Back in the Game

Sheba Rawson - Portland Timbers/mlsfemale
Official Portland Timbers Reporter

By Sheba Rawson // @shebainpdx

Friday, June 2: 2-0 Win

I’ll readily admit to being both testy and trepidacious (read: grumpy and fearful) going into this match. Of course I was grumpy: WHOSE bright idea was it to schedule a Friday 8pm game? Yeah, I know that a later game means that people can probably more easily make it to the match in plenty of time, but holy cow that makes for a long day for some of us. And fearful? Yeah, sure I was.

We had a string of five ties or losses in a row. Not a good look heading into a stretch where we will be missing players on international duty AND getting in a couple of games before our Open Cup match (against Seattle Sounders again, naturally). And let’s be honest, the last time we played San Jose Earthquakes, we were, let’s just say, less than stellar (read: we got our butts handed to us).

On the other hand, our players are pretty much healthy, we were playing at home, and San Jose has not yet managed a win against us at Providence Park. I had my fingers crossed that we could continue THAT streak, at least.

Match Recap

Our lineup was close to the usual starting eleven, with a couple of predictable exceptions. With Darlington Nagbe away on international duty, Dairon Asprilla started in his place on the right wing. This would surely mean a change in the flow of the game: Dairon has pace and is an attacking threat, but he lacks Darlington’s ability to control the ball and make connections. Porter appears to be as tired of the “That’s So Alvas” show as I am, benching right back Alvas Powell again in favor of Zarek Valentin.

We certainly had our share of chances from start to finish. As early as 4′, Vytautas Andriuškevičius had a beautiful cross to Asprilla that gave him a legitimate chance to open the scoring; but his header hit the post and bounced out. Barely two minutes later, we had our second shot at the net, with Davíd Guzmán‘s corner kick finding Roy Miller for a header that was well struck and headed for a score but for a brilliant save by Earthquakes’ keeper David Bingham. Asprilla had another shot at goal around 21′, but he sent it skyward (in Portland, we might say he “Palmered” it; ask around).

Things got interesting after the Earthquakes’ Darwin Cerén got two yellows in quick succession. His first yellow, on a late tackle/shove in the back to Guzmán at 35′, was an unnecessary move and an easy call. The second, a shoulder to Sebastian Blanco as they both went for the ball at 37′, was much less clear cut.  When I watched it live, it looked legitimate; on the replay I’d have to say that Blanco sold it well. (We talk about “professional fouls;” is there such a thing as a “professional sales job?”)

As an elementary school principal who deals with a fair amount of playground discipline, I also have to wonder if Cerén would have had that yellow called if he hadn’t just plowed into Guzmán from behind not two minutes earlier. In any case, that second yellow meant that San Jose would be down a man for the remainder of the match.

At stoppage in the first half, forward Fanendo Adi had a couple of chances to put it away when Blanco headed him the ball. Adi’s header hit the post and bounced out. Adi tried to make the rebound play, but his toe poke was unsuccessful. Bingham scooped it up and we were once again denied.

After the first half, I was pretty frustrated. We were up a man, we had MORE than our share of chances, but had nothing on the scoreboard:

Finally, in the second half, we had something to show for all of that offensive effort. At 50′ Valentin found space in the middle of the field, drove forward, and made a beautiful pass to El Maestro, Diego Valeri on the left. Valeri chested it, ran onto the ball, and drilled in a bank shot off the post and into the back of the net. WHEW.

We had another chance at 60′, when we had numbers on the counter. Asprilla and Blanco both had chances to put it away but didn’t manage the task. Adi AGAIN found the post instead of the back of the net at 94′. Fortunately for us, it was once again Valeri to the rescue, who followed up in the box (you know, like you’re SUPPOSED to do when a teammate takes a shot), cleaned up Adi’s near miss, and put the game away.

It was 2-0 at the death, and the final whistle blew. Thank goodness. Yes, my mood at the end of the second half was considerably better than it was at the end of the first half.

Hot Takes

Decent defense. Yes, I know we played a man up for over half the match; but even before that, keeper Jake Gleeson didn’t have a whole lot to do in front of our goal. Vytas continues to look sharp, protecting the left flank well and delivering crisp crosses. Miller and Liam Ridgewell handled the back well. Ridgewell was even more active than usual this game, pushing up when appropriate and still ably covering his territory.

And Valentin continued to make the case for more play time, making smart plays and contributing a key assist. While it’s clear that Powell has more pace and raw talent than Valentin, Powell’s decision making/giveaways were KILLING us on the right wing. I’m okay with Valentin in that spot, though I worry that a speed burner on his side of the field might make him pay dearly on a quick transition.

The post giveth, and the post taketh away. Yes, we know all about posts here in Portland. And Friday’s post action was nowhere near as dramatic as this. But it was still a pretty impressive collection: Asprilla with a post miss at 4′, Adi with a first half stoppage header post miss, Valeri with the post-and-in goal at 50′, Adi AGAIN hitting the post and missing in stoppage at the second half (with Valeri subsequently putting it away). Hopefully the posts are a bit kinder to us next weekend. Speaking of next weekend:

Our finishing continues to be worrisome. At the beginning of the season, looking at all of that firepower, I was pretty confident we would have a season of high-scoring games–and we did, for a time. But that certainly hasn’t been the case lately. And without Valeri’s finishing, we would still have walked away with only a point to show for our efforts, at home, against a team that was misfiring on offense even before they went a man down.

