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)
FC Dallas (8-2-4) FC Dallas had the week off, but the club will wait on the word regarding striker Blas Perez, who was ruled out of Panama's World Cup qualifier with the USA with gastroenteritis. Should he have to miss the weekend's crucial bout with Portland, that'd be a big blow for a side whose Western Conference lead continues to shrink.
Portland Timbers (5-1-8) The Timbers remain undefeated on the road and unbeaten in 12 matches, but there was something quite unsatisfying about blowing a two-goal lead in the second half in Chicago Saturday night. What is encouraging, though, is the play of former Premier League forward Frederic Piquionne, who continues to build off his four-goal explosion in the U.S. Open Cup with another meaningful shift in league play.
Montreal Impact (8-2-2) It's pretty impressive that Montreal has played the fewest games in the league (12) yet is averaging the most points per game and is two points off the pace for the Supporters' Shield. That will have a two-pronged effect as the season winds on: On one hand, the club has some leeway with its games in hand and is in an advantageous position from a standings point of view; on the other, a back-loaded schedule combined with CONCACAF Champions League play will make for a busy next four months for the East's top side.
Real Salt Lake (8-5-3) Javier Morales is looking like the playmaker of old, and that's not good news for Western Conference foes. With another pair of assists in RSL's triumph over LA, Morales continues to move the ball around with high effectiveness and act as an attacking fulcrum for Jason Kreis, operating at the All-Star level we had been accustomed to seeing prior to a long-term injury bout.
Sporting Kansas City (6-5-4) Sporting Kansas City was off, but two of its main pieces turned in vital contributions for the U.S. national team, with Graham Zusi and Matt Besler stepping up in Kingston to help the Americans to a 2-1 win over Jamaica. Both players will be sorely missed when SKC continues its U.S. Open Cup defense against upstart Orlando City on Wednesday, but they won't miss any league time with SKC not due back to the field in MLS play until June 22.
Houston Dynamo (6-4-4) The wounded Dynamo have had some time off to recuperate, but the club embarks on a three-game, 10-day adventure starting Wednesday with an intriguing U.S. Open Cup bout against Texas rival FC Dallas. There is never a shortage of fireworks when the two sides clash, and because they only play once a season in league play nowadays, this extra match -- one with a place in the competition quarterfinals on the line -- is an added bonus for MLS fans.
New York Red Bulls (7-5-4) The Red Bulls had a silent week and won't take the field in league play again until June 23 against the Philadelphia Union, but the club's quest to win its first trophy continues Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup when it faces the New England Revolution in one of four all-MLS round-of-16 bouts. And for all the grief he has taken, kudos to Red Bulls left back Roy Miller for coming through with a game-winning goal in Costa Rica's World Cup qualifying triumph over Honduras.
Seattle Sounders (6-4-3) The Sounders may have been playing with a makeshift midfield, with Brad Evans off playing hero for the USA, Osvaldo Alonso out injured and Shalrie Joseph suspended, but the likes of Andy Rose and Servando Carrasco did more than just fill in while helping the club to an important 3-2 win over Cascadia rival Vancouver in front of more then 53,000 at CenturyLink Field.
L.A. Galaxy (6-6-2) It is obvious that the Galaxy are not the same without Robbie Keane scoring goals and making runs up top and Omar Gonzalez manning the back line, but to what extent they were worse off was not quite clear until now. The club has been outscored 8-1 in the two games without their star stalwarts and has fallen to the edge of the playoff picture in the West. No team will welcome the end of international play as much as Bruce Arena's side. On the flip side, Landon Donovan's latest goal has him at 127 for his MLS career, seven shy of Jeff Cunningham's league record.
Colorado Rapids (5-4-5) Normally a reserve match between the Rapids and Harrisburg City Islanders would not carry much weight, but the game presented a huge moment for Colorado, with Jaime Castrillon seeing his first competitive minutes since undergoing offseason knee surgery. The Colombian was the team's leading scorer a season ago with eight goals and would provide a tremendous boost for a club that combated an epic brush with the injury bug in the early months of the season.
Philadelphia Union (6-5-4) The Union managed to win without Jack McInerney scoring a goal for the first time all season, turning in a whirlwind six-minute stretch to overwhelm Columbus at PPL Park in a mid-week, 3-0 thrashing. Sebastien Le Toux quietly leads the league in assists with six (four of which have come in his last six games) after his pinpoint ball for Conor Casey's diving header capped the rout.
New England Revolution (5-4-5) The Revs couldn't keep up their hot streak offensively, failing to beat D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid after scoring nine goals in their previous three games, but the Revs still passed the ball around confidently and defended stoutly to earn a home point, extend their unbeaten streak to five games and remain on the cusp of the top five in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus Crew (4-5-5) Columbus' defense will want a mulligan after succumbing to one massive wave of pressure in the first half of the club's 3-0 loss to the Union. The club's record has it in the middle of the pack in the league, but a deeper look shows that its wins are over bottom-feeders Chivas USA, D.C. United (twice) and Toronto FC. That's not exactly a murderer's row of opponents, and Robert Warzycha's side could really use a marquee victory to get things going.
Vancouver Whitecaps (4-5-4) Vancouver remains winless against Cascadia foes in MLS following a 3-2 defeat in Seattle. What makes the loss even more devastating for the Whitecaps is that the game was there for the taking, as Camilo's brace (off two Russell Teibert feeds) had the club ahead 2-1 and looking good before defensive lapses allowed the home team to swoop in and take all three points.
Chicago Fire (3-7-3) Chicago did well to battle back from a two-goal hole to salvage a home point against Portland, with Daniel Paladini's masterful free kick balancing the scales in the late stages. And if there was any doubt that Mike Magee's scoring qualities translated elsewhere, he now has three goals in three games in all competitions as a member of the Fire, pulling within two of Jack McInerney in the race for the Golden Boot.
San Jose Earthquakes (3-6-6) Nobody saw the dismissal of manager Frank Yallop coming, which makes one wonder what is really going on behind the scenes in San Jose. With the club only winning once in its last 11 games and being booted from the U.S. Open Cup by lower-tier competition, the results haven't been there, but had things truly gotten to the point where last season's Supporters' Shield-winning effort was completely undone?
Chivas USA (3-8-2) The Goats remain in plenty disarray, still reeling from Chelis' axing and dealing with a lawsuit from a pair of fired academy coaches, but they are still alive in the quest for the U.S. Open Cup and will look to avoid suffering the fate that cross-Stub-Hub-Center rival LA did when facing the Carolina RailHawks in Cary, N.C. Chivas will also turn an eye to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey in the coming weeks, with forward Julio Morales suiting up for Mexico on the grand stage.
Toronto FC (1-7-5) Toronto FC president Kevin Payne will see his current struggling side go up against his former one in this weekend's match at RFK Stadium, one that neither team will want to drop for obvious image and standings reasons. The club's player carousel continues to spin as well, with QPR winger Hogan Ephraim's short-term loan ending but Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield returning to training following a knee injury that has sidelined him for more than two months.
D.C. United (1-10-3) The club's winless stretch is now at a team-record 12 games, but gaining a hard-fought point on the road against an in-form New England side is a step in the right direction for Ben Olsen's side. It remains shocking to see Dwayne De Rosario back in a substitute role, and that dynamic can't figure to continue without a major bump in the road along the way.