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Monday, 21 October 2013

MLS Week in Review – Round 34

The penultimate round of MLS play took place over the past week and with so many teams already entering playoff mode it comes as no surprise that, aside from a few explosive matches, it was another tightly contested weekend.

Ten matches were played – one each on Wednesday and Friday, six on Saturday, and a pair on Sunday – resulting in just two draws, both scoreless, and a single away victory – with New York exerting their dominance over Houston.

Goals were again in short supply with ten of the 21 scored coming in just two matches, though there were some glorious hits – including the new fastest goal in MLS history, courtesy of New York’s Tim Cahill.

Some 34 yellow cards were flashed, though no reds were shown – when perhaps one or two were called for – but the referees were still involved, awarding four penalty kicks and turning away several other decent shouts.

Before the result, the goals of the round:

A quartet of candidates this weekend, beginning with a pair from the Colorado-Vancouver match; first up in the Whitecaps Kekuta Manneh, who followed up last round’s hat-trick with this sumptuous offer:



Breath-taking

Though Colorado’s Gaby Torres responded with a screamer of his own:



Oooff!

Speaking of powerful strikes, consider Dominic Oduro’s high, near-post finish in New England:



No stopping that.

If power isn’t one’s pleasure, perhaps speed will do – eight seconds is all Tim Cahill and New York needed to open the scoring:



Not a bad way to start a match.

Midweek Result in Brief
Los Angeles 1 – Montreal 0


In the sole midweek match, though neither side had their full complement of starters and the first half was an open, back-and-forth contest, LA showed their supremacy in the second with the addition of Robbie Keane - fresh off international duty – on the hour mark.

Kofi Opare’s first MLS goal in the 68th minute, turning on a loose ball in the box and lifting his left-footer into the left-side of the goal, was enough to earn the win and the woodwork denied LA from furthering their advantage in the time remaining.

Results
Kansas City 1 – DC 0


The weekend kicked off on Friday with Kansas City eying the chance to take over top spot in both the Eastern Conference and the Supporter’s Shield race, while DC were hoping to avoid going the entire season without a win on the road.

One point behind New York and Portland, KC would take the lead just seven minutes in when Peterson Joseph pressured Perry Kitchen on the ball deep in the DC half. Kitchen’s weak back-pass was intercepted by Dom Dwyer, stealing in from the right, and he was in alone on goal.

Dwyer continued his slashing move, pushing past Bill Hamid and slotting a left-footer underneath the vulnerable keeper and into the unguarded net.

The early goal woke up a sluggish United and they nearly equalized when Jared Jeffrey sprung the offside trap and broke in on goal; he tried to outwait the ever-patient Jimmy Nielsen, but the veteran keeper stayed big and made the save, however uncomfortably it may have been, to preserve the lead in the 15th minute.

Kansas City would see a penalty claim waived away when Chris Korb tugged down Dwyer in the box and hold onto the one-goal advantage to pick up a third-straight clean-sheet - Nielsen’s league-leading thirteenth of the season, and extended their streak without conceding to 321 minutes, having not yet conceded in the month of October.

The win saw them vault into both the top spot in the East and the Supporter’s Shield, now with a two-point lead on New York, who play on Sunday.

Peter Vermes heralded the victory, “That was a massive result for us. It’s not easy playing anyone in this league, and when you go up against a team that has absolutely nothing to lose at this time of the year it’s never an easy game. There’s no doubt this wasn’t one of our best performances of the year, but at the end of the day we found a way to win, get three points, and keep the pressure on the other teams.”

The loss doomed DC to the ignominy of being just the fifth team in MLS history to go winless on the road through an entire season and extended their current winless streak to eleven matches, while guaranteeing they would win more matches in the US Open Cup (five) than they did in MLS play.

Ben Olsen lamented their slow start, chastising his side’s failure to match KC’s energy, “For about 15 minutes, we were bullied. We warned the guys that it would be a fast-paced, physical opening to the game. I didn’t think we had the right bite to us. When we go down a goal, about twenty minutes in, we start getting it. We start understanding this is a man’s game. I thought for the rest of the game that we were the better team, but it doesn’t matter, it does not matter. When you don’t play the full game, a good team like Kansas City, they’ll bite you and they’ll bite you early.”


Montreal 2 – Philadelphia 1

Saturday’s first match pitted two Eastern teams, tied on 46 points, with serious post-season implications.

