Long Weekend Postgame: True fireworks in Week 16
Apparently, the young stars of MLS were waiting for the Fourth of July/Canada Day long weekend to stage their breakout performances. You have to appreciate their sense of the moment.
While the United States celebrated its 235th birthday - and Canada its 144th birthday - in the customary fashion, young MLSers produced explosive turns of their own from coast to coast.
There was a dazzling strike from a 20-year-old in Portland, and a red-hued rocket from a teenager in the nation’s capital. In Los Angeles, a 21-year-old goalkeeper sparkled in his MLS debut, while in Dallas, a 21-year-old and a 23-year-old lit up the opposition, again.
Of course, there were also some duds: one rookie made an uncharacteristic gaffe, a young team extended its winless streak to six games, and an inexperienced referee made a controversial decision in a 3-3 draw at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Stand back while we re-light this candle in this special Tuesday edition of the Monday Postgame.
FC Dallas were 2W-3L-1D when they lost 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira to injury on April 23. No one would argue that they’ve gotten better since losing their playmaker, but The Hoops are currently 10W-4L-4D, and they’ve dealt with the loss better than anyone could have imagined.
FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman has turned Brek Shea and Jackson Gonçalves loose on the flanks, and on Saturday night, both players scored their fourth goal in the past four games to lead The Hoops to a 2-0 win over visiting Columbus Crew. Shea’s goal was his eighth of the season, tying him for the league lead.
FCD sit just two points behind LA Galaxy at the top of the MLS Western Conference standings, with two games in hand, and they are unbeaten in 12 of their last 13 matches.
Help Wanted: Goalkeepers
New York Red Bulls extended a streak of their own this weekend, but it was one they wish had never started. For the third straight game, a New York netminder committed a monumental gaffe that led directly to a goal.
This week it was Bouna Coundoul fumbling a San Jose Earthquakes corner kick just before halftime on Saturday, dropping it in front of Quakes midfielder Khari Stephenson about 10 yards from goal. Stephenson buried the gifted chance without hesitation, matching Joel Lindpere’s seventh-minute opener to make it 1-1.
Steven Lenhart’s flying header put the Quakes up 2-1 in the 68th minute, but with five minutes left, Lindpere struck again, bailing out Coundoul with a crucial equalizer from the top of the box.
It was the Red Bulls’ 10th draw of the season, yet, remarkably, they’re not leading the league in that category. That honour goes to Chicago Fire, who tied Chivas USA 1-1 Saturday for their 12th draw of 2011. The MLS record for ties is 14 (FC Dallas, 2010).
Another tie, and one of the wilder games of the season, took place at Rio Tinto Stadium on the Fourth of July, when Real Salt Lake overcame a third-minute red card and an early two-goal deficit to draw visiting New England Revolution 3-3.
The abrupt red came when Revs midfielder Benny Feilhaber ran onto a goal kick from keeper Matt Reis and steamed in alone on RSL’s Nick Rimando.
Nat Borchers chased Feilhaber and appeared to break up the play cleanly, but referee Yader Reyes, trailing the action by 25 yards, whistled the RSL defender for a foul in the box. Then, with Borchers looking genuinely perplexed, Reyes showed him a straight red.
Even Feilhaber seemed a bit sheepish about the sequence, and the replays showed why: Borchers tackled the ball, slamming it off Feilhaber’s body and out of bounds for what should have been a goal kick.
Rajko Lekic coolly finished the spot kick, and nine minutes later, a Chris Tierney free kick put the visitors up 2-0. They were just getting started though - this game would produce four more goals, another penalty and another red card before it finished 3-3.
The LA Galaxy hosted Seattle Sounders FC in the nightcap of the Fourth of July doubleheader, and while that game was nowhere near as eventful as the opener, it did feature an excellent MLS debut for Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Perk, 21. The rookie stopped a penalty from Fredy Montero and produced a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw.
Young players figured heavily, for better and worse, at RFK on Saturday night, when D.C. United and Philadelphia Union battled to a 2-2 draw in arguably the best game of the week.
D.C. were unveiling their new acquisitions Brandon McDonald and Dwayne De Rosario, and the latter helped create the game’s first goal, slipping a pass between two defenders for Josh Wolff to redirect into the net in the 44th minute.
The Union found an equalizer on the other side of halftime, courtesy of 19-year-old D.C. defender Perry Kitchen, who accidentally sprayed the ball into his own net on a clearance attempt.
Less than 10 minutes later, though, Kitchen’s 18-year-old teammate, Andy Najar, put United back on top with a sensational 40-yard strike past goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón.
D.C.'s 20-year-old keeper Bill Hamid made a couple of excellent reaction saves to preserve the lead, but he couldn’t keep out Carlos Ruiz’s 84th-minute equalizer, which made it 2-2 and poured some cold water on the debut of the new-look United.
Najar’s fantastic blast was the leading candidate for Goal of the Week - until Portland rookie Darlington Nagbe topped it later that night.
Collecting a punched clearance from Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen at the top of the box, the 20-year-old Nagbe juggled it once, twice, then volleyed into the far upper corner.
While the flourish was a shoe-in for Goal of the Week, it wasn’t enough to keep Portland from losing 2-1 to KC and stretching its winless streak to six games.
In Sunday’s lone game, first-year starter Tally Hall made six saves to preserve a 0-0 draw for visiting Houston Dynamo against Colorado Rapids.
Turnaround In Toronto?
While Colorado (5W-5L-8D) struggles to recapture their championship form of a year ago, Toronto FC are striving to simply make the postseason for the first time. They took some steps in that direction this week.
First, they made two splashy designated-player signings, inking Dutch striker Danny Koevermans and German midfielder Torsten Frings. (You may remember the latter from the 2002 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal between the USA and Germany. Just maybe.)
Then, on the day the signings were announced, an inspired TFC went out and picked up their first MLS win since May 7, downing Canadian rivals Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-0.
Finally, they met Vancouver again in the second leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship on July 2, winning 2-1 (3-2 on aggregate) to book a place in the Preliminary Round of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League.
The catalyst in the Reds’ 2-1 victory? 19-year-old Joao Plata, who scored the first goal and assisted on the second.
Youth must be served.