USA: MLS Week 23 Report


THE 23rd week of MLS action threw up some interesting fixtures: first vs second in the Eastern Conference, bottom vs second-bottom in the Western Conference, and two hotly-contested derbies. There were also goals seconds after kick-off and – as has become a regular occurrence this season – late drama in stoppage time. The culmination of the US national team’s Gold Cup campaign has seen many clubs’ star players return to MLS action, and this weekend’s fixtures were all the richer for the added quality.

We start in Kansas, where first-placed Sporting KC tried to defend their hold on the Eastern Conference against second-placed New York Red Bulls. Predictably, this game was full of drama. The Red Bulls took the lead on 27 minutes thanks to Jonathan Steele’s low shot, but Kansas levelled in first-half injury time when Kei Kamara reacted quickest to pounce on the loose ball after Luis Robles had parried a Soony Saad shot.

Red Bulls coach Mike Petke introduced ex-Charlton Athletic winger Lloyd Sam (pictured above) on 63 minutes, and it was a decision which turned the game around. The substitute’s first action was to play Fabian Espindola through to score from a tight angle, and six minutes later, Sam confirmed his status as a supersub when he added a fine goal of his own to make it 3-1. Goalkeeper Robles started a quick counter-attack by launching the ball half the length of the pitch; the impressive Steele centered and Sam beat the last man and Kansas custodian Jimmy Neil.

The hosts’ Dominic Dwyer halved the deficit on 92 minutes from a Kamara cross, but despite a ridiculous ten minutes’ stoppage time, Kansas couldn’t find an equaliser. New York’s Thierry Henry celebrated more than most at the final whistle, perhaps still bitter from his controversial red card in this fixture two years ago.  This win sees the Red Bulls overtake their opponents into first place, opening up a two-point lead at the top of the table.

With Kansas slipping up, third-placed Montreal Impact hoped to take advantage in their visit to lowly DC United, but it was the Washington strugglers who bagged all three points here. Luis Silva, who has quickly emerged as DC’s best player since joining from Toronto in July, scored his third goal in as many games for United, opening the scoring on 19 minutes following a period of sustained pressure from the hosts. On 52 minutes, the Impact levelled after right-back Jeb Brovsky’s clever one-two with Davy Arnaud outfoxed the DC defence and put him through on goal.

However, United were not to be denied and they regained the lead with 20 minutes to play when Derby County loanee Conor Doyle scored his first senior career goal, and it got better for Ben Olsen’s men: they added a third in injury time when Doyle broke clear; with Montreal’s defence nowhere to be seen, and with Jared Jeffrey in support for DC, Doyle had a two-on-one against Impact ‘keeper Troy Perkins. He made no mistake, unselfishly feeding Jeffrey to tap into an open net and crown an excellent result for the Eastern Conference’s bottom club.

With a raft of promising youngsters coming through, Silva in excellent form, and the talismanic Dwayne De Rosario back from injury, things are certainly looking up for DC, but Montreal supremo Marco Shallibaum will be concerned by his team’s poor run: they have now won just once in their last seven games.

The Chicago Fire kept their play-off hopes alive with a 2-1 win at the Philadelphia Union. Estonia international Joel Lindpere’s cross from the left was missed by everyone and ran through for Patrick Nyarko to open the scoring on 9 minutes. The Union responded well, with Danny Cruz and Sebastian Le Toux both going close, before defender Sheanon Williams equalised on the hour with surely the strangest goal of the season. Trying desperately to get on the end of a Le Toux free-kick, Williams performed an accidental slow-motion forward roll, and the ball followed his forward movement with perfect symmetry, carrying it into the net via his studs.

However, Williams’ amateur acrobatics counted for nothing when the Fire’s prolific Mike Magee swept home the winner against the run of play, making him the league’s top scorer with 14 goals. It was harsh on Philadelphia, who had carved out the game’s best openings, but Chicago held on for a precious three points.

Real Salt Lake needed just 80 seconds to open the scoring away to the Colorado Rapids, Kyle Beckerman crossing for the unmarked Ned Grabavoy to take advantage of an already disorganised Rapids backline. However, RSL’s defence was equally slow to react eight minutes later when Clinton Irvin’s goal-kick was flicked on; Real’s centre-backs fatally allowed the ball to bounce, giving the speedy Deshorn Brown time to nip in and slide an equaliser.

The action continued to come thick and fast, with RSL taking the lead once more on 20 minutes. Robbie Findley was floored by Rapids defender Drew Moor, and – after debate as to whether the game should be abandoned due to the swirling winds overhead – Alvaro Saborio converted the penalty. Saborio and his team-mates needed goalkeeper Nick Rimando to make three fine saves to protect their lead, but even he was helpless to prevent Colorado’s equaliser on 70 minutes through substitute Jaime Castrillon’s header. The draw meant the Rapids won the Rocky Mountain Cup – contested annually by these two clubs – as they had won and drawn against Real in the first two games. The triumph represents the Rapids’ first Mountain Cup win since 2006.

