some reason ignored. Fortunately, Heaps was not badly injured."

I can't say I noticed the thing Heaps did; as I saw it, Herron looked to be checking over his shoulder to make sure it was indeed Heaps behind him. Then again, I've got a three-year-old distracting me through it all and am thus willing to admit I misread the thing.

Still, thank God for Youtube, right? Judge for yourself:

After watching that, I have to admit, Herron sure does look like he's reacting. But look at the man's face when he swings: there's a scowl brimming with intent. And that brings up another defense I came across today, this one straight from Herron himself, that appeared in the solid Hunt Park Insider. Even as the author, Steve Sirk, points out that "upon seeing the replay, Andy's explanation falls short on many levels", here's what he had to say:

"'I saw the ball coming, and I looked back, and I didn't see nobody,' [Herron] explained. 'So when I jumped up, you are gonna try to protect yourself in case someone comes in and tries to push you. It didn't feel like I hit someone, but everyone says I did. He's shorter than me, so he probably hit my elbow. They said it probably seems pretty bad. I talked to him at the end of the game and said "You scream at me and you kick me and I tell you everything, but I am not going to elbow you for dirty, man." It was just the motion of the play. I told him sorry, but then I was thinking "should I?" because I don't even remember hitting him. I am going to check out the replay, and they say it might cause me some problems, but hopefully the league will look at it and see it the right way.'"

I don't think that story will carry Herron's case very far either. But the bulk of Sirk's argument - and he in no way defends Herron's elbow, specifically or generally - is that the referee lost control of the game, creating an atmosphere where players take such things into their own hands.

For what it's worth, I think Herron is toast - hardly a bold prediction, but there it is. Put another way, there's a reason no one outright defends Herron; and it's possible he'll lose a person or two with his comments to Sirk, smacking as they do of dishonesty. But what of the mitigating factors - e.g. a "Wild West" environment and a series of missed calls? What kind of suspension would you hand down? Me? I'd go with six to eight weeks, with one of those awarded for talking crap to the media.

What irks me about the wait, though, is a sneaking impression that the league is waiting to hand down sentence for the same reason government bodies release bad news late on Friday: they're not comfortable with their decision and want the fewest possible people to notice. Still, it's not that there's nothing to consider.

Week 3: Mess o' Match Wraps, Power Rankings, Video

Holy crap did I read (or skim) a crapload of soccer crap today. Crap, crap, crap - by which I intend to express my amazement and appreciation that there's so much good content out there as opposed to commenting on the content itself.

At any rate, I'll start with the general stuff and work my way down to individual game reports. The idea is to get as many perspectives as humanly possible and to add that to what I mentioned in my Week 3 power-rankings. Before ceasing to talk about me, though, I may as well flag the weekly summary I sent over to Write On Sports (who could use more contributors, by the way); I led that piece with my one-man effort to sow doubt in the Houston Dynamo camp. I think they're another team laboring under too-great expectations this season (all y'all know the other one).

Enough about me, though. Let's see what everyone else had to say about Week 3.

Since they started the trend, I'll link to ESPN's power rankings first; unlike me, they had the guts to place Red Bull New York first. A couple blogs chucked out power rankings as well: Luis Bueno turned in a tidy effort for Sideline Views (and matched my top three on the way, while avoiding my peculiar attachment to Colorado) while Who Ate All the Cupcakes made the Herculean effort of comparing all 13 MLS teams to professional wrestlers. I can only applaud.

Others, both professional and amateur, went for regular wrap-ups of the weekend's action: Soccer America turned in their usual pair of wraps, one a general summary, the other a barebones data dump of goals, cards, and (the motherfrickin' sorry) attendance. Ian Plenderleith, of USSoccerplayers.com also touched on the (sorry, sorry) attendance, but he also added more good stuff about some dodgy officiating and those wonderful quotes that athletes often give when pressed for answers. Mike H of My Soccer Blog rounds out the summary category with a comprehensive offering of his own.

Dan Loney, who seems to have fallen between my two categories out of spite, has to float between them for the sin of writing (quite well, actually) about only two of Week 3's games.

Finally, before turning to the games themselves, let's plunk a video compilation of Week 3 goals to recharge your batteries (courtesy of Climbing the Ladder, of course.

Back to it now, in the order in which they surprised me...

FC Dallas 3 - 1 Colorado Rapids
If you want "just the facts," it's hard to beat MLSnet.com's traditional match reports. But I learned so much from the labors of others: Bill Urban's nice perspective piece on just how much Colorado and Dallas hate one another is a good starting point. But this one contained some lovely details: there's FC Rocky's appreciation for Jovan Kirovski's goal in spite of the handball that made it possible, as well as Dallas coach Steve Morrow's righteous frustration that his team gave up the goal, handball or no. Ramon Nunez gets some nice love from the Dallas Soccer News who flags that his first on the day is up for goal of the week as well as telling the inspiring story behind his start - Dax McArty picks up some kisses in that one too. Meanwhile, fans out Colorado way take a different view of Nunez.

