Monday, March 19, 2012

MLS Week 2: What We've Learned So Far

With Major League Soccer off to an impressive start to its 17th season, there are several things of note that have come up. MLS on NBC has started off well, but not amazingly well. NBC Sports has doubled the MLS audience of Fox Soccer Channel, but that's to be expected. MLS Live is a fantastic use of $60 for any matches you might not get and for anyone who was wondering, Kasey Keller is doing a fine job as an announcer. Now on to the actual soccer side of MLS. Here are five things worth noting in the early weeks of MLS action.

Philadelphia are in trouble. Big trouble. Not only is their youth movement 0-2 but there are rifts on field and off. On the field, Zac MacMath is clearly struggling with his number one role. His hands are unreliable and his positioning is suspect. Look no further than the match versus Colorado, where MacMath’s positioning allowed the man-down Rapids to score a second goal. Additionally the team seemed to lack any real life throughout the match until the final twenty minutes. The team seems to be missing an on field leader and certainly an on field goal scorer. Questions as to what Nowak is thinking in pre-season seem to run rampant in the twitterverse. After trading away Sebastien Le Toux and letting Mondragon leave, the team seems lost.

Especially troubling out of Philadelphia is the benching of Danny Califf. The benching itself is not so much a problem, but rather the conflicting reports about why he was benched. According to Union beat writer Chris Vito, Califf was benched because he had a ‘knee injury’...unbeknownst to Califf. 

Nowak’s decision seemed publicly based off a shot Califf had in his knee prior to the season starting. Califf says the shot was not cortisone but Nowak says it was. Ridiculous. Privately we’re hearing word of discontent in the locker room and that Nowak is becoming a tyrant who refuses to allow any disagreement in the locker room. We’ve seen two veterans leave the team in recent weeks, now we’re seeing a rift in Califf and Nowak. If there is no rift, why are we hearing such different stories from one to the other?

The Houston Dynamo are the real deal. Maximum points while on the road and grinding out results are the signs of a champion. The team has found a way to win on the road against the Wondolowski-led San Jose Earthquakes and the ever-awful Chivas USA. While they are not winning in amazing fashion, they are getting results against teams that are capable of sneaking up on you. The Dynamo were handed a difficult situation for the start of the season with a long road trip. To have maximum points after two weeks puts them in a good position to gain momentum to ride out this road trip. Moreover, the Dynamo are ensuring that the eastern conference will not be dominated by Sporting Kansas City. SKC is the class of the east, but Houston are doing their part to stay in the conversation.

The Eastern Conference is not at all strong. This may not be a revelation, but week 2 does confirm that the eastern conference is weaker than the west. Apart from Houston and Sporting KC, it looks as though the eastern conference will be crushed by their western counterparts. However, due to the unbalanced schedule, we’ll likely be treated to some fantastic competition. Re-read that: competition. The east will likely be very competitive. DC United and New York each have the players to upset teams, as do the Revolution (when healthy). Prior to their red card, the Revolution looked threatening, particularly with Benny Feilhaber motivated. I’d imagine that a healthy Feilhaber and a motivated Revolution have the potential to cause a stir in the east.

I can hear the shouts of Toronto fans now. I credit your team with a strong showing against the Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League. Nonetheless, I maintain that Toronto, while talented in bursts, seriously lacks the depth to make noise in the league. That’s the key for them: lack of depth. Mind you, that’s all after just two matches and there is plenty of season left to change things, but the eastern conference looks ripe for talking points this season.

The Vancouver Whitecaps are 2-0. Under new head coach Martin Rennie, the sophomore MLS team in Vancouver has achieved maximum points from their two matches thus far. After a strong pre-season, the team has won on opening day and followed up that win with their first ever win on the road, with a goal scored by their captain. Taking those wins with a grain of salt as they were against Montreal and Chivas USA, but there is a sub-plot worth noting here: the Whitecaps are a team built on an NASL foundation. As their depth is tested, we'll start to see more and more of that foundation in play.

Since bringing Rennie and one of his assistants up from the Carolina Railhawks, the Whitecaps have signed four former Railhawks, which means six from the organization are there. This is a good sign for both MLS and the NASL. If players and coaches are able to move up and contribute from one tier to the next, then both leagues will benefit. There is enough back-story here worthy of it’s own article, one we’ll get to down the line, but fans of each league should be encouraged by this.

Real Salt Lake are the real deal…still. For the past few years, Salt Lake has been amongst the best in the league and have done so without the high profile stars that other teams might boast. RSL has managed to keep a team first, team is the star mentality while still being competitive with the likes of LA and Seattle. That is no small feat, particularly considering the trials there in. The boys from Utah went out on day one and took down LA in convincing fashion and followed up that win with a 2-0 rout of New York (another star studded, if misguided squad).

However, Real Salt Lake has not won any silverware since their MLS Cup victory in 2009. This needs to be the year that Real wins something, be it MLS Cup, the Supporters Shield or the Open Cup. Personally, I’d like to see them take the Open Cup seriously and challenge Seattle for that title. Bottom line though, this team is too good not to give their fans some hardware and 2012 needs to be a year where they win some. 


  1. I'm not sold on RSL. Neither game did they look particularly great. More just lucky and playing some REALLY bad teams. We'll see.

  2. RSL may be lucky, but I would not call LAG or NYRB "REALLY bad teams". I think either could finish atop their respective conferences. RSL will do well this year simply because they have one of the best defenses in the league.

  3. An entire shakedown of the East, and you tout New England's chances over a mention of Chicago Fire? C'mon Luke!

  4. Um, Anonymous? Are you talking about RSL? Real Salt Lake? If so, you are seriously misguided, my friend. Maybe you're talking about Vancouver?

  5. Lol, RSL has been "lucky" and played "REALLY bad teams." Do you know ANYTHING about MLS and soccer in general. They most definitely have not been lucky and they have dominated what are supposed to be two of the better teams in the league.

    Thanks for the good laugh though.