Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: Commentary on an undermanned club...oh, and the Revs beat the Wiz, 1-0!

A few hours before Sunday night’s Revs-Wizards match, SMS quietly meandered through the World Wide Web in search of – what else- knowledge. What kind of knowledge, you ask? Any kind, as long as it’s free.

Unfortunately, though the bit of knowledge SMS had just stumbled across was free, it was troubling to say the least. Frank Dell’Apa of the Boston Globe reported that the Revs would be without the services of Steve Ralston for the second game in a row, following his recuperation from flu-like symptoms. To make matters worse, Pat Noonan would also be out of action as well with a groin strain, thus leaving the Revs deprived of not only two critical players, but also a deviation from their favored formation – the 3-5-2 - as opposed to the more conservative 4-4-2.

Now particular injuries cannot be predicted – however, they are as much a part of sports as post-game groupies, so they (injuries, not groupies) must be planned for. Injuries are never well timed – whether it be at the beginning, middle, or tail end of a season - yet they almost always seem to strike at the worst possible moments. That’s why it’s essential for a club to carry capable reinforcements.

Rookies Wells Thompson and Adam Cristman took the spots left behind by Ralston and Noonan, respectively. However, beyond these two players, what’s left on the Revolution bench should injury or tactical shift become necessary?

There’s a horde of unproven rookies, with the exception of veteran Marshall Leonard, who has been curiously banished to the role of unused substitution thus far.

But there’s a more glaring problem when the Revs head into any particular match shorthanded. A cursory count of the current roster will lead you to conclude that the Revs are two players short a full roster.

The troubling aspect of this development is that it’s not a recent development. Since the Revs placed Joey Franchino on the season-ending injury list and waived Danny Hernandez back in May, the club has marched on without a full roster. Sure, it’s cute when your starters are healthy and the club sits in first place. But when two critical pieces of the starting eleven fall to injury and/or sickness, the issue of pressing on without a full compliment of players is completely unacceptable.

What kind of outrage would there be in Boston if Theo Epstein kept the Red Sox two players below the 25-man limit? Or if Bill Belichick carried 51 players instead of the 53-man max? Fans would be furious! The sports talk-show circuit would feast on such developments. Yet, the Revs have quietly gone about their business with two empty slots, hoping that the soccer gods would seemingly smile on them with an injury-free season.

How foolish.

Due to the ambiguity in terms of the gentleman who carries the responsibility of filling the roster – much is speculated whether it’s Nicol himself or a cast of front office characters that decide the list - I can only conclude that whoever has the final say should be taken to task.

To carry on while a club’s roster is artificially shrunken for the better part of three months is preposterous, and becomes even more absurd when two starters are unavailable. Troubling as it is, what would happen if another starter went down with a more serious injury – an ailment that required the remainder of the season to heal, for example? What is the contingency plan if Taylor Twellman has to miss a lengthy series of matches due to injury? Who’s going to fill in if Michael Parkhurst is forced to the sidelines for a prolonged amount of time?

Nicol has repeatedly hinted at negotiations with a player of interest since May. Well, it’s now mid-August, and the negotiations are either dead or nonexistent. If a deal was going to be made, it would have been John Hancocked weeks ago. Instead, many are left wondering whether another player will actually be signed before the September 15th MLS roster freeze.

Besides the obvious, a shorthanded team is forced to play conservative football to compensate for the losses. This variety of football is ugly, unaggressive fare, which a first place club like the Revs should have no business in dabbling in whatsoever.

The Revs need to sign two capable players now. At very least, the first priority should be to bring in a veteran playmaker – i.e. a Jose Cancela-type player, both seasoned and creative that, should the Revs be put in the predicament their in right now, the drop-off in play won’t be as dramatic. They have money - the Clint Dempsey transfer fee ensures this. Even aside from that, the club is reportedly well under the $2.1 million MLS salary cap.

There should be no excuse why the roster isn’t completely filled. It shouldn’t take two key injuries to raise the issue, but unfortunately, the awareness of the two-open spots has just become a glaring black hole that could doom the first place club. The organization should have anticipated losses during this critical six-game, seventeen-day stretch. Shame on the powers that be for allowing this situation to carry on as long as it has.

Now, with the soapbox kicked back under the bed, it was time to watch the Revs take on the Wizards. Fortunately for the fans of Kansas City, their club actually carries a full roster. Unfortunately, the pitch at Arrowhead Stadium was gridironed due to Friday’s Dolphins-Chiefs game.

