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A brilliant beginning to season 13
by Ridge Mahoney, April 7th, 2008 11:45AM
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TAGS:  mls


I know we're only two weeks into the 13th MLS season, and declaring detections of trends at this stage is a fool's game, but I do see glimmers of a subtle yet critical phase in the maturation of America's soccer league.

I see beautiful play and beastly defending, I see blowouts and shutouts, I see grace and gore. I see sustained intensity generating tougher tackles, certainly not all the time, but more often.

I see sharper crossing, more intricate passing combinations, cleaner first touches, more dangerous dead balls. I see controlled breaks out of midfield slicing apart scattered opponents and balls flying into the net. I see sloppy turnovers and clumsy touches punished ruthlessly.

Yet I see fiercely contested head balls sailing to safety, tireless tracking rewarded with a ball-winning tackle, concerted and coordinated pressure forcing giveaways and errant passes.

I see Ryan Cochrane stubbing a poor back pass, Landon Donovan swooping on the loose ball to feed David Beckham, and Beckham drilling the ball through keeper Joe Cannon's feet.

I see Bobby Boswell hitting a careless clearance to Pablo Ricchetti in his own half of the field yet Ricchetti playing a piercing through ball that Arturo Alvarez takes uptown and sticks away.

I see teenager Sainey Nyassi, a week after lighting up the night for the Revs against Houston, leaving his flank exposed by missing a tackle and Justin Mapp centering a ball Chad Barrett smacks into the net.

I see Donovan and Beckham mesh their minds and feet to swap the roles of scorer and provider and give the Galaxy a 2-0 win. I see Jaime Moreno befuddling Tyrone Marshall by brushing and nudging the ball or faking to do so before tapping a slow roller just inside the far post that ices a D.C. thumping of Toronto.

I see Atiba Harris and Alecko Eksandarian score for Chivas USA in their first games against Real Salt Lake, the team that traded them.

And I see Jimmy Conrad scoring two goals not in the same year, nor the same month, but in the same game, and just two minutes apart. I never thought I'd see that.

I see Houston conceding three goals in consecutive league games.

I see New England concede four a week after blanking Houston. I see Kansas City and Colorado share four goals in 16 second-half minutes prior to the Wizards winning it late, 3-2. I see Dallas taking two one-goal leads in Houston, and blowing both of them.

I see Crew keeper Will Hesmer save a penalty kick for the second straight week. I see heroic TFC goalie Greg Sutton pull off a double stop only to concede the goal on a third shot, and later thwart Luciano Emilio with an unbelievable point-blank reflex save as his team is blasted, 4-1.

I also see Dario Sala concede a free headed goal by backing into a teammate, and a shot by Kenny Cooper worming its way under keeper Tony Caig and over the goal line. Again, in the same game.

I see 28 goals in seven matches last weekend and I know it can't last. I know coaches will tighten up their leaky defenses and implore their players to take fewer risks, or else. I know the dog days of summer, which means July and September as well as August in many cities, and international conflicts will drain games of their flair and frenzy and folly.

But in the highlights I see rookie Geoff Cameron, who'd caught my notice during a preseason game on a chilly night in a cozy community stadium, dribbling in from the left wing, pushing the ball to Brian Ching, running onto a return ball, and -- just as two desperate defenders converge -- crashing a stoppage-time equalizer into the top corner as a sea of orange behind the goal roils in celebration.

And I realize what I'm seeing is not just glimpses of soccer scenes savored in other parts of the world, but what fans are feeling: the anticipation and excitement and passion and ferocity they share with players as they battle on the field.

In Toronto and Washington D.C. and Houston and Salt Lake City and Chicago and a few other places, there are a lot of fans who care about their teams. Really care.

MLS isn't EPL or La Liga or Bundesliga or Serie A or the Mexican League, yet no league can progress if the players who play and the people who pay don't really give a damn. When those people are reduced to a tiny minority, MLS will truly be major league.

  1. Brian Gorecki
    commented on: April 7, 2008 at 11:42 a.m.
    So much of this leads back to the status of Soccer in the US. It has progressed considerably in recent years but still the vast majority of the US has zero interest in the game. Then to see other major US sports publications to speak poorly of the sport doesn't help. I.E. "Soccer was something I played when I was 10, who cares now" sort of language is not helpful. Also, take into consideration other Major leagues in the US have struggled in the past; NBA, NHL...etc. MLS play is getting better consistantly and with the level of play coming from our youth leagues...the future is bright..IMO! Rec Player, Referee, Parent and Fan

  1. commented on: April 7, 2008 at 12:27 p.m.
    TO Ridge Mahoney: What a stirring & invigorating reflection on the first 2 weeks of MLS action. I cannot wait for more. I might add that the Galaxy attack was much more fluid with Ruiz out of action. If Gordon discovers how to finish they will have quite an attack.This game could have easily been LA 4- SJ 0.
  1. Root Wayne
    commented on: April 7, 2008 at 2:04 p.m.
    Ridge, in all of the things you mentioned seeing, what about the bad offside call that robbed the Quakes of a goal in the second minute of the game with LA. That changed the tone of the game completely. And, you didn't mention anything about seeing better refereeing out of MLS ARs, I suppose that is because we have the same old crap level.
  1. Brian Gorecki
    commented on: April 7, 2008 at 2:30 p.m.
    Oh come on Wayne! Ref's will make bad calls. Many refs (self included) openly say 'I've never called a perfect game'. But you can't blame a 4-0 loss on one bad call.
  1. Root Wayne
    commented on: April 8, 2008 at 12:06 p.m. On the offensive against offsides April 7, 12:45 PM Joe Machnik, Major League Soccer's assistant to the commissioner's office for on-field competition -- a.k.a. head of officiating -- has an interesting idea about how to prevent incorrect offsides calls. "I’d like to think we would put maybe 10- or 20-pound weights on some of these flags, make them a little bit harder to raise," said Machnik. "It just takes concentration and a total re-emphasis -- the referee, in his pregame with the assistants, has to emphasize it. 'Unless you’re one hundred percent sure, keep the flag down.'" After an opening weekend that Machnik called "alarming" and an incorrectly disallowed goal for San Jose defender Ryan Cochrane in last Thursday night's game against Los Angeles, Machnik's partner in crime, Paul Tamberino, U.S. Soccer's head of officials, conducted a conference call with MLS assistant referees on Friday. The message: Keep the flag down. [...]

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