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MLS Weekend Review: More World Cup woes, Chubby Schweini, and Bob Bradley, Genius

Monday 12th March 2018

Welcome to the second instalment of MLS Weekend Review. Let me catch you up on what’s been happening in North American soccer.

Just ignore the problem and it will go away

In 2016, then USSF president Sunil Gulati wasn’t concerned about Donald Trump’s presidency affecting the United State’s 2026 World Cup bid.

It’s not going to dissuade us or persuade us to bid.

In 2017, he was uncertain whether Trump’s travel ban would impact the bid.

I think it’s too early to know that...There are two things. One is the short-term effects of movement [read: deportation] of people and so on, and the protests you’re seeing, and two is how people then view the United States...What I’m certainly hoping is the short-term nature of this or possible modification or reversal or elimination will help us to dampen those long-term views.

In essence, Gulati is likening Trump’s immigration policy to an internet outage. “We apologise for any technical difficulties.” In January, the former USSF boss dismissed worries over Trump categorizing third world nations as “shithole countries”.

We cannot control the politics. It will change over time and we have all of the assurances we need from all three governments to support the bid...We think the certainty and risk-aversion we can provide for the central piece of revenue for FIFA going forward is pretty compelling.

In other words, Gulati was comfortable believing it was all about the benjamins. But it wasn’t. This week, after news emerged that Morocco’s bid might have enough backing to win, Gulati stepped down as the joint US/Mexico/Canada bid committee chair.

Between Trump’s slur and resentment over the FBI’s FIFA corruption investigation, Morrocco is gaining support from many nations in Asia, Africa, and South Amerca. You know, those so-called shithole countries. Who knew there were so many?

Gulati will remain on the bid committee board, but the sitting presidents for the three national federations will now co-chair the bid with equal responsibility.

Three Stars

Three franchises, New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire, and Colorado Rapids began their 2018 MLS campaigns this week. Five, Toronto FC, Seattle Sounders, Philadelphia Union, San Jose Earthquakes, and FC Dallas, took the week off. From the sides that played, here are three standout performances.

3. Stefan Marinovich -- The Vancouver Whitecaps keeper conceded a goal in the first half he surely wishes he could have back. He was partially screened but Alberth Elis’ blast went in directly over his head. After Kei Kamara sent Brek Shea in alone on goal four minutes after the restart to give Vancouver a 2-1 advantage, Marinovich made amends. Twice in six minutes he got down to palm shots beyond each far post, preserving all three points for the Caps.

2. Nemanja Nikolic -- Chicago Fire did not play in Week 1 but the reigning MLS Golden Boot opened his 2018 account in a big way Saturday. With Sporting Kansas City having scored twice in the first-half and new Fire signing Aleksandar Katai pegging one back courtesy a rather pudgy Bastian Schweinsteiger’s cross, Nikolic found the net twice in the final quarter-hour. He cleaned up a spilled save on a corner for the first and arrived late in the six-yard box to hammer home a cutback pass for the second. Unfortunately, the Fire defence allowed SKC to strike back for two of their own to claim all three points in a raucous 4-3 shootout. Oh, and don’t worry about Basti. When the wind is coming off the lake in Chi-town the mercury dips precipitously. He was wearing a fleece under his strip.

1. Diego Rossi -- Turn away Swansea fans. Reviled ex-manager Bob Bradley has his new team firing on all cylinders. After defeating Western Conference champions Seattle Sounders 1-0 away last week, LAFC overcame an early penalty at Rio Tinto Stadium to absolutely hammer Real Salt Lake 5-1. All the key players in the Wings’ attack were involved. Latif Blessing, Benny Feilhaber, and Carlos Vela each struck for one but it was once again the Diego Rossi show. The 20-year-old Uruguayan hit a brace to power his side to the Western Conference summit with maximum points and a +5 goal difference.

Just blow it up

It was recently pointed out elsewhere that Chelsea thrive on chaos and managerial turnover. New York Red Bulls aren’t much different, except they run through team captains as well as gaffers.

Two winters ago, NYRB traded Dax McCarty to Chicago Fire for ‘not much in return’. In the 2017 MLS playoffs they naturally ran up against the Fire. Karma and all that. Usually, the script has the rejected player putting his old team to the sword. Red Bulls flipped the script. They won the tie on a counterattacking goal derived from a McCarty turnover in midfield.

This winter, they traded McCarty’s successor and MLS’ top playmaker, Sacha Kljestan, to Orlando City for the proverbial NMIR. Kljestan and Orlando are struggling out of the gate with a draw and loss, two goals scored, three conceded. Meanwhile, the ‘not much in return’, Carlos Rivas, struck for two late goals to help bury Portland Timbers 4-0 at Red Bull Arena. The team welcomes Tijuana FC midweek having taken a 2-0 advantage in their Concacaf Champions League round of 16 tie at the Caliente last week.

NYRB boss Jesse Marsch has been taking stick from supporters for skipping training sessions to complete his UEFA coaching badges. Mostly, it’s about not wanting to lose a manager who can work wonders with anything he’s given. He’s made the fans forget the man he replaced, native son Mike Petke, whose rebuilding program with Real Salt Lake isn’t going well.

We don’t need no stinking home

Columbus Crew are doing amazingly well for a side that doesn’t know where it will be playing next season. As already documented, Crew owner Anthony Precourt is intent on moving the team to Austin, Texas, unless he can wring a cushy stadium deal from the city. Instead, local politicians are using an untested law passed when another owner, Art Modell, moved his NFL team from nearby Cleveland to Baltimore, to sue Precourt and force him to keep the team in Columbus.

Despite all the backroom drama, Gregg Berhalter’s team is thriving. After knocking off MLS Cup holders Toronto FC in Toronto last week, the Crew completed an Upper and Lower Canada sweep by outdueling Montreal Impact 3-2 at Columbus’ MAPFRE Stadium. Crew icon Federico Higuain, Gonzalo’s older brother, and new striker Gyasi Zardes provided the goals. Each converted a penalty, and Zardes buried a flick-on header from a set piece.

The Crew are now topping the Eastern Conference with their perfect start.

That's more like it

In the first of two Sunday matches, Atlanta United put their poor opening day start behind them. DC United were the victims as the Five Stripes put on a show for a Major League Soccer record 72,000+ crowd at the Mercedes Benz Stadium. All three signings from last year, Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba, and Josef Martinez, scored in a 3-1 victory. New signing Darlington Nagbe sprang the counterattack for Martinez's goal.

The Good, the Bad, and the Villa

Barcelona legend David Villa continued his good work with New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. He scored the second in City's home opener. He also fooled the referee with a blatant dive that earned Ashley Cole a second yellow with five minutes remaining. Jonathan dos Santos had pegged one back for the Galaxy on the hour, beating NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson to a loose ball just outside the keeper's right post. With Cole sent to the showers, the score remained 2-1 in the home side's favour through to the full-time whistle. City are level on points with Columbus in the East but have scored one goal fewer. The Galaxy, meanwhile, failed to match their new 'noisy neighbours', LAFC, coming up short in a bid for their second victory.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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