Archive for August, 2013



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.

Advertisements

“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.