Matchday 6 in MLS was not a particularly surprising one, though I must say that this is nice for once. This week none of us have to look like fools for picking the obvious winner and then failing at it four times in a weekend.
The big news around Big D Soccer is obviously the comeback win against Montréal, the bogus PK and the two injuries sustained, but around the league there are other bits of news worth looking at.
One of the more important wins of the season came in Philadelphia, where the struggling Union handed the Columbus Crew a 1-0 defeat in front of the home fans. Some might say that winning 1-0 on a PK isn't too impressive, and most of the time I'm inclined to agree, but this game had a different feel to it. There was a clear-cut Crew handball inside the box during the game in which there was no call, and Philly had every right to argue with the referee over it. The decision wasn't handed down and then another handball was committed which finally gave the Union the PK they deserved originally.
Two handballs that interfere with a developing play inside the box should be called and the game really should have been 2-0, given that most PKs are converted. Philly didn't sit there and pout however, and they ran a good amount of attacking during the game. Their defense was solid and their midfield really stifled Columbus' flow. I am becoming a fan of Keon Daniel and his work in the midfield. He really controls the ball well, gives DMs fits when he dribbles around them, he doesn't make silly mistakes, he is calm and composed and best of all he doesn't give up ugly fouls.
Seattle has managed to calm their case of the ho-hums and defeated Colorado 1-0. While Colorado have not looked outright bad so far this season, this game against Seattle highlights everything that has can go wrong with them. Without Conor Casey, Omar Cummings is almost entirely ineffective. Opposing teams can double team him or keep an extra midfielder or defender in the back, which takes care of most of the threat he poses. Casey is supposed to return sometime soon, either May or June, but until then Colorado's attack is one-dimensional.
Colorado previously relied on speed and force with Casey and Cummings, but with Casey gone speed alone isn't enough, and there's little to no creativity in the Rapids' midfield to help offset that. Oscar Pareja isn't entirely to blame, as the personnel he has to work with in Colorado is largely the same group that led the Rapids through their thoroughly mediocre run in 2011. It's far too early to write them off, and I don't think any of us expect them to suck, but so far we have seen little different from the 2011 Rapids.
Seattle meanwhile looked... better. Not great, but better. They had a bit more fluidity to their game and an extra pinch of confidence on the ball. The national media is finally starting to ask questions of Freddy Montero, though Sigi Schmid attributes that to the increased workload that the young Colombian has been dealing with. The absence of Mauro Rosales is forcing Montero to become much more involved in playmaking, which takes away from his ability to get in behind the defense.
The Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is said to be close to declaring a State of Emergency in the Toronto area, as this would allow government funds to flow in and stop the bleeding at Toronto FC. If I'm totally honest, I have run out of bad things to be say about Toronto FC and my hyperbole well has run dry. The fact is they haven't scored almost at all, with a pathetic two goals in six games. Frings or no that is just shameful, and combined with the clown-car that is their back four, it is truly a miracle that the Reds haven't set themselves on fire by accident.
The sad part is that they have their moments to score; wonderful moments of one or two-touch soccer that build up beautifully and then they are either promptly robbed by the keeper, or lady luck herself intervenes and smashes their hopes to little, maple-leaf shaped pieces. I still don't expect this terrible run of form (and luck) to continue, but six games in is an awfully long time.
Lost in all the TFC-bashing is the fact that again the Chivas defense stood tall and Dan Kennedy continues his case for early-season GK of the Year. True, Chivas was facing the circus that is Toronto, but that doesn't mean that they didn't stop a few legitimate threats, including a great point-blank shot by Koevermans that was saved by Dan Kennedy.
If you missed the first half of New York vs San Jose, you missed one hell of an exciting half. This match had a little bit of everything: terrible New York defending (redundant, I know), terrible San Jose defending, great goals by Dax McCarty and Kenny Cooper, Rafa Marquez going UFC on Shea Salinas, and 2-all draw at the end. While some might focus on the goals, most of them were the result of brain-farts on behalf of the back lines and so I won't focus on those so much.
Let's talk about Rafa Marquez and his horror-tackle of Shea Salinas, shall we?
