Monday, March 19, 2012

The MLS Grinder: An Impossible Evening

Game of the Week
Montreal 1, Chicago 1

It was a touching scene, really, for anybody who'd been invested in the Montreal Impact in any way since their rise from the snow and ice in 1992. It was more than touching for those in attendance. It was destiny manifest.

Don Garber, a broad grin splashed across his face with the echoes of the native French-speaking PA announcer still bouncing off the walls of the cavernous Olympic Stadium, firmly clasping the hand of Joey Saputo, the man with the mafioso mane and the soccer vocabulary in the world of hockey. The implications here were massive, all 58,912 of heaving mass forcing, straining, willing all around. Scarves. Tifos. Banners. The message, though not delivered in so many words, was nailed to the city center, marked out in blue and white for all to see.

Soccer is not surviving. Soccer is thriving.

It looks different everywhere, this notion that things are growing and happening and changing quicker than we can digest. It is easy enough to swat away the idea that soccer's growth through MLS and Montreal is merely limited to big moments, like home openers when the blood boils and even scant traces of nationalism filter through. But this was something else, something... other than. Not that TFC's attendance has been lousy (47,000 last week in the Rogers Center), or that I've been nonplussed by Vancouver, but to see Canada just kill its opening night in Montreal was something special, something that drove home the idea that almost just to spite its detractors, the league keeps offering up new surprises. Soccer fanaticism in the epicenter of the cradle of hockey? Pride swells all around.

I think the moment would have lost some shine if Montreal laid an egg. Come out and just faked it for 90 minutes. But true to the occasion, we had something to watch, something to sink into. I am not a Montreal fan, will never be a Montreal fan, but Davy Arnaud's header had to stir something within the MLS fan in all of us. How fitting, Le Capitaine getting on the right end of a Sanna Nyassi cross to push away the idea that Montreal will lay down on its night of nights.

After Montreal's Opening Kick disappointment when the offense stagnated for long periods, Jesse Marsch swapped Nyassi with Arnaud, pushing the zippy Nyassi out wide right while Arnaud routinely slipped in behind Justin Braun. The design here was clear. Nyassi's speed had been negated last week by his inability to find space, often bumping into Braun's territory without recourse. Montreal's goal showed the shrewdness of Marsch's thought process. In the 56th minute Braun galloped inward toward the box, slicing into open territory to make room for Nyassi on the right corridor, and then a superior cross that found Arnaud's head with minimal work required on the back end. Where center backs Cory Gibbs and Jalil Anibaba were on the play is anyone's guess, but the roiling mass of blue and white were not asking questions. They were going primal.

I must admit to being a mite disappointed by Dominic Oduro's equalizer, well-taken as it was. Having won the possession battle and the right to put itself in the realm of the league's best expansion openers of all time, Montreal's magical finish was not to be. Sebastian Grazzini's lofted touch pass to Oduro, who was ruefully played onside by fullback Josh Gardner, was finished off with a utilitarian stamp that forced Montreal to settle for one when three seemed inevitable.

I have tried, probably unsuccessfully, to avoid the kind of hyperbole that will calcify the beauty of the moment and tune out those interested. But I'm telling you guys, this was a great moment for the sport, and an even better one for the league. Who cares if Montreal doesn't pack in 58,000 every weekend? One was enough to grab the fence fans by the collar and scream that MLS is here. And it isn't going anywhere.

Best of the Best

- While a core of Seattle fans are sharing message board missives about how they all just knew David Estrada was on the precipice of glory, the rest of us are catching up. Estrada is wasting little time allowing us to do it. Estrada banged in three goals (in the case of his first, very literally) to spur Seattle to a 3-1 win over CCL-drunk TFC. I've had some of the similar where has this guy been thoughts that so many have, but there's no time for contemplation now. Just jump on board.

All three goals for your viewing pleasure.

- Quincy Amarikwa's gun blast has been replaced by Ryan Johnson's strafing run as our early frontrunner for goal of the year. And yes, I'm still miffed about Eric Hassli's snub last year. Darlington Nagbe, you dirty dog.

