Monday Postgame: Major League Soccer veterans red-hot in Week 20
Between the All-Star Game, the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL), and the Emirates Cup, not to mention a flurry of player movement, the MLS regular-season slate had to share a crowded stage this week.
Global superstars Manchester United FC paid a visit to Red Bull Arena, three MLS teams kicked off their CCL play-in series, Chicago Fire signed legendary Mexican international Pável Pardo and Toronto FC continued to wheel and deal like a caffeinated day trader.
After hosting the All-Star Game, New York Red Bulls traveled to London, England, for the Emirates Cup and against all expectations, came home with the trophy, tying Thierry Henry’s old team Arsenal FC to seal the deal.
Yet, despite all the dazzling sideshows, the regular-season action held the spotlight with some sparkling games and surprising results.
Three veteran stars bagged braces to lead their teams to big wins, a goalkeeper picked up an assist for the second straight week, the Eastern Conference got the better of the West, and in Texas, the heat nearly got the better of everyone.
Crank up the AC, while we run it all back.
Numbers don’t lie - but they can bend the truth
Generally speaking, a 4-0 scoreline is a definitive result, a clear indication of one team’s superiority on the day. But this week, we saw two 4-0 matches that, while they couldn’t be sugar-coated completely, were somewhat misleading to anyone who didn’t witness the games in question.
The first was this past Wednesday’s All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena. There’s no doubt that Manchester United showed their class and cruised past the MLS All-Stars with room to spare, but that wasn’t the whole story.
The MLS side, which was assembled just two days before the match, did hang tough in the first half and created several clear chances, as Omar Cummings, David Beckham, and Brad Davis all tested United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard.
If one of those had gone in, it might have changed the course of the game, and definitely would have provided a better-looking final scoreline for MLS fans.
A similar dynamic took place in Saturday afternoon's MLS match between league-leaders LA Galaxy and last-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Empire Field.
The first hour was a back-and-forth battle, with both teams creating clear chances and playing stylish, attacking soccer.
Then, in the 61st minute, Vancouver’s Michael Boxall slipped trying to defend a ball over the top to Landon Donovan, leaving the Galaxy’s leading scorer in the clear behind the Whitecaps FC backline. He did not waste the opportunity, steaming in on goalkeeper Joe Cannon and blasting a skillful strike to the far corner with the outside of his left foot.
Donovan added a second one from the spot in the 75th minute, and set up a third five minutes later, putting it on a platter for Sean Franklin at the far post.
When Adam Cristman headed in a fourth in the 90th minute, LA had won in a rout, extended their unbeaten streak to 14 games - and obscured the fact that for the first 60 minutes, this was a game that could have gone either way.
Earthquakes alumni week
While Donovan lit it up in Vancouver, two of his former teammates conjured some magic of their own on Saturday night.
Dwayne De Rosario and Brian Ching - both of whom won MLS Cup 2003 with Donovan in San Jose Earthquakes - each scored two goals to lead their teams on Saturday night. De Rosario struck a pair of 'Golazos' in a nine-minute span to lead D.C. United to a 2-0 win over San Jose at Buck Shaw Stadium, and Ching scored a goal in each half to guide Houston Dynamo to a 3-1 win over visiting Seattle Sounders FC.
Seattle, who were coming off a midweek CCL loss to Panamanian side San Francisco FC, saw their unbeaten streak stopped at nine games, while San Jose extended their winless skid to the same number with the D.C. defeat.
Rising in the East
The D.C. and Houston games were part of a surprising performance by Eastern Conference teams, who produced a 3W-1L-1D record against Western Conference sides this week.
The most eye-catching of those results was Columbus Crew’s 2-0 win at Real Salt Lake, powered by Robbie Rogers’ assists to Eddie Gaven and Tommy Heinemann in the fifth and 10th minutes.
It was just the second home loss for Jason Kries’ men this season, and it vaulted the Crew to the top of the standings in the East, over Philadelphia. The Union lost at home for the first time in 2011, falling 2-1 to Colorado Rapids on Friday night.
Philadelphia staged a furious late push, but could not overcome Matt Pickens and the surging Rapids, who got another jolt from their new strike force of Sanna Nyassi and Omar Cummings. The speedy duo teamed up for the 45th-minute game-winner, Nyassi’s fourth goal in three games since being moved to forward.
In the week’s other East-West clash, endlessly rebuilding Toronto FC (they made two more deals this week) pulled off a dramatic late rally to draw Portland Timbers 2-2 at JELD-WEN Field.
Peri Marosevic and Danny Koevermans scored in the last 20 minutes to match earlier strikes by Portland’s Eddie Johnson and Jack Jewsbury in an exciting, wide-open game.
The Timbers, who won their first five home matches this season, have not won at JELD-WEN since May 21.
After a midweek CCL win in El Salvador, FC Dallas returned home to Qatar-like temperatures at Pizza Hut Park on Sunday. With the mercury holding steady at 102 degrees, Dallas labored to a 1-0 win over Chivas USA, making Marvin Chávez’s goal stand up for their 12th shutout of the season and eighth in the past nine games.
FCD stand three points shy of first in the West, behind LA - the team they face next week in a top-of-the-table Western Conference showdown.
Sporting Kansas City can relate to the conditions in Dallas on Sunday evening. They played Toronto FC in 100-degree temperatures last week. This week, while the mercury dropped all the way to…90 degrees, SKC hosted New England Revolution, putting their unbeaten home record on the line.
The streak was in jeopardy, as Rajko Lekic’s 38th-minute opener (off an assist by Matt Reis) held up until the 89th minute. That’s when a period of sustained pressure by the hosts ended with Teal Bunbury burying a shot off a goalmouth scramble to make it 1-1.
With that draw, and Philadelphia's loss, Kansas City stood with LA as the only teams without a loss at home this season.
If this week’s results are any indication, they may not hold out much longer: Home teams went a paltry 2W-4L-2D in Week 20.