Three MLS teams in need of answers -- quickly

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 PHILLY. 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, Chris Pontius, 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, has 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 missed the 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, C.J. Sapong, 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, Olmes Garcia 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.

Minnesota opened 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, Chris Schuler 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 and Robbie Keane 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 Ruud Gullit.
1 comment about "Three MLS teams in need of answers -- quickly".
  1. Quarterback TD, April 5, 2017 at 9:41 a.m.

    It's only week 3 and another 6 1/4 months to go.. why is this crap even news ?

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