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SoHo: So Long Houston

And so ends another dreary year for MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League. The last hope, Houston, dropped a 3-0 result to Atlante in Cancun and lost the quarterfinal series on a 4-1 aggregate.

The we're-at-a-disadvantage-because-it's-preseason excuse has become tiresome.

American, er, Canadian/Puerto Rico hopes now rest with the USL1's Impact and Islanders. PR will take a 2-1 lead to Marathon on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel, Galavision) and Montreal will try to protect a 2-0 advantage at Santos Laguna (Thursday, 10 p.m., FSC, Galavision). With Cruz Azul or Pumas set to advance in the fourth pairing, two Mexican clubs are now set for the semifinals.

Will the USL clubs survive?

By Steve Goff  |  March 3, 2009; 11:56 PM ET
Categories:  CONCACAF , MLS , USL  
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Next: Wednesday Kickaround

Comments

One of the two should win. I'd lean towards Puerto Rico at Marathon...though Santos could win 1-0 and still lose the aggregate.

Mexico vs. USL-1 in the finals...hmmm.

Posted by: SportzNut21 | March 4, 2009 12:13 AM | Report abuse

Can someone tell me how USL teams succeed and MLS teams don't? Something must be up, but I can't figure it out.

Posted by: PEddy | March 4, 2009 12:21 AM | Report abuse

Not so sure about a tiresome excuse. It's fairly accurate.

United has whooped up on pre-season teams in friendlies for years, the last being Celtic.

Granted those teams have had little to play for, but when you don't play top competition regularly, (or a meaningful game for that matter) you won't be as sharp.

Having said that, I hope a USL team wins the whole lot.

Posted by: delantero | March 4, 2009 12:24 AM | Report abuse

""Can someone tell me how USL teams succeed and MLS teams don't? Something must be up, but I can't figure it out.""

A) Do they play a defense first game and hope to counter?
B) Do they finish their opportunities?
C) Did their draws in the group stages and the elimination rounds bring easier competition?

Posted by: delantero | March 4, 2009 12:29 AM | Report abuse

The preseason excuse stands up especially considering Houston beat Atlante 4-0 in Superliga last year.

Posted by: ahelms10 | March 4, 2009 12:29 AM | Report abuse

A point for the preseason excuse not standing up; the USL teams are also in their preseason. Perhaps Houston's loss is more a factor of losing DeRosario among other players in the off-season?

Posted by: timad26 | March 4, 2009 12:33 AM | Report abuse

Solution: MLS should expand to Montreal AND Puerto Rico. Then MLS would have CCL-caliber teams, MLS fans could road trip to two beautiful destinations, and MLS would gain a new fan with DC ties: http://www.prislandersfc.com/index/index.php?option=com_joomgallery&func=detail&id=33&Itemid=77

Posted by: Pedalada | March 4, 2009 12:38 AM | Report abuse

I know some of what I don't know. I do think that pre season is one factor. I think style of play is another. I know that Mexican teams are simply richer, deeper in talent and probably more "savvy". I know I'd like to see more 2-0 on what is, in my eyes, the biggest stage.

Posted by: ch3k | March 4, 2009 12:40 AM | Report abuse

Fallas at the Chron said the Dynamo were without backs Eddie Robinson and Boz Bobwell (hey to Luciano Emilio)...that might have had a little something to do with the 3-0 scoreline.

Posted by: SportzNut21 | March 4, 2009 1:10 AM | Report abuse

PEddy:

There are a few reasons. First, MLS teams that qualify for CONCACAF play tend to be attacking teams. Unfortunately, a preseason MLS team's attack is far too rusty to play an in-season Mexican team straight up. You might ask why MLS teams persist in trying to attack anyway; I think it's a combination of stubborn pride and a lack of sophistication/cynicism (depending on your outlook on how soccer should be played), with the former carrying a touch more weight. USL teams, meanwhile, often play on the counter thanks to the Friday/Sunday schedule. Sending out tired players or having to rest starters on Sunday means a lot of focus on staying compact and finishing your rare chances. DC did exactly this in the group stage, but a) still weren't that good at defend-and-counter and b) faced 3 of the best teams in the whole tournament (Saprissa would be a more worthy quarterfinalist than a couple of the teams that got through, for example).

