Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Liveblogging the Venezuelan Premier League Playoffs

By Kevin Beane

Longtime readers of the Slant Pattern know I sometimes enjoy writing about sports that are off the radar of average American sports fans, and I also enjoy writing about competitions that are off the radar of average American sports fans, even if the sport itself isn't.

Today, I'm writing a latter column. If you have a robust cable sports package — or if you subscribe to one of the cord-cutting options that carry it — you may or may not have noticed a channel called GolTV.

As you might infer from the name, it is a soccer channel. But unfortunately for GolTV, they missed out on securing the rights to almost any soccer leagues that carry interest in the U.S. The only European competition they have regular season rights to is the Bundesliga, and even there, they play second fiddle to Fox.

Besides that, they have the rights to main Brazilian soccer league (a good league to be sure, but not very popular outside of Latin America), the Ascenso MX (Mexico's second-level soccer league), the Uruguay League (but only games involving their top two teams, Nacional and Peñarol) and ... the Venezuelan League.

Seriously, the Venezuelan League? Of all the soccer giants of South America, Venezuela is emphatically not one of them. They've never qualified for a World Cup. Baseball is more popular. Their under-20 team did, however, recently make the finals of the U20 World Cup.

So who, exactly, is watching these Venezuelan League matches (available with English play-by-play, at that) besides Venezuelan expats? Nearly no one, I imagine, so I'll step in and fill the void. I'll even care. This tendency of mine, I realize, makes me a sports hipster. And I hate hipsters.

Like a lot of Latin American soccer leagues, the Venezuelan League is split into two sessions — the first half of the season is the "Apertura" and the second half is the "Clausura." The winners of the Apertura and Clausura meet at the end of the year to determine a champion.

The Venezuelan League takes that process a step further. Rather than declaring the team with the best record at the conclusion of the Apertura the champion, there is instead an 8-team playoff. This playoff is done March Madness style — #1 seed vs. #8, #2 vs. #7, and so on. It's a two-legged playoff, meaning one game apiece on each team's home pitch, and whomever is ahead on goal difference (if that's even, away goals; if that's even, a penalty shootout) after the two matches advances to the next round. The same playoff process is repeated after the Clausura, and the winners of the two eight-team playoffs square off in another two-legged tie to determine the year's champion.

So that's how the Venezuelan system works. Got it? At the moment, they are in the midst of the quarterfinals of their post-Apertura tournament. I will now liveblog the second leg of the #1 vs. #8 matchup between top-seeded Deportivo Tachira and #8 Deportiva Guaira. Guaira won the first leg at home, 3-2. That's not bad, but it does mean that they will be eliminated if they lose this second leg on the road by more than one goal, or if they lose today 1-0 or 2-1 (because those scores would mean Tachira scored more away goals) Let's begin!

0' Tachira is known as "The Gold and Black" and is located in San Cristóbal, not far from the Colombian Bborder. La Guaira is located in suburban Caracas and is known as "The Team From The Coast."

0' Two of the assistant refs are women. Cool.

5' The stadium appears to be less than half full, or at least the portions I can see, even though it's the home stadium of the top seed. It's also, according to commentator Lindsey Dean, a "very historic" club that has never been relegated. Again, soccer isn't huge in Venezuela. Still, good energy and drumming from the people who are there.

6' Tachira's shirt sponsor is Simmonds Equipment. Simmonds Equipment, for all your Accommodation Module, Hazardous Area, and Engineering Cabin needs! Have a tricky storage job ahead in Venezuela? Consider Simmonds Equipment! (Sorry, I looked them up on the interwebz and went into a copywriter trance.)

10' Gooooooal for the home side on a counterattack finished off by Jose Reyes following a Guaira corner. 1-0 Tachira and just like that, Tachira leads on aggregate thanks to the away goals tiebreaker.

18' While an injury is being dealt with, the camera pans to different folks in the stands. I always appreciate it when production teams do this. A surprisingly large number of people seem to be eating. A surprisingly large subset of those people are working on cube-shaped lollipops. They also showed several people eating something that looked like a small, fried baguette.

27' Wonderful header by Colombian Zamir Valoyes ties things up for Guaira and gives them the lead again on aggregate.

45' We go to halftime still tied 1-1. I still predict Tachira, the top seed playing at home, will pull this out and advance. But I hope I'm wrong. The run of play was very even in the first half, and if Guaira can pull out another goal, that would complicate things tremendously for Tachira, as it would eliminate their away goals advantage.

52' Props to Guira for staying aggressive as well. They just brought on an additional striker. They could just bunker and try to preserve the 1-1 tie, which would be enough to get them to the semifinals, but they're not.

54' These playoffs are called the "liguilla," which means "little league" in Spanish. The regular season (apertura and clausura) is presumably the big league.

63' Jesus Gonzalez gives Tachira the lead again after deftly sidestepping the keeper. Tachira had been turning up the screws the last 10 minutes or so.

83' After the goal, Tachira seemed to start playing a little flat (after-the-match note: Tachira picked up a red card in the 66th minute, which the GolTV production missed and the English announcer merely wondered why their coach was so incensed. That explains their flatness), and Guaira takes advantage with a goal by Diego Melean on a put-back in the 83rd minute. Now, both teams have scored 2 goals away from home, and Tachira is no longer assured of going through if they take the lead again.

90' The ref gives five minutes extra time, which sounds about right to me. Guaira has done plenty of stalling.

95' Guaira hang on and complete the upset! Where's that gif of Dikembe Mutombo celebrating his eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets knocking out top-seeded Seattle? Here it is!

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