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Soccer

MLS Weekly Recap: The West Remains Strong

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We’ll call them growing pains. For most of its history, Major League Soccer has been able to gleefully ignore international match dates, even recent United States friendlies when Bob Bradley wants to call in a mostly European squad.

But the times, they are a-changing. With the profile of MLS beginning to rise, the time may have come to pay closer attention to the rest of the world and their mini-breaks. With Mexico playing Spain the same day as a Red Bulls-Toronto game, New York played without newly acquired Rafa Marquez, and then had a tired Marquez playing for them three days later.

Jason Kreis and Real Salt Lake had to figure out how to handle in-form striker Alvaro Saborio, who – playing for Costa Rica – was forced to take a circuitous route back from Paraguay that involved four stops and saw him not only miss Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia, but not make it home until Friday with a big match against Columbus the next day.

Kreis was able to rest Saborio again (he also played 80 minutes in Paraguay) and win anyway, trying to keep Saborio fresh for a CONCACAF Champions League tie in mid-week. As the league slowly rises, it has to pay attention to what’s around it as well.

Here is the week that was in MLS (slightly short because I actually attended the Revs-Dynamo game Saturday, which was a good time in Patriots land):

WEDNESDAY

New York 1:0 Toronto
Records:
Red Bull 9-6-3 (30 pts.); TFC 7-7-5 (26).
What we learned:
I mentioned the Marquez situation, and the Red Bulls were able to gut out a really big three points to create a little separation between them and their less heralded Designated Players to the north.

I know many people don’t, but I like the way Seth Stammler has played this season, and did a good enough job in midfield here and had a beautiful assist on the goal (Thierry Henry had a lot to do with it as well).

For TFC, they didn’t play badly, but their road woes continue, just 4 points and 7 goals scored in 9 games away from BMO Field. Not much else I can say there.
(This game will officially be known as World Soccer Reader Bob Bradley-gate, by the way, as well.)

Philadelphia 1:1 Salt Lake
Records:
Union 4-10-4 (16 pts.); RSL 10-4-6 (36).
What we learned:
Kreis is taking a chance to rest people with 4 games in 12 days (the 4th being Wednesday in CONCACAF Champions League), and I like it.

Fabian Espindola, previously benched, came out on fire and got RSL’s equalizer. However, like Toronto, Salt Lake’s road form is pretty much inexplicable. They were dreadful at the beginning of this game, and it cost them a goal and eventually two points.

Kreis says that Nat Borchers will be the only player to start all 4 games in this stretch. We shall see.

Philly’s goal was pretty, Sebastian Le Toux feeding Mwanga, and they continue to play some nice soccer and have little to show for it. A horrific defensive error by Juan Gonzalez led to Espindola’s goal, and Philly still doesn’t have a clean sheet this season.

Next year, Union fans, don’t worry. Unless some European team grabs Mwanga or something.

SATURDAY

Philadelphia 1:1 Colorado
Records:
Union 4-10-5 (17 pts.); Rapids 7-5-7 (28).
What we learned:
Boy, Colorado doesn’t make it easy to root for them, do they? We’ll give them the slight excuse that Conor Casey could go only 30 minutes off the bench, but 21 goals for and 18 goals against is quite boring through 19 games.

Give Philly credit, even though they again could have had three points at PPL Park, and for the 19th straight game, they allowed a goal. Jeff Larentowicz (in his hometown for the first time as an MLS player) was able to score a nice goal when Chris Seitz chose to punch rather than catch.

But there are good players in the Union squad, obviously Mwanga (who equalized from Le Toux again), but Jordan Harvey has been very impressive at left back as well.

Meanwhile, Julien Baudet was at fault again on the Philly goal, which seems like a weekly occurrance. Colorado might be the most disappointing team in the league right now (based on ratio of talent level to points), but they’re still on track to make the playoffs, so it really doesn’t matter what I think, does it?

New York 0:1 Los Angeles
Records:
Red Bull 9-7-3 (30 pts.); Galaxy 13-3-4 (43).
What we learned:
Even though they led the league in points coming into the game, this was still a statement game for Los Angeles, which seemed to lose its way in the last month.

I’m still not on the Omar Gonzalez bandwagon, he made a hideous mistake to give a breakaway to Henry, but Donovan Ricketts bailed him out. Gonzalez otherwise played well, though.

Meanwhile, a tired (or lazy, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) Marquez gave the ball away that led to Edson Buddle winner.

