Friday, April 29, 2011

Preserve Defence

Colorado's Brian Mullan has been suspended an additional nine matches and fined $5000 for his two footed slide tackle that broke Steve Zakuani's leg. This is outrageous and shows MLS continuing to remove defence from the league. Yes, it was a horrible tackle and worthy of both a straight red and the three match ban. However, every match 1000 tackles take place and we rarely see something like this happen. Not every tackle is a rush of the blood tackle like Mullan's had last week, but not every tackle is innocent either. Everyone wonders how Zakuani will recover and if his career will continue to rise as it has been. I on the other hand believe it will be Mullan's career that will take the dive. He now has nine matches off to think about breaking another man's leg. I highly doubt Mullan will play to the standard he has in the past and I'm afraid his career maybe the one that fades and not Zakuani's. He will be a marked man every time he attempts a tackle.

Again let me say this was a terrible incident, but soccer is a full contact sport and these things happen. In the NFL players repeatedly run into each other to inflict pain, and rare it is when the NFL suspends someone for injurying another player. It's only in recent year for NFL players to be punished for off field problems. This is an incident that happens in sports, and if the tackle had happened a second sooner or later we wouldn't be talking about it.

The bigger problem I think this uncovers is the league taking defensive football and tackling out of the league. This season already we have seen a copious amount of red cards for light tackles, and ridiculous decisions by referees are becoming the norm in the league. I feel there is a concerted effort by the league to inform their referees that not only will goal celebrations be unacceptable, tackles and physical play be unallowed but also the referees most help to keep parity alive with their ridiculous calls. Lets face it, if the league wasn't happy with the refereeing they'd do something about it. Yes, they've brought in some fresh referees the past week or two; but those newbies have called the matches in the same inconsistent way. The league wants to look like they're stepping into help, but in truth they're happy to stay the course. MLS resembles the WWE more than professional football making the referee to be the villian in the match.

Many critics of the refereeing this season say US based refs call it in a Latin style. But the truth is there is no style. Too many times this season we've seen referees call a match inconsisentantly giving a yellow card to a player only to give a warning to another player for the same foul; or to give a red card when a warning would suffice.

To continue my consirpacy theory, MLS has plenty of reasons to want defensive football out of the game. First of all, they have already stated the referees need to protect the playmakers and attackers of the league. But most importantly defensive football is being taken away from us, because it doesn't sell to American casual fans and even to American hardcore fans. The common complaint of Americans is soccer is boring. MLS is rectifying this, however, by allowing the referees to make dodgy decisions that enable teams to play with an extra man. Conventional thinking is the game would then become open and more flowing with one team scoring a load of goals. This does happen, for example Colorado 4-1 DC United, DC had a player sent off in the first 15 mins for a soft tackle. But typically, teams play more defensive as in Vancouver's 1-1 draw with New England when three players were sent off. Two of which for questionable, soft fouls that were more hard play than reckless abandon.

The league is taking football out of football. It is a physically demanding game on all fronts. It was a horrible tackle, there's no doubt, but football is football and these things happen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

RSL Making it Matter

Last night RSL picked up a last gasp draw against Monterrey in the Champions League Final first leg. I've been surprised to see and other blog sites talking up this final and RSL. However, still many are critical of this competition and their team's involvment in it. I am not sure I understand the fans who feel meaningless midseason friendlies are a good idea compared to playing meaningful international cup matches. A good run in the CCL can catapult an MLS side into the Club World Cup (which is a competition teams from everywhere other than England actually do take pride in, check your history) where they could play a big European or South American team in a truly meaningful game. Many critics question whether people would truly accept RSL as Club World Cup champions. But in the USA and Canada where play-offs are the norm it shouldn't be questioned whether a team can go through a knockout play-off to become the undisputed champion. As Americans and Canadians we learn that anything can happen in the play-offs regardless of who the truly better team is.

If there's one thing that North American sports fans could hopefully grasp after RSL's cup run is that there is soccer and other sports for that matter outside of the continent. Throughout the history of North America people have played sports that are typical North American sports where the best players reside and is considered to be home to the best basketball, baseball, ice hockey and American football players; though the game is only sparsely played outside the continent. There has rarely been a desire to play teams from other countries as North America already sees itself as the best in these fields. The NFL tried to get a World Football League to take root in Europe, but there was no interest as these countries don't have American football teams in their schools and grow up playing proper football instead. (It has come down to the NFL sending its own teams to London every year to play for Americans living abroad and Europeans who only attend because they see the NFL as a spectacle {one Englishman describe it as being similar to UFC.}. More McDonaldization of the world)

 However, throughout the rest of the world there is a desire to play teams from other countries and to see who is the best of the best. Perhaps it's because of the vast size of North America that we don't play other countries in sports unless it is the Olypmics, World Cup or the two competition old World Baseball Cup (which features the typical baseball powers in North and Central American, Asia and most recently Australia). Maybe it is Americans, especially, that have a perception that they are the best at everything and if they're not they won't participate; being from the "strongest" country in the world many don't want to be beaten by the minnows and look bad. We are taught from an early age, as most countries are, that our country is the best and most influential. As part of this there has been a thinking in the history of MLS (despite two CONCACAF Cup winners) that MLS is the most important league and playing outside the league is worthless. Why waste energy for something that people won't understand anyway. But people do understand and aren't as nieve as some think.

