Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
Wes Burdine (@MnNiceFC) is the co-host of the internationally-acclaimed soccer podcast, the du Nord Futbol Show, which regularly changes the lives of its listeners and has been known to cure kidney stones. He also tweets about soccer all day long. We have brought him here because he's a Major League Soccer expert, and has agreed to share his knowledge with us. Wes?
Welcome to the international debut of SoccerCentric’s weekly look at Major League Soccer! (Pro tip: if you want to make an MLS fan cry, refer to it as "the MLS.") For existing soccer fans out there, you might be put off by the schedule and assume that a game at 6pm is a mis-print. Believe it or not, you don’t have to wake up at 5am to watch soccer.
Take a minute to compose yourself after reading that last part.
For those of you who are marginal soccer fans, or those considering “experimenting” (and this is a World Cup year, so there will be plenty of you), take this blog’s title at its word. MLS is just like a junior-high make-out session beneath the bleachers: at various times sloppy, mysterious, and exciting.
This week, we jump right into the deep end, and look back at the first weekend of action, and forward to week two, with five things you need to know about MLS.
1. Vancouver 4, New York Red Bulls 1
(Warning: extended "Freaky Friday" reference.)
New York Red Bulls’ coach Mike Petke might have left Saturday’s game feeling like he was in the body of Jamie Lee Curtis, not Lindsay Lohan, when his team - last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners - put in a dire performance against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Many people thought Vancouver would struggle after they replaced their manager, Martin Rennie, with assistant manager Carl Robinson during the off-season. They also saw their leading scorer and MLS Golden Boot winner, Camilo, force his way out of the club, by unilaterally announcing that he was going to Liga MX side, Querétaro. It was the equivalent of breaking up with your Canadian boyfriend by tweeting a selfie of you in your new Mexican boyfriend’s shirt. I’m not even sure that’s an analogy - I think that’s exactly what happened.
Robinson’s Whitecaps, however, tore apart the Red Bulls backline, and the new coach might just be happy in the body of Jamie Lee Curtis. Actually, I lost track of this analogy; would the Supporters’ Shield winners be Lohan or Curtis? Or should we be using the 1976 version?
Short Version: Might the Whitecaps actually be good this year?
Highlight: Sebastian Fernandez introduces himself to MLS in style with this goal.
2. Houston Dynamo 4, New England Revolution 0
The unflattering scoreline of the week award goes to this match. The New England Revolution boasted a stingy defense, led by 2013 MLS Defender of the Year José Gonçalves, but Gonçalves looked particularly hung over from his award-winning season. He was turned around on several of Houston’s goals, and for the first thirty minutes the Revs were shell-shocked.
Every season Houston finds its way into the play-offs, and every season, we ask: how can they do that without a real striker? This week, though, Dynamo forward Will Bruin started to live up to some of his promise by scoring two goals in the first half. If they can get their offense going this year, they might not just sneak into the play-offs - though it must be said that Bruin blew his chance at a hat-trick when he was one on one with the keeper and couldn’t manage more than a scuff.
Short Version: Houston, we have a striker.
Highlight: Here is a clip that will simultaneously reveal the shockingly poor game of Goncalves and the classy strike from Will Bruin.
3. DC United 0, Columbus Crew 3
Gregg Berhalter wants to make Columbus Crew the Barcelona of MLS. Or, at least that’s what I’m told. Sure, it’s a bit preposterous to compare the team whose star, Frederico Higuaín, is best known as the brother of Real Madrid star Gonzalo Higuaín, to one of the greatest clubs in the world. And yes, it’s mildly annoying that such comparisons pretend that no other team in the history of the sport has ever passed the ball.
In Berhalter's first game in charge of Columbus, his team certainly played well. However, it is hard to tell how successful the Crew can be this year, because their opposition on opening weekend hardly showed up. If DC United want to avoid Washington Generals comparisons, then they need to be far better than they were on Saturday. Their manager, Ben Olsen, fielded almost a completely new team for his home opener, but the more things change the more things stay the same. (Insert other clichés here.)
Short Version: DC United still stink, but Gregg Berhalter dresses like Pep Guardiola.
Highlight: Jairo Arrieta finishes a wonderfully worked up goal.
It would be nice to make the entirety of my first column about soccer, but MLS won’t let me. No, the organization that manages refereeing for MLS, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO), has locked out their referees, and went forward with the season opener using scabs. I will avoid sharing all my feelings on this issue and you’ll thank me. I will instead say that the establishment in 2012 of a single refereeing entity over all professional soccer in the United States and Canada (including MLS, NASL, and USL) was a fantastic step forward for soccer in the US and Canada. It means the development of high quality referees, which is vital to the development of the quality of play on the pitch.
Locking these referees out over what appears to be a difference of $440,000 is damaging to the sport. I couldn't care less about whether it is a colossal mistake. I care more about the long-term future of the sport.
Why should you, as a fan, care? Referees who don’t have authority on the pitch will lose control of a game, and that’s what leads to so many stoppages and cheap fouls. I want to watch great-looking soccer, and that is done with great referees.
Short Version: Insert pro-union boilerplate language here.
Highlights: Do you really want any?
5. “It’s a Bloody Big Deal”: Seattle v Toronto, Saturday 3:30 PM CST, NBC Sports
Last weekend might have been the first taste of MLS action, but it’s this match-up that will be the first marquee event of the season. During the off-season, the league's perennial sad clowns, Toronto FC, made a big splash with the dual signing of Tottenham Hotspur FC striker Jermaine Defoe, and Roma midfielder Michael Bradley. In signing the 26-year-old Bradley, Toronto have brought in the best American midfielder since Claudio Reyna, and at the peak of his career. It almost makes you forget that we will be able to see Bradley go up against that other American great, Clint Dempsey, whose desire to win every crossbar challenge has overtaken his desire to score goals.
Toronto have to go a long way to go to convince skeptics, who argue that two or three great signings only papers over the larger flaws of the team. Seattle put in a poor performance last weekend against reigning MLS champions Sporting Kansas City, but came out of the game with a last-minute win.
Short Version: Players you have heard of.
Highlight: Toronto either haven’t figured out that they’re not English, or really want to market themselves to the English, with their advertisement for signing Defoe.
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