Now, I'm not sure much more actually needs to be said. Marquez not only brings him down inside the box, he kicks him during the fall. He actually extends his leg and kicks Salinas, which is not something I can see happen during the course of a fall. Marquez has a history of violence in this league and his conduct is unbecoming of ANY player in MLS, Mexican captain or not. If MLS is serious about banning dangerous play, Rafa deserves a good long suspension for this one. I'm curious to see how the higher ups wil react, especially considering he broke poor Salinas' clavicle as a result. We can bag on Thierry Henry for benig sly about his fouls, but he has never punched someone in the face or deliberately injured them.
The Battle of the Bigwigs occurred Saturday with Sporting Kansas City emerging the clear victor. Vermes' side has yet to encounter a team that can punish their high-pressure defense, and as a result Sporting are simply choking the life out of their opponents' offense. Real Salt Lake had a paltry ONE shot on goal (my LORD!) and this is a Salt Lake that I expected might be able to out-pass Sporting a bit and exploit the gaps that their high-pressure creates. Well, I was wrong. Sporting's Aurelin Colin (dirty, dirty man) simply dominated inside the box, and Graham Zusi's 63rd minute corner kick found Mr. Colin who buried it in the net. Salt Lake never recovered, while Sporting Kansas City established themselves as the undisputed Bosses of MLS.
Real Salt Lake was not a bad team during the match, but they, like so many others, couldn't handle the pressure that Sporting brought to bear. Writers at various websites have asked whether Sporting will eventually be burned out by this style of play, which is intensely taxing physically. While I am not one to jump to conclusions, it's something to consider; running around for ninety minutes is hard enough, but pressuring relentlessly for most of a match burns your legs out much quicker than a less aggressive strategy.
The LA Galaxy tried their very best to get back to their winning ways, and thanks to some goals from their star players, they finally managed to get a good, decisive win over Portland. The Timbers saw the typical narrative of the season so far play out: They were solid the first half; maybe even the better team. Of course, in keeping with the narrative, they completely fell apart in the second half and gave up two goals to lose their fourth in a row. Ouch. Kris Boyd has been everything that the Timbers could have hoped for, but he really isn't getting any help from his midfield. The Timbers' midfielders are a case of "almost, not quite" where one sees flashes of quality crumble under poor ball-control or terrible decision making. Six games in and inconsistent is the best way to describe the Timbers. Should they ever find a way to play the same game for two halves, they could easily push for the playoffs.
The Galaxy, unlike the Timbers, looked lost in the first half, though they were trying hard and pushing up the field. Once the second half rolled around, they came and they undressed the Timbers defense a couple of times. Juninho again showed off his canon of a shot and Beckham got in on the action too with a wondergoal of his own.
The Galaxy back four, save for the blown offside-trap that led to Boyd's goal, looked better than it had in recent games. This might be a result of playing the Timbers, but I think it's more likely a result of them regressing to the mean and adding their new defender via trade from Chivas. Missing Gonzales or no, they simply could not have sustained giving up that many goals every match. If they have started to turn the corner then that could mean a return to form for the reigning Champs.
Up in the Windy City, the Chicago Fire and the Houston Dynamo played to a draw. Houston again looked fairly dull and not particularly creative when they had possession, while the Fire were spritely and fast. Houston didn't seem to have much of an answer for the Fire's speed, though oddly enough it was the Dynamo who scored first. Will Bruin got his first goal of the season off a combination of a nice through ball and a defensive miscue that allowed him to run right up to Pablo Tornaghi and slot the ball home. The Fire's goal was a bizarre thing, coming off a free kick that hit the defenders' wall and caromed into the net, completely baffling Tally Hall.
Storms cancelled the remainder of the game and the game ended in a 1-1 draw, but the Fire proved themselves to be the better team. They carried the run of play and were much more dangerous throughout.
Questions from MLS Week 6:
1) What team's bad form is more surprising? Portland or Toronto? Which team makes the playoffs if only ONE of them can make it?
2) Which team is in more need of a creative presence in the midfield to succeed, Houston or Dallas?
3) Where in the WORLD would we be without Super Raton Perez?
4) Will New York trade for or buy a defender at the trade deadline, or will they do something bone-headed like buy Michael Ballack or Alessandro Del Piero?
5) Who are your picks for best four teams, in order in the Eastern Conference? I tried doing this and found I had a hard time making up my mind.