MLS: Who’s paying cash for clunkers?

Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy has a provocative piece on Major League Soccer teams’ wild misses in judging talent. Sure, teams make mistakes all the time, but in this new era with more guaranteed contracts, those mistakes can be more costly.

Kennedy singles out Toronto and the signing of Latvian left back Raivis Hscanovics, about whom Wikipedia says the following: “In March 2010 his contract was terminated with Skonto FC because of knee problems. He later joined Toronto FC.” (We’ll have to take Wikipedia’s word for it, because the source cited on that note is in a language I don’t even recognize.) After a messy spring that included a protracted breakup with Ali Gerba and the shock retirement of Jim Brennan, Toronto put out a starting lineup last weekend that looked like a preseason lineup full of trialists.

“What has Preki been thinking all these months?” Kennedy asks. But Preki’s only part of the Toronto brain trust. There’s also “Trader Mo” Johnston, the wheelingest, dealingest soccer director in the business. Players and coaches have come and gone, but Toronto hasn’t yet found the right mix.

The coaches are always the most visible player personnel people. But do they always have the most influence? Hard to say.

In most cases, they have a fair amount of input, always able to bring “their guys” into a roster. Adrian Hanauer is the guy who can be fired by the fans if things are going wrong, but Sigi Schmid clearly has players he wants to keep around. In New England, Mike Burns has the player personnel job but hasn’t been in that position as long as Steve Nicol has been head coach. Curt Onalfo brought Kurt Morsink with him to D.C. United.

D.C. might be the best place to inquire about the brain trust, because it’s not delivering as well as it used to. United hasn’t shaken off the disastrous class of 2008 South American imports — Jose Carvallo, Gonzalo Martinez, Gonzalo Peralta, Franco Niell and designated player Marcelo Gallardo. The younger players on the roster that year also fell off the team, leaving an unsupported core of Jaime Moreno, Santino Quaranta, Clyde Simms, Marc Burch and Bryan Namoff.

Coach Tom Soehn has departed. General manager Dave Kaspar remains. That might be fair to Kaspar, who also has presided over the building of an excellent academy program that is producing solid prospects. But was it fair to blame Soehn?

Generally, the coach/GM relationship is co-dependent. MLS champions Real Salt Lake were built by a pair of Duke classmates, coach Jason Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey. Where coach and GM are less close — Los Angeles in the brief Ruud Gullit era springs to mind — results aren’t as good.

The new collective bargaining agreement has changed the landscape — not dramatically, but enough so that teams need to adjust. And 15 years of evolution have given the teams plenty of leeway in finding players. For all the braying over the league’s single-entity structure, teams control their own rosters and destiny. And it’s no accident that New England and Houston have been successful in replenishing rosters year after year while others struggle.

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MLS Week 3 wrap

Quick programming note: I’m not likely to post daily news wraps every day during the week, especially on a week with little midweek action and a free-lancing deadline. But you’ll still get the Weekend Watch on Friday, Weekend Wrap on Monday, TUF recaps each Wednesday night in season and a wide variety of other stuff. I’m working mostly on original content, which takes a while to develop.

I also share a lot of links on Twitter — keep your eye out for two good ones today.

On to Week 3, where a couple of East teams remained pointless and the Galaxy remained perfect …

Game of the week (in terms of impact): Houston 0, Los Angeles 2 (highlights)
– Edson Buddle must have had some crooked teeth, because he’s collecting braces. Yes, that’s awful, but I’ve never really liked the term “brace” for some reason.
– Luis Angel Landin remains in the running for “worst designated player signing ever” by seeing red for Houston in the first half. LA’s Donovan and Donovan kept calm after the incident.
– That’s three straight wins and three straight shutouts for Los Angeles.
– Postgame records (US-style win-loss-tie): Houston 1-1-1, LA 3-0-0

Game of the week (in terms of highlights): Chicago 1, San Jose 2 (highlights)
– Least expected result of the week. Sold-out crowd in Chicago, Earthquakes seemed to be in shambles early this season.
– Rookies are breaking out all over. Ike Opara gets the winner here on a superb cross from Bobby Convey, who bounced back after fretting over a halftime substitution in the Quakes’ first game.
– Dreadful errors for the Fire. Collins John had an atrocious miss, and the first San Jose goal was a calamity of miscommunication between veteran defender CJ Brown and first-year starting keeper Andrew Dykstra.
– Save of the week goes to Jason Hernandez. No, he’s not a goalkeeper. Fantastic play for the Quakes defender.
– Chicago 0-2-1, San Jose 1-1-0