I'm sure Rio Tinto will be in full force next week for the second leg in which RSL hold the away goals lead at the moment. This will be massive for a city with only one other professional sports team in the Utah Jazz. A team that has had limited success in its history. RSL already has one more league title than the Jazz, and with an international trophy to their credit it could make demand even higher for the hottest ticket in town.

Hopefully, when the 2011-2012 CONCACAF competition kicks off Colorado, FC Dallas, LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders will take the tournament seriously. However, the Galaxy and Seattle have not played to their full potential in the competition in recent times. Not to mention three of the four teams are extremely undermanned at the moment. Colorado when healthy does have a team that could compete at a high level in the competition. However, I don't expect any of these teams to make it past the group stage. The upswing is that MLS now allows 10-teams in the play-offs and that could influence these teams to try harder in the Champions League. Don't expect another MLS team to make a cup run like RSL next season. This won't be an every year occurrance, and if RSL do win the competition it will be a shame if they aren't allowed to defend their title.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New England Pick Up Option on Feilhaber

News has just come out that New England has picked up the allocation rights to Benny Feilhaber. Now it is up to them to sign the player or trade him for other options. I wouldn't be surprised either way. By signing him they add quality to the midfield. The Revolution is notoriously cheap and should have plenty of cap space. On the other hand they may trade away Feilhaber for some attacking options. I'm not sure what team would be interested in moving two or three players to New England for Feilhaber. I would assume New England is where he'll stay.

Sporting KC does have the attacking options to trade, but do they really need Feilhaber at this moment? I think not. Houston could likely trade for him, but they don't have much talent to move in the other direction. DC United does have the likes of Santino Quaranta, Steven King or even Branko Boskovic who could be deemed as excess to needs. On paper DC United seems to have the most pieces to move for Feilhaber. But again this would seem unlikely with the off-season signing of Dax McCarty and both teams being rivals in the Eastern Conference. No other team seems to have the pieces to add Feilhaber to its roster.

If he does sign with the Revs I am not sure this make the Revs that much better. Yes, they have a good defence and their midfield was already adequate; but they don't of goal scorers. As I wrote in an earlier post they have signed Rajko Lekic which should ease the teams goal scoring woes.

Chivas USA Decides not to Ruin Benny Feilhaber's Career

Chivas USA has passed on the chance to sign USA international Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber signed with Major League Soccer last week after the league paid a transfer fee to his former club AGF Aarhus who currently play in the Danish second division following relegation last season. Feilhaber's contract was up after this season, and Aarhus cashed in on arguably their prized asset.

Until moving to Aarhus Feilhaber had an indifferent club career playing a hand full of matches for SV Hamberg's first team in Germany and Derby County in England's Premier League. It was his national team form that made Feilhaber a "household name" as far as USMNT players are concerned. He burst on to the scene with a fantastic volley against Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup. Since then he has played well for the national team, and was an integral part at the 2010 World Cup when the USA dropped a holding midfielder and became more attacking late in matches.

With Chivas USA passing on Feilhaber this gives him the chance to play for a team that will not be rooted at the bottom of the league all year. Instead of helping his career, a move to Chivas could have hindered it with the lack of talent he would have around him. It would have also been a sideways move leaving the Danish second division for the worst team in MLS. It's worth considering that MLS may have worked out a deal with Chivas to pass on one of the stars of the USMNT much like they did with Brian McBride. McBride was allocated to Toronto FC, but he wanted to play for Chicago and after some MLS intervention was granted a trade to the Windy City.

The Philadelphia Union is on the clock, but all reports have the club passing on Feilhaber. This makes sense with the good young talent and cap space the Union currently have. Feilhaber's contract will eat up a large chunk of salary cap space. It is said he will earn around $350,000 which is the maximum salary for a non-Designated Player. I would love to see Feilhaber end up in Philadelphia, and I think the team could use his creativity in the midfield. They haven't created many goals this season. Carlos Ruiz's goal against Vancouver has been the only goal the team has actually created from open play this season (goal mouth scrambles and errors by by defenders would not count as a created goal). Perhaps Feilhaber's vision in midfield would allow the attackers around him to express themselves more.

The current allocation order looks like this:

1. Chivas USA (By passing Chivas USA still hold the top spot)
2. Philadelphia Union
3. New England Revolution
4. Houston Dynamo
5. Toronto FC
6. Chicago Fire
7. Sporting Kansas City
8. Seattle Sounders FC
9. Columbus Crew
10. New York Red Bulls
11. Real Salt Lake
12. San Jose Earthquakes
13. Los Angeles Galaxy
14. FC Dallas
15. Colorado Rapids
16. Vancouver Whitecaps
17. Portland Timbers
18. D.C. United

New England has just signed striker Rajko Lekic and being the cheapest team in the league may not want to spend on Feilhaber. They've also continued to talk about signing a DP this summer, but I'll believe it when I see it. Houston Dynamo has just signed Koke from Aris in Greece, and is playing well. They may not want to add to the squad at the moment. TFC may have the cap space to sign Feilhaber after the Dwayne De Rosario trade. Feilhaber would work well with Julian De Guzman as the attacker in the midfield. But TFC's 4-3-3 may not suit Feilhaber who may prefer a 4-4-2 formation. Also, will MLS want a key USMNT player playing in Canada after Jay De Merit signed for Vancouver? Chicago has a good shout at getting him and should have the cap space. They could use someone that can boss the midfield after their poor showing in Portland. Sporting KC maybe interested, but do they really need anymore attacking players? This team needs defence. Columbus could spend big and add him to the fantastic pair that is Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers. This addition would all of a sudden upgrade the Crew's midfield from good to excellent. New York and LA Galaxy don't have the money to afford Feilhaber, Colorado should be set in their midfield, FC Dallas could have their Dax McCarty replacement (but will he want to play for FCD). I would love to see Feilhaber end up in Salt Lake, but they already have Javier Morales. If  Feilhaber makes it past Columbus I see him signing with San Jose. He would be fantastic playing next to Simon Dawkins or playing off Chris Wondolowski as the second striker. Seattle may have the space, but they seem to have a full midfield already.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

MLS Week 5 Power Rankings: April 18, 2011

Parity is continuing to play havoc in MLS. Only a hand full of teams have been able to gain some continued form while others have been all over the place.

