If week four and five are to be remembered for the cavalcade of cards, this week will be remembered for the red card that stayed in the back pocket. I feel kind of foolish writing this recap knowing that anything I say between now and “Nigel De Jong” is going to be completely ignored, but here we go anyhow. This was a weekend without reds, a weekend packed with late drama, upset victories, and missed opportunities.
Let’s start with Friday Night Soccer as Orlando took on the Philadephia Union. It was always going to be tougher for Orlando without the services of Canadian Messi - the King of Friday Nights, but after a fantastic showing last week against Portland, you could understand them feeling extremely confident. Things got off to a poor start for the Lions however, as CJ Sapong capitalized off some sloppy defending from the visitors and struck early giving Portland the lead after only two minutes. Adrian Winter equalized for Orlando in the 43rd minute and that seemed like it was going to be the last goal in the match until the second half stoppage-time when Tranquillo Barnetta stepped up and delivered just an absolute gem of a free kick that kissed the underside of the bar and settled in the back of the net to give the Union all three points. #DOOP indeed.
The Columbus Crew entered the weekend as one of two winless teams in Major League Soccer and by the end of the day they would be the only one left. Columbus were second best throughout and the bells rang twice as the Impact collected a 2-0 win with goals coming from Hassoun Camara and Kyle Bekker. As has often been his way this season,Ignacio Piatti was unsurprisingly the best player on the pitch, and while it’s obviously still early, if his form keeps up he’ll be in the conversation for MVP at the end of the season.
Toronto FC, who have been thus far underwhelming traveled to New England to take on the Revolution who have been thus far disappointing and so nobody could blame you for assuming that we were going to be watching a rather bland and uneventful match. This was not the case however as plenty of excitement was to be had by the end of the afternoon. Jozy Altidore made his first start of the season for Toronto but New England struck first on a lovely goal from Kelyn Rowe who connected solidly with a perfectly weighted cross from JeVaughn Watson. The Revolution maintained that lead until the 54th minute when our first big moment of controversy occurred. Teal Bunbury received the ball just inside the area and attempted to turn Drew Moor but was taken down by the defender who appeared to make solid contact with Bunbury’s foot. The cries for a penalty were deafening and the Revolution players seemed to be taken by surprise by the absence of a whistle and got caught call-watching (I just made this term up, do you like it?) Toronto didn’t need another invitation and a quick counter attack sprang Giovinco who evened things up with a shot that found its way into the back of the net after a deflection. 1-1 was how the match would finish. But not after another penalty controversy, this time featuring Charlie Davies, who managed to find his way towards the box only to be knocked over by what appeared to be three separate New England players. Again, no whistle. It appeared as though Lee Nguyen had won it all in stoppage tapping home a cross from Femi Hollinger-Janzen, but the officials ruled that the ball had crossed the end line, and the match ended amongst a cacophony of boos and other disgruntled admonitions from the home fans.
DC UNITED WON A MATCH! That was certainly unexpected. I need a second to prepare myself to type this sentence: DC United were stellar on Saturday and put the Vancouver Whitecaps to the sword with four unanswered goals including a pair of braces from league veterans Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio. Phew… if you hadn’t tuned in you’d think that I just starting going off on some fan fiction tangent. This was no story though, DC looked great! It had been an eventful week around the organization for off the field incidents, but the players showed up to remind everyone that they were still here and still capable of doing a job. Vancouver was admittedly weakened however, missing the likes of Morales, Laba, and Rivero, but don’t let that ruin our first opportunity to congratulate DC United this season on a fine and complete performance.
On to Red Bull Arena, where the hosts endured a torrid night in front of goal. Bradley Wright Phillips woes continued as the star striker managed to take a record number of shots on goal in the first half and then go on to miss a penalty attempt. BWP has yet to find the back of the net this season and RBNY is clearly missing his production. On a nicer note, Ike Opara made his return to the pitch for the first time in nearly a year since sustaining an injury. The former SJ Earthquake defender made a fine account of himself, though he was responsible for a handball in the box that led to RBNY’s penalty attempt, but Tim Melia bailed him out by saving BWP’s half-hearted shot. Melia had himself a fine evening as well, keeping a clean sheet with six saves. Sporting Kansas City took the lead early with a goal from Benny Feilhaber and sealed the points later in the second half after Dom Dwyer found himself on the end of a throw-in that RBNY did a horrifying job of defending. Sporting Kansas City look strong in the west with 4 wins from 5 matches. RBNY has one win from 5 and failed to find the net in 4 of these opening matches.