Salt Lake 2, Seattle 2 (highlights)
– Statistical domination for the defending champs, but they were asleep early to let Steve Zakuani race in alone. The second Seattle goal was an own goal off Nat Borchers (erroneously credited to Tyrone Marshall in the credits).
– More greatness from Kasey Keller.
– Salt Lake 1-1-1, Seattle 1-1-1

Chivas USA 2, New York 0 (highlights)
– Chivas lineup changes: Zach Thornton replaces Dan Kennedy in goal. Jonathan Bornstein up to midfield. Chukwudi Chijindu and Maicon Santos up front.
– Red Bulls keeper Bouna Coundoul has been terrific so far, aside from one play that’ll make blooper reels for years to come. That was the first Chivas USA goal.
– Player to watch: Jesus Padilla, born in the USA to Mexican parents, on loan from the original Chivas after going through their youth system.
– Chivas USA 1-2-0, New York 2-1-0

Philadelphia 3, D.C. United 2 (highlights)
– Sebastien Le Toux gets the first goal in Union history. And the second. And the third.
– Jaime Moreno’s equalizer shouldn’t have counted. He interfered with Philly keeper Chris Seitz on the play. So says U.S. Soccer director of referee development Paul Tamberino.
– Philly home opener draws 34,870 to Lincoln Financial Field. Nearly half that crowd would’ve needed to stay home if the game had been in Philly’s almost-complete soccer stadium in Chester.
– Philadelphia 1-1-0, D.C. 0-3-0

New England 4, Toronto 1 (highlights)
– Rookie forward Zack Schilawski earned my Player of the Week vote with the hat trick. Great set-up work from Sainey Nyassi and Kheli Dube.
– Toronto signed two defenders after this one.
– Anyone reminded of De Ro’s MLS Cup headed goal? He pops up and snaps like a salmon.
– New England 2-1-0, Toronto 0-2-0

Kansas City 1, Colorado 0 (highlights)
– KC newcomer Ryan Smith has a terrific opportunistic streak. He almost caught Matt Pickens off his line, and he made a nice aggressive move to regain the ball (whistled, unfortunately — his reaction earned a yellow card) after a free kick. He also set up the goal.
– KC keeper Jimmy Nielsen, known as “Casino Jimmy,” wasn’t feeling very lucky after making a save with his face. Ouch.
– Colorado managed only five shots in this game, though two were saved in spectacular fashion (one without Nielsen’s face taking damage). KC’s defense is looking sharp, with no goals conceded in two games.
– KC 2-0-0, Colorado 1-1-1

Dallas 2, Columbus 2 (highlights)
– Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman tinkered with the lineup, though the switch in goal of Kevin Hartman for Dario Sala was necessitated by Sala’s hamstring injury.
– Hartman is one of the best and unluckiest keepers in league history. He made a terrific stop of Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s PK, but it rebounded straight to the wonderfully skilled Argentine, who put it home.
– Dallas’ Jeff Cunningham got his first of the season. Time for another streak?
– One of two last-minute equalizers of the week.
– Dallas 0-0-2, Columbus 1-0-1

What makes a soccer game change? Besides Messi

Barcelona was dominating Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal, taking a 2-0 away lead that could have been more. Then the game changed.

Why? What made that game change? What makes any game change?

I asked a couple of people who are in far better position than I am to know such things.

X, O, squiggle, goal
Ummm, coach? Can you possibly go over all that again?

Houston coach Dominic Kinnear saw some tactical changes:

“Two things happened that changed the game. One was Arsenal’s decision to play three at the back. The other was the insertion of Theo Walcott. Walcott’s pace to get in behind (the Barcelona defense) was huge.”

U.S. women’s veteran Brandi Chastain went with another angle:

“When the other team seems to be in control but is not putting away chances, you start to think, ‘Maybe we’re in this.’ And they start to become frustrated with the lack of finishing. Barcelona probably could’ve scored another two goals. That becomes frustration, and then you start to let down your mental guard. Then the other team gets a little bit of success, whether it’s possession or chances on goal.”

Matt Besler from the Kansas City Wizards figures Arsenal just had to turn it up a few notches:

“I think it was just the situation that Arsenal was in. The urgency that they had once they went down 2-0, they knew that being at home that they needed a tie or win, they really needed to go for the goal. I think that was the tipping point that helped them get some more energy and get more urgent. That’s why soccer is such a tough game. You can dominate a game for 70 or 80 minutes, but if you lose concentration for 10 minutes you can lose everything that you worked for.”

