MLS Week 24 recap, highlights: SKC wins a thriller, more

image, Sportingkc.com

By Ryan Brister

Week 24 of the Major League Soccer season was a week for statements. Across the league, teams were looking to announce their bona fides as serious contenders. LA, New York, and Seattle all notched important victories. But the biggest win of them all was had by Kansas City.

Sporting Kansas City 4-3 Vancouver Whitecaps

A game between two of the West’s best teams absolutely lived up to the hype. Sporting KC scored three late goals to preserve their unbeaten home record and claim all three points.

Kansas City did not get off to a good start. Kekuta Manneh pounced on a loose touch from Soni Mustivar in midfield and didn’t require any help from his teammates to score from there. He skipped past Kevin Ellis and didn’t pass to any of the three teammates running to his right, instead finishing by himself. Manneh had a little more help on his second goal just before halftime. Steven Beitashour gave him a great cross to head in to the net. At 2-0, the Whitecaps appeared to be cruising.

Sporting got one back early in the second half. The ball bounced up in the box, and Mustivar headed it across the face of goal where Ellis was there to finish.

Vancouver retook control of the match, even while playing on the counter. Manneh was perhaps too generous in the 57th minute when he laid a ball off for Octavio Rivero, who was denied by Tim Melia. Manneh was also denied his hat trick by Melia. It looked like this poor finishing wouldn’t matter when Pedro Morales scored on a free kick in the 75th minute.

Again, SKC responded quickly to going down by two. Six minutes after Morales’ goal, Krisztian Nemeth’s cross was headed in by Dom Dwyer to bring the hosts within one. In the 87th minute, they found their equalizer. Benny Feilhaber played a good ball for Chance Myers, who found Paulo Nagamura through traffic outside the box. Nagamura hit a hard shot into the far side of the net and Sporting Park erupted. There was still more to come.

In the fourth and final minute of stoppage time, Mustivar lofted a ball into the box which Nagamura got his head on. Nagamura’s second goal of the game won the match for SKC after they had trailed by two goals twice.

For Vancouver, it is doubly disappointing to lose this match after such a hot start. It’s the first time since April that they’ve lost a game after taking a lead, and the first time all year that they’ve given up more than two goals away from home. They are second in the west, but with three more games played than SKC just two points back.

FC Dallas 1-2 LA Galaxy

Be afraid. The Galaxy didn’t put in a great 90 minutes, but still came away with a victory from Dallas.

Despite kicking off after sundown, temperatures for the game were still very high. That showed, as the game was largely at a rather slow pace. A rare burst of energy propelled Michael Barrios towards the opening goal for Dallas in the 33rd minute. He beat Omar Gonzalez to a long through ball, continued his run, and evaded AJ DeLaGarza and Donovan Ricketts before finishing off what he started. Barrios, 24, has four goals in his last six games.

The Galaxy can be very cruel sometimes. After a half-pace first half, they put things into another gear and quickly overturned the scoreline after the break. Robbie Rogers made a run down the left in the 51st minute, and his cross was perfect for Robbie Keane to head home. Five minutes later, Keane finished off a quick counter attack, again with his head. This time, Giovani Dos Santos was responsible for the cross.

Mauro Diaz was absent for Dallas with a quad strain, and they could have used his creative ability as they sought an equalizer. Dallas held most of the possession, but failed to create too many genuine chances. Fabian Castillo had a poor game by his standards as well, which didn’t help. Diaz had started 15 games in a row, but injuries have been a concern for him in the past.

That’s two away wins in a row for the Galaxy, who didn’t have an away win all year before this. Cause for concern for 19 other teams.

New York Red Bulls 3-0 Toronto FC

After a slow start, the Red Bulls took command in a convincing defeat of Toronto.

The first half was sloppy from both teams, and New York was perhaps lucky not to have given away a penalty to Sebastian Giovinco. RBNY played him physically, but the Italian did more complaining than earning fouls. In the 27th minute, one of the few chances for the Red Bulls was turned into the opening goal. Mike Grella somehow found the space to slip the ball through to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who chipped it over Joe Bendik.

