By Paul Gardner
Nineteen goals in eight games was the MLS harvest over the weekend. Hardly prolific scoring -- the average was 2.4 per game, which is about normal in this low-scoring era.
I suppose the good news is that there were no 0-0 ties. San Jose beat Colorado 1-0, but the other seven games all featured at least two goals.
So I’ll quit regretting the paucity of goals, and take a look at the quality of the goals that we got -- which was not that great, as it happens. In fact, among those 19 scores, there wasn’t one that you could call great.
Goals, of course, have a life and a personality of their own. They are not just goals, they don’t just happen in a vacuum, and many factors are part of their makeup. The pure soccer element -- the part that most interests me -- is only one factor. Goals have an emotional content that depends on things like who scores them, when they were scored, against whom, and so on. In short, its context helps to define a goal.
Taking all that into consideration -- try this one for a rather straightforward goal that could be considered memorable -- will be considered memorable by its scorer, Jack McInerney, because he’s only 17, and it was his first MLS goal. It came in the 84th minute of the Philadelphia Union’s game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, a perfect feed from midfielder Fred that McInerney finished off, with an emphatic low shot across the goalkeeper and into the far side of the goal.
Actually I found the goal memorable for another reason: because McInerney did not immediately spin off into a wild shirt-doffing celebration or lapse into a dopey dance routine. Thank you, Jack.
There can also be some negative emotions at work, like embarrassment -- something Dallas goalkeeper Dario Sala will surely suffer from after trying to shepherd the ball out of play but instead allowing Kheli Dube to steal it and make the pass for Zack Schilawski to score for New England.
Probably the most dramatic of reasons that promotes an ordinary goal into something memorable is timing -- that last-second score is bound to be emotional, particularly in a crucial game. Nothing like that to report, and anyway we’re not at the crucial-game stage of the MLS season.
The team that might have provided us with a highly emotional goal is D.C.United -- simply because they’ve lost all four of their games. So a winning goal for them would have been overflowing with emotional content -- relief, mostly, no doubt.
But D.C. failed to score; it might have managed it had it been given the penalty it should have had when Santino Quaranta was brought down late in the second half. But referee Edvin Jurisevic had already -- wrongly, of course -- cautioned Quaranta for diving in the first half, so forget about the penalty. D.C. went down to a messy scrambled goal from the Red Bulls’ Ibrahim Salou, and then a neat glancing header from Juan Pablo Angel that zipped into the net past the motionless goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
That was one of several nice headed goals: Steven Lenhart for Columbus against Seattle, Atiba Harris for Dallas against New England, and Maicon Santos for Chivas USA against Chicago. All came from accurate crosses, all were headed with power. But they were, in a sense, standard -- almost formula -- goals. The wide player crosses and a big player in the middle leaps to head home. Nothing more intricate than that. To be in any way remarkable, such goals need some of the extra emotional content, which none of this group had.
Then there’s the personal factor. Any goal scored by Edson Buddle at the moment is remarkable because the guy’s on an amazing streak for the Galaxy. He got two more against Philadelphia -- both of them perfectly executed, two good goals raised to something more exciting because Buddle, in six games, has now scored nine of the Galaxy’s 10 goals.
The 10th goal of the weekend was scored in the Philadelphia game -- it went to A.J. DeLaGarza, thanks to an assist from Buddle. This one definitely stands on its soccer merits -- it was a very good example of a team goal, involving clever passing between several players. Eight Galaxy players were involved, and so swift and accurate was the passing that no Union player got a look in -- there was no opportunity or time for even a despairing challenge.
It started way back, with goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts -- then to Gregg Berhalter to Todd Dunivant to Alan Gordon to Juninho to Michael Stephens to Buddle and so to DeLaGarza. The whole thing took 19 seconds. Beautiful movement, yet -- would you believe it? (yes, you would!) -- the first 16 seconds of this increasingly exciting buildup were totally ignored by TV commentators Jim Watson and Mark Rogondino, who were apparently not that interested in the game as they plied each other with vapid see-how-clever-I-am factoids.
That goal rather exposes the fallacy that underlies the plethora of special Goal awards, which invariably go to individualistic goals. There is little place for teamwork goals. I’ve suggested on a number of occasions to MLS that they might consider a team goal award, but ... well, need I tell you?
So I shall do the conventional thing and make my goal-of-the-week an individual goal. And the winner is: Real Salt Lake’s Andy Williams for his 42nd minute hit against Toronto. No imposing buildup here. A Tony Beltran pass along the ground to Williams. Simple enough. Williams, at the corner of the penalty area, instinctively aware of all the geometry involved, took a quick shimmy to get past Toronto defender Nana Attakora and then came the masterpiece, an immediate right-footed shot, a fast-moving shot that curled up and over goalkeeper Stefan Frei and into the goal just under the bar. Effortless skill, the difficult made to look easy. Wonderful to watch.