Monday March 30th, 2015

Despite most leagues around the world taking a break during the FIFA international window, Major League Soccer played on to finish the first month of the 2015 season last week.

Planet Futbol
Oft-overlooked Morales helps lead Real Salt Lake over Toronto FC

Four teams won their first matches, as Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire got off the mark. The same number remain without a win, with the Montreal Impact, Philadelphia Union, Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers still searching.

At the same time, no teams with perfect records remain. A drab draw against the Seattle Sounders kept FC Dallas undefeated, but its three-game winning streak ended.

Here are some thoughts on the Week 4 slate of games to close out March:

What makes the Whitecaps dangerous? 

Manager Carl Robinson’s tactical plan takes into account the team’s strengths but is practical enough to succeed in MLS: a disciplined defense with big men in the center, speedy wingers and supporting fullbacks and a complete forward in newcomer Octavio Rivero. With all this in mind, Vancouver’s most dangerous aspect is its speed in transition from defense to attack.

Planet Futbol
Minnesota United awarded MLS expansion team for 2018

After regaining possession, the Whitecaps go forward quickly in an exciting style that showcases its choreography and repetition on the training ground.

It’s not likely that the Vancouver attack will fizzle as long as it can play this way, but it will be interesting to see what happens when it meets a team that holds numbers back and tries to play on the counterattack itself.

The Whitecaps likely have the tools to control the majority of possession, which they have not done yet this year except for a narrow advantage in their only loss, against Toronto FC on the first day of the season. They haven’t had to do that yet and likely won’t for at least three matches, until they play the San Jose Earthquakes in mid-April.

Excitement doesn’t always equal quality 

The flip side to the Whitecaps’ style of play is the chaotic, back-and-forth slugfest that occurs when neither team really knows how to control a match. This is often the problem in leagues with more physical reputations, such as the majority of the Premier League and most teams in MLS.

For every carefully plotted match such as Vancouver-Portland or the New York Red Bulls’ well-executed high-pressure system against the possession-oriented Columbus Crew, ugly games stand out as well.

Despite all four goals in a 16-minute span, Montreal’s 2-2 draw against Orlando City SC lacked true quality, except for Kaká pulling the strings in midfield.

South of Quebec, New York City FC and Kansas City battled via launched balls and long throws on a small field. Kansas City specifically prepared for Yankee Stadium’s constraints by training on a small field, and Matt Besler launched all four of SKC’s throw-ins in the attacking third into the penalty area, including on Ike Opara’s game-winning goal.

It might be an effective way to win, but such a style won’t win MLS many plaudits from fans of high-quality European leagues who are yet to embrace the American game.

MLS’s insistence on playing through FIFA dates is at least partly to blame 

Injuries and international duty took their toll across all league matches in an unfortunate double-jeopardy situation. Saturday saw the first match in MLS history with zero shots on target from both teams as Dallas and Seattle played to a goalless draw with both missing key men.

Planet Futbol
Impact cruise past L.D. Alajuelense in CONCACAF Champions League semis

Besides the senior national teams, both the under-20 and under-23 U.S. national teams are in camp, further depleting MLS rosters as they prepare for a World Cup and Olympic qualification.

It’s amazing the league continues to play through FIFA dates established well in advance, especially since there have been no league games in midweek so far and only three total are scheduled through April.

At least regular starters missing out means that overlooked young players get opportunities to play at the professional level, sometimes for the first time. Those chances would be even more valuable if they were earned and commenced while squads were at full strength, but at least rookies had a chance to plant a seed in their coaches’ minds that they are up to the task at the MLS level.

How is Harry Shipp uncapped at all levels?

The second-year Chicago Fire pro is one who should’ve been missing this week through international call-up, but he hasn’t received a call from the U.S. in any age group. The closest he has come to a serious accolade was at Notre Dame, when he was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy.

He contended for Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 but fell short in voting again. Shipp’s diminutive 5-foot-9, 145-pound stature doesn’t make him stand out, but it also forced him to become a student of the game who works through problems with his brain rather than brute force.

As a result, he “sees the game a little differently than most,” as Chicago coach Frank Yallop put it after the Fire’s 1-0 win on Sunday. Shipp boasts a superior soccer IQ that has seen him become Chicago’s most valuable playmaker despite being in just his second season. He’s also a player who should be on U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar.

Week 4 Best XI

GOALKEEPER: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)

DEFENDERS: Chris Tierney (New England Revolution), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Ike Opara (Sporting Kansas City), Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers)

MIDFIELDERS: Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Kaká (Orlando City SC), Michel (FC Dallas), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Harry Shipp (Chicago Fire)

FORWARDS: Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)

MLS Power Rankings, Week 4
  • 1
    1Vancouver Whitecaps
    last week: 3
    record: 3-1-0 | This Week: 2-1 vs. Portland
    After an opening-week loss to Toronto, the Whitecaps have looked strong, especially with the speed at which they transition from defense to attack. Robert Earnshaw endeared himself to the home crowd with his late winner on his club debut.

  • 2
    2FC Dallas
    last week: 1
    record: 3-0-1 | This Week: 0-0 vs. Seattle
    It wasn’t a win, but holding out for a draw against Seattle to stay undefeated after Kellyn Acosta’s 18th-minute red card might be Dallas’ most impressive result of the season so far.

