Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: Revs spanked by DC, and the return of the Khano Smith Heckler

So there I was, sipping a caffeinated beverage while taking in Revs match versus DC, when a vaguely familiar voice bellowed.

“…oh no, don’t give it to him! Don’t give it to him! He’s gonna screw up!”

The sentiment and voice were remarkably familiar from a previous Columbus-Revs match back in June. So I listened carefully again to see if this was the voice I heard before.

“Oh God NO!!! Don’t give it to him! Give it to DC before you pass it to him…oh no…”

As the player heckled took the ball down the left flank, it was confirmed…

“Smith!!! Smith!!! You are THE worst player in MLS! You are HORRIBLE!”

The Khano Smith Heckler was back!

Yes, it surely isn’t 100% fair to Kenny, who undoubtedly works hard in training, and has shown flashes of a potentially dangerous left-sided mid. But then again, the criticism isn’t insanely misguided, as the tall Bermudan has occasionally raised some question mark balloons above players and fans alike.

Now to my point: vocal criticism, however biting or flattering, is a good thing. So, while I feel for a player like Khano getting verbally lambasted, it nevertheless is a clear indicator that fans honestly care about this time. And it sure as heck beats the silent, Wall Street Journal-reading spectators (yes, SMS actually sat behind a fan catching up on financial news as Pat Noonan tapped in the first goal of the night last Thursday vs. Kansas City). Sadly, the distracted spectator is not an isolated incident: SMS has observed many observers simply reading a soft cover novel or polishing their crossword skills while a match was being played!

Sometimes it pains me to hear harsh, exaggerated criticism of a player, because there is no way that Khano Smith is the worst player in MLS. SMS can think of at least ten more players much less proficient on the ball than the Bermudan. But, at least the sentiment shows that people care, and are willing to make it known that they disapprove of a player. They care…we all should care. This is our team. Better to be criticized and talked about than wallow in the silence of indifference.

Disclosure: Now, SMS personally does not go out of his way to criticize a player at length, but rather, often offers encouragement to a navy blue performer with the ball (“C’mon, Kenny!”).

In other news, what a beautiful day for an ugly match! The soccer gods must have been pleased with the way the Revs had been playing this year, since, amazingly, no home match this season has been rained upon. But, despite the warm and sunny conditions, the Revs wilted, as DC United took the reigns early and often.

With the sun beating down on the dark, navy (i.e. heat absorbing) seats, SMS’s back was cooking like swine on a skillet. SMS also sweat profusely through his light green t-shirt, certainly giving an unflattering appearance to the lovely lady Revs fans.

The Revs kicked off to start the match, and soon after, the proceedings took an early sign of promise when Khano Smith unleashed the first shot of them matchless than two minutes after the opening whistle. Sure, it started out promising…then again, so did SMS’ writing career!

Another promising opportunity occurred in the 14th minute as Steve Ralston stepped up on the right and found an open Andy Dorman. The attacking mid, with an open view of the goal, took a couple steps and fired a shot that died almost immediately after a DC defender but a leg on it and blocked it away.

Ralston tried to jump-start the offense again in the 17th after a mini-attack that resulted in a free kick from about 35 yards out. Ralston sailed a kite toward goal but went high above the bar.
Neither team looked particularly astute on the ball, as the Revs and United traded the ball with alarming regularity. After all, weren’t the Revs in first place, and DC toiling nine points behind New England in fifth place?

Apparently, DC failed to get the memo on the standings, when an unfortunate series of events took place on the green frying pan posing as a pitch before the home crowd.

In minute 22, United midfielder Clyde Simms put the ball on net that Matt Reis smothered for the save. Then, Josh Gros tip-toed toward a horizontal Reis clearly holding the ball and kicked the ball right out of the keeper’s grasp and into the back of the net. Despite the obvious flagrant foul by Gros, referee Alex Prus upheld the sinister goal, giving the road club the early lead. (Interestingly, the mini-highlight reel of the match on MLSnet.com does not show the controversial goal).

Nicol’s boys tried to respond in the 29th minute on a Ralston special to Noonan, who missed wide of the goal on an impressive header near the goalmouth.

DC counterattacked soon after said missed header, Guy-Roland Kpene snuck infiltrated the Revs defense and delivered a perfect ball to teammate Luciano Emilio before the Brazilian struck true for the second goal of the match. While DC’s first goal was clearly sour, this one was truly sweet.

The best chance of the first half came in the 39th minute when Taylor Twellman made a brief cameo in the Revolution attack when he headed a brilliant Ralston corner kick that the striker headed on a sure fire strike. Unluckily, DC’s Ben Olsen was perfectly positioned right on the goal line and cleverly headed the ball away from the goalmouth, as the Revs shook their heads in disbelief.

