Monthly Archives: October 2011

MLS Playoffs: Philadelphia Union 1, Houston Dynamo 2, first leg

Goals: PHI – Sebastien LeToux (1); HOU – Andrew Hainault (1), Calen Carr (1)

A pretty action-packed, but not necessarily quality-packed first leg in Philadelphia. Probably the most notable thing about the first half is how poor the Union were – probably because it is their first year in playoffs. Houston scored twice and probably could’ve had another goal or two by halftime. For the Union’s part, LeToux’s goal was probably a bit fortuitous. The Union were significantly better in the second half, but failed to find the equalizer, though Brad Davis should’ve been whistled for a handball in the box for Houston. The Dynamo have the edge, but only just.

MLS Playoffs: Colorado Rapids 0, Sporting Kansas City 2, first leg

Teal Bunbury: Sure he was born in Canada, but they don't have a soccer team. Do they?

Goals: Teal Bunbury 2 (2)

A miserable day for Colorado, who lose three players through injury, have Tyrone Marshall sent off and manage, I think, only one shot on goal. Teal Bunbury was just too fast and powerful for the Colorado backline, and hopefully performances like this will get him called up to the national team again, so we don’t have to see Edson Buddle any more. I don’t see Colorado beating Kansas City by two goals in Kansas City. Could KC be a dark horse contender for the Cup?

MLS Playoffs: New York 0, LA Galaxy 1

Girl, I didn't score in this game, but I will later tonight with you

Goal: Mike Magee (1)

The Galaxy’s typical defensive solidity proves too much for the Red Bulls in the first leg of their playoff series. Mike Magee scored the long goal. In truth, the Galaxy could’ve won by a couple more goals, but Frank Rost made some nice saves for New York, and Robbie Keane was wasteful. It’ll be interesting to see if Keane plays in the second leg as he is clearly not match-fit. At the end, there was some fighting initiated by New York’s increasingly useless Rafa Marquez. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were suspended for the second leg. LA definitely has the edge, but as the MLS playoffs have shown before, a one goal lead heading home doesn’t mean a team is going through.

MLS Playoffs: Real Salt Lake 3, Seattle Sounders 0, first leg

A rare Ned Grabavoy sighting

Goals: Saborio 2(2), Grabavoy (1)

A bit of a shock result with RSL overwhelming Seattle in Utah. It will be very difficult for the Sounders to win by 3 or 4 in Seattle, though it’s not impossible. Alvaro Saborio scored twice. The first was contested as offside by Seattle, though it didn’t look it, and the second was a nice backheel flick. Ned Grabavoy wrapped up the points with a second-half goal, and he might have sent RSL into the second round. A pretty disappointing performance from the Sounders, who were all over the place defensively and created little in attack. Fredy Montero in particular was poor. The second leg is Wednesday.

MLS Playoffs: FC Dallas 0, New York Red Bulls 2

Thierry Henry's beard takes on a shirtless Landon Donovan in the next round.

Goals: Joel Lindpere (1), Thierry Henry (1)

Red card: Jan Gunnar Solli

Shots: FC Dallas – 23 (7 on target), New York – 13 (6 on target)

A crushing loss for FC Dallas, who, like many of their matches in the second half of the year, dominated with possession and chances, but were unable to score a goal. Jackson in particular was wasteful, though he has been much better this year as more of an attacking midfielder than a forward. Dallas needs to address their lack of quality strikers in the offseason. After near total domination in the first half (particularly the first 30 minutes) by Dallas, New York broke the deadlock when Joel Lindpere was first to a cross just after the break. Dallas continued to batter New York without scoring, and got even bigger of a lifeline when Jan Gunnar Solli was sent off for a terrible tackle on Daniel Hernandez. They still couldn’t finish the game off, and Thierry Henry made certain of the win in injury time with a goal. New York has to be considerably better defensively in their next match – against the Galaxy. The first 30 minutes pretty much summed up why they haven’t been any good this year. They were more fortunate than anything else to escape with a win.

MLS All-Overpaid Team 2011

Do you believe this guy got a tryout with Bayern Munich?

I know it seems strange to talk about overpaid players in a league where some get a salary of about $30,000 a year, but nonetheless, there are a few guys who just didn’t earn their keep this year. Will they be back next year? Well, probably, given how some players shuttle between MLS teams no matter how unproductive they are.

G – Zach Thornton, Chivas USA ($155,000). Thornton managed two matches for Chivas USA and made more than double the salary of his counterpart, Dan Kennedy, who was certainly one of the better goalies in the league this year. It’s not that the 8 times capped for the U.S. Thornton is a particularly bad goalie, but at 38, it’s clear that he’s on the downward slope of his career.

