Round 26 of MLS play began on Wednesday night and eleven matches later, concluded on Sunday.
With the season winding down and teams jockeying for playoff positions, it is beginning to get tense. Players are tired after a long season, emotions are ruffled, and, in some cases, the airing of grievances is necessary.
One would assume that desperation would entail tight games, while that is usually true, several matches broke out of the strict form and turned chaotic.
The eleven games resulted in three draws and just one away win – LA over Vancouver.
A whopping 39 goals were scored – including a perfect four for four from the penalty spot and a single own-goal, leading to lop-sided scores, including two franchise-worst defeats – for Houston and Philadelphia.
There were braces aplenty with four players scoring twice: Marco Di Vaio, Kyle Beckerman, Erick Torres, and Kelyn Rowe.
28 yellow cards were flashed and a staggering seven red cards – four straight and three accumulative – were deem necessary by the referees.
As always, before the results, the goals of the round:[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
A trio of wonder goals to consider – in fact, there could have been many more – Landon Donovan’s early blast in Vancouver and Di Vaio’s first against Houston earn honourable mentions
In chronological order, up first is Dwayne De Rosario’s thunderous hit from distance against his former club, Toronto FC.
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Classic De Rosario; the next contender was courtesy of Montreal’s Felipe, who was immense this weekend.
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Patient and clinical; and finally, the third nominee goes to New England’s Kelyn Rowe and his swerving long-range bomb against Philadelphia.
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What a hit. Which do you prefer? Or does another strike the fancy?
Midweek Results in a Sentence
Chivas would take the lead moments before half-time, through debutant Bryan de la Fuente, but three Dallas goals in the final twenty minutes – Blas Perez, David Ferreira, and Ramon Nunez - would earn the visiting side the win, snapping their eleven-match winless streak and extend the woes of Los Ameri-Goats – now winless in four.
An entertaining six-goal thriller saw Portland take the lead through Rodney Wallace before goals from Nat Borchers and Javier Morales – from the spot – put Salt Lake ahead entering the half; Diego Valeri converted a spot-kick of his own and Kalif Alhassan looked to have the winner for the home-side, but Cole Grossman found a 93rd minute equalizer to level a match that neither deserved to lose.
Results in Brief
Chicago 1 – Kansas City 0
Friday night’s appetizer pitted two Eastern Conference clubs, each in need of three points. Hosts Chicago sit on the outside looking in, while Kansas City’s tenuous grasp on the conference lead has been weakened by three losses in their last four outings.
One goal was all that would decide the outcome and it came early. A 13th minute Jalil Anibaba right-sided throw-in was half-cleared to Alex, who played it back out to the Chicago defender. Anibaba hit a driven cross to the back-post, where Mike Magee stretched to keep it in and touch the ball back into the middle. Hunter Jumper, in for the suspended Bakary Soumare, reacted quickest, dropping low for a foot-height diving header before Aurelien Collin could clear – it was his first career goal.
Frank Klopas’ Fire, overcoming the midweek viral rage, would see out the result, keeping their first clean-sheet in fifteen matches, to pull themselves within two points of the fifth and final spot in the East. Peter Vermes and Kansas City face a tough double-game week – including a long trip to Honduran-side, CD Olimpia in the Champions League – having lost four of their last five, without a goal through two matches, and falling off the pole position to third in the East.
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DC 1 – Toronto 1
The Battle of the Eastern basement kicked off the Saturday evening action at venerable RFK Stadium in DC – a fitting site for such a dire and pointless match. With neither side at risk of a post-season venture, pride, more than points, were on the line, with the added bonus of familiar faces lined up on opposite sides of the pitch.
Dwayne De Rosario has a way of biting the hand that fed him and it took just ten minutes for the Canadian to chalk one up against his former employers. Perry Kitchen lofted a ball from the centre-circle up to De Rosario on the left; he cut around the half-hearted challenge of Reggie Lambe, took advantage of a labouring Jonathan Osorio – who would leave the match with an ankle knock shortly thereafter – shaking and baking into the centre of the pitch. From some thirty yards, De Rosario unleashed a fierce right-footer; the shot bent around the outstretched arms of Joe Bendik and nestled into the right-side of goal.
Luis Silva looked to add another against the club he recently departed, but was denied a spectacular aerial kick by a fine save from Bendik.
Lambe would not rest as the sacrifice; praying on a loose clearance from Dejan Jakovic, after his initial through-ball for Robert Earnshaw had been cut out by the defender, he moved down the left-side of the box, hit a low cross to the penalty spot, where Bobby Convey connected well with his left-foot, targeting his effort to the low near corner to level the match in the 60th minute.
