The initial trickle for me was in 1995 when the call went out for Major League Soccer tryouts. Along with seven teammates from Chivas de Denver, I joined 180 other guys for a Denver-based talent search to field teams for the inaugural season. None of us made it, and when I handed in my bib to Kelvin Norman, he explained all he knew about the looming league. I wrote a 1,000-word description of the weekend and didn’t stop writing about MLS until the Colorado Rapids took the championship in 2010.

This blog begins following Colorado’s first victory of the 2013 season, a 1-0 home win over Real Salt Lake on April 6, 2013. My posts display in reverse-chronological order.

Note for Colorado ODP 1998 guys: Jump to this link to access useful links: http://patrickshea374.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/bumper-stickers-vs-filibusters/. The rest of this blog is pretty scattered.

I remember trying to watch Brazil play a World Cup game in my buddy Bruce’s basement in 1974, a section promised on Wide World of Sports. But, like cutting short the last act on Johnny Carson sometimes, they didn’t have time to pull away from the cliff diving and other crap to show us but a few glimpses of the glorious game.

As TV coverage improved, I watched more games. I drove to Guadalajara in 1986 and San Francisco in 1994, both times to catch Brazil during the group stage and watch all the other games at bars and restaurants. Since the U.S. never made it during my lifetime, watching the WC became a bandwagon shuttle service for me. Teams dropped off, and I’d choose another among the victors. I’d cheer for the sport itself instead of a specific team. I began to believe in God’s boss.

So I always dig watching the WC because I never lose. Even with U.S. success, I still find myself shamelessly following whoever plays the best. With Pele, Brazil was my favorite as a kid. Now it’s the USMNT, with an odd nod to Mexico because they became my team in the 1980s and I play on two Mexican teams. CONCACAF made me proud this year. I cheered with the Ticos at The Three Lions downtown, a team that I believe became stronger because of Snow Clasico. Mexico and USA are definitely both better now because we have been kicking the crap out of each other for more than a decade. All boats rise.

Bigger than the two teams on the field, the game ultimately outshines everything. That’s why I’m really not too sad about Brazil’s 7-1 collapse. The game evolves. Brazil will come back. In the meantime, someone needs to come up with a new way to play like Spain did and the other Euros are doing now. Maybe the U.S. will crack the code and come up with something new. Or maybe we’ll become the chameleons who always adapt fastest to all the changes in the sport forevermore, always competing near the top and learning the next best thing in soccer.

It’s hard to fact-check my gut-driven observations of the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night before, during, and after they beat the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. But the body language of players on and off the field speaks volumes about the team as a whole. Pablo’s post-game answer to a question about working Buddle and Gabby into the rotation echoed the same message that his players shouted throughout the battle.

“The most important thing for me is not one individual,” Mastroeni said. “The important thing for me is to stay true to the team. Everyone knows that. That’s why they come off the field huffing and puffing because they’re dying for each other. That’s the kind of commitment we need. It’s not about individuals.”

During warm-ups, the starting 11 popped like popcorn, appropriately peaking for kickoff. The subdued subs looked quietly ready.

Vicente Sanchez sizzled and sparkled during the game. He scored the penalty kick that Deshorn earned by out-sprinting Nigel Reo-Coker in the box. He ran after plays on defense, dribbled and distributed, and set up his own bicycle with a sombrero, forcing David Ousted to save the left-footed shot through a crowd.

When Marlon came on for Vicente, Rapids fans, coaches, and teammates applauded his effort. Gabby ran over from the warm-up zone near the corner flag to greet Vicente. He ran back alone.

Long after the final whistle, most of the 14,798 fans had left the stadium, but Cooke was running players through the warm-down. Even though Marlon and Edson put in time on the field, they ran multiple sprints from penalty box to penalty box along with the unused substitutes. Gabby lagged behind on every sprint, significantly alone. His body language says he’s not fully fit, he has a compromising injury, or he’s not feeling part of the group for some reason. Jose Mari was in street clothes, but he congratulated every player. Berner was at the end of the field going through his own goalkeeper workout, but Marc Burch, John Neeskens, and Thomas Piermayr raced hard with Marlon, Edson, and Gabby.

