It's the All Star Break, but the MLS action is hardly slowing. A few of the MLS players with Euro passports look to be on their way in the transfer window including Holden, Carl Robinson, and Andy Iro. The Red Bulls finally put a dent in the Galaxy, spanking them 3-0 to jump ahead of us (temporarily) on the leader board. Sadly for NY though, they've just accepted an offer from Galatasary for Angel, who is pretty much the be-all and end-all of their team...
The All Star game was a disaster for MLS, Angel bagged two, one on either side of Stuttgart's opener, but then the Germans put in three without reply to win 4-2. Camara (my United's only rep in the All Star game despite going into the break at the top of the Eastern Conference) had a miserable time, earning the worst rating (by far) on the day and getting yanked at half-time. They better not have killed his confidence.
Colorado: (W 3-2) I wanted to stamp our authority all over this one early and give the Rapids no chance of recovery, and it was all going so swimmingly for the first fifteen minutes. Then Casey nodded home a free kick. We pushed hard for the equalizer, but they scored again, this time from a direct free kick. I pulled back the troops and started to play a more controlled possession game and was rewarded by one, then another Boswell goal, both from close range on corner kicks. Only then did we hit halftime...phew! Turns out the new d-mid, Sosa, was at fault for the first goal and had been having a terrible half. Yanked him, turned to the generally reliable, if unspectacular, Simms, and went into the second with renewed purpose. Within two minutes, Quaranta floated a cross for Rogers at the back post to slot home and we were up. From there it was a lot of possession, a handful of long rangers blazed into the crowd from Lopez (I was resting Camara after the All Star Game just two days before), and a couple of nervous moments at the end, but we took all three points.
Simms picked up a thigh strain, joining Benny on the short-term injury list. With Sosa sucking mightily in the last match and Jacobson still out with a long-term injury, we have a mini-crisis in the holding midfield slots...just as the big "top of the East" Atlantic Cup grudge match with New York approaches in midweek...
New York: (W 1-0) Galatasaray backed out of their deal for Angel, which sucks for me and for the rest of MLS. Fortunately, Boswell put the shackles on him for this match, which was characterized not just by the typical midfield battles (pretty much every midfielder who started the game ended it either injured or on a yellow) but by strong possession play from both teams. We had by far the better and more numerous chances, but Camara was stoned on three clear looks (7 shots, 5 on frame for him alone). Vavá had his first really good game for us, spraying passes and looking lively. Boswell was the man of the match again though, nodding home yet another corner with 15 minutes left to continue his recent scoring run. Clean sheet!
@San Jose: (D 0-0) You know the match. Middle of the summer. Two tired teams. Heavy legs. Heavier passing. We had the majority of the chances, but only a couple of clear-cut ones, and Cannon came up big for them on those. I had to back off my normal high-pressure game because I only have three fit central midfielders and all of them were hovering around 90% fitness when we kicked off. I also had to swap out half of the eleven that started against New York because of the short rest. Regardless, another clean sheet, and we now have a week to get the legs back and heal up. Moreno picked up a groin strain late on and will be out for a few weeks.
Boswell wins Player of the Month for July!
The Board Confidence update brings me these two unsurprising nuggets...
@Houston: (W 4-0) Marched into Houston and massacred them. The score was a bit flattering as the play was more even than a 4-0 would indicate, but they didn't really have any clear chances, all of their shots coming from distance or challenged headers. Our wings got us started, with Tino diving onto a Rogers cross, and Rogers tucking home from a tight angle after being played through by Vavá. The playmaker called his own number next after a Camara shot pinged back off the upright. 3-0 at the half. The second stanza was pretty boring stuff. Them lumping balls long. Us dominating midfield and launching counters. A couple of tough offsides calls against our guys. And Jakovic completing his return to form by heading home a corner in the dying minutes. Szetela and Boswell picked up knocks in the match, but neither appears to be serious. Three clean sheets in a row? Goals from corners? Who is this team?
