Day in Previews: RSL, TFC, & Non-Acronyms

Haven't done this for a while, but at least have the handy excuse of cranking out previews of my own. There are a few to get to today.

Soccer America got to churning out theirs, under the title of MLS Countdown. I like it. The two teams I came across today were FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew. I have to say, Ridge Mahoney does such a job of finding the upside on FC Dallas that I'm close to reconsidering my more dour assessment of their chances (though, in my defense, I did own up to some personal issues round the bottom). Not surprisingly, though, the main concern comes in defense, 'cause that offense retains some serious potential.

Regarding Columbus, notes the real, if moderately untried, depth. Like a lot of people, he figures Columbus has to get better. And what with the preseason they've had, it looks like that'll come together.

Another team that's looking kind of unnerving (from a New England perspective at least) is Toronto FC (who were reviewed by an outfit I've really got to learn more about; it was run in a Seattle paper though). As not a few of you have no doubt read, they picked up their first win against an MLS club yesterday (Red Bull, ha ha). I'm thinking they've got enough offensive talent that it won't be their last.

Finally, Andrea Canales did a Real Salt Lake preview for ESPN. I'd say she rather nimbly picked through the Freddy/Mehdi bramble as well as playing up the subtle shifts in tactics. I haven't reviewed them yet, but think RSL could do something this season...

...then again, I seem to think that about everyone lately...tells me it's going to be a good year.

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Mathis Traded!! To RBNY(?!)

Wow. This is what happens when you get addicted to Bloglines.

If ESPN can be trusted - and, generally, I trust them like I trust my mother when she tells me it wasn't her who farted (decipher that one!) - it looks like we'll wake up tomorrow to a front page of MLSnetcom mentioning a "blockbuster trade" sending Clint Mathis to Red Bull New York.

Dang me. I don't think this was the "proven goal-scorer" we kept reading about, but I still love Mathis as a player. There's no denying the man has fallen off, but maybe getting back in the big lights will give him the requisite inspiration to be the player he can be.

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USMNT: The Big Think from Spring Friendlies

Write On Sports posted the piece to which I referred earlier today.

Seeing as I'm linking to it, it doesn't make sense to labor the points it contains, but I do want to note the general thrust of the argument it makes. The essential point is that seeing as we don't produce great players in this country, the main task comes down to figuring how to fit together the pieces we have. This is partly a reaction to the love-fest Feilhaber received after Ecuador, but it's more fundamental than that.

At any rate, I really struggled with the language I used and don't know that I ever found the correct phrasing for what I'm getting at. To give it one more shot: we've got good enough raw materials - not ideal, mind you, but good enough; the focus needs to be on training these guys to think better about the game. I didn't mention this in the piece, but I think Bob Bradley's headed in the right direction on this, at least conceptually. That's what I get from some of the quotes Marc Connolly dredged out of various people in articles about Michael Bradley and Benny Feilhaber. I think we're to a place where we just need to work on making the people we've got more effective. So, that's the point of the Write On piece. Hope y'all like it.

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(W)Revs Wrap: Shells Get Shocked

Add another win against another minnow and you've got the New England Revolution at 6-0-0 and, as this guy points out, holding a +20 goal differential with 23 goals scored and 3 allowed. (If nothing else, BigSoccer people are always reliable about knowing such arcana.) And that's a 4-0 win to boot.

So, why am I not feeling easy about the season ahead?

patfan1, another BigSoccer commenter, takes the same view as me (here):

"These games mean nothing. It appears that the rookies can play, at least against the level they've played against. Now comes the test. Here's hoping they can do the same with the season here."


Sums it up nicely, I think. Still, it is good to see the names of the youngsters - Adam Cristman, Arsene Oka, Wells Thompson - all over the several write-ups, because that tells me they're performing at a level higher than that of a preseason Professional Development League (PDL) team; that's what you'd expect when you're players find themselves on the professional side of what a woman in the second link above calls a "half-professional" encounter...bet the Shell Shockers liked that.

Speaking of professionals, the Boston Globe's write-up on the game contained some intriguing details on line-ups, where people (Steve Ralston) played when another (Shalrie Joseph) left; the former elicited a reaction from another message boarder, which precisely matched mine:

"Most interesting news to me was the fact that [Steve Ralston] played center mid after Thompson subbed on."


Let me go on record now as saying this is something I'd like to see Nicol experiment with. Though I read good things about Ralston's fitness and activity further down in the larger discussion on this game, I'm wondering how he'd do as an outright playmaker. You'd lose the crossing (though not totally), but he's a smart passer of the ball and, through a quick first step and guile, has a decent knack for creating small openings for passes and shots. I'm just saying they could do worse.

Right. All for now. Thanks to the BigSoccer people I borrowed from. If I understood "repping" I'd be happy to pass on some...but I've got no idea what that means.

U.S. v. Guatemala: After Sleeping on It...

My relative silence on the subject of last night’s game between the U.S. and Guatemala has less to do with wanting to forget the whole thing as in trying to put it in some kind of useful context. My attempt to do that should appear shortly on Write On Sports - and I’ll link to it when it shows - but there’s a lot of detailed thinking bubbling underneath all that; that’s what I’d like to look at here.

Since the Write On effort drained me of all ability to think fluidly (it was so...damned...difficult...why?) I think I’ll rock the following, random player comments bullet-style:

- The Feilhaber Man-Crush: Here’s to hoping that last night cooled that a bit. And this has nothing to do with a personal belief he had a bad game; the point, though, is that he didn’t have a good one. Seeing as no one else did, that hardly makes him unique. That Michael Bradley, as I see it, outplayed him on the night gets me wondering whether Bradley wasn’t the decisive person against Ecuador as well. None of this is to say that Feilhaber doesn’t deserve more chances; he does, and many of them. But I’d like to see the Bradley/Feilhaber duo broken up so as to experiment with say, Feilhaber/Ricardo Clark or Bradley/Mastroeni. In other words, team the more-polished passer with an ankle-breaking bulldog and see what happens. The experiment I’m most eager to see is Clark/Feilhaber...so, yeah, it’s not that I don’t like the guy. It’s the hype that gets me.

- Landon Let-Down: I’ll be damned, but those Guatemalans had him figured. I think the only time I saw Landon was when he was picking himself up. He’s still our Landy-cakes and his numbers prove he’s the best offensive player this country has yet produced, but he’s also clearly stoppable. Kids/wife/dinner meant that I couldn’t answer this for sure, but did the Guatemalans just stick a player to Donovan? If I were only looking to kill his game, that’s certainly what I’d do. Whatever they did, though, it worked.

- Mapp’s "Almost" Day: There’s no question in my mind that Mapp posed the most persistent threat to the Guatemalan bunker. Though he never managed the final ball, his runs at least made the Guatemalans chase and lose shape from time to time; damn shame he never managed to crank in that final ball, or totally turn the corner. Still, call this an moderately encouraging outing to place on top of his earlier promising one against Denmark. I’d bump him up to a solid option behind Beasley; on those days you’re feeling cocky enough to play for a win from the outset, you could make him first choice by combining him with a stay-at-home left-back. But, yeah, I like him. He needs to improve to take some attention from Donovan.

- Frank Simek - Best of the new guys. Someone, somewhere detected a habit of Simek hoofing the ball upfield, but I didn’t catch it. What I did catch, was him playing himself smartly out of trouble once or twice, and a late-game surge down the right that looked threatening enough at the time. Credit to him for mixing it up.

- End EJ: For the love of God, can we end this fucking experiment? By my judgment, he didn’t even fight for half the balls lofted his way, which made him nothing as an aerial threat, and he didn’t offer much with the ball at his feet either. Let this guy focus on club ball and see if he can get “it” back - and I wish him luck with it.

- Dempsey: He showed he can play, but only here and there. By the end of the game, though, he was about the only U.S. player still chasing for a goal. Overall, though, he's not winning hearts and minds.

- DeMerit: I’m, frankly, pissed that we still don’t have much to work with around this guy. There simply wasn’t enough for him to do for us to figure.

- Conrad: This may or may not be a lonely position, but I thought he was our best defender on the day. Good at cleaning up and not giving anything away (though that was him on Ruiz’s best shot at the U.S. goal, wasn’t it?).

And finally....

- The Guatemalans: They suck for playing it, but, damn, was that game plan effective. And that leads to...

