Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: Revs beat Beckham-less Galaxy, 1-0

Boy, it's an exciting time to be a soccer fan right about now, and it could not have come at a more perfect time.

For the past month, a soccer player has been the talk of SportsCenter, Entertainment Tonight, CNN Headlines News, and E! News, among others. Hours upon hours of coverage by both sports and non-sports media outlets have been devoted to a guy who was little more than a blip on the American radar a year ago.

Even though the drabble has had little to do with the player's on-field performances, and more to do with his very public marriage to a former Spice Girl, it is nonetheless brow-raising to hear the likes of Ryan Seacrest, Wolf Blitzer, and Katie Couric all talk about soccer within minutes of each other. Now, the amount of actual soccer knowledge these talking heads actually contain is undoubtedly questionable at best, but to hear them stiffly speak on soccer is often comical.

However, the timing of Becks arrival here could not have been more perfect. Though he signed with the Galaxy back in November, his contract with former club Real Madrid, wasn't set to expire until June 30, thus depriving the Gals of Mr. Posh for the first three months of the MLS season.

Even though the Gals currently hover near the Western Conference cellar, the arrival of Becks was extremely timely for American soccer as a whole. With only baseball and the yawnfest of the NFL preseason on the radar of the American sports public, the Beckham’s grand entrance met little resistance from other major pro sports in the States. Plus, with Americans vacations primarily taking place during the months of July and August, what better time than to catch a soccer game with the wife and kids?

Speaking of Becks, did you see him go toe-to-toe with the best the Revs had to offer? Neither did anyone else! While his newfound club battled the Eastern Conference kings on the non-Beckham endorsed FieldTurf, the English mega star sat the bench during a thrilling affair between ol’ MLS rivals.

The Revs attacked early and often just after the pre-game festivities, which included an screaming F-15 flyover Gillette Stadium. In other words, the Krafts went all out to make this an event, even if Becks bided his time on the pine.

The first signs of life came in the 8th minute when the Revs unleashed a pair of their own F-15s - Pat Noonan and Taylor Twellman - who flew in unison when Noonan crossed a tough pass that Twellman slid into as he was unable to muster enough power to push it past Galaxy keeper Joe Cannon.

Twellman found his nose for the ball once again in the 15th minute when he headed down a long pass and put the ball feet in front of him before he took two steps and rifled the ball wide of goal.

As the Revs pressed and peppered Cannon with shots from both the left and right, it appeared early that the first goal of the match had to be scored by the local lads.

In the 33rd minute, Khano Smith directed a beautiful pass from the left to Twellman before the striker headed the ball over the bar, as the Revs relentlessly attacked and continued to pressure the Gals backs.

With the final seconds ticking away in the first half, Andy Dorman got in on the act and cracked a wicked shot from the top of the box that seared past the post in the 45th minute.

Twellman & Co. kicked off the second half right where they left off in the first with constant pressure in the Galaxy end of the pitch. The home club strung together beautiful sequences of one-touch passing that kept the Gals heads on swivels. It was clear that the road squad’s back line was bending – but how long would it be before it broke?

The answer: in the 55th minute. The Revs were playing beautiful and technically sound football stringing yet another grand sequence of passes. It was Noonan who first retrieved a long ball deep in the LA end and fired it back to Smith at the top of the wing. Then it went Jeff Larentowicz, to Shalrie Joseph. Joseph then dumped a short pass to Twellman on a run inside the box to beat defender Ty Harden. Amazingly, in order to harness the tricky pass, Twellman had to backtrack a bit and beat Harden yet again before he then dusted Kevin Harmse in the box fire to close range shot past Cannon for the amazing goal, 1-0 Revs.

Refusing to sit on the one-goal lead, the Revs pressed further in the 75th minute when Twellman ran into the box and fired back to Noonan when the Gals converged. Noonan wound up and fired before Cannon was forced to make another all-out diving save.

