John Nyen…let’s call it “Working on New Material…”
Laaaaaaaaadies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Shin Guardian MLS preview. A column in which I will frequently go off the rails on tangents that have absolutely nothing to do with the game, and I may or may not encourage you to check out certain beers, music, website’s that will corrupt your very soul and make your mother/father very upset with me.
To start, let me first dictate the rules to you in reading this mess.
#1 I am probably incorrect about all of this so don’t use it for gambling.
As Marvin Gaye would say…. “Let’s Get It On”
(Format will be home team, visiting team, and all times are East Coast. All music and beer will be quasi-local to the home team this time around)
2:00 pm Montreal v Chicago – Olympic Stadium – Television: TSN RDS
Almost 60,000 people will be in Olympic Stadium in Montreal to take on the “we like to open stadiums” Chicago Fire. Montreal (last week) were dropped by Vancouver 2-0 in a game that pulled in great television ratings in Canada and apathy in Central (but not Western) Germany. Montreal recently held a practice in which 2,000 Impact fans decided to show up, so expect a decent atmosphere…. well… IF you can watch this. See if you are in the United States, you CAN’T watch this (easily) because it isn’t being broadcast unless you have a MLS package.
Rumors are that Joey Saputo and Jesse Marsch will be signing all the unprotected fans from Regina, Saskatchewan and then trying to trade them for fans from Novia Scotia plus a case of roll up cups from Tim Hortons. As reported by Brian Straus of the Sporting News, Chicago have opened up (now) 4 stadiums in MLS (Portland, RBNY, Sporting KC, and Montreal). In those 3 prior games, Chicago is 0-2-1, not entirely confidence inspiring for the Fire supporters.
Music for this game: Arcade Fire, who have done wonders for Montreal by improving the hideous shadow cast by Celine Dion.
Last Game for Montreal: L 0-2
Last Game for Chicago: NONE
Beer for this game: Unibroue – La Fin Du Monde
Language for this game: Parlez vous Francais?
My prediction: I will go with 1-1, which (given their recent record with draws) would be cruelly unfair on the Chicago Fans.
5:00 PM EDT San Jose V Houston – AT&T Park – Television: Local Only
It is the annual classic of two teams with the same origin fighting itself for the right to not be referred to each other any longer. Houston will be featuring the “I never want to leave San Jose” Brian Ching after ransoming him back from Montreal by offering an extra-large size of KFC Poutine. San Jose will be featuring Jon Busch and Chris Wondolowski plus a bunch of other guys in and around the defensive third of the field. Houston (how shall we put this) are a physical team capable of making tackles that Chad Ochocinco would only dream about. This game will be for the purist who enjoys prize fights, beta-max copies of Rocky 2, and assembling Ikea furniture without the instructions.
And…I do predict that any traveling Houston fans will not be carrying any flags or drums as they were prohibited from doing so by the MLS front office.
Music for this game: Chuck “Don’t call me Marvin” Berry
Last Game for San Jose: W 1-0
Last Game for Houston: W 1-0
Website for this game: Zombo.com
My prediction: Houston wins 1-0 and there will be at least ONE kerfuffle during the game which will look like people are going to swing at each other but ends in steely eyed stares and people separating.
8:30PM FC Dallas V Portland – FC Dallas Stadium (NOT Pizza Hut Park) – Television: Local Only
The Portland “we only won twice on the road last year” Timbers go to Frisco, TX to take on a team from Dallas. After the pain in the rain game against the Union, the Timbers are prematurely riding high on their double frame bicycle (parked out in front of Annex bar), while Dallas nervously (in the second half) took down Red Bull and their new attacking mid-fielder Thierry Henry.
FC Dallas may or may not be missing “Le Coq Sportif” Brekhino Shea as well as David “I like walking boots and I cannot lie” Ferreria for this match. Meanwhile, Portland will be missing Futty Danso, Franck Songo’o (probably), Sal Zizzo, David Horst, mass transportation and good coffee.
