Monday Postgame: A closer look at the three most controversial topics from MLS Week 27

Monday Postgame (Week 27) IMAGE

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When was the last time you saw two bicycle-kick goals in one week in the same league?

If you were watching MLS Week 27, you witnessed that rare double this weekend, as Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales (WATCH IT HERE) and Chivas USA striker Erick “El Cubo” Torres (WATCH IT HERE) both found the net with legitimate bikes on Friday and Sunday, respectively.

The week was full of bold moves like those, some of which went over better than others. In LA, Robbie Keane made (yet another) strong statement for his MVP candidacy, setting up Landon Donovan’s opener, then bagging two goals of his own in LA’s 3-0 blanking of playoff-bubble team San Jose.

In Utah, Real Salt Lake uncorked their second straight four-goal game, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on Portland then cruising to a 4-2 win after the Timbers lost Diego Valeri to a groin strain and Ben Zemanski to a red card.

In New York, Mike Petke shocked Red Bulls supporters by benching his team’s superstar for a home date with archrival DC United, while in Columbus, Sounders striker Eddie Johnson polarized fans with a pointed post-goal celebration.

Let’s look at both sides of those last three talking points—Zemanski, Petke, and Johnson—and hammer out a verdict for all three.

First stop, Columbus:

EJ CHANNELS ROD TIDWELL

The Move: After heading home the lone goal in Seattle’s big, shorthanded road win over Columbus on Saturday night, Eddie Johnson stiff-armed his teammates (including Mauro Rosales, who set up the goal), then rubbed his fingers together in the universal symbol for cash, looked up toward the Crew Stadium luxury suites, and repeatedly mouthed the words “pay me.”

Pro: If you like audacious goal celebrations, this one was for you. Ditto if you’re a USMNT or Seattle fan who believes EJ plays best with a chip on his shoulder. Also, if Johnson wants to back his point for a raise, he can do it with statistics: He led Seattle with a club-record 14 goals last season, and is tied for the team lead this year with seven strikes in 16 games.

Con: His timing left a lot to be desired. There are plenty of opportunities to open contract talks with your club, and pretty much none of them occur on the field, during an important game. Additionally, Seattle just signed EJ’s good friend Clint Dempsey to a landmark salary, months after inking Obafemi Martins to a Designated Player contract. Ideally, you’d want your players focused on winning a championship with the new-look roster, not raising their personal financial concerns publicly and creating a potential distraction to that title chase.

Verdict: Considering the above, and adding the fact that Seattle gave Johnson “a second chance” to “resurrect” his career in 2012, as he himself said, EJ’s Jerry Maguire moment was a little premature and a lot out of place.

COACH'S CALL

The Move: When RBNY coach Mike Petke listed his starting lineup for the Red Bulls’ Atlantic Cup clash with DC United on Saturday night, many observers were shocked to see Thierry Henry’s name missing. The decision came two days after Henry had reportedly clashed with his coach in a training session—an exchange so heated the two men had to be separated by players and Red Bulls staffers.

Pro: Petke is only one year older—and much less accomplished in the game—than Henry, but he is the coach and leader of the team, and this move reestablished both of those facts in the wake of the training ground dust-up. The benching sent a message that no player is bigger than the team.

Con: This may have been a calculated gamble—DC United has the worst record in the league, after all—but it was still a gamble, and one that could have backfired. What if DC—New York’s biggest rival, regardless of the teams’ records in a given year—had won the game, which the Red Bulls desperately needed for the playoff chase? How would Petke’s move have looked then?

Verdict: If the Red Bulls had doubts about the decision, they didn’t show, as New York came out aggressively and snatched an early goal. They also stuck together after going down to 10 men with 18 minutes remaining and protected their one-goal lead to salt away three points. As for Henry, he came on for an injured Tim Cahill in the 58th minute—and nearly scored the first time the ball came to his feet. Petke’s move paid off.

SEEING RED

The Move: Referee Baldomero Toledo reached for a straight red for Portland midfielder Ben Zemanski after Zemanski’s challenge on RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy in first-half stoppage time of Salt Lake’s eventual 4-2 win. Zemanski’s tackle was initially studs down, and one-footed, but it was late, and he lifted his studs into Grabavoy’s leg on the follow-through. In other words, the red was arguable, but Toledo sent a message that he wouldn’t tolerate dicey challenges.

Pro: The tackle was reckless, the studs came up, and most fans prefer a referee who errs on the side of protecting players over one who lets things go and allows games to get out of hand.

Con: If Zemanski had only seen yellow, there wouldn’t have been much uproar. But the red was a game-changer. The Timbers had pulled a goal back after going down 2-0 early, and their comeback hopes were dashed by the ejection.

Verdict: Toledo’s call could be justified, but the problem concerned other decisions in Week 27, where referees let equal or worse challenges go with lesser or no punishment, creating a sense of inconsistency. Three examples:

  1. Chicago’s Chris Rolfe ending Houston defender Eric Brunner’s day with an extremely dangerous scything tackle from behind (Rolfe received yellow). (WATCH IT HERE)
  2. DC’s Dejan Jakovic injuring New York striker Tim Cahill’s ankle with a desperate lunge in the box on Lloyd Sam's goal (no foul, no booking). (WATCH IT HERE)
  3. Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer lifting his studs into Colorado midfielder Hendry Thomas’s leg—much like Zemanski did to Grabavoy—to keep the ball alive for teammate Benny Feilhaber’s golazo. (no foul, no booking, and the offending team got a goal out of it). (WATCH IT HERE)