My favorite detail from this game, though, comes from a passage in the Denver Post's write-up on this game. And I flag this for two reasons: one, because it gets to my theory that Brandon Prideaux is the weak spot on the Rapids' back line; two, because it says, "That guy looked like a doofus" without saying it explicitly:

"In the 29th minute, Nuñez took a pass from Dax McCarty and dribbled around Brandon Prideaux at the top of the goalkeeper's box, causing Prideaux to fall while trying to change directions, before placing a shot inside the left post from 12 yards out."

Red Bull New York 1 - 0 Houston Dynamo
I think the best piece of coverage I saw on this game showed up in the Houston Chronicle in the form of the third paragraph quote from coach Dominic Kinnear: it shows he gets the scope of the problem.

But the big story here is the essential shock of writing "the first-place Red Bulls" - as Ives Galarcep pointed out on his blog. Pieces in other spaces point out that this isn't so much a surprise, between the play of kids like Dane Richards and Josmer Altidore, or even the team's defensive solidity. Martha, who writes for the Red Bull Offside, throws many of the players much love (though emphatically not John Wolyniec, who should be OK seeing as he picked up some love from Red Bull Rising, who turned in a very impressive review), but I also want to thank her personally, for using the word "bitches" in a way that makes me feel more comfortable expressing myself in a similar manner.

Really, hard as it is to get one's head around the idea of the New York area having a team to brag about, it's kind of fun at the same time....even if you know that somewhere down the line, they'll absolutely implode in a totally unpredictable way.

Chivas USA 4 - 0 Real Salt Lake
It's the magnitude of this one that shocks: this one could have been still uglier and it left a few RSL fans wondering whether their guys stopped trying. Oddly, pundits, even Chivas players, found time to pick at their performance in the rout. As I see it, Chivas took their foot off the gas a bit, but, by the 75th minute, they stomped their foot on RSL's neck so damn hard that I expect the latter's recovery from this trauma to continue for a couple of weeks; so, no, I don't get the complaints.

The best thing I read about this game, though, the referee broached the subject of the "towel rule" - as in asking whether RSL wanted to throw it in:

""It's worse when the game is in extra time and you get asked if you want the full extra time," RSL coach John Ellinger. "How would you feel?"

After that, it's equal parts joy and pain: the "pain" comes from the seriously unfortunate injury to Andy Williams and a budding, perhaps media-inspired, goalkeeping controversy that grows from Nick Rimando's second dodgy performance; the only thing to make this worse is the fact Rimando may hold onto the job due to "back-up" Chris Seitz's likely absence this summer. The "joy" side is pretty obvious: Ante Razov's 100th goal in MLS; LA Soccer News cranked out a pretty good sidebar on Razov "the man."

Chicago Fire 2 - 1 Kansas City Wizards
Good God. It's like a disease, all this typing, so I have to stop (and start on this earlier next week). So, quickly as I can, here are some resources from the game that surprised me the least this weekend - and I stand by what I've said in a couple places now; there's something ominous about Chicago, even if no one in the Chicago area seems terribly interested in seeing it.

- Luis Arroyave: good stuff on Barrett, Rolfe, and Armas.
- ChicagoLand Soccer News turned in a good, general report.
- As did Windy City Soccer LINK
- The Kansas City Star's report flagged some key stuff about how Chicago played Eddie Johnson, so that should interest a coach or two.
- Down the Byline, a site I don't cite enough, turned in a good report from a KC perspective.

So, yeah, I petered out a bit toward the end. Hope it was good for someone out there ('cause I'm spent).

Week 3: Power Rankings & Picks Tally

With my urge to make this wrap a total, permanent-floating resource the threat of sprawl is both a real and present danger. You have been warned.

In all seriousness, beyond an effort to make the information contained herein consistent, the only addition I’m making is posting the standings. Knowing that Major League Soccer (MLS) will continually update their standings as the season progresses, I wanted a series of archived roadmaps to show how we got there from here; you’ll find that at the very bottom of the page, after the power rankings. One last caveat and I’ll lay off the editorial business: due to the crappy highlight service from this week, I’m having to operate on strictly second-hand knowledge for a few calls in the power rankings - and some others besides. I can’t say I like this state of affairs, but it is what it is. So take that into consideration as you read what follows.

