Monday Postgame: High-profile returns dominate Week 18
The dog days of summer trotted in ahead of schedule this week, as a heat wave rolled over much of North America, sending mercury skyrocketing and MLS goalscoring plummeting.
After feasting on more than three goals per game for the past two weeks, MLS fans watched the average dip below two this week, with five of the 16 games ending in double-bagel draws.
There was a shortage of goals, but not highlights: A Serie A alum and a one-time American wunderkind both sparkled, a few league powers got back on track with much-needed wins and one team showed they could be an Eastern Conference contender after all.
Additionally, several notable players returned from long injury lay-offs, while even more bold-faced names were absent due to injuries or suspension.
Let’s crank up the air conditioning and take another look.
Righting the Ship
While the July 4 tilt between Western Conference powers Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC fizzled like a wet sparkler, ending 0-0, both teams were back in action the following Saturday and they both picked up sorely needed wins.
WATCH: Zakuani, Mullan swap jerseys
The Claret and Cobalt got a hat-trick from Alvaro Saborio to cruise past Portland Timbers 3-0 and end a four-game winless streak, while Sounders FC got two Mauro Rosales assists and held on for a 2-1 win over Colorado that ended their club-record, nine-game winless skid.
That wasn’t the only landmark moment in the game either: in the 86th minute, Seattle winger Steve Zakuani entered the game for his first MLS appearance since last April, when the Rapids’ Brian Mullan, who was on the field on Saturday, broke his leg with a brutal challenge. At the end of the game, the two players publicly put the incident to rest by hugging and exchanging jerseys.
In Chicago, LA Galaxy - who were without the suspended David Beckham all week - also got back on track thanks to a standout individual performance. Striker Robbie Keane bagged two goals to lead a 2-0 win over the Fire, who were missing playmaker Sebastian Grazzini. The Argentine midfielder is taking a leave of absence to deal with “personal issues.”
The Galaxy win came after a disheartening 2-1 loss to Philadelphia Union on the Fourth of July at The Home Depot Center (HDC), a game that marked the (surprisingly fast) return of LA center back Omar Gonzalez from a torn ACL suffered in January.
LA were excited to have Gonzalez back in the fold, but they were unable to celebrate his return with a win, as squandered chances and two Philadelphia back-heels - one from Jack McInerney and one from Lionard Pajoy - did them in.
McInerney opened the scoring in the 46th minute with his back to goal, flicking Michael Farfan’s cross just inside the far post. After Chad Barrett tied it up in the 73rd minute, Philly snatched all three points in stoppage time, as Pajoy freed Michael Farfan with a back-heel and the winger tucked a shot past Josh Saunders for a 95th-minute winner.
The Union kept the momentum going on Saturday with a 3-0 rout of fellow conference stragglers Toronto FC. Midfielder Freddy Adu dazzled TFC defenders on several occasions during this one, in addition to scoring the goal that made it 2-0 in the 36th minute. Antoine Hoppenot rounded out the scoring in the 78th minute and Philadelphia moved to 5W-9L-2D, just four points behind Montreal Impact with four games in hand.
HIGHLIGHTS: Gomez, Adu and Hoppenot sink TFC
Under new coach John Hackworth, the Union are shaking off a dismal start to the season.
For their part, TFC fell to 2W-11L-4D with the loss, but they, too, have shown signs of rebirth under a new coach (Paul Mariner). Last Wednesday, they tied FC Dallas 1-1 in the sweltering heat of Texas to lock down a fifth straight result without a loss.
All for Naught
Sporting Kansas City may be several clicks north of FC Dallas Stadium, but it was at least as hot on Saturday, as the temperature hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit for a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Championship against Houston Dynamo.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the temperature, Sporting KC and the Dynamo played to a scoreless draw - Houston’s second of the week after a 0-0 affair at home against Chicago last Tuesday.
FC Dallas also rang up a 0-0 draw, stalemating Western Conference leaders San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday. That game marked both the first MLS start in 15 months for FCD playmaker David Ferreira - and the 13th consecutive game without a win for FCD.
Also joining the double-zero department this week were Chivas USA and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, who couldn’t find the net in their match on Saturday at the HDC. With the home side missing Juan Agudelo, Oswaldo Minda, and Ante Jazic, weary Vancouver put just one shot on goal.
Up and Down
Three days earlier in Colorado, in the debut of Scottish international Barry Robson, Whitecaps FC also managed just one shot on goal - but that time, it worked out pretty well.
Rookie striker Darren Mattocks fired it, pouncing on a botched clearance by Rapids defender Drew Moor to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. They held on to it, getting six saves from goalkeeper Joe Cannon and overcoming the visitors’ 17 shots and 60 per cent edge in possession.
Vancouver’s Cascadia rivals Portland Timbers also had a mixed week, downing San Jose 2-1 before suffering the 3-0 rout in Salt Lake. The Timbers got a goal from local product Danny Mwanga and captain Jack Jewsbury and held on as the Quakes hit back late — as usual — with an Alan Gordon goal in the 74th minute. But the cardiac kids fell short this time and Portland moved to 5W-2L-2D at home with the win.
HIGHLIGHTS: Montreal comeback downs Columbus
Montreal were also up and down in Week 18, falling 3-1 to Sporting Kansas City on the 4th of July, and edging Columbus Crew 2-1 with a pair of late goals on Sunday night. New signing Marco Di Vaio was lively in both games, bagging his first MLS assist in Sunday’s win.
Columbus center back Chad Marshall returned to the starting line-up in that one after a long injury lay-off.
Finally, in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the injury-riddled New York Red Bulls fell to New England Revolution 2-0 to remain winless (0W-13L-4D) at Gillette Stadium since 2002. New York were without Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Heath Pearce, Jan Gunnar Solli, and Markus Holgersson.
New England extended their unbeaten streak to five games with the win - and got the clincher in the 84th minute from new signing Jerry Bengtson, a 25-year-old Honduran international.