BY JUSTIN FERGUSON
For a smaller than average slate of games last week, Major League Soccer provided us with a good number of, for lack of a better word, magical moments.
On paper, it looked like it was going to be just another week of MLS. After the short All-Star game pause, there was a handful of average games. There wasn’t a surefire, must-see Game of the Week. The All-Stars were going to trot out there and play a nice little friendly with Chelsea. Shoot, the games getting the most attention on Saturday involved non-MLS teams.
Just another week, right?
Streaks were snapped, results were snatched out of thin air and eye-opening upsets were tallied during Week 21. Buckle up for a fast-paced joyride through last week’s surprises.
A Star-Studded Win
The Champions of Europe invaded PPL Park on Wednesday night, determined to keep their U.S. Tour momentum going from their 4-2 win over Seattle and their 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain.
While it’s safe to say that the Blues weren’t playing their complete first team against the MLS All-Stars, the defending European Champions started several important players, including veteran Frank Lampard and an Ashley Cole-John Terry-Gary Cahill-Branislav Ivanovic back line.
In last week’s edition of The Equalizer, I said that if Chelsea played some more experienced players, it would a close victory for The Blues. I had faith that Chelsea wouldn’t blow the All-Stars out. This side was just too good for that to happen.
It would turn out to be one of the more entertaining MLS All-Star Games in years, a great back-and-forth match.
Chris Wondolowski opened the scoring in the 21st minute, taking advantage of a miscue by the MLS fans’ target of the evening, John Terry. After a Landon Donovan-forced Chelsea turnover and leading pass, Thierry Henry played a beautiful cross toward Wondo. Wondo’s backside run looked like it surprised Terry, and the San Jose man finished off the English captain’s botched clearance.
Some called it luck. Others chalked it up to some Wondo Magic.
Chelsea would equalize, taking an advantage of Aurélien Collin injury. Collin, who had collided earlier with Michael Essien, re-entered the game right before a Chelsea corner kick. He unfortunately had to mark Terry, and the captain got his revenge with a good header.
The rest of the first half would be marked by great defensive and possession play from the All-Stars, especially by Vancouver center back Jay Demerit (my personal Man of the Match) and Seattle defensive mid Osvaldo Alonso.
But the 1-1 tie wouldn’t last very long into the second half. Frank Lampard broke away from sub Kyle Beckerman and hit a wide-open shot past Dan Kennedy for an easy 2-1 lead.
Then, the star of the league’s last win against Chelsea decided to take matters into his own hands. Dwayne De Rosario hooked up with DC United teammate Chris Pontius, and the All-Star Game rookie slotted one past Chelsea reserve goalie Ross Turnbull for the equalizer. De Ro, the 2006 All-Star Game MVP, played the entire match for the MLS squad.
Both teams would get great chances on goal for the rest of the 90 minutes, but nothing happened until stoppage time. While it looked like it was heading to another All-Star game PK shootout, it took a grown man to pull off the upset.
Second-half substitute Eddie Johnson, the Seattle man who is having an amazing year in his return to MLS, fired a shot off of a sliding David Luiz that found its way into the back of the net. Again, a lucky strike, but it still counts as a goal on the scoreboard. The 91st minute game-winner from EJ stunned almost everyone watching. Heck, I was already preparing a PK lineup for the All-Stars in my head when Johnson shot the ball.
A few moments later, the whistle sounded and the MLS All-Stars had upset the Champions of Europe.
Granted, it was not like beating the same team that beat Bayern Munich a couple of months ago. It was a mix of reserves and regulars, a team that still is trying to get ready for the grueling EPL season.
But, then again, this was an All-Star team that had only practiced together twice before taking the field against the Blues. Well, actually, they never practiced together as one full team. David Beckham landed in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning, started for the All-Stars and jetted right back to London so he could drive a speedboat for his home country. (Again, why Stuart Pearce? Why would you have a hand in demoting Becks to such a lowly and goofy status in the Olympics?)
