Impact continue hot start, Dynamo stay unbeaten at home
The Dynamo kept their home a fortress, Chris Wondolowski scored a stunner, and MLS' level of play suffered with the loss of international players in week four.
33 - Home games unbeaten in all competitions for Houston Dynamo
Business as relentlessly usual in Texas, as Houston rebounded from traumatic away defeats to Santos Laguna and FC Dallas to bring its home streak within one of Real Salt Lake's all-time record. The Utah side's run ended in April 2011 with defeat to Monterrey in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. Houston can tie the mark against the San Jose Earthquakes next Saturday.
Not that a first Dynamo defeat at BBVA Compass Stadium wasn't a distinct possibility for a while. Houston created more chances, but the Vancouver Whitecaps grabbed the lead through Darren Mattocks after 36 minutes. The striker might have added a second on the break, but goals from Giles Barnes and Warren Creavalle early in the second half turned the match around. Vancouver substitute Camilo Sanvezzo almost tied the score with an 81st-minute free kick that bounced off both posts.
The contest was a missed opportunity for the Canadians, who had arrived with a perfect record--—two wins in two games. While Vancouver was without the influential Kenny Miller, who is on international duty with Scotland in World Cup qualifying, the Dynamo was down three key men for the same reason: Brad Davis (United States), Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica) and Oscar Boniek Garcia (Honduras).
MLS' decision to play during an international week is contentious and out of step with the world's top leagues, who hit the pause button on their seasons rather than infuriate their most powerful clubs and produce an inferior, uneven product.
As MLS continues to improve and attract greater numbers of current internationals, it is increasingly untenable to carry on playing without the league's brightest stars. Staging matches during FIFA dates deprives fans of the chance to see full-strength line-ups and also penalizes teams for having players worthy of representing their countries. Inferior clubs gain an unfair benefit-—the better the side, the more internationals it is likely to have. Was it much of a surprise that Dallas beat visiting Real Salt Lake on Saturday? With the Royals missing five players, the team-sheet read like a list of Without a Trace characters.
Montreal Impact v New York Red Bulls
It's not an eyebrow-raiser that the Red Bulls have made a slow start. Midfielder Tim Cahill hinted that he expected as much when he spoke to SI.com in preseason. The franchise has just come off major offseason surgery, and healing takes time.
But the contrast in fortunes was as dazzling as Broadway neon after Saturday's loss to the suddenly thriving Montreal Impact. The result saw the Quebec club maintain its perfect start: four games, four victories. The Red Bulls have yet to win and are now ten points behind Montreal in the Eastern Conference.
The early standings don't justify parting company with former head coach Jesse Marsch, especially given the Impact's solid first MLS season. But the team looks organized and focused under Marsch's replacement, Marco Schallibaum, and the "Buy Italian" policy is working.
Chalk up an assist to the Olympic Stadium's artificial turf, which guaranteed Thierry Henry would skip the match, especially after he suffered a sprained knee a week earlier. Since Tim Cahill was away with Australia, the Red Bulls were without two of their three Designated Players.
Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes
As we know, goals from Wondolowski are not unusual. There were 27 last year. But the San Jose forward is famed as a penalty-box predator-—a great goalscorer, as opposed to a scorer of great goals. This was a terrific strike, however, a mix of the rudimentary and the elegant.
A punt from the goalkeeper was flicked on, and Wondolowski controlled the ball 25 yards out, then unfurled a bouncing, brutal diagonal shot from the edge of the area for his second goal of the season. It gave Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning no chance, not least because it had the element of surprise, both in the sudden transition from defense to attack and the audacity and ferocity of the shot.
The goal came in first-half stoppage time. The hackneyed debate about whether just before the break is an ideal time to score can be left for another day. More importantly, it was the only goal of the match. And it elongated Seattle's sluggish MLS start, which has seen them capture just one point from three games.
Bill Hamid, D.C. United
Good and bad, the goalkeeper was a central figure in his team's 2-1 loss to Columbus Crew, which snapped an unbeaten streak at RFK Stadium that had lasted since the opening day of the 2012 season.
This is Hamid's fourth season between the posts in D.C., but in goalkeeper years, the 22-year-old Hamid is barely out of diapers. It could be another decade before he is at his peak. Right now, he is a classic case of a young goalkeeper with exceptional athleticism but decision-making that needs to improve if he is to realize his potential and join the ranks of the half-dozen or so world-class goalkeepers the U.S has produced in the past two decades.
Don't give Hamid any time to think, and he is outstanding. But when he is not operating on instinct and needs to make a judgment call, he sometimes gets it wrong.
On the Crew's first goal, he came out of his six-yard box to collect a free kick but got stuck in traffic and stopped, giving Josh Williams a straightforward header. In the second half, Hamid fumbled another free kick and the defense failed to clear, allowing Ben Speas to thump in a superb winner from the edge of the area.
D.C's bad set-piece defending is a concern for a club with ambitions of challenging for the MLS Cup this year. Insecurity transmits itself like a contagion between goalkeeper and defense, with neither fully trusting each other's ability to take charge and deal with a problem. It's a recipe for being reactive and not proactive when the ball is pumped into the box.
Hamid's self-flagellating body language after the Crew's second said it all. He had made several excellent stops but had spoiled his good work.