Montreal better without Drogba; and NYC FC's best Englishman isn't Lampard

MLS: Sporting KC at Montreal Impact

Jack Harrison makes his first Hudson River Derby start and New York City FC beat the Red Bulls for the first time.

NYC FC beat Red Bulls at last

Coincidence? I think not.

That’s facetious, of course. Still, the fact is that NYC FC have struggled for consistent service from the wings since ... well, since forever. And they have gone through several options to find the right player to consistently unleash the threat that is David Villa. Khiry Shelton, Tony Taylor, Ned Grabavoy, Javier Calle, Kwadwo Poku – each have had their moments. But none have been as convincing as the 19-year-old playmaker.

The Manchester United youth product proved that once again on Sunday, scoring the first goal and assisting the second in a 2-0 win over Red Bulls. From an Andrea Pirlo corner, Harrison took a calm touch on a wild bounce 25 yards out, shook off two defenders with a left-footed flick and blasted a first-time effort to beat Luis Robles. He helped double NYC FC’s lead in the 68th, using his speed to work his way into the Red Bulls third before unleashing a confident cross that David Villa hammered home.

For Villa, Harrison’s emergence is the answer to his prayers. “Jack is very good news for NYC FC, not only for now, but for [our] history,” he declared. “He’s a very good guy, a young guy. He’s going to have a very good career because he’s a quality player but he is smart. In one month, he got it. All that Patrick wants from him, he got it and this is very difficult in soccer.”

Villa isn’t the only player appreciative of Harrison’s contributions. Both Frank Lampard and Harrison went through rehab together earlier this year, forming a bond that became public after Harrison took to Twitter to defend his famous team-mate from the cat calls of NYC FC fans.

“He’s given us an edge on that right wing,” Lampard said. “He’s a huge part of the last few performances and he’s got a great future because he’s so young. He’s got a good head on him so he’ll go a long way.”

It’s amazing to think Harrison may have never played for NYC FC in the first place. Despite lacking a proper academy program, NYC FC attempted to claim Harrison through their affiliation with Manhattan Soccer Club prior to the MLS Draft. That was denied. The NASL’s New York Cosmos then came sniffing. Harrison passed on them. Finally, the Chicago Fire drafted Harrison first overall, setting up the eventual trade with NYC FC.

While injury stalled his arrival, Harrison has made up for lost time. Through five matches and four starts, he has already earned two goals and two assists. And if Patrick Vieira is to be believed, the best is yet to come.

“I’m really pleased,” Vieira said after the match. “He’s been playing well but he’s been out four to five months with injury. [But] we know in football that you need another three or four months to get to your best.”

That’s a scary thought. Especially for the Red Bulls. DM

The Montreal Impact are better without Didier Drogba

When the Montreal Impact started the 2016 season with successive wins it was often said that their true strength would only be apparent upon Didier Drogba’s return from injury. As it has turned out, that was entirely true, but not in the way it was intended or implied at the time. Montreal’s true strength is indeed easier to gauge with Drogba back. However, with the Ivorian leading the line the Impact are weaker.

This is now more than just a searing hot take. Drogba might have sparked a late season surge at Montreal last year, involving himself in 11 goals in 11 games as the Impact made a late run into the play-offs, but his impact has been rather last positive this term. As Saturday’s comeback win against the New England Revolution underlined, they are better without their best player who was missing with a leg injury.

With Drogba in the team Montreal are averaging 1.5 goals per game, while they are notching 1.9 goals per game without him. They also average a higher share of possession without Drogba, with their passing accuracy in the final third also dropping with the former Chelsea striker on the pitch. For whatever reason, the Impact are more comfortable when their biggest-name is on the sidelines.

Much of that on Saturday was down to the performance of Michael Salazar, who bagged a brace on his first start for Montreal. With the 23-year-old selected from the start the Impact looked better balanced and despite conceding twice, better defensively. Salazar is the epitome of the modern forward, one that defends from the front and grafts so that others behind him don’t have to so much.

“He knows it’s about understanding your defensive responsibilities and expressing yourself offensively, play simple and get in the box,” head coach Mauro Biello said afterwards. “He scores in practice and I’m glad he was able to score tonight.”

Despite Laurent Ciman’s absence due to the European Championships Montreal look a more settled side with someone other than Drogba leading the line (they have averaged fewer shots on their own goal without the Ivorian as well). That’s not to say that the Impact are necessarily stronger defensively, conceding four times in their last two games, but the sample size is now big enough to conclude that Biello will have a very difficult decision to make when Drogba eventually returns. GR

Cristian Maidana could be the wildcard the Houston Dynamo need

There is no such thing as too much narrative. Many soccer fans no longer live for goals, crunching tackles or shimmering flicks and tricks. They go to matches to soak up a story as much as anything else. So those who turned up to BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday night to see the Houston Dynamo take on the Philadelphia Union must have left rather satisfied.

They were made to wait for it, though, with Cristian Maidana’s winner against his former club coming in the fourth minute of stoppage time to secure a 1-0 victory. It was a significant one too, with the Dynamo picking up their first win since the appointment of Wade Barrett as their new permanent head coach, lifting the struggling Texans off the foot of the Eastern Conference. If Houston were looking for a symbolic moment - a moment of sheer narrative, you could say - this was it.

In isolation it was a moment out of keeping with the identity of the Dynamo under Barrett so far. The former US international has made great progress in tightening things up at the back, restoring some balance to the Texas side and generally making Houston harder to beat (with the exception of the collapse to the Portland Timbers last week). But Maidana’s winner was something very different.

