Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Late Pick: RSL-FCD

Calling my shot here a bit late but had to do it. Gonna go with FC Dallas over RSL. It's kind of a no-brainer to think that RSL would be a favorite but FC Dallas have an 8-0-1 record over RSL at home. That and Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave are out on red cards. Blas Perez is also out with suspension but I think FC Dallas will be able to overcome that one.

Anyway, we'll be checking in with you later tonight with more thoughts.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Controversy and more from the weekend

One of the most anticipated matchups of the weekend that just went by was the San Jose-Real Salt Lake tilt. It may not have gone the way RSL wanted but the match did indeed live up to the billing - two red cards, four goals, including a stoppage-time winner, and drama throughout was what this game produced.

Unfortunately, it also produced some controversy which I don't quite understand.

Nobody is ever happy with a red card. Players will usually protest no matter what, even if the call seems obvious to anyone watching the game. Still, both of these red cards were textbook calls.

Fabian Espindola went in with a cleats-up two-footed tackle on Sam Cronin. That's pretty blatant. He didn't even seem to protest it too much. The second call was even more apparent and blatant yet that's the one that drew the ire of RSL and other observers.

On the play, Steven Lenhart got loose on a breakaway. Jamison Olave tried to catch up but knocked Lenhart over as the 'Quakes forward got close to the penalty area. Whistle blew, free kick given, red card flashed. It's a fairly straightforward call; Olave denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

Replays... gotta love replays. On replays, Lenhart is reaching behind and grabs Olave's shorts. Perhaps this is where the controversy was ignited.

Well, here's probably the view the match official had:

How is he supposed to see Lenhart grabbing anything? He's not, so why be upset with the call? Not only was the referee or anybody else on the field save for Nick Rimando going to see that, but it was not the cause of the fall. Lenhart was going down regardless of what he did with his hand. Olave was beaten on the play, over-compensate for it and knocked Lenhart down in the process. That Lenhart grabbed anything was inconsequential.

More Controversy

Another call that drew some attention was the penalty kick awarded to Colorado late in their game against the LA Galaxy. Replays showed that there appeared to be minimal contact on the play, certainly not enough to cause Andre Akpan to fall. It looked like Akpan lunged for the ball with his foot and that's what caused him to fall, not contact from any Galaxy player.

Perhaps the situation could have been avoided if the referee would have waited a second or two to blow the whistle. Akpan got up off the ground and started to run back to get in position. No protest, no negative reaction, no nothing, just a failed chance and time to re-position.

A lot of times players make calls by their body language or reactions.

However, one thing that I did not like from that was the Galaxy players' reactions. I understand the nature of the play and how it could have cost the Galaxy the victory but that was absurd. It looked as if almost every Galaxy player took their turn at getting into the referee's face and yelling at him. That's poor sportsmanship and frankly unprofessional. Say what you will about the call or the officiating, but I expect more from players.

Team of the Week

Every week I'm supposed to submit my picks for MLS Team of the Week. It's really difficult to do so because I can't watch every game, and often times players who have strong performances don't score goals or get assists. So going off the score sheet doesn't exactly equate to making the Team of the Week. However, if a player scores the game-winning goal, that's a bit of a stronger case for inclusion.

Having given that brief disclaimer on part of what I go through in selecting this, here's what I submitted after the weekend's games:

G: Josh Saunders, LA Galaxy
D: Steven Beitashour, San Jose
D: Eric Brunner, Portland
D: Aurelien Collin, Sporting KC
D: Gonzalo Segares, Chicago
M: Khari Stephenson, San Jose
M: Lovel Palmer, Portland
M: Eddie Gaven, Columbus
M: Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy
F: Chris Pontius, DC United
F: Reggie Lambe, Toronto FC

Week Seven Rankings

So Sporting KC won't go undefeated after all. Bummer. A 34-0-0 team would have been impressive. Okay, maybe that's impossible but Sporting KC nonetheless appeared headed towards another win before Saturday's game at Portland and came away empty-handed for the first time in 2012.

That was not enough to knock them off their perch. After all, they are still the best team in the league and did come away with three points from their quick swing through Cascadia.

Here's how I see the MLS teams through seven weeks of the season:
1. Sporting KC: So they're human after all, even if they dealt themselves the lethal blow.
2. San Jose: Red cards helped in win over RSL but San Jose are in top form.
3. Seattle: A week off to recharge and rediscover their attack
4. Real Salt Lake: Espindola put them in a huge hole
5. Chicago: Yeah, it was against lowly Toronto but that was an encouraging road showing
6. Houston: Ching-Bruin combination deadly once more; this is a developing force
7. New York: Terrible showing; was Marquez absence that damaging?
8. LA Galaxy: Saunders PK save helps Galaxy continue on road to recovery
9. DC United: Attack is silent one match, deadly the next
10. Vancouver: Recovered well from midweek loss to have post another clean sheet
11. Colorado: Nearly got a gift draw; still, this team's got some issues that need resolving
12. FC Dallas: Hartman's absence wasn't reason enough for loss; where was the attack?
13. Chivas USA: Is this 1-0 home loss trend someone's idea of a bad joke?
14. New England: Huge test coming up at Red Bull Arena
15. Portland: So the Timbers can hold on to leads
16. Philadelphia: Not a bad result at HDC at all; boring team but it might work
17. Columbus: Offense wakes up just in time to see the defense suffer
18. Montreal: A road point! Hey, anything on the road for them deserves an exclamation mark
19. Toronto FC: As bad as season has gone, firing Winter will only make it worse

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Week Seven Picks

My picks for this weekend's games! I cant say I have the most confidence in them but here you go....

Toronto FC vs Chicago

Can anything go right for Toronto? So far, in league play nothing has gone right. The team was ineffective against Chivas USA at home a week ago, but you figure that something will go in their favor at some point soon, right? Chicago meanwhile got Chris Rolfe back and the one-time Fire standout will have the chance to add punch to the Fire attack once more. He could take the field in this one. Chicago are a better team than Toronto but luck has to smile at some point on Toronto. Look for a draw.

Columbus vs Houston

If Columbus aren't the most boring team in MLS, than they definitely are in the top two. The Crew look lost offensively and while they have the standout that is Chad Marshall anchoring the back, his supporting cast isn't quite as effective. Houston meanwhile could exploit those problems, but the Dynamo have their own issues to solve. Can they be more consistent and dangerous going forward? Do they even want to do that? Houston have three goals in four games yet have seven points to their credit. Set pieces could be key for both teams, though. Look for set-piece goals to cancel each other out as Columbus and Houston draw.

Colorado vs LA Galaxy

The Galaxy did not flip a switch in beating Portland a week ago. They didn't. Sure, they won but it took a late goal to do so; David Beckham's late tally was icing on the cake but the result was most definitely not a convincing one. Still, this team is slowly starting to believe in itself once more and if David Junior Lopes can continue playing in strong form then the Rapids will be in trouble. Still, this match is at home and Colorado were rather unfortunate to leave Seattle with zero points. Colorado have the talent and ability to compete for a top spot but the team will need time for that to happen. This one ends in a draw.