Let’s begin with my record on calling the games: it currently stands at 8-11 (it builds up from here...and, shit!). As much as I’d like to blame my self-imposed punishment for calling a specific score in the Crew/Revs draw, the reality is I wouldn’t have been over .500 anyway. Thing is, I didn’t know the Rapids hadn’t notched a regular-season win in Dallas since before 9/11 till after the game.

Before turning to the power rankings, let’s look at some interesting talking points from Week 3. In no particular order:

- I’m smashing the games together a bit at this point, but, assuming I remember it correctly (a midfield clip of an opposition player’s foot in the center of the field?) I share Clint Mathis’ apparent puzzlement at getting sent off.

- And what the hell is Red Bull New York doing in first place? What the hell are they doing looking so good in doing it?

- On the other side of the coin, I think Houston is a paper tiger, or something like. Put another way, they’ll have to get their game back on track before I rate them anything close to #1.

- Loath to admit it as I may be, Chicago possesses an ominous kind of solidity.

- Is there a hotter seat in the league than the one on which Real Salt Lake coach John Ellinger now sits precariously?

- OK, all of you - the hype-merchants to the early acolytes - you win: Josmer Altidore does look pretty good. I’m not sold yet, but I’m starting to buy it.

- On the other side of the hype coin, Freddy Adu is overrated. He will remain overrated till he discovers what is plain as day to everyone else: Freddy does, in fact, have a right foot.

- Speaking of players, Dane Richards looks about as exciting as anyone in MLS right now.

Right, moving on now to the power rankings, I’ll note last week’s ranking in parentheses immediately after this week’s ranking...and, yeah, I suspect I’ll fluctuate more than most and, yeah, I can barely justify any of these, but it’s what I’m seeing. And, as with last week, to let visitors to the site know the extent to which I’m working by direct observation, here’s a key: “@” means I watched their most recent performance in its entireity; “$” means I caught it through Quick Kicks, which provides extended highlights; “&” means I watched only the rump highlights available through MLSnet.com. And, finally, if I leave it blank, that means I saw the score, maybe read a match report...but, in general, I prefer banging out these reviews having read as little of others’ thinking as possible.

On with it now, fer reals:

1. (7) Chicago Fire
What can I say? Maybe I read too much into their sleep-inducing performance against the Rapids in Week 2; maybe I’m reading too much into this last game (which I didn’t see, not even in highlights...you bastards). But, as noted above, the Fire just appears solid, like they’ll be simultaneously hard to beat and sufficiently confident on offense to have a good season. Still, I’ve got to make watching a(nother) full game for this team a priority; I’m flying on impression here.

2. (8) Red Bull New York(@)
The only thing keeping Red Bull out of the top spot is, oh, 11 years of league history. Put another way, habit makes it hard for me to place them even this high. But with the way Richards runs at defenses, how confident, smart, and powerful Altidore looked as a lone forward, and how solid Red Bull seemed all over the field, they’re looking like something pretty close to the best team in the league right now.

3. (3) Chivas USA (@)
Even as the quality of the opposition does matter - and you’ll see how I rate Real Salt Lake (RSL) below - Chivas ran over the Utah team like a three-trailer semi. Those four goals could have been six, even seven and, courtesy of a penalty call that didn’t come (on Sacha Kljestan late in the game), it really should have been five. The rout of RSL only served to make the loss to Houston look unluckier. Preki has started really well.

4. (2) Colorado Rapids (&)
Whenever I mention not being able to justify a call on power rankings or previews, the Rapids are usually in the back of my mind. There’s just something I like about this team and it renders me dubious about moving them much based on one result. The fact the players believe they outplayed Dallas this weekend somehow deepens my belief. Another loss, though, and I’ll have to re-think things - especially if they show the same vulnerability on the road from past seasons.

5. (4) New England Revolution (@)
While last Thursday’s game against the Crew tipped ever-so-slightly in the latter’s favor, the reality is that the Revs came within a blown trap of leaving Crew stadium with all three points. Problems off the field and injuries aside, this team seems ready to play for each other. So long as they (OK, Twellman) can keep scoring, New England’s hard enough to beat that they should do fine.

6. (1) Houston Dynamo (@)
Call this one an “accumulation foul.” To this point, Houston has turned in two good halves in MLS regular season games; that’s two out of possible six. They looked, frankly, awful against Red Bull and nothing can excuse that. It may be we’ve discovered the limits to coach Dominic Kinnear’s half-time oratory. Until Dwayne DeRosario gets back on track and Ching can go a full 90, the champs won’t live up to last year.