Montreal have floundered of late, tying a club record by going winless through six matches and dropping down the standings, while eating up their games in hand and putting their playoff participation in jeopardy. Philadelphia, meanwhile, had gutted out three unbeaten matches to climb into the pack and remain relevant.

The Union came out the better side through the first half with Conor Casey playing the role of brute and heading a corner kick onto the frame of the goal in the 24th minute. Five minutes later Philly had their breakthrough when Kleberson, who had factored in their last two results – scoring the winner against Toronto and setting up the equalizer in DC last weekend – collected a poor ball from Karl Ouimette in the midfield and drove towards goal.

With Montreal dropping off, Kleberson laid a ball inside the right-back for the streaking Fabinho, surging down the left to run onto. The Brazilian hit a left-footer first-time from a very tight angle straight at the face of Montreal keeper, Troy Perkins, who could only get a piece, pushing the drive into the roof of his own net and putting the visitors ahead.

Down-trodden, Montreal responded in the second half by replacing Patrice Bernier with Andrew Wenger and taking on a two-forward look. Tactics played their role, but it was the desire of Marco Di Vaio that really drove the team forward.

The Italian MVP candidate played the second half like a man possessed, crafting numerous chances for himself and others, before finally finding an equalizer in the 64th minute.

Felipe picked up a loose ball above the Philadelphia box after Wenger’s pass was cut out and dished out wide left to Davy Arnaud, who played into to Di Vaio, posted up against Amobi Okugo, above the left-post.

Di Vaio touched the ball back and to the inside, rolled and hit a right-footer towards the far-side of the goal. Ray Gaddis attempted to block the shot on the line, but succeeded in merely diverting it into the corner and Montreal were back level.

Energized, the Impact continued to press forward with the call for the winner passing from veteran Italian to young Canadian. A game-winner would come from an 84th minute free-kick after Gaddis had committed a foul on the attacking right and Justin Mapp delivered a curling ball towards the back-post.

Philadelphia lost their marks and both Matteo Ferrari and Ouimette collapsed unobstructed onto the six-yard box to get on the end of the service. The young Canadian was first and his powerful downward header was too much for Zac MacMath’s attempted foot-save, spinning into the side-netting to hand Montreal the victory – their first since September 8.

The win put the Impact back in the driver’s seat for playoff qualification, ahead of Houston into third place, on 49 points; though with other matches still to be played they were not yet assured of a place.

Marco Schallibaum, who paced the sidelines like a caged tiger all afternoon, got a little ahead of himself post-match, “I’m really proud of my team, of everyone who's been through these tough moments, weeks, months. It sets us free, it’s incredible. The emotions are impressive. I’m drained right now. It was a really tough week. I’m really happy for everyone. We deserved this win, with rage and will power. It’s a great moment.”

Steady, still a few results and a match in Toronto next week before anything is official determined.

The devastating loss would all but eliminate Philadelphia, who need plenty of results to fall their way for their dream to stay alive.

Afterwards, John Hackworth stated, “This was a playoff game before the playoffs. Both of us had to win tonight. Our expectation was we were going to come in and get the victory. We did a good job in the first half. We didn’t finish it off in the end” and was cognizant of their situation heading forward, if disappointed in allowing the comeback, “If we are still mathematically alive next weekend, we will put everything we have into it, no matter what. But tonight, especially in the second half, was our opportunity. And we let ourselves down.”


Dallas 2 – Seattle 0

At nearly the same time as Di Vaio leveled for Montreal, the second match of the day was getting underway, with eliminated Dallas hosting a struggling Seattle side.

Dallas, who were officially eliminated with their loss against Chicago last weekend, entered the match fresh off the announcement that Schellas Hyndman would be stepping down from the head coaching position he has held for six years at the end of the season.

Seattle, like Dallas, entered in poor form, having gone winless through five matches, dropping from Supporter’s Shield contenders to possible outsiders come playoff time.

The frustration on both sides was evident in a fractious match that came to a boil after just thirteen minutes when Dallas’ Jackson tripped up Clint Dempsey with a tough challenge and the Seattle forward, still nursing a shoulder injury from last weekend’s Cascadia Derby, kicked out at the Brazilian from the ground causing a mass confrontation that saw both teams involved in a shoving match – only Dallas’ Peter Luccin was booked, shown yellow for his role in the melee.

