Top 5, 06.29: Better Copa Chatter; DC Win, The Shirt

Behold, the Web's bounty...

- Since I couldn't see the game (which is not Comcastic), I read reports on the U.S. loss till they all sounded the same - e.g. man, did we lose and why, Eddie Gaven, why? A couple stood above the others, though. Dan Loney's reply to a reader email on "what it all meant" says what I wanted to say earlier...only better (Dan Loney Says It Better?). So, good thing I posted the video...

The best detail line I saw came from Jen Chang's analysis on his ESPN blog, in the section on Eddie Johnson. For what it's worth, I concur with this statement: "...[Johnson] still remains too much of a one-trick pony for me. He's great at running onto through balls, but that's about it." The elaboration from this point, particularly on EJ's hesitancy, is worth the gander too.

- DC United jumped on the Colorado Rapids Argentina-style last night (i.e. late, and by the same score), but the thing that caught my eye was Fred's evangelical celebration. Now, neither The DCenters or The Offside Rules took offense at Fred's choice of celebration - and they're absolutely correct in that; The Offside Rules took it a step farther by questioning the referee's decision to issue a yellow card. Yeah, Fred's free to don that shirt, but it just sticks in my craw that a player would catch all kinds of hell - and, likely, bad publicity - for showing a t-shirt with the message "There Is No God." Just makes me cross, the way free speech works the player who wears an aggressively atheist shirt would get fined to boot...

- Anyone have any idea why MLS Newsstand is stuck on Monday? Did they move it? All I know is I'm not about to go back to checking all those damn regional papers.

- Is it just more or is this the wildest season for trades in MLS history? Fox Soccer has a useful feature recording all but the most recent trades.

- Finally, I don't do previews any more (I'm actually going to try something new shortly) but I still admire them when they're done well. And the one Wiz turned in for The Real Salt Lake Offside wonderfully frames this weekend's game between Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC. Give this man a job in the marketing department.


The Trade: Clavijo's Murder/Suicide*

(* It occurs to me I should mention I'm not reporting an actual murder/suicide. Coach Clavijo is fine, so far as I know.)

Since it's not yet showing on, I'm really hoping the post from (the highly reliable) Steve Goff about Colorado and DC United trading Greg Vanney for Facundo Erpen aren't true. I'm hoping for Fernando Clavijo's sake; that same post contains a notion on several minds:

"Also, the league buzz is that, if the Rapids lose this weekend, Fernando Clavijo could very well be out as coach. No word on potential candidates."

Speculation on Clavijo's fate isn't exactly hard to find these days. Ian Plenderleith poked around the rot on, while the long-suffering Clint ( has been five games), desperate for relief, has hit the Web in search of conspiracies that explain the Clavijo era. (NOTE: I'm yanking Clint's chain, who links to something fairly interesting, for the record.)

To Coach Clavijo: you know you can just resign, right? You don't need to compel two players to move over 1,000 miles in a final flame-out because that carries the damage over to at least one other player...probably Erpen, though I'm not sure about Vanney either (DCenters has some thoughts on the Vanney side of this...toward the bottom). The vultures have spotted your body, man. Is upping the body count really the solution?


Fixing MLS Schedule: Getting Restless

We're rounding into July, so it must be time for my annual kvetch about the onset of my personal ambivalence.

Writing as someone who enjoys soccer to a marriage-hobbling extent, I have to say it: I'm fucking bored. After the ever-giddy start to the season, but before the late-season jockeying (spazzing?) for playoff position, the summer doldrums hit Major League Soccer (MLS) every summer; the games slow down, in part due to oppressive heat in many venues, but also because there's no harm in phoning in a week or ten's (fifteen's?) performances. And we all know why: a (flatly brilliant*) sidebar on drew epperley's WVHooligan clocks the current state of the playoff race (look below the calendar on the right), and it tells that story.

Look at the number of points that separate the best of the "Last Five Out" from the conference leaders: subtract RSL's 9 points from FC Dallas' 25 and you get 16 points. Now take into account that, excepting Dallas' freak-show 15 games played, most teams have played 12 or 13, leaving 18 or 17 games to go. Some quick math shows this allows each of these teams the (entirely unrealistic) maximum of 54 or 51 points available for these teams. Yes, 54 is more than 16...over three times more, in fact.

Even as I count this year's playoff format - e.g. the top two teams from each conference plus the next best four - an improvement over the straight conference breakdown, the same reality prevails: such a generous playoff format means a team only needs one solid run, plus a smattering of wins along the way, to make the eight-team post-season. This creates an unfortunate situation. To throw a question out there, at what "week" (e.g. Week 20? Week 23?) do regular-season games matter again? No league should want this question asked of their on-field product, but...there it is. I don't know how this question can be avoided. If I'm getting bored - me, a cheap, dirty whore for all things MLS - I can't imagine what this pernicious summer stretch does to casual soccer fans, never mind non-soccer fans.

Fixing this doesn't require a radical solution; either allow fewer teams in the playoffs or shrink the number of regular season games...PLEASE. Just don't let this continue...or promise me that the league will reach 16 teams by 2010...and that you won't do something friggin' stupid like up the number of regular season games when it does.


If you want weird, though, bored as I am, I'm still racking my brains to figure what games I'm going to watch this weekend....

(* I count this as proof-positive that he pours more thought and energy into his site than I do. Why do I admit these things? I think it's because I believe people deserve to know what they're getting.)

4-1: Are We Educable? (+ Video)

Yup. The U.S. Men's team got taken behind the toolshed by the Argentine's big boys in last night's 4-1 loss. I'm OK with this. Wasn't this the expected outcome given all the givens? Even without the most noteworthy givens - e.g. the toddlers Team we sent - shouldn't we expect losses to Argentina, oh, eight, nine times out of ten?

We'll survive, it's possible we learned a thing or two (things like the fact that Eddie Gaven isn't ready for the senior team, or...), such as this little gem from Jeff Carlisle's analysis for ESPN:

"This was especially true in the U.S. midfield, which faded badly in the second half, continuing a trend from the Gold Cup that saw the Americans finish games poorly. In that tournament, the U.S. was not punished for this tendency, but on this night they found out the hard way how a good team treats such charity."

"Of course, part of how a team kills off games is by keeping possession, and this American team showed that it is still light years behind a side like Argentina in this regard."

There's something oddly relieving about the persistence of the problem Carlisle describes. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right? The real question is the dreaded two-parter of can we learn and, if so, how? At any rate, I'm relieved to hear we looked all right for 60 minutes; now let's work on that last 30, yeah? And to to, y'know, actually play soccer, as opposed to the run-n-gun stuff we seem to prefer.

And don't ask me why I chose this highlight reel (is the text on the video Hebrew?):

Turns out Haimrevivo1 (the guy who posted the first video) is a busy boy; he also found highlights from Paraguay's (our next opponent) rout of Colombia:


Top 5, 06.27: Teaching the Youth; Chicago Changes

In the order in which I wrote 'em....

- It turns out us Yanks aren't the only ones worrying about turning our youth into the soccer superstars of tomorrow; the Canadians have wrung hands of their own. But I couldn't help trip over one section in a Toronto Star article on the subject:

"The hope is that a handful will one day graduate to the senior side – "the [Ajax of Amsterdam] first team" – that has won four European championships. Until that day, the on-field scoreboards will not be lit up. No goal tally is kept during their games."

"European youth soccer focuses on skills development and little else. Winning is not important. Learning the skills needed to win is."

I don't know the state of this debate so well, but I seem to recall an argument that our kids need to be put in competitive games to sharpen their game. I'm wondering if that's the case - and I've certainly read compelling pieces (can't find them now) about the corrossive effect the win-at-all-costs mentality can have on how we teach the game. And who's going to argue with Ajax in any case? (Actually, it could be fair to ask why Dutch players tend to implode on the largest of occasions; maybe they need to light up that scoreboard a little before the first team?)

- I feel compelled to note Mexico's 2-0 win over Brazil. I can't say I pull for Mexico often, but if there's one thing I always pull for, it's a Brazil loss. Can't wait to see what we do tonight (and I'm not going to let the doom bring me down, either - or a loss by fewer than, oh, four goals for that matter).

- In happier tournament news, the U-20 FIFA Cup starts this weekend (wow!). And guess what? We go first! I don't know that anyone's carrying this (doesn't look like it), so you'll have to follow this where you can. Turning again to our northern neighbors, they seem pretty stoked to be hosting the U-20s; the more interesting question - especially when future World Cup qualifying is concerned - is are they loaded with talent?

- The Chicago Fire cleared some money/international space today by shit-canning Pascal Bedrossian; they got even more help with Ivan Guerrero picking up his green card. The real question, though, is whether they've got time to help themselves before July 1? (Isn't that when rosters have to be fixed?)

- Finally - and this really pisses me off - why is it that ESPN will carry (it's in there; trust me) a dog-n-pony show like goddamn World Series of Soccer, but they won't pony up for the U.S. games for the Copa America?


