MLS week 20 recap, highlights: Gerrard’s big debut, red card controversy, more

MLS Beat Writer

At least there were no questionable penalties in the 122nd minute. The 20th week of the Major League Soccer season had plenty of controversy in its own right, with six red cards handed out. There was little controversy about the big performance put up by the Galaxy in Steven Gerrard’s MLS debut.

LA Galaxy 5-2 San Jose Earthquakes

Gerrard couldn’t have asked for a better MLS debut. The Liverpool legend scored and assisted as the Galaxy trounced their California rivals.

The night didn’t start off great for LA, however. Quincy Amerikwa did all he could to spoil the party in the first half. After botching a great opportunity early, he produced a finish to a quick Quakes counter in the 22nd minute. Three minutes later, Amerikwa knocked in a bouncing ball off a free kick to double San Jose’s lead. After a slow start to the season with Chicago, Amerikwa seems to enjoy his new surroundings.

But the Earthquakes might just have let their guard down with a 2-0 lead, and before halftime the game was level. First, Tommy Thompson was called for a penalty on what appeared to be an elbow to Gerrard in the 30th minute. Robbie Keane took care of the penalty. Then, because this is Hollywood after all, Gerrard scored the equalizer. Baggio Husidic’s cross was deflected by Clarence Goodson, but only as far as Gerrard, who opened his body for a curling finish.

LA took command in the second half. Gerrard’s low free kick was turned into the net by Keane in the 64th minute. The Englishman nearly capped his performance with a free kick goal, but was denied by the width of the crossbar. So the Galaxy’s fourth goal came from the penalty spot, with Keane completing his hat trick in the 80th minute. Sebastian Lletget, who had a solid performance of his own, added a finishing touch in stoppage time.

The Galaxy might still lack an away victory this season, but at home they have appeared unstoppable. In their last four games at the Stubhub Center, they have won by a combined score of 19-3. Giovani Dos Santos will be joining soon.

Portland Timbers 1-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

For the second time this season, Vancouver was able to grab a draw from their Cascadia rivals in Portland.

Vancouver were the better side in the opening half, but it wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard. Kekuta Manneh cut his way into space in the 16th minute, but Adam Kwararsey came off his line to deny him an opening goal. Ten minutes later, Manneh dribbled past Kwararsey, only to watch Nat Borchers slide in clear his shot off the line.

So Diego Valeri’s goal in the 33rd minute was doubly frustrating for Vancouver. Diego Chara took the ball off a lingering Matias Laba, and Fanendo Adi’s pass put Valeri into space. He recovered from a heavy first touch and beat all-star keeper David Ousted to the near post.

Vancouver would find an equalizer, however. Laba made up for his mistake on Portland’s goal in a big way, with a 30-yard shot that nestled into the far side of the net.

The Timbers have produced late winners this year, but the late action on Saturday night had less to do with goals. Jordan Harvey was sent off for a reckless challenge on Valeri in the 92nd minute. Valeri turned his back on Harvey at the last moment, perhaps making it look worse than it actually was.

Harvey’s tackle was only one of a few reckless plays late in the match, as the referee lost control of the rivalry match Rodney Wallace was given a yellow card a minute later. After the final whistle blew, Will Johnson was given a yellow card and then a straight red for his comments towards the official.

The draw was fair to Portland, but they will be disappointed to drop points again to the Whitecaps. Their Cascadia Cup chances are very slim now.

FC Dallas 2-1 DC United

Fabian Castillo played the hero as Dallas grabbed a late win to jump to the top of the league standings over DC.

Dallas controlled the match, outshooting DC 26-6. Despite their dominance, they found it hard to score against DC’s league best defense. The majority of Dallas’ shots came from outside the box, and Andrew Dykstra made six saves to keep them out. Chance after chance went by without a goal.

It took 73 minutes for Dallas’ efforts to be rewarded. After his first attempt was blocked, David Teixeira’s cross made it through to Kellyn Acosta on the doorstep of the goal, and Acosta redirected it into the net. That’s the first MLS goal for Acosta, another of Dallas’ many homegrown talents.

Having worked so hard to grab a lead, Dallas let it slip just minutes later. Taylor Kemp found space down the left wing, and his cross bounced off of Matt Hedges for an own goal. United’s celebrations were immediately followed by the second water break of the match.

Had the match stayed level, this would have been a textbook DC away result. But Dallas refused to be denied. Victor Ulloa’s skidding shot deflected into the path of Fabian Castillo, who hammered it in for the winning goal.

Seattle Sounders 0-1 Colorado Rapids

Seattle’s skid and Colorado’s climb continued with a 1-0 Rapids win.

Club América and Manchester United played a friendly in Seattle on Friday night, which required grass to be laid over the turf at CenturyLink Field. That grass remained for the Sounders match on Saturday night, and no one liked it. There are probably other reasons why the game was scoreless for more than 80 minutes, but the Sounders and Rapids did a lot of slipping and sliding on the makeshift surface.

While Seattle had the larger share of possession and perhaps the better chances, it was Colorado that went ahead in the 84th minute. Kevin Doyle, the highest-paid member of the Rapids, showed his worth. He used his strength to keep a long ball from Jared Watts under his control, then placed his shot into the far side of the net.

The Rapids are on a three-game winning streak, for the first time since 2011. There’s still a long way to go before they come close to the playoff spots, but Pablo Mastroeni has something to be happy about for a change.

Orlando City 0-2 New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls handed Orlando their second straight loss in a hot (and heated) match at the Citrus Bowl.

The visitors took the lead against the overall run of play in the first half. After a rare bit of sustained pressure from the Red Bulls, Sacha Kljestan was given too much space near the top of the box, and he hit a right-footed curler into the top corner of the net. Kljestan is not known for his goal scoring; that’s just his third of the year.

Then things got a little weird, courtesy of the referees. Cyle Larin was sent off, at the behest of fourth official Ted Unkel, for a challenge on Anthony Wallace in the 32nd minute. The Canadian’s studs were up, but he made very little contact with Wallace.

Shortly afterwards, the Red Bulls had a goal waved off on a corner kick for a foul that wasn’t entirely apparent on replay. Damien Perrinelle’s header found the net, but he was deemed to have pushed off on his defender. In the second half, Anatole Abang’s breakaway was brought down from behind by a tackle that might not have gotten as much of the ball as the ref suggested.

Despite these incidents, Orlando had their own reasons to gripe with the referees, and Adrian Heath was ejected for making too many complaints.

The red card only slowed Orlando’s pressure for an equalizer, and for an hour the Red Bulls lived on the edge with their one-goal lead. Luis Robles made four saves, and the defenders in front of him had to make countless last-ditch clearances to preserve the edge.

It was again against the run of play when the Red Bulls scored their second in stoppage time. Mike Grella shrugged off a pair of defenders to make his way into the box, and hit a shot low inside the far post to seal the victory.

Sporting Kansas City 2-1 Montreal Impact

Kansas City continued their winning ways with a home victory over Montreal that was more comfortable than the scoreline would suggest.

SKC jumped in front early, just four minutes in. After Roger Espinoza won the ball back just outside of Montreal’s box, Krisztian Nemeth’s cross rolled up on Benny Feilhaber’s leg. But Feilhaber composed himself and hit his shot low and hard into the net.

Felilhaber has six goals this season, but assisting is more his game. In the 34th minute, he put the ball through a huge gap in the Montreal defense to Dom Dwyer, who was now one-on-one with the keeper. Dwyer did what he does best, finishing the opportunity and doubling SKC’s lead.

Piatti’s goal left Sporting with just a one-goal lead to hang on to for the final half an hour, but they saw the match out very calmly. Without really pushing for a third goal, KC stifled Montreal’s attack. The Impact never had a clear-cut chance at an equalizer. Despite trailing for almost the entire match, they were limited to just six shots.

The win for SKC is their eighth straight at home, a franchise record. They have multiple games in hand on all the teams around them in the Western Conference standings.

New England Revolution 1-0 New York City

A crowd of 28,811 saw the Revolution end their skid with a win over NYCFC.

The lone goal capped off a very good piece of attacking play from New England. Daigo Kobayashi’s backheel gave Diego Fagundez space for a through ball to Lee Nguyen, who cut inside of a defender and scored with his right foot. After 18 goals last season, that’s just the third for Nguyen in 2015.

The New York defense that allowed four to Toronto was carved open a couple more times by the Revs, but Josh Saunders made three good saves to keep the lead from growing. Saves are less satisfying when you’re trailing, however, and the NCYFC attack never really got going.

City was further hampered when Ned Grabavoy was sent off in the 54th minute. Grabavoy left his studs up high in an attempt to control a bouncing ball, and caught quite a bit of Kobayashi.

For the Revolution, the win brings an end to a six-game losing streak, and marks just their second victory in 13 matches. They’ll be hoping to replicate last season’s ability to bounce back from midseason slumps.

Columbus Crew SC 3-1 Chicago Fire

The Crew completed a five-day double over the Fire with a solid performance.

Ten seconds into the match, Columbus was awarded a penalty. Kei Kamara flicked a header on for Ethan Finlay, and Sean Johnson brought down the streaking winger. You won’t be surprised to learn that it was the quickest penalty in MLS history. Frederico Higuain put the Crew in front.

It’s rare to see an equalizer in the ninth minute, but Chicago pulled level via a David Accam free kick. It deflected off the top of the Columbus wall, but stayed on frame and fooled Steve Clark.

The level scoreline would not last long. In the 19th minute, a free kick bounced to Waylon Francis, who put it back in the box for a leaping Kamara. He got up high to beat Johnson and get his head to it, putting it in the net.

After the wild start, the match cooled down somewhat. The next bit of significance was half an hour later, early in the second half. Jason Johnson was booked for an obvious dive, and was already on a yellow card. It was a bad day for Chicago’s pair of Johnsons.

The Crew didn’t exactly take over the match with the extra man. It remained a one goal game for another half an hour before they got their third. Chad Barson’s cross got through traffic to Finlay making a good run, and Sean Johnson’s hand was not enough to keep out the shot.

Toronto FC 2-1 Philadelphia Union

Sebastian Giovinco had a slow Saturday, with only a goal and assist to lead TFC over Philadelphia.

Half an hour in, Toronto took the lead. Giovinco played Marky Delgado in behind the Union back line, and after a heavy first touch, powered the ball into the back of the net.

Giovinco got a goal of his own just two minutes later. He hit a powerful volley that Brian Sylvestre did well to stop it. But he was quickest to react to the rebound, and this time Sylvestre had no chance at making the stop. The Italian, who will be in the All-Star game, has 12 goals and eight assists on the season so far.

Two goals would be enough for Toronto, and they often looked more likely to score the next one. The Union had a spark of life with an apparent goal by Eric Ayuk, but the linesman’s flag was correctly up. Conor Casey did well to score in the 91st minute, but it was too little, too late for the Union.

Real Salt Lake 2-0 Houston Dynamo

RSL claimed a victory over their neighbors near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Salt Lake started the match on the front foot, and never really let up. Over the course of the match, RSL had 14 shots to Houston’s four. Their best early chance to go in front was in the 24th minute. Justen Glad got up to head a corner kick, but his attempt hit the crossbar and went over.

RSL finally took the lead in the 36th minute. Jordan Allen intercepted a pass, and Joao Plata chipped it along to Javier Morales. Morales hit it on the half volley, and the ball caromed off the inside of the post on its way to the back of the net. It seems like every goal Morales scores (he has four this year) is a candidate for goal of the week.

Tyler Deric’s best save of the match was to prevent an own goal just before the half. Raul Rodriguez got in the way of a Joao Plata cross, but his deflection went right towards his own goal, and Derica had to flail out a right arm to send it over the bar. On the ensuing corner, Glad had another header denied, this time cleared off the line.

Things only got worse after the break for Houston. Kofi Sarkodie’s late challenge on Abdoulie Mansally was deemed worthy of a red card, leaving the Dynamo shorthanded for the final 40 minutes. In the 65th minute, Plata put the game to rest with his first MLS goal this season. Morales had a clever flick to play Plata into the box, and he was able to dribble his way to a shooting angle.

Chicago Fire 0-1 Columbus Crew SC

On Wednesday night, the Fire and Crew met for the first time this week, with Columbus taking three deserved points.

The goal for Columbus came just before halftime, and from a familiar combination. Finlay made a long run down the left flank, and waited just long enough to for Kamara to get into the box as a target for his cross. Finlay has 11 assists, and Kamara has 14 goals after Sunday. Both totals are the most in MLS.

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