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Eoin O'Callaghan

Eoin O'Callaghan

Eoin has worked in sports broadcasting in Ireland as a researcher, reporter, presenter and producer. He is currently a soccer reporter/anchor with the Fox Soccer Report


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5 Things To Watch For In MLS This Weekend – Eoin Cries Foul

Written by on April 20, 2012 | 5 Comments »
Posted in MLS

No Fouls Please, We’re American

The MLS Disciplinary Committee courted more headlines earlier this week when they dished Rafa Marquez a warranted three-game ban for his recent clash with Shea Salinas. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find out that smart suspensions are a rarity in this league.

The Disciplinary Committee has now taken retrospective action on ten occasions since the new season began. Both Danny Cruz and Alvaro Fernandez have received fines for ‘embellishment’ – again, a move that should be applauded.

But Adam Moffat, Brandon McDonald, Jair Benitez, Atiba Harris, Shalrie Joseph and Marvin Chavez all have grounds for complaint. All were found guilty of either ‘reckless challenges’ or ‘violent conduct’ and hit with one-game bans and appropriate fines.

Let’s start with Chavez. He clearly gets the ball as he races back to tackle New York Red Bulls’ Roy Miller. Yes, there’s a lunge but it’s a clean tackle. Now, Chavez gets booked for the incident. The referee has a clear view of it and takes action in the moment.

So, why is the player punished further by a Disciplinary Committee?

The reason?

The tackle ‘endangered the safety of his (Chavez’s) opponent’.

Laughable.

Pathetic.

Why are referees being undermined? Why even hand out yellow cards during games if a more severe punishment is handed out by a group of officials sitting in a boardroom, replaying incidents twenty times before embarrassing MLS with their decision-making?

There seems to be an argument within the league that it needs to ‘protect’ the players. This pantomime isn’t protecting them so much as wrapping them in cotton-wool.

This is a contact-sport. Every time you commit to challenging an opponent there’s a risk of one or both parties getting injured. It’s part of the game. This new attitude is a fall-out from Brian Mullan’s disgusting assault on Steve Zakuani last season.

MLS got scared. This was supposed to be the sport with the clean-image. The wholesome one. The family-friendly one.

Football in North America is bullied by other sports. They’re bigger, louder and more popular. And how do you cope with bullies? By standing up to them. MLS are currently shrinking the game and it’s akin to being brought to school ever morning hand-in-hand with your Mom and Dad, as those bullies receive even more ammunition with which to make your life a misery.

Instead of realizing the Zakuani incident was an exception, MLS decided to ‘step-in’ and take control. The players were turning this hallowed place into a frenzied, bloodied battle-field and it didn’t look good. Perhaps MLS should acknowledge football is a battle.  

 There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

There are some players that just never lose the goal-scoring touch. Maicon Santos is one of those.

Before his move to DC, he’d racked up 14 goals in 41 MLS starts. Sure, the stat is hardly earth-shattering but it’s consistent. And in this league, that attribute is pretty crucial.

Last term, he featured for Toronto before heading to Dallas and the goals kept coming, regardless of location. Taking a peek at his minutes for both franchises, it’s clear that both Aron Winter and Schellas Hyndman had their doubts about his overall contribution to the team.

The 28 year-old would be handed a start, taken off with 25 minutes left and benched the following week. Then he’d come on as a substitute, score and impress once again.

That same problem reappeared in DC this week when he was left out of the starting lineup with Chris Pontius handed a place up front. In true Santos style though, he came on with half an hour to go with his side trailing to Montreal, scored the equalizer and perhaps was quite unfortunate to have another strike disallowed for offside.

Four goals from seven games is a really solid return and with New York currently relying on a central defence partnership of Stephen Keel and Markus Holgersson, the Brazilian will surely get plenty of chances to add to that tally this weekend.

 No Need To Worry

Vancouver are experiencing a slide. Back-to-back wins from their opening two games but none since. Now, it’s a case of back-to-back defeats and they found it tough midweek against Kansas City. Only when three-nil down did they play with a renewed sense of purpose and energy and went close on a number of occasions after Sebastien Le Toux had picked up a consolation inside the last ten minutes.

There are glaring problems for Martin Rennie to digest. Firstly, Eric Hassli is still to find the net and the longer the drought goes on, the harder it becomes for the Frenchman to retain any sort of confidence in front of goal. Secondly, there seems to be a problem in the final third overall.

Having started all six of his sides’s games so far, Davide Chiumiento is clearly greatly-admired and appreciated by his manager but with Le Toux and Hassli also up top, is there an imbalance?

The diminutive Italian and the former Philly attacker both enjoy the freedom to roam though Le Toux’s work ethic is often under-estimated. Do they offer too much of the same? Though Chiumiento was played just behind Hassli on occasions last term, sometimes the physicality seemed too much for him and he’d disappear from games. Maybe Rennie’s thinking is that a front-three is a defense mechanism of sorts – Le Toux’s overall skill-set and energy allows Chiumiento the opportunity to drift in an out of the action while Hassli always attracts attention as the focal-point of the attack.

Rennie has been quick to dismiss any talk of a crisis. Two successive defeats, he says, is hardly the end of the world for an MLS side. And he’s right, of course. But, with Rennie indicating he’s ready to change things around once again and give some other players the chance to come back in the side, you get the impression that the manager still doesn’t know his best XI.

Plenty time for him to figure it out and three points at home to Dallas this weekend would be the perfect tonic.

