MLS: Big Week 9 Wrap - Red Cards, Hat Tricks, Injuries!

Major League Soccer: Dispatches from Week 9

Welcome to the second edition of one man’s off-the-cuff impressions of Week 9 of Major League Soccer’s (MLS) regular season. On a big picture level, it is tempting to express varying degrees of surprise at some of this week’s results - see the New England Revolution v. Real Salt Lake below - but when that same statement holds for each successive week, is surprise a rational response?

That’s a bigger question for another day. But one event of very present concern is the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which kicks off this week (yippee!). The United States holds the title at present and calling up the personnel to defend it will certainly hit MLS clubs, though some (say, New England) more than others (FC Dallas). But call-ups from other countries - e.g. Canada and Guatemala to name two - adds some hurt to a team or two.

Now, on to the reports on Week 9. The “hand” at which each game was viewed (e.g. first, second, etc.) appears below the score.

Toronto FC 2 - 1 Colorado Rapids
(Watched all of first half; Quick Kicks highlights for the rest)

- For those who have never visited, Quick Kicks puts a title on each clip of their highlights, typically featuring phrases like “Gomez Rips It,” or “Eskandarian Run,” or “Cunningham fouled.” When it comes to Toronto games, I swear titles containing variations on the word “foul” out number the rest by 2-to-1.
- That said, the ref for this game seemed a bit whistle-happy, especially in the second half.
- And no incident spoke to this so much as the ejection of Toronto defender Kevin Goldthwaite. There was no physical incident I could see, so I’m guessing Goldthwaite said something nasty to the ref. Then again, speculation of this sort is just one of the benefits of writing this without reading anything...
- Turning to the game, the big picture take away is significant: Toronto has advanced to the point where a road draw against them constitutes a decent result. That’s pretty big.
- Marvell Wynne, who may not be the best player in the world, showed - again - what straight-up speed can do; his assist on TFC’s first was top drawer.
- I wonder who many cards Danny Dichio picked up in England; that dude is, um...physical.
- On the other side of the ball, Colorado showed they are a competitive team; they had chances to equalize at the end - even if they tended to the random variety - but they’re good enough to press at the very least.
- Conor Casey still looks a bit lost - a weird transition for a Yank in MLS. But his through-ball that set up Herculez Gomez’ (excellent) goal? Again, top drawer.

New England Revolution 0 - 0 Real Salt Lake
(Quick Kick highlights)

- A surprising result on paper, but the goalless draw makes a lot of sense given two general trends: 1) Real Salt Lake’s new emphasis on tightening their defense; 2) a theory that New England’s place in the standings doesn’t match their on-field performance.
- To rephrase that last point, New England has defended well enough, if only by using ‘keeper Matt Reis as a back-stop time and again, and their strike-force has been precise, opportunist, and not a little lucky. But that’s all the available sunshine: apart from the game against Los Angeles, however, they’ve been sloppy in possession and have generally failed to take the game to anyone.
- For Real, though, picking up a point on the road - and against what is, really, a solid New England team - should be cause for quiet celebration...very quiet, given the team remains winless.
- Perhaps it should be quieter still given the impression from the highlights of New England knocking and knocking on and around the goal-mouth, but failing to score. Forward Taylor Twellman hit the crossbar at least once (twice, I think), but the action generally looked one-way.
- With only six points to their credit, RSL is in genuine trouble.
- The past few weeks without a result haven’t done the Revolution any favors either, especially with three key starters - Twellman, midfielder Steve Ralston, and defender Michael Parkhurst - departing for the Gold Cup. Given that, a turn-around in form, 1) seems unlikely, or, 2) if it does come, the departed players will come back to a different team.

Kansas City Wizards 3 - 2 Red Bull New York
(Viewed 2/3 uninterrupted; the rest TiVo-style)

- Two big talking points for this game of the week: 1) the harsh ejection of Clint Mathis, which left Red Bull down for just shy of 60 minutes; 2) Eddie Johnson’s second, consecutive hat-trick.
- Mathis was ejected for an elbow to KC midfielder Kerry Zavagnin’s throat; after watching that - shoot - six times or so, it looks for the world like Mathis is using his arms to push off. He’s doing so clumsily, but he’s certainly not taking a swing at Zavagnin. Scratch the “harsh” above; this was a flat-out bad call.
- The “good” in this game came with Johnson’s hat-trick, comprised as it was of three great goals: the first, a high-degree-of-difficulty lob over Red Bull ‘keeper Jon Conway; the second a sharp-angel tap-in that came from a smartly-timed run; the third, a cool finish after finding space and meeting a beautiful diagonal pass from Sasha Victorine. Taken together, it was simply magnificent. If Johnson’s lacking in confidence by now, he’s pathological.
- While Red Bull can point to the man down as an excuse for the loss, no similar defense can explain the serial defensive breaks at the beginning of the second half that let one KC player after another in alone on Conway’s goal; count Red Bull damned lucky they kept the score close.
- To give credit where it’s due, not only did Red Bull open the scoring with a beauty of their own, but they fought back pretty well toward the end.
- On the other hand, KC looked very impressive even against a full-sided Red Bull. They move and pass well and show a rare ability to actually breakdown the opposition. In all seriousness: KC looks for real.
- The larger tragedy of this game, though, is what it couldn’t tell us: e.g who is the better team between Red Bull and the now-league leading KC Wizards. That sending off mucked up everything - that it was unjustified only makes thing worse. The ref owes every MLS fan a pint.

