116street Soccer

Footballing from a lesser authority...

Location: New York, New York

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Good Night For Soccer

There are some out there, inexplicably employed at major media outlets, and with an obvious agenda against American soccer, who somehow find a way to look for negatives in what was an overwhelmingly positive night for the league. In case you missed it, the MLS All Stars defeated Chelsea last night, 1-0, in a thoroughly entertaining game, and the exact kind of showcase the league should be putting on annually. Prior to the game, some were decrying the league for an obvious lack of star power, made even more glaring by the absences of talents like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, and many (including we here on 116th Street) feared that the league may face a repeat of last year's 5-0 debacle against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
But credit MLS for turning the entire affair into a celebration of the league. It was a good move to put the injured Donovan in the booth as co-host. Say what you will about his World Cup performance (and I've said plenty), but he brought a good deal of enthusiasm about the league to the broadcast, and provided the league with a much-needed familiar face, even if not on the field. ESPN put on quite a good broadcast, with the kind of production values we will hope to see under the newly-announced television rights contract. Lots of cameras, crisp graphics, few hiccups (they made one bad mistake, however, cutting away to a wide shot when the MLS All Stars had a throw-in near the Chelsea goal, causing ESPN to miss the first part of De Rosario's goal), hopefully they will continue to work out the bugs as they improve their soccer coverage.
ESPN finally got it right and tossed Marcelo Balboa out of the booth, hopefully never to return. With Eric Wynalda in his place, rough edges abounded, but he generally kept the discourse intelligent, kept the stammering to a minimum, provided a much-needed "on-field" perspective, and was quite funny (one note to ESPN: work harder on getting your facts straight. Transfer fees go to clubs, not the players, and Wynalda, at the least, should have set that fact straight). His late-game trash-talking style is exactly the kind of thing the American game needs, to feel the emotional aspect of the game and claim it for ourselves (I loved his, "we'll cut the grass shorter for you next time," remark to John Terry post-game).
On to Peter Nowak and the players, a very big thank you for lining up 3-5-2 and pressing the attack. Clumsy and deferential early in the match, the MLS team picked up confidence as the game went on, and provided an entertaining style that Chelsea chose not to match (Chelsea, an exciting team? Not under Jose Mourinho). I couldn't believe my eyes; a mostly American outfit, playing short passes, keeping the ball on the ground, maintaining possession and attacking? Too good to be true! I went into the match expecting Arena-ish long balls, and was pleasantly surprised to find a well-organized, wide-open attack. It brought smiles to the faces of 116th Street.
Special props go to Eddie Robinson for his game saving clearance, a spectacular, exciting play; Chris Albright, for attacking the Chelsea defense from the beginning; Jimmy Conrad, for fouling Didier Drogba every chance he got; Freddy Adu, for playing fearlessly, even though he was getting thrown around like a rag doll; and Dwayne De Rosario, for providing a great deal of class throughout, as well as scoring an exciting winner. Is this really the breakthrough match for U.S. soccer? Probably not, Chelsea looked about as interested in this match as I am in finding a handbag to carry little-@$$ dogs around in, although they did turn up the heat late in the match. But there is much to be happy about. The league, while still inferior, showed that it does have some talent, and a lot of heart, and is capable of hanging with the best teams in the world on its best day. More important than gaining respect from the Chelseas of the world, the league showed itself valuable to American fans, many of whom showed up to cheer on the Blues, but ended the night shouting "Over-Rated!" at Lampard and company. The only negatives to find in a night like last night are the dubious ones you'd have to dig for, Jamie Trecker.


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