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Posted on 23 October 2007 by ASN Staff

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Season ends on high note

Posted on 22 October 2007 by ASN Staff

Crew Top Regular Season Champs On Final Match Day

“Not a really good way to go into the playoffs…”


© Jonathan Larsen/Diadem Images
Surrounded- Emilio battles through a pack of Crew defenders at RFK Stadium

by Chris Snear

DC United coach Tom Soehn worst possible fears manifested themselves Saturday night, during his teams 3-2 loss at home to Columbus.

The result aside – their first loss in their last fourteen matches – United failed to build any momentum heading into the playoffs, with a lethargic performance that highlighted troubling vulnerabilities.

Adding to his nightmare, Soehn watched his top two forwards limp to the locker room with ankle injuries, an area in which his team has little quality depth.

In the first game of their conference semifinal series, United will play Thursday at Chicago, who defeated Los Angeles 1-0 at home on Sunday. .

The 23,149 normally enthusiastic fans went quiet in the ninth minute, when Jaime Moreno fell to the new turf clutching his right ankle after striking a Crew defender squarely on the foot following through on a pass.

The Bolivian international walked off on his own power, but after hobbling around on the sidelines, he signaled to Soehn to pull him out. He was replaced in the twelfth minute by Guy-Roland Kpene.

Luciano Emilio’s exit was a bit more subtle. The league’s top goalscorer limped off five minutes into the second half.

Nine minutes after Moreno’s exit, the decibel level dropped another notch when Robbie Rogers scored the first of two goals. He won a foot race with United’s Brian Carroll to a crafty ball from the right touchline by Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and then poked it through the legs of charging goalkeeper Troy Perkins – who was out of the penalty area and a split-second late – to open the scoring.

Alejandro Moreno added a goal in the 66th minute, and Rogers scored again in the 91st minute to trump two goals by Christian Gomez in the final four minutes, including a meaningless penalty kick on the game’s final play.

“We got exactly what we deserved today ,and I think it was a great lesson for us,” said Soehn. “We came out flat, we weren’t sharp and if you do that with any team in our league, whether it’s top or bottom, you are going to come out on the wrong end of it.”

“Obviously, it was not the result you want to have, especially at home going into the playoffs, but in a lot of ways it knocked us down to reality and I think it is going to be an even better lesson than I expected,” Soehn continued. “I saw their faces in there and we just had a good talk. I think it was a good eye-opener for us, to show that we can’t just step onto the field and win games. We’ve got to do all the little things right, winning 50-50 balls, being sharp and having ways out and we didn’t do that today.”

“On whether or not this was a good way to end the regular season…yes and no,” reiterated Perkins. “It’s kind of good that we played this badly because it wakes some people up. It shows that we aren’t as good as we think we are, and that we have to work hard to be good. It’s not a really good way to go into the playoffs.”


“We were in every game all season and we felt that if we got to the playoffs, we didn’t see anything that would prevent us from trying to get to MLS Cup. Unfortunately in the last five games we didn’t take care of business….”

Crew head coach Sigi Schmid


Soehn decided to rest Ben Olsen, but brought the veteran midfielder on to start the second half. Coupled with pushing Gomez higher after Emilio’s departure, the move invigorated the side

He also chose to rest central defender Greg Vanney and defensive midfielder Clyde Simms. He perhaps would have rested Moreno, but needed to blend him back into the team after being away with the Bolivian National team for two World Cup qualifiers.

“With Greg you have so much experience in the back. I know we missed that today, and it’s important to make sure he is ready in the (playoff) stretch,” said Soehn. “You can see what kind of energy Ben brings; he was probably the best guy on the field when he came on. It was important to get the couple of guys you know need rest. Now we have to turn our focus to Monday and get back to work.”

Will Hesmer denied Olsen from close range on a brilliant reflex save in the 53rd minute. Gomez sent a low, hard cross from the left to the near post, but Hesmer got his hand on Olsen’s right-footed redirect. The ball came back toward Olsen sitting on the turf, but he could not generate any power to head in the rebound.

Hesmer denied Kpene diving to his right with an equally brilliant two-handed save a few minutes later. Kpene meandered his way into the penalty area, and then blasted a left-footed shot from inside the six-yard box that was labeled for the short side.

Hesmer was sensational most of the night, extending to get a hand on Emilio’s header that preserved the Crew’s lead in the 38th minute. Emilio out-jumped two Crew defenders, but Hesmer got just enough of the ball to push it onto the crossbar.

Hesmer did give Olsen an opportunity in the 76th minutes, when a shaky clearance from well outside of the penalty area found the foot of the US international just inside the midfield line. Olsen floated a shot toward the open goal that an alert Ezra Hendrickson chased down and knocked off the line.

Columbus had taken the lead ten minutes earlier on a brilliant full volley by Moreno after a sloppy clearance by United. In a crowd 35-yards from his own goal, Eddie Gaven stripped the ball from Bryan Namoff, then immediately played it wide left to Schelotto.

