MLS roundup: Donovan returns, Montreal falls to Kansas City
Landon Donovan returned to action, the Montreal Impact are perfect no longer and the New York Red Bulls finally claimed a win on a busy day in MLS.
In a week when it was feted by President Obama at the White House for the second year in a row, was the back-to-back MLS Cup champion really going to lose to the worst team of 2012?
It looked that way until Villarreal's stunning 92nd-minute equalizer preserved a point for the Los Angeles Galaxy in a 2-2 tie at Toronto FC's BMO Field.
A misdirected headed clearance from the home side's Darel Russell proved the perfect cross as the defender sent the ball looping across the face of goal. Villarreal rose and twisted with acrobatic aplomb and powered the ball into the net with a left foot finish over his right shoulder. If the 19-year-old ever gets tired of soccer there is surely a future for him at Cirque Du Soleil.
The goal was even better than Hassoun Camara's overhead kick for the Montreal Impact against the Portland Timbers. It is hard to fathom how the substitute kept the shot so straight as his body spun, while its speed testified to the perfection of his timing.
Bruce Arena's team was without the injured Robbie Keane - but this was the sort of goal you could imagine the Ireland striker scoring. It underlined why Villarreal is considered a rising star.
L.A. had taken the lead through Mike Magee's fifth goal of the season but Robert Earnshaw pulled Toronto level with his fourth after dubious goalkeeping from Carlo Cudicini. The Italian hurtled fifteen yards out of his penalty area to claim Leonardo's undercooked backpass, despite the presence of a covering defender. Cudicini was too late, Earnshaw skipped by him and scored into the unguarded net.
Cudicini's charge was the kind of rash behavior you might expect from a rookie, not a 39-year-old. Perhaps it serves as a reminder that while he arrived in California with an impressive pedigree -- his resume including spells at Lazio, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur -- Cudicini has not been a first-choice goalkeeper since 2003-04.
It came as a mild surprise to see Landon Donovan on an MLS field again, rather than, say, playing semi-naked barefoot pick-up soccer in a Cambodian thicket.
Arena pressed Donovan into action off the bench just three training sessions after his return from a four-month leave of absence prompted by mental and physical fatigue. The 31-year-old came on in the 61st minute and had a shooting chance within seconds. He's not sharp, but he is hungry.
"I felt like I felt when I was a little kid today. That's the feeling I want back. I was excited to be out there. I was engaged, I was aware and sort of in the moment and enjoyed it," he told Time Warner Cable's postgame show.
Donovan's return, Magee's form, a 2-0-2 record and next week's CONCACAF Champions League semi-final against Monterrey mean this spring has a very different flavor to 2012 for the Galaxy. Last year they began with one win and three defeats in the Western Conference and were booted out of the CONCACAF Champions League by Toronto.
It's tempting to name Tim Cahill. Not because he played well on Saturday (he didn't), but because he played at all, starting for the New York Red Bulls in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union after 90 minutes for Australia against Oman in Sydney on Tuesday.
The 33-year-old was never likely to complete the game at Red Bull Arena so soon after the kind of journey that gives you a chance to catch up on all the movies you may have missed... in the past decade. With a 20,000-mile round trip in his legs, Cahill came off just before the hour and was replaced by Henry, himself recuperating from a left knee sprain.
His arrival helped quell a Union team who looked increasingly feisty after Conor Casey's 63rd-minute equalizer. The Red Bulls' attack immediately perked up (or did Philadelphia's defense start to tremble?) and Henry went close in the 76th minute, teeing a cross above his head and trying a wayward bicycle kick.
He used the touch-then-volley tactic again six minutes later with more success. Lively forward Peguy Luyindula found Henry, who controlled the dinked pass with his right thigh and swept the ball past Zac MacMath with his left foot. It was beautifully fluid: two moves combined in a seamless swish, as regal as a royal wave.
The goal was the winner for Mike Petke's side - and that's not a sentence anyone was able to write before Saturday. It was also Henry's first goal of the campaign. Had the Red Bulls endured five games without a victory to start the season, a little bad luck would have started to seem like a lot of inefficiency.
4 - teams without a win (Chicago, Portland, Colorado, Seattle)
Only the insane or the mischievous would have predicted a month ago that after five weeks, the Seattle Sounders would be among the winless. And not just waiting for a victory, but craning their necks looking up the standings at a distant Chivas USA.
Seattle's performance in its 2-1 defeat to Real Salt Lake on Saturday was ominously loose ahead of next week's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg against Santos Laguna.
On the night that Houston Dynamo beat the San Jose Earthquakes to tie RSL's record of 34 home games unbeaten in all competitions, Jason Kreis' men posted a reminder that Rio Tinto Stadium is still a tough place to play.
This was far more open and entertaining than the playoff encounters between the clubs last November - and far less evenly-matched. The match was more one-sided than the scoreline implies. Salt Lake had 25 shots to Seattle's 8, according to MLSsoccer.com's statistics.
Seattle has capable individuals in its back four, but collectively the defense was spun and sliced like fruit in a blender when RSL attacked. Players were too static and too far apart. Seattle didn't adapt, with RSL trying the same passing triangles to get in behind the back line - and its schemes often worked.
Sigi Schmid's team now has a talented Designated Player in Obafemi Martins up front with Eddie Johnson, and the hope is that Martins' addition compensates for Fredy Montero's subtraction. But the pair did not see enough of the ball. No wonder Seattle has only two goals in four MLS matches.
Robbie Findley came off with a strained abductor muscle after scoring the opener. Luis Gil's second had a training-ground-move feel to it, with Seattle's frozen defense doing a convincing impersonation of mannequins. Without the defiance of Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, RSL would have been out of sight at half time. Gspurning is suspended for the first game against Santos.
Brad Evans did grab a goal from nowhere in the second half to haul Seattle back into the contest, but defeat keeps them the worst of the West.
Sporting Kansas City 2, Montreal Impact 0
Montreal traveled to SKC as the only MLS club with a 100 percent winning record - four fixtures, twelve points. Then the bandwagon developed a puncture, careered off the road, crashed and caught fire.
SKC's tepid start to the season was forgotten as it tore into Montreal on Saturday night and scored early with a fine goal from distance by Claudio Bieler. It was as if the class of last year's Eastern Conference wanted to make a statement against the club topping 2013's embryonic standings.
Bieler should have added another midway through the first period, battering the ball high over the bar from twelve yards after Graham Zusi expertly set up the chance. Zusi's fellow midfielder Benny Feilhaber was more influential than in recent matches and provided assists on both goals.
Not until first half stoppage time did Montreal have an attempt on goal - a weak header that sailed well wide. The visitors were better after the break but only mustered a solitary shot on target.
Evidently feeling no fatigue after his efforts in Mexico with the U.S. national team, Zusi capped an excellent individual display with the second goal in the 80th minute. According to KC touchline reporter Kristin Bock, Impact head coach Marco Schallibaum then threw water at referee Jorge Gonzalez and was ejected.
Schallibaum is new to MLS but will have to learn to keep his temper. If someone wasted water every time an MLS official made a controversial decision there would soon be a nationwide drought.
Perhaps Montreal had trouble spotting the SKC forwards. When teams have three jerseys and boast more multi-colored outfits than you'd see on the red carpet of a Hollywood premiere, how did we end up with a match where both wore all-blue?