Serena Morones/The Oregonian via AP

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

Leave a comment

Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

MLS roundup: ATL roll past Galaxy; RSL survive 10-man Rapids

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
Leave a comment

A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from around MLS…

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta UnitedFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Two teams with fantastic attacking talent but very little in terms of a strong, controlling midfield presence — you’d expect a game like that to be wide open with plenty of chances at both ends of the field, and you’d have been right about Atlanta’s 2-0 victory over LA (at least for the opening 45 minutes. The stark difference between the two sides on Saturday? Atlanta’s ability to turn shooting chances into scoring chances, and LA’s inability to do so.

In truth, the chance resulting in the Five Stripes’ opening goal, which also turned out to be the winner, was the scrappiest once of the bunch.

Miguel Almiron was sensational on the night — constantly on the ball in dangerous areas, constantly gliding past one and two white shirts, constantly winning free kicks (and a penalty) in those dangerous areas. Since suffering a 4-0 defeat on opening day, Tata Martino’s side is unbeaten in their last six games (five wins) and moved to within a point of Eastern Conference- and Supporters’ Shield-leading New York City FC.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was rendered completely ineffective and he — dare I say it — was little more than a passenger for the vast majority of Saturday’s game. Jonathan dos Santos picked up an injury during warmups, forcing Baggio Husidic into the starting lineup, and that did LA no favors when it came time to slow Atlanta’s momentum through the center of the field (which was the entire game).

Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England RevolutionFULL HIGHLIGHTS

If you had New England sitting above Columbus in the standings at any point this season, let alone after eight weeks, please proceed to the cash-out window immediately. Brad Friedel‘s bunch has played some pretty passable, if unexciting, soccer thus far and have picked up points in five of their seven games played. They’ve even won four points from their first three games away from home, which is two-thirds of the way to matching last season’s paltry haul of six.

Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Columbus saw the Revs come from behind twice to secure a well-earned and deserved point. Cristian Penilla has flown under the radar with regard to impact signings of the offseason — the Ecuadorian has two goals, including the stoppage-time equalizer on Saturday, and four assists in his first seven MLS games — and Diego Fagundez appears to have finally been handed the keys to the Revs’ attack with Lee Nguyen banished to the periphery (but still not traded away).

Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado RapidsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Tim Howard was sent off after 20 minutes for handling the ball outside his penalty area — how great is that multi-million-dollar contract looking now? — yet Colorado so nearly held on for an away point against their Rocky Mountain Cup rivals. Alas, RSL scored three times in the final eight minutes of regular and stoppage time, helping the final score to match the lopsided nature of the preceding 60 minutes:

29 shots (10 on target), compared to just 12 (o on target) for Colorado; nearly 71 percent of possession; 571 passes, to just 228. The lopsidedness goes on and on.

Albert Rusnak scored a stunning free kick to complete the scoring, but was still upstaged by Damir Kreilach’s first MLS goal which came just three minutes earlier.

RSL have alternated wins and losses in each of their last six times out, which spells bad news for a suddenly important Friday night trip to Vancouver to face a Whitecaps side that 1) they beat at home earlier this month, and 2) has lost three straight, by a combined score of 10-1.

Elsewhere in MLS

Sporting KC 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union

MLS roundup: Another winner for Zlatan; Quintero’s debut goal

Photo credit: Minnesota United / @MNUFC
Leave a comment

A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from around MLS…

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

Chicago Fire 0-1 LA Galaxy

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played all of 127 minutes since arriving in LA, and he’s got three goals to his name, including the winner at Toyota Park, but more importantly the Galaxy have won six points from the big Swede’s first three games in MLS. Saturday’s 1-0 win away to Chicago was anything but pretty — blame the freezing, windy conditions if you require a scapegoat — but it’s a step forward for last year’s last-place finishers nonetheless.

The Ibrahimovic-Ola Kamara partnership is, predictably, a work in progress, not at all unlike the Perry Kitchen-Jonathan dos Santos duo in central midfield. Alas, there’s more than enough talent (on paper) for LA to finish top-three or -four in a weak Western Conference (they’re up to second, now three points behind Sporting Kansas City), and they’ve arguably the biggest difference maker in league history to lean on down the stretch.

