2014 MLS Season Review: Vancouver Whitecaps

Western Conference Final Position: 5th

Western Conference Playoffs: Knockout Round

Review

Despite their agonising exit from the playoffs via a 2-1 defeat at the hands of FC Dallas, the 2014 season will go down as the best so far for the Vancouver Whitecaps since they began competing in Major League Soccer in 2011. It saw them record their highest points tally (50) – their previous best was the 48 points they accumulated last season (2013).

Best Moment

Their five-game unbeaten run at the end of the season is the biggest highlight as they charged towards the playoff positions and nipped in ahead of Portland Timbers by just one point.

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Worst Moment

The 84th minute penalty conceded by Kendall Watson after he was controversially adjudged to have handled the ball intentionally against FC Dallas in the playoff knockout game. Some will argue that it was the right call to award the spot kick, while many will say very much the opposite. Whatever way you dress it up, it’s a gut wrenching way to lose any game of soccer, let alone bow out of the playoffs. You have to sympathise for the Whitecaps who had worked ever so hard to be in such a great position this season.

Player of the Year

Pedro Morales is a name that has rightly popped up frequently when discussing the Vancouver team. The Chilean has been an inspiration in midfield and to finish the 2014 season as the top goalscorer and assist-maker at the club shows how crucial he is and will continue to be. Keeping hold of him is essential to their future.

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Biggest Win

Vancouver Whitecaps 4-1 New York Red Bulls (March 9 2014)

Biggest Defeat

Vancouver Whitecaps 0-3 Portland Timbers (August 31 2014)

Portland Timbers 3-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (September 20 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

There are numerous positives to take from their performance this year. They have shown a gradual improvement for every season that they have been in MLS and this should fill them with confidence that they can continue to grow.

Vancouver Whitecaps points tally since participation in Major League Soccer:

Whitecaps points tallies

One area they could look to improve is up-front. They have lacked a prolific goalscorer and have relied heavily on Pedro Morales to do the business from midfield. The man with the most goals for the Whitecaps other than Morales is Darren Mattocks with six.

The news of Erick Torres becoming a free agent in the close season is interesting and he could be someone that’s on their radar as they look to fill that void.

Vancouver Whitecaps have the potential to be one of the strongest teams for the 2015 season.

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2014 MLS Season Review: Chicago Fire

Eastern Conference Final Position: 9th

Review

Chicago Fire had a difficult start to the season, having to wait until their ninth game for a win. Their tough opening was unfortunate and indicated what was to come for the rest of the regular season. The Fire only managed back-to-back wins on one occasion and narrowly escaped finishing at the foot of the table.

Best Moment

Doing the double over New York Red Bulls – one of which was a nine-goal thriller, ending 5-4. After leading the game early on, they then fell 2-1 behind. They showed resilience and power to score four without reply to lead 5-2. There was late drama from the record leveller, Bradley Wright Phillips, making the score 5-4. The Fire managed a last ten minute shut out in one of the most exhilarating games of the season.

Worst Moment

Their eight-game winless run at the beginning almost determined their fate and made it extremely difficult to push on for the rest of the season.

Player of the Year

Jeff Larentowicz. The midfielder is someone Fire need to build around as he was one of a few solid players and the joint top appearance maker. Larentowicz was also joint second top goalscorer.

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Biggest Win

New York Red Bulls 4-5 Chicago Fire (May 11 2014).

All six of Fire’s wins were only by the single goal. With that in mind, it’s worth assessing the biggest win in terms of the performance.

Biggest Defeat

San Jose Earthquakes 5-1 Chicago Fire (July 24 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

Turning draws into wins is a must for Chicago. Their inability to win games evidently cost them any chance of pushing for the playoffs. Their staggering 18 draws was the highest out of both conferences, but Fire must take a positive that they managed to avoid defeat in 24 of their 34 games. In comparison, Seattle Sounders were another side who lost ten games, proving the difference and importance of winning. They have to build on some solid performances in the season and beating a handful of the top five.

