MLS Week in Review

MLS Week in Review: Round 27

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source:  Fear the Galaxy

Every week we find another reason to see the Galaxy as one of the teams to beat, if not the team to beat, for MLS Cup. (It would mark an unprecedented third in a row for Bruce Arena’s star-strewn team.) This week we were reminded of three of them. Landon Donovan scored again, and that makes five in four league matches since returning from that sensational Gold Cup reminder that he is still the best attackers this country has produced. There was Robbie Keane, who continued to build a solid league MVP case with yet another goal and yet another assist. And there was Jaime Penedo, the Panamanian international who has stabilized the club’s formerly concerning situation in goal. It all came as the Galaxy made pretty easy work of rival San Jose in a 3-0 win at the StubHub Center.

The Galaxy is 4-0-1 in all competitions since the All-Star game, and has not conceded a goal in its last three matches.

Donovan inches closer to goals record

Already U.S. Soccer’s all-time leading scorer and the LA Galaxy’s all-time leading scorer, Donovan has drawn ever so close to Jeff Cunningham’s all-time mark in Major League Soccer. His strike on Saturday against the Earthquakes was No. 132, leaving the 31-year-old forward just two shy of the all-time league mark, which Cunningham took from Jaime Moreno just three years ago. Donovan, who made last week’s big off-field splash by re-signing with the Galaxy, will miss L.A.’s next match while pulling national team duty, but will have six chances after that for records chasing.

The big gamble

You really have to hand it to New York Red Bulls manager Mike Petke, who is not even a full year into his first pro coaching assignment. In polite company we would say it like this: the man has courage.

How else to describe Petke’s decision to bench French superstar and former World Cup winner Thierry Henry? Henry doesn’t always play well with others, wearing his lack of patience with lesser players on his Red Bulls sleeve, frequently showing up his teammates. But that’s nothing new, and everyone seems to tolerate it.

What Petke could not allow, apparently, was a training-ground blow-up on Thursday. They hashed it out, but the upshot was a place for Henry on the bench near Petke for a match the wildly inconsistent Red Bulls absolutely could not afford to squander.

Sure enough — and what a relief for the manager — the Red Bulls prevailed 2-1 over woeful D.C. United.

Eddie Johnson and the coming storm

Clint Dempsey is four games into his highly paid days with Seattle, still stuck on no goals and no assists. But Seattle is winning, so no real pressure points are being reached.

Well, they wouldn’t be except for Eddie Johnson’s brazen message to the club, his “pay me” celebration upon scoring he only goal in Seattle’s weather-delayed win at Columbus.

Johnson’s deal is up at year’s end, he wants to remain in Seattle, and now he is scoring while $5 million man Dempsey isn’t. So you do the professional contract math.

Dempsey and Johnson go way back, so there may not be tension between the pair; Dempsey probably wants to see Johnson get a big, fat raise,too.

But how will the this play with fans, who have right to wonder where Johnson’s true loyalties lie? And how will the rest of the Sounders see Johnson’s self-centered actions with the team in such a healthy place, on such a swell roll, steadily climbing in the West?

Real Salt Lake on a goal tear

Portland was the latest to find itself brushed aside by a Real Salt Lake team that has achieved top offensive gear. After hitting three versus Portland two weeks ago and then four versus Columbus last week, Javier Morales led the offensive way as RSL crushed Portland in Utah, 4-2. With the latest win in Utah, RSL extended its lead in the West and for the Supporters  Shield to five points, although all pursuers within bothering distance have games in hand.

“El Cubo” Torres rising

Chivas USA is getting something out of this season of misery. It’s Erick “El Cubo” Torres, the young striker on loan from mother Chivas, the Liga MX team in Guadalajara.

Torres had two more goals in Sunday’s 2-2 draw in Vancouver, including one very cool overhead kick. That followed last week’s two-goal evening, bringing the young striker’s total this year to six.

While it’s great that Chivas USA fans get something to feel good about this year, Torres is almost sure to be recalled for the Liga MX spring season – so he won’t be around the StubHub Center long.

Sporting KC back on track

Peter Vermes’ team found a rough patch in August, losing three times in league play losing ground in the tightly packed Eastern Conference playoff jostle, naturally)  and finding goals in awfully short supply lately. So a commanding 2-1 victory over visiting Colorado should go far in helping to fortify any sagging confidence around Sporting Park.

