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Thanks to all the deadline day frenzy involving Marouane Fellaini, James McCarthy et al, Joel Robles’ arrival at Goodison has almost been forgotten already, but the goalkeeper looks to be a shrewd signing by Roberto Martinez. Though first-choice custodian Tim Howard has been a fine servant of the club over the past seven years, as the popular American approaches the end of his career, it’s reassuring to see that Martinez already has a worthy replacement lined up.

Robles entered English football fans’ consciousness in January with an impressive loan spell at Martinez’s Wigan Athletic – so impressive, in fact, that the 23-year-old ousted Ali Al-Habsi (a veteran almost ten years his senior) as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper. However, the Getafe-born shot-stopper is much better known in his home country, having been a part of the Spanish national youth set-up since he was 16.

Joel the giant: the lanky Spaniard feels he’s made for the English game (pic: Premier League)

Joel joined Atletico Madrid’s academy in 2005 and eventually became a regular for the club’s reserve side, but sought a move abroad earlier this year when first-team opportunities remained limited. His time at Wigan was fruitful and culminated in an FA Cup winner’s medal as he helped the Latics surprise Manchester City in the final.

The player cites his physical attributes as key to his success, and at 6ft 5”, it’s easy to see why. Robles believes his huge frame will help him deal with aerial challenges in one of Europe’s more physical leagues. Handed a 5-year deal by his compatriot Martinez, it’s clear Everton see the ‘keeper as a fine prospect and – with the possible exception of McCarthy – Robles is perhaps the summer signing likely to be turning out in royal blue for years to come.

Arguably the biggest challenge for Robles will be to avoid repeating the fate of his back-up predecessor, Jan Mucha, who was consigned to the bench throughout his career at Goodison. The Slovakian was released this summer having made just two league appearances in three years in Merseyside, but Robles looks better equipped to seriously challenge Howard for game time, with the American another year older and Joel already boasting experience in the Premier League.

Indeed, Martinez has described the Spaniard as “someone who is going to give us great protection and fight with Tim Howard – and push him all the way.” For that level of competition, the £650,000 Martinez paid Atletico Madrid seems a bargain. Joel concurs: “It is a great honour to work with Tim – he’s a great, great goalkeeper and I am looking forward to learning a lot from him.”

Bergara’s presence should allow Robles to settle quickly (pic: ceroacero.es)

The player has also been quick to emphasize the importance of being reunited with Wigan goalkeeping coach Inaki Bergara, who also worked under Martinez at Swansea and followed him from the DW Stadium this summer. “I am delighted to be back working with Inaki again – he is a great professional and a really nice guy,” says Joel. The feeling is clearly mutual – Bergara has already professed his belief that Robles “has lots of potential” – and this relationship could prove pivotal to Joel’s success at Everton.

Howard may have seen off many a back-up over the years, but it looks like Robles could finally be the worthy replacement the club have been searching for. With bundles of talent and a long career ahead of him, don’t be surprised if Joel is one of the first names on the Everton team-sheet in a few years’ time.


FORMER Derby County winger Giles Barnes never fulfilled his obvious potential in England, but he is certainly showing signs of doing so across the pond. Pushed forward to play up-front by Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, his club are reaping the rewards: Barnes’ brace in the 3-1 defeat of the Seattle Sounders was arguably the standout performance of the round and the goals made him Houston’s joint-top scorer this season.

This was Clint Dempsey’s first start for the Sounders, but it was the Houston Dynamo attack who stole the headlines in this clash. They didn’t take long to grab the lead: on 16 minutes, Will Bruin forced his way through the Seattle defence and drew ‘keeper Michael Gspurning before cutting back to strike partner Barnes, whose shot beat two defenders on the line.

Barnes lets fly during his impressive two-goal salvo against Seattle (pic: Sports Illustrated/CNN)

Four minutes later, Barnes spectacularly bettered that effort with a strike that would be crowned Goal of the Round. Picking the ball up 30 yards from goal, the 25-year-old took one touch to set himself and drove a thunderbolt into the top corner of Gspurning’s net. The Austrian custodian saved well from Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis to keep his team in the game on 30 minutes, before Dempsey’s first meaningful contribution saw him link up well with Mauro Rosales and force Tally Hall into a decent save.

Seattle improved after the break and pulled one back on 65 minutes when Shalrie Joseph headed in Marc Burch’s free-kick – helped by Hall’s bizarre decision to try and block the effort with a star-jump. However, Houston refocused and sealed the win 10 minutes later, Bruin netting from close range after Warren Creavalle had thumped a header against the bar. Sounders’ Lamar Neagle almost halved the deficit again late on, but he could only hit the post.

Perhaps the only man who rivalled Barnes’ performance this round was LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane. The Irishman’s stunning hat-trick powered the Galaxy to a 4-2 win at home to Real Salt Lake. Goalless at half-time, six second-half goals transformed this game from bore draw to an end-to-end thriller. There’d been little to write home about until Joao Plata’s 53rd minute opener, the Salt Lake midfielder nutmegging Galaxy ‘keeper Jaime Penedo after Ned Grabavoy’s clever flick. Perhaps shocking the hosts into action, the lead lasted just three minutes: Keane was given room to turn Carlos Salcedo (not to be confused with the similarly-named ex-Fulham defender) and curled into the bottom corner.

From the Galaxy’s next attack, Real defender Chris Wingert was forced into a brilliant chested clearance off the line to deny Landon Donovan’s chip, but Salt Lake were rocking and could only hold out until the 67th minute. LA sub Sean Franklin found himself in acres of space on the right, and his cross picked out Keane, who was on hand to touch the ball past a static Nick Rimando. Eight minutes later, it was three: Donovan’s corner from the left was met by 6ft 5in defender Omar Gonzalez, who saw his header flash past Rimando and immediately turned to taunt his marker, Nat Borchers.

With five minutes to play, Keane rubbed salt into Salt Lake’s wounds with a classy fourth, collecting Franklin’s through ball and lobbing the onrushing Rimando to complete his hat-trick. Galaxy’s onslaught continued, and Kenny Mansally had to slide the ball off the line to prevent Todd Dunivant from adding to the scoreline. The visitors did restore some credibility five minutes into injury time when Robbie Findley poked home, but RSL boss Jason Kreis will be disappointed with his side’s haphazard defending.

If it all happened in the second half in that game, the action was packed entirely into the first in the Portland Timbers’ 2-1 win over FC Dallas. The Timbers took advantage of RSL’s slip-up to cut Real’s lead at the top of the Western Conference to three points. Diego Valeri missed a great chance to put the hosts in front 20 minutes in, but the midfielder made amends six minutes later, sending over a corner from which Ryan Johnson drew first blood. Dallas took just 60 seconds to find a reply as Mauro Diaz capped some neat build-up play with a cool finish.

The action continued to come thick and fast, and on 33 minutes the Timbers had their winner. Again, Valeri was at the heart of things, prodding a pass into Darlington Nagbe, who finished with aplomb. With Portland having at least two games in hand on most of their Western Conference rivals, Caleb Porter’s men will be quietly confident of success this year.

Diego Valeri starred in Portland’s win over FC Dallas (pic: MLSSoccer.com)

It all went according to the form book in Montreal, where the third-placed Impact claimed a 2-1 victory against bottom club DC United in the Eastern Conference. Andres Romero almost made the breakthrough for the hosts with just three minutes on the clock, but DC’s Bill Hamid made a good block, and 60 seconds later United had to clear off the line from Felipe. It appeared DC were living on borrowed time, and Montreal duly got their goal on 43 minutes, veteran striker Marco Di Vaio finding the top corner after Felipe’s dummy had taken out two defenders.

Di Vaio missed an even better chance on the hour after running onto DC defender Daniel Woolard’s underhit backpass, but the Italian dragged wide when clear through. The perpetually impressive Luis Silva had the visitors’ first real opening soon after, skipping past a challenge and stinging Troy Perkins’ palms from range. On 81 minutes, Silva went one better, unlocking the Impact defence with a clever ball, and Conor Doyle bent a quality finish around Perkins and into the top corner for the equaliser.

