MLS Newsstand – November 1, 2012
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MLS Newsstand – November 1, 2012
LA Galaxy vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 10:30 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network)
1. David Beckham says Whitecaps 'can cause problems'(Vancouver Sun)
2. History shows anything possible, even for Vancouver Whitecaps (Vancouver Sun)
3. Whitecaps relish underdog role(Toronto Sun)
4. Galaxy’s Magee hopes to net playoff success, again(The Province)
5. David Beckham, defending champion Galaxy face elimination in MLS play-in game against Vancouver(San Bernardino Sun)
6. Galaxy's Robbie Keane shows he's not finished(Los Angeles Times)
7. Robbie Keane has a striking season for LA Galaxy(San Jose Mercury News)
8. D.C. United, New York Red Bulls switch dates for MLS playoff series in wake of Hurricane Sandy(Washington Post)
9. Hurricane Sandy forces Red Bulls, D.C. United to switch home dates for playoff series(Star-Ledger)
10. Three reasons the Sounders can advance in the playoffs, at last(Seattle Times)
11. MLS: Real Salt Lake finds familiar playoff foe in Seattle once again(Salt Lake Tribune)
15. Whitecaps have come a long way, but Rennie’s journey has taken longer(Toronto Star)
16. Vancouver Whitecaps’ playoff stage familiar for team president Bob Lenarduzzi (Vancouver Sun)
17. Impact: good season, not great(Montreal Gazette)
18. Red Bulls have no trophies, United want to keep it that way(Washington Times)
19. Earthquake star, Chico State product Wondolowski credits team(Chico Enterprise-Record)
20. Taking a look at Kansas City sports(Louisberg Herald)
21. Impact thrilled with 1st MLS season, except for missing playoffs(The Canadian Press)
22. Seattle brings democracy to MLS with GM vote(The Associated Press)
23. Crew's Chad Marshall has surgery(The Associated Press)
25. The 'Beckham effect' is working as football crowds grow in the US(Daily Mail Online)
26. Landon Donovan eyes break from soccer(ESPN.com)
27. Red Bulls and D.C. United Switch Dates(New York Times Blog)
28. Red Bulls playoff series vs. rival United rescheduled(NY Post Blog)
Houston Dynamo 2, Chicago Fire 1
29. Fire ousted from MLS playoffs(Chicago Tribune)
30. Dynamo edge Fire to advance in MLS playoffs(Houston Chronicle)
31. Early goal sets tone in frustrating playoff exit for Fire(Chicago Sun-Times)
32. Fire’s playoff stay a short one, lose 2-1 to Houston(Daily Herald)
33. Dynamo eliminates Fire in knockout round(ESPN.com)
(Additional articles for consideration can be submitted directly to Lauren Brophy of MLS Communications at Lauren.Brophy@MLSsoccer.com.
1. David Beckham says Whitecaps 'can cause problems'
By Bruce Constantineau
Vancouver Sun - October 31, 2012
With their season-long goal of a playoff spot already achieved, Vancouver Sun writers Bruce Constantineau and Iain MacIntyre agree a Whitecaps win over the Galaxy in the MLS playoffs is unlikely at best.
LOS ANGELES – Don’t tell David Beckham the Los Angeles Galaxy will walk all over the Vancouver Whitecaps Thursday when the two sides meet here in a one-game playoff.
The global soccer icon doesn’t care that Vancouver has never beaten the Galaxy or even scored a goal against them in Los Angeles.
“They’ve got players who can cause us problems and score goals,” Beckham said Wednesday after the Galaxy trained at the Home Depot Center. “They’ve got players that have played in Europe and played in big games in their teams so we’re well aware of their firepower.”
Becks was generous in his use of the word “firepower” with the Caps, who scored just 35 goals in 34 games this season – the 17th best strike rate in a 19-team league.
But his cautious attitude with the seemingly overmatched Whitecaps makes sense, as recent Major League Soccer history is littered with teams that made deep playoff runs and won titles after barely qualifying for post-season play.
Beckham said it’s no secret the Whitecaps will bring a defend-and-counter strategy to the first MLS playoff game involving a Canadian club.
“We’re well aware that they’ll get every man behind the ball on every attack,” he said. “It’s up to us to be patient and break them down when we can.”
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena reinforced his superstar’s cautious, respectful attitude towards a Whitecaps squad that has been outscored 14-2 by the Galaxy over five games the past two years.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” he said in a conference call this week. “It’s a fresh tournament . . . So whatever happened during the regular season for Vancouver or Los Angeles really doesn’t matter at this point.”
Niceties aside, it’s hard to ignore the Galaxy’s statistical mastery over the Caps as their high-priced talent came together for a second-half surge that saw them lose just two MLS games since early July.
Their 54 points this season – with a record of 16W-12L-6D – is 11 better than the 11W-13L-10D Whitecaps and the Galaxy scored 24 more goals than the Caps this year.
Arena cited injuries and player departures for the club’s poor early-season record this year but feels his squad is well positioned now to defend its MLS Cup title.
Beckham and Landon Donovan have returned from recent injuries and striker Robbie Keane blossomed in his first full season in MLS, scoring 16 goals and adding nine assists in 28 appearances.
Throw in back-in-form striker Edson Buddle and talented playmaking midfielder Juninho and you can see why many give the Galaxy a great chance to repeat as champions.
Caps fans looking for a Galaxy weak spot might point to the team’s defensive record, as the club surrendered 47 goals this season – six more than the Whitecaps allowed.
Popular opinion among Whitecaps supporters says the speed of Caps forward Darren Mattocks and midfielder Dane Richards can create headaches for the Galaxy’s back line of Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Tommy Meyer and Todd Dunivant.
2. History shows anything possible, even for Vancouver Whitecaps
By Bruce Constantineau
Vancouver Sun - October 31, 2012
Los Angeles - Dane Richards knows all about the massive playoff challenge facing the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Caps speedy Jamaican midfielder/forward appreciates the difficulty of the task at hand – facing the defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy on their home turf – but stressed anything can happen in the playoffs.
He points to his experience with the 2008 New York Red Bulls, who stunned pundits when facing a strikingly similar assignment.
New York grabbed the last playoff spot that season and faced two-time defending MLS Cup champion Houston Dynamo in a two-leg series. The teams drew 1-1 in New York before the Red Bulls went to Houston and shocked everyone with a 3-0 win.
“Everybody counted us out because Houston was a two-time champion,” Richards said. “But we went in there and won three-nil. I’ll always remember that game.”
He scored the first goal and assisted on another in that memorable match, helping the Red Bulls make it all the way to the MLS Cup final before losing 3-1 to Columbus.
Richards, one of the few Whitecaps with MLS playoff experience, said playoff intensity rises far beyond anything experienced during the regular season.
“It’s rough, it’s tough and you’ve got to prepare to play,” he said. “It’s definitely a step up from the regular season, especially this game, where it’s win or go home.
“That would be my best memory of Vancouver – going to L.A. and beating them because they’re one of the kingpins of MLS.”
Caps midfielder John Thorrington’s favourite playoff memory is scoring a goal for the Chicago Fire in the second leg of the 2009 Eastern Conference semi-finals against New England, which Chicago won 3-2 on aggregate.
“Playoff games are what we go through this grind for,” he said. “I’ve loved playing in them when I’ve had the opportunity. History has shown that any team that makes the playoffs has just as good a chance of winning as the Supporters’ Shield winner.”
Thorrington, a southern Californian, will have family and friends watching the game at the Home Depot Center and gets “goosebumps” thinking of what it would be like to host a playoff game at BC Place.
“But first we have to earn that right by performing well in L.A.,” he said.
Whitecaps goalkeeper Joe Cannon doesn’t hesitate when asked about his fondest playoff experience – winning the 2001 MLS Cup with the San Jose Earthquakes, which featured a 19-year-old Landon Donovan.
“We got hot at the right time and Landon got hot and things just happened,” he said. “With the speed of Darren (Mattocks) and the team we have here, it’s something that could happen for us.”
Cannon said teams that assert themselves physically over 90 minutes, especially in their own defensive third of the field, often experience post-season success.
“If everyone just focuses on their job and holds that belief for all 90 minutes, it can happen,” he said.
3. Whitecaps relish underdog role
By Hosea Cheung
Toronto Sun - October 31, 2012
Vancouver - Underdog this, underdog that.
Understandably, it's the role the Vancouver Whitecaps will embrace when they step onto the pitch Thursday at the Home Depot Center for their first ever playoff match. After all, that's pretty much all the second-year club has talked about during the last week and a half.
Heading into the one-game knockout against the Los Angeles Galaxy in Carson, Calif., the Whitecaps know where they stand. They slipped in through the back door to take the final post-season spot in the Western Conference and now face the reigning MLS champions, comprised of a star-studded roster.
"We don't have anything to expect if you follow what the people are saying," Whitecaps defender Alain Rochat said. "Anything can happen and we are ready to be in this position going there. We're going to play this game as hard as we can and try to create the big surprise."
An upset will only add to an already relatively successful season for the Whitecaps.
After a poor inaugural campaign last year, finishing 6-18-10, the Caps revamped their roster, brought in new head coach Martin Rennie and started their sophomore season with a refreshed attitude. Their 7-3-5 start to the year -- including four straight clean sheets -- was promising, but after several mid-season player changes, the club struggled.
In 15 games from July to September, they managed just three wins. And although they finished the season by allowing one goal in four games, they failed to get into the playoffs on their own terms.
Instead, after a disappointing 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers at home on Oct. 21, they had to rely on the Seattle Sounders win over FC Dallas later that night to secure their spot in the playoffs.
Despite how they got there, the Whitecaps are in -- the first Canadian team to make it. With that long-shot role comes less pressure, or at least not as much as is on the Galaxy.
"For us, it's about one game and for other teams, they haven't achieved their goal yet," Rennie said. "They have to manage a playoff run and win a championship to achieve their goal and that's a lot more work and a lot more pressure than what we feel right now."
L.A. will certainly have much more to prove, looking to defend the MLS Cup. After finding themselves at the bottom of the standings at the end of May, the club required a second-half resurgence to get to where they are now.
With 34 points in their final 17 regular season games, the Galaxy will rely on their top four scorers; Robbie Keane (16 goals), Landon Donovan (nine), David Beckham (seven), Juninho (seven); and a host of other difference-makers. The Whitecaps counter with team-leading scorer Darren Mattocks (seven goals), brash Scottish midfielder Barry Robson, and a trio of veteran defenders -- captain Jay DeMerit, Englishman Andy O'Brien, and former Korean international Y.P. Lee.
"They're going to come here with a lot of confidence, but it's our home ground so we have to be confident going into the game," Beckham told FOX News this week. "But we know Vancouver are a dangerous team, they've got dangerous players, and they're capable of getting a result wherever they play so we have to be on top of our game."
The winner Thursday will play the top-ranked San Jose Earthquake in the conference semifinal.
Whitecaps goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who will get the start in the franchise's MLS playoff debut, doesn't want to make the game any bigger than it already is.
"Everyone talks about it being the first game and nerves and that," Knighton said. "You're not trying to make a huge picture and a huge blowout of how prolific this game can be for a whole organization or a whole city playing against the champions. You can look at that and go crazy. It's just about doing the little things right."
It's a mindset fit for the underdogs.
"Everyone is pretty much talking about the L.A.-San Jose game. That's writing us off," he added. "We're pretty much just going to take that role on and ride it as far as we can."
4. Galaxy’s Magee hopes to net playoff success, again
By Marc Weber
The Province - October 31, 2012
Los Angeles — If it’s playoff time, it must be Mike Magee time.
Magee’s isn’t the first name that pops to mind when talk turns to the L.A. Galaxy, but the smart and versatile left-sided midfielder has a history of success at this time of year.
He scored five goals in 27 games during the 2011 regular season, then three in four playoff games as the Galaxy lifted the MLS Cup.
In 2009, Magee scored twice in 23 regular-season games, then twice in four playoff games as the Galaxy lost the MLS Cup final to Salt Lake.
“I knew he was going to score the other night [against Seattle] because it’s coming up to the playoffs and he kind of always likes to get on a roll,” David Beckham said of Magee.
“It’s what you play for,” Magee said. “A big game that’s more meaningful than the regular season. It should shift for everyone.”
Aside from a bizarre game last season when Magee was forced to play in goal for the first time and made four saves in a shutout tie, he’s been a secondary story on a team loaded with headline-makers.
But he’s quietly carved out an important role for himself since being traded from New York four seasons ago for a second-round draft pick.
Being surrounded by such skill has obviously benefitted the 28-year-old Chicago native, who has a knack of sniffing out the right areas. Time together has also helped.
“You’re not as shell-shocked as you were in the beginning,” Magee said of playing with the likes of Beckham, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan.