Moving on to Texas, where Saturday night saw a clash between FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes. This was an exciting match that had a little bit of everything. Alberto Quintero opened the scoring early for the visitors with a goal of the week candidate. It was his first ever MLS goal, and it will take something pretty special to top that strike. Akindele equalized from the penalty spot following a handball in the box. There was the traditional Chris Wondolowski goal, and that looked to be that until Bernandez got on the wrong side of a Castillo cross and managed to confidently bury it into his own net. The match ended 2-2 and San Jose will have been disappointed to not hang on to their late lead. FC Dallas, continues to get results but the backline is still looking a little bit leaky when playing against stronger teams. It will be curious to see how this continues throughout the course of the season.
Next in Salt Lake City, we had this year’s first installment of the Rocky Mountain Cup. The highlight (or lowlight depending on your leanings) of this match was Zac MacMath’s interesting little walkabout that led to the game’s only goal. Plata was the beneficiary of MacMath’s blunder walking the ball into an empty net for the match winning goal. Truthfully, RSL could have had more, as replay revealed that a goal by Yura Movsisyan was incorrectly marked off by the linesman for offside. It was also a very good match from RSL defender, Aaron Maund who capped a solid evening’s work with a goal line headed clearance. RSL remain undefeated on the season.
Sunday saw us start a triple header in Houston where the struggling Seattle Sounders fresh from their first victory of the season faced off against the high scoring, high conceding enigma that is the 2016 Houston Dynamo. Seattle was miserable in this match. Their first half performance being quite possibly their worst 45 minutes since joining the league. DP Nelson Valdez missed the match through injury and young Aaron Kovar got his second straight start alongside Jordan Morris who was deployed centrally. Seattle struggled from the opening kick and never really found a foothold until very late in the match. Giles Barnes scored the opener, flicking a no-look shot perfectly over Frei’s head. This touch came straight off of a throw-in and Seattle’s defense was so out of sorts that nobody had marked Houston’s captain within 5 yards. Seattle improved a bit as an inconsistent Kovar was replaced with an unpredictable Oalex Anderson. The young striker immediately added a dose of energy to Seattle’s lethargic play, and he found himself nearly on the score sheet on a couple of occasions. While Oalex helped, it was the introduction of veteran striker Herculez Gomez who finally tilted the match a bit towards Seattle’s favor. The former US International was a handful for a tired Houston defense, and managed to cause all sorts of marking issues with his creative moment in and around the box. Seattle deserved nothing from this match so it should come as absolutely no surprise that they managed to equalize with literally the last kick of the game. Chad Marshall was the unlikely goalscorer, cleaning up an Oalex Anderson pass that was poorly handled by Willis and fell right to his feet. The Sounders will rightly call themselves fortunate to have gotten a point, but one can’t help but wonder if Houston will find away to stop blowing leads.
Part two of the Sunday triple header’s scene was Yankee Stadium where NYCFC faced off against the Chicago Fire. Neither of these teams is well known for their defensive prowess, so a 0-0 draw was definitely a bit surprising. David Villa managed to create the matches best chance for himself, but Chicago Fire’s Man of the Match, Matt Lampson parried it wide off the post. There was of course, a spat of controversy as the Chicago Fire had a late goal marked off due to an offside. Subsequent replays showed that the player got offside seemed to have minimal involvement in the play, and Chicago fans were furious with the call. Later replays showed a different angle from directly behind the goal that might have proven the officials right however, as the offside player may have come in contact with the ball prior to it crossing the goal line.
We end our night in Los Angeles where the biggest story of the season took center stage as Darlington Nagbe was taken off the field on a stretcher after suffering what looked like a potentially significant injury following a reckless and dangerous challenge by Los Angeles midfielder, Nigel de Jong. There’s going to be a lot said about this incident in the coming days, so I’ll keep it brief for right now, this challenge should unquestionably have ended in a red card, and it seems likely that a suspension will be waiting for him after the disciplinary committee convenes. The match ended 1-1 though, this is unfortunately one of those matches where the result is somewhat of a diminished priority and completely overshadowed by other events. Fanendo Adi got the Timbers out to deserved lead in the 52nd minute with a well placed shot, and it looked very much like Portland were going to get at least three points out of what could prove to be a very costly match. However, in the 83rd minute, Portland defender Nat Borchers inadvertently redirected a cross into his own net. So Portland and LA will have to settle for a point each while the immediate futures of both Darlington Nagbe and Nigel de Jong are still up in the air.