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Tuesday 31 May 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Weekend Round 11 - Of a Unified Destruction in Toronto, Regicide in Salt Lake, a First in Portland, a Bit of the Ole’ Back-&-Forth, & the Battle for ‘El Capitán’.

     The first match early on Saturday witnessed the destruction of Toronto FC 2-6 by the Philadelphia Union. Toronto playing their eighth match in the month of May, the eleventh in 34 days, fell behind early. Goals in the 2nd, 11th and then again in the 44th minutes saw TFC go in for the half down 0-3 to a chorus of boos from the home fans. Gabriel Farfán, picked out by Jordan Harvey’s cross, was left alone in the right side of the box to grab the first, his first in his MLS career. Justin Mapp doubled the lead with his first of the season and Kyle Nakazawa rounded out the first half scoring when he was left alone in front of goal. Toronto made two changes at the half, Julian de Guzman and Dan Gargan made way for Javier Martina and Danleigh Borman, who was returning to action from an absence due to personal matters. The shuffling resulted in TFC piling on the pressure, with Maicon Santos grabbing a brace, firstly rounding Faryd Mondragón then knocking in a loose ball in the box. The comeback was halted abruptly as Mapp picked up his second off a poor clearance from Stefan Frei, which he fired into the top corner. Toronto continued to press forward leaving gaps in an already porous defense. Danny Mwanga redirected a low, goalmouth cross by Sébastian Le Toux in the 72nd minute, prompting Aron Winter to throw caution to the wind and bring on yet another attacking substitute with Alen Stevanović replacing Ty Harden. TFC switched to a 3-3-1-3 and pressed forward. Mwanga wrapped up the scoring with a last minute strike handing TFC their worst ever loss and earning Philly their first win at BMO Field. It was Union’s second away win of the season, precipitated by a largely unprecedented offensive explosion. Having tallied just 8 goals in their previous 10 matches this season; this 6-goal outburst was modestly foreshadowed by their 2-1 victory over Chicago Fire last Saturday, their first 2-goal output of the season. The Union solidified their lead atop the Eastern Conference, while Toronto FC’s fans were left to watch the Champions League Final on the big screen questioning their team and their manager.

     Not as overtly dramatic though perhaps more meaningful was Real Salt Lake’s 1-2 loss to the visiting Seattle Sounders. This loss end RSL’s 29-match undefeated streak at Rio Tinto Stadium dating back to May 16th, 2009. Salt Lake, ravaged by injuries and international call-ups, made several key attacking changes. Jean Alexandre paired with Fábian Espíndola in up top, while Ned Grabavoy tried to replace the dynamic presence of Javier Morales as the attacking midfielder. The match looked destined to continue both sides’ poor records in front of goal until Patrick Ianni fumbled in a corner kick delivery from Tyson Wahl to give Seattle the lead. Lamar Neagle doubled the advantage in the 84th minute with a beautiful strike that struck the underside of the bar on its way into the net. Salt Lake grabbed a consolation goal through Nelson González as he turned Ianni in the box off a throw-in. Pressing for an equalizer garnished several chances for RSL in the dying minutes, but it was not to be, the match and the record were lost. Salt Lake, now winless in 3 matches, is struggling with the resumption of league action following their run in the CONCACAF Champions League. With international absences due to the upcoming Gold Cup stripping them of three more attacking players, it appears as though this slump could continue for a while yet. Seattle bounces back from injuries of their own and a disappointing loss to Dallas midweek, though striker Fredy Montero continues to suffer from poor form. He was benched for the start of this match by head coach Sigi Schmid, calling him out for the lack of scoring, hoping to light a fire under the young Columbian who did collect an assist on Ianni’s scrambled goal, but is still mired in an offensive slumber having managed just that lone assist in the last 3 matches. 

