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MLS 2013 Season Preview, Part 2

New York's Juninho, oh, 15 years ago or something.

New York’s Juninho, oh, 15 years ago or something.

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

Part 1 here

New England Revolution: Last year’s record: 9-17-8, 35 points.
The Good: The Revs had one of the most positive offseasons of any MLS team, getting rid of Benny Feilhaber, who was never a good fit and was quite expensive, and therefore handing the playmaking reins to Lee Nguyen and Juan Toja, which should work a lot better. Andy Dorman and Kalifa Cisse should bulk up the midfield, and Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell and Billal Duckett could all be starters for what was a far-too porous defense last season. Will their additions allow AJ Soares to step up and become the star many have been waiting for him to become? Jerry Bengtson has the skill to be among the MLS’s top goalscorers, though he didn’t score much last year.
The Bad: Bengtson aside, the attack is underwhelming, and we’re singling out a guy that scored twice in 13 matches last year. Saer Sene was better than expected last year, but lacks consistency. Diego Fagundez has lots of potential, but is still just 18. Chad Barrett is a black hole of missed chances. And Dimitry Imbongo? Pfft, don’t even get me started. Until the defense actually shuts someone down, it’s hard to be too optimistic.
We’ll say: The Revs will be better, but whether better is enough to actually make the playoffs is hard to say. If Bengtson starts scoring like he should, Nguyen builds upon a strong first year and the defense is somewhat solid, this could be a very pleasing team to watch.

New York Red Bulls. Last year’s record: 16-9-9, 57 points. Lost to DC United in the playoffs.
The Good: The MLS’s perennial nearly men occasionally looked like one of the best teams in the league last year, then predictably self-destructed in a hail of Rafa Marquez-tinged madness in the playoffs. Their solution was virtually rebuilding the entire team, from new head coach Mike Petke to new forwards Fabian Espindola and Josue Martinez to ageless (hopefully for Red Bulls fans) Brazilian midfielder Juninho to defender Jamison Olave. Gone are Marquez, midfield stalwarts Joel Lindpere and Teemu Tainio and “defender” Jan Gunnar Solli. Based on what I saw of the team in Tucson for the Desert Diamond Cup, the new lineup is capable of sweeping, effervescent attacking play, led as always by Thierry Henry. Juninho’s skill in dead-ball situations will cause even the most ardent David Beckham fans to blush. But …
The Bad: New York lost all three matches in Tucson, convincingly. The defense is all out of sorts, no surprise considering it’s a virtually brand-new lineup with probably a keeper who has hardly played, particularly in the MLS (Luis Robles). For all the grace and finesse of Henry, Juninho, Tim Cahill, et al., you can’t say that an offense that isn’t scoring is clicking. It’s hard to see Espindola and Martinez as upgrades over Kenny Cooper and Sebastian LeToux. That’s because they’re not. Over-relying on aging vets who don’t want to play on turf (cough cough, Henry, cough) and then packing the rest of the team with mediocre-at-best filler around the edges is arguably not a recipe for success.
We’ll say: A team with this much talent should make the playoffs, but don’t bet on them to make a run to New York’s first ever MLS Cup.

Philadelphia Union. Last year’s record: 10-18-6, 36 points.
The Good: The further the Union get from Piotr Nowak’s bizarre breaking apart of a playoff team the first half of the season, the better. The return of Sebastian LeToux, for all intents and purposes the face of the team the first two years, should be a plus for both the player and the team. The Union squad is perhaps one of the most potential-laden ones in the MLS. The addition of LeToux, Jeff Parke and Conor Casey adds a wealth of experience to a team that was desperate for it last season. Some of the fringe players that Nowak stuck the squad with are gone, which is good too. The fan base, one of the best in the league, seems to be back on board with manager John Hackworth.
The Bad: For all their potential, if the players don’t start to live up to it, and soon, this could be another playoff-less season, particularly in the ultra-competitive East. The Freddy Adu saga (Hackworth wants him gone, but needs another team to make it happen) could end up disrupting the team somewhat the longer it drags on. Losing defensive leader Carlos Valdes has to hurt. Casey is a talented forward who can’t stay healthy, and in the preseason, he and LeToux haven’t clicked at all. LeToux aside, no one on this team has stepped up to be a star.
We’ll say: The Union are certainly better off than last season, but still look another year away from being a playoff team.

Portland Timbers. Last year’s record: 8-16-10, 34 points.
The Good: After a good first season, hope was high for the Timbers Army, thanks to some high-profile signings, chief among them Kris Boyd, the all-time Scottish Premier League top scorer. Boyd, however, was slow, uncommitted and disappointingly poor with his shooting. The other signings either disappointed or were injured, and the team couldn’t win on the road. So the Timber sank and were among the worst teams in MLS. But head coach John Spencer was fired, and the team brought in highly-regarded Akron coach Caleb Porter, who installed a new system and weeded out some of the chaff (Goodbye Kris Boyd). New signings Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Michael Harrington, Ryan Miller and Mikael Silvestre all should stabilize a team that played naively at times last year. New midfielder Diego Valeri looks like a game-changer. As likeable as Spencer seemed as coach, his tactical approach seemed schizophrenic at times, and Porter’s system is a bit more defined. Forward Jose Adolfo Valencia looks good after missing all of last year through injury. The fans are great, as always.
The Bad: For all the appeal of the new signings, the team has still not fixed the center of the defense, which was quite poor last year. Donovan Ricketts can be great in goal, but he’s also prone to glaring mistakes, something that can also be said for new backup Milos Kocic. The loss of Bright Dike and Brent Richards to injury hurts what is an uncertain forward line. There is a lot more pressure on Darlington Nagbe to take the step up into superstar status, but if it doesn’t happen, the team might struggle to score again. Danny Mwanga has yet to produce in a Timbers jersey.
We’ll say: The West is a little more open than the East, and if the team gels with Porter’s system relatively early, they have a good shot at slipping into the playoffs as a four or five seed.

