Monday, May 28, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: EJ burns Revs, 4-3

Hope you’ve had an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend so far! SMS was busy attending a whopping total of five soccer matches during the extended break from the office. Luckily, all of the matches were exciting, which left SMS temporarily distracted from the reality that this season of American Idol is now over and that he just forked over $42 to fill up at the pump.

What a game that was last week - a splendid rematch of the 2006 MLS Cup final! Unfortunately, SMS was precluded from viewing the 1-0 cold dish served to the Creamsicles, as Cox Communications does not carry Fox Soccer Channel in Rhode Island. Nevertheless, SMS was quite entertained by actual live soccer taking the place 1.25 miles west from casa de la SMS over at Pierce Field, the home of the Rhode Island Stingrays of the Premier Development League.

The match, a stunning display of pure domination to the tune of 4-0 over the Vermont Voltage, featured two former MLSers who made news this past winter. Miguel Fortes, a.k.a. Rui Fortes of preseason LA Galaxy tryout fame, and Jeffrey Gonsalves, drafted by Toronto FC in SuperDraft, both had their hands in Stingray goals on the cool and damp Saturday night. SMS highly recommends taking the kids and wife over to Pierce Field this summer to catch the ‘Rays, for an entertaining (and frugal!) night of soccer.

SMS was also quite entertained with the Ireland-Bolivia under card match prior to the Revs-Wizards main event on Saturday. While some may surmise that SMS was strongly pro-Ireland due to SMS’s pro-Irish moniker, he was very enthusiastic about watching the South American soccer that Paul Gardner regularly touts as truly entertaining and free spirited futbol.

Of course, one of the most sobering aspects of international matches is the heightened threat level that accompanies them whenever two countries’ sides hit the pitch. Sobering indeed when you are greeted by bomb-sniffing dogs and military personnel at what’s supposed to be a diversion from the troubles of real life.

Anyway, the match itself ranked high on SMS’s entertainment scale, which is no small feat nowadays. With Real World Denver now over, and only two more episodes of The Shield before the current season ends, SMS will sure be experiencing withdrawal pains in between live soccer matches of the Revolution and Stingray variety.

Back to soccer: the Irish scored the opening goal in the 13th minute, when Shane Long crashed the Bolivian goal, giving the “home” team the early 1-0 lead. However, the Bolivians quickly licked their wounds and fired a goal of their own less than two minutes later when Miguel Hoyos found himself on an island in front of the Irish goal, and launched a no-doubter past a helpless Nicky Colgan for the equalizer in the 14th.

In the second half, SMS wandered away from the sterile confines of the Gillette Stadium press box and assimilated himself into the crowd to catch the rest of the match (and work on his tan in the process.) The crowd was remarkably spirited and enthusiastic, with some colorful incidents (four fans in Section 117 getting unceremoniously taken away in handcuffs after causing some spectator raucous) and comments (“You know why Ireland can’t get another goal? It’s because they’re not used to the sun”).

The last 45 minutes transpired like that of an M. Night Shyamalan flick – a dramatic, almost eerie episode of soccer that made you feel like something was bound to be lurking just around the corner. Both squads constantly threatened each other with potential go-ahead scores early in the second half, but none ever found the back of the net. Although the match ended in an apparent “oh honey, it’s another one of those boring soccer ties” on paper, the game was perhaps the most thrilling 1-1 tie SMS has ever witnessed in his brief soccer journalism career.

After that appealing first match, the Revs-Wizard main card bout kicked off on absolute gem of an evening that featured hazy skies and unseasonably warm temps, enough to crack open the window in the press box. SMS had concerns that the newly-sodded (yes, as in the natural stuff) Gillette Satdium pitch could pose a problem after Ireland-Bolivia concluding less than 45 minutes prior. How would the turf hold up? SMS was anxious; for the gods had smiled upon the club for so long that the fear of potential injury to a Revolution player was certainly running amok on the mind.

As SMS peered onto the now-completely shaded field, the bright boots of Taylor Twellman shone through the shadows. Given this development, SMS was confident in a victory for the local XI.

Curiously, there was no national anthem prior to this match, but SMS supposes this was covered prior to the international match. At 6:37pm ET, Kansas City kicked off to begin the match, and the ball resided in the Revolution in the opening minutes, as the Revs failed to march down the KC end with any effectiveness

That all changed at 6:48pm ET, when Andy Dorman raced down the middle and passed to a crashing Steve Ralston, whose shot was initially rejected by Wizards keeper Kevin Hartmann, before Ralston cleaned up the rebound, reloaded, and fired past a helpless Hartmann, for the early 1-0 lead at the 11th minute mark.

