MLS Week 22 Perspecto-Scope: Statements of Intent

It was a weekend of statements.  From DC United’s “knock this battery off my shoulder…bitches,” through Red Bull New York’s, “don’t call it a come-back,” all the way down to the Los Angeles Galaxy reeling out a quiet “Yeah…it can get worse, actually” while longingly eyeing the last day of the regular season, the league looks to be gradually sorting itself out.

Then again, a couple key games ended in ties, thereby giving ambiguity another day in Major League Soccer (MLS).

I caught a few games this weekend and would have typed them up – specifically, Red Bull v. Chicago, which turned out to be the most educational of this weekend’s games – but, between family and squelching various crises, too much time slipped by to post them.  It’s a shame in a way…they were good notes….but this perspective piece will have to do.  May as well start with the boldest statement…

Given how highly I regard DC, it seems like I should hold up that 4-0 spanking of FC Dallas as evidence of my profound sagacity.  But, even watching the archived version of that game (on MLSlive.tv), shades of Rumpelstiltskin informed United’s performance – e.g. every ball they kicked at Dallas’ goal turned to gold.  That’s not to say DC was simply lucky – having players in good position allows a team to make their luck – but some days everything bounces one’s way and that was DC’s Saturday.  A 4-0 performance always commands respect, but it’s also fair to say DC isn’t four goals better than the better teams in MLS – even if they certainly seem able to score on Dallas, in particular, at will.

As for Dallas, signs of defensive fragility must affect them something awful – say, like having a drunken, abusive father seeking to reconnect after a decade away.

(NOTE: I will say one thing about “watching” DC’s win.  For those not familiar with it, watching archived feeds on MLSlive.tv allows one to pop in and out of the game whenever you like.  Whenever things slowed down, I’d drag the online timer on the video feed forward a bit – only to discover that, yes, DC scored again.  Dallas suffered a banana-peel day, to be sure.)

Red Bull’s gutsy, even mildly surprising, win over the Chicago Fire merits early mention as well.  In a game in which they looked the better team, New York’s break-through goal – which came from Juan Pablo Angel off a Dane Richards pass – still caught me off guard.  The most disturbing piece in all this for Red Bull players and fans came with how comfortable Chicago looked to that point; Richards’ frequent, yet off-target crosses posed the greatest threat and, to be blunt about it, those packed all the menace of Nerf bullets being shot in the air.  Credit Red Bull’s defensive play – pressure came high, hard, and early – for making this their game to win or draw; as events unfolded, a tie looked the best Chicago could get.  As I see it, then, Red Bull showed they belong – more than Chicago, anyway.  New York can definitely make the playoffs on the back of that kind of defense.  After that….

One line from my notes on this game is worth passing on: “Is it a coincidence I feel like I’m watching a U.S. Men’s game, y’know, with Arena coaching and all?  New York is doing everything well but attacking.”  You know, I think I’ll pass on the New York/Chicago notes; there’s some decent observation on there…I’ll do that later, though…

May as well dispense with Week 22’s two ties before descending into the basement (e.g. before discussing LA v. RSL).  I didn’t see the Columbus Crew’s draw with the Colorado Rapids, so can’t say much beyond noting it’s far from a surprising result; perhaps, as the home team, the Crew should have done better.  That said, Eddie Gaven’s composure during that long run in alone on goal was encouraging, as are suggestions that Conor Casey might finally have found his feet in MLS – even if luck carried in that cross from Mehdi Ballouchy.

I did sit through the draw between the Houston Dynamo and the Kansas City Wizards – and do I sound happy about that? – and will say a couple things there (though, for the record, the notes here were dull):

1) Both teams’ goals came against the run of play.  After a shaky start, Houston had established – I dunno – on-field hegemony?  It was something short of dominance whatever it was.  But KC snatched a late go-ahead goal through a nice combination between Eddie Johnson (who’s looking better again) and Scott Sealy.  Houston’s goal also seemed fluky in that KC’s back-line had done well for so long…only to back off on Dwayne DeRosario till he could set up Joseph Ngwenya.

2) If either “big man” – Brian Ching or Nate Jaqua – had started or played for Houston, I’m guessing the Dynamo would have had their way with KC – chalk that up to my built-in belief that teams can out-muscle KC.  Even if KC makes the playoffs, I can’t see them going anywhere for this reason.

3) Houston hasn’t impressed me since July.  They’re like a copperhead: nothing to trifle with, but not lethal either.  If they get their full team back – e.g. Ching, Stuart Holden/Brad Davis, and a woken-up DeRosario – they could return to contender status.  But, right now, they seem a bit short in quality.

Taken together, those two ties featured three bubble teams and one “contender” between them.  All we really learned is that the bubble hasn’t popped…that and my re-evaluated opinion of Houston.  Did they peak too early?

Let us now turn our gaze to the basement, where those who witnessed this game saw Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles Galaxy scuffle and scratch on their way up the stairs.  As we all know, RSL stuffed LA, scraped and exhausted, down into the basement where they presumably lay in a heap on the basement floor…and, this being MLS, you can bet that basement is unfurnished.  Actually, Week 22 saw Real Salt Lake win twice – their Wednesday win came against KC.  Apart from heralding the End of Days (please don’t cast Schwarzenegger again), this continues RSL’s tradition of ending the season on an up…which, if the other tradition holds, they’ll follow by starting the subsequent year feasting on shit-sandwiches.

As for LA, they’ve coped with the overall stress about as well as a shade-loving plant might endure a hot-house in Hell.  Wilting doesn’t begin to describe the state of things; it’s more like the plant burst into flames.  Someone needs to find the ax ‘cause it’s past time for the thing to fall.

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