OTF’s Wide World of Soccer – Week 23
Welcome to the latest attempt at a regular column here at OTF Soccer. This one is called the OTF’s Wide World of Soccer, which aims to capture the three of the principles of OTF Soccer in one column: Analysis, Insight, and Fluff.
So, what exactly is “OTF’s Wide World of Soccer”? It is my armchair analysis of all of the soccer games I watch in a given week; usually that is quite a few games.
With as much complaining about the business of soccer on social media these days, I wanted to get back to the basics of watching soccer and celebrating the beautiful game, even when it is not so beautiful…
Being a soccer junkie, I choose to watch soccer as often as possible. It is a sport I have played, refereed, coached and followed since being introduced to it as a six year old. So, when I am not interested in what is on television at home, I will put on a game on my tablet or phone.
Although partial to American soccer, I will be watching soccer from all over the world and reporting back on what I saw and why I chose that game.
However, to make this more fun, I invite anyone reading to hit me up on Twitter recommend games/teams that I may be missing. However, there are a couple of caveats with this. One is that a link to the free reliable link to a live stream be available (not someone holding a camera up to his television). The other is that I will favor English language broadcasts.
With all that said, let’s get started.
In a week that included a full slate of action in MLS, NASL, and USL, cup finals in England, Spain, Germany and France, the opening games of the U-20 World Cup, the Toulon Tournament, relegation playoffs and the third round of the US Open Cup, there was no shortage of games to be watched. Therefore, I made sure to consume as much as I could.
Wednesday, May 27th,
T2 (Portland Timbers 2) at S2 (Seattle Sounders 2) – 3rd Round, US Open Cup,
With the parent club hosting the Colorado Avalanche in a league game the same night, the Sounders 2 (S2) hosted the rival Timbers 2 (T2) out at Starfire Sports Complex in an afternoon affair to kick off the third round of the U.S. Open Cup. Based on the comments in the chat box on YouTube, the Timbers and Sounders fans still do not like each other even at the USL level. With it being the only Open Cup game going on and a rivalry to boot, it was the most viewed game of the day with over 2500 viewers live streaming.
Despite conceding the opening, S2 were the better team on the day. The fact that T2 only gave up an equalizer to the junior Sounders in the first 90 minutes plus stoppage time is a testament to how well Justin Luthy and his 14 saves on 16 shots played for T2. He came up big time and time again as S2 ran wave after wave of forwards through the T2 flat and often flat-footed back line. After S2 went up in extra time with a nifty goal from Pablo Rossi and that was that. The only other name that sticks out as dominant in that game was Andy Craven with S2 until he was subbed out in the second half.
Tampa Bay Rowdies at Pittsburgh Riverhounds – 3rd Round, US Open Cup
The Riverhounds have become one of my favorite USL teams to watch. They are back from the verge of extinction after their stadium debt sent them to bankruptcy last season, they outplayed the Fire over long stretches of their 2-1 defeat in a rain-shortened fourth round game last season, the stadium that bankrupted them, Highmark Stadium, is a thing of beauty with the Monongahela River and the Pittsburgh skyline in camera view, and they were one of the few teams to actually stream their game in round 2, so of course I was going to watch Round 3.
I will be the first to admit, this game did not have my full attention at all times. I spent this game making/eating dinner and then multi-tasking with watching the beginning of Minnesota United-St Louis FC on my phone. However, even before Robert Vincent’s winning wonder strike in stoppage time, it appeared from what I did see that Pittsburgh was the better side. Every time I looked up it appeared that Pittsburgh was carving up the Tampa Bay back line leading to quality chances that they would continuously miss. After looking up the final stats, this was confirmed with Pittsburgh leading in shots (16-11) and corner kicks (11-4).
However, it appeared that this game, like many US Open Cup games, was overlooked by a lot of people. I believe the announced attendance was less than 700 and there were only about 500 or so watching on YouTube at peak times.
Minnesota United at St Louis FC – 3rd Round, US Open Cup
This game started with streaming on my phone and finishing up on my tablet. Between the fact that I believe I was a Storm Chaser when the Minnesota Thunder was in the A-League and that St Louis FC is the Fire’s USL partner, it was a game I at least wanted to check out for a bit. And of course that stretched through 120 minutes of game play and penalty kicks despite the announcers from St. Louis FC. They were so one-sided in commentary; it would even concern Hawk Harrelson.
