Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: Revs outlast Rapids on a late goal, 1-0

This is a grand time of the year. Though the calendar indicates summer's concluded, the days are still somewhat warm, and the leaves begin to turn astonishing pigments of orange, yellow, and red. Yes, fall has greeted us at the front door, and soon, we will be carving pumpkins, raking leaves, and retiring the lawnmowers ‘til spring.

But before then, SMS wanted to elaborate on a term that he has recently coined. Now, before said term is shared, SMS wants to give due credit to one of his college professors for the inspiration behind this phrase. For it was four years ago, during one of SMS's favorite courses - Courts and Public Policy - that his professor, Dr. Schmeling, noticed that with the cool air blowing through the open class windows, "Halloween weather" was upon us.

So with that, Sunday Morning Striker declares that said weather is also "Revolution weather." Why? For a few reasons.

One, as a sports fan in general, this is the time of year where the Red Sox start tanking it (thankfully, they held on and clinched the AL East on Friday night), the Patriots, though off to a tremendous start, are still in the toddler stages of the NFL season, and with the Bruins...wait...does anyone still care about the Bruins? Exactly. The Revs are playing critical games as the season winds down - games which they typically win, if you look at the recent history of their September stats - which is very un-Red Sox like. Though there is some sadness that the regular season is almost reaching its finale, it's quelled by the excitement of another playoff run. The tickets are already punched; it's just a matter of where they finish, and who they play. Simple.

Second, there's a little something extra on the line this season. You may have heard about this little trophy called the U.S. Open Cup – the oldest of its kind in the U.S. - which the Revs will be playing FC Dallas for this Wednesday. It's the club's shot at its first piece of braggable hardware. How lucky are Revolution fans right now for their beloved club to be in contention for three trophies? In addition to the U.S. Open Cup, the Supporter's Shield (top MLS club) and the MLS Cup are all within grasp.

Third, as a history buff, the fall reminds SMS of tales of the Battle of Yorktown, perhaps the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War. The battle began on September 28, 1781 and concluded on October 17th. After this battle - a battle in which a team of American and French forces defeated an embarrassed General Cornwallis - the war, which by now had reached year six, and the British were losing their resolve. This battle served notice that the colonists were in this for the long haul, while the British were simply losing interest. Think of it like any previous Revolution-Toronto FC match up, and the fourth goal was scored. After the first three, you knew Toronto wanted nothing to do with the affair. They just wanted to pack up and go home. Same thing here with the British. (And both wore red…not a coincidence!)

In general, it's worth nothing that the ragtag continental armies despised fighting during the cold winters; so much of the strategy and planning of battles usually took place before the cold set in (which made Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day 1776 that much more brilliant – the Hessians and British wanted nothing more to do that day than to feast while a wicked snowstorm had just blown through Trenton, NJ). Thus, fall was great opportunity to stage battles, as the air was often dry, and the weather seasonable enough to endure weeks upon weeks of battle, if necessary.

Speaking of “Revolution weather”, the Revolution and Rapids kicked off Saturday night under –what else- cool and breezy early-autumn conditions! The last time these clubs met was back on August 16th, in what essentially proved to be a glorified game of keep away, as Revs chased and chased en route to a disastrous 3-0 result in Commerce City.

Soon after the Gillette Stadium audio system blasted the ubiquitous “Welcome to the Jungle”, the Rapids kicked off at 7:38pm ET. A surprising subplot took shape when the Revolution marched onto the pitch without their sniper, Taylor Twellman, who was nursing a strained groin. To make up for the loss, the Steve Nicol surprisingly employed the 3-4-3, with Steve Ralston inserted as a forward.

Early on, it was the Rapids that threatened, as the Revs struggled to form an attack of some sorts. Nearly ten minutes after Gun n’ Roses blared, a brief assault was organized in the 9th minute. Adam Cristman pickpocketed a lazy Rapids pass deep in their own end, took a touch, and fired a shot from the right channel that forced Bouna Coundoul to make the save.

