By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s Wednesday Soccer Notebook
MIAMI — College basketball is finally back, thankfully, but let’s talk a little soccer, shall we?
The MLS Showcase Showdown is set.
The Columbus Crew and the New York Red Bulls (or for me RBNY, I refuse to call them by a name that sounds like a team from a suburban seven and under league) will play next Sunday for MLS Cup ’08 (ABC 3:30pm) having defeated the Chicago Fire and Real Salt Lake, respectively to get there.
This will be the first time since 2001 that two clubs that haven’t previously won the Cup will compete and the first time since the the inaugural MLS Cup in 1996 that two first time finalists will play each other.
Columbus’ arrival was expected. The Crew came into the playoffs having claimed their second Supporter’s Shield for the best record during the regular season. After tying the first leg of the opening round with Kansas City on a late goal, they dominated the return leg with goals from Robbie Rogers and Brian Evans to set up a one match showdown for a ticket to LA in Columbus.
Standing in front of them were the Chicago Fire, coached by MLS’ only Black coach, Denis Hamlett. The Fire for their part had finally overcome playoff nemesis New England Revolution with a sound 3-0 return leg win in the first round and were betting on their momentum to carry them through.
Making the match more intriguing was the MLS return to Columbus of Brian McBride who starred with Colmumus in the early days of the league (he was, in fact their very first draft pick, in 1996).
The chants he received of “traitor” were momentarily silenced when he headed Chicago into the lead in the 28th minute. Chicago dominated the first half and looked quite comfortable for the first three minutes of the second half.
Then in six minutes, it fell apart.
Columbus’ Eddie Gaven drew a foul on the right side and Chad Marshall outleaped McBride for a spectacular 49th minute equalizer fro mthe ensuing free kick.
The Crew’s confidence now heightened, they sealed the deal 6 minutes later when Alejandro Moreno and Guillermo Baros Schelotto exchanged headed passes. Moreno then headed a pass which sprung Eddie Gaven who slotted home the match winner from the right side.
***image7***It was the first time in 5 tries that Columbus had broken through to MLS Cup, having lost three straight times in the conference final to DC United between 1997-99 and to New England in 2002.
RBNY’s arrival at MLS Cup next week could only have been predicted by the most die hard of fans which I don’t even think includes my man Stan in Harlem. The worst team to even make the playoffs however have simply not listened to the pundits like myself and done the business.
After drawing 0-0 at Exit 16W, the took their 1 win, 8 loss,6 ties road record to the home of the defending two time champions Houston Dynamo. Not only did they beat Houston, they destroyed them thanks to a breakout performance by Jamaican Dane Richards.
Richards predicted he would “run that left back (veteran defender and Houston team captain Wade Barrett) into the ground”. He did more, he abused Barrett with his speed and touch, scoring once and setting the other two goals up by forcing a penalty (converted by Juan Pablo Angel) and delivering a pin point pass to John Wolyniec to help give RBNY a 3-0 win and complete the greatest MLS Playoff upset in the history of the league.
The win earned them a trip to Salt Lake City to play Real Salt Lake (RSL) another team that went on the road to beat a better side (Chivas USA, drawing 2-2 and winning 3-2 on aggregate) to gain the conference final. RSL had to love their chances playing in front of a sell-out crowd of over 20,000.
But it was not to be, try as they did.After RSL applied most of pressure for the first 28 minutes, Wolyniec wriggled past Jamison Olave on the left side and delivered a cross that eluded an onrushing and heavily marked Angel but left Dave van de Bergh with simple tap in.
RSL began pounding on RBNY’s door for an equalizer forcing RBNY goal keeper Danny Cepero into seven saves. But most confouding for RSL was the woodwork.
Javiar Morales hit right post off a a free kick that just eluded teammate Clint Mathis, Will Johnson hit the left post with 11 minutes remaining and Morales after scramble in the box, hit the right post with virtually the last kick of the match.
