The game in 100 words (or less): Abu Danladi scored the game-winner on Wednesday night but the rookie striker had about as interesting a six-minute run of play as anyone you’ll see this season. The Minnesota forward notched second goal of the year after the hour mark before being sent off minutes later for a nasty encounter with Sebastian Blanco, who was also dismissed. It was a back-and-forth affair all night, with both sides having their chance to land a punch or two but Adrian Heath’s team moves off the bottom of the Western Conference with their win.
Three four five moments that mattered
7′ — Okugo own goal hands Minnesota lead — Good things happen when you get crosses into dangerous areas, and this was a prime example.
Goalscorers: Amobi Okugo (OG – 7′), Diego Valeri (PK – 37′), Christian Ramirez (47′), Francisco Calvo (OG- 50′), Abu Danladi (64′)
The game in 100 words (or less): For all the things that have gone wrong for D.C. United this season, Ben Olson’s side has actually played well against Atlanta United. That continued again on Wednesday night as D.C. picked up its fifth win of the season behind goals from Luciano Acosta and Patrick Nyarko. Atlanta went ahead inside the opening 20 minutes when Yamil Asad set up Julian Gressel, who tapped home for the visitors. From there, Atlanta had a tough time of it capitalizing on their chances.
Three moments that mattered
17′ — Visitors leave D.C. in the dust for the opener — They make this look so easy… By the way, that’s nine assists on the season for Yamil Asad, who leads the league in that category.
On Thursday, Patrick Nyarko will hit the RFK Stadium pitch with DC United for just his second playoff game of this decade, and he’s going to make sure no member of the Black-and-Red takes the opportunity for granted.
“I walked into the locker room after we clinched a spot and the guys were like, ‘Whatever’. DC had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said with a laugh in a Tuesday conversation with ProSoccerTalk.
“I was like, ‘Guys! I’m excited, man. I haven’t been here in a while. I’m overly ecstatic.’ Hopefully we can get it together, make a run, and create something special.”
The 30-year-old Ghanaian international with one cap was once one of those who took team success as a given. Nyarko walked off the College Cup pitch for Virginia Tech in 2007 and was picked 7th overall by the Chicago Fire. He promptly appeared in the MLS Cup semifinals in each of his first two seasons in Chicago.
“I thought this was how things went. With the teams we had, I thought it was going to be an eternal thing and we would always enjoy these things,” Nyarko said.
It turns out postseason success isn’t as simple as that. Aside from a 2012 knockout round loss to Houston, the longtime Fire man didn’t see playoff action.
So Thursday, yeah, you can bet it’s special. After 222 regular season MLS games and 23 goals — all but 26 of them with Chicago — Nyarko is back for just his fourth playoff campaign.
“It makes the decision to move on from Chicago kinda worth it,” Nyarko said. “Being in Chicago for that long, through the good through the bad, I finally decided to leave. If it had not resulted in a successful year and the playoffs, it would’ve been for nothing. I couldn’t have justified that.”
Now DC is a sneaky, if not chic, pick to surprise in the East. The Black-and-Red have lost just once in their last seven games, and that was a Decision Day loss in which head coach Ben Olsen sat the vast majority of his starters in order to rest for Thursday. In the past six weeks, the No. 4 seed earned results against the trio of teams ahead of it in the Eastern Conference standings.
“We are high in confidence right now, and the way we’ve closed out the season we discovered our identity,” Nyarko said. “Everyone works for each other, covers each other, we attack together, and we keep up that intensity.”
Nyarko’s traditional stats aren’t going to jump out at you; His four goals match his career-high, and his eight assists are second to Luciano Acosta, but Nyarko brings a different level of savvy to the squad.
On a team with United States men’s national team center back Steve Birnbaum, you could argue that midfielder Nyarko is the team’s best defensive asset. He does the dirty things and is fouled more than anyone else on the team, but has also completed the second-most key passes on the team (to Acosta).
“It’s unfortunate how the stats are usually what’s preached out to the fans,” Nyarko said. “I look for people who can make their team better. I’m ecstatic when the teams wins, and shattered when the team loses. I won’t necessarily be the last person to touch the ball before someone scores, but before that, the double teams, the division, that’s what I pride myself on. I know what I bring to a team.”
Which isn’t to say he wasn’t scratching his head when DC started the season winless through five matches, especially when he was the new guy.
“This year, making the change was the hardest, not knowing what to expect, getting into a new team that had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said. “When things weren’t going well, especially early in the year when I was inconsistent, I took a lot of the blame. Am I messing up the chemistry? I knew I was playing well, but you can’t help but think that.”
