Michael Jordan came out of retirement to rejoin the Chicago Bulls. Mario Lemieux surprised the world when he returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brett Favre? Well, he redefined the finality of retirement altogether.
Each player was celebrated for their athletic achievements across the country. While the United States has produced several promising soccer players in its history, few, if any, have achieved that status. In fact, only one has come close to carrying the label as the gold standard of American soccer: Landon Donovan.
Donovan’s return from retirement rocked the American soccer landscape. Murmurings of his return surfaced via social media on Thursday. Later that day, the LA Galaxy confirmed the reports. By Sunday evening, Donovan was not only added to the team’s 18 man roster, but he also made his first appearance of the season.
Yes, it was that fast.
As Raul Mendiola made way for Donovan to take on Orlando in the 83rd minute, fans cheered his arrival like that of a long-lost son. Even before his official Galaxy “debut”, Donovan was already the focus of attention on the night – and all he did was sit on the bench.
Once he hit the field, the Galaxy’s 4-1 lead became an afterthought. In fact, LA could have been down 4-1 and it wouldn’t have made a difference. After a year-and-a-half, Donovan was reunited with his team – and the night was his.
Of course, this version of Landon Donovan was not the same one Galaxy fans will remember. After all, Donovan has added “father” to his list of lifetime achievements. His receding hairline has retreated a few extra centimeters. His body is noticeably thicker. His play, a touch slower.
How far from fitness was he? As Donovan reveals, he immediately left the field and hopped on a treadmill. “Did you watch me play? I need to get fit,” he told reporters after the match. “I came into a game where both teams were exhausted and I was the slowest player on the field.”
But fitness is only one goal for Donovan. As he has stated, his return is due, in part, to the rash of injuries and absences suffered to the Galaxy attack.
However, like Favre, Lemieux and Jordan before him, Donovan is also driven by the prospect of one more championship – and that quest began in seven short minutes on Sunday night.
“I think we all agreed that if we could just get the first few minutes out of the way – for a lot of different reasons, the PR part, the media part, the ‘me just getting my mental understanding of the game again’ and just kind of get that out of the way – so we can focus on what we want to focus. Thankfully it worked out tonight,” he said. “Now it’s time to get all that stuff out of the way and go try to win a championship.” DM
Jozy Altidore is playing the soccer of his life for Toronto FC right now
Against the Chicago Fire on Saturday evening a familiar denouncement was made of Toronto FC. Greg Vanney’s side claimed a crucial 2-1 away win to move top of the Eastern Conference and it was indeed, as it so often is when it comes to the Canadians, down to a single player. Frequently derided as merely a one-man team, TFC should be accustomed to such disdain by now, but against the Fire it wasn’t the usual man who spurred them to victory.
Rather than Sebastian Giovinco, it was Jozy Altidore who made sure of the win for Toronto FC almost all on his own, scoring the opener and assisting Jonathan Osario for another. It wasn’t quite a performance of Atomic Ant proportions, but with Giovinco missing through injury Altidore stepped into the void as his team’s difference-maker.
In fact, Altidore has been something of a difference-maker for both club and country over the past few weeks. The striker has netted six times in his last eight MLS appearances, returning to league duty this week after scoring three goals in the USA routs of both St Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. As hot streaks go, Altidore is searing right now. He’s in the form of his life.
And so talk has turned to whether he, along with Giovinco whenever he returns from injury, can fire Toronto FC to the MLS Cup title they have targeted with dewy eyes for so long. “I don’t really buy into all that stuff,” Altidore replied when it was posed that TFC could be champions in waiting. “I’m happy to do what I do for a living, take care of my family, and enjoy these amazing experiences that I am blessed to have.”
Whatever the 26-year-old’s true ambitions, his mindset is in a good place right now. That hasn’t always been the case in recent years.
Altidore’s form is just another part of what makes TFC so dangerous right now. In Giovinco they have the best player in the league and in Altidore they also have the most most naturally potent centre forward in the league, at least when he’s in this form. Factor in their improving defensive line under Vanney and a group of promising youngsters, as well as Michael Bradley as the midfield pass-master, and Toronto FC look to have all the necessary qualities to go the distance this season. Altidore has become the embodiment of that. GR
Playoff picture shapes up
With several playoff-hopefuls counting their remaining fixtures on one hand, MLS sides were fighting for their postseason lives on the weekend.
The Houston Dynamo set the tone for playoff survival on Friday night facing hosts Sporting KC. After erasing a two goal deficit in Sporting Park, the Dynamo fell behind 3-2 on a clutch Dom Dwyer goal in the 81 minute. Fighting against time, the Dynamo needed a miracle – and found one. Boniek Garcia lined up a deadball opportunity from 35 yards out with 60 seconds remaining in extra time. His delivery found Raul Rodriguez on the far post, who blasted a header past Alec Kann for the equalizer.
The point keeps Houston’s playoff dream alive, with 12 points and two games in hand separating them from the Portland Timbers.
