There are reasons to feel good and bad about both of these teams, who launch Major League Soccer’s 17th playoff season tonight.
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, Toyota Park, ESPN2
(Official league match preview is here)
(MORE: MLS playoff primer and schedule)
- It’s tough to feel great about a (slightly slumping?) team with just one win it its last five matches going into the playoffs. That one victory was a dandy, a very professionally managed 2-0 win over the Red Bulls outside New York. Veteran Dutch target striker Sherjill MacDonald had both goals for the Fire, who were at their counter-attacking best in that one.
- Who runs that counter attack for Frank Klopas’ team? That’s Chris Rolfe, and as he goes, so goes the Fire. Just like in his first go-round at Toyota Park a few years back, Rolfe is the very definition of a streaky attacker. When he was so confident and on top of things back in September, the Fire was 4-1 (its only loss coming to Eastern Conference champion Sporting Kansas City).
- Past Rolfe, Klopas’ team is full of good roll payers, but a little short on difference-makers in the attack. Guys like MacDonald, Patrick Nyarko, Dominic Oduro, Alex and others have their moments, but they aren’t reliable game-changers.
- So the boys in the back will be needed to lock it down, and perhaps just a little better than they did throughout all of 2012. Rookie of the Year favorite Austin Berry is, well, a rookie, and he gets nipped on positioning here and there. Outside back Jalil Anibaba is another good, young defender – but this is just his second season. And goalkeeper Sean Johnson can turn a game either way, usually with big stops but occasionally with the real howler.
- Chicago certainly has this on its side: no one on the field Wednesday has been in more big games that German veteran center back Arne Friedrich.
(MORE: Austin Berry is PST’s pick for Rookie of the Year)
(MORE: Talking tactics and Chris Rolfe)
- Dominic Kinnear’s team has been just a little better than dreadful away from home this year, tied with Vancouver for the fewest road wins (3) and a fairly hideous -12 goal difference.
- After an impressive early summer success the Dynamo is just 3-3-4 down the stretch. And this teetering between formations (4-4-2 and 4-3-3) shows the Dynamo still hasn’t exactly found itself. Clearly, this is not the best time to be “finding yourself.”
- On the other hand, Houston knows how to get it done on the road in the playoffs. Last year, they fought their way into MLS Cup 2011 largely on the strength of wins at Philadelphia and Kansas City. From there, they had to meet Los Angeles at the Galaxy’s Home Depot Center, and nearly pulled out another upset. Houston lost that one, 1-0, without top man Brad Davis (pictured).
- Houston fans won’t soon forget another important playoff match in Los Angeles, back in November of 2010. Kinnear’s team had Los Angeles absolutely on the ropes before a power failure – of all things, right? – served as a sort of re-set for Los Angeles, which went on to win in overtime.
- The Dynamo attack is all about Oscar Boniek Garcia on the right and Davis on the left. Will Bruin and Brian Ching, the veteran warrior who has taken on a second-half sub role this year, depend on service from the wings. And Davis, of course, is one of the league’s premier dead ball strikers.
- The Dynamo will understand that preventing Rolfe from getting the ball in good spots is critical to stopping Chicago’s attack before it gets started. That will be up to defensive midfield screener Adam Moffat or Ricardo Clark (or both, depending upon how Kinnear shapes his team for this one.)
- If there’s a gap in the back, it’s at right back, where rookie Kofi Sarkodie has shown his talent at times, but also some immaturity in some moments. Watch for Nyarko’s attempts to exploit that.
(MORE: Considering Houston’s playoff experience)
Don’t look for a lot of goals.
Even at home, Chicago doesn’t always commit tremendous numbers forward. Anibaba on the right is a little young and will likely lean toward caution in this one, generally choosing to “stay home.” Gonzalo Segares on the left is 30 now and not quite the spry presence we used to know around Bridgeview.
On the other side, Jermaine Taylor and Bobby Boswell haven’t gotten much press this year, but they remain a solid central defensive duo. Houston likes to move the ball out of the back quickly and safely, minimizing chances for back-line booboos.
So one mistake will probably decide it in a 1-0 or 2-0 contest.
FYI: It will be cool to cold and probably a little windy – about what you would expect for an Illinois night in late October.