Just before time expired in the first half, Ralston delivered a signature corner kick from the left and the ball menacingly bounced between United and Revolution players alike. Jeff Larentowicz finally took a hold and pushed the ball forward mere yards in front of goal before the ball lightly kissed the woodwork.

In an interesting move, Nicol sat Dorman and inserted Adam Cristman in his spot, putting three forwards on the pitch in an attempt to rejuvenate his maligned club.

The move proved to be in vain, as DC instead began to play more fluidly and the Revs sputtered on the attack, often times peppering keeper Troy Perkins with token lollipops that fell softly to his arms for easy saves.

When the Revs actually made brief cameos in the United end, the sequence often died a slow death. A fine example occurred in the 55th minute as Smith took the ball near to the op of the box, evaded a defender, and back-heeled a gorgeous short pass to Shalrie Joseph racing down the left flank. Unfortunately, the Grenadian tried to cut on a dime and launched a ball from a tough angle that did nothing but invoke Perkins to look up and watch the ball fly well above him.

To make matters worse, the Emilio struck again when he spearheaded a quick United counterattack of a free kick near center circle. As he barreled down the heart of the Revs defense, he beat defender Avery John and went mano-a-mano with Reis and buried the ball past the bald keeper, giving the roadside a 3-0 lead at the 76th minute. At this point, stationed behind the DC goal, SMS penned “game ovah” in his notebook at 5:41pm ET.

Though the Revs tried to press to spoil the clean sheet, they had no answer, as their District of Columbia counterparts played inspired and sound football.

One final chance to attain a goal before the rest of the crowd headed out took place at the 89th minute. Cristman took a long pass and delved into the center of the box before flicking a low-caliber shot that skipped wide of the woodwork.

Minutes later, the match was thankfully euthanized at 5:58pm ET, as the Revs dropped an unattractive loss to their Eastern Conference rivals, with the scoreboard flashing a disturbing 3-0 score.

Stat of the Match, Part 1: The loss on the home FieldTurf marked the first loss on the fake stuff all season. Previously, the Revs were 5-0-2 on the home carpet.

Stat of the Match, Part 2: Tom Soehn is 1-1-1 vs. New England in his managerial career.

Stat of the Match, Part 3: The Revs dropped their first game to DC in over a year, with the last loss coming on June 3, 2006 (1-0, at RFK Stadium)

Stat of the Match, Part 4: The shutout loss was the first versus an Eastern Conference club since opening day at Chicago back on April 7.

Stat of the Match, Part 5: Jeff Larentowicz turned 24 on Sunday, and was given a yellow birthday card by Prus in the 65th minute.

Sour Play of the Match: See first goal of the game, courtesy of Joshua Gros. Rest assured, the soccer gods are preparing their lightning bolts with Gros’ name on them as I type this.

Smart Play of the Match: In the 28th minute, Khano Smith found himself on an island on the left with no one open near the box. Instead of a trademark wild cross, Smith adeptly whipped the ball right at his defender as the deflection scurried past the goal line, leading to a corner kick.

Speaking of Smith - not too harp on the guy too much- but SMS will now be running a semi-regular item on Smith’s sometimes-comical escapades. This week, said escapade occurred rather early – the 8th minute, in fact – when the Bermudan released a mallard of a cross from the left high above any teammate under twenty feet tall.

Random soccer-related thought: While SMS sat in section 103 among some phantom fans, he noticed a group of five foreigners with Revolution caps. How I arrived at this conclusion cannot be explained, but the Revs would be wise to initiate a highly visible marketing campaign at the Wrentham Outlets mere miles north of the Stadium.

Why the outlets? Ask anyone who shops there on a regular basis (including SMS). There is a vast amount of foreign-speaking customers who regularly stroll between the fine outlet stores in search of great deals on brand name clothing. And of course, we all know how much soccer is a global game, with Americans perhaps being the last first-world nation to get the memo.
So would it hurt to put some Revolution signage in the outdoor walkways and indoor rest room hallways?

Revs marketing department: my agent is presently standing by awaiting your calls.

What about a home field advantage? With the 4:00pm kick off time under hot conditions, SMS already felt a bit of apprehension when he saw the road club decked out in white, and the Revs dressed in navy.

Now, I know that the all-navy kits are the Revs home strips, but isn’t there something that can be done to allow the Revs to come out dressed in their whites unis? Did anyone think for a second that in addition to the boiling FieldTurf, the all-navies actually absorb even more heat?

