… and so it begins, rivalries in full flow, television screen packed with pomp and circumstance as the familiar elevens gather to do battle on the grassy field. This week we explore some rivalries, talk about Cascadia and the battle for Los Angeles, and discuss trades that were. Lets get down to business.
I managed to nail the Montreal v LA Game giving me another correct pick and exacta, which brings my total on the week to 5-5 and makes my overall record 29 correct – 33 incorrect with 5 exactas. Thanks go out to the red card in the Crew match and the ineptitude of Colorado for messing up what could have been a 6-4 week with 3 exactas.
I also managed to take in a u-23 pdl US Open Cup game (which was highly entertaining), and once again highly encourage all of you in all areas to go. If you are in the Southeast, this is a great opportunity to show your support for one of the great open tournaments in the world.
Once again, all times East Coast, Olympic Stadium in Montreal is cavernous even when filled, Carlo Rossi and Sprite is not a drink, and Battleship is a game… not a movie.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
5:00PM – Vancouver v Seattle – BC Place – Television: TSN RDS2
The battle for Cascadia starts here, and what a game it will be. For those of you unaware… The three clubs of Cascadia (Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle) play a supporters made tournament throughout the year for the right to be called the best team in Cascadia and have their supporters group hold the Cascadia Cup. While Vancouver lacks some of the utterly bitter emnity of Portland versus Seattle, the rivalry still exists and inflames.
This year, Vancouver and Seattle kick off the Cascadia Cup tournament in Vancouver, and the Whitecaps are hoping that their home form will hold. With both Seattle and Vancouver finishing last week with a loss, both playing ten games on the season and Vancouver only 5 points behind Seattle in the League, this has all the earmarks for a tight, pulsing game.
Seattle has yet to lose on the road, winning two games and tieing one. You have to imagine that Seattle is going to attempt to come out and try to pressure Vancouver, while Vancouver attempt to get the connection between their midfield and forwards working. Eric Hassli has really started to warm up, finishing last week with a spectacle of a goal in the Canadian Championship game. Of course, if you want to look at spectacular you only have to look at the Qwest field version of this game last year in which Hassli hit a stunning shot past Kasey Keller.
Right away I think you have to look at whether Vancouver’s midfield can track and match up with Mauro Rosales and Osvaldo Alonso. As well, will Seattle’s back line be able to thwart Le Toux, Hassli and Chumiento.
Really tough to call this game. Seattle’s loss last week came to a very good Salt Lake team who played tough despite missing some players. Will Vancouver have the necessary defense to shut down the Sounders attack? Also in question is whether Freddy Montero is still bingeing on goals or back to starving. Montero is the definition of a streaky player.
My Prediction: Seattle win 2-1
7:30PM – Montreal v New York – Olympic Stadium – Television: Local Only
Montreal is a tough out, they really are. Especially at home, especially on turf, they will make you work for every inch and hit quick at the other end on the counter. So far Jesse Marsch has been vindicated with the aquisition of Davy Arnaud, who looks to be this years slighly more vervy version of Jack Jewsbury. Of course, the question remains whether Davy can keep this up over the season. Montreal are unbeaten in 4 games and now unbeaten at home. As was said before, they need to take advantage of their home form to attempt to keep pace in the east. However, they are one win out of a playoff spot currently.
Red Bull New York is top of the east. Overtaking a currently in crisis mode Sporting Kansas City, the Once-Metro’s are sitting in the cat bird seat, with a suspect defense and a lethal offense. Thierry Henry is healthy again (although he wont play on the turf/concrete/quilt of Montreal) and New York recently made a trade with Chivas USA to address some of the defensive concerns that they have. They traded Juan Agudelo for Heath Pearce, and quite honestly (if the details of the trade are to be believed) they made out quite well. Agudelo was very clearly down on the depth chart, so he gets to go start in Chivas, Red Bull gets a needed defender, and (if reports are to be believed) if Chivas USA sells Agudelo overseas, RBNY gets a cut of the money. This is combined with the news that Luke Rodgers (he of denied visas) may have a second chance to join up with the club.
