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  • Kofi Opare

    Having been rooted to the bench after a mid-season trade from Los Angeles in 2014, Opare finally got on the pitch for DC in Saturday's 1-0 win over his former side, making his first appearance of the season.

    And it almost wasn't to be.

    Once more amongst the substitutes, the Niagara Falls, Ontario-raised Opare was only called into action due to an ankle injury suffered by standout sophomore Steve Birnbaum, who landed awkwardly after going up for a header, prompting Ben Olsen to bring the Canadian onto the pitch in the fifth minute.

    The defender did not do anything particularly spectacular, one does not require spectacular from a defender, but what he did contribute was a solid outing, not putting a foot wrong in his 85 minutes of play, quelling the threat of a dangerous LA attack comprised of Alan Gordon and Jose Villarreal, with Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes away on international duty.

    Taking up Birnbaum's left-sided centre-back slot, alongside Bobby Boswell, Opare was immense, exhibiting his excellent reading of the match by getting in position to cut out a potentially troublesome Robbie Rogers cross in one instance and proving that despite his extended absence from the pitch – he last saw action in July of last season – his aerial presence, especially against a foe as troublesome as Gordon, was as close to perfection as possible.

    Completing 22 of 27 passes, Opare racked up some good numbers, including seven recoveries, six clearances, five interceptions, a block and a tackle, winning one foul throughout. A hearty outing for his thirteenth all-time appearance in MLS.

    Opare earned the praise of both his coach and his teammates, Olsen stating, "Kofi is a big story line today. He hasn’t had a lot of minutes for us or in the League, but from what I’ve seen of Kofi, he’s a gamer. He has a mentality that he can step in and do the job, and tonight I thought he was great. It was a good match-up for him tonight."

    While Chris Pontius, who scored the game-winner, gave credit to, “Our defenders, especially Kofi stepping in for Birnbaum early, that’s not easy to step into a game that early on and I thought he was fantastic.”

    He even earned MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week honours for his outing, one that will undoubtedly have reassured Olsen that should Birnbaum's injury require a spell on the sidelines, Opare is more than capable of filling that gap on the back-line.

    Wandrille Lefevre

    Like Opare, Lefevre made his first appearance of the season, lining up in the left-sided centre-back position for Montreal in their 2-2 draw against Orlando City on Saturday.

    Having made a career-high fifteen appearances last season – thirteen as a starter – Lefevre was more than ready to stand in for the absent Laurent Ciman, away with Belgium on national team duty.

    That said, it was a bit of a mixed night for Lefevre, individually solid, his side collapsed, conceding two goals in just over a minute having strolled out to a two-goal lead inside the first 27 minutes of the match.

    Mere moments after Jack McInerney's stunning chip gave Montreal their second, Pedro Ribeiro drew one back for the visitors. Though

    , it would be harsh to put him at fault. The same could be said of the second goal just 82 seconds later. Neither Lefevre, nor his centre-back partner Bakary Soumare challenged Ribeiro to impede his progress towards goal,
    – Lefevre was not best pleased.

    Aside from those two blemishes, the French-born defender was impressive, compiling figures that challenge Opare's, including nine recoveries, seven interceptions, six clearances, and a tackle, winning and conceding a foul each way.

    Perhaps his best intervention of the game was a sliding challenge on Eric Avila, timed to perfection, sliding in to stop the attacker's progress with a strong tackle, deflecting the ball of Avila himself and out for a goal-kick. Orlando cried for a penalty, but there was absolutely no grounds for one.

    Lefevre had to be prepared for the physical side of the game as well, getting flattened in the box by Sean St Ledger early on a corner kick – which may have been worthy of drawing a penalty itself – later getting leveled by his own keeper, Eric Kronberg, as he rushed out to collect a high cross, and then Lefevre himself put a heavy body-check into Kaka in midfield to attempt to break up an attack – for which he was lucky to escape a booking.

    And his passing, long an impressive feature of his game, was once more excellent, completing all but eight of some forty-plus attempts.

    Another impressive debut from a fringe-Canadian.

    Ashtone Morgan

    Following a suspect outing in Columbus two weeks ago, where Morgan could be blamed – at least in part – for both Columbus goals and was nearly directly responsible for a third, he resumed his left-back role for TFC in their 2-1 loss in Salt Lake on Sunday.

    Deputizing for the suspended Justin Morrow, Morgan, making his first start of the season, looked an all-together more comfortable player, even showing glimpses of the attacking impetus that earned him such plaudits as he broke onto the scene in 2011 and 2012.

    Having learned the lesson of being slow to close down a potential cross, Morgan was out quick to slow Sebastian Jaime early and then held the off-side line well to force the Salt Lake attacker off in a later attempt – Jaime would find the back of the net, but the raised flag denied any celebration.

