Bradley and Dempsey riches could tempt midfielder from Europe, Montréal get personal, 10-men teams see it through
On the same weekend new Houston Dynamo DaMarcus Beasley made his Major League Soccer return, another key component of Jürgen Klinsmann’s World Cup squad briefly stole headlines around US soccer. On Friday, news broke that Jermaine Jones, who has been testing the MLS waters for some time, was prepared to reject an offer from Chicago; Fire head coach Frank Yallop later explained his team was waiting to hear back from the long-time Schalke starter.
The attention is all part of a type of post-World Cup fever that has linked a number of US internationals with moves back home. The LA Galaxy are connected with Anderlecht regular Sacha Kljestan and Rosenborg midfielder Mix Diskerud’s name is circulating, while Toronto has been mentioned as a potential landing spot for Stoke’s Brek Shea. Amid the league’s new willingness to spend, MLS fans look at every American and ask “why not here?”
Jones is a unique case: a player entering the twilight of his career with no previous connection with the domestic scene. But after a successful World Cup, the 32-year-old free agent is looking for a final payday, with multi-million dollar deals for Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey having shown what the league has to offer.
What Jones gives in return is quality, something three-win Chicago desperately need, thought coming into the weekend with a league-high 12 draws, Yallop could justify seeing his team as a tweak away from success. With veteran ball-winner Jeff Larentowicz shifted to central defense, those tweaks seemed to be making room for Jones.
Unfortunately for Chicago, that shift couldn’t prevent a 13th draw, a Columbus team suddenly three unbeaten earning a 1-1 result at Toyota Park. As concerning for the Fire was that the way they gave up points was too familiar, with a brow-furrowing mistake in central defense (this time by Patrick Ianni) leading to an equalizer 10 seconds after the second half kickoff:
It was exactly the kind of play a player like Jones could prevent, be it by winning the ball in midfield or cleaning up after Ianni’s tumble. With Chicago tripped by similar randomness throughout the year, it’s easy to see why big money’s being thrown at a difference-maker.
As for Beasley, his return was a successful one, with his addition at left-back helping Houston keep a rare clean sheet, though if the DC United defense hadn’t conspired to deliver this late goal, the Dynamo wouldn’t have their 1-0 result:
Nick De Santis is a Montréal lifer. He was born in the city, played with the Canadian Soccer League’s Supra and was a part of the squad when the Impact played its first game in 1993. From field to sideline to the technical director’s chair, De Santis’s tenure with Montréal’s MLS club falls just short of owner Joey Saputo’s.
It’s a history that made Thursday’s news more than mere turnover. When Saputo announced his partner had been reassigned – losing the technical director’s title for an administrative role – an era came to an end. As much as the club Saputo founded had been built in his image, De Santis was part of its soul.
“I am forced to make this decision with a heavy heart,” Saputo said, explaining to assembled media why three wins in 20 games made it impossible to retain his “friend”.
“After 20 years of being part of the technical team as a player, successful coach and [general manager], it gives me great sadness to announce that Nick De Santis has been relieved from his functions.”
Those functions amounted to an architect’s role, leaving De Santis accountable when a squad largely retained after a disappointing fall fell to the East’s cellar. With fans in Montréal calling for the move since the beginning of the season, Saputo was in a no-win situation. Either reassign the man who had become a partner, or see the Impact defined by a loyalty that could undermine the club.
Head coach Frank Klopas will take over the job – at least temporarily. In the face of this year’s failure, the whole club is reorganizing on both the administrative and technical fronts. When the dust settles, the Impact will have a new way of running the club, a response to a three-year run that has seen an expansion team come full circle.
That state was evident on Saturday, where a team out of its depth dropped a 2-0 result to rival Toronto. Giving early goals in each half, Montréal’s performance went slightly beyond the feckless play that has defined their season. The Impact lacked soul.
Given what the team lost on Thursday, it was an apt result, but also one that identified the problem of Montréal’s new era. Though De Santis’s position had become untenable, it’s unclear whether the team has a plan to move forward.
It would be easy for Colorado to become downtrodden by Saturday’s result, one that saw them lose the Rocky Mountain Cup to a 10-man Real Salt Lake, but the Rapids should take solace in one thing: they’re not New England. Whereas Pablo Mastroeni’s team failed to break through a highly-organized RSL, falling 1-0 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the Revolution turned a one-goal, one-man edge at New York into a ninth loss in 10, a signal their midweek breakthrough was a blip in a more disturbing trend.
Somewhat ironically, that breakthrough came at the expense of a 10-man Colorado, whose Wednesday visit to Gillette Stadium gave New England its first victory since 24 May. Though the 3-0 win was embellished by late goals against 10, it still snapped an eight-game losing streak, the late dismissal of Thomas Piermayr giving the home side time to work with a man advantage. When rookie Matt Miazga handed New England that same edge in New York, the Revs’ preparations should have paid off, particularly after Charlie Davies’ first-half goal.
