Monday Postgame: First things first
Firsts rained down on MLS this week with the force of a North Texas thunderstorm.
Just about every game on the Week Seven schedule featured a significant first of some kind. Portland Timbers nailed down their inaugural shutout as an MLS team. Will Bruin became the first rookie in Houston Dynamo history to score a hat-trick.
Three other young players scored the first MLS goals of their careers, while three veterans opened their 2011 accounts.
Even the day the week ended - May 1 - fits the theme.
Let’s take a closer look.
Real on the Rocks
After kicking off the week with a devastating loss to Mexican side CF Monterrey in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League finals, Real Salt Lake capped it with a surprising 1-0 defeat at Portland in their return to MLS play.
For the record, the CCL loss - which vaporized RSL’s 15-month effort to win the competition - was Salt Lake’s first defeat in 38 consecutive games at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The loss at Portland, meanwhile, was the Claret-and-Cobalt’s first defeat in 19 regular-season MLS games.
Not a good week for the 2009 MLS champions, but we’d say they are a good bet to restart both streaks next week.
While Real Salt Lake saw their impressive runs halted, the remade Columbus Crew - who were eliminated from the CCL by Salt Lake in March - quietly extended an unbeaten streak of their own.
Since dropping their season opener 3-1 to D.C. United, Columbus have gone undefeated in six straight games. They’ve conceded just two goals in that span and, going into Saturday’s match against Vancouver, the Crew were unscored upon at home in 2011.
They did give up their first goal in four games at Crew stadium, but Columbus got a brace from striker Emilio Renteria to win the game 2-1.
Vancouver’s goal came on a header from No. 1 SuperDraft pick Omar Salgado. The rangy 17-year-old was making his first start, and it was his first MLS goal.
The ‘Caps made a furious late push for an equalizer, but Columbus held on, thanks in large part to a sensational goal-line clearance by Josh Gardner.
The Crew are just two points behind Eastern Conference leaders New York Red Bulls, who got another goal from the pugnacious Luke Rodgers (his third of the year) and rode it to a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
New York have reeled off three straight shutout victories since a 1-0 loss to Philadelphia Union on April 9, and have conceded just two goals all season.
Like Columbus, Chivas USA remade their roster after the 2010 season. And slso like the Crew, the Goats have embarked on a quietly impressive run of form since beginning the season on a losing note.
Chivas USA are now unbeaten in five straight games after demolishing Shalrie Joseph, Benny Feilhaber, and New England Revolution 3-0 on Saturday night. It could have been worse, too, if not for a spectacular double save by New England goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the late going.
Houston had a similar breakout game as Bruin, the rookie out of Indiana University, shredded D.C. United’s struggling defense for three goals to lead a 4-1 rout.
There could be more goals on the horizon for the Dynamo, who welcomed veteran striker Brian Ching back from injury and saw the first MLS appearance of new Spanish striker Koke.
Joining New York and Portland on the other end of the goal-production spectrum this week were Philadelphia, who downed San Jose Earthquakes 1-0, and Colorado Rapids and Chicago Fire, who split the points at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in a 1-1 draw.
Philadelphia lost defender Jordan Harvey to a debatable red card in the 41st minute against San Jose, but used the ejection as inspiration to outplay the Quakes in the second half. The 10-man Union forced a 74th-minute handball in the box by Quakes defender Jason Hernandez. Sebastien Le Toux buried the penalty for his first goal of the year.
The defending champion Rapids ended a three-game skid with their 1-1 draw against Chicago. Marco Pappa scored for the visitors, while Harvard University alum Andre Akpan scored his first MLS goal for Colorado.
In Portland’s win over RSL, Kenny Cooper scored his third goal of the season in the 22nd minute, and a well-organized, compact Timbers team denied Real Salt Lake the rest of the way to make it stand up.
It was the first MLS shutout for the boys from The City of Roses, as well as an impressive, confidence-building win. Now, if Portland could only bottle that form for the road, where they are 0W-3L-1D.
Absent But Not Forgotten
Portland’s Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders FC played this week without speedy winger Steve Zakuani, who had his leg broken by Brian Mullan’s tackle on April 22.
Sounders FC were also without striker O'Brian White, who underwent surgery to remove a blood clot in his left leg, and attacker Mauro Rosales, who had a hamstring problem.
Fortunately for Seattle fans, their opponent this week was Toronto FC, a work-in-progress team riding a five-game winless streak in league play.
The home team wasted little time in their effort to push that streak to six, as Alvaro Fernandez headed in Brad Evans’ cross for a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute.
Two minutes later, the Seattle fans paid tribute to the injured Zakuani, holding up a sea of placards bearing his No. 11 and chanting his name. It was an impressive display, and it helped inspire Seattle’s eventual 3-0 rout.
In Dallas, where they also lost a star player to broken bones last week, it was rookie Fabián Castillo who honored injured 2010 MVP David Ferreira.
After Castillo’s looping goal - the first of his MLS career - put The Hoops up 1-0 in the 47th minute, the 18-year-old produced a Ferreira No. 10 jersey in honour of the absent captain.
Landon Donovan equalized for LA Galaxy in the 51st minute, and then, about 10 minutes from time, the weather in Frisco, Texas, took a turn for the worse. Lightning flashed repeatedly, and the game was suspended due to the hazard.
When the action resumed roughly one hour later, FC Dallas’ Brek Shea scored a late (very late) winner, depositing what was either a mis-hit cross or a perfectly weighted chip into the far-side netting.
If it was the former, good luck getting the player to admit it. That would be yet another first in a week overflowing with them.