Sunday, March 28, 2010

Road trip to Dallas

Yesterday, the family took a trip to Pizza Hut Park for the first time. It was good to see live soccer again for the first time since last year, although both teams looked rusty. There was very little rhythm, very little creativity, and few passing combinations. The massive gusts of wind probably had a lot to do with that, and it also messed up the freestyle team from Toronto that performed at halftime. We sat in the NW corner, row 9, section 102, directly across from the Texian Army.

FCD probably had the more dangerous opportunities, while the Dynamo probably had a bit of an edge in the possession dept. Neither team worked through the midfield much. It was a game determined by individual spurts of genius and physical play.

Having said that, Chabala's first professional goal was one of the examples of good teamwork, starting with Davis passing through to Oduro who laid it off for Chabala who did a sliding strike on goal. Two minutes later, Hainault left his mark, Atiba Harris, who then proceeded to make a run, got the ball on the left flank about 25 yards from goal, did a quick cut in to wrong-foot Boswell, then made a sweet curving strike past Onstad.

Oduro proved again that he's got speed but no touch or form. Waibel looked scary even walking around the sidelines. ERob went down with an injury in the first half. That forced us to burn a sub (Cochrane) and also stinks because ERob is now sidelined like he was all last season.

As for the stadium, I liked it from a soccer standpoint, but not from a design standpoint. Here's what I thought:
The bad:
  • From the outside, the stadium had all the appeal and uniqueness of a strip center. It was, frankly ugly. Dynamo stadium needs more appeal from the outside. It needs to sell the team to the outside community and needs to tie into the architectural vernacular of the region.
  • On the inside, the stage provided a huge, lifeless zone, not that there are enough FCD fans to fill up stands if they had stands there.
  • Pavilion roofing would be nice to hold in the acoustics and shield from the sun, which has to be oppressive in the summer.
  • Needs viewscreens on the south side of the stadium for folks to view the replays down there.
The good:
  • The field is absolutely gorgeous.
  • The surrounding practice fields and youth tournament fields are also gorgeous.
  • It was cool having a pub, Firehouse subs, and other restaurants within walking distance of the stadium.
  • The whole area might have been sterile, but it was also clean.
  • The seats were comfortable and had cup holders. We weren't worried about knocking over drinks, although the lady in front of us nearly put her elbow in my daughter's cup.
  • The south-goal seating were bleachers, which is perfect for a supporter's group wanting to make noise, but seats ruled the sidelines, where the "mainstream" fan sits.
  • The luxury seating is probably a good revenue generator, which is good for the club, but didn't adversely affect the affordable seating.
  • Nice viewscreens on the north side. We were right by the screen on the NW side and could see every replay with ease.
  • Two words: free parking!
I can't believe FCD has their own stadium with free parking, and they get only 8,000 people to their home-opener versus their in-state rival. The club is just sad, and their supporters are passionless. The stadium erupted when FCD scored, but other than that, the Texian Army was louder than the FCD group, which just stood there, frozen, watching the game; not even waving their flags. The only chant I heard was after the game, when some adolescent flag-waver on his way out of the stadium passed my family and shouted out to no one in particular "Go back to Houston! Get out of here!" Pathetic, really.

At least the host fans were very well-mannered. But there has to be a middle ground between passionless and volatile.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Western Conference Championship + 30 minutes to get the Galaxy in the Cup

While I've been following the Dynamo all season, I have kept my comments to the various blogs (particularly Benardo Fallas and Glenn Davis) and haven't spent time on mine. Worse: I've attended only one game this season. That's primarily because my weekends are spent coaching my son's Divison 2 team, and that's proven very time-consuming.

The past two months have been painful because the Dynamo drifted into a malaise, and their game looked tired and uninspired. Even so, if they had won only one more game they would have earned the Supporters' Shield. This is actually the prize I wanted the most this year. When that went to The Crew, I shifted my hopes to the MLS Cup.

I was pretty pessimistic about our chances to get past the Sounders, but the excellent result at Seattle made me hopeful, and the Dynamo ended up closing out the series in style with an awesome extra time goal by Ching.

We match up fairly well against LA, so I was more optimistic than I was about our Sounders series. Several Dynamo and non-Dynamo fans suggested that the Dynamo would have to beat LA and the refs (and Don Garber and ESPN...) in order to get through to the final. I thought these fans were either paranoid Dynamo fans, or spiteful Galaxy-haters. Turns out they were right.

