Galaxy, Red Bulls put on a show; another disciplinary matter looms
Five things you should know about Week 8 in MLS:
The Galaxy's 1-1 draw with New York was simply one of the best regular-season matches in league history, full of quality on both sides,
Most of the stars did their parts. Landon Donovan was alive with energy and attacking ideas. David Beckham continues to show exactly how a quality, deep-lying playmaker can influence matches with precision passing over long distance. Across the way, Thierry Henry found another gear, the one we all thought he had (but that he's seemed to keep in reserve). He bounced around the field, assisting in possession when the Red Bulls, for the first time this year, struggled a bit against the Galaxy's well-organized pressing.
Juan Pablo Angel ... well, as we said, most of the stars did their part. He's clearly a little frustrated, sitting on one goal in the team's first 10 matches. Bad run, or has he hit the wall for good?
The only thing that could have made things better Saturday: One team wasn't quite at its tip-top best. Teemu Tainio's absence for the Red Bulls left a big hole at defensive midfield, one that Mehdi Ballouchy struggled to fill.
"It's a very intense game, a very good game -- probably the best you can see in MLS at the moment," Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said.
The Red Bulls' 5-4 win over L.A. in 2007, in Beckham's first visit to New York, was full of acclaim and exciting moments. But the defense that night was a carnival sideshow, so it really wasn't a great advertisement for the MLS brand, even if there was plenty to talk about.
There was even a little controversy Saturday, as Donovan once rounded Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, only to have his effort undone by Tim Ream's diligent, nimble recovery and goal-line clearance. Was it over the line? Hard to say, although the Galaxy thought so. Cue a little more Galaxy whining about being hard done. (Anyone else think that's getting a little tiresome?)
Donovan complained after the game about how they'll "need to score three or four" goals if they need two, about how officiating decisions don't go their way. However, Donovan did praise the visitors for leaning into the offense.
"I was impressed how much they put into trying to get after it and win the game -- most teams come here and try to defend for 90 minutes," he said. "It was a good, fast game."
The rest of the weekend matches? Somewhere between "meh," and just not very good at all.
Start with the goals, or the lack of them: just nine in eight matches over Friday and Saturday. But it's not just the raw numbers. MLS matches, with the quality steadily rising for years now, are suffering at the moment. In economic terms, we might call it a recession.
Let's count the reasons. Start with the creators who keep falling. Javier Morales, David Ferreira and Steve Zakuani are done for some time, and those injuries subtract a lot of pizazz. Don't forget that D.C. United DP attacker Branko Boskovic is also on the shelf, having arrived there just when he was showing signs of finally getting up to speed.
A couple of teams, under increasing pressure because of injuries or bad results, have slipped into survival mode, digging in to grind out results. That's never going to be pretty. Still, that's the Columbus way at the moment, reliable in possession but still seeking a way forward on attack without playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto (now back in Argentina). FC Dallas will need to grind away for the summer, hoping to hang in long enough for Ferreira to find the field again. Vancouver took just four shots in seeking its first road point. (The Whitecaps got it in a 0-0 tie at Chicago, one of three scoreless draws.)
Further, the ongoing expansion initiative may have caught up with the league. Take a starter or two off each roster (through the expansion draft) and the product is bound to suffer.
Injuries are mounting for some. Colorado and Houston were each missing forwards, and creativity suffered greatly in the final third in their midweek match. Colorado is also an example of where the schedule is beginning to jam up some teams. Gary Smith's Rapids are doing what they can, but playing twice in a week on the road will always leave a team giddy with a draw on the backside. Sure enough, Smith's Rapids weren't too unhappy about their scoreless draw Saturday at New England.
Finally, we still have too many MLS referees married to the old-school ways, still determined not to call fouls. That was Baldomero Toledo at RFK, where a few more whistles could have helped open up match with lots of crashing about, but not enough silky-smooth play on the ball.
Mondaini's tackle was needless and unwise but didn't appear malicious. We'll see what the league does with this one, because the danger of a 10-game suspension was always the precedent, and here we are.
No one feels good about three talented players (Morales, Ferreira and Zakuani) suffering such horrible injury misfortune. But the truth is that MLS was probably lucky that this didn't happen before. The league is reaping what it has sown, unfortunately, for permitting physical play. In all honesty, tackles from behind happen every weekend in MLS. (So do elbow blows to head; get on that, MLS, or you'll soon be in crisis mode over that one, too.)
So, before anyone writes all this off as bad luck (that two of the league's top creators are now out of action), consider that statistically speaking, Ferreira and Morales have recently been the most likely figures to get injured. Ferreira led the league in fouls suffered last year. Morales was second.
Real Salt Lake was Williams' sixth MLS address when he joined in 2004, so he really had not found his bearings in pro soccer. He certainly did in Utah, where he's now the only remaining player from the team's original roster. Later, fans bonded over his wife's battle with cancer, which also became an emotional rallying point for the club.
Two years ago, Williams was a big part of the MLS Cup-winning side. He's 34 now, but he buzzed around the field like a teenager recently when RSL needed something special in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.
They'll miss Morales, of course. If there is any silver lining, this is a chance for the Williams legend to grow just a little more.
Goalkeeper: Bouna Coundoul (New York)
Defenders: Mamadou Danso (Portland), Tim Ream (New York), Josip Mikulic (Chicago), Rich Balchan (Columbus).
Midfielders: Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy), David Beckham (L.A. Galaxy), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle).
Forward: Joao Plata (Toronto), Thierry Henry (New York).