CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying and MLS Reviewed
Costa Rica used the home field advantage of their infamous plastic pitch to dispatch a pesky Grenada side 3-0. The Chicago Fire’s Gonzalo Segaras went ninety minutes picking up a yellow card for the Ticos while Shalrie Jospeh as usual gave a workmanlike performance for his nation, Grenada. Guatemala struggled with St Lucia but prevailed eventually 3-1 winning the two leg tie by an aggregate score of 9-1 and advancing to the group stage where they will face the winners of today’s ties between United States/Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago/Bermuda, and Cuba/Antigua. Mexico beat Belize 7-0 last night but again struggled with holding the ball and maintaining possession in the first half. But the skill level of the Mexican players cannot be questioned while the skill level of the top American players beyond Landon Donovan is certainly highly debatable.
On to MLS whose quality is still suffering from the absence of internationals and the condition of pitches both those of the plastic variety which are always poor and those with grass that aren’t maintained to a truly professional standard. Add the baking summer heat and you have what amount to some completely unwatchable football particularly when MLS matches are being played at the very same time as World Cup qualifiers and Euro matches. It’s not all MLS’ fault, because the early part of the season was not only exciting, but provided a quality football experience that many matches even in European leagues fail to provide.
Personally I feel some of the football at the Euro Championships has been over rated. Like the World Cup, whose level of football is vastly over stated thanks to the atmosphere and drama around matches, at times the European Championship lack a compelling reason to park yourself in front of a TV and watch the matches. Now that has certainly not been true the last three days of knockout rounds, but even when the football has been poor it has been vastly superior to anything US National Team has produced in years. Again, the federation continues to propagate to the masses that the national team is better than ever, from my vantage point the standard of football ebbs and flows and while MLS is certainly at one of its highest points (prior to this last month with some many missing players), the national team is at a point right now which many of us believed it would be far beyond come 2008. In fact, as I will get into sometime in the next few weeks we were in fact promised long ago that US Soccer would be far far beyond its current state approaching the 2010 World Cup. The national team even when scoring eight goals has become tough to watch without your heart in your stomach because our players lack the skill on the ball, the pass and go mentality and the initiative I see so many in the CONCACAF region have developed. It is a sad day when I can count more Canadian footballers I’d rather start a team with than Americans. In fact, it simply may be a case of Dale Mitchell’s approach versus the mentality here in US Soccer but again this is a topic for another time and a topic which I am sure will inspire passion on both sides.
I leave this topic with this very telling statement from Soccer America’s Paul Gardner the dean of American Soccer writers in the wake of the disastrous three game slate of friendlies:
Bob Bradley is skilled at producing workmanlike teams. But they play banal soccer — if we didn’t know that previously (those of us who suffered through his years at the sure as hell did) we do now. Pedestrian soccer rules, and Banality Bob is saved, on occasions, only by the flair and brilliance of Donovan. As long as Donovan is around, there is hope of something more rewarding than Bocanegra’s crunching fouls or Michael Bradley’s late tackles. The question that needs answering is why — at this late stage in the Great American Soccer Boom — the hopes for skilled, international-level play rest so heavily on one player. Is there an obvious replacement for Donovan waiting to take over? I don’t know of one — yet there should, by now, be three of four such candidates.
One can hope today’s experimental squad in the second leg versus Barbados can begin to provide us with the creativity and style of football those of us who have suffered with this national team for years now deserve as fans. The lack of a Claudio Reyna, John O’Brien, Earnie Stewart or Tab Ramos in the midfield is painfully apparent every time you watch the US National Team circa 2008. Now back to MLS.
I would label only one performance of the week, truly outstanding and that was Red Bull’s midweek draw with New England, where Juan Carlos Osorio used a midfield diamond formation and a shift of Dave Van Den Bergh to left back to create havoc and control the match. Quite honestly New York deserved three points and their effort was one of the best I have seen in MLS all season long. Juan Pablo Angel goes in Dave Denholm’s category of “guys the league had caught up to” and quite frankly both games this week showed New York to be more effective without Angel than with him. Juan Carlos Osorio continues to prove what a shrewd tactical manager he is and once RBNY has a talent level to match most MLS sides they will likely contend for honors.
Real Salt Lake continues to disappoint me from the eye test but yet they today find themselves in second place in the west, which tells all you need to know about the weaker conference right now. Kenny Deuchar who has struggled since coming over from Gretna had a goal last night which this morning I saw credited as an own goal to Jay Heaps. But Deuchar’s superior skill in the air must be credited for RSL’s victory even if the official score sheet says otherwise.
Chivas and Chicago I will admit put me to sleep on Thursday and after a great few days of Euro and South American qualifying action I could not stomach the combination of Chad Barrett’s misses and poor first touches. Around minute sixty I faded for good, but can take from the match the continued quality of Sacha Kljestan, Ante Razov and Jesse Marsch. Chivas USA is playing at high level right now, and the match last weekend against RSL not withstanding, the Goats look poised to chase the Western Conference crown and could be dangerous in Superliga.
Toronto FC is my favored side to go deep in the CONCACAF Champions League, the only MLS side I fancy in the competition. However, the Reds were using too many tired legs from internationals thanks to MLS’ peculiar scheduling practices and looked flat against a bad Kansas City team. FC Dallas looks like the same poor team they have been since late April, and they are now on their third coach of the season.
Sigi Schmid has the Crew once again pointed in the right direction. Columbus should have beat LA at the Home Depot Center save one very odd moment. The dive David Beckham took in the box to draw a penalty, was just that moment. Maybe I’m showing my cultural bias here, but generally English players are better sportsman than to just flop like Becks did last night. English football gets criticized in these parts for lack of technique ,skill and flair but one thing I feel the English still do better than anyone is play the game honestly and without trying to “put one over” on the officials. Steve Gerrard is a notable exception to this mentality, but can you blame him when he has been surrounded by so many foreign players at Liverpool. I’m not trying to insult any cultural sensitivities here, but I just never expected such a blatant dive from the former captain of the Three Lions.
The match itself was outstanding but the dive ruins the whole thing for me. It was so blatant and to me once again so totally unexpected. Landon Donovan dives a great deal and so does Carlos Ruiz. Those are the Galaxy players I expect to see pull a stunt like this and I’ll again show my cultural bias or appreciation depending on your perspective in saying I tolerate diving to some extent from certain individuals and not others. While this sounds like outright hypocrisy, the game is played and taught differently in different corners of the globe.
MLS in April and May was outstanding. MLS in June has been close to dreadful. What will July yield? Hopefully a return to the quality of the early part of the season, but the summer heat and general fixture congestion makes it a difficult proposition.