The High Five: Keeping the talented prodigies grounded, Frank Lampard, closing gaps and more

1. Keeping Bradford Jamieson grounded

In the unlikely event that young L.A. Galaxy attacker Bradford Jamieson gets a big head and sinks into the same sad career quicksand that absorbed Freddy Adu, know this: it most certainly will not be Bruce Arena’s fault.

We’ve seen the Freddy Adu story and we know how it ends – and it’s not pretty. Adu was “all that,” the anointed one, the “next Pele” and a bunch of nonsense like that as a 14-year old breaking into MLS back in 2004. He was 14!

We all learned some valuable lessons about how to treat young talent – lessons we should have known anyway, but we’re all fallen and imperfect and so mistakes were made (All over the place, really, mistakes at league-level, at club level in some places, in fan expectation and in media glorification.)

Hopefully we have learned, and it seems smart to remain vigilant about not repeating those same boo-boos.

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Which brings us to the 18-year-old Jamieson, a California kid who made quite an impression Sunday in his debut MLS start. He didn’t just score, the young man scored sensationally with a mazy, dribbling thing of beauty that led to a real striker’s finish. All that, and it came in a high-profile contest, a nationally televised broadcast between teams representing the league’s two largest media markets. So, his strike checked a lot of boxes as the L.A. Galaxy earned a road draw at the undefeated Red Bulls.

Immediately after, L.A. Galaxy manager Bruce Arena began shaping the helpful narrative, tamping down any little brush fires of glorification that might be flaring up. In fact, according to the ESPN crew on hand, he had already begun some pre-game campaigning (should it be “anti-campaigning?”) the night before.

Arena, who is a great manager but also an artist in the work of sarcasm and a man generally unimpressed with the rest of the world, would seem the perfect tutor to keep a young talent grounded.

To the point, here’s what Arena said afterward about Jamieson perhaps doing this stuff on the regular:

“Who knows, it's a long way away,” Arena said. “Let's talk in a couple years on that. He's doing well. Let's wait a while. Let's not get crazy like everybody does every time a young player does something right. This is a long haul in becoming a player. He's many years away from being where we would like him to be and where he's going to be, so let's just be patient and see what happens down the road."

2. Frank Lampard will get here … eventually

If you are keeping score on the front office portion of the new MLS Big Apple rivalry, well, the Red Bulls are clobbering New York City FC at present.

A lot is about the Red Bulls’ bold and highly controversial plan, one that involved firing perhaps the most popular manager to pace the club’s historically weary sideline, Mike Petke. It still stinks, the way they let Petke go. But Ali Curtis’ front office gamble to make the noisy switch (Petke out, Jesse Marsch in) and take the public lumps is paying off for now; the Red Bulls are Major League Soccer’s only undefeated team.

But the bigger point here is this: as we watch New York City FC struggle mightily to gain traction coming out of the expansion club gates, the Frank Lampard mess is starting to weigh heavier. And that’s on the NYCFC suits.

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The Lampard roster saga, in brief, looks like this: The club announced that Chelsea’s longtime midfield institution was coming to New York. He would be loaned to Manchester City to stay fit and then come aboard at NYC to triumphantly lead the lines. Only, things started going well with his loanee, and since Manchester City and NYCFC share an ownership group, well, the plans went into, er, “evolution.” He stayed in place at the Etihad for the spring.

Fans rightly felt misled as it became apparent Lampard would not join MLS until the summer. That’s all water under the Yankee Stadium drainpipe now, but this part isn’t: the team is suffering, and there can be zero denying that Lampard’s presence could help, filling in some of these emerging, troublesome potholes.

Jason Kreis’ club has one win in eight matches. And it’s not trending upward; the team in April had a draw and three losses, along with just two goals.

Kreis’ depth is threadbare at best, and the injuries have mounted, which means that roster gap looks canyon-esque. Even more, the club is losing due to little mistakes, and you wonder if more leadership on the field could make a difference?

Yes, David Villa has been hurt, and that seriously dents the NYC attack. But that’s soccer. Injuries happen. The choice to let Lampard remain in England (for a team that probably won’t win a trophy this year, as it turns out) is on upper management within the organization.

Lampard will arrive … eventually. All will probably be forgiven, even if it was all handled clumsily. The question is, how much damage will the club incur in the meantime?

3. Is the East closing the gap on the West?

The West is best, and the East isn’t so much of a beast, right? That’s the recent narrative of MLS?

Or is it?

New England looks like a different team now that previously injured U.S. international Jermaine Jones is back in place – although a new “place,” at center back. Of course, the “Jones Effect” should surprise absolutely no one; we all saw him reverse matters so measurably around Gillette Stadium last year.

D.C. United continues to faithfully grind out results, never mind if they don’t play enough “soccer” for the liking of some. And now they have a striker! How about that? Fabian Espindola is adding more “umph” to United’s attack, and maybe not all of their matches will require white-knuckle finishes.

On the “good soccer” end, Columbus continues to bring it – while stringing together good results.

