Archive | June, 2012

With a new contract, it’s Boskovic time for DC United

Posted on 29 June 2012 by Steve Long

Just as the transfer window has opened up DC United has made two speculative player moves. Given his small salary, Long Tan, acquired in a trade from Vancouver, is low risk as an addition to a fairly large cadre of forwards. Branko Boskovic is the high risk/reward signing and he needs to see more playing time to justify his new contract.

The Montenegrin has seen less time so far this season than a typical Designated Player and his contract reflects that with the dropping of that classification. Still, he has proven a major calming influence in a DC midfield that has lost too many battles in the past month.

He not only raises the quality and effectiveness of midfield transition, but also allows the primary creative engine, Dwayne DeRosario, to play as a withdrawn forward with “libero” privileges to find or make space as he sees fit.

By taking some of the load off deeper transition, Boskovic will make defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen’s task of protecting the defense easier and give DeRosario more freedom and a bit more rest. Over the past year, Olsen has significantly improved United’s wing positioning, but the central players have yet to take full advantage of the increased space afforded them.

As DeRosario takes up a forward slot, Olsen must choose which style of attack best fits the opponent, the cleverness of Hamdi Salihi, the strength of Maicon Santos, the aggressiveness of on-form Chris Pontius, or the wisdom of Josh Wolff. For the Montreal game, I would like to see Salihi given a chance to work whatever magic he can.

A good team rotates around an imaginary center of mass to maintain good spacing, and Pontius does tend to slide inside. Played as a left midfielder, he will be a sort of third forward whose movement will tend to draw the left back, Daniel Woolard forward. That makes a defender into an attacking winger, a less than ideal use of talent most of the time.

Instead, let the midfield in the form of Boskovic hold back in most scenarios to retain a setup role and sometimes slide into space that Pontius vacates. DeRosario can also switch with Pontius as the game’s flow allows. We saw this from Jaime Moreno in his later years when he worked off the movement of others from a withdrawn forward position.

Boskovic would be the stabilizer and deep creator while DeRosario could comfortably find space working around Salihi’s excellent distraction movements. The right midfield spot should go to Danny Cruz or Andy Najar. Their aggressiveness there cannot be ignored by defenders and will leave opponents torn between talent and guile on one side and energy on both.

Brandon McDonald has been a bit off form lately and Emiliano Dudar should merit a chance to work with Dejan Jakovic in central defense . The right defender may be either Robbie Russell who is a bit off form as well, or Chris Korb, who continues to develop a more complete game

Olsen needs to find flexibility to adjust to opponents and make their planning against DC harder while finding ways to get his best player combinations on the field at once. With a string of Eastern Conference opponents on the horizon, he has little time to sharpen his own insights and his players’ effectiveness.

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Timbers Top Sounders in Portland

Posted on 25 June 2012 by danieltjohnson

For an athlete in any sport, nothing feels better than beating your rival. Although the Timbers and Sounders have only met three times as members of the MLS, their bitter feud goes back 35 years, including almost 80 matches, most of which were played in the North American Soccer League. For the Timbers & Sounders, their next meeting was more than just another installment in the rivalry. Sounders have not had a win in 6 MLS matches dating back to May 9th, and if the Timbers 2012 is to be salvaged winning at home is the best way to start.

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Portland was on a serious scoring drought, having been shut out three of its last five games, so it was important that they got the scoring going early. In the 16th minute, forward Kris Boyd scored off a cross from Steven Smith to give Portland a 1-0 lead.

“We came into the game knowing that we needed to get three points,” said Boyd in an Oregonlive.com article. “That was the most important thing- to get the fans back, to get everybody off our backs and prove to people that we can play.”

Boyd’s fifth goal of the season was the boost that the Timbers needed and it got the team into a groove that led to another first half goal. Centerback David Horst added to the lead, making it 2-0 with a header off a corner kick in the 25th minute. It couldn’t have been a better time during the game and the season for Horst to score his first ever MLS goal.

In the second half, Seattle continued its aggressive and desperate attack. Eddie Johnson scored for the Sounders in the 58th minute, cutting Seattle’s deficit in half.

The initial roar of the Timber’s army turned into tense murmurs as the Sounders pushed the ball onto the Timber’s side of the field. Portland leads the league in an embarrassing and nerve-racking category, having given up seven goals in the 76th minute or later in regular season games. This time, however, the defense stayed strong and kept the Sounders out of the goal.