Ben Olsen, DC manager – whose suspension following his dismissal in Montreal was lifted, will have enjoyed the verve with which his side took the game to TFC, but will be disappointed at not adding a second and conceding such an unexpected equalizer. Ryan Nelsen – and Kevin Payne, both DC alumni – will have enjoyed stoking the memories, but would rather have taken all three points.
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Montreal 5 – Houston 0
A match between Eastern powerhouses, both off midweek Champions League excursions to the far-flung reaches of the region, should have been close, but Montreal had other ideas.
The first half hour passed without major incident, but then Montreal’s attacking trio of Marco Di Vaio, Justin Mapp, and most importantly, Felipe, sprung to life.
Di Vaio grabbed the first in the 35th minute, collecting a ball from Mapp on the right-side of the box, moving inside past the stagnant Corey Ashe and lashing a left-footed laser to the top left corner of the goal.
Two minutes later Felipe outdid him, after a well-constructed play saw midfield maestro – now they have two – Hernan Bernardello spray a ball out to Di Vaio on the right to move towards goal. Ashe would interrupt his flow, but Mapp was on hand to pick up the loose ball and cross to Felipe on the left. Without moving an inch, the Brazilian positioned Kofi Sarkodie as the perfect screen, before bending a right-footer low into the far-side netting, leaving Tally Hall motionless and perturbed.
Jeb Brovsky would add a third in the 58th minute, after Adam Moffat inadvertently flicked a left-sided, in-swinging Bernardello corner kick on to the far-post, where the left-back got in front of his marker, Will Bruin, to tap in with his right-boot.
Di Vaio nabbed his second in the 70th, again Felipe provided the inspiration, hitting a Alessandro Nesta pass first time, over the stationary Houston back-line springing both Di Vaio and Patrice Bernier in alone on goal. Bernier, down the right, unselfishly squared to Di Vaio for a simple right-footer into the empty net – a vigourous hug was just reward for the Canadian.
Andrea Pisanu would round out the scoring with a fifth goal in the 91st minute, played in down the left by a sumptuous Felipe through-ball and finishing calmly under the on-rushing Hall to score his first in the league.
Mauro Biello, in for the suspended – again – Marco Schallibaum, noted post-match that perhaps Montreal, who took some criticism for falling midweek in Guatemala - was well-suited to a gentle scolding, recalling that the last time their fans gave them grief, they dismantled TFC in the second leg of the Voyageur’s Cup. Dominic Kinnear was terse in his reply to what the club will look to change for their next match, “The result. To play better.”
(Edit: The quote attributed to Biello above was actually Patrice Bernier, got the source mixed up - Biello was happy to win)
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Vancouver 0 – Los Angeles 1
Another match that should have been so much more saw Vancouver and Los Angeles meet at BC Place, separated by a mere point, holding down the final two spots in the West.
And again it was an early goal - the third of the weekend – that would prove decisive, as Landon Donovan’s third-minute screamer would stand up to the remaining 87 minutes of play.
AJ De La Garza intercepted a loose pass from Matt Watson and stole down the right, rolling up to Robbie Keane, the Irishman attracted both Whitecaps centre-backs, before laying off to Donovan moving into a gap down the middle. Donovan struck the ball early and sweetly, sending a rising shot bound for the top left-corner of the goal, David Ousted, who was caught off-balance, could offer little by way of resistance.
Vancouver, who had their chances, though mostly from distance, nearly stole an equalizer in the dying seconds. Kekuta Manneh hit a fierce drive from way out, only to see his effort rebound off the right post, Jordan Harvey raced onto the rebound, but his finish into the empty net was cruelly avert by a miraculous diving hand from recently-acquired Panamanian keeper, Jaime Penedo.
Martin Rennie’s Vancouver, who have only won one of their last six matches, were shutout once more – the third time in their last five – and plummeted down the table before landing in seventh spot, though only a point outside the final playoff berth. Bruce Arena’s Los Angeles appears to have finally found a keeper who will win games rather than lose them; the rest of the league shudders at the horrifying thought.
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Dallas 2 – San Jose 2
At the same time, two Western stragglers met in Texas, each looking to surge back into the reckoning after turning around tough times. Dallas, who ended their long winless streak at eleven matches with a midweek victory over Chivas, entered tied with Vancouver for that final spot, while San Jose, who have thus far failed to live up to their Supporter’s Shield winner’s form of last season, pieced together five-straight home wins, to position themselves within three points of their hosts.