In the 18th, Dorman laced a shot from the right wing, before it was hauled in by Hartmann, thus neutralizing the potential Revolution march. Soon after, in the 19th, an attacking Eddie Johnson cradled the ball, and right before he managed a shot, Jeff Larentowicz pulled on EJ’s jersey, leading to a dangerous free kick. The kick was humorously blocked Jay Heaps, who broke away from the Revolution wall in the direction of the point blank rocket, earning hearty praise from the home crowd.

While KC managed to re-establish itself in Revolution territory, the Revs back line did well to stifle any Wizardry on its real estate.

With SMS’s cell phone reading 7:11pm ET, Taylor Twellman raced down the heart of the Kansas City end in wide open space before he sidestepped defender Aaron Hohlbein and smoked a shot that deflected off his victim and past a startled Hartmann in the 23rd minute. 2-0 Revs.

Undeterred - inspired if anything - by the whole Revolution goal-scoring spectacle, the Wizards countered right back when Davy Arnaud dusted off Shalrie Joseph down the middle for the first goal for the Wizards in the 25th minute at 7:14pm ET. 2-1 Revs.

Not content to rest on its laurels for too long, the Wizards scored the equalizer in the 26th minute, when EJ took a lobbed feed from Jack Jewsbury and put the ball past Matt Reis.

Three goals in three minutes, and SMS feverishly typed away, trying to keep up with the action. At 2-2, it appeared to be anybody’s match to the casual bystander. However, it became clear to even the blindest of men that the momentum had clearly been harnessed by the road club. The helium in the Revolution blimp riding high after Twellman’s goal was effectively forced out by the sharp darts of Wizard goals.

This is when good teams – teams at the top of the Eastern Conference standings – have their mettle tested. How would the Revs respond to such a crushing sequence?

In the 33rd minute, Ralston took a corner that found the noggin of Pat Noonan, but sailed well away from the KC goal. Despite this chance, the Revs looked clearly deflated, and struggled to mount the same pressure that had led to their previous scores.

In the 38th, EJ flashed the speed and ball skills that had SL Benfica (Portuguese Liga) drooling all over him to the tune of a five million dollar transfer bid two years ago. As the sun was setting in the distance, he took a ball on the left corner of the box, before racing parallel to the net and firing a groundhog past Reis for the go-ahead goal for the Wizards. 3-2, Wizards, and SMS to scribbled “amazing” into his notebook after watching EJ’s brilliant goal.

At the 43rd minute mark, the Revs reorganized their attack, intent on attaining the equalizer. Khano Smith sent in a beautiful cross from the left wing to Twellman, who nodded it just right of the goal for a late-half bid to even the score before the closing bell of the first frame. The Revs continued to muster their attack in stoppage time before it ultimately fizzled out, leaving the first place club staring straight at a one-goal deficit as time expired on the first half.

Perhaps the most accurate assessment of the match thus far was when SMS overheard a comment that the game was “a vanilla match punctuated by a gaggle of goals.”

What did the second half promise for a clearly dejected home club? As SMS pondered the question, he took to the cookies spread and munched on some oatmeal cookies – hopefully, not failure cookies. Readers, SMS ate free cookies and drank fountain soda to bring you this highly-detailed account of the match!

As the second half kicked off, SMS was ready to see what kind of fire Nicol sparked under his club’s collective rear during the halftime interval.

In the 55th minute, the Revs were awarded a free kick after Jay Heaps as fouled as he attempted to crash the net. The kick, taken by Smith, from just outside the right side of the box, was launched an absolute mallard out of the reach of any Revs player under twenty feet tall.

The Revs threatened again in the 59th, when Joseph battled Jewsbury just before the box, before the Wizard defender pulled down the Grenadian. The Revs were subsequently granted a free kick from just above the box. Ralston cracked the free kick, which clanked right off the right corner of the goal, as the Wizards surely must have sighed in relief.

In the 64th, Adam Cristman, who had also just come into match, was fouled, giving another free kick in an opportune part of the field. Ralston launched a gorgeous ball to an airborne Twellman, who headed the ball just above the crossbar.

In the 69th minute, at 8:03pm ET, Joseph penetrated the box and kicked a shot that was deflected off the KC defender’s hand, leading to a penalty kick. Joseph took the kick himself, and duly sent in the equalizer, giving the Revs a well-deserved goal after constant pressure in the KC end. The gods typically reward these efforts, and must have smiled on the efforts of the navy and red.

