Vancouver Shouldn’t Get Too Carried Away Over Last Night’s Rout of Chivas USA

Yes, their offense finally woke up, and yes, the 4-0 result moved them five points clear of FC Dallas (who have a game in hand) for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference (while eliminating Chivas, Portland, and Colorado from postseason contention).

But the Whitecaps should not lose sight of the fact that the win came against the increasingly woeful, last-place Chivas USA, a team with a 7-17-7 record and a -32 goal difference who are clearly playing out the string. (Also on the down side of the ledger for Vancouver: Kenny Miller left the game early, joining fellow striker Darren Mattocks on the injured list.)

First the highlights, then a few Very Sad Facts about the 2012 Goats:

The postgame talk in the Vancouver locker room was all about this being “the performance we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” but let’s curb that enthusiasm with a few nuggets on Chivas USA v. 2012:

Juan Pablo Angel, 36, is leading the team in scoring—with four goals.

Juan Agudelo, who joined the team in midseason, is tied with Miller Bolanos and Ryan Smith for the team lead in assists—with three.

• San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski has 22 goals this season. Chivas USA has 21.

• This was Chivas USA’s seventh consecutive loss, and second straight 4-0 defeat.

• FC Dallas, Vancouver’s rival for the fifth playoff berth in the West, shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping pace: they play Chivas on Sunday.

Red Bulls Trade Juan Agudelo to Chivas USA for Heath Pearce, Three Forms of Cash

In a move that has many of their faithful shaking—or scratching—their heads, the New York Red Bulls shipped 19-year-old striker Juan Agudelo, a Red Bull Academy product and fan-favorite, to Chivas USA in exchange for 27-year-old defender Heath Pearce, allocation money, a percentage of Agudelo’s sell-on fee (if/when he goes to Europe), and the assurance that Chivas will pay part of Pearce’s salary for the remainder of the season.

The conventional wisdom on this one went from “What?!” to “Oh, wait, this is a great deal for New York,” to “Well, now that Chivas has swung a deal for defender Danny Califf, too, this is a good deal for both sides,” in about 20 nanoseconds—or a few clicks of ‘refresh’ on Twitter.

But we’re not ready to say this is a great deal for New York until we see what their next move is: Are they going to use the influx of capital to swoop for a young, attacking designated player-type (or two) from Europe in the summer transfer window? Are they banking on the return of Luke Rogers to fill out their now-depleted forward ranks?

Whatever the case, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they gave up on Agudelo too soon. Sure, they’re getting a solid defender in Pearce, who has 35 caps for the U.S. national team and is in the prime of his career (though not likely to be called back into the U.S. setup). But they’re giving up an extremely talented striker who has 15 U.S. caps of his own (and two goals) and appears very much ready to break out in MLS, if given the chance.

And that, finally, may be what it came down to: Hans Backe was extremely stingy with playing time for Agudelo, even though the youngster did well in almost every appearance for New York, right up to his final one, last Sunday against Philadelphia. He also produced some highlight-reel moments, including a brilliant goal in the season opener against Seattle last season:

And this bit of magic against DC United last April:

Yet Backe continued to keep a tight rein on him, and that, according to New York GM, Erik Soler, led to Agudelo to ask for a trade, if there weren’t plans to give him more first-team play with the Red Bulls. Apparently, there weren’t.

So Agudelo moves on, and New York fans hope this transaction doesn’t turn out like the club’s previous two significant trades.

In 2010, the Red Bulls sent tricky attacker Macoumba Kandji to Colorado in exchange for middling midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy. While Ballouchy continued to be middling after the trade, Kandji went on to create the winning goal for Colorado in MLS Cup 2010.

The following year, New York shipped attacker Dwayne De Rosario, whom they’d acquired just three months earlier, to DC United for midfielder Dax McCarty. McCarty was just okay for the remainder of the season while De Rosario absolutely lit up the league, racking up 13 goals and eight assists in 18 games for DC (including beating McCarty for a goal against New York two weeks after the trade). The Canadian international was named the 2011 MLS MVP for his efforts.

How will Agudelo fare with his new club? He’ll likely suit up in the LA derby this weekend against the Galaxy, and Red Bulls fans can track his progress in person next Wednesday—when he returns to Red Bull Arena as a member of Chivas USA.

DC, Portland Miss Opportunities In Playoff Chase

Playing at home, with a chance to gain an advantage over New York in the playoff race, both DC United and the Portland Timbers surrendered leads and stumbled to ties, against Chivas USA and San Jose, respectively.

In DC, the Black-and-Red took a 2-0 lead through Dwayne De Rosario and Ethan White, only to give up two second-half goals to Chivas striker Juan Pablo Angel.

De Rosario then had a penalty saved by the Goats’ superhero goalkeeper, Dan Kennedy, and the match ended 2-2, leaving DC one point behind New York in the playoff standings instead of one ahead.