The Revs wasted no time on attack as Taylor Twellman crashed the box and skipped the ball wide of net in the first minute after Wiz keeper Kevin Hartman deflected the ball away. Immediately, the Revs put the Wiz on notice that this was not the same club that curled up in a ball and assumed the fetal position vs. Colorado three days before.

Minutes later, the Revs amped up the attack again when Shalrie Joseph took an Avery John pass and raced into the middle of the home end before shooting a cannonball right on Hartman.

In the ninth minute, the skies began to open up and the rains poured down on the slick pitch, which played into the hands of the road club, who often play a quick-paced attack anyway on the fast surface at Gillette Stadium.

During the 16th minute, Andy Dorman sent a free kick right into the mixer right toward a hard charging Adam Cristman. The rookie striker sent a hard header, but the ball went wide of net.

By the 20-minute mark, the Revs had done well to create the offensive chances absent in the Colorado game, and did well to hold back a potent KC attack. In fact, the only chances early for the Wizards were effectively non-chances, as the club was offside on both occasions.

Proving that the Wizards actually had an offense to speak of, Eddie Johnson streaked down the left flank and attempted to cross the ball into the box, but Michael Parkhurst adeptly rejected the pass out of harm’s way in the 29th minute, and thus the mini-attack fizzled.

Off a corner kick n the 32nd minute, Dorman delivered a nice ball into the box that Jeff Larentowicz curiously out jumped, forcing him to chest the ball wide of the far post.

The Revs continued to play well and controlled the match for the most part by creating chances and playing stout defense on the few occasions that Kansas City managed to hold the ball for more than a few seconds.

Shalrie Joseph sent a well-timed pass forward to an onrushing Larentowicz in the 41st minute until Hartman narrowly beat the Kaiser to the ball as the chance dissipated.

The injury bug struck in the 43rd minute as Jay Heaps fell to the pitch with an apparent leg ailment. Attempting to simply finish off the half, the dependable defender tried to press forward. Mercifully, less than ten seconds of stoppage time transpired, and Heaps was just able to finish the half.

James Riley came in for Heaps in the second frame, and in the 46th minute, and immediately made his mark when he took down Johnson near midfield on a disputed foul call that went against the Revs. Much to the chagrin of Revs color guy Greg Lalas, the affable broadcast partner of Brad Feldman simply stated “That’s a good tackle. If you don’t like that, go back to U-10s.”

The Wizards attacked early twice before the 50th minute, but each one was followed up with the sobering offside call by the linesman.

The Revs reorganized a quick attack in the 53rd minute that saw John send a bending ball from midfield into the box that Larentowicz made a dive at before being pushed to the ground by KC defender. No call was made against the perpetrator, as the Revs headed back on defense.

After a brief spurt of offense from the home side, the Revs reacquired the ball and in the 55th minute Dorman sent in a nice corner kick that was headed tantalizingly over the bar by a leaping Larentowicz stationed close to the near post.

Kansas City then re-appeared in a brief attacking cameo until Jose Burciaga flopped in front of the referee, eliciting a dangerous free kick from the right wing that was heroically punched away by Matt Reis in the 58th minute.

By the hour mark, the play on the slick surface began to sway physically, as Davy Arnaud elbowed Shalrie Joseph near midfield. The tough Grenadian got back to his feet soon afterward, and not surprisingly, no card was awarded.

The pain ensured in 64th minute, Kerry Zavagnin was fouled at the doorstep of the box and KC was awarded a dangerous free kick from 18 yards out. Carlos Marinelli launched a rocket right on Twellman, who writhed in pain after the ball hit him in a less-than-desirable location.

The KC attack began to pick up additional steam in the 68th minute when Marinell sent in a dangerous cross to Eloy Colombano, who headed the ball just outside the far post amid a group of disorganized Revolution backs.

The offensive tide appeared to turn in favor of the home club by the 72nd minute until Joseph delivered a beautiful ball to Khano Smith who paced down the left with a clear shot on goal. With Twellman streaking toward the box, Smith sent a perfect ground ball to the onrushing striker, who slid home the ball into the net for the goal at 9:32pm ET.

The pressure to preserve the lead and ultimately three points on the road would fall on the backs (no pun intended) of the Revolution defenders. However, Smith had no such allusions of playing straight defense in the 79th minute when he fired a rocket yards in front of Hartman that hissed wide of the woodwork.

The Revs put on a defensive clinic in the waning minutes of regulation and although extra time was prolonged due to a scary on-air collision near the top of the box between Jimmy Conrad and Joseph, the Wizards failed to muster a single shot, as the Revs pocked a crucial three points, 1-0.