I’m no Hans Backe, but my idea for the Red Bulls would be to play Marquez at center back (in place of Carlos Mendes, in my mind the worst starter). That would allow Stammler to play a holding mid and Lindpere to be in a playmaking role. But what do I know?

DC United 1:3 FC Dallas
Records:
DCU 3-14-3 (12 pts.); FCD 8-2-9 (33).
What we learned:
Just look at the discrepancy between the records. Yikes.
One thing about when you’re going through a season like DC is, they actually got off to a pretty good start at home. About 30 minutes in, a defensive miscue let Brek Shea get behind them, and Shea found David Ferreira for an easy putaway.

Then, the heads went down for DC, and the rest is history, what most people involved with United hope the season will be soon.

While this result isn’t a huge one for Dallas, they are unbeaten in 9 straight road games, which is more impressive when you consider that only they and Los Angeles have a winning record away from home this season.

New England 1:0 Houston
Records:
Revolution 6-9-3 (21 pts.); Dynamo 5-10-5 (20).
What we learned:
Having seen this game live, I give a lot of credit to Stevie Nicol for suring up the back four and making his team extremely competitive (they now stand fourth in the East) without a whole lot of attacking talent. Well, without any attacking talent.

One noticeable thing in this one was the complete lack of speed on both sides, both defenses were able to play ridiculously high lines without being punished.

Poor Dominic Kinnear went to Brian Mullan to pair with Brian Ching, and when that didn’t work tried Joseph Ngwenya, neither one even remotely known as an attacking option.

Eventually, it was newly signed Serbian Ilija Stolica who scored a beautiful volleyed goal. So, if you’re scoring at home, Henry from Barca = 0 goals. Stolica from the Montenegran league = 1 goal.

Geoff Cameron returned to the starting lineup for Houston, but they may need to wait until next year to retool.

Salt Lake 2:0 Columbus
Records:
RSL 11-4-6 (39 pts.); Crew 11-5-4 (37).
What we learned:
I guess we learned that Real Salt Lake is pretty much unstoppable at home, as this marked 21 straight at Rio Tinto without a defeat.

Even though Kreis was without Saborio, the Crew is really banged up now, without wingers Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers, and defender Gino Padula, it was clear from the opening kickoff that Columbus was in for a long night.

And the Salt Lake media played Will Hesmer’s somewhat innocuous comments into a big slight, and their fate was sealed on this night. For the record, Hesmer had a right to be angry, but be angry when he was asked in the spring what it felt like to “beat the champions”. But that’s the way things go.

It’s certainly not of the realm that the two teams could meet again in MLS Cup, and wouldn’t that be interesting.
And at a neutral site (Toronto).

San Jose 1:0 Kansas City
Records:
Earthquakes 7-6-5 (26 pts.); Wizards 5-9-5 (20).
What we learned:
The Earthquakes went and found Khari Stephenson, a 29-year old Jamaican at mid-week. He starred at Division III Williams, was drafted by Chicago, scored an improbable goal on Kansas City’s (ironically) run to MLS Cup in 2005 and has been in Scandinavia ever since.

San Jose dragged him out of the Norwegian league, and he was the best player on the field Saturday, eventually finding Chris Wondolowski, another former small college (Chico St.) star for the game’s only goal. That’s going to be the way it’s going to have to be for “small market” teams in the future of MLS.

Again, Kansas City had its moments, but they’ve scored 4 goals on the road all season (and their only win is over Columbus, go figure). I don’t need to tell you that’s not good enough.
Joe Cannon posted the clean sheet, replacing Jon Busch for San Jose, who also added solid defender Tim Ward at mid-week from Chicago and moved Bobby Convey to left back. The Earthquakes are still limited (especially without Ike Opara), but it looks like they’re going to go down in the race for the final playoff spot scratching and clawing.
Kansas City? Not so much.

Chivas USA 0:0 Seattle
Records:
Chivas USA 5-10-4 (19 pts.); Sounders 8-8-5 (29).
What we learned:
To be honest, I was expecting more out of this game, but both teams played it fairly cautiously, which was a bit surprising looking at the playoff landscape.
Chivas put new pick-up Alan Gordon up front with Justin Braun, and I don’t think that’s going to work.

Alvaro Fernandez, i.e. “the Uruguay guy” was not as sharp in this game after two stellar outings, and Seattle was just a step slow, and Chivas – playing much better – nearly stole the three points. Already on 21 games played, Seattle is going to have to pick up some points quickly if they want to be assured of a return to the playoffs. San Jose and Chicago (who has 6 games in hand on them, who makes this schedule?) could make them pay for games like this at the end of the season.

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