“Early on, you’d feel like you have to give them the ball, then you realize you don’t have to change. It’s easier just to play with them, rather than trying to please them.”
Magee was in the right place at the right time to open the scoring against Vancouver in L.A.’s 3-0 win at the Home Depot Center earlier this season.
It was one of his five goals in 29 games. And now, it’s that time of year again.
“Last year in the playoffs he was great for us,” said Keane, “so hopefully that will continue.”
5. David Beckham, defending champion Galaxy face elimination in MLS play-in game against Vancouver
By Phil Collin
San Bernardino Sun - November 1, 2012
They played their way into this predicament, and now the Galaxy have only 90 minutes to straighten it out.
It's a one-game season as the defending MLS Cup champions take on Vancouver tonight at Home Depot Center in a one-game playoff.
The winner advances to the Western Conference semifinal series with regular-season champ San Jose. The season is over for the loser.
And maybe the David Beckham ride in Los Angeles.
"Who knows?" the 37-year-old Beckham said, picking up from just about where he left off last year at this time when his original five-year contract was running out. "I'm going to enjoy being in the playoffs again this season and then we'll see, see how this body feels after the playoffs."
Beckham returned at the beginning of the year with a new two-year contract, but he and AEG president Tim Leiweke said the second year of the deal didn't necessarily mean on-field duties.
The English star has made it known his desire is to be a franchise owner at some point in the future.
But first things first.
"Even when I stop playing, I'll have hunger to do something better and be the best at something and always be successful," Beckham said.
"No matter where I am, no matter what age I am, no matter how many championships I've won, I still wake up and I still want to win another championship every year."
The Galaxy did it as the top-seeded team in 2011. They now face a play-in game, then two potential home-and-home series without a home-field advantage.
They're also playing a rather desperate team. The Whitecaps, who went 11-13-10 in the regular season, have won only once in their past 10 games and three in their past 17.
The Galaxy (16-12-6) finished off the season Sunday with Beckham and Landon Donovan returning from injuries. The Galaxy believe three days off in between is enough to catch up on rest, but if they win they'll open the San Jose series on Sunday and then have to play again the following Wednesday.
"We just have to realize our season could be over and that hits home," Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said. "We can learn a lesson from earlier in the year against Toronto when we got a good result, 2-2 at their place, came home feeling pretty good about ourselves, feeling all we needed was a win at home, no problem, and then we lose."
That was in CONCACAF Champions League play. That occurred almost eight months ago, but you still can tell that defeat stings.
It's partly why they remain wary of Vancouver despite its slump to close the season.
"That makes them all the more dangerous," Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee said. "They've kind of been solidified in that five spot for a couple weeks now and any team that's playing us, they play above their abilities."
In addition to the challenge of making sure Beckham and Donovan are fit, they'll likely have a rookie starting on defense in place of the injured A.J. DeLaGarza, who was named the club's defender of the year Sunday.
Tommy Meyer got some playing time early in the season as the Galaxy shuffled their lineup while Omar Gonzalez recovered from knee surgery. But until the final three games of the season, Meyer sat out 21consecutive games.
The key for the Galaxy remains the front line of Beckham, Donovan and Robbie Keane (16 goals, nine assists while missing seven games).
That trio has combined for 32 goals and 32 assists.
"When you're with players for long enough," Beckham said. "you get to know them on and off the field, so it makes when you win a championship more special than anything."
6. Galaxy's Robbie Keane shows he's not finished
Irish national has come on strong down the stretch to lead L.A. into the playoffs, which begin Thursday against Vancouver.
By Kevin Baxter
Los Angeles Times - October 31, 2012
The whispers started before Robbie Keane had even left England.
He was 31, and slowing down, they said. One of the most prolific scorers in Premier League history, the Irishman had lost his touch, bouncing from Tottenham to Scotland and then on to West Ham United, where he started only five games for the worst team in the league.
So when Keane left the continent for the Galaxy and Major League Soccer 14 months ago, it seemed like the logical next step toward retirement. But rather than a golden parachute, Keane has found the fountain of youth in the U.S., reigniting a stellar career by helping the Galaxy to an MLS Cup title last fall, then carrying an injury-riddled team back to the playoffs with a brilliant stretch drive this year.
"He's had an outstanding year," Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena says. "He's been as good as any player in the league."
Since returning from captaining the Irish national team in June's European Championships, Keane has had a goal or assist in 15 of the 19 MLS games he has played. The Galaxy won 11 of those 15, climbing out of the conference cellar and into a postseason it will begin Thursday at the Home Depot Center against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The winner of Thursday's game advances to a two-game Western Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday in San Jose.
"He's hasn't faded out of games. He hasn't had spells where he's been dry," defender Todd Dunivant says of Keane. "He's been everything we expected."
Anyone who was expecting anything less wasn't paying attention, says Keane, who insists he joined the Galaxy not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
"It's a different challenge really," he says of MLS play. "I played at the highest level for a long time in England. I could have stayed there and played, easy, for a couple of more years. I just fancied a completely new challenge.
"Plus if you're not playing for Man United or Chelsea and you're not really winning things, it's quite tough. I played for a long time and it was just time for a new chapter in my career."
It's a chapter that began in early 2011 when the Galaxy's David Beckham, who was training with Tottenham, began selling Keane on joining him.By the time the English season ended in May, it was obvious Tottenham saw Keane as a part-time player and was ready to move him. So the Galaxy swept in, landing the striker three months later for a reported $5.7-million transfer fee.
But it wasn't the money that interested Keane, as much as it was the chance to prove himself again. He wasn't looking to retire; he was looking for redemption.
"I didn't come over here to finish my career," he says. "If you know me, if you look at the way I play, I'm still enthusiastic about it. That hunger to score goals and wanting the team to win, that hunger is still in me. And I think it will be in me for a long, long time."
Keane, 32, had a goal in his MLS debut last season, then set up Landon Donovan for the only score in November's MLS Cup final. But he really came on in the second half this season, finishing as the team's leading scorer with 16 goals — fourth-best in the league — while placing second in assists with nine in 28 games. Six of his goals were game-winners, and five of his assists led to game-winning scores.
"He's been a leader on the field and off and obviously his goal scoring speaks for itself," Arena says of Keane. "It's really that simple. He's a personality, he's a quality attacking player and he makes our team different."
Dunivant says it's Keane's soccer intelligence that makes him dangerous.
"He's so clever," Dunivant explains. "His runs off the ball are as good as it gets. It's so difficult for defenders. They have to make decisions all the time with him. And as a defender the last thing you want to do is always have to be put in situations where you're making difficult decisions.
"He puts that on defenders. He makes guys look bad."
Now his recent play is making many of his former bosses in the Premier League look bad as well. Liverpool, which let Keane go after one season, surfaced Tuesday as the latest to express interest in re-signing the striker, who has two years plus an option left on a Galaxy contract that is paying him $3.4 million this season.
So don't count out the possibility that Keane will wind up retiring here after all.
"It's obviously a great place to live," he says. "The family's really enjoying it. Hopefully, we're very, very settled here [and] we can stay here for a long time. And as long as I keep fit, keep healthy and keeping playing for the best result and help this team grow, I'll be happy."
7. Robbie Keane has a striking season for LA Galaxy
By Greg Beacham
San Jose Mercury News - October 31, 2012
Carson, Calif.—Robbie Keane bristles at the very suggestion that anybody on two continents might have even wondered if he's lost a step.
Sure, Keane had a rough summer at Euro 2012. So did his entire Irish national team, outscored 9-1 in three ignominious losses.
The charismatic striker has proved he's still on top of his formidable game during a dynamic season for the Los Angeles Galaxy, and he's hoping to keep showing his form with another month in the MLS playoffs.
Not that anybody should ever doubt him in the first place.
"I played in the English Premiership for a long time, scored over 120-odd Premiership goals," Keane said Wednesday after training with the Galaxy, who open defense of their MLS Cup title against Vancouver on Thursday night. "I think you don't really have to (prove anything). I think the records speak for themselves."
In his first full MLS season, Keane finished fourth in the league with 16 goals in just 28 games despite making numerous trips around the world as Ireland's captain. He led Los Angeles in scoring while Landon Donovan and David Beckham struggled with nagging injuries, propelling the Galaxy through four largely outstanding months of play.
"I feel good. I feel really sharp," Keane said. "I'm just going to continue to do what I've been doing in recent form."
But none of it will mean much to Keane unless the favored Galaxy manage a victory over the Whitecaps in their knockout playoff game, setting up a conference semifinal series against top-seeded San Jose.
"I never look back. Always look forward, always," Keane said. "I've never done that as a player, through good times or bad times. I'm one of those people in life, always on to the next day."
Keane's recent past has been particularly sharp. He scored five goals in five games during a late-season stretch that secured Los Angeles' spot in the playoffs, constantly penetrating defenses with the speed and skill that hasn't changed much since he scored 125 Premier League goals, 11th-most in history.
Keane's teammates are even more impressed because he has spent a big chunk of the season warding off jetlag and exhaustion. The trip to Euro 2012 was a rough assignment, and Keane took a significant share of the criticism for creating little offense up front for Ireland, the first team knocked out of contention.
"I know how difficult it is, traveling back and forward and playing in international games and then coming back and playing in regular-season games," Beckham said. "It's tiring on the body and on the mind at times, but Robbie has been able to overcome that. It's a testament to him as a person and as a player. His first full season, he's come in, he's scored goals, he's had assists, he's worked hard for the team, and he's one of the big reasons we're in the position we're in right now."
Beckham also can relate to the criticism Keane receives from Irish fans. After all, he faced many of the same complaints about his role on England's national team in recent years.
Keane remains steadfast in his commitment to Ireland, although embattled manager Giovanni Trapattoni left him off the 26-man squad for a friendly against Greece on Nov. 14 while he evaluates new players.
That's good news for the Galaxy if their playoff run picks up steam, because Keane has been arguably their best player during a season that included two goals on his 32nd birthday in July during a 2-0 win at Chicago.
"He's an outstanding player, and his form has been excellent," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "He's been a great leader. He shows he wants to be here."
Keane is making $3.4 million as an MLS designated player this season, and he's warming up to the L.A. lifestyle. Keane and Beckham attended the Los Angeles Lakers' season opener together on Tuesday night, hobnobbing with Russell Brand and Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine at courtside.
"His English has gotten a heck of a lot better," Arena said with a grin. "When he's complaining, we understand him a heck of a lot better now than we did when he first got here."
Beckham even had a lively conversation with Lakers guard Steve Nash, a part-owner of the fifth-seeded Whitecaps.
The Galaxy's good feelings about their late-season surge could abruptly vanish if they can't beat defense-minded Vancouver, the first Canadian team to make the MLS playoffs despite winning just three of their last 17 games.
"I know people will be looking at them as maybe the underdog, but I don't see it that way," Beckham said. "I don't think there are any underdogs in a one-off game. ... If we continue to play the way we've been playing in the last 15 games or so, we're probably the best team, and the momentum is in our favor. But it's completely different when you get to the playoffs."
8. D.C. United, New York Red Bulls switch dates for MLS playoff series in wake of Hurricane Sandy
By Steven Goff
Washington Post - October 31, 2012
D.C. United will open the MLS playoffs at home this weekend instead of on the road, an urgent switch precipitated by Hurricane Sandy’s devastating impact in the New York area.
United was scheduled to play the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday night in Harrison, N.J., then host the second and final game Wednesday in Washington.
With the change, United will welcome New York to RFK Stadium on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and visit Red Bull Arena four days later.
“This was a tough decision, but one that we think is much bigger than the sport of soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
Red Bull Arena, across the Passaic River from Newark, lost electricity during the storm and, according to New York General Manager Jerome de Bontin, probably won’t regain full power until Monday.
Transportation and safety also presented “serious challenges,” he said. PATH commuter trains in New York and New Jersey were disrupted by the storm. The Harrison station is within walking distance of the stadium and is typically utilized by thousands of fans.
MLS considered moving New York’s home game to PPL Park in Chester, Pa., the Philadelphia Union’s home stadium, but the logistical time frame was too narrow, Garber said. Because of a tight playoff window, there was little flexibility for the date of the first game, he added.
The new schedule puts United at a slight competitive disadvantage in the total-goals format. If the aggregate score is tied after the two games, the teams would play 30 minutes of overtime immediately following the second match.
If the score remains even, penalty kicks would follow.
As the No. 2 seed, United would have been at home for the final game. Instead, the third-seeded Red Bulls would have home-field advantage for the tiebreaking process.
On Tuesday, United President Kevin Payne bristled at the idea of relinquishing the second game at home. But after discussing the issue with de Bontin and Garber on Wednesday, he agreed to the move.