We have a lot of players who should have been able to put together a string of passes and finish. I love Valeri but he cannot be our only scoring threat. Not sure what the solution is, because Asprilla, Blanco, Adi et al seemed to be making good moves and getting plenty of chances. We just need to be able to count on lots of people being able to actually get the ball into the back of the net.

Off the Pitch

Last week was heartbreaking for the city of Portland.

Two men were killed in a stabbing on a MAX train Friday when they tried to intervene as another man yelled racial slurs at two young women who appeared to be Muslim, including one wearing a hijab, police said.

A third passenger who tried to help was also stabbed, but is expected to survive, said Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson.

We ache for the slain and injured and for their familes; and team, town, Timbers Army alike were compelled to honor their memory and their bravery. Players wore black armbands for the game. The stadium held a moment of silence before the anthem. And the Timbers Army raised a special tifo remembering the names of the fallen: Rick Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche; and survivor Micah Fletcher. The front banner is a line from a poem that Micah wrote while in the hospital recovering from his wounds:

We have seen both the worst and the best of humanity in stark relief. If I have learned anything from the Timbers Army, it is that even in the worst of times, the best of humanity can also break through. Here’s hoping we continue to find and build on what is best in each of us, on and off the pitch.

Featured image courtesy: Nicole Barker/Timbers Army

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The Tale of Two Teams

Hilary - Columbus Crew/mlsfemale
Official Columbus Crew Reporter

By Hilary // @hils4crew

Yes, it is the tale of two teams–one who gets outscored 5-0 against a team missing two of its starters, and then another team who wins 3-0 giving their opposition few opportunities.   “Who are these two teams?” one might ask.  And the answer will only surprise those who haven’t watched the team struggle for consistency over the past few seasons, Columbus Crew SC.

On Friday, Columbus Crew SC lost 5-0 to Toronto FC who was missing Giovinco and Altidore.  To be honest, I wasn’t watching.  I was playing a soccer game at the time, so I was following the game’s score on my phone.

As I watched a replay of the game, I didn’t find the first 30 minutes as bad as I thought they would be.  Maybe I was prepared for the worst knowing the final score line already.  Mensah’s foul in the 4’ that led to Vazquez’s putting away a PK was bad–it should have been a red card–and Toronto definitely had a lot of dangerous chances.  However, Crew SC had some chances that they should have finished, which would have resulted in a very different match.

Instead, Toronto’s Justin Morrow streaked down the left side of the field and lasered a ball into the net, and Gregg Berhalter subbed off one of our strongest players, Justin Meram, in the 40’.  Toronto followed this with a goal in the 59’ from Vazquez and two more goals when they were down a man after Marco Delgado was sent off in the 81’. 

Counter this match with the match on Wednesday night against Seattle Sounders where we saw a very different Crew SC team.  Justin Meram and Frederico Higuain continued their fantastic seasons starting in the 10’ when Hector Jimenez slid to get a ball, sent it to Higuain who settled and sent it to the bottom left corner of the net.  Later in the 21’, Justin Meram decided to increase the lead as several Seattle defenders backpedaled as he slotted the ball into the same corner as Higuain.  In the 59’, Meram sent a beautiful pass to Kamara who sent a low shot to the bottom right corner bouncing off the inside of the post careening into the back of the net. 

Zack Steffen made two fantastic saves to keep Crew SC solidly in the lead.  One was a diving save stopping a well-hit shot from Lodeiro in the 57’.  Later, he snagged a charging Fernandez’s shot with his left hand.

Random Thoughts:

  • Crew SC need to get Artur signed and off this loan.  He got sick at halftime during the Seattle game and continued to play.  He is a difference maker and is all over the field.  He needs to be in the black and gold next season too and a few more seasons after that if he continues to play as he has.
  • This team plays better with Ethan Finlay.  He may not be assisting or scoring goals, but he draws defenders and makes dangerous runs. 
  • There were many, many times during this game that I yelled look at Raitala or Finlay.  This team needs to switch the field quicker at times especially when their left back is standing there alone.  Also, Finlay makes these great runs, but they either don’t send him the ball when they should or make the pass too late.
  • Lots of people wanted Gregg fired after the Toronto loss.  I just don’t think that will fix the problems we have.  Gregg is a young coach.  This season, he’s starting to make tactical changes, and he is reflective on his decisions.  I continue to have faith, for now, in his direction for the team.
  • The Seattle game had tons more goals in it.  Kamara had a few more he could have put away. 
  • Having pups on the pitch night at Crew SC may have just brought the team luck.  Should it be a reoccurring event?  I guess it just might depend on our next home match’s result.

So, in the last week, we have seem two very different Crew SC teams.  Maybe, they had to hit the low in Toronto to figure out who they are.  Maybe they thought they were the only ones to defeat Toronto so far this season, so it would be easy to do it again.  But, I like the team that showed up against Seattle.  Let’s hope we see this team again on Saturday against Colorado Rapids.

