Week 5: Do Not Stop Running Until the Whistle Blows

I don’t have a lot of time for the “MLS is garbage soccer” takes that permeate the snobbier corners of the internet.  I spend a lot of time ignoring and actively avoiding the opinions of a number of loud and outspoken proponents of promotion and relegation that decry Major League Soccer as being somehow mired in mediocrity.  Listen, I get it, nobody’s acting like we’ve got Messi running around out there (well, we do have Cyle Larin). So I don’t get bothered or try to engage in fights with these people.  The one thing, however, I simply cannot and will not accept is the notion that Major League Soccer isn’t exciting - and week 5, is just further proof that this season is shaping up to be a roller coaster without the safety restraints no matter which team you support. Well. Maybe not DC United.  

Friday night soccer featured two teams that have been sluggish out of the gate as RBNY faced off against the winless New England Revolution. This match was unfortunately fraught with controversy as RBNY felt aggrieved to be on the shorter end of two major decisions. The first happened on the only goal of the night as Kemar Lawrence went down with an injury and sat on the turf while New England continued their attack which led to Diego Fagundez finishing into an empty net after some clever passing. RBNY coach Jessie Marsch was furious that play wasn’t stopped for the injury.  This is going to be discussed a lot in the coming week, and while I’m sympathetic to the plight of the Red Bulls, players have to know that you keep playing until the whistle is blown. Stopping play is at the official’s discretion and the years of a team following the unwritten rule of playing the ball out of bounds b/c of an injury are a distant memory at this point.  If the ref stopped play every time a player went down, we’d be seeing players go down all of the time when the opposing team has a promising attack.  I think the official made the right decision here and RBNY can’t claim that this was an injustice or even a unique situation in today’s game.

The second controversial decision however, seemed to be incorrect as Felipe was sent off 10 minutes later for a dangerous challenge.  Replays show that Felipe not only got the ball, but made little if any contact with Kelyn Rowe. I understand why Geiger went to the back pocket. Upon first inspection the challenge sure looks dangerous. It’s only on replay that you can see Felipe really didn’t go through with the full weight of the lunge and Rowe was never really in any danger.  This won’t be of any comfort to Felipe or RBNY fans however, and they’ll rightly be annoyed that they had to go looking for an equalizer without the services of one their most dangerous offensive threats. After all was said and done it was New England who took the full share of the spoils in their first win of the season.  

Saturday’s matches kicked off in Chicago where the Fire took on the surprisingly in form Philadelphia Union. It was the weather that took center stage this afternoon as it veered wildly between what appeared to be windy blizzard-like conditions to a bright sunny, albeit chilly, Chicago day several times during the course of the match. Was there a red card involved?  There sure was. Warren Creaville was sent off in the second half for an aggressive and poorly timed challenge on Razvan Cocis. Chicago didn’t take long to capitalize on their man advantage, scoring the only goal of the game when Kennedy Igboananike netted his second goal of the season.  Philadelphia had several late opportunities to equalize, but Chicago managed to hold on and reward the hearty supporters who showed up in less than ideal conditions with their first victory of the season.

Next up on the docket, the Colorado Rapids hosted Toronto FC who continued their traditional early season road trip. Would you believe that there were some controversial decisions in this one? Things did not start brightly for Toronto after Benoit Cheyrou was sent off for two dangerous plays in as many minutes. I’ve heard some grumblings from Toronto that they felt Cheyrou’s second yellow card was harsh, but for me the harshness for the second challenge is offset by the leniency shown for the first. Not long afterwards, Solignac managed to score his first ever goal for the Rapids after neatly collecting and dispatching a lovely lofted ball from Marco Pappa, though once again Toronto fans will point to suspicions of the Argentinian forward straying slightly offside. Toronto didn’t capitulate despite being outnumbered and throughout the last half hour of the match, the Reds looked far more likely to score with Giovinco shaving the post on a couple of occasions. Toronto have 4 points from their road trip so far with 4 more matches to go, and will undoubtedly be looking forward to playing in front of their fans. Colorado manage to grind out another result against favored opposition and are looking like anything but the pushovers of last season.  

Our next stop is Kansas City where Real Salt Lake managed to pull off an impressive 2-1 road victory despite missing a number of key players through injury and suspension. Young center back Justen Glad made his first MLS start for Real Salt Lake, and will no doubt be delighted to have marked the occasion with his first goal for the club as well. Glad nodded in a Plata free kick in the 29th minute, and SKC players will not enjoy reviewing film of the goal, as marking issues left several Salt Lake players in excellent scoring positions.  The match quieted down for a bit, but Luke Mullholland secured the three point for the visitors when he expertly passed the ball into the bottom left corner from 20 yards out after some chaos in the box following a corner kick. Benny Feilhaber made his first start of the season for Sporting Kansas City and managed to slot home a consolation penalty in the 94th minute.  Feilhaber and Dwyer then charged into the net to retrieve the ball and their altercation with RSL keeper Attinella may well be of particular interest to the disciplinary committee.  

