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MLS Newsstand – October 31, 2012

on Wed, 10/31/2012 - 15:18
MLS Newsstand – October 31, 2012
 
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo 9:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
1. Dynamo-Fire matchup at a glance (Chicago Tribune)
 
Other MLS News
11. United-Red Bulls rivalry a bit one-sided (Washington Examiner)
20. Galaxy have found their groove (The Province)
22. MLS enters crunch phase (FIFA.com)
24. Timbers’ season ends with hope (The Associated Press)
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(Additional articles for consideration can be submitted directly to Lauren Brophy of MLS Communications at Lauren.Brophy@MLSsoccer.com.
 
 
1. Dynamo-Fire matchup at a glance
 
By Jack McCarthy
Chicago Tribune - October 30, 2012
 
The Houston Dynamo have more recent playoff experience with a run to the 2011 MLS Cup while the Fire haven't been to the postseason since 2009. Both teams struggled late in the season but match up fairly evenly as they open the 2012 MLS playoffs with Wednesday night's knockout game at Toyota Park.
 
Forward: Houston's top gun is second-year pro Will Bruin, who led the club with 12 goals, one away from a franchise record. He's paired with ex-Fire forward Calen Carr, who has played more in 2012 than the past four seasons combined. The Fire have had tried various combinations this season before team MVP Chris Rolfe (team-high 8 goals) and Sherjill MacDonald (four goals, four assists) finally settled in. Edge: Dynamo.
 
Midfield: Ricardo Clark, who returned to Houston at midseason after two years in Europe, has the third-most playoff starts among active Dynamo players while productive Brad Davis — a 2012 All-Star — has eight goals for Houston. The Fire midfield features veterans Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo plus recent arrival Alvaro Fernandez. Edge: Dynamo.
 
Defense: Dynamo anchor Bobby Boswell has 222 starts, the most by an MLS defender since 2005, Jermaine Taylor (26 starts) is a fixture with Jamaica's national team while Corey Ashe switched from midfield last year and turned into an MLS All-Star. The Fire developed into one of the league's top units with the early-season acquisition of World Cup veteran and team defender of the year Arne Friedrich, the quick development of rookie Austin Berry and solid play from Jalil Anibaba and Gonzalo Segares. Edge: Fire.
 
Goalkeepers: Tally Hall set a Dynamo record and tied for second in MLS with 12 shutouts and his 1.19 goals-against average was among the best by regular goalies. Sean Johnson missed the Fire's first three games yet finished third in the league in saves (108) and boasts a 1.24 goals-against average. Edge: Fire.
 
Bench: Houston forward Brian Ching is 11th all-time among MLS scorers with 82 goals and appeared in 26 games this season. Forward Dominic Oduro adds speed and scoring ability for the Fire while midfielder Alex has a pair of goals in 17 appearances. Edge: Fire.
 
Prediction: The Fire have had a habit of giving up early goals, but also can push back aggressively. And they're tough to beat at home (11-3-3). Fire 2, Houston 1.
 
 
2. Fire to host Dynamo in MLS playoff opener
 
By Seth Gruen
Chicago Sun-Times - October 30, 2012
 
October was one of the worst months of the Major League Soccer season for the Fire, but that doesn’t mean the team is looking to forget it.
 
Leading up to its single-elimination playoff game Wednesday against the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park, the Fire has used the last month to learn what needs to be corrected heading into the postseason.
 
Sure, the Fire has struggled to finish. That was never more apparent than in a 1-1 tie Saturday against D.C. United. But despite some struggles around the net, the Fire is encouraged it created more than enough chances to win the game.
 
‘‘We’ve tried to look at some of that stuff as a positive, as not playing our best at the right time in terms of knowing some of the gaps and holes and things we needed to correct,’’ captain Logan Pause said Tuesday.
 
‘‘The result over the weekend was tough, but we feel like we did more than enough and created enough chances to win. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way, and for months it was.’’
 
While the Fire is eager to score, it won’t allow itself to deviate from the philosophy that enabled it to reach the playoffs in the first place. Coach Frank Klopas has said the Fire, which has won with defense all season, will stay compact in an effort to prevent goals. Its 41 goals allowed was tied for the second-fewest in MLS during the regular season.
 
When given the opportunity, the Fire will push forward. In particular, it will look to use 6-1 center back Arne Friedrich, who is a primary target on set pieces and crosses.
 
‘‘We spoke about if I get the chance to go in the gaps, then one of the [midfielders] has to stay [back],’’ Friedrich said. ‘‘In the past it went really good, and I’m going to support these guys in the offense. But . . . my first goal is to defend.’’
 
 
3. Houston, Chicago kick off MLS playoffs
 
Sports Network - October 30, 2012
 
Bridgeview, IL — Chicago Fire coach Frank Klopas said Tuesday his club had achieved only their first goal to reach the MLS Cup playoffs, and the "team is hungrier to achieve a lot more."
 
Chicago qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009, and welcomes the 2011 MLS Cup runner-up Houston Dynamo to Toyota Park on Wednesday night in an Eastern Conference knockout game Klopas described as "do or die."
 
The Fire (17-11-6) narrowly missed securing a bye in the playoffs, but instead will have to focus on the Dynamo (14-9-11), who will try to duplicate a run of road success in the postseason last year.
 
"Any time on the road in the playoffs is tough," Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said. "Experience can help you, but you can only rely on experience for so long.
 
"Last year's team was in the playoffs and made a run to the Cup, so hopefully we can make that comparison (in a few weeks)."
 
Chicago will be a tough first step for Houston.
 
The Fire tied a club record for points in a season with 57, but just missed a bye into the Eastern Conference semifinals because of a 1-1 draw against D.C. United on Saturday in their regular-season finale.
 
Fourth place was still enough to host the one-match playoff, and with a 11-3-3 record at home this season, just one more home victory will have Chicago right in the mix in a two-game conference semifinal series.
 
In addition to the impressive home form, Chicago was unbeaten in three matches against Houston this season, securing a win and two draws. The match in April, a 1-1 draw, was stopped midway through the second half. The second was 0-0.
 
And in the third, Chicago posted a 3-1 win in early September at home.
 
"It's a team that we've played throughout the season. That also gives you some confidence, knowing the opponent," Klopas said. "At this point of the season, the guys are ready, they're excited and we're looking forward to the match."
 
Kinnear remembers the most recent meeting, the loss, well. Chicago scored less than one minute into the match, and Houston cannot afford a similar start this time around.
 
"One thing I learned is don't get scored on in the first minute of the game," Kinnear said. "We know its going to be a difficult game. We played Chicago three times and all the games have been very competitive."
 
While Chicago has changed during the year, most notably through the additions of Chris Rolfe, Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald, Houston has also gone through transitions with the additions of Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark.
 
Garcia has four goals and four assists in just 17 matches, and Clark returned from a European stint to hold down midfield after the departure of center back Geoff Cameron to Stoke city of the English Premier League.
 
Brad Davis, eight goals and a team-high 12 assists, and Garcia will need to be on for Houston, as it relies on its wide players to guide the offense.
 
The Dynamo will need Will Bruin, who led the team with 12 goals in the regular season, to produce in the playoffs, or for someone to step up in his spot, or they could struggle to score.
 
Chicago has a balanced offense led by Rolfe - eight goals and three assists in 22 games - and a defense anchored by German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich.
 
Houston also enters the playoffs off a 2-0 defeat against the Colorado Rapids, but last year's experience, including victories at the Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City, will keep the club's confidence high.
 
"Tough team to break down. We know it's one game, and for us to advance, we need to win this game," Kinnear said. "We do have respect for our foes, but we do not fear them."
 
The winner advances to face the top seed in the East, K.C., in the conference semifinals. The winner will host the first match on Nov. 4, and visit Sporting for the second leg.
 
 
4. Earthquakes are best in MLS, but critics question style
 
By Beau Dure
USA Today - October 30, 2012
 
The San Jose Earthquakes were pushed around – pushed all the way out of Major League Soccer, then left to rebuild as an expansion team.
 
Now they're pushing back.
 
The Earthquakes have the league's best record, the player who tied the MLS single-season scoring record and a reputation for physical play and gamesmanship to match the Detroit Pistons of the "Bad Boys" era.
 
And while the players tune out the critics, they're not backing down.
 
"I just think it's a physical game," says coach Frank Yallop. "Always has been, always will be. There's contact in the sport. You shouldn't be afraid of contact."
 
The Earthquakes haven't had an unusual number of red cards or suspensions. But forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart are among the top five in the league in fouls committed per 90 minutes among those who played at least 400 minutes.
 
And that's just what the refs see. Los Angeles defender Omar Gonzalez told MLSSoccer.com late in the season that the Quakes forwards were "blindsiding" him while the ball is elsewhere.
 
And Lenhart, easy to spot with his mop of blonde hair, has a reputation for flopping or otherwise encouraging refs to make questionable calls. Seattle's Marc Burch lamented "the same tricks every time" after Lenhart drew a penalty kick against him. Salt Lake defender Jamison Olave was ejected after colliding with Lenhart, who had a handful of Olave's shorts.
 
Even the penalty kick with which Chris Wondolowski tied the MLS single-season scoring record (27 goals to tie Roy Lassiter, who set the record in 1996) on Saturday came about through a questionable call, with Lenhart again tumbling a bit too easily for some fans' tastes.
 
Lenhart is a good-humored guy off the field who, while playing for the Columbus Crew, went to a local retirement home to start a crochet club that knits beanies to benefit the homeless. He says confrontation is just part of the game.
 
"Everything that happens on the field stays on the field," Lenhart says.
 
Lenhart's critics may disagree. But Yallop and general manager John Doyle say other teams call often to inquire about trading for him. Doyle, a central defender in his playing days, knows why.
 
"As a central defender, you don't like playing against people who give it back to you," Doyle says.
 
And the Quakes are under the skins of rival Los Angeles, whom they'll face in their first playoff series Sunday if Los Angeles beats Vancouver on Thursday. Earlier this season, Los Angeles' David Beckham got so frustrated with Quakes player Sam Cronin's time-killing while play was stopped that the English superstar drilled a ball from long distance right at him. The ensuing fracas spilled over after the game and somehow drew in the San Jose mascot.
 
The Quakes have plenty of reasons to play with a bit of attitude. The players are late bloomers – Wondolowski was taken deep in the MLS Supplemental Draft and started 11 games his first five years in the league, Lenhart was a lightly recruited player who went to then-NAIA school Azuza Pacific, and Gordon didn't make an MLS roster straight out of college.
 
This year, the trio has combined for 50 of the Quakes' 72 goals, far and away the best numbers in the league. They also deny that they play an overly direct style.
 