D – Rafa Marquez, New York ($4,600,000). Marquez isn’t the worst defender on his team, though that’s not saying much for the worst defensive unit entering the playoffs. He missed 16 matches through injury and Gold Cup callups, and the Red Bulls went through a midseason stretch where they gave up 18 goals in 10 matches. For a player of his salary and experience, that’s just not acceptable. He also alienated most of the fans and his teammates by saying that it wasn’t his fault that the team was bad – it was because the other players weren’t good enough. It would be very surprising if he wasn’t offloaded to some Mexican club in need of a boost in ticket sales.

D – Juan Diego Gonzalez, Philadelphia Union ($189,000). For all I know, Juan Diego Gonzalez could be the finest defender this league has ever known. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen him play – he didn’t make any appearances this year, and only 7 last year. And even on a team that isn’t afraid to splash the cash on players, $189,000 is a pretty hefty salary for a guy that can’t make the pitch.

D – Kevin Alston, New England ($100,000). Alston has been the subject of ridicule on here on numerous occasions, but it seems to be that he is somewhat highly respected in this league, which is why he gets paid more than, say, Steven Beitashour ($42,000) despite showing a worrying propensity for letting players who aren’t as quick as he is blow past him. The fact of the matter is, if a team is second to last in goals conceded, at some point the players have to take the blame, no matter how bad the offense is.

D – Danny O’Rourke, Columbus ($121,000) O’Rourke has been a fine servant in the MLS for a while now, but he also has shown a propensity for poor discipline (6 red cards in his career, two last year). Maybe that’s why he only made six appearances this year despite being paid more than Julius James or Sebastian Miranda.

MF – Paulo Nagamura, Chivas USA ($225,000). I do like Nagamura as a player. He certainly has a better touch and passing range than a lot of MLS midfielders, but he is getting older and clearly isn’t in Robin Fraser’s plans after only making 11 appearances this year.

MF – Branko Boskovic, DC United ($389,166.67). DC United were probably besides themselves with joy at getting to sign a player with a decent pedigree – played for PSG in France, 22 caps for Montenegro, steady goal-scoring at Red Star Belgrade – but unfortunately it has never translated with United. He has made only 17 appearances – four this year – and has only started nine of those. If they can find someone willing to take his salary on, a big ask, admittedly, he’ll be gone next year.

MF – John Thorrington, Vancouver ($194,700). Thorrington’s salary and staying power in this league is basically down to the fact that he had one good season, scoring 5 goals, with the Fire in 2008. Besides that, he’s never really done anything. No doubt he will be left unprotected by the Caps and then picked up in the supplemental draft by a team like New England or Toronto for a similarly high salary, and he’ll make another 11 appearances without scoring. To the MLS: I will play for one of your teams for $50,000, and I could probably grab a goal every 15 games like this joker at a fraction of the cost. sign me up!

MF – Arturo Alvarez, Real Salt Lake ($192,585). Alvarez is probably one of the more skilled player in the league. Unfortunately, the last few seasons, that hasn’t translated into production. Had he picked up the slack for the injured Javier Morales, as was probably hoped, the team might have competed for the best record in the league. Unfortunately, he didn’t, only playing in 16 matches and only starting 8 of those.

F – Rajko Lekic, New England ($275,004). Tellingly, Lekic, one of the Revs big signings along with Benny Feilhaber and … umm … Ousmane Dabo, only started 5 matches down the stretch for New England. He is another example of a player brought to a MLS team just because his pedigree (playing some in Europe) suggests that he might be a better player than his teammates, then have him go on to score a goal every four matches. New England needs to stop spending money on mediocre B European league players and take a lesson from the Sounders, who rarely spend big money on players until they’re proven in the league.

F – Mustapha Jarju, Vancouver ($400,000). Wow, Jarju makes almost half a million? The jury is still out on the Whitecaps other DP (Eric Hassli being a success by most measurers with 10 goals), but if he is brought back for another year, he has to do better than his count of 0 goals in 10 matches. It speaks to how little he has brought to the table that in the last few matches the Caps starting forwards were Camilo and Long Tan, with Hassli providing a spark off the bench.

Bench: Dejan Jankovic, DC United, D; Shavar Thomas, Kansas City, D; Dejan Rusmir, Columbus, M; Joseph Ngwenya, DC United, F; Freddy Adu, Philadelphia, M; Kenny Cooper, Portland, F; Josh Lambo, Dallas, GK

MLS Playoff Preview

And you thought it couldn't get sexier than the water fountain picture

The MLS playoffs start Wednesday, and like most leagues with playoffs, you can’t always depend on the team with the best record – in this case, the Galaxy – to win. So here, we will evaluate all 10 teams’ (!) chances to win the MLS Cup.