2014 MLS Season Review: Portland Timbers

Western Conference Final Position: 6th

Review

The 2014 season started slowly and it took Portland nine games to record their first win but they eventually burst in to life. Unfortunately for the Timbers, it all came to an agonising conclusion as they narrowly missed out on the playoffs, finishing in sixth place, just one point behind Vancouver Whitecaps. They are certainly the best MLS team that won’t feature in the playoffs this year and it will be a bitter pill to swallow considering how well they have played at times this season.

Best Moment

Coming from a goal behind to win 3-1 away at Real Salt Lake in June is one of their greatest achievements for 2014. It’s the only home defeat that Real Salt Lake suffered all season and a result they can be proud of.

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Worst Moment

The defeat in Toronto at the end of September is the one that will have hurt them the most and is essentially the result that cost them their place in the playoffs. Having led the game 2-0 at half-time, they will be devastated that they somehow squandered a two-goal lead and lost the game 3-2, thanks to an 89th minute winner from Michael Bradley.

Player of the Year

Diego Valeri has been inspirational for the Timbers. He’s scored 11 goals from midfield and assisted 14. Contributing 25 goals from midfield is very impressive. Maximiliano Urruti is another player who has been in fine form this season, but Valeri has been the main man and has even been discussed as an outsider for the MVP award.

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Biggest Win

Vancouver Whitecaps 0-3 Portland Timbers (August 31 2014)

Portland Timbers 3-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (September 20 2014)

Portland Timbers 3-0 San Jose Earthquakes (October 9 2014)

Biggest Defeat

Portland Timbers 2-4 Seattle Sounders (August 24 2014)

What to improve for the 2015 season…

The margin of error in soccer can be so small at times. They will reflect on a good season that will be littered with ifs and buts. The main criticism of Portland would be how slowly they started the season. One win from their opening 11 games left them a monumental task to try and finish in a playoff position and they almost made it. If they hadn’t been so slow out of the blocks, they would have comfortably secured a playoff spot and their season wouldn’t already be over now. They will be a force in the 2015 season.

Player ratings: Seattle Sounders 2-0 LA Galaxy

Seattle Sounders clinched their first ever Supporters’ Shield with a gutsy 2-0 victory over Western Conference rivals LA Galaxy at CenturyLink Field.

They battled through a fiery opening 30 minutes, with possession largely dominated by the Galaxy.

Pure grit, determination and passion got them through those early stages and their tactics were spot on as a frustrated LA couldn’t find a way through.

When chances came their way late on, they made the most of it and in the end they probably deserved the victory.

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[Seattle Sounders had already tasted glory this season when they won the 2014 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup]

Seattle Sounders:

  • Stefan Frei (Goalkeeper) – 7/10 – Despite LA’s early dominance of possession, they didn’t create much which left Frei with little to do. The one occasion he was called upon came when Landon Donovan tried to latch on to a through ball but Frei did well to close the angle down and leave Donovan with no time to think.
  • DeAndre Yedlin (Defender) – 7/10 – He was reliable and solid for the most part but did look susceptible at times on the outside flank. His work-rate was excellent.
  • Chad Marshall (Defender) – 8/10 – He was influential at the back and was the glue that kept the Sounders unit tied together. He won everything in the air and was tidy on the ground with great passing accuracy. (80% according to whoscored.com)
  • Zach Scott (Defender) – 7/10 – A faultless performance at the heart of defence. His partnership with Marshall played a crucial role in keeping a clean sheet.
  • Leonardo Gonzalez (Defender) – 7/10 – The Sounders full-backs had to be alert and aware of the threat LA posed from out wide as they looked to expose the flanks but Gonzalez was more than wise to those kind of tactics.
  • Brad Evans (Midfielder) – 6/10 – You can’t be too critical of the Sounders defence as they stuck to their task so well but his poor passing accuracy of 56% (according to whoscored.com) makes it hard to award higher than a 6.
  • Osvaldo Alonso (Midfielder) – 8/10 – He was instrumental in the execution of the game plan. He was consistently good with his passing throughout and wasn’t wasteful in possession in the same way that some of the Sounders players were.
  • Gonzalo Pineda (Midfielder) – 7/10 – He played with aggression, fight and determination. He was perhaps guilty of letting it spiral out of control at times but he was a terrier in the middle of the park and consistently hounded the Galaxy midfield when they were in possession.
  • Lamar Neagle (Midfielder) – 6/10 – He stuck to his defensive duties well but struggled to find teammates with his passing, particularly in the first half.
  • Clint Dempsey (Forward) – 7/10 – He wouldn’t let the LA defence relax and he was a nuisance to deal with in the second half.
  • Obafemi Martins (Forward) – 8/10 – He’s hunting down the MVP award and he certainly didn’t harm his chances here. He was strong and confident and played the crucial killer pass in to Marco Pappa for the first goal that took all the wind out of LA Galaxy’s sails.
  • Marco Pappa (Forward) – 9/10 – Man of the match and he was only on the pitch for 20 minutes. He made the difference with a composed finish for the first goal. And with seconds remaining on the clock, his never say die attitude saw him hound the Galaxy ‘keeper, Jaime Penedo, steal the ball and scoop it into the net for the second.
  • Djimi Traore (Defender) – 6/10 – He was on the pitch for all of 30 seconds so had no chance of making an impact.

