Friday, March 16, 2007

The New New World

There were ripplings from Chicago to DC to Houston yesterday across the US soccer scene, ripplings that signaled change in soccer's new world.

In Chicago, US Soccer announced its 24-man roster for upcoming friendlies against Ecuador (March 25, Tampa) and Guatemala (March 28, Frisco). Unlike Bob Bradley's January US camp, the roster includes young Americans that have plying their trade abroad, like former U20s Benny Feilhaber (Hamburg II, GER), Frankie Simek (West Ham, ENG), Michael Bradley (Heeerenveen, NED) as well as Jay Demerit (Watford, ENG), who left Green Bay, Wisconsin for the dream of the EPL, and reached it. Euro stalwarts Beasley, Dempsey, Howard and Onyewu will be in camp, as well as an old guy with the initials KK that I thought had retired. Throw in some MLS'ers old (Conrad) and young (Clark, Cooper), and you've got the new US team: a little youth, a little experience, and a lot of potential for success. Results against Ecuador and Guatemala or not, simply having this group in camp together will pay dividends this summer in the Gold Cup and Copa America.

In Houston, the MLS Cup champs survived an early barrage against Mexican powerhouse Pachuca, then used a second-half surge (Ching, Wondolowski) to win 2-0 in the first leg of the clubs' Concacaf Champions' Cup semifinal matchup. The second goal, scored in the 83rd minute, gave the Dynamo a huge boost heading south of the border for the return leg on April 5th. I'm sure there were many who expected the MLS side to get swamped by the Tuzos, but remember that Houston (nee San Jose) is a championship squad that has been playing together, and winning, for many years. The Dynamo will be even fitter in three weeks, so here's to hoping that they can shut the door and move on the finals.

In DC, Chivas Guadalajara took a 1-0 lead in the second half of their semifinal opener with DC United on a header by Mexican national-teamer Omar Bravo. Chivas was able to penetrate the DC defense frequently on the sloppy field, but wonder acquisition Emilio scored his fourth goal of the competition in injury time off a corner kick to give DC the 1-1 home draw. Chivas will certainly be favored to beat DC at Estadio Jalisco on April 3rd, and based on last night's play, they probably won't disappoint the home crowd.

Still, two MLS vs. MEX club matches without a loss is a significant achievement. A series win over a Mexican opponent in this competition hasn't happened since the KC Wizards beat Santos Laguna in the 2002 quarterfinals, and would signal a new day in the MLS/FMF rivalry.

Over the next few weeks, US soccer may certainly prove to be a new, new world.

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