Jury out on Meola and Suarez
Alexi Lalas and Bob Bradley have lost their minds. What other way is there to put it? The marriage that Anschutz Entertainment Group has brought together is clinically insane.
That's what some had to be thinking after the latest acquisitions by FC SuperClub (the MetroStars for you newcomers out there). In a matter of days, SuperClub added a goalkeeper with a permanent limp and a defender who was just waived by the team with the worst defense in the history of mankind. Never mind Bradley and Lalas wearing suits for games. How about straight jackets?
Before you find Lalas and Bradley a padded room, consider the madness and what the method might be to it.
Let's start with Tony Meola, the 36-year-old former national team star who was unceremoniously dumped by Kansas City last season. The Metros were genuinely unhappy with Jonny Walker as their goalkeeper after last season and were eager to make a change. The off-season featured criticism aimed at Walker and he was even left unprotected in the MLS expansion draft.
Even with all that, bringing in Meola was going to be a gamble given his uncertain health. That's where Zach Wells' emergence became key. Wells played well enough in goal so far this season to make the Metros feel comfortable taking a chance on Meola recovering from off-season Achilles tendon surgery. As soon as Columbus lost all-star goalkeeper Jon Busch not only did the Metros have their replacement for Walker, they also had somewhere to send Walker.
Sounds like a good plan, but what about Meola? The man was a standout goalkeeper as recently as a year ago, but he had surgery to remove a portion of his right Achilles tendon. The procedure was done to ease pain Meola had played with for his entire nine-year MLS career, but how will it affect his play? Will it actually help him be as good or better than the net minder who led MLS in most goalkeeping categories midway through last season, or will it turn him into a hobbled liability who isn't even worthy of being a back-up?
When you listen to Meola and look him in the eye you see a confident man who has little doubt that he can make a comeback. He isn't the cocky hothead who burned some bridges the last time he wore a MetroStars uniform. Years of experience, as well as the settling affect of parenthood, have changed Meola. When you hear him talk about wanting to be a mentor to Wells, who was in elementary school when he was playing in the 1990 World Cup, you start to believe that maybe the game of musical goalkeepers being played by FC SuperClub isn't so crazy after all.
This brings us the acquisition of Ryan Suarez. Waived by Chivas USA after a verbal altercation with head coach Hans Westerhof, Suarez was out of work for just two days before SuperClub came calling. It didn't matter that Suarez has been on three teams in the past three seasons, or that he was cut from the team with the worst record in the league. He had SuperClub qualities. Suarez is a former all-star, has a national team cap and is media-friendly, making him perfect for Lalas' master plan.
But is Suarez perfect for Bob Bradley's plan? The SuperClub defense has been better than many expected this season, but the team's central defense has been erratic and devoid of two clear first-choice players. Is Suarez really a better option than the players Bradley already has or has he been signed in order to light a fire under the likes of Jeff Parke, Carlos Mendes and Tim Regan? The latter is more likely the case, although if there is a coach who can help Suarez rejuvenate his career, it's Bradley.
That seems to be the theme for the team now known as SuperClub. Take castoffs with impressive resumes and hand them to Bradley to mold into a championship team. Will the experiment work or will it end like the story of Frankenstein, when one too many spare parts resulted in the creation of a monster? The experiment could work like a charm, or it could fail miserably. Only time will tell whether the SuperClub brain trust was crazy like a fox or just plain crazy.
Kudos go out to MLS fans in San Jose and Columbus, where passion and ingenuity gave us a pair of scenes to challenge any in Europe or Latin America. In San Jose, Earthquake fans gave Landon Donovan a royal homecoming, booing his every touch and taking turns beating a Landon piñata. The scene, reminiscent of Luis Figo's return to Barcelona, certainly helped San Jose in its 3-0 rout.
Crew fans did their part as well. The unhappy bunch came up with the perfect way to convey their unhappiness with Columbus coach Greg Andrulis by showering him with pink pieces of paper after a recent loss. The real pink slip hasn't reached Andrulis yet but you wonder how much longer the 2004 MLS Coach of the Year will endure this nightmare season.
D.C. United at Columbus
The Crew puts its 10-day unbeaten streak on the line (hey, when things are as bad as they are in Columbus, 10 days without a loss is an accomplishment) against a D.C. team eager to get back on the field after having Chicago snap its four-game unbeaten run. Columbus was lucky to take a point against Kansas City and won't be so lucky again. Even with Jonny Walker expected to make his debut, the Crew could be in for an ugly night and Andruis could face another shower of pink slips at Crew Stadium. D.C. United 3, Crew 0
San Jose Earthquakes at FC Dallas
The Earthquakes are playing some of the best soccer in the league and will have a chance to prove they are for real against a Dallas team that has been winning despite missing several key players. San Jose will be without Brad Davis while the Hoops will be missing Greg Vanney, Eddie Johnson and possibly Carlos Ruiz. The Earthquakes have been doing it with stingy defense led by Danny Califf and Wade Barrett and the inspired form of defensive midfielder Ricardo Clark. They will be able to slow down FC Dallas' attack but they won't have enough to take three points at the Cotton Bowl. FC Dallas 1, Earthquakes 1
Chicago Fire at Chivas USA
Playing without Chris Armas and Tony Sanneh didn't stop the Fire from beating D.C. United at midweek and certainly won't keep them from beating on Piñata USA. Hans Westerhof certainly sent a message when he dumped Ryan Suarez but seeing his team dismantled after Suarez's departure couldn't have been very comforting. How will Chivas slow down Nate Jacqua and Thiago? They won't. The only thing left to figure out is what there will be more of, Fire goals or Chivas fans at Home Depot Center. Fire 3, Chivas 1
MetroStars at Real Salt Lake
FC SuperClub heads west to face Fake Salt Lake in a rematch of the season-opening Monsoon Cup. To be fair, The Salt Lakers have played better the past two weeks even though they don't have a win to show for it. Can they really snap their seven-match winless streak? Not likely against a Metros team that played well against New England before a pair of brain cramps cost them a road point. With Eddie Gaven back in the fold, the SuperClub attack will be too much for an RSL defense playing without Eddie Pope. MetroStars 3, Real Salt Lake 1
Kansas City at Colorado Rapids
The Wizards are in a serious funk. With just one win in six June matches, capped by a disappointing 1-1 tie against Columbus on Wednesday, Kansas City can't afford to drop many more points. They hit Denver and face a Rapids team that could struggle without central midfielder Pablo Mastroeni. Kansas City will be without Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff and will find it tough to score a July 4th road win as the Rapids entertain what should be a large home crowd. Rapids 2, Wizards 0.
New England at Los Angeles Galaxy
A month ago this would have been regarded as a potential MLS Cup finals preview. This weekend this match is being regarded as the Galaxy's last rites. Will Steve Sampson's team show some life after a horrendous road stretch (0-3-1, outscored 6-1) or will they lose another and chalk it up to the absence of Landon Donovan? There are no excuses in this match, not when the Revs are missing Clint Dempsey, Pat Noonan and Steve Ralston. Even with all their big guns missing, look for New England to show off its impressive depth and post another road win. Revolution 2, Galaxy 1
Last week's record: 4-1 Overall record: 32-29
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPN.com and is also a writer and columnist for the Herald News (NJ). He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com