What a frustrating season!
Come back, Frankie and Johnnie, all is forgiven... Between an injury list
longer than the local news' summary of the match, some astonishingly
disconnected and dispirited play, and officiating calls that only make sense
under alternative laws of physics, this has not been a happy season, even if
you somehow manage to blot out the axe hanging over everyone's head all
season. (And who can?)
How can the same set of players who turned in such wonderful performances
last year walk through great chunks of matches showing nothing
in the way of offense? How can the guys noted for team-effort work-rate and
pressing their opponents all over the field go for twenty minutes at a time
without any possession at all? How can the same guy who is clearly the best one
on the field every time he puts on the national uniform spend so much time
aimlessly noodling around the center circle at Spartan? How can it be that the
most hapless player at beating defenders one on one is the only one even
I do not count myself among the Dom bashers. Still, one thing that was
always striking about Yallop's teams is: they adjusted at half time, and played
better in the second half. Kinnear seems to lack that knack. Kinnear also seems
to keep his subs on the bench until it is way too late for them to make a
difference. I also think that all the off-field turmoil has put Kinnear in an
almost impossible situation: a large part of football is in the head, and if
you have a bunch of guys fretting and anxious about their futures, it doesn't
help keep their heads in the game.
Still, we don't have to be blind, stupid, and desperate to keep watching.
The Quakes show enough of what they are capable of to make the fans crazy,
that's all. As Wynalda said, there's a difference between a bad team and a good
team playing badly. Unfortunately, we've seen too much of a good team playing
badly this year. On the other hand, we've also seen some breathtakingly
beautiful stuff. It's always been the question this year: which team will it be
today? The heartless duffers running the ball forwards and hoping for the best?
Or the footballing gods making the other team look like practice cones?
It I were picking the line-up:
In the abstract, I'd do it this way, which is pretty much what Kinnear has
Up front: Ching and Donovan. I like this pairing. In the Poland game you
could see it start to work for the US, as well, and it saved the United States
in the qualifier with Jamaica. It was what led to the West's goal in the
All Star Game. I think in general Donovan is more effective coming in as an
attacking midfielder, but at Spartan it just doesn't work. Maybe for away games
withdraw Donovan and put in some combination of DeRosario, Alvarez, Walker,
etc. but really, Donovan and Ching is it. They just know how to work together.
Midfield: Mulrooney and Ekelund in the middle, Mullen and DeRosario wide.
Now that Ekelund is fit for a whole game, I'd stick with this, or maybe drop in
Corrales if DeRosario starts running out of steam or for a more defensive look.
If Ekelund or Mulrooney isn't available for some reason, I like Alvarez
inside. Russell in wide for some late speed, if need be. Starting Corrales wide,
especially against counter-attacking teams that bunker down, is just pointless:
he cannot cannot cannot beat people one on one. I like DeRosario as a wide
midfielder much (much) better.
Defense: Gee, any 4 breathing bodies that can walk! In an ideal world, Dayak
and Agoos healthy in the middle, Dunivant and Waibel wide.
Goalkeeper: Have to go with Onstad, although he's made some outstanding
blunders this year. When Onstad's off with Canada, I'd like to see what Cronin
can do. I know what Conway can do, and I don't like the looks of it.
On the other hand, right now what the team needs is a dose of passion. They
need to get their heads back in the game, to want to win, and
to believe they can win. The key to this team, it seems to me, is the
motivation of two players: Donovan and Ekelund. Motivating Donovan is easy: sit
him for a game. The next game he plays like a mad genius and no one can stop
him. Unfortunately, we've run out of games in which we can afford to sit
Donovan. Maybe a half game? Ekelund is more of a puzzle. But it's clear: the
games he comes out energized for, the team looks awesome. The games he comes
out more quietly, they look lame. Maybe part of it isn't so much motivation but
how much he gets knocked about early on. So, picking a team for passion:
Defense: Robinson, Dayak, Agoos, Waibel.
Sure, Robinson looks like a red card waiting to happen everytime he
comes on. I say, the team needs an enforcer right now. And if he gets sent off
for whacking the guy who is whacking Ekelund and Mulrooney, well, I'm thinking
that's a good exchange. We want heart. So, Dayak.