Of course the news isn’t all good for Metro, as Teemu Tainio is going to be out for two more months and Backe has hinted that Tainio may have to retire due to injures. As well, Wilman Conde found himself in handcuffs recently, which… you know… isn’t so good. All in all, New York are fully giving us any necessary amount of drama you could possibly need. All we need is for them to trade for Mario Balotelli and New York will be set in the drama department.
My Prediction: New York is a great offensive team and a good enough defensive team. I think they can get it done, but on the road they have been hit or miss. I tend to think New York is due one bad game before putting it together again. So I am taking Montreal again at home. 2-1
7:30PM – D.C. United v Toronto FC – RFK Stadium – Television: TSN 2
D.C. United showed again last week why they are still a bit of a YO-YO team. Much like New York, they score goals in bunches… also like New York, they can be defensively fragile. They purely dominated Colorado at home, with Dwayne DeRosario having a Turn-Back-The-Clock night. DeRosario was everywhere, setting up players, slashing around the field and menacing the back line. That DC game was one of the great “everything is just switched on” team performances I have watched recently.
Toronto… oh my… Philly and Portland fans are thrilled that Toronto is still winless in the league as it allows their own teams fault to be slightly overlooked. Toronto has a -12 goal differential, and has let in more goals than any other team in MLS this year despite having played 5 fewer games than teams like DC United. It’s hard to tell at this point whether a coaching change would actually help in Toronto as they have been the poster child for regime changes in the past. If I were a betting man though, I would guess that the clock of Aron Winter’s coaching career is slowly etching towards midnight.
Here is the problem with picking games. Toronto is simply going to win AT SOME POINT. They are far too talented to go a whole season without a win, and eventually they will put it together. The question of course for TFC fans is…. when? How does the prognosticator pick a team that is 0-3-0 on the road over a team that is 4-1-2 at home. Especially given that DC love to score goals and Toronto love to give them up.
My Prediction: Take heart TFC fans, because I am picking D.C. United to win 2-0 and Aron Winter to receive the dreaded vote of confidence. This probably means a 3-0 win by Toronto.
7:30PM – New England v Houston – Gillette Stadium – Television: Local Only
New England finally shook off the doldrums and defeated Vancouver thanks to a very good performance by Lee Nguyen and Saer Sene. New England have enough bite (especially in the east) to mount a challenge for the playoffs if they can keep doing well at home and get some wins on the road.
Houston managed to come out of their first home stand of the year with 4 points, out of two games, and some growing confidence.
Houston’s biggest problem is that of scoring goals, and they still seem to have this issue. If you started a drinking game built on “Will Bruin shoots straight at the keeper” and “Brian Ching just looks past it” you would be absolutely drunk by now. Then again, Houston doesn’t need three or four goals a game as typically one is enough for their defense to do the job. Sitting at a harmonious 3-3-3 on the year, Houston looks to improve their away record with a win in New England.
Since Houston rested a few players, I would expect to see them back in the lineup and (as well) they have the ability to shut down Nguyen that Vancouver lacked. I expect this to be a scrappy game fought on the flanks of both teams with Houston attempting to neutralize any quick combinations between the midfield of New England and their forwards. Provided Houston can shoot to the left or right of the keeper, they should be able to at least get a point in this game.
My Prediction: 1-1
8:30PM – FC Dallas v Philadelphia – FC Dallas Stadium – Television: Local Only
The walking wounded versus the clinically insane, what a matchup.
Peter Nowak has shown recently that he gives not one whit of care towards what the fans, reporters, analsyts, or even his own team think. He traded away captain Danny Califf (a move that really isn’t too much of a surprise given the early season antics of the potentialy fake/non-fake injury) for another midfielder Michael Lahoud. Danny Califf, meanwhile, gave a telling interview that showed why it is probably good for his sanity that he is finally with Chivas. Think about that for a second, people going to CHIVAS USA to become sane. Zac MacMath has been playing much better recently, however he didn’t travel with the team to Dallas because of Concussion Symptoms.
