Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: A trophy on Wednesday, but a loss to follow on Saturday

The Dewar Trophy has finally returned to New England!

For the first time since Ponta Delgada F.C. of Fall River, MA, won the US Open Cup tournament 3-2 against Chicago Sparta A & BA in the 1947 Cup finals, the prestigious chrome and silver booty has returned to the region with the New England Revolution's 3-2 win over FC Dallas during Wednesday night's US Open Cup final in Frisco, Texas. Additionally, it is the first championship trophy acquired by the MLS club in its 12-year history.

Soon after the 8:30pm kick off, it was apparent that the Revs were onto something they rarely did in prior championship matches: they came out with an aggressive, all-out attack rather than the defensive turtle they typically displayed when the stakes were at their highest.In fact, any indication that the match would slide into the realm of a defensive bore were duly suspended when Pat Noonan magically harnessed a loose ball in the 6-yard box and tapped it in for the first goal of the match in the 21st minute. It was the earliest goal scored in Revolution championship (US Open Cup and MLS Cup) match history.

The Revs continued to push the pedal to the metal, playing the aggressor rather than the pacifist, the bull rather than the matador.

Though this approach caused a few defensive hiccups in which Carlos Ruiz and Arturo Alvarez boldly escaped the backs, the Revolution refused to abandon the attack, and did so with the fervor of a team hellbent on grabbing the silver hardware.

However, that fervor was temporarily quelled in less than ten minutes later when Arturo Alvarez guided a heat seeker from the left corner of the box that pounded the far post and deflected in.

Instead of deflation, the Revs kept the breathing down the collective necks of the FC Dallas defenders, and after a Steve Ralston corner kick, the ball deflected off a defender and right toward Twellman, who banged it in outside of the far post for the go-ahead goal in the 41st minute.In the 58th minute Taylor Twellman journeyed down the left flank, and crossed to Noonan near in the box. But with two defenders buzzing close by, Noonan deferred the ball with a quick, back-heeled pass to Wells Thompson, who deftly took the short pass and launched a left-footed thumper past Dario Sala for the New England’s second goal.

After Alex Yi came out in the 64th minute after had a close encounter with Khano Smith, his replacement - Abe Thompson - immediately put his mark on the match by trapping a short pass outside of the box from Clarence Goodson and chipped it in to close the gap to one.

And after a breathtaking half hour which included close calls near each net, and four minutes of stoppage time, the referee Alex Prus finally blew the whistle as the Revolution secured their first championship spoils in club history. With a small contingent of Revolution fans in attendance, the players brought the spoils to them in appreciation for their unwavering loyalty and encouragement. Meanwhile, about 2,000 miles away SMS and good friend Tony Biscaia enthusiastically slapped hands and already began looking ahead toward the MLS Cup in November.

Three days later, Sunday Morning Striker waited patiently for the 8:30pm start time for the Revs and Fire on Cox3. In an unfortunate sequence, the UConn-Rutgers women’s game was nine minutes into their first overtime, matched tied 0-0. With a five minute break, and another ten minutes for the second OT, a streaming message alerted viewers that the Revs-Fire would be shown in progress once the collegiate match was over.

In other words, SMS was at the mercy of the goal-scoring prowess of two college sides. Aiyeeeeeeee! SMS want a quick score ladies! Now, SMS loves college soccer when it doesn’t interrupt his Revolution viewing habits, especially on a summer-like Saturday Night and a WaterFire taking place in downtown Providence. “We’ll join the New England Revolution @ Chicago Fire in progress at the conclusion of this game. Please stay tuned.” Tease me, tease me, Cox Sports Television.

Speaking of WaterFire, the Revs tried to do douse the fifth place Fire and take three road points in their attempts to chase the Supporter’s Shield. DC United currently sports the best record in MLS, and after they drew to KC 1-1 on Friday night, the local lads tried to inch that much closer to their Eastern Conference counterparts.

Finally, at 8:48pm ET, the powers that be at Cox3 allowed SMS to at long last view the proceedings in Chi-town at the 12th minute exactly. Score 0-0 and Chicago controlling the ball, the Revs looked to acquire an early score when Jeff Larentowicz fired a shot high of the bar only a minute later.

The sweat began to appear in the 19th minute after a questionable handball call. Cuauhtemoc Blanco elected to take the free kick, ran up at full speed, and fired a high-ballistic missile that grazed the top of the bar as Matt Reis stood in awe of the comet.