Alexi Lalas said it best (and repeatedly) during ESPN’s coverage of the ASG: This win for the All-Stars is all about changing perceptions of the league. No, this doesn’t automatically make the league’s best equal with the Champions of Europe. But, it raised eyebrows all over the world on Thursday morning. The American league beating mighty Chelsea in a friendly? Very few saw that coming.
It was a victory for Major League Soccer that may have won over some fans here and around the world, and it definitely was a boost to the league’s rising reputation. Nothing earth-shattering, but an upset that every player and fan can take pride in. Not very many teams can say that they beat the defending European champions.
Some More Philly Power
The lucky fans in Philadelphia got to watch another magical upset last week. The hosts of the All-Star Game welcomed rivals New England on Sunday, and they were treated to a dramatic comeback win from their surging Union.
Freddy Adu was back in the lineup for Philadelphia after a puzzling absence from last week’s loss at New York while sliding DP Shalrie Joseph was out of the lineup for the Revs. The former NE captain has had a hugely disappointing season, but Jay Heaps’s decision to exclude him for the road game raised some questions up in the Northeast.
On Wednesday, the answer was given to everyone around the league. After a remarkable ten seasons in New England, Joseph was traded to Chivas USA for midfielder Blair Gavin, a SuperDraft pick and allocation money. It looks like Heaps and the front office are planning for the future.
The Joseph-less Revs jumped out to an early lead in the 12th minute as striker Saer Sene put one past Philly goalie Zac MacMath. The rookie goalkeeper has had some great saves and some awful miscues between the posts this season, but he couldn’t have done anything about Sene’s goal. It was a nasty swerving shot from Sene, and MacMath did good just to get a mitt on it. There are some goals that you can’t stop, and this was one of them.
The Revolution controlled the rest of the first half with some good possession, but the second half would belong to the youth revolt of Philadelphia. Jack McInerney drew a foul in the 59th at the edge of the box, but the referee gave a penalty to the Union. The replay shows that the contact was made just outside of the box. But you don’t watch things in slow-motion, do you? Bang-bang play, and the ref had to make a decision. This one just turned out to go against the Revolution.There was a missed handball in the box went against the Union later in the match, so things evened out.
Adu converted the penalty for a welcome back-goal, bringing the match level. John Hackworth, Philadelphia head coach/miracle worker, then switched his club to a 3-4-3 formation and put in several offensive subs. When you’re trying to fight from an awful start to a possible wild card playoff spot, you have to take risks for those big three points. The rest of the second half marked by great chances from both sides, including several unbelievable saves from Revs’ goalie Matt Reis and MacMath.
But, the youngster McInerney would break the tie late, knocking home a perfect Sheanon Williams cross in the 90th minute. I don’t know what was prettier, Jack’s far post run and finish or his celebration. After hitting the game-winner, McInerney leaped up into the arms of fans behind the goal, doing his own version of the Green Bay Packers’ Lambeau Leap. “The Jack Mac Jump” will certainly stick in the minds of Union fans, whose club is now just nine points behind Chicago for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Ah, the difference a coaching change makes. (Unless you’re Portland.)
Dark magic? Or the power of that blond afro?
I don’t know how they do it. I blamed Satan himself for Queens Park Rangers’ second-half collapse that gifted the EPL crown to Manchester City a few months ago, but I don’t even think he could be behind San Jose’s run this season.
Yeah, I know, “Never Say Die” from all the ‘Quakes, but after Saturday night’s HOLY CRAP THEY DID IT AGAIN WHY OH WHY result against the Chicago Fire, I’m starting to believe that San Jose is controlled by the Illuminati or something like that.
It could be a league-wide conspiracy. Ever since their explosive start to the season, San Jose has been able to pull off last-minute wins and draws to keep their position as the top team in the league intact.
As a Seattle Sounders fan that’s trying to watch his club claw back towards the top, I’m blown away every time I watch San Jose. If I was one of those tin foil hat types, I would seriously believe that there was something dirty about the officiating at all of San Jose’s games.
But, I don’t spend my time on the comments section at mlssoccer.com, so I’ll just attribute San Jose’s play to the breaks of the game. (For now.)
