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Friday 17 June 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Weekend Round 13 – Of Unexpected Heroes, Tex-Mex Domination, Late Drama, Canadian Revenge & Cascadia Cup: Part Two

    The thirteenth weekend of MLS action was a good one; 23 goals in 8 matches highlighted by several fantastic strikes.

    DC United fell to San Jose 2-4 at the feet of a monolithic performance by one curly-haired goof by the name of Steven Lenhart. Netting a hat-trick while setting up the other for Simon Dawkins, Lenhart stepped up his game in the absence of usual striking partner Chris Wondolowski.

    DC opened the scoring as Andy Najar picked up his first of the season. Josh Wolff set a low curling ball through a forest of legs finding a streaking Najar alone at the far-post for an easy conversion. Lenhart’s first of the night leveled matters two minutes later in the 15th as he rounded DC keeper Bill Hamid after a Khari Stephenson through ball sent him in alone.

    Lennie’s second came just minutes later in the 22nd, a nice one-two at the top of the box allow Stephenson a shot that Hamid just managed to parry. Lenhart following up on the shot netted the loose rebound easily. That lead did not last the half, as young DC striker Blake Brettschneider turned his defender (Bobby Burling) after receiving a pass and struck low from outside the 18-yard box beating a flat-footed Jon Busch in the San Jose net.

    On-loan Tottenham playmaker Simon Dawkins came on in the 48th minute and scored on his first attempt. Another clever one-two with Lenhart at the edge of the DC box sent the young Englishman in alone, he lifted his shot over Hamid into the corner to restore the Earthquake lead. Lenhart completed his hat-trick in the 60th minute as he beat the keeper to a ball lobbed back into the area by Steven Beitashour with a brave header that trickled into the unguarded cage.

    San Jose’s dominance over DC continues as they have now won the last 3 meetings at RFK and is unbeaten in 6 matches between the two. United’s 5-match undefeated streak ends as the young back line that performed so adamantly in their clean sheet performance last week were school by the Earthquakes quick movement. The return to the line-up of both Charlie Davies and Dax McCarty, both as substitutes, will add something to the team in the coming weeks. San Jose continues their climb out of the Western Conference basement, now undefeated in 6 matches having collected 14 points in this stretch (4 wins, 2 draws). 

     The final match of the weekend between FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City saw a similarly dominant performance from an unexpected source. Graham Zusi almost single-handedly ended Dallas 9-match unbeaten run with his 2 goals and assist (should have been 2 assists as he started the passing that led to KC’s fourth goal).

    Zusi, a third-year professional, offered a warning shot in the 17th minute as his short-side strike handcuffed Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman but hit the post. Hartman seemed to battle the sun on that shot and was not his usual self this match.

     The opening goal came from another Zusi strike from virtually the same position, though this time after being released by a ball into space by Davy Arnaud he sent his shot across the keeper and in at the far-post.

     Dallas’ Brek Shea responded 4 minutes later in the 32nd. A dynamic run from the centre circle saw his pass no less than four KC defenders as he bore down on Eric Kronberg in goal. His shot found the back of the net to level at 1.
     The second half was all KC. A deep Zusi corner was saved by CJ Sapong whose ball back into the area was put in by defender Aurelien Collin, his first for his new club. Zusi then unleashed a long distance bomb that caught goalkeeper Hartman napping as his rocket found the net unchallenged. Goal of the week candidate number one.

     KC completed the rout in the 78th minute when Zusi cleverly played the ball back to Birahim Diop who lobbed it over the top to an onrushing Luke Sassano who calmly popped it over the charging Hartman into the unguarded goal.

     Sporting KC pick up their first win since opening day - and first at Dallas since 2007 - with a 1-4 destruction of FC Dallas in Frisco. Dallas were missing regular left back Jackson as he was off in Brazil getting married, but will be disappointed with the poor defensive performance having kept clean sheets in 6 of the previous 7 matches.

     Across the state in Houston the Dynamo were ending a streak of their own as they beat Chivas USA 2-1. It was Houston’s first win since April 29th, a run of 7 winless matches.

