Upsets galore; Dallas' Ferreira is playoff MVP thus far (cont.)
But another Earthquake has a good case, too. The Bay bunch wouldn't even have been in a position to make Convey's big night matter if not for Jon Busch. The American keeper's big saves a week earlier at Buck Shaw Stadium helped limit the damage as San Jose meekly acquiesced in that 1-0, opening-leg loss. Busch was big in the return leg, too, with timely saves and other important interventions near goal. (And kudos, once again, to manager Frank Yallop for shrewdly collecting Busch off the scrap heap after his surprising release from Chicago.)
For Dallas, there was big, brave defending by center backs Ugo Ihemelu and George John. There was goalkeeping by Kevin Hartman that was solid overall, sometimes superb and occasionally serendipitous. And there was gritty diligence from midfielder Dax McCarty, who also had the critical goal in Saturday's dramatic 1-1 draw, which was good enough to clinch the series.
But it was Dallas' David Ferreira who helped arrange all three FCD goals in the series, including McCarty's. A week earlier, the tightly packed Colombian creator zipped a pass into Jeff Cunningham for one goal. Later he used that low center of gravity to hold off three hardy RSL challenges, keeping possession before slipping the ball to Eric Avila for a game-winner.
4. Whither Columbus: You have to wonder if big changes are on the way for the Crew. It's not a cinch, and a wholesale shakeup seems unlikely, although a big decision surely looms over a certain former league MVP.
But honestly, things weren't that bad in Crew-ville this year. Second in the East. Runner up in the U.S. Open Cup. Advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. See ... not bad.
And yet, change may be hard to avoid as the club crashed out in the first round of the playoffs once again. And fading down the stretch will always draw the harsher rebuke; if you start slowly, gain momentum and then crash out with a mighty fight, you get the benefit of the doubt because appearances say you're on the rise. The way Columbus has done it two years in a row -- not so much.
Saturday's second half was a microcosm of the entire season. Coach Robert Warzycha's team was large and in charge over the first 45, probably unlucky not to have a bigger lead than 1-0. But the team faded noticeably in the second half -- not unlike the way it looked (slow, haggard) over the last few weeks of the season.
But it's not like the team is that old. It may seem so because two prominent players are so far north of 30: Guillermo Barros Schelotto is 37, and Frankie Hejduk is 36. And neither was particularly impressive over two legs against Colorado's bunch of busy bees.
Otherwise, the bulk of Columbus' roster is fairly young. Look at the foursome that got the job done and then some Saturday: Eddie Gaven is 24, Emmanuel Ekpo is 22, Robbie Rogers is 23 and Chad Marshall is 26. (All four turned in strong performances in Saturday's return leg.) When someone who is 26 represents the old man of your engine block, you're doing something right.
So what gives?
One explanation for two first-round exits as favorites is a lack of a reliable striker to combine with and get the best from Schelotto. And haven't we played this broken record around Crew Stadium before?
Steven Lenhart, more a banger and brawler than a technician near goal, scored six times this year. That's just not enough for your first-choice striker. That actually represented an improvement over last year's top-choice striker, Alejandro Moreno, who hit just four times in 2009. Management simply must do better at identifying and securing someone with a better nose for goal.
As for Schelotto, he wants one more season in Ohio, but hardly helped his case with two ineffective playoff nights. Would he have looked better with an A-list striker playing in front of him? We may never know.
Either way, Warzycha seems likely to return -- even if the breathless, reactionary public sentiment is leaning elsewhere. The owner, Hunt Sports Group, is always fairly conservative on these matters. Remember, a lot of the same folks once wanted Schmid fired in Columbus a few years back -- until he brought a championship to Ohio, that is.
5. Farewell to Angel: Could the answer for Columbus be found just east, where Juan Pablo Angel seems to have scored the last of his 58 goals with the Red Bulls?
Angel, 35, feels unwanted, and team officials haven't exactly argued the point. It looks like a foregone conclusion that the talented, veteran Colombian won't return to New York for a fifth season.
But was Angel really that bad? Or was he merely inadequate for the DP price? After all, he did score the goal that appeared to put the Red Bulls back in the thick of things last Thursday. If only Henry could say the same -- the fab Frenchman blew it, launching his late, unchallenged header from point-blank range safely over the crossbar.
Angel still seems to have something to offer. He ranked sixth this season with 13 goals. And his target play would be perfect for some clubs -- including a couple still in the playoffs.
Dallas' 4-1-4-1 formation is ideal for a hold-up sort. One dirty little secret is that the Red Stripes are getting it done despite two strikers, Milton Rodriguez and Cunningham, who are completely ill suited for the role that such a system truly requires.
Elsewhere, San Jose's direct approach needs a target man, and Angel would definitely be an upgrade over Ryan Johnson. Johnson is strong and brave, but in terms of instinct, awareness and overall sophistication, there's no comparison with Angel.
Finally, Columbus could possibly use him. It might be tricky to pair him with Schelotto, as that would severely hamper the amount of pressure the two front-runners could provide. Then again, that could possibly be solved with the right midfield blend. There are plenty of worker bees available out there, some quite reasonably priced.