     Sunday’s single match saw DC United travel to Portland to take on the Timbers. Both teams were coming off defeats in friendly matches against AFC Ajax (2-1 and 2-0 respectively). Portland, defending their home field dominance, a winning streak of 5 matches since opening JELD-WEN Field, while DC have been surging following a bad spell to go undefeated in 3. Though decimated by injuries to no less than 10 first team players DC opened the scoring in the 13th minute. A Chris Pontius attacking throw-in was cleverly redirected into the middle of the six-yard box by Blake Brettschneider for rookie defender Perry Kitchen to put in his first career MLS goal. The first half came to an end without much further of consequence, as did the first 20 minutes of the second. Some drama in the 65th minute though, as Dejan Jakovic was adjudged to have pulled down Portland’s Kenny Cooper in the box leading to a Timbers’ penalty kick. The young DC keeper, Bill Hamid, saved Cooper’s kick, only for the assistant referee to raise his flag, Hamid had left his line early and the kick must be retaken. Again Cooper stepped up, again Hamid made the save; again the assistant raised his flag. This time word from Portland’s coach, John Spencer, called from a different taker, as Hamid appeared to have the beating of Cooper. Captain Jack Jewsbury stepped to the spot and buried the kick, tying the match at 1’s. The drama was just beginning. At the other end, Pontius maneuvered in the Portland box prompting Diego Chará to lunge in to win the ball, as he slid by his arm seemed to corral the ball, penalty kick for DC. Pontius, in good form having scored 3 goals in the last 6 matches, converted the penalty on the first and only attempt to give DC the lead. The Timbers, in the unfamiliar position of trailing at home pressed forward only to be caught at the back by a route-one goal. A goal kick from keeper Hamid, flicked on by the youngster Brettschneider found the ailing Josh Wolff, on as a second half substitute, coolly slotting home DC’s third of the match. Timbers surged forward; their proficiency at set pieces allowed them to claw a goal back, as Jorge Perlaza nodded home from a Jeremy Hall free kick. But it was not enough; DC took the match 2-3 and Portland fall to their first loss at home.

     Two matches provided some quality entertainment Saturday night with some back-and-forth action. Columbus hosted Chivas USA, while San Jose visited Chicago. Columbus, the least offensive team battled Chivas, a goal feast-or-famine kind of squad, resulting in a 3-3 draw. Chivas opened the scoring through a Nick LaBrocca goal set up by Justin Braun, who put a Simon Elliott cross back across the box, only for Andrés Mendoza to level from a lay-off by Emmanuel Ekpo after a charging run. Then an Andy Boyens header from a corner re-established the LA-sides’ lead, but again Mendoza drew Columbus even when a misplayed ball in the midfield by Elliott allowed him in alone on goal. Jorge Flores again put Chivas in the lead, but the bullish Ekpo leveled the contest displaying his strength in the box, turning and firing home the game-tying goal. Three times Chivas went ahead only for Columbus to pull even within 15 minutes. Chicago and San Jose played the second leg of an unusual double-header. They met midweek in US Open Cup action, drawing 2-2; the match went to spot kicks where Chicago was victorious. New Fire acquisition Cristian Nazarit made his first appearance, starting the game and looking a physical threat up top. Though Chicago has struggled, winless in 8 prior to this game, his addition and the return of captain Logan Pause bodes well for the club. The action kicked off in the second half with the San Jose’s substitution of Anthony Ampaipitakwong for the ineffective Joey Gjertsen. Ampai delivered the corner that led to Ramiro Corrales’ opening header. Dominic Oduro leveled scoring in his second straight match from an easy tap-in after the behemoth Nazarit struck a deflected shot that caromed off both posts before sitting nicely for Oduro. Ampai on the right side of the pitch collected a lay-back from Corrales and delivered a pin-point cross for Chris Wondolowski to flick to the far post putting San Jose back in the lead. However, 6 minutes later Chicago defender Corey Gibbs met a delightful delivery from Baggio Husidić to nod home a diving header of his own, to again draw the Fire level. The match ended all square at 2-2; Chicago now winless in 9 matches, while San Jose are undefeated in 4 since head coach Frank Yallop shook up the lineup.

