[MLS] In the penultimate weekend of play prior to the World Cup break, moments of drama and danger highlighted the action. Here are six things we learned from
ENDANGERED SPECIES. Nearly five years ago, Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis lunged for a bouncing ball and crashed into D.C. United forward Alecko Eskandarian. The incident left Eskandarian with a severe concussion and Reis, whose aggressive play had been criticized several times previously, labeled as a “headhunter.”
Another possible outcome of such confrontations surfaced at the same venue, Gillette Stadium, on Saturday when Revs goalie Preston Burpo rushed out of his goal to challenge Red Bulls’ winger Dane Richards for a through ball. Richards’ full-bore rush caught Burpo with his right foot planted, and the force of the collision broke Burpo’s right leg in two places.
Burpo waved the crowd as he was wheeled off the field on a stretcher. Richards was not cautioned; he'd been going for the ball in a classic 50-50 confrontation. A few minutes earlier Richards had cut inside from the left flank to fire a hard shot that cannoned back off Burpo’s head-long, point-blank block in a typical act of fearlessness keepers take as routine.
In discussing such situations generally, former U.S. goalie Brad Friedel – while not defending keepers who take the idea of “protecting” themselves far too aggressively – stated several years ago they are trained and conditioned to ignore danger. “The keeper’s not going to back down in that situation,” said Friedel. “You know the goalkeeper is going to go in hard for the ball, and if the forward doesn’t pull out or get out of the way, injuries are going to happen every so often.”
Chelsea and Czech Republic goalkeeper Peter Cech wears protective headgear in the aftermath of a frightful head injury inflicted by the knee of Reading midfielder Stephen Hunt as they both went for the ball in an October, 2006 Premier League match. A fractured skull and related injuries sidelined him for two months.
ROUGH TIMES. Red Bulls rookie defender Tim Ream, who could seemingly do no wrong in his first few games, struggled through another indignity against the Revs.
He nailed a Seth Sinovic cross sharply into the Red Bulls’ net from near the penalty spot as they lost their fourth in a row. Eleven days ago, he and Mike Petke utterly flubbed a long ball that bounced nicely for Emilio Renteria to score the final goal in a 3-1 Columbus win.
Maybe now all that talk about Ream as Rookie of the Year and future national-team star will quiet down enough for a very promising young player to get on with learning the ropes. Before the roof caved in, he didn’t want any direct comparisons to the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez, last year’s top rookie.
“I think there are just younger guys who have been taught a different way, to be composed and still get stuck in,” Ream said of rookies earning starting jobs in MLS back lines. “Omar is the best example of that right now. He stepped right in and played for LA.”
LA EXPRESS. Speaking of Gonzalez and his mates, they somehow survived a 21-3 shot onslaught by the Crew and left Columbus as 2-0 winners in a vivid example of an early-season trend by which teams badly outshot are still managing to win.
Thus were the tables turned on the Crew, which had escaped Kansas City a week ago Sunday, 1-0, with a Renteria goal despite being outshot, 18-7. Shot statistics are just that, statistics, which often have little relevance to the outcome. “I’m not really going to scratch my head on those statistics,” said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. “I’ll take the three points and I’m out of town. I’m not going to worry about all that other stuff.”
The stuff that matters: Los Angeles is 9-0-2, with 29 points, nine more than overall No. 2 Columbus (6-1-2). LA has conceded two goals and posted nine shutouts. Scary stuff.
TEACHINGS IN TORONTO. New York’s collapse has dropped it to third place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Toronto FC, which extended its unbeaten run to four games by breaking San Jose’s four-match shutout streak, 3-1. In its last four games, TFC has conceded only two goals. It won two and lost four of its first six games.
"The game is all about a group playing offense and defense,” said Coach Preki, who took over TFC this season after three years in charge of Chivas USA. “We are learning and still have a long way to go. We need to keep getting better with the ball going forward, but we are working hard on the training ground and the group is believing in the system. Whoever comes on the field is helping the team.”
Preki held Julian de Guzman and Dwayne De Rosario out of the starting lineup after they played the previous Monday in Buenos Aires for the Canadian national team (a 5-0 defeat to Argentina). Both came on at halftime with TFC leading, 1-0, and DeRo scored twice.
“He had to fly all the way there and then all the way back, and he’s not 19, he’s 33, 34,” said Preki, who of course won an MLS scoring title and league MVP award when he was 40. (For the record, DeRo turned 32 on May 15.)
REDEMPTION ON THE REBOUND. Most players and coaches would rather not work out tough results on the training ground: mentally, at least, the best remedy for a bad showing is the next game as soon as possible.
All four teams that play Wednesday lost last weekend: Houston, which collapsed at home against Philadelphia to lose in stoppage time, plays at New York, and San Jose gets a quick turnaround when it hosts Columbus.
IN-AND-OUT. Houston’s squandering of a 2-1 lead against Philadelphia and subsequent 3-2 defeat maintained its pattern of a win followed by a loss since it tied the first game of the season. It is 5-5-1, with three of those defeats coming in seven home games.
More worrying than the failure to built momentum off its last win is the Dynamo didn’t match the Union’s energy and intensity.
“That is what we said before the game, that this team was [going to] fight for everything,” said Coach Dominic Kinnear said to mlssoccer.com. “If we do not come out and meet them head-on, we are asking for trouble. We asked for it and we got it.”
Defender Andrew Hainault concurred. “We have to make sure we are working hard and grind things out, and we didn’t do that,” he said. “[This was] one of the toughest losses I can remember being here. We made mistakes across the field. It was everyone. It was collective. It was all over the field.”