MLS Expansion: I Have Seen Hillsboro Stadium...

....and it's gonna take more work to make that venue fly than I had originally anticipated.

Here's the deal: my daughter attended a breast cancer event with her Girl Scout troop, one that happened to be based at Hillsboro Stadium. That's significant becuase, assuming Kevin McGeehan has it right in his piece on likely candidates for MLS expansion (in which he endorses the Las Vegas bid; for the record, I endorse his endorsement), Hillsboro stadium enters into the equation for many observers:

"The situation is fluid, and the ultimate decision may hinge on whether the SuperSonics decide to follow through on their threats to leave the Emerald City. At the moment, though, it looks like Portland may have a slight edge in the race due to plans to expand an existing stadium in Hillsboro, a suburb of Portland. If this plan works, it’s conceivable that a club could play in Portland next season."

Which brings us to what expanding that stadium will entail. Hillsboro Stadium is smaller than it looks from the four-lane highway that buzzes by it; the turf will likely need replacement as well. It's surrounded, at this point, by softball/baseball fields - will those be replaced by soccer fields, or will "America's game" hold its place? Tough as those issues sound, they're nothing next to figuring access to the stadium.

Finding the access to the stadium is hard enough, especially from the highway; to get past a Fred Meyer (local grocery chain) suburban complex signs will need to be put up at the very least. Once you find the right road, you find yourself on a stretch of via twisting, narrow one-lane pavement pinched by lava boulders on one side and lines of parked cars on the other. I happened to show up during a softball tournament of some kind, which had people stopping and parallel parking all over the damn place. In other words, given MLS's preference for Saturday games, it's pretty clear that those softball fields and a regular events drawing 15,000-20,000 cannot co-exist.

The set up in the parking lots that currently exist is insane, Those one-lane stretches of pavement (I can't bring myself to call them roads; they're too narrow) extend across the tops of the parking lot, but they go through these weird traffic cluster-fucks that confuse motorists to the extent of creating a sort of free-for-all - e.g. cars head on these extensions going both directions making it really hard to tell which lanes are supposed to go which way. That said, the parking area isn't all that bad and, really, would require some clearing to boost the number of available spaces (though additional construction will remain necessary).

While I'm sure the parking/access equation can be remedied - albeit at a cost in dollars and, essentially, starting over - limitations to the physical space cause additional concerns. I've implied the issues in play: the Fred Meyer shopping complex and the highway completely rules out growth in two directions; existing office parks take out another one, leaving exactly one direction for expansion - and that wouldn't be easy. The softball fields will likely have to go as well - either that, or the events on them scheduled away from potential MLS games.

None of this is to say that settling a Portland team in Hillsboro won't be possible. But the site means this will be more complicated by far than simply expanding the stadium: an overhaul of the infrastrucuture surrounding the stadium, almost completely revamping the parking set up, not to mention doing battle with local interests from Fred Meyer to whomever organizes softball games will be required to make this work. And these are expenses I didn't take into account the first time I posted on this (link below). I'll tell you one thing: unless we run the construction with the brutality of an old Soviet five-year plan - and with several times the efficiency as well - next season is definitely not an option.

And after all that the market that may prove fairly lukewarm in the end.

MLS Week 12 Collective Power Rankings

The Semi-Detached Pundit Collective (SDPC) lost a couple this week; I never saw ranking for The Other Football or Soccer by Ives - the latter is really slipping (though he said, through a spokesman*, that the Gold Cup and the Copa are keeping him too busy) (* I have never corresponded in any way with Mr. Galarcep - unless commenting on his site counts - and don’t believe he even has a spokesman; so, yeah, I made that up.)

Here are the sources for this week’s SPDC rankings:

It’s a Simple Game
Sideline Views (Luis Bueno)
Sideline Views (Andrea Canales)
My Soccer Blog
MLS Underground
SI - Ryan Hunt
Fox Soccer Channel

And, once again, The DCenters Freezer (kinda like reverse rankings) merits honorable mention, as do the conference-based rankings provided by Who Ate All the Cupcakes. Dan Loney’s weekly rankings make the list today (though they weren’t plugged into the numbers below) courtesy of my admiration for his use of educational attainment as the means of ranking. Finally, I lifted the scariness rating for each team from On Soccer and entered that number after their collective ranking...I keep forgetting to check that out as a predictor...maybe he’ll do it one day.

Now, on to the numbers:

1. New England Revolution, 2.3 (4th - 4.3; SR: 2)
2/3. Houston Dynamo, 2.4 (7th - 6.5; SR: 1)
2/3. Red Bull New York, 2.4 (2nd - 2.6; SR: 8)
4. Kansas City Wizards, 4.4 (last week: 1st - 1.1; SR: 5)
5. FC Dallas, 4.9 (6th - 6.4; SR: 6)
6. DC United, 5.1 (3rd - 2.7; SR: 3)
7. Chivas USA, 7.4 (5th - 5.5; SR: 9)
8. Columbus Crew, 8.0 (12th - 11.5; SR: 4)
9. Toronto FC, 8.4 (8th - 7.3; SR: 7)
10. Colorado Rapids, 10.0 (9th - 9.1; SR: 13)
11. Chicago Fire, 11.7 (10th - 10.3; SR: 12)
12. Real Salt Lake, 12.0 (13th - 12.9; SR: 5)
13. Los Angeles Galaxy, 12.3 (11th - 10.8; SR: 11)

Some observations:

- We have a new consensus pick for worst team in MLS. Puke and cry, Alexi Lalas! Puke and cry!!

- The Colorado Rapids are your unanimous #10 pick...that’s not a good thing.

- Things look good for the Crew, on the other hand, whom the SDPC has officially judged to be a playoff team. Obviously, the Crew are also this week’s major climbers; they gained 3.5, which might be the biggest-ever jump in these rankings.

- Whoops. I take it back. The Dynamo rose 4.1. Yikes.

- Going the other way, pundits punished DC severely for the slip against RSL.

- As the season staggers (hey, it’s summer) to its midway point, the league’s teams seem be breaking into three groups: the top 6, the bubble teams of 7-9, and the apparent no-hopers from 11-13. You may have noticed that Colorado doesn’t fit into this scheme - yes, they are special.

- With regard to that top six, their inclusion in that group was universal (only Andrea Canales of Sideline Views plugged a top six team outside that range in their rankings - and it was DC United in Canales list). But look at what’s happening with the top three in the collective rankings: they’re essentially neck-and-neck, which says a lot about what this league knows from dominance as a concept. For the record, the Dynamo’s numbers were most tightly clustered, but New England gathered more #1 rankings than the other two; Red Bull snuck in by balancing their two 4’s against two 1’s. It’ll be interesting to see which team in this group breaks out.

- The Revolution’s climb is interesting. Their homestand kinda sucked, but they still climbed quite a bit (2.0). I’d put that down to them gaining the top spot and the stumbles of their competitors, as opposed to meaningful signs of life from New England. But competition is competition: you don’t always have to win to gain ground in a league set up.

All right. All for this week. There are some interesting times ahead.


Top 5, 06.26.07: Bonus Cubans, Fire Coach Coming

In spite of a personal belief that it contains all the best stuff in the house, I decided "junk drawer" might sound like I was tossing out a bunch of surplus stuff. Yes..."Top 5" sounds so much more impressive...

- News that Chivas USA picked up the two Cuban national team players - Osvaldo Alonso and Lester Mor(e?) - who defected during this year's Gold Cup leaves me wishing that I'd watched more of the Gold Cup. In a side question, will Maykel Galindo ever stop giving to his team?

- All right, um, the rest-of-the-country's media: the Deseret News laid down the gauntlet with their complete history of Real Salt Lake trades. Not only do they name them, they manage to discuss them intelligently. Now, it's your turn...

- Soccer America reports that Chicago will announce their new coach early as next week...or, rather, that GM John Guppy would "like to make an announcement by the end of next week." Based on what's written there, Sunday's home game against the Colorado Rapids could be Denis Hamlett's sole game as Fire head coach. The way it's written makes one think Frank Klopas has as good a crack at the job as anyone.

- Call this 3A: speaking of Chicago Fire coaches, Luis Arroyave wrote a decent, somewhat personal, retrospective on David Sarachan's relationship with his little corner of the media.

- In run-of-the-mill trade news, the Toronto Star reports Mo Johnston finally got his (323rd) man: Collin Samuel has officially signed with Toronto FC. I don't know anything about Samuel and can't say how he'll do in MLS, but something in the Star's report leaves me wondering about the intensity of Mo's courtship: "Samuel, listed at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, scored 14 goals in 115 games with Dundee." Um....

- Finally, yeah, I admit it: I got a warm, fuzzy kick out of the "Futbol Meets Football" video clip featuring David "Show Pony" Beckham and Reggie "No Nickname" Bush. Hat-tip to Laurie at The LA Offside for posting it - and kudos for her bravery in admitting a soft spot for the segment as well.


