Another landmark contract signing, another LA Galaxy hat trick and some truly highlight-reel goals headlined Week 25 of the MLS campaign:
1. LA, Omar Gonzalez head into uncharted territory: The LA Galaxy filling the club's third Designated Player slot this summer is not a surprise. Players like Frank Lampard and Kaka's were once rumored to be joining the club, and with LA spending like it does, it was fully expected that the season would not end with an open DP slot on the roster. But Omar Gonzalez filling that slot came as a surprise to most.
With just months remaining on the center back anchor's current deal and with outside interest continuing to swirl around the U.S. national team defender, MLS and LA made an unprecedented move by giving the pure defender -- and a young, American one at that -- a lucrative DP deal. With Gonzalez inking the contract, not only does it keep another young U.S. international in the league for the foreseeable future -- which is sure to make commissioner Don Garber smile -- but it sets a new contract standard for star defenders in an ever-changing marketplace.
Gonzalez's resume is surely DP-worthy, given that he is a former league Defender of the Year, MLS Cup MVP and a fixture on the U.S. national team. Gonzalez's reported multi-million dollar deal will allow other standout defenders who elect to stay in MLS (like Gonzalez's USA teammate Matt Besler, who is on the books at a modest $180,000 following his latest new contract) to ask for more, and it gives a whole new realistic level for defenders to strive to meet.
When the 24-year-old Gonzalez is on his game, he is as dominant as they come, even if he is susceptible to the occasional ball-watching lapse for both club and country. His effort in Saturday night's vital win over Real Salt Lake, though, validated his new contract and his status as one of the league's top dogs.
2. The standings shuffle: Some call it parity. Others call it mediocrity. Any way you slice it, the MLS standings are an absolute impossibility to keep track of on a weekly basis. With the playoff push in full effect as we head into the final two months of the season, no fewer than eight teams in each conference have a legitimate case at making the postseason, and the standings positions have gone through more shuffling than a deck of cards on a blackjack table.
Currently, a single point separates four teams in the Eastern Conference, with Sporting Kansas City, New York, Montreal and Philadelphia all within a single result of climbing to the top and all having scored the exact same number of goals (although Montreal has done so in two fewer games). In the West, five points separates the teams currently in the five playoff places, with any number of results sparking another game of standings musical chairs.
Even though the total points tell one story, the points per game standings may give a better indication as to where teams truly lie, as not all teams have played the same number of matches. The teams currently in third place in the respective conferences -- Montreal and Portland -- actually have the highest points per game in the East and West (i.e. a better win and draw percentage), and both have played two fewer games than the teams currently in first place, Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake. Portland, in fact, only has three losses on the season, while every other team in the league has lost at least seven times -- more than twice as frequently.
Seattle, currently in sixth place in the West, actually has the third most points per game in the conference, but because the club has played just 22 games compare to the higher totals of its competitors, it lags behind in the current standings. While the weekly shifting may be cause for a headache, one thing is certain: The competitive evenness across the board in MLS, despite the evolving financial landscape that has manifested itself in the last few weeks, remains as pronounced as ever.
3. Schallibaum's antics are adding up: It's quite easy to see why Montreal Impact manager Marco Schallibaum was given the moniker "The Swiss Volcano."
Mt. Schallibaum erupted again Saturday night, with a verbal sideline melee with D.C. United's Ben Olsen after a hard player collision in front of both of them resulting in yet another sending off for the Impact boss, one that will result in his fourth(!) suspension of the season. The MLS Disciplinary Committee has gone to great lengths to punish players who have been red carded with additional discipline on top of the customary suspension if deemed necessary. It is getting to that point where the committee has to give serious thought to whether managers -- specifically Schallibaum -- should be reprimanded accordingly for being repeat offenders if for nothing else than to send a message to keep the antics to a minimum.
Sometimes (and not necessarily in soccer) a manager's ejection is a calculated move in an effort to inspire a team or light a spark, but it is not as if Schallibaum's explosions have helped the Impact in subsequent matches. The club is 0-1-2 in games which Schallibaum has served his bans, and it appears as if assistant Mauro Biello will be at the helm for a fourth time this season after the latest incident featuring MLS' answer to baseball's late Earl Weaver.
4. Agudelo's goal and GLT: Juan Agudelo's back-heel flick over Sean Johnson may not win Goal of the Year honors (because, let's be honest, the Cascadia ballot stuffing has had plenty of an influence on how that race has unfolded in recent years), but the instinctual, creative and brazen lob surely will be in the mix come the end of the season.
Now the real question: Did it completely cross the goal line? HawkEye goal-line technology was used for the first time in the Premier League this weekend, with it confirming a non goal-scoring play in Chelsea's win over Hull City. It surely could have been handy in determining whether Bakary Soumare's valiant, athletic, last-ditch effort in fact prevented Agudelo from scoring and was perhaps the most impressive goal-line clearance since Tim Ream denied Landon Donovan in 2011 or confirming whether Agudelo's bold act was rightfully rewarded.
Camera angles from the Revolution broadcast were not entirely inconclusive (although the back-angled one made it seem as if the ball had crossed when Soumare attempted his overhead kick, but again, not with 100 percent certainty), yet the assistant referee's call was all that mattered in the end. MLS remains opposed to integrating goal-line technology for the time being (not from an idealistic standpoint, but because of the costs associated with it), leaving the call in the on-field officials' hands. For the Stoke City-bound Agudelo, whose ball very well could have and most likely completely crossed the line, the benefit of the doubt was a deserved end result.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids)
Defenders: Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes)
Midfielders: Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Juninho (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo)
Forwards: Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo)
|Week 25 MLS Power Rankings|