The first team, meanwhile, circled the field for a long time. Cooke let Marlon and Buddle go, and after the substitute sprints ended, everyone joined the jogging cluster except Gabby. He finally took up a caboose position by himself, set apart from the group while slowly circling the shortest route six or seven times. Marlon rejoined the group near the back, talking with Dillon Powers. Gabby remained alone. I don’t know what it means. The Rapids looked worthy of MLS Cup on Saturday, and it’s not hard to imagine an even more powerful performance with a fully engaged Gabby. Imagine him firing off bikes like Vicente or otherwise pulling off plays worthy of designation. Gabby is a mystery to me, with answers far more complex than body language can convey. 

Which frothy water phenomenon will win tonight? The moon is barely waxing, so we won’t see tidal whitecaps from Vancouver. Run-off is still moderate, so I’ll give the edge to the Colorado Rapids.

Both teams have  22 points. Dillon Serna’s suspension ends after the game, so we won’t see his wily, quick feet on the field at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Otherwise, Sanchez and Buddle are available. Gabby is primed to show us prime form again, and Deshorn has settled into a scoring rhythm (Silverbacks-smack notwithstanding). The group looks primed to shine.

Alianza de Futbol tournament at Riverside Soccer Complex at Fort Logan (http://soccerfieldsofcolorado.com/fields/riverside_soccer_complex_at_fort_logan). I watched all the men’s games yesterday, fast and furious.

The game at 3:30 had hail, lightning, and rain, so it’s at 8:00 today instead.

All the teams look good.

Real Salt Lake will travel to Atlanta Silverbacks Park for a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup qualifier on June 14.

The Colorado Rapids will host the Orlando City Lions at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on June 17.

The winners of these games will face each other. Perhaps we’ll be adding an asterisk to this year’s Rocky Mountain Cup competition if we see Real Salt Lake in Commerce City on June 24 or 25.

Hold your horses, however. Orlando City (USL Pro, tier 3) spanked the Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL, tier 2) 4-1 to earn a trip to Colorado on June 17. Remember, the Lions dispatched the Rapids last year, and the club will be jumping from the third-tier USL Pro to MLS in 2015. Against the Rowdies, Kevin Molino scored twice. Austin da Luz added a goal in the 22nd minute, and Adama Mbengue pumped in another. It was 4-0 at halftime. Molino has been called up for friendlies with Trinidad and Tobago.

Chris Klute came from the Silverbacks, and Eric Wynalda is still the coach of the Tier 2 team.

Cinderella can dance all night.

Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers knows about Cinderella surprises. Following a 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium on June 8, Borchers shared his thoughts about a potential Rapids-RSL fifth-round matchup in the U.S. Open Cup.

“We’re not even close to that yet,” Borchers said. “We’ve got to worry about Atlanta first. Of course, we always like the chance to win some silverware. But it’s not an easy road when you’re starting in Atlanta cross-country. We’ll give it everything we’ve got.”

The former Rapids defender grew up in Pueblo, Colorado and knows the path up the ranks of American soccer.

“We’ve struggled against USL teams,” Borchers said, “partly because we don’t know the teams very well.”

Case in point: The Silverbacks play in the North American Soccer League, theoretically a notch below MLS and one above USL Pro. This is the beauty of the Open Cup. It challenges the blurry lines between all the rising levels of play in the United States.

Borchers might not know where all the teams fall in the theoretical pecking order, but he understands it doesn’t matter.

“Those teams get up for it,” Borchers said. “They battle. They’re really tough games. It’s not going to be an easy game.”