  • 3
    3New York Red Bulls
    last week: 12
    record: 2-0-1 | This Week: 2-1 at Columbus
    Mike Grella scored a Goal of the Year candidate to give the Red Bulls their second straight victory after putting Columbus under pressure on the ball all match.

  • 4
    4Seattle Sounders
    last week: 2
    record: 1-1-1 | This Week: 0-0 at FC Dallas
    Despite playing against 10 men for nearly the entire match, the depleted Sounders couldn’t even muster a shot on target, let alone a goal, against Dallas.

  • 5
    5Los Angeles Galaxy
    last week: 4
    record: 1-1-2 | This Week: 0-1 at D.C.
    Without two important attackers in Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes, LA couldn’t find a finishing touch, and a last-gasp effort doomed the Galaxy to a tough away loss.

  • 6
    6San Jose Earthquakes
    last week: 5
    record: 2-2-0 | This Week: 1-2 at New England
    Chris Wondolowski scored his third goal of the young season on a penalty as the Earthquakes fell in snowy New England.

  • 7
    7Orlando City SC
    last week: 6
    record: 1-1-2 | This Week: 2-2 at Montreal
    One of the teams hit hardest by international call-ups, the Lions squeaked out a draw after going down two early goals. Kaká and Pedro Ribeiro took turns providing for one another.

  • 8
    8Real Salt Lake
    last week: 9
    record: 1-0-2 | This Week: 2-1 vs. Toronto FC
    RSL needed bench players Jordan Allen and Jeff Attinella to secure it, but Javier Morales’ pinpoint assists created both goals in RSL’s first win of the season.

  • 9
    9D.C. United
    last week: 14
    record: 2-1-0 | This Week: 1-0 vs. LA
    Add Steve Birnbaum to the D.C. injury list, but even after losing him and having to burn a substitution in the first five minutes, United scrapped to its first win over the Galaxy since 2008 behind Chris Pontius's dramatic winner.

  • 10
    10Columbus Crew
    last week: 7
    record: 1-2-0 | This Week: 1-2 vs. Red Bulls
    Saturday’s chaotic match against the Red Bulls gave a precise, controlled team in Columbus fits all night, resulting in a frustrating home loss in which Federico Higuaín saw his second yellow card just before full time.

  • 11
    11Houston Dynamo
    last week: 8
    record: 1-1-2 | This Week: 0-0 vs. Colorado
    In another impressive moment for the 32-year-old workhorse midfielder, Ricardo Clark played through the pain of a ribcage fracture on Saturday and lasted 69 minutes before being substituted.

  • 12
    12New York City FC
    last week: 10
    record: 1-1-2 | This Week: 0-1 vs. Sporting KC
    David Villa’s injury exposed how reliant NYCFC is on its star striker, as the team created 10 goalscoring opportunities but mustered just three weak efforts on goal.

  • 13
    13Toronto FC
    last week: 11
    record: 1-2-0 | This Week: 1-2 at Real Salt Lake
    Conceding even later canceled out an 88th-minute equalizer from Jackson as Toronto lost without Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. TFC had a legitimate gripe at a disallowed goal earlier on, adding another referee slight to the team's collection.

  • 14
    14Portland Timbers
    last week: 13
    record: 0-1-3 | This Week: 1-2 at Vancouver
    The Timbers’ first loss at B.C. Place came on a familiar story for Caleb Porter’s men: dominate possession, fight through adversity with late-game heroics and still fall victim to defensive gaffes.

  • 15
    15Sporting Kansas City
    last week: 16
    record: 1-1-2 | This Week: 1-0 at NYCFC
    It’s not a pretty way to win, but Matt Besler’s long throws to Ike Opara will be dangerous all season, especially on the narrower fields in the league.

  • 16
    16New England Revolution
    last week: 19
    record: 1-2-1 | This Week: 2-1 vs. San Jose
    The Revs finally got their first goals and win of the season on a deflection-aided brace from Kelyn Rowe. Jermaine Jones's return to training is another boost for the reigning league runner-up.

  • 17
    17Montreal Impact
    last week: 18
    record: 0-1-2 | This Week: 2-2 vs. Orlando
    The Impact couldn’t get their first league win before returning to CONCACAF Champions League action, where they've had so much success in 2015. The semifinal second leg in Costa Rica beckons on April 7.

  • 18
    18Chicago Fire
    last week: 20
    record: 1-3-0 | This Week: 1-0 vs. Philadelphia
    Another superb match from Harry Shipp and the Fire’s strongest first half of the year lifted Chicago to its first win of the season. Adailton headed home the winner off Shipp's service.

  • 19
    19Colorado Rapids
    last week: 17
    record: 0-0-3 | This Week: 0-0 at Houston
    Make that three scoreless draws in three matches for the Rapids—and an almost pathological lack of production in the attacking third—as the 510-minute goalless streak continues.

  • 20
    20Philadelphia Union
    last week: 15
    record: 0-2-2 | This Week: 0-1 at Chicago
    The Union’s lackluster attack has still only scored in one game (a three-goal outburst at RSL) as Fred’s second-half red card buried Philadelphia’s comeback chances in Chicago.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.