Saturday, March 29, 2008

D.C. Open with a Loss: Kansas City 2-0 D.C. United

Hmmm. Interesting idea, Mr. Soehn. We'll have to wait until Tuesday to see if it pays off.

Apparently Soehn took Fred out of the starting lineup in favor of Dominic Mediate and perhaps withheld Santino Quaranta in favor of on-form Devon McTavish, the argument being that the full starting XI needs to be fresh for Tuesday's more important Champion's Cup match against Pachuca. I can see the logic there.

The thing is, there's a big drop off in talent between our starting XI and our subs. Our lack of depth is a serious problem. McTavish's movement off the ball was laudable, as was Mediate's hustle to balls played into space, but both players' lack of touch killed several offensive movements. There's no doubt in my mind that had Fred and Quaranta been on from the start, D.C. would have tallied the first goal, and even if they hadn't, they would have been better able to equalize and overcome.

As it stands, this loss confirms what many of us suspected: D.C. United has poor roster depth.

That's all for now. Pachuca is on Tuesday. I'll have more to say after that match.

(I agree with D: the loss does feel a bit abstract. A loss v. Pachuca, on the other hand, would smart a bit.)

Other notes:

- We'll be seeing Carvallo soon. Wells did not have a good showing tonight.

- Get well soon, Jaime. We need you.

- When do we get to see that dapper youth, Quavas Kirk?

- Stratford has the hustle and muscle to keep possession in tight spaces. I didn't get an accurate reading of his touch and field awareness, but after those eight minutes on the pitch tonight I'm curious to see more.

- Yup yup, I agree: MetroSports' technical difficulties were embarassing for them, and for the league.

- Niell also had a poor showing. Kansas City's back line had a very easy time knocking him off the ball. He couldn't overcome their physicality with his speed. What's more, even though he was ineffective there, he stayed central, forcing Emilio into a creative role on the wing. The result, as you can see, was impotency. Gallardo managed a few pot shots on goal, but he takes too long to set himself up and even when he does, he telegraphs his target. Defenders blocked him easily. Quaranta did his best to alleviate the problem but it took a few minutes for him to break into the game and by the time he did, there were two minutes left in regulation. Bottom line: Niell needs to realize when he can and when he can't beat the opposing defense. If he can't, he needs to spread the field and make way for the people who can. I even think he would be more effective in a wide role, if the right ball were passed into space and he could charge the box.

- Burch and Namoff had some deadly crosses into the box and showed that we really need a target man to capitalize. Unfortunately, Peralta is the only outfield player on the squad who has the physical tools to fill the role. We'll have to make the most of our corners, I suppose.

- Anyone else doing Fantasy MLS? I did fairly well tonight. My gamble with Trujillo paid off somewhat, anyways. Wish I'd gambled on Nyassi, too.

- Claudio Lopez will do well in this league, I think. Certainly a MotM performance tonight. A post might be brewing about the advantages of pursuing a forward for your DP as opposed to CAM. We'll see.


Get your own celebration, jackass.


I have a couple questions, if you guys wouldn't mind helping me out:

1) What happened on Lopez' goal? I saw his chip, but not the buildup.

2) When Fred came on for Burch, where did McTavish go? Left back or center back? If he went center back, who went to the left? Or did we change to a 3-5-2?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pre-Season Power Rankings and Other Silly Things

I could have done a DCU season preview but there are already nearly half a dozen out there. Shatz, for example, has been doing the roster dance for weeks. Ives turned his out for ESPN a couple weeks ago. Jon at DCU Offside did his the other day. Even has one up. That's some good coverage. Why compete?

Instead I think I'll go thirteen further and do an in-depth response to Ives' power rankings (with significant help from I-66's "Preview in Haiku").

MLS 2008 Pre-Season Power Rankings:

  1. Houston
  2. D.C. United
  3. New England Revolution
  4. Chivas USA*
  5. Kansas City*
  6. Chicago Fire*
  7. Red Bulls
  8. FC Dallas
  9. Colorado Rapids**
  10. Los Angeles Galaxy**
  11. Columbus Crew
  12. Toronto FC***
  13. Real Salt Lake***
  14. San Jose Earthquakes
Asterisks mark the changes I made to Ives' power rankings.


