Le Toux returns to Philly, lets wait on Red Bulls, and more MLS snaps
Vancouver’s Sebastien Le Toux's anticipated return to Philadelphia was uneventful
Violent acts are being scrutinized and that may mean punishment for Atiba Harris
Despite 9 goals in two games, it’s too early to say New York is an East contender
From Sebastien Le Toux's awaited return to Philadelphia to more TFC trouble, here are five thoughts from Saturday's early MLS action:
1. Le Toux return lacking
The fanfare and anticipation surrounding Vancouver Whitecaps forward Sebastien Le Toux's return to Philadelphia for the first time since the controversial offseason trade made for great theater, especially considering Vancouver's success and the Union's struggles. As for the actual performance? About as dull and drab as Saturday's Chester, Pa., weather.
The pregame ovation for Le Toux and spattering of boos for Union manager Peter Nowak gave way to a scoreless draw, with neither Le Toux nor his former club able to distinguish themselves. Le Toux, the centerpiece of the attack with starters Eric Hassli and Camilo both out, had a few occasions to stick it to the Union, none better than a wide-open chance in the area in the 82nd minute of Vancouver's second straight 0-0 draw.
Outside of the Le Toux scope, though, here are the real takeaways from the match: The Vancouver defense deserves way more credit than it is receiving -- the club has opened the season with four clean sheets, a healthy Jay DeMerit has been dominant in the center, and South Korean right back Young-Pyo Lee is as smooth and steady as it gets -- but the Union should ultimately be beside themselves for not snatching three points against an opponent missing three key starters. The Union defense and struggling goalkeeper Zac MacMath put forth their best effort of the season, but the attack was blanked for the second straight match and has managed just two goals in four games and enters a bye week with plenty of uncertainties.
As for Le Toux, he might not have capitalized on his chances, but he's still the one leaving PPL Park with a smile by playing for an undefeated side that is sitting pretty after the season's opening month.
2. Harris elbow should draw discipline
Atiba Harris' phone could be ringing with a call from a New York City area code this week.
In his first game back since tearing his meniscus and missing the majority of last season, Harris got the start for the short-handed Whitecaps, and he committed a flagrant act that may very well draw the attention of the MLS Discipline Committee when it reviews the game tape.
With Union center back Carlos Valdes playing a simple ball out of the back, Harris pressured and delivered a deliberate elbow to the Colombian's head. Not only had Valdes suffered a head injury a couple of games ago and been wearing headgear to begin the match, but the play itself seemed so innocuous and routine before Harris threw his arm forward. He drew a yellow card for the infraction but left the door open for more discipline to come.
Pointing out every excessive physical confrontation might seem a bit over the top, but with MLS suspending Houston's Adam Moffat for a game for the kind of tackle that is not that unusual, excessive violent acts have come under a bit more scrutiny. The league called Moffat's tackle of Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso "a reckless challenge which endangered the safety of his opponent". There is certainly room for subjectivity and arbitrary decision making when it comes to these incidents, but for Harris, an eight-year veteran who has had more yellow cards than goals in all but one of his MLS seasons, his unnecessary elbow certainly falls in the "reckless" and "endangering" category.
3. Reserve Red Bulls judgment
With nine goals in two games, it would be simple to re-proclaim the New York Red Bulls as contenders in the Eastern Conference. While the recent results are impressive, and Thierry Henry likely sewed up Player of the Month honors with his first MLS hat trick Saturday, shreds of skepticism remain.
Last week's four-goal outburst came at the expense of an undermanned Colorado side that was without central midfield stalwarts Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz. This week's five-spot came against an error-prone Montreal back line in which three of the four starting defenders were individually responsible for conceding avoidable goals. New center back Markus Holgersson looked sluggish and committed a horrendous turnover that led to Montreal's first goal. Rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara has had plenty of bright spots in four games, but he also got beaten near post on a savable shot from distance. Rafa Marquez had to exit with what appeared to be a recurrence of his groin injury, and even worse, imposing yet injury-prone center back Wilman Conde appeared to re-tweak the thigh injury that kept him out of the first two games of the season on a harmless touch in stoppage time. In short, there are plenty of uncertainties.
With Henry and Kenny Cooper starting up top together over the last two games, the results have been prolific. All of the club's 10 goals have been scored with both players on the field, and with the club hamstrung at forward with Luke Rodgers' visa being denied and Juan Agudelo out for the next few weeks after meniscus surgery, it is on the veteran pair to carry the club for the long haul.
It's not to say that they can't or won't, and early indications are that they will continue to thrive together, but we've seen the promise and potential this club carries be met with questionable decisions and underwhelming results. Which Red Bulls team is this, the one that looked lost in road games at Dallas and Salt Lake, or the one that overpowered two weaker opponents at home? A larger sample size against a balance of opponents is needed before immediately placing New York in the East's upper echelon with Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo.
4. Elementary mistakes continue to kill TFC
Toronto FC turned in its best league performance of the season in a modest 1-0 loss to Trillium Cup rival Columbus, but yet again, simple errors continue to plague the last remaining MLS team in the CONCACAF Champions League.
On the game-deciding sequence central midfielder and Designated Player Julian de Guzman allowed himself to be stripped of the ball in the center of the pitch, the worst possible place to get dispossessed. Because the Reds had numbers pushed forward, nobody was able to step up to cut off Bernardo Anor on the ensuing Crew counter attack, allowing the second-year player to coast on a straight 50-yard run down Main Street.
Unheralded center back Logan Emory, who otherwise turned in a promising performance while filling in for the injured Miguel Aceval, had his failed clearance attempt off Anor's initial poor touch send Anor through for the game-deciding point-blank chance. The turnover, lack of organization and gifted chance sequence is nothing new for a much-maligned club that has failed to replicate its regional success on the league level.
If the Reds can't go to Torreon, Mexico, and steal a result from Santos Laguna -- just ask Seattle how simple that challenge is -- then the luster of the early-season success will wear off, and the club will be left looking at a harsh reality: A winless start; an uphill battle for the club's first postseason berth; one goal scored and seven conceded through three games, two of which were played at home against non-playoff contenders from a year ago.
5. Schedule rearranging for CCL not practical
With TFC carrying the MLS flag in the CCL, one would think that the league would have taken a look at replicating what it did last season, rescheduling a match for Real Salt Lake in between legs of the tournament final to provide maximum rest. It's not a rarity in soccer around the world, as Marseille had a league match originally slated for Saturday postponed so the club could have an edge between the legs of its UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie against Bayern Munich.
The fact is, though, there really was no other time during the season for both Toronto and Columbus to reschedule without putting the Crew at a competitive disadvantage by stacking games together later in the year. Houston currently being on consecutive bye weeks would suggest some sort of leeway, but rearranging the cluttered league schedule as it is would have created a domino effect with no stable solution. Between Canadian Championships and U.S. Open Cup dates, World Cup qualifiers and other FIFA fixture dates, the window for flexibility was pretty non-existent. In the league's defense, TFC already had the advantage of being on bye in the season's opening week while preparing for its quarterfinal against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
With Toronto in desperate need of a league result, manager Aron Winter could not afford to trot out a reserve-laden side against the Crew, and with a number of those starters playing heavy minutes, Toronto won't have any edge heading into its key regional battle.