Dallas, on the other hand, are just fading away. They can’t seem to get healthy, playing well, attacking, and not suspended at the same time. While the tenor of the Columbus match changed with the red card, it is safe to say that Schellas Hyndman doesn’t have much left in the Dallas cupboard at this moment. Dallas went from 1-0 to losing 2-1, and the Colombus fans went from despondent to excited post haste.
My Prediction: Philly has every right to think they can get something from this game despite their 1-3-0 record on the road. Unfortunately it is going to be 91 on Sunday and it doesn’t cool down THAT much at night. Dallas 1-0 Philly.
9:00PM – Colorado v Sporting KC – Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – Televsion: Local Only
Colorado looked to be on cruise control if the cruise control was set at 10 miles per hour and they were continually running over dead deer and swerving into oncoming traffic. Run Ons and Fragments for the win! There was no quickness, tempo, passion, or really anything to their game against DC as they were overrun on the wings, in the midfield and in their own 18 yard box. If it wasn’t for Matt Pickens, DC would have put two or three more in the net.
Sporting KC, on the other hand, show that plaudits will not win you games as they are struggling in the link up between the midfield and the forwards. What shots they take are going wild, and Chicago was allowed plenty of time and space with Grazzini getting opportunities to cut inside and dance around the midfield.
This one is going to be a clash of styles as Colorado are attempting to play a rhythm game, attempting a through the midfield renaissance. KC are still fumbling with the keys to their high octane, high pressing, create multiple shots offense. It does seem that Zusi has fallen out of the game a bit, and Colorado have the ability to bring pressure with a good central midfield. Conor Casey looked about as likely to score a goal last week as I did, and as I warned… coming back from an achilles injury is going to take some time.
I feel like there is going to be controversy in this game… a possible red card or penalty shout or offside issue.
My Prediction: Colorado 2 – KC 1
10:30PM – Chivas USA v Los Angeles – The Home Depot Center – Television: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, TSN 2
I know every year it seems that some writer finds a reason why this game will be finally interesting… but THIS YEAR IS THE YEAR! Chivas is the new LA, and LA is the old Chivas as up is down, left is right and this Superclassico is for all the marbles (if the prize was “who resides in 7th place”). With the aquisition of Danny Califf and Juan Agudelo, Chivas has added both offensive and defensive prowess to the team. Given that they have scored a grand total of 6 goals on the year, they severely need someone who can put the ball in the back of the net.
I don’t think that LA really considers this much of a rivalry, but a win by Chivas would certainly help that cause. Still it is going to take some bad blood and some closer games to make this more than an older brother holding down his younger brother by the head.
LA still doesn’t have a clue entirely what they are doing. They look creaky, old and succeptable to play up the middle at their center backs. Beckham bent in another beauty to give LA the tie last week, but draws have a sneaky habit of not inspiring too much confidence. They really have devolved to a one dimensional attack that lacks any real punch at the offensive end, which is utterly insane given the wealth of riches they have on offense. LA at this point is hoping for set pieces and great delivery by Beckham to break teams down.
My Prediction: I’m going bold here and predicting a Chivas USA win 1-0
10:30PM – San Jose v Columbus – Buck Shaw Stadium – Television: Local Only
San Jose versus Columbus? SET THE DVR’s! A clash of titanic offenses that will end in a goal deluge!
Ok, enough snark. San Jose fell victim to the greatest trap of all, that is.. never go against Chivas when DRAWS are on the LINE! Well that and Iocane powder, actually… lets talk about the Princess Bride for a second. When Wesley describes Iocane powder he specifically asks Vezzini to smell it, and then informs him that is “odorless and tasteless”. Now we smash cut to Humperdink smelling the iocane powder tube and saying “Iocane… I bet my life on it” Seriously? I know that Humperdink can “track a falcon on a cloudy day” however, I think he might just be unable to smell a powder that has no smell or taste. This is a bit like the whole “the eagles flew Sam and Frodo out of Morder to safety, why couldn’t they have just flown them into Mount doom and saved everyone the heartache” thing from Lord of the Rings.
