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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

MLS Weekly Review - Weekend Round 28 – Of Goal-Scoring Feats, Wholesale Roster Change, the End of an Empire, & In or Out.

    A full slate of weekend action saw all eighteen clubs in action. Twenty-five goals, three away wins, two draws, and a single controversial dismissal.

    Though goals were at a premium this weekend – less than three per match; more than half (five of nine) under that average – those who did manage them were the regular contributors.

    Headlining that list was DC United’s Dwayne De Rosario, his hat-trick – his second of the season – and an assist led United to a 4-1 win over Salt Lake at RFK on Saturday evening. De Ro is making a strong case for his candidacy as MVP this season as - despite playing for his third club of the year – he racked up his eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth goals of the season placing him atop the Golden Boot standings.

    The blistering hat-trick was scored in a nine minute span, but not before his diagonal ball sent Andy Najar in alone, to place a low shot past Nick Rimando to grab the opening goal in the thirteenth minute. Najar quickly returned the favour when his curling right-sided cross from deep in the midfield found De Ro ghosting between the two lumbering Salt Lake defenders to head home from a counterattack.

    De Ro’s second came just five minutes later, collecting a neat layoff from Josh Wolff at the edge of the penalty area curling his effort high into the corner of the Salt Lake net. The third, just four minutes on, a thirty-five yard free kick, which bent around the wall unreachably past Rimando’s outstretched arms into the top corner of the goal.

    Shell-shocked, Salt Lake regrouped at the half, even managing to pull back a single consolation goal when Álvaro Saborío broke the offside trap to find himself all alone in front of Bill Hamid. His rocket shot high to the short-side muddied DC’s clean sheet, but could not prevent their 4-1 victory. 

    De Rosario now has ten goals and six assists in the thirteen matches since joining DC; thirteen and eleven for the season including his tallies with Toronto and New York.

    De Ro was not the only one racking up the points, spurring their side towards the playoffs.   In Friday night’s clash between two sides vying for Eastern Conference supremacy, Kansas City’s Omar Bravo opened the scoring – touching a left-sided clipped delivery from Kei Kamara past Zac MacMath, for his third goal in the last five matches to lead the team with nine – only for Philadelphia’s Sébastian Le Toux to net the equalizer – converting a hustle play and pull back by Michael Farfan to score his seventh goal in the last seven matches and his team leading eighth of the season – as the two sides drew 1-1.

    In Saturday night’s two late matches, both Fredy Montero and Juan Pablo Ángel bagged a brace as Seattle and Chivas beat Vancouver and Toronto, 1-3 and 3-0 respectively.

    Montero’s two goals were the difference as Seattle came from behind to win 1-3 in Vancouver. He now leads the team with nine goals and eight assists, having stepped up his game of late – three goals and assists in the last five matches – to help offensively in the absence of Mauro Rosales.

    Ángel opened and closed the scoring on the night, sandwiching a Justin Braun header with a header of his own and an excellent finish after collecting a through-ball from Ben Zemanski, cutting past Andy Iro and launching a shot just out of reach across Stefan Frei. Ángel now has five goals in his last three matches - six in his six appearances for the Goats since joining from LA.

    Dominic Oduro completed the goal-scorers weekend with his eleventh of season. Sebastián Grazzini had opened the scoring from the spot - after Patrick Nyarko was tripped up after beating Matt Reis to the ball – before feeding Oduro a tasty through-ball that Reis was again outpaced to as Oduro touched around the keeper to finish into an empty cage, prompting a ‘hot-boot’ celebration from the Ghanaian. Oduro then turned provider starting the play that led to another – the first of the season for Nyarko who was first to the ball as Reis hesitated in a fashion similar to Oduro’s - as Chicago beat New England 3-2.

    Oduro has netted six times in his last eight matches, leads his team with eleven strikes, and becoming the first Fire player to score ten or more in a single season since Damani Ralph scored eleven in 2004. New England’s two goals from Ryan Guy – his first in MLS – in the ninetieth and ninety-second minutes and were not enough to rectify a poor first half from the Revolution.

