An extension to Canadian Soccer News’ MLS Week in Review, this article provides a closer look at the performances of the Canadian players who saw the pitch this week.
With the MLS regular season schedule winding down, the top three spots this round go to a pair of players who each scored their first MLS goal in the midst of a double-game week – Kofi Opare and Karl W. Ouimette - and to a young man who has found playing time severely limited through his rookie campaign, but impressed on Saturday - Kyle Bekker.
Find out what they did to deserve recognition and who else earned their keep this week.
Opare continued his rise to prominence, making his third and fourth-consecutive starts this round – in Los Angeles’ win over Montreal on Wednesday and their draw against San Jose on Sunday – all five of his starts have come in LA’s last seven matches.
In their 1-0 win against Montreal, from his left centre-back position, Opare was again impressive, keeping a tight rein on the machinations of Marco Di Vaio early – stepping in to block a pass and them thundering into the midfield to bring down the Italian, for which he earned a talking to – and battling with Andrew Wenger throughout the match.
It was his battles with Wenger that proved most interesting, both sizeable and quick; they took turns besting each other, as exemplified by one play where Opare cut out the initial ball, but was then beat by a pass on the second, only to recover enough to pressure Wenger into shooting wide.
Opare on another day may have committed a foul worthy of a penalty kick, when his marginally late tackle brought down Wenger in the box, but the referee decided otherwise.
The Niagara Falls-based defender completed an impressive 39 of 42 passes, won seven headers, made four clearances and four recoveries, lost possession three times, and committed a pair of fouls, but his real contribution was his one shot on goal, which resulted in the game-winner for the Galaxy in the 68th minute.
Juninho’s right-sided, out-swinging corner kick was met by Leonardo at the high near-post and flicked on to the low back-post, Robbie Keane tried to cram in, but was denied and Laurent Courtois touched the loose ball back to Jose Villarreal, though his shot from the top of the box struck the foot of Gyasi Zardes, falling to Opare.
Alertly and with a turn unexpected of a centre-back, Opare swiveled and lifted a left-footed effort over the keeper and into the left-side of the goal.
Upon scoring, Kofi lifted his shirt to reveal a message – RIP Arif - to a dear friend who passed away in a car accident.
Post-match, he discussed the memorial celebration with MLSsoccer.com, saying, “I said I was going to honor him by scoring. I said I was going to score and dedicate it to him ... I told people I was going to score my first goal for him. I'm glad that all went to plan, I guess, and we got the three points.”
It’s worth giving his entire comments a read – follow the above link, Robbie Keane’s reaction was pretty good.
He was booked for his efforts – his first yellow card in MLS to go with his goal.
Between matches, Opare had praised heaped upon him, by Adam Serrano, the LA Galaxy Insider, who watches the team as closely as any - “Opare’s play as of late has been one of the true revelations for the Galaxy this season and with Omar Gonzalez close to returning from injury, the rookie center back has made a major case to earn regular minutes in the LA back four.”
He also took time to appear on Anthony Totera’s show - Red Card on Next Sports Star Radio, expressing an interest in reporting for the Canadian National Team when called upon.
Against San Jose on Sunday, Opare was instrumental in helping his side keep a clean-sheet in the score-less draw, doing well to throttle the duel threats of Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart.
Opare was troubled when he was dragged out wide by Lenhart, who outmaneuvered him and got off a cross that was met by Wondolowski and required a big save from Jaime Penedo, but redeemed himself in the box at the near-post, doing just enough to prevent Lenhart from getting on the end of a good run-and-cut-back from Shea Salinas.
He also put in two big blocks on Sam Cronin shots – two of his three blocks that night.
The rest of his stat-line reads: completed 32 of 38 passes, won hour headers and two tackles, made seven clearances, five recoveries, two interceptions, and lost possession six times, while winning and conceding a foul each way.
A big week for the young professional – well done.
Ouimette made his fourth and fifth starts for Montreal in their midweek loss at LA and their 2-1 weekend win over Philadelphia – he now has six appearances on the season.