The Argentine lofted a ball to Moreno alone on the far side of the penalty area, and his clinical volley beat Perkins to the far post.

In what proved to be some frantic final moments, Rogers got behind United’s defense to pick up a Moreno feed, than buried a shot past a diving Perkins to the far post for the unlikely game winner.

“They were just opportunistic,” said Carroll, who started for Simms. “Robbie Rogers had some pace coming out of midfield, and took his chances well. I think it was more of us not playing at our best and not moving the ball well or creating opportunities.”

The gamewinner came just seconds after a deft chip from inside the penalty area by Christian Gomez cut the Crew’s lead to 2-1. Gomez’s penalty kick came two minutes later, after Adam Moffat handled the ball to cut the lead to 3-2.

“I was still not happy with the injury-time goals,” said Crew boss Sigi Schmidt. “Christian Gomez scores a great goal, but we were still giving them a lot of chances the last ten minutes of the game. That is something we gotta do better.”


Scoring Summary:

 

1

2

F

DC United

0

2

2

Columbus

1

2

3

CLB — Robbie Rogers 2 (Guillermo Barros Schelotto 10) 21
CLB — Alejandro Moreno 7 (Guillermo Barros Schelotto 11, Eddie Gaven 7) 66
DCU — Christian Gomez 9 (Fred 8, Ben Olsen 7) 89
CLB — Robbie Rogers 3 (Alejandro Moreno 7) 91+
DCU — Christian Gomez 10 (penalty kick) 93+

Columbus Crew — Will Hesmer, Tim Ward, Ezra Hendrickson, Andrew Peterson (Ryan Junge 76), Eddie Gaven, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Stefani Miglioranzi, Danny O’Rourke, Adam Moffat, Alejandro Moreno, Robbie Rogers

Substitutes Not Used: Ned Grabavoy, Andy Gruenebaum, Andy Herron, Duncan Oughton, Ricardo Virtuoso

D.C. United — Troy Perkins, Bryan Namoff, Bobby Boswell, Devon McTavish, Marc Burch, Domenic Mediate (Ben Olsen 46), Brian Carroll, Christian Gomez, Fred, Luciano Emilio (Clyde Simms 49), Jaime Moreno (Guy-Roland Kpene 12)

Substitutes Not Used: Nicholas Addlery, Jeff Carroll, Jay Nolly, Greg Vanney

Statistic summaries

 

DC United

Columbus

Shots

14 (Christian Gomez 3, Ben Olsen 3)

15 (3 tied with 4)

Shots on Goal

9 (Christian Gomez 3)

9 (Alejandro Moreno 3, Robbie Rogers 3)

Saves

6 (Troy Perkins 6)

7 (Will Hesmer 7)

Fouls

13 (Devon McTavish 3)

8 (Eddie Gaven 2, Danny O’Rourke 2)

Offside

2 (Domenic Mediate 1, Ben Olsen 1)

None

Corner kicks

7 (Ben Olsen 3)

3 (Guillermo Barros Schelotto 2)

Misconduct Summary:
DCU — Bryan Namoff (caution; Reckless Foul) 18
DCU– Marc Burch (caution; Reckless Foul) 80

Referee: Terry Vaughn
Referee’s Assistants: Rob Fereday; Bill Dittmar
4th official: Jorge Gonzalez
Time of game: 1:50
Attendance: 23,149
Weather: Clear, 68 degrees

Chris Snear can be reached at csnear@americansoccernews.net.
© Snear/Cyber Soccer Associates, LLC 2007

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RSL throws wrench in Rapids post season plan

Posted on 20 October 2007 by ASN Staff

Cruelty visits Colorado

Real Salt Lake robs the Rapids’ trophy case

by Patrick Shea

Commerce City, Colorado, October 20, 2007 (ASN) – Less than five seconds into the Rocky Mountain Cup finale, Jose Cancela chipped the ball to himself past Kyle Beckerman, and Beckerman booted Pepe in the midsection, earning a yellow card and setting the tone for the game.


© Mike Murphy/CSA
The Rocky Mountain Cup

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park would not be a cruelty-free zone on Saturday night.

Robbie Findley would eventually run on to a Carey Talley through ball in the 87th minute and score the game’s lone goal. In addition to transferring the Rocky Mountain Cup over the Continental Divide, the victory eliminated all playoff hopes for Colorado.

If seeing Beckerman boot a Rapids player isn’t cruel enough for Colorado fans, seeing Colin Clark swerve in front of an empty net and hit the post in the 32nd minute was sure to break a heart or two.

Jovan Kirovski slipped a pass behind the defense, and Clark got to the ball before goalkeeper Nick Rimando and touched it wide for a shot in an open net. Clark cut the ball back, but it bounced off the post and rolled along the endline for a tantalizing few yards before cruelly spinning out for a goal kick.

Cruelty filled the ever-chilling air like a vapor for the Rapids, inflicting two blows of insulting injury on Colorado stalwarts in the first 40 minutes of play. Terry Cooke’s knee tweaked when a cross fell short in the opening minutes, and he eventually had to limp to the sideline. Jacob Peterson didn’t plan to enter the game in the 22nd minute, so he had to stretch and warm up when the ball wasn’t on the right flank.

