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Tuesday 10 April 2012

MLS Weekly Review – Midweek Round 5 – Of Another Penalty for Expansion & Dallas Leaving it Late.

     Two matches, the first proper midweek league fixtures of the season, took place in the fifth week of MLS action. A pair one-goal wins by the home clubs in two very different circumstances, saw Salt Lake and then Dallas collect the maximum points.

     Aside from the return legs of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, Wednesday night also witnessed the Montreal Impact, fresh off a second half collapse in New York, fly into one of the toughest venues in the league for their second match of three-in-seven-days – a difficult stretch and a big ask for the expansion side.

     It only took Salt Lake thirteen minutes to press their advantage.

     For the third consecutive match Montreal conceded a penalty kick, unlike the others however, this one was entirely warranted. Will Johnson's diving header was blocked, almost caught, by Justin Braun as the forward attempted to get in the way of the attempt on goal.

     The most cynical observer could propose that Braun could have seen red for blocking a goal-bound effort, but the Impact escaped this double punishment without too much complaint from either side, a touch of balance considering their misfortune of late.

    Paulo Araujo Junior stepped to the spot to convert the chance, calmly slotting a well-placed, right-footed shot low to the keeper's left, beyond the outstretched reach of Donovan Ricketts, who had guessed correctly.

     Several roster changes, in equal parts due to the disappointing loss in New York and the fixture congestion, saw Montreal head coach Jesse Marsch not only give starts to the likes of Shavar Thomas, Collen Warner, and Lamar Neagle, but also rethink his tactical formation, moving captain Davy Arnaud from his exile on the right-flank to the middle of the park and going with a lone striker – Braun - atop a 4-2-3-1 style formation.

     This alteration helped Montreal put in one of their better performances of the season as a club, while Ricketts exhibited some of the class that made him one of the top keepers in the league a season or two ago.

     Salt Lake had chances to increase their lead: Luis Gil played Junior in, he rounded the keeper and rolled a shot towards the unguarded goal, only for Thomas to race back and clear the attempt; Jonny Steele - making his first league start - too put the Brazilian through with a neat ball down the right, only for his near-post effort to be blocked, before Fabian Espindola's headed attempt at the rebound dinged the bar.

    Ricketts was called upon again in the final twenty minutes of the match, when a Ned Grabavoy cross from the left to the back-post was flicked on behind the back by Espindola, perfectly aimed down towards the bottom corner of the net. The Jamaican keeper got down excellently to deny the chance, clawing it around the post.

     All told, a much better performance from Montreal in a difficult situation; Salt Lake will feel they could have done more, but will take the points that accompany the 1-0 result.

     Thursday night promised a whirlwind affair; high-flying New England, fresh off their surprise defeat of Los Angeles, took on an FC Dallas side eager to put their catastrophic loss in DC behind them.

     What promised to be an exciting match failed to ever really ignite. Both sides created very little attack in the opening half – aside from bright glimpses from youngsters Kelyn Rowe and Fabian Castillo, who each squandered opportunities to put their side in front.

     Both sides were missing key contributors: Dallas' Daniel Hernandez and Jair Benitez were suspended, while Benny Feilhaber, Kevin Alston, and John Lozano were injured for New England.

     The Texan club, largely through the good work of the aforementioned Castillo, combining well with Blas Perez, and Brek Shea – who is slowly overcoming the disappointment with the US U-23's who failed to qualify for the London Olympics recently – up top started to built some momentum in the final third of the match.

     An omen of things to come in the seventy-sixth minute saw rookie centre-back Matt Hedges head a Castillo corner into the goal, only for his tally to be cancelled out for a foul – an apparent high boot - on Stephen McCarthy.

     As the ninety approached its end, Shea found some space down the left and attempted to lay a ball into the path of Castillo who was racing down the middle. Matt Reis, in the Revolution goal, spotted the danger and arrived on the scene in a timely fashion to snuff out the chance.

     It seemed as though the match would fizzle out to a scoreless draw, until Dallas were awarded a final chance in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

     Perez and A. J. Soares both rose for a ball about thirty yards from the New England goal in a central area on the pitch, the Revolution defender was called for a foul on his Panamanian rival, and Dallas had a final attempt.

     Left-back Zach Loyd curled a right-footed delivery toward the left-post where Ugo Ihemelu, the newly appointed club captain, rose highest to meet it, sending a looping header over and across the helpless keeper into the far-netting.

     The final whistle blew; Dallas had earned a 1-0 victory with the final chance of the match.

     Two identical scorelines, but two very different matches; a tasty appetizer to what should be another fine weekend of MLS action.

Salt Lake v Montreal 1-0; Dallas v New England 1-0.

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