So long Mauro Diaz, hello Clint Dempsey
It took Clint Dempsey 591 minutes to score his first goal for the Sounders after his August 2013 move from the Premier League to MLS. After months of questions, and some suggesting a sabbatical in Cambodia à la Landon Donovan rather than a loan return to Fulham, Dempsey finally looks eager to secure a ticket to the World Cup.
Six weeks into a new season, Dempsey set a club-record five goals in two matches – a hat-trick against Portland and a brace in front of family and friends at a very windy homecoming in Frisco, Texas. The Sounders captain created all three Sounders goals in the 3-2 victory over FC Dallas and fueled the World Cup-ready fire in a comeback performance that quashed the best season start in FC Dallas history.
An error by Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei gave David Texeira the opening goal, and later giving up an own goal engineered by Dempsey, Oscar Pareja’s boys were unable to maintain the team’s unbeaten streak. Frei redeemed himself by making key saves in the last 10 minutes, including a stoppage-time save against March player of the month Mauro Diaz. Diaz led an attack that created an 11-2 shot advantage for FC Dallas in the first half and played a bit of a role in earning the penalty kick converted by Michel, but Diaz was ultimately kept under control in the second half by the Sounders.
Obafemi Martins seemed to find some ryhthm, and Chad Barrett recorded the assist on that game-winning goal, once again making an impact in the final moments of the match for the Sounders.
Dempsey’s 14-match goal drought between October and March is all but forgotten, and after complimenting FC Dallas’ play post-match, Dempsey insisted the Sounders have work and better performances ahead. If Dempsey is to be the Sounders not-so-secret weapon, he will have to make an impact from the onset of the match. MB
What would Bill Hicks make of Toronto FC?
The late Bill Hicks, talking about the first Gulf war, dismissed those talking about the Iraqi army being the fourth largest army in the world, by saying: “You know what? After the first three, there’s a reeeeeal big drop off…”
Before the Toronto v Colorado game this weekend, I spent a little time looking at stat blogger Steve Fenn’s graphical rendering of MLS salaries, based on this week’s bi-annual release of the figures by the MLS Players Union, and kept thinking of that Hicks’ riff.
Seeing the salaries represented as proportional blocks (and while they don’t reflect allocation money or marketing budgets directed to players etc, they’re as accurate a picture as we have of MLS wages) really brought home the size of the pile of chips placed on the Bradley-Defoe square on the roulette table by Tim Leiweke and MLSE, in their gamble it will turn the franchise round. The twin blocks of salary paid to Bradley and Defoe on their own outweigh the total wage bills of every other other team except the LA Galaxy (and even then, the Galaxy total only outweighs the Bradley-Defoe tandem by a handful of minimum wage squad members).
As the Colorado game unfolded, with both those giant blocks of salary sitting on the sidelines (the first time neither man has been on the field this season) I thought of the Hicks quote again, though this time in relation to the sum of the parts of the remainder of the Toronto team, as they struggled to put together a convincing performance against a Colorado squad assembled for barely a third of the cost of Toronto’s two high-earners.
To be clear, the potential value of those two players has been demonstrated early in the season, with Defoe’s instant goals, and Bradley’s overall play and apparent inspirational value seeming to make those other members of his team add up to more than the modest sum of their parts. But without Bradley’s presence in particular, the memory of the bad old days was never far away, as Toronto looked particularly anonymous in a poor game, where they were also missing starters Osorio, Rey and Henry.
Colorado didn’t look a lot better, other than in some lively moves by Gabriel Torres and showing some decisive determination in the decisive move of the game, with neither side helped by the cut-up field. But despite Kyle Bekker hitting the woodwork twice from free kicks either side of Colorado’s winner, Toronto never looked like scoring from open play, and didn’t.
Meanwhile, Thomas Piermayr’s ($74,430 per year) cross from the right found Dillon Serna ($65,500), who combined with Dillon Powers ($127,650) to get the ball in the box, where Powers Colorado’s “big” money man Edson Buddle ($325,000) slotted the ball under Julio César in the Toronto goal.
Only the limping franchises of Chivas and New England have a lower total wage budget than Colorado, but the Rapids have developed the midfield fluidity of the unfinished Oscar Pareja project under new head coach Pablo Mastroeni, have just taken maximum points in a two-game swing through Canada (including these first ever points in Toronto) and perhaps most significantly, when any two Rapids players are missing, there’s not such an alarming drop off in their team’s prospects. If the scale of the Bradley-Defoe gamble wasn’t already apparent, there was more than one illustration making it clear this week. GP
The Red Bulls make another poor start
Previewing this week’s action we asked our Red Bulls previewer Tim Hall to answer whether we were looking at an unbeaten streak or a winless run. Tim was understandably equivocal after the Red Bulls had come from behind for a third consecutive week to earn a point on the road at Montreal, while still being unable to convert their lively attacking play into a first win of the season. He also pointed to New York’s slow start to last season’s run to the Supporters Shield — a start that would have been matched by a draw at Atlantic Cup rivals DC United on Saturday night.
Instead, the slow starters conceded the first goal for the fourth consecutive week — an early corner being flicked on by Bobby Boswell and headed home at the back post by Davy Arnaud. And despite battering DC for much of the rest of the game, New York could not get the ball over the line, and DC had their first back to back wins since 2012.
