Crimes and Misdemeanors: Four new bans from the D.C.; Chavez’s suspension cut in half

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It’s been a relatively quiet spring for Major League Soccer’s disciplinary committee. After last year’s active (and much-discussed) debut, the league’s council for retroactive punishment had relatively little to do this year, perhaps a sign that players were starting to adapt their behaviors. If your rough tackle has to get by a committee into addition to the match officials, perhaps you’ll find a way to clean up your act.

Last weekend, however, players decided to give the Disciplinary Committee some work, with four players earning suspensions from the D.C.:

  • Mario De Luna had the most high-profile incident, shoving a ball boy late in Chivas USA’s 3-0 loss at Portland. As discussed here and elsewhere, the boy was actually in the right not to give the ball back to De Luna, not that that factored into this punishment. The ball boy could have been laughing in De Luna’s face, and if the Chivas defender lays hands on him, he’s going to get a suspension. Today’s was a one-game ban which, added to his yellow card accumulation suspension, means De Luna’s out until after Chivas’s May 25 visit to Colorado:
  • Edson Buddle also picked up a one-game ban, now set to miss Colorado’s May 18 match against San Jose, after this frustration tackle on Tony Tchiani – the exact type of play this committee was assembled to discourage:
  • Up in Vancouver, Johnny Leveron could have been sent off after this early tackle against Jose Villarreal – two legs, scissors, from behind, right in front of the official. And in that regard, Bruce Arena would be right to feel a bit aggrieved, as his team went on to lose at BC Place, 3-1. But after review, the `Caps defender will miss this weekend’s visit from Portland, set to serve a one-match ban:
  • And finally, from this weekend in Montréal, where we may be seeing the Lenhart corollary coming into play. Last week, San Jose’s Steven Lenhart was banned after dragging his leg over an opponent’s head while going over a fallen man. This week, Real Salt Lake defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe gets a one-game suspension after his step over Marco Di Vaio ends with the Montréal attacker getting a leg to the head:

I love the language Major League Soccer uses for these last three incidents: “endangered the safety of his opponent.” It stresses a maxim that should never be far from a players’ minds: You are in part responsible for the safety of those around you. You’re not entitled to let competitive urges obscure the context of your actions. It’s a game, there are rules, none of which entitle you to risk another’s health.

Also of note, Commissioner Don Garber has reduced Marvin Chavez’s suspension from two games to one. The San Jose winger received a ban last week after his actions against Toronto FC, but with his punishment cut in half, Chavez is eligible to play this weekend against Colorado.

Three good questions for: San Jose head coach Frank Yallop

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PORTLAND, Ore. — As opposed to last February when everybody was picking the LA Galaxy to run away with the West (how did that prediction work out for us), preseason 2013 sees the Western Conference’s powers in flux a week-and-a-half before the regular season starts. Real Salt Lake has shuffled their deck, Seattle’s admittedly in flux, while the LA Galaxy have yet to replace David Beckham.

Given the flux, the easy pick would be the reigning Supporters’ Shield holders San Jose, but while catching up to head coach Frank Yallop at Portland’s annual preseason tournament, it was clear the Earthquakes have their own set of challenges to navigate ahead of First Kick. New expectations and the loss of any surprise factor the Goonies would carry into the season are amplified by the more tangible issues: the loss of a key talent, injuries to a previously deep forward corps, and the challenge of matching a 2012 fueled by a number of breakout seasons.

If only this feature was called “As Many Questions As You Need.” Unfortunately, we get only three:

After your success last year, and how the season ended last year, how is that influencing your preparation for this year?

It’s the same as we would be doing anyway. You try to prepare your team for the first game and building a squad for the rest of the season.

We’ve got a lot of guys out – big, key players for us last year. It’s been a little bit funny in preseason. We’ve not had out full unit at all.

But, we’ve managed. We keep ticking on. A lot of young guys are getting their chance to play. We see what they’re all about.

One of the keys last year was not only [Chris Wondolowski] but the forwards around him. What’s a fair goal, as far as Chris’s goal numbers this year, and how is the absence of, say, Steven [Lenhart] going to affect that?

