MLS Week 4: Men Standing…In Sashes!

(NOTE to WordPress: the hell is wrong with your photo button? A stack at the bottom does not help my site say, “Pow!”)

Now, that’s more like it: teams standing up to pull that big contender…sash across their, um, chests. Probably not the piece of clothing I’m looking for, but the point should be clear: teams like Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake turned in statement-style, mike-drop performances that read “Force to Be Reckoned With.” Clubs like the Columbus Crew and the Vancouver Whitecaps sounded off as well, if absent the stature that comes with being last year’s MLS Cup contenders…

…and thank god Vancouver stepped up for Cascadia, seeing as the other two clubs couldn’t be bothered.

Tempting at it is to dismiss the rest as a mess, some things came clearer this weekend. Among them, DC has a long, shitty, stressful season ahead; Toronto FC, while improved, can’t throw punches with the big boys yet; and New England’s not totally dead yet. At least one thing hasn’t changed: no one knows what the fuck is going on with New York.

The usual pile of observations about the week’s results appear below. Same rough format, though with some adjustments to content and arrangement.

Games Watched:
FC Dallas 2-1 Portland Timbers (faithfully submitted already, if poorly; the take away is basically correct – e.g. Portland is not there yet; and, because it’s not clear in there, I can’t say I’m blown away by Dallas)

Seattle Sounders 1-2 Columbus Crew, about that:
The one thing that stuck with me on this one was the way Seattle’s commentating team could not get over the Crew’s insistence on playing out of the back. Columbus did play into trouble – and repeatedly – and this gave Seattle more chances than I’m sure I can remember (trust me). And Seattle did better than at least I expected. Some things stuck out from some of their preseason games – how feverishly they press, more than anything – but the verticality of Seattle’s attack really stood out Saturday, how they get the ball and just…GO. Obafemi Martins, in particular, impressed me with his energy and, yeah, he’s quick. Another Seattle stand-out: Gonzalo Pineda. That guy can ball. Back to the game, understated by that same commentating team was how often Columbus played out of that pressure. Federico Higuain and Will Trapp function as a pair of play-making hubs, one deeper than the other so you’ve got one in the back (Trapp) and one nearer the goal (Higuain). It’s pretty nifty, really. What I like more than anything else, though, is the ambition of Columbus’ play. If they can pull it off and improve it, and I mean all season long, they are going to be something. I’m not sure how bad Seattle should feel…though I suspect several pieces of context make it sting a little (see: red card; last-gasp winner; overall record). And, psst…I’m not sure how quickly I’d get Clint Dempsey back in the line-up. How well does he work in the whole vertical scheme?

Real Salt Lake 3-0 Toronto FC (well, most of it), about that:
Today’s word is “lively.” Because you’re dead if you’re not lively. Or, to hit it from another angle, Hi, Toronto! Welcome back to Earth! Maybe Toronto did all kinds of amazing things in the gaps when I jumped the archived stream forward, but I only actually saw one moment from them: Michael Bradley winding up from distance – and full credit to him because he takes a half-second to get off a strong shot. Everything after, though, was RSL all up in some Canadian-club ass. The (mainly adopted) Utahans played straight at Toronto often as not, but the really weird stuff, the kind of thing you almost never see at this level, was RSL packed around Toronto’s 18. They were still dropping shots on goal as late as the 87th minute – and after a 10-pass sequence at that. Could RSL dominate Toronto like that on any given day? Probably not, but their record suggests a club with its legs already under. And, for those pondering the future, Luis Gil looked like he’s stepping up to his billing, especially with his footwork.

The Other Stuff
Philadelphia Union 1-1 Montreal L’Impact
That Vincent Nogueira cat looks pretty sly – and it’s not just the goal, but that say-what-now? move down the right touch-line that makes one wonder if he didn’t have a second ball stuffed up his shirt. Beyond that, it’s hard to know what to think when one hears about “great service” from Cristian Maidana and sees all Philly’s chances. Speaks well of them, though. As for Montreal, what can you say about Marco Di Viao? Forget the goal: what about that box-to-box run from your fucking dad? Old man’s got gears.  And, OK yes, that crazy goddamn goal says he’s still got some of it at a minimum. The question is (or rather remains) where is the rest of Montreal? Ride a horse long enough (that’s DiVaio) and he will break down. That only makes Philly letting one go a bigger mystery. And, possibly, a later regret.

