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Thursday 11 August 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Weekend Round 21 – Of Youth Movements, Nightmare Defending, & Golden Balls.

     The weekend fixture list saw nine matches result in thirty-one goals, two draws, four red cards and only a single team was kept off the score-sheet.

     The future is now; the youth movement is on. Four players under the age of twenty were amongst the goal scorers this round. New Engand’s Diego Fagundez (16), Philadelphia’s Jack McInerney (19), Salt Lake’s Luis Gil (17), and Chicago’s Orr Barouch (19) all found the net in their side’s respective matches.   

     Fagundez came on in the 66th minute as his Revolution was losing to Chivas USA by goals from Alejandro Moreno and Nick LaBrocca. Within minutes he won them a penalty – tripped up by Heath Pearce and converted by Shalrie Joseph – before scoring himself in the dying minutes by fighting for a bouncing ball and slotting it under the jump of keeper Dan Kennedy. Unfortunately his actions were divided by another Moreno goal and New England failed to complete the comeback falling 2-3. New England’s unbeaten run comes to an end, while Chivas continues to be strong offensively if unpredictable. 

     McInerney - starting just his fourth match of the season - opened the scoring by calmly stroking the ball past the onrushing Dynamo keeper Tally Hall. Fed in by Sebastián Le Toux McInerney’s first goal of the season gave Philadelphia an early lead as they sought to avenge their first home-field loss of the season last weekend and a disappointing midweek draw in Chicago. He left the field in the 66th minute to loud ovation before Geoff Cameron drew Houston level in the final passages with a wonderful low strike from outside the box. A second consecutive 1-1 draw for the Union against struggling opposition is cause for concern to coach Piotr Nowak considering their push for the top spot in the East.

     Gil - inserted into the attacking midfielder’s role to fill the void left by injury to Javier Morales - had his best match for Salt Lake. Some strong play in recent appearances was capped by his first ever MLS goal a beautiful strike from outside the box after Kyle Beckerman intercepted a Rafa Márquez-pass in the midfield and found the youngster in space to the right of goal. The top of the table clash was a disappointment with Real outplaying the Emirates Cup Champion New York Red Bulls who have been struggling in league play while falling down the standings; they are now winless in five and currently out of the playoff positions. The 3-0 victory for the Royals continued their recent dominance over New York – unbeaten in last four meetings – while ending a run of two straight losses, largely on the back of a strong all-round performance from their captain Beckerman.

     Barouch - an unheralded Israeli-born loan signing from Tigres in Mexico – netted his second of the season in consolation as Chicago was dismantled in Vancouver 4-2. The big man has been an impressive substitute in seventeen of his nineteen appearances breathing life into a stagnant Fire attack, rattling the crossbar on several occasions. He could have had another goal were in not for a spectacular save from Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly.

     Such a crop of young attacking talent breaking into the league is a boon for the financially modest MLS. Development is the key to a bright future; it seems that future is closer than one might think.

     These bright attacking prospects contrast with what were two of the worst defensive performances of the season. Toronto FC’s Andy Iro and Chicago Fire’s Yamith Cuesta both had the sort of matches best forgotten and left behind rather than obsessed over and allowed to fester.

     Toronto FC travelled into the American capital to collect a point in a crazy 3-3 affair. Iro was at fault directly for two of DC’s goals, firstly whiffing on a simple clearance that allowed Dwayne De Rosario to score his second of the night on a hopeful punt up-field from Chris Pontius that should have easily been dealt with, and then by conceding a penalty when he was judged to have used excessive force in battling for position with the much smaller Austin Da Luz who was sent sprawling to the ground.

     Iro’s struggles were merely part of an eventful match. United keeper Bill Hamid was sent off in the opening minutes for a rash sliding challenge on Toronto’s newly acquired Eric Avila. De Rosario haunted his former and hometown club netting a hat-trick with a long distance strike set up by a short free kick before capitalizing and converting Iro’s mistakes before having the game-winner on his boot only to slip it wide. Julian de Guzman scored his first goal for TFC on a highly-controversial play involving a miscommunication during an injury substitution and restart of play that resulted in DC being momentarily down another man and Coach Ben Olsen losing his mind and being sent to the stands. DC replacement keeper Steve Cronin struggled with the ball all evening handing Toronto a lifeline by poking a harmless shot to Peri Marošević who turned it into the goal, mishandling the de Guzman strike and being fooled by a slow roller from Danny Koevermans that put Toronto momentarily ahead before the penalty heralded the draw.

