CommentaryUnited States

Showdown in the MLS West

November 6, 2011 — by Rob Kirby

David Beckham's going out with a bang. He drew the penalty that won the match against New York and delivered the assist on both the other Galaxy goals so far in the playoffs.

The MLS Cup final approaches ever closer, but first there’s the small matter of divisional showdowns. Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles duke it out tonight in Los Angeles (9:00 EST, ESPN), after Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo kick things off in Kansas City (5:30 EST, Fox Soccer Channel). Then, after the two U.S. international friendlies against France and Slovenia (November 11 and 15), East and West face off on November 20.

Anything can happen in the playoffs, but smart money tips the victor of the MLS Western Conference final to hoist the cup. The Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake finished the regular season first and third, respectively. Kansas City and Houston finished in the East’s top two spots, but only fifth and sixth overall. A massive 16 points separated first and fifth. The gulf in quality between divisions is huge. Simply put, the fixture between Los Angeles and Salt Lake will almost undoubtedly decide the outcome of the playoffs. In fairness, however, Kansas City and Houston both managed to take points off both Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake during the regular season, so there’s always a chance.

The Los Angeles Galaxy booked their spot in the conference final by knocking out the New York Red Bulls 2-1 in the home fixture, both goals coming off dead balls, both involving David Beckham—a corner and a penalty kick. (The former England international also provided the assist in L.A.’s 1-0 first leg victory in New Jersey.) Red Bulls’ Luke Rodgers had drawn first blood, doing well on an excellent through ball from Thierry Henry in the 4th minute that tied everything up on aggregate, but ultimately it didn’t matter. The Red Bulls couldn’t find another and they couldn’t defend what they had. The Galaxy’s Mike Magee scored a second goal in as many games, and Donovan converted the penalty to further his record as all-time highest scorer in the playoffs (18 total). Beckham delivered a classic corner kick for the first and earned the penalty that set up the second. Red Bulls, cup contention, no more. Blame the Brit (or perhaps the defensive frailties). In the final year of his five year contract, Beckham’s going full tilt for the cup, having never yet won the silverware (L.A. Galaxy lost the 2009 MLS Cup final on penalties–to Real Salt Lake, no less). He’s playing excellent soccer despite a back injury. The fans who once heckled him after the loan stints at AC Milan now write banners pleading with him to stay. 

Real Salt Lake can thank their goal scoring ability in the first leg (3-0) for securing passage to the conference finals. Seattle led the league in goals during the regular season, but three goals was always a big ask, even at home. They nearly pulled it off, though, winning the second leg 2-0. Kasey Keller pulled off save after save and went out fighting, but the men in lime green sherbet ultimately faltered. The defeat puts an end to Keller’s 20 year career between the sticks, domestically and in Europe. Seattle vs. Los Angeles would have been a tasty fixture, but the goal deficit was too much to overcome, even with Salt Lake missing both first choice centerbacks. Both Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers exited with quad injuries in the first leg at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Los Angeles conceded the fewest goals in the league, 28, but they lost at Salt Lake 4-1 in March, so nothing is a foregone conclusion on that front. Of note, the Galaxy remains undefeated at the Home Depot Center, with 9 straight home victories, 10 clean sheets and a scoring differential of 30-9 in 2011, so Real Salt Lake will most likely need to stage an encore performance, except at Los Angeles, this time. Fortunately, forwards Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola have shown they have what it takes to do so. And with Kyle Beckerman marshalling the midfield, with Argentinian Javier Morales moving runs on the wing, they can certainly make things happen.

Eastern Conference supporters may feel the focus on the West gives them short shrift, but realistically, the MLS Cup final begins tonight, and not in Kansas City. Upsets happen, but Los Angeles has the best defense in the league, coupled with Beckham, Magee, Donovan, Chad Barrett and Robbie Keane leading the attack, anchored by Juninho in midfield. They look unstoppable. Of the three teams in contention to stop them, Salt Lake has the best shot. And so it begins this evening.

CommentaryUnited States

The Bullfight Resumes at the L.A. Slaughterhouse

November 2, 2011 — by Rob Kirby

The Red Bulls misinterpret the phrase, "Show some fight, boys." Felled by an air punch after the final whistle, Rafael Márquez pulled off an Academy Award-worthy performance, while Stephen Keel (hand on face) boringly falls from an actual punch.

