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Sunday 28 August 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Weekend Round 23 (Abridged) – Of Somersaults and Ángel-ic Redemption, Playoff Jockeying & Expansion Domination.

    A full slate of nine weekend fixtures featuring all teams provided twenty-five goals, four red cards – three for second cautions – and two draws, neither of which was scoreless.

    The headline story of the weekend was the shakeup in the striker positions for the two Los Angeles based clubs. The Galaxy pawned the unproductive Juan Pablo Ángel off to their HDC cousins, Chivas USA, and signed a flashy new Irish playboy. Robbie Keane, freshly off the plane with his catwalk wife, debuted for his new side in the latest installment of the California Clasico. It took him just twenty-one minutes to find himself on the score-sheet netting the eventual winner in a 2-0 victory over San Jose. David Beckham’s delivery down the middle of the park eluded the aerobatics of the Earthquake defender and fell to Keane, who calmly let the ball roll past the keeper and slotted into the open net. Steven Beitashour was showed a red card late in the match for an apparent stamp on Landon Donovan after the two had clashed previously; Mike Magee then doubled the Galaxy’s advantage turning in a low cross from Sean Franklin. A bright start for the retooled league-leading LA club; the Earthquakes find themselves winless in twelve and languishing in the basement of the West.

    Ángel, motivated and appreciated, waited only thirty-six minutes to score for his new club to draw Chivas back level after another Irish striker, Caleb Folan, had put Colorado ahead with a bullet header in the thirteenth minute. Ángel, who had had trouble fitting into to LA’s quick breaking style, ironically scored a goal that was in keeping with what he had left behind. Nick LaBrocca, enjoying a career-year, sliced open the Rapids defense with a slide-rule pass as Ángel broke the offside trap. In behind the defense all alone with the keeper, the Columbian calmly slotted the ball past Matt Pickens for his fourth of the season and first in Chivas garb. Jeff Larentowicz momentarily put the Rapids back in the lead with a header of his own, before French import Laurent Courtois was the beneficiary of a clever ball from Mike Lahoud and sent his shot through the onrushing Pickens legs to draw the score level once more. A 2-2 draw, neither side will take much pleasure in the result. 

   The weekend also saw several important clashed between clubs tussling for seeding in the upcoming MLS Cup playoffs as first met second in the East – Columbus and Philadelphia, second met third in the West – Dallas and Seattle, and two of the clubs battling for the final wildcard positions – Houston and Salt Lake.

    Columbus stretched their three-point lead in the East to four with a 2-1 home victory over the struggling Philadelphia Union. Philly’s impressive start to the season has tapered off of late; those one goal victories have gradually turned to ties – eight of their last twelve matches in fact. Their difficult task of making up ground was made all the more complicated when storms in Pennsylvania let to a late kick off as the Union’s flight was cancelled. The fit again Columbus strike pairing of Emilio Rentería (six goals) and Andrés Mendoza (eight goals) was too much for Philadelphia as each grabbed a goal either side of half time, sandwiching a Veljko Paunović header that could have been chalked off as Danny Mwanga impeded Will Hesmer as he reached for the delivery. Columbus remains in first position, while Philadelphia falls back into the chasing pack in fourth place at the close of weekend play.

    Two sides off of midweek Champions League action met in the baking heat of Texas as Dallas welcomed Seattle to Pizza Hut Park. An early Mauro Rosales strike from a quick counterattack was enough to give Seattle all three points. Ugo Ihemelu struggled with the ball in the Dallas half, turning it over to the Sounders. Fredy Montero found Rosales in space on the right and his low shot found the back of the net. The staggering heat played into Seattle’s hands as they conceded possession, content in holding strong their defense. Dallas lashed a staggering twenty-five shots towards goal, but the combination of arduous schedule and mind-melting heat dulled their usually cutting attack. A 0-1 Seattle win sees the men in green leapfrog their Western Conference rivals into second place, though they remain a full six points behind the all-conquering Galaxy.

    The expansion of the playoff party opened the window for two additional clubs to sneak into the postseason events; the four lowest seeds will play a one-match play-in tie at the home of the higher seed to determine who moves on to the cup competition proper. Two sides currently on the borderline played an entertaining, back-and-forth match that twice saw Salt Lake relinquish leads to Houston and eventually succumb 3-2 to a stoppage time blast from a home-grown Houston product. Fabián Espíndola and Luis Gil scored for Real, while Brian Ching and Bobby Boswell replied for the Dynamo. In the ninety-third minute, twenty-one year old Alex Dixon made some space for a shot on the edge of the Salt Lake box curling effort into the far corner of the net. The last-minute winner from the man with less than one hundred minutes of MLS experience saw Houston solidify their playoff position while Salt Lake became less assured of theirs.

    Playoffs – expanded or not – have seemed a long way off for both expansion sides for most of this their inaugural MLS season. Hoping to salvage the season with standing in the Cascadian Cup Vancouver travelled into Portland in a battle of ninth versus seventh in the Western Conference. Two goals in the first half, the opener after just two minutes of play by Diego Chará and a follow up by fellow Columbian Jorge Perlaza, pretty much ended the match before it had begun. Vancouver grabbed a consolation through Camilo in the eighty-eighth minute, but was well-beaten despite a severe possession advantage, as well as superior attacking statistics. A lesson that sometimes it’s about what you do with it, rather than how much of it you have.

    All told another fascinating round of MLS matches saw some clubs building towards the playoffs as others begin to fall away. Who will be left standing at the end, keep watching (and reading) to find out.

The Fine Print

The I-95 rivalry saw two struggling sides battle to an unsatisfying 2-2 draw. Milton Caraglio’s brace put New England ahead by two at the half, only for a Dane Richards brace in the second half to level the score. Both sides continue long winless streaks as playoff aspirations begin to slip away.

In the meeting of Eastern Conference basement dwellers home side Chicago Fire emerged victorious defeating Toronto FC by a score of 2-0. The Fire snapped a ten-match winless streak with goals from Dominic Oduro and former TFC defender Dan Gargan, while Toronto was left to ponder the two strikes – from Julian de Guzman and Ryan Johnson - that rebounded off the woodwork.

A nineteenth minute half-volley from Kei Kamara was enough to separate Sporting KC and DC United in the battle of the initials. The failed clearance of an Omar Bravo cross fell to Kamara at the top of United’s penalty area, his laser shot low to the keeper’s right vaulted KC into second spot in the East, while DC remains on the fringes of playoff contention.

MLS Midweek Review

One American defender goes overseas, while another sets a milestone for durability. FC Dallas’ George John has been transferred to Blackburn Rovers of the EPL; Colorado’s Drew Moor set a new Iron Man record appearing in sixty-eight consecutive full matches.

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

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