Week 7: Score Early and Then Fight at the End

I was prepared to write about how this was a fairly routine weekend of Major League Soccer, but then you know, Orlando and New England couldn’t just draw in a non-controversial way could they?  We’ll get to that at the end. There’s a lot to cover this week, so let’s get started:

Friday night soccer featured an appetizing matchup between the Los Angeles Galaxy, recently chastened and forced to play without their “enforcer”, Nigel de Jong, and the Houston Dynamo, the league’s guaranteed five goal show. Goals were expected and goals were delivered. It was Giovani Dos Santos’ best performance in a Galaxy shirt and he simply dazzled. Two goals and an assist contributed to LA’s 4-1 victory, who effectively canceled out an early surprise goal from Houston’s David Horst.

Toronto FC and DC United faced off at RFK with DC feeling fresh and positive off their first and resounding 4 goal victory against Vancouver. Giovinco struck early in this one however, scoring the fastest goal in Toronto FC history. That would be the last goal of the match, but it wasn’t without it’s moments of intrigue as DC frequently tested Clint Irwin. Toronto was dogged on defense with Will Johnson having one his finest performances of the season.  

The Montreal Impact visited Chicago in what was a very nice turnout for Toyota Park. This no doubt had a lot to do with the impending appearance of a certain Didier Drogba. Things weren’t going as planned for the Impact in the first half and it felt deserved when Kennedy Igboananike struck first with a beautiful curling effort from outside the box. That was all well and good until the man named Didier stepped on to the pitch in the second half. It did not take long for him to make an impact.  Six minutes after replacing Venegas, he deftly backheeled a great ball from Oduro past Matt Lampson and leveled the score. It was the first time that Chicago had conceded a goal in nearly 400 minutes but it wouldn’t be the last of the afternoon. Things stayed knotted up with chances going astray at both ends, but it was Montreal’s other magician Ignacio Piatti that stole the show by netting a stoppage time winner that looked to be almost an exact match of Igboananike’s earlier effort.

In Columbus the Crew took their first victory of the season over NYCFC, 3-2.  The scoreline was honestly a bit flattering to the Citizens as they were thoroughly outplayed throughout the evening. Ethan Finlay stuck first for the reigning conference champions in the 7th minute. It was set up by a great run by Justin Meram (his first of many).  David Villa equalized only minutes later but that would be the last true show of offensive intent from the visitors. Kei Kamara collected his second of the season from another Justin Meram assist, and Meram himself capped off his brilliant performance with a goal of his own late in the match. There was a little bit of drama later however as substitute Poku went down in the Columbus area in stoppage time and drew a penalty kick. Ted Unkel made a bit of a hash of this however as he managed to send off Michael Parkhurst instead of the actual culprit, Tyson Wahl. The league has since corrected this and Parkhurst will be available for the Crew’s next match. David Villa converted the ensuing penalty kick and the scoreline looked much better than what it actually was for a very poor NYCFC performance. Columbus was the last remaining winless team in the league, and will look to build off this very promising outing.

If you’re a fan of the unpredictable there isn’t much in the sport that is more fun than a little game of snow soccer, and that’s exactly what we got when the struggling Red Bulls New York traveled to the Rockies to take on a surprisingly potent Colorado Rapids side.  The big story of the night looked to be the snow, but it was the debut performance of Jermaine Jones that’s going to be the thing that the Rapids’ fans remember the most. The USA international managed to score the first goal of the match before laying on the match winning assist to Badji in the second half, but it was his work rate, passing, and defensive effort that made Colorado so dangerous in what was a pretty wild match in the snow. Ronald Zubar scored for RBNY and broke a long streak of scoreless matches going all the way back to their goal bonanza against the Dynamo. Colorado took three points off of SKC on Wednesday and made it six of six on Saturday. This team still has the legendary American GK, Tim Howard joining the side this summer and fans are starting to wonder if this franchise who has most recently been the league’s punchline might finally be for real.

The Philadelphia Union visited the Seattle Sounders. Joshua Yaro got the first MLS start of his career for the Union, but it was rookie Jordan Morris who stole the show.  Seattle jumped out to an advantage in the closing minutes of the first half when veteran centerback Chad Marshall was left wide open and headed home for this second goal in an as many matches. The game took a disappointing turn for the worst for the Union when Roland Alberg was shown his second yellow card in the 52nd minute. The Sounders capitalized on the man advantage when Jordan Morris finally got off the mark with his first goal as an MLS player. This will no doubt be a huge relief to the youngster who was starting to be branded as a disappointment due to his lack of production in the opening six weeks. Seattle wouldn’t hold on that 2 goal lead for very long. As Seattle has a tendency to do this season they managed to concede very quickly after scoring, as former Sounder Sebastien Le Toux finished two minutes later. Despite conceding twice, Philadelphia GK Andre Blake was in scintillating form and the Union looked to have finally solved the goalkeeping woes that have plagued them since their inception. The Sounders went into shutdown mode and it was Philadelphia that looked more likely to score in the final 10 minutes of the match. Seattle held on however, and won their second match of the season.

