Five things to know about Week 1 in Major League Soccer:
1. Houston, we have an, uh, issue. Must ... avoid ... temptation. I absolutely cannot use the Houston, we have a problem" cliché. But it fits so darn well here.
What we have here is Luis Angel Landin, Houston's designated player, who came in unfit and overweight last year. Dominic Kinnear said 2010 was a big year for Landin, who had a lot to prove.
Well, the young Mexican striker is off to a lousy start. He was on the bench to open the season Saturday in Dallas. Team officials said he was healthy and ready to be called upon.
Not only did Kinnear prefer Dominic Oduro to partner Brian Ching at striker, Landin wasn't even the first man off the Dynamo bench!
So, what to say about Kinnear on this one? On the one hand, this looks for all the world like a colossal miscalculation, paying a wad of cash in a guaranteed contract for this. (Landin has only this year remaining on the books.) There's time for redemption yet, but this sure has "Denilson" written all over it.
On the other hand, you have to respect that Kinnear won't yield to the temptation to start Landin simply because he is a highly paid DP. It's the right thing to do for your team, but it takes guts.
Oh, Landin had one good chance Saturday in the 1-1 draw with Dallas. A header, from in close. He blew it.
2. Why Peter Nowak was wrong: Talk about a team fitting right into the Philly culture. Philadelphia is a city that appreciates its diggers, grinders, mudders and, surely now, its blue collar shin-kickers. Peter Nowak has a young team without much attacking wizardry, so they'll look for results through hustle and bustle. He pushed them hard in preseason, immediately establishing his training ground as a no-wussie zone. Nothing will further cement the bond between the Philly Union and the Philly faithful .
Further, as one loyal reader told me, Nowak must have been thoroughly briefed on the full Philly sports culture, because he hit nailed all the elements in just one game! "The referees are out to get us, never mind our dirty play!" And, it's never anyone from Philly's fault, unless it's Donovan McNabb. Brilliant! Reveal yourself, reader, and I'll buy you a frosty one from the icy cold PPL Park tap once we finally break the seal on it.
After Thursday's kick-fest at Qwest, in postgame comments the Union manager went off on Seattle's skillful attackers. But Nowak can't have it both ways. You don't get to kick first and ask questions later, then accuse the other team of diving and whining.
What he said: "From the other standpoint we got to see all this flopping and diving and when you see the stats we have eight fouls and six cards that is too much. There is guys rolling around the pitch like they got shot.
"I don't know why. I expect Freddie Ljungberg, who scored so many goals and played, I don't know, 80 too 100 games with [Sweden's] national team, and won so many trophies, that he's going to be more honest than he's being, and complaining and whining about every single call, and trying to push the referee to give the yellow cards. For his standards, it's not up to his standards. ... This is a man's sport. I'm sorry, but this is how the men play. Let me see the stats again... eight fouls, six yellow cards."
Well, it's a good thing I'm here to set the record straight.
First, which caution, exactly, got Nowak's shorts in such a twist? Surely it wasn't fullback David Myrie's absurd, flying body block on Steve Zakuani? Surely it wasn't Toni Stahl kicking Freddy Montero in the back (65 yards from goal, while carrying a yellow). And do we need to talk about the absurdity of captain Danny Califf picking up a yellow card less than a minute into the match for something off the ball? That's the silliest thing since an ad campaign billed the "Taco Bell Diet" as a legitimate weight reduction technique.
Presumably, Nowak addressed the lack of discipline behind closed doors. He didn't call out his young, mistake-prone players in public. I have no problem with that. But you don't, then, call out the other team for diving, flopping, whining and complaining. In fact, referee Ricardo Salazar did a nice job of managing a highly charged, wet, fast, difficult contest.
Yes, it's a man's game, Peter. So teach your players to step up and take responsibility like a man. Cop to the silly fouls, and the handsome price of unnecessary cards. That's how they'll learn -- not by fostering a victimization complex.
3. "We had a good preseason": Can we go ahead and finally, mercifully tote this phrase ("good preseason") out behind the woodshed and do what needs to be done? We need to put it to rest.
San Jose had a good preseason. And yet Frank Yallop's defense was awful Saturday (admittedly against a confident bunch of champs.) DC United had a good preseason. Look where it got them -- a big ol' nasty beat down in Kansas City. L.A. enjoyed good results in pre-season friendlies, but the 1-0 win at home over depleted New England was less than impressive. And so it goes.
Preseason around here means friendlies against colleges and second-tier sides., some of whom manage to occasionally cross midfield! (Oh, except for matches abroad. There may be some good competition there for MLS sides. But who really knows? Those contests are just a rumor anyway. For all we know, teams are holed up at the Best Western just outside of town watching Season 3 of Mad Men when they are allegedly away at these exotic, foreign locations.)
Disclaimer: I did write last week in a season preview that I elevated Red Bull NY after seeing the preseason win over Santos. It wasn't the result per se, but the way Hans Backe's team looked, so well organized. So I thought that was excusable. Still, feel free to print it out, roll it up and beat me about the head with it just the same.
4. Strange days at left back: I don't know what this says, exactly, but I know it says something:
Let's assume for a second that Carlos Bocanegra plays in the middle for Bob Bradley. Stay with me here. Don't get sidetracked on a "Where to play Carlos" debate.
Two candidates for left back would then be Chivas USA's Jonathan Bornstein and Dallas' Heath Pearce. Well, Bornstein is now apparently a center back for Martin Vasquez. Pearce is a right back for Dallas. (The other candidate would be Jonathan Spector, who has played all across the back line for West Ham and whom some believe is probably best suited to man a central role.)
Oh, and while we're at it, unscrambling the positional musical chairs, we may as well note that Colorado's Marvell Wynne was once a candidate for the U.S. at right back. He jumped right into Colorado's lineup following last week's surprising trade -- at center back. Didn't do too badly, either.
5. Week 1 Best 11: Goalkeeper: William Hesmer (Columbus). Defenders: Wilman Conde (Chicago), Tim Ream (RBNY), Omar Gonzalez (L.A.), Danny O'Rourke (Columbus). Midfielders: Joel Lindpere (Red Bull NY), Ryan Smith (K.C.), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle), Javier Morales (RSL). Forwards: Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Columbus), Omar Cummings (Colorado).