You may have heard of the business principle, “underpromise, overdeliver.”
We saw it in action in this round of Major League Soccer, where there were just four regular-season matches on the slate, only two of them with playoff implications.
Despite that unpromising lead-in, the week delivered like Santa Claus: A repeat MLS Supporters’ Shield winner, an historic Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final, the first win for the most famous coach in United States national team history, and an increasingly hectic playoff chase.
There were also a pair of two-goal scorers to heat up the Golden Boot race, a handful of account-openers, and not one but two goalkeeper assists. It was like watching Albert Brooks play the heavy in Drive. Your expectations were thoroughly exceeded.
LA Galaxy kicked off the week at Red Bull Arena this past Tuesday with a chance to win the Supporters’ Shield for a second year in a row and lock up home-field advantage for the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs.
Sure, they were missing Landon Donovan (quadriceps), Sean Franklin (knee), and Robbie Keane (international duty), and the match would be their fourth game in 10 days, but the Galaxy were facing a New York team with troubles of their own.
After a 4W-1L-2D start to the season, the high-priced, high-profile Red Bulls had muddled along at a break-even pace, dropping to the edge of the playoff picture. They were also struggling with a locker-room controversy, and they’d needed an 88th-minute goal just to draw seventh-place Toronto FC three days earlier.
New York were certainly ripe for the taking, but in the end, the absences, fatigue, and a solid effort from a determined Red Bulls side were too much for LA. Behind a goal from Luke Rodgers and a league-leading 14th from Thierry Henry, New York won 2-0 and boosted their postseason hopes, while delaying the Galaxy’s quest for the Shield.
The delay would last only as long as Saturday, as it turned out.
That was when Philadelphia Union traveled to Seattle and won 2-0 for their first West-Coast victory in franchise history. Freddy Adu scored his second goal since rejoining MLS, and Brian Carroll capped the win with his first goal of the year on a deadly counter-attack spearheaded by Sébastien Le Toux.
The win put the Union two points clear of Sporting Kansas City atop the Eastern Conference, but more importantly for Galaxy fans, it also eliminated Seattle from contention for the Supporters’ Shield, keeping the trophy in LA for a second year running.
Of course, it was hardly a down week for Sounders FC. Quite the opposite: Four days before the Philadelphia loss, Seattle clipped Chicago Fire 2-0 in front of a record crowd of 35,650 at CenturyLink Field to become the first team in 42 years to win the US Open Cup three times in a row.
Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso scored for the champs, who joined the Fall River Marksmen (1930-32), St. Louis side Stix Baer and Fuller (1933-35) and New York Greek Americans (1967-69) as the only “three-peat” winners in the USOC’s 98-year history.
Seattle, along with LA and Real Salt Lake, have booked their postseason tickets already, but behind that trio of Western Conference leaders, 10 tightly-packed teams are scrambling for the remaining seven playoff spots.
D.C. United are the most intriguing contender, as they have at least one and in some cases two games in hand on every other team in the playoff chase. The Black and Red travel to Vancouver on Wednesday, then finish with three straight home games against fellow postseason contenders Chicago (Saturday), Portland Timbers (Wednesday, October 19), and Sporting KC (Saturday, October 22).
It’s a tall order, but four wins would guarantee a playoff berth for United.
Portland have a similar make-or-break stretch ahead of them, but they’ll do it mostly on the road. After hosting Houston Dynamo on Friday, the Timbers will make trips to D.C. (Wednesday, October 19), and Salt Lake (Saturday, October 22).
There were no playoff implications in Saturday night’s match-up between New England Revolution and San Jose Earthquakes at Gillette Stadium, but there was a push for hardware nonetheless. Reigning Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski bagged both goals in San Jose’s 2-1 win to boost his season total to 14, tied with D.C.’s Dwayne De Rosario and New York’s Henry for the league lead.
Wondo’s first strike came in the eighth minute, when he made a sensational first touch to settle a long clearance from rookie goalkeeper David Bingham before finishing past Revolution back-up keeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Bingham’s pass was the second goalkeeper assist of the week, after Vancouver’s Joe Cannon notched one in Whitecaps FC's 3-0 rout of Real Salt Lake on Thursday.
Cannon found rookie Omar Salgado, who sent the ball to Nizar Khalfan, who fired a long-distance laser past Nick Rimando for the 'Caps third goal. It was a play of firsts: Cannon and Salgado’s first assists, Khalfan’s first goal of 2011.
Vancouver’s other goals came from Camilo, who buried two from the spot to push his season total to a team-leading 11 and edge into the Golden Boot race himself.
It was the fourth straight loss for RSL and certainly left a bitter taste: The game hinged on a controversial hand-ball call and red card for Collen Warner, who kept a Vancouver header out of the RSL goal with what appeared to be his shoulder.
Real Salt Lake had stayed level to that point - just before halftime - despite missing seven players due to injury, international duty, or suspension.
Locking Down a W
Chief among RSL’s missing players was midfielder Kyle Beckerman*, who was with the USA national team in Miami, Florida, for a friendly against Honduras. Thanks to a brilliant strike by Clint Dempsey and some excellent goalkeeping from Tim Howard, the Yanks won 1-0 to nail down the first win of the Jurgen Klinsmann era.
FC Dallas’s Brek Shea started alongside Beckerman in the American midfield and New York’s Juan Agudelo came on as a second-half substitute. Honduras also trotted out three MLSers in Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza, Houston’s Carlo Costly, and Dallas’ Marvin Chávez.
The USA return to action Tuesday night, taking on Ecuador at Red Bull Arena (4 p.m. PT, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
*On Friday, the league announced an additional suspension for Beckerman following his head butt of Chicago’s Daniel Paladini on September 28. Beckerman will miss RSL’s remaining two games.