This was Week 13 of the MLS offseason, so maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that it delivered raging sandstorms, torrential rain and a freak injury to a young star.
There were also some underwhelming preseason results, and a hot-blooded scrimmage that produced nine cards and two apparent injuries.
But it wasn’t all black cats and broken mirrors in Week 13, not by a long shot: There were some exciting and significant player signings, big TV deals announced in both Canada and the US and soaring anticipation for Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal in Columbus—the official start of the 2011 season for the Crew and Real Salt Lake.
Let’s knock wood and take a look.
Kickoff in Columbus
Weather and injuries impacted preseason games in Arizona, and both could figure in tomorrow’s CCL quarterfinal at Crew Stadium.
Monday’s forecast calls for a mix of rain and snow in Columbus, with a low of 28. The precipitation should be gone by tomorrow night, but the projected low for Tuesday is 23. Whatever kind of weather turns up, it’ll be a far cry from the sunny preseason these two teams just experienced.
The Crew may also have some injury concerns. Left back Shaun Francis (leg) and midfielder Dilly Duka (abdomen) both picked up knocks in Columbus’ final preseason scrimmage, a 4-2 loss to Houston on Thursday. The Crew will certainly miss them if they can’t go tomorrow night.
As for that loss to the Dynamo, it was an oddly chippy affair: There were three red cards and six yellows in addition to the two injuries. All in all, the Crew did not end its preseason on a high note.
[inline_node:329098]Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, appear to be in pretty good shape on the eve of the CCL quarterfinal. They wrapped up their preseason schedule with a solid 2-0 win over Chivas USA this past Tuesday.
RSL do have two key attackers—Fabian Espíndola and new signing Arturo Alvarez—who are slightly nicked up, but coach Jason Kreis has been pleased with the preseason showing of Brazilian Paulo Junior and could start him up top alongside Álvaro Saborío on Tuesday night.
The return leg is on March 1, and the aggregate winner will become the first US-based club ever to reach the CCL semifinals.
“Scottish Barbecue Weather”
After RSL and the Crew left Arizona ahead of their CCL clash, conditions in the Grand Canyon State turned for the worse.
In Casa Grande, high winds kicked up a sandstorm powerful enough to stop a scrimmage between Houston and Portland with 10 minutes to play (it finished 0-0, as neither team could mount much offense in the biblical conditions).
Fifty miles to the north, in Phoenix, two days of gusting wind and heavy rains—“Scottish barbecue weather,” as Vancouver assistant Colin Miller described it for The Province—marred two Whitecaps games. Vancouver slogged through a 2-2 draw with the US U-18s on Saturday, then had Sunday’s meeting with the Galaxy postponed due to unplayable field conditions.
It wasn’t surreal weather but a freakish landing that undid Sporting Kansas City striker Teal Bunbury this past Tuesday. The rising young forward dislocated his elbow—an injury every bit as painful as it sounds—after colliding with Houston defender Andrew Hainault in the Dynamo’s 3-1 preseason win. Bunbury could miss up to four weeks.
Chivas Fills Mustache Void
As one astute commenter on this site put it, Chivas USA’s acquisition of veteran defender Heath Pearce not only shores up the Goats’ backline, it also “fills the mustache void” created by last season’s departure of midfielder Sacha Kljestan.
Chivas sent allocation money to FC Dallas in exchange for Pearce, and the transaction was not the only significant player movement—or mustache-related news—of the week.
The biggest player-acquisition development, of course, was D.C. United’s announcement on Wednesday that it had signed striker Charlie Davies to a one-year loan deal. The move represents another milestone in the US forward’s remarkable comeback from an October 2009 car accident that nearly claimed his life.
Davies—who promised the Washington Post that he will bring back the Stanky Leg goal celebration, and introduce another one, as yet unrevealed—moves to the top of the offseason’s list of big-name signings.
In other notable moves, Portland acquired winger Sal Zizzo from Chivas USA for allocation money, while San Jose made Khari Stephenson’s loan a permanent move, and re-signed 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski.
New England announced a deal for Argentine centerback Franco Coria, while Real Salt Lake re-upped with veteran defender Nat Borchers through 2014.
[inline_node:327709]New England and RSL also rounded out your mustache news of the week, as Revs defender Ryan Cochrane is currently sporting a luxurious lip sweater, and Salt Lake wingback Robbie Russell is rocking a look his teammates have dubbed “the Kimbo Slice.”
Clearly, Matt Pickens raised the bar last season.
Pickens and his Colorado teammates scored an impressive win on Wednesday, dispatching Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy 4-2 in Arizona. The Rapids got two goals from Conor Casey and one apiece from trialists Caleb Folan and Steve Emory.
In Florida, rookie Ryan Kinne and veteran Shalrie Joseph each hit the net to pace the Revs in a 2-0 win over the University of Central Florida, while Philadelphia fell to third-tier Orlando City S.C. 1-0 after new signing Carlos Valdes was red-carded in the 19th minute. The Chicago Fire tied Florida Gulf Coast University 2-2.
In Mexico, the Red Bulls let a 2-0 lead over CD Guadalajara slip away, falling 3-2 on a 90th-minute goal from Jorge Mora.
Soccer Night(s) in Canada
It was a busy week for MLS execs, too, as the league announced a new four-year partnership with Allstate Insurance, extended its TV deal with Fox Soccer Channel for one year and inked a six-year contract with TSN, which now becomes the official national broadcaster of MLS in Canada through the 2016 season.
The Fox extension includes 20 exclusive games and three playoff matchups, one of which will be a conference final.
TSN and TSN2 will televise 24 MLS games involving Canadian teams Vancouver and Toronto, with the bulk of them falling on Saturday nights. When Montreal joins the league in 2012, that number will climb to a minimum of 30.