MLS Week 3: Black Eyes and Big Ideas

(NOTE: Because the week got off the a god-awful start – and because I further handicapped this young week by drowning it in beer – I have to forgo posting the feature I advertised this morning, “MLS Week #___: Let the Record Show.”  I’ll get this stuff down shortly…promise.  I lieu of that one, I’ll be posting a feature I attempted to start last week, but that I feel much, much better about this week.  That’s below.)

Welcome to my kinda/sorta counter-point to my colleague Breton’s 10 Bright Spots posts: Black Eyes and Big Ideas.  I’ll start with a rundown of all the personal and general disasters from the games from the previous weekend.  After those, I’ll touch on the striking trends that come to me – e.g. the Big Ideas lurking out there.

As always, feel free to add your own black eyes and big ideas in the comments.  And do bear with me: this feature, along with the others, will improve once I get used to the new rhythms of my week.

BLACK EYES
Greg Vanney…
LA’s loss to Toronto FC (TFC) raised plenty of issues, but the one man who drew plenty of notice in the loss was Greg Vanney.  Involved and, tragically, burned on all three TFC goals, I can’t imagine he’s forwarding video from this week’s loss to friends and relatives. Continue reading

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10 Bright Spots of Week 3: A Different Becks and A Good Weekend to Have a Keeper

BIGSOCCER: 10 Bright Spots of Week 3

1. Kyle Beckerman

Someone pinch this guy. Two goals, one a possible goal of the week, against a revamped D.C. United squad that looked helpless at the machinations of a fluid RSL attack. Beckerman was overwhelmingly the reason for that. He won balls in the midfield, showed near-perfect passing abilities, and never let up. Let’s not forget his long range shooting. Beckerman’s second goal was brilliant…Findley laid the ball off after posting up in the penalty box, Beckerman took a field goal’s three steps and fired a shot that powered past the flailing Jose Carvallo.

2. Arturo Alvarez

Alvarez gave RBNY a taste of their own medicine in a 2-0 shutout at home. He mirrored Dave van den Bergh, who scored the fastest goal in RBNY history in last week’s home opener – a 2-0 win over Columbus. Alvarez showed poise, blazing speed, and a general lack of respect for a fumbling New York backline. New York showed most of the attacking prowess, but Alvarez made his contributions count, scoring that quick goal and taking a lot of pressure off of big-man Kenny Cooper, who was able to grab his third of the young season.

3. Bouna Coundoul

Easily, save of the week and game of the week for the Colorado keeper. Coundoul weathered a storm of Revolution shots, 9 on goal total, to help Colorado to a 1-0 shutout. His goal line saver on Kenny Mansally was the most entertaining of the bunch, but Coundoul kept the Rapids from another Kansas City let down. The Revs almost found their equalizer late but it was Bouna time and he embraced it, parrying away a late free kick and a breakaway from rookie speedster Kheli Dube. 

4. Robbie Rogers

First this game made me dizzy. Secondly, Rogers exploits on the wing made me harken back to the U-20 World Cup when Zizzo and Rogers ruled the touchline. His industrious work on the left almost went unrewarded until he received a nice through ball from Schelloto (one they had been trying to get to work all game). Rogers made the most of it, feigning a shot to the far post and firing near. His second shot was a product of gasp! – a mistake on Brad Guzan’s part! – but his decision to shoot early threw last year’s MLS Keeper of the Year for a loop. Best game of the weekend… 

5. Landon Donovan

If Donovan had put some earlier chances in (turn your body, Landon, turn your body), the Galaxy might have overcome their defensive mishaps. He did however manage to score both of LA’s goals which was pissed all away after Greg Vanney decided to forget about Jeff Cunningham on the game-winning goal. I like him in the Galaxy’s offense this year and I see only a career year for him – if he stays healthy and Beckham too.

6. Maurice Edu

The man called for goals and he got them. Wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Edu covering every inch of the field like a madman. He was everywhere, winning balls, breaking up Galaxy advances, and giving new acquisitions Guevara and Robert the freedom to move with the ball. The Galaxy should have probably still won that game, but Edu delivered on his promise of a win and goals. And they did it in Los Angeles… 

7. Nick LaBrocca

Why not give #7 to the man from New Jersey who has “graduated” from the Colorado reserves and embraced his role in the Rapids midfield. Between LaBrocca and DiRaimondo, scrappy might describe both of them but when you have Gomez (let’s remember the Argentinian had to leave the field this weekend with a knee injury) in front of them, winning challenges and distribution is the name of the game. LaBrocca grabbed the winner for Colorado over a New England team that was putting a lot of pressure on Colorado offensively. Scrappy can win games though and Colorado came away with three.

8. Shea Salinas

Yep, along with #10, you’ll see two pity picks in this week’s Bright Spots. Salinas was the perfect injection for San Jose in the second half against Chicago and it almost paid off. Almost. He worked his ass off on the wing, getting open consistently, and finding himself in the right place at the right time…but he couldn’t convert. Most noticably from 2 yards out. A deflection off the post fell right to his feet and all Salinas had to do was beat Jon Busch far post, but instead he tried to slot over the sprawling Busch and into the upper corner. Didn’t work, he skied it, and that was that…win for Chicago. Great stuff from a rookie though…look for him to get better and better.