Just seconds later, the theatrics sparked up when Tony Sanneh dramatically fell like he’d been shot in the hindquarters after he ran into a stout Jay Heaps. Sanneh remained on the pitch for some time, drawing as much attention to his condition as possible. Amazingly, referee Ricardo Salazar took the bait and Heaps was awarded a yellow for his non-efforts. As Sanneh hobbled off the field, Medhi Ballouchy entered for his Oscar-worthy teammate.

Halfway through the first frame, the Rapids had the Revs on their heels, occupying the land in front of the lighthouse for a better part of the first twenty five minutes.

Then, a quick counterattack was commandeered by Captain Ralston in the 26th minute, but after sidestepping a defender and racing into the D, his shot was stopped cold by Coundoul.

Although Colorado controlled possession for much of the first half, the Revs attack sprung to life briefly in the waning minutes when Shalrie Joseph, Khano Smith, and Ralston all orchestrated invasions of Rapids territory. But it was all for naught, as the local lads failed to penetrate the goal line before the frame concluded.

Entering the second half, Nicol’s troops came out poised to spoil their guests’ stay in Norfolk County, and what better way to say “get the heck outta here with your foolish flopping” than a quick goal? However, the Rapids rejected the proposition and continued their first half ownership of the adidas Teamgeist ball.

However, in the 55th minute, the Revolution mounted a mild attack in which Ralston kicked it back to Dorman and fired a deflected shot on a vulnerable Coundoul. Fortunately for the keeper, he was in perfect position, as the ball magnetically found his mitts as he literally sat in the 6-yard box.

At the hour mark, the Revolution attack began to show its teeth, as it found more and more opportunities near the lighthouse in the second half. Though the home side threatened with a pair of corners, Coundoul kept the ball away from the net.

On offense, Rapids threatened on a dangerous free kick in the 71st minute after Cummings powerfully headed the ball goalward, until Larentowicz deftly blasted the ball out of the vicinity

With the scoreboard on snooze at 0-0, the Rapids continued to fall like gray dominoes, hoping to draw the attention of Salazar. Apparently, they had forgotten that 1.) The object of the game is to put the ball in the back of the net, and 2). By the way, you’re still three points short of a playoff berth.

To their credit, the Revs ooohhhed the crowd in the 77th minute after a couple of quick attacks, but failed to deposit the pill through the Colorado goalmouth. Pat Noonan harnessed a high ball and booted it to Cristman on the doorstep. Unfortunately, the rookie crashed before he was able to put an appendage on it.

In the 83rd minute, a spirited Matt Reis repeatedly pushed forward his large mitts as he implored his teammates to salvage a late goal with the clock winding down.

And as the autumn breeze began to pick up in the 88th minute, the Revs answered the call to arms. Joseph, stationed mere yards after the halfway line, fed a ball forward to a streaking Smith on the left wing. The Bermudan cut inside, split two defenders, and boomed a shot into the net for the late-match tally at 9:22pm ET under the waning gibbous moon that glowed above the Stadium. It was the only goal needed, and after four minutes of stoppage, the Revs walked off the pitch proud with another home victory.

THREE PENNY ANALYSIS: Well, it had all the makings of a lackluster performance early on, but the Revolution truly found a way to win. The first half was all Colorado, and despite the Revs outshooting them (2-1) and having the advantage ok corners (4-1), the possession was clearly in favor of the guests. The Revs best chances in the first sixty minutes came from close-range free kicks, where Twellman’s absence was especially felt when Ralston’s lobs failed to meet a teammate’s noggin.

With the free kicks only giving brief promise, the Revs would simply have to keep attacking – and did just that in the final 15 minutes. Whether it was weariness from chasing the turbo-charged Ralston or from flopping so often, the Rapids were exhausted, and Kenny Smith made them pay dearly with his next-to-next-to-last-minute heroics. The defense held its part of the bargain in the second half, and the Revs put it altogether for the win.

And not to be overshadowed is the fact that they ride this momentum into Frisco on Wednesday for the US Open Cup final against FC Dallas.

Random soccer-related thought, Part 1: The Rapids, in their grayish-blue road kits, sported a look that can best be described as throwback Philadelphia Phillies road jerseys.