The rest of the first half played out without major incident – until the whistle was blown and a bizarre confrontation between Dallas teammates saw them restrained heading into the locker-rooms (more on that later) - though Dallas appeared in the ascendancy with the better chances falling their way.

Seattle came out hungry, but wasted several half-chances, most notably when Brad Evans snatched at a lovely DeAndre Yedlin cross to the back-post and his volley sailed over the bar.

Michel entered the match in the 58th minute and with his inclusion the match turned.

Set-pieces had been the lifeblood of Dallas through their strong start – with Michel often playing provider – and it was his free-kick in the 65th minute that finally broke the deadlock when his right-sided service was curled to the back-post and Matt Hedges rose highest, having gotten in front of his marker, Patrick Ianni, to nod the ball down and past a frozen Marcus Hahnemann with a glanced header on to the left-post.

Evans would nearly make amends for his earlier miss when Dempsey slipped him behind the Dallas defense, but his low shot just missed the left-post and Hedges proved his value at the opposite end of the field with an important goal-line clearance in the final fifteen minutes to prevent Seattle drawing level.

Michel would firmly put the match away with a goal in the 87th minute.

David Ferreira collected a Fabian Castillo ball on the left, moved into the middle and unleashed a shot that was blocked by Ianni. Unfortunately for the defender, it fell kindly to Michel who was completely unmarked to slot a left-footer past Hahnemann into the left-side of the goal, stunning the beleaguered Sounders.

The unexpected win in Hyndman’s final home game was little consolation to a Dallas side that saw such a promising start to the season ended by long winless runs and inconsistency.

Post-match Hyndman issued an impromptu goodbye, “On a final note, it’s been fun, guys. This is a great organization, a great team and this club is going to go places. Not only [the first team], but our academy. My wife asked me today, ‘Are you going to miss this?’ And I said 'I’ll miss it every day. I’ll miss you guys as well; thank you.'”

For Seattle, the loss, their fourth-straight left the Sounders shaken, but the playoffs still remain in their grasp.

Sigi Schmid took the failures upon himself post-match, “It rests on my shoulders that we haven’t been able to come up with combinations that work for us. We’ve had some chances but haven’t been able to convert those chances. Guys are trying, they’re fighting and battling. The combinations on the field just haven’t been able to produce the goals that we wanted and needed at this point. The guys are obviously disappointed.”


Colorado 3 – Vancouver 2

Seattle may have dropped the chance to clinch a playoff spot - again, but they had not been made to fully pay, still sitting comfortably in playoff places – for them to feel the pain of repeated missteps a challenger must emerge from the pack.

The schedule makers bizarrely decided that it was proper for the season to end with two home-and-away series between team challenging for the same spots in the playoffs - in the West, that winner-moves-on series began with Colorado hosting Vancouver.

The Rapids entered the round in possession of the final spot on 48 points, while the Whitecaps trailed them by three points.

Both sides, vibrant in attack, traded early chances before Kekuta Manneh followed up his three-goal performance in Seattle with a stunning strike from the top of the box – Daigo Kobayashi was allowed time to pick his pass, playing up and in-field from the left to Manneh sitting about 25 yards from goal on the left-side of the arc. Manneh turned to hit a swerving right-footer that sailed into the far-side of the goal to open up the scoring in the 32nd minute.

The crowd in Colorado were stunned to silence, but their spirits were lifted some eight minutes later when Carlyle Mitchell was whistled for a foul in the Vancouver box – restricting the movement of Drew Moor on a Vicente Sanchez free-kick to the back-post - and Colorado were awarded a penalty kick, which Gaby Torres duly right-footed to the keeper’s left, tucked inside the post and high enough to evade the dive of David Ousted, who guess correctly, but could not reach the well-powered strike.

Mitchell again would be partially at fault for Colorado’s go-head goal nine minutes into the second half.

A long Clint Irwin goal-kick was punted up-field, with one eye on Edson Buddle, Mitchell misread the flight in the thin mountain air and missed his header, allowing the ball to bounce over him and toward goal.

YP Lee and Deshorn Brown were quickly drawn into a foot-race, as the bouncing kick bounded over them and down the left-channel towards the Vancouver goal, the spritely rookie (Brown) got the jump on the sagacious veteran and tore in on Ousted, who rushed out to confront, only to see a left-footed stab looped over him by the newly-minted Jamaican international.

