Posts Tagged ‘MLS’

Soccer Spectating Report 7-26 June: Gold Cup Edition

The CONCACAF Gold Cup came and went with the US Men’s National Team’s uninspiring loss. The Boston Breakers are treading water and the New England Revolution are abysmal so things are pretty miserable in my soccer world. Luckily the Women’s World Cup is starting and hopefully that will lift my spirits.

Canada 0:2 United States (June 7)

The USMNT opened their Gold Cup campaign with a satisfying win against our neighbors to the north.  Clint Dempsey’s goal was especially pleasing.  Tim Howard made several dramatic saves in the second half to keep Canada from getting back in the game.

New York Red Bulls 2:1 New England Revolution (10 June)

The Revolution once again fought back late, showing that at times they do have some talent, but it was too little too late to get a point on the road against Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls.

Panama 2:1 United States (11 June)

Hopefully this game can be a wake-up call about underestimating one’s opponents.  Panama is better than expected but the US really shot themselves in the foot in their first ever loss in Gold Cup group play.

United States 1:0 Guadeloupe (14 June)

This was a “must-win” for the USMNT and the game was really not much in doubt, but the result is still startlingly close considering how often the US tested the Guadeloupe goal.

New England Revolution 1:1 Chicago Fire (18 June)

Once again the Revs were shaky in the first half and settled down to play in the second half.  Rajko Lekic got off the schneid with his 48th minute goal, but once again too little too late.  This game was marred also by Gillette Stadium security using excessive force to regulate profanity by supporters in The Fort.  This team and this season are just ugly, ugly, ugly.

United States 2:0 Jamaica (19 June)

After a shaky group stage the USMNT finally appeared to be coming into form with this quarterfinal victory over the Reggae Boyz.  Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scored the goals.

Atlanta 0:0 Boston (19 June)

With the top players off to prepare for the Women’s World Cup and Georgia under some oppressive heat, the two sides endured a grueling if lethargic draw.  Hey, a point on the road, right?

United States 1:0 Panama (22 June)

The USMNT extracted a measure of revenge against the still competitive Panama side with this semifinal victory.  Clint Dempsey once again provided the goal scoring on an assist by Landon Donovan.  Freddy Adu was a surprise substitute and played impressively.

Mexico 2:0 Honduras (22 June)

I had good intentions of watching more than just the USMNT games in the Gold Cup but this semifinal is the only non-US game I caught.  Mexico was truly the class of the tournament but a scrappy Honduran side held them scoreless until extra time.  Then the wheels fell off and Mexico scored twice including a “crotch shot” by Chicharito.

United States 2:4 Mexico (25 June)

First the positives.  It was an exciting, dramatic game and it was great to see the USMNT get off to a hot start with two early games.  After that, it was awful.  The US could not defend to save their lives and Mexico scored four unanswered goals in front of an audience largely made up of Mexico supporters.  Mexico is obviously the better team right now but it didn’t need to be this ugly.  This is obviously a wake-up call for the USMNT if they hope to get the team deep into the 2014 World Cup.

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Soccer Spectating Report 16 May-6 June

With the Champions League final, the European season comes to the end. I watched a lot of teams and lot of games and determined that the clubs I like best are Everton of the English Premier League and Ajax of the Dutch Eredivisie. Next year I’m thinking I’ll try to watch as many games featuring those clubs as possible as well as pick out one other “game of the week” featuring European sides. I’ll also continue following Ireland in their Euro 2012 campaign. Of course I plan to continue supporting my home teams the New England Revolution and the Boston Breakers and maybe check out some games from Mexico, South America, Australia and Japan. But I do plan to lower the intensity and I don’t intend to continue writing about it.

I figured this would be my last soccer spectating report, but with the USMNT competing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the USWNT hoping to regain the Women’s World Cup, I think I will make two more soccer spectating reports before I quit.

United States 2:0 Japan (18 May)

Another Women’s World Cup warm-up for the USWNT and it felt like it.  It was not an exciting win and Japan seemed overmatched while both sides were more focused on testing things out.  But a win’s a win.