 Orange Crush

Already Kansas City lead the Eastern Conference by eleven points. New York are their nearest challengers at this stage though with their defensive frailties, you worry about just how far they can go this term.

Perhaps Houston offer the best chance of pushing KC, especially after having played just four games so far. Dom Kinnear’s side have struggled with injures and suspensions though they’ve had quite the rest over the last month – playing just once.

Also, just like KC last year, the Dynamo are waiting for the opening of their new stadium so all of their games up until May 9th will be on the road. With Brad Davis expected to return for their trip to Columbus this weekend, Houston can also count on Adam Moffat being involved again after a one-game ban.

Things looking a lot more positive for last year’s beaten Cup-finalists and should they still be well-positioned come their debut at BBVA Compass Stadium, they will be involved in the post-season. There will be concern about a lack of depth but many other teams have the same problem. Their first-choice XI remains impressive and the effect of a new home will only be positive.    

 Fire And Rain

Chicago have started this campaign in much the same way as last season. Inconsistency being the order of the day. But, the 1-1 draw with Houston saw Arne Friedrich make his debut at centre-back while the game at BMO Field against Toronto could see the Fire fans whipped into a further frenzy as Chris Rolfe is back with the franchise, after a three year stint with Aalborg in Denmark.

The 29 year-old spent four years with the Fire between 2005 and 2009, racking up over 40 goals in the process while also featuring for the US senior side as well. He has trained this week though did pick up an injury in Thursday’s session which could restrict his game-time in Ontario.

The visitors will fancy their chances up of picking up just their second victory of the season. Toronto are a broken team, their five defeats from five games accompanied by the refrain of ‘We’ve been unlucky’ is both misguided and worrying. And Aron Winter is running out of time.

Torsten Frings was on the bench against Chivas as he continued his recovery from injury though is expected to start this weekend. Julian de Guzman was an unused substitute for the second time this season – perhaps management are finally losing their patience with the midfielder’s uninspired performances.    

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5 responses to “5 Things To Watch For In MLS This Weekend – Eoin Cries Foul”

  1. Justion says:

    Eion, I have to disagree with you on the first one. I think MLS is doing the right thing with the retrospective review. Maybe it’s because as a Sounders fan: I’m sick of players getting injured by reckless necessary tackles (certainly not a one-off as both Zakuani AND Rosales were injured by idiotic challenges last season), our ball-kid subject to homophobic slurs, and having to watch our own Alvaro Fernandez on the ground with hands to the face a few too many times.

    But certainly any observers will agree MLS is attractive these days because the quality of play has improved over the last few years. That is due in part to attracting skilled and talented players from abroad. When such players David Ferreira, Rosales , Zakuani, and Javier Morales get clobbered by thugs it not only affect what we see when we go games by the loss of these players , but it’s also a deterrent to the league when attracting future stars to the league.

    I think the league is being reactive to some of the things we saw last season, but I think it’s good thing.

  2. Doug says:

    I agree with Justion. I would MUCH rather see officials err on the side of being overly protective of skillful players. Divers, thugs and reckless players shouldn’t get a break. They should get fined and suspended and if they can’t adjust their style of play, MLS is better off without them.

  3. Astronomer says:

    Justion and Doug,
    As American fans of the sport, we should commend the MLS Disciplinary Committee for dishing out these punitive measures post-game. I am assuming they arrived at their decisions after watching video replays of the incidents in question.

    I sincerely hope that in the near future, they expand these post-game reviews to include the punishment of divers and cheats also. If FIFA and UEFA (the most powerful of the continental organizations) are not going to do it, then national football federations and leagues, like the MLS (as in this case), should take the initiative in this regard.

    Of course, national governing bodies are circumscribed to some extent in these matters by FIFA statutes, so I am not sure how much latitude they really have in instituting and implementing such novel policies.

    In any case, kudos to the MLS for at least taking these baby steps (with these retroactive punitive measures) to clean up the game.

    ___________________________________________

  4. John Bladen says:

    We disagree on this one, Eoin.

    The Zakuani assault wasn’t a one off, unfortunately. It was part of a string of very bad fouls on the league’s few legitimate “home grown” stars.

    It’s entirely possible that they have tarred some innocent (or relatively so) players with the same brush since the Mullan attack, but the goal of any football league should be to eliminate dangerous tackles. MLS has few enough legitimate game changers as it is, we don’t need them being sidelined by wildly optimistic tackles etc.

    It is a physical game, but there are limits to the level of physical contact one can initiate within the rules. Everyone will have their own opinion on a given tackle, but for my money MLS has been doing ok – even if they are erring heavily on the side of caution/safety in some cases.

    RE: Santos, he’s a mystery. I watched him all during his Toronto tenure, and he’d look fabulous for a couple of games and then go to sleep (the lack of quality around him didn’t help, of course). Frustrating for coaches, but it seems to be continuing in other destinations. It’s too bad, as on his day I believe he’s a very capable MLS attacker. Can someone inspire him to keep playing to the level he’s shown he can reach???

  5. Ed Gomes says:

    In all sports, the big/huge stars are always protected. Big teams get the breaks and stars get the benefit of the doubt on calls.
    Without them there would be no games.

    I like the look backs on calls. Although in the MLS it wouldn’t matter, clubs also need to get fined if certain thresholds are met.

    I also saw that the MLS president (Garber?) said that the league was willing to be a testing league for any new innovation or technology implementation. I think that this is brilliant. It would bring great recognition to the league especially if methods or rules get applied in bigger leagues.

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