• San Jose Earthquakes crush Real Salt Lake
• Los Angeles Galaxy prevail in wild Portland Timbers visit
• Sebastien Le Toux debuts and scores for New York Red Bulls
• FC Dallas finally win as Colorado Rapids stumble again
San Jose Earthquakes rumble on
Last week an Alvaro Saborio hat trick took Real Salt Lake past Portland Timbers, and closed the gap on the San Jose Earthquakes at the head of the Western Conference - after the Quakes could only manage a goalless draw against Dallas.
Seems that didn't go down too well in San Jose: This week, San Jose bulldozed their nearest challengers 5-0, thanks to a hat trick of their own from (who else?) Chris Wondolowski, in a victory that was concentrated around a 17 minute second half spell, where four Earthquakes' goals added insult to injury for Jason Kreis in the RSL dugout. Just six minutes before the first of those goals had gone in, Kreis had been pictured on the sidelines, hanging his head in frustration, after his captain Kyle Beckerman had been at the center of a melee that saw him ejected, and which may yet have further repercussions for Javier Espindola, when the footage is reviewed.
You could understand Kreis' frustration. At that point it was a one goal game - Wondolowski having thrown himself at a ball in the six yard box in the first half (I think I need a keyboard macro for the number of goals San Jose pick up through force of will in the six yard box - it's like watching a particularly enthusiastic game of Angry Birds) - much to the delight of Brandy Chastain, who happened to be doing a color interview for the commentary at that moment. But San Jose hadn't built on their lead at the hour mark, and as Saborio demonstrated last week, there can be goals in this RSL team. But then came Beckerman's rush of blood. It was a nothing incident near the halfway line that quickly became ugly, and seemed to include Beckerman wrestling with the referee as he was being pulled away from kicking out at Sam Cronin. Espindola and other RSL players joined in - but that flashpoint was to be their last act of (misdirected) spirit in the game, as with Beckerman removed from the heart of midfield, San Jose were able to run rampant.
San Jose are now four points clear in the Supporters Shield, with Sporting KC and RSL their closest challengers (Sporting have a game in hand). They've had their setbacks this season, but so far nothing like the depressing dog days of summer in 2011, where a dreadful streak derailed their play-off push. The jokes about MLS Cup taking place at Buck Shaw Stadium, after MLS's innovation of awarding the venue to the Supporter's Shield winners, are being replaced with an uneasy realization that for all the new soccer-specific stadia in MLS, the Cup might be 'hosted' by a team without one of their own, as the Earthquakes show no sign of easing their charge at the head of the pack. GP
Le Toux (briefly) brings a change of shape to New York
The trade taking Sebastien Le Toux to New York Red Bulls and sending Dane Richards to Vancouver Whitecaps on Friday night, did more than give the Eastern team the first-team-ready alternative to the departed Juan Agudelo and bureaucratically challenged Luke Rodgers (the Le Toux move came as the Red Bulls decided they would be finally be giving up their bid to bring Rodgers back this year). In adding a player of Le Toux's versatility it also permitted New York to boldly experiment with a 4-3-3, with Henry pulling strings behind a front pair of Le Toux and Cooper, and Lade, McCarty and Lindpere closing down the space behind them.
That was the theory anyway - but in the coaching manual on 4-3-3 there's a multiple page entry on "troubleshooting when off the ball" that nobody on the New York side found the time to read before half time - with the result that the visiting Seattle Sounders and the wily Fernandez in particular, found way too much time and space on the ball in the opening 20 minutes. Fernandez opened the scoring on the end of a sweet Sounders move and cross, but was also a constant menace as he was allowed to pick up the ball and run at the New York defense and feed the direct runs of Johnson.
There were obvious pluses for the hosts: Le Toux picked up a debut goal, from a characteristic poacher's finish; Henry threaded some inviting balls through, as advertised; Cooper put in a shift trying to stretch the Seattle back line; and Lindpere, whose dip in form this season had prompted some of the earlier Red Bulls roster experiments (before injuries did the rest), gave the Red Bulls the lead on the hour. If the Red Bulls persist in this formation they'll score goals. As things stand, with injuries and their collective range of aptitudes, they'll also leak them at an alarming rate.
The Red Bulls came out in a more recognizable 4-4-2 in the second half, with Henry moving forward and Le Toux pushed out right onto Richard's former flank - a move that demonstrated both his all-round competence and also the loss of Richard's defense-stretching pace. After Lindpere's goal, Seattle made a shape change of their own, or a tempo change, or ...whatever it is that happens when Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson play up front together. This time, as in the midweek Cup win, it paid off - with Montero darting in to equalize for the Sounders.
A draw was about a fair result, as the game petered out in stifling humidity - but this was also a stalemate between two sides who are both, in their own ways, still trying to work out how to make themselves be more than the sum of their considerable parts. The latest piece in one team's puzzle arrived in New York on Sunday - time will tell if and where he fits in a side that now has no players left from the pre-Backe era, but two and a half years in, remains a work-in-progress. GP
Sporting KC still the stingiest defense in the league
A good week for US Open Cup finalists, and hosts, Sporting Kansas City, ended with them recording a comfortable victory against a Columbus Crew side who had shared their league record of lowest amount of goals conceded, coming into this game. A lot of this can be attributed to the two team's goalkeepers - though arguably the Crew's Andy Gruenebaum has faced the greater workload in keeping his side in contention - as was pointed out by our regular Crew game previewer, Ben Hoelzel, in Friday's Guardian previews, after Sporting's Jimmy Nielsen had got the starting goalkeeper nod for the All-Star game:
Over just 16 games, Gruenebaum is ranked second in the league for most saves at 62 and has faced 80 shots on goal for a save percentage of 78%. Meanwhile, in over 18 games Nielsen has a respectable 73% save percentage but has only faced 59 shots (21 less than Gruenebaum despite playing 2 more games) saving 43 of them.