1. Real Salt Lake (2)
RSL got a late winner in the Rocky Mountain Derby. RSL is undefeated in all competitions so far this season and is preparing for the CONCACAF Champions League Final first leg against Mexico's Monterrey this week. Will the wheels come off if they suffer a bad result in the final?

2. Philadelphia Union (8)
I thought the Union was punching above its weight. But they continue to get the job done. A win against New York (though fortunate thanks to a terrible pass from Tim Ream) and a draw against Seattle Sounders is proving they belong on top of the East (for now). This team isn't creating goals, however, and can't rely on the defence to hold out every week.

3. LA Galaxy (4)
LA is having trouble putting teams away on the road. A questionable penalty in DC lead to a 1-1 draw followed by a 0-0 in Toronto. Landon Donovan's body is finally fighting back after continually playing over the past two years. They'll need his vision and leadership back to push on.

4. New York Red Bulls (3)
After some stuttering New York finally played to their potential against San Jose. Luke Rodgers got off the mark with two well taken goals. Thierry Henry showed up this week and added an assist and a goal. If they can get some consistency this team could be the best in the league.

5. Columbus Crew (13)
The Crew aren't flashy. They don't score a lot of goals. However, they seem to have ironed out their defensive problems from week 1 and they have a midfield that has bossed their last few games. Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers have been brilliant and the back four are doing enough.

6. Houston Dynamo (15)
Like the Crew Houston isn't flashy and they're not over powering, but eight points from five matches is impressive from a team without much talent. Dominic Kinear is a fantastic manager and he has this team doing just enough each week. Houston should at least pick up three of the next six available points. They have a bright young goalkeeper in Tally Hall who should get a USMNT look with the way he has played thus far. If they can get a goal scorer this team will be hard to beat as the defence is already in place.

7. Colorado Rapids (1)
After three straight wins the Rapids have dropped games in Dallas and Salt Lake. The first was a drubbing that they didn't show up for. The second was a heartbreaking late goal in a derby. It doesn't get any easier as they host Seattle at home on Friday. They need to get their high powered attack going again before they drop anymore points. They are still without Conor Casey, but do still have enough to take apart most teams in the league.

8. Seattle Sounders FC (11)
Seattle has gotten it going over the last few matches. They were fortunate to get a late equaliser againsts Philadelphia in a monsoon at PPL. They have all the talent, but seem to sputter with Fredy Montero up top as the focus of the team. He has no goals and one assist in five matches this season. More should expect from the team's marquee player. Freddie Ljundberg was run out of town last season for similar play. Fortunately for Montero, Sounders' fans seem to give Montero a pass.

9. DC United (14)
I said at the beginning of the season Charlie Davis would win the Golden Boot award. Through five matches he has five goals, though a few have been from the spot and not from open play. Thus far the team has been all over the place. Beating a disappointing Columbus, losing to New England (thanks to Baldomero Toledo), getting hammered by Colorado, drawing with LA Galaxy and thumping Toronto has shown us to expect the unexpected from this team. They haven't shown consistent form this season, but if they find it they will be difficult to beat. One thing's for sure: They are better than last season.

10. Portland Timbers (16)
The Timbers have come from nowhere to break the top 10! They have been led by captain Jack Jewsbury, who would be a perfect calming influence to Sporting KC right now,  and are getting contributions from other areas of the pitch. The scenes have been electric at JELD-WEN field, but can this team win away from home? They be difficult to beat at home as their home stadium is a massive advantage and they are definitely the future of MLS.

11. Vancouver Whitecaps (9)
Six points from six games is a massive positive for a first year MLS club. Much like Portland they've failed to find consistent form, despite having a more talented side than other teams around them. The Whitecaps have had the opportunity to take maximum points against less talented squads in Houston and Chivas USA, but have failed to do so. The fixtures get more difficult now and they will need Eric Hasseli to stay on the pitch and not be suspended if they are to take points from these upcoming fixtures.

12. Toronto FC (12)
Despite being embarrassed by DC United last week I don't think TFC is all that bad. Everyone continues to say they're in a re-building year. But that means they've had something to begin with. This team is building, and they have some excellent pieces in place. Some player continuity and manager continuity will do wonders for this club, and I don't think the play-offs are unrealistic looking at the teams around them.

13. San Jose Earthquakes (7)
After playing so well in their opening four matches the Earthquakes were out classed and out played by New York last weekend. Nothing was working for San Jose, and despite the torrential down pour should have put up a fight. I was surprised by their early form, but always thought last week's performance was more like the San Jose we would see this season.

