Monday, June 18, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: Those Darn Highlighters!

You may be wondering: Sunday Morning Striker appearing on a Sunday evening? Well, in these parts, we celebrate a little holiday called Father’s Day, and SMS was very busy between locating a suitable present for the Official Father of SMS this very morning and early afternoon.

Anyway there was not one, not two, or even three, but four matches this weekend to which SMS found his figurative hands full with. Alas, SMS maintains that the only thing better than soccer is more soccer, and thus this weekend will go down as one of the best in the annals of SMS history.

While SMS thoroughly enjoyed watching the US MNT in their quest for the Gold Cup championship, SMS’s primary blood chamber belongs solely to the hometown Revolution. US MNT is like the hot chick that stops into town every so often, parties all hours and makes out with you and your friends after playing seven rounds of beer pong. And while she is no doubt the dame that your friends and colleagues whistle at while she walks down the street, the Revolution is the apple of your eye, your main squeeze, and remains loyal to you, despite her friends objections when you’re out with US MNT during the ungodly hours of the night.

In an attempt to pick apart the weak and pocket three points, the Revs kicked off their second consecutive match versus an MLS bottom feeder. Last match, it was Real Salt Lake, Western Conference cellar dwellers, which ended in a rather disappointing 0-0 draw that featured more scoring chances snuffed out than a Jason Biggs movie marathon. This weekend, it was Columbus, with their whopping one win and eight points sitting at the basement of the Eastern Conference table.

The Revs kicked off the first half controlling the ball early, while SMS took in the first half in a rarely-opened east end zone seating section. As the Revs attacked the opposite end, SMS sat among the people, complete with broken peanut shells, popped thunder sticks, and half-empty popcorn buckets scattered among the ground. But enough with atmosphere – there was an exciting match taking place!

Super rookie Wells Thompson took the right flank spot of US MNT dabbler Steve Ralston, and flashed impressive Ralston-like vision early on when he continually infiltrated the C-bus box, testing Crew keeper Will Hesmer with some tricky moves.

Unfortunately, for all the flair exhibited in the Columbus end of the pitch, the Highlighters (see below for the reference) smashed through the Revs back line when Robbie Rogers slalomed through a flat-footed defense and broke in on Matt Reis mano-a-mano before depositing the ball in the back of the net in the 9th minute, giving the cellar dwellers the early lead. Eastern Conference basement 1, Revs 0.

The Revs struck back minutes later when Adam Cristman sped down the right flank before cutting the angle toward goal and blasted a shot past Hesmer to equalize in the 13th minute. Revs 1, EC basement 1.

Both clubs backlines upheld a certain zombie-like appearance, with numerous balls escaping both defensive units with alarming regularity. The absence of center back Michael Parkhurst (serving US MNT duty) was apparent, as the home side took on the appearance of a Lindsay Lohan Saturday night – unbalanced, incoherent, and at times, all over the place.

The Revs offense bailed out their defensive cohorts in the 17th minute, when Pat Noonan traipsed into the C-bus box and teed off on a left-footed shot that escaped the clutches of Hesmer for the one goal lead before the 20-minute mark. Revs 2, Eastern Conference Basement 1.

For the next handful of minutes, both teams traded offensive chances like stocks of Google, and to counter the offensive energy, the fans in section 132 attempted to implore their squad to score by attempting to start “the Wave.” The home side took notice, as Adam Cristman struck again in the 32nd minute off of a beautiful ball delivered to him by Pat Noonan, giving the home side the dangerous two-goal lead as the sun began to set behind the Gillette Stadium upper deck. Revs 3, Eastern Conference Basement 1.

Looking to secure the two-goal lead prior to the curtains drawing on the first act, the Revs tried to hunker down on the defense. The highlighters failed to get the memo by the time stoppage time commenced, when Guillermo Barros Schelloto took a pass at the top of the Revolution box and sent the ball past Reis for the goal number two for the bottom feeders, closing the gap for the Crew to a one-goal deficit. Revs 3, EC basement 2.

The Crew kicked off the second half looking to carry the momentum created by the last-minute goal in the first frame. However, the Revolution deflated the Crew attack in the 52nd minute when Noonan back-heeled a gorgeous ball to his partner in crime Cristman before the former Cavalier rocketed a shot that was deflected away by diving Hesmer, keeping the Revs attack at bay.

Midway through the second half, Reis became tested by a series of shots that found their way through the sleepwalking navy blue backline. The bald brick wall was temporarily able to keep the equalizer off the score sheet as play began to get chippy between the Eastern conference rivals.

Despite Reis’ admirable patrol of net, the fact of the matter is that he is only one man. That became glaringly apparent when the visitors dissected the Revolution back line in the 85th minute as the ball hazardously exchanged C-bus feet before Alejandro Moreno authored the equalizer onto post-match scoring sheet. Revs 3, Eastern Conference Basement 3.

The fourth official added three minutes of stoppage to the match, but it was not nearly enough time for either side to manage the go-ahead goal, as the match ended in a three goal tie, and more importantly, robbing the home squad of two crucial points for the second match in a row.

