MLS Week 12: Toronto finally gets off the mark; rookies impressing
Things are looking up for downtrodden Toronto after its first win of the season
DP midfielder Branko Boskovic is starting to round into form for D.C. United
Red Bulls GK Ryan Meara is arguably the most impressive of a quality rookie class
With most of the attention of U.S. soccer fans firmly on the national team, a wild Week 12 in MLS may have flown under the radar. Here's some of what you might have missed:
1. Toronto FC gets in the win column. The "worst team in the world" finally has its first league victory.
Danny Koevermans' now widespread quote has perhaps sparked the Reds and the lumbering Designated Player himself after a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union at BMO Field, where the first win and points of the MLS season were met with massive sighs of relief and smiles on the Toronto sideline.
This space, along with plenty others, has been used to question just about everything going on in the offices at BMO Field, but congratulations are in order for a tortured fan base and the woe-stricken club. It's not to say that defeating a club as in shambles such as the Union (on a late goal that was the result of a horrible defensive lapse) signifies a complete change of fortune for TFC, but for the first time all season there is hope that a corner can be turned. Now, with the team on the heels of winning the Canadian championship for the fourth straight year and earning a place in the CONCACAF Champions League, the gray cloud of doom has been lifted a bit and confidence and momentum have an opportunity to build. There are still plenty of flaws with Toronto, and games at Sporting Kansas City and Houston when play resumes in a few weeks should bring about a harsh dose of reality, but for once, the Reds can enter a stretch of training with some pride.
2. Other notable firsts in an action-packed week. TFC's win was the most noteworthy first of Week 12, but there were a handful of other candidates as well.
After being cut from the U.S. roster ahead of Saturday's match against Scotland, Juan Agudelo was essentially directed by Jurgen Klinsmann to play with regularity and score with regularity in order to play his way back into the national team fold. Agudelo heard that message loud and clear, as he has looked sharp in his brief time since being traded to Chivas USA, and he netted his first goal with the Goats over the weekend.
Vancouver Whitecaps rookie Darren Mattocks scored the first goal of his MLS career after spurning a number of chances recently. He displayed class and poise on his late equalizer that netted the 'Caps a point in their Cascadia Cup bout with the Portland Timbers, who again failed to close out a game and dropped two more points at home.
Elsewhere, the Columbus Crew ended former coach Sigi Schmid's reign of dominance over them with a stellar midweek showing in Seattle that netted the club its first win over the Sounders in seven tries. The win was spearheaded by Emilio Renteria, who finally broke his goal-scoring drought with his first tally of the season -- a spectacular 30-yard volley. The Crew are a vastly more dangerous team when the streaky Renteria is on form, and with him and Justin Meram starting to develop some consistency up top, Robert Warzycha's side is suddenly unbeaten in five matches.
Lastly, Juan Pablo Angel made his first return to Red Bull Arena since leaving New York, and it was an event marked with class all the way from the fans in the South Ward to Angel's performance on the field. The veteran striker scored on a marvelous volley to help Chivas break New York's winning streak, and his non-celebration spoke volumes of the respect he has for his former club and the kind of exemplary player he is.
3. Boskovic gives D.C. food for thought. Branko Boskovic is not making life easy for the D.C. United front office.
Considering how much of an afterthought Boskovic had been for the majority of the season and how little production he has offered in MLS, it seemed inevitable that he would not be retained at the end of his contract, which expires next month. That decision is suddenly not such a black-and-white issue for the Black and Red.
The seldom-used and oft-injured Designated Player has made the most of his minutes in recent matches, displaying the on-ball savvy, technical skill and set-piece prowess that made him such a high-potential player when he signed with the club two years ago. With assists in his last two matches, Boskovic has played in active role in helping D.C. to three straight wins for the first time since 2008 -- a nine-point haul that has boosted the club to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
With a base salary of $409,167 and guaranteed 2012 compensation reaching $545,367, according to figures released by the MLS Players Union on Friday, Boskovic costs D.C. a pretty penny. The club has only a few weeks to determine whether it wants to free up some considerable salary cap room and part ways with Boskovic or make a play to keep the player, who is a luxury that allows Ben Olsen to slide Dwayne De Rosario into a forward role while still maintaining that sharpness in the midfield. Boskovic's relationship with Hamdi Salihi, his former teammate at Rapid Vienna, is also something that has to be taken into consideration, with Boskovic's sales pitch being part of what brought Salihi to the nation's capital.