7. (9) FC Dallas (&)
This was the toughest call of this week; and, again, I can’t explain why I plunked the team FC Dallas beat four spots above them in the table. Put my reticence down to long bitter experience with rating Dallas clubs too highly. Still, count Ramon Nunez’s goal in the run of play my Goal of the Week for Week 3 - and Bouna Coundoul’s spazzy freakout after conceding on the free kick...priceless.

8. (10) Columbus Crew (@)
I’ll say it flat-out: Columbus looks better to me than its record - which, to be fair about it, kinda sucks. Because W’s count for more than T’s, though, the Crew find themselves on the wrong side of this ledger. But Columbus looks better playing the game than they have for the past couple seasons, so call the omens promising.

9. (6) Kansas City Wizards
Two consecutive losses - one in U.S. Open Cup play against RSL and, now, last weekend’s loss to Chicago - raises the question of how much KC owed their impressive opening win to DC ham-footed defense. With Chicago “flying high” (honestly, with them looking like MLS’s answer to the Arsenal teams that earned that club the “boring, boring” label, I can only type that phrase in scare quotes), it’s the loss to RSL that really has me questioning this team’s real-world quality. I couldn’t watch this one, but the score gives the impression that the goal they managed falls firmly in consolation territory.

10. (5) DC United (idle)
I dropped these guys further based as much on KC’s rough week as anything. For all that, they have nowhere to go from here but up. But a win next week against Columbus is the only immediate remedy - and I’m not sure they’ll get it.

11. (11) Los Angeles Galaxy (idle)
More or less ditto from DC’s situation. They’ll move up when they move themselves up; till then, I’m not sure they can score.

12. (13) Toronto FC (idle)
The only team, at least from where I sit, who improved by idling over Week 3. And that’s thanks to....

13. (12) Real Salt Lake (@)
It’s not every day one sees a rout - especially in MLS. But this one was a “rout-plus,” just a thorough, even humiliating, domination by a club that should be roughly an equal. Even at their best in Saturday’s game, RSL never looked much like scoring; they merely looked confused. All in all, RSL’s off to such a shaky start that I expect I’ll be checking MLSnet.com to look for John Ellinger’s jump/push out of the hot seat.

And now, the final piece of the weekly wrap up - well, at least till more comes later today (including my write-up for Write On Sports; I like my feature this time) - the MLS standings after Week 3. This is my first shot at this concept, so forgive the ugliness. And, for complete, current listings, here’s a link to the official standings:

Eastern Conference:
1. Red Bull New York: 7 pts. (2-0-1: 4 GF, 0 GA, +4; home, 2-0-0; away, 0-0-1)
2. Chicago Fire: 7 pts. (2-0-1: 4 GF, 2 GA, +2; home, 2-0-0; away, 0-0-1)
3. New England Revs: 4 pts. (1-1-1: 6 GF, 3 GA, +3; home, 1-0-0; away, 0-1-1)
4. Kansas City Wiz: 3 pts. (1-1-0: 5 GF, 4 GA, +1; home, 0-0-0; away, 1-1-0)
5. Columbus Crew: 3 pts. (0-0-3: 2 GF, 2 GA, 0; home, 0-0-2; away, 0-0-1)
6. DC United: 0 pts. (0-2-0: 3 GF, 6 GA, -3; home, 0-1-0; away, 0-1-0)
7. Toronto FC: 0 pts. (0-2-0: 0 GF, 6 GA, -6; home, 0-0-0; away, 0-2-0)

Western Conference
1. FC Dallas: 7 pts. (2-1-1: 7 GF, 7 GA, 0; home, 1-0-0; away, 1-1-1)
2. Chivas USA: 6 pts. (2-1-0: 6 GF, 1 GA; +5; home, 2-0-0; away, 0-1-0)
3. Houston Dynamo: 4 pts. (1-1-1: 1 GF, 1 GA, 0; home, 1-0-1; away, 0-1-0)
4. Colorado Rapids: 4 pts. (1-1-1: 4 GF, 5 GA, -1; home 1-0-1; away, 0-1-0)
5. Real Salt Lake: 2 pts. (0-1-2: 2 GF, 6 GA, -4; home, 0-0-2; away, 0-1-0)
6. Los Angeles Galaxy: 1 pt. (0-1-1: 1 GF, 2 GA, -1; home, 0-1-0; away, 0-0-1)

Good GAWD! My fingers hurt.