Featured image courtesy: @ColumbusCrewSC

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I’m Still Here

Ambrosia Tonkovich - Real Salt Lake/mlsfemale
Official Real Salt Lake Reporter

By Ambrosia Tonkovich // @heyambrosia

Wednesday, May 31: 5-1 Loss

Hey, it’s me again. It’s been a while, I’ve been on vacation. I’ll be honest, I’ve been glad I’ve been vacation. My team has… not been very good. We had a couple of wins, sure. But overall, it’s been pretty bad. This last game was a pretty good indicator of our performance.

I didn’t get a chance to watch this game live. I had made plans to go to a friend’s house ahead of time, and right before I was about to leave the house, I got a lovely notification three minutes into the game: Houston Dynamo 1, Real Salt Lake 0. But that’s not all. It was an own goal. Our very own Justin Schmidt scored an own goal to start what turned into what could be described as an embarrassment against RSL 3 minutes into the game.

I’ll be honest, I’m not the only one to label this game as such. Our very own coach, Mike Petke has said it, our player Tony Beltran has said it… we were a mess. I chose that moment to turn off most of the notifications for the game, head over to my friend’s house, and try to finish the evening in as blissful a bubble as I could. I kept checking my watch anyway, updating my friends (who don’t care since they don’t watch the sport), and slowly sinking more and more into the chair and a depression as time went on.

5-1 was the final score, with Houston dominating over RSL. Am I surprised? No. Is that frustrating? YUP. I’m pretty disappointed with the team’s performance this year. With the coach switch out, the younger players, and the slow but steady return of injured players I’ve been secretly hoping for a better, healthier team.

A couple of wins while I was on vacation kept me in light spirits. I didn’t completely want to get my hopes up, but eh, you win some, you lose some. But holy cow, I just finished watching the game just now and man… I heard ambulances going back and forth during the game and I can only imagine it was to help the obviously burned players off the field at the end of the match. 5-1 is just… painful.

Anyway, I do want to focus on a couple of things. Joao Plata did have a gorgeous free kick. Soared right between two Houston players, right over their shoulders, right into the goal. No one could do anything about it. It was his second goal of the season (I’m sad I wasn’t able to report on the first, he’s been obviously hungry for it), and I’m happy for him.

That was beautiful. The unfortunate part about his play this game though was his defense (or lack thereof) on the second goal that Houston scored. I’m not sure what happened, but there was a weird clearing, like the soccer ball was Moses and RSL players were the sea. Everyone just sort of… stopped. Cleared a path for that ball to go right on in the goal. I watched it a couple of times, and I still don’t get it.

The other thing I want to focus on, well, Matt Van Oekel did have a couple of good saves. Obviously that’s weird to type knowing that the scoreline is 5-1, but he did. It wasn’t just him back there, there is a defensive line for a reason, so he came up strong sometimes when they didn’t, and for that I need to give him props.

So… Anyway. All of this sounds like a big bash to my team. It’s not. Am I disappointed? Yep. For sure. Do I love them any less? Hell no. I’ve loved them for God knows how long. I’m not gonna stop now. Yeah, this is frustrating, but hey, way to help me build some thick skin, RSL. I’m still going to go to games, still going to chant, still going to lose my voice every home game, even when we lose.

Events this match:

3’ Goal (own) Schmidt 1-0

15′  Goal Alex 2-0

45′  Goal M. Manotas 3-0

52′  Goal E. Torres 4-0

54′  Yellow Card Sunny

57′  Yellow Card J. Cabezas

62′  Substitution: Out: M. Manotas In: B. García

63′  Goal Joao Plata 4-1

63′  Substitution: Out: Joao Plata In: Luis Silva

66′  Substitution: Out: Albert Rusnak In: José María Hernández

68′  Goal Leonardo 5-1

71′  Substitution: Out: A. Elis In: V. Sánchez

73′  Substitution: Out: Kyle Beckerman In: Omar Holness

79′  Yellow Card B. García

Featured image courtesy: @RealSaltLake

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Well, that was frustrating.

Kirsten Arpin - Sporting Kansas City/mlsfemale
Official Sporting Kansas City Reporter

By Kirsten Arpin // @Kirsten_Hoogs

Saturday, May 27: 1-0 Loss

73% possession, 24 shots, 8 corner kicks, no yellow cards

Normally this combination of stats would lead to a win, but not this time.

Sporting KC went to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park last Saturday to take on the Colorado Rapids, and frankly they dominated the game. It seemed like they could score at any time! They just didn’t.

The game changing moment was when Ike Opara “fouled” Dominique Badji. I would like to note the quotation marks. Many soccer analysts have stated that it should not have been a foul. This is not just an angry fan moment. Ike was going for the ball. Sorry you fell down. But the “foul” led to a free kick that was taken by Shkelzen Gashi. Gashi’s cross found the head of Kortne Ford for his very first MLS goal.

Now, regardless of the validity of the foul, Sporting should have defended better. There were lots of eyes on that cross, and not enough on where it could have been going. Defending crosses is one of our weaknesses, and going into the time when we’ll be down two defenders due to being called up to USMNT it will be even more crucial to remedy this problem.