In the 36th minute, Ugo Ihemelu remained on the ground behind the defensive endline after a clumsy collision. Ihemelu suffered a freak eye injury, and head coach Fernando Clavijo substituted Tony Sanneh and his working set of eyeballs in Ihemelu’s defensive slot.

Playing his final MLS game, defender Eddie Pope wasn’t exactly cruel with his coverage of Colorado’s Conor Casey, but he certainly wasn’t cooperative. Pope was one of a few defenders to knock Casey off his feet, and he didn’t allow the striker to take a shot until the 38th minute.

During the halftime celebrations, the air was relatively still and warm. The cheerleaders’ skin-to-garment ratio conveyed the sense of sunshine, joy, and warmth. Their team had a chance to turn the scoreless tie into a victory, a third consecutive year of Rocky Mountain Cup ownership, and a legitimate shot at the MLS playoffs.

Meanwhile, in a city far away, the Kansas City Wizards had a one-goal lead over FC Dallas, the first of two stakes that would eventually be part of Colorado’s overcrowded stake-filled heart by the end of the night.

Then Cruelty returned as the players returned for action. The same cold wind from the north that brought snow to the season opener at DSGP kicked up immediately. But this time it blew directly into Colorado’s face. Unlike the 2-1 victory over D.C. United in early April, the Rapids attacked the north goal in the second half. And also unlike that game, the temperature was not quite freezing yet. But the victorious Colorado hearts back then felt warmer. The wind didn’t carry snow on Saturday night.

No. Cruelty chose to withhold the snow until the following morning to issue yet another insult for the Colorado franchise. Anticipating the storm, the Reserve Game was moved back from 10:00 to 9:00. But the snow started falling around 7:00 a.m., effectively preventing the currently reigning Reserve League champions from playing a loss-inoculated exhibition match against the Real Salt Lake reserves.

Cruelty denied the last shred of consolation for Colorado. Cruelty, like luck, is fickle with its choices. While another Colorado team is experiencing a fairy-book playoff tale this Fall, the Rapids’ season ended in tragedy.

Notable facts (chronologically from the game to the beyond)

Rookie defender Kosuke Kimura showed Colorado fans tenacious tackling and coverage. Twice in the opening minutes, he snuffed Fabian Espindola. And like the Chivas game last week, Kimura pushed into attack. It was Kimura how jetted in alone with the ball last week and forced Claudio Suarez to hack him down at the edge of the penalty box.

Unfortunately on Saturday, Kimura’s attacking turned the tide for Findley’s goal. Kimura failed to dribble past Talley on the flank outside of the box, and Andy Williams shifted over to help on defense and nutmegged Kimura on the play. Williams returned the ball to Talley, who lobbed it forward to Findley, who raced behind Facundo Erpen and slid to shoot the ball past an advancing Coundoul.

Talley had an eventful night, perhaps the most valuable contributor for the visitors. He got a yellow card when he dropped Cancela outside the penalty box, a play that could have been dangerous at the rate Pepe was heading free into the attack.

Talley took two shots, the first of the game for Real in the 26th minute, and a bicycle kick off a curling Alecko Eskandarian corner kick in the 67th minute.

Beckerman and Talley didn’t lose the midfield battle with Cancela and captain Pablo Mastroeni, but it might have been a draw. Or, it’s an insignificant subplot in an overall victory for Real.

Nathan Sturgis responded to Clark’s post-modern tragedy with a screamer to the left of the goal in the 33rd minute.

While Ihemelu was on the ground off the field, Espindola found himself on a wide-open breakaway in the 37th minute. But Bouna Coundoul snuffed the ball.

Peterson nutmegged a pass to Casey in the 38th minute, but he rifled the shot in the right side netting. Peterson put both his shots on goal, forcing Rimando to make two of his six saves for the night.

Shortly after Findley secured the nail in Colorado’s coffin, Omar Cummings took an angled shot from the right side. The ball deflected toward the top of the goal, but Rimando dove to get a hand on it.

The rebound fell to Sanneh, who powered a high volley from close range. Rimando reacted quickly again to save the blast. Rimando saved a shot from Cancela in the 90th minute to secure the shutout, the Rocky Mountain Cup, and the cruel conclusion for Colorado’s season.

“I’m responsible for this team,” said Clavijo after the game. “We didn’t get the results.”

In 1,537 minutes of play, Herculez Gomez put 22 of his total 51 shots on goal. Golden Boot winner Jovan Kirovski logged 2010 minutes, directing 14 of his 35 shots on goal. Gomez scored four goals and registered six assists. Kirovski’s penalty kicks and hand-of-god goal totaled six, with one assist for the season.

“Jovan is the leading scorer,” Clavijo said of his top goal-getter. “But we have an issue when our leading scorer only has six goals. Overall, he did well. But his play tonight, in my opinion, was not the best.”