Week 3 Picks: Mine + Others'

With Columbus v. New England already in the books - and with me taking a self-imposed hit (an own goal?) on the call - my prognosticatin' tally stands at 6-9. Clearly, it's time for improvement. With the ground rules already announced, let's turn to the rest of Week 3's action beginning with a roll of everyone else's:

- USSoccerplayers.com's Ian Plenderleith (nice counter on Herron's elbow to boot)
- Red Card's Luis Arroyave, who gets props for the phrase "Arroyave's Lock of the Week" (goes to Chivas over Real Salt Lake for the record)
- The nice kids at Sideline Views throw in their two... well, since there's two of them making calls, I suppose that makes it their four cents
- Who Ate All the Cupcakes weighs in with picks.
- WVHooligan (whose page I finally added to the blogroll) LINK

Oh, and I made some predictions here, but we'll ignore those for the purposes of my overall "score"...besides, I screwed up the New England call there as well. And don't say I'm cheating either; this is kind of like running two fantasy sports teams at once.

Now, seriously, moving on to my picks:

Red Bull New York v. Houston Dynamo (MLS preview)
HOUSTON WINS - With both teams more or less healthy - the only thing that raises an eyebrow for me is Craig Waibel showing as "questionable" for Houston - this one will serve as New York's first test in 2007 against league heavyweights. I'm thinking they'll fail it, though not by much.

Chicago Fire v. Kansas City Wizards (MLS preview)
CHICAGO WINS - We'll see just how far the Wizards "good vibes" go in overcoming the Wizards horrid history in Chicago (a mighty, mighty 1-11-1). A surly belief that the Fire is overrated has me pulling against them, frankly, but I think they're tough enough to prick, though not burst, KC's bubble.

Chivas USA v. Real Salt Lake (MLS preview
CHIVAS WINS - With everyone else going for Chivas, I almost used this game as a means to pick up a point on the pack...then I came to my senses. Take all those near-misses Chivas fired at Houston and apply them to RSL's occasionally jittery defense and this one adds up too easily. Still, looking forward to this game...

FC Dallas v. Colorado Rapids (MLS preview)
RAPIDS WIN - (Picking up the ellipses left above)...though not nearly as much as this one, which makes it a real pisser that I don't know where to find Telefutura on my cable dial. I know about the Rapids' long-time road, um, "issues," but between the the Colorado's team's general improvement and how deeply their dug into Dallas' skin, I'm thinking they're good for a tough win. Add FC Dallas' wafer-thin defense to the mix and I'm thinking the Frisco home-opener won't be a happy one.

That's it. We'll see how I did Monday.

TEAM NEWS: Happy (RBNY), Enthusiastic (KC), Worried (DC)

Right, one last odds-n-ends post before getting to the weekend's picks.

DC's Defense
A funny thing happened on the way to writing my post on the possibility that DC's defensive problems could be mental; I had intended to end that one with a recommendation that the back three sit around a bong before game-time to calm their nerves. I forgot to go that way - though I stand by the recommendation (whether or not it helps one's game, it does wonders for the jitters).

While I'm busying myself with an anti-D.A.R.E. crusade, the problems with DC's defense other outlets are examining the problem - MLSnet.com for instance. But over on DCenters, they've actually done well to elevate this discussion. Moreover, they raised a very salient answer to my point about why DC is defending so much worse today than they did during their "wunder-run" last May and June: they're running a subtly different system. I guess my rejoinder there would be to point out that the defensive issues started under the previous regime, not just this season.

Anyway, we're not going to solve this today; I'm just sayin'. Whatever ails 'em, it's got to suck for DC fans.

KC Moxie
It's weird how one game transformed the Wizards from last year's also-rans into a team to watch in 2007, but the perception is definitely out there. And whatever is going on, it's pretty clear the Wizards players have bought into it, even with the U.S. Open Cup loss in the calculus (they shrugged off that one). We'll see how that works for them...and, in case you're wondering, I hope it does (though not to the exclusion of the New England Revolution and, to be honest, the Columbus Crew).

Red Bull's Happy Fan(s?)
(knock on wood) this looks like a fun season with some real soccer being played, and now angel will be roaming around up front helping to distribute the ball and take a few shots himself. looks like new york has a club to start bragging about. sure feels good."

- grant, Injury Time, 4.19.07 (LINK)

Looks like at least one Red Bull fan likes what he sees so far. I get the impression a lot of people are kind of high on this bunch.

SWAP-MEET: Roads in, and out, of TFC

Even with the trading frenzy seeming to pick up pace, all roads seem to run either to, or from, Toronto.

Conor Casey
In his latest manuever, "Mad" Mo Johnston seems to have finally come to grips with the number of strikers he was signing. I'm still not seeing "official word" on MLSnet.com, but have seen enough reports about striker Conor Casey heading to the Colorado Rapids that it seems safe to call it done. With one interested source reporting that Casey is already in Colorado and could suit up for Sunday's game against FC Dallas, it seems my question about who could partner Herculez Gomez up top for Colorado may have an answer. Then again, given his overall playing time this year, maybe not...

