Friday, April 18, 2008

Red Bulls Preview: Game #3 vs. Buffalo Bills

Coming off a road loss always smarts, but the Red Bulls get some home cooking and A-list players back on the field Saturday night when New York (1-1-0) hosts perennial MLS Cup runners-up New England (2-2-0) at Giants Stadium (7:30p, HDNet).

Going down by a goal is always tough. Going down by a goal in the opening minute on the road makes for a more daunting task, but that's just what happened to New York in last week's match in Dallas. Without a hurting Juan Pablo Angel at the Deep Dish, the Dallas D rightly keyed on Red Bulls' F Jozy Altidore, limiting his chances. The good news is that Altidore and Angel will play together for the first time this season tomorrow night. New England has been on a complete roller coaster this season. A home 3-0 beat-down of Houston in week 1 was followed by an embarrassing 0-4 loss at Chicago. A surprising 3-1 win at Eastern contender Kansas City was followed by a 0-1 home loss to Colorado. Which Revs squad will show tomorrow night? Stay tuned.

Recent Form:
New York: WL
New England: WLWL

Here's a line-by-line look at tomorrow's match:

The New England forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Adam Christman and Kenny Mansally vs. Chris Leitch, Jeff Parke, and Kevin Goldthwaite (and Jon Conway). Mansally (1g, 1a) and his fellow Gambian signing Sainey Nyassi have been the talk of the league over the season's first month. Christman leads NE in shots (12) and has hit the net once this year already. The Red Bulls get Jeff Parke back at central defense after a one-match suspension, and will match up well with Christman (6'1", 185 vs. 6'0", 180). It's on the wings that the lightning-fast Mansally will have a field day, especially with good midfield service. Advantage: New England

New York's attackers vs. the Revs' defense:
Jozy Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel vs. Amaechi Igwe, Michael Parkhurst, and Jay Heaps (and Matt Reis). Finally! Angel and Altidore will get on the field at the same time, can could wreak havoc (ht: Ty Keough) with New England's 3-man back line. The Revs' Igwe has tightened things up in back (GAA of 1.0) since he knocked Chris Albright to the bench. Hard to believe that Jay Heaps is 32 years old. Where does the time go? Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Luke Sassano, Seth Stammler, Claudio Reyna, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Dave van den Bergh, vs. Khano Smith, Shalrie Joseph, Mauricio Castro, Jeff Larentowicz, and Sainey Nyassi. Castro is still jelling with his NE teammates, but the core of Smith, Joseph, and Larentowicz are a veteran group. Nyassi is a burner with skill, as he proved with his Goal of the Week vs. the Dynamo. Can VDB handle him? Unlikely. Reyna had a great game last week in the NY loss to Dallas, but the carpet of Giants Stadium seems to hinder him. Joseph usually has NY's number. Slight Advantage: New England

The Coaches:
Despite not bringing home the MLS Cup in four tries, Steve Nicol has been one of the best coaches in MLS (75-56-47) over the years. He always gets the most of his low-wage players, and seems to have two winners in his Gambian pair. Juan Carlos Osorio will be happy to have Parke back in Center-D, but the jury's still out on him. Three points would help in an Eastern Conference that is already pulling away from the Red Bulls. Advantage: New England

Despite losing to the Revs in last season's playoffs, New York felt it played better in the two-game series, and lost on a flukey goal when Angel was off the field for medical attention. A passionate 17K at New York's home opener lifted the team. The Midnight Riders will travel in numbers for the match, and always matches the NY supporters song for song. Weather: Mostly Sunny, low of 49. Nice. Advantage: Push

Prediction: Angel and Altidore lead their team out of bondage on Passover. Nyassi hits the net, but New York takes a physical 2-1 victory.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

SSS for the WC Quallies?

Part of the sales pitch for communities building soccer-specific stadia was the attraction of World Cup Qualifiers to the small, intimate venues. Columbus Crew Stadium has been the US site of choice when taking on Mexico ('01 and '05), Grenada ('04) and Jamaica ('04). The Toolbox in Carson, CA will see its first US quallie in June when the Yanks take on mighty Barbados. Now it seems that MLS/SUM and US Soccer will make good on its promise as Chicago's Toyota Park will be set to host one of the three home CONCACAF Semifinal-round qualifiers this fall. If the US is serious about rewarding communities that have built stadia for their MLS teams, expect to see Frisco, TX's Pizza Hut Park, Commerce City, CO's DSG Park, and even Sandy, UT's unnamed RSL stadium named hosts these vital matches.