Stat of the Match, Part 1:
Including the US Open Cup tilt on August 8, the Revs posted a 4-2-0 during their grueling six-games-in-seventeen-days stretch.

Stat of the Match, Part 2:
The Revs recorded three corner kicks in the first ten minutes of play. In their previous match vs. Colorado, they recorded all of one corner kick during the entire match.

Stat of the Match, Part 3: The Wizards didn’t record their first corner kick until the 74th minute.

Stat of the Match, Part 4: Since their last encounter on August 2, the Revs have played five games, while the Wizards had played zero.

Stat of the Match, Part 5: Despite the lack of offensive prowess, the Wizards were caught offside twice as many times (8) than the Revolution (4).

Hidden sign of the match: The last time Matt Reis wore the all-green keeper ensemble the Revs tied the Houston Dynamo 3-3 at Foxboro on July 22. SMS has no idea what this correlation means, save for the fact that Reis likes to wear green on occasion.

It must have been produced by the same guys who did the Emerald Nuts commercials: Prior to the match, Cox3, the local carrier of TV38 Revolution broadcasts, showed a nutty Revolution-Wizards broadcast spot that went along the lines of “Viva la Revolution” featuring a Spanish-accented narrator with Italian-sounding background music. Additionally, there is a graphic of soccer-player’s profile, with a seemingly vintage, communist-themed background. Huh??? What are you trying to brainwash me to do???

The Delorean is parked outside: Did you see where 66,237 showed up – and not disguised as empty seats, either – for the Red Bull-Galaxy match at Giants Stadium Saturday night?


Of course, this shouldn’t be surprising considering these types of crowds are exactly what MLS anticipated when they drafted the designated player allocation rule last year. It’s one thing to anticipate or imagine – but to see it before your very eyes? It’s a special time we, as American soccer fans, live in, one which hasn’t been seen in nearly thirty years.

Furthermore, the match – an entertaining 5-4 home victory for the Energy Drinks – was surely exciting for the newcomers, with the defense somewhere else other than the artificial pitch. On top of that, Beckham not only played the a full ninety, but also was on top of his game, chalking up two assists under the same bright lights that Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer all played under in the late-70s.

According to multiple reports, the massive crowd on hand was abuzz with excitement, and espnsoccernet’s Steve Davis went so far as to say that the match was “an instant classic.” SMS wishes he could have attended the affair to witness the spectacle first-hand and experience not only the a slice of the overwhelming fervor, but to also see what it was like back in the heyday of the NASL.

Of course, the large crowd at the Meadowlands also begs the question as to whether Beckham would have served the league better by playing in New York (ok, it’s New Jersey) rather than Los Angeles. Would 66,000+ fans show up for every Red Bull match? We’ll never know. Of course, with Red Bull’s spiffy soccer spec stadium due to be completed next season, the League won't see such turnouts in NY unless the club rents out Giants Stadium for each future Beckham appearance.

If MLS is wise, next season's Red Bull-Galaxy match will be scheduled prior to the opening of Red Bull Park (25,000 seating) while the club still plays in the 82,000 seat Giants Stadium. Should this be the case, SMS will be sure to circle the date of the match and purchase tickets in order to witness the soccer extravaganza.

US Women’s National Team Feature: Angie Woznuk, or "Wozzy" as she likes to be called, is a 22-year old midfielder from sunny San Diego who played or the appropriately named "Surf" soccer team for five years. She recorded her first cap back in 2005 on July 24 vs. Iceland, and although she hasn't recorded a cap since then, she hopes to see a few more minutes during 2007.In 2006 she recorded 13 assists and scored two goals for the Pilots, while playing alongside WNT defender Stephanie Lopez. Her favorite women's soccer player is Julie Foudy, and she aspires to be an X-ray technician, and looks forward to becoming a mom one day - to which SMS awards bonus “wholesome points” for the heartwarming proclamation.

Fewf! The recently-compact Revolution match schedule has finally concluded, not only giving the players a welcome break, but SMS as well. Personally, I haven’t written this much since in such a compact amount of time since my Current Political Thought class back in the ol' college days – and I don’t even get college credits for all this!

In any event, SMS will definitely be doing some R & R as he gears up for both the Red Bull-Revs match and the National Soccer Hall of Fame inductions the following day. Due to this, the post-match submission may be a little light, with the focus squarely on the match and devoid of incessant ranting. Then again, your unwasted brain cells will probably thank me for it!

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