MLS Power Rankings Week 20: Steven Gerrard announces his arrival in L.A.
It didn’t take Steven Gerrard long to make his impact on Major League Soccer, lifting the LA Galaxy to a comeback win in an eventful league debut. Robbie Keane scored three in the same game, and the Galaxy look incredibly dangerous again–and that's before Giovani Dos Santos arrives after the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The league’s referees played a role in several results this week, handing out five red cards over 11 games. It’s been another interesting year in terms of the officiating, and Orlando City SC manager Adrian Heath became the latest to make his feelings known about the perceived inconsistency of the men holding the whistles.
Sebastian Giovinco also continued his MVP-level season in the same week as being named an MLS All-Star (after being overlooked in the fan voting), scoring again and adding an assist as Toronto FC beat the Philadelphia Union, 2–1. If Pablo Mastroeni can get the league’s best on the same page in their current form, they will be a formidable test for a Tottenham side in preseason form.
Here are a few thoughts on the past week in MLS:
Gerrard enjoys stellar league debut
Gerrard’s MLS inauguration saw him playing in a somewhat uncustomary goalscoring role, just underneath Keane, and he delivered on that responsibility. He coolly slid home a one-touch shot 10 minutes before halftime for an equalizer in a 5–2 win against the San Jose Earthquakes.
He needed some time to grow into the game, as the Earthquakes took a quick lead on a counterattack directly after spilling the Liverpool legend to the turf on what should have been called a foul. After Quincy Amarikwa’s double, though, Gerrard had a hand in both of LA’s first-half goals, winning the penalty for the first before scoring the second.
He capped the game with an assist on the winning goal, driving a free kick to the near post for Keane to deflect home his second in a somewhat overshadowed hat-trick.
After just one game, Gerrard—much like his fellow DP—looks like the kind of signing who could take his team to the next level, and the rest of MLS has been put on notice, especially with Dos Santos entering the fold in a couple of weeks.
Orlando's Heath unloads on MLS refereeing
Orlando City has really been running afoul of MLS officials lately. After Kaká’s questionable red card two weeks ago, Cyle Larin was sent off for a tackle on which he made no contact with Sacha Klještan, although his studs were showing, and the New York Red Bulls went on to win, 2–0.
Heath was later also sent to the locker room, and he had strong words for referee Fotis Bazakos and his team after the game: “I think the referee has made so many wrong decisions this evening—for both teams, by the way. … I’m fed up with coming here and talking about them. This game is not about them; it’s about players … and here we are again, talking about people who don’t really matter, quite frankly. They should be seen and not heard.”
MLS officials oversee a pretty rough league, so having a quick trigger for straight red cards is somewhat understandable. The Lions rightly feel aggrieved with the last couple results, but the four red cards besides Larin’s around MLS this week seemed perfectly justified. Regardless, Heath should expect a fine notice coming his way for his critical comments.
Feilhaber continues steady season despite national team snubs
Benny Feilhaber scored again and added an assist on the other goal as Sporting Kansas City defeated the Montreal Impact, 2–1, on Saturday. That was just the latest in a series of steady performances from the 2010 World Cup veteran, although new boss Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t seem to view him as a viable option for the United States anymore.
“The simple answer is that there are other ones ahead of him,” Klinsmann said when the U.S. played at Feilhaber’s home stadium of Sporting Park this week. Still, Feilhaber could be just the type of presence the U.S. central midfield could use to settle it and allow the team to dictate more of its matches.
Michael Bradley has become the engine in the middle, covering ground all over the field and linking defense and attack but without a consistently viable partner. Feilhaber could be the perfect man to spread the workload more evenly and allow the individual roles in central midfield to become more focused, but it appears that his best in MLS isn't enough to see that possibility through.
All-Star selection, snub (over)reactions
It’s almost time for the annual midseason party in MLS known as the All-Star Game. The league named its 22-man roster for its match against Tottenham, which included Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard as commissioner Don Garber’s picks.
The selection of two players who hadn’t played in the league prior to Garber's picks created a strong wave of fan reactions on social media, but it all seemed pretty overblown. The only ones who could be insulted would be the players themselves because All-Star selections come with contractual bonuses for them, but MLS created two more non-gameday All-Star slots to ensure deserving players will still get their recognition.
