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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


5 Things To Watch For In MLS

Written by on April 6, 2012 | No Comments »
Posted in Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew, Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS, New York RB, Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps

The Crew Look To Exploit New York’s Problems

After an opening-day loss to Colorado, Columbus responded with back-to-back victories over Montreal and Toronto. Certainly not an explosive beginning to the new season though successive clean-sheets will give them momentum ahead of an intimidating home clash on Saturday.

New York head to Crew Stadium with nine goals from their last two games – Thierry Henry hitting five of them. But the Red Bulls still look suspect at the back – another error from Markus Holgersson gifting Sanna Nyassi the opening goal in last weekend’s game against Montreal while he should’ve had the awareness and decisiveness to shut down Justin Mapp’s shot to the near post that resulted in the Impact’s second.

Ryan Meara was beaten twice at his near side – Mapp’s right-footed strike didn’t have much pace on it – so the 21 year-old rookie, who’s still without a clean-sheet this season, will need to raise his game.

At times, Columbus have utilized a quick counter-attack – notably in grabbing the winning goal against Toronto and a second at home to Montreal but usually, the Crew look to build around the fringes of the area and work a through-ball or make a yard of space to tee-up a shot on goal.

But, with Andres Mendoza having returned to Mexico, it’s difficult to see who can carry the Crew’s goal-scoring burden this season. Renteria can be a handful but hasn’t lasted the full ninety minutes yet while Milovan Mirosevic isn’t a consistent goal-scorer, preferring a deeper role.

Olman Vargas took his goal against Montreal very well but perhaps this could be a weekend when Eddie Gaven can conjure a critical strike. The midfielder racked up five goals last term – the Crew winning every game he scored in.

Winter Of Discontent

Between them, Montreal and Toronto have played eight games. Between them, they’ve conjured one point. Between them, they’ve conceded eighteen goals.

Between them, they’ve scored four. But ahead of this clash, it’s worth noting the contrasting feelings towards both franchises current predicaments.

For the Impact, this is all new. It’s a learning curve. You must make mistakes to learn from them, etc.

For Toronto, boos have already greeted their home performances…in the third game of the season. And amongst the fanfare and positivity of the CONCACAF Champions League semi-final berth, surely TFC fans would’ve given it all up for a relatively impressive MLS campaign? Because that would hint at progress.

The two-legged victory over LA was so impressive because it was so unexpected. The frustration surrounding back-to-back BMO Field defeats was that it was ‘typical Toronto’. The mindset needs to change but it’s incredibly difficult to eradicate problems that seem to be technically embedded in the squad.

There appears a lack of in-game intelligence from TFC. Take the goal conceded against Columbus last weekend. Julian De Guzman loses the ball 40 yards from the Crew goal. As he’s dispossessed, Toronto have 5 players ahead of the play as well as both their full-backs in the Columbus half.

On the counter-attack, it’s four versus three. Logan Emory, as is typical in MLS, gets the criticism for not being strong enough in the area. But the problem exists further out the field.

Why have three central midfielders when they’re all caught high up the pitch during one passage of play?

Why, when selecting three central midfielders, are you torn to shreds on a counter-attack puncturing the spine of the pitch?

It’s about intelligence. It’s about anticipation. It’s about awareness.

When you lose possession, you can’t simply turn around, run as hard as you can and attempt to win it back. There needs to be a system. There needs to be a collective identity. When De Guzman pushes forward, Dunfield or Johnson should drop deeper, wary of a turnover.

Behind them, Eckersley should move in-field to (a) offer himself for a pass and (b) cover himself positionally. In many ways, TFC play an 11-a-side as a 5-a-side. Positions become secondary to making darting runs that go un-noticed.

There’s a method to football and there appears to be little method to Toronto FC so far this season. A loss in Montreal this weekend is not worth thinking about.

Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!

Peter Vermes has been trying to play it down. The plaudits, the platitudes, the perfect start. And he’s right. Last season, Kansas City simply shrugged off the first ten games of the season where they picked up just one victory.