Their joy was short-lived: two minutes later, Montreal grabbed a deserved winner when Patrice Bernier launched a ball into the left channel for Di Vaio to run onto and the 37-year-old expertly cut inside Dejan Jakovic before arcing the ball into the far corner. At an age where most of his peers have retired, Di Vaio is now well and truly in the running for the MLS Golden Boot.

The New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire were separated by just a point coming into their clash at the Gillette Stadium. The Fire’s Mike Magee squeezed a shot against the post on 17 minutes after good work from beefy Ecuadorian Juan Luis Anangono, but it was the Revs who took the lead shortly after half-time with one of the more unique goals you’ll see all season.

Striker Juan Agudelo – set to join Stoke City in January – ran onto Chris Tierney lofted through ball and improvised a brilliant back-heeled lob over advancing Fire ‘keeper Sean Johnson. Chicago defender Bakary Soumare looked to have saved the day with his acrobatic clearance near the goal-line, but ref Edvin Jurisevic ruled that the ball had crossed the line. It was an excellent finish from Agudelo, but he loses points for describing the goal as “a little South American swag”.

The Revs squandered a great chance to confirm the points on 88 minutes when Jose Goncalves squared for the unmarked Kelyn Rowe but the midfielder somehow contrived to miss the open goal. Rowe’s blushes were spared in injury time when he slotted home from a similar situation, this time after Saer Sene’s shot had been spilled by Johnson. The game was marred by an ugly confrontation after the final whistle involving players and coaching staff from both clubs in which the Fire’s Soumare and the Revs’ Sene were both sent off.

Federico Higuain’s second consecutive brace helped the Columbus Crew to defeat Toronto FC 2-0. Columbus got a deserved opener on 19 minutes as Bernardo Anor’s shot was well saved by Joe Bendik but Higuain was on hand to pounce on the rebound. The overworked Bendik had to be at his best to stop Anor and Dominic Oduro from extending the lead before half-time, but his saves counted for little as the Crew wrapped up the win in the second half.

Toronto ‘keeper Joe Bendik’s heroics counted for little as his side were outclassed by the Columbus Crew (pic: Toronto FC)

On 67 minutes, Higuain sealed the deal in style, wrapping his foot around the ball to chip Bendik – despite the ‘keeper barely being off his line. They may be neighbours in the Eastern Conference – occupying eight and ninth place respectively – but there’s a big gulf in class between these two sides based on this showing.

Further up the Eastern Conference, high-flyers New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union cancelled each other in one of those MLS rarities, a goalless draw. This was the league’s first 0-0 for a month, and with the Red Bulls welcoming Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill back from injury, few would have seen it coming. The Union came closest to claiming the points when Sebastian Le Toux smashed against the bar, while Jonny Steele was the hosts’ brightest spark, narrowly missing two chances late on.

The Colorado Rapids enjoyed a 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps, but it was the visitors who began brightly, with Rapids custodian Clint Irwin forced into saves by Russell Teibert and Kenny Miller early on. After riding that storm, Colorado took the lead on 36 minutes, Deshorn Brown taking advantage of slack marking from Lee Young-Pyo to head debutant Vicente Sanchez’s cross in at the far post. The Rapids made sure of the win on 79 minutes thanks to Edson Buddle’s heavily deflected shot which wrong-footed Caps ‘keeper David Ousted.

Sunday’s only game saw the San Jose Earthquakes nick a surprise win over Eastern table-toppers Sporting Kansas City. Kansas’ Jimmy Neilsen produced a superb one-handed reaction save to prevent Clarence Goodson from opening the scoring on 25 minutes, but he could do nothing about the winner early in the second half, Chris Wondolowski burying a header from Steven Beitashour’s cross.

San Jose survived a strong penalty appeal just minutes later when Beitashour enveloped Kansas’ Soony Saad in a bear-hug to stop him from reaching a loose ball, but they held on for an impressive win. Sporting clearly don’t enjoy this fixture: they haven’t won at San Jose since August 2000.


“There was a Clint Dempsey sighting for the Clint Dempsey Sounders in Toronto, (also known as Dempsey, Ontario) who played Clint Dempsey minutes and beat the Team-That-Doesn’t-Have-Clint-Dempsey.”  So surmised Big D Soccer’s Alfredo Cuvi, reflecting on the US national team star’s debut for Seattle Sounders in their 2-1 win at Toronto FC – and simultaneously poking fun at the media hype that has surrounded the attacker’s return to the MLS.

No matter what else happened in last weekend’s fixtures, Dempsey’s debut was destined to overshadow it. It’s tempting to accredit the Sounders’ win to their new signing’s influence, but in truth his team-mates already had the job half-done by the time the ex-Tottenham forward made his entrance. Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio went close just two minutes in, but the hosts handed Seattle the lead on 16 minutes when a poorly-executed offside trap allowed Brad Evans to pick out Eddie Johnson at the back post, the Sounders frontman nodding back across goal for Mauro Rosales to score.

Clint Dempsey showed flashes of brilliance on his Sounders debut (pic: The Guardian)

On 34 minutes, Johnson’s strike partner Obafemi Martins was forced off with an injury, prompting Sigi Schmid to hand Dempsey a premature first appearance.  Five minutes later, the Sounders doubled their lead: the ungainly Lamar Neagle forced his way down the left before firing in a cross that Toronto defender Doneil Henry bizarrely drag-backed into his own net. Sounders’ Djimi Traore probably felt some sympathy towards Henry: Traore’s own famous blunder while playing for Liverpool has still not been forgotten.

Whatever Ryan Nelsen said to his Toronto charges at half-time, it worked – the hosts pulled one back just 30 seconds after the restart when Andrew Weideman’s cross ran through to Osorio on the opposing wing, and the 21-year-old kept his cool to finish well. Toronto visibly grew in confidence and the impressive Osorio headed a Bobby Convey cross just wide before substitute Robbie Earnshaw hit the post.

Just when his team looked like conceding the equaliser, Dempsey produced the piece of magic that neutrals had been waiting for, beating three men with elastic ball control before curling a shot that Joe Bendik tipped around the post. However, the real drama was saved for the last minute of injury time when the hosts’ Jeremy Brockie beat the Sounders’ offside trap and found himself clean through on goal – only for Marcus Hahnemann to make a fine stop.

Perhaps the surprise result of the round occurred in Columbus, where the Crew saw off Eastern Conference high-flyers New York Red Bulls 2-0. Top of the table going into the game, the Red Bulls were missing Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill (both injured) as well as head coach Mike Petke (suspended), but they were still unusually below-par. Columbus dominated the first half but their visitors survived until half-time with their clean sheet intact. However, the Crew were not to be denied and stepped up a gear after the break.

The first goal arrived on the hour when, after Markus Holgersson had shoved Chad Marshall at a free-kick, Federico Higuain smashed a penalty straight down the middle. Fifteen minutes later Higuain confirmed his status as Columbus’ star man with a delightful chip over Luis Robles after being set free on the right. Things could – and should – have been even worse for the hapless Red Bulls when man-mountain Jamison Olave hauled down Bernardo Anor in injury time as last man back, but ref Allen Chapman appeared to take pity on the visitors, by then long resigned to defeat.

Eastern Conference bottom club DC United have shown encouraging signs in recent weeks, but they fell to a 2-0 loss at the Philadelphia Union. DC fielded the youngest starting XI in their history – average age 23 – but it was Philadelphia’s veteran striker Conor Casey who grabbed the headlines here. The Union were on top from the start against a weary United, who’d played away in the Open Cup in midweek. Bill Hamid brilliantly tipped over from Jack McInerney to deny the hosts the opener, but Casey opened the scoring on 35 minutes, stabbing home after Sebastian Le Toux’s flick-on.