An Alan Gordon goal after eight minutes continued the early-goal theme of the round. Cordell Cato pressured rookie right-back Kelyn Acosta into a turnover, raced down the left towards the end-line and cut a pass back to the top of the box, where Gordon strolled onto it and shaped a right-footer to the bottom right corner of the goal.
San Jose looked primed to snap a four-game road losing skid when Steven Beitashour doubled their lead in the 16th, after initiating the move with a ball up to Gordon. The big striker laid off to Rafael Baca, who chipped a delicious ball through the Dallas back-line for Beitashour, who had wisely continued his run, to direct on to the left-side of goal with a cushioned right-footed touch.
But that only served to rouse Dallas out of their funk, three minutes later Blas Perez clawed one back, after a left-sided Jair Benitez throw-in to Michel allowed the pinpoint Brazilian to cross to the edge of the box, where Je-Vaughan Watson won the header goal-ward and the pointy Panamanian beat Jon Busch to the loose ball with an outstretched right-foot.
Perez, a controversial character at times, would craft the second as well, dropping like a sack of potatoes after Victor Bernardez cut across him in the box, as he chested down a Watson chip at the back-post. The referee pointed to the spot and Michel coolly beat Busch with a left-footer to the keeper’s right in the 72nd minute, having sent the veteran guessing the other direction.
A tenacious match that saw some 32 fouls called descended into near-chaos. Justin Morrow was sent off in the 81st minute for a desperate and dangerous lunge on Ramon Nunez, snapping a counterattack and thankfully, not bones, before Bernardez and Kenny Cooper renewed acquaintances, each seeing red in the 86th.
Schellas Hyndman’s Dallas, toothless for the better part of three months, came from behind in a second-straight match, forcing themselves back into post-season consideration, tied for the final Western Conference spot. Mark Watson, interim San Jose coach, will be dismayed at how his side frittered away a two-goal lead on the road, but of course, it is that most dangerous of leads.
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Salt Lake 4 – Columbus 0
The fifth and final match of the evening – one of only two cross-conference fixtures this weekend – saw a struggling Salt Lake – winless in four - welcome an in-form Columbus – riding consecutive wins - to the Rio Tinto.
Columbus had won the last three meetings between the clubs, but, buoyed by a strong draw in Portland on Wednesday, Salt Lake were the better of the two, though it took a hint of fortune in first half stoppage-time to break the deadlock.
A foul was awarded after a Chad Marshall hand-ball and Javier Morales stepped up to the right-sided free-kick from 25 yards. His right-footed attempt first clipped off the inside of the fracturing wall, then off the leg of Kyle Beckerman, to sneak into the bottom right-corner of the goal.
Salt Lake would double their advantage five minutes into the second half, when Beckerman and Morales combined once more, the former playing in-field to the latter, who then threaded a ball inside the Crew left-back for Olmes Garcia, surging down the right. Garcia lifted his head and squared to the middle for the unmarked Devon Sandoval to left-foot into the open goal.
Luis Gil would add a third in the final ten minutes, finishing off some astonishing ball movement involving Sebastian Velasquez and Ned Grabavoy, with a calm step around Josh Williams and a slotted finish. Beckerman would pile on one more in the final minute of regulation, after Morales laid Velasquez down the left and his cross was only partially cut out by Williams, who touched the ball perfectly for Beckerman to finish low to the bottom left-corner of the goal with a measured right-footed shot.
With the three points, Jason Kreis’ Lakers would solidify their grasp on both first place in the West and the Supporter’s Shield – five points ahead of LA and four in front of Montreal, respectively (though LA has two games in hand and Montreal, three). Robert Warzycha’s night-to-forget will have dire consequences for Columbus, as Federico Higuain’s two yellow cards will see him miss the next two matches – one for the red and one for caution accumulation – at a desperate part of the season.
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Chivas 3 – New York 2
The Sunday fixtures began with an afternoon clash in Los Angeles, with lowly Chivas hosting the high-profile Red Bulls. Los Ameri-Goats, winless in four, losers of five of their last seven, and fresh off a dispiriting midweek defeat after taking the lead against Dallas – many would have considered New York the favourites. But, Red Bull are Janus-faced warriors, fearsome at home – usually – yet loathsome on the road, and so they would prove once more.
Julio Morales opened the scoring for the hosts in the 30th minute with his first professional goal. Edgar Mejia collected a weak Marcus Holgersson clearing header on the left, played in-field to Carlos Alvarez, who found Morales to the right of the arc. The nineteen-year old collected with his right-foot, teeing up his left for a low strike that snuck inside the right-post, past Luis Robles in goal.