As expected, the second half showed the true nature of the rivalry, as several players got involved in a shoving match, resulting in red cards for Portland’s Lovel Palmer and Seattle’s Fredy Montero. Yellow cards were also plentiful, as referees called 25 fouls in the second half alone.

There’s no doubt that the win is the most significant of the season for the Timbers, but some are saying it may be the biggest win in the franchise’s short history. Timber’s head coach John Spencer may not be off the hot seat after the victory, but for now, everyone in Portland is feeling better about the Timber’s season.

“Last year, we had a turning point, where we had a little run,” Horst said in an espn.com article. “Hopefully, that’s what this is, a turning point.”

The Timber’s Army marched on to its 25th consecutive sellout of JELD-WEN field and witnessed history, as the Timbers emerged from the green smoke with a 2-1 victory against Seattle for the first time in MLS regular season play.

There was a lot on the line for Timbers considering that they were in last place in the Western Division coming into the match with a 4-6-4 record. Seattle, the heavy favorite, saw their record fall 7-5-4 after the loss, extending their winless streak to seven games.

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Galaxy win third in a row against Whitecaps

Posted on 24 June 2012 by iyeo

What a week for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Playing three matches in a one-week span, that latter two against the two of the top three teams in the Western Conference, the Galaxy emerged from its busy week unscathed. First came a 3-2 win on the road against Real Salt Lake in which it erased a two-goal deficit, then came Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps, as the Galaxy jumped on the third-place Whitecaps early and often and coming out with a 3-0 win on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center.

“That was an exceptional first half,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “We’re slowly becoming a good team and it was a very important week.”

Mike Magee, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan found the back netting for the Galaxy in their third straight win and it’s also its second shutout in a week let alone the season. More importantly for Los Angeles, they are slowly but surely climbing up the Western Conference standings, as their nine points in the last three matches puts them in playoff position with a 6-8-2 record and 20 points. Vancouver (7-4-5, 26 points) saw its five-match unbeaten streak come to a crashing end.

” I think that the movement of their front players was by far the best I’ve seen since I’ve been in the MLS,” Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie said. “They caused us a lot of problems and I think that we certainly caused a few of our own mistakes, but I’d also like to give credit to LA because I thought in the first half they played very, very well and made it very difficult for us and punished us.”

The Galaxy got its first chance in the 16th minute, as David Beckham sent a corner to the outer part of the penalty area, Juninho sent in a header, but was deflected, center back David Junior Lopes tried a shot, but was stuffed while Donovan’s attempt was also deflected, but continued forward and was stopped by keeper Joe Cannon, but Mike Magee was in the right place at the right time, which was inside the six, and he sent the rebound shot past Cannon near post to give Los Angeles the early lead.

The Galaxy weren’t done yet. In the 31st minute, Landon Donovan sprinted towards the 18 from the right side and fed a short ball to Robbie Keane. Keane, who was playing his first game for the Galaxy since returning from Irish national team duty at Euro 2012, evaded numerous Whitecaps defenders in the penalty box before sending a shot that beat Cannon far post to widen LA’s lead. The only difference in the moment was that instead of his customary cartwheel celebration, Keane went to the Galaxy bench and displayed a shirt that read in the back “RIP James Nolan,” which Keane described as a tribute to an Irish soccer fan who tragically passed away during Euro 2012.

“It was just a gesture because the Irish people are very close and they stick with each other through good times and bad times,” Keane said. “He was a big, big soccer fan and it was a shame so it was just a show of respect really.”

The Galaxy continued to apply pressure, as Donovan perfectly tracked down a ball sent forward by Magee and broke for goal, but his shot on goal bounced off the near post. Donovan got his redemption courtesy of Keane in the 40th minute, as Keane, after getting behind the Whitecaps backline, sent a ball off the hands off Vancouver center back Jay DeMerit and made it an easy call to the penalty spot for referee Allen Chapman. Donovan finished off the Galaxy’s big first half when he sent the penalty into the back net.

“A great end to the week,” Donovan said. “I think we deserved what we got tonight because we put in a lot of work. It was nice to be rewarded for that.”

The Galaxy will have a full week off before another big match, this one next Saturday against the Western Conference’s new leader, the San Jose Earthquakes, who took on its current position after its 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake.

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DC United healthy for critical Red Bulls clash

Posted on 22 June 2012 by Steve Long

To judge from remarks by DC United’s coaches and players the game last week against the Philadelphia Union was critical to United’s season. In a sense it was, since a second consecutive loss to a weaker Union side would illustrate significant deficiencies in United’s play.

