It was billed by the league as a game of star match-ups — Robbie Keane v David Villa, Steven Gerrard v Frank Lampard, Giovani dos Santos vs Andrea Pirlo.
Galaxy win the battle of the galacticos
What it didn’t do was pit two teams of equals against each other. NYC started brightly at the StubHub Center on Sunday afternoon, but faded badly and seemed to lose concentration as the Galaxy, inspired by Keane’s two goals and two assists, swept past them 5-1. David Villa’s 15th goal of the season, a late penalty, was about the only mark against the Galaxy, on an afternoon that saw them leapfrog Vancouver and DC to top the Supporters’ Shield standings again.
They’ll take some dislodging, and Keane offered a reminder of his own candidacy for another MVP award, as he stood out even in the distinguished company around him. The Irishman was at the heart of LA’s attack, which has been ridiculously potent in recent weeks – the Galaxy have scored at least five goals in seven of their last nine home games and Keane has 13 goals in his last 10 league games. He appears to be in no mood to relinquish top billing to new arrivals.
The Galaxy’s formidable home form looks set to see them peak for yet another playoff push, while NYCFC’s erratic form in their debut season only seems to emphasize what Bruce Arena has done for several years at LA – while NYC have wrestled with how to fold their designated player talent into the team, the Galaxy have been proceeding as usual, with an ever richer blend of production line youth and bespoke talent.
The MLS versions of galacticos serve a distinct purpose on the Galaxy, while in New York, the team has already been through a number of phases in search of the best way to keep Villa scoring. At moments this season the likes of Mehdi Ballouchy and Tommy McNamara have bene hailed as unlikely saviors — most recently Kwadwo Poku has even had fans considering the benefits of starting him over Lampard when the latter eventually makes his way back to the field.
Progress has been fitful and unpredictable — the 3-1 win over DC United a couple of games ago, which they’d hoped would ignite the remainder of their season, may now be filed more in the context of DC’s mini-slump than New York’s breakthrough. And in a game where LA became the first MLS side to reach 1000 league goals in their history, New York got more than one reminder of how far they, stars and all, still have to go to be that kind of perennial competitor. GP
Drogba in a Montreal uniform – feels good, doesn’t it?
In many ways, Didier Drogba isn’t really the most natural of fits for the Montreal Impact. The Ivorian striker doesn’t quite follow the club’s post-Alessandro Nesta recruitment strategy, as Frank Klopas readily admitted upon the signing of the former Chelsea man. It didn’t even appear that Montreal were on the lookout for an international superstar to adorn their billboards, with Joey Saputo bemoaning Toronto FC’s big spending in February. And yet something seems right about Drogba in Impact uniform, of which the first glimpse was offered on Saturday.
The 37-year-old’s introduction, as a 58th-minute substitute, was the only positive takeaway for Montreal following the 1-0 home defeat to the Philadelphia Union, with Drogba clearly off the pace having spent much of the season on the touchline (and in the stands). The Ivorian has spent only the last two weeks training with his new team, and unfortunately for the Impact it showed. There were glimpses of what he will offer Montreal, but little more than that.
“I thought he brought a presence in the team,” Klopas explained afterwards, admitting that it will take time for the former Chelsea striker to adapt. “Just his presence lifted the team. The stadium got really excited. I just think we’ve got to find a better way to use him. That’s going to take time. But he was good. He had chances in the box. We could have got him the ball a little bit quicker with the service, but I think it’s going to come.”
From a tactical perspective, there is a place for Drogba in the Impact’s line-up. In Klopas’ 4-2-3-1 formation, the Ivorian will surely, in time, be the man to lead Montreal’s attacking frontline, with Dominic Oduro never truly comfortable with his improvised role as the lone striker. The Impact will have no problem in making the ball stick in the final third with Drogba as their focal point.
Against Philadelphia, that is something Drogba managed to contribute – with Johan Venegas almost the beneficiary of his knockdown. The man himself also came close to finding the net, sending a free-kick inches past the post just minutes from full-time. Klopas says Drogba will most likely not be ready to start a match for at least two or three more weeks, but he might not make a true impression until 2016, given his recent fitness struggles and lack of pre-season this year.
After their Concacaf Champions League efforts earlier in the year, Montreal have a packed schedule between now and the play-offs as they catch up with their games in hand. Drogba will still play a role, with Klopas likely to rotate his squad to ease the risk of fatigue, but it might not be until next season that he makes a real impact at the Impact. GR
Greg Vanney’s tactical shift could provide template for Toronto
So often this season impressive Toronto FC wins – and there have been a few – have been down to one factor, or rather one player: Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant has carried the Canadians for much of the campaign with the might of, well, an ant – adding to his tally as TFC claimed a momentous 5-0 win over Orlando City on Saturday. But on this occasion, the Italian could not claim full credit.
Rumours of Greg Vanney’s impending firing this season has surfaced perhaps even more frequently than speculation of Javier Hernandez’s mooted move to MLS, and indeed questions over the 41-year-old’s inexperience and suitability for the job persist. But against Orlando City the former USA defender finally demonstrated his credentials, making the tactical shift that set his side on course for a comprehensive victory. After all this time, and all those dismal appointments, TFC might actually have a manager capable of affecting performances in the way managers at other functioning teams are meant to.
In recent weeks, Toronto FC have been particularly soft through the middle of the pitch. Against the New York Red Bulls last week Vanney’s midfield trio were poorly organised and unbalanced in their failed efforts to stop Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty charging into the final third. This time, however, the TFC coach opted for an anchoring midfield twosome of Collen Warner and Benoit Cheyrou, giving his team a better briefed and generally stronger platform for Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Giovinco to build from.