Conor Casey’s brace helped Philadelphia see off DC United (pic: MLSSoccer.com)

DC came within inches of an equaliser on 58 minutes when Collin Martin’s shot was cleared off the line by Sheanon Williams but Casey confirmed the win with a late second, the 31-year-old shinning Fabinho’s cross beyond Hamid. DC are fast becoming synonymous with giving youth a chance, and 17-year-old sub Michael Seaton made history by becoming the first MLS player to be born after the league’s first season in 1996.

In the Western Conference, the Vancouver Whitecaps claimed a 2-0 win against the San Jose Earthquakes. A dreary first half was soon forgotten when Nigel Reo-Coker surged down the right to tee up Camilo Sanvezzo on the hour, and the ex-West Ham midfielder was also involved in the clinching second on 74 minutes later. Reo-Coker swung and kicked thin air in an attempt to connect with Russell Teibert’s pass (he’ll claim it was a dummy) but the ball ran through for fellow Brit Kenny Miller to fire home from the edge of the box.

Peter Vermes’ Sporting Kansas City took advantage of the Red Bulls’ slip-up to go top of the Eastern Conference with a 3-0 victory over the New England Revolution. Defender Kevin Alston made an emotional return to the Revs’ line-up, having not featured since April after being diagnosed with leukemia. Unfortunately, it was a day to forget for Alston, who was outjumped by Kansas’ Kai Kamara for the hosts’ first two goals, one midway through the first half and the other just after the break.

New England’s task was made even harder on 64 minutes when Dimitry Imbongo was shown a second yellow for flailing an elbow, but they overcame the setback continued to gamely commit men to attack. However, controversial referee Baldomero Toledo effectively ended the game as a contest on 86 minutes when he reduced the Revs to nine, ex-Crystal Palace midfielder Andy Dorman dismissed for tackling from behind. Toledo even sent off New England’s Stephen McCarthy in injury time, and although he later reduced the punishment to a yellow, it’s safe to say he won’t be on the Revs’ Christmas card list this year. Kansas completed the win through Benny Feilhaber’s curling free-kick from McCarthy’s foul.

Both the Chicago Fire and the Montreal Impact saw midweek action – in the Open Cup and Concacaf Champions League respectively – but you wouldn’t have guessed it as the two sides produced an entertaining match. The Fire took just 6 minutes to open the scoring when Joel Lindpere’s curling effort took a heavy deflection off Alessandro Nesta and wrong-footed Troy Perkins. Seventh-placed Chicago doubled their lead on 22 minutes, Dilly Duka dancing through some weak challenges – Nesta again failing to cover himself in glory – before poking past Perkins.

The Impact improved after half-time and halved the deficit on 58 minutes with Felipe Martin’s sweeping first-time shot from the edge of the area; having only entered the fray a minute earlier, Felipe lived up to his club’s name. Montreal dominated the closing stages but were unable to find an equaliser, and Chicago almost punished them when Quincy Amarikwa’s deflected effort looped up and over Perkins, forcing the ‘keeper into a world-class save. Ex-Everton defender Matteo Ferrari thought he’d equalised with a 93rd minute header, only for Fire striker Chris Rolfe to head off the line.

Saturday’s final game saw Real Salt Lake preserve their position atop the Western Conference with a 1-0 defeat of the Houston Dynamo. The game’s defining moment came when Adam Moffat fouled Olmes Garcia in the box at the end of the first half; the prolific Alvaro Saborio converted the penalty. Switching from their regular 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 formation, Real took a while to find their stride but were worthy winners, with Joao Plata hitting the bar.

Three of the best: Donovan (far left) celebrates his hat-trick against Dallas (pic: soccerbyives.net)

Sunday is known as the day of rest, but clearly nobody told FC Dallas and LA Galaxy, who put on a great show in a frenzied 3-3 draw. Dallas had gone five games without scoring but took just 14 minutes here to stop the rot. Some clever movement at a corner confused the Galaxy defence and gave Matt Hedges room to head beyond Carlo Cudicini. The Galaxy levelled in first-half stoppage time when Robbie Keane lofted a superb ball over Dallas’ centre-backs for Landon Donovan to run onto and score his 150th MLS goal.

The hosts bounced back to regain the lead just a minute after the interval, Blas Perez sliding the ball past Cudicini from another set-piece (though replays later showed him to be offside).  Once more, the Galaxy took time to muster an equaliser, but again, it was Donovan who came up with the goods on 72 minutes, blasting a half-volley into the net after Marcelo Sarvas’ knock-down. Not content with that, Donovan completed his hat-trick ten minutes later; a loose ball came the striker’s way and his finish was instinctive. Dempsey may be the MLS’ best-paid player and newest star, but on this showing he’ll have some job to oust Donovan as the league’s favourite son.

However, Dallas refused to lie down and on 85 minutes they restored parity again. Perez scored his second from yet another set-piece – crashing home a volley after the original free-kick had been headed away – but again replays showed his team-mates had been offside and interfering with play. The hosts almost claimed all three points in injury time when Jackson wobbled the woodwork from distance, but it would have been harsh on the Galaxy.

Western Conference strugglers Chivas USA held the Colorado Rapids to a 1-1 draw in another dramatic contest. Chivas got off to a flier thanks to Carlos Alvarez’s early goal, but they were lucky not to concede on 27 minutes when Steve Purdy handballed in the box, only for Dan Kennedy to save Deshorn Brown’s penalty.

Chivas’ lead was put in danger again six minutes later when Gabriel Farfan was dismissed for standing on Shane O’Neil’s shin, but instead of capitalising on their numerical advantage, the Rapids were reduced to 10 themselves just after half-time when Tony Cascio received his marching orders for two yellows. Seemingly trying to outdo that, Chivas had another man sent off soon after when Tristan Bowen spat at Rapids defender Chris Klute in full view of the linesman.

The Rapids finally made their advantage count on 80 minutes, sub Martin Rivero heading the equaliser on his first appearance in two months. Chivas’ poor discipline and the low attendance – just 8,221 at the StubHub Center – will only add to the growing pressure on the MLS to replace struggling Chivas with one of the several franchises waiting in the wings.


THE 23rd week of MLS action threw up some interesting fixtures: first vs second in the Eastern Conference, bottom vs second-bottom in the Western Conference, and two hotly-contested derbies. There were also goals seconds after kick-off and – as has become a regular occurrence this season – late drama in stoppage time. The culmination of the US national team’s Gold Cup campaign has seen many clubs’ star players return to MLS action, and this weekend’s fixtures were all the richer for the added quality.

We start in Kansas, where first-placed Sporting KC tried to defend their hold on the Eastern Conference against second-placed New York Red Bulls. Predictably, this game was full of drama. The Red Bulls took the lead on 27 minutes thanks to Jonathan Steele’s low shot, but Kansas levelled in first-half injury time when Kei Kamara reacted quickest to pounce on the loose ball after Luis Robles had parried a Soony Saad shot.

Lloyd Sam shone in the Red Bulls’ win over Sporting KC (pic: tvasports.ca)

Red Bulls coach Mike Petke introduced ex-Charlton Athletic winger Lloyd Sam on 63 minutes, and it was a decision which turned the game around. The substitute’s first action was to play Fabian Espindola through to score from a tight angle, and six minutes later, Sam confirmed his status as a supersub when he added a fine goal of his own to make it 3-1. Goalkeeper Robles started a quick counter-attack by launching the ball half the length of the pitch; the impressive Steele centered and Sam beat the last man and Kansas custodian Jimmy Neil.

The hosts’ Dominic Dwyer halved the deficit on 92 minutes from a Kamara cross, but despite a ridiculous ten minutes’ stoppage time, Kansas couldn’t find an equaliser. New York’s Thierry Henry celebrated more than most at the final whistle, perhaps still bitter from his controversial red card in this fixture two years ago.  This win sees the Red Bulls overtake their opponents into first place, opening up a two-point lead at the top of the table.