     This Tex-Mex domination is evidenced by a 4-match winning streak versus Chivas, who have never won in league action at Robertson Stadium and have not even scored at Houston in 5 years.

     After an early opener was ruled off for goalkeeper interference Chivas took the lead. Marcos Mondaini gobbled up a mishit back-pass from Hunter Freeman and rounded Houston keeper Tally Hall for his second goal in his second match back from suspension.

     Geoff Cameron leveled matters in the 29th minute as a well placed set-piece delivery from Brad Davis for his league leading 9th assist of the season. Cameron just flicked the ball on its way and found the corner of the net.

     The match was won early in the second half, another excellent delivery from Davis, this time from a corner ricocheted off several players before deflecting off Heath Pearce for the deciding own goal.

     This early drama in the above matches transformed in late drama in the others, as several more players won important points for their teams.

     Portland returned home - hoping to avoid a third straight loss - to take on the ever-drawing Colorado Rapids.

     The match was a goalkeeping dual as Troy Perkins and Matt Pickens put on a clinic on how to keep the ball out of the net. Portland had the better of the chances, but had trouble hitting the target, while Colorado made their chances count forcing several saves out of Perkins.

     After Timbers’ coach John Spencer was sent to the stands - for his criticism of the match official - Rapids defender Drew Moor turned hero. A stoppage time free kick delivery from Jaime Smith led to a goalmouth scramble, where Perkins made two huge saves before the ball was half cleared to Moor who put it in to the gaping net.

     The 0-1 victory ended Colorado’s run of 6 straight draws, they are now unbeaten in 9. Portland has lost their last 3 matches, and more concerning, their last 2 at home. A shoulder injury to stalwart central defender Futty Danso and the inevitable suspension of Coach Spencer do not bode well for the expansion side hoping to solidify their league position with continued strong performances.

     Newly acquired Cristian Nazarit was the stoppage time hero for Chicago as they traveled to Columbus as both sides embarked on their second matches of the week. 
     Tired legs were evident as the match degraded into a scrappy midfield affair. Columbus was most affected; perhaps the unrest in the camp - following the penalty taking controversy from last match – has taken a toll. They did not muster a single shot on target.

     Chicago, still striving to end that 11-match winless streak, unleashed a barrage of 21 shots on the Crew net. Goalkeeper Will Hesmer made several important saves, while his defenders did an excellent job of blocking shots (8); Julius James made 2 such blocks that saved goals.

     The return to fitness of wide attacker Patrick Nyarko from concussion complications spurred on the attack, but it was the introduction of Orr Barouch in the 67th minute that changed the match.

     Barouch sent a shot off the bar in the 79th minute before his run and shot led to the game-winning goal. Hesmer parried the low shot, but only managed to turn it out to the middle of the unguarded net. Nazarit tapped-in the ball for the easiest goal of his MLS career so far, delighting the 400 or so Chicago fans who traveled to the match.

     The Fire organization had put on the trip as a reward for increased season ticket sales. The winless streak ends, new coach Frank Klopas has his first win in charge while maintaining their solid defensive performances that have seen them record 3 straight clean sheets.

     Columbus will hope that the apology given by designated player Andrés Mendoza to his teammates and fans will help soothe the troubles in Ohio.

     More late drama, this time with a touch of revenge, as LA Galaxy and Toronto FC drew 2-2 on Saturday night. The two sides had played out 3 straight scoreless draws between them.

     Chris Birchall opened the scoring - eliminating the possibility of a 4th 0-0 draw - in the 2nd minute. Miguel López put him clear on goal wide on the right-hand side and his shot across Stefan Frei was too powerful for the hand of Frei to keep out of the net. López then almost put LA up by two as his powerful strike rung off the post in the 10th minute of action.

     Toronto FC weathered that initial storm, playing their way into the match. A savage tackle by David Beckham on Tony Tchani should have been a red card, but instead led to Tchani’s removal from the match; Jacob Peterson’s persistent hamstring trouble flared up again, resulting in two first half substitutions. Joao Plata came on for Tchani and former Galaxy striker Alan Gordon for Peterson.

