We are well into the dog days of summer, but there was a spring-like air of new beginnings in MLS this past week, from coaching changes to player acquisitions to teams reviving dormant playoff hopes.
On Wednesday, German icon Jurgen Klinsmann made his debut as coach of the United States national team, ushering in a new era for the program and calling in nine MLSers for a friendly against Mexico. Three of them - Juan Agudelo, Brek Shea and Robbie Rogers - combined on the USA goal in a 1-1 draw.
MLS Review Show: Week 22 - Part One, Part Two, Part Three
On Saturday, one-time USA wunderkind Freddy Adu reseeded his career with a return to MLS, joining Philadelphia Union after stints with five teams in Europe in the past five seasons.
Those developments, along with a burgeoning playoff picture, led a Week 22 that produced a slate of exciting games, some more Ringling Bros. goalkeeping and yet another dose of controversy.
Let’s give it another look.
Goalkeepers have set the bar pretty high in 2011, and this week they raised it another notch - and then tipped a shot over it with a diving save.
In Toronto, where the excellent Stefan Frei was out injured, the Reds called on their back-up, Milos Kocic, and he didn’t miss a beat - or a save - against Real Salt Lake.
Kocic got some help from his uprights, but he also came up with a couple of huge stops - including a great reaction save on a volley from Will Johnson in time added on - to preserve a 1-0 upset for the re-born Reds, who are still alive in the playoff chase.
Another back-up answered the call in D.C., where 23-year-old rookie Joe Willis stepped in for the suspended Bill Hamid and made six saves in the home team’s 4-0 romp over Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Willis made two outstanding denials of Vancouver stars Camilo and Eric Hassli, while the match was still close.
D.C. eventually broke open the game behind two goals from Chris Pontius and two assists from Dwayne De Rosario.
Top-notch goalkeeping also figured into the Philadelphia - Dallas game on Saturday night, as FC Dallas’s Kevin Hartman made a pair of unconscionable saves in added time, denying Danny Mwanga and Keon Daniel to preserve a 2-2 draw for The Hoops.
But the headline-grabber at PPL Park was the return of Adu, the attacking midfielder who became the youngest American in modern history to sign a professional sports contract when he joined D.C. United as a 14-year-old in 2004.
Still only 22, Adu returns to the league after reviving his international career with a strong showing for the USA in this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. He’s also reunited with Peter Nowak, the coach at D.C. when Adu launched his pro career in '04.
On Saturday, Adu started, picked up a yellow card, and sparked a few Union attacks before giving way to Mwanga in the 62nd minute.
Philadelphia answered Dallas goals by Maicon Santos and Brek Shea with two penalty-kick goals from Sébastien Le Toux to salvage a 2-2 draw.
Spot kicks - and terrific goalkeeping - also left their stamp in Seattle on Saturday afternoon, as Sounders FC kicked off the weekend with a 0-0 draw against Chivas USA.
Seattle midfielder Álvaro Fernández hit the post with a 19th-minute penalty and substitute Lamar Neagle had what looked like a legitimate claim for a penalty waved off in the 89th.
Those two moments, along with two eye-popping saves from Goats goalkeeper Dan Kennedy - just SOP for that guy - combined to keep it scoreless, to the dismay of the 44th consecutive sell-out crowd in Seattle.
Pablo and Sam
While Seattle may have had a gripe with the man in the middle over the non-call on Neagle, San Jose Earthquakes were furious over the officiating following their 2-1 loss to Colorado Rapids at Buck Shaw Stadium.
Their complaints revolved around two plays involving Sam Cronin and Pablo Mastroeni. The first came in the 38th minute with San Jose up 1-0 after a 22nd-minute goal by former Whitecaps FC player Joey Gjertsen.
Cronin slid in the box to cut out a cross by Mastroeni, and unfortunately for San Jose, the ball deflected off Cronin’s trailing arm and out of bounds. He had blocked a cross headed for the box with his arm, and the ref awarded a penalty to Colorado.
The fact that the call was made after a consultation with the referee’s assistant - and some not-so-gentle lobbying from Mastroeni - didn’t sit well with San Jose, but it was the right call, and Caleb Folan put away the spot kick to tie the game.
On the second play, Cronin made a two-footed challenge on a 50-50 ball with Mastroeni. In real time - and on replay - it didn’t look like much: Cronin didn’t come over the ball, and his studs appeared to be down. However, he did make contact with Mastroeni’s foot, though not his lower leg, and he was shown a straight red.
Down to 10 men, the Quakes eventually wilted, giving up a 72nd minute set-piece goal to Jeff Larentowicz, who powered his shot through a leaky wall from 25 yards.
The result gave Colorado four wins in their last five games and extended San Jose’s winless streak to a franchise-record 11 games.
While Colorado surges in the West, New York Red Bulls continue to muddle along in the East, opening the door for several teams chase them down.
Houston Dynamo did just that on Sunday night, getting an astonishing goal from Adam Moffat in the 17th minute to pace a 2-1 win over visiting Portland Timbers. Brian Ching followed Moffat’s 'golazo' with a strike of his own after a slick exchange between Brad Davis and Colin Clark. The win gave the Dynamo 31 points, tied for third place with New York.
The Red Bulls entered the week with just one win in their previous nine games and a whopping 12 ties overall. They were playing Chicago, a team with 13 ties heading into Saturday night, so - naturally - the game ended in a 2-2 tie. (Thierry Henry opened the scoring nine minutes in with his league-leading 12th goal of the season.)
D.C.’s romp over Vancouver and Sporting Kansas City’s 4W-1L-4D record at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park since June 9 have those teams just one point behind the Red Bulls and Dynamo.
Columbus Crew, who trailed both New York and Philly little more than a month ago, are now in first. The Crew extended their lead over second-place Philly to three points with a come-from-behind 3-1 win over struggling New England Revolution. The Union and Crew meet next week in Columbus.