Speaking of that match …

The weekend’s top goal

Benny Feilhaber’s can be maddeningly inconsistent, but Sporting KC’s former U.S. national teamed always has a special goal or two lurking about him. He sure dropped a doozy on helpless Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin in Round 27, an outside of the foot bender that was as gorgeous as it was audacious. Watch and enjoy …

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MLS Week in review: Round 26

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source:  The big match was the last of a long round of contests, Clint Dempsey’s first home match in Sounders’ rave green. Still, there was plenty to talk about elsewhere:

The big match in Seattle

Attendance late Sunday night at CenturyLink Field in Seattle was 67,385, the largest ever for a soccer game in Seattle, the second largest ever for a stand-alone MLS match (that’s over 18 years) and the third largest crowd worldwide this weekend. It was all about Cascadia Cup and Clint Dempsey’s home debut, which Seattle won, 1-0.

So, how did Dempsey make out? It’s all here.

Donovan approaches scoring record

Landon Donovan’s early goal was the only score in a 1-0 win over Vancouver.  It was a big win for the two-time defending MLS Cup winners and a big moment for Donovan, who is within three goals of equaling Jeff Cunningham’s all-time league scoring record.

More on that here.

Maybe the best save you’ll see all season

This is why the Galaxy made a change in goal; because Carlo Cudicini wasn’t making these game-saving stops. Well, newcomer Jaime Penedo sure did. Watch his work of art in the second half Saturday in the Galaxy’s 1-0 win at Vancouver:

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Statement wins from Real Salt Lake and Montreal

Real Salt Lake manager challenged his players, who had been taken apart last week in Los Angeles. Result? Listen to Kreis, a perfectionist who is not easy to please, after watching his team waylay Columbus, 4-0: “This for me, was the most complete game we have played this season. … And it comes at the right time, because we are entering the most critical stretch, and we’ve got a lot to play for and a lot to win. We needed a performance to put some confidence behind or our group, and I think that‘s exactly what we got.”

In the East, Montreal manager Marco Schallibaum was in the booth, suspended for the fourth time this year, as his team did a similar number on Houston. Justin Mapp, Felipe Martins and Marco Di Vaio all had big nights for Montreal.

New England also had a showy score line, a 5-1 win over Philadelphia. But in all honesty but

Two crushing blows:

Of course, there is another side to those “statements.” Columbus might just be done, and not just because they went into Utah and and got clobbered by a motivated Real Salt Lake, 4-0. Federico Higuain was caught throwing an elbows in stoppage time – of a match long since decided, so tsk-tsk, sir – and found himself on the business end of red card.

He was already set to miss the next Crew match for accumulation of cautions, and now will need to sit out an additional contest due to the red card. So for the Crew, barely hanging around in the playoff picture anyway, getting hammered in Utah and losing their top man for two matches may mean “Game, Set and Match” on the playoff chances.

Houston is better positioned, but will need to rally from a 5-0 humbling at Montreal, the club’s worst loss since moving to Houston in 2006.

Opportunity lost

Two teams paid Round 26 visits to Chivas USA, longtime occupant of last place in the West. FC Dallas arrested its long, slow slide down the table, winning for the first time since June. So, mission accomplished.

Et tu, New York Red Bulls?

Nope. Thierry Henry and Co. missed an opportunity to pull ahead of Montreal in the standings. No offense to Chivas USA, but points dropped against the Goats represent massive opportunity lost for any team with real playoff ambition.

Remember, teams that fall into the fourth and fifth spots will have one additional round in which to fall out of the post-season. Plus, they are losing ground in the fight for possible host duties of MLS Cup 2013.

Did blown call in New England affect the final outcome?

Philadelphia and New England were tied at 1-1 outside Boston when the Union had a goal disallowed. It was absolutely the correct call as Sebastian Le Toux was offside.

But a few minutes later, referee Allen Chapman disallowed a perfectly legitimate Union goal, and that decision turned the important Eastern Conference match.

It would have given the visitors a 2-1 lead.  Rather, the visitors struggled to get past the frustration and fell apart spectacularly. Final score: 5-1 for New England as things got away from Philly.

More on that one here.

