The consolation for Seattle might be that their annual slump came early this year, and they still have time to find their way back into form in time for the playoffs.
On the other hand, the problem is that such has been their freefall in recent weeks that not only is the revival looking tricky right now, but the aura the team had in the season’s early running, when Dempsey, Martins and co were terrorizing defenses has been replaced by the sense that this is a team that can be got at.
Add in a Supporters Shield-chasing young Vancouver Whitecaps team to host on Saturday night, and even with Clint Dempsey returning from suspension/Gold Cup/All-Star duty, there was nothing the Sounders could do to stop the rot, as Carl Robinson’s team plundered three unanswered goals at CenturyLink Field.
The “unanswered” part of that equation may be as worrying an element as the stat that now shows Seattle having lost seven of their last eight league games. Seattle have not scored in their last four, and for a team known for, well, scoring at will, that’s got to be as much of a worry as the form of goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who was tentative, and at fault for at least one of the goals.
The Whitecaps in turn were good value for their win — thanks in part to two goals by Pa-Modou Kah and a free kick by Pedro Morales late on, but also due to their potent blend of experience and skillful youth just being a much more convincing combination than Seattle’s tentative and uncharacteristically ponderous attack of recent weeks, which was on display again on Saturday night.
Dempsey should help address that when he adjusts back to life with the team, but the worry is that said team looks nothing like the one he left and utterly bereft of confidence. They’ll need to re-familiarize themselves quickly, mind you — the Sounders’ Champions League campaign starts this Wednesday … against current MLS Western Conference leaders, Vancouver Whitecaps. GP
A rough start for Philadelphia’s next great hope
Tranquillo Barnetta may not have had the screaming airport reception of a Didier Drogba, or the degree of scrutiny about when he would make his debut of a Frank Lampard this week, but the Philadelphia Union’s newest signing certainly bears a weight of expectation.
Barnetta’s extensive Bundesliga and European competition experience has convinced the Union that the Swiss international is the man to bring some focus and composure to their midfield, and after a series of false starts in that regard, the feeling around the league is that this time the Union may finally have got the right man.
Not that you’d have known it from his debut. Barnetta had barely been on the field for a minute as a second-half substitute when he sent New York Red Bulls’ Shaun Wright-Phillips crashing to the ground in the box, for a penalty and the opening goal. And while Philadelphia equalized soon afterwards Wright-Phillips was not done. In the 74th minute he made space for himself on the left of the box and cut back low for his brother Bradley to turn home.
With both men coming into the game for their respective MLS debuts around the hour mark, it was pretty clear which one will remember the occasion more fondly — Wright-Phillips looked lively as New York went in search of the key to beating a team that has had their number so far this season. For long stretches when these sides have met so far this year, New York have enjoyed territorial advantage without creating clear chances against an organized Philly side, while the Union have been efficient on the counter.
The margin for error has generally looked narrower for the Union side in those games and Barnetta should eventually give them another option that is more about carrying the play to opponents rather than leaning back on the ropes all the time.
Wright-Phillips meanwhile has arrived as a non-designated player in the newly frugal Red Bull roster, in the hope that he and possibly the rumored further addition of Gustavo Veron can also provide another dimension to their team — namely the type of inventiveness that can unlock teams built to resist coach Jesse Marsch’s preferred pressing game.
Back to margins for error and Philadelphia’s, in playoff terms, is virtually non-existent now. With results going against them this weekend, the Union need to start picking up points and soon. Barnetta won’t have time to dwell on an awkward start, if he doesn’t want to be heading on vacation when the regular season finishes. GP
Lampard finally reaches the field — too late to make a difference
By the time Lampard finally made his New York City FC debut on Saturday afternoon, his team was already trailing Montreal Impact, and the Englishman’s arrival was too late to change the course of the game.
And with this result against conference rivals who are now three points and three games clear of New York in the last playoff spot, NYC FC fans may be entitled to wonder if Lampard’s long-delayed arrival may now in turn be too late to change the course of their season.
In fairness the midfield that Lampard will now be bolstering, alongside fellow new arrival Andrea Pirlo, was not really the issue on the day – the neat and inventive build-up play NYC have had to become specialists in on their tight pitch was certainly there in flashes this weekend, and with the veteran additions, Jason Kreis now seems to have an abundance of options in those spots.
But despite lesser heralded moves for defensive reinforcements, this was another one of those Yankee Stadium games where the leaky defense made what happened in front of them irrelevant. The small mercy for New York was that Montreal’s own big name signing Drogba was not charging onto the long balls the Impact began probing with from the first whistle.
Not that Drogba was needed — Dominic Oduro opened the scoring after just five minutes by putting the ball through Josh Saunders legs, after an exquisite long ball by Laurent Ciman. Ciman was capping a week in which he’d captained the MLS All-Stars for part of Wednesday’s victory over Tottenham, an honor which perhaps brought him to the attention of neutrals who hadn’t been following his stealthy surge into a defensive MVP contender.
After half an hour Ignacio Piatti was running into the same spot as Oduro to hook a chip over Saunders for 2-0 and despite New York pulling one back with a 68th minute penalty, just before Lampard checked in, they could not alter the result, or the continued sense that while their team has goals in them, they need every one of them to stay in the high-scoring matches they’re prone to.