In fact, Maidana as a whole is something different for the Houston Dynamo. He is their wildcard, the one player who gives them an additional dimension. The Philadelphia Union might have traded him in part due to his eccentricity and unpredictability, but that’s what makes him so valuable to Barrett. In a team that is increasingly defined by their organisation and rigidity, Maidana is their difference-maker, and so it proved against the Union on Saturday.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Maidana is necessarily guaranteed a place in the starting lineup. The Argentine was brought off the bench against Philadelphia, making striking the game-winning blow late on. “It was difficult for him to start on the side,” said Barrett afterwards, “but he was one of the biggest impact players on the field tonight.” That’s what he is for Houston - an impact player. That term is often used to deride a player for lacking consistency, but in Maidana’s case it’s very much an appreciation of what he brings. GR

Happy returns at Sporting

The Copa America Centenario is over. And Sporting KC couldn’t be happier.

After featuring on the bench since the tournament’s conclusion, both Graham Zusi and Matt Besler were finally given the opportunity to play for their club side against Columbus Crew– and both men made the most of the opportunity. Zusi started the match and put Kansas City up early. Meanwhile, bench-bound Matt Besler made his first appearance since Copa, finding the extra time winner to beat a dangerous 10-men Columbus 3-2.

“It was an easy decision to bring [Besler] off [the bench],” Sporting boss Peter Vermes said. “The great thing is that they both are big players for our team. They produce and both Matt and Graham both had a major impact on the game. That is what is important. You look at the fight of the team and it was huge. Everybody rallied around each other and got the job done.”

Zusi’s impact was felt almost immediately. Falling behind early in the first half to a Ola Kamara goal, Zusi answered minutes later with a dangerous free kick that rang off the woodwork. Minutes after Tyson Wahl’s red card and Benny Feilhaber’s ensuing game-tying penalty in the second half, Zusi put Sporting ahead. Taking a 35 yard run up the gut of the Columbus midfield, the returning USMNT star launched a left-footed bullet to beat Steve Clark.

In a disappointing season for Columbus, Kamara remains their brightest star – and he was again on Sunday night. A perfect through ball from Tony Tchani sprung the Norwegian striker, setting up a brilliant chip past Tim Melia to tie the game.

Kamara’s marker on that shot was Besler, who had just entered the match. And while that certainly wasn’t the greeting the Kansas native wanted, he made good on his mistakes. Besler broke his five-year goalless drought in a big way, connecting on an Ike Opara header to score in added time and secure three points for Sporting KC.

And wouldn’t you know it? That short-lived Copa America experience played a part in his tenacious goal. “Coming in as a sub is different. There are challenges that go along with it, especially as a central defender it does not happen too often,” Besler said. “Fortunately, I have had some decent experience playing with the national team and having to be available off the bench. Tonight was no different. I had to be ready to play if my number was called.” DM

Don’t sleep on the Fire ...

In Gladiator, Marcus Aurelius sits down with our hero Maximus to quietly discuss the possibilities of a democratic Rome. “You could only whisper it,” the emperor says. “Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish … it was so fragile.”

Many will feel like taking the same approach when they say the Chicago Fire are beginning to climb their way out of Major League Soccer’s cellar. Don’t speak of it. It may soon disappear. But to ignore the team’s recent run of form would be equally foolhardy.

Yes, the Fire are 3-7-5 with an abysmal 14 points through 15 matches. However, two of those three victories have come in their last five matches. In fact, since their 24 May win against the Houston Dynamo, the Fire have won four of their last seven matches in all competitions. And with a win over the Earthquakes, they have also managed their first back-to-back wins this year.

So what has changed in the Windy City? For starters, players are finally healthy, fit and settling into the team. Keep in mind: the Chicago Fire not only added a new coach in Veljko Paunović – they also cut 17 players and added 17 more since last November. Two of those recent additions include May newcomers Khaly Thiam and Michael de Leeuw. One of the more recent departures is disappointing forward, Gilberto – and that was just this week.

It’s said foreigners take time to adjust to MLS, and Dutchman John Goossens is a good example. After appearing in five of the teams first six matches, the former NEC playmaker went seven straight matches as an unused sub. Nevertheless, he has found a place in the Fire’s arsenal the past three matches, earning 30 minutes and an assist against the Philadelphia Union, a key assist against Columbus – and the winning goal against the San Jose Earthquakes this week.

But Goossens is just the most visible contributor in a noticeably inspired Fire side. They held a third-minute lead to take down Houston six weeks ago. A boneheaded Rodrigo Ramos clearance went in the net against Portland the following week.

However, the Fire answered within three minutes to take home a point against the defending MLS champs. David Accam played hero the next match, netting the extra time equalizer en route to a shoot-out victory over Indy Eleven. Were it not for a deflected shot in the dying minutes of their match against the Rapids, they would have finally broken their road winless drought against the best team in MLS. Bad luck and dumb mistakes marred their match against Philadelphia, but that doesn’t take away the fact they were one penalty and an own goal away from beating the then Eastern Conference leading Union. And then, wins against the Crew and Earthquakes bring us to the present day.

While it is still fair game to overlook Chicago, do so with caution: it seems they are finding their form. DM

Powered by article was written by Dave Martinez and Graham Parker, for on Monday 4th July 2016 13.53 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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