Some changes were forced and some were discretionary, but regardless of motivation, the Crew and FC Dallas, which meet In the second Friday night game of the season (7:30 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel), aren’t what they were in 2010.
The Crew has shed several members of its 2008 championship team. In his MLS tenure, Guillermo Barros Schelotto took his place among the most dynamic playmakers in league history, and Frankie Hejduk’s notoriety extends far beyond that of your typical right back. Brian Carroll seldom dazzled yet rarely erred, either, anchoring the center of midfield. Forwards Jason Garey and Steven Lenhart have also moved on.
Without that strength up the middle, the Crew labored in a 3-1 loss to D.C. United to open the season, and ground out a 0-0 tie at home with New York last weekend. Crew head coach Robert Warzycha said his team could and should have scored against the Red Bulls, but it didn’t. The jury is still out on Emmanuel Ekpo as a second forward, and last weekend Warzycha didn’t bring Jeff Cunningham off the bench. Emilio Renteria has recovered from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the New York game.
After losing to Colorado, 2-1, in MLS Cup 2010, FCD cast loose Cunningham, Atiba Harris and midfield linchpin Dax McCarty, among others. Coach Schellas Hyndman, after suggesting in November that Eric Alexander was ready to man the middle, said earlier this week he’s still looking for McCarty’s replacement.
Like the Crew, in two games FC Dallas has scored just one goal, in a 1-1 tie with Chicago to open the season. Milton Rodriguez scored an equalizer a minute after FCD fell behind, but it couldn’t reply last weekend in a second straight home game.
It conceded two goals to San Jose during the Chris Wondolowski Seminar on Finishing, and never got on the board despite an amazing 20-6 edge in shots. Ricardo Villar got his first start on the left side of midfield; he later gave away for the league debut of teenage DP Fabian Castillo. Alexander started in central midfield and in the second half gave way to Eric Avila as FCD grew more desperate for a goal but was stoned by keeper Jon Busch, who made eight saves.
Playing its first game on the road, FCD may better exploit the explosiveness and cunning of attacking catalyst David Ferreira if pressure builds on the Crew, which last year went out of the playoffs in the first round for the second straight year.
ACROSS THE BORDER. The two MLS Canadian entries are hosting on Saturday, and while neither can yet be labeled a bonafide playoff contender, their eventual chances probably lie in their performance at home.
Vancouver opened the season at home March 19 by thumping Toronto FC, 4-2, with Designated Player Eric Hassli scoring its first and final goal. He was sent off last weekend in a narrow 1-0 defeat in Philadelphia, and the ‘Caps head back to Empire Field for a date with Sporting Kansas City, whose own DP, Omar Bravo, will also sit out because of suspension.
The suspension would normally be a prime coming-out party for teenager Omar Salgado, whose petition to play in a foreign country was approved by FIFA, but he’s playing with the U.S. U-20s at the Concacaf qualifiers for this summer’s world championships.
Coach Teitur Thordarson does have a lot of MLS experience up front in Atiba Harris; his other choices are Brazilian Camilo da Silva Sanvezzo, 22, who prior to Vancouver played in Malta and South Korea, and Long Tan, a native of China who played in the USSF Division 2 league last year and turned 23 on Friday.
Empire Field will crowded and loud, and Vancouver will pour on the pressure, yet someone will need to create and finish chances. Davide Chiumiento, who left the opener after helping set up the first two goals, is still hobbled. Without Bravo and on the road, SKC may tighten up the defense to frustrate the ‘Caps and set up the counterattack.
TFC, which hosts Chivas USA, bounced back from its thrashing in Vancouver to win its home opener against Portland, MLS's other expansion team, but didn’t look all that impressive – it was outshot, 17-11 -- in beating the Timbers, 2-0.
Newcomer Javier Martina scored both goals, one on a long assist by keeper Stefan Frei, yet the defense labored to contain Portland. Coach Aron Winter must also replace left back Mikael Yourassowsky, who took a second caution for time-wasting in the 87th minute. It gets a great chance to win a second home game in a row against Chivas USA, which like TFC has a new head coach – former U.S. defender Robin Fraser – in the wake of a disappointing 2010 season, and has lost its first two games.
When it joined MLS in 2007, TFC quickly established a record for sellouts and crowd roar unprecedented in most league cities to date. It has failed to make the playoffs in its four seasons, and no longer has the Canadian market to itself. Vancouver’s opening-day sellout of 22,592 has thrown down a challenge in the stands as well as on the home field.