OPEN CUP: Only the Future Matters Now

As all y'all know by now, the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Toshiba Electronics Head-On Topical Analgesic Open Cup (let's see, that's LHUSTEH-OTAOC) wrapped up last night. And I'm sad to report that the only amateur team remaining in the tournament - Bavarian SC - didn't make it through last night...I hate you Carolina Railhawks...

You can find all the scores here, but it's The Big Board that tells us what happens next - e.g. who's playing what Major League Soccer (MLS) team (NOTE: I decided a bit ago that I have to stick with MLS, U.S. Men's news to prevent Mission Creep). And, to give full credit where it's due, Mike H over on My Soccer Blog provided the excellent service of stating where, specifically each third round game will go down.

With those resources at hand, here are my candidates for third-round upsets (and may they happen):

Rochester Raging Rhinos v. New England Revolution
I only say this because it's happened before...2005, if I'm not mistaken. (Yep, I'm was 2004.)

Richmond Kickers v. LA Galaxy
Have you seen LA's road record this year? Hell, have you seen LA?

Carolina Railhawks v. Chicago Fire
It's Chicago, so why not?

Anyway, I'm sure other upsets are possible - I mean, on their day, Colorado and FC Dallas could lose to a team of blind, one-legged orphans - but, in all honesty, I'm thinking LA has most reason to be nervous....though it sounds like they are already plenty nervous.


Junk-Drawer, 06.26: USL-1 Pot-Shots; RBNY/TFC Trade

I need a clever lead for this stuff...though that would probably up the "rip-off factor" of du Nord too far past tolerances.

Well....carry on, then...

- A nice little snippet from a United Soccer League Division 1 player (the Portland Timbers' Tom Poltl) on the depth of quality in Major League Soccer (MLS) appeared in The Oregonian's preview for tonight's Open Cup match:

"The main difference between the leagues is that MLS players get paid to train year-round, said Tom Poltl, a Timbers midfielder who has spent time in MLS training camps in Los Angeles and New England. After the first four to six players on an MLS roster, Poltl said, USL-1 teams 'can compete with them without a doubt.'"

Thoughts on this? Here's mine: as much as I like my Timbers, and even Poltl, throwing in the "after four to six players" line is like a one-legged man saying he could win a race if he had his other leg; those four to six players are there and that's the difference. For all that, he's right that USL-1 teams can compete with MLS clubs; it's just the winning part that gets tricky...

- Nearly everyone has heard by now that Red Bull swapped defenders with Toronto FC; Kevin Goldthwaite went South, while Todd Dunivant went north. For interested parties, commentary both bemused and thorough is out there. After reading the second of these, I'm not sure Red Bull did so bad.

- Steve Davis did his usual breakdown of the weekend's action for and, let me tell you, the man does sharp analysis; I'm looking at the stuff on what Yallop did to LA's line-up, the stuff on Columbus' left-back situation, and his notes on KC v. Columbus in particular.

- I'm probably alone in thinking that the Copa following so closely after the Gold Cup is the only reason Hugo Sanchez hasn't lost his job - but there it is. Some heavy-hitting outfits (LINK and LINK) Sanchez' seat ain't about to cool off either.

- I don't normally go in for player profiles, but 3rd Degree's piece on Juan Carlos Toja is just cute. It also paints the picture of a very admirable pro. Seriously, Toja looks like one of the acquisitions of the off-season right now.

MLS Week 12 Power Rankings (Just Mine)

I give up. Just when you think one - just one - Major League Soccer (MLS) team can hold their shit together and do a decent imitation of consistency, they spend 90 minutes running around with their pants around their ankles. It seems the Annual Mush of Sweaty Mediocrity (your people call it “summer”) has arrived.

For the record, the entire middle portion of these rankings was arrived at by writing each teams name on a piece of paper, scrambling those around my desk, and flipping them over in random order. OK, that’s a lie. But I don’t think that would produce less accurate, or even meaningful, results. In broad terms, some teams have noticeably improved - think Columbus and Houston here - while others revived their fortunes, but not without tripping over some question marks (New England); other teams suffered mysterious slips, thereby stitching big red question marks over those rainbows on their jerseys...the allusion should be obvious here.

As always, last week’s ranking appears in parentheses immediately after this week’s ranking. So as to not misrepresent my judgment as entirely first-hand, here’s a key for my viewing: “@” means I watched a given team’s most recent performance in its entirety; “$” means I caught it through Quick Kicks, which provides extended highlights; “%” means I watched only the rump highlights available through

Here goes...and after the rankings, you’ll find a current listing of the standings for the permanent record.

1. (6) Houston Dynamo (% + nada)
They have out-scored the opposition 11-3 over the past five, racking up five wins on the way; that counts two away games as well. That constitutes a roll in my world. To top it all off, they’ve got Dallas next weekend, who they not only generally own, but, given that they won last weekend, should be due a loss this weekend.

2. (1) DC United (%)
In spite of what I read (all over the place), I’ll give DC the benefit of the doubt and call this weekend a brain-fart...but I also couldn’t leave them at #1 after they let RSL break their hot, steamy duck all over them.

3. (5) New England Revolution (@)
Yep, they’re officially top of the league. But it was a graceless win against a Toronto team apparently confused about being away from home. The finishing was there, but not much else. But they’re indisputably doing better than most (and, I just discovered, they’ve tied for scoring lead and have the best goal differential...hmm...).

4. (4) Red Bull New York (idle)
Holding steady...but they’ll drop quickly if they don’t sort out their defense.

5. (8) FC Dallas (far too much of @)
Unconvincing (and harrowingly boring) wins look a lot less impressive when bookended by losses - as this one will be (see above). The reality is, Dallas isn’t as erratic as I think, but the games-played “bubble” on which they’re sitting keeps me from thinking too much of them. Then again, their away record makes up for that. Very confusing team, this one.

6. (2) Kansas City Wizards ($ + nada)
Speaking of teams needing to sort out defense, KC is the real case-study for this. No doubt KC wishes Week 12 never happened. The picture looks a lot less rosy now that the offense has dried up.

7. (9) Columbus Crew ($ + $)
It’s only due to a belief that the “real” Columbus has shown up that I’m able to rank them inside the playoff picture. But the Crew’s two wins in Week 12 justifiably raise eyebrows - that each raises them for different reasons only reinforces the impression this team could be finding their feet.

8. (3) Chivas USA (%)
My previous, ridiculous ranking has more to do with this drop than the four-goal loss. Still, a score of Brad Davis 3 - 0 Chivas USA doesn’t look so hot. I’ll actually have to watch these guys this weekend to figure out what to do with ‘em.

9. (7) Toronto FC (@)
I can only say, the hell was that? If these guys don’t figure out how to avoid blowouts on the road, goal differential alone will keep them out of the post-season.

10. (11) Colorado Rapids (far too much of @)
They may not be the worst team in the league - so many good candidates below - but they’re pushing hard for “Team I’d Least Like to Watch” honors. It’s a shame what’s happening in Colorado; this year promised so much.

11. (10) Los Angeles Galaxy ($)
Ahem...ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, HA!! 60 minutes with a man advantage - and against Columbus! Landon can’t arrive soon enough; neither can Pavon or Beckham. Incredibly, they may not be enough (though I think they will be).

12. (13) Real Salt Lake (%)
Robbie Findley (a good Oregon lad!) finally kicked the winless monkey off this team’s back. Better still, they catch something of a break in hosting Toronto this weekend (dammit! what to watch?!). Can they make it two? Do RSL fans dare to dream?

13. (12) Chicago Fire (idle)
I think I just don’t like Chicago. That the coming cavalry runs “exactly like elderly men run,” and the players sounding unsettled-to-pissed, things aren’t looking everywhere but up.

