[MLS] A full slate of eight weekend games wedged into a busy schedule of Concacaf home-and-away series plus international friendlies and the All-Star Game yielded some surprising results.
FIRE IS STOKED. Nery Castillo didn’t play and Freddie Ljungberg came on as a sub, and still Chicago carved up the Galaxy backline three times in the first 19 minutes en route to a 3-2 win at Home Depot Center.
Backup keeper Sean Johnston gave the Fire’s backline some stability with good saves on Edson Buddle and Alan Gordon -- and conceded both goals via Landon Donovan from the penalty spot – but LA’s backline continues to leak chances.
A 4-1 thrashing by Puerto Rico Islanders in the Concacaf Champions’ League last week can be blamed somewhat on shaky goalkeeping, but twice in the opening minutes Chicago easily breached a sluggish Galaxy offside trap for Marco Pappa and Collins John to score, and then a fine Donovan Ricketts save merely set up Mike Banner for a superb volleyed goal off the rebound.
These defensive lapses could be just a minor correction of an ungodly run by the Galaxy – 10 goals conceded in its first 18 games – or perhaps teams have found ways to punish the positioning and decision-making of center backs Gregg Berhalter and Omar Gonzalez and some soft midfield play. A lack of pressure on the ball – Baggio Husidic slipped a ball behind the back line for Pappa to finish, Patrick Nyarko sent John into space on the right wing – provided Chicago with great chances in the fourth and fifth minutes.
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION. Chivas USA and Seattle didn’t seem to miss two of their renowned players, Sacha Kljestan and Ljungberg, respectively. They grabbed valuable wins to tighten up the Western Conference standings.
Chivas USA stunned Columbus, 3-1, by punishing Crew defensive errors not unlike those that plagued the Galaxy the following evening on the same field. A long boot by goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, for example, bounced over rookie defender Shaun Francis for fellow first-year man Blair Gavin to poke into the net for the second Chivas USA goal just before halftime. The Chivas USA midfield has taken on a different look since Kljestan was sold to Belgian club Anderlecht at the start of July, and the wing play of Rodolfo Espinosa – whose cross Justin Braun headed into the net for a 1-0 lead and Braun’s seventh of the season – will be a prominent factor.
The Sounders won their second straight league match – and third overall including a 1-0 defeat of Isidro Metapan in the CCL on Wednesday – by beating San Jose, 1-0, in a game that wasn’t that close. Quakes keeper Jon Busch fended off several potent Seattle attacks – including a great reflex save that pushed a Fredy Montero point-blank header onto the crossbar – before Montero beat him with another header from an excellent right-wing cross by Sanny Nyassi.
The absence of Ljungberg – whose cohesion and communication with Montero were sporadic at best last year even when the Sounders were playing well – has freed Montero play a wider role. Pivoting and moving around Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo, whose ability to hold the ball in different parts of the field is opening up space – Montero is showing more creativity and guile and hustle than in his rookie season, during which he scored 12 goals.
HENRY HIGH. Thierry Henry boosted his already rising stock in MLS by setting up both goals in a 2-2 tie with Houston, and also enduring the oppressive heat and humidity to play the full 90 minutes. How he handles the stress of hot weather and travel in August and September are greater concerns than his fitness and temperament, both of which seem to be exemplary.
Though he turns 33 this month, Henry should be fresh enough to play a strong three or four months, depending on how far Red Bull goes in the playoffs, assuming they qualify. He wasn’t a regular starter for Barcelona last season, played only 53 minutes at the World Cup, and took a three-week break after France went out in the first round. And as he’s shown so far in a Red Bull uniform, he’s come to play and not just pick up a hefty paycheck he can spend on New York nightlife.
As long as he stays away from trapping the ball with his forearm, all should be well.