The Dynamo controlled the game in the first 18 minutes, other than a couple of dangerous forays early on by LA. After the blackout in the 18', the Galaxy asserted control. The MIO worked their way into the game again, but halftime took off their edge and the Galaxy again controlled the game after the break. Thankfully with the 2nd blackout in the 55th minute, the game became the Dynamo's again. They controlled the final 30 minutes or so, and looked like the only team on the field for long stretches. Then they get the only goal of the game off a Hainault header after a LA player takes out Ching and another LA player. Houston wins 1-0.

Except that the ref decided the Dynamo shouldn't have let the LA player take out his teammate and Ching. So no goal. A few crossbars later, and we're into Extra Time. Credit to the Galaxy for playing a solid 30 minute overtime, but it shouldn't have gotten to that. It was an illegitimate act that put an unequal hurdle before both teams. Turns out, you had to have the LA crest on your chest for your goal to count. We weren't aware of that stipulation prior to the game.

The Dynamo have nothing to be ashamed of. They acquitted themselves well for the 90 minute match and proved they were the better team. Fatigue and weak bench support proved to be their undoing when they were forced to play an illegitimate extra 30 minutes.

Question doesn't the Skunk-headed one make enough money to buy some maturity? He whines like a spoiled schoolboy. Does he always whine at every official? Does he always exchange whiny words with the opposition once the competition is over? He did versus Chivas USA, and now with the Dynamo.

It seems to me that the MLS is hurting its credibility with potential American sports fans by immersing itself more and more into the atmosphere of suspicious officiating, like seen with the NBA. I long ago gave up on basketball and I get physically ill whenever I see it on TV. It's an off-season YMCA conditioning exercise that they turned professional with all of the competitive legitimacy of professional wrestling. The MLS seems to be heading in that direction too, with their bush league referees and their rule-bending for the gender-bending Becks and his LA Gals.

I still support the Dynamo. They are the best organization in the MLS and, while physical, play a style of ball that other MLS teams only sometimes toy with. Coach Kinnear is the best in the league, and the players are class acts.

But I have slowly become a reluctant follower of the MLS in general, and have become a more and more infrequent watcher of the league. Furthermore, I worry that personnel changes and aging veterans will make the one bright spot in the league -- the Houston Dynamo -- a second rate team scrapping its way through the league next season as it waits on the next generation of talent to emerge.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Catching Up With The Orange

Lots of good stuff going on with the Orange, so much so that I've not blogged. I've been trotting around enjoying other blogs though, leaving my opinions sprinkled about as I go. It's a good time to be a Dynamo fan ... and a US fan for that matter. The US has had its ups and downs, but the Dynamo are undefeated since my last post...maybe I shouldn't post...

