OK, after taking this week off to mostly just troll other blogs and not comment too much on MLS or soccer in general after letting last week’s loss sink in, I do have some thoughts on a rash of topics:
(But before I begin, I have to tell you my favorite lines from anyone about events so far this week. Dan Loney, who is my absolute favorite blogger out there (http://www.bigsoccer.com/forum/blog.php?u=7720) said that a strike or lockout in February would “put the damn in Gotterdammerung.”
Meanwhile, Bill Archer (http://www.bigsoccer.com/forum/blog.php?u=20531) on the Thierry Henry handball controversy “Soccer is a lot like life: it's unfair. Your heart breaks for Ireland, who've gotten the shaft in this whole deal from Day One, and after 500 or so years of misery you'd think the Irish could catch ONE break in something but I guess that's not to be.”)
(Though, an Irishwoman got to marry Playtherapy, so I guess Bill isn’t completely right on the never catching one break thing!)
As for MLS Cup predictions, I was listening this morning to an interview that Dominic Kinnear did yesterday on World Football Daily. They nailed him down on making a prediction for the final. He said that he had been wrong about every one of his predictions so far, which makes him not much worse than me, as I’m sitting on 3-7 right now, which puts me BELOW blind chance!
But even though I suck, I am going to go with the conventional wisdom here and pick LAG for almost the same reason that Kinnear did, Donovan. And while he meant the new MLS MVP (How is it that this is the FIRST time he has won that award? He is the best American outfield player ever, and there is no one even close to him on that score. Weird.), I’m not talking about Landon, who is perhaps only the second most valuable Donovan on his own team. Donovan Ricketts is going to keep that team in the game. The LAG back line is going to be tested by a strike force that partners much better than Ching and Oduro (or Ching and Landin, more on that later), with speed, creativity and power in the attack. However, frustration will mount as Ricketts pulls their ass out of the fire over and over and over again. It’s always dangerous to place everything on a keeper, but the combo of Ricketts and LAG being so quick in transition means that RSL will be back on their heels after each miss or save from the Jamaican.
Everyone loves Nick Rimando and I count myself in that group, but we all know that Rimando has his flaws and can be fooled and wrong-footed just as often as he can be spectacular. As much as I am rooting for RSL to take the upset win, I will not predict it. LAG wins their third star 2-0. (And no, I do NOT fancy them winning a third star before Dynamo. I am not happy about that and Hainault’s goal should have counted and we should not even be HAVING this freakin’ conversation since with two power outages and a ridiculous call we’re sitting at home and tell me what the frak was the difference in all the banging and falling down in the box between Hainault’s goal and Berhalter’s anyway?!!!? What a CROCK!!...
Ummmm. Hmmm. Wound still fresh I guess.
Where was I?
Oh yeah, Ireland and the Hand of Frog. You know, I don’t blame Thierry Henry at all, not one bit. You play to the whistle and that’s that. If the ref didn’t call it, then that’s where the Ire of Eire should fall. He was his usual classy self after the game when he said that it was indeed a hand ball (contrast that to Maradona’s comments in 1986. What a puerco.), but that he was not the ref. There were four things that happened on that play, any one of which should have called it back. Two French players were offsides (though not Henry), and Henry touched the ball twice, once on his upper arm and once with his hand, bang-bang. I can understand the AR and ref being blocked from the handball, but the AR was not blocked from the offsides. And if he was, how could that have been true? It was a free kick. If you’re not positioned to make an offsides call on a free kick into the box, where the hell are you?
I do not agree that the game should be replayed. Anelka was clearly taken down by Shay Given in the box earlier in the game, which should have been a penalty. No call there, so where exactly is the FIFA conspiracy to get France in and Ireland out? However, ultimately justice is served if (A) that crew does not work FIFA matches anymore and (B) some form of technology review is implemented. It does not have to be like the debacle that is replay review in American pointyball. It could be a simple, simple, no more than 30-second review by a fifth official (or by the fourth official because if he’s not waving in a sub or signaling time remaining, what exactly is he doing over there?) in certain situations that lead to a goal. Kinnear mentioned that in his interview, as have many others. Replay is not evil, but it can be implemented poorly. Avoid that and you can use that power for the good.
On to the Orange, I absolutely agree with many that Dynamo will have an overhaul in 2010. Clark is almost certainly gone, which the team announced earlier this week. I think it’s about 60 percent (maybe more?) certain the Goalden One is gone as well in January. Holden might just stay because of his roots here in Houston, close to his family and he didn’t exactly set Denmark on fire with his performance there on Wednesday. However, he did make MLS Best XI, which I find to be a little surprising, and has established himself as among the favorites to go to South Africa. We’ll see what January brings, but I think it’s safe to say that he’s possibly gone as well.
So where does that leave us? I think it best to assume both are gone, which leaves us with options like this:
Starting at the way back, Tally Hall has proved himself this year to be a more than capable replacement eventually for Onstad, should he ever decide to remove his age-defying Ring of Power and throw it into Mount Doom. For the first offseason that I remember, replacing Onstad is a settled issue.
Moving up, I think Wade Barrett is through. If John Spencer gets one of these head coaching jobs (and I’ve said all along that DC United is a perfect fit for him. Pity poor De Rosario that he has to play for that punk Preki now. That honeymoon is going to last until maybe President’s Day. Playing at home has not exactly been a bed of roses for Dwayne, now has it?), then I think Barrett would be an ideal pick to replace him on the bench next to Kinnear.