The rest of the game was really frustrating. Our little Memorial Day family gathering kept getting our hopes up for a goal, but it just wasn’t happening. Our shots were a little too high or a little too wide. We are really missing Dom Dwyer. I’m hoping that he can get back onto the field soon. He started light practice this week, and Peter Vermes thinks that he may be a game time decision on Saturday against Minnesota United.

Bobby Burling did receive a suspension for a hit on Benny Feilhaber in the 23rd minute. He got a yellow for it in the game. This marks the third time this season that an opponent has gotten a suspension after the fact as opposed to in game. Someone did the math, and if those players had gotten red cards when they should have Sporting would have played a total of 216 minutes against 10 men teams.

Some good news from this week is that the Fan Vote for the MLS All Star Fan XI opened up. Sporting KC got eight players onto the ballot:

Goalkeeper: Tim Melia
Defenders: Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi
Midfielders: Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber
Forwards: Dom Dwyer, Gerso

You may notice that Ilie is not on the list. This is a travesty! He’s so good! His presence in the midfield has been so strong this season, and if you’ve watched Sporting games in the past you should be able to see the difference he makes.

This season I have been a huge proponent of our defensive line, and seeing that three of them made it into the voting made me quite pleased. It’s easy to see why Ike is on there. In the games where Ike doesn’t play we are not as likely to win. His strength and height put him up with the top defenders in the league.

Matt Besler made it! I knew he was in all star form! His ability to see how plays unfold, and to put not only himself but the rest of his line in the right places is amazing. If he doesn’t eventually end up as a coach then there is something wrong with this world. He is so smart (soccer and book wise…he graduated pre-med!)

Graham Zusi has been getting a lot of flack this season because of his move to defense. With Sporting’s formation they play their two outside defenders up as almost midfielders, and they play the center midfielder in more of a defensive position. This suits Zusi well since he can still be a scoring threat and make assists. Zusi became just the second player since 2010 to complete 100% of his passes and create at least 5 chances in the same game when Sporting played the Vancouver Whitecaps. Take that, haters.

Fun facts

Four members of the Sporting KC roster have been called up for their respective national teams. Matt Besler and Graham Zusi for the USMNT, Roger Espinoza for Honduras, and Tyler Pasher for Canada.

Erik Palmer-Brown has captained the US U-20 squad into the knockout round of the U-20 World Cup! They will take on New Zealand on Thursday morning (after I finish writing, but before posting)…fingers crossed for a good result!

Graham Zusi threw out the first pitch at the Colorado Rockies game on Tuesday, and a few of his USMNT teammates, including Bes, were there to cheer him on!

On Wednesday night my husband and I, and two other Cauldron members, played sports trivia in a fundraiser for the Victory Project against some SKC players. Benny, Ike, and Seth Sinovic made up Team Cavs in 7. We were team Children’s No Mercy Park. We didn’t win, but we had a good time!

This Satuday, June 3, Sporting KC takes on Minnesota at Children’s Mercy Park. The Cauldron will be celebrating Pride Day with special t-shirts and scarves to support the LGBTQIA community!

#WeTogether

Featured image courtesy: Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports

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Mid-Week Mediocrity

C.M. Brandon - NYCFC/mlsfemale
Official New York City FC Reporter

By C.M. Brandon // @lukacharms

Wednesday, May 31: 2-2 Draw

Let’s not beat around the bush: New York City FC should have handily won this match. New England Revolution are a bit of a mess this season, having only won four games so far — and all four were at home, to boot.

Despite early energy and pressure that led to a brilliant piece of link-up play between David Villa and Jack Harrison to give Jack his sixth goal this season, NYCFC couldn’t quite keep a grip on a lead. The Revs scored their first equalizer off of a set piece… which is a point of endless frustration for NYCFC this year. Sean Johnson made several spectacular saves on his birthday, but he wasn’t able to keep out Kei Kamara‘s header. NYCFC’s extremely poor marking during the corner didn’t help him at all. That’s why set pieces break us. We just don’t know how to handle them, so it becomes a cheap and easy way for opponents to get goals.

NYCFC seemed to play two separate games during this match. In their own half of the pitch, they were sluggish and lackluster. But once they crossed that midfield line, the fire was lit and the chase was on. Even a little bit of that attacking energy being present in the defending half would have made all the difference.

 

A little more focus during attack wouldn’t hurt either. There was a moment toward the end of the first half when Ben Sweat and Villa both whiffed clear chances right in front of goal. It’s those missed opportunities that come back to haunt you after the scoreline is finalized, and NYCFC will definitely be battling off those ghosts tonight.

Cometh the hour, cometh the one bright spot in this match: Miguel Camargo entered to take Tommy McNamara‘s place, and scored his first MLS goal not three minutes later. He found himself on the end of a gorgeous long cross from Maxi Moralez and headed it straight into goal. It was a lovely moment, and hopefully the first of many Camargoals to come.

#CM2
Image courtesy: @NYCFC

Had the Revs’ second equalizer not come quite so late, I do think NYCFC could have pulled off a last minute win. But with just four minutes left in the match, there simply wasn’t enough time for NYCFC to pull off a coherent counter attack. They tried their absolute hardest, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe if there had been another ten minutes or so on the clock. Maybe. Shoulda, coulda, woulda — didn’t.

