De Ro, Angel thriving with new teams
As D.C. United manager Ben Olsen heard the news that midfielder Chris Pontius would likely miss the rest of the season with a broken leg, he implored his players to raise their level to compensate. He needn't have worried. As it turned out, Dwayne De Rosario was prepared to pick up the slack all by himself.
The United attacker delivered a performance for the ages last weekend, recording three goals and an assist in DCU's 4-1 hammering of Real Salt Lake. The Canadian international was the first to admit he had plenty of help, with Josh Wolff and Andy Najar both playing big roles in United's stellar night. But De Rosario was the unquestioned star, with the quality of his goals, including a stunning free kick, as impressive as the quantity.
"It's definitely something that happens in the moment," he said via telephone about his hat trick. "You have to make the right runs. The service has to be there, and you have to be able to capitalize on the opportunities."
It makes the fact that De Rosario has been traded twice this season all the more mystifying. Granted, his exit from Toronto came at his request, but his departure from New York was another matter, especially since Red Bulls manager Hans Backe indicated at the time of De Rosario's arrival that he was the "last piece in the puzzle." New York may have been shipping goals, but to ultimately take the vacated cap space and use it on goalkeeper Frank Rost induces a prolonged bout of head-shaking.
For his part, De Rosario insists he has left any residual bitterness behind him. As for Olsen, he's simply grateful to have a player of De Rosario's ability on his side.
"It's a guy we were missing," he said. "Before we got De Rosario, we didn't have a guy who could really change the game and be that difference-maker game in and game out.
"And he's in a good spot right now. He fits in well with our group. I think he fits in well, obviously, on the field. But he also has a big role in our locker room right now. We've got a bunch of young guys that I need extensions of myself in there. Certainly, Wolff and De Rosario help me out immensely with the young group."
The seeds of De Rosario's performance were actually sown three days previously. Against Chivas USA, he had been deployed as an attacking midfielder. But -- mindful of the fact that at age 33, De Rosario's recuperative powers aren't what they used to be -- Olsen used him as a second forward, with devastating results.
"I think that free role suits me," De Rosario said. "Sometimes you'll see me helping out on defense, sometimes you'll see me up front and sometimes you'll see me in the midfield helping out and creating. I think that's my strong point, when I anticipate the play and kind of get myself in a good position."
Whether De Rosario lines up there again, or returns to midfield isn't clear at the moment, with Olsen indicating that such a decision will depend largely on who the opponent is. But either way, just having De Rosario around makes it all the more likely that D.C.'s season will end with a spot in the playoffs.
"If De Rosario is coming from the midfield, he's very dangerous," Olsen said. "If he's up top, in and around goal, he can do that as well. It's a nice option to have; it really is."
Angel's rebirth: When the Los Angeles Galaxy informed Juan Pablo Angel in early August that they were looking to trade him to make room for Robbie Keane, the Colombian admitted that he came close to retiring. Six goals later, Chivas USA is thanking the soccer gods that Angel decided to keep playing.
Ever since Angel joined the Goats, he has looked more like the predatory striker who spent four seasons starring for the New York Red Bulls, as opposed to the tentative forward who managed only three goals in 22 games for Los Angeles.
So what has been the difference? Angel was initially reluctant to make a comparison, but admitted that Chivas' style suits his play in the box better.
"I settled in immediately with the team, and I started to have more influence in the play," he said. "I was obviously benefiting from the way this team plays. With two good wingers, people are running on the flanks and serving me balls in the areas where I feel more comfortable. Right from the beginning I was starting to create chances and getting opportunities. At the end of the day, at my age, it's all about enjoying it and I'm having fun again."
That clearly wasn't the case earlier in the year, and Keane's impending arrival didn't improve Angel's mood. The thought of having to uproot his family for the second time in a year didn't fill him with enthusiasm either. At age 35, the temptation to hang up his boots was strong.
"I was very close [to retiring]," he said. "I was starting to talk to people about going somewhere else. I wanted to make the right decision, and that was when I started to talk to [Chivas manager] Robin [Fraser] and we were able to reach an agreement. He opened a door for me and I wanted to give it a try."
As handsomely as the move has paid off, Angel realizes that at his age the end of his career is approaching quickly. But for the moment, he isn't even thinking about next season and what it might hold.
"The idea was to finish out the season and see if I will make an impact on the team," he said. "At the end of the year, I will sit down with my family and see what is the best thing to do. It's also a battle as to how I feel mentally and what type of motivation you have. Right now I'm having a blast."
What now, Hans? New York Red Bulls manager Hans Backe clearly did the right thing in suspending defender Rafa Marquez for his brain-dead comments after last week's 3-1 home loss to Real Salt Lake, in which the Mexican international blamed everyone but himself for what transpired. New York then looked much stouter defensively in defeating Portland 2-0 last Saturday, with Marquez looking on from a luxury suite.
Even as Backe and the players tried to put the incident behind them, the question of what to do next won't go away for the simple reason that the Red Bulls appear to be a better team without Marquez than they are with him. The last time New York won with the Mexican international in the lineup was April 30. Granted, Marquez missed a considerable chunk of time due to injury and the Gold Cup, but the fact remains that since that April win over Kansas City, New York is 4-3-7 without Marquez, while going 0-3-6 with him.
In a phone interview, Backe was noncommittal about whether Marquez would play.
"This will be a normal week," Backe said. "We have to draw a line over [the suspension], and we'll see in these sessions. I haven't really decided anything yet."
But where does Marquez fit these days? In defense? Hardly. Backe has gone to great lengths to praise the play of Stephen Keel, who, while lacking Marquez's elegance on the ball, was much tougher in the tackle. A more logical option is to put Marquez in midfield, but that would mean taking out either Teemu Tainio or Dax McCarty. McCarty in particular was a combative presence against Portland, a trait that isn't in Marquez's skill set.
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So will Marquez be a spectator again when the Red Bulls take on Toronto this weekend? The available evidence points to yes, even when set against his $4.6 million contract.
Chasing pack gaining on Rapids: As Colorado head coach Gary Smith discussed the state of his team, he didn't sound like a coach worried about his playoff fate. His actions said something else, however. Smith admitted that he would not be traveling to El Salvador for his side's CONCACAF Champions League match against Metapan, and instead would focus on working with the players who would be left behind, most of whom are regulars.
"I appreciate that some people will look at this and say I'm possibly belittling the [CCL], which is not true at all," Smith said via telephone. "It was an extremely tough decision. I want to be with the guys [in El Salvador], I know it's an important game, but we've also got an important game against Dallas at the weekend. In trying to turn the corner with a bit of fluency, and more of a spring in our stride and in our game, I felt it was a bigger necessity to stay here with those players."
At present Colorado is sitting on 42 points, but the three teams immediately behind it all have at least one game in hand. D.C. United has a whopping three matches to make up. Even more troubling is the dip in form the Rapids have displayed during a five-match winless streak in league play.
"Certainly, if the result doesn't go our way, it starts to put a few more doubts in our minds with those teams chasing us," Smith said. "But I think what we've seen on a number of occasions in these run-in games is that there are some twists and turns. I know at this point I'd rather have the points in the game. We're in a decent position, but one that needs to be solidified."
Only twice in MLS history has a defending MLS Cup champion failed to reach the postseason. After winning the 1999 MLS Cup, D.C. United failed to make the playoffs in 2000, while Los Angeles performed an identical feat in 2006 after winning the cup in 2005.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.