Here are the ten things we learned from Week 9 of the 2016 MLS season.
1. A Star is Born in Portland
Some six years and a handful of weeks ago, Jake Gleeson started the Portland Timbers’ MLS home opener as a fresh-faced 19-year-old. Those were heady days for the New Zealander, who got the call in Troy Perkins’ stead near the beginning of that debut season.
Eventually Perkins came back from injury, and Gleeson returned to the bench – expecting, along with everyone else in Portland, that his chance to start in MLS would come sooner rather than later.
Then the years started to go by, with no opportunity materializing.
Gleeson was stuck behind Perkins, then Donovan Ricketts, and then Adam Kwarasey. He was even behind the likes of Milos Kocic and Andrew Weber at points, spending time on loan with Sacramento and playing last season with Portland’s USL team T2.
For six years, Gleeson has waited with patience unheard-of in modern football for his chance to step up as the Timbers’ #1. And on Sunday afternoon against Toronto, Gleeson – in for just his sixth career start in place of the injured Kwarasey – played the game of his life.
Gleeson came up with four outstanding saves in the second half of what was a terrific spectacle at Providence Park.
His best stop came on a point-blank Drew Moor header, kicking the ball onto his fingertips and pushing it against the bar – but his late denial of a free Will Johnson header that sealed the Timbers’ win.
Gleeson has the frame, shot-stopping ability, and mentality to be a starting MLS goalkeeper – and this performance all but ensured that whether its in Portland or elsewhere, his time his finally come.
2. Speaking of Goalkeepers…
Amazingly enough, though it’s the goalkeeping performance of the year so far, Gleeson is not going to win Save of the Week.
That honor is going the way of Nick Rimando, who went full-Scott Sterling to deny Houston’s Andrew Wenger with his face from three yards out to preserve Real Salt Lake’s 2-1 win over the Dynamo on Saturday night.
It’s not easy to appreciate great goalkeepers, but Rimando is a thing unto himself. He’s been an absolute joy to watch, and a class act to boot – beloved almost as much in cities like Portland as he is in Salt Lake.
The highest compliment a player like Gleeson can receive is to be told that his performance was Rimando-esc. MLS should consider naming their Goalkeeper of the Year trophy after him.
3. The Red Bulls Explode
Think last Sunday’s controversial 3-2 win over Orlando did the Red Bulls some good? Jesse Marsch’s team looked absolutely ebullient on Friday night, stomping Dallas by four goals to nil at Red Bull Arena.
Key to the Red Bulls success was the play of Lloyd Sam and Mike Grella. Both men, especially Sam, have struggled somewhat this year, but both were fantastic on Friday night.
With Aurelian Colin coming in at center-back, the Red Bulls appear to have turned the corner in an Eastern Conference that is very much there for the taking. Just as Portland begins to figure things out, the defending Supporters’ Shield winners are rounding into form.
4. Another Positive Step for the Rapids
Colorado is top of the league after nine games, and while that’s Spring MLS for you, the Rapids coming back twice to get a point at Stade Saputo against Montreal on Saturday was no joke.
Colorado is feeling it right now – getting timely goals from a number of players and defending well. To his credit, Pablo Mastroeni’s use of Jermaine Jones in what’s more or less a free role in front of the two central midfielders has been a stroke of genius.
And interestingly enough, Tim Howard could actually be of huge help. Zac McMath has struggled this season, and the American international – while probably not worth his price tag – should be an improvement.
5. Yankee Stadium
NYCFC’s 3-2 win over Vancouver on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium had plenty of entertainment value, but thanks in large part to the Yankee Stadium field, it was the worst game of the weekend to watch.
Neither team had any sort of space to operate on the ridiculously small field – and even though they drew more than 25,000 fans, the atmosphere at the stadium was mediocre at best.
With Don Garber saying last week that the Revolution – the Revolution – are closer to getting a stadium built than NYCFC is, it’s obvious that Yankee Stadium is going to be this team’s home for the foreseeable future.
It’s a travesty for MLS, who went head-over-heels for Manchester City’s money and New York City’s promise without making sure that any of the typical requirements for an expansion team were met.
The result has been a Mickey Mouse situation, and a Mickey Mouse team. In many ways, MLS is getting in NYCFC exactly what it deserves: a sideshow.
6. It’s Time To Start Wondering About…
Owen Coyle. Houston is stapled to the bottom of the Western Conference with five points from eight games, while Cubo Torres remains on the bench for a team that has sacrificed the only thing that was working at the beginning of the season – it’s offense – in a desperate attempt to fix the thing that wasn’t working – the defense.
The result is that Houston has scored just four times in its last five games, winning just a single point at home against Seattle.
It’s one thing to lose, but it’s another to lose in the dreadful manner that Houston is going down in. Those back-to-back MLS Cup appearances feel a lot more than four years away.
7. Kansas City Attack Struggles
Sporting Kansas City has never been a fun matchup under Peter Vermes, but the Wizards aren’t scaring anybody this year.
The LA Galaxy, missing Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard and down to ten men after a red card to Ashley Cole, nabbed a point at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday – just as Vancouver did on Wednesday.
It was an entirely predictable result. SKC has scored just once after going a man up this season – a scenario that has played itself out a whopping four times – and that was on Opening Day when center-back Nuno Coelho scored at Seattle.
The attacking problems have several sources – a slow start to the year for Benny Feilhaber included – but losing Krisztian Nemeth’s instant offense is hurting this team just as much as losing Obafemi Martins hurt Seattle.
KC is admirably tough, but they need to make a move in the summer or they won’t have enough firepower to hack it come playoff time.
8. Toronto FC is For Real…
And they’re about to play four straight home games. If this team isn’t winning the Eastern Conference by the end of May, something went horribly wrong.
9. Didier Drogba
On the topic of appreciating great players who have passed the age of 35, let’s take a moment for Didier Drogba.
The Ivorian scored another sensational free-kick on Saturday in what was a terrific performance. Drogba has done MLS right. He’s taken care of his body, spent very little time injured, and been bought into Montreal when available.
With the likes of Frank Lampard, Gerrard, and even Kaka missing games left and right and Andrea Pirlo fading away in New York City, watching Drogba play just like he did when he was 30 has been a sight to behold.
10. Jordan Morris
But as the struggles of the players in Drogba’s age class demonstrate, this is a young man’s league – and right now, it’s Jordan Morris’ league.
The Stanford product scored his third goal in three games to lead Seattle to a late home win over Columbus in a game that the Crew had the better of only to let lackadaisical defending and sloppy finishing spell another defeat.
Every point gained by Seattle from here until July is a blessing and helps keep the season alive before reinforcements arrive. Gregg Berhalter, meanwhile, might need to rethink how his team approaches games. The league appears to have figured Columbus’ system out.
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