Monday, August 31, 2009

Ihemelu Leaves Rapids; Moor Signed From Dallas

Well, that was a bit of a shock. Having pondered this morning who would be Baudet's first choice partner in central defense, the Rapids obviously have their eye on Drew Moor rather than Ugo Ihemelu to solve that conundrum.
Press release from the Rapids:
The Colorado Rapids have acquired defender Drew Moor in a trade with FC Dallas, the club announced today. Along with Moor, the Rapids receive Dallas’ natural second round pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft and allocation money. Per club and league policies, terms of the allocation money were not disclosed.

In exchange, Colorado sent defender Ugo Ihemelu to FC Dallas.

A five-year veteran, Drew Moor joins the Rapids having played his entire MLS career in Dallas since being acquired by the club as the 6th overall pick in the 2005 SuperDraft.
Moor appeared in 123 games, with 111 starts, with Dallas, scoring eight goals and accumulating two assists. This season, he has started in 21 games for FC Dallas and has scored a career-high three goals.
A college teammate of Rapids midfielder Jacob Peterson at Indiana, Moor won two NCAA Championships with the Hoosiers in 2003 and 2004.
On the international level, Moor has earned five caps with the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Ihemelu leaves Colorado having played in 63 games with the Rapids, scoring one goal and registering two assists. He was originally acquired by the Rapids in a trade with the Los Angeles Galaxy on December 1, 2006.

Baudet Back With a Vengeance

What a difference a week makes. Last week's Colorado Rapids' locker room in Chicago was not a great place to be in as an outsider. This week, it was the Houston players slumped in their seats in frustration as the Rapids celebated a morale-boosting victory over the league leaders.
Yesterday's game, not exactly chock full of action and highlights, will be remembered for one thing and that will be Julien Baudet and a triumphant return to the team after a miserable start to his Rapids' career. Signed at the end of June, Baudet managed only a disappointing performance against DC United and a broken arm against New York before yesterday. Brought in as an early sub for an injured Cory Gibbs, the Frenchman immediately ran the back line as if it was his to run. He was much more vocal than anybody else in that back line and was a force of nature throughout the rest of the game, culminating in a strong header from a Mehdi Ballouchy corner that sealed the win for the recovering Rapids.
"It's wonderful for Julien," said head coach Gary Smith afterwards. "The fellow's shown enormous character."
This is the Baudet that Smith wanted to see and the coach will today be feeling a lot better about the signing. There is no doubt that Smith wants Baudet to be the leader in that back four and a first choice in the line-up. Maybe that raises questions about who his ideal partner would be (Ihemelu? Gibbs? Palguta?). If Kosuke Kimura and Jordan Harvey (both good games yesterday) should be shoe-ins at fullback, it is leaving the remaining defensive space a little tight if Baudet can remain fit and in form. Not to mention Ty Harden, Mike Holody and Rob Valentino.
This was such an important win for the Rapids as they approach the run-in to the postseason. The players and Smith were still talking yesterday about the defeat in Chicago and this result will have done so much to consign that skeleton to the closet.
"We were all so despondent last week and to come in here this week and for the players to respond the way they have against a team that not only knows how to get results but are winners, well hopefully today we have made a little bit of a statement," said Smith. Pablo Mastroeni said it was a testament to the defensive toughness of the team that such influential Houston players as Holden and Clark could not do the things they wanted to.
A tremendously important result after the bitterness of Chicago. The playoffs, a distant prospect in Illinois, now seem that much closer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Soumare v Fire; Other Notes From Abroad