At Portland’s usually impregnable fortress known as JELD-WEN Field, the home team took a 1-0 lead after rookie Darlington Nagbe set up Kenny Cooper nine minutes in. But the Timbers couldn’t add to their lead, and San Jose tied it up in the 70th on Khari Stephenson’s seeing eye shot from the top of the box.

Had they won, the Timbers would have been three points clear of New York in the tenth and final playoff spot.

As it is, they have a one-point edge heading into their pivotal visit to Red Bull Arena on Saturday night.

(DC has two games in hand on both New York and Portland. Click here for the current playoff standings.)

MLS Roundup: Eddie Johnson Deal Off, Angel to Chivas, DP Rule Tweaked

After announcing yesterday that they had reached an agreement to bring U.S. striker Eddie Johnson to MLS, league officials stated today that the player had backed out of a verbal agreement to join the league and ended negotiations.

“We had reached agreement, subject to formal documents,” MLS Executive Vice President of Competition and Player Relations Todd Durbin told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s unfortunate the player did not want to conclude a formal agreement, but we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

It’s been a tough month for EJ. First, the trouble down in Florida and now this: backing out of a verbal commitment to the league that launched his career. It’s unfortunate, but not entirely surprising for a player who’s been dogged by character issues (click here and see Eric Wynalda’s take in the sidebar) since rising to national prominence in 2001.

• As expected, the Los Angeles Galaxy have shipped Designated Player Juan Pablo Angel out of town to make room for new signing Robbie Keane. Check that: they’ve moved Angel off their team, but he’s staying in town, to become the newest member of the Galaxy’s fellow Home Depot Center tenants, Chivas USA. Chivas sent a third-round pick in the 2012 supplemental draft to LA in exchange for the former Red Bulls star.

• And speaking of Designated Players, MLS this week announced a slight change to the DP rule (also known as the Beckham rule) that will allow teams to acquire young international stars with less risk involved. From the league website:

Beginning in 2012, teams can acquire Designated Players based overseas who are 20 years of age or younger for a budget charge of only $150,000, while Designated Players between the ages of 21 and 23 will count just $200,000 against a team’s salary budget. Current DPs represent a $335,000 hit to a club’s player budget of $2,675,000, regardless of their age.

“We’re hoping that with this rule change we’ll tear down this last barrier of entry and bring in quality players at every place in their career, and truly have the ability to get into the market of young players to be able to bring in and grow stars of the future for Major League Soccer,” said Durbin.

The age classifications are designed to catch young players cycling out of their respective Under-20 and Under-23 national teams. And it’s a rule change for which MLS clubs had been clamoring.

The change will allow MLS teams to take a chance on a promising young international who may need time to develop, and do so without gambling $335,000 of the team’s salary budget.

MLS Invades SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day

With four games on the schedule, last night was the busiest Wednesday of the year in Major League Soccer, and the action did not disappoint.

There was a five-goal flood in New York, a record-tying tally in Vancouver, and some great goalkeeping all over the map.

It was so good, in fact, that four spots on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day were occupied by MLS highlights.

Here they are, in the order they were ranked by ESPN:

10. Jeff Cunningham’s record-tying 133rd career goal

It also happened to be a 90th-minute winner for visiting Columbus versus Vancouver:

Final score Columbus 1, Vancouver 0

9. Matt Pickens’s astounding reaction save off a deflection against Sporting Kansas City

This one should have been higher; it’s a truly terrific save and it came in stoppage time, preserving a 1-1 tie for the visitors. Full (and worthwhile) highlights below, but scroll to 5:15 mark for Pickens’ heroics:

Final score: SKC 1, Colorado 1

7. Ben Zemanski’s swerving, 35-yard golazo against San Jose

This high-speed knuckleball broke open a game that seemed destined to become a dreaded 0-0 draw (and be sure to note Busch’s expression afterward. Priceless.):

Final score: Chivas USA 2, San Jose 0

3. This was a twofer: Luke Rodgers’ tremendous volley, and Juan Agudelo’s lethal header for New York against Toronto

Rodgers’ goal signaled the rout:

And Agudelo’s sealed it (and then he added one more):

Final score: New York 5, Toronto 0

ESPN also had a soccer highlight—a goal by Brazil in the Women’s World Cup—as its No. 1 play of the day. Not bad for footy on the WWL today: five out of 10.

Chivas USA Lands New Shirt Sponsor

The number of MLS teams with jersey sponsorship deals rose to 12 today with the announcement by Chivas USA that it had sealed a multiyear contract with Grupo Modelo, producers of Corona Extra beer, whose logo will appear on the Goats shirts starting in the 2011 season.

No word yet on whether or not each Chivas player will have to learn this trick.

Here is an updated list of the teams that have gotten brands to sign on with the Good Ship MLS:

Chivas USA: Corona Extra

DC United: Volkswagen

Houston Dynamo: Greenstar Recycling

Los Angeles Galaxy: Herbalife

New York Red Bulls: Red Bull

Philadelphia Union: Bimbo

Portland Timbers: Alaska Airlines

Real Salt Lake: Xango

San Jose Earthquakes: Amway

Seattle Sounders: XBOX

Toronto FC: BMO

Vancouver Whitecaps: Bell

Top Ten Stories We Missed as 2010 turned to 2011

Timbers fans will be ready for their April 14 home opener. Count on it.

