Seattle wins, Valeri dazzles, Yallop exits this week in MLS
The most shocking MLS news of the week came on Friday, when the San Jose Earthquakes parted company with longtime head coach Frank Yallop. On the field, there was plenty of drama as well.
Seattle Sounders 3, Vancouver Whitecaps 2
With rumors starting to proliferate that head coach Martin Rennie's seat was growing uncomfortably hot after defeat in the Canadian Championship and poor MLS form, the Whitecaps beat the Red Bulls 2-1 on June 1 for their first road win of the season.
For a while on Saturday it looked as if Vancouver was going to claim its second in a dream scenario: at the stadium of a Cascadia rival in front of 53,679 -- the league's largest crowd of 2013. But the Whitecaps have never won at CenturyLink Field in MLS -- and they still haven't. They are yet to beat the Sounders in six attempts.
A precise angled goal from Andy Rose gave Seattle an early advantage immediately canceled out by Camilo, who then scored his second header of the match in the 26th minute. Vancouver held the lead for 44 minutes but succumbed late on. Lamar Neagle won a penalty converted by Servando Carrasco, then Nagle scored himself, polishing off an Obafemi Martins cross.
Seattle, so sluggish at the start of the season, has moved into a playoff place in the Western Conference. It scored three times despite the absences of forward Eddie Johnson -- away on U.S. national team duty along with Friday's goalscoring hero Brad Evans -- and injured midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, for whom Rose was an able deputy.
Overlook the ugly 4-0 loss to L.A. on May 26, and focus on the bigger picture: Seattle has won six of its past eight MLS fixtures. Sigi Schmid's team moved above the inconsistent Galaxy with this three points. Hard to imagine it being dislodged from the top five for the rest of the season.
Olmes Garcia, Real Salt Lake
Fast, tall and only 20, the Colombian was the ultimate impact substitute on Saturday night, scoring twice against the MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy in a 3-1 win after coming off the bench in the 58th minute.
Signed from Deportes Quindio of Colombia in February this year, it won't be long before Garcia's earned the "supersub" tag: he also scored vital goals as a substitute against the New England Revolution and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Khari Stephenson gave Salt Lake the lead in the 44th minute but a terrific finish from Landon Donovan in first-half stoppage time soon leveled the scores. Garcia added zest to the RSL attack and won the game with an 84th-minute header -- if that's the right description for an effort that seemed to come off his upper back.
No doubting the quality of his finish in injury time, though, as he was put clear and coolly slid the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Brian Rowe, who was playing in place of the veteran Carlo Cudicini after the 5-0 defeat to New England last week. Given his youth and inexperience, Garcia can surely only get better - an alarming prospect for opposition defenses.
RSL head coach Kries told MLSsoccer.com: "I think if he continues to show that kind of hunger, that kind of desire, he has all the tools. He's an excellent dribbler, excellent striker of the ball, excellent finisher, excellent with his head, excellent pace, excellent size. He's got it all — he's got it all. For me, the only question mark is the desire, and he's showing that by the boatloads."
Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers vs Chicago Fire
This is why teams pay Designated Player dollars. On loan from Atletico Lanus of Argentina, the 27-year-old has contributed four goals and as many assists for Caleb Porter's streaking side -- whose only loss of the campaign came against the Montreal Impact back on March 9.
Valeri has three caps for Argentina and scored a fine goal 13 minutes into his MLS debut back in March, juggling the ball past the New York Red Bulls defense and flicking it low into the far corner.
This was another sharp run and finish: collecting a flick-on from a goal kick and dribbling into the penalty box, then cutting inside on to his right foot and finding a gap between two covering defenders clearly too wary of his quick feet to risk making a mistimed tackle. Despite little backlift, his high shot was powerful and thumped unstoppably off the near post and into the net past Sean Johnson.
His team-mate Ben Zemanski's first-time goal from distance later in the game was pretty special, too -- as was the free-kick from Daniel Paladini that gave the Fire a 2-2 draw.
192 - days between Frank Yallop winning MLS Coach of the Year title and leaving the San Jose Earthquakes.
California has lost two MLS head coaches in 10 days, with Yallop following the former Chivas USA boss "Chelis" through the exit.
While Chivas and Chelis was a combustible combination from the start, Yallop's departure on Friday came as a jolt. The 49-year-old former Canada international was in the sixth season of his second spell at San Jose and was the third-longest tenured head coach in MLS, after the Houston Dynamo's Dominic Kinnear and Jason Kreis at Real Salt Lake. Kinnear is the only other man to coach the Earthquakes since their re-branding 13 years ago.
Considering that length of service and the Supporters Shield triumph last year that earned Yallop his award for guiding San Jose to the best points tally in MLS, leaving was a surprise despite a winless run of four matches and a 3-6-6 record this season that puts the club second-last in the Western Conference.
"No one saw it coming," striker Chris Wondolowski told MLSSoccer.com. And not everyone noticed, either. Though Yallop said in a statement that he and senior club officials had met earlier in the week and decided to part ways, San Jose only announced the decision on Friday afternoon. With the U.S. soccer scene focused on that night's World Cup qualifier against Jamaica, it garnered limited attention.
Given last season's success, the valid excuse of an injury list as long as a Victorian novel and the continued support of the locker-room, we're entitled to wonder if this was about more than results. The 'Quakes have lately been acutely short of center backs and money constraints were apparently frustrating Yallop's desire to bring in high-caliber reinforcements.
The team's direct, physical style under Yallop certainly worked well in the cramped confines of Buck Shaw Stadium. You could question whether it will be as successful or acceptable to fans once the franchise moves to a new home in 2014. But was a re-boot required in mid-season?
Whatever the truth backstage there's less intrigue about the on-field failings. The formula tastes sour now but it's got the same basic ingredients as last year's winning brew. Understandably, there were few notable roster changes in the winter - but did stability breed stagnation?
San Jose began the season missing four key players: Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart, Marvin Chavez and Steven Beitashour. But results did not improve when they returned. With 23 goals conceded, the defense is leaking like a rusty faucet. Only Chivas USA has shipped more in the Western Conference.
As befits its tactical approach, San Jose pumps more crosses and takes more corners than just about anyone else in the league. It has taken 202 shots on goal -- the third-highest number in MLS before Saturday's fixtures, along with New York. But the Red Bulls have 23 goals from 16 games; the Earthquakes, just 13 from fifteen fixtures.
Wondolowski is on pace for 10-12 goals, less than half his record-equaling tally of 27 from last year. Yet his shots-per-game ratio and shooting accuracy are barely down from last year.
The truth is that the 2013 Earthquakes are simply less efficient at both ends of the field. Behind the tales of never-say-die spirit, beneath the passion, there was a clinical quality to the "Goonies" of 2012. They battled to earn those last-gasp chances - and then, as often as not, they took them. This year? Not so much.