Scoring Summary:

 

1

2

F

Colorado

0

0

0

Real Salt Lake

0

1

1


RSL — Robbie Findley 8 (Carey Talley 1) 87

Real Salt Lake — Nick Rimando, Chris Wingert, Matias Mantilla, Eddie Pope (Chris Lancos 54), Ritchie Kotschau, Nathan Sturgis, Carey Talley, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Brown (Andy Williams 73), Alecko Eskandarian, Fabian Espindola (Robbie Findley 57),

Substitutes Not Used: Atiba Harris, Kyle Brown, Dustin Kirby, Chris Seitz

Colorado Rapids — Bouna Coundoul, Kosuke Kimura, Ugo Ihemelu (Tony Sanneh 40), Mike Petke, Facundo Erpen, Terry Cooke (Jacob Peterson 22), Jose Cancela, Pablo Mastroeni, Colin Clark, Conor Casey, Jovan Kirovski (Omar Cummings 61),

Substitutes Not Used: Mehdi Ballouchy, Nicolas Hernandez, Daniel Osorno, Zach Thornton

  Colorado Real Salt Lake
Total Shots: 13 (4 tied with 2) 13 (Alecko Eskandarian 3,
Robbie Findley 3)
Shots on Goal: 6 (Jacob Peterson 2) 4 (Robbie Findley 2)
Fouls: 7 (Pablo Mastroeni 3) 11 (4 tied with 2)
Offsides: 2 (Conor Casey 1,
Omar Cummings 1)
3 (3 tied with 1)
Corner Kicks: 5 (Jose Cancela 4) 8 (Kyle Beckerman 3,
Alecko Eskandarian 3)
Saves: 3 (Bouna Coundoul 3) 6 (Nick Rimando 6)

Misconduct Summary:
RSL — Kyle Beckerman (caution; Reckless Foul) 1
RSL — Carey Talley (caution; Tackle from Behind) 34
COL — Facundo Erpen (caution; Reckless Foul) 72
RSL — Matias Mantilla (caution; Tackle from Behind) 90

Referee: Jair Marrufo
Referee’s Assistants: Paul Scott; Peter Balciunas
4th official: Jozef Batko
Time of game: 1:53
Attendance: 14,777
Weather: Clear -and- 62 degrees

Pat Shea can be reached at pshea@americansoccernews.net.
© Shea/Cyber Soccer Associates, LLC 2007

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Rapids outside looking in

Posted on 19 October 2007 by Jeff Cann

Commerce City, CO October 19, 2007 — (ASN) The Colorado Rapids are on the wrong side of the Mendoza line to qualify for the 2007 MLS Playoffs. With 35 points, the Rapids are two points behind both Chicago and Kansas City.

With a win against rival Real Salt Lake on Saturday, October 20, the Rapids likely will not play another match. They have to hope that both Chicago and Kansas City lose.

If this happens then the Rapids will squeak into the playoff as the final qualifier for the third time in three years. In the previous two years, they reached the finals of MLS Western Conference.

RSL has played the 2007 season as if they were an expansion team winning only five games. However, both teams will play hard to win the Rocky Mountain Cup in the third year of this two-team competition.

The Rapids have won it the past two years. The Rocky Mountain Cup has certainly fostered a regional rivalry and each match has been characterized by hard-nosed play by both teams. At this point, RSL and Colorado are tied with four points each after playing to a 1-1-1 tie in the previous three matches this season.


Injury ReportColorado RapidsOUT: DF Dan Gargan (R knee ACL tear); FW Herculez Gomez (R ACL and meniscus tears)
PROBABLE: MF Tony Sanneh (R hamstring strain); DF Ugo Ihemelu (R ankle sprain)
Real Salt LakeOUT: DF Nik Besagno (R meniscus surgery), MF Javier Morales (L labrum surgery)
PROBABLE: DF Willis Forko (lower back), DF Eddie Pope (R knee pain)
Suspensions

COL- Brandon Prideaux (Red Card on 10/14)
RSL – Yura Movsisyan (Red Card: 10/15)

Jeff Cann can be reached at jcann@americansoccernews.net.
© Cann/Cyber Soccer Associates, LLC 2007

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Beckham effect II: Sizing up the Red Bulls' 2007 attendance figures

Posted on 18 October 2007 by ASN Staff

The previous post on the improving Major League Soccer attendance figures led me (via the comments page–thanks mountainmadeofsteam) to look at how the Red Bulls’ attendance numbers match up to those of prior seasons. But before I go there, a few clarifications are in order: First of all, I don’t know of any proof for this, but AEG is widely suspected of having been a little creative with attendance figures during the years they owned the team (that would be 2002-05). While we don’t know for sure that AEG did this, we can say with 100% certainty that they engaged in some sleight-of-hand by counting international doubleheaders as their own attendance. This even though there was–quite literally-only a small fraction of fans left in the stands for the Metro portion of the doubleheader. To illustrate, take May 31, 2005: according to official MLS records, the Metros-Chicago Fire game that day had paid attendance of 50,807. Except, that MLS game came the same day as a certain England versus Colombia friendly. I was there that day and can tell you with absolute certainty there weren’t 50,000 fans in the stands watching the MLS game. An overwhelming majority of them left after the final whistle of England-Colombia.
Still, for our purposes I have taken the historic attendance figures at face value. Why? It’s just too difficult and time-consuming, at this point at least, to go through every single year and every single game to remove the doubleheader games from the equation. But enough blather. Here are the franchise’s historical average attendance figures:

1996 23,898
1997 16,893
1998 16,520
1999 14,706
2000 17,621
2001 20,806
2002 18,155
2003 15,822
2004 17,195
2005 15,077
2006 14,570
2007 16,530

You can see for yourself how this year measures up: The highest attendance since 2004, reversing a two year decline. Without the Beckham game the average is 12,979, which, somewhat shockingly, is the franchise’s worst ever. But wait! There’s more: This year included two home games that really shouldn’t have happened. The first one (on Mother’s Day) was just an unfortunate hand that was dealt by the MLS schedule maker. Only 7,802 showed up for that one. The second event was the infamous monsoon game of April 15, which just happened to be the team’s home opener. A whopping 8,865 were brave enough to turn out for that one. If we’re going to exclude the Beckham game from the equation, we should at least run the numbers without the lowest-attended game this season, on Mother’s Day, as well. (I think that’s called the mean? Or maybe it’s the median. Can’t remember). That number: 13,378. Which would still be the worst-ever in franchise history. Okay, so let’s exclude the Monsoon game as well. Without that game, the Mother’s Day game and the Beckham game, the average attendance is (drumroll please): 13,754. Still an all-time low.

Bottom line: Don’t diss Beckham’s impact, even for this franchise.

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Clinging to playoff hopes

Posted on 11 October 2007 by Jeff Cann

Rapids travel to conference leaders Chivas USA

by Jeff Cann

Commerce City, CO October 11, 2007 — (ASN) Last week, a ten-man Colorado Rapids [8-12-8; 32 pts] beat Toronto FC 1-0 to keep alive their hope of qualifying for the MLS playoffs.

They are four points behind the Chicago Fire for the final playoff position. On Sunday, they face one of the best MLS teams this year, Chivas USA [15-6-6; 51 pts].

The Rapids can qualify for the playoffs if they win their final two matches against Chivas and RSL and both Chicago [34 pts] and Columbus [30 pts] do not win their final two games.

Chicago and Columbus both play DC United once more, so the Rapids have an outside chance. However, Chicago has not lost since September, earning 10 of 18 points over their last six games.

Chivas play their final away game on MLS Primetime Thursday when they travel to play FC Dallas. It’s a meaningful game for both teams as the winner probably wins the MLS Western Conference regular season title and will have a home-field advantage for the MLS playoffs. If the Rapids qualify for the playoffs, they could face Chivas in the first round of the MLS playoffs.

After 28 of 30 games in the 2007 season, the Rapids are frustrated and injured. Captain Pablo Mastroeni and Medhi Ballouchy will miss the Chivas USA game due to red card suspensions. 5 of the Rapids preferred 11 are on the injured list, including midfielder and second-leading scorer Herculez Gomez [four goals].

Colorado tied Chivas 1-1 when they last played in Commerce City four weeks ago. The Rapids lost 2-0 in June, playing at the Home Depot Center. This is the final match of a three-game series between the two teams. The match kicks off at 1:00 PM MT and will be featured on Telefutura.

Injury Report

Colorado Rapids

OUT: DF Dan Gargan (R knee ACL tear); FW Herculez Gomez (R ACL and meniscus tears); DOUBTFUL: MF Tony Sanneh (R hamstring strain); DF Ugo Ihemelu (R ankle sprain); PROBABLE: FW Conor Casey (R MCL sprain)

Chivas USA

OUT: Carlos Llamosa (L knee ACL surgery), Anthony Hamilton (L knee MCL sprain); PROBABLE: Ante Razov (L hamstring strain), Lawson Vaughn (L ankle tendonitis)

Suspensions

COL- Pablo Mastroeni (Red Card on 10/07); Medhi Ballouchy (Red Card on 10/07)

Jeff Cann can be reached at jcann@americansoccernews.net.
© Cann/Cyber Soccer Associates, LLC 2007

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Prepare for lots o' goals in final regular season home match

Posted on 10 October 2007 by ASN Staff

With Juan Pablo Angel (17 goals on the season) and Eddie Johnson (15 goals), the league’s second- and third-highest goal scorers will be on the pitch at the same time. Neither team’s defense looks very capable either: The Red Bulls have given up 11 goals in the last five games and the Wizards’ last clean sheet was July 14. So yeah, the game stands to be a high-scoring affair.
With a win, the ‘Bulls clinch third place in the Eastern conference and a likely match-up with New England in the first round of the playoffs. Not that anybody (other than New England) would want that. The New York franchise’s last victory against the Revs was the home leg of the 2005 playoffs, nearly two years ago. Since then: zero wins, six losses, two ties. MetroFanatic.com has the lowdown on all the potential playoff matchups with two games remaining.

If you don’t have tickets, get them here. No I don’t work for Red Bull. I just want what’s best for you.

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Let’s settle this: No, soccer is NOT un-American

Posted on 07 October 2007 by Nathaniel E. Baker

Yes, this again. Culture of Soccer had to go there. I don’t know why, especially seeing as they base their arguments on a book that came out 12 years ago. Actually, check that: they don’t really take a stand on this issue, choosing instead to just introduce these decade-old views and leave it to us to decide. Fair enough. So let’s decide then. Ready? Here goes:

There is absolutely nothing about soccer that is un-American. In fact, the sport is in many ways more American than games invented in the U.S. and considered quintessentially American, especially baseball. Yes, baseball. More on that in a minute. Let’s first look at some of these soccer-is-un-American myths, as presented by Culture of Soccer:

1. Soccer is un-American because unlike baseball, basketball and (American) football, it wasn’t invented in the U.S. First of all, I don’t know if anybody “invented” soccer per se. Yes, the rules of the modern game were codified in England, presumably by Englishmen. The Magna Carta was also written in England. Should we credit them with inventing individual freedom? Of course not! That’s an American invention! In all seriousness though, the concept of using parts of one’s body other than the arms to put a ball in a goal has been around for centuries and transcended various cultures. Look at the Mayan ball game, for example, a millenia-0ld game that is said to be the basis for all “ball and goal” team sports, according to The Cradelboard Teaching Project. Something that was invented by Mayans is the concept of the bouncing, rubber ball. Early versions of European ball games were played with a leather ball that didn’t bounce. A lot of fun that must have been.

And how “American” are those other sports anyway? Basketball was invented by a Canadian son of Scottish immigrants and our version of football is basically a derivative of rugby. There is even debate about whether baseball was even invented by (U.S.) Americans.
2. Soccer is not “offensive” enough to be American. With “offensive” I mean the American concept of “forward, forward, forward.” So says Frank Deford in this article, also quoted by Culture of Soccer. Okay, so where exactly is that concept in baseball? That game is about running around basepaths–not forward. All U.S. sports involve the concept of a strong defense. And what about there not being enough scoring in soccer? Some of the best baseball games are “pitchers duels,” where there is very little to no scoring and the action basically centers around two men: one guy throwing the ball, the other trying (and failing) to hit it. And this for three hours or more. At least soccer games are over in two hours.

3a. Soccer in the U.S. is only played by immigrants. Uh, isn’t basically everybody an immigrant in the U.S.? Or are baseball, football and basketball really limited to Native Americans?

3.b. Xenophobes use soccer to describe why some immigrants have not yet “become Americans.”
So now we’re debating the wisdom of xenophobes? Xenophobes say a lot of things. How many of them are true? Are any?

4. Soccer is socialist: it’s too egalitarian and involves too much collaboration. Every team sport involves collaboration. That’s why they’re called team sports. Star players have every opportunity to make a difference in a game of soccer that they do in American sports. The one exception maybe is basketball, for purely mathematical reasons (five players in the game for each team). Football involves far more players than soccer; not only do you have offensive and defensive units, but different players are constantly being cycled in and out, often on each play. Soccer is limited to three substitutions per game, and once a player comes out he can’t go back in.

Besides, if soccer is socialist, then baseball and football are fascist: decision-making is rested in one individual (the pitcher in baseball, the quarterback in football). The team’s fortunes are dependent, for the most part, on that individual’s talent, guile, force of will and power of personality. And let’s not forget the role coaches play in those sports: they basically diagram and architect every play! The players on the field simply execute their game plan. Real American, that. In baseball, the players often don’t even make any decisions. What pitch to throw, whether to swing or bunt or take the pitch, whether to steal a base, where to position oneself defensively–those are all decided by the manager from the dugout. Soccer, on the other hand, is purely spontaneous from the run of play. All the coach does is decide who to put on the field. The rest is up to the players. Sounds pretty democratic to me!
5. Soccer is a girly sport. It may be true that more women play the sport in the U.S. than men (though I’m not sure of the actual statistic). Maybe that’s where this myth comes from. Or maybe because soccer is perceived as non-physical. But again, let’s look at baseball. Other than being able to throw the ball at a dude’s head (and then, in the American League at least, avoid retaliation by virtue of the DH rule) where exactly is the physicality in baseball? And basketball is technically a non-contact sport. In soccer, you are allowed far more contact with the ball-carrier than in basketball, where the rules state that any physical contact be whistled with a foul call. Okay, so soccer players aren’t a bunch of juiced-up meatheads who can bench press a million pounds. Instead they’re just slimmed-down meatheads who can run a million miles. Either way, these discussions of masculinity are subjective and better left to a really masculine magazine like GQ or Men’s Fitness or somebody else who cares about these things.
6. Americans are not good at soccer. I’m assuming they mean American men, as the women’s national team has won world championships and Olympic tournaments. Well, Americans haven’t done much recently in basketball on the world stage either. Or in baseball. Or hockey. OK, Canadian sport. But I don’t get how this makes the sport un-American either. Isn’t the American spirit to compete at something until we succeed, no matter the obstacles? I think so, and I’m American. What’s this cut-and-run talk? We aren’t good at it so why bother? And just look how far we’ve come in the past generation: In the 1980s, American soccer was literally a joke. Now, our national team is stacked with players from the best European leagues and we tied the eventual world champions in last summer’s (otherwise forgettable, from a U.S. perspective) World Cup. We’re not quite world class yet, but we’re not a joke either. And we’re improving: some of our best players are young and have yet to hit their prime.