- The Fundamental Issue: Tedious as last night was, it’s not entirely fair to say the Yanquis don’t know how to break-down an opponent. That “almost-score” - the play that ended with Mapp picking up a smart feed from Dempsey only to send it wide - tells me we do know how. The question is how to do more of it, to train our guys to switch up tactics more comfortably and frequently during the game. Sure, there’s the game plan and there’s the way a player likes to receive the ball, but these cant’ be etched in stone if we’re going to improve as a team and as players. The play described above, which came a bit after the 60th minute, was a good example of that - and we almost caught ‘em out.

All in all, though, we looked awfully confused. And, the reality is, we simply do better against teams who come to play.

All for now...time to shift gears anyway.

(W)Revs Wrap: Battle in Baton Rouge

It's a bit under the radar, what with the U.S. v. Guatemala game airing tonight, but the New England Revolution (shockingly) wraps up it's preseason work tonight with a warm-up against the Professional Development League's New Orleans Shell Shockers. A couple of write-ups appear in the local press, one a straight preview and the other a preview-cum-profile of a local player named Josey Portillo.

The latter contains a great line, from Portillo, about what it's like for soccer minnows to play a Major League Soccer (MLS) club just eleven years into the top-flight's existence:

"It's going to be kind of like a dream going against an MLS team."


As one who routinely fantasizes about showing up to open tryouts, (much) less to make the team than to fully appreciate how much better those players are than I'll ever be, I can appreciate where Portillo is coming from.

Regular readers of this space (and stray comments on BigSoccer boards know that the relative weakness of the Revs' preseason opposition is something of a going topic for me. Given that, I'll only say that the Revs are hardly testing themselves on this one. To begin, the New Orleans Shell Shockers hardly stand tall on the domestic scene, competing as they do in what amounts to the American fourth division. More to the point, they haven't had a good year since 2003, when, by a count of the number of wins showing, they looked to have done pretty well.

Subsequent years have been less kind: 2004 saw them finish 40th of 54 teams; they improved in 2005 to 36th, but, last year, the compiled a record in the PDL better than only nine teams (I didn't bother counting the number of teams...sorry).

The point of this slagging has less to do with the Shell Shockers - to whom I wish all the luck in the world - than it does with the Revs' curious preseason choices. Anyone else out there think Nicol might be concerned about building up the confidence of his newer players, several of whom he'll no doubt have to play during the upcoming season? I've heard worse ideas if that's the case, but, clearly, a risk of backfiring pertains.

Oh, and Joe Franchino took a leave of absence from the team for unstated reasons. The article reporting this mentions his recent run in with the law, which kind of posits a link between the two. Wonder if that's justified?

New England Revolution: 2007 Season Preview



(Don't ask about the photo...it's the devil in me.)

Past
MLSnet.com: 2006 Season Wrap
MLSnet.com: Big Questions after '06
My Thoughts on the Revolution’s '06 (Know my biases)

Present
2006-07 Off-Season Changes
Soccer New England’s Ins & Outs for roster changes (wait...those aren't just ball boys?)

New England Revolution’s roster from MLSnet.com

And now, the Future...

Key Men
Taylor Twellman - Before you assume it’s just the goals, flash back to the 2006 playoffs. Recall Twellman bellowing in the face of a prone Ivan Guerrero, remember him drifting back to defensive midfield to protect the lead against DC United, and mourn the fact he finally scored a goal in a final only to have Ching’s quirky goal cancel it seconds later. There’s a reason Twellman is one of the faces, if not the face, of the Revolution. He does so much for this team.

Daniel Hernandez - Unlike Coach Steve Nicol, I was a fan of Jose “Pepe” Cancela. The biggest question facing this team is who provides the “cultured” passing Cancela could very well have supplied if he ever saw the field for the Revs. It helps immensely, not least with Nicol, that Hernandez is a solid, if injury-prone, two-way player. But there are times when the team struggles with coherence in the attack and Hernandez looks the likeliest candidate to provide that. Assuming he can, the Revs become a better team without question, because when they stall....(shudder).

Matt Reis - It feels like a bit of disservice to the three men who will line up in front of him, but Reis anchors that line and, therefore, gets the nod here. Frankly, watching Reis play scares the bejesus out of me; it looks like he’s going to miss more than he stops, but there’s the dang ball in his hands and not in the net, so I have to call the man a great ‘keeper for this team. The Revs did manage the league's best defensive record last season, after all.

Andy Dorman - One of the most frequently asked questions of the 2006-07 off-season was what the Revs will do without Clint Dempsey. Dorman’s 2006 answers that one. While Dempsey was away, he improved on his 2005 totals by tripling his goals tally and doubling his assists (stats here). Hard to say. He’s already topped Dempsey for a one-year assists total (Dempsey maxed out at 9 in ’05; see here), but, naturally, this isn’t an apples-to-apples kind of thing: it was Dempsey’s ability to unsettle defenses that provided value; I’m assuming Dorman will do things differently - e.g. pass the ball better. Still, this is an experiment worth watching.

Additional Assets
Great Front Office Support - HA HAA HA HA HA HA!!

Liabilities
Aging - The big issue here, key performers in a number of positions - Steve Ralston, certainly, but also Joe “Personal Leave” Franchino, Avery John, Daniel Hernandez - are on the wrong side of 30. Obviously, different players age differently, so it’s not so much that these guys suddenly start sucking wind once they blow out 30 candles on the birthday cake, but there’s no question that there’s a transition coming; depending on the player (think Ralston) that could start this year.

Snake-bit - The chuck an NFL analogy into the discussion, do the Revs become the Buffalo Bills or the Denver Broncos? The former, of course, reached the cusp of success three times and haven’t been heard from since (maybe...I haven’t follow the NFL for shit since the 1980s/90s). I’ve got a bad feeling about how this team recovers mentally from a second consecutive let-down.

Cheap Front Office - While it’s hard to substantiate charges by Shalrie Joseph about “disenchantment” on the Revolution roster, it wouldn’t be all that surprising given their front office’s apparent pride at consistently running this team under budget. There’s something to be said for keeping a tight rein on personnel costs, but there’s also something to being generous with your players when they take your tax write-off to the final two years running. While it’s true they made Twellman happy - though only after several bitter months - the Joseph mess says something about the relationship between players and admin.

Unknowns
Draft Class - I had originally typed “(Insert New Guy Here)” in the “Key Men” section above. Good as the Revs’ starting eleven is, I can’t see this team having a successful season without several of the new guys (for the record: Arsene Oka, Wells Thompson, Miguel Gonzalez, Ryan Solle, Amaechi Igwe, Chris Loftus, or, the one garnering the best press and looking likeliest to start*, Adam Cristman) becoming solid, first-team contributors.

Injuries - Before the season has started, this team is coping with persistent injuries for Pat Noonan*, a freak injury for Michael Parkhurst, and niggling injuries to Hernandez. If the injury bug keeps biting at this rate, I’m guessing the Revs will face a dreaded “transition year.”

Prospects - Using Gambling Analogies
I think the “snake-bit” liability will be telling. There’s an air of desperation, exasperation - perhaps some other kind of “-ation” - surrounding this team, a wild-eyed vibe one might see in a gambler striking off to the pawn shop down the street from the casino. It’s like they’ve got the wedding ring in hand and ready to hawk and they’re hoping against memory that the stone is real diamond and not cubic zirconium. To me, the quality of that stone is Nicol’s Superdraft savvy. If he guessed right - and he may have - the Revs remain a playoff team; I can’t say a contender, but, in all truth, I stopped believing after 2005. But I can also see the Revs missing out this year.

The Nicol model relies on slow, steady growth and that may work. But there are also worrying signs that it’s done as much as it could and bigger intervention is needed. I suspect his seat is getting warm this year; it will only take a bad start to get it up to hot.

Los Angeles Galaxy: 2007 Season Preview


Past
MLSnet.com: 2006 Season Wrap
MLSnet.com: Big Questions after '06
My Thoughts on the Galaxy’s '06 (Know my biases)

Present
2006-07 Off-Season Changes
Soccer New England’s Ins & Outs - (NOTE: this is the first and last time I’ll write the name “Beckham”; he’s already doing plenty off the field, but I’m not sold on what he’s going to do on it do on it until, oh, the playoffs; by that time, he’ll have found his feet and we should have a better idea of how he’ll adjust.)

Los Angeles Galaxy roster from MLSnet.com

And now, the Future...