Random soccer-related thought, Part 2: And say what you will about Fernando Clavijo, but the man knows how to dress. By the way, how was he not listed in GQ’s “50 Most Stylish Men” issue? But fear not, for the soccer gods, though mysterious, smile upon these sorts of matters.

O ye trifle not with the soccer gods: Medhi Ballouchy was issued a yellow card in the 67th minute, after his predecessor, Tony Sanneh, convinced referee Salazar to award one to Jay Heaps on a highly-suspect foul in the 10th minute.

Back, and better than ever…well, at least they’re back! A couple of Revolution haikus for you to chew on…

Twellman out tonight
Ralston steps in to replace
3-4-3 indeed

Match stuck at zero
For a long eighty eight minutes
Then Kenny seals it.

A silver Revolution jersey? Last week, the Patriots, donned the incredibly useless silver alternate jerseys against the Bills. By useless, I mean they are essentially the white jerseys without being washed. Seriously. They look like the unwashed version of the white jerseys. SMS is not the only one who thinks this.

Anywho, this reminded SMS that the Revs also wore silver jerseys at one time. Though he does not have any photographic evidence to corroborate this claim, he does distinctly remember his intent to purchase one at the local Sports Authority back in 2000 after seeing them on TV. Unfortunately, being the poor college student that he was, SMS was ten dollars short of the $45 retail price, and thus the shiny shirt was never purchased. Seven years later, SMS simply wishes he had mowed a few more lawns and picked it up a few days later. Sigh…

Who oversees grammar at Recently, SMS received an e-mail from promoting their charitable efforts in fighting malaria, a deadly, mosquito-transmitted disease that affects many children on the African continent. While the cause is certainly worthwhile –SMS himself sent in a donation - the e-mail was oddly-titled “Enter the MLS WORKS for Nothing But Nets Sweeps.” Huh? What’s MLS doing? Or what is it not doing? Aiyeeeeeeeeee!

US Women’s National Team Update: The WNT faced off against Brazil on Thursday, and for a little added drama, manager Greg Ryan boldly benched Hope Solo in favor of Briana Scurry. Owing to Scurry’s overall record and previous play against the formidable Brazilians, Ryan played the percentages and went with the ’99 World Cup hero rather than Solo and her 290-minute shutout streak. SMS said it in his Running Diary and he’ll say it again: Dance with the one that brung ya! Predictably, the experiment failed, the US went down early 0-2, Shannon Boxx got tossed, and the Brazilians never looked back, as they thrashed the Americans 4-0. Thus, the best team in the world will not be playing for the World Cup, and poor SMS will have to settle for watching the third-place game on Sunday.

Greg Ryan is a great coach – his record proves that – but his decision to bench Solo was a dumb, dumb mistake. The early goals (one of which was an own goal by Leslie Osborne) seemed to deflate the US, as they failed to establish any prolonged attack before Boxx was sent off. After that, it pretty much became elementary: the US was not coming back, and Brazil did well to ensure that. Kudos to them, and though the US will always be my team, SMS will be rooting for Brazil in the finals.

SMS Alma Mater Update:
The Anchorwomen clashed against Springfield College on Tuesday night, but were blanked 3-0 by the Pride. Then, on a date that SMS had circled on his calendar, RIC played #23 Western Connecticut State University on Homecoming Weekend. SMS proudly sported his RIC hoodie and hat, and though the Anchorwomen were shutout 3-0 by Colonials, the home team played their hearts out in the face of much stiffer competition.

That being said, while the Anchorwomen sport a “they can do better” record of 3-5-1, their schedule is laced with nationally-ranked opponents. SMS personally admires the lack of cupcakes in the schedule, and feels that the sharp competition will only improve the play of the Anchorwomen over the next few years.

Sunday Morning Striker will be reporting back after the Chicago match where he will discuss the US Open Cup Finals, the farce that became the MLS national TV schedule, and the amazing parallels between the Red Sox and Revolution.

Got a question, concern or deeply-held grievance? E-mail the Sunday Morning Striker at

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