Looks like Claudio Lopez is going to be leaving us in the offseason. His contract was running out and he didn't want to re-up. Instead, he's signed for Elche of the Spanish second division.
Player of the Week sweep! Rogers won, with Vavá in second, and Jakovic third.
Columbus beats out RSL to make it to the Open Cup final, while Chicago downs New York in the other semifinal...apparently, no trophies are allowed for Metrobull, even in FM.
Camara is going through a pretty barren spell at the moment (damn All Star game seems to have killed his form), though his morale is still high. If Jaime were healthy, I'm not sure Henri would automatically be starting every game.
Kansas City: (W 3-1) Baldomero Toledo hates us. Proof? How about five yellow cards in the first half for us versus none for them, despite the fact that they committed more fouls? Whatever. We started poorly, Emilio (he's a Wizard now, remember?) crossing into a crowded box. Wolff ran over our keeper, the ball popped free, and Arnaud buried it. All within the first two minutes. By minute 10 we were exerting our normal possession stranglehold, but couldn't seem to make any good chances. No matter. Hartman provided the RFK faithful with some chuckles by trying to tip over a lofted Boswell free kick from the midfield stripe. Unfortunately for him, despite nobody else being in the box, he managed to push the ball into his own net. Shortly thereafter, Rogers ate up turf on the left, beat his man and crossed for Vavá to prod home. With Camara suddenly goal-shy, Moreno still dinged, and Lopez pissing me off by signing with somebody else in midweek, I gave the start to Pontius up top. He rewarded my faith by burying a "fierce shot" from well outside the box just after the second half kickoff. Despite a few scares down the stretch, we kept them out to post our second consecutive victory despite not completely dominating the match.
Ouch! Mexico smashed the USA 4-0 in the Azteca, though the match stats were more even than the score would suggest. The USA is still three points clear in the third auto-qualifying spot with four games to go. Strange how the fictional world works though, here's the Hex after six games: Mexico (16), El Salvador (11), USA (10), T&T (7), Honduras (4) Costa Rica (3). Even weirder? Looking over the USA's extended roster, there's not a single player that I doubt should be there... save one. For some reason, Dasan Robinson is good enough for Nats duty despite having been released by Chicago way back in April. And he was on the bench at the Azteca. Odd. Hmmm. Noticed another, though Thorrington actually has been capped... and is apparently a Premier League player in England now, with Burnley. Weird.
@Toronto: (D 1-1) Barrett put them up after 30 seconds, and they were all over us for the first 10 minutes. Overconfidence by my boys? Perhaps. But there's a reason we're confident. After a quarter of an hour, we were level, Quaranta beating Brennan on the dribble and drilling a cross that the onrushing Vavá headed in from inside the six. The rest of the match was a series of decent chances for both sides. I didn't push the attack as much as I might because I was nervous about Guevara delivering for their ultra-dangerous wingers to pounce on the counter. Still, we had a huge chance to win it in stoppage time. Olsen chipped in Tino, who was one on one with Frei. The angle was maybe a little sharper than would have been ideal, but I still would have banked on Tino to finish the chance. Sadly, he barfed on it, though he was still awarded man of the match. Gonzalez in net seems to have recovered from his early struggles and has been pulling off some excellent saves of late.
The international transfer window slams shut, and with it any chance of Fred returning to Brazil before the season's end...
In the buildup to the "Top of the East vs. Top of the West" match, the Bruce says hello...