With Kansas slipping up, third-placed Montreal Impact hoped to take advantage in their visit to lowly DC United, but it was the Washington strugglers who bagged all three points here. Luis Silva, who has quickly emerged as DC’s best player since joining from Toronto in July, scored his third goal in as many games for United, opening the scoring on 19 minutes following a period of sustained pressure from the hosts. On 52 minutes, the Impact levelled after right-back Jeb Brovsky’s clever one-two with Davy Arnaud outfoxed the DC defence and put him through on goal.

However, United were not to be denied and they regained the lead with 20 minutes to play when Derby County loanee Conor Doyle scored his first senior career goal, and it got better for Ben Olsen’s men: they added a third in injury time when Doyle broke clear; with Montreal’s defence nowhere to be seen, and with Jared Jeffrey in support for DC, Doyle had a two-on-one against Impact ‘keeper Troy Perkins. He made no mistake, unselfishly feeding Jeffrey to tap into an open net and crown an excellent result for the Eastern Conference’s bottom club.

With a raft of promising youngsters coming through, Silva in excellent form, and the talismanic Dwayne De Rosario back from injury, things are certainly looking up for DC, but Montreal supremo Marco Shallibaum will be concerned by his team’s poor run: they have now won just once in their last seven games.

The Chicago Fire kept their play-off hopes alive with a 2-1 win at the Philadelphia Union. Estonia international Joel Lindpere’s cross from the left was missed by everyone and ran through for Patrick Nyarko to open the scoring on 9 minutes. The Union responded well, with Danny Cruz and Sebastian Le Toux both going close, before defender Sheanon Williams equalised on the hour with surely the strangest goal of the season. Trying desperately to get on the end of a Le Toux free-kick, Williams performed an accidental slow-motion forward roll, and the ball followed his forward movement with perfect symmetry, carrying it into the net via his studs.

However, Williams’ amateur acrobatics counted for nothing when the Fire’s prolific Mike Magee swept home the winner against the run of play, making him the league’s top scorer with 14 goals. It was harsh on Philadelphia, who had carved out the game’s best openings, but Chicago held on for a precious three points.

Real Salt Lake needed just 80 seconds to open the scoring away to the Colorado Rapids, Kyle Beckerman crossing for the unmarked Ned Grabavoy to take advantage of an already disorganised Rapids backline. However, RSL’s defence was equally slow to react eight minutes later when Clinton Irvin’s goal-kick was flicked on; Real’s centre-backs fatally allowed the ball to bounce, giving the speedy Deshorn Brown time to nip in and slide an equaliser.

RSL shot-stopper Nick Rimando was in fine form against Colorado (pic: nesncom.wordpress.com)

The action continued to come thick and fast, with RSL taking the lead once more on 20 minutes. Robbie Findley was floored by Rapids defender Drew Moor, and – after debate as to whether the game should be abandoned due to the swirling winds overhead – Alvaro Saborio converted the penalty. Saborio and his team-mates needed goalkeeper Nick Rimando to make three fine saves to protect their lead, but even he was helpless to prevent Colorado’s equaliser on 70 minutes through substitute Jaime Castrillon’s header. The draw meant the Rapids won the Rocky Mountain Cup – contested annually by these two clubs – as they had won and drawn against Real in the first two games. The triumph represents the Rapids’ first Mountain Cup win since 2006.

The Houston Dynamo lifted themselves back into the Eastern play-off places with a 3-1 defeat of the Columbus Crew. In yet another early goal, Houston’s ex-Derby midfielder Giles Barnes used his pace to break clear on 10 minutes before falling under Chad Marshall’s challenge; Brad Davis made no mistake from the spot. Honduras international Boniek Garcia set up the hosts’ second after half an hour, robbing Agustin Viana on the half-way line before breaking forward and feeding Will Bruin, who finished well – so confidently, in fact, you wouldn’t have guessed it was Bruin’s first goal since May.

Columbus pulled once back with 75 minutes on the clock when Houston defender Kofi Sarkodie scored an unfortunate own goal, prodding the ball into his own net in an attempt to stop Crew substitute Ryan Findley doing the same. The visitors then missed a great chance to draw level as momentum swung in their favour, Justin Meram spotting the unmarked Bernardo Anor at the back post, only for the Venezuelan to side-foot wide when it looked easier to score. Houston made them pay with five minutes remaining when Cam Weaver arrowed a fine effort into the top corner with the outside of his boot to seal the victory.

Having helped the US national team to Gold Cup success last month,  San Jose Earthquakes frontman Chris Wondolowski transferred his midas touch to domestic action, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Chivas USA in a meeting of the Western Conference’s worst two sides. Chivas – thirteen points adrift at the foot of the table – missed two good chances before San Jose opened the scoring in the final few seconds of the first half. Steven Beitashour’s inch-perfect long ball was nodded back across goal by Victor Bernardez, and Wondolowski hardly had to break stride to head into the roof of the net.

Chivas thought they’d grabbed an equaliser through Mario De Luna’s header on 58 minutes, only for the linesman to rule it out for offside, and things got worse for the California outfit when they had former Fulham man Carlos Bocanegra shown a straight red for a robust tackle on the Earthquakes’ Shea Salinas. Referee Armando Villarreal showed no hesitation in whipping out the card – the tenth red he’s shown in 23 games as an MLS official. The hosts made sure of the win late on when Salinas’ shot was parried by Dan Kennedy and Wondolowski coolly chipped home the rebound. The Earthquakes’ clean sheet – only their third of the season – will likely please interim manager Mark Watson as much as the win.

Clint Dempsey is unveiled as a Sounders player before Seattle’s win over FC Dallas (pic: komonews.com)

High-profile Seattle Sounders recruit Clint Dempsey has spoken of his excitement at being back in the MLS, and he’ll be even more eager to get started after watching from the stands as his team-mates secured a comfortable 3-0 win over FC Dallas. Over 39,000 were present at the CenturyLink field – a figure no doubt swelled by Dempsey’s attendance – and they were not disappointed as the Sounders flew out of the traps to open up a two-goal lead within 25 minutes. The first arrived with nine minutes played as Obafemi Martins headed Mauro Rosales’ free-kick over his shoulder and into the net, despite having his back to goal. Around a quarter of an hour later, Martins’ strike partner Eddie Johnson doubled the Sounders’ advantage after breaking away from the Dallas defence too easily and latching onto Brad Evans’ through ball.

Dalllas improved in the second half but Evans sealed the win from the spot in the 94th minute after Lamar Neagle had been felled by David Ferreira – it was no more than Ferreira deserved for his awful bleach-blonde mullet. An impressive performance from the Sounders, but they should have points deducted for showing a dreadful video of Dempsey “rapping” as part of his unveiling as a Seattle player.

In Portland, Oregon, the Timbers had to settle for a 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps in a feisty Cascadia derby that saw 30 fouls and six yellow cards. With the teams separated by just two points in the Western Conference, this game was always likely to be close, and so it proved. The Timbers survived a penalty scare just 10 seconds in when Kekuta Manneh went down under Pa-Modou Kah’s challenge, and on 33 minutes the hosts had a claim of their own ignored by ref Radu Petrescu after Darlington Nagbe collapsed in a heap under the attention of a group of Caps defenders.

The first goal arrived on 49 minutes, Timbers targetman Ryan Johnson heading home from Diego Valeri’s cross, but with 20 minutes to play, Caps’ Jordan Harvey restored parity from Camilo Sanvezzo’s corner to ensure it ended all square.

Sunday’s only fixture saw Ryan Nelsen’s Toronto pull off an impressive victory at the New England Revolution. Matias Laba’s 2nd minute goal was the difference between the two teams. Winning the ball on the half-way line, Laba produced a fine solo effort, slaloming past two challenges and finishing at the second attempt. The Revs came back strongly, and only goal-line clearances from Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley preserved Toronto’s lead. New England’s Andrew Farrell was unlucky not to get an assist from his brilliantly improvised overhead-kick cross, but with the hosts’ attack seemingly having an off day, the Canadians were able to hold out. Incredibly, this win marks the first time Toronto have won and kept a clean sheet since July 2012 – and that was also against the poor old Revs.


