Michael Farfan

CONCACAF Champions League wrap: Sounders roar back, Farfan’s backheel boosts DC (video)

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The upsets have been hard to find in the CONCACAF Champions League, as Major League Soccer and Liga MX sides have pretty much had their way with the competition.

The wins weren’t easy, but perhaps are a harbinger of what’s to come as the North American leagues grow in might and money. CCL vets Herediano (Costa Rica) are the only side outside of U.S. and Mexico to lead a group early in the competition.

After Alan Gordon and Robbie Keane braces paced the L.A. Galaxy to a 5-0 thumping of Guatemalan side Comunicaciones at the Stubhub Center on Tuesday, a pair of MLS sides picked up wins a day later.

[ UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Tuesday wrap |Wednesday ]

It wasn’t easy for Seattle against Honduran side Club Olimpia, as the visitors used an Alberth Ellis header to build an early lead. Olimpia goalkeeper Noel Vallardes made a name for himself in Seattle, but a wild finish put the result in the home team’s win column.

First, Erik Friberg was Johnny-on-the-spot at the back post to net an open header in the 90th minute, and four minutes of stoppage time helped Dylan Remick draw a penalty that Brad Evans converted for the Sounders’ 2-1 win.

DC United needed some fine goalkeeping from Andrew Dykstra and a nifty, backheel-inspired goal from Miguel Aguilar to get a 1-0 win. Michael Farfan set Aguilar up for his first goal with quite the pass.

Elsewhere, Michael Arroyo scored as USMNT back Ventura Alvarado went 90 minutes as Club America got a scare from Nicaragua’s Walter Ferreti before winning 1-0.

Thursday
Saprissa vs. Westside Connection
Santa Tecla vs. Municipal

Union grab massive 3 points in Kansas City with 1-0 win (video)

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With each result meaning more and more for those mired in the playoff race (practically everyone), three points on the road against one of the only teams above the playoff race is about as good as it gets.

Maybe Machiavelli was a soccer fan, because for the Philadelphia Union, the ends most certainly justify the means.

John Hacksworth made two changes, and while it’s certainly possible if this game was replayed that Philadelphia would be slaughtered, the system worked and the Union slide into the playoff scenario – for now.

Hacksworth removed striker Sebastian Le Toux from his 4-4-2 that played to a 1-0 loss against Houston last week, and instead selected midfielders Michael Farfan and Michael Lahoud.

Philadelphia got the goal they needed thanks to a Conor Casey putback (their first goal in four matches), and they didn’t break the rest of the match.

Sure, Sporting KC had 62% of the possession.  Sure, the home side grabbed seven corners to Philadelphia’s one.  Sure, Sporting managed 19 shots to Philadelphia’s 8.  But of those 19 shots, just five went on net.

It was a wasteful, sloppy performance from Kansas City who are not in any immediate playoff danger but will be ruing falling in a game they easily could have dominated.

Sporting were missing Matt Besler for the second straight match, which still no one has been able to figure out.  Since wearing the captain’s armband against Real Esteli last week, he’s sat on the bench two straight games despite not appearing in the injury report.

As for Philadelphia, the win is about as monumental as you could possibly imagine. The points move them up into fifth position – the final playoff spot – in the East.  If that’s not enough good news, here’s their next three opponents: Toronto (9th place), D.C. United (last), and Montreal (lost two in a row).  And they finish up with KC again.

It’s not over yet, but the Union just put themselves in prime position to make the playoffs.  This just makes tomorrow’s Revs/Dynamo matchup that much bigger.  As if it needed it.

MLS preview: Philadelphia Union at D.C. United

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D.C. United needs Mack McInerney. Or someone very much like him, at least.

McInerney is the young Philadelphia Union striker who has four goals in the young season, placing him among Major League Soccer’s top goal scorers. He still has much to learn about the game, not a bit surprising since young “Jack Mac” is just 20 years old.

But he already has a Costco-sized supply of “strikers instinct,” a level of awareness that plenty of professionals will never know. And his goals aren’t just stat-padders; they tend to be important ones, like the game-winners this year against Colorado and New England or the late, late equalizer last week against Toronto.

Yes, D.C. United could use a guy like that.