Saturday night’s home draw against the Fire was a perfect example of another San Jose match that may have been controlled by a mystical, black-and-blue force. An easy 37th minute goal from Chicago’s Chris Rolfe put the visitors up 1-0, and it looked like that the goal was all that Fire would need for 97 minutes.
That’s right…97 minutes.
San Jose, the offensive kings of MLS, kept getting great chances at the equalizer throughout the match, but Sean Johnson was there to block all of the ‘Quakes chances. It was an unbelievable performance from the young Fire goalkeeper, one filled with beautiful saves.
How great was it? Well, Johnson made a ridiculous 10 saves in the match. After the game, fans everywhere took to Twitter and Facebook, asking Major League Soccer to make an exception to their Save of the Week rule. The league normally picks the best save from five different goalkeepers for their SOTW award, but this performance deserves an exception.
Unfortunately the league didn’t budge. So, to make up for it, I give you five different saves that beat the rest of the MLS’s field on their website. You won’t see ridiculous goalkeeping like this very often, so here are my nominees.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are watching the future of U.S. goalkeeping.
It was apparent that you weren’t going to beat Johnson in regular time, but how about stoppage time? In the third minute of what was originally scheduled to be five minutes of stoppage time, San Jose striker Alan Gordon was whistled for a foul in Chicago’s box, received his second yellow and was sent off.
During the frenzy on the field, San Jose fans tossed water bottles on the field. Following their example, SJ head coach Frank Yallop chunked a crate of Gatorade on the field, earning him a send off. When play finally restarted, the referee added on a few more minutes to the clock, allowing play to continue to the 98th minute.
So, let me get this straight. Your player gets sent off, your fans throw stuff on the field, your coach goes nuts and chunks a crate of Gatorade on the field…and you get rewarded with more time to get an equalizer? These are the times that I hate the rules of soccer. You’re rewarding a team for time-wasting, and unsportsmanlike time-wasting at that.
Now, do I think that directly caused San Jose to get the tying goal in the 97th minute? No. Sean Johnson could have gotten another big save, and the Fire would’ve walked out with a massive road upset. But, the extra time definitely made matters worse for a scrambling Chicago team.
Want to play conspiracy theorist? On the night Steven Lenhart returned to action for San Jose (concussion symptoms kept him out of the last four matches), on Steven Lenhart Wig Night at Buck Shaw Stadium, in a game where a loss would’ve made Real Salt Lake the new league leaders…San Jose takes advantage of their own ejections and gets a 97th minute equalizer from Lenhart. Sean Johnson was determined to fight against the system, but he couldn’t get an eleventh save. The most deserving clean sheet in MLS this season never happened because the ‘Quakes got the magic they needed for a result.
No, I don’t believe there’s an actual conspiracy theory to keep the ‘Quakes on top. Again, I contribute it to the magic of the Earthquakes. They refuse to fold and keep making their own luck. Yes, this game was influenced by Yallop going bonkers and tossing things, but they still had to set-up that equalizer and put it past a goalkeeper having the game of his life. It was questionable timing, but you can’t say that they were necessarily handed the draw.
And, to show it’s not a MLS conspiracy, Lenhart and the Goonies struck again on Tuesday night, getting two goals from the blond-afroed striker in the last 10 minutes of the match to salvage a 2-2 draw against EPL club Swansea City. This means that the ‘Quakes still have not lost to any club at home this season.
Back-to-back Lenhart-led comebacks to get late draws are impressive. But if it happens three straight times, I’m sending an exorcist to Buck Shaw Stadium.
Real Salt Lake 2, Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1
It was a quick turnaround for All-Stars like Kyle Beckerman and Jay Demerit, as these two Western Conference powers squared off in Rio Tinto Stadium last Friday night. Beckerman and Demerit were both in the spotlight right before the first goal, as Demerit was whistled for a handball in the box while in a jumpball battle with Beckerman. Alvaro Saborio converted the penalty for the first half’s only goal.
