Sunday, May 15, 2011

The MLS Grinder: The Goats Strike Back

Justin Braun is... good.

Game of the Week
Chivas USA 3, New York Red Bulls 2

So, er, this happened on Sunday night.

Sur. prise.

What made the result a double shocker was the return of Red Bulls midfielder Teemu Tainio, who missed the terrific L.A. draw last week and, as one of the league's most consistent midfielders, figured to bolster what most of us had figured as MLS's biggest and baddest team. Whoops. And the Fake Goats were missing forward Marcos Mondaini, who of course is serving a four-game suspension after hacksawing away at Javier Morales' ankle. On a quick side-note (hopefully they don't take it down before you see this), check out Mondaini's Wikipedia page. First sentence. Awesome.

So the addition of Tainio to an already great side and the subtraction of Mondaini to an already pedestrian one - or so it appeared - seemed to portend some ugly things for the Fake Goats. But a young fella named Justin Braun made us all forget about the league table and talent disparities and that fancy Red Bull Arena and everything else.

Braun scored nine goals last year, but he hadn't done anything to establish himself this season. In fact, he hadn't started in over a month. So much for rust. Braun broke a 13-game scoreless drought by putting in all three Chivas goals, reminiscent of Will Bruin's hat trick of a few weeks ago for Houston. After two first-half goals, Braun's third goal in the 56th minute was an easy tap-in off an Alejandro Moreno miss that proved to be the game-winner.

Talk about New York's lapses all you'd like, but this was a defense that features (my opinion here) the league's best young defender in Tim Ream. More to the point, New York had allowed three goals in the previous eight league games. Braun doubled it in the space of 56 minutes.

Don't look now, but Chivas is charging, having won three of four now, the last of which snapped the Red Bulls' four-game unbeaten streak and handed New York its first loss in more than a month. That would be the same Red Bulls team I used this space to elevate last week as the vanguard of MLS's new cutting edge soccer revival. Every time you think you've got this league figured out, that whole parity thing boomerangs on you and knocks you on your back. It may eliminate the joys of a unified evil power to root against, but it does make things interesting on a game-by-game basis.

One thing I can say for certain: MLS is unlike any league in the world in this regard. Whether that's a good or bad thing, I'll leave those philosophical questions to our good readers.

Best of the best

- They're calling this one "The Beckham Special" over on the Galaxy boards. I call it, "Barely earning that bloated paycheck you in no way deserve that further inflates your already substantial ego." Great goal, though.

- Hello there Danso, or "Futty," per his fitting nickname. The Gambian nodded home the equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Seattle in a game hamstrung by rain that was fairly entertaining nonetheless. Rain in Seattle? Shocking.

Danso is one of those second division Timbers whom coach John Spencer chose to keep around in the periphery, and along with Kalif Alhassan, Spencer comes out looking like a managerial wunderkind for unearthing this kind of talent and nurturing it through a league promotion. Portland is deeper and more talented than any first-year MLS team can reasonably be expected to be. Notice I didn't call them an expansion team. Had a Timbers fan jump all over me once for that, so I know better now.

So anyway, Danso's star is bright. And here's the goal.

Worst of the worst

- MLS refereeing has long been chided as inconsistent, reactionary and largely incompetent at times. Of course, I suppose that viewpoint prevails across the globe among jilted and entirely too partisan fans (insert your, "We got screwed by Referee X story here"), but MLS refs have always seemed a special breed. They've gotten markedly better over the life of the league, mirroring player development in that regard, but there are still occasional burners... like this one.

Pontius lowers his shoulder, leans in and he draws the penalty? Woof.

- Grizzly injuries to key players have been alarmingly frequent this year. MLS is vowing some sort of retribution, something like the NFL cracking down on concussions here lately, but it's an ugly fact of life that injuries string together sometimes to make the sport look more violent than it is. We've lost both Steve Zakuani and Javier Morales to suspension-inducing tackles within the last three weeks. So crunching were they that both teams are still trying (and failing) to produce a replacement. Zakuani's pace and Morales' creativity were never going to be easy things to replicate with bench talent, but the road back might be littered with some pretty wicked potholes.

In RSL's first game since Morales' injury (see it here if you dare), which got the aforementioned Mondaini his ban (notably shorter than Mullan's, for the record), they produced a scoreless draw Saturday against the Dynamo at fortress Rio Tinto. The 22-year-old Collen Warner took Morales' place, and he had none of Morales' verve up top, an obvious truth after 90 minutes without a goal against Houston's leaky defense. Seattle is 1-1-2 since the injury, and fitting somebody into Zakuani's agile role is proving to be a tall task. Harder still, Brad Evans ran into a groin injury this weekend a day after Erik Friberg suffered a training injury. Bad gets worse for Seattle's ailing attack corps.

Special shout-out to San Jose this week, which got its first win in seven matches stretching back to late March in an impressive 3-0 road win over Columbus. The Quakes climbed out of the West's cellar and took themselves off my weekly Worst of the Worst watch. Next up: Supporters Shield.

- Will Parchman


Oscar M. said...

Also in the United game, the last defender takes out DAx and earns only a Yellow and an earlier, much clearer take down of Ngwenya in the middle of the box does not get a PK call.

DM said...

Pontius was clearly looking to draw the foul, but you can't argue that DC was due.

Will said...

Agreed, the no-call on Ngwenya was pretty obvious, and the refs got behind (and got lost) on their make-up calls. Which is part of the problem, obviously.

TrueCrew said...

The San Jose game was in San Jose, not Columbus. You may have been confused because it was raining.