So, after four road matches in two weeks, an exhausted NYCFC only managed to squeak out one point at home. That’s a crying shame, and the boys in blue know it. They hurried off the pitch after the final whistle, made their way to a dressing room filled with silent tension. There’s nothing worse than letting down the fans at home — because even though it was a draw, it still felt a hell of a lot like a loss.

Before I go gently into the good night, a few stray thoughts:

  • Rónald Matarrita is still too injured to be on our bench, but not too injured to be called up for Costa Rica’s World Cup qualifiers next week? Okay…
  • In the vein of international football, a quick tip for commentators: Balkans really hate it when you talk about what a great national team Yugoslavia would have, had they only managed to keep those pesky wars from ripping the country apart. Maybe don’t do that. (This came up because the Revs have Antonio Delamea Mlinar, the first Slovene to play in MLS. That fact made me feel positively toward the Revs for the first time in my life.)
  • Until the Revs scored their 2-2 equalizer, NYCFC remained the only club in MLS yet to concede a goal in the final fifteen minutes of a match. And then there were none.
  • Camargo aside, the name of the game this time around was Questionable Substitutions. Frédéric Brillant coming on for Harrison could hypothetically be seen as an attempt to preserve our lead, as attack off/defense on subs often are, but then you remember that Brillant is Brillant and that logic doesn’t hold any water. But sure, in some alternate universe that substitution made sense. You’ll never sell me on poor erstwhile John Stertzer for RodWal in the dying minutes of regulation time, though. If the idea was to try for a last ditch winner, why take off one of the most tenacious players on the pitch for Stertzer? Why? Why, Grand-Père Patrick? Please tell me why.
  • Speaking of, the rumors about Vieira leaving to manage Some French Club (because to speak its name would give it power and we simply cannot have that) can chill out anytime now. While I like to critique (read: backseat manage) him occasionally, there’s no denying that Vieira has been integral to NYCFC’s success, and he should at least be able to finish out the season.

And that’s a wrap on another week of mediocrity at best, bitter disappointment at worst! In just a few days, the boys in blue will take on Philadelphia Union at home.

Which happens to overlap with the Champions League final.

So if I survive that, I’ll meet up with you all here on Sunday, hopefully with three points to celebrate.

(Forza Juve!)

Featured image courtesy: @NYCFC

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Taking the Bad with the Good

Mercy Payba - Philadelphia Union/mlsfemale
Official Philadelphia Union Reporter

By Mercy Payba // @mercpay

Saturday, May 27: 1-0 Loss

It wasn’t a surprise that the Philadelphia Union’s winning streak was snapped in Rio Tinto Stadium. The odds were against the Philly team. If they had been able to produce a result against RSL, it would’ve been the first in the Union’s favor over the ten games they’ve played against Real Salt Lake. This game will be the only meeting between the two sides for this season.

Joao Plata got the only goal of the game after breaking away with the ball thirty-six minutes into the first half. Andre Blake had to make more saves in total than the amount of attempts the Philadelphia Union players made on Real Salt Lake’s net. Whether it was the altitude or the trip from Pennsylvania to Utah, the Union looked tired and disjointed. The only notable performance was Blake’s seven clearances, the highest of the season for him.

The first forty-five minutes was a single-minded attack by Plata that got the best of the defense after his fourth attempt. The Union had been caught off-guard before–and though Fafa Picault had a great attempt on goal that was first saved by Nick Rimando and ultimately cleared off the line by Aaron Maund–they did not rectify it like in previous instances of conceding a first half goal. Philadelphia attempted to find the weak spot of RSL’s defense with set piece plays with an early Jack Elliott header that hit the crossbar and a miss by Picault from a Haris Medunjanin cross to no avail.  

The first sub of the match for the Union was Jay Simpson for Picault to give a boost to the attack and give CJ Sapong a shift of pace on the left side of the field. Roland Alberg having been sidelined with an injury got subbed on for Chris Pontius on the wing. It was a painfully uninspired second half with RSL driving the ball where they wanted it for a majority of the time. The last thirty minutes saw little to no activity on the attacking side from Philadelphia with only a shot from distance by a desperate Medunjanin and a blocked kick by Fabinho. The Union debuted Marcus Epps in the dying minutes of the half in hopes of making a difference in the midfield where Ilsinho had been having trouble.  

Frankly, you could’ve skipped the entirety of the match to only see the first thirty minutes and known how the game was going to unfold. By the thirty minute mark, Rimando had made two saves and Blake three. It was down to the keepers and their defensemen in this game and the Union didn’t make the cut this weekend.  

The team boasted about a depth in squad earlier in the week and hinted that was the reason for their winning streak, and while I agree the subbing and implementation of players in different roles i.e. Ilsinho as a number 10, Pontius switching to the right wing, Alejandro Bedoya finding his role in the midfield worked for us, it doesn’t account for human error.

I mentioned before how Jim Curtin might have a problem with the word ‘rotation’ but he’ll have to keep it in mind in the following weeks. Medunjanin and Bedoya have been called up by their respective national teams for the world cup qualifiers during the break. We still have injured players (most recently Fabian Herbers) so Curtin will be put to the test following the international break.