Vancouver vs FC Dallas

Good news - Vancouver scored on Sporting KC! Bad news - that goal matter not as KC routed the 'Caps by 3-1. Still, that result can be dismissed since it was against the high-flying top team in MLS. Vancouver's progress will be measured against teams that they can compete with, such as FC Dallas, who have been up and down this season. FC Dallas enter on an upswing after having scored a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Montreal on the weekend. But their inconsistency will hurt them as they'll go on a downturn in this one. Vancouver takes full points.

Chivas USA vs Philadelphia

Chivas USA are one of the least-respected clubs in MLS. Granted, they've not shown much of anything over the last two years to warrant respect but this team, this squad assembled by Robin Fraser can and will contend. Oswaldo Minda has been a monster while Juan Pablo Angel could return and would give Chivas USA the consistent scoring threat the team needs in order to truly make a run at the playoffs. Philadelphia meanwhile will come in and hope to keep the game ugly and walk away with at least a point. Chivas USA won't yield much to the Union's punchless attack though. Look for Chivas USA to win.

Portland vs Sporting KC

The bottom hasn't fallen out on Portland but it will here pretty soon. This is a team that has scored the first goal in games against Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and the Galaxy and have exactly zero points to show for that. Opponents have the confidence that they can and will find the back of the net no matter the situation. Sporting KC likely won't need a late tally in this matchup. One possible danger spot for the visitors though is the wide play of Khalif Alhassan/Eric Alexander/Franck Songo'o. Sporting KC likes to make it difficult in the middle but if Portland can get their wide game going, they could put the high-flyers from Kansas on the defensive. But they won't. Sporting KC win this.

San Jose vs Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake were expected to contend for the conference title but San Jose were not, yet both sides are up there and look poised to remain there throughout the season. San Jose looked very comfortable in breaking down New York's defense and showed considerable poise in coming back (twice) against the Red Bulls. RSL meanwhile have proven to be vulnerable. While RSL have the weapons to take down any team in MLS, San Jose will win this one.

DC United vs New York

DC did not win on Wednesday against Montreal which means they have a good chance of winning this match. DC have not won consecutive matches in some two years but since they enter the match with a draw, a win is possible. New York though do not care about statistics or trends or anything. Thierry Henry is on fine form and so is Kenny Cooper. While the defense could use some fine-tuning, this team is strong and could break it open at anytime. Look for the Red Bulls to take three points in this one.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Midweek Picks: Can KC Remain Perfect?

Midweek action means more games to pick. Here's what I got for Wednesday night's games.

DC United vs Montreal

Poor Montreal. The expansion Impact have had some success on the road, having had leads in their games at New York and FC Dallas. But leads of 2-1 and 1-0 in amounted to losses, by 5-2 and 2-1. Their success has yet to yield any points and in fact raises doubts over their abilities to pull out results. Montreal is going to struggle all season long, as most expansion teams have done since RSL and Chivas joined the league in 2005. Those struggles will continue at RFK Stadium. DC United has done well to generate more of an attack. If Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos can continue putting balls in the back of the net, this DC team will be heard before the year is out. DC wins comfortably.

Vancouver vs Sporting KC

At some points, Sporting KC will have to drop some points, right? My concern for this game is that. On the field, Sporting KC should win. They're playing excellent soccer, having given up hardly anything. Teams barely can get shots off against them. The Galaxy had zero shots on goal while RSL had a shot in the 88th minute or so, as KC beat each Western rival by 1-0. Now on the road, can KC continue their defensive dominance? Vancouver have the weapons to do so, with Eric Hassli and Sebastien Le Toux up top. I'm tempted to say that KC will put up their stone wall once more and come away with three points but I'm also unsure whether any team can start off with seven consecutive wins. I think KC will be their usual dominant defensive self but will come away with a hard-fought draw, possibly a nil-nil affair.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Diving Away

Diving is a blemish on the game, plain and simple. It's a difficult issue though because so many players dive yet those same players would say that there's no part of diving in the game.

The bad thing is, diving works. Players dive and continue to dive because it helps them get calls.

Now, this isn't something new of course. As this video points out, diving has been going on for quite some time now. It's not an epidemic that began recently, which only makes diving more troublesome and more difficult to stamp out.

This video clip is a great bit of commentary and analysis. It's about 15 minutes long but well worth it.

Gary Neville gives his thoughts on diving and is pretty much spot on.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Week Six Rankings

My power rankings for the week. No-brainers for the first and last spots, everything else around the league is up for grabs.

1. Sporting KC. Six of six. Unstoppable. Have to be considered favorites to run away with Supporters' Shield.
2. San Jose. Responded to New York, twice. Salinas injury could be tough to overcome.
3. Real Salt Lake. Can't fault them for getting run over by Sporting KC.
4. Seattle. Finally scored. Sounders can go on woeful scoring droughts, strange considering their talent.
5. New York. Marquez.... what. was. that?
6. Chicago. We love the Chris Rolfe signing.
7. Houston. If Will Bruin can consistently find the back of the net, Houston will be tough to take down.
8. FC Dallas. They like to save it late, don't they?
9. Chivas USA. Nine points out of nine on the road - no fluke here.
10. Colorado. Survived Mullan's first trip to Seattle; no points but no brawl either.
11. LA Galaxy. A win, yes, but there were still holes in Galaxy's performance.
12. DC United. Maicon Santos is flourishing alongside Dwayne De Rosario.
13. Vancouver. Massive tests as Sporting KC and FC Dallas visit this week.
14. New England. Makings are there for decent side but can't give up late goals.
15. Philadelphia. Is it possible to not feel good after a win?
16. Columbus. Talk about punchless.
17. Portland. Is it time to question whether John Spencer is the right man for the job?
18. Montreal. Couldn't hold on to a road lead with handlebars.
19. Toronto FC. Abysmal. Rock bottom continues to be deeper than we all thought.

Video Review, On Your Side

There's been much debate over the MLS Disciplinary Committee's usage of video to go back and slap players with fines and suspensions.

Now, it's possible that many of these same critics will not only praise this system but will be glad it's in place.

Rafael Marquez got away with a horrible act of violence in New York's 2-2 draw with San Jose on Saturday. Marquez... well, look for yourself.

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

It's pretty bad. He wraps up Salinas, drags him down and for good measure kicks him in the head. Salinas broke his clavicle on the play and a key figure from San Jose's impressive early start is now gone.

Marquez deserves a lengthy ban. As if the Committee needs any reminding, Marquez began the season by serving a two-match ban for shenanigans he created after the Galaxy and Red Bulls played the first leg of their playoff series last year. I think a 3-5 match will be given, and I think five would be fair.