With ten minutes remaining in regulation, the Gals finally awoke from their slumber and began to carefully mount a series of mini-attacks that surely induced some perspiration on the brows of the home fans.

Chances for the guests materialized with alarming regularity as they began to put on a passing clinic of their own, causing the Revs defenders to scurry about to keep pace. The 84th minute saw Landon Donovan, one of the few Gals players with caffeine in his bloodstream rather than Ambien, gatecrash and fire a close shot right at Matt Reis, who rose to the occasion to disarm the missile.

Reis’ heroics had not yet concluded until the 92+ minute when Gavin Glinto launched another threatening shot on goal before the bald brick wall made his final save on the evening and preserved the 1-0 shutout win for the home club.

Stat of the Match, Part 1: Matt Reis recorded his eighth shutout of the season, which means he’s now walked away with clean sheets in 40% of his matches.

Stat of the Match, Part 2: The Galaxy has not won consecutive matches since 2006.

Stat of the Match, Part 3: The Revs became the first team in the Eastern Conference to reach the double-digit win mark, as their record now stands at 10-4-6.

Stat of the Match, Part 4: Taylor Twellman has scored the game-winning goals in both matchups vs. the Gals this season.

Stat of the Match, Part 5: 35,402 spectators turned out to ultimately see Beckham ride the bench.

Coin toss shenanigans: The Revs invited newly-acquired Celtic Ray Allen for the coin toss ceremonies. Um, right sport, right team – wrong newly-acquired Celtic! No offense to the former UConn Husky, but it should have been the much-hyped Kevin Garnett out there on the pitch for the toss. SMS hopes that prior to the end of the season, the Revs take my suggestion that KG appear in some fashion at Gillette for a match.

The soccer gods chortled: A large banner reading “WE SING BETTER THAN YOUR WIFE” was clearly visible while watching the DCU-Gals match on Thursday Night.

Soccer related random thought: Did the suits at Gillette bite their caps and toss their Mach3s "Now With Twelve Vibrating Razors, Aloe Vera Lotion and Can Cure Cancer" after the game because their poster boy - Beckham - did not play at their Stadium?Non-soccer related random thought: SMS recently opened an e-mail account with Gmail in order to horde his vast collection of threatening e-mails from irate critics and enemies alike. And when SMS reads these e-mails, Gmail offers to rid the message by clicking a button that says "Delete Forever." I really want to delete this message for the rest of existence? Or do I want to resurrect it sometime in the future - say in three years, when I've second guessed myself to the brink of insanity of whether I wanted the deletion of an e-mail on my hands? Forever..? I dunno if I can commit to that...

U.S. Open Cup update: The mid-week Revs-Islanders U.S. Open Cup saw Gillette Stadium brimming with supporters, as the MLS Goliath handily slain the USL-2 David, 2-1 and advanced to the U.S. Open Cup semi-finals.

At the suggestion of SMS, the Revs actually white at home! Forget that the Islanders brought their navy blue kits - that's beside the point. The Revs wore white, and won! You see, SMS is always right on his prognostications and guarantees them - or the next one's free.

Prior to the match, SMS did something he had just the first opportunity to do all year - tailgate! Although the party was smaller than usual with due to the small crowd, it was impressive to see a handful of Harrisburg City supporters travel up with their team to Norfolk County, MA. They were drunk with merriment and good cheer and even proceeded to join a group of Midnight Riders for some brews and banter prior to the match.

Harrisburg City fans - SMS tips his cap to you for traveling up and supporting your team in the face of near-certain defeat. After all, we're no pushover - unlike that DC United side you guys knocked off a few weeks ago!

The victory will place them in New Britain, CT for what's being dubbed a "home" match against the Carolina RailHawks (USL-1) at Veterans Stadium. Kind of like the Betty Ford Center is a “home” for Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Mary-Kate Olsen!