Even Culture of Soccer thinks it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. becomes a world power in soccer. They don’t think that will make a difference, however, as even a world cup victory won’t convert many of the supposed soccer-haters in this country. I actually agree with them there. But for a different reason: by the time the U.S. wins a world cup, there won’t be anybody left in need of converting.

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Fantasy soccer is good fun but can be made better. Here’s how.

Posted on 07 October 2007 by ASN Staff

As much as I enjoy fantasy soccer, it feels incomplete somehow. The addictive rush that other fantasy sports (American football and baseball, notably) supply just isn’t there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good fun and all. But something is missing.

Part of this is, of course, the very nature of the game itself. Soccer does simply not lend itself to statistical analysis the way many other sports do. Moreover, the statistics we do have (goals, assists and clean sheets, essentially) provide a very incomplete picture, both of an individual player’s skill and his contribution to the team.

For example, a goalkeeper could have a great match and his team could win 2-1, but he would not get credit for having a clean sheet. Or a striker could get a tap-in goal, or capitalize on a goalkeeper’s error or blown defensive assignment and his team could lose, but fantasy owners would still benefit. Or a defender could score a goal, assist another, but blow off marking assignments and cost his team two goals and the victory.

And what about the players who work tirelessly–be it on offense or defense–for their team’s cause and are essential to its victory but do not show up on the scoresheet at all? The whole structure is made worse by leagues that incorporate statistics such as scoring attempts, passing accuracy and others that are, at best, misleading and, at worst, reward selfish play.

The solution is to incorporate the subjective elements of the sport (of which there are many) in a way that can be quantified, while making better use of data currently available. How to accomplish this? Behold a 10-point plan that seeks to make fantasy soccer more realistic:

1) Official and unofficial player ratings should absolutely factor in to the number of fantasy points a player produces. Some leagues already do this on a limited basis by awarding a “Man of the Match” bonus. This is a good start, but it should be taken further. Why not tally the various player ratings that pundits and fans award individual players and use the mean number as an additional scoring category for each player? Bonuses could be awarded when a player is included in a “team of the week.” Each individual league could choose what pundits and media to include. Also, why not award a player’s fantasy owner for a goal of the week, play of the game or save of the week?

2) Not all goals are created equal and not all should be scored equally. Create two (or more) categories of “goals scored,” differentiating between the simple tap-in and the screaming strike into the upper 90. When a goalkeeper allows a soft goal, the “scorer” should receive a small fraction of points awarded to the player who scores on a bicycle kick or by bending a free kick around a wall–and the keeper should be penalized. This should also account for goals scored in different game situations, i.e. during a close game versus a blowout.

3) Instead of “assists” create a new statistic called “goal contributions” and award points to as many players as deserve them. Maybe the star striker was able to pull the defender out of position, creating more space for a teammate? Maybe a midfielder played a brilliant ball that another player ran on to, passed to one or two others, before the ball ended up in the net? What about the player who hit a great shot from 30 yards that the keeper tipped over the bar and the team scored on the ensuing corner? Or the one who was fouled for a penalty? Speaking of penalties, these are basically gimmes and should absolutely NOT count as much as a goal scored from the run of play or other set-piece. But the player who misses the penalty should be penalized–especially if the goal could have made a difference in the final score.

4) Find a way to award the same amount of potential points to midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers. Different players contribute in different ways. It’s not all about scoring and creating goals. Different players also cost their team in different ways. If a defender is clearly taken to school on a goal, his fantasy score should suffer–especially if the goal proves to the balance in the game.

5) Create the goal-saving-save (GSS) statistic for goalkeepers. Outfield players should also be eligible for this. See Richard Dunne’s clearance off the line in the dying moments of yesterday’s Man. City-Liverpool clash for one example (link should play highlights of the match).

6) Players from winning teams should get more points. Clean and simple. Find a way to reward players from a winning side and penalize those from a losing side–especially if they blow the game (see Petr Cech from the Arsenal-Chelsea clash the other day).

7) Award players who receive caps for their national team. Why not? It means something if a player has the attention of his national team’s manager. If one receives a call-up his fantasy owner should be rewarded. This should of course be adjusted depending on how solid the national team is. If somebody gets called up to the Slovenian national team it should obviously not count as much as a call-up to Brazil’s Selecao.

