Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mexican Standoff: Chivas USA vs. Blanco

The Blanco-led Chicago Fire meet Chivas USA in Los Angeles on Saturday, which could be a precursor to a tasty, internationally flavored first-round Major League Soccer playoff matchup. If the season ended today (doncha love that phrase?) Chivas, currently holding first-place in the West, would face Chicago, currently clinging to the eighth and final postseason slot.

The odds of Chivas securing the top spot are good, since the secondary tenant of the Home Depot Center has two points and a game in hand on its nearest rival, Houston. The Fire are in a more precarious situation, just one point up on Columbus (who have a dark promotion on tap) and three points up on Colorado, but the Windy City club are two-points behind the Rapids in the highly-scientific Puppy to Giants Ratio. Additionally, should the Fire and Rapids end in a tie, the first tie-breaker (head-to-head) is a wash, due to a pair of ... guess what? ... regular season draws, and the second tie-breaker favors Colorado with a two-point goal differential edge.

Now that we've dispensed with the various playoff probabilities, let's examine the potential Chivas USA vs. Blanco first-round clash. The question is, who will Mexican fans (both here in the Good Ol' USA and South of the Border) support? Does their loyalty lie with the USA version of The Goats, or with the talismanic, charismatic, hunchbacked striker called Cuauhtemoc Blanco?

This not to suggest that All Mexicans Think Alike. Recent cinematic triumphs alone demonstrate the robust, diverse nature of our Latino Cousins South of the Rio Grande. Seriously, have you seen Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men or From Dusk Till Dawn? Even the cheating, cheapshot, Mexican National Team, (formerly known as El Tricolor until Hugo Sanchez went clinically insane) while infuriating, are a compelling assortment of contradictions. Whether it's the simmering, regal Jared Borgetti or the flashy, precocious Giovani dos Santos, you gotta love to hate the no-longer Tricolor.

No, what we're getting at is how will the Mexican fans react to a Chivas USA-Blanco elimination battle? Columnist Nick Green has a nice primer on the issue including the Club America and CD Guadalajara rivalry and the participation of not only "El Cuau" but Chivas USA defender Claudio Suarez in a potential Chivas USA-Fire showdown. Unsavory aspects of the attempted relocation of Chivas and Mexican support to Los Angeles in the form of Chivas USA aside, will Blanco be booed at the Home Depot Center or cheered?

This reminds us of a diehard Glasgow Celtic fan, who also passionately supports the US Men's National Team, the squad representing his adopted country. This guy loves DaMarcus Beasley and complained bitterly when Bruce Arena tossed him under the bus in Germany 2006. But now that DaMarcus plays for Rangers, what's he to do? It bears watching how Mexican fans respond if and when Old Country rivalries pop up in Major League Soccer's first-round of the Western Conference playoffs.

  • And now, from YouTube, our favorite Mexican Standoffs:

    True Romance | Reservoir Dogs | Pulp Fiction | Jon Stewart
    And the Godfather of Them All: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
  • Sunday, September 23, 2007

    Juan Pablo Angel Just Scores Goals!

    For 84 minutes on Saturday night Juan Pablo Angel ran down loose balls and errant passes that should've been here not there and endured an inexplicable torrent of abuse from the worst official in Major League Soccer (which is saying quite alot). Most, if not all, players would succumb to the frustration and either go all Blanco and rant and rave until the final whistle or furtively glance over to the bench while massaging a phantom cramp, hoping to get subbed out of the losing match. But not Juan Pablo Angel, ladies and gentleman, because Juan Pablo Angel, let's say it all together, Just Scores Goals!

    The Big Easy, Dave van den Bergh, settling in nicely at left back, lofted a high prayer toward the New England Revolution box as the match slipped away, and newcomer Francis Doe (more on him later) nodded the ball into not more than a yard of space. Angel, somehow still laser-focused on the task at hand despite the aformentioned trials and tribulations, took that minute opportunity and pounced, latching onto the ball and then, as always, almost in slow-motion, cooly picked a spot and drilled the ball low and hard into the bottom right corner, past the outstretched arms of Baldy Keeper Matt Reis, securing a 2-2 draw and a big point at the Meadowlands. Because, ladies and gentlemen, Juan Pablo Angel Just Scores Goals!

