MLS Week 25 Recap, Highlights: San Jose’s big week, more

by RYAN BRISTER

Week 25 was filled with surprise results in Major League Soccer. Blowouts were a theme, and not always in the direction you’d expect. While English eyes were on LA, the team from northern California was making waves.

Sporting Kansas City 0-5 San Jose Earthquakes

What? In the most-stunning result of the season, San Jose went to Sporting Park and tore Kansas City to pieces.

The Earthquakes were the better team from the opening whistle, and took the lead just three minutes into the match. Shea Salinas got himself to the end line and pulled back a pass for the late run of Cordell Cato, who scored the opening goal. SKC’s hole grew deeper when Chance Myers fouled Quincy Amerikwa in the box. Chris Wondolowski scored the penalty.

In their previous match, Sporting came back from such a first half deficit. But things only got worse on Wednesday night. Anibal Godoy took a backheel pass from Amerikwa and cut back on Kevin Ellis in scoring the third goal. Just 27 minutes in, the Quakes held an improbable 3-0 lead.

San Jose mercifully waited until the second half before scoring again. Salinas and Cato combined again for a goal that looked an awful lot like the first one. Wondolowski scored his second of the night (and 100th for San Jose) to round things off at 5-0.

A real argument could be made that that scoreline is unfair to the Quakes. They had a number of chances in addition to their goals, including a remarkable miss by Wondo on an empty net. Benny Feilhaber was sent off late for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity.

The loss is Kansas City’s first at home in any competition this season. Don’t bet on MLS, folks.

DC United 0-2 San Jose Earthquakes

San Jose claimed their second road win of the week with a strong performance in DC.

Four minutes in, the Quakes were ahead. Wondolowski was unable to hit the rebound with his first touch, but eventually the ball came back to him. He turned and finished well to Dykstra’s right. It’s the third home game in a row when DC has conceded a goal in the opening four minutes.

This victory was not as easy a romp as the Earthquakes had in midweek. DC had significantly more shots, and multiple opportunities to level the match at one. But early in the second half, the game’s second goal went to the visitors. A quick turn by Amerikwa sparked their counter in the 52nd minute, and eventually he played the ball off to Salinas, who dinked a soft but accurate shot into the far corner.

DC was unable to mount a comeback this time around, and so suffered their second straight loss. They still sit in first place in the East, but only because they’ve played significantly more games than teams below them, such as the Red Bulls. United goes to Red Bull Arena this upcoming Sunday.

With six points from two tough games, San Jose suddenly find themselves level with Seattle for the final playoff spot in the West. Having played one fewer game, they have the upper hand in that race.

LA Galaxy 5-1 New York City FC

Given DC’s loss, a Galaxy win on Sunday would have lifted them to the top of the Supporters’ Shield race. They got that and then some in a demolition of NYCFC.

The much hyped meeting between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard didn’t come about as Lampard still isn’t healthy enough to play. Despite (or because of?) his absence, City showed promise in the opening 15 minutes. After that, the Galaxy took control. They hit the cross bar, forced Saunders into multiple saves, and had other chances cleared off the goal line before scoring as NYCFC fell asleep on a free kick. The ball was played quickly to Robbie Keane, who crossed it to Gyasi Zardes for the goal.

1-0 was a forgiving scoreline at halftime. LA was less forgiving after the break. Keane made a well-timed run and chipped Saunders to make it 2-0. Dos Santos imitated him for the third goal. Sebastian Lletget made it 4-0 in the 70th minute.

The lone NYCFC bright spot in this onslaught came when David Villa scored a penalty to at least break-up the clean sheet. Keane scored his second just a minute later to end whatever positive feelings the visitors may have briefly had.

There’s not much here for NYCFC to stay positive about, as they failed to gain ground on Montreal in the playoff chase. To be fair to them, this is basically what the Galaxy do to teams at home these days. They have outscored opponents 27-5 in their last six home games.

Columbus Crew SC 3-2 Sporting Kansas City

A bad week for SKC got worse as they blew a lead and lost in Columbus.

Kansas City seemed to have put their Wednesday nightmare behind them when they took the lead 14 minutes in. Dom Dwyer headed a long ball down for Saad Abdul Salaam on the right wing, and the right back slid it across the box to a wide open Marcel De Jong for the opening goal.

Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay combined again on Columbus’ equalizer, but not in the usual order. This time it was Kamara with the assist, wonderfully controlling a bouncing ball off the cross before turning and lifting it across goal, where Finlay was waiting to chest it in. Replays showed that Kamara was offside when Frederico Higuain fired his shot in.

Sporting took the lead again in the second half on a wonderful goal by Graham Zusi. He worked his way into the box, cut on to his right foot, and unleashed a curling shot into the far side of the net. Zusi isn’t known for his goal-scoring, but his goals are usually very impressive.

Again, SKC’s lead wouldn’t last. In the 80th minute, Tony Tchani equalized by getting on the end of a free kick that was flicked on through the box by Tyson Wahl. Higuain, who was excellent on the night, had the initial delivery into the box.

The Argentine factored into the winning goal as well. Wil Trapp lofted a ball over the top, which Higuain hit on the half-volley towards goal. Tim Melia made the save, but the rebound came to Jack McInerney for a tap-in and the winner. McInerney’s first goal for the Crew could not have come at a better time.

SKC remained in third place out west despite an awful week, but the two losses do damage to their Supporters’ Shield hopes. They still have multiple games in hand on the teams in front of them.

Toronto FC 5-0 Orlando City SC

Toronto pulled away from 10-man Orlando with a strong second-half performance.

The biggest moment of the first half was referee Jose Carlos Rivero’s decision to send off Rafael Ramos for a late challenge on Justin Morrow. Ramos couldn’t believe the call, but the foul was at least worthy of a yellow, and I can’t blame Rivero for reaching into his back pocket. Orlando was already playing defensively, and going down a man made them even more cautious.

After a scoreless first half, Toronto began the deluge of goals early in the second. Michael Bradley picked up a loose pass at midfield and took it all the way to the endline, where he pulled it back for Marco Delgado. Less than a minute into the second half, Toronto had their lead. They would not be content with one.

Two and a half weeks ago, when Toronto last hosted Orlando, Sebastian Giovinco scored with a free kick off the post to Tally Hall’s right. On Saturday, he went off the post to Tally Hall’s left with a rocketed goal. Michael Bradley played provider again on the third goal, with a cross to Justin Morrow.

In the 82nd minute, Adrian Winter was sent off for his second yellow and a penalty after Hall over-ran the play. Orlando leads the league in red cards. Jozy Altidore did not start, but he was off the bench and scored the penalty. For good measure, he would later score a close-range header. I apologize for ever having doubted him.

Orlando is in trouble. They have lost their last two games by a combined 9-0, and with just one win in their last nine games, they’ve fallen to eighth place in the East, with four more games played than Montreal.

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 FC Dallas

The Whitecaps briefly sat atop MLS after their narrow victory over Dallas.

In a cagey first half, Vancouver scored the game’s only goal. Kekuta Manneh began the move out on the left side, but ran across the top of the box, passing three Dallas defenders in the process. He played a ball towards goal that Cristian Techera cleverly flicked into the net. Techera did well to get to the ball before Jevaughn Watson and young Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez, and pulled it through his legs with his right foot.

Manneh was the most dangerous man on the field throughout the game, but assist aside his final ball was lacking as usual. He had a couple chances with space to double Vancouver’s lead, but shot high or waited too long to play the right pass.

In contrast, Dallas held a majority of the possession, but didn’t create a lot of clear-cut opportunities. Both sides had seven shots, only two on target. Dallas upped their pressure as they sought an equalizer, but couldn’t find one.

After a five-game winning streak, Dallas has now lost three in a row. There’s no shame in losing to LA and Vancouver, but it does suggest that they aren’t yet ready to compete with the best in the Western Conference.

Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New York City FC

Kwadwo Poku’s brace was enough only for a point as NYCFC and Columbus played a weather-interrupted draw in midweek.

A familiar combination gave the Crew the lead in the 24th. City didn’t close down Finlay on the right, and he made them pay with a low cross that Kamara was able to direct into the far side of the net. Kamara’s 18 goals lead MLS; Finlay’s 13 assists are second behind Cristian Maidana.