Sneakiest striker in the tournament…

Orem, Utah (June 3-9, 2014) — If you weren’t there to see the most unusual soccer game in Orem, Utah on Friday, June 6, 2014, you might think the Guadalajara Soccer Club of Denver assumed that the USASA Region IV Championship tournament would follow traditional table tennis scoring. This was the first game of the three-day competition for Los Rojiblancos. Wearing the famous red-and-white stripes of Chivas from Guadalajara, Chivas from Denver came to play.

At the 29-minute mark, Jesus Saenz dribbled through defenders and suffered a foul in the penalty box. He put away his own penalty kick for an unceremonious 10-0 score. On track to score 30 before the final whistle, if the visitors from Colorado thought they were playing according to Ping-Pong scoring, they knew that one more goal would skunk Utah’s Pan World FC, sending them on a short drive home with more than an hour left on the clock.

Pan World FC had talented players and adequate gumption to score a nice sombrero over Cesar Garcia in the 39th minute, a rare misfortune during the three-day journey for Chivas to qualify for the USASA National Finals, also in the Salt Lake City area from July 25-27. Known as Conejo (the rabbit), Garcia played out of his mind all weekend. Tied 1-1 in the first half of their third game, Cone stopped a penalty kick, setting up the eventual 2-1 victory.

I digress… The score was 11-1 in the first game for Chivas at 3:39 p.m. in Orem, creeping to 13-1 at halftime.

Like sand through an hourglass, the goals kept coming. With the best teams from the region committing to a national tournament at the end of July, it would be insulting to have a mercy rule. Mercifully, however, the center official blew his final whistle at the 87-minute mark. Final score: 21-1. That’s not a typo.

When teams are on track to trample so severely, sometimes their solutions are more insulting than piling on the score. But Chivas played very cool. Some teams make it obvious they’ll only score with a header or bicycle kick or something contrived. Or they gloat and turn it into an ugly situation when retaliation meets redemption. The Pan World FC players showed respect and didn’t give up. The Chivas players showed respect and didn’t say a word. They didn’t celebrate, and since they had the ball the whole time, they didn’t attack with every opportunity either. They passed up a lot of scoring chances, missed at least a dozen shots, and knocked the ball around the back and both sides for long stretches. They played with dignity, and they were smart to honor all the training and recent tournament championships they’ve earned at home. They came to play.

The scoring system was FIFA standard in Orem. But despite pumping in goals in five-minute intervals, Chivas did not earn the maximum of 10 points (six points for a win, one point per goal up to three, and one point for a shutout). With this point system, 3-0 is better than 21-1.

GAME #2

The second game against Olympic from northern California was an entirely different kind of challenge.

Chivas forward Oscar Montoya dribbled into the penalty box in the 26th minute and went down in a tangle. I was sitting on the far corner of the field, so I didn’t even let my heart rate change because I could neither confirm nor deny if the contact warranted a penalty kick. No pk called… Then everyone gathered around and gesticulated. Erick Toscano got a yellow and a red. Down a man and behind 2-0 with more than an hour to go, this was not Ping-Pong and shag carpet for Chivas.

Moments before the halftime whistle, Montoya snaked through a crowd with the ball and cut the lead to 2-1. Montoya scored the first goal of the 21-1 game, adding plenty more and plenty of assists to lead his team in the attack. He leads training sessions at home and runs them according to the regimen he learned with Tigres in Mexico more than two years ago. The captain kept attacking and gave his team hope at the break.

Less than two minutes into the second half, Saenz latched onto the ball behind Olympic’s defensive line to equalize 2-2.

About 10 minutes later, Montoya collected a pass on the right wing and drew two defenders. Ivan Dominguez made a run toward the corner flag and received the ball on his foot. Dominguez cut inside and fired a left-footed shot in the left corner for the game-winner. For the next 30 minutes, Chivas weathered attacks and counter-attacked consistently.

