Blind luck sees Jones face Toronto
A week’s worth of handwringing about MLS’s back-room solutions has given way to something remarkable – something those disturbed by the way the USA midfielder Jermaine Jones ended up in New England see as compromised. There are going to be games this weekend, nine of them in fact, and most will transpire as if drawing names out of a hat to decide the fate of one of the league’s highest-paid players never happened. It’s almost as if such outlying scenarios need to be put in perspective.
Not to carry the league’s water too much, but allegations or suspicions of rule-bending for convenience’s sake have been endemic to Major League Soccer since its outset, when talented DC United squads (among others) were thought to be kept together through extra-regulatory means. Between things like the Beckham rule and Clint Dempsey transcending allocation last summer, MLS has always improvised. As dangerous as the precedent is, it has helped the league prosper over its first two decades. On-the-fly decisions about Jermaine Jones, of all people, won’t cave in MLS’s cathedral.
The big problem will come if such capriciousness sways the masses. Right now, only the league’s inelastic core fanbase is ready to stuff its effigies prior to burning, but they’re not going anywhere. The people who become MLS fans on Friday and go back to their lives on Sunday – that’s the target audience if the league’s going to scale. These decisions may not look worse than franchise tags in NFL, arbitration in MLB, and the Larry Bird exception in NBA. They are just one esoteric, perhaps ephemeral, way a league does business. Right now, few see such things as reason enough to turn their back on the product.
Whether the Revolution’s new star will be on the field remains to be seen. Jones is unlikely to play a major part at Toronto, who sit three points above New England in the Eastern Conference. Though both sides are in a five-club scramble for three postseason spots, the Revs’ new destroyer may be limited to a bit part in a playoff six-pointer.
That means Scott Caldwell, filling in for the injured Andy Dorman as the team’s No6, will be tasked with denying Michael Bradley’s through balls. José Gonçalves and AJ Soares get to deal with Jermain Defoe’s runs, while Lee Nguyen will be forced to unlock the often deep-set duo of Bradley and Collen Warner.
Regardless, the game will go on – as comical as it is that an 18-year-old league is allocating players by blind draws. RF
Will the best in the East show some consistency?
Major League Soccer’s infamous, single entity-driven competitive parity can be both a selling point and a liability. When it works, the race for top spot in the conferences can resemble the thrilling final leg of a horse race. When it doesn’t, it can often appear that the best teams are competing to throw away a fleeting chance at glory.
We’re seeing a little more of the latter in the east of late. After losses to the Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake, DC (first, with 43 points) picked up steam with wins against the Colorado Rapids and their strongest dastern competitors, Sporting Kansas City. On Wednesday, despite a packed calendar, Ben Olsen’s team had a brilliant chance to make a statement against the Galaxy and open a four-point gap. Instead, they were tonked 4-1, giving up a goal to Alan Gordon in the first two minutes and giving Landon Donovan a memorable stop in his months-long testimonial.
Yet while Sporting KC (second, 42pts) are in pole position to take advantage, they have had their own problems, a decidedly so-so 2-2-2 in their last six games in all competitions. Their most recent loss was a 3-0 collapse against DC. Where DC can blame their schedule, SKC can point to some terrible luck with injuries.
Both teams are set to play beatable opposition at home this weekend, with Sporting taking on the second-last Dynamo running on Will Bruin’s fumes and DCU facing an on again/off again New York Red Bulls. Losses could allow some pretenders to crawl back into the race for first in the East, while wins could finally set DCU and SKC aside as the Eastern elite. RW
Reversal of fortune for Sounders and RSL
While competitive parity is yielding frustrating results in the East, the West is finely poised with four clubs challenging for top spot.
Not long ago it looked as if Seattle and Real Salt Lake were going to pull away in the race for top, and likely the Supporters Shield. Now the Sounders will hope they can gain momentum from a 4-2 Cascadia victory over Portland to bounce back from an uneven few weeks, with three losses in their last six matches. RSL last weekend lost 2-1 to the rampant FC Dallas, a team who have not posted a loss in MLS under Oscar Pareja since 1 June and are three points behind first-placed Seattle. Amid all this, the Galaxy are now coasting with three consecutive wins (10 goals scored) and a couple of stellar performances from America’s anything-but-lame duck darling, Landon Donovan.
