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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Weekend Round 15 – Of Useful Returns, Goalkeeping Heroics, Formation Changes, Brazilian Fire, Home Cookin’, the Return of the King, Draws, Trades & the Red Card Crew.

     Nine matches played; twenty-nine goals scored. Six Home wins, three draws, and no losses. The road woes continued for most clubs, whether a result of scheduling peculiarities – all but 3 matchups saw the higher positioned club hosting the lesser – or exemplary of the difficulty of road travel in MLS.

    DC United and the Houston Dynamo played to a 2-2 draw in the early Saturday match. Charlie Davies was fired up to respond to the criticism he received for his dive last weekend – for which he was fined by the league – and to celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday. He had the best of the early chances sending one wide and being robbed by Tally Hall on a diving header in the dying minutes of the first half. Chris Pontius and Andy Najar exhibited some of the exciting wing play that held such promise preseason for the retooling United squad. Pontius scored the opener, while Najar’s tricky run down the right-side end-line led to Davies open-netter.

    The Dynamo gladly welcomed Brian Ching to the starting line-up from injury. With a couple of substitute appearances under his belt Ching lasted the full ninety, drew a penalty and headed home the last minute equalizer to rescue the point for his beleaguered side in need of a new leader as they lost midfield playmaker Brad Davis to injury at the half after converting the penalty. Ching’s offensive prowess helped Houston end a woeful run of form in front of goal being shutout in four of their last seven matches. Curiously their alternating pattern of being shutout then scoring a pair continued for an eighth match.
    On the opposite coast the original California Clásico between San Jose and Los Angeles was not without controversy as it reached a 0-0 conclusion.
    After a couple of early Earthquake chances – Simon Dawkins hit the post and Ryan Johnson’s header was denied from close range by Donovan Ricketts – a collision between Ricketts and fellow Jamaican Khari Stephenson left both prostrate on the ground. Stephenson’s head slammed into the forearm of the Galaxy keeper, who had to leave the match with a suspected broken arm.
    His replacement, Josh Saunders, did not fare much better. Steven Lenhart, the ever-tenacious San Jose forward pestered Saunders at every opportunity. After a small tussle Lenhart nodded the ball out of the keeper’s hands, prompting Saunders to scramble and lash out. Embellishment to the contact saw the Galaxy lose their second keeper of the night to a red card, while Lenhart got a yellow.
    Forward/wide attacker Mike Magee volunteered to man the goal as LA found themselves with no other options. He did well for the remaining forty-seven minutes, making four saves, including one outstanding leg block to prevent Lenhart for putting his side into the lead during a mad final few moments of action.
    A more exciting match was witnessed in Philadelphia as the Union continued their unbeaten home form with a 3-2 victory over Chivas USA.
    Continuing with their new attacking formation of four forwards - Sébastian Le Toux and Veljko Paunović in the midfield and Carlos Ruiz and Jack McInerney as strikers – Philly won another one-goal match, though with a bit more panache and a bit less defense.
    Chivas took the lead in the first half through a Michael Umaña header before the Union surged in the second to take the lead through Paunović and Ruiz. Justin Braun then leveled the score again before Danny Mwanga – rested for fear of overuse by head coach Piotr Nowak – netted the winner with a well-executed turn and fire from outside the box.
    Meanwhile a one-sided affair was taking place in Frisco, Texas as FC Dallas hosted Portland Timbers.
    Sparked by the energetic performance of Brazilian Jackson – who returned last week from a leave of absence to be married in his homeland – Dallas dominated the match, never giving Portland a chance.

    A pair of headed goals off Daniel Hernández-corner kicks from defenders Zach Loyd and George John gave Dallas the first half lead. Jackson’s second half took care of the rest as he was instrumental in setting up the play that led to Brek Shea’s goal and may have scored the fourth himself, though homegrown youngster Ruben Luna appeared to touch it in just before it crossed the line.

    Portland was badly outplayed in the roasting Texan sun accumulating their fourth loss in their last five matches as they continue to struggle on the road, while that fine home form has dwindled as well. Hopefully for head coach John Spencer the early return from injury of favoured centre-back Futty Danso will allow them to regain that defensive core that had served them well.

    Home results are extremely important in MLS; no one knows this better than Sporting Kansas City this season.

    After enduring a grueling ten-match road swing to open the season - prior to their new home Livestrong Sporting Park being completed - they have started to press that advantage. A second straight home win saw them defeat Vancouver 2-1 in battle of the conference bottom dwellers.

    Vancouver took the lead against the run of play as Camilo cleverly flicked a free kick into the far corner of the net, until a pair of strikes – Omar Bravo from the penalty mark and Júlio César from a corner kick – put KC in control.

