Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beckham to Milano, And it Ain't a Loan

So the big news here in the States and in Italy is the so-called "loan" of David Beckham to A.C. Milan. If you haven't figured it out by now, this won't be a loan, or if it is a loan it will be a Crespo style loan, and Milan will be picking up his salary while the L.A. Galaxy can move on, and seeing that they'll likely see the move Landon Donovan to a European side this winter, the Galaxy can tack that extra money and spend on, say, Marquez, rather than using it to build the kind of depth that a team like the Houston Dynamo has and making a serious run at the MLS Cup, for the first time in 4 years.

So what of this Beckham experience in the MLS? Was it a success or failure? Well, people who probably didn't know that the MLS existed before Beckham, now know about the MLS. Beckham came here, and his team could not dominate, so a sign that the rest of the MLS is better then what most Anglosnobs think? A resounding yes in my opinion.

Being here in Houston, and getting the privilege of dealing with a club that has its act together impacts my view of the league as a whole. And maybe TFC is not all that good, but some MLS matches, in my opinion, are more interesting then most EPL matches.

In the end, let's face it, Bruce Arena can't handle Beckham, and Beckham, after Ferguson and Capello, just can't take Arena seriously. Keeping Arena and Beckham in L.A. would just be adding another extra dose of fun to the dysfunctional that has engulfed L.A. these past couple years. Is Beckham in Serie A a good thing? Maybe for him, maybe for Posh, but I am looking forward to seeing Mexes take a nice, legal hit on Beckham.

Instead of catering to the Anglosnobs, the MLS needs to focus on the development of the youth in America (see the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas for example) and when it comes to foreign players, focus on youth, not older players. And might I suggest scouting Africa?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Houston Dynamo Clinch Top Spot in the Western Conference

Following tonight's 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Houston Dynamo went up 8 points over Chivas USA, who, with only two matches left, can only pick up, at most 6 more points this season. With tonight's victory, the Houston Dynamo clinched the top spot in the MLS's Western Conference. Despite winning the MLS Cup in 2006 and 2007, the Houston Dynamo did not finish at the top of their conference in those seasons.

For more on the match, check out this week's episode of World Soccer Wrap, which will be available, for free, on iTunes.

Dynamo v. Galaxy: Tonight

I'm at Robertson Stadium and ready for the match. Instead of a live blog here, I'll be participating in the Live Chat at and on the blog at the Houston Chronicle:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dynamo v. D.C. United: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

When the Houston Dynamo hosted D.C. United at Robertson Stadium on Sunday October 12, 2008, it was a scrappy, rough, and bloody game. DC clearly came into the match looking for a draw, looking for that one point to keep afloat in the lower edge of the Eastern Conference. And the squad that United fielded was full of young guys trying to secure a job in the MLS for next season. Let's face it, there was nothing pretty about this match, and after going down a man, DC was lucky that the Dynamo did not score a goal in the closing minutes of the match.

The good news for the Dynamo is that they picked up another point, extending their lead in the Western Conference by two points, with a game in hand.

The bad was that the Dynamo took some bruises, especially Midfielder Stuart Holden, but no long term damage was done.

The ugly occurred after the match and was caused by, unfortunately, a so-called Dynamo fan who took it upon himself to call United's Goalkeeper, Louis Crayton, a monkey, and made a going back to the jungle reference. This ugly, racist behaviour is despicable and thankfully it appears the Dynamo will not tolerate it. The individual was escorted from the stadium and banned from attending future matches. Kudos to the Dynamo, which, unlike some other clubs, has taken a firm stance when fans act stupidly. Remember folks, point and Boo!

For more on the incident:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Secret to the Dynamo's Success

Is no secret at all, really. It's a reliance on two great concepts, concepts that are just as all American as apple pie, baseball, Chevrolet, and soccer.

1. Hard work.
2. No excuses.

If nothing else, 2008 was an important year because really marked a true increase in the number of competitions involving multiple MLS teams. Much of this is due, of course, to the new CONCACAF Champions League which has increased the number of MLS teams involved in international competition. Unfortunately, MLS sides like New England Revolution, DC United, and Chivas USA have put forth rather dismal performances in this new competition, one that is modeled on the UEFA Champion's League. So far, the Houston Dynamo is the only MLS team to avoid embarrassing itself in the tournament - a 4-4 draw at Pumas (first result ever for an MLS side in Mexico City), and enjoyable 2-1 victory over San Francisco FC, whom they had a draw against in Panama City, Panama last month. With a game in hand, the Dynamo have 5 points and sit, comfortably, at the top of their group alongside Pumas.

In the wake of recent DC United and Revolution performances, the spin has been to point the finger at injuries, international call-ups, fixture congestion, and lack of roster depth due to the salary cap. While I sympathize with these issues, I can't help but think in the end, those issues still don't justify the results, especially Revolution's destruction at the hands of Joe Public.

Earlier this season, the Houston Dynamo were dealing with several injuries, and despite those injuries and a slow start, the Dynamo sit atop of the Western Conference and have secured a playoff berth. Meanwhile, in the CCL the Dynamo have fielded some interesting starting squads:

At Pumas last week, both Brian Ching and Brad Davis were left at home in Houston. And Dwayne DeRosario didn't get a start. Prior to the match, most fans and pundits thought a 0-0 result would be a great result for the Dynamo, nobody predicted the 4-4 goalfest that occurred.