Real Salt Lake hosted the Vancouver Whitecaps and there was really only one story worth telling in this one and that is the tale of Burrito Martinez. Burrito was simply a highlight machine during this one. He scored the match’s only goal, but that was only one of the many tricks up the Argentine’s sleeve on the evening. Vancouver tested Rimando on a few occasions but the Whitecaps simply couldn’t overcome a staunch defense led by the in-form Aaron Maund.  RSL remain the last undefeated team in Major League Soccer.

If you thought the reigning MLS Champions were going to be content to simply sit and lick their wounds following a disastrous outing against FC Dallas in midweek, you would be very wrong indeed. The match was rather uneventful in the first 45 minutes, with neither team doing much to impress. It looked as if the hosts were suffering from midweek fatigue and the supporters seemed uncharacteristically subdued as well.  In the 50th minute, things began to get exciting. Timbers GK, Adam Kwarasey was forced to come off due to an injury and replaced by backup Jake Gleeson who was making his first appearance of the year. Two minutes later Jack McInerney opened the scoring. McInerney has been lethal this year for the Timbers in his somewhat limited minutes.  Adi finally joined the fray 10 minutes later and it didn’t take long for the Nigerian striker to deliver. Adi collected a deflected shot and neatly touched the ball to the side of Bernardez before calmly slipping it past a helpless David Bingham. San Jose managed to claw one back from the penalty spot after Nat Borchers nearly disrobed Chris Wondolowski in the area. Wondo himself stepped up to take the penalty, and the veteran goalscorer cooly beat Jake Gleeson for his league leading sixth goal of the season. Diego Valeri was cautioned for dissent during the post penalty scuffle.  Controversy came fast and furious in stoppage time and Diego Valeri was sent off after his second booking for dissent. SJ GK, David Bingham was also shown a caution for his part in the confrontation as well. Being a man down didn’t stop the Timbers from finishing their opponent ruthlessly however as Adi wound up on the end of an incisive counter attacking move and finished with the last kick of the match.  Adi had two off the bench, and the Portland team we saw on Saturday looks a lot more in keeping with the one we saw late in last year’s postseason.  

Sunday afternoon soccer saw us visiting the Sunshine State to watch Orlando face the New England Revolution. Birthday boy Cyle Larin was still recovering from an injury and started the match on the bench. In his place, former Real Madrid player and Brazilian international, Julio Baptista got his first start in Major League Soccer and was involved within seconds drawing a very quick penalty.  Kaka cashed in from the sport and New England found themselves in a hole barely two minutes after the opening whistle. It wasn’t to remain that way for long however, as Teal Bunbury found himself on the end of a corner kick which eluded several Orlando heads to find Koffie who glanced it on to the striker. Bunbury buried it in the roof of the net and looked relieved and overjoyed to tally his first goal of the season. It remained level late into the second half despite both teams coming close only to be frustrated by the quick reactions of Bobby Shuttleworth and Joe Bendik. The breakthrough finally came in the 92nd minute when a corner kick found its way to Kevin Molino who pounced on the ball and rifled it past Shuttleworth for what looked to be a sure match winner. The Orlando fans celebrated madly, but instant replay revealed that Molino appeared to have handled the ball in his attempt to control it and New England fans were furious. Things managed to get even weirder when in the 96th minute Lee Nguyen attempted to play a cross into the box. The cross struck Servando Carrasco in the shoulder, but it was blown for a handball and appeared to originally be ruled as a free kick outside the box. In reality, it appears as though the incident occurred INSIDE the area, but wasn’t actually a handball at all.  Official Baldomero Toledo appeared to waffle over his original decision and Orlando City fans were apoplectic when he ultimately changed his decision and pointed to the spot. Lee Nguyen equalized and the match ended in an outpouring of anger from both benches. In the end, the result may have been fair, but the method in which it was rewarded certainly didn’t feel that way. 1-1 would have been a fair result based on the incorrect handball decisions on either end, but 2-2 felt like a travesty to anybody that was watching.  

The weekend ended in FC Dallas where what was supposed to be a sellout crowd mostly stayed home as some very disagreeable weather managed to take over Texas this weekend. FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City are the two high flying teams in the west and this had the potential to be a thrilling encounter on national television. If the spectacle disappointed, the play certainly didn’t. SKC opened the scoring after as Lawrence Olum managed to find himself on the end of a corner kick and neatly buried it with a diving header. Some terrible unfortunate defending by SKC’s backline gave FC Dallas the equalizing goal as the ever-opportunistic Michael Barrios scored his third goal of the season. The match stayed all square into the second half until Mauro Rosales was introduced. The former Sounder, Chivas USA, and Vancouver player had yet to score for his new team, but that all changed in the 68th minute when Rosales placed a peach of a free kick right over a frozen wall and tucked it neatly into the side netting. It was a worthy first goal of the season for the veteran specialist, and FC Dallas were able to hold on the advantage to open a lead on the rest of the Western Conference.