Please, lord, no’s madness. Let’s do something concrete, like the standings (official edition here):

Eastern Conference
1. New England Revs: 22 pts. (6-2-4: 24 GF, 14 GA, +10; home, 3-1-2; away, 3-1-2)
2. Red Bull New York: 21 pts. (6-3-3: 24 GF, 15 GA, +9; home, 4-1-1; away, 2-2-2)
3. Kansas City Wiz: 20 pts. (6-4-2: 23 GF, 18 GA, +5; home, 3-2-0; away, 3-2-2)
4. DC United: 17 pts. (5-4-2: 18 GF, 16 GA, +2; home, 4-1-1; away, 1-3-1)
5. Columbus Crew: 15 pts. (3-4-6: 17 GF, 21 GA, -4; home, 2-1-4; away, 1-3-2)
6. Chicago Fire: 14 pts. (4-6-2: 12 GF, 19 GA, -7; home, 3-2-1; away, 1-3-1)
7. Toronto FC: 13 pts. (4-7-1: 14 GF, 21 GA, -7; home, 4-3-0; away, 0-4-1)

Western Conference
1. FC Dallas: 25 pts. (8-6-1: 19 GF, 21 GA, -2; home, 3-2-0; away, 5-4-1)
2. Houston Dynamo: 22 pts. (7-5-1: 16 GF, 10 GA, +6; home, 4-2-1; away, 3-3-0)
3. Chivas USA: 17 pts. (5-4-2: 15 GF, 12 GA; +3; home, 4-0-1; away, 1-4-1)
4. Colorado Rapids: 15 pts. (4-6-3: 13 GF, 17 GA, -4; home 2-2-3; away, 2-4-0)
5. Los Angeles Galaxy: 9 pts. (2-5-3: 13 GF, 16 GA, -3; home, 2-3-1; away, 0-2-2)
6. Real Salt Lake: 9 pts. (1-5-6: 11 GF, 19 GA, -8; home, 1-2-3; away, 0-3-3)

The Copa: Sheep to the Slaughter? (+ Ambivalence)

(I'll get the parenthetical stuff out of the way first: happy is the fan whose cable/satellite system carries Telefutura or GolTV; the rest of us must live on the, apparently, Mexico-only scraps the broadcasters kick to Univision. See? This effective blackout is making it very hard to get excited about the Copa...which is sad because there's a lot to get excited about. Moving on....)

We've all seen the roster the United States has sent to Venezuela for the Copa America. Now reports are coming out giving a dire, sheep-to-the-slaughter story lines; others highlight the some of the questionable invites and brow-raising snubs. Then again, still other articles have appeared bearing headlines suggesting the same gloomy story, only for the content beneath to read quite a bit differently.

As for me, I don't know what's going to happen, though, like everyone else, I've got my suspicions (and, yes, I'm still pissed off two paragraphs later that I won't be able to see this stuff first hand). But on the most basic level, I think Bob Bradley is handling this with long-term success in mind. His undefeated record will almost surely take a hit, but he should be applauded for keeping his eyes on the prize: qualifying for the World Cup and expanding the pool of available players able to cope with the atmosphere and physical rigors of tournament play. I'd be shocked if anything definitive comes of it - unless, say, Jay DeMerit and Jimmy Conrad hold off three very credible South American teams - but it's all educational, most of all for Bradley. If nothing else, he'll have more stickies for his player files.

In that spirit, I favor looking at the Copa the way Ives Galarcep did in his column for the Jersey paper. He names some of the most promising candidates on the roster and, more or less, calls it good. And I think that matches Bradley's mind-set for the Copa pretty well. Then again, if we win a game or two, advance to the knockout stages and, god forbid, beyond, well, I'll take that too.


U.S. Open Cup: The Skinny Is Fat

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup resumes with the Second Round today (scoreboard), but that's not the good news - especially given that seeing these games anywhere "normal" isn't an option (the "abnormal" avenues are, however, improving).

The heartening thing comes with evidence that various local media across the country have taken the time to churn out reports on their local teams. These aren't blow-out/fold-out special sections or anything - typically, they're back-page "blurbicles" (not quite articles, not quite blurbs) - but the existing coverage at least beats the echoing silence of yesteryear. No less significantly, the reporters writing these stories appear to have some sense of what they're writing about - e.g. they're hep to the teams involved (the report below* for the Richmond Kickers v. Cleveland City Stars is particularly solid in that regard) and they know that big, potentially more lucrative games (HA!) against Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs loom in the next round. Actually, the way the majority of these articles talk up those potential ties speaks to a growing cache for this country's first division.

But the nicest thing about all this is the fact I found every article linked to below through Our Sports Central - e.g. this stuff is easy to find if you know where to look. That's right: even the genuinely lazy can now keep up with this stuff, so let's have no more excuses, people.

So, without further ado, enjoy the partial primer for the U.S. Open Cup Second Round:

The U.S. Open Cup official site did fairly well with their all-in-one preview of tonight's action.

Regional Coverage (starting locally)
Seattle Sounders v. Portland Timbers
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The Oregonian
On a personal note, I'm pissed this one's not in Portland. I finally have the time and money to go tonight and they're in Seattle (and, yeah, I know about this Saturday's game...can't make it...I've got critters). Dang it. Judging by the USL Division 1 standings and the one-eye-on-'em attention I've paid to the Timbers this year, this ought to be a decent game. And go Timbers.

Rochester Raging Rhinos v. Western Mass Pioneers
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Charleston Battery v. El Paso Patriots
Charleston Post and Courier

Richmond Kickers v. Cleveland City Stars
Richmond Times-Dispatch (*I liked this one)
Cleveland Plain Dealer (One of my favorite paper names)

Ocean City Barons v. Harrisburg City Islanders
The Harrisburg(?) Patriot-News

Well, that's it for the Our Sports Central stuff - and I still count that a decent haul (must be feeling a little glass half-full today). Now, for shits and giggles, let's see what I can find on the games not found on that site...and I'm not going to cheat by searching least not yet.

Carolina Railhawks v. Bavarian SC (viva los amateurs!)
Oh well. I went back to Our Sports for this one...feels like cheating somehow. Still, a Chicago paper (presumably; it looks at this from the Chicago Fire's perspective), The Daily Herald, at least mentions this game since the winner will play the Chicago Fire in the third round....lucky bastards. (OK, yeah, the actual article is about the U.S. Men's problems with finishing.)

Atlanta Silverbacks v. Charlotte Eagles
Mmm...I'm not going to say I didn't find anything (see?), but it all feels a little outdated.

Minnesota Thunder v. California Victory
Dang it! Glass is draining...I will not rely entirely on Our Sports...

I'd like to think it's getting better anyway. In any case, hope anyone who lives near any of the above teams has the time and money to get to a game. I've seen my share of Open Cup games and they're fun little things.

Junk-Drawer, 06.25: Starting "Clavijo Watch" etc.

Rounding up some odds and ends from least those not involving the Gold Cup....

- Maybe this is my chagrin at Colorado's play on Sunday morning talking, but a switch flipped in my head telling me that Fernando Clavijo will be the next coaching casualty in MLS ranks - or, rather, that he should be. It seems drew epperley at WVHooligan is also thinking about coaching hot seats, though his #1 is different (and no less justified) than mine. But, yeah, I'd be baying for pink slips if I were a Colorado fan.

- LA Soccer News reveals that the blown calls in Canada's semifinal against the U.S. still sting in some quarters. I can't say I blame 'em...even if I'm happy we went on to win.

- I don't think it's "official" yet - at least not in the sense of appearing on - but it looks like Santino Quaranta will indeed move away from the ocean and into the American Heartland with a trade to the Kansas City Wizards. I'm not a Wizards fan, but can't say this would excite me if I were.

- If you want anecdotal evidence that Mexican fans second Alexi Lalas' tirade against the English Premier League, well, here you go.

- Finally, hats off to the Offside Rules for posting the best single item I've seen all day. Chivas fans - or at least the touchy ones - are advised to avoid the above link.


Gold Cup Porn: Last, Giddy Glimpse

As the cliche goes, it's all over but for the shouting - though there's still some of that going on. I finally did the grand tour of Gold Cup porn (e.g. all the stuff - some glowing, some more sober) on the Gold Cup final and found some interesting nuggets in a variety of places. I thought I'd post those as a kind of farewell to a happy 2007 tournament.

To begin with a personal note, how friggin' awesome was it to see a shirtless Frankie Hejduk walking onto the stage to give Sepp Blatter and other FIFA luminaries a naked, sweaty hug? He looked like a thinner David Lee Roth up there...and with hair; it was so quintessentially American.

To start with the best review I read, I'd have to give the honors to Mark Ziegler's report for the San Diego Union-Tribune. It didn't have the bits I'm lifting from the items below, but I thought he got to all the good stuff and in style. It's a personal thing...

And, speaking of good stuff, posted some great photos from the occasion...good to know they'll catch just about anything out of Chicago on that site.

Getting back to Hejduk, though, he threw out a good quote in the Houston Chronicle's drama-drenched write-up:

""We had 23 players standing around the cup in a circle. And everyone who wanted to see us lose were outside. We had all those thousands of people trying to get into there, doing everything they could to take the cup away from us in our own country. And we defended them all. We held them all off. The beer always tastes a little better when you do that."

Good to know beer motivates him as well...

Speaking of player quotes, it's been fun seeing multiple examples of how seriously our players take this rivalry. When asked about missing the sitter Landon Donovan provided him to ice the game, DaMarcus Beasley provided the following to the Washington Post's Steve Goff:

"If [Tim Howard] hadn't made that save, it would've been on me and I would've cried."

Another noteworthy thing to have come out of this game may (or may not) be the growing respect for the U.S. team among Mexico's players. For instance, ine can find word that Carlos Salcido swapped jerseys with Donovan - or that he shook his hand at the very least; I read somewhere (can't recall where) that Mexican 'keeper, Oswaldo Sanchez, had good things to say after the game. With the sometimes ugly commenst that followed some of our wins I looked pretty hard for any disparaging words out of the Mexican camp and, happily, the worst I found appeared in the report behind the link in this paragraph in the form of a quote from Mexico's coach, Hugo Sanchesz. Here's that:

" "I want the team that played the best to win," Mexican manager Hugo Sanchez said. "I don't want a team to win on the ref's call."

