Alexi Lalas is an incompetent ass (and other MLS notes)
1. D.C. is the team to beat: Last year's squad romped through the first half of the season, then limped through the second half. They held on to claim the Supporters' Shield, but then promptly flamed out in the playoffs. Rookie coach Tom Soehn seems to have learned from that last campaign. His team has played their best ball in recent weeks, putting up a sterling 8-0-1 ledger since the start of August, while outscoring opponents by a formidable 23-6 margin. During that span they put up two impressive drubbings of their chief rivals in the east, New England. Ben Olsen is having the best season of his career and deserves serious MVP consideration. Fred keeps getting better as the season progresses, while fellow Brazilian Luciano Emilio simply scores and scores and scores.
2. Chicago will snag the final playoff spot: And I wouldn't want to face them in the first round of the post season. Cuathemoc Blanco has dramatically improved the Fire. The attack--featuring the hunchbacked Mexican along with Paulo Wanchope, Chris Rolfe and Chad Barrett--is lethal. It will be interesting to see how Wilman Conde's presence impacts a shaky defense. He didn't get off to a promising start with a red card in his first match. The Fire caught a break on Sunday, though, when Colorado was derailed by a dubious red card and penalty kick call after Facundo Erpen put a love tap on Laurent Merlin in the box. Chicago gets another break this week, catching D.C. without Fred, Christian Gomez, and Olsen--all out for Sunday's match owing to card accumulation.
3. Preki is hands down coach of the year: The first-year Chivas coach has done a remarkable job with a squad that looks humdrum on paper. After planning to build the nucleus of the team around playmaker Amado Guevara, Preki was forced to scrap that plan after the Honduran jackass did his best to sabotage the season. Undeterred, Preki has taken players like Lawson Vaughn and Shavar Thomas, who had proven thoroughly middling in prior seasons, and put together the league's most consistent team. Jesse Marsch has been a human wrecking ball in the midfield, while also displaying a heretofore unknown passing touch. And in a year that has seen the greatest infusion of talent since the founding of MLS, Maykel Galindo might just be the league's top newcomer. Both of these Goats deserve consideration for MVP. Too bad nobody shows up for the games, no matter how idiotically Christian Miles blathers on about their supposedly rabid fans.
4. I'll be cheering for Dallas to come through the west: They're the most entertaining, unpredictable team in the league. Steve Morrow's squad looked anemic at the start of the season. When Kenny Cooper went down early on it seemed like the rookie coach was facing a long, lousy campaign. But that was before the revelation of Juan Carlos Toja, the gritty Colombian midfield dynamo, and Pablo Richetti, the steady veteran defensive midfielder. The jury is still out on what Denilson will bring to the mix, but it doesn't look particularly promising. Dallas would have been much wiser to add a veteran centerback. The team will ultimately be undone by its lousy defense. Give the starting goalkeeper job to Ray Burse, Jr.! The kid was fantastic in the three games that he started, while Dario Sala has looked old and inept since returning from injury. Put him out to pasture.
5. This has been the best season in the history of MLS: Forget David Beckham. The other newcomers have brought an impressive jolt of class and skill throughout the league. Juan Pablo Angel, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Carlos Marinelli, Abel Xavier, Galindo, Toja, Emilio, and Blanco have all shined. Average attendance is set to be higher than at any time since the league's inaugural season, with roughly 16,000 showing up per game. Chicago and New England, in particular have shown a marked spike in fan support, while Toronto's sold out home campaign is testament that expanding to Canada was a wise move. With ESPN, Fox Soccer Network, and Telefutura all showing weekly matches, the league has never had greater exposure. These positive developments have been overshadowed by the media’s silly Beckham fixation.
6. Alexi Lalas should never have another job in MLS: His ineptitude is staggering. I love the fact that Lalas isn’t afraid to court controversy, but his track record is simply atrocious. Trading Robbie Findley and Nathan Sturgis, two highly promising young players who have helped Salt Lake significantly, for a washed-up Chris Klein was jaw dropping. Shipping out Ugo Ihemelu and Tyrone Marshall--gritty, proven defenders who could have gone a long ways towards solidifying the squad--was another brain-dead move. Every option that L.A. has tried in attack—Alan Gordon, Carlos Pavon, Edson Buddle, Nate Jaqua, Gavin Glinton—has been a bust. It’s been sad watching Landon Donovan try to singlehandedly spark the team towards some level of competence. I’m agnostic on whether Frank Yallop should also get shived for the team’s putrid performance. His handling of Beckham was criminally stupid, but he’s proven himself a capable coach over many years.