It was a great experience to go to another MLS stadium last weekend, not least because we were hosted by the Fire Supporters Club who looked after us grandly. I wanted to share a few observations picked up over the weekend because I think they are of interest to all soccer fans. Maybe we could even learn some things from them.
You are probably indifferent to the fate of Bakary Soumare as he is a Chicago Fire player (well, he was up until today anyway). However, I had the pleasure of meeting him and the manner in which we met was one of the reasons why the MLS is better for soccer fans than any of the European leagues.
As one of the weaker leagues financially - that may be a bit of an understatement - MLS players are not as coddled by agents and clubs and can go about their lives in a relatively anonymous way. That allows them to have ready access to the fans that would be unthinkable in Europe or similarly unlikely here in leagues like the NFL or NBA. Money clearly destroys any consistent and genuine interaction between fans and players.
As many of you probably know, Soumare, a Mali international, Chicago regular and MLS All-Star, had fallen out with the Chicago coach, Denis Hamlett. Whatever the rights and wrongs and whoever was at fault over their altercation (there are more than two sides to every story), Soumare showed genuine love for the fans that help pay his wages. He turned up to the supporter tailgate on Sunday to hang out with them and say his goodbyes. The fans loved him and are desperately disappointed he is leaving. As he told me and as was confirmed today, Soumare is moving on to play for Boulogne in the French first division. "It has all worked out for the best," he said to me Sunday, while acknowledging that he will never have such a relationship with the fans in France. "I know most of these guys by first name and by face and we text each other every day." I thought it was a very honorable gesture to turn up and say such goodbyes. Clearly, he had little to lose as he had fallen out with the powers that be but he could just have easily stayed away. Here's the MLS/Chicago Fire announcement on his move.
Some other observations. The Chicago Section 8 fans are a passionate lot. They have a very nice spot behind one of the goals that is all theirs and they make a lot of noise and generally get under the opponents' skin. There is no doubt in my mind that they were a prime reason why the Fire came storming back to get the victory. Some good chants too. "You're going home in a Cook County ambulance" to an injured Pablo Mastroeni was one notable one. They didn't stop until Pablo dazily stood up after a long time on the ground. It was explained to me, later, that Cook County Hospital has or had the worst reputation in all of Chicago for emergency care. But, before you start thinking they are treated better than the fans in Colorado and that everything is hunky dory in Chicago, I heard many stories over the weekend that were so simliar to what I have heard here. I'm not going to go into any detail here but, suffice it to say, without fans there is no club and the clubs can do so much more than they do because they very often don't really get that.
There were a lot more Latino fans than in Denver. Granted, they have Blanco to follow but we should have more Hispanic fans at Rapids' games than we do. I liked the fact that every public announcement at the game was also said in Spanish.
One thing I didn't like and which is endemic to many US sports events. When you say you are going to have a minute's silence for fallen heroes, you really should back it up and have a minute's silence. Not 20 seconds at halftime when people are too busy eating and drinking to pay any attention. And don't then suddenly come out at the end of those 20 not so silent seconds and offer a pizza to eat for just $2.99. For all of England football fans' faults (witness this week's West Ham Millwall problems), fans there do generally respect a minute's silence, the silence lasts a minute and it is done at the start of a game before fans get too involved. If you really want to honor people's sacrifice, it would just take a few easy steps to try and do it properly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Not My Kind of Town Today

