Sunday, May 1, 2011

The MLS Grinder: How the West was... done?

As your friendly host today, it's my pleasure to take you on a tour of the massive fault line that just opened up below the West's two best teams this weekend. LA lost, and RSL provided a glimpse of what a CONCACAF hangover looks like by losing its first game of the year. What fun is analysis if you can't be reactionary every once in a while?

Game of the Week
FC Dallas 2, L.A. Galaxy 1

So I spent last week extolling the virtues of Galaxy's Donovan-led renaissance, which seemed to be in full swing after a 3-0 dusting of Portland (and Portland won again this week, for whatever that's worth). Donovan looked great, Juan Pablo Angel didn't seem so lost anymore... this was the Galaxy we all expected to be the early 2000's Yankees to RSL's early 2000's Red Sox. So much talent, so much money sunk into this team, and the gears finally seemed to be coming around.

I don't care to suggest that one loss to the West's defending champs augers death, but it did expose some fairly serious cracks. Dallas has put in some limpid performances this year, and don't forget, David Ferreira is dutifully trying to get his ankle back into playing shape after a bad fracture last week. It's going to be a while.

So as expected, Schellas Hyndman moved Brek Shea up to LM, and Shea spent the better part of 90 minutes making 2008 rookie of the year Sean Franklin look... well, not like a former rookie of the year, I suppose. When Shea finally struck for the winner in the 88th minute with a beauty of a bomb, amid all the cold and the rain and the empty stadium, nobody left was rightly surprised (ridiculous shot aside). This vindicates my belief that for whatever reason, Hyndman moved Shea to LB to help his stock with the USMNT. It's a conspiracy theory, yes, but I'm sticking by it. There is absolutely no way moving Shea to the back line helped Dallas more than having him directly involved in the attack, and a blind monkey can deduce that. That it took a killer injury to Ferreira to make him change the plan is somewhat puzzling.

The real story here, in my estimation, was LA's performance. Even if Shea hadn't shocked us all with that goal, LA is looking at a one-pointer against a team playing its first game without its talisman, a team, mind you, that hadn't even been that inspired with him. They weren't that inspired on Sunday night either, but they stole the three points anyway. Was LA the better team for most of that game? Yes, probably so. But the points tell the story, not the performance. LA has now conceded nine goals in nine games and has a pair of losses. Nobody in the East's top four has more than one, albeit in fewer games. Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake, the perceived challengers, have both conceded just two goals, RSL in five games and NY in seven. LA's shaky defense and Davy Beckham's utter inability to track back is not a good combo.

Like I said, not putting the stake in LA just yet. If they play like they played in the first half against Portland last week all year, they win the MLS Cup. But as last years' playoff run proved, getting Donovan and his brethren to put in 90 quality minutes on a game-by-game basis is not always an assured gambit. Donovan Ricketts is streaky in goal, Angel tends to disappear, and Donovan ends up looking more and more like the team's best striker, frustratingly enough. If I'm making power rankings, I'm taking both RSL and NY ahead of LA right now. Still early, of course.

Best of the best
- A very generous tip of the cap to the aforementioned Brek Shea this week, who will have slack-jawed onlookers wondering if this was meant as a cross or if he had this turned on goal all along. Betcha they'll have differing opinions 'round the water cooler in Dallas and LA on Monday morning (my answer at the bottom... cliffhanger!).


- Will Bruin put in three goals in Houston's 4-1 win over DC United. The 21-year old was the No. 11 overall pick in the draft this year, and he beat fellow rook Perry Kitchen to a header on his second.

Here that is.

A nice coming-out party for for the youngster, who appears to be Bring Ching's heir apparent. Got to work on those goal celebrations though. I've tried to find a picture to no avail, but I'd call it the "Drowning Chipmunk." In other news, what's up with DC? They've been outscored 8-1 over their last two league games, 11-3 if you include the US Open Cup. Paging Charlie Davies. Charlie Davies to the courtesy phone. You know how to anchor a back line?

Worst of the worst
- I made the deduction that things had to get better before they got worse for San Jose following a loss to middling Chivas USA last week. Welp... I'll have to eat my words on that one. Not only did San Jose lose for the fourth time in seven games, and not only was it to a Philly Union team that scores at a glacial pace, but it was to a 10-man Philly Union team that scores at a glacial pace. The scoreline? 1-0 in favor of Philly off a Le Toux (legit to quit) free kick, just the Union's fifth goal in six games despite playing the entire second half a man down. I promise I'll stop ragging on San Jose when they stop losing, but who knows when that'll be?

- Toronto FC's Dan Gargan on Toronto's 3-0 loss to newly Steve Zakuani-less Seattle on Saturday: "It's embarrassing. The players feel like (expletive) about it." A lot to feel like (expletive) about, to be sure: just a solitary shot on Kasey Keller, Maicon Santos - a man TFC needs to perform well - looked lost at times, and Seattle did just about anything it wanted in the attacking third. Aron Winter's rebuilding project was always going to take some time, but this setback may have crystallized just how far TFC has yet to travel.

And what do I think of Shea's game-winner? Look at this dude's face. You think he expected to score that?


- Will Parchman

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