1. LA Galaxy (19-10-5, 48 goals, 28 goals against). Why they’ll win: The Galaxy nearly became the first MLS team ever to finish with over 70 points in a season. They have the league’s best defense and two candidates for the league MVP (Landon Donovan and David Beckham). New signing Robbie Keane should be one of the most feared strikers in the league, though he hasn’t had a ton of time to bed in with the team so far. Why they won’t win: Last year the Galaxy were the top seed and were thumped by FC Dallas. The previous year they were No. 2 and lost to Real Salt Lake in the final. For a team with so many offensive weapons, they don’t score as often from open play as you’d like.

2. Seattle Sounders (18-9-7, 56 gs, 37 ga). Why they’ll win: The Sounders are the league’s highest-scoring team and have goal threats all over the field. In Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez and Mauro Rosales, they probably have the best attacking trio in the league. Kasey Keller is in his last season in goal, and they’d probably like to send him off with a bang. Why they won’t win: Seattle showed a worrying propensity for giving up goals early and then having to rally. Montero was terrible in the first half. In a short run through the playoffs, injured winger Steve Zakuani could be missed on a team without a lot of speed. They haven’t shown they can beat the Galaxy on any field.

3. Real Salt Lake (15-8-11, 44 gs, 36 ga) Why they’ll win: Rio Tinto Stadium is one of the most toughest places to play in the league. Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola are a pacy, strong duo at forward. Defenders Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers are probably the best center back pairing in the league. Despite having what most would agree was a poor season, they still finished third. Why they won’t win: RSL showed a worrying propensity for ill-discipline and poor decision-making (even among their most veteran and established players) and lost several matches they should’ve won – including at home. A team with offensive talent like Saborio, Espindola, Will Johnson and Javier Morales shouldn’t struggle to score as much as they do.

4. FC Dallas (15-7-12, 42 gs, 39 ga.) Why they’ll win: Dallas features my pick for the league MVP (Brek Shea) and an established, veteran backline. They reached the final last year and will want to make up for the close loss to Colorado. Man for man, only the Galaxy can claim as strong a starting 11. Why they won’t win: Dallas faded badly down the stretch, going from 1st to 15 points out by the end. Due to a quirk in playoff scheduling, they have to start in the play-in round. The offense seemed to grind to a halt once midseason signing Maicon Santos joined the team. Despite winning without David Fereira, last season’s MLS MVP could pry open defenses like no other player on their roster.

5. Sporting Kansas City (13-12-9, 50 gs, 40 ga) Why they’ll win: Kansas City is the rare team with a quartet of speedy attacking players who can score goals (Omar Bravo, Teal Bunbury, CJ Sapong, Kei Kamara). Graham Zusi was a revelation in midfield and needs to be called up to the U.S. National Team. The team rallied from an awful start to finish with the top record in the East. Why they won’t win: KC made a habit of blowing leads both home and away, something they can’t afford to do in the playoffs. Their relatively gung-ho style of play could hamper them when they take on more experienced opposition. As nice a stadium as it is, Lance Armstrong Park isn’t impregnable. They might be a year away.

6. Colorado Rapids (12-13-9, 44 gs, 41 ga). Why they’ll win: The Rapids have the experience, winning the Cup last year. The forward tandem of Omar Cummings and Sanna Nyassi forged a good understanding in the second half of the season. Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz is among the league’s best. Why they won’t win: The Rapids aren’t particularly good at scoring or defending. Conor Casey finished as the team’s top scorer despite missing most of the season with injury. Compared to his usual high standards, Cummings had a dreadful year, and if he doesn’t score, who else will?

7. Houston Dynamo (12-13-9, 45 gs, 41 ga). Why they’ll win: The Dynamo have shown the ability to overcome injuries and poor runs of form in finishing second in the East. Midfielder Brad Davis led the league in assists and has a range of passing that far exceeds most MLS players. The Dynamo are one of the bigger, stronger teams in the league. Why they won’t win: Designated player Carlo Costly hasn’t performed as well as expected in front of goal, and the rest of the team’s forwards are injury prone. The defense has made more mistakes than any other playoff team except maybe the Red Bulls. Finishing 2nd in the Eastern Conference this year is like winning a participant award at a bowling tournament: It’s not really an achievement.

