Here are the 10 things we learned from week four of the 2016 MLS season.
1. The Red Card Controversy Continues
As the calendar flipped to April, red cards continued to dominate the discussion in MLS.
Felipe, Matias Laba, Benoit Cheyrou, and Warren Creavalle were all casualties this week. There have now been sixteen red cards in just 41 games. Last year, there were only 90 red cards in 340 games.
This is a crackdown unlike anything we’ve ever seen in MLS – and it’s a crackdown that is long overdue. For years, MLS’ physicality was well publicized as its best attacking players faced preventable danger each time they stepped onto the field.
Have there been hiccups? Of course. Felipe’s red card was a joke. So was Cheyrou’s. But if the goal is cleaning up the game, PRO and MLS will succeed. Teams and players will have no choice but to adapt.
The success of these measures – which were requested by MLS owners – will be in the number of injuries sustained by the league’s most creative players by the end of the season. That’s what matters here.
2. Geiger’s Meltdown
Confidence in refereeing is hugely important, and it’s clear that Mark Geiger has lost his in spectacular fashion.
Even by his lofty standards, Geiger’s handling of New England’s highly controversial 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on Friday night at Gillette Stadium was a horror show.
The New Jersey native handed out an extremely soft red card to Felipe, and by the end of the night, had left both coaches and sets of players veering from incredulous to apoplectic. Geiger could only be happy that Jermaine Jones wasn’t on hand for the Revs.
It’s an achingly similar story each week. But beyond his serially overzealous officiating, Geiger’s obvious inability to effectively communicate with and manage players and coaches hasn’t made him a particularly sympathetic figure.
It’s been a sad fall from grace for the referee, whose performance at the World Cup in 2014 made him – at the time – a widely respected and well-liked figure. It’s up to PRO to protect both its referee and sit him out for the time being.
3. Don’t Sleep On Salt Lake
As is typical for the beginning of an MLS season, very few teams have stood out through the first four weeks of 2016. There are plenty of good sides, and preciously few great or distinctive ones.
But there’s already more reason to be excited about Real Salt Lake this year than there was in all of 2015. Saturday’s win at Sporting Kansas City – without Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Jamison Olave, or Burrito Martinez – was one of the most impressive results of the young season.
RSL has finally shaken off the Jason Kreis era, and evolved. This team is beginning to be reminiscent of the 2012 San Jose Earthquakes team that won the Supporters’ Shield. They’re resourceful, tough, and stocked with veterans who are used to winning.
4. The Triumphant Return of Kaka
It’s hard to overstate Kaka’s importance to Orlando City, and it would be hard to overestimate the lift he gave his team in their curb stomping of the Portland Timbers on Sunday night at the Citrus Bowl.
Kaka’s play was phenomenal – he picked up a goal and two assists in an unusually sprightly performance – but his decision to let Kevin Molino take Orlando’s late penalty to get the young player his first MLS goal was especially indicative of why he’s so beloved by everyone around him.
It was an extremely thoughtful gesture, and when Molino tucked the spot-kick away, no one was happier for him than the Brazilian superstar. Kaka brings an energy that Orlando needs. If he can stay healthy, they’re a playoff lock.
5. It’s Time To Worry About The Whitecaps
Vancouver is, somewhat predictably, in trouble this season. The Whitecaps still aren’t getting production from their forwards, and still aren’t winning at BC Place.
This team is making the game look hard offensively, and it’s only going to get harder with both Pedro Morales and Kekuta Manneh facing time on the sidelines with injury.
Carl Robinson had every opportunity to address his team’s attacking concerns in the offseason, but he instead brought in two players in Christian Bolaños and Masato Kudo that are in no way game-changers.
This Vancouver team appears to be stuck in neutral. They can make the playoffs again by beating up on the bottom half of the league – something they did better than any other team last year – but they’re not going anywhere in the fall.
6. Seattle’s Bleak Prospects
On the face of it, Seattle got a much-needed win against the Montreal Impact on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field thanks to a late Clint Dempsey header.
But the Sounders’ long-term prospects remain grim. Seattle still looks brittle through midfield and in the final third – unable to create chances from the run of play – and in comparison to the free-flowing Sounders of 2014 and 2015, it’s obvious that this team is in trouble.
Sigi Schmid stands to take the fall if the Sounders continue to struggle into the summer, but GM Garth Lagerway – hired away from Real Salt Lake before last season – should also be in the firing line.
It was Lagerway who invested so heavily in Nelson Valdez and Andreas Ivanschitz last summer, and Lagerway who misjudged the salary cap and had to gut what was once a very deep roster to accommodate Seattle’s top-heavy lineup.
7. Clint Irwin
Irwin was terrific on his return to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Toronto’s unlucky 1-0 loss to Colorado, and his manager Greg Vanney took a shot at the Rapids after the game for gifting TFC their new goalkeeper.
If Tim Howard’s performance once he arrives in Colorado doesn’t match Irwin’s in Toronto, the marquee signing will be seen as yet another example of how unserious the Rapids are about winning.
8. Trouble for the Champions
The Portland Timbers were bushwhacked 4-1 at Orlando City on Sunday night, and though it was a small improvement on the 4-0 thrashing that LA suffered when they came to the Citrus Bowl as defending champions last year, it was a thoroughly abysmal performance.
And while Dairon Asprilla and Lucas Melano have been extremely disappointing to start the season, it’s Portland’s defense that is really suffering.
The Timbers are missing captain Liam Ridgewell, and Jorge Villafaña’s intended replacement Chris Klute has yet to see the field as he’s struggled to return from injury.
Jermaine Taylor and Jack Barmby or Zarek Valentin are huge drop-offs. For Portland’s 4-3-3 to be successful, a strong defense – the foundation of the championship team last year – is absolutely necessary.
9. Chicago 1, Philadelphia 0
10. Osvaldo Alonso
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