Sunday, June 29, 2008

One Mistake Is All It Takes

One mistake and it ended up costing us the game. The Colorado Rapids competed well with the Columbus Crew for the entirety of this match but where were the midfield and defense to stop Emmanuel Ekpo's marauding run in the 70th minute? The young Nigerian basically walked through the Rapids' back line and midfield before unleashing a powerful shot that Bouna Coundoul could only parry into the net. The goal turned out to be the winning one and all the Rapids' efforts at coming back into the game to equalize with Nick LaBrocca's 58th minute strike came to naught. We have now lost six of our seven away games, not a pretty statistic. Coach, Fernando Clavijo, talked in the week about how the Rapids have competed in every away game and they continued to do so here as well. But the fact remains that we have played seven and lost six on the road. We just can't seem to get it done away. There were positives, there usually are. John DiRaimondo had a far more effective game than against Houston, passing well and almost scoring halfway through the first half after a great ball from Pablo Mastroeni. Bouna was back though he seemed to be lacking in energy somewhat and you have to feel sorry for Preston Burpo who has done a good job while Bouna was away on national team duty. Terry Cooke got a full 90 in and produced some of his trademark crosses and passes. He did, however, perhaps fatally hesitate on one chance in the 32nd minute after Colin Clark produced a great run. But we lost and it is hard to see how the Rapids can dominate a game away from the confines of DSG Park. We need to turn it around pretty soon because no amount of spin can move us up from just above San Jose.

Friday, June 27, 2008

No Job Security Here

The footballing merry-go-round continues. The Colorado Rapids have waived Brazilian midfielder/defender Rafael Gomes to even up their roster given the reappearance of injured defender Mike Petke and their wish to sign Greg Dalby. Always sad to see a player go and everyone wishes him the best. Gomes showed flashes of his undoubted skill in his few appearances for the Rapids since being signed this season. It's a shame that we will never have the opportunity to see or hear a Gomes passes to Gomez who passes to Gomez who scores sentence.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Will He, Won't He?

Bouna Coundoul, the long-absent Bouna, is now back in Denver and training hard with his Colorado Rapids teammates. Does he walk straight back into the team after a month of not playing or will he wait on the sidelines a tad longer? We know that coach, Fernando Clavijo, has not been best pleased with his Senegal star for not being in contact during his time with the national team there. Personal feelings aside, Clavijo is a strong character who will make his decision based on the team's interest. Right now, he is not revealing his decision, if he has actually made it by now. Bouna looked sharp in training today but so did all the other goalkeepers. We do have some good ones, that is for sure. "Bouna is clearly someone the players know well but I have to give credit to Burpo," said Clavijo of the choice he has to make. "We gave up three goals twice on our recent roadtrips and last week's game against Houston with the cleansheet was a good step in the right direction. We have two good goalies who are healthy and that is a good problem to have." The Rapids website (link below) does put Coundoul in having earlier listed Burpo as starting. Justin Hughes, who continues to battle back from a serious hernia injury, is still listed as out injured but is training hard.
Who to pick is not a problem limited to the goalkeepers. Terry Cooke impressed when given the chance last week against Houston and has a "very good chance to play" this weekend, according to Clavijo. Jacob Peterson, who made way for Cooke having injured his leg, had a negative MRI yesterday and may be fit for selection. The other injury worry from last week, Christian Gomez, is listed by the Rapids as questionable. Clavijo said he was confident Gomez could play. Pablo Mastroeni, who was very impressive in central defense last week, has injured his groin in training and didn't look too happy with it today. We know that Pablo can be injured during the week and find it in himself to play at the weekend. He will be very keen to play, that is for sure, and his presence in the team is always reassuring. Other notable injuries to comment on are Jose Burciaga who is now listed as probable and provides the Rapids with great attacking play. Mike Petke, who played for the Rapids Reserves last week, his first match action of the season, was training fully today and Clavijo mentioned July 4 as a possible start for him. There may be increasing competition for places but it is good to see all the players back from international duty and mostly healthy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fab Fab and Superb Senna to Take Spain To Glory?