Everton 1:0 Chelsea (22 May)

An exciting final game for Everton who defeated Chelsea on a late-game goal by Jermaine Beckford after they’d been reduced to 10 men.  Everton’s  late season form helps them finish in 7th place which is about as good as one can expect right now with the Big 6 dominating the top 6 spots.

Sporting KC 5:0 New England Revolution (25 May)

Egads, the Revs crushed all the hopes built up by their good performance in their game against DC United in this truly awful US Open Cup qualifier in a torrential downpour in Kansas City.  Well, let’s hope they can make something of the league season at least.

Barcelona 3:1 Manchester United (28 May)

United started off strong, and the goal by Wayne Rooney was impressive, but otherwise were totally overmatched by Barcelona in this UEFA Champions League final.  Barça showed that they are truly great teams of all time by dominating the English league champions.

New England Revolution 0:1 Los Angeles Galaxy (28 May)

The Revs showed some signs of life in the second life, but not enough to avoid yet another shutout.  One kind of hopes that they’ll finally pull things together and start playing more competitively for all 90 minutes, but the season is slipping away.

United States 0:4 Spain (4 June)

I had tickets to this game but did not see it live because after being stuck in horrendous traffic was faced with paying $40 for parking at Gillette Stadium who would not accept credit cars.  So rather than find a bank and pay extortionate rates for half a  game I gave up.  It’s really a shame that the Krafts built their temple of greed in the middle of nowhere rather than in the urban core near public transportation.  We watched the replay on ESPN3 and it was disappointing as well.  Spain started their best players and dominated.  Bob Bradley tinkered with his lineup – perhaps a little understandable with the the Gold Cup coming up – but disappointing to people who paid a lot of money to see (or not be able to see) their team compete.

Macedonia 0:2 Ireland (4 June)

Ireland kept themselves in a good position for Euro 2012 qualifying with captain Robbie Keane scoring both the goals.

Boston Breakers 2:1 magicJack (5 June)

Boston picks up another 3 points against the worst-named team in WPS with Meghan Klingenberg scoring her first goal for the team.

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Soccer Spectating Report 10-15 May

Palermo 2:1 AC Milan (10 May)

It’s been a while since I checked in on Italian football so when I saw that my putative favorite Serie A side was hosting the home leg  of the Coppa Italia semi-final, I decided to check it out.  It was a fun game with some  exciting goals and Berlusconi’s Bandits reduced to ten men.   It looked closer than in reality since the Milan goal did not come until stoppage time.  Palermo are now through to the Coppa Italia final for the first time since 1979 where they face Inter.

Western New York Flash 3:2 Boston Breakers (13 May)

I’m kind of stretching the limits of soccer games I watched since there was no tv or radio coverage of this game and thus I was left to following the online match tracker.  Western NY are rapidly becoming the team to beat and hated rivals as they were able to defeat Boston without Marta, Christine Sinclair and Alex  Morgan playing. The Breakers managed to make things respectable by coming back from 2 goals down twice and playing a good second half but too little too late to steal a point.

New England Revolution 1:0 Vancouver Whitecaps (14 May)

The Revolution are taking their time getting things together as a team, but this game was mostly another positive step forward.  The Revs earned a win and their second straight shutout under sloppy, wet conditions.  Benny Feilhaber drew a penalty shortly after halftime and Shalrie Joseph converted the penalty kick.  Feilhaber should have doubled the score but his goal was erroneously called back as offside.  The Revs strong second half also saw a good shot by Sainey Nyassi stopped by Whitecaps goalkeeper Jay Nolly.

Ajax 3:1 FC Twente (15 May)

One of the downsides (for me) of European football it lacks the drama of an end-of-season match to decide the league championship.  By serendipity the Dutch Eredvisie season ended with the first place team Twente (71 points) playing at second place Ajax (70 points) effectively making the final game of the season a championship game.  Twente had the advantage of a win or tie giving them the title, while Ajax had home field advantage.  Siem de Jong scored 2 goals for the home side and a Twente own goal gave Ajax a comfortable win for their first championship in 7 years and 30th total.  It’s very exciting to see one of “my teams” earn a championship.

