Monday, August 29, 2011

The MLS Grinder: Two For The Money

Today's game of the week was a toss-up. In Kansas City, second-place Eastern party crashers SKC and third-place Western power FC Dallas squared off in a breathless match that threatened to derail first-place bids for both. In Seattle, second-place Western contender Seattle duked it out with Eastern-leading Columbus in a match that saw more than one history marker snapped like a brittle twig. Seattle/Dallas and SKC/Columbus were each fighting a proxy war through the other's opponent. Lots to see on Saturday.

So many good options. So this week, something different. We go with some rare Grinder whip-around coverage. Starting with Seattle's 1 p.m. Pacific kickoff, we'll progress through the day, traveling from the mighty Northwest through to our 7:30 p.m. Central kickoff in Kansas City to take in a day that drastically impacted both conference SS races. And away. We. Go.


The Sounders were looking over their shoulder before this game even tipped. If Dallas hadn't been outright convincing in its last five matches, the Hoops had gotten results. But Seattle amazingly matched FCD's herculean accomplishment by taking spoils back from a Mexican CCL expedition in addition to a 1-0 win over FCD last week. With FCD on its back shoulder and charging hard, Seattle had to turn its attention to Columbus. The Crew led the East by showing some of those same never-quit qualities. If it isn't pretty, it's effective. That's the Warzycha way.

Less than four minutes into the game, Seattle native Lamar Neagle shielded off his defender for a cool 10 yards and powered a spinning drive off William Hesmer's mitts that gave Seattle an early edge. The chances began cascading down now, and Rich Balchan's handball ceded a penalty opportunity to Mauro Rosales, who stuck it into the left corner for a 2-0 edge. The FCD and SKC rosters, likely sitting in hotel rooms digesting the proceedings, were almost surely holding broadly different opinions.

Things got worse for Columbus in a hurry. Neagle's neat volley at the 21-minute mark sent the vibrant Seattle crowd into histrionics. When Mike Fucito punched in the fourth about 20 minutes later, Seattle was drunk with passion. Schellas Hyndman was non-plussed.

Then things get a little weird. Emilio Renteria goes down on a phantom challenge in the box in the 59th minute, which opens the way for a Jeff Cunningham penalty. Cunningham, you'll note, became the MLS' all-time leading scorer here with his 134th. To a cascade of boos and a deadpanning Arlo White. Strange moment.

Seattle overcomes Cunningham's interlude and continues the onslaught shortly thereafter. Neagle completes the hat trick at about 2:45 p.m. with a hammershot that chipped the bottom of the crossbar and bounced back out. No Frank Lampard refs this time around. Josh Gardner then uncorked a brilliant free kick to get one back, and then scored an own goal on the other end to finish it off. Seattle had done its duty. No matter the result later that night, the Sounders would be in possession of second in the West. But they'd be rooting for Kansas City to help increase the lead, while KC was silently ruing Columbus for failing to do the same for them. Little did the Sounders know, they were in store for a wild one.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City...

One of the wilder games I've seen.

Kansas City already led 1-0 when Teal Bunbury snuck in behind a napping FCD back line - which looked out of sorts sans the guiding hand of George John - and snapped off a cross to Omar Bravo that resulted in a 2-0 lead in the 68th minute. At this point, with nine league matches left, Seattle was wetting its chops over the prospect of a five-point lead in the midst of a late-season hot spell. This was all going according to plan.

Not so fast.

Two minutes later, Daniel Hernandez, standing near a confetti-strewn corner of the stadium rendered blue by the sheer amount of paper, swung in a cross that wriggled through a thicket of legs and somehow ended up in the net. In the 89th, Brek Shea made a run into that same blue corner and left-footed a cross that found leaping recent acquisition Maicon Santos, who crashed into the picture to tie it up. By this time, the Livestrong Park crowd was in knots. Sigi Schmid was wondering what he had to do to shake Hyndman's crew. And Shea was plotting a crazy finish. From that same blue spot, as though SKC had never seen this script before, Shea busted in with another cross, and this time Bobby Warshaw collided with it nearly on the same spot as Maicon and gave FCD an incredible stoppage-time win.

It's funny, mostly because Bobby Warshaw is awful. The rookie holding mid has mostly been a stopgap for injured starters and a roster stretched thin by CCL, MLS and US Open Cup duties. He provides little in the way of industry in his own half, and his ability in the other half is hilariously bereft of duty. But here he was. FCD's engine must be fed by the bones of the innocent, because something otherworldly is propelling this group right now. But neither Seattle nor FCD is going away. Which means more days like these. Which means we all win, yeah?

Best of the Best

- A proper shout-out to Mr. Cunningham, the most prolific scorer in league history. A retrospective.

- MLSS has a pretty neat soccer almanac series going on right now. This installment in particular caught my eye. Toronto and San Jose played out one of the least important games of all time this weekend and 21,000 apparently showed up to watch it, so something's going right.

Worst of the Worst

- It's a failure double dip from Chivas this week. In one fell swoop, Heath Pearce popped a hammy (trainers think it's torn) and Alvaro Saborio scores one of the weakest goals in MLS history to help RSL drop a struggling Chivas side. Did I mention RSL was on 10 men? No? RSL was on 10 men. Chivas is bad, mmkay?

- Well, this is awkward. After a very public courtship with EPL side Blackburn, George John is headed back to the somewhat miffed arms of Schellas Hyndman.

I'll point you to Hyndman's words five days ago when he learned of a move that appeared at the time to be a near certainty.

"We’ve been trying to re-sign him for over a year but he basically chose that salary so he didn’t have to re-sign. I think he was looking at maybe a European passport or other opportunities. But this quite honestly isn’t the place he wanted to be," Hyndman said. "If that’s the case, I think ownership and everyone else are probably making the right decision for the future of our club so that we can compete. This was not an easy decision for everyone to make."
Those words are couched in some coach-speak, but they're easy enough to see through. I've bolded the part I believe to be significant. In Hyndman's view, John made it plain that he very seriously did not view Pizza Hut Park as a place he figured to make his home for any real length of time. To the observer, that's fine. MLS is a stepping stone league and John probably needs a step up in competition to continue maturing. But Hyndman won't see it that way. He's got a team to manage, games to win, players to corral. That John must return to Dallas probably burns egos on both sides.

But John is a professional, and play he must. In the meantime, while John's international situation awaits resolution, FCD will benefit greatly from the return of the league's best CB this year.

- Vancouver wins or Houston loses? The East is just a watered down conference, I tell 'ya.

- Will Parchman


Mark said...

how about those seattle fans booing cunningham after his historic goal. stay classy seattle. we know you won in mexico and all, but really? booing the new all time scorer of mls??

Will Parchman said...

I'd like to believe they were booing the decision to award the penno in the first place, though that's impossible to verify. It was a bad call, one I'm sure was piped through the stadium jumbotron, but I've got to believe Seattle fans are street smart enough to hold off for Cunny's record-breaker. Oh well. Arlo White certainly seemed bored by the event.