Weekend’s top goal

There really were a bunch of worthy choices, including big strikes by Donovan and New England’s Kelyn Rowe and a highly technical, curving effort from Montreal’s Felipe Martins. But what about this one from D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario, one of the few moments of sunshine this year around RFK Stadium:

MLS Weekend in Review – Round 25

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The Galaxy looks ready to gallop

Statements you want? How about a 4-2 romp-and-stomp over the Western Conference leaders, Real Salt Lake.  Following last week’s draw in Dallas, the Galaxy looks like it might be past its roller coaster summer, about to make another playoff assault. Listen to what RSL manager Jason Kreis said about Los Angeles: “What can I say? I think they’re extremely effective in what they do, and if they’re on their game, sometimes you’re just gonna have to say they are the better team and I think that’s what we have to say tonight.”

Related to the Galaxy’s showy display …

The week’s top performance

Robbie Keane hit this point in the calendar last year and absolutely carried the Galaxy attack … carried it right to the MLS Cup. Keane put three past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, his second hat trick this year. Don’t forget, teammate Landon Donovan was the hat trick hero last week. The Galaxy pair is the first to record hat tricks in consecutive games since Donovan and Dewayne De Rosario did so 10 seasons back.

Getting hot in the coaching kitchen

Not one, not two, but three managers were excused from the building in Round 25. Tsk, tsk, fellows.

Montreal’s Marco Schallibaum – of course he is going to be part of this list – was sent off along with D.C. United’s Ben Olsen. In New England, a very upset Chicago Fire coach Frank Klopas was thrown out. That was part of a larger melee; Chicago center back Bakary Soumare was in the middle of that one, but he didn’t seem to believe it was such a big deal.

By the way, notice that these are all Eastern Conference sides, where a mere six points separates the conference winner from a team that will not make the playoffs. (Not that it’s any better in the West, where the gap is just seven points.)

It appears some folks may be not handling the pressure as well they should

Talking rookies and Rapids

Rookie Deshorn Brown found goal yet again, providing one in the Colorado Rapids’ 2-0 win over Vancouver, no small feat considering how well Martin Rennie’s team from Canada has performed lately. Brown has seven goals and four assists, which has “Rookie of the Year” written all over it – assuming he can hold off teammate Dillon Powers. More important to the club, the Rapids matched a club record with their ninth consecutive match without a loss. Oscar Pareja’s team is 5-0-4 in that time,

The Rapids, a team few had circled this year as an MLS contender, are two points out of the Supporters Shield leadership.

The week’s big off-field news:

Omar Gonzalez signed on for three more years with the Galaxy, and his DP contract is highly significant for two reasons. First, he’s the first true defender to gain a DP deal, a sign of the league’s growing sophistication; it’s not just the flashy forwards getting DP dough anymore. He’s also the fourth American to gain DP designation, following Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski.

Clint Dempsey watch

The Sounders’ new DP forward went all 90 minutes, creating some chances and coming close on a couple others, in his new team’s 3-1 loss in Houston (not far from Dempsey’s hometown in East Texas). That’s two matches without a goal or assist, nothing to worry about just yet; he had his moments as the visitors matched Houston in opportunities, but just didn’t finish as clinically.

His assessment: “You gotta play games to get fitness. So far I’ve only played two competitive games since I was off with the national team [in June]. It’s good to get my first 90 minutes, and fitness is getting there and still working on that sharpness. That final shot in front of goal was lacking a little bit tonight. I like to think that I could have put at least one of those opportunities away.”

The Weeks’ best goals

Ordinarily, lining up a shot from 35 yards and placing that bad boy in the upper right corner is a lead-pipe lock for Goal of the Week around here. So, atta boy, Houston Dynamo forward Giles Barnes. But, too bad you did so on a night when Juan Agudelo did the following …

Here is Barnes’ goal first, followed by Agudelo’s.

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Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 22

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All-Star break

Thing is, it’s not much of a “break,” per se. This is just what everyone calls it. Either way, no mid-week matches for as the best of the bunch gather in Kansas City for Wednesday’s contest against Roma.  United States midfield maestro Michael Bradley is a member of the Italian Serie A club.

Landon Donovan was just added to the MLS roster. It’s the summer of Donovan, don’t you know?

Mike Magee scores. Again.

An interesting and unlikely pair are trying to break from the peloton in the Golden Boot chase. Vancouver’s Camilo and Chicago’s Mike Magee have 13 goals each to lead the field. Magee’s latest was a easy far-post finish in a 1-1 draw at Houston. And that trade for Robbie Rogers’ right just looks better and better for the Fire … worse and worse for the Galaxy. (Watch Magee’s latest goal here.)