Finally, we have a style of play issue. MLS teams like to pass the ball; USL teams will do plenty of thumping the ball upfield and hoping it works out somehow. CONCACAF teams are much more accustomed to playing opponents who value possession. The USL squads, meanwhile could care less about possession, and go about being very physical, very chippy, and use their size/speed advantage to create chances. Both Montreal and Puerto Rico have also been finishing at a borderline obscene rate (especially Montreal, who in the CCL have been reliable for a 2 to 1 chance to goal ratio).

Oh, I should also note that Montreal has scored first in every single game they've played (save a couple 0-0 draws), and have scored within the opening 5 minutes in 4 different games (note that they've played 9 total thus far). Puerto Rico, meanwhile, has a great knack for scoring late goals. The Islanders' success late comes down to fitness and a never say die attitude that permeates the team. Montreal's ability to score early, however, is something I've never seen before. Deal with the devil? Voodoo? Honestly, they sound reasonable at this point.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | March 4, 2009 2:25 AM | Report abuse

Now, then, what I was going to say just based on SG's initial post:

The preseason thing to me has never been an excuse; it's a nearly insurmountable hurdle. An excuse would be pointing to a bad call or the field/weather conditions. Chasing a technically superior team is the exact worst thing for an away team in preseason to have to do, and that's the scenario every time an MLS team has to play a Mexican club in February.

Houston's problems, however, were myriad. In the 1st leg, Atlante was really quite poor. Normally, Houston is a ruthless team and even when they're not quite on they find goals from set pieces or wherever else to punish bad opponents. Last week, however, they lacked that cruel quality and let Atlante hang around. Sure enough, Atlante scraped an ugly goal, and the tie as a whole was pretty much done right there.

In the 2nd leg, Houston was the team playing really poorly. Their collective touch, maybe slightly ahead of what you'd expect this far into the preseason, turned into what you'd expect if you woke up the Dynamo XI in the middle of the night in late December and forced them to go play immediately. Ching looked off, Kamara contributed little, and Davis did absolutely nothing. The thing that bugs me is that Atlante again looked flat and somewhat uninspired. It's not like Houston was under siege for 90 minutes and gave up an inevitable 3 goals. Unfortunately, Houston was so poor tonight that they never really gave themselves a chance to take advantage.

Finally, in the back, Houston was really disorganized. Mulrooney did alright, but the loss of Robinson and Boswell left Houston in a really bad spot. Barrett also struggled, and if Dane Richards didn't guarantee MLS teams will match speed against him all season, surely Atlante's opener sealed the deal.

Bottom line: In both legs, the away team was awful. Houston should have buried Atlante at Robertson. Conversely, if Atlante was in any kind of good form, they would have torn the Dynamo apart tonight. Neither team made me think they're a threat to go any further.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | March 4, 2009 2:40 AM | Report abuse

SportzNut21 - Did Atlante have no injuries?

Injuries can be relevant, but only as they compare with your opponent's injuries.

Posted by: Wendell_Gee | March 4, 2009 3:54 AM | Report abuse

re: "The we're-at-a-disadvantage-because-it's-preseason excuse has become tiresome."

It may be tiresome but it is true. Facts are stubborn and at times tiresome things.

Throw in the fact that these top Mexican sides are hands down better than MLS teams means MLS (or USL even though this year may be an anomaly) sides are not usually going to win these tournaments.

Posted by: Ron16 | March 4, 2009 6:44 AM | Report abuse

The preseason excuse does not stand up no matter how much you want to believe it. First MLS teams always find a way to loose in CCC. Last fall it was the hunt for the playoffs this spring its the preseason or its the salary cap. So why are the USL teams at least managed wins in their preseason? So why have two USL teams managed to get out of the qualifying round and then also out of the group stage while both managing to get to the semi-finals and final game of their playoffs? USL does not have a salary cap! True, but its not like they have the profits to out spend MLS teams. But its the travel! Sure their is travel issues but both Montreal and PR have to travel a lot further the MLS teams and yet we see the results. United and MLS teams need to face some hard to swallow facts and that is USL teams are built better for this competition. And I am tired of the lines from Kinner and other coaches going on saying "we are taking this seriously" and we are focused on our preseason talk. MLS teams want to maintain respect they can at least manage a win or two in the group stage, which by the way will be in August and not so close to the lame excuse of the playoff race. Its time to DEMAND MLS stop hiding behind the EXCUSES and fix their teams.

Posted by: degerron | March 4, 2009 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Ron16 - USL is also in pre-season.

Posted by: Wendell_Gee | March 4, 2009 7:52 AM | Report abuse

I think it has something to do with these games probably being the biggest thing that has happened to these USL clubs, and frankly, that just makes them care and try a whole heck of a lot harder than MLS.

