Here are the 10 things we learned from week five of the 2015 Major League Soccer season:
1. Crisis in Philadelphia
What’s the worse feeling for Philadelphia Union fans right now? That the Union became only the seventh team in MLS history to go into stoppage time winning and finish it losing, or that there’s next to no hope that next weekend and the weekend after will be any better.
Things are about to get bad in Philadelphia, and when things get bad in Philadelphia, they get bad. Much of the blame for the Union’s MLS-worst start isn’t being placed at the feet of manager Jim Curtin.
There’s little he can do with an overmatched and undermanned roster that has failed to make meaningful upgrades and devoted its limited resources to all the wrong places.
Union owner Nick Sakiewicz has lost his entire fan-base. It hasn’t helped him that the controversial signing of Algerian goalkeeper Rais M’Bholi has backfired; then again, it hasn’t helped him that he made a foolish signing. The once-vaunted PPL Park is quickly losing its status as one of MLS’ better atmospheres. Philadelphia have been courting total disaster for some time. Now, it appears they’re getting it.
The next month will be crucial for the fate of the franchise going forward.
2. Sporting KC win, but fail to impress
Sporting Kansas City’s win against Philadelphia was almost an embarrassment in itself, considering that they needed a two-goal stoppage time comeback to get it.
That the goals were scored by fringe-players Jalil Anibaba and Krisztian Nemeth was fitting. It was that kind of night.
The truth is, Kansas City are struggling. This team absolutely fell apart last year when they sold Uri Rosel, and for all their new faces, they haven’t replaced him. On Sunday, the result was a disjointed attack with Benny Feilhaber overcompensating for midfield uncertainty and taking himself out of the game.
Peter Vermes is looking for a major summer addition – someone on the level of a Rafael van der Vaart – but his immediate concern is establishing a style for a team that has been lost since the 2014 World Cup.
3. Joy in Chicago
It was the Fire who got another win in the first match on Saturday, somewhat surprisingly beating Toronto FC 3-2 at home.
If Chicago are going to compete for a playoff spot, it’s going to happen like it happened against TFC, with Shaun Maloney playing a major role, a reliance on terrific team speed, and – don’t forget – some luck.
The Fire have a glut of decent forwards, that’ll get even bigger when Mike Magee finally returns from injury – unfortunately for them, their DP forwards aren’t any better than their non-DP forwards – but this is a team that should be able to score goals with Harry Shipp and Maloney creating.
In this year’s Eastern Conference, momentum is going to be everything. Unlike the West, there isn’t real separation between the haves and have-nots. Besides the Union, everyone has a chance. Credit to Chicago for fighting through early adversity and getting their season going.
4. Vintage performance from Vancouver
The Whitecaps have won all year, but they’ve been lucky. They were poor in Chicago, poorer in Orlando, and downright dreadful against Portland last weekend, but against the LA Galaxy at BC Place, they realized their considerable potential.
To put it simply, the Whitecaps stepped on LA’s throat for 90 minutes. The final score was 2-0, but it could have been considerably uglier.
Because of how Vancouver’s built, with a young, charismatic manager in Carl Robinson, high-flying team leaders like Kendall Waston and Pa Modou Kah, and stars like Pedro Morales and Kekuta Manneh, when this team is on, they’re really on.
Whether the Whitecaps can sustain that level consistently remains to be seen – the team’s with the highest highs often also have the lowest lows – but the beat-down of the Galaxy was sensational.
5. About LA…
It’s looking like another slow start for the Galaxy, who’ve made a habit of recovering from similar season-opening swoons to win MLS Cups.
The difference is, there’s considerably less talent on this team right now than in years past. LA is absolutely missing Landon Donovan, and they are absolutely missing Marcelo Sarvas.
Bruce Arena hasn’t figured out his central midfield or his first-choice defense – something Robbie Rogers has to be a part of going forward – and if the plan is wait until Steven Gerrard arrives in July, LA could be looking at a first-round playoff matchup with a team like the Seattle Sounders.
However, Arena and LA will continue to be confident – they have no reason not to be. They know nothing is won in March and April, and as long as they’re playing their best soccer in October, they’ll believe they should beat whoever is in their way.
6. Portland gets its first win
Fewer teams were as quietly frustrated with the start of their season than the Portland Timbers, who fought through the adversity of major injuries to consistently put themselves in positions to win in March, only to be denied at the death in three of their four games.
But just as the pressure was mounting, the Timbers broke out with a flourish, beating league-leading FC Dallas 3-1 at Providence Park. Portland’s defense of Jorge Villafaña, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, and Alvas Powell will keep the Timbers in every game, and once Diego Valeri returns from injury, the attack will get more consistent as well.
This is going to be one of the toughest teams to beat in MLS this year – come playoff time, absolutely no one will want to see them.
The biggest talking point from the Portland against Dallas clash ended up being the botched post-game handshake between Oscar Pareja and Caleb Porter, in which tempers flared before Pareja appeared to hand Porter a tissue he had wiped his nose with.
There’s history here – Porter has had a career of touchline controversies, including a screaming match with Bruce Arena, almost coming to blows with Carl Robinson, and behind denied a handshake by Pep Guardiola.
Porter often brings out the worst in people, as does the intense, slightly suffocating atmosphere at Providence Park. But Dallas and Pareja were the real culprits here. In this fixture last year, a Dallas assistant coach was sent off for throwing a punch at a Timbers fan, and it was Pareja who started the altercation and offered the tissue.
What did he expect Porter to do with a tissue, anyway? Dallas’ passion will get them into trouble. It always does. It’s one of the reasons why they always flame out at the end of the year.
8. More misery in Colorado
The Rapids still haven’t scored or won, and are threatening various dubious records for longest time without doing either.
They still look terrible, especially their young players who Oscar Pareja was bringing along so nicely before leaving for Dallas at the end of the 2013 season.
Kevin Doyle isn’t going to save this team’s season. The clock is ticking on Pablo Mastroeni – how much more of this can the franchise take?
9. Heartbreak for Orlando
Orlando City remains, quite possibly, the best team to watch in MLS. True to their word, the Lions are a swashbuckling team that plays fast and loose and fires away, especially at home.
Problem is, their mostly misfiring away, and they have a pension for mental lapses that has cost them stoppage time defeats in their last two games against Vancouver and then again on Friday night against DC United.
Orlando has a lot of fast, young forwards, but they need to find the one who can finish the chances that Kaka is creating. They also need to keep calm; they’re playing well enough to win. Growing pains are going to be unavoidable. Orlando is experiencing them right now, but they’re still in a much better position than at least half of MLS.
10. DC keeps grinding out wins
DC’s style wouldn’t seem sustainable on paper, but it worked last year and it appears to be working again this year – keep games tight, play smart, rely on Bill Hamid, and manufacture a goal.
The win in stoppage time in Orlando followed up a win against the Galaxy in stoppage time last week. The problem is, scraping out 1-0 results is no way to win a playoff series, as the New York Red Bulls proved last season in their fairly comfortable upset of DC.
If Eddie Johnson’s career is sadly over, DC will have money and flexibility to try and find themselves a game-breaker like a Pedro Morales or Diego Valeri. This current team is going to win games and get themselves in good spots, but isn’t built to threaten MLS Cup.
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