And let’s not forget the league’s only undefeated team, Marsch’s high-pressuring New York Red Bulls, who have already claimed the honor as the team that I really don’t want to miss. I dig a high-pressing style.


Meanwhile, on the left side of the league map, Real Salt Lake has revealed its vulnerability, seeing its injury-depleted side get taken completely apart last week in New England.

Dallas is a good team – until red cards undercut the effort, a too-frequent 2014 mistake that Oscar Pareja’s team is now repeating too frequently.

Portland has started slowly again and Sporting Kansas City is leaking goals worse than any club this side of beleaguered Philadelphia.

Anyone else spot the trend here?

Look, I’m not saying the East is the new West. Not at all. But the gap was vast last year, the Western Conference measurably better top to bottom. It does seem that some “closing of the gap” is at hand, at least.

4. Has Toronto already done enough?

Funny how one result can so drastically re-shape a narrative – especially one that appears to be cascading in the wrong direction, hell-bent on course for something pretty damaging.

Reports began sprouting last week that Greg Vanney was on shaky ground as Toronto FC manager.  But the Reds went into Orlando City and, thanks to a couple of Jozy Altidore goals, emerged as 2-0 victors. And just like that, now we really need to ask ...

“Has Greg Vanney and TFC already done enough on this marathon road swing to open the season?” 

Thanks to improvements around BMO Field, Toronto was saddled with a seven-game road swing to open the season. It was never going to be an easy haul, especially as the rush to judge this highly-DPed team, despite the imbalanced criteria (playing every match over the first two months on the road, that is), seemed inevitable.

With one match remaining before Michael Bradley and Co. settle into their Exhibition Place comfy seats, the team has six points from six road matches. That’s not exactly where the club would like to be … but it’s pretty close.

That’s an average of one point per road match, which is always a pretty good standard of measure. One point per road match is pretty close to what playoff clubs typically accumulate. Last year’s post-season qualifiers averaged 20.5 points (over 17 matches), so that’s just a tick over a point a game. Two clubs, the Red Bulls and FC Dallas, made the post-season averaging a point or fewer on the road.

TFC is now just about where other teams forced into a similar, front-of-season road sweep have fallen.

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In 2012, Sporting KC spent the first 10 games on the road. They collected just seven points, which raised all kinds of red flags of concern. Well, Peter Vermes’ team got home, got comfortable, got hot and won the East. So, all good on that one, I think we can agree.

A year later Houston’s first seven matches were on the road; the men in orange collected eight points. Houston got into BBVA Compass Stadium and did just fine, qualifying for the playoffs and eventually finishing as runner-up to the Galaxy in MLS Cup 2012.

None of this means Toronto is where it needs to be, especially where defense is concerned. We talked about that last week. Then again, they did get a shutout on the road (in Orlando), so maybe things are moving in the right direction as they get more defenders healthy. For now, we’d have to say that the long, tough road swing to open 2015 will not be an outright fiasco; that’s off the board now. If they happen to get a win at Philly this weekend, you’d really have to stamp it “back-slapping success.”

5. The Little Five

5a. If you have lived long enough to have watched Major League Soccer’s first kick, prepare to feel old: MLS now has multiple goal scorers who were born after the league launched in 1996. Eric Ayuk (he’s 17) just struck for Philly, and Jamieson (born Nov. 18, 1996) had that sweet goal for L.A.

5b. In a league with abundant movement, it really is something else that Dan Kennedy, a man now into his 8th MLS year, with 145 matches and 455 saves on his resume, has just played his initial match wearing something other than a Chivas USA shirt. Kennedy was in goal for FC Dallas in last week’s 1-1 draw in Colorado.

5c. Chicago was a hot mess for the first few weeks. Then Frank Yallop’s team seemed to find its feet with three consecutive wins. Truth is, this three-game run probably needs an asterisk: they all came at home, and happened against Philly, Toronto and NYC, teams with a combined 4-13-6 record. A clearer truth may be revealed this week as the Fire visits Sporting Kansas City.

5d. Speaking of deeper levels of truth: The top four teams in the East meet in Week 9: Columbus plays at D.C. United and New York travels to face the Red Bulls. It’s just one week – there are 34 of them, remember – but this will be a good one for really knowing who’s who in the Eastern Conference.

5e. Much has been made about goals being down in MLS in 2015. Well, playmakers are starting to arrive, which should help. Mauro Diaz is back on the field for Dallas, Diego Valeri is back on the bench for Portland, and a pair of pretty good midfielders will soon arrive into the league’s two largest markets: Steven Gerrard is en route to L.A. and Lampard will find his way soon into Yankee Stadium. Also, previously suspended striker Fabian Espindola is back on the field for D.C. United after serving his six-game ban for naughtiness. 

Steve Davis has covered Major League Soccer since is first kick in 1996. He writes on-line for World Soccer Talk and Fusion TV’s Soccergods, and co-hosts the weekly radio show/podcast ESPN Soccer Today on 103.3 FM in Dallas. Davis is also the radio play-by-play voice for FC Dallas on 100.7 FM.