Familiarity beckons for LA and Seattle, and Orlando need a new head coach

Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Colombia at USA

We hope that Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes got along during Copa America, because this month they’re about to see a lot more of each other.

Familiarity beckons for western rivals LA and Seattle

Saturday’s match between LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders will launch the first of three fixtures in the span of three weeks and if both players are not best friends by the end of the summer, I’ll officially retire from this weekly preview. (Kidding! I like my job.)

A US Open Cup quarter-final encounter on July 20 is sandwiched in between two league games, and the reality is that Seattle really need to win all of them. The Sounders are second from bottom in the conference and trailing Los Angeles by nine points with a game in hand. A 3-0 victory against West Ham United in a friendly game this past Tuesday gave Sigi Schmid’s team a much-needed boost of confidence. “For the team and our confidence, that’s something we can continue to build upon,” Schmid told reporters in the post-game conference. “When you’re in a rough spell, that’s something that the team needs. Everybody feels a little better about themselves and their head held a little bit higher.”

The Galaxy, meanwhile, came away victorious against Vancouver on Monday night and they now sit in fourth place in the West, eight points behind the leaders, Dallas. LA, however have two games in hand. One of the biggest takeaways from the game against the Whitecaps was Steven Gerrard’s performance in his “new” role as an attacking midfielder, playing just behind Robbie Keane. He collected two assists, making it seven for the season in addition to two goals. The truth is there is really nothing new with this decision for him to push up the field as Gerrard’s best moments during his time with Liverpool came when he was in an offensive mindset. “I told (Bruce Arena) him, play me closer to Robbie Keane and the attacking players and I’ll make plays on the final third, simple, I’ve done it all my career,” Gerrard said to the team’s website after the game. “I can’t make plays from the edge of my box, so play me closer to the opposition goal, and I’ll try and get goals and try and create goals.”

On Saturday afternoon, we will find out how the 36-year-old performs against a team who is desperately looking to move up the table. LME

Adrian Heath out after eight years with Orlando

Orlando take on Houston on Friday night, and they’ll have to do it without a manager. On Thursday, the Lions fired head coach Adrian Heath, just three days after a 4-0 thumping by FC Dallas and a week after an embarrassing loss to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the US Open Cup. Bobby Murphy and Anthony Pulis will take charge in the interim.

“Adrian has served this club with passion and enthusiasm,” Orlando City president Phil Rawlins said in a statement announcing Heath’s departure. “While our successes together are undoubtable, we believe the renewed energy this change will bring will be uplifting for the team. We feel that the time has come for us to move on with our future in MLS. We continue to remain very excited about the growth of our club.” Owner Flavio Augusto da Silva said: “This is a very difficult moment, but I fully support the decision made by the board.”

Was it the right decision? Who can say. As my colleague Gideon Nachman pointed out on Thursday, teams from the East have a knack of reaching for the revolver when confronted with a poor set of results, and coaching tenures seem almost laughably short, Jason Kreis being a case in point. Heath had been in Orlando for eight years, but only one and half of those had been spent in MLS. Such is the desire for instant success.

And yet Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski show that firing the coach rarely makes that much of a difference. No doubt Orlando will pick up in the short term: Rawlins mentioned the “renewed energy” that comes from a coaching change, but it’s perhaps better described as regression to the mean, where performances improve to their natural level regardless of who’s in charge. It’s unlikely, new manager or not, that Orlando would have gone on losing.

Orlando have been inconsistent this season, but they’re still very much in the playoff mix, having lost just four games from 16. They have goals in them, a star player in Kaka, and a sprinkling of young talent in Cyle Larin, Kevin Molino and Cristian Higuita. Their plight is hardly terminal.

But it’s the easiest thing in the world to fire the coach. Houston, Orlando’s opponents on Friday, did the same on 25 May, parting ways with Owen Coyle. Their results have probably slightly improved, but is Wade Barrett really so much better than Coyle? Sometimes it’s better for club owners to sit tight and hold their nerve, but as Kuper and Szymanski point out: “In a business as public as football, doing nothing is often the hardest thing.” TH

Tim Howard and Vancouver looking for some clean sheets

Tim Howard made his return to MLS this past Tuesday as Colorado came away with a 0-0 result against the Portland Timbers. The 37-year-old’s arrival has been the main topic of conversation in Colorado, despite the fact that other notable players such as Jermaine Jones and Shkëlzen Gashi came back from international duty. Tuesday was the Howard show – and in many ways he didn’t disappoint. A clean sheet was supported by the fact that he seemed to bring some luck to the game: Portland hit the post twice and failed to score. Second-placed Colorado will be looking to take advantage of this encounter against the Whitecaps and aim to take top spot in the West. The Rapids are trailing Dallas by one point but have two games in hand.