Key Men
Landon Donovan - This one’s a little automatic - and Galaxy fans almost certainly have to be getting excited about what Donovan’s doing on the national team. In any case, odds are that if you’re reading this you know plenty about Donovan; on his day, he’s the league’s top player - and certainly the best American player - who can score, assist, run at defenders, pass intelligently and well, etc.

Joe Cannon - The odds of Cannon failing to perform are pretty low. But it will be a black eye to the Galaxy front office if the defense stumbles; after all, you don’t ditch a solid ‘keeper like Hartman only to slip. This one will bear watching.

Tyrone Marshall - I’ve always liked Tyrone and have long counted him among the league’s best central defenders (though he is, mysteriously, listed as a forward on the roster page). But as he creeps further into the wrong side of 30, one has to wonder whether he’ll lose a step or two. With Ugo Ihemelu gone, though, Marshall bears responsibility for continuity in the Galaxy defense and integrating the new guys.

Nate Jaqua/Santino Quaranta - One of these two needs to be that clich├ęd sports animal, “the difference-maker,” for this year’s Galaxy. A big-man/target-man (see: Ching, Brian 2nd half v. Ecuador) would probably bring more to the overall offensive equation, especially when He-who-must-not-be-named joins the team, which is why I view Jaqua as the likelier candidate. Hell, it could be Alan Gordon for all Galaxy fans care. Somebody needs to make this team more complicated in the attack.

Additional Assets
“Joe-Mentum” - This can be double-edged, to be sure, but no team has the same excitement around them this year as LA. I put it here because I think they’re up for the pressure; for all I know, it may give them an edge.

One-Step Away - I’m only emphasizing something here: if this team can find a second banana to complement Donovan in the offense, they’ll be very good. The defense is already there (they finished second in goals-against in ’06 and carried a wicked shutout streak through the middle of the summer), so they’re closer than one might think.

Liabilities
Depth - Like Houston and DC, the Galaxy not only has a busy year with SuperLiga and the U.S. Open Cup (which they’ll no doubt ditch), they keep adding silly shit to it, whether it’s the “World Series of Soccer” or what one suspects will be other exhibitions. Once you get away from the starters, the players get greener pretty quick - and that’s when the “Joe-mentum” upside may became a wearying spotlight. Another factor plays into this...

Call-Ups - The good news is that Trinidad & Tobago’s return to international play means that Tyrone Marshall and, possibly, Shavar Thomas won’t get called up to the Jamaican national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. But they’ll lose left-back Ante Jazic to Canada’s team (I think) for the Gold Cup and, between that tournament and the Copa America, they’ll certainly lose Donovan for one month and Chris Albright and, likely, Cannon for a month as well - though it might not be the same month.

That Road-Trip - MLS, in its quest milk He-who-must-not-be-named’s arrival for all it’s worth, will end the Galaxy’s season with a long, long road-trip. In all honesty, this is semi-unconscionable from a competitive stand-point.

Long story short, the multiple obligations, both competitive and commercial, will likely cause the problems the Galaxy has this season.

Unknowns
Balance - Sorry. I’m confusing myself here with the redundancies. In simple terms, this is basically the mystery point where “additional assets” end and “liabilities” begin.

Prospects - Using Gambling Analogies
Back to craps: whenever a shooter gets hot, it’s very easy to get over-extended. Sure, the more bets you have on the table, the more you collect so long as the shooter stays hot, but you’re also only one craps roll away from losing a truckload of cash. The Galaxy will make plenty of cash - even for teams around the league when they visit them; it’s not unlike the barnstorming concept of baseball’s early days. But you’ve got to wonder whether they won’t pay a price on the field for the cash they’re picking up off of it.

For all that, I’d be shocked if they missed the playoffs for a second consecutive year. An Columbus-sized injury bug could do it, but they’ve got a strong enough first eleven to break even where it counts - e.g. reaching the post-season.

MLS to Portland (AKA...

...the first morning since high school when I awoke with wet pants.)

Sorry to start off so nasty, but I can think of no better way to describe my surprise at the lead article in the local sports section, which discussed Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber's visit to Portland, Oregon to study that (and my) city's viability as an MLS market. It's all pretty vague - not least in terms of field turf, timeline, and stadium issues - though it's also clear that something in the calculus of bringing an MLS club to the Pacific Northwest changed sufficiently to bring Portland into the picture. For the past three years, at least, it seemed that Seattle was the only game in town.

Still, MLS to Portland by 2010 remains a pipe-dream feel for now; but pipe dreams are the best kind, aren't they? There's also an element of guilt in this, down mainly to the question of why the city's current team, the United Soccer League Division 1 Portland Timbers aren't good enough. So long as I can afford it, I'll go to the games for either league, though I'd be lying if I didn't confess to being more excited about going to see an MLS club. But there's also a practical side to this: the main reason I stopped covering the Timbers came down to an inability to follow two leagues at once; if a Portland team joins MLS, well, that's problem solved as I see it. Still, I've invested enough in the Timbers for three or so years (last year was my big fall-off), that the guilt is there and it does nag a little.

Anyway, big news to see in my morning edition of The Oregonian. But it's time to get back to the MLS we have, not the one we might want to have...back to the verdammt previews.

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(The Past Few) Day(s) in Previews

Obviously, I've been busy with previews of my own...oh, but I'm still reading stuff...so you just watch it, mister...

Anyway...

Here's a collection of the previews I've bumped into around the Web; I'll start with my fellow amateurs. With a hat-tip to du Nord, I found a preview for Red Bull New York, done in a question & answer format. There's some good stuff in there about the impact field-turf might have, something New England fans should be considering as well, as well as good commentary on rumored new signings, etc.

I don't know who these Sports Network people are, but they cranked out a preview for the Kansas City Wizards, the team that has replaced the Colorado Rapids as the one I most often forget exists. They touch on some similar points that I did in my preview, specifically, the absence of changes, but the one-upped me by noting key subtractions from the squad...something I declined to prominently display in my all my reviews. (I posted a link...to all the trades...that's OK.....right?)

Turning now to the pros, ESPN is really hitting its preseason stride now, so I've missed the past few days' previews. In no particular order:

Steve Davis previewed the Columbus Crew's 2007, and, with the offense looking improved, he's more antsy about the defense; he also raises something I may or may not have mentioned in my preview (nope), the possibility that there will be too many chefs in the Crew's kitchen (see: "Can Sigi pull the right levers?").

Davis also drew FC Dallas duty and, here, he raises a great point to counter concerns about Dallas' defense: in Steve Morrow, they've got a good coach to tutor the team's youngsters in the arts of defending. There's also some good stuff in there about personnel, formation, and how they'll fit together.

Finally, Jeff Carlisle drew the Chivas USA preview. Much of what one would expect shows here: whether Preki's up to replacing Bob Bradley and handling Amado Guevara; the matter of who partners Ante Razov up top (his comments on Maykel Galindo versus John Cunliffe is especially worth the gander); finally, there's the depth problems, which are now compounded by the laying-low on one-man depth machine, Jonathan Bornstein.

Whew...all for today.

Kansas City Wizards: 2007 Season Preview


Past
MLSnet.com: 2006 Season Wrap
MLSnet.com: Big Questions after '06
My Thoughts on the Wizards’ '06 (Know my biases)

Present
2006-07 Off-Season Changes
Soccer New England’s Ins & Outs - again, Hartman’s about the end of it...

Kansas City Wizards’ roster from MLSnet.com

And now, the Future...

Key Men
Nick Garcia - Gotcha! Thought I was going to say Jimmy Conrad, didn’t you? Important as Conrad is to the team, the thing to remember is what happened - or allegedly happened (see year-end review) - when guys like Conrad left for World Cup duty: the Wizards started sucking and rarely stopped for the rest of the summer. Conrad will be gone again in 2007, for one month at least, which means the players who stick around - especially a veteran like Garcia - will have to hold things and keep the record rolling while they’re away.

Kevin Hartman - When you’re the only high-profile trade to come to a team - and in a high-profile position no less - the spotlight just kind of finds you. While I never thought Bo Oshiniyi was a bad ‘keeper, I feel comfortable calling Hartman an upgrade. His off-moments do come, but they’re rare enough for him to retain middle-to-high upside. Coming in as a “star” may help him to a leadership role, which, again, could help while guys like Conrad are away.

