Real Salt Lake learn their lesson quickly — Chicago Fire still to learn theirs
Last week RSL saw a 2-0 lead and dominant first half crumble into a 2-2 tie, after a Whitecaps equalizer with the last kick of the game. If the lesson of that game was that a 2-0 lead is not a safe lead, RSL could hardly have expected to illustrate that lesson so emphatically as they did just one week later, as they scored two late injury time goals to beat Chicago Fire 3-2, having trailed 2-0 deep into the second half. Lesson learned.
Their hosts have yet to learn the lesson of their season so far. While RSL entered Saturday’s game with the league’s last unbeaten record, Chicago came into it without a win all season, having drawn their last six games. Worse, the Fire have scored first in six games this season, and five times seen those advantages turned into draws. Twice they’ve missed late penalties that would have given them dramatic wins. But at least for the most part there were points, albeit single ones, to offset their disappointments in not seeing out wins. No such consolation this weekend.
It all started so well for the Fire on Saturday, when they took that 2-0 lead in the first half — Magee’s typical poacher’s scoop into the net being doubled by Juan Luis Anangono’s looping header at the half hour mark. Salt Lake didn’t panic and continued to create chances for the rest of the half, while Chicago remained warily respectful of their opponent’s potential (and indeed their own potential mishaps).
With the onus on RSL to attack in the second half, Chicago sat deeper, and remained for the most part well organized, without looking very proactive. They were undone by being slow to react to Jeff Cassar’s positive substitutions for RSL. Kenny Mansally and Sebastian Velasquez entered the game with 20 minutes to go, and the Fire couldn’t adjust quickly enough to stop Joao Plata narrowing the gap a few minutes later. Nor did they deal with the swapping of forward Olmes Garcia for center back Nat Borchers, with the last throw of the dice for Cassar in the 88th minute. Three minutes later Saborio bundled home at the back post for 2-2, then in the 93rd minute Plata peeled off the last man to steer home Saborio’s cross near the same spot, to sicken the Fire players and fans.
Before the game, the focus was perhaps as much on Chicago’s attack as their vulnerable defense. The Fire may not have managed a shutout this season, but their more immediate worry was the loss of their form player up front, Quincy Amarikwa. No matter it seemed — even with his replacement Patrick Nyarko out of form, Magee’s opener was pure 2013 vintage “Magic Mike” as he followed in to clip home a parried shot, while the sight of Anangono getting one of the few goals he’s managed since his big money arrival last year certainly helped the fragile Fire confidence early.
But the forwards are only half the story — the sequence of draws has meant that a positive result one way or another was always likely to retrospectively color that run for good or bad. And it feels about right to say that for all the solid parts of Chicago’s play, for all the breakout potential of the likes of rookie Harrison Shipp, or Amarikwa’s plundering of the space left by defenders marking Magee this year, the lesson of the season so far for Chicago is that they can’t hold a lead, and until they can, the rest is irrelevant. GP
Loss reminds Galaxy of the importance of Robbie Keane
With the blink of an unanticipated coaching move, Colorado has completely changed. Gone is Oscar Pareja's 4-2-3-1 that got so much out of threats like Deshorn Brown. Pablo Mastroeni instead employed a more staid, pragmatic, and narrow diamond midfield, part of a growing trend in MLS's tactical universe.
Like the Rapids, LA has shifted to a diamond, though Bruce Arena's has been a more progressive approach. Through April, the Galaxy led the West in average possession and had only been shutout once this season. The switch has also gotten the most out of players like Baggio Husidic, whose success adds to Arena's history of leveraging recycled parts.
For better or worse, though, LA's key remains Robbie Keane. Most of the time that's for the better, with the Ireland international collecting four goals in the Galaxy's recent four-game unbeaten run. Twice this season, however, Keane's looked like a degraded version of himself. In the season's opener, Keane missed two open chances and a penalty as the Galaxy lost to RSL.
Saturday was Keane's second bad game, the first indication of which came in the 37th minute. On a ball lofted to the middle of the area by Husidic, Keane had an open chance to pull back Vicente Sanchez's opener. Instead, the LA captain shanked his header over the bar, leaving him to tacitly apologize as he jogged back upfield.
