Know your MLS -- Five things to take away from Week 6
1. How smart is Caleb Porter looking today?: Quick, someone go ask Caleb Porter when we will cap this ugly oil leak in the Gulf ... because I'm telling you, that man sees the future.
You remember Porter, right? He's the highly respected University of Akron coach whose little Zips can play with the big boys of college soccer. D.C. United waved stacks of cash and oodles of opportunity last year at Porter. He declined -- and what a prescient choice it was.
Maybe he just wanted to stay at Akron. Or maybe he studied United's roster and realized a move to RFK was a potential career killer. D.C. United, with five losses in five games, is the first team in 15 MLS seasons to be shut out in its first three games at home.
Management is in a pickle here. Yeah, they could do the usual thing and fire the coach. Since Curt Onalfo was only recently fired in Kansas City, he won't get much benefit of the doubt. But, truthfully, he was handed a broken roster.
So, will management fire management? Because the problem doesn't seem to be getting any better. Two important offseason additions -- Christian Castillo and Troy Perkins -- aren't working out. Now, former MVP Luciano Emilio is back on board -- giving Washington Post reporter Steven Goff a truly puzzling response to a benign question about proving himself around RFK. Cue the normal response from the pro athlete's handbook of rote replies, right? Well ... Emilio told Goff, essentially, that it was important for him to come into RFK and play well so he could leave this summer for an undisclosed address in Mexico.
Did president Kevin Payne and technical director Dave Kasper know Emilio was simply using United as a stepping stone? They should have. Goff found out pretty easily. In dating terms, you would say that Emilio is using United as a "slump-buster." It's come to that at RFK.
2. Hmmm: Where have we seen this before? About this time last year, I recall a team that was a little light on attacking might, but carried itself well with tight organization. There was a darn good rookie center back getting everyone's attention in Omar Gonzalez. There was one world-class match-winner, David Beckham, who had yet to turn a match because he was still on lease in Italy.
There was one indispensable midfield figure punching up the offense and supplying killer service on set pieces in Landon Donovan. Otherwise the team was buttressed by a bunch of guys wearing the "good-not-great" label. Los Angeles never looked particularly great, but managed to squeeze out the results.
I see much of same in the New York Red Bulls this year.
Rookie Tim Ream turns in one professional performance after another at center back. Unlike Beckham last year, difference-maker Juan Pablo Angel is playing for Hans Backe's team, but he just can't seem to release the hand break. Midfielder Joel Lindpere is the set-piece man and the glue that holds it all together, and his offseason acquisition (one with sparse attention) is a huge reason Red Bull has already matched its 2009 win total.
While a 2-0 road win against slumping D.C. was almost a given, don't underestimate what a win at RFK means for the Harrison tribe. It was the first time New York has ever posted a winning shutout at RFK, where the franchise is a meager 7-23-4 all-time.
3. Coaches who would complicate: One of the prevailing mysteries of soccer is why coaches meddle with a good thing. Why a coach takes a dominant dude at one spot and turns him into an average Andy somewhere else, I'll never know.
San Jose's Frank Yallop, I am pointing toward you here. With the Galaxy, Yallop took the world's premier server of the ball from the right side and made him a central midfielder. That was the plan, anyway, before a succession of injuries and premature comebacks -- not to mention Beckham's meddling handlers -- created enough weight to crater the whole thing.
Yallop's coaching career survived, if a little stained. Off he went to San Jose to build an expansion team there. Perhaps he was still punch-drunk from the whole Galaxy beat-down. Whatever the reason, he tried to make Ramiro Corrales, who should have been a pretty good MLS left back, into a central midfielder. Suffice to say, it didn't take.
In 2009 we watched as Bobby Convey, a left-sided force all his professional life, lose effectiveness when asked to play as attacking midfielder. Yes, it was all tied to Darren Huckerby's incumbency on the left. Still, the lesson should have been learned.
