Chivas USA is weakling of league, Plata flourishes, more
Seattle returned to its winning ways against a terrible Chivas USA team, San Jose struggled yet again and Dallas and Colorado traded goals in a wild ten-minute spell on a very entertaining night of MLS action.
Game of the day
The Home Depot Center is now known as the StubHub Center: a mild irony since the company specializes in the re-sale of seats for high-demand events and Chivas USA is by some distance the coldest ticket in MLS.
It is hard to construct a sporting, business or marketing case for the continued existence of Chivas, especially at the end of a week that saw David Beckham touring venues for a potential Miami expansion franchise and the ambitious and well-supported Orlando City knock the Colorado Rapids out of the U.S. Open Cup.
The USL Pro team drew 8,394 in its most recent home league match - more than the 8,125 who watched Chivas lose 4-1 to Real Salt Lake on May 19. The stands in Carson were sparsely populated again on Saturday night as Seattle serenely dispatched Chivas even after Obafemi Martins was dubiously sent off by referee Ricardo Salazar for supposed violent conduct in the 71st minute.
Looking at the most recent attendance figures for the NBA, NHL and NFL, only one team - basketball's Detroit Pistons - had an average crowd below 75 percent of its arena's capacity. (We'll give MLB a pass because the sheer number of fixtures does not make for a fair comparison.) But the home Chivas shares with the Galaxy is typically two-thirds empty - at best - when Chivas plays.
The Goats are the runts of the MLS litter and it is hard to imagine that rival owners in the bigger U.S. leagues would tolerate the continued existence of such a weakling. The situation jars with the approach of the top American sports leagues: that franchises should be roughly equal in strength and size to ensure competitive balance and profits for all. Nor the dynamic model of most leading soccer competitions, where promotion and relegation work like a form of natural selection to weed out the stragglers.
Chivas' strategies, indeed its very identity, are questionable - especially since MLS is mounting a strong campaign against all sorts of discrimination and bias. The Los Angeles Times reported last week that two former youth coaches filed a lawsuit against the club alleging that they were fired because they are not Mexican or Latino. The club spent the offseason adding players with Mexican roots to its roster.
Sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference, Chivas at least leads the league in memorable quotes thanks to former head coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, aka "Chelis", who was relieved of his duties late Wednesday.
His press conferences were arguably more entertaining than some of the matches. Chelis exited with a 3-7-2 record including one draw and six defeats in his past seven games. Like "grinding... in a barrel of feces" with a squad akin to a "fruit salad", as he would have put it.
Jose Luis Real, a coach with links to Chivas' Mexican parent club, C.D. Guadalajara, will take over next week. Interim coach Sacha van der Most "switched from Chelis' favored 3-5-2 to a four-man defense against a Seattle side that lost 4-0 to the Galaxy on the same field six days earlier and was then dumped out of the U.S. Open Cup by the NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso, just back from a groin injury, limped off after 20 minutes. But the Sounders were ahead moments later as Martins snuck in behind the defense and lifted the ball over goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
An extraordinary own-goal in the 33rd minute from Mario De Luna effectively settled the contest. He tried to head a cross back to Kennedy on the edge of the six-yard box but rather than gently nodding the ball at the goalkeeper, powered it into the corner of the net. It summed up the farce and futility surrounding the club perfectly.
Player of the day:
A Barcelona youth product -- Barcelona of Ecuador, that is -- the 5-foot-2 forward was strangely undervalued by Toronto FC, who traded him to Salt Lake in January this year in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2015.
Collateral damage from Toronto's dismal 2012 campaign, the 21-year-old is flourishing in Utah, is among MLS' assist leaders and was heavily involved in Saturday's 3-0 thrashing of the still-tepid San Jose Earthquakes. Plata had verve and invention against a sorely lacking San Jose team that did not have a serious attempt on goal until almost an hour had passed.
By then, the match was as good as over: Real was 3-0 up before half-time. Plata made a big contribution to two excellent goals. His dummy set up Ned Grabavoy for a one-touch finish. Then, Plata showed what he can do with the ball at his feet, making a darting dribble towards goal. His cross was cleared straight to Robbie Findley, who steadied himself and directed a laser-guided diagonal shot into the net.
As for last year's Supporters' Shield winners? It looks increasingly unlikely that San Jose will even make the playoffs.
Goal of the day:
Without a goal since April 20, the Dallas striker had two in five minutes on Saturday in an extraordinary 2-2 draw with the Rapids. Atiba Harris gave the Rapids the lead with 56 minutes gone, only for the Panama striker to reply five minutes later. Harris restored the home team's advantage within three minutes -- but Perez again equalized, inside 90 seconds.
Perez's second, controlling a high pass and lashing the ball into the net from distance, was the pick of those four good goals in a ten-minute spell that must rank among the best purple patches ever seen in MLS.
Stat of the day
Even before the halfway mark, the season is becoming a test of roster depth for many teams. The league's official injury report for May 31 listed 50 players out and 39 as questionable. With about 500 players in MLS, that means roughly 18 percent came into the weekend's games carrying injuries. Not to mention the two-dozen players away with their national sides.
Houston entered Saturday's test at Crew Stadium without their first-choice center backs and would be deprived of defender Eric Brunner, midfielder Adam Moffat and forward Giles Barnes. Midfielders Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia were absent on international duty.
Houston lost bodies but not the game, taking a first-half lead through Warren Creavalle before Federico Higuain drew the Columbus Crew level from the penalty spot after the break.
The visitors' pairing of debutant Anthony Arena and midfielder Ricardo Clark at the heart of the back line coped well against Columbus' dangerous attack, though Robert Warzycha's team would have claimed all the points but for an abject miss from Justin Meram after a Higuain curler hit the post.
Columbus itself was without key midfielder Eddie Gaven, with regulars Chad Marshall and Agustin Viana also sidelined. This was the third match in a week for both clubs.
Houston was indebted to goalkeeper Tally Hall - and to U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for that matter, who called Hall into the national squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifier against Jamaica but allowed him to play in this game.
Strangely for a team that a month ago had a formidable home record but poor road form, Houston is riding a five-match unbeaten streak away from BBVA Compass Stadium but has lost its past two MLS home fixtures.