I’m going to try to make it through this introduction without sounding like some of the ignorant people I come across both in my daily life and some cable television networks that shall remain nameless. Because this is purely about the game of soccer.
I don’t like the Mexican national team. I generally don’t like Mexican soccer players. I admire the quality of the Mexican league, and wish Major League Soccer had the skill level that they do south of the border (I think it’s slowly getting there).
But most of the dislike comes from the rivalry between the United States and Mexico on the international level. I sat through the embarrassing 5-0 Gold Cup loss last summer at the (old) Meadowlands in New Jersey, and to say Mexican fans outnumbered the U.S. contingent would be a huge understatement. The percentage of Mexican fans at the game might have been more humiliating than the scoreline.
I’ve taught some Mexican-American kids who root for Mexico in soccer, and pretty much grilled them on why they don’t support the United States, and it’s an interesting phenomenon that obviously has to do with tradition, and – to some extent – success.
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But, we’ll tackle that one some other day, why is this in your MLS Week in Review? Because of Rafa Marquez. I’ll admit when it was announced he was going to play for the Red Bulls, I was a bit skeptical. Is he really going to “bring it” every match? Or is he just in MLS to finish out his career and collect the biggest paycheck he could find?
Last week against Los Angeles, Marquez was going through the motions. He was at fault on the Galaxy’s winning goal and did very little in a key regular season match in front of a sell-out crowd. Sure, he had played for Mexico against Spain three days earlier, and wasn’t really fully fit yet after the World Cup, but it was a big egg.
Well, Saturday, Marquez atoned for his egg. He scored a Goal of the Year candidate and generally bossed the midfield as New York became the first visiting team to win at BMO Field. But what I really loved was his attitude. Marquez looked like he had something to prove for 90 minutes, which is not something you could say about other high-priced, high-hyped talent that has come MLS’ way recently.
There’s still a third of the regular season and the playoffs to go, but a handful of performances like that, and I will most certainly be a Rafa Marquez fan, regardless of where he plays internationally. Now we just have to get him some English lessons (fast forward to 2:15).
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Here is the rest of the week that was in MLS:
Chicago 2:1 New England
Records: Fire 6-5-5 (23 pts.); Revolution 6-10-3 (21).
What we learned:
The Revs were really close to clawing their way back into the playoff race, and I think that’s why they felt so hard done after grabbing an early lead, and generally playing well here. They definitely deserved at least a point, but I’m not going to say it’s Michael Kennedy’s fault they lost (although I don’t think Kennedy had a great match, nor is he one of the better MLS officials). They’re just not good enough right now.
Calen Carr, back from the soccer dead, scored the game-winner in the 85th minute on a goal that never should have happened from a Revs perspective (and Matt Reis probably should have saved the first one). So although I can understand their frustration, there’s no need to go after the officials like they did after the game.
Both Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo were riding that line between gamesmanship and dirty play, Castillo could have easily been sent off for an elbow to Kevin Alston late in the first half.
Toronto 1:4 New York
Records: TFC 7-8-5 (26 pts.); Red Bull 10-7-3 (33).
What we learned:
That’s right, Toronto actually has a losing record and would not be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Nana Attakora had a good first half of the season, but has struggled of late and was sent off here after a bad afternoon, particularly on the second goal, which goes down as a Joseph Nane own goal, but was really Attakora’s fault.
It was just a bad effort at the worst possible time for TFC, with Preki having to weigh who to play in Champions League games while still trying to make the playoffs.
New York was also the only MLS road team this week to get any points. Look at the MLS table, there are some pretty hideous road records in there, with Toronto being one of the worst (1-7-1) and six of their final 10 games being on the road.
By the way, Mac Kandji was unavailable for the Red Bulls due to visa problems? C’mon Canada and MLS, figure this one out, please.
San Jose 1:0 Los Angeles
Records: Earthquakes 8-6-5 (29 pts.); Galaxy 13-4-4 (43).
What we learned:
We learned that San Jose wants to shut people up like me that say they’re not going to the playoffs.
Chris Wondolowski took advantage (as he seemed to always do) of an A.J. DeLaGarza error in the 4th minute, and the Earthquakes gamely made it stand up the rest of the way. I actually thought Landon Donovan played well, but for those in the “Landon should go to Europe” camp, he just doesn’t have the quality around him in MLS to make him look at his best. Mike Magee missed a couple of chances, and the only attacking sub Bruce Arena could muster was Eddie Lewis. If you get a goal on them, the Galaxy is definitely not a comeback team.
Hats off the makeshift back line for San Jose and to Jon Busch, who was replaced by Joe Cannon, only to see Cannon go down with a season-ending injury, putting Busch back in. But he stood tall and picked up the clean sheet and the victory. Tim Ward looks like a steal for Frankie Yallop and San Jose. We do have to get them a stadium, though.
Columbus 3:1 Colorado
Records: Crew 12-5-4 (40 pts.); Rapids 7-6-7 (28).
What we learned:
The same script has been written for the Crew a lot this season, especially at home. Play fairly well, but don’t really dominate, take advantage of another team’s mistake, score on a set piece, and grab the three points.
It was good to see Eddie Gaven back, and he was in just 4 minutes into the game, getting dragged down by goalkeeper Matt Pickens (who somehow didn’t even see yellow), with Guillermo Barros Schelotto burying the penalty. But it was 1-1 early in the second half, when Marvel Wynne’s header went backwards, Julien Baudet was nowhere to be found, Pickens tried to come out, and a hustling Jason Garey had the game-winner. Add a perfectly placed Schelotto free kick to Chad Marshall, who headed back across to a flying Steven Lenhart, and you have three more points and a comfortable perch atop the Eastern Conference.
