Monday, July 23, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: Revs and Creamsicles melt to a 3-3 tie

Everyone can relax: SMS has returned from his brief hiatus, one which involved watching the US Women’s National Team play Norway at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT.

The match itself was thrilling - with the sheer dominance of the WNT -they're 37-0-7 (put that in your pipe and smoke it!), a cakewalk was anticipated. But, Norway, showing utter and complete disregard for the expectations of SMS, battled and clawed, keeping the U.S. at bay until Carli Lloyd headed home the only goal needed in the 66th minute. SMS truly admires the WNT - how can you overlook a streak of pure domination by any club and not stop to applaud, especially an American one?

As an aside, for all the criticism that Gillette Stadium receives for not being an ideal venue for soccer, it could be far, far worse, Revolution fans: they could be playing at Rentschler Field, which is, by and large, a Foxboro Stadium clone, with even fewer amenities. The stadium is the antithesis of modern sports stadia - back-less benches comprise about 80% of the seating, unpainted and unpadded concrete walls give the surroundings that charming "under construction" look that so many modern complexes lack these days. Calling it drab would probably constitute as a compliment.

But, that's only the view! Wait 'til halftime rolls around, and you and the kiddies stroll up the narrow seat aisles en route to the concession stands. You've got 15 minutes and counting...good luck getting those sodas and hot dogs in under thirty! The lines at the stands were mind-numbingly slow moving, and SMS was not about to miss the first fifteen minutes (optimistic estimate) of the 2nd half waiting in line for a Jumbo pretzel and a $4.00 water. Say what you will about Gillette, but at least the amenities are up to date, and the lines won't keep you from attending your child's college graduation.

In other news, the Creamsicles marched into Norfolk County yesterday hoping to extend their MLS-record 694-minute goal-less streak (“shut-out streak”, to the layperson) against their MLS Cup foes from last season. All things must come to an end, and call SMS an optimist, if you will, but he predicted that the aforementioned streak would come to a halt before the 70th minute of the match.

The proceedings commenced with captains Steve Ralston and Wade Barrett being accompanied by Tweety and Bugs Bunny for the coin toss. Bunny, you may recall, is connected with American soccer as a former mascot for the infamous New York Cosmos of the old NASL.

After the Creamsicles kicked off for the first half, they intruded upon the Revolution end with a series of passes, but did not muster a legitimate chance on goal.

The first sign of what was to come occurred in the 6th minute, when Pat Noonan intercepted a Creamsicle pass deep in their own and end immediately fed the ball to line mate Taylor Twellman. The club’s leading scorer took a touch, and tried to push forward before keeper Pat Onstad smothered the opportunity.

Twellman struck again in the 15th minute when he positioned himself just inside the top of the box and fired a low missile toward Onstad before the keeper harnessed the ball to safety.

As the half reached the midway point, both teams traded fouls as each fought to establish an offensive tempo. Although the Revs created more chances in the Houston end, each attempt was quickly ended with a missed pass or saved shot.

Houston managed their first fine opportunity to strike it rich when Joseph Ngwenya charged the box before he lost footing and, in a last ditch effort, slid a gentle pass goalward that was nearly taken in by an oncoming Brian Ching. Fortunately for the Revs, Matt Reis swept up the ball before it fell into Houston’s hands.

Despite the constant back and forth between Houston and New England, the Revs finally put their foot down when they counterattacked in the 32nd minute. As the lads paraded down the pitch, Twellman passed a bouncing ball to Noonan. Realizing that Onstad was well off his line, Noonan gracefully lobbed a duck well over the keeper before it slowly fell into the back of the net for the first goal of the game. Thus, at 4:37pm ET on July 22, the Creamsicles allowed their first goal since June 10. SMS’s pre-match prediction came true!

As the final seconds of the half ticked away, the Creamsicle attack reorganized itself at the 44-minute mark when Ching took a pass and floated a nice ball to Barrett stationed deep in the Revolution end. Barrett turned, but misfired the shot, as the frame came to and end less than two minutes later.

As the second half commenced, the Revs took the Dynamo by the horns, and immediately established their offensive presence. In a rather jovial sight, the spectators in the Fort unleashed a storm of streamers into Onstad’s goal, causing a brief sequence in which the Revs passed the ball yards way as the keeper must have had to peer through the paper to find the ball. Fortunately for Onstad, no shots found their way to him as the streamers overtook the box, and perhaps, his line of sight.

