Here are the 10 things we learned from week eight of the MLS season.
1. Univision’s MLS English-language broadcasts are a disaster
With MLS’ new TV deal, Univision was pushed into the spotlight with an exclusive Friday night game each week. It hasn’t been pretty.
Univision had a double-header on Friday night, and to be brutally honest, watching MLS on the network is a severely trying experience.
The announcing is inane and atrocious. From day one, there have been major problems getting the SAP function to work to get the broadcast in English, and if you do get the broadcast in English, you have to listen to Raúl Guzmán call the game as if it was a WWE match.
It’s often difficult to find the game because Univision occasionally switches which network they’re broadcasting on like they did on Friday, and depending on your cable provider, you’re not getting Univision in HD even if you have an HD package.
Production quality has been lackluster at best, and the network has had few if any real classic games to speak of yet this year. MLS’ new TV deal has been a major upgrade on ESPN2 and FS1, but watching on Univision has mostly been a disaster so far this year.
2. Seattle Has Portland’s number
The first Sounders and Timbers clash of the year on Sunday night was very evenly played. Cautious, tight, and understandably lacking the fervor of previous derbies because of how early in the season it was being played.
Everything about this game had draw written all over it. Seattle hasn’t quite figured out their attack outside of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, and they were more than content to sit Gonzalo Pineda and Osvaldo Alonso in to track Darlington Nagbe.
Portland, meanwhile, leaned on their terrific defense, played two defensive midfielders, and stroked the ball around with zero intent for the majority of the evening. Still without three starters on offense – including Diego Valeri – it’s hard for them to do much else.
But Seattle scrambled a winner home through Clint Dempsey, while the Timbers couldn’t manufacture a late equalizer. It was a scene we’ve seen time and time before – Portland is zero for six in the regular season in Seattle, Dempsey has scored six goals against the Timbers in his last four games, and the Sounders have won four straight in all competitions against the arch enemy.
3. Finally! Goals!
Saturday night – there were only four games thanks to the Impact’s Champions League run and five nationally televised Friday and Sunday games this week – had 17 goals.
Houston and Sporting Kansas City finished 4-4, Columbus put four past the Union, and the Revs pounded four more by a hapless Real Salt Lake. Maybe, finally, this incredibly dull season is sparking to life.
4. The Blas Perez Problem
Blas Perez is one of the best goalscorers in MLS. He’s been incredibly potent in the last three years, and has been terrific – when he’s been on the field – so far this season.
But playing Perez comes with incredible risk. He was given a straight red Friday night against the Rapids. It was Perez’s third red card in the last eighteen games he’s started.
Dallas has a discipline problem. It extends from Perez to the team’s coaching staff and through its young players like Fabian Castillo. It’s going to cost them points this year. It already has as the Hoops dropped two in Commerce City after Perez’s red. Of course, Perez is suspended again, and as Dallas draws the reputation of being hot heads, other teams will look to exploit them more – a la the 2013 Sounders. It’s a storyline to watch going forward.
5. The New York Red Bulls problem
The New Jersey club has a lot going for it right now. The best team in the league in the first part of the season and a playoff lock, an attractive brand of soccer, and probably the best new soccer stadium in the country in Red Bull Arena.
Problem is, watching games at RBA – in person and on TV – very often feel extremely flat. The Red Bulls can’t fill the venue. They can’t come close, even for its biggest regular season games like the one against the LA Galaxy on Sunday, or its first two playoff games last year.
That sucks, because when Red Bull Arena is sold out – think USA v. Turkey last year, or the Supporters’ Shield winning game of 2013 – it rocks like no other venue in MLS. Bigger than Sporting Park, prettier than Providence Park, the Red Bulls against New England Eastern Conference Final leg at RBA last year was one of the best playoff atmospheres in league history.
This is why New York City FC should be the metro area’s premier club as soon as next year. By every metric – Twitter followers, general interest, season tickets, community imprint – they have raced past the Red Bulls.
It’s not a fair fight, considering it’s NYC against New Jersey, but it’s reality. The Red Bulls, unfortunately for everyone involved, aren’t exactly one of the league’s premier franchises.
6. Big win for Toronto
Toronto has a killer road-trip to start the year. Seven straight away from home as renovations finish on BMO Field. Five games through, it’s been tough – but TFC righted the ship on Sunday night with a big 2-0 win in Orlando.
It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Toronto won with their full squad healthy and energized, and with their star players firing – things that they didn’t have over their recent swoon.
As long as Toronto’s defense is as tough as it was as the Citrus Bowl, this is a playoff team and arguably one of the three favorites in the east alongside Columbus and New York. Giovinco and Jozy Altidore will get the goals, and Michael Bradley is a hell of a lot more valuable and fun to have around if things are going well.
Firing Greg Vanney – regardless of whether he was and is the right and best man for the job – would ruin this season. Vanney is a cool head, and this team has enough leadership to run itself. Just wait until they hit the second half of the season, which they’ll play almost exclusively at home.
7. The Klinsmann-Garber feud continues
Don Garber has had enough of Jurgen Klinsmann, and he’s already come to best represent the faction of American soccer that is tired of Klinsmann’s consistent belittling, patronizing treatment of MLS and belief that he has no transformational ideas.
This split with Garber and MLS, and the bad blood that clearly exists between the two parties, is one of the many reasons that Klinsmann’s job looks tenuous. The reason it doesn’t is the continued, unwavering support of Sunil Gulati, who once again came to his coach’s defense after Garber’s comments. Stay tuned.
8. Philadelphia’s Slide Continues
The Union was dismantled in Columbus, and they continue to be the league’s worst team since FC Dallas shocked Colorado into life on consecutive Friday nights.
It’s not just the results. It’s the play. Philadelphia cannot complete passes – short or long. They don’t appear to have any idea how they want to play. How did it get this bad? It’s hard to say exactly, and it’s hard to pinpoint just how much of the woe is on head coach Jim Curtin.
This is for sure – the Union isn’t overachieving. They aren’t covering themselves in glory in what is a difficult situation in which the entire fan-base is irked at management, not the players.
9. NYCFC struggles
That said, Philadelphia took four points out of six against New York City FC two weeks ago, and since then, NYCFC have lost two more games in which they’ve also been shut out.
Needless to say, progress has been slower than expected for Jason Kreis’ team. NYCFC needed production from their starts – namely Mix Diskerud and David Villa, and in the summer Frank Lampard – because they surrounded their stars with far less talent than Orlando did.
But Villa has been hurt. Diskerud has been banged up and on international duty, and Lampard obviously isn’t around. What’s left is a team very long on ideas – and NYCFC do play some nice football at times – but short on talent and game-management skill.
Kreis must be frustrated. He hasn’t missed the playoffs in almost a decade, and in this year’s Eastern Conference, the playoffs are achievable. But right now, he’s coaching a last-place team.
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