Of course, that leaves us with Hainault, Eddie, Little Boswell and Chabala. I do not include Cameron here because even though he was an MLS Best XI as a center back this year, with Eddie back and the hole we have in midfield, Geoff, with his speed, toughness and range moves up to holding midfielder. That drops Mulrooney and his shaky health back to defense. But where does he play? Clearly, the opportunity is at Chabala’s spot. Chewie has all kinds of pace, and had maybe his best game as a pro in the return leg against Seattle, but his passing leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. Work on that, and he’s a stud. Waibel, sad to say, is also pretty much done, though he might be valuable as a part-timer like this year.
Midfield without Holden and Clark is not exactly a disaster with the cast of characters I’ve got listed there. Cameron will be a great holding mid in this league, maybe equal to and with a better passing touch than Rico. He clearly needs to work on his dribbling skills, as he overruns the ball on occasion, but hey, he’s only been in this league for two years and is already an MLS Best XI. If South Africa was coming in 2011 instead of 2010, he’d be getting some serious run for national team play.
Davis in the middle is where he always wants to be anyway, and where he winds up playing most of the time. Just go ahead and put him there. A left-footed CAM could be a force there. He’s a better distributor than Holden, though not quite what DeRo was. And he’s not afraid to pull the trigger on a shot (unlike Holden). Playtherapy and I thought that Davis was the best player in orange at the HDC last week. He has creativity, great delivery and a deadly shot. With Holden gone, CAM is his role.
On the wings we have the fearsome threesome of Mullan, Danny Cruz and Corey Ashe. Cruz, when he played, was fearless and had an impressive work rate over there. He was a terror when the joke that is Thomas Rongen played him in the U-20 World Cup this summer in Egypt. He is exactly like Brian Mullan, and is benefiting greatly from having Mulls as his teacher. Same for Corey Ashe, who credits Mulls with helping him develop his cross. So we have three players for these two spots, which I think is at least one less than we need.
Midfield depth is an area of great need. I don’t think either Mulrooney or Mullan can get through an entire season without injury, though Dynamo will be playing far less games next year with no CONCACAF in either the spring or fall (I think that’s right, isn’t it?). I think they’ll probably be in SuperLiga (if they play that tournament) and put in their usual half-hearted USOC run, so there may be some fixture congestion in the summer, but nothing like what we’ve seen the last few years. Danny Cruz is good, but I doubt he’ll be an effective full-time starter just yet. Ashe is a great sub, but I question his effectiveness over a full 90. Sometimes he's fantastic, and sometimes not. Still, he is getting better and better and I think would have been a strong player in the playoffs if he had not gotten hurt in the Rayados friendly.
This team needs a creative and powerful midfielder to complement this corps. If Holden stays, he’s that guy. If not, then this is a serious hole needing filling between now and April. Jon Michael Hayden and Eric Ustruck are in-house choices, and both looked good at times in CONCACAF and USOC games, but neither seem to be setting any worlds on fire, so I think it’s best not to plan on them being the answer to any questions any time soon.
Up top, oh boy. Another offseason, another set of questions about how to fix the Dynamo attack. Ching is another year older and just had surgery on Wednesday on his knee. Minor surgery, but still. I believe Luis Angel Landin will be an impact player in the league next year, training with this team from Day One, fit and in the flow. He is the best ball-handler on the squad, bar none. If you didn't, you should have seen what Mister 3D and I saw in the Seattle game. For a guy nursing a bad knee, he left it all out there. Now, it’s also true he was awful at the HDC. No question there. I just think that by Memorial Day we’ll know, but there’s plenty there to like. His touch, positioning and presence are impressive to say the least. Two months is not enough time, especially if he’s hurt for a significant part of that time, to assess this guy.
Oduro needs to go. I think we’ve now seen the best we’ll ever see from Dominic Oduro (the Seattle game), as well as the worst (every other game). The pace is great and until he develops a finishing touch, he is a late-game sub stretching a tired defense with amazing pace. Ask anything more from him and you might as well install protective glass in front of the stands on either side of the field because there is not a goalmouth wide enough for this guy. Now I might very well be wrong here, as I didn’t see his Seattle performance coming at all. But we learned in LA not to expect that performance from him. And that’s the deal, when you’ve got someone in his role and with his pace, a solid performance SHOULD be expected. If he can’t deliver, then sayonara, you’re better off without him. With his pace, he’s going to get the ball, and in dangerous areas. Constantly getting it to him there and having him fail throws off and misshapes Dynamo’s entire attack.
Cam Weaver possibly could be a Nate Jaqua type, and if he stays healthy, could provide solid, solid play when Ching heads to South Africa in the summer (assuming he does). I think Weaver, who’s still pretty young, could be the heir apparent to Ching as target forward. Abe Thompson is a sub and that’s all he’ll ever be.
So clearly, help up top is a need. Ching-Landin and Weaver-Landin are the top two choices right now with Oduro as a late sub and Abe Thompson as an even iffier sub. That brings up major ifs and buts, especially about Landin. If he’s a true bust, then Dynamo are screwed and a midseason replacement becomes crucial. Replacing Oduro and adding another forward with pace and presence would be ideal. Conor Casey is apparently very unhappy in Colorado (who wouldn't be?). How great would he look in Orange?
I am not conversant enough about options that are out there to know who can fill those roles, but I do know that Dynamo right now, even without Holden and Clark, are a playoff-caliber squad in MLS. Though of course, just being playoff-caliber is not the goal. The talent triumvirate of Luck-Canetti-Kinnear, Inc. have their work cut out for them. They don't have the problems some clubs have (Did I mention Colorado?), and that is all to the good, but there are serious issues out there to be addressed to be sure.
The offseason is going to be a long one and the tendency is to jump to conclusions. But just hold solid and have faith. By this time next year we could be looking at both work on the construction site that is Dynamo Park and an impending MLS Cup. Orange-colored glasses, you are my friend.