To recap what's happened since my last post:
May 23 - We said "See Ya!" to Nick Garcia and his fellow Quakes. Nick was impotent and proven to be the "mental midget" as the MIO crushed the Quakes 3-1. Ching scored in the 4th, Kamara in the 12th, Waibel (!) in the 50th, and San Jose's Johnson (assist by Cam Weaver) in the 53rd.
May 27 - The Dynamo pick up Dominic Oduro from the Red Bulls. Oduro spent 2006-2008 with FC Dallas.
May 30 - DeRo comes to town for the only time this season. Davis-Kamara-Holden each score a goal from minute 20 to minute 24, and Hainault and Onstad are the only Canucks with three points after the 3-0 victory.
June 1ish - Clark leaves for the USMNT, where he plays in a WCQ 2-1 win over Honduras, then the Confederation Cup Tournament in South Africa. Ching departs as well, but comes back injured before the WCQ match.
June 5 - The MIO travel to Chicago. Holden scored in the 3rd minute, but the Dynamo are mostly outplayed and concede numerous chances, but the lone goal stands and they leave with 3 points. (Chris Wondolowski came on in the 75th minute in what turned out to be his final game as a MIO.)
June 7 - Cam Weaver sits on the bench in Dallas as San Jose leaves with a 2-2 draw. Six days later Cam would return in Orange and score a brace.
June 8 - Cam Weaver comes to Houston from San Jose, while Orange Reserve mainstay Chris Wondolowski heads home to San Jose. We wish Wondo well with the Quakes.
June 9 - San Jose say "C'ya" to Nick Garcia and ship him to The Great White North.
June 10 - Chivas USA comes to town and is completely out-classed, but we eke out only a 1-0 victory...but at least it's a victory. Holden gets the goal, with Cam Weaver getting the assist in his first game as a MIO. It was a nice flick-on from an Onstad goal kick in the final minute of the first half, and it fell in front of a streaking Holden who side-stepped the goalie and slotted the lone goal in. Cam Weaver also got a legit goal, but it was illegitimately called off for being offside (which he wasn't). Luckily we didn't need the goal, but it hurt Cam's stats.
June 13 - Pooped from the arduous Chivas match three days before, the Dynamo travel to Frisco to face an inspired Dallas. The ex-Burn played perhaps their best match, but the Dynamo, led by our new Cam Weaver's 2 goals and a blistering shot from distance by Mulrooney, go up 3-0 before conceding a late goal to leave with a 3-1 win, 3 points, and El Capitan. My wife and I were able to enjoy this at the Dynamo viewing party at the Hooters on Kirby.
June 20 - It was a weird match all in all when RSL came to town. There was an early injury to Waibel that caused him to be subbed out 7 minutes into the game, a water break for the teams around the 25th minute, an OG by Bobby Boswell 50 seconds after the restart, an OG by RSL that was called off because Hainault was offside on the freekick (but was he part of the play?), to a free kick pass-back to the RSL keeper that Rimando picked up but the ref allowed the kick to be retaken, to a halftime substitute that brought in Ching (has Dom ever made 2 subs by the 46th minute? Or even the 60th minute?) to a red card to RSL's Olave for a stupid delay of game when he had a yellow already, to a missed PK by Brad Davis, to a late brilliant play by Ching to fly through the air to score and give us 1 point. There were highlights: such as in the 13th minute when the Dynamo had six 1-touch passes among 4 people to set Kamara up with a fast break from the left side. Also in the 87th, second half sub Ching (who had been out with an injury since the Toronto match) made a long pass from the center to Mullan on the right, then sprinted up the middle for Mullan's return cross, skying in the air and driving the ball into the net to give his side the tie they so desperately earned but looked to have been denied. There were also lowlights (beside the reffing): the 16 uncontested passes by RSL after the water break, then a cross and a backheel pass that led to a poor shot on goal that Boswell knocked in with his knee.

So now the Dynamo are alone in the Supporters' Shield position, and Dom is set to coach the MLS All Star Team versus Everton.

Tomorrow, we venture to LaLa Land to face the Galaxy without Hainault (Canadian National Team), Waibel (injury), Barrett (injury), and Clark (USMNT). Hopefully our cobbled-together defense can hold off LA's weak offense...

Go Dynamo!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Garcia "I talk trash because I play like trash"

In a stunning development last week, the Dynamo were able to score on a 10-man team. The MIO have an easier time scoring on 11-men than they do versus 10-men, but they did it. On the road. On green asphalt.

The story of the game was really about our bench providing a spark when it was needed. The score was set up by a nice turnover in our half of the field (Boswell or Cameron was responsible for that), then a pass to Davis, who got the ball to a streaking Ashe. Ashe had speed on his side, but it was his curling cross that was really the story. And a sliding Wondolowski got on the end of the cross to net his 2nd goal of the season (and the 7,000th goal for the MLS). With 2 goals and an assist, Wondo is behind only Ching's 3 goals for our team. The young pup is making a case for a starting role, or at least for coming in off the bench sooner.

When we got that goal, I thought the game was over, based on our ubiquitously solid defense and the match's general run of play. Unfortunately, a defensive miscue led to a corner kick, which was not defended correctly, and John Wolyniec demonstrated excellent composure and technique to bring down a blind ball, turn, and get it past Onstad to split the points with the Dynamo.

Now the Dynamo are amongst a group of 5 teams fighting to catch up with Chivas-North. We can help keep the trailers down in the cellar when we meet up against San Jose tonight at Robertson. San Jose has only one win so far, and it was against us, natch. We have a little dark cloud that lingers around us when we play the Quakes, but let's hope we can shake that tonight.

In other news, Garcia says he compensates for his lack of skill by getting in the head of his opponents. One has to be good at something I presume, and he has been successful at manipulating officials and the system to get Kamara off the field. We'll see if he is successful at that tonight.

Soapbox: I do like the physicality of the MLS and the fact that we don't have soft defenses that exaggerate the skill of forwards. However, I do wish the MLS had an environment where technique and creativity would be rewarded slightly more than force and destruction are. To do this, we need the officials to call a game in such a way as to create this environment, and we'd need to see more defenders who have the vision and acuity necessary to compensate for the fact that physicality is no longer their trump card. In the end, I think this sort of environment would help develop better defenders, help develop more creative attackers, and generate more exciting gameplay.