The midfielder credits Olsen and the veteran locker room for bringing the team together this season, calling Olsen the “ultimate player’s coach”. Nyarko only needs two fingers to count the times Olsen has lost his cool this season, and learned that his coach was a different breed when he approached him early in the season to talk about the offense.
“Usually I try not to get into coaches, but we weren’t scoring as many goals,” Nyarko said. “He wasn’t worried about it. He made a comment like, ‘I’m not gonna get on you guys, the chances are there, it’s just not going in. I’m not going to yell. It’s not like you’re deciding not to finish.’ I was like, ‘Woah, this guy thinks like a player’. The freedom he gives you, he knows everyone’s ability, and he doesn’t restrict you. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”
Nyarko also points to a player as an emblem of DC’s success, and that’s Lamar Neagle. The ex-Seattle Sounders man has been in on 15 goals but hasn’t complained that he’s been used off the bench in his 10 of his 31 appearances.
“This guy’s leading us in goals and he doesn’t start and he’s mentally strong enough to want to help our team,” Nyarko said. “This is an exciting team that came along at the last part of the season and we hope to continue our push toward MLS Cup.”
While Mike Magee and his strike partner return for a full season to pump in the goals, there is much change behind them.
Missing out on the playoffs by a tiebreaker last season hurt for sure, but the Fire had plenty of chances to grab that postseason spot, and they just couldn’t come up with the final answers.
One thing that hurt the Fire last season was their horrendous start, with just seven points through their first 10 games. Over that span, they were shut out six times and conceded 16 goals. But of course, they didn’t have Mike Magee.
With a reshaped defense and a few key pieces gone, new coach Frank Yallop has plenty of work to do right off the bat to get the club off to a better start.
Players in: Patrick Ianni (trade from Seattle), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (trade from Seattle), Lovel Palmer (trade from Seattle), Kyle Reynish (transfer, NY Cosmos), Harrison Shipp (homegrown, Notre Dame), Chris Ritter (homegrown, Northwestern), Giuseppe Gentile (waiver draft, UNC Charlotte), Benji Joya (weighted lottery – loan, Santos Laguna).
Players out: Jalil Anibaba (traded to Seattle), Austin Berry (traded to Philadelphia), Daniel Paladini (traded to Columbus), Paolo Tornaghi (waived), Brendan King (waived), Kellen Gulley (waived), Shaun Francis (released), Wells Thompson (released), Arevalo Rios (option declined), Michael Videira (option declined), Maicon (option declined), Corben Bone (option declined).
Shocker! The reigning MVP is your key player! While it’s clear that Magee is by far the most valuable and important single player on the team, the success of this club depends on much more than just their main man up front.
Magee will be again supported by Patrick Nyarko at the front, with relief coming from Juan Anangono and Chris Rolfe. The Fire also picked up Guiseppe Gentile and Benji Joya in the offseason, and the two will add to the strike options for Chicago. While it’s not the most star-studded attack outside of Magee, it’s a deep one, and that should help offset any possible issues at the back.
Speaking of at the back, there’s a saga developing at the back in the recent weeks. With the departure of Jalil Anibaba in the trade to Seattle, the defense has been completely shaken up, and Magee will have to offset the learning curve that comes with a crowded new back line. The team also sent Austin Berry away to Philadelphia for allocation money, seeing a total of 6,109 minutes from last season out the door.
With Anibaba and Berry gone, coming in the other direction is Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni, a pair of center-backs who will battle for playing time alongside Bacary Soumare.
For what it’s worth, the Fire conceded just a single goal in their five preseason games, and the partnership of Soumare and Hurtado picked up the starts in their two most recent matches and played 106 minutes together.
Another important name we can’t leave off the list is Jeff Larentowicz, who will man the space just in front of the new center-back pairing, whatever it happens to be. Often last season the 30-year-old Pasadena product played alongside a DM partner, but with Daniel Paladini gone and the midfield thin, he could be roaming the defensive middle by himself behind Benji Joya and Dilly Duka.
Manager: Frank Yallop is Chicago’s man. Coming over from San Jose, the Watford-born 49-year-old has seven prior years in Major League Soccer, and as far as league experience and accolades go, he’s got it all.
Unfortunately, arguably the biggest knock on Yallop’s resume is the 2007 season with the Galaxy, failing to make the playoffs due to a squad with plenty of turnover.
That will be the challenge Yallop faces this season. Thankfully for him, the front of his formation remains mostly intact, and he takes over a squad that boasts the reigning league MVP. The defense has plenty of question marks, but it’s still experienced and has had a very promising preseason.
Yallop’s credentials are without question, and as far as head coaching openings go the Fire one was very attractive, but there remains work to be done, and with a pretty solid squad to boast, much of it rests on the coach to make sure everyone plays at their optimal level.