Vancouver on the other hand, will be looking to take advantage of a three-game home stretch – four if you include a friendly against Crystal Palace – and strengthen their defensive unit. Having allowed 31 goals so far this year, no side in the league has conceded more than the Canadian franchise – and that’s 20 more goals than Colorado. From an attacking perspective, the Whitecaps will have to rely on their leading scorer Pedro Morales, who has six goals, and Christian Bolaños and Kekuta Manneh, one back on five. Octavio Rivero, last year’s top scorer was traded earlier in the week to Chilean club Colo-Colo.

Vancouver are currently in the last play-off spot in the West and a victory this weekend – coupled with some other results going their way – would see them go up to fourth. LME

A tale of two trajectories

If this fixture could tell us anything, it’s that appearances can be deceiving. On one side you have the New York Red Bulls, fourth in the East and coming off a 2-0 victory against Mexican powerhouse Club America earlier in the week, which included this great goal by Shaun Wright Phillips.

Meanwhile, in the west, you have last year’s champions, the Portland Timbers, sitting in seventh place in the conference after reaching a goalless draw against Colorado on Monday night. The reality, however, is that we’re talking about two extremely different conferences, and both these teams – despite their respective places in the table – have been heading in different directions. The West is a much stronger conference and a play-off spot is much harder to come by.

After losing to their local rivals, NYCFC, for the first time ever last Sunday, the Red Bulls extended their run without a win to three games (four if you include the US Open Cup loss to Philadelphia last month.) July is a busy month for Jesse Marsch’s squad: they play five matches in three weeks and need their entire roster to deliver if they want to get back up the table. Yes, they may be sitting in fourth place but teams such as Toronto and Orlando are only three points behind with two games in hand. A lot can change in the next few weeks. Marsch was thankful for the friendly against Club America as it was a perfect opportunity to see what else he has in his arsenal. “It will bolster some confidence. And I think it also will help guys with sharpness and fitness for the stretch coming up.”

Portland’s point against the Rapids made it six games undefeated, and that was without the presence of certain key players. Their captain, Liam Ridgewell, and playmaker, Diego Valeri, missed the game due to injury but returned to practice on Wednesday and time will tell if they come back for Sunday night’s game. This should be an entertaining fixture, neither team likes to sit and players such as Darlington Nagbe and Mike Grella (who truly deserves a US call-up) are hoping to return to scoring form. LME

Kei Kamara takes on former club as Revs host Columbus

There could be some unfinished business at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. When Kei Kamara left Columbus for New England a couple of months ago, the bad blood seemed to linger. Kamara, last season’s top scorer in MLS, had gotten into an argument over a penalty kick with Federico Higuain. Kamara had scored twice and wanted to seal his hat-trick, but Higuain, the Crew’s designated penalty taker, prevailed. After the match, Kamara laid into his Argentinian team-mate for “selfishness”, but Columbus top brass didn’t seem overly thrilled with Kamara’s behaviour, and a few days later he was off to New England.

Saturday’s game represents the first time Kamara will have faced his former club since his May transfer, and it’s a fine time for the striker show the Revs why they added him to his roster. He went goalless in his first six starts, surprisingly, but got two against Montreal last weekend to sit 14th on the all-time list with 81 MLS goals. Quality will out in the end, I suppose.

But the Revs need a win: they lost 1-0 at home to NYC FC on Wednesday night, thanks to Frank Lampard’s disputed winner, and that’s now three league defeats on the spin. Kamara was lying prone when Lampard bundled home, and Jay Heaps, employing some eccentric mathematical methods, insisted the goal shouldn’t have counted. “Foul, absolutely, 1,000%,” Heaps said. “I just saw it, 1,000%. I’m at a loss. We have to do better. In the end, it’s a foul, but we need to drop off and stay tighter in the box.”

The Crew, just like the Revs, have found the going tough so far this season. What happened to the team that reached the MLS Cup final last season? Despite some good form from Kamara’s namesake Ola, the Norwegian forward who arrived in February, injuries have ravaged a thin squad: Gaston Sauro and Higuain have been missing, and Dilly Duka’s 17 minutes against Sporting KC were his first of the season.

“At striker, we don’t have enough depth,” coach Gregg Berhalter said. “That’s clear. And at center back we’re limited with depth. Those are two positions we can see ourselves strengthening. It’s not to say guys aren’t doing a good job, but we’re one injury away from not having anyone in those positions.”

Expect Columbus to make moves in the window. TH

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Luis Miguel Echegaray and Tim Hill, for theguardian.com on Friday 8th July 2016 14.39 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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