Real Salt Lake. Last year’s record: 17-11-6, 57 points. Lost to Seattle in the playoffs.
The Good: Despite having to do some heavy salary-dumping in the offseason, RSL still has four of the top players in the MLS at its core – goalkeeper Nick Rimando, midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales and forward Alvaro Saborio. Despite bringing in cheaper options in some positions, if you look at the signings – Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia among them, they could turn out to be very capable replacements. And there is still a lot of solidity in the team in the form of players like Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert and Nat Borchers. Manager Jason Kreis is very good at getting his team prepared for matches. In Plata and Robbie Findley, RSL has more speed in attack than they have in a long time.
The Bad: For all the experience left in the squad, its inevitable that more than usual changes will have some sort of effect, at least initially. The result of all the wage-cutting has been the team is less deep than usual as opposed to being poor as a starting 11, which is still very good. But with Saborio inevitably going to be gone for international matches a lot (as might also Rimando and Beckerman depending on the US schedule), the newer forwards will have to perform. With Jamison Olave now in New York, it’s vitally important that Chris Schuler – a potentially very good defender – stays fit, which he didn’t last year. Rimando is starting to get a bit old too.
We’ll say: RSL should make the playoffs, but it’s doubtful they’ll challenge for a No. 1 seed again this year.

San Jose Earthquakes. Last year’s record: 19-6-9, 66 points. Lost in the playoffs to the LA Galaxy.
The Good: The Quakes had an amazing regular season after struggling in 2011, cruising to the Supporter’s Shield trophy and leading the league in goals scored. Chris Wondolowski tied the record for goals in a season, and Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon proved adept at late-game heroics. The defense was also vastly improved, and there is much excitement about the new stadium.
The Bad: It seems weird to have limited to say about such a good team in “The Good” section, but they didn’t sign much quality, winger Simon Dawkins is not returning and they’ll be under pressure to replicate last season’s success while also dealing with Champions League matches. For a team competing on three fronts, you expect signings of a better standard than Dan Gargan, Ty Harden and Bryan Jordan. The team will also miss Ike Opara, Khari Stephenson and Joey Gjertsen, who all contributed at least a little last season. Wondolowski, Lenhart and Gordon could all have very good seasons yet score 15-20 less goals combined than they did in 2012. With Wondo now 30, a move to Europe pretty much has to happen this season, doesn’t it?
We’ll say: San Jose shouldn’t fall out of the playoff picture, but don’t expect another Supporter’s Shield trophy this year.

Seattle Sounders. Last year’s record: 15-8-11, 56 points. Lost in the playoffs to Los Angeles.
The Good: The Sounders have been one of the best teams in the league virtually since coming into the MLS, but face probably their first big test with Fredy Montero curiously returning to play in Colombia. Who emerges as the team’s goalscorer to accompany Eddie Johnson in his absence will probably be what decides whether Seattle is merely a good MLS team or a great team. The Sounders had a ton of trialists in camp, so the roster could change a bit, but they already signed up some veteran leadership in Shalrie Joseph and Djimi Traore. Joseph’s signing probably signals the end of the disappointing Christian Tiffert era as well, which probably won’t hurt too many Sounders fans. In preseason, Mario Martinez, who scored the goal to beat RSL in the playoffs, but seldom played besides, has been outstanding. Will it carry over into the regular season? Having a hopefully healthy Steve Zakuani all season will be a plus as well. Midfielder Mauro Rosales continues to be among the best playmakers in the league.
The Bad: Questions still remain over Zakuani’s health. If he’s back to at or near his previous level this season, he’ll add a speedy dimension that was lacking last year. If he’s not, the team isn’t one of the quicker ones in the league. You can’t discount the loss of Montero, who has been the team’s ex-factor for several years. Unless Sammy Ochoa or David Estrada (or an as-yet unsigned forward) turn into reliable goalscorers this year, opposing defenses will focus on Johnson.
We’ll say: The Sounders will compete for the top spot in the West, but will fall just short unless a goalscorer steps up or Zakuani returns to form.

Sporting Kansas City. Last year’s record: 18-7-9, 63 points. Lost to Houston in the playoffs.
The Good: Last year’s top team in the East has one of the best lineups in the MLS, rarely gives anything away on defense and has some of the best fan support in the league. The loss of midfield dynamo Roger Espinoza should be covered up by the acquisition of Benny Feilhaber. In Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong, Sporting has two of the best young forward tandems in the MLS, and midfielder Graham Zusi is a burgeoning star in the MLS and on the US National Team. The defense, led by MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Jimmy Nielsen, Defender of the Year Matt Besler and Defender of the Year finalist Aurelien Collin, is probably the best in the MLS. DP signing Claudio Bieler has been prolific in South America and should make up for the loss of Kei Kamara.
The Bad: For all their domination, Sporting didn’t create a ton of chances last year and were disappointing in the playoffs. Bunbury and Sapong are athletic and brimming with potential, but neither has scored double-figure goals yet, and losing their top scorer in Kei Kamara could really hurt, particularly if Bieler doesn’t cope with the physical nature of the MLS. Feilhaber has flattered to deceive (that’s British for “been disappointing) for much of his career, and the leadership of Espinoza will be sorely missed. For all Collin’s skill and quality, he is prone to the rash challenge far too often.
We’ll say: If the new signings bed in well, this team should once again be the top team in the East. It’s pretty imperative that Bieler scores goals, though, if they’re truly going to be among the MLS’s elite.

