The Portland Timbers have been waiting on Diego Valeri and Lucas Melano to arrive. And both men answered the call against their most hated rival.
Valeri missed the last three matches for Portland, dealing with injuries. While the Timbers did not lose in his absence, they certainly looked short of ideas, playing out three drab draws. Meanwhile, the oft-criticized Melano was showing flashes of potential in attack, but fell short of finding – or creating – goals.
But something clicked on Sunday against the Sounders. Valeri returned with a scintillating brace and Melano finally delivered on his promise with two assists, leading the Timbers past the visiting Seattle Sounders, 3-1.
The pair connected for the first goal of the match, with Melano playing the ball into space for Valeri, who took a sizzling low shot past Stefan Frei for a 1-0 lead. Valeri’s second was a brilliant finish from an acute angle.
Seattle responded nine minutes later with a thunderous Chad Marshall header off a corner. However, Portland proved too strong on the day. Melano capped off his best day in a Timbers shirt with a memorable assist, running 65 yards from one box to the other before laying off a pass to Fanendo Adi to cap off the evening. It was Portland’s second goal of the evening on the counter attack.
It is undoubtedly a tough result for the Sounders, who came into this weekend’s encounter on the high of a 5-0 drubbing of Western Conference leaders, FC Dallas. But any hopes of another win were summed up mere minutes into the match, when Jordan Morris flubbing an embarrassing sitter – one that could have put Seattle ahead. Instead, the Sounders lost for the seventh time in 10 games, putting them just two points ahead of Western Conference cellar-dwellers, Houston Dynamo.
As for Portland, they remain one of the hottest teams in MLS, going undefeated in their last eight matches. They are now clinging on to the final MLS postseason spot after starting the season at an unsightly 3-6-3. DM
Jack Harrison is the embodiment of New York City FC’s improvement
Three points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference, with five wins from their last six league outings, the case for New York City FC’s improvement this season is obvious. Under Patrick Vieira the Bronx side have found their attacking groove as their Designated Players have found their roles in the team. It’s only taken them more than a season and a half.
But for all that Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa’s form goes some way to explaining why NYC FC are on such an impressive streak, it’s a 19-year-old who best embodies how and why they have improved so dramatically over the past few months. Jack Harrison has come to symbolise Vieira’s team in 2016.
Against the Montreal Impact on Sunday Harrison was the most effective player on the pitch. As the right-hand prong of NYC FC’s attacking fork, the young Englishman provided the visitors with an outlet throughout, netting an astonishing individual goal himself, jinking past the challenge of Hassoun Camara before curling home a right-footed finish. It illustrated the confidence and swagger the teenager is playing with right now.
“He’s been a revelation for us in turning the corner and winning these last five out of six games because he’s given us a real outlet of speed and ability on the ball,” Lampard explained after the win at Stade Saputo. Indeed, those two traits – speed and ability – were too often lacking in NYC FC’s play last season, with width also at a premium. Harrison, who brings all of those qualities, is therefore the epitome of how Vieira has changed this team. Under Jason Kreis the Englishman wouldn’t have been given such a prominent role.
It’s the consistency Harrison is playing with, though, that is most impressive. Young players are prone to peaks and dips in form, but the 19-year-old has become one of NYC FC’s most dependable players this summer, starting all but one of the eight games played since the watershed Hudson River Derby thumping to the New York Red Bulls.
With Villa leading the line, Tommy McNamara flanking on the left and Harrison on the right NYC FC are a balanced attacking outfit. The former Liverpool and Manchester United youth academy winger is integral to his team’s structure, with Vieira recognising his tactical significance. But goals like the one scored in Montreal on Sunday demonstrate why Harrison has held down a place in NYC FC’s lineup: he’s very, very good. GR
FC Dallas stay strong at a dark time
There has been a lot going on around FC Dallas.
Off the field, the city is still recovering after the murder of five police officers in a mass shooting earlier this month. FC Dallas did their best to contribute to their city’s healing prior to their match against the Chicago Fire. In their first home game since the shooting, Dallas and Chicago players came out of the tunnel with solid blue shirts reading #DallasStrong. Those very shirts were made available to the general public, with all proceeds going to benefit The Dallas Foundation’s Line of Duty fund. Fans did their part to commemorate the lives of their lost officers as well, observing a moment of silence in the fifth minute of Saturday’s match.
“I think it is great that our fans do those kinds of things,” Dallas defender Matt Hedges said after the match. “When our fans come together like that, you want to go out there and give them a great performance.”
And they certainly did. Facing their third regular season match in seven days, and with the backdrop of a suffering city behind them, Dallas beat the Fire 3-1. Fabian Castillo put the Dallas fans on their feet with a spectacular run, shaking two defenders before laying off an unbelievable rabona assist, finding Maximiliano Urruti in stride for the clinical headed finish to put Dallas up just 23 minutes into the match.