Of course, whenever officials try to temper physical play, then we start to see more flopping by the attackers, so as with everything in life, there could be a downside.

But tonight I think we're going to see too physical teams hammering each other to attrition. Let's hope that the Dynamo come out unscathed and with 3 points.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

An Orange Moon Bodes Well

I'm glad I went to the game yesterday, seeing as the first 19 minutes of television coverage was pre-empted by ESPN2's coverage of men's NCAA volleyball. (I understand that ESPN Classic carried the first few minutes of the Dynamo game.)

The Dynamo-Dallas match went as expected. The Dynamo carried the run of play. Dallas had a few dangerous forays into our defensive third. A few tempers flared. The game was low-scoring.

The MIO had chances a-plenty in the first half with the best being a Boswell header (10th minute) that was cleared off the line by a Dallas defender. Brad Davis had perhaps the best play a bit later (38th), picking a long pass from Mullan out of the air with his left foot, tapping the ball back to an open Ching with his right foot, thus setting Ching up for a shot on a nearly open goal. (Ching flubbed the kick spectacularly, which is a shame because it's stuff like that that fuels discontent with him at the USMNT level.)

Ching actually had another poor shot on goal in the second half -- this one from wide on the right, which ended up in the side net -- but it was his role as provider that really sparked our attack. He had some creative and athletic passes that set up others, including a remarkably crafty blind pass to Kamara late in the game that Kamara (unfortunately) was not ready for. Ching's most effective work was in the 57th minute when he settled a long header from his back line (from Cameron or Boswell), then laid the ball smoothly to Davis wide on the left. Davis pushed the ball forward for a hungry Holden to run down. Holden saved the ball from the goal line and sent a curling cross to the head of Kamara to give the Dynamo the only goal they would need.

But it sure would've been nice to have more. Dallas almost made us pay in stoppage time, were it not for Onstad's great hands.

For a long while I wondered how this match would turn out. We were controlling the play, but not really hammering the goal like we should have been. But when I saw the moon glowing orange to the southeast of the stadium, I thought that was a good harbinger. (I told my son that it helps having NASA in the hometeam's home town.) And we can't lose on a night with fireworks, right?

Hats off to Kei for getting the goal we needed, thus proving the omen correct, but hats off mostly for him honoring his mom afterwards with his undershirt ("4 U Mom") on Mother's Day weekend.

Now we just have to win one of the two times we're in Frisco, and El Capitan will be in its rightful place. We have a lot more winnin' we'll need to do before that, though; and that's going to require a lot more scorin'. We need to improve our finishing.

Other thoughts...
Ade Akinbiyi is big and looks strong, but I thought he was supposed to be fast too. He looked slow out there on one fast break. And he could've done better with at least one time where he had the ball at his feet in front of goal.

When we're trying to possess the ball and kill the clock at the end of the game, what's with Wondo (fresh off the bench) getting the ball in our half with plenty of space around him, and he just boots the ball downfield to lose possession? I hope he learns to do better next time.

Holden and Davis both had good games. And I love seeing Ashe's speed near the end of games when the opposition is tired.

In ex-Dynamo news...
How about Serioux netting one and DeRo netting two in Toronto's 3-3 tie at DC? That first goal by DeRo was pulled out of a hat and was a great display of timing and balance, but that second goal -- a rocket from about 30 yards out after a clear run with the ball -- was vintage DeRo. I miss that type of finishing (and the Dynamo can use it this season). I also miss the "funky chicken" after his goals. (He calls it the "Shake-and-Bake.")

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Operation REC

Today we meet Dallas in our first match of Operation Recapture El Capitan. As you know, we won the inaugural El Capitan in 2006 and retained it in 2007 then lost it in 2008 after we tied Dallas in all three matches. Because of the ties, El Capitan was awarded to the team with the highest number of away goals, which favored Dallas since they had twice as many away games to accrue goals. Still, the Dynamo have nothing to complain about as they were the ones who tied a lousy time three times, twice at Robertson.

Now that the two teams face each other an odd number of times, one team would have the advantage by having more opportunities to get away goals. So this week, the tie-breaker rules were changed for this and future seasons:
1. Head-to-head regular season series (W-L-T)
2. Head-to-head goal differential in regular season series
3. Result of playoff series (if applicable)
4. Result of CONCACAF Champions League series (if applicable)
5. Result of SuperLiga playoff match (if applicable)
6. Result of SuperLiga group match (if applicable)
7. Result of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match (if applicable)
8. Holder retains trophy

Dynamo should win El Capitan outright in the regular season. And they should win tonight. They outclass FCD at every position (Dallas' David Ferreira could be a shining exception), but it's rivalry matches such as this one that can turn a struggling team's fortunes around. FCD has some fight in it, Cooper and Cunningham can use their size and speed (respectively) to punish us. So we should win, but FCD won't make it easy and could steal a point (or three) if we're too cavalier.

