Armchair Analyst: How Real Salt Lake continue to think their way to the top
This is coming in late today because of the holiday. And by "holiday" I don't mean Easter, I mean the end of Manchester United's 19-year run of Champions League soccer.
I honestly have no rooting interest in the EPL, but I cheer hard for schadenfreude. And I've known too many Man. United fans (none from Manchester!) who, after a beer or five, love to lecture me about what a sacred duty it is to support such a storied, classy, winning, important club.
I wonder how many of them will be Liverpool fans this time next month.
On to the world of MLS:
1. Everybody is seeing red
By and large, I was OK with the vast majority of reds I saw this weekend. But there sure were a lot.
• Marky Delgado's was a bit harsh, but if you're in the middle of a chippy game and you come in late while leaving your foot in, you're playing with fire. I'll shed no tears for him after Chivas TBD's 2-1 loss to Seattle.
— Andrew King (@AndrewKingMLS) April 20, 2014
Columbus still managed to come back and snatch a point in their 1-1 home draw vs. D.C. United.
• Adam Jahn's got a legit gripe – most legit of the weekend. He went in on a hard, shoulder-to-shoulder challenge and ended up catching Jarred Watts in the chin. It was rough but not malicious, and I'd hesitate to call it reckless. It was also the most interesting moment of a wet and gray scoreless draw between the Earthquakes and Rapids.
• Kevin Alston, no doubt about it. And seeing as it saved the New England Revolution a point in their 1-1 draw at Chicago, it was absolutely worth it. I do wish NBCSN had given us a better, slow-mo replay however.
• Quincy Amarikwa had a hell of a game, only an assist from the Gordie Howe hat trick. He got his money's worth with this second yellow – another no doubter – though he may have had a gripe on his first.
Houston have a gripe, though: If you're going to card Sarkodie for that, then you have to hand out cards to other players for time-wasting. Guys who stand over free kicks, 'keepers who take too long to put the ball back into play, and, of course, the Thierry Henry-style "this is gonna take forever" shuffle off the field after being subbed.
And you know what I’d adore? More yellow cards for persistent infringement. As good as Carlos Alvarez was for Chivas, he shouldn’t have finished that game. And there are other guys in the league who make a living with those niggling little fouls that sort of straddle the line between “professional foul” and “hey, it just happened, no harm intended!”
MLS refs almost always take the second route and hesitate to give the PI yellow, which is a shame.
As always, check for Simon Borg's "Instant Replay" on Monday afternoon. He goes over this stuff with a fine-toothed comb, and this is going to be a heavy week.
2. RSL know just how to exploit you
Real Salt Lake are the league's last unbeaten team, but they've hardly been playing great. They've consistently allowed teams to get in behind them, which is a big no-no for a defensive unit that uniformly lacks footspeed. They've also been sort of gummed up through the middle since Joao Plata went down with an injury last month. And worst of all, they've been uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball at midfield.
They beat Portland 1-0 this weekend, yet for about the fourth time already this season, their goalkeeper was their best player. (This time it was Nick Rimando, who had one of those "Is he a human being or an alien?" games; backup Jeff Attinella has been nearly as good when called upon this year.)
Despite all that, and perhaps in spite of the pundits who thought RSL would curl up and die once Jason Kreis left, they are, as I mentioned, undefeated. And with the return from injury of Plata and Sebastian Velasquez, both of whom made second-half appearances in this weekend's 1-0 win over Portland, they are, once again, dynamic going forward.
OK, you're back. Here's my point: Even when they're not clicking, they find a soft spot and go at it.
This is a GIF of Chris Wingert pushing up in the 73rd minute:
This is a screencap of Ned Grabavoy scoring the game's only goal:
It's not just that simple as there are always a lot of moving parts in soccer. But you can see on the first play that Diego Chara – who must be hurt – can't keep up with Wingert, and that Futty Danso isn't quick to pressure, while Darlington Nagbe trails the play.
Five minutes later, it's just about the same thing, and it ends up in largely the same spot. Only this time it's a goal instead of a key pass.
Even when they're not great, RSL's smart.
3. Have Sporting finally found their goalscorer?
Dom Dwyer has pretty consistently gotten into good spots for Sporting KC, and no other forward in the league does as much in terms of pressuring the ball as he does. But he's struggled to put the final touch on most good builds, and was dead center in a run of nearly 11 hours without a run-of-play goal from SKC center forwards, a streak that ended a few weeks back.
Now it seems the dam may have burst. Dwyer got a pair of goals this weekend, and both were real predator's goals. His first was particularly nice, as he snuck past two Montreal defenders to one-touch home across his body in Sporting's 4-0 annihilation of Montreal.
The temptation will be to say "It's just the Impact," but all streaks have to start somewhere. And that will be bad news for the rest of the league, since Sporting's struggles in the 18 have been the only thing preventing them from becoming a juggernaut.
A few more points to make...
7. Sigi Schmid has to have silenced some doubters. He's gone toe-to-toe with Caleb Porter, Oscar Pareja and Wilmer Cabrera on the road over the span of three weeks, and his Sounders have walked away with seven points. And he's not just rolling the ball out there – adjustments to get DeAndre Yedlin further upfield, and to make sure Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are close enough to work together have been crucial.
5. Portland are struggling, but I'm giving it one more week before it's time to mash the panic button. In the meantime, Timbers fans should get used to seeing Michael Nanchoff. I'll bet he plays a bigger role going forward, win or lose.
2. There were a lot of contenders for my Pass of the Week, but the winner is Wil Trapp. When we decide we need to write an article on how good a pass was, the voting closes.
1. Harrison Shipp is starting to run away with the Rookie of the Year race. His through-ball on the goal was perfectly weighted, and he's proved to be aggressive and elusive when cutting into the area from out wide either with or without the ball. Plus he's the best crosser in MLS right now.