Perhaps the primary reason behind Vanney’s decision to go with two protective midfielders in deep positions was to smother Kaka – and that was a ploy that worked, with TFC also keeping the ball better than they have in any other match this season. The performance underlined that having three rather than two in the centre of the pitch doesn’t always result in additional control. It’s primarily about having the right players in there.
Vanney’s tactical shift could provide Toronto FC with a template for the rest of the regular season, as they look to nail down their post-season spot. Had TFC failed to pick up three points against Orlando, their play-off security would have taken a serious hit, with the Montreal Impact a particular threat given the games in hand they hold over every other team in the Eastern Conference.
Now however, they have a six-point lead – with Montreal Impact the next visitors to BMO Field – and so Vanney would be wise to place his faith in newfound midfield security rather than the mercurial, and surely unsustainable, brilliance of Giovinco in order to maintain that advantage. Usually for a match that finished 5-0, the emphatic scoreline wasn’t the most encouraging thing for Toronto FC. GR
Sporting KC’s defense is leaking again
The flip side of Sporting KC’s comeback against Western leaders Vancouver last week, which we at the Guardian cheerfully hailed as a Supporters’ Shield statement, was that Sporting needed four goals to overtake the three they’d conceded at home to the Whitecaps.
Fast forward a week, and Peter Vermes’ team have conceded 11 goals in their last three games, including a 5-0 midweek home loss to San Jose that represented their worst such defeat since 2001. It also saw them lose their best player this season, Benny Feilhaber, to a red card.
Feilhaber was missing on Saturday night, when Sporting give up a 2-1 lead on the road to two late Columbus Crew goals, including a match-winner for the Crew’s newest striker Jack McInerney in the 88th minute. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as Sporting’s injury-time winner the week before (McInerney still found time to pick up a card for time-wasting a few minutes after his 88th minute intervention), but it suggested a few drawbacks to the Sporting-as-Shield-favorites theory.
Most obvious is that games in hand are only useful if you actually win them. Sporting’s win over Vancouver may have been a dramatic six-pointer, and they can still overtake the Whitecaps at the top of the Shield standings if they win their two games in hand, but their margin for error has been considerably reduced.
Secondly, and of most immediate concern for Peter Vermes: his team have picked a bad time to start leaking goals. Vermes was happier with his team’s “fantastic effort” in Columbus than he had been after the San Jose game, when he’d called his side “terrible on defense” while lamenting their tendency to keep giving the ball away. But the San Jose comments perhaps look the more pertinent when looking at the team’s most recent run.
The last time Sporting kept a clean sheet was on12 July in Vancouver. Since then they’ve played nine times, and while they’ve won more often than not, they’ve done so at a cost that’s beginning to add up. The belief that you have a team that can always outscore the opposition can carry a team into the playoffs, but tends to reach its limits in the knockout format, especially when the away goals rule starts coming into play.
The current Sporting KC side compares well with the 2013 MLS Cup winners in attack, but as yet the gradual improvements Vermes has been making to the defense in the last two years have not reached the benchmark set by the Myers-Collin-Besler-Sinovic unit from that year. Now’s the time to improve if Sporting really are to be contenders. GP
Sounders kicking themselves as playoff race tightens again
When Seattle burst into life again last week in beating Orlando 4-0, it looked like they may have been about to pull up the trapdoor at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race, just as they’d threatened to slide out of contention during Obafemi Martins’ absence through injury.
But on Saturday night they were goalless again, in a 2-0 defeat to a Real Salt Lake team in desperate need of points amid their own unfamiliar struggle for a playoff spot. And with San Jose beating DC United 2-0, to cap an eight-day period when they’d also beaten Colorado at home and trounced Sporting KC 5-0 on the road, in one of the surprise results of the season, the path to the playoffs suddenly begins to look a little more fraught for Seattle.
Seattle did have good news of a sort with Houston failing to hold a lead over Portland on Friday night — a result which keeps the Dynamo three points behind Seattle in the final playoff spot (though with a game in hand).
For that matter, it was a result that keeps Portland just about in sight above the Sounders, with the Timbers sandwiched between Sporting KC and Dallas, who both lost this weekend, and indeed have lost their last two and three respectively. But the Sounders need those losing streaks to extend if they’re going to start clawing their way back up the standings and right now, they need to be rather more concerned with the situation they’ve found themselves in by losing that six-pointer at Rio Tinto Stadium.
With their win, RSL are only three points behind Seattle and San Jose, and level with Houston. Of that group, Houston and San Jose have played a game less than the other two and are looking ominously poised for the run-in — we could have an interesting subplot developing around the playoff fates of Dominic Kinnear’s former and current club, if Seattle keep passing up their chances to pull clear.
For Sigi Schmid, the very fact that we’re speculating about any of these teams catching Seattle for the final playoff spot (even Colorado have an outside shot of doing so after their win at the weekend) must be intensely frustrating, as the Sounders continue to struggle for traction. Things won’t get any easier next week – Cascadia Cup games are always intense, but the visit of Portland Timbers on Sunday could not come at a more difficult time for Seattle. Local bragging rights are one thing – having your rivals fatally damage your playoff chances is another. but Seattle only have themselves to blame. GP
Portland 2-2 Houston
Toronto FC 5-0 Orlando
DC United 0-2 San Jose
Columbus 3-2 Sporting KC
Montreal 0-1 Philadelphia
Chicago 0-1 Colorado
Vancouver 1-0 FC Dallas
Real Salt Lake 2-0 Seattle
LA Galaxy 5-1 New York City
This article was written by Graham Parker and Graham Ruthven, for theguardian.com on Monday 24th August 2015 10.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010