By Paul Kennedy
Week 3 of the MLS season ended on
a positive note with the opening of Avaya Stadium -- San Jose's impressive new soccer stadium -- but it can't take away from the fact that it was a ugly weekend for soccer.
games produced just five goals, and three of them ended 0-0. Things improved somewhat on Sunday as the San Jose-Chicago and Red Bulls-D.C. United games combined for five goals, but that left the
weekend average at a pathetic 1.25 goals per game and the season average after three weeks at 1.96.
Scorelines are sometimes deceiving -- we can all rattle off our favorite scoreless
draws -- but MLS's low scoring reflects an early trend of a decreasing number of chances being created. Saturday's six games averaged 6.67 shots on goal, putting the season average at 7.96, down 24
percent from the average of 10.53 shots on goal through MLS's first 19 seasons.
The most striking proof that something is wrong is the trouble teams are having at home. Both the Red Bulls
and Quakes won their home openers on Sunday, but that pushed the record of home teams to just 10 wins in 26 games after three weeks.
What's wrong? The easy answer is that defenses are
getting better. But it isn't like MLS teams have gone out and signed a bunch of defensive stars. They haven't. Are teams playing more cautiously on the road? Absolutely. And as long as they can hold
their hosts in check they have no reason to change their postures.
MLS continues to add new teams and build new stadiums and introduce new stars -- including the biggest incoming class of
Designated Players in league history -- but teams are doing a lousy job of the basics, putting cohesive and entertaining teams on the field. So far, you could count on one hand the number of teams
that are playing reasonably well or overperforming or -- and it gets to the bottom line -- are worth watching.
It's early -- so we'll give the benefit of the doubt to a league whose clubs
have done a good job in recent years of improving their attacking arsenals -- but what we can't let slide is the number of scary incidents that took place this weekend.
The weekend got
off to the wrong foot -- literally -- when Montreal rookie sensation Cameron Porter
crumbled, untouched, to the turf at Gillette Stadium and went off in the
first half against New England with a knee injury.
MLS has a hard enough time developing young stars to lose them like they did this weekend. In addition to Porter, 20-year-old Sam Adekugbe
, who appears to have won the left back job at Vancouver, was injured going in for a loose ball with Orlando City keeper Donovan Ricketts
. "Well, it’s not a good idea to slide into a 6-foot-4 goalkeeper,” said Caps coach Carl Robinson
after Ricketts' knee
smashed into the 5-foot-9 Adekugbe's rib cage. The damage was not a fractured rib as first suspected but it's bad enough to keep Adekugbe out of Canada's two upcoming friendlies.
other young players were involved in bad challenges this past weekend. Zach Pfeffer
, one of the most promising young Americans in MLS, was red-carded late in
the first half of Philadelphia's match against FC Dallas for an elbow to Mauro Diaz.
afterward the foul looked bad on replays but he insisted it was not intentional. The issue is not intention, it's that
Pfeffer felt the need to go up and lash out with his elbow in the air.
At 20, Kekuta Manneh
may be the most exciting young player in MLS but he
likely faces a suspension for going in with two feet up on Orlando's Aurelien Collin
as the French defender came sliding over to the sidelines to sweep away a
loose ball. Collin already has one red card this season for a bad tackle on David Villa
in the Orlando-NYCFC opener and a reputation for reckless play so it
almost appeared like Manneh's two-footed dive was the only way he knew how to protect himself in a 50-50 duel he was never going to win.
The common thread in these three incidents: risky
challenges in open spaces resulting from the helter-skelter play so often evident in MLS. MLS: Week 3 Results & Standings, Week 4 Schedule Week 2: Three goals you must watch*
*Noted: This week's choices were slim. 1. BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS vs. D.C. United.
Who needs Thierry Henry
? Bradley Wright-Phillips
showed he'll do very well -- thank you -- even without the retired French star, latching on to a long ball
from Dax McCarty
, settling it in the area and firing a shot inside the far post past Bill Hamid
for the first Red Bulls' goal in
their 2-0 win over D.C. United.
2. OCTAVIO RIVERO vs. Orlando City.
To score in the 96th minute is impressive enough, but to score two late winners in
two consecutive away matches makes Vancouver's first-year Uruguayan, Octavio Rivero
, a true road warrior. His flick to beat Ricketts
and silence 31,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl
wasn't bad, either.