Not to mention the next game Philadelphia has on the road against NYCFC will be no picnic. The team will be slipping down the table. There is no doubt about that, but what matters now is finding the spirit to keep fighting for a good position come September. June comes with the first game of the Open Cup for the Union along with two of the three consecutive home games and they cannot afford to repeat the March homestand.

Memories of the recent past aside, this could’ve just been a bad game and I’m hoping to see more of the Philly of weeks past than the team with the winless streak going forward. In this sport, you have to take the good with the bad. You never know what will happen in MLS.

My prediction for the next game: a Sapong goal, and depending how gracious NYCFC is feeling, a win.

Featured image courtesy: @PhilaUnion

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Catching Stride Away From LA

Allison Sorrell - LA Galaxy/mlsfemale
Official LA Galaxy Reporter

By Allison Sorrell // @AJSorrell_

After the LA Galaxy‘s last home-stand (a 2-2 draw to Chicago Fire), a four week road trip didn’t seem like a good idea this season for a Galaxy team that’s been struggling more than they have in the past 10 years. With twelve points on the table available on this road trip, it wasn’t extremely misplaced to say the Galaxy wouldn’t come home with many points. I personally, frustrated from the team’s struggles, honestly thought we might end up with two or three. I wasn’t the only one.

We were wrong.

Here we are, two matches in, having accumulated 6/6 points available. I never want us to play at StubHub Center again. For a team that has historically held a fortress at home, and struggled on the road, this is a little weird to watch, but then again, so is this whole season under the watch of Kurt Onalfo. Either way, I’ll take points any way I can get them.

Last Sunday’s match at Minnesota United (3-7-2) had the Galaxy facing a team in a bit of a similar situation. Both teams in question started the season slowly (to put it lightly), and had similar ranking in the western conference. Despite this, once again, the Galaxy came out swinging, winning with a 2-1 scoreline.

I’m going to start with the negative, because this time, there weren’t many. Baggio Husidic’s injury, which has been ruled a broken leg has him out for around two to three months per Onalfo. With the center midfield spot left open by two injured players now, after the midfield was finally finding its form after the match at Red Bull Arena, Rafael Garcia came in to fill in and surprisingly, contributed well to the attack after being subbed in at the 8th minute.

Though there were many chances, the first ball that hit the back of the net for the Galaxy came from Giovani Dos Santos in the 38th minute, only his second in the run of play all season. The Galaxy dominated the rest of the half and for the beginning of the second, until Minnesota’s Christian Ramirez snuck one in at the 66th minute. Thankfully, he did the Galaxy a favor as well in the 84th minute with an own goal to give us the win.

Moving forward, it will be interesting who takes the spot left open by Jermaine Jones, and then again by Baggio Husidic. Jaime Villarreal, the younger of the Galaxy’s homegrown brothers made his first team debut this match. He’s been creating a lot of chances and finishing a lot of balls for Los Dos (LA Galaxy II) in the past few years, and I think he and his brother, who has been MIA for a bit from the first team 18 most of the season, could do some good with all of the injuries currently plaguing the midfield of the first team.

Saturday at San Jose (5-4-4) should be another challenge for a team that’s just now catching their stride. Though San Jose hasn’t had the greatest month, only catching one win out of the four matches played in May, the Galaxy’s real challenge comes in the form of creating chances in the midfield, with players like Garcia, Villarreal, or even Raul Mendiola filling in.

I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but I think we can run away with three points at Avaya Stadium, as well, if we keep the form we’ve had these past two matches.

Featured image courtesy: @LAGalaxy

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Gerso Vain…You probably think this game is about you.

Kirsten Arpin - Sporting Kansas City/mlsfemale
Official Sporting Kansas City Reporter

By Kirsten Arpin // @Kirsten_Hoogs

Wednesday, May 17: 3-0 Win

But I mean, if you are going to score a hat trick against the reigning MLS Champs then this game can be completely about you! #Gershow

Last Wednesday the Seattle Sounders came to Kansas City to take on Sporting Kansas City on our Retro Night. The festivities started off with so many ’90s songs. It was amazing! As a child of the mid to late 90s I was all for it. Though they didn’t play No Diggity by Blackstreet until the game was over, so that sucked.

There was no looping. There was very little diggity-ing…? That’s not a word. Oh well. There were also not a lot of things happening in the first half, but that will come later. Before the game Mo Johnston was inducted into the Sporting Legends Wall of Honor.

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In the pics above you can see the awesome tifo that Tifo Team 6 painted for the occasion, when Mo came over and shook hands with the Cauldron‘s very own capo Cowboy Brandon, and our owner Robb Heineman serving up free beer in the #HeinemanBeerCorner. Now, I’m a fan of our current mascot, Blue the Dog, but our throwback mascot Dynamo the Dragon was killing it! He has the big hula hoop stomach like KC Wolf from the Chiefs, he was sassy af, he played the crap out of that drum, and he can wiggle his nose!

Now if you were to look at the reports about the game then you will find very little written about the first half of the game. That is because not much happened during the first half of the game. It was a frustrating half of soccer. Tim Melia made a few really big saves including two in the last minute of the half. That was actually pretty worrisome, but by the time he had saved the goals the half was over. I hadn’t ever seen a half with no stoppage time, but I have now. The whistle blew at 45:04.