For a number of reasons including marketing, exposure, etc. for the USL clubs it makes them much more likely to take this tournament very seriously. But for the MLS clubs, trying really hard but falling short just puts you in a terrible position to begin the season.

Posted by: churtmah | March 4, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I still think that given the depth of MLS teams that it is extremely difficult to win a cup tournament and the MLS title. DC United's victory in the Open Cup last year coincided exactly with their demise. DCU's record after the Open Cup final, in all competitions, was an astonishing 1-10-3.

Now I remember why last season was so miserable. In the words of the Special1, we imploded all over ourselves.

Posted by: churtmah | March 4, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

C) Did their draws in the group stages and the elimination rounds bring easier competition?

Posted by: delantero | March 4, 2009 12:29 AM

Delantero, I am with you on the first two but I to disagree with you on your final point.

After playing about 7 games of the Carribean competition including Joe Public, Islanders drew Alajuelense. And few few people in the football world gave us a shot in hell to make it through. At the end of the day, controversies aside--we got through.

Let's look at some of our MLS brethren:

NE got waxed by Joe Public. Thoroughly disgraced.

ChivasUSA couldn't get the results against Tauro. PR got the results that ChivasUSA didn't.

Houston got through a group that one could argue was not any more difficult than the Islanders or Montreal's group.

Our beloved DC United got the toughest group. DC struggled, with the playoffs in mind, United decided to just focus on the regular season and finished up with reserves.

Both Montreal and Puerto Rico, also in their playoff runs and sometimes playing 3 games in 5 days, doing their league travel with minor league (less comfortable and often delayed travel) standards used their reserves. But they got the results.

Keep in mind that the Impact had to get our of a 3 team Cancuk group that included TFC in order to get to face the Nicaraguan side they faced two stronger Canadian clubs just to make it that far.

Puerto Rico still managed to win the USL Commisioner's cup even though we fell in the final.

NE, Chivas, TFC flamed out. DC underachieved based on what Payne and company had planned for.

Posted by: yankiboy | March 4, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

ugh maybe 'cause mls s8cks? dunno, just a hunch. we'll see how well the uslers do in honduras and mexico. I can see both home teams overturning the deficit.

Posted by: gode | March 4, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Troy any news from Portugal? I see the new young mids accounted for today's goals.

Posted by: OWNTF | March 4, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

When did Montreal and PR begin their workouts?

MLS teams are limited by the current CBA in regards to how early they can begin.

I'd still say that the biggest hurdle MLS teams faced that Montreal and PR didn't have to deal with, were tougher draws in the group stage.

Swap DC into PR or Montreal's group, and they'd have stood a much better chance of advancing, whereas neither PR nor Montreal would have stood a chance in DC's group.

Posted by: alecw81 | March 4, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

alecw81,

Your dreaming if you think DCU would have stood a better chance in those groups. Both had Mexican teams and others and they still managed to almost win their groups. United was just a mess last year no matter who they faced. Especially after the Open Cup they were just clueless.

Posted by: degerron | March 4, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

NE, DCU and Chivas USA all had 10 more games on their schedule than their roster was capable of competing in. There's no point in talking about trends, when, for example, a team like DCU is hoping that Joe Vide, a mid season waiver pickup, is available to lead the midfield in a crucial CCL game.


Degerron, whom shall we speak to at MLS to read our list of demands?

Posted by: JkR- | March 4, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Alec, Islanders started preseason workouts the same time the MLS clubs did. I believe that Montreal started a bit earlier. They also made another preseason trip to Italy to face Siere B & C competition to prepare.

I still say that Houston's group wasn't apreciably any tougher than Montreal's or PR's.

Posted by: yankiboy | March 4, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

I like the Islanders chances in Honduras tonight. Not just because I'm a rabid fan and obsessed with the club. Here's why:

1) The club got good results in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Also Panama.

2) If they draw and it goes to penalties, it is obviously 50-50, could go anyway but I think that Gaudette will be able to stop one or two. he plays head games and cheats off his line as good or better than a lot of the keepers that I have seen in this competition.

3) General Clarke has a way of getting his guys to squeak out results. It is a combination of the tactical and psychological. He has them believing. He has been pushing the buttons. Players have bought in. When I have talked to few of them, they really believe that they can make it out of the round. Instead of being worried about choking, I think that the muchachos will be more focused on getting it finished off.

