Sporting KC takes a page from Los Angeles' playbook, more analysis
Sporting KC dominated in a way the last year's Galaxy could appreciate: A 1-0 scoreline in which they dominated possession, stayed organized and disciplined defensively, bossed the midfield and killed the clock off effectively. Consider that Sporting KC handled 60 percent of the possession and yielded only two legitimate chances, both of which were hit off target (extending Sporting KC's record stretch of not conceding a shot on goal to 245 minutes). That's pretty astounding for a match that was supposed to be featuring two of the league's heavyweights, not just one.
As for the Galaxy, the Omar Gonzalez injury crutch only accounts for so much of the club's woes. Edson Buddle and Juninho, two players not expected to be with the club before February but whose returns put the Galaxy in "Is this the best MLS team ever?" discussion, have both underperformed, and they were subbed off prematurely for Chad Barrett and Kyle Nakazawa, respectively. Digging even deeper, every Galaxy defender has been individually responsible for at least one goal this season. Saturday was the normally sure-handed Sean Franklin's turn, as he got caught ball-watching on Bobby Convey's cross as Kei Kamara broke back toward goal.
Even so, for the Galaxy to be handled so comprehensively is quite telling of where the Eastern Conference front-runners truly stand. A glamorous test against Real Salt Lake at home next week followed by challenging Pacific Northwest road matches at Vancouver and Portland will tell even more of what Sporting KC is made.
The two were at it again against the Galaxy, repeatedly challenging the club's fragile back line, and the incredible understanding the two have developed for one another in a little more than one season together is something front office executives dream of when constructing their teams. The carefree, expressive natures of both players, combined with their athletic ability, potential for special goals and, of course, the inventive goal celebrations (Saturday's slow-motion celebration was almost on the St. Patrick's Day leprechaun level. Almost.), have given more incentive to catch every Sporting KC match regardless of opponent.
Their back stories only add to the intrigue, as well. Between Kamara becoming what he has after a childhood spent in war-torn Sierra Leone and a bit of a journeyman start to his career, and Sapong going from mostly overlooked collegiate draftee to U.S. national team call-up in one season, there isn't a better combination of human interest, personality, spunk and skill on a forward line in the league.
After a 4-1 beatdown of the Columbus Crew in Ohio, the Red Bulls have at least four goals in each of their last three games, and Henry and Cooper have accounted for 12 of the 13 goals scored.
That Henry is so productive is not that much of a surprise, not when considering that he entered the season in form after his loan spell at Arsenal, and -- most importantly -- was fully fit to start the campaign. For a resurgent Cooper to be accomplishing what he has, though, is turning plenty of heads, especially after the draft-day trade to acquire him was not met with rousing approval. Not only is he finding the back of the net with relative ease and regularity, he is evolving into the type of center forward that he has previously been criticized for not being in this new system. Holding the ball up with his back to goal, staying central, fending off defenders, not drifting back too deep and striking with confidence, Cooper is turning Luke Rodgers' visa problem and Juan Agudelo's torn meniscus into moot developments.
Cooper and Henry are working off each other so well to the point that defenses can't possibly focus on either one, and Henry's free-roaming style provides an element of unpredictability. Considering the form of both players and the ever-growing goal tallies, there's no question that the most lethal partnership in MLS currently resides at Red Bull Arena.
After the first-year Colorado Rapids coach earned plenty of praise for guiding his team to a 3-1 start, he tried to fix a lineup that was not broken. He tinkered with his starting XI to the point it completely threw off the Rapids from the start of their 2-0 loss at Real Salt Lake and really never gave his side a chance in a hostile environment against a bitter rival.
With stalwart defensive midfielder and captain Pablo Mastroeni out for a number of weeks as he battles post-concussion effects, Pareja moved center back fixture Drew Moor into an unaccustomed defensive midfield role and put attacking midfielder Jaime Castrillon out on the wing. As a result, veteran, but reserve, center back Tyrone Marshall came into the starting lineup while standout rookie winger Tony Cascio took a seat on the bench. This was in stark contrast to a more offensive-minded 4-3-3 lineup with both Castrillon and Argentine Martin Rivero roaming centrally and Jeff Larentowicz left alone in a defensive role
The thought process must have been Pareja trying to counter RSL's possession-heavy diamond midfield with a more defensive approach. The result was an out-of-place Moor not exactly filling his role productively, Castrillon dipping centrally and pinching Colorado a bit too narrow and an overall Rapids team that never really threatened RSL until substitutions altered things late with the game mostly in hand.
Sure, Colorado can have a gripe with RSL's second goal, considering that card-happy referee Jair Marrufo missed a blatant handball on Fabian Espindola that led directly to his insurance tally, but the game was lost well before that point.
While the win at Olympic Stadium was nice for Montreal -- which altered its lineup for its second match in four days and got influential contributions from reserves Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Lamar Neagle and a game-winning goal from No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wenger -- Stade Saputo can't open soon enough.
The patchwork turf made for an awful display at times, with the bounding ball skipping when played low or taking unpredictable bounces when falling to the ground. June 16, the day slated for the opening of the renovated Stade Saputo, is unfortunately three home league matches away. The subpar playing surface wasn't lost on Montreal coach Jesse Marsch, either, who in an in-game interview with TSN said, "It's hard, because with the turf, we want to start moving the ball quickly and developing a rhythm, but little bounces and the ball gets away a little bit here and there, we still have to keep trying to do that but in a smart way."
The conditions, obviously, were the same for both teams, and Montreal dealt with them to a better degree, but there's little home advantage for the Impact when their own field isn't suited to how they would like to play.