Stat of the Match Part 1: After jump starting to a 5-1-2 start, the Revs have now gone 0-1-2 in their last three matches. Coincidentally, the Revs have not claimed victory on the temporary grass surface installed for international matches back in late-May.

Stat of the Match Part 2: Saturday’s match marked the first time that SMS saw Shalrie Joseph hard tackle an opponent without drawing a card. Ivan Gazdis must have been watching reruns of The OC while it took place.

Stat of the Match Part 3: Cristman became the second Revs player to have a multi-goal match this season, with Taylor Twellman already having recorded two multi-goal games this year.

Stat of the Match Part 4: For the second time this year, the Revs and Crew tied on a late C-bus goal with less than five minutes remaining.

Stat of the Match Part 5: For the first time this year, Steve Nicol kept his entire substitution corps on the bench, as every member of the Revs’ starting XI remained intact to form the finishing XI.

Random thought of the Match: You cannot help but utter Shalrie Joseph’s first name without a bit of a British twinge.

Nickname for the Crew: SMS has decided that the C-bus boys will now be referred to as “the Highlighters”, due to their bright yellow kits.

The AND1 “OH BAY-BEE!” Play of the Match: Anyone familiar with the AND1 Mixtape Tour knows that when Hot Sauce or The Professor do it real good on the hardwood, the announcer exclaims “OH BAY-BEE!” That being said (or rather shouted with much glee), the former Sweet Play of the Match has turned into the “OH BAY-BEE!” Play of the Match. With our first installment of the newly-christened honor, Andy Dorman took the ball in the 38th minute and absolutely faked out two Crew defenders to the pitch before (you guessed it) he passed into the box. Although the sequence didn’t lead to a score, SMS was sure that he saw some youngins’ wave their XXXL tees in the air at the display.

Neon boots crossover item: Although not match-related, the US MNT front line of Taylor Twellman and Clint Dempsey both sported neon boots; Twellman’s were of the neon yellow variety, while Deuce’s were construction sign orange.

No passion for soccer in the US? SMS traveled down to the concourse during the break between the Canada-Guatemala match, and was absolutely amazed at the level of excitement the match brought. SMS counted two large groups of Guatemalan fans jumping up and down in a circle, banging drums and chanting “OLE OLE OLE OLE” amid a bevy of fans walking through the concourse. At first glance, one would think that such a flamboyant celebration would cause a troubling raucous. It was the exact opposite: people walked by smiling, amused at the rowdy, yet good-natured display of enthusiasm exhibited by the Guatemalans. No passion for soccer in the US? Yeah, right.

For an excellent observation contrasting the Central American crowd vs. the Revolution crowd, check out Jim Dow’s recent article, “Some Observations Made In The Midst of A Summer Solstice Feast of Football” for an excellent view on the striking differences between two very different types of fans.

Obligatory competitive eating item: With summer basically here, the annual Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest less than a month away, SMS was surprised to learn that Takeru "the Tsunami" Kobayashi’s world record of 53 and 3/4 hot dogs was recently shattered three weekends ago by Joey Chestnut, who consumed 59 and 1/2 hot dogs during the Southwest Regional Qualifier for this year's national championship.

Kobayashi, currently ranked number one in International Federation of Competitive Eating, has claim victory at said contest every year since his debut in 2001. Could this be the year that Chestnut dethrones the Japanese champion? SMS will track the proceedings. So why does SMS write about competitive eating on a soccer site? Because he can.

Revs Reserves Update: SMS took in the Revs-Crew reserve match Sunday morning, and he continues to be impressed by this year’s young understudies, as the youngins claimed a 2-1 victory over their C-bus counterparts. Miguel Hernandez and Amaechi Igwe both scored, while Kyle Helton, Arsene Oka and Bryan Byrne all performed particularly well. Revs fans, be aware that if this year’s performance of the reserve team (4-2-0, 12pts.) is any indication of what’s in store for the next two to three seasons, the future looks bright.

Rhode Island Stingrays Update: The Rays fell to Albany on Friday night 2-1, as former Toronto FC SuperDraftee Jeff Gonsalves scored the lone goal for RI, while keeper Josh Ford stopped four shots. Mario Pereira’s boys face a formidable task on Saturday night, when they face perennial PDL powerhouse, the Cape Cod Crusaders, at Pierce Field.

US Women’s National Team Feature: She may look sweet and innocent in her press photo, but when she’s on the pitch, you’re gonna need some serious skills and lots of luck if you hope to pocket three points – the squad hasn’t lost with her on the field since 2003. In addition to being a club stalwart, the former Tar Heel graduated with a 3.65 GPA- which means she’s probably a lot smarter than you. Unfortunately, O’Reilly is a Yankee fan, but can be somewhat forgiven since her favorite movie is “The Shawshank Redemption” – a personal favorite of SMS – which was based on a book authored by noted Red Sox fan Stephen King.

Finally, on this Father’s Day, SMS would like to wish a Happy Father’s Day to his dear old dad. Interestingly, SMS was born on Father’s Day back in 1981, and would like to thank his dad for putting up with years of incessant sports talk, picky eating habits, and never-ending debates on politics and current events. Of course, it should be noted that SMS acquired the writing gene from Dad; so in all non-sarcastic seriousness, thank you for everything Dad!

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