In a reprise of Philadelphia’s overtime victory in the Open Cup, both teams played poorly, with United performing worse than the Union, but lucking out when Branko Boskovic served a superb free kick to the head of an onrushing Chris Pontius for the winning strike.

Neither team deserved a win in either game. Sunday’s match against the New York (?) Red Bulls in New Jersey will prove to be the true critical game. There appear to be four strong teams in the Eastern Conference and two meet in this contest. The next ten games are all six point fixtures.

Recent DC United play has been randomly both sturdy and sloppy. Again and again the defense has to bail out midfielders and forwards who have given away the ball. Movement to support those with the ball has been reasonable, but pass execution has been horrible.

The only saving grace against the Union was that Philadelphia’s execution was nearly as bad, especially in the final third where they missed many of the far too frequent shooting chances which they generated.

Coach Ben Olsen has had the past week to reintegrate those returning from injury and international duty. Ideally he would have spent it on drills focused on sharpening passing by anticipating one’s teammates’ movements and leading them correctly.

The weather has not cooperated in that the high heat takes away some energy in the actual drills and leads to some shortening of field time in which to instill the proper habits. The only consolation comes from the fact that the Red Bulls have the same heat problem compounded by a Wednesday trip to Vancouver with the attendant travel and game fatigue.

Olsen will probably do best to send out a “European” mentality centrally with Boskovic as creative midfielder feeding Hamdi Salihi and Dwayne DeRosario while using Andy Najar and Nick DeLeon as “MLS” style wide midfielders. This should tire out New York’s Joel Lindpere and Thierry Henry while retaining some calmness in the center.

The speed threat normally provided for the Red Bulls by Dane Richards will be absent as he sits out the game for yellow card accumulation. New York will be most dangerous with the guile of Lindpere and Henry topped off by the physicality of Kenny Cooper whose presence demands a physical central defender for United.

I would choose Emiliano Dudar for his combined experience to read Henry and height to handle Cooper. To provide him the confidence to step up as needed, the better choice appears to be Dejan Jakovic. Brandon McDonald has been sturdy in back, but might be more easily rounded by Henry.

The left back slot has become Daniel Woolard’s and the right side is reasonably manned by either Robbie Russell or Chris Korb. If Henry is on the roster, I would choose Korb for the same reason I went with Dudar, speed to contain the Frenchman.

If the game needs to be seen out, the reliable Lewis Neal can be inserted wide. It is critical that Najar and DeLeon remain wide to allow Boskovic, DeRo, and Salihi to work centrally. If they fail to position well, Neal should come in sooner. Pontius and Maicon Santos can provide energy and strength to break down what should be a tired Red Bulls defense late if needed.

Daniel Cruz should continue his hamstring recovery and see a return against Montreal six days later.

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Pat Ianni’s Golazo

Posted on 21 June 2012 by Kyle Alm

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Not So Sporting, Seattle KC Turns Ugly

Posted on 21 June 2012 by Kyle Alm

Seattle Sounders have not won a match in their last 5 MLS matches, their most recent, an embarassing 4-1 defeat by the expansion Montreal Impact. Sounders have not won since FC Dallas May 9. Sporting KC are winners of their last two and sitting on 2nd place in the Eastern Conference currently.

Sporting KC did not have two of their main players, Graham Zusi or Kei Kamara, in the starting lineup. Kamara is coming off of International duty for Sierra Leone and 48 hours of travel.

Sounders showed vulnerability early (8th minute) in not being able to clear their lines as Sporting put the pressure on early. It was Jacob Peterson who would score first for the visitors, when Aurelien Collin managed to get the ball to his Peterson, who hit his volley cleanly for first goal of the season.

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Sounders drew level at the 15 minute mark on a set piece situation. Patrick Ianni was the beneficiary of a Mauro Rosales cross from a set piece that made Pat Ianni look like Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring against France.

The second half was punctuated more by fouls and rough play than the second half. Visiting teams at CenturyLink often will try to escape with a draw and a point, Peter Vermes made substitutions that indicated he was looking for a goal and three points when Graham Zusi would enter the pitch at the 50th minute for the goal scorer Peterson. Kei Kamara would enter 15 minutes later for the goal scorer Jacob Peterson.