Eddie Johnson - A telling moment came early in last Sunday’s U.S. v. Ecuador game: a teammate (Dempsey, I think) sent Johnson on a run to the right corner of the Ecuadorian defense; Johnson, in trying to collect the ball, spazzed causing the ball to bounce around between his legs; momentum and any possible play died on the spot. The thing is, this kid’s confidence is shot. If he can find anyway to play remotely as advertised, the Wizards will immediately improve. Things are to a point where I can’t see that happening...fortunately for the Wizards, they’ve got a competent, and improving, back-up in Scott Sealy (who, incidentally, must be pissed when he thinks about what his under-performing colleague makes).

Jose Burciaga Jr. - Amazingly, this left-back was “Mr. Offense” for Kansas City last year. While many of his eight goals came on PKs, his eight assists, by definition, did not. Burciaga counts among the most under-noticed players in MLS, but that doesn’t do anything to his production; he’d be an asset on any team.

Additional Assets
To be honest, I’m at a loss to name one. They seem to have plenty of talent, but something keeps it from coming out...perhaps too much fluoride in KC? Not that that won’t stop me from trying below...

Wait, I've got one: Settled Ownership - It must be nice to enter a season without thinking you'll be gone the following year.

Liabilities
The Same Mix Mystery - Why a team that missed the playoffs two seasons running made so few changes to their roster I’ll never know. As good as the Wizards look on paper, surely the time will come when a shake-up needs to happen. It’s entirely possible that should have come last year and that the resignation of long-time coach Bob Gansler only started a necessary house-cleaning. The folks who run the Wizards apparently disagreed. We’ll see how that works for them. Suffice to say, I filed this where I did for a reason.

Unknowns
Really Feeling the Draft - To use a favorite term, the Wizards’ roster is a veritable “who’s that?” of names. I’ve heard snippets about guys like Yura Movsisyan, Ryan Pore, and Will John, but there’s a good-sized parade of anonymity that follows: Michael Harrington, Tyson Wahl, Ryan Raybould, Willy Guadarrama, A. J. Godbolt, Lance Watson, Aaron Hohlbein, Edson Elcock, and Michael Kraus. Assuming I didn’t miss anyone, those links should contain as much happy puff as the league has on these guys. But, painful as it is to say, it's a safer bet to wait on one of these guys to come good as it is to wait on Eddie Johnson's brain to settle down.

Prospects - Using Gambling Analogies
The Wizards’ front-office mentality matches that of a poker player who has sucked eggs all night, but who refuses to draw for an inside straight. Sometimes changing one’s luck requires long-shot risks. Johnson’s mammoth contract, which was undeniably a long-shot risk, is undoubtedly a factor here - and how can they unload that thing? - but the lack of off-season action really makes me wonder about this team’s chances.

I think they miss the playoffs for year number three, though there’s also room for the “starvation theory” - e.g. competitive hunger carries them over the psychic barrier that has made their late, regular seasons look like the mirror image of New England’s late surges. Still, what passes for my instincts tells me they miss out - again.

Houston Dynamo: 2007 Season Preview


Past
MLSnet.com: 2006 Season Wrap
MLSnet.com: Big Questions after '06
My Thoughts on the Dynamo’s '06 (Know my biases)

Present
2006-07 Off-Season Changes
Soccer New England’s Ins & Outs - not that it matters with this bunch...

Houston Dynamo roster from MLSnet.com

And now, the Future...

Key Men
Dwayne DeRosario - I’ll begin by admitting that his preseason hasn’t been the best - at least not till he sprang Brad Davis down the left flank to set up Houston’s second goal in the 2-0 win over Pachuca. But no one is “on” all the time and I suspect DeRosario’s rhythm will return as the season progresses. Simply put, I count him as the best, current player in MLS; he can dribble, pass long and short, shoot from range, etc. etc. Basically, he does it all. Only Landon Donovan and Christian Gomez share the same class.

Brian Ching - Sure, he’s a classic, back-to-goal big-man, but that he keeps improving his game suggests to me that Ching’s best years are ahead of him. Scary thought for the rest of the league's fans, but he’s not the raw striver who came to San Jose.

Craig Waibel - I rate him highest in a quality Houston defense. Waibel’s solid and not a little intimidating, but he’s another player who continues to sharpen his game. They could do worse than shift him inside - something the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup has revealed - but he’s just as comfortable on the right.

Ricardo Clark (et al.) - Cheating a bit here by slipping the addendum, but, like the rest of the Houston midfield, Clark does the leg-work that allows DeRosario to be all he can be; Mullan deserves honorable mention in that role, plus a bit more, as does Davis. They’re all far better than second-banana journey-man: they all cover a lot of ground, tackle and harass the opposition (Mullan and Clark more than Davis, who’s no slouch either), but also provide something going forward (Davis, especially). But Clark’s the safety net for all of them, covering the most ground, not to mention the other players, when they go forward.

Additional Assets
Happy, Happy - Is it just me or does the Houston squad friggin’ reek of a love-fest? In any case, mutual admiration societies tend to do well in team sports.

That Midfield - I hint at this above, but it’s worth mentioning directly: I don’t see a better, more effective midfield in the league. The longer their starters stay healthy, the better this team will be.

Liabilities
Long, Long Road - In truth, I should have slipped this same note into DC United’s preview (just re-read that as if I did, OK?): Houston not only starts early, they also have SuperLiga on top of U.S. Open Cup and regular season obligations. Does the squad have the depth to handle such a hectic, wearying pace over the next eight months?

Unknowns
Depth? - While there are few, if any, better starting elevens in MLS, it’s not clear that Houston possesses the depth to handle, say, a Columbus Crew 2006-sized injury plague. Recent contributions by guys like Chris Wondolowski, Ryan Cochrane, not to mention Zach Wells’ ongoing star-turn in goal, suggest they’ll be fine, but there’s no test like a long season to identify any pretenders.

Prospects - Using Gambling Analogies
If you know anything about horse racing, you’ll know there’s no such thing as a person who can call the races every time; even the most famous handicappers seem to miss often as they hit. That Houston plays like the best handicapper picks may not sound like much, but it’s actually high praise. It means they’ll walk away with something more often than not - even if it’s breaking even (e.g. those 13 ties from last season) - and nail the big payday from time to time. And that’s what most games are about: minimizing losses and capitalizing on the openings.

They’re a playoff team, to be sure, but I’ll count myself surprised if they return to, never mind win, a consecutive MLS Cup. Everyone has an off-day.

FC Dallas: 2007 Season Preview



(As you can guess, I'm getting excited about images and such.)

Past
MLSnet.com: 2006 Season Wrap
MLSnet.com: Big Questions after '06
My Thoughts on FC Dallas' '06 (Know my biases)

Present
2006-07 Off-Season Changes
New England Soccer News’ Roster Updates for most roster changes

FC Dallas roster from MLSnet.com

And now, the Future...

Key Men
Kenny Cooper - While he’s not alone, Cooper counts as “the other threat.” It’s crucial that he has a good second year in order to keep defenses from piling on Ruiz. He’ll have help here - Roberto Mina, Dominic Oduro, Arturo Alvarez, and perhaps even new-guy Carlos Toja - but he even helps them improve. The point is, two big-threat options are always better than one.

Ramon Nunez - He griped about being yanked from the deciding game against the Rapids last season. This year, he’s being given more responsibility than ever for running Dallas’ offense. It’s not yet clear what this means, but there’s some potential for a situation in which Dallas’ fortunes match those of Nunez.

Dario Sala - It’s amazing this grizzled veteran (don't mind his bio photo; he is grizzled) signed on for another season of getting shelled behind one of the greenest defenses in the league. Sala managed some remarkably athletic saves last year and he's not nearly old as he looks, so is a repeat possible?

Carlos Ruiz - He’s kind of automatic here. I can’t think of a better forward in MLS. Seriously.

Additional Assets
Subs That Count - Say what you will about departed coach Colin Clarke, but he did assemble one of the league’s more varied attacks. Dallas can give a lot of looks, from dribblers like Alvarez, Nunez, and Mina, to a darting speedster like Oduro, to a big slab like Cooper. That they can dramatically change their attacking approach mid-game counts for something.

Liabilities
Green team.... - Look at that roster again and check out who has the longest tenure on the team: yep, Bobby Rhine. And he almost doesn’t count because he spent, oh, six of his eight years in MLS at another position. Ruiz comes in next with five years’ experience, a couple fourth-year players follow (Alvarez, Chris Gbandi), but from there you’ve got a lot of twos, ones, and not a few zeros. Since not a lot of these guys are imported “pseudo-rookies” (there’s Sala, Serioux; I wouldn’t count Cooper) you’re looking at a serious dearth of professional experience. Ouch.

