[MLS] The Galaxy got back on track by beating New York, 1-0, at a soldout Red Bull Arena, and Western Conference rival Real Salt Lake kept up the pressure by downing Columbus, 2-0, to stay within four points of the overall leader. There wasn’t much movement elsewhere in the standings, although San Jose snuck into the playoff octet by beating Kansas City, 1-0, to tie Toronto in eighth place with 26 points. Another solid win for FC Dallas, 3-1, at RFK Stadium upped their impressive away record to 3-1-6. Here are six items to take away from a Saturday of play that only Chicago and Toronto FC sat out.
RSL ON A RUN. In a rematch of last year’s Western Conference semifinals, second leg, RSL ran its home unbeaten streak to 21 games by beating Columbus, 2-0, with a pair of excellent goals by Javier Morales. Last year, RSL thumped the Crew, 3-2, at Rio Tinto Stadium to take the series on aggregate, 4-2.
Crew keeper Will Hesmer termed Columbus the “true champions” by virtue of the 2009 Supporters’ Shield that goes to the team with the best regular-season record, and those comments didn’t sit well with RSL coach Jason Kreis and his players. Fans at Rio Tinto chanted abuse at Hesmer and the Crew throughout the match without incident nor action by stadium security.
Both teams commence play in the Concacaf Champions’ League this week so neither played at full strength. The shorthanded Crew was missing Eddie Gaven, Robbie Rogers, Gino Padula, Andy Iro and Brian Carroll to either injuries or ailments. Kreis kept left back Chris Wingert and forward Alvaro Saborio on the bench.
DP WATCH. With all the focus and attention on the Designated Player stocked up by New York and Chicago in recent weeks, fans of RSL and Columbus can point to the success of their teams attained without a DP this season. Still, two more teams have boarded the DP bus.
Kansas City announced this week the signing of Mexican attacker Omar Bravo, who will stay with Guadalajara to play in the Libertadores Cup finals and the 2010 Apertura season on loan prior to joining the Wizards in January. Bravo, 30, is the second DP signed by Kansas City, which acquired former Argentine international Claudio Lopez two years ago.
San Jose general manager John Doyle said a DP signing is imminent. The player, not yet identified, is traveling to Northern California to complete the transaction and, barring last-minute snags, will be formally presented this week.
There are currently 12 DPs in MLS, not counting Bravo. They are: Rafael Marquez, Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel (New York); David Beckham, Landon Donovan (Los Angeles); Alvaro Fernandez, Blaise Nkufo (Seattle), Nery Castillo, Freddie Ljungberg (Chicago), Julian de Guzman, Mista (Toronto FC), Branko Boskovic (D.C. United).
CROWD COUNTS. Of the five matches played Saturday in soccer-specific facilities, only the 25,000 at Red Bull Arena constituted a full house.
Two teams came close: Philly drew 17,749 to PPL Park (capacity 18,500) for a late-afternoon game and RSL pulled 16,906 (20,008) into Rio Tinto. Chivas USA (13,839) barely filled one-half of Home Depot Center (27,000), and the Quakes couldn’t pack cozy Buck Shaw Stadium (capacity 10,300) when 8,619 fans watched them beat Kansas City.
NEW KHARI. When last seen in MLS, Jamaican midfielder Khari Stephenson, 29, featured a mop of hair, a turn of speed, and lots of room for improvement.
Signed by the Quakes after playing five seasons in Scandanavia, Stephenson set up Chris Wondolowski’s goal with a superb chip and drilled a free kick off the crossbar in his first game back in MLS. He played centrally alongside former TFC midfielder Sam Cronin and triggered several of San Jose’s more promising attacks.
He came to Chicago in the 2004 SuperDraft and played the following season in Kansas City – during which he scored a playoff goal against the Quakes -- before heading overseas.
“That was a long time ago,” he laughed. “I think I’m a more mature and much better player now.”
NOT SO DYNAMIC. Houston is struggling through one of those aggravating seasons when a team can’t seem to put a total effort together. Plagued by poor defending most of the season, the Dynamo consolidated its defensive shape but squandered numerous good chances in losing to New England, 1-0.
Coach Dominic Kinnear went back to a lineup he used extensively last year, with Geoff Cameron as a central defender and veteran Richard Mulrooney at right back. The Revs’ goal resulted from a deflected shot that went to recently acquired Ilija Stolica, who banged it into the net.
Time is running out for both teams. The Revs (21 points) and Dynamo (20) are well down the ladder behind the teams tied for the eighth and final playoff spot, TFC and San Jose, at 26 points.
GAMES IN HAND. Though they trail Seattle (29 points) by three points, the Quakes (7-6-5) have three games in hand. The team holding the most possible points is Chicago. With only 16 games played (5-5-6, 21 points) the Fire has played at least two fewer games than every other team.
With 21 games, Seattle (8-8-5) has played the most games, and like TFC, RSL and Columbus, embarks on Concacaf Champions’ League play this week.