MLS Weekend Review
Bloodbath in the Bronx Will Help Create a Real Rivalry
May 24, 2016
THIS PAST WEEKEND in Major League Soccer will be remembered for one thing and one thing only: the shocking events in the Bronx as the New York Red Bulls destroyed New York City FC 7-0. Yes, it was an embarrassment for some but it brought a lot of attention to the league, which Don Garber will love.
Elsewhere, a key member of the United States national team continues to struggle and the situation in New England is bleak. Here are my thoughts from the past weekend.
NYCFC “dis-Mantled” in historic loss
The number seven is sacred in the Bronx. New York Yankees legend Mickey Mantle wore that number, and he remains one of most popular athletes ever in New York City.
For another team that calls Yankee Stadium home, the number seven is now synonymous with an epic disaster. New York City FC entered Saturday’s game with a ton of momentum was looking to establishe itself as the top team in the Big Apple.
By now, everyone knows what happened. The 7-0 loss at home in front of a huge crowd and television audience was embarrassing. As the old saying goes: “You’re never as good as you seem on your best day and never as bad as you seem on your worst day.” This is true for both teams but this game will linger.
New York City FC has demonstrated the ability to play well in MLS and it will do so again in 2016. It could very well win some impressive games and make the playoffs. What is a concern is not the team’s talent but its ability to raise intensity level. The Red Bulls played this game like a crucial playoff game and NYCFC played it like a preseason game. Vieria’s team might make the playoffs, but unless it can find that extra gear, it won’t go far.
The game, incidentally, was perfect for MLS. Sometimes these rivalries seem “manufactured.” Not this one. The franchises and the fans seem determined to establish themselves as the alpha team in New York City.
What it takes, however, for a rivalry to go from manufactured to real is something big—a defining moment. This game is how rivalries are built. It was the perfect spark. Mark Messier’s guarantee in game six of the 1994 NHL Eastern Conference ignited a New York Rangers—New Jersey Devils rivalry that is still strong. Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees to finance a play and that laid the foundation for the Yankees—Red Sox rivalry.
When the Red Bulls and NYCFC meet again on July 3, there is going to be some real passion in the air. It is going to transcend the sometimes-phony MLS marketing ploys. Everyone who goes to the game or watches on TV will be expecting something well beyond what a normal MLS midseason game typically offers.
I can’t wait.
Dallas exposes poor Revolution defense
For a while, FC Dallas was caught in a downward spiral but the typical remedy for a slump is to face off against teams that can’t play defense. On Saturday night, FC Dallas was dominant in a 4-2 win over a New England team that fits that description. It was Dallas' third win in a row, with the other two victories coming against Seattle and a Portland team that also is weak defensively.
New England's trade for Kei Kamara continues to baffle. The Revolution had no need for offense and Juan Agudelo is playing well for Revolution right now. This team’s defense is atrocious and in conceding 24 goals on the year; it has to make some sort of move to fix that end of the field.
Interestingly, FC Dallas and New England are polar opposites in terms of organizational decision making. FC Dallas is a team that builds a lot from within and now has a team that is strong defensively and offensively.
New England has made all the wrong decisions. Allowing Jermaine Jones to move to Colorado looks like an epic blunder and the Rapids have surged from out of nowhere to establish the best record in the league. There is no direction on a stadium deal for the Revolution despite it being an original MLS team. Now, it makes nonsensical trades that don’t fix glaring weaknesses.
Jay Heaps might end up on the hot seat soon but it is clear the problems with this team run much deeper.
Colorado keeps winning
In the preseason, I picked Colorado to finish last. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This team continues to win soccer games and has conceded only nine goals in 13 games. Its scrappy style has been frustrating opponents and thrilling supporters.
On Saturday, Colorado traveled to Seattle and came away with a 1-0 victory to strengthen its grip on first place with 27 points through 13 games. Seattle ended up having most of the chances but it was the Rapids that prevailed, again.
“It takes a lot of concentration, it takes a lot of effort to not get a lot of the ball,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said. “Seattle came out sharp and imposed themselves on the game. We talk about concentration and finding ways to win games, and today was one of those where I felt it wasn’t what we chalked up... In football, rarely do things go your way and you must have a certain type of mentality and a certain type of group to overcome things and be comfortable being uncomfortable. Tonight the guys played probably one of the most courageous games of the year to this point."
The maligned Mastroeni deserves credit for the team's turnaround although the former U.S. national team midfielder is probably a bit surprised as to where his team currently sits. He cites the internal team dynamics as a key factor.
“It’s a really selfless group,” Mastroeni said. “The group inside that locker room is one of the tightest teams I’ve ever been a part of. I’m kind of on the outside as the coach, but to be part of that group Monday through Friday in that clubhouse…the camaraderie, the older guys taking the younger guys under their wing and talking to them about what it takes, leading by example. We have a great group of leaders in that locker room. We have young guys that are hungry to prove themselves and whenever called upon, they step in and do a great job. That’s team."
Besler struggling as Copa Prep Begins
One cause for concern for Sporting Kansas City and the U.S. men's national team is that Matt Besler is struggling. On Saturday, Besler did not look sharp and was responsible for conceding Salt Lake’s opening goal in a 3-1 home loss.
“It’s not about scoring goals; it is about giving away silly goals,” Sporting head coach Peter Vermes said. “We have given away too many silly goals. The players that are making those mistakes is a little bit hard to understand; it is just not normal….The fact that our more experienced guys are making mistakes becomes difficult, but we have to keep working to not make those mistakes.”
It's not a good situation right now for Sporting and for Matt Besler—he needs to shake out of his slump quickly. The next two national team friendlies are going to be crucial for him if hopes to see the field in Copa America Centenario.
There are, in fact, questions regarding every central defender on the U.S. roster right now. Geoff Cameron did not have a good final two months with Stoke City; John Brooks has yet to translate his club success to the international game; Michael Orozco has played in three Liga MX games since November; and now Besler’s struggles continue to mount.
When going against Colombia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay, there is a thin line between success and failure and central defense mistakes will often prove deadly.