...Even Greener Defense - In his fourth-year, Chris Gbandi stands out as the wise, old head of Dallas’ field defense. He’ll be leading a line of very green guys - Drew Moor, Clarence “Lucky” Goodson, Alex Yi (who, I think, rates highest in this bunch), and the converted Rhine - which makes one think that the tradition of surrendering untimely goals established in 2006 will continue into the new season.

The Past - Face it: the words “Dallas” and “winners” don’t often come in the same sentence unless the latter word refers to someone else. The long history of flattering to deceive, of general mediocrity, will take some doing to overcome. The amazing thing: 2006 was the best year in club history. Why doesn’t it feel that way?

What They Gave Away - Ronnie O'Brien, Simo Valakari, Greg Vanney, and Richard Mulrooney: two of those guys were no great shakes, but, take them all together and that's the spine of a decent, if aging, team. I don't know much about radical spinal surgery, but suspect it's a complicated procedure.

Unknowns
Toja and ? - As noted elsewhere, new signing Juan Carlos Toja scored in a preseason warm-up against the Rochester Raging; if you’re a Dallas fan, you’ve got to hope that’s a sign of things to come. A week-old (and quite informative) article from the Dallas Morning News mentions another midfield player, Pablo Ricchetti. What will these guys bring to the team? Don’t know. Makes one wonder, though, why they aren’t out looking for defenders.

Prospects - Using Gambling Analogies
That FC Dallas posted the best season in team history in 2006 suggests there’s something in play beyond my knee-jerk opinion. But there’s just something telling me to trust that jerking knee, so, here it is:

These guys are bluffing; the years when they sucked so bad no one could miss it aside, they have always bluffed, or, in less theme-relevant terms, Dallas has tended to flatter to deceive (me anyway*). And what happens when you bluff on every hand? The other players know the score and start calling the bluff. Colorado has managed this twice in as many years. For the reasons above and, out of frustration at getting burned year after year*, I've already put these guys on my "pay no mind" list. I think they’re going to miss the playoffs and that it’s their defense and general lack of experience that does them in.

* BIG CAVEAT: I'm bitter about this team. I've called them to make the Cup more times than I can count and they've failed me every time. If you're a Dallas fan, you should find the harshness of this call highly reassuring.

Videos! I Did It! (Dang...more Feilhaber)



Oh, wicked cool. Now, I'm posting videos....now, if only I can get ahold of a tight-focus replay on Feilhaber, I can do something about my sense I'm being bum-rushed into singing his praises.

Look, here's the thing. We looked pretty stretched in the first half - e.g. the time Feilhaber was on the pitch solo. I'm thinking this could have been a function of Ecuador playing more down the flanks, which would have largely bypassed Feilhaber. It was that and the give-aways everyone saw that caused me to rate him as marginal.

Still, there's something about that unanimity of opinion on his debut.

Whatever. I suppose I should just sit and hope that Bradley plays/starts him again against Guatemala (and that he's not one of the players leaving early; doesn't appear so; thanks My Soccer Blog).

U.S. v. Ecuador: Round-Up/Apology to Feilhaber

I feel compelled to 1) point out that Throughball posted a video of the goals from the game, and 2) that I still don't know how to post video. Moving on...

After reading more than I ever wanted to about the U.S. Men's National Team's (aka, Yanquis) 3 - 1 win over Ecuador, I'm going to compare what I saw against what everyone else did...and it won't always make for pretty viewing. I'll link to everything I read below - and a lot of it is quite good - but will start with a re-evaluation of my original analysis....

...which starts with an excuse. I was highly distracted during viewing. To begin, the 9 a.m. start wasn't helpful. I was up, down, out of the room, chasing my kid, sitting another, etc. etc.

I mention this only because what everyone has written positively-to-the-point-of-man-crush about Benny Feilhaber. In my original analysis, I pointed to him as the one guy not deserving of "honorable mention," which I now see runs counter to nearly unanimous opinion. Based on that, I can only conclude that I saw more of the stray passes he managed in the first half than I did of what everyone else saw - specifically when Michael Bradley entered the game; a lot of observers viewed that as a turning point in the game. This, to me, recommends talking up Bradley as opposed to Feilhaber, but, given all I missed, I'm not up for strong statements.

And though I was only dimly aware as to when Michael Bradley came on, I certainly noticed that the U.S. took charge of the game by the second half; it wasn't just the score, but the possession and momentum. So, I'll pay closer attention to the Bradley/Feilhaber thing in future - assuming I get a shot at it.

Other areas of (relative) disagreement:

Clint Dempsey: I thought he did pretty well. I can remember a pair of intelligent, effective runs to match the wayward jogs to the corner that everyone else saw; I also remember two solid, successful defensive battles. No, Clint didn't dominate, but he was hardly anonymous - and, yeah, he exposed Cherundolo more than a little - but I basically liked what I saw and wonder about the extent to which Dempsey labors under, shall we say, Donovan-sized expectations.

Jimmy Conrad: If there was a defender who bailed out the rest when things went wrong, it was Conrad. It's undeniable that the defense didn't look good, particularly in the first half, and that's Conrad's responsibility as much as anyone's. But, his problems with foot-speed aside, I still thought he had the best day at the back and still count him the most reliable defender so far in the current World Cup cycle.

DaMarcus Beasley: I can only say I thought he had a good game. Really. But only one other guy saw that: Ives Galarcep (LINK - see the 67th minute).

All in all, I think some of my first impressions held: it's harder to fire Bradley; Donovan had a great game, but it's only the first step to restoring his reputation; Ecuador is a good team, which people ought to remember when they're criticizing our defense - it's not like this was my old indoor team or anything.

Looking forward to Wednesday, now. I'll be shocked if Bob doesn't make it 4-0-0. Speaking of Bob, USSoccerplayers.com's Jay Hutcherson had by far the most novel take on where he sits with regard to the coaching position; it comes very close to stating outright that getting the job is out of Bradley's hands. Finally, I couldn't hear a word of the commentary - between the kids crawling around my ankles (mentioned above) and my wife planning a birthday party, I didn't hear anything more than a stray line.

Now, the rest of the links (and the odd response from me):

Jen Chang: Part of the Landon love-fest, but there's also love for the Bradley/Feilhaber midfield pairing. (Don't we always get over-excited based on these first impressions?)

Jeff Carlisle: The first place I saw mention of Michael Bradley's impact on the game; also digs into the extent to which Sunday's performance vindicates Donovan. Also credits the "Other Bradley" (Bob) for getting things settled for the second half; it seems he's done this in each of the three games he's coached.

Soccer America turned in both an analysis and grade sheet; the analysis praises the way both central pairings (Donovan/Ching; Feilhaber/Bradley) clicked and they gave Feilhaber high marks (all right, all right...I fucking missed it!)

USSoccerplayers.com's Ken Pendleton wins for most apt description of the game's first half:

"In the first half, the US lacked any semblance of balance. They looked dangerous every time they came forward, but vulnerable every time Ecuador did the same."


Moving now to blogs, An American's View highlighted the defensive errors, dissed Deuce, and added to the widespread love for Bradley-Feilhaber. My Soccer Blog weighed in with grades and analysis, most of which matched everyone else's thinking (though he rated Bradley higher than Feilhaber, which, to my distracted eye, makes sense; he pooped on Deuce too).

On the less thorough side of blog reviews are contributions from Quarter Volley (bashes Dave O'Brien), DCenters (who was underwhelmed), and the Real Salt Lake Blog (who shortened a favorite word, "mofugly," to "fugly" in summing up the game).

That's all...and that's enough.

LA Wins MLS-USL Caribbean Tourney

Lost somewhere in what felt like a busy weekend, a couple of preseason tournaments involving clubs from Major League Soccer (MLS) and the United Soccer Leagues Division 1 (USL-1) snuck a bit under the radar. One of these - the Puerto Rico MLS-USL Challenge - concluded with the Los Angeles Galaxy taking the spoils...which may or may not have been limited to redneck gifts certificates to Sizzler, or something of comparable value. Though, there's no underestimating the value of getting fit ahead the long, long (oh god...I just flashed forward to July in my head...the horror...) MLS season, right kids?

