Posted: Mon Aug. 26, 2013Updated: Mon Jun. 16, 2014
Mauro Rosales proved he is still very much a difference-maker, inconsistency continues to plague the Red Bulls and golazos and red cards headlined the Week 26 MLS slate:
1. Don't forget about Mauro. For the last two seasons, Mauro Rosales has in many ways controlled the Seattle Sounders' fortunes. As Mauro went, often times so did Seattle's attack. With 13 assists in each of his two seasons in MLS and a touch of class every time he stepped on the field, Rosales has been one of the premier playmakers in the league, when healthy.
With the likes of Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey brought in and Lamar Neagle emerging as a surefire starter, the 32-year-old Rosales has become something of a forgotten man for the evolving Sounders this season, at least by his lofty standards. Never mind the fact that Rosales' stat line this season essentially mirrors that of Sporting KC star Graham Zusi (Zusi has one more goal, both have six assists and Rosales has played 456 fewer minutes). His impact on the season has seemed considerably less pronounced than normal with injuries, form and player competition taking its toll on his playing time. For instance, he went two months without contributing to a goal this summer, his longest stretch of futility since joining MLS in 2011.
But there stood Rosales in front of more than 67,000 fans for the turning point of Sunday night's 1-0 victory over the rival Portland Timbers, after coming off the bench for the sixth time this season to replace the hobbled Shalrie Joseph. First, it was his vision that helped set up the play that culminated in a bad foul by Pa Modou Kah (who was asking to be red carded but somehow was not for his rash play). Then, it was Rosales' pinpoint dead-ball service that Eddie Johnson headed home for the game-winner.
In a week when one Argentine playmaker (Portland maestro Diego Valeri) threatened to steal the Cascadia Cup show with a virtuoso first half and another (Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales) helped his side to four vital points, Rosales contributed to his fourth goal in the last five games, managing to make sure his name was kept among the elite as well while showing that he can still very much have a say in Seattle's fortunes.
2. Inconsistency plagues New York. Many teams are faced with the annual question around this time of year: Are they contenders or pretenders? The New York Red Bulls are among the large group of confounding teams facing that soul-searching question.
On the hand, the Red Bulls are one of the handful of teams within reach of the Supporters' Shield, and they have at times played some of the best soccer in MLS. Then there is the Red Bulls team that leaves home and, as manager Mike Petke so eloquently put it for the local broadcast on MSG, "lost to one of the worst teams in the league" Sunday following a 3-2 defeat to lowly Chivas USA. Now 4-7-3 away from Red Bull Arena (contrasted with a 7-2-3 home mark), New York is one of the hardest sides to project on a weekly basis.
As for Sunday's debacle, Jamison Olave's absence in defense was glaring, and the club figures to have at least one more match without him while he recovers from a hamstring tear. Soccer does not have a sabermetrician statistics obsession like baseball, but Olave's WAR (wins above replacement) would figure to be among the tops in the league considering his importance and value in not only locking down the opposition as a dominant stopped but also helping a back line maintain its stability and shape -- two qualities that eluded the Red Bulls at the StubHub Center against Chivas.
As plenty of teams have exhibited in the past, just making the crap-shoot that can be the MLS playoffs is good enough of a regular season goal, and New York is still well positioned to do that. But with the potential exhibited at times by Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill & Co. making for such a high ceiling, the club's more-than-occasional follies have its already wary fan base unsure of exactly what lies ahead as the uneven quest to win Trophy No. 1 marches on.
3. New England's full youth arsenal on display. New England Revolution fans have waited for this for some time now. The club's commitment to youth has made for some bumpy roads and fruitless seasons in the last few years, but the hopes that came along with that commitment have come to fruition with the core of Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe and midseason acquisition Juan Agudelo coming into their own and meshing to turn in some of the more electrifying soccer in the league.
That was the case Sunday night in a 5-1 rout of the Philadelphia Union. Rowe's long-range prowess and willingness, Agudelo's hold-up play, inventiveness and hunger and Fagundez's creativity, motor and ability to go at defenders makes for one serious multi-faceted headache for opposing sides. With all three players (whose respective ages are 21, 20 and 18) growing in confidence and consistency, New England may yet make its return to the postseason for the first time since 2009. The most recent result has the team firmly in the mix with its nine remaining games all coming against Eastern Conference competition.