As reported by John Strong, Portland were not good last year (on the road) when the temperature was over 85 degrees (0-4-0) and fortunately for them, there is cool-ish weather in the forecast. Dallas, last year, absolutely spanked Portland in Frisco and would be looking to continue the trend, however they will have to contend with an improved offense (Kris Boyd, Alhassan actually scoring) and what appears to be a more congealed defense. Areas of concern to watch for Portland are the left side with Rodney Wallace getting the start there in the last game and Eric Alexander playing in front of him (presumably to cover Rodney’s defense). The Timbers are currently a more right-sided offensive team and it will remain to be seen if they can kick-start their offense from that position in this game.
For Dallas, Blas Perez paid dividends immediately by sliding a great pass in for a score in his first MLS game. Perez is the kind of player that will make you very angry if you are a fan of staying on your feet. However, his talent cannot be denied. It will be interesting to see the Dallas offense if Shea is not available as there will be less of a driving force, particularly on the left.
[RANT] A word here for the front office of Portland… Having an official viewing party on St Pattys Day AT Kells Irish Pub is one of the daftest things I have seen you do recently. Many people would rather avoid the insane lines at the bar, the bro-fest party atmosphere of way too much imbibing, the sticky floors, and the stale smell of the porta-poties that dot the outside of the tented Irish dancing area. Don’t get me wrong here, despite my Norwegian heritage I like me some fiddle, pipe and bodhran music; and I love beer and whiskey (non-green please). However, Kells (at times) can be an absolute nightmare on St Patty’s day… ESPECIALLY when it falls on a weekend. [/Rant]
Music for this game: Tripping Daisy
Last game for Dallas: W 2-1
Last game for Portland: W 3-1
Beer for this game: Austin has the breweries in Texas, to be honest. So instead of suggesting you drink Shiner, I suggest you grab something from Deep Ellum Brewing Co.
My Prediction: 1-1
8:30PM Sporting KC V New England – Livestrong Sporting Park – Television: Local Only
Oh New England… What to say these days. Seemingly stuck within the certain hell of disinterested ownership they plow forward in an attempt at relevancy in the tough Boston sports market. From 2007 on, it has been a slow slide down the table; but it begs remembering that, at one point, the Revolution were one of the top teams in MLS.
With Benny Feilhaber and Diego Fagundez (DNP in the game) there might be hope in New England, as the Revolution went undefeated in the pre-season. However, a missed-connection by Sharlie Joseph and A.J. Soares cost the Revolution the game against San Jose and Jay Heaps debut as coach went down in defeat. One of the Rev’s biggest problem is the issue of having a forward duo of Fernando Cardenas and Blake Brettschneider which (all due respect to any fantastic professional athlete) doesn’t scare anyone except the person doing the lettering for Brettschneider on the back of the Revolution kit.
Meanwhile in Sporting Kanasas City… Late goals abide with immediate effect as Kansas City grabbed the win off a C.J. Sapong header. It has to be said that Teal Bunbury may return from his call up to the u-23 side to find a tenuous grip on his already tenuous starting place with the first team. For club and country Teal hasn’t exactly been burning up the scene. The “Bobby Convey Experience” had their first album release party on Saturday and I heard they covered a Blind Melon song… (because he is blind in one eye… get it…?) Ok fine… Carrying on…
It will pay to watch the midfield here as the defense of the Revolution will have their hands full with the attacking 4-3-3/4-5-1 of KC. I would expect KC to dictate the pace of the game and Kei Kamara/Grahm Zusi to make a menace of themselves in and around the back four.
Music for this game: Charlie Parker… What? You don’t like Jazz? TOUGH. Jazz is one of the musical forms of Soccer, where improvisation is paramount, there doesn’t have to be a set flow and (in the case of Bebop) there are staccato punctuations of vagabond excitement interspersed with rhythm.
Last game for Kansas City: W 1-0
Last game for New England: L 0-1
Beer for this game: Boulevard… but you already knew that… right?
My Prediction: 2-0 to KC
10:00PM – Real Salt Lake V New York – Rio Tinto Stadium – Television: Local Only
Well then, if RSL didn’t gobsmack the almost unanimous predictions of many pundits last week. They took it to LA IN LA and showed that the defense of LA and even their offense isn’t up to speed quite yet. It remains to be seen if (probably should have been a MVP candidate) Omar Gonzalez’s loss is recoverable for LA, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with this specific preview.