The Red Bulls appeared more confident after taking the lead, but it was well into the second half when they scored a second goal from an unlikely source. Anthony Wallace wound up and took a shot from 25 yards out that flew into the net. Wallace has scored from long-range before, but his goal against New England took a significant deflection. Here, Bendik could have done better.

New York brought on their new signings late in the match, and Gonzalo Veron scored his first goal for the club in stoppage time. Veron played a good ball for BWP, who was denied by Bendik, but the Argentinean followed up to bury the rebound. The goal was an exclamation point for RBNY, but Toronto’s performance deserves some question marks.

In their last nine games, the Red Bulls are 7-1-1. Given three games in hand, they have every opportunity to overtake DC as the leaders in the Eastern Conference. In two weeks, the Red Bulls will host DC.

Seattle Sounders 4-0 Orlando City

Seattle snapped out of their slump with a dominant win over Orlando.

Clint Dempsey was not in the 18 for Seattle, but Obafemi Martins made a triumphant return to the lineup. He opened the scoring in the 17th minute with a clever run and a little help from Lamar Neagle. Martins evaded two defenders and played a one-two with Neagle to get into the box, where he had a simple finish remaining.

Martins had a chance to double the lead from the penalty spot 11 minutes later, but was denied by Tally Hall. The missed penalty didn’t slow Seattle down, however. Tyler Turner was sent off for a second yellow in the 40th minute, further hindering Orlando’s hopes.

The Sounders poured it on against 10-men in the second half. Nelson Valdez got his first goal for the club with a flicked header in the 52nd minute. Martins then scored his second when an attempted clearance bounced off of Thomas and to him. He flicked it over Hall and finished it off emphatically, for good measure. In stoppage time, Thomas waltzed through Orlando’s defense to add a fourth.

The win for Seattle hopefully puts a stop to a stretch in which they managed just three points from nine matches. Martins’ performance, after his extended absence, shows exactly how valuable he is to the team.

New York City FC 3-1 DC United

NYCFC handed DC United a rare loss with a comeback performance on Thursday night.

The first half followed a very familiar script for DC. They were largely outplayed in the opening 45 minutes, but they made the most of a mistake and went into halftime with the lead. The mistake this time was Andrea Pirlo’s, as his backpass was picked off by Chris Rolfe. Rolfe led the ensuing charge down the field before passing the ball off to Alvaro Saborio for the goal. Saborio has two goals in his first four games with United.

But after halftime, DC’s usual resilience let them down. NYCFC equalized six minutes into the second half through Tommy McNamara. He merely had a tap-in after a great David Villa through ball freed Kwadwo Poku and Poku dribbled around Bill Hamid.

The game remained level for another half hour, but eventually NYCFC’s designated players showed the value of spending millions of dollars. Andrea Pirlo lofted a ball towards the top of the box which some how split the DC center backs and got to Villa, who scored with a powerful finish. Hamid had six saves, but could do nothing here.

As DC pressed for an equalizer, Poku scored NYCFC’s third goal with a strong individual run and finish. City fans have been calling for Poku to start, and he showed exactly why with a goal and an assist. It appears that Jason Kreis must make room for him in the crowded midfield.

New England Revolution 2-0 Houston Dynamo

After lengthy delays due to lightning, the Revs and Dynamo finished up after midnight in Foxboro. In the end, New England pulled out a victory with their second-half performance.

Lightning struck in the 13th minute, and the game didn’t resume for nearly two hours. The first half concluded, and lightning struck again during halftime. When the second half kicked off, it was 11:30 p.m., four hours after the scheduled start of the match. The vast majority of a crowd of 21,723 had left by that point.

Tyler Deric did well to keep the match level for more than an hour, but eventually the Revolution broke through. The ball bounced high into the air off a corner kick in the 69th minute, and Jose Goncalves volleyed it towards goal. Deric got a hand to it, but couldn’t push it past the near post.

Houston managed just one shot on goal all game; the biggest threat to New England’s lead was a near own goal that Bobby Shuttleworth did well to keep out. The Revs doubled their lead in the 88th minute when Lee Nguyen’s run led to a Juan Agudelo goal.

Beyond the result, Saturday’s game was good news for the Revs as the successful return of Jermaine Jones to the starting lineup. He played the first half, but did not return after the second of the two delays. Houston could have leapfrogged Seattle for the final playoff spot with a win, but instead remain on the outside looking in.

Real Salt Lake 0-1 Portland Timbers

Nat Borchers scored late in stoppage time to beat his former club.

The game was scoreless for most of 95 minutes, but it had more action than many scoreless draws. Nick Rimando was as impressive as ever, particularly when he robbed Diego Valeri with a reaction save in 71st minute. At the other end Adam Kwararsey had five saves of his own.

But five minutes into stoppage time (which was originally slated for four minutes), the Timbers found something Rimando couldn’t save. Nat Borchers headed a corner kick off the ground and into the top corner of the net, out of Rimando’s reach. Borchers was traded to Portland in December for allocation money, after spending seven years with RSL. He did not celebrate the goal, though he surely wanted to.

This is the sort of game that Salt Lake should be winning if they are to have legitimate hopes of reaching the playoffs. At home, against a team they’ll be battling for one of the final spots, they were not good enough. Instead, it’s the fourth time this season that Portland has won a game with a goal after the 85th minute. The Timbers still struggle to score, but they’re finding results in a way that RSL is not.

Philadelphia Union 3-3 Chicago Fire

Two of the league’s worst teams played a game far more entertaining than their dull midweek meeting.

Kennedy Igboananike got the scoring off to an early start, in contrast to the Open Cup match on Wednesday night. He used his speed to get on the end of Patrick Nyarko’s cross in the 9th minute. That lead wouldn’t last too long; Fernando Aristeguieta flicked in a corner kick in the 21st minute. Fabinho gave the Union the lead 10 minutes later with a heavily deflected shot.

Chicago reversed the combination that created the opening goal to level the match early in the second half. Igboananike cleverly found space in the box to slide a cross along to Nyarko for an easy tap-in. There was a hint of offside, but the flag correctly stayed down.

At 2-2, Sean Johnson took over the game. That’s a weird thing to write about a goalkeeper, but Johnson’s performance was nothing short of stellar. He had eight saves, including five remarkable ones in a 12-minute span late in the second half. To the extent a goalkeeper who allowed so many goals can be man of the match, Johnson might just deserve it.

But after doing so well to keep the match level, Johnson could not get to Sebastien Le Toux’s goal in the 90th minute.At the time, it appeared to be the second time in less than a week when Le Toux would score the winning goal over the Fire. The goal was also Maidana’s third assist of the match, and his league-leading 14th of the year.

Philly didn’t seem particularly interested in maintaining that lead, however. In stoppage time, a chaotic sequence ended with Mike Magee squeaking the ball out to Igboananike for his second goal of the match and a heartbreaking equalizer. The Union appealed for handball and the ball going over the end line twice, but Mark Geiger ignored them all, and the equalizer stood.

For as exciting as this game was, the draw doesn’t do either team very much good. The playoffs are an increasingly distant hope for both sides. At least the Union have an Open Cup final to look forward to.

San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 Colorado Rapids

San Jose managed a narrow win in a meeting between the Western Conference’s bottom two sides.

Despite a minority of possession, the Earthquakes produced more of the game’s best chances. That paid off in the 53rd minute with the game’s only goal. In a scramble on a free kick, Quincy Amerikwa was able to loft the ball over to Clarence Goodson at the far post, who headed it over the line before Clint Irwin could clear it out.

The Rapids are bad. In 23 games, they have failed to score on nine occasions. But the Earthquakes are only slightly better; they’re still six points behind Seattle for the final playoff spot, albeit with two games in hand.