     Cuesta had an equally forgettable evening; he similarly misplayed a simple clearance and conceded a penalty kick in a terrible first half as Vancouver defeated Chicago 4-2. In the first moments of the match a simple ball forward from Jordan Harvey bounced awkward in front of Cuesta whose hesitation allowed Eric Hassli to pounce and rifle a shot past the startled Sean Johnson for the first of his brace. The two sides traded goals within a minute as a strike from Dominic Oduro – who was played in by new boy Sebastián Grazzini – was cancelled out by an audacious long-distance drive from Gershon Koffie that fooled Johnson in the Chicago goal – the bounce off the synthetic surface eluded the young keeper’s diving save. Before the half was done Cuesta’s troubles culminated in a penalty kick when he hauled down Vancouver’s Brazilian striker Camilo in the box; though his blushes were spared as Johnson saved a poorly struck spot kick from Hassli. Camilo and Hassli continued their assault of the Chicago defense in the second half, each finding the back of the net before Barouch could pull a conciliatory goal back in the final ten minutes of play.

     Nothing scares defenders more than pinpoint attacking delivery; David Beckham’s golden balls are the stuff of which defender’s nightmares are made. On Saturday evening another lacklustre top of the table clash was dominated by the excellent distribution of the English legend. FC Dallas – second in the West – travelled into LA to face the first-place Galaxy. Despite taking the early lead from good interplay between recently acquired Maicon Santos and in form striker Marvin Chávez who blasted a shot into the far top corner of the LA goal, Dallas was ripped apart by that dangerous Beckham placement. A long free kick at the close of the first half led to a miscommunication between Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman and centre-back George John as both came to clear only to collide as the ball fell to Omar Gonzalez who placed it into the unguarded net. Twenty minutes on another free kick delivered into the box was not cleared and eventually was pushed goal-ward by Juninho. Beckham completed the trick placing a corner kick onto the head of Mike Magee who powered it in. Two assists on the night – the first was considered unassisted as the ball should have been cleared – draws Beckham level with Brad Davis a share of the league lead with ten helpers.

     Another high-action, surprise-filled, controversy-laced weekend of MLS matches are in the book. The midsummer drawl of ties and stifling heat is coming to an end, just as the race for those ten playoff positions begins to heat up.    

The Fine Print

Friday night’s lone match saw Columbus ride into Colorado on the back of two wins only to be sent home after falling meekly 2-0 to an evolving Rapids side. Goals from Brian Mullan – a brilliant long-range strike with a touch of redemption – and from Omar Cummings – played in by his speed-demon partner-in-crime Sanna Nyassi – were enough to overpower the Crew who seemed to wilt as an early chance just out of the reach of Andrés Mendoza and an injury to Eddie Gaven demoralized the team.

Sporting KC suffered a taste of their own medicine as Seattle strolled into town and did to KC they what have been doing to others on this long – fourteen match – unbeaten streak since opening Livestrong Sporting Park. A first half header from Kei Kamara on a long Matt Besler throw-in seemed to have secured the three points until Mauro Rosales put the Sounders on his back in the dying seconds of the contest. A ninetieth minute solo run and shot inside the far post was followed in the ninety-second with another wonderfully elusive run before feeding Mike Fuctio who lost the ball only to have it fall to the unmarked Lamar Neagle who shot across Jimmy Nielsen in goal to win the match 1-2 on the final kick.

A pair of struggling sides met at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday night and battled to a 1-1 draw. Portland rejuvenated by their midweek victory over LA took the lead in the first half as out-of-favour Kenny Cooper pounced on a goalmouth cross. San Jose responded in the second half when another fantastic Steven Beitashour cross picked out Alan Gordon who beat Bobby Burling to the ball sending it across the keeper into the far side of the net. Gordon’s first goal for the Earthquakes was not enough to snap a now ten-match winless skid, while the Timbers Army who made the trek down the coast left satisfied that their side had some enough gumption to take a point on the road despite missing their midfield partnership of Jack Jerwsbury and Diego Chará.

Midweek Review

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

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