14. New England Revolution (5)
Another team that has crashed down to Earth after a solid start. A draw and two losses in their last three have New England limping into a home encounter with an equally poor Sporting KC team. New England's defence continues to be solid, but there's no attack. They went down without a whimper to an RSL side with more reserves than first teamers in it and then gave up a late goal to the Dynamo. They need someone to score some goals and take the pressure off the defence.

15. Sporting KC (10)
The good news is Sporting KC only gave up one goal last week. They have given up nine goals in four matches. The bad news is their super sonic attack was non-existent. They have scored eight goals in four matches. It was a poor showing from a Sporting team that never truly looked like scoring. Sure Kei Kamara was put in on goal, but the angle was always against him. Sporting's unbalanced assembly is causing havoc with their stlye of play and I don't think Omar Bravo's absence is the cause of their current form. The midfield needs more bite and a move to a four man midfield would reduce the pressure on the back four. As in the clubs Open Cup win over Houston, last week's match shows what happens when Sporting's attack isn't firing. This team needs to give up some of its attack and grind out results with a staunch midfield.

16. Chicago Fire (6)
Chicago's bright start has burnt out. The good news is that their next three league games will be against similar teams in the table. The Fire can be forgiven for losing to Seattle, but they were completely taken out of last week's match against the Timbers by the home field advantage Portland has. They're scoring goals, but unfortunately they are conceding more goals.

17. FC Dallas (18)
Recently, FCD manager Schellas Hyndman was quoted as saying the team hadn't found a replacement to Dax McCarty in midfield. This shocked me as they had plenty of time to find one following his trade in the expansion draft. Hell, they didn't have to trade him at all. This is definitely not the team it was last season. They have slipped back to the mediocre state they previously occupied before last year. If they can get a couple of wins they will be right back in it, however, I still don't see anything special in this team.

18. Chivas USA (17)
Jesus Christ, I wish MLS had relegation. This team is bad. They have made slight defensive improvements since the beginning of the season. Chivas has been able to grind out three consecutive draws for their only points thus far. Three incredibly boring draws. What should be extremely worrying is this team has only three goals on the season. Two were by defenders and one was by striker Alejandro Moreno. If you want to see how not to be a striker watch Justin Braun's ridiculously comical attempt at finishing in their match against TFC from three weeks ago. I can't express how bad of an attacker this kids is; he isn't a kid anymore actually, he is 24-years old. His terrible play has done me a solid, however, and shut up all those crying out for him to be included with the USMNT. Unfortunately I'm sure he'll be in the team for this summer's Gold Cup. What is more worrying for the USMNT, however, is Benny Feilhaber maybe joining this band of misfits thanks to MLS' allocating player system. If Feilhaber is forced to sign with Chivas USA don't expect this team to get better or Feilhaber's career to sky rocket. There aren't the players on this team to enable Feilhaber to succeed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It starts here...

Can I start the Javier Morales for MLS MVP campaign yet? Morales had another assist in RSL win over Colorado, and continues to be the player that makes this team tick. Yes, they have the best overall team in the league; but with out their "10" to run the offence I'm not sure if this team would be showing the form they have so far. I know he is under contracted to RSL until 2012, but should definitely be given a DP contract. In my opinion he is definitely worth it compared to current RSL DP Alvaro Saborio.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Eric Hasseli: Pure Nutter - Baldomero Toledo: Pure Clown

Eric Hasseli received the best MLS red card ever in Wednesday's Vancouver versus New England fixture. Upon scoring a penalty to put the Whitecaps ahead, Hasseli on a yellow card already, whipped off his shirt and threw it into the crowd revealing a second jersey underneath. He promptly got his marching orders. Despite arguing it was the same shirt he had been wearing.

Vancouver was a man down already and would play much of this match with nine men. Gershon Koffie was sent off at the end of the second half following an elbow on Pat Phelan. Yes, Koffie did elbow Phelan in the face, but to be fair Koffie went straight up and was protecting himself. Meanwhile, Phelan came running in and jumped into Koffie. This is very similiar to the ridiculous penalty that Phelan drew against DC United thanks to the same official Baldomero Toledo who loves to be the center of attention. In the second half, Hasseli received his first yellow card for an elbow on a Kevin Alston. If you are going by the logic of elbows equal red cards then he too should have been sent off. Both were elbows and both could be deemed dangerous. However, both times the Revs players got back up and played on. In this incident Toledo actually had called a foul against Alston on Hasseli prior to Alston going down like he'd been shot. Toledo waited to see the Revs player rolling around before making his decision on the Hasseli yellow card. I'm sorry, but he obviously didn't see the elbow and made his decision on based on seeing Alston rolling on the floor. Unbelievable.

Now if we're going on this inconsistent logic, it makes complete sense that Toledo would miss yet another important call. New England's Zak Boggs should have seen a red card or at the very least a yellow for taking down Camilo in the box; which resulted in a penalty. He does look to be the last man back on every replay I've seen. That is a professional foul of taking down a goal scorer with an immediate goal scoring chance. Yet, Toledo bottled it like he always does. This certainly would have put another twist into this game.Hasseli would score the penalty and then be sent off.