Midfield: Wide we start with Mullan and Corrales. Mullan always plays for
keeps. Play him 60 minutes and then put in Russell. No one messes with
Russell and lives. As for Corrales: He's the only one on the team to
consistently play with everything he's got. The boy cannot beat defenders one on
one. He hits the upper deck with every shot. But he plays with heart.
In the center we stick with Ekelund and Mulrooney but we put whatever Ekelund
needs in his Wheaties to make him fiery and we send Robinson to remind anyone
who takes a pop at either one that hacking is a two-way street. (I'm tired of
Mulrooney getting levelled 10-15 times a game, getting up, wincing, carrying on
without a complaint, and few fouls and fewer cards anywhere in sight. The
Quakes should be tired of that too, and should think about getting mad about
it.) If Ekelund looks off his game, Dombrowski (for effort) or Alvarez (for
interesting and creative passing).
Up front. We either sit Donovan for a half, or do whatever mental
manipulations are required to make him feel the same way, then put him in. In
the meanwhile, we put the crazy Canadian up front. Ching gets a half (the same
half as Donovan) and which point he gets replaced with, um, here it gets hard,
Mullan perhaps, and someone else to replace him on the wing.
- 1 Jon Conway
- Keeper. He's not a bad keeper, really, but the whole
defense looks less organized and solid when he's in goal. Very weak on high
crosses. Gives up too many rebounds. Can make some nice reaction saves, and
he's a big lad with a long reach.
- 2 Eddie Robinson
- Defender. Out injured much of the season. He had
improved a lot last season, but still always looks like a red card in
progress. Doesn't make stupid mistakes otherwise.
- 5 Ramiro Corrales
- Midfielder. Corrales looks more sure and solid
with every game. In the first Dallas game he was the brightest spot for the
Quakes: the only one who looked like he wanted to win and had a clue how to
achieve it. In the most recent Dallas game he was on fire, playing his best
game ever. His shooting, however, continues to be wildly off target more often
than not (clue: a good shot does not go out into the upper deck for a throw in),
and he has an unfortunate tendency to attempt to beat defenders instead of
laying the ball off. Unfortunate, because he lacks the ability to beat
defenders and loses the ball when he tries it. Every. Single. Time.
- 6 Ronnie Ekelund
- Midfielder. Ekelund has struggled with injury this
season as well. He's gradually started to look life his old self and
played really, really well. Not fast, but excellent passing, great
decision-making, good vision. The last couple of games he has been on fire,
even running at the defense, which isn't a huge part of his repertoire.
- 7 Ian Russell
- Midfield/forward. Russell works immensely hard every
game, but his decision-making and aim have been wayward of late. On form he
takes on defenders one on one, beats them, and lays in good crosses. Off form,
he goes for the easy backwards pass instead of beating defenders and skies
crosses into the stands. Has a scowl that could melt glass.
- 8 Richard Mulrooney
- Midfielder. Mulrooney epitomizes what the Quakes
are all about: not flashy, just a lot of hard work and hustle. Lots of assists,
barely any goals. With the rest of the midfield this season has had a hard time
connecting with the forwards. When he has a good game, the team does well. When
he has a bad game, they look lost. He gets banged around every single game, and
just gets right on up and keeps going.
- 9 Brian Mullen
- Forward/midfield. Mullen works immensely hard every
game. He doesn't appear to have a lower gear. Takes people on one-on-one very
well, never gives up, and causes a lot of trouble either taking the ball in
himself or crossing it.
- 10 Landon Donovan
- Forward. Or perhaps a midfielder. Donovan gets
better and better, which is obvious when he's playing with the nationals, and
not always apparent with the Quakes (sigh) where he has the habit of checking
out of the game for a half an hour or so. Yes, everything they say about him is
true: the speed, the touch, the vision, the making everyone around him better.
This gets mentioned less, but is also true: he works hard. For every blazing
run up the side towards goal, there were a couple of blazing runs across field
or tracking back to snuff out an opposing attack and win back the ball.
This is almost certainly his last season in San Josť, enjoy him while you may.