Toronto FC. Last year’s record: 5-21-8, 23 points.
The Good: The troubled Aron Winter reign ended last summer, and Paul Mariner was dismissed in the offseason after winning even less matches than Winter. With Winter gone, two years of roster insecurity and weirdness are hopefully over. New manager Ryan Nelson was an established veteran star in the MLS and in the English Premier League, and will command the respect of his players. New president/GM Kevin Payne has done a good job cutting the chaff from the roster, even if he’s angered some people in the way he’s done so. In terms of player personnel, Danny Koevermanns is one of the league’s elite strikers when he’s fit, new defensive signings Danny Califf and Gale Agbossoumonde should help solidify the league’s worst defense a few year’s running, and Luis Silva looks like one of the better young players in the MLS. In KC’s Julio Cesar, Toronto have signed an imposing, veteran presence in midfield.
The Bad: For all of Payne’s roster upheaval, this team might be worse than last year’s. Koevermanns has yet to stay fit for a whole season and probably won’t play until a couple months in. Aside from Silva, the attacking corps consists of the likes of the streaky Reggie Lambe, Justin Braun, who didn’t score a single goal last year, and Andrew Wiedeman, who scored two. Nelson has never managed at any level. Torsten Frings, who was considered key to what little hopes of success Toronto had this season, just retired due to recurring injury.
We’ll say: Toronto will be bad this year, but at least the team will be full of young, hungry players doing their best to win. This will certainly be a better defensive team, but they might be one of the weakest offensive teams in league history. There is a possibility of a DP coming in, but Toronto doesn’t seem too concerned with that, and good for them if that’s the case.

Vancouver Whitecaps. Last year’s record: 11-13-10, 43 points. Lost to Los Angeles in the playoffs.
The Good: Last year was a weird one for the Caps, who looked like one of the best teams in the league, then completely fell apart after bringing a few expensive European signings who failed to shine. This year (hopefully for Caps fans) there should be a little more roster stability, and some of Vancouver’s young talent should take a step up. Darren Mattocks, who was probably the league’s best rookie, but didn’t win the award since he played seldom the second half of the season, looks to be one of the league’s best forwards. He said he can score 20 goals, which might be a bit high, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he scored 15. The team has one of the most experienced backlines in the MLS, and in Johnny Leveron, they have a new defender who should be a good MLS player. New signing Daigo Kobayashi has been on fire in preseason in midfield and Nigel Reo-Coker looks like a player cut out perfectly for MLS play.
The Bad: The Caps have 10 (!) forwards on the current roster. How does that even happen? Outside of Mattocks, though, there are a lot of questions about all 10. Kenny Miller is paid a a ton of money and rarely looked like scoring in his first year in the MLS. I thought he’d be gone in the offseason, but if he doesn’t score – and often – he’ll probably be cut loose this summer. Omar Salgado has a lot of potential but has yet to put it together. Camilo has moments of class but disappears from matches often. The rest of the forwards are either rookies or have yet to make an impact in the MLS. There has to be changes here.
We’ll say: I suppose it’s a good thing that everything on “the bad” part of this entry has been about the forwards. The defense seems solid. The midfield looks good. Those two elements should be enough to have the Whitecaps competing for a playoff spot. But if the team is going to make a serious impact in the wide-open West, they need their stable of forwards to do something.

MLS Playoff Race: Sept. 25

Thierry Henry’s beard is hoping to impose itself on the rest of the Eastern Conference for the final month of the season.

Already In

East — none; West — San Jose, LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake

Just a Formality

East — Sporting Kansas City; Chicago; West — Seattle

In Control of Their Own Destiny

East — DC United; New York, Houston; West — Vancouver

Still Got A Shot

East — Columbus; West — Dallas

Not Mathematically Eliminated, But Let’s Be Honest

East — Montreal; Philadelphia; West — Colorado, Portland, Chivas

Eliminated

East — New England, Toronto

Standings

East

1. Sporting Kansas City (16-7-7, 55 pts). This week: Drew 0-0 with Montreal. They need to: Beating Chicago at home should be enough to see them through to the No. 1 seed, barring a major collapse in their last three matches. They would qualify for the playoffs with a win or a draw and Columbus loss or draw. If they lose, things get complicated. Matches left: CHI, @CLB, @NY, PHI

2. Chicago (16-5-8, 53 pts).  This week: Beat Columbus 2-1; They need to: Keep not losing. A draw or win at Kansas City would put the Fire in a great position to finish in 1st, with matches coming up against Philadelphia and New England. Regardless, if Columbus fails to win this weekend, the Fire are basically in the playoffs no matter what happens against Kansas City. Matches left: @SKC, PHI, @NY, @NE, DCU

3. DC United (15-5-10, 50 pts). This week: Beat Chivas USA 1-0; They need to: DC looked down and out a couple weeks ago, particularly with Dwayne DeRosario out for the season. They have a tricky match at Portland coming up, but the Timbers have little to play for at this point, so maybe three points are there to be had? I guess we’ll find out, the MLS never really makes sense. Matches left: @POR, @TOR, CLB, @CHI