Starting the season winless in three isn’t an enviable position for any team, least of all from a team that managed to make it all the way to the MLS Cup final last season.  Unfortunately for Columbus fans, the next stop on the early season tour of frustration was Toyota Park in Dallas where they’d have to take on a very strong and energetic FC Dallas side who brushed aside DC United with ease the week before. Many people, myself included, believe that Columbus is still an extremely strong team that’s sure to bounce back, and we saw some signs of that on Saturday night.  Columbus looked determined to hit Dallas hard and early and took a very early lead when Justin Meram headed home a Frederico Higuain corner kick. Columbus kept pressing and probably would have added a few more were FC Dallas GK, Chris Seitz not in such good form between the sticks.  Dallas were once again clearly missing the services of talismanic playmaker Mauro Diaz, but still managed to snatch a point when Urruti’s long range effort cannoned off the post, struck Columbus GK Steve Clark in the back and rolled right into the path of an onrushing Tesho Akindele who swept it home into an empty net in the 77th minute. While the Crew remain winless in MLS, fans can take a reasonable amount of consolation in getting a road draw against a tough opponent.

Speaking of teams starting the season winless, the Seattle Sounders fans couldn’t have been feeling too confident when looking at a starting lineup missing Joevin Jones and Jordan Morris. Seattle had yet to secure a point in any of its first three matches, and hosting Ignacio Piatti and the Montreal Impact certainly couldn’t have helped with a growing concern amongst the Sounders faithful. Seattle plays its home matches on turf, so that meant that Dider Drogba was getting another night off. Seattle and Montreal traded punches evenly for the first half, and it looked like a draw was the most likely outcome on the cards.  However, in the 79th minute Clint Dempsey fought hard and found himself on the end of a Andreas Ivanschitz corner kick and managed to squirt the ball passed Evan Bush for the only goal of the match.  It was Seattle’s first win and points of the season and the Sounders suddenly find themselves merely one point behind the Portland Timbers at the bottom of the Western Conference. Of particular note this evening was the performance of Ozzie Alonso. Despite some murmurs in the offseason that the Cuban might be moved following an injury plagued 2015 campaign, Ozzie has looked to be a shade or two closer to his former self this year, and Saturday night was a return to peak 2011 vintage Ozzie. Sounders fans will be hoping that his renaissance has only just begun.

The west coast tour continues with the Los Angeles Galaxy hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps. Los Angeles was without the services of Designated Players Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard and despite having a man advantage for nearly 70 minutes, were unable to find the net. The main talking point of the match will be for Matias Labas’ sending off for an extremely dangerous challenge on Mike Magee. Again there have been some grumbles about this from the fans to the north, but this call was spot on, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some additional discipline tacked on after it is reviewed by the disciplinary committee. After losing Labas, Vancouver did an admirable job repelling the Galaxy’s attacks and a 0-0 result in such trying circumstances away from home should deservedly feel like a victory for the Whitecaps who continue to find ways to get results.

The last match of Saturday night featured DC United against the San Jose Earthquakes. DC United had to be considered underdogs after some questionable performances this season coupled with a very long road trip all the way across the continent. But it was United who struck first in the 39th minute.  Patrick Nyarko found himself on the end of a very good cross from Lamar Neagle and confidently headed it home to the delight of the fans back east. DC continued to impress late in the second half, controlling the flow of play and applying strong pressure on defense. It very much looked like DC was going to get their first win of the season, but unfortunately for United, San Jose’s penchant for late goals came back to haunt a visitor once more.  Substitute Adam Jahn managed to sweep in an early cross from Shea Salinas following an excellent run in the 88th minute and DC and San Jose were left to share the evening’s points.  

The weekend’s closing fixture saw the defending MLS Cup Champions travel to Orlando and it was a night that did not go well for the Timbers. In Kaka’s first start of the season, he stole all of the headlines laying on two assists and scoring a goal of his own en route to a 4-1 victory.  The only area of concern for Orlando was the injury to Cyle Larin who had to be subbed off the field in the first half with an apparent hamstring issue. Losing their top scorer didn’t stop Kaka and company from putting on a show though. Seb Hines headed in a free kick from Kaka in the 13th minute. Brek Shea scored a beauty after a lovely give and go with the Brazilian captain in the 32nd.  Joe Bendik had to come up big in the 43rd minute to deny Fanendo Adi from the penalty spot in order to maintain a two goal headed to the half.   Soon after the restart Kaka stroked home a goal of his own, and deferred a late penalty opportunity to Kevin Molino who managed to convert and score his first ever MLS goal. It was a delightful moment for the former USL Orlando player and fan favorite who had his first season in MLS cut woefully short due to injury. Jack McInerny, the new Chad Barrett, managed to bundle home a consolation goal to disrupt Orlando’s clean sheet in the 89th minute. This was a big result for the young franchise and having Kaka back and healthy is frightening proposition for their forthcoming opponents.