Power Rankings: Red Bulls still winning; Toronto rebuilding again
The Red Bulls have things go their way, Toronto FC starts from scratch again and the headliners missed the Seattle-LA heavyweight bout in MLS Week 30:
1. Bizarro Red Bulls: With the way Mike Petke and his coaching staff celebrated Sunday evening following the final whistle, onlookers would have thought that they just watched their players turn in a virtuoso performance.
Instead, the Red Bulls simply clawed their way to three points at home via an own goal and managed to avoid a catastrophic injury when it looked like the worst fears would be realized. Given that Petke has long been part of the Red Bulls/MetroStars franchise and seen what the club has had to endure, especially come crunch time, the outpouring of postgame emotion, then, is quite understandable.
The other shoe never dropped as has come to be expected for the Red Bulls Sunday night in a 1-0 triumph over FC Dallas, in which quality chances were squandered and center back rock Jamison Olave shook off an apparent knee injury right before halftime to help close out an important victory. Now winners of four in a row for the second time this season, the Red Bulls lead the Eastern Conference and are in first place in the race for the Supporters' Shield (a point clear of Seattle, which has two games in hand).
Yes, the same Red Bulls who have become synonymous with collapsing or being struck with misfortune at the worst possible time, had things go their way in a game that in most other seasons would have gone in a crippling direction. Is there a changing of the guard at Red Bull Arena? Or is it simply another tease for a tortured fanbase? On the surface, it appears that this Red Bulls team, while not without flaws, has the chemistry and camaraderie of a successful side, with complementary parts working in conjunction with the stars no matter how unpretty it may appear at times. As the season heads toward the home stretch, Olave avoided injury, Tim Cahill returned from injury and Thierry Henry appears fresh and motivated. The collective sense of team belief appears to be increasing at the right juncture.
This coming Sunday's nationally televised Sounders-Red Bulls clash (which is going up directly against the Breaking Bad series finale -- unintentional scheduling fail) has suddenly become a lot more intriguing, especially given that potential MLS Cup hosting rights could be on the line. No long-suffering Red Bulls fan will let himself or herself look that far down the road, but given how recent events have played out, there is more reason than usual to believe in the hard-luck side.
2. Toronto FC reboots, again. Fans in New York may be sick of being gutted come the fall, but fans in Toronto are sick of the "R" word: Rebuilding.
The perpetually rebuilding Reds are essentially starting over again, with the club hiring first-time general manager Tim Bezbatchenko to fill the void left behind by the ousted Kevin Payne. Bezbatchenko comes highly regarded from the MLS league office, and with so many of his predecessors in Toronto having difficulty in making shrewd player acquisitions when it comes to navigating through MLS' arcane rule and salary structure, Bezbatchenko is essentially as well-qualified as it gets in that regard. Forgive TFC fans if they meet the hire with skepticism, though.
In an era of mass parity and fluctuation, Toronto has never sniffed the upper half of the Eastern Conference table and has remained rooted outside of the playoff picture for its entire existence. New regime after new regime has come through the BMO Field offices only to leave with the same losing legacy. With LA Galaxy architect Tim Leiweke overlooking the new project and Bezbatchenko an MLS-friendly hire and not just a big name for big name's sake, TFC simply has to get it right this time, as the margin for error is nil. Going from worst (or this season, second-worst) to first in short order is not the baseline requirement, but showing a true sign of upward mobility and making the most of the young talent and bountiful resources available to Leiweke and Bezbatchenko most certainly is.
3. Milestone watch: As the season winds down, the MLS record book is getting a bit of a facelift.
Brad Davis' assist to Giles Barnes off a corner kick Saturday night marked the 100th assist in the left-footed marksman's illustrious MLS career. He became just the seventh player in MLS history to reach that milestone, and he could leapfrog Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry to climb as high as fifth all-time if he can come up with three more helpers in Houston's final five games. If Davis tallies two more to tie Moreno at 102, it would mark his fifth straight season in notching double-digit assists.
Colorado forward Edson Buddle is two goals shy of the 100-goal plateau with four games to go. With Colorado acquiring attacking talent like Gabriel Torres and Vicente Sanchez, some might think that Buddle's chances of scoring another pair of goals this season may be slim with there needing to be playing time to go around. Three of Buddle's five tallies this season have come off the bench, though, so even if he loses his starting role, the milestone is still well within reach. Should Buddle cross the 100-goal barrier, he would be just the eighth player in league history to do so and only the third member of that club to still be active.
One of those is Landon Donovan (the other being Dwayne De Rosario), and all eyes remain fixed on the L.A. Galaxy star, who is two goals shy of tying Jeff Cunningham's all-time MLS record of 134 goals. LA has five games remaining this campaign, and Donovan, who, like Clint Dempsey, sat out Saturday night's high-profile clash against Seattle with an injury, could add yet another jewel to his crown by becoming the league's all-time scoring king. What symmetry it would be for Donovan if he is able to tie or break the record four games down the line, when the Galaxy host his first team, the San Jose Earthquakes.
4. Revs field woes: The New England Revolution took care of business Saturday night, topping the worst team in the league, D.C. United, in a must-have game for their playoff aspirations. The Revs benefited from some favorable calls (after consecutive weeks of being on the wrong side of controversy), and appear ready to fight for their postseason lives with a vibrant squad that boasts rising talent.
Putting all of that aside, the club's stadium situation truly is a disaster, and that came to the forefront over the weekend. With the NFL's New England Patriots slated to play on the Gillette Stadium turf Sunday afternoon, the Revs were forced to take to a field covered with football lines and logos. The soccer markings were virtually indiscernible to the observer. It was MLS 1.0 at its finest.
The field conditions -- not to mention the officiating -- made for a complete eyesore for anybody watching or playing in the game, and when contrasted with the likes of what transpires regularly in places like Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, Houston, Los Angeles and New York, it's hard to believe it's the same league. Logistically, there has to be a better way to deal with the issue before (and if) a new stadium is constructed. The most simple route would mean working the schedule so that the Patriots and Revolution are never sharing a field on the same weekend. Fortunately, that won't happen again this season, but one time is one too many.
5. Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
Defenders: John Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle Sounders), Jamison Olave (New York Red Bulls), Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Midfielders: Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Nigel Reo Coker (Vancouver Whitecaps), Tony Tchani (Columbus Crew), Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo)
Forwards: Steven Lenhart (San Jose Earthquakes), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo)
|Week 30 MLS Power Rankings|