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Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 24

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Clint Dempsey was re-introduced into MLS, Landon Donovan nailed a hat trick and Federico Higuain scored an absolutely gorgeous goal in Week 24. Let’s get into it …

source:  Clint Dempsey’s debut

Now that U.S. international is on the field, maybe we can set aside the debates about whether he can make Seattle a league contender and whether he represents the most significant MLS signing to date. For awhile, maybe we can just debate his actual play on the field. Here’s how Dempsey say things as he played almost an hour Saturday in Seattle’s 2-1 win over Toronto FC.

“I’m not there yet,’ he said, “but I was happy with the touches that I got tonight and the work that I put in and the chances I created. Hopefully those start falling for me in the games to come.”

By the way, don’t read too much into Seattle’s win; Sigi Schmid’s team was seriously hanging on at the end, and that was against one of the league’s worst teams.

Landon Donovan’s hat trick

Mark this one down under “Performance of the Weekend.” The U.S. international doubled his 2013 goals output in a single evening, scoring all three for the LA Galaxy in a riveting 3-3 draw at FC Dallas. Blas Perez hit two for FCD in the back-and-fourth contest.

United’s youngsters

Speaking of “league’s worst teams:” United lost once again, but it wasn’t exactly an exercise in futility. Coming off a mid-week U.S. Open Cup win, Ben Olsen fielded a D.C. United lineup that averaged 22.6 years old, according to The Washington Post. That is ridiculously young.

Montreal keeps sliding

The Impact lost in Chicago – The Fire won without Mike Magee, and how about that! – and has now claimed victory in just one of its last eight matches (a 1-4-3 record during that stretch). That’s not great in an Eastern Conference where eight teams remain realistically alive for five playoffs spots. Then again, that’s nothing compared to the West …

Ridiculous playoff race in the West

Three points currently separates second place from seventh in the Western Conference. Yes, the final 10 rounds will be something else.

Busy week … and not just for league play

This time of year is stacked and packed with matches – and not always just for league play. There are all those friendlies to play, the matches that tend to make extra cash for clubs. There were two U.S. Open Cup matches, both of which were all-MLS matchups. (D.C. United will play at Real Salt Lake later this year for the tournament’s 100th title.) And three MLS clubs got into CONCACAF Champions League action during the week.

Conor Casey to the rescue

While young striker Jack McInerney, who was so prolific earlier this year, has lost his way toward goal lately, former Colorado Rapids man Conor Casey is enjoying a career renaissance. Casey is 11 years older than McInerney, but they are now matched for team lead with nine goals each. Casey supplied both goals as his team downed D.C. United at PPL Park on Saturday.

Meanwhile, we suggest the league create a new award for the big fellow – or perhaps modify an existing one.

The Reo-Coker effect

Nigel Reo-Coker probably not getting sufficient credit for Vancouver’s push into playoff positioning (currently second in the standings). His drive from midfield (and sometimes from right back) has pushed Martin Rennie’s team out of the average zone and into something starting to resemble an MLS contender. The Englishman’s sum contributions don’t always show up in the box score, but did on Saturday when he collected two assists in a win over San Jose.

New Crew owner says “What a night.”

Anthony Precourt, having recently purchased the Columbus Crew from Hunt Sports Group, was in his new stadium for a win that kept his new team’s pulse beating in the playoff race. “We had a great crowd tonight, we loved seeing that,” he said. “The energy in the stadium was fantastic. We’ve got to have that every time, the players responded.”

Best goal

Would you just look at what that wily ol’ Federico Higuain did to poor Luis Robles, the New York Red Bulls goalkeeper who wandered just a wee bit too far off his line as the Crew playmaker led a fast-moving attack. What Crew manager Robert Warzycha said about the beauty: “If you score goals like the second one … that’s why we come to the stadium. That’s why we’re coaching, that’s why we’re playing: because you’re looking for goals like that.”

Here ‘tis:

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Cellar dwelling Houston Dynamo, Owen Coyle decide to part ways

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10:  Head Coach Owen Coyle of the Houston Dynamo smiles prior to an MLS soccer game against Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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A week ago, Owen Coyle was whispered as possibly leaving the Houston Dynamo to lead Celtic.