Best game: New York’s win over Real Salt Lake

If it wasn’t the best match of the weekend, it was darn sure the best 10 minutes of MLS Round 22.

The night at Red Bull Arena was physical but included plenty of skillful stuff, too. Alvaro Saborio, fresh off Gold Cup duty with Costa Rica, netted a hat trick, just the fourth in MLS this year.

New York had a 2-0 lead late after 23 minutes and still led by a goal in the 80th minute –then all heck broke loose.  Saborio scored twice within 10 minutes as the visitors, still missing about half its lineup due to injuries and international absences, climbed into a sudden 3-2 lead.

Fabian Espindola supplied New York’s 89th minute equalizer, and then Dax McCarty found a wonderful time for his first goal of 2013, a brave diving header and game-winner in the 94th minute. Final score: 4-3 New York.

Match highlights are here. (They are 10 minutes long, but what did you expect? There was a lot going on!)

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Dramatic wins in Canada, by the Canadian clubs

Montreal and Toronto had late goals to record dramatic wins before their home fans.

Montreal took advantage of a whopping seven minutes of stoppage time, as Blake Smith found space on the left and beat Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen in the 96th minute. That gave the Impact a 1-0 win in the kind of physical, emotional contest you would expect in an exchange of these two clubs.

The drama rose to another level yet in Toronto, where Ryan Nelson’s club actually trailed Columbus going into the 87th minute. But Bobby Convey and  Jeremy Brockie helped arrange a goal for Jonathan Osorio.

As a driving rain poured down, TFC poured on the pressure, desperate for its first league victory at BMO Field in more than a year. Defender Stephen Caldwell headed one off the post, and then in the 94th minute Convey set up Andrew Wiedeman for the winner in a 2-1 result.

Bobby Convey? He’s still playing?

Mostly a forgotten man and a tale of talent squandered, Bobby Convey, on his third MLS team in three years, had two assists in Toronto’s win. The Reds are too far behind for a playoff run, but getting the former U.S. international back on track would surely assist in the ongoing (latest) rebuilding effort around BMO Field.

The champs are hurting

Quick checklist of the biggest LA Galaxy names: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Rogers.

Quick checklist of the LA Galaxy players absent from Saturday’s match in Colorado: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Rogers.

Throw in yet another underwhelming performance from goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, and it’s not hard to see why the Galaxy

Not hard to see Donovan and Gonzalez struggled at DSG Park, looking pretty tame in a 2-0 loss. Donovan and Gonzalez are finished with Gold Cup duty and should be back in the lineup when Bruce Arena’s team resumes league play at FC Dallas on Aug. 11. Keane and Rogers should be recovered from injuries by then as well.

Rookies still getting it done in the Rockies

Central midfielder Dillon Powers had a goal and an assist in the latest match of his outstanding rookie season. He has four goals and four assists.

Fellow rookie Deshorn Brown was in for 77 minutes of the 2-0 win over Los Angeles. And  rookie goalkeeper Clint Irwin recorded his 8th shutout.

(By the way, Chris Klute, the  Rapids’ outstanding young left back, is not a rookie; I’ve seen several people make that mistake. He signed a professional contract previously with Atlanta of the NASL, and he even played one match last year with the Rapids.)

Either way, it’s clear that Rapids manager Oscar Pareja has an outstanding eye for young talent, and knows a little about how to manage it.

Tight in the East … just six points separate top from no playoffs

Brad Davis returns … but not quite enough for the Dynamo

The Houston Dynamo’s versatile U.S. international midfielder got back into a league match for the first time in a month. He had an impact, too, providing the assist (Brad Davis, assists … they go together like coffee and cream, eh?) on Cam Weaver’s goal in a 1-1 draw with Chicago. That was the first goal for a Houston forward since early May. Seriously.

David couldn’t do enough, however, as Houston would surely have loved all three points at home. As of today, the MLS runner-ups in 2011 and 2012 are not in the playoffs. (Houston is tied with New England, behind on tiebreakers, but does have a game in hand on the fifth-place Revs.)

Set pieces. It’s always set pieces

As the playoffs draw closer, every goal takes on added significance. And that means every restart is a potential post-season spot waiting to happen. Or something like that.

Restarts were big as Colorado upended the Galaxy. Hendry Thomas’ 41st minute strike was off a corner kick. Both of San Jose’s goals in a 2-1 win over visiting Portland were off restarts, a penalty kick from Victor Bernardez and Steven Lenhart’s game-winner off a clever free kick execution.