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Soccer Spectating Report 19 April-9 May

The European season is coming to an exciting conclusion while the MLS gets into full swing. Here’s three weeks of soccer highlights.

New England Revolution 3:2 Sporting Kansas City (23 April)

This game was the culmination of an exciting week – striker Rajko Levic’s first home game, the debut of midfielder Benny Feilhaber and the premier of the Revolution’s new shirt sponsor.  While I’m not too excited by corporate advertising on the jerseys themselves I do appreciate that it will improve revenue for the team.  The game was exciting come from behind win with Feilhaber helping set up the first goal and Lekic scoring the game winner with captain Shalrie Joseph scoring as well.

DC United 2:3 New England Revolution (26 April)

The Revs traveled to Maryland for a US Open Cup qualifier, playing an almost entirely different lineup from their previous game against Kansas City.  It was a good sign of the depth of the team as the Revs easily took a 3-goal lead with two goals by Kheli Dube and one by Alan Koger.  They let up towards the end of the game allowing United to get back two points but the Revs held on for the win and advance to the next qualifier versus KC.

Real Madrid 0:2 Barcelona (27 April)

This game had everything: the mad rants and eventual expulsion of José Mourinho, Real’s negative play and hard tackles,  Barça’s excessive play-acting, and lots of fisticuffs on and off the field.  Of course none of these were good soccer and an embarrassment to the game.  Imagine a novice soccer spectator being told that two of the best clubs in the world were playing in the world’s premier tournament and then seeing every soccer stereotype acted out.  Luckily there is Lionel Messi whose two brilliant goals in the final 15 minutes were a joy to behold.

Real Salt Lake 0:1 Monterrey (27 April)

I rooted against Real in the afternoon in one Champions League and for Real in the evening in another Champions League.  Real Salt Lake historically made it to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League and tied against Monterrey 2:2 on the Mexican leg of the final.  Unfortunately, RSL was not able to secure a MLS bye in the Club World Club despite a lot of pressure on the Monterrey goal and good chances in the final 20 minutes.

Chivas USA 3:0 New England Revolution (30 April)

Hello gut punches, I remember you!  The new players and wins against KC and DC built up a lot of excitement for the road game against one of MLS’s weaker sides.  The Revs lost and lost bad as the Goats scored twice in the first half and sealed the game in the 57th minute.  I guess it was lucky that I wasn’t able to get video of the game, just audio from the Revs website.  And the audio cut out after the third goal and I couldn’t restore it.

SC Herenveen 1:2 AFC Ajax (1 May)

An exciting Eredivisie season is coming to a climax and Ajax came from behind to win their second-to-last match.  Herenveen scored in the 19th minute but Ajax calmly responded in less than a minute with Miralem Sulejmani’s equalizer.  Christian Eriksen put Ajax ahead for good right at the start of the second half.  Ajax stands in second place one point behind FC Twente and face that team at Amsterdam Arena for the final game of the season on 15 May that will decide the Eredivisie championship.  Interestingly the same two teams met for the Dutch Cup final on 8 May which was won by FC Twente 3:2.  Hup Ajax!

Boston Breakers 1:0 Sky Blue FC (1 May)

The Breakers won their first home game and broke a two-game losing streak on Rachael Buhler’s goal in the 53rd minute.  A week later though, they lost 2-0 away to Philadelphia.

Barcelona 1:1 Real Madrid (3 May)

A better game than the first tie of the Champions League semi-finals with the home side dominating the first half and going up 1-0 in Pedro’s goal in the 54th minute.  Real Madrid made things interesting when Marcelo Vieria equalized ten minutes later but it was too little too late.  Barça advances to the final against Manchester United at Wembley on May 28th.

New England Revolution 0:0 Colorado Rapids (7 May)

Accentuate the positive: the Revolution got a point from the defending MLS Cup champions and their first shutout of the season.  On the downside, the Revs failed to score themselves despite having long periods of dominating the attack and shots by both Ryan Cochrane and Benny Feilhaber hit the crossbar and Shalrie Joseph missed a golden opportunity.  I guess this is baby steps for recovering from the Chivas lost and bringing the team together.