Anyway, without this recent rash of retroactive suspensions, not sure what sort of action would have been taken. I do believe this would have gone punished in some form or another but because the Discipline Committee is now quick to slap suspensions on players, this one should be pretty simple and straightforward.

And hopefully the criticisms over the use of the Discipline Committee and their suspensions will be quelled.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Galaxy-Portland Notes

Some leftover things from Galaxy training and more thoughts on the Galaxy-Timbers match.

Davey’s Arrival

David Junior Lopes joined the club earlier in the week to help try and solve the Galaxy’s defensive woes. The deal is a stop-gap measure. That much seemed apparent when it went down – after all, if any MLS team is relying on another team’s fourth-choice center back as a player who will step in and make a difference, then that team’s in trouble.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena also pulled the trigger on the deal because of Leonardo’s prognosis. Originally, the young Brazilian was supposed to have been back by this time of the season but instead it’s not happened. Leonardo only returned to training this week – he’d been out at practices but had not participated in much with his teammates.

“We’re a little behind with Leonardo coming back. Our plan was that he was going to be ready in March and he’s going to need a little more time,” Arena said. “He just started training. He’s trained this week with the team, which is the first time and that’s good. He’s close to being in the full swing of things but he’s going to need more time. He really suffered a devastating injury.”

The Galaxy aren’t pinning any real hopes on Lopes, at least, not any hopes beyond the near future. Down the road, whether it’s this season, next or beyond, the Galaxy have some high hopes on Leonardo.

“There was a lot there and his initial rehab in Brazil didn’t go as well as expected. He had to have another surgery here in November for some scar tissue. He’s been behind a little bit. In the case of Leo, he’s 22 and he’s a player that if he gets back to where he was we’ve got a good young center back in the league. We have him under contract.”

As for Lopes…

“Sometimes you’ve got to do things for the long term,” Arena said. “I think Lopes is a solution for the short term.”

Match Importance

How big is this match for the LA Galaxy?

Days before the Sporting KC match, I asked Bruce Arena and Todd Dunivant about whether that match was a must-win or not. They both said no, although Dunivant conceded that there was some urgency in it.

On Thursday, Arena, Landon Donovan and David Beckham all brought up the need to win, to beat Portland. This match is definitely a must-win.

“This is a game we need to win,” Donovan said. “We’re home against a team that’s now around us at the bottom of the table and this is a game we need to win, period.”

Arena was asked if it was time to hit the panic button.

“It’s like the president who’s got the black bag close, if you’ve got to send off the missiles and stuff, we’ve got it ready in case we have to do it too. It’s time for us to start winning, no question about it. Is it the panic button? No, but we’ve got to win games,” Arena said.

Certainly this match presents a strong opportunity to pick up three points. Portland have plenty of issues of their own, having blown two leads at in their last two home games. With four points thus far this season, the Timbers are suffering through their own confidence issues.

But Portland won’t be a walkover win either.

“They’ve not changed a ton in the offseason,” Donovan said when asked what he knew about Portland. “I know they brought in [Kris] Boyd who gives them a bit of a different look up front. John Spencer I think is a great coach and he’s always got them motivated and ready to go. At the end of last year they put a good licking on us up in Portland. We know they’re a team that will come in here thinking they can get something out of the game.”

Flank Play

If Portland are to compete in the match and have a chance to win, the Timbers will have to dominate the flanks. And with the way the Galaxy’s season has gone, that may not be too tough a challenge.

Khalif Alhassan and Franck Songo’o have the pace to get behind the Galaxy’s defense and have the skill to do something once they find themselves in space. If the speedy duo can get service in to Kris Boyd, the Timbers will have their chances.

Throw Darlington Nagbe into the mix and the Galaxy’s defense will have their hands full.

“Alhassan was a pleasant surprise to them last year and I think he’s continued to play well this year. Songo’o we don’t know a ton about yet but I think Darlington Nagbe is a really good player and when you combine those three athletic and unpredictable players with a guy who is predictable in front of goal in Boyd it makes them difficult. They’re a dangerous team. There’s a number of teams in this league who have dangerous attacks and this is one of them so we’ve got to make sure we’re ready.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Week Six Picks

Another weekend of games is upon us. This time around, there are two rather intriguing matchups pitting the top teams in each conference against each other and the second-place teams in each conference against each other as well.

I opted to take one home side and one away side in those games.

The rest of the games... well I had to provide some thoughts and picks as well on those.

Philadelphia vs Columbus

Philadelphia have been pretty terrible this season. The Union have had problems scoring goals, having put just two goals in four games and there's not much hope for a scoring outburst in sight. Luckily Columbus is no offensive power either. This match could feature no goals, certainly no more than one goal per side. Well, if any side scores more than one it could be Columbus given Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath's struggles. But more than likely this one finishes in a draw.

New England vs DC United

Shalrie Joseph is out for New England and that could be a big blow for the hosts. Joseph has, as per usual, been a key figure of this Revolution side. Without Joseph - and the club will also be down Benny Feilhaber - the midfield is lacking a leader and linchpin. But so far, New England's midfield has done well collectively. DC United meanwhile have been decent the last three outings with two scoreless draws and a rout over FC Dallas in that span. This one should be a defensive struggle and will wind up a draw.

Seattle vs Colorado

Finally, Brian Mullan will visit Seattle. This one will not turn out pretty at all. No matter how much he has apologized and no matter how much Seattle coaches and management plead against it, there will be massive hate hurled Mullan's way, and for good measure, after the unpardonable tackle he laid out on Steve Zakuani last year. How much of an affect this has on the game remains to be seen but I doubt the Sounders let their fans down in this one. Seattle wins.

Toronto FC vs Chivas USA

Opposites will collide in Ontario when a surging team visits a sinking one. Toronto FC have been downright terrible this season so far, at least in league play. No wins through four games is not really shocking considering it's Toronto FC who is struggling but there is no excuse for such a poor start. Torsten Frings is now seemingly recovered enough to perhaps play a role in this match but whether that is desperation or whether Frings has actually gotten over his injury remains to be seen. Chivas USA meanwhile have won both of their road outings and don't give up much defensively. Chivas will kick the dog while it's down. Look for Chivas to win.

New York vs San Jose

On any other weekend, this would indeed be the game of the week. You've got three of the top goal scorers this season in Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper and Chris Wondolowski. You've got a high-profile team against one that's not quite as much, which would make for a good contrast in the lead-up. And, oh yeah, these teams are pretty good. But another game steals the spotlight this week. Still, the Red Bulls have plenty to gun for with or without the attention, and while San Jose has been tough, getting a win from Red Bull Arena against the red-hot Red Bulls is too tall a task, especially without Steven Lenhart or Alan Gordon. New York wins.

FC Dallas vs Montreal

FC Dallas have been all over the place this year. They've beaten the Red Bulls and New England but were done in by Sporting KC and blown out by DC United. Playing against an expansion team still trying to find their own way will be a boost, even if Montreal are coming off a strong win of their own. Ricardo Villar is out and just another walking wounded but FC Dallas have enough to get past Montreal. FC Dallas grab all three points.