If the focus of this summary isn’t on DC so much, it’s because they set little of the agenda in a rearguard action after the goal. Davy Arnaud got his goal; Boswell looked solid in the air; Chris Rolfe looked lively in the first half, before fading and being subbed; Andrew Dykstra made saves when he had to in covering for the injured Bill Hamid; and Eddie Johnson saw his frustrations in front of goal extend for another week. But for the most part DC put men behind the ball and clung on. The image of Ben Olsen apologetically pretending to shield his eyes as he went to shake hands with Mike Petke afterwards said everything about the match.
Meanwhile, the question of where the Red Bulls go from here is a vexed one, and not so straightforward as making wholesale changes. In their defensive lapses of concentration they’re looking a lot like the soft-centered side of the middle of the Hans Backe era, yet their attacking movement in the second half of the DC game suggested the goals will be flowing again before long. Luyindula hit the woodwork, Henry prompted quick one-two passes that saw McCarty and Miller clean through on goal, only to flick balls within reach of Dykstra, and he had a couple of headed looks himself that went over.
Yet none of those attempts went in, and having consequently lost to the poorest team in the league last year, the regular season champions have tilted an ambiguous start into a poor one. What’s next is a return home on Wednesday evening to face another side whose impressive attacking midfield movement this year has to be set against poor defensive errors and occasional vital goalkeeping heroics — Philadelphia Union. The difference is, the Union have actually won this season. GP
RSL wobbled late again, but still standing
If there's been an Achilles heel for Real Salt Lake in their recent history, it's been holding on to a lead. And on Saturday RSL duly gave up a game-tying goal in the last five minutes of the match in a 2-2 draw against the Philadelphia Union. Maurice Edu salvaged the point for the Union in the 90th minute, scoring off of a corner kick in arguably the most exciting match of the weekend. It was Edu’s second goal in the two matches following his return to the US National team in a friendly against Mexico earlier this month.
The first goal for Philadelphia came from hometown boy Andrew Wenger, who came through for the hot-and-cold Union in his first appearance for the club, beginning to validate the Wenger-Jack McInerney trade. While Jack Mac was making his debut at Montreal where his single goal against the Chicago Fire was enough to secure a point for the Impact, Wenger was looking lively for the Union. The young forward adapted well in moving out wide when veteran Conor Casey entered the match in the 74’. In just over ten minutes of play together, Wenger and Casey proved to compliment one another, further reinforcing the trade and providing flexibility for the Union moving forward.
Another highlight for the Union was goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who had five saves, including a second penalty save in as many matches. An in-form keeper is key to the Union when their defense struggles as it did on both goals conceded to RSL. In a prime display of their vulnerability, the Union gave up the second goal when it shifted wide and allowed Javier Morales a beautiful cut-back to Kyle Beckerman who saw the shift and the clear path to goal. A delight for all who captained the defensive midfielder on their fantasy team, the goal illustrated a complete lack of awareness by Philadelphia’s backline.
The Union had only two shots on goal and two defensive errors that led to goals in what was the first of three matches in the span of eight days. Philadelphia now head to New York for a mid-week clash with the Red Bulls.
Despite missing several players, notably goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who was out with an injury for a second week, RSL don’t face a personnel crisis. Returning from injury, midfielder Sebastian Velasquez made his first appearance of the season for RSL and played a role in the lead-up to the Beckerman goal. Luke Mulholland recovered a rebound and scored early in the match, nearly had an assist just a few minutes later, then later in the match made a well-timed defensive slide that the Union unsuccessfully tried to appeal as a penalty kick. Forward Olmes Garcia got himself to the right positions throughout the match itching to find his first goal with the club. Real Salt Lake did not secure the win — however, with the versatility and vision displayed by their players, it's no wonder they’re the only undefeated team in the League. MB
Dogged Chivas show fight, Portland still showing doubt
Look at the still-evolving roster for Chivas USA and you'd be forgiven for thinking next year's proposed rebrand has already started. Only two Mexican-born players are left playing for a side who at one point looked to have given up all pretense of being anything other than an afterthought of a distant parent club in Guadalajara, before the league stepped in this off-season.
When Chivas seemed to throw in the towel last week against the Galaxy it briefly looked like a reversion to longstanding bad habits, and coach Wilmer Cabrera duly spoke of his worry about their lack of fight. And when Carlos Bocanegra left the field to repair a boot early on in Saturday's game against Portland Timbers, only to see Will Johnson pop up in the gap where he should have been, it looked like we might be seeing another evening themed around Chivas players going missing at inopportune moments.
But having fallen behind, Chivas looked first determined not to go further behind, and then in a battling second half performance actually took the game to their still winless hosts, who looked uncharacteristically timid compared to the more recent vintage of Portland home teams — only truly waking up after Erick Torres had leveled the game late on with his fifth goal of the season.
Torres is behind only Clint Dempsey in the goalscoring charts, and if the Goats are to get anything out of what’s turned into an up and down start to the year, they’ll need him to keep up his habit of, well, showing up at opportune moments…
Portland may still be unbeaten in 19 regular season games at Providence Park, but Saturday night’s result means that the two conference winners from 2013 have yet to win a game in 2014. Portland did hit the post through a late Will Johnson free kick, but a late winner would have rather masked a lack of conviction about the Timbers when they held the lead. They looked doubtful about whether to push forward or defend the lead, while the visitors just got on with retrieving the goal. We’re getting to the point where you suspect Porter would settle for an indifferent performance and a win, but without that consolation he’s left with trying to fix what ails a surprisingly brittle team. In that, they’ll get little sympathy from their visitors on Saturday, who have rather more reason to feel insecure, yet played without any such sense of burden. GP