Last week was such a tough act to follow, it’s a wonder this one didn’t retreat to the dressing room and call off the performance.
Fortunately for the audience, that didn’t happen and, after a slow start, Week 14 produced a pretty impressive show of its own.
There was no bolt-from-the-blue strike like Eric Hassli’s of a week ago, but there were genuine golazos, dramatic games, a solid dose of controversy and, in Portland on Sunday night, one of the more entertaining, and certainly the battiest, game of the season.
Let’s give it a curtain call.
In with a whimper, out with a bang
As if cowed by last week’s fireworks, Toronto FC and New England Revolution kicked off this round on a subdued note, playing to a scoreless draw in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The result extended the Revolution’s winless streak to five games and TFC’s to seven.
With nowhere to go but up, Week 14 took off from there, and it ended with an exciting - and downright strange - 3-3 draw between Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls at JELD-WEN Field.
The Red Bulls produced arguably their best 45 minutes of soccer this season in the first half, scoring in the fifth minute and dominating the Timbers with crisp passing and fluid movement.
They followed that up with arguably their worst passage of play of 2011 to start the second half. Portland, of course, had something to do with that, coming out with much more energy and pressing New York in their own end.
The combination produced a near-total collapse by the visitors, in which they surrendered two goals in the first five minutes after the break, and a third in the 68th minute to go down 3-1.
It took the "tale of two halves" soccer cliché to new extremes - and yet the nuttiness was just getting started.
A goal by Thierry Henry (his eighth of the season, tied with Landon Donovan for the league lead) and a missed penalty by Jack Jewsbury set the stage for the improbable ending.
With Portland leading 3-2 in stoppage time, Henry was red-carded after an altercation with Timbers substitute Adam Moffat.
But New York fans barely had a chance to contemplate facing Seattle on Thursday without the Frenchman before Portland’s Rodney Wallace blocked a Dwayne De Rosario cross in the box - with his arm.
De Rosario buried the spot kick - four minutes into stoppage time - and the final whistle blew on one of the stranger 3-3 ties in recent memory.
New York’s great escape at JELD-WEN gave road teams an impressive 4W-2L-4D record this week, as several other visitors nailed down away results.
Seattle Sounders FC pipped Toronto FC 1-0 on Fredy Montero’s perfectly curled 90th-minute free kick, a stomach-punch loss for the 21,839 faithful who turned up at BMO Field to watch The Reds.
Columbus Crew got the fifth goal of the season from Designated Player Andrés Mendoza, along with a goal and an assist from rookie Bernardo Anor, to upend Houston Dynamo 2-0 at Robertson Stadium. Anor’s insurance tally came after Dynamo midfielder Lovell Palmer had been ejected in the 52nd minute, picking up his second yellow in 10 minutes for a reckless tackle.
At The Home Depot Center, visiting FC Dallas scored a 2-1 win over Chivas USA to get points for the 10th time in 11 games and keep a firm hold on second place in the MLS Western Conference. Brek Shea opened the scoring with his sixth goal of the season. After Michael Lahoud equalized with a deflected shot, FC Dallas' Jackson Gonçalves took advantage of a miscommunication between Goats goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and Lahoud to swoop in for an 85th-minute winner.
Safe at home
Only two home teams secured wins this week, but both were landmark victories.
Sporting Kansas City got their first win (and their first goal) at their brand new stadium, edging San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, while Vancouver Whitecaps FC ended their MLS single-season record 14-match winless streak, dropping Philadelphia Union by the same score at Empire Field.
Graham Zusi set up KC’s goal, swinging in a deadly free kick that found the foot of a lunging C.J. Sapong, who powered it in.
The Caps’ goal was a Goal of the Week nominee: After a flowing build-up spearheaded by midfielder Davide Chiumiento, Alain Rochat took Chiumiento’s lay-off and crushed a drive from the top of the box into the far side-netting.
D.C. United also managed just one goal this week, but it was far from pretty. The Black and Red got a controversial game-tying penalty from striker Charlie Davies, who went down over Real Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert’s sliding tackle in the box in the 83rd minute.
Davies, you may recall, made a similar play in the second week of April, dropping in the box after being brushed by LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez and drawing an equalizer from the spot for United.
At least that time he waited for some contact. Replays on Saturday showed that Davies was untouched - but the ref pointed to the spot and CD9 stepped up to bury his seventh goal of the season.
There was also a measure of controversy in LA’s 3-1 win at Colorado. Rapids fans complained about the Galaxy’s first goal - Chris Birchall may have crossed a ball that was out-of-bounds - and said that a straight red to Caleb Folan for a 74th-minute lunge on Juninho was unwarranted. (They had a stronger case on the former than the latter.)
But there was nothing controversial about the goal that put LA up 2-0 before the break: It was a 30-yard rip by Juninho, and a frontrunner for Goal of the Week.
As hard done-by as some of them felt, the Colorado faithful had to be pleased by the sight of Omar Cummings and Conor Casey back on the field together. The reunion paid almost immediate dividends, as the pair combined for a goal by Casey in the 64th minute after some excellent work in the box by Cummings.
There was plenty of excellent work in the box during Saturday’s New England - Chicago Fire game - much of it done by keepers Matt Reis and Sean Johnson. The pair came up huge on several occasions to preserve a 1-1 draw that put both teams on 15 points in the Eastern Conference standings.
Dominic Oduro scored for the visitors and Rajko Lekic answered just after the break for New England, becoming the first player to score on the Fire in 324 minutes.