I decided to write about the MLS Cup Final because it's remarkable in my mind for a couple of reasons. First, it's a re-match of last year's final, which adds a bit of drama. ABC also showed a graphic that said that 16 of the 22 starters started last year. Second, it involves two teams with stupid nicknames: the Dynamo v. the Revolution. Come on people, pick nouns for your team names! Big injury news in that Brian Ching isn't playing due to the calf injury he suffered last week in KC. Personally, I'm hoping for a Willis Reed moment where he comes on and scores a goal while limping. It's kickff, so here we go...
Goal: Taylor Twellman (20th minute), New England
The announcers are Dave O'Brien, Eric Wynalda, and Julie Foudy. This is the usual crew for ESPN/ABC games so there's no surprise there. O'Brien is much improved from the World Cup last year and he's usually good at what he does, in my opinion. Wynalda is apparently trying to be bombastic for no apparent reason. He spent the first part of the half advocating a wrestling match. I'm all for the ref letting the teams play but there needs to be some control. Most of the rest of the half was spent pointing out silly things though he made one good point about New England coming out attacking rather than defending, which was their MO for the season up to now. Julie Foudy should have her mic taken away because all she does is point out the obvious. The point of an analyst is analyze!
As for the game, the referee struck a balance between letting them play and calling fouls. He called the ones that needed to be called. He was also proven right when replays showed there was no handball in the box, despite Houston's protests (about 22 minutes). There's been a good pace to the game so far. I like how New England's moving the ball up and down the flanks. Khano Smith has been especially impressive to me because he runs so smoothly and has good vision. If LA is watching this game, they should go get him to receive Beckham's crosses next year. Or Toronto FC should get him because they need lots more good players. But I digress. Shalrie Joseph has been a force in the middle. He's definitely earning his money today.
Houston seems disorganized, which is disappointing because I'm rooting for them. They've been back on their heels for most of the half, which is too bad. They need to press forward. I'd push down the flanks because De Rosario hasn't been used at all. Use him! And, aside from one really good cross headed badly by Joseph Ngwenya, they've hardly attacked at all. They need to fix that coming out of the gate in the second half. Pat Onstad has been good. He had no chance on Twellman's goal (which was nobody's fault because it was a good cross and a better header) but he made a massive save at 32 minutes to keep the deficit 1-0.
Goals: Joseph Ngwenya (61st minute), Houston; Dwayne De Rosario (74th minute), Houston
Yellow Cards: Wade Barrett (57th minute), Houston; Khano Smith (65th minute), New England
Substitutions: New England: Andy Dorman for Steve Ralston (78th minute); Houston: Stuart Holden for Joseph Ngwenya (81st minute)
Wow. This is what soccer is all about. What a second half! It had everything: cards, goals, tremendous passing, fabulous crosses, and ridiculous saves. I must say that Houston took my advice and found Dwayne De Rosario. In fact, Houston came out and pressed from the beginning of the half. Ngwenya, De Rosario, and Jaqua terrorized the New England back four from the beginning. They were rewarded, of course, with goals. They also played visually appealing soccer with long runs and quick passing. It looked like they figured out that New England was sitting and waiting for them to come. So Houston changed tack: long passes to get into the New England zone and quick passes around the box. It was a good tactical decision. The Houston back four still looked a tad disorganized but they were saved on at least 3 occasions by Pat Onstad.
I must point out that New England responded well to Houston's first goal. They had fight in them and realized they needed to press. The second goal, though, destroyed them. De Rosario's beauty killed New England's fight. To their credit, the last few minutes were fast and furious action as New England pushed everyone up. They were nearly rewarded on a corner with a perfect cross to Jeff Larentowicz who, unluckily enough, headed it right into Onstad's leg. Amazing. I'm not sure what New England could have done differently, to be honest. They played well, except for the 10 minutes after De Rosario's goal. They were tactically sound, in my opinion, though they could have used better marking in the box. Khano Smith, after I sang his praises in the first half, basically disappeared in the second, except for his ridiculously stupid yellow card.
I am disappointed with ABC's coverage. The director needs to be fired because s/he showed far too many close-ups during game actions. I want to see the corner kicks, not a close-up of the keeper or defenders battling with attackers. That needs to change for next year. Other than that, Wynalda and Foudy were annoying but O'Brien kept them mostly on point. With that said, it was a great match and a demonstration of how far MLS has come in 12 years.
Congratulations on your repeat, Houston.