The MLS scriptwriters hit a dry patch last week, when scoring dipped to 1.56 goals per game and half the matches ended in ties. But they came roaring back to life this week, flooding the games with drama, new plotlines and, best of all, more goals.
There were stunning stoppage-time equalizers in Toronto and San Jose, a belated first win for Seattle and the end of Kansas City’s shutout streak at 545 minutes. There were more struggles in D.C. and more excellence in Dallas. Jack McInerney and Landon Donovan both broke out, while Dan Kennedy and Nick Rimando put on a goalkeeping show in Utah, where Chivas USA’s coach took on Javier Morales, Jason Kreis and, via Twitter, the entire state.
Yes, it was a lively week, and it teed up multiple questions for the near future.
Here are three:
Should Juninho be an off-the-bench player in New York?
The New York Red Bulls kicked off the week with a measuring-stick game against MLS Cup contenders Sporting Kansas City last Wednesday night, and they came up a bit short.
The visitors looked much more cohesive than the hosts and they frustrated New York at every turn, leaving Red Bull Arena with the full three points after a 1-0 win.
The Red Bulls central midfield combination of Juninho and Dax McCarty looked disjointed on several occasions, failing to connect passes as one zigged while the other zagged, so to speak, and both players let their frustration boil over late in the game.
McCarty turned a talking-to from referee Allen Chapman into a yellow card by first ignoring then angrily waving off the official in the 81st minute. Juninho saw a straight red for rifling the ball at Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen before a goal kick in stoppage time.
Three days later, with New England visiting Red Bull Arena and Juninho out suspended, New York came out looking HD-sharp, connecting crisp passes through midfield and into the attacking third. They bagged two goals inside the first 10 minutes and blew the game open late with two more in the final 10 minutes.
GOAL: McCarty finds the corner from distance
McCarty and Tim Cahill started in central midfield and linked up for the opening goal just four minutes into the game. They were more connected and more tenacious than the McCarty-Juninho partnership, and they helped New York dictate the pace of the game.
Granted, New England are not the Eastern Conference power that Sporting Kansas City are and they don’t play SKC’s disruptive, high-pressing style, but they had conceded only two goals in five games heading into the match which ended up as undoubtedly a breakout performance for New York.
It’s also one that should relegate the 38-year-old Juninho to the New York bench. He’s loaded with skill and experience, but he’s looked off the pace on occasion this year, and he’d probably be more useful for New York coming in late, with fresh legs and his vaunted ability on set pieces.
The group that started against New England produced the team’s best effort of the season, and deserves to be kept intact.
Will Landon Donovan get a USMNT call-up next month?
The US don’t resume World Cup qualifying until June 7, when they take on Jamaica in Kingston ahead of home matches against Panama (June 11) and Honduras (June 18).
To prepare for that pivotal stretch, they’ll play a couple marquee friendlies, taking on a hyper-talented Belgian team in Cleveland on May 29 and then facing Jurgen Klinsmann’s native Germany on June 2 in D.C.
Klinsmann will hold a training camp before those games, and after Donovan’s display on Saturday night against Kansas City, it’s not hard to imagine the US’ all-time leading scorer getting the call. Looking a lot like his old self, Donovan set up LA’s first goal and scored their second in a 2-0 win.
He also sent Robbie Keane in alone on goal with a perfectly weighted through ball, and generally showed that his four-month walkabout did what he said it would – that is, relax him and recharged his game.
Donovan has another month of MLS play to round into form, and he looks well on his way. Would Klinsmann disregard an in-form Donovan for that early-summer gauntlet? We wouldn’t bet on it.
What’s wrong in DC?
While the early success of Western Conference leaders FC Dallas (6-1-1) comes as a mild surprise – they missed the 2012 playoffs and parted ways with several key players, including Kevin Hartman and Brek Shea – the early struggles of D.C. United are even more unexpected.
They’ve done the opposite instead, having lost four games in a row and three straight at home, including Sunday night’s 3-2 defeat to Philadelphia, in which the Union’s 20-year-old striker Jack McInerney bagged two goals.
In desperate need of a win – and playing at home in front of the RFK faithful – the Black and Red came out flat and surrendered two goals in the first 11 minutes.
That was the low point, but the troubles started before the regular season, when team leader and 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario was slapped with a suspension for an altercation in a preseason match against the Union. He missed the first two regular-season games, and then he picked up a knock, missing parts of two more. DeRo has only played in four of D.C.’s games, starting three, and he has one assist and zero goals.
Chris Pontius, D.C.’s other main cog on offense, has sputtered even more: he has just one assist and zero goals in seven games.
Combine the drop in production from their two biggest stars with injuries to midfielders Nick DeLeon, John Thorrington and Lewis Neal, and it’s not hard to understand United’s dismal start to the season.
What is hard to understand is the complacency the team showed immediately after kickoff at RFK on Sunday.
That’s a problem the young coach needs to fix before it’s too late – for him, and for D.C.’s season.