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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Weekend Round 24 – Of Reverse-Alphabetical Alliteration Domination, Consolation at the Ex, & the Comeback of Champions.

    With three matches having been postponed due to the approaching winds of Hurricane Irene this shortened six-match schedule of weekend MLS action witnessed nineteen goals, two red cards – one straight – two new all-time record holders, a young, local boy scoring a hat-trick and a single draw.

    The shock result of the weekend was the pounding Sigi Schmid’s Seattle Sounders gave to his old side the Columbus Crew. Coach Schmid has yet to lose to his former side since taking over the reins of the 2009 expansion side after leading the Crew to an MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield double, so the victory was no surprise, but the thoroughness with which Columbus was punished was awe-inspiring.

    It took just four minutes to open the scoring; Washington native Lamar Neagle cut in and fired a low shot that was too powerful for Columbus keeper Will Hesmer to hold. The ball trickled over the goal-line, a portent of the events to follow. Twelve minutes later a clever turn from Mike Fucito deceived Rich Balchan into handling in the area, how much he knew of it was a matter for debate as Fucito span seconds before the ball hit the Columbus defender, but the penalty was given and converted by Mauro Rosales. Neagle picked up his second of the night five minutes later volleying an end-line cross from James Riley low to the far post, before Fucito rounded out the first half four-goal romp capping off some clever passing play by touching a low cross wide of the keeper and finishing into an empty net.

    Columbus attempted to rebound for the second half pulling a goal back as Jhon Kennedy Hurtado fouled Emilio Rentería in the box. Veteran striker Jeff Cunningham stepped to the spot and sent Kasey Keller the wrong way finishing low to the keeper’s right. The lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal match, Cunningham’s spot kick was his one hundred and thirty-fourth MLS goal, a new all-time record finally surpassing Jaime Moreno to claim top billing as goal-scoring leader.

    Neagle snuffed out any chances of a comeback completing his hat-trick in the seventieth minute cutting in across the top of the box and unleashing a lightning strike that struck the underside of the crossbar bouncing down and out quickly. Eagle-eyed - and confirmed by replay – all credit to the assistant referee who spotted the veracity of the goal and called it so. A wonderful triple-strike for the local boy who was once cut from the squad only to work his way back and earn his increased playing time this season.

    Columbus did manage to score a further pair of goals, unfortunately one cancelled out the other, as seconds after scoring a lovely, curling free-kick over the Seattle wall, Josh Gardner redirected a dangerous Neagle cross into his own net. A savage 6-2 mauling in the battle of the alliterative club names, an off-night for Columbus, as Seattle revs into postseason form. 

    Seattle had virtually won before the first ball was kicked, but up north in Canada late events changed the results in the two Canadian fixtures of the round.

    Its exhibition time north of the border, a grand old tradition of late summer festivals, in Vancouver the Pacific National Exhibition and the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Chance would have it that both teams home grounds lie on the fairgrounds so spectators were treated to deep-fried everything, games, rides and a festive atmosphere.

    At the PNE the smell of wiggle chips and Asian spice welcomed a Houston Dynamo side on a roll – unbeaten in five and jubilant with their last-minute winner over Salt Lake last weekend, but yet to steal a victory on the road. Vancouver found themselves at risk of setting the unwanted record of worst expansion side in MLS history.

    The back-and-forth affair seemed destined to be a scoreless draw with sides exchanging chances and goalkeepers exchanging saves. Houston’s Adam Moffat lashed a shot from distance that caromed off the Vancouver crossbar, keeper Tally Hall made several big saves including a spectacular close-range reaction save on a Mustapha Jarju redirect of a Davide Chiumiento delivery. An early Chiumiento free kick almost eluded Hall, while Joe Cannon in net stood strong to the Dynamo attack, especially in palming away a Brad Davis deflected knuckleballer that would have caused a lesser keeper more trouble.

    In the eighty-sixth minute of play substitute Long Tan collected the ball on the left flank, skillfully turned a pair of markers, leaving them in his dust, and fed a weighted through-ball to Shea Salinas. The speedy winger sent a low shot across the keeper into the far corner of the net to snatch the three much-needed points for the Whitecaps with a 1-0 home result.

