San Jose steals a Clasico; McInerney impresses; Arrieta dazzles
Saturday in MLS had something for everyone. Controversial refereeing, spectacular strikes and a whopping seven goals in the 87th minute or later -- including four in stoppage time --produced a dramatic set of matches as some of the league's top talents signed off before joining their national teams for Gold Cup action.
San Jose Earthquakes 3, Los Angeles Galaxy 2
The "California Clasico" has become one of the most anticipated MLS clashes, especially since San Jose moved its home fixture from humble Buck Shaw Stadium to 50,000-capacity Stanford Stadium, which was full on Saturday and wild at the final whistle. Thanks to a climax that defied belief, this game added to the dramatic tradition of the matchup.
The five games last year between the teams produced 21 goals, sniping from L.A. at San Jose's physical approach and immense frustration for the Supporters' Shield victor, as L.A overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit in the Western Conference semifinals by winning 3-1 in San Jose.
Last year's game in Stanford exemplified San Jose's never-say-die spirit, as it recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win, 4-3. The Earthquakes looked poised for a similar comeback on Saturday but seemed doomed once Victor Bernardez was dismissed for a second yellow card in the 77th minute.
Wrong: so lackluster for so much of this season, San Jose found its mojo to score twice in stoppage time, stun the Galaxy and party like it was 2012.
For San Jose, the downside to playing this match in a large arena is that the Galaxy are experts at rising to big occasions. L.A. duly opened the scoring after 20 minutes with one of the best combination goals so far in this campaign. Landon Donovan -- against his former club and in his last match before returning to U.S. national team action for the Gold Cup -- lofted a delicate cross to Robbie Keane, who then played in Marcelo Sarvas who scored on the volley.
A sly Keane pass across the face of goal set up the substitute Hector Jimenez to double the Galaxy's lead midway through the second half. But the introduction of Alan Gordon off the bench by San Jose interim head coach Mark Watson proved inspired. The forward headed in his first goal of 2013 only four minutes after entering the fray.
The visitors were hardly under siege after that, but the Galaxy's failure to deal with a long throw in the 92nd minute was costly. Shea Salinas made the most of ditzy defending to tie the game at 2-2, and had the score line stayed that way it would still have been an excellent result for the Earthquakes.
Less than 90 seconds later, roared on by the crowd and with the Galaxy defense in disarray, Sam Cronin calmly chipped the ball to the back post where Gordon was waiting. Cronin headed past Carlo Cudicini for the win and a moment of ecstasy that is potentially a turning point for a troubled team.
Daniele Paponi, Montreal Impact
Saying that teams with new head coaches and players take time to gel might be cliché, but for a reason: because it's true. Fortunately for the Impact, their Italian import policy helps ensure on-field familiarity and the team has clicked immediately.
Looking to reignite his career after it stuttered in Italy, Paponi arrived on loan in April and reunited with his fellow forward, Marco Di Vaio. The pair were together at Bologna for two years and have swiftly developed an effective partnership with the Impact.
Marco Schallibaum, in his first season as Impact coach, switched from a lone striker to a 4-4-2 formation to accommodate Paponi. On Saturday against the Colorado Rapids the 25-year-old scored his first goals for the club. Picking up the ball inside the center circle near the end of the first half, Di Vaio fed Paponi, who cut inside his marker and unfurled a superb curling shot from the edge of the penalty area.
After the break, Paponi was left alone by the Rapids for an easy close-range finish. With defenses understandably preoccupied by Di Vaio, there may be more opportunities for his unsung teammate to add to his tally in the coming weeks.
On Saturday, though, the back line was the problem for the Quebec side, who lost at Stade Saputo for the first time in 2013, eventually going down 4-3 to the Rapids. It had looked like business as usual for the Eastern Conference leaders, but Colorado scored twice near the end -- including a deflected 96th-minute breakaway winner from Tony Cascio -- to deny Paponi the headlines.
0 - Philadelphia Union games this season without Jack McInerney
The Union has played 19 times in all competitions in 2012 and its key player has started each fixture, save for the opening-day defeat by Sporting Kansas City, when he came off the bench.
McInerney is as ubiquitous as cheesesteaks in Philly, but that's going to change now that the 20-year-old striker has earned his first call-up to the U.S. senior team. If McInerney impresses and the U.S. goes all the way to the Gold Cup final, he could miss five matches in July.
Of the 32 MLS players from nine nations on Gold Cup rosters for next month's tournament, McInerney's absence would be perhaps the biggest single loss. After Saturday's 2-2 home draw with FC Dallas, John Hackworth's side remains second in the Eastern Conference. That lofty perch is in part thanks to McInerney's 10 goals, joint-highest in the league.
A remarkable 43 percent of McInerney's shots on target have beaten goalkeepers. The Tennessee native also scores crucial goals: all but one of his strikes have influenced the outcome. Those 10 tallies have provided the Union with 14 of its 26 points. Without getting too sabermetric about it, if we go back in time and imagine that McInerney was replaced by an average striker, Philadelphia would most likely be several points adrift of a playoff spot.
Lately, Hackworth has incorporated McInerney, Conor Casey and Sebastien Le Toux into the starting lineup in a way that has allowed all three to flourish. In McInerney's absence, the head coach could combine Le Toux and Casey in attack. Le Toux is creative but has not repeated the scoring prowess of his first season with the Union, when he found the net 14 times in 2010.
Hackworth could also try the eternal bench-dweller Antoine Hoppenot, who has two MLS goals this season from fifteen substitute appearances. Another option would be the 6-foot-4 Aaron Wheeler, who announced his candidacy for the understudy job in only his second MLS game with a late header that put the Union 2-1 up over Dallas.
Center back Amobi Okugo had initially given the Union the lead in the 20th minute. It was his third goal of the season, and a reminder that without McInerney, others will need to step up if Philadelphia is to maintain its form. But for now, Hackworth might be more worried about his goalkeeper than his strikers. At times, Zach MacMath looks as insecure as a pimpled teenager on prom night. When he fumbled the ball under pressure deep in stoppage time it paved the way for Blas Perez to head in the equalizer, just a couple of minutes after the forward was denied a marker when the officials failed to see that his shot had crossed the goal line.
Union claims that MacMath was fouled were dubious, but Hackworth was on more solid ground when he pointed out that Perez scored 90 seconds after the allotted five minutes of injury time.
Jairo Arrieta, Columbus Crew
He ran, and ran, and ran...and ran. There may not be a more epic dribble in MLS this season than Arrieta's voyage with the ball from six yards inside his own half, culminating in a sharp low finish from an acute angle. It was so good, the forward's celebratory gestures suggested that he genuinely expected the fans at Sporting Park to applaud his achievement.
On a day full of outstanding goals, no other goal-scorer had to cover quite so much ground. However, Arrieta's heroics were in vain as Kansas City won 3-2 to end a four-game winless streak. KC is only three points behind the East-leading Impact and has just locked down playmaker Graham Zusi on a contract until 2017, so this was a good week for the club. But a defense that was the best in MLS last year isn't so convincing this time around. Both Columbus goals owed something to poor defending.
Arrieta is hardly the fastest forward around, yet couldn't be stopped -- and only one defender really tried. The Crew's second equalizer also came on a counterattack, only three minutes after Claudio Bieler had put Kansas City up, 2-1. Seth Sinovic's backpass was too soft, allowing Dominic Oduro to slip past goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and finish into the empty net. But Kei Kamara's winner, his second of the night, secured the points for Kansas City.
This was the third MLS game in succession in which SKC has conceded two goals. So far this year, Peter Vermes' team has given up two goals or more in six fixtures -- already matching its total from 2012.