This game fascinated me with the cat and mouse nature of it from beginning to end. I kept waiting for the clearly more talented Minnesota United side to decide enough was enough and stomp on the throat of St. Louis FC. This of course did not happen. They let the scrappy harder working side from St. Louis hang around, grow into the game and eventually equalize on a rebound off a penalty kick that was well deserved. The only memorable thing about extra time was the Loons going a man up with 6 minutes to play, but did nothing with it. Finally, the current holders of the Woosnam Cup were put out their misery with a terrible showing in penalty kicks. They failed to convert their first two, St. Louis converted all four of theirs and the Loons eliminated from the US Open Cup.
PSA Elite vs. Ventura County Fusion – 3rd Round, US Open Cup
My original plans for the night planned for only watching Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay and Chula Vista FC-Sacramento Republic FC. However, after being sucked into the Minnesota United-St. Louis FC game, I needed to find a new game to follow. The Chula Vista-Sacramento game was already out of hand early on, so I switched over to the PSA Elite at Ventura County Fusion. This game looked exactly how you would expect a game between a PDL and USASA game to look. It was game played at a community college football stadium with football markings and a single camera and no graphics on the screen. Although, the story of PSA Elite, the final USASA team in the field with a 16 or 17 year old goalkeeper was too much to pass up (the florescent jerseys worn by PSA Elite also caught my eye). Not a skilled game per say, lots of kickball and shoddy marking on the winner by Ventura County (long ball played from midfield into the penalty area, where it was trapped and laid off for the goal) led to their exit from the Open Cup.
Friday – May 29th
FC Edmonton at Ottawa Fury
This originally was going to be the only game I watched on Friday night. A league game between two teams with the potential to be near the top of NASL seemed too good to pass up (that and there were no other MLS or USL games going).
From the time I turned the game on, things just did not add up. The Fury only use one side of their stadium, however it is the same side that the main camera sits, so the stadium always appears empty during the broadcast. Even more odd is that the side with the crowd appeared to look directly into the sun as well. I am sure there is a reason for it all, I just do not know what it is.
Sometimes, a scoreless draw can be full of drama and be an amazing game. This was not one of them. In this case the score line would indicate.
An awesome point blank save from Eddies goalkeeper John Smits (which is combo of purple, white and black looked silly) was about it. Not every game is a classic.
United States vs. Myanmar – U-20 World Cup, New Zealand
Once in a blue moon, I do get control of the remote in my house. In this case, it happened to be because everyone in my house was asleep, so naturally, when I found live soccer on television, of course I watched it. In this case, it was the US’s opening game of the U-20 World Cup in Whangarei, New Zealand which started at 11pm local time.
Early on, it was difficult to tell who the favorite of the two teams was. Myanmar played smooth and quickly through the midfield like a team who had spent a lot of time together, while the US was still trying to find its legs. Ultimately, Myanmar grabbed an early lead when the US defense and goalkeepers decided to do their Keystone Cops routine defending a corner kick. However, Myanmar returned the favor 10 minutes later when they decided to mark space instead of a player. This resulted in a free flick on to the back post, where Emerson Hyndman was waiting to finish the equalizer. From there, the US grew into the game and dominated the rest of the way. This game saw the first appearance for Gideon Zelalem for the US when he came on in the 55th minute.
Aside from the United States, there were a couple of other winners in this game. The first was the announcing team of Mark Followill and Cobi Jones. They did a tremendous job calling the game from a studio and even more impressive was Followill identifying the Mynamar players in real time with accurate name pronunciation.
Saturday May 30th
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa – FA Cup Final
To be honest, I felt really unoriginal watching this game because I figured nearly every soccer head would be (it was the only game on television when it started). Considering Arsenal had outscored Villa 8-0 during the two league games, my expectations were not very high. It lived up to that expectation completely. I guess I should have taken the red carpet treatment for Prince William as a sign of things to come.
To be honest, I had a revelation during this game that Chaos Theory is in fact real. During the first half, it became apparent that this game had a pattern develop. Arsenal would slowly build out of the back into the midfield while Villa packed in. They would continue to work the ball around, find an opening leading to a shot, a corner or a foul and set piece opportunity. Following the outcome, Villa would clear the ball and this would repeat. Every third time or so, Villa would have somewhat of a counter-attacking opportunity.
Anyway, it was an ass kicking by Arsenal, which means the no silverware clock resets.
