It was another exciting MLS weekend full of lost leads and playoff permutations but mostly it was about…
1) Donovan’s Return
So, how did he do in his allotted seven minutes of playing time? Here is Donovan’s own take: “I have to get myself going again so I can really contribute because every week is not going to be a charity, five or 10 minutes,” Donovan said. “I came into a game where both teams were exhausted and I was the slowest player on the field.”
So, work to do then for LD. Is this too big a hill to climb, has Donovan left it too late in the season to attempt this comeback? And where does he fit in?
L.A. beat Orlando 4-2 in Donovan’s return and showed plenty of depth and ability in the midfield and the attack. Gio Dos Santos had two goals, one a pk, Robbie Keane, recently retired from international play with Ireland, scored his eighth, and Alan Gordon scored his first of the year on an assist from adventurous center back Jelle Van Damme.
Bruce Arena can also look for offense to Mike Magee off of the bench, Sebastian Lletget, Emmanuel Boateng, youngster Raul Mendiola and Steven Gerrard, joint club assists leader with Dos Santos with 11.
Donovan s under no illusions. “I need to get myself ready to compete in a real way. Bruce and the coaching staff need to know what when they put me in, it can mean something. So tonight worked out well, but I need to be able to contribute.”
2) Rapids End FC Dallas Home Streak
FC Dallas supporters can be forgiven if they marked this one down as a victory in pre-match calculations. After all, their heroes hadn’t dropped all three points in Frisco since last August when L.A. escaped from the Dallas suburb with a 2-1 victory. But Colorado broke that Dallas dominance with Saturday’s 1-0 win, a win that came about thanks to a brilliant strike from Dominique Badji and seven saves from Tim Howard.
FCD still tops the West and the Supporters Shield races, thanks in part to its best in the west road record of 5-7-2. Not overly impressive but then no MLS team has a winning away mark, NYCFC and Toronto FC top the league with 6-6-3 and 6-6-2 records, respectively.
The Rapids win leaves three Western Conference sides without a home loss in 2016; Colorado at 9-0-4, L.A. at 8-0-7 and Real Salt Lake with a 8-0-6 stat line. No Eastern Conference teams have avoided a home L.
3) Agudelo Rising?
Before there was Christian Pulisic there was Juan Agudelo, scoring a goal for the United States in South Africa at 17 years of age, before he had scored one at the club level.
Then came injuries and transfers from the New York Red Bulls to MLS clubs Chivas USA and the New England Revolution. A move to Stoke in 2014 went awry when Agudelo couldn’t land a work permit when even Brek Shea managed it. A short and decent stint in the Netherlands didn’t lead to a hoped-for European contract and Agudelo was back with the Revolution.
Blessed with all the obvious physical attributes (minus consistent health) a soccer player should need, plus a neat bag of tricks to draw the oohs and ahhs, Agudelo has surprisingly never scored more than seven goals in a season. He hit that mark in 2013 and ‘15 with the Revs but more was expected after Agudelo bagged six for NYRB back in 2011.
All of which is simply preamble to Agudelo’s excellent performance against New York City FC on Saturday night. Agudelo opened the scoring with his fifth goal of the year, assisted on the Revs third goal and showed the combination of flash, physicality, and hustle that has long excited so many. Though his prospect days are behind him, Agudelo is still just 23, 24 in November, and five goals and three assists is not a bad haul from just nine starts and 19 appearances.
What does it all mean? Maybe it just means that even if Agudelo has long been supplanted as U.S. Soccer’s Next Big Thing, it is far too soon to give up on a player with so much ability.
4) New York, New York – Potential Playoff Holes Exposed
Let’s attack this chronologically, beginning with NYCFC’s fall from the Eastern pinnacle following Saturday’s 3-1 blowout loss to the New England Patriots. Uh, sorry the NFL yard markers, hash marks etc, confused me there for a moment.
And yes, I said a 3-1 blowout. The playoff-chasing Revolution dominated NYCFC for all but a few minutes after the halftime break and maybe a minute or two at the very beginning of the match.
New England hit the post, they hit NYC keeper Josh Saunders, and even though they hit the target three times the Revs could have quite easily rattled the twines on several more occasions. Which brings us to a problem that Patrick Vieira will have to address before the upcoming playoffs.
The problem? As we say in New York sports circles DEE – FENSE! The chant was invented in NYCFC’s home stadium, well the original version, anyway, Yankee Stadium 1, the House that Ruth Built. This was back in the 1950’s when television broadcast in black and white (!) and the New York Football Giants were so-called so as to distinguish them from the New York Baseball Giants.
In two years time, the baseball Giants will celebrate its 60th year in San Francisco while the football team is on its second stadium in New Jersey, which is to say that this was all a very long time ago.
But I digress. The thing is NYCFC don’t inspire crowds to celebrate its defense, lower case, no exclamation point. And that’s ok. Patrick Vieira has maintained from the start that he would prefer to outscore his opponents. No bus parker, he.
And Vieira well knows that the defensive effort his side put forth at Gillette Stadium wasn’t good enough and he doesn’t have all that much time to fix it.
So what about the Red Bulls, then. The Red Bulls problem is a season-long inability to close out games. With first place theirs for the taking on Sunday afternoon, the Red Bulls coughed up a two-goal lead to DC, which had coach Jesse Marsch denying that surrendering leads were a problem for his club.
It’s just that the same thing happened when these two rivals played in August at the old tear down, RFK. The Bulls led 2-0 in that one before allowing United to come back and grab a share of the spoils. That was the repetition of a bad road habit, this one at home has to hurt even more.
NYRB carried a 2-0 lead into the 89th minute on Sunday only to concede twice and give two valuable points away. That pair of points is all that separates the Red Bulls from Eastern table toppers Toronto.
Sounds like cause for concern to me.
5) BWP for MVP?
A positive for New York’s original MLS club has been the play of Bradley Wright-Phillips, who came over from England in the middle of the 2013 MLS campaign, as the brother of Shaun Wright-Phillips and the son of Ian Wright who was known mostly for bouncing around a variety of English clubs and for not living up to the family name.
After scoring one goal in seven games in 2013, BWP has gone on to become a goal scoring machine, tying the single-season MLS record with 27 in 2014 and adding 17 in ‘15 and 19 so far this year.
That tally sees Wright-Phillips atop the league goal scoring race but he has competition for that title and for the league MVP. Defending Most Valuable Sebastian Giovinco and his 16 goals and 13 assists is out injured but cross-river rival David Villa is a strong candidate for individual honors.
With the playoff races and then the playoffs themselves the bigger story, the MVP race is more of a subplot to the MLS season, but then who doesn’t love a good subplot?