While the United States settled in for the holiday weekend, Major League Soccer produced one of its busiest, and best, weeks of the year.
There were 12 games, 41 goals, and literally - as Rob Lowe would say on Parks and Recreation - dozens of noteworthy firsts.
Portland timbers lost at home for the first time ever, Real Salt Lake lost at home for the first time in more than two years, and a number of players made their professional debuts and/or scored significant first goals.
There was also loads of end-to-end action, and several dramatic, high-scoring games.
Let’s take a look back.
KO at BMO
Earlier this season, Philadelphia Union head coach Peter Nowak likened his new central defender Carlos Valdes to legendary Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. It proved to be an apt comparison, not only for Valdes but also for the Union in general.
Philadelphia have been a defence-first team all season, not unlike the 2000 Super Bowl champion Ravens. While they’ve specialized in grinding out 1-0 wins, this week the Union broke character, exploding for six goals to dismantle Toronto FC at BMO Field.
The outburst, which nearly doubled Philly’s output for the season (from eight to 14), featured first goals of 2011 for Gabriel Farfan (matching his twin brother Michael’s MLS account opener the previous week), Justin Mapp, and Kyle Nakazawa.
It was also a wildly entertaining game, as Philadelphia scored two minutes in and jumped out to a 3-0 halftime lead - only to let Toronto FC claw their way back to 3-2 at the hour mark on a pair of goals from Maicon Santos.
But Mapp stomped the Reds’ comeback hopes just three minutes later, drilling a shot from 25 yards into the upper corner for a 4-2 Union lead. Danny Mwanga added two more to restore the rout, which left the Union two points clear atop the MLS Eastern Conference standings.
In An Eyeblink
Much as Toronto FC’s comeback hopes lived for just three minutes, there were several other games this week that hinged on concentrated bursts of action.
The New York Red Bulls-Colorado Rapids game last Wednesday was a prime example. It ended 2-2, with all four goals coming in a six-minute sequence midway through the first half. (New York also drew Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-1 this week, in a match that saw the MLS debuts of Red Bulls midfielders Matt Kassel and Austin da Luz.)
If you stepped out of Saturday’s Columbus Crew-Chivas USA game in the 52nd minute and returned, beer in hand in the 64th, you were left wondering how the score went from 2-1 Chivas USA to 3-3 in that time.
That game featured first goals from Goats’ Andrew Boyens and Jorge Flores, along with the first since May 2009 for Crew midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo, who scored the dramatic equalizer that brought Columbus back from a goal down for the third and final time in the back-and-forth affair.
Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes also traded goals in quick bursts en route to a 2-2 draw at Toyota Park. Fire defender Cory Gibbs scored his first of 2011, heading home the equalizer in the 80th minute, just six minutes after Chris Wondolowski had put the Quakes ahead 2-1.
San Jose got an account opener from Ramiro Corrales, along with two assists from rookie Anthony Ampaipatakwong - the first two of his MLS career. The game also marked the MLS debut of new Fire striker Cristian Nazarit, who notched his first assist.
Game of Inches
Nazarit’s assist came after a shot of his hit both posts and trickled along the goalline. But that wasn’t the only play this week that involved balls not crossing that pesky goalline.
On Wednesday, FC Dallas journeyed to Qwest Field and edged Seattle Sounders FC 1-0 on Brek Shea’s 18th-minute strike. Directly after the goal, Seattle charged back on a sequence that ended with Eric Friberg beating FC Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman - only to see his shot headed off the goalline by Hoops defender Zach Loyd.
LA Galaxy beat Houston Dynamo 1-0 on Wednesday behind Landon Donovan’s league-leading eighth goal of the year (a penalty), then dropped New England Revolution, on the road, by the same score, as new signing Miguel Lopez headed in his first MLS goal, off (what else?) a David Beckham cross.
But the first-place Galaxy’s six-point week was only made possible by some extreme emergency defending at the end of the Revolution match.
First AJ DeLaGarza lunged to clear a New England shot out of the goalmouth, then Revs attacker Zach Schilawski hit the crossbar with a shot, and Donovan repeated DeLaGarza’s heroics to keep the rebound out - all in one furious stoppage-time sequence.
Texas Hold ’Em
Houston produced a dramatic ending of their own on Saturday night, getting an 87th-minute strike from Colin Clark to battle back for a 2-2 draw against in-state rivals FC Dallas. The Dynamo were a man down for the final 17 minutes of the match after Kofi Sarkodie picked up a second yellow - it was his first ejection of the year.
(Dallas midfielder Andrew Jacobson scored his first goal of 2011, heading home the rebound of a rocket off the crossbar from Fabian Castillo in the 27th minute.)
The tie left the Hoops unbeaten in seven games in the month of May.
The week’s sixth and final draw came at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where Colorado striker Conor Casey’s first goal of 2011 was canceled by Sporting Kansas City attacker Ryan Smith’s first in the 75th minute.
Streaking to a Halt
In a steady, chilly rain at Rio Tinto Stadium, Seattle took advantage of a 58th-minute straight red to Real Salt Lake center back Jamison Olave, and a brilliant strike by Lamar Neagle (his first MLS goal) to win 2-1. The result stopped the Claret-and-Cobalt’s home unbeaten streak at 29 games.
A few states to the north and west, in similar weather conditions, D.C United brought another famous streak to a close. Despite missing Charlie Davies and Dax McCarty, United defeated Portland 3-2 to hand the Timbers their first loss in six home games.
Among the other firsts in that one: The first MLS goal for United rookie Perry Kitchen; and the first time ever, as far as we’ve seen in this league - that a penalty kick was taken three times due to goalkeeper infraction. Jack Jewsbury buried the third and final attempt after Bill Hamid was twice flagged for leaving his line. Hamid saved the first two, both against Kenny Cooper, before the Timbers had Jewsbury step in for Cooper.
Can’t say for sure, but Kenny Cooper being replaced as a penalty-kick taker is also probably a first.