That sounds pretty sniveling - and maybe it is - but a fuller version of the same quote (from the Boston Globe's report) makes the whole thing read better:

"We were hoping the US would score on a brilliant play, plus there was one [penalty] on Omar Bravo. I would prefer that whoever wins is the better team and not the team that wins on a referee's call. Sometimes the best team doesn't win. But the US was maybe more practical and they deserved it."

On a number of levels, then, it's a little tempting to hope a corner has been turned.

On the personal level, a couple people walk away from this tournament with a bit of shine on their reputations. For instance, Bob Bradley's decision to replace Pablo Mastroeni with Ricardo Clark has drawn wide praise, up to a straight statement that this proved him most qualified for the job. Whatever you think of that particular asssertion, it's safe to say Bradley didn't hurt himsefl in the Gold Cup. And, to file under "numbers don't lie," who'd a thought Landon Donovan would tie two records in the 2007 Gold Cup? We all knew about his tying Eric Wynalda's all-time scoring record, on the way, no doubt, to setting a tough-to-top mark down the road. But how many out there knew Donovan also tied the record for Gold Cup goals? When he scored yesterday, he netted his 12th in Gold Cup play, tying Mexico's Luis Roberto "Zague" Alves.

While that's all to the good, I'll close here with some sobering points. Keeping with "the personal," it seems that a few people see this year's Gold Cup as the end of the road for Pablo Mastroeni - or at least that applies to a few people who responded to questions left by Luis Arroyanve on his Red Card blog. Writing as just about the only Mastroeni fan left on the planet, it pains me a little to acknowledge this is correct: the reality is, he's slowing down, or, no less accurately, he's being overtaken by younger players who have the incalcuable upside of being a lot younger when 2010 rolls around. He deserves a send-off, but, unquestionably, it's time to groom new people.

Finally, turning to another part of the team, as Ives Galarcep pointed out today, a basically improved performance yesterday aside, the reality is our defense still needs to improve. That can happen by improved cohesion and coordination or changes in personnel, but there's no question it needs to happen.

Ah well. It has been a fun couple weeks. It has had some very real highs and some bruising lows, but, given the happy ending, it would be churlish to call the 2007 Gold Cup anything but a good time for U.S. Soccer.

A Surly MLS Week 12 Review

For the record, I did all my Major League Soccer (MLS) viewing on Sunday morning before the U.S./Mexico final. And, let me tell you, the two games I saw just paled in comparison: the play was slow, stilted, and, at times, uninterested. In one game in particular (first mentioned below), the players for both teams positively lumbered around as if high on cough medicine. Is this a function of the dog-days having arrived or does MLS always suffer against a direct comparison against national team games with everything on the line?

If it's the former - and I think it could be, 'cause I've seen some great MLS games in my day - the league's competition committee really needs to get this in hand. The two products I, ahem, enjoyed yesterday morning didn't hold up well.

Getting on to the games I saw and the ones for which I merely reviewed the highlights (noted in each instance)....

Colorado Rapids 0 - 1 FC Dallas
(Endured every minute of this pig...when I could help fast forwarding...ugh)
- Perhaps the rumors are true: perhaps Colorado really, really sucks. FC Dallas hardly shined either. And their defense looked almost amateur at times. This one made for a spectacle on par with watching necrophiliac porn...without the "creepy factor" to render the proceedings interesting. That both sides showed CPA-esque levels of creativity didn't help.
- Was it hot in Denver on Saturday? I can think of no other reason for a game involing professionals to suck that horribly hard.
- Is Fernando Clavijo's seat getting hot yet? If not, it should be.
- Badly as Dallas played, they at least manufactured a chance or two. One of these - the one that sent in Carlos Ruiz alone on goal - stands as an exemplar for the game as a whole: Ruiz hesitated to the point of paralysis, while Rapids 'keeper Bouna Coundoul pretty much sat down and fell on top of the ball. So...fucking...ugly...

New England Revolution 3 - 0 Toronto FC
(took in all of this spite of the periodic fit)
- Sure, I'm happy New England won and all, but this one wasn't much to look at either. New England won this duel of wayward balls over the top courtesy of a slight edge in quality of personnel, but choppy play and sloppy give-aways predominated.
- Toronto, for their part, looked downright feeble. Reis had a save or two to make (six? they credit him with six?), but Toronto offered nothing that stood out.
- Well, New England's third goal was pretty nice...and good to see Dorman get back on the goal-scoring pony. On a related note, Adam Cristman showed savvy beyond his years with the set-up to this one; anyone know where he is with Rookie-of-the-Year honors?
- And, OK, Noonan turned in a smart headed goal as well. Anyone know where Adam Cristman is in the rookie-So, yeah, the had its moments - and I have to confess that, every time I resorted to fast-forwarding the archived online video, something happened that required me to stop and go back.
- But I also remember being so achingly bored, and so often, that I continually resorted to fast-forwarding.
- The only player who really stood out for Toronto did so for all the wrong reasons: Kevin Goldthwaite had a rough night.
- All in all, this was a good, timely win for New England. But they looked far from polished, let alone interesting.

Moving on, now, to the highly impressionistic results-based reviews - I'll state I watched the highlights when I did and acknowledge it when I didn't. Taking things chronologically, I already posted something quick (and possibly useless) on the Houston Dynamo's rout of Chivas USA (and finally saw Brad Davis' hat trick - the second goal was a beaut), but never got to....

Columbus Crew 2 - 1 Kansas City Wizards
(Caught the stuff)
- Hindsight being 20/20 and all that, this was the beginning of a very good week for the Crew; how's 5th in the East sound Mr. Schmid?
- And get this: Eddie Gaven scored.
- As (ridiculously) proud as I am to have seen the Crew's streak coming (I'm not going to find it, but it's down in the archives), the Wizards' issues on defense strikes me as the more newsworthy item. The KC team definitely has some things to figure out.

Real Salt Lake 2 - 1 DC United
(highlights....and sweet, sweet ones at that)
- Could any individual from this country and associated with soccer be happier than Jason Kreis right now?
- Possibly: it may or may not be Robbie Findley; the rookie picked up both goals, the last of which (I think) was wonderfully taken off a break-away.
- Credit DC fans for seeing this one least I think they did. It looks like they have a West Brom Albion of their very own in RSL.
- Regarding DC's goal...shit...damn near unwatchable, that one. Hide the children....
- I don't think this unexpected result does much to my opinion of either team - but the hiccup for both is duly noted.

Los Angeles Galaxy 2 - 3 Columbus Crew
(Delicious, heart-breaking highlights...I laughed and laughed)
- For my money, this week's Result of Note.
- And quelle embarrassing for LA: Columbus played them evenly - e.g. goal-for-goal - with a man down for 60 minutes. Those new recruits just can't come soon enough.
- To make things worse, it's only a lousier goal-differential that makes them better than 2007 whipping boys Real Salt Lake. Do we have a new whipee?
- Turning to Columbus, it'll be interesting to see where self-belief meets talent with this team. Seven points from a possible nine over the last three games should take care of the belief side.
- On the talent side, what to make of the Alejandro Moreno trade? Why does that look like the piece that brought everything together?
- Whatever it was, I'm guessing Red Bull New York - who sat idle this week - is looking at Columbus differently after this past weekend.
- The $64,000 question: how will the rest of LA respond to the arrival/return of Beckham, Carlos Pavon, and Landon Donovan? That's a lot of talent, too much, I'm thinking, for a turn-around to not happen. Then again, what if it doesn't?

Kansas City Wizards 0 - 1 Houston Dynamo
(Didn't catch a single sight of this one....hope it was OK)
-'s going to be very interesting to see how people view Kansas City after Week 12.
- Ditto with the Dynamo. At least one team in the West is waking up.

Gold Cup Campeones: Can We Play Mexico Every Day?

Knowing this is just one more stick of kindling on a bonfire of reports, commentary, rants, and celebration, I’ll (try to) keep this short - and bulleted.

- Dude, can we play Mexico every single day? They’re like the mechanical rabbit to our greyhound. Maybe it’s the green shirts; maybe we should ask all visiting teams to wear green. I don’t know. What I do know is we actually looked like the best team in the region yesterday.

- That quality went down to the micro-level: our guys played faster, smarter, and more crisply than we had in any game to this point. Whether it was a quick lateral pass by our players to get the ball out of danger and ready to head upfield at the half line, or that delightful string of quick passes at the top of the Mexican area that ended with, an admittedly feeble, shot on goal by Landon Donovan. We looked good in nearly every phase of the game to the extent that the exceptions showed as the merest of blemishes.