While their play-off hopes are not as bleak as Houston’s, the Vancouver Whitecaps showed the same dogged determination against the Columbus Crew. After a wasteful showing against the New York Red Bulls one week ago, the Whitecaps roared back, beating Columbus 3-1 on the road. Not only does the victory put them within four points of Portland, it also ends the team’s eight match winless run.
And the icing on the cake? Erik Hurtado finally found net – his first goal since 2014.
And speaking of Portland, they solidified their position for the final wildcard spot with a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake. The victory guarantees the defending MLS Cup champions another week of security on the sixth and final playoff spot in the West.
In the East, no result was as shocking as New York City FC’s obliteration at the hands of the New England Revolution. The inconsistent Juan Agudelo showed the class that made him such a promising prospect so many years ago. Combining with Diego Fagundez, the Revolution attackers made swiss cheese of the NYC FC defense en route to a 3-1 victory. More importantly, their combined efforts now have New England just one point behind Orlando who lost to the LA Galaxy on Sunday evening.
No team was more grateful for that result than Toronto FC, who reclaimed first place in the East with a decisive win against the Chicago Fire.
And then there is DC United. Already two points from a playoff spot entering the weekend, a desperate DC erased a two goal deficit at the death, finding goals in the 89th and 94th minute against rival, New York Red Bulls. The road draw now has DC joining New England at just a point behind the Lions.
The lesson for the weekend is clear: time is running out on several MLS teams to position themselves for the postseason – and desperation is making for some interesting results. DM
Fixture congestion takes a toll on FC Dallas
Dallas looked past the Colorado Rapids this weekend – and paid the price.
For the first time in over a year (392 days to be exact), the Supporters’ Shield leading FC Dallas lost at home, falling to Western Conference rivals Colorado Rapids 1-0. But that wasn’t the only Dallas record lost on the evening. For the first time in 484 days, Dallas also failed to find a goal at Toyota Park, making for an evening they will want to forget
Part of the reason for the result comes from Dallas’ participation in the US Open Cup. Just three days after this Colorado clash, Dallas are set to host the New England Revolution at Toyota Park in the Cup final. In preparation for that match, Dallas boss Oscar Pareja sat both Mauro Diaz and Michael Barrios for the encounter.
“We’re playing the Open Cup, Concacaf, the league, and the national team qualifications,” said head coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “I think we needed to be smart with [our starters].”
But even with a modified starting XI, Dallas still managed to dominate throughout the 90 minutes. Dallas created two promising chances in the first half, and a plethora in the second.
However, the best chances came after Diaz came on as a sub – a clear indication of what Dallas missed throughout most of the encounter. For all their efforts, Dallas’ failed to challenge Tim Howard, who faced seven pedestrian shots on target on the evening.
Colorado proved far more clinical. Winless in four, the Rapids were desperate to make their case as a Western Conference player – particularly after topping the conference throughout most of the summer. However, their efforts resulted in a single shot on the evening – and who knew that would be the defining chance? Sebastian Le Toux began the sequence, springing Dominique Badji into space, allowing the Senegalese striker the time and room to slot home past Chris Seitz in the 52 minute.
True to form, the Rapids’ league-best defense clamped down for the remainder of the half, carrying the team to a valuable three points on the road.
With the win, Colorado now sit five points behind Dallas with two games in hand. Meanwhile, Dallas leave this result behind hoping their sacrifices in the starting XI mean silverware come Tuesday evening. DM
The Vancouver Whitecaps have given themselves one last lifeline
Carl Robinson needed a win more than anything else. He needed his ailing Vancouver Whitecaps frontline to find their groove, he needed good fortune to finally fall in his team’s favour, he needed to find a formation that suited his group of players, but most of all he needed three points against the Columbus Crew on Saturday. It’s just as well he got them.
Indeed, the Whitecaps picked up their first win in eight Major League Soccer outings, ending what had become a season-defining slump. That spell of dismal form could still come to define their campaign, but Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Crew has given Robinson’s side - and Robinson himself - something of a lifeline.
The Welshman has been the subject of much scrutiny in recent weeks. That is not especially surprising given Vancouver’s dramatic downturn, but Saturday’s result will at least give him and his players something to cling to as they attempt to reverse a catastrophic summer season by making a late dash for the play-offs. The Caps certainly haven’t looked like a post-season team in recent weeks, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be one.
Four points separate Vancouver from their Cascadia rivals the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference’s sixth and final play-off spot with just five regular season fixtures left to be played, including a final day clash between the two clubs. It’s still entirely possible that the race to make the post-season could come down to that final regular season game at BC Place on 23 October.
However, the Caps must continue in the groove they found on Saturday at Mapfre Stadium. Erik Hurtado must continue to provide a cutting edge in the final third (as unlikely as they may be) and Robinson must continue to make the most of the players he has with a system and formation that suits them. Defeat against Columbus would have surely served as the practical end of Vancouver’s season. The gap on Portland would have been too big for them to bridge, with Caleb Porter’s side winning against Real Salt Lake. Instead, they haven’t so much revived their season but have given themselves a shot at doing so. GR
This article was written by Graham Ruthven and Dave Martinez, for theguardian.com on Monday 12th September 2016 12.19 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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