4. New York (14-8-8, 50 pts). This week: Drew 1-1 with New England; They need to: Pick up a win or two against mediocre teams. Coming into last week’s home match with Kansas City, the Red Bulls were on the verge of seizing first in the East. Then they lost and only managed a draw against the Revs. Now they’re still on the playoff bubble. With Toronto coming up, a failure to win could seriously put their playoff prospects in jeopardy, and rightly so. Matches left: TOR, CHI, SKC, @PHI

5. Houston (12-10-8, 46 pts). This week: Lost to Philadelphia 3-1; They need to: Beat New England, Montreal, Philadelphia and Colorado. Like New York, the Dynamo’s Supporter’s Shield dreams have fallen apart, but their remaining schedule couldn’t be much easier. Matches left: NE, MON, PHI, @COL

6. Columbus (13-6-11, 45 pts). This week: Lost 2-1 to Chicago; They need to: Win out. It’s not that desperate in Columbus, but some uneven results lately (and Houston having a super-easy schedule to end the season) means that Columbus need to avoid any mistakes in their final four matches. The Union should be a win. KC will be tough. At DC will be tough and Toronto should be a win. But it’s the “business end” of the season. (God I hate myself for using that phrase). Matches left: PHI, SKC, @DCU, TOR

7. Montreal (12-4-15, 40 pts).  This week: Drew 0-0 with Kansas City; They need to: Have fun out there. It’s highly unlikely the Impact, who’ve had a great first year and strong second half, will catch fifth place Houston. But who knows, if they win their final three and Houston completely falls apart, it could happen. Matches left: @HOU, @TOR, NE

8. Philadelphia (8-6-14, 30 pts). This week: Beat Houston 3-1; They need to: Regroup for next season, which should be a better one. I saw a news story on Yahoo that said “Union stay in playoff race with win against Dynamo.” Um…well, they’re 16 points back with six matches to play, but I suppose that’s still true, right? Matches left: @CLB, @CHI, NE, @HOU, @SKC, NY

9. New England (7-8-15, 29 pts). This week: Drew 1-1 with New York; They need to: Continue to play hard. The Revs aren’t making the playoffs, but one bad midseason run aside, they haven’t been THAT bad. A good finish will put them in a position to challenge for the playoffs next year. Matches left: @HOU, @PHI, CHI, @MON

10. Toronto (5-7-18, 22 pts). This week: Lost 4-2 to LA Galaxy; They need to: Rebuild the team. The nine losses in a row to start the season was bad, but Toronto have been almost as bad to end the season. If they want to keep some semblance of fan support, the team needs to find some stability and consistency to build on. Matches left: @NY, DCU, MON, @CLB

West

1. San Jose (18-6-6, 60 pts). This week: Beat Seattle 2-1; They need to: Match their regular season performance in the playoffs. Many a No. 1 seed has fallen apart come playoff time. Can the Quakes keep up their good play? Matches left: DAL, @COL, LAG, @POR

2. LA Galaxy (15-4-11, 49 pts). This week: Beat Toronto 4-2; They need to: See San Jose. The Galaxy have probably been the league’s best team the second half of the year, but it all goes out the window when the playoffs come. Can they keep it going? They should be able to, but we’ll find out. Matches left: @COL, RSL, @SJE, SEA

3. Real Salt Lake (15-4-11, 49 pts). This week: Beat Portland 2-1; They need to: End the season on a high. Despite being tied for second, RSL have had a poor season for the most part. They’re no longer invincible at home, Alvaro Saborio and Chris Schuler are injured, and Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman have had disappointing years. But, anyone can win in the playoffs. Yes, another cliché. Matches left: @CHV, @LAG, @SEA, VAN

4. Seattle (13-9-7, 48 pts). This week: Lost 2-1 to San Jose; They need to: Find a way to avoid the Galaxy in the playoffs, though they have played well against them this season. That means either settling for 4th or both the Sounders and RSL finishing ahead of the Galaxy. No. 2 would probably be preferable, right? Matches left: @VAN, POR, RSL, DAL, @LAG

5. Vancouver (10-8-12, 38 pts). This week: Drew 2-2 with Colorado; They need to: Win a match against someone. I’ve documented the Caps’ second-half woes a bit, and I think all the changes in midseason really killed them. They still should be able to eke out a playoff spot, though, with Chivas and Portland still coming up at home. Matches left: SEA, CHV, POR, @RSL

6. Dallas (9-9-12, 36 pts). This week: Beat Vancouver 1-0; They need to: Play better on the road and pray things go their way. It stands to reason that if Dallas can notch five points from their matches against San Jose, Chivas and Seattle – all on the road, they would go into their finale with a winnable match against Chivas (at home) and Vancouver facing a tough road match against RSL, which would, if things went that way end with the two teams tied. I don’t know, maybe it’s a stretch. Matches left: @SJE, @CHV, @SEA, CHV

7. Colorado (9-3-18, 30 pts). This week: Drew 2-2 with Vancouver; They need to: Get rid of some players. I hate to say it, but it’s time to stick a fork in the Omar Cummings/Conor Casey partnership up front. In the past two seasons since winning the MLS Cup in 2010, the two have combined for 17 goals. Not good enough. And they’re not getting younger or less injury-prone.  Matches left: LAG, SJE, @CHV, HOU

