The Easter Bunny brought disappointment for Canada's three Major League Soccer teams this past weekend. Toronto FC gave up a late goal to draw 2-2 with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Montreal Impact lost 2-0 to Sporting KC, while the Vancouver Whitecaps dropped a 2-1 decision to Chivas USA. Here are a few thoughts from this weekend's action.
1. The Dunfield/Hall partnership isn't really working for Toronto FC.
Mistakes happen all the time in football matches - that is just a given. But when the same mistakes keep occurring in games, the problem needs to be addressed.
For the second game in a row, the midfield partnership of Terry Dunfield and Jeremy Hall was exposed, leading to the equalizing goal for the LA Galaxy. This wasn't an isolated event, when you consider that the second goal conceded against Montreal two weeks ago had a very similar theme – the two holding midfielders letting their opposite numbers get away from them.
The issues with Dunfield and Hall are twofold: teams who move the ball well through the middle of the park are exposing Dunfield and Hall, as they both have a tendency to chase lost causes. While their effort and endeavor is honest, it is leaving the back four unprotected.
Additionally, while both Dunfield and Hall are tidy enough on the ball, they create very little offensively. They rarely venture forward, nor do they provide much in the way of creativity. And this puts a heavy creative burden on the wide midfielders, as well as the two central attackers.
This lack of attacking intent was highlighted when second half substitute Jonathan Osorio – who had come on for Dunfield – got onto the end of a crossed ball from fellow substitute Luis Silva to prod home the go-ahead goal from the edge of the six-yard box. It is hard to envision either Dunfield or Hall finding themselves in such an advanced position.
2. It's good to see Landon Donovan back playing.
While opposing fans hate him, it is good for Major League Soccer to have one of its star players, Landon Donovan, back on the field.
Donovan took a self-imposed break from the game, citing physical and mental exhaustion as his primary reasons for stepping away. Last week, Donovan had this to say:
"Unfortunately, we have a sort of stigma that being in a different mental place is not acceptable. We should pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and fight through it and all this. It's a little peculiar to me, that whole idea. If someone's physically hurt, we're OK with them taking the time they need to come back. But if someone's in a different place mentally, we're not OK with allowing them to take the time."
I fully agree with what Donovan is saying.
Very few will have sympathy for professional athletes who are feeling the effects of the pressure that comes with their careers. But like Donovan, I believe that professional athletes should be given the time they need to work through the difficult times that come with their chosen profession. Just because you are gifted at kicking a soccer ball doesn't mean you are better equipped to deal with stress and pressure that comes with such a high-profile career. The notion that players have to be "tough" and "battle through it" is antiquated, and may deprive us of the talents of many players long before they have reached the peak on the field.
3. Patrice Bernier should win MLS Player of the Month for March.
Despite his team falling 2-0 to Sporting KC this weekend, Montreal Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier has had an excellent start to the 2013 MLS campaign.
His role in Marco Schällibaum's 4-1-4-1 formation is crucial; he protects the back four by screening the ball into the strikers' feet, he makes himself available to all of the defenders to bounce passes off of, and he is often the primary distributor of the ball when the Impact need to switch the point of attack. He has executed his role to perfection in the month of March, and for that reason should win Player of the Month.
It is no coincidence that his worst performance of the month came in the loss to Sporting KC, where he was culpable of giving the ball away in the buildup to the first goal. However, expect Bernier to bounce back from that below-par performance – he won't let one poor performance derail his season.
4. The Vancouver Whitecaps have missed Kenny Miller.
That statement would have seemed absurd to Whitecaps fans last year. Miller took the brunt of fans' frustrations after he joined the club midseason in 2012, as many viewed his lack of production in front of goal as a sign that the club had landed another Mustafa Jarju – a highly paid flop.
However, Miller has come into 2013 looking as sharp as ever. He has settled into the attacking midfielder role in Martin Rennie's 4-2-3-1 formation with relative ease, and has been a key link between midfield and the blistering speed of Darren Mattocks up front.
The Whitecaps missed Miller's influence in their 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo last weekend – when Miller was away on international duty with Scotland – and also felt his absence in the 2-1 loss to Chivas USA this weekend – where he started the game on the bench. When Miller was introduced in the second half, he scored an opportunistic header to bring the Whitecaps to within one goal. Expect Miller to be back in the starting eleven when Vancouver travels to San Jose to take on the Earthquakes next weekend.