- Don’t get me wrong, though: winning was the important thing and I would have taken the crookedest of wins so long as things broke our way.

- Turning again to Donovan, c’mon and admit it: when he stepped up to take that PK, all y’all were waiting for a soft shot up the middle and an Oswaldo Sanchez save/shit-eating grin. So, here’s to Landon: way to step up, son.

- My man/men of the match (I have to go with two): Brian Ching and Carlos Bocanegra. The former left Mexican defenders in fits on two occasions with that spin while the latter contributed more timely interventions than any player on the field.

- And, yes, Benny Feilhaber’s goal was simply gorgeous...all the more so seeing as he missed his share of similar/easier shots in previous games.

- A special note to Jonathan Bornstein: all is forgiven; you had me at that shot on goal.

- Both 'keepers had sensational games. Sanchez kept the Mexicans alive more than once in the first half, while Tim Howard's late save on Bofo Bautista just settled onto the memory shelf of great U.S. Men's moments; it's right next to the winner Tab Ramos scored against Costa Rica way back when.

- All in all, we did remarkably well on both sides of the ball: Mexico had their chances, but we kept them down to a few (and Tim Howard mopped up the ones we let in); I’m still recovering from the shock of seeing us take the game to the Mexicans with a combination of grit, athleticism, and’s that last one that’s both big and not a little unusual.

- I haven’t read anything about how the Mexicans viewed the game, but can’t think of any grounds they have to complain. We done good and just beat ‘em.

Apart from noting my nearly-delirious happiness with the win, I’ll close with a couple questions (and, please, do weigh in):

1) Should the team we fielded stand as the U.S. starting eleven for the foreseeable future (allowing an exception here or there)?

2) Anyone think Hugo Sanchez might be looking for work any time soon? If not now, what would it take to lose him the job?

3) To make a bold statement: Clint Dempsey is our best field player. Anyone agree or disagree?

OK, that’s all I’ve got on this one. Can’t wait to read the gloating, moaning, general impressions that everyone else had.


Copa Roster: The Children's Crusade

Just as I was shutting down my brain for the weekend (yes, kids, the mystery of my match reports is answered!), I see Bob Bradley finally named the roster he'll send down to Venezuela for the Copa America. And mind you, this is the team that will face what's sounding an awful lot like an Argentine A-Team (can't say I know what kind of teams Paraguay and Colombia will field (and I know I could find them), but expect they'll be as good as they can)...and here they are (OK, you got me; taken from here):

"Goalkeepers (2) - Brad Guzan, Kasey Keller

Defenders (8) - Jonathan Bornstein, Bobby Boswell, Dan Califf, Jimmy Conrad, Jay DeMerit, Drew Moor, Heath Pearce, Marvell Wynne

Midfielders (8) - Kyle Beckerman, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Eddie Gaven, Sacha Kljestan, Justin Mapp, Lee Nguyen, Ben Olsen

Forwards (4) - Charlie Davies, Hercules Gomez, Eddie Johnson, Taylor Twellman

General comments:
- Holy shit! Will this thing be chaperoned?! Are Conrad and Olsen the chaperones? Damn that's a young bunch...and to think how many of them will enjoy alcohol for the first time....

- I like that Bradely, basically, switched out the defenses (though I'm a bit down on the choice of Bornstein given my frustrations with him against Canada...ah...I'm over it. Good luck, Johnny!) The Gold Cup is showing the need for more auditions.

- I'll be shocked - and drunkenly delighted - if this bunch doesn't share the fate of the actual Children's Crusade (it didn't end well)

- Getting back to the chaperone jab, it's an interesting mix, even if the set up is a little "Greek" - e.g. manly mentors and, um, impressionable youths. Looks like Bradley is counting on Conrad, Olsen, and Twellman(?) to show a very green squad the ropes. Should be interesting...

Specific comments...where they come to me:

- I'm pretty interested in the Marvell experiment.

- I like the calls for Bobby Boswell, Dan Califf, and Jimmy Conrad.

- Heath Pearce is probably OK, too.

- I can't say I understand the call for Drew Moor.

- Where the hell is Michael Parkhurst?

- Anyone think Beckerman got on the phone with Mastroeni immediately upon getting word? I like that call as well.

- Will the sun ever shine again in Chicago (and isn't Mapp gimpy)?

- Ah! Bradley stole the entire Rapids' offense!! (Get it...that's Herculez...ah, never mind).

- It seems the Eddie Johnson experiment will not end.

Whatever happens, I hope it's a good experience for these guys.


Gold Cup: In the Name of Balance...

Since I've already had my post-dicey-win freakout, I'm now able to do the deep breath thing and add some points that don't rip the Americans for failing to make me happy. In no particular order...

- While the Canadians did get robbed on the offside call, it's not like all the officiating went against them. As pointed out on du Nord (somewhere in there), four minutes extra time was pretty generous - and the ref went over to boot. Also, nicely as Iain Hume rounded out his evening, it started with several reckless, uncautioned fouls (whoops....thanks to on that - and it's a great post besides).

- posted a depressing photo gallery of the crowd - or palpable lack thereof - for the first, "Mexico-less" half - of last night's double-header. He gives props to the passionate, but small Sam's Army contingent...but it's hard to get around the fact that it was small...

- On the happy side of things, I feel like I should draw more attention to something I noted in response to a comment on my freakout post: the subtle, if as not yet entirely unfulfilled, improvement to the U.S. attack. Between DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey, the U.S. brings a more complete, complex attack than we ever have. Sure, we're missing reliable, even periodically useful, forwards, but it's worth noting improvement where it comes. The best news about this: Beasley and Donovan are 25 and Dempsey, only 24.

All for now...on this anyway...


Pat Onstad is a Mensch

"We did things to put ourselves in that position, whether it was a bad call or not," Canadian goalie Patrick Onstad, also of the Dynamo, said. "We dug ourselves a hole."

Houston Chronicle, 06.22.07 (LINK)

Or maybe Canadians are just too nice. That's how you handle losing with class...someone ought to tell the Mexicans.


Houston 4 - 0 Chivas: The End of the Affair?

Suddenly, my burgeoning love affair with Chivas USA looks misguided.

Put another way, the goal differential that wooed me suddenly look trivial against all those warnings about poor road form that others forwarded and that I ignored.

On the other hand, Houston is finally making the expected noise. In fact, it bears noting that both preseason favorites - the other being DC United - have rather abruptly resumed their anticipated roles, even if the return for either club isn't complete or definitive.

After that, the most eye-catching thing about last night's game: Brad Davis showing up. If he and Brian Mullan get back on their games, Houston will cause problems.


Gold Cup: Eunuchs Lifted into Final

To put my thoughts on last night’s game on a bitter simmer...and, as with all things simmered, this will be long.

The U.S. lost. On every level but the final score, we lost last night. Canada carried about 2/3 of the game and played with greater intelligence and precision. The blown offside call thwarted the Canadian rally in the end, but that may be better understood as a unique and plain symbol of a game in which Fortune, by and large, favored the undeserving.

And before going any further, I want to get in this: Sunday’s final is going to be fucking torture.

Now, where to begin?

As implied above, Canada certainly looked the better team - more certain in their approach and execution. They moved the ball far more effectively and, with the exception of long, crossing passes and wayward passes aside, to places where the receiving player was 90% certain to get it. Apart from the two times we laudably broke through - and on the couple occasions where we nearly did - the Maple Leaf’s defense ably contained the American attack, especially our forwards.

On the American side, we destroyed more ably than we created. The outstanding disturbing element in our game last night, however, came with our passing; I saw so many short, bobbled, indecisive - just flat-out worthless - passes; no less a problem were the series of clumsy attempts to dribble out of trouble in the defensive third, our players stabbed and/or entirely missed clearances, and the general air of panic. When we didn’t botch short passes, we resorted to long balls too often and too soon, especially out of the back; this evidenced some anxiety about playing through the Canadian midfield, particularly in the first half.

We did have some good spells and, not coincidentally, we scored our goals during one of them. Frankie Hejduk did score a peach and he looked at least as shocked to score it as I was to see him do so, but our play in the stretch before it made that, and Donovan’s penalty kick, possible. But Hejduk’s goal was more noteworthy in that it shows our capacity to build from the back and establish possession in the opposition half. The goal did come, if memory serves, from a set-play, but we earned that set-play by making the Canadians chase us in dangerous parts of the field. And that’s the pisser: we can do it. And, when the Canadians had to chase the game a little to start the second half, we did well with that...till our legs gave way to jittering fatigue, that is.

The maddening, and not a little eerie, reality is the fact the game played out precisely as expected, particularly within the context of the 2007 Gold Cup tournament; the game unfolded almost as if scripted. We score - once, twice, it doesn’t matter - and simply cannot maintain and hold things together. It almost begs the question of what scares American players so goddamn much about scoring?

