Major League Soccer Notes, Rants and Raves: Week 2
Major League Soccer's second week is now in the books, and after two weeks, a picture is starting to emerge of how the regular season will pan out, though a lot of soccer is still to be played.
I have come up with my MLS notes, rants and raves of the week after combing through a mess of match footage, scribbled notes and highlights.
What comes next is the good, the bad and the ugly of Week 2.
Maybe You're Just Not Good Enough
Two players caught my eye for all the wrong reasons over the weekend. Toronto's Terry Dunfield was the first with his poor display against Seattle. The Canadian looked off the pace throughout the match, and it was his failed tackle on David Estrada that led to Seattle's second goal.
Even worse was Philadelphia's 33-year-old Chris Albright. The former US international was at fault for Colorado's second goal, and eventual winner. Albright seemed to fall down or lose his footing as he chased back to clear a ball.
Albright complained about a push in the back, but replays show Rapids' Tony Cascio never touched the fullback. As a result, Cascio picked up the ball, dribbled in on goal and beat Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
How are those roster changes working out, Piotr Nowak?
...And the Award for the Worst Offseason Roster Moves Goes To...
When Philadelphia Union allowed Faryd Mondragon to leave, everyone was confused. When the club traded the face of their franchise, Sebastien Le Toux, everyone was outraged.
In two moves, the club got rid of their senior leadership, and they turned over most of their roster coming into this season, all without much reason.
Piotr Nowak obviously sees something in Roger Torres other than an average MLS player. Nowaks also seems to believe Freddy Adu is somehow capable of fulfilling the potential he briefly showed years ago and can be a leader and contributor on the pitch.
Nowak has had success as a manager in MLS, but remember, that success came when the league had less teams.
The Union was unlucky not get something against Colorado, but on second thought, two of the positions and players they changed coming into the season allowed both goals. Those two players made the Union look like an expansion team all over again.
So, maybe they did deserve their result.
Battle to Be the Worst Club in MLS
In the battle for the right to call themselves the worst club in the American top-flight, there were several worthy performances last weekend.
New England’s three-nil loss was helped by Stephen McCarthy’s dismissal in the 14th minute. In a league where red cards are all too common, referee Silviu Petrescu was all too ready to send off the Revs defender. McCarthy should never have been sent off, as it was no where near a goal scoring opportunity, and both players were fouling each other.
Petrescu's call enabled Sporting KC, who doesn’t need any help, to pile three goals on a woeful Revs.
The suits upstairs seem to think big-name designated players will win them games. So, enjoy losing, Red Bulls, if and when Michael Ballack signs this summer.
Don't Think Too Highly of Your Win
Though LA Galaxy handled DC United rather comfortably, it wasn't the Galaxy we've come to expect. The reining MLS Cup Champions never got out of second gear, and they looked to be playing at a pedestrian pace.
Yes, you can only beat what is put in front of you, but the Galaxy looked tired throughout. They certainly don't look like favourites to repeat as champions like they did prior to season's kickoff.
Surely they regret loaning Omar Gonzalez to Germany's Nuremburg, where he got injured. The defense was shaky in the Champions League against Toronto and in Week 1 against Real Salt Lake.
The defense was better in Week 2, though don't read too much into the game, since United did absolutely nothing going forward.
With Landon Donovan looking heavy in the legs, Bruce Arena must be second thinking Donovan's spell at Everton as well. Now 30 years old, Donovan's prime is slowly coming to an end, and the Galaxy need a healthy Donovan if they want to repeat.
Teach Them How to Defend
Neither Toronto nor DC United had much luck at defending over the weekend. Both clubs were hit for three goals, respectively, and neither looked bothered to prevent the other team from scoring.
Toronto insisted on playing a high back line against Seattle Sounders. This allowed the Sounders to continually get in behind the Reds’ lackluster defense. It looked like Toronto had done nothing to fix their leaky defense from a year ago.
To be fair, United's attack and midfield were just as bad as their defense. The team was on the back foot throughout a one-sided match at the Home Depot Center.
Organization and preparation are attributes MLS rewards teams for, and if neither Toronto or United can sort themselves out soon, it will be another long hard season for both.
It’s amazing what a stadium will do for a team in North America.
In past years, Kansas City routinely had the worst yearly attendance in MLS. Yet their new stadium—Liverstrong Sporting Park—has been continually filled to the brim with fans. The stadium has made KC one of the premier soccer cities in America.
