Sunday, May 18, 2008

MLS Weekend Review: The Sack Race

Steve Morrow/From

Another sign of Major League Soccer’s evolution is the development of a tradition reporters and pundits have in the motherland, the UK. That is the sack race. American soccer reporting and writing is generally not as negative or cynical as our British counterparts. This is largely because we have neither the history, the football infrastructure nor sharp critical historical lens they have en mass. But as MLS gets more attention albeit from non-mainstream sources, coaches face more pressures than in MLS first decade of existence.

Right now the sack race has two coaches squarely competiting to be the first sent packing. One is Tom Soehn whose DC United club is not only under achieving, but look absolutely lifeless away from RFK Stadium. The other Steve Morrow whose stewardship of a perennial underachieving FC Dallas club hasn’t brought any change in fortunes for the Texas club. One coach who isn’t featuring in the sack race but in my opinion is doing less with more is Jason Kreis of Real Salt Lake. RSL’s current standing in a subpar Western Conference is completely unacceptable given the amount of talent and depth the club has developed. Now much of that depth has been developed thanks to the work of Kreis and GM Garth Lagerway, but the team simply isn’t performing the way need as punctuated by the lackluster showing in the Rocky Mountain Cup match Thursday night.

Soehn for his part seems to have taken a team that was aging, beset by injuries and which was meddled with too much by Kevin Payne this past offseason and not made any significant strides. Several factors have contributed to the collapse of DC United much as similar factors played a part in 2000, when after four years of ravaging the league DC suddenly collapsed into MLS’ worst side. DC United’s 2000 team featured AJ Wood at forward, Judah Cooks in the midfield, and Carey Talley in defense. The losses of Roy Lassiter, John Harkes and Raul Diaz Arce to the salary cap as well as Tony Sanneh to the Bundesliga killed the team. This time around, the fall has been self inflicted. Trading Facundo Erpen and Bobby Boswell for inferior players, dealing Christian Gomez, letting go of Brian Carrol, losing Troy Perkins to Europe and the bad luck of losing Josh Gros to a career ending injury but then not adequately replacing him this past closed season. The players DC United have brought in are simply not good enough. Zach Wells proved this past Saturday why despite a high level of talent, Houston wasn’t prepared to keep him around as an heir apparent to Pat Onstad. To add insult to injury Bobby Boswell scored the Dynamo’s winning goal at Toyota Park. DC United’s defense is in general fragile and the attempt by the club to essentially scapegoat three different players for the club’s defensive woes was not only irresponsible, but it was simply unfair. The addition of Gonzalo Perlata has if anything made United’s back line worse, and the failure to adequately line up a replacement for aging Jaime Moreno can only be blamed on sentiment.

DC United’s problems are unexpected, but the problems of FC Dallas are not. It seems like every year we go through this with the Hoops. You see the talent on the pitch and feel like this could be the season something special happens. Then reality comes, and FCD comes crashing down to earth. Following today’s pathetic performance, FC Dallas can boast that they have now conceded eight first half goals in their last two competitive matches against the LA Galaxy. As we have discussed on this blog and on the American Soccer show previously, FC Dallas has a losing mentality as a club and until that changes they can change coaches play with personnel, do anything but little will change. Thus I firmly believe sacking Steve Morrow will accomplish little, but he may prove a convenient scapegoat for the clubs on the field troubles.

Other thoughts:

  • Toronto FC’s defense did a number of Columbus’ attack, the first team to effectively shut down the Crew and limit their chances all season. John Carver is a savvy manager and TFC has an excellent shot with the talent upgrade and experience they have acquired to win MLS Cup.
  • The 0-0 draw was flaterring to Columbus who were totally outclassed at BMO Field and may have been exposed in this match for an over reliance on counter attacking.
  • The number of scoring chances created by the Red Bulls was not only impressive: it was further proof of how much more tactically savvy Juan Carlos Osorio is than your average MLS manager. Even more impressive was Danleigh Borman the revelation of the MLS season thus far scoring another great goal this time playing on the left side. Wide play is critical in MLS, and imagine how good New York is going to be when they get on their own regulation size grass pitch with Borman and Dane Richards on the flanks. That will be a scary sight for the rest of MLS.
  • Throw in Dave Van Den Bergh attacking down the left side from a defensive position and you have class and quality something sorely lacking in many MLS sides.
  • For all the pre-season love and hype Kansas City is simply not good enough to compete in the Eastern Conference.
  • Is anybody calling for Fernando Clavijo to be sacked now? The Rapids have gelled amazingly well and players from the clubs reserve side continue to make a weekly impact for the senior club. Omar Cummings is an impressive player and is a great poster child for the success of the MLS Reserve League.
  • The Dynamo are back. It doesn’t look pretty or efficient but the club is once again grinding through games and getting results. As always the San Jose/Houston franchise is likely to peak when it matters the most.
  • New England continues to be for me the most likely team to win MLS Cup. Other teams that as of this writing have a good shot are Toronto FC, Columbus, Chicago, Houston and the Red Bulls.
  • Edson Buddle where have you been? Seriously, what is it about FC Dallas that brings out the best is maligned Galaxy strikers? Oh yeah we discussed that above.
  • The Galaxy are creating so many chances that when Carlos Ruiz returns one of two things could happen: 1- The team will explode and win the Western Conference. 2- Chemistry issues will develop culminating with Ruiz blowing up and the team imploding. Things are going too well for the Galaxy right now, a team I thought quite frankly would be where DC is currently, for them to risk the integration of Ruiz into the team. I would honestly see if he can be loaned to a Guatemalan club for the duration of the season. Much like Amado Guevara he could come back to MLS next year with another club but it would serve the Galaxy to dump his salary thus freeing up cap space and to head off any potential problems before they kick off.