Continue reading What makes a soccer game change? Besides Messi

MLS Week 2 wrap

Houston 2, Salt Lake 1 (highlights)
– The best that can be said about Brian Ching’s injury is that he clutched his hamstring and not his knee. Non-contact injuries can be the worst.
– Real coach Jason Kreis opted for Fabian Espindola and newcomer Alvaro Saborio, though the goals are coming from midfielder Javier Morales.
– Agreed with the first penalty, with Jamison Olave making contact and pulling Geoff Cameron’s arm. Not so much the second. Minor contact on Luis Landin at best, highly embellished.
– But to give credit where it’s due: Brad Davis smashed both PKs past Nick Rimando, who has a well-deserved reputation as a PK-stopper. See Playoffs, MLS.

Los Angeles 2, Chivas USA 0 (highlights)
– Switch Edson Buddle from the Galaxy to Chivas, and the game could’ve been 2-0 the other way. Chivas blew several chances, some in comical fashion.
– The L.A. lineup: Juninho is lining up at attacking mid behind Edson Buddle, with Alex Cazumba left and Landon Donovan right. Is that the long-term set-up? Where would Beckham go?

Colorado 2, Chicago 2 (highlights)
– Mirror images cancel each other out, with classy foreign strikers Collins John (Chicago) and Omar Cummings (Colorado) scoring from the run of play, and American aerial threats with underrated feet Brian McBride and Conor Casey scoring PKs. Both teams lined up with an empty bucket in the midfield — Chicago’s midfielders were defensive-minded Logan Pause and Peter Lowry; Colorado’s were Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni. Both teams have good playmakers on the wings.
– The Marvell Wynne Central Defense Experiment, Week 2: John beat him in the air on a corner kick for the first goal, and Patrick Nyarko outran him on the right to set up the PK, though the call was harsh. He also got a yellow in the 22nd minute.
– 11,641 isn’t what you like to see for opening day attendance. Particularly when it’s sunny and the players are in short sleeves.

D.C. United 0, New England 2 (highlights)
– Kenny Mansally will surely get Goal of the Week and may also get Player of the Week, but if Preston Burpo doesn’t get a foot to Santino Quaranta’s freekick in the first half, this is a totally different game.
– Talk about the Revolution being “undermanned” is overrated. They were missing Shalrie Joseph, which is indeed a big loss, along with long-term wounded Taylor Twellman and Matt Reis. Darrius Barnes, working his way back from a hip strain, was a late sub. But D.C. played without Clyde Simms, Marc Burch and Bryan Namoff. Not that big a difference, especially when D.C. is the team trying to rebuild.

And the shocker of the week …

Seattle 0, New York 1 (highlights)
– Bouna Coundoul won a goalkeeping duel with Kasey Keller? (To be fair, Keller had no chance on the Red Bulls’ deflected goal, and he had a couple of stellar saves.)
– New York assistant Richie Williams was signed to a contract extension earlier in the week, then took over for Saturday’s game when Hans Backe fell ill. Williams has served two stints as interim head coach in 2006 and 2009, compiling a winning record of 3-2-3 in ’09.
– The Red Bulls snapped a 27-game winless streak in road games, and they did in front of the usual 36K in Seattle. Here’s the irony: The Red Bulls are finally playing on real grass at home, and they snapped the streak on the fake stuff.

My Player of the Week ballot: Bouna Coundoul first, Kenny Mansally second

Friday headlines and the Weekend Watch

Not that those of us in the Mid-Atlantic will be inside on what’s shaping up to be a beautiful weekend …

HEADLINES

Media: Best April Fool’s gag seen yesterday: ESPN to cancel Pardon the Interruption to expand Around the Horn to an hour, bring in more people sure to grate on your nerves and judge it with a decibel meter. (Sports Media Watch)

Soccer: Houston came back to beat Real Salt Lake 2-1 with two penalty kicks in one minute, both against Jamison Olave. The second benefited from some embellishment by Luis Angel Landin, but RSL coach Jason Kreis is holding his tongue. In the second game of the night, Edson Buddle scored the only two goals in the L.A. superclasico as the Galaxy beat Chivas USA 2-0.

Soccer: The biggest development in last night’s MLS games was the injury to Brian Ching, who’s essential to the Dynamo and very much in the forward mix for the World Cup. He fell hard, clutching his hamstring. Watch for updates.