"I don't think we have a particular style," Wondolowski says. "We kind of play what the game dictates. We've shown we can pass the ball. When it's not going as well, we'll go a bit more direct."
 
And the club itself has something to prove. The Bay Area soccer community lost the two-time MLS champion Earthquakes to Houston before the 2006 season. That loss hit especially hard for local Doyle and De La Salle alumnus Wondolowski, who ran track with NFL star Maurice Jones-Drew at the high school sports powerhouse.
 
"Most people thought the team would be gone forever," Yallop says. "We had a great group of fans that fought very hard. We have fantastic owners."
 
Yallop coached the team to MLS championships in 2001 and 2003. He returned when the team came back in 2008, having history but none of the infrastructure of recent MLS expansion teams like Seattle and Montreal. Through the tough years that followed, Doyle stuck with Yallop, citing his calm demeanor in good times and bad.
 
And the Quakes are finally ready to stick in San Jose. Before the team's final home game Oct. 21, the Quakes broke ground on their new stadium. Team president Dave Kaval sought 4,533 people to break the Guinness World Record for the most people turning over dirt on a new building. They got 6,256.
 
 
5. Beckham, Henry search for glory in MLS Playoffs
 
By Simon Evans
Reuters - October 30, 2012
 
Major League Soccer's Playoffs begin on Wednesday with 10 teams searching for the title-deciding MLS Cup in the knockout phase of the North American season.
 
Defending champions L.A. Galaxy, featuring former England midfielder David Beckham, take part in the single-game knockout 'play in' round of the competition, aiming for a spot in the Western Conference semi-finals.
 
The Galaxy only finished fourth in the Western Conference and so must defeat fifth-placed Vancouver Whitecaps, who became the first Canadian team to reach the MLS post-season after pipping national rivals Toronto and Montreal.
 
"I think they've got a lot of character as a team, a few good players as well and they've got a lot of unity," said Beckham of the Whitecaps, who are in just their second season in MLS.
 
"When we've played them in the past they've shown it is difficult to break them down and win the game. There will be many obstacles, especially with it being a one-off playoff game. It's going to be difficult," he added.
 
Should the Galaxy get through they will face the top team in the Western Conference regular season -- the San Jose Earthquakes, who possess the league's top scorer Chris Wondolowski whose 27 goals matched MLS's all-time record.
 
The other 'play in' features the Chicago Fire against the Houston Dynamo, winners in 2006 and 2007, with the victor in that tie facing Sporting Kansas City.
 
"We have guys who have been there and we believe in our team mentality," said Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis.
 
"The playoffs come down to everybody fighting for one another, stepping up that intensity a little bit and we know we are able to do that when our backs are against the wall," he added.
 
HENRY INFLUENCE
 
The New York Red Bulls, featuring former Arsenal, Barcelona and France striker Thierry Henry, have never won the MLS title and their bid to end that barren spell going back to 1996 begins with a two-legged Eastern Conference semi-final against D.C. United.
 
Henry is no longer the pacy striker of his youth but, in a deeper, probing role has struck a great understanding with American forward Kenny Cooper who scored 18 goals in the regular season.
 
"It's amazing to feel so much confidence in the people around you when you play with someone like Thierry Henry, who is incredible and assisted on so many of my goals this year," said Cooper.
 
The other semi-final, which is already set, features Real Salt Lake, winners in 2009, against the league's best supported team, the Seattle Sounders.
 
The Sounders have reached the playoffs in all three of their previous seasons since coming into the league but have never won a series.
 
RSL have developed an attractive passing style of play under coach Jason Kreis and will start as favourites, especially if Seattle striker Eddie Johnson, the team's top scorer with 14 goals, fails to recover from a hamstring injury.
 
A huge crowd is expected for the second-leg in Seattle. The Sounders have averaged 43,144 in the regular season, by far the largest in the league.
 
 
6. Update on Red Bull Arena, MLS playoffs
 
By Steven Goff
Washington Post - October 30, 2012
 
Red Bull Arena is without electricity but did not suffer any severe damage when Hurricane Sandy roared through the New York area Tuesday, according to D.C. United President Kevin Payne.
 
Payne spoke this afternoon with Red Bulls General Manager Jerome de Bontin, who told him the facility in Harrison, N.J., is in good condition. They agreed to speak again as the week unfolds to determine whether the stadium would still host the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday night between the Red Bulls and United.
 
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Payne said. “No one knows what the future holds. We hope the power comes back, and not just for the soccer game.”
 
The Red Bulls are expected to issue a formal update today.
 
UPDATED with Red Bulls statement:
 
    “Our staff was continually assessing Red Bull Arena overnight and this morning and found only minor, non-structural damage to the facility. In addition, the pitch was fully covered and did not experience flooding. We want to thank our stadium operations and security staff for their tremendous job in preparing for Hurricane Sandy. Our club is currently in communication with local officials, authorities and Major League Soccer and evaluating our options for Saturday’s playoff game against D.C. United. We hope to provide further information soon.”
 
The clubs plan to discuss the issue with MLS officials, but because of the hurricane’s impact in New York, where the league headquarters are based and many officials reside, communication is difficult at the moment.
 
Asked if United would offer to host the first leg at RFK Stadium and play at New York next Wednesday, Payne said: “We haven’t discussed scenarios, but I wouldn’t support that.”
 
As the No. 2 seed in the East, United earned the right to play at home in the second leg, which, if the total-goals series is tied after 180 minutes, would proceed immediately to 30 minutes of extra time and possibly penalty kicks.
 
Meantime, United Coach Ben Olsen cancelled practice today and plans to resume workouts Wednesday. The club has yet to survey the condition of the training grounds near RFK Stadium. If the grass field is too wet, United would probably train at Long Bridge Park, an artificial turf facility in Arlington.
 
“Would I rather have trained today? Yeah,” Olsen said. “But at this point in the season, an extra day off won’t affect us. A break is good for the guys.”
 
In other news…
 
*Midfielder-forward Chris Pontius was voted the club’s MVP and center back Brandon McDonald was named defender of the year. Midfielder Marcelo Saragosa won the coaches’ award and midfielder Stephen King was named the team’s humanitarian of the year.
 
 
7. Sporting KC awaits winner of Dynamo-Fire match
 
By Tod Palmer
Kansas City Star - October 30, 2012
 
Kansas City, Kan. — For Sporting Kansas City and its fans, all eyes will be on Toyota Park in Chicago at 8 p.m. tonight, where the Fire hosts the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference knockout round of the MLS playoffs.
 
The winner advances to face two-time reigning champion Sporting KC in the conference semifinals, which begin at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in either Chicago or Houston.
 
“As much as we know these teams, the intensity of the game is going to be heightened just because we know it’s the knockout round now,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “We’ll be really tuned to the TV.”
 
Top-seeded Sporting KC (18-7-9) actually had a better record this season against the second and third seeds, D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls, than either team in the knockout round.
 
Sporting KC beat swept second-seeded D.C. in two meetings without allowing a goal and went 1-0-2 against the Red Bulls, including a 2-0 beating administered Sept. 19 — the first home loss for New York at Red Bull Arena this season.
 
Sporting KC went 0-1-2 against the Dynamo, which bounced Vermes’ squad from the playoffs last season, and finished the year 1-2-0 against Frank Klopas’ fourth-seeded Fire.
 
Of course, in losses at Houston and Chicago, red cards issued against Sporting KC factored heavily in the outcome — though none of that will really matter come Sunday.
 
“Those games are past and it’s all about us getting ready for this game, getting healthy bodies and really just being focused,” said forward Kei Kamara, who led MLS with career-high 134 shots this season and also set high-water marks for goals (11) and assists (eight). “We’ve been there before. We were here last year, and we’ve just got to make sure we change the history this time.”
 
As far as Sporting KC is concerned, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Fire (17-11-6) or Dynamo (14-9-11) that emerges from the one-game wild card matchup.
 
“I have no preference, and I don’t think anybody really does,” said midfielder Graham Zusi, who led the MLS with 15 assists during the regular season. “We’re more worried about our game than anything. It’s been a good week of preparation for us, and we’re just looking forward to Sunday.”
 
That’s not to suggest that Sporting KC has forgotten last season’s Eastern Conference final, a gut-wrenching 2-0 loss to Houston at Livestrong Sporting Park.
 
“We have something to prove against Houston from last year,” said defender Aurelien Collin, a key cog for a defense that has allowed six fewer goals than any other team in MLS (27). “We’d be happy to play against them to prove to them that last year was an accident, but we’ll be prepared for any team. We don’t care. We physically and mentally are ready for any team in the league.”
 
The game plan will adjust obviously, depending on who emerges tonight to meet Sporting KC in the semifinals, but nothing else.
 
“Whoever it’s going to be, it’s an even slate,” Kamara said. “We play at their place; they play at our place.”
 
With 10 days between a 2-1 win to close the regular season last week against Philadelphia and the playoff opener, Sporting KC spent the early part of the week alternately resting and trying to stay sharp.
 
Sporting KC insists that the long layoff won’t be a problem and, if anything, provides the chance to get healthy.
 
Besides, with several breaks for World Cup qualifying, including a lengthy hiatus in September and October, it’s not the first time Sporting KC has faced the challenge of staying sharp without a game.
 
“We’re doing what we’ve been doing all year, having intense practices,” Besler said. “The coaching staff has been doing a good job keeping everyone sharp, and we’re staying hungry really. … I’d rather have a layoff than play the Wednesday game, for sure.”
 
Now, it’s MLS Cup or bust, right?
 
“We’ve had a very good year,” Vermes said. “To already have won the U.S. Open Cup and then to repeat as Eastern Conference divisional champs at the end of the season is huge for us. As I said, I really believe it’s a standard of excellence that the guys have set, but there’s more to come and more to go after.”
 
 
8. On Soccer: The first round of the playoffs set to feature the oldest rivalry in MLS -- Red Bulls vs. D.C. United
 
By Frank Giase
Star-Ledger - October 30, 2012
 
It is the oldest rivalry in Major League Soccer, one with a history of great games, star players and coaches, controversial calls, nail-biting finishes and more than its share of New Jersey connections.
 
Then again, it may be hard to label something a rivalry when the results have been so one-sided.
 
But while the games against D.C. United have been filled with many more lows than highs for the Red Bulls, when they take the field, something interesting always happens.
 
Another chapter in the rivalry is about to be written as the Red Bulls and D.C. United prepare to meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the first step in a postseason the Red Bulls hope will result in the franchise’s first championship.
 
The Red Bulls will host the first leg of the home-and-home, total-goals series Saturday night at Red Bull Arena, with the second leg Nov. 7 at RFK Stadium in Washington.
 
The Red Bulls have played D.C. United 59 times in the regular season, more than any other team in history. And while the record hasn’t been good (20-31-8), they at least have made it competitive at home (11-13-4).
 