Portland Timbers 3-2 Minnesota United

Here are two statements that are undeniably true: the Timbers are a very talented team that can’t keep a clean sheet to save their lives (just seven since the start of the 2017 season — 40 regular-season games) and are almost as bad at closing out games with a late lead; Minnesota have some fun attacking pieces, including debutant and goalscorer Darwin Quintero, but they’re still a trainwreck defensively, individually. Thus, we should have known Saturday’s clash at Providence Park would be a thoroughly wild, nonsensical affair, because it was all on display on Saturday.

For the third straight game, Portland went ahead early on and (almost, this time) proceeded to cough up their lead and drop points. Fortunately for Gio Savarese, who got his first MLS win on the night, Minnesota couldn’t convert any one of a number of quality chances to get back to 2-2 early in the second half, and the hosts bagged a third almost completely against the run of play. Well done to Bill Poni Tuiloma, though, for an unbelievable finish on this own goal.

New York Red Bulls 3-1 Montreal Impact

If their was any doubt about the Red Bulls’ trophy-chasing credentials following last week’s CONCACAF Champions League defeat to Chivas de Guadalajara, Jesse Marsch’s men put them to bed on Saturday. Bradley Wright-Phillips opened the scoring after five minutes, but Montreal drew level through Jeisson Vargas not long after the half-hour mark. Alejandro “Kaku” Romero put the home side ahead again, in emphatic fashion, just before the hour mark.

Elsewhere in MLS

San Jose Earthquakes 2-2 Houston Dynamo
Colorado Rapids 2-0 Toronto FC(‘s Reserves)
D.C. United 1-0 Columbus Crew SC
New England Revolution 0-1 FC Dallas

Three things as NYCFC rolls Real Salt Lake

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Leave a comment

It was a Bronx beatdown on the postage stamp pitch of Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, as New York City FC improved to 5W-1T on the season with a 4-0 win over Long Island native Mike Petke’s Real Salt Lake.

[ MORE: Buffon rips referee Oliver ]

NYCFC is good (and short weeks with long trips don’t help beat them)

David Villa and Alexander Ring were sitting on the subs bench, and it became clear within 20 minutes they could stay there if they wanted to rest up for the weekend’s match-up with Atlanta United (Villa did manage 32 minutes in returning from a calf injury, while Ring subbed on for the final 25).

That’s because NYCFC can beat you in so many ways, as evidenced by the quartet of goal scorers on display in the first half. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is as hot as any non-huge name in the league, Jo Inge Berget as hot as any gigantic beard in the league, and Maxi Moralez is that controlled tornado playmaker so dangerous on our shores. And Ebenezer Ofori, well, maybe you’ve read an article about him or something. Team = Deep.

But as good as Patrick Vieira’s men are this season, the schedule makers predestined this one a bit. Real Salt Lake played Saturday in Utah, then had to skip across the country for a match against rested NYCFC. And given the propensity of road teams to lose in MLS when all other things are equal, well, see ya.

Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is a real talent

Maybe file this under “Things We Are Relearning,” because the Swiss-born Libyan international is impressing at every turn. His goal Wednesday came off a garbage clearing attempt, but the 24-year-old now has four goals and an assist in four MLS starts since arriving from Austria Wien.

Maxi Moralez can win a sly penalty

Justen Glad was on the deck when he stabbed his foot at Moralez in a desperate attempt to get the ball off the Argentine atop the 18.

He missed, and barely caught a piece of leg. That didn’t stop Moralez from going down, and he finished his penalty kick past Nick Rimando (never an easy task).

Rough call, and a 2-0 hole at Yankee Stadium is a tough climb.

MLS: Atlanta buzzsaw rips LAFC; Chicago struggling; VAR (still) a mess

Photo credit: Atlanta United / @ATLUTD
Leave a comment

The sixth Saturday of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and as always, we learned a few lessons from the afternoon and evening’s slate of games…

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

Return of the ATL buzzsaw

Atlanta United were shut out — and blown out — on opening day just over a month ago, and the knee-jerk reactions were as predictable as they were flimsy: Are they really that good? Maybe they just had a lucky season last year? You can’t play like that in MLS and expect to win.

