Revolution midfield fails to live up to billing
All the ingredients were there.
A state of the art soccer facility jam packed with fans, a perfect playing surface, gorgeous weather, and MLS star quality with Landon Donovan and league MVP Taylor Twellman. And Texas hospitality.
In the end like many championships in sports, the game did not deliver to expectations unless you were a Los Angeles Galaxy fan. The real star of the show was the Pizza Hut Park and the environment in Frisco, Texas. For the Galaxy, an unlikely source emerged with Guatemalan international midfielder Pando Ramirez providing the game winning goal in overtime.
One of the league's biggest disappointments during the regular season for the Galaxy, Ramirez had been tried at wide and central midfield by Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson with mixed results throughout the year. Ironically he even lost his starting job at the end of the season to Ned Grabavoy. However, in the end Ramirez's goal would be the payback Sampson had been waiting for and the difference in the 2005 MLS Cup Final.
But there was more to examine around this game. Like what happened to the New England midfield? Clearly rich in resources in that area, the Revs midfield faltered and left Taylor Twellman out to dry in this tenth MLS Cup final. From my seat at the Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, TX I could feel Twellman's frustration. His lifeline was cut off.
Lacking any decisive wide play from Steve Ralston and James Riley, the Revs were never able to get in behind the Galaxy defense effectively. As a result, the Revs were unable to provide Twellman with the service he thrives on. In Ralston's defense he was playing injured with a hamstring problem. Rookie Riley seemed preoccupied with the ever dangerous Cobi Jones.
That lack of penetration from wide areas allowed Galaxy defenders Ugo Ihemelu and Tyrone Marshall to thrive in the middle of defense. Rarely did they get pulled out of the middle, which limited Twellman's space to operate in.
On the other foot, New England's talented central midfield of Shalrie Joseph, Daniel Hernandez, and Clint Dempsey could not figure out a comfortable method of defending the Galaxy. The Rev's midfield did not live up to the star billing with the play being methodical and without an extra edge in attack. Only when Uruguayan Jose Cancela came out did the Revs make you feel they might find an idea or play to break down their opponents.
Nine minutes into overtime Cancela forced a huge save out of Kevin Hartman after a powerful blast from 20 yards out. Neither team played the majority of this match with a true out and out attacking midfielder. In New England's case it was possibly a mistake as the Revs needed a more creative element out of midfield to counter the poor wide play. The Galaxy defended consistently with seven and eight players and relied on the trio of Donovan, Jones, and Herculez Gomez.
Ironically, on a day where many felt the Revolution midfield might get the edge it was the Galaxy who won the middle of the field. The Revs were never able to get that tactic-altering first goal that would have forced the Galaxy to come out and commit more players into the attack. Despite not having a dominant game, Donovan was imbedded deep in the minds of the Revolution throughout the game.
One got the feeling the longer the game went scoreless the more it favored the Galaxy. You just never really felt that the Revolution could beat the Galaxy defense. In the end the game lacked rhythm due to a methodical pace for long stretches, little risk taking, incessant fouls called, and maybe the pressure of a final. The goals did not rain down like in the last two MLS Cups held at the Home Depot Center but the game still sent a clear message.
MLS is all about timing.
Los Angeles timed it to perfection this year finding their best form at the right time defeating a New England team that clearly had a more consistent overall season. Let's just hope that teams don't get into a deeper trend of devaluing the regular season.
As I left Pizza Hut Park I remembered back to the last MLS regular season game for Los Angeles when they got beat soundly 3-1 at home by San Jose. The Earthquakes may have done the Galaxy a great favor in that last game by providing them with a real platform for motivation to win an MLS Cup.
Glenn Davis is a soccer columnist for The Houston Chronicle and ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org