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Monday, 23 May 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Round 10 - Of More of the Same, a Little Something Different, a Touch of Redemption, New Faces on the Score Sheet, and a Not So SuperClásico

    The 10th week of MLS action was less congested than those previous; the 8 matches were all played on Saturday and Sunday, some things, however, did remain the same. Portland Timbers are still unbroken at home; this latest 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew was their 5th win at JELD-WEN Field, a perfect 5-0 record. The Timbers exploitation of dead ball situations also continued, they have scored 6 of their 13 goals from set pieces. Defender Eric Brunner’s header in the opening minute of the second half, against the team that left him unprotected in the expansion draft last year was set up by a Jack Jewsbury free kick, which was redirected across the goal by Kalif Alhassan for Brunner to put in. Jewsbury and Alhassan lead the team in assists, each tallying their 5th on Brunner’s goal, leaving them a lone helper behind league leaders David Beckham and Brad Davis, tied with Vancouver’s Davide Chuimiento. Real Salt Lake, despite unveiling their new golden jerseys, continued to struggle in a storm affected match in Dallas. The lightning caused play to be stopped in the 83rd minute, the same minute as the stoppage in the match versus LA Galaxy some weeks ago. A rematch of last year’s Western Conference Semi Final, which was won by Dallas, was a testy affair, both teams battling for the 0-0 result. Salt Lake had never earned a single point in Dallas before this match, their 2nd straight scoreless draw and the 3rd time in the last 4 matches they have been kept off the score sheet. Despite this offensive slump Salt Lake are still maintaining the strong defense that has made then so dominant, keeping their opponents at bay, earning clean sheets in 6 of their 8 matches played. FC Dallas remains unbeaten in 6 matches, with goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, who recorded his 5th clean sheet of the season; they have not allowed a goal in 399 minutes of action.

     Something a little different for the Red Bulls as they took on Houston Dynamo in front of the largest crowd of the season at Robertson Stadium. Without star striker Thierry Henry, New York drew 2-2 when out of favour midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy scored a last minute headed equalizer. The teams traded early goals through Dane Richards and Brad Davis, before Koke grabbed a late one that should have been enough for the win. Though the Dynamo still maintains their Texan dominance over the Red Bulls, who have never won at Houston’s home ground, they will be disappointed with relinquishing all 3 points so late in the match and extending their winless streak to 4 matches. It was New York’s 2nd straight winless match, as they struggled to rid themselves of their shock defeat to Chivas USA last weekend. Greg Sutton, the spindly limbed goalkeeper, got his first league start of the season, his extra reach helped the Red Bulls fend off the aerial attack of the taller Dynamo front and back lines, especially at set pieces. Toronto FC meanwhile shocked the league, playing well on the road in Colorado and earning themselves a point against the defending champions, as they drew 0-0 with the Rapids on Sunday night.

    In the first week of the season Dominic Oduro missed an absolute sitter that would have tied the match for Houston as they fell 1-0 to Philadelphia Union. Dominic Kinnear, Dynamo head coach, was furious post match and Oduro was promptly traded to Chicago Fire for Calen Carr. On Saturday night he earned himself some sweet redemption when he made up for that miss with the equalizing goal in the Fire’s match against Philly, Michael Farfan had opened the scoring 4 minutes earlier. 4 minutes after Oduro’s strike, Carlos Ruiz earned himself some relief from his naysayers by scoring a stunner of a volley. It was Ruiz’s third goal of the season, not too shabby to be sure, but the lack of spark in the Philadelphia offence has limited their ability to take advantage of their spectacular defensive play. The conflict between their young attackers and Coach Piotr Nowak’s conservative style has been an issue this season, with the defense earning the points, and the offense not being able to press the advantage. This could be the spark that Ruiz’s game needed; he has looked a hungrier beast in his return to MLS than he was at Toronto FC, to catapult’s Philly’s surprising early season form into a serious title contention threat. The Fire, who has not collected 3 points since March 26th, will be disappointed to have lost the match 2-1, moments after having leveled the score, but there is no shame in being beaten by such a strike. 