    Across the continent midweek storms made way for a clear, temperate evening as Toronto FC were hoping to give their dying playoff hopes a boost with a victory over fellow strugglers San Jose themselves in the midst of a twelve-match winless run. Despite early chances falling the Earthquakes way, a first half strike from Eric Avila – picking up a loose ball on the right edge of the box and slotting a low shot across Jon Busch into the bottom corner – gave Toronto a halftime lead.  

    Toronto appeared to have doubled their advantage in the second half when Joao Plata was played in by Ryan Johnson to round the San Jose keeper, but the goal was called back – incorrectly, but very tight – for offside. The curse of the former Reds once again came back to haunt Toronto as in the dying minutes a long throw from the recently traded – and disgruntled – Jacob Peterson was flicked on at the near-post by Bobby Burling to a charging Chris Wondolowski, whose sliding finished tied the match 1-1 and ended a personal streak of five matches without a goal for last season’s Golden Boot winner.

    Last minute action was the source of most of the weekend’s drama as the comeback of the weekend featured yet another last-minute strike.

    First-year professional Bobby Warshaw, a second half substitute, met a delicious left-sided cross from the unchallenged Brek Shea to score the ninety-first minute winner with a back-post header, his first in MLS. Sporting Kansas City should have learned their lesson as only moments early Shea sent in a similar delivery to the head of Maicon Santos to level the score.

    Kansas City went ahead by goals from Kei Kamara – his fifth in their last seven matches – and Omar Bravo capitalizing on sluggish Dallas defending. Dallas Captain Daniel Hernández quickly pulled one back when his free kick emerged relatively untouched through a crowd of bodies in the net at the far post.

    A feisty meeting that saw seven bookings; saw Teal Bunbury dismissed for lashing out at Jair Benítez in the seventy-sixth minute, allowing the extra space Shea needed for his wonderful deliveries to haul back the result. A 2-3 road win for an FC Dallas side mired in a three-match winless streak in the league, and exhausted from the rigours of league, US Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champions League play.

    That kind of character, to come back from the abyss in the unwelcoming confines of Sporting’s new home, is the stuff champions are made of.

The Fine Print

Chicago Fire continued their winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Colorado to register their second straight win after ending a miserable winless run dating back to June 12th last weekend over Toronto FC. Goals from Dominic Oduro and Corey Gibbs in the first half were enough to overpower a Rapids side fatigued from a heavy schedule and long trip to Honduras midweek in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Real Salt Lake overcame an early red card and a woeful road record – winless in their last eight – to steal a 0-1 victory in Los Angeles over Chivas USA. Álvaro Saborío capitalized on a pair of defensive miscues – an errant Ante Jazic back-pass and a misplay by new signing David Júnior Lopes – to round goalkeeper Dan Kennedy in the eleventh minute. Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers was then dismissed for hauling down Nick LaBrocca as he stole into the box alone. Aside from a handful of chances to equalize from Chivas – notably a Juan Pablo Ángel blast saved by keeper Nick Rimando – the only memorable play was a hack by Kyle Beckerman on Marcos Mondaini – perhaps some payback for the Argentine’s deplorable tackle on countryman Javier Morales in their last meeting that left the Salt Lake attacker sidelined for months with a displaced fracture of the ankle.

Midweek Review

US Open Cup Semi-final matches take place on Tuesday night with Chicago hosting USL PRO side Richmond Kickers, while Dallas travel to Seattle’s Starfire Sports Stadium.

George John’s transfer to Blackburn Rovers of the EPL has fallen through for reasons that remain unclear; though the player indicated he and the English club would remain in contact as his returns to FC Dallas. Rumour of a failed physical due to a lingering ankle problem that could require surgery is circulating.

Kevin Hartman set a new mark for most appearances all-time at 379 matches, overtaking Steve Ralston on that list. As mentioned above, Jeff Cunningham became the all-time leading scorer, notching his 134th career MLS goal, moving past a tie with Jaime Moreno.

Hurricane Irene affected fixtures have been rescheduled: DC United will host Portland on October 19th; New York and Los Angeles clash on October 4th; while Philadelphia and New England meet September 7th.


Seattle v Columbus 6-2; Vancouver v Houston 1-0; Toronto v San Jose 1-1; Kansas City v Dallas 2-3; Chicago v Colorado 2-0; Chivas v Salt Lake 0-1.

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