Drilling down on: at L.A. Galaxy 2 , Vancouver 1

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Four mad minutes turned this game – and prevented the Western Conference playoffs from being turned on its head.

Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks stunned the home crowd with an early goal and the Galaxy chase was on.

But Mike Magee’s 69th minute equalizer set off a wild, rapid series of events. Vancouver’s heroic center back Jay DeMerit soon hobbled off, his replacement tripped up Landon Donovan and the ensuing penalty kick sent the heavily favored Galaxy through to a California clash with San Jose.

Final score from the Home Depot Center on Thursday: 2-1.

Man of the Match: It was looking like one of those matches, with the huffing and puffing of dominant possession, plus many crosses and shots – but ultimately no goals for the Galaxy. Then Mike Magee happened. His late, smartly timed runs into the penalty area have always been difficult for defenses to deal with. So it was in the 68th minute Thursday as Magee’s equalizer turned the match for the heavily favored home team.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

The Galaxy advanced, but let’s call this one “something less than convincing.”

Mattocks’ early goal was perfect for Vancouver, which came to defend and really never bothered with attacking. (Designated Player striker Kenny Miller was on the bench to start this one.)

Content to defend after the early goal – perhaps not the right choice, but probably the only hope for Vancouver – the visitors dropped so deep that that it did effectively remove the Galaxy’s top creative element. David Beckham’s ability to play-make from those deep areas in midfield was stripped away. Minus someone to create chances with defense-opening stuff near goal – L.A. just doesn’t have that guy – the Galaxy created a series of half-chances but way too few really good ones.

The Galaxy was thusly reduced to a series of crosses, which Whitecaps center backs DeMerit and Andy O’Brien gobbled up like hungry young pups.

Part of the issue was top talent not at its best. Edson Buddle wasn’t effective, generally no match for DeMerit and O’Brien. Landon Donovan was muted, although he did create the spot shot and then finish it with the usual cool aplomb we see from Donovan at 12 yards. And Beckham, still dealing with an ankle injury, was less mobile than he needed to be.

Can we talk about about last Sunday …

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is surely ruing the choice to deploy his starters (and keep some important ones, like the recovering Donovan, out there for all 90 minutes) in Sunday’s meaningless regular season finale against Seattle.

Because it’s not just a performance on Thursday that asked more questions than it answered; beating Vancouver in the opening, elimination match was never the Galaxy’s ultimate ambition.

For the champs, it’s obviously about doing more in the MLS playoffs. And that starts in Sunday’s first leg of a home-and-away death struggle against Supporters Shield winners San Jose. Just two full days of rest now before that one.

Was it hubris? As in, did Arena figure his team wouldn’t need to push itself to trot past Vancouver in a laugher? Or was it just a bad choice? Either way, the Galaxy missed some pop in the attack. A little extra rest for Donovan, Beckham, Keane, Buddle and others sure would not have hurt.

The Whitecaps have so much to do in the offseason. It starts with some serious soul searching on Miller and whatever chain of decisions brought him to BC Place. And probably Barry Robson, too.

DeMerit is the team’s top player; it’s no shock that L.A.’s game-winner came just after he left, injured. Meanwhile, the midfield isn’t good enough and the money men simply are not delivering.

Mattocks, the rookie, started over Miller. So, that’s already a “loss” for the franchise in the big picture. Vancouver tore down the team’s attack to bring in Robson and Miller – and one of them doesn’t even start in the franchise’s biggest MLS match yet? Unthinkable.

Here was the Whitecaps’ season in miniature:

Just before Magee’s 68th minute leveler, Matt Watson hit a shot that was saved but spilled by Galaxy ‘keeper Josh Saunders. Miller, just on for Mattocks, badly flubbed his effort at the rebound. Robson got hold of the wobbly shot and, from a tantalizing 10 yards … somehow didn’t even get off a shot.

That was pretty much it for the Whitecaps’ chances. And their season.

MORE: On the five minutes that defined Vancouver’s season

Packaged for take-away

  • Watson badly burned L.A. right back Hector Jimenez along the flank to create the early goal. San Jose was watching.
  • Sean Franklin or A.J. DeLaGarza would be L.A.’s preferred right back, but both are injured.
  • Houston nearly beat the Galaxy out in Los Angeles in 2009 playoffs – the infamous “power outage” outcome. Dallas upended the Galaxy in 2010 at the Home Depot Center. So an upset wouldn’t exactly have been unprecedented.
  • Donovan’s penalty kick? He did have position on Martin Bonjour (DeMerit’s just-into-the-game replacement), but it wasn’t a vicious foul. Frankly, you have to be amazed that referee Silviu Petruscu, who hates to call fouls, makes that call.

 

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ]

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

[ MORE: Recap + video | Three things ]

The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

[ MORE: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.