At any rate, I really have only stray match reports to pass on: one for each of FC Dallas' two experiences in the tournament, which included a win over the Rochester Raging Rhinos where they played badly and a loss to the Puerto Rico Islanders where they, apparently, played better. Go figure. One thing to note on the win: Dallas' new signing, Carlos Toja, scored in the game against the Rhinos.

Los Angeles won both their games: the first a 3-2 decision over Rochester (written up by the incomparable Laurie on The Offside's LA Galaxy blog), while the other, a (very) brief item run by LA Soccer News, talks about the second game, a 2-1 win over Puerto Rico, in the context of LA winning the whole she-bang.

The Islanders' website tells a longer tale, and one that reads more favorably to the hosts. No shock there...which isn't to say that wasn't true. Still, the pre-Beckham/Donovan-free version of the Galaxy suggests that LA's original team will be a tough nut this season.

And FC Dallas' season so far has to have one wondering how far down the Western Conference table they'll finish.

I'll do a similar update for the Carolina Challenge Cup once that one wraps up.

LA Freelancers Take on Euro-Myth

Like some friends call to coordinate outfits, it seems that the LA Soccer News/Sideline Views crew did some coordinating to take on the debate as to whether Major League Soccer (MLS) somehow stunts a player's development. Luis Bueno's contribution comes in the form of a formal column, while Andrea Canales posted hers on the blog they share, Sideline Views. Bueno's deals more directly with the MLS-to-Europe comparison using U.S. Men's National Team players as example, while Canales assails the faulty logic that Europe is always and automatically better using Landon Donovan.

The point of both pieces, to lump them together a bit unfairly, boils down to a statement that MLS is developing players; perhaps not as quickly as we'd all like, but it's doing a job, if not the job. Having gone a little ways down the opposite road - especially where Donovan is concerned - I have to confess they make a decent case; though where Canales is concerned, I tend to be dubious about applying strict logic to real life equations. Still, I think she finds the essential hole in the argument, much like Bueno's numbers capably make his case.

But the killer line closes Canales post:

"If Europe is so wonderful for developing players, why hasn't a U.S. player in Europe come along better than Donovan?"


One rejoinder comes to me right away - e.g., these are relatively new trends we're discussing and the general inability of Americans not named Brian McBride or Claudio Reyna, and those not playing 'keeper, to become real forces in the European top-flight speaks to a weakness in the U.S. game/system that keeps these players from becoming regulars on European clubs....gasp...sorry out of breath - but that doesn't really take away from the basic point.

MLS isn't doing that badly for a twelve-year-old league. We aren't world-beaters, but we're also no longer pushovers on the world scene. This whole thing will take time no matter where our guys play and, if they're not getting playing time, it's not like Americans are going to improve in Europe just by, say, drinking the water and breathing the air. Even as I see some truth in my long digression above, even that will take time. Long story short, you can't rush these things...seriously, you physically can't, not because it's not wise, but because it simply can't be done. The reality is, we're learning. And MLS isn't a horrible classroom.

(#########)

(W)Revs Wrap: Cristman Leads Over Olimpia



Nice crowd, eh? The photo comes courtesy of Sean Heffernan (who introduced himself here and gave a bang-up match report here).

Sorry to make this so brief, but I did a bunch of background crap to make my blogging life easier. It didn't help that the U.S. win over Ecuador has produced as much online commentary as any game I've seen. Then there was the time I wasted trying to figure out how to catch U.S. v. Guatemala AND the CONCACAF Champions' Cup semifinals; the answer there, of course, is that I don't....I lost track of the weeks, you see.

Suffice to say the New England Revolution turned in a 3-1 win over Honduras' CD Olimpia. Not bad. And the atmosphere down in New Orleans sounded nice enough as well. As nearly everyone mentions, this takes New England to 5-0 on the preseason. And, also as usual, I'd reply with, yeah, but against whom?

There's also the fact that rookie forward Adam Cristman is the story here; he's got four goals now in three games. Again, against whom?

Still, as I confess in the comments field to my colleague's post on the New England Revolution's corner of The Offside, that Cristman appears at all capable of starting right now constitutes good news. And, again, make sure you read the comments from Sean, who caught the game live. He not only offered some nice insight on the game, but he's got me feeling a bit more comfortable about the Revolution heading into 2007.

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U.S. v. Ecuador: First Impressions

U.S. 3 - 1 Ecuador
Do you feel the goosebumps? Me too - I think. Here are some questions that come to me as I review what just happened in my head; I'll compare notes with the rest of the world tomorrow.

Good Test? - About midway through the first half, I thought to myself (for the rest of my family doesn't care about such things) this game looked like a very good, very real test for the U.S. Men's National Team (hereafter, the Yanquis). Ecuador, as a team, was big, athletic, and quick; they pressured our players well and, usually, the minute our guys hit the middle third, an Ecuadoran player attached himself to his hip, back, etc. They also showed a capacity for breaking down, or getting around, the U.S. defense. The second half made me wonder a bit, though...

What About Bob? - How hard will it be to fire Yanqui head coach Bob Bradley? He's compiled a 3-0-0 record, with two of those games coming against what the overwhelming majority of observers would dub quality opposition (no offense intended to the Denmark B-Team); by the end of the day Wednesday, he's likely to have a 4-0-0. By my estimation, this should guarantee Bradley the reins for the Gold Cup and Copa America: see how he manages this team through a month-long tournament and you should have some sense (with the hiring of Steve Sampson the exception that proves the rule) of how he'll perform on the biggest stage.

More below....

Who Spike Landon's Wheaties? - This is what U.S. fans want to see from Landon Donovan. He was everywhere, he played aggressive yet loose and and kept his head through three - almost four - top-quality finishes. Even if this is what he can do, there's no reason to expect him to do it every game. Still, it had definitely been a while, so, yeah, this was refreshing, even exhilirating to see Donovan rip the opposition.

Oh, and how many records will this kid hold before his career is over?

How well will this defense gel? - OK, we all got our wish (dammit! we didn't...where was Jay DeMerit? How much longer do I have to endure speculation without hard evidence?): the defense Bradley fielded was basically our best. But they did look pretty haphazard for much of the first half. One of the yo-yos in the booth said something about them still finding their roles - and I think he's right - so I'm thankful they've got three years in which to do it. The only guy who looked totally solid: Jimmy Conrad. I never thought I'd write this - and feel no regret in doing so - but is Conrad the Yanquis' best defender?

And, yeah, Onyewu got cooked on Ecuador's goal...don't blame him too much, though, 'cause it was a slick little move. And seeing him with his shirt off before the game - good Lord, he's massive.

We know the MVP, but who deserves honorable mention? - I liked what I saw from Clint Dempsey; not everything, but he had a pair of good, slashing runs and a pair of effective defensive scraps. Obviously, I thought pretty highly of Conrad. DaMarcus Beasley had a good enough game that I'd like to think he played himself back into everyone's good graces. Ching battled and, if I'm not mistaken, sent Donovan through on the run for the second goal - though he was otherwise a bit marginal.

Who doesn't? - Happily, most people had a good game. If I had to pick somebody, Benny Feilhaber sprayed some bad passes around the middle of the field. But, for all that, he didn't look like he didn't belong.

All for now. Talk more about this tomorrow.

DC United: 2007 Season Preview


CORRECTION at bottom of the page.

And do enjoy the shot of the original, fascism-inspired badge.

Past
MLSnet.com: 2006 Season Wrap
MLSnet.com: Big Questions after '06
My Thoughts on DC United's '06 (Know my biases)

Present
2006-07 Off-Season Changes
Soccer New England's Ins & Outs for (most) roster changes

DC United roster from MLSnet.com

And now, the Future...

Key Men
Christian Gomez (of course) - It’s tempting to say that, without Gomez, DC would be an average team, but that’s not really the case; they're subtly solid all over. He is, however, the brains and legs of their offense, a force that grew just that little bit more menacing with the arrival of...

Luciano Emilio - If Emilio can carry his CONCACAF Champions’ Cup form through to Major League Soccer’s regular season, he’ll not only score a bunch of goals in the league, he will also free up Gomez to do more damage. As things look right now, Emilio raised the bar for David Beckham’s arrival; anyone proving a hotter commodity than the Brit will raise eyebrows and Emilio looks the likeliest candidate to do this.

