Local MLS expert Wes Burdine, of the du Nord Futbol Show podcast, comes by weekly to tell us what we should know about Major League Soccer, in a column we're calling "Awkward First Touch." He can also organize a gospel choir at the drop of a hat. Wes?
1. Seattle Sounders 1, Toronto FC 2: New Kids on the Block style
Last week I promised action from this game and, true to my MENSA certificate of genius, I was right. "America’s Team"™ Toronto FC debuted their two flagship Designated Players, Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley, and it didn’t take long for them to make their presences known. Defoe scored two goals and Bradley absolutely bossed the midfield.
We might do well to remember that last season Toronto had another former striker from the English Premier League, Robert Earnshaw, who came out of the gates scoring - and then disappeared into oblivion. However, comparing Defoe - who has consistently performed throughout his long career - and Earnshaw - who is more impressive for his front-flip celebrations - is like comparing Meryl Streep to Lindsay Lohan; it’s not a race Lindsay.* Actually, Earnshaw is no Lohan. He’s more like a pretty murder victim on a decent episode of CSI: Toronto.
For as good as Bradley and Defoe performed, what was arguably most impressive about the Toronto performance was the center-back partnership of Doneil Henry and Steven Caldwell, who dealt handily with Seattle’s pressure. In addition adding Bradley to the midfield, this allowed for young Canadian prospect Jonathan Osorio to shine, as evidenced by his pass in the lead-up to Defoe’s first goal.
*Longtime readers will note that this is my second Lindsay Lohan joke in two columns. This will not be a regular feature and I have already made memorandum: find a new "it" girl joke.
Highlights: Defoe finishes well, but check out the pass from Osorio that allows Defoe to split the defenders.
Short Version: Toronto FC, like Jim Carrey’s character in The Mask: "from zero to hero."
2. Seattle v Toronto, part deux.
I’ve talked up Toronto’s impressive performance, but what about Seattle? Up until Toronto’s money splash, the Sounders were part of the “Big Three” clubs in MLS (next to the LA Galaxy and the New York Red Bulls). They have one of the best managers in MLS in Sigi Schmid, one of the best American forwards in Clint Dempsey, and one of the best stadiums for home atmosphere. So what’s the deal?
In their first two matches, Seattle’s midfield has been completely overrun. This, despite the Sounders starting two midfield stalwarts: Osvaldo Alonso (who became a DP during the off-season) and Brad Evans (who will likely be joining the US at the World Cup). In both those matches, the pair took a long time to regain their authority, but Schmid needs to do something; by the end of the match, he had four forwards on the pitch, and while it made for a scrappy finish to the match, that’s not tactics - that’s blind faith.
Highlights: Clint Dempsey will be disappointed that he missed hitting the post and accidentally scored a goal for once (his first since October).
Short Version: Four forwards does not an offense make.
3. Champions League
Sure, Europe gives us Champions League matchups between Barcelona and Manchester City, while North America and the Caribbean give us San Jose versus Toluca. There is a significant gap in quality. However, American fans have three pretty interesting matches this week in the CONCACAF Champions League’s quarterfinals. The first already happened on Tuesday night, but you can catch the San Jose and Kansas City games tonight
Los Angeles Galaxy: The Galaxy took a 1-0 lead to Tijuana for the second leg of their quarter-final against the Xolos, who are 12th in Mexico’s Liga MX. Among the three American teams in the competition, the Galaxy were the best equipped to make a run through the Champions League - and frankly they embarrassed themselves. In the first ten minutes, they gave up two goals from absolutely shambolic defending. Let’s face it, American fans: if that’s the best we can put out, then MLS has a long way to go.
San Jose Earthquakes: After their 1-1 draw in San Jose, Toluca Manager Jose Saturnino Cardozo accused the Quakes of being “tall.” We’ll see if the Jolly Green Giants can turn that into a win, then. 7 PM Fox Sports 2.
Sporting Kansas City: Tonight SKC take their 1-0 lead to Liga MX leaders, Cruz Azul. 9 PM Fox Sports 2. #Pray4Sporting
4. San Jose Earthquakes 3, Real Salt Lake 3
Goals. We all like goals. That’s really the only reason I highlight this game.
Okay, there’s another reason: Real Salt Lake were last year’s MLS Cup also-rans, and they lost their coach, Jason Kreis, during the off-season. They are the epitome of small-market club, and Kreis was lauded as one of the reasons for success despite the obstacles. So what happens when the Wonder Boy Kreis follows the oil-slicked paycheck to New York City FC? Do they fall apart?
Well, yes and no. The team is largely intact despite losing Kreis, and they have been bolstered by the arrival of last year’s best NASL player, Luke Mulholland, who Minnesota soccer fans will know from his role in helping the Minnesota win the NASL championship in 2011. Mulholland scored in this game and had a goal wrongly disallowed in his first game.
However, RSL proved unable to put San Jose’s “Goonies Never Say Die” mentality to bed, and allowed the Quakes to come back and tie the match.
Highlights: Kyle Beckerman shows why he isn’t just the auxiliary percussionist for Toots and the Maytalls with this fantastic goal from distance. Irie Man. But this game is worthy of two highlights, because we were treated to the spectacularly awkward experience of watching San Jose’s coach, Mark Watson have to watch his team give up a goal as he was giving an in-game interview to the commentary team.
Short Version: Goals.
5. Real Salt Lake v. Los Angeles Galaxy, Saturday, 3 PM Central, NBC Sports
I’ve already spilled a lot of ink on these two teams, but this has become a really wonderful rivalry in MLS.* This is already a reverse fixture from the first week of play, when Real Salt Lake eked out a 1-0 win in Los Angeles. Will LA be tired from their mid-week Champions League match? Will Nick Rimando put on another goal keeping clinic? Will Batman show up in time to save Robin? Tune in to find out!
Short Version: Batman joke.
*Sidenote: do we have to call it a rivalry if it’s just a fixture that we look forward to? Do we reserve rivalries for geographic/cultural rivals? You tell me.