Red's the rule in bad-tempered but entertaining day in MLS
Saturday's MLS action contained a bit of the good and a whole lot of the bad. While Jack McInerney continued his hot streak in front of goal and the Sounders battled to a hugely entertaining win over FC Dallas, the league also saw an unusually high number of red cards issued across all but one of its six games.
Jack McInerney, Philadelphia Union
The striker scored his league-leading eighth goal of the season on Saturday at against the Chicago Fire PPL Park. To put it another way, McInerney has two more goals than the entire Fire roster. You can't fault his consistency: for the second time in a week, Philadelphia beat Chicago 1-0 thanks to a goal from the 20-year-old. All of his eight strikes have come from inside the box.
McInerney did not go to college, so this is already his fourth MLS season. If he continues his scoring rate, a U.S. national team call-up sometime this year would be well-deserved.
With Saturday's effort, McInerney equalled his tally from last year. He is flourishing under John Hackworth: all his goals last season came after Hackworth replaced Peter Nowak at the helm of the Union last June.
Why the improvement? It's partly simple math. Shoot more, score more. McInerney took 42 shots in 25 games in 2012; he has tried 37 shots already this season in 12 matches.
Give some credit to his newly-arrived strike partners, both veterans. Conor Casey has the physique to act as a target man and subdue center backs, helping create space and provide flick-ons. If you want to picture their pairing, imagine a fox running around a tank.
There's also Sebastien Le Toux, whom Hackworth chose to partner McInerney at PPL Park on Saturday. The Frenchman is coming off a poor 2012 with the Vancouver Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls and has a tendency to wander all over the field. But he is hard-working and creative and provided the assist for the winner against Chicago after only three minutes.
Any one of three Union players could have connected with Le Toux's perfect left-wing cross; but of course, McInerney was in the right place at the right time to apply the finish. He usually is.
Seattle Sounders 4, FC Dallas 2
Not only the best game of Saturday, but of the MLS season so far. It had everything - except high-caliber defending. But with such dynamic, high-tempo attacking, why should neutrals care about that?
It was Seattle's third successive win, and each has been notable: 1-0 away to Kansas City, 4-0 at home to the San Jose Earthquakes and now this, a wild ride past the Western Conference leaders.
Seattle's start to the year was so poor that Sigi Schmid's team is still not among the top five in the standings. Yet such is the team's quality and recent form that this match-up still felt like a clash between two of the best in the West.
Dallas found itself two goals down with half an hour gone, both strikes coming after it lost possession cheaply. Raul Fernandez's goal kick was headed back uncontested towards the danger area by Osvaldo Alonso and Eddie Johnson ran past a discombobulated defense to fire in the opener. Then a slack pass by Zach Loyd deep in the Seattle half was intercepted, sparking a counter-attack that profited from more ditzy defending as Lamar Neagle rounded Fernandez to score.
Dallas responded nine minutes into the second period as Kenny Cooper was left unmarked to glance a header beyond Michael Gspurning. The visitors were level soon after the hour in implausible circumstances, as Michel curled a corner kick directly into the net. But Johnson replied for Seattle only a minute later.
The Sounders had scored three times against in-form opponents without any input from their Designated Player striker Obafemi Martins. Summoned from the substitutes' bench for the final stages, Martins secured the three points in the 84th minute, polishing off Brad Evans' cross from seven yards.
Want a side order of controversy to accompany the excitement? Well, this match had that, too. Dallas forward Blas Perez was dismissed in the 73rd minute by referee Mark Geiger on the advice of one of his assistants. As Perez dueled Leonardo Gonzalez for an aerial ball, he led with his elbow and left the Seattle defender with a bloodied nose. Did Perez intend to hurt his opponent? Highly unlikely. But was it dangerous play? The red stuff spilling down Gonzalez's face suggested that it was.
Some will argue that it is impossible to jump high without raised arms, that lofted elbows are integral to the process of gaining elevation. In which case, perhaps players would be best advised to keep their cleats on terra firma if there is anyone else breathing down their neck. These days, officials around the world punish dangerous or potentially-dangerous challenges severely and a loose elbow is viewed as dimly as a lunging tackle.
Jose Valencia, Portland Timbers
The 21-year-old Colombian's first MLS goal was a blend of strength and subtlety that extended the Timbers' unbeaten streak to ten games. Soon after Portland was reduced to ten men against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the substitute outmuscled Brad Rusin to bring down a long ball, cleverly cut past Andy O'Brien with a backheel, then sent goalkeeper Brad Knighton the wrong way with a sly low shot.
Vancouver head coach Martin Rennie's decision to start the winger Camilo as a central striker and leave speedy forward Darren Mattocks on the bench had looked questionable before kick-off but was fully-justified by the Brazilian's excellent display. Midway through the first half he won a free kick on the edge of the box, drawing a foul and taking the set-piece himself to score a dazzling opening goal.
Camilo set up Gershon Koffie as Vancouver reclaimed the lead in the 54th minute, two minutes after Will Johnson had tied the scores from the penalty spot. And his tumble as he ran clear on goal and tangled with "Futty" Danso persuaded referee Matthew Foerster to show the defender a red card.
But thanks to Valencia, the Timbers were level only three minutes later and had another spirited storyline to add to the growing collection. "We've gone ten games without a loss and throughout those ten games we've faced adversity and in some games have had to come from behind one or two goals, and this is just another example of what this team is made of," head coach Caleb Porter told MLSsoccer.com.
2 - Houston Dynamo home losses in six days
You wait 694 days for a home defeat, then two come along in a week. BBVA Compass Stadium has had its fortress status revoked as last Sunday's 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City was followed by the Dynamo's surprising 2-0 defeat to the New England Revolution on Saturday.
The outcome caps a strange sequence of results for Dominic Kinnear's normally-steady side. It arrived at the Home Depot Center on May 5 without a road win in MLS since last July, yet beat the reigning MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy. That was swiftly followed by a 4-0 evisceration of D.C. United at RFK Stadium. Travel sickness cured, the Dynamo returned home aiming to enhance its MLS-record home streak but was handed its first competitive loss in Houston since June 18, 2011.
Then came this, an ornery contest settled by two second half goals after both teams had been reduced to ten men.
Possibly inspired by Sporting's physical approach last week, the Revolution turned up ready to battle in a match that was at times as much MMA as MLS. The Dynamo lost both center backs before the break: Jermaine Taylor to injury, Bobby Boswell to a sending off. What appeared to be a running feud between Boswell and Revolution striker Dimitry Imbongo climaxed in the 37th minute as the defender appeared to head-butt his opponent, who responded by grabbing his neck and hauling him down.
It prompted a melee involving at least a dozen players. In a theatrical display worthy of a Tony Award, Imbongo stayed on the ground clutching his face for more than a minute, though the contact with Boswell had looked minimal. Perhaps the 23-year-old hoped that if he remained prostrate long enough, the referee would either take pity on him or forget to show the red card. If so, Imbongo was wrong on both counts. It was three minutes after the incident when he finally made his way down the tunnel.
Energized by the debut of new signing Juan Agudelo, a first-half substitute, New England was far more impressive and inventive than in recent matches and won thanks to Diego Fagundez's neat 51st-minute goal. A late own-goal from makeshift center back Ricardo Clark under pressure from Agudelo embellished the scoreline. The Dynamo exerted pressure in the closing moments, but overall it was an underwhelming display from a club that would have gone top of the Eastern Conference with a win.
Thanks to the league's bizarre scheduling, there is no chance of Houston losing at home again for the next five weeks. It does not play at BBVA Compass Stadium again until Toronto FC visits on June 22. A trio of road fixtures for the Dynamo begins next Sunday against none other than Kansas City - and Houston could be without both its first-choice center backs.
6 - Number of red cards issued in Saturday's six games.
There had been 18 ejections this season as MLS entered Matchday 12. Add another half-dozen to the tally after Saturday's rash of red cards.
The hall of shame: Portland's "Futty" Danso for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity; Chicago's Wells Thompson for two yellow card offenses; Houston's Bobby Boswell and New England's Dimitry Imbongo for violent conduct; Dallas' Blas Perez for violent conduct; the Colorado Rapids' Shane O'Neill for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity (while committing a bad foul).
Toronto FC's home defeat to the Columbus Crew was the only fixture to escape the red mist on what will go down as one of the most bad-tempered days in MLS history.
Ironically, the San Jose Earthquakes pulled out a 1-1 tie with the Rapids thanks to a superb free-kick from Marvin Chavez. He was only available because, in a highly-unusual move, MLS commissioner Don Garber halved the Honduran's two-game suspension for violent conduct against Toronto earlier this month on appeal.