Monday, May 9, 2011

The MLS Grinder: MLS 2.0

So I've been super busy this weekend and found my precious MLS watch time cut down drastically. Luckily, the one game I did see - the one we'll profile below - was brilliant. How's that for luck? I'll try to throw some Stuart Holden's way the next time I bump into him.

Game of the Week
NY Red Bulls 1, LA Galaxy 1

Kind of a no-brainer this week. You can find your two goals from Thierry Henry and Landon Donvan here and here, but there was class all over this game. From an open, flowing first 45 to a second half that led to the kind of tactical ingenuity MLS only dreamed of showcasing a few years ago, this game, I believe, could auger some very good things for our league.

A few weeks ago, I wondered amongst some fellow MLS fans whether Real Salt Lake and NY Red Bulls, with their wide open play, savvy midfields, outstanding back lines and smooth attack, was leading us to something we termed "MLS 2.0," a kind of next step in the evolution of the league. I think the Galaxy are right there after what we witnessed this weekend, and I think the league laid bare its tangible steps forward this weekend on a national stage. Even in a league of parity in a game of mega-giants, we're getting our own bonafide Chelsea and Manchester Uniteds, no matter that it might not last nearly as long. I feel so proud.

This game could have easily devolved into a pretty stale offering, with both teams leading their respective leagues and likely wary of needlessly dropping points when a one-pointer would suffice. Not what we saw. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe ruminated post-game that the scoreline could have easily been 3-3 instead. Agreed, good sir. Early goals can take games in a variety of directions, but this one sped up after Henry struck for one in the fourth minute. Of course, the idea that this game was played at as high a level as we've seen from an MLS tilt shouldn't come as a surprise. There were a treasure trove of designated players available, but having seen more than a few DPs flail, fall and flop, that's never a guarantee of a fluid game. Juan Pablo Angel aside, they delivered, especially the trio of Donovan, Beckham and Henry, all of whom showed class.

In all, LA completed 80 percent of its passes and NY converted at a clip of 83 percent. Those are extraordinary numbers for this league in a game played at this high a tempo with everything else factored in. That's a good thing, dare I say an important thing, for the future of MLS. Games like these show that our league is no longer little, and it certainly can no longer be considered insignificant in a global sense, if it ever was. I'm not suggesting MLS can hang with UEFA's best, but lets be honest with ourselves for a minute. The idea of the league producing a game like this even a few years ago seemed fairly remote (and the idea of Thierry Henry in a Red Bulls kit equally so). Good on ya.

Best of the best
- Jeld-Wen Field, the Timbers' home field, is a fortress. It has already produced this goosebump-inducing moment:

And this guy rips up his machine of death and saws through a prime cut of cedar after goals. I'd be scared, too.

But the real backbone of the home field advantage is the fans, of course. Portland dropped the Union 1-0 on Friday night for its fourth win at home this year in front of a packed house and a roaring crowd yet again. I don't need to go back to former expansion teams to point out how impressive that home record is already, but a few of those first-year teams might have been happy to have four wins period by this point. No idea where Portland finishes the season, but if they end up sneaking into the playoffs with a home game, I wouldn't want to be that visiting squad.

Fredy Montero is good. Very good, in fact. Shame for the Sounders his goal didn't stand up. Columbus equalized to take a point.

Worst of the worst
- Not sure exactly who we'll attribute this to, but lets go with "the powers that be." Landon Donovan questioned the league's lack of technology in analyzing a possible goal prevented by Tim Ream's slide, a goal that could've been worth all three points. Have to agree with him here. This is a hot-button topic everywhere, and I'm firmly in the "let's get replay involved" camp, for whatever that's worth. Anyone traveling the same unloved path as Sepp Blatter is taking their life into their own hands.

Was it a goal? You decide. Sure looks like it.

A look ahead
- So the fixture we've all had circled is about here. Portland vs. Seattle, Qwest Field, Saturday night, 8 p.m., ESPN2. Can't wait to see this one. Some good old fashioned Pacific Northwestern hate funneled onto a soccer pitch. Lovely.

I'm taking Seattle 2-1 in an open display of attacking footy. I'm an optimist, what can I say?

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