Greetings from a sunny Chicago. I should be looking out on Lake Michigan basking in a great win for the Rapids but a crazy last 20 minutes put paid to that. The team is a few blocks away no doubt also musing on the one that got away. I shouldn't think there is much happy conversation over the scrambled eggs this morning.
A poor penalty decision (where have we read that before?) changed the whole nature of this game. Kosuke Kimura made what looked like a perfectly good challenge on Cuauhtemoc Blanco but the referee, with the trigger happy nature of most officials in this league, saw fit to award a penalty. Blanco put it away and the Rapids, despite their best efforts, went into self-destruct mode.
No point in going on too much about how the Rapids should have done better in that last quarter because nobody knows that better than the players and the coach and they will be hurting this morning. They will know that the difference between a team with playoff hopes versus a team realistically challenging for the MLS Championship is in being sure to win in situations like yesterday. 2-0 up with 20 minutes to go against a team depleted by injuries, suspension and internal dissent has to mean victory but it didn't. Now, they approach a tough game at home to Houston with a different mentality. Instead of the confidence engendered by a victory on the road against Chicago, they will go into Sunday's game knowing that a win is vital for morale as the postseason gets ever closer. They will regroup in Colorado this week, recover from this kick in the guts (but not today), prepare and eventually enter Sunday's game in a better frame of mind than they find themselves this morning. It's the nature of the human mind to do so and pro athletes need that as much as anyone.
A few positives to end up on:
Omar Cummings - wonder strike for the second goal and ability to shake hands with the officials at the end of the game despite the turmoil of the final 20 minutes.
Kosuke Kimura - must be a shoe-in at right back for the rest of the season. Another energetic game in both attack and defense. Blameless for the penalty.
Matt Pickens - played a great game in goal and cannot be blamed for any of the goals.
Jordan Harvey - some great defense right at the end with an apparently game-saving goalline clearance at the death before the final goal. Consistent as always.
That's not to be negative about any of the other players - it's just that those players stood out yesterday, for me anyway. Next week will be different players making the outstanding contributions, that's how it goes. Onwards and upwards. I'll post some other random thoughts and observations later about my time in Chicago (some interesting observations thanks to the generous hosting by a great supporter section here in Chicago).

Friday, August 21, 2009

No Dousing But a Draw Would Be Nice

The Rapids fly to Chicago tomorrow for the first of two pivotal games against top flight opponents. While Gary Smith only cares about the minimum 40 points for a playoff spot at the end of the season, he knows that remaining undefeated against Chicago this weekend and at home to Houston next weekend will be key to confidence going forward into the home stretch.
Clearly, the team has to focus on the Fire first. Chicago may have been beaten at home by LA during the week and they may be missing players due to injury (McBride, Segares, Ward), suspension (Thorrington) and internal disagreements (Soumare) but this is a team that ripped the Rapids apart in midfield in the July 4 home defeat. A team that has plenty of depth. "They have a multitude of good young players who can cause serious problems; there is no shortage of quality," Smith said. Let's not forget some of the older players such as Mr. Blanco either. The Fire will, however, undoubtedly be weakened by the absence of McBride and Smith will be hoping the team exploits that.
For the Rapids, apart from long-term injuries to Colin Clark and Julien Baudet, the squad looks healthy. Baudet could be available for selection within the next two weeks but not this weekend or next. Jacob Peterson, who had injured his knee in training the same day Clark sustained his ligament damage, is good to go. I would see a similar back four to the Chivas game but with Ugo Ihemelu probably coming in for Kimura. For once, Cummings and Casey will get to play together again upfront. Expect LaBrocca and Pablo to start in the middle with Smith and Peterson out wide.
I'll be in the Windy City covering the game for Can't wait.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Smith and Peterson to Take Clark Reins

Gary Smith isn't ruling out going into the transfer market to replace the unfortunate Colin Clark but don't hold your breath. At this stage in the season, the head coach doesn't want to upset the balance of the squad he already has and, as assistant Steve Guppy also said recently, it's not as if you can just go out there and pick up another Colin Clark. The team has only another ten games this season in regular play as it launches a playoff push and looks set to rely on Jamie Smith and Jacob Peterson to do what Clark has been consistently doing, i.e create, look dangerous and score goals. Ironically, Peterson hyperextended his knee the same day that Clark tore his ACL but Smith fully expects him to make a full recovery before the team's next game in Chicago.
"We have some names we have had our eye on but they are more potentials rather than the finished article," Smith said at training Thursday in response to whether the team would look to replace Clark. "And I don't want to interrupt what we have here." So, even with the slight chance the Rapids did dip into the market, it's not likely to be a player that will walk straight into the team. There isn't enough time left in the season to do that, to do a proper job.
In other news, Julien Baudet is making a great recovery from his broken forearm and could be in contention for selection for the Chicago game. Check out for my story on him.
I'll be going to Chicago for the game, covering it for mlsnet. If you had any thoughts about how I could get some extra coverage of the game build-up etc., drop me a line with some thoughts. Got to go and check the mighty Gills and their game against Tranmere in League One. Check in next week.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clark Out For Season as Tears ACL

The injury that affects soccer players seemingly the most and one that they all fear has happened to Colin Clark. A very bad thing to happen to a player who is vital to this team.

