• A tough week for New England Revolution gets worse
• Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy's wanderer, finally home
• Toronto FC need to keep going at the end
Let's start with the obvious. There are many more important things than soccer and there were multiple reminders of them at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night. First the New York fans in the South Ward displayed a large banner saying "New York stands with Boston", which they had marched to the stadium before the game. As the game went on, the banner made its way to the New England supporters section, high above the opposite goal. Fans and team alike were trying to get back to some semblance of normality after what has been a trying week for Boston as a whole and one that had hit the Revs close to home. Goalkeeper Matt Reis did not travel with the team after his father-in-law sustained serious injuries in last week's bombing. His replacement, Bobby Shuttleworth, would be kept busy in his absence. Finally there was the heartening sight of the Revs' Kevin Alston, sidelined by leukemia treatment but there to support his team-mates. The No 30 was seated just in front of me, behind the Revs bench, where he was able to quietly take in the sound of the New England fans chanting his name for the full 30th minute of the game.
Lest all that imagery of heartwarming solidarity lead you to imagine a fairytale result was about to be forthcoming for New England, the sentiment of solidarity ended there. They were behind after four minutes to a Dax McCarty volley, and though they drew level with a Brandon Barklage own goal just two minutes later, after only another two minutes Barklage's through ball found Fabian Espindola, who cut inside the last defender in the box and slotted the ball low past Shuttleworth, and the Revs would never close the gap. Indeed while the visitors would have periods of pressure early in the second half when the Red Bulls sat back off them, they were finished late on by goals from Thierry Henry and Jonny Steele – goals which in their brutal exposing of the young right-back Andrew Farrell, looked less like standing strong with Boston, and more like bullying their opponents. Steele, dropped for the midweek loss to Sporting KC, looked to have returned with a point to prove (he later revealed he was playing in the wake of news of his father's stroke), and with New England pressing late, his perfect threaded pass on the break wrongfooted Farrell and allowed Henry to race round the defender on the blindside in humiliating fashion before finishing cleanly into the bottom corner. Then in injury time, with another break in progress, Steele himself outstripped Farrell to finish simply at the far post.
Speaking after the game, Farrell sounded a little as though he was struggling to put his positioning error behind him, but he's hardly the first player to have been exposed by Henry's bag of tricks. Henry was in somewhat mischievous form all night, making outrageous flicks of the ball, or trapping stray passes with ostentatious ease – even getting into a bizarre bout of showboating with Roy Miller, of all people, just before half-time. Frequently he drifted left towards Farrell's flank, where Steele had been instructed pre-game to test the young man's positional sense. For long stretches of the game Farrell held his own, looking the confident physical prodigy he's touted as. But Henry was biding his time.
"When Thierry chooses to be he is by far the best player in this league," said his coach, Mike Petke, later, perhaps hinting at the fact that when Henry is on form the Red Bulls are formidable, but that his form tends to be linked to his side being flat-track bullies. A three-game week saw them push aside the struggling DC and Revs teams, but saw them struggle themselves against a proven entity like Sporting KC. The Red Bulls are still a patchy proposition, but at least the points are beginning to pile up for Petke. For the Revs, the best that can be said of last week is that it's over. GP
The final whistle blew at a cold BMO Field, and a familiar chorus of boos from the 15,973 in attendance rang out yet again – Toronto FC had conceded a goal in the 94th minute against the Houston Dynamo, dropping a vital two points to Warren Creavalle's header from a Houston corner. It was the third time in the past four games TFC had allowed an equalizer in the 90+ minute range. In fact, late goals are somewhat of a Reds specialty – Toronto has either allowed a losing or equalizing goal after the 80th minute 34 times in its history, dating back to 2007.
This one seemed to hit the team and its supporters particularly hard, as Toronto FC dominated throughout. Head coach Ryan Nelsen started Luis Silva and Jeremy Hall in the centre of midfield in a 4-4-2, which substituted some of the wasteful, hit-and-hope crossing of late for a more narrow approach in attack. Houston worked to snap their winless streak on the road, pressing early with both Andrew Driver and Will Bruin attempting to exploit a perceived weak Toronto left of Ryan Richter and Logan Emory. The pressure on that side however allowed some ballast for a hardworking Reggie Lambe in right-back to attack.
The result was that Toronto outshot Houston 16-7, with four shots on goal to Houston's two. Hall's low, distant strike for Toronto in the 58th minute capped off a performance for a player Nelsen called "absolutely fantastic". The home side looked comfortable even before Jermaine Taylor was sent off for a questionable last-man foul in the 64th, when Taylor seemed to either elbow or shoulder a rampant Robert Earnshaw.
Even so, the old late goal curse struck again, leaving press, coach and players scratching their heads post-match. Nelsen warned the lost points were "very hard to get back" and central defender and captain Darren O'Dea boldly claimed "it won't happen again because it can't".
Yet despite the lost two points and the thousand-yard stares in the Toronto locker room, the truth is sometimes a late goal is a reflection of a poor defense getting found out, and sometimes it's just "one of those things". Football often comes down to luck, but teams make their own luck over 90 minutes by controlling play, carving out chances, and intelligent defense. Despite the late goals, TFC managed to do that against two MLS Cup finalists at home already this season.
Striker Robbie Earnshaw acknowledged as much. "We probably should have scored one or two more; that's credit to us," he said. "We've got to know where we've come from. This team from last year is nowhere near this. The improvement is massive." When I mentioned the team's strong underlying numbers to Jeremy Hall, he cracked a smile. "Houston is one of the best teams in the league for how many years? MLS Cup finals, playoffs every year, a very good, experienced team that is hard working, and we came in and won all aspects of the game." Winning at all aspects of the game however is what leads to better results – with the odd unfortunate draw –over the long term; both the club and its aggrieved supporters can take solace in that. RW
Since going down to a surprise defeat to Toronto in their second game of the season, Sporting KC were unbeaten coming into Saturday night's much-anticipated sole regular-season meeting with the LA Galaxy. Not only that but SKC had not conceded a goal since that game in Toronto and looked impressive in midweek in passing around a New York midfield who chased shadows for much of the game. From looking dangerously depleted by the loss of key cogs Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara, Sporting had gradually integrated Claudio Bieler into their attack, given Benny Feilhaber a roving brief that liberated him and continued to benefit from the ongoing blossoming of Graham Zusi. And their settled back four, including new USMNT center back Matt Besler, was keeping out opposing attacks comfortably. In other words, Sporting's muted start had given way to the familiar sight of them sitting atop the Eastern Conference, and once again looking like the real deal and team to beat in the East.
They still do, but the long trip to New York for Wednesday night's victory was followed by a cross country trip to Los Angeles to play on Saturday night against the team who are the current benchmark for Peter Vermes' ambitions for his side. It proved a timezone too far, as the Galaxy snapped the Sporting shutout streak at 545 minutes on a clinical (if dubiously initiated) counter, then proceeded to torment a willing, but clearly weary visiting team with a series of counter attacks that stretched their vaunted back line repeatedly. But for some heroics by Jimmy Nielsen, and some uncharacteristic wastefulness by Robbie Keane, the margin could have been greater. As it was, Landon Donovan, who has been inching back to form after travels of his own, capped his return to something like his best with a simple finish late in the game.
In doing so Donovan helped snap a mini-streak of LA's own, after they'd lost the last three games. Two of those games were to defending Concacaf Champions League champions Monterrey, and the third was to Western frontrunners FC Dallas. The sight of Donovan back at the heart of his team's most incisive moves (he also got the assist on Marcelo Sarvas's opener), was a welcome sight for the Galaxy, who have continued to make developments of their own during his sabbatical, and who may be about to introduce yet another star designated player, but who were beginning to find that the exuberance of youth in the likes of Jack McBean and Jose Villareal might have its limits. If they are to go close again this year, the nous of Donovan in picking his moments will be vital. And in emerging victorious against the man who's frequently stood in for him in the last year, especially during his recent leave of absence, Donovan picked a good moment to make a point to Jürgen Klinsmann about the respective credentials of himself and Zusi. Asked about this afterwards, Donovan was generous in his praise of Zusi, and relished the possible competition for a starting national team spot, while also saying: "But don't count the old guy out yet."
Sporting can return home from their travels and regroup, with three upcoming home games against Western opposition. LA, meanwhile, arguably really needed this result as they are on the road in four of their next five games. But they'll depart with confidence, knowing the wanderer has returned. GP
Chivas USA have something of Kevin Keegan's famed 1995-96 Newcastle side about them this season, albeit without the advantages perhaps of a Ferdinand, Asprilla or Ginola. The Goats are happy to pack the midfield in hope of creating and taking chances even as they leave swaths of space at the back. To that end, Chivas head coach José Luis "El Chelís" Sánchez Solá has preferred a 3-5-2 much of this season, content to be the aggressor up front even as their back three in Bobby Burling, Joaquin Velázquez, and Mario de Luna often get overrun on the break.
The result is Chivas have turned a few heads, scoring 10 goals already this season. But they have also have conceded nine, tied for the highest in the Western conference. While their high-risk, high-return approach may not always work out, it can be fairly entertaining for the neutral. Saturday night in particular caught the eye as Chivas matched Real Salt Lake chance for chance at the Rio Tinto with 14 shots and five on target each, despite ultimately going down 1-0 to Javier Morales' first goal of the season.
Other teams might have favoured a more conservative approach against head coach Jason Kreis' unbeaten-at-home RSL. Kreis partnered the deadly Alvaro Saboria with last week's off-the-bench goal-scorer Olmes Garcia, with Morales at the top of the midfield diamond. Instead, Chivas coach Chelís went with a high-line against RSL in the hopes Carlos Alvares, Eric Avila and Edgar Mejía would make up for his injured top-scorer Juan Agudelo.
In the end, both sides rushed past each other to earn chance after chance at either end, with RSL maintaining a more threatening edge overall and Chivas clawing back in the second. It took some luck, including a few balls off the crossbars and the great work in goal of both Chivas' Dan Kennedy and RSL's Nick Rimando – the latter completing a tremendous penalty save against Mejía after the ball struck Ned Grabavoy on the arm in the box – to keep the scoreline slim.
Chivas will take little comfort though as they've lost their second straight match 1-0 following their home defeat to Colorado last week. Despite the many positives from the game, like Keegan's mid-90s Newcastle, Chivas are letting their emotions get the better of them. Eric Avila spoke after the game of how Chivas "panicked" following the goal, and Edgar Mejía was sent off in the 90+4 minute for elbowing Ned Grabavoy. Finally, Chelís did himself no favours by screaming at Javier Morales and Jason Kreis for what he thought was a slow substitution late in the game. Chivas are better off keeping faith in their process and accepting a few inevitable negative outcomes if they want to keep their best players on the pitch and their coach in check. RW
"If you played in heaven we would die to support you" read the banner in front of the 1906 Ultras section of San Jose's Buck Shaw stadium, during Sunday night's game against Portland Timbers. As it is, the Ultras find themselves entering a purgatory of "indefinite probation" where one of the conditions is that the air doesn't turn blue.
The saga of the unsavory incidents involving Dallas and San Jose fans last weekend, rumbled through the past week – never quite spiralling into full-fledged crisis, and rightfully overshadowed by events of genuine significance elsewhere, but never quite going away either. It became clear that a response from the clubs and league was expected and as the weekend arrived, the Dallas incident was dealt with by a ban for the individual involved, while MLS and the Earthquakes cracked down on the Ultras.
To be clear, the only police report filed after last weekend's events in Portland was about an incident where a group of San Jose fans allegedly attacked a car containing a Portland supporter who'd brandished his scarf at them, but as the week went on a picture began to emerge that suggested that far from being an isolated incident, this was one moment in a pattern of behavior that day (thanks to John Nyen for the link) that raised worrying questions about the beliefs of a minority of fans who seemed to have connections with the Ultras. To be fair the Ultras leadership were quick to issue a statement distancing themselves from anyone found to be connected to them and such incidents, and offering to compensate any victims in such an event, and to be equally even-handed there were claims from other San Jose fans that some of the security arrangements at the stadium did not help.
But it was always unlikely that anything that threatened the MLS executive's desired gameday spirit of inclusivity and safety would be allowed to let slide – and so it proved. By the end of the week, the Ultras were being asked to prove that commitment to nonviolence in no uncertain terms, after a summit meeting between leadership of the supporters group and MLS officials at the Earthquakes' offices resulted in the group being placed on that "indefinite probation". The group also lost their travel privileges, their right to use controlled smoke at games, and they were told that "language within the group on matchdays will be strictly monitored".
As it was events on the field on Sunday night were a case of business as usual. The Earthquakes, roared (carefully) home by the Ultras behind the goal, mounted their customary late charge after going a goal down, and duly scored their customary game-changing injury time goal to tie the game. It was a timely illustration of the qualities the club would prefer to be known for.GP