The Monday Postgame
With its spectacular games, loads of goals, and magical moments from Charlie Davies, Week 1 of the MLS season was kind of the smooth-talking Cary Grant of opening weeks.
Week 2, on the other hand, was a little more rough-and-tumble. Think James Cagney.
It wasn’t as pretty, it was more than a little chippy—there were 40 cards issued this week, four of them red—but it was plenty entertaining.
In addition to all the bookings, there was some heated controversy, a reversal of fortune for two designated players, and a statement game from Real Salt Lake.
Even the week’s lone scoreless draw was interesting, as New York snatched a point at Columbus despite missing five starters and fielding three brand-new players.
So put Week 1 in your rearview, and let’s go nose-to-nose with the scrappy Week 2.
New designated players Omar Bravo of Kansas City and Eric Hassli of Vancouver made dream debuts in Week 1, scoring two goals apiece to lead their teams to exciting wins.
This past week, the dreams turned to nightmares as both men were shown red, leaving their teams shorthanded in road games. Both sides lost.
Bravo was sent to an early shower for a 30th-minute shove in the back of Chicago Fire striker Gaston Puerari, who’d gotten in behind the KC defense. Puerari had run onto a fantastic ball over the top from Marco Pappa and was steaming in alone on ’keeper Jimmy Nielsen when Bravo committed the foul, denying the Fire’s Uruguayan striker a scoring opportunity.
(To those questioning the red for a slight nudge, keep in mind the league’s preseason mandate for refs to “reward attacking soccer.”)
Diego Chaves converted the penalty and four minutes later, Puerari doubled Chicago’s lead. The Fire then withstood a valiant fight-back from undermanned KC to hold on for a 3-2 win.
For Hassli, this has been a season of firsts. He became Vancouver’s first designated player earlier in the month, he scored the franchise’s first MLS goal in Week 1, and this past Saturday in Philadelphia, he saw the club’s first red card. The big Frenchman was shown a second yellow for a heavy lunge at Union center back Carlos Valdes, leaving Whitecaps FC down a man with slightly more than half an hour to go in a scoreless match.
Philly’s new signing Carlos Ruiz eventually won the match, tucking home the winner in the 77th minute. There was plenty of edge to this home opener for the Union, which yielded five yellow cards in the first half and two in the second.
Amazingly, considering their first-year struggles in 2010, Philadelphia are now alone atop the standings in the East after two consecutive 1-0 wins to open the season.
Expanding the Theme
New England edged D.C. United 2-1 in a game that echoed the controversy in Chicago and the orneriness in Philadelphia. There were 31 fouls, five yellow cards, and one red as United defender Dejan Jakovic was sent off in stoppage time for shoving Revs ’keeper Matt Reis.
The controversy came during two incidents in the early stages. First, New England striker Zack Schilawskiappeared to handle the ball before scoring the opening goal just eight minutes in. Then, seven minutes later, Dax McCarty was whistled for a debatable penalty after contact with Revs midfielder Pat Phelan. Just like that, United were down 2-0.
Charlie Davies continued his inspiring comeback with a stoppage-time penalty to make it 2-1, but the Black-and-Red could not find an equalizer.
Rolling at Rio Tinto
File this one under (Not So) Bold Predictions: Real Salt Lake will top all MLS Power Rankings published this week. The Claret-and-Cobalt thoroughly dominated visiting LA on Saturday, getting early goals from Andy Williams and Javier Morales en route to a 4-1 drubbing.
RSL coach Jason Kreis called his side’s first-half display “probably the best soccer” he’s ever seen at Rio Tinto, where the home team has won 36 straight in all competitions. The Galaxy’s new striker Juan Pablo Angelopened his LA account with a 79th-minute tally, but other than that, it was one-way traffic in this one.
Sure, LA were missing Landon Donovan due to international duty, but RSL were missing three players—Canada’s Will Johnson, El Salvador’s Arturo Alvarez, and Costa Rica’s Álvaro Saborío— for the same reason.
Salt Lake’s romp clearly established them as the class of the league at this point.
However, they have company at the top of the Western Conference table. The defending champion Colorado Rapids have likewise started the season with two wins after scratching out a 1-0 victory at Chivas USA despiteOmar Cummings’ absence due to international duty and Conor Casey’s limited availability due to a calf strain.
After missing a couple of chances in San Jose’s season-opening loss to RSL, 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski was determined to make amends when the Quakes visited Pizza Hut Park on Saturday night.
It took exactly five minutes. That’s when Wondo found himself with a few inches of space in the FC Dallas area. He chested Chris Leitch’s chip down, spun, and shot past FCD’s Kevin Hartman for a 1-0 Quakes lead. Eighteen minutes later he skimmed a header to the far post to make it 2-0.
That’s the way it ended despite enormous pressure and several near misses from the Hoops, who trotted out new designated player Fabian Castillo. The 18-year-old Colombian looked fast and dangerous.
Much as FC Dallas lamented their finishing against San Jose, Seattle regretted several missed chances after a 1-1 draw with Houston this past Friday.
Sounders FC had been dictating the pace when Dynamo midfielder Lovel Palmer fired a torpedo from distance that beat a sprawling Kasey Keller and rocked off the crossbar. The ball eventually fell for Geoff Cameron, who drove it through traffic (and off the bar again) into the Seattle goal.
It appeared as though Sounders FC were headed for a third straight 1-0 loss—and the most frustrating of the bunch, considering how they’d tested Houston keeper Tally Hall—when Steve Zakuani popped up at the far post to turn in Erik Friberg’s bouncing cross to make it 1-1 in the 80th minute.
The Portland Timbers need some home cooking. After opening the season with a 3-1 shellacking at Colorado, they again lost on the road by two goals—this time to re-tooled Toronto FC. The Reds’ new Dutch signing Javier Martina scored both goals in the 2-0 win, the second on an assist from keeper Stefan Frei.
Unfortunately for the Timber Army, the expansion club has another game on the road, against unbeaten New England, before its home opener on April 14 against Chicago.
After two weeks, Portland and Chivas USA are the only teams yet to secure a point.