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Smorgasborg

11 March 8:27 de la tarde

Missed the weekend action? Couldn't watch all the matches? Get your fill with a weekend edition of the Smorgasborg:

CANADIAN SWEEP: It was one of the main themes of the weekend as Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto all won. But is it just a coincidence that the three Canadian teams have won all of their matches thus far in 2013 (except for Toronto, who lost to fellow Canadian side Vancouver on opening weekend)?

Here's an attempt at an explanation: One common thread that runs through all three teams is that they feature an above-average number of starters with experience playing outside the US and Canada. This past weekend, Vancouver fielded an MLS-high nine of 10 starting field players who have spent time abroad while Toronto and Montreal are right behind with eight of 10 starting field players. The league average for players with overseas seasoning in a single MLS starting lineup: 5.

COOL MOVE: Jay DeMerit, the Vancouver Whitecaps captain who suffered an Achilles injury last week, led his team out of the tunnel on against the Columbus Crew. On crutches.

LINEUP QUESTION: A second look at Colorado Rapids midfielder Kevin Harbottle doesn't convince me that he brings more to the table wide left than second-year player Tony Cascio. This Colorado team, which has played well over 180 minutes, needs a player who can knife through a defense, cause havoc and especially shoot on goal. Harbottle has a single shot (none on frame) in two matches.

KEY INJURIES: Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni pulled up lame after nine minutes with a left hamstring strain. Eddie Gaven apparently rolled his ankle in Crew training and wasn't on the squad. D.C.'s John Thorrington is getting an MRI on his knee and Fire manager Frank Klopas revealed that Chris Rolfe has a muscle issue that is affecting his knee.

GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: It's the point of view that only a former player can share. After Mastroeni left the match, Altitude color analyst and US soccer legend Marcelo Balboa: "Been there, done that. You start digging your hand in right underneath the glute where the hamstring attaches becuase you just want to see if it's tight." His best line came five minutes later when he impressed upon viewers the need for players to stick to their assignment when asked to guard the post on a corner kick: "You do not leave the post. ... I'm going to go back to my Top Gun. Don't leave your wingman."

DEFENSIVE GAFFES: These three defenders may very well be in the running for Defender of the Year by the time the season ends, but the Crew's Gláuber (Kenny Miller's goal), FC Dallas center back George John (Oswaldo Minda's strike) and Sporting's Matt Besler (Robert Earnshaw's first) all had plays that could be in the running for Gaffe of the Year this weekend.

GOALKEEPER FOLLIES: The defenders are not the only ones who should be put under the microscope. Goalkeepers have had their share of mishaps. One week after an error by backup 'keeper Steward Ceus cost the Rapids big time, first-string 'keeper Matt Pickens made a killer error of his own on the Union's first goal. Crew netminder Andy Gruenebaum was caught way off his line on the Goal of the Week candidate from Daigo Kobayashi. And Philadelphia's Zac MacMath probably should have reacted better to Jamie Smith's equalizer in Colorado.

BOSTOCK RISING: After his showing against Sporting Kansas City, some will be wondering what the San Jose Earthquakes were thinking not signing Englishman John Bostock when they had him in camp earlier this preseason, especially given the Quakes' relationship with Tottenham Hotspur. Toronto were most dangerous on Saturday when Bostock was creating on the right flank.

WHAT'S HAPPENING TO SKC?: After two seasons finishing tops in the Eastern Conference, has a bit of complacency snuck in at Sporting KC? How else to explain the opening first half in Philadelphia (Week 1) and then in Toronto (Week 2)? Road fatigue could also be cited as one factor or perhaps the new players inserted in the lineup have taken that edge off a team that was known for its bite, pressure and harassing of opponents.

REMEMBER ME?: In just two games, Sporting Kansas City Designated Player Claudio Bieler has shown why he's DP quality: two shots on goals and two goals to show for them. The truth is that Bieler has been fairly invisible in both of Sporting's matches. In fact, after the halftime break he only had four passes and a throw-in to his name before his 77th-minute goal and that's when Sporting's pressure was its greatest.

Although his continuing adaptation to MLS may be at play, we may eventually figre out that he's a forward who needs another attacker playing closer to him. Perhaps in a 4-4-2? His goal vs. Toronto where he connected with C.J. Sapong on a flick header looked to be a very natural movement for him.

HEARD ON THE FIELD: We got a glimpse at some of the communication challenges that Chivas USA may be facing as goalkeeper Dan Kennedy set up his wall and attempted to grab the attention of teammate Tristan Bowen. Check the MLS LIVE broadcast at minute 21:07. "Tristan! Tristan! Right. … Not you! Tristan!"