NOTE: Steven Lenhart continues his recovery from a torn meniscus suffered at the end of last season. The team has yet to establish a timetable for his return.

Alan Gordon’s out, too. He scored 14 goals. Between the two of them, they had 24 goals, which is a big, big number in our league. Simon’s obviously gone, Dawkins back to England, so we’ve got a lot of weapons that are not at our disposal at the moment.

For Wondo, we know he’s going to score goals. He needs chances to score. I think the big thing for me is making sure we do give him enough chances to bury chances. If you don’t give him any shots on goal then he’s going to (have to) create his own stuff, it’s tough for him. You give him enough looks a goal, he’ll score from goals.

For him to get 27 goals would be tough. But he’s grown. He’s scored 18, 27, I think 16. He’s always going to be one of the top scorers in our league. We just want him to continue that with us.

You had a lot of breakout performances last year. If you were going to pick one person from this squad to have a similar breakout, who would it be?

Um, that’s a good question. I think a lot of the guys last year, the guys that played, for sure had good years. Sam Cronin and Rafa Baca, you could go on and on with those guys. I don’t know.

I think Nana Annakora and Ty Harden have looked good in preseason, center backs.

Um, God, I don’t know.

It’s difficult to pick a new breakout star when everybody broke out in 2012. Beyond the injuries and losses, that may be the biggest issue for San Jose. Wondolowski’s not going to score 27 goals again, we know that. He’s going to fall back slightly to his normal, excellent level of performance.

The challenge for Yallop: How do you keep your team in first when the rest of the squad may see that same regression? Just like their Western Conference rivals, San Jose has their own unique issues heading into 2013.

Drilling down on: at Portland 1, San Jose 1

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Roy Lassiter has company in the Major League Soccer record book, but it’s not without controversy. A disputed, first half penalty led to Chris Wondolowski’s record-tying 27th goal of the season as San Jose drew in Portland, 1-1

Man of the Match: He drew the goal, and he’ll come under criticism for the exaggerated way he did it, but Steven Lenhart created his team’s only score of the match. He was also the most active Earthquakes player, constantly going to battle with David Horst when he wasn’t providing the hold up play San Jose needed to mount their attack. After he went off in the second (as San Jose tried to protect their 1-0 lead), the Earthquakes never threatened, a Timber defense that had held Lenhart at bay having no trouble keeping his teammates in check.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • In time, people will forget the details of Wondolowski’s record-tying goal – as it should be. Today’s record is the culmination of  a season-long effort. Wondolowski’s earned his place as the joint-record holder.
  • It’s just unfortunate the record had to come this way. In the 23rd minute, a long ball out of San Jose’s end exploited some poor Timbers defending, sending Lenhart in alone on Donovan Ricketts. Ricketts read the play and came out to meet Lenhart, but didn’t get to the ball in time, the San Jose forward touching the bouncing ball beyond the Timbers keeper with his right thigh.
  • Lenhart beat Ricketts to the resulting ball 16 yards from goal in the left of Portland’s area. Ricketts went to ground attempting a tackle, cueing Lenhart to go airborne. Referee Mark Geiger immediately pointed to the spot. For his share of the record, Wondolowski converted low and into the left of Ricketts’ goal, putting San Jose up one in the 24th minute.
  • Until that point, the Timbers had played San Jose even, not surprising given the venue. At Jeld-Wen, Portland’s a league-average team, posting a +3 goal difference. On the road, the Timbers become Toronto FC’s second string (-25 difference).
  • Part of that even-footing was due to the formations and weather. The teams played near-identical 4-4-2 formations (Wondolowski’s falling into a withdrawn role more often than Danny Mwanga). Combined with a windy, wet, grey day in Portland, there wan’t much separating the two teams.
  • Toward the end of the first half, San Jose started obviously playing to Wondolowski, looking for the record-setting 28th goal. Three low-percentage crosses were delivered right to Timbers players, hinting what San Jose’s approach would be in the second half.
  • That plan never materialized. The Timbers played one of their best halves of the season over the last 45. Moving Darlington Nagbe in from the left, Portland used a three-man midfield to help lock down the middle of the park.
  • Portland also zealously went down their left, deploying Mwanga on the flank to use as a target, moving Nagbe and midfielder Eric Alexander to that side when establishing possession.
  • The tactic helped Portland control the half, but it failed to yield a goal. Instead, it was hard work by Alexander, taking the ball off Steven Beitashour’s foot just outside the Earthquakes’ penalty area, that led to tying goal. Bright Dike’s resulting shot was saved by Jon Busch, but the resulting rebound was pushed to the center of the area for an easy Dike put-back.
  • Wondolowski’s best chance of a record-breaker came in the 65th minute when a shot from the left of the area drew a save from Ricketts.
  • Portland had the best chance to claim full points, a header from David Horst off a set piece going wide of goal after he’d out-jumped Busch.
  • As time wound down, San Jose’s reputation for late goals loomed larger, but Wondo’s 28th goal never came. The Earthquakes close their season with a draw in Portland, their Saturday captain having earned his piece of history.
  • Portland concludes a tumultuous season with one of their best efforts, taking their fifth point of the season from the Supporters’ Shield winners.
  • At the end of the match, Portland players walked around Jeld-Wen displaying a sign that read “TO THE LEAGUE’S BEST FANS: WE WILL REPAY YOU”.

