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Friday 16 September 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Midweek Round 27 – Of a Dour Affair, Concussion Concerns, & a Wild Final Half Hour.

    Only one midweek league fixture scheduled for round twenty-seven of MLS play. Four goals – two from penalty kicks, and a straight red card, made for an unpredictable, if dour, match in Columbus.
    Two sides struggling in recent matches – having each lost their last two – met on Wednesday night as Houston continued their eastern road trip with a short six-hundred-plus mile jaunt from Kansas City to Columbus.

    With the disappointing three-goal loss to Sporting in the rear view mirror – having cost them ground in the playoff race – the Dynamo looked to make up some ground on the Eastern Conference leading Crew, themselves mired in a two-game losing skid that has seen them ship ten goals in losses to Seattle and Toronto; cause for concern having shipped an equal number in their previous thirteen matches.

    Defense shaken, the Crew also found themselves once again without half of their preferred strike pairing as Emilio Rentería suffered a concussion in his collision with Toronto keeper Stefan Frei. Goal and assist versus TFC man Tommy Heinemann played in his stead. Houston were without their talismanic front man Brian Ching – to an adductor strain - and the equally physical Carlo Costly - to suspension - fielding Cam Weaver and fit again Will Bruin up top.

    Despite having last beat Columbus in 2008 and wallowing in two shutout losses, Houston was handed the impetus for the match just minutes in as Emmanuel Ekpo was given a straight red card just eleven minutes in for an ungentlemanly face-palm to Adam Moffat as the two clashed near the centre circle. Harsh refereeing? Quite possibly. Unnecessary by Ekpo? Most definitely.

      Houston sought to utilize their advantage, but created few chances until Moffat found Jermaine Taylor is space down the right-hand flank. Taylor lofted a high ball to the back-post where a soaring Je-Vaughan Watson rose majestically over a flat-footed Chad Marshall to prod home the opening goal, his first in MLS and Houston’s first in two hundred and thirteen minutes of play.

    Down a man, and a goal, Columbus always lost their captain Chad Marshall who took a clattering from Watson as he leapt to meet the ball. With Marshall’s history of concussion, it was a scary moment for a side whose defensive strength has served them well this campaign; to lose their captain for any amount of time could derail their aspirations.

    All attempts to put Columbus to the sword were futile. The match turned when Watson – presented with a golden opportunity to double the lead and his goal tally – skewed his header of a delightful delivery from Corey Ashe wide of the far-post.

    That near escape galvanized Columbus who started to surge forward more than they had previously. They were handed a life-line in the sixty-fourth minute when referee Chris Penso pointed to the spot for a Weaver handball. An Eric Gehrig cross from the second phase of a deep free kick appeared to strike the unsuspecting limb when Julius James missed his header attempt. Intentional? Definitely not. Was an advantage gained? Most probably as Heinemann was ready to pounce had it fallen, though whether he would have reacted well to the sharply hit delivery is up for debate.

    Nordecke favourite Andrés Mendoza stepped to the spot and calmly sent Tally Hall the wrong way, stroking the ball high and with power to the Houston keeper’s right. It was Mendoza’s tenth goal of the season as the controversial Peruvian has proved himself a force when in the mood.

    Mendoza converted again from the spot some twelve minutes later as Columbus was handed another penalty kick. Heinemann cut around Ashe to force a fine, low save from Hall, who managed to push the blast wide for a corner with a strong hand. Shaun Francis – making his second appearance of the season following a long time out rehabbing an injury – delivered a deep cross to the back-post where Dilly Duka was waiting to pounce. Houston’s Watson with eyes only for the ball did not see the attacker and attempted a clearance clattering Duka in the process.

    Mendoza froze Tally Hall this time going the opposition direction sending his shot low to the keeper’s left for his second goal of the evening.

    Rather than shirk the pressure of a night gone awry Houston rallied, Geoff Cameron surging from the backline into attack ran onto a through ball from Danny Cruz on the right-hand side cut the ball back to the centre of the pitch, teeing up a wonderful strike from Calen Carr – himself just finding fitness after a long time out with concussion symptoms - lurking inches from the penalty spot.

    The tying goal sparked the Dynamo attack, who continued to press. Colin Clark sent a potential game-winner just inches wide of the far-post in the third minute of stoppage time, but the match was up and the two sides had to settle for a 2-2 draw.  

    Both sides halted their losing streaks, but were not able to collect the full points, so vital to ensure a postseason appearance in the tightening East. Each faces a short turnaround as Saturday night sees Houston return home to host San Jose, while Columbus head into another important Eastern Conference clash in Philadelphia as the four-way battle for supremacy continues.
The Fine Print

Midweek CONCACAF Champions League action as all teams played their third match of the group stage. Tuesday’s results saw Los Angeles fall in Mexico to CA Morelia 2-1 in controversial fashion as a pair of late goals doomed them, while Colorado struggled at home to Santos Laguna, roundly beaten 1-4. Wednesday night saw the remaining three MLS sides take the pitch as Toronto were soundly dismantled 0-4 by UNAM Pumas in Mexico City. Dallas disappointingly drew with Panamanian side Tauro FC 1-1 at Pizza Hut Park. Seattle picked up the sole MLS victory of the round, 1-2 in Costa Rica against CS Herediano, to remain undefeated atop Group D.

The trade deadline came and went without any major moves. Several teams made small additions to their squads mostly just to round out depleted rosters. Toronto and Los Angeles made the only deal of the day exchanging defenders as Dasan Robinson treks out to South California with Kyle Davies making the opposite journey north. Salt Lake picked up a pair of midfielders, while Philadelphia added one; Vancouver and Kansas each added a defender. San Jose made the sole attacking addition.

Columbus v Houston 2-2.

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