Fulham 2:5 Liverpool (8 May)

Things got ugly quick at Craven Cottage as Fulham went down by three goals to Liverpool in the first 15 minutes. Maxi Rodriguez would net a hat trick in this laugher for the Liverpool side.  It’s quite a recovery for Liverpool who were in the relegation zone a few months ago and now are challenging for a spot in the Europa League.  I just wish the Red Sox ownership purchased Everton instead.

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Soccer Spectating Report 31 March-4 April

England 1:2 United States (2 April)

Bad news:  The US women’s team is clearly outplayed and loses to a much lower ranked England side.  Good news: It was just a friendly and the World Cup is still months away.  Bad news:  The US team lost to Mexico in the World Cup qualifying and should be getting their act together to avoid shocking losses.  Good news:  They played much better in the second half, putting a lot of pressure into the attack and just missing several chances at goal.  Bonus: England’s Kelly Smith played an excellent game and she also plays for the Breakers whose season begins on Saturday.  Also have to appreciate the really great goal by Rachel Yankey and the fact she scored it against the Yanks.

New England Revolution 1:1 Portland Timbers (2 April)

Bad news:  I was not able to find a stream to watch this game online.  Good news:  At least I got to hear the end of the game on streaming audio.  Bad news:  The Revolution failed to defeat an expansion team at home, played sluggishly, and passed poorly.  Good news:  They held on for a tie and continue their unbeaten streak to start the season.

Catania 4:0 Palermo (3 April)

Bad news:  Sloppy defense on Palermo’s part contributed to a second-half barrage of goals for Catania.  Good news: I really have no emotional investment in Italian football whatsoever.  Yay goals!

 

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Soccer Spectating Report 21-30 March

Ireland 2:1 FYROM (26 Mar)

Ireland’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign resumed with this succesful home match.  The Irish capitalized on errors by Macedonian keeper Edin Nuredinovski for goals by Aiden McGready and Robbie Keane.  Ireland were obviously the better side although they rested on their laurels enough to allow Ivan Trickovski to cut the lead just before the half.  Still, Ireland hung on through second half to preserve the win and an important 3 points.

New England Revolution 2:1 DC United (26 Mar)

The Revolution want you to know that you shouldn’t tune in late for their games as for the second time these season they scored an early goal.  Eight minutes in the game, Shalrie Joseph set up Zack Schilawski (both of whom had an excellent game) for the opening goal.  In the 17th minute, Joseph doubled the score on a penalty kick.  Matt Reis had an excellent game in the net keeping DC scoreless until a penalty kick by Charlie Davies in the 91st minute.  There was some officiating weirdness in this game (benefiting the home side) but overall it was a positive result and a continuation of a great start to the season.

USA 1:1 Argentina (26 Mar)

Although ESPN acted as if it were “The Lionel Messi Show” this was in fact a home game friendly for the United States Men’s National Team.  The US was clearly outplayed in the first half with an Argentine goal inevitable.  They held out into the 42nd minute when Messi dribbled pass the defense passing to Angel DiMaria whose rebounded shot was sunk in the net by Esteban Cambiasso.  Tim Howard – deservedly the man of the match – was rightfully angry with his defenders for failing to help clear the ball.  The US made some positive changes during the half, most importantly adding Juan Agudelo to the attack and Agudelo would equalize for the US in the 59th minute.  The US played a much more positive game in the second half and together the two teams played a fun and exciting game before a massive crowd in New Jersey.

USA 0:1 Paraguay (29 Mar)

Coming after the high of the Argentina game, this was a bit of a disappointment as Paraguay scored early and the US failed to respond.  The home team did play well in the second half putting a lot of pressure on the opposing goal but did not capitalize.  It’s worth noting that it’s a friendly and with Bob Bradley trying out a new lineup it will hopefully be a learning opportunity to help improve the team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

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Soccer Spectating Report 22 February – 20 March

Lots of catching up to do.

