With the Copa America coming up in about a week, my MLS Post-Mortem articles may be decreasing slightly in length. They'll still be weekly and the preview posts will remain about the same, but the weekend recap stories won't be as long or as in-depth. Sorry, we'll resume after the Copa ends.
This week, it's shorter because it's Memorial Day weekend and I'm slightly more busy, so I can't be my recluse, MLS-watching self all weekend. That's also why it's a day late. Anyway, let's get to the games:
Don't ever write off D.C. United. They're currently hanging around the Eastern Conference playoff picture on a loose thread because Ben Olsen doesn't go away. That's been the theme of Olsen-coached DCU teams for the past half-decade, no matter the circumstances.
In the past, those hindrances have included Fabian Espindola accumulating red cards like Nigel de Jong, Davy Arnaud getting sidelined for the first time in forever, and a number of other injuries, suspensions and other things like that. Aside from 2013, when they finished last in the East (yet still won the U.S. Open Cup), they have always been able to overcome their obstacles. They've continued to pester the league with their scrappy play this season, despite more difficulties than ever.
This season, D.C. have had to deal with the departure of starting center midfielder Perry Kitchen, long-term injuries to both of their starting goalkeepers, a multitude of ailments plaguing their best offensive player, Patrick Nyarko, and, most recently, international absences for significant players like Steve Birnbaum and Alvaro Saborio. Many pundits, including myself, decided that they weren't going to be able to make the postseason without Kitchen and Bill Hamid, but, thanks to their fifth-place position in the East, they are proving many wrong.
Marcelo has excelled in center midfield—playing a deeper, more box-to-box role—and the defense has largely held the fort thanks to international-caliber performances by Birnbaum. DCU are playing at the level of the rest of the Eastern Conference, and, thanks to goal differential, they are fifth despite remaining tied with eighth-place New England. Nothing really stands out about this team; it's just their relentless ability to scrape out points.
They won again on Friday, this time by a score of 1-0 against Sporting Kansas City. The East will continue to change, and with the Crew starting to win, DCU could be bumped out at any time. With Birnbaum at the Copa America for a month, it will be hard to replace his production in central defense; also, anybody who is with Jurgen Klinsmann for as long as he will be is at serious risk for a muscle injury.
United aren't that great. But if we've learned anything, we should know not to count them out.
Sebastian Giovinco has scored eight of Toronto FC's 14 goals this season and has had a role in all but one of them this season. He puts defenders on the ground with his crafty footwork and always manages to find those little pockets of space in areas that force the opposing team to chase him, allowing teammates to get in front of goal. His balance, tactical awareness and first touch are all world-class—which is why he should have been on Italy's Euro 2016 squad—and he can hit passes of all kinds from all areas on the field, from long switches to little taps over the defense.
As a result, Giovinco scores a lot. Defenders are simply not good enough to handle him, and, often, neither are goalkeepers. If the season ended today, I have no doubt in my mind that he would win MVP by a wide margin, even though Sacha Kljestan is currently racking up assists like Lionel Messi. So with all of his positives in mind, you can imagine the horror that TFC fans experienced when they saw him come off the field in the 22nd-minute of their 3-0 loss to the Red Bulls.
It didn't look like a horrible injury, or even like an injury at all. He was able to walk off the field under his own power without a noticeable limp and didn't seem to be grimacing at all. But when he was sitting on the ground and immediately looking to Greg Vanney in expectation of a substitution, you could hear the communal heart of all Toronto FC fans sink. They know, we know and the league knows that without Giovinco, Toronto are incapable of doing much scoring.
With Jozy Altidore out with a hamstring ailment that we already know will last longer than it's supposed to and Michael Bradley in the Klinsmann Muscle Pull Zone, TFC are so hampered by injury bug that they just might revert to their pre-big-three form, which would mean falling out of the postseason. Already they've dropped to sixth after going 0-2-2 in their past four matches, and that was with Giovinco in the lineup.
The Atomic Ant shouldn't be out too long, but any absence could kill Toronto at this point. It will be really, really tough to replicate his production, especially without Altidore. Young backups like Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh are active and speedy and skillful, but they won't score half as often as Giovinco does. Vanney is looking for an answer.