Down, but not out, Vancouver responded with vigour, passing on at least two good chances, before a penalty kick of their own leveled the match after Jordan Harvey broke in down the L-side of the box and Shane O’Neill lunged into a marginally-late challenge that upended the full-back and prompted the ref to point to the spot – Camilo stepped up and tucked his right-footer just inside the post as the clock reached 75, beating Irwin to his right, despite the keeper jumping correctly.

Relieved and in need of a win, the Whitecaps respite was short-lived, as two minutes on a thunderous hit from Torres sealed their doom – both of result and season. Buddle picked out the Panamanian on the right with a cross-field ball; Torres cut inside, around Harvey, onto his left-foot and ripped a screamer to the top left-corner of the goal, beating Ousted and clipping off the underside of the bar before nestling within.

The win drew the Rapids level with Seattle and Los Angeles on 51 points – though LA was still to play on Sunday – setting up a three-way tie from third-to-fifth in the West.

Oscar Pareja liked the fight he saw from his youthful team, "It was a very difficult game to face because we have young players that have never been on this stage, fighting for our season. It was one of those games that you knew it would not be pretty. They showed heart, they showed character, and after the PK from Vancouver, they bounced back. That was great for them - all the credit to these players."

With the loss, Vancouver were officially eliminated – and combined with Montreal’s win, passed up the chance to take over top spot in next season’s Voyageurs Cup.

Afterwards Martin Rennie reflected on a season come up short, “We didn’t defend well enough on those goals that we’ve lost. At the end of the day, we’ve come away from home and scored two goals. It turns out to be our 50th goal of the season but we’ve let in three. That’s been the frustrating part of this game, and in some ways our season, I think we’ve become much more expansive, much more entertaining, scored a lot more goals…but we’ve not tightened up well enough at the back.”


New England 3 – Columbus 2

As Camilo breathed false hope into Vancouver’s season, the other of the two home-and-home series was kicking off in front of a surprising large crowd in the hinterlands of Boston, where the Revolution were hosting the Crew in a winner-stays-alive Eastern Conference tilt.

Both teams entered in solid form – New England unbeaten in four and Columbus having just seen a three-match winning streak snapped – and both were desperate for the full points, sitting one and five points (when the round began), respectively, shy of the final spot in the East. A win would keep their hopes alive; a loss would all but end their seasons.

New England started the brighter of the two and Crew keeper Matt Lampson was called upon to come up with a huge double-save to keep the home side scoreless.

There was little he could do in the 32nd minute when Chris Tierney and Kelyn Rowe stood over a free-kick on the left-side of the pitch. Rowe would send in a cross and AJ Soares would pull away from his marker with a run to the near-post before peeling towards the ball to flick a header on to the far-side of the goal.

Still trailing at the half, Columbus adjusted for the second stanza, bringing on the large body of Aaron Schoenfeld to pair up top with Jairo Arrieta and moving Dominic Oduro wide right – it was a move that paid dividends almost immediately.

Schoenfeld would set up Oduro for the leveler in the 59th minute – holding up the ball and laying out wide for Oduro to burst in down the right and smash a right-footer high into the top corner of the goal – and nab one of his own in the 71st – with Oduro returning the set-up, playing into the big man who turned and smashed a left-footer into the top left-corner of the goal.

But in between the Crew goals, the Revs had retaken the lead in the 69th minute from the penalty spot after Tony Tchani dove into a late tackle on Andy Dorman and took out the replacement midfielder in the process. Tierney would step up and tuck away the chance neatly with a strong left foot.

When Oduro leveled, Columbus smelled blood in the water and switched to a three-man back-line to press forward in attack – little did they realize in was their blood they smelled, and Diego Fagundez would reinstate the New England lead five minutes later when a long Matt Reis goal-kick was popped up by Juan Agudelo, collected by Dimitry Imbongo, touched out wide for the overlap of Dorman and cut back into the middle for the unmarked Fagundez to right-foot into the net – from the exact spot a full-back would have been marking.

Columbus would press for another equalizer, but time ticked away – with the help of a few strategic stops from New England – and the back-and-forth came to an end with the home side taking the points.

The win put New England on 48 points, level with Houston and two ahead of Chicago – who were both yet to play – in the playoff places, for now.

Jay Heaps summed up the evening well, “You could see both teams needed to win. Both teams risked a lot for the win. That's why the game was wide open. Credit Columbus because I thought they had an excellent second half. Every time we seemed to step ahead, they pounded back.”