As for the Impact, they’re gradually catching up on their games in hand after ghosting through the early season due to their Champions League tilt. Yet they’ve still played three fewer games than Orlando, who are now just below the red line in the East, and all the teams above them have played more. Drogba may have arrived in time to boost a post-season run. Kreis will be hoping Lampard has arrived in time to make the playoffs even a possibility. GP
The customary Dominic Kenner playoff charge is stalling
While the Scottish-born coach may have missed out on the playoffs in each of his last two seasons with the Houston Dynamo, there’s still something unfamiliar about an MLS post-season without Dominic Kinnear. For so long he could navigate the play-offs better than anyone else, perennially timing his teams’ regular season charge towards the end of summer and into fall - as if by design. But with Kinnear now at San Jose, there is no sign of such momentum building.
Just a few weeks ago the Earthquakes looked to be making a Kinnearistic surge – beating the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy in back-to-back fixtures, taking them to the brink of the play-off places. Since then however, San Jose have lost four from four - and were fortunate to salvage a point against the Portland Timbers on Sunday. Had Diego Valeri not tested the strength of the Avaya Stadium crossbar with an (approximately) 1,000mph effort from the spot, and instead found the net, it would have been five defeats from five for the Quakes.
The result leaves Kinnear’s side six points short of the Sounders in sixth place (although they still hold at least two games in hand over much of the West) meaning San Jose must string together quite the streak if they are to stand a chance of making the play-offs. Eight of their final 14 fixtures fall at home – where the Quakes have been significantly stronger this season – but time is running out.
Of course, Kinnear was hired to rebuild and reform a team that had become decidedly stagnant over the past couple years. The Earthquakes are still a distinctly raw outfit, as underlined by their sporadic spurts of form over the season. In Matias Perez Garcia, Clarence Goodson and Chris Wondolowski, Kinnear has quality to work with, but there are inconsistencies throughout his squad which will only be resolved with time.
Against the Timbers much of San Jose’s play was neat and tidy – with Sanna Nyassi making a real impression off the bench – but the final pass was lacking, and so the slump continued. There was none of the gusto that saw them score three in June’s Cali Clasico, as Shea Salinas, Cordell Cato and Quincy Amarikwa all toiled to create so much as a goalscoring chance between them.
“I walk off the field at Stanford, after the LA game, I think everybody was sky-high, and sometimes I think maybe expectations get a little too far pushed out there,” Kinnear admitted ahead of the game against Portland. The Scot makes a valid point - that with the Quakes sometimes posing as an MLS heavyweight it is often expected that they should deliver heavyweight results consistently – as a heavyweight team should. San Jose are some way short of that mark – and most likely the playoffs too. GR
MLS is enjoys an all-time goals high
Cast your mind back to the opening few weeks and months of the 2015 season, when concern over a lack of goals and a spate of insipid goalless draws were widespread. There was even a consensus among some that MLS was gradually becoming more of a defensive division, as if the arrival of Sebastian Giovinco had given North American soccer a catenaccio tinge. That discourse has now been blown to bits however - 39 bits to be precise.
Between the eight fixtures played on Saturday, a new single MLS scoring record was set. The 39 goals scored topped the previous record of 30 goals scored on 28 May 2011. The crescendo of the weekend’s goal rush came at RFK Stadium, where DC United edged a 10-goal encounter against Real Salt Lake – claiming six to RSL’s four. In fact, the result looked more like a baseball score than most MLB results on the same evening (genuinely, DC United and RSL shared more goals between them than runs in nine out of 15 MLB games).
There was also Orlando City’s 5-2 win over the Columbus Crew, with Cyle Larin bagging a double in what was a rampant win for Adrian Heath’s side at the Citrus Bowl. The New York Red Bulls also chipped in on the goal tally with a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union – as Toronto FC folded to a 3-1 defeat at the New England Revolution. The LA Galaxy completed a trio of 3-1 results with a road win over the Colorado Rapids, with Bruce Arena’s side bouncing back from the loss to Houston the week before, before the Vancouver Whitecaps took top spot in the Western Conference with a 3-0 Cascadia Cup win against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field.
And of course, as has become customary at Yankee Stadium this year New York City FC were involved in another whirlwind goal-fest - this time losing 3-2 to the Montreal Impact following last week’s 5-3 win over Orlando. It’s still unclear whether NYC FC are actually any good, given the unpredictability of their recent results, but they have certainly been involved in some enthralling games this season.
This wasn’t an isolated instance either. Last week a total of 27 goals were scored over six Saturday games, with nine teams now tipped over the 30-goal mark for the season. In the wider sense though, what does this explosion of goals mean for MLS? Is such a surge down to better attacking play, or a worsening defensive standard? Most likely, it’s nothing more than just a quirk of the season’s unfolding and North American soccer isn’t actually becoming the sport’s haven for thrill-seekers and goal addicts. Sometimes it’s best just to enjoy goals as they are – and MLS is enjoying more than its average share of those at the moment. GR
Week 24 scores
New York City 2-3 Montreal Impact; Philadelphia Union 1-3 New York Red Bulls; DC United 6-4 Real Salt Lake; Orlando City 5-2 Columbus Crew; New England 3-1 Toronto FC; Sporting KC 1-1 Houston Dynamo; Colorado Rapids 1-3 LA Galaxy; Seattle Sounders 0-3 Vancouver Whitecaps; San Jose 0-0 Portland Timbers; Chicago Fire 2-0 FC Dallas
This article was written by Graham Parker and Graham Ruthven, for theguardian.com on Monday 3rd August 2015 11.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010