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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

MLS Weekly Review – Weekend Round 6 – Of One Goal Gets the Win, Goal-scorers Doing Their Thing – While Marquez Does His, Lightning Strikes, & More Late Collapses.

    Nine matches this weekend saw all teams bar one – Vancouver – take to the pitch in the latest offering of MLS action. Twenty goals, no red cards – though there should have been at least one – and only two draws – one of which came in Sunday evening’s rain soaked, lightning shortened encounter – these are some of the numbers behind another engaging round of MLS.

    A single goal was enough to decide the victor in four of the matches. It only took a penalty kick in Philadelphia, while a trio of headers, one each in Seattle, Toronto, and Kansas City – two of which from very unlikely sources indeed – decided those matches.

    A somewhat dire contest between the Union and the Crew kicked off the weekend’s round - a physical encounter between two sides yet to find themselves in this still young season. Pre-match surprises as each team was without one of their more influential players – Danny Califf pulled out of the Philly starting eleven with a hamstring injury moments before the match, while Columbus rested front-man Emilio Renteria – who was goal-less in four games, only to respond in the reserve match with a hat-trick - with Aaron Schoenfeld taking his spot at the top of the formation.
    Freddy Adu, the only consistent attacking threat in the match, won the spot kick for the Union when his right-footed cross from the left-edge of the box after cutting back on his marker was met by a chicken-wing of a block from Crew defender Eric Gehrig.

    Gabriel Gomez, set-piece taker extraordinaire, stepped to the mark, softly chipping his effort high in the centre of the net as Andy Gruenebaum dove helplessly to his right. A few minor chances either way, a couple of yellow cards, and a minor scuffle between Olman Vargas and Zac MacMath – handbags, really – saw out the 1-0 win for the home town club; their first victory on the season, something that despite the mediocre display, will go some distance to assuaging the rumblings of discontent in Philadelphia.

    Across the continent in the Pacific Northwest, a peculiar grudge-match was being decided.

    A rivalry born of a bad tackle last season that saw Colorado’s Brian Mullan snap Seattle’s Steve Zakuani’s leg. A ten-match suspension, soul-searching, surgery and a long rehabilitation, see both players hoping to move past the incident – though Zakuani has yet to return to his former stance.

    In order to move on, penance - or retribution if one prefers – must be made – or meted out - and when Mullan took to the field in the decidedly unfriendly confines of the Sounders home ground boos rang round, as they would whenever he touched the ball.

    But it was Mullan who almost stole the headlines, his goal in the thirty-third minute, pouncing on a rebound from a rasping Omar Cummings shot that was pushed back into the centre of the box by Seattle’s goalkeeper Michael Gspurning to potentially open the scoring. Alas the Rapids wide midfielder had strayed offside and was ruled thusly, striking the story from the record book.

    Colorado failed to muster much more by way of attacking threat and Seattle took the initiative midway through the second half.

    A left-sided corner kick from Alex Caskey in the sixty-third minute was met by Zach Scott, who had been dangerous on set-pieces all night, sending a similar effort just wide of the near-post in the opening phase of the match. Scott’s glancing near-post header from the edge of the six-yard box, this time found its target, giving the Sounders a 1-0 lead, which they would see out to the end.

    It was first-year pro Tony Cascio who lost his mark in the lead up to goal; with attacking youthful additions, come occasional defensive lapses.

    Were it not for a stellar performance in the Colorado goal from Matt Pickens and a fine recovering tackle from Marvell Wynne, Seattle - through Fredy Montero most likely - would surely have added to their lead.

    If Scott – who scored his first career goal in MLS after over two thousand minutes of play – was an unexpected contributor, Oswaldo Minda was an absolute shocker. Considering all the attacking talent on the pitch, that Minda, generally a defensive midfielder/bully, was the decider was unforeseeable.

    Again it was a story of lost responsibilities, as the big Ecuadorean ran off his marker Richard Eckersley in front of goal, and jumped in front of a surprised Ryan Johnson to head the winner down, past Milos Kocic at the near-post.

    Eckersley was distracted by his fury at the referee for what he saw as wrongly awarding the corner in the first place. Miller Bolanos’ right-sided service was met by his countryman to put Chivas into the lead 0-1.

    Then it was up to Dan Kennedy in goal and Heath Pearce in defense to see out the result. Several fines saves, two goal-line clearances, and a matter of inches prevented Toronto from clawing back into the match, falling to their fifth straight defeat to begin the season, while Chivas continues their strange existence of winning on the road, while losing at home.

