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The Meek Inheriting the League – Monday Morning Sweeper

Welcome to this week’s Monday Morning Sweeper, the new name for our weekly Monday column rehashing all of the action from this weekend in MLS.  If you remember last week’s column, we are trying to make this feature different and entertaining while still getting you caught up on all of the action that occurred on the pitch.  Feel free to leave suggestions and comments below on how to improve these articles.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

As NBC’s Pro Soccer Talk noted this weekend, last year home teams’ gained at least one point in 78% of matches last season, making this weekend’s upsets unusual to say the least.  Yet the victors this weekend were notable not just because they were the visitors in many cases but because they were decided underdogs going into the game.  To whit:

  • On Friday night, winless DC United (they of only one goal in three games) put four past the FC Dallas defense.
  • New England travels three time zones and thumps the LA Galaxy on national TV
  • San Jose visits maybe the best team in the league and comes out with a 1-0 win
Is there more parity than we thought in the league or is this an anomaly?  As with most things in life, it’s a bit of both.  Outside circumstances come into play with every game (see story below) so upsets occur in sports.  And to be honest if upsets never happen what reason would we have to watch the games?  The answer most likely is that this is still early in the season and teams are still finding their way.  Some teams are still working their new parts together while others are simply failing to perform early on.  It’s the nature of the game.  I suspect that by June, the teams we see as the best will for the most part be settling in at the top of the league with a few surprises.  Let’s enjoy these upsets and unpredictable results, because isn’t that why we watch sports in the first place?  Let’s also keep an eye on those home-road splits to see if parity is indeed asserting itself in the league.

Player of the Week

For the second week in a row, New York’s Thierry Henry takes the prize for player of the week.  This time, he one-upped himself by scoring a hat trick to lead his team past the Montreal Impact.  For the first half the game looked in doubt as the visitors pressured the Red Bull midfield and were able to grab two goals by halftime.  Henry however gave the home team something that is often overlooked in soccer – goals, as in the ability to simply finish the opportunities he is given.  This is no more apparent than his third goal which, although it came after the result was essentially settled, was nothing more than a collected rebound that he converted into a goal.  He also gets extra credit points for notching another assist, this time on Mehdi Ballouchy’s goal.  It has been said ad nasuem but the Red Bulls really need Henry and Cooper to stay healthy and productive for this team to chase that elusive trophy.

Honorable Mention Player of the Week

Rapids fans must have felt like kids on Christmas morning when they saw two new players on the field and contributing in the team’s 2-0 victory over the Fire on Sunday.  The HMPOW award goes to offseason signing Martin Rivero, a player the Rapids hoped could either start or be a first off-the-bench contributor in the team’s new 4-3-3.  To break the scoreless tie in the 58th minute, Rivero sent a beautiful pass to a streaking Brian Mullan on the wing, who was able to get a centering pass to Omar Cummings.  The forward then finished the job for what was the eventual game-winning goal.  Rivero adds a good eye to the midfield and will be hard to keep off the pitch in the coming weeks.

Los Angeles Hits a New Low, But How Low Will They Go

It’s getting kind of ugly for the defending MLS champs as they were outplayed by the visiting New England Revolution on Saturday.  The Galaxy now sit tied-for-last place in the West but more alarmingly have allowed seven goals in three games.  Considering they allowed only 28 in all of last season, this is a major concern especially since two of their games (DC United and New England) were against teams without prolific offenses.  The team certainly misses Omar Gonzalez but the problems go much deeper than just one player.

In addition, the locker room seems to be heating up with personnel problems.  While the entire story has not yet been told, David Beckham was subbed off at halftime on Saturday and reportedly got into it with some of his teammates, while storming off and avoiding the media after the game.  The Guardian speculated that the substitution was for tactical reasons (Beckham’s wide-play and lack of defensive cover forced the midfield to narrow) but the day before we learned that Robbie Keane, not Beckham, was given the captain’s armband for this game when Landon Donovan was ruled out.  We knew that this was a top-heavy team but Bruce Arena’s history has shown he can find tremendous value from contributors and second string players.  That history is being tested this year, and a locker room controversy if it exists would severely hamper this team’s ability to repeat as MLS champs.

Maybe it will be this summer when we will see how good this Galaxy team truly is.  If Beckham is named to the English Olympic squad, all three designated players will be gone for stretches this summer for international duty.  Keep an eye on this situation.

Coaching Move of the Week

Hans Backe made a series of movies in the Red Bulls’ thumping of Montreal that showed how well he can manage his line-up.  At halftime he subbed off Rafa Marquez due to injury (which some people find suspect) and on came Teemu Taino.  The Finnish player settled the midfield and helped provide better distribution of the ball to the wings.  It was not a coincidence that New York surged ahead after he came on (and Montreal didn’t).  He also helped set up another substitute Mehdi Ballouchy’s goal in the 72nd minute.  For these keen substitutions, Backe gets our coaching move of the week.

