A “Scary” Weekend – Monday Morning Sweeper
New York Defense Reaches New Lows
After his team’s 4-1 thrashing of the New York Red Bull, Ben Olsen called Chris Pontius’ potential as a forward “scary”. You can’t blame him for his word choice as Pontius, just coming back from a broken leg suffered last season, has now scored 4 goals in eight games (four started) after tonight’s hat trick. But the word could also have been used to describe the much maligned New York defense.
Connor Lade got his first start at left back in place of Roy Miller and of course Rafa Marquez sat this one out, but it was the entire team that failed to put forth a defensive effort worthy of a professional soccer team. Thierry Henry will rightly be faulted for Pontius’ first goal but he had too easy of a time beating the defense for the goal. It was a great goal, but neither of the two defenders next to him closed him out. The second goal was a comedy of errors, with Maicon Santos beating three New York defenders in the corner to center the ball for a Chris Pontius tap-in. And so on and so forth. The defensive deficiencies were not so much tactical as much as mental.
To be fair, New York was missing a number of players that could have helped defensively, and the pitch was a quagmire. That said, this was a miserable effort by New York. That combined with the fact that they only scored once against a now nearly dominating DC defense means that the teams knows it cannot outscore its opponents. How it begins to fix that defense is the defining question of their season, because it is no longer a hidden liability.
Player of the Week
Chris Pontius earns the POTW honors for his hat trick against the rival Red Bull, but it was not just the number of goals that gave him the edge. Pontius missed a large portion of last year with a broken leg and at the beginning of this season wasn’t a starter, despite having earned a call-up to the national team last year. But his game-winning goal at New England last Saturday showed a flash of his return and yesterday was his welcome back party. The first goal showed shooting ability, the second finishing ability (although it wasn’t much of a challenge), and the third showed ball-handling skills. Great game overall by the midfielder (turned forward?).
Honorable Mention Player of the Week
MMS debated a few names for the runner-up slot, including Eddie Gaven (2 goals) and Kyle Beckerman (a goal and great midfield play). But MMS readers know we love some defending, and our HMPOTW nod goes to Aurelien Collin again. Midweek against Vancouver, not only did the center back score but helped hold the high-flying Vancouver offense to just a single goal. And despite seeing their winning streak end on Saturday, Collin did an excellent job bottling up the dangerous Kris Boyd to almost grab a point for the visitors.
Retroactive Punishments Take Back Seat to Real-Time Variety
We have discussed on this site the league’s use of video to retroactively punish players this year and how it impacts the MLS product. But this weekend the men (and unfortunately it is all men) paid to impose discipline on the game seemed to take matters into their own hands as not one but TWO games saw teams reduced to nine men. While it may not signal a trend toward harsher on-field enforcement of the rules and prevention of injury, the situation does merit some examination.
Let’s start with the battle for the Western Conference as Real Salt Lake visited San Jose Saturday night. The visitors were quickly down to ten men after Fabian Espindola was shown red in the 29th minute for a double studs-up tackle in a move that is both dumb and automatic. Credit to RSL, however, as they battled back with 10 men and actually tied the game early in the second half on a Kyle Beckerman goal. A few minutes later red was flashed again, this time to Jamison Olave as he seemingly pulled down Steven Lenhart on his way to the goal. Watching the replay, however, makes this call a little less clear (where exactly is Lenhart grabbing?) but more often than not a last defender knocking an offensive player to the ground will be a red card. In this match, the red cards had a definite impact but, to his credit, Jason Kreis after the match spent most of his time preaising his team’s fight and not castigating the officials.
Traveling down the coast, Philadelphia paid a visit to the winless-at-home Goats and came away with a hard-fought 1-0 victory. Their match saw not only two reds but their coach sent off as well. The first red to Keon Daniel occurred in the 75th minute with a studs up tackle, again an easy call for the officials. The second red was to Gabriel Farfan, who actually could have been carded multiple times on the play but was shown red for an aggressive sliding tackle into James Riley. The tackle instigated an on-the-field scuffle in front of Peter Nowak and, when the Union head man entered the field of play to break it up, he was sent to the showers as well.
Coaching Move of the Week
Debate if you want whether it was mind games or an actual concern, but David Beckham was originally supposed to be out of Saturday’s match at Colorado, again robbing Rapids fans of seeing MLS’s highest paid player. Instead, Bruce Arena started him and Beckham made a major difference in midfield. His free kick in the 21st minute was converted by Mike Magee (and some Rapids players?) for the game’s first goal. Overall he gave LA the midfield presence they lacked at times this season (even when he was on the field) and contributed as usual with free kicks. While not a tough decision, Arena gets the nod .
Quote of the Week Part 1
“One year ago today I lost everything I worked for. Nowhere near where I once was but working to get back. Patience & Perseverance!”
Steve Zakuani (@stevezakuani11) via Twitter this weekend.
Head Scratcher of the Week
I will let the video do most of the talking on this one, but what the heck are Kocic and Frings thinking? About Arlo White visiting? The confetti?
Quote of the Week Part 2
“A big part of it is the ball not going in the net as often as it does for them [the opponent].”
FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman on why his team struggles on the road, after a 1-0 road loss to Vancouver
Video of the Week
Even if it was from 2 feet away, I though this was a most impressive goal by Mr. Adu
MMS Non-Scientific Power Rankings
10. New York Red Bulls (4): I’m not giving up on them but after that defensive performance on Sunday, it will be hard to take them seriously until they are healthy or reinforced. We wondered what would happen when they faced a good defense, and now we know.
9. Los Angeles Galaxy (NR): Much like the #8 team in the rankings, I’m not quite sold on them yet. However, they’ve done just enough the past few weeks to sneak into the top ten. Now let’s see if they can play well with any consistency.
8. DC United (10): Yes they beat the Red Bulls and have a six game unbeaten streak. But until they win two games in a row, I’m not drinking the Kool-aide.
7. Chicago Fire (NR): They just aren’t clicking on all cylinders yet and having only played five games, we haven’t seen enough of them for a final judgement. But we’ve seen enough to see that they could be good enough for second in the East.
6. Houston Dynamo (8): They just get the job done. They have midfield injuries and didn’t play incredibly well on Saturday but they are hanging around. With Brian Ching and Will Bruin partnering very well, their Saturday tilt with DC could be the game of the week.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps (7): I continue to be impressed by this team. The KC scoreline was deceptive as to the game’s competitiveness while this weekend they took care of business at home against a conference foe. If they continue to improve, we could see the fourth best team in the West by season’s end.
4. Real Salt Lake (2): They deserve major credit for hanging in a game down to ten, then nine men even though they ultimately got the loss. That said, that’s three losses on the season and thus they fall behind their competitors.
3. Seattle Sounders (3): A week off and an intriguing match-up with Chicago awaits next weekend.
2. San Jose Earthquakes (5): They likely will not end the season here, but the ‘Quakes ascend to #2 by virtue of beating the top team in the West. While it took 90+ minutes to do so, a win is a win.
1. Sporting Kansas City (1): Yes they lost on Saturday but I am more impressed with their Wednesday win at Vancouver. Soccer is not an undefeated sport, and maybe it’s better to end the streak now than mid-season so they can focus on the long-term goal.