A.J. Soares would be sent off in the second half for the Revs. This was a hard tackle, but deserved no more than a yellow card. To be fair he didn't make a lot of contact either. But Toledo produced a straight red. I don't understand the inconsistency. Football is a contact sport and there will be hard tackles. Toledo is treating this like ballet. Lets be as gentle as we can, so no one gets hurt. Thanks again Baldomero Toledo for giving out the most red cards of any MLS referee. You truly are shit at your job. Yes, taking off the shirt is a proper card, but the others... I don't know. I'm not sure why he is allowed to affect matches by continually being assigned to work in MLS. This is the second match he has "help" New England secure points in this season. The first time against DC United, and now against the Whitecaps; who despite playing with nine men for times in this match were the better team. Though they looked exhausted in the last five minutes of the match. The talent has gotten better this season in the league. It's time the officiating did, too.

Again, Vancouver looked good. Atiba Harrison has been a revelation this season. His ability to hold the ball up and lay the ball off is something he hasn't shown prior to his time in Vancouver. His movement off the ball has also been fantastic, too. Getting into open spaces to receive the ball and running at defenders, which is something the Whitecaps do extremely well. The club has also shown with their early success the importance of having a core of players come up from D2 to play in MLS; and that includes manager Teitur Thordarson. Only a few months ago many people were deriding this club for their non-MLS experienced signings and the drafting of Omar Salgado. Now those people have turned the other way and are enjoying the football this team is playing. I've truly enjoyed watching this team this season. They will make the playoffs, and don't be surprised when they make an RSL or Colorado like run when they get their. In my opinion, New England has benefitted from the referee too many times this season (twice now from Toledo). I honestly can't say they are that good of a team, but a team that does just enough and has fight in them.

I had predicted a 1-0 Whitecaps win, however, the Revs were able to get it done in the end and get a 1-1 draw.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Worth Reading

The BBC Sports page has a nice little story on LA Galaxy's England-born midfielder Chris Birchall.
I've expressed my distaste for MLS versus teams from abroad friendlies and I think Birchall's quote is quite telling of how players feel about it.

 "We play friendlies against Barcelona and Real Madrid and we've played well but you can't compare when there's no meaning in the game and it's just a friendly."

MLS Week 4 Preview

Three weeks are now in the books and the MLS season is chugging along. Last week many of the leagues' teams were evenly matched, but this week can the top teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences extend their leads. Or will parity reign supreme and cause congestion in the league.

Vancouver will host New England Wednesday night at Empire Field. Both come in off of draws, but the momentum has to be with Vancouver after their stellar come from behind draw against Sporting KC last weekend. New England gave up an early lead to draw 1-1 against Portland in Foxborough. Vancouver will have striker Eric Hasseli back from suspension and should push the New England defence harder than they've been pushed this season. New England still lacks an out and out goal scorer, but their defence should keep this one close.
Prediction: Vancouver 1-0 New England

FC Dallas will play their second consecutive Friday night match this time hosting the hottest team in the league the Colorado Rapids. Colorado will most likely be without Conor Casey after he tweated a hamstring last weekend. But Colorado's addition of Caleb Folan in the off-season should see them not miss a step. FCD is not the team they were last season. There are no goal scorers on the pitch and the defence has been dismal. I've been extremely umimpressed with Brek Shea at centreback and see the Colorado attack dominating this match. Colorado is the best team in the league and they will continue their run of good form.
Prediction: FC Dallas 0-2 Colorado Rapids

Chicago goes to Seattle to kick off Saturday's action. Chicago had a bye week in week 3 after a solid offensive display against Sporting KC in week 2. This game will be a measuring stick for both clubs. If Chicago can get the win it show they are a real force in the East, but a Sounders' win would prove this team is headed in the right direction. Seattle looked good against San Jose this past weekend, and if they continue to play without Fredy Montero this team will improve. They've relied too heavily on the Columbian this season and he hasn't contributed as in previous seasons. Seattle has a better midfield and at the same time I've been extremely impressed with the Fire's attack this season. The Fire's attack is better even if Seattle has Montero in the starting 11. If Chicago can dominate the midfield it will be a long day for the Sounders' defence, but if Mauro Rosales is heavily involved like he was last week Seattle should do well.
Prediction: Seattle Sounders 2-2 Chicago Fire

Philadelphia has been consider the East's dark horse early on this season. However, their early games have come against two of the league's lesser teams. Last week they were out played by an LA team who is still struggling to find their best form. The next three weeks will be a big test for the Union, and I don't think they'll pass. Only two goals in three matches and only one by an attacking player doesn't bode well. New York were denied by Tally Hall time after time last week despite bombarding Houston's goal. New York should handle Philadelphia in this one and get back on track. The team is gelling after the acquisition of Dwayne De Rosario and the loss of Tony Tchani and Danleigh Borman. The Red Bulls will also need Bouna Coundoul to stop making stupid mistakes.
Prediction: Philadelphia 1-3 New York

New England will play their second match in week 4 as they return from the Pacific Northwest to host Real Salt Lake. Though Salt Lake played on Tuesday night in the Champions League and also had a long trip I can't see anything but a RSL win. New England will get very few attacks and will hope to hit RSL on the counter. However, RSL should take the fight to the Revs. Shalrie Joesph my be implored in a more defensive role to mark Javier Morales. Even then RSL has too many good players for New England to stop.
Prediction: New England 0-2 Real Salt Lake

DC United come off a 4-1 spanking at the hands of Colorado to host LA Galaxy. DC United is still gelling with the new talent that was acquired in the off-season. They'll need Charlie Davis to be fit for this one if they want to have a chance of beating LA. I'm afraid week 1 may have been a false down for United. LA hasn't overly impressed this season, but is good enough to beat a DC team that is still trying to find itself.
Predictions: DC United 1-2 LA Galaxy

