Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Football Americana Week 1: Dramatic Davies double delights DC

Major League Soccer 2011 is here and in Week 1 has already thrown up some fantastic stories. You can see them all unfold before your very eyes by watching the highlights.

The season got going with a meeting at Qwest Field between Seattle Sounders and an injury-hit LA Galaxy side with something of an Indian sign over the Washington team. Seattle had a few decent chances in the first half, the best falling to a lively Fredy Montero but saved superbly by stand-in goalkeeper Josh Saunders. Just before the hour it was LA who scored the only goal of the game. Todd Dunivant surged forward and picked out Juninho (left) 25 yards from goal, and the Brazilian's strike swerved wickedly before finding the net. Kasey Keller will be hugely disappointed with his attempt to stop it, but he was well beaten five minutes later when Landon Donovan rocked the crossbar.

By Saturday evening, Seattle had lost their first two games of the season. New York Red Bulls hosted Sigi Schmid's side and looked ominously good in patches against a side who looked equally dangerous on the break. 18-year-old Juan Agudelo proved the difference, latching onto a through ball and showing great strength before smashing home a lovely finish to settle another 1-0 defeat for the Sounders.

LA also had a second game, but they had to settle for a 1-1 draw with New England Revolution in tricky conditions on Sunday evening. The Revs led after just two and a half minutes, skipper Shalrie Joseph nodding in the opener from close range. The Galaxy had a couple of goals disallowed in the first half but Juninho equalised with his second goal of the campaign, a strike even better than the one that embarrassed Keller at Qwest. Designated players David Beckham and Juan Pablo Angel linked up later for a third disallowed goal after Joseph had struck the foot of the post for New England.

Vancouver Whitecaps started MLS life with a bang, beating Toronto FC 4-2. Designated player Eric Hassli took just 14 minutes to smash in the Caps' first goal of the new era and it was the beginning of a fantastic game at Empire Field. Dwayne De Rosario's equaliser was the league's 8000th goal, but 8001 was rolled in by local boy Terry Dunfield to restore Vancouver's lead just minutes later.

After the break, Hassli had a second goal disallowed by Atiba Harris soon made it 3-1, poking home after TFC failed to clear a corner. Hassli did get his second, taking the Caps into a three-goal lead with the easiest finish he'll ever score in MLS after Wes Knight's unselfish assist. Maicon Santos' consolation was a powerful left-footed strike from outside the box but it was Vancouver's day in the first MLS Canadian derby.

It was an emotional night at RFK Stadium, where two goals from debutant Charlie Davies (right) helped DC United to a 3-1 victory over Columbus Crew. Josh Wolff gave DC the lead after they failed to make the most of their chances in the first half, starting the second with a neat finish after Jed Zayner's pass. He celebrated in spectacular fashion, stripping off his shirt and jumping into the Barra Brava.

The wonderful scenes didn't end there - Davies came on as a substitute to mark the culmination of his recovery from the horrific injuries he suffered in October 2009. Chris Pontius was fouled in the box after 61 minutes and the on-loan Sochaux striker rolled in the penalty to spark wonderful celebrations. And wouldn't you know it, he got another too. He rounded Will Hesmer in the 77th and finished neatly to make it 3-0 to DC. Crew got their consolation thanks to Robbie Rogers' spot kick after a soft handball call against Dejan Jakovic.

Philadelphia Union started their second season with an away win, beating Houston Dynamo 1-0 at Robertson Stadium. The goal came early, Danny Califf pouncing after Sebastien Le Toux's shot came back off the bar. Huge credit to Sheanon Williams, whose long throw caused the problems for the Dynamo defence. Carlos Ruiz was lucky to escape a red card 20 minutes into his Union debut for a horrible elbow on Andrew Hainault. Dominic Oduro missed a sitter in the second half for the Dynamo.

The league's other expansion club, Portland Timbers couldn't match Vancouver's start and went down 3-1 against Colorado Rapids. The champions races into a 3-0 lead in the first half hour, with Jeff Larentowicz tapping in the first after great work from Omar Cummings, who got the second himself after a lucky ricochet off goalkeeper Adin Brown. Jamie Smith's third was a thumping strike that went in off the bar that left Brown utterly helpless. Kenny Cooper did get the Timbers off the mark with their first MLS goal, a long distance free kick that deflected into the bottom corner.

Two goals in quick success saw FC Dallas and Chicago Fire draw 1-1 at Pizza Hut Park. Diego Chaves bagged the Fire's first of the season in the 17th minute, tapping in after Kevin Hartman was unable to make the ball safe in the six yard box but the lead lasted less than a minute. Milton Rodriguez's delicious backheel left Sean Johnson with no chance. The real downside for Dallas was the dismissal of Brek Shea, playing at centre back for the first time in MLS, who was caught out by Gaston Puerari and could only bring him down as he looked to race through on goal. Chicago failed to take advantage, thanks in large part to Hartman.

Real Salt Lake's rain-sodden visit to San Jose Earthquakes was settled by a solitary goal from captain Kyle Beckerman in the middle of the second half. Found on the edge of the area, the dreadlocked RSL icon swept the ball into the bottom corner despite a touch from Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch. With Busch's opposite number Nick Rimando struggling badly with the conditions, Jason Kreis will be delighted with the way his side survived the final 25 minutes with the lead.

Rebranded Sporting Kansas City began a lengthy run of away games (while their stadium build is completed) with a win over Robin Fraser's Chivas USA. Rookie CJ Sapong took just 100 seconds to bag his first MLS goal, lashing home after a poor piece of defending. KC's first designated player, Omar Bravo, lobbed in the second goal in first half stoppage time with Zach Thornton in no-man's land.

Chivas captain Jimmy Conrad, who left KC in the close-season, scored from a corner to make it 2-1, but Bravo doubled his tally with 16 minutes left. The Mexican had been booked for a nasty body check on Conrad but a tidy finish for 3-1 showed us the better side of his game shortly afterwards. Six minutes from time Ben Zemanski set up a nervy finish for Sporting by making it 3-2.

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