Monday, August 8, 2011

The MLS Grinder: The Empire Strikes Back

Game of the Week
LA Galaxy 3, FC Dallas 1

Juuust when you thought those finger cracks in LA's foundation were starting to spider, Arena's boys bust out the spackle and shore this thing up with a beaut of a win over surging FCD at Home Depot Center. These teams aren't traditional rivals, but they've played some classy affairs over the last few years to grow this game into something bigger than your typical Saturday fixture. I'll point you to Exhibit A over here in the first meeting this year (long sleeves!).

Anybody who watched the 3-0 shellacking Portland dolled out to LA on Wednesday night expected things to come unraveled in a hurry for the Galaxy on Saturday. I did, at least. Not only did the struggling Timbers put three past LA's suddenly defenseless defense, but the Hoops were rolling into town on Saturday for arguably the biggest regular season tilt of the year. Prior to the game, FCD was a mere three points adrift of the league's top team with a game in hand to boot, and with the playoffs beginning to peek its head into the discussion, both these teams had one eye on Saturday night and another on the Supporter's Shield. Arena, Donovan and Beckham all struggled for answers following an awful road trip up Highway 5, while FCD was coming off a terrific run of eight shutouts in nine games.

For some much-needed perspective on exactly what LA did to FCD on Saturday night, consider: Dallas surrendered two goals in the entire month of July and gave up three - all on the business end of free kicks - in less than 90 minutes. Impressive.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point you in the direction of Marvin Chavez's redonk left-footed blast to open the scoring in the ninth minute. It is this kind of brilliant interplay - from Lloyd to freshly signed Maicon Santos to Chavez (two touches!) - that reinforces FCD's attacking prowess. What you're looking for is at about the 45-second mark.

Scary thought of the day: what happens if LA ever finds a striker? They continue to be the most dangerous team in the league off set pieces (and ref coercion apparently, which we'll get to in a sec), which came to bear on Saturday yet again in all three goals. But neither Chad Barrett nor the even worse Adam Cristman has any clue how to play the proper 9 role, so the Galaxy must commit to playing everything through Donovan, Beckham and Juninho in midfield. Which works, I'll admit. But having that added target man, if they ever find him, (I laugh at your Juan Pablo Angel name drop) will make LA an even more volcanic force.

But like I mentioned, set pieces. And lots of 'em. Omar "Phantom of the Home Depot Center" Gonzalez cleaned up after a big-tree-fall-hard collision between George John and Kevin Hartman (Ed. note: Call up Gonzo, Klinsi. Pronto). Juninho put LA ahead for good on a poached goal off another free kick, and Mike Magee finished it off on a Beckham corner with nine minutes to play.

And like any good rivalry, gotta throw a few pointed words the refs' way.

I am considerably impressed by LA's moxie in arguably the most rugged bounce-back game you could've scripted. What this essentially does is put the Galaxy in the SS driver's seat. Dallas still has a game in hand, but LA has an eight-goal edge in differential and will play out the final nine games of the season with some peace of mind. One thing's for sure: the Galaxy needn't worry about any Eastern Conference foes catching up. Not until the playoffs, anyway. That's when the collapse typically comes.

Best of the Best

- I've been transfixed by Jurgen Klinsmann's comings and goings over the last week as he preps for Wednesday's anticipated Mexico friendly. He stopped into PPL Park in Philly on Saturday night to catch the Union-Dynamo match, an exciting 1-1 draw that Houston pulled back on a Geoff Cameron goal in the 84th minute. We're essentially starting with a clean slate with Klinsmann. He's familiar with the league, but on a more or less cursory level. To that end, he has no preconceived notions, certainly not like a traveled MLS vet like Bradley. I mean...
"It’s not that I’ve followed all the MLS games the last couple of months. I’ve followed more international games.”
So there you have it. Michael Orozco Fiscal's inclusion would seem to indicate a stark but not wholly unwelcome change in direction from what we've been used to, which is why I'm cautiously optimistic that Klinsmann will pull from some previously untapped corners of MLS in the coming months and (Gulati willing) years. His assistants must have misplaced the 2-1 Panama tape however, because we've got Tim Ream on our hands again.

- You've already been treated to Chavez's cherry of a goal. Now here's this. Alan Gordon opens his account in San Jose.

- Hassli! And Italian food! What's not to like?!

- Diego Fagundez's league debut went swimmingly. For the 16-year-old homegrown Revolution midfielder anyway... not so much for the Revs themselves. The Uruguayan, the first Revs' homegrown player to make it out of the incubatory phase, drew a penalty kick that Shalrie Joseph converted and later ran onto this long ball and got himself his first professional goal. Now about that hair cut, young man...

Worst of the Worst

- What's wrong with Kenny Cooper? An odd time to throw him into our WOTW shredder, I know, since he just snapped a 3-plus month scoring drought despite fairly consistent minutes in a 1-1 draw at San Jose on Saturday. I was firmly on Cooper's bandwagon when he made his move back Stateside and professed his full health, always a sticking point with the transient, lumbering forward. But he's been hampered by his indecisive play and inability to find space this year and has never really looked comfortable. His goal this weekend threw some light on how blunted his penchant for goals has become of late. He's never been confused for a fleet of foot forward, but his nose for goal has always been sharp. His relatively short record with the USMNT - 4 goals in 10 caps - speaks for itself. Still, he's not been able to reproduce his theatrics from his time in Dallas this year.

Jorge Perlaza has been the obvious first choice at forward, and when Coop was benched in Portland's embarrassing 4-0 implosion against FCD his season outlook look bleak. Here's hoping this goal straightens out the tracks a bit. When he's rolling, he's fun to watch.

- I swear I'm going to start a weekly Toronto FC Suck Meter. Any graphic artists out there want to do something special for humanity, shoot me an email and we'll get this thing going. And if it isn't broken already, it's swung waaaay into the red this week. It's comfortably at a 9 right now with the warning bells chiming ominously. Charting their inevitable failures is becoming something of a past time of mine, and Saturday provided some fodder for the ages. Toronto had a man advantage for 83 minutes and still... still... DeRo puts three past them and salvages a nutty 3-3 draw. Danny Koevermans gave TFC a 3-2 lead in the 86th minute (their first of the contest for some ungodly reason), and DeRo converted a penalty literally seconds after the ensuing kickoff. You can almost see the hopelessness dripping from Aron Winter's words here.

“We (gave) away two goals. We were winning 3-2. It’s impossible that you (give away) a goal in 20 seconds.”

Nothing is impossible with this club. If you dare, TFC fans.

- Will Parchman

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