Steven Gerrard made an immediate impact for the L.A. Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City won again and the other headlines from MLS Week 20 in Liviu Bird's Power Rankings.
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)