Predicting results at Euro 2008 is about as useful as a chocolate teapot (I had the Dutch to beat Portugal in the final and look where that got me) but the Spanish midfield duo of Cesc Fabregas and Marcos Senna may be enough for people to take a punt on Spain finally winning a major trophy. Fabregas, who does this week in week out for Arsenal, came on as a sub in yesterday's game against Italy and proceeded to orchestrate just about every attacking move the Spanish made against the resilient Italians. He, of course, also scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out. There must surely be a place for him in the starting line-up against Russia. Senna, a Brazilian by birth, was like an attack dog. He never let anybody through, ran tirelessly all match and also set up many attacking moves. He was a beast and very, very impressive. He may be the man to shadow Russia's playmaker, Andrei Arshavin, another sensational player who some say has been the player of the tournament. Is it any coincidence that Russia looked pretty average without him in the opening two games, including a 4-1 spanking by Spain, and then proceeded to play beautiful soccer in a masterclass of defense and attack against Sweden and, especially, against the Dutch? Arshavin is right now on Chelsea's radar if gossip is to be believed.
It's really almost impossible to pick a winner of this unpredictable tournament and we haven't even discussed the other semi-final between Germany and Turkey. As an Englishman, I cannot pick the Germans for all the soccer suffering they have bestowed upon us. And Turkey have played with enormous heart in this tournament. They seem to be running out of players through injury and suspension and will struggle against the German machine but my heart goes with them. Spain will just pip Russia to the final and go on to win it. But, wait, I said it was useless to predict.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Still Not The Finished Article

The Colorado Rapids once again let themselves down in front of goal, failing to finish off any number of chances as they struggled to a scoreless draw against the Houston Dynamo last night. Many of those chances did fall to Omar Cummings but the Jamaican is finding it tough to net right now and he probably fears his starting place is under threat, only helping him to get more anxious in front of goal. From what coach Fernando Clavijo said after the game, the preferred striking duo would be Conor Casey and the ever industrious Tom McManus who would probably himself admit that he didn't have his best game yesterday. "Omar worked extremely hard but a striker needs to score goals and, right now, he is not." Clavijo was full of praise for Terry Cooke who came on for an injured Jacob Peterson at the end of the first half. Cooke has been controversially left out of the starting line-up in recent games and looked to be maybe even heading for the out door. Last night's performance could have saved his Rapids career. "Terry was outstanding," said Clavijo. "He ran, he participated and he showed me that he belongs in this team. His energy was very good." Whether it will be enough for him to start against Columbus next week may also depend on the extent of Peterson's injury. Clavijo, upset by the match-ending tackles on Peterson and Christian Gomez, was probably exaggerating when he voiced fears that Peterson may have an ACL injury and Gomez a fracture. Peterson told me after the game that he hopes the injury will not force him to miss any games. Gomez, the Rapids later said, may have a shin contusion rather than a fracture.
Cooke certainly did create a lot of chances when he came on, making at least two perfect crosses for Cummings and Clark who headed against the post in the 89th minute. If the crowd's reaction to his inclusion was anything to go by, he will be playing against the Crew next weekend. It was good to see him back and playing well. The Rapids should have had a penalty after a clear handball by Riccardo Clark in the 73rd minute. Justice was done a few minutes later when Brian Ching scored a perfectly legitimate goal for Houston only for it to be called back for handball. A quick word on the defense. Playing with just Erpen, Ugo Ihemelu and Pablo at the back, the defense was the strongest part of the night. They were instrumental in making sure we at least got the tie.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Houston, You May Have a Problem

OK, bit of a corny headline but there is a good opportunity for the Rapids to vent all their frustrations of the past two weeks on the Dynamo this weekend. Coach, Fernando Clavijo, is very confident he will have the squad to roll the Texans over. Back comes a very solid defense with Ugo Ihemelu returning from pseudo international duty with Canada and Facundo Erpen returning from suspension. Jordan Harvey will probably make up the back three with Pablo Mastroeni, released from the national squad after its mauling of Barbados, looking to fill in in front of the defense. Up front will be Tom McManus and probably Omar Cummings as Conor Casey continues to struggle with injury. I would like to see Herculez Gomez given a chance but you have to remember that he is also battling back from major surgery. That leaves a somewhat controversial midfield. Many people are upset that Terry Cooke appears to be sidelined. The second best crosser in the MLS cannot seem to get back into the team. Where mistakes may be made is in equating Jacob Peterson as the equivalent of Terry Cooke. Coach Clavijo explained to me that it is very difficult to play Christian Gomez and Terry Cooke in the same team because of their lack of defensive abilities. Whatever the creative or tactical weaknesses of Peterson or, for that matter, Colin Clark, they will run for you all day and get up and down those lines. Terry Cooke and Christian Gomez are not going to do that. So, who do you build your team around? Terry Cooke is a very good player and offers things that few others can do but he is no Christian Gomez. I hope that there is a way that the two can play in the same starting eleven but it appears some way off for now. Cooke has to find his way back into the team. From what I have observed, for what it's worth, he is still a long way off from that. Don't expect him back in the starting eleven anytime soon. That opening day against LA Galaxy when he and not the other Englishman was gathering all the plaudits must seem some way off for now. For the sake of Terry Cooke and the Rapids, I hope it comes back, I really do.
A quick word on the goalkeeping situation. As you may have heard on the From The Pitch radio show this week, Clavijo is not best pleased with Bouna Coundoul. Bouna has not been in touch with the Rapids during his somewhat wasteful time with the Senegal national team where he has not played a minute on the field. Justin Hughes, Bouna's obvious number two, is getting back to fitness and is highly rated by the organization. Justin is a great team player and a great talent as well as a great bloke all round. Preston Burpo has done well for the Rapids since the trade that saw Kirovski and Gray go to San Jose but he has not brought forward the match-winning save. Don't be surprised, therefore, if Justin Hughes gets some game time even if Bouna is back.
One final thought. We are all Rapids fans. Sometimes, we will get disappointed and frustrated and appear to care more than the players do. We may disagree with selections. But this weekend is a time to get behind our team 100 percent and make sure we give them the support they need to come away with the three points.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Euro 2008 Hots Up as Big Boys Advance

It's taken me a while to write anything about Euro 2008 (please note nice flags). Maybe that is because England obviously are not there and it was just too painful. Anyway, the tournament is now heating up, having already turned in some scintillating games. Tomorrow, we reach the quarter finals with the exciting prospect of the pretty boys of Portugal playing their jogo bonito against the German machine. Italy, very lucky to survive their group, will play Spain while Croatia plays Turkey who, almost unbelievably, beat the Czechs in their last group game to qualify. The Czechs were 2-0 up with 15 minutes left to play and still leading with just three minutes left. Somehow, they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, much to the consternation of the Czech nationals down at SoBo in Denver. Grown men were crying, I kid you not. The other quarter final has still to be decided with the classy Dutch due to meet either Russia or Sweden depending on today's results. My prediction for what it's worth. Holland will beat Portugal in the final June 29.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Barcelona's Guardiola Has The Cojones

The story has been kicking around for a while now but it's taken on a more definite hue with the ballsy words from new Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola. Not afraid to mince words, he's come out and openly said star players Eto'o, Deco and old rabbit teeth himself, Ronaldinho, are all free to leave the Nou Camp. Blimey. Just don't go to Man.City, Ronaldinho. Eto'o has already ruled out Spurs and Deco looks likely to join Portugal boss Scolari at Chelsea. There were some lazily speculating earlier this year that Ronaldinho would come to the MLS. Remember this is one of the world's best players who has obviously fallen out with the powers that be at Barcelona. Unless someone is willing to stump up a Beckham-like salary for the Brazilian, he will be staying in Europe. Props to Guardiola for not tolerating too many star individuals and trying to build a team. The story also looks to confirm that Thierry Henry will be staying in Spain after all.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ugo Returns as Canada Move Turned Down

It turns out that Ugo Ihemelu won't be a Canadian international after all. Deep down in this press release from the Canadian Soccer Federation amid news of the team's recent victory in a pre-World Cup qualifier is the fact that Ihemelu is on his way back to DSG Park following a FIFA decision he cannot play for Canada in the next World Cup.
Good news for the Rapids at least. We need his sturdy and quick presence at the back. Maybe the US national team awaits for Ugo? Not that they will need him against Barbados.

It's Not The Fear, it's the Finishing

The way the Colorado Rapids started this game, they certainly looked as if there was no fear. There was energy, purpose and some very clear chances in the opening ten minutes or so. Jacob Peterson, for example, had a glorious chance in the opening three minutes but was only able to offer a weak shot straight into the keeper's arms. However, the opening burst could not be sustained and the Rapids descended into some rather frantic play where they were barely able to keep possession of the ball for anything longer than a few passes. Toronto took advantage and eventually ran away with the game with some top-class finishing. And it was precisely the finishing where we lost the game. The Rapids were simply unable to finish. This was typified by a stretch of play in the 57th and 58th minutes when the game was decided. Tom McManus, captain for the day, put in a perfect through ball to Omar Cummings after some great build-up by Christian Gomez and Nick LaBrocca. Cummings, overly anxious, tried to hit the ball first time when he had all the time in the world to look up, maybe round the keeper and score. Instead, the keeper cleared with a long ball and a great shot by Rohan Ricketts made it 2-0 to Toronto. Game over. Christian Gomez got one back for the Rapids with a nice free-kick but we were already 3-0 down by then.
It was an interesting line-up with an enforced new-look defense including a first MLS start for Cesar Zambrano. What was even more surprising was that playmaker Christian Gomez did not start. There will obviously need to be some changes for the Houston game. Because of international call-ups, there will still be no Mastroeni (injured in the US thrashing of Barbados yesterday), Ihemelu or Coundoul. Herculez Gomez and Terry Cooke, unused in the Toronto game, are making obvious cases for reinclusion. The Rapids play Houston at DSG Park June 21.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid?

Let's hope there are stout hearts in those young Colorado Rapids players and that they don't get so afraid at BMO Field come Saturday evening. Those crazy Canadian fans, the difficult surface, questionable refereeing decisions. All these will no doubt come into play on Saturday against Toronto and the inexperienced players could be the ones tested the most. And there will be some based on a few conversations this morning at training. In a squad hobbled by injuries, suspension and national call-ups, there are a total of nine players missing. The Rapids' website still shows three at the back with Rafael Gomes just in front but you might see four at the back and these could include rookie, Cesar Zambrano, with the likes of Stephen Keel, Jordan Harvey and a fit again Kosuke Kimura. Jose Burciaga still looks unfit to play for now. The midfield may be familiar but there is a doubt that Conor Casey is fit to start so Omar Cummings or Herculez Gomez could get the nod up front. Whatever happens, it will be a major challenge for many of the players and they will have to show sufficient heart to deal with it. Coach Fernando Clavijo says the only way for the youngsters to build consistency and gain confidence is to play in such games. "There is no better environment in which to play football," he said.
Regarding the Ugo Ihemelu situation, FIFA is looking into it, according to the Rapids. It is one of the reasons why Canada is traveling with19 players, one more than is necessary, because they are unsure about Ihemelu's eligibility. He has Canadian citizenship (as well as US and Nigerian) but has already played one match for the US, apparently not in a full international however. It was odd to see his face staring down at me from one of those banners at DSG Park this morning with the word Nigeria written underneath.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rapids Lose Ihemelu to National Call-Up

Colorado Rapids' general manager, Charles Wright, casually mentioned on the From The Pitch radio show last night that Rapids' defender, Ugo Ihemelu, had been called up to the Canadian national team. No mention of it on the Rapids' website which has been quick to point out that Pablo Mastroeni has remained in the US squad for this weekend's pre-World Cup qualifier against Barbados whom they also play next week. Anybody know if his sending off against Argentina will prevent him from taking part in the games against Barbados? Anyway, a quick check on the Canadian soccer federation website does reveal that Ihemelu is indeed in the Canadian squad for their game in a similar pre-World Cup qualifier series against St.Vincent and the Grenadines. Full details below.
Congratulations to Ugo who could theoretically play for Nigeria and the US as well. The DU soccer coaches were telling me a couple of months ago that the Canadian national team coach was looking at Ugo. The only thing is it leaves us a little short at the back for this weekend's game against Toronto. No Ugo, no Erpen, an unfit Petke and no Mastroeni to cover in front. I'll get the skinny tomorrow on the predicted starting line-up at BMO Field.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It's Not Really Bouna Time Right Now

Senegal scratched to a disappointing 0-0 draw with Gambia at the weekend in their latest World Cup qualifying game and the Rapids' Bouna Coundoul was nowhere to be seen. Nobody could have expected Bouna to walk into the national team this time around but what has made it worse is that veteran goalkeeper, Tony Sylva, has now been chosen to captain the side. This does not bode well for Bouna to get any playing time for Senegal in the next two games home and away against Liberia over the next two weeks. Coupled with Rapids' coach Fernando Clavijo's frustration at not being able to contact Bouna and wanting him to be back in Colorado, things may not be all that rosy in the Coundoul garden. He's definitely caught betwen a rock and a hard place.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rapids Beaten Before Late Comeback

Consistency continues to be the weak point for the Colorado Rapids and they now find themselves winning five and losing six games following last night's 3-2 loss to LA Galaxy. It was hard to take. The Rapids had the lion's share of possession for basically the entire game but all the huffing and puffing didn't really get them anywhere until the last quarter of an hour or so when they had left themselves too much of a mountain to climb. If we're honest with ourselves, I don't really remember them having any real chances until that last 15 minutes when they managed to net two goals in reply to LA's three blows, two in the first half and one right after half-time. Even at 2-0 down at half-time, you sensed that the Rapids were still very much in the game because of their dominance in possession but to let that goal in in the 48th minute was a major blow from which it proved too difficult to recover. Colin Clark in the 73rd minute and substitute Herculez Gomez in the 84th netted for the Rapids but it wasn't enough. We also had Facundo Erpen rightly sent off for kicking LA's Alan Gordon whose own retaliation on the Argentinian also earned him a red card. All very disappointing. Just when you think the Rapids may break out and play consistently good soccer, it all comes crashing down. LA are not as bad as everyone was so arrogantly saying when the Rapids stuffed them 4-0 on opening day but they are not a good team. Beckham and Donovan work very well together but the team's defense is weak and we should not have lost this game.
On to Toronto next week and maybe there will be some significant personnel changes. We missed Mastroeni. Erpen will clearly miss some games which should see Ihemelu back in center defense where he is more effective than at right back. Kimura would step in there and should be playing there anyway once fully fit. Terry Cooke, somewhat surprisingly, did not get on the field and his time may be coming back in place of Jacob Peterson. Clark was one of the more effective players on the night, scoring a good goal and creating chances. Casey andMcManus will stay as the preferred duo up front. We have to find a way to do better on the road. At least we are scoring goals but we are leaving them until too late in the game.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Rapids Fly Off Into Galaxy; Where is Bouna?

It was another perfect morning at Dick's Sporting Goods Park as the Rapids boys went through their paces ahead of this weekend's match before flying off to LA this afternoon. The plane will be without Pablo Mastroeni whose recent strong play has rightly earned him a call-up to the national team. Coach Clavijo said that he fully expects Mastroeni to start against Argentina on Sunday based on conversations with national team coach, Bob Bradley, and that he was not at all surprised he got such short playing time against Spain. The same satisfaction cannot be said for Senegal and Bouna's situation with the team. Clavijo revealed his frustration at not being able to contact the goalkeeper, especially as Bouna did not play in the opening World Cup qualifier against Algeria. "If he is not playing, I want him here," he said. Bouna is set to miss the next few weeks as he is with his national team until at least June 21. Senegal are away to Gambia on Sunday.
Frustrations aside, the projected line-up for tomorrow's game has a familiar look to it. Rafael Gomes looks to be coming in for Mastroeni just in front of the back three as Kosuke Kimura is set to return at right back. The midfield four remain constant and Clavijo's preferred duo of McManus and Casey will surely start.
I don't think there will be a place on the bench for either Jose Burciaga or Herculez Gomez. Both looked to be nursing injuries and worked separately to the rest of the squad with fitness coaches before putting large amounts of ice on their legs. The better news is that Mike Petke was back training with the squad as was Justin Hughes whose recent hernia surgery in Germany looks to have worked well. Justin could be back within the next two weeks and expressed relief that he can finally see an end to all his injury troubles. With Bouna back in town at the end of June, a fit Hughes, the newly acquired Preston Burpo and the two league goalkeepers in Chris Sharpe and Mike Graczyk, who knows how that will all shake out?
Here is the projected line-up for tomorrow's game as it appears on the Rapids' website.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mastroeni Plays Against Spain as US Downed 1-0

Colorado Rapids' captain, Pablo Mastroeni, got onto the field for about five minutes yesterday in the US game against Spain in Santander. I'm glad he did because it could have felt like an even longer flight over to Europe if he had stayed completely on the bench. Mastroeni, who has been strong for the Rapids in recent games, played a full 90 against Dallas last week before flying to Spain on Monday. I hope he gets some playing time against his native country Argentina in the big game in New York on Sunday. I am presuming he will be involved in that rather than turning out for the Rapids on Saturday. The Rapids' website has him down as likely to start against LA but my understanding is that he is in the national team squad against the Argentines. This is very positive for him because there were times last year when his national career looked all but over. He is now back to fitness, as strong as an ox, and playing very well. Spain warmed up for Euro 2008 with a 1-0 victory on a fine individual goal from Barcelona's Xavi in the 78th minute.
Coaches often keep things close to their chest but, if Fernando Clavijo's recent words are anything to go by, he now seems settled on his strike partnership. Barring fitness and loss of form, as always, Conor Casey and Tom McManus are now the favored duo up top. It's hard to argue with that. McManus is becoming a fan favorite because of his hustle and his entertainment value. Conor Casey is back and playing strongly. Omar Cummings will still have an important role to play, as will Herculez Gomez, though Gomez is a more versatile player than Cummings and could get chances elsewhere.
The Rapids move on to play LA Galaxy in California Saturday having just come off a defeat on penalties against Kansas City in the US Open Cup. I plan to be at training tomorrow so do please let me know if there are any burning issues you would like discussed.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rapids Don't Exactly Ease Past Dallas

The Colorado Rapids eventually won this afternoon against FC Dallas by two goals to one but they made rather heavy weather of it. It really looked, at times, as if the Rapids would walk away with the game but poor defense at the end of the first half let the visitors back in and there were some uncomfortable moments in the second half when the defense seemed stretched and that Dallas would take advantage. But it wasn't to be. A win is a win and we are all happy about that.
Tom McManus cemented his position not only as a first choice striker but also as a fan favorite with another goal, his third of the season. He worked hard all day and he clearly has a nose for goal. Conor Casey scored a welcome comeback goal to open the scoring after so many months out injured. Plenty of plus points. Pablo Mastroeni looks back to his best and was instrumental in this victory. I'm not sure what Bill Bradley will think about him playing the whole 90 minutes as he is due to be in the national team squad for Wednesday's game against Spain. A long flight to follow this game. Can't seee him playing much in that game. Come to think of it, Rapids coach, Clavijo, is probably not too thrilled about him going all that way for probably not much action. Ugo Ihemelu and Facundo Erpen played very solidly at the back, Ihemelu, in particular, rescuing the Rapids several times with well-timed tackles. It was good to see Clavijo bring on Jordan Harvey after the Rapids went up 2-1 because his presence gave the defense a lot more solid look. I thought the new goalkeeper, Preston Burpo, also looked confident when he had to. The Rapids move on to play LA Galaxy away next weekend with a cup game in between.