8. Philadelphia Union (11-15-8, 44 gs, 36 ga). Why they’ll win: The Union made huge strides in their second season. They have the top defense in the league and a candidate for best goalkeeper in Faryd Mondragon. After a poor start, Sebastien LeToux looked like a player reborn in the second half. When he’s on his game, Freddy Adu can be a game-changer. Why they won’t win: The team has sorely missed having a poacher on the team since Carlos Ruiz left. Adu has been fairly anonymous since his much ballyhooed arrival. Mondragon missed a large part of the second half through injury.

9. Columbus Crew (13-8-13, 43 gs, 44 ga). Why they’ll win: In Julius James and Chad Marshall, Columbus has the East’s best defensive pairing. Andres Mendoza overcame a poor start and finally started looking like a player worth his enormous salary. When he and Emilio Renteria are both on the field, this team scores goals. Why they won’t win: Mendoza and Renteria have had trouble staying on the field together. For such a fine defensive pairing, the Crew struggle to stop people from scoring, probably because the midfield is chopped and changed so much. For all the press he gets, Robbie Rogers is a mediocre winger.They have a long road through the play-in round, which wasn’t expected with their early-season success.

10. New York Red Bulls (10-16-8, 50 gs, 44 ga). Why they’ll win: Thierry Henry is probably the best forward in the league. This team can score against anybody. Player for player, they are certainly the most talented in the East, and among the most talented in the entire league. Luke Rodgers has been a pleasant surprise at forward. Why they won’t win: The Red Bulls are easily the worst defensive team in the playoffs, which is surprising for a team with Rafa Marquez and Tim Ream – who has had a bad second year – in the lineup. Henry has seemed petulant and critical of his teammates far too often. Marquez said in an interview that the team was bad because his teammates aren’t as good as he is, funny words for probably the biggest disappointment in the league. Juan Agudelo hasn’t had as good a second year as hoped.

Prediction: Dallas over Red Bulls, Columbus over Colorado in play-in games. LA Galaxy over Columbus, Seattle over Real Salt Lake, Dallas over Kansas City, Philadelphia over Houston in second round; LA Galaxy over Seattle, Dallas over Philadelphia in semis; LA Galaxy over Dallas in final.

Oh, MLS scoring

I know that I’m the only person that seems to care about this stuff – and I harp on about it a lot, though not lately. Anyway, last night the Red Bulls beat the Union 1-0 to make the playoffs, barely. The lone goal of the game was scored by Dane Richards, who headed it off the post, the ball bounced out and off goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon and in. It was initially scored an own goal, which it was. The MLS announced today that they changed it, however, mostly because the league has an aversion to crediting people with own goals (I would give you video evidence, but I don’t feel like looking them up. As far as crediting Richards with a goal, I’m mostly OK with it. It would be scored an own goal anywhere else, though in his defense, if it had bounced of Mondragon and then off the post and in, Richards would get the goal. However, in classic fashion, the MLS also credited assists to Jan Gunnar Solli for the cross (iffy considering it was an own goal, but OK) and Dax McCarty (for, I don’t know, touching the ball before Solli?). I’ve never got the double-assist thing in the MLS. This isn’t hockey. If Rafa Marquez takes a corner kick, a defender heads it clear, McCarty took a shot at goal, the goalkeeper saved and Luke Rodgers took a shot that bounced of a Union defender and in, the MLS would probably reward assists to Marquez and McCarty, and give the goal to Rodgers. Stop it, MLS.

Here is the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4eSKkHlE8w&feature=player_embedded#!. Starts at about :55

A look at the last week of MLS play

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

This is a big final week in the MLS, with a playoff spot up for grabs and several playoff positions as well. Here is what the standings look like right now:

1. LA Galaxy, 67 points
2. Seattle Sounders, 60 points
3. Real Salt Lake, 52 points
4. FC Dallas, 52 points
5. Sporting Kansas City, 48 points
6. Philadelphia Union, 48 points
7. Columbus Crew, 47 points
8. Houston Dynamo, 46 points
9. Colorado Rapids, 46 points
10. New York Red Bulls, 43 points
11. Portland Timbers, 40 points
12. Chicago Fire, 40 points
13. DC United, 38 points

Due to the MLS’ customary bizarre scheduling decisions, though Dallas is tied with Real Salt Lake for the third-best record, since the Top 3 teams from each conference are seeded, Dallas will have to surpass RSL in order to avoid the play-in round, even though the top East team right now – Sporting Kansas City – is four points back. That means that FC Dallas could conceivably win and the Top 3 teams in the East could all lose and Dallas would still be in the play-in round, with a seven-point lead.