Los Angeles: (W 2-0) Came out to dominate from the open. LA have a good record, but they're doing it through being compact defensively and hitting on set pieces and counters. I told my boys to play it aggressive and up-tempo (their defenders aren't the quickest), getting the ball wide, but to keep numbers back and play possession. We were all over them from the opening whistle though we went to halftime only up 1-0 courtesy of first Rogers then Vavá dancing around the edge of the box before feeding Camara for the finish (finally!). Started the second by playing a higher line and looking to keep the ball in their end. Within 30 seconds we were up 2-0; Namoff played in Tino, who cut inside before reversing a ball back into Vavá's path. The Brazilian made no mistake with the near post finish. LA then proceeded to test us from three dead ball opportunities in quick succession leading to my eventual reining in of the horses to kill things off. Fred, on as a late sub, fashioned a glorious chance for himself in stoppage time, weaving past three defenders before bouncing his shot off Ricketts in the LA net.
[CCL] @Sugar Boys Juventus: (W 1-0) With the brutal summer coming to a close and going in as heavy favorites, I ran out a completely changed eleven save for Camara up top. He's been in pretty miserable form of late, so I figured I'd try to get him a goal or two to boost the confidence as we get ready for the home stretch. He answered the bell early to put us up, but then we misfired the rest of the match, only managing to put two of our many, many shots on target. A comfortable victory to have in hand going into the second leg in RFK, but I've little doubt that the supporters won't be impressed with the 1-0 edge. Neither am I.
@Chicago: (D 1-1) Hard fought draw. We dominated possession in their house, but both sides managed to create a half-dozen good chances. Quaranta gave us the lead from the spot after being fouled by Woolard in the box in first half stoppage time, but Blanco equalized for them off a Mapp cross with 15 minutes left. Camara is still in rotten form, a shadow of his former self. The question becomes: who do I turn to for the goals now? The aging and slowing but precise Moreno? The young and hungry but often wayward Pontius? Or the classy Lopez, who's never really produced and will be on his way at the close of the season? A word of note about Habarugira. He's taken his chance with the fixture congestion and solidified his place at left back ahead of Myers and Wallace. Maybe I'll try to use Rogers' quickness up top and play Wallace as my left-sided attacker?
[CCL] Sugar Boys Juventus: (W 5-0) Even with a few of my starters rested, this was never a contest. Vavá opened our account on twelve minutes after Pontius, auditioning for the role of striker in place of Camara, failed to hit the net with three golden chances. Of course, then he snatched at a Quaranta cross and first-timed a volley into the upper 90 from 25 yards to double our lead. We managed 25 shots, with 12 on target, to 2 shots, none on target for them. Our possession was close to 70%. Still, it took three late goals, a long-rang rocket from Szetela and close range headers from Moreno and Rogers, make the result more emphatic. I'm still not sure what to do about the mini-crisis at striker. Pontius scored a fantastic goal, but choked on about five great chances (the kinds that Camara had previously been burying) in a hour of action up top. Lopez did squat in his 15 minute trial, and Moreno didn't do much but connect on a Pontius cross inside the six.
The international break sees us sending three players away for national team duty. Camara, now that his form has turned, finally gets a call from Senegal (go figure), while Boswell and Olsen get called in by Bob Bradley. Boswell deserves the call, he's been the rock around which our new defensive solidity is built. But Olsen? He can barely get into my team at the moment and is coming off a string of injuries that have severely limited his minutes. Odd.
Here's the tale of the table on the back end of the summer...
With a handful of games remaining on our regular season schedule, we're in the driver's seat for the Supporters' Shield. Now that we're finally starting to pitch some shut-outs, our defense is starting to rival the best in the league (note that Arena's LA have finally come back to earth in that department), while our offense, though sputtering a bit of late, is easily the class of MLS. Of course, there's always that worry about Camara losing form, and the next couple of months will be busy, busy, busy, with October looking particularly hectic as the Champions' League group stage gets rolling. The draw has been made, and (lucky us!) we're in the Group of Death alongside Toluca, Saprissa, and LA Firpo. We start away to Toluca. Fun, fun, fun!
Think I'm making a mess of this? Grab a copy of Football Manager 2010and have a go yourself. Then write it up and post it to your own blog or send me a copy and I might post it here on FBF...