Let's go from top to bottom:

1. Houston over DC United simply because the Western Conference has not improved as much as the Eastern during the offseason. Houston will have an easier time asserting their dominance and winning points. Their self-confidence and home support will carry them through the season, That said, in terms of talent, any of the top 4 could be argued for the #1 spot. They are the class of the league.

2. DCU has improved their defense, which wasn't the worst, and their playmaker, who was one of the best. Their preseason ended on a very positive note. They entered last season as a solid, title-challenging side and will enter this one the same, only more so. (What remains to be seen is the quality of roster depth: the starters are solid, but the subs? Quaranta can step on for any of the attacking corps, but can Stratford really come on for Simms, Carvallo for Wells, Dyachenko or Kirk for anyone? Let alone Moose, Barlow, and potentially Cezar and Curtin. We simply can't know until those boys see significant playing time, and they will, thanks to a hectic schedule. I predict another end-of-season slump, which is growing into an unfortunate franchise tradition.)

3. New England has a lot to prove and so does Twellman. Reis should have another solid season, as should Ralston. WVHooligan has even gone so far as to predict Shalrie Joseph as 2008-09 league MVP. I don't think I can agree with that assessment at this point, but I will predict that Foxboro will be the birthplace of many a nightmare this season.

4. Raphael Wicky is bringing in a lot of positive press for Chivas USA already. Sacha Kljestan had a very solid showing with the U-23's. Preki has a glut of starting options up top, namely Razov, Galindo, and Eskandarian. Bornstein at left back and Suarez as center back are two of the best in the league. Make no mistake, Chivas are title contenders this year. (On the other hand, lack of depth could prove a problem for the Goats. What's more, with Burpo gone to San Jose, who will step in for Guzan when he leaves?)

5. I dropped Kansas City in the rankings for two reasons. First: their offense is now an unknown quantity. The Trujillo/Lopez front line could prove miraculous, but it could also fizzle. Second: they've traded Burciaga and Garcia and brought in draftee Chance Meyers. As good as they are, I don't see Conrad and Hartman picking up that kind of slack.

6. Cuauhtemoc Blanco will draw crowds and fouls, converting the former into team chemistry and the latter into goals. He is the reason Chicago Fire should be respected. But he is the only reason. Ranking them sixth is an optimistic estimation. The Fire will be plagued by questions this year: will Hamlett succeed? Will the Fire miss Armas or Pickens more? Are Rolfe and Barrett really capable of socring? Will Conde play to his best? Is Frankowski still good? Positive answers will be hard to come by.

7. Oscar Etcheverry just signed with RBNY, giving Altidore both relief from and competition for his starting position. If Altidore leaves, New York has adequate cover. Still, let's go from the top down on the Bulls' starting XI, asking whether or not they will succeed this season. Angel? Of course. Altidore? Certainly. Reyna? Probably. Van den Bergh? Err, potentially. Stammler? Uh, possibly. Freeman? Mendes? Parke? Um... maybe. Conway? Well, no. Osorio is known for breeding strong defenses, but he has his work cut out for him.

8. Juan Toja is the buzz of Dallas' preseason, as is Davino and Caraccio. Each has enormous potential, but will they fulfill it? It's hard to say. That said, top to bottom, the Dallas side is more than decent and could easily leapfrog Kansas City, Chicago, or RBNY.

9. Everyone is being very hard on the Rapids because of their ill form at the end of last season plainly because they failed to score goals. They have one of the strongest defenses in the league, backed by Coundoul and spearheaded by the league's best d-mid (Mastroeni) and one who has to potential to be even better (Rafael Gomes), but their offense is dismal. Christian Gomez is verging on legend status; if he can orchestrate the impotent Rapids offense into something lethal, he'll go down in the books as a superhero. I think he can do it, and that's why I've bumped the Rapids up a couple notches.

10. The Galaxy have the biggest burden of proof in the league. Gullit is the most internationally accomplished coach in the league just as Bex is the most accomplished player. The Beckham/Ruiz connection has already proven effective in Asia. Donovan is headed for another double/double season. So what gives? Infrastructural instability could cripple this side. So could an injury crisis. As it stands now with everyone healthy, there's no doubt in my mind that the Galaxy have the capability to succeed in the MLS; but will they?

