For all the mobs at Montreal airport that greeted his arrival, or the sense of expectation that greeted his debut, there was a part of Didier Drogba’s entrance at the Impact that felt oddly frayed.
Head coach and director of player personnel Frank Klopas appeared to be an oddly marginal figure in the announcement of Drogba’s arrival – which understandably was a move that owner Joey Saputo was happy to foreground his own role in, but one which was squarely within the extended remit of Klopas’s unwieldy job description. And by last weekend Klopas was gone completely, in something of a death by a thousand cuts – as everything from a clash with veteran Patrice Bernier, a Canadian Championship defeat and a loss to rivals Toronto eroded the memories of the Champions League final run earlier in the year.
With Klopas fired early on a Sunday morning, to be replaced by former player Mauro Biello, a clear signal was sent about Saputo’s control of the club, and willingness to interfere with technical policy as he sees necessary. And on Saturday his most high profile asset inaugurated the new phase of the Impact’s history in style.
Drogba scored a hat-trick as the Impact came from behind to beat Chicago Fire in what was technically a playoff six-pointer given the team’s respective points totals, but which given the Impact’s highly favorable games-in-hand on all those around them was more of an opportunity for the Impact to increase their cushion on a side who’ve been flickering into life in recent weeks, but too inconsistently to truly worry those above them.
Still, as the Red Bulls can testify, there’s enough speed and movement about this Fire team to make them effective spoilers for higher placed conference rivals, and one of the criticisms of the Klopas team was that while they played an effective counter-attacking style that had served them well, particularly on the road during their Champions League run, it had also become one-dimensional and easy for good coaches to plan against.
The addition of Drogba provides the kind of direct outlet and versatile look to at least have opponents second-guessing in the playoff run-in – and of course he provides the type of finishing, as he showed in his left/right/header classic hat-trick on Saturday, to punish anyone.
Whether Biello has the time (Klopas, appointed in December 2013, was the longest-serving Impact coach of the MLS era), to shape the team around him into a credible threat to the frontrunners is another matter. But a big name has turned the page in Montreal. GP
International call-ups at FC Dallas show that youth should be given a chance
So circumstance probably forced Oscar Pareja’s hand slightly. The FC Dallas coach probably wouldn’t have played five homegrown players (with one on the bench) against the Columbus Crew had he arrived in Ohio with the full complement of his squad. Fabian Castillo, Je-Vaughn Watson and Blas Perez, if available, probably would have started for the Texans, but nonetheless, Pareja deserves credit for the faith shown in the club’s young, homegrown players.
With Coy Craft, Alex Zendajas, Kellyn Acosta, Jesse Gonzalez and Victor Ulloa all starting - with Danny Garcia on the bench – FC Dallas set a new homegrown record, and what’s more they did so with style – comprehensively beating the Crew 3-0 on the road to end a three-game losing streak and strengthen the club’s position in the Western play-off positions.
But the result and performance, in the wider scope of things, said more about the success of the Texans’ academy system than their post-season prospects. By accounts, FC Dallas’ youth program is extensive - arguably the best in MLS - with that coming to the fore in the performance against Columbus. The franchise has found a way to tap into, what has long been considered, a simmering well of talent in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, as was underlined on Sunday night.
Pareja now has the chance to set a precedent for the rest of MLS, in the knowledge that his young talent is good enough to match even the best opposition the league can offer. The Columbus Crew might have been without the player who has carried them for much of the summer - Kei Kamara - but this was still a nightly impressive display by FC Dallas. Prior to Sunday night Columbus had netted 15 goals in their last six home outings, with FC Dallas the first team to shutout Gregg Berhalter’s side at Mapfre Stadium this season. And all with a team largely developed through the club’s youth system. Pareja’s side might collected a fair haul of admirable results this season, but this might have been the most impressive of the lot - all considered.
Now the Colombian coach faces the rather difficult decision of how to repay his young prospects when the likes of Perez, Castillo and Watson return from international duty this week. All three have carried FC Dallas at one point or another over the course of the season, but where were they against the Chicago Fire, or the LA Galaxy, or the Vancouver Whitecaps? Against the Columbus Crew, they were literally missing - and yet, FCD turned in one of the best displays of the campaign - so should Pareja stick the tried and tested, if faltering, or show faith in the youth that served him so well in Ohio? GR
A familiar attacking duo is back doing damage for Seattle
Clint Dempsey was allowed to sit out this particular US team camp, with a view to building up his fitness for the crucial Mexico clash next month – which meant that Dempsey was free to continue his recuperation from his hamstring injury against Toronto FC on Saturday.
Seattle have been ailing themselves in the last couple of months – Dempsey’s suspension, international absence, then injury, had been compounded by the loss to injury of Obafemi Martins. Without the tandem that had terrorized defenses earlier this year and last, the Sounders had struggled for goals and slipped down the standings in the West, to the point that this week’s clash with a resurgent San Jose team (who were bottom a few weeks ago), is already marked as a potential decider for one of the final playoff spots.
Yet even before San Jose’s surprise loss to Philadelphia was confirmed, Seattle would have already been looking at that clash with a great deal more confidence after Dempsey set up Martins for the opening goal and then scored the winner as the Sounders saw off Toronto. It wasn’t just the win, or the goals, but a sense that potentially the most potent strike force in the league might be rounding back into form at just the right time to give their team some swagger, that made this such a satisfying night for Sigi Schmid. In its own way, for its symbolism this was just as significant as last week’s win over Cascadia and playoff rivals Portland.