The likes of Giovinco and Kei Kamara were rightly rewarded for their stellar play in the opening half of the season, while some deserving players were overlooked, which is an annual occurrence.
For any other purpose, though, the All-Star Game is just a chance to be entertained in a unique way for one night a year. MLS has the best format in North American sports for its showcase game, and the most important thing is for fans to enjoy it, because it is ultimately just a celebration of the league and its players.
Week 20 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Brad Knighton (New England Revolution)
DEFENDERS: Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Shay Facey (New York City FC)
MIDFIELDERS: Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake)
FORWARDS: Quincy Amarikwa (San Jose Earthquakes), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
Benny Feilhaber has played all but six minutes for SKC in league play and has failed to score or assist in just seven of 18 matches, earning a starting spot on the All-Star roster via fan vote.
Steven Gerrard quickly made his mark for his new team, scoring and assisting before also rattling the crossbar with one of his trademark free kicks in a win over the Earthquakes.
With a stoppage-time goal from Fabián Castillo, Dallas moved back into first place in MLS on goals scored, but it has two games in hand on D.C. and L.A. directly below.
Vancouver looked shaky in the back at times with Kendall Waston called into Costa Rica’s Gold Cup knockout efforts, but in the higher blocks, the visiting Whitecaps consistently pressured Portland and finished with double the shots on target.
The Timbers never really got going at home against Vancouver, managing only a draw despite leading at halftime and losing captain Will Johnson to a post-match red card to cap a frustrating night.
In an attempt to bolster D.C.’s goals tally, third-lowest in the East, the team traded for Álvaro Saborío in midweek, but he wasn't available in a narrow loss in Dallas in which a late defensive gaffe resulted in dropped points.
Sebastian Giovinco continued his tear through MLS, scoring again and adding an assist to lift TFC over the Union on Saturday. Marky Delgado scored the other goal for the Reds, who got Jozy Altidore back from the Gold Cup earlier than expected.
The combination of Ethan Finlay and Kei Kamara, who had a hand in all of Columbus's goals this week, has become the deadliest in the league, as Kamara’s 14 goals and Finlay’s 11 assists lead MLS. Only Kamara is an All-Star, though.
Sacha Klještan scored early on an absolute rocket and drew a red card with minimal, if any, contact from Cyle Larin, and Dax McCarty assisted both of the Red Bulls’ goals in their third win in the last four matches.
Make that five losses in the last six for the Sounders, who are juggling the lineup weekly in a desperate attempt to cope with still missing Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins.
Any chance NYCFC had of mounting a comeback against New England shrunk considerably after Ned Grabavoy’s second-half red card for a careless tackle in midfield.
The advantage of having games in hand is slowly slipping away for the slumping Impact, having won just once in the past five games after a stretch of five wins in seven.
Kevin Doyle scored his second game-winning goal in the last three to give the Rapids their first-ever win in Seattle and three victories in a row for the first time since they did it twice in 2011.
Another week, another questionable red card for Orlando, which also saw manager Adrian Heath tossed for disputing a call late in a frustrating home match for the Lions.
After an early Quincy Amarikwa brace, the Earthquakes looked to be on their way to a second win over L.A. in less than a month, but the Galaxy scored five straight to reverse the result.
MLS is the kind of league where RSL can snap a four-game winless run and suddenly jump to one place outside the playoffs, as it did on Saturday after beating Houston behind some masterful play by Javier Morales.
The Revs’ losing skid is over at five games after Lee Nguyen’s 12th-minute goal, which capped a tremendous combination sequence, was enough to beat 10-man NYCFC on Saturday.
The Union’s unbeaten streak ends at three games, still the longest of their season so far, as Conor Casey’s stoppage-time consolation goal couldn’t spark a late comeback in Ontario.
It hasn’t been a fun return to the Western Conference for Houston, which suddenly finds itself only ahead of Colorado on total wins at the bottom of the conference following a 2–0 loss at RSL.
Chicago lost both games against Columbus in an MLS scheduling quirk this week, one game in each city separated by about 350 miles, and the Fire have won just once in the last eight.