When Pumas rolled into Houston this week, instead of fielding a squad full of typical Dynamo starters so as to ensure picking up 3 points at home, Coach Kinnear give starting opportunities to several players who get little playing time outside of the reserve games: Chris Wondolowski (scored a goal in the 13th minute), and Mike Chabala, as well as starting Corey Ashe and Geoff Cameron, typical subs during MLS matches. More interesting was the presence of Guy-Roland Kpene, John Michael Hayden, and Kyle Brown, who did get subbed in for Brian Mullan in the 56th minute.

As both a journo and a fan, it was great to see these players get called up for an important international match, and deliver.

Okay, the point of that lengthy discussion - MLS clubs can succeed in the CCL and the MLS and SuperLiga, despite the international call-ups, injuries, fixture congestion, and insanely low salary cap. Thanks to the leadership of Oliver Luck and Dominic Kinnear, the Dynamo have been able to, despite these constraints that exist in the MLS, to create a successful squad with depth. They have been able to create a roster that opens opportunities for the club, opportunities that don't exist because DPs and other marquee players consume too much of the dollars available under the cap (can you say Galaxy?).

In my time covering the Dynamo, one thing has become clear: Coach Kinnear does not accept excuses. If you play for him, and you spend most of the season with the reserves team you're still expected to work hard in practice all week, and when you get the chance to start in an MLS match, or CCL match, or SuperLiga match, etc. then you better go out there and play like you've been starting all season, no excuses. You give it your all or you'll soon be seeing Houston in your rearview mirror.

It's a simple formula, put together a squad that will work hard and not use excuses to limit their drive and performance.

Now, I did mislead a bit. There are two secret aspects to this that I haven't cracked, but have theories on: (1) maintaining a squad that includes skilled players that don't get as much playing time as they would elsewhere, (2) getting the full potential of players who have not shined as well as at their previous clubs.

Let's face it, players like Chabala, Wondolowski, and Brown could be starting at other clubs, and even making more money in the USL or clubs in certain leagues in Europe. These players have good skills and can be relied on to step up when called upon. The success at Houston for players like Joseph Ngwenya (now at Antalyaspor in Turkey), Nate Jaqua, Kai Kamara, and Bobby Boswell (who was wrongly scapegoated by DC United), is a testament to Coach Kinnear's ability to get great play and performances out of his players. My theory is that Coach Kinnear is one of those great former player coaches, someone who understands and conect with his players without ever losing his authority and command of the team.

It's no secret when the team made the move from San Jose to Houston, many within the team were apprehensive about the move, and rightly sad about leaving San Jose. But despite all that, in their first two years here, they have won the MLS Cup and have a good shot at winning it this year. They also have a good shot at being the only MLS side to move beyond the group stage of the CCL.

Over a decade ago, the coach of another Houston team, Rudy Tomjanovich, proclaimed: "Never underestimate the heart of a champion!" A proclamation that has come to epitomize Houston's newest team, the Dynamo.

Yes, the salary cap in the MLS is pathetically low, yes there is fixture congestion, yes the MLS still schedules fixtures during FIFA breaks, and yes injuries can hamstring you . . . but the Houston Dynamo have shown that if you work hard and refuse to make excuses, you can win and you can succeed.

As always, you can hear my Dynamo report on the flagship World Soccer Wrap show, as well as my weekly show - World Soccer Wrap: Serie A, free by subscribing to World Soccer Wrap podcasts on iTunes.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday Round-Up

We'll start with the good news, the Houston Dynamo clinch their third straight playoffs berth thanks to Saturday's 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids.

Up next for the Dynamo is a CONCACAF Champions League match against San Francisco FC at Robertson Stadium tomorrow night (Tuesday Oct. 7) at 9:00 pm cst. The Dynamo are selling ticket packages - $45 for 4 tickets. This will be the Dynamo's first home game since Hurricane Ike. On Sunday they host DC Unitd and kick off a week long effort to raise money and soccer equipment for local youth soccer clubs that were hurt by the storm.

Now the bad news, at least for me, Roma dropped another game this weekend losing 1-0 to Siena. Meanwhile, Juventus lost to Palermo, 2-1, Inter beat Bologna, 2-1, and Cagliari held Milan to a 0-0 draw. Lazio only managed a 1-1 draw against Lecce, meanwhile Fiorentina beat Chievo Verona 2-0.

Just when it looks like things are starting to gel for Roma, the lose a match. I still think Spalletti should be given more time, but I know how things go in Italy and his job might be on the line. Maybe it is a good thing this weekend is a FIFA break.

I'm thrilled to see that Bradley has called up Altidore and Torres for the upcoming WQ Matches. I'm really interested in seeing Torres get his first cap for the USA. Meanwhile, Guiseppi Rossi has been called up by Italy's Senior team.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Roma's Comeback nets them 3 points in Champions League

After getting beat by Cluj on Match Day One of the group stage of the UEFA Champion's League, A.S. Roma needed an away win at Bordeaux to insure that their hopes of advancing to the knockout round stayed alive - even coach Luciano Spalletti promised that Roma would thrash Bordeaux. Things did not start out well for Roma when Gourcuff found the back of the net for Bordeaux in the 18th minute, and the score remained the same going into halftime.

But Roma found itself in the second half and Vucinic scored an equalizer in the 64th minute. The win came courtesy of Baptista's goals in the 71st and 83rd minutes.