However, that hasn’t been the case in the playoffs, where the Red Bulls’ 1-5-1 record in three Eastern Conference semifinals is worse than that of any of the nine teams they have played in their playoff history.
 
And it began in Year 1.
 
The 1996 MLS playoffs saw D.C. United finish second in the Eastern Conference with a 16-16 record, with the then-MetroStars third at 15-17. And their playoff matchup was just as even.
 
D.C. United, coached by Bruce Arena, came into that first series with five players — John Harkes, Steve Rammel, Richie Williams, George Gelnovatch and John Maessner — from New Jersey, as well as Jesse Marsch, who played for D.C. United assistant coach Bob Bradley at Princeton. Marsch just finished his first year as coach of the Montreal Impact.
 
The first game of the best-of-three series at Giants Stadium finished 2-2, with the MetroStars winning the shootout in the 11th round when captain Peter Vermes, now the Sporting Kansas City coach, scored the winner.
 
It was all D.C. in the second game as they won, 1-0 to even the series. In Game 3, Rammel broke a scoreless tie with a goal in the second half, but the MetroStars tied it four minutes from time on a goal by Antony De Avila.
 
That’s when the fortunes of two franchises turned forever.
 
Headed for a shootout that could have gone either way, MetroStars forward Rob Johnson tripped D.C.’s Marco Etcheverry in the box and Raul Diaz Arce converted the penalty kick in the 89th minute as D.C. won the game, 2-1, and the series, two games to one.
 
To this day, many MetroStars fans believe that was the watershed moment in the history of the two franchises. D.C. United went on to win championships in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004, as well as four Supporters’ Shields, two U.S. Open Cups, a CONCACAF Champions Cup and an InterAmerican Cup while the MetroStars/Red Bulls have yet to win any of those trophies.
 
They met again in 2004 and, despite the teams’ having similar regular-season records, it was no contest as D.C. United won both games, 2-0, for a 4-0 aggregate victory. New Jersey native Alecko Eskandarian, D.C. United’s leading scorer, scored at Giants Stadium.
 
Defender Mike Petke, originally drafted by the MetroStars and the team’s current assistant coach, won an MLS Cup with D.C. that year.
 
Two years later, Arena was the Red Bulls’ coach and set to play his old team in the playoffs for the first time.
 
Red Bulls fans were optimistic.
 
But it was not to be.
 
D.C. won the first leg at Giants Stadium, 1-0, on a goal by league MVP Christian Gomez. In the second leg in Washington, 16-year-old Jozy Altidore scored in the 70th minute for a 1-0 lead and a 1-1 aggregate score, but Gomez was the difference, scoring with four minutes to play to win the series.
 
So here we are. Another year of playoffs and D.C. United is the first obstacle. The two teams played three times this year, with D.C. winning at home, 4-1 on April 22, the Red Bulls winning at home, 3-2 on June 24, and a 2-2 tie Aug. 29 at RFK.
 
With expectations of an MLS championship this season, is there a better way to begin the quest than dispatching the one team that has been their biggest nemesis since the league’s inception?
 
For Red Bulls fans, it’s the only way.
 
 
9. Red Bulls hope home playoff game will go off as planned
 
Star-Ledger - October 30, 2012
 
An updated look at the new Red Bull Arena An updated look at the new Red Bull Arena With many of the seats in place and the grass field laid down, the New York Red Bulls gave us another look inside their new Harrison stadium. (Video by Michael Monday/The Star-Ledger) Watch video
 
The Red Bulls remain hopeful that they can play their home playoff game Saturday against D.C. United, according to a statement released by the team Tuesday afternoon.
 
"Our staff was continually assessing Red Bull Arena overnight and (Tuesday) morning and found only minor, non-structural damage to the facility," the statement read.
 
"In addition, the pitch was fully covered and did not experience flooding. We want to thank our stadium operations and security staff for their tremendous job in preparing for Hurricane Sandy.
 
"Our club is currently in communication with local officials, authorities and Major League Soccer and evaluating our options for Saturday's playoff game against D.C. United. We hope to provide further information soon."
 
The Red Bulls host the first-leg of the playoff series, with the second leg to be played next Wednesday at RFK Stadium.
 
 
10. Sounders confident injured top scorer will be back soon
 
By Don Ruiz
News Tribune - October 31, 2012
 
For the second consecutive season, Seattle Sounders FC might be heading into the playoffs immediately following the loss of one of its most irreplaceable players.
 
But the key word is “might,” as coach Sigi Schmid gave a mostly upbeat report on the hamstring injury suffered Sunday by leading scorer Eddie Johnson.
 
“It’s a slight tweak,” Schmid said Tuesday. “… It’s not nearly as bad as we had feared that it might be. There’s an outside chance (Johnson will play) on Friday, and for sure the second game shouldn’t be a problem.”
 
The club opens its aggregate-score playoff series with Real Salt Lake at home on Friday. The deciding game will be played Nov. 8 in Utah.
 
The injury to Johnson, who leads Seattle with 14 goals, happened late in the Sounders’ match at Los Angeles that ended the regular season.
 
If he can’t go this week, the most conventional potential replacement could be Sammy Ochoa, who like Johnson is a large forward who is most effective in front of the goal.
 
Ochoa had one goal in nine appearances during the regular season. But he had four goals in four appearances during group play of the CONCACAF Champions League, and three goals in four appearances in the U.S. Open Cup.
 
“I’m ready if I get the chance to play,” Ochoa said. “I’m ready for that opportunity, to just take advantage. If Eddie’s ready, then hopefully I’m on the bench. But if he’s not (ready), I’m there in case Sigi puts me in the starting lineup.”
 
Schmid said he has several options to fill the forward spot alongside Fredy Montero.
 
“We’ll see what we think is best,” he said. “We’ll take a good look at our games (against RSL). Ochoa has played in the past. (David) Estrada really hasn’t been available for them. (Steve) Zakuani is somebody now back in the mix – he’s played up front before. I think we’ve got three options. Even (midfielder Mauro) Rosales could push up high if we needed to.”
 
Last season, it was Rosales in a situation similar to the one Johnson is in now: suffering an injury to the medial collateral ligament of his right knee in the final game of the regular season. It cost him both legs of the playoff series eventually won by Real Salt Lake.
 
That experience leaves him looking forward to his Major League Soccer postseason debut Friday at CenturyLink Field.
 
“Last year was very bad watching the game from outside, knowing that you can’t help the team in any way,” Rosales said. “I have my opportunity now (this) Friday and I will try to do my best. I will put all the energy, the concentration, that the team needs. Also (we need that) from everybody. It’s playoff time, and we have to be 100 percent attitude and everything.”
 
ADDED TIME
 
Schmid said defender Jeff Parke (hamstring) is ready to play, while defenders Leo Gonzalez (hamstring) and Patrick Ianni (calf) “seem to be getting better every day.” … Raphael Cox of Tacoma scored in a penalty kick shootout last Saturday, helping the Tampa Bay Rowdies over the Minnesota Stars for the NASL Soccer Bowl championship. Cox previously played for the University of Washington and the Tacoma Tide. … The MLS playoffs begin at 6 p.m. today with Houston in Chicago for a single-elimination Eastern Conference play-in game.
 
 
11. United-Red Bulls rivalry a bit one-sided
 
By Craig Stouffer
Washington Examiner - October 30, 2012
 
The rivalry between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls is one of the longest standing in Major League Soccer, dating to the league's inaugural season in 1996, even if it is one-sided. United is 3-0 in playoff series against New York, and two of the three times they've met in history, United has gone through New York to win an MLS Cup -- in 1996 and 2004.
 
But not a single player that will play Saturday at Red Bull Arena (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network) was there when the teams last met in the 2006 postseason. In each of the years since, different players have stood out in the regular-season series.
 
In 2007, it was Ben Olsen -- the only one left on either sideline who played six years ago -- who had a hat trick in a 4-2 win at RFK Stadium and scored first in a 3-1 victory later in the season.
 
In 2008, Luciano Emilio also scored three times in United's 4-1 triumph in June. Two months later, Juan Pablo Angel had the first two of four unanswered New York goals in a win by the same margin.
 
In 2009, D.C. rookies Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius both scored in their first game against the Red Bulls -- Pontius has five goals against New York this season alone.
 
In 2010, Angel nabbed his team's record-tying sixth goal against United, and last year Thierry Henry had a pair of goals in a 4-0 drubbing at RFK.
 
New York also has other heroes, including former United defender Brandon Barklage, who scored twice in the Red Bulls' 3-2 win in June. Dax McCarty, a supposed critical piece of United's rebuilding effort when he was acquired prior to the 2011 season, was misused in Washington then dealt to the Red Bulls for Dwayne De Rosario. In New York, he's become a crucial midfield anchor who allows freedom for Henry (15 goals, 12 assists) and Kenny Cooper (18 goals, three assists). McCarty also went to the playoffs last year with the Red Bulls, who have been to the postseason three times during United's playoff drought. While United wants to exorcise its playoff demons, the Red Bulls hope to advance for the first time at United's expense.
 
 
12. Toronto FC in dire need of quick turnaround
 
By Daniel Girard
Toronto Star - October 31, 2012.
 
For six years, Toronto FC has operated on the hope of next season.
 
As each miserable one ends, reasons are offered to feel optimism for the one to follow.
 
That Groundhog Day refrain resurfaced Tuesday as the club held a news conference at its Downsview headquarters to mark the end of the 2012 season, the club’s worst yet.
 
But amidst all the familiar wait-until-next-year talk by the 19 players and their two bosses over the course of nearly three hours was a recognition, perhaps for the first time, that if TFC doesn’t turn things around in 2013, more than their jobs are at stake.
 
“Next year is very, very vital for this franchise,” said defender Richard Eckersley.
 
Added goalkeeper Stefan Frei: “Big picture, I think vital is a good term to use.”
 
Striker Danny Koevermans noted solid crowds at BMO Field despite weak play.
 
“We want to give something back to the fans because they deserve it,” he said.
 
The honeymoon ended long ago for TFC, once the model expansion franchise with seemingly unwavering fan support and an atmosphere at home games that was the envy of every other franchise across Major League Soccer.
 
Seven head coaches in six losing seasons will do that. Ditto with no sniff at the playoffs.
 
Even with deep discounts on season tickets for 2013, divorce on the grounds of cruelty from even the most loyal among their fans seems likely if there’s no 2013 turnaround.
 
Frei, who went down with a season-ending leg injury after appearing in only the opening match of 2012 when 47,658 fans packed the Rogers Centre for a CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final against the Los Angeles Galaxy, acknowledged that while the players have had numerous restarts with coaching changes and new seasons, supporters carry “all the pain from last year and the year before that, and it keeps piling up.”
 