TOTTENHAM Hotspur’s Clint Dempsey is set to make a surprise return to the United States after the club announced they had reached an agreement with MLS outfit the Seattle Sounders. Dempsey, 30, has been playing in England since joining Fulham in 2006, but only moved to Tottenham last summer.

After playing youth football in his native Texas, Dempsey started his senior career with the New England Revolution and was near-ever present in his first season in the MLS in 2004. He spent two further years at the club, posting a record of better than a goal every three games in both seasons, before being signed by Fulham for £2 million – making Dempsey the US’ most expensive export to England.

Dempsey made a name for himself during five years at Fulham (pic: mirror.co.uk)

At Fulham, the midfielder enjoyed the best years of his career, somehow managing to improve every season and earning praise for his versatility and all-action style. Fittingly, his best performances in a black-and-white shirt came in his final campaign at Craven Cottage in 2011-12, when he netted 17 times in the league and 23 in all competitions.

Having established himself as one of the Premier League’s best goalscoring midfielders, Dempsey earned a £6 million move to Tottenham in the summer of 2012. Once more, the transfer shattered records in his homeland, making the Texan the US’ highest-paid footballer of all time. Despite relative success in his first season at White Hart Lane, Dempsey’s place in the side’s starting line-up – he had mainly been employed as a second striker by Andre Villas-Boas – was put into doubt by Spurs’ acquisition of Valencia forward Roberto Soldado.

Looking for guaranteed playing time, and perhaps missing the US after so long away, Dempsey appeared to entertain the notion of returning to the MLS. Earlier this week, rumours on Twitter claimed the US national team captain had been spotted in San Francisco, waiting to board a plane to Seattle, and some overly-enthusiastic Sounders fans even waited for his arrival at the airport in Washington.

However, Dempsey never arrived, which, combined with Sounders forward Eddie Johnson dismissing suggestions Clint would sign with the club, sparked a media frenzy as the US tried to second-guess where Dempsey would appear next. The attention he was afforded – rarely seen in America for footballers – demonstrated Dempsey’s stature in the US, but MLS fans were devastated to hear rumours that he was, in fact, flying out to Los Angeles to join up with Everton’s pre-season tour.

“What do you mean there’s no place for me?” Dempsey has left Spurs for regular game time (Pic: bettor.com)

But the speculation turned full circle when ESPN claimed the Sounders were on the verge of completing the player’s signature, and that was confirmed this afternoon when Spurs issued a statement on their website announcing that Dempsey would “return to MLS.” The BBC say the Sounders will match the £6 million Spurs shelled out for Dempsey a year ago, while several media outlets suggest the midfielder will become the MLS’ highest paid player at $5 million per year, overtaking his fellow ex-Premier League attackers Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry ($4 million and $3.75 million per year respectively).

Dempsey’s much-heralded arrival will provide a welcome boost to the Sounders’ attacking roster – the club are currently languishing in seventh position in the nine-team Western Conference, four points adrift of the play-offs.


There are some parts of the American take on the beautiful game that just won’t be transferred to England. Strapping cameras to referees is one, the MLS SuperDraft – where players are traded, assigned and picked from colleges – is another, and finally, there’s the annual MLS All-Star game between the league’s 20 best players and a club from another country.

Since switching from the East vs West format in 2005, the MLS had chosen a British team every year as the All-Stars’ opponents, but this year, Italian giants Roma broke that trend by travelling to Kansas City to play against the cream of America’s footballing crop, coached by Kansas boss Peter Vermes. The involvement of a non-British club follows the increasing glamour the All-Star game has attracted; while the likes of Fulham and West Ham United were early opponents, Manchester United, Chelsea and now Italian sides are becoming open to the idea (no doubt attracted by the revenue opportunities associated with the game).

Vermes and MLS Commissioner Don Garber had picked a strong squad including the likes of Thierry Henry, Marco Di Vaio and Landon Donovan,  and while Roma brought their star-studded first-team – among them captain Francesco Totti and fellow Italy internationals Daniele De Rossi and Federico Balzaretti – the most familiar name to US football fans was national team midfielder Michael Bradley, who has been playing in Europe since 2006.

Strootman slots home Roma’s opener (Pic: USPresswire.com)

There’s been much debate in the US as to whether the league would be better served by a return to the East vs West format of the past, but there’s still plenty of interest in this fixture: the 21, 175 who turned up to Kansas’ Sporting Park was the highest attendance in the stadium’s history.

Vermes opted for an experienced front-line, pairing Henry and Di Vaio (combined age 72) while Roma named Totti, Bradley and new signing Kevin Strootman in an impressive line-up.  To the crowd’s dismay, Roma controlled the tempo from the start and took just four minutes to open the scoring; exploiting the All-Stars’ high defensive line, Strootman collected a through ball before beating Peruvian ‘keeper Raul Fernandez in the hosts’ goal (via an unfortunate deflection off Kansas defender Aurelien Collin.

The All-Stars struggled to recover from that early blow, and just three minutes later Roma almost doubled their lead. Totti, picking the ball up deep in his own half, curled an exquisite 30-yard pass in behind All-Star left-back Corey Ashe for Alessandro Florenzi to run onto, but the 22-year-old’s shot slid just wide. Vermes’ men were dealt another blow on 24 minutes when Graham Zusi, playing just behind the strikers, was forced off with an injury; he was replaced by Vancouver Whitecaps’ Brazilian magician Camilo Sanvezzo.

With the Italians continuing to dominate proceedings but failing to add to their lead, half-time arrived with the score still at 1-0. Just seconds after the restart, however, they made the All-Stars pay: Ashe once more failed to track Florenzi’s run, and Balzaretti’s centre from the left was clinically converted by the unmarked midfielder.

The All-Stars almost managed an immediate reply when Thierry Henry took on three defenders on the left before crossing towards Chris Wondolowski, but the San Jose Earthquakes frontman just failed to connect with the delivery. The hosts’ best chance arrived 20 minutes later, when an unwise short goal-kick from Roma allowed Landon Donovan to pinch possession back; the ex-Everton man rounded the last defender but fired straight at Morgan De Sanctis from close range.

Roma celebrate with the All-Stars trophy after their win (Pic: Goal.com)

It was a miss they were made to pay for. From Roma’s next attack, Bradley released the impressive Strootman with a brilliant one-touch pass, and the Dutchman’s pull-back was turned in by Junior Tallo. Rookie full-back DeAndre Yedlin – on as a substitute for the hapless Ashe – came close to pulling one back on 85 minutes, playing a delightful one-two with Wondolowski but skying the final effort at goal.

However, the All-Stars didn’t have to wait long for their goal. In the first (and only) minute of injury time, Sanvezzo curled a fine free-kick onto the head of fellow sub Omar Gonzalez, and the LA Galaxy defender summoned up enough neck power to beat De Sanctis’ deputy Bogdan Lobont and restore some credibility to the scoreline.

The final whistle blew soon after on an interesting contest that will divide opinion on whether the MLS is as close to Europe as it thinks it is. Make no mistake, Roma strolled to victory here, but, as Jeff Carlisle notes for ESPN, “[given] that the MLS players had a grand total of one training session, and that the Roma players are all eager to impress new manager Rudi Garcia, it was no surprise to see the visitors run out to a 3-1 victory.”

League Commissioner Garber used the game’s interval to announce plans to expand the MLS to 24 teams by 2020 (it currently has 19, with New York City FC set to join in 2015). That demonstrates an ambition that can only help the MLS close the gap on Europe’s elite in the near future, and, as Carlisle adds, “a loss in the All-Star Game isn’t going to change that.”

