Sunday, June 5, 2011

The MLS Grinder: It's Balchan Time

The Gold Cup is underway, much to the chagrin of Bruce Arena's Donovan-less Galaxy and the Wondo-less Quakes, who inexplicably aren't feeling the sting, as we'll get into later. And as soon as I start extolling the virtues of the league's ability to create goals, we have a weekend when only five teams score more than once. Blech. Anyway, for now...

Game of the Week
Columbus 1, New York 1

Admittedly not the prettiest of games, but it was a relatively important one for the Crew, who dredged a point out of the muck with a moment of madness from MLS rook Rich Balchan.

When Mehdi Ballouchy opened the scoring in the ninth minute off a tremendous feed from Luke Rodgers, spectators had every right to think the Red Bulls would run away with the game or, at the very least, boss the remainder of the night. Credit Columbus for bouncing off the ropes just before the final bell, and give Justin Meram props for scooting down the left side and abusing Matt Kassel to get the cross in.

Behind the surprising result is the mental toll, which swung in Columbus' favor with Balchan's one-timer. Both of these teams are struggling for wins right now, the Crew winless in four games entering Saturday and New York winless in five, oddly enough. With 19 points, a solid foothold on second in the East and this game being played in the comforting early-season heat of early June, New York has no reason for panic just yet, though getting back on the right foot with a couple important players called away would've been a good thing.

The Crew, on the other hand, needed at least a point to continue ascending the ladder in the East. With a flagging attack and a makeshift back line, the Crew have some issues to figure out, but they'll take this. Columbus is unbeaten at home this year but was (and still is) winless on the road. With 20,000 at full throat in Red Bull Arena, getting a result of any kind, let alone rescuing a point in the game's twilight, has to be viewed as a positive.

Best of the Best

- San Jose was a fat target for the Grinder earlier this season, when it seemed like all San Jose could do was get its supporter section into trouble and fumble away games to bad teams.

So what's the deal? The Quakes are unbeaten in their last five, have won three straight at Buck Shaw (which is a bad venue to begin with) and they most recently dropped the Houston Dynamo 2-0 on Saturday without Chris Wondolowski, who received a Gold Cup call-up. Listless current run aside, the Dynamo can put together some pretty passages of play when they're on, so this win shouldn't be brushed aside as an aberration. There are more than a few things going very right in San Jose right now.

Don't get it twisted, though. Nobody will confuse San Jose for Barcelona USA. The Quakes don't do it pretty. They seemed to rope-a-dope Houston in an ugly, uneven first half that produced more opportunities in San Jose's half. The second half, while decidedly more positive, couldn't be confused for dominant either. Khari Stephenson, the midfielder with a penchant for those howitzer goals, was pushed up top and looked lost at times. That was my main gripe for Yallop, the embattled coach who needs this run to save his job.

If this run continues in any length, San Jose might just eventually scrape, claw and bareknuckle its way into a playoff spot. They won't be the scariest low seed in the tourney, but I can see the Quakes upsetting the cart of a top team.

- RSL has been searching in vain for a spark up top since Marcos Mondaini ended Javier Morales' season. RSL had just 10 goals in nine games entering Saturday's game against the recently coachless Whitecaps.

In stepped Jean Alexandre, who scored a goal and assisted on another.

RSL still has problems up top, and the idea that Alexandre, a converted defensive midfielder, will be a consistent threat for goals isn't something I'm behind just yet. And it was the Whitecaps. But RSL's fading star in the West needed a kick in the pants, and Alexandre's boot was only too happy to oblige.

- Marvin Chavez either didn't take geometry in high school or is the smartest man alive.

Worst of the Worst

- We've talked before about the mystery of Portland's Jeld-Wen Field, which continues to frustrate visiting opposition, who are 1-5-0 there. Just as curious is Portland's utter inability to put together many consistent games away from the friendly confines. The Timbers are 0-4-2 away this year, including a 1-0 loss to the Fake Goats last weekend, who drew even with Portland in the West with 17 points and holds the edge in goal differential. But hey, Troy Perkins played well. So there's that. But more on this in a bit.

- The Tommy Soehn era in Vancouver is off to a rocky start.

- Of tangential MLS interest was this really, really awful thing.

The "I don't know which category this falls into".... category

- Marcos Mondaini, infamous for hacksawing Javier Morales' leg, scored a goal for 1-0 winners Chivas USA. Er... so yeah. Here's that.

- Will Parchman

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