8. Portland (7-8-15, 29 pts). This week: Lost 2-1 to Real Salt Lake; They need to: See Colorado. With Caleb Porter coming in and virtually no momentum or confidence the last, oh, 25 matches of the year, things can only get better for Portland, who still have great fan support and a couple decent young players in Darlington Nagbe and Danny Mwanga. Everyone else can go, though. Matches left: DCU, @SEA, @VAN, SJE

9. Chivas USA (7-7-15, 28 pts). This week: Lost 1-0 to DC United; They need to: Find a new stadium, rebrand, build around youth, stop bringing unproven foreign players in, in the hope that someone sticks. Chivas are rapidly becoming the Toronto of the West, and I can’t even say it’s a shame, because no one ever goes to their matches anyway. And it’s not as if the Home Depot Center is cavernous, sheesh. Matches left: RSL, @VAN, DAL, COL, @DAL

A tale of one bizarrely popular blog post

Ryan Smith, Internet sensation!

I’m happy to say that in the past year, the amount of visitors to my blog has more than doubled. In fact, it’s closer to having tripled. All this, despite the fact that I went a good 3-4 months without posting anything really. I won’t say how many blog views I get, though, because it’s still probably less than Josef Stalin’s Moustache’s Facebook page gets. Yes, it has one.

Anyway, the biggest recipient of page views – by a wide margin – is a curious one. It is a post last year I did on transfer rumours that said Kansas City’s Ryan Smith would leave to go back to Europe. Which he didn’t. In fact, he now plays at Chivas USA. In fact, the search term “Ryan Smith” is now the most searched for term on the site, and averages roughly 10 searches EVERY SINGLE DAY. Which is bizarre. I mean, I can understand why people search “naked soccer players” or “Thierry Henry’s beard” and find my site. But Ryan Smith? The 25-year-old Englishman who has played in all of 42 matches in the MLS the last three years? Whose previous claim to fame was being an unsuccessful Arsenal youth player. (Six appearances with the first team – all in cup matches) He must be a popular guy.

Regardless, thank you Ryan Smith for eliciting the interest of the Internet search community at large and driving up our readership.

Rounding up this weekend’s trades in the MLS

Thierry Henry’s beard will now have another Frenchman to converse with. “Parlez-vous francais?”

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

So there were a couple big(gish) trades in the MLS this weekend that I should mention. First off, Toronto shipped midfielder Julian DeGuzman to Dallas for forward Andrew Wiedeman. It’s a good trade for Toronto, who were paying DeGuzman a hefty salary – and honestly, does a team need two DP’s in central midfield? No. No they don’t. Wiedeman is unproven, but it doesn’t really matter. Dallas has had trouble, well, everywhere this season, so maybe De Guzman will be a good pickup, though I’m inclined to think not.

Meanwhile, the Red Bulls were active, picking up Sebastian LeToux for winger Dane Richards and then snagging goalkeeper Bill Gaudette from the LA Galaxy for a draft pick or allocation money. I forget which. Both good trades. LeToux wasn’t flourishing in the Caps defense-first system, and Richards gives them a little more speed on the wings, which has been missing. LeToux, meanwhile, gives the Red Bulls another good option in the event Thierry Henry takes a month off to vacation in Barbados. Gaudette is a decent backup goalie, which the Red Bulls needed.

MLS Weekend Recap: March 30-April 1

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer

Friday

DC United 4 v. FC Dallas 1. A very good match from Nick DeLeon, and the most rare of sightings in the MLS, a good shift from Maicon Santos, leads United to a surprisingly easy romp over Dallas. DeLeon had a goal and an assist, and Santos scored two and assisted on one. The other goal for DC was from Danny Cruz, who I think will be a nice signing. Dallas scored a goal through Blas Perez, but are really, really struggling so far this year. Prediction: DC 1-0

Saturday

Toronto 0 Columbus 1. Toronto are officially the worst team in the MLS after this loss. Once again, wayward passing (from the increasingly lousy Julian De Guzman) and a defensive error from Logan Emory this time, led to the lone goal of the match, Bernardo Anor’s first in the MLS. This match was instructive in showing why Toronto are usually bad and Columbus are generally a playoff team. The Crew were calm and patient defensively, didn’t try to do too much with the ball, and were rewarded with three points. Toronto were harried in possession in midfield and defense and for all their possession couldn’t force the ball in for the equalizer. Toronto needs Torsten Frings back, because a midfield with De Guzman AND Terry Dunfield is not good enough. Prediction: 2-2

New York 5 Montreal 2. Montreal probably edged this match in the first half, before getting swamped by New York’s superior attacking power in the second half. Thierry Henry had a hat trick and an assist, and Kenny Cooper and Mehdi Ballouchy scored the other goals. Toronto opened the scoring through Sanna Nyassi and took the lead again at 2-1 thanks to Justin Mapp, who is actually one of my favorite MLS players, I think. New York equalized just before halftime on Cooper converting a penalty that was a bad call, then the floodgates opened. After watching Montreal play, they actually pass the ball quite nicely, though I’ll be surprised if the Nyassi/Corradi/Braun forward line combines for more than 12 goals this year. Nonetheless, the Impact gave it a go, but were perhaps a little bit naive defensively. New York looks good in attack, but they’re still a wreck defensively – Ryan Meara probably shouldn’t be starting in the MLS yet, and Markus Holgersson is my early favorite for Worst Defender of the Year (New idea for season ending blog post!). Prediction: New York 4-1