“We understand that,” he said. “So, results have to come in and they have to come in soon.”
 
That will begin with the overhaul of a roster that delivered a 5-21-8 record in 2012.
 
Head coach Paul Mariner, who took over the job from Aron Winter in early June with the club at 1-9-0, said bluntly he believes his roster contains just seven bona fide MLS starters. Given injuries to key players, including Frei, designated players Torsten Frings, Danny Koevermans and Eric Hassli, the team struggled mightily, he said.
 
“We had too many fringe players asked to play too many games,” Mariner said.
 
But rather than a parade of off-season signings, Mariner maintains he just needs four or five new, MLS-ready faces to compete in 2013. That, the healthy return of the injured and depth from youngsters who learned on the job this season will suffice, he said.
 
“I’m really comfortable they’ll be fine,” he said of his three veteran designated players.
 
Finishing dead last among 19 teams also means the top pick in the MLS SuperDraft.
 
“It’s got to be somebody who’s going to come in and make an impact,” Mariner said of the first overall pick from among NCAA players and other newcomers in January.
 
Mariner said he and Earl Cochrane, TFC’s director of team and player operations, hope to stock the roster quickly so they can “hit the ground running” for the January pre-season.
 
Chief among their needs is an experienced central defender.
 
Clearly changes are coming, with the club holding the 2013 option on many players.
 
Ryan Johnson, Adrian Cann and Milos Kocic were among those who admitted Tuesday that while they’d like to return, they may have played their last game with the Reds.
 
Cochrane said despite the MLS salary cap there is “flexibility” in the club payroll to retool the roster and that over the next few weeks decisions will be made on who stays.
 
“It is vital that we put a product on the field that’s going to be able to challenge for a playoff position,” Cochrane said. “We look at the teams that are in the playoffs this year . . . (and) there’s a handful of them that we don’t think we’re that far away from.”
 
 
13. Impact look to smooth out some bumps
 
By Sean Gordon
Globe and Mail – October 30, 2012
 
One of the privileges of team ownership is the power to set one’s own parameters for evaluating success and failure.
 
Do you judge on the basis of personal expectation? According to preset goals? On ambitions either realized or unfulfilled?
 
Joey Saputo, president and owner of the Montreal Impact, has answered those questions for himself, and on Wednesday he’ll do it publicly at the team’s year-end news conference.
 
He’ll doubtless pronounce the club’s first year in Major League Soccer a fine season on balance, having said in a videotaped thank you to fans: “We’ve gotten to the level where we have 20,000 fans coming to every game, and that’s exciting. … This year the fans really proved we are a soccer city.”
 
Saputo’s mantra going into the 2012 season was that he didn’t want his team to be yet another also-ran expansion franchise. In the main, those expectations have been met.
 
Early-season attendance records were set (60,860 watched a contest at the Olympic Stadium, a new Canadian mark for pro soccer), the starting 11 were competitive enough to elbow into the playoff hunt as the last month of the season began, and the Impact’s home ground has become a boisterous place that’s jammed on match day.
 
Montreal also found a way to finish ahead of three other teams in the competitive Eastern Conference – good luck finding anyone in MLS who would suggest the Impact are anything but a first-class organization.
 
But this was not a season devoid of problems, misjudgments and missed opportunities.
 
There were construction delays in the stadium expansion, lacklustre marketing efforts, and a midseason dip in attendance that prompted the team to slash ticket prices.
 
There were dodgy personnel moves by soccer director Nick De Santis and coach Jesse Marsch, including a misstep in the expansion draft; they wasted the top pick on Houston forward Brian Ching, who was traded back to Houston for a conditional draft choice.
 
Defender Nelson Rivas, the team’s first MLS signing, hobbled through an injury-plagued year and never really panned out. Players like veteran goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, and draft-day acquisitions Justin Braun and Tyson Wahl were offloaded in midseason.
 
It took until late May for the Impact to sign a designated player – Italian forward Marco Di Vaio – and even then their marquee striker contributed a modest five goals in 17 games.
 
More signings will be needed up front (aging striker Bernardo Corradi missed half the year with a knee injury, first overall draft pick Andrew Wenger remains a work in progress) and more attacking polish is needed in a squad that led MLS in offside flags.
 
Having a true number 10 would help, as would more consistent and accomplished wing play than that delivered by Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp.
 
On other hand, the Impact coaches did get the best from players like clever midfielder Felipe and Canadian international Patrice Bernier, the Impact’s player of the year and leading scorer.
 
And homegrown defender Karl Ouimette became the first graduate of the team’s academy to play for the first team.
 
The Impact also addressed some of their defensive frailties in late summer by signing defenders Matteo Ferrari, Alessandro Nesta, the former AC Milan great and World Cup winner, and Dennis Iapichino, who came from Swiss club FC Lugano.
 
More work needs to be done: The Impact back line allowed 51 goals, more than all the teams in their conference but bottom-dwelling Toronto FC. And while they scored 45, a league-high nine came from the penalty spot.
 
Montreal was also one of the worst road teams in MLS, posting a miserable minus-18 goal differential on foreign turf.
 
 
14. For the umpteenth time, Toronto FC regroups
 
By Paul Attfield
Globe and Mail - October 31, 2012
 
As the Vancouver Whitecaps prepared for that rite of autumn bestowed on all successful Major League Soccer teams – a playoff run – their downtrodden cousins to the east congregated for what is rapidly becoming their own annual tradition.
 
For the sixth consecutive fall, players, coaches and media gathered Tuesday to pick over the bones of another wasted Toronto FC campaign, and some critics circled like vultures, pecking at every last morsel of flesh on what is rapidly becoming a decaying carcass of a sports franchise. It was hardly surprising, given the new depths to which the once-model MLS franchise has sunk.
 
The 2012 squad set franchise lows for wins (five), points (23) and goals conceded (62). It didn’t go unnoticed, as attendance at Toronto’s BMO Field, for so long the team’s calling card, fell to an optimistically inflated 18,155, good for just 10th in the 19-team league.
 
Team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has already tried its best to address that issue by reducing 2013 season-ticket prices to 2007 inaugural-season levels in an attempt to win over a disgruntled fan base, but that will count for naught if the on-field product is not up to snuff come the new year.
 
To that end, head coach Paul Mariner, who took over in June following predecessor Aron Winter’s bungling 1-9 start, headed to Europe Tuesday night to begin a scouting mission on the “four or five” new players his team will require to put that right.
 
“We’ve known for quite some time what we need,” he said, “and we’ve known where we’re going to get them as well.”
 
That will mean the end of the line for a number of players in Toronto. Mariner estimates that he has just seven MLS-calibre starters on his club, and when a number of them went down with long-term injuries, other players failed to grab their opportunities to fill the voids.
 
“The old saying in football is you’re only as good as the deepest member of your squad and we had too many fringe players asked to play too many games,” Mariner explained. “Learning on the job is fine and dandy, but if you’re not up to it, and some of the lads didn’t have the physical capability and mental capability, then you’re going to get torn down.”
 
One player in particular who was torn down was Dutch striker Danny Koevermans, whose season ended when he tore knee ligaments in July, and many, Mariner included, pointed to that injury as the moment the season ended for his club. As the team’s lone bona fide goal scorer – his return of 17 goals in 21 MLS starts speaks for itself – his loss was keenly felt, particularly as TFC ended up on the wrong side of one-goal games on 12 different occasions. His return to health – he estimates to be back by April or May – will be key to a turnaround, but he’s far from alone in those stakes.
 
Fellow designated player Torsten Frings, 36 next month, underwent hip surgery last month, and getting him back up to full speed, along with the return of No. 1 goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who broke his ankle in March, will imbue the team with a solid spine to build around.
 
Director of team and player operations Earl Cochrane says the team has flexibility on the “vast majority of contracts,” and TFC also has the luxury of the No. 1 pick in next January’s SuperDraft, an asset that Mariner has stressed must be turned into an “impact player.”
 
Still, no rookie can be expected to come in and address this team’s shortcomings. A reliable central defender to play alongside Irish international Darren O’Dea will be key, as will another central midfielder, and a striker who can take some of the scoring load off Koevermans would also be a worthwhile pickup.
 
Given the way the supporters’ goodwill has been squandered by mismanagement in the team’s six seasons, many used the word vital to describe the 2013 campaign, and while an MLS Cup is likely out of reach, contending for a playoff spot will be crucial.
 
“In the big picture … I think it is vital. It is a good term to use,” said Frei, who has already played under five coaches in his first four seasons. “It’s tough because I’ve been here for so long, but every year, or sometimes even every half-year, it’s like a new start. And as much as you say we’ve been here for so long, unfortunately it does reset when you pull the trigger.
 
“For the fans who have been here the whole time and people looking from the outside in, they’ve been waiting and waiting and for them it isn’t so much of a reset for them, it’s still all the pain from last year and the year before and it keeps on piling up and we understand that. So like we said … it’s a result-based business and the results have to come in and I think they have to come in soon.”
 
 
15. Alain Rochat hopes Whitecaps can surprise Galaxy
 
By Bruce Constantineau
Vancouver Sun - October 30, 2012
 
Vancouver - Alain Rochat brings a silky smooth offensive flair to his newfound role as the Vancouver Whitecaps’ holding midfielder.
 
But how much the former left back gets to display his knack for penetrating passes in Los Angeles this week depends on how well the Caps weather the Beckham-Keane-Donovan storm.
 
“Every time they play us, they try to make (an impact) early in the game and they manage to do that so we expect pressure,” Rochat said Tuesday after the Whitecaps trained in Burnaby to prepare for their one-game playoff with the Los Angeles Galaxy on Thursday.
 
“But we know them now and we’re going to do everything to stop them.”
 
Rochat is the last remaining former Swiss Super League player on the Caps roster, following the departures of Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento this season, and he’s eager to experience North American-style playoff soccer.
 
The 29-year-old former FC Zurich defender likens it to Cup games or even Champions League play in Europe.
 
“If you lose, you’re out,” he said, stressing he’s familiar with that concept. “It’s like every game is a Cup final and the goal is to go as far as possible.”
 
The Galaxy website already indicates the club will host San Jose in the Western Conference semi-final on Sunday and Rochat hopes that indicates the team is overconfident.
 
“It’s the normal schedule for them but they still have one game to play and in one game, anything can happen,” he said. “We will play this game as hard as we can and try to create a surprise – a big surprise.”
 
Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie said Rochat’s late-season conversion to holding midfielder – replacing the steady Jun Marques Davidson – has helped the club improve its defensive performance, surrendering just one goal the past four games.
 