    The Toronto, Ontario-native would end the night with three interceptions, two tackles, a clearance and a recovery.

    Going forward Morgan was a more confident threat, taking on Tony Beltran to win an early corner kick and then forcing a turnover out of the Salt Lake full-back before sending in a lovely ball from the left that was just beyond the reach of a stretching Luke Moore.

    At first glance, Morgan could be blamed for Salt Lake's opener – it was his side down which Luke Mulholland made his unmarked run to nod a Javier Morales cross from the left in at the back-post – but Morgan was preoccupied in the middle, already covering his mark and the responsibility to track that run lay with the recovering midfielder sauntering into frame late.

    Toronto should have been more aware that the three-man front-line of Salt Lake would occupy the defenses and it was necessary for the midfield to track other runners – or, don't let Morales get on the ball to pick those crosses. Lessons hopefully learned, though too late for this match.

    Morgan would make way for Dan Lovitz in the 77th minute, with Greg Vanney throwing caution to the wind in search of an equalizer. It would come, but Morales again would punish poor marking from TFC, once more breaking the tie, a minute after TFC leveled.

    On the ball Morgan was equally confident, completing fourteen of nineteen passes, but his cross rate is of some concern, flinging eight unsuccessful balls into the area. Crossing is a low-percentage method at the best of times, but perhaps a touch more patience and interplay on that flank would be advantageous.

    On a side note, given that Morgan saw extended minutes with TFC2 during Toronto's bye-week, could this be the first tangible sign of Canadian MLS clubs using the USL affiliation to get minutes for squad players, which then translates into better performances with the first team?

    Tesho Akindele

    Akindele started a fourth-consecutive match for FC Dallas on Saturday night, as they drew 0-0 against Seattle at home, maintaining their unbeaten start to the season, but relinquishing their winning streak with the draw.

    Initially taking up a secondary striker's position, playing centrally underneath David Texeira who led the line, Akindele was forced into a more defensive role after eighteen minutes, when Kelyn Acosta was dismissed for a high boot on Andy Rose, catching the Seattle midfielder with an errant foot to the midsection and seeing a red card for his effort.

    As Dallas reconfigured, the attacker dropped into a wide right midfielder role, running his socks off to put in a defensive shift – one of his three tackles on the night came just a few yards away from defensive corner flag, indicative of his tracking efforts.

    Despite being forced on the back-foot, the Calgary, Alberta-native was still able to get forward, twice making the runs to get on the end of Fabian Castillo through-balls. The first was slightly over-hit, running to Seattle keeper, Stefan Frei, though Akindele nearly got a touch at the last second. The next time, his progress was impeded just enough by Zach Scott to prevent Akindele from curling onto the ball with his run, allowing Frei to collect once more.

    The first attempt was perhaps the more impressive, as Akindele recognized Castillo was on the ball and made a long, diagonal run from the right touch-line to burst past the Seattle defenses and put himself in place to challenge for the chance at the left-post.

    His hustle in those aspects of the game is indeed admirable, once chasing down a long Victor Ulloa ball, sprayed into the corner, only for Scott to recover and block his attempted cross into the middle.

    Defensively, there are certain aspects the forward could work on – he was made to look a little foolish as Leo Gonzalez squirmed past him to get a ball to the near-post for Seattle's best, early chance at the end of the first half – but with four recoveries, three clearances, three tackles, and two interceptions to his name, it was a solid shift from Akindele.

    His passing, completing 12 of 21 on the night, was once more erratic, but given that Dallas were short-handed for the majority of the match, that is understandable, albeit if he were to be a touch more conservative and careful with the ball it could be useful.

    Sam Adekugbe

    Adekugbe recovered from his rib injury in time to start a third-consecutive match for Vancouver as they stole another win at the death, beating Portland 2-1 on a 90th-minute winner from Robert Earnshaw.

    Lining up once more at left-back, the English-born defender was a force on that side, factoring in attack - hugging the touch-line going forward – and contributing defensively as Vancouver held a dominant Timbers side at bay.

    He showed little effect from the injury concerns, galloping up the left with a good burst on one occasion, going down a little easy, it must be said, to win a free-kick. And, as will be noted below, he made one potentially threatening ball, finding Kianz Froese inside the Portland box, only for time to run out on his fellow Canadian before a shot could be had.

    Adekugbe showed some of that competitive spirits so required in MLS, getting in the face of Liam Ridgewell as the two battled prior to a corner kick – the veteran flung him to the ground as they waited and Adekugbe refused to play the shrinking violet.

    But his rough introduction to the perils of MLS continued, as he took an Alvas Powell cross in a very sensitive spot – it shall be called the midriff for cleanliness' sake – that saw him crumpled to the floor once more. No doubt lessons, such as don't get into a sliding tackle with a behemoth of a keeper and get those sensitive bits out of the way of crosses, have been learned.