The visitors came out much stronger in the second half, and Poku, who started with Frank Lampard out injured, again led NYC’s charge. He played a good one-two with David Villa and calmly flicked the ball past Steve Clark for the equalizer in the 57th minute. 10 minutes later, a corner kick was headed down for Poku to finish, giving NYCFC the lead. Poku has four goals and seven assists in his limited playing time this season.

Six minutes later, a giveaway by Villa led quickly to an equalizer for Columbus. Cedrick Mabwati did well to keep the ball in a tight space, tapped it to Kamara, and was played through on goal. Mabwati slid his shot into the net for his first MLS goal. The game was interrupted by lightning shortly afterwards, and never regained its rhythm and flow following the delay.

Real Salt Lake 2-0 Seattle Sounders

A confident Salt Lake side added some uncertainty to the Western Conference playoff race with a comfortable win over Seattle.

RSL had already produced a couple chances at the opening goal before Roman Torres’ handball gave them a chance from the spot. It was close, but Torres couldn’t complain as his arm was just inside the box when it blocked an aimless ball. Javier Morales buried the penalty, and the hosts had an early lead.

RSL doubled the lead just seven minutes later. Luke Mulholland took a shot from 30 yards out that came back off the cross bar, and Sebastian Jaime was the quickest to get his head to the rebound and nod the ball towards the vacated side of the net.

Once again for Seattle, the problem was an inability to create chances going forward. They took just five shots over the course of the match, and only one of those was on target, an easy enough save for Nick Rimando. RSL wanted a third goal to put the game away, but they never needed it.

For the Sounders, this is the funk that just won’t go away. They thought they had solved things after wins over Orlando and Olimpia at home in the previous week, but even a healthy Obafemi Martins has not fully cured their problems. For the first time, a playoff position is not fully under their control. They have eight games left to fix this.

Portland Timbers 2-2 Houston Dynamo

The Dynamo let a big result slip through their fingers as the Timbers came back to grab a draw.

Late in the first half that largely tilted Portland’s way, Houston took the lead. A headed clearance didn’t get very far, and Will Bruin brought it down and played a good ball for Boniek Garcia, who slid it into the net. Just before halftime, Bruin doubled the lead with a similar finish, thanks to a similar pass from Brad Davis.

Even as the second half began, Houston resisted Portland’s pressure well enough, and they seemed through 75 minutes to be on their way to a comfortable victory. But Darlington Nagbe’s shot sneaked through the legs of Tyler Deric and threw the result back into the balance. Portland newcomer Lucas Melano had the assist on the goal, his first in MLS.

Melano and his countryman Diego Valeri combined in the 86th minute to produce an equalizer. Valeri hit a low cross into the crowded box, and Melano flicked it towards goal to level the match.

Portland’s quest to go on to win the match was stymied when Diego Chara was sent off for an elbow to Cubo Torres in stoppage time. The game would end 2-2, unsatisfyingly for both sides.

Montreal Impact 0-1 Philadelphia Union

A sellout crowd and the debut of Didier Drogba were dampened by an Impact loss to the Union.

Sebastian Le Toux provided the game’s only goal in the second half. He redirected a shot from Eric Ayuk and gave the Union an unexpected lead. The game as a whole tended to favor the hosts, who couldn’t seem to find the breakthrough.

Drogba came on after an hour, and immediately became the focus of a more direct style from Montreal. They did their best to get the ball to him, and Drogba was mostly good when their attempts worked. But without Ignacio Piatti, their chance-creation suffered as a result.

Montreal’s slip-up was not punished, as Orlando and NYCFC also lost this week.

Chicago Fire 0-1 Colorado Rapids

On a night when supporters protested ownership, the Fire disappointed again in a loss to the Rapids.

The only goal came less than a minute into the match. Kevin Doyle played Gabriel Torres in behind the back line with a lofted ball, and Torres slid it across for Dillon Serna streaking down the left. The Rapids had the lead before many people were in their seats.

To the Fire’s credit, they made an admirable effort to get back into the match. But they were denied twice by the woodwork, and four times by Clint Irwin. More often than not, they missed the target entirely.

For the Rapids, three points is certainly good, but it only goes so far. They’re eight out of the nearest playoff spot.

The Fire had a rather large crowd despite a supporter boycott and protest of the match. Rumors abound that the seats were filled with ticket giveaways and significant discounts specifically to counteract the protest.

 


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