Written by Eoin O'Callaghan on April 13, 2012 | 2 Comments »
Posted in Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, DC United, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York RB, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC
Brian Mullan can expect a difficult atmosphere in Seattle this weekend. A year has passed since his vicious assault on Steve Zakuani that left the Sounders’ midfielder with a broken leg. 12 months on and Zakuani is still recovering. A long, arduous journey of constant rehabilitation is thankfully coming to an end though a year of his immensely promising career has vanished into the ether.
For Mullan, there was a ‘severe’ punishment of a 10-game ban. But it should’ve been worse. That’s in the past though. Mullan continues to be an integral part of the Colorado lineup and if they’re to pick up a decent result here, they’ll require all of their big-names to step up to the plate.
A 2-0 loss at the Rio Tinto last time out proved interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the officials missed the most blatant of handballs from Fabian Espindola just moments before he tucked away RSL’s second goal. And the game also notable for Drew Moor playing in midfield. According to Oscar Parreja, it was a tactical move to try and press Salt Lake’s tight midfield diamond. To a certain extent, it worked though not having a natural ball-playing central midfielder inhibited keeping intelligent possession.
With one win from three away games so far, this looks a tough ask for the Rapids, especially when pondering on where inspiration in the final third is going to come from. Like against RSL, do they attempt to close down Seattle’s midfield and shut out the freedom Montero and Fernandez usually get between the lines?
If so, they need to be smarter with the ball than they were last weekend. Packing the middle of the park will give them a numerical advantage but that only works if possession is utilized to launch counter-attacks. Cheaply surrendering the ball will only push Seattle further forward and drop Colorado deeper.
Martin Rivero should have an important role to play here – the 22 year-old clipped the bar against RSL with a terrific free-kick and his creativity, perhaps from set-pieces, could prove crucial.
Chivas finished second-from bottom in the Western Conference last season. They lost fourteen games. Twelve of them were by a single goal. In 36 matches, they conceded 43 goals. Colorado (who made the play-offs) conceded 42. The stats are equally impressive for this campaign so far – five games played, two wins, three goals conceded.
But, such a contrast to their defensive and offensive capabilities. Juan Pablo Angel remains out as he recovers from concussion and they’ve struggled to fill that void. Two stars from last term, Alejandro Moreno and Nick LaBrocca both scored last weekend in that terrific 2-1 away win against Portland.
The game changed at half-time with Ryan Smith coming on for Blair Gavin and the former Arsenal youth player conjured a dazzling performance on the left-wing. With an emphasis on playing a five-man midfield regularly away from home, space will be found in wide areas. If the quality of service can stay as consistently good as it was against the Timbers, Chivas have the potential to bother teams, not just frustrate them.
And if they can get the mix right at BMO Field this weekend, Toronto’s troubles look set to continue.
The team that can’t stop scoring pitted against the team who don’t like to concede. Thierry Henry pitted against Chris Wondolowski. Kenny Cooper pitted against…Oh. Therein lies the problem for San Jose, perhaps. The Quakes have racked up eight goals so far this season but Wondo has got six of them.
16 last term and San Jose still missed the play-offs by a long way.
19 the season before and they just about scraped a spot in the post-season.
But, Wondo is such a big part of the puzzle. His stats place him above Henry regarding his shots-on-goal conversion rate. Cynics would point out that he takes the Quakes penalties. But, you’ve still got to score them.
His brace against Vancouver last weekend showed what makes him so good. The first goal showing off his intelligence in getting his body between Jay DeMerit and the ball before allowing Joe Cannon make the first move on the finish.
The second – just a nonchalant side-foot across goal after peeling off the back of Jordan Harvey. In many ways, both goals were Henry-like.
Both sides utilize two up-top in contrasting ways. For the Red Bulls, Henry likes to drop deep, pick up a pass and either (a) look for an opening or (b) keep play moving and make a run himself.
He’s set up Cooper with a simple ball over-the-top on two occasions so far – against Dallas in their opening game of the season and last weekend away to Columbus. It’s a ploy worth keeping an eye on, especially with San Jose seemingly having trouble marshalling Eric Hassli’s runs to the channels last week.
San Jose pair Wondo with a troublesome partner, a physical presence who requires plenty of attention, thereby potentially allowing more space open up for the goal-machine to exploit.
Simon Dawkins was handed his first start of the season against Vancouver and offered something a little different. With Steven Lenhart once again considered doubtful for the trip to Red Bull Arena, Dawkins could be handed another chance to impress and as he proved last season, has a tendency to pop up with a crucial goal every once in a while.
Kansas City currently possess one of the most astounding statistics in all of Major League Soccer – they haven’t allowed a shot on goal in 245 minutes (an MLS record, by the way). Jimmy Nielsen has been forced to make just seven saves in five games. But they face a side this weekend who enjoy a challenge. Real Salt Lake haven’t exactly been dealt an easy schedule so far – away trips to both LA and Portland, a clash at home to New York while up ahead, there’s this visit to KC plus assignments in both San Jose and Dallas.
From their two road games so far, RSL have taken maximum points, scoring six goals in the process. And those two goals conceded against the Timbers were pretty special individual efforts from Darlington Nagbe so a little harsh to push any blame in the direction of either the back-four or, indeed, Nick Rimando.
In many ways, that 3-2 win showed exactly why this RSL team is so good. Seeing a lead disappear and trailing with just a few minutes left, the players always kept faith in their ability. The equalizing goal was the perfect snap-shot of how a tight midfield unit can cut teams to shreds with quick movement, great touch and astute awareness.
Kyle Beckerman’s winner was wonderful individuality but the set-up came courtesy of Espindola getting wide and stretching the Portland defence, allowing space develop inside. Intelligent, simple but so effective.
KC’s most difficult game of the campaign, certainly.
So, LA have brought in defensive reinforcements. David Lopes, described (quite bizarrely) by Bruce Arena as an ‘interesting player’, arrives from Chivas but trust Landon Donovan to contextualize in his own inimitable way – ‘We didn’t bring in a savior’. Welcome to the Galaxy, Dave.
More good news – they should have David Beckham back for this weekend’s assignment against Portland after a hamstring strain kept him out of the loss to Kansas City. The last time ‘The Holy Trinity’ started a game together, LA racked up three goals and three points against DC – their only points of the campaign so far.
Last weekend’s narrow defeat to the best side in the East was perhaps not such a shock though the reigning Cup holders were held scoreless for the first time since last October. Edson Buddle is struggling up top – Beckham is currently more prolific for getting shots in – while there seems to be a lack of ideas in the final third.
Interestingly, John Spencer made the link earlier this week between LA’s current struggles and Houston’s back at the start of the 2008 campaign (following their back-to-back MLS Cups). It’s almost impossible to put a finger on the root cause of why a good team suddenly isn’t getting results though it’s quite fashionable to point fingers at easy targets.
For the Timbers, they’re looking to avoid a fourth straight defeat and they’ll be wary of taking on a wounded animal.
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