Quote of the Week Part I

If I could have taken all eleven out, I would have

Bruce Arena after his team’s 3-1 loss to New England, as reported by Josie Becker

Head Scratcher of the Week

Everyone at RFK this weekend knew that Brek Shea had been through an absolutely emotionally and physically draining week leading up to Friday’s match.  Playing four games in two weeks is tough on anyone, even someone as young as Brek Shea, and even more so after the gut-punch loss to EL Salvador.  Knowing all this, Schellas Hyndman still put Shea on the pitch for all 90 minutes and, despite the fact he played fairly well, he was a non-factor for the second half.  Hyndman shifted Shea from the right to the left and back again even though he was having some success on the right against a smaller/slower Daniel Woolard; possibly this was to cover for his slowness in backtracking on defense.  Considering the success DC had on the wings, his presence was a detriment and has earned our HSOW.

Quote of the Week Park II

I’ll sum up the thoughts of all Chicago Fire supporters after that 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids: Ugh.

James Coston, Chicago Fire Fall Flat on the Road Against Colorado Rapids

Video of the Week

MMS Non-Scientific Power Ranking

10. Houston Dynamo: Off this week but the Clark and Moffat suspensions will hurt them April 15 against the Chicago Fire.

9. Portland Timbers: For the second week in a row the Timbers suffer a gut-punch loss, this time to a very good RSL team.  To take that next step in their development as a franchise to championship contender, they need to put these kinds of games away.  There’s still time though.

8. Vancouver Whitecaps: They are unbeaten after four games and even have a win on the road!  Keep an eye on how they do when the competition gets tougher but they are doing well to gather points early on in the season.

7. Columbus Crew:  The Crew are doing what they seemingly do every year – win but win quietly.  They put away a poor Toronto FC effort this weekend and now sit in third place in the East.  Dismiss them at your own peril.

6. New York Red Bulls:  The Red Bulls are the opposite of the Crew – they are loud, flashy, and prone to emotional swings.  They are on a high after a series of high-profile wins and are looking like the team we thought they could be early in the season.  Let’s see how their depth does as the season goes on.

5. San Jose Earthquakes: The Dynamo of the West.  They are a solid team and so far haven’t beaten themselves, plus have enough talent to slip into the top three if any of the “Big 3″ slip up.

4. Colorado Rapids:  I like this team, but there are some glaring weaknesses especially with their depth.  They deserve all the credit in the world though for beating a good Chicago team and their newcomers really showed up.  I expect them to yo-yo up and down these rankings all year.

3. Seattle Sounders:  Are they still probably the best team in the league?  Yes.  Is it too harsh of a punishment to drop them to third after one loss?  Maybe.  But that was a tough loss that they could have found a way to get a point from somehow.  Slip-ups happen though, and this still looks like a great team.

2. Real Salt Lake:  That is what championship teams do.  A mix of new players and veterans lead an inspired comeback in a raucous environment.  It was a good three points to get because after Wednesday’s match against Montreal, RSL goes through a very tough stretch of schedule.

1. Sporting Kansas City:  Four games, four wins.  What more can you ask of a team?  They look to be everything we thought they would be and maybe more.  Even games where they haven’t played well they’ve won.  The rest of the month, however, is a real test: hosting Los Angeles and RSL before traveling to Vancouver and Portland.

3 Responses to The Meek Inheriting the League – Monday Morning Sweeper

  1. The original Tom says:

    Good win, OK game, fun summer-weather-like atmosphere in Colorado.
    The Rapids could be good if they get Mastreoni and Connor Casey
    back into this team. But by then others will be injured. Still,
    good start.

  2. Charles says:

    KC should NOT be number one. They shouldn’t be overrated until the
    cruise through the East all season………………Video of the
    week should be the Goal of the Year candidate, Nagbe. He actually
    already won the goal of the year award, they are going to wait
    until the end of the season to see which goal of his is the
    best………………only ONE guy thought LA wasn’t the best
    before the season, one guy, man he is a genius. Golden Balls was
    taken off because the D stinks even worse with him. LA gave up two
    goals in one game at home last year. This year ? I have lost count
    and the season just started………….Henry ( poor man’s Nagbe,
    but very expensive ) looks great, best player in the league right
    now, but NY still is not good, no matter how excited NY fans are
    right now. It is nice to see a guy, who has already achieved, not
    be satisfied with a team that stinks, and puts it on himself to
    solve it……..78% for the home field advantage, that is pretty
    cool and what you would/should expect from a parity league.

  3. CTBlues says:

    It’s a shame that Luke Rodgers couldn’t get his visa renewed.

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