    The Classy Colombian by way of River Plate and Aston Villa has now scored 16 goals in his inaugural MLS campaign, one shy of a new franchise record. And he's done it with underachieving captain Claudio Reyna (more on him later, too) and volatile reclamation project Clint Mathis as his primary playmakers, with raw rookie Dane Richards on the flank and a rotating cast of strike partners (brilliant, but often AWOL, and soon-to-be-gone Jozy Altidore, vet John Wolyniec and now the slippery Liberian by way of the Minnesota Thunder). We're fond of these guys, but let's face it, Angel is not exactly receiving bottle-service here. No matter. Juan Pablo Angel Just Scores Goals!

    With Kansas City falling to streaking Chivas USA on Saturday, there's a good chance of a Red Bull-Revolution first round playoff showdown. Check out the MLS Standings. If so, the confidence gained in last night's draw, thanks in large part to the growing legend of one Juan Pablo Angel, may overcome the recent comedy of errors in New England, which would serve the Red Bull well.

  • A Man Called Grandpa -- According to an impeccable source, du Nord, Francis Doe's nickname is "Grandpa." Sideline Views has more on this front. The view from Section 108 was spot-on for the first Red Bull score, as Dane Richards absolutely schooled Avery John on the right and his cutback pass was expertly first-timed by Grandpa for a thrilling, incisive Red Bull score. Eight-year-old pundit Leo summed up the mercurial Doe thusly: "He's a bit of a greedy pig, but he never stops trying to put the ball in the net. Never." Sounds about right, Leo.

  • Here Comes Claudio -- Captain America had his finest game as a Red Bull, battling Behemoth Shalrie Joseph all night, dominating the tempo of the match and actually directing the Red Bull attack with terrific, well-timed passes. Worst MLS Ref Ever, Richard Heron, assisted by Kermit the Frog and Sean Better to Be Seen and Not Hurd, whistled offside a perfect trap-beating pass to Grandpa in the second half, but Reyna's contribution cannot be overstated. Yeah, he babied that header instead of drilling it into the net, but Claudio was The Man on Saturday night. Better than Guevara. More of that and the Red Bull will be dangerous in the postseason.

  • Taylor-Made -- Taylor Twellman had two typically opportunistic goals for the Revs, rising to head home a neat Steve Ralston cross (another assist for the veteran playmaking machine) and forcing Red Bull fullback Chris Leitch (Hunter still in the doghouse or something?) into a mistake and smoking a grassburner (err, FieldTurf burner, sorry) off the far post into the net. Great stuff by Twellman.

  • Game Reports: MLSnet | Star-Ledger | NY Post | Boston Globe
  • Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    MLS Playoffs: Eating Puppies and Sleeping Giants

    While committing armed robbery (or searching for the real killers) at a Las Vegas Hotel, mystified by the current state of pop culture, we thought, "Who's gonna make the Major League Soccer Postseason Tourney?" So, without hapless Apu, here's the Red Bull Rising Race for the MLS Cup Report, Part Deux. All information below is based on official data from the Playoff Standings page, gleefully sans the red-fonted advisory: The seeding procedure described above is correct. Spin that wheel!

    DC United (49 points), Houston Dynamo (45) and the New England Revolution (45) have clinched postseason berths and are now presumably concentrating on winning their respective conferences and earning higher seeds for the MLS playoffs. Surging Chivas USA is just off the pace with 44 points, and with two games in hand may yet nip Houston for the top spot in the West, with postseason qualification all but guaranteed.

    That leaves four remaining playoff slots, with FC Dallas (39 points, 24 games played), Red Bull New York (37, 25) and the Kansas City Wizards (36, 25) the frontrunners for three positions and a potentially juicy three-way confrontation between the Chicago Fire (30 points, 24 games played), Colorado Rapids (29, 25) and the Columbus Crew (28, 25) for the final postseason spot for MLS 2007.

    What separates Chicago, Colorado and Columbus (other than a woefully underfinanced, crumbling infrastructure) you may ask? Besides the various on-field talents and clipboard gurus, the defining factor in this contest of relative mediocrity is the Puppy-to-Giant Ratio, as applied to game schedules. The squad that manages to Feast on More Puppies and Avoid (Or Defeat) More Sleeping Giants will enter the MLS 2007 Postseason Extravaganza.

    CHICAGO (30 points) -- Boasting the best current form of the Trembling Trio, the Fire also have a game in hand. The problem for Fire fans is the schedule is not kind to the Windy City Whiners (see Blanco, Wanchope). Chicago has only one measly Puppy (LA Galaxy) in their final six matches, with five Sleeping Giants (East-leading DC United twice, and once each against New England, Chivas and FC Dallas). The Fire have also sandwiched in a friendly against Cruz Azul, a match you'd think would require the participation of Blanco, who was visibly huffing-and-puffing at the close of the Red Bull match on Saturday night. Puppy-Giant Ratio: (-4). Not good.

