[MLS] A full weekend of MLS action involving all 18 teams provided many issues to ponder, including why many teams rely on a big, physical striker, and how Jurgen Klinsmann’s hiring will affect MLS.
IN MLS, PHYSICAL WORKS. That doesn’t entirely sum up the value of rugged, active forwards like Eric Hassli (Vancouver), Luke Rodgers (New York) and Ryan Johnson (Toronto FC), but there’s no question that a strong, direct player might have advantages to a more cerebral type in certain conditions.
Hassli scored twice Sunday to post a 4-2 defeat on Chicago, which netted an early equalizer through Dominic Oduro but then conceded three straight as Hassli ran wild. The Red Bulls are beset by myriad problems, but failed to score in a 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake in the absence of an injured Rodgers, as Thierry Henry probed and schemed to little reward. Johnson, traded away by San Jose, scored both goals in a 2-1 Toronto FC win over Real Esteli in the Concacaf Champions League and has sparked a revamped attack (see next item).
The absences of Steven Lenhart, who has again been excused by San Jose for personal reasons, prompted the Quakes to trade for Alan Gordon, who came on as a sub and scored on a header in a 1-1 tie with Portland. He apparently aggravated a hamstring problem and will be evaluated this week. The Quakes need a target man to get opponents away from Chris Wondolowski and broaden an otherwise predictable attack.
TORONTO POTENT, BUT STILL POROUS. With Johnson in the lineup along with the skillful Joao Plata and DPs Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings, Toronto is getting at teams and scoring goals. Including the 2-1 second-leg win over Real Esteli, TFC has scored 11 goals in the past four games.
Koevermans has scored three goals in his four league games, and FC Dallas castoff Peri Marosevic has two goals in just 90 minutes of action. TFC traded away Gordon (four goals) and Maicon Santos (a team-high six) yet a more varied attack is giving opponents greater problems.
Defending continues to be a issue and Frings will be needed to shore things up. D.C. went down a man in the seventh minute when keeper Bill Hamid was sent off yet still TFC conceded three goals, including an 88th-minute equalizer two minutes after it had gone ahead, 3-2.
UNLUCKY 14. Sporting Kansas City squandered a great opportunity to establish its playoff credentials by blowing a 1-0 lead and losing its first league game at Livestrong Sporting Park, 2-1, to Seattle. The loss also snapped SKC’s unbeaten run at 14 games and denied it a chance to pass New York and move into third place among Eastern Conference teams.
The Galaxy rebounded from a 3-0 midweek loss at Portland that ended its unbeaten run at 14 games by rallying from a 1-0 deficit to beat FC Dallas, 3-1, in a matchup of the league’s top two teams. FCD failed to get the ball out of danger twice after it took the lead and both times the Galaxy punished that ineptitude to take a six-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race.
RAPIDS ON A RUN. One team that seems to contradict the premise about needing a burly striker is Colorado, which instead has turned to the speedy duo of Omar Cummings and Sanna Nyassi as its forward combo. They teamed up for the clinching goal in a 2-0 defeat of Columbus after a spectacular 30-yard blast into the top corner by Brian Mullan early in the second half broke up a goalless game.
The Rapids start CCL group play next week, and with Conor Casey (torn Achilles tendon) out and Caleb Folan (groin strain) hobbled, the recovery of Macoumba Kandji from a torn ACL is of great importance. He has yet to play in 2011.
Colorado recently thumped New York at home, 4-1, and won, 2-1, at Philadelphia in addition to beating the Crew. Now it needs wins against its Western Conference foes as well as results against CCL opponents Isidro Metapan, Santos Laguna, and Real Espana as its depth is severely tested.
KLINSMANN PERUSES MLS CANDIDATES. Jurgen Klinsmann, the new U.S. national team coach, was in Philadelphia during the weekend getting ready for the friendly against Mexico Wednesday, and he spoke frankly of a need to closely monitor and evaluate the talent available on MLS rosters.
For all the importance of U.S. Soccer and its youth programs in regards to player development, the professional teams must play an expanded role by aggressively scouting the most promising young players. The American soccer landscape is vastly different than it was five years ago, when Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati first discussed his possible hiring. Since then, MLS has not only added six teams, it has mandated academy development programs, expanded the rosters and revived the Reserve League.
Klinsmann’s evaluations will affect the U-20 and Olympic teams as well as the senior team, as younger Americans get more playing time to cope with an expanded league schedule as well as Open Cup and Concacaf competition.