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Hits, Misses & the Best of Week 1
by Ridge Mahoney, March 23rd, 2009 4:15PM

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Three goals a game, I'll take it. But it's probably not long for this world.

The opening weekend of the MLS produced 22 goals for an average of 3.14 goals per match, and in the contrarian nature of the game featured incredible strikes and stupefying misses as teams sorted themselves out at both ends of the field. Soccer tortures the mind by many methods, one of which is that often how well a team plays offensively has little or no affect on how many goals it scores, or how it scores them.

Seldom does a road team hit three goals, and on opening weekend it happened twice. TFC pressed Kansas City and was awarded with a 3-2 win; Chicago prevailed at Dallas, 3-1, in a back-and-forth game that could have ended, 4-4.

Ragged defensive play resulted in significant stretches of wide-open flow as offenses took command. Several teams, notably Kansas City, strung together attacks that faltered at the final touch. One such miss from Davy Arnaud, however, didn't discourage him from scoring both goals for the Wizards in their 3-2 loss to Toronto with blasts, one with either foot, from well outside the box.

That doesn't happen very often in any pro league in any country and one of the few instances I can recall is former French international Christian Karembeu pulverizing such a pair for Real Madrid. That's rarified company, indeed, but Arnaud played a blinder, also hitting a great cross from near the corner flag that almost produced a goal.

Los Angeles fluffed at least three good chances before being handed a gift of a phantom handball that Landon Donovan put away to cut D.C. United's lead in half at 2-1. In the 62nd minute, D.C. rookie Chris Pontius had shown how it's done by veering inside from the left wing to strike a beauty into the top far corner. Piece of cake!

Donovan glided behind the D.C. back four to nail a header that earned LA a point (2-2). Two defenders, Marc Burch and Greg Janicki, played him onside, and Janicki, his head bandaged from a fierce collision with teammate Devon McTavish, leaped in vain for the ball. United appealed for offside in error. This wasn't a bad call, just bad defending, and a good finish from an excellent chip by Lyle Patterson.

Speaking of fluffed chances, Donovan's goals would have been moot if Luciano Emilio hadn't passed up a chance to find a wide-open Christian Gomez for a pass and a clinching tap-in. Other notable misses were Cam Weaver's point-blank clanger off the crossbar after a rebound came off Revs keeper Matt Reis, and Dwayne De Rosario's skied penalty kick that would have given Toronto a 4-2 lead with 10 minutes to play.

In addition to the two-goal games by Donovan and Arnaud were dual strikes by Paulo Nagamura (Chivas USA), Amado Guevara (Toronto), and Fredy Montero (Seattle), who have nothing in common except for their scoring touch on opening weekend.

Nagamura had scored just four goals in 112 games (regular season and playoffs) coming into the 2009 season and will never be regarded as a great scoring threat but he put away his chances with the aplomb of a veteran striker, or perhaps a precocious youngster like Montero. The 21-year-old Colombian beat Red Bulls keeper Danny Cepero with a crisp roller along the Field Turf to open the scoring, and then polished off the Sounders' 3-0 win by pouncing on a Mike Petke mis-trap and faking Cepero to the turf with a devious deke before shooting into the top corner.

Guevara turned past a marker to drill a shot just inside the far post for his first goal. Kansas City keeper Kevin Hartman helped out on his second, steering a low shot from De Rosario right into his path for Guevara to bang back into the net.

Spillage plagued a few MLS keepers on opening weekend. Chivas USA goalie Zach Thornton mishandled a low shot in similar fashion and Conor Casey kneed it off the crossbar; another rebound fell to Omar Cummings, who gratefully struck it into the net to give Colorado a 1-0 lead. In the Revs' 1-0 win, Reis couldn't handle a low shot by Arturo Alvarez and knocked it right to Weaver, who blasted it off the bar.

FCD Dallas went one better by hitting the framework twice nine minutes apart in losing, 3-1, to Chicago. Drew Moor headed off the post and Jeff Cunningham rattled the bar in similar fashion. Either chance would have tied the game.

Mind you, these seven games didn't feature Revs' attackers Taylor Twellman and Steve Ralston, and Galaxy striker Edson Buddle, all of whom were injured, and RSL's potent lineup of Yura Movsisyan, Javier Morales and Clint Mathis, who don't open the 2009 season until Saturday at Seattle.
Montero vs. Morales, Mathis, and Movsisyan, and maybe Freddie Ljungberg, too? That should be worth watching.

MAHONEY'S TEAM OF THE WEEK
Goalie --
Kasey Keller (Seattle).
Defenders - Jim Brennan (Toronto), Jhon Hurtado (Seattle), Richard Mulrooney (Houston).
Midfielders - Paulo Nagamura (Chivas USA), Brad Evans (Seattle), Oswaldo Alonso (Seattle), Amado Guevara (Toronto), Davy Arnaud (Kansas City).
Forwards - Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Fredy Montero (Seattle).



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