Coming into the weekend, the MLS world was abuzz with Galaxymania. And rightly so. They are a juggernaut by the precise definition of the word (n. a relentless, irresistible force. Webster’s New World Dictionary).
And, true to form, they walloped a road-weary Houston Dynamo team, thanks to a rejuvenated Jovan Kirovski, the supernova-in-the-making that is Tristan Bowen, and the most organized and dynamic backline this league has seen since, well, ever.
However, two other teams entered the weekend defined by another word: “huh?”
Honestly, ask yourself: What were the Chicago Fire and FC Dallas really all about? Both teams were like soccer versions of John Kerry: waffling, wishy-washy, solidly founded but incapable of expressing what they stood for in clear and consistent terms.
That changed on Saturday. Chicago finally got a win after going seven matches without one (including three friendlies), and Dallas seemed to put it all together for the first time this season, ending a three-game winless streak of their own.
The Fire have been so hard to comprehend. They have plenty of talent, plenty of experience, and plenty of motivation to put last year’s abysmal season behind them and perform for new coach Carlos de los Cobos. But they have struggled to find their rhythm. Collins John hasn’t fit in as expected, and the constant formation/lineup tinkering has had an effect.
However, on Saturday against the Philadelphia Union, they played a solid game, led by a burgeoning corps of midfielders who look set to assert themselves and take over the team. Patrick Nyarko could be one of the most exciting players in the league when he stretches his stride and takes defenders on. Baggio Husidic is developing into a two-way threat in the center of the park. Marco Pappa looks back on track after a dip in form; consistency is the final piece of the puzzle for the Guatemalan.
Dallas—who have a star of the future to challenge Bowen in Brek Shea—have always been known for their attacking. But quietly, this season, they are putting together a terrific defensive display.
Did you know FCD are tied for third in the league for fewest goals conceded?
Much of the credit has to go to goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. He was unceremoniously dumped by Kansas City—who found a fantastic replacement in Jimmy Nielsen, it must be said—and has become a steadying factor for what was a disjointed backline last year. The winningest keeper in MLS boasts a .71 GAA on the season.
Hartman is helped by the fullback combination of Heath Pearce and Jair Benitez, both of whom possess the impulse and ability to push the attack from the back. No surprise that Benitez was involved in several plays that led to FCD chances on Saturday against San Jose. And Pearce will work his way back into top form after failing to earn a trip to South Africa with the US team.
Chicago are sitting in the middle of the pack, as middle as is possible, including a .500 record and an even goal differential. Dallas are down in 6th place in the West but actually have a winning record (3-2-6) and a +2 goal differential.
Does all of this mean we have any idea what these teams are all about? Do they themselves know what they are all about? Not yet. Almost by definitions, they are still both undefined.
Dan the Man
Danny Mwanga has now scored in three straight games. The talented rookie reminds me of a striker’s version of Maurice Edu— same swagger from the day he stepped foot on an MLS field, same hunched loping gait, same penchant for showing up at the right moment.
If only the Philly defense—league worst 2.11 GAA—could make his attacking prowess stand up.
Methinks They Doth Protest Too Much
The Columbus Crew came out of their loss with the LA Galaxy a few weeks back—the “Battle of the Best”—talking about the positives they had taken from the match.
“If we play like that, no one is going to be able to stop us,” Crew defender Andy Iro said after that game.
Well, either they didn’t “play like that” or being “able to stop us” is not as had as Iro thought. The Crew have gone two game without looking like the Crew, giving up a late goal in a midweek draw at San Jose and then falling to Colorado on a Drew Moor header that took advantage of a defender’s failing to attack the ball.
If you are D.C. United, coming off a win and a draw against the defending champs—both of which constitute a confidence-building stretch for United—Seattle’s thumping of New England does not make you feel great.
United travel to Qwest Field on Thursday, and Seattle will be looking to build on their 3-0 win over the Revs. The Sounders are bursting with energy and confidence.
“We know we have another game on Thursday that we are more than capable of winning,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “It’s a great way to go into the mini-break: with six points.”
If the Sounders play the way they did on Thursday—pushing their defenders into the attack, denying any and every scoring opportunity, whipping the crowd into a frenzy—Keller’s math should be right.