Commentary

MLS: Things we learned in Week 4

There was plenty of excitement this week in the MLS

Updated: April 2, 2012, 2:59 PM ET
By Leander Schaerlaeckens | ESPN.com

[+] EnlargeKenny Cooper and Thierry Henry
Mike Lawrie/Getty ImagesThe Red Bulls got off to a slow start against Montreal but won going away.

The English Premier League wasn't the only competition to offer up good shock-value for the money this weekend. In Week 4 of the 2012 Major League Soccer season, the razzle-dazzle Los Angeles Galaxy stumbled again, this time to the New England Revolution, 3-1; while an East Coast minnow continues to punch above its weight: the New York Red Bulls, who beat the expansion Montreal Impact 5-2.

(That was a joke, commenters.)

Here's what we learned.

The New York Red Bulls remain the most mercurial team around

Where to start with the Red Bulls' 5-2 demolition of the Impact on Saturday? Well, for starters, it might be worth pointing out that it was actually far from a demolition. The Impact, who had been rather futile in the first three games of their MLS existence, losing twice and scoring just once, went ahead on two occasions.

In the 19th minute, Dane Richards and Markus Holgersson executed their circus act to perfection, the former playing the ball through the latter's legs and into the path of Sanna Nyassi, who put his beleaguered side ahead. In the 38th, after Thierry Henry had nodded in an equalizer, Justin Mapp pranced through the Red Bulls' defense undisturbed and slipped in another to make it 2-1.

It was only after New York was awarded a penalty at the stroke of halftime and Henry became sufficiently offended by the status quo that he decided to score twice more and give an assist that the Red Bulls ran up the score.

Most telling for the Red Bulls' confounding methods was the central midfield pairing of Dax McCarty and Rafa Marquez. Both put in poor performances against a weak opponent. McCarty lost the ball too often to count. Marquez committed turnovers, too, and continues to insist on playing deeper than he did when he was a central defender, often sitting in at left back or right back when what his team really needs is a distributor in the opposing half.

Yet McCarty won a penalty and dished out an assist, as did Marquez. Such are the unknowable ways of these Red Bulls, who have scored nine times in their last two games after scoring just once in their first two.

[+] EnlargePiotr Nowak
Mike Stobe/Getty Images/New York Red BullsPhiladelphia Union coach Peter Nowak has pushed all the wrong buttons this season.

Nick DeLeon can back up his Carlos Valderrama-type coif

Having already scored D.C. United's only goal of its first three games against the Galaxy in Week 2, rookie left winger Nick DeLeon continued to make a mockery of the expectations of him in United's 4-1 battering of FC Dallas on Friday night.

In spite of being drafted seventh overall in January, those expectations had more or less been zero, given that United is stacked with three of the best young wingers in the league: Chris Pontius, Andy Najar and Danny Cruz. Making his second consecutive start - taking full advantage of the absence of Najar, who was off securing Honduras U-23's salt-in-wound-rubbing qualification for the Olympics - DeLeon stole the show.

Tireless in tracking back, DeLeon was so dominant against U.S. national team regular Brek Shea that he forced him off to the other wing in the second half and helped contain the danger of right back Zach Loyd's overlapping runs too. On offense, DeLeon came close to scoring twice before he took a nice cross from Maicon Santos (who had already scored a marvelous goal), controlled it and volleyed it past Kevin Hartman on the run in the 60th minute. Not much later, DeLeon turned Ugo Ihelemu inside out, cut inside and served Cruz the ball on a platter to make it 3-1.

Real Salt Lake won't lose its cool

Teams that know how to win have learned not to panic, no matter the circumstance. That RSL knows how to win is well-established. In almost five years under Jason Kreis, the team has developed a recognizable style, won an MLS Cup final, reached a CONCACAF Champions League final and, perhaps most impressively, done it all while keeping turnover amazingly low.

Consequently, RSL has a core that isn't frazzled when it plays in a hostile environment and sees its penalty kick-induced lead slip away and turn into a 2-1 deficit on the back of two wondrous Darlington Nagbe strikes, like it did on Saturday night. No, RSL keeps its cool and knows its experience will serve it well in the end. Knows it might just be a matter of time before, say, Johnny Steele collects the ball at the edge of the box, dribbles in and equalizes in the 89th minute. Or Kyle Beckerman might receive the ball at the top of the box from a wide Fabian Espindola and sort of miss-hit the ball but weirdly see it roll into the net for the 93rd-minute winner anyway.

The power of composure. The power of experience.

The Galaxy's MVP is Omar Gonzalez

The supposed-to-be unbeatable, star-studded Galaxy are 1-3-1 in all competitions so far this season, in spite of playing four of five games at home. The oh-my-God-how-did-they-manage-to-assemble-so-much-talent offense has mostly been underwhelming. But most at fault is the Galaxy's defense, which has allowed seven league goals already in three games after it gave up just .82 per game last season.

The obvious difference? The absence of defender Omar Gonzalez, who was badly injured while out on loan during the offseason. Gonzalez was the Galaxy's rock in defense in 2011. And he made the defenders around him a lot better. His partner in central defense, A.J. DeLaGarza, for example, had a great season.

But without Gonzo, DeLaGarza looks like a most ordinary defender - at best. On Saturday, the New England Revolution, not exactly a high-octane outfit, ran rampant through the Galaxy defense in the pouring rain. Kelyn Rowe was granted a second consecutive point-blank chance and made it 1-0 in the 10th minute. In the 13th, Chris Tierney wasn't harassed in the slightest when he scored the 2-0. In the 65th, Saer Sene was politely invited to head in the ball that made it 3-0. In absentia, Gonzalez is clearly the Galaxy's most valuable player.

[+] EnlargeNick DeLeon
Paul Frederiksen/US PresswireFew may have had any expectations for Nick DeLeon this season, but he's made the most of his chances.

A year on, Peter Nowak and Peter Vermes have switched seats

One season ago, two head coaching Peters were in very different positions four games into the year than they are today. Peter Nowak of the Philadelphia Union was sitting pretty. His team had started off 3-1-0 and was looking like it would dominate the Eastern Conference. Peter Vermes of Sporting Kansas City, meanwhile, was slogging through a brutal schedule front-loaded with away games and started 1-2-1. He would lose the next four games and not win for another eight, facing considerable pressure.

Today, Vermes is 4-0-0 and looking unbeatable while the Union is 0-3-1 and lacking all pop, crackle and fizz. The difference? Vermes has had an amazingly steady hand. His lineup has been virtually unchanged all season, and is almost unchanged from last season too. His squad has adopted his system, developed great chemistry and evolved as a group.

Nowak has cycled players in and out through his revolving door, shipping off star forward Sebastien Le Toux and continually tinkered with lineups and tactics.

Nowak and Vermes have demonstrated that slow and steady wins the race.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.