The L.A. Galaxy takes to the pitch Thursday night at home (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2) with a one-goal lead in the second leg of the MLS Western Conference semi-finals, having beaten the New York Red Bulls 1-0 in New Jersey on Sunday.

One might ask why an Eastern seaboard team finds itself in the Western conference side of the playoffs. The reason’s too long and too boring to go into. (In briefest explanation, New York won a 2-0 Wild Card round victory against FC Dallas the previous Wednesday.)

Mike Magee scored the lone goal against his former club, meaning the Red Bulls must win by a scoreline of 2-0, 3-1, etc. in order to progress outright. (Scoring, as with the Champions League, is done on aggregate.) Alternately, they must win by one in regular time, which would force 30 minutes of overtime. If still level on aggregate at 120 minutes, the team that shoots penalties best wins.

With a one-goal lead, Los Angeles can play for a tie at home and advance. Unfortunately for New York, no team has defeated the Galaxy at home this season, due largely to defensive stalwarts Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza. The Galaxy has won 8 straight at home, kept 10 clean sheets and outscored its opponents 28-8 in 2011. Unbeaten in 18 straight regular-season home games overall, Los Angeles enjoys the fourth-longest home record streak in the history of the MLS.

The Red Bulls trailed the Galaxy by 21 points and nine places in the standings at end of regular season. Were Kansas City to be adjudged “Western,” the Eastern Conference leader would have slotted in at fifth in the Western conference. It calls into question the legitimacy of having separate conferences, with one so far superior to the other. For now, however, it’s the system in place.

In the first leg, English superstar David Beckham, 36, in the fifth and final year of his MLS contract, served up a perfectly looped assist with pinpoint delivery for Magee to nab the match winner. Beckham finished second in the league with 15 assists and finds himself in realistic contention for league MVP. As does Landon Donovan, who scored 12 goals (tied for fifth in MLS) and holds the record as all-time highest goal scorer in MLS postseason. The Beckham Experiment may just conclude with an MLS Cup trophy, after all.

However, as long as Thierry Henry can walk and kick a ball, it’s unwise to entirely count out the Red Bulls. He played tenaciously on Sunday, a bit overly aggressively, even, and his leap into the air for a powerful bicycle kick showed him a 34-year-old with yet more gas in the tank. At 14 goals, he racked up the league’s third highest goal tally in the regular season, and his strike in the match against Dallas helped book a spot in the conference semi-finals.

Recent absentees Donovan and former Spurs man Robbie Keane (or, Roibeárd Ó Catháin, for those who speak Irish) have returned from injury, recovering from a quad strain and adductor injury, respectively. Both look likely to start Thursday, having suffered no setbacks in the first leg. Red Bulls managed to contain and shut them down on Sunday. They’ll likely need an encore performance to have any hope of progressing.

Goalie Josh Saunders notched his ninth shutout in 19 matches this season for the Galaxy, who lost 2-1 to the RBNY earlier this month at the Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls need goals, but Saunders and the L.A. back four don’t often concede.

The defensive story on the New York side reads quite differently. Confusion over Keane and/or Magee being offside in the 14th minute of the first leg played a not insignificant part in the goal. And central defender Tim Ream dubiously tried to out-Terry John Terry, tripping himself up and faceplanting into the ragged pitch a day after the Chelsea captain’s farcical rendition in England. As for transfer rumors linking Ream to Arsenal, West Brom or Everton, even aside from the klutzy faceplant act, the Red Bulls conceded the most goals (53) in the league this season. Hardly compelling credentials.

The commentators made a meal of Henry facing Keane for the first time since Henry’s double handball denied Ireland the 2010 World Cup by setting up a William Gallas goal, but they predicted the wrong scufflers on that one.

