Monday, November 23, 2009

Beckham's Penalty Shootout Curse

Even in MLS, Mr. Posh Spice can't catch a break in a penalty shootout.

After being a part of English teams that lost in penalties in the 1998 and 2006 World Cups, as well as the Euro 2004 championships, David Beckham felt the sting of another shootout loss in the MLS Cup final. Beckham fired in his penalty, but saw Landon Donovan sky a Baggio-esque effort and Nick Rimando continued his PK heroics for Real Salt Lake, your 2009 MLS Cup champions.

The game was fairly decently played, particularly the first 65-70 minutes, even though quality chances were somewhat lacking. LA scored a well taken goal in the first half, with Beckham springing Donovan down the right, and Donovan providing a perfect cross to Mike Magee on the back post to volley home from close range. RSL answered in the second half after a shot by Yura Movsisyan bounced around and fell to Findley from about six yards out to the left, where he fired home.

Findley provided glimpses of why some people are hoping he can fill the void at US striker caused by Charlie Davies's absence. He has speed and always seemed to be something of a threat when he was running at the LA defense. Unfortunately RSL, despite having a lot of possession, particularly in the second half of the game, did not have a good creative type to provide telling service. Kyle Beckerman produced another quality display leading the midfield, but he lacks the imagination in the final third that was expected to be provided by Javier Morales, who was lost to injury in the first half.

Interestingly, Donovan may have portended his penalty miss in an podcast interview with ESPN's Sport Guy Bill Simmons last week. He said that usually he picks a side, but that sometimes he'll just sort of see where the keeper is guessing and change his kick to the other side for the easy goal. He made a comment to the effect that this can cause problems because anytime you change your mind late, you don't hit it as well and you get those shots that are up the middle. Rimando guessed to Donovan's right, which seems to be his preferred side, and Donovan probably tried to change where he was placing it, ultimately hitting a very poor shot that skied high. For US fans' sake, let's hope the usually spot-on Donovan got this miss out of his system now rather than if he's called upon in the World Cup.

It would have been nice to see Andy Williams clinch the shootout when he stepped up for his kick. He was something of a sentimental favorite to win for those he know about his trying year with his wife suffering from a rare form of leukemia. Unfornately that was not be, but he was bailed out when Edson Buddle stepped up for LA with a terrified look on his face like he was about to crap himself. Rimando saved, RSL made the clinching PK and it was celebration time. They showed Williams's wife in the box during the celebrations and she seemed about as excited as she must have been when she got her diagnosis. Would've expected a little more emotion there, no?

The final comment goes to Seattle, which everyone reporting from MLS Cup says the City embraced the final as a big time event, coming out in strong numbers (over 46,000), the best MLS Cup showing since 2002. Too bad it's still a turf field, one that seemed to cause footing problems with numerous players falling and slipping randomly as if sniped down. It'd be nice if a great soccer scene such as Seattle could also have an appropriate playing field. Still it was a nice event, only if next time it could have a kickoff that starts before 9pm on a Sunday night, Eastern time. The expansion draft is coming up Wed and then we can put MLS on the backburner with other big events coming up around the World in the next two weeks (important Champions League action mid-week; El Clasico, the Merseyside Derby, and Arsenal-Chelsea this weekend; World Cup draw next Fri).

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