Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things to take away from Week 17:
Not so long ago, a league of merely 12 teams could be gamed a bit. A well-positioned team could practically take two months off and still make the playoffs. Once there, as players told us at every opportunity, anything can happen.
But more teams in MLS mean fewer clubs can lean on the doctrine of "Get there and we'll see ..." So clubs that crash the postseason party will tend to be clubs with deeper rosters.
To wit: Columbus won comfortably Saturday against Houston without four starters. Missing
It's the same with the Western leaders. Second-place Real Salt Lake has
League-leading Los Angeles has a nightly choice between
The classy French attacker scored in his debut Thursday against Tottenham. He didn't find net again in a half Sunday in the rain at Red Bull Arena against Manchester City. But he did back up his frequent introductory refrain that he was here to be a serious player.
More than the goal, Henry's first touch, his ideas and his speed of thought were impressive in his pair of appearances. What he can accomplish with another, similarly sharp soccer mind (Angel's) remains to be seen. But his savvy ways can surely help get more from players around him.
The rising standard of play here, the availability of proper venues and the fact that teams enjoy being in the United States creates the right environment for visits from Manchester United, Celtic, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, etc.
If you haven't seen any of these games, they're usually worth watching (assuming you can get past the lack of competitive value.) Freed from the defensive vice grip that inhibits many league matches, these are typically free flowing affairs. They may get disjointed somewhere in the second half as benches empty, but they still provide some skillful and exciting moments. (And sometimes even a big surprise, as when 10-man Kansas City held off Sir
That's how it looked Sunday from Harrison, as Manchester City and the Red Bulls bombed back and forth. That's how it should look at some points in Houston on Wednesday when the MLS All-Stars meet Manchester United. (The All-Star contest in this format does tend to be slightly more cautious than run of the mill friendlies.)
And as long as we're on the subject of these friendlies, here's a word to the referees: Seriously, guys, stop ejecting players! Yes, if some miscreant is guilty of violent conduct, then by all means send 'em off; no one wants to see players hurt in friendlies. On the other hand, if you can avoid it, everyone would prefer to see 11 on 11, including visiting teams that need to be pushed and tested.
For two consecutive weeks referees have ejected players needlessly while awarding penalty kicks. Last week,
In each season since 2004, a coach had already lost his job by the last week of July.
And those strugglers and stragglers who did manage to escape the July guillotine didn't usually last much longer. The first few days of August proved fateful for
So, who are the prime candidates this year? Honestly, most leaders of the cellar dwellers have good reason to be there. Chivas USA, bottom of the Western table, is under new management this year, so
In the East, it really wouldn't be fair to blame first-year man Onalfo for the pox around RFK Stadium. (Now, the men above him on the other hand ... ). Onalfo may or may not be the right guy for D.C. United, but he deserves a chance. And 17 games hardly says "fair chance."
Philadelphia and New England are matched for second-from-bottom in the East. The Union is an expansion team, and one that's done relatively well with a difficult schedule so far. So,
That leaves Kansas City's
A few years ago, Argentines were the MLS value of the moment. It was the happiest hunting ground for useful talent to be had on the cheap. Now the bargains are from Colombia, where the players aren't just skilled craftsmen, but in many cases are real difference makers in MLS. Here are the Top 10 Colombians now in the league: