>Monday Lunch: Upsets in MLS

Posted: November 8, 2010 in mls
Tags: ,

>By Evan Ream
 
MLS executives have to be happy with this last weekend. Despite the fact that New York (along with Henry and Marquez) were knocked out of the playoffs, there were three excellent series that came down to the last minute as well as one game that, although a blowout, featured some of MLS’ best stars at their best.

 
bobby-conveySan Jose 3 New York 1 (San Jose advances 3-2 on aggregate)
The story here was Bobby Convey. After a terrible season for him and the Earthquakes last year, Convey more than made up for it with his performance Thursday. With two goals and one assist, Convey singlehandedly beat the Red Bulls who were favorites to advance to MLS Cup. Convey was very good, but he shouldn’t be in the discussion to start for USA at left back like many are saying; a closer look at the Juan Pablo Angel goal reveals that Convey was mostly at fault for it. Convey failed to track JPA’s run after he was passed on by a central defender. In the end, it was okay, as Convey is not a defender nor good in the air, so it isn’t a surprise that he was caught ball watching. Another interesting aspect of this game was the play of one Chris Wondolowski. Wondo was essentially invisible for most of the series until he scored on a trademark back post run. Wondo, listed at right midfield, doesn’t actually do a lot of defensive work. Almost every time the ball is on the other side of the field, he makes a strong back post run. Other teams (especially teams that have the terrible Roy Miller at left back) struggle to keep with these runs and are punished as a result. More on this in the SJ-COL preview. New York was pretty bad. Marquez may have been the worst player on the field. Not only was he not keeping possession well, but also he did nothing with his set pieces and let Bobby Convey run right by him for the first Earthquake goal. The only Red Bull that actually had a good game was the excellent Juan Agudelo. Like I said last week, look for big things from him in the future.
 
Columbus 2 Colorado 1 (Colorado advances 2-2 on aggregate, 5-4 on PKs)
This was the only game of the weekend that I did not see and thus I have little analysis. From the highlights that I saw, Columbus looked like they had many chances to put the game out of reach but failed to do so. Omar Cummings came up big once again and the Rapids are now hosting a conference final. This is a game that the Crew could have and should have won. They have no one but themselves to blame; it should have never have even gone to penalties.
 
Frisco, Texas, Pizza Hut Park, January, 06, 09, , Mike StephensFC Dallas 1 Real Salt Lake 1 (FC Dallas advances 3-2 on aggregate)
This was perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the first round. Salt Lake proved that Andy Williams is no Javier Morales in their draw (loss) on Saturday. Salt Lake definitely could have won this game, but they couldn’t stop David Ferreira. Ferreira didn’t score, but he helped set up the first goal and was invaluable in keeping possession late in the game. RSL had a terrible first half and just looked bad in general until Robbie Findley (WHAT????) was introduced. Alvaro Saborio, as good as he had been all season, looked to be carrying an injury and was ineffective the whole game. Fabian Espindola was more effective but suffered from his usual terrible finishing. This game was all about Kevin Hartman though. He showed why he should have been named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Hartman made at least three saves that I’m convinced Dario Sala would not have made. Hartman, who looks to still be slightly injured, played one of the best games I have ever seen a keeper play. Salt Lake will lament their missed chances, but the fact is that Dallas is a better team right now and they proved it over 180 minutes.
 
LA Galaxy 2 Seattle Sounders FC 1 (LA Galaxy advances 3-1 on aggregate)
LA was the only team to win their matchup by more than one goal. They held Seattle scoreless for nearly the whole series until Steve Zakuani hit a consolation goal (and Seattle’s first ever playoff goal) late in the second game. With the score line, it would suggest that LA is a much better team and should be automatic favorites for MLS Cup. I am here to tell you that this is NOT the case. The story of this series was Bruce Arena vs. Sigi Schmid. In their first ever playoff meeting at any level (thanks John Harkes), Schmid was badly outcoached. In the first leg, Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi were completely shut down by LA’s outside backs as well as David Beckham and Landon Donovan, who tracked back on defense a lot. So after such a dominating performance, what did Schmid do? Yes, he left his World Cup veteran and Designated Player Alvaro Fernandez on the bench in favor of the EXACT same tactics that Seattle used the game before. Maybe Schmid thought that because the Home Depot Center is five yards wider than Qwest Field that they would finally see some flank play. I’m not sure what he expected. Although as hindsight is 20/20, Nyassi did nothing the whole time he was out there in both games and Fernandez looked great in limited minutes. The Galaxy are obviously a counter attacking team. They look to score on quick counters and set pieces and, this is exactly what they did. Whenever possible they would bring their strong side outside midfielder (either Beckham or Donovan) back to pressure Seattle’s midfield. The weak side midfielder would push up and look for an early ball out of the back once LA won it. In the end, LA didn’t do much on their counters, but with this strategy, they forced Seattle to go through the middle, which without Brad Evans, they are clearly incapable of doing. Seattle could have used Fernandez, who isn’t a traditional winger, but more of a possession-oriented player who can hurt you with a killer pass and is a good finisher as well. Sadly, Schmid couldn’t figure this out, and that is why their season is over.
 
Predictions:
San Jose 2 Colorado 1
Omar Cummings is playing great, but the Earthquakes under Frank Yallop believe that they can go all the way. The key to this game will be whoever is playing left midfield for the Rapids. Wondolowski will likely line up at right midfield and will be making late runs all day. Anthony Wallace, the left back, is a suspect defender and will be relying on the left mid to help track Wondo. This is one game where I would actually suggest that Wells Thompson be played. Despite his lack of skill, he is the exact type of player that can give Wondo fits and run with him all day. Although it would be ideal to play Brian Mullen out wide, I don’t see Gary Smith doing it. I think that Geovanni has a big game in a San Jose win.
 
LA 2 Dallas 0
Although I said that LA shouldn’t be considered the out and out favorites because of their players, they still should because of their coach. If Bruce Arena can devise a way to shut down Zakuani/Nyassi, I have a feeling that he can devise a plan to shut down Ferreira. I think the key here is A.J. DeLaGarza who is on an excellent run of form. If DeLaGarza can stay with Ferreira and make the game up to the other players on Dallas, I really think LA can take this one. LA could struggle with the team speed of Dallas, but that’s what a lot of people said about them against Seattle and they were obviously fine. Look for Landon, free of his major defensive duties, to have a monster game here.
landon-donovan-i-david-beckham507195

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