10 things we learned from gameweek 4 of MLS


Here are the 10 things we learned from gameweek 4 of MLS.

1. Why did we play this weekend? 

MLS has consistently played through FIFA international breaks. That was the case this weekend too, with the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Nick Rimando, Robbie Keane and others absent and on international duty instead of playing for their club teams.

The result was a dull, poorly played weekend of soccer without the marquee players that teams are centered around. It’s hardly fair to the clubs that are willing to spend the money to bring in big players to have them miss 6-7 games a year because they are good enough to play for their national sides.

I understand the dilemma of needing to get 34 regular season games into a tight March to October window, and I get that weekend games are far better attended and more profitable than weeknight games too. But if MLS wants to be one of the best 10 leagues in the world, it needs to act like it and take true international breaks.

2. TFC gonna TFC 

That’s the only way to explain Toronto FC’s late collapse against Real Salt Lake, where the Reds scored the game-tying goal in the 86th minute only to be pegged back two minutes later and lose 2-1.

This loss stings since Toronto dominated the second half on the road against a perennial playoff team and had a perfectly legitimate Nick Hagglund goal ruled out for a phantom foul by referee Hilario Grejeda.

Toronto put in a very solid performance without Bradley and Altidore, not to mention their top two center-backs, which necessitated that half of Greg Vanney’s back-line was composed of USL players.

This is a good team with plenty of depth in the attack – shown by substitutes Bright Dike and Jackson combining for the goal – but because of their history, each setback feels more predictable and more damaging than it really is.

Toronto will have a good season, but until that first playoff appearance is in the bag, this is a club that walks a very tight rope. It’s the price of nine years of failure.

3. Problems in Vancouver and Salt Lake

Yes, both teams won this weekend. Real Salt Lake has five points and no losses from their first three games, while the Whitecaps have won three games on the bounce and haven’t been scored on in any of them.

All is good, right? Wrong. Salt Lake’s new 4-3-3 system has seriously toyed with the sense of comfort and familiarity felt by their best players. It has squeezed the effective Luke Mulholland out of the team, and drawn the ire of Kyle Beckerman, while promoting the roles of forwards Olmes Garcia and Sebastian Jamie, who’ve both been terrible thus far in 2015.

Jeff Cassar is putting himself on the line by throwing away the diamond – the greatest symbol of the Jason Kreis era in Salt Lake. Yes, Salt Lake is doing fine as of now, but their results have outpaced their performances.

Vancouver, meanwhile, somehow beat their rival the Portland Timbers at BC Place on Saturday despite being absolutely hammered for the majority of the game. The ‘Caps were totally unable to keep the ball, slow to apply pressure in midfield, and generally looked slow.

The ‘Caps now have won both of their last two games with incredibly lucky stoppage time goals, and that was after an 86th minute goal on the road to beat the Chicago Fire. Carl Robinson needs to get his team’s swagger and free-flowing nature back, or it could get tough in the Western Conference.

4. Kaka continues to impress

The Brazilian superstar had another phenomenal game in Orlando City’s 2-2 draw at the Montreal Impact on Saturday, putting up a goal and an assist.

Kaka is certainly in the running for goal of the week and player of the month in March. He’s been everything Orlando could have hoped for so far – fit, committed, inventive, and far and away the best player on the field on all four of his games.

Before coming to MLS, Kaka – one of the nicest, most genuine men in the game – had four or so years of treading water at Real Madrid, AC Milan, and Sao Paulo. Now, clearly enjoying the leading role he has in MLS, he’s really enjoying his football again. It’s showing.

5. Philadelphia continue to struggle 

It’d be tough being a Union fan – this is the one team in MLS that has consistently played poor soccer with little long-term direction and zero true star-power.

Because Philly insist on running themselves like a small-market team, they have to find under-the-radar game changers like Javier Morales and Diego Valeri, and they haven’t. Right now, the Union – who lost to the dreadful Chicago Fire on Sunday – have an incredibly hard time keeping the ball because neither their center-backs or their center midfielders have any feel for distributing.

The Union continues to be a team that needs to out work the opposition and rarely does, and the frustrating part is that we’re seeing the Union’s full compliment of players. They haven’t dealt with injuries and international call-ups to the extent of most other teams in MLS. It could be another tough year.

6. NYCFC needs Lampard on the Field, not in the stands

Frank Lampard used his international break to visit New York City FC for their second home match against Sporting Kansas City. It was a good move by Lampard, who is clearly in the red and needs to recover his credibility with New Yorkers.

Lampard watched the game from a Yankee Stadium suite, but Jason Kreis really needed his star man on the field. NYCFC lacked punch without David Villa, who was out with an adductor strain, and their entire outfit just looks the slightest bit ragged without another player of true class to hold it together.

NYCFC lost 1-0 on a long-throw in goal – the price of having a ridiculously small field! – and how effective Lampard can be at 36 when he arrives in July will be crucial to see if this team can stay in the playoff race.

7. A dearth of good teams? 

MLS is known for its parity, but where can we go this year to watch truly excellent sides? The LA Galaxy were defeated by DC United on a stoppage time goal without both Keane and Gyasi Zardes this weekend, while the Seattle Sounders couldn’t breakdown ten-man FC Dallas and were held to a draw as well.

With Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City both going through transition phases of sorts, the league’s traditional class making traditionally slow starts to the season, teams like Columbus, New York Red Bulls, and Dallas have been the most impressive in the league so far.

Hopefully as the temperature heats up, the soccer will as well.

8. Soccer specific stadiums? 

When San Jose’s Avaya Stadium opened last weekend, it was a great moment for the Earthquakes organization as well as MLS as a whole. A major factor in financial stability and community awareness is a stadium, and the MLS teams that have their own tend to do better than the teams that don’t.

That’s why, after a five-year period of sustained progress on the stadium front, we’re seeing some troubling trends. This weekend, matches were played at Gillette Stadium, the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, BC Place, RFK Stadium, and Yankee Stadium.

Three of those five games drew above-average MLS crowds, but had their atmospheres largely sapped by the size of their stadium. BC Place does a better job with this, but the problem still exists for the Whitecaps.

Atlanta’s plan when they come into the league in 2017 is to play in the Falcons’ new NFL stadium. NYCFC doesn’t appear to have a stadium plan, and neither do the Revolution. Minnesota is still working on theirs, while Miami – very publicly – is still at square one.

The only new soccer stadiums on the schedule for MLS are Orlando next year, and DC in the very distant future. That’s not a good sign if this league wants to become one of the world’s best by 2020. Football stadiums and shared stadiums are not the way to go.

9. Red Bulls continue to roll on 

Beating Columbus in Columbus? The Jesse Marsch era is off with a bang – and that’s not exactly surprising. The Red Bulls retained a decent core group of players from Mike Petke’s teams, and Marsch is clearly a good coach who got a raw deal in his last job.

But few could have predicted how impressive New York’s midfield would be – the trio of Dax McCarty, Felipe Martins, and Sacha Kljestan have put Marsch and Ali Curtis’ up-tempo, possession-based style in motion.

Marsch is an impressive guy. New York fans saw that at the infamous town hall last winter. But seeing his on-field approach so clearly, so early in his tenure will do even more to win over the Metro faithful.

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  1. Kei March 30, 2015
    • Flyvanescence March 30, 2015

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