Fans who have seen Revolution 2.0 emerge in front of their eyes better soak up the next couple of months, because Agudelo is set for a free transfer to Stoke City in January. For those who could not previously see a bright future ahead in the post-Steve Nicol era, though, those worries have been replaced by a young core (with midfielder Scott Caldwell and Rookie of the Year candidate and defender Andrew Farrell firmly included among that as well) that is more about productivity than potential at long last.
4. Costly late reds influence playoff chase. The red cards were flying this week, with seven players sent off and some (ahem, stomping San Jose center back Victor Bernardez) facing almost certain phone calls from the MLS Disciplinary Committee. A pair of those ejections were more costly than others, though.
Columbus Crew captain and maestro Federico Higuain and Philadelphia Union center back cog Amobi Okugo both picked up red cards in the waning moments of lopsided defeats, and their teams will be hamstrung for not just one game, but the next two games, as a result. Both players were sitting on four accumulated yellow cards entering the weekend, so when they picked up initial yellows earlier in their respective matches, that already meant a one-game suspension was coming. The reds tacked on another game for each, and with both of their teams in the thick of the playoff hunt, it makes for some extra hurdles to clear with the pressure already turned up.
Whether the reds were deserving or not are a different story altogether, but it is clear neither was worth it nor necessary considering the time and situation. Higuain appeared unsure of what exactly he did to deserve his sending off in the 4-0 loss to Real Salt Lake (dissent is the reasoning given in the match report), and a frustrated Okugo unnecessarily stomped Dimitry Imbongo in stoppage time of a 5-1 loss to New England. Those late acts have forced their managers into some unwelcome lineup decisions ahead of some vital games and could have a huge say on the ever-evolving playoff race.
Real Salt Lake (13-8-6) RSL could not have asked for more in its two-game stretch this week. Playing without Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio and Nick Rimando, RSL battled back in one of the toughest places to play to earn a 3-3 road draw with Portland. Then, with all but Saborio back in the lineup, RSL overwhelmed Columbus 4-0 as Beckerman struck for a rare brace to help the club open up a five-point gap atop the Western Conference.
Portland Timbers (9-4-12) The Timbers have had better weeks. Portland let three points slip away with stoppage-time concession to RSL before dropping a Cascadia Cup bout with Seattle Sunday night. The caveat is that both results happened sans captain Will Johnson, whose return will be paramount to ensuring that the Timbers don't fall any further in the tightly contested Western Conference table.
Colorado Rapids (10-7-9) The Rapids carried their nine-game unbeaten streak through a bye week and will put it on the line at Sporting Park against an increasingly more desperate Sporting KC side for their only meeting of the season. The bye week undoubtedly gave new forward signings Vicente Sanchez and Gabriel Torres more time to get acclimated in non-game situations, and the two will provide quality depth up top for the stretch run.
Los Angeles Galaxy (12-9-4) Quietly, the Galaxy are on the move again. Going from the outside of the playoff places to second place in a short time, Landon Donovan-led L.A. controls its own destiny in the West, as it trails first-place RSL by five points but has two games in hand. The club's 1-0 win over Vancouver also cemented Jaime Penedo's place in goal for LA, with his outstanding save of Jordan Harvey's would-be equalizer sealing the three-point haul.
Montreal Impact(12-7-5) The Impact turned in the classiest performance of the week, absolutely mauling Houston 5-0 to reclaim sole possession of first place in the ever-changing Eastern Conference. Marco Di Vaio sits atop the Golden Boot standings after his two-goal showing gave him 15 for the season, and when all of Montreal's attacking components are working in unison it makes for some of the most attractive soccer MLS has to offer.
Seattle Sounders (11-8-4) Seattle held serve at home in its Cascadia clash with Portland, as Eddie Johnson scored the lone goal in the 1-0 victory that doubled as Clint Dempsey's home debut. Only RSL has a higher points-per-game total in the West, and with as many as four games in hand on their competitors as they hit a favorable part of the schedule, the Sounders' fifth-place standing is a bit deceiving.
Sporting Kansas City (11-9-6) Sporting KC has left plenty to be desired over the last month, losing four of its last five games and running in quicksand in the muddled mess that is the Eastern Conference standings. The good news for Sporting KC is that Graham Zusi returned from a three-game absence after being injured in the first half of the MLS All-Star Game, and he emerged from a 90-minute shift unscathed.
New York Red Bulls (11-9-6) The road Red Bulls reared their ugly head in a forgettable showing against Chivas USA, a team that for whatever reason has managed to have a hex over big-spending New York. The Red Bulls have answered arguably their two most impressive wins -- over RSL and SKC -- with a three-game winless streak and will have to regroup ahead of a rivalry match against D.C. Saturday night.