Stationed at right-back in a youthful Impact outfit on Wednesday, Ouimette did well very to contain the explosive threat of Zardes on the attacking left, who has harnessed his speed and trickery in recent weeks – landing at least one crunching challenge early to strip away possession and keep the breakout prospect from factoring in the match.
Aside from quieting Zardes, his major contribution nearly put the Impact in the driver’s seat – rising up to get on the end of corner kick only for his header to be cleared away from the line by Todd Dunivant – Wandrille Lefevre would follow up the chance, heading Hassoun Camara’s bicycle kick over the bar.
The Terrebonne, Quebec-native completed 26 of 40 passes, won four headers and four of five tackles, made six recoveries, three clearances, and one block, losing possession sixteen times – and his one shot, a header, was official deemed to be off-target.
On Saturday, Ouimette popped up at left-back and was equally composed on his off-side.
He had a good charging run up-field early and repeatedly moved in-field to cut out danger when required – denying Jack McInerney on one occasion, coming across with a sliding challenge to rush a Danny Cruz shot, and ending the runs of Antoine Hoppenot on several others.
Regularly involved in physical battles with the beastly Conor Casey, Ouimette held his own, though he was mercilessly thrown to the ground once Casey had had enough toying around.
Ouimette completed 39 of 53 passes, made four recoveries, one interception, and a block, won two of three tackles, lost possession fifteen times and committed a single foul. But it was his one shot on goal, a header, which stole the headlines.
Having witnessed Opare score his first midweek and threatening one of his own that same match, Ouimette would not pass up the chance when it came to him.
Justin Mapp hit a free-kick from the right towards the back-post where both Ouimette and Matteo Ferrari had broken free from near-non-existent marking – it was Ouimette who got there first and powered a downward header off the desperate foot-save attempt of Zac MacMath to put the Impact in front and resurrect their spurring playoff hopes.
He was swarmed by his teammates in celebration and words cannot describe the look of delight on the young man’s face as he nabbed his first career MLS goal – and the game-winner to boot.
The Impact’s ‘From the sideline’ camera angle captured the scene admirably:
Post-match he commented, “Coming into the game, I felt that the coaching staff had confidence in me. They asked me to play a position that I never played before in a game. I didn’t sleep last night but was hoping to score a big goal for the team. It was an incredible feeling.”
“I dreamt about it yesterday; I was like ‘Imagine if I put it in.’ I was motivated to put the winning goal in today. I didn’t sleep. Too much stress … Even in my wildest dreams, it wasn’t as beautiful.”
Adding, “Thankfully, the guys jumped on me, because I had no idea what my celebration would be!”
His post-match interview can be viewed here – en francais.
His goal and comments inspired Montreal coach Marco Schallibaum to offer, “You have to dream in life, but you also have to realize those dreams. I am happy that Karl had this goal in his mind and he went for it. He scored a big goal for us in a big moment.”
Clearly the ‘W’ stands for Win – honestly though, no idea at the moment, will investigate for next week.
Bekker made just his second start of the season for Toronto in their 1-0 loss at Chicago on Saturday – it was his first start since opening day in Vancouver and his eighth appearance overall.
Paired in the central midfield with fellow Canadian, Jonathan Osorio, Bekker was stronger, quicker, and more confident than he had previously looked, and was generally impressive, sporting his all black boots – none of those fancy coloured ones for Bekker.
He left an early impression as one who would not shirk the physicality of the MLS midfield, crunching into a challenge with Jeff Larentowicz, for which he got a talking to from the ref and appeared more spry and up to the pace than he had looked in earlier cameos – perhaps the time spent training has done him well.
Bekker contributed defensive – cutting out a pass here (two interceptions), blocking a cross there, winning tackles (both of his two) and collecting loose balls (four recoveries), while making three clearances, winning and committing a single foul each way, and losing possession twelve times.
The Oakville, Ontario-native completed a solid 45 of 57 passes, which are worthy of further investigation: Compare his completed balls with those that were incomplete – the final ball is still missing, especially getting the right weight and distance on set-piece deliveries, but all that will come with more time on the pitch.
A full 19% of TFC’s 297 passes went through Bekker – not too shabby for a player who has been glued to the bench.
