MLS Cup Gameday: Columbus Crew-New York Red Bulls at Home Depot Center

There’s a sense of destiny for the Crew.

There’s hope of an upset for the Red Bulls.

Both will share the stage today at 12:30 p.m. on ABC from Carson as the drama unfolds.

Me, I’m just hoping for goals.

There’s hope: the Crew ranked in the top three this season in goals scored and allowed; the Red Bulls have the third-worst defensive record of any team to reach an MLS Cup and conceded 48 goals this season, 12th most among the league’s 14 teams.

But New York also have Juan Pablo Angel, who has scored 33 goals over the last two years; that’s more than any other player.

Is Red Bull Coach Juan Carlos Osorio expecting a lot of goals, too?

“No. This is a one-off (game). This is the final, so you cannot just go ahead and play forward and try to score too many goals and leave your back line exposed.”

Crew Coach Sigi Schmid hedged:

“I think you’re going to see a game where there is going to be chances. I can’t ever promise goals because goals don’t always result from chances, ask Salt Lake, ask Houston.”

The central figure for the Crew is Argentine MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who does his homework, Schmid said, which has allowed him to thrive in a league where other big-name foreign players have failed:

“When he came to our team in our league he already knew what was going on. He knew how our system worked, he knew who the best teams were, he knew some of the players that were in the league. … He studies the game, he’s knowledgeable and he knows about it and as a result of that he respects it, and once you respect it you approach it in a good manner and with a good attitude.”

Missed earlier posts leading up to the game?

*Here’s a few words from New York Red Bull attacking midfield threat Dane Richards; and here’s the perspective of his Crew counterpart, Robbie Rogers of Rolling Hills Estates.

*Three Crew players were named to the MLS Best XI.

*And former Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid is hoping for a happy ending.

So we’ll give Schmid the final word: “To become the first coach to win the title with two different teams would be very rewarding,” he said.

I’ll be back with more later from Home Depot Center. Enjoy the game.

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Bruins Beat Trojans, Toros Triumph & More

A 13th minute goal proved lucky for UCLA (21-0-2) Saturday, giving them a 1-0 win over USC (16-5-2) and a sixth straight NCAA Quarterfinal appearance.

Game story.

The Cal State Dominguez Hills men defeated Midwestern State 2-1 and earned a place in the NCAA Division II Final Four for the first time in seven years. Jordan Rover (Los Alamitos High) and Scott Mariano (Artesia) scored for CSUDH.

CSUDH will play Dec. 5 against the winner of Sunday’s Tusculum-Tampa match-up.

Game story.

Earlier today, the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team beat Argentina 3-0 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Chile. UCLA’s Sydney Leroux got her second assist in two games.

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A Few Words With Red Bulls Midfielder Dane Richards

New York’s consistently improving Jamaican midfielder Dane Richards, a speedy, but increasingly versatile and perceptive attacker, has been one of the most eye catching players in MLS this season.

Here’s Red Bull Coach Juan Carlos Osorio on Richards:

“Objectively, I think last season he has scored one goal; this season he has scored four, (he’s had) more assists and I think now he’s a player capable of coming inside. Before he was just pure pace and getting in behind so I think he has added to his game and now he is a complete player.

Here’s what Richards had to say Saturday ahead of Sunday’s MLS Cup clash against the Columbus Crew:
Question: What do you see as the Crew’s main threats?
Answer: Well, we all know they are good on set plays – in the box they try to find (MLS Defender of the Year Chad) Marshall. They’re always capitalizing, so we’ve just got to mark up in the box and try to exploit their wing backs. They’ve got some competent defenders, so we’ve just got to be disciplined and keep them off the score sheet and finish when we get our chances.”

Q: How do you think your speed matches up against them?
A: Well, my speed matches up against any team in this league. I’ve really got to use it tomorrow, got to be smart, when I choose to go, when I choose to stay back. I’ve just got to be smart hopefully, cause them some problems.

Q: How do you assess your season? It seemed like toward the end you were maturing before our eyes every game.
A: I’m happy it looked that way. … Each and every game I just tried to do better. … I started out with an injury and tried to come back from it and it was pretty hard, but I managed to get over it.

“The coaches are really happy for me and no exception tomorrow, so I just have to go out there tomorrow and do the best I can.”

Here’s what Dane Richards is capable of:

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Rogers, Donovan, Kljestan Named to MLS Best XI

Rolling Hills Estates’ Robbie Rogers capped off a breakout season today when he was deservedly named to the MLS Best XI.

Also named: the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan and Chivas USA’s Sacha Kljestan, both of whom enjoyed the best seasons of their respective careers so far.

Rogers scored six goals and added three assists for the Columbus Crew, was a constant threat on the flank and teamed incredibly well with MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

Donovan was one of the few bright spots on a ghastly Galaxy team, finishing as the league’s top scorer with two hat tricks en route to a 20-goal total and winning the Honda Player of the Year award for an amazing fifth time.

Kljestan scored five goals this year, but more importantly was the propulsive spark in midfield for an injury-stricken Chivas USA team that needed his stability and leadership.

