Tuesday, November 23, 2010

MLS Cup Final

At one point late in the second half of the dreadful MLS Cup Final, with both of these mediocre teams protecting the 1-1 scoreline and heading to extra-time, I was actually tempted to flip over to watch the LA Lakers-Golden State Warriors NBA game, despite the fact that LA was up by 30 at the time. Seemed like it might be more compelling.

It's rare to get to use the words "scintillating" and "final" in the same sentence -- you expect both teams to play cautiously and the nerves to rattle. But, with two exceptions, this was an unwatchable match, between two forgettable teams, played by mostly second-rate players. But don't take my word for it: ESPN's ratings were down 44% year-over-year, and BMO Stadium in Toronto looked, from the camera pans, to be half empty or worse.

From a match perspective, after a mind-numbing first 20 minutes, Colorado had a semi-legitimate penalty appeal when the slow, bull-headed Connor Casey was tripped up, but it was marginal. Then there was a moment of brilliance in the 35th minute from the Colombian David Ferreira, the league's MVP for 2010, who braved an on-rushing keeper to finish an inch-perfect Marvin Chavez cross on the low volley. This was followed by another 20 minutes of poor play and boredom on either side of halftime. Finally, Casey scored a garbage goal to equalize and it looked like the match might come back to life, finally, but things quickly settled and by he 80th minute, I was begging the football gods not to let this horror show go to penalties.

Fittingly, the match was decided in the second half of extra time by an own goal. Macoumba Kandji drove down the right wing for Colorado and aimed a tepid strike at the near post, which the Dallas defender, John George, turned into goal with his knee. Kandji injured himself on the play, so Colorado played the last 12 minutes a man down, and actually those 12 minutes were the best of the match, as Dallas threw everything they had at Colorado, and nearly sent the match to penalties on several occasions.

So, there you have it, two undeserving teams playing for the cup, with the champion scoring a complete garbage goal and an own goal to win the match. Yuck. To add insult to injury, the idiot presenting Connor Casey with the man of the match trophy afterwards called him "Casey Connor." It was a laughable spectacle, and the perfect end to the idiotic MLS playoffs.

Fuck you, Don Garber. If you can't fix this, forget about the casual fans, the core like me are off to watch Kobe and Pau blow out the Warriors.

Monday, November 8, 2010

MLS Conference Finals Set

It was a bizarre weekend in the MLS playoffs. With the exception of LA (more on that later), every higher seed lost their first round series. New York Red Bull crashed and burned against San Jose. Columbus went down on penalties to Colorado after a regular time stalemate. And Dallas convincingly held Real Salt Lake to a draw at Rio Tinto, allowing them through on aggregate after their 2-1 win at home last week.

This means that we are guaranteed the presence of either Colorado or San Jose in the MLS Cup Final, the lowest seeds in the playoffs and the #5 and #6 teams in the Western Conference table, respectively. Oh, and one of these teams will be representing the "east." It's a repeat of last year, when 5th position Real Salt Lake made a run through the east to get to the cup final against LA.

I'm sure Don Garber can make an argument why this is good for the fans, but it's hard to see this as anything other than a massive fail for the league. I have nothing against San Jose or Colorado, but neither of them belongs in the MLS cup final. Had the league seeded the playoffs from a single table, you'd have seen #1 LA vs. #8 San Jose, #2 RSL vs. #7 Colorado, #3 New York vs. #6 Seattle, and #4 Dallas vs. #5 Columbus. Tell me that wouldn't have produced a more interesting set of possibilities for the conference and cup finals.

One team didn't succumb to the higher seed curse this weekend, and that was LA Galaxy. Against most predictions, LA didn't park the bus and try to protect the 1-0 lead from the first leg; instead, they attacked Seattle right from the start, and once again used the set piece to tremendous advantage. This seemed to take Seattle somewhat by surprise, and they were on their back foot from the start.

Sigi Schmidt protested the first goal because Beckham was allowed to take his corner from his favored right side (although the replay I saw suggested that was the correct call), but Schmidt's whinging obscures the fact that Seattle conceded four corners in the first 18 minutes, and Beckham was dropping dangerous balls exactly in the same place that Buddle connected. You can't concede multiple free kicks against a team that set a league record with 13 set piece goals in the regular season and expect not to be punished.

The second goal, also off a set piece, was pure training ground as Beckham's sharply curled ball fooled the defenders into letting Gonzalez lose his mark at the near post for a spectacular diving header. Beckham came close again with a free kick just outside the area, and LA had a number of other chances.

The result sets up an LA-Dallas conference final at Home Depot Center next Sunday, and you have to like LA's chances to get through to a second consecutive MLS Cup Final. With either Colorado or San Jose coming out of the other bracket, the winner of next Sunday's contest in Carson has a great chance of lifting the silverware.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Seattle Sounders 0:1 Los Angeles Galaxy

So, LA Galaxy went to Seattle, into one of the best (and, for LA, most hostile) atmospheres in the history of MLS playoffs, and came away with a one goal victory. Despite all of the pre-match hype about Seattle's pace, and midfield possession, and wing play, and how hot they were down the stretch, as I predicted, the Galaxy dictated the flow of the match and go back to Home Depot Center in the driver's seat.

Certainly, the LA wing-backs couldn't keep up with Zakuani and Nyassi, but their midfielders cheated back (Donovan and even Beckham were very helpful in defense) and by the end of the match LA were effectively playing a 4-5-1 with sometimes all eleven in their own half clogging up the pitch and frustrating Seattle's offense. Seattle had a couple of meaningful efforts on goal -- Ricketts' reaction save of the Montero header in the first half after injuring his shoulder a few minutes earlier probably saved the match for LA -- but nothing suggested they were prepared to take over the match and win it.

LA on the other hand easily could have won this one 2-0 or even 3-0. The winning goal came from a phenomenal individual effort by Edson Buddle, who chested down a long header about thirty meters from goal, turned, and volleyed a perfect ball to the far post and into the net. It was reminiscent of Clint Dempsey's wonder goal at Craven Cottage for Fulham in the Europa League against Juventus. In addition, Donovan had a rocket from well outside the area that forced a punch save from Kasey Keller; and Juninho just missed wide off a great one touch-pass build up, that showed in a nutshell why LA is so dangerous in post-season play.

All of this makes the pundits' dismissal of LA going into the playoffs even more inexplicable. Christo­pher Riordan on the majorleaguesoccertalk.com podcast expressed "shock" that people on the internet were still picking LA. He and co-host Richard Farley both picked Seattle, Riordan saying it was an "easy choice" to pick them, predicting a 2-0 first leg. Heh.

A final note on the atmosphere and support for the Sounders in Seattle. It was unbelievable, breathtaking. I've never heard or seen a crowd like that for an MLS match. Beckham reportedly said afterward that it was the first time he felt like he was playing in a European venue in North America. Seattle has the greatest supporters in the league and they showed their spirit in amazing fashion on Sunday night.