Philadelphia 0 Vancouver 0. Another painfully dull Vancouver match. They sure defend well, don’t they? This probably staves off the calls for Peter Nowak’s head. (Is anyone actually calling for Peter Nowak’s head? I don’t know). Sebastian LeToux had a poor match for Vancouver who had no shots on target in the match (Philadelphia only had two). Vancouver still hasn’t conceded, but they’ll need to get their offense firing if they want to keep picking up points. The Union at this point should hope for finishing with a better record than Montreal and Toronto. Prediction: 1-1

Portland 2 Real Salt Lake 3. The Timbers rally for a late lead against RSL, then somehow contrive to give up two goals the last five minutes and lose. The loss overshadowed a great performance from Darlington Nagbe, who scored both goals, completed 35 of 36 passes and is *this* close to becoming a star in the MLS. Really, this match showed the difference between a veteran, tested squad and one with only aspirations of making the playoffs. Real Salt Lake kept fighting, and Portland panicked a bit. It’s still early, yet. The other goals were from Alvaro Saborio (penalty), the finely named Luke Steele and Kyle Beckerman (the winner). Eric Brunner could’ve won the match for Portland but skied a Jack Jewsbury free kick over the bar right before Steele’s equaliser when it probably would’ve been easier to score. Prediction: 1-1

Seattle 0 San Jose 1. There is a big difference between this San Jose team and last year’s. Steven Lenhart drew a penalty on a fairly dumb play from Marc Burch, and Chris Wondolowski netted the penalty for the only goal of the game, and the Earthquakes got another scrappy victory. Is Wondolowski the only Quake who has scored this season? Regardless, they’re off to a good start. It was a deserved win, even though San Jose isn’t exactly Barcelona with the ball with their horrifically bland hoof and rush style of playing. Seattle is just not incisive enough at this point – Fredy Montero once again didn’t score, and Alvaro Fernandez and Christian Sivabaek were both pretty dreadful on the wings. You would expect the Sounders to improve in their next match, but how much do they miss Mauro Rosales? Prediction: Seattle 2-0

LA Galaxy 1 New England 3. The Galaxy concede three goals at home again – this time to New England of all teams – and fall to their third loss in three matches. That’s now seven goals conceded in three home matches. New England scored twice in the first 13 minutes, from Kelyn Rowe and Lawrence Tierney, and then extended the lead to three in the second half on a Saer Sene header (his second goal of the season). Robbie Keane scored the consolation for the Galaxy. I think the Galaxy will be in the MLS Cup race at the end of the season, but losing to KC this weekend could all but extinguish their hopes of winning a third straight Supporter’s Shield. I know Omar Gonzalez is good, but the Galaxy only have themselves to blame for signing Andrew Boyens as his backup. New England are OK, though I don’t expect them to keep up their recent success. Also, David Beckham was subbed at halftime, and apparently got an angry stylish tattoo and then modeled some boxers in response. Prediction: LA 3-0

Sunday

Colorado 2 Chicago 0. Colorado get second-half goals from Omar Cummings and Kamani Hill (poor defending from Chicago) and get back to their winning ways. It’s amazing how much better the Rapids are with Jeff Larentowicz playing. He’s probably not international quality, but he is certainly a calm, assured presence in the heart of their midfield. Chicago were a little disappointing – it seems like Dominic Oduro suddenly realized that he was Dominic Oduro and started shooting like it again, which is to say, poorly. Chicago might need to try someone else out at forward. Prediction: Colorado 2-1

Chivas USA 0 Kansas City 1. Sporting Kansas City scrape by for another victory to run their record to 4-0-0. Chivas were toothless again. I’m sure there were quotes from them about how they should’ve won, but when you don’t have any shots on target, don’t successfully complete any dribbles and have one corner you don’t even get into the box, well, you get what you get. This should be the lowest scoring MLS team by season’s end, at least unless Juan Pablo Angel gets some games, and possibly even then. As for Kansas City, well, a win’s a win – and it speaks volumes that they have yet to dominate a match but haven’t yet seemed like losing either. Prediction: Kansas City 1-0

Rating the MLS’ current crop of designated players

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

It seems MLS teams have fully embraced the Designated Player rule, with a whole slew of them now in the league and rumors of a new one coming in soon (Robbie Keane to the Galaxy). Some of them (Eric Hassli, Fredy Montero) have been an unquestionable success. But the rest? Well, let’s take a look. Here is a look at all the current designated players in the league.

David Beckham (LA Galaxy) – Signed in 2007, 36 years old, English, $6.5 million salary
Season so far: 2 goals, 11 assists
Beckham has been a success in terms of the publicity he has generated for the league, though some of his performances have been so-so, and the ping-ponging back and forth between the U.S. and Europe got a bit annoying. He’s having a good year this year, though, leading the league in assists.
Rating: A-

Juan Pablo Angel (LA Galaxy) – Signed in 2011, 35 years old, Colombian, $1.25 million
Season so far: 3 goals in 22 matches
Angel hasn’t had a good year, but he’s been a quality designated player for four years now, so we’ll let him take his paycheck and ride off into the sunset.
Rating: D for this year, A overall

Julian De Guzman (Toronto) – Signed in 2009, 30 years old, Canadian, $1.9 million
Season so far: 1 goal in 12 matches
De Guzman has been a bit of a high-profile disappointment as a designated player, though some of that could be because he was envisioned of a goal-creating midfielder, and he’s emerged as more of a small holding midfielder – not what he is paid the big bucks for.
Rating: D+

Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) – Signed in 2010, 29 years old, American, $2.3 million
Season so far: 11 goals in 15 matches
Donovan is the only American designated player and is probably the best of the bunch, particularly considering how much less he makes than Beckham and Thierry Henry.
Rating: A+

Branko Boskovic (DC United) – Signed in 2010, 31 years old, Montenegran, $525,000
Season so far: 0 goals or assists in 4 matches
So far as I know, Boskovic is out for the season through injury. The signing of Dwayne De Rosario has only served to emphasize how much better of a player De Rosario is though he’s not a DP (He does get paid more). The only saving grace for Boskovic is that he’s not paid as much as some of the others.
Grade: D-

Thierry Henry (New York) – Signed in 2010, 33 years old, French, $5.6 million
Season so far: 12 goals in 19 matches
New York has been awful, but Henry would probably be a candidate for player of the year were they a little better. But the MLS being the MLS, he’ll probably still win it. He started poorly last year, but he’s shown his class (as well as his petulance) this year.
Grade: A

Alvaro Fernandez (Seattle) – Signed in 2010, 25 years old, Uruguayan, $366,000
Season so far: 6 goals in 20 matches
Fernandez has quietly been one of the best designated player signings, and he is a fine example of the slightly more intelligent decision-making on the part of Seattle in signing a younger player with international experience as a DP. He has helped make up for a fairly poor season by Fredy Montero with six goals of his own.
Grade: A

Rafael Marquez (New York) – Signed in 2010, 32 years old, Mexican, $4.6 million
Season so far: 11 appearances in defense
Rafa is a huge star in Mexico, therefore he gets a free pass thanks to all the publicity he generates. Unlike Beckham, he has not brought New York success. Always a bit dubious in defense, his decision-making has only looked shakier since joining the RedBulls.
Grade: C+

Omar Bravo (Sporting Kansas City) – Signed in 2011, 31 years old, Mexican, $170,000
Season so far: 17 appearances, 6 goals
It has been a bit of a mixed bag for Bravo, who scored twice in the season opener, was sent off in the second match and subsequently was injured. He helped spearhead Kansas City’s 14-match unbeaten streak before ending it by getting sent off against Seattle. Surprisingly, he is one of the lowest paid DPs.
Grade: B

Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake) – Signed in 2010, 29 years old, Costa Rican, $305,000
Season so far: 6 goals in 12 appearances
It’s been a hit and miss season for Saborio, who didn’t score his first goal until June 25 (thanks partly to injuries and partly due to the Gold Cup, but he has scored six times in his last six matches. Looking at his stats shows how important he is to RSL: When he plays, they’re 7-3-2. When he doesn’t, they are 3-3-3. In the four matches he’s scored in, they’re 3-1-0 and have scored 13 goals.
Grade: B+

Fredy Montero (Seattle) – Signed in 2010, 24 years old, Colombian, $636,000
Season so far: 6 goals, 5 assists in 21 matches
Montero, who could be moving to Ajax Amsterdam in the offseason, according to reports. He was made a designated player after his first season in Seattle. He hasn’t had a great year this year, but still remains Seattle’s most dangerous player.
Grade: B (this season), A overall

Eric Hassli (Vancouver) – Signed in 2011, 30 years old, French, $900,000
Season so far: 10 goals in 16 appearances
Hassli, a journeyman who has played in several leagues in Europe, was one of the least-known DP’s coming into this season, but he has had a barnstorming start to the year, scoring a bunch of goals, including probably the goal of the season in the MLS and getting sent off a bunch of times for a terrible Vancouver team. Whether they are competitive next year is pretty much down to who else they add to the team … uh oh, their other DP is Mustafa Jarju. Whoops!
Rating: A+

David Ferreira (Dallas) – Signed in 2011, 32 years old, Colombia, $705,000
Season so far: 3 goals in 6 appearances
Ferreira has been with Dallas since 2009, but was made designated player after his MVP season last year. Unfortunately, his season was ended with an injury in sixth match. It hasn’t stopped Dallas from winning, though.
Rating: B, but undoubtedly a class player

Andres Mendoza (Columbus) – Signed in 2011, 33 years old, Peruvian, $595,000
Season so far: 7 goals in 18 appearances
Apparently Mendoza was made a designated player after scoring twice in 8 matches for the Crew in 2010. Regular readers of the blog know I’ve been critical of him, but this is mostly because he alternates between being a fine, serviceable athletic forward and a nightmarish black hole of wasted opportunities. When he’s on, he’s a decent player (though not worth the exorbitant salary). When he’s not? Ugh.
Grade: C+

Fabian Castillo (Dallas) – Signed in 2011, 19 years old, $42,000
Season so far: 2 goals in 15 appearances
Castillo, by far the lowest-paid DP (and the youngest), is a bit of an anomaly in the sense that he represents one of the few times the MLS has taken the step of paying money outside the country for young, relatively unproven prospects. Will it pan out? Well, I don’t know. He’s certainly shown flashes of talent, and at 19, he can suck for three more years without being considered a failure. And at $42,000 (still more than I make), his bright attacking play is more than worth the price.
Grade: B+

Diego Chara (Portland) – Signed in 2011, 25 years old, Colombian, $143,000
Season so far: 16 matches in midfield
Chara, another of the relatively low-paid DP’s, nonetheless has failed to impress for Portland. He’s not an awful player, but he doesn’t have a great first touch, isn’t much of a holding player and offers nothing in attack. To put it another way: He’s a fair-to-middling MLS player, not a designated player.
Grade: D

