Posted: Monday May 9, 2011 11:37AM ; Updated: Monday May 9, 2011 5:26PM
Steve Davis
Steve Davis>INSIDE SOCCER

Galaxy, Red Bulls put on a show; another disciplinary matter looms

Story Highlights

Thierry Henry showed an abundance of energy as the Red Bulls tied the Galaxy

The general quality of MLS games is poor, possibly a result of over-expansion

Marcos Mondaini could face a lengthy suspension for injuring Javier Morales

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David Beckham (left) and Thierry Henry helped raise the level of play in the 1-1 draw between the Red Bulls and Galaxy.
David Beckham (left) and Thierry Henry helped raise the level of play in the 1-1 draw between the Red Bulls and Galaxy.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Five things you should know about Week 8 in MLS:

1. The stars shine in L.A.: Perhaps if we all live a good life, full of charity and kindness, etc., we might be blessed with a few more nights like the one at the Home Depot Center on Saturday. Few MLS matches rise to this standard. Heck, most don't get close.

The Galaxy's 1-1 draw with New York was simply one of the best regular-season matches in league history, full of quality on both sides, with subplots and theater to spare.

Most of the stars did their parts. Landon Donovan was alive with energy and attacking ideas. David Beckham continues to show exactly how a quality, deep-lying playmaker can influence matches with precision passing over long distance. Across the way, Thierry Henry found another gear, the one we all thought he had (but that he's seemed to keep in reserve). He bounced around the field, assisting in possession when the Red Bulls, for the first time this year, struggled a bit against the Galaxy's well-organized pressing.

Juan Pablo Angel ... well, as we said, most of the stars did their part. He's clearly a little frustrated, sitting on one goal in the team's first 10 matches. Bad run, or has he hit the wall for good?

The only thing that could have made things better Saturday: One team wasn't quite at its tip-top best. Teemu Tainio's absence for the Red Bulls left a big hole at defensive midfield, one that Mehdi Ballouchy struggled to fill.

"It's a very intense game, a very good game -- probably the best you can see in MLS at the moment," Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said.

The Red Bulls' 5-4 win over L.A. in 2007, in Beckham's first visit to New York, was full of acclaim and exciting moments. But the defense that night was a carnival sideshow, so it really wasn't a great advertisement for the MLS brand, even if there was plenty to talk about.

There was even a little controversy Saturday, as Donovan once rounded Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, only to have his effort undone by Tim Ream's diligent, nimble recovery and goal-line clearance. Was it over the line? Hard to say, although the Galaxy thought so. Cue a little more Galaxy whining about being hard done. (Anyone else think that's getting a little tiresome?)

Donovan complained after the game about how they'll "need to score three or four" goals if they need two, about how officiating decisions don't go their way. However, Donovan did praise the visitors for leaning into the offense.

"I was impressed how much they put into trying to get after it and win the game -- most teams come here and try to defend for 90 minutes," he said. "It was a good, fast game."

2. MLS matches in a "recession": It's not that the other matches needed to be as good as the cracker jack encounter in Los Angeles. But wouldn't it be nice if they could get a smidge closer?

The rest of the weekend matches? Somewhere between "meh," and just not very good at all.

Start with the goals, or the lack of them: just nine in eight matches over Friday and Saturday. But it's not just the raw numbers. MLS matches, with the quality steadily rising for years now, are suffering at the moment. In economic terms, we might call it a recession.

Let's count the reasons. Start with the creators who keep falling. Javier Morales, David Ferreira and Steve Zakuani are done for some time, and those injuries subtract a lot of pizazz. Don't forget that D.C. United DP attacker Branko Boskovic is also on the shelf, having arrived there just when he was showing signs of finally getting up to speed.

A couple of teams, under increasing pressure because of injuries or bad results, have slipped into survival mode, digging in to grind out results. That's never going to be pretty. Still, that's the Columbus way at the moment, reliable in possession but still seeking a way forward on attack without playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto (now back in Argentina). FC Dallas will need to grind away for the summer, hoping to hang in long enough for Ferreira to find the field again. Vancouver took just four shots in seeking its first road point. (The Whitecaps got it in a 0-0 tie at Chicago, one of three scoreless draws.)

