By Paul Gardner
On the goalscoring front, the MLS weekend started off poorly, with Friday’s tedious 0-0 tie between Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake. And it finished in not much better shape on Sunday with the Red Bulls and Kansas City staging a 1-1 tie, based on two almost comically ugly goals (what is it about the Red Bulls that seems to encourage scrappy soccer?).
But if the opening and closing acts were bad, what went on between them was truly enjoyable: seven games featuring 30 goals -- an average of over four goals per game, almost unheard-of these days.
The 30 goals included some real gems, and put on display virtually all the various elements that can be part of a memorable score -- dribbling, passing, vision, speed, strength, and of course, the climactic skill, the finishing shot.
Unlucky New England found itself on the receiving end of two splendid free-kick goals from the Columbus Crew’s Federico Higuain -- powerful right-footed drives hit from around the 25-yard mark, both evading the defensive wall, and both almost perfectly aimed, one just inside the near post, the other inside the far post.
Darlington Nagbe’s goal for Portland against Vancouver stands out for its simplicity and neatness -- and because it was worked right through the middle of the Vancouver defense with the ball on the ground all the time -- a short layoff from Eric Alexander to Jack Jewsbury, then Jewsbury’s crisp short pass into Nagbe’s path as he raced into the penalty area, rounded off by Nagbe’s finish, cutting the ball back across the diving goalkeeper, Joe Cannon.
Another great goal that came from an attack right down the throat of the opposing defense was Will Bruin’s for Houston against Toronto. After Boniek Garcia had niftily sidestepped defender Darren O’Dea in midfield he pushed a perfect through ball to Will Bruin, between defenders Jeremy Hall and Richard Eckersley. Intentionally or fortuitously, Bruin made the ball jump up as he controlled it, allowing him to pull off a perfect lob over the advancing goalkeeper Tally Hall.
Up in Montreal, the Impact’s Marco Di Vaio beat DC United’s offside trap, such as it was, and had all the time in the world to hit a classic curving shot across the goalkeeper and into the far side netting. Sure, it was an unopposed shot, but the execution was masterful. Patrice Bernier, however, saved the best for last in that game, when, in the 92nd minute, he launched into a powerful dribble that took him from 5 yards inside his own half on a determined straight run through four defenders -- none of whom managed a tackle -- into the D.C. penalty area, and a left-foot shot that took a deflection to beat goalkeeper Bill Hamid at his near post. Maybe the deflection taints the score slightly, but there can be no denying the mounting excitement of Bernier’s surging dribble.
A sharp one-touch finish from close-range got Alan Gordon his first goal (he scored another later), but the accent here was on the assist from Rafael Baca, a dazzling piece of footwork to leave defender Hunter Freeman in his wake, and then an inviting, almost gentle cross into the goalmouth for Gordon to deal with.
The highest praise of the weekend must go to Seattle’s Fredy Montero for his delectable hat trick. Three marvelous goals showing off the swiftness, the subtlety and the sudden spontaneity of a born goalscorer.
All three goals came from passing movements in which the ball was maneuvered deftly through the heart of the Chivas USA defense. Firstly -- Brad Evans to Mauro Rosales, then a forward pass, between defenders and Montero is on to it, quick as a hawk, to left foot the ball, along the ground, past the sprawling Dan Kennedy and into the far corner of the net. His third goal was similar; again he was played in by a pass from Rosales, but this time Montero had to skip over a menacing sliding tackle from defender John Valencia, before sending a low right-foot shot into the goal.
But it was Montero’s second goal that gets my vote as goal of the week -- twice over. Firstly as a team goal -- there was excellent passing between Montero, Evans, Eddie Johnnson and Rosales in the intricate buildup. Secondly as an individual goal, as Montero ran onto Rosales’s pass and, calm as you like, softly chipped the ball over goalkeeper Kennedy.
All in all, the goalscoring gave us a highly entertaining weekend from MLS. Yet there are always people who don’t seem to appreciate goalscoring -- people who don’t seem to really believe in goalscoring. Far too many of our TV commentators come under that heading. Take that goal by Houston’s Will Bruin. The ball control and the pass from Garcia were superb, as were Bruin’s first touch and his beautifully judged lob over the goalkeeper. Yeah, yeah, says commentator Eddie Robinson, that was OK, but the real reason that goal was scored was the pass that Ricardo Clark gave to Garcia: “Nobody else in this league sees that pass ... [the goal] doesn’t happen without Ricardo Clark’s vision.”
This comes under the heading of the “see how clever I am” attitude that these TV guys like to adopt, and it is hogwash and downright embarrassing. Given that Garcia was only some 10 yards ahead of Clark, completely unmarked, the pass was an obvious one. There was nothing surreal about it. When he received the ball, Garcia was still in the center circle -- there was a long way to go and much to do before a goal was created, and none of it involved Clark. Robinson might just as well say that the goal “doesn’t happen” without the vision of Macoumba Kandji, who passed the ball to Clark.
Kasey Keller, who does color for the Seattle Sounders, was equally grudging with praise for Montero. He seemed to be looking for someone else to praise. On Montero’s first goal, Keller heaped all his praise on Brad Evans, while on the second goal Keller decided that the real reason for the score was that the Chivas defending was so poor. On the third goal, Keller was granting “the clinical finishing of Montero” but was moaning that it was “just too easy” for him.
At the end of the game, Montero did the on-field interview. After perfunctory congratulations to him on scoring his first Sounders hat trick, Keller announced he had only one question ... “What took you so long?” A joke no doubt, but given Keller’s downplaying of Montero’s skills, not a particularly good one.
These purveyors of abstruse knowledge might spend a moment or two to reflect on whether their explanations in any way help spectators to get enjoyment from the game. Or whether, to the contrary, they diminish that enjoyment by inflating the importance of secondary actions ... actions that, of course, only they have seen and fully understood.