Tuesday, April 3, 2012

MLS Rewind: Week 4 'The Highs and Lows'

Think you know Major League Soccer??  Think again!  The MLS is becoming one of the most exciting and entertaining leagues the game has to offer, and with all the upsets and head-scratchers offered up from over the weekend, it no surprise why.

In the midweek, Toronto FC made a defiant stand at BMO field in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champs League Semifinals against Mexican side Santos Laguna.  Deserving the win, but earning a draw, the Reds kept their hopes alive with an inspired performance despite the odds.  An unsightly scuffle after the final whistle will hamper the Saints in the next round as two red cards were issued to the visitors.  But TFC will be forced to travel south of the border this week for the replay at Santos and remember...the Sounders were mauled 6-1 on their last visit.

Kansas City remains undefeated, grinding out wins wherever they go.  And while there were some fantastic team performances this week, all of the sudden the MLS is starting to look the like the Thierry Henry show.  Netting an impressive hat trick (his first in MLS) and a sly assist to boot, the Arsenal legend won Player of the Week honors again, as he continues to expand the Major League Soccer fanbase one brilliant goal at a time.

Now, on to the recaps:

DC United 4-1 FC Dallas
Dallas got absolutely torched Friday night at RFK Stadium as the Screaming Eagles finally got their campaign rolling in the right direction.  Although DC were lively from the outset, the game seemed an even match at the half with the score tied 1-1.  That pictured changed rather quickly, thanks to United's De Leone.  A smashing shot crashed off the bar at fifty-nine minutes, but the rookie had his reward moments later, collecting a long cross on the chest then rifling home from short range.  The DC youngster then supplied teammate Cruz with a vital assist six minutes later, popping another nail in the coffin. Maicon Santos finished the affair in the seventy-third, smartly heading home for the second time in as many games.  FCD's resolute defending from recent weeks was nowhere to be found, and even GK Kevin Hartman looked surprised at his team's misfortune.

Toronto FC 0-1 Columbus Crew
Far from being the most exciting game of the week, the Crew managed another win against a sub-par foe.  Clearly spent from the champs league tangle at midweek, TFC were already reeling from a depleted and injury stricken roster.  The black and gold got the benefit of another questionable penalty call, but Red's keeper Kocic was up to the challenge.  He may be second in the depth chart, but the big man swatted away Mirosevic's half-hearted attempt to convert the PK in the first half.  After the break, a poor clearance by TFC's defense and the ball dropped favorably for Crew frontman, Anor.  Not wasting the chance, it was the only goal in the match.  The win gives Columbus an edge in the Trillium Cup rivalry, while Toronto remain winless in the league this year.

New York Red Bulls 5-2 Montreal Impact
Game of the week?  Definitely.  The Red Bulls ended the month on a 'march' of their own, stampeding the Impact, despite Montreal's early lead.  New York have finally figured out how to win...and his name is Thierry Henry.  This guy oozes beautiful football.  However, things didn't start so well for the Red Bulls.  Montreal snagged an early lead from a defensive flub to stun a less than capacity crowd at Red Bull Arena.  Allaying fears and inspiring fans, Henry brought New York level at nine minutes with a fantastic header, thanks to Rafa Marquez, whose attitude seems to have considerably improved this season.  Justin Mapp seized another opportunity for the Impact, making the most of New York's sloppy defending and giving Montreal their second lead of the game.  Just as things began to drift in Montreal's favor...they didn't.  A penalty kick decision went to the Red Bulls and Kenny Cooper doesn't miss from the spot.  So it was all square at the break.  New York assumed more responsibility, and therefore possession in the second half.    Henry grabbed another goal and provided an assist to teammate Medhi Ballouchy.  The Frenchman's trademark back-heel, as potent as ever, let Ballouchy tap in effortlessly.  Henry went on to record his first (and I do emphasize first) hat-trick as a Red Bull one minute into stoppage time, latching on to the rebound of a Kenny Cooper rocket, igniting the fans and claiming his match ball.

You missed this one?!?  Don't worry, I've included all that beautiful footage for your viewing pleasure:

Philadelphia Union 0-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
I wish there was something good to say about this match, but for all the buildup, these two really seemed to put the "stale" in stalemate.  Despite the hype surrounding Sebastian Le Toux's return to Philly, the fact that this Union original and fan favorite "almost" scored is less than compelling.  The Caps continue to post clean sheets, but then again, they were never really challenged this weekend.

Portland Timbers 2-3 Real Salt Lake
JELD-WEN field is a difficult place for any visiting team to leave with points, but RSL took all three in a last-gasp shocker.  The Clarets went up in the first half from a penalty kick, but Portland showed grit as the league's new wunderkind, Darlington Nagbe earned a fine brace.  Beating one of the league's best midfielders in Beckerman, and best keepers in Rimando, the Portland man confidently fired his team level just after the restart.  Scarcely fifteen minutes later, Nagbe juggled and volleyed another fine strike, maybe one of the season's best yet.  But just as the Timber Army and the rest of the Portland's sell-out crowd were congratulating themselves on a fine night of football, Real Salt Lake found the net.  As deflating as it was go from a win to a draw in the last minute of regulation, it was nothing compared to the disappointment of going from draw to loss in the third minute of stoppage time.  Kyle Beckerman lifted RSL to victory, burying the ball and the crowd as well.

Seattle Sounders 0-1 San Jose Earthquakes
The Sounders found themselves on the wrong side of a scrappy match at CenturyLink field Saturday evening.  At twenty-four minutes, the Quakes won a penalty and Chris Wondolowski was more than obliged to make it count.  The rest of the game was back and forth with the Sounders holding the edge in the second half.  But that edge wouldn't matter as San Jose's lone goal was enough to secure the win in hostile territory, issuing a challenge to the rest of the western conference.

LA Galaxy 1-3 New England Revolution
Perhaps the biggest shock of the week was when the Revolution paralyzed the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.  Scoring twice in the first thirteen minutes of play, New England took command of the match and gave LA no breathing space at all.  It was all over with but the crying when the Revs netted again in the sixty-fifth minute.  Robbie Keane linked up with Edson Buddle for a nice goal in the dying stages, but on the night, the Galaxy embarrassed themselves playing with all the composure of a rec league squad.  Thats two wins in a row for New England...and a bad sign for the flagging Galaxy, who travel to face league leaders Kansas City next week.

Chivas USA 0-1 Sporting Kansas City
And speaking of Kansas City, Sporting can't seem to stop winning at the moment.  Fighting out another tough one with the Chivas at the HDC, their ugly wins have them sitting atop the table.  Graham Zusi, KC's renaissance man, supplied CJ Sapong with a powerful headed goal in the forty-seventh minute.  The workhorse win continues Sporting's perfect start this year.

Colorado Rapids 2-0 Chicago Fire
And finally, the Rapids looked more like themselves in the 2-0 win over Chicago, Sunday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.  The return of Jeff Larentowicz meant the return of Colorado's midfield dominance.  Omar Cummings, who has a habit a of scoring against the Fire, found the first goal early in the second half and the Rapid's newest signing, Kamani Hill iced the cake in stoppage time.

All in all another thrilling week of MLS action with plenty of ups, downs, penalty's and wonder-goals.  Having been a fan of the league for a few years now, Major League Soccer just keeps getting better.  The on-field talent as well as the fan culture and media coverage has steadily increased, and unlike most leagues in Europe, the MLS seemed to be a fairly balanced league.  Despite some big budget gaps and facility issues for smaller market teams, the "any given Sunday" mentality is present in every weekend of MLS action.

Don't forget, this weekend USLPRO will kick off the 2012 season!!!  The Charleston Battery travel to Virginia to face the Richmond Kickers in the first installment of the Pioneer Cup!!  The game will not be broadcast via USLlive.com, but the Battery's website will have a radio feed of the match.  Cheer on the Charleston Battery as they celebrate their 20th Anniversary!!  Two decades of glorious football!!

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