By Dario Camacho - MIAMI, FL (Apr 6, 2012) US Soccer Players -- Last weekend was a treat for fans of Major League Soccer. Early in the season, the customary games where things look amiss between two clubs trying to obtain match fitness shouldn’t be new to the faithful followers of the League. If there was any cobwebs lingering in the engines of some of the players that performed in the games last weekend, it didn’t show.
What I saw was a joyful amount of beautiful soccer.
It wasn’t that goals were scored. There were, but some of the build up to land at the final destination were sensational, moments of pure soccer bliss. It was great, reminding us of how engaging this game can be. As entertainment it hit the right notes.
If there was a theme that permeated throughout the games it was a tremendous amount of build-up. Passing, tapping, here and there. Ball skipping briskly between attackers, concocting offensive bursts that produced a rhythm of smooth transitions. Then a goal, and you just have to see that replay one more time.
Of particular interest was that DC game versus Dallas. As promotional games go for the fledgling new partnership between MLS and NBC Sports Network, they made a good choice. DC looked like maniacs with a plan. Their attacking effervescence was propelled by Nick De Leon and Danny Cruz, sprinkled in by Dwayne De Rosario and ex-Dallas player Maicon Santos.
Just on offense, the combination of the four produced four goals, and one of them was true team effort. DC’s second goal was a blend of quick short passes and great volley by Santos to De Leon. The ball sailed effortlessly through the air towards De Leon who chest trapped it and expertly put it past a helpless Kevin Hartman. It was a quick combination of passes in the midfield and an even better effort by De Leon to trap the ball while a defender sat on top of him in the box.
It seemed like the rest of the match was a ruckus with the whole stadium involved. The speed of play was exhausting, creative, the ball ping-ponging back and forth between black-and-red clad players while the crowd voiced their support. It was exciting. It was entertainment. It was Major League Soccer at its best.
Of course, DC can’t have all of the accolades. As a collection of highlights, last week had a lot of them. To think that most of them came from teams that didn’t even figure in last year’s playoff picture is an example of quality improving across the board... or just a fluctuation of parity at work. Either way, it gave us some moments.
How New England tic-tocked the ball around LA en route to a 3-1 win was impressive. New York dismantled Montreal behind a hat-trick and assist from Thierry Henry in a show of offensive strength. His Arsenal loan seems to have kept him sharp, shooting him up top of the goals leaderboard.
And then there was Darlington Nagbe. If his stock hasn’t risen after his home performance against Real Salt Lake it would be a crime. The fact that he already has a Goal of the Year candidate this early in the season is unbelievable. His mini-volley and blast over the outstretched arms of Nick Rimando was sensational.
What was great too were the few passes before he received the ball. Knocking the ball through the air were Diego Chara and Eric Alexander with deft one touch passes before Alexander volleyed the ball towards Nagbe, who promptly did what he does - score goal of the year candidates.
Back to Reality?
Is this an indication of a wider change in MLS, where coaches will risk giving players space while trying to play their own game? Probably not. MLS coaches as a whole remain frustratingly conservative, with a direct impact on style and quality of play. What we saw last weekend was special because it was different. One thing is certainly clear, this League already has technically gifted players capable of putting on a show. These are the players that understand and approach the game with flair. It’s also reassuring that the coaching structure is changing enough in MLS that allow such players to actually be in the starting lineup.
Small steps, but of significant importance. Allow the creative players to do what they do while making sure it's not at substantial risk of lunging defenders arguing that harsh tackles are within the rules. Reward teams that take creative chances and try to show a different style of play. Show that this is a League that understands entertainment value. This is what produces greater demand for tickets, broader interest, and ultimately the television ratings the League craves. Last week was one of those small steps, let's just hope it isn't followed by a bigger step back.
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