The complete team:
goalkeeper Jon Busch (Chicago Fire)

defenders Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Bakary Soumare (Chicago Fire), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew)

midfielders Cuauhtmoc Blanco (Chicago Fire), Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus Crew), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA)

strikers Kenny Cooper (FC Dallas), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy).

Cooper was also named MLS Comeback Player of the Year after scoring 18 goals this season, rebounding from the broken shin he suffered eight games into the 2007 season.

Meanwhile, New Yawk Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his Columbus counterpart Michael B. Coleman placed a friendly wager on Sunday’s game.

The bet from the (edited) Red Bull press release:

If the Red Bulls win, Mayor Coleman will send a package of Ohio State Buckeye candies and a case of Columbus’s finest ale from the Columbus Brewing Co. If the Crew wins, Mayor Bloomberg will send a large John’s Special pizza pie in honor of Staten Island’s own, Red Bulls’ Forward John Wolyniec, from Basille’s Restaurant on Staten Island, a large Italian Hero from Leo’s Latticini and Mama’s of Corona and a case of Brooklyn Lager from Brooklyn Brewery.

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Saturday Soccer MLS Cup Edition (& More)

Photo by Juan Miranda/Chivas USA

i-fc520537d940cb3e58d843169d791dd7-cm392400002.jpgPlenty of media attention for Juan Pablo Angel and the New York Red Bulls Friday, but is the general public noticing?

I pitched my editor (the news, not sports editor) a front page Robbie Rogers profile on Sunday to coincide with MLS Cup in Carson.

I figured it was a safe bet: a South Bay native, one of the best players on the best team in the league, an Olympian, MLS Goal of the Year finalist, a 21-year-old having a breakout season who was named to the national team for the first time.

Who’s going to turn down that story?

He did.

Obscure athlete playing for an obscure team in an obscure league for an obscure championship, he said.

Instead, he said, why don’t you write a story about how many people locally know whether a national championship of a supposedly major league is being played here?

So I did, figuring if that sort of story was going to get written (yet again) at least it will be by someone (who thinks) he knows something about the game and not some ignorant soccer bashing reporter.

I’m of the P.T. Barnum mindset when it comes to soccer: there is no such thing as bad publicity.

And the story duly landed on the front page, at least publicizing the game (and this blog).

There was no other mention of the game in the entire newspaper this morning. Soccer still has a way to go whether fans like it or not.

I usually don’t print e-mails sent to me privately, but I thought I’d share the following one below that appeared in my inbox before I’d even staggered out of bed this morning:

Just read your article on MLS Cup.

Here’s my take on the event.

First off, it’s time to get rid of the myth that Americans love to play not watch soccer.

Ratings for major Soccer events (World Cup, Euro Cup, English Premier League) have been increasing at a rapid upward pace for a number of years.

As far as MLS. The relevant metric for a 12-year old-league, which unlike other American leagues exists in a worldwide environment, is hard core fans put into the seats on a weekly basis.

By that standard MLS is doing quite well, averaging more that 16,000 fans per game, in a terrible economic climate especially for families (i.e. the non-corporate crowd) who make up the core of the MLS’ fan base.

I wonder where the NBA, NHL, MLB, etc. were in their 13th year?

Are fans into the MLS Cup in New York? Not really the right question. Hard core fans of the Red Bulls like me will and given time the “gospel” will spread to the masses, just as it happened in football, baseball etc.

Flushing, New York.

Amen, Perry.

Thanks for writing.

Of course, even the soccer-hating guy mentioned in the article watches World Cup soccer so there’s a tremendous difference between MLS viewership and how many people watch the World Cup.

And as the Commish pointed out Thursday in his speech at USC, ratings for the Galaxy are higher than for the Kings, but ratings are higher nationally for the NHL than for MLS.

Fans going to the game tomorrow should be aware that:
*The Red Cross will collect donations for victims of the recent wildfires outside the entrances to the stadium.

*The Los Angeles Sol, the new Women’s Professional Soccer franchise, kicks off a toy drive Sunday with defender Kendall Fletcher signing autographs for all donors who drop off a toy at the Sol booth before the game. In addition, any fan donating an unwrapped toy worth $3 or more will receive a voucher for one free ticket with the purchase of a full-price ticket to any Sol home game in 2009. The Team LA store at Home Depot Center also has a collection box.

Also, earlier this week I blogged here about some of my favorite South Bay bars, eateries, etc., for those of you visiting the area from out of town (or locals who live under a rock).

MLS Cup is not the only soccer game at the HDC this weekend, BTW.

At 7 tonight Cal State Dominnguez Hills plays hosts Midwestern State at the Track & Field Stadium with a place at the Division II NCAA final four at stake Dec. 4 in Tampa, Fla.

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U.S. Draws Mexico in World Cup Hexagonal Opener

That’s the way to start the final crucial round of World Cup qualifying: at home Feb. 11 against a reeling Mexico.

Coach Bob Bradley must be sharpening his knives already (and we’ll know at noon when he talks to the media).

No venues have yet been set.