Sporting KC vs Real Salt Lake

A preview of MLS Cup? Perhaps but even if these teams fizzle out by the end of the year, right now these are the two best teams in MLS bar none. Sporting KC have been playing strong defensively, and even though their attacking prowess gets the publicity it's the defense that has been the key to their success. KC have allowed just one goal in five games and did not face a shot on goal from the Galaxy last week. RSL though are battle-tested and have played big games before. RSL also have shown the ability to claw back into games when all hope is lost (their win at Portland a few weeks back shows that). Sporting KC have yet to taste defeat but they will in this one. Real Salt Lake will win.

LA Galaxy vs Portland

The two most disappointing teams in the league face off against one another. If this game were played in a video game it would be great. Players would play to their ratings which would make for an entertaining match. Instead players are not stripped of their confidence, and that confidence - or lack thereof - has brought down both clubs this season. Certainly each team is good enough on paper to have gotten more points this season. Portland though seem to be in a more difficult situation. They are on the road where they've struggled ever since they joined MLS and they are facing a talented team bent on turning things around. Look for the Galaxy to win.

Chicago vs Houston

It's hard to believe that the last time Houston played a match was on March 23. But that's what the situation is as Houston finally return to action. Chicago have not been too much better off in the anti-rust department as the Fire have only played three games as have Houston. Rust may be a factor but Cory Gibbs' injury may not be. Even though Gibbs is out for several months, Arne Friedrich should slide right into central defense. The former German international should help a defense that was already solid and should provide a strong presence in the back. Houston will test the new-look Fire backline but the Fire will be up for the challenge. Chicago will win this match.

Galaxy Thoughts

Random thoughts as I head out to LA Galaxy training today

* If David Junior Lopes works out, he could really give the Galaxy some flexibility. Part of the problem for the Galaxy is that certain players have to play in certain positions. Last year, Sean Franklin was able to play in the midfield sometimes while AJ De La Garza could play in middle, out wide or take a breather for a game or two. That is a luxury thus far this year as there is nobody to entrust right back to aside from Franklin... and he's not doing that hot either back there. Lopes in the middle could free up Franklin to move to the midfield as a potential Lopes-Meyer or Lopes-Leonardo pairing may do well there.

* Yes, I'm trying to see the optimistic person's point-of-view from the Lopes-Cardozo trade. Not really feeling it though. My guess is they ease him in this weekend but that they will want him to push for a starting spot by next weekend, the April 21 game at Colorado. Bruce Arena told me last year "When you bring in a player you expect him to produce right away."

* Edson Buddle has been "just okay" according to Bruce Arena. This is a far cry from the amazing things many felt Buddle and Robbie Keane would be able to accomplish together. It's fallen off pretty badly that by the fifth game of the season many are clamoring for Chad Barrett to start. I'm in that camp, not because I think Barrett is better than Buddle but because there needs to be shakeup and since Buddle isn't scoring or playing well, start there.

* If you do bench Buddle though does that send an even greater blow to his confidence? And does it disrupt whatever rhythm he has going on? He's not the kind of player to bring in off the bench and expect much from. He's just not. He's better from the start. My guess is that Arena sticks with Buddle this weekend, and if he cannot score against a susceptible defense, then maybe he sits in Colorado.

* If I'm looking at players who have underperformed, I'm also looking Juninho's way.

* And Franklin.

* And De La Garza.

* And.... um, we could go on and on.

* It's not time to start panicking yet as there are still quite a bit of points to contest but the Galaxy needs to start winning games. The team has always said they hold themselves to a higher standard, so playing well but not winning (which they have yet to do this year) or playing with an improved effort from last game but not winning is not good enough. Wins and points are necessary. Good performances with one or zero points are useless.

* One thing I've been kicking around... did last year's team have so much success and cast such a giant shadow that these players are performing poorly because they are trying to match that success? Yes, Omar Gonzalez's absence is a huge one but the team's lack of confidence is what's been so troubling. This team wilts under the pressure, time and again. Teams have killed them from the flanks and torn apart their defense and the shoulders sag right after - heck, they are sagging before that happens. Something's definintely amiss in the confidence department.

East vs West; First Look

The Western Conference is the best-est conference.

Yup, that's what I had proclaimed before the start of the season. And I wasn't alone. I mean, the West had the Galaxy, Seattle, Real Salt Lake as three teams who could have finished 1-2-3 in the Supporters Shield with a balanced schedule. Then FC Dallas and Colorado were solid, Portland was improved, San Jose and Vancouver too and then there's Chivas USA.

The Eastern Conference meanwhile had Sporting KC and Houston who were decent and the rest of the conference was wretched.

Maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration on some parts, but not much.

So heading into the sixth weekend of games this season, how has the East and the West fared against one another?

There have been 26 interconference matchups thus far. Western teams have won 14 of these, Eastern teams have taken nine while there have been three draws.

What does this mean? Not a whole lot right now. Like any stat, it can be skewed one way or another. For instance, how many of those games were at the west team vs. the east team, how many of the matchups favored one conference (Sporting KC is 3-0 vs west teams) or the other (Toronto FC and Montreal have combined for four losses vs west teams).

It's all still very early but I will say one thing. It's not a surprise that Western teams have more wins than their Eastern counterparts, even if it is early.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

League Got Joseph Ban Right

Shalrie Joseph was the latest victim of the MLS Disciplinary Committee. On Tuesday he was slapped with a one-match ban for an incident during Thursday's 1-0 loss to FC Dallas. On the play, Joseph went into a tackle from behind, toppled Ricardo Villar and was booked for doing so.

Not good enough, the committee decided and in essence decided that the play was worthy of a red card. Had he gotten a red card originally of course this probably would not have happened. But he didn't and now we're debating the merits of this suspension. At least, there seems to be quite a bit of debate out there.

I can't say I disagree with the findings, though. For several reasons.

For starters, that was a harsh tackle. It was from behind, reckless and the kind that can cause serious damage. Last season, some similarly awful challenges cost Steve Zakuani and Javier Morales quite a bit of pain and grief. The league is rightly trying to do something about it, and if players continue to committ such foolish challenges they will be punished, whether it's on the field or in instances such as these that Joseph finds himself.

Now, it may seem as if this undermines the officiating and that it shows some sort of disrespect to the officials. Effectively, the committee is saying that the call was not good enough, that it was flat wrong, and then they went ahead and corrected it. Well, what I would say to that is this - since when has the media, fans and players shown any sort of collective support or respect of the officials? Watch any MLS game and at one point or another you will see players swarming around the official after a call, protesting a call, demanding the call be changed, barking at, yelling at, all but hitting the official. Fans in the stands or on various social media outlets will voice their displeasure of the officiating and stories are written about how certain calls affected matches. All of that undermines the officials and goes on consistently, and yet now it's an issue?