9. Jon Busch

San Jose had the offensive edge at home but Busch made it look the other way around. Saved by the post and only really threatened with shots that were a bit manageable, Busch has proven already that he can be the first team keeper that the Fire desperately need this year. It’s clear some defensive issues are going to need to be worked out, but Chicago still sits at the top of the table with Blanco already poised to surpass his output from last year.

10. Tony Caig

I know, I know…most of you are saying no way to this pick. This guy had a terrible showing in his first two matches only to come back this weekend and shut out a prolific Kansas City attack. The Wizards have been caught on a bit of a downturn in form, but Caig held his own. Basically, this is a pity pick.

10 Bright Spots of Week 2: the Gals’ duo, Conrad’s noggin, and a Panchito

1. Jimmy Conrad

Conrad got pissed about something and Rapids keeper Coundoul looked to be the cause of it. Instead of trying to continue the fight he wanted to start, Conrad decided to answer with his head. Two goals later – the Wizards were still fighting for the win, but you could tell the momentum was still in KC’s favor. The Rapids were punished on restarts as Carlos Marinelli found Conrad’s noggin not once, but twice to lead the Wizards to their second win. The guy’s class, they just need to make sure they don’t give up goals like that in the long run (re: DiRaimondo and Burciaga’s strike).

2. Francisco ‘Panchito’ Mendoza

It would have been easy to give this to Kljestan, but Mendoza secretly was the MVP for the Goats on Saturday vs. RSL. Panchito is one of three Chivas players on the list today as they had the most complete game this weekend, showing class that could win them the MLS West again. I mentioned it when he signed, but his appearance in the line-up is crucial to the Goats success this year. Contributing since Chivas’ expansion days, Mendoza has become a foundational player for the franchise and along with Kljestan – you can almost label them veterans. Mendoza, however, is approaching only 23 years old.

3. Dave Van den Bergh

Yes, the Red Bulls like speed and so does everyone else that previewed the Red Bulls for the upcoming season. But watching VDB on the wings last season and even at fullback at times, many forget he was the cause of no less than 8 goals last year (8 assists). Sure he had off games, but this guy has played for Ajax, Utrecht, the Dutch National team – give him the benefit of the doubt. He started off this season with the fastest goal in RBNY history at 28 seconds. It was a lucky bounce screamer that slipped by Hesmer. He then followed it up by starting the scrum that led to Goldthwaite’s first goal for the club.

4. Kenny Cooper

The big Dallas target man kept the Houston defense guessing in what was one of the most entertaining games of the MLS weekend. A brace answered questions about whether or not he was geared up for the season. One of his goals – a cheeky chip from 20 yards away – will most likely challenge Maurice Edu’s TFC consolation header for Goal of the Week. One thing is for sure, however, and that’s if Cooper stays healthy, Dallas will compete. They were – after all – a couple minutes away from their first EVER victory in Houston.

5. David Beckham/Landon Donovan

Many have said – “If and when Beckham and Donovan find each other, the Galaxy can win every game”. The problem will be making that such a consistent occasion that the Galaxy can depend on it week in and week out. Two games into the season they are one out of two, 50% success rate. It was shaky in the early going vs. the expansion Earthquakes but the duo’s play kept LA on the right course.

6. Tomasz Frankowski

Another in a long line of successful Polish imports in Chicago? Nowak, Podbrozny, Kosecki…it’s clear that Frankowski can score. He pounced on everything he could, even missing a clear chance at a hat-trick. All the damage was done even before the whistle for halftime thanks to an errant slide tackle from Jeff Larentowicz. Couple that with a bad Parkhurst game and you’ve got the perfect scenario for a old wily veteran like Frankowski to bag a couple goals.

7. Geoff Cameron

Gotta hand it to the 22-year old for making the absolute best out of his first MLS start. A goal and an un-recognized assist in a back-and-forth match-up that saw Houston fight their way back to level twice. The “assist” came on a beautifully laid cross across the goalmouth that eventually hit off FC Dallas’ central defender Drew Moor and into the back of the net. The URI Superdraft pick was lost on several occasions but did nothing to hurt the team. His goal deadlocked the game at 3-3 in injury time.

8. Sacha Kljestan

He had some shaky appearances in Olympic Qualifying, but the Californian has really come into his own for Chivas USA. Many fail to realize the extent of his improvement last year. 13 assists and several timely goals tell the tale. He’s already come out firing this year, grabbing a goal and assist versus RSL.

9. Red Bulls defense

Even with Jeff Parke’s late ejection, RBNY’s defense looked dramatically poised compared to last year. Kevin Goldthwaite has done his work in the offseason and figured out how to be a consistent force in the first team. A lot of it might have to do with the fact that he’s not being shipped around from San Jose to Houston to Toronto FC to RBNY…Along with Parke and – I can’t believe I’m saying this – Chris Leitch, the Bulls backline handled Schelloto and the Crew on a weekend that wasn’t kind to MLS defenses.

10. Alecko Eskandarian

First appearance, first goal. Got to appreciate the heart and work ethic a former MLS Cup MVP that has been thrown around the league over the past couple years. Sure, a lot of that has to do with underperformance, but as a professional, Eskandarian does things overwhelmingly right and no matter who he plays for, it’s always nice to see him succeed. Let’s just hope it’s continued success…