“Our club worked very hard to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and we are very proud we achieved that, but there are times in which circumstances override competitive concerns,” Payne said. “This is clearly one of those times.”
United Coach Ben Olsen concurred with the decision.
“I am okay with it,” he said. “There are real issues in New York and New Jersey. People are suffering. This seemed to be the simplest solution.”
Addressing strategic changes, Olsen added: “We’ve just got to be good at home and then grind out a result on the road.”
De Bontin, who has known Payne for many years, said, “We are grateful to D.C. United for their support and understanding.”
Red Bull Arena lost power around 7:30 p.m. Monday, de Bontin said, but the stadium did not suffer any structural damage and the field did not flood. Emergency generators supplied small streams of power but the team was told by utility officials that full restoration could take five to seven days. The time frame was later moved up to next Monday, De Bontin added.
In case the stadium is not ready, Garber said, the Red Bulls will seek an alternate venue in the New York area. “But our intention is to play at Red Bull Arena,” he said.
The change was a mixed blessing for United’s ticket office. On the plus side, the team will play at home on a weekend, when attendance is historically larger. The challenge, however, is selling tickets on short notice.
The club had sold about 10,000 tickets for the Wednesday home match, Payne said. Fans who aren’t able to attend Saturday may request a refund from the place of purchase.
MLS will help pay for United’s marketing and public relations efforts in the coming days, multiple sources said.
“Our fans in the past have responded very quickly when we have had playoff games with quick turnarounds,” Payne said. “We are entirely confident the fans will come out and give us the home-field advantage we were confident we would’ve enjoyed on Wednesday.”
MLS has also agreed to lift the limit of 500 visiting fans for the return leg in New Jersey.
“This will have a competitive impact on D.C.,” Garber said. “We understand that and deeply appreciate their support and understand it will impact their fans.
9. Hurricane Sandy forces Red Bulls, D.C. United to switch home dates for playoff series
By Colin Stephenson
Star-Ledger - October 31, 2012
Hurricane Sandy's impact on New Jersey has caused Major League Soccer to have the Red Bulls and D.C. United flip-flop the teams' home playoff dates in their first round playoff series, meaning the first leg will now be played at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., Saturday at 8 p.m., and the second leg will be played at Red Bull Arena Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. Both games will be televised by the NBC Sports network.
"Hurricane Sandy, as all of you know, is an epic and unprecedented disaster,'' MLS commissioner Don Garber said on a conference call moments ago announcing the switch. "This was a tough decision, but one that we think is much bigger than the sport of soccer.''
Red Bulls GM Jerome de Bontin said the offices and the field (which was covered) at Red Bull Arena were not flooded, but the stadium did lose power and is operating on generator power. He said the team was informed it would get power back by Monday, and indeed some of the power to the stadium has been restored.
However, with power out for much of New Jersey and New York and with the PATH trains -- which transport many fans to Red Bulls home games -- not currently operating, the Red Bulls and the league realized that it might not be safe, or even possible for the Red Bulls to host the first game of the home-and-home set as soon as Saturday.
Garber said MLS's offices in Manhattan are without power and expected to be without power for several days, and many in the league offices were without email and even cell phone service in the immediate aftermath of the storm. The commissioner said the league wasn't able to have its first conference call until 7 p.m. Tuesday, and this morning the teams were contacted about possibly altering the playoff series in some way.
Garber said other alternatives -- including moving the first leg of the series from Red Bull Arena to a different venue, such as PPL Park in Chester, Pa. -- were considered. But the commissioner said a decision needed to be made quickly, in order for the word to be spread in a timely manner to the fans. He said the league would not have been able to secure PPL Park quickly enough.
D.C. United GM Kevin Payne said while the Washington area was affected by Hurricane Sandy, it was not hit as hard as New Jersey, and so while United realized it would be giving up it's home field advantage to a degree, in agreeing to host the first, rather than second game, it was a decision the team realized it had to agree to.
"This is an extraordinary action, but one that we all agree was appropriate,'' Payne said.
DeBontin thanked Payne and D.C. United for agreeing to the date swap.
"Clearly, the safety of our fans and other visitors to Red Bull Arena takes precedence,'' de Bontin said. "I'm very gratefull to Kevin Payne and the D.C. United organization for their support.''
Payne said his club had sold roughly 10,000 tickets for its original home game Nov. 7 -- not much on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, because of the impending storm -- and he said any fans wanting refunds for tickets they have purchased will be able to get them. He did say that hosting a weekend game, rather than a midweek game, may help, and he noted that MLS and the Red Bulls have agreed to alter their rules regarding visiting fans in order to accommodate United fans who wish to travel to Red Bull Arena for the second leg of the series.
Normally, league rules allow just 500 tickets distributed to fans of the visiting team and those fans are placed in a certain location in the stadium. Payne said MLS and the Red Bulls have agreed to allot more than 500 tickets (he did not say how many tickets United fans will get) and will place the visitors in a different area of the stadium.
Garber said the league is anticipating Red Bull Arena will be able to host a game Nov. 7, but he did say the league will be exploring other venues in New Jersey and New York as possible alternatives in the event that game would need to be moved from Harrison.
10. Three reasons the Sounders can advance in the playoffs, at last
By Joshua Mayers
Seattle Times - October 31, 2012
Regardless of another successful MLS regular season, despite past disappointment in the playoffs, five games are all that stand between Sounders FC and winning a championship.
The playoffs are here. It's a whole new season.
"For us, it's like, 'OK, let's get it on,' " coach Sigi Schmid said.
Playoff success is the final hurdle for this young, yet accomplished franchise. Three years of postseason play has ended in three first-round exits.
And while calling it a black mark on their résumé is a bit harsh — only three MLS teams have even made the playoffs each of the past four years — the question remains:
Why is this year going to be different?
"I don't know it's going to be different," said general manager Adrian Hanauer. "I'd love to say I know it's going to be different because I had a dream about it or something, but it's hard work and there are a lot of good teams in this league."
"There is no magic formula," added Schmid. "It's a matter of us going out there, and we know what it takes. We've been through the experience, we've been through the disappointment, and the desire not to have that disappoint again has to be very strong."
Here are some reasons it might be different in 2012.
1. Starting strong
In three years, the Sounders have never had the lead in a playoff series.
That's especially relevant for this team, which hasn't lost in MLS when scoring first since 2010 (a stretch of 31 games).
In the playoffs in Year 1, Seattle didn't score at all in a defensive struggle against Houston — a series that went scoreless for 180 minutes before the Dynamo won in overtime. The next two years, against the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2010 and Real Salt Lake last year, the Sounders scored, but not before they were already down 3-0 on aggregate goals.
If there's any time to start fast, it's in Friday's series opener against RSL at CenturyLink Field, where the Sounders were a franchise-best 11-4-2 this season.
Opinions vary on the advantages of hosting the first leg or second leg, but many players like the idea of starting here.
"In my personal opinion, it's better to start at home," said midfielder Steve Zakuani, who has one of the team's three playoff goals. "This league is so tight that in the second leg, if you're coming from a deficit, it's very tough. Last year, we almost did it. Starting at home with our fans, the energy is here, the city is buzzing, the players are ready — I think it's a good matchup."
Ticket sales as of Wednesday were at approximately 30,500 with stadium capacity set for around 35,000. Motivation won't be hard to find.
"We have to think that if this is going to be our game at home, it could be our last game in front of our fans this year," midfielder Brad Evans said. "You never know."
2. Experience counts
Known often in the past for their youth, the Sounders may field a lineup Friday consisting of four players in their 30s and no one under the age of 25.
Those who came to Seattle early in their careers — Fredy Montero, Osvaldo Alonso and Evans, for example — have quickly turned into hardened veterans.
The front office has also filled in the roster with experienced players from all over the world:
• Austria goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, 31, has played in Europe and FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
• Swedish right back Adam Johansson, 30, was recently a part of his national team's World Cup qualifying campaign.
• German midfielder Christian Tiffert, 30, was one of the top playmakers in the German Bundesliga a couple of years ago.
• Other first-year players on the roster include forward Eddie Johnson (28, injured with an adductor strain), defender Marc Burch (28), and goalkeepers Marcus Hahnemann (40) and Andrew Weber (29).
"It's a more mature and diverse group," said defender Jeff Parke, another 30-year-old. "We've brought in some players who can really help us get over the hump and into the next round."
That maturity will be tested right away as the Sounders will likely be without Johnson, the team's leading scorer, for Friday's opener. Seattle had struggled last year to make up for the loss of injured midfielder Mauro Rosales in the playoffs.
"You've got to deal with adversity at any time," Evans said. "Each team is going to deal with it and it's about how you come together as a group, and it's how you kind of fight through it."
3. Intangibles and overdue luck
So what is Hanauer's gauge of the team heading into the playoffs?
"I think they want it as much as they've ever wanted it," he said.
And much of that motivation is personal. Evans said the team is driven to advance this postseason to prove to themselves, as much as anyone, that they can.
This year also marked the first time in franchise history Sounders FC didn't win a midseason trophy, as Seattle fell short in the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup and Cascadia Cup.
Add that disappointment to previous playoff exits, and "that pain is going to carry the organization through, I think," said Zakuani.
Of course, to become a champion also involves some measure of luck, particularly in what is always an unpredictable MLS postseason. Schmid, who has won two MLS Cups, said when the difference between teams is so close, particularly in a parity-driven league, "the ball has got to bounce right for you to win it sometimes."
"You look at the teams that have won it two of the last three years, they were teams that snuck in (the playoffs) at the very end," the coach said in reference to RSL in 2009 and Colorado the following year.
And considering the disparity between regular-season and playoff success, maybe the Sounders are due for a lucky bounce or two.
11. MLS: Real Salt Lake finds familiar playoff foe in Seattle once again
By Steve Luhm
Salt Lake Tribune - October 31, 2012
For the second straight year, Real Salt Lake meets Seattle in the Major League Soccer playoffs, starting Friday night at CenturyLink Field.
RSL won the Western Conference semifinal series last season by a two-game aggregate of 3-2.
The Sounders have not advanced in the playoffs since 2008. But they finished third in the West during the regular season with 56 points, only one behind Real Salt Lake.
While top-seeded San Jose is favored to emerge as the conference’s representative in the MLS Cup, RSL and Seattle are legitimate challengers, which adds to the intrigue of this early-round series.
Asked why the Sounders are one of the league’s top teams, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said, "It’s a combination of everything.
"They have two very good forwards in [Fredy] Montero and [Eddie] Johnson, they have midfielders who can contribute to the attack … and they have a back four that’s very organized. They are an extremely well-coached team as well."
But Seattle could be without Johnson for Game 1 of the series.
After scoring a franchise-record 14 goals, Johnson was injured in the season finale against the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday.
According to Johnson, he suffered a slight hamstring strain. But on the Sounders’ official report, the injury is called an adductor strain.
Either way, he is listed as questionable for the playoff opener.
Johnson "adds a little different dimension to their team," Kreis said. "He’s a dangerous player — I know from playing with him many eons ago. But he’s very athletic with very good speed and he’s good with his head on the end of things. He’s been their go-to guy."
If Johnson can’t play, Kreis knows it will impact Seattle’s attack, which has been unable to score against Real Salt Lake in three matches during the season.
"If they are missing him," Kreis said, "they are missing a key component. Hopefully, we could take advantage of it."
Even without Johnson, however, Seattle is capable of beating RSL — especially in front of another fanatical home crowd.
The Sounders finished third in the Western Conference despite a nine-game winless stretch midway through the season that could have ruined their chance to reach the playoffs.
12. Forbes statistical analysis gives RSL 2.85 percent chance to win the MLS cup
By Ryan Carreon
Deseret News - October 31, 2012
According to Forbes contributor Zach Slaton Real Salt Lake has a 2.85-percent chance of winning the MLS Cup. Slaton, who uses advanced statistical models to analyze soccer matches, says the addition of the two-legged aggregate goal format to the ML
According to Forbes contributor Zach Slaton Real Salt Lake has a 2.85-percent chance of winning the MLS Cup.
Despite Forbes prediction, Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl predicts that RSL will make the MLS Cup final but lose to Sporting Kansas City.
Slaton, who uses advanced statistical models to analyze soccer matches, says the addition of the two-legged aggregate goal format to the MLS Cup in 2003 has given "a certain predictability to the playoffs."
Slaton uses a statistical model based on 10 factors to produces a percentage that represents the likelihood of a playoff team winning the MLS Cup.
According to Slaton's equation, teams that play less games and have a higher median minutes-played-per-player have a higher chance of going deep into the playoffs. Slaton explains that teams who play lots of games in the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League are more likely to have injuries and shorter periods of rest going into the postseason.
