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The Western Conference dominated the Eastern Conference in Week 1 of MLS action. LA Galaxy ran out of gas late against RSL, while Vancouver Whitecaps looked fantastic going forward.
After a sloppy first 45 minutes, the Portland Timbers and Philadelphia Union woke up and put on a show in the second half. To be more specific, the Timbers waited to get down a goal and then put on a show of their own to grab a season-opening 3-1 win, which delighted the boisterous home crowd and left the Union wondering, "what exactly did we do?"
Neither team really found their footing in the first half as both looked like they were still in pre-season. The Timbers had a couple chances, including a penalty appeal that was waved off and a shot that skipped just inches wide of the post thanks to a bad play by Zac MacMath, but it wasn't exactly a pretty half by the home side and Philadelphia wasn't any better.
Somehow, Gabriel Gomez managed to put the Union in front early in the second half. They hadn't generated much all match, but Gomez ripped a free kick from 35 yards that froze Troy Perkins and took a slight deflection before finding the net for the opening tally.
Once the Union went in front, it was all Timbers. They answered Philadelphia's goal quickly when Andrew Jean-Baptiste's header hit a diving MacMath in the hands, then somehow scooted under him and over the line for a goal that was all on the 20-year-old goalkeeper. Things didn't get much better for the Union as a dozen minutes later Kris Boyd said hello to MLS with a nifty header to make it 2-1 Timbers before Kalif Alhassan's chipped cross to the back post actually went in the goal to give Portland a comfortable win.
After 45 minutes at JELD-WEN Field, neither the Portland Timbers nor the Philadelphia Union could be called "good." The Timbers were better, but it looked very much like one bad team against another and not really a match deserving of the fantastic atmosphere accompanying it. In all, the scoreless draw at the break is probably fair considering both teams' struggles so far.
Portland's first chance of the match actually wasn't much of a chance thanks to Baldermo Toledo. Jorge Perlaza got past Danny Califf and the Union defender grabbed him on the shoulder, bringing Perlaza down, but the referee waved to play on. It was the wrong call, but it was the only one that mattered.
Not long after, Portland actually got a real chance and almost scored thanks to Zac MacMath. A ball found Eric Alexander on the left and he hit a pretty tame shot that MacMath should have saved easily, but when he went to tip it over, he didn't tip it hard enough and it actually bounced in the field of play. Luckily for MacMath, it went six inches wide of the post.
MacMath atoned for that mistake when he came rushing off his line to make a fine save and the Union actually did get forward upon occasion, but it was hardly an encouraging first 45 minutes for the visitors. Then again, the home side wasn't too encouraging either in this sloppy match.
There is just one match left in MLS First Kick 2012 and it's a battle of teams who are not so new anymore. The Portland Timbers and Philadelphia Union were expansion teams recently, but no more. They've established themselves and aren't going to get to use the expansion team excuse anymore. It's time to win.
When they square off tonight at JELD-WEN Field, they will be looking to prove their offseason moves were smart ones. For the Timbers, it was about signing Kris Boyd as a Designated Player and drafting Andrew Jean-Baptiste, while the Union waved good bye to Sebastien Le Toux. It's time to put their moves to the test.
You have to feel bad for Dan Kennedy. For 90 minutes he made fantastic save after fantastic save and late on, it looked like Chivas USA might actually be a professional team when they started putting a couple chances together. In the end, though, the Houston Dynamo did what they do best and scored in extra time to push them past the Goats, 1-0, in the opening match of the season for both teams.
While Kennedy may have looked fantastic, both the Dynamo and Goats both looked like they were still in the preseason. Houston was able to piece together a bit more, though, and they forced Kennedy into several fine save. The Chivas goalkeeper denied Adam Moffat from distance, then made a good save on Will Bruin's follow up. Those were just two of several saves Kennedy made that looked like they would earn the Goats a point, but it was not to be.
The Dynamo led MLS in goals in the last 15 minutes a year ago and showed why at the death on Sunday. Brad Davis cut in from the left and actually shot with his right foot and while it didn't make it to goal, the ball bounced right to Andre Hainault. From there, all the defender has to do was turn and he had himself a golden scoring opportunity, which he did not waste by drilling the ball past a helpless Kennedy for the win.
Dallas controlled the tempo of the game early on and in the 11th minute Loyd made it 1-0. Perez took a ball off a botched clearance from midfielder Dax McCarty, found Loyd, who put it away past rookie keeper Ryan Meara.
In the second half it was another solid play from Perez who took another bad ball from New York defender Roy Miller. Perez opened up Villar who chipped Meara for the game's second goal.
New York did manage to make it interesting a little bit later with substitute Kenny Cooper, who chipped Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman.