RSL, as a team, is the perfect example of substantive style over grandiose publicity… which brings us to New York. With Kenny Cooper scoring in his substitute MLS debut (more about this later), Red Bull decided to wake up in the second half of the game and attempt to pull something out. Thierry Henry is still up to his old tricks with one of the best “Who Me” faces in the industry. He almost scored a very cheeky free kick goal that richoceted off the post much to the dismay of the Metro’s fanbase.
Ahhhhh Kenny (soopa-doopa) Cooper… where to begin… Easily one of the more frustrating players to watch, and yet still capable of scoring goals. I should remind Red Bull fans that Cooper (who is slower than the earth revolving around the sun) did score on his debut for Portland, and then proceeded to follow that up with drifting out to the right and left side of the field, trying to nutmeg a defender and then exasperatingly trotting back to the midfield after turning over the ball. Certainly the blame must be laid at the feet of the midfield for failing to provide him with service last year, but it remains to be seen if Red Bull have that delivery in them as well.
Which brings us to Red Bull New York’s new attacking midfielder Thierry Henry, he of petulant after game comments.
The idea of being so short in attacking verve as to use Henry in the midfield is (to me) nothing short of heresy, but then again it wouldn’t be a Hans Backe team without absolutely insane personnel management ideals. Meanwhile, Luke Rodgers visa limbo continues unabated as the New York fans have resorted to a petition in the effort to bring back the catalyst.
Music for this game: How about you just listen to the drum track from a Rancid record and call it good.
Last game for RSL: W 3-1
Last game for RBNY: L 1-2
Beer for this game: Go to The Republican and ask for what’s on tap.
My Prediction: I am feeling a 2-1 win for Salt Lake here.
10:00PM – Seattle V Toronto FC – CenturyLink Field – Telvision: Local Only
WHOOOOOO DOGGIES! This game (in my mind) has become must watch TV despite not being nationally broadcast (so DO NOT use any internet methods for this because that is illegal and I wouldn’t encourage that AT ALL). Seattle has not had what we would call a great week. They were absolutely manhandled in Torreon, Mexico losing to Santos 6-1 in the CONCACAF Champions League. After a very solid and dynamic performance in the first leg, Seattle seemingly came in with the game plan of letting Santos do what it willed. The in-form side sliced and diced the left side of the Sounders defense causing havoc amongst Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Leonardo Gonzalez. Freddy Montero (ever a switched-on or switched-off player) seemed to be in the off position for parts of the game, while Mauro Rosales tried to do as much as possible to cover the holes in defense.
The worrying thing here for Seattle fans is that the Sounder’s were actually in an OK position at the end of the first half and then completely imploded in the second. The defense seemingly gave up (after a point) and just started shipping goals like UPS. Of course, part of this may have something to do with Santos being in mid-season form while Seattle is just starting, but that explanation does not explain the good display by the Sounders in Seattle. (Unless you want to argue that two games in a week’s time is exhausting to a professional soccer team)
We can contrast this to Toronto FC who had the best week in the short history of the club. They knocked out the presumptive favorites (LA Galaxy), playing them at their own game with counter attacking goals, decent enough defense, and dogged determination. There haven’t quite been enough plaudits for how well the young team from Toronto handled the pressure that Galaxy placed upon them in the last leg. They did quite enough of what was needed and progressed on to play the aforementioned Santos.
This lends itself to some absolutely riveting subplots of form versus form as Toronto come in on an absolute high to play Seattle in CenturyLink Field. It has to be said that I would expect Seattle to control long portions of this game, and the key for them will be taking advantage of the opportunities that they have to score, as I do believe that they will get those opportunities. It remains to be seen if Toronto can go into Seattle and use the game plan given to the league by Santos to expose the left side of Seattle’s defense with pace, using the pocket-dynamo Joao Plata and big man Danny Koevermans to effect. Most everyone counted out Toronto to pull a win in LA, however they were able to do this with their back against the wall. It would be folly to suggest that they can’t get some result in Seattle.