Slaton uses his analysis to show the current MLS playoff system tends to punish teams who play more out-of-league matches and tend to be seeded higher, while rewarding lower-seeded teams who play less games but are more rested coming into the playoffs.
Slaton's equation also factors in variables such as goal differential, overall record and whether or not a team is playing at home.
Slaton's calculations say the San Jose Earthquakes have an 82.79 percent chance of winning the MLS Cup, the largest margin the equation has ever produced.
Since 2004, eight of the nine teams projected with the highest likelihood of winning advanced to the MLS Cup final. Five of nine ultimately won the cup.
Slaton's model accurately predicted RSL's 2009 championship despite the team having a losing record and being seeded eighth.
According to MajorLeagueSoccerTalk.com RSL must match their opponents’ midfield play to make it through a tough Western Conference. Veteran Kyle Beckerman will lay a key role in RSL's midfield attack according to he blog.
And MLSsoccer.com blogger Simon Borg says, Seattle is under the most pressure to win the cup, having the highest average attendance per game but never having advanced in the playoffs.
Although Slaton's model makes RSL a statistical underdog, fans need not stop cheering yet. the equation gives Western Conference rival Seattle a 0.00 percent chance of winning.
Here is a quick summary of Slaton's predictions for this year's MLS Cup playoffs:
• Houston will beat Chicago because the Dynamo have a higher goal differential and median minutes played while having played four fewer games than the Fire.
• Los Angeles will beat Vancouver despite having played three more games than the Whitecaps. The Galaxy's plus-18 goal differential and slight advantage in median minutes more than makes up for the penalty of additional matches.
• San Jose will beat Los Angeles. San Jose's matches played is third lowest and its median minutes played is third highest. The Earthquakes also have an advantage with a plus-29 goal differential, by far the highest in the league.
• Real Salt Lake will defeat Seattle in the semifinals for the second year in a row and go on to face favorite San Jose.
• D.C. United is the team in the East with the highest likelihood of playing for the cup. D.C. will beat the New York Red Bulls.
• Sporting Kansas City, considered by many to be the favorite to win it all, will easily beat Houston.
• San Jose will defeat Real Salt Lake. In the Western Conference, RSL has the highest likelihood of any team to upset the Earthquakes with a 10-percent chance.
• D.C will defeat Sporting KC.
MLS Cup Final
• San Jose will defeat DC United. According to Slaton the reason for San Jose's incredibly high probability for winning is that the Earthquakes have a "perfect storm" of high goal differential and median minutes played while having played a relatively low amount of total games.
13. Real Salt Lake: Javier Morales has hands full with Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso
By James Edward
Deseret News - October 31, 2012
Sandy — Every team in MLS knows the best way to disrupt Real Salt Lake's possession attack is to frustrate midfielder Javier Morales. Some do it more subtly, while others resort to a "Hack-a-Javy" strategy.
Through the years, nobody has harassed Morales more efficiently than Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso. Their battles in midfield are often fascinating to watch, and their matchup could hold the key to their teams' upcoming Western Conference semifinal series.
Real Salt Lake and Seattle have squared off 11 times in MLS play and the playoffs since the Sounders joined the league in 2009. Morales and Alonso and have gone head-to-head for 90 minutes in six of those 11 meetings, with a dead-even record of 2-2-2.
In those six meetings, Alonso has limited Morales to one assist and zero goals.
Morales acknowledges that playing against Alonso is a challenge, but it's something he always looks forward to.
"With him (or) Mastroeni or that kind of player, I like to play against them 'cause they're tough. They're good players. I'm happy to play against him always," said Morales.
Even though the records are split down the middle, Alonso's physicality in the midfield has often diminished Morales' effectiveness.
When asked about the matchup, Kreis didn't seem too concerned about how effective Morales could be.
"The last match Javier played in was probably one of his best ever for us against Herediano. Some of the passes he played and some of the balls he served and just his overall effort and the ground he covered in the match was unbelievable," said Kreis. "If we can get him to perform close to that level consistently over the next two games we'll be fine."
While there were three matches between Real Salt Lake and Seattle during the regular season, Morales and Alonso only went head-to-head once — with each missing a match.
Incredibly, despite outstanding targets in the box like Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers and Alvaro Saborio, RSL scored just two goals off corner kicks in 34 regular-season games.
Heading into Friday's first-leg playoff game at Seattle, RSL addressed the concern by spending roughly 15 minutes during Wednesday's training session working on attacking and defending set pieces.
"It's just not something we typically spend a lot of time training, and I know there are a lot of teams out there that spend a ton of time on them. We choose to focus on other things," said Kreis. "In my world and my way of thinking, you only have a set amount of time to keep these guys on the training field and expect optimal performance on the weekend. You have to make choices, and we've made choices to do more playing, more soccer-specific things, instead of just focusing on dead balls. To each their own."
INJURY CONCERNS: Despite sitting out last weekend's regular season finale, Kreis said there's still no guarantee that RSL regulars Olave, Borchers and Morales will be healthy enough to play in the playoff-opener this Friday.
Chris Schuler is also a question mark, as is Fabian Espindola, who picked up a slight knock in training Wednesday.
14. Whitecaps defender hopes sharing his depression story will inspire others
By Monte Stewart
Toronto Star - November 1, 2012
Many athletes choose to hide their problems – sometimes with fatal results.
But Andy O’Brien is willing to talk about his.
Even still, the Vancouver Whitecaps defender’s depression issues were not always well known – he was disowned by former club Leeds United before the truth came out.
“It was a learning experience,” O’Brien said recently. “I’m probably one of the few people – footballers – to come out and say that they’ve suffered from (depression).”
Then Leeds manager Simon Grayson vowed that O’Brien, 33, would never play another game for the club again after he refused to take the pitch for a game against Burnley in November 2011.
But Leeds backtracked on its position after O’Brien, a dual English-Irish citizen who has played more than 300 matches in the English Premier League and represented Ireland in the 2002 World Cup, sought treatment at the Sporting Chance Clinic.
“We were exceptionally disappointed when Andy refused to play before the Burnley game and felt let down,” Leeds said in a news release.
“It is now apparent that there were a number of issues that he was dealing with at that time which affected him in a way we could not imagine and he was not in a right state of mind to make such decisions.”
While the Whitecaps have redeemed themselves from a last-place finish in their 2011 expansion to become the first Canadian team to qualify for the Major League Soccer playoffs, O’Brien has quietly earned some redemption of his own.
The second half of the MLS regular season marked the first time he has played regularly since his troubles became known.
Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie said the team based its decision to sign O’Brien mainly on his track record.
Rennie praised him for his steady play and his strong communication from central defence.
Vancouver captain Jay DeMerit, who plays alongside O’Brien also praised his communication skills and his steadying influence.
“He’s brought what he was expected to bring to this team, some calmness, his communication, his organization at the back and just his solid defending,” DeMerit said. “That’s what someone like myself is there to do as well. So to partner up with him and really start to form a partnership, which we’re doing, is great.”
DeMerit said O’Brien’s battles with health issues show his character.
“There’s always ups and downs in your career,” he said. “There’s always ups and downs in every season that you’re going to come through. You have to have that character to bounce back. You have to have that character to keep going – and Andy has that in abundance.”
O’Brien was slated to start his fifth straight game Thursday for the Whitecaps against the Los Angeles Galaxy in a do-or-die playoff game worth a ticket to a two-game, total-goals series with the San Jose Earthquakes in the second round.
“It means everything to me,” O’Brien of returning to the field on a consistent basis. “It’s what you prepare for Monday to Friday. Football is a game about opinions and, sometimes, as hard as you work, you don’t play. ... But all you can do is give yourself the best opportunity to (get in the lineup.)”
Although the Whitecaps came under heavy criticism for their lack of scoring down the stretch, O’Brien helped the defence stand out. The Whitecaps earned three shutouts – two from scoreless draws – in the four consecutive games that he started.
He joined the Whitecaps after obtaining his release from Leeds United just before an international transfer deadline closed in late July. After missing out on a pre-season in North America or abroad, he was sidelined briefly as a result of groin and knee troubles, but as the playoffs drew near, he felt settled in the lineup.
“I don’t think I’ve strung (two games) together for a year,” said O’Brien, who started seven of the eight regular-season games in which he appeared. “It could be 18 months. But I’ve picked up a niggling injury, but that’s been dealt with, and I feel good.”
Mentally as well as physically.
The deaths of NHLers Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, who suffered from depression have raised more awareness about illness among athletes.
O’Brien hopes that sharing his story will prompt others to come forward and get help.
“There is a bit of a stigma within football,” said O’Brien. “It’s a hard man’s sport and what have you, but having come out and said that I have suffered from it, the amount of people that have spoken to me about footballers and ex-footballers, it’s something that is out there. And, if I can offer any help, offer any sort of inspiration to anybody, it’s something that I’m quite passionate about doing – possibly when I’m finished playing football – because I know from experience, being with other footballers for the past 18 years, people do suffer from time to time.”
Often the symptoms are diverse and can vary on an individual basis.
“Depression, it’s just a word, but there’s a lot of things ingrained into that,” he said. “That’s just a word that is given to it, but you can suffer from a lot of things.”
O’Brien credits strong support from his family with helping his through his troubles.
Now, regardless of Thursday’s result, he looks forward to continuing his career after getting through a very difficult period.
“It’s something that I’ve dealt with,” O’Brien said. “I’m enjoying my football a lot more than I was doing, and that bodes well for the future.”
15. Whitecaps have come a long way, but Rennie’s journey has taken longer
By Monte Stewart
Toronto Star - October 31, 2012
The journey began when he was just a teen, still playing in his native Scotland.
Much has been made of the Vancouver Whitecaps becoming the first Canadian team to reach the Major League Soccer playoffs in just two seasons. But coach Martin Rennie’s journey to the MLS post-season has taken much longer — about two decades.
“It’s everything I’d hoped it would be, and a little bit more,” said Rennie about coaching in MLS.
The Falkirk product’s career began after his local side did not have a coach, so he mentored the troops while also serving primarily as a central defender. With a potential pro career scuttled by a knee injury suffered while trying out for a North Carolina-based team in a now-defunct league, he obtained a business degree in his homeland and worked in sales and marketing for a large software firm.
He mixed his day job with playing and coaching for a while, but preferred the latter. Before and after he stopped working for the software firm, coaching took him to Oregon, where he coached the Cascade Surge of the Premier Development League; to Cleveland Stars of the third-tier United Soccer Leagues Second Division, to the North Carolina RailHawks, where he spent the past three seasons building a contender.
Along the way, he turned his clubs’ fortunes around, just as he has done with the Whitecaps, who finished last in 2011 under two coaches but squeaked into the playoffs with a fifth-place finish and 11-13-10 record.
“It’s exciting for me just to be back in a position where I have a real challenge ahead of me and a hunger to do well,” Rennie said. “I think, sometimes, when you’re at the same club or the same level for too long, you lose a little bit of that desire, that hunger.”
In addition to serving as coach elsewhere, he had to handle many other duties to keep operations running smoothly. Occasionally, his wife did the team’s laundry.
“I used to often pick people up at the airport or things like that,” he said.
As a result, the eldest of a Church of Scotland minister’s three sons who had a modest upbringing, has come to appreciate the Whitecaps’ large front-office staff. Majority owner Greg Kerfoot, has shown a willingness to spend money where needed in a bid to build a model franchise.
“There’s just a lot more people doing a lot more things,” said Rennie. “That allows you not to have to worry about the little details. If someone’s injured, he’s being well taken care of. If (a player) needs help getting a visa, there’s someone doing all that. There’s just a lot more people helping. ... There’s a lot of people doing a lot more things that people take for granted. But they do make a lot of difference in the success of the team.”
Rennie has tried to make a difference initially by turning the Whitecaps into a team that is hard to play against and stressing the positive to a team that did not win a single road game in its expansion season. He has stressed the importance of building a winning culture while trying to introduce a compact style that, by his admission, the team got away from late in the season.
“Tactical and psychological things are primarily my main areas that I focus on, and the (assistant) coaches work hard on as well,” he said. “I think the players have bought into that. As a result, I’ve grown a little bit.”
Rennie’s players praise him for his business-like approach, attention to detail, positive attitude and strong organization. The one player who did not buy in, rarely used striker Long Tan, was traded after he posted a critical comment of Rennie on Twitter. Tan was suspended for a week and the Caps soon traded him to D.C. United, although Rennie said the deal was in the works before Tan made his controversial posting.
Given virtually a free hand by president Bob Lenarduzzi to shape the team as he saw fit, Rennie also tried to grow the team by engineering a series of trades and signings in mid-season. The signings included fellow Scots Barry Robson, an emotional midfielder and commanding presence when he is on his game, and soft-spoken striker Kenny Miller, who has not displayed the scoring prowess expected of him, but still shows a willingness to answer reporters’ questions on bad nights.