    Unbeaten in seven Kansas City have managed to climb out of the Eastern basement. Vancouver, on the other hand, remains mired in the Western cellar and will be disappointed with the flat performance they brought to this match.

    On the issue of miring and lacklustre performances the final match of Saturday night saw one team continue their funk as the other may have climbed out of theirs.

    Real Salt Lake welcomed Toronto FC into their desert home with a tidy 3-1 victory. Real - on the back of three draws - put in a commanding performance that may indicate the end of a tough period following the loss of the CONCACAF Champions League final and their playmaker Javier Morales.

    Having scored just six goals in the eight matches since Morales went down to injury the floodgates opened when Nat Borchers powered in a header from a corner before the struggling Álvaro Saborío – who had not scored in the league since October of last season – netted a goal on each side of the half, before Maicon Santos could pull back a consolation goal.

    Toronto FC was undone by several rookie centre-back mistakes by the previously impressive academy prospect Doneil Henry, who was at fault on all three goals, though the blame cannot rest solely on his young shoulders. Now winless in eleven matches, the Reds must soldier on with a pair of testing battles with Vancouver ahead.

    Contrasting fortunes continued as Sunday’s action kicked off in Chicago as the Fire took on New York and drew 1-1.

    Chicago, having struggled early in the season, has been resurgent under new head coach Frank Klopas. They left the pitch undefeated in seven matches – their eleventh draw of the season and sixth straight at home – largely as a consequence of their strong defensive and goalkeeping performances.

    New York, on the other hand, continue to be let down by their net-minders having won just once in their last ten matches. The first half strike – more of a trickle – by Joel Lindpere was cancelled out by Marco Pappa, beneficiary of some terrible goalkeeping that saw Bouna Coundoul throw himself to the ground, ignorant of the bounce of the ball, which went right over him.

    With Greg Sutton giving away a goal to Seattle via some poor footwork and this latest Bouna howler, there must be changes if New York hopes to be contenders come October*.

    Speaking of change Seattle debuted a ground-breaking striker-less formation as they took on New England and won 2-1 in the second Sunday match.

    Hamstrung by - well, hamstrings, quadriceps, blood clots and broken bones - Seattle had no choice but to field six registered midfielders in lieu of strikers. Granted Mauro Rosales and Roger Levesque are no strangers to playing up top and their ability to interchange with their teammates provided a fluid attack as witnessed by the excellent passing that led to Álvaro Fernández’s game-winning goal.

    New England - strengthened through the return of Benny Feilhaber – took an early lead as the Osvaldo Alonso-less Sounders fell asleep on a corner kick cleverly worked to Sainey Nyassi who’s seeing-eye low shot found its way into the net.

    If not for a splendid free kick from left back Tyson Wahl to equalize before half-time they may not have continued their three-match winning streak.

    The final match of the weekend saw Columbus destroy Colorado 4-1 due in part to the excellence of Andrés Mendoza and a red card to Conor Casey.

    Casey opened the scoring, continuing the form that has seen him score four goals in the five matches he’s played since returning from injury. Gaven equalized with a fine solo effort before Mendoza netted the first of his brace; both goals were opportunistic of poor passing by the Rapids.

    Casey was then sent off for a late challenge on Crew keeper Will Hesmer opening the door for the rout to continue. Columbus, no stranger to having a man-advantage – this being the seventh time they have enjoyed that privilege – pressed in the second half as Mendoza completed his brace before Tommy Heinemann scored his first MLS goal to round out the scoring.

    Colorado can take solace in the return to action of the suspended Brian Mullan and the injured Omar Cummings. 

    Another exciting weekend of MLS action concluded, onto round 16. A lone midweek fixture sees Toronto FC host Vancouver Whitecaps, while several teams take part in US Open Cup matches.
The Fine Print

DC United will bid adieu to their Brazilian attacking midfielder Fred who will be leaving when the transfer window opens to return to Australia to join the new club Melbourne Heart. Fred - who enjoyed success previously in Melbourne with cross-town rivals the Victory - joins as a Marquee player, was allowed to leave amicably as a better financial opportunity materialized.

*This was written after hearing of the Dwayne De Rosario trade that sent him to DC United in exchange for Dax McCarty. Speculation is rife that this move was intended to clear up the cap space required to bring in a top quality keeper, perhaps the unattached US International Marcus Hahnemann.

DC v Houston 2-2; San Jose v Los Angeles 0-0; Philadelphia v Chivas 3-2; Dallas v Portland 4-0; Kansas City v Vancouver 2-1; Salt Lake v Toronto 3-1; Chicago v New York 1-1; Seattle v New England 2-1; Columbus v Colorado 4-1.

Trying something a little bit different here as the old format was time consuming and did not provide any particularly unique insight. Instead of the plain rundown of the matches the key point(s) of interest from each match will be discussed. It is still incredibly time consuming though, hence the lateness.

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