As most attacks before them, the Canadians stretched and scrambled most of the back four - Hejduk, somewhat surprisingly, stood as the exception - the difference being that they could exploit the gaps. Given when the Maple Leaf’s finally managed their actual breakthroughs, I assume fatigue played a role; it’s more likely, however, that fatigue - and rather stupid attrition - hit our midfield by the end, thereby exposing a rickety defense. The inability of our more offensive players to maintain possession and kill the game meant more time spent chasing, hence more fatigue, etc. It’s a grand, knock-on effect in the end and the pieces keep falling till they run into - and, last night, over - a defense that has yet to cohere - and, in terms of the specific personnel, perhaps never will.

Looking back on the tournament as a whole, the U.S. turned in exactly one comprehensive performance - the win over El Salvador. We’re now in the final against the team arguably best equipped to exploit the highly apparent disorganization that has featured except that one game; then again, in our favor, the Mexicans have hardly lit up defenses poorer than ours. But still....anyone feel like we’re a solid favorite?

The hard reality is, even if we win the final, this tournament leaves me feeling LESS secure about the future of the U.S. Men’s National Team. We have very real problems to sort out, starting with our back line; we need to get that sorted out to alleviate some worry about what happens when the up-field players can’t swing their part.

That's the free-flowing part: time to turn to player rankings and such. For the record, a 5.0 rating denotes a performance that didn’t hurt or appreciably help. Before that, however, let’s dispense with the honors for the game:

Man of the Match: Canada’s Ian Hume. He came onto the field like a one-man shot of adrenaline, not only scoring the Leaf’s goal, but adding vital bite to the Canadian midfield.

The U.S. Man of the Match: Frankie Hejduk, hands down - he’s the inspiration for the title to this post. He played like he had balls on loan from half the team...too many of whom played as if they’d loaned out theirs.

Kasey Keller, 4.0: Damn, did he have issues with decisiveness. And starting him over Tim Howard still has me scratching my head.

Frankie Hejduk, 8.5: If his passing and crossing were better, he’d go higher. But Hejduk shut down the Canadian left, tackled like a demon, stretched the Canadians going forward and he scored a goal. It flat-out sucks he misses the final...even though I’m pretty sure he left his legs on Soldier Field last night.

Carlos Bocanegra, 4.5: Lucky not to have been sent off for the tackle on de Guzman. His interventions on defense connected poorly too often, whether with his body on a player on with his feet to the ball.

Oguchi Onyewu, 4.0: He bumbled when playing out of danger more than once and drifted out of position too often. I’m ready to look elsewhere.

(By way of general comment, Onyewu and Bocanegra are not the central defensive pairing of the future. There’s a palpable lack of organization in general in the back that relies too much on desperate, pack defending that has our players to get in one another’s way.)

Jonathan Bornstein, 2.5: I don’t want to see this guy in a U.S. jersey for a couple years, period; I wouldn’t lose sleep over never either. Last night exposed all my worries about his penchant for getting beat - Bernier ate him alive in the first half - and his, frankly, shitty traps in bad places.

DaMarcus Beasley, 6.0: Add a flash or two on offense - he did well to cause the penalty - to overall sound defensive work and harassing of the Canadian back line and you get a good overall game. Not as good as he can be, but good.

Michael Bradley, 5.5: He would have scored quite a bit higher, but that was about the dumbest goddamn red card I’ve seen this year. Apart from that, however, Bradley was strong and active, one of our better players out there.

Pablo Mastroeni, 6.0: Until Hume came on for Canada, I thought both Mastroeni and Bradley did really well. Pablo tired by the end, but, before that, he played the d-mid role pretty well.

Landon Donovan, 5.5: The odd thing is, Donovan kind of did what people want him to last night: force the game. Trouble is, he didn’t do it all that well; he carried into dead ends too often, didn’t pass early enough, etc. It’s depressingly remarkable that he was still our most dangerous player. His PK technique is weird - and I don’t mean his ritual; it’s the bombing it up the middle thing.

Eddie Johnson, 4.0: Will someone please pull the plug on the EJ Experiment? He lacks confidence and aggressiveness at this level, pure and simple. Did he run at anyone? Not that I recall. Did his passing push the offense? Rarely. Take away the time Donovan played him behind the Canadian defense - a great, alert run that petered out with, yep, a lack of aggression - and his rating goes lower.

Clint Dempsey, 5.0: He may actually be our best passer, but he was a step off last night. The moves he had been making all tournament to keep possession didn’t work last night. He just looked flat. (UPDATE: I finally read a report or two, which reminded me of the good things Demspey did - much of which goes back to the "best passer" line, but which also include his near-miss header - and acknowledge I rated him too low: so revise this to read, Clint Dempsey


Benny Feilhaber, 4.5: Needs to orient his brain to a possession game...or cede the job to someone who can. Feilhaber didn’t actually perform badly, but he should have recognized the need to slow down the game instead of pushing it forward.

Taylor Twellman, 6.0: I can’t believe this, but, in the short time Twellman was on the field, he was the only one who seemed to appreciate the need to keep the ball in the Canadian end of the field. He wasn’t always successful, but at least he tried.

Ricardo Clark, 5.0: He barely merits ranking, though I’m tempted to ding him for reaching his foot up to a ball in our penalty area that he needed to control more decisively.

Bob Bradely, 3.5: Yep, the coach gets a number because, in my view, he impacted the game in all the wrong ways. Where were the subs? Clint Dempsey appeared stumbling tired by the 70th minute, if not early, and Donovan looked ready for a breather; Eddie Johnson never started and should have been subbed by the half. Clark should have come on sooner for Mastroeni, he started Keller over Howard for reasons that beg explanation, etc.

OK. I’m done. I can’t think of the last time I’ve been so disappointed with a win. It’s games like this that make qualifying for the World Cup look a lot more complicated today than it did in May 2007.

U.S. v Canada: A Final Thought

I'll deal a whole hell of a lot better with a loss to Canada tonight than I will to a loss to Mexico in the final. Hell, a loss to Guadeloupe in the final wouldn't make me nearly as cross as losing to Mexico.

There is simply nothing - nothing - worse than losing to Mexico.

What a great rivalry...

I don't think we're going to lose tonight...but, with the way my year is going, losing to Mexico would be like one giant bow...made of poop.


MLS Collective Rankings: Week 11

Good news: a couple more pundits came forward - or, rather, were discovered - this week, thus growing the Semi-Detached Pundit Collective (SDPC). The “new normal” established last week will carry over to this - e.g. the rankings below will show this week’s ranking, last week’s ranking, and each team’s scariness rating. It should be acknowledged at least that increasing the number of pundits could screw up the results. Then again, what do I care? I’m not a statistician...

Here are the new and - damn right! - improved sources for this week’s SPDC rankings:

It’s a Simple Game
The Other Football
Sideline Views (Luis Bueno)
Sideline Views (Andrea Canales) NEW!!
My Soccer Blog
MLS Underground
SI - Ryan Hunt
Fox Soccer Channel NEW!!
Soccer by Ives

And, once again, The DCenters Freezer (kinda like reverse rankings) merits honorable mention...wish I could figure out how to get them in here.

Now, on to the numbers:

1. Kansas City Wizards, 1.1 (last week: 1st - 1.3; SR: 5)
2. Red Bull New York, 2.6 (2nd - 2.8; SR: 6)
3. DC United, 2.7 (4th - 3.3; SR: 2)
4. New England Revolution, 4.3 (3rd - 2.9; SR: 8)
5. Chivas USA, 5.5 (7th - 6.8; SR: 1)
6. FC Dallas, 6.4 (5th - 5.5; SR: 9)
7. Houston Dynamo, 6.5 (6th - 6.1; SR: 4)
8. Toronto FC, 7.3 (9th - 8.9; SR: 3)
9. Colorado Rapids, 9.1 (8th - 7.9; SR: 13)
10. Chicago Fire, 10.3 (10th - 9.9; SR: 12)
11. Los Angeles Galaxy, 10.8 (11/12th - 11.6; SR: 7)
12. Columbus Crew, 11.5 (11/12th - 11.6; SR: 10)
13. Real Salt Lake, 12.9 (13th - 12.6; SR: 11)

Some observations:

- I need an explanation as to how anyone can rank Chicago above 12. As I discovered when compiling my power rankings, Chicago has been every bit as bad as Real Salt Lake over the past eight games (4 points earned for each). To make matters worse, a case can be made the Chicago is actually worse; RSL has managed a result in four games, while the Fire has done so on only two occasions. That arguably makes RSL the more consistent team. (So, why’d I rank RSL lower? Call-ups will return for the Fire and Blanco will come; RSL just gets back Freddy Adu...).

- This week’s big climbers are pretty obvious: Chivas USA and Toronto FC. I think Chivas is flying too low for people to notice, but they’re looking pretty solid.

- FC Dallas took a hit - and rightly so. That’s what they get for edging RSL and getting slaughtered by TFC.