OLD MAN JOEL: Match broadcasts are a wealth of information. From the NBC Sports Network broadcast, you learned that Joel Lindpere's girlfriend thinks "he runs like an old man" and he admits it (it's the truth). But even more entertaining is the nugget that the Chicago midfielder never leaves home without his trusted tennis ball which he "takes everywhere he goes just to roll on his back." We need some more information about that one.

CREAM RISES: Big, bad San Jose defender Víctor Bernárdez is a fan of Vick's vapor rub. It's that mentholatum cream that some players wear on their jersey to help their breathing. But did the Boss need an entire jar vs. Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls?

NOT GOAL OF THE WEEK: The prize goes to Chivas USA's Miller Bolaños in the 49th minute against FC Dallas. It's one of the weakest attempts you'll see at goal on a 1-v-1.

THE REAL PLAYER OF THE WEEK: The media voted for the guy who got two goals. But Robert Earnshaw's match for Toronto doesn't stand next to Kenny Miller's performance for Vancouver. He was the impact player of the week with his runs, his passing and his chasing. The 'Caps captain was buzzing. And it's perhaps time for those of us who criticized him after his dismal 2012 to eat our words.

MR. UNDERRATED: While Miller will get his due over the course of 2013, Montreal left back Jeb Brovsky may be one of the most underrated players in MLS. He plays his position effectively with excellent technique, stamina and passing. He should be getting plenty more plaudits than merely for his humanitarian efforts.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Tip of the cap to the Vancouver Whitecaps who put on a show for their fans in their win against the Columbus Crew. The one criticism: They made life extra hard on themselves by conceding an inordinate number of free kicks to ever-dangerous Crew playmaker Federico Higuaín.

WHO KNEW MLS HAD ITS OWN BATMAN: The UniMas broadcast crew taught us that Chivas USA defender Joaquín Velásquez is nicknamed "Murciélago," which translates to "bat" in English.

FIT TO BE UNTIED: Of the 17 matches played in MLS after two weekends, there has been just one draw: the 3-3 tie between Portland and New York.

RED ALERT: Also worth noting that there's not been a single red card shown by MLS referees after 17 league matches.

CHALK TALK: In addition to another memorable press conference, Chivas USA manager Chelís was caught by TV cameras during the match vs. FC Dallas having a passionate discussion with some fans near the bench (84:52) … during the match. Dallas broadcaster Brian Dunseth, who was on-site, says it was a prolonged discussion. Can the fan on the other side of the conversation please step up?

THE DAY PIGS FLEW: Elias' Peter Hirdt confirms that the last time Chivas USA and Toronto FC won on the same weekend was July 18, 2012, which is also the last time Toronto FC won a match. And while New England won their first MLS regular-season match at Toyota Park since July 8, 2006, RSL still can't win in D.C. (eight matches and counting).

OOPS: Both TSN and the KCWE broadcasts missed the Bieler goal. And the second half of Vancouver vs. Columbus kicked off before Sportsnet got back on the air.

RATED R: That rating is for Colorado vs. Philadelphia, specifically at 27:14 when the Union's Amobi Okugo lets Colorado's DeShorn Brown know that he thinks he took a dive: "Get the **** up. Stop doing that ****!"

TIFO TIME: The Section 8 supporters in Chicago take the cake for the best tifo of the weekend with the Phoenix rising thematic – "Chicago will rise above them all." Too bad there was no rising by the Fire on Saturday night.

MIXING AND MATCHING: Chicago's Frank Klopas is trying his best to get those Section 8 fans a goal. There was more shuffling of his forward line on Saturday to see which partnership works best. Here's what we've seen over 180 minutes: Chris Rolfe-Sherjill MacDonald (68 minutes), Chris Rolfe-Maicon Santos (87 minutes), Alex-Maicon Santos (25 minutes) and Alex-Chris Rolfe-Maicon Santos (33 minutes). Still no goals, however.

COMBINATION SENSATION: If you didn't catch the Chicago vs. New England match, it's worth the effort to get on MLS LIVE and watch the six-pass sequence put together by the New England Revolution at 55:40 in the second half. The quick combination play featuring Andrew Farrell, Juan Toja, Kellyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen resulted in a corner kick. Welcome to Revolution soccer in 2013.

JAPANESE TRADITION: MLS has featured Japanese players in the past, but Vancouver's Daigo Kobayashi is the first we've seen offer up a ceremonial bow as he came off for a 77th-minute substitution. When he reached the touchline, he turned back around facing the field and gave a subtle bow, a sign of appreciation and sportsmanship toward fans, officials and the opponent.

