MLS was overshadowed by the U.S. men's national team's continued World Cup qualification effort, but plenty transpired in an abbreviated Week 15, including a stunning coaching change in San Jose:
1. Yallop's departure leaves plenty of questions. At the close of business on a Friday on the East Coast, with a U.S. national team World Cup qualifier just hours away from stealing the spotlight, the San Jose Earthquakes dropped a major shock that predictably got a bit lost in the shuffle after the immediate reaction. Frank Yallop's surprising exit from the Earthquakes' coaches' box won't go into the night quietly, though, and is sure to have a lingering aftertaste as those around the league try to decipher what exactly transpired to lead to a coaching change that can only be described as one of the more confounding developments of the season.
Just a handful of months ago, Yallop was named MLS Coach of the Year and all were singing his and his club's praises after a Supporters' Shield-winning effort. Now, he's the second MLS coach this season to hit the exits, something that has surely made coaches on even less stable ground around the league a bit less comfortable. Considering the "mutually agreed to part ways" party line that all involved are dishing out, true answers won't figure to materialize for some time. Perhaps Earthquakes ownership really thought a change needed to be made to salvage this season (3-6-6, one win in the last 11 games), regardless of Yallop's extensive history with the organization. Perhaps Yallop wanted to explore some other career options.
What is known is that without a major replacement lined up -- long-time Yallop right-hand man Mark Watson was named interim coach for the remainder of the season -- it does not seem like this is a move that was made with grand designs in mind. Yallop's departure gives Watson a chance to make a name for himself as a head coach after a number of assistant gigs, and with the talent on that roster and the forgiving nature of MLS' competition format with 10 teams making the playoffs, making a run up the Western Conference standings is not completely out of the realm of possibility under Watson's watch.
Yallop was, by all accounts, a well-liked and respected manager among his current and former players. He acquired Chris Wondolowski and helped turn the striker into the household name and premiere goalscorer he is today. He helped develop a number of other players, such as semi-recent U.S. national team call-ups Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour, and while his team might not play the most attractive brand of soccer, it had proven to be effective, evidenced by last season's Supporters' Shield and a 2010 run to the conference finals. His departure will leave a staggering imprint on the club's locker room.
What else is staggering is that while all of this is going on and through all of their struggles, the Earthquakes still have to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage this summer. While that may offer a stark reminder of how successful the team had to be to cement its place among the region's best, there will be something odd about the fact that Yallop won't be on the sideline to guide them.
2. Vancouver's Rochat trade backfires early. The Vancouver Whitecaps really could have used a player like Alain Rochat Saturday night in Seattle.
Hindsight is always going to be 20-20, but with central defender Andy O'Brien going down with a hamstring injury on the makeshift grass surface at CenturyLink Field and Rochat shipped to D.C. United for a pair of draft picks, Martin Rennie was left with little in the way of options across his back line. Left back Jordan Harvey was forced into a central role, and the inexperienced Greg Klazura -- coming off an own goal against the New York Red Bulls -- was forced to play on the left side instead of his more accustomed right fullback position to provide cover. Klazura ended up committing a penalty that allowed Seattle to tie the game at 2-2, and both Klazura and Harvey were beaten on the game-winning sequence on which Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle combined to seal three important points late.
In the long run, freeing Rochat's salary ($190,000 according to MLS Players' Union documents) could give the Whitecaps more flexibility for future moves -- at least that is how Rennie is spinning things -- but for a versatile player who had started 11 of 12 games to not be available when the Whitecaps were in a pinch because of a front office decision does not make the early returns on the deal reflect well.
3. RSL scouting's latest gem. If you wonder why RSL's front office continually gets the benefit of the doubt for the moves it makes, the latest bit of evidence is Colombian forward Olmes Garcia. The 20-year-old Colombian forward came off the bench to net two decisive goals in RSL's 3-1 victory over the LA Galaxy at Rio Tinto Stadium and continue to show how RSL is among the best in the business at building a roster frugally and effectively.
The best part about Garcia from RSL's standpoint is that he's not a young Designated Player and came in with little in the way of expectations. He didn't come completely on the cheap ($120,000 salary), but playing behind the likes of Alvaro Saborio without that DP tag, Garcia has been able to develop at his own pace (which is what D.C. United, for example, was trying to do with Brazilian young DP Rafael, who has not panned out just yet), while neither disappointing nor discouraging his coaches, teammates and fans. Now with four goals and the look of a confident striker, Garcia is anything but disappointing or discouraging, and he is proving to be the organization's latest great find.
Signing Garcia was hardly the only move RSL made in a busy offseason that was billed as a "rebuilding" one for a team that parted ways with a number of team stalwarts. To combat that, the club added jettisoned MLS talents like Khari Stephenson, Lovel Palmer and Joao Plata, all of whom have played significant roles. The result has been a team tied with a league-high eight wins and an overall rather successful opening half of a season in which general manager Garth Lagerwey has done perhaps his finest work.
4. MLS impact on World Cup qualifying. MLS had nine teams on bye and a handful of teams in action missing players due to international competition, but the league's players still managed to leave a footprint on some important games across the world.
LA Galaxy captain Robbie Keane's hat trick against the Faroe Islands in a World Cup qualifying win while he set Ireland's cap record was surely the grandest of all achievements, but he did not stand alone. Seattle Sounders midfielder Brad Evans turned in another solid shift at right back for the U.S. national team and scored the unlikeliest of game-winning goals in stoppage time to secure three points in Jamaica. Sporting Kansas City star Graham Zusi dealt a pinpoint cross for Jozy Altidore to open the scoring for the USA in that match, and club teammate Kei Kamara scored a goal for Sierra Leone in an African qualifying draw against Tunisia.
Elsewhere, much-maligned New York Red Bulls left back Roy Miller netted a game-winning goal for Costa Rica against Honduras, and FC Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez helped Peru to a shutout victory over Ecuador, which is currently 10th in the world in the latest FIFA rankings.
5. Team of the Week.
Goalkeeper: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
Defenders: Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union), Stephen McCarthy (New England Revolution), Ethan White (D.C. United)
Midfielders: Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Brian Carroll (Philadelphia Union), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Forwards: Olmes Garcia (Real Salt Lake), Camilo (Vancouver Whitecaps), Lamar Neagle (Seattle Sounders)
|Week 15 MLS Power Rankings|