With that opening filled by Brendan Rodgers, the Dynamo and Coyle cut ties anyway.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Coyle struggled to pick up the pieces left behind by Dominic Kinnear in Houston, and the Dynamo are dead last in Major League Soccer after a quarter of the season.

On Wednesday night, the Dynamo announced that Coyle wanted to be closer to his family in England and would be leaving the club immediately.

From HoustonDynamo.com:

“I asked Chris (Canetti) if I could speak with him today and I explained to him the challenge of being away from my family and how we all want the best for Houston Dynamo,” Coyle said. “I want to wish all members of the staff, from owner Gabriel Brener to president Chris Canetti to general manager Matt Jordan, everyone has been such a source of support, along with the players and the technical staff. I’d like to thank the Dynamo supporters, who have been outstanding. We have a brilliant club, and I have no doubt success is just around the corner.”

The Dynamo went 14W-21L-11T during his reign, but have also been severely lacking in talent. The long delay from acquiring Cubo Torres to getting him on the pitch was one of the many things that frustrated progress in Houston.

Coyle is best known for his time with Bolton Wanderers, though that ended early in a Championship season following relegation. Houston is 3W-7L-2T this season, and has Vancouver up next.

Wade Barrett and a pair of Dynamo assistants will lead the club in the interim.

Three things we learned from the late USMNT win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Frickson Erazo #3 of Ecuador battle for control of the ball against Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Darlington Nagbe was the star against Ecuador, giving the United States the late 1-0 win in Frisco. There wasn’t much to take away from the match, but one attacking setup certainly performed better than the other, and that was the biggest talking point.

[ RECAP – United States earns late win over Ecuador ]

Three things we learned

1 – When the US plays good defense, it has a creativity problem.

This isn’t anything new, as teams who sit back obviously will have less of the ball. But this isn’t exactly that. The US defended quite well through the first 45 minutes, and they held the majority of the possession, but they failed to do much with it. It resulted in…

That. Yuck. It was horrid to watch, and is frustrating given the level of competition being faced compared to the level of competition to come.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings against Ecuador ]

2 – Does the Pulisic-Wood-Nagbe lineup have more to offer?

The United States began with Clint Dempsey isolated up front, supported by Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones sitting deep. That lineup was utter trash in the attacking half, producing one good chance in the first half which Zardes flubbed. When Klinsmann switched things up soon after halftime, bringing on Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and Alejandro Bedoya, the attack began to show life. It certainly helped that all those substitutes were placed in their natural positions, something not always a given for Klinsmann. This may give the US manager a good look at the more creative setup, and could bode well for the aforementioned players heading into the Copa America. There are obvious downsides to this lineup, such as lack of experience, but it might be worth the risk, especially with those players much more likely to be contributors in 2018 given their age.

3 – Christian Pulisic can actually be a useful piece this summer

On for the final half-hour, the young Borussia Dortmund winger provided positive touches along the left flank. He created a few opportunities for Bobby Wood and Graham Zusi, a promising development to push back against the “he’s not ready” crowd. Pulisic was electric down the left, and was vital in the push the last 20 minutes. It’s just 20 minutes, but it’s a promising small sample size.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s late win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Brad Guzman #1 of the United States blocks a shot against Ecuador in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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“Fits and starts” is a good way to describe the United States friendly against Ecuador in Texas on Wednesday, a match that ended 1-0 to the hosts after a controlling second half.

The Yanks took more than 20 minutes to get their act together, and then had a bit of trouble penetrating La Tricolor’s back four.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The second half, however, was straight-up dominant. The lack of finish was troubling, but Darlington Nagbe took care of that. The Portland Timbers man not only scored, but also piled vindication on supporters who couldn’t wait to see him up high, and Michael Bradley deep.

And Christian Pulisic, well, he’s a swoon-worthy talent.

STARTING XI

Brad Guzan — 8 — Didn’t have a ton to do, but did it very well. A welcome improvement from the Aston Villa keeper.

Fabian Johnson — 6 — Probably deserves a 7, but that missed trap of a Jermaine Jones cross was just so ugly.

Steve Birnbaum — 6 — Very shaky early, but settled into the game.

