[MLS SPOTLIGHT] The first week of action since closure of the domestic transfer window raised myriad issues that will shape the final push for playoff spots. With five more rounds of Concacaf Champions League matches scheduled before the end of the league season, plus a steady diet of midweek MLS games, how well teams perform on short rest will greatly influence the final point totals. Here are five points to ponder after Week 23 action ...
A TALE OF TWO DPs. While they weren’t directly swapped for each other, the MLS fortunes Robbie Keane and Juan Pablo Angel will forever be tied together, with Angel traded by the Galaxy to Chivas USA last week to make room for Keane.
Both scored Saturday night to kick off these new phases of their careers. Bungled defending by San Jose provide Keane with a clear chance he tucked away for the first goal in a 2-0 win at HDC, and Angel hit a crisp, low shot for a goal in a vital 2-2 tie at Colorado.
The Galaxy’s high-priced pursuit of Keane can be seen as overkill – the league’s best team spending even more to get even better – yet it’s impossible to over-value a proven, feisty finisher in the pressure games -- CCL, MLS playoffs -- L.A. faces in the next three months. It won the Supporters’ Shield last year yet fizzled in the postseason, and operator-owner AEG, as host of 2011 MLS Cup, won’t tolerate a repeat.
Chivas USA is getting Angel at a bargain price -- a third round Supplemental Draft pick next year and a reported salary cap figure of just $85,000 -- so might this deal turn out to be a win-win for the HDC roommates?
BUSY TIMES. FC Dallas and Seattle played Saturday at Pizza Hut Park following triumphs in the CCL, with FCD’s courageous 1-0 defeat of UNAM in Mexico City breaking more than a decade of denial for MLS teams south of the border. The Sounders rallied from a goal down to thump Comunicaciones, 4-1, at CenturyLink Field on Tuesday, and with the extra day of rest had enough legs left for the trip to PHP that produced a 1-0 win.
Mauro Rosales drilled home a low shot in the 15th minute and when FCD lost midfielder Danny Cruz to a second caution in the 56th minute, the Sounders took control to grab three points that jumped them past FCD into second place in the Western Conference.
The teams meet again Aug. 30 in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal, following another round of midweek CCL play plus league matches next weekend. No teams will welcome a very light schedule for Labor Day weekend – a FIFA international fixture window – more than these two teams.
Defending champion Colorado, which beat Isidro Metapan, 3-2, at home in its CCL opener, couldn’t hold a late lead against Chivas USA and ended up tied, 2-2. The Galaxy overpowered San Jose, 2-0, at HDC three days after downing Motagua by the same score at the same venue. Toronto FC, an impressive 2-0 winner in Panama City against Tauro on Thursday, put up a good effort Sunday after a long trip to Toyota Park but lost to the Fire, 2-0.
FIRE FLICKERING FAINTLY. On Thursday, Chicago’s winless streak had extended to 10 straight games when it surrendered a 1-0 lead and tied D.C. United, 1-1. Back at home Sunday, it again seized the advantage and this time held it to down TFC. The four-point week is a rare dose of encouragement for a strife-torn team.
Several newcomers have helped Chicago revive its season and keep its faint playoff hopes flickering. Dan Gargan’s goal in the 69th minute clinched the victory and also produced the first assist for midfielder Pavel Pardo, who has already scored twice since being acquired several weeks ago. Pardo, Gargan, and another recent arrival, Sebastian Grazzini, have contributed a combined four goals and two assists.
FATIGUE FACTOR. D.C. United’s game in Kansas City marked its third match in nine days, and Coach Ben Olsen limited his changes to just three among the starting field players.
Joe Willis took over in goal for Bill Hamid and Steve Cronin, who had shared time in Chicago when Hamid suffered an injury late in the first half. One change came in midfield, where Santino Quaranta started in place of Stephen King, and two more deployed Josh Wolff and Blake Brettschneider instead of Charlie Davies and Dwayne De Rosario.
Before De Ro replaced him at halftime against SKC, Brettschneider came closest to scoring for United with a low belter toward the far post that SKC goalie Jimmy Nielsen lunged to parry. Davies wasn’t named to the game-day roster for the Kansas City game after laboring for 60 minutes in Chicago, where D.C. ran its unbeaten record on the road to seven games. The streak ended in Kansas City.
THE JOY OF SIX. After taking care of business against struggling Portland, 3-1, at Livestrong Sporting Park on Wednesday, Sporting Kansas City faced a crucial test against D.C. United on Sunday.
SKC made its double advantage – playing again at home on an extra day of rest – count by fending off a stubborn United, 1-0, and take all six points from its home double-dip. Kei Kamara tracked down a partial clearance and crushed a laser-like shot a foot inside keeper Willis’ right post in the 19th minute.
With the six points, SKC improved its home mark at Livestrong Sporting Park to 6-1-4 and has taken over second place in the Eastern Conference. It has more home games remaining, six, than any of the playoff contenders.