Bobby Boswell - With Troy Perkins pulling a “church mouse” routine in goal - e.g. he’s the quietest ‘keeper I’ve ever seen - someone needs to lead the D.C. defense, to get in other players’ grills when they screw up or go soft. Steve Goff, the Lord of DC News, mentioned in a post on his blog that Boswell showed a bit of bite in practice this year. If he assumes the drill sergeant’s role, it can only help DC’s defense; for whatever reason, jocks respond to yelling, so the more the better.

Ben Olsen - What Boswell may or may not do in defense, Olsen does for the team. When they need someone to freak-out, fight, and scrap, it’s Olsen who does it often as not (at least when I’m watching). This works wonders when he can get the team to follow.

Additional Assets
That (damned) Tradition - DC’s past successes simultaneously raises the bar for performance and gives players the sense of security that comes with playing for a champion. That’s self-perpetuating, to some extent at least, till it peters out. And, like it or not (and I don’t), it’s not going to peter out in 2007.

Killer Fans - Everyone knows about the environment at RFK. And everyone wants to replicate the environment at RFK. Not many come close. The only “12th man” I’ve really seen in MLS, though Houston fans made it interesting last season.

Liabilities
Defensive Meltdown - No conversation about DC’s 2006 can duck the mystery of what happened with the defense. The team that went from keeping clean sheets and gritting out 1-0 wins in May and June spent the last half of the season looking antsy, clumsy, and lost. Often as I saw it, the phenomenon struck me as an ailment of the head. With the same personnel in place, one gets the sense that it could happen again at any time. A few people out there would say this happened in the second leg of the Champions Cup quarterfinal against CD Olimpia; then again, it went tolerable away against Chivas in the semis. In any case, this is definitely something to watch.

Moreno? - This isn’t a new idea, but I’m drifting toward a camp that says Jaime Moreno is in the twilight of his career and will stand by that till he makes me eat his words. If I were coach Tom Soehn, I don’t think I’d start him at this point, but use him off the bench - and that goes double given the long season. Even as I count him as - well...no, I do - the best player in MLS history, I think his powers are fading, which knocks a side off the oft-mentioned “offensive triangle.”

Unknowns
Foreign Investments - Even if it’s a bit early to call Emilio a proven quantity, there’s at least some first-hand visuals. Observations from camps by various bloggers aside, we’ll have to see how the rest of the DC imports - Fred, Kasali Yinka Casal, Kiki Willis* (am I missing anybody?) - pan out. From what I’ve read they’ve all looked impressive enough, but “doing the business” during the regular season is what counts. Though maybe one, or all of them, will know what to do about...

That Weird Paralysis - Now, every soccer team I’ve ever seen goes through parts of the game where they look just totally fucking clueless, as if they’ve never moved the ball upfield. But DC more-than-common fluidity makes the occasions when this strikes more glaring. It certainly appeared last year down the stretch and in the playoffs and I’ve already seen it this year - from about the 70th minute to the moment when they scored the equalizer against Chivas de Guadalajara. Anyway, this - I don't know what else to call besides an ambling lack of urgency - I just can't explain; the defensive issues looked obvious, but, this? Could whatever "it" is strike again - or, more to the point, again and again?

Prospects - Using Gambling Analogies
Picture a poker game, just a generic one. DC United is the guy who doesn’t seem to pick up anything lower than a straight all night long. His pile keeps growing till he hits a rash of riskier hands - two pairs here, three of a kind there. Even if I count DC more good than lucky, 30 games is a lot and off-nights will happen. DC has the personnel and savvy to win it all, but it all depends on how they ride out those weaker hands. Last year they blew it, though the reasons remain mysterious - to me anyway. Figuring out how to react to hiccups - do you bluff, fold, mix it up, etc. - will be the difference between DC winning the title or going home early the second season in a row.

But, of all the teams in the league, I’d be shocked - SHOCKED, I tell you - if DC didn’t win the East, never mind make the playoffs.

CORRECTION: *I mistakenly listed Kiki Willis as a "foreign import." He's not, as the first commenter pointed out; he's from Ohio fer Crissakes. I also failed to mention Guy-Roland Kpene; and even he spent enough time at U.S. universities that, strictly speaking, he doesn't fit the foreign player billing either.

Ed. Notes: Timbers Weekly, RIP; No Weekly, etc.

I'll start with my sincere regrets for talking about myself so much this week. Won't happen next, but I'm working on managing my time...always tricky for me.

Anyway, two announcements to add to those below:

1) I'm canning the Timbers Weekly feature. The thing is, I can either pretend I'm not just ripping off the Timbers Blog or the Soccer City USA message boards, or I can just stop doing it. I'm going with stopping. You can find everything you'd want to know about the Timbers between the two sites - and more than any sane person would want to know with regard to the message board. The thing is, they're paying attention and I'm not. So, yeah, read them. In any case, though I'm planning on seeing as many Timbers' games as I can this season, I also know it won't be all of them, or even enough to have anything intelligent to say about them.

Then there's trying to keep up with everything else. Something had to give.

2) Simpler note: I'm forgoing my half-traditional "Week in" features today, but won't be discontinuing those; I see too much value in the way they keep me up-to-date on news across Major League Soccer. And, yeah, you can get the same kind of thing from du Nord, and on a daily basis at that, but I like to think there's value in a weekly wrap - namely, perspective. Though, I can't speak for whether I've successfully added that.

OK, all for now. Next up, the DC United season preview.

Calling All Blogs! Calling All Blogs!

As mentioned below, I'll be starting to cover the Columbus Crew for The Offside shortly. Right now, I'm trying to get up to speed on where one goes to find information about them. I did a quick Google search using the phrase "Columbus Crew blogs" and came up with a link to one site.

Clearly, I have my work cut out on this one.

But the purpose of this post is a larger one. I've been trying to figure a way to keep up on all Major League Soccer's clubs, but want to do it without larding the ol' bookmark bar with links to mainstream media outlets across the host cities (believe it or not, this hasn't worked all that badly). So, here's what I'm hoping to have happen:

If you run a blog tied to a specific team, could I trouble you to drop word of it into the comments field below or, if you'd rather, by emailing me a link to your site or a heads-up as to its existence?

I've already got a fair number of you set up in Bloglines, but I'm going for total (and relatively easy) coverage! Thanks for your time.

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(W)Revs Wrap: Cristman, Cristman!; More Joseph

I'll start with a little announcement: assuming things go according to plan, I'm going to relinquish my place on the New England Revolution blog for The Offside. Sabin, who has been my partner in producing that corner of The Offside, will take over sole authorship.

I decided instead to blog about another Major League Soccer (MLS) club: the Columbus Crew. They need the love and, me being a son of Ohio, I thought I'd make a decent fit. I'll let y'all know as soon as things get nailed down, but I won't, however, be linking back and forth between this site and that one. Why? This is, and will remain, a New England Revolution blog. In spite of my boredom/frustration with my team, I'm not changing allegiances. I'm merely providing a need - though it helps that it's a team for whom I've got a soft spot. So, Go Crew...except when you play New England.

Turning now to actual Revs' there's not much of substance. There are a couple nice pieces on rookie forward Adam Cristman, though one is more practically valuable than the other. That could be a factor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch piece focusing on Cristman's emotional well-being (good, for the record) instead of cold calculations of what will happen on the field, which is the tack taken by Soccer New England. With Pat Noonan's injuries looking to keep him out for the first game or so, these are things you might want to know.

Then again, New England Soccer News ran a piece this morning that is cautiously optimistic about an early return for Noonan. This space's position: it's a long season, people, don't rush it. Please?

Other quick items:
The Revolution corner of the BigSoccer boards is carrying a decent debate on the spat between Shalrie Joseph and the Revolution front office. It was petering into jabs last time I visited, but there's good content on sports economics and the value of a contract versus the value of a player in there as well.

And, tucked in the middle of expansive commentary on DC United and sundry items, the Washington Post's Steve Goff had something interesting to say about the 2007 Eastern Conference race:

"Q: Who do you think is the most improved team in MLS this offseason? Who's going to be worse off than last year?"

"A: Once Beckham settles in, LA could have a very good team after missing the playoffs last year. NY has some potential with Arena in charge and Reyna in the leadership role. Worse? Things aren't looking good in New England."


Swell.

USMNT: The Games, Some Scouting, One Observation

As nearly everyone who could find this site through Bloglines or Soccer Blogs knows, the U.S. Men's National Team (screw "USMNT"; let's call 'em...the "Yanquis") has a pair of games coming up over the next week: Ecuador on Sunday (and damned early....mimosas?) and Guatemala on Wednesday (won't catch this one; bookended between much, much more alluring CONCACAF Champions' Cup games; drool....).