Kevin Alston returns to the field

New England defender Kevin Alson created the happy news of the weekend when he came on in the 84th minute of New England’s 2-1 win at D.C. United. This is the first time Alston, a former MLS All-Star has stepped onto the field since his diagnoses and treatment for a rare form of leukemia in April.

The East is a beast

Check out those Eastern Conference standings. The top team (Kansas City) has 36 points. The sixth place team (Houston) has 30. So, a mere six points separates the conference winner from a team not going to the post-season as things stand.

Overall, seven teams have a real shot at the playoffs. Eight if you count Columbus, although Saturday’s 2-1 loss (when Robert Warzycha’s team had a lead, as mentioned earlier, in the 87th minute) may be hard to rally past. The Crew has lost five of its last six.

Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 20

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Best match: Portland needed a stoppage time goal to get past the LA Galaxy, 2-1, in a feisty match at Jeld-Wen Field that had a little bit of everything. It ended with a little huffy-puffy fit at the end from a clearly frustrated Galaxy manager Bruce Arena, who was surely upset that his team had just conceded another late goal and took it out on Portland manager Caleb Porter. (Arena calmed down just a bit, waved Porter over and made nice before they left the field.)

What Arena was really mad about: When Portland’s Andrew Jean-Baptiste struck late Saturday night in Stumptown, it was the eighth stoppage-time goal Los Angeles has conceded this season and the 15th they’ve allowed after the 75th minute.

League’s hottest scorer: No coincidence that Vancouver started winning about the team Brazilian forward Camilo went on a huge scoring tear. He added two more in the Round 20 capper late Sunday, a 3-1 win over Chicago, and now has 10 goals in his last nine matches. With 12 overall, Camilo is now alone atop the league scoring lead.

What happened to Montreal’s defense?: Thierry Henry had a goal and two assists in New York’s fashionable 4-0 win over Montreal. It was truly one of the top performances from Mike Petke’s team this year. On the other hand … What gives with the Montreal defense, which has allowed 12 goals in the last four matches? That’s not the way Marco Schallibaum’s team will stay near the top in the East.

An underrated man: Anybody remember how New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty stepped up his game and established himself as a midfield force in MLS last year? Well, Eric Alexander is starting to wear the look of Mr. Stepping It Up this year. When on his game, Alexander is providing extra helpings of offensive drive through the midfield. He still needs to add the element of consistency, but more matches like Saturday’s and the veteran American will be for New York what (the just released) Juninho could not be.

Houston finds the target again – but those forwards still aren’t scoring:  Houston finding goal has not traditionally a remarkable event. But the team nearly went 0-for-June, finding net just once in five matches (including one Open Cup contest). So scoring for a second consecutive match rates as a “talker” in this case as Dominic Kinnear’s team turned up a 2-1 victory at New England

On the other hand, it took two wonderful strikes from midfielder Adam Moffat to grab the three points. Once again, Houston’s strikers aren’t getting it done. Moffat and fellow midfielders Warren Creavalle and Brad Davis have all struck for goals lately … while the last time a Dynamo forward scored was way back on May 8.

Weekend’s best goal: No holding midfielder in MLS can thump in the long-range beauties the way Adam Moffat can. The Houston Dynamo veteran’s latest was struck with his left foot, which is his “weaker” foot.

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Real Salt Lake’s highly significant win: Real Salt Lake retained its pose as the league’s hottest team (extending its club-record unbeaten streak to 11 games across all competitions) with a 3-0 win over FC Dallas. It was the first time RSL had won in Texas, so manager Jason Kreis shed that weight from himself personally and from the club. And it was the organization’s 100th MLS win overall.  Neither team was at full strength, but the visitors had slightly more to deal with in absences of Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Alvaro Saborio.

Worst refereeing moment: When we say “worst,” that accounts for pretty much the entire season in this case. We talked more about it here. But long story short, referee Jorge Gonzalez made an absolutely baffling decision in Philadelphia, one that weighed heavily in turning a potential 1-1 draw into a Union win over Chivas USA.

The alarming injury at L.A.: Details are scarce (there may be a further diagnosis later today) but Galaxy striker Robbie Keane limped off late in Saturday’s loss to Portland. A Galaxy offense without Keane (whom we labeled last week as our mid-season choice for league MVP) would be a tame offense indeed. Anyone else getting the feeling this just isn’t the year for the two-time defending champs?