Swimming: As a teen, Chloe Sutton was one of the early U.S. success stories in the rough-and-tumble world of open-water swimming. Now she’s skipping college and winning in the pool. Interesting read on the winner of the 200m and 800m freestyle on day 1 of the Columbus Grand Prix yesterday. Universal Sports is airing the Grand Prix action. (USA Swimming)

Rugby: Gotta love games decided on last-second drop goals. (AP)

Soccer: Bobby Convey’s frustrations have boiled over in San Jose. (Mercury News)

Soccer: West Ham is complaining that Fulham didn’t have its best players in the lineup in a loss to Hull, which is battling the Hammers in the EPL relegation zone. Hey, Dempsey played! (BBC)

MMA: UFC’s June date in Vancouver, thought to be in doubt, has been confirmed. If you’re willing to pay expenses to send an MMA/Olympics writer back to Vancouver for a weekend, e-mail beau dot dure … (MMA Fighting Stances)

WEEKEND WATCH (all times ET)

A selective look at what’s going on …

All weekend

Curling – Men’s world championships, Universal Sports. 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Pete Fenson returns to Italy, and the Canadian Press frets that Canadian rookie skip Kevin Koe must open against against him.

Friday

1 p.m.: Tennis – Sony Ericsson men’s semifinal, FSN. Andy Roddick vs. Rafael Nadal in a matchup sure to draw more interest than the eventual final.

Saturday

7:30 a.m.: Soccer – Manchester United-Chelsea, ESPN2. Just the top two teams in the world’s biggest soccer league. Yeah, we know — Wayne Rooney will miss it.

9:30 a.m.: Soccer – Schalke-Bayern Munich, GolTV. Just the top teams in the world’s (second? third? fourth?) biggest soccer league.

12:30 p.m.: Tennis – Sony Ericsson women’s final, CBS. It’s a throwback – Venus Williams vs. Kim Clijsters.

12:30 p.m.: Rowing – The Boat Race. Yes, THE Boat Race. Oxford-Cambridge. If you know a legal way to watch, please drop us a comment. (AP preview, BBC preview)

9 p.m.*: Boxing – Did you have any questions after Roy Jones Jr. took a unanimous decision over Bernard Hopkins at RFK Stadium in 1993? Good news: They’re fighting again, just a few years beyond their peaks. *Main event will be after the Final Four games conclude. (USA TODAY preview)

Sunday

1 p.m.: Tennis – Sony Ericsson men’s final, CBS. Roddick-Nadal winner vs. Berdych-Soderling winner.

6 p.m.: Soccer – MISL championship, local TV and B2TV. Milwaukee Wave hosting Monterrey La Raza, which knocked out the Baltimore Blast in the semifinals. Milwaukee got a bye. (Milwaukee Magazine preview)

Peter Nowak: We must break you

If you saw the MLS season opener, you saw one of two things, depending on your view of the world’s game:

1. A bunch of whiny Seattle players diving and moaning with pre-existing injuries.

2. A bunch of thuggish Philadelphia players knocking Seattle players to the turf.

We can’t really say Philly coach Peter Nowak, one of the league’s all-time best players, has been on the defensive about it. He’s very much on the offensive. If you can’t take a little bumping and kicking, he says, find another sport. From the Delaware County Daily Times:

“If you want to avoid contact, I would suggest badminton or curling or chess maybe. That’s how we play the game. This is a man’s game. If you want to compete, let’s compete.”

That’s a questionable comment on several levels:

1. Man’s game? Has Nowak ever seen the U.S. women play? No one should ever accuse them of a lack of toughness.

2. Some of us slipped badly the first time we tried curling. Some of us also plan to cover a bit of chess in our shiny new multisports blogs. And Olympic-caliber badminton will make anyone rethink definitions of athleticism. But fine, none of them are “contact” sports.

3. The fouls against Seattle looked like fouls from here, especially the only one that made the highlight video here:

Make no mistake — Nowak knows what he’s doing. He’s a sought-after coach for several reasons, and one is that he’ll stick up for his team. Before the season, he told me the Union supporters, who existed as a group before MLS was even close to awarding an expansion team, wanted to see passion, commitment and fight. His players will bring that, or he’ll yank them off the field. No doubt about that.

But since MLS is a man’s game, he might need to find some men who can play defense without landing a flying knee to the backside. And he knows that, too — he’s already shaking up his backline.