Hotshot rookie Darren Mattocks notched his seventh goal of the season to tie it up in the 52nd minute, tapping in an easy cross from Camilo. But RSL would tie it up a few minutes later when substitute midfielder Ned Grabavoy set up a great play that gave Saborio his sixth goal in the past four games. That would be all that RSL needed, as they bunkered down and prevented any equalizers from the Mattocks-led Vancouver attack. The rookie had a few more good chances at goal, but RSL held on for the big three points, closing the gap between them and the sorcerers in San Jose.
Los Angeles Galaxy 1, FC Dallas 0
The Galaxy traveled to FC Dallas Stadium on Saturday night, facing a team desperate to turn their season around and a record-breaking crowd in the sweltering Texas heat.
The visitors were without David Beckham (speedboat duty) and Landon Donovan (yellow card accumulation), and, on paper, Dallas had a great chance at the upset. The Galaxy had been winless without Donovan this season, and FCD was coming off of last week’s 5-0 drubbing of Portland.
But Bruce Arena played his usual road strategy: defense first, wear down the opponents. Without Brek Shea and Blas Perez, Dallas could get very little offense going. So when Robbie Keane finally delivered a ball to Mike Magee for a 62nd minute goal, it was all over for The Hoops. Although they currently stand in fifth place in the West, this team looks like a title contender again.
Columbus Crew 2, Sporting Kansas City 1
Kei Kamara said it best after Saturday night’s home loss to the Crew: “Obviously dominating is not good enough.”
And he would be correct. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead over the Crew, SKC stumbled to a loss where they once again dominated on the statsheet but lost on the scoreboard. New Crew signing Jairo Arrieta got two quick first half goals to give Columbus the lead, and that’s all they needed. Although Sporting shot the ball a mind-boggling 19 times in the second half and had possession 69% of the match, they couldn’t get the equalizer against the parked bus of Columbus.
A couple of weeks before they host U.S. Open Cup kings Seattle for this year’s installment of the Cup, Sporting Kansas City finds themselves winless in four straight at Livestrong Sporting Park. When they return next week from their trip to New England, they have to rewrite the sad home script, or else it will be four-for-four for the Sounders.
Montreal Impact 3, New York Red Bulls 1
It’s a great time to be a Red Bulls fan. Tim Cahill of Everton has been signed, sealed and delivered to Red Bull Arena, and Thierry Henry is on an unbelievable goal-scoring pace. The front six of New York could be the best in North America.
Unfortunately the defense still raises some questions. Expansion outfit Montreal was able to break through several offside traps from New York en route to a huge home victory for the Impact. Montreal DP Marco Di Vaio finally got his first MLS goal to start the scoring, the first of two quick second half goals for his side. Although Henry was able to gracefully score a goal to make it 2-1, the Impact were fired up from a 75th minute scuffle and put the game away minutes later.
It was a passionate victory from surprisingly good Montreal and a let-down loss for New York. It won’t get any easier this week for the Red Bulls, as they travel to face one of the league’s toughest home teams…
Houston Dynamo 2, Toronto FC 0
…the Houston Dynamo.
The Dynamo got their first franchise win on Canadian soil when they knocked off the red-hot Reds on Saturday. Calen Carr got another goal off of his padded rugby helmet and veteran Brian Ching cashed in the insurance check in the second half to give Houston the three points. Toronto couldn’t find a rhythm on offense, and the hottest team in the league made them pay. Great win for Houston.
Seattle Sounders FC 2, Colorado Rapids 1
The All-Star heroes from Seattle continued their amazing pace on Saturday night. Both Eddie Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso scored for the Sounders, who snapped a long winless road streak and handed Colorado their sixth straight loss. Although EJ’s goal 80th second goal (a franchise record for the fastest goal) was wiped away by Drew Moor’s goal in the third minute, the grown man finished off his MOTM performance with an assist to Alonso. The Sounders rode Ozzie’s stunning volley and some solid goalkeeping from a healthy Michael Gspurning for the 2-1 victory.