USA 3:2 El Salvador (22 February)

I managed to tune in to one match in the 2011 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, this quarterfinal match.  It was odd to watch what looked like a high-school game (albeit highly-skilled) played in a mostly empty stadium in Jamaica.  It got to a rocking start with each side scoring within the first 10 minutes.  Then it slowed down until the 95th minute when Mario Rodriguez put the USA up 2-1.  Another goal by Marc Pelosi in the 112th minute seemed to seal the deal for the USA.  Then it got weird.  Three players (2 USA, 1 El Salvador) got sent off in the final minutes and El Salvador capitalized on a penalty kick, but the USA held on for the win.  I didn’t watch any of the rest of the tournament but the USA U17 team won the semifinal versus Jamaica 2-0 and the championship versus Canada 3-0.

Ajax 2:0 Anderlecht (24 February)

The Europa League duel of the Low Country capitals continued with another easy win for Ajax who won 5-0 on aggregate.  This competition is derided for being meaningless but the fans at Amsterdam ArenA were having a great time.  Ajax advanced to the Round of 16 versus Spartak Moscow where alas they would lose 0-4.

Everton 2:0 Sunderland (26 February)

Everton continued a successful spell with an easy victory over Sunderland.

Mallorca 0:3 Barcelona (26 February)

Despite missing some key players, Barcelona won another easy game on the road with goals by Messi, Villa, and Pedro.

PSV 0:0 Ajax (27 February)

The Amsterdam side had a chance to gain ground in the Eredivisie but failed to do so in this dull, scoreless tie.

Manchester City 1:1 Fulham (27 February)

There was a soap opera plot regarding former City/current Fulham manager Mark Hughes, but the drama was pretty apparent on the field in this tense match.  Damien Duff earned a point for Fulham with his late first half equalizer.

Everton 0:1 Reading (1 March)

After the high of defeating Chelsea in the the FA Cup replay and some good wins in league play, Everton’s anemic attack and loss at home to Championship side Reading was a huge disappointment. Now Everton doesn’t have much to play for the rest of this season, except to avoid relegation.

Ajax 4:0 AZ Alkmaar (6 March)

Willem II Tilburg 1:3 Ajax (13 March)

L.A. Galaxy 1:1 New England Revolution (20 March)

The Revs kicked off their 2011 MLS season in an uncharacteristically wet and windy Southern California against the defending Supporters Shield champion LA Galaxy.  Shalrie Joseph put the Revs on the board in the first three minutes and then the Revs mostly defended against a relentless Galaxy attack.  New England also benefited from the referees calling back three goals on LA, but the refs called it right on at least two of them.  A nice scrappy point well-earned against one of the top teams in the MLS.

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Thankful for Soccer

I had a busy week of travel for the Thanksgiving holiday but managed to watch a handful of soccer games live and via ESPN 3 replays.

South Africa 0:1 United States (17 Nov 2010)

Ah, the sweet, sweet sound of vuvuzelas.  The USMNT has played a lot of games in South Africa the past couple of years and returned for the Nelson Mandela Challenge.  It was a good opportunity to see a lot of youngsters as five players earned their first caps.  There were a number of great individual performances including Eric Lichaj, Brad Guzan (captaining from the goal) and of course Mikkel Diskerud (who provided a golden assist) and Juan Agudelo (who scored the lone goal).  At 17 years old Agudelo is the youngest player to score for the USA.  It’s a small sample size, but this game made me very happy about the future of our side.

Ajax 0:0 PSV (20 Nov 2010)

Ajax’s battle with PSV for the top of Eredivisie table was physical, gritty, and tense, but all the same it ended in a scoreless draw.  Ajax continues to struggle and have been winless in three straight Eredivisie matches. Also, in a game I missed on Tuesday, Real Madrid eliminated Ajax from Champions League contention.  Oh well, time to focus on the domestic league.

Italy 0:1 United States (20 Nov 2010)

Who’d have thunk that the Italian women’s football team also focuses on defensive play?  A fairly dull World Cup qualifying playoff match saw Italy and the US goalless through 90 minutes.  Then Alex Morgan (always Alex Morgan and her fresh young legs) scored in the 4th minute of stoppage time for the win.  Scoring a dramatic, last-minute goal to win the match?  Now the US women are playing like the US men.

Manchester City 4:1 Fulham (21 Nov 2010)

I didn’t watch this match with great attention but saw enough of Manchester City’s evisceration of Fulham at Craven Cottage to not be happy about it.

