Ten things to note from MLS Week 21
Sweeping up after the MLS weekend party, here are 10 things I found lying around:
1. Arena back in MLS? Bruce Arena surely requires a significant commitment in terms of finances and organizational control to be convinced to put away the golf clubs and get back in the MLS game. Arena, with the Philadelphia job likely there for the taking, isn't going to accept the car keys to just any old MLS jalopy.
All indications point to his arrival at the Home Depot Center. And with that, finally, the rest of the league will have real reason to worry about Los Angeles, which seems to have backed its way into cogent plan.
Arena obviously owns the brain and the requisite player management skills. But he's got something else: That notorious Arena arrogance will serve him splendidly in the thin air of Planet L.A.
If Simon Fuller, Tim Leiweke or anyone else who shouldn't be meddling in on-field affairs proposes some half-baked notion, Arena surely will have little compunction with telling him, "That's a stupid idea."
L.A. has lacked a clear chain of command in personnel matters. As such, a side that easily presides over the richest payroll in MLS history clatters along on the margins of playoff contention. Alexi Lalas, Ruud Gullit and predecessor Frank Yallop all probably had reasonable, if disparate, ideas on personnel.
Trouble comes calling when ideas and philosophies clash. To assemble a roster piecemeal, devoid of a singular, unified direction, is a stampede toward mediocrity.
There's only so much Arena can do this year, given the short stick he's left to fight with. But at least David Beckham, Landon Donovan et al, should know they're moving forward -- and not just hopelessly adrift.
2. Who would have thought. As it stands, Yallop's Earthquakes have five wins, now hardly performing like a bottom-table bunch thanks to astute midseason additions. Gullit fled the Galaxy madness with six wins.
What odds could you have gotten on a preseason wager that Yallop, run out of L.A. in November 2007, would have more wins in 2008 than Gullit? And yet, that appears likely.
3. Intriguing stat of the weekend. Kansas City was called for just five fouls in its loss at Colorado. I know that interpreting stats in soccer is like talking to women at a bar; you can't read too much into things.
Still, just five fouls? If I'm Wizards manager Curt Onalfo, I might not be too happy with the level of commitment. I'm not sure there's enough "want-to" around a club with just four of a possible 12 points since the All-Star break.
4. Interesting choice in Colorado. The Rapids partnered Cory Gibbs (debuting on his second MLS tour) and Mike Petke (on injured reserve most of the year) in the center of their four-man back line. Neither had a minute of first-team soccer this year before Saturday.
Then again, maybe a home match against Kansas City was exactly what the pair needed to get their feet and gain some confidence. The Wizards are winless on the road since April and, sure enough, Gibbs and Petke generally kept things calm in the back.
5. The final blow. I really can't help but be impressed by Chivas USA, still bandaging together a respectable season despite horrendous injury luck. Yes, some of it is down to carrying some older types more susceptible to injury (Claudio Suarez and Ante Razov). But some of it is just bad fortune, now stacked upon Brad Guzan's departure.
That was the L.A. Galaxy's full team out there this past Thursday. And yet, there was Chivas USA, bravely holding the line.
But now, with Jesse Marsch out six to eight weeks, courtesy of Sean Franklin's elbow, you have to wonder whether Preki's team can remain in the playoff hunt. Marsch, 34, has enjoyed a spectacular season, holding the center of the park alongside Paulo Nagamura and getting forward for four goals. No one on that roster can replace Marsch's two-way work.
6. Cuauhtemoc Blanco update. The temperamental Mexican hasn't scored or assisted since June 7, which makes his national team recall a bit bizarre. Now, he's stirred up a hornet's nest, weighing in on an ongoing controversy at Toyota Park involving stadium security and alleged mistreatment of one of the team's supporting groups (the Chicago Fire's unofficial Hispanic fan club), which staged a protest Saturday.
7. Meanwhile, on the field. Brian McBride made his Toyota Park debut, entering at halftime of a 1-0 loss to D.C. United. The team clearly needs more than one practice to incorporate McBride. It does no good for him to win those headers if others aren't making smart, well-timed runs around him.
8. Victimization complex. Pretty odd to see TFC boss John Carver chewing on the fourth official after Nana Attakora-Gyan nailed Dave van den Bergh with a pretty nasty elbow. Attakora-Gyan was lucky to stay on the field. Ask U.S. Olympian Michael Orozco about these things.
See, Carver's team was without playmaker Amado Guevara, who was suspended for bloodying Dallas' Pablo Ricchetti with an ugly blow to the face last week. Later in that same match, Marco Velez saw red as well, and Carver talked afterward as if his team was hard done -- never mind that TFC had just been shut out at home.
Here's the thing: If you keep treating your team like victims, pretty soon, they'll feel like victims. And that's not a good place to be.
9. They call this a "red flag." New Red Bulls defender Gabriel Cichero looks like a decently skilled player. As for soccer smarts well, here is the sum of his early contributions at Giants Stadium:
First game: yellow card within 12 minutes.
Second game: red card, leaving his team to defend a 1-0 lead a man down for an entire half.
For the Red Bulls' next match, a biggie at home against the defending MLS champs, Cichero might as well be at some fast-food joint in New Jersey, since he is suspended and can't help his team anyway.
The Red Bulls are winning, but Cichero had better get his temperament issues sorted out, or he'll hurt the side in the long run.
10. Others with bad weekends. Referee Alex Prus inexplicably saw no foul on Sean Franklin's elbow that sidelined Marsch. Prus' awful night further included: cautioning David Beckham for the softest of fouls while worse went unpunished, watching Chivas USA score after Beckham had been fouled, not calling anything on Franklin earlier as he grabbed and kicked striker Roberto Nurse, and being too far from the action on far too many sequences.
K.C.'s Jimmy Conrad is not having his best month, beaten two weeks ago by Luciano Emilio and culpable for Conor Casey's strike for Colorado on Saturday.
Dallas' Jeff Cunningham joined the elite "100 Club" Saturday but already had been rejected on a personal request. Before he merged into triple digits, Cunningham had his agent petition FIFA (unsuccessfully) to wear jersey No. 101. To wear three digits requires special dispensation.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.