Truth be told, we’ve all been a little bit spoiled by the 2011 Major League Soccer season to this point.
From the storybook debut of Charlie Davies to the magical opening days in Vancouver and Portland, to the historic CONCACAF Champions League run of Real Salt Lake, it’s like we’ve been dining on tenderloin every week.
This week delivered some more choice cuts, led by Saturday night’s sparkling LA Galaxy-New York Red Bulls game at The Home Depot Center. There was also the terrific debut of Toronto FC's Joao Plata, and more magic from Davies and Kasey Keller.
But lurking in the mix were three scoreless draws, an embarrassing goalkeeping gaffe and, worst of all, yet another dubious tackle that caused a serious injury to one of the league’s most skillful players.
In other words, it wasn’t all tenderloin this week. There was some hamburger, too.
So fire up the grill and pass the ketchup. Let’s dig in.
With five Designated Players on display - and each of them making significant contributions - Saturday’s heavily hyped Galaxy versus Red Bulls game lived up to its billing, and then some.
The first 20 minutes were outrageously entertaining, as the teams skipped the usual “feeling out” period and went straight to trading haymakers.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: LA vs. NY
In the third minute, David Beckham looped a picture-perfect long ball to Landon Donovan at the far post, and LD one-timed it on goal, forcing a save from New York goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul.
The Red Bulls replied by going straight down the field and scoring in the next minute, Thierry Henry slotting home his fourth goal of the year.
Undeterred, LA created three clear-cut chances in short order, provoking a series of sensational saves from Coundoul. They finally solved him in the 41st minute, when Donovan headed home a Beckham corner kick.
Donovan should have given LA the lead two minutes later after taking yet another ball from Beckham and charging in alone on Coundoul. Donovan sidestepped the onrushing keeper and rolled the ball toward the empty net…only to see Red Bulls defender Tim Ream chase it down and clear it off the line.
While the pace slowed down in the second half - how could it not? - and the game ended 1-1, it was still an instant classic. Might as well circle your calendar now for the return date on Sunday, August 28, at Red Bull Arena.
Soccer Night in America
The Red Bulls’ I-95 rivals Philadelphia Union had a marquee match of their own this week. The Union faced Portland Timbers at JELD-WEN Field in the debut of Fox Soccer Channel’s “Soccer Night in America” telecast.
The new program rolled out an upgraded HD presentation, but the best thing going for it, of course, was the incredible atmosphere at JELD-WEN, which hosted its fourth straight sellout on Friday.
The home fans left happy after Mamadou “Futty” Danso settled the tight, rainy affair in the 75th minute, nodding Jack Jewsbury’s free kick past Philly keeper Faryd Mondragón for a 1-0 Portland win.
Four’s a Trend?
Just one goal separated Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA on Saturday, but the game opened up a wide rift between the two teams, as it yielded a long-term injury for RSL playmaker Javier Morales - the fourth injury to a prominent creative player in the past three weeks of MLS action.
Chivas USA striker Marcos Mondaini brought down Morales with a sliding tackle from behind in the 38th minute. Mondaini was red-carded on the play, reducing Chivas to nine men after Andrew Boyens had been sent off 14 minutes earlier.
WATCH: Mondaini sees red for challenge
Real Salt Lake got an 87th-minute goal from Will Johnson to win 1-0, but the loss of Morales, who suffered a broken and dislocated ankle, outweighs the result. Afterward, RSL players suggested Mondaini should be suspended for multiple games.
Half Dozen Bagels
There was a noted lack of controversy - and goals - in the New England-Colorado, Chicago-Vancouver, and D.C.-Dallas matches, all of which ended in dreaded 0-0 draws.
Chicago Fire and Vancouver Whitecaps FC did create a number of chances, but all of them were wasted. The always-active Diego Cháves hit the post for the Fire and was in the thick of several other scoring opportunities.
The Revolution and Rapids were both missing key players because of injury, and it showed as the sides struggled to create chances. That went double for D.C. United and FC Dallas, who played a drowsy 90 minutes almost entirely free of dangerous scoring opportunities.
“The Charlie and Wolffy Show”
The Black-and-Red will take the shutout, though: They began Week Eight having given up four goals in each of their previous two games, both losses (naturally).
The first order of business was to right the ship against visiting Seattle Sounders FC last Wednesday, and they did that. D.C. got a goal and an assist each from Charlie Davies and Josh Wolff, along with some assured goalkeeping from young Bill Hamid, en route to a 2-1 win.
Colorado also kicked off the week with a 2-1 win over Houston Synamo, but it came with a little help from Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall. The first-year starter badly misjudged a 45-yard free kick from Rapids midfielder Jamie Smith, allowing the ball to sail over his head and into the net for a 74th-minute equalizer.
Just 10 minutes later, Scott Palguta slammed home a Caleb Folan lay-off to give the visitors the win.
Little Big Man
Four days after that tough loss to Colorado, Houston once again found themselves on the wrong side of a 2-1 scoreline.
The Dynamo travelled to BMO Field to take on a Toronto FC team, whose line-up had been reshuffled again, as coach Aron Winter looked for the right combination to end a six-game winless streak.
He may be on the right track with young Ecuadorian Joao Plata, the diminutive 19-year-old who led the MLS Combine in scoring this preseason. Plata, who played well in the recent Nutrilite Canadian Championship but had only seen action off the bench in MLS play, earned his first MLS start on Saturday, and he made the most of it.
The young attacker scored one Toronto goal and set up the other while causing problems for Houston all night.
WATCH: Plata assists Santos for winner
Rounding out the week, Seattle netminder Kasey Keller made five big saves to preserve a 1-1 draw at a rainy Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The result kept Sounders FC undefeated all-time against Columbus (3W-0L-3D).
But don’t feel bad for the Crew: They ran their unbeaten streak to seven games and currently sit second in the Eastern Conference, two points behind New York.