4) The Green Monster still has a lot of injuries and their reserves looked subpar last week. They were dominated. They gave up one of the most lopsided corner ratios that I have seen at this stage of an international competition in a long time. If Islanders do not squander chances like last week, and if we make like Montreal and get the first goal then we have got a really good shot.

Marathons is a obviously a very good club but we got them at a great time top face them. I'd rather face them now than in the group stage. The look more vulnerable now.

I am now at the point where I expect them to get it done tonight. I don't think that it will be easy. Nor should it be.

I wish Montreal the best but our match up suits us better, I felt that way since I saw the draws for the two USL clubs and Houston for this round.


Posted by: yankiboy | March 4, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

As soon as I saw Boswell wasn't in the lineup, I went, "Uh-oh," and changed the channel.

Posted by: Juan-John | March 4, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Preseason? Of minor importance the point is their teams are better than our. Why because they pay more money for their players so they get better players!!! It's simple freemarket theory. Pay more money get better talent. I'm not an MLS hater by any stretch of the imagination, but our league isn't as good as Mexcio's.

Why are they better? They don't have a salary cap or roster limitations. This means they can have stable teams that have better players. MLS teams have to shuffle their squads around constantly and are always rebuilding. This is fine in the MLS, but not when in international competition. Parity does not work on the international stage.

Of course if the MLS got rid of the salary cap the MLS teams wouldn't isntantly start winning the World Club Cup. We don't get the attendance necessary to pay the salaries necessary to compete internationally anyway. But I would prefer to see MLS teams have the ability to keep star players wihtout being concerned with the salary cap. The roster size I think is stupid, the teams should determine that by themselves.

Anyway, we should stop looking for hidden variables and start looking at why we suck internationally. We aren't as good. That's it there is no secret conspiracy that makes us lose. Sorry.

Posted by: bighungry | March 4, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

JkR, MLS fans needs to write Garber and MLS HQ about the importance of Champions League. If the league wants to win over the Latin and international crowds this is a no brainer. Also not watching or attending the Superliga will force MLS to give that selfmade tourney up and focus on a FIFA sanctioned event. Supporters groups should also stress by to their respective teams that they will not accept a half-A$$ approach to this competition any more. If USL can do it then your local MLS team simply has no excuse for their performances and if its a motivation thing then you really must question why MLS teams are not motivated to win in the region's top club competition. I want to keep supporting MLS and what it means it means to American soccer but this does not come with a blank check. MLS needs to do whatever it takes to max out MLS teams performances but the fans must demand to their front offices and to the league that they expect nothing but a winning attitude.

Posted by: degerron | March 4, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

It's a nice thought, and I appreciate your enthusiasm, but if I thought I could simply demand a winning side in any sport, through fan pressure, I'm sure we'd all be on it...

Posted by: JkR- | March 4, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Houston lost due to several factors, most notably they lacked a difference maker like DeRosario. Holden does not consistently play at his best yet, if he did, then he would compensate for De-Ro's loss. Also Waibel is not an MLS starter as evident in that goal.

Posted by: Charisma_Man | March 4, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Steve. I'm tired of pre-season excuses for Houston. The reality is the Dynamo are not that great a team. Houston lost every competition they entered in the 2008-2009 season. That includes the MLS Cup, Pan-Pacific Championship, Superliga, MLS Supporters Shield, and US Open Cup. I'm sick of reading about the "two-time defending MLS champions." Houston Dynamo failed to live up to the hype.

Meanwhile, despite a disappointing MLS season, DC United won the 2008 US Open Cup and qualified for this season's CCL. Hopefully they'll have a better run in '09.

Posted by: Brokenbil | March 4, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Did you see the third goal by Maldonado?

Only a couple players in MLS have the technical skill to bring that ball down and then roof it like that--Angel, Donovan, maybe Rolfe, we'll see about Montero.

There are so many sprinters and back-to-goal guys in MLS, and so few technical finishers.

Houston was like a hard-working hospital staff without any surgeons.

Posted by: StanShmenge | March 4, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I only caught the second half, but was I right in hearing that Houston was only playing three defenders? On the road?

Nothaving DeRo was a given last night (plus losing the other two starters).

Another factor is that Houston has almost always better later in the season, no matter what the setting.

Posted by: EricB1 | March 4, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

DeRo didn't do anything last season.
The problem was a missing Boswell and Robinson.
Maldonado's goal to make it 3-0 was the only Impressive goal of the match.

Posted by: DadRyan | March 4, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

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