Instead, a postmatch melee erupted at the final whistle involving the Galaxy’s Donovan (alleged trash talker), Adam Cristman (shover) and Brazilian midfielder Juninho (face elbower) against Mexican defender Rafael Márquez (ball thrower, puncher and Academy Award hopeful) and defender Stephen Keel (face elbowee) from Red Bulls. Donovan may or may not have said something snipish to Márquez, who grabbed the game ball and fired it at Donovan’s leg. Bodies closed in, Cristman shoved Marquez, who retaliated with a punch, later falling down from a phantom air blow. Juninho, meanwhile, delivered an actual punch to Stephen Keel’s face. Márquez and Juninho both earned red cards and now miss out on Thursday’s match.

Juninho’s lone goal against Honduran club Motagua fired the Galaxy into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals in March 2012. The Galaxy will face one of Salvadorian club Isidro Metapan, Seattle Sounders or Toronto FC. The loss of Juninho, on loan from São Paulo, in the current match presents L.A. with a selection headache, while many in the Red Bulls fanbase see the erratic Márquez missing out as a plus.

Real Salt Lake awaits in the Western Conference finals, having sealed a 3-2 aggregate win over Seattle Sounders, who went into last night’s second leg with a three goal deficit. Both teams shut each other out on home soil, but Salt Lake’s 2-0 victory last night fell just short of forcing extra time.


Freddie Adu can go to hell

August 13, 2011 — by Sean1

Sell me some soup, you poor bastard.

I’m really excited about the EPL starting. I’m out of town, and I won’t be able to see any of the games live, but I’ve set my DVR and I’m sure no one will text or tweet or email about results. When I get back home on Sunday night I’ll just sit on my couch and watch kickoff as if it was only just happening at that moment.

And since I don’t even want to even think about the EPL I’ll turn my brain energy upon the return of Freddie Adu to the United States and MLS. The little Ghanaian is back from a harsh go in Europe. I blame the system.

Here we had a promising young player, who maybe isn’t really as young as we say he is (that one’s for you, Conspiracy wonks). We send him overseas to be developed. He moves to Benfica during his late teens, a stranger to the culture with his head full of grand ideas bled in from agents and sportswear marketers. His confidence dissolves while he’s alone in a foreign land. He struggles and is moved and moved, and so far we haven’t seen the player for whom we’d hoped.

It’s unlikely he had adequate support when he most needed it, but that’s par for the course when bringing in foreign players to a strange system thousands of miles from their homes. Many clubs buy their athletes for big money then drop them into play as if they were a new part, unpacked from the shop. Kids fall through the cracks, unable to keep up with the demands of advanced football while simultaneously finding a home, learning a language, figuring out how to get laid. It’s tough out there.

So he’s back. Philadelphia, a city whose teams I support to the one—the one being the Union. There was no Union when I lived in the Delaware Valley. In theory, I support the Red Bulls. In theory, because I don’t really pay them much mind. But they’re my local team, and while I’m happy to see if Feddie can blossom in the city of brotherly love, he can also go to hell.


Deadwood: The Painful Boredom of MLS Football

July 28, 2011 — by Ryan

For once they are excited about something other than sleeve tattoos and sticking it to the man!

Ahhh, the magic of MLS.  The alchemy of the United States’ professional soccer league remains an elusive beast. While most observers would agree that the league’s play has improved dramatically during its existence (one could argue that it’s the equivalent of the Mexican league though admittedly it remains a tenuous argument and really few defenders in the MLS meg opposing forwards in their own defensive third so maybe the MLS still has a way to go), its skill level remains, well frequently uninspiring.  At least in its current incarnation the league provides a medium for developing American talent, even if one gets the sneaking suspicion that Landon Donovan and others like him would benefit from more European or English competition (to Dononvan’s credit his brief time in Everton was very fruitful and proved Donovan could compete at the level of the premiership).


Still, even if play has improved, how much has the fan experience benefited? Hard to say. Like most things in life, it seems to depend on where you are and the local demography. For example, take all the recent hoopla over the Portland, Vancouver and Seattle franchises.  Chris Ryan’s recent article on provides a fine example. The rivalry that has emerged between the neophyte sides of Seattle and Portland serve as the best stories out of an MLS summer overshadowed by the Women’s World Cup (and the glorious insouciance of Hope “Han” Solo). Between the natural rivalry that exists between the jewels of the Pac Northwest and the established histories of both clubs (The Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders were both established A League franchises and the two cities had an NASL rivalry as the aforementioned Ryan points out.), it should probably not surprise anyone that the two franchises have done so well. Moreover, their natural rivalry outside of soccer, such as the once famous Sonics-Blazers battles symbolizes the kind of excitement that has emerged around soccer fixtures in the region. One need only look to IFC’s hysterical Portlandia for further evidence of the Pac Northwest blood feud.