    Set-pieces can often prove decisive, especially when someone like Graham Zusi is providing the service.

    The marquee match of the weekend saw spotless Kansas City host fellow table-toppers Salt Lake on Saturday night.

    All week the build-up debated which attacking system would dominate in this clash of styles, but as with most highly anticipated events, it fell short of expectations, at least in terms of goals.

    CJ Sapong thought he’d opened the scoring in the first half, only to see his header called off for a supposed foul on Jamison Olave, who sold the slight push with a flailing of his arms.

       In the end it was defending – or the lack thereof – that decided the affair. With both sides carrying impressive shutout streaks into the match and KC having not even allowed a shot in their last two matches, centre-back Aurelien Collin broke the deadlock in the sixty-third minute.

    A left-sided in-swinging corner kick from Zusi picked out the Frenchmen at the far-post unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box for a strong header past Nick Rimando. Collin had left his marker Alvaro Saborio in the dust, as the striker failed to track his run.

    Kei Kamara would have doubled the advantage were it not for a stunning fingertip save from Rimando that pawed away his identical chance some twelve minutes later.

    Ironically, after barking at his fellow defenders to hold their line late in the match, it was Collin who lost Nat Borchers in added time to end Sporting’s zero-shots-allowed streak after three-hundred-plus minutes with a weak header into the arms of Jimmy Nielsen.

    It ended 1-0 to Sporting on the night.

   The other highly-anticipated meeting of the weekend pitted the league’s top three goal-getters in a clash of second place cross-conference foes.

    Despite two of the three increasing their season tallies on the night, the post-script was dominated by Rafa Marquez and his disdain for the game, the league, his opponents and teammates alike. His distaste came to a head at the end of the first half when Marquez wrestled Shea Salinas to the ground, breaking his collar bone in the process, and kicking him unnecessarily as they fell.
    Seconds later San Jose’s bulwark Honduran centre-back Victor Bernardez injured his MCL landing awkwardly after rising to challenge goalkeeper Ryan Meara for an aerial ball.

    The two substitutions that followed ended a back-and-forth half that twice saw New York take the lead, only for San Jose to correct the deficit ten minutes later.

    Kenny Cooper opened the scoring in the fifth minute, when the Earthquakes were caught napping from a throw-in. Roy Miller’s toss was allowed to run across him by Dax McCarty as he shielded the ball from a defender, where Thierry Henry alertly collected it and played a visionary through-ball to the big Texan, who took a touch to settle before smashing it past Jon Busch at the near-post.

    Rafael Baca capped off a neat passing play that he began after pouncing on a McCarty turnover by playing up to Chris Wondolowski, who fed Khari Stephenson in behind the defense, only to square the ball back to Baca for an easy conversion.

     McCarty made up for his error, smashing a low shot in after Dane Richards had skipped around Ramiro Corrales on the right-flank and sent a cut-back pass to the top of the box. Cooper’s slight touch – whether by accident or design – fell perfectly for the diminutive midfielder to volley home.

    Wondolowski himself grabbed the next, once again finding himself in the right position at the right time to convert the opportunity. A Steven Beitashour cross from the right was touched back into the centre of the pitch from the far-post by Salinas for a tidy and powerful speared header by the Earthquake hitman to draw the sides back level at twos.

    2-2 is how it would eventually end after a chippy second half that saw neither side challenge the tie. Henry’s scoring streak ends with a meek effort easily saved and both sides were satisfied with the point on the night.

    Lightning struck twice, and then repeatedly, as Chicago hosted Houston in the lone fixture on Sunday.

    Following an hour long delay, Will Bruin and Logan Pause exchanged goals three minutes apart. Bruin, played in via a Brian Ching defense-splitting through-ball, out-waited Sean Johnson finishing high to the short-side as the keeper moved anticipating a low shot across him. Pause was the recipient of good fortune – or old age, as he put it. A Pavel Pardo free kick struck him in the back while he tried to duck out of its path, only for that deflection to handcuff Tally Hall in the Dynamo goal and fall in after looping in the air and dinking off the bar.

    The match was called off in the sixty-sixth minute after the rain and storm failed to subside; all parties agreed the 1-1 result should stand. It was a peculiar introduction to MLS for former German international Arne Friedrich, who made his debut for the Fire, in place of the injured Corey Gibbs.

