MLS exercises in futility

By Paul Kennedy

What kind of impact did MLS's decision to play through the March international calendar have this weekend?

National team call-ups alone weren't the problem but along with injuries, they left several teams terribly short-handed. Orlando City had 15 players dress for its match against Montreal, while Seattle dressed only 17 players at FC Dallas.

For FC Dallas-Seattle, a battle of the early Supporters' Shield leader and last year's winner, Dallas was without top scorer Blas Perez, on duty with Panama, and the Sounders didn't have their top scorer, Clint Dempsey, injured training with the U.S. national team. When you add to that the absences of Dallas playmaker Mauro Diaz and Sounders striker Obafemi Martins, both injured, a scoreless draw in Frisco was not out of the ordinary.

What was unique about the FC Dallas-Seattle match was the absence of a single shot on goal -- the first time in MLS's 20 seasons both teams have failed to hit the target. The closest either team came to scoring was when Michel's free kick found the crossbar in the first half. How Chad Barrett didn't score for Seattle is something he'll be asking himself for a long time to come.

MLS Scoring:
Week 1: 1.60
Week 2: 3.13
Week 3: 1.25
Week 4: 1.90
Season: 1.94

For its second match at Yankee Stadium, New York City FC knew it would be without Adam Nemec, on international duty with Slovakia, and supersub Khiry Shelton with the U.S. U-23s. What was unexpected the absence of David Villa, suffering from an adductor strain. NYCFC had plenty of the ball against Sporting Kansas City -- but could turn 60 percent of possession into only three shots on goal and it sent the Bronx faithful -- a "sellout crowd" of 27,545 -- home disappointed after a 1-0 loss.

FC Dallas and Seattle weren't the only teams to fail to hit the target, though. Philadelphia didn't record a shot on goal in its 1-0 loss at Chicago, though it couldn't use international callups as an excuse. The only starter missing from the Union's front six was its injured playmaker, Argentine Cristian Maidana.

The low of the lows: Colorado became the first team in MLS history to start the season with three consecutive 0-0 ties as a scoreless draw at Houston extended its scoring drought to 510 minutes dating back to the 2014 season. The tie pushed the Rapids' winless streak to 17 games.

MLS: Week 4 Results & Standings, Week 5 Schedule

Week 4: Three goals you must watch

1. CHRIS PONTIUS vs. LA Galaxy. D.C. United looked to be headed to a 0-0 tie with the Galaxy when a bit of magic from Nick DeLeon set up Pontius for the winner deep in stoppage time. Davy Arnaud found DeLeon on the edge of the penalty area, where he lifted the ball over Robbie Rogers and found Pontius on the far side with an early candidate for assist of the year.

2. MIKE GRELLA vs. Columbus. Jack McInerney's goal when he  lifted the ball over Orlando keeper Donovan Ricketts, stranded off his line, wasn't bad, but Mike Grella gets the nod for the chip of the week with his delicate strike from distance to beat Steve Clark, also caught cheating, for the New York Red Bulls' winner in their 2-1 victory at Columbus. It was the first MLS goal for the former Duke star, at age 28 playing in his first MLS season.

3. NICOLAS MEZQUIDA vs. Portland. Up until now, Mezquida has been overshadowed by two other Uruguayans, Sebastian Fernandez in 2014 and Octavio Rivero this season, but he curled a free kick from 25 yards past Portland keeper Adam Kwarasey for the first goal of their Cascadia Cup clash.

What Worked in Week 4 ...

1. OUSTED HIGHLIGHT REEL. In his first full season in MLS, Dane David Ousted led MLS with 13 shutouts for Vancouver, tied for the fifth-most in a season. He didn't pitch a shutout on Saturday against Portland, but he kept the 'Caps in the game long enough for Robert Earnshaw to grab the winner in their 2-1 victory. Amazing Ousted saves included a stop on a blast from Darlington Nagbe and a close-range block on Fanendo Adi.

2. OLSEN MOTIVATES UNITED. United's first win over the Galaxy since 2008 was quite a difference from six days earlier when it put on a listless effort in a 2-0 loss to the Red Bulls. Coach Ben Olsen let his players have it after a horrible performance following a bye week. Against the Galaxy, United played much better even if it took Pontius' stoppage-time goal to settle the outcome. “I was just happy to see our team back,” Olsen said afterward.

3. BESLER'S THROW-INS. With teams struggling to find any offense, it wasn't a surprise it would take something like a throw-in to decide the New York City FC-Sporting Kansas City match. Matt Besler's long throw-in is no secret around MLS, nor is Ike Opara's heading ability, which led to the early Sporting KC goal in its 1-0 win at Yankee Stadium. "We talked about it yesterday in the preparation meeting and showed lots of video of it," said NYCFC coach Jason Kreis of the "inch perfect" throw-in.