Inappropriate? Yes! But at least you're paying attention.

The hipster aesthetic probably doesn’t hurt either, after all, even though Grizzly Bear Blitzen Trapper Sleater Kinney (ooh I think I dated myself on that last one) lovin’ bohemian might eschew more traditional sports, soccer retains some kind of alternative credibility in America.  Granted, it boggles the mind that a predominantly white suburban sport (on American shores that is) still harbors an alternative identity, but its cosmopolitan international nature seems to mystify the fixed bike gauged pierced afficianados of the American Pacific Northwest.



MLS Creeping Toward Championship Final

November 9, 2010 — by Sean

The MLS season ended a couple of weeks back, and then the top half of the league were pitted against one another in goal-aggregate, home-and-away series. What does that mean exactly? For one thing, it means all the games the Galaxy won during the season to earn first place are half worthless. They still would’ve made the playoffs with 12 less points—why not take a page from city associates the Lakers and play at half speed until the playoffs, when you can come out limber but rested?

Let’s save the full rant for another day, but let’s just say I’m not in love with the playoff system in the MLS. Moving on, the chart below represents the final standings of all teams in the MLS, regardless of division. (Give LA a trophy I say…sorry, another day, another day)

Remaining at this point are the Galaxy vs Dallas, and San Jose vs Colorado. Very left coast, must be the bountiful full-year playing surfaces. And do note their season-ending positions (but I will not continue my rant).

The mostly meaningless MLS 2010 regular season final standings

How do the playoffs work then, you ask? Well I can’t be bothered to explain it myself, so here’s a bit of description from the public domain after the bump:


What about Geovanni?

August 18, 2010 — by Sean

San Jose has added the Brazilian known simply as Geovanni to their squad, making him their first designated player in the club’s history. Another good grab in a DP slot, and while the 30-yr-old’s legs might not me as springy as they once were, he’s an excellent technical player who has a knack for showing up late in the box and latching on to a final pass.

He can run hot and cold, as I’ve seen him both intensely passionate and seemingly disinterested from week to week. His run at Man City never amounted to much, and the time he spent at Hull only saw them to relegation from the Prem. He is capable of great distribution, but speed isn’t his thing, and he doesn’t come off as a particularly motivational leader either. The slower pace of the MLS should suit him well, though one wonders how a player of his technical ability will get along in the Earthquakes’ system.

Exciting news regardless, as the MLS is definitely elevating play through such additions. Steady onward!


Henry on Good Day NY

July 22, 2010 — by Sean9

I’ve been watching Rosanna Scotto and Greg Kelly in the morning for…well never, but I see them a lot on the Soup, constantly upping the ante on idiocy. There are a few gems from their Thierry Henry interview, particularly when they suggest he’s just come back from winning the World Cup, and when they ask him when the MLS season starts (it’s mid-season already, people).

On his part, Henry could’ve dressed a little better. I know it’s just these two Fox drones, but a t-shirt, jeans, and high-tops? We know you want to live “downtown”, but you do know khakis are the new skinny jean, no? Anyway, here’s the clip. Welcome to America, where we like blowouts.


Sal Zizzo: Back to MLS

July 20, 2010 — by Sean

23 yr-old midfielder Sal Zizzo has impressed in US youth sides, but didn’t have a great time at Hannover 86 after getting limited play, then tearing his ACL. He’ll be thrown into the weighted lottery tomorrow, meaning his most likely destinations are Kansas City or D.C., though in either case he’ll need to get his fitness back up before making any real impact.

Hedged excitement in KC:

“…the Wizards won a similar weighted lottery with teenage prospect Luis Gil. However, Gil wanted to play within a 20 hour drive of the Pacific Ocean, so his rights were traded to Real Salt Lake. And KC missed out on the next big thing in MLS.”