DOES RYAN JOHNSON NEED HELP UP TOP IN PORTLAND?: We were enthralled by the quick passing combinations of the Nagbe-Valeri-Alhassan trident in midfield during the Timbers' opener against the New York Red Bulls. But as skillful as they are, can the Timbers afford to play with all three in the 4-2-3-1 at the expense of giving Ryan Johnson more help up top? The Timbers will not be able to pass their way through everyone every weekend.

HEAD OVER HEELS: The "shimmy" seemed to be the most popular goal celebration this weekend (see the ones by FC Dallas and the New England Revolution), but the Robert Earnshaw front flip was on full show. How long before Ryan Nelsen hears the Fabián Espíndola back flip injury in 2008 and asks Earnshaw to retire the celebration?

05 February 7:59 de la tarde

All you have to do is look at the transfer market in case you didn't already know it: The most valuable asset in the sport of soccer is the goal.

And yet in American soccer these days, we have a habit of dismissing our goalscorers as if they were utility journeymen.

We start with Kenny Cooper, who has scored 18 goals TWICE in his MLS career. Yet he's on his third MLS club in three years.

Chris Wondolowski has led MLS in scoring for three seasons and yet he can't make the USMNT's World Cup qualifying team.

Jozy Altidore is having the best season of any American forward to ever play overseas, but it earns him a smack-down with the USMNT for his lack of goals in red, white and-blue (let's glance over the fact that the USMNT continues to struggle to create enough chances).

Fredy Montero had four straight double-digit scoring seasons in MLS, and yet somehow that wore out his welcome in Seattle.

What are we left to conclude? Either American soccer hasn't yet learned to truly value soccer's hard currency or we're witnessing a massive shift in what is truly being expected of the modern forward: athleticism (Montero didn't have it), speed (not Wondo's strength), hard work (Altidore has apparently not done enough of it) and smash-mouth play (Cooper has earned reputation of being a soft "finesse" player) are apparently more important than how many goals you can bag.

Gone are the days when the team worked to service its top scorer. Instead, the forward has been asked to become a servant of his team.

Welcome to today's reality. In every walk of life employees are being asked to multitask. Whatever the industry, if you want to stay relevant, you better know how to do it all. One-trick ponies — no matter how valuable the trick — need no longer apply.

03 January 9:31 de la tarde

Fredy Montero maybe never knew it or others purged it out of him: But like it or not, no matter what the formation may show on any given matchday, Montero is an old-school No. 10.

A No. 10 as in a supremely skilled, game-breaker. They may not be the fastest, the tallest or the strongest, but they're capable of that stroke of genius that other players can only dream about.

No. 10s are hot and cold. They're often enigmatic and maddening. They need freedom because they don't fit a specific mold. They can't be judged by the same measure as other players. They're different.

Well, since Montero was counted on for goals (he did score double-digit goals in each of his four seasons), we could instead use the "No. 9.5" label that Michel Platini once coined for Italian Roberto Baggio: the No. 10 who also finds the back of the net.

Whichever label fits him best, it's no secret that tweeners like Montero are dying a slow death in modern soccer, which is increasingly based on athleticism and production. The sport has very little patience any more for the artisans, whose production may not always be reliable or punctual, but whose craft is inimitable.

If Montero's return to Colombia does materialize, MLS will have lost one of its artisans -- the author of some of the best goals in league history. True gems. But these days the Sounders are not interested in art and pretty pictures. They want goals. Goals that win them trophies.

Montero's exit, if it happens, would follow that of No. 10's Sebastián Grazzini (Chicago Fire) and Davide Chiumiento (Vancouver Whitecaps), who departed during the 2012 season. Toronto FC also sent attacking catalyst Joao Plata back to Ecuador in midseason.

Meanwhile, as creative types like Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union) and Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers) suffer through existential crises (where and how do they fit in MLS?), there have been rumors of another potential return to Colombia for FC Dallas playmaker David Ferreira.

Real Salt Lake are desperately trying to cling to their No. 10 Javier Morales and the New York Red Bulls looked far and wide before landing 37-year-old Brazilian Juninho Pernambucano.

Who's left out there? Columbus have their fingers crossed that a healthy Federico Higuaín can regain his form, while Colorado hope Martín Rivero can actually find his.

Before we get too alarmed, what we may very well be witnessing could just be a transition phase in MLS. A changing of the guard. The slighter, softer Montero's making way for a new breed of modern gamebreakers who are built stronger (see Sporting's Graham Zusi), bigger (see Toronto's Luis Silva), tougher (see Philly's Michael Farfan) and show up every game.