If anything, this sends a message to the officials that there needs to be stiffer penalties during games so that this does not have to happen again. It's a way of helping the match officials, not hurting them or undermining them. The league wants certain things punished more, wants to eradicate certain things from games and one way of correcting and eliminating these behaviors is by actively helping the match officials stamp it out in games. In other words, this Joseph decision isn't just a one-off thing. It's not that this tackle was bad and it should be punished; it's that this tackle was bad and these kinds of tackles are unwanted in MLS matches and players need to know that in one form or another.

Also, Villar is out for at least one match with a mid-foot sprain. According to reports, Villar's injury is a week-by-week injury but if nothing else it's a setback since Villar had scored twice and was becoming an important player for FC Dallas.

Now, here's the play in question from various angles:

That's a harsh tackle. It should have been a red card, plain and simple.

And next time, it will be.

Chivas Slowly Turning Heads

Admit it. You thought Chivas USA were crap. That's okay, you were probably in good company.

Chivas USA were given about as much hope of making the playoffs as a mule would be in winning the Kentucky Derby, but this red-and-white mule could turn out to be a thoroughbred, one few saw coming.

Chivas USA is not having a tremendous season quite yet. They are 0-3 at home, having lost all three home games by the same hard-luck 1-0 score. But where they've found success and where they have started turning some heads is on the road. A 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake was shocking and to prove that was no fluke the club came from behind to beat Portland 2-1 on the weekend.

Bad teams don't get those kinds of road results, not a clean sheet against a team that rarely loses at home and a comeback win over another side who was supposed to be better than Chivas.

Now, I'm not hailing Chivas as the second-coming of Barcelona. Don't get me wrong, this team has some issues that need to be worked out. The attack needs to be much more dangerous and the team must see games through particularly at home. All three goals they've yielded at home have come in the second half.

But the hope is there. It's there within the team and now those outside the team can see things coming to fruition.

I dedicated my Wednesday PE column to Chivas USA but for some reason it's not linked online. I'll share with you some of what Fraser told me:

On earning respect and if he feels the road results have helped the club gain some respect: Earning respect is an ongoing process. Perhaps we had a little respect from Salt Lake, perhaps we got a little more respect from Portland but at the end of the day earning respect is a never-ending process.

On how feels the process has been and is going: It’s understood that turning this franchise around was going to take time and we feel we are taking steps towards that. It’s a long process. In some instances you get quite fortunate and it’s a quick process but for the most part it’s a long, hard process and there’s no easy route to being good.

On how comfortable he feels in his position now compared to last year: I’ve felt pretty comfortable last year knowing what we were trying to do and what we were trying to accomplish. This year there is a different feeling, a feeling more of expectations. We’ve been here a year long, brought in a few players and have high expectations for ourselves.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lopes Deal Smacks Of Desperation

Is this what desperation looks like?

The LA Galaxy traded a promising young talent in Paolo Cardozo for a guy who is a big physical specimen in David Junior Lopes.

Cardozo may not have had much on-the-field success with the Galaxy but the youngster has a decent upside. He could flourish for Chivas quickly as Robin Fraser likely won't have the type of clamps on him that Galaxy coach Bruce Arena did.

In Lopes though the Galaxy get a guy who has a good center back body but is a liability. He played just eight games with Chivas last year but made no great impact. He did not play in any games this season as Chivas opted for a starting duo of Rauwshan McKenzie and Heath Pearce in central defense. Newcomer John Valencia, who was supposed to come in and contend for a starting center back spot, has yet to make his league debut because the McKenzie-Pearce pairing has been solid. This made Lopes expendable.

Arena also hopes that Lopes can help stop the bleeding in the back. The Galaxy have played six games and have allowed 12 goals. Tommy Meyer and Andrew Boyens have each started three and neither has been strong enough to snatch that starting spot for good. The next option in central defense was Sean Franklin - at least until Leonardo is healthy - unless Arena was willing to put Bryan Gaul in there, and Gaul has only played center back since the start of training camp.

This lack of presence in the middle of course prompted the move. Had either Boyens or Meyer found true success in the backline, this trade probably would not have happened. Instead, Boyens/Meyer have not been good enough to keep opponents from scoring consistently.

Thus, the deal. But Lopes won't help the Galaxy defense much, unless Arena is somehow able to tap into Lopes' tremendous physical stature. Until then, the Galaxy defense may be up to its old tricks once more.

Monday, April 9, 2012

How Slow A Start Is This?

The Galaxy are off to a terrible start to the 2012 season. No matter how you spin it, this team is underperforming, at least based on the expectations that were placed on them heading into the season. The three losses speak for themselves.

Is it time to panic? Do Galaxy fans need to start riots and turning cars over in anger? Or do they need to step off the ledge, take a deep breath and relax?

That last part is up for debate of course, but one thing to consider is just how starts to other seasons have gone. Technically this is not the worst start to a Galaxy season, but you have to put an asterisk (and I did) next to seasons with shootouts because that skews the wins and losses and points. Since MLS did away with shootouts in the 2000 season then, the Galaxy have had no fewer than three points after four games. In fact, this is the third time the Galaxy have three points after four games since 2000.

Anyway, here you go so you can compare and draw whatever conclusions you want. I included notable accomplishments (Supporters' Shield, MLS Cup appearance) after each season. I don't consider making the playoffs a notable accomplishment since in 2003 and 2004 for instance eight out of the league's 10 teams made the playoffs. Not impressive.

2012: 3 points, 1-3-0 (LWLL); 5 gf, 8 ga

2011: 7 points, 2-1-1 (WTLW); 4 gf, 5 ga. Won SS, MLS Cup

2010: 12 points, 4-0-0 (WWWW); 7 gf, 1 ga. Won SS

2009: 3 points, 0-1-3 (TLTT); 5 gf, 6 ga. MLS Cup finalists

2008: 4 points, 1-2-1 (LWLT); 6 gf, 9 ga

2007: 4 points, 1-2-1 (TLWL); 6 gf, 6 ga

2006: 4 points, 1-2-1 (LTWL); 3 gf, 4 ga

2005: 9 points, 3-1-0 (LWWW); 8 gf, 5 ga. Won MLS Cup

2004: 8 points, 2-0-2 (WTTW); 7 gf, 4 ga

2003: 3 points, 0-1-3 (TTTL); 3 gf, 4 ga

2002: 8 points, 2-0-2 (WWTT); 6 gf, 4 ga. Won SS, MLS Cup

2001: 6 points, 2-2-0 (LLWW); 7 gf, 7 ga. MLS Cup finalists

2000: 8 points, 2-0-2 (WWTT); 10 gf, 5 ga

*1999: 2 points, 2-2 (WWLL); 5 gf, 5 ga. MLS Cup finalists

*1998: 10 points, 3-1 (WWWW); 11 gf, 7 ga. Won SS

*1997: 3 points, 3-1 (LLLW); 5 gf, 9 ga

*1996: 12 points, 4-0 (WWWW); 9 gf, 4 ga. MLS Cup finalists

Week Five Rankings

Okay, I tried to figure out this week's power rankings. It's not a science and there is no formula, but I tried my best to figure out some sort of formula. No matter how you rank em though, I think it's safe to say that RSL and Sporting KC would top most... well they should top all power rankings out there right now, and the schedule gods have complied with a table-topping matchup at Livestrong Sporting Park as RSL visit Sporting KC on the weekend.

