By Paul Gardner
Here's one that I'm absolutely delighted to have got wrong: I thought the Galaxy would beat Dallas. Not because they play better soccer, they don’t, no sir, but because of their "effectiveness" and the home-field advantage.
Bah, forget it, Dallas made light of the Galaxy and thoroughly trounced them. That’s a surprise, for sure -- but what to say of the fact that they were able to do it by playing stylish soccer?
What needs saying immediately is that Don Garber and his MLS buddies owe a huge vote of thanks to Dallas -- because they will give us a final that will be worth watching. My wish-for final was Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake -- a matchup that sadly occurred in the first round of the playoffs -- but a matchup that gave us the best games so far.
One shudders to think of the nightmarish banalities that would have assaulted us if the Galaxy had been the team to play the Colorado Rapids. So Garber & Co., has dodged that boring bullet.
I’ve bitched all season long that I didn’t feel that the Galaxy ever produced the sort of soccer that its lineup was capable of giving us, and it was the same story last night. No flow, no rhythm, no style. It would be easy to say that Dallas prevented any of that, but that cannot be entirely the case, because that’s the way the Galaxy has been all season.
Frankly, the final is better off without them because they were just not worth watching. But ... the final will have to put up with the Colorado Rapids, and they’re not much better. We’re getting the stylish, entertaining Dallas against the pragmatic Rapids, a team without any style at all ...
Yes, of course Dallas should win this one -- but soccer being the theater-of-the-absurd that it so often is, even a team as pedestrian as Colorado is in there with a chance, so we’ll just have to wait and see how it goes. If you watched both Conference championships, you might reasonably wonder whether Colorado and San Jose were actually playing the same sport as the Galaxy and, particularly, Dallas.
Last night laid before us an excellent example of two soccer essentials: you need a good goalkeeper, and -- always assuming you want to play creative attacking soccer -- you need a playmaker. Dallas had both. Kevin Hartman’s first-half saves frustrated the Galaxy, while David Ferreira was a menace to the Galaxy defenders every time he got the ball.
I counted 26 clear passes from Ferreira -- only 6 of which were inaccurate (and even those caused some problems for the Galaxy). Twice he pushed a perfect pass through the Galaxy defenders to put Martin Chavez in alone on goal -- the first time Chavez mis-controlled, the second time he scored.
Those thrilling passes were never seen at the other end of the field. David Beckham does not make that sort of pass; I counted 34 Beckham passes, exactly half of which, 17, were inaccurate. His one pass that I rated “dangerous” came in the 86th minute. Beckham, to tell the truth, looked neither effective, nor particularly fit -- this, mind you, on the very day that England coach Fabio Capello announced that he was pleased to see how well Beckham is recovering from his Achilles' tendon injury. As for Landon Donovan, he was lost in one of his off nights -- indeed, he was almost absent in the second half.
Anyway, the Galaxy was damn lucky -- scandalously lucky -- not to have been down to 10 men in the 38th minute, when Dema Kovalenko, already yellow-carded just seven minutes earlier, launched a wild, late, dangerous tackle on Ferreira. Referee Jair Marrufo, called the foul, but did not give the obvious second yellow. He did, however, say a few words to Kovalenko. Someone should tell Marrufo, the verbal warning is supposed to come before the first yellow, not the second.
Bruce Arena was complaining on the sideline about fouls by Dallas that Maruffo was not calling. He had a point, but frankly, any coach who puts players like Kovalenko on the field doesn’t have much of a case when complaining about rough play.
The absence of the Galaxy in MLS Cup also brings considerable relief on another front, because presumably it will means that JP Dellacamera and John Harkes, our merry TV maestros, will have to stop going on and on about “set-pieces” (they mean set plays) -- something they did last night ad nauseam before the game.
Now, when you’ve made that big a point about something, and when it subsequently proves to be a damp, even a sodden, squib some sort of explanation is required. How was it that Dallas was able to score three very neat goals, and none of them came from a set play? We were not told.
I shall reveal all. Because Dallas is a team that wants to play soccer, that believes in passing the ball, to feet if possible, and that has a devilishly skillful master mind in Ferreira. It is not a team with the “set play” mentality at the front of its mind. From what JP and Harkes repeatedly told us, I’d have to assume that the Galaxy does think that way -- that was certainly what Seattle coach Sigi Schmid believed in last week’s games.
If you combine that mentality with Arena’s persistence in putting on the field destructive players like Kovalenko and Chris Birchall (both yellow-carded last night), any attempt to play stylish attacking soccer by moving the ball with pace and skill, is not likely to feature too often.
It needs noting: the Galaxy has never been a defensive team. Neither are the Rapids. The problem for both teams is that their play -- by which I mean their attacking play, the creative part of the game -- lacks form, pattern and ... style. It is a hit and miss affair -- the Galaxy putting too much faith in Beckham’s free kicks, the Rapids relying too much on the speed and guile of the splendid Omar Cummings. Attacking, entertaining soccer needs a much more varied arsenal than that. Schellas Hyndman’s Dallas has shown us that it has that arsenal.