MLS must do a lot better, San Jose gets it right

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.

Saturday's six 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.

Two 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. Pfeffer admitted 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 CBS. 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 Paulo Renato went off with a hamstring injury, but replacements Clarence Goodson and Ty Harden 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 -- and gotten 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. With 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 games.

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 above it.

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, U-23s and U-20s -- 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 (*Michael Bradley, *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 (*Fatai 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 Sporting KC (*Erik Palmer-Brown)
1 Vancouver Whitecaps (Christian Dean)
*Played in 2015.
8 comments about "MLS must do a lot better, San Jose gets it right".
  1. Raymond Weigand, March 23, 2015 at 1:04 p.m.

    Bruce Arena ... not liking a whole lot on the night. I was at that game - Dynamo pressured the Galaxy on every ball and were consistently tackling hard for 90 minutes. Perhaps the Galaxy could have been more patient ... lots of long balls that were none too effective. I liked watching Ishizaki and Beasley go at it ... Beasley is so much more petite on the field than everyone else, however, he is quick and light on his feet and doesn't shy away from a challenge. Ishizaki perhaps could have forgone some of the wing play and sent the play through the middle ... and perhaps this could have also led to more shots from the central mids - bringing the Houston defense out - to set up the play through the middle. Bruce will find what he likes at the next training session and the fans will find that the play through the middle in the next game to be 'dynamic'. Keep moving forward ... and through the middle. hah.

  2. Glenn Maddock, March 23, 2015 at 2:57 p.m.

    Taylor Twellman was right yesterday. What's the incentive to score? When playing for ties gets you in the MLS playoffs. Clubs with the best record, rarely win MLS Cup, so its just a matter of playing it safe, get a bunch of boring ties, and squeeze into the playoff field. How about 4 points for a win?

  3. Zak Jarrell, March 23, 2015 at 8:21 p.m.

    I am 1000% certain what this league needs is better referees. An acceleration to giving cards is necessary to remove the painful to watch groping that occurs on almost every play. Similar to what the NHL did to allow for the skill and finesse to flourish. We wouldn't even need to change rules......just enforce them. Watching the Fire bring on two skillful new Nigerian players and watch them get kicked and bear hugged the whole game made me change the channel. Painful!!!!!

  4. Mike Jacome, March 24, 2015 at 12:50 a.m.

    The only 0-0 game I watched on Saturday was Colorado-NYC and I was highly entertained, there were plenty of opportunities for both teams. Sometimes a 0-0 draw can be more entertaining than a 0-3 match (i.e. Dortmund -Juventus)

  5. Joe Linzner, March 24, 2015 at 7:52 p.m.

    Here again what is the fascination with more points.... Why not give six points for a goal followed by a penalty for one, giving a total of 7 points for a score.... The playoffs are ridiculous and certainly detract from a need to earn points. The only way playoffs make sense is winners of the West against winners of the East divisions etc. Each division winner home and away and then a winner. In other words if you do not win a division there are no playoffs. As it sits there is zero incentive to win. Since relegation does not exist in MLS there must be a mechanism that encourages and promotes a win.

  6. Mike Jacome, March 25, 2015 at 12:28 a.m.

    Joe Linzner, Grrreat idea, Two supporters shields one for east and one for west and MLS cup facing the two winners. Also lack of relegation promotes APATHY, teams who are about to be relegated go to the pitch ready to destroy their enemy to prevent relegation, also helps to improve attendance. A team struggling currently gets abandoned by their fans if relegation existed the stadium were packed before a decisive game.

  7. Juan R, March 25, 2015 at 7:49 p.m.

    Great to see the promotion and relegation talk. There is not enough of an incentive to win without it. Probably won't see it until we get to 30 teams. Top league of 18 second of 12. Have a MLS cup as a true knockout tournament as well.

  8. Tim Brown, March 26, 2015 at 11:14 a.m.

    Joe and Mike. You guys are crazy. Lets just change the game to American football. 6 Points for a goal. That is literally the stupidest idea I have heard on this site or any other. MLS is what it is. It is a league of average and some very good footballers. Getting gimmicky is not the answer. Relegation will not happen anytime in the future here in America. But I do agree that is a better option than changing the whole face of the game. Hey guys lets just get rid of offsides as well.MLS would also do well to slow down expansion as that just waters down the product. There is a reason that Premier league has 20 teams. Oh yeah they also have relagation.

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