What Didn't Work in Week 4 ...

1. BARRETT IN ATTACK. With Dempsey and Martins out, Barrett got the start up front for the Sounders, but he missed three golden opportunities to give Seattle the win over FC Dallas, which played the last 72 minutes short-handed following Kellyn Acosta's red card. One was a point-blank chance he put wide and another on a one-on-one with keeper Chris Seitz that also went wide. “Barrett will be the first one to say that he’s got to finish one of those,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.

2. MONTREAL LETS GUARD DOWN. Montreal took a 2-0 lead on Orlando City after 27 minutes and couldn't hold on to the lead. Three minutes later, the score was knotted at 2-2 after goals by Brazilians Kaka and Pedro Ribeiro, who each set up the other.

3. QUAKES CAN'T HANDLE PRESSURE. New England is one of the most predictable teams in MLS, relying on their high pressure to create turnovers and quick counterattacks. San Jose couldn't handle the pressure as Kelyn Rowe converted a pair of first-half goals after the outside backs Shaun Francis and Marvell Wynne turned the ball over.

Portland's Porter perplexed

Portland's penchant for conceding late goals was a problem in 2014 when it failed to make the playoffs. The killer match was a 3-2 loss to lowly Toronto FC late in the season on a Michael Bradley goal in the 89th minute that completed a comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

Already this season, the Timbers had to settle for a 2-2 tie with the Galaxy when they gave up a stoppage-time goal by Alan Gordon after Fanendo Adi had put them ahead in the 90th minute. On Saturday, Adi seemingly earned the Timbers a share of the points with Vancouver thanks to his goal in the 82nd minute, but Earnshaw broke free to give the 'Caps a 2-1 win with a goal in the 91st minute.

Earnshaw's goal spoiled a dominating Timbers' effort -- they finished with a 66-34 percent edge in possession and completed 88 percent of their passes -- and left Coach Caleb Porter perplexed how they didn't win.

"I haven't seen us dominate a game on the road like this since I've been here," said Porter, in his third season at Portland.

National Team Watch

The U.S. U-20s were in England, but several U-20 candidates had eventful weekends back in MLS. The FC Dallas-Seattle game turned on Acosta's red card, while Jordan Allen, back after missing almost all of the 2014 season with a  knee injury, scored the winner for Real Salt Lake in its 2-1 win over Toronto FC.

On the FC Dallas bench: Alejandro Zendejas, just weeks away from captaining the U.S. U-17s in their decisive match at the Concacaf U-17 qualifying tournament.

U.S. UNDER-23s. Starters: Polster, Roldan, Villarreal. Subs: Kovar, Okoli, Zimmerman. U.S. UNDER-20s. Starters: Acosta, Miazga, *Turner. Sub: Allen. U.S. UNDER-18s. Sub: *Mansaray, *Saucedo.
*MLS debuts.
5 comments about "MLS exercises in futility".
  1. Brian Kraft, March 30, 2015 at 1:59 p.m.

    Nick DeLeon's late effort for United would be worthy of any weekly highlight reel, even if it hadn't been finished. But I found it impressive how Chris Pontius wriggled and flew and...willed his way around his marker to get his head on that ball. Those who've been wondering what kind of team DC United would be this year got their answer right there and then.

  2. Raymond Weigand, March 30, 2015 at 2:15 p.m.

    Paul, the Nicolas Mezquida link from 3. NICOLAS MEZQUIDA vs. Portland. "curled a free kick" links to a promo piece from the Mezquida camp. Not sure if this was the link you originally intended ... probably not. Kind regards, Ray

  3. A. Torres, March 30, 2015 at 2:17 p.m.

    MLS should comply with FIFA's international calendar. I went to a game this past weekend and I have to say I felt a little cheated when I realized some of the starting line up would be missing due to international call ups. But regardless of that, I believe following the FIFA international calendar would give MLS more credibility. As their goal should be to always provide a top of the line product and not the water-down version we got this past weekend.

  4. Miguel Dedo, March 30, 2015 at 2:56 p.m.

    Nick deLeon always plays with enthusiasm, it is good to how he is is adding skill to his impressive work rate. The next Ben Olsen?

  5. beautiful game, March 30, 2015 at 7:49 p.m.

    Watched a couple of the MLS games, NYRB v Crew; DCU v Galaxy, and KC v NYFC; neither of the games had much mojo, plenty of turnovers or hopeful balls. Deleon of DCU showed some superb skill and presence to assist on the winning goal. Otherwise, none of these matches were worth the price of admission.

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