Things got chippy between the two clubs as each had a couple yellow cards apiece. McCarty picked one up early in the match and basically became a non factor after that. The Red Bulls struggled in the midfield today thanks to Dallas' pace on the wings with Fabian Castillo, Brek Shea and Jair Benitez.
Perez was easily the man of the match for Dallas as he not only had two assists but he opened up the offense on a more than one occasion for the home side.
Dallas held on to the lead for the half but did lose a key element to their attack. In the 30th minute midfielder Fabian Castillo picked up an ankle injury and Schellas Hyndman subbed him out for another newcomer in Carlos Rodriguez.
New York did make a push late in the first half as Thierry Henry nearly beat a sleeping defense from Dallas on a free kick in the 44th minute. Ugo Ihemelu fouled McCarty just on the edge of the penalty box and Henry took a quick restart that hit the post.
Dallas managed three shots on goal in the first half to New York's one. New York looked to be getting the most of Dallas late in the half and it will be interesting to see if that continues in the second half.
It didn't take long for FC Dallas to get some revenge against the New York Red Bulls. Eleven minutes in and Dallas has taken a 1-0 lead thanks to Zach Loyd hammering home a Blas Perez pass after a botched clearance by New York.
Andrew Jacobson had the initial ball into the box that landed to Ugo Ihemelu, but the new Dallas captain couldn't get on the end of it as Markus Holgersson headed it slight away to Dax McCarty, who then botched the clearance out of the box.
Dallas has put on the early pressure so far in the first half with Perez, Brek Shea and Fabian Castillo doing most of the dirty work up top to keep the pressure on the New York defense. Rookie keeper Ryan Meara has also had a tough time dealing with the pressure as he nearly gave up a goal to Castillo just moments before Loyd broke through for Dallas.
One interesting thing to keep an eye out for is the early yellow card to McCarty in the fifth minute. New York manager Hans Backe will likely have to take his midfielder out early to keep him from getting into further card trouble.
Months of waiting is finally over for FC Dallas to get their revenge on the New York Red Bulls. Hans Backe's club knocked out Schellas Hyndman's team last fall in the wild card round of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Today, those two sides meet again - at the same place where it went down last fall - to start the new season.
Backe will be without three key players for this one as Wilman Conde is out injured, Rafa Marquez is suspended and Luke Rogers is still dealing with some visa issues.
All week Hyndman has been practicing in different formations leading up to the kickoff. He had previously done a 4-4-2 in training with United States Men's national team midfielder Brek Shea playing up top with newcomer Blas Perez. However today he will be lining up his club in his normal 4-1-4-1 with Shea on the wing and Perez playing up top alone.
New year, same old Chris Wondolowski.
The San Jose Earthquakes forward wasted little time in picking up where he left off, scoring in the 15th minute against the New England Revolution on Saturday during MLS's First Kick. That turned out to be the only goal of the match, as the Earthquakes won 1-0 over a team that many expect to be among the league's worst.
For most of the match, the Revolution lived down to those expectations. They rarely threatened during the first 75 minutes and only forced Jon Busch into one save all evening. Lee Nguyen did provide a bit of a spark for the Revolution, but that wasn't enough, for the Revs who were playing without Pepe Moreno. The Colombian forward has apparently not yet joined the team, despite promises from the front office that he is on his way.
The result marked the first time the Earthquakes had won on First Kick since rejoining MLS during the 2008 season.
Apparently, the LA Galaxy aren't quite as invincible as so many of us made them out to be. Despite taking a second-half lead at home, the Galaxy surrendered a trio of goals after the 73rd minute to fall to Real Salt Lake 3-1 on Saturday during MLS's First Kick. It was the Galaxy's first loss at home since falling to FC Dallas in the 2011 playoffs, ending a streak of 19 MLS matches.
Until Sean Franklin's own goal that tied the score 1-1, the Galaxy had very much looked like the better team. Edson Buddle's goal off a beautiful David Beckham delivery in the 71st minute had been their breakthrough moment, but they had been knocking on the door several times before then. In the first half, Landon Donovan and Marcelo Sarvas both hit shots off the crossbar and the Galaxy had threatened on several other occasions.
The own goal changed the tide. Sebastian Velasquez sent in a cross that didn't look particularly dangerous, but it deflected off Franklin, and Josh Saunders could do nothing to stop it. About seven minutes later, RSL struck again. This time it was Javier Morales pouncing on a rebound just inside the 6-yard box.
The wheels really started to come off when Fabian Espindola closed the scoring in the 85th minute. Espindola was able to get to a long ball, easily shirked AJ DeLaGarza and raced in 1-v-1 with Saunders. Showing calm and composure, Espindola had no trouble finishing it.
That seemed to wake up the Galaxy as they created several more chances after Espindola's goal, but Nick Rimando was up to the task each time and preserved the victory.