I tend to think that Seattle will (at least) be refreshed by the cooler weather of Seattle and the home support behind them. It has to be said that Seattle will probably not face too many teams like Santos in MLS as they were deadly when given opportunities in front of the goal. It could be a very interesting game to see if the Toronto defence has improved or if a bit of luck/pre-season LA form helped guide them to the next level in the champions league.
Music for this game: Sir Mix-A-Lot… because not many people realize he is from Seattle.
Last game for Seattle: L 1-6 (CCL-Non League)
Last game for Toronto: W 2-1 (CCL-Non League)
Beer for this game: ECS/Redhook “No Equal”
My Prediction: Gonna go with the draw here 2-2, but to be honest Seattle coming in to this game with a chip on their shoulder and playing very well wouldn’t surprise me.
10:30PM Chivas USA V Vancouver – The Home Depot Center – Television: Local Only
It’s Vancouver’s retooled offense against Dan Kennedy. Chivas attempted a plucky beginning to their season by stymying Houston until Andre Hainault won the game for the Dynamo. This time the USA Goats will face off against a much different team in the retooled Whitecaps. Boasting a glut of forwards and offensive players, Vancouver won their opener against Montreal 2-0. It begs the reminder that this was Montreal they were facing and expansion/promoted/whatever you want to call them teams like Montreal (and Portland last year) have been known to be shaky during their opening games. Sebastien Le Toux showed exactly why Vancouver came calling by opening the scoring in the 4th minute with assists by Hassli and Rochat, simultaneously delighting the North-West crowd and making Philadelphia Union fans stare wistfully over the river towards PPL park while The Carpenters song “We’ve only just begun” plays in the background.
There should also be the reminder here that Vancouver failed to win a single game on the road last year and games like this are exactly what is going to show improvement for the team…. or not. One would have to assume that this will be a much sterner test for the Whitecaps than Montreal (no offence to the Impact supporters here) as Chivas have MLS experience. What remains to be seen is the mercurial offense of Chivas against the yet untested defense of Vancouver. Of course one could say the same thing in reverse as the Vancouver offense seems to potentially match up well against a Chivas defense that ended up with Dan Kennedy getting 8 saves on the night. They simply cannot allow him to continue being peppered in goal and think this will be an effective season.
Music for this game: How about a little Black Flag, pre Henry Rollins def-poetry-slam.
Last game for Chivas: L 0-1
Last game for Vancouver: W 2-0
Beer for this game: Whatever is served at the tailgate at the Home Depot Center, because there is a chance that you will get stuck in traffic somewhere.
My Prediction: Very difficult to have any confidence in Vancouver on the road after last year. However, I feel this might be a 1-1 kinda game with Dan Kennedy keeping out a shot from Camilo. (going specific)
4:00PM Philadelphia V Colorado – PPL Park – Television: NBC Sports
Another interesting game with subplots galore…. The Good ship Nowak took on water and foundered in Portland last week leaving many second guessing the coach for not the first time this season. With the losses/non-signed-number of players reaching 14 from last season, the Union are looking to rebound at home with a win to prove that the 2012 season is not going to be one of growing pains. I could go down the laundry list of players lost, but since they are already gone it bears the reminder that it is time for Union fans to look ahead.
One could look at Colorado as a transition year as well with Gary Smith gone and Oscar Pareja being brought in to change the style of Colorado. The team certainly looked up for the challenge playing fluid soccer against the Crew in the debut at home. A fantastic strike by Quincy Amarikwa finished off Colombus giving Colorado momentum as they head into Philadelphia. Pareja has switched Colorado to a 4-3-3 (on offense) with Omar Cummings currently filling the void by the injured Connor Casey. Colorado spent most of the game on the front foot trying to create through the wings and set pieces, and wing play is certainly something that the Union seemed to have difficulty with in their first game.