With the loss, Columbus are officially eliminated from the 2013 playoffs.

Interim boss, Brian Bliss, recovering from the tense atmosphere said, “It was entertaining if you were sitting in the stands. Sitting on the bench, it’s a heart attack a second. We couldn’t play it any way other than that way, because of what was at stake. They were in the same boat we were, and the game opened up after the first call and it was an entertaining game. Both teams went at it,” adding of the upcoming home leg, “We owe it to our fans to put the best product out there. It’s not going to all of a sudden turn around and throw out seven guys who haven’t played all season. We’ve got to go play. We’ve got to go play for our fans and ourselves. It’s certainly not a game we’re going to be throwing away, by no means.”


Chicago 1 – Toronto 0

As the second half of one Eastern Conference match with playoff implications was heating up, another was getting underway in suburban Chicago, where the Fire welcomed TFC.

Chicago entered the weekend in possession of the final spot in the East – part of a three-way tie on 46 points; Montreal had gone ahead with their result, but with Philadelphia and New England breathing down Chicago necks, it was important to see out a match against lowly and already-eliminated Toronto.

Toronto nearly turned expectations on their head, when Robert Earnshaw was provided an excellent chance in the fifth minute from a Mark Bloom cut back, but the Welsh striker could only see his effort over the bar.

Chicago responded with a glorious chance of their own, requiring a miraculous paw save from Toronto keeper, Stefan Frei, shaking off the rust of a season on the sidelines with a reminder of why he is thought of so highly on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The Fire would have to wait until the second half for fortune to smile upon them, finally taking the lead after 64 minutes from the penalty spot when Jonathan Osorio was whistled for a handball on a Mike Magee free-kick, somewhat harshly.

Magee could convert the chance, cheekily so, with a deft and confident Paneka-style chip that floated just beyond the reach of Frei’s legs having gone to his right and tried to make amends late.

Toronto could not muster much by way of a challenge and Chicago were unlucky to not extend their lead with the beastly Juan Luis Anangono first striking the underside of the bar, then the upper post with a pair of venomous strikes as the match came to a close.

The win, their third-straight, extended an unbeaten run to four matches and lifted them into a tie with Montreal on 49 points – into fourth place, trailing the Impact on goals scored – and a point ahead of New England and Houston, who were still to play.

Frank Klopas heralded his side’s fight through an up and down season, though aware there is more to be done, “The team stuck together - all of those games, even adversity in the beginning, made us a better team. I think you get better through difficult moments, and I think this team right now is better in that sense than the team that I had last year, winning 17 games. So, [we] don't clinch tonight, it doesn't matter, we'll just focus on the next game.”

A second-consecutive loss – their fourth in their last five matches – in such a controversial manner was the latest disappointment in a season chalk full of them for Toronto.

Ryan Nelsen, after complaining about the game-changing decision, took the positives, “It was a really good away performance. These are high-pressure games away from home, with the crowd up for it and against teams that are playoff teams. One thing that gives us a lot of confidence is how we competed even with the injuries we have, and with us playing lot of young players against a team where even their bench has far more experience than our starters.”


Portland 0 – Salt Lake 0

While the final seconds ticked down in Chicago, the final match of the night – undoubtedly the highlight fixture of the day – was getting under way in Portland, in front of the raucous Timbers Army faithful.

A top of the West meeting between Conference leaders Portland and trailers – by just one point – Salt Lake; a match with Supporter’s Shield implications, as well.

Neither side could find a foot-hold through the first half – with no shots on target registered – but the better chances fell the way of the home side.

Portland goalkeeper, Donovan Ricketts, will not be nominated for save of the week – this time – having not faced a shot, but he still got involved in the proceedings, racing out to cut off a long Kyle Beckerman ball before playing a lovely pass up the right-flank for Jose Valencia, leading to a low cross in the middle that was agonizingly missed by both Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe.

Valencia again crafted the best chance of the first half when his good work on the right played a ball through the goalmouth, just beyond the reach of a stretching Kalif Alhassan at the back-post.

A heavy foul from Chris Wingert on Valeri six minutes into the second half woke up the Timbers, who pressured the Salt Lake goal enough to require three breathtaking saves from Nick Rimando: first on Alhassan before a last-second double-save from a Will Johnson free-kick and a Sal Zizzo follow-up header preserved the scoreless draw in a tense playoff atmosphere match.