“Alain is a good defender and a really intelligent player and he has learned the position really quickly,” he said. “His passing and his possession have been very good.”
 
He said Davidson – a stalwart at the holding midfield spot for much of the year – is “completely selfless” and has had a great season in Vancouver this year.
 
“Alain maybe brings a little bit more penetrating passes but they both do a really good job,” Rennie said.
 
SIDE KICKS: The Whitecaps practiced penalty kicks at the end of training Tuesday to prepare for the possibility of deciding the Los Angeles game on penalties.
 
If it goes that far, don’t expect Rochat or goalkeeper Brad Knighton to be on Rennie’s list of five penalty takers.
 
Rochat said his history of taking penalties during his European playing career wasn’t stellar.
 
“I always missed,” he said.
 
Knighton took a few practice penalties on goal but probably blew his chance for the real thing with a sky-high effort during a pre-season game.
 
“He was (on my list) in the past but not anymore because he kicked one over the stadium the last time I saw him (take a penalty),” Rennie said.
 
 
16. Vancouver Whitecaps’ quiet leader Y.P. Lee commands respect
Humble, former international defender lets his play, and work ethic, do his talking as team’s undisputed leader
 
By Iain MacIntyre
Vancouver Sun - October 30, 2012
 
Vancouver — In a season marked by spells both exceptional and excruciating and the tumult caused by summer roster changes, little Y.P. Lee went a long way towards pulling the Vancouver Whitecaps together and pushing them into Major League Soccer’s playoffs.
 
After a decade of travelling the world, nearly 400 club appearances in six nations and a staggering 127 games for his country, the 35-year-old South Korean may walk on to a soccer pitch for the final time when the Whitecaps visit the Los Angeles Galaxy on Thursday (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1410).
 
Contemplating retirement as a player, Lee revealed Tuesday that he’d like to remain with the Whitecaps in some capacity even if he never plays again. He and his family want to stay in Vancouver.
 
“Actually, I like rain,” he smiled.
 
His fondness for the Whitecaps is excellent news for an organization trying to build in MLS and develop young players through its ambitious residency program.
 
Lee has much to offer.
 
But the club must do everything it can to convince the fullback to keep playing because he embodies the excellence, class and credibility for which the Whitecaps wish to be known.
 
“Everybody respects him,” coach Martin Rennie said Tuesday. “Not just because of his quality and talent (as a player), but also his professionalism and character. Ultimately, who you are as a person is more important than who you are as a soccer player. For him to achieve what’s he’s done in his career but always remain humble and hard-working is a credit to him.
 
“Obviously, his play has been fantastic. But more so the person he is — he’s so easy to work with, has such professionalism, so much character. As a coach, it’s a dream to have someone like that who has played at such a high level but is still so respectful of everything we’ve asked of him. He goes way beyond what you could ever expect from any professional player. I can’t give him enough credit.”
 
Rennie said he believes the club will work out an arrangement with Lee that allows him to continue playing beyond this season.
 
The former Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham Hotspur and PSV Eindhoven defender is eager to study sports marketing and business. He’s also interested in the media, although we doubt he’d stoop to so low a profession.
 
The Whitecaps may have to work out a training schedule that allows Lee to take classes between MLS games.
 
“If this is his last game, I’ll be surprised because he has so much left,” teammate Jordan Harvey said. “I would love to play with him a few more years. He’s somebody everybody looks up to. Everything has impressed me about him. Everything he does is with class and professionalism.”
 
Harvey moved in and out of the starting lineup at left back, opposite Lee, and is among the players who has benefited most from the Korean’s tutelage.
 
There are all kinds of leaders.
 
While “designated player” Barry Robson, for example, burst upon the lineup in mid-season shouting reprimands at teammates he barely knew, Lee’s leadership is subtle and by example.
 
When he speaks to teammates, it’s quietly. And they listen.
 
Lee was named the Whitecaps’ player-of-the-year. Coincidentally, his best game in months was Saturday’s scoreless draw in Salt Lake City, where Robson was plunked on the substitutes’ bench. We’re guessing Rennie finds a way to get Robson into the lineup against the Galaxy, and that Lee will shine in the biggest game of the season.
 
“You don’t need to talk too much to be a leader,” midfielder Alain Rochat, another steady veteran, said when asked about Lee. “Your actions, your presence, if you can bring the team something powerful, then it’s another kind of leadership. Y.P. is exactly that kind of person. He won’t talk too much, won’t yell. But how he plays out on the pitch makes him a very important leader on the team.
 
“The most important thing (is) being positive. You can tell people when it goes wrong or we have a bad stretch, but if you can always stay positive and try to improve together, then automatically you get out of bad situations. We need the mentality that Y.P. has.”
 
After six years in Europe, Lee spent the last two seasons in Saudi Arabia, reportedly earning about $1.5 million annually. He declined an offer to stay in the kingdom, and instead chose Vancouver and the Whitecaps. He signed last December for a base salary of $140,000. He didn’t come for the money.
 
“Actually, I’m just doing the same as last 10 years,” Lee said of his philosophy. “I have to try to do always the best on the pitch and out of the pitch, even in my home. I want to communicate with young players. They ask me a lot of times how to prepare for the games, how to do something. I just share with them my experience.
 
“We can not say we are hugely successful this season. We can not. But we can say we were much better than last season. That is a good sign for us because we are a young club. It’s a good sign for our future. I think this is much better than last season. And next season, I expect better than this season.”
 
The Whitecaps have a better chance meeting that expectation with Lee than without him.
 
 
17. Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett as pumped up about team's MLS playoff match as his Giants’ World Series title
 
By Bruce Constantineau
Vancouver Sun - October 30, 2012
 
Vancouver - Jeff Mallett is thrilled his San Francisco Giants captured their World Series title this year in less than seven games.
 
The Giants’ four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers means there’s no Game 7 in San Francisco on Thursday, the same day Mallett’s Vancouver Whitecaps play their first Major League Soccer playoff game in Los Angeles against the star-studded Galaxy.
 
It would have been quite the post-season conflict.
 
“I don’t know what I would have done because I’m honestly just as stoked about the Whitecaps and our first MLS playoff match,” he said Tuesday in a telephone interview from San Francisco. “I was really, really spinning in circles and I’m glad I don’t have that question. It was answered for me.”
 
The North Vancouver-born, Victoria-raised sports/business mogul — with ownership interests in the Giants, Whitecaps and Derby County FC — said the Giants’ second World Series triumph in the past three seasons feels just as good as the first, if not better.
 
“It will really hit home (Wednesday) when we have a parade that’s expected to draw about a million people,” said the former chief operating officer of internet firm Yahoo! Inc.
 
Mallett can see a day when Vancouver fans pour into the streets to celebrate an MLS Cup title.
 
It might not happen this year but an encouraging result in the one-game playoff with the Galaxy would be a start, especially after the Caps’ disastrous on-field performance last season.
 
“It was very important to get into the playoffs and establish a winning attitude around our club,” Mallett said.
 
At least three of the Caps’ four owners will be in L.A. to watch the playoff game at the Home Depot Center — Mallett, Steve Nash and majority owner Greg Kerfoot. Mallett isn’t sure if part-owner Steve Luczo can make it.
 
So what kind of a game does the former University of Victoria striker expect to see?
 
“We have to respect their firepower but we also know they’re vulnerable at the back,” Mallet said. “You can score against the Galaxy, though we haven’t had the fortune to do so in their park (where L.A. has outscored Vancouver 8-0 over three games).
 
“We have speed up front, which can keep them honest at the back, but I expect a typical playoff match with a lot of tight marking.”
 
He noted the Giants faced six elimination games against Cincinnati and St. Louis before sweeping the Tigers so he’s familiar with watching win-or-go-home games this fall.
 
“We are clearly the underdog but I know what’s possible in an elimination game and I totally buy into the old adage that the playoffs are a whole new season,” Mallett said.
 
The Whitecaps averaged about 19,500 fans at BC Place Stadium this season, down from 20,400 last year, and Mallett said a playoff run this year would clearly bring more fans back.
 
He said owners totally support the strategy of acquiring highly-paid designated players to give coach Martin Rennie and his staff the best chance to succeed in MLS.
 
The Whitecaps have had mixed success with their designated players, as former DPs Eric Hassli and Mustapha Jarju are no longer with the club and the jury is still out on Scottish DPs Barry Robson and Kenny Miller.
 
“It can be challenging to make it work every time but we’re not scared off (the strategy),” he said. “There’s definitely some upside (to Robson and Miller) and I’m hoping that gets unleashed here in this playoff run.”
 
Mallett said he watched in horror two weeks ago when the Canadian men’s team was eliminated from World Cup qualifying after getting thrashed 8-1 in Honduras. He said the loss accentuated the need for Canada’s professional clubs and the Canadian Soccer Association to cooperate more fully in player development.
 
“It’s tragic where we stand in the world’s game, based on our infrastructure,” he said. “There’s only one way to go and I hope that devastating loss embarrasses us to move more quickly to make changes.”
 
 
18. It's time for a big TFC rebuild
Or in the Reds' case, an initial build, as players and management pack it in for the off-season
 
By Kurtis Larson
Toronto Sun - October 30, 2012
 
Toronto - Love him or hate him, Paul Mariner’s arrogance is both endearing and infuriating, personal traits that have divided Toronto FC supporters into two distinctive groups: Disciples and skeptics.
 
While sensible onlookers reside somewhere in between, the latter point to TFC’s 14-game winless run to end yet another playoff-less season as a reason for removing the club’s seventh head coach ahead of 2013.
 
The Englishman put those voices to bed during Tuesday’s end-of-the-year talks, where he fired back when asked to rationalize why he’s the man to turn a fledgling franchise around.
 
“Because I’m very good at what I do,” he said.
 
As for the unheard of winless run the team extended to 14 games in a loss to Columbus on the weekend?
 
“It’s difficult to win MLS games when you’ve got your reserve team playing week in and week out,” he said, referring to the unprecedented number of injuries the club suffered during the second half of the season — a comment his right-hand man, team executive Earl Cochrane, seconded.
 
“I understand the skepticism,” Cochrane said of the verging-on-venomous fan base that fills the seats at BMO Field every other Saturday. “The last 14 games became an exercise in trying to patch holes and fill gaps ... Throughout the last 14 games we’ve (had) 50-70% (of our players) on the treatment table. In a salary cap league you can’t fill gaps like that.”
 
Fair enough, but the Reds weren’t a playoff team before a freakish injury bug hit the team. Though both Cochrane and Mariner were affiliated with the front office — Aron Winter and Bob De Klerk — that oversaw TFC’s early-season debacle, both insist the Dutch duos’ unwillingness to accept recommendations and adapt held the club back.
 