Anyone looking for a reason for the move, MLS Underground looks to have provided: sounds like Casey is from Colorado.

Richard Mulrooney
The trade that sent Richard Mulrooney from Toronto FC to the Houston Dynamo could very well count as the sucker-punch trade of the season so far: it's arrival went relatively unnoticed, but it carries the potential to tilt the odds in one party's favor. The Houston Chronicle does a one-two on this story: one article vaguely mentions Mulrooney providing "immediate help" to the Dynamo, without getting much into how; fortunately, Chronicle pundit Glenn Davis picks up the ball and explains that Mulrooney can provide cover all over in midfield, perhaps start at right back - just generally provide more flexibility to Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear.

Yeah, this strikes me as a decent signing.

One last thing to add here: Marvell Wynne has got to be the nicest professional athlete on the planet. I wish luck to anyone who's not only super-nice, but who also worries about his mom when making career moves.


JUNK-DRAWER: It Is What It Is.

I've been trying - and failing - to come up with a feature heading for posts that will contain the random crap that isn't quite team news, that isn't quite trades, and isn't quite game reports. It's more to do with the various junk and silliness that one finds associated with the game; it's the stuff that isn't "news," but that one hears about anyway...things like nude pictures of David Beckham (with a pasted schlong....I'm still not following this story either mentally or literally, but I digress).

Anyway, the title "Junk Drawer" just came to me; this is the place I'll put anything I find interesting, but for which I can't figure out a proper home.

Getting to it:

- Amazingly, people are still getting mileage out of Logan Pause's one-and-only goal in Major League Soccer (MLS)...and I guess I just joined the party. Still, there's something Pause said about scoring that I - who have scored off my knee, my back, even my ankle - can relate to:

"There wasn't a whole lot of celebration going on, mainly because I didn't know what the heck I was doing. It was kind of an eye-opener. Like, 'Did my shot just go in?'"

- Dario Sala, having served 3 games of his 6-game suspension, admitted to MLSnet.com that he's driving his wife batty skulking around the house. This is just my guess, but I'm thinking he's going to get the starting job back with FC Dallas' seventh game.

- I have to credit du Nord for this one: how the hell was DC defender Bobby Boswell talked into dressing as a "sexy tiger?" Looks like Halloween came early and picked up a chemical-imbalance with its arrival. Get back on the pitch, son, your team needs defense. On the upside, this takes me back to Liverpool's "Spice Boys" days; damn they were more fun to watch back then...


CONCACAF Champs' Cup: I Am Nativist Scum

After following the CONCACAF Champions' Cup closely so long as Major League Soccer's participation lasted, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I don't even know when the first leg of the final took place.

When I found a blog post on the first leg of the final, though - and it was an in-game post that looks to have captured the events fairly well - I at least took the time to read it. So that takes away a bit of my Yanqui self-loathing, though not all....

In any case, that report reveals that CF Pachuca forced a 2-2 tie in CD Chivas de Guadalajara's home, Estadio Jalisco and gives them the advantage in the series as it heads back to Pachuca.

Whichever team makes it, I'm likely as not to pull for them in the World Club Cup, just as I would have pulled for any MLS team - even LA - that made it...unless, they played Liverpool...


Another Crew Draw: Wraps, Mine & Others'

I wrote a collossal wrap-up for last night's 2-2 draw between the Columbus Crew and the New England Revolution over on The Offside (LINK). As such, I won't get into details in this space, at least not about the Crew. For a fairly thorough look at the game from their side, interested parties should check out that piece...and, as I usually do, I wrote that before reading anyone else's work, so all errors and idiocies contained therein are entirely my own. I'll chuck out a bunch of links at the bottom; and, for the record, the one behing the "2-2 draw" above is MLSnet.com's official match report.

I'll touch quickly on the Revolution's game, but want to note something up front: while I did predict the draw last night, I got full of myself and named a specific score. As such, I'm counting this a blown call to punish my hubris. So, here I sit at 6-9 for the season; we're talking LA Galaxy bad.

Now, here are some quick thoughts on the game:

- A familiar Taylor Twellman showed up last night: he buried a beauty from range (that he really should have never been made available to him), but missed the silver-platter set up delivered by Pat Noonan late in the game; he scores that, the Revs win over a conference rival and perceptions go crazy.

- Speaking of Noonan, the manner in which he used his head when his body didn't totally cooperate - e.g. he looked a bit tentative out there, if not outright constrained - really impressed me. Even in his limited state, he provided two sterling opportunities that teammates failed to finish.

- What the hell happened to James Riley last night? Even with Twellman missing, the win could have come through surer defending or, failing that, competent trapping. Bad one, James.