If you haven't watched his heroic performances this season, you can simply look at the numbers and know the "Hebrew Hammer" is the best goalie in North America at the moment. The fact that MLS failed to recognize that this past week is a slap in the face. If this Crew squad has any respect for its best player, it will take the field this weekend with one goal in mind: to put in as many goals as possible against the impostor all-star in the opposite goal.
Sadly for Ben, the Crew did no such thing - though they did look to create more chances than of late, to at least test Nielsen's credentials. Ultimately though, they were undone by Teal Bunbury in the 82nd minute, while pressing for an equalizer for the suddenly in-form Jacob Peterson's sixth minute opener. And sadly for Gruenebaum there was no All-Star recognition when the remainder of the squad was announced at half time in the New York game - with Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy getting the other goalkeeping call-up.
So Sporting move on, looking ominously settled at the top of the East, while Columbus move back in the defensive standings and with no further inroads on the offensive standings. Had Gruenebaum gotten an All Star nod it would have been a bright spot in a drab season for the Crew. Sporting have taken a solid defensive platform and found a way to grind out wins. Columbus have taken theirs and too often seem to be grinding the gears. GP
Beckham leads Designated Player showcase
David Beckham came back, all guns blazing, for the LA Galaxy against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, as the Designated Players for both teams ran rampant.
After serving the one-game ban handed to him by the MLS disciplinary committee, Beckham returned fresh from taking in some tennis at Wimbledon last weekend, to catapult LA to an enthralling 5-3 victory over the struggling Timbers - scoring two wonder goals in the space of five manic first half minutes.
In fact, seven of the game's eight goals came from Designated Players: Kris Boyd grabbed two for Portland, Robbie Keane continued his recent good form with another brace, while Landon Donovan and Kimura rounded out the scoring.
Beckham's first goal was a thing of beauty. In the 19th minute he picked up the ball 35 yards out -- with LA trailing 1-0 after Boyd's early goal brought hope to a John Spencer-less Timbers -- picked his spot and bent an unstoppable shot into the top corner. The Timbers Army stood stunned, an appreciative silence echoed around JELD-WEN Field. Beckham raised his arms upwards and towards the TA behind the goal, before being mobbed by his teammates.
That scene is being repeated with increased regularity this campaign. Beckham has already scored five times - equaling his highest goals tally in an MLS season. His second of the game came five minutes later, and was a trademark whipped free kick past a stranded Troy Perkins.
With the form all three of the Galaxy's main men are in at the moment, Beckham could well be adding to his tally. There are 14 games to go this season and LA have finally hit their stride - with DP's scoring and free-flowing football the mantra for Bruce Arena's men. Last season they won a championship based on defense. This term that approach has necessarily gone out the window. The motto at the moment seems to be "keep on scoring, forget defending." And it's working.
As for Portland, a spirited yet inept defensive display summed up their season so far. With Gavin Wilkinson at the helm for the rest of the term, it's hard to say which way it will go. Leading scorer Boyd's two goals may have been worthwhile if Spencer was still in charge, as Portland's defensive record wasn't bad at all under him. But an attacking philosophy was opted for on Saturday night, with Wilkinson shouldering the blame for a Timbers side who've now conceded eight in their past two outings. JPW
Dallas have remembered how to win
Stretching 13-games and spanning 92 days, FC Dallas' winless stretch was tied for the fourth longest in MLS history going into Saturday's matchup with Colorado. But FCD came out on top for the first time since defeating the Montreal Impact way back on April 14, as they scored two second half goals in a come from behind win against the Rapids in Colorado.
But just why has it taken so long for Schellas Hyndman's men to chalk up another win? For Dallas, this season has been riddled with injuries. Now with the attacking quartet of Brek Shea, David Ferreira, Ricardo Villar and Fabian Castillo all fit and in form, a key cog begins turning again for FCD.
Even without many of these key players so far this season, Dallas hasn't been hammered. Six of their nine defeats in 2012 have come via one goal margins, so Dallas will be hoping their offensive spark will reignite and start putting wins on the board. The four aforementioned will make a big difference, as Dallas are currently the third lowest scorers in the league with just 19 goals in 20 outings. Also with the pick up of Canadian international midfielder Julian de Guzman from Toronto FC earlier this week, Dallas now have plenty of depth in their squad.
De Guzman will feel the need to prove himself after mixed reviews from his time at TFC of late. Where better than with a resurgent FCD? He can link up well to feed Ferreira and Shea, who have been hugely influential in past seasons. Ferreira's recovery from that horrendous ankle injury is a massive plus point, not just for Dallas but also for the league, as an attack minded genius is back to doing what he does best - unlocking defenses with a single pinpoint pass, such as the one he sent past Rapids left back Jose Zapata in the build up to Castillo's winner.
For Colorado it was a case of inconsistency ruling once again. With Matt Pickens, Drew Moor, Jeff Larentowicz and Conor Casey, the Rapids have a solid, experienced core to their team. Yet head coach Oscar Pareja is diligently trimming his squad at every opportunity to try and force his style on the team. Slowly but surely new players are arriving, but there will be growing pains. A fifth defeat in six, this one against the side with which he has such strong links – a Dallas player for seven seasons from 1998, then assistant coach from 2005, until taking the Rapids head coaching job last fall – will have hurt Pareja. It will have been made worse by the fact that he had to watch Castillo, the man who had stayed in his house when he had first arrived at Dallas, score the winning goal against Pareja's new side on Saturday night.
Pareja has an eye for a player, as Castillo proves. But the long and
delicate rebuilding process continues in Colorado. JPW
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