Back to league play after focus on Klinsmann
One of the more notable aspects of following the US men’s national team is the consistent debate about Jürgen Klinsmann and his various misdeeds. Since there are so few international games to analyze and unpick, the coach becomes the object around which the squabbles revolve. Omg, Jürgen’s done this! He said that! He’s picked the wrong team! He’s overlooked him! Fire him! Can him! Screw him!
Not that these aren’t valid points. Klinsmann has many failings, personal and professional, and until USA enjoys the success that adequately reflects the resources and interest in this fine soccer nation, the arguments will rage. But the conflict can become a little draining after a while. All this continued bickering is all just a little – how you say? – boring.
However, this weekend, glad to say, we’re back to an – almost – full complement of fixtures, as the league enters its fourth proper week. Only Philadelphia and Houston are not playing, and fans can savor a number of tasty-looking matchups. The only downside could be the coinciding of the opening week of the MLB season. Let’s hope soccer keeps baseball from dominating the sports pages completely.
Sporting look to go four for four
We’ve perhaps been a little remiss here at the Guardian. Earlier in the season, our writers predicted who they fancied for silverware, and the same names seemed to come up again and again: Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, New England, Columbus – plus the odd mention for Toronto, Vancouver, even Montreal. Sporting Kansas City weren’t really in the hunt, and yet here we are in April with KC top of the tree, the only team boasting a 100% record with three wins from three. Sorry, KC!
Sporting had an off week last time around – midfielder Graham Zusi did his international ambitions no harm with a goal in USA’s 4-0 thumping of Guatemala – which means Benny Feilhaber has had an extra week to recover from the abdominal strain that has kept him out of the first three games. KC’s form has been all the more impressive by the absence of Feilhaber, one of MLS’s most imaginative midfielders and a player whose continued absence from the US national team is a puzzle for the purists.
Despite their good start, Sporting aren’t getting carried away: remember 2012, when they started with seven straight wins but lost early in the playoffs? “The first 10 games, I don’t think you can read into anything,” said skipper Matt Besler, who’s expected to miss the game against RSL with concussion, but four for four would get the juices flowing in Missouri.
RSL have gone well this season, and they’re unbeaten in three, but their injury list is longer than Kyle Beckerman’s hairdo, and they may even have to invoke the Extreme Hardship Call-Up rule, where players are brought in from a club’s USL affiliate to cover the numbers. RSL are hoping the cramp that forced Yura Movsisyan out of training on Wednesday isn’t serious, but they’ve never won at Sporting Park, and they face a battle this time around.
Columbus attack requires fine-tuning
Over the course of the MLS season, there are some things you can take for granted. Sebastian Giovinco will score a hatful of brilliant goals, for example. Seattle’s fans will make a fearful racket at CenturyLink Field. Frank Lampard will miss many games with an injured hamstring/ankle/toenail. And Columbus Crew will get goals.
Last year only the Red Bulls scored more regular-season goals than the men from Mapfre Stadium, and the Crew continued their rich vein into the playoffs. Kei Kamara helped himself to 26 total goals, Federico Higuain showed he’s not the only Higuain who is cool in front of net, and Ethan Findlay burnished his reputation as one of MLS’s top young prospects with 10 goals and 13 assists in his breakout season. But this year, for some reason, Gregg Berhalter’s side haven’t been able to get it going, and they sit bottom of the Eastern Conference with a decidedly unimpressive 0-1-2 record. Their goals for column stands at a paltry two.
They need to fix their spluttering attack, but what a place to begin their rehabilitation: the Toyota Stadium in Frisco, where FC Dallas are looking to build on an impressive 3-0 road win at DC United last week. What a peculiar season Dallas have had so far: they’re second in the league, having won three of four and looked good doing so, but a significant blot on the page was that insane 0-5 drubbing by their Texan rivals Houston in week two. Maybe we ought simply to explain it as an exceptional circumstance; a moment of madness, as they say in the parlance. It won’t happen again, officer! Oscar Pareja raised a quizzical eyebrow after that defeat, but he didn’t panic, and his team look to be back on track. Columbus have it all to do.
Winless Seattle need to find some form
At the start of the season, Seattle and Montreal looked good bets for success in their respective conferences. Both had lots going for them: a good core of players, a sprinkling of attacking stardust, some well-informed fans and a wily coach – and yet Montreal are top in the East while the Sounders have started like a drain. Seattle are rock bottom, having lost all three MLS games so far. What’s up with that?
It’s not all bad: each of the three defeats by single-digit scorelines could have gone the other way, and Sigi Schmid isn’t worried by his side’s disappointing start. “I believe in our team, and I believe in the way we’re playing,” Schmid said in the week. “I think we’ve played well over the three games. I think we’ve had a little bit of bad fortune.” But a fourth defeat would be, if not unthinkable, certainly cause for concern. Seattle need to start winning, and soon.
Seattle’s task is made easier by the fact that Didier Drogba is unlikely to play at CenturyLink Field – the 38-year-old has bad knees, and doesn’t want to risk re-injuring them on artificial turf – but the Argentinian star Ignacio Piatti has started on a tear with three goals already, and Montreal enjoyed their last visit to the north-west, beating Vancouver 3-2. With the lightning quick Dominic Oduro also in form, don’t be surprised if they do it again.
San Jose and DC in historical re-enactment
Almost 20 years ago to the day, a team from Washington played a team from San Jose in front of 31,000 intrigued fans at Spartan Stadium. It was the first match of America’s new professional soccer league, and DC United and the San Jose Clash, as they were then, played 87 minutes of largely forgettable soccer. But then Eric Wynalda scored a fine game-winner, bared his chest and twirled his shirt, and the rest, as they say, is history.
We get to re-enact that historic game on Saturday. No John Harkes or Marco Etcheverry this time, however, and DC could do with some of their sparkle. It’s been a tough start for United so far: they surrendered meekly against Queretaro in the Concacaf Champions League, and they haven’t managed a league win in four outings, with just two goals scored. Last time out was a 3-0 home loss against Dallas, and Ben Olsen needs a result.
For San Jose, all signs point to Chris Wondolowski as the likely game-winner. Wondo has three goals in his opening three games – the first time in his career he’s managed that feat – and he’s a good bet to repeat that against DC. What a goalscorer Wondolowksi has been; a real American success story. At 33, he’s maybe on the wrong side of the slope, but he’s surely on course to overtake Landon Donovan’s record of 144 in the MLS all-time goalscoring charts. Just don’t mention Belgium.