LA Galaxy:

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  • Jaime Penedo (Goalkeeper) – 5/10 – He made a shocking error for the second goal. He didn’t have a terrible game beforehand but allowing an opposing player to dispossess you when you play in goal is unacceptable. He certainly won’t want to see it again.
  • Dan Gargan (Defender) – 6/10 – He linked up well with the Galaxy midfield but his positioning was questionable for the first goal and he’ll be disappointed that he wasn’t able to do more in order to prevent Marco Pappa.
  • Leonardo (Defender) – 6/10 – The Galaxy back line had relatively little to do throughout this game in terms of defensive work, so to concede two goals is disappointing for the centre-backs.
  • A. J. DeLaGarza (Defender) – 6/10 – He will be disappointed with how open they left themselves for the first goal with the game so delicately poised at 0-0.
  • Robbie Rogers (Defender) – 7/10 – One of the better performers on the day for LA Galaxy. He put in a real shift but to no avail.
  • Baggio Husidic (Midfielder) – 6/10 – He was reliable on the ball but struggled to make an impact from the wide areas.
  • Juninho (Midfielder) – 7/10 – The midfield maestro was strong in possession and shifted the ball about nicely but it wasn’t enough to carve an opening through the solid Sounders defence.
  • Marcelo Sarvas (Midfielder) – 7/10 – He battled well and his passing was brilliant. He didn’t shy away from challenges and provided great support for fellow midfielder, Juninho.
  • Stefan Ishizaki (Midfielder) – 6/10 – LA would have hoped for more from the Swede. His passing was disappointing for a position normally associated with accuracy. (70% accuracy according to whoscored.com)
  • Gyasi Zardes (Forward) – 6/10 – He made good runs in behind and worked tirelessly to create an opening but it wasn’t a good day to be playing up front for LA Galaxy with such limited opportunities.
  • Landon Donovan (Forward) – 6/10 – The club legend almost appeared to be trying too hard to make something happen for his side. You can’t fault his work-rate and effort, but it just didn’t come off for him in his final regular season game.
  • Alan Gordon (Forward) – 5/10 – LA Galaxy’s best chance of the game fell to his feet late on but it’s fair to say that he somewhat fluffed his lines.
  • Jose Villarreal (Forward) – 6/10 – He only entered the field of play for the last few minutes of the game so he couldn’t impose himself on the game.

Attentions will now turn to the playoffs for these two sides and there is a strong possibility that they could meet each other again in the Western Conference finals.

Which team will go further in the MLS Playoffs, Seattle Sounders or LA Galaxy?

Player ratings: New York Red Bulls 1-3 Columbus Crew

Columbus Crew deservedly ran out 3-1 winners over New York Red Bulls on Sunday night with a brilliant performance that silenced the crowd.

How did each player fare at the Red Bull Arena?