They ended the campaign sitting top of the Eastern Conference. So, if anyone knows that it’s not how you start but how you finish, it’s these guys. Let’s not discount the positives.

Still no goal conceded from open play, an ability to push through and scavenge for away points (two 1-0 road wins against DC and Chivas) and key players beginning the campaign impressively. Ahead of their game against a troubled LA Galaxy on Saturday, they can also rely on an eye-catching, come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Dallas.

Perhaps other teams may have been happy with a point, especially after missing a penalty, but for the second time in this campaign, KC conjured a late winner. So, should the Galaxy take the lead here, you won’t see the hosts panic.

LA, in many peoples’ eyes, are in disarray. Three home games, two defeats. The trip to KC is their first MLS away assignment of the season and there are a few things to consider.

They won’t play as poorly as they did against the Revs, they should have Landon Donovan back from injury and with Robbie Keane on the pitch, you always stand a chance. Since arriving in the league, he’s scored six goals in ten starts – a type of streak he last experienced while on loan with Celtic two years ago.

He’s converting a goal for every three shots on target he makes. With Donovan back, he will surely get more chances this weekend. But it’s at the other end of the pitch where LA have experienced major problems and against New England, runs were being missed, there was a calmness missing from the central midfield (made all the more evident by Shalrie Joseph’s display for the opposition) and some frenetic, rash decisions being made with and without the ball.

Perhaps it was down to a lack of leadership at the back, perhaps it simply comes down to ability.

But the Galaxy could do with an up-lifting display. And nowhere better to make a statement of intent than in the back-yard of the leaders.

Darling Of The Crowd

Darlington Nagbe raised eye-brows with that stunning volley against Kansas City last season. And once again this term, it’s the midfielder’s ability for scoring great goals that has got people talking.

The 21 year-old picked up a brace for Portland last weekend when Real Salt Lake came to Jeld-Wen – the visitors smashing and grabbing their way to a 3-2 win. But amidst the frustration and disappointment of the Timbers conceding twice in the final minutes to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, there was a magnificent individual performance from the Liberian-born youngster.

Though his second goal has received fulsome praise, his first one features some terrific awareness, touch and control. There’s the little hook to take it around Luis Gil followed by the neat subtlety to touch past Kyle Beckerman and then the two touches to get it out of his feet that tees-up a superb drive low to the bottom corner.

The goals illustrate perfectly where Nagbe’s strength lies – picking the ball up in dangerous positions where he can use his skill-set to engineer chances. Though he started the RSL game wide-right, when John Spencer pushed him to the top of a midfield diamond he began to influence things and seems to have an impressive knack of finding gaps between the lines.

Whether or not he’ll find those gaps against Chivas this weekend is another thing. Though currently bottom of the Western Conference with three points from four games, they’ve conceded just three goals and their one victory came on the road at the Rio Tinto so they know all about getting results in intimidating environments.

Is Defence Really The Best Form Of Attack? Really?

Much has been made of Vancouver’s impressive defending so far this season. The franchise is 62 minutes away from breaking the league’s record of the longest start to a campaign without conceding a goal.

And if their previous away performances are anything to go by, San Jose will find it difficult to break them down this weekend. The Whitecaps’ scoreless draw in Philly was memorable for Martin Rennie’s side not conjuring a single shot on target from nine attempts.

Without Eric Hassli, the side doesn’t look as intimidating and seem to miss the physicality and bite that the Frenchman offers. Amidst all of the delicacy Vancouver possess in the final third, sometimes it’s important to contrast that and the side should have some more flexibility with Hassli returning for Saturday’s assignment.

Rennie focused on attacking drills in training this week, trying to develop a free-flowing dynamic between midfield and attack. He made changes last weekend with Atiba Harris and John Thorrington both coming into the side, though Harris misses the game in San Jose after picking up a one-match suspension.

It’s clear that the Whitecaps still don’t have an automatic first-choice eleven and while competition for places is always a healthy thing, Rennie will want players consistently performing sooner rather than later. Also, the clean-sheet run will eventually come to an end. Rennie will hope the attacking unit is sorted out by the time that happens.  

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