     LA had not conceded a goal in 411 minutes of league play, but in the 68th minute Alan Gordon rose highest to nod in a floating Danleigh Borman cross to level the score at 1.

     The match stayed that way until the 91st minute when a scramble in the box was not fully cleared by Toronto FC. The ball fell to the late arriving Juan Pablo Angel who lashed it in from the top of the box, surely the match belonged to LA.

     It was not to be, as Gordon came back to haunt his old team once again. A long punt up-field from Frei, found Gordon who nodded it on, Santos nodded it back towards the big man who volleyed the ball into the top corner of the net. Goal of the week candidate number two. A 94th minute equalizer with virtually the last play of the match.

     Gordon has now scored 75% of his goals this season against former clubs – 2 against LA, 1 against Chivas.

     Los Angeles remains unbeaten in 8, but their shut-out streak ends at 479 minutes. Toronto FC picks up a valuable point on the road.

     More late dramatics and another two goal hero were on display in the second Cascadia Cup match between Seattle and Vancouver.

     The two sides first met in 1974, Seattle edges the all-time series of 122 matches (58 wins, 45 losses, and 19 draws), but this was their first ever meeting in MLS.

     Early chances were traded in front of the sold-out crowd at Qwest Field. The travelling Vancouver fans were delighted as their side took the lead in the 29th minute. Camilo was played in on the left by a Jed Brovsky pass, he ran towards goal and cut back at the top of the box prompting Seattle’s defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso to stick his boot in. The Brazilian tumbled over the outstretched leg; penalty for Vancouver.

     The Frenchman Eric Hassli stepped to the spot and sent a confident chip sailing high into the middle of the net as Kasey Keller dove to his left. Seattle had a penalty shout late in the first half; Mike Fucito surged past the defense and appeared to have his ankle clipped as he attempted a shot. Much to the Sounders dismay the call was not forthcoming and Vancouver took the lead into the second half.

     The Whitecaps held that lead for most the remaining match until Mauro Rosales leveled the score. Tyson Wahl sent an excellent cross into the box; Nate Jaqua jumped for it, but was beaten by Mouloud Akloul. His clearance fell to Rosales who redirected the ball into the net in the 81st minute.

     Seattle went ahead 3 minutes later as a Shea Salinas turnover at the top of the box gave possession to Alonso who sent a low rasping shot into the bottom corner past a stunned Joe Cannon.

     Just seconds later Alonso turned from hero to villain as he misplayed a simple ball at the top of his own box. The ball ran to Hassli, who popped it up with his first touch and lobbed it into the far corner of the goal with his second. The ball looped over Keller, hit the inside of the post and was in. Goal of the week candidate number three, an early offering for goal of the season, if not the decade.

     Keller looked on in disgust knowing his team had given away the victory and that he had been helpless on both of Hassli’s goals. The Frenchman is proving himself to be a big game player having now scored 6 league goals on the season, usually against big rivals – 2 against Toronto and 2 against Seattle.

The Fine Print

New York defeated New England 2-1 on Friday night at Red Bull Arena ending a run of 4 straight draws. Thierry Henry scored and made the dangerous pass that led to a Ryan Cochrane own goal, Zak Boggs responded with his first career MLS goal. Red Bull keeper Greg Sutton made a key penalty save on Shalrie Joseph in the 33rd minute to keep the match scoreless. There has not been a road victory in this series since 2007. New England has now fallen to 4 straight losses, though they did score for the 4th time in 10 matches.

Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake drew 1-1 in the early match on Saturday – rescheduled from April 23rd due to the CONCACAF Champions League. The Union dominated early proceedings but failed to tally more than once through a Keon Daniel header from a Micharl Farfan cross. Early in the second half Jean Alexandre won the ball in midfield and sent Fabian Espindola on a quick counter attack. He cut back and sent a low shot across the keeper to earn a draw. Philly have never beaten the struggling Salt Lake who is now winless in 4 road matches.

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

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

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