New York Red Bulls:

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[Lloyd Sam: The stand-out player for New York Red Bulls]

  • Luis Robles (Goalkeeper) – 5/10 – It was a tough day at the office for the Red Bulls ‘keeper. He will be disappointed with the second goal after he managed to get a touch on it but couldn’t keep it out.
  • Armando (Defender) – 5/10 – The Spaniard was turned inside-out in the early stages and you could see that his confidence took a hit as he never really recovered from it.
  • Jamison Olave (Defender) – 5/10 – He tried hard but couldn’t stay consistent throughout the course of the game. He was a bit of a rabbit in the headlights for The Crew’s first goal and didn’t react quickly enough.
  • Richard Eckersley (Defender) – 6/10 – He didn’t have too bad a game but there was a breakdown in communication with his fellow defenders for the third goal which allowed too much time and space in the box for Columbus and particularly Schoenfeld.
  • Roy Miller (Defender) – 5/10 – He didn’t make any crucial errors but gave the ball away too frequently with a passing accuracy of just 72% (according to Squawka).
  • Dax McCarty (Midfielder) – 5/10 – He’s normally so reliable in the middle of the park but he was certainly not at his usual high standard and didn’t provide BWP with enough to feed off.
  • Eric Alexander (Midfielder) – 6/10 – It was a soft performance from Alexander as he allowed the Crew’s midfield to carve through the middle too easily without putting in enough challenges.
  • Lloyd Sam (Midfielder) – 8/10 – Easily the most creative player for the Red Bulls. He scored a wonderful solo goal and created numerous chances for New York. If there was any positives to take from the game, Sam’s performance is one of them.
  • Peguy Luyindula (Midfielder) – 5/10 – It was a very subdued display from Luyindula. He struggled to impose himself on the game and really was fairly ineffective.
  • Thierry Henry (Midfielder) – 6/10 – It’s strange to see a performance like this from the Frenchman because he wasn’t his usual self. He seemed to look slightly off the pace and confused by the quality of Columbus.
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips (Forward) – 6/10 – He barely had a touch of the ball which is very disappointing considering that he is chasing down an MLS record for all-time top goalscorer in a regular season. With that said, the service from midfield left a lot to desire.
  • Ambroise Oyongo (Defender) – 7/10 – He was very influential when he came on and really brought New York to life. He was certainly one of the brightest sparks and tried his best to change the game.
  • Ruben Bover (Defender) – 6/10 – He didn’t stand a chance of impacting the game with only 11 minutes to do so.

Columbus Crew:

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[Ethan Finlay was outstanding for Columbus Crew]

  • Steve Clark (Goalkeeper) – 9/10 – A marvellous performance between the posts. He made countless brilliant saves and was dominant in the penalty area, claiming everything that came his way with confidence.
  • Bernardo Anor (Defender) – 7/10 – He joined in with attacks in the first half and helped overrun the Red Bulls defence down the flanks.
  • Hector Jimenez (Defender) – 7/10 – It’s so hard to criticise either of the Columbus centre-backs as they were both very good.
  • Michael Parkhurst (Defender) – 7/10 – Mr. Consistent at the back and once again, he was very solid.
  • Tyson Wahl (Defender) – 6/10 – He had a decent game but was beaten by Lloyd Sam far too easily for the goal.
  • Ethan Finlay (Midfielder) – 9/10 – It was a dream game for Finlay. He took his goal brilliantly and had wonderful build up play in the second half which lead to the third goal. He was a constant threat and looked dangerous throughout.
  • Federico Higuain (Midfielder) – 8/10 – He put in a real shift and had great link-up play with Finlay for the 3rd goal. A special mention must go to his fantastic passing accuracy of 91% (according to Squawka).
  • Justin Meram (Midfielder) – 7/10 – He wasn’t influential on the game but when you don’t seem to notice a player, it usually means they’re putting in a good, solid performance that’s free of mistakes.
  • Tony Tchani (Midfielder) – 8/10 – The definition of being a beast in the middle of the park. It was a Yaya Toure esque performance. He drove with the ball well and played a wonderful pass to Finlay for the second goal.
  • Wil Trapp (Midfielder) – 7/10 – Trapp was a real team player in a real team performance. He didn’t put a foot wrong for his side and covered every blade of grass.
  • Aaron Schoenfeld (Forward) – 9/10 – A superb performance, giving you everything you ask your centre-forward for – he ran the defence ragged and bagged himself two well taken goals.
  • Chad Barson (Defender) – 7/10 – He had a good performance to sure up the game for the Crew and stem the flow of New York attacks.
  • Emanuel Pogatetz (Defender) – 6/10 – The half-time substitute should have closed down Lloyd Sam quicker for his goal. Other than that, he did enough at the back.
  • Eric Gehrig (Defender) – 6/10 – A late substitute so he didn’t have an influence on the game. He didn’t make a mistake though and that’s the key.