Fredy Montero had the best shot at winning the match for the home side in the 88th minute when Jimmy Nielsen was unable to collect the Colombian’s shot, and the ball slowly rolled towards the endline. Osvaldo Alonso was not quite close enough to put the ball in for a winner before it was cleared away by Sporting KC. Many fans were left wondering how it was possible that the ball did not cross the line.

Tensions escalated soon after with hard foul by Zach Scott on substitute CJ Sapong sent the Kansas City man sprawling into the sideline advertising boards. Scott would be cautioned.

Alvaro Fernandez was shown a straight red card for a retaliatory challenge on Roger Espinoza in the 90th minute that brought both sides rushing at each other. Things were quite heated and there appeared to be a fair amount of pushing and shoving going, nothing more serious than that.

Referee Jair Marrufo deserves a fair amount of criticism and blame for letting this match get so physical, although the match was practically in the book when the melee ensued. Players were clearly looking to take things into their own hands when fouls weren’t called. It is very common for matches to get out of hand when obvious fouls are let go, players are not cautioned, or worse given leniency for picking up their second yellow. Officiating decisions needs to be clear, consistent, and swift in an ideal situation. Marrufo was lucky that things didn’t get violent earlier in the match.

Steve Zakuani was available on the bench for the first time since the 2011 season, but Sigi Schmid did not want to put him into a match where the referee was letting it get so physical. The Sounders will be on the road at Portland 6/24, San Jose for the US Open Cup 6/26, at New England 6/30, and at Real Salt Lake before coming home to face Colorado. The first time the home fans will get a chance to see Steve Zakuani it will be against the Colorado Rapids and Brian Mullan.

For Sporting KC they are merely keeping pace with their Eastern Conference rivals DC United & NY Red Bulls.

Attendance 46,932

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Galaxy Welcome Saunders Back in Win over Timbers

Posted on 18 June 2012 by iyeo

It was a Father’s Day full of returns for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The Galaxy themselves returned from a long, three-week international break, but more importantly, it welcomed back an important piece to their lineup, as goalkeeper Josh Saunders made his return to the lineup on Sunday, and his presence between the pipes was crucial in the Galaxy’s 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers (3-6-4, 13 points) at the Home Depot Center.

“Having him back and having him playing at the level he did today was the reason we got the zero,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said of Saunders’ performance.

Dunivant scored the lone goal early in the second half, but it turned out to be all the Galaxy (4-8-2, 14 points) needed in snapping its seven-match winless streak and also earn them its first shutout win of the season. The three points earned also puts the Galaxy out of last place in the Western Conference.

“It felt great,” Saunders said. “We battled through the game. We kept believing that we were going to start winning some games.”

Saunders had spent almost two months away from the team while he was in MLS’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program back in April. Saunders was put to the test right away in the seventh minute, as Kris Boyd got a ball behind the Galaxy back line and fire away, but Saunders turned back the chance with his face. Saunders felt a little woozy following the save, but he was able to continue between the pipes, and he denied Boyd again in the 26th minute when the Scottish striker tried a long range chance, but Saunders redirected the shot across the endline.

“Do whatever it takes,” Saunders said regarding his face-save. “Sometimes that gets you back into the game.”

The Galaxy had some chances themselves. A point-blank header by Chad Barrett two minutes into the match was saved by keeper Troy Perkins, then in the 15th minute, a shot just outside the box from Landon Donovan ricochet off the right post. The Galaxy finally nudged ahead in the 61st minute, as Todd Dunivant headed in a David Beckham corner near post to put LA in front. It was also the left-back’s first goal in more than two years.

“David obviously served an incredible set piece,” Dunivant said. “I found a little space back there and I was able to nod it home.”

The Galaxy won’t have much time to savor its win, as they travel to Utah for an important showdown with conference-leading Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, followed by a return home to face the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.

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Hello world!

Posted on 14 June 2012 by wpengine

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

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DC United falls 2-1 to Philadelphia’s tighter play

Posted on 07 June 2012 by Steve Long

To judge from post game comments by DC United coaches and players you might think the team’s major problem was that they didn’t work hard enough. That description of events doesn’t quite capture what really happened. While Philadelphia may have played marginally harder than DC, the real key was execution. The Union’s was poor and United’s was worse.

As is typical of US Open Cup matches, this one was a war and Philadelphia prevailed. As DC United Coach Ben Olsen put it, “They wanted it, they fought, and it’s just a poor overall execution from the team and myself.”

