MLS had a bunch of international juice this week. We’re talking four bars.
The round began with the MLS All-Stars clipping the reigning European Cup holders Chelsea FC 3-2 and it ended with MLSers Andy Najar (D.C. United), Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas City) and Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution) linking up for a goal that eliminated mighty Spain from the London Olympics.
In between, there was a flurry of international exchange, as MLS sides brought in players from all over the globe and one United States international unofficially departed Houston Dynamo for the English Premier League.
HIGHLIGHTS: All-Stars 3, Chelsea 2
League play continued at a brisk mid-season pace as well, with several exciting back-and-forth affairs, a big-name debut and a pair of dramatic late goals.
Let’s dial it up.
Last Wednesday night at PPL Park, MLS’ collection of All-Stars from France, England, Denmark, Colombia, USA, and Cuba started brightly against Chelsea’s collection of superstars from Germany, Brazil, England, Israel, and Serbia.
The hosts hadn’t even convened their full roster once before the game - waiting for David Beckham to show up - but they knocked passes around with confidence and cohesion. In the 21st minute, the ball went from Landon Donovan to Thierry Henry to Chris Wondolowski, who took advantage of a fortunate bounce and buried his shot from six yards, as former England captain John Terry sprawled on the ground nearby.
Chelsea hit back with goals from Terry and Frank Lampard on either side of halftime, but the MLSers didn’t blink. They tied the game in the 73rd minute, when Dwayne De Rosario connected with his D.C. United teammate Chris Pontius, and they won it in stoppage time, when former (and future?) USA international Eddie Johnson rifled a shot from the top of the box that deflected in to make it 3-2.
You can’t read too much into an exhibition, of course, but it was a solid result for the MLS team, a fun night for fans and a scoreline that can’t hurt the league’s reputation around the world.
As ESPN’s Alexi Lalas said on Twitter: “It’s better to beat Chlesea than to lose to them.”
Speaking of international players, more than a few of them flocked to MLS this week before the transfer window’s close on Friday. Leading the way was former Everton attacker and Australian international Tim Cahill, who joined the Red Bulls as their third Designated Player. He’ll be officially presented on Monday.
Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders FC were also busy, completing a trade that sent Uruguayan midfielder Alvaro Fernandez to the Fire for allocation money, and making other moves on their own.
Seattle inked German midfielder Christian Tiffert as a Designated Playe,r while Chicago sent striker Federico Puppo and midfielder Rafael Robayo out on loan before signing Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald as a DP.
In Columbus, the Crew acquired a DP of their own, Argentine striker Federico Higuain, who may or may not be the second coming of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, but you know people are going to make the comparison. (The way I just did, natch.)
And in Houston, the Dynamo said goodbye to defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron, who agreed to terms with Stoke City FC of the English Premier League. Plus, Houston admitted to being in negotiations with former midfield star Ricardo Clark, who is still eligible to sign because he is out of contract.
There was plenty of action on the field as well. The most exciting game unfolded at Buck Shaw Stadium, where Western Conference leaders San Jose Earthquakes staged yet another dramatic late rally in a back-and-forth affair that saw Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson make 10 saves, many of them of jaw-dropping quality.
HIGHLIGHTS: San Jose 1, Chicago 1
It was Steven Lenhart Wig Night at Buck Shaw, and San Jose got a 98th-minute goal from — who else? — Steven Lenhart, to tie the game 1-1 and rack up the 16th point this year (more than a third of their season total) that they’ve earned thanks to goals after the 75th minute.
The crowd was dotted with fans wearing the bushy blond hairpieces, one of which Lenhart grabbed and donned — redundantly enough — during his goal celebration.
Meanwhile, the top team in the Eastern Conference, New York Red Bulls, fell 3-1 to a Montreal Impact side sending out marquee import Alessandro Nesta for the first time since acquiring him on July 5. The former AC Milan defender had a solid night, and his countryman Marco Di Vaio finally bagged his his first MLS goal after eight games in the league.
As exciting as Wednesday’s night’s showcase was, there were down notes for fans in Kansas City and Vancouver. First, Sporting center back Aurelien Collin suffered two facial fractures after a collision with Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, and will miss two weeks.
HIGHLIGHTS: RSL 2, Vancouver 1
As a result of Collin’s injury, Whitecaps FC centre back Jay DeMerit was forced to go the full 90 in the All-Star Game, instead of the 45 minutes he’d been scheduled to play ahead of Vancouver’s match against Real Salt Lake two days later.
DeMerit was excellent against Chelsea — arguably the best player on the field — but on Friday, he made two pivotal miscues in Vancouver’s 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake.
Sporting KC missed Collin — along with right fullback Chance Myers (groin) and midfielder Espinoza (Olympics) — as they gave up two goals to the Crew’s Costa Rican striker Jairo Arrieta in a 2-1 home defeat to the Crew.
The LA Galaxy also lacked key players for their match at FC Dallas, as Beckham returned to London for the opening ceremonies of the Summer Games, and Donovan was suspended due to caution accumulation.
But LA shook off the absences and made Mike Magee’s 62nd-minute goal stand up for a 1-0 win, their fourth straight on the road.
A few other teams also extended streaks this week. In Philadelphia, the Union got a dramatic 90th-minute header from young striker Jack McInerney to rally past New England for a 2-1 win that kept Philly unbeaten all-time against the Revolution.
HIGHLIGHTS: Philadelphia 2, New England 1
In Colorado, Seattle welcomed back All-Stars Eddie Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso, and both of them scored en route to a 2-1 victory that extended Sounders FC's unbeaten run to five games and sent the Rapids to a franchise-record sixth straight loss.
Last-place Portland Timbers followed suit, dropping their fifth straight with a 1-0 loss to Chivas USA. Danny Califf scored the game’s only goal, beating Timbers keeper Troy Perkins to Ben Zemanski’s free kick into the box at Portland's JELD-WEN Field.
Finally, at BMO Field, in a battle of teams riding three-game winning streaks, Houston dropped Toronto 2-0 on goals by Calen Carr and Brian Ching. The Dynamo have quietly climbed up to second place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind New York, who are their opponents this coming Friday.