- 11 Arturo Alvarez
- Midfield/forward. Kinnear plays Alvarez wide when
he plays him, but I like the looks of him coming inside. He has a lot of skill
and energy as a forward, but his creative and skillful playmaking is what sets
- 12 Jeff Agoos
- Defender. Agoos has also lost a lot to injury this
year. Even when he can hardly move, the whole team plays better to have him on
the field. Demonstrates on a regular basis that age and cunning trumps youth
and speed. The best reader of the ball out there, Agoos anticipates trouble so
well that he will snuff it out before it became a problem. A sharp tackler, but
(usually) a clean one.
- 13 Jamil Walker
- Forward. Light and lanky, Walker runs like a
colt. Has a lot of speed, but doesn't always know what to do with it.
- 14 Dwayne DeRosario
- Forward. Seeing him play for Canada was an
eye-opener and made us wonder if the Quakes hadn't been playing him in the
wrong spot all these years. As a wide midfielder he was dominating and
dangerous. As a target man he can be frustrating to watch. Has a tendency to
take on just one too many defenders instead of passing. Still, his energy and
unpredictability can work well. We love the fact that he cuts defenses no slack
whatever: there is no back pass, at no time of the game, regardless of the
score-line, that DeRo won't chase.
- 15 Roger Levesque
- Forward. Haven't seen much of the kid so far.
- 16 Craig Waibel
- Defender. Solid. Seems to be making fewer
ill-considered appalling fouls this season.
- 17 Todd Dunivant
- Defender. Todd spent the first half of the season
injured and the second half playing as inconsistently as the rest of the team.
When he's playing well, he plays like a man with about 15 more years experience.
Extremely sure-footed, reads the game well, very nice first touch. Comes
forward to very good effect, where he can beat defenders and lay in a sweet
ball to the middle. To top it all off, he has a throw-in that can make it two
thirds the way across the field (well, at Spartan, at any rate) with no
apparent effort on the kid's part. When he's playing poorly, he makes very poor
reads of the ball, leaves the back exposed by coming forward at the wrong time,
and passes poorly.
- 18 Pat Onstad
- Keeper. When he is good, he is very, very good. When
he is bad, he is rotten. When he is in goal, the whole defense plays with
more coordination and confidence. Great in the air, astonishing reflexes, and a
throw that can reach the other half of the field. But, oh my! Does he get badly
beaten by shots from outside the box on a regular occasion. And when he gives
up a rebound, its a bad one.
- 19 Troy Dayak
- Central defender. A rock. Dayak anchoring
the center of defense with Agoos -- what more could you ask for? Well, keeping
them healthy, for one thing. Dayak has spent more time on the injury roster
than off it. I expect this is his last season.
- 20 Ryan Cochrane
- Defender. The rookie has been asked to do a lot
this season, and he hasn't always been up to the challenge. He has made some
very bad, crucial mistakes.
- 21 Tighe Dombrowski
- Midfielder. Hasn't had a lot of playing time
yet, but we like what we've seen so far: a lot of determination and energy, and
no little amount of skill.
- 22 Wes Hart
- Defender. Hart has been brought in to plug the gaping
injury holes. He's been OK, but not stellar. He's missed some crucial
assignments at times.
- 23 Chris Brown
- Midfielder/forward. I like the way Brown shugs off
defenders as he runs at them. His passing lacks a certain creativity and
precision, however. (Perhaps we have been spoiled by Donovan and Ekelund.)
- 24 Steve Cronin
- Keeper. Both for Santa Clara and for the U20s he
impressed the heck out of me. Just all around solid, plus some stellar reaction
saves. I'd like to see him get his chance instead of Conway when Onstad is off
- 25 Brian Ching
- Forward. Ching is a big lad, who knows how to throw
his weight around and hold off defenders. He makes excellent runs, and takes
chances when they present themselves. Doesn't seem to combine very well with
DeRosario or Walker, however. Donovan or Alvarez works much better.
In the Poland game he brought more to the game in 20 minutes than McBride did
the whole rest of the game. Ditto in the Jamaica game, where the Donovan to
Ching combo pulled the United States collective bacon out of the fire. Maybe
Arena will get the clue and dump McBride in his favour. And, well, apparently
Arena is a clever as he thinks he is, because he did just that against El
Salvador and was rewarded with a goal.