With more and more support for our boys as the US Soccer movement grows, however, one wonders if US Soccer would do better by opening up big parks like RFK and Soldier Field for the right opponents.

Regardless, the lucky US fans who have the resources and time to travel to the small venues (especially for midweek qualifiers) will certainly be a part of great pro-US fan experiences.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sounders FC Owner on The Immgration Debate

Here's America's favorite game show host/club owner/superfan Drew Carey, framing America's immigration debate around Goldenballs and the beautiful game. Don't want to start a debate here, but the man seems to make sense...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Red Bulls Preview: Game #2 at Steers

After a winning start to the season at home, New York (1-0-0) heads to The Deep Dish for a tussle with FC Dallas (0-0-2) Saturday night (8:30p, MSG, DK).

A lot went right in the Red Bulls' 2-0 victory last week against Columbus. The 3-man backline helped pitch a shutout, the offense scored goals without Jozy Altidore or Dane Richards, and M Luke Sassano went the distance in his first MLS start. Still, there's reason for pause. Centerback Jeff Parke picked up a silly second yellow card in the 81st minute, suspending him for tomorrow. There's also late word that F Juan Pablo Angel won't go in Frisco due to a strained left hamstring. So, with key absences up top and in the back, NY will take on Dallas squad loaded with firepower and itching for a win. Here's a line-by-line look at tomorrow's match:

The Dallas forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Kenny Cooper and Arturo Alvarez vs. Chris Leitch, Carlos Mendes, and Kevin Goldthwaite (and Jon Conway). Cooper, who's returned from a horrible knee injury last season in fine form, with a pair of goals in FCD's first two matches. Alvarez had a goal and an assist in the Hoops' 3-3 draw at Houston last week. The key matchup is clearly the 6' 3", 210 lb. Cooper vs. NY's left back, the 6' 1", 180 lb. Kevin Goldthwaite. Shutting down the Crew's lithe forwards are one thing, but Cooper is simply a tank. Mendes has proven solid in the past for the Red Bulls' D. Advantage: Dallas

New York's attackers vs. the Hoops' defense:
Jozy Altidore and Oscar Echeverry vs. Drew Moor, Duilio Davino, and Adrian Serioux (and Dario Sala). Altidore showed he's ready to go after a week off from first team action when he tallied two in a reserve match. Echeverry went 71 productive minutes in his first MLS appearance vs. Columbus. Can the two mesh? Dallas' "Big D" defense (Drew, Duilio, 'Drian and Dario) didn't deliver last week at Houston, giving up three and blowing a lead to the champs in the final minutes. Four goals allowed in two matches = not good. Slight Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Luke Sassano, Seth Stammler, Claudio Reyna, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Dave van den Bergh, vs. Dax McCarty, Pablo Richetti, Juan Toja, Andre Rocha and Blake Wagner. This battle of five-man midfields will hinge on Stammler and Reyna's ability to shut down the mighty Toja, who has 7 goals in 29 MLS appearances. McCarty showed his worth and work rate in helping the US qualify for the Olympics. The Red Bulls' Ubiparipovic needs to last more than a half if he wants to keep his starting job. Advantage: Push

The Coaches:
Osorio has won one-in-a-row for NY, and his focus on defense first worked like a charm after scoring two early goals last week. Steve Morrow is overjoyed to have healthy Cooper and Toja back in the lineup. Advantage: Push

New York has started 0-0-3 before, and Dallas wants to avoid the triple-sister-kiss at all costs. Will the crowd show? FCD drew a healthy 17K to their opener vs. Chivas on March 30. New York will make a statement with a win, pulling them even on points with Kansas City and New England, who the Red Bulls have at home next week. Weather will be clear and cold (low of 42, brrr!). Advantage: Push

Prediction: Can Altidore and Echeverry keep pace with the relentless Dallas attack? New York will miss Angel's magic touch as Toja and Cooper steer the Steers past the Bulls, 2-1.

CCC: Good Riddance
For the eighth straight year, no MLS club will win the Concacaf Champions Cup, after both Houston and DC United crashed out in the tourney semifinals on Wednesday. MLS teams usually fall due to their inability to get results on the road, and this year's efforts were no different. DC's 2-0 loss at Pachuca was too big a hill to overcome at RFK, and Houston's D snapped in an 0-3 at Saprissa. MLS teams have been at a disadvantage in the CCC, as the competition's early spring time frame has traditionally overlapped with the league's off-season.