The NFL has a rule that in summary states that the home club has the choice of uniform, whether it be darks or whites. However, the home club must notify the road club 48 hours in advance of what uniforms the home club will be wearing. So, although home clubs traditionally wear their dark jerseys at home, and white jerseys on the road (the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins are the notable exceptions to this trend), the home club always determines who wears what come game day.

That being said, if such a rule is in place - or if there is wiggle room within MLS rules that states that the home club can choose the strips - then why did the Revs choose to wear the navy blues? For that matter, why do the Revs continually wear all-navy under the hot, mid-summer afternoon sun when they would be much better served by wearing the white jerseys?

Tradition is one thing; an added home field advantage is another. Of course, this is somewhat of a moot point now that the remainder of the club’s home tilts all take place during the evening, with no more afternoon games on the regular season schedule. Next year, let’s get the players in white unis for the afternoon games!

Beckham Watch: You may or may not have heard, but David Beckham continues to nurse an ankle injury that has delayed his official MLS match debut through this past weekend. The timetable for his recovery, according to Becks, is 7-10 days, which puts his MLS on-field arrival in Foxboro into question.

Despite the uncertainty, the scene itself will be exciting to bear witness to, whether the Spice Boy graces the pitch or the bench. The entire “inner bowl” of the Gillette Stadium will be packed, as the match has been sold-out. With a potential of 30,000 spectators on-hand to catch a gander of the former Galactico, it will be a scene that should not be forgotten anytime soon.
On a personal note, the LA-Revs match will be the first one for Chris, the Official Brother of SMS. After many failed attempts to get him to Gillette for the Revs last year, the cost of the Beckham Four-Pack is well worth getting my younger sibling to watch this great sport first hand.

And so what if it takes a household name like Beckham’s to get the generally non-interested crowd to MLS venues – it’s ok. Whether or not Beckham’s on the pitch, the fact of the matter is that soccer games will be watched by those who have yet to experience the beautiful game. That in itself is just awesome!

To those of you new to our sport, and are taking in a game because you’ve read the tabloids and watched countless hours of Beckham-related items on Entertainment Tonight and E! News, let me be one first to formally welcome you to this wonderful sport.

Oh, and don’t forget: we have some other great players in this league not named Beckham, y’know!

MLS Magazine review: Since SMS is in the business of beating dead equine further – and business is good with Beckham around – I decided to pick up the latest issue of Major League Soccer Magazine at the ProShop in between the halves.

First and foremost, though the cover price was $4.99, the ProShop was hawking them at an inflated $10.00 price. Hey, where else can you get a “collector’s edition” of the mag for twice the cover price? Boy, was I had like a senior citizen at the slots!

The publication itself is fantastic. The layout of pics, quotes, articles and contests (win a Beckham England jersey) was far better than some of the posers on the newsstands that are nothing more than a collection of oversized photos and annoying multi-font blurbs about stuff no one cares about. (*Cough* ESPN The Magazine *Cough*)

A treat appeared at the back of the mag in the form a fresh Jimmy Conrad piece. Editors, do us all a favor, and bring any future Conrad articles closer to the front pages, please. Pay him exorbitant fees to get him to write regularly as well. Sincerely, SMS.

SMS Providence Soccer League update: In order to satiate my never-ending hunger for live soccer, I drove through Providence’s East Side en route to Gano Street Park to catch an amateur game soon after the Revs-DC match.

So I didn’t know what the names of the teams were since much of the banter around me was in espanol, but I can tell you with much certainty that the guys in the black-and-white striped kits beat the guys in the white kits, 2-0 during the 7:00pm match.

Despite the language barrier and general unfamiliarity with the league and teams, I highly recommend attending a match there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon (they also play on Saturdays as well). Like many ethnic soccer leagues, you’re not just treated to one game, but multiple games that encompass an entire afternoon. Plus, it’s free soccer!

US Women’s National Team Feature: Her face may not be as recognizable as Kristine Lilly’s or Briana Scurry’s, but one of the latest additions to Greg Ryan’s World Cup contingent is none other than Santa Clara University grad Marian Dalmy. Those of you at the US-Mexico tilt at Gillette back in April may remember her: she made her WNT debut during the 5-0 win against an overmatched Mexican side. An interesting note to Dalmy’s appointment to the World Cup roster: with only two caps on the media sheet, she is the least-capped player on the roster.

The regular SMS piece will not appear after the Harrisburg-Revs U.S. Open Cup match, but will return following the LA match next Sunday. Never fear though, SMS will return soon and will have plenty to say about the elephants and caged tigers on Route 1 for the arrival of the Beckham circus next weekend. So kids, bring your cameras, and ladies, be sure to practice your kiss-blowing techniques – for SMS will return the flashbulbs and alluring gestures with a wink and a smile!

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