Skeptics will see it as passing off responsibility while those in the current regime’s corner will eat it up. Of course, the correct answer lies somewhere in the middle as a number of players can be tied to Mariner despite the Englishman’s covert insistence that Winter’s wrath had much to do with TFC’s 5-21-8 MLS record.
 
“Most of (the roster) was held over (from Winter),” said Mariner, when asked to explain his responsibility in assembling the current bunch. “(Richard) Eckersley I brought in because he’s more than fine in this league.”
 
Either way, Cochrane and Mariner are on the clock — and it’s already ticking.
 
For months, the Reds, along with management, have been playing for the end of the season. After being officially eliminated from playoff contention two months ago, the off-season couldn’t come soon enough.
 
“We were looking forward to getting the season done to get about the business of making it better,” Cochrane said. “That started a couple of seconds after the final whistle in Columbus (on Sunday).
 
After confirming Tuesday that MLSE president Tom Anselmi assured him that he’ll be the club’s bench boss come the new year, the rebuild (initial build?) is underway.
 
LEGITIMATE STARTERS
 
When pressed by the Toronto Sun as to how many legitimate MLS starters the club currently has, Mariner paused, appeared to count, and issued a figure most would consider wildly generous.
 
“Seven,” he stated without explanation.
 
“We’ve known for quite some time what (players) we need,” he said earlier in the 30-minute grilling, “and we know where we’re going to get them from.”
 
Mariner took off for Scandinavia following Tuesday’s conference and was said to be looking at a number of non-DP players the club has been looking at for some time.
 
Since taking the reins mid-season, the Englishman has promised to employ a second MLS-ready stalwart alongside Darren O’Dea in the centre of defence to clean up what has been a makeshift back four since the start of the regular season — one that conceded 62 goals in 34 league contests.
 
“All the players I’m going to look at have been pre-scouted,” Mariner said. “This is why I’m going. It’s decision time.
 
“We’re targeting early,” Mariner said of the urgency at which the club hopes to get players in. “We hope that we can put things to bed early so that everyone’s settled.”
 
SET TO SHIP OUT
 
Rather unsettling for current TFC players is the sizable number of non-guaranteed contracts Cochrane alluded to Tuesday.
 
The Reds will have a number of assets heading into 2013, including the No. 1 pick in January’s draft and top spot in the MLS allocation process, and will likely offload a number of players who simply weren’t up to snuff.
 
“We have the vast majority of contracts built in with some flexibility,” Cochrane said. “We’re going to have to nail down who those guys are that we’re going to carry into 2013, which will provide us with some clarity (in terms of cap space).”
 
Players will sit down for talks over the next few weeks to hammer out new deals or receive their walking papers, which means a large chunk of the roster could be shown the door following what has been one of the worst season’s imaginable at BMO Field.
 
“It’s always darkest before dawn,” Mariner said of the situation the club finds itself in. “I’m so excited, I’m so energized about putting this right because this a fantastic club with some of the best facilities in the world.
 
“We’re going to dedicate ourselves to being positive, to getting the right people in and to putting the product right on the field ... I’ve got no doubts we can do it.”
 
While the disciples are likely still onside, the skeptics are far from being won over – and likely won’t be until the club’s top brass produces on the field rather than in the conference room.
 
 
19. Jay DeMerit out to prove 'em wrong again
L.A. Galaxy showdown: Vancouver captain focuses on positives ahead of Thursday’s one-off game
 
By Marc Weber
The Province - October 30, 2012
 
Los Angeles - When the Vancouver Whitecaps sold Jay DeMerit on joining them as they jumped to MLS, they sold him on the city, and the club, but also on the chance to help build something from scratch.
 
He was their first big splash, fresh off a starting role playing for the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and he arrived chiseled and tattooed, talking like a leader, and with a rags-to-riches story you couldn’t make up.
 
And then he spent his first season as captain of the worst — and possibly most dysfunctional — team in the league, trying to figure out how to contribute while managing possibly the most dysfunctional groin in the league.
 
DeMerit played just nine games through mid-August in 2011. By the time he was healthy, the season was lost.
 
So you’ll excuse DeMerit for wanting to put aside this year’s late spiral, and rather focus on the positives, and the tremendous opportunity ahead.
 
Thursday in Los Angeles, the Whitecaps will play their first MLS playoff game in their second season. And DeMerit, a 33-year-old from Green Bay, Wisc., will be in the heart of the defence, barking and jostling and tackling in his fast-twitch way, like he’s done for all but three games this season.
 
“After a long regular season, you’ve got to draw a line under it,” he said this week. “The postseason is a different beast. It’s a one-off game [Thursday]. If you prep right, and you get your mindset right, playoffs are different. Anything can happen, and you go in with a mindset of just that.
 
“We have an opportunity to go and do something that no other Whitecap team has done, and that should light the fire underneath us, to prove people wrong and prove we can go into those environments and win games.
 
“For all the negatives that have gone on in the past couple of months, we need to take the positives into the postseason, because there’s not many teams that get to go this far.”
 
One positive is that early in the season, and in the final month, the Whitecaps were very difficult to break down.
 
Twelve clean sheets in all, three in the last four games, and it would have been four straight if not for Jack Jewsbury’s marvellous goal for Portland.
 
DeMerit’s partnership with newcomer Andy O’Brien, his calming counterpoint, has plenty to do with that.
 
And the biggest positive, of course, is simply that the Whitecaps are here, in with a shot, however long the odds, and however unlikely they seem to score.
 
“Away from home against L.A., we haven’t had our best performances,” said DeMerit, who had his worst game of the year alongside Martin Bonjour in a 3-0 loss to L.A.
 
Vancouver also lost 2-0 in L.A. this season, but tied the Galaxy 2-2 at home, a game they led 2-0 into the final 10 minutes.
 
“If you look at our performance at home against L.A., that was one of our best performances,” he said. “So we know we can go and compete with these guys. It’s just about doing the right things.
 
“We need to use the lessons we’ve learned from the games [against them] this season. There’s no reason why we can’t go and get a result.”
 
The fact DeMerit played 31 MLS games this season was a dream scenario for first-year coach Martin Rennie, who could only hope for this level of durability from his captain.
 
The Whitecaps’ investment in world-renowned physiotherapist Rick Celebrini has certainly paid off. DeMerit is Exhibit A.
 
“It was a nice thing for me and the club, and for him,” Rennie said of DeMerit finally solving a groin injury that’s nagged him for several years.
 
“He’s a really good guy. He’s very committed to the Whitecaps. He really wants this project to succeed and I think it’s a great credit to the work he’s done with Rick and the medical staff that he’s lasted this well this season.
 
“Hopefully that can continue for a long time. He’s a great athlete and a very good player for us. I don’t think there’s any games where you’d say, ‘Ah, he didn’t fancy it today.’”
 
From the University of Illinois at Chicago to Southall F.C., a ninth-division semi-pro team in England, with $1,500 in his bank account, to the Premier League and a World Cup, and then on to Vancouver to start something new, DeMerit’s career has always been about a challenge, and a good story.
 
“It was always about, ‘What person can I prove wrong now?’” DeMerit said when he arrived here in November 2010.
 
With a win Thursday, there’s no shortage of people he, and his teammates, could prove wrong.
 
 
20. Galaxy have found their groove
 
By Marc Weber
The Province - October 31, 2012
 
The playoff bracket says the L.A. Galaxy are the fourth seed in the Western Conference, but they are no ordinary fourth seed.
 
The defending MLS Cup champions have emerged from a miserable and shocking 3-8-2 start. At one point they were in the conference basement, yet the Whitecaps' first-round playoff opponent could well be considered favourites to win it all again.
 
David Beckham and Co. are on a 13-4-4 run to close the season. They've lost twice in their last 16 games.
 
By contrast, the Whitecaps have won just once in their last 10.
 
"With every team, every year is different," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said on a Tuesday conference call.
 
"Through experience you kind of understand how to work through your good moments and your bad moments. We simply dealt with it one game at a time and tried to find the right formula.
 
"We had a lot of unusual circumstances, whether it was injuries, player departures ... it made it difficult to get a team in rhythm and, basically, throughout the year, we never had a full lineup.
 
"We have a group with a good attitude. There's a lot to be said about the group, how they dealt with adversity."
 
Expectations were high heading into the season. Beckham was coming back, so were Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane. Forward Edson Buddle returned from Germany and the Galaxy extended a loan deal for emerging midfield star Juninho.
 
But concerns around the defence, with hulking centre back Omar Gonzalez lost to a torn ACL for six months, proved warranted.
 
It was Gonzalez's mid-season return that settled things, along with the star trio finding another gear.
 
Arena also added Swedish international midfielder Christian Wil-helmsson and, as Whitecaps fans learned all too well in the 2-2 home tie, U.S. under-20 forward Jose Villarreal is another threat added to an already potent attack.
 
Keane, the 32-year-old Ireland international, led the team with 16 goals and assisted on nine others, including Mike Magee's winner against Seattle over the weekend to cap an excellent season for the long-time Tottenham striker. "Robbie has a long history and I think everywhere he's gone he's been pretty good," Arena said.
 
"He got through the transition (from Europe to MLS) quicker than most players. "He's a quality attacking player and he makes our team different."
 
The Galaxy's regular-season finale was more notable, though, for the return of Beckham, 37, and Donovan, 30, from injury.
 
Both had missed the previous game - Beckham, in fact, missed five of L.A.'s final 10 games, bothered by an ankle sprain.
 
Donovan, back from a bruised knee, played 90 minutes, while Beckham played an hour.
 
The Galaxy are without centre back A.J. DeLaGarza, who's missed a month with a knee sprain, so the performance of rookie Tommy Meyer will be key against the Whitecaps, though having Gonzalez on his shoulder should help.
 
Lively right-back Sean Franklin left the San Jose game at halftime with tightness in his hamstring but is expected to play.
 
Arena's side are heavy favourites heading into a one-off game that will determine San Jose's opponent in the two-leg conference semifi-nals.
 
Over two seasons, the Galaxy are 3-0-0 against the Whitecaps at the Home Depot Center, outscoring them 8-0.
 
That includes 3-0 and 2-0 victories this season, though they were markedly different games.
 
The first meeting was 3-0 before halftime, and it could have been four or five as Keane and Donovan vanquished a stunned Vancouver side. The more recent matchup, on Sept. 1, needed wonderful strikes from Juninho and Beckham to decide it, and the Whitecaps will take confidence from that, as well as a 2-2 tie against L.A. at B.C. Place in July.
 
Historically, L.A. has been terrific at home in the playoffs. They are 9-1-0 all-time in playoff games at the Home Depot Center, losing only to Dallas in the 2010 Western Conference final.
 