In earlier outings, Bekker could be accused of being hesitant and a little slow in the hustle-and-bustle of the midfield; this was a different performance. He got stuck in, he got forward, got back, and though he still made the occasional error – one bad pass, a momentary lapse in attention, led to a troublesome turnover – he looked a useful piece, if not the finished article. Do not be surprised if his performance has earned him another start in the final match of the season.
Interestingly, Bekker, who got forward regularly, took three shots – two were recorded as blocked and the other off-target – though one did end up in the back of the net, after a clearly offside Robert Earnshaw got a touch on it drawing the attentions of the assistant referee’s flag to negate.
Lefevre made his third start of the season for Montreal on Wednesday – all three have come in the last month of play.
As the left-sided centre-back, paired with Camara, Lefevre was very solid in a losing effort. He did well to shield the big frame of Jack McBean away from a ball, snuffing out any danger and cut out a Zardes goalmouth ball before it could cause any trouble.
He did, however – along with Maxim Tissot – let Marcelo Sarvas get away and curl a shot off the bar.
And he nearly got on the end of that bouncing ball in the LA box after Ouimette’s header was cleared, but his diving header sailed over the bar.
Of interest, was a searching long ball that found Tissot running up the left, Lefevre’s ability to pick passes out of the back has become a strong feature of his game – his matrix from Wednesday – recall his assist early in the season with a long ball against Chicago that led to Andres Romero’s goal.
The French-born defender completed 27 of 34 passes, had that one shot – the header off target - made six clearances, five recoveries, four interceptions, and one block, losing possession eight times and one tackles, while winning a foul.
On Saturday, Lefevre came on for the injured Alessandro Nesta in the 89th minute and helped maintain Montreal’s lead, making one unsuccessful pass in his brief cameo.
Johnson made his seventh-straight start for Portland in their score-less draw against Salt Lake on Saturday – it was his 27th start of the season.
Stationed once more at the base of the Timbers midfield, alongside Diego Chara, Will was his usual sturdy self – if a little lax in his passing - springing attacks and stifling the opposition.
Playing his former team, who heaped praise upon him midweek, Johnson picked the pocket of Lovel Palmer to craft a turnover, and earlier sprung a neat Portland attack though Jose Valencia that ended in a Kalif Alhassan curling shot sent wide.
On set-piece duty, Johnson took Portland’s best chance of the game – a late free-kick – that was parried by Nick Rimando, who went on to deny Sal Zizzo’s follow up chance.
The Toronto-born midfielder completed a disappointing thirty of fifty passes – leading to him turning over possession some 21 times – but won eight headers, all four of his tackles, and a foul, while making nine recoveries, two clearances, and one interception and taking two shots – his free-kick, and another that was blocked.
Osorio made his second-straight start, having returned from suspension, for Toronto on Saturday – it was his seventeenth start and 27th appearance of the season.
Pre-match he spoke about getting back to league play after his experience in London, England with the National Team.
Paired in the centre of midfield with Bekker, Osorio gave Toronto and Canadian fans a glimpse of the burgeoning partnership that could man that part of the pitch for years to come.
He, like Bekker, did the dirty work of tracking deep to assist the defenders in not allowing a goal from open play for a second-straight match.
Moving forward the Canadian played a threatening long ball for Alvaro Rey and threaded a through-ball for Bright Dike, having delayed too long to pick out Robert Earnshaw, who drifted offside prematurely.
The Toronto, Ontario-native completed 28 of 34 passes, made seven clearances, five recoveries, and an interception, won a tackle and a foul, conceding two, while losing possession six times.
Unfortunately for Osorio and his teammates, he was involved in what turned out to be the game-winning goal following a pair of handball calls.
Mike Magee’s free-kick, awarded for an Osorio handball, was controversially adjudged to be worthy of a penalty kick, as the attempt struck the folded arms of Osorio as he swiveled away from the shot.
Tissot made a second-consecutive start for Montreal in their Wednesday loss in LA – it was his third start and sixth appearance of the season.
From left-back, Tissot exhibited both the positives and negatives of a young wing-back getting forward well, but occasionally miss-stepping in defense.
