Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The war on conservative football

With six clubs given last rites and proper burials during the previous fortnight, the MLS regular season is now officially over. The postseason is here.

But very soon, without even glancing at the calendar, the leaves (or lack thereof) on the trees, or Blackberry(TM), you'll be able to tell what time of the year it is through mere observation of an MLS playoff match. Behold: sides from across the country playing tenuous and fraidy-cat football. Cue the chicken.


Thank you.

Based upon geography and the Fates, I will fashion my argument around the New England Revolution. Mind you, they are most definitely not the only club that practices safe soccer. There are other guilty parties. I won't name names.* But one would think that the Revolution, after four unsuccessfull MLS Cup bids, may have altered their approach after the first two losses in 2002 and 2005. The following years proved this theory patently false.

(*Who am I kidding? Chicago Fire, FC Dallas, D.C United - I'd name more, but the remaining teams from last year's postseason, quite frankly, didn't have the sufficient talent to play scared. Instead, they resorted to playing badly.**)

(**And was last year's postseason a living and breathing argument that far too many clubs qualify for the playoffs? I mean, really - did New York's 2007 season really justify a playoff berth? Did Chicago's? Was there some sort DPA postseason quota that Don Garber forgot to tell us about?)

This postseason, the Revolution will likely return to its Pat Buchanan-like ultra-conservative 4-4-2 mode, as Ralston has been relegated to cheerleader. Meanwhile, perhaps unbeknownst to Steve Nicol, the club actually has a decent player in Mauricio Castro to occupy Ralston's role as the attacking mid. He did it earlier this year. Here's a thought: why not try it again?

What's this? Oh yes, my fault. It's the postseason. That prospect is far too risky.

Even with a healthy Ralston, Nicol went back to his cautious ways when he employed the 4-4-2 during last season's playoffs. As if the 3-5-2 has an annual expiration date of November 1st.

The result? Three total goals through 360+ minutes of postseason football. All three were scored by Taylor Twellman. That, my friends, is what you call awful and predictable football. Just awful. The kind of awful that should only be broadcast between the hours of 12am-5am, when the children are fast asleep. The fact that the Revolution still managed to reach MLS Cup last year was, quite frankly, more attributable to the lack of quality pre-MLS Cup competition(see: the aforementioned New York and Chicago clubs) rather than their form, as uninspired as it was.

The stakes are obviously heightened in any sport's postseason. I understand this. But tentative players and second-guessing managers make for some bad football. The kind that grows stale in the breadbox, and sour in the fridge. It deserves to be thrown in the rubbish, not broadcast on national television.

There's only one November. It should not be an ugly month.

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