McInerney (pictured) isn’t going anywhere, of course. He is part of coach John Hackworth’s up-and-coming bunch in Philadelphia, where one of the league’s youngest assemblies of talent is hanging tough in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack, even if the Union games don’t tend to be the most beautiful.

Then there’s D.C. United, one of the presumed Eastern Conference contenders. Instead, Ben Olsen’s team languishes at rock bottom in the standings, last among 10 teams at the moment with just four points off six matches.

Consecutive losses at home to Columbus and New York have added pressure upon pressure around RFK Stadium. So today’s late afternoon kickoff (5 p.m. ET on ESPN2) looms mightily important for the Black and Red. (And if the weight of it all wasn’t enough, security in the nation’s capital is extra high for this one.)

United’s woes are mostly about the lack of scoring.

The ongoing inability to get Dwayne De Rosario going (attached to injuries and suspensions that have limited him to just two starts and one appearance off the bench in 2013), Chris Pontius’ ongoing struggles and Nick DeLeon’s injury have all contributed as United has turned up just two goals.

Pontius has played every minute so far, with just one assist (and no goals) to show for it. That is not going to get him the U.S. national team call-up that United fans so desperately desire.

So much of the goal-scoring malaise falls on Lionard Pajoy – or on the deciders around RFK for continuing to believe that he will break out and score goals in bunches, never mind the growing sample of data suggesting that the Colombian striker just doesn’t have it in him. He gets into positions reliably enough and certainly works hard enough, but just misses that little something near goal, that confidence or that alarm bell that rings loudly at just the right moment to shoot.

Backup striker Carlos Ruiz looks like a shell of the goal-scoring menace that once infuriated MLS defenders. All that leaves Olsen … searching for answers.

Casey Townsend, who scored twice last weekend while on loan at third-division Richmond, has even remained with the club for Sunday’s contest.  

As for the visiting Union, Hackworth tends to mix and match in the midfield quite a bit, with Keon Daniel or Michael Farfan pulling the offensive strings. Sebastien Le Toux could find himself in there, or further up the field if the McInerney-Conor Casey strike combo is adjusted. Danny Cruz could face his old team. (He was in the middle of big preseason donnybrook.) Or will this finally be the time to give new Brazilian midfielder Kleberson his first Philly Union start? The 2002 World Cup winner has played just 11 minutes since his arrival four weeks ago.

Center back Amobi Okugo is another promising Union man to watch. The 22-year-old American was added as midfield talent but has been outstanding in central defensive duty.

Seven regular season games between the Eastern Conference rivals have produced 22 yellow cards and four red cards. And these teams were involved in a preseason melee that saw De Rosario suspended for the first two MLS regular season matches. So, yes, things are likely to be physical and feisty, especially considering the stakes for D.C. United.

Major League Soccer team previews: PHILADELPHIA UNION

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. MLS first kick is March 2.

No. 6 in the East is the Philadelphia Union:

Significant additions and subtractions: After two injury-slowed years, Conor Casey is healthy and motivated by the sounds of it. If the former Colorado Rapids striker, who moved east in an offseason trade, can find 2010 form (he hit 13 times, tied for sixth best in MLS) the Union will have that veteran finisher so dearly missed last year.

Along with popular forward Sebastian Le Toux, who remains the team’s all-time leading scorer despite a year away, is back thanks to a January trade with New York.

Elite center back Carlos Valdes has been loaned to a Colombian club; Jeff Parke, acquired from Seattle in December, isn’t quite of Valdes’ quality, but he’s a reliable MLS defender.

And then there’s Freddy Adu, who isn’t yet technically gone, but he’s certainly not with the team, either. Keep reading.

Strengths: everything to like and not to like is contained in the brat pack of wonderful young talent around PPL Park: Zak MacMath, Jack McInerney , Roger Torrres, Antoine HoppenotAmobi Okugo, Sheanon Willliams are all 22 or younger. The Farfan brothers, Michael and Gabriel, are just 24. Most of them have MLS All-Star potential.

Of course, they are still young. Head coach John Hackworth, blessed with ample patience and equipped with plenty of experience working with younger types, is the right guy to have around them, to nurse them through the inevitable boo-boos and rough patches. That said, there will be mistakes and rough patches.