Toronto were without their own talisman Sebastian Giovinco, though they were spared Michael Bradley for the game, as he was given dispensation to join the USA team late in their preparations for the Brazil game. But with Jozy Altidore and a handful of other first teamers also absent, it was too much to ask for Toronto to hold on for what would have been a big road point, after Eriq Zavaleta leveled on the hour.
Instead Dempsey had the final word, and having played in just one of the Sounders’ previous 12 games, it was important that he showed himself capable of a statement like that. Seattle face a run-in that will be defined less by the teams above them than those behind, but if Martins and Dempsey, not to mention the returning Ossie Alonso, revert to anything like their best, the Sounders might yet hit the playoffs at peak form for once. It won’t be last year’s treble-threatening procession, but it’s not as if the Sounders have thrived as favorites in playoffs past anyway. But when this edition of the Sounders do thrive is when Martins and Dempsey combine. And they’re doing it again. Opponents be warned. GP
No Jones, no problem, for Revs, but Orlando counting cost of absences
In the diminished domestic program for international week, the Revs could have had some legitimate grievances when they looked at how Jürgen Klinsmann’s roster came together for the two friendlies that trail the Mexico game next month. While Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey were allowed to stay with their club teams for this weekend’s clash between playoff chasing teams, and the likes of Matt Besler were returned to their club after the Peru game, in order to prepare for a midweek game, Jermaine Jones was called up and missed the Revs game against Orlando City on Saturday night.
Jones, of course has just come back from injury, and had played his part in the Revs recent run of three straight wins – and Jay Heaps’ technical team were understandably frustrated to lose him to international duty just as his team had begun to build momentum after their annual early summer collapse.
That collapse had partly coincided with Jones’ absence through injury, so Heaps could have been forgiven for being worried how even a temporary absence might derail his side again – but as it turned out his side was facing the ideal opponents.
Because Orlando, too, are counting the cost of enforced absences, and were playing without their chief goal threats Kaka and Cyle Larin, both on international duty – as well as Darwin Ceren. With injuries affecting Adrian Heath’s team too, it was a badly depleted Orlando team attempting to stop an almost full strength and fully confident New England side. Keeper Tally Hall kept the Revs at bay until almost half time, but after Diego Fagundez opened the scoring, Orlando never looked like having the cutting edge to fight back, while Hall was kept busy throughout the game, until two late goals by Agudelo and Chris Tierney glossed the scoreline.
Afterwards Heath acknowledged that “I have to tip my hat off to them. They are what we want to be in the future” as he extolled the virtues of what Heaps has done in New England by building a young team, who are clearly well-drilled and well aware of their responsibilities across the field. That they are also inspired and driven by Jones at his best is also true, and the popular theory that last year’s team falling into place with his acquisition is true so far as it goes.
But it doesn’t tell the whole story of what Heaps has done, and Saturday night was a reminder that the Revs, with or without Jones, will be a danger again this Fall. Orlando may have to wait until spring to continue their quest to emulate them – this loss surely cut them too far adrift to catch anyone above the red line, bar a collapse from Toronto or Montreal. GP
Despite defeat to Philly, the San Jose Earthquakes still control their play-off fate
Pretty much everything was unexpected about the Philadelphia Union’s comeback win over the San Jose Earthquakes. For starters, Dominic Kinnear’s side had gone 357 minutes before conceding to a team that had drawn a blank in two of their last four matches. Conor Casey’s equalising goal was only his second of the season too (quickly followed by his third), laid on by Ray Gaddis’ first assist of 2015. The Quakes have been MLS’s surprise package over the past month, but even for them, this was a shock.
A few weeks ago defeat to the Philadelphia Union - one of the league’s most insipid teams over the balance of the whole season - would have been catastrophic. In fact, the loss to Houston last month looked to have effectively ended San Jose’s chances of making the play-offs, only for four straight wins to drag them back into contention. And so while this was undoubtedly a bad result, it certainly wasn’t a disastrous one.
“We let ourselves down tonight,” goalkeeper David Bingham was quick to admit after the defeat, but the Quakes should be wary of hauling their collective mentality down to where it was just a few weeks ago. It’s not so long since Kinnear’s side found themselves on a downward spiral, losing four consecutive games in July. Surprisingly for a team coached by the Scot, San Jose have a soft underbelly - mindset, too. If there is to be a lasting impact from Saturday’s loss to the Philadelphia Union, that’s where it could be felt.
Two points short of the Portland Timbers in sixth place in the Western Conference, and with seven fixtures left to play of the regular season the Earthquakes certainly still have time to edge their way into the play-offs. What’s more, five of those seven remaining games will be played at the Avaya Stadium - where Kinnear’s side have pulled off some of their best results this season. San Jose still control their own fate.
That should perhaps be Kinnear’s first point when analysing Saturday’s game tape with his players: don’t be too hard on yourself. Maybe he should have mentioned it in the dressing room after the game, because the Quakes beat themselves up in the press post-match. “We’ve gotten ourselves in trouble this year,” explained Clarence Goodson. “We’ve beaten some quality opponents and beaten a lot of good teams away, and then we lose to teams like this at home.”
Sure, San Jose’s passing was wildly off against Philadelphia, with their general tempo also some way off the pace, but they should still reflect on how the past month has revived their season. Mental toughness was the hallmark of Kinnear’s best Houston Dynamo teams, now it’s time his new side showed some of that. GR
This article was written by Graham Parker and Graham Ruthven, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th September 2015 10.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010