[MLS] In the 75th minute of a stalemate between his New York Red Bulls and Chivas USA Thursday night, Juan Pablo Angel showed why goalscorers are so dearly valued around the world.
Left a half-step open as a Dane Richards cross looped over from the right wing, Angel firmly drilled it into the net off his head on the bounce past Chivas USA keeper Brad Guzan to decide a match, 1-0, that was otherwise just about even.
Both teams had 14 shots, and despite taking four apiece, neither Atiba Harris nor Ante Razov could match their Red Bull counterpart Angel for precisions. He hobbled through the final minutes of the match with a tight hamstring, evoking fears that after scoring just his second goal of an injury-impaired season he might go back on the shelf again.
"I was very sore in my back and in my hamstring as the game went on and I think it was 10 minutes before the end of the game, I went to trap the ball down and I felt it go very tight," said Angel, who has missed games this season with problems in both his back and hamstrings. "I don't think I pulled it but it's very short right now. I hope it's nothing serious, but I'm not really happy with how things are going this year."
Jon Conway denied Chivas USA on its best chance in first-half stoppage time by charging out to deflect a shot Sasha Kljestan had launched as he raced through the middle. Guzan arrived in time after playing the second half for the U.S. in its 1-0 loss to Spain Wednesday in Santander and played a sharp match, but despite a heroic dive couldn't reach Angel's gamewinner.
The result and the resultant places in the standings might give an early indication of how the playoff race will shape up. Chivas USA (4-5-2, 14 points) squandered a chance to take over first place in the Western Conference and is in a three-way tie for second place, just one point behind leader Colorado (5-5-0, 15 points). Because the top three teams in each conference earn a spot regardless of their records, if the season had ended last night it would have to win a tiebreaker against at least one of the teams it is tied with to make the playoffs.
New York (4-3-3, 15 points) has played fewer games and has more points, but is in fifth place in the tougher Eastern Conference. It would not qualify automatically as one of the top three Eastern teams, yet since it has more points than the fourth-place Western team it would qualify.
The pending transfer of Jozy Altidore has triggered speculation on who the team will acquire with the allocation money it will receive as part of the deal, which is reported to be valued at $10 million, with clauses and conditions that could drive it higher. Yet in the short-term, the fitness of Angel is critical as the Red Bulls scratch for points.
June 5 in East Rutherford, N.J.
New York 1 Chivas USA 0.
Goal: Angel (Richards, Leitch) 75.
New York - Conway, Leitch, Boyens, Parke, Goldthwaite, Richards (Mendes, 92+), Borman (Sassano, 77), Magee (Wolyniec, 65), Stammler, van den Bergh, Angel.
Chivas USA - Guzan, Talley, Burling, Curtin, Mendoza, Kljestan, Marsch, Nagamura, Harris, Flores (Razov, 59), Braun (Hamilton, 66). Yellow Cards: New York - Magee 45; Chivas USA - Marsch 30, Harris 40, Nagamura 52.
Referee: Alex Prus.