But before we get into those matchups...

1. Sporting KC: A perfect start, 15 out of a possible 15 points. They've earned this perch
2. Real Salt Lake: Gotta hand it to 'em, RSL improved tremendously from Wednesday to Saturday
3. San Jose: Broke through the vaunted Whitecaps backline... ok, Vancouver's record-setting defense
4. Seattle: Burch could've raised the ultimate middle finger, but Seattle's point is well-earned nonetheless
5. New York: Dominant performance on the road against tricky opponent; not bad
6. Houston: Houston... Houston... oh yeah, I remember them. Kinnear's team.. yeah, that's right...
7. Colorado: Say what you will about Espindola's handball but marking on Saborio's goal was nonexistent
8. Chicago: Some teams have played six games already; Chicago is one of two to have played three
9. FC Dallas: Late heroics vs New England, could be massive confidence-booster
10: Chivas USA: This team's not nearly as bad as many thought it would be
11. New England: What a heartbreaking defeat; draw vs Dallas would've been just
12. LA Galaxy. Had em way too low last week (brain fart?) but they're certainly not Top 10 material
13. Columbus: A complete whipping at hands of New York; was that an aberration?
14. Vancouver: So you were saying how this defense was grandiose... 
15. DC United: DC vs Dallas - four goals; DC's other four games - one goal
16. Montreal: Félicitations pour cette victoire historique
17. Portland: Ownership talked about playoffs before season began; how about competing first?
18. Philadelphia: Wonder if the Union found their offense on their off weekend
19. Toronto FC: 45 minutes away from CCL final, an eternity away from MLS Cup playoffs

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Galactic Aftertaste: Thoughts On LA's Loss To KC

Some things to take away from the Galaxy's 1-0 loss to Sporting KC

* Bar Has Been Lowered? The Galaxy did not give up much to Sporting KC. The hosts had maybe a few decent chances to score in the first half, one of which was a goal, and another of which Josh Saunders exquisitely dived and parried away. This seems to be a major step forward for the Galaxy, who had given up seven goals in league play thus far. Does that mean the Galaxy's expectations are lowered? Has the club gotten to the point where efforts like Saturday's are acceptable? Obviously the result is not and never will be acceptable but if players and coaches feel good about how things went on the field aside from the result itself then the club will be in for a long season.

* No Early Goal: Players have lamented their lack of finishing, and it seems that in every game the Galaxy has an early chance that just does not fall. AJ De La Garza told me as much this week about the ealry chances.

"If you look at every game we’ve had a chance to score first, we’ve had the better scoring chances first and we just haven’t capitalized. We kind of fall back and let them get one and we start breaking down. We’ve just got to finish our chances and defend them on the other side."

There's some truth to that. Edson Buddle and Robbie Keane combined for a chance very early in the loss to New England and if Keane buries that one, who knows? While the Galaxy have had a multitude of defensive breakdowns and tactical mistakes, the club ihas also suffered through a loss of confidence. Perhaps an early goal would give the team a shot of confidence. Then again, look at the DC United match. The Galaxy were up 3-0, comfortably heading towards a win when DC United scored late and then all of the sudden DC started buzzing and nearly got a second. An early goal would help for sure but until they get one, there's no guarantee that that will help turn things around.

* Still Salivating? The buzz around the Galaxy's strike force before the year began was loud.

"Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle, with Landon Donovan and David Beckham behind them? This team could score three or four goals a game!"

Well all that is gone. Keane has looked extremely pedestrian-like while Buddle is the Buddle of 2009. Not only is this not one of the best strike pairings in MLS history, it's not even one that is among the best right now. It's actually among the worst. Keane has three goals, Buddle one but their play has been stagnant and their partnership has not yielded a thing. It's really time to shake things up in that unit. Chad Barrett has had his chances - including a late one in the loss to KC - but it's time to give him a start. Or perhaps it's time to move Donovan up top, pair him with Keane and plug in his hole in the midfield. Either way, Buddle-Keane is not putting fear in anyone right now.

* Shell Shocked: The way the Galaxy is playing right now reminds of me of the way the club played for the last several months of the 2010 season. The Galaxy had an awesome start to the season but around July other teams had figured out their defense. Puerto Rico did a number on them in a CONCACAF Champions League qualifier and then others started to tear down their defense. Even though the team wound up winning the Supporters' Shield that year, the end result of the year was a bad 3-0 loss to FC Dallas.

The difference between then and now of course is that the Galaxy had amassed enough points to where they still cruised into the playoffs and walked away with hardware. This time around, the deer-in-headlights look the Galaxy has given is happening way too early for their own sake.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Galaxy-KC Leftovers

Some thoughts ahead of the Galaxy's game against Sporting KC on Saturday.

* No Beckham: David Beckham did not travel for the match. This isn't a surprise today but it was a surprise on Wednesday when we found out he wasn't at practice. I hadn't noticed him out there and turns out that was because he didn't train. Supposedly he's got a lot of different injuries although I was told it was because of rest. I don't know, this all sounds strange. After last week's game against the Revs, Arena said this about Beckham:

"Hopefully he’s ready to be part of the next game. I’m sure he’s not pleased about it."

This was, of course, after Becks was taken out at halftime of the match. Maybe Beckham isn't ready to be part of this game. Won't be the first time we'd be told one or two things and it was something completely different.

This whole season seems kind of different. Beckham's been yelling at teammates for stuff, most notably a bust-up he had with Todd Dunivant right on the field after the first half of the Galaxy's game against Toronto FC on March 14. Then there were reports of another such incident involving Marcelo Sarvas and Sean Franklin, at the half of the New England match. I don't know how injured Beckham really is.

* LD Returns: Landon Donovan will return after he joined the team for training this week and apparently deemed firt enough to travel and possibly play on Saturday. I expect him to start of course but we could see him on the bench if his quadriceps injury is not quite up to 90 minutes. Either way I expect to see him on the field at some point.

* Must-Win? I asked Bruce Arena if he thought this match was a must-win game. His response?

"A must win with 30 games left in the season? I would think not. I don’t think there’s a must-win for any team in the league because there’s 90 points left after Saturday. I don’t know how that’s a must win. Our goal is to win the game."

Well, I guess he doesn't think it's a must win.

*Lineup? My best guess: Saunders; Dunivant, De La Garza, Boyens, Franklin; Magee, Stephens, Juninho, Donovan; Buddle, Keane.