A lot went down while we were up North. Here are the top ten items we would have posted about had we not shuttered the BP for the past 12 days:

10. Philadelphia Signs Homegrown Player Zach Pfeffer

The 15-year-old Upper Dublin, Pa., resident became the fourth-youngest signing in league history. Pfeffer is the 23rd player signed as part of MLS’s recent ‘Homegrown Initiative.’

9. Stuart Holden Hurt in Chelsea Match, Misses Liverpool Tilt

The newly minted Best Player in the Premier League picked up a knock in Bolton’s 1-0 loss to the Blues on Dec 29, then missed the next game, versus Liverpool, on New Year’s Day. Not surprisingly, Bolton, which was also without defender Paul Robinson (suspension), lost, 2-1.

8. Brads Friedel and Guzan Enjoy Big Weeks

Friedel stood on his head to preserve a see-saw 3-3 tie for Aston Villa vs Chelsea on Jan 2, while his backup, Guzan, was loaned out to second-tier Hull City on Dec 30. He immediately stepped into the starting lineup and went 1-1 in his first two games with the Tigers.

7. Dwayne De Rosario Goes AWOL to Celtic

Toronto FC’s deadliest attacker hopped a plane to Celtic Park on Boxing Day (Dec 26) for a few kickabouts with the (original) Hoops. When asked about it, TFC first insisted the player had done no such thing, then said he did not have their permission. De Ro swore that he did have his employers’ OK. Upshot: Toronto worked out an arrangement with Celtic after the fact, and this story is developing.

6. Silly Season of (Aging) Foreign-Stars-to-MLS Rumors Kicks In

While rumors of Ronaldinho-to-LA Galaxy cooled (and he was chased by several Brazilian clubs, and Blackburn), they were replaced by reports that Nicolas Anelka, Adrian Mutu, and Guillermo Franco all had designs on eventual Stateside moves, along with Patrick Vieira, Roberto Carlos, and Marco Materazzi. These reports are always fun and to some extent flattering for the league, but, well, let’s just say that they—and the players’ fitness for MLS—should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

5. Portland Timbers Breach 10,000 Mark in Season Tickets Sold

Think they’re fired up for MLS in the Northwest? Hell and yes. The team surpassed 10,000 in 2011 season ticket sales on Jan 3, and says it will cap the sales at 12,000. The club’s newly renovated stadium, PGE Park, seats 20,000. According to this story, the Timbers’ Cascadia Cup rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps have accepted more than 13,000 season-ticket deposits for 2011, but haven’t said how many of those have been turned into season ticket sales.

4. Purported Beckham Loan Deals Verge on Farcical

More than half a dozen Premier League teams, along with several sprinkled across Europe, were linked to loan deals involving MLS’s most famous player in the past couple of weeks. Most of them turned out to be nothing more than rumors, but this past week Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said he and Spurs were serious about acquiring the 35-year-old winger. Why they would want to disrupt the excellent season they’re having by bringing in a player who is a sideshow in and of himself is an open question—as is why the aging and recently injured (Achilles tendon, last March) Beckham would want to do it, and why Los Angeles or MLS would allow it.

3. Generation adidas, MLS Combine Names Announced

Rising futbol factory the University of Akron provided five of the first nine 2011 Generation adidas players (a 10th player, UCSB defender Michael Tetteh, was added today), and five non-college foreign players were included in the MLS Combine list, a first for the league. Those five, led by Wayne Rooney’s brother John, will be available in the Jan 13 SuperDraft alongside the NCAA candidates. Combine rosters here, Generation adidas players here.

2. Toronto FC Hires Former Dutch International Aron Winter as Coach

The 43-year-old former Ajax midfielder, who will be unveiled tomorrow will also act as Technical Director, with a staff that will include former New England assistant Paul Mariner and Winter’s fellow Dutchman Bob de Klerk, though their roles are as yet unclarified. The trio will try to get an overhauled TFC to the playoffs for the first time in its five-year existence.

1. Robin Fraser Lands Chivas USA Coaching Job

When this announcement was made, some MLS fans tweeted that they’d never heard of Fraser—enhancing our belief that the former rock-solid centerback is one of the most underrated players in MLS and USMNT history. A key assistant coach at Real Salt Lake the past few seasons, Fraser was a five-time Best XI selection and two-time defender of the year as a player in MLS, and always performed well in a U.S. shirt (he had 27 caps). Like TFC, Chivas is in a severe rebuilding mode, so Fraser has his work cut out for him. He will reportedly hire former Galaxy and U.S. teammate Greg Vanney as an assistant.

All right, we are more or less caught up. Next: Clint Dempsey continues to tear it up for Fulham, and MLS Combine news.