    A trio of late collapses marred the other results. New England, Montreal, and Portland all took the lead in their matches, only to fall to a series of unanswered goals by the final whistle.

    The Revolution went ahead in the opening minutes when some excellent interplay down the left-flank by Chris Tierney, Lee Nguyen and Sair Sene, allowed Sene to curl a cross to the near-post where it was met with a simple touch by mysterious forward Jose Moreno. The Colombian, who only recently joined the club following a confusing series of statements after his initial signing, scored his first goal in MLS, putting his side in front.

    Maicon Santos responded quickly, redirecting a Dwayne De Rosario bicycle kick attempt with a neat header past a helpless Matt Reis. Nick DeLeon had sent a corner kick high to the back-post, where the Canadian acrobatically directed an effort goal-ward. It appeared to be heading wide, until it was met by his former Toronto FC teammate – and fellow Reds’ captain alumnus.

    Nearly an hour later substitute Chris Pontius decided the outcome when DeLeon played him forward on the left flank, he cut across Stephen McCarthy and sent a curling shot to the far-netting to earn his side the 1-2 road win.

    Montreal took the lead late in the second half through a Bernardo Corradi spot kick after Zach Loyd was deemed to have pushed Davey Arnaud in the box; a slightly dubious call.

    Corradi, who dedicated his strike to his fallen former teammate Piermario Morosini, smashed his effort high into the net.

    The Impact were then undone by a pair of goals in the final fifteen minutes.

Firstly, Blas Perez nodded in the rebound off the bar at the far-post after George John’s header from a Daniel Hernandez free kick caromed off the bar. Then they were caught napping from a throw-in, flicked on by Perez to Fabian Castillo, who fed in Brek Shea for a right-footed blast past the onrushing Donovan Ricketts in the eighty-eighth minute to spoil Montreal’s night and hand Dallas a 2-1 win.

    In Saturday’s late match Portland took the lead through Kris Boyd – and should have seen it doubled – before a first half leveler from Landon Donovan and a pair of goals in the final ten minutes from Juninho and David Beckham turned a one-goal lead into a 3-1 loss.

    Boyd collected a Darlington Nagbe through-ball following a midfield turnover and ran down the left-channel in on goal. His low shot across the keeper into the far-netting, a calm finish by an experienced striker put the Timbers in front.

    The Galaxy should count themselves lucky that his second, more impressive strike, three minutes later was incorrectly ruled offside, Boyd collected Kalif Alhassan’s chip pass with a deft back-heeled flick before lashing it into the net on the volley.

    Donovan grabbed the equalizer in the forty-fourth, after Robbie Keane’s good work deep in the left corner turned Eric Brunner and allowed the Irishman to pull a pass back to Donovan arriving late at the top of the box for a low, seeing-eye finish.

    Portland then fell apart defensively, allowing Juninho space after he shook off Nagbe at the top of the box for a low blast, and then giving Beckham acres of space and enough time to unleash a trademark rocket to the top right corner of the goal in stoppage time.

    A fourth straight loss for the Timbers, another road loss for Montreal, and a home loss to bitter rivals for New England, all brought on by late collapses in matches where they had the initiative.

    All told, another excellent weekend of MLS matches is in the books. It is a long season, but for several teams the risk of falling too far behind is palpable.
    What will round seven bring? Two midweek matches begin the proceedings on Wednesday night - undefeated Kansas City head to Vancouver, while Montreal continues their road trip in DC.

Random Notes:

Eddie Gaven’s beard seems to have become angry in response to the threat of Barbasol displayed below.

Marquez’s repeated moments of insanity will continue to cost him. His body slam on Salinas – the last resort of a battle that carried on through-out the half - resulted in a broken collar bone that will most likely see him retroactively suspended, while his sarcastic slow-clap when Ricardo Salazar finally booked him could have seen him sent off.

Referees have a hard job, but when they get emotional in the match it is never a good thing. Salazar started to lose it in the second half, his barking exchange with Marvin Chavez was entirely unnecessary – the arbiter should be cool and calmly, not ratcheting up the anger.

Kocic rushing out to give Terry Dunfield an ear-full for not closing down Ryan Smith was good to see, but not entirely Dunfield fault, as virtually the lone man in midfield.

Inane commentary of the weekend – Announcer 1: How long will the ref let play go on with lightning in the area? Announcer 2: Speaking of lightning – as Oduro surges up-field.   

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

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