But finding another Farfan is easier said than done. Good luck, Seattle.

08 September 7:45 de la mañana

We’ve seen plenty of CONCACAF matches just like that USMNT loss in Jamaica on Friday night: physical, scrappy, disjointed rough-and-tumble affairs.

And those are the games where you need the magical play. Those are the scrums where you need the player who can stand out and make something out of nothing.

Right now the US doesn’t have that go-to guy. Especially when Landon Donovan is not on the field (he’s missing out on the Jamaica home-and-home due to a hamstring injury). Donnie Moore's phonebook-tearing techniques can only take you so far.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT was exposed in Kingston for what it really is: a collection of solid role players who ply their trade in Europe and Mexico. Good overall pros who are not even the undisputed stars of their own club teams. Each does some things better than others, but there’s not one field player who excels at a single facet of the game. No one without gloves who can decide a match with a dominant skill.

Who’s the expert dribbler on the team? Who’s the explosive speedster who can at least draw a foul when he can’t run by someone? Who’s the master free-kick taker? Who’s the head-ball specialist feared by opposing defenders? A passing maestro anyone? How about a pinpoint crosser of the ball?

The USMNT needed someone to pull a rabbit out of a hat against Jamaica becase the team game just wasn’t there. The passing and the movement were not synced up. It wasn’t happening. And they had no one to turn to. The man in which the USA usually confides in moments of despair was watching from home. 

Maybe we have taken him for granted. Maybe we thought the golden boy would always be a boy. But injuries are slowly eating away at Landon Donovan’s career. The passing of the years have eroded his exuberant presence on the field. Even Donovan has hinted at it: A future without LD is closer than you think.

Despite their glaring deficiency, the USMNT and Klinsmann will keep on truckin'. Their heart and optimism, courage and fight, is praised around the world. They’ll show that never-say-die spirit even when the scoreline is unforgiving (see Brazil). They’ll punch above their weight sometimes and gut out a win (see Italy). They’ll hammer the inferior teams (see Scotland).

But all the other stuff in the middle – those evenly matched mucks – will continue to produce results like Kingston, Jamaica every so often. It’s just the reality when you don’t have the one player who can tip the balance of a match.

However, that sold-out Columbus Crew Stadium crowd on Tuesday – that might just be enough to take the stars-and-stripes over the top in the scrappy rematch that ensues. More importantly, home field could be enough to sway a key referee call or even win a penalty kick that decides the match.

All is not lost. Even without a superstar.

03 August 7:06 de la tarde

A wink. A smile. And an uncontrollable giggle to boot.

That, my friends, is what I call flirting. And Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was the guilty party.

Trust me, this isn't one of those dismissive, formulaic one-liners that we're used to hearing from world stars when speaking of MLS. This, my friends, was an unprompted expression of real interest from Cristiano and there's genuine love in his voice for the USA.

You're going to have to see it for yourself:

01 August 2:16 de la tarde

How often do you see a soccer player stick with one team for a decade? Anywhere?

New England's Shalrie Joseph is one of the few standard-bearers left in the league. You think Revs, you think Shalrie and the dreads.

So should the Revs retire his number? Should they retire it while he's still active? Should they give it to other players to wear?

Vote here.

12 July 11:46 de la mañana

There's no other way to put it.

Darren Mattocks posterized Logan Emory on Wednesday night like we've rarely ever seen in a professional soccer match (WATCH IT HERE).

It evoked memories of some of the greatest moments where men serve as mere hurdles on the path to a catch, dunk or in yesterday's case -- a header. Which one did you like best?

(Photos courtesy: Reuters, Getty Images and AP)

MLS: Darren Mattocks over Logan Emory

OLYMPICS: Vince Carter over Frederic Weis

NFL: Jerome Simpson over Daryl Washington

NBA: LeBron James over John Lucas

AFL: Andrew Walker over Jake Carlisle

02 July 12:12 de la tarde

Three major titles in a span of five years.

Everyone is focused on what Spain has accomplished. But on the day after La Roja outclassed Italy in Kiev in the Euro 2012 final, there is also a distinct feeling that Spain could have done more.

No, 4-0 was plenty when it comes to the scoreline. But at 2-0 up, with the match well in hand, Spain really had a chance to transcend.

Italy had raised the white flag with 30 minutes to go. When midfielder Thiago Motta hobbled off the pitch, so too did any real Italian hopes of vanquishing the world champs. He was Italy's last sub and he was done. Italy were down to 10 men the rest of the way.

At that point the mighty Spaniards could have made the ultimate fair play gesture and voluntarily removed a player to even the field at 10-vs.-10.