With MLS heading to the back burner over the next few weeks, the Boskovic contract situation remains at the forefront of the D.C. brain trust, which has hit on all of its personnel decisions leading into this season but face a rather complicated one at the moment.
4. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Andy Gruenebaum (Columbus Crew)
Defenders: Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Andre Hainault (Houston Dynamo), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake)
Midfielders: Branko Boskovic (D.C. United), Martin Rivero (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Emilio Renteria (Columbus Crew), Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Kei Kamara (Sporting Kansas City)
5. Rookie Power Rankings
It was a landmark week for rookies, with four (Mattocks, Andrew Wenger, Austin Berry, Matt Hedges) finding the back of the net as part of the Week 12 goal barrage. With the calendar turning to June and the season entering its fourth month, it starts to be that time when rookies begin to hit a bit of a wall. This opening stretch of the MLS campaign is about as long as the typical college season, so first-year players who have excelled in their extended minutes will have to power through to find that next gear and maintain their level of play. This season's rookie class has been quite productive, though, with a number of newcomers making a strong first impression. As we hit the international break, here are the top 10 rookies in MLS:
1. Ryan Meara, GK, New York Red Bulls
After some early shakiness, Meara has emerged as the Rookie of the Year front-runner, demonstrating a command of the box, sharp instincts and the moxie to be a No. 1 goalkeeper in this league and seemingly solve the Red Bulls' long-standing problem at the position.
2. Nick DeLeon, M, D.C. United
A hamstring injury derailed DeLeon after early success, but he is back and fit again and ready to resume causing havoc on the left wing. With three goals and three assists already to his name, DeLeon has been the most effective field player among the rookie class.
3. Tony Cascio, M/F, Colorado Rapids
Part of the extreme makeover that Oscar Pareja is conducting to the Rapids' attack, Cascio has given the Rapids wide play that was sorely lacking in past seasons. He has scored two goals and assisted on another while starting all but one of Colorado's 13 matches.
4. Austin Berry, D, Chicago Fire
Thrust into a starting center back role after injuries to Arne Friedrich and Cory Gibbs, the University of Louisville product is more than holding his own in a tough spot with plenty of responsibility.
5. Ray Gaddis, D, Philadelphia Union
After inexplicably not being invited to the MLS Combine after a strong career at West Virginia University, Gaddis is proving his doubters wrong one game at a time. In an otherwise drab season for the Union, Gaddis' emergence at fullback has been a bright spot.
6. Connor Lade, D/M, New York Red Bulls
Thrown in the deep end with all of the injuries to New York's starters, the diminutive Lade has stayed afloat on a team that typically is not conducive to young, unproven Americans getting the chance to blossom. The Homegrown Player and former St. John's standout delivers a mean left-footed service from the back as well.
7. Andy Rose, M, Seattle Sounders
Rose fell to the supplemental draft, likely because of his needing to take up a precious international spot on an MLS roster, but his talent was never in question. Sigi Schmid has shown immense confidence in the former UCLA captain, and his presence in the midfield will come in handy during the second game of Osvaldo Alonso's suspension.
8. Kelyn Rowe, M, New England Revolution
Rowe's minutes have dwindled as of late, with Jay Heaps having a number of options in his midfield, but when on the field Rowe has flashed moments that speak to his quality, especially his goal in the Revs' win over the Los Angeles Galaxy.
9. Matt Hedges, D, FC Dallas
Just now starting to get playing time with injuries to Ugo Ihemelu and Hernan Pertuz, Hedges is showing why he was so highly rated coming out of the University of North Carolina. He has also demonstrated his offensive prowess, with goals in each of Dallas' two matches this past week.
10. Andrew Wenger, F, Montreal Impact
With Jesse Marsch deploying the versatile Wenger at forward, the former Duke star has had a rough go of it finding consistent minutes, though he has scored twice. He marked his first start of the season with a goal on Saturday, which should provide a big confidence boost; however, the looming arrival of Italian striker Marco Di Vaio can't be a good sign for his playing time.