There weren't a lot of matches this weekend in MLS, but all except one were exciting to watch.
The Chicago Fire came back to tie the Portland Timbers 2-2 in a game that looked like a snoozer on the schedule. My initial assumption could not have been more wrong, as within 40 seconds the Timbers had already struck the Fire post twice, and within five minutes had already given Chicago fits.
Portland played some very fluid soccer, but so did the Fire, and the result was a game that moved up and down the field for the length of the game, with very few dull spells to bore the audience. Part of the fun came from watching Chicago basically ignore Jack Jewsbury for an entire half, causing their left flank to be under constant threat.
Adding to the Fire's woes was Austin Berry, who made several mistakes on the night, one of which led to Ben Zemanski's opening goal. Berry was far too lax in closing down Frederic Piquionne, and then overcommited on a feint by Piquionne and allowed the Timbers' winger acres of space to get the ball to Zemanski, who had acres of space in which to deliver his (great) shot.
It wasn't the only mistake on the night from Berry, but it was the mistake that cost them the most.
Another highlight is about to strike your eyeballs, and this one is a surefire Goal of the Week candidate. The Fire had pulled a goal back, and had 8 minutes left in regulation, when Daniel Paladini stood over the ball in an attempt to tie the game against Portland.
And then this happened:
The Timbers' play style had been very ugly from the 30th minute onward, lunging into tackles with reckless abandon and generally being excessively physical. They paid for it with that goal, but who knows if the Fire would have ever gotten the chance if the referee had kept things in check? The game was much uglier than the disciplinary record (three yellow cards, two to Portland and one to Chicago) suggests.
I will never understand why some MLS referees are so reluctant to hand out a yellow card early in the match. Matches can be controlled, but the referees need to discover their intestines and hand out warnings early on.
That match was far more entertaining than I expected, despite some complaints about the grass that had been laid on the field. While the grass caused a few players to slip and a few passes to bounce awkwardly, the crowd energized both teams, and both the Sounders and Whitecaps ran from end to end for the entire game.
It's easy to point to a great home attendance as a motivating factor in any game, but this crowd was well above average, even for a Sounders game. In excess of 53,000 attended filled the stands, rivaling the attendance of most European teams. It looked fantastic on TV, and it sounded even better. It's safe to say that this was a more galvanizing crowd than even your average Sounders/Timbers experience.
In an effort to please his home fans, Lamar Neagle continued his torrid form, scoring yet another goal (that proved to be the game winner) and earning the penalty that put the Sounders back on level terms.
There are so many things that could be said about this game that it's probably best to read a match report. However, it's worth pointing out that the Whitecaps looked quite good on the night, and gave the Sounders a hard run for their money. Both teams' defenses were not at their best, and they were both exploited for any number of chances. It played into each sides' hands, as the attacks from either side were fast, physical and quick to jump on any mistake made.
We're used to seeing the Sounders play hard every game, so watching their effort was no surprise. The same can not always be said of the Caps. Ah, but this was not the dreary Whitecaps team from earlier in the season. I'm not sure what Martin Rennie put in their Wheaties before the game (magic, I expect), but the Whitecaps played with a sort of urgency often lacking from their efforts. It's a shame that they lost, because it was probably their strongest, if not necessarily their most complete, effort to date. Even Nigel Reo-Coker stayed away from his standard goonery and focused on soccer instead of on-field judo. The loss is not good for them, but I don't think the Caps' desire to win can be questioned, for this game at least.
If you haven't seen it, there's an excellent Vine making the rounds that shows Alex Morgan covering her eyes nervously over Servando Carrasco's penalty. The Sounders were behind 2-1 midway through the second half, but as mentioned above, Neagle drew a penalty and Carrasco went to the spot to take it. Carrasco is Morgan's boyfriend, and you can only imagine the butterflies of watching your significant other take a major penalty kick that could tie a game.
A game you are behind in, and that everyone was expecting your team to win.
On National television by the way.
RSL seem like a team that have done well for themselves, but haven't quite impressed. But then you look at the standings and go "What are RSL doing in second place in the West?".
RSL have quietly and methodically marched up the standings, and now find themselves just a point back of FC Dallas. Careful observers won't be surprised, but I think most will look at the standings and not know where RSL came from.
Their standing is a bit misleading, since they have played two more games than FCD (and a whopping FOUR more than Montreal), but that doesn't mean the standings are complete hooey. In fact, despite also having played more games than the Timbers, they are four points ahead of Portland. If Portland drop one more result, they'll be neck in neck.
Portland has earned heaps of praise (and rightfully so) because of their improvement and form, so where is the praise for Real Salt Lake? This team, for two years in a row, has flirted with a "rebuilding year" situation only to find themselves in a comfortable table position. Jason Kreis needs to start earning a few more accolades, because RSL are consistently competing, year in and year out, even amidst ownership unrest.
Trying to predict Galaxy results is an exercise in futility, given how inconsistent they are. What is one supposed to take from this team's recent performances? Sure, they are missing key cogs (Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez) due to international absences, but they have been incredibly irregular even with those players in the lineup. Trading Mike Magee (who of course scored for the Chicago Fire) might hurt them more than they thought. At the moment, Robbie Rogers is depth and nothing else. If the Galaxy continue to disappoint, people are going to start wondering if that Robbie Rogers trade was worth it for LA.
It's unfair to ask so much of Rogers after he has only barely re-entered the game, but it's to be expected when you're traded the two-time defending Champions in exchange for a crucial championship piece. There's still time for LA though. All they have to do is make the playoffs to have a chance.
Food For Thought
- What surprised you more? That Vancouver put up such a strong fight against Seattle, or that Chicago tied Portland?
- How long will it take for LA fans to start becoming grouchy about the Magee-Rogers trade (if the Galaxy continue on being ho-hum)?
- New England couldn't score against DC. Is DC righting the ship, or is New England simply not as "hot" as previously thought?
- Predictions for the USA vs. Panama. I have the USA winning 2-1.