FC Dallas 1:2 (o.t.) Colorado Rapids (21 Nov 2010)

The unlikely MLS Cup contenders played a fairly entertaining match in Toronto.  David Ferreira’s first half goal was the scoring highlight of the game but also the only highlight for Dallas.  Rapids’ star Conor Casey equalized in the second-half after fighting for a rebound while laying on the ground.  The game winning goal in overtime Macomba Kandji made a good drive to the net and had his  shot deflect off of Dallas’ George John for an own goal and the win.

Everton 4:1 West Bromwich Albion (27 Nov 2010)

This seemed like a rerun of the Fulham-Manchester City match last week with the home side demolished by four goals and even playing a man down due to a red card.  Everton is looking pretty hopeless these days as they are winless for November (and they kick off December at Stamford Bridge).

United States 1:0 Italy (27 Nov 2010)

Amy Rodriguez provided the goal in Chicago to give the US women a 2-0 aggregate win over Italy and the final spot in the 2011 Women’s World Cup.  Pia Sundhage was not happy with her team’s play and after the matches against Italy & Mexico (not to mention friendlies versus China and Sweden) it looks like the team needs to get it’s act together if it hopes to contend for the World Cup championship.

Palermo 3:1 Roma (28 Nov 2010)

Thanks to a profile of young Argentinian star Javier Pastore on Cheeky Chip, I’ve finally found a Serie A team I want to follow and that is the Sicilian side Unione Sportiva Città di Palermo.  The flamingo pink side joyfully defeated Roma in a battle for the 6th spot in the Serie A table and are in striking distance of moving further up the table next week.

There’s an exciting week coming up including El Classico at Camp Nou, the draw for the Women’s World Cup, and the announcement of the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 (Go USA!)

 

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Socceraholic

I’ve been watching a lot of games lately, and the games keep on coming.  So many leagues, so many competitions.  I’m going to need a break.

Canada 1:0 Mexico (8 November 2010):

The final of the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup was a bit anti-climactic as both sides had already earned a spot in the 2011 Women’s World Cup through their wins in the semi-finals.  Host nation and giant-killers Mexico returned to Earth after eliminating the United States. Canadian captain Christine Sinclair scored the only goal after her side was awarded a penalty kick on a handball in the box.  As I noted in my last post, I look forward to these two nations representing North America in the World Cup (with the US hopefully joining them) and the continued improvement of competition in women’s soccer worldwide.

Chelsea 1:0 Fulham (10 November 2010):

While others tuned into the Manchester Derby, I was drawn to the less-heralded West London Derby which I imagine is a one-sided affair akin to William & Mary’s athletic rivalry with University of Virginia (that is Chelsea and Virginia are indifferent to those who want to be rivals with them).  Playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea have not lost or even conceded a goal in Premiership play this season was a mighty challenge for Fulham.  Impressively, Fulham put a lot of pressure on Chelsea and controlled the ball for long periods of time with a goal seeming due any moment.  Sadly, it did not come, but I believe that Fulham wore Chelsea down for their match with Sunderland on Saturday.

Everton 1:1 Bolton (10 November 2010):

Here’s a game that can be looked at in two ways.  On the one hand Everton played a great game, controlling the run of play and putting a lot of pressure on the Bolton goal.  Bolton’s only really good moment was the classic counterattack that lead to their goal.  Everton should have really scored a goal or two an won this game, so the end result is rather disappointing.  On the other, after going down 0-1 in the 78th minute and then losing a player to a red card in the 84th minute, I’d pretty much resigned myself to an Everton loss.  Jermaine Beckford’s dramatic goal in the third minute of stoppage time was a pleasant surprise that salvaged a point from the match.

FC Barcelona 3:1 Villareal CF (13 November 2010):

Another exciting game featuring Barça’s attacking style as they faced a rival for one of the top spots in La Liga.  David Villa and Lionel Messi (2) scored to lead Barcelona to an important victory.