Recall on a nickname: SMS has always felt that the "TnT" moniker for Taylor Twellman has been clumsy at best. Perhaps it's the association of that nickname with the basic cable channel that offers nothing but continuous broadcasts of crime drama television shows. Yes, Twellman is an "explosive" player, and yes, his initials are T & T. That may be cute with the adoring kiddies pre-teens, bit’s not nearly as cool as my suggestion: "T-squared".

Revs featured on “Planet Mikey”: If, by chance, you were reclining with the wife and kids last Tuesday night with the family radio tuned to WEEI, you caught Brad Feldman, Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan discussing the Revs on "Planet Mikey".

Among the items discussed was Noonan's supposed dominance over Twellman in the classic Nintendo game Tecmo Bowl, perhaps one of the greatest sports game to ever grace Japanese manufactured video game systems.

Another interesting comment was made by Feldman, who said the better comparison to the Revs lack of success in title games was to the Denver Broncos rather than the annually blown out Buffalo Bills of the early-90s. If this is true, then the Revs are still missing the X-factor necessary to put them over the hump.

It's been well-documented that the John Elway and the Broncos of the mid-to-late 80s did not taste the sweet spoils of championship victory because they lacked an integral piece – in their case, the power running back - to help balance the offense. It wasn’t until the arrival of All-Pro running back Terrell Davis in 1995 that the Broncos returned to playoff glory, and finally claimed playoff spoils three years later on their way to consecutive Super Bowl victories in 1998 & 1999. If you don't know where I'm going with this, then take two Tylenol PMs and stroll back to bed.

A side note: Twellman sourly stated that he had been called “Jim Kelly” in reference to the Revs comparison to the ill-fated Bills. Taylor, I can think of much worse comparisons!

Kelly was a consummate pro, and one of the best quarterbacks of the ‘80s and ‘90s. He passed for a career 35,467 yards and threw for 237 touchdowns, not to mention engineering one of the most potent offensive schemes in the NFL. The "no huddle" offense, which featured the Bills offense quickly marching up to the line of scrimmage after each down without huddling, often broke down a defense to the brink of exhaustion. For his efforts, he was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2002, where his golden bust will be displayed for generations.

Despite his team's shortcomings in championship affairs, Kelly will always be revered for not only his statistics and winning record as a starter, but also his professionalism and the sheer class exhibited in the face of the Bills continued Super Bowl failures. While a less-than-gracious athlete may have been bitter and spiteful at his critics, Kelly remained classy and even-keeled throughout.

Don't look now but.... Naomi Campbell is now doing Dunkin Donuts commercials. Have you seen the spot in which she hawks hard work and Dunkin’s Iced Tea? I guess the runways in Paris and Venice don't offer the same boku bucks they used to way back when, do they? By the way - a supermodel doing Dunkin’ Donuts commercials? Ah, the cruel demise that awaits all promising supermodels!

Speaking of Dunkin Donuts commercials…where’s the Revolution themed commercial? The Patriots, Red Sox and Bruins have all been featured on Dunkin’ ads, so where’s the Revolution spot? Why not have Taylor Twellman or Matt Reis do one? As an added bonus, it would cut down on Rachael Ray’s fantabulously horrible iced coffee commercials.

Revs marketing department: SMS’s agent is standing by awaiting your calls.

Local radio show focuses on MLS: 95.5 WBRU (Providence), an alternative rock (if such a concept still exists in 2007) radio station will feature a discussion regarding MLS' lack of marketing with respect to its younger stars tonight at 9:00pm. The forum will attempt to solve the question as to why MLS has seemingly shunned the marketing of its youth while putting a 10,000-watt spotlight on Beckham.

Ok, first things first: MLS is right to focus that hot and bright light on Becks...he's a global brand, period. It's called successful marketing, kids. Why would you not media blitz when you have the game's most recognizable player right in the palm of your hands?

Second, it's true, MLS could do better to promote its own homegrown stars. We've seen Freddy Adu (now feasting on balchao and popsicos in Portugal) and Jozy Altidore in national ads for Sierra Mist and adidas, respectively. But truly, the bulk of exceptional young American stars aren't even Stateside - they're overseas! Benny Feilhaber, Charlie Daniels, Clint Dempsey, and Michael Bradley are arguably the cream of the crop when it comes to the young and talented in American soccer but have backpacked their boots and ball across the Atlantic to hone their skills outside of MLS.