Chivas USA is still the worst team in the league. The backline was better last week in Toronto. But this team is so hard to predict. Early last week they were beat handily by Portland in a US Open Cup play-in match. This team has no identity and has no style of play. Nothing about this team is remarkably positive, despite getting a point last weekend. Columbus is on the upswing, however. Last week's match against FC Dallas was a total team performance and with some better finishing two weeks ago versus New York and this team would be near the top of the East. If Eddie Gaven is deployed in the centre of midfield this team should dominate a slightly improving Goats' backline. Chivas obviously doesn't have the attack to over power an improving Columbus defence. Last week they look completely different than the team in week 1.
Prediction: Chivas USA 0-2 Columbus Crew

San Jose has played some outstanding football this season, and Chris Wondolowski is proving me wrong by showing last season was no fluke. I still think TFC got a good deal in Tchani and Borman from New York. San Jose is slightly favoured on my part. Their passing has been good, and they've been creative as well. I've was impress with Bobby Convey's return to form over the past year or so and believe he deserves a call up to the national team. He is still only in his mid-20s. TFC will need to limit the mistakes at the back and hope Javier Martina, Alan Gordan or Maicon Santos can challenge the 'Quakes defence and excellent goalkeeper Jon Busch.
Prediction: San Jose 1-1 TFC

Houston hosts Vancouver in the final game of the weekend. Houston maybe without Brian Ching, but they should be used to life without the striker as much as he is injuried. Vancouver should get something from this and will have their flair players of Camilo and Chiumento running at Houston's defence. But with their second game in a week and point is a good result.
Prediction: Houston 1-1 Vancouver

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

MLS Power Rankings Week 3: April 5, 2011

Everyone loves a power ranking in the USA, so I thought I'd get in on the act. Now that three weeks of MLS action has been played I feel it is a good time to make a few judgements on MLS clubs.

1. Colorado Rapids
The Rapids have had little trouble in their first three fixtures, and are using last season's MLS Cup victory as a springboard for this season; much like RSL did in '09. Colorado is doing it as a team and have had five different players on the score sheet in their three matches. Unlike many MLS Cup winners, they have strenghtened the team in key areas. They've signed striker Caleb Folan (who scored two in Week 3), they've brought back Danny Earls as defensive cover and also signed Sanna Nyassi. This team is much better than last season, which cannot be said for their cup final opponent FC Dallas.

2.Real Salt Lake
Salt Lake sit on six points from two matches and in their last MLS match humiliated LA Galaxy. They have an excellent starting 11, and have added depth to key areas with the signing of Conor Chinn. RSL should advance to the CONCACAF Champions League Final this week as they attempt to prove they are the best team in North and Central America. Fatigue shouldn't be a factor for this club. Yes, they've played extra matches in the CL competition, but they are good enough not to let it affect them. Much like Colorado they work as a team, though they have Alvaro Saborio as a DP, this team works for each other.

3. New York Red Bulls
New York is still undefeated in this early part of the season and looked better this past weekend against Houston than the previous week in Columbus. As long as this team has it's key centreback pairing of Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez it should be hard to beat. However, Bouna Coundoul is a liability and was at fault for Houston's goal on Saturday night. Dwayne De Rosario should fit in well. He had a fantastic through ball to Dane Richards to set up the Red Bulls only goal. Richards has become a fantastic talent since the arrival of Hans Backe.

4. LA Galaxy
LA handled Philadelphia quite easily in week 3 with a lone goal from Leonardo. Nothing special from LA in truth. They simply looked like the better team. With Landon Donovan back they should be able to handle most MLS teams, but may struggle against the top of the league. Their old legs don't help and need a youthful injection. Donovan is no spring-chicken anymore either.

5. New England Revolution
I wasn't expecting much from this team this season. Yes, they did get some fortunate calls against DC United in week 2, but they have played some good football. Throughout Saturday's match they looked evenly matched with Portland. Their defence looks solid only giving up three goals this season, however, they gave Portland too much room in the attacking third. At times Kenny Cooper was able to run freely through the middle of the defence. Steve Nicol will need to shore this up prior to week 4's match in Vancouver. The Whitecaps wide open attack could cause the Revs some problems. If the defence can get shored up and some more attacking talent is added this team could get back to old habits this season.

6. Chicago Fire
A pleasant surprise thus far in Chicago. This team can attack and after switching to a 4-4-2 (from 3-5-2) look like they can go toe to toe with anyone. They seem to have ditched the defensive mentality they showed for so many years under Denis Hamlett and the lot. They look more free flowing giving Marco Pappa the chance to run the midfield. Chicago also got rid of the old boys on the team this past season and the turnover has helped thus far. They just need to cut out the mistakes, like Gonzalo Seagres' 30-yard back pass to no one that Teal Bunbury picked off and scored in week 2.

7. San Jose Earthquakes
I've been surprised thus far with San Jose's play. They've played some good football, and Chris Wondolowski looks like the real deal and not the flash in the pan I thought. He has two goals, but more importantly his run and touch have been outstanding. They moved the ball well against Seattle last week and at times looked like the better team. Their finishing has been the achilles heel in home matches this season.

8. Philadelphia Union
Sorry Union, but I think you have been punching above your weight this season. Only two goals scored and one was by defender Danny Califf on a goal mouth scramble following a corner. The attackers haven't gelled yet and were completely out played by LA over the weekend. Week 1 and 2 were easier for the Union who will now face New York, Seattle and Salt Lake in the next three matches. We'll see if the Union are truly good enough then.

