After an abbreviated schedule last week due to the international break, it was back to work this weekend for most of Major League Soccer and with that in mind here is this week’s MLS Big- 5.
Kaka is Back!
I am generally loathe to break out the exclamation points but then there are games like the one Kaka produced on Sunday against the defending MLS Cup Champion Portland Timbers, the Brazilian’s first game of the season.
Orlando had done alright without its captain, drawing twice at home to begin year two in MLS before topping fellow sophomores NYCFC in the Bronx. Cyle Larin, MLS 2015 Rookie of the Year, showed no signs of a personal sophomore slump in leading the way in Kaka’s absence but the Lions were happy to have the former World Player of the Year back for Sunday’s home game with the Timbers.
All Kaka did in his return was score one goal, assist on two more and in a nice display of a team first attitude, hand the ball to Kevin Molino to take a late penalty kick. The veteran could have easily padded his stats but chose instead to cede the glory to a teammate.
So here’s to you, Kaka!
2) “Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown.” W. Shakespeare
A little culture from your humble scribe and yes, I am referring to the Portland Timbers, whose loss on Sunday leaves the champs with four points from four games with a record of one win and three losses. A poor start to a title defense but most of the expected pretenders to Portland’s throne have also struggled out of the gate.
Beaten finalists Columbus sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference without a win, garnering two points from a pair of draws, 2015 Supporters Shield winners New York Red Bulls are just two places north of the Crew in the East with one win and three losses and Seattle, of whom much is always expected and rarely delivered, are propping up the West just one place above its Cascadia rivals Portland.
Four games do not a season make and there are explanations for the slow starts, New York’s defensive injury bug for one, but the clubs in question know that unless they change course a bad start can quickly become a lost season.
3) Under New Management – Signs of Life in Philadelphia and Chicago
These two teams got together on Saturday in the midst of late winter/early spring Chicago storm with the home team coming out on top 1-0 after 90 minutes of wind and snow, followed by some more wind.
There hasn’t been much to cheer for fans of the Fire and the Union this past couple of years and a lot can go wrong over the next 34 games but so far the new guys are doing ok. In Chicago, a new broom swept clean with Nelson Rodriguez coming down from the league office to take charge of operations as the team’s new General Manager while Veljko Paunovic took the reins as coach.
Philadelphia’s new boss Earnie Stewart elected to keep Jim Curtin behind the bench and after four games the Union is in third place in the East with Chicago three spots back in the final playoff position.
I know, I know, it’s way too early for playoff talk, but there is hope for MLS supporters in Chicago and Philadelphia and early or not, what’s wrong with that?
4) Seeing Red
The league’s weekend schedule kicked off with the New England Revolution earning its first win of the season in controversial fashion. The game’s lone goal came with New York defender Kemar Lawrence on the ground, apparently injured. New England played on resulting in a goal from Diego Fagundez.
The Red Bulls were incensed but that goal is not the topic of Big -5 point number four, no that would be Felipe’s ejection on a straight red card in the 61st minute. It looked innocuous enough but the league seems intent on changing its rough and tumble image.
Philadelphia and Vancouver also were forced to play a man down after picking up straight reds over the weekend, adding to the perception that the league’s officials were getting a bit card happy. MLS.com was nice enough to check the stats and it turns out that there has been an uptick, if only a slight one.
Through five weeks MLS refs have dished out 16 reds, a number just slightly higher than in 2014 and 2015, when 13 and 14 were distributed.
5) About that Revs Goal
With New York off to a tough start, every point takes on added importance, making the Red Bulls very unhappy with Friday night’s loss at Gillette Stadium.
New England scored when Juan Agudelo’s cross from the right wing made its way to an open Lee Nguyen who finished his chance with ease. New York center back Kemar Lawrence was on the ground when Agudelo broke free, and New York coach Jesse Marsch later called the Revolution forward’s decision to play on “shameful.
In his postgame remarks, New England coach Jay Heaps said, “I try to tell the guys, ‘Play it to the whistle.’ Heaps is correct in that it is the referee’s job to decide when to stop play and ref Mark Geiger chose to play on.
We often see players kick the ball out of play when an opponent appears to be injured but should a player be expected to pull up in the middle of a scoring chance? Marsch says yes, Heaps says no. What say you?