11. The Crew have a big problem: who will finish Schelotto's service? There are serious doubts about Alejandro Moreno and Nico Hernandez. Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven have yet to produce their best, and I'm not entirely sure it will come this year. Couple this with a mediocre Brian Carroll, a flawful back line, and a half-decent keeper and there isn't a whole lot to be optimistic about, especially when you consider the possibility that Schelotto leaves mid-season.

12. Toronto FC are poised to do much better than last year, but that's not saying much. They've pursued many and signed few, indicating either choosiness or contract faults or administrative conflicts or all three at once. But here's the bottom line: they're going to do better than last year, I can feel it. Their home support alone will render them not-the-last throughout the summer. The efforts of Maurice Edu, Jeff Cunningham and Danny Dichio might push them even further.

13. Kreis, now's your time to shine. Bring Real Salt Lake to life. You've got no Esky, no Adu, no DP, and nothing to lose. This goes for you too, Robbie Findley.

14. San Jose, to the contrary of many another MLS side, have nothing to prove and plenty of leeway about it anyways. Yallop will be well-esteemed whether this year ends well or badly. I'm hankering after Ramiro Corrales for my fantasy side; I think his value will increase exponentially once the season starts.


Also, Houtson's video preview of the 2008 season. I think it's all very cute and silly. Houston should have a motto, and only a puppet of Jose Mourinho can say it, and it should be this: "Be champions."



Wednesday, March 26, 2008

US Dominate in Poland: Polska 0-3 US

I won't say that our offense was fantastic (it was much the opposite, in fact) but our defense was solid when it needed to be and our midfield got the job done. We played our brand of football throughout, which is to say that we played some good ol' soccer: bruising d-mids destroying attacks before they happen, (over)utilization of the wings, and capitalization of dead-ball opportunities. A very dull match with sparse opportunities rarely produced by the run of play. Typical stuff, yeah?

Not quite. We managed to dominate the run of play against a Euro 2008 competitor at their home stadium, in front of their home fans. Today's performance was very much rebuttal for the performance vs. Sweden in Sweden and possibly Ghana in Germany. This is a very positive result for the progressive Bradley campaign.


So how did everyone do?

Michael Bradley did fine. We saw very little of his attacking prowess this match as he was utilized alongside Clark as the d-mid tandem, but we did get a good look at why nepotism has nothing to do with his frequent MNT call-ups. He consistently performs his midfield duties well: stemming the opposition and diffusing pressure to the wings. He completed nearly all of his passes and hardly put a foot out of line. I think the next step will be to integrate him into the offense. I'd like to see Coach Bob experiment with an offensive trio of Bradley (CAM) - Donovan (FW) - Johnson (FW), at least until Adu gets another call-up.

Ricardo Clark was also fine. After Mexico there were doubts about how well he and Bradley could perform together, but tonight these doubts were dispelled.

Howard was also at the top of his game.

Carlos Bocanegra was the consummate center half, as was Oguchi Onyewu. Ives has been touting the pair as the best in the MNT pool and after tonight I can hardly disagree. Each tallying a goal on the day from set pieces, the twain also proved that they still bring a lot to the dead-ball table.

Lewis still has a motor and a wicked lefty. He is an attractive overage option for the U-23's this summer, in my opinion.

Steve Cherundolo's crosses provided our most dangerous opportunities off the run of play, though I did think he tended to get over-committed with his offensive forays.

did admirably, for playing on the left wing. He created Gooch and Bocanegra's goals with lethal dead-ball service and should have added a goal of his own. Thing is, while Donovan is the most versatile attacking option in the MNT pool, he's also the most potent, and I don't think he will produce his best out left. In the hole or up top would be ideal, but even a move to the right wing would be an improvement.

Other than that, Dempsey was off-form, Pearce was hot and cold (though Ives thought he was great), and the forwards were non-existent. But how is this unusual?


Next stop: London. The Fulham boys will be back in full effect for that one, I think.