Here we are today -- a more joyous day around Buck Shaw. Corrales is back home at left fullback. Convey is back home at left midfield. Not coincidentally, with players in comfortable spots, San Jose is 3-1-0 since the season-opening stumble. Equally important, Yallop's men have two consecutive shutouts at home.
Big thanks for the weekend's 1-0 win over Colorado goes to -- guess who? -- Corrales and Convey. Their gritty work against Colorado's Omar Cummings and others was essential.
San Jose still has some issues to sort out. They need another center midfielder, for instance, because unlikely hero Chris Wondolowski -- three goals in three matches -- can't keep bailing out an offense that remains tame. Still, this is progress at Buck Shaw -- and good for Yallop for putting the pieces back where they belong.
4. Two head-scratchers: There are two truly puzzling teams in MLS. Seattle has three of the league's premier attackers in Freddie Ljungberg, Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani. They attacked with commitment (even desperation, perhaps) in the 1-1 draw Saturday with Columbus. Sigi Schmid even tried a new formation, a 4-3-3 with Ljungberg stationed as attacking midfielder. And yet, they remain near the bottom in league scoring with eight goals in seven matches.
And what to say about Dallas? They may be the league's most skillful team in possession over the first 100 yards. But get them near goal and mystical forces of mayhem take over. They absolutely overwhelmed New England, even before the Revs went down to nine men. And yet, thanks to more gruesome finishing and to Dario Sala's howler, they split the points. Two weeks ago, it was Backe shaking his head wondering how his Red Bulls had escaped with a home win against Dallas. By the way, surely Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman has seen enough now of Dario Sala. After managing to get beat on a 40-yard free kick last week, Sala conceded the silliest goal so far this year.
5. Team of the week: Goalkeeper: Preston Burpo (New England); Defenders: A.J. De La Garza (LA Galaxy), Heath Pearce (Dallas), Wilman Conde (Chicago), Ramiro Corrales (San Jose). Midfielders: Dane Richards (Red Bull), Andy Williams (Real Salt Lake), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Steve Zakuani (Seattle). Forwards: Dominic Oduro (Houston), Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy).
1. Tim Ream, Red Bull New York -- Matched with veteran Mike Petke at center back, the second-round pick always manages to look composed in defense and distribution.
2. Ike Opara, San Jose -- The big, agile center back already has a starting spot at Buck Shaw (and already has two goals). Plus, get this: He missed Saturday's game while taking finals back at Wake Forest. What a kid!
3. Andy Najar, D.C. United -- This youngster may be the only good thing to happen around RFK this year. Mostly left on the bench early, he is now showing great touch in tight spaces, an ability to create centrally and a willingness to work one defense.
4. Zach Schilawski, New England -- Does it surprise anyone that Steve Nicol has turned up yet another worthwhile rookie, a striker who already has a hat trick this year?
5. Steven Beitashour, San Jose -- The lowest draft pick on this list (No. 30 overall) was more than adequate as fill-in right back in three starts this year.
6. Blair Gavin, Chivas USA -- He has started every game so far for Martin Vasquez in the middle of the park. Gavin has filled the midfield spot well enough to push heralded 2009 rookie Michael Lahoud to the outside.
7. Zach Loyd, FC Dallas -- The North Carolina Tar Heel has mostly held his own in three starts at right back for Dallas this year. He's not afraid to get forward.
8. Collen Warner, Real Salt Lake -- Jason Kreis has added another box-to-box midfielder to the Rio Tinto stash in the University of Portland product, who just got his second start along the right.
9. Michael Stephens, L.A. Galaxy -- The UCLA man is finding his feet as a right-sided midfielder for Bruce Arena. Smart and technically proficient, he's got a balanced all-around game. Say, wasn't that supposed to be Beckham's position?
10. Danny Mwanga, Philadelphia -- The league's overall No. 1 pick has gotten just 75 minutes, including a half languishing in an unfamiliar midfield role. Still, he does have one goal.