“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.
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.
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.
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.