The Revs tried to answer seconds later when a high bouncing ball in the box found the foot of Ralston, who fired a shot high that Matt Pickens had to levitate to stop in the 21st minute. The attack stayed strong, as the pressure continued to mount deep in the Fire end. Then, a token gift appeared when Steve Ralston sent a ball into the box that deflected a Fire defender that fortuitously found Larentowicz yards above the D. The Kaiser immediately struck a beautiful ball that slalomed through defenders and found the inside right post for the goal at the 24th minute. 1-0, Revs.

The Fire tried to knot it on a break into the Revs end in the 31st minute when Blanco, carrying a white-shirted entourage, forced a ball forward to Chad Barrett. But the quick strike went wide of the far post, as the Revs went back on the attack after the ensuing goal kick.

Though possession fluctuated often, the overall possession was clearly favoring the guests, as they traipsed into the Chicago end like they were carrying postcard invitations from the Fire defenders.

Barrett tried to spark another attack in the 37th minute when he went one-on-one with Parkhurst and sent a shot that was batted high and away by the paw of Reis.

Then, in the 42nd minute, Shalrie Joseph, absent from Wednesday’s US Open Cup final, went down with an apparent leg injury that required a few minutes of medical attention before the Grenadian luckily returned shortly thereafter.

Just as stoppage time was about to commence, the Fire blazed through the Revs back line as Barrett meandered into the top left corner of the box, fed an oncoming Chris Rolfe, who laced a groundhog right past Reis for the equalizer in the final seconds of the 45th minute. 1-1, Anyone’s match.

As the WaterFires sparked up on the Woonasquatucket River deep in the heart of downtown Providence, SMS wondered aloud if the Revs could throw some water on the Fire in Chicago. While he pondered that, TV38 showed some highlights of Wednesday’s US Open Cup Final game. Ahhhhhhh…..The sight of the Revs hoisting the Dewar Trophy will never get old.

The Fire kicked off for the second half, and immediately coughed the ball up to the Revs, keenly intent on getting the go ahead.

A hilarious moment erupted in the 47th minute, when the ref stopped the proceedings as the Revolution goal was showered with streamers courtesy of the Fire Supporters. Never one to let his ego get in the way, Blanco attempted to clean up the mess himself, as he visibly urged the home crowd to lay off on the streamers ‘til Halloween.

The streamers almost came out again when Barrett headed a shot right on Reis welcome mat. But the bald brickwall stood stout and calmly hauled in the light shot right on his line in the 49th minute.

The match began to get hot in the early part of the second frame, as Chicago continued to threaten with quick shots and good pressure on the backline. Then in the 55th minute, the Fire was awarded a dangerous free kick just before the box. Just after Blanco wound up and fired, James Riley cleverly, if not illegally, ran toward the shot and headed the ball away from the shadow of his net.

At the hour mark, with the constant pressure on the backs, the Fire finally broke through on a beautiful sequence as Paulo Wanchope came down the left edge of the box and fired hard right on Reis who initially batted the shot out of danger. But with Barrett nearby, the Fire forward quickly took the rebound and nailed the go-ahead right into the back of the net in the 61st minute.

The Revs nearly got it back in the 62nd when Ralston took a pass from Larentowicz and fired a laser from long distance that unluckily skimmed the top of the bar. Less than ten minutes later, the Revs mounted heavy pressure, and launched three corners within the course of two minutes, but came away from the assault empty-handed in the 68th minute.
The evening cannonade commenced yet again in the 70th minute, when Joseph cocked and unloaded a cannonball that clanked off the right post.

In an effort to keep the attack fresh and charged, Steve Nicol unleashed speedy rookie Abdoulie Mansally for Pat Noonan in the 76th minute. The Gambian immediately got himself into the mix, and was fouled near midfield mere seconds into his MLS debut.

During the final ten minutes, the Revs feverishly searched high and low for the late equalizer. Dorman launched a dangerous cross from the right channel that was parried by Pickens in the 84th. Three minutes later, Jay Heaps tried to left-foot the ball goalward, but grossly misplayed the shot in the 87th minute.

Four minutes of stoppage aided the Revolution’s late-match efforts, but the attack fizzled, as newly-crowned US Open Cup champions disappointingly clocked out of Chicago with nary a point.

THREE PENNY ANALYSIS: The Revs appeared to be en route toward victory early when Larentowicz struck gold in the 24th minute, the Chicago’s killer B’s, Blanco and Barrett, were relentless, and terrorized the Revs backs for much of the night. When they finally found paydirt themselves in the Chris Rolfe equalizer just as regulation expired.

In the second half, it was Fire early and often, and with the Revolution ship springing leaks courtesy of Chicago’s shots, it was just a matter of time before the vessel took on water. Then, the Fire finally put a large hole in the broadsides when Barrett, after a few frustrating sequences earlier in the match, struck for the game-winner just after the hour mark.

An interesting pair of notes: Andy Dorman was dropped from the starting eleven though he came on for Wells Thompson in the 74th minute. Additionally, two minutes later, Nicol deferred to Mansally rather than Cristman when he pulled Noonan out late. The latter was an especially bold move down a goal late, and the idea nearly worked, as Mansally’s speed certainly aided the attack late. Unfortunately, his speed was not enough to find the equalizer, as the Revs were unlucky to find it late despite their best efforts.

Stat of the Match, Part 1: The Revs have scored 47 goals, while the Fire has scored a paltry 30 in the same amount of matches (28).

Stat of the Match, Part 2: Matt Reis has allowed two goals in four of his last five matches (including US Open Cup play).

Stat of the Match, Part 3: Abdoulie Mansally became the fifth Revolution player to make his MLS debut this season.

Stat of the Match, Part 4: Jeff Larentowicz has scored his last two MLS goals from beyond the box.

Stat of the Match, Part 5: Prior to Saturday night’s match, the last time Andy Dorman came on as a substitute was on November 13, 2005 in the 2005 MLS Cup Final.

Red Sox pull a Revolution and wrap up playoff berth: After spending nearly 155 games in first place, the Sox clinched the AL East on Friday, September 28th, despite a lead over the Yankees that, at one point, was 13 games. The Sox did what they did best down the stretch: played mediocre baseball and made it interesting down to the final week of the season.

Now, the Revolution did the exact opposite: they clinched a playoff berth with their win against FC Dallas on September 15th, nearly six weeks before their season ended. Drama? Not in Revolution Nation, my friends!

Granted, there are far more games to be played in Major League Baseball than in Major League Soccer, but give the Revs credit: they’ve played good football without hitting any major funks during the season. They endured a grueling August, and came out with a 5-2-0 record. Then, they amazingly came away with the US Open Cup championship last Wednesday. Heart palpitations? High blood pressure? Not in Revolution Nation – at least not this season!

Now, both teams have amazing similarities: both have long-suffering fans due to prolonged lengths of time between championships. Both have arguably the most potent pairs of offensive weapons - Pat Noonan and Taylor Twellman for the Revs, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez for the Sox. Both often play into September with eyes on playoff glory, and this season saw both claim said glory after strong regular-season campaigns.

Despite the similarities, SMS is proud to report that to the best of his knowledge, Revs Nation currently has no pink-hat contingent, thankfully. Our fanbase is one founded upon true passion and celebration for our team, rather than it being fashionable and/or popular. That in itself makes Revolution Nation one of the most admirable in a land filled with bandwagon Patriots and Sox fans.

SMS Alma Mater Update: The Anchorwomen bounced back this past week with a pair of victories at Wesleyan University (10/3) and Keene State College (10/6). Ashley Jordan scored both goals in the Anchorwomen’s 2-1 win against Wesleyan, and Brittney Godbout scored the lone tally in the third minute on Saturday afternoon in pastoral Keene, New Hampshire.
The Anchorwomen currently stand at 5-5-1, and are 2-2-0 in Little East Conference play this season, good enough for fourth place at the moment. They will return home on Columbus Day intent to break the .500 mark against intrastate rival Roger Williams University at RIC Soccer Field at 6pm.

US Women’s National Team feature: Well, the US women thrashed Norway 4-1 last Sunday, courtesy of two goals from Abby Wambach and one apiece from Lori Chalupny and Heather O’Reilly. But overshadowing the admirable third-place finish in the Women’s World Cup was the fact that club departed China shortly thereafter with more questions surrounding them than when they arrived a month ago. Who’ll take the goalkeeper reins in light of the Hope Solo-Greg Ryan fallout? What direction will the club head in after a somewhat lethargic and precautious overall performance? Which players have worn the red, white and blue for the last time in international play?

Rest assured, all of these questions will be answered soon enough, if not, at least in part, when they face a three-match mini-series against Mexico this month. Stay tuned!

Join us again after the final regular season home match against Columbus on Saturday night. Boy, is it hard to believe that the regular season is on its final 180 or so minutes! In any event, with a playoff spot safely secured, we’ll see if Steve Nicol has any tricks up his sleeve against the desperate Columbus side that will enter Gillette Stadium vouching for a final playoff spot. Hey Columbus – no last minute equalizers this time around, bubs!

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