Rennie also made a goalkeeping change, replacing veteran Joe Cannon, a former MLS goalkeeper of the year, with relatively unproven backup Brad Knighton.
The coach also placed considerable faith in Jamaican rookie striker Darren Mattocks, 22, who overcame a slow start due to burns to his arms suffered in a cooking accident, to lead the team in scoring with seven goals.
Rennie said the changes are comparable to what he has done in seasons past. But many of the moves had limited results. Following a hot start, the Whitecaps enter the playoffs with just one win in their last 10 games. They have not posted a road win since July and managed just 10 goals away from B.C. Place Stadium.
Whatever happens Thursday, Rennie will have important decisions to make on what is needed to beef up his club’s offence and figure out what to do about the high-priced Miller and goalkeeper Cannon, among others. The decisions could come relatively soon or a little bit later, depending on how the Caps fair against the favoured Galaxy.
Either way, it’s clear that Rennie wants the Whitecaps to do more than just make history by reaching the playoffs.
“Every season that I’ve coached, my teams have managed to make the playoffs, so I’m glad that we’ve managed to achieve that,” he said. “But it’s more about what we do going from here.”
16. Vancouver Whitecaps’ playoff stage familiar for team president Bob Lenarduzzi
By Iain MacIntyre
Vancouver Sun - October 31, 2012
With their season-long goal of a playoff spot already achieved, Vancouver Sun writers Bruce Constantineau and Iain MacIntyre agree a Whitecaps win over the Galaxy in the MLS playoffs is unlikely at best.
METRO VANCOUVER — Big playoff game for the Vancouver Whitecaps in Los Angeles against a team led by a global soccer star? Bob Lenarduzzi remembers it well.
“At the Rose Bowl (in 1979) against the L.A. Aztecs,” Lenarduzzi, the Whitecaps' president, said Wednesday on the eve the franchise's first playoff game in Major League Soccer. “We led 2-0 and they tied it up late. It went to a shootout and Johan Cruyff flipped the ball into the air and started juggling it towards our goal. He full-volleyed it into the top corner. We had never seen anything like it.”
Nor had the crowd at Empire Stadium experienced anything like the rematch of the home-and-away series when the Whitecaps won 1-0, then also beat Cruyff's team 1-0 in the tie-breaking mini-game peculiar to the old North American Soccer League.
“Kevin Hector headed in the winner at the far post,” Lenarduzzi said. “I always told him if he hadn't scored, I would have because I was standing right behind him. The atmosphere was unbelievable. That game, more than any other game, is the one I remember. That put us into the semifinals against the Cosmos.”
The Whitecaps, of course, beat Franz Beckenbauer and the New York Cosmos in the semifinal and went on to claim the NASL's Soccer Bowl with a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Thirty-three years later, quite a bit has changed. The NASL is long extinct, replaced by the more stable if less spectacular MLS. Los Angeles' team is called the Galaxy — a ripoff of the Cosmos' legacy — and its megastar is David Beckham, who was never as good as Cruyff but became more famous.
Broadcaster Jim McKay, bless his soccer-loving heart, isn't around to refer to Vancouver as a “village,” and this is only a one-game playoff, not a two-game series.
But the greatest difference in 2012 is that while the NASL Whitecaps were an established power favoured to beat Los Angeles and compete for a championship, these Whitecaps, winless on the road since July 4 and massive underdogs against Beckham's defending-champion Galaxy, are a second-year MLS team seeking further credibility and growth in their playoff debut.
But the stage is the same.
“Same city; there's definitely similarities,” Lenarduzzi said. “When you talk about playoffs, these were the games I most looked forward to as a player. It's not like hockey or basketball where you can have a long series, it's one or two games and winner take all. I loved it and I hated it. You loved winning those games, but if things didn't go well, it was over. I loved that feeling and I'm sure our players will, too.
“This is a franchise-building moment. I'm not suggesting if we don't win, we go backwards. But this is a chance to take our franchise to a new level.”
The Whitecaps have already climbed several rungs since last season, a gong-show MLS debut that saw the team announce two coaching changes while crumbling towards a last-place finish.
And while the last 10 weeks weren't much better, the Whitecaps' second season certainly was. Despite a seven-game winless streak and just one victory in their last nine, Vancouver became the first Canadian team to make the MLS playoffs. Which is to say, they're a heckuva lot better than Toronto FC.
After their false start in MLS, the Whitecaps quietly dropped from their mission statement the grandiose ambition of becoming one of the top 25 soccer clubs on Planet Earth. Lenarduzzi no longer cites the Seattle Sounders' astounding success as the standard for the Whitecaps.
Vancouver's soccer club has its boots planted firmly in the ground and is moving forward step by step.
The Whitecaps' chances of beating the Galaxy is somewhere between “when pigs fly” and “snowball's chance in hell,” but they're in the playoffs. They made it.
“I think we did set ourselves up for criticism by making bold statements (last year),” Lenarduzzi said. “You get held to those statements. We certainly learned a lesson. We want to do well and expect to do well. But I think we'll make sure, moving forward, that those goals and objectives stay internal.
“It was important to make the playoffs this season, but I think it was more important that we were a competitive team. With success, comes the raising of the bar. Next year our expectations will be much higher than it was this year in terms of making the playoffs.”
Lenarduzzi argues the Whitecaps' standard of excellence in various leagues over four decades made last season, by comparison, seem worse than it was. He said the coaching and roster changes set the conditions for this year's improvement.
Clearly, the franchise has a mountain of work remaining. The Whitecaps still struggle to score and need more dynamic, attacking players. The team must build an on-field identity and develop more cohesiveness than we saw the last two months. They need leaders who earn respect and compel fans to watch. Ultimately, Vancouver has to develop good young players to ease the hit-and-miss reliance on foreign scouts.
But flaws and all, here are the Whitecaps in the playoffs in their second season. Against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps are tied with the Galaxy and if it stays that way, the shootout will be spot kicks from 12 yards. No one will beat Vancouver this time with a circus act in the shootout that leaves them in awe.
17. Impact: good season, not great
By Pat Hickey
Montreal Gazette - October 31, 2012
Montreal — An outsider would have to view the Montreal Impact's first season in Major League Soccer as a success.
The first-year club was in playoff contention for a good part of the season; the Impact had the third-highest attendance in the 20-team league and it racked up 42 points, more than the 35 Toronto FC accumulated in its inaugural season in 2008 and more than the 28 the Vancouver Whitecaps had a first-year team in 2011.
But as the team held its post-mortem Wednesday at Saputo Stadium, there was a season that a good season could have been better.
"I'm happy because we attained our goal of being competitive in our first year, but I'm not entirely satisfied because we are not a seventh-place team," said team president Joey Saputo. "Our objective for 2013 will be to make the playoffs."
Saputo said the preliminary analysis of the roster has been completed and the team plans to bring back designated player Marco Di Vaio, former Italian international defender Alessandro Nesta, local hero Patrice Bernier, defender Matteo Ferrari, captain Davy Arnaud, first overall draft pick Andrew Wenger, impressive young midfielder Felipe Martins, centre back Nelson Rivas and goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
Technical director Nick De Santis said one priority during the off-season will be to add some firepower. The team is looking for a centre or outside midfielder to work with Bernier and possibly a striker. Saputo said the team was open to the idea of adding a second designated player.
The team has also decided to keep head coach Jesse Marsch despite some suggestions that some of the European players weren't entirely happy with the rookie coach's system.
"It's our first year in MLS and it's Jesse's first year as a head coach, and I think he's handled himself very well," said De Santis.
Marsch said he did admit there was a challenge and it went beyond the heavy Italian influence on the roster.
"It's trying to get everyone who comes from a different walk of soccer and now trying to put it all together and forming an identity and that takes a lot of effort," said Marsch. "Behind the scenes, communication, on the field working on things, but for the most part it came along and we blended a lot of aspects of what makes the team that we want to be."
Marsch noted that there are areas that need to be cleaned up.
"Late in games we've given up too many goals, set pieces, we've given up too many goals but we now take the things that worked for us and add to that and take the areas that were problems for us and eliminated them."
The Impact gave up 17 goals in the final 15 minutes of games and had serious lapses on corners and free kicks.
"It's a results-oriented business and for me, especially considering the way the season ended, it wasn't good enough," said Marsch. "There's been a lot of positives from within but, moving forward, the expectations and demands have to be much higher, and it starts with me."
While Marsch talked about the team's commitment, he said he was disappointed with the way the season ended.
"Once the last couple of games came, we didn't play our best. We have to re-tool, knowing that we have a great core and push next year, knowing the expectations are much higher." The commitment and competitiveness dropped in the last two games and I'm not happy about that but I look at myself first."
DiVaio had trouble getting untracked but Saputo said that the Italian star was distracted by an investigation into match-fixing in Italy. His play picked up after he was cleared of charges that he failed to report a match-fixing incident.
"The team evolved a lot in style," said Brossard native Bernier, who was the team's leading scorer and most valuable player. "In the beginning we were competing but it was mostly hard work, not so creative. Once we came to Saputo Stadium we found more fluidity in our play. Possession, movement, creating a lot of chances. And the arrival of our star players, the Italians, brought a new step to the team."
The team's playoff hopes were boosted by a five-game winning streak in August but a loss in Columbus on a goal in injury time and a 3-1 defeat in Chicago ended any post-season dreams. Montreal went 0-3-2 down the stretch.
The team continues to train and will leave next week for friendly matches against Italian Serie-A teams Bologna and Fiorentino before the off-season. .
"These games boost our credibility and also give us a chance to make contacts with teams that might be in a position to loan us players," said De Santis.
Saputo said the trip to Italy was among the unexpected expenses which led to a slight loss. He said the team hopes to break even next year even with lower season-ticket prices.
The club averaged about 23,000 fans a game, third in the league behind Seattle and Los Angeles. The team drew 58,912 fans at the Olympic Stadium for a 1-1 draw against Chicago in the home opener on March 17 and record 60,860 fans for a 1-1 tie against David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Team vice-president Richard Legendre said the team would likely make two more visits to the Big O next season.
"We start play in March and we'll have to go indoors for one or two games because of the weather," he said. "But we won't have Beckham again because the way the schedule is set up, we go to L.A. next season."
18. Red Bulls have no trophies, United want to keep it that way
By Thomas Floyd
Washington Times - October 31, 2012
To Dejan Jakovic, there is a simple explanation for the intensity behind the Atlantic Cup rivalry between his D.C. United side and the New York Red Bulls.
“They have no trophies,” the center back said. “We want to keep it that way. We obviously know that the fans want to keep it that way. There is a lot of history.”
Yes, while United lay claim to 12 major domestic and international titles, including four MLS Cups, the Red Bulls’ trophy case remains empty.
And United have certainly played their part, ousting New York in all three of the teams’ playoff series, going a combined 5-1-1 against the franchise that until 2006 was known as the MetroStars.
New York, with the league’s highest payroll, hopes to end that drought this year. But United can intervene once more when the clubs meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals, kicking off the two-game, total-goals series Saturday. Originally set at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., Game 1 now will be played Saturday at RFK Stadium as the New York metropolitan area continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy.
“Initially in the league, it was the closest two teams to each other,” said United coach Ben Olsen, who played for D.C. from 1998 to 2009. “I have always loved this rivalry, and I’m looking forward to the weekend to continue some of the epic games that we’ve had.”
The rivalry was born in the league’s inaugural 1996 campaign, when the squads met in a best-of-three conference semifinal. Although New York won the opener via shootout, United took the second match before claiming Game 3 on an 89th-minute penalty kick drawn by club icon Marco Etcheverry.
“The game ended in pretty dramatic fashion,” United president Kevin Payne recalled. “Certainly we recognized then that this was going to be a real rivalry.”
In 2002, the organizations recognized the feud with the founding of the Atlantic Cup, awarded to the winner of the teams’ season series. It’s a trophy that has typically called RFK Stadium home, with D.C. triumphing eight times in 11 years.
This season, the series played out to a 1-1-1 deadlock, with United taking the cup on the total-goals tiebreaker.
“Our rivalry has probably been hurt a little bit by the fact that there haven’t been too many years when we’ve both been good,” Payne said. “But there’s something about New York. Teams from our part of the world always tend to have real rivalries with teams from New York.”
While United (17-10-7) finished a point ahead of the Red Bulls (16-9-9) to secure the No. 2 seed, the pressure this postseason mostly falls on a third-place New York side with a payroll that triples D.C.’s.
United, after all, still is without reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario (sprained knee ligament). Even though the club has gone 5-0-2 since his mid-September injury, the four-time MLS Cup champion’s absence looms large.
