Monday, November 21, 2011

The MLS Grinder: LA, bay-bay

Ever think you'd see this?
Our last Grinder of the year. A little wistful, a little sad.

But I suppose it's not all tears. For the folks in the blue and gold, anyway. Sorry Houston. Number four will have to wait. It's finally LA's turn again.

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I've trawled the internets for some immediate analysis from both supporters' sections, since the nerves are rawest and the analysis most biting when the wounds are freshest. There seems to be the odd Houston fan who genuinely believes the Dynamo deserved a better result, but I think the vast majority agree that Donovan's game-winner brought about the proper finish. LA, the preordained favorite in March, got a fitting contribution from August signee Robbie Keane, the man who proved to be the ultimate X-factor (Mike Magee, as it turns out, is average again). 

David Beckham's veiled hints that he's bolting back to Europe have been a topic of conversation, and I found it funny that in the post-game interview with Donovan, Rob Stone posed a question that asserted concretely that Beckham was already out the door. But the temptation to write him out of the story completely, what with his casual approach to the league these last five years, effectively went down the tubes when Donovan revealed in his answer that Beckham pulled a muscle earlier in the week and was essentially playing the final with one good leg. He was a gamer, and my hat's off to that. My notes for this game included a hastily scrawled three words: Beckham is forcing. A well-placed stat box in the second half flashed Beckham's turnover tally was at nine, but he did spray well-timed passes and booted dangerous free kicks with typical frankness. If this was the last we see of Beckham in MLS, fists stabbing skyward toward the orange slice of stadium after time and tearing up on the podium flanked by teammates that finally seemed like his teammates, it ain't a bad way to go.

Houston was not helplessly throttled. The Dynamo acquitted themselves well in spurts, even generating the odd opportunity to force Josh Saunders into some genuine moments of work. But let's not make that into more than it was. This was the Galaxy's game. They owned it, they bossed it and they deserved it. Houston seemed like a dog chasing ambulances here, unsure of what to do once it caught up, moments that did not come frequently enough. Without Brad Davis, Brian Ching dropped deeper into the midfield, where he's less effective, to collect passes and help facilitate movement, perhaps by design but more likely out of sheer necessity. The movement wasn't crisp enough, and if Ching tried playing off DeLaGarza and Gonzalez in the middle he was just never served. Houston's attack was generally bewildered, occasionally biting but rarely dangerous. Houston opened doors, painted arrows and lit torches to its goal, but chance after chance was left begging. One fat reason wore a No. 17 jersey.

This is no great surprise, but at his worst Adam Cristman is a horrible soccer player. He was at his rock-bottom worst Sunday evening, and I submit that this one man was more responsible for the Galaxy's inability to score early than Houston was. I need not even gussy up his performance, its woefulness speaks so loudly. He was gifted a free header in the 12th minute off a Beckham corner. Nobody within three feet in any direction and he lifted it high and wide. Beckham served up another juicy morsel in the 27th and Cristman's header fluttered off range again. Not a minute later, Donovan's interception set up a three-on-one, Keano serving up a beauty of a shot opportunity on a platter just inside the area. Cristman takes one touch, then two, then slips, then gives it away. Rinse, repeat for the rest of the evening.

Then Cristman came off for Chris Birchall in the 58th and Keano suddenly perked up, flashing into open space without an anchor taking up space around the area. It's true, Donovan hadn't had a tremendous final until he popped up with the game-winner, but that brief moment of clarity smashed all that to splinters. It was so ironic that Keano's chance found Donovan, because here was the Galaxy's newest addition putting through its most iconic of American stars for the goal that will silence the straggling detractors who refuse to unhook from this bizarre yet very live notion that he shies away from big stages. First Algeria kicked those to the curb on the national level, and we've had a direct bludgeoning on the club level here as he earned his fourth MLS Cup and now has 20 postseason goals. I don't know where Bianca was and I can't confirm that he did go through with that massive post-game kiss I predicted, but he did plant one on Keano's forehead after the goal. He deserved it more.

Some random notes on the game... I hope Jurgen paid attention to Gonzo's night, which was an appropriate microcosm for his season. My boy was a steel trap and barely even put a foot wrong. Houston had some chances but they were mostly meek efforts from distance or near-misses off crosses that were either heavily contested or off the mark. DeLaGarza, Dunivant and Franklin deserve some praise as well, but no MLS defender is as dominant or as consistent as Omar Gonzalez, qualities he flashed on Sunday. If he's not called up soon I'm going to... well I'm not going to do anything, but I suppose that would be a miscalculation on Jurgen's part. Dom Kinnear has something with Luiz Camargo. The holding midfielder plays with the flair of an attacker, flashing the fancy footwork of a #10 while keeping the tactician's cool of a #6. The Brazilian only joined Houston in August, but I foresee a solid future in MLS. The league broke some attendance records this year, the piece de resistance coming with a record-breaking crowd in the finale. I choose to believe that this augers good things for this league. I watched this game with three friends, two of whom I've converted to full-blown soccer fans and the other happened to be my girlfriend, who will become a fan whether or not she likes it (so I tell myself, anyway). These kinds of minor victories are popping up across the country in sizable numbers as the league gains steam. I am confident that the league keeps growing in this manner.

That brings us to the end of the wick. It's been a blast ripping through the MLS season with you guys. Thanks for hanging in with me. Whether or not we agreed on things (Brian Mullan's suspension, Brek Shea's haircut, Jeld-Wen's amazingness) I'd like to thank everybody who commented throughout the year, read us regularly or read us at all, really. It's been a long haul, and hard to believe the Grinder was once talking about spring soccer and now we're riding off into a cold offseason. But wind down we must. I'm not going anywhere, but the Grinder will go into hibernation for a while, so again, thanks a bunch. 

- Will Parchman


Matt said...

You've been a welcome addition to the NSC team, Will, so look forward to seeing your MLS rants next year (and non-MLS rants in the meantime). It's good for MLS to have a dominant franchise, we need our own version of ManU and hopefully Arena and his boys remain it...

And I didn't think anyone could be worse than Chad Barrett, but Mr. Christman certainly was up to the task. Oi. He's just not that good.

J.D. Springer said...

Twellman replaces Harkes as main analyst for ESPN. Somewhere Eric Wynalda laughs.