    COLORADO (29 points) -- Not all Puppies are created equal, but even though Real Salt Lake is a bitter Rocky Mountain Rival to the Rapids of Coorsville, the Jason Kreis Gang, even baring teeth are still Puppies. Colorado faces RSL twice, in addition to absolutely toothless Puppy Toronto FC once. Sleeping Giants Chivas and the Revs round out the sked. Puppy-Giant Ratio: (+1). Mmmm. Mmmm. Good.

    COLUMBUS (28 points) -- The Crew, coming off a devastating loss to Kansas City on Saturday night, could get well right quick with a pair of adorable Puppies just waiting for them in the next two weeks (TFC on 9/22 and The Alexi Lalas Project on 9/30). Six Possible Puppy Points in hand, Columbus ends its season with three-straight Sleeping Giants, FC Dallas at home and road matches at New England and DC United. Puppy-Giant Ratio: (-1). Could be worse.

    So, based on our highly-scientific, tirelessly researched (for over half-an-hour!) Puppy-to-Giant Ratio, while most may think the admittedly better Chicago Fire will secure the final Major League Soccer playoff invitation, don't be surprised if the Colorado Rapids fatten up on some tasty Puppies and earn a spot at the Big Table.

  • Click here for Part One of the Red Bull Rising Race for the MLS Cup Report
  • Sunday, September 16, 2007

    Road Warriors: Red Bull Pick Up Point in Chicago

    The last time the Red Bull earned a road point, the Beckham-less Galaxy still had green in their kit, Senator Larry Craig was a happily married heterosexual and the Notre Dame faithful were looking forward to football season. In other words, it was a long time ago.

    But the Red Bull turned back time last night, picking up a big point in a 2-2 draw with the chippy, Blanco-led Fire before over 20,000 boisterous fans at Toyota Park. Newly-appointed left fullback, Dave van den Bergh (The Big Easy) opened the scoring for the Red Bull and Juan Pablo Angel (he just scores goals!) converted a PK, while the aforementioned cranky, bitch-to-the-ref-aholic Mexican also buried a spot kick, in addition to serving up the assist on the game-tying header from Gonzalo Segares. The road point, the first since back on July 8 at Colorado, was big for the Red Bull. The point garnered by the Fire was even bigger, as the Chicago club battles it out with Columbus (terrible loss to KC last night) and the Rapids for a playoff slot.

    Saturday, September 15, 2007

    Anelka, Torres, Lampard and Dempsey?

    Don't look now, but American Clint Dempsey may be the hottest striker on the planet. Fresh off a nice goal against Best Team in the World Ever Brazil and recognition as Fulham's Player of the Month, Dempsey knocked in another goal for the Cottagers, helping the London club to a 1-1 draw with Wigan. Dempsey trails only The Big Sulk, Nicolas Anelka, in the English Premier League Goal Scoring Race (wait, it'll eventually update) and is currently tied with Spanish stud Fernando Torres and Chelski's Fat Frank Lampard with three goals. UPDATE: Hat Tip to Football is for the Madman for digging up the Dempsey goal video right quick. Madman also has the hot-off-the-presses video of DaMarcus Beasley's neat finish for Rangers today.

    Friday, September 14, 2007

    Back to the Future: Guevara or Reyna?

    As the Anti-Claudio Reyna Bandwagon picks up speed and the Amado Guevara Rehabilitation Project garners publicity, let us pose a question: Who would you rather have on the Red Bull roster for the start of the 2008 season, Guevara or Reyna?

    Soccer By Ives bravely marched into the ReynaRage Arena here and again here, making several good points, as usual, but this particular query avoids the moot point of whether or not Claudio should have ever been signed (he was, get over it), and instead addresses the future of the franchise.

    The Case for Claudio -- Unlike Amado, Reyna doesn't burn bridges, hasn't been unceremoniously kicked off a team or disrespected his teammates and the game by petulantly sitting in the stands after getting benched. On the field, Claudio is a defensive, holding midfielder who doesn't panic, controls the tempo of the match and provides easy passing outlets for an increasingly erratic defensive corps. As much as we admire Joe Vide's infectious enthusiasm and Seth Stammler's hearty grit, Reyna provides a crucial, if unglamorous and terribly overpaid, function for the Red Bull. On a lesser note, Claudio is also the designated lightning rod for the club. If he leaves (Chicago?) or retires (LBI?) Juan Pablo Angel or Bruce Arena better get ready for the shock of their lives.

