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Thursday, 22 September 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Weekend Round 27 (Abridged) – Of Outsiders Rising, Youth in Motion for Philly, & Salt Lake Rounding into Form.

    Nine matches took place during the weekend of round twenty-seven; twenty-three goals, a lone red card, and not a draw in sight.

    The push to the playoffs is in full swing, several clubs currently outside looking in made a case for their inclusion in the postseason festivities.

    New York broke through their extended slump – winless in eight – having welcomed back Frank Rost and Luke Rodgers to the starting eleven, thus forcing themselves into the final place. A 0-1 victory over a faltering Dallas squad from a Rodgers first half strike and some fine goalkeeping by the experienced German inched the Red Bulls into the final wildcard slot.

    Both sides were missing key pieces – no Thierry Henry, Rafa Márquez, or Jan Gunnar Solli for New York; no Brek Shea or Marvin Chávez for Dallas – on a sombre night as the Dallas soccer community remembered and paid their respects to Bobby Rhine. 

    A long pass from defender Stephen Keel found Juan Agudelo in acres of space on the right; he swung a low cross into the box where Rodgers managed a scuff effort that agonizingly eluded Kevin Hartman in the Dallas goal.

    The much needed three points boost New York for the stretch run, while Dallas find themselves slumping at the wrong time of the season having not scored in one hundred and eighty minutes of action.

    Portland too boosted their chances of an expansion year playoff appearance with a 3-0 rampage over New England. Goals from Diego Chára, Kenny Cooper and Darlington Nagbe overpowered the wilting Revolution to vault the Timbers into a tie with New York for that final spot, though they trail significantly on goal difference.

    Two sides with very little hope of progression beyond the regular season took steps towards lessening the damage of another subpar year on exasperated fan bases. Toronto FC got two goals from Dutch striker, DP Danny Koevermans from a pair of wonderful crosses from either side, and rode their luck relying on some fine defensive clearances to ensure Sanna Nyassi’s consolation goal remained that in their 2-1 win over Colorado at BMO Field.

    Chicago too, surging from a disappointing summer run eked out a 3-2 victory over the woeful Chivas USA – losers of four straight - despite losing Cory Gibbs to a red card for an unnecessary lunging tackle on Michael Lahoud in the first half. Goals from Gibbs and an own goal off the head of Juan Pablo Ángel gave the Fire a two-goal victory, before Gibb’s dismissal allowed Chivas to pull back level through Ángel and Nick LaBrocca. A late counterattacking strike from Dominic Oduro – his tenth of the season and fifth in the last seven matches – as he tapped in a Patrick Nyarko square ball after Diego Cháves had sent him through on the left-side clinched the result for Chicago.

    Not only are teams on the outside having to pull together some strong performances, but so too must those in risk of being caught. Saturday night saw a top of the table Eastern Conference clash as first-placed Columbus traveled to third-placed Philadelphia. Both sides were missing experienced players as Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón, midfielder Justin Mapp, and forward Veljko Paunović all missed out due to injury, while Columbus made the trip without Chad Marshall, Eddie Gaven, Emilio Rentería, and the suspended Emmanual Ekpo.

    It was Philadelphia’s youth who came through on the night; with an average team age of just 23.55 years including the debut of sixteen year old Zach Pfeffer, the Union snapped an eight-match winless streak with the 1-0 victory over the worn-down Crew. Their goal came from the experienced Sébastian Le Toux who snuck behind the Columbus defensive line and raced onto a wonderful long ball from Roger Torres sliding his finish under Crew keeper Will Hesmer.

    Columbus who played a grueling midweek draw with Houston a man short for some eighty minutes could barely muster any offense with Andrés Mendoza taking their only shot of the match, which was well-saved by Zac MacMath in the Union goal. They young keeper collected his second straight clean sheet, in just his third start.

    The Crew remains in first, but their lead over the chasing pack has shrunk; the Union are now within two points with a game in hand.

    It could have been worse for the battered Crew had Sporting KC been able to pull a result from their trip to Utah to take on Real Salt Lake.

    It was a battle of a strong defensive unit – Salt Lake are tied for the least amount of goals conceded – and a dynamic attacking threat – Kansas City are joint leaders in goals scored – that took place at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Saturday night.

    In a physical matchup, between two sides with a history of dislike Salt Lake stifled the Sporting attack through a combination of strong defending and excellent goalkeeping by Nick Rimando, who collected his twelfth clean sheet of the season. Big saves on Aurélien Collin and Júlio César, as well as some timely cross interceptions, backed Salt Lake to a 1-0 victory, their fourth straight, as they pushed themselves about Dallas into the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Western Conference.

    Nat Borchers scored the game’s lone goal, heading a deep Kyle Beckerman free kick across the helpless Jimmy Nielsen in the Sporting net.

    Another exciting weekend of MLS action is in the book; the playoff picture continues to take shape, with only Vancouver numerically eliminated from the race.

The Fine Print

Houston won the battle of the Earthquakes defeating San Jose 2-1 from a late Will Bruin strike. The dancing bear volleyed a floating cross from Luiz Camargo in the eightieth minute, after a Brad Davis penalty kick had cancelled out a first half Khari Stephenson volley.

Seattle rampaged over DC United 3-0, but lost one of their stars in the process. Mauro Rosales was on a tear that night, playing a key role in all three Seattle goals as Mike Fucito opened the scoring and Álvaro Fernández collected a brace. Rosales was lost to an apparent knee injury when an awkward challenge from Daniel Woolard caught the Argentine late.

The Los Angeles Galaxy continued their winning ways with a 3-0 victory over the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver held the league leaders at bay for forty minutes this time, before a brace from Mike Magee and another from Robbie Keane undid their failing defense. Bryan Jordan was able to find acres of space on the right flank and delivered excellent service for the second and third LA goals on the night.

A full slate of midweek CONCACAF Champions League fixtures see Toronto and Seattle play host to Tauro FC and CS Herediano on Tuesday night, While Dallas host UNAM Pumas, Colorado host Real España and Los Angeles travel to Costa Rica to face LD Alajuelense.

A healthy dollop of midweek league fixtures on Wednesday night as DC United host Chivas, a desperate New York hosts Salt Lake and Portland look to strengthen their postseason chances at home against San Jose.

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

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