All-Stars: Fernandez (Rimando 45); Besler (Gonzalez 45), Beltran, Collin, Ashe (Yedlin 66); Johnson, Beckerman (Magee 45), Davis (Donovan 45), Zusi (Sanvezzo 24); Henry (C) (McInerney 57), Di Vaio (Wondolowski 45).

Roma: De Sanctis (Lobont 63); Torosidis, Benatia, Castan, Balzaretti; Pjanic (Marquinho 63), Bradley, Florenzi (De Rossi 63), Strootman; Totti (C) (Ricci 87), Tallo (Caprari 80).

Referee: Hilario Grajeda.

Game MVP: Alessandro Florenzi.


The 22nd week of this season’s MLS had a bit of everything: a seven-goal thriller, some questionable refereeing (with three debatable penalties in the aforementioned game) and some half-forgotten Brits resurfacing on the other side of the pond. Once again, the league demonstrated its growing ability to entertain, and it’s little surprise that attendances are on the rise across the country.

Real Salt Lake, fresh from an eventful 3-2 loss to Sporting Kansas City in which they conceded the winner in the 97th minute, travelled to the New York Red Bulls hoping for a more straightforward contest. However, this was anything but straightforward. With each side challenging at the top of their respective division, this game was always likely to be important, but few could have predicted the end-to-end goalfest that followed.

Real’s Alvaro Saborio (left) grabbed a hat-trick but still ended up on the losing team. (Picture: bleacherreport.net)

The Red Bulls opened the scoring on 11 minutes when Tim Cahill yet again proved his aerial ability, launching himself at a Thierry Henry free-kick and heading between ‘keeper Jeff Attinella’s legs. The goal was made all the more impressive by the fact that just minutes earlier Cahill had been lying injured on the sidelines, seemingly unlikely to continue. Real had clearly not learned their lesson, because just 12 minutes later, another Henry set-piece caused panic in the visitors’ box. Henry’s free-kick from the right was cleared to the edge of the area, but Abdoulie Mansally was adjudged – somewhat harshly – to have dragged Red Bulls’ Brandon Barklage to the floor in trying to clear the ball. Fabian Espindola coolly chipped the resulting penalty down the middle to double the advantage and leave Real on the brink.

Just when it seemed like the Red Bulls would take a two-goal lead into the interval, Salt Lake were awarded a slightly fortunate spot-kick of their own. Olmes Garcia broke through from the wing and collided with centre-back Markus Holgersson, and Alvaro Saborio converted the penalty to ensure his team grabbed their lifeline with both hands.

The start of the second half saw a calmer contest, but events became frenzied once more late on. On 80 minutes, Saborio scuffed a low shot past Luis Robles after good work from substitute Luis Gil and suddenly Real were level. The Red Bulls were still reeling from that setback when their visitors broke again on the other wing, with Joao Plata – also fresh off the bench – tearing down the left before centering for Saborio. The Costa Rica international had options but went alone, avoiding two tackles before brilliantly improvising a prodded shot into the top corner. Real celebrated like it was the winner – and with just eight minutes of normal time remaining, it looked that way.

However, New York’s Fabian Espindola had clearly not read the script. With 88 minutes played, the Argentine launched a solo attack on the left, trying to push-and-run his way into the box before going to ground only too happily under the attention of two defenders. He was fortunate to have been given the penalty, but Espindola made no mistake from 12 yards, putting considerably more power into this spot-kick than his first-half chip.

Incredibly, the Red Bulls weren’t done there. By the fourth minute of stoppage time, Salt Lake were understandably looking tired, and failed to cut out an attack in midfield. The ball was worked out wide to Barklage, and his inch-perfect cross was met by Dax McCarty’s flying header: 4-3. Having lost to an injury-time goal for the second week running, Real boss Jason Kreis will have to be careful to keep dressing room morale high.

There was further refereeing controversy in Vancouver as the Whitecaps lost 1-0 to the Philadelphia Union. The hosts were reduced to 10 men with just eight minutes played following an ugly altercation between Vancouver’s Jun Marques Davidson and Union midfielder Keon Daniel. As Davidson attempted to flick the ball clear from the foetal position, Daniel stormed in, launching a dangerous kick. Davidson was understandably furious and retaliated with a headbutt – for which he was sent off – but referee Baldomero Toledo inexplicably failed to remove Daniel from the field as well.

Davidson mid-headbutt on Keon Daniel – ref Toledo looks terrified. (Picture: theprovince.com)

Despite their numerical disadvantage, the Caps battled well and dominated for much of the game, with Russell Teibert, Kekuta Manneh and ex-Rangers striker Kenny Miller all going close, but they were made to pay for their wastefulness when Philadelphia sub Antoine Hoppenot delivered a cruel blow on 85 minutes, finishing well from Aaron Wheeler’s backheel.

DC United had no-one to blame but themselves for another abject performance against the New England Revolution. United took a rare early lead through Luis Silva, but once again surrendered the points when the Revs’ Dimitry Imbongo and Diego Fagundez scored in the second half. It’s not looking good for the MLS’ worst team: DC have now lost four of their last five games and have several players ruled out through injury.

Toronto FC claimed their first win for six games, beating the Columbus Crew 2-1. The Crew took the lead on 17 minutes when, after fine build-up in midfield, Dominic Oduro’s powerful shot from near the sideline somehow beat Joe Bendik, but Ryan Nelsen’s Toronto turned things round with two late goals. Jonathan Osorio’s 87th minute equaliser (set up by ex-Reading winger Bobby Convey) looked to have rescued a point for the Eastern Conference strugglers, but things got even better when Convey was on hand again to tee up Andrew Wiedeman to clinch a 94th minute winner.

High-flying Western Conference rivals Colorado Rapids and LA Galaxy met at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, with the Rapids prevailing 2-0 on home turf. The Galaxy were beaten by a goal either side of half-time: former Wigan midfielder Hendry Thomas headed home Dillon Powers’ corner on 41 minutes, before Powers himself made the game safe two minutes after the interval. It’s been a fine first season in the MLS for Powers – who only joined the Rapids from the Austin Aztex in January – but his performance here was overshadowed by one of the season’s most bizarre refereeing decisions (and there’s been a few).

In the first half, the Galaxy’s Juninho skipped past a defender before being unceremoniously dumped to the ground by Hendry Thomas. Juan Guzman pulled out a yellow card; Thomas, already on a booking, no doubt prepared to make the long walk to the dressing room. Imagine his, the Galaxy’s and the spectators’ surprise, then, when Guzman thrust the card in Juninho’s face instead, accusing him of simulation!

The Montreal Impact finally got back on track with a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City ending a five-game barren run. Having won last week with a goal in the 97th minute, Kansas got a taste of their own medicine here when the Impact’s Blake Smith (another MLS newcomer) converted from Marco Di Vaio’s through ball in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

Cam Weaver (right) seems unsure how to react after scoring his first goal since May 2011. (Picture: mlssoccer.com)

There’ll likely be no-one happier than Houston Dynamo forward Cam Weaver this week, after the 30-year-old scored his first goal for over two years in the 1-1 draw with Chicago. Weaver’s opener on the hour was cancelled out by the much more prolific Mike Magee two minutes later. Both sides suffered serious injuries, with Houston’s ex-Hearts winger Andrew Driver forced off with an achilles injury, before Fire midfielder Alex followed suit later in the first half.

Saturday’s final game saw the San Jose Earthquakes claim a 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers, a crucial three points in the Earthquakes’ bid for a play-off place. San Jose defender Victor Bernardez – on spot-kick duty in Chris Wondolowski’s absence – converted from 12 yards on 55 minutes, and Steven Lenhart doubled the advantage soon after from a quickly-taken free-kick. Darlington Nagbe pulled one back for the Timbers to set up a tense finale, but even after the hosts’ Marvin Chavez was sent off for two yellow cards in one minute (the second for blocking the taking of the free-kick he had given away), they were unable to find an equaliser.

