[MLS] The first weekend of league play with teams deprived of players because of the Gold Cup affected several results in the Western Conference, with San Jose, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all winning in different situations.
Replacing impact players is a regular feature of MLS play, and seldom is that factor more crucial than during the Gold Cup, the 2011 edition of which has taken nearly 30 players away from their teams for at least two weeks, and possibly more.
Coaches and players talk of others “stepping up” to compensate, yet a tweak in tactics along with sharp use of personnel can also adjust the scales.
In a head-to-head matchup of teams significantly affected by the Gold Cup, San Jose downed Houston, 2-0, despite not having attackers Ryan Johnson and Chris Wondolowski. Fortunately for the Quakes, rookie Anthony Ampaipitakwong has emerged the past few weeks as a viable attacking option, and he and rugged forward Steven Lenhart led the offense that earned the Quakes their third straight home win.
Lenhart scored the first goal and after replacing Ampaipitakwong in the 75th minute, Simon Dawkins – acquired on loan from partner club Tottenham – scored in his first appearance after sitting out a month recovering from compartment syndrome surgery. All three players – Lenhart, Ampaipitakwong, Dawkins – have missed a lot of time this season because of injuries and other factors, yet Coach Frank Yallop has been able to mold them into effective contributors.
Houston was missing one starter -- Andre Hainault – and two backups, defender Je-Vaughn Watson, and midfielder Jermaine Taylor. As expected, Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear moved Geoff Cameron to the centerback slot he filled so admirably in 2009, yet Cameron stormed forward early in the match to work a one-two with Brad Davis and get off a shot that was smothered by keeper Jon Busch. Ultimately, though, the changes wrought by Kinnear couldn’t stop a winless streak from increasing to seven games.
RSL head coach Jason Kreis, faced with three absences in addition to the injury-sidelined Javier Morales, injected life into his attack by deploying midfielder Jean Alexandre in the forward role usually occupied by Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio. The result was a 2-0 defeat of Vancouver, playing its second game under new head coach Tom Soehn.
Playing up front with Fabian Espindola, Alexandre scored his first MLS goal on a through ball fed by Kyle Beckerman, and set up Espindola for the clincher with some sharp touches. RSL will have to do a lot more than beat the struggling Whitecaps to restore its reputation and gets a good chance to do just that Wednesday against Columbus.
The benefits of Marvin Chavez turned down a callup from Honduras to stay with FCD came into full focus when he scored the only goal of a 1-0 victory over New England. With front-line partner Fabian Castillo buzzing the Revs’ defense from all angles, Chavez took advantage by latching onto a Castillo pass near the sideline and, after spinning past defender A.J. Soares near the goalline, stabbed a shot between keeper Matt Reis and the near post.
Despite the loss of playmaker David Ferreira more than a month ago on a bad tackle by Jonathan Leathers of Vancouver, FCD has stretched its unbeaten run to nine games. It is perhaps the best example, with one-third of the season played, of a team’s perseverance.