Knowing Peter Vermes, as we all do, we can probably guess what went down. Yelling. Lots of yelling. This was actually corroborated by Gerso in the post game. Per Sam McDowell from the KC Star at the press conference Gerso said, “Basically, Peter had to scream at us…” Peter’s response, “That’s true.”

Going into the second half you could see the difference in Sporting’s game. In the 55th minute Benny Feilhaber served a corner kick straight to Ike Opara whose header almost made it under the crossbar, but Stefan Frei got his fingertips on it and pushed it over the bar. This led to another corner from the other side of the field. The attempt this time got deflected out to Gerso who took the ball back in for a shot that bounced off the leg of a Seattle defender and into the goal. #1

Two minutes later Jimmy Medranda took the ball up the side, and sent a cross into Gerso who launched it off of the post. Luckily the defender it bounced to couldn’t control it. Gerso got the ball back, and sent it past a sprawling Frei. Assist to the post…? #2

In the 69th minute Sporting strung together a beautiful sequence of passes to get their third goal. Benny brought the ball up the middle, passed it to Graham Zusi on the edge of the box, Zusi then passed it to Gerso back in the middle who finished with a huge right-footed slam into the top of the net. #3

Good thing this wasn’t a hockey game or there would be hats all over the field! The last time SKC had a hat trick was back in 2010, in the Wizards’ era, by Birahim Diop.

Then last Saturday Sporting traveled up to Vancouver to take on the Whitecaps. I would like to note that this was four days after their previous game, and their sixth game in 22 days. It has been quite a run, and in those games SKC did go 3-2-1 which is not bad.

We are still on the top of the table, we have 3 more points and have allowed 11 fewer goals than the next team, and the only team who has given up fewer goals than us is FC Dallas who also has the same goal differential.

In Vancouver there were some lineup changes due to injury and rest. Peter Vermes does not like to play Ike on turf fields or in the third game of the 3 in 8 streaks due to the higher risk of injury. We do not want Ike to get injured. He is in top form right now! Dom wasn’t starting due to a knee injury, and Benny and Jimmy got a bit of a rest…but just a bit because they both came on in the second half.

The roster choice that was the most vexing was Tyler Pasher starting in place of Jimmy. T-Pash is a mainstay on the Swope Park Rangers roster as a defender. I understand that the current defensive line is going to be hard to break into, so maybe Vermes was giving him a chance elsewhere. It was just an odd decision that didn’t pan out at all, and he was pulled for Jimmy at half.

Vancouver had two goals during the game both off of crosses. Why can’t we defend crosses? Is this going to be a thing? It’s kind of already a thing. I want it to stop being a thing. Moving on. Vancouver’s Cristian Techera had a really gorgeous ball that he played off of the chest of Christian Bolaños. It didn’t touch the ground. It went straight to his foot and into the goal. Ugh. Later in the game Tim Parker scored his first goal of the season off of a free kick from right outside the penalty area. Sporting should have scored. There were multiple chances where we were right at the goal and couldn’t put it away.

There were a few good things from this game. Tim Melia was outstanding again. He stopped a penalty kick! That does not happen every damn day! Sporting’s defense also made some pretty amazing plays (minus the goals). Seth Sinovic made a diving steal/clearance that was awesome, and after the saved penalty kick there were some fast feet by the defense to get that ball cleared.

I know there’s been a lot of talk about Dom getting onto the USMNT, but Matt Besler needs to get a serious look. He has been so good this season! I was excited to see Cameron Porter sub in for this game. I’ve been waiting to see him play in a big game for awhile, and he did alright. It’s nice to see some height on the attacking front. It was also his birthday on Tuesday the 23rd!

Fun Facts!

The US U-20 team is on their World Cup campaign, and Sporting defender Erik Palmer-Brown is captaining the squad. If you’re up super early you can catch them between the hours of 3am and 7am central standard time. When he gets back hopefully he can make some starts when Ike needs a rest.

Tim Melia and Gerso Fernandes made it onto the MLS Team of the Week, and Tim was in the lead for Save of the Week last time I checked!

Children’s Mercy has this cool robot named Rex that is used to help kids who aren’t able to go to the games due to medical conditions be a part of the gameday experience!

I started this article on Tuesday, and made it a sentence in. Between starting and finishing this I have played two games of bar trivia, watched a whole season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, eaten a pint of Halo Top, and done three loads of laundry. I guess I type better at night…it’s 2:50 in the morning right now, and 1,351 words later I am done! Thanks for sticking with me!

Sporting KC travels to Colorado this Saturday to take on the Rapids. Look for a huge Cauldron presence to turn Dick’s Sporting Goods Park into Children’s Mercy West!

#WeTogether

Featured image courtesy: @SportingKC

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Giving TFC the Horns

Sylvana Budesheim - NY Red Bulls/mlsfemale
Official New York Red Bulls Reporter

By Sylvana Budesheim // @WhiteZinWench

Friday, May 19: 1-1 Draw

Looking to save themselves from a 3-match skid, the New York Red Bulls (5-6-2, 17 points) hosted Eastern conference leaders Toronto FC (7-1-5, 26 points), who were enjoying a 6-match winning streak. Even though TFC were missing league MVP Sebastian Giovinco to injury, the team was by no means suffering, with USMNT and former Metrostar/Red Bulls players Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore leading the team.