After tonight, we play Dallas twice at Pizza Hut Park: Saturday, June 13 (live on Fox Soccer Channel), and Thursday, August 6 (live on ESPN2).

The Dynamo website has a couple of articles that reflect on some nostalgic moments from the "Texas Derby":
Top 10(+1) plays in Houston-Dallas rivalry. The "+1" is the special mention of the Ricardo-Ruiz incident at the end of the 2007 regular season -- not a highlight, but definitely memorable. That explosion wasn't really due to the rivalry as much as due to Carlos Ruiz being a cheating, violent scumbag who finally got under Rico's skin.
Top 5 matches in the Houston-Dallas rivalry. We can thank Alvarez who, gifted though he is, lingers in mediocrity due to his lack of focus, professionalism, and maturity...and these traits helped significantly in our victory that became the #1 match on this list.

See you at the game! (I heard the pitch is finally green!)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The first trademarked Dynamo win of 2009

The Dynamo have their first winning streak of the season after finally beating the New England Revolution at Foxboro. Holden scored from distance in the first half (via an uncharacteristic howler from Matt Reis letting the ball squirt under him and through his legs) then a patented Ching Snap-Header(TM) from a Davis corner kick in the second half sealed the deal. Add another Dynamo Clean Sheet(R) and you've got the first typical Dynamo win of the season.

Some among you would argue that last week's win versus Colorado was the first vintage Dynamo win because it involved (1) only one goal, (2) which was a [freakin' awesome] header by Ching, (3) from a cross by Davis, (4) coupled with a clean sheet, (5) in a home game, (6) on natural grass. I can't really argue with that list, but that game felt a like it involved a little luck (the cynics among you saying, "That's reason #7!") what with Onstad making several superhuman saves, none more important than the PK and successive point-blank shot.

What I liked about today's game was that we looked more like the aggressor even though we were the visiting team. Sure we were helped by the Revs missing several starters (been there), but even with their starters, Coach Nicol tends to play an ugly anti-soccer anyway. The gaffe by Reis to open up the scoring should have changed the complexion of the game. Usually the visitor bunkers in (New England, I'm looking at you!) and the home team becoms the aggressor. Instead, the Revs didn't get their first shot on goal until two-thirds of the game had passed.

It's good to get successive 3-points. That puts us only 11 points from the conference leaders, Chivas USA. Uh, 11 points back six games in? Oh. Well, at least we're gaining some ground.

Other highlight from the Revs game: seeing Andrew Hainault mesh with the back line to get the clean sheet, and seeing Ade Akinbiyi get some time with the team. Hainault saw more than a half of action and did very well. We didn't see much from Ade, given that he played only 5 minutes; but it was good to see him on the field. He looks strong.

Stadium News
The Chronicle has an article on the latest stadium developments.

This sounds good:
They envision an all-round two-level, all-seater venue with 34 suites, 86 concession point-of-sales, a 3,000 square-foot club level and a party deck on the southeast corner.

Plans also call for at least one canopy (west stands).... The field would be 13 feet below street level. The first seating level would be set on concrete, with aluminum for the upper level.
This doesn't:

A slick, intimate, futuristic-looking building with orange accents.

Plans also call for ... a stage (permanent or removable) on the south end.
I suppose stadium-beggars can't be choosers but I would rather have something architecturally similar to the nearby Minute Maid Park. It would be something timeless that would look contemporary, but with classical, vernacular elements that say "this is part of Houston's roots." Something slick and futuristic soon looks dated and cheap, like the Astrodome or Disney's Tomorrowland. It also looks like a flash-in-the-pan.

As for the stage, it had better be removable. I want the stadium to look like a stadium and nothing else. It should have wrap-around seating so that there is no place for the opponent to find peace away from the partisan Orange fans. The worst stadium development to happen in the past few years is when the Columbus Crew removed seats to install an ugly, permanent, dead zone so they could bring in a few concerts a year. This is not a soccer-specific stadium; it's a soccer-when-it's-convenient stadium. And it's not what we need or want for Houston.

I speak for all of Houston, by the way.