Best and Worst from MLS Week 23: Clint Dempsey, Tornado Warnings and More
No one could stop the action in Major League Soccer Week 23, not even Mother Nature.
The Portland Timbers failed to capture a Cascadia Cup victory on Saturday, and their 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps was the club's 11th of the season. The Chicago Fire had no problems in that department. A 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union extended Chicago's unbeaten streak to three matches.
But some tough competition kept all four clubs from making the list of best and worst from MLS Week 23.
Read on to find out why.
Best: Dempsey's Arrival Ignites Seattle
Welcome back to MLS, Clint Dempsey.
In a shock move, the 30-year-old captain was formally introduced at CenturyLink Field on Saturday for the Seattle Sounders FC.
A capacity crowd of 39,360 witnessed Dempsey's awkward unveiling before the match. First, his "Don’t Tread on Me" music video played on the big screen, mostly serving as a reminder that American soccer players should never pick up the microphone. Then, Dempsey unzipped his hooded sweatshirt to reveal his new allegiance with Rave Green.
The electric crowd responded with a fervent roar.
His teammates responded with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over FC Dallas.
The energy surrounding the pregame festivities transferred onto the pitch in the early minutes. Obafemi Martins opened the affair in the eighth minute with his best Steve Nash impression. With no-look precision, the Nigerian flicked home a Mauro Rosales free-kick past goalkeeper Raul Fernandez.
Eddie Johnson followed suit with a clinical finish in the 22nd minute. Brad Evans completed the trifecta with a converted penalty in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
With the victory, the Sounders now sit comfortably with 31 points and two games in hand in the Western Conference.
But perhaps the greatest comfort comes in knowing that Dempsey will soon be part of this Rave