Tim Cahill would negate that advantage a minute later from a right-sided Thierry Henry corner kick, rising highest at the back-post and heading off the inside of the post – it would sneak over the line before Marky Delgado could clear.
But Chivas had had a taste and New York was eager to assist. Ibrahim Sekagya barged over the much smaller Cubo Torres in the closing seconds of first half stoppage-time and the referee pointed to the spot – Torres would convert the chance himself with a right-footer low to the left-side of the goal.
And Torres would provide a measure of insurance in the 81st, notching his second of the match after a quick break down the left from another youngster, Bryan de la Fuente. The speedy wide attacker lifted his head, spotted Carlos Alvarez unmarked at the far-side and made the pass. Alvarez’ attempt was blocked by Kosuke Kimura, but the rebound fell to Torres, who spun and hit a right-footer low to the right-side of the goal to put Chivas solidly in front.
Five minutes later New York made a match of the closing minutes; Dax McCarty won a left-sided Henry free-kick at the back-post, nodding his header down and against the grain, bouncing it past Dan Kennedy in goal. Red Bull nearly found an equalizer – after Kennedy spilled – but Bobby Burling’s goal-line clearance on Cahill spared any undue blushes. Besides, Kennedy’s two miraculous saves on Fabian Espindola in the first half – not to mention the rest of the season – have him firmly in the green on the teammate-bacon-saving ledger.
Post-match Chivas boss, Jose Luis Real, praised his side’s hard work, hailing it as their best performance to date under his guidance. New York’s Mike Petke, however, was left to apologize for another woeful road performance from his charges, who passed up the chance to take over top spot in the East.
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New England 5 – Philadelphia 1
The next match provided an even greater shock, if not in result, then definitely in the volume with which it was achieved. New England entered five points behind Philadelphia, who were pressing for the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference, having shored up their leaky defense by keeping four clean-sheets in their last five matches.
The first half played out in the normal fashion, Kelyn Rowe took advantage of a pocket of space in front of the Union back-four in the 26th minute, hitting a low, right-footer from some distance into the bottom left-corner of the goal, tracing it beyond the reach of Zac MacMath in goal.
Danny Cruz would level in the 50th, racing onto a Conor Casey through-ball down the left, rounding Matt Reis, who foolhardily rushed off his line, and curling a left-footer into the far side-netting.
Then the madness began.
Over the next eight minutes, one Philadelphia goal – from Sebastien Le Toux – was properly ruled offside, before a touch of controversy turned the tides for good: Reis failed to collect a loose ball, which lay tantalizingly in his feet for Casey to stab home. The referee called back play for a foul on the keeper, though there was none whatsoever.
In the 58th minute, Amobi Okugo turned a Juan Agudelo shot into his own-goal, after Diego Fagundez had charged down the middle and dished out to his fellow attacker on the right.
Seven minutes later, Rowe netted his second long-range bomb of the night, this one even more impressive than the first.
Dimitry Imbongo corralled a Reis goal-kick, held off the attentions of Okugo, then played in to Rowe striding down the middle. His right-footed blast from more than thirty yards out, swerved into the top right-corner of the goal. Simply sensational.
Dejected Philly would allow a fourth in the 71st – Fagundez getting in on the act after a leading pass from Scott Caldwell played him in down the left to tuck a right-footer past MacMath at the short-side – and a fifth in the 73rd – Agudelo splicing through the back-line onto a Fagundez ball down the left-side of the box, poking his finish high over the sliding keeper at the near-post.
Jay Heaps, no doubt elated by the offensive output, was beaming at the potential of his side – they laid five on Los Angeles back in June – but knows the path to the playoffs is built on consistency, not outbursts. John Hackworth, smarting from a twist of fate that brought on the franchise’s worst-ever defeat will be looking to put this result behind him with the post-season still very much an attainable goal.
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Seattle 1 – Portland 0
After such a dramatic and action-packed weekend, what better way to close out the round than with a scintillating Pacific Northwest, Cascadia Cup, Clint-Dempsey-fueled derby in Seattle, however, the fates had a different plan and the fixture list ended as it started, with a tight match, decided by a single goal.
Seattle, unbeaten in nine at home, playing in front of an astonishing 67 000-plus fans – the second-largest stand-alone crowd in MLS history (or so they say), nearly fell behind, saved from that ignominy by DeAndre Yedlin on the back-post, clearing a goal-bound Jack Jewsbury header off the line.
Portland, shorn of their two central midfield generals - Will Johnson, still troubled by a shoulder injury suffered in the Open Cup in Salt Lake and Diego Chara, suspended due to yellow card accumulation for a piddling first half stoppage-time foul midweek against Salt Lake (rest assured, Caleb Porter would be cursing Kreis’ side for their role in both hamstringings) – put up a brave fight under the glare of the so many disparaging eyes.