New York Red Bulls will travel to Sporting Kansas City for their final game of the regular season next weekend, while Columbus Crew will host Philadelphia Union.

The pair are likely to meet in the MLS Playoffs as they are currently sitting in fourth and fifth place in the Eastern Conference, and New York will be disappointed to have lost their last home game of the season.

Who will get further in the MLS Playoffs – New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew?

5 takeaways from a thrilling MLS weekend

There were 35 goals scored in the nine MLS matches this weekend, with three teams netting five. We look at five key things we took away from this weeks action.

 

1. What a weekend for rookies.

Three rookies stood out this week and all got on the scoresheet. Harry Shipp got off the mark in MLS, and did so in style as he netted three against New York on Saturday night. Shipp has been brilliant and stood out once more, with a hat-trick and an assist in Chicago’s 5-4 win against the Red Bulls.

Patrick Mullins had another good weekend, and got his second goal of the season in New Englands 5-0 thumping of Seattle. The striker also netted in last week’s 2-1 win at Toronto and is certainly making the Revs attack a more threatening proposition. His direct style of play allows those in behind to find space around the box, and Diego Fagundez and Teal Bunbury certainly did that against the Sounders.

And finally, Mark Sherrod got his first MLS goals as Houston lost 5-2 to Real Salt Lake on Sunday night. The 23-year-old lead the attack for the Dynamo in place of Will Bruin who missed out with a knee injury. Sherrod made his mark however, with his two goals and was evidently delighted to get off the mark, but he and his Houston teammates will be disappointed by the heavy defeat.

Photo: USA TODAY Sports

Harry Shipp enjoyed an incredible weekend, and one he won’t forget in a hurry. Photo: USA TODAY Sports

 

2. Hat-tricks are fun.

There were three hat-tricks this weekend as defences didn’t fancy turning up for the majority of games. The aforementioned Harry Shipp, as well as Bradley Wright-Phillips and Javier Morales all got three goals. There were two in the 5-4 thriller between New York and Chicago, the first time there has been two hat-tricks in a single game in MLS history.

Javier Morales was in fine form for Salt Lake, and he didn’t waste any time getting started, as he netted after just 15 seconds; the fourth fastest goal in MLS history. Morales completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, and also got an assist in a dominant performance.

 

3. The Sounders are not unbeatable.

The Sounders were humiliated in New England as the Revolution won 5-0, preventing Seattle from making it six-wins in a row. They had also scored at least once in every game prior to Sundays match, and the shut-out will concern some fans who are dreaming of an MLS Cup win already. New England were tactically perfect against Seattle, they contained their attack and just countered them over and over, and it will be interesting to see if more teams adopt the same approach now.

 

4. Martin Chavez makes Colorado pay for their trade.

Colorado traded away Martin Chavez to Chivas USA last week, and clearly didn’t look ahead to the fact that they were playing Chivas just days later. The Honduran came on just before the hour mark in Colorado, and made some start to his Chivas career.

He scored twice against his former team to help Chivas to a 3-1 win, their first win since the opening day of the season back in March. Chavez finished nicely on two occasions, and his goals will be a welcome boost to the side, as they have been relying on Erik Torres too heavily.

Chavez came back to haunt Colorado just days after leaving the club

Chavez came back to haunt Colorado just days after leaving the club

5. Columbus still can’t win, or even score.

Vancouver Whitecaps are the latest side to beat the Columbus Crew, and their form is pretty awful now. Columbus are not playing well. After winning their first three games of the season, they haven’t won since March, and have now lost three on the bounce. The Crew haven’t scored in their last three and only have three goals in their past seven games. It’s concerning for Columbus and they can’t come up with an alternative game plan as Federico Higuain is being marked out of games by opponents now.

They travel to Portland at the weekend in a game between two sides desperate for a win, and will hope they can finally get three points on the board.