The Houston Dynamo lifted themselves back into the Eastern play-off places with a 3-1 defeat of the Columbus Crew. In yet another early goal, Houston’s ex-Derby midfielder Giles Barnes used his pace to break clear on 10 minutes before falling under Chad Marshall’s challenge; Brad Davis made no mistake from the spot. Honduras international Boniek Garcia set up the hosts’ second after half an hour, robbing Agustin Viana on the half-way line before breaking forward and feeding Will Bruin, who finished well – so confidently, in fact, you wouldn’t have guessed it was Bruin’s first goal since May.

Columbus pulled once back with 75 minutes on the clock when Houston defender Kofi Sarkodie scored an unfortunate own goal, prodding the ball into his own net in an attempt to stop Crew substitute Ryan Findley doing the same. The visitors then missed a great chance to draw level as momentum swung in their favour, Justin Meram spotting the unmarked Bernardo Anor at the back post, only for the Venezuelan to side-foot wide when it looked easier to score. Houston made them pay with five minutes remaining when Cam Weaver arrowed a fine effort into the top corner with the outside of his boot to seal the victory.

Having helped the US national team to Gold Cup success last month,  San Jose Earthquakes frontman Chris Wondolowski transferred his midas touch to domestic action, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Chivas USA in a meeting of the Western Conference’s worst two sides. Chivas – thirteen points adrift at the foot of the table – missed two good chances before San Jose opened the scoring in the final few seconds of the first half. Steven Beitashour’s inch-perfect long ball was nodded back across goal by Victor Bernardez, and Wondolowski hardly had to break stride to head into the roof of the net.

Chivas thought they’d grabbed an equaliser through Mario De Luna’s header on 58 minutes, only for the linesman to rule it out for offside, and things got worse for the California outfit when they had former Fulham man Carlos Bocanegra shown a straight red for a robust tackle on the Earthquakes’ Shea Salinas. Referee Armando Villarreal showed no hesitation in whipping out the card – the tenth red he’s shown in 23 games as an MLS official. The hosts made sure of the win late on when Salinas’ shot was parried by Dan Kennedy and Wondolowski coolly chipped home the rebound. The Earthquakes’ clean sheet – only their third of the season – will likely please interim manager Mark Watson as much as the win.

High-profile Seattle Sounders recruit Clint Dempsey has spoken of his excitement at being back in the MLS, and he’ll be even more eager to get started after watching from the stands as his team-mates secured a comfortable 3-0 win over FC Dallas. Over 39,000 were present at the CenturyLink field – a figure no doubt swelled by Dempsey’s attendance – and they were not disappointed as the Sounders flew out of the traps to open up a two-goal lead within 25 minutes. The first arrived with nine minutes played as Obafemi Martins headed Mauro Rosales’ free-kick over his shoulder and into the net, despite having his back to goal. Around a quarter of an hour later, Martins’ strike partner Eddie Johnson doubled the Sounders’ advantage after breaking away from the Dallas defence too easily and latching onto Brad Evans’ through ball.

Dalllas improved in the second half but Evans sealed the win from the spot in the 94th minute after Lamar Neagle had been felled by David Ferreira – it was no more than Ferreira deserved for his awful bleach-blonde mullet. An impressive performance from the Sounders, but they should have points deducted for showing a dreadful video of Dempsey “rapping” as part of his unveiling as a Seattle player.

In Portland, Oregon, the Timbers had to settle for a 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps in a feisty Cascadia derby that saw 30 fouls and six yellow cards. With the teams separated by just two points in the Western Conference, this game was always likely to be close, and so it proved. The Timbers survived a penalty scare just 10 seconds in when Kekuta Manneh went down under Pa-Modou Kah’s challenge, and on 33 minutes the hosts had a claim of their own ignored by ref Radu Petrescu after Darlington Nagbe collapsed in a heap under the attention of a group of Caps defenders.

The first goal arrived on 49 minutes, Timbers targetman Ryan Johnson heading home from Diego Valeri’s cross, but with 20 minutes to play, Caps’ Jordan Harvey restored parity from Camilo Sanvezzo’s corner to ensure it ended all square.

Sunday’s only fixture saw Ryan Nelsen’s Toronto pull off an impressive victory at the New England Revolution. Matias Laba’s 2nd minute goal was the difference between the two teams. Winning the ball on the half-way line, Laba produced a fine solo effort, slaloming past two challenges and finishing at the second attempt. The Revs came back strongly, and only goal-line clearances from Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley preserved Toronto’s lead. New England’s Andrew Farrell was unlucky not to get an assist from his brilliantly improvised overhead-kick cross, but with the hosts’ attack seemingly having an off day, the Canadians were able to hold out. Incredibly, this win marks the first time Toronto have won and kept a clean sheet since July 2012 – and that was also against the poor old Revs.


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