The intensity of Open Cup matches is especially evident in battles for midfield control and it was there that the Union was stronger. Under siege as soon as they got the ball, United’s players displayed an appalling error rate as passes more often than not found opponent’s feet.

Philadelphia responded in kind, displaying a nearly identical ineptitude in pass completion. The apparent sloppiness in both teams’ offensive efforts may be laid in part to the frenetic play and some actually sharp defending. The desire was there from both teams, the accuracy was not.

Olsen was willing to take some blame, conceding that his own preparation should also be examined, “I’ll look at myself first and our staff first, but we have to realize that that’s not good enough. Too many guys were on their own page today. We were cute all over the field.”

While players made a fair number of runs to open up space or to free themselves to receive passes, the actual passes were usually a few degrees off or just a bit too hard to reach. Most of that is simply a weak response to a hard working opponent and it can only be fixed with well-structured practices and disciplined player attention to the rhythm of the game.

The cliché says that one should work smarter, not harder. In reality, the team that prevails will be the one that works both smarter and harder. Olsen intends to work himself harder to become smarter, and then apply what he learns via good training, “I have to get working harder, and the guys are certainly going to work harder.”

He considers the result as a wakeup call, “All the little things that got us success up to this point – we forgot about tonight. There were signs that we were forgetting about that over the last couple games and we have been squeaking by. Tonight we didn’t squeak by and it’s a good thing.”

Midfielder Perry Kitchen agrees with him, “Our last few games we were kind of dying down. This can end up being a good thing for us because we have to realize that we aren’t where we want to be at, and if we don’t play well, we’re going to lose.”

It all comes down to whether Olsen learns the right things, applies them in hard training, and thereby helps his players play both smarter and harder. He can count on one thing; his next opponent, the Philadelphia Union (at Philadelphia on June 16th), will be working just as hard. Peter Nowak saw the same game and knows that his own players will need to execute better.

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Sounders Knock Cal FC Out Of US Open Cup

Posted on 06 June 2012 by Kyle Alm

For a team that no one had heard of a few weeks ago Cal FC have certainly captured the attention of the soccer community in these United States. Their amateur status, the firebrand coach, and roster of misfits and success against established teams in higher leagues, the most recent of which being the Portland Timbers, who were felled by Wynalda’s small axe in dramatic fashion where a MLS Designated Player missed a PK and the lower division side advanced in shoot out.

Seattle Sounders, winners of the last three US Open Cup tournaments, were not taking Cal FC lightly, with the exception of Andy Rose, Alex Caskey, and Sammy Ochoa, the Sounders were all regular starters, and even Rose and Caskey have started for Sounders this season.

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Cal FC employed a similar strategy in Tukwila as they did in Portland, sit back, defend, and look for a break. It would prove less effective than it did a week ago.

A moment of minor controversy in the 12th minute when a handball was awarded for a Sounders free kick just outside the penalty box. There were several appeals for a penalty, but referee Daniel was not hearing it. On replay it looked very clear that the ball was handed very close the 18 yard line, awarding a penalty might have been too harsh, too early.

Cal FC did muster two shots in the first half, one on target that went directly to Bryan Meredith for an easy save in the 17th minute. Sounders took 11 shots and got 2 on target.

Osvaldo Alonso Volley vs Cal FC

Osvaldo Alonso scored a magnificent goal tonight against Eric Wynalda's Cal FC, this volley was from 30 yards. © 2012 American Soccer News Photo by John Crouch

In the second half the Sounders would find their scoring touch, over and over again. Another old adage, sometimes it only takes one goal to get on track offensively. Sounders would find their first goal on a penalty in the 50th minute for a handball in the box, that was much clearer than the decision in the 12th minute. As Osvaldo Alonso stepped up to the spot memories of Kris Boyd’s miss and Sounders frequent difficulties converting PKs may have caused some distress, but the Cuban defector found the corner of the net past a diving Derby Carillo for the first score.

Sounders would not let up over the next 20 minutes as they added four more goals, 2 from Fredy Montero, one from Andy Rose and a spectacular 30 yard volley from Alonso for a brace to put the final goal tally at 5-0.

 

In the end, Cal FC could not match the quality put on the pitch by Sounders, they had been fortunate in Portland, but their improbable run came to an end. For Eric Wynalda it must be vindicating to have had this historic success, although it is yet another finger stuck into the eye of the soccer establishment that has yet to promote it’s prodigal son to a position of authority in MLS or US Soccer.

 

UPDATE: Someone finally put this goal on YouTube

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