- I know I was alone in folding last night’s Columbus win into my rankings (everyone else posted before it happened); I’m really wondering what that will do for the Crew.

- On a related note, I really wonder what that will do to KC’s rankings. It seems like no one notices the number of goals that team is allowing. As I said in my rankings, they’ve got the league’s fifth-worst offense - and the competition on that sucks.

- It should also be noted that Dallas is pretty dire on defense...I think they’re league worst.

- Boldest call of the week: My Soccer Blog put Toronto at #4.

- Craziest call of the week: Andrea Canales putting DC United at #6...and FC Dallas at #3.

MLS Week 11 Power Rankings (the last one posted)

Let it be established that each “Major League Soccer (MLS) Week” shall begin at 12 a.m. each Thursday till the end of the 2007 season...or maybe not. Damn those scheduling interns. The real problem is last night’s game, in which Columbus snuck a win over Kansas City (I told you the Crew would cause problems for some good teams; just didn't think it would match this week's); seeing as I can’t wash that one out of my mind, I’m just going to incorporate it below.

As always, last week’s ranking appears in parentheses immediately after this week’s ranking. So as to not misrepresent my judgment as entirely first-hand, here’s a key for my viewing: “@” means I watched a given team’s most recent performance in its entirety; “$” means I caught it through Quick Kicks, which provides extended highlights; “%” means I watched only the rump highlights available through

For the record, I like my top three; or, rather, I think I can justify my thinking on those. #4 - 6 is a bit of a mash-up - and it’s possible #6 may blow up in my face within 12 hours. I like #7. #8-11 are, essentially, inter-changeable. The bottom two, however, are solid.

Here goes...and after the rankings, you’ll find a current listing of the standings for the permanent record.

1. (2) DC United (didn’t see it, didn’t hear it...)
No, I haven’t seen these guys play in weeks. The thing is, DC is about the only team in the league doing well on both sides of the ball.

2. (3) Kansas City Wizards ($ + 1/2 of @)
Five MLS teams have allowed more goals than KC; trouble is, those teams suck (except, arguably, Dallas - but their defense sucks). If the goals dry up - as they did last night - the slipshod defense hurts this team.

3. (5) Chivas USA (%)
Chivas has earned the same number of points as DC - even if a weaker Western Conference has something to do with that - and the same argument for their ranking applies. Count tonight a “statement game” - or a cliché. While they can’t actually take over top spot in the West, a win would say just as much.

4. (1) Red Bull New York ($)
This team’s defensive problems are serious and don’t appear to be going away any time soon. I regret last week’s ranking error.

5. (4) New England Revolution (@)
Nice as it was to see Adam Cristman score two (though his leering come-hither to Pat Noonan must be blacked out to keep the skin from crawling) - hell, nice as it was to see Noonan look like himself - the Revs has issues. The luck that carried them through a few games nearly dried up last week; was the last drop sprinkled on Cristman’s first goal?

6. (6) Houston Dynamo (idle)
Some weeks you don’t have to do anything to hold steady. But, as with Chivas, tonight is statement time. Anyone else see a nice little rivalry blossoming between those two teams?

7. (9) Toronto FC ($)
Re-enacted The Burning Bed over a weary FC Dallas* and they look a safe bet to avoid the whole “worst team in history” tag. It’s time to see if they can make their hard-knock game work on the road. (*Such horrible analogies come to me all day, every day and, I assure you, the original edit was worse. My internal censor took a half-day.)

8. (7) FC Dallas (1/2 hour of @ + %)
Let’s see...they BARELY beat the league’s accidental comedy troupe and then got mauled by Canadians. Canadians! (kidding...I’m just warming up for tonight.) Were it not for the fact they play consistent .500 ball, they’d drop further.

9. (10) Columbus Crew (@ + 1/2 of @)
I stand firmly in the column that assumes this team is better than their record. Again, with the odds of the Crew picking up four points against their past two opponents, I really, REALLY wish I had a sports book nearby.

10. (12) Los Angeles Galaxy (@)
LA hasn’t given teams or fans cause to respect them this season. Yeah, they beat RSL...rah, rah. The best thing you can say about them is they’re trying to improve.

11. (8) Colorado Rapids (%)
These cats haven’t won since May. And, unlike LA, I’m not seeing them doing anything to improve. To make matters worse, Dallas’s on-off pattern augurs a win for the Colorado side this weekend.

12. (11) Chicago Fire (didn’t see it, didn’t hear it...)
Reduced to the quality of a college team by injuries and call-ups, why believe a new coach can turn things around. It took some math to realize just how bad things are in Chicago: they’ve taken 4 POINTS from their last 8 games. For the record, that’s RSL bad - literally. RSL has equaled Chicago for points over the past 8 games.

13. (13) Real Salt Lake (1/2 hour of @ + @)
Setting the standard for sucking in 2007 and building on a proud tradition.

Moving on to the standings (painstakingly recreated by Franklin Mint engravers from the current official ones):

Eastern Conference
1. Red Bull New York: 21 pts. (6-3-3: 24 GF, 15 GA, +9; home, 4-1-1; away, 2-2-2)
2. Kansas City Wiz: 20 pts. (6-3-2: 23 GF, 17 GA, +6; home, 3-1-0; away, 3-2-2)
3. New England Revs: 19 pts. (5-2-4: 21 GF, 14 GA, +7; home, 2-1-2; away, 3-1-2)
4. DC United: 17 pts. (5-3-2: 17 GF, 14 GA, +3; home, 4-1-1; away, 1-2-1)
5. Chicago Fire: 14 pts. (4-6-2: 12 GF, 19 GA, -7; home, 3-2-1; away, 1-3-1)
6. Toronto FC: 13 pts. (4-6-1: 14 GF, 18 GA, -4; home, 4-3-0; away, 0-3-1)
7. Columbus Crew: 12 pts. (2-4-6: 14 GF, 19 GA, -5; home, 2-1-4; away, 0-3-2)

Western Conference
1. FC Dallas: 22 pts. (7-6-1: 18 GF, 21 GA, -3; home, 3-2-0; away, 4-4-1)
2. Chivas USA: 17 pts. (5-3-2: 15 GF, 8 GA; +7; home, 4-0-1; away, 1-3-1)
3. Houston Dynamo: 16 pts. (5-5-1: 11 GF, 10 GA, +1; home, 3-2-1; away, 2-3-0)
4. Colorado Rapids: 15 pts. (4-5-3: 13 GF, 16 GA, -3; home 2-1-3; away, 2-4-0)
5. Los Angeles Galaxy: 9 pts. (2-4-3: 11 GF, 13 GA, -2; home, 2-2-1; away, 0-2-2)
6. Real Salt Lake: 6 pts. (0-5-6: 9 GF, 18 GA, -9; home, 0-2-3; away, 0-3-3)

Junk Drawer, 06.20; Vergara on Sanchez; KC News

And, to round out my day, here's a quick round-up of other items of interest (now limiting myself to five...yes, I'm growing...)

- Count Jorge Vergara among the Mexican fans taking a dim view of the early days of the Hugo Sanchez era.

- While New England adds a player here, another player there - and two years later...and grudgingly - the Kansas City Wizards can't stop adding 'em...and they're attacking players! Dammit! There's also some interesting chatter in that same Down the Byline post about a soccer-specific stadium in the KC area.

- The Columbus Dispatch ran a little piece (carrying a curious, though applaudable, lead) on Guillermo Schelotto, who sounds happy about his move to Columbus. All I know is I've never seen a less enthusiastic goal celebration than the one he turned in last Saturday. Oh, and it sounds like Gaven will start in place of Robbie Rogers this weekend...should be interesting.

- Bill Urban wrote a good piece on the apparent tension between talent and expansion. For what it's worth, I say roll the dice. God meant for expansion teams to suffer; Toronto has it all wrong. They'll catch up in time.

- Finally, the Las Vegas Sun builds an article on a Big Soccer thread. Suddenly, I don't feel so bad about all those book reports written from Cliff's Notes*.

(* OK, for the record, I've never once used Cliff's Notes; I enjoy reading too much.)


Gold Cup Hiccup

Just a thing or two to throw out ahead of the Gold Cup.

On the practical level, Jeff Carlisle turned in his usual good work with his previews of tomorrow's games for ESPN.

But the one item that really caught my eye appeared at the bottom of a San Diego Union-Tribune article previewing the Gold Cup semis:

“It was just one of those days,” U.S. forward Taylor Twellman said after missing several easy chances in front of the net against Panama. “But we won, so who really cares?”

Someone call Twellman's mother. We need someone to seize his ear and yank him to the kitchen table for a stern talking to.

Who cares? WHO CARES?!

I'll tell you who cares, young man. About a third of the number of people showing in the Nielsens for U.S. Soccer games, that's who! You're paid to score goals, son. If I had an accountant doing his job as poorly as you did against Panama, he'd lose my business...and I'll warrant the business of many others as well.

Shape up, youngster.