DC United 2-2 Chicago Fire
Times were when this would have been a marquee match-up. These days, it’s waiting for DC to walk out of the ICU. So, did they walk this week? It’s hard to argue with the inter-play on their first attempt at goal, as in that move would go through against most teams. Better still, Eddie Johnson was all over the highlight reel, which seems like one of those bare minimum things when one gets right down to it. (Going the other way, that Harrison Shipp kid pops up regularly in the Chicago footage). You get back to the ugly soon enough…and I’m not just talking about that skanky slop that led to DC’s second, but that nod-off that allowed Chicago back in the game. Of course, Chicago gets credit for fighting back. But, a nutmeg? By a heretofore mightily-struggling Patrick Nyarko? Fer crissakes, people. That’s no way to walk…

Colorado Rapids 2-3 Sporting KC
The refs can ease up anytime on the PK thing. OK, sure, both PKs against Portland were amply justified, but I still don’t know what happened on the Rapids’ first in this one. The second seemed all right, but shouldn’t there be a make-up for the make-up at some point? Make as many make-up calls as you like, but the Rapids will feel the sting of Papa Pareja’s departure. I didn’t matter a ton because KC turned the game on its head by the end and it’s academic as to how much Marvell Wynne’s sending off altered the outcome. KC looked sufficiently incisive for my money to take all three without the man advantage. Club of Destiny, and all that. Or, with less hyperbole, what we have here is a team built to win running as it ought to. I read something today about Colorado ruing a slow start, but I also rate them, so that only makes the win more impressive. Something else this week that confirms an impression of Benny Feilhaber’s strong start to the season (ah, crap, never mind; it’s in-house copy), so there’s that. It’s all input, of course. I’d be shocked if these clubs don’t feature late in the season.

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Houston Dynamo
Few clubs have enjoyed love like Houston in this season’s early days. Will Bruin, blah, blah, blah. Then again, Vancouver’s first game was the effort that launched 1,000 love letters. So, they met. First, can I just say that I can’t really comprehend how Jordan Harvey ever leaves a club? That’s just hella upside for an outside back and he pops up year after year after year…if in different cities. Here’s something, though: see how flat Houston’s defenders were on both Darren Mattocks’ attempt and Harvey’s goal? There’s something to think about. Something else to think about: Darren Mattocks as outlet and capable combination player: based on a game here, some highlights there, the rumors hold up. Also in the midst of a helluva season: Kenny Miller. The man’s playing for a contract extension (isn’t he?) and it shows. Houston appears to have shown life after the 60th, but one has to wonder about what looked awfully flat prior (were they? Shit, I don’t know. I’m working with what the highlights show me).

San Jose Earthquakes 1-2 New England Revolution
I had this game so very written off that I placed a bet on it. On New England not scoring, in fact. They almost did me the courtesy – I mean, a San Jose own-goal is not, in fact, New England scoring, especially on a fucking mess like that – but promising talk continued through the game about patient build-ups for New England and general noises about them doing well. It’s enough to make one wonder if they didn’t have a little coming out. San Jose take some solace in Chris Wondolowski finding goal – especially at that angle and after a pretty average miss – but the highlights showed a little less action in the ‘Quakes’ end than one would expect. And then Lee Nguyen (lovely player) shows up to take advantage. On the balance, it looked like an even game…and that speaks better for New England than it does for San Jose.

Red Bull New York 1-1 Chivas USA
Few of this weekend’s games got cooler reviews than this one. Twitter just bitched and bitched about it all. Hardly a glamour match under any circumstances, this one needed a little something it, anecdotally, didn’t have. Personally, I’m fascinated at seeing so much of Tommy McNamara…’cause he’s a rookie, right? But there he is drawing the PK that Erick “Cubo” Torres knocks in. At any rate, a lot of the grief I saw on Twitter screamed toward New York, something about “no one out there,” but they had an admirable combination or two; the highlights told me as much. And they got the equalizer in the end. No, it’s probably not enough for New York, not at home, not against Chivas USA…who, after all, tend to look a lot like the Dan Kennedy show and more often than they ought.

All for this week. Pulling for regular service, but, again, life.

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