    The Case for Amado -- Unlike Reyna, Guevara isn't injury prone and actually enjoys moving the ball forward into scoring positions. With Jozy Altidore headed for Europe and Clint Mathis not getting any younger, Angel will need more than speedy, but raw, Dane Richards and the Big Easy, Dave van den Bergh supplying him the ball. Amado has a deft touch, great vision and healthy, playmaking arrogance which could feed the goal-hungry Colombian striker just what he needs. On a lesser note, after being humbled by Preki and a humiliating tour of the Hondoran League, maybe Guevara will be properly committed and motivated to resurrecting his once promising MLS career. Arena also seems open to the idea, which can't hurt.

    What do you think? Leave a comment.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

    All Losses Equal, Some More Equal Than Others

    The US Men's National Team dropped a 4-2 decision to World Power Brazil on Sunday which wasn't bad. Later the same day, the Red Bull were routed 3-nil by Chivas USA which was bad. Very bad.

    Clint Dempsey, Bob Bradley and Company played their hearts out against superior opponents, made big plays and gained valuable experience. Claudio Reyna, Bruce Arena and the Gang rolled over against superior opponents, made horrible plays and lost whatever momentum gained in the now long-forgotten win over Chicago.

    So, The Nats can now build on Sunday's performance, traveling to South Africa and later Europe in further international friendly competition. The Red Bull, however, need to find the spine so lacking in L.A. before facing the resurgent Fire in Chicago on Saturday.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    With Friendlies Like These, Who Needs Enemas?

    Perhaps the term "scared shitless" is too harsh, but how would you feel lugging a four-game losing streak into a friendly with Brazil? Picture yourself as newbie U.S. National Team Coach Bob Bradley, Gold Cup victory over CONCACAF nemesis Mexico inexplicably buried in favor of Copa America B-Team chatter, and your boss, Sunil Gulati, invites you to lunch and sitting there at the table is none other than the latest Free Agent European Soccer Genius Fabio Capello. Howya feelin' now? Ready for Ronaldinho, Kaka and Robinho in Chicago?

    Sunday, September 2, 2007

    Red Bull Bounce Back, Blank Blanco

    The Red Bull bounced back from a disastrous two-game stretch on Saturday night, grinding out a crucial 1-nil victory over Eastern Conference rival Chicago Fire at the Meadowlands.

    With Jozy Altidore sidelined due to injury (according to the Red Bull, anyway), John Wolyniec joined Juan Pablo Angel up top, while newbies Paulo Wanchope and Cuauhtemoc Blanco led the Fire line, which basically summed up the difference between the two squads on the night. Angel and Wolyniec were patient and workmanlike, with Woly particularly effective at enduring rough treatment by Chris Brown and an appalling lack of protection from a typically terrible officiating crew. Blanco and Wanchope, on the other hand, spent more energy gesticulating wildly at the ref and linesman than playing soccer, which worked out quite well for the Red Bull.

    Angel channeled his frustration at a lack of chances on the evening by cooly converting the one good opportunity that came his way -- courtesy of a Dane Richards feed -- and secured not only the victory, but three big points on a night which saw Kansas City drop two points in a 1-1 draw with Houston.

    Three players who had failed to impress of late -- Claudio Reyna, Ronald Wattereus and Dave Van den Bergh -- had good games. Not great, but good. Reyna didn't lose possession once, and although he continued his season-long habit of playing it safe, rather than move the ball up the field, he did manage the game well and kept the Red Bull in fine defensive shape. We'll take it. Van den Bergh, to his credit, played left fullback and didn't let anyone get behind him to score or create a goal. Job done. Wattereus, inserted into the lineup with Tim Conway working a two-gig stint in the Catskills, wasn't tested much, but distributed the ball well and, let's face it, he didn't let in an own goal. Mission accomplished.

    Wattereus also provided a bit of comedy. During one of Blanco's temper tantrums, The Walrus, in the act of punting a ball up field, paused for a few seconds to rub the top of the fiery Mexican's head, kinda like Mom's new boyfriend Clark attempting to win over young Timmy. Blanco's slightly bemused, grudgingly admiring reaction was worth the price of admission.