Monday, May 2, 2011

Five Things We Learned From This Weekend's MLS Action

1. San Jose are in dire straights- Throughout last year's astounding play off run, we knew that the Earthquakes were playing above themselves, but to exactly what extent has only just been found out. It's had been a poor start to the season for Frankie Yallop's men, even before Saturday's loss, which pushed the Californian side to a new low. Third placed in the East and coming off a week's bye, the Philadelphia Union looked like they might be ripe for the taking, despite their fine start to the season. However, not even in Yallop's wildest dreams would he have imagined San Jose being presented with as good a chance to win as they eventually were, when Philadelphia player Jason Harvey was sent off late in the first half.  Amazingly, the Earthquakes were still unable to create any chances of note, and they were caught out by a sucker punch goal, which propelled Philadelphia to victory. After Hernandez was adjudged to have handled in the box, 2010 MVP candidate Sebastian Le Toux rammed home his first goal of the season from the penalty spot, giving the Union a precious 1-0 win. Needless to say, even against a side as solid as the Union, failing to turn a fifty minute, one man advantage into a win is simply unacceptable, a mark of how much last year's conference finalists have regressed.

2. New York can win ugly too- After two straight four goal hauls, all the expectations going into the Red Bulls' home match against a struggling Sporting side were of a comfortable home win. However, it was not to be as Luke Rodgers' goal several minutes after a Rafael Marquez penalty miss gave New York a 1-0 win. The second half in particular was ugly to watch, without the calming presence of Tainio in midfield (the Finnish player had gone off with injury) the Red Bulls lacked cohesion, and their possession was sloppy. Upfront, Agudelo and Henry continued to fail in their pursuit of a partnership, one moment in particular illustrated how much work is needed in that striking relationship. A square pass meant for Henry from Agudelo, was met with scorn from the Frenchman, he had made a run through on goal, one that should really have been picked out by the American. Taking advantage of New York's lapse, Sporting began to dominate, Ryan Smith caused problems on the wings, and both Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury were close to carving out an opening. But, showing resilience which will serve them well later on, the Red Bulls held out, mostly thanks to the brilliant central defensive partnership of Ream and Marquez.

3. Zakuani is a popular lad in Seattle- Stirring, moving, emotional all aspects of Seattle's stunning tribute to their injured number 11. In the eleventh minute of their match at home to Toronto, the Qwest Field faithful as one lifted up paper signs, bearing the number eleven, in tribute to their injured hero. For the Sounders and particurally Zakuani, I'm sure it was a special moment, lets hope that the attacker's recovery moves along both smoothly and swiftly.

4. Champions League slumps happen in North America too- Over the years, in such leagues as the Premiership, Serie A and Bundesliga, teams close to the bottom of the table have always fancied their chances against big teams, coming off energy sapping midweek engagements in the Champions League. Well, now the same can be said for MLS sides, after the Portland Timbers produced one of the results of the weekend, snapping Real Salt Lake's winning run, and compounding the miseries felt by the beaten Concacaf Champions League finalists. A Kenny Cooper volley was enough to send the Timbers past their Western Conference adversaries, and seal a third consecutive home win. Hopefully, for the sake of Jason Kreis and his brilliant Real Salt Lake team, they will be able to get over the disappointment of their collapse against Monterrey, but for the next few weeks, teams will be well up for games against them, confident that they are beatable.

5. Chivas USA are back in form- It has to be admitted, I've been blasting the Goats all season, but credit to Robin Fraser, he seems to have turned their fortunes around. Last week, California's unfashionable team beat the struggling San Jose Earthquakes to earn their first win of the season, and they were at it again on Saturday, this time victorious over the New England Revolution. Goals from LaBrocca, Mondiani and Moreno were enough to seal the win against a Revolution team who had looked to have gained some momentum. Last week, Steve Nicol's team were inspired by new signings Lekic and Feilhaber as they beat Sporting Kansas City, but they lacked any of that verve this time out, and were well beaten by one of Major League Soccer's weaker sides.

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