The Portland Timbers keep rolling along, Philadelphia surges up the standings and Mike Magee keeps on scoring for his new club in MLS Week 17 ...
1. Portland rises to the top. If playing a game of Portland Timbers word association, any of the following would describe the clubin 2013: Skillful, cohesive, professional, dangerous, confident, methodical, enforcing, commanding, successful.
None of the above pertained to the first two MLS editions of the club, and while there are a handful of candidates for MLS Coach of the Year at the this juncture -- the exploits of Montreal's Marco Schallibaum, RSL's Jason Kreis, Philadelphia's John Hackworth, Colorado's Oscar Pareja and FC Dallas' Schellas Hyndman merit consideration -- the frontrunner must be Caleb Porter, who has transformed this success-starved franchise.
It is only the halfway point in the season, and Porter and his players are saying all the right things about not getting ahead of themselves, but it is difficult not to marvel at the difference between these Timbers and the last two incarnations of the club. Portland extended its unbeaten run to an astounding 15 games Sunday evening with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids and now shares the lead in the Western Conference standings with Real Salt Lake. That's a far cry from the club that couldn't win away from home and struggled to develop an on-field identity worth having.
The acquisition of captain Will Johnson from Real Salt Lake is proving to be one of the transactions of the season, and Colorado knows that better than anyone considering half of the Canadian midfielder's career-high six goals have come at the expense of the Rapids. His latest goal, a flick-to-self volley at full speed while slicing past a defender, is a Goal of the Season candidate. Wide forward Rodney Wallace continues to play at an All-Star level after his three-assist virtuoso. As a whole, the Timbers truly appear on the same page at all times, whether it be off quick restarts from dead-ball situations or excelling in the buildup with off-ball movement.
Like Porter and his charges have been reiterating, there is plenty to be played and there is always room for improvement, but as long as key players steer clear of the injury bug, the club appears well on its way to making another word that had been foreign to the Timbers suddenly relevant: Playoffs.
2. Rest vs. Rust at PPL. The Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls brought fresh legs to PPL Park for their Sunday matinee. The Union had not played a league match since June 5, whereas the Red Bulls had been inactive in MLS since June 1. Coaches always provide conflicting answers to the age-old question "Is a lengthy layoff good for your club, or does it disrupt your rhythm?" Some say it's great to have the time to recover and recharge. Others say it is difficult to overcome the rust factor. Well, both sides were on show in the rivalry bout.
Philadelphia looked lively, sharp and ready to pounce in the 3-0 victory, one that thrust it into second place in the Eastern Conference behind just the Montreal Impact. New York, meanwhile, was sloppy, out of sorts and a step slow. Granted, the club was playing without Tim Cahill and Jamison Olave and went down to 10 men early after Lloyd Sam's rash two-footed challenge to Danny Cruz, but the Red Bulls were still able to generate plenty of chances and lacked the quality to scrape together a goal with the game still in the balance.
Perhaps the Union's scheduling provided the decisive advantage. While both teams had U.S. Open Cup games during their lulls, the Red Bulls' starters did not have any game action otherwise. Philadelphia, meanwhile, scheduled a pair of friendlies against lower-tier clubs, the latter of which against the affiliate Harrisburg City Islanders last Tuesday allowed the majority of its starters to get 45 minutes in preparation for the weekend. Attention to minor details often leads to grand results, and Philadelphia's actions during its league layoff had the club come out firing while overcoming any lingering rust to snatch an important result.
3. Morrow eats some crow. San Jose Earthquakes left back Justin Morrow had some pointed words regarding a potential loss to D.C. United prior to their Saturday clash, telling MLSSoccer.com, "If you lose to them, it looks terrible. No one wants to lose to D.C. That's how you don't overlook them. We know what will happen if we lose to them."
Now he knows more than anyone else. The U.S. January camp call-up has nobody to blame but himself following the surprising 1-0 defeat at RFK Stadium, one that evened interim manager Mark Watson's record at 1-1-0. Morrow committed the foolish penalty that led to D.C.'s eventual game-winning goal, unnecessarily bailing out Chris Korb inside the box with a rash sliding challenge that granted Chris Pontius a spot kick, which he buried. Morrow also missed a wide-open, straightaway volley from about 12 yards with a chance to tie the game in the final minute of stoppage time. With every chance to put his money where his mouth was, Morrow was unable to come through, having has bulletin-board material backfire in the most unseemly fashion.
4. Fruits of a trade on display. For months, the Columbus Crew had overwhelmingly gotten the better of the winter trade that saw the club acquire Dominic Oduro from the Chicago Fire in exchange for Dilly Duka and the (little did we know how notable they'd become) MLS rights to Robbie Rogers. Oduro had become the team's leading scorer, with seven goals, while Duka had been in and out of the Fire's lineup and failed to contribute much to the team's anemic attack.
Saturday night, the scales tipped more toward the Fire. Oduro drew a penalty that helped Columbus take the lead, but Duka and Magee -- eventually acquired for Rogers' rights -- scored in rapid succession off crosses from Joel Lindpere to turn the tables. Now, that February deal looks beneficial for both sides instead of the one-sided outcome, and the Fire could easily end up being the long-term winner. Magee has scored a goal in each of his six games with the club -- four in MLS, two in the U.S. Open Cup -- and has helped transform a team that looked to be sinking fast into a squad with sudden purpose and hope.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers)
Defenders: Alain Rochat (D.C. United), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Steven Caldwell (Toronto FC)
Midfielders: Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Camilo (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Forwards: Mike Magee (Chicago Fire), Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact), Rodney Wallace (Portland Timbers)
|Week 17 MLS Power Rankings|