Chris Wondolowski has four games to make history

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Sixteen years ago, Roy Lassiter became Major League Soccer’s first scoring champion, posting 27 goals in league’s inaugural, 32-game season. The U.S. international teamed up with league MVP Carlos Valderrama to help the Tampa Bay Mutiny to the Eastern Conference finals. With two other players eclipsing the 20-goal mark that season, nobody knew if 27 goals would be remarkable or the expectation for future scoring champions.

Fast forward to 2012 and Lassiter still holds the record for most goals in a season, though as the league’s website reminds up today, one man is within striking distance. Coming off a three-goal week, San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski sits on 22 with four games left: vs. FC Dallas, at Colorado, vs. LA Galaxy, at Portland.

Five goals in four games is a big ask, and given San Jose’s bigger goals, the team can’t make the individual mark a priority (no matter how much they’re love for time to get it). But if there was a plan to be devised on how to get Wondo to 27, it might include these things:

1. Penalty kicks – In three of the four remaining games, San Jose will be favored. They’ll probably be able to control those matches, which should lead to a greater probability of earning penalty kicks. If San Jose can get two chances from the spot, that will go a long way toward getting Wondolowski five goals.

2. Beat up on the little guys – Despite what happened in San Jose last week, Portland’s still struggling. So is Colorado. Those are road games, so there’s an added level of difficulty, but big games against the conference’s two weakest opponents will alleviate Wondolowski’s need to score often against LA and Dallas’s stringier defenses.

3. One big game – And if Wondowloski can have one huge game in this span, the rest of the challenge becomes much easier. If he hits for three against Colorado or Portland, Wondolowski only has to score two-in-three over the rest of the month.

If one or two of those things come together, Wondolowski can still pass Lassiter, doing so without the aid of a virtuoso like Valderrama. Wondolowski also pursues an honest-to-goodness record. In 1996, nobody knew if 27 goals was a huge amount, something to expect every year, or a total which would eventually be squashed. Lassiter didn’t have the pressures Wondolowski will face.

There’s also the team concerns. Between the Supporter’s Shield chase, the goal-scoring mark, and the playoffs, San Jose’s final two-plus months of the season set up similarly to how Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski approaches NCAA basketball tournaments. He’s described them as a series of three, two-game tournaments, each building on the former until everything comes together at the Final Four. For San Jose, the focus of closing out the Supporters Shield could give way to the goal-scoring record then the playoffs, each goal requiring a different type of commitment.

But giving the goal-scoring race that kind of attention could backfire, regardless of whether Wondolowski gets the record. San Jose must avoid investing too much and peaking before the playoffs. If Wondo scores a couple of goals against Dallas, the record will move front-and-center. Frank Yallop and San Jose will need to be very careful not to squelch his team’s enthusiasm while maintaining their perspective on the bigger goals.