The off night was confirmed midway through the second half when LA's leading scorer had a chance to salvage a result from the spot. Pushing his chance wide, Keane instead replicated his first week's misfortune: blown chances from open play; missed conversions from the spot; a one-goal loss.
It's the latest example of LA's over-dependence on Keane. At one time Landon Donovan's team, the Galaxy's shift began with the former captain's 2013 sabbatical, a transfer confirmed with Donovan mired in an eight-match scoreless, record-delaying run. In the four games this season in which Keane has scored, the Galaxy are 2-2-0. When he doesn't score, nobody picks up the slack, and they're 0-0-2.
A team known for its star power shouldn't be a one-man show, but more and more we're seeing that Donovan's influence is limited to spurts. As Saturday showed, the Galaxy's fate is increasingly tied to its 33-year-old focal point. So far in 2014, as Robbie Keane goes, so go the four-time champs. RF
10 man Dallas undone by player who never started
The talk before this game was of injured Dallas playmaker Mauro Diaz, whose MVP-style start to the season had been the talk of the league in the opening weeks. He and set piece specialist Michel, had played a part in an extraordinary 82% of their team’s goals so far this season, as the Oscar Pareja revolution seemed to take hold at extraordinary pace.
Then came last week’s dramatic speed bump against DC United that saw Zach Loyd and Michel red-carded and suspended for this week’s visit of New York during a 4-1 defeat. With those key players out this week, along with the injured Kelyn Acosta, a lot of Dallas hopes were hinged on the hope that Diaz’s departure just before half-time last week was mostly precautionary. But on Friday, despite the player being listed as day-to-day by Dallas, a local press outlet reported that Diaz had an injury that would keep him out for the season. Dallas denied the reports, but did concede the player was having further scans. When Sunday, and the Red Bulls game came, there was no sign of the player, and it’s no exaggeration to say that among all the absences for that game, the prospect of Diaz’s absence, let alone for an open-ended period, was the one most preoccupying the Dallas faithful.
Not that the rebuilt midfield helped themselves, with Je-Vaughn Watson ejected after just ten minutes for a studs up follow through on Tim Cahill, but while Dallas dug in and frustrated the Red Bulls for long periods of the game, there was a definite sense of a team built around the strengths of one man, trying to make sense of themselves without him.
With the injuries, suspensions and favorable calls and breaks they received in the game (Dallas, for example, might have had a penalty in the first half and instead saw Fabian Castillo booked for diving, while the second half penalty they DID get was saved by Luis Robles) the Red Bulls made heavy weather of any potential advantage in the 90 plus degree heat. In a scrappy and bad-tempered game they struggled to stretch their hosts, who had the better chances in the second half, even beyond the penalty.
But they did eventually get the breakthrough, with Dallas tiring. Henry, a negligible presence all afternoon, woke up to beat his man on a through ball and touch the ball inside for Bradley Wright-Phillips to stumble the ball over the line. It wasn’t elegant, but given the 10-3-2 overall historical record for MLS teams playing 80 minutes a man up, it was hardly unexpected.
In truth it’s hard to draw conclusions about either side given the game-changing early red card — though plenty of Dallas fans had reacted to the news about Diaz by drawing their own fairly doom-laden conclusions before a ball had been kicked. The sight of the 2014 New York’s de facto playmaker Henry, forcing the breakthrough in the first game their own team had failed to score in this year, can only have deepened their gloom. If the long term prognosis on Diaz truly is as bad as has been claimed, their team may need to go back to the market and quickly, if they’re to avoid another slump from a season’s promising beginnings. GP
Signs of 2013 emerge in Portland's first win of 2014
Portland has played better games. Seattle comes to mind, as does its loss two weeks ago at Salt Lake. And of course there's the entirety of the 2013 season, which had become a constant point of reference throughout the Timbers' previously winless 2014. Yet thanks to a 94th minute goal from Maxi Urruti, we can finally add that 'previously' to the description. After Portland's 3-2 win at Providence Park, the Fire is MLS's lone winless side.
The night started auspiciously when, less than 30 seconds into the game, Darlington Nagbe caught D.C. left back Cristian stumbling on the ball. One touch behind the defense, a drilled Diego Valeri cross, and a Gaston Fernandez chip over an indecisive Bill Hamid, and Portland was ahead after 34 seconds. For the first time since Seattle's visit four weeks ago, the team that finished the 2013 regular season first in the West had taken the field.