9. Vancouver Whitecaps
Maybe the most exciting team so far this season. An unbelievable, unprobable come back against Sporting KC capped by two goals in second half stoppage-time. They have two of the best midfielders in the league in Davide Chiumento and Terry Dunfield; and even without DP Eric Hasseli are scoring goals. If Hasseli can stay on the pitch and not be suspended Vancouver will be one of the hardest teams to beat all season.

10. Sporting KC
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Great attack and awful defence. This team again upgraded the attack in the off season and again neglected the defence. The powers that be seem to think they'll outscore every team. Sporting is lucky to have four points out of nine. If it weren't for goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen Sporting would have surely lost this past weekend against Vancouver. They've given up eight goals in three matches, however, they have scored eight. They play exciting football, but if they aren't winning come June I don't expect their new stadium to fill up every weekend.

11. Seattle Sounders FC
Against San Jose, Seattle looked the best they have all year. I credit that to the injuried Fredy Montero. For the first time O'Brian White came into the match, and registered a goal. Is it just me or does he look unfit? Without Montero Seattle played more as a team and wasn't relying on one player throughout. Perhaps, it is time to move Montero on and stop depending so much on one player. Yes, when he is on he is on, but Montero has been incredibly wasteful this season as he drifts in and out of matches. Not to mention his selfish play. I think it's time for Seattle to make a difficult decision in moving Montero to strengthen the rest of the team. They have the best midfield in the league, and Saturday's match against San Jose was an example of what Steve Zakuani can do down the left. Zakuani's final ball following his blazing runs was there. I'm a big fan of Mauro Rosales and Erik Friberg and both were outstanding.

12. Toronto FC
One moment of bad marking and TFC paid the price in week 3. Though Chivas USA did have numerous opportunities to stregthen the lead their inability to finish chances kept TFC in the game. Despite trading Dwayne De Rosarion TFC is in good condition getting two quality players in Tony Tchani and Danleigh Borman. Alan Gordan's goal showed that TFC doesn't need DeRo to score every time, however, no one should miss a header when they're marked that freely.

13. Columbus Crew
Eddie Gaven is the most underrated played in all of MLS. Finally, he was allowed to play centerally against FC Dallas and he controlled the match. The Crew were gifted a penalty from what looked like a good challenge followed by the attacker and defender running into each other after the ball had been cleared. But the Crew were the better team throughout and capped it off with a fantastic Gaven strike from 20-yards. If I was an MLS club looking for an experienced midfielder then Gaven is my man. Still only 25-years old with eight years professional experience.

14. DC United
Week 1's result flattered DC United. They're not that good. Columbus's defence was just that bad in week 1. However, DC was rather unlucky in week 2 followed by a humilating defeat in a cold snowy Colorado this past weekend. DC again was unlucky as the Rapids' Conor Casey should have been sent off in the first 15-minutes. This team was missing several key players to injury and USMNT U20 matches. They are still putting the pieces together and I am still not convinced by Ben Olsen leading this team.

15. Houston Dynamo
The Dynamo have played relatively well so far this season. But where will the goals come from? Cameron Weaver had a classy goal against New York, but Bouna Coundoul should have done better. They've been strong at the back, and goalkeeper Tally Hall could be the next big thing in US goalkeeping.

16. Portland Timbers
The Timbers looked quite good against New England in week 3. Kenny Cooper came into the game well and did a fantastic job of running at defenders. Captain Jack Jewsbury showed why the Timbers traded for him with a classy goal to draw the match level. This team still needs better quality throughout the team, however. And sorry, but I'm not convinced by Rodney Wallace as professional footballer.

17. Chivas USA
Surprisingly they weren't the worst team in the league this week, but close. A much better all around display, but that's not hard when you are the worst team in the league. Justin Braun continues to show why I think he is overrated, awful and not cut out to be a top-flight football player. Braun had atleast four clear chances to put the game away against TFC, but each time missed and missed badly. I can't believe some MLS pundits believe Braun should be on the USMNT and is one of the best (young) players in the league. I just don't get it. By the way, Braun was at fault for the TFC goal, too. He was the one marking Alan Gordan, if you call marking standing four yards away and allowing a free header from one of the shorter players on the field to be marking.

18. FC Dallas
How the mighty have fallen. I keep saying that FCD didn't replace the players that left in the off-season, and yet again it shows. They were unlucky in the awarding of a penalty to Columbus. But the midfield allowed Eddie Gaven to run the show on the night. David Ferriera has looked like a shell of last season's form. There's no goal scorers as they've only scored once in three games. That came back in week 1 on a Milton Rodriguez wonder goal. Also, someone needs to tell Schellas Hyndman that Brek Shea is not a central defender. He has been terrible in the position. I know you can't expect him to completely learn a new position in the off-season. But maybe you should put him there gradually, give him some reserve matches there. He's too weak to play as a centreback anyway. He is slightly more affective as a wide midfielder. I actually think being 6' 3'' he should be deployed as a target man up front. His size should allow him to not only be a good header of the ball, but able to hold the ball up. FCD should have done the same as Colorado in the off-season and added quality to the squad, not get rid of it.

Team of the week: Vancouver Whitecaps for their come back from 3-0 in 20 minutes.
Player of the week: Caleb Folan 2 goals for Colorado and an honourable mention for Vancouver's Camilo for his 2 goals in second half stoppage time and Eddie Gaven for his 1 goal and play against FCD.