    His passing was impressive, completing all but one of his fifteen attempts, while racking up nine clearances, six recoveries, and four interceptions on the night; winning and conceding a foul each way.

    Steven Vitoria

    Vitoria's iron-man run continued, as he started a fourth match for Philadelphia on Sunday, losing 1-0 in Chicago – Vitoria has featured in every single minute played by the club this season.

    Despite the Union's struggles – they are winless through four matches and have not scored in three of those games – the Toronto-born centre-back has barely put a foot wrong in his first 360 minutes of MLS action. And should Philadelphia's scoring woes continue, one can expect him to get a goal or two as the season plays out, being a sizable aerial threat on set-pieces.

    Back to Sunday, he made one vital intervention to prevent Quincy Amarikwa's touch from finding a streaking Kennedy Igboananike inside the area, cutting out what would have otherwise been a glorious goal-scoring chance.

    But Vitoria could be found partially at fault for letting centre-back Adailton get free on what turned out to be the game-winner in the 37th minute. Vitoria covered Eric Gehrig as he moved towards the near-post, leaving the big Brazilian to Andrew Wenger, who did not bother to track, leading to a virtually free-header on the end of Harrison Shipp's corner kick.

    While not directly his responsibility, one of his tasks with the Union this season will be to organize and coordinate those situations – something that broke down on Sunday.

    That aside, Vitoria was once more as solid as they come, racking up some impressive figures: ten recoveries, six clearances, three interceptions, a block and a tackle, winning one foul and conceding two, while misplacing just eight of his 45-plus passes.

    Jonathan Osorio

    Osorio resumed his midfield position for a third match on Sunday, as TFC fell in Salt Lake – he has started each of Toronto's three matches this season.

    Taking up his familiar right-sided midfield position, Osorio was energetic, but with Toronto chasing large sections of the game and opting to by-pass the midfield build in lieu of long balls, he was not able to get on the ball as much as one would like. Still he completed all but eight of his over-forty passes on the night.

    Somewhat isolated, the Toronto, Ontario-native would regularly cut in-field to get involved. He even made a sneaky back-post run on a corner kick, nearly getting on the end of Sebastian Giovinco's service, only for his connection to falter, slicing the attempt off target.

    It was a physical night for Osorio, he cut his hand early, requiring a moment on the sidelines for repairs, and was later flattened by Abdoulie Mansally, winning one of his two fouls of the match.

    Osorio has been a little quiet thus far this season, still adjusting to his new supplementary role as Giovinco takes centre-stage, the majority of the time on the ball, and responsibility for driving the side forward, a role that once fell largely on Osorio's shoulders.

    Kianz Froese

    Froese made a second-straight appearance from the bench for Vancouver against Portland, coming on for Nicolas Mezquida in the 58th minute.

    The Cuban-born midfielder/attacker was lively once more, making a couple of nice touches on the run to spur an attack – it would eventually fizzle out.

    He had one good chance, getting into an advanced position just inside the box to receive a pass from Sam Adekugbe, only to run out of time before getting off a shot, closed down by several defenders before the ball would settle.

    In his half-hour on the pitch, Froese completed fourteen of fifteen passes, made one clearance, and won a foul.

    Patrice Bernier

    Bernier finally made his first league appearance of the season for Montreal on Saturday, coming on in the 76th minute for Nigel Reo-Coker, who respectfully handed over the armband to the club captain as they traded positions.

    Having received a hearty applause from the home fans, the Brossard, Quebec-native showed that he still had a role to play with the club, even if he has lost a step, contributing a solid, if brief, outing that saw him complete eleven of thirteen passes, making two recoveries, one interception, and a tackle in the process.

    Bernier even got a shot from distance towards goal, though it was blocked.

    After Montreal's Champions League match two weeks ago, Bernier took to twitter to thank the fans for their support.

    While his time on the pitch may be coming to an end, there is no doubt that Bernier's leadership and calming influence will be an asset to Frank Klopas behind the scenes. Klopas has a history of keeping veterans in place, who despite few minutes on the pitch, play vital roles – as Logan Pause did for him in Chicago.

    The Rest

    Jay Chapman and Jordan Hamilton were unused substitutes on the bench for TFC in Salt Lake, called up from TFC2 to pad the squad with international absences, injury, and suspension mounting.

    Vancouver announced their list of first team players that would be going on loan to WFC2 for the upcoming USL season. Of the five players spending time between the two clubs, two were Canadians: Ben McKendry and Caleb Clarke – they are available to move between the two clubs as required. The rest of the roster can be seen here.

    Each week James takes a look at the contributions of Canadians in the league. He can be followed on twitter @grawsee and more of his writing is available at Partially Obstructed View



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