For a team that lost Jozy Altidore to La Liga side Villareal, lost Claudio Reyna to retirement, lost their starting goal keeper and another player for substance abuse violations, were dragged kicking and screaming into the playoffs, RBNY is somehow, someway playing for MLS Cup, having gone on the road to beat the two time defending champions and the West’s third place team.
MLS Rookie of the Year
For the second straight year, a Black player has won MLS’ Rookie of the Year.LA Galaxy defender Sean Franklin, a lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal backline, has followed Maurice Edu asthe Gatorade MLS Rookie of the Year. Franklin, a graduate of Cal State Northridge was a constant on LA’s backline and played the second most minutes for LA this year.
Named LA’s defender of the year, his clean but aggressive style (only 22 fouls and 3 yellow cards all season) earned him plaudits from Coach Bruce Arena and a call up to the US National Team for Wednesday’s match v. Guatemala.
US National Team and CONCACAF
Speaking of which the US will close out its preliminary round of World Cup qualifying Wednesday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium outside of Denver (ESPN Classic 8pm, EST).
The US has already qualified for the final round of qualifying (the Hexagonal due to the six teams that comprise it) and is calling in younger, less experienced players to evaluate them. Guatemala, meanwhile, needs to win this match and hope Trinidad and Tobago lose.
The Soca Warriors need only a tie at home against Cuba to advance to the Hex, having beat the US for the first time a World Cup Qualifier last month.
Jamaica also hope to join in but cue Denice Williams because it’s gonna take a miracle due to their slow start. Former player now Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore took over and now the Reggae Boyz have a slight chance but they have win.
If they beat Canada by seven goals they’re in. If not they need that Mexico to beat Honduras. A tie in that latter match will send Mexico through and a win by Honduras will send THEM through. You thought the NFL playoff system was complicated…
Costa Rica and El Salvador have already qualified.
The US squad includes five Black players: Sean Franklin (LA Galaxy), Cory Gibbs (Colorado Rapids), Freddy Adu (AS Monaco), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo) and Jozy Altidore (Villareal).
African Champions League
Al-Ahly is back on top of African Club football. After winning 2-0 at home over Coton Sport, they drew 2-2 in the return leg to claim a 4-2 aggregate win and their record sixth African Champions League title, breaking a tie with cross-town rivals Zamalek for the most in African football.
With goals from Ahmed Hassan and Shady Mohamed, the Egyptian side captured its third title in four years and were beating finalists last year to Etoile Sahel. With back to back African Cup of Nations titles and a strangle hold on the top club prize, Egyptian (and North African) football is setting the pace across the continent.
Time for the Sub-Saharan side to step up and compete.
Diego Mardona: Legend. Coach?
The greatest player of his generation, Diego Maradona will make his debut as coach of the Argentine National Team when the Albiceleste take on Scotland in an exhibition. Maradona was named coach after the resignation of Alfio Basile after a string of lackluster results in World Cup qualifying.Aside from Maradona’s personal sordid past (drug use, out of wedlock son) what concerns so many people is his lack of coaching successful coaching experience.
He’s coached two teams in Argentina, neither of which saw much success under his reign. Now he’s handed the reins of, on its day, the best team on the planet? What do they say about watching train wrecks?
Chelsea forward Didier Drogba answered to an improper conduct charge of throwing a coin back into the crowd during a Carling cup match against Burnley.While celebrating a goal, a Burnley fan threw a coin at him, which he promptly threw back. Now (get this) HE’S been given a three match ban.
Mr. Drogba, meet Mr. Artest…
Honda Player of the Year
USA’s Landon Donovan was named the Honda Player of the Year for the US National team for a record 5th time. While Donovan’s worth to the US can never be overstated, I had a vote in this year’s poll and gave mine to Tim Howard.
He had spectacular year in goal for the US, highlighted by his stoning Argentina in a friendly this year. His reflex saves kept the US in the match away to Guatemala and saved a 1-0 scoreline in Cuba. All that was apparently only good for second place in most voters’ eyes, however.
It’s hard out here for a goalkeeper.
Tune in Sunday for the MLS Cup Final. Go Play Soccer!