Photo by Thomas Shea from Superliga 2008 website
As we enter the knock out stages of Superliga 2008 let me state that while the intensity level was as high for these matches last year the football has been much better this year. No offense to anybody but an LA Galaxy side featuring Alan Gordon and Edson Buddle as starting forwards and an injured David Beckham would not have advanced to the knock out stages of this year’s tournament. That having been said MLS has a lot to live up to in the performance of the Galaxy in last year’s knock out stages. David Beckham’s free kick to sink DC United was a thing of beauty, and Chris Klein’s stoppage time bicycle kick was the type of magic that MLS sides have rarely if ever produced in a critical moment of a match of international significance. Had the Galaxy won the pk shootout that moment would have been etched in stone as one of the greatest in the history of Major League Soccer. I still a year later feel a tinge of sadness that the Galaxy did not win that match. That night they were a credit to MLS and to the game of football even if too often last year they were simply a traveling circus without an effective ring leader.
Alas, the Galaxy did not win the tournament the year FMF sides used the competition as a pre-season warmup. Now the event is being taken seriously, and every participating side came to play, and came to win. Atlante was humbled 4-0 by the Houston Dynamo in the first match but manager Guadalupe Cruz told Telefutura after the match that his side psychologically had been beaten down and he wouldn’t let that happen again. The match which was the first decided by more than one goal in Superliga history actually provided the impetus for the Cancun based side to play some of the best football of the tournament in their next two matches sweeping away DC United and Guadalajara.
For the second consecutive year , CD Guadalajara (Chivas) needed only a draw against a fellow FMF side in the final group match to advance to the knock out stage of the Superliga, and for the second consecutive year Chivas got beat and saw their opponent celebrate advancement. But this year Chivas looked more willing to take chances against Atlante than they did last year against Pachuca and tried to make a game of it. But the reality was Atlante was just too good, and Chivas’ backline suspect. When you consider that Guadalajara got some great breaks like facing Houston with Franco Carracio as the main scoring threat two days before he was waived while Dwayne DeRosario severed a suspension and having three DC United shots hit the post in their victory at RFK Stadium, any whining about not going through to the semifinals despite having a superior goal difference than Atlante should be spared here. Atlante showed the character that allowed them to win the fall Mexican Apertura in their first competition since picking up and leaving Mexico City for Cancun by crushing Chivas in the winner take all match.
In addition, Johnny Magallon who is Mexico’s starting central defender surely did not impress Sven Goran Eriksson who has taken in many Superliga matches with his poor display of positioning and defending. Eriksson who took in many of the matches in person during this competition had to be impressed however with Edgar Castillio and Fernando Arce of Santos Laguna, who could feel hard done by only achieving a draw in a tournament where they seemed to lack the type of luck that Guadalajara received.
However when it comes down to it Pachuca is still the team to beat in these competitions. An indifferent Clausura season in Mexico has not prevented the defending champions of this event from coming to the USA and playing some outstanding football. Despite my pre tournament concerns about the age of Pachuca’s midfield, they have not only held up thus far but essentially controlled the bulk of the two of the teams three Superliga matches. They next face a familiar foe: Houston
We’ve seen Pachuca take care of Houston on two previous occasions at this stage of a tournament including last year’s Superliga. While Houston will have revenge on their mind and will no doubt play lights out to win the semifinals would it be smart to actually pick against Pachuca at this stage against an opponent who completely lacks confidence when facing the likes of Christian Gimenez, Gabriel Cabbalero and others? Not having Stuart Holden, the leading goal scorer in Superliga 2008 who is currently with US Olympic Team preparing to face the world in Beijing is not going to help the Dynamo’s cause.
New England has been outstanding in this tournament. Mexican teams are getting a dose of what it’s like to face a disciplined, tactical European side when facing Steve Nicol’s team which features Shalrie Joseph and Steve Ralston in the midfield. In addition, the speed of Nyassi, Mansallay and Dube gave both Santos Laguna and Pachuca fits. The Revs use patient buildup instead of the frantic going forward without rhyme or reason style many Mexican sides play to break down their opponent and achieve results. Atlante has been outstanding in their last two matches but again having watched New England in this tournament who’d bet against them?
Chivas USA’s performance was a credit to their manager Preki and to the determination of Ante Razov who even at 34 is probably the best striking option for the US National Team. Razov scored in all three Superliga matches and has in fact scored a goal in six consecutive competitive matches for the Goats. However, no other Chivas player has scored during that stretch and in this tournament Sacha Kljestan, another US Olympian was frustrating. He mixed moments of absolute brilliance with moments of stupidity while his team mate Pablo Nagumura, normally steady seemed reckless in this tournament. Chivas was good, but not good enough in a tough group.
That leads us to the one team that hasn’t been discussed in this post to this point. The one team that doesn’t deserve to be discussed, DC United. The performance of United who entered the tournament never having once lost a match to an FMF side at RFK Stadium and three days later had two losses to FMF sides defies all explanation and logic. Sure Marcello Gallardo and Gonzalo Peralta were hurt and Tom Soehn seemed to aggravate Santino Quaranta’s injury by playing him when the team was desperate for a result against Atlante. But the red and black have historically always had a standard in these competitions you could count on regardless of who dawned the jersey. But this week was certainly forgettable in the proud history of DC United, and was culminated by a smashing defeat at the hands of Houston in front of one of the smallest weekend RFK Stadium crowds I can recall going back to 1996. DC was in a word embarrassed and whether or not you take Superliga seriously, their effort didn’t bring any credit to themselves or to MLS.
The TV coverage for these matches on Telefutura has been outstanding. Like last year, the network is utilizing a two man booth and sideline reporter at the matches as well as a studio host. This pales in comparison to the typical Telefutura MLS broadcast that is done at the low end with commentators calling the matches of a TV monitor, and not providing much in the way of pre game or post game analysis.
Superliga is a big event when you base it on how Telefutura covers it compared to its weekly MLS or FMF matches. Only in the Mexican playoffs do their production quality or overall game packaging approach that of Superliga. Then to add the HD component which Telefutura has offered for these matches in selected metropolitan areas (including Miami where I reside) and Superliga 2008 has been slam dunk event for the viewer. Let’s hope this continues in the knock out stages.