Philadelphia Union (10-8-8) Things escalated in a bunch against the Union, who unraveled in New England to the tune of a 5-1 rout. Perhaps the evening would have unfolded differently had Conor Casey's goal with the game knotted at 1-1 been allowed to stand, but, defensively, Philadelphia never looked right, and now the club will be forced to play its next two games without the suspended Amobi Okugo.
Houston Dynamo (10-8-6) Something about a Dom Kinnear-coached team laying a 5-0 egg, especially as the schedule turns to the home stretch, just doesn't seem right. The Dynamo never looked like they got off the bus after getting torched by the Impact at Stade Saputo, and it is a result that can serve one of two purposes: Either light a fire under a team that has become accustomed to excelling with the cards on the table or debilitate a side locked in a battle for its postseason life.
Vancouver Whitecaps (10-9-6) Jordan Harvey had to have thought he had equalized for the Camilo-less Whitecaps against the Galaxy, but he was robbed by a Save of the Year contender, and the Whitecaps succumbed to LA 1-0 to end the season series at 1-1-1. Welcoming Andy O'Brien back into defense from the injured ranks is an important development, though, and Vancouver could add even more depth in the back with captain Jay DeMerit close to his return as well.
New England Revolution (10-9-6) The Revolution turned in a five-goal masterpiece against the Union to climb into the playoff places after lingering on the outside for a while. Kelyn Rowe's long-range shooting coupled with Juan Agudelo and Diego Fagundez creating all sorts of problems for the opposition had the Revs celebrating repeatedly for its second straight win against a fellow Eastern Conference playoff contender.
Chicago Fire (10-10-4) The Fire turned to an unlikely source to snag an important victory, with defender Hunter Jumper, only in the lineup because of a red card suspension to Bakary Soumare, putting in a sound shift while also scoring the only goal -- the first of his career -- in the 1-0 triumph over Sporting KC. With Chicago lingering in seventh place, there is plenty on the line, and a potential six-point swing, in this weekend's crunch clash against Houston.
San Jose Earthquakes (9-10-7) San Jose blew a 2-0 lead in Dallas and missed an opportunity to make headway in its quest to return to the playoffs. The Quakes also lost defenders Victor Bernardez and Justin Morrow to red cards, which will make Saturday's California Clasico against the Galaxy all the more challenging. With the blood boiling between SJ and FCD and the two on the edge of the playoff picture, their meeting on the final weekend of the season could turn into quite the spectacle.
FC Dallas (9-7-10) FCD's 11-game winless streak went by the wayside Wednesday night, with David Ferreira and Ramon Nunez providing a spark off the bench to lift the club to a win over Chivas USA. That momentum did not immediately carry over into Saturday's clash with San Jose, as the club went two goals down early, but a spirited comeback -- along with some controversy -- helped FCD salvage a 2-2 draw and remain relevant in the West.
Columbus Crew (8-12-5) Columbus might have seen its peripheral playoff hopes go down the drain this weekend. Not only was the 4-0 loss to Real Salt Lake a debilitating result, but Federico Higuain's late red card will have him miss the next two matches, which come against Seattle and Houston, albeit at home. It is no secret how important Higuain is to the Crew's fortunes, and staying in the race without him won't be an easy task.
Chivas USA (5-14-6) Give the Goats credit: They're at least playing out the string with dedication. Following a mid-week loss to FC Dallas that got away in the late stages, Chivas made for a pesky opponent against the Red Bulls, with Mexican forward Erick Torres tallying a brace to lift the club to a 3-2 shocker at the StubHub Center. Goalkeeper Dan Kennedy also did his usual, coming up with big saves to help spearhead the upset.
Toronto FC (4-12-9) The Reds battled from a goal down on the road to take a 1-1 draw in D.C., with veteran Bobby Convey scoring the equalizer against his former side. The club's depth took a hit this week, though, as forward Jeremy Brockie's loan expired and DP midfielder Matias Laba suffered a broken toe, ruling him out for the majority of what is left in the season.
D.C. United (3-17-5) Dwayne De Rosario delivered a reminder that he still has something special left in his tank with his long-range bomb to open the scoring against former club TFC, but as has been the case on multiple occasions this season, a defensive calamity allowed the opponent to strike, and D.C. settled for a 1-1 draw.