Thursday, November 30, 2006

CONCACAF/UNCAF Finals: Club Thoughts and MLS Scheduling

CONCACAF held the return leg of the finals of the UNCAF tournament last night, with CD Olimpia of Honduras hosting Puntarenas of Costa Rica. Puntarenas had a 3-2 victory in the first match and only needed a draw to win the UNCAF title. Gol TV had the match live last night.

Olimpia scored in the 3rd minute off of a rebound and knotted the aggregate at 3 all. As the match progressed, both clubs started to really slow down, until Puntarenas went down to 10 men for something off the ball, as both Gol TV announcers were puzzled over the ejection. After the red card, Puntarenas played better and had more chances on goal, but they never really threatened the Olimpia goalkeeper. The match ended with winning Olimpia 1-0, and they went directly to penalty kicks to break the 3-3 total goals tie. Olimpia should be training on these as I type, because those guys looked like they had never taken one in their lives. Puntarenas won the penalty shoot out 3-1 and picked up the UNCAF Championship.

As both of these clubs are scheduled to take on the two MLS clubs bound for the CONCACAF Champions Cup, I plopped myself down in front of the TV and figured I would “scout” these two clubs. Not to take anything away from either club, but I really didn’t see anything special from either club. The biggest deciding factor might be the fact that the two MLS clubs will be in preseason and these two will be in mid season form.

The first reason I wasn’t impressed was that the match looked like two MLS clubs playing each other in August. They had some good passes and took some quick shots, but they never really had total control of what they were doing. The trapping and a majority of the passing were no different than anything I have seen in MLS. Most of the trapping off of the passes were quite poor as the players would have to make an extra effort to control the ball, not unlike in MLS. A lot of the passes, while they had some good ones, were pretty bad. Some were well behind guys who then had to sprint just to keep the ball in play, and some where guys weren’t fast enough to catch. All in all, I don’t that much a difference in the play last night than anything I have ever seen in MLS.

The Olimpia goal was a pretty sloppy one, only made possible because the Puntarenas keeper misplayed the ball at the post and allowed the rebound across the goalmouth. I will give credit to the guys who scored (sorry, I missed his name), as he did have good positioning to take advantage of the rebound, but the defender on him should have cleared the ball. If you take out the sloppy goal, Olimpia really failed to show up last night, at home.

All in all, I didn’t see anything that really made me worry. Neither club showed me anything that caused any type of alarm. Puntarenas has a very quick and speedy Brazilian forward, but nothing else jumped out at me. The pitch in Honduras, while not as horrible as Crew Stadium at times this last season, looked less than desirable and bouncy, but didn't bounce anymore than the "Infield" at RFK does. I did find it “funny” how the pitch was surrounded by SWAT guys in camo gear and M-16’s, that wasn’t something you see in MLS.

The biggest deciding factor, based on what I saw of these two clubs, will be that DC United and the Houston Dynamo will be in preseason form for their matches. If they were to have their match ups with all four clubs in mid-season form, I think that the MLS clubs would have no trouble with them, but they are not. So who’s fault is it that the CONCACAF Champions Cup is scheduled for before the MLS season? Is it CONCACAF’s fault? I mean, they are the ones who schedule the tournament, so of course, it should be their fault, but sadly it isn’t. It is Don Garber’s fault.

MLS itself handicaps it’s clubs when it comes to the CONCACAF Champions Cup because of their scheduling. The requirement to play their season from April to November, when the rest of the region (who takes part in the CCC) plays a split season that has clubs in form during the tournament, handicaps the MLS clubs. Until MLS adopts a September to May/June schedule, MLS clubs, under the current CCC schedule, will always be at a disadvantage. I blame MLS, but it isn’t 100% their fault, because of stadiums.

Until MLS has all of it’s clubs in Soccer Specific Stadiums, they will never have 100% control of their scheduling. Once they get the remaining clubs into their own SSS’s, then they will, if they wish to have clubs always be competitive in the CCC, move to the September to May/June schedule. The biggest question is will they?

I know it is cold in New York in December and February. I know it is cold in New England and Colorado in the winter. People claim that fans wouldn’t show up for the matches if it is too cold. Why? The NFL (and I know that MLS is nothing close to the NFL in fan support) gets over 50,000 plus fans to attend weekly matches in all three of those cities. I know that Toronto is really cold in the winter, but it isn’t that much higher in latitude than Foxboro and can’t really be any colder than Colorado or Salt Lake City. So why can’t MLS, once it gets all of it’s clubs in their own SSS’s, move to a September to May/June schedule? They could even take a month off in January or six weeks from Christmas to February and still have the league be in line with the rest of the region.

I know that people bitch and moan anytime people clamor for MLS to move to a more traditional fall to Spring schedule, whine about “Euro Snobs” and “Why try and be European?” I am not talking about being a Euro Snob or trying to recreate the EPL or the Bundesliga here in the USA, I am talking about configuring the league, once they have all the tools to do it, to provide it’s clubs the right tools to compete with the rest of the region. This is sort of the whole Jerry Maguire saying, “Help Me, Help You!” Let’s have MLS help it’s clubs help themselves in the CCC.

2 Comments:

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