8) Count continental (Champions League, UEFA Cup, Copa Libertadores, etc.) competitions as well as league and FA cups. It’s only fair if the players are going to partake in those games. Actually, why limit leagues to one country? Allow fantasy teams to own whomever they want, but adjust the scoring for minnow leagues. (A huge legal hurdle for sure, but if these managerial games have rights to all the players’ names and attributes why can’t a fantasy league?)

9) Allow substitutions for injured players. Real-life managers get three per game. Why not fantasy owners? Allow teams to dress 14 players or 13 outfielders and two goalkeepers. The highest-scoring goalkeeper and 10 highest scoring outfielders count toward the fantasy teams tally. The others don’t. Simple.

10) Play for keeps. Create more keeper leagues and allow “franchise” leagues where teams start out with a set amount of virtual money. Allow players to be bought and sold, loaned out, etc. Create a formula where virtual gate receipts are tabulated for each home game–judging by the type of attacking football the team plays (points for goals scored or chances created or whatever), its place in the table and its opponents’ place in the table. Visiting teams get a percentage. Allow teams to go into the red but at a cost–points from a game, future revenues, etc. Or allow them the choice of how to “finance” this. One day maybe corporations will line up to sponsor top teams, in exchange for shirt space or even the team name. Maybe even with real dollars.

An unrealistic pipe dream? Perhaps, but it’s fun to think of what could be. But if anybody wants to finance and collaborate on this venture, I’m game. Also, please remember where you heard these ideas first. If anybody copies this without my consent I will sue you. (Hey, are there any lawyers out there looking for pro-bono clients?)

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MLS ‘08: Towards an ever-more meaningful regular season

Posted on 06 October 2007 by Jeff Cann

Throughout Major League Soccer’s first decade, many in the international soccer world criticized the new league for its ‘meaningless’ regular season. Most soccer leagues in the world crown the league champion based on a single table format. The team with the most points at the end of the standard season is the winner.

The single-table-concept really is that simple. Coupled with relegation of the worst teams, it is an exciting format – and an unprecedented one in the U.S. where professional sports leagues are broken into geographical conferences or divisions. All of these other sports feature playoff tournaments and qualify teams based on their regular season performance.

In the early days of MLS, the league did not want to seem too foreign and created three conferences and a playoff tournament. Ostensibly, the league cites ‘travel considerations’ and ‘natural rivalries’ as two reasons to maintain the current two conference format.

Under the MLS playoff system, the only reward for excellence during the regular season is a top seed in the MLS playoffs, which includes a home-field advantage. Traditional soccer fans continued to complain about this format and the league responded in 1998 with the creation of the MLS Supporter’s Shield. This award is given to the team that earned the most regular season points. The shield created a regular season award, but it had little meaning beyond the playoff seeding for the MLS Cup.

Adding to the perception of a meaningless regular season was the formula for choosing entrants into the CONCACAF Champion’s Cup. MLS has played in this club tournament since 1997. The MLS Cup winner and the runner up, i.e., the two finalists in the playoff tournament, were rewarded with entry. In 2005, FIFA granted the winner of the Champion’s Cup into to the FIFA Club World Championship tournament, a significant tournament that awards $5 Million to the winner [AC Milan in 2007].

Fortunately, the MLS is willing to change. In 2006, the MLS competition committee announced changes to the formula for entering teams into the 2007 CONCACAF Champion’s Cup. Now, the MLS awards the MLS Cup winner and the winner of the MLS Supporter’s Shield.

Finally, the regular season has meaning.

But wait, there’s more. The SuperLiga kicked off it’s inaugural tournament in 2007. This in-season tournament is played between four MLS teams and four teams from Mexico’s Primera División. The home-and-away format pays a $1 Million prize to the tournament winner.

For its inaugural edition, MLS selected four of the most historically-successful MLS clubs: DC United, Los Angeles Galaxy, Houston Dynamo, and FC Dallas. This selection was controversial because the assumption by the soccer community had been that the four semi-finalists from the MLS Cup playoff tournament would be granted tournament entry.

Despite the snub to some teams, the 2007 SuperLiga tournament was hailed as a success and will continue in 2008. Last month, the SuperLiga announced that MLS’ top quartet of regular season teams will qualify: D.C. United [2007 Supporter’s Shield winner], Chivas USA, Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution. Indeed this is yet another reason for MLS teams to shine in the regular season.

Finally, CONCACAF recently announced that the Champion’s Cup tournament will be replaced by a Champion’s League Tournament, modeled after the UEFA Champion’s League and the CONMEBOL Copa Libertadores 2008. 24 teams will qualify for the 2008-09 tournament, including four from MLS.

The format features a preliminary round of 16 teams with eight advancing to the group stage, where they will join eight others placed there directly. Which teams qualify for the group stage is not yet known. One viable format is for the top two MLS regular season winners to qualify for the preliminary round and the MLS Cup finalists to qualify directly for the group stage. In any scenario, it is likely that the winner of the MLS Supporter’s Sheild will to qualify as it does for the Champion’s Cup.

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