Here’s the rest of the schedule:
March 28 in El Salvador
April 1 Trinidad & Tobago
June 3 in Costa Rica
June 6 Honduras
Aug. 12 in Mexico
Sept. 5 El Salvador
Sept. 9 in Trinidad & Tobago
Oct. 10 in Honduras
Oct. 14 Costa Rica

The complete CONCACAF qualifying schedule is here.

Also today, FIFA conducted the draw for the Confederations Cup.

The U.S. gets Italy and Brazil in its group. Ah well, no worries about a U.S.-Iraq final then.

Updated: Reaction.

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A Few Words With Crew Midfielder Robbie Rogers


Playoff-bearded Robbie Rogers leaves Columbus Wednesday;

Robbie Rogers is not happy with the team’s mandatory playoff beard – it feels weird, he said Friday at Home Depot Center.

And the demand for tickets for an MLS Cup played in the South Bay where he grew up is intense: “I’m not answering phone numbers I don’t have in my phone,” he said, observing players get four tickets apiece and that he can’t shake down teammates for any spares. “They all need their tickets so I’m buying 10 more and put a limit at that.”

The Rolling Hills estates product has had a breakout season becoming one of the best players on the best team in the league, an MLS Goal of the Year finalist and getting a national team call-up for the first time:

Q: Assess the season
Answer: I think that overall it’s been a consistent and totally great season. I think this team is different from last year and its been a totally different experience because we’ve had so much success.

Q: Were you surprised with your performance this season or not?
A: I felt like I was capable of this, but I’m still not happy with where I am. I can still learn from these guys and keep improving. Playing for the MLS Cup – it doesn’t get any better, but I still think I have a lot to learn.

Q: How has Guillermo Barros Schelotto helped you this year?
A: He talks to me as much as he can at practice and before and after games. His English has gotten a lot better. Last year he couldn’t really tell me stuff except through (an interpretor). This year’s been a lot of help and a lot different to last year. I know how he plays now, too, so it’s easier.

Q: As a South Bay lad you must know how much this game means to Crew Coach Sigi Schmid.
A: I was around (the Galaxy), watching them play at the Rose Bowl. I’ve been to so many games here to watch them play and I know he was fired and stuff so I would think he would be a little bitter – I would if I got fired the way he did – so I think for him to be back here in front of all our families and friends with a chance to win MLS Cup – it doesn’t get any better.”

Q: Do you see yourself returning to Europe?
A: Maybe after next season or something. I’ve talked to the coaches and agents and we’ve decided I’m going to come back for sure next season so we’ll see what happens after next season.

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UCLA Crash Out of NCAA Tournament

The Bruins are done for the season.

Despite riding an eight-game unbeaten streak dating back to Oct. 12, UCLA (10-5-6) lost 1-0 to Cal Poly (11-5-6) Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Cal Poly faces UC Irvine Tuesday.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Maxwell Griffin, one of four seniors playing in his final college game. “This was my last time playing in a UCLA shirt. I can’t believe it. It just wasn’t our night. We weren’t keeping possession like we used to, and we didn’t match up with them for the duration of the game.”

Palos Verdes Estates’ Kyle Nakazawa was not in the UCLA lineup.

More here.

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MLS Tweaks Format in 2009

MLS Commish Don Garber announced several competition changes for next year at today’s Annual State of the League address:

*The four-year-old reserve division has been discontinued, with that money diverted to a “bolstered senior roster” (read better, more expensive, players).

*Senior rosters will now be between 18-20 players (it was 18 this year), but no longer will there be up to 10 developmental players. Now there will be four (although teams with more than four Generation Adidas players will have those grandfathered in).

*The season opens March 21, a week earlier than this year, although there will still be 30 league games. The fifteen teams next year (Seattle comes aboard, you’ll recall) play each other home and away with two other games (presumably against regional rivals, if the MLS suits are smart) added. MLS will either clear its schedule completely on two weekends for national teams games (or play with a reduced schedule over four weekends).

*The playoff format reverts to that last seen in 2007 with the top two teams in each conference automatically qualifying for the post-season and the next four with the most points regardless of conference earning wild card berths.

*To ease fixture congestion, MLS teams may no longer play in both SuperLiga and the CONCACAF Champions League, although all 15 will play in the U.S. Open Cup. Therefore the Champions League participants next year are the Columbus Crew, New York Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo. Playing in the SuperLiga: Chivas USA, Chicago Fire, Kansas City Wizards and New England Revolution.

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U.S. to Play Sweden Jan. 24 in Carson

U.S. Soccer announced today its customary new year friendly at Home Depot Center Jan. 24 following a week-long U.S. Men’s National Team training camp.

The 5:30 p.m. game will air live on Fox Soccer Channel and Galavision.

The U.S. beat Sweden 2-0 last January in a game that saw the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan set the all-time U.S. scoring record. The U.S. is making its sixth visit to Home Depot Center where it has a 4-0-1 record.

Next year is a big one for the U.S. with CONCACAF Final Round qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup and the 2009 Confederations Cup.

Tickets, priced between $18 and $60, go on sale Monday.

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