Anyhoo… LENHART! WONDOLOWSKI! Is the San Jose train derailing or did they just run into Chivas on the wrong day. They SHOULD take care of business here. Columbus really had no business coming back on Dallas but they found a way to do so (through a handy red card). Towards the end of the Dallas game, Columbus was really getting a groove going with their passing and movment. Unfortunately it was only against 10 men, and chances are that San Jose isn’t going to give them that much time on the ball.
My Prediction: San Jose win 1-0
Sunday, May 20, 2012
7:00PM – Portland v Chicago – JELD-WEN Field – Television: Galavision
Portland… things are getting tricky. Now, deep and quick into the danger zone where gaffes happen and mistakes are blown out of proportion. John Spencer might be losing the good will of the people of the Rose City, and the questions are coming quicker than the answers. Recently he spoke to reporters about positions on the field saying “Were not coaching Eastside Youth Soccer Club where you can do what you want and it’s youth soccer. We’re a professional level, you’ve got to play the players in the positions that they’re accustomed to.” You can read the whole interview on TimbersInsider at http://www.timbersinsider.com/2012/05/do-the-timbers-need-an-attacking-mid/
Of course this is an odd statement to make given that in the past two years the following players have played out of position… Darlington Nagbe, Jack Jewsbury, Lovel Palmer, Mike Chabala, Diego Chara, Eric Alexander, and Kenny Cooper. You can even make a case that Rodney Wallace has been playing out of position at left back, although Rodney is a bit of a tweener. This actually brings me to a point… the Timbers roster is chock FULL of tweeners. People who are really between positions but not great specialists at any one thing in particular. Rodney Wallace played both LB and LM. Darlington Nagbe played at both F/MF. Chabala and Palmer both played fullback and midfielder in their careers. This season alone we have seen Chabala, Chara, Jewsbury, Palmer, Nagbe, Alexander, and Songo’o all play at different spots on the field. The only people who have played almost every game this season in the same position are Troy Perkins and Kris Boyd.
One could actually look at another interesting side to the Timbers. When i pointed out on twitter that (in my opinion) Chara has been playing out of position, Andrew Yaxley (@andyyax) brought up the point that it appears that Chara has been tasked as a box to box midfielder (which is what Chara does). This of course flouts the recent “shown” formations which indicated that Chara was playing ahead of Palmer as an attacking midfielder in a diamond 4-4-2. It is entirely possible that Spencer isn’t really asking Chara to play offensive.
To my eyes, the Timbers currently are playing a 4-4-2 empty bucket formation with the wings and fullbacks pushing up high and Chara/Palmer tasked with holding down the midfield and spraying passes to the outside. My argument has been that Palmer and Chara play (relatively) the same position and occupy the same space. What I didn’t quite think about was that this might be Spencers plan for attacking soccer. He has always talked about wing play and getting the ball outside and perhaps having an aggressive offensive midfielder that attacks through the center of the field is not his modus operandi. Ultimately this might mean more two defensive midfielder starting lineups, service starvation of the forwards, which results in Darlington Nagbe dropping into midfield to try to get the ball and Kris Boyd being left alone up top to fight against two center backs. However you look at the problem, it has been over 420 minutes since the Timbers last scored a goal, and hoofball has been popping up quite a bit as a tactic. Instead of Arsenal…. you get Stoke.
(apologies to Chicago fans on the length of this Portland diatribe)
Chicago meanwhile showed some serious grit and determination with their win against KC. I honestly thought that Chicago would get overwhelmed with the pressure flooding up the middle, but they held strong, were able to distribute the ball, and managed to notch a very important victory against Sporting. Grazzini seems to be coming into the games, and Dominic Oduro has just turned into a baller. With more options in the attack Chicago doesn’t have to lean on Pappa quite as much, although this seemingly is letting him float in and out of games rather than be engaged.
I really have absolutely no idea what is going to happen in this game. It feels like Portland need a great build up goal to get going, but I’m not sure where that comes from. Meanwhile I could fully see Chicago getting behind the back line of Portland. I am loathe to predict goals in this game for Portland, but all streaks must end…
My Prediction: Chicago comes out trying to chip balls over the head of Chara and Palmer into Oduro, and/or attacking with Grazzini slashing. Portland dumps the ball out to the wings and heaves it into the box. 1-1 draw