Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Gallardo and Schelotto renew rivalry
The rivalry between Argentine clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors has long been one of the most intense in the world, with the two sides combining for more than 50 league titles. And for years, Marcelo Gallardo and Guillermo Barros Schelotto were right in the middle of it. Gallardo enjoyed two successful stints with River Plate while Schelotto remains one of Boca's most beloved players, winning six league crowns and four Copa Libertadores titles during his 10 years there.
After sitting out the loss to RSL, playmaker Marcelo Gallardo is back in action for D.C. (Icon SMI)
Now their personal battle is set to resume in MLS, with Gallardo's D.C. United side taking on Schelotto's Columbus Crew in this week's edition of MLS Primetime Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Granted, the passion won't be nearly as high as a "Superclasico," but Schelotto feels that MLS is on its way.
"I definitely see more affection from the fans, more growth," said Schelotto through a translator. "As I've said before, the league is going to grow and continue to improve in all these areas."Five storylines to follow
1. Now or never for Schmid
When Sigi Schmid became head coach of Columbus prior to the 2006 campaign, he expected a quick turnaround. But as he enters his third season, he has yet to get the Crew back in the playoffs. However, with the pressure mounting, Schmid feels he has the right pieces in place.
"It's not going to be a success unless we are in the playoffs this year," Schmid said. "But I'm really happy with the nucleus of players that we've built. Now we've tried to add some veteran players to that nucleus, and now it's just a matter of those guys playing together."
2. United's Champions Cup hangover
Last year, the Black and Red's exertions in the CONCACAF Champions Cup caused them to stumble to a 0-3-1 start. This season United may be in for more of the same. The Supporters' Shield winners gave a valiant effort in losing their CCC semifinal against Pachuca, but faced with playing five games in 15 days, head coach Tom Soehn opted to rest several players in their match last weekend against Real Salt Lake. It didn't work, as United were hammered 4-0, dropping their league record to 1-2-0.
"It's unfortunate that we're out of the [CCC] but now that we are out, we can focus on the league, and know that there are no more excuses," Soehn said. "We had our tired day, now it's over, and we can get back to business."
3. The Crew's maturation process
For Columbus to have success, many of their young players will have to come through. Performers like midfielder Eddie Gaven and defender Chad Marshall have had their ups and downs in MLS, but Schmid is optimistic that his young pups are ready to shine and counts last week's 4-3 win over Chivas USA as a start.
"I think winning that kind of game helps accelerate the maturation process," Schmid said. "Just gaining confidence is the most important thing."
4. D.C.'s home dominance
While United has struggled on the road, they've been scintillating at home, scoring 11 goals in three matches, including two CCC triumphs. But an even bigger factor for Soehn is that it will have been five days since their loss to RSL, which is more rest than the team has been used to getting in recent weeks.
"It's only after your schedule now gets back to the way everybody else has it, where it's a week or even five days between games, that you can rejuvenate," Soehn said.
5. The Crew's Jekyll and Hyde defense
The Crew's youth is personified by their defense, which has been like Nuke LaLoosh's pitching; kind of all over the place. Columbus fell behind early in a 2-0 loss to New York, and coughed up a 3-1 lead last week against Chivas. Despite winning 4-3, Schmid is eager to see more defensive consistency.
"It's been a little bit of everything," said Schmid of his team's defensive woes. "Obviously we gave away a couple of [penalties], and that's due to some overzealous defending in the wrong part of the field. I think we were much better at that last week. In the Chivas game, I think it was a matter of knowing where the danger is."
Five players to watch
1. Marcelo Gallardo, M, D.C. United
Compared to his countryman, Gallardo prefers to operate from deeper in midfield, often delivering the pass before the pass that will lead to a goal. While it has taken the team a while to get used to this approach, Gallardo delivered a sharp performance against Pachuca, perhaps his best in a D.C. shirt to date.
"I think every time I've watched Gallardo, he's continued to improve, and that's all you can expect," Soehn said. "But I think there is still a real big upside to him."
2. Guillermo Barros Schelotto, F, Columbus
For years, the Crew had been looking for an offensive catalyst, with little success. (Sebastian Rozental anyone?) But from the moment Schelotto arrived in Columbus, the Argentine has galvanized the Crew's attack with his passing and vision. Last Saturday, Chivas were the latest victims of Schelotto's ability, as he scored a goal and added two assists to earn MLS Player of the Week honors.
3. Luciano Emilio, F, D.C. United
MLS Primetime Thursday
Columbus at D.C. United 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ESPN360)
Last year, the Brazilian tore up MLS, leading the league with 20 goals. This season, Emilio has been operating at a lower level and has been struggling with his finishing. It's a development that Soehn is watching carefully.
"[Emilio's] starting points when he came to us last year were much better fitness-wise, and unfortunately he's still working into that," Soehn said. "As much as I want to be patient, he's got to [work] and do the things he needs to do to get himself back to the form he played at last year."
4. Robbie Rogers, M, Columbus
Rogers suffered perhaps his biggest professional disappointment when he was left off the U.S. U-23 team that recently qualified for the Beijing Olympics. Upon his return to Columbus, Rogers was given some tough love by Schmid, who preferred that his young attacker regain his confidence on his own.
"If he gets through a tough time because I'm the crutch that helps him, then the next time a crisis of confidence comes he's going to look for that crutch again," said Schmid. "When [he] can find it himself, it's going to be better for him."
Rogers' confidence appeared to on the mend against Chivas, delivering two vital goals, including the game-winner.
5. Santino Quaranta, M, D.C. United
When Quaranta debuted as a 16-year-old in 2001, a stellar career seemed in the offing. Instead, Quaranta spent much of his time wasting his talent, and when he was cut loose by the New York Red Bulls at the end of 2007, it appeared his time was up. Yet Quaranta rededicated himself in the offseason, and was given a second chance by the club that launched his career. So far, Quaranta has made the most of his opportunity, scoring in the team's 4-1 win over Toronto, and providing a spark, whether starting or coming off the bench.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.