One of the big issues will be the play of Porfirio Lopez at the left full-back position for the Union. He was ritually abused by Kalif Alhassan during last weeks game and will be matched up against Omar Cumming and Brian Mullan. Mullan isn’t known for his blazing speed, and Lopez might have just had a bad week; but the game will show if Danny Califf gets pulled out of position to cover Lopez, or if Lopez plays at all. Also the 4-5-1 for Union didn’t seem to lend itself well in terms of controlling the ball with Freddy Adu frequently lapsing defensively on the right side of the pitch. Gabriel Gomez certainly struck a fantastic free kick for Union and was a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster performance.
Certainly the Sons of Ben are hoping for a return to the DOOP form of last year and anxiously waiting to see what the home product looks like. Unfortunately, I am concerned about the melding of the group of players for Union and whether the spine of the team is stiff enough to prevent games from looking like the 2010 era of Union soccer.
Music for this game: Reggae Vibrations Sound System… Dancehall Reggae sounds like it might be OK, but you probably haven’t seen them and there is no way to know what you are getting yourself into.
Last game for Union: L 1-3
Last game for Colorado: W 2-0
Beer for this game: I could say Triumph or Victory here… but let’s go with the thing brewing for Union fans… Nervousness.
My Prediction: Philadelphia will look better, and yet still give up a goal to Colorado for a 1-0 loss setting off massive amounts of concern.
7:00PM – Los Angeles V D.C. United – The Home Depot Center – Televison: Galavision
And finally we come with the hammer, the closer, the grand finale of the week… L.A. Galaxy v D.C. United on Galavision. Galaxy might have had the worst week out of all the MLS clubs. They lost at home in MLS for the first time since 2010, they got knocked out of the Champions League, they somehow managed to not ask MLS to have the First Kick weekend off so they didn’t have to play three games in one week, and they had the unfortunate decision to limit the crowd at home for the CONCACAF Champions League game (due to the agreement between the Galaxy and Cal State Dominguez Hills) which made the event seem a bit hollow despite the good support from the seemingly full supporters section. Oi.
It has to be said that every day without Omar Gonzalez reaffirms that he should have been in the running for MVP. Certainly it doesn’t help that supposedly reliable scorers like Robbie Keane, Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan are all missing their opportunities. It has to be pointed out that Chad Barrett looked absolutely awful during his sub appearance during the CCL game against Toronto. He was a human turnover machine, or perhaps expected his teammates to be in positions that they simply were not.
Depth is something that has always troubled me about the “LA Galaxy to win the league” mantra that has been coming down from above. They almost killed their chances last year with a doddering performance during the Cup game from Adam Cristman, and the bench is still untested or a bit thin at certain positions. Certainly their starting 11 is extremely formidable and the offense WILL get on track, however I think that the defense without Gonzalez will be more porous than last year.
There is also the issue of Bruce Arena hangover. It has happened before and may happen again. The difference between 2002 US world Cup and 2006 US World Cup is remembered by US fans, and the response and demeanor of LA Galaxy should be noted as the season goes along. I do think he can be a fantastic club coach, but the style of counter attack and defend that his team sometimes falls into can wear on a defensively fragile team.
Meanwhile D.C. United’s supposedly potent offense was shut down by Sporting Kansas City, and D.C. was finally put to the sword in the 93rd minute of the game to open the season with a loss. Bill Hamid was a human pincushion saving 7 shots on the night and Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and Andy Najar seemingly did not connect. Theoretically D.C should be scoring goals in bunches, however it may take a while for the offense to fire up after the start of the season.
Certainly D.C. will be looking for vibrancy and fluidity in the attack when they go to Los Angeles, but despite the recent loss to Toronto and RSL there is not enough data yet to say that the HDC has ceased to be that impenetrable fortress for Galaxy quite yet.
Music for this game: Guns N’ Roses (I mean.. they reformed… and they are a bit old… but they are still good… right?)
Last game for L.A.: L 1-3
Last game for D.C.: L 0-1
Beer for the game: I’m just going to say this right now, I picked a beer from San Diego. Green Flash. It has no meaning but just try some…
My Prediction: LA with the win 2-0. I think Robbie Keane gets one and LA get back on the front foot.
As always all my predictions are null and void for gambling as I am probably extremely wrong.
Enjoy yourself and have fun this weekend!