The league, which has a knack for producing quality midweek entertainment, saw Didier Drogba score on a free kick inside of the first minute — no doubt helped by mind-boggling goalkeeping from Joe Bendik — before Brek Shea tied it up.
As I wrote late on Saturday night, this week’s Major League Soccer action — that of Saturday night, in particular — was incredibly special from an entertainment standpoint — 20 goals in four games!!! — which means picking the Week 8 MLS Team of the Week was an extremely tall task.
First things first, when four games average five goals per game, how do you select just seven attacking players to fill out the midfield and forward lines? Furthermore, where do you find three (at a minimum) defenders and a goalkeeper? Let’s just say, thank you, Sunday, for returning this crazy league back to normalcy.
As I said already, Saturday night was the place to be, if goals are your thing. Six of this week’s seven attackers (six, because it’s time to give Scott Caldwell some love on the week that he scored his first MLS goal) played on Saturday night. Jozy Altidore, he of two goals scored and Player of the Week consideration, was the lone shining light from Friday and/or Sunday.
Kei Kamara has five goals and two assists already in 2015 after one of each on Saturday night, while Giles Barnes bagged his third and fourth goals of the season against Sporting Kansas City, who were extremely lucky when Benny Feilhaber’s “plasma rocket” found the back of the net in Houston. And then there was Ethan Finlay, who we’ll probably talk about much more in one hour.
Players in: Bradley (signed from AS Roma), Defoe (signed from Tottenham Hotspur), Cesar (loan from QPR), De Rosario (re-entry draft), Bradley Orr (loan from Blackburn Rovers), Gilberto (signed from Internacional), Jackson (trade with FC Dallas), Justin Morrow (trade with San Jose).
Players out: Stefan Frei (rights traded to Seattle), Matias Laba (loan to Vancouver), Danny Koeverman (out of contract), Robert Earnshaw (option declined), Jonas Elmer (released), Richard Eckersley (traded to NYRB), Bobby Convey (traded to NYRB), Darel Russell (option declined), Michael Thomas (option declined), Justin Braun (out of contract)
Key player: Michael Bradley
I’d like to apologize to all the other writers on staff who had a more difficult task in choosing a key player, as TFC’s massive money man will unquestionably be the key to its success in 2014. Frankly, it would be shocking if the bulldog of a midfielder isn’t immediately a Top Five player in the league, regardless of any perceived adjustment period.
He’ll have weapons at his disposal and Bradley won’t even turn 27 until after this summer’s World Cup in Brazil (By the way, TFC is reasonably equipped to deal with his absence for the Earth’s biggest tournament).
Manager: Ryan Nelsen enters his second year in charge of the Reds after a tough 7W-11D-18L campaign, and the roster turnover isn’t shocking for anyone paying attention to the way he ran his ship in 2013. There were plenty of whispers that Nelsen had to rearrange the club’s entire on-field ethos and training habits, almost like a college coach taking over and needing to “get back to basics.” This will be a year to actually judge the New Zealand legend and he certainly shouldn’t mind that the massive influx of talent will shift the expectations to his managerial skill.
Outlook: Bright, even with the season-ending injury to depth forward Dike. As TFC prepares to take BMO Field to the next level, their team should be there in plenty of time for the enhanced facility’s completion. In terms of team selection, the Reds have plenty of choices and the addition of Orr shores up one of their biggest holes. They’ll have Cesar and Joe Bendik battling it out for net time and Steven Caldwell anchoring the back line while Bradley orchestrates the attacking, spraying the ball to any number of options.
Keep in mind the Miami Heat corollary — it could take some time for so many stars from so many backgrounds to find their role — but by the time TFC is rolling along, a playoff spot will be certain… and CN Tower beware, because the sky is the limit.
Montreal still stands this evening with reasonably good chances of making the 2013 MLS playoffs, but a 1-0 loss Saturday at Toronto certainly leaves Marco Schallibaum’s team vulnerable and uncomfortable.
Montreal remained third in the East as it came off a rainy BMO Field in Toronto late Saturday afternoon, surly stinging, not just for forfeiture of a playoff clinching opportunity, but also for losing to its Canadian rival.
Robert Earnshaw’s 16th-minute goal held up, although Toronto goalkeeper Joe Bendik needed to supply a couple of wonderful reaction saves to preserve the win. Either way, good for Ryan Nelsen’s club for standing up and being competitive when it might have been easy to start vacation just a little early.
This was only Toronto’s fourth shutout of 2013.
Back to the team with playoff soccer ahead – we think. The problem for Montreal is now this: If three other Eastern teams win this weekend, the Impact will miss the post-season.
Odds are that between Houston, New England and Chicago, one of them will fail to get all three points in Sunday matches. All play on the road, making a sweep even less likely. Still, this means nervous Montreal moments.
Plus, there does seem a high likelihood that one of the clubs will get the job done – Houston at D.C. United, Chicago at New York and New England at Columbus. Every time one of Montreal’s pursuers wins, the Impact slides down just a little further.
It’s that first slide that hurts, as it puts Montreal into the 4th-vs.-5th midweek elimination match.
Here are the standings in the East going into Sunday:
ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Player of the Week: Toronto FC’s Joe Bendik
Young Toronto FC goalkeeper Joe Bendik went 92-plus minutes making big save after big save, nearly rescuing all three points as the young, rebuilt Reds visited Philadelphia’s PPL Park on Saturday.
The Union, getting its top three attackers into the starting lineup together for the first time this year (Conor Casey, Jack McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux), had most of the offense, just as you might expect against a visitor playing with lots of resolve, but still short on top talent.
Bendik, still playing for presumed Reds No. 1 Stefan Frei, who just cannot get healthy, hardly looked like a backup in turning away one Union shot after another. Finally, in the third minute of stoppage time, McInerney was forgotten about at the far post and had the easiest of stick-aways for the late, late home-team equalizer.
Still, Bendik was as responsible as anyone for guiding his club to a point on the road. TFC manager Ryan Nelsen will surely take it; any road point is a good one for TFC in 2013.
Here is what veteran Irish defender Darren O’Dea had to say post-game about his unheralded 23-year-old goalkeeper from Huntington, N.Y.:
He’s been brilliant since he’s come in. How he was the No. 2 in Portland last year – they musthave had a very good No. 1 to keep him out. He’s obviously very young, but he’s been excellent. … We’re blessed this year with a fantastic set of goalkeepers and a fantastic goalkeeper coach. It pays off, because goalkeepers are massive part, especially away from home, of picking up points.”
And here is the full package of match highlights, which could easily be re-labeled “The Joe Bendik highlight pack.”