Having broken their 19-match winning streak at home with the loss to LA Galaxy, RBNY once again hit the field looking as if they had something to prove. And indeed they started strong: the key to the match for the Red Bulls was to contain Altidore, which defenders Aaron Long and Damien Perrinelle did in no uncertain terms.

Frederik Gulbrandsen, still looking for his first goal with the team, had a great opportunity in the 15th minute, but it was saved by TFC goalkeeper Alexander Bono. (After taking a hit just at the end of the first half, Gulbrandsen was substituted at halftime.) TFC forward Tousaint Ricketts kept the defense busy, notably stopped by Kemar Lawrence in the 29th minute.

RBNY kept hammering away, finally drawing a foul in a dangerous area in the 37th minute. Set pieces, an important element of Red Bull game preparation, paid off when Bradley Wright-Phillips received the kick from Sacha Kljestan and put it into Toronto’s goal. The team relies on Wright-Phillips, who made his 74th career goal, to be the finisher. It’s what he’s been known for his whole career: makes no sense to stop now.

On the other hand, Kljestan, a perfectly capable midfielder, who has done some amazing things for club and country, is still wasting multiple touches in the attacking third. It’s disheartening to see a player who led the league in assists last year seem to not have options. He needs to get back to what he knows and forwards like Danny Royer and Alex Muyl need to be there for him.

RNBY goalkeeper Luis Robles didn’t have to make a save until the 2nd half. But then came the 70th minute: Benoit Cheyrou scored with a header off a free kick. It’s important to note that both goals for the match were scored off of set pieces, which really should be considered a plus for RBNY. To keep Toronto from scoring in the run of play is no small feat.

But nothing could have prepared us for the Save-of-the-Week-worthy moment in the 80th minute. A poor clearance by Perrinelle resulted in a penalty kick for Altidore. The stadium lit up when Robles read the kick and punched the ball to the far sideline. Moments of brilliance like that are hints that the spark that takes the team into the playoffs is still there.

The ball made its way up and down the field following Toronto’s failed PK. Even from home (and even on the 2nd viewing) I could feel the electricity in Red Bull Arena. It wasn’t the nervous and frantic pace seen in previous matches; this was passion and purpose.

There was also a few moments of confusion and palpable tension in the 87th minute when a shot by Ricketts made it to the back of the New York net but was called back. In the confusion and conferencing between the lead referee Robert Sibiga and the linesman, Vìctor Vásquez celebrated the goal in Luis Robles’ face… a bad choice. Turned out the goal was called back for interference from Raheem Edwards. Robles received a yellow card for his physical reaction to Vásquez. And honestly, if RBNY has to go the path of the Bad News Bears to get their passion back, keep those yellow cards coming. Just not too many, okay?

The pace remained to the final whistle, and lifted the spirits of this fan as well as many others. Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, includes another home match at Red Bull Arena. Hopefully, the summer of soccer love awaits us.

Featured image courtesy: @NewYorkRedBulls

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The Boys Are Back In Town

Christy Casas - Vancouver Whitecaps/mlsfemale
Official Vancouver Whitecaps Reporter

By Christy Casas // @nkstar9

Saturday, May 20: 2-0 Win

The boys are back in town. They are looking good after their long road trip across Canada and as far south as Houston. Lots of miles (or kilometers if you will) and here we are in the most beautiful weather Van City has seen since last summer and it feels like home.

Tim Parker is looking strong. He has been training and you can tell. He is winning 50/50 balls being the rock that defense needs. He is also stepping up in the front, getting his head on the end of free kicks and corners. Parker got on the end of one to score the second goal of the game.

Let’s talk about the offense for a second. Can we all please note that MLS marked the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Saturday goal as the 2nd best assist in the league this week. Second? Nope, I say it is #1 and a beauty it was. On a quick, Waston to Williams, off the chest of Bolanos and volley by Techera. This put the ‘Caps up 1-0 late in the first half.

Early in the second half we saw an all too familiar scene. Fredy Montero missing the 2nd PK of the season. First one, we let pass since he followed up and finished it off. This one, was one too many, time to pass the torch.

I like Fredy Montero, but he seemed a bit frustrated and a lot flat footed. He was a step or two late to the ball and letting the defender step in front each time.

We want Brek, say it with me, “We want Brek”. After Brek’s shaky start with the ‘Caps, the fans seems to like him a lot more since he is finding the back of the net. He even scored his mom a goal on Mother’s day. We only got to see him for 6 minutes this game. I think a sub for Montero should have come a lot sooner.

Speaking of moms, my Mother-In-Law was in town, she called them the Snowycaps and I think it is just adorable.

Christy Casas - Vancouver Whitecaps/mlsfemale
Image courtesy: Vancouver Whitecaps

On a serious note, the Vancouver Whitecaps lost one of their own recently. An incredibility talented young man, Travis Salje. At just 17 his life was suddenly taken by a car accident. The Whitecaps and supporters of the team wanted to #standupfortravis, and we did. The community sends our love to the Salje family.

A win, a beautiful goal, and a boost of confidence. #riseupraincity

Featured image courtesy: @WhitecapsFC

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