I would see Stephens in there over Sarvas simply because Sarvas looked awful against the Revs. He flat out quit on a few plays and Arena does not like that at all. Now, I would put Chad Barrett in for Edson Buddle, especially since Barrett scored two goals in a reserve game on Monday but I don't see that happening. I think Arena sticks with Buddle and Keane up top. He's not hitting the panic button yet so don't expect to see too many changes. If anything maybe we see Tommy Meyer back in there but I doubt we even see that much.

* My Pick: I had picked Sporting KC to beat the Galaxy when I published my picks on Friday morning, before word broke of Beckham not travelling. I stick with my pick (well I have to I guess). I think we'll see the Galaxy come out strong and I wouldn't be surprised to see them pull this one out but if I was betting on this one I'd bet on Sporting KC. I don't think they will have figured out how to cut down the service or defend it well enough and I think CJ Sapong and Kei Kamara will do their thing against that Galaxy backline. Kamara and Sapong are just two big bodies KC boasts and that will not play in the Galaxy's favor. Set pieces will also be key for KC and without Beckham, the Galaxy aren't quite as deadly - although Donovan and Robbie Keane do well with set pieces.

Anyway, a close one but I don't see the Galaxy breaking out of their funk.

Week Five Picks

The week has already begun and my picks are already turning on me. I got RSL correctly over Montreal (the gimmie game of the year thus far) and was seconds away from guessing the Dallas-New England match correctly but Ugo Ihemelu had to score a late goal to give Dallas the win. So I got one out of two right.

With a full slate of seven matches set for Saturday, here's hoping the late goals go my way.

Montreal vs Toronto FC

These two Canadian cities have a natural rivalry and now it will spill over into an MLS match. Toronto FC visits MLS's latest entrant in a match that is a budding derby. I suppose it should be a derby given the cities' histories but I'm hesitant to label this as such given the poor state of Toronot FC and the newness of Montreal. Still, it should be a heated affair and Toronto FC should be desperate for a result since they've had nothing to show for their league efforts thus far. Montreal played much better against RSL than they did against New York which gives the club hope coming into this affair. Look for Montreal to gain their first-ever MLS victory.

Columbus vs New York

A rematch of the 2008 MLS Cup final, the Red Bulls visit the Crew in a match that promises... nothing. Columbus may be one of the league's least interesting teams, yet the Crew still manage to get results. Columbus left BMO Field with maximum points a week ago and fared well against Montreal at home. New York meanwhile boast Player of the Month Thierry Henry and seem to be a handful thus far. Still, be wary of New York on the road until they can actually prove something away from home. I see a listless draw.

Sporting KC vs LA Galaxy

The LA Galaxy are all but dead, right? Possibly. The dynasty may be crumbling at a much faster pace than anyone expected. This match may not feature David Beckham (hamstring) nor Landon Donovan (quad). Even with Robbie Keane there, if the other two DPs are out then the Galaxy suddenly look mortal. They've played that way thus far this season, and to put up another such effort in this situation is asking for trouble. Sporing KC are the league's top team right now bar none, having gotten maximum points from all four of their games. But can KC really start the year off with five consecutive victories? I say yes. Sporting KC beats the Galaxy in a closer match than many will expect.

San Jose vs Vancouver

The Whitecaps are on the verge of making history. With a clean sheet - or even, with just 60 minutes worth of scoreless soccer - Vancouver will set the league record for most minutes to start the season off without conceding a goal. At first glance, that appears impressive. But look at who the 'Caps have faced - Montreal, Chivas USA, DC United and Philadelphia. Those aren't exactly teams with great offense. San Jose meanwhile has done remarkable this season, trashing Toronto FC on the road and then stealing a victory at Seattle. Chris Wondolowski will end Vancouver's streak and hand them their first loss of the season. San Jose wins this.

DC United vs Seattle

It's fairly early in the season but DC United have already shown they can get blown out, they can play a gritty (and dull) scoreless draw and can blow out another team. They're running the whole gamut here and it's barely April. Seattle meanwhile continue being one of the top contenders, despite losing to the 'Quakes. Seattle now face adversity and to have to do so on the road could make for an even greater challenge. They should do enough to get a point. Look for this one to end in a draw.

Real Salt Lake vs Colorado

The first of three installments of the Rocky Mountain Cup comes at us on the weekend, and it comes at a good time. Both teams have done well of late. RSL escaped a Wednesday night home match with three points as they got past Montreal as expected but the club certainly had an emotional letdown after the weekend's thrilling come-from-behind victory at Jeld-Wen Field. Colorado also enter this match with a home win, having beaten Chicago 2-0. RSL have won five consecutive Rocky Mountain Cups and their quest for number six will begin with a win.

Portland Timbers vs Chivas USA

Chivas USA's defense is building up a repuation of being stingy. The club has allowed three goals in four games and it should have been less than that. Also, the clean sheet at RSL speaks well for the team's defense. But the attack is all but pathetic as there is nothing going on up front. Portland will give Chivas space and if Chivas cannot score on the Timbers, something must change. Portland is a difficult team to figure out. The club has talent, no doubt, but the mentality seems fragile. Against the Revs, the club just did not show up. RSL put two late goals past Portland a week ago to steal that match, and suddenly the Timbers find themselves on a two-game losing streak. But facing a team with as weak an attack as Chivas will help. Portland wins this one.

Season Totals: 6-5

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Scrappy TFC Bows Out

Toronto FC were 45 minutes away from making history, 45 minutes from not only shocking CONCACAF but from taking a giant step forward that would benefit all of MLS.

Then the bottom fell out.

Santos Laguna scored four second-half goals to down the Canadians by 6-2 on Tuesday and won their CCL semifinal series by an aggregate score of 7-3. Santos killed MLS’s hopes of having a representative in the final for the second consecutive year.

There are two things that came out of this result. First, Toronto FC fought harder and lasted longer than many gave them credit for. Secondly, MLS is still far behind the Mexican league level.

Now, Toronto FC is not exactly the bar for MLS teams. That bar has been raised and held there by Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy and a scant few others but for the most part the bar is set. That bar is still well below Mexico’s bar. Now, there are reasons for this. Mexican teams have no salary cap, greater resources, greater support from their communities and run unopposed in their media and within the Mexican culture. MLS clubs don’t enjoy the financial resources as their Mexican counterparts nor do they enjoy the other luxuries Mexican teams have.

Within those guidelines then, Toronto FC’s run was made more remarkable. Toronto FC got past the supposed juggernaut the Galaxy were and fared better than Seattle against the same Santos side – Seattle gave up two quick goals and all hope seemed lost afterward.

Toronto FC won’t be challenging for the MLS Cup title, at least few can see that happening. Their league form this season has been poor – losses to Seattle, San Jose and Columbus have marred the start of their season. And still, even while not being part of the cup contenders, Toronto FC nearly found themselves playing for a much bigger prize.

