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Highs and lows of MLS's decisive weekend
by Paul Gardner, October 25th, 2009 11:54PM



By Paul Gardner

Based on my recent watching of quite a few games, I worked out a clever theory that all the important ones were decided by goals right at the end, quite frequently in stoppage time, even -- as happened in the ManU-ManCity derby -- a minute or so after stoppage time was supposed to have finished.

This splendid theory seemed tailor-made for my viewing of the MLS games this weekend. After all, seven games -- five of them overlapping at various times -- who can cope with that? So, while recording all the games (and I had to draw a chart to work that out) I decided to watch only the last 10 minutes of each, feeling quite certain that I would thus get all the action -- well, all the dramatic action.

Things worked out pretty well on Saturday. The Red Bulls, of all people, screwed things up a bit by tromping all over Toronto so that the game was over by halftime. Never having heard of such a thing as a 5-0 win for the Red Bulls, I had to watch the whole game later. Amazing. And most amazing -- how did the Bulls' goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul escape a red card (heck, he didn't even get a yellow) for the vicious foul that forced Chad Barrett out of the game? What is it with MLS refs and their reluctance to punish goalkeepers? This was Alex Prus, who has a record for this sort of blindness.

And Real Salt Lake didn't cooperate either, by dominating Colorado early -- though I did get to see their third goal, a fine bit of finishing from Yura Movsisyan following a neat bit of assisting from Javier Morales.

I wasn't too concerned about the Galaxy game -- I'd assumed they'd beat San Jose, which they duly did. I watched those final 10 minutes, and just about stayed awake. But with the other two games I bulls-eyed. I got the last-second drama of Kansas City's PK that squelched D.C. United's playoff hopes, and I got Brad Evans' nifty 84th minute winner for Seattle over Dallas. That was pretty special, the terrific atmosphere left me wishing I'd watched the whole thing. It also left me asking myself why I didn't get the same electric charge from the Galaxy game -- they had a full stadium too, they had a victory (top of the west) to celebrate, but it didn't come over with anything like the thrill of Seattle's ascension to playoff status.

Having, more or less, satisfied myself that my theory had great practical value, I decided to abandon it on Sunday. I would watch the entire Crew vs. Revs game -- even though watching Revs games has never counted among my most galvanizing experiences. But with everything on the line, who knows?

Again, great atmosphere. All these noisy, colorful crowds must have warmed the cockles of Don Garber's heart -- though now I come to think of it, I don't know what cockles are (I assume they're nothing salacious, as my prim and proper grandmother used to use the saying).

No, I don't like the way the Revs play. No midfield soccer worth noting, but constant battles for the ball -- an activity in which Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz could shine. If only Steve Nicol would allow a creative player in there, a playmaker -- but no. He plays the game his way, and he gets results. On Sunday he got the result he needed -- a 1-0 win over a Columbus team that, to its credit played hard in a game that meant little to it.

Did I wish to be sly, I could nominate goalkeeper Matt Reis as New England's playmaker -- his repeated long kicks downfield originated most of the Revs' incoherent attacks. And being slightly slyer, I'd say that Reis's projectiles were supposedly for the benefit of the 6-foot-4 Edgaras Jankauskas. Not a successful ploy, as Jankauskas had trouble controlling the ball all afternoon.

Funny thing, though. There was plenty of scrappy play -- but not too much of it featured either Joseph or Larentowicz. Joseph seemed an almost marginal figure at times, while Larentowicz, we were informed, was not fully fit.

Maybe not, but when his scoring opportunity came in this game of miserably few such moments, on a free kick in the 79th minute, did he ever make the most of it. He got off an absolutely superb 20-yard strike of atomic force that just thundered through goalkeeper Kenny Schoeni's hands and into the net almost before I realized the kick had been taken. A wonderful moment.

OK, so I cheated. I didn't watch all the MLS soccer. But I had a strong reason for cheating. Because these were games that fell into that dismal group where getting the points is all that matters -- and where playing ugly is almost a given. There is no particularly logical, or even tactical, reason for that linkage, but that's the way coaches see things.

Problem is, they're quite likely to offer the same excuse for playing desperate drek during the playoffs. I don't hold out great hopes for the Revs vs. Chicago playoff as an artistic triumph. But I'll watch, the full game this time - after all what would the playoffs be without Steve Nicol?


  1. John Harkes
    commented on: October 27, 2009 at 9:34 a.m.
    Well said Paul..... As usual

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