Soon, 2014 resurfaced. A long piece of speculation from Davy Arnaud caught Diego Chara's foot before looping into goal. Futty Danso converted on a corner then gave the go-ahead score back with a late own goal. Going into stoppage time, Portland's increasingly customary combination of bad luck, defense, and timing had emerged, threatening to keep the Timbers winless.
Then it was back: 2013, all over again. Amid Portland's close games – the eight matches decided by a goal or less – we'd yet to see the oppressive attack that defined last year's rise. We'd yet to see the confidence. In lieu of the domineering style that defined Porter's first season, the team showed ease that not only cost them points against the like of Chicago, Philadelphia, and Chivas USA but also cost them their short-lived frontrunners' status.
Over Saturday's last 10 minutes, the aura was back, producing a myriad close calls while pinning D.C. United against Providence Park's famous north end. In the 94th minute, D.C. finally wilted, allowing Urruti two cracks in front of the right post before the Argentine finished across goal.
Seconds before the final whistle, Urutti had ended United's five-game unbeaten run, but given D.C.'s recent resurgence, few will dwell on one close loss. Instead, Saturday's result will inspire new, more positive feel about the Timbers. Though it wasn't their best performance of the season, the late dramatics will prompt questions about how much 2013 is left in the 2014 Timbers. RF
Revs aren’t star struck by Toronto A-listers
The early season swagger suddenly seems a long time ago for Toronto FC, while the defiantly unglamorous Revs are punching well above their weight.
After Jermain Defoe’s departure through injury, following his sterling start to his Toronto career, was followed by an even more alarming, if briefer, absence for Michael Bradley, the precipitous drop off in expectations from Toronto’s plan A to plan B has been reflected in the results. But both the big (and little) men were back on Saturday for Toronto’s home game against the Revs and the home expectation of the early season form picking up where it left off was palpable.
The Revs meanwhile would go top of the East with a win, temporarily at least, and were coming off a late win over last year’s playoff nemesis Sporting KC last week, but from the kick off Toronto set about them in the manner of a team who expected to push them aside.
And initially it looked like Defoe’s return to the line up would indeed see the hosts pick up where his injury had left them, as they duly turned opening pressure into an early lead, when Jackson’s shot took enough of a deflection to wrong foot Revs keeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the 6th minute.
If it seemed like an early omen for the rest of the game though, perhaps Toronto should have paid attention to the even earlier less lucky touches from Gilberto in front of goal, which turned out to be much more representative of what was to come. As it turned out Jackson’s goal was the highpoint of Toronto’s afternoon, as New England, powered by the impressive Lee Nguyen, looked anything but star struck on a field they’d never won on.
Indeed it appeared that nobody had filled rookie Patrick Mullins in on that underwhelming Revs history at BMO Field, as he strode forward to turn an interception from a poor Doneil Henry pass into a confidently hit 24th minute equalizer that was no more than the lively and well set up Revs deserved. Then late in the game Mullins would cap a memorable personal performance when his illegally blocked shot earned New England what turned out to be the winning penalty for Nguyen, with just under ten minutes left on the game clock.
With Andy Dorman muzzling Defoe and Gilberto going no closer than having a late header parried onto the post by an ever more confident Shuttleworth, Toronto ran out of steam. The late introduction of Dwayne de Rosario (past his own A-list days) did nothing to change the scoreline, and while Bradley hit a couple of dangerously placed free kicks, the story of his afternoon was just as well represented by the yellow card he picked up for needlessly dragging back Nguyen, or the would-be through ball that bounced back off Defoe’s heels just before the hour.
It was a glimpse of Toronto’s stars reverting to the mean of the team, and one that might have sent a shudder through longstanding fans who’ve grown accustomed to the base rather than the transcendent. They won’t worry unduly though — the smart money is still on Bradley and Defoe helping raise the standard of their side over time, when they get another extended run going, rather than themselves succumbing to historical Toronto mediocrity. For as New England showed on Saturday, history can be rewritten. That said, the league-wide history of DPs taking time to effect real change in their teams, appears to be holding up in Toronto. GP