Torsten Frings (Toronto) – Signed in 2011, 34 years old, German, No Salary Listed
Season so far: 4 matches
Frings is undoubtedly a quality player, albeit one who looks a bit chunky at this point in his career. If you
earn 79 caps with the German national team, you are a quality player, and he has looked a step above other Toronto players just in the short time he’s been there. Actually, scratch that: He has looked three steps above most other Toronto players. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s just getting paid to play in the Champions League, since Toronto won’t make the playoffs.
Grade: Almost incomplete, but I’ll give him a B+

Danny Koevermans (Toronto) – Signed in 2011, 32 years old, Dutch, NSL
Season so far: 3 goals in 4 matches
In just over a month with Toronto, Koevermans has shown why he’s been prolific anywhere he has played. Like Frings, the Dutch international is probably too little too late to save Toronto’s playoff hopes, but he should make them a tough team to beat in the Champions League.
Grade: Almost incomplete, but I’ll give him an A

Mustapha Jarju (Vancouver) – Signed in 2011, 25 years old, NSL
Season so far: 1 appearance
I hadn’t heard of Jarju when he was signed by Vancouver, and he’s only played once so far. In a team that has struggled on defense and midfield, and one that already has Camilo partnering Eric Hassli in attack, you have to question the wisdom of signing an untested Gambian forward as your designated player, but there has to be a reason Vancouver is one of the worst teams in the league. Maybe Jarju will turn out to be awesome, but the one match I saw he played in, I didn’t even realize he was playing.
Grade: Incomplete

Koke (Houston, now released) – Signed in 2011, 27 years old, Spanish, NSL
This season: 1 goal in 7 games
Koke is one of the examples for me of a designated player signed because he is foreign who never lived up to their billing and then left under questionable circumstances. He scored once in seven matches before announcing that he couldn’t adjust to living in America, and then after leaving complained about the club and the MLS. All that aside, we’re talking about a forward who has tallied 50 goals in 254 matches in his career. What a waste.
Grade: F

Frank Rost (New York) – Signed in 2011, 38 years old, German, NSL
This season: 2 appearances
Rost is one of the more ballyhooed DP signings of the year. He joined the Red Bulls in July and has made two appearances. There’s no questioning his pedigree – he has played extensively in the Bundesliga and has experience with the German national team. And he will probably be a decent MLS goalkeeper, but for what is probably big money, you could argue that New York should’ve just signed Marcus Hahnemann – or heck, throw some money at Brad Guzan, who isn’t getting playing time at Aston Villa and has won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in the past.
Grade: Incomplete

Jeferson (Kansas City) – Signed in 2011, 27 years old, Brazilian, NSL
Season: 2 appearances
Jeferson is another late DP signing for Kansas City. I was initially dubious of his quality – he is a player who has only played sparingly for decent Brazilian teams – but upon watching him, he is a decent enough player. I guess my ongoing issue with DPs is that you expect them to be the best player on the team, not decent squad additions. Which will Jeferson be? Well it’s hard to say. He does look like a player with potential, though that’s based on the one match I watched him play.
Rating: Incomplete

Milton Caraglio (New England) – Signed in 2011, 22 years old, Argentinian, NSL
Season so far: 1 appearance
No idea what to make of Caraglio. I haven’t seen him play yet (though I’ll probably watch his debut tonight or tomorrow). I have to give New England kudos for signing a young DP who can possibly develop into a talented player. One of my biggest misgivings about the MLS is their over-reliance on players in their 30s who have been marginal players in Europe or elsewhere to become starters in the MLS. Bring in some young talent (A la the Sounders’ personnel decisions).
Grade: Incomplete

MLS “First XI” All-Stars announced, and they’re mostly OK

Thierry Henry's beard will make an appearance against Manchester United

By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood

At halftime of the Timbers-Sounders game, they announced the “First XI” for the upcoming all-star game July 27 against Manchester United. It’s a bit of a misnomer, as these players won’t necessarily start – head coach Hans Backe will pick the actual starting 11 – but rather, they’re the ones chosen by fans. If you want to see the story, go here.

Most of the picks aren’t surprising. David Beckham will always be big in the fan voting, as will Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan and Kasey Keller. And in due credit to MLS fans, you can argue that all of the players deserve to be picked at least sort of – except for maybe Sean Franklin (Galaxy) who hasn’t been terrible, but certainly isn’t one of the Top 4 defenders in the league. I can quibble a bit with Beckham, who might be accused of not affecting a game, then sending in one cross that’s headed home, but he is leading the league in assists, so he’s not a bad pick either. It’s a bit curious to see the two central defenders from the gaffe-prone Red Bulls, but since they’ve missed … a couple games, I guess I’ll let it slide. It’s also good to see Brek Shea and Jack Jewsbury get picked. For the players I voted for, go here. See, mostly the same. I assume six more players will be picked, so you can expect Rimando, Osvaldo Alonso and a few others to join the team.

Here is the list of players:

MLS All-Star First XI

Goalkeeper: Kasey Keller (SEA)

Defenders: Omar Gonzalez (LA), Sean Franklin (LA), Rafa Márquez (NY), Tim Ream (NY)

Midfielders: David Beckham (LA), Jack Jewsbury (POR), Brek Shea (DAL)

Forwards: Landon Donovan (LA), Thierry Henry (NY), Chris Wondolowski (SJ)

Text Voting Winner: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)

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