By Ridge Mahoney
Three MLS teams got off the schneid last weekend and in each case, defeated a team whose own
issues are rather severe.
D.C. United beat Philadelphia, 2-1, which leaves Philly among the trio of teams still lacking a victory. Minnesota United posted a "W" for the first time in its
brief MLS history by thumping also-winless Real Salt Lake, 4-2. Vancouver exacerbated the rough start to Curt Onalfo
’s tenure as LA Galaxy head coach by posting a triumph by the same
score as did the Loons.
The strong starts of three teams that missed the playoffs last year -- 2015 MLS Cup finalists Portland and Columbus as well as Houston -- are great stories in
their own right, but the stumbles of Philly, RSL, and the previously glamorous Galaxy bear close scrutiny.
The Union has yet to establish itself as a threat in the Eastern Conference, and
after nearly a decade among the Western Conference elite RSL and the Galaxy are beset by problems. These are crucial times. FIZZLES IN
Union head coach Jim Curtin
is coming up on the third anniversary of his appointment as head coach (June 10, 2014), and it’s safe to say that despite squeezing into the
playoffs last year after missing out in 2014 and 2015, Philly seems stuck in neutral.
Aside from keeper Andre Blake
and right back Keegan Rosenberry
and, if healthy,
, the Union is -- by MLS standards -- decidedly average. It has good young players in Rosenberry and centerback Josh Yaro
-- who’s had his own injury problems -- but
the signings of Alejandro Bedoya
and Oguchi Onyewu
have, as yet, not been transformational events.
Since arriving last year as a Designated Player, Bedoya has scored one
goal and registered no assists in 14 games. Onyewu’s arrival during the past offseason has not significantly stabilized the back line. His centerback partner, Richie Marquez
struggled this season, and against D.C. departed at halftime with a head injury after giving away a penalty kick by blocking a chip with his right arm. Maurice Edu
entire 2016 season with leg fractures suffered in March and October and has yet to play this season. His lengthy loss is a terrible case of bad luck and soon Philly will have to deal with his age as
well. He turns 31 in two weeks and will need considerable time to get fit and sharp once he gets back on the field. And time isn’t what Philly has much to play with at 0-2-2.
Against a team other than D.C., Philly might have grabbed at least a point last weekend but it ran into the heartbreaker that is Bill Hamid
. He stoned Haris Medunjanin
, and Rosenberry, but Hamid does that to teams regularly. Sapong scored in the 71st minute but Philly’s road record dropped to 0-2-1.
The Union has played only one home
game, and gets three in a row at Talen Energy Stadium starting on Saturday with Portland. Medunjanin is settling into his central midfield role and a few good games from him in front of the home fans
would generate some badly needed momentum, not to mention confidence. THE POWER OF PETKE.
After the 2013 season, RSL did the
honorable thing in replacing Jason Kreis
by promoting former assistant coach Jeff Cassar
, but two playoff appearances in three seasons wasn’t enough to overcome a poor finish to
2016 and bad start this season.
Cassar had a lot to deal with: playmaker Javier Morales
probably ran out of starting mojo two seasons ago but the team kept going back to him, there
is no heir-apparent to midfielder Kyle Beckerman
, and a painful heel injury to Yura Movsisyan
stalled the RSL attack down the stretch. After four seasons of more promise than production,
left in the Re-Entry Draft to San Jose, which released him midway through preseason.
RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen
cited the need for “a disciplinarian”
as the rationale for naming Mike Petke
, who lasted one game in charge of the Real Monarchs SLC USL operation, to replace Cassar.
In a way, technically, RSL has stayed in-house once
again, but the arrival of Petke -- most closely identified for his time as a MetroStars/Red Bulls player and head coach of the latter -- is an extreme departure from the Kreis days and a clear signal
of Hansen taking full command. Petke also played for D.C. United and Colorado and brings to RSL a record as head coach of 34-23-25 (all competitions) with the Red Bulls.
up RSL’s back line almost at will last weekend and one of the former centerback’s most pressing needs is to find stability and security among the trio of Justen Glad
and Aaron Maund
. The midfield and front line need work as well, but RSL needs more displays like the one March 18, when it became only the third team in the last 16 games to avoid
defeat at Red Bull Arena by tying, 0-0. GALAXY LOOKING GRIM.
Upheaval and adjustment were expected with Bruce Arena
no longer in the organization, yet what has been seen so far doesn’t much resemble the Galaxy.
It started off the season by losing its first two home games, to FC
Dallas and Portland, yet managed to beat RSL on the road, which is normally a notable achievement.
But like the Galaxy, RSL is laboring under clouds of doubt, and a severe injury suffered
by Sebastian Lletget
minutes after scoring his first U.S. goal has weakened a roster only recently bolstered by the returns from injury of Gyasi Zardes
and Ashley Cole
Midfielder Roman Alessandrini
is a skillful, dangerous attacker who should be consistently effective in MLS, and Giovani dos Santos
needs only a bit more consistency to rank among the
league elite. But the long grooming process of Jack McBean
still seems far away from completion and if Clement Diop
commits another error like the botched touch that gave the Whitecaps a
goal, another alternative to Brian Perk
will be needed until Brian Rowe
(out with a shoulder injury) is ready to return.
Vancouver scored two goals in as many minutes to
overturn a 2-1 Galaxy lead. Even on the road, that simply can’t happen, and seldom did after Arena took over midway through the 2008 season. Keane is not around to hold his teammates accountable
and that breach needs filling.
The Galaxy has invested a lot in dos Santos, defender Jelle Van Damme
and Jermaine Jones
, who has never played more than 18 games in an MLS
season and will need a lot of support from young studs like Emmanuel Boateng
and Joao Pedro
With three of the next four games at home, theoretically the Galaxy can get into
a rhythm that meshes their new elements and established performers. But if not, the four-game road swing that follows might be uglier than what the fans have seen since the short, barren reign of