Controversy has been the name of the game in MLS this season, but it hasn't yet been as obvious as it was in week five. A lot of red cards, debatable goals and other argument-sparking events went down this week, making for an entertaining set of matches.
First, one of the major unwritten rules of the beautiful game came into the spotlight: Whether or not to kick the ball out of bounds when there is an injury. The so-called "rule" has been disputed recently—most notably with Arsenal over in England—and when the Revolution went on with their attack after Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence went down, it came back into the public eye. Diego Fagundez would end up with a goal, and New York ended up with a bunch of angry fans.
The first of many red cards also happened in this game, with Felipe receiving an early shower for a studs-up tackle. The next game of the weekend—taking place on Saturday between the Union and the Fire—also saw a sending-off effect the result. Philadelphia's Warren Creavalle left early, hampering his team's attack to the point where they were unable to rebound from their 1-0 deficit. The game would finish that way; the Red Bulls lost by the same score.
Toronto FC went down a man early on against the Rapids and Matias Laba was ejected against the Galaxy as well. 16 red cards have been handed out already this season.
PRO, the organization overseeing MLS's referees, made a point of saying they wanted an increase in red cards before the season, a measure intended to protect the league's star attackers. It depends on your prospective whether or not you believe the officials have done a good job with the cards, but it's a fact that they are severely affecting the game.
We'll see how this saga unfolds the rest of the season.
Dallas's plan B
FC Dallas managed a 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew on Saturday night thanks to a 77th-minute goal from Tesho Akindele. It was an opportunistic and lucky score for the Canadian, but it did the job for the home side.
Dallas have to be pleased with how things turned out. Despite the fact that they were forced to play sans Mauro Diaz, their creative number-ten and the focal point of the midfield, they managed a point regardless. Not all is well, though, because they saw their attack go stagnant without their Argentine playmaker in the lineup.
Diaz doesn't have a long-term injury—so they don't have to worry about that just yet—but he does have a history of being injury-prone. He has played 55 of an available 107 games over the past four regular seasons, so FCD have to have a backup plan in place. Right now, their plan is to have a bunch of non-creators combine to create chances.
At least that's what they did against Columbus.
Playing what they called a 4-4-2 —it played like a 4-2-3-1—they had Kellyn Acosta as a number-ten, Michael Barrios as sort of an inverted winger/second forward next to Maximiliano Urruti (similar to Gyasi Zardes with the USMNT), and Carlos Gruezo distributing from deep as an attempt at a regista.
Acosta has never been a creator, so the number-ten position was filled by-committee for FC Dallas. Barrios was taken from his usual role—running all over the opposing backline and receiving through-balls from Diaz—and while Gruezo actually played relatively well, they still lacked creativity in the midfield.
This was conspicuous early on, as evidenced by this tweet from Big D Soccer's Jason Poon:
That was pretty early in the game, and that stat above obviously doesn't stand, but it set the tone for what would happen later on. Not only was there a lack of creation in the middle, there weren't enough options running into the box, and that is what really hurt FCD. Urruti, playing as a lone striker, often sat too deep to make anything happen in the box, and with Barrios trying to be a playmaker on the wing, nobody was available to run the channels and create space in behind.
Fabian Castillo pulled off some dribbling magic early on, but even he wasn't enough to make up for the absence of Diaz. FC Dallas resorted to taking pointless long shots that would fly 90 feet over the bar when there weren't any passing options in the final third, resulting in 17 shots off target. Look at this mess:
That is ugly.
It didn't exactly make for entertaining soccer. Constant Steve Clark goal-kicks got pretty old after a while.
But when you try that hard at something in this sport, eventually it's going to work out for you. That's what happened for Dallas, as one Urruti long shot actually stayed below the crossbar for once, hitting the post, then Clark's back, and finally ending up in the net when Akindele pounced on the loose ball, scoring perhaps the easiest goal possible. The soccer gods must have been smiling down on FC Dallas that night, because that was a really, really lucky goal.
The Crew got sloppy with the ball late on, thinking they could hold on for the lead. A turnover by Wil Trapp (bad week for him) disproved that notion, as that one errant pass was what set up the goal.
