Power Rankings: Eastern contenders fail to make moves
Eastern Conference playoff contenders all stalled out, Edson Buddle crept closer to 100 goals and Sporting KC took a calculated gamble in MLS Week 28:
1. Houston's hard times: If Houston Dynamo manager Dom Kinnear had any hair remaining, it surely would've been pulled out following this week.
It would have been enough to see his side lose to a desperate, undermanned (i.e. no Federico Higuain) Columbus Crew team that just had its coach fired. It would have been enough to see captain and star winger Brad Davis suddenly get called into the U.S. national team as a reinforcement just a day before a vital home game against the New York Red Bulls. It would have been enough to see USA-caliber forward Will Bruin continually miss the mark on golden chances. It would have been enough to see the lax, soft defending by Adam Moffat and Bobby Boswell allow Thierry Henry, of all people, to coast in on goal undeterred.
Eventually, it was enough for Kinnear, who was sent off in the final stages of Houston's lackluster 4-1 loss to the Red Bulls, and as a result won't be in the coach's box for Saturday's crucial bout against the Philadelphia Union.
It would not be a shock at all to see a Kinnear-coached team fall into a rough patch only to bounce back at the right juncture. After all, Houston endured a four-game winless streak -- like the one it is currently on -- at almost the exact same time last season only to make the playoffs as a wild card team, catch fire in the postseason and nearly capture the MLS Cup. With Oscar Boniek Garcia missing both games this past week, center back Jermaine Taylor on international duty as well and Davis' void leaving Kinnear with short time to prepare for his absence, in addition to a number of other key injuries, the Dynamo were not fully equipped and performed accordingly.
Despite such woes, all is not lost for Houston. Ricardo Clark's return from an unspecified illness should provide an immediate boost in terms of shielding a wounded back line that has underperformed and been uncharacteristically exposed on multiple occasions during Houston's recent funk. A return to fitness for Corey Ashe and Eric Brunner would help patch up the space in front of goalkeeper Tally Hall considerably. If Bruin continues to get the great looks at goal that he has been seeing, logic would suggest that a finisher of his quality would connect and win back some confidence.
For it to be this late in the season and have so much unsettled for a side with loads of carryover from its two MLS Cup-reaching teams, though, is an unexpected development, making Kinnear's frustrations completely understandable.
2. Eastern class separation: Fortunately for Houston, its crisis of a week didn't really cost anything in terms of the conference playoff standings. Sure, the club missed two golden opportunities to make up ground and gain steady footing among the top five, but every one of its closest competitors for the final two playoff places lost over the weekend.
Chicago sustained a self-inflicted wound with a late own goal to drop a result to shorthanded Seattle. New England saw goalkeeper Matt Reis sent off in the opening minutes, paving the way for an uphill climb and eventual loss to Montreal. Philadelphia laid an egg on the West Coast, falling to 10-man San Jose. What the results have done is create a clear gap, for the first time, between the top three sides in the conference -- Montreal, New York and Sporting KC -- and those competing for the two places in the one-off wild card round.
The standings may not have indicated it for some time, but there is a clear class distinction in the East. Following this past weekend's exploits, with the top three all turning in well-oiled showings as others stumbled, the table finally reflects that.
3. LA's international incident: The Colorado Rapids have played the LA Galaxy three times this season, and on all three occasions all three Galaxy Designated Players were nowhere to be found.
During the first encounter in March, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Keane were on international duty, while Landon Donovan still had not returned from his playing hiatus (doesn't that seem like ages ago?). In their second meeting, in late July, Keane was nursing an injury while Donovan and Gonzalez were helping the US to a Gold Cup final triumph over Panama.
Saturday, all three -- in addition to new Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo -- were on international duty again, leaving Bruce Arena to turn to his talented, but young, attacking core with little veteran experience on which to rely. Not surprisingly, Arena was none too pleased with the hand he was dealt, and after watching one of his former international players, Edson Buddle, deliver a decisive goal and the 98th of his career in the 1-0 Colorado win, he vented.
"It's ridiculous we have to play these games in these [international fixture] windows," Arena said following the loss, one that snapped his side's three-game winning streak. "We have such a congested schedule, I don't think we've played Colorado yet this year with our [full] team, which is ridiculous. You know, you're in playoff races, and I think every time, I don't know if every time is a fixture window but for whatever reason we've not played them yet with our full team."
With the growing number of international call-ups in MLS, and given the intensity of the playoff races come September, perhaps MLS should reduce its schedule congestion by shortening the season some. An NBC Sports report alluded to a 28-game schedule being considered for the future, which would certainly alleviate Arena's woes. For the time being, though, in the current incarnation of MLS, paying for top talent often means losing that talent when international teams come calling, and that should not be all that stunning for Arena or the Galaxy, who have become accustomed to shipping away high-profile players during World Cup qualifying and other international dates.
4. SKC moves on from Kamara: Sporting Kansas City had to make a tough decision in transferring fan favorite and starting forward Kei Kamara to Middlesbrough ahead of the English transfer deadline. On the one hand, the transfer fee the club received will help its long-term viability, and ever since his loan to Norwich City, the organization has been preparing for his departure. That it was able to have him return from Norwich, sign a new contract to maintain his transfer value and have him be a productive cog in the season prior to profiting on his exit makes it a pretty understandable course of action.
On the other hand, there's still the possibility that Sporting KC brass could look back on the move with some regret in a couple of months if a playoff run to MLS Cup does not materialize. Sporting KC has intense championship aspirations, and Kamara's seven goals in 15 games, coupled with his work rate, have made him a valuable piece of the SKC puzzle for the last four years. Should a lack of killer instinct haunt the club in the postseason, hindsight won't be pleasant.
Still, this is an instance in which the club can have its cake and eat it too. As vital as Kamara had been to Sporting KC, the club has a chest of riches -- albeit less-tested -- when it comes to striker depth. Soony Saad has been marvelous since claiming a role in Peter Vermes' regular rotation. Forgotten man C.J. Sapong was U.S. January camp-caliber not all that long ago, and Kamara's departure opens up more minutes for him to reclaim his confidence and form. Second-year forward Dom Dwyer, fresh off scoring four goals in the USL PRO championship while on loan with Orlando City, is emerging as a viable option as well.
All of the above gave Vermes and club CEO Robb Heineman just cause to part ways with a popular, productive player while looking out for the present and future fortunes of the team.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids)
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Chivas USA), Jamison Olave (New York Red Bulls), Djimi Traore (Seattle Sounders)
Midfielders: JeVaughn Watson (FC Dallas), Shea Salinas (San Jose Earthquakes), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Jonny Steele (New York Red Bulls)
Forwards: Lamar Neagle (Seattle Sounders), Claudio Bieler (Sporting Kansas City), Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact)
|Week 28 MLS Power Rankings|