    There were 9 goal scorers in this week’s round of action who netted their first tallies for the season. Michael Farfan, the versatile rookie in Philadelphia; Spanish import Koke and longtime servant Brad Davis in Houston, and the unfavoured Mehdi Ballouchy for New York; Jeff Parke, who notched his first in seven years, to win the match 1-0 in the dying minutes of stoppage time for Seattle over Sporting Kansas City; Ellis McLaughlin, who netted his first ever MLS goal and Bobby Convey, on a free kick in San Jose, and New England’s Chris Tierney, another free kick in that same 2-1 victory for the Earthquakes over the Revolution and Portland’s Eric Brunner, whose header won Portland’s battle with Columbus.

    The 21st edition of the SuperClásico went on Saturday night as Los Angeles Galaxy stretched their unbeaten derby run to 9, dating back to September 13th, 2007. Donovan Ricketts returned between the pipes in place of Josh Saunders who deputized for him last week. Landon Donovan was held off the score sheet for the first time in 6 matches, but David Beckham was on form to set up Chad Barrett for the only strike of the match. Barrett collected his 3rd on the season, to continue his productive form which saw him set up 2 goals last week against Kansas City. Chivas USA’s resurgent form, having won 3 of the last 4 matches, culminating in their defeat of the Red Bulls in New York last Sunday, was stifled by the midfield domination of LA. Justin Braun, last week’s hat trick hero, was restricted by a lack of service, and was substituted in the 66th minute for youngster Chris Cortez who made his second appearance, but fared no better in his time on the pitch. 

The Fine Print

    Jeff Parke’s late winner as Seattle Sounders defeated Sporting Kansas City had an air of déjà vu for the beleaguered road team. It was Seattle’s 4th win over the KC outfit, and eerily similar to last year’s defeat at Qwest Field by an extra time strike by Michael Fucito. The injury ravaged Sounders were happy to pick up the full points as their injured star, Steve Zakuani was in attendance for the first time since his season ending injury. His college teammate at Akron, Teal Bunbury, was happy to visit his old friend, but disappointed to see his team fall to their 5th straight loss. Good news is on the horizon for KC though, as English winger Ryan Smith made his 1st start of the season and DP Omar Bravo returned to the lineup, adding some attacking spark. Only 2 more matches are left of that extended road trip to start their season as their new home ground, Livestrong Park is due to open soon. The return of these attacking pieces, and a new found defensive solidarity, should help Sporting climb out of the Eastern Conference basement upon a few solid matches in Kansas.

    San Jose’s victory over New England Revolution was their 2nd straight home victory, bringing some much needed home form for the struggling Earthquakes. Chris Wondolowski’s 3-match scoring streak was brought to an end, though he did set up youngster, Ellis McLoughlin’s diving header. The introduction of the youthful McLoughlin and Ampaipitakwong in the second half spurred on the Earthquakes attack, and Bobby Convey’s curling free kick was the difference between the two sides. Chris Tierney scored a free kick on his own, but it wasn’t enough to earn New England a result as their 2-match clean sheet streak, 293 minutes in total, was broken by San Jose.

    Three midweek MLS fixtures this week as Colorado visits New York; Seattle hosts Dallas and Los Angeles takes on Houston at the Home Depot Center. The second leg of the Voyageurs Cup – Nutrilite Canadian Championship goes down in Toronto, while the qualification finals of the MLS play in matches for the US Open Cup take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with Chicago playing host to San Jose and New England at home versus Kansas City respectively.

    National Team call ups for the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup to be played over the month of June have started to become official. Expect many teams to be severely depleted by their international players leaving to represent their country.  More on this once all the squads have been announced.

Philadelphia v Chicago 2-1; Houston v New York 2-2; Chivas v Los Angeles 0-1; Seattle v Kansas City 1-0; San Jose v New England 2-1; Portland v Columbus 1-0; Dallas v Salt Lake 0-0; Colorado v Toronto 0-0.

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