It's a far cry from the days when I sat in the cavernous Arrowhead Stadium next to people who truly gave a toss about what happened on the pitch and were more concerned with their meaningless conversations. Well done, KC!
One thing is definitely clear, North Americans love a shiny new stadium, and Robert Kraft needs to take note.
Either the coaching pool for MLS is rather shallow, or Frank Yallop is respected far more than he should be.
Yallop has spent eight seasons as San Jose Earthquakes manager and has amassed a record of 96 wins, 95 losses and 69 draws—in two stints with the club.
As with MLS, the numbers are quite deceiving. Many of Yallop’s wins came prior to the original club moving to Houston. The league was much smaller then, and the talent pool wasn’t as diluted, nor was it as difficult to win the MLS Cup.
Therefore, many of Yallop's key wins came in the 2001-03 time period.
In his only other MLS coaching job, Yallop managed the Galaxy to mediocrity in 2007 during Alexi Lalas’ ridiculous stint as general manager.
Yallop has been in charge of the Earthquakes since 2008, when they rejoined MLS. By not changing managers over the last four seasons, San Jose's owners are telling their fans they're not concerned with winning.
If a team's ownership allows a manager to stay in charge for four seasons and they qualify for the playoffs only once, then something is wrong, especially in a league in which over half the teams make the playoffs.
How Yallop has kept a managerial job in MLS while Richie Williams and Denis Hamlett can't even get a consideration is disgraceful.
Beasts of the East? Not Quite
Sporting KC sits atop the Eastern Conference tied with Houston on six points. The two clubs are five points clear of third-place Chicago Fire.
KC’s three-goal scoreline was deceiving. Stephen McCarthy was sent off, which allowed KC to pile on the pressure. Though KC got three goals, they weren’t the free-flowing type KC created early last season. There was no one and two-touch passing moves, nor was there a great deal of movement that led to each goal. Rather, the goals came from goalmouth scrambles and rebounds off deflections.
KC has done well against two of the league’s poorer sides so far, but they’ll need to be more creative against the like of Real Salt Lake and Seattle—KC’s bogie teams.
Houston, on the other hand, was lucky to leave San Jose with three points. The Dynamo is on a long road trip, similar to Sporting KC's last season, and need every point they can get before they return home.
The Dynamo was gifted a penalty and was lucky not to give one away late in the game. They took advantage of their opportunities and came away winners.
Both teams took what was presented to them, and that is why they are the class of the East after two weeks.
Best of the West
The Western Conference continues to be the class of the league. While there’s already a logjam in the West—it’s early—the East is opening up. The West's logjam shows that the clubs are closer in talent than those in the East.
Luckily for the Eastern Conference, they only have to play the Western Conference teams once this season.
The unbalanced schedule will allow each conference to beat up on each other. However, it should make the gap between the two even bigger.
Theoretically, the Western teams will improve by playing better quality opponents. Meanwhile, the Eastern teams will stay at or near the same level playing teams that are slightly inferior to the west.
Since MLS was established in 1996, 10 out of the 16 MLS Cup Champions have come out of the Western Conference.
*In 2000, Kansas City Wizards was a Western Conference club, as was Houston Dynamo in 2006 and 2007.
Poor refereeing decisions have always been a characteristic of MLS. The league has always displayed bizarre calls that routinely change the outcome of matches.
Sporting KC benefited from a poor decision by referee Silviu Petrescu in their match, and Houston did the same against San Jose.
Brian Ching was awarded a soft penalty after he fell to the ground following a collision with Jon Busch. The two did clumsily run into each other, but it was another case of MLS referees either awarding a penalty or red card when an attacker goes to ground.
San Jose should have gotten a penalty of their own in second-half stoppage time for a clear-as-day handball. The referee didn’t give it, and Houston held on.
I’m sorry, MLSsoccer, you say 58,912 fans “packed” Olympic Stadium? I’m not so sure about that, because there were a lot of empty seats.
Sure, maybe many of those fans were late to the game, but it has been MLS teams' prerogative to skew the attendance figures for quite a while. I believe Toronto had numerous sellouts last season despite acres of empty seats.
It was nothing like New England, to be fair, and it was much better than many MLS clubs, such as Chivas USA. However, 58,000-plus seemed to be stretching it.
Regardless, soccer is alive and well in Montreal. At least for the moment, and the best news for the supporters is, Montreal plays in the Eastern Conference. The Impact could make the playoffs with a run of good form.
Five teams from the East will make the playoffs, and Montreal is no worse than DC United or New England.