Colorado 1:0 San Jose (13 November 2010):

The MLS  “Eastern” Conference Championship was one by one of the most exciting goals I’ve seen in my soccer-watching experiment.  At first, I thought the goal was scored by Omar Cummings  on a brilliant assist by Kosuke Kimura, but it turns out that Cummings never touched the ball and at best distracted Earthquakes’ goalkeeper Jon Busch as Kimura’s shot rolled in.  That was enough to send Colorado to the MLS Cup Final for the first time since 1997.

AZ Alkmaar 2:0 Ajax (14 November 2010):

Ajax played a road match in Alkmaar,  a city I totally wanted to visit on my recent trip to the Netherlands because of their famed cheese market.  The teams slogged through the rain with neither side getting their passing side started or managing a good shot on goal for much of the match.  AZ (pronounced Ah-Zed by the English commentator) scored at the 74th minute and put the death knell in the 89th minute with Ajax looking pretty much anemic in return.  This disappointing loss was the second straight in Eredivisie play.

Los Angeles 0:3 FC Dallas (14 November 2010):

I have a bias against Los Angeles and LA sports teams in general, and against the LA Galaxy in particular due to their frequent MLS success (especially two MLS Cup victories at the expense of New England).  So I admit a certain bit of schadenfreude seeing FC Dallas not just defeat, but also embarrass, the Galaxy in the Western Conference Final.  Now we should see two good teams in the MLS Cup Final with no “stories” other than the fact that the Eastern Conference champion is from a city 8° longitude west of the Western Conference champion’s hometown.  Sports in the USA have never been strong on geography.

Speaking of the MLS cup, I was listening to the a recent A Football Report podcast and the MLS playoff format was discussed.  The European commentators were pretty much dismissive of the American playoff system emphasizing that the team that plays best over the course of a long season.  A fair point and there is much I like about the European way of doing things but I also find it anticlimactic to end a season without a championship game or series.

I’m probably going way behind my ken, but I thought up a system for the MLS that would reward the best team(s) of the regular season while still having an exciting playoff system.  This concept assumes that the MLS will expand to 20 clubs by 2012 and at that point I’d divide them into two geographical conferences of 10 teams each (listed below).  There would be no inter-conference play and thus each team would face one another 4 times (2 home/2 away) for a total of 36 regular season games.

The advantages of two ten-team conferences include:

  • Encouraging regional rivalries
  • Allowing for fans to travel to more away matches.  While I never expect this to be as big a factor as it is in Europe, I would say that a diehard Red Bulls supporter, for example, would be able to go to more games in New England, Philadelphia, and Washington than in Seattle and San Jose.
  • Increase the draw for CONCACAF Champions League, US Open Cup, North American SuperLiga, and Canadian Championship matches due to the novelty of teams from the two conferences facing one another.
  • Reduce wear and tear on players traveling long-distance.  European players have complained about the long road trips necessary in the United States, so perhaps more players from abroad would be attracted to playing in the MLS.
  • And it would probably save on travel expenses.  MLS could even tout it as a green initiative.

The top 3 teams would qualify for the playoffs for a total of 6 teams (down from the currently overgenerous 8).  In the conference semifinals the top-ranked teams would earn a by while the 2nd and 3rd place teams faced one another in home-away aggregate goal series.  The winners of the semifinals would face the first place teams in a one-game conference championship hosted by the first place team.  The conference champions would then play the MLS Cup Final at a neutral location.

Probably a crazy idea, but I think it would be more fair and entertaining than the current system.  Of course, what would really make it work would be if the MLS developed a second division either through expansion or collaboration with the new NASL and begin a promotion/relegation system but I think that’s a long way off, if ever.

Eastern Conference

  • Chicago Fire
  • Columbus Crew
  • D.C. United
  • Kansas City Wizards
  • Montreal Impact
  • New England Revolution
  • New York Red Bulls
  • Philadelphia Union
  • Toronto FC
  • 2012 Expansion Team (New York / Detroit ?)

Western Conference

  • C.D. Chivas USA
  • Colorado Rapids
  • F.C. Dallas
  • Houston Dynamo
  • Los Angeles Galaxy
  • Portland Timbers
  • Real Salt Lake
  • San Jose Earthquakes
  • Seattle Sounders F.C.
  • Vancouver Whitecaps F.C.