In attack, he played an excellent ball for Di Vaio that came to naught and nearly won a dangerous free-kick after he skipped past LA’s Juninho and was tripped up, only for the referee to decide a heavy touch meant he wouldn’t get on the end of the ball.
Defensively, he was too readily drawn towards the ball, allowing Sean Franklin to easily overlap into space and break up-field, was blazed past by Jose Villarreal to make a shot, and could not stop Sarvas from getting off that shot that rattled the woodwork.
The Gatineau, Quebec-native completed 24 of 33 passes, won four headers and a foul, made four recoveries and an interception, while losing possession twelve times; he took one shot, on target, as well.
He was an unused substitute in Montreal’s Saturday fixture.
Henry made his fourth-straight start for Toronto in Chicago – it was his eighteenth start and nineteenth appearance of the season.
Once more stationed on the back-line as the left-sided centre-back, Henry was troubled by Chicago’s multi-faceted attack – whether in the form of the silky Mike Magee or the physically imposing Juan Luis Anangono.
He struggled in particular when he was drawn out into wide areas – into flat-out foot-races with Anangono - where he committed both fouls he registered throughout the match.
The Brampon, Ontario-native completed sixteen of 26 passes, won five headers, a tackle and a single foul, made nine clearances, five recoveries, four interceptions and a block, while losing possession ten times.
Morgan made his sixth-straight start for Toronto in Chicago on Saturday – it was his nineteenth start and 21st appearance of the season.
From his standard left-back position, Morgan had a difficult evening and was repeatedly victimized by Ghanaian trickster, Patrick Nyarko, though he did get the better of the wide midfielder on at least one occasion, preventing him from getting in a cross.
The Toronto, Ontario-native completed nineteen of thirty passes – and five of eight throws, improving his numbers in those fields, if only slightly – made four clearances, one recovery and an interception, while losing possession thirteen times and committing three fouls – one of which saw him collect his fourth yellow card of the season.
Bernier was an unused substitute in Montreal’s loss on Wednesday, but returned to the starting lineup on Saturday to make his 28th start and 31st appearance of the season.
Reunited with Hernan Bernardello in the centre of the pitch, Bernier struggled to find his rhythm – perhaps that hip injury is still troubling him a touch.
He misread the intentions of Di Vaio, playing a long ball when Di Vaio was checking to him instead, and had a poor touch that skipped out for a throw-in that saw Bernier take out his frustration by raking the turf with his studs.
The veteran midfielder was getting forward well and showed some very neat footwork to cut around the attentions of Kleberson and take a shot, but it was blocked.
He was replaced by Andrew Wenger after 53 minutes when Montreal switched to a two-forward formation after falling behind in a must-win match.
The Brossard, Quebec-native completed 26 of thirty passes, had two shots – one off and the one blocked; made five recoveries, two clearances, one interception and a block, won and conceded a foul, and lost possession five times.
Teibert entered Vancouver’s 3-2 loss in Colorado on Saturday in the 61st minute, replacing Matt Watson – it was his fifth substitute’s appearance of the season (third in as many matches) and his 23rd overall.
In his half-hour outing, the Niagara Falls, Ontario-native completed eleven of thirteen passes, won a foul, and conceded possession twice.
Dwayne De Rosario
De Rosario came on in the 63rd minute of DC’s 1-0 loss at Kansas City on Friday, replacing Luis Silva in the attacking midfield position.
The Scarborough, Ontario-native completed seven of eleven passes, had one shot – blocked, made two recoveries, won a tackle, committed a foul, and lost possession six times.
Quillan Roberts (Toronto), Kyle Porter (DC), Maxime Crepeau and Zakaria Messoudi (Montreal – on Wednesday) were unused substitutes for their respective sides.
Roberts, Emery Welshman, and Manny Aparicio – plus a smattering of academy kids – took part in Toronto’s 4-2 reserve loss against Chicago. Welshman and Aparicio were TFC’s goal-scorers.
Mark Watson was interviewed on MLSsoccer.com’s Extra Time last week.
Having missed last week’s Canadian Content Post – with Canadian Soccer News still down – it will be post later this evening.