Athletic Bilbao vs. FC Barcelona – Copa Del Rey Final
By the end of this game, I really started to wonder, does winning La Liga and/or the Copa Del Rey seem trivial at this point if you are a fan of Barca? I would think only a nail biter or beating Madrid in the final would lessen that, but following Barca, only admiring their skill, I was unsure.
Anyway, the game was what you would expect it to be. Messi is just out of this world amazing. The front three for Barca are a thing of beauty as well. It appears at times that they are just going to keep working the ball around until they get an empty net chance. Even more amazing, they succeed at it quite a bit. As for Bilbao, they were really playing a 9-1 formation with Williams being their entire offense for the most part. A part he did pretty well at all things considering, but the buzz saw that is Barca rolled on to claim their 26th Copa Del Rey.
Harrisburg City Islanders at Pittsburgh Riverhounds – USL
As I said in my introduction, some teams are going to become regulars and in this case, the Riverhounds and Highmark Stadium will likely be them.
I will be the first to admit, I did not watch all of this game when it was live. I watched this game while we were riding over to Toyota Park for the Fire game on my phone and Pittsburgh was already down 3-0 by halftime. I checked my Twitter feed a few times to see the Hounds had brought back a couple to make it 3-2, next check I believe it was 5-3 Islanders. Much to my shock when I checked the score later, the Hounds had come all the way back to win 6-5 with 3 goals in stoppage time! So, I had to check it out myself.
So, technically I finished this game on Sunday afternoon with my in-laws over for a cookout. I watched the end of this game before I turned my attention to the grill. For non-soccer fans, they seemed to enjoy the action and surprise ending. However, the broadcast did lose a couple of points for none of the cameras picking up the Hounds fourth goal.
Montreal Impact at Chicago Fire – MLS
If my three year old wasn’t such a huge fan of the Fire, I’m not sure we would have gone to this game. Between the rain, the 30mph winds and wind chills in the mid-30s, it was an awful night to be at Toyota Park. Thankfully, we were saved a bit when we purchased an all-weather blanket.
Awful weather aside, the home team did provide some entertaining play with a thorough 3-0 ass-kicking of Frank Kloppa’s Montreal Impact. It was a night where I could definitely see the potential in the Fire. Although, a beating of the Impact always needs to be taken with a grain of salt because it appeared that Bad Baky was on full display. Kennedy Igboananike finally showed up and was dangerous while he played. Jovan Jones moves very well out of the back and is a weapon.
Sean Maloney was the jack of all trades. He spent time at withdrawn forward, left midfield, back to withdrawn forward and finally to center midfield as the Fire’s lineup changed with subs.
Colorado Switchbacks vs LA Galaxy II – USL
I had the choice of three late USL games to watch after the Fire game was concluded. Like I said in the intro, I am all about the little guy. In this case, I chose the game with the fewest viewers on YouTube with 153 at the time.
The games between MLS #2 teams versus regular USL teams are interesting because they are typically a contrast in styles. With the USL team, it is usually a lot more kick and run, while the 2 side typically plays a style reflective of the parent side.
In this game, Los Dos, did a great job of keeping possession out of the back and not panicking, solid movement through the midfield and developing chances, which on this night, Los Dos had trouble finishing. However, they did get the winner in stoppage time, which was a just outcome.
Watching this game reminded me of watching a B spring training baseball game. The numbers on Los Dos were higher numbers, the game was played at the Track and Field Stadium at StubHub Center, which means no views of the crowd throughout, the crowd that was there was not picked up by the broadcast production.
Arizona United at Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – USL
Arizona United is my favorite team in USL. They started the 2014 season as the Phoenix Rising, were on the verge of being shut down when Kyle Eng rescued the team and rebranded them Arizona United.
Furthermore, they played their first season at Peoria Sports Complex, which was my favorite Cactus League venue when I lived in the West Valley and was across the street from my final apartment before moving to Chicagoland. Although, this season they moved over to Scottsdale Stadium, which is a much more central location for the Valley.
Anyway, this team is also starting to drive me insane. Performances like this week’s 2-0 loss to WFC2 are unacceptable. The back four were terrible, the midfield cannot hold possession and the offense has no variation. Everything is play it long to Long Tan and hope he either does something or holds possession long enough for help to catch up.
I’m thinking this team would not have won a game all season if not for the team’s outstanding goaltender Carl Woszcynski.
The three game road winning streak to start the season and the home opener in front of 6108 seem like a distant memory now.
Oh well, I’ll be back to watch again next week.