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End of Summer Soccer

Major League Soccer played their final regular season games the past week spelling the end of summer soccer.  The playoffs have begun but for the first time in a decade the New England Revolution will not be participating in them.  What a year to start following the Revs after all those years of post-season success (albeit without a MLS Cup trophy to show for it).

Summer soccer is one of the idiosyncrasies that set America apart from the major European leagues that play from August to May.   It’s not obstinacy on the part of United States soccer, but the fact that parts of the United States have far more severe winters  than much of Europe.  Teams playing in Massachusetts, Colorado, and New Jersey just could not host home games in the winter, or at least draw a devoted crowd in the midst of a blizzard.

In my ongoing effort to learn more about football worldwide, I decided to see if anyone else plays in the winter.  I figured that Russia is a cold, cold place so they  must play in the summer.  And I was right.  Except not for long because Russia will be switching to an autumn-to-spring calendar in 2012-13.  Good luck to fans of FC Zenit Saint Petersburg in February.  Brrr.  Scandinavian nations also play on a summer schedule and, oddly enough, the League of Ireland switched to a summer schedule in 2003 (I haven’t figured out why).  The Australian A-League also plays a summer schedule although their summer is our winter.

Anyhow, here’s the matches I’ve watched in the past week and a half.

AFC Ajax 2:1 Auxerre (19 Oct 2010) -  This match saw Ajax win their first match of the Champions League this season to go with a loss & a tie.  The first half was all Ajax as the Amsterdammers went up 2-0.  The second goal in particular was a brilliant example of team passing and running setting up the goal for El Hamdaoui.  The second half got a little crazy after André Ooijer’s professional foul earned him a red card and forced Ajax to defend their lead with 10 men.  But then the French side went down to 10 men on a handball attempt on the goal. Then in the waning minutes of the game an Auxerre sub was sent off before he even made it on the field!  Comical, to say the least.  Match report.

FC Barcelona 2:0 FC Copenhagen (20 Oct 2010) – Lionel Messi scored both goals for Barça moving them to the top of Group D in the Champions League.  The Danish side had some moments where they seemed to be in control but never really threatened.  Really, Barcelona should have taken advantage of their offensive superiority and score more.  Match report.

New York Red Bulls 2:0 New England Revolution (21 Oct 2010) – The Revs finished off their 2010 campaign with a road game versus the Eastern Conference champions.  It ended as one would expect as a loss, the first time the Red Bulls have defeated the Revs since 2005 breaking a 16-game undefeated streak.  New England looked the better side in the second half but failed to score and then gave up a stoppage time goal.  Wait ’till next year.  Match report.

Tottenham Hotspur 1:1 Everton FC (23 Oct 2010) – One thing I love about European football is the names and there is no better combination than Tottenham and Hotspur who play at the romantically named White Hart Lane.  There also a Premier League power nipping at the heels of the big three so it was something for Everton to earn a point and extend their unbeaten streak to four games.  Everton scored on a fantastic first half free kick by Leighton Baines.  Alas, a rare error by goalkeeper Tim Howard contributed to the Spurs’ equalizer a few minutes later.  Match report.

West Bromwich Albion 2:1 Fulham FC (23 Oct 2010) – Speaking of great names, here is West Brom and their home grounds The Hawthorns.  Things started well for Fulham with a Zoltan Gera strike (scored as an own goal against West Brom) but in the pouring rain the Baggies (lovely nickname too) were able to equalize and then go ahead before the break.  Match report.

Real Zaragoza 0:2 FC Barcelona (23 Oct 2010) – It was all Messi again as Barça earned another easy victory against the La Liga cellar dwellars.  I confess I didn’t watch the whole game as I went to the yard to play soccer with my son, but I did see both of Messi’s goals.  Match report.

AFC Ajax 3:1 Heerenveen (27 Oct 2010) – El Hamdaoui was the hero again with 2 of the goals  in what was a pretty easy victory for Ajax.  Luis Suarez had several chances that were either just stopped by the keeper or bounced off the cross-bar (including two in a matter of seconds) so the score could have been much higher for Ajax.  Match report.

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