Fraser has Chivas on right path
After a shaky start, Robin Fraser has turned Chivas USA around
Charlie Davies is still not ready for a recall to the U.S. national team
A recent flurry has seen Landon Donovan rise in the goal-scoring charts
Five things you should know about Week 9 in MLS:
1. Tip your hat to Robin Fraser: Can we just hand the Coach of the Year award to Robin Fraser and get it the heck over with?
MLS insiders long considered the former Real Salt Lake assistant a top deputy. RSL certainly knew what they had, making Fraser one of the best-compensated assistants and keeping him in Utah as long as possible.
But Fraser took the Chivas USA vacancy last winter -- and he is knocking this thing out of the park. No team has shown improvement over the early rounds like Chivas USA. It's not even close. The side that ambushed New York 3-2 in Sunday night's big upset looks nothing like the nervous bunch that bumbled through a season-opening loss at home to Sporting Kansas City -- and certainly nothing like last year's last-place conference finishers.
The Goats lost two more that month (one in league play and one in the U.S. Open Cup), but the defense was tightening gradually as Fraser made adjustments. Then, early April brought improvement through a series of low-scoring draws. Since then the Rojiblancos have won three of four; their only loss in that time was a 1-0 setback while playing more than a half with nine men. Even in that one Chivas showed amazing organization and resolve, nearly stealing a point in the match that saw Marcos Mondaini's bad tackle injure Javier Morales.
Today the side is 3-3-3 following Sunday night's stunner, which was hardly a fluke. Rather than sit back and defend, Fraser's team boldly played a played a high defensive line and relentlessly pressured the home team. Justin Braun hit for all three goals, but strike partner Alejandro Moreno did Yeoman's work as well, chasing, harassing and generally pestering the bejeebers out of New York's defenders.
The important thing to remember is that Chivas USA's best players, former U.S. international Jimmy Conrad and Brazilian midfielder Paulo Nagamura, have combined for just 210 minutes this year, both suffering from ongoing injury frustration. Braun, last year's leading scorer, has been gradually reintroduced to the lineup after his own offseason injury troubles.
So the Goats are doing it all, apparently, with magic potions, summoning big stuff from a personnel hodgepodge, with some players manning unfamiliar roles. Next up for Chivas USA: the first SuperClasico of 2011 as Fraser's men meet the Galaxy this Saturday, a match that sure looks better today than it would have a few weeks ago.
2. Watching Landon Donovan climb: If you examine the league's all-time scoring charts, you see that Jeff Cunningham, still firmly tethered to Columbus' bench, remains one goal behind Jaime Moreno for the lead. And while it might be tempting to wonder if Cunningham will ever get his chance to pass the D.C. United legend, there's an important point to consider:
It probably won't matter. Whoever walks out of the 2011 season with the all-time scoring crown is only holding it temporarily for Landon Donovan.
The Galaxy attacker -- who recently, oddly proclaimed himself "not a goal-scorer" anymore -- is scoring in bunches now. He hit one from the penalty spot in Saturday's 4-1 win over Kansas City, and then struck for another during one of his signature, defense-ripping dashes. And just like that, the former goal scorer who was apparently ready to settle into some lesser, supporting role now finds himself at the top of MLS' scoring leadership. Welcome back, Landon.
In the bigger picture, those two strikes moved him into sole position of fourth place on the all-time list with 110. Presuming that Jason Kreis, formerly No. 4, doesn't decide to lace 'em up again, Donovan won't fall from there.
In fact, Donovan will probably climb to third in the coming weeks as he overtakes Ante Razov and his 114 career strikes. From there, well, it's really just a matter of time before Donovan is chasing down the leaders from behind. Now 29 years old, he's got plenty of tire tread left. And as his window of opportunity for Europe is closing, it looks like he's an MLS man 'til the end at this point.
With a little luck, he could hold the crown by late next year. More likely, book the victory laps for some time around early- to midseason 2013.
3. Charlie Davies' audition: U.S. coach Bob Bradley was at RFK on Saturday, and he did indeed bear personal witness to a D.C. United attacker who is rounding into splendid form, working hard off the ball and doing all the little things to help his team. So, 'atta boy, Chris Pontius! Keep it up.
Bradley didn't exactly see those things from Davies, the actual target for inspection. The Americans' Gold Cup roster should be out on May 24 of thereabouts, but Davies' name seems unlikely to appear on it.
The comeback remains a great story. And Davies, 24, has plenty of time ahead. But Bradley -- who has surely watched video of every Davies touch in MLS so far -- was there to monitor what the D.C. United striker is doing off the ball, to gain any nuance that you can't see on screen. After all, three of Davies' six goals have come from the penalty spot, and two more were fairly simple finishes. So, his work off the ball was critical in the assessment.
The hamstring strain that forced Davies out of the match after 34 minutes probably makes it all moot anyway; Bradley isn't likely to use one of the 23 Gold Cup roster spots on a hobbled man. In the bigger picture, Davies still has work ahead. He's not creating enough chances on his own, his first touch remains on the rough side and he's gaining a reputation for going to ground too easily.
4. No broken legs in Round 9, but plenty of bad tackles: The league still has some explaining to do on how justice seems to be applied so unevenly. It's not just the two high-profile suspensions, either.
Colorado's Brian Mullan got 10 games for his terrible tackle. Chivas USA's Marcos Mondaini got just four games for his. In most estimations, it wasn't as bad as Mullan's -- but was it really that far away on the terrible tackle continuum?
But there's something else the league is dealing with as it sorts out a refereeing quagmire that was years in the making: how to handle the awful tackles that don't injure? Because we still see potentially injurious lunges and swipes each week. And we still see a remarkably tone deaf and maddeningly inconsistent reply from league referees in too many cases.
Some of these hacks, stomps and elbows draw whistles, but not all. Some are whistled as fouls, but without a card (or even a word of censure). And some are properly addressed with a card. But which way the scale of justice will tip at any given moment remains anybody's guess.
Not to pick on anyone, but go watch the bad foul by Chicago's Daniel Paladini's on Toronto's Jacob Peterson. It's overly aggressive and from behind, a desperate attempt to prevent a scoring chance just outside the penalty area. Sound familiar? It certainly will to poor Javier Morales.
How Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas City) escaped a needed booking for his cleated assault on David Beckham's thigh, only referee Baldomero Toledo could say. Chad Marshall (Columbus) wiped out Stephen Lenhart in an ugly way just before one of San Jose's goals. In that case, the referee properly allowed the play to continue, but a word to Marshall at the very least, if not a card, seemed in order.
And every week, the policing of elbows to the head remains scarily impotent.
So the question MLS must address is this: will they only punish offenders when some poor guy is maimed? Because the next broken leg or elbow-related concussion is out there, sadly.
5. Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Matt Reis (New England)
Defenders: Mamadou Danso (Portland), Andrew Hainault (Houston), Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake).
Midfielders: Andrew Jacobson (Dallas), Juninho (Los Angeles), Benny Feilhaber (New England), Simon Elliott (Chivas USA) Ryan Johnson (San Jose).
Forward: Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Justin Braun (Chivas USA).
|Week 9 MLS Power Rankings|