Los Angeles Galaxy 0 - 0 DC United
(Brief, as in just over 3 minute, highlights)

- The most remarkable thing in this one was the number of hamstring injuries that occurred; that, in itself, says something about the game.first, Ian Russell for LA, then Tyrone Marshall (LA again), and, finally, Fred for DC United. Don’t know that any of these have been diagnosed or the length of any lay-offs determined.
- The highlights showed a scoreless draw preserved by desperate, yet timely, defending on both ends of the field. Then again, if those highlights are to be trusted, the chances didn’t look like golden.
- - The two injuries to LA mean they're in serious trouble in terms of depth. The list of hobbling players keeps growing while Gold Cup call-ups (Landon Donovan to the U.S., Ante Jazic and Kevin Harmse to Canada; then there's the Copa America...) and makes an already high hurdle for the months of June and July look a lot like a wall.

Houston Dynamo 2 - 1 FC Dallas
(nada; unavailable at time of writing)

- Another result that would surprise someone fixating on the standings - but this one adds up pretty readily. Why?
- FC Dallas has been grimly playing toward .500 record since the beginning of the season; this amounts to them finding their niche.
- Besides, Houston has dominated Dallas historically - brief as said history is.
- Also, in spite of a maddening scoring drought, Houston has been hammering away at opposition defenses over the past two, three games; the problem seemed more one of misfiring on goal than of failing to create the chances.
- Good to see Ricardo Clark’s name in lights; he shined pretty brightly through the Dynamo’s April/May woes.
- On the downside, Clark is another player headed off for Gold Cup duty, as is forward Brian Ching (who, based on current form, will barely be missed); also leaving, but for the Canadian national team, is Dwayne DeRosario (see Ching).

Columbus Crew 2 - 3 Chicago Fire
(Watched game from 22nd minute forward; caught Quick Kicks this morning)

- In spite of its many, many limitations - which begin with the participating teams - this wasn’t a bad game to watch.
- That’s not to say it was a good game; neither team looked sharp, the play seemed labored more often than not, and, with one exception the goals were pure scrap. Goes to show that excitement trumps quality on the right day.
- After noticing another pretty bit of minutiae - in this case, the Crew’s Danny O’Rourke shifting his body just so to throw a defender and complete a simple, yet wholly crucial, possession pass - I took a tipsy little mental journey back through the game’s better points: Chicago’s Willian Oliveira twisting the Crew’s Duncan Oughton this way and that with menacing redirections as he charged toward the Crew goal; the Crew’s Guillermo Schelotto shielding the ball for 25 yards with a Fire player fixed to his side and yanking at his jersey for the distance. They don’t show on any statistics sheet, but such moments of brilliance or simple fighting perseverance define 9 games out of 10; they’re also what make the game worth watching closely.
- I’m pleased to report the Goal of the Week came in this unlikely affair. After a Crew corner, Chicago forward Chad Barrett took the ball just above his penalty area and ran with it the length of the field to score a back-breaking third Chicago goal. More than the speed and composure that made the goal possible, the goal stood out for what it did to the game - the Crew was slowly, but clearly gaining the upper hand in the ten minutes before - and for what it meant to Barrett as a player. Just beautiful. I’m very glad I caught it in the moment.
- The crucial thing this game revealed: Chicago has just a bit more to them than Columbus - and that’s appalling, unnerving news for the Crew. Will the knives hovering over Chicago coach Dave Sarachan come out now for head coach Sigi Schmid?

All for this week - though there’s plenty more to Goldthwaite's red card....

1 comment:

wvhooligan said...

i watched the toronto - colorado game and totally questioned the red card to goldthwaite. The ref even looked over at his sideline official after issuing the card giving a "should I have just done that?" kind of look...that ref was horrible though, missing lots of calls and calling a lot of weird things

by the way, thanks for using my power rankings in your weekly stuff now...