That kind of score isn't maintainable. Not every night are Dallas going to get the kind of fortunate bounces like they did against Columbus, so the next time they play without Diaz—and that will happen at some point this year—Oscar Pareja needs to have a better contingency plan in place. Whether that's Mauro Rosales starting or some other tactical adjustment, they can't play like they did on Saturday and expect to grab a point.
If you watched any of Orlando City's 4-1 thumping of the Portland Timbers on Sunday, you will have realized that Kaka is back and better than ever. He started the game as either an enganche (a playmaker directly behind the striker) or a second forward, and transitioned between the two until Cyle Larin the left early in the first half. But no matter his position, the Brazilian had a huge influence on the game and produced many of Orlando's best attacks.
He and the other attackers—Larin, Kevin Molino, Adrian Winter and others—combined exquisitely in and around the box, confusing a veteran Portland central defense and creating space for shots on Adam Kwarsey. They ended up with most of their goals this way, and if they keep doing that, more and more offense will come.
Another way the former AC Milan star impacted the game was through his ability to check back into the midfield and help distribute from there. In fact, many of his successful passes came from this area of the field:
With Cristian Higuita and Darwin Cerén creating turnovers and starting counter attacks, Orlando's midfield was deadly. After Larin exited, they basically played a 4-6-0 formation, overloading the Timbers' Diego Valeri, Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe to the point where the trio hardly made an impact.
Good finishing (especially from Brek Shea) and midfield domination lead OCSC to a dominating win in front of a raucous crowd at the Citrus Bowl. Whether or not they can continue this success, though, remains to be seen.
Seattle's youth development
The Seattle Sounders hadn't grabbed a single point through three games heading into their home match against the Montreal Impact on Saturday night. Goalkeeper mistakes, injuries and other factors can be attributed to their early struggles, but whatever the reasons, they needed to get back on track at Century Link Field.
Facing an Impact team without the services of Didier Drogba, the Sounders were able to do exactly that. With Montreal struggling to get much of an attack going, Seattle pressed forward offensively with the complete intentions of earning a full three points, and by the 79th-minute, they managed to put the ball past Evan Bush. Clint Dempsey (who else?) got on the end of a corner and bounced it around Bush, who never found the right positioning on the play and gave Dempsey the room to put it past him.
Before they got the goal, though, Sigi Schmid went offensive with his second substitution, bringing on 20-year old forward Oalex Anderson for 32-year old Nelson Valdez. Anderson has made three substitute appearances this season after playing a year with Seattle Sounders 2, and makes a significant impact whenever he enters. He provides good, young depth off the bench, and is especially helpful when they are chasing a goal.
But he's a very raw talent. Anderson has a lot of skill, but he still needs to improve his on-field decision-making and tactical awareness. When he was brought on against Montreal, he showed flashes of Fabian Castillo-like brilliance with the ball at his feet, but also did this.
That made me and everyone else watching—or playing—the game cringe. Anderson broke through two defenders, including last year's Defender of the Year, Laurent Ciman, and had two completely wide open players to his left. He got to the top of the box and had multiple options, but took way too long and saw Donny Toia catch up to him before he could do anything.
Understandably, Jordan Morris, one of the players open, was pretty annoyed at Anderson. The same could be said for everyone else in the packed stadium.
He had similar moments—although less pronounced—throughout the game. Anderson seemed to be trying too hard to impress his manager, as he would attempt make the tighter pass or pull off a fancy move rather than make the easy play. He has the ability to make showy moves, but too often he tries to pull them off at inopportune times.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines-international deserved a chance to play with the first team, but for right now, he is too raw of a talent to be a consistent presence in the lineup. At some point, he'll have to get more time in the USL before he can make a starting XI.
But it says a lot about MLS that someone like Anderson, formerly playing in the St. Vincent top league and the Antigua and Barbuda Premier League, can come to America and have this kind of opportunity. He looks like he could be a good player.