Further, the ongoing expansion initiative may have caught up with the league. Take a starter or two off each roster (through the expansion draft) and the product is bound to suffer.

Injuries are mounting for some. Colorado and Houston were each missing forwards, and creativity suffered greatly in the final third in their midweek match. Colorado is also an example of where the schedule is beginning to jam up some teams. Gary Smith's Rapids are doing what they can, but playing twice in a week on the road will always leave a team giddy with a draw on the backside. Sure enough, Smith's Rapids weren't too unhappy about their scoreless draw Saturday at New England.

Finally, we still have too many MLS referees married to the old-school ways, still determined not to call fouls. That was Baldomero Toledo at RFK, where a few more whistles could have helped open up match with lots of crashing about, but not enough silky-smooth play on the ball.

Javier Morales
Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales is the latest MLS star to be felled by a reckless challenge.
George Frey/Getty Images

3. The next disciplinary matter: Marcos Mondaini's reckless lunge from behind at Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales is the latest moment of pause for MLS, which now has another (and perhaps trickier) suspension to consider. Two weeks ago, the retaliatory aspect was a critical factor for Brian Mullan, the Colorado midfielder who is serving a 10-game suspension for a tackle that broke Zakuani's leg.

Mondaini's tackle was needless and unwise but didn't appear malicious. We'll see what the league does with this one, because the danger of a 10-game suspension was always the precedent, and here we are.

No one feels good about three talented players (Morales, Ferreira and Zakuani) suffering such horrible injury misfortune. But the truth is that MLS was probably lucky that this didn't happen before. The league is reaping what it has sown, unfortunately, for permitting physical play. In all honesty, tackles from behind happen every weekend in MLS. (So do elbow blows to head; get on that, MLS, or you'll soon be in crisis mode over that one, too.)

So, before anyone writes all this off as bad luck (that two of the league's top creators are now out of action), consider that statistically speaking, Ferreira and Morales have recently been the most likely figures to get injured. Ferreira led the league in fouls suffered last year. Morales was second.

4. Can the Andy Williams legend grow any larger? Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis, understandably somber in his postgame assessments following a hollow victory, hasn't said how he will restructure around Morales' absence. But you can bet Andy Williams will be a major part of it.

Real Salt Lake was Williams' sixth MLS address when he joined in 2004, so he really had not found his bearings in pro soccer. He certainly did in Utah, where he's now the only remaining player from the team's original roster. Later, fans bonded over his wife's battle with cancer, which also became an emotional rallying point for the club.

Two years ago, Williams was a big part of the MLS Cup-winning side. He's 34 now, but he buzzed around the field like a teenager recently when RSL needed something special in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.

They'll miss Morales, of course. If there is any silver lining, this is a chance for the Williams legend to grow just a little more.

5. Team of the Week:

Goalkeeper: Bouna Coundoul (New York)

Defenders: Mamadou Danso (Portland), Tim Ream (New York), Josip Mikulic (Chicago), Rich Balchan (Columbus).

Midfielders: Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy), David Beckham (L.A. Galaxy), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle).

Forward: Joao Plata (Toronto), Thierry Henry (New York).