     Continuing the theme of call-and-response action Houston Dynamo hosted FC Dallas in the first Texan derby to battle for El Capitán, the replica 18th century mountain howitzer cannon. Houston leads the all-time dual for the spoils 3-2, but was unable to press the advantage as the match was drawn 2-2. Houston came into the contest struggling for offense having been shutout in 2 of their last 3 matches; Dallas was riding a shutout streak of 489 minutes, having not conceded a goal in 5 matches. A feisty affair that witnessed 5 yellow cards, and a single red, was brought to life by Dallas’ opening goal in the 27th minute. Columbian youngster Fabian Castillo struck a fine shot from outside of the box, that caught Dynamo keeper Tally Hall off guard, it struck the crossbar and bounced well out to a waiting Andrew Jacobsen. With Hall stunned, Jacobsen sent a looping header into the yawning cage. Cam Weaver evened the score in the 42nd minute, Brad Davis took the ball deep on the left hand side of the pitch, and Weaver held his run as the Dallas defense collapsed on Davis. Davis picked out the unmarked Weaver who sent a low shot pass Kevin Hartman, ending the shutout streak at 531 minutes. Dallas’ backline was disrupted by the international call-up of one of their central defenders, George John, who missed the match in order to meet up with the Greek squad. His central defensive partner Ugo Ihemelu put Dallas ahead with a powerful header in the 70th minute off a Marvin Chavez corner kick. Though down a man with Kofi Sarkodie dismissed after a late challenge on Brek Shea led to a second caution, Houston managed to draw level when Davis, again playing provider, picked out Colin Clark with a defense splitting pass, sending him in all alone on Hartman. His low shot beat the in-form keeper in the 87th minute, a late equalizer to settle the game at 2-apiece. After being targeted and shut down midweek by the Galaxy, Davis found his rhythm to collect his league leading 7th and 8th assists; he is truly the man that makes Houston tick, having a foot on more than half of Dynamo goals.

The Fine Print   

Vancouver and New York battled to a tame 1-1 draw at Empire Field. New York devoid of its stars Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez, and with Juan Agudelo dulled in his performance on the wing, drew level on Luke Rodgers 5th goal of the season, cancelling an Eric Hassli penalty kick 10 minutes earlier, as Camilo was brought down by Carlos Mendes following a clever give-and-go with Davide Chiumiento

New England fell 0-1 to Los Angeles by a Miguel López glancing header to the far post off a David Beckham cross. LA’s 4th straight win, all clean sheets, was at risk late as the Revolution applied pressure. Zach Schilawski and Shalrie Joseph had stoppage time efforts cleared off the line by AJ DeLaGarza and Landon Donovan respectively.

A low-key matchup in Colorado as the Rapids drew Sporting Kansas City 1-1. Defensive miscues were responsible for both goals. KC defender Aurélien Collin’s disastrous back-pass let Conor Casey in all alone, to round the helpless Jimmy Nielsen to open the scoring. Rapids full back Kosuke Kimura backed off the onrushing Ryan Smith a little too much then stumbled as the Sporting winger fired a shot into the top right corner. Colorado, struggling with injuries, collected their 5th draw in a row, while KC ended a streak of 5 losses, building from their 5-0 US Open Cup victory midweek as they prepare for a final road match before finally playing at the new ground.

Monday saw the first managerial sackings of the season as Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Chicago Fire parted ways with their coaches, Teitur Thordarson and Carlos de los Cobos respectively. More on Vancouver’s decision can be found here.

Houston has parted ways with Spanish import Koke after he asked to be released.

Midweek Review: New York v Colorado 2-2; Seattle v Dallas 0-1; Los Angeles v Houston 1-0.

Toronto v Philadelphia 2-6; Vancouver v New York 1-1; Columbus v Chivas 3-3; New England v Los Angeles 0-1; Chicago v San Jose 2-2; Houston v Dallas 2-2; Colorado v Kansas City 1-1; Salt Lake v Seattle 1-2.

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