Another challenge facing MLS is marketing player whose long-term status in the league is uncertain. You could throw Eddie Johnson, Danny Szetela or Jonathan Bornstein, into an MLS ad campaign, but who's to say how much longer any of them will be here? Does it make sense to attract fans and sponsors with a player who may be gone by the time said fan or sponsor comes to MLS?

In other words, the difficulty lies not only within attracting fans with players who may be lacing up the boots thousands of miles away by the end of the season, but also with finding young players willing to play in MLS that are marketable. Szetela would be perfect, but his days in MLS appear to be numbered after a sensational U-20 World Cup showing has clubs like Roma (Serie A) and Everton (EPL) interested in the 20-year old midfielder.

Heads up decision of the week: Kudos to DC United's Ben Olsen for getting Becks to hand over his jersey Thursday night after the match.

Farewell to one of the originals: Cobi Jones made his final Foxboro appearance Sunday night, and with his 12-year MLS career - all with the Gals - SMS salutes one of the greatest players ever to play American soccer. It should be noted that when the League took its delayed blastoff in 1996, rather than 1995, Jones, like other American players, could have easily said "to heck with MLS" and played abroad, where packed stadiums and more financial incentive resided. Instead, he took the challenge of making top-flight pro soccer work here in the States.

It's only fitting that the MLS legend signs off with the League at a towering peak that many critics predicted would never be reached. From near empty football stadiums to soccer-specific stadiums to multiple owners and investors to designated player allocations, Cobi's played through it all - and all with the same club.

In other words, Cobi is one of the few players in the League who truly deserve the word "pioneer" attached to their name.The gods will surely weep when the final whistle of your last MLS game is blown. Fare thee well, Cobi Jones!

Monthly soccer reading recommendation: The book that SMS currently has trouble putting down before retiring for the night is “Kicks” Chicago Fire broadcaster Kenny Stern. The book is an entertaining, hysterical piece of fiction that is loosely based on the NASL, and focuses on the experiences of a low-totem pole rookie by the name of Rolly “Pinto” Ford of the fictional Oklahoma City Billies. Although SMS is only halfway through the book, he hopes that the first half of the book doesn’t fly by as fast as the second. Highly recommended reading for anyone looking for a light-hearted take on pro soccer.

US Women's National Team Feature: The team thrashed New Zealand 6-1 on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field in Chicago. Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd both netted a pair of goals en route to the owning of Kiwis. During the match – which SMS recorded – Chris, the Official Brother of SMS, remarked, “Is the other team that bad, or are we just that good?” Both! The team will play in its Send-Off Series finale on August 25 vs. Finland at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA.

Reader feedback: Shout out to reader Beau Vaughn for pointing out that the cancelled espn2 Revs-Rapids broadcast was not the Thursday following the Toronto-LA match (8/9), but the Thursday after (8/16). SMS deeply apologizes for the error, and will offer to recall the article containing the mistake and issue refunds accordingly, no questions asked.

Chris Atkinson from Cranston, RI e-mailed to say that tall winger Khano Smith should be monikered "Homestar Runner" after the way in which the long-legged internet hero runs about. Make it so! For those of you unfamiliar with the character, check out for reference.

Join us again after the Revs-Rapids Mountain Time affair for the lads’ first trip to the new super-nice Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “I’m talking about little place called Aspen, er, Commerce City.”

The match was supposed to be an espn2 MLS Thursday Night Prime Time special, but due to the network’s decision to broadcast the Toronto-Galaxy match last Sunday (in which Becks was to make his debut), it will instead be shown on Fox Sports Net New England. Luckily, this means that SMS will still be able to view the match in the comforts of his home and provide you with another severely-biased report of the match soon thereafter.

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