    While the hot-footed stomped on, two on the most consistent teams made major changes to their starting elevens for Saturday night’s action with varying results.

    Salt Lake, in that 4-1 defeat, fielded only three recognized starters – Rimando, Nat Borchers, and Kyle Beckerman – and two potential starters just back from injury – Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert – opting to rest the likes of Saborío, Will Johnson, Fábian Espíndola, Luis Gil, Andy Williams, Robbie Russell, and Jámison Olave; Saborío, Johnson, and Gil made substitute appearances in the final half hour of play. Whether this rest was needed for their third match of a three-game-in-a-week stretch, Jason Kreis made an error in judgement, or De Rosario’s explosion was unexpected, does not matter as Salt Lake have clinched their playoff berth.

    Meanwhile, Los Angeles made the trek to Columbus without David Beckham, left Robbie Keane out of the lineup entirely, and held Landon Donovan in reserve until the sixtieth minute. A last minute strike from Chad Barrett – pouncing on a rebound from a Landon Donovan effort palmed into his path by Will Hesmer - was the difference, sparing any blushes due to Bruce Arena’s selections, as the two conference leaders met and LA emerged victorious 0-1.

    Saturday night also witnessed the final sporting event at historic Empire Field on the outskirts of Vancouver. The Whitecaps started brightly, opening the scoring on a delightful passing movement from their offensive trio of Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento, and Camilo Sanvezzo. Hassli played Chiumiento through with a neat touch, before the Swiss midfielder set up Camilo with a square ball across the goalmouth for an empty net finish.

    Wasted chances by Gambian DP Mustapha Jarju would cost Vancouver as Brad Evans converted from the penalty spot following a Jay DeMerit handball. Montero then collected his brace to complete the affair. DeMerit, involved in all three Sounders goal, had a bad night. First, the penalty kick, then, it was his clearance that fell to Montero for his skillful collect, cut-in and scoop shot into the top corner – a beautiful goal – and finally a slight deflection off his foot that allowed the Columbian’s second to loop high into the Vancouver goal.

    The 1-3 loss to Cascadian rivals Seattle was a disappointing end to the old ground, and DeMerit let his displeasure be known with his unaccommodating participation – or lack thereof – in trudging a thank you banner around the pitch come match’s end.

    With the defeat Vancouver was mathematically eliminated from the postseason. New England, Toronto, and San Jose are all but eliminated. Seattle and Salt Lake join Los Angeles as both clinched playoff berths.

    Four weekends remain in MLS’ regular season schedule – though one sees limited league action as it falls on an international window – for the remaining seven playoff spots to be earned. Who will make the cut? Who will fall by the wayside? All will be revealed.

The Fine Print

The battle for Texas was fought on Saturday afternoon with Houston taking the glory, the three points, and the spoils – El Capitán, the antique howitzer - with a 0-1 win at Dallas’ home ground. A late Geoff Cameron near post header sent across the wandering Kevin Hartman, from a Brad Davis corner was all the Dynamo needed to collect their first road win of the season. Dallas fall to their third straight league defeat, having been shutout for two hundred and seventy minutes of play, not to say they did not create chances, as Maicon Santos rattled the crossbar early, Jackson Gonçalves struck the base of the post with a shot, and George John’s header too hit the bar, while Andrew Jacobsen had a goal ruled out for a foul on Houston keeper Tally Hall.

New York responded forcefully from their midweek collapse and subsequent comments from Rafa Márquez without their Mexican DP, who sat out in the luxury boxes serving a club suspension. A wonderful solo effort from Dane Richards and a penalty kick from Luke Rodgers for a questionable handball by Kalif Alhassan that saw the Ghanaian sent off were enough to garner the Red Bulls a 2-0 victory, boosting their playoff chances, while setting back those of Portland.

Colorado and San Jose battled to a hard fought, if unspectacular 1-1 draw in the thin air of DSG Park. Goals exchanged on either side of the half by Chris Wondolowski – his eleventh of the season, pouncing on a Khari Stephenson shot not held by Matt Pickens - and Drew Moor - a close-range effort from a post-corner kick scramble – were all either side could muster as each is mired in a winless streak.

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

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