Referee steals spotlight, Union still struggling, more MLS Snaps
Referee Mark Geiger was way too influential in the Crew's win over the Impact
The Philadelphia Union still looked out of sorts in their 1-0 setback to the Fire
For the second straight match, Toronto allowed three goals, this time to San Jose
From a bit of controversy in Columbus to San Jose making itself at home in Toronto here are five thoughts from Saturday's early MLS action:
1. Referee steals spotlight in Columbus -- MLS referees had been doing a pretty solid job of staying out of the spotlight this season, straying from overly controversial decisions that tilted games heavily in one direction. Until Saturday.
Mark Geiger made two first-half calls that turned the Columbus Crew's 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact on its head. His decision to give Jeb Brovsky a red card for his elbow to Milovan Mirosevic was defensible. Brovksy had his elbow elevated over his head, he led with it and followed through while leaping for a 50-50 ball. Regardless of intent, it was a dangerous act, and with the league trying to take steps to protect its players, the ejection is understandable.
Geiger's decision to award the Crew a penalty kick that Mirosevic converted less than 10 minutes later, however, was beyond harsh.
The call in question came after Felipe appeared to make a sound tackle to poke away the ball as Emilio Renteria turned and headed toward goal inside the Impact box. During the follow-through of the successful challenge, the two were shoulder-to-shoulder, with Renteria engaging in further contact by leaning into Felipe and pushing the Brazilian off with his arm. The two players' legs got tangled, followed by Renteria going to the ground, which drew an immediate whistle from Geiger.
There are instances when plays that happen in the box and would be called fouls anywhere else on the field do not draw a whistle. In this case, it's doubtful that Felipe's tackle would have earned a whistle in any other spot on the field let alone be penalty-worthy.
Replays showed that Geiger, the reigning MLS Referee of the Year no less, may have been screened by Montreal's Josh Gardner at the instant that Renteria fell to the ground, which could have skewed his perception of the play. His unequivocal decision to award the penalty suggests that he did not need help from his assistant and that he saw definitive evidence for a PK, though, which was a questionable and game-altering call.
2. Union continue to look out of sorts -- The problems continue to mount for the Philadelphia Union, a team that keeps looking like one stuck in quicksand as opposed to one thought to be poised for a leap forward in Year 3.
Sporting a 3-5-2 formation to cover for absences and a lack of center back depth, the Union were disjointed and never seriously threatened the Chicago Fire in a 1-0 loss, their third straight defeat to open the season.
After the unusual injury saga this week involving center back Danny Califf resulted in the captain missing the trip, the Union lived dangerously by countering the speed the Fire boast between Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko by going to a three-man back line with various midfielders dipping back to provide cover. The move completely took away any semblance of organization, and it hardly prevented the two Ghanaian attackers from exploiting the space. With so many players committed to covering in the back, the Union failed to advance forward. Connected passes to a striker in the final third were a rarity, and on the whole, the Union just looked flat and disinterested overall until urgency set in during the final minutes. Yes, the team is without Olympic qualifying hopefuls Freddy Adu, Sheanon Williams and Amobi Okugo, but the overall aura the club is projecting far from a positive and successful one.
Many will point to the offseason trade of fan favorite and attacking star Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver as the inciting incident for Philadelphia's early-season struggles. If the Union are to correct their myriad of problems next weekend, they'll have do to so at the expense of Le Toux's Whitecaps at PPL Park. It should be quite the scene.
3. Joseph an unlikely anchor in the back for New England -- Shalrie Joseph has long been one of the best overall players in MLS, with the four time MLS Best XI honoree's presence in central midfield being a constant for the New England Revolution.
It was his presence on the back line, though, that keyed the Revolution's first victory of the season.
With injuries and suspensions forcing Joseph to play center back, against the Portland Timbers, he thrived under the circumstances. Joseph drew the responsibility of marking Designated Player Kris Boyd, and he more than held his own. Granted, he was helped by Boyd's inaccuracy in front of the goal, as well. He had once instance of floating a mis-hit header right to Boyd, who nodded an errant shot wide.
Joseph also had a number of interventions that were key in the Revolution's first victory of the season, though, including a pair of last-ditch efforts to extend his leg and prevent clear looks at goal. He also turned in physical, yet clean, play while marking Boyd that rendered the Scottish hit man ineffective. His organizational skills and communication were prevalent from start to finish, and despite only playing there because three other options were unavailable (Darrius Barnes and John Lozano were injured; Stephen McCarthy was suspended), Joseph at center back was a successful experiment. Even though the Revolution have a plethora of midfield options, Joseph does not figure to make a permanent home for himself in the back, but it does give coach Jay Heaps something to ponder if he is in a bind considering Saturday was the most cohesive the Revs have looked in defense all season.
Oddly enough, Joseph wasn't the only captain playing out of position Saturday, as Montreal's Davy Arnaud was forced to shift to right back after the early red card to Brovsky.
4. TFC defense is in shambles -- Early optimism has given way to Code Red panic north of the border.
For the second straight match, Toronto FC conceded three goals, and with a crucial CONCACAF Champions League semifinal clash with mighty Santos Laguna looming on Wednesday, there appears to be no correction in sight to the club's defensive frailties.
It's not as if TFC did not try to plug its glaring hole in the offseason, but the club whiffed on the signing of Ecuadorian center back Geovanny Caicedo, who was released before the start of the season, first-round draft pick Aaron Maund hasn't had a chance to settle into the lineup and Chilean Miguel Aceval has struggled in his brief foray into MLS, demonstrating an incapability to close down on his marks in transition in TFC's 3-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.
Pinning the loss on Aceval alone would be harsh, because it was a combined effort across the back line that left the Reds in shambles. With San Jose conceding 60 percent of the possession, star striker Chris Wondolowski was denied a whole host of chances, but he still managed to score two goals. He was left completely unmarked (how does that happen to the player who has scored the most goals in MLS the last two years?) on a low cross into the box, and he had enough time and space just yards from the goal post to flub a cross, settle and fire for San Jose's third goal on a counterattack, with trailing defenders tracking back at a leisurely pace.
German veteran Torsten Frings had been able to cover up the team's weakness acting as a sweeper, and he's the real reason TFC was able to get by the favored Los Angeles Galaxy in the CCL quarterfinals. With him out for the next 4-to-6 weeks with a strained hamstring, though, there's nobody back there to clean up the mess, and there doesn't appear to be a ready-made, in-house solution.
Canadian international center back Adrian Cann is reportedly a couple of weeks away from returning to the field, but if a Cann that is coming off ACL reconstruction is the club's best option, then the boisterous cheers that consumed the Rogers Centre for TFC's CCL tie with the Galaxy will give way to the boos that made the rounds at BMO Field Saturday for weeks to come.
5. San Jose embraces elements, TFC ignores them -- Another problem for TFC Saturday is that the club resisted the need to change its approach despite the weather calling for a different plan of attack.
Toronto refused to account for the wind element at BMO Field, repeatedly opting for early, deep crosses and long balls played out of the back despite the wind drastically altering the flight path of the passes all game long.
San Jose, meanwhile, embraced the hand that Mother Nature dealt. The Earthquakes, for the most part, opted to stay compact, counterattack with either low chips or balls on the ground and create chances that way, and the plan worked to perfection. Toronto might have been the home team, but it was San Jose that looked most at home while dealing with the Canadian jet stream.