Sporting Kansas City is for Real… for Now
You can reel off the excuses arguing against the early dominance of Sporting Kansas City. Their opponents so far are only 8-13-3. The Galaxy team they faced on Saturday was missing key midfield clog David Beckham. They’ve only had two road trips, to DC (poor home record) and Chivas.
The reality is that despite these numbers, Sporting Kansas City is the class of the league and their 1-0 win over LA proved it. The key to their season so far has been their defense. Sporting KC has allowed one goal in their first five games and NO SHOTS ON GOAL in their last two games. As I mentioned in my game review from Sunday, Roger Espinoza in the midfield is so far having an MVP-type season with his dominating play in the middle, although the entire back line has been careful to not commit many mistakes. Offensively, the front 3 of their 4-3-3 are big, physical presences that can create their own shots. Add an intimidating home field, and you’ve got the best team in MLS.
This weekend they host Real Salt Lake in what is likely the game of the year (so far) but after that their schedule remains fairly easy. The two opponents after that – Vancouver and Portland – were severely exposed this weekend and it may not be until they travel to Chicago a month from now that they will be seriously challenged in an MLS game. Last year, the extended road trip for KC almost sunk them, but they rallied and ended the season on a hot streak to win the East. This season they are reversing the formula and hoping for a better end to the season. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
Player of the Week
MMS often finds that it is like kindergarten, and all of the kids should get a chance for recognition. As such, I will not follow MLS itself but instead name Ryan Smith as the MMS Player of the Week. The Chivas USA sub immediately changed his team’s game against Portland when he came in at the beginning of the second half, as his play on the left hand side forced the Timbers’ Lovel Palmer to drop deeper and play some defense, not his strength. The result was Smith assisting on both goals for Chivas, one to Alejandro Moreno early in the second half and the second a cross to Nick LaBrocca in the 82nd minute.
Honorable Mention Player of the Week
Thierry Henry again gets recognition by MMS by scoring another brace and adding an assist in New York’s 4-1 win over Columbus this weekend. The two goals now gives him seven in the first five games of the season. His assist was a lofted pass to teammate Kenny Cooper (a weekly also-ran for POTW consideration) in the third minute of the game to give the Red Bulls an early lead. To quote Jacobim Mugatu, “he’s so hot right now“.
Rookie of the Year Race Already Heating Up
Last season the Rookie of the Year race ended with a bit of a whimper when C.J. Sapong was voted the winner after a pretty good year. The reality was that none of the award-eligible rookies had outstanding years (Sapong himself split time up top) or were consistent enough to garner enough votes. Some saw it as a condemnation of the college system, further proof that college players could no longer be counted upon to be elite MLS stars right away.
For the first month of the 2012 season, we’ve seen a different story. It is still early in the season but a number of rookies have not only impressed but are major contributors for their teams. For example, Kelyn Rowe for New England has started every game this year and, despite only scoring once, is already one of the team’s top scoring threats. Nick DeLeon for DC United had a major breakout against FC Dallas two weeks ago and had another solid game against Seattle this weekend. If he continues to play well there is no reason he won’t continue getting starts. Even more highly touted Andrew Wenger scored his first of what will be a bunch of goals this year for Montreal. And on the other side of the ball Ryan Meara could boost his numbers if New York continues to improve.
So while it is too early to begin betting on the rookie of the year, it’s not too early to be impressed by this class so far. And ultimately the way it is regarded is how it’s weakest link is perceived. For every Nick DeLeon there is a Tommy Meyer, who can’t seem to stop a forward in Los Angeles’ porous defense. But it is fun to watch these newbies contribute early for these fan bases.
Coaching Move of the Week
Last week MMS criticized Schellas Hyndman for some suspect coaching in playing Brek Shea for all 90 minutes against DC United, then moving him all over the field while DC had success on the flanks. This week, Shea was glued to the left side on the field and gave the New England defense fits. Even though his crosses and centering passes didn’t lead to the game winning goal, it did keep the New England defense on its back foot (feet?) late in the second half and led up to the 95th minute goal Thursday night. (Thanks to Daniel Robertson at Big D Soccer for posting the chart).
Quote of the Week Part I
“Omar Cummings did not score an own goal and he also did not actively injure any one of his team mates. That’s about the only two nice things that I can think to say about Omar after his putrid performance on Saturday against Real Salt Lake”
Head Scratcher of the Week
Usually we reserve our head scratcher of the week for a coaching decision during the game but this week we will award it to Justin Braun of the Montreal Impact. During an RSL free kick from the left, Braun kept his hands up while trying to clear a shot, with the ball clearly bouncing off of his hand for the obvious penalty call. His momentum was carrying him backwards but if he would have kept his hands down the ball would have been saved by Donovan Ricketts. As it was that was the only goal allowed on a night when Ricketts was a wall. The inexplicable hand up earns Braun the HSOTW.
Quote of the Week Part 2
“Gspurning has looked Ggood tonight for Seattle.”
Travis Clark (@travismclark) via Twitter on Seattle GK Michael Gspurning’s play Saturday night versus DC United
Video of the Week
Great goal and even greater celebration by Sporting KC’s Kei Kamara
MMS Non-Scientific Power Poll
10. DC United (NR): This may be a homer pick but DC has gotten four points against two good Western Conference teams these past two weeks. The defense has looked very good even with the backup keeper. The midfield has a chance to take that next step against an easier stretch of schedule.
9. FC Dallas (NR): Good job stealing a win from New England. This team is starting a little slow but they tend to do that before finding their stride in the summer. For now, they can blame youth and injuries for their record but not for much longer.
8. Houston Dynamo (10): Don’t play a game, move up two spaces. Not bad. What is bad is that the team may have lost Brad Davis, their third starting midfielder, for this weekend’s game against Chicago.
7. Vancouver Whitecaps (8): That was an ugly loss but they had to allow a goal at some point. Let’s see how they rebound with a week off to prepare for Sporting KC.
6. Colorado Rapids (4): The combination of the known Rapids’ weaknesses (age, injury) plus the unknown of a new coach can lead to results like their 2-0 loss to RSL. Still, I like this team’s talent especially if they get healthy and gel with the 4-3-3.
5. San Jose Earthquakes (5): It wasn’t just that the ‘Quakes won against Vancouver and broke their goalless streak but how they did it. Rather than fold after the Le Toux goal, they storm back with three goals to coast to victory. They could legitimately be the third best team in the West.
4. Seattle Sounders (3): Again the Sounders slip a little after not taking the full three points in DC. They may benefit the most from a down LA team, as the Galaxy have been the monkey on their backs for the past two years.
3. New York Red Bulls (6): At some point they will come back down to Earth, right? If they can stay relatively healthy, they have the talent to take down Kansas City in the East. But they may again have to sacrifice the U.S. Open Cup to make a run at the MLS Cup for their elusive trophy.
2. Real Salt Lake (2): Don’t look now but the depth for RSL is pretty impressive. Paulo Jr. took the penalty on Wednesday and normal starters Saborio, Espindola scored both goals on Saturday. Let’s see if it can hold up better than last year.
1. Sporting Kansas City (1): Let’s see if they can hold this spot after this weekend’s major match with the #2 team. It’s too bad unbalanced scheduling prevents a return match.