Outlook:This team could surprise. If they can recreate last year’s attacking form around Mike Magee, the top of the table squads are in for a surprise when the match up against the Fire.
The biggest questions will be with the turnover in defense. With so many minutes from last season lost, it remains to be seen how the back line will gel (Yallop said it could get “a little disjointed”). If the preseason is any indication, and the selected starters don’t need much – if any – time to find their form, the Fire could find themselves near the top. However, there is much to prove and they begin the season as favorites in a battle for the final playoff spots.
The start to the season is crucial for Frank Yallop. They play three of their first four fixtures on the road, and take on a spectrum of opponents. If the Fire can get through games against Portland and New York unscathed and take advantage of last year’s basement dwellers Chivas and DC United, the Fire can set themselves up for a strong season.
Cameron Weaver scored Houston’s first goal from a forward since early May and Mike Magee grabbed yet another score as the Dynamo and Chicago Fire played to a 1-1 draw.
In a match with major implications for later in the season, two teams fighting for a spot in the playoff sector both battled hard but could do no more than share the points. With so much up for grabs, both teams will be relatively disappointed not to snatch all the spoils.
The game began possession-centric as neither team sat back but neither team wanted to risk conceding first either.
Bobby Boswell thought he had the opener in the 18th minute with a far-post header off a Corey Ashe cross, but the assistant referee’s flag went up. Replays showed Boswell was on, although Ricardo Clark may have been barely off next to Boswell.
Both teams were forced to make first-half injury substitutes. Houston’s Alex Driver suffered a right Achilles injury with Brad Davis coming on for his 300th MLS appearance earlier than Dominic Kinnear had hoped. Chicago were forced to sub defensive midfielder Alex after a yellow-card challenge from Giles Davis.
The Dynamo had another near-miss in first half stoppage time when a horribly lazy back-pass from Bakary Soumare almost gave Cameron Weaver an open net but Paolo Tornaghi came out well to smother the chance.
The first half ended scoreless, with little action on goal otherwise. Both teams had chances to build but not much otherwise.
In the second half, Houston came out with more determination and a more attacking sense, and developed many more chances early.
Chicago’s best chance of the match fell in the 58th minute when Jalil Anibaba sliced in a low cross to Joel Lindpere who skied it way over.
Weaver won the ball on the right wing at the mid line, and sent it across for Corey Ashe. Ashe sent the ball through for a streaking Brad Davis, who cut it back across the face of goal for Weaver who sidestepped it in.
The goal blasted the game wide open.
Houston’s lead didn’t last long as two minutes later Patrick Nyarko navigated traffic in the box to send it across the face from right to left and Magee was there for the tap-in. The goal from Magee is his seventh score in nine matches since joining Chicago in late May.
Chicago almost got a cheap goal when the ball deflected to Chris Rolfe on a breakaway but Tally Hall’s fantastic diving save kept the low shot out.
The Dynamo continued to pepper Chicago’s goal, but the Fire held well. In the 77th minute Boenik Garcia found Barnes who was smothered again by Tornaghi before being cleared. Then the 83rd minute saw a cutting bit of passing find substitute Jason Johnson but his open shot was saved by a diving Tornaghi.
Houston dominated possession the rest of the way but could not unlock the Chicago defense for a late winner.
The draw slots Houston back into the top-5 in the East after a quick dip down following New England’s win earlier in the day. For Chicago, they remain five points back of Houston for that final playoff spot, although there’s still plenty of time to make something happen.
More MLS salary talk: Three teams collecting bad deals
Salary Day around Major League Soccer – let’s find a mainstream sports parallel. Because that’s how these things work, right? Some esoteric event with limited significance that winds up fans and sends them spinning on kitchen floors. The only way to convey its meaning is by looking to the big four. I know how this works.
Let see …It’s the 5×5 rotisserie draft, right? No, not quite right. The salaries are real. Fantasy leagues aren’t. How about the cover announcement for your given EA Sports franchise? Meh, way too far from the field. Really, it’s more like pitchers and catchers reporting, or final cut day for NFL rosters. It has some significance, but if we never heard one peep about it, our sporting lives would change … not at all.
Perhaps the best parallel is Schedule Day in the National Football League. Most of the information is known ahead of time – MLS’s deals either already leaked or carry over from the year before, while the NFL’s matchups are predetermined by a formula – but something about seeing all the details together sends fans buzzing like their favorite band just released another album (and since this is MLS, that album would either be Wilco’s or the dialog track from an Arrested Development rerun). The order of the games, Monday night slots, Thanksgiving assignments – they give football fans something to fill that offseason void. It’s the morning donut – fun, harmless, inconsequentially unless you overindulge.