Now, while MLS is not quite the powerhouse league many would like to believe it is but when less-successful teams like Toronto FC can battle and scrap their way and find a modicum of success against teams like Santos, that has to bode well for both club and league.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Week Five Picks, Part I

Nothing says MLS like midweek matches. We have two games here to pick this week, one each on Wednesday and Thursday night. I fared okay last weekend, not bad I suppose. Anyway, let's see how I fare with the appetizers for what will be another full plate of games on the weekend.

Real Salt Lake vs Montreal

On paper this looks like a lopsided matchup. And in reality, it looks like a lopsided matchup. When this one's over, everyone will say what a lopsided matchup this was. Sure, there are no sure things in soccer but RSL is all but a lock to win this one. Montreal have played three times on the road thus far, and have yielded nine goals in those two games. New York had their way with Montreal on Saturday, scoring four unanswered goals at one point. If there is a positive to Montreal, it's that the club has scored first in two of their games. RSL meanwhile has already lost at home, dropping a 1-0 result to Chivas USA their last time out. Might that bode well for Montreal? Hardly. The last time RSL lost two consecutive home matches was in 2007. RSL wins this one easily.

FC Dallas vs New England

I didn't see the Revolution as being a contender this season, or being very competitive at all. Now, they enter FC Dallas Stadium on a two-game winning streak. For a team that has had a meager 60 points combined the last two seasons, that's a great deal. But New England may look better entering this game because of their performance last time out, but they demolished a team that had a host of problems and frankly that made them look better than they are. To counter my own counter, though, the Revs are facing a team in FC Dallas that is a shell of its former self. This is not the team that surprised the league to reach MLS Cup 2010, nor is it the side that was on its way towards another MLS Cup until the bottom fell out late last summer. This team is slow and static and lacks that dynamic play that was their hallmark from the most recent successful stretch. Still, to expect the Revs to win three consecutive games after having played as poorly as they have in the last several years is asking too much. This one's a draw.

Week Three Record: 5-4

Toronto FC's Monumental Challenge

Toronto FC faces a monstrous challenge today. If Toronto FC is to become the first Canadian club and second MLS side to reach the CONCACAF Champions League final, the task will be monumental.

Beat Santos at Santos.

Well, I take that back. They technically don't have to win. They can tie 2-2 or 3-3 or etc., and win the series on away goals. A 1-1 draw sends the match to extra time while a scoreless draw sends Santos through.

No way this match finishes in a goalless draw. This one has goals written all over it. Santos beat Seattle by 6-1 in Torreon last time out and Toronto FC has scored five goals in their three previous CCL encounters.

But Toronto FC will be missing Danny Koevermans and of course Torsten Frings. Without their two European standouts, the task of scoring goals and stopping Santos from scoring becomes even more difficult.

Still, nothing is impossible. Few gave Toronto FC a chance to get this far, and few gave them a shot of beating Santos at home. While they did not win the home leg, a 1-1 score is surprising to some and a decent enough result heading down to Mexico.

That Toronto FC is the last MLS club standing is a shock. FC Dallas and Colorado did not survive the group stage while LA Galaxy fans surely relished the opportunity of playing Toronto FC instead of Seattle in the quarterfinals.

Toronto FC may go down in flames and they may be swallowed up by the budding Mexican juggernaut in Torreon but the club has done itself proud and done MLS proud in this tournament regardless of the result. And if they do pull off the supposed miracle, they will surely have more MLS supporters in their corner come the final.

Galaxy Defensive Woes

In 2011, the LA Galaxy were an impenetrable wall. The club gave up just 28 goals in 34 regular-season games, one of the few clubs in league history to yield less than 30 goals in one season.

This year, the Galaxy are about as impenetrable as a screen door. They've already allowed seven goals in three regular-season home games and add the four that Toronto FC dropped on them in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series and that figure goes up to 11 goals in five games.

It took the Galaxy 12 games to give up 11 goals in 2011.

Clearly there is something amiss. Now, the easy and seemingly obvious answer is Omar Gonzalez. Because of Gonzalez, the Galaxy have gone from a legendary MLS defense to a porous one. While Gonzalez's absence certainly is being felt, simply pointing to Gonzalez as the reason for the club's defensive demise is overlooking the major problem.

Nobody is defending. Look at any of the Galaxy's goals in their 3-1 loss to New England and you can point to player after player who was not marking. AJ De La Garza even said as much afterward.

"Kelyn Rowe is 5-7 and he’s getting behind our backline on a cross and the second one, their left back is scoring a goal inside our box, that’s unacceptable. On the third one, obviously, it’s a cross and coming in and not marking or someone getting a head on it."

The same lack of marking has been there in other games, notably the series-clincher for Toronto on March 14, when Ryan Johnson had too much space outside the box and laid it off for Nick Soolsma, who buried the ball into the back of the net to kill the Galaxy's CCL hopes.

The problem isn't just in defense. Marcelo Sarvas gave up on a couple of plays Saturday while Juninho has not been himself either. Obviously Landon Donovan did not play but those around him did not pick up the slack.

Point at Gonzalez as the Galaxy's reason for its ills but you'll be pointing at the wrong issue. There is nothing the team can do about Gonzalez now. He is rehabilitating his injury and wants to get back on the field as soon as possible, but look at what is on the Galaxy's roster now, what Bruce Arena has to work with.

Right now, he has a team who is out of form, lacking confidence and not marking well. That's a bad combination.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Week Four Rankings

This wasn't exactly a defining week; can't have that until a little bit later in the season. However, there were some teams who showed more than they have been, for both good and bad, and that will reflect in my latest rankings.

1. Sporting KC. If they're not number one in every single power ranking across the web, then something is wrong.
2. Real Salt Lake. Tremendous grit and determination to overcome late deficit.
3. Seattle Sounders. Tough home setback; maybe they took the 'Quakes too lightly?
4. San Jose. Few gave them credit for 3-0 win at Toronto, but 1-0 win at Seattle is no fluke.
5. Colorado. Shook off bad outing in NY with solid home win.
6. Houston. Stingy defense needs a strong attack to match.
7. Columbus. It wasn't such a tough opponent but 1-0 road wins are always strong.
8. New York. Henry in top form all season could be runaway MVP.
9. Chicago. Could have shown better resolve on road, but then again Fire never win at Rapids.
10. New England. Not gonna anoint Jay Heaps as Coach of the Year yet but may have been wrong about Revs.
11. DC United. Dropped four on FC Dallas and made it look easy.
12. Vancouver. Listless attack; at least there's hope.
13. FC Dallas. Hyndman needs some butter leather magic.

14. Portland. Terrible way to lose a game.
15. Chivas USA. Four games, all 1-0 results. Too bad only one has gone their way.
16. LA Galaxy. The bottom has fallen out.
17. Toronto FC. Will to win is there as CCL proved but has to pay off in league sometime.
18. Montreal. Ugly losses like this one will continue, sad to say.
19. Philadelphia. A point does not exactly atone for the team's horrid start