Carlos Lizarazo’s ridiculous rocket shook rain off the net in an aesthetically pleasing CONCACAF Champions League goal on Thursday.
The Cruz Azul loanee struck a vicious shot for FC Dallas’ fifth goal, which boosted out of the No. 8 seed for the quarterfinals after a 5-2 win at Suchitepéquez in Guatemala.
[ MORE: PST talks with FCD’s Hedges, Zimmerman ]
Lizarazo, 25, had two goals in 10 appearances for FCD heading into the game, with both coming in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Major League Soccer will have three teams in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League thanks to FC Dallas’ thrilling comeback win on Thursday.
FCD beat Guatemalan side Suchitepéquez 5-2 at the Estadio Mateo Flores after going down by a pair of first half goals.
[ WATCH: Pogba’s classy UEL goal ]
Carlos Gruezo and Matt Hedges helped Dallas to level terms by halftime, and Atiba Harris scored just after the break to put FCD ahead. An own goal and a must-watch Carlos Lizarazo 90th minute wonderstrike gave us the final scoreline. Gruezo also added an assist.
A tie would’ve been enough to send Dallas through atop Group H, but the big win moves it ahead of New York Red Bulls. FCD will finish seventh at worst.
FCD joins Vancouver and New York Red Bulls as the MLS representatives in the tournament, and the league will have at-worst the joint-most clubs in the quarters.
[ MORE: PST talks with FCD’s Hedges, Zimmerman ]
Mexican sides UANL Tigres and Pachuca are quarterfinalists, while Panamanian side Arabe Unido and Costa Rican stalwarts Saprissa advanced as well.
The field’s eighth team will be set after the 10 p.m. ET matchup between Honduras Progreso and Mexico’s UNAM.
The Whitecaps are the No. 1 seed, and could well match-up with the Red Bulls if there is a winner between UNAM and Honduras Progreso. If Honduras Progreso advances via draw, the Hondurans will be the No. 8 seed.
NEW YORK (AP) A Florida businessman pleaded guilty in New York to conspiracy charges Thursday in a scheme to pay bribes to high-ranking soccer officials in exchange for media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments and matches.
Aaron Davidson, 45, entered the plea in Brooklyn federal court. Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen was set for April 24, when Davidson could face decades in prison. As part of his plea, he agreed to forfeit more than a half-million dollars.
[ WATCH: Pogba’s classy goal ]
Davidson was arrested last year in the FIFA probe after prosecutors said soccer officials accepted $150 million in bribes over a 24-year period in exchange for rigging bids for lucrative marketing rights. Davidson ran a Miami-based marketing firm. He was arrested along with more than a dozen other people in a case prosecuted in the United States on the grounds that illegal payments used U.S. banks and those involved conducted meetings in the United States.
Prosecutors said Davidson negotiated and agreed to make bribe payments totaling more than $14 million, executing multiple criminal schemes including the agreement to pay bribes to a high-ranking official of FIFA, CONCACAF, the Caribbean Football Union and one of FIFA’s national member associations.
[ MORE: Why Pogba took PK over Rooney ]
The government said the bribes were paid to secure lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments and matches for his company, Traffic USA, and its business partners.
Prosecutors said those sports events included FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League, among others.
The government said its investigation continues.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is open to the idea of the UEFA Champions League final being played outside Europe.
Specifically, Ceferin thinks about New York.
[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]
Ceferin said Thursday that staging the first ever UCL final away from Europe would be discussed at some point.
“To go from Portugal to Azerbaijan for example is almost the same or the same as if you go to New York. For the fans it’s no problem but we should see. It’s a European competition so let’s think about it.”
Given the preseason matches played in the United States, China, and Australia, it makes sense to stage an important UEFA match outside Europe. Those first two countries especially aim to become power players in the game, and certainly it would benefit UEFA to showcase its absolute finest (if only as a reminder).
We don’t get to see entire first teams playing the game in earnest when friendlies hit U.S. soil, and the successful Copa America showed UEFA that CONMEBOL and CONCACAF trust the States with critical matches.
Selfishly, of course we want this. And selfishly, of course Europe wants to keep it. Their fans wouldn’t necessarily want to take an incredibly expensive trip to see a UCL final.