- RSL's Fabian Espindola is no stranger to the league, but he often suffered bouts of mental escapism, if you get my drift. But his early form in 2012 has been sizzling. He struck once in RSL's big opening-weekend win over LA, and he hit again in a 2-0 win over free-falling New York, a cool left-footed finish off a nice overhead feed from Paulo Jr that Ryan Meara probably should've saved.. Guy to watch out for in the golden boot race going forward. And I did not pick New York to win the league. You will forget all about that most unfortunate of decisions. *Jedi hand wave*

Worst of the Worst

- Chivas... dude... (again)

Seriously though, can this team either be rebranded or booted from the league already? Its existence is ham-handed at best, offensive at worst. It's purpose upon its inception was a token gesture toward Mexican fans as a branding idea to pack the seats in an unstable league. The initial move didn't pan out, and they've backed off and backed off until its association with Guadalajara is nominal at best. The name on the kits and the color scheme are about it.

Now, I could see some arguments being proffered if Chivas had ever been truly competitive in an MLS Cup sense. But the organization continues to string together baffling personnel moves (most recently: Zarek Valentin, Justin Braun) to pair with depressing results. And add to it that a whole 7,000 people packed the HDC, one of the finer SSS venues in the country, to see Chivas fall at home (again) to a team that had not won an away game in its existence as an MLS franchise. This is bad. And it is only bound to get worse. An actionable offense if ever there was one.

- Speaking of woebegone franchises that seem to bring out the very worst in fans...

- What's up with DC? I'll admit to waving the black banner before the season, but there was no way to predict that a team with this much gravitas going forward would have no points from two games and a single goal to show. To be fair, DC has had a tough go of it with KC and LA to start, but if United hopes to be considered a contender, these are games that should be more than winnable. The exploits I was hoping to see on Sunday night involved LA's back line, but Branko and Salihi started the game on the bench, and many truly dangerous moments never materialized. Again, stagnant play for large portions. Same story.

This was the Galaxy's fourth game in two weeks, and they limped through the first three without a win. It was a wounded LA side ripe for the picking, and despite all that, DC's misfire after misfire allowed LA to boss portions of the contest and run away with it. A learning lesson to be sure, but should this run of form continue, we'll have to rethink our DC picks as they plummet in the power rankings.

- Will Parchman


brian said...

nice big article on the montreal game…but no highlights?!? what gives?

dikranovich said...

at least dc united get a little bit of an easier game next, up in bc. and deleon, he looks like he will answer some questions before this season gets much older.

Will Parchman said...

Added in Arnaud's goal for you. Oduro's goal can suck it.

Matt said...

Christian Sivebæk looks like a keeper for Seattle. He was taking on 4 guys at a time (not always successfully, but, hey I appreciated the effort).

And, how many games does Backe have before he's out? The team looked better this week, but RSL still looked light-years better (as Henry himself said).

Will Parchman said...

RSL is probably the best team in the league right now, but then again, isn't that where NY thought, or at worst hoped, they'd be?

Wouldn't hold your breath on Backe's firing though. If he survived last year, it's going to take a really brutal start to the year to force him out. Maybe something like no points from five or six games.

Matt said...

Agreed on RSL. They looked really, really good. RBNY did look better, and there was less bitching and moaning from Henry, which I took as a good sign. But I think Backe's out within the first two months if there's not marked improvement.

gnupate said...

I think you meant Fabian Espindola. He put in a goal against LA and another against NY. Javier Morales netted one against LA as well.

I'd imagine that magically combining Javi and Espindola would scare most of the other teams in the league, but I guess we Utahns will have to settle for them both playing for RSL.

SpinTheGlobe said...

Is it just me, or were a surprising number of keepers last week wearing something suspiciously close to rave green? Trying for a little Sounders mojo, lads? Or just a tribute to St. Patrick's Day?

Will Parchman said...

Yeah, that's a mental slip on me. An Espindola-Morales transformer would be fairly formidable, I'd imagine.

Matt said...

Fantastic cut of the day, btw. Brings me right back to, what was that, 1992? Good stuff.

Will Parchman said...

You know it. Most infectious sax hook in the game.

For real, baby
Like that
We for real
Comin' atcha...
In '92
Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Yeah, c'mon, hit me