There is a real chance Dallas and the Galaxy could replace Seattle and RSL as Western favourites. All four teams will have no excuses should they fail to take the initiative this weekend. The West is all about strong versus weak, with LA facing last-placed Chivas, Seattle taking on the bottom-half Colorado, Dallas visiting the struggling Chicago Fire and Real traveling to Buck Shaw to face the second-last San Jose Earthquakes. But if you’re planning to bet on short odds in all four matches, you don’t know MLS. RW
Cascadian rivals fight for fifth in West
Portland’s rivalry with Vancouver is the third wheel on the Cascadian tricycle – crucial, but not quite in line with the other two. Whereas the Sounders-Timbers conflict has become the most publicized in MLS and the geography of Seattle-Vancouver preserves a certain trans-border enmity, the Whitecaps’ meetings with the Timbers fail to resonate beyond the clubs’ fanbases. It may not be LA-San Jose (both sides actually care), but it doesn’t exactly carry DC United and New York’s resonance, either.
Saturday’s meeting at BC Place adds a wrinkle that should draw broader attention. Whereas the fight for the final playoff spots in the East has become a five-team free-for-all, the West’s last slot is becoming a two-club race. Vancouver, struggling to translate talent into results, have two wins in 12 games, a slump that has yet to cost them fifth place. Portland could have passed them last Sunday, but a demoralizing defensive performance at home against Seattle kept the Timbers two points back.
The main advantage Vancouver usually have at home is an opponent’s lack of familiarity with their surface – a short, fast turf that plays different to artificial fields like Seattle’s. The Timbers, however, play all their home games on turf (albeit a different kind) and make at least one trip a year to BC Place. The shock that kept Kansas City on their heels three weeks ago (2-0, Vancouver) is unlikely to take hold with Portland.
Unfortunately for the Timbers, their defense has been in a constant state of shock, one that led to four goals for Seattle last week. Conceding 43 times in 25 games (worst rate in the West), Portland have seen random errors, lack of talent and, on Sunday, poor execution undermine their season. While the summer’s climb back into postseason contention provided glimmers of hope, Brad Evans’s torching of Liam Ridgewell showed that owner Merritt Paulson’s checkbook may also be short of solutions.
Against Pedro Morales and Darren Mattocks at BC Place, Portland will need one of their best defensive performances of the season. If they can take three points in Vancouver, there will be real reason for hope. RF
The end of a not-so-SuperClasico?
If there was any worry that recent stumbles against the Crew and, briefly, the Rapids augured poorly for the rest of LA’s season, consider the Galaxy’s last 210 minutes of play. Between the second half against Colorado, a controlling effort against Vancouver and Wednesday’s demolition of East-leading DC, Bruce Arena’s team have outscored their opposition 9-1 in their last two-and-a-half halves of football. Whereas the team’s summer surge looked set to wane after its correction in Columbus, the Galaxy are again establishing themselves as a team to beat. Their plus-18 goal difference is by far the best in MLS.
Sunday gives the team another chance to convince its skeptics, though with Chivas USA occupying the other bench, focus may turn to a bit of potential history. With MLS in search of another owner for the Goats, this may be the final SuperClasico waged by the Los Angeles rivals, who’ve already met twice this season. Though league deputy commissioner Mark Abbott recently confirmed there is a chance Chivas USA will start next season, the plans are to find a new ownership group and potentially a rebrand by March 2015. The short, inglorious history of the Galaxy-Chivas saga could end Sunday night, with Los Angeles SC (one of the trademarks held by Major League Soccer) potentially rising from the ashes of Jorge Vergara’s failed experiment.
If these are the last throes of a muted rivalry, it will likely end as it as it started: with the teams at opposite ends of the table. Chivas enter the weekend last in the West, scoreless in their last 456 minutes, only slightly more capable than the four-win expansion team they were nine years ago. LA, on the other hand, go into Sunday’s game with all the pomp of a title-contender, their four-goal dismantling of DC showing what little problems they have with a conservative foes.
With Erick Torres up top Chivas are capable of more, but if all three points go LA’s way, it will be an apt way to end a SuperClasico that has failed to live up to its name. In 33 meetings, Chivas have won eigh – but only one in 12 games since 2009. RF
(all times EDT)
Sporting Kansas City vs Houston Dynamo (8pm)
Seattle Sounders vs Colorado Rapids (4pm)
Toronto FC vs New England (5pm)
Montreal Impact vs Columbus Crew (7.30pm)
Chicago Fire vs FC Dallas (8.30pm)
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers (10.30pm)
San Jose Earthquakes vs Real Salt Lake (10.30pm)
DC United vs New York Red Bulls (2.30pm)
Chivas USA vs LA Galaxy (8pm)