Another rash foul would prove their undoing; Pa Modou Kah hacked down Eddie Johnson moments before the hour mark and Mauro Rosales stepped up to the dead-ball.
Rosales, who has recently re-found his form after a trying season, had chipped in with either a goal or an assist in Seattle previous four matches. He would make it five with an inviting free-kick from the left, which curved gracefully towards the back-post, needing only the faintest of touches to tickle the twine.
Johnson would provide that goodnight kiss, escaping the mark of youngster Alvas Powell – why was such a newbie marking Eddie, anyways – on the hour mark, guiding his header down to the bottom right-corner of the Portland goal.
The Timbers would press, calling Seattle keeper, Michael Gspurning, into action at the death, forcing a fingertip save on a Darlington Nagbe strike, which was lifted over the bar.
Post-match Seattle coach Sigi Schmid was suitably pleased with the outcome – the three points put Seattle into that final playoff spot and will raise the spirits for the remaining eleven matches, though there lies another meeting with Portland in October. Caleb Porter, will rue their misfortune, but take pride in how well his under-strength side responded to the situation.
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As usual, the extended look at the Canadian contributions will be up midday tomorrow (Tuesday).
Plenty to go over including Dwayne De Rosario’s resurgent form, Patrice Bernier’s continued excellence, injury to Jonathan Osorio, impressive displays from Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan, as well as, Will Johnsons extended absence.
Perhaps the most fractious moment of the weekend was the double red card incident that saw Dallas’ Kenny Cooper and San Jose’s Victor Bernardez dismissed.
Bernardez knocks down Cooper from behind, only for the striker to respond by throwing the big Honduran to the ground. Of course, the Earthquakes announcers were perplexed. But close inspection shows that Bernardez needlessly stepped on Cooper, as he lay on the ground.
Post-match, Dallas coach, Schellas Hyndman reminded us of their previous run in back in May: “That was Bernardez that threw him into the stands. I still at times think there’s an effect from that. It takes a long time to [get over]." Cooper would miss several matches with a concussion and Bernardez was handed a two-game suspension by the Disciplinary Committee.
Hyndman continued, "We have Ugo Ihemelu who is sitting out the year from his concussion, so he’s a constant reminder to our players that this could happen to them.”
See It Live
Chivas’ impressive loanee, Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres had a pretty terrible whiff on a back-pass from the kickoff on Wednesday - it was humourous. Keep your eye on the ball.
Federico Higuain’s costly tantrum was worth a watch - it will be interesting to see if the league is lenient with the superstar, while Jaime Penedo’s game-saving, Superman stop was spectacular.
Was this a red card? Salt Lake’s Yordany Alvarez, fresh off a red card suspension is shown another for this lunge on Diego Chara.
Penalty or dive? Super Raton strikes again, winning his side and game-tying penalty kick.
Goal or no goal? (of course, they hold back the video – watch for Simon Borg’s Instant Replay to cover the incident) Conor Casey’s disallowed goal turned the tide in New England.
In the East, Montreal leaps over both Kansas City and New York into top spot, while New England muscle into the fifth and final spot. Seven points separate seventh from first.
In the West, Salt Lake extend their lead to five points, with LA hopping over Colorado and Portland, who were stationary on the weekend. Vancouver were the biggest losers on the weekend, dropping two places to seventh, though a mere six points separates eighth from second.
An editorial from the Chicago Fire’s Director of Communications spread through the MLS world like wild-fire last week.
Is it right for the club to address their fans in this manner? Or was it thin-skinned and pathetic?
More MLS participation in the Champions League coming up midweek with Houston hosting Panamanians Arabe Unido on Tuesday and San Jose bound for Costa Rica to face Heredia on Wednesday.
Friday: Toronto-New England; Salt Lake-Portland. Saturday: Columbus-Seattle; Philadelphia-Montreal; New York-DC; Kansas City-Colorado; Los Angeles-San Jose. Sunday: Chicago-Houston; Vancouver-Chivas.
A quick turnaround to another Salt Lake-Portland match up on Friday – the first meeting, in the US Open Cup, was slow, last Wednesday match was a cracker, this one should only be better with Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson likely to take part.
The Sigi Schmid derby – between Columbus and Seattle, Red Bull hosting United in the Atlantic Cup, and of course, the California Clasico between LA and San Jose, these ones always entertain.
Each week James takes a look at the league as a whole.
You can follow James on twitter @grawsee or read more of his writing at Partially Obstructed View