Monday, April 4, 2011

MLS officiating still ridiculous

Colorado Rapids hammered a depleted DC United on Sunday 4-1. However, this result could have been much different if referee Elias Basakos would have sent a deserving player off. Too often in MLS the referee is too quick to pull out a red card, however, in this instance Mr. Basakos was wrong not to show a red. If he would have I don't see this having ended in a 4-1 scoreline. The incident happened 15 minutes into the match when Colorado's Conor Casey wildly flew into a 50/50 challenge studs up. Casey caught DC's Daniel Woolard square in the shin/calf area just below the inside of the knee. Woolard's lucky not to have had his leg broken as many players have in this instance.

Casey got off lightly and was only shown a yellow card. I can't believe how bad some of the officiating has been this season with red cards given for non-offences and a referee misses a blantant red card offence. If Casey was red carded DC may have been able to get the upper hand in this match. However, Colorado looked great and Caleb Folan looks like a good signing. The difference between Colorado and Sporting KC is that Colorado not only has a great attack, but they have the midfield and defence to go with it.

Conor Casey would go off in this match with an injury, possibly a thigh strain. He did look quite unfit prior to going off. He looks to be carrying some extra weight, though he has always been a big guy, he looks 5-10 pounds over weight.

MLS Week 3

As you may have noticed this has become more of an MLS blog though I never intended for that to happen. Not sure if I have the time this week to review many of the matches, but I will say this: Week 3 of MLS was one of the best weeks the league has ever had. Majority of the matches were draws, but some excellent football was played. This league looks so different than it did two, three, four years ago. The standard of play has increase exponentionally. Yes, there have been defensive and officiating mistakes, but all in all the play has been good. Here's to hoping it continues.

Vancouver Whitecaps 3-3 Sporting KC: An Advertisement for MLS

Vancouver and Sporting KC played one of the best MLS games you will see all season. Some wonderful attacking football was displayed on Saturday afternoon. Sporting was lucky to still be at 0-0 after 30 minutes, as Vancouver was denied time after time by Sporting's Jimmy Nielsen. The Sporting defence looked suspect again as they have all season. There's no bite in the midfield either, and it's not a big surprise they would end up drawing this match and at times be over run.

Sporting grabbed the lead on a fantastic 20-yard strike by Teal Bunbury; who created something out of nothing and was able to get a shot away as the defender gave him a little room. Sporting's second came on  fantastic combination play by Milos Stojcev and Teal Bunbury. For the third rookie C.J. Sapong did a fantastic job down the left hand side before cutting the ball back and outside footing a pass across the box to Kei Kamara. This is were the defence should have shut up shop and the midfield should have overrun the Whitecaps. The Whitecaps were missing there star striker, too.

Since the season started I've said Vancouver is a darkhorse in the league. They've put this team together properly, and it has shown so far this season and have always looked impressive in each game. Atiba Harris would get the first goal goal off of a cross from the left side that came off of Harris's thigh. Harris was able to ghost into the box behind Sporting's defence. For the second there were too many Sporting players playing catch up, and most of them were jogging back expecting someone else to stop the attacker. Sapong allowed Davide Chiumento to get behind him, collect the ball and make a inch perfect pass to Camilo who slotted it home. Again, none of the Sporting defenders stepped up to the attacker and not enough pressure was put on the ball. The third would be similar, but this time from a looping Camilo header.

This was a fantastic match and is an advertisment for the league. It felt like a cup final at the end of the match. Though it was a draw this result was more like a loss for Sporting and a win for Vancouver in the way that it ended.

The biggest thing coming away from this match is Sporting has to get their defence sorted out. They've scored eight goals in three matches, but they have given up eight goals. In my opinion they are lucky to have four points from nine, and could very easily have drawn in week 1 with Chivas. They can't expect to outscore everyone in every game, and Vancouver's flair players tore the defence apart. Sporting has a fantastic attack, currently it may be the best in the league. But the midfield has no bite and the defence is pourous. Nielsen kept this from being a loss and should get apologies from the rest of the team after the poor defensive performance. Sporting allowed Jimmy Conrad to leave in the off-season, and though I don't think he'd make a big difference and it was a good idea to let him go, they didn't upgrade the position. Julio Cesar is pathetic and looks like Pablo Escobar v2.0. Rob Heineman and Peter Vermes are at fault for some of this as they have made this team incredibly unbalanced and top heavy. They desparately need a centreback who will mark an attacker and not allow them to get past so easily. Sporting would also be stronger at the back with defensive midfielder Craig Rocastle slotted slightly closer to the centrebacks and to protect them more. But perhaps, putting four in the midfield would allieviate the problems as well. However, a change from the 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 would take away from the wealth of attacking options Heineman and Vermes have assembled. I've said for a while now I think Heineman is weak at his position and isn't the soccer mind he believes he is. I know the salary cap doesn't allow for teams to have top notch players at every position. But with four strikers (Bunbury, Sapong, Kamara, Omar Bravo) you'd think they could sacrifice some of the attack for a defender or two. Aurelien Collin will join the team in the summer, but Sporting maybe in more trouble at the back before that.

Sporting may lose several players to the Gold Cup or other international competitions this summer. Being a supporter of this team I'm afraid they won't have the players to fill the voids and will not make the play-offs yet again.

In all a fantastic game, but at 3-0 no team should ever give up a lead. Sporting was lucky to get the point in the end.