The New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas posted impressive home wins to set up a Thursday night showdown on ESPN2, Chicago topped Kansas City to keep pace with New York atop the Eastern Conference, and Chivas USA tuned up for the first SuperClasico of the season against the Galaxy this week by pummeling Real Salt Lake.
FC Dallas' Ramon Nunez's prospects of starting had been in doubt. He arrived in Dallas Friday from Honduras, where he received his new green card, and despite misgivings about his absence and travel schedule, Coach Steve Morrow put him on the field for the opening whistle. Nunez came off to a loud ovation from 20,500 fans in the 81st minute Sunday after scoring twice as Dallas (2-1-1) took over first place in the Western Conference in its home opener, a 3-1 win over Colorado, which scored only after Jovan Kirovski batted down a bouncing ball with his upper arm and lobbed a shot over Shaka Hislop.
Kirovski's goal tied the match, 1-1, after Nunez had opened the scoring in the 29th minute. Dax McCarty led a counterattack by dribbling up through the middle and laying on a ball Nunez took into the middle and drilled low inside the near corner. After a choppy stretch of the second half during which four cautions were issued in less than 20 minutes, FC Dallas regained the lead on a free kick awarded for a jersey tug by Pablo Mastroeni. Nunez, who had burst past Mastroeni to win the kick, swerved a shot from about 25 yards that Bouna Condoul got both gloves on yet somehow let slip into the net. Nice shot, but a bad goalkeeping. Substitute Dominic Oduro added the final goal by racing up the left side and eluding Ugo Ihemelu to feed Kenny Cooper, and then slotting home Cooper's return pass.
A sliver of space was all New York'sJozy Altidore needed to slam a feed from Hunter Freeman into the net off the underside of the crossbar. Playing a man down for the entire second half, the Red Bulls needed -- and got -- a staunch effort from every one of its players to stave off defending champion Houston and post a 1-0 win at Giants Stadium. At the final whistle, from the crowd announced at 12,481 came a sound not often heard in these parts, a cheer not only of celebration, but of respect and gratitude. Yep, for one of the few times in 12 seasons of MLS matches in the Meadowlands, the home fans lustily shouted out their joy at what they witnessed and in what they felt.
Putting aside the obvious fact that Dwayne DeRosario, for whatever reason, is utterly out of sorts, the Red Bulls (2-0-1) prompted crisper attacks and throttled Houston (1-1-1) by pressuring and covering intelligently. They maintained superiority although Clint Mathis failed to put away a penalty -- with Pat Onstad smothering the low attempt with a dive to his right -- and was sent off for a studs-up lunge that raked Ryan Cochrane in the 36th minute.
The Mexican-American media and fans might be waiting breathlessly for Cuauthemoc Blanco to touch down in Chicago, but Chris Rolfeand Chad Barrett aren't looking for any help from south of the border or anywhere else. Rolfe set up Barrett for one goal and converted a penalty kick to give the Fire a 2-1 win over Kansas City, which scored on a late penalty kick by Wizards debutant Carlos Marinelli. Barrett (scorer) and Rolfe (provider) also provided the goal a week earlier to earn the Fire a 1-1 tie in Colorado. A disappointing crowd of 11,717 on a clear, warm (68 degrees) spring evening indicates the Fire needs Blanco's appeal at the gate as much as his impact on the field.
Chivas USA rhumped Real Salt Lake, 4-0, and ascertaining which of these 2005 expansion teams is moving in the right direction can be judged by their offseason additions. Maykel Galindo scored twice in the first nine minutes, Freddy Adu wasn't a factor. Alex Zotinca assisted on Galindo's two goals, keeper Nick Rimando gave up the first goal from a bad angle after charging off his line.
And for historic value, Ante Razov scored the third Chivas USA goal for the 100th of his career, attaining a plateau only Jaime Moreno (108) andJason Kreis (105) have attained before him. He created the chance himself by checking back to find Galindo and arriving at the far post via a bending run to nail home Francisco Mendoza's flighted cross. Matt Taylor got the fourth goal after replacing Galindo. A cross triggered chaos in the Real penalty area and Taylor drilled home the rebound of his own shot after Eddie Pope had blocked his initial effort.
April 21 in East Rutherford, N.J.
New York 1 Houston 0. Goal: Altidore (Freeman) 60.
Red Card: New York - Mathis 36.
April 21 in Bridgeview, Ill.
Chicago 2 Kansas City 1.Goals: Barrett (Armas, Rolfe) 36, Rolfe pen. 73; Marinelli pen. 90.
April 21 in Carson, Calif.
Chivas USA 4 Real Salt Lake 0. Goals: Galindo (Zotinca) 1, Galindo (Zotinca, Kljestan) 9, Razov (Mendoza, Galindo) 43, Taylor 89.
April 22 in Frisco, Texas
FC Dallas 3 Colorado 1. Goals: Nunez (McCarty) 29, Nunez 78, Oduro (Cooper) 93+; Kirovski (Cooke) 34.
Click HERE for game summaries with lineups.