Starting this summer, though, MLS can't use that excuse, as the infant Concacaf Champions League will begin in August. DC, Chivas, New England and Houston will carry the MLS banner in an expanded 24-team competition that will run through next Spring. If the clubs want to win the thing, though, they'll have to learn how to win, or even draw, in Mexico and Costa Rica. Best of luck to them.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Red Bulls Preview: Game #1 vs. Bumblebees

The Red Bulls will be the last MLS club out of the starting gate tomorrow night, when they take on the undefeated (tee hee) Columbus Crew at Stade de Swamp (7:30p, FSC).

Change is usually the only constant around the New York club, who in the off-season dumped former US skip Bruce Arena for the former Metro Assistant Coach Juan Carlos Osorio. However, the wholesale changes that usually accompany a NY off-season failed to materialize. There are only (!) 10 new faces on the Red Bulls' roster, and those mostly consist of draft picks, a veteran keeper (Zach Thornton) and a 31-year old Colombian striker Oscar Echeverry, who'll mostly provide cover up front when Jozy Altidore's away with the Nats or the Olympic team. New York has room under the cap for a decent international signing, but so far JCO has yet to pull the trigger on any acquisitions. As such, the club is younger and greener than the one that dropped an 0-1 series loss to New England in the first round of last year's playoffs. Who would have thought the club would be criticized for a LACK of change. Strange. Anyway, here's a line-by-line look at tomorrow night's match versus the Crew.

The Columbus forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Alejandro Moreno vs. Jeff Parke, Carlos Mendes, and Kevin Goldthwaite (and Jon Conway). The Crew has a stable of improving young forwards, but the South American starters form a potent attack for Columbus. Moreno has 31 career tallies in his time with Houston/San Jose and LA, while Schelotto can not only score but dish out chances (11 assists last season). New York's three-man back line debuts tomorrow night, but with starter and US U-23 man Hunter Freeman out 4-6 weeks with an ankle sprain, the much maligned Goldthwaite gets the nod at left back. The former TFC man spent most of the '07 season on the bench, but apparently has impressed the new boss enough to start. This could get ugly. Advantage: Columbus

New York's attackers vs. the Crew's defense:
Jozy Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel vs. Stefani Miglioranzi, Danny O'Rourke, Chad Marshall, and Frankie Hejduk (and Will Hesmer). New York's front line is flat out one of the best in the league. Angel looks to continue his tear through MLS defenses (19g in 24 app in '07), and Altidore looks to have a stellar final season in a NY uniform before Europe beckons. The Crew D shut out Toronto FC last week, which isn't all that hard, though G Will Hesmer snuffed a TFC penalty that would have changed the game. Frankie Hejduk keeps going... and going... Slight Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Luke Sassano, Seth Stamller, Claudio Reyna, Dave van den Burgh, and Danleigh Borman vs. Eddie Gaven, Brian Carroll, Adam Moffat, and Robbie Rogers. Starting MLS rookies on both wings doesn't exactly inspire confidence, especially with a three-man back line behind them. However, the Red Bulls will go as far as Captain America will take them, and NY fans are hoping that Reyna will be able to handle the attacking midfielder role as well as his usual d-mid position. Stammler and VDB will help funnel the attack through the middle. On the Crew side, Gaven and Carroll are MLS vets that show rare flashes of brillance. Moffat, the young Scot, will make only his 2nd MLS appearance. Rogers is a US Youth International. Slight Advantage: New York

The Coaches:
What to expect from Osorio? He's clearly passionate about the game, and did wonders enlivening the Fire last season (with some help from Temoc Blanco), but without any new signings, its hard to believe his club is going places. Sigi Schmid hasn't made the postseason in his two seasons in Columbus, but after beating powder puff TFC last week, he has a confident squad on his hands. Advantage: Columbus

Opening night #3 in the Red Bull regime, and a pre-game charity match featuring Ethan Zohn, and former Metro Steve Jolley will attempt to draw a crowd. RB is actually marketing this year, so we'll see if a crowd of any size appears. Doubtful. Weather: Cloudy, 56 degrees after a day of rain. Advantage: Push

Prediction: So many uncertainties on what New York will show. Let's say goals from Moreno and Angel in a 1-1 draw.