Week 3 Power Rankings: Red Bulls back on track; Clark in hot water
A matter of discipline for the league office, a revival in New York, a goalkeeper showcase and more from Week 3 of the MLS season:
In the opening minutes of Houston's 2-0 loss at Seattle, Clark directed an anti-gay slur to a Sounders ball boy, an unbeknown to him, it happened right in front of an NBC Sports Network on-field microphone for the viewing audience to hear with clarity.
While the winger delivered an apology after the game via his Twitter account, MLS needs to take a zero-tolerance stand and at the very least deliver a substantial fine that will grab the attention of players and guide them to keep their emotions in check.
This isn't the first opportunity the league has had to make a statement on this kind of incident this year. Neither MLS nor the Vancouver Whitecaps disciplined current New England Revolution midfield Lee Nguyen for the joke-toned homophobic slur he used on Twitter targeted at teammate Brad Knighton during the preseason. The club issued a statement that he had been addressed and warned but did not take any other action, and the Whitecaps indicated that the incident had nothing to do with his being released weeks later.
While that was an off-field incident between teammates that happened in the social media forum (i.e. making it less of a matter under the league umbrella), Clark's trangession took place during a game on national television, and for the league to not act accordingly and swiftly would reek of naivety and ignorance.
Precedents have been set in other leagues and sports for such actions. In England's League Championship earlier this year, West Ham's Ravel Morrison was fined £7,000 (a little more than $11,000) by the FA for using a homophobic slur on Twitter. The NBA fined Kobe Bryant $100,000 for uttering a derogatory term out of frustration after a call did not go his way, and it also fined Joakim Noah $50,000 for using a slur toward a fan. A fine of that size won't come down on Clark considering the salary discrepancies between MLS, English soccer and the NBA, but MLS has an opportunity to right a wrong and take a stance, either through fine, suspension or a combination of the two.
For a league that is meticulous in crafting its image and shaping how it is perceived, MLS has no choice but to lower the hammer and send a message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.
With Wilman Conde looking every bit like the dominant defender of his MLS past and Rafa Marquez restoring order in the midfield coming off suspension, the Red Bulls were a transformed unit for the majority of their 4-1 win over Colorado. Two games of disorganization and a lack of creativity and mobility moving forward gave way to solid possession play, cohesiveness in the back and, most importantly, three points.
The revival can be attributed to three additions to the starting lineup: Conde, Marquez and Kenny Cooper. After two games of coming off the bench, the in-form Cooper was finally handed the start next to Thierry Henry, and the results were prolific. Each nabbed a brace, complemented each other well and gave fits to Colorado's defense. Conde's long-term fitness is a major question mark, but in his first game in almost a year, the former MLS Best XI center back was the anchor in the back the club was sorely lacking.
As for Marquez, the much-maligned Mexican veteran's presence allowed Henry to worry less about trying to facilitate everything by himself from the midfield. Sure, Marquez' clumsy giveaway led directly to the Rapids' goal, but on the whole he showed that the club needs his skill and vision to be successful -- a far cry from last season, when the team seemed to jell more with him off the field. In the subpar Eastern Conference all it takes is one result to get back in the thick of things, and the Red Bulls were able to get that while kicking off a favorable stretch in their schedule.
Eight backstops posted clean sheets, as Seattle's Michael Gspurning, Columbus' Andy Gruenebaum, Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy, San Jose's Jon Busch, New England's Matt Reis and Chicago's Paolo Tornaghi all shut out their opponents while Vancouver's Joe Cannon and D.C.'s Joe Willis (who didn't face a shot, but still) dueled to a 0-0 draw.
Some of the best performances, though, came from those not involved in the shutout brigade. Montreal's Donovan Ricketts turned in the most heroic performance of them all, repeatedly coming up with instinctive, reaction saves to keep the 10-man Impact within range of the Crew. FC Dallas' Kevin Hartman saved a penalty kick and nearly preserved a point against his former club before Sporting Kansas City turned in a one-touch clinic for their late game-winner. New York's Ryan Meara rose to the challenge against Colorado, displaying further evidence that the rookie is ready for the fulltime gig.
Of all of the Week 3 standout keepers, Tornaghi's case is the most fascinating. A former Inter Milan youth product, the 23-year-old Italian is going to make Fire coach Frank Klopas think twice about unconditionally handing the starting job back to Sean Johnson once the U.S. Olympic qualifying run ends considering how composed, poised and steady he has looked in two games. Even if Johnson assumes his place in the starting lineup upon his return as is expected, Tornaghi has proved to be a viable option in the Windy City.
The Goats walked into Rio Tinto Stadium and did what opposing teams rarely do, leave with three points. More notably, though, is that they took another step toward establishing their identity as a hardworking, defense-first club performing in the mold of their coach, former MLS standout defender Robin Fraser.
Behind an all-out effort filled with tireless tracking, hard tackling, diving bodies, frantic defending and some top-notch saves, upstart Chivas was able to grit out a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake, poaching a game-winner on a head's-up play by rookie forward Casey Townsend. It's going to take a collective, consistent work rate along the lines of Saturday night's effort to offset the club's personnel deficiencies in the attack, and in the stacked Western Conference the Goats are facing an uphill battle; however, opposing teams have to know that at the very least they're in for a physical bout with a determined side when they face Fraser's charges.
Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts (Montreal Impact)
Defenders: Shaun Francis (Columbus Crew), Wilman Conde (New York Red Bulls), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA), Chance Myers (Sporting Kansas City)
Midfielders: Patrick Nyarko (Chicago Fire), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders), Sam Cronin (San Jose Earthquakes), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)