Thursday: No fooling around here

Today’s headlines:

Soccer: The U.S. women’s team beat Mexico 1-0. At least, we think that’s what happened. The snow made it a little hard to see. Can’t wait for U.S. Soccer to post the highlights. In the meantime, the Salt Lake Tribune story includes a photo gallery worth checking out. (U.S. Soccer match report)

MMA: Kenny Florian took a comfortable third-round submission win to spoil Takanori Gomi’s long-awaited — probably too long, unfortunate — UFC debut in the main event at UFC Fight Night. Roy Nelson won the battle of big and tall against Stefan Struve, ducking under a punch from “The Skyscraper” and answering with a knockout shot. Florian and Nelson took the night’s submission and knockout bonuses, while Ross Pearson and Dennis Siver took the fight of the night honors. Jorge Rivera had the best overall performance of the night with a convincing win over Nate Quarry that didn’t last long into the second round.  (MMA Fighting Stances)

Soccer: Not to judge a city’s politics from afar, but it looks like a one-week delay in a vote on the Houston Dynamo’s stadium deal has spawned a bit of petty sniping. (Houston Chronicle)

Alpine skiing: You didn’t expect Bode Miller to make his mind about next season anytime soon, did you? (AP)

Soccer: U.S. player Marcus Tracy expects to miss the rest of the club season in Denmark with a knee injury. (AP)

Today’s reads:

Volleyball: Need to catch up with any of the 157 U.S. women’s players going to overseas club teams? They’re rounded up on one staggering roundup. (USA Volleyball – PDF)

MMA: The toughest part of getting into the house on The Ultimate Fighter might be dealing with solitary confinement in a hotel before the first bout, according to this compelling blog entry from contestant Court McGee. (Sherdog)

Soccer: Inside Minnesota Soccer compiled a comprehensive preview of the USSF Division II (shotgun marriage between USL and NASL) season, with one writer per team. Familiar names include Steve Ralston, Christian Gomez, Louis Crayton and Steve Cronin. Future MLS clubs Vancouver and Portland have kept a lot of players from year to year. Miami, which has Gomez and Abe Thompson, is trying to rival the MetroStars/Red Bulls for roster turnover. (Inside Minnesota Soccer)

Happy Wednesday

HEADLINES

– New FIFA rankings! Spain, Brazil, Netherlands unchanged in top three. Portugal leaps past Italy and Germany for fourth. Egypt surges to 14th.

But the big news is in CONCACAF: USA 16th, Mexico 17th.

Mixed bag for the USA’s World Cup opponents: England swapped places with France to take seventh. Slovenia slipped to 29th. Algeria is up five places to 27th. (FIFA)

– Big upset in Key Biscayne’s Sony Ericsson Open, one of tennis’ near-majors: Tomas Berdych ousted Roger Federer. Tennis writer Bonnie D. Ford says via Twitter that the match was long but far too sloppy to be an “epic.” (AP)

– Would North Korea really host a couple of World Cup games if South Korea lands the 2022 Cup? As rigid as North Korea has been, who knows what the geopolitical landscape will look like by then? (Reuters)

– LPGA players are just warming up this season, and yet they’re being thrown into a major already. (USA TODAY)

– Welcome to Philadelphia, David Myrie! We’re happy to have picked you up in the MLS expansion draft, and we’re planning to build a core of good young players moving forward. Take your spot in the starting lineup for the opener. … OK, never mind, you’re cut. (Philadelphia Union)

PROVOCATIVE READS

A few years ago, Mike Penner became Christine Daniels. Now, friends of the LA Times sportswriter are mourning two people with only one physical death. (LA Times)

– Football, religion, Sabbath … OK, I didn’t get through all of this one. (Christianity Today)

– Random preview of the day: U.S. Chess Championship in May features new format. As long as Jen Shahade is doing commentary, it should be worth checking out. (USCF)

TODAY’S TV (times ET)

– 1 p.m./9 p.m.: Tennis, Sony Ericsson quarterfinals, check Fox Sports Net affiliates

– 2:30 p.m.: Soccer, Champions League, Arsenal-Barcelona, FSC (Inter Milan-CSKA Moscow follows on delay)

– 8 p.m.: MMA, UFC Fight Night, Spike. The main event is one of the most anticipated ever on a free-TV UFC card, with longtime UFC contender Kenny Florian taking on Takanori Gomi, a Japanese fighter who has dealt with a few personal demons since the dissolution of Japan’s once-dominant Pride promotion and has finally found his way to the USA. Also a good heavyweight matchup of big (Roy Nelson) and tall (Stefan Struve) fighters trying to climb the ladder. (Bloody Elbow)

– 9 p.m.: Soccer, USA-Mexico women, ESPN2

– 10 p.m.: MMA, The Ultimate Fighter season premiere, Spike.  Recap will follow tonight right here at SportsMyriad, where I’ll hopefully have a logo and some design tweaks in place this evening.