However, the Wizards did not buckle. Amazingly, the goal must have inspired the KC offense, and they began to pressure the Revs end of the field.

Said pressure came to a climax in the 82nd minute when, in a bid for his third goal of the game, EJ streaked down the heart of the field past James Riley and Matt Reis and put the ball in the corner of the Revolution net. 4-3, Wizards, and the speedy striker notched his first hat trick of his MLS career.

Yet, the Revs did not go down quietly. In the 84th, Twellman attacked with a surface-to-air missile targeted for the upper right shelf before it was intercepted by the left paw of Kevin Hartman, snuffing out the Revs their best chance to equalize in the expiring minutes of the match. The Revs aggressively converged upon the Wizards like a gaggle of paparazzi at a Lindsay Lohan party, hoping the gods would smile upon them as they had for the majority of the season.

With three minutes of stoppage time, the Revs had their work cut out for them in order to acquire the elusive equalizer. One last chance on a free kick from the right wing, but the ball sailed out of harm’s way, and the Revs dropped their first match in 48 days, 4-3 to the club from KC.

Stat of the Match Part 1: According to the post-match Ireland-Boliva press release, exactly 00,000 attended the 1-1 international thriller. Coincidentally, the exact same number of people also voted that the tie-breaker be resolved by a live cock fight at center-circle.

Stat of the Match Part 2: Two Missouri natives lead the Revs in goals scored against Kansas City: Both Pat Noonan (St. Louis) Taylor Twellman (St. Louis) have each scored four goals career against the Wizards.

Stat of the Match Part 3: The Revs haven’t beaten the Wizards at home this millennium. Their last win over KC was back on September 7, 1999.

Stat of the Match Part 4: Saturday night’s game marked the first time Matt Reis gave up four goals since last year’s 4-0 loss at FC Dallas on May 20th.

Stat of the Match Part 5: Three goals were scored in a four minute span during the first half (Twellman 23’, Arnaud 25’, Johnson 26’). SMS hasn’t seen scoring like that since Matt Dillon’s Oscar-worthy performance in Wild Things.

Hidden Indicator of the Match: Two Revs players from Missouri scored goals against their home state’s MLS club. This is the kind of hidden indicator that is essential to an insider’s understanding of the game. Fortunately, we all know what this means: Ralston and Twellman are two of the club’s best players.

“MLS Hates the Revs” Conspiracy Update: In recent years, the rhetoric regarding the Revs tough luck when it comes to national TV coverage, scheduling (see: first half of 2006 season), unscrupulous officiating toward a certain Grenadian, and other unfortunate events have led some fans to decry that “MLS Hates the Revs.” Given all this, it’s theoretically possible that, if MLS had accepted SL Benfica’s $5 million transfer bid for EJ back in 2005, the Revs would have won handily, 3-1, Saturday night. Wow! I guess MLS really does hate the Revs!

Revs Reserves Update: SMS is happy to report that recent Revolution rookie addition Kyle Helton has speed to burn, and said stealth was on display before a handful of spectators on Sunday morning. During one fantastic sequence in the first half, Helton pick pocketed a Wizard defender and flicked the switch on the afterburners down the right flank, before sending a perfect ball to Chris Loftus, who diverted the ball into the back of the net. By far, one of the sweetest sequences SMS has seen in Reserve Division competition.

Stingrays Update: Through the miracle of seven consecutive green lights and a DOHC V-Tech engine, SMS was able to catch the final 15 minutes of the Stingrays-Admirals PDL tilt, thus giving SMS the uncanny distinction of attending three matches in the span of less than five hours.

Inflated ego aside, the remainder of the match had the Rays on full-bore attack, as the Admirals just barely escaped with a win at Pierce Field. Reportedly, Peter Squeglia scored the sinister goal for Albany in the 11th, leading the Rays to their third loss of the season.

US Women’s National Team Feature: The heir apparent to legendary WNT keeper Briana Scurry, Hope Solo has performed remarkably well during the past two seasons, including a ridiculous 1,054 minute goal-less streak set back in 2006. Additionally, she had a particularly impressive Four Nations tourney back in January, in which she was named Best Goalkeeper after allowing only one goal. Nevertheless, trying to fill the shoes of Scurry is a monumental task - a task that Solo has proven she can undertake.

Join us again after the Revs-Real Salt Lake match, as the home club hopes to rebound from Saturday night’s home loss – and what better team to do it against! Real has yet to win this season, which means SMS predicts a convincing home victory come the night of June 2nd. SMS guarantees the accuracy of all predictions - or the next one’s free!

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