Columbus and Toronto struggling badly; MLS goalkeeper rankings
Toronto and Columbus' poor form places pressure on their coaches
The Gold Cup will leave many MLS teams deprived of star names
Dallas' Kevin Hartman is arguably the league's top goalkeeper at present
Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things you should know about Week 11:
1. Patience is great, until it runs out: You know what they say about patience: It's good and all -- until you run out.
The "under renovation" banner was hung this year at Toronto and Columbus. Meanwhile, Chicago had unfinished work on its ongoing makeover. And West of there, Portland and Vancouver were doing the expansion team thing. So a certain tolerance presided at all these addresses.
Well, patience surely must be running thin in Columbus and Chicago, perhaps endangering the employment of coaches there. We are about to hit the summer, otherwise known as sacking season -- with Vancouver's Teitur Thordarson the first casualty.
Robert Warzycha's Columbus Crew just closed out a winless May. Grabbing all three points Saturday against Chivas USA should have been filed under "essential." It was doubly so when Chivas went a man down with 20 minutes. The Goats are no pushover these days, but Saturday's 3-3 draw will leave a big bruise for Warzycha's Crew.
Worst of all: the Crew's downfall so far has been repugnant offense. Well, the attack found a little pep Saturday, but now the defense looks wobbly, as Julius James begins to demonstrate why such a once-promising young center back is already on his fourth MLS stop.
As for Chicago and coach Carlos de los Cobos? Well, one win in 11 games is no recipe for job security. Only Sporting Kansas City keeps the Fire from last-place -- and SKC hasn't had a home match yet.
TFC's Winter told everyone it's a three-year plan. Fair enough. But it won't even be a three-month plan if they get beat 6-2 at home a couple more times, as they did this weekend. The six-spot was applied by Philadelphia, a stout defensive team, but one with just eight goals in 10 games going into Saturday's breakout.
As for Vancouver, the home fans keep showing up in big numbers but were getting antsy about greater reward. Vancouver's lone win came at home against Toronto, and we all see that result a little more clearly these days. Six home matches since then have reaped five measly points. The pressure point on Thordarson was increased by fellow expansion side Portland sitting pretty with five wins in six home matches.
2. Good teams and newfound trouble: Coaching is comfortable when it's all about winning, accolades and congratulatory back slapping around town. The real test is how these guys handle matters that are heading south. Can they arrest a spiral through adjustment and calm resolve?
So we're about to find out a little more about two well-liked coaches, coincidentally in close geographical proximity, who are now dealing with crisis.
Both of MLS' sides from the mountain region know something of adversity these days. Real Salt Lake just can't shake the double hangover. The first blow was having one hand on the CONCACAF Champions League crown, then losing it to Monterrey's smash-and-grab job in Utah. The real hammer blow, however, was losing playmaker Javier Morales.
Since Morales fell RSL has responded with two scoreless ties and then Saturday's loss at home to Seattle, snapping the Utah side's showy 29-game home unbeaten streak in league play. Coach Jason Kreis was philosophical following Saturday's loss, admitting to some odd feeling of satisfaction after seeing more fight and spirit. He also noted how Fabian Espindola, getting healthy again, added zip to a diminished attack.
"We've had too many guys who are OK with letting somebody else do the job, or take the responsibility or have the final pass or take the shot," Kreis said. "We need more guys to step up and say 'I'm gonna do it.' "
Just East, Rapids coach Gary Smith has issues, too. We might be learning about an element of last year's championship that was under appreciated at the time: that 2010's big run came in a relatively trouble free season. Injuries were at a minimum, and Colorado never had to deal with the strain of concurrent competitions like Champions League.
This year, injuries to forwards have been epidemic, a big reason the team has tied five in a row, including Saturday's draw with Kansas City. The ailments cut even deeper when teams are asked to play three times over eight days, as 10 MLS teams were in Round 11.
Smith has responded with a 4-1-4-1 formation that seems to be working. Sort of. Ties must eventually turn to wins, especially at home. Smith says they'll need to "turn the screw a little bit" on the road now to pick up points lost at home. That, of course, will take some problem solving.
3. Three clever adjustments: Seattle and Dallas have adapted successfully, quickly and admirably to life without some of their top offensive talent. (Well, the top offensive talent in Dallas' case.) Philadelphia has made an adjustment, too, although for coach Peter Nowak it was about an injured attack rather than an injured player.
Dallas had a nice week, picking up four points in two road matches. The new way forward for Schellas Hyndman's side, previously one bent on possession and short passing, is counter attacking. It works because forwards Fabian Castillo and Marvin Chavez are ridiculously fast. Teams will eventually adjust, and then Dallas must adjust anew. But Hyndman's team is unbeaten in eight consecutively for now.
One of Dallas' wins was against Seattle. No matter, however, for Sigi Schmiid's crew, which responded four nights later in a sweet win Saturday at RSL. Schmid formerly asked his wide midfielders to stretch the field. Now, without much speed out there for the Sounders, it's a useful four-man diamond with the outside men pinched in. Schmid has yet to get the personnel mix just so, but a 3-2-2 mark since Steve Zakuani fell isn't bad.
Justin Mapp has been reborn in Philadelphia, where Nowak is using him as a playmaker set up wide left in a 4-4-2. It got the best from Mapp in Saturday's 6-2 stunner as he matched Danny Mwanga's two goals.
4. Players about to go missing: MLS in June will be a battle of reserves and reinforcements -- at least to a point.
Round 11 saw some of the effects, as big names began migrating to their national sides for summer friendlies and tournaments. The Gold Cup is the biggie, of course, removing not just important U.S. internationals from MLS rosters, but good players from Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras and elsewhere.
But that's just the start of it. The league's glamour side are great examples:
The Red Bulls missed Rafa Marquez and Dane Richards in Saturday's 1-1 draw in Vancouver. Now they'll be without Tim Ream, Juan Agudelo and Dwayne De Rosario, too. All this as Thierry Henry tries to heal that bum knee.
Los Angeles needed every horse in the barn Saturday to get past hard-trying New England along the East Coast. They'll keep Beckham for June -- assuming there are no more testimonials or big weddings -- but their "Donovans" will scatter. Landon Donovan and all his 2011 production will go to Bob Bradley's national team, while goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts joins Jamaica.
Others clubs will be similarly affected. But then there's a team like Philadelphia, where a lineup full of youngsters, middleweights and players who once tiptoed the perimeter of the national team pool have the Union atop the East. If a full Union can create a little separation over Red Bulls-lite, the June gloom of international duty might really have something to say about the coming playoff races.
5. Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Kasey Keller (Seattle)
Defenders: Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Marvell Wynne (Colorado), Andrew Boyens (Chivas USA), Ugo Ihemelu (Dallas).
Midfielders: Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Andrew Jacobson (FC Dallas), Justin Mapp (Philadelphia), Anthony Ampaipitakwong (San Jose).
Forward: Danny Mwanga (Philadelphia), Andres Mendoza (Columbus).