Thursday, February 21, 2008

LA gets dumped by Osaka, Houston smash Sydney - Pan-Pacific Championship Semifinal wrap

The first round of the Pan-Pacific Championship is over and if there was any surprise, it was just how poorly LA and Sydney played. Houston and Osaka put together quality performances so the final on Saturday night should be a good game.

LA Galaxy 0-1 Gamba Osaka

If LA fans were hoping to see a new look to their club, they were sadly disappointed. The best thing they can say about the club is Donovan and Ruiz were not in the lineups, so it is not really a full test.

That said, neither of those players play in the backfield and that is where Gamba was smacking the Galaxy. The LA backline of last year was in full force as they consistently missed their marks, failed at their clearances and were otherwise schooled by Gamba's Mineiro. It also didn't help that new keeper Steve Cronin looked shocked for the first 15 minutes (he did improve greatly after his opening mistakes).

Up top, nothing. Time and time again Beckham would provide great service only to see the forward turnover the ball within two touches. Obviously Carlos Ruiz will give the team a much better chance up top, but the lack of depth from the bench could unhinge the team as the season progresses.

LA did look a lot better in the second half, but that was due in large part to Beckham dropping back and getting more involved in the defense. Interestingly enough, Beckham also moved into a forward position for chunks of the second half, which did give LA much better looks in front of net. I don't think this was an official thing as much as Becks just getting tired of his passes going nowhere with the forwards. On a non-Beckham second half note, backup keeper Josh Wicks had a strong outing, but he didn't take as many shots as Cronin (13-5).

Gamba proved themselves to be a fantastic technical team with just about every player capable of placing balls right where they need to go. Their speed also gave LA fits and their three attackers were constantly causing 7 or 8 LA players to drop back to defend.

Goal: GO - Mineiro 5'

Houston Dynamo 3-0 Sydney FC

Houston still has it. The team that we last saw winning the MLS Cup was back in good form last night. Their defense was tough, their midfield was smart and their forwards were troublemakers. That said, they were playing a Sydney FC side that didn't even have enough players to dress a full 18, so make of this what you will.

Brian Ching looks to be back from injury as he was finding spots and setting up shots. Dwayne De Rosario is a monster and his shots from outside the box only seem to be getting better (his goal was marvelous). Chris Wondolowski knows how to make his runs and will challenge for a starting spot no matter whom Houston brings in. Stuart Holden continued his great times on ESPN by getting yet another goal. Ricardo Clark and Richard Mulrooney were outstanding.

Okay, you can pretty much run down the Dynamo roster and give everyone a good mark, but I'm not sure how much of that is due to Houston being fully together or the lack of play by Sydney. If there is a dark spot for Houston, it might be Boswell who was not tested much but when he was, make a couple little mistakes that others had to fix.

The only other negative that came from this game for Houston is the possible injury to De Rosario as he came out in the 58' with what appeared to be a pulled hamstring in his left leg.

Goals: Dwayne De Rosario 27', Stuart Holden 28', Chris Wondolowski 43'

So what about the PPC? It is obvious none of these teams are taking it overly seriously and with only 15,128 people showing up to watch (and a lot of them left after the first game), it seems that the locals are not amazed. Perhaps that will change for the Saturday games, but in the end, this tournament has a long, long way to go before people start to care. I just find it odd that ESPN will air these matches but don't fight to get the Concacaf Champions Cup games. I guess I just don't understand television.

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