The game in 100 words (or less): On the bright side, the Seattle Sounders’ unbeaten run was extended to an even dozen games on Sunday. On the not-so-bright side, anytime you draw the ninth-place team, a team with one win in their last 11 games, and do so at home, it’s two points dropped rather than a point earned. With a chance to leapfrog the Portland Timbers for the Western Conference’s top spot (and do so with a game in hand, no less), a 1-1 draw is all Brian Schmetzer’s side could muster, in comeback fashion nonetheless, against the LA Galaxy. Gyasi Zardes put the visitors ahead not long before the half-hour mark, setting the stage for Lamar Neagle to play the role of late-game hero five minutes from full-time.
25′ — Zardes heads past Frei for 1-0 — Romain Alessandrini did the tough part — creating space for the cross, and delivering a perfect ball onto Zardes’ head — and Zardes headed it all the way across goal, which gave Stefan Frei no chance of making the save.
85′ — Neagle slams home a beautiful cross from Torres — The finish is tougher than most will give Neagle credit for, but the real story here is (center back) Roman Torres with the first-time cross off a 50-yard diagonal from Osvaldo Alonso.
On Thursday, Patrick Nyarko will hit the RFK Stadium pitch with DC United for just his second playoff game of this decade, and he’s going to make sure no member of the Black-and-Red takes the opportunity for granted.
“I walked into the locker room after we clinched a spot and the guys were like, ‘Whatever’. DC had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said with a laugh in a Tuesday conversation with ProSoccerTalk.
“I was like, ‘Guys! I’m excited, man. I haven’t been here in a while. I’m overly ecstatic.’ Hopefully we can get it together, make a run, and create something special.”
The 30-year-old Ghanaian international with one cap was once one of those who took team success as a given. Nyarko walked off the College Cup pitch for Virginia Tech in 2007 and was picked 7th overall by the Chicago Fire. He promptly appeared in the MLS Cup semifinals in each of his first two seasons in Chicago.
“I thought this was how things went. With the teams we had, I thought it was going to be an eternal thing and we would always enjoy these things,” Nyarko said.
It turns out postseason success isn’t as simple as that. Aside from a 2012 knockout round loss to Houston, the longtime Fire man didn’t see playoff action.
So Thursday, yeah, you can bet it’s special. After 222 regular season MLS games and 23 goals — all but 26 of them with Chicago — Nyarko is back for just his fourth playoff campaign.
“It makes the decision to move on from Chicago kinda worth it,” Nyarko said. “Being in Chicago for that long, through the good through the bad, I finally decided to leave. If it had not resulted in a successful year and the playoffs, it would’ve been for nothing. I couldn’t have justified that.”
Now DC is a sneaky, if not chic, pick to surprise in the East. The Black-and-Red have lost just once in their last seven games, and that was a Decision Day loss in which head coach Ben Olsen sat the vast majority of his starters in order to rest for Thursday. In the past six weeks, the No. 4 seed earned results against the trio of teams ahead of it in the Eastern Conference standings.
“We are high in confidence right now, and the way we’ve closed out the season we discovered our identity,” Nyarko said. “Everyone works for each other, covers each other, we attack together, and we keep up that intensity.”
Nyarko’s traditional stats aren’t going to jump out at you; His four goals match his career-high, and his eight assists are second to Luciano Acosta, but Nyarko brings a different level of savvy to the squad.
On a team with United States men’s national team center back Steve Birnbaum, you could argue that midfielder Nyarko is the team’s best defensive asset. He does the dirty things and is fouled more than anyone else on the team, but has also completed the second-most key passes on the team (to Acosta).
“It’s unfortunate how the stats are usually what’s preached out to the fans,” Nyarko said. “I look for people who can make their team better. I’m ecstatic when the teams wins, and shattered when the team loses. I won’t necessarily be the last person to touch the ball before someone scores, but before that, the double teams, the division, that’s what I pride myself on. I know what I bring to a team.”
Which isn’t to say he wasn’t scratching his head when DC started the season winless through five matches, especially when he was the new guy.
“This year, making the change was the hardest, not knowing what to expect, getting into a new team that had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said. “When things weren’t going well, especially early in the year when I was inconsistent, I took a lot of the blame. Am I messing up the chemistry? I knew I was playing well, but you can’t help but think that.”
The midfielder credits Olsen and the veteran locker room for bringing the team together this season, calling Olsen the “ultimate player’s coach”. Nyarko only needs two fingers to count the times Olsen has lost his cool this season, and learned that his coach was a different breed when he approached him early in the season to talk about the offense.
“Usually I try not to get into coaches, but we weren’t scoring as many goals,” Nyarko said. “He wasn’t worried about it. He made a comment like, ‘I’m not gonna get on you guys, the chances are there, it’s just not going in. I’m not going to yell. It’s not like you’re deciding not to finish.’ I was like, ‘Woah, this guy thinks like a player’. The freedom he gives you, he knows everyone’s ability, and he doesn’t restrict you. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”
Nyarko also points to a player as an emblem of DC’s success, and that’s Lamar Neagle. The ex-Seattle Sounders man has been in on 15 goals but hasn’t complained that he’s been used off the bench in his 10 of his 31 appearances.
“This guy’s leading us in goals and he doesn’t start and he’s mentally strong enough to want to help our team,” Nyarko said. “This is an exciting team that came along at the last part of the season and we hope to continue our push toward MLS Cup.”
The game in 100 words (or less): Today I watched D.C. United play soccer, and I have to say, it wasn’t the worst experience of my life. To be honest, I never thought I’d say that in my lifetime. Perhaps I won’t be able to say it again all year, but for one afternoon in April, Ben Olsen’s bunch played some decent stuff and took advantage of an unbelievably wayward New England Revolution side which might be able to get Jay Heaps fired this season, if they continue to try really hard. Lamar Neagle, Luciano Acosta and Alvaro Saborio were the goalscorers on the day, and the victory sees United climb up to fifth place in the Eastern Conference for the time being, a spot and a point ahead of the Revolution. It’s still defend-counter-defend-counter soccer from United, but it’s somewhat enjoyable when they attack the open field the way they did on Satuday.
33′ — Sarvas goes down in the box, wins a PK — Marcelo Sarvas had one thing and one thing only on his mind here: winning a penalty for United. Referee Alan Kelly bought into his deceit and duly obliged. Neagle stepped up and converted the spot kick for 1-0.
The game in 100 words (or less): It’s still early in the 2016 season — like, first-game-of-the-season early — and no one has any clue what to make of the LA Galaxy. (If they tell you they do, they’re lying.) I picked them to finish top of the West and probably win MLS Cup, but I’d be lying if I said I was wholly confident in that prediction, even after their 4-1 victory over D.C. United on Sunday. Sure, three points are great, and once you have them they can’t take them away from you, but those first 45 minutes are forever etched into my brain. Steven Gerrard is a passenger… in MLS. Ashley Colereally was on a beach during the first half. Giovani dos Santos doesn’t have a position and has really disappointed thus far. Is Mike Magee their savior? He scored twice, and might be. MLS has never known a team with a higher ceiling than the 2016 Galaxy; the league has also never known a team with more potential to go up in flames, either.
5′ — Neagle gets behind, grabs the early lead — Remember last year when the Galaxy midfield and defense were kind of old and kind of slow? Yeah, well, for the most part they still are. And that Gerrard giveaway? 2016 is the new 2015.
54′ — Steres heads home in his MLS debut — Charlie’s right.
When an opponent scores a header inside your six-yard box without leaving his/her feet…something went wrong. #LAvDC
64′ — Magee chips Dykstra, makes it 2-1 to LA — Welcome back, Magic Mike. It’s not the most audacious chip in the history of soccer, but it was the most efficient route by which to put the ball into the back of the net.
The 2015 Major League Soccer season came to a thrilling conclusion not even 24 hours ago, and the MLS offseason is already in full-swing after a number of teams began trading well-established, noteworthy players all over the place on Monday.
In return for Chris Pontius, D.C. United received allocation money and targeted allocation money (TAM) from the Philadelphia Union. Pontius, who is 28 and has started just 39 games the last three seasons (6 goals, 4 assists combined), counted $365,000 against the $3.49 million salary cap in 2015. Pontius turned in a 12-goal, four-assist season in 2012 to earn league MVP consideration, but a string of long-term injuries follower shortly thereafter and he has struggled to regain his form of four years ago.
Mr. Versatility, a title and trait which surely hurt Lamar Neagle’s long-term future with his hometown Seattle Sounders, has been shipped across the country to D.C. United, where he’ll likely become a full-time starter for the first time in his career. The only question that remains: where exactly is he going to play? During his time with the Sounders, Neagle featured as a winger on both sides of the field, as well as a center forward. Neagle is 28 years old and counted just $165,000 against the $3.49 million salary cap in 2015. In his last three seasons with the Sounders, Neagle racked up 21 goals and 15 assists.
Cristian Maidana and Andrew Wenger are headed to the Houston Dynamo, where they’ll play for Owen Coyle. In exchange for the no. 10 attacking midfielder and winger/forward, the Philadelphia Union received allocation money, TAM and the Dynamo’s first-round draft pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft (6th overall). In his two seasons with the Union, the 28-year-old Maidana, who counted $203,500 against the $3.49 million salary cap in 2015, scored three goals and notched 26 assists. Wenger, the no. 1 overall SuperDraft pick of the Montreal Impact in 2012, scored just seven goals two seasons with the Union. His 2015 salary cap hit was $180,000.