The draw maintained the status quo at the top of the West.

Caleb Porter, whose side clinched the playoffs earlier in the day – with Seattle’s loss in Dallas – analyzed how a tough gauntlet to end the season has prepared them for the post-season challenge, "I think one of the great things about our run is we're playing the best teams in the Western Conference. We're playing Seattle, we're playing LA Galaxy, we're playing Colorado, we're playing Salt Lake, and we've done well against those teams. I think that gives us a lot of confidence going into the postseason. We're in a run of form, seven games now unbeaten, and we're getting shutouts. We're not scoring a ton of goals and we need to do better on set pieces, especially because sometimes that's the way you've got to find a goal to unlock a team. We're looking like a team that's primed for the postseason."

The point was enough for Salt Lake to clinch a post-season berth as well, though in which order the five teams will finish is yet to be decided.

Jason Kreis similarly looked forward, "I'm generally pleased, really pleased, with the group's efforts tonight. The intensity that they came out with was spot on and pleased that they put the defensive effort out that we've been talking about for the two weeks since we've had a match. For me, it was a cleaner performance for us against a dangerous team in a difficult place to pick up points. So I look at it as a positive and if we can perform like that as we go into the playoffs, thinking that we'll have a home and away series, this is what you have to do when you're away. I'm hopeful that we can take some lessons out of this and carry it through the playoffs."


Houston 0 – New York 3

The first of two Sunday matches was of Eastern interest, featuring two teams looking to assert their position.

Saturday’s results – wins by Montreal, Chicago, and New England – had seen Houston drop out of the playoff spots; though tied with New England on points they trailed in the second tie-breaker, goals scored.

New York had eyes on retaking top spot in both the conference and the league, having relinquished their position to Kansas City with their win on Friday.

It took just eight seconds for the match to open wide (for some soccer) with the visitors taking the lead on a bit of pre-planned magic.

Straight from the kickoff, the ball was played back to Dax McCarty, who launched a long ball up the right-channel where Tim Cahill went up for an aerial challenge with Jermaine Taylor. Winning a flick on to himself, Cahill turned inside the defender and stole onto the bouncing ball, sized up his chance and smack a shot with the outside of his right-boot into the top right corner of the Houston goal.

Eight seconds – a new MLS record for the fastest goal in league history.

As the first half played out it became apparent that New York’s strategy was to sit back, absorb pressure and break on the counter – a move they applied to devastating effect.

At least three further chances were wasted by the guests before Houston had a good look at goal – from a scrambled bit of play after a corner kick that came to naught.

Houston came out to play in the second half and twice nearly equalized from a poor Jamison Olave back-pass and an Oscar Boniek Garcia header that sailed wide before New York doubled their advantage.

A right-sided Thierry Henry corner kick was over-hit and collected by McCarthy high at the back-post, he looped the ball back into the middle, where Tally Hall swatted it away, straight to Peguy Luyindula outside the box, who, in turn, sent a looping header back in towards the right-post.

Ibrahim Sekagya found himself unmarked in the ping-pong play and nodded his header past Hall to cement the Red Bull ascendancy after 65 minutes.

Further evidence that this simply was not the Dynamo’s night came ten minutes on, when Taylor’s attempted clearance bounded off the back of Corey Ashe and straight to Bradley Wright-Phillips to neatly finish with a right-footer slipped by a startled Hall and treble the advantage.

The bar prevented further embarrassment – and another Wright-Phillips strike – but the damage was done, as New York completes a season-sweep of the conference foes.

The loss puts Houston in a precarious position, dropping from third at the start of the weekend to sixth place, tied on points with New England – still trailing on goals scored – and behind both Chicago and Montreal by a single point, currently outside looking.

Dominic Kinnear refused to blame the early goal for the loss, “I don’t think the first goal killed us for the rest of the game; obviously it was the game winner. We had our moments; we had our chances to score some goals. It’s just a point of getting too desperate and you need to keep the same mindset.”

Three points were enough to put New York back in control of both the top of the East and the Supporter’s Shield race – primed to pick up their first major piece of silverware (move over Emirates Cup) in the club’s lengthy (by MLS standards) history.

Mike Petke spoke of the attitude adjustment the club has gone through, “We’ve done a lot with trying to reboot the mentality of this organization and this team and this is one of the places that we concentrated on because we have not been successful here. A lot of that has to do with our mentality, but probably more has to do with how good Houston is and how good they’ve always been and how prepared Dom, gets the team. We’re fortunate these last two games to get good results through hard work and character.”


