Monday, May 23, 2011

The MLS Grinder: Just skip to Carlos Ruiz's goal

Game of the Week
NY Red Bulls 2, Houston 2

So why this game? Why not the Superclasico? Or Seattle's late-game dramatics? Short answer: there were some lively finishes this week, but not a whole lot of lively 90s. I could've just as easily pointed you in the direction of that 2-1 Philly/Chicago game, but God help you if you're a Fire fan this year. That's soccer only a mother who really, really likes soccer can love. And no worries, Union fans. We'll touch on your boys here in a sec. But for now...

I'm aware this is the third week in a row the Red Bulls are involved in our Grinder GOW, and I'd like to think that speaks more to their creativity and proclivity toward playing attractive soccer than it does my inability to see beauty in anything, say, Sporting KC put out. But I digress. Entertainment? You got it. Dane Richards scored 37 seconds into the game. It was a beauty, too, and it set the table for a lively first half. No surprise though that the game was weighed down by its own sweat in the second half as things slowed to a churn.

This game was played in front of the largest Houston crowd of the season, which crammed into Robertson Stadium to watch a star-studded Red Bulls team nearly falter in what I can attest as some of the most humid, disgusting, shirt-sticking weather you'll encounter. Showers in Texas, soccer and May heat, especially in Houston, do not make for good bedfellows. But here was New York, invading the Space City with a roster chock full of Northern Europeans and converted New Yorkers and... well, they didn't wither, did they?

So we've talked about Red Bulls before... how we think they're the machine stirring up the wave pool right now. But Houston isn't far behind. Never overlook Dominic Kinnear is axiom No. 1 of the day. I think to the more intent MLS observer this game might've looked a little bogged down at times, even cagey. To that, Kinnear might exclaim, "Exactly!" With Red Bulls owning an edge in possession play and the weather miserable, Houston's stated goal was to choke the middle of the field and counter on any overextension. Neither of Houston's goals were in the run of play, one coming on a penalty and the other off a corner. But Houston converted (partially thanks to a Rafa Marquez challenge) when it needed to. Disappointed to drop two points? Absolutely, and they should be. But if anything, this proves that Houston has the mettle to stand with any team in the league. If we didn't already know that, we do now.

Best of the best

- So here's where we finally get to the Union. I've flirted with putting Philly in our MLS spots a few times, one being our Top 5 Spines as well as featuring them a few times in this space, but they've been hard to peg down. I've been reticent to hand them too much praise because while their results have been nice, there's been a hint of engine failure at most every turn. There were all the 1-0 wins, 1-1 draws and 1-0 losses, but not once all year had the Union scored twice in a game... until this weekend. And my, my, what a goal it took to get them there.

I like this Philly team. They're now, gulp, atop the Eastern Conference with 17 points, a point clear of the Red Bulls in the same amount of games. With a defense that stout (although Mondragon was guilty of a real howler this week) they'll be in most games, but the offense was troubling. Sebastien Le Toux looked nothing like he had at times last year, Danny Mwanga was obviously not on the same page (same book?) and they struggled getting anything constructive out of their midfield going forward. I'm not here to suggest those problems have all dissipated. And let's be honest, Chicago is playing awful right now. But I think you saw a few peaks on that offensive life support machine this week. It ain't dead yet, folks. And hey, Le Toux banged one off the post. He's getting closer.

They deserve to be in this spot if only for this Carlos Ruiz strike. Holy. Mother. I'm calling MLS goal of the year unless Beckham curves one in from 75 out to win the MLS Cup in the 90th minute. This was a volley. A volley.

- Take a bow, Jeff Parke. You might remember him from the confusing Scarlet Letter Affair, where the traveled defender was banned a record 10 games (Brian Mullan says hi!) for browsing too long at a Vitamin Shoppe. Since that time, Parke bounced onto the Sounders, fell to the Whitecaps before they were promoted and then found his way back to Seattle.

And here he is, popping in his first MLS goal in seven years to avoid the ignominious fate of losing to Sporting at home. What a time to get it. I'm glad I'm no Sounders fan. Some great results, but the medical bills must be hell.

Worst of the Worst

- Chivas USA stretched its losing streak against the Galaxy to nearly four years with a 1-0 loss at a sold out Home Depot Center on Saturday night. Now, I'm not going to get too down on the Fake Goats here because I did think they showed some bright moments. Like a Ben Zemanski strike that bounded off the post (and unfortunately a video eludes me) at 65 minutes that looked to be the equalizer.

LA even looked a little suspect at times in the second half against Chivas' attack, as John Harkes so breathlessly commented to the lot of us. I'm not of the opinion that Chivas is just going to up and move any time soon, but they're beginning to play into that "One City, One Team" mantra that's so ingrained across world football. Manchester has always had United, not City. The People's Club has never really been Liverpool's club. And so on and so forth. If Chivas aren't careful, they could be locked into a long-term stigma if these losses don't start washing off fast. It's already piling up, and nobody in their right mind thinks Chivas when they think of LA soccer. You can thank the last decade for that. Luckily for the Goats, if there's any league that can turn a loser into a winner in a blink, it's MLS. Ask New York. Could really use Benny Feilhaber right about now, though. I've had that decision explained to me, yet it still doesn't make a lick of sense.

- Sporting KC really, really need Livestrong Sporting Park to open now. Like, really. Sporting continued its herkey-jerkey play this season by losing to the aforementioned Parke goal in Seattle. KC is now sitting on a league-worst four points from eight games. That's half as many points as newly promoted Vancouver, by the by. If anybody needs a jolt, it's KC.

To throw Philly's success into relief, KC has 11 goals this year and a single win to show. Philly? Eight goals and five wins. Who knows with this league?

But it's a nice looking park!

- Will Parchman

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