Soon after the display, Houston counterattacked in the 49th minute, after Eddie Robinson fled toward the left flank and sent a short pass to Dwayne De Rosario. The Canadian launched a long-range missile that sailed just above a Superman-like Reis, as the ball entered the top far corner for the equalizer. 1-1, anyone’s match.

The Revs immediately responded in the 51st minute, when Noonan took the ball into the right corner of the box, and between two defenders, laced a sudden, short pass to Twellman squared right in the middle of the box. Twellman volleyed the ball right into the net, and gave the Revs a brief one-goal lead.

In a hair-pulling sequence at the hour mark, the Creamsicles scored the equalizer and go-ahead in the course of two minutes. The first came off an Ngwenya pass as he closed in on Reis, before sending a short pass to Ching, catching Reis helplessly out of position and easily putting the ball in the back of the net at the 60th minute. Seconds after the goal, Houston found itself pressuring again in the Revolution end, and earned a free kick after Revs defenders frantically tried to stop the surging Dynamo. Stuart Holden took the kick, and sent a menacing ball into the mixer before the ball grazed off of Ching’s melon, and into the Revolution net. 3-2, Creamsicles.

The Revs looked to equalize again minutes later during a controversial interlude that, in itself, had enough material to comprise an HBO mini-series.

To summarize, Ralston took a free kick just above the left corner of the box. The ball went off target, but referee Kevin Stott ordered a re-kick immediately thereafter. On the do-over, Ralston sent another pass that hit De Rosario, stationed in the wall inside the box, square in the arm. As if no transgression occurred, the Creamsicles attempted to jump-start the attack, but Stott ran toward the penalty area, awarding a penalty kick to the Revs.

The contentious sequence did not end there. After Shalrie Joseph fired a grounder to the right on the ensuing penalty, Stott again ordered a redo after the Creamsicles entered the box early. Joseph blasted home the second attempt on a sizzling rocket to left, giving the home club the equalizer. 3-3, who’ll score next?

The lads almost fired home the go-ahead in the 68th, when Twellman was brought down just before the box, earning the Revs an opportune free kick from twenty yards out. Deferring to take a shot rather than curl in a pass, Ralston fired a high laser just above the crossbar.

As the shadows began to overtake the pitch, the teams continued to trade possessions and paint, and it appeared that another goal from either side was imminent.

The fans chortled in the 83rd minute when Wells Thompson took a hard shot on goal that shaved the side of Andy Dorman’s face and clanked off the woodwork. Replays of the sequence showed Dorman ducking away from the hard liner, though the ball appeared to skim the midfielder’s mug.

One final chance for the Revs to attain the game-winner occurred with seconds left in stoppage time, when Riley hijacked a Houston counterattack, and traversed down the left flank before chipping a pass to Thompson. The rookie turned and sent a threatening cross into the box that was lightly headed skyward by Twellman, and upon descent, headed again by Cristman, before the ball came to a halt in the hands of Onstad. As the keeper launched the goal kick, the Stott blew the final whistle, and the teams drew 3-3.

Stat of the Match, part 1: Before scoring at the 51st minute, Taylor Twellman had not scored an MLS goal since May 26.

Stat of the Match, part 2: The Creamsicles went a total of 726 minutes without allowing a goal. They then proceeded to allow three goals in the course of 34 minutes.

Stat of the match part 3: The assist on Pat Noonan’s opening goal was Twellman’s first assist since September 30, 2006.

Stat of the Match, Part 4: Noonan and Twellman assisted on each other’s goals in the 32nd and 51st minutes.

Stat of the Match, Part 5: Brian Ching scored two goals in the span of 1:21.

These four-inch heeled shoes were not made for walking: On Monday, yours truly sat down just in time to catch the final 25 minutes of Victoria Beckham: Coming to America. Hey, watch where you throw that tomato! Anyway, the show's premise, if you haven't guessed it, is the arrival of the Beckhams to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave - which, if you happen to have say, $250 million to blow, includes attending open houses where the homes are priced above the GNP of a few third-world counties and being chased by the paparazzi. The show also features Posh comically "practicing" her throwing skills, in her trademark high heels and short skirt, with a little league team in preparation for first pitch ceremonies at an LA Dodgers game.

The premise of the show is interesting, but would be so much better if the same production team that handled MTV's reality hit Newlyweds, went to work on this show as well. Sure, it's a Simon Fuller Production, but at no point could I reasonably relate to Victoria, or her high-end, boku-bucks lifestyle. The same, however, could not be said for the highly entertaining Newlyweds series, which featured then-celebrity couple Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. The production team on that program painted a picture of a quirky, yet somewhat reasonably grounded celeb pair, and thus the show was enormously successful.