New York, meanwhile, boasts the league’s third-ranked attack, with the prolific forward duo of MVP candidate Thierry Henry (15 goals, 12 assists) and Kenny Cooper (18 goals) supported by playmaker Tim Cahill, a onetime English Premier League standout who arrived midseason from Everton FC.
Considering the teams combined for nearly five goals per meeting this season, the series has the potential to develop into an affair rivaling the entertainment value of that first nip-and-tuck series 16 years ago.
“New York, they come out and play. They don’t sit back,” said midfielder-forward Chris Pontius, who scored five goals against the Red Bulls this season. “So the game is a bit wide-open between us, and I think it makes for some entertaining soccer for people to watch.”
19. Earthquake star, Chico State product Wondolowski credits team
By Elliot Almond
Chico Enterprise-Record - November 1, 2012
San Jose — Chris Wondolowski didn't want to leave any doubts when launching his record-tying 27th goal of this remarkable season for the San Jose Earthquakes.
"It was one of those you don't want to regret," Wondolowski said Sunday. "I've done it hundreds of times in practice. Just rely on muscle memory."
The Danville native and former Chico State and Chico Rooks standout tied Roy Lassiter's 16-year-old Major League Soccer record with a penalty kick in the 24th minute Saturday in the Quakes' 1-1 tie against the Portland Timbers in the regular-season finale. He scored five goals in the final three games to match the single-season mark.
Wondolowski, 29, also won his second Golden Boot award in three years as San Jose (19-6-9) ended its best regular season in history with a nine-game unbeaten streak.
A De La Salle High graduate, Wondolowski blasted a shot to the lower left corner out of the reach of Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who had been called for a foul in the penalty box while trying to stop the Quakes' Steven Lenhart.
True to his nature, Wondolowski was not celebrating the MLS record Sunday even if almost everyone else in U.S. soccer is abuzz over his exploits. Instead he lamented about failing to convert in the 66th minute with a header that could have won the game.
"My game doesn't accept that," the striker said of any hint of self-promotion. "So many of the goals are built through the team. I'm not dribbling through guys. Guys are putting it right on my head."
Lassiter agreed with Wondolowski's assessment during an interview last week at Buck Shaw Stadium.
"You can see on the field his teammates really look for him," said Lassiter, who set the record in MLS's inaugural season playing for the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny. "That's a good thing, too. At the end of the day, Wondo is trying to do everything for his team. He's trying to win games. Scoring goals is his job."
During his Chico State career from 2001-2004, Wondolowski finished third on the career goals list with 39, and second in career points with 101, trailing only Ben Pollock's 117 (1985-88).
Until Wondolowski surfaced from near-anonymity three years ago, it seemed Lassiter's record would be safe. Stern John (1998) and Mamadou Diallo (2000) scored 26 goals, but no MLS player had a 20-goal season since Los Angeles' Landon Donovan did it four years ago.
Can Wondolowski repeat the effort?
"I always feel I can get better," he said. "I learn from the times I haven't scored."
Lassiter, 43, says it won't be easy.
"He'll be chasing himself," said the man who had 88 regular-season goals while playing from 1996-2002. "That becomes very hard, and I had to do that for a long time. I had to chase my own record, and that was the hardest thing to do, because there were no records to chase at the very beginning."
Lassiter is director of advancement for the Albion SC in San Diego and hopes to coach professionally in the future. He wouldn't mind having players such as Wondolowski, who is considered a soccer outlier after not making it big until 26.
"He's a player with great mobility, and he's got a good nose for goal, that's for sure," Lassiter said. "Having that and having the wisdom to be farther away from goal and know what to do with the ball is something special. There are not a lot of players like him."
Lassiter has become the latest in the U.S. soccer community to campaign for Wondolowski to have a bigger role with the U.S. national team as it tries to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"I'm just so baffled by why you don't see him more with the national team, you know?" Lassiter said. "You allow that player to come in and get accustomed to the pace and movement and all the different international teams. That confidence will come with playing games."
Wondolowski, though, isn't looking past the MLS Cup playoffs, which will begin this Sunday at Los Angeles or Vancouver.
He expects a steep challenge throughout the playoffs but said the pressure won't get to him as the league's leading scorer.
"We can do well as a team," Wondolowski said.
20. Taking a look at Kansas City sports
By John Stambaugh
Louisberg Herald - October 31, 2012
Turning on the TV every weekend, weekday, weeknight, or whenever it is that you like to watch sports, is tough, and getting tougher for every fan of KC Major League teams. The fans have had enough of the losing tradition here in Kansas City, and all we can hope for as we watch our teams get defeated every week is that someday there will be a single winning team in Kansas City.
The Kansas City Royals boasted a 72-90 record this year, which is not only under 50 percent winning but it put us 16 games off of winning the American League Central. The Royals ranked 20th in the MLB for runs scored, and 19th in their on-base percentage, which can’t help because, as anyone could guess, you have to get on base to score. The horrendous pitching, however, is where our biggest problem lies. The highlight of the team’s pitching woes is that we are ranked 23rd in ERA at 4.3. The lowlights are 28, 27 and 28th rankings in quality starts, WHIP, BAA, respectively. The poor statistics stand to help fans understand the even poorer record. There is some positive outlook though, because of our “embarrassingly good” farm team that has several major prospects up and coming, Sports Illustrated has predicted the Royals to be a major playoff contender around 2016.
After the confusing event cheering and Matt Cassel’s injury which led to the debate that fans were arguably cheering at an injured Cassel or a replay of a positive play happening at the same time. No matter what actually happened, the fact that most of the NFL world has assumed that the fans were cheering for his injury proves that most people know the attitude in KC. Showing a 1-5 record has no one impressed, and the stats will only sadden you more. We are ranked 22nd in passing after having spent $63 million on a six-year contract with what was to be a promising quarterback for our future. Our running game continues to be a beacon of hope in this otherwise dark, horror-ridden team averaging 164 yards per game at third in the league.
The savior of KC sports is Sporting KC. Our MLS team which seems to get the least attention is ranked #1 in the MLS, leading all teams in victories and goals made. Can anyone in KC explain why this team’s average attendance in 2011 was 17,500 and the Chiefs averaged 72,082 seats sold per game in 2011? The front office of KC Sporting is widely unknown by general KC fans because they do their jobs and win games, keeping the attention off them. Whereas seemingly all of KC has heard of Clark Hunt, Scott Pioli, David Glass and Dayton Moore, the front office managers of the Royals and the Chiefs.
So, KC can give a big thanks and shout out to Sporting KC for winning so many games and giving KC a respectful name in the MLS. To the Royals and Chiefs? Come on. That is all we KC fans need to say. Come on. Four out of the last five seasons the Chiefs have had losing records, and the Royals have 17 losing seasons in 18 years. With all of this negative though, we can hope for positive change, because after all, uphill is the only direction left to go … we hope.
21. Impact thrilled with 1st MLS season, except for missing playoffs
The Canadian Press - October 31, 2012
The Montreal Impact had an impressive first season in Major League Soccer but no one from the players to team president Joey Saputo was gloating Wednesday.
The club that started the season 1-5-2 ended up a respectable 12-16-6 for 42 points, but they faded late in the campaign to finish seventh and missed a chance to become a rare expansion team to make the playoffs.
"I'm happy because we attained our goal of being competitive in our first year, but I'm not entirely satisfied because we are not a seventh-place team," Saputo said. "Our objective for 2013 will be to make the playoffs."
There was much to feel good about as Saputo, vice-president Richard Legendre and sporting director Nick De Santis met with the media to analyse a team that looked at times like championship contenders and at others like stumbling newbies.
Saputo said the core of the team will be back, including designated player Marco Di Vaio, former Italy defence stalwart Alessandro Nesta, team player of the year Patrice Bernier, defender Matteo Ferrari, captain Davy Arnaud, first overall draft pick Andrew Wenger, impressive young midfielder Felipe Martins, oft-injured centre back Nelson Rivas and goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
Decisions have yet to be made on other players, but it's likely French defender Hassoun Camara will also be back. Third-string goalie Greg Sutton has announced his retirement, and 39-year-old striker Eddie Sebrango may follow.
The team hopes to upgrade the depth and skill level at both the outside and the centre of midfield and at forward, possibly with the addition of a second designated player, Saputo said.
And head coach Jesse Marsch will return.
"It's our first year in MLS and it's Jesse's first year as a head coach, and I think he's handled himself very well," said De Santis.
The club was also pleased to average about 23,000 fans per game, third best in the league behind Seattle and Los Angeles. The average was boosted by two crowds in the 60,000 range early in the season at Olympic Stadium, before they moved back into an expanded 20,000-seat Saputo Stadium in June.
The Impact hope to add points with strong play from the outset next season. Montreal spent the first half of the 2012 campaign just getting its starting lineup settled.
Defensive improvements needed
And they want to eliminate the lapses that saw them give up a league-worst 17 goals in the final 15 minutes of games and their tendency to fall asleep on opponents' free kicks and corners.
"It's a results-oriented business and for me, especially considering the way the season ended, it wasn't good enough," said Marsch. "There's been a lot of positives from within, but moving forward the expectations and demands have to be much higher, and it starts with me."
The Impact started the season as a largely American side and ended with a heavy Italian accent.
Ferrari was there from training camp, soon to be joined by striker Bernado Corradi, whose season was cut short by a major knee injury.
Then Di Vaio, the star of Serie A's Bologna, signed in mid-season and brought in his national team pal Nesta. The Colombian Rivas and the Brazilian Felipe had also played in Italy.
But Di Vaio took weeks to find his range, partly due to the distraction of having to clear himself at a match-fixing trial in Italy. Nesta was brilliant at times, sluggish at others.
Both should be better after going through a full training camp with the club.
Bernier returned after playing nine years in Europe to join his home town team in MLS and also had ups and downs. He endured the humiliation of being benched for seven games early in the season, then bounced back to lead the team in scoring and win player of the year honours.
"The team evolved a lot in style," said Bernier, from Brossard, Que. "It became something we can call our own.
"In the beginning we were competing but it was mostly hard work, not so creative. Once we came to Saputo Stadium we found more fluidity in our play. Possession, movement, creating a lot of chances. And the arrival of our star players, the Italians, brought a new step to the team."
The high points were a first MLS point and Arnaud scoring the team's first goal before 58,912 at the Big O in a 1-1 draw with Chicago on March 17, a first win against Toronto FC on April 7 and a 1-1 tie with Los Angeles before a record 60,860 on May 12.
After moving back to Saputo Stadium, there were rousing wins of 4-1 over Seattle and 4-2 over Houston.
But then there was their first loss in their outdoor park, 3-0 to Toronto, that moved Saputo to tweet "Absolute disgrace, enough said."
A five-game winning streak in August raised playoff hopes, but they were dashed with a loss in Columbus on a goal in stoppage time and a listless 3-1 defeat in Chicago. Montreal went 0-3-2 down the stretch.
"That's one of the things I think that dropped, the commitment and competitiveness," said Marsch. "I'm proud of the progress the team showed until the end.
"At the end, we didn't play our best. We have to retool knowing we have a good core and that next year the expectations are higher."
The season is not quite over, as they leave Nov. 5 for friendly matches against Serie-A teams Bologna and Fiorentino before the off-season.
The trip is part reward for a good first MLS season and partly a way to extend the club's international presence. And who knows, maybe find another designated player?
Saputo admitted it is another of the unbudgeted expenses that put the team slightly in the red. There was also an extra training camp trip and a mid-season slash in ticket prices.
But he hopes to have the team at least break even next season. It will be the 20th anniversary of the Impact, who played 19 seasons in various lower leagues before joining MLS.
22. Seattle brings democracy to MLS with GM vote
The Associated Press - October 31, 2012
Inside a voting stall adorned with all the usual trappings of the election process, Bill and Chris Schlittenhart let their voices be heard.
The Schlittenharts spent their time before a recent Seattle Sounders home game helping decide the fate of general manager Adrian Hanauer, whose future employment as the man in charge is now in the hands of season-ticket holders and fan supporters.
"It makes more of a complete team. We're all part of the team," Chris Schlittenhart said. "It's not a matter of other people telling us what we can do.”
As part of the bylaws the club instituted when the franchise started was a stipulation that every four years the performance of the general manager would be put to a vote of season ticket holders and members of the Sounders fan alliance. All season-ticket holders, or those who pay $125 per year to be part of the fan alliance, get to have a say in the direction of the organization, which means voting to keep Hanauer or kick him out of office.
For some franchises in other corners of the world, this is common practice. In North America, it's unheard of.
Consider it a bit of democracy in the sporting world.
"I've gotten calls from other owners of other teams in other sports who tell me I'm out of my mind," Sounders majority owner Joe Roth said. "Which tells me it's probably a pretty good idea, actually.”