For MLS fans, the players union’s release sparks a few hours of fervent social media analysis, where “Broncos play Cowboys on Thanksgiving” is replaced by “this sure looks different without Beckham and Marquez.” That Week 17 matchup between Green Bay and Minnesota? Where Adrian Peterson might be going for 2,105 and a playoff spot? That’s MLS fans and their value-for-money finds. “So Rafael Baca only makes $49,500 but Joel Lindpere’s still a $200,000 player?”
He does, but in insolation, that’s mostly trivia. One good or bad signing isn’t going to break a salary cap, especially when the maximum most players can count against the salary cap is limited by the designated player rule. If, however, you start collecting a bunch of Baca-esque deals? They you’ve really got something. The dollar shaved here, shaved there give you the ability to take some chances, overpay for a project, or take on some players whose veteran rates no longer fit into others’ budgets. You don’t have to be Billy Beane to figure this out.
We’ll look at some of those situations later. Here I want to look at the other end of the spectrum – teams who have a number of deals which, while perhaps not bad in isolation (though there are some there), become problematic when they’re part of a greater pattern.
Some caveats here: Some of these deals might be Designated Player contracts, young designated players, Generation adidas, or another of an array of circumstances that means their full salaries may not count against the cap (or, are even being fully covered by their current team). Still, in a league were very few teams are making money, taking on even “off book” salaries can have a huge effect on a team’s ability to go out and acquire more talent.
Alvaro Fernandez, on six-month loan in Qatar, $366,666.67
Again, in isolation, none of these deals are killers, but when you have six players making above-or-around $200,000 who aren’t giving equivalent production, that’s a symptom as much as it is a problem, especially since Duka and Lindpere were added this winter (as were Jeff Larentowicz and Maicon Santos, who combine to make just over $395,000).
Friedrich can’t stay healthy. Duka cost Chicago Dominic Oduro. Nyarko is immensely capable but has 12 goals in five-plus seasons. We have to start considering if Lindpere’s best days are permanently gone, while Pause was made redundant by the Fire’s offseason moves.
Between those six players, that’s just over $1.8 million in salaries. And Fernandez’s loan expires this summer.
Marvell Wynne, $285,000
Edson Buddle, $275,000
Drew Moor, $247,000
Pablo Mastroeni, $200,000
Atiba Harris, $173,275
Danny Mwanga, $171,250
Brian Mullan, $170,335
The four guys who were in Commerce City last year – Wynne, Moor, Mastroeni, and Mullan – are just kind of overpaid. Really, it’s not a big deal when you’re being shrew elsewhere. When you’re getting value lower down the list, you can be sentimental with your veterans – understood.
But Buddle? Harris? Mwanga? Colorado went out and got these guys this offseason. You can see the upside in each of them, but having combined for two goals through the Rapids’ first 10 games, you have to wonder if that $600,000 would have been better spent elsewhere.
Consider some of the other goal scorers that moved this offseason: Ryan Johnson ($144,705), Claudio Bieler ($200,000), Fabian Espindola ($150,000), Robert Earnshaw ($155,150). Buddle, Harris, and Mwanga, for similar money, were much less reliable options. Even Kenny Cooper ($342,500) could have been had for some of the money Colorado spent on their upgrades.
Dejan Jakovic, $303,341
Brandon MacDonald, $273,250
Lionard Pajoy, $205,000
John Thorrington, $150,000
James Riley, $145,000
The disturbing part about this group is that they were all need signings, to one extent or another. On one hand, yeah, when a team needs somebody, of course the sign a new player, yet with this group, we see a tendency to overpay when addressing those needs. That’s a systemic problem.
A couple of years ago, D.C. United’s defense was terrible. They elected to keep an expensive Jakovic and acquire MacDonald. They now have one of the priciest central pairings in the league, even if few would call the duo one of the league’s best.
Pajoy and Rafael were brought in because D.C. United needed strikers, but each make more than Maicon Santos will earn from Chicago this year. Pajoy didn’t cut it in Philadelphia before being traded, and Rafael (a young designated player) had only scored one, circumstantially meaningless goal in Brazilian national league play (all of his production was in the quasi-competitive state league). Through 213 minutes in D.C., his only MLS tally came off a Andy Greunebaum misread.
Thorrington and Riley aren’t super expensive, but they fit the same pattern. D.C. has a need, they spend more than they probably needed to, and the upgrade isn’t obvious. Thorrington’s fitness concerns mean it’s too early to pass judgment on his acquisition, but did D.C. really need James Riley at $145,000 when they already had Chris Korb, Daniel Woolard, and Robbie Russell?