But the beautiful goals did not end there. Some good build-up play through the Chicago midfield ended with a 30-yard curler from Mauro Diaz, smacking the far post and beating Matt Lampson to double the lead just prior to the half.
Former Dallas playmaker Arturo Alvarez gave the Texan fans a taste of what they are missing, nailing a 25-yard free kick in added time to cut the lead in half. However, the magic wasn’t over for the home side. Once again, Castillo delivered a perfect ball into the box, finding an on-rushing Mauro Rosales for the finish in the final minute.
With the win, Dallas took home the “Brimstone Cup” for the first time since 2011, ending their four match losing streak to Chicago – and give Dallas a glimmer of light at a dark time. DM
The Columbus Crew must give up on what they once were
How do you go from MLS Cup runners-up to second bottom of the Eastern Conference with essentially the same squad in the space of just a few months? The Columbus Crew have got there through dressing room fall-outs, injuries, contract disputes, suspensions and the trading of their best player. Almost everything has gone against Gregg Berhalter’s side this season, but even by such a turgid standard Saturday’s draw against DC United was a new nadir.
Fundamentally, the 1-1 draw was hardly the worst result of their season so far, but its manner was particularly disheartening. For much of the second-half the game had looked like a season-turner. Ola Kamara’s goal after the hour-mark had given the Crew a 1-0 lead, with the hosts holding on despite Harrison Afful’s controversial dismissal for a late (but not reckless) challenge. But their campaign resumed its downward curve when Fabian Espindola scored in the 89th-minute. A result that looked like going some way to saving their season ultimately served to condemn it further.
All season long it has been pondered whether the Columbus Crew will become the side they were last year. But perhaps it’s time that kind of thinking, whether it comes from fans, media or those at the club, was banished. The team that made it to the MLS Cup game last season is long gone for one reason or another. Berhalter must find a new identity for his side and impose it on them, quickly.
In fairness, he has started to do that. New attacking focal point Ola Kamara doesn’t hold up the ball like Kei Kamara did, but he is more effective in getting in behind opposition defences. The Crew are becoming a team that looks to move the ball into the channels as quickly as possible, shifting the ball up the pitch through running rather than possession.
It’s a system that the Crew haven’t quite grown completely accustomed to yet. They are creating fewer chances in the final third and don’t possess the players needed to implement such an approach. Columbus don’t look especially comfortable when camped on the edge of the opposition box, attempting to pick their passes. That will take time to change, but they must commit to their new normal. Looking back on the way things once were has already caused enough frustration. GR
Earthquakes defeat the odds against Toronto
It’s been over nine weeks and seven matches since the San Jose Earthquakes last won a regular season encounter. On Saturday, they were down a man from the 43rd minute and lost another in the 53rd, and they looked all but set to extend their streak this weekend.
However, the Goonies had other ideas against Toronto at Avaya Stadium. Facing a barrage of shots and daunting odds, San Jose kept their defensive integrity and made the most of their chances with a 2-1 win over the visiting Reds.
To help frame the achievement, let’s take a look at these tidbits from the San Jose PR department: MLS teams are 11-36-20 all-time when finishing the game with two men. This is also the first time a nine-man MLS side has won a match since April of 2012. Back then, it was the Philadelphia Union’s Freddy Adu (hey, remember him?) nailing a backheel goal to push his side to a 1-0 victory over Chivas USA (hey, remember them?).
Keep in mind though: Philadelphia lost their players in the 75th and 85th minutes of that 2012 match – a far less daunting task than the Earthquakes faced this weekend.
Interestingly enough, it was San Jose’s achilles heel that helped push them to a result. All season long, the Earthquakes have struggled to take an early lead. That wasn’t a problem on Saturday evening as Quincy Amarikwa put away a perfect Fatai Alashe ball to give San Jose the lead.
Things took a tumble from that point. Anibal Godoy was shown a straight red in the 42nd minute for a studs-up tackle, and two minutes later, Justin Morrow tapped in a cross from the right to level the match.
The second half was no better. Less than 10 minutes into the frame, Alberto Quintero picked up where his fellow Panamanian Godoy left off. A harsh call by referee Alejandro Marshal saw Quintero out of the match.
With Toronto buzzing, Simon Dawkins donned the cape and played hero for the home side, leading a counter attack and blasting a curler over the head of Alex Bono to regain the lead in the 70th minute. For all their firepower, Toronto fell short of threatening one of the best defensive units in the league, suffering an embarrassing loss at Avaya.
For San Jose, this could be the turning point they have been looking for: a complete performance under long odds on the way to victory. Toronto, however, are still looking for answers. Not only have they won just twice in their last 10 games, but team talisman Sebastian Giovinco has not scored since 14 May – and guess when that was? Yup. Ten matches ago. DM
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