There are no stump speeches for Hanauer to make or political ads. The product he's put on the field, coupled with incredible fan support not seen in a North American soccer market since the early days of the NASL, can be seen as a strong enough argument for giving Hanauer another four years running the organization.
Seattle again smashed attendance records this season, averaging 43,144 per game. The Sounders drew more than 66,000 for a home game against rival Portland and reached the MLS playoffs for the fourth straight season. In four MLS regular seasons, the Sounders are 59-32-37 with a playoff trip each year, not to mention three U.S. Open Cup titles and a fourth appearance in the Open Cup final this year.
Hanauer has been involved in all aspects of Seattle's success. Along with being the general manager, he's a part owner of the franchise. So no matter the outcome of the voting, he'll retain a role in the organization.
Yet come Dec. 7, when the voting results are announced, Hanauer could theoretically be out of a job -- even though that's highly unlikely. The coaches who work under Hanauer, along with other members of the ownership group, also have a vote.
"I'm not telling you," Roth laughed when asked for his vote.
Hanauer, though, isn't worried about what the outcome will be. Perhaps because the resume he's created is so strong.
"This is not a paid gig for me. It's full time. I still own a third of the team. I'm comfortable I've done what I can do to make us successful," Hanauer said. "If there is someone better out there and the fans think there is someone better, I'm very comfortable living with that. So I'm at peace with this whole process.”
The idea of giving fans a say came from co-owner Drew Carey. During his time in Spain, Carey became enamored of the organizational structure of FC Barcelona, whose supporters have the ability every five years or so to vote for the president of the club.
Carey was adamant when he met with Roth to discuss becoming part of the Sounders ownership group that fan rights -- which included the GM vote, allowing fans to name the team and pick their seats -- be part of the franchise's bylaws. Roth was intrigued by the idea and eventually agreed with Carey. They then turned to Hanauer to take on the role with his experience running the USL Sounders from 2001 until the MLS Sounders made their debut in 2009.
"It was a way to really integrate the fans as much as possible in the team and give them, if not ownership, as close to ownership as possible. At least emotional ownership," Roth said.
23. Crew's Chad Marshall has surgery
The Associated Press - October 31, 2012
Columbus, Ohio - Columbus Crew defender Chad Marshall has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle, the Major League Soccer club has announced.
The procedure, performed by Crew medical staff in Columbus, removed a bone that was causing problems. Marshall will begin rehab immediately and is expected to be sidelined for the next six to 10 weeks.
Marshall started in all 24 matches he appeared in this season, recording two goals. He recently surpassed Mike Clark as the Crew's career leader in games played (223), starts (220) and overall minutes played (19,582).
25. The 'Beckham effect' is working as football crowds grow in the US
By Sami Mokbel
Daily Mail Online - October 31, 2012
When David Beckham moved to the MLS from Real Madrid, it was said he had only gone for the money and how he had 'sold out'. But the Americans knew they were onto a good thing and believed that 'Brand Beckham' would help them finally grow 'soccer' domestically.
That was in 2007. Most others had failed, even in the days of Pele, Beckenbauer, Best and the razzamatazz of the North American Soccer League, which eventually crashed and burned after a bright start.
It may have lasted from 1968 to 1984 and gates for the New York Cosmos regularly topped 40,000, but it wasn't taken seriously and was seen by many as a retirement home for some of the world's best players - a final chance to earn a few quid.
The same was said about Beckham when he joined LA Galaxy. But the Americans are beginning to see the effect of signing players like the former England captain, ex-Arsenal striker Thierry Henry and Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane.
While once there was only one game of football in America and it was the gridiron kind, that's no longer the case. With NBC winning the rights to show Barclays Premier League football next season, its seems the popularity of football is on the increase.
While the growth has been slow, attendance figures revealed by FIFA show the MLS is now the seventh highest average attendance in world football.
LA Galaxy midfielder Beckham, the highest paid player in the MLS, has done his bit.
Average attendances grew to 18,807 during their 'regular' season and while that is less than Wigan's home gate for their 2-1 win against West Ham (the smallest weekend gate in the Barclays Premier League) and less than Cardiff, Leeds and Leicester attracted in The Championship in their most recent home games, it is an increase of almost 1,000 supporters on last season.
More than six million supporters watched matches in 2012 - the first time the MLS has reached beyond the six million mark since its inception in 1996.
The highest average was for the Seattle Sounders, for the fourth successive campaign, with a record-breaking 43,144.
Beckham, who won the 2011 MLS Cup, with The Galaxy has had a successful career with Manchester United and Real Madrid. he signed a new two year contract to stay in America when he was recently courted by Paris St Germain.
He will be able to watch more English football soon too.
NBC have explained the thinking behind their three year contract. John Miller, the NBC Sports President of programming said: "I have a 23-year-old and a 27-year-old son and I have a lot of friends who have sons and daughters of the same age – they have all become Chelsea fans, Arsenal fans, Manchester United fans, Tottenham fans.
'Even though there's just a handful of Americans playing on those teams, they are appealing.' NBC also screen MLS football.
26. Landon Donovan eyes break from soccer
ESPN.com - October 31, 2012
Just two days before heading into MLS playoffs, Landon Donovan sat with ESPN's reporter Julie Foudy and had a candid conversation about his decision to pause from the game.Tags: Mls, Usa Soccer, L.a. Galaxy, Landon Donovan, Espn Fc
Los Angeles Galaxy captain Landon Donovan reiterated his desire to take a break from his soccer career, citing physical and mental exhaustion, and questioned his role on the United States national team in an interview this week with ESPN.
"Your body's going to tell you it's time to take a break and that's what my body is telling me this year, there's no question," Donovan said.
The Galaxy start their playoff campaign Thursday against the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Donovan said he'd have to "push through these next games" to finish the season.
"I don't want to feel that way. I want to do it because I'm enjoying it and loving it," Donovan told ESPN. "So I need time where I can just pause, and breathe and rest, let my body heal, let my mind refresh, and I think at that point, I'll be excited to play again."
Donovan, 30, said in an August interview with Goal.com that he would consider retiring when his MLS contract expires after the 2013 season. Donovan told ESPN he would consider playing elsewhere after his eighth season with the Galaxy ends this year.
"The hard part is I really love this team," he said. "I love this city. I love playing for this team. I love playing for our owner. So it would be hard to leave here but I've thought a lot about that, but maybe you need something different. Eight years of anything is a long time."
A "pause" after the MLS offseason would mean Donovan would miss the start of the final round of the United States' World Cup qualifying campaign, which begins in February.
Knee injuries kept Donovan from playing for the U.S. in September and October in the last four games of the previous round of qualifying.
Donovan said his absence from training camp has strained his relationship with U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his teammates, to the point where he questions if he's still wanted around the national team.
As Landon Donovan questions his future, he told ESPN FC's Roger Bennett last week that he is 50-50 about playing in the 2014 World Cup. Blog »
"When you're a guy who's never been hurt for the most part and then all of a sudden you have all these injuries, I think people start to question it," Donovan said. "Maybe he's faking it, or maybe he's not really hurt, or maybe he doesn't want to come in. That's really frustrating."
Donovan has played for the U.S. in each World Cup since 2002, but is not concerned about his preparation for the 2014 World Cup.
"If I'm not enjoying playing anymore, the World Cup is the last thing on my mind," he said. "I need to make sure that I'm enjoying playing every day. If I'm not enjoying it, none of that stuff really matters."
Donovan spent time in the 2010 and 2012 seasons on loan with Everton, but he ruled out a return to the Premier League club this winter.
"I'm no good to any team if I'm playing half-hearted or if I'm playing at 80 percent physically," he said. "I can go through the motions and do an OK job, but I don't want to be doing an OK job. I want to be making an impact."
Donovan said he is proud of a career in which he has become the U.S.'s top career goalscorer and won four MLS Cups.
"I don't feel any obligation to play. I don't feel any responsibility to play," Donovan said. "I think I've put in a lot into this whole thing. I'm proud of what I've done and what I've been a part of. But I can't fake it."
If his career does end, Donovan said he looks forward to traveling without playing, as well as business and broadcasting opportunities.
"I honestly don't exactly know what's going to come and what the future holds, and I'm OK with that. But I'm not going to know until I get away from it for a bit."
27. Red Bulls and D.C. United Switch Dates
By Jack Bell
New York Times Blog - October 31, 2012
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and its impact on Northern New Jersey, D.C. United has ceded its home-field advantage and flopped home playoff dates with the Red Bulls.
Instead of the Red Bulls, who finished in third place in the Eastern Conference of M.L.S., hosting the match Saturday night at Red Bull Arena, D.C. United will play home Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern. The return match in the two-game, home-and-home, total-goals series will be played in Harrison, N.J., Wednesday night at 8 p.m. Both games are still scheduled to be televised by the NBC Sports Network.
During a hastily called conference call Wednesday, the D.C. United president and chief executive Kevin Payne, M.L.S. Commissioner Don Garber and Red Bull New York General Manager Jérôme de Bontin said the change in location was necessary and could not be avoided.
“Obviously these are extraodinary circumstances,” Payne said. “We worked hard to win home field in the playoffs, but there are times when circumstances override competitive concerns. Jérôme, an old friend, called me yesterday and explained the situation at Red Bull Arena. We understand this is not something that any of us would have liked, but you have to be able to accommdate events.”
Garber, who has been marooned at his home in Montclair, N.J., because the league offices on Park Avenue in Manhattan are without power, said the decision was made only late Wednesday afternoon when the severity of the situation at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., which is on the the banks of the Passaic River, became clear.
De Bontin, the Red Bulls’ new general manager, said the team’s stadium was mostly undamaged by Hurricane Sandy, but has been without power since Monday night.
“The water never made it to the field; it was covered on time and was uncovered yesterday and is in perfect shape,” he said. “We had water near to the building, but never had water inside the building. We lost power around 7:30 p.m. on Monday, we have generators that kicked in, but we’ve been told it could take five to seven days to get power in Harrison.”
A big slice of the Red Bulls’ home fans travel to the stadium using the PATH trains that originate in Manhattan but also make stops in Hoboken, N.J., and Jersey City on the way to the station, which is a short walk from the arena. There is little doubt that PATH service will be unavailable next Wednesday as well, and de Bontin said the club is considering “alternatives,” though he declined to be specific.
D.C. United finished one point ahead of the Red Bulls in second place and were scheduled to host the second playoff game.
League and club officials considered a neutral site, PPL Park in Chester, Pa., before deciding to switch dates. It remains possible, however, that Red Bull Arena might not be ready even by the middle of next week. Garber said the league and clubs are now considering possible alternatives in the New York metropolitan area. Garber said there was little leeway to postpone the series past the next week because the league will break during its postseason for another FIFA international date later this month.
And just imagine the tumult if the Red Bulls had finished fourth and were scheduled to host the wild-card game … Wednesday night.
28. Red Bulls playoff series vs. rival United rescheduled
By Brian Lewis
NY Post Blog - October 31, 2012
The Red Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against archrival D.C. United has been rescheduled due to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy, with the home and road legs being flip-flopped.
Instead of hosting the first leg, they will now travel to D.C. on Saturday and play at RFK Stadium on Saturday at 8 p.m. They are presently slated to host archrival United at Red Bull Arena next Wednesday at 8 p.m., although that could also be subject to change.
Both will be televised live on NBC Sports.
“This is a decision that was made in the last hour-and-a-half as we worked with both clubs to try to find a solution that was in the best interest of (everybody),’’ said MLS commissioner Don Garber. “Hurricane Sandy is an epic and unprecedented natural disaster that continues to affect all of us.
“This was a tough decision, but one we think is bigger than the sport of soccer. When we made the decision, we took into consideration all the issues, and made the decision we feel is in the best interest of all the parties.’’
Research started for the prospect of moving the game yesterday morning and the league partiers discussing this via conference call at 7 p.m. yesterday, with the Philadelphia Union’s stadium PPL Park ruled out and the final decision made this afternoon.
“Clearly the safety of our fans and our visitors coming to Red Bull Arena take ultimate precedence. We thought at the end of the day it’s in all parties best interests,’’ said New York Red Bulls General Manager Jérôme de Bontin, who said 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena was structurally sound and wasn’t flooded, but was essentially without power and was expected to be throughout the weekend.
“The water never made it to the field. We uncovered the field yesterday, and the field is in perfect shape. Water came all the way to the building, but never had water in the building,’’ said Jérôme de Bontin.
“We lost power at 7 p,m. on Monday. We were first told it could take five to seven days to get power in Harrison. I’ve been in touch with the mayor of Harrison; yesterday we were told with assurances it could be Monday, and we did get some power back for a few hours. We’re quite confident by Monday (we’ll have power).’’