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Christian Noboa #6 of Ecuador takes a shot against John Brooks #6 of the United States and Brad Guzman #1 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

John Brooks (off 78′) — 7 — Played very well after a weak opening 10 minutes or so. Still takes chances like the center back version of Jermaine Jones, but those chances came off well on Wednesday.

DeAndre Yedlin — 6 — Hit and miss from the right back, who had a heck of a task in dealing with Jefferson Montero. Still, the defensive improvement is impossible to ignore.

Kyle Beckerman (off HT) — 6 — Might’ve picked up an injury. Hard-nosed as usual, but feels like he’s a single lost step away from not fitting the bill.

Jermaine Jones (off 64′) — 6 — Playing as an attack-minded mid with some defensive responsibilities may be the role he was meant to play, and his early second half was promising before subbing off for Bedoya.

Michael Bradley — 7 — No surprise that he — and the States — thrived once Klinsmann moved the Toronto FC man deeper in the midfield.

Gyasi Zardes (off HT) — 5 — The effort was there, as were the runs. The kid works hard and has a brain for the game, but his first touch betrayed him once again. Should’ve been 1-0.

Graham Zusi (off, 88′)– 7 — You know what you’re getting with Zusi, and the Sporting KC man was one of several players who played an assist-worthy ball in this one. Bedoya tapped his 72nd minute pass just wide of the far post.

Clint Dempsey (off 63′) — 5 —  Will be kicking himself for a poor first touch on an early second half cross from Bobby Wood. Didn’t get much service in the first half, but did play a great ball to Zardes.

Substitutes

Darlington Nagbe (on HT) — 8 — This guy. We all knew he had it in him, even Klinsmann after a long enough wait. He was the best player on the pitch in the second half.

Bobby Wood (on HT) — 6 — Missed a few key chances, but set up Nagbe’s winner.

Christian Pulisic (on 63′) — 7 — Dangerous, lively, and that touch. More of him, please.

Alejandro Bedoya (on 64′) — 6 — Should’ve scored, but didn’t. Also probably should’ve started, so we’ll cut him a bit of slack.

Matt Besler (on 78′) — 6 — Totally fine, but Ecuador rarely tested during his tenure.

Michael Orozco (on 88′) — N/A

United States 1-0 Ecuador: Nagbe grabs late winner in 90-minute snoozefest

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Gyasi Zardes #9 of the United States controls the ball against Angel Mena #14 of Ecuador in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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The United States snoozed its way through one half and flubbed its way through another, saved by an 89th-minute winner from Darlington Nagbe that gave the home side the admittedly deserved win over an even worse Ecuadorian side.

Ecuador came to Frisco, TX as both sides get ready for the Copa America to come just days away, and they each left with little to take from the scoreless draw until Nagbe broke the ice with a minute to go.

The first big chance of the game came just on the half-hour mark, as a beautiful chipped ball from Clint Dempsey over the Ecuador back line sprung Gyasi Zardes free. Unfortunately, the famous Zardes touch saw the ball get away from him and out of play.

The rest of the half snoozed by, and after the break, the US spurned another great chance just three minutes into the second half. A beautiful ball from Michael Bradley reached the far post where Steve Birnbaum, John Brooks, and Clint Dempsey were all waiting, and somehow none of them made contact, instead toppling over each other as the ball rolled harmlessly to the goalkeeper.

Soon after, the US conceded its best chance yet to Ecuador. A great touch by Miller Bolanos sends Angel Mena into acres of space through on goal, but Michael Bradley sprinted from the mid-line to recover and punch the ball out as Mena cut back.

Jurgen Klinsmann switched up the attack past the hour mark, bringing on Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and young Christian Pulisic. They created a chance with 20 minutes to go as Graham Zusi delivered a ball across the face of goal. It was out of the reach of Pulisic, but it came to Alejandro Bedoya on the far side, who sent it back across the face, again untouched.

As the US took control through the late stages, they got the winner. DeAndre Yedlin sent in a cross that came off the head of Juan Paredes. Bobby Wood won the rebound, heading it back to Nagbe waiting in the middle, and the 25-year-old chested it down and volleyed it in for his first international goal.

The US takes on Bolivia on Saturday before the Copa America begins June 3.