Canadian clubs shine in MLS' second week
Robert Earnshaw, Toronto FC
The striker on loan from Cardiff City scored twice inside the first 21 minutes as Toronto beat Sporting Kansas City, 2-1. It is a big early season upset, since Toronto finished bottom of the Eastern Conference in 2012 while SKC topped the standings.
Earnshaw showed why he was one of the most-feared goalscorers outside the English Premier League for a decade after his breakout 2000-01 season, when he scored 25 times for Cardiff. In his prime, four clubs paid transfer fees in excess of £2.5 million ($3.7 million) for him, but he will be 32 next month. Out of favor in his second spell at Cardiff, he was dispatched on loan last year to Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.
Cardiff manager Malky Mackay suggested last week that Earnshaw's switch to North America was more about adventure than achievement. "Certainly a move to the MLS is, you would say, more of a lifestyle move than a professional career move. I don't think I'm harsh in saying that," he told the BBC.
But if Earnshaw is past his prime it was impossible to tell from the way he took his first goal in the third minute, intercepting a foolish pass by last year's MLS defender of the year Matt Besler and skipping past a surprised Aurelien Collin then crashing the ball beyond goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
It was a classic Earnshaw strike: sharp movement to fashion a shooting chance then a precise, instinctive finish. He added another goal from the penalty spot midway through the first half after the debutant John Bostock drew a foul from Paulo Nagamura.
The 5-foot-8 Earnshaw is the purest of predators: he won't contribute anything in the air, help defensively or create opportunities for others. If his teammates do not provide him with the ball in and around the area, he will be as quiet as a librarian - as he was in the second half. He's simply a moment-seizer who finds space and finishes.
On Saturday he was the match-winner, next time he might be anonymous for 90 minutes. But at almost all of his clubs, Earnshaw has been good for a ratio of a goal every two to three games. That makes him potentially a huge asset for a Toronto side that scored only 36 times in 34 MLS fixtures last term.
234: days between MLS wins for Toronto FC. Until Saturday's victory the Canadians had not won in the league since a 2-1 success over Colorado Rapids last July 18: a streak of suffering that lasted 15 matches.
The result in the Rogers Centre was merited, too, as SKC reprised some of its follies from last week's win over Philadelphia Union: conceding early thanks to careless defending, failing to master the midfield and being over-reliant on Graham Zusi to create chances.
SKC head coach Peter Vermes' 4-3-3 formation did not match up well in the center of the park with Toronto's 4-4-1-1, but the bigger problem was that SKC was strolling at the start, as if it felt its superior class would overcome Toronto's graft. Midfielders Bobby Convey and Benny Feilhaber were tame. In fact, SKC's goal bypassed the midfield and was as direct as they come: a punt forward from Nielsen flicked on by substitute C.J. Sapong to Claudio Bieler, who scored his second goal in two games.
Toronto was determined and mostly solid under rookie head coach Ryan Nelsen. Bostock, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, promises to add flair to a line-up that might otherwise lack imagination.
The attendance of 25,991 was more than 20,000 down on the crowd that watched Toronto tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League at the same venue a year ago. That is a reflection on Toronto's dismal 2012 as well as less glamorous opponents. But what was MLS' most hapless team now has hope.
It was not scored by Montreal Impact's storied striker, Marco Di Vaio. Nor by the Brazilian playmaker, Felipe. No, the brilliant bicycle kick came courtesy of the right boot of Hassoun Camara, who only found the net once last season. Maybe he should shoot more often.
With a half hour gone at Jeld-Wen Field, the full back expertly swiveled to hook the ball low into the far corner after the Portland Timbers defense failed to deal with a free kick.
Felipe added a more prosaic second in the 60th minute. Despite Ryan Johnson pulling a goal back with ten minutes to go, all three Canadian teams won on the same weekend for the first time since Montreal joined MLS last year. The Quebec club beat Seattle Sounders away last week, so now has two wins on the road - matching its tally for the whole of last season.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Columbus Crew
With Nigel Reo-Coker's shrewd distribution and Kenny Miller's fanatical commitment in the absence of injured captain Jay DeMerit, Vancouver Whitecaps merited its second successive win.
The Whitecaps' offseason addition of Reo-Coker attracted more attention than the signing of Daigo Kobayashi but the latter midfielder grabbed the spotlight on Saturday night with a goal from 35 yards.
The sixth-minute shot from the former J-League veteran dipped so much it was only halfway up the net by the time it crossed the line. Yet it was still vicious enough to beat Columbus Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, who clearly had not expected Kobayashi to shoot from so far out. But then, who had?
Efforts from such a distance are usually termed "speculative", but that would do the 30-year-old an injustice: he had the vision to spot an opening and the technique to execute it perfectly.
Making the easy look difficult, Reo-Coker missed a simple chance from close range just before half time. It did not matter. Though Jairo Arrieta equalized soon after the break, Vancouver overcame Columbus 2-1 with Miller taking advantage of dim-witted defending to run clear and score with confidence, much as Earnshaw had done earlier in the day.