Monday Postgame: Int'l influence drives jam-packed week
This week was so unruly and overflowing it made Kyle Beckerman’s dreadlocks look like a high-and-tight buzz cut.
There were 12 league games, five CONCACAF Champions League matches (MLS went five-for-five), dozens of goals, a handful of red cards and some more controversy.
The Eastern Conference standings were reshuffled, there were trades, a significant retirement, a new league record and no fewer than nine players bagging their first MLS goals.
But the most prominent development of the week was the impact of foreign stars, who made game-changing plays in almost every match—with the latest and biggest foreign signing of the season, Ireland international Robbie Keane, leading the way.
Keane completed a deal to join the LA Galaxy on Monday, landed at LAX on Thursday and bagged a goal in his debut on Saturday night.
It was that kind of week: whirlwind. Let’s spin it back.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena granted Keane’s wish that LA “just throw me in the deep end let me show what I can do,” starting him up top alongside Adam Cristman against San Jose at the Home Depot Center.
The former Tottenham striker rewarded his new manager’s faith after just 21 minutes, running on to a ball over the top from David Beckham, rounding goalkeeper Jon Busch, and finishing into the empty net.
After Quakes defender Steven Beitashour was red-carded for putting a boot to Landon Donovan’s knee as he leaped over the Galaxy No. 10 (who made sure everyone knew there was contact), Mike Magee iced the game in the 90th, turning in a cross from Sean Franklin.
Despite holding a 12-7 advantage in shots, San Jose suffered a 12th consecutive game without a win, while LA solidified their perch atop the West.
Keane was the most notable import to impact the playoff chase this week, but he was by no means the only one. In New England, 22-year-old Argentine Milton Caraglio, the Revolution’s first-ever Designated Player, shook off a frustrating midweek game against Houston (a 1-1 draw thanks to a late Dynamo equalizer) to score two goals in the first half against New York on Saturday night.
Caraglio probably thought he’d done enough to lead his new team to just its second home win of the season, but the Red Bulls got two second-half goals from Dane Richards—the second one in the 87th minute—and stole a point.
Chivas USA snatched a late draw of their own on Saturday night, tying Colorado 2-2 thanks to new French signing Laurent Courtois’ 86th-minute equalizer. The Goats’ first goal came from newly arrived Juan Pablo Ángel, whom the Galaxy shipped across the hall to Chivas make room from for Keane.
(While Chivas said hello to Ángel, they also said goodbye to veteran defender and former US international Jimmy Conrad, who announced his retirement on Thursday.)
After Keane’s debut, the two most hotly anticipated matches this weekend were FC Dallas and Seattle squaring off in a battle for second in the West, and Columbus and Philadelphia meeting in a top-of-the-table clash in the East.
The Western Conference showdown was a gritty affair, with 41 fouls and eight cards, including a 56th-minute red to FCD midfielder Daniel Cruz. The Sounders produced only two shots on goal, yet left Texas with a 1-0 win, thanks to Mauro Rosales’ near-post laser in the 15th minute and two excellent late saves by goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Faryd Mondragón appeared to have saved a 51st-minute penalty by Columbus striker Andrés Mendoza, but the ball squirted away from the Union keeper and crossed the goal line to give the host Crew a 2-1 home win. (Emilio Rentería and Veljko Paunović traded first-half goals.)
Mendoza’s shot was as borderline as the call that produced it: The referee pointed to the spot after a Robbie Rogers cross hit Union defender Sheanon Williams’ arm, which was folded against his chest at the moment of contact. In other words, Williams would have blocked the cross with his body if it hadn’t hit his arm first.
Long way to the top
At the other end of the Eastern Conference standings, Chicago bounced back from their MLS-record 15th draw of the season (in which they gave up a late equalizer to Josh Wolff and tied DC 1-1 on Thursday) to knock off Toronto FC three days later.
Dominic Oduro finished a 16th-minute chance for his eighth goal of the year, and defender Dan Gargan added his first for a 2-0 victory that sent his former team to the East cellar and ended a 10-game winless streak for Chicago.
Portland are not at the bottom of the table, but they’re on the outside looking in at the playoffs, and after a 3-1 midweek loss at Kansas City, the Timbers needed all three points from Saturday’s Cascadia Cup clash with last-place Vancouver.
Thanks to Colombian imports Diego Chara and Jorge Perlaza, the Timbers got what they needed, keeping the postseason in sight with a 2-1 win. Chara scored his first MLS goal in the second minute, assisted by Perlaza, and Perlaza bagged his sixth 12 minutes before halftime.
While Portland kept their playoff dreams in sight, the Red Bulls saw theirs teetering on the edge. New York made a decent fight-back against New England—without Thierry Henry (Achilles)—but the 2-2 result was their 14th draw of the season, and they are about to hit a rough stretch in their schedule, starting with a visit from LA next Sunday.
At the same time, some of their Eastern Conference foes appear to be peaking. Both Sporting Kansas City, who edged D.C. United 1-0, and Houston, who clipped Real Salt Lake 3-2 in the most exciting game of the week, vaulted past Philadelphia to claim second and third place in the conference, respectively. (New York slipped to fifth.)
Against RSL, Houston rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits before getting a stoppage-time winner from attacker Alex Dixon, a former Dynamo Academy player. The dramatic strike was the first goal of Dixon’s MLS career.
Sporting Kansas City (whose 19-year-old rookie attacker Soony Saad opened his MLS account in the midweek Portland game) continued to serve notice in the East—and league-wide—with their second straight win, and 16th result in the past 17 games, courtesy of a stunning Kei Kamara strike.
(Side note: Is there a better rookie this season than the athletic, rangy, and skilled C.J. Sapong? I say no. And he might be worth an audition as a new target forward for the USMNT sometime soon.)
After a 1-6-3 start, SKC are 9-7-9 and just four points behind leaders Columbus.