By Kyle McCarthy
I like to preach patience in the opening weeks of the season.
Not that patience comes easily to fans after a long winter of Serie A and English Premier League soccer instead of their beloved MLS. Not that patience comes easily to players and coaches who want to pile up as many points as possible as early as possible before the season hits crunch time. Not that patience comes easily when your team has struggled out of the gate.
But it is patience that is required in the opening weeks because teams have yet to figure out exactly who they are or what they will eventually become. That patience is why I am reluctant to draw bright lines about clubs after two weeks. Two weeks just isn't a broad enough sample to draw the conclusions people want to draw at this time of year.
While I am reluctant to draw hasty distinctions about individual clubs, I am more than willing to point out a few broader trends that have emerged over the opening fortnight of the MLS campaign.
Injuries and Absences Obscure True Reality: Surveying the lineups around MLS during the first two weeks is not work for the faint of heart. Teams are throwing out patchwork starting XIs to start the campaign as they are still trying to overcome the bangs and bruises incurred from training camp. And those change don't even account for the players who missed this weekend's action while away on international duty. It's difficult to get a read on most of the teams right now simply because they aren't healthy enough to produce an accurate rendering of their abilities.
In Search of a Defensive Leader...Still: Many teams entered this season looking for a defensive fulcrum. Through the first two weeks, those players have yet to pop up. Defenders around the league recovered in week two after an admittedly down week one. Even with the improvement, there are still teams around the league – you know you who are – who need to find a central defender who can add steel and consistency their back line.
Preki, Steve Nicol Continue to Make MacGyver Blush: Richard Dean Anderson could do just about anything to get MacGyver out of trouble by the end of an hour-long episode. These coaches can work with just about anything to obtain points. Missing key players? Not a problem. Injury lists approaching double digits? No worries. Regardless of the situation, Preki and Nicol figure out a way to send a team out the field that has a chance of leaving the field with points. The proof is in the table: Chivas USA rests atop the West with Seattle on six points, while New England is joint top of the East with four points.
Fredy > Freddy?: Fredy Montero didn't enter MLS with nearly the same amount of hype as Freddy Adu. Nor can Montero match the media blitz Adu brought to the league when he joined D.C. United back in 2004. But Montero might be able to produce more on the field than Adu ever could. Another highlight reel goal on Saturday night – an audacious, dipping blast past a stunned and utterly inculpable Nick Rimando in the Real Salt Lake goal – plunked Montero atop the goalscoring table. He might not leave that perch for the remainder of the campaign.
You Want Us to Play There And Get Points?: Two matches at Qwest Field in the first two weeks. Announced attendances of 32,523 and 28,548. Two Sounders FC wins. Five goals for Sounders FC, none for the visiting teams. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying that Qwest Field may have almost immediately earned the title of MLS' most intimidating American road venue.
History is a Hard Nut to Crack: I highlighted two stats in the Friday MLS Forecast: (1) New England had gone ten matches unbeaten against New York since Sep. 17, 2005 and (2) the road team has won one of the past 17 road matches in the series between Colorado and Kansas City. The Revolution's 1-1 draw in New York extended that streak to 11 on Saturday night, while Colorado made its statistic one in 18 after a 2-1 win in Commerce City. Sometimes, the statistical trends don't lie.
Week Two – Questions, Thoughts, and Answers
Goal.com Player of the Week – Terry Cooke, MF, Colorado
Rapids head coach Gary Smith sent Cooke on in the 65th minute. With his first touch on the ball, Cooke curled home a majestic free kick at the near post to open the scoring. Twelve minutes later, his cross-field pass set Colin Clark on his way to create Omar Cummings' match-winner.
“He changed the game,” Smith told the Denver Post about Cooke's performance. “There's no two ways about it. There was more of a creative edge, a little bit more feel to the deliveries.”
What was he thinking? Josh Wicks, GK, D.C. United
The oft-harassed Wicks might not deserve this appellation this week after he made a couple of fine saves in D.C.'s 1-1 draw with Chicago. But the positive vibes from those saves were mitigated by two mistakes that nearly cost United all three points. One of those mistakes, an ill-advised dash off his line to challenge Patrick Nyarko, cost his team a pair of points they might regret not having at the end of the campaign.
Eleven observations to start the week
1. Toronto accumulated 17 points on the road in 30 total MLS games during its first two seasons. After Saturday's 1-1 draw at Crew Stadium, TFC has four road points in two games in 2009.
2. “He’s a talented footballer,” Toronto FC coach John Carver told the Columbus Dispatch about Guillermo Barros Schelotto, a player he had less than kind words for when the teams met last season. “When he’s on the ball you’ve got to worry about him. I’ll not comment on the other things, but he’s a talented footballer. He plays the game well. We had a little bit of banter. When he went down the second time, he come up and come across to me and just gave me a little wink. He’s a professional. He’s a good professional. He knows how to play the game and I can’t criticize him for that.”
3. Another pretty decent performance from D.C. United against Chicago on Saturday night, but another game where one point could have been three. “I've about had it with ties,” midfielder Ben Olsen told The Washington Post. “It's another game that unfortunately is a good performance but lacked some moments, a 10- or 15-minute span there where we didn't focus.”
4. New York midfielder Khano Smith came back to bite his old teammates in the rear after New England defender Jay Heaps deflected a Smith cross into his own net to open the scoring in Saturday night's 1-1 draw. “Khano's definitely going to claim that,” Revs midfielder Shalrie Joseph said with a smile afterwards.
5. Kudos to Red Bulls defender Kevin Goldthwaite for copping to some responsibility on New England's 90th minute equalizer. “I think I got caught a little square and (Revolution striker Kenny Mansally) made a great run behind me and I think I should have been able to break his run or be able to track him better,” Goldthwaite said. “He made a pretty good play and got the equalizer.”
6. Kudos also go to Kansas City goalkeeper Kevin Hartman after breaking Tony Meola's all-time saves records in the 2-1 loss in Commerce City.
7. Did anyone see five goals coming in the first half of the San Jose-Houston game? What about in the span of 15 minutes? No, I didn't think so.
8. That's two pretty impressive games in a row for Arturo Alvarez. Maybe San Jose made the right call to let Ronnie O'Brien walk.
9. Hat tip to Brian Dunseth on the RSL broadcast for this little nugget: Nate Jaqua has scored six goals in six games against Real Salt Lake.
10. Did Kasey Keller borrow his pants from Paul Grafer?
11. After watching the replay a couple of times, it sure looked like there was a foul on Aaron Pitchkolan in the buildup to Chivas USA's second goal. That's the sort of luck FCD has had in the opening two weeks, however.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.