There’s plenty of playmaking potential in Torres and Michael Farfan. And with Casey and Le Toux around, the 20-year-old McInerney need not feel the crushing pressure of having to arrive as a scoring force now.

Guys like Casey, Parke and Brian Carroll add some wizened stability to a locker room full of youth.

Pressure points: When Hackworth talks about roster “constraints” and “challenges,” we all know what he’s talking about: Adu, whose career wanderings continue. Hackworth wants to move on without the mercurial playmaker, but the club is hog-tied until it can get Adu’s DP salary off the books.

We are all assuming center back Bakary Soumare still looks like the game-changer we knew in Chicago, but it has been four years since he ruled as such a force at Toyota Park.

The talented MacMath, 21, had more than his share meaningful mess-ups last year. It seems naïve to believe he’s completely past all of them.

There still may be some hangover effect of 2012, and what an odd year it was around PPL Park. Then-coach Peter Nowak tore apart a playoff team, one that seemed to be on the rise. Things clearly were strained behind the scenes and Nowak was fired in June, later to get tangled in a nasty lawsuit with the club.

Hackworth must find the best spot for young Okugo, who filled in splendidly at center back in 2012 but seems set to occupy a holding midfield role for ‘13.

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Difference maker: LeToux (pictured right) departed Philadelphia a year ago and got completely lost. He scored five goals while moving coast to coast mid-season, from Vancouver to New York. Perhaps being back in his happy place at PPL Park, where Le Toux struck for a whopping 25 goals between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, can make an All-Star of the Frenchman once again.

Potential breakout player: It could be Michael Farfan – but only if he can hold off Torres as Hackworth’s creative influence. Farfan had some remarkable moments last year but the final production (one goal, five assists) must improve. It should, considering the measurably better striker in front of him now.

Bottom line: Last year was all about stabilizing a listing ship; now with a full off-season (short as it was) and with a talented young roster more to his liking, Hackworth can try to move things forward. Whether his team has enough experience to get there … we’ll see.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Let’s talk about Chivas USA, confidence and … tampering?

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Let’s go over a super-duper quick checklist of things Chivas USA does and does not have:

Enough players? Not really.

Sufficient talent in the players they do have? Probably not.

A plan that’s either madness or shear genius? Yep.

Self-assurance at high levels? Oh, heavens yes.

Michael and Gabriel Farfan? Not yet!

Possible tampering charges ahead? Seems like it.

Two important things to learn from Jeff Carlisle’s extensive piece on the 2013 version of Chivas USA, which looks suspiciously like the 2005 version of Chivas USA – which derailed spectacularly:

First, manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, a charismatic type who goes by El Chelis, has stockpiles of confidence in his own ability. (Which is great, because we’re talking real alchemy here if he can spin gold from the current roster.)

Here’s what he told Carlisle about the difference between his team and the 2005 side that turned out to be crazy bad (four wins in 32 contests is the very definition of “crazy bad”):

In 2005, the owners have this idea, but don’t give it to Chelis. Now they have the Mexican players, the American Latino players and Chelis.”

So there you go. Let’s hope the man doesn’t bust his arm patting himself on the back.

Here’s the other thing to learn about Chelis from the article at ESPN FC: Chivas’ new man in charge reminds us how little he (really, anyone in the organization) understands MLS ins and outs.

Maybe a fine for tampering will kick-start the education process ahead.

See, Carlisle mentions how Chelis mentioned the desire to add Michael and Gabriel Farfan, the talented brothers from PPL Park in Philadelphia. They fit the Chivas USA model because they are Latino. Which is great, except for this:

They are under contract!

And talking about players under contract is a big no-no for club officials – as Chelis may soon discover.

Anyone remember when Alexi Lalas took a haircut for the speaking about Freddy Adu? That was one of the more high-profile “tampering” shenanigans.

The guess here is that Chelis meant nothing malicious. He wasn’t trying to send the Farfans a message through ESPN channels. He just didn’t know.

But that underscores the point: he doesn’t understand the pool into which he just dived head first.

He’ll learn. And sink or swim, it will be a hoot to watch.