Here are the ten things we learned from week nineteen of the 2015 MLS season.
1. Hats Off To Jim Curtin
Jim Curtin, without a doubt, has the hardest managerial job in Major League Soccer. Ask any Union fan, or anyone who covers the team, and they’ll tell you that the aggressively inept ownership of Nick Sakiewicz has made it impossible for Philadelphia to succeed.
Curtin’s hands were tied together from the start of this season by one of the lowest payrolls in MLS, and a team devoid of playmaking ability and any sort of depth. The start of the campaign was just as ugly as was to be expected, and there is no ugly in sports like Philadelphia ugly.
Everyone mostly stopped paying attention to the Union after a month, but Curtin has just plugged away all year, and on Saturday he was rewarded with what he called Philadelphia’s “most complete win of the year,” a 3-0 home drubbing of the Portland Timbers.
The Union have now won three of four and are only two points out of the playoffs – and third place, for that matter – in the Eastern Conference. It hasn’t been an accident.
The turnaround started when Curtin dismissed Rais M’Bohli from the team after giving up two stoppage time goals to lose 3-2 to Sporting Kansas City in April – a strong and necessary move.
The soccer has improved along with the results. With his team finally healthy, Curtin has found a lineup he likes – led by central midfielders Vincent Nogueira and Christian Maidana.
Bottom line, the Union won’t make the playoffs this year. But Curtin, stoic and unwilling to panic, has held together this season and has put his team in a position to recover their dignity. If Philadelphia can continue their playoff push late into the season, he deserves consideration for Coach of the Year.
2. A Show Of Solidarity In Chicago
With the Fire reportedly reaching out to Jimmy Neilson to gauge his interest in becoming their new manager last week, the pressure is clearly on veteran MLS coach Frank Yallop in Bridgeview.
On Saturday night, in front of their biggest home crowd of the year, Chicago sealed a massive victory over the Seattle Sounders for their beleaguered manager as Jason Johnson scored a classic goal in stoppage time, and raced over to celebrate with Yallop.
It was a good performance from the Fire. The return of Mike Magee, the team’s true talisman, is already giving Chicago a boost; while with Shaun Maloney out, Harry Shipp is playing his best soccer of the season in his favored #10 position.
The Fire will have to aggressive in this transfer market. Of their three DP signings in the offseason, none look like keepers. Maloney is washed up and Shipp can play his position better than he can, while the team’s glut of forwards leaves little room for Kennedy Igboananike. David Accam is hardly indispensable either.
Yallop’s work as a general manager in Chicago has been pretty poor – the Fire defense still needs a ton of help – but there’s still plenty of talent around. If he can figure out what his best eleven is, and figure out how to better utilize his DP spots – Chicharito has reportedly turned this team down twice in the last year – Yallop might still save his job.
3. The Shame Of Real Salt Lake
RSL went to Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Cup derby on Saturday, and were level at 1-1 before Luis Gil stood still and watched his runner collect a loose ball in the box with time ticking down and manufacture the game-winner for the Rapids.
It was a dismal showing from Salt Lake and especially Gil, whose star has dimmed so considerably over the last two years that there is no guarantee he finishes this season in Sandy.
This loss is the most damaging of what is becoming a nightmare season. What’s clear is that without Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, plus Alvaro Saborio and Jamison Olave, RSL doesn’t have any leadership.
How else can you explain the late-game collapse, or the idiotic red card picked up by Sebastian Jaime? Jeff Cassar was okay in this job last season, when nothing, including the players and system, had changed from the Jason Kreis era, but now that he’s meddled with formations and personnel, things aren’t going so smoothly.
There might not be a quick fix for Salt Lake, including firing Cassar. This team has very little talent that isn’t above 30 years old, especially with the disappearance of Gil. RSL might be headed for a rough few years. This one could be especially painful.
4. New England Falling Apart
On Saturday, New England traveled to Red Bull Arena – sight of their Eastern Conference Final triumph last year – and were trampled 4-1 by the Red Bulls.
This is pretty bad, even for the Revs in the summer. New England has now lost six games in a row in all competitions, and have only one win since May 2nd when they beat this same Red Bulls team at Gillette Stadium.
The problems go beyond Jermaine Jones’ prolonged absence. Jose Goncalves, who was sent off on Saturday, is nowhere near the form that made him one of New England’s highest-paid players after he won the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year award.
Juan Agudelo hasn’t made the impact New England hoped for when he returned to Foxborough in the offseason but it’s the defense that’s the biggest problem. The Revs have conceded multiple goals in their last five MLS games.
Jay Heaps isn’t going anywhere. After last season’s swoon and turnaround all the way to MLS Cup, Heaps and the Revs will get the chance to sort themselves out again this year in time for the fall. The Eastern Conference is forgiving – but if this free-fall continues into August, New England will be on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
5. A Bad Week For Cascadia
Between Seattle’s lost at the Eastern Conference’s worst team in Chicago, Vancouver losing their first home game since the start of the Women’s World Cup to Sporting Kansas City, and the Timbers getting demolished by Philadelphia, the Cascadian clubs hardly looked like the West’s three best teams.
All three teams have different problems. Seattle’s squad is feckless without their DP forwards, the ‘Caps are missing their own star in Pedro Morales, and the Timbers, rotating their squad after an incredibly busy stretch of games, didn’t play a team capable of beating the Union.
The Whitecaps’ problems are the hardest to diagnose. They just aren’t very good against quality teams who won’t let them counter-attack with their trademark gusto, and while Kekuta Manneh is having a nice season, Mauro Rosales looks old, Erik Hurtado’s development has stalled, and Darron Mattocks, who has never been Carl Robinson’s favorite son, hasn’t progressed.
Vancouver’s inability to break teams like Sporting Kansas City down isn’t a good sign. It’s why they lead the Western Conference in losses, and why their playoff prospects don’t look so promising.
This run-in will be a test of Robinson’s credentials. The Welsh manager has to figure out a way to beat the league’s best teams – and Colorado. The Whitecaps played their best soccer of the season months ago, while the team’s around the – notably SKC, the Galaxy, Dallas, and possibly Portland – have their best soccer ahead of them.
6. NYCFC’s Obvious Problem
I love Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard as much, or more, than anyone. I think that they’ll produce some great moments in NYCFC’s midfield, and am less concerned than most with how they’ll make defense work in midfield. Andrew Jacobson will do plenty of dirty work, and the aging stars will help Kreis do what he really loves to do anyway – keep the ball.
But there is obviously concern with how New York City will start making defense in defense. Jason Kreis’ only sure thing at the back is a 33-year-old converted full-back in Chris Wingert.
Spanish fullback Andoni Iraola meets the one requirement the Manchester City brass has for NYCFC – he’s old – but the early returns aren’t promising as he got skinned alive in his debut Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco.
This team is already the old – they won’t just be getting old once Lampard and Pirlo debut. The roster construction of NYCFC has been extremely shoddy – especially when compared with the job Orlando did – and whether that’s the fault of Kreis and Claudio Reyna or the fault of the Manchester overlords doesn’t matter much right now.
Mix Diskerud might be the player NYCFC’s targeted allocation money is used to buy down, but if its not, this team needs to sign a top-class central defender – something in the mold of Portland’s signing of Liam Ridgewell to a DP deal last year.
NYCFC will be a hell of a lot of fun to watch down the stretch, but if the 4-4 draw at Yankee Stadium on Sunday is any indication, they won’t be successful without an improved defense.
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