Los Angeles 0 – San Jose 0

The final match of the weekend took place on Sunday night.

A California Clasico with playoff positioning on the line for one side, survival for the other.

The Galaxy entered the match in good form having won their last two, while keeping clean-sheets through both. The Earthquakes too have surged, winning three-straight and going unbeaten through five, but needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Not yet willing to throw caution to the wind, both sides crafted modest chances through the first half – with Clarence Goodson getting on the end of one of San Jose’s quick free-kicks, but going wide and Michael Stephens sending an effort sailing over the bar after he found some space on the left-side of the box.

The temperature was ratcheted up in the second half with a minor flare up between Landon Donovan and Victor Bernardez after the big centre-back had twice hacked down the American.

San Jose’s best chance at a stay of execution came early – when Shea Salinas rampaged up the left and cut back a ball to Steven Lenhart, but Kofi Opare did enough to prevent the final touch. LA responded with a low Marcelo Sarvas strike that Jon Busch did well to get down and parry at the other end.

True to their style, the Earthquakes kept applying pressure and nearly found salvation in the 91st minute, but Chris Wondolowski could not get on the end of a Salinas ball. The Galaxy responded – and may have had a game-winning penalty on another day, when Walter Martinez appeared to trip up Gyasi Zardes in the 93rd minute, but the referee decided the draw was a fair result and blew the final whistle shortly thereafter.

The single point was enough to clinch a playoff berth for LA, but ended any chance of them competing for the Supporter’s Shield – four points off the pace set by New York.

Bruce Arena was terse after the match, "A hard fought contest, kind of like a playoff atmosphere. San Jose played a good game, the kind of game we thought they would play, and in the end it's probably a fair result" responding to their playoff clinching with a sarcastic, "Oh, I'm just doing cartwheels over here."

While still mathematically alive, the draw all but eliminated San Jose, who must hope Colorado lose, and win their final match, while scoring thirteen goals – or just twelve, if Colorado lose by seven and San Jose keep a clean-sheet (it could totally happen).

Interim manager, Mark Watson, kept his chin up, despite the elimination in all but name, “This game was huge obviously and we knew that we needed three points to have a chance. We are disappointed with the result, but not the effort. Everyone gave everything they had, but we just came up a bit short in the end.”


CanCon

As usual, the Canadian Content section will be posted tomorrow - or Wednesday - detailing the contributions of the Canadians on the pitch.

Another Impact goal from an academy product and a surprise start for a certain Toronto draft-pick headline the on-goings.

Thanks for the Memories

With the season winding down several retirements are on the cards: in San Jose, Ramiro Corrales – the last of the original MLS ‘96ers; Vancouver’s decorated full-ball YP Lee; Montreal’s World Cup-winning maestro Alessandro Nesta – who was honoured pre-match, but limped off before the final whistle, and, of course, Houston’s Brian Ching – who came out in the 25th minute (his jersey number) to do a lap of honour when placards were held up by the Houston faithful.

Overheard

Pre-planned starts are in fashion – it turns out Tim Cahill’s eight-second opener was drawn up before hand, as per Dax McCarty, “It was funny because we have worked on that in practice a couple of times, but the play is actually that the guys drop the ball back to me and I kind of just take a touch and lay it off to Ibrahim Sekagya and he’s the one that plays the long ball. I couldn’t really get the message back to him quick enough and the kickoff happened and I kind of just had to make a quick decision and so I just kind of closed my eyes and booted it. Tim Cahill did the rest. What can you say? What a finish.”

Recall Colorado’s early opener against Seattle recently was also thought up off the pitch before coming to life on it.

During the Houston broadcast, COMCAST Sports Net – or, the other CSN - reported on a hallway incident between Tim Cahill and Brad Davis.


But, as if they would say anything other, it was all denied post-match. Dom Kinnear stated, “They were just talking, that was all it was. Two guys had a disagreement. I was at the top of the tunnel and by the time I got there both guys had moved on so I don’t think it was too bad.”

Harsh words between opponents is to be expected, even those exchanges between teammates is not unusually, but straight up fights, in front of the cameras are rare.