Whether it was the recently introduced Pedro or even Cesc Fabregas, it wouldn't have mattered with a smattering of minutes left. They would still have won the game and they would have transcended like no team has since the 1970s Brazil side for a simple act of fair play.

They didn't. Instead they chose to keep pouring it on, bringing on two fresh subs who rounded out the score. It was akin to kicking at the cast of a person with a broken leg who just lost a crutch.

But there was one player in red who did opt for Fair Play this weekend.

In the first half of Toronto FC's 1-1 tie with the New York Red Bulls, Reggie Lambe could have easily hit the deck after he was tugged by New York defender Wilman Conde — it would have meant a red card ejection for Conde. Instead, the Bermudan international chose to stay on his feet. And people took notice. (Watch it here).

“[Lambe] is a young player and a very honest player,” TFC manager Paul Mariner said afterward. “Some players in the world would go down. If you want to be candid then we would have been playing 10 men then. In our position that would have been nice, but my hat goes off to him.”

Too bad we couldn't say the same for Spain.

27 June 8:30 de la tarde

Some MLS clubs spend years searching long, far and wide in the hope they finally find one. And even then, it's no sure thing.

Just scan the league. How many foreign No. 10 playmakers are out there? How many are panning out? 

And yet here we are with a few days remaining until Sebastián Grazzini's contract option is up with the Chicago Fire and the club still hasn't taken a definitive stance on whether they're bringing him back.

Little do the Fire know that they actually hit the jackpot. They have on their hands a left-footed, creative genius, in many ways reminiscent of D.C. United legend Marco Etcheverry, capable of great passes and great goals who has proven a great fit in MLS and with the Fire since the very first day.

If we're going to be picky, Grazzini's problem is that he landed in MLS a year or two late. His age (31) and his lack of name recognition hurt his cause. In fact, if Grazzini disappeared from the league, it's possible few would even take notice. He's only featured in 25 total MLS matches with little national exposure.

But even with all that, Grazzini is a keeper.

We don't know the details of his fitness levels and we don't understand what personality quirks there might exist with the Argentine. But no one can dispute his productivity. Seven goals and nine assists in 25 matches (across two seasons) would make for an All-Star season for most players. His five assists in 2012 are already better than Brad Davis and equal to maestro David Beckham.

What makes the Grazzini situation bizarre is that Chicago's playing style actually depends on having a real No. 10, who can maneuver down the middle of the field. Dominic Oduro needs Grazzini's service. Patrick Nyarko benefits from his vision.

The Fire were never the same after Cuauhtémoc Blanco left and it will be deja-vu all over again if they don't bring Grazzini back.

06 June 6:50 de la tarde

Manchester United.

That’s the match – back in July 2010 – that many MLS observers still hang on to when it comes to reminding themselves of the promise of former Philadelphia Union striker Danny Mwanga.

But the magical days in a Union shirt for the former No. 1 SuperDraft pick have been few and far between in the last two seasons.

Mwanga’s last goal for Philadelphia in MLS play? It came nearly a year ago (June 25, 2011).

The 20-year-old has been on the field for 61 league matches over three seasons and found the back of the net in just 11 of those games.

One reason for the limited production is injuries. Plenty of them. Rarely will you find a third-year player who has missed matches due to the same variety of injuries: hip, right knee, groin, hamstring, shoulder and a case of sore ribs after falling on them in practice earlier this season.  

If Mwanga’s durability to withstand the physical rigors of MLS is a concern, his lack of production without Sebastien Le Toux is downright alarming. Of his 12 goals in his MLS career, nine came off assists from Le Toux. The other three were unassisted.

In MLS you have to be tough and you have to be ready to adjust to any situation and any player. That’s why the Union are better off with the experienced Jorge Perlaza.

The Timbers highlighted Perlaza's speed when they acquired him at the start of last season and we’ve seen signs of how much of a factor it can be. But not in the goal-scoring department. Six goals in 32 starts – none this year – is nothing to write home about.

However, put Perlaza’s production into perspective: The Timbers are a team that don’t score many goals in general, whether Perlaza is there or not. In fact, only three teams have scored fewer goals than the Timbers this year. It was the exact same story at the end of last year.

Does Mwanga have more upside? Sure. He also brings good hold-up ability and the potential to playmake and create his own opportunities. But that’s also what Darlington Nagbe was expected to bring at the second forward position.

Mwanga’s integration into Portland’s system and his impact on Nagbe’s position will be fascinating to watch. It may not prove as seamless, however, as Perlaza who has the traits to be the perfect partner for hard-working compatriot Lionard Pajoy in the Union attack.