LA Galaxy: @ Houston on Sunday. The Galaxy are in and have the best record. With a CONCACAF Champions League qualification on the line in Honduras, don’t expect LA to play much of a starting lineup in their season finale.

Seattle Sounders: @ Chivas USA on Saturday. The Sounders are in a similar situation to the Galaxy, though they’re more likely to qualify for the next round of the Champions League. As such, with their No. 2 spot sewn up, they will probably play a bunch of scrubs as well. Chivas are eliminated.

Real Salt Lake: Portland on Saturday. This is actually a fairly big matchup for RSL, who could drop into the play-in round with a defeat or draw. If they win, they’ll probably play Seattle in the first round. If they don’t and Dallas does, they’ll probably take on New York or Portland – and the Timbers are probably a team most teams would want to avoid in the playoffs, with their home support.

FC Dallas: @ San Jose on Saturday. It’s been a rough second half of the season for Dallas, in both the MLS and the Champions League. If they beat Toronto in the CCL on Wednesday, they’ll advance in that competition, but they still will need to win at San Jose to avoid the MLS play-in round and two extra games. (It is a two-legged matchup, right?) Oh no, it’s just one game.

Sporting Kansas City: @ DC United on Saturday. Kansas City can tie up the top spot in the East – and a first-round matchup against one of the play-in teams – with a win at DC United where they exceed Philadelphia’s result against New York. A lot of this will depend on whether United wins against Portland earlier in the week, as we’ll discuss in a bit. A loss and Houston and Crew wins, plus a Union win or draw would drop them into the play-in round.

Philadelphia Union: @ New York. The Union will claim top spot in the East if they win against New York and KC loses or draws, or they both lose but KC loses by more, or if they beat New York by more than the KC beats DC. They would likely drop into the play-in round if Houston and Columbus win and they lose. Got it?

Columbus Crew: @ Chicago on Saturday. The Crew will claim a richly undeserved top spot in the East if they win at Chicago and the Union and Kansas City both lose or draw. Chicago is still in with a shot for the playoffs. A loss and Houston win or draw would drop them into the play-in round, likely against Colorado.

Houston Dynamo: LA Galaxy on Sunday. The Dynamo are in a great position where they could conceivably face a very-second string Galaxy squad on Sunday knowing that a win could put them into anywhere from 1st-3rd in the East, though a second or third spot would be most likely. A draw and Columbus loss will put them at third in the East.

Colorado Rapids: @ Vancouver on Saturday. The Rapids are in the playoffs unless they lose and Portland wins both games and overtakes the -10 goal differential between the two teams AND New York wins, which is to say: highly unlikely. They can’t improve their position with a win, so look for Vancouver to continue their recent winning ways.

New York Red Bulls: Philadelphia on Saturday. If Portland and DC United draw on Wednesday, New York needs only a point at home against Philadelphia to make the playoffs. If they lose, they’ll still make the playoffs if Portland gets three points or less from the two matches, Chicago fails to win by enough to overtake their -5 goal differential and DC United fails to win both of their matches. But obviously, with United and Portland playing, New York needs to win this match. Without Thierry Henry, who received a really dumb red card in the previous match against Kansas City.

Portland Timbers: @ DC United; @ Real Salt Lake. Portland will qualify for the playoffs if New York fails to win and they get a win and a draw from their last two matches – which seems unlikely given their two wins on the road this season. They would also qualify if they won their two matches by enough to overcome New York’s +10 goal differential – also highly unlikely. What it boils down to is: if they win at DC on Wednesday, they have an excellent shot at making the playoffs, because RSL will have less to play for, and New York have been a bit of a catastrophe this year.

Chicago Fire: Columbus on Saturday. Chicago qualifies if they beat Columbus, New York loses, Portland gets three points or less from the two matches, DC United fails to claim wins from their last two matches, and they manage to exceed New York’s +5 goal differential. Here is an example of how that would happen: Chicago beats Columbus 3-0; New York loses to Philadelphia 3-0; Portland beats DC United and loses to Real Salt Lake. Bingo! Playoffs.

DC United: Portland on Wednesday; Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. DC United must win their final two matches and hope that New York loses to Philadelphia. It’s a shame that DC has been so terrible the last few weeks, because they were in an excellent place to make the playoffs heading into the last two weeks.

Site update … again

I feel like I have more posts like this than actual blogs, but normal service will resume in two months. Sorry, I just have way too much going on to update regularly, but I’ll try and have some good stuff on the MLS playoffs.

 

Thanks for reading.

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