Press release from the Rapids: COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (Tuesday, August 11, 2009) – Colorado Rapids midfielder Colin Clark has been diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee, the club announced today.
Clark suffered the injury in training on Tuesday and will be forced to miss the remainder of the 2009 season.
Surgery to repair the injury is scheduled to take place early next week.
Clark started in 16 games this season, playing 1,421 minutes and had three goals and a new single season career-high five assists.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rapids Take on Chivas; Injuries and Form a Concern

Given very poor planning on my part, I will again miss the Rapids game this weekend. Two games in a row, very poor form. So, I won't be posting a match report as the chances of me both finding a tv in Philadelphia that may actually show it and be on the good side of my significant other are slim to none. So, I will just post a few thoughts following training today.
Health issues for some players are not all that great. Conor Casey is still struggling with his post All Stars groin strain. Oh how happy is Gary Smith on that one when the big fella was out for so long in South Africa and then promptly goes lame on his return from the Everton game. Pablo Mastroeni is also a slight doubt as he took a knock in training though the captain assured me he will be fine to play. Cory Gibbs only returned to training today after some calf problems. My guess is that least two of those big three will play this weekend.
Ugo Ihemelu, as frustrated as anybody at the speed of MLS refereeing decisions involving ejections, will be out after his red card against Columbus. This will surely allow recent matchwinner, Kosuke Kimura, to get the start he so richly deserves. I would also expect newcomer, Jamie Smith, to possibly start this time around which would likely see Jacob Peterson on the bench. There are some concerns about Colin Clark's form given it will clearly take him some time to get into the swing of things after his lengthy stay with the US national team where he was out of favor with the coaching staff and lost a lot of valuable playing time. He will surely start, though, so there should be some entertainment from the wings. It would be nice to see such service going to Casey and Omar Cummings as those two have barely played together in recent weeks/months. We'll have to see if the extent of Conor's injury will allow that. The game against Chivas kicks off at 7.30pm Saturday. Please do check out my preview of the game on tomorrow.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Near Full Squad Available as Rapids Face Crew

Gary Smith faces a selection dilemma today of the kind all coaches want. Too many players to choose from for tonight's home game against defending MLS champions, the Columbus Crew. Despite losing new French defender, Julien Baudet, out for up to six weeks following the broken bones in his arm sustained last week, Smith has a pretty full squad to pick from. For the first time in God knows how long, the Rapids can pick all of Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and Colin Clark. The coach said yesterday how well some of the more fringe players had done in the team while the trio were away and that it was leading to some tough decisons to make for tonight's game. However, it is hard to believe that not all three would make the starting line-up. One player definitely on the bench tonight is new signing, Jamie Smith. The Scottish international was signed this week as the Rapids waived Terry Cooke. "Jamie will be on the bench, come what may," said the coach at training yesterday.
So, despite the full squad and the recent strong performances of some of the squad players, it looks likely to be a fairly predictable line-up, with the exception, maybe, of midfield. Cummings and Casey will surely start upfront with Pat Noonan and Facundo Diz on the bench. I would expect a back four of Ihemelu, Gibbs, Palguta and Harvey although it is hard to understand why Kimura would not start given the way he is playing. Pablo, Ballouchy, Clark and Peterson would be likely in midfield with LaBrocca coming on later. That's it. I have double booked for tonight and will unfortunately miss the game so please do send in your comments and let me know your thoughts postmatch, prematch too if you want.