But, for people who don't follow the game (soccer) or this site (title is up top) regularly, I sent a preview of both games to the good people at Write On Sports. It's nothing fancy, but it gives the reader a few names and implies the crucial thing: if you can only watch one of these games, make it the Ecuador game.

Regarding the Guatemala game, this one is likely to tell us only one of two things: 1) that we're still better than most teams in our region and that's only a question of degree on a given day; 2) in the event of a win or a draw, that the Yanquis had a bad day. Anything else we learn - whether we score, or totally fail to score - will carry an asterisk to signify that this was Guatemala, after all. I'm not belittling the Guatemalans for sport, or mocking them; I'm merely saying the reason the Yanquis haven't lost to them since 1988 matches the reason why Liechtenstein freaks friggin' out when they draw, say, the Republic Ireland. There are simply expectations.

Ecuador, on the other hand, promises to be educational. In writing the item for Write On I did a bit of digging on Ecuador, something to refresh my impressions on the team. That digging, which mainly happened on Wikipedia, reminded me of Ecuador's 2006: they made the Round of 16 (where they lost to England) in Germany by beating Poland and Costa Rica. In qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, they topped Brazil in the CONMEBOL marathon. The team they're sending featured a name or two people may recall: Carlos Tenorio, who bagged two goals last summer; Ulises de la Cruz, from Aston Villa and now Reading. I want to pretend I remember more of these guys, but I don't.

What I do remember, though, is that Ecuador looked something solid last summer. Till they hit the hosts (Germany) and England lulled them to sleep in the second round, they looked impressive back-to-front. Their game against a familiar foe, Costa Rica, saw them beat that team by a score the Yanquis attain on a good day.

Based on that, they ought to provide a decent measuring stick for the Yanqui team in terms of where both the trialists (one in particular) and the regulars are. Looking forward to this one...Guatemala...not so much.

I'll close with the observation. Look at the list of forwards called up for these two games:

Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Eddie Johnson (Kansas City Wizards), Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution)


Where do all these guys earn their paycheck? Does that tell us anything, either about the players themselves or about Yanqui forwards in general? Is there a problem? If so, is there an answer?

For now, I'm willing to say there isn't a problem problem. Like any sane person, I'd rather see the forwards leading my side drawing love from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, and so on. But I also take comfort from the fact that Yanqui teams usually field competent defenders and defensive midfielders. And the fact that American teams know how to defend well enough means that forwards playing in our league at least have some educational work in figuring out how to beat them.

So it could be better, but it could also be worse. We're learning at least.

Day in MLS Previews, 03.22

Unless I'm missing something, Ives Galarcep's preview for Red Bull New York's 2007 looks to be the only one in town today.

I'll say it again: the guy does good analysis. It may or may not hold up to the cold light of day, but it sure as hell sounds authoritative. And I do think his stuff holds up fine.

With that in mind, the key points of interest for me included: where Claudio Reyna will play and how Red Bull will try to pull that off; Galarcep's comments on defense; Dave Van Den Bergh as the "X-Factor." Overall, though, if you look at what Red Bull lost and gained player-wise between 2006 and 2007, I think they've done pretty well. Yeah, they need that goal-scorer, but if Altidore lives up to half the hype he got last year, John Wolyniec, a personal hero, can handle of the rest; 10 goals last year, people - there are worse journey-men out there.

As for me, I had some other things going on so I won't get to a preview today. Look for a write-up on DC tomorrow. I also think I'll post content - e.g. more previews - over the weekend for once.

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DeMerit Porn + A Plea

With Watford defender Jay DeMerit seemingly poised to make his debut with the U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT), glowing tributes of his path to success are popping up here and there. It's a great story to be sure and I admire the hell out of the guy, seriously. I mean, the restraint in not punching Elton John....miraculous...

And I'm glad he's getting his shot; I really am.

But I've got one very serious and respectful plea for U.S. coach Bob Bradley: please, PLEASE, see that DeMerit gets on the field for both the Ecuador and Guatemala games. I want to know, in so far as it's possible to learn from two games, whether this guy is USMNT material. I don't think I can stand another year of half-full hype on this guy. I can't recall any other player for whom apparent presumptions of excellence have so abounded. So, let's add a little hard data to the mix, shall we?

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Keller...Well, That Changes Things

Luis Arroyave's Red Card was one of a number of sites that picked up Kasey Keller's comments about wanting to stay on with the U.S. Men's National Team thorugh the 2010 World Cup.

Given that, almost exactly a week ago, I wrote something about that it's time for Keller to "let go." I wrote that thinking he didn't have any intention of playing to 2010. I hereby retract that. Let the man compete and, if he's the best we've got, by all means, get him to South Africa.

Love the moxie, Kasey.

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British Invasion?

Sports Illustrated pullled together a chunky Truth & Rumors today, at least as relates to Major League Soccer (MLS). There's the interesting tip about Red Bull New York allegedly chasing Aston Villa's Juan Pablo Angel, but there's also talk of a "british invasion."

The last bit refers to a BBC News article (picked up by du Nord, naturally) in which Toronto FC midfielder Carl Robinson says he's "put in a word" for 6 or 7 English players; we'll have to see how that translates to warm bodies.

Anotehr interesting item from Robinson comes with his comments on the style of play in the American top-flight:

"I'm really enjoying it, they are a good bunch of lads and I'm enjoying the way football is over there. It is much more focussed towards keeping the ball rather than the end-to-end hurly-burly of the Championship and that suits me down to the ground. It's more like international football."


Ah, Carl. I'm blusing on behalf of all MLS fans. Such a nice thing to say....

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(W)Revs Wrap: Preseason Blues

Not much to report today in New England Revolution news. The two big stories - preseason and Shalrie Joseph's persisting wishes to leave the club - continue to plod along without generating much in the way of excitement.

Soccer New England keeps up with the Joseph story, which has only moved forward in the sense that Joseph hasn't changed his mind about wanting a trade. In the same article, Joseph states he'll show and give "100%" (let's count our blessings; he didn't offer 110%), but I can't see that holding together if things go at all sideways this season.

Then there's the continuing preseason, which shifts venues next week to Louisiana. There, the Revs will play CD Olimpia (Sunday) and the New Orleans Shell Shockers on the PDL (Wednesday). The news here is the growing list of injuries/recoveries (Pat Noonan, Michael Parkhurst, Daniel Hernandez) and absences (Taylor Twellman, Tony Lochhead, Amaechi Igwe) - the (sparse) details appear here.

On the upside, Revs coach Steve Nicol is feeling good about what he's seeing in preseason...sure, I bet you say that to all the girls....

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Timbers Weekly: From the Shoulders of Others...

...which is where I expect I'll be blogging from till there are actual games to pick apart. I learned all I know about Timbers' related news through other blogs and, as such, will give them prominent credit below:

From the Timbers Blog
There are a number of trialists seeking the chance to pull on Portland Timbers green this year; the Timbers Blog named four in one post - forwards Matt McDonough and Bryan Jordan, midfielder Mark Stock, and defender Todd Sabrowski - and he credits another site for pointing him toward another trialist, Michael Caso. That some post discusses Timbers' promotions for the 2007 season. If I haven't said it before, here it is again: the only promotion that floats my boat is Thirsty Thursday, which involves cheap beer. I am cheap and I like beer. That is all.

If I didn't think my daughter would rip the head off, I'd consider picking her up a Timber Jim bobble-head. But I like Timber Jim, so I won't.

In a pair of related items, I still can't comment on the Timbers Blog, which is probably just as well. And, if someone can pop by to tell me how to find a page for the 107 Report that doesn't front an October 2006 podcast as its latest item, I'd appreciate it...unless, of course, that is the latest item.

From the SoccerCityUSA Message Boards
One of the great, personal mysteries for this off-season is what would become of Byron Alvarez, a forward I've always really enjoyed watching. Well, the board tells me he is going to sign with another USL Division 1 team, the Charleston Battery. Seeing as this is big news in my world I bopped over to the Battery's website, but they're not mentioning this as yet and he's not showing on the official roster. I very much doubt that's a good sign, though, as the message boards view an Alvarez trade as a matter of when, not if.

A point original to me
In a bit of related news, the Battery joins the short list of USL Division 1 teams who will enjoy a sexier preseason than the Timbers. Where is my preseason mini-tournament, people?