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Monday, 8 August 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Midweek Round 21 – Of Royal Downfall in KC, Another Even Fire & Timbers Starting to Climb.

    Three matches dotted the fixture list in this the twenty-first round of MLS action. Seven goals, a lone red card and a single draw produced some unexpected results. As one streak continues, another falls, and Chicago continues to draw.

    Sporting KC continued their inspired homecoming revival – a club record thirteen matches undefeated since opening their new home ground - with a 2-0 victory over a struggling Real Salt Lake outfit. Two KC goals five minutes apart – from Roger Espinoza and Teal Bunbury - capitalized on a sluggish first half by a Salt Lake team still coping with mental and physical losses. The loss of their integral playmaker Javier Morales and of the much coveted CONCACAF Champions League has weighed down the team most consider the best ever assembled in MLS.

    Overrun in the midfield by the dynamic trio of Espinoza, Graham Zusi, and Brazilian Jéferson and well shut out by some heroics in goal by Sporting’s Jimmy Nielsen Salt Lake could muster very little in terms of forward thrust and were denied whenever the did.

    Espinoza provided his team’s propulsion pushing on from his role deep in the midfield opening the scoring after splitting two RSL defenders and firing a low shot to the near side. Bunbury then pounced on a rebound allowed by Nick Rimando from an awkward Kei Kamara header to complete the scoring early in the match.

    Both sides are back in action on Saturday night, as Sporting host Seattle while Salt Lake return home to take on New York.

    Chicago Fire continued some unwanted streaks of their own as they drew 1-1 with the visiting Philadelphia Union. Having been inactive in the league for three weeks their fortunes were not changed by that rest as they collected their thirteenth draw of the season.

    New acquisitions Pável Pardo and Sebastián Grazzini were in the starting lineup with Pardo collecting the Fire’s only goal on the evening when he ran onto a loose ball at the top of the box and fired it low and hard into the far corner. Only the heroics of Union keeper Faryd Mondragón twice stopped Dominic Oduro from putting an end to the miserable Fire run which includes nine winless matches on the home field Toyota Park.

    Philadelphia’s fit again Veljko Paunović scored the opening goal with a thirty-yard strike hammered into the corner past a diving Sean Johnson. The re-jigged Philly lineup was without Carlos Ruiz – who was transferred earlier in the day to Veracruz in Mexico – but did feature the impressive Roger Torres, though he struggled to influence the match outnumbered and facing a more experienced midfield.

    Chicago travel to the West Coast of Canada to visit Vancouver on Sunday afternoon, while Philadelphia returns home to host Houston.

    The surprise result of the midweek round was Portland Timbers’ 3-0 victory over the league leading Los Angeles Galaxy.

    The Galaxy – undefeated in fourteen matches – failed to show up to this encounter having overcoming Vancouver in the first match of the Pacific Northwest tour. Portland took the action to the Galaxy early and often – despite missing their influential midfield captain Jack Jewsbury.

    Clever play between Darlington Nagbe and Mike Chabala set up the latter for an opening strike that took a slight deflection as it flew past the helpless Josh Saunders in the LA goal. Chabala played a role in the second goal just seven minutes later as his throw in was controlled and laid off by Kenny Cooper to the tricky Diego Chará who put the ball into space at the top of the box for Jorge Perlaza to run onto and score.

    Criticized for their inability to close out matches – as witnessed by the two-goal collapse against Toronto FC last match – the Timbers seemed to have found the necessary ruthlessness. The two-goal lead being the most dangerous in soccer was extended by a strong Eric Brunner header from a Sal Zizzo corner kick in the sixty-eighth minute of play effectively ending any hopes of a late comeback.

    Portland had lost their last six home matches after having opened their campaign with five straight wins. Could this strong professional performance prove to be a turning point in the inaugural season in MLS? Coach John Spencer, the Ownership, and the legions of Forest Green-clad fans will hope this victory is a sign of things to come.

    LA must return home humbled to prepare for a difficult Western Conference clash with FC Dallas, while Portland will follow LA down the coast as they visit San Jose; both matches are set for Saturday night.

The Fine Print

Transfer window transactions continue as several teams made additions to their squads as the playoff push begins. Signings include: Houston - Honduran forward Carlo Costly; Chivas USA -   midfield Frenchman Laurent Courtois; New England - first DP Argentine striker Milton Caraglio; Chicago – Mexican veteran Pável Pardo and Argentine attacking midfielder Sebastián Grazzini; Seattle – former TFC midfielder Amadou Sanyang.

Toronto FC continued their penchant for trades acquiring Eric Avila for Maicon Santos in a swap with FC Dallas and shipping Dan Gargan to Chicago in exchange for Dasan Robinson. 

CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round ties finished this week as three MLS sides took to the field for second leg matches. Toronto FC (4-2 aggregate) move onto the group stage Tuesday night defeating Real Estelí FC 1-2 in Nicaragua. Wednesday night saw both FC Dallas (2-0 agg.) and Seattle Sounders (2-1 agg.) progress with home victories over Alianza FC of El Salvador 1-0 and 2-0 over San Francisco FC of Panama respectively. They now join Los Angeles and Colorado in the tournament proper.


Kansas City v Salt Lake 2-0; Chicago v Philadelphia 1-1; Portland v Los Angeles 3-0.

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