Red Bulls in New England: Friday night's game saw the New York Red Bulls—hampered severely by the losses of multiple starting defenders—fall to the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium. The Red Bulls, without Gideon Baah, Ronald Zubar, Marc Perrinelle, and, for much of the second half, Kemar Lawrence, have won just five times in 32 tries away at the Revs.
This go-around could have been different, but a combination of some erratic finishing by Bradley Wright-Phillips and a controversial goal doomed New York. Meanwhile, New England earned their first victory of the season, with Juan Agudelo impressing at striker. Teal Bunbury has to improve, though. Verdict: Messy
Fire's defense: Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic decided against using a 5-3-2 formation against Philadelphia, instead employing the more-popular 4-2-3-1. They got the victory in some really harsh conditions, playing good defense and scraping out a goal early in the second half.
This team is still a work in progress, but they have some good pieces in place. Mikey Stephens looked good in a rare start, distributing well in midfield, and Razvan Cocis, their veteran Romanian midfielder, was a force in the middle of the park. The defense looked the most promising, however, keeping C.J. Sapong from doing any damage and holding the Union scoreless.
They had some help from the woodwork, but the backline played well, blocking shots and starting counters effectively. There's hope yet for Chicago. Verdict: Rising
RSL's depth: It was a surprising result at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City. Real Salt Lake, playing without a number of key starters, pulled off a win over Sporting Kansas City, previously the only club in MLS with a perfect record.
RSL had to go without main playmaker Javier Morales, goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman and starting winger Juan Manuel Martinez. They weren't expected to challenge much against SKC, but thanks to a good performance by the their depth players, they were able to earn a good result.
“(The difference was) focusing on the game plan that we had. We really followed through,” coach Jeff Cassar told SBI Soccer. “We talked about a few things that we wanted to do all week long and the players went out there and they did it. It’s a massive credit to them.”
Real Salt Lake are now third in the Western Conference—a point behind Sporting—and look like a promising team. Verdict: Better than expected
Final points of emphasis
Rapids ride red card to win over Toronto: The Colorado Rapids have had their problems this season—three uninspiring games against D.C. United, the San Jose Earthquakes and the LA Galaxy haven't yielded much in terms of playoff hopes—but they picked up some confidence with a victory over Toronto FC at home Saturday night.
The Rapids went up a man in just the 13th-minute after Benoit Cheyrou was sent packing, and shortly after that, in the 18th-minute, Luis Solignac slotted home a Marco Pappa ball to give the hosts a 1-0 lead that would hold for the rest of the game. Colorado used their man-advantage to coolly pass the ball around and keep possession, without really needing to get into an attack.
Their attack isn't exactly the best part of their game, so the Rapids were happy to just wait it out. Of course, you have to give credit where credit is deserved, and the defense warrants some props for their work on Sebastian Giovinco and co. The backline shut down TFC's talented offense, and has performed similarly well previously this season.
But the real reason for this win was the red card. When Toronto went down a man, their chances to score went down considerably, and they never really found their attack. The Rapids will enjoy those all-important three points regardless.
Vancouver Whitecaps scratch out draw with LA Galaxy: The Galaxy travelled to Vancouver with a number of injuries and other absences in hand. Giovani dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Gyasi Zardes were all out of the starting lineup for one reason or another, leaving LA with an XI that included a number of usual backups: Ariel Lassiter, Baggio Husidic, Daniel Steres and Emmanuel Boateng all started.
With a lineup like this, it seemed possible that the Galaxy would fail to pick up a point on the road in a place that's always tough to play in. But a first half red card to Matias Laba and some stout defense led to a respectable scoreless draw.
Earthquakes equalize late against D.C. United: Aside from Patrick Nyarko's first half goal on a cross from Lamar Neagle, it was a fairly uneventful 85 minutes between the San Jose Earthquakes and D.C. United. But the Earthquakes broke through in the 88th-minute with a super-sub goal from Adam Jahn.
Jahn looked eerily like Alan Gordon when he scored this goal. It was an opportunistic deflection off a cross from fellow sub Shea Salinas that finally beat Travis Worra—very similar to many of Gordon's crucial late goals with the Galaxy and USMNT. His cool celebration confirmed it. Just look at this:
What a way to finish off a day of MLS soccer.