The Seattle Sounders saw off Chivas USA in Sunday’s only fixture. Chivas, recently accused of discrimination against non-Spanish-speaking players, took the lead through new signing Erick Torres early on, but Brad Evans levelled the score on 23 minutes. The Sounders grabbed all three points thanks to Lamar Neagle’s second-half goal, and playmaker Mauro Rosales will be pleased to have got the assist after the Argentine’s recent poor form had put his future at Seattle in doubt.

The MLS All-Stars will play Italy’s AS Roma in the annual All-Stars game on Wednesday, 31 July at Kansas City’s Sporting Park. Roma’s participation marks the first involvement of an Italian team against the MLS’ best. Kansas coach Peter Vermes will lead the All-Stars, whose squad includes Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan and Marco Di Vaio. Tim Cahill and Robbie Keane were initially included, but withdrew because of injury.


Round 21 of the MLS season saw Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City travel to Western Conference table-toppers Real Salt Lake in what promised to be a mouth-watering clash. Elsewhere, there were decidedly fewer goals than the previous week, with three of the ten fixtures ending goalless and only one game that could be considered one-sided.

Quite clearly, the standout match of the weekend occurred on Saturday when Real Salt Lake welcomed Sporting KC as the first-placed clubs went head to head. Despite their geographical separation limiting the games between these two sides, there was clearly no love lost – the hosts’ Chris Wingert was booked just 13 seconds in for flying into Sporting’s Kai Kamara, a challenge that warranted a straight red. After the visitors’ Soony Saad had squandered two decent openings, Real opened the scoring on 56 minutes, Robbie Findley capitalising on goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen’s spilled catch.

Sporting KC’s Ike Opara wheels away after his controversial winner at Real Salt Lake

However, the Royals’ joy didn’t last long. On 66 minutes the hapless Wingert was dismissed for a second yellow, and within 60 seconds Sporting were level as Soony Saad swivelled to volley home after a goalmouth scramble. The bad-tempered game looked set to peter out into a draw as Real’s ten men clung on, but in the seventh minute of five minutes of injury time, Sporting centre-back Ike Opara headed a late, late winner, causing near silence at the Rio Tinto Stadium.

The week’s MLS action had begun on Wednesday with Colorado Rapids’ 2-1 win over the New England Revolution. Juan Toja had got the Revs off to a fine start with his first MLS goal since 2008, but Colorado regrouped and Nick LaBrocca equalised on the hour before visiting defender Jose Goncalves gift-wrapped the three points for the Rapids by inadvertently deflecting a cross beyond his own ‘keeper.

Wednesday’s other fixture saw Chivas USA clinch a 1-0 win over Ryan Nelsen’s Toronto in what was a tale of two Erics. Chivas’ Eric Avila was sent off on 24 minutes, but the hosts somehow claimed the victory when debutant Erick Torres (a signing from Mexico’s CD Guadalajara, for whom, ironically, Chivas were supposed to be a feeder club) found the net. Struggling Toronto are now well off the pace and look set to be in a scrap with DC United to avoid finishing bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Toronto did put in an improved performance three days later to earn a creditable 0-0 draw at home to New York Red Bulls. The hosts dominated a seemingly disinterested Red Bulls side, but, with Robert Earnshaw sidelined through injury, lacked a cutting edge in attack. Indeed, their closest attempt came via defender Richard Eckersley, when the ex-Man United full-back forced Luis Robles into a world-class stop. Both teams had a goal disallowed, although Tim Cahill’s header was later shown to have been scored from an onside position.

In Washington, the Seattle Sounders were held to a 1-1 draw by the Colorado Rapids – the visitors thereby ending a seven-game losing streak in this fixture. The hosts’ promising right-back DeAndre Yedlin – recently inducted into the MLS All-Stars team for the first time – gave his side the lead with a header, but Rapids’ Drew Moor cancelled it out with a nodded effort of his own.

DeAndre’s rising stock will have been accelerated by his goal this week

Two teams desperate for a win met when the Montreal Impact faced FC Dallas, but typically, neither was able to break the deadlock. Montreal, still clinging on to second in the Eastern Conference, were the better side – Justin Mapp hit the bar in the first half – but Dallas defended resolutely. The Impact have now gone five games without a win, while Dallas’ barren run was extended to eight matches.

Jose Goncalves made up for his own goal three days earlier by scoring at the right end in the Revs’ 2-0 win at Columbus Crew. The Portuguese converted from Lee Nguyen’s 91st minute corner, and Nguyen made sure of the win three minutes later by teeing up Diego Fagundez.

The clash between the Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers was delayed for almost an hour due to lightening, but the players’ boredom during the wait to play was soon shared by the fans as the teams played out a drab 0-0 draw. Danny Cruz was impressive for the Union but couldn’t find a way past Timbers’ man-mountain shot-stopper Donovan Ricketts. Philadelphia will be disappointed not to have got the win, but without manager John Hackworth (suspended) and in lieu of the terrible conditions, a draw is an acceptable result.

The biggest margin of victory this week was achieved by Chicago Fire in their 4-1 demolition of struggling DC United. Chicago raced into a 3-0 first-half lead against the demoralised visitors, inspired by Estonia international Joel Lindpere’s goal and two assists. In-form forward Chris Rolfe bagged a goal at each end of the first-half, while Mike Magee’s penalty made him the league’s joint-top scorer. Luis Silva’s spectacular consolation on 58 minutes was all United could muster in response.

The final game of the weekend pitted Western Conference rivals LA Galaxy against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Camilo Sanvezzo gave the Whitecaps the perfect start by netting his 13th goal of the campaign, but Bruce Arena’s men came from behind with goals from Jose Villarreal and Gyasi Zardes.


This weekend’s Major League Soccer action – the 20th week of the season – threw up some interesting results and a masterclass from an ex-Premier League hero. There were also several red cards and a sprinkling of emphatic wins, with three games won by a margin of three goals or more.

Kicking off the weekend’s fixtures was the clash between the Philadelphia Union and Chivas USA on Friday night. The hosts, comfortably within the top half of the Eastern Conference, knew a win would keep them in the race to finish top, while Chivas desperately needed a result to avoid being cast adrift at the bottom of the Western Conference.

For a while it looked like the visitors were in with a chance of snatching an unlikely win – Colombian striker Jose Erick Correa fired his side into an early lead, one which they held until half-time. However, things unravelled for Chivas after the break, as Philadelphia equalised through Brian Carroll before late goals from Michael Farfan and Conor Casey ensured all three points remained at the PPL Park. Chivas were hardly helped by Josue Soto’s second yellow card with the score still at 1-1, and the pouring rain provided perfect pathetic fallacy for Los Rojiblancos  at the final whistle as they came away with nothing.

The pick of Saturday’s games was undoubtedly the top-of-the-table clash in the Eastern Conference between league leaders Montreal Impact and the New York Red Bulls, close behind in third. Given the clubs’ proximity in the standings, no-one could have predicted the one-sided game that followed.

Henry celebrates a virtuoso performance against Montreal

The warning signs appeared as early as the 10th minute, when Thierry Henry found Eric Alexander and the midfielder danced through a series of weak Montreal challenges before beating Troy Perkins. Henry got on the scoresheet himself just six minutes later, expertly flicking Fabian Espindola’s inch-perfect cross beyond the beleaguered goalkeeper. The Impact, marshalled by ex-Italy international Alessandro Nesta in defence, managed to stem the tide until half-time, but on 63 minutes the Red Bulls sealed the win. Yet again, Henry was heavily involved, sending over a corner from the left for an unmarked Tim Cahill to head beyond Perkins, and Péguy Luyindula made it 4-0 with a late penalty won by Lloyd Sam.