Chivas USA 1, Portland Timbers 0
The always-loud Timbers Army expressed their displeasure in the last-place Timbers, booing at the end of a 1-0 home loss to Chivas. Although Portland controlled the game for most of the 90 minutes, a Danny Califf goal in the 68th minute off of a set piece was all that The Goats needed for the road victory. The loss completed the season sweep for Chivas, who are starting to pick up their level of competition.
_____________ of the Week
K&G’s MLS Goal of the Week: Jairo Arrieta’s Long Distance Winner
Saer Sene’s sidewinder could’ve been my GOTW, but Arrieta’s winner against Sporting Kansas City takes the cake. Arrieta’s second goal was the difference between a win for Columbus and what would have been a hard-fought draw for SKC. Quick thinking by the new man in yellow, just a great distance goal that went past one of the league’s toughest goalkeepers for the win.
K&G’s MLS Player of the Week: Eddie Johnson, Seattle Sounders FC
Some may call me out for Seattle bias, but the GAM deserved this week’s award. After knocking in the game-winner for the All-Stars in the Chelsea upset, he followed up with the fastest goal in Sounders history and had the game-winning assist. Seattle needed a road victory desperately, and they relied on EJ to get it. He’s starting to coexist a little more peacefully with Fredy Montero, too. If those two forwards can start clicking together, watch out.
K&G’s MLS Quote of the Week: Commissioner Don Garber to Sporting News
“We’ve got to try to win that tournament…we’ve got to try to get to the World Club Championship. That’s got to be a priority.”
The tournament The Soccer Don is referring to is the CONCACAF Champions League, which kicked off this week all over North America and the Caribbean. Real Salt Lake kicked off their run to the title on Tuesday night, dispatching Costa Rican champions Herediano 1-0. Toronto FC, the Canadian champions, blew out Salvadorian side CD Aguila 5-1 last night. Seattle begins their journey tonight against the champions of Trinidad and Tobago, Caledonia AIA. The other two MLS representatives, Los Angeles and Houston, start the competition a few weeks from now.
A tournament usually dominated by Mexican clubs, the CCL is the top prize in all of North American club soccer, with the winner advancing to the FIFA Club World Cup. Garber and the rest of MLS want that extra exposure overseas, so look for all of these teams to push even harder to hoist the big cup.
It’ll be a tougher test this year. The competition’s new format has teams in groups of three, double-round robin style (home and away), with only one team advancing per group to the knockout stage. Must-win games coming up for some of MLS’s top clubs.
What to Watch For
Tonight’s friendly between Real Madrid and Los Angeles should be an interesting one (10:30 ET, ESPN 2). Part of the World Football Challenge, the game comes at an awkward time for Los Angeles, who face Seattle in a crucial Western Conference matchup on Sunday night (9 ET, ESPN 2). [The timing is] terrible, to be totally honest with you,” Robbie Keane told reporters. “The timing of these situations is never great. … We’re not going to win the championship by beating Real Madrid.” But Landon Donovan sees it a different way: “[These friendlies] always come in the middle of the season, so in that way it’s a little burdensome – but at the end of the day, who doesn’t want to play against Real Madrid? And in our own stadium. We’re very lucky we get to do that.” With the big match against Seattle on Saturday, what kind of lineup will we see from Los Angeles when they face the Spanish champions?…Friday night’s (8 ET) matchup between New York and Houston should be a great one. Tim Cahill will most likely make his league debut that night at the toughest place to play statistically in MLS. Will the new starpower be able to snatch a victory, or will the unbeaten streak at BBVA continue for the Dynamo?…I’m going to watch Portland and Dallas (7 ET, NBCSN) on Sunday just to see what will happen. Something’s gotta give here. Dallas drubbed Portland 5-0 two weeks ago, and the home field advantage at Jeld-Wen isn’t what it used to be. But FCD just has a hard time scoring without guys like Brek and Blas Perez. Can multi-goal lightning strike twice for FCD?…
Justin Ferguson is a sports journalism student at Auburn University that has been going around yelling, “MLS…CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE!” You can follow him on Twitter @theoneandonlyJF.