Cue FC Dallas’ Jackson and David Ferreira moments after the half-time whistle. Schellas Hyndman addressed the incident post-match, “When they came into the locker room, they were still going at each other and I decided to pull [Jackson] out of the lineup. We can never reward bad behavior with professional athletes, or with children. We’re trying to win the game and if you can’t get it right in the locker room, you can’t get it right on the field. So that was the decision I made and I think we responded to it.”

Ferreira explain, “It was in the heat of the moment almost at the end of the half, I just came and told Jackson… be aware of teammates that are in an open position” before down-playing the incident and saying it was in the past. Jackson was not available for comment.

See It Live

Plenty of little nuggets spread throughout the round – here’s a sampling:

Daniel Woolard’s run-in with a turf gremlin in Kansas City on Friday – he was bemused by it himself; Matt Hedges brilliant goal-line clearance; Michel’s goal celebration honouring the shirt and Sigi Schmid taking the time after a disappointing result in Dallas to chat with out-going Schellas Hyndman – the two have history stretching back to their college days (as coaches).

Actual real-live fans in New England, a reported attendance of 26 548 – where face painting is apparently still a thing; Mike Magee’s cheeky penalty chip – Paneka; Stefan Frei’s huge save on Juan Luis Anangono; Donovan Ricketts shows his ability to pick a pass, setting up a good chance for Portland; and a trio of Nick Rimando saves – one and two-three.

From Sunday, Sam Cronin trying to take home Robbie Keane’s shirt – wait until after the match; Keane’s dummy to no one – not every trick comes off; and Leonardo’s sneaky hiding of a bloody chin in his beard – and wiping the evidence on the grass to stay on the pitch for a last-minute corner kick.

Controversy

Plenty of minor controversies this round, but the biggest question mark is how Clint Dempsey managed to avoid seeing a red card for his retaliatory kick-out at Jackson after he was fouled by the Brazilian. The incident led to an almighty scuffle that saw French midfielder Peter Luccin grabbed a Sounder by the throat.

Will the MLS DisCo (disciplinary committee) come down on any of those involved?

And what about this tasty challenge from Salt Lake’s Chris Wingert on Portland Diego Valeri, crunching into the star-playmaker’s ankle from behind.

That is the sort of reckless challenge the league has sought to minimize, committed on one of its biggest stars.

Three of the penalty kick awards were dubious, while a fourth was awarded by the assistant rather than the lead official – Carlyle Mitchell on Drew Moor, Shane O’Neill on Jordan Harvey, Jonathan Osorio’s ‘hand-ball’, and Tony Tchani’s tackle on Andy Dorman.

Then there are the two that went uncalled – Chris Korb tugging down Dom Dwyer and Walter Martinez upending Gyasi Zardes.

Thoughts?

Table Watching

The Supporter’s Shield race is in full force with three teams still in the running. New York hold the lead on 56 points, one ahead of KC and two in front of Portland, with each having one game left to play.

In the East, only two spots have been decided with New York and KC assured of qualification in the top two places. Montreal and Chicago hold third and fourth, tied on 49 points with 14 wins, but the Impact lead by five goals in the second tie-breaker. New England and Houston sit in fifth and sixth a point behind on 48, also tied on wins; the Revolution have the tie breaker with nine more goals for. Philadelphia’s hopes were all but dashed as they sit on 46 points and require a win and results elsewhere to fall their way.

In the West, the top four places have been decided, but just how they will finish – with first to fifth separated by just three points is yet to be determined. Portland leads the way on 54 points with Salt Lake remaining a single point behind with their draw. LA trail the duo by a further point. Seattle and Colorado sit just a point below LA. San Jose, as explained in their match report, were all but eliminated, requiring a pair or preposterous outcomes to gain entry to the post-season.

Upcoming Fixtures

The final week of the regular season is here – plus a smattering of final round CONCACAF Champions League fixtures midweek.

Wednesday: Salt Lake-Chivas. Saturday: Philadelphia-Kansas City; Toronto-Montreal; San Jose-Dallas; Chivas-Portland. Sunday: DC-Houston; Columbus-New England; New York-Chicago; Vancouver-Colorado; Seattle-Los Angeles.

For Canadians, it is hard to look past the Toronto-Montreal meeting – nothing would please TFC more than eliminating the Impact from the playoffs – while Colorado’s trip to Vancouver is all but a dead-rubber, while Sunday’s trio of Eastern matches will decide who survives the final day.

All quotes courtesy of MLSsoccer.com

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