"I haven't spoken to any oddsmak-ers for this game," Arena said when asked about being labelled the favourites. "We've been in the playoffs before, and we understand the challenges that are associated with this, and we'll use those experiences to prepare ourselves.
 
"They've decided pretty much how they're going to come out and play this game. They're focused on keeping it real tight in the back, picking their spots to go forward on the break, trying to get some restarts (whistles) and win the game that way.
 
"We're confident that we can win the game, period. We respect Vancouver, but, that's our attitude, to get on the field and secure the win."
 
 
21. How will the MLS playoffs unfold? Here are one man's predictions
 
By Grant Wahl
SI.com - October 30, 2012
 
The 2012 MLS playoffs kick off on Wednesday when Chicago hosts Houston in the Eastern Conference knockout game (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2), the first of 15 postseason matches involving 10 teams and concluding with the MLS Cup final on December 1. SI.com's Avi Creditor has a great team-by-team breakdown, so in this column I'll get into my predictions and provide some context on what makes this MLS postseason different from previous ones, to wit:
 
• Regular-season performance now matters more, but only in the final. One of the big complaints about the MLS playoffs has always been that it renders the regular season largely meaningless by including too many teams and providing little in the way of home-field advantage. That will definitely change with the MLS Cup final guaranteed to take place for the first time at the stadium of the finalist with the better regular-season record. I like the reward, and we'll also never have to see another half-empty neutral-site stadium like we saw in Toronto at the end of the 2010 MLS Cup final. But ...
 
• Aside from the final, home-field advantage now means even less. The conference finals will now be two-legged affairs instead of one-off games at the home of the team with the better regular-season record. That should make the conference finals more unpredictable than in the past. In MLS, two-game series are determined by total goals, with the away-goals rule that we often see elsewhere not in effect. There's very little home-field advantage in these home-and-home series, with the slight exception that the higher seed does get to host a tie-breaking extra time at the end of game two if total goals are tied.
 
• No more geographical nonsense! There have been so many examples of teams from the West winning the East title (and vice-versa) in recent years that it got to be funny. That's no longer a possibility in the new set-up, which doesn't allow conference crossovers. The only downside is a team with a losing record (Vancouver) was able to sneak into the West playoffs while a team with a winning record (Columbus) missed the East playoffs entirely, but that's a small concern if you ask me. In my mind, any team that finishes fifth in its conference shouldn't make the postseason anyway.
 
Big picture, I like the MLS playoffs. There's a greater sense of urgency than in the regular season, and the postseason has given us some of the league's most memorable games over the years. This year we're already guaranteed to see two great rivalry matchups in the conference semis (Salt Lake-Seattle and D.C. United-New York), and a third is a likely possibility in San Jose-Los Angeles. Here's my take on what will happen:
EASTERN CONFERENCE KNOCKOUT ROUND
 
Chicago-Houston (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
 
Neither team is coming into the playoffs on a high, but Chicago has shown a greater propensity for poor performances at unlikely times, and many of Houston's starters rested in the season finale against Colorado. This is going to be a tight game in which one play makes the difference, and I like Houston's Brad Davis or Oscar Boniek García to provide it.
 
The pick: Houston.
WESTERN CONFERENCE KNOCKOUT ROUND
 
Los Angeles-Vancouver (Thursday 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
 
I know, I know, anything can happen in one game. But Vancouver fell ass-backward into the playoffs, winning just one of its last 10, and L.A. may be the league's top team at the moment. It's hard to see a veteran-laden team like L.A. losing at home here.
 
The pick: Los Angeles.
EASTERN SEMIFINALS
 
Kansas City-Houston
 
K.C. is still smarting from its home loss to Houston in last year's East final, but Sporting has learned from that experience and has more late-season fitness to play its punishing style than it did at this time last year.
 
The pick: Kansas City.
 
D.C. United-New York
 
Give D.C. coach Ben Olsen credit for guiding United to the playoffs without its best player (Dwayne De Rosario), but it says here New York will ride a virtuoso Thierry Henry performance to the next round.
 
The pick: New York.
WESTERN SEMIFINALS
 
San Jose-Los Angeles
 
In a one-game home-field situation, San Jose would be my pick. But this is 180 minutes against a playoff-tested L.A. side that has been playing more like a Bruce Arena-coached team in recent months.
 
The pick: Los Angeles.
 
Salt Lake-Seattle
 
Seattle fans are hungry for their first MLS playoff series win, but Salt Lake is not a good matchup for the Sounders, who are dealing with their second straight season with a key injury on the eve of the playoffs (Eddie Johnson this year, Mauro Rosales last year). Too much déjà vu going on here.
 
The pick: Salt Lake.
EASTERN FINAL
 
Kansas City-New York
 
Maybe it comes from seeing K.C. put two quick ones past the Red Bulls in Jersey not long ago. Maybe it comes from Sporting's greater consistency and an ability to frustrate its foes, or perhaps it's the late-season distraction surrounding New York coach Hans Backe, who's almost certain to lose his job. But there are plenty of reasons to lean toward K.C. in this series.
 
The pick: Kansas City.
WESTERN FINAL
 
Los Angeles-Salt Lake
 
If I'm being honest, I expected more from this group of Salt Lake players after they won MLS Cup 2009 and reached the final of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2011. But this series presents a golden opportunity over two legs to regain some of the mystique this team seemed to be acquiring a couple years ago. Expecting a classic.
 
The pick: Salt Lake.
MLS CUP FINAL
 
Kansas City-Salt Lake
 
It would be fitting if the new crown jewel of U.S. soccer stadiums in Kansas City gets to host MLS's marquee game. It could also be bitterly cold on December 1, which would bring another element into play. This Kansas City team has felt like a special one from the start this season, and Sporting's league-best defense will prove it again here as K.C. does the double, adding the MLS Cup to the U.S. Open Cup.
 
The pick: Kansas City.
 
 
22. MLS enters crunch phase
 
FIFA.com - October 30, 2012
 
It’s play-off time in MLS once again, and FIFA.com outlines what to expect as the ten qualified teams take aim at North American soccer’s ultimate prize.
 
The post-season bracket is split into two conferences, with Sporting Kansas City, DC United, New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo lining up in the East. Competing from the West are San Jose Earthquakes (top on points in the regular season), Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders, LA Galaxy and Vancouver Whitecaps.
 
Action begins this week with two 'play-in' games, contested by the lowest-ranked two teams (fourth and fifth) from each conference.
 
LA, Whitecaps tangle for Earthquakes date
Despite their raft of stars, like Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and aging former England captain David Beckham, Los Angeles Galaxy could only finish the regular season in fourth place in the Western Conference. As such, Bruce Arena’s glamour boys now have to host the Vancouver Whitecaps, the first Canadian team in history to reach MLS’s post-season party, in a tense, one-off contest at LA’s Home Depot Center on 1 November.
 
Vancouver had trouble scoring this season and finished a full 11 points behind LA in the standings, just edging out FC Dallas to the play-offs. However, the post-season in MLS is so often an arena more about momentum than regular season form, and this could be a good omen for the men from British Columbia, led by former USA hero Jay DeMerit and known for a sturdy defence.
 
The winner moves on to meet San Jose Earthquakes over two legs in their conference semi-final. The Quakes proved themselves the most consistent side in the regular season and have the league’s most potent striker in USA international Chris Wondolowski, who equalled a 16-year-old league scoring record by bagging an astonishing 27 goals in 34 games this term.
Our philosophy is this: the team is the star.
Jason Kreis on Real Salt Lake.
 
The other semi-final series in the West pits Real Salt Lake against Seattle Sounders. RSL are a largely star-less outfit, who rely on the goals of Costa Rican scorer supreme Alvaro Saborio and the team ethic espoused by coach and former MLS striker Jason Kreis, who told FIFA.com: “Our philosophy is this: the team is the star,” after his unlikely men from the high Rockies won their only MLS title in 2009. Seattle Sounders, for their part, boast one of the most passionate sets of supporters in MLS, but they will need to wait on the fitness of ace striker Eddie Johnson, who is nursing a hamstring strain after scoring for fun in the regular season. Johnson’s eye for goal represents the perfect conclusion to the clever interplay of Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert.
 
Star-studded NYRB face DC in East 
The play-in series in the Eastern Conference pits Chicago Fire (fourth) against former champions Houston Dynamo (fifth) on Wednesday. In a conference that was much tighter than the West, Houston, who claimed back-to-back MLS titles in 2006 and 2007, edged Columbus Crew by a single point at the wire. The Texans now travel to Chicago to take on a side led by the defensive strength of former German international Arne Friedrich, to see who will move on.
 
Sporting Kansas City, who topped the East in the regular season thanks to their terrific home record and the nifty playmaker work of Graham Zusi, will be waiting for either Chicago or Houston in the Conference semi-final.
 
The other semi-final series has mouths watering as New York Red Bulls take on DC United in a classy east coast tussle. The Red Bulls, like LA on the opposite coast, are a side loaded with star names, including FIFA World Cup™ and UEFA EURO winner Thierry Henry, an English Premier League hero during his time with Arsenal. Hans Backe’s men from the Big Apple, however, will have to travel to the nation’s capital for theirtwo-legged encounter, as DC pipped them to second place in the fading days of the regular season. United, a dynasty from the early days of MLS when they won three of the first four titles, are not shy of talent either, even without injured Dwayne De Rosario holding the midfield together for former playing star Ben Olsen’s side.
 
The winners of the Conference semi-finals move on to the Conference finals, to be played in mid-November over two legs. The victors of those home/away series will meet on 1 December in the MLS Cup, the annual one-off final that decides who wears the crown in MLS.
 
 
23. Toronto FC manager Mariner hits the road to find players in attempt to turn around team
 
By Neil Davidson
The Canadian Press - October 30, 2012
 
Toronto - End-of-season wrap-ups are often all about quantity rather than quality when it comes to words. And there was no shortage of talk Tuesday as Toronto FC paraded out 19 players as well as its manager and director of team and player operations at the club’s $21-million training centre.
 
But this soccer gabfest lifted the lid on a team in some state of turmoil, with a few participants looking as if they wanted to be anywhere else and probably will be come next season. There were also some harsh truths about the MLS franchise’s worst season.
 
Still, manager Paul Mariner, while not shy about critiquing the current talent at his disposal, saw light at the end of the failing franchise’s season.
 
“It’s always darkest before the dawn, it really is,” he said two days after his team staggered to a club record 14th straight game without a win.
 
Toronto FC finished out of the playoffs for the sixth straight year, compiling a 5-21-8 record and setting franchise worsts for wins (5), points (23) and goals conceded (62).
 
Earl Cochrane, TFC’s director of team and player operations, called the season “horrendously disappointing for so many different reasons.”
 