GAME #3

The Saturday afternoon game against Park City was just as tight, ending 2-1 with the home side going down a man in the 87th minute. The Park City team was younger than Olympic from California, and plenty talented. Twelve minutes into the game, Montoya beat five defenders and fired a shot off the post.

In the 20th minute, a Park City forward ran down a ball destined for a goal kick and served a perfect cross in front of the goal for an easy header and a 1-0 lead. At the 30-minute mark, Montoya beat defenders on the right wing and sent a ball into the box on the ground. Saenz put it away to tie the game.

Two minutes before the end of the first half, Park City earned a penalty kick. Goalkeeper Cesar Garcia saved the shot and kept his team tied 1-1 going into halftime.

In the 75th minute, Angel Campos ran down a through ball, nicked it past a defender, and then scooped it over the goalkeeper to secure the 2-1 victory.

Game #4: USASA Region IV Championship

Chivas faced SS Lazio in the championship game on Sunday morning. The Lazio roster combined alumni and current players from Westminster College, a local collegiate team on the rise. Despite Chivas hogging the ball with one-touch possession, Lazio players frequently won tackles and steals in midfield and raced forward quickly to make the most of their chances. Measuring scoring opportunities, the teams played even from the start.

In the 26th minute, Lazio forward Andrew Clayton slipped into box to get on the end of a bouncing ball with a deft touch off the crossbar. Two minutes later, Dominguez won the ball near midfield for Chivas, held it in a crowd, and then sent a pass forward for Montoya behind the Lazio defense. Logan Butzier left his line on time and blocked the shot, but Montoya gathered the rebound and put Chivas up 1-0.

A foul near the left side of the penalty box set up the equalizer for Lazio. With four players on the far post, Cone failed to read the possibilities and ended up in the net with the ball and the score tied 1-1 at halftime.

Six minutes into the second half, Montoya drew multiple defenders before slotting a through pass to Jesus Ramirez. Ramirez beat the goalkeeper and put Chivas up 2-1.

At the 60-minute mark, Montoya stripped a Lazio centerback (Westminster assistant coach Ryan Walcott, perhaps?) and suffered a foul about 25 yards from goal. Angel Campos and Montoya stood over the ball outside the right side of the penalty box. Montoya is unabashedly left-footed, so when he lined up as if to curl the ball far post, the four-man wall favored the left side. All the players were on the far post anyway, so if Montoya floated a cross, the defenders could drop pretty easily to help. Lined up facing the far post, Campos called out “Chuy-ee” (Ramirez) and started his approach to cross the ball into the crowd. But instead he hit it with the inside of his right foot just past the wall and an unsuspecting Butzier diving too late.

At the 70-minute mark, Lazio cut the lead to 3-2. Connor Thompson worked the ball into the left side of the box and turned to sneak a shot into far post side netting. But Chivas possessed the ball, created counterattacks, and managed the flow of the game until the final whistle.

Chivas lined up with three defenders for the championship game. The other seven field players took turns coming back to get the ball or running forward to stretch the defense. Throughout the game, coach David Campos made surgical substitutions to keep players fresh in key parts of the field. It paid off with four unbeaten games and qualification for nationals next month.

Looking ahead

Before they return to Utah for the USASA National Tournament (July 25-27), Chivas has a busy schedule. In addition to the Alianza de Futbol tournament in Denver (June 14-15) and another tournament in Glenwood Springs in mid-July, Chivas will return to Utah to test themselves against the best teams from the other three regions of the country.

The USASA tournament committee ran the amateur tournament along with an over-30 division and an open division. The open division teams are in the early stages of qualification for the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. But the winners from the Over-30, Open Cup, and Amateur Cup in July will qualify to face each other later this year to test the gaps between amateur, open, and over-30 divisions.

Another story to tell: Using only 11 players for the entire tournament, Chula Vista from southern California won the Open competition by playing smart and controlling the tempo while scoring plenty of goals. I’ll get the full scoop and report on them next month.

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