The LA Galaxy hit the crossbar twice and probably had the better of play, but went into halftime tied with Real Salt Lake 0-0 on Saturday during First Kick. Landon Donovan was the first to strike the woodwork, hitting it in the 27th minute on a strike from about 20 yards out. That one never really had much of a chance, though, and it deflected over the bar.
Marcelo Sarvas' shot, on the other hand, came about as close as possible. The newly acquired Brazilian struck a ball from about 30 yards out that hit the underside of the crossbar, ricocheted down and hit right on the line. Nick Rimando pounced on that one immediately.
Otherwise, it was an entertaining, if somewhat uneventful, first half. The two teams were able to get up and down the field and each team had a few decent chances. Josh Saunders was tested a couple times by RSL attackers, but was up to the task each time.
CJ Sapong got his sophomore season off to quite the start. The Sporting Kansas City forward headed home a stoppage-time goal in a 1-0 win over D.C. United during First Kick on Saturday. Sapong was last year's Rookie of the Year, but did not enter the match until the 75th minute.
Up until Sapong's goal, the story of the match had been the standout performance of Hamid. Sporting KC had controlled much of the match, outshooting United 17-7. But Hamid had been up to the task, making several impressive stops among his seven saves. The best of those was off a Kei Kamara header that Hamid was able to knock away with his feet.
United rarely tested Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who had to make just one save. Forwards Hamdi Salihi and Dwayne DeRosario were basically kept in check, with each being limited to two shots.
The Columbus Crew got off to a horrible start last year and managed to rebound to make the playoffs. Their fans will be left hoping for a repeat after Saturday's abomination against Colorado Rapids. Not only did the Crew lose 2-0, but they looked absolutely horrible in doing so.
The Crew managed just five total shots in the match and rarely forced Matt Pickens to do much. All of the Crew's shots came from outside the penalty area. Meanwhile, they allowed the Rapids to fire off 17 shots, eight of which came from inside the penalty area.
The Rapids received goals from defender Drew Moor and Quincy Amarikwa. Drew's goal came off a header in which defender Kosuke Kimura found him at the far post on a cross. Amarikwa's goal came off passes from Jeff Larentowicz and Kimura. Larentowicz sent a long pass to Kimura, who fed Amarikwa near the top of the area. Amarikwa fired it from the top of the area.
The Vancouver Whitecaps scored early in both halves and and basically cruised to a 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact, who didn't show much promise in their first ever MLS match. Sebastien Le Toux scored in the 4th minute and Camilo Sanvezzo tallied an early candidate for goal of the year in the 54th minute to provide the scoring in the match.
Both goals, while showcasing a certain explosiveness from the Whitecaps, also highlighted some pretty awful defending by the Impact. On the first goal, it was a poor decision on the part of Tyson Wahl that allowed Le Toux to get behind the defense and go 1-v-1 with Donovan Ricketts. On the second, Sanvezzo was basically allowed to dribble through most of the Impact's defense within the space of about 10 yards. It was a very Keystone Kops moment, although credit to Sanvezzo for controlling the ball and blasting it past Ricketts.
Sebastien Le Toux wasted little time ingratiating himself to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Le Toux, who came to the Whitecaps in an offseason trade from the Philadelphia Union, scored in the 4th minute off assists from Eric Hassli and Alain Rochat.
The goal showcased the improved Whitecaps offense and seemed to herald some rough times for the Impact defense. Rochat sent a long ball forward that Impact centerback Tyson Wahl misplayed. Hassli was able to collect it and send it forward to Le Toux, who was all alone against Impact goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts.
The Whitecaps thoroughly dominated the early going of the match, but it eventually turned into much more of a midfield battle with neither side creating many opportunities.
The Impact were able to settle down and did have a couple chances to find the equalizer. Justin Mapp hit one shot from just outside the penalty area that went just high and Sanna Nyassi had a half chance just before the halftime whistle, but the ball was knocked away just before he was able to get off a shot.
Welcome to MLS, Montreal Impact. The fun and games are over. You don't get to just sit around and be excited about games anymore. Now it's time to play them and today, you play your first ever game. It won't be an easy one, either, as they travel across Canada for a match-up against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who have added a ton in the attack and figure to be much improved this season.
As expected, the Impact have a weakness in the enter of the midfield with Patrice Bernier and Felipe there. How a Jesse Marsch team is missing a player like Jesse Marsch, who knows, but that's what they have for their first ever match. Meeanwhile, the Whitecaps have the newly signed Sebastien Le Toux to boost their attack as he plays alongside Eric Hassli. Time to get this season underway!
All the preseason hype has led to this, here's how to watch and what to watch for during Major League Soccer's First Kick festivities.
Salt Lake's visit to LA on Saturday will be the ultimate advertisement for MLS, but don't read too much into it. It's March.
After a long and sometimes painful offseason, MLS will finally get their 2012 season underway this weekend
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