- In Riley's defense, it's possible he got caught napping. The Revs got into a great, positive rhythm in the second half and, by the 85th minute, looked to be cruising home. The breakdown is still inexcusable - especially on the individual level - but it's also fairly easy to comprehend.

- That left side is proving problematic - or, put another way, is it possible Khano Smith's golden outing against Toronto FC had more to do with the opposition than him? His replacement, Wells Thompson, showed nice aggression, but he was also clumsy/spazzy. Seeing as he's a rookie, I'll over look it for now. But Revs coach Steve Nicol ought to be open to options (Miguel Gonzalez, Amaechi Igwe, especially Arsene Oka) in that position.

- That first half? Friggin' nightmare. New England looked scrambled and stupid far too often; they couldn't connect passes, etc. It's a small wonder Nicol was pissed.

Now, on to the links, and I've only read the first one:

The New England Revolution Offside LINK - short, sweet and primarily concerned with Andy Herron's elbow.
The Boston Globe LINK
The Boston Herald LINK
Columbus Dispatch LINK
Sensory Overload LINK - looks to be a live-blogging run-down; should be interesting.
Hunt Park Insider dang...not up yet...maybe later, maybe next week...

Crew v. NE: Cramming for Primetime (Picks)

Sorry for the very, very late entry, but I've got to put down my marker for tonight's league game between the Columbus Crew and the New England Revolution, which will play in Columbus.

There's always the official preview, those stats-laden beasts that say so much while sounding as much like an accountant's ledger as anything. Someone, please, slip some hallucinogens into the coffee at Major Leauge Soccer (MLS) HQ...

ESPN, for their part, carried MLS's water as promised and posted a nicely-written hit of hype by the ever-sharp Jeff Carlisle; plenty of good stuff in there from players to watch to tactical business. Carlisle also had the tact (or professional motivation) to gloss over the likelihood that this could be a snoozer; whichever it was, it didn't apply to USSoccerplayers.com's Ian Plenderleith, who takes a somewhat more hopeful tack in looking at tonight's action:

"This week, I just don't think it feasible for a team to play a third successive 0-0 game. Please. Remember, there are people out there watching."

Too right, Ian, but don't hold your breath. At least that's what I've come up with for my two contributions to the previewing game. In my capacity as a Columbus Crew beat writer for The Offside I turned in a somewhat sprawling and justifiably Crew-focused preview; it contains my thoughts on what the Ohio team needs to do to break their duck. I may be wrong - hell, I probably am wrong - but I think the enthusiasm is evident at the least. Still, I don't think the Crew will score tonight, a charge I repeated in a general preview of Week 3's action for Write On Sports.

Seeing as I finagled time off to watch this game, I sincerely hope I'm wrong. I don't so much care who wins, so long as someone does something to make the time off and money I plan on drinking worthwhile.

The fact that I blew the call on last night's game - I picked KC (dammit) - takes my predictions record to an increasingly feeble 6-8. In the hopes of improving on that, I'm making what Plenderleith dubbed "a coward's forecast" and calling this one a scoreless draw.

Prove me wrong, you assholes.


SWAP-MEET: Toronto's Trade Madness (bit o' Revs)

For today's trades all roads lead to Toronto FC (TFC) - it's only the other end, and what people think about it, that provides something to ponder. Looking at this by personnel...

Marvell Wynne
"Sources" let this one slip first thing this morning - at least for those of us on PST. But the reporter running down all the details was Ives Galarcep, who fleshed out that first link in an article for North Jersey...um...whatever it's called.

Naturally, reactions followed fairly quickly with the reaction in Mudville at losing Wynne ranging from grumpily disappointed to dubious yet trusting. It wasn't till some time later in the day that I came across the first reaction that matched mine: yeah, Wynne's got great speed and the oft-dreaded "potential," but can the man defend? I mean, what's killing Toronto right now? Defense, right? As such, this passage (which comes out of that last link) strikes me as the thing to watch:

"The No. 1 pick of the 2006 MLS Draft, Wynne is mad fast and extremely athletic. But as his dismal display in the season-opener at Columbus demonstrated, he has not progressed to the point where he can contribute to a team seriously considering a run at the MLS Cup. He simply couldn't keep attackers in front of him, and the Red Bull were lucky the Crew didn't score on any of the three times Wynne was totally undressed."

In his write-up for his blog, Galarcep touches on that same theme, though in a later offering, he also dubs Wynne "a solid right back." Sports Illustrated's new(-ish) MLS-guy mentions the same kind of qualms. We shall see, we shall see...

