This week in Major League Soccer saw the start of a heated rivalry, the league’s two top goal-scorers face off head to head, and several dramatic last minute goals. The quality in MLS continues to grow and this week offered a match-up to prove that it may join the global elite sooner rather than later. Individual talent was also on display as several moments of brilliance by a creative genius in Dallas stunned the MLS Cup champs LA. Amid the individual excellence, we also witnessed a confusing position change cost a top team a win. These are the most interesting things to happen this week:
It was red vs. blue in Harrison New Jersey this weekend. Red Bull Arena was buzzing for the first ever edition of the “Hudson River Derby”. Ever since MLS announced a second New York franchise, Red Bulls fans have had this date circled on their calendars. New York City FC came into the game struggling mightily in their debut season. With one point in their last six games, the club in Man City blue were desperate for a victory to right the ship. It was not to be however as the much more talented and cohesive Red Bulls dominated their New York counterparts. Bradley Wright-Phillips got on the scoresheet just three minutes in, and even a thirty-sixth minute red card to Red Bulls center back Matt Miazga did little to swing the momentum back towards NYCFC. BWP doubled the lead seven minutes after the break on a beautiful counter-attack goal. NYCFC manager Jason Kreis had seen enough and proceeded to take off the team's two most recognizable players in David Villa and Mix Diskerud. Both replacements for the two stars played a hand in dealing NYC a lifeline. Kwadwo Poku's secondary assist help set up Patrick Mullins to cut the Red Bulls lead to one. A valiant comeback effort by City in the last fifteen minutes fell short. The Red Bulls drew first blood in what will be the first of many match-ups between these two rivals.
MLS detractors have an array of excuses to why they don't like watching the league. High on the list is “the quality of play is awful”, which, frankly can at times be applied to even the world's leading leagues. The Columbus Crew and Seattle Sounders however proved this weekend that MLS can sometimes produce high calibre soccer in a game featuring two technically-gifted and attack-minded sides. Kei Kamara opened the scoring for the Crew with a header in the tenth minute, and United States captain Clint Dempsey responded with a left-footed curler from outside the penalty area. Columbus' midfield maestro Federico Higuain pulled the hosts level after the break with a great individual run and finish and Kamara secured his brace and the three points for the Crew soon after. A late controversial second by Dempsey was enough to bring him level with Kamara in the race for the golden boot but not enough to salvage a point for his team. It was a back and forth, high energy affair that also a joy to watch.
It's been discussed recently by experts than the prototypical number 10 is dying. Juan Roman Riquelme, who retired this year, was the last great central attacking midfielder, or so we are told. Mauro Diaz however is trying to bring the number 10 spot back to life at FC Dallas. The diminutive Argentine has struggled with injuries in his time in MLS, but when he's healthy Diaz is one of the most talented players in the league. His performance against LA Galaxy this weekend was a boon to FCD fans, and his two assists on the night, including a sensational scoop pass to Blas Perez, were simply sensational. Other MLS clubs should take heed.
To say the Philadelphia Union are off to a rough start this season is an understatement. Discounting the Montreal Impact, who have only played five games due to their amazing run in the CONCACAF Champions League, the Union have the lowest points per games played in MLS. Their erstwhile “star” goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi has been banished from the team by their manager Jim Curtin, and the club have conceded more goals than any team in the league. Union fans apparently have had enough. After the team’s 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend, midfielder Antoine Hoppenot lashed out at fans for ridiculing and mocking the team. Philadephia is notorious for their ruthless fan bases. A player for one of the worst performing teams in the league attacking those fans personally may not be the smartest move.
Just blame Jurgen Klinsmann. That’s what everyone else in US soccer does, so why should New England Revolution fans should be any different? It was, after all, the USA manager that kicked off the ‘Jermaine Jones at center back’ experiment with the national team. Due to an injury to Jose Goncalves, Revs manager Jay Heaps decided to adopt the idea for himself. To be fair to Jones, he has fared surprisingly well in his new role for a guy who has played in the midfield his entire career. This weekend however, was the first major catastropy in the risky experiment. New England saw themselves ahead two goals to nil with only twenty minutes to play, well on their way to another win. Orlando City’s Cyle Larin then proceeded to beat Jones in an aerial dual inside the box to head his side to within one. That mistake would have been glossed over and forgotten about if Jones had not gotten beat badly in the air again by his opposite Aurelin Collin in the last minute of the game. The USMNT veteran looked lost inside the box and got taken advantage of twice to cost his team two points in the standings. It may be time to give up on this experiment.