3. ROBBIE KEANE vs. Houston.
For his long run from midfield, Robbie Keane
's goal against Houston is worth a look
, though the
Dynamo defense did a horrible job of containing him and keeper Tyler Deric
will wish he had another shot at stopping the Irishman's shot. What Worked in Week 3 ... 1. QUAKES' NEW
San Jose's 3-2 win at Seattle a week ago was costly. Victor Bernandez
was lost for the Quakes' Avaya Stadium opener with a red card and Portuguese
went off with a hamstring injury, but replacements Clarence Goodson
had roles in both early San Jose goals in the 2-1 win over Chicago. Goodson and Harden both got their heads on the ball before rookie Fatai Alashe
put the Quakes ahead in the fifth minute. Celebrating his 100th game in an eight-year MLS career, Harden scored his first-ever goal when he put away the rebound of Goodson's shot Fire keeper Sean Johnson
couldn't stop. 2. RBNY'S REVERSAL OF ROLES.
For the second game in a row, the Red Bulls got a result.
In a reversal of roles, Wright-Phillips turned provider for winger Lloyd Sam
as the Englishmen teamed for the second goal against D.C. United in a rematch of
their 2014 Eastern Conference playoff series. Wright-Phillips had just two assists to go along with his 27 goals during his record-tying campaign in 2014. Sam, who had four goals and nine assists in
32 games last season, has scored in both New York games. 3. HOLLINGSHEAD SUB.
Everything has gone well so far for
FC Dallas, winner of all three matches. After the Pfeffer red card, Dallas coach Oscar Pareja took off Brazilian midfielder Michel
and brought on Ryan Hollingshead
to give the attack more mobility. It paid off as Hollingshead, who sat out his 2013 rookie season to help his brother build a church in California,
scored his first MLS goal. What Didn't Work in Week 3 ... 1. GALAXY INTENSITY.
The LA Galaxy took a third-minute lead at StubHub Center against Houston and should have been an easy winner over the Dynamo,
which struggled in its first two matches at home, but it conceded an equalizer eight minutes later and after that never looked like it could get a grip on the game that ended 1-1. Said Bruce Arena
, “I didn’t like a whole lot on the night. We weren’t very good, to be honest with you." 2. OCSC FRONTLINE.
Orlando City has played three games and started three different forwards in front of Kaka
-- Carlos Rivas
, Bryan Rochez
and Pedro Ribeiro --
nothing out of them.
Ribeiro, who was involved in the bizarre own goal in the 1-0 win at Houston, gave way to Cyle Larin
, who looked lively in the late stages of the Vancouver match. The No. 1 pick in the SuperDraft might have made it four different starters up front in four
weeks at Montreal on Saturday, but he was called into the Canadian national team. 3. REVS' MAN ADVANTAGE.
the return of Juan Agudelo
and return to form of Diego Fagundez
, New England was supposed to be even better than in 2014
when it won the Eastern Conference final. What have the Revs produced? Their 0-0 tie -- playing with a man advantage at home against Montreal -- left them with one point -- and no goals -- after three
The merits of Avaya Stadium's north end zone
There is indeed a lot to
like about Avaya Stadium, San Jose's new 18,000-seat soccer stadium that opened Sunday.
Located at the north end zone, the bar dubbed "North America's largest outdoor bar" has gotten lots
of attention. It has an OK selection of beer with fast service -- it should with 22 bartender stations -- but what really makes the bar is everything around it, beginning with the giant video board
In front of the bar, there are rows the entire length of the endline for fans to stand and hold their drinks while viewing the game (or if they aren't watching get whacked with
a very errant shot). Behind the goal is a grass area for fans to mingle and grab food from a selection of food trucks. (The tacos al pastor from El Tonayense were tasty and reasonably priced.)
Beyond the "North America's largest outdoor bar," the north end zone looks out on Mineta San Jose International Airport. You could see planes landing what seemed to be only several hundred feet
from the stadium across Coleman Avenue. National Team Watch
Three U.S. national teams -- seniors
-- will be in action during the March FIFA fixture window that falls around MLS's Week 4
during which all 20 teams are scheduled to play. Of the 61 players called up, just 18 belong to teams in MLS. And of the 18, just 12 have actually played so far this season. Nine of the 20 MLS teams
didn't lose any Americans. U.S. national team call-ups (MLS clubs): 3 Toronto FC
*Jozy Altidore, Marco Delgado) 3 LA Galaxy
(*Gyasi Zardes, Oscar Sorto, Bradford Jamieson IV) 2 Orlando City
(*Brek Shea, Conor Donovan) 2 Real Salt Lake
(*Nick Rimando, *Luis Gil) 2 San Jose Earthquakes
Alashe, Tommy Thompson) 1 Colorado Rapids
(*Shane O'Neill) 1 Columbus Crew
(*Wil Trapp) 1 New York City FC
(*Khiry Shelton) 1 Seattle Sounders
(*Clint Dempsey) 1
(*Erik Palmer-Brown) 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
*Played in 2015.