With the exception of Posh's evident concern for her children's safety upon viewing a house that featured a backyard patio sans surrounding walls hanging over a rather steep ravine, I couldn't relate to her escapades at all. And her incessant need to wear large sunglasses and high heeled shoes wherever she goes - even when she's learning to throw a baseball from the kids - lends the idea that Posh is quite aloof from the rest of us. Again, SMS thinks the show would be much more entertaining if MTV were in charge of the production, for if anyone can make the supermodel-like Posh seem "human", it's them. And for God's sakes Posh, drop the sunglasses and high heels act for one episode.

In a related note, did you catch a glimpse of Thursday night’s entertaining MLS All-Star match? SMS sure did! Between the Matt Reis’ admitted residence under a rock during the past few months, the exciting play on the pitch, and the teeny boppers flocking to the sight of Beckham himself, the entire spectacle was a treat. By far the most entertaining mid-summer classic yet.

By the way, did you see the gaggle of bodyguards and police officers surrounded Becks as he walked along the sidelines between halves? I never thought I’d ever see the day where an MLS player required that much security. I guess this really is the sport of the ‘80s!

Latest jersey bought: Ok, ok, SMS caved in and bought one of those spiffy new LA Galaxy Beckham jerseys at Gillette Stadium. But I definitely wasn’t the only one! There were many spectators in the stands and concourse also wearing the new colors of LA’s most prolific club.

York Revolution update: You may not be aware, but the Revolution is 7-3 at the top of the South Division standings. Of course, I speak on the York Revolution of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. But that means nothing - our Revolution's still better than yours!

In an exhaustive effort to find a tie between the two teams besides the nickname, the only one SMS could establish is that York pitcher Frank Castillo played for the Red Sox back in the early-2000s. While pitching in Boston, he may have read about our Revs on the back page of the Boston Globe Sports section.

Rhode Island Stingrays update: The Rays closed out their season on Saturday in Maple Leaf Land by dropping a 4-0 loss to Ottawa. The exhausted side had played their fourth match during the course of a week, and closed out the season with a lackluster 4-11-1 record.
Despite the standings, the season featured some great moments, as well as a spectacular season clocked in by Jeff Gonsalves. The Rays striker tallied ten goals in fourteen matches, and was easily the most electric player on the pitch for the Rays. Toronto FC's loss was Rhode Island's gain, and SMS sends selfish thanks to Toronto for letting him come back to RI for our enjoyment.

Sadly, with the finish line officially crossed for the Rays, this now means there is one less soccer club to watch when the Revs aren't playing. Fortunately, SMS will only have to wait 'til late August for college soccer to fill the gaps in between Revolution matches.

Revs Reserves Update: The Revs reserves beat the Dynamo reserves 1-0 soon after the first team match. The match took place on the Gillette Stadium pitch rather than the practice field behind the stadium, and a handful of fans from the first match stayed to watch the youngins. Long-time guest player Anders Kelto scored the lone goal in the 86th minute, giving the remaining fans something to cheer about as they disbursed into the emptied lots surrounding the stadium.

Soccer-related random thought: With the "Europeanization" of MLS becoming more apparent every season, with five nickname-less clubs (Toronto, Chivas, Dallas, DC, Real Salt Lake), and an obvious branding name (NYRB), would anyone be opposed to re-naming the Revs "New England 1776"?

Of course, that would entail that the club be nicknamed "the Sixers". Egh...on second thought, keep it the Revolution.

(Note to self: when fall comes around and I begin my inaugural indoor soccer coaching duties, name the club New England 1776).

US Women’s National Team feature: One of the last remaining players from the thrill of 1999 is none other than the brick wall who stopped a critical penalty kick vs. China en route to the ’99 World Cup victory. Though ceding the starting duties to Hope Solo, Briana Scurry is still a big-game performer, and despite the limited playing time as of late, the veteran gives manager Greg Ryan a proven and unshakable performer in net for this Fall’s World Cup. Of course, SMS has a soft spot for the tastefully-named keeper, as he and Scurry both hold degrees in political science.

Join us again after the Real Salt Lake match when SMS will once again deliver his trademark nonsensical drabble for your enjoyment/aggravation. A great aspect of this match will be the fact that it’ll start at 9:30pm, which, should the stars align correctly, allow for a timely submission the following morning. What’s that you say? You’ll believe it when you see it? Ha! He’ll show you…

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