The second half, however, turned into an old cliché, with the hamstrung team playing as if it had the advantage. From the period’s opening moments, where a deft chip from Dax McCarty caught Bobby Shuttleworth off his line, to the final minutes, when Mike Petke was able to give the day’s best player (McCarty) a triumphant bow, New York dominated. Perhaps more amazing than the 2-1 result: according to Opta, the Red Bulls ended up with 58% of the ball.
By comparison, Colorado’s inability to best 10 men was pedestrian, particularly considering the opponent. If there’s one MLS team you’d pick to leverage its experience, familiarity and system to survive a red card, it’s Real Salt Lake. Aaron Maund may have been sent off just before half-time (denying Vicente Sánchez a goalscoring opportunity), but thanks to the likes of Nat Borchers and Kyle Beckerman RSL were able to deliver Nick Rimando a record-tying 112th career shutout. Colorado fell, but their result was more disappointing than inexplicable.
New England, on the other hand, found a way to lose, with veteran defender AJ Soares calling the effort an “amateur performance”. For 45 minutes, it was clear why the Revolution are plummeting in the Eastern Conference.
As the 2014 season approached, San Jose’s plan was to stay the course, thinking a strong finish to 2013 hinted that 2012’s Supporters’ Shield form was within reach. Five months into the season, the Earthquakes were in last place, carrying the indignity of sitting behind Chivas USA into Saturday’s game against West-leading Seattle.
Given the game’s venue, however, the ‘Quakes place in the table was a subplot. A month after drawing over 50,000 people against the Galaxy in San Francisco, the Earthquakes had another opportunity to lure a huge crowd, something of particular importance to a team seven months away from opening a new venue. Christening Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the National Football League’s 49ers, the Earthquakes had another chance to show the depth of the Bay Area’s market.
That market didn’t disappoint. Despite being charged NFL prices for an MLS game, 48,765 fans came out to see the worst-versus-first battle, with Seattle looking to avoid a first two-game losing streak of the season. For a San Jose team whose stadium capacity will increase by more than 70% next season, the crowd gave reason to believe empty seats will be scarce at Earthquakes Stadium.
On the field, the ‘Quakes are also seeing dramatic changes, with a team known for a cynically direct style deciding to change course. That decision was evident on Thursday, when the team announced the signing of the Argentinian attacker Matías Pérez García, who should inject a much-needed creative element. With Benfica loanee Yannick Djaló establishing himself as Chris Wondolowski’s partner up top, San Jose are moving away from a cross-heavy approach, embracing more diverse ways to generate goals.
Those new methods paid off against Seattle, with Wondolowski summoning the spirit of Andrea Pirlo late in Saturday’s first half:
It was a goal the team wouldn’t have been able to pull off with Steven Lenhart or Alan Gordon in the lineup, and one Seattle found difficult to pull back. Despite forcing eight saves from Jon Busch, the league’s best attack was on track for a second shutout in a row, with close calls in the second half for Gonzalo Pineda and Chad Barrett thwarted by Busch and Wondolowski’s goalline clearance.
With the 1-0 win, San Jose climbed out of the West’s cellar, with tiebreakers giving them the edge on Chivas USA. Perhaps more important, the team’s revamp is bearing fruit. Not only is the market turning out in force, but fans are seeing the team’s new product generate results.
Trips to Chivas USA are the ultimate chance to “take care of business”. Despite the Goats’ July surge, they remain an eminently beatable team, with the ability to take full points from Wilmer Cabrera’s side a potentially decisive part of the West’s playoff push. As teams take on the conference’s weakest team, getting three instead of one could prove the difference between playing in November and embracing a long offseason.
That’s why Dallas’s 1-0 Sunday win was so subtly important, though for a team that have found a way to survive a slew of setbacks, the result shouldn’t be surprising. Though they rose to prominence after spring’s strong start, the Toros have had to deal with the absence of their best player, with Mauro Díaz only now coming back from a early season knee injury. Fabián Castillo had picked up the slack but bumping a referee in Portland earned the Colombian attacker a four-game suspension.
Add in the loss of defender George John and Dallas have been without their three best players – and yet Óscar Pareja has kept his team in playoff contention. Debilitated and overlooked, FCD still sat in third in the West coming into this weekend’s action.
Unfortunately for his playoff rivals, Pareja is starting to get his team back. Though John’s midweek surgery leaves him sidelined for the season, Díaz has been working towards full fitness while Castillo has paid penance and was back in Pareja’s team for Sunday’s kickoff. The team that surged to the top of the West this spring – the one the conference had a chance to put away this summer – is starting to reassemble.
Just after half-time at StubHub Center, the virtues of that group started to emerge. Castillo, carrying the ball with his trademark debilitating speed, combined with Blas Pérez to get behind the Chivas defense, his short pass into the six-yard box finding Tesho Akindele for the night’s only score:
With the win, Dallas sit tied for third in the West, with only the more highly regarded Seattle and Real Salt Lake above them. Though they are tied with Los Angeles, it will be hard to overlook what’s happening in Dallas.