Jérôme de Bontin said, with the PATH still down, the Red Bulls are exploring ways to help their fans reach the game. Meanwhile, MLS and the Red Bulls are exploring contingency plans should Red Bull Arena still not be useable.
The Red Bulls finished with a club-record 57 points off a 16-9-9 record, but were just third in the East. United finished a point ahead at 17-10-7, earning the homefield advantage.
“These are extraordinary circumstances we all face. Our club worked very hard to achieve homefield advantage and we achieved that. But there are times circumstances override competitive concerns and this is one of them,’’ said United president and CEO Kevin Payne. “Jerome called me and told me the condition of Red Bull Arena; we understand the extent of the catastrophe.’’
“This is something we have to be able to accommodate. I’m absolutely certain our fans will respond as they always do.’’
While visiting supporters are usually limited to just 500, and are confined to specific areas of stadia, that will be waived for Saturday’s game.
29. Fire ousted from MLS playoffs
Bruin scores twice in 2-1 knockout victory to lead Dynamo to Eastern Conference semis
By Jack McCarthy
Chicago Tribune - October 31, 2012
It was an all too familiar story for the Fire on Wednesday night.
They fell behind early against the Houston Dynamo, had to scramble to catch up and couldn't quite get an equalizer on the way to a season-ending 2-1 loss in their MLS Eastern Conference knockout game before a crowd of 10,923 at Toyota Park.
"It's tough being down two goals," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "We made a push at the end and we got one back."
Unfortunately for the Fire, their lone goal didn't come until the 83rd minute and left little time to catch the Dynamo, who advanced to a two-game Eastern Conference semifinal beginning Sunday at home against top seed Sporting Kansas City.
"This is very difficult, we're all very competitive people," Fire coach Frank Klopas said. "It hurts, it's not a very good feeling."
The loss, the Fire's fourth in their final six games, made it a short-lived playoff run for a team absent from the postseason since 2009.
Forward Will Bruin scored both goals — one in each half — to lead Houston, MLS Cup finalists in 2011.
The Fire appeared tentative on offense in the early stages and also had dangerous moments on defense when goalkeeper Sean Johnson struggled to handle two early balls before Houston beat him for the game's opening goal.
They also had some uncharacteristic sloppy passing and mistakes.
"We made mistakes and had to climb back again and against a good time like this it's always hard," Patrick Nyarko said.
The Fire became more aggressive in the second half and pressured Houston keeper Tally Hall, who successfully turned back several shots until Alex found the back of the net in the 83rd minute.
"I thought we pushed the game (in the second half)," Klopas said. "We made changes, we took risks … in the last few games we haven't gotten a break."
Bruin's first goal came off a Brad Davis corner kick in the 12th minute. Fire defender Jalil Anibaba slipped on the kick, leaving Bruin open to head the ball down and dribble it past Johnson.
Bruin picked up his team-leading 14th goal in the 46th minute when former Fire Calen Carr offered a feed and Bruin finished with a liner past Johnson.
30. Dynamo edge Fire to advance in MLS playoffs
By Jesus Ortiz
Houston Chronicle - October 31, 2012
Bridgeview, Ill. - Immediately after scoring the first of his two goals, forward Will Bruin sensed Wednesday night would belong to the Dynamo.
Once he added his second goal in the first minute of the second half, he was all but sure the Chicago Fire were done. And he was right.
Bruin found little resistance from the Fire at Toyota Park, and the two-time MLS Cup champion Dynamo can build on their rich history with their first MLS playoff game at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Bruin leaped unmarked to head in his first goal and added a clever finish for his second, pushing the Dynamo into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 2-1 victory over the Fire in the knockout round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
"After that first goal, we kind of had that feeling that it was our game," Bruin said. "We were playing well. We were putting them under pressure, and we were able to get a reward for our good play. Then we started the second half real strong. Got a quick second goal there, and we played a pretty good game."
With the victory before 10,923, the Dynamo set up a rematch of the 2011 Eastern Conference final against top seed Sporting Kansas City, which has never beaten the Dynamo in the playoffs.
The Dynamo defeated K.C. in the 2007 Western Conference finals 2-0 and then in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals 2-0. The three-time finalists, who had never entered the playoffs seeded lower than No. 2, will try to return to the MLS Cup finals after entering the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's fifth seed.
The Dynamo will face Kansas City at BBVA Compass Stadium at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the first match of the home-and-away Eastern Conference semifinal that will be decided by aggregate score.
Dynamo's early strike
Two minutes after Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall came off his line in the 11th minute for the save after Alvaro Fernandez slipped behind Kofi Sarkodie down the left wing, the Dynamo took the lead. Former Fire forward Calen Carr won a corner kick with a run down the left wing.
Brad Davis capitalized with a beautiful corner kick. Bruin headed the ball into the lower corner of the net by the near post to give the Dynamo a lead.
The Dynamo almost made it 2-0 when Bobby Boswell headed a corner kick just over the crossbar in the 43rd minute. A minute into the second half, midfielder Ricardo Clark stole the ball from Fire defender Gonzalo Segares on the right wing and fed the ball to Carr.
Double the margin
Then Carr passed to Bruin, who converted the finish to give the Dynamo a 2-0 lead.
"To score first was great for us," Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear said. "I thought we played well in the first half. And then it was a dream start to the second half with the goal. It was a fantastic tackle by Ricardo and then a good play by Calen and Will to finish it off."
The Fire almost cut the deficit in half when Arne Friedrich blasted a shot from close range, but Hall hardly had to move while making the save.
Hall made a spectacular leaping save in the 74th minute to deny Patrick Nyarko. Nine minutes later, Alex cut the Dynamo lead in half with a goal from the left side of the box, but the Dynamo held on.
"Once the goal came obviously it gave us a huge boost of confidence," Carr said. "Just looking around the group the energy was good from the beginning of the game. I thought we were able to impose our will on the game early and also coming out on the second half as well. I think the way we started the game and the way we started the second half was a huge part in our success."
31. Early goal sets tone in frustrating playoff exit for Fire
By Seth Gruen
Chicago Sun-Times - October 31, 2012
Through the three days of training the Fire had to prepare for Wednesday night’s play-in game against the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park, it seemed as if they were excited for their first playoff appearance in two seasons.
But once they took the field, the team seemed overcome by jitters that it could not shake.
The Fire was poor in possession from the kickoff and gave up a set-piece goal from which they were never able to recover in a 2-1 loss to the Dynamo that ended their season. Midfielder Logan Pause thought it came down to which team got the breaks.
“This group was more than ready, more than focused for tonight and excited about the opportunity,” Pause said. “When it comes down to a game of inches, whether it’s for you or it’s against you, it’s tough fighting down two goals.”
Through the first 60 minutes, nearly every member of the Fire seemed to struggled with their touch on the ball.
Will Bruin scored twice for the Dynamo, in the 13th and 46th minutes. The first of his two goals came when he headed a corner kick by Brad Davis just inside the near post.
Fire defender Jalil Anibaba was marking Bruin, but slipped as the Dynamo striker was making his run, leaving him wide open.
The second goal came in the opening seconds of the second half. Fellow Dynamo striker Calen Carr split defenders Austin Berry and Gonzalo Segares, giving him a clean path to the goal.
At halftime, Fire coach Frank Klopas subbed out defensive-minded holding midfielder and captain Pause for Alex, who is known for his creative abilities in the offensive third of the field.
While the substitution is one Klopas has made several times this season when his team has struggled on the offensive end, the move might have come slightly early.
A weaker defensive midfield allowed Carr the space to take his time in getting the ball to Bruin. Alex did justify the substitution when he scored in the 83rd minute.
That provided some late-game drama, but the Fire was unable to capitalize, creating several chances in stoppage time.
“It’s really sad for me, and everybody showed a good effort,” center back Arne Friedrich said. “I tried to push the game [offensively] as well, but this is soccer and everybody is really disappointed now because just one game and everything is over.”
32. Fire’s playoff stay a short one, lose 2-1 to Houston
By Orrin Schwarz
Daily Herald - October 31, 2012
Wednesday night was a lesson in playoff soccer for the Chicago Fire.
In its first playoff appearance since 2009, the Fire was knocked out after just one game, losing 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park. And after going 1-3-1 in its final five regular-season games, the Fire couldn’t regain any momentum.
Will Bruin took advantage of a slip by second-year Fire defender Jalil Anibaba and got the Dynamo on the scoreboard in the 12th minute with a 7-yard header inside the near post off a Brad Davis corner kick.
“We gave up a goal, things happen,” Fire coach Frank Klopas said. “It’s a situation where one of our players slips. It was unfortunate. And then they scored.
“I just felt that in these last games we really haven’t gotten the break. When we’ve gotten in good positions and good spots, it seems that things just didn’t go our way, where we could get one of those bounces to go our way or someone slipping like that.”
The breaks might not have gone the Fire’s way, but the team didn’t play well either. It looked jittery at times; it sometimes struggled to trap the ball; its passes didn’t connect, especially in the attacking third of the field.
The effort was there, but something was lacking.
Then came a heartbreaking start to the second half.
The Fire gave up a goal before many fans had returned to their seats from the concession stands. Houston forced a turnover near midfield and a quick Calen Carr pass sent Bruin into the penalty area, where he struck from 15 yards out.
“We start the second half in the worst way. We give up a goal in 30 seconds where they pressure and it’s a 50-50 ball that bounces their way and we give up a second goal,” Klopas said.
The Fire’s lone highlight came in the 83rd minute, when Patrick Nyarko fed second-half substitute Alex on the run at the top of the penalty area, and Alex’s left-footed shot a couple of touches later sent off the far post and in.
The Fire was in no mood to celebrate the goal, rushing it back to the center spot for Houston’s kickoff so it could begin the search for the game-tying goal.
Despite a frantic effort the tying goal never came, making the Fire’s return to the playoffs a short one.
“Listen, when it comes down to a game of inches,” captain Logan Pause added, “whether it’s for you or against you. It’s tough fighting down 2 goals. We made a push at the end. Of course we get one back. You’ve got to give the guys a lot of credit for fighting out there.”
“I felt that the guys pushed it and they gave everything that they had,” Klopas added.
On this night it wasn’t enough to save their season.
33. Dynamo eliminates Fire in knockout round
ESPN.com - November, 1, 2012
Bridgeview, Ill. -- Postseason experience meant more than home-field advantage in the opening round of the MLS Eastern Conference playoffs Wednesday night.
Will Bruin scored twice and the Houston Dynamo beat the Chicago Fire 2-1 to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Dynamo reached the MLS Cup final last year and won the league championship in 2006 and 2007. The Fire, who hosted the knockout-round match, hadn't been to the playoffs since 2009. The difference showed.
"After the first goal, we kind of had that feeling it was our game," Bruin said. "We were putting them under pressure, and got the goal as a reward for our play."
The Dynamo, who hadn't beaten the Fire since 2010, will host top-seeded Kansas City in Sunday's first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"We didn't think about getting another home game," Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said. "We give ourselves a chance to move on farther, which is nice."
Bruin's first goal, a header off Brad Davis' corner-kick cross from the left side, came in the 12th minute. From that point until the 82nd minute, when Brazilian veteran Alex beat goalkeeper Tally Hall to cut Houston's lead to 2-1, the Dynamo had Chicago off balance.
"We were able to impose our will," forward Calen Carr said. "We pressed them and kept them from getting comfortable. And a lot of our guys have been there (in the playoffs). That helped us today."
Houston took advantage of a Chicago mistake at the start of the second half for its second goal. Fire defender Gonzalo Segares' clearing pass was deflected, and Oscar Boniek Garcia led Bruin. Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson got his right hand on Bruin's 10-yard shot, but couldn't stop it 19 seconds into the second half.
The goal stunned the Fire, and squelched coach Frank Klopas' plan to attack relentlessly with Alex, who replaced Logan Pause at halftime. It took another 35 minutes for Chicago to get untracked.
"I thought we had the energy," Klopas said. "We had opportunities and didn't take advantage of them. What are you going to do?"
Houston controlled the ball more effectively for the first 75 minutes, giving Hall an easy night until Alex's goal. He finished with six saves.
Chicago's best chance before Alex's goal, a point-blank drive by forward Sherjill MacDonald, was kicked aside by midfielder Adam Moffat in the 71st minute.
Game notes: The Dynamo put six shots on goal. ... Houston is 1-0-2 against Kansas City this season. ... The second leg of the semifinals is Nov. 7 in Kansas City. ... Houston was undefeated (11-0-6) at home this season and has a 29-game unbeaten streak dating to July 9, 2011, including last year's playoff matches en route to the Eastern Conference title. ... The Dynamo last beat the Fire on Aug. 21, 2010, in a regular-season match.