I was thinking that the Rapids have been tremendously consistent this season, consistently mediocre. They’re in every game, but rarely do enough to win them, and seem to have the talent to do more. But they’re still in the playoff hunt.
Dallas 1:0 Chivas USA
Records: FCD 9-2-9 (36 pts.); Chivas 5-11-4 (19).
What we learned:
There really wasn’t too much that separated these teams, but Dallas gutted out another win, and Chivas was left with another tough loss. Giancarlo Maldonado and Paolo Nagamura have really helped Chivas’ quality of play, but they still don’t have a big-time striker (sorry, Alan Gordon and Justin Braun). Their goal differential is only -4 (two behind Seattle), but they just haven’t been able to get points and this was a prime example.
For Dallas, they continue to win while not playing their best soccer in front of friends and family (they announced 10,309 at this game, but there’s no way). David Ferreira was in on the build-up as usual, but it was Jair Benitez whose cross was finished by a red-hot Brek Shea (yes, you read that right).
FCD is unbeaten in 11, and has to go into the hat as title contenders, although either they or Real Salt Lake may be leaving us before the conference finals, which would be a shame.
Except for the attendance totals.
Houston 4:3 Chicago
Records: Dynamo 6-10-5 (23 pts.); Fire 6-6-5 (23).
What we learned:
Well, who had this game in the “seven-goal” pool? Not I, unfortunately.
Despite starting a front four of Brian McBride, Freddie Ljungberg, Nery Castillo, and Marco Pappa, the Fire was just run over in the first half, as the Dynamo had the first nine shots in the contest, finally taking the lead on a goalkeeping error by young Sean Johnson (one of many in MLS this weekend, and not the only one by Johnson in this game). It looked like Houston had finished the game off on a well-worked free kick, with Lovel Palmer finishing it to make it a deserved 2-0 lead.
But somehow in between a ridiculous Brian Ching bicycle kick, which unfortunately wasn;t quite as good as this one. Chicago scored three goals, none of them from the quartet mentioned above. It was Calen Carr again (turns out he was out all year with a quadriceps injury, by the way), a comical Bobby Boswell own goal, and a Wilman Conde header on a corner that tied the game at 3-3.
Ching, however, would not be outdone, finishing his hat trick with a headed goal in the 84th minute to give Houston a deserved three points on the balance of play.
Ching, despite Houston’s problems, has had a very good year in “Look at this, Bob Bradley” mode.
Meanwhile, Ljungberg’s questionable tactics continued, as – among other things – he clearly left a leg in on a challenge with goalkeeper Pat Onstad late on, just a dirty play that went unpunished. Then he tried to shake hands and make up like nothing happened. He’s played very angry lately and not well. Chicago looks very much like a disjointed bunch right now (McBride included), and that’s not going to get them to the playoffs no matter how many games they have in hand.
Kansas City 4:1 New England
Records: Wizards 6-9-5 (23 pts.); Revolution 6-11-3 (21).
What we learned:
So, almost literally, the Wizards picked Senegalese striker Birahim Diop off the streets of New York City and all he did was score two goals and assist on another in his first game. It’s a great story, as – after playing in a handful of games – he followed assistant coach Octavio Zambrano to Moldova, and then was out of soccer, playing semi-pro ball before Zambrano told him to try out in Kansas City. Immediately after scoring his first goal, he ran right to Zambrano, which was a great scene.
I’ve wondered aloud and never gotten a good answer as to why the Wizards can’t score this season, well, maybe they just needed to pick up a Senegalese guy from New York who hadn’t played professionally in two years, and only got to start because Teal Bunbury was suspended and Josh Wolff was hurt. Go figure.
Meanwhile, while I have some sympathy for the Revs Wednesday, not in this game. The Matchday Live feed was New England’s and Brad Feldman and Jay Heaps (who was a great MLS player) were still calling Diop’s first goal controversial in the 90th minute when their own replay clearly showed that Darrius Barnes kept Diop onside by at least a yard. There’s homerism and then there’s just not looking at the video evidence.
The bottom line is that New England just isn’t good. Cory Gibbs had another tough night, and I feel bad because he was headed for great things before he got hurt, but he’s just not the same, and that was a terrible trade for the Revolution that – among other things – will finally finish off their playoff streak.
DC United 2:0 Philadelphia
Records: DCU 4-14-3 (15 pts.); Union 4-11-5 (17).
What we learned:
It was kind of sad to see a sparse crowd at RFK Stadium, not necessarily helped by the torrential downpours that accompanied the match. I still like Danny Allsopp in MLS, and he had both goals to seal the win, as the Union failed to keep a clean sheet for the 20th straight game.
Philly has to figure out what to do with Danny Califf and Chris Seitz, who somehow both make more money than Sebastian Le Toux this season. Luckily, they’ll have 10 more somewhat meaningless games this season to figure out what to do because at times (as color man Kyle Martino poignantly pointed out Sunday) they look like a playoff team, but there’s nothing that can kill confidence more than giving up soft goals. Everyone’s heads just drop, and they have just killed the Union – who despite being an expansion squad are not really young – this season.
We’ll see you next week, but if you missed my thoughts on the mid-week CONCACAF Champions League action, here they are.