Monday MLS Breakdown: Paging the Defense

In the first Monday MLS Breakdown of the 2009 season,'s Kyle McCarthy creates a new statistic to explain all of the defensive errors that littered the opening weekend.
By Kyle McCarthy

The persistent loss of good and above-average defenders to Europe and the expansion of recent years may have caught up with MLS if week one is any indication of a burgeoning trend.

A rash of poor defensive play littered the opening week of the MLS campaign.

The comedy of errors meant fans were treated to a series of highlight-reel goals – Kenny Cooper's midfield blast, Davy Arnaud's two long-distance lasers and Amado Guevara's turn and fire were among the prominent highlights – and significant periods of end-to-end play. For those who appreciate some semblance of defensive order, there wasn't much to take home aside from the shutouts posted by New England (who could thank a cohesive defensive performance and some profligate San Jose finishing) and Seattle (who could thank the Red Bulls for failing to show up). Shape and structure were apparently optional for many defenses around the league this weekend.

In my quest to encapsulate the exceedingly poor defense played this week, I have concocted a statistic. Actually, I'm not sure I'd even call it a statistic because it relies solely on my judgment. Maybe category is a better word for it.

The name of this category? Goals Allowed or Facilitated by Flagrant Error (GAFFE). Let's just say GAFFE debuted in style (or infamy) this week.

The GAFFE total for week one? Eighteen. The GAFFE percentage (GAFFE/total goals)? Eighty-two percent (18 GAFFE/22 total goals).

Let us break down the total GAFFE game-by-game for a more detailed assessment. Those players involved receive a one-time break. All names have been withheld to protect the not-so-innocent and the not-so-ready for the start of the season.

New York – Seattle: Dropped mark by the generally dependable left back having a horrific night allows Fredy Montero space for the shot on his first goal. Brad Evans completely untracked through the penalty area to score a goal through the goalkeeper's legs that led ESPN analyst John Harkes to describe the strike in the following manner: “Sometimes, you win a lottery ticket.” Newly acquired central defender coughs up ball to Montero for breakaway leading to his second goal. (3)

Columbus – Houston: Unchallenged header directed to an unmarked Guillermo Barros Schelotto for his volleying pleasure. (1)

Chicago – FC Dallas: Veteran goalkeeper falls asleep at the wheel and Cooper chips him from inside his own half. Newly signed central defender stumbles and fails to clear a not-so-threatening ball, right back drops mark on Justin Mapp and Mapp fires home. Penalty kick called after a needless handball by FC Dallas defender. Unseemly bundling of John Thorrington sets up Cuauhtemoc Blanco's stunning free kick. (4)

Toronto FC – Kansas City: Rookie midfielder coughs up the ball at midfield, right back apparently overlapping in another state and Jim Brennan proceeds to lash home at the near post. Former Designated Player coughs up pass inside his own half and right back apparently remains in other state while failing to clear Carl Robinson's chip and allowing Amado Guevara to turn and fire home. On Davy Arnaud's first screamer, a step to the ball so late that the phrase “step ball” was picked up on the boom mic. Right back remains firmly in other state as a hopeful long ball bests him, Dwayne De Rosario steps around him and Guevara taps home the accommodating rebound. (4)

Colorado – Chivas USA: Veteran keeper bumbles a weak shot into Omar Cummings' path and not even the Jamaican can conspire to miss from that close. Recently re-signed defender (there are a few of those in Colorado) heads clearance directly into Paulo Nagamura's path and Nagamura slots home second goal in five minutes. (2)

New England – San Jose: Central defender has ball skim off his head and directly into the path of Kheli Dube, who can't believe his luck and volleys home the Revolution's only shot on goal in the entire game. (1)

Los Angeles – D.C. United:
Notoriously combative defensive midfielder hauls down Christian Gomez to concede a penalty then scored by Gomez. Chris Pontius notches his first MLS goal with a nice cut inside and a sweet finish to the far post and then says the following after the match: “I was actually pretty surprised. I thought someone was going to close me down, but I was able to pick up my head and pick out the spot I wanted to put it in.” Landon Donovan, currently reigning as the best American goalscorer who actually plays for America, left disgustingly unmarked eight yards from goal to head home as United defenders stood still and questioned whether he was offside instead of actually tracking his run. (3* - If a non-defensive error could count in GAFFE, the third goal in this game would be described in the following way: Referee sees ball hit thigh, points to his hand and calls penalty anyway.)

Week One – Questions, Thoughts, and Answers Player of the Week – Fredy Montero, FW, Seattle

Welcome to America, Fredy. Two goals and an assist announced Montero's arrival in MLS with some panache. Not every defense will be as charitable as New York's was on Thursday night, but Montero showed the type of quality that should lead to substantial production in 2009.

What was he thinking? Jon Busch, GK, Chicago

The reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year didn't look like it after nine minutes of the Fire's 3-1 victory in Dallas. Kenny Cooper collected just inside his own half, spotted Busch off his line and fired home as Busch tried to mimic what Will Hesmer did more successfully in Houston. In a weekend pocked by defensive mistakes, Busch's gaffe may have been the most embarrassing. A well-deserved honorable mention to Jonathan Leathers, the often-promising right back in Kansas City who certainly didn't look very promising in Kansas City's 3-2 loss to Toronto FC on Saturday night.

Eleven observations to start the week

1. Columbus didn't look like it skipped a beat, did it? The Crew looked fluid for most of its 1-1 draw in Houston and probably deserved all three points.

2. “I don't know what Sigi would do,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha told The Columbus Dispatch after Warzycha raised a few eyebrows when he sent on rookie Alex Grendi for the injured Robbie Rogers at halftime. “We still seem to bring his name up all the time. We have to think about what we would do. It seems like the substitutions worked today.”

3. FC Dallas signed midfielder Alvaro Sanchez on loan from Costa Rican side AD San Carlos over the weekend. Sanchez, who has three caps for the Costa Rican national team, should help bolster a rather threadbare Hoops midfield.

4. Though Sanchez appears to be a nice addition, Chicago's performance on Saturday night suggested that central defense is a more pressing issue.

5. Toronto FC head coach John Carver isn't going to look kindly on Chad Barrett if he scuffs many more of those two-on-none chances like he did in the 12th minute of Saturday's 3-2 victory in Kansas City. Barrett was industrious and effective on the night, but needed to muster a better finish in that instance.

6. Ignore Davy Arnaud at your peril. His game has developed to the point where he is a consistent threat from anywhere inside 30 yards. Two long distance bombs on Saturday night just reinforced what everyone around the league should have already known.

7. Time for that upgrade in between the sticks, Chivas USA. In quasi-related news, Stefan Frei started for Toronto FC and wasn't at fault on either of the Arnaud goals.

8. Chivas USA tied Seattle with a league-high eight players listed on its injury report heading into the opener. Some things just don't change from year-to-year for the Goats.

9. Wonder if San Jose is rethinking its goalscorer-by-committee plan after a less than stellar night of finishing allowed New England to convert its one chance and steal a 1-0 win.

10. If Ben Olsen can consistently give D.C. United 72 minutes like he did on Sunday, United might just find a way to sneak into the playoffs.

11. What a diabolical call by Jair Marrufo to give Los Angeles and Landon Donovan a chance to pilfer a point in the late stages. My question for Marrufo: does Rodney Wallace have a hand coming out of his legs? Because that's the only way he handled that cross.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and Contact him with your questions or comments at