Mariner is wasting no time trying to right the ship. The former England international forward headed to Europe later in the day to begin filling the holes he says the team has already identified.
 
“We’ve known for quite some time what we need and we’ve known where we are going to get them from, as well,” said Mariner, who believes he can have his roster in place in advance of training camp in January.
 
Toronto needs its injured designated players and goalie back, help in central defence and an extensive talent transplant in midfield.
 
In addition to a slew of injuries to key players, fingers were pointed at poor player fitness and failing confidence.
 
Mariner was blunt in detailing the work that has to be done. Asked how many legitimate MLS starters he had on his roster, he paused and then silently did the math.
 
“Seven,” he eventually answered.
 
One could hazard a guess the seven include midfielder Torsten Frings, goalkeeper Stefan Frei, defenders Darren O’Dea and Richard Eckersley and strikers Danny Koevermans and Eric Hassli, with 21-year-old defender Ashtone Morgan and midfielder Terry Dunfield hovering nearby.
 
Four or five new starters are needed, probably with an equal number of decent squad players.
 
Plus there are injury question marks about the team’s designated players.
 
Frings (hip) and Danny Koevermans (knee) are both coming off surgery. Frings, the team’s captain and key midfielder, turns 36 next month, while Koevermans, Toronto’s best scoring option, turns 34.
 
French forward Eric Hassli, the team’s third designated player, is 31 and his time since arriving in Toronto in July was interrupted by injury and the birth of his son.
 
Mariner would not commit to all three being back next season, however, citing their need to recover from injury.
 
But he said Frings, who missed the season wrap by virtue of being in Germany, wants to return and “go out on a high.”
 
Koevermans and Hassli both said they want to be back, with Hassli — holding his thumb and forefinger almost together — saying the team is not far away from turning it around and reaching the playoffs.
 
“We have the quality,” he said. “We just have to believe and work. And build a team.”
 
Cochrane insists the team has the salary-cap flexibility to bring in the necessary personnel, with the club having the option of whether to retain many of the current roster. By virtue of its dismal record, the club also has the first pick in the MLS SuperDraft and tops the allocation table, meaning it has first crack at a player who wants to return to the league.
 
While not many wanted to directly address the previous regime of Aron Winter, Eckersley did single out the team’s fitness levels for criticism. The team played just five pre-season games.
 
“Personally, I don’t think the pre-season was good enough for fitness,” he said, while hinting some of his teammates needed to take a more professional approach to being an athlete.
 
Mariner sidestepped the issue, other than to say that some of his squad players lacked game sharpness when they were called up, resulting in the kind of errors that often sank the team.
 
“It’s not really for me to say how the previous regime constructed the pre-season but it’ll be different this year I can assure you of that,” he said.
 
Mariner and Cochrane divided the season into three chunks. The first, under Winter, was the disastrous 1-9 start. Mariner took over and the club responded, with a 4-2-4 run. The season ended with a dismal 0-10-4 stretch.
 
Koevermans ripped up his knee July 14 in New England, in the penultimate game of the middle stretch.
 
“When Koevermans went down, it really, really hurt us,” Mariner said. “But the old saying in football is you’re only good as the deepest member of your squad. And we had too many fringe players asked to play too many games.
 
“Learning on the job is fine and dandy but if you’re not up to it ... then you’re going to get torn down, which we were torn down.”
 
Cochrane said the team had 50 to 70 per cent of its salary cap on the treatment table in the dire final run of the season.
 
Forward Ryan Johnson, midfielder Eric Avila and defender Adrian Cann seemed in the disgruntled section of the TFC end-of-season bus, judging from Tuesday.
 
Johnson, one of the team’s iron men this season, has avoided speaking to the media in recent days. He said Friday he was just frustrated and didn’t feel like talking about “the same situation that keeps happening over and over again.” Avila seemingly fell out of favour while the injury-plagued Cann was largely ignored unless there were no other defensive options.
 
Goalie Milos Kocic, who faces losing his job when Frei returns from injury next season, was defiant — saying he would fight for the No. 1 position or go elsewhere to play regularly.
 
Mariner was confident but realistic in assessing what needs to be done. And he joined his players in saying that everything is there for the franchise to succeed.
 
“I’m so excited, I’m so energized about putting this right,” Mariner said. “Because this is a fantastic club, you can see with this facility. Unbelievable. Some of the best facilities in the world. ... So if you’re not excited about this project then there’s something wrong with you.
 
“So it’s incumbent on all of us, we’re going to dedicate ourselves to being positive, to getting the right people in and to putting the product right on the field. That’s what we’ve been charged to do and that’s what we’re going to do. And I have no doubts that we can do it.”
 
Tom Anselmi, president and chief operating officer of owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, said recently a full review of the team will be held after the season. He said Mariner, who has a year left on his previous contact at director of player development, will be back but — prior to the review — would not detail in what role.
 
Asked about the manager, many of his players spoke up for Mariner on Tuesday, although Johnson seemed to take his time building up enthusiasm in doing so.
 
“The right man for the job,” Eckersley said of Mariner, adding the players were the ones that didn’t get the job done this season.
 
“We just simply weren’t good enough this season,” he said.
 
“Paul is the right coach,” added Hassli.
 
Said Koevermans: “I truly believe we were better when Paul took over. ... Just a genuine guy, I like him. He’s a good coach.”
 
Mariner, meanwhile, said he expects to remain in charge. Asked why, he responded: “Because I’m very good at what I do.”
 
And when a questioner threw his record back at him, he added succinctly: “It’s difficult to win MLS games when you’ve basically got your reserve team playing week in week out.”
 
 
24. Timbers’ season ends with hope
 
The Associated Press - October 31, 2012
 
Portland - While it was a disappointing second season for the Portland Timbers, there is reason for hope.
 
Portland will soon see the arrival of new coach Caleb Porter, who is wrapping up his seventh season as head coach of the University of Akron. Porter was hired by the Timbers in August, after the dismissal of coach John Spencer.
 
The Timbers also claimed the Cascadia Cup, which goes annually to the winner of the three-way competition with the rival Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
 
Portland finished up the season 8-16-10, ranked second-to-last in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference and falling far short of the team’s goal to reach the playoffs.
 
The year was capped by a 1-1 draw with the playoff-bound San Jose Earthquakes this past Saturday.
 
“Of course it didn’t go the way we wanted,” forward Bright Dike said about the season.
 
“But if you look at how we fared against San Jose, the best team in the league, we have a win and two ties this year. So this team is not really far off. I hope next year we can grind out better wins against teams we should have beat.”
 
Porter will be the first step. This season he has guided the second-ranked Zips to a 13-1-2 record with two matches remaining. Akron has already clinched its eighth straight Mid-American Conference regular season title.
 
Porter, 37, led the Zips to the national championship in 2010, in the second of back-to-back appearances in the College Cup.
 
While Spencer was popular with the fans, the Timbers dismissed him July 9 and replaced him for the remainder of the season with general manager Gavin Wilkinson.
 
At the time, owner Merritt Paulson insisted the decision was not purely record-driven, characterizing the issue as “some fundamental philosophical differences.”
 
Wilkinson joined the Timbers in 2001 as a player when the team was part of the USL First Division. He was coach of the second-division Timbers from 2007-10 and was an assistant with the Houston Dynamo for five seasons before coming to Portland.
 
Wilkinson’s stint as interim coach this season did not yield a team turnaround. Sprinkled in the crowd at home games were signs reading “GW Out.”
 
In the end, Wilkinson said the team will learn from the struggles it has had this season.
 
“There are a lot of lessons. As a club and organization, we are continually trying to manage the character of the group. The mentality of building on that is something we will look forward to,” he said. “This team had a lot of diversity with this season, but winning the Cascadia Cup and coming back for the draw really puts this club at the top of what they can be this year.”
 
Portland claimed the Cascadia Cup with a 1-0 victory over the Whitecaps in its second-to-last match. Captain Jack Jewsbury scored in the 39th minute. It was the Timbers’ first victory on the road and ended a six-match losing streak.
 
Portland finished 3-1-2 against its Pacific Northwest rivals to take the fan-created Cascadia Cup competition. Seattle was 2-1-3, and Vancouver 0-3-3.
 
“It’s tremendous for the fans,” Wilkinson said. “They thoroughly deserve it, everything aside it’s something that they thoroughly deserved.
 
“It’s been a long season for them and it’s been a long season for the organization, and while this doesn’t remove some of the things that have happened over the course of the season, it’s a positive and it’s something we can take into next season.”
 
As for those fans: The Timbers’ supporters have not lost their fervor for the team. Paulson said there’s a 96 percent season ticket renewal rate for next season. Portland currently has a waiting list of about 7,500 fans for the 14,750 season tickets.
 
 
25. Seattle Sounders F Eddie Johnson questionable for playoff opener with hamstring strain
 
The Associated Press - October 30, 2012
 
Tukwila, Wash. — Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson might miss the first leg of the MLS Western Conference semifinals against Real Salt Lake on Friday with a hamstring strain but should be able to play in the second leg on Nov. 8 in Utah.
 
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Tuesday that Johnson’s injury was less severe than first believed when he was forced to leave the regular season finale on Sunday night against Los Angeles. Johnson had an MRI on Monday and Schmid called the injury a “hamstring tweak.”
 
“We wanted to go easy with him today and then see where he’s at tomorrow,” Schmid said. “It’s slight. It’s not nearly as bad as we had feared it might be. There’s an outside chance on Friday and for sure the second game shouldn’t be a problem.”
 
Johnson left the match against the Galaxy late in the first half. He said after the 1-0 loss that cost Seattle a shot at second place in the final conference standings that his hamstring tightened up on a number of runs earlier in the match and the smart thing was not push it and make the injury worse.
 
“We had thought based off the way he was feeling the day after that we didn’t think it was as bad and the MRI confirmed that,” Schmid said.
 
Johnson’s had a breakout season in his return to MLS after struggling to find success playing in Europe. Johnson led Seattle with 14 goals in the regular season and his play was good enough to earn a call-up to the U.S. national team for the first time in more than two years. Johnson proved his value on the international stage with two goals and an assist in World Cup qualifying wins over Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.
 
If Johnson can’t play, Sammy Ochoa could be the likely candidate to start, although Schmid could shift his lineup and use David Estrada or Steve Zakuani in an attacking position. Ochoa started against Salt Lake on Oct. 17 when Johnson was returning off duty with the U.S.
 
Should Johnson not be able to play on Friday it would be the second straight year the Sounders start the playoffs short-handed. Last year Mauro Rosales was injured in the regular season finale against Chivas USA and did not play in Seattle’s semifinal loss to Salt Lake.
 
“Certainly we missed Mauro and if Eddie can’t play we’ll miss him but other guys have to step up and do the business,” Schmid said.