Week 8 MLS Power Rankings
 
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 1 Real Salt Lake (W/L/T: 5-1-0)
A weekend win feels like a loss. A huge loss. And now the season looks a lot different, moving forward without injured playmaker Javier Morales -- while fellow heavyweights New York and Los Angeles keep trending up. They'll need to dig up some confidence and another battle plan.
2 2 New York Red Bulls (4-1-3)
Did the league just get a read on how to play New York? The Galaxy pressed high, and the Red Bulls had a little trouble breaking the pressure. Getting Teemu Tainio back in the lineup will help. After all the concern over his lack of scoring, Thierry Henry is now tied for second in MLS with four goals.
3 3 Los Angeles Galaxy (4-2-4)
Bruce Arena's team played well, but it does need to bend the net a little more. The Galaxy keep talking like victims, that the refs are out to get them, etc. But the fact remains: They've scored just one goal in each of their last two. Teams that can't score more are vulnerable.
4 4 Philadelphia Union (4-2-1)
Two starting defenders were on the bench, so a 1-0 loss at Portland might not have been so terrible. But, really, to lose on another defensive set-piece breakdown? Meanwhile, the offensive woes continue; coach Peter Nowak might need to find a forward who can connect with others rather than a poacher like Carlos Ruiz.
5 5 Seattle Sounders (3-3-4)
Is Kasey Keller sure he won't come back another year? A big stoppage time save helped preserve a point in a 1-1 draw at Columbus. Fredy Montero got the goal, doing as the coaches have asked of all the players, elevating their game to make up for Steve Zakuani's absence.
6 6 Columbus Crew (3-1-4)
Tough to peg striker Emilio Renteria, who has the Crew's last four goals. Two of them are on PKs. And he seems to scuttle a lot of attacks with bad touches. Still, a 1-1 draw at home with Seattle runs the Crew's unbeaten streak to seven.
7 8 Colorado Rapids (4-3-2)
A three-game road trip starts with a bang (a 2-1 win in Houston) and then continues with a satisfying 0-0 tie at New England. Four points in hand, the pressure is off for this week's visit to D.C. United.
8 10 Portland Timbers (4-3-1)
Center back Mamadou "Futty" Danso was a big presence on the back line, and then got the goal that kept the Timbers Army singing. It also kept Portland perfect at home, with four wins in four contests.
9 9 Sporting Kansas City (1-4-1)
It's a quiet May around SKC, with a U.S. Open Cup contest and just three league matches on the slate, including Saturday's visit to Seattle. They'll make up for it with a packed, colossal June, when they finally break the seal on their new grounds.
10 11 Chivas USA (3-3-2)
Playing with nine men for more than a half, Robin Fraser's team nearly pulled out a result under very trying circumstances. Forward Marcos Mondaini and the rest of the club will now await the league's next high-profile suspension verdict.
11 12 FC Dallas (3-3-2)
A couple of good performances along Dallas' back line and in the midfield highlighted the 0-0 draw at D.C. United. But it was Kevin Hartman's huge stop near the end that saved the day for the visitors. They'll need more of that without David Ferreira.
12 7 Houston Dynamo (3-3-3)
Young goalkeeper Tally Hall, having such a great season, reminded us what young 'keepers do: They sometimes make mistakes. Hall's blunder against Colorado cost points in a 2-1 loss at home. Things got worse when the rest of the team turned up flat in a weekend loss at Toronto.
13 13 New England Revolution (2-3-4)
Revs supporters got their first gander at Shalrie Joseph, Ousmane Dabo and Benny Feilhaber as a central midfield triangle, but only for a half; Dabo needs more time to get fit. Meanwhile, the Revs' defenders definitely need to find Feilhaber a little more often with the ball.
14 14 D.C. United (3-4-2)
The defense was better in two home games, a 2-1 midweek win over Seattle and a scoreless draw against Dallas. Now, about that attack ... they desperately need some creativity. Ben Olsen's team has just six goals in five home matches.
15 15 Chicago Fire (1-3-4)
The back line finally looks settled, with Jalil Anibaba, Josip Mikulic, Yamith Cuesta and Gonzalo Segares starting. On the other hand, they have five points from four homes games following the weekend's scoreless draw with Vancouver, and that's not good enough.
16 16 San Jose Earthquakes (1-4-2)
Following a weekend off, Frank Yallop's men visit Vancouver midweek, then return home for consecutive weekend matches against the Crew and Revolution. They absolutely need four points minimum from the pair at Buck Shaw.
17 17 Vancouver Whitecaps (1-4-4)
Big weekend news: Details are out on a documentary of Jay DeMerit's life and unusual path into pro soccer. Bigger weekend news: The 'Caps claimed their first road points in a 0-0 draw in Chicago.
18 18 Toronto FC (2-3-4)
Joao Plata (5-foot-3) looked like a smurf next to the huge Dynamo defenders. Still, the young Ecuadorian struck once and nearly earned a PK in the 2-1 win over Houston. Coach Aron Winter promises to keep bringing the youngster along slowly, nonetheless.
 

 
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