Commentary

David Villa is the toast of New York, Bradley has new outlook

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

All the controversy surrounding Frank Lampard's status with New York City FC overshadowed the fact that a bigger international star, David Villa, already settled with his family in Manhattan late last summer and was raring to go.

The bad taste of NYCFC's handling of Lampardgate was all in the past Sunday as the first MLS team from the five boroughs opened with a 2-0 win over New England before 43,507 fans at Yankee Stadium.

It took a while for the fans to get into the game at Yankee Stadium -- many were stranded outside at the kickoff because of long security lines -- but by the time NYCFC got its second goal chants of "NYC" rang out around the fabled Bronx stadium.

Villa, who scored the first goal and set up former Revs forward Patrick Mullins for the second, had a big part in erasing those memories of the New Year's Eve announcement that Lampard wasn't after all contracted to NYCFC. The Spaniard doesn't have the following of Lampard in New York, where hipsters flock each Saturday morning to watch Lampard and others play in the EPL, but Villa has won something Lampard hasn't: World Cup and European Championship trophies.

“We don’t get around people like him very often that can finish with the percentage that he finishes chances with," said NYCFC coach Jason Kreis of his Spanish star who needed only 19 minutes to put NYCFC ahead against the Revs. Villa could have had three goals by the break in a wide-open first half that could have seen either team score half a dozen goals. Kreis says the Spaniard will get those goals.

"I think probably if you asked him -- and I would be on his side with this because I was a goal scorer as well -- he probably feels like he ought to have scored a couple more," added the NYCFC coach. "But we had a quick chat at halftime and I told him he can save a few of those for later in the season.”

MLS: Week 2 Results & Standings, Week 3 Schedule

Week 2: Three goals you must watch

1. FANENDO ADI vs. LA Galaxy. In the 31st minute, Portland went from one end, beginning with keeper Adam Kwarasey's toss to Diego Chara, to the other to take the lead on the first of Adi's two goals. The Nigerian finished with a curling shot inside Brian Rowe's far post but the touch that makes the goal so special was Darlington Nagbe's backheel flick to Rodney Wallace.

2. INNOCENT EMEGHARA vs. Seattle. Another Nigerian -- Emeghara represents Switzerland internationally and was most recently playing in Azerbaijan -- showed off why San Jose gave him a DP slot as he made Brad Evans look foolish and finished with a curling shot of his own on the Quakes' third goal in Seattle. Just as impressive was the buildup and Emeghara's 1-2 with Adam Jahn.

3. DAVID VILLA vs. New England. Villa didn't need long to show off his fancy footwork to New York fans, playing a 1-2 with Ned Grabavoy and dancing his way through the New England defense to put NYCFC ahead in its Yankee Stadium debut. (Almost as good was Villa's move to free himself and feed Mullins for the second goal.)

What Worked in Week 2 ...

1. NYCFC OFFENSE. In its opener on turf at Orlando, NYCFC was fortunate to take the lead after struggling to create any offense. Against the Revs, the narrow confines of Yankee Stadium -- Kreis will tell you it is not that narrow -- were not a problem as Villa and Co., generated 20 shots and forced New England keeper Bobby Shuttleworth into making seven saves.

2. GORDON OFF THE BENCH. The LA Galaxy's pickup of Alan Gordon is one of the best of many reclamation projects in Bruce Arena's MLS coaching career. Gordon's goal in the 92nd minute of the Galaxy a 2-2 tie at Portland was his fifth in 11 games off the bench since arriving from San Jose last August.

3. PLAYING WITH AN ADVANTAGE. Columbus Crew SC didn't catch a break in Week 1, falling at Houston, 1-0, in a match it dominated, but it took every advantage of a red card to Justin Morrow on Saturday night and put away Toronto FC, 2-0, on second-half goals by Justin Meram and Kei Kamara. Ethan Finlay and Meram are both Midwest-born and -bred -- Finlay from Wisconsin and Meram from Michigan -- making them right at home with the Crew, but they also represent the new-look Crew SC, showing off their skill on Finlay's delicate cross that Meram powered into the goal for the opening goal against short-handed Toronto.

What Didn't Work in Week 2 ...

1. EVANS AT CB, ACT 2. Brad Evans rushed home from the CBA talks in Washington to start at his new position, center back, in Seattle's 3-0 win in its opener against New England. His defensive work was solid, but his play on the ball left something to be desired and deteriorated against San Jose on Saturday night. Evans coughed up the ball that allowed Chris Wondolowski to put the Earthquakes ahead and he was spun around by Emeghara on the third goal.

2. CHAPMAN'S WORK ON LATE PK. How bad was Allen Chapman's call on the late penalty kick he awarded to Real Salt Lake, allowing it escape a wacky home opener with a 3-3 tie against Philadelphia? Even Luke Mulholland, who went down on the play, says RSL was lucky to get the call. "Was it a penalty? In my book, no." Sons of Ben, the Union supporters' group, were so furious they wrote a letter of protest to MLS executives, asking why hasn't the officiating kept pace with the quality of play on the field that they say "has increased exponentially in the last decade."

3. FIRE'S NEW LINEUP. After a 2-0 loss in the MLS season opener at LA Galaxy, Chicago coach Frank Yallop decided to shake up his the Fire's lineup for the home opener against Vancouver. Despite four changes (including the insertion of 38-year-old Jon Busch in goal for Sean Johnson, sidelined with an infected arm), Chicago again lost, 1-0. Not the kind of start Fire fans were looking for from the only team in MLS to bring in three new Designated Players -- Shaun Maloney, Kennedy Igboananike and the injured David Accam -- all on transfer fees, no less, in the offseason.

Bradley's new outlook and Toronto's new confidence

The 2014 season was a frustrating one for Michael Bradley, and he did not hide his emotions as the Toronto FC campaign derailed after he returned from the World Cup.

Saturday's game at Columbus had shades of 2014 as a tough call went against TFC -- a straight red card to Morrow just before halftime -- and it fell, 2-0.

What was different was how Bradley viewed the situation. The TFC captain, who was fined for ripping MLS refereeing last summer, said the call might have been soft, but his team put itself in a bad position.

“When our guy is running in like that and you put yourself in a position where the referee has to then make a call," he told reporters afterwards, "it can go one of two ways. This time, it went the wrong way for us."

Bradley's new outlook comes as Toronto begins the season with new confidence following an offseason overhaul that paid dividends with a 3-1 win at Vancouver in Week 1.

“We feel like we have a good team," he said, "and we still have confidence that when things don’t go perfectly or when things don’t go our way, we can still come away with points."

National Team Watch

With two games scheduled for the end of March in Europe and a slim pool of players playing regularly abroad, U.S. under-23 coach Andi Herzog is in desperate need of reinforcements from MLS -- if they'll be released in Week 4.

The good news is a few rookies who are eligible for the U-23s are starting to get playing time. Perhaps the most impressive was Fatai Alashe, who made his first MLS start in San Jose's 3-2 win at Seattle.

U.S. U-23s IN ACTION: Starters: *Alashe, *Dia, Gil, *Polster, Trapp, Villarreal. Subs: *Roldan, *Shelton.
*Rookies.

U.S. U-20s IN ACTION: Subs: Allen, Pfeffer.

Trivia

After Week 2, FC Dallas is the only team at 2-0-0, marking the first time since 2006 it won its first two games of the season.
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