That narrative lasted, quite literally, all of 90 minutes before Tata Martino’s men dismantled D.C. United and Vancouver Whitecaps by a combined score of 7-2 in back-to-back weeks immediately thereafter and ground out a 1-0 win over Minnesota United while playing 52 minutes a man down last week. The Five Stripes’ resurgent run came to a head on Saturday, when they hammered Los Angeles FC, the expansion side upon which so much praise was heaped following wins in their first two games, to the tune of 5-0. Miguel Almiron scored two from the penalty spot, to go with single tallies from Josef Martinez, Julian Gressel and Romario Williams.

On Saturday, it was Gressel who stood head and shoulders above his peers, as the 24-year-old German import (via last year’s SuperDraft) bagged the game’s opening goal and delivered the seeing-eye cross to Martinez for the second which all but put the game to bed. At right, you’ll find the entirety of Gressel’s contributions for the afternoon, on both end of the field.

A few observations: 1) there’s not a single unsuccessful pass shorter than 10 or 15 yards in distance; 2) he’s extremely tidy when involved in short, combination play; 3) the location of his defensive actions, all of which are inside Atlanta’s defensive half of the field, placed alongside his passing map, paint a clear picture of just how active and involved he is over the course of 90 minutes.

Teammates like Martinez, Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Hector Villalba and even Darlington Nagbe will get 95 percent of the headlines coming out of Atlanta this year — and rightly so, nothing should be taken away from them — but it’s someone like Gressel, who functions like the glue that hold all those entertaining, attacking parts together, while managing to contribute more than his fair share of danger, that has this buzzsaw ripping through opponents week in and week out.

[ MORE: Agent: Giuseppe Rossi could seek MLS move after two years ]

VAR is… struggling… still… still

Atlanta midfielder Chris McCann was sent off for a reckless tackle, which occurred 36 seconds into the game, that referee Ted Unkel deemed to have endangered the safety, in one way or another, of LAFC’s Benny Feilhaber. Unkel then consulted his handy-dandy video-assistant review system, and reversed the call, drastically changing the events and outcome of the ensuing 89 minutes.

If you watched the above clip, you’ll probably agree it’s something commonly referenced as an “orange-card” offense — just shy of a sending-off, but worse than your run-of-the-mill yellow card — which is just a clever way to say that it’s far from a “clear and obvious error” (yet again, that’s the language of MLS and the Professional Referee Organization), which is, of course, the threshold for a reviewable decision. No matter the initial call — red or yellow — it’s planted firmly in the gray area between yes and no, right and wrong.

If you watched that clip, you’ll find another extremely gray-area decision that initially went against Atlanta, only for Unkel to change his mind after a video review. I’m of the opinion it’s probably a foul — one that Almiron baits Walker Zimmerman into and undoubtedly embellishes — but it’s nowhere near definitive one way or another, which is the mandatory requirement to review the call on the field.

In the grand scheme of the game, it mattered very little, but if this is the willy-nilly process by which refs choose whether or not to review calls on the field, it’s going to rear its ugly head at a critical point in a game in the near future, and continue to do so until there’s a uniform process in place. The fact we’re left to wonder about the thought process of refs is, easily, the most frustrating part and does little to dispel the notion that MLS refs aren’t up to the standard of the league’s players and they too routinely impact the outcome of games.

[ MORE: CONCACAF issues punishments for TFC-America fracas in CCL ]

A win, but the same old problems for Chicago

Here’s the good news for Chicago Fire fans: after two losses and a draw to start the season, your team beat Columbus Crew SC and got its first win on Saturday.

Here’s the bad news: it was an identical offensive performance to those first three games, only with a Howler of the Year nominee from Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen to bail out an attacking unit totally bereft of ideas and execution.

This is hardly a new development for Veljko Paunovic’s side, which lacked any semblance of a focal-point playmaker last season. Here’s some worse news, as something of an aside: it wasn’t addressed during the offseason, and the secondary transfer window might be too late in a deep Eastern Conference (the primary window is still open, but April and May are practical non-starters for transfer activity).

You can see, clear as day, where the gaping hole exists, as well as some pretty damning statistics. Paunovic’s plan ahead of Saturday’s win over Columbus was to pair a target man, Alan Gordon, with the defending Golden Boot Winner, Nemanja Nikolic, presumably to provide a bit of hold-up and knock-down play for Nikolic to swarm around and make runs off of. It… well, didn’t really work, as Nikolic touched the ball just once times inside Crew SC’s penalty area — his goal, which resulted from a wayward pass from the opposing goalkeeper.