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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Midweek Round 13 – Of a Classy Professional Move & a New Stadium in KC.

    Two MLS matches dotted the calendar this week. Wednesday night saw Columbus’ Crew play host to Real Salt Lake. The Columbus, still struggling with the roster overhaul that saw them jettison fan-favourite Guillermo Barros Schelotto and some of the more experienced heads, entered the match winless in five. Leading scorer Emilio Rentería was absent with quad strain; DP Andrés Mendoza has increased his production (2 goals in last two matches) but still finds his Latin style not meshing with the blue-collar workman nature of the team and the town.

     Real were hoping that their rough patch of form since the CONCACAF Champions League Final had been put behind them with their dominant display over Vancouver on Saturday last. The victory ended a 3-match winless run highlighted by an offensive display from defensive midfielder-cum-emergency striker Jean Alexandre, whose goal and assist sparked Salt Lake’s first 2-goal output since the beginning of April.

    Columbus’ dominance of the fixture – having won the last four league meetings at Crew Stadium – looked doomed as RSL took an early lead. Emmanuel Ekpo could not contain the hulking Jámison Olave in the 7th minute. The Columbian defender contorted his frame to get a foot on the Nelson González cross sending the ball high into the Columbus net from such close proximity that goalkeeper Will Hesmer was helpless to prevent the goal. 0-1 to Salt Lake.

    The game lulled until just a quarter hour remained. Half-time substitute Justin Meram snapped the match back to life when he cut into the box and his nimble footwork caused the hulk Olave to clumsily cut him down. Penalty for Columbus.
    Jeff Cunningham, MLS’ penultimate goal-scorer, in his second incarnation as a Crew striker was designated as the kick taker; it would have tied him with Jaime Moreno at 133 goals. Mendoza, through ignorance or insolence, ignored the commands, nonchalantly preparing himself for the kick. Several Crew players including captain Chad Marshall attempted to reason with the Peruvian, but Cunningham showed his years of experience and sought to soothe the potentially explosive situation. Backing off his teammates and taking his spot on the arc, Cunningham was the first man there to congratulate and celebrate with his troubled strike partner after he converted the spot kick.

    Perhaps Jeff’s veteran guile put the needs of the team ahead of his own, perhaps he was aware that the oft-criticized DP needed to be the focal point for his confidence, perhaps he admired what he saw as a touch of his old self in the self-centred actions. Regardless of what his reasons were it was a classy move by the wily old fox, which could help build unity amongst the fractured dressing room.

    The match now tied continued as the Crew took the impetus. Mendoza’s cutback pass to Eddie Gaven settled perfectly in the path of Josh Gardner. Gardner’s shot deflected off the thigh of Salt Lake defender Chris Schuler and blooped over the diving Nick Rimando. Gardner’s first goal in five seasons gave the Crew a late lead.

    RSL pressed late, attempting to re-equalize the match. Hesmer saved the match when he instinctively swatted away a cheeky Tony Beltran heel-flick in stoppage time. The 2-1 win was preserved, their home dominance over Salt Lake continued, and their winless run halted.

     The conflict avoidance of the savvy Cunningham and the recent production of the lamented Mendoza could bode well for the struggling Crew who host Chicago on Sunday. Salt Lake, still hampered by disappointment, injuries and international absences, continue their eastern road trip in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon.
Thursday night saw Kansas City final end their seemingly interminable road trip and entertain Chicago at the grand opening of their sparkling new Livestrong Sporting Park.

     Having put themselves in a hole – on six points from ten matches at the bottom of the Eastern Conference -with the decision to travel until the park was ready, KC hoped to welcome a sold-out crowd to their new meeting place with a victory over the struggling Fire.      

    Chicago came into the match struggling; still riding a 10-match winless run, despite firing their coach Carlos de los Cobos and replacing him with technical director Frank Klopas. Though they could find solace in having young goalkeeper Sean Johnson collect his first clean sheet of the season last match, in the recent returns to the pitch of captain Logan Pause and Patrick Nyarko and that though winless, they have taken six points in their last seven matches.

    The two sides struggled to dominate the match. Sporting enjoyed some success attacking through Graham Zusi down the left. His goal in the 15th minute, off of a ball swung low across the top of the box by Kei Kamara was chalked off as Omar Bravo was offside. There was some question as to whether the Mexican actually touched the ball, but controversy seemed destined to be the order of the night.

    The next major action came in the 67th minute, as Chicago wide attacker Dominic Oduro raced in on the Kansas area. White-haired KC keeper, Jimmy Nielsen, raced out to challenge the speedy Ghanaian only for the ball to be deftly flicked over his head. Panicked, his autonomic defense mechanism overpowered his sense and he reached up handling the ball outside of his area. He fell to the ground in shame and disappointment at his mistake, was duly handed his marching orders, and left his team short a man for the remainder of the match.

    Chicago pressed well trying to make their man advantage count. Substitute Orr Barouch struck a rasping shot that pinged off the crossbar when replacement keeper Eric Kronberg spilled an easy long-distance shot from Daniel Paladini, but that was all the danger the Fire’s attack could muster.

    The final straw came in the 85th minute. A long Kansas City goal kick was flicked on by CJ Sapong, collected by Zusi who slotted through Bravo. Bravo cut towards the goal only to be scythed down by a reckless challenge by Chicago right back Bratislav Ristić. The Serb appeared to get a toe to the ball before he made contact with the forward, but the ferocity of the tackle overruled any pedantry and should have given the home side, down a man, a chance to win the match.

    The baying crowds were left unsatisfied as the match concluded a 0-0 draw. Solace could be taken in the star of the evening: the beautiful new soccer-specific stadium. Amenities such as individually tailored stands, enhanced multimedia connectivity, and best of all, a beer tap that pours a pint in three seconds are the next level in fan engagement and interaction for all sports.

    Oddly Sporting heads back on the road as they visit Dallas on Sunday, while Chicago, now winless in eleven matches, travel to Columbus as previous mentioned. 


Columbus v Salt Lake 2-1; Kansas City v Chicago 0-0.

Apologies for the lateness of this post will do better this week.

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