Richard Mulrooney
The "later offering" noted above touches on yet another TFC trade: the one that looks to have sent midfielder Richard Mulrooney to the Houston Dynamo in exchange for Kevin "Bobcat" Goldthwaite. Galarcep notes that Mulrooney wasn't happy in Canada, which one imagines kind of forced TFC coach Mo Johnston's hand. Still, as someone who thought Mulrooney was a hell of an acquisition for TFC, I have to wonder about how much they gave up - and that's even weighing the team's need for defenders. Tough spot, no doubt. And, incidentally, Houston just got that little bit harder to beat...dammit.

Daniele Dichio
I'm seriously, I've looked up the spelling of that name half a dozen times now and think that's accurate. But the important thing here is that an article in an outlet called Slam! Sports channels TFC midfielder Carl Robinson to say a bit about Dichio's upside:

"'Danny will be a massive asset to our club,' Robinson said. 'He has caused havoc on the pitch for years over in England. He's a big lad and there's not many aerials he's not going to win.'"

Footnote on Revs
Finally, the Boston Globe reports today that the New England Revolution are actively pursuing a foreign player or - god forbid - or two (gasp!). Frankly, I think the team's front office only just realized the publicity potential of talking about chasing foreign acquisitions and they're going through the motions. As a few have noted, the transfer window is closed till summer.

TEAM NEWS: Yallop, Joseph, TFC

It's kind of a grab-bag out there today, so let's just dig in and throw out some bullet points:

- A couple spaces note (keying off a Soccer New England piece I have yet to read) note that the New England Revolution's Shalrie Joseph is mulling a hold out to protest the stall in his salary negotiations. Seriously, all I can say here is...dang...

- Ahead of this weekend's coolly-anticipated meeting between the Kansas City Wizards and the Chicago Fire, it's worth noting that Chicago sorta, kinda owns this series: we're talking 17-7-4 all-time and, apropos to this weekend's tilt, they hold a 11-1-1 edge in Chicago.

- That the Los Angeles Galaxy's slow start to 2007 has warmed Frank Yallop's seat received mention in a couple places today. Now, personally, I think the Galaxy front office would have to be eating crack to make this move, but we're talking about the dumber Lalas here.

- I know the words "good" and "column" seldom appear together when discussing Fox Soccer's Jamie Trecker (for the record, I like the guy just fine), but I thought he wrote a great perspective piece on how Toronto FC looks these days. Then again, given how similarly it reads to what I wrote about Toronto, I don't have much choice.

Hat-Tip: Great Week 2 Wrap

One quick thing to pass on: Red Bull Rising concocted one of the sharpest wraps of Major League Soccer's Week 2 that I've yet read in any space. Just a great approach to the subject.

Anyway, I like to commend good work.


DC's Defense - Is It Mental?

Since last Saturday's excruciating loss to the Kansas City Wizards much has been made of DC United's defensive problems - a recent article in the Washington Times which discusses formations, trades, and the like, is the only the trigger for what's on my mind. Here's that:

I don't think DC's problems are formation or personnel, and I mean the latter both literally and explicitly. By that I mean they have players capable of defending and defending well - remember all those 1-0 wins DC's defense gutted out last May and June? - but, for whatever reason, they're not up to it any more.

I read in another space that Eddie Johnson is talking to a sports shrink. Maybe that's what a guy like Facundo Erpen needs (he types after dubbing him a "full-time liability" earlier in the week).

Whatever DC does, they'll want to do soon. And the problems are unquestionably there. But maybe a little mental conditioning will provide a quicker path to success than finding new players or trying new formations. Just a thought.


Open Cup Part I: KC v. RSL (+ pick)

Don't know about the rest of the soccer blogging world, but the preliminary play-in rounds for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup kind of snuck up on me.

No matter. In case you haven't heard or read, Major League Soccer's (MLS) participation begins tonight when the Kansas City Wizards travel to Salt Lake City to take on Real Salt Lake (RSL); after the Open Cup tie, it appears that the RSL reserves will take on the national team of Fiji, an event RSL's official site believes fans will enjoy (I'd probably enjoy this about as much as I enjoyed my one and only real-life freakshow...shudder...).

A fair amount of material can be found out there about what to expect in terms of starting line-ups. For instance, the Wizards plan to tap some players down the bench to build their starting line-up, courtesy of a cee-razy, travel-heavy April; the official word from the Wizards' camp is that the team is up for it. We shall see, we shall see...

The big news on the other side of the ball is that 2007 fourth-round pick Chris Seitz will start in goal for RSL. The same article suggests RSL coach John Ellinger may rest a couple more starters.

And, thus, the 2007 U.S. Open Cup opens under a familiar cloud, with teams taking it "seriously," but not completely. Sigh.

Oh, and I think this one will end with a Wizards win. There's just something about RSL that makes me think they're not up for it.