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The winning formula? There isn't one
by Paul Gardner, April 14th, 2008 7AM

TAGS:  mls


Extraordinary! How do these things happen in soccer? I'm looking at the stat sheet for the New England vs. Colorado game. Which shows that the Revs had nine shots on goal, all of which Colorado keeper Bouna Coundoul saved, while the Rapids managed only one shot on target -- which Matt Reis failed to save. So Colorado wins 1-0.

An absurd, illogical scoreline, of course for a game that the Revs clearly should have won. They had the home-field advantage, they had the lion's share of the play and the chances -- they even got a lucky break when the Rapids' star Christian Gomez had to limp off at halftime -- but soccer is like that, it frequently fails to reward the better team.

Over the length of a season, we're told, these things even out. I'm not so sure about that -- soccer laughs in the face of such happy endings. New England may well be three, or two, or even just one point out of the playoffs when October rolls around, thanks to the three points so cruelly snatched away from them in this game.

Well, that's one way of looking at it. As it happens, that particular game could also be viewed as a triumph for the Rapids goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul -- it would surely have been just as unfair a result had the Rapids lost after all his heroics? A viewpoint that won't recommend itself to the Revs, who must feel that they did everything right but still lost the game.

That was Saturday. Yesterday, there were similar activities at the Home Depot, where the Galaxy -- the home team -- managed to lose to Toronto. But the similarity is deceiving, because here you had two teams, both of which managed to do everything wrong.

The Galaxy squandered enough first-half chances to have built up a three-goal lead, while Toronto managed to come out on top despite a perverse player selection by Coach John Carver.

Toronto's short life in MLS so far has made one thing clear: you've got to be pretty bad to lose to them. And the Galaxy -- in the second half of this game -- was bad. The bigger problem for them is that it's difficult to see how they're going to get better. The Donovan-Beckham threat is a powerful one, but oh, those defenders. And Beckham will surely become less effective as the season progresses, because it won't take too long (will it?) for opponents to work out that those ravishing crosses or those wonderful long curving balls forward can be rendered a good deal less dangerous by putting the man under pressure. Leaving him to pick his spot is asking for trouble.

As for Toronto, the signs -- at long last -- of a soccer team breaking through the chaos are beginning to emerge. The reason is no secret. The team now has two very good players in Laurent Robert and Amado Guevara who bring the element of class that has been totally missing so far. Well, not totally. Another such player is Jeff Cunningham, but for whatever reason, he spent most of this game sitting on the bench while Danny Dichio labored crudely away as the lone forward. In an almost comic incident, Dichio got the first goal after defender Greg Vanney fell over.

Apart from that one slapstick moment, Dichio never even looked like scoring or posing a threat. Cunningham is a much more threatening forward. But coach Carver is a Brit, and the bustling, bludgeoning, guileless center-forward style of Dichio (a style that the rest of the world has virtually phased out over the past couple of decades) no doubt appeals to him.

Which is a problem, because it was the adherence to no-frills Brit soccer that made Toronto so awful last season. Carver is not necessarily the best guy to alter that, but he can't fail to see what a difference players like Guevara and Robert make to his team.

It is therefore not encouraging to see that Carver has turned to England for reinforcements. Here comes Rohan Ricketts, arriving after short stays with Arsenal, Tottenham, Wolverhampton and Barnsley, hailed by Mo Johnston with the same sort of praise that last season he heaped on another Brit import, Andy Welsh, a resounding flop.

But is Ricketts Carver's choice, or Mo Johnston's? The ominous sight of Johnston on the sidelines shouting instructions during the Galaxy game forces the question: Who's in charge at Toronto FC?


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