Elsewhere, Scotsman Adam Moffat’s fine brace helped the Houston Dynamo to a 2-1 win at the New England Revolution, who saw Dimitry Imbongo sent off with eight minutes left. Moffat’s goals (his first a thunderous goal-of-the-season-contender volley) were made all the sweeter by the fact that he was the first opposition player to score at New England’s Gillette Stadium since 11 May. Ryan Nelsen’s Toronto FC fell to a 3-0 defeat away to Sporting Kansas City, helping Kansas to leapfrog Montreal into top place in the Eastern Conference. They won thanks to Sonny Saad’s brace and Claudio Bieler’s clincher after Toronto had been reduced to 10 men for Reggie Lambe’s foul, and the performance will have done Sporting’s fanbase no harm: playing in front of Sporting Park’s highest-ever attendance, the win could convince a few floating fans to stick around.

The weekend’s other 3-0 win was achieved by Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake on their trip to FC Dallas. Despite Fabian Castillo shining for the hosts, it was Real who opened the scoring shortly before half-time through Javier Morales, and the win was sealed in the second half with strikes from Ned Grabavoy and Olmes Garcia. Dallas will be disappointed not to have put up more of a fight: a win here would have propelled them to second place in the table.

Adam Moffat (centre) is held aloft by his team-mates after netting both of Houston’s goals

Rounding off Saturday’s action was the game between San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders, and Portland Timbers versus LA Galaxy. San Jose grabbed all three points in their encounter thanks to Walter Martinez’s first goal in the MLS, while Portland saw off their visitors 2-1, coming from behind to snatch a last-gasp winner via Andrew Jean-Baptiste’s 94th minute strike.  The final fixture of the weekend pitted the Vancouver Whitecaps against the Chicago Fire on Sunday evening; an impressive showing from the Caps saw them run out 3-1 winners, tricky Brazilian Camilo scoring twice.

In Utah, the US national team progressed to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 4-1 win over Cuba, but the regional heavyweights’ blushes were only spared in the second half after Cuba had taken a shock lead through Jose Alfonso. Goals from Landon Donovan and Joe Corona turned the game back in the US’ favour, before Chris Wondolowski came off the bench to net twice.


This article, by Natalia Guerrero, originally appeared on the BBC Mundo (the Spanish-language BBC) site on 10 June 2013; all credit should be given to her. The original article can be accessed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/noticias/2013/06/130609_cultura_haiti_espana_cronica_miami_ng.shtml.

24 hours before their game against Spain, Haiti’s national football team still doesn’t have a kit or anywhere to train. It’s raining non-stop in Miami and Haiti’s limited resources mean they’re unable to hire somewhere undercover to practice.

Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, had sent their team to this American city to face Spain – the world champions – for the first time in their history. The incentives for setting up the clash included the presence of the Spanish superstars, the agreement that, for every spectator attending the game, $1 would be donated to Haiti, and moreover, the chance to see a classic David versus Goliath encounter.

However, the feeling of jubilation enjoyed by almost all of the 37,000 fans at the Sun Life stadium when the Haitian forward Donald Guerrier scored his country’s only goal against Spain contrasted with the team’s reality for the rest of the week. BBC Mundo accompanied the lonely Haitian team on their journey to play the world’s favourite team.

Extra Shirt

It’s 3:30 on Friday evening – the day before the game –  and the kit is due to arrive at the hotel where the team are staying. The Colombian Miguel Trujillo, the Haiti Football Federation’s exclusive agent, is feeling stressed. He doesn’t want the players or the coaching staff to arrive at the press conference without a shirt to wear. “They have to be equal to Spain. Haiti is beginning a new era in which it won’t lack the basics. We’re not inferior to anyone,” affirms the agent.

Miguel Trujillo presents the new shirt to one of the Haitian players (Photo: BBC)

However, Trujillo has had to jump through all kinds of hoops to make sure the eleven boxes of kit arrive on time.  They come from Colombia because Saeta, a sports clothes manufacturer, agreed to sponsor Haiti with high-tech kit. Their contract with the Haitian Football Federation, according to Trujillo, will last 4 years, in which time the company will invest close to $1 million; their shirts will be sold online and through the Federation.

But according to defender Judelain Aveska, the most exciting part of the agreement is that the players are now able to exchange shirts with their opponents at the end of a game – something that was previously unthinkable: if they’d given their shirt away in the past, they wouldn’t have had a shirt to wear in the next game.

A Turbulent Week

That Friday, Haitian officials had managed to secure the use of a playing field on the outskirts of Miami. Training lasted less than ten minutes. The players began to form two circles, but while they filled the field with their singing and laughter, it began to hail, and they were forced to take shelter. After two hours of waiting hopelessly for the weather to clear up, Blake Cantero – the team’s technical director, of Cuban origin – was concerned; his team were unable to train, partly because of the rain and partly because they’d only arrived the day before.

“We are Cubans, they don’t give us the Visa easily,” he told us, to explain the delay, adding that the side’s fitness coach – also Cuban – hadn’t received his Visa in time for the match. Cantero asked the players to board the bus and assured us that he would get them to jog along the corridors of the hotel, because “they can’t arrive like this tomorrow.”

The two Cubans have been in charge of Haiti’s national team for little over a year; their presence in the team is based on an agreement between the football federations of the two countries which is understood as a Cuban mission in Haiti. Each one has been allocated a monthly salary of $1,000 – all the Haitian Federation can afford given it has just one sponsor. To put that in perspective, their wage is roughly 158 times less than what Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque earned in 2012.

Life After Death

The earthquake in 2010, which devastated the country and caused more than 200,000 deaths, instilled in the players a renewed sense  of responsibility for their country. This has resulted in an improvement in the FIFA World Rankings: Haiti has gone up 18 places in the last two years and are now ranked 63rd – above countries with economic conditions much more favourable for sport, and with more experience in international competition.

“After the earthquake, something very strong happened in the players – a positive reaction to the tragedy. We understood that we were playing not only for ourselves…now we have a concrete way of obtaining money for our country,” says midfielder Jean-Marc Alexandre.

The whole stadium celebrated Haiti’s goal against the world champions (Photo: BBC)

One of the first examples of that “concrete” method of helping their country occurred just a few days after the earthquake. The team travelled to Germany for a game; the money raised by the match was donated to the Haitian government. Almost half a million dollars were raised – money which was invested in the reconstruction of the Football Federation’s Headquarters (which had disappeared with the tragedy)  and in the building and improvement of football facilities.

The Federation now boasts its own bus and a school for children in which they’re given training, education, food and free accommodation as a way of escaping their difficult environments.

“The ball is a little round thing and it’s for everyone”

Before the game, Judelain Aveska, a defender for Independiente de Rivadavia in the Argentine second tier, forms an imaginary sphere with his hands. I ask him if he thinks Haiti can beat Spain, and he tells me – in Spanish, with an Argentine accent – “the ball’s a little round thing, and it’s for everyone”.

His team-mate Jean-Marc Alexandre, a player for American side Orlando City, agrees that the two teams have the same possibilities: “We respect them, but it doesn’t mean we can’t beat them. We’re ready and excited to play,” he told BBC Mundo. Both players are Christians, and revealed that they often pray before a match. “Before I go out on the pitch, I pray that my opponent doesn’t get injured, because an injury can end your life,” says Jean-Marc

“We’re not aliens”

Despite losing 2-1 to Spain, the Haitian players are content at the final whistle. Fans gather in front of the team bus at the stadium exit to greet the Haitians as if they’d won, asking for autographs and pictures. Minutes later, in the press conference inside the stadium, goalscorer Donald Guerrier is sat between coach Cantero and a translator. He looks happy; he says his goal was dedicated to his son, born the previous day.

Although Guerrier has been patient with the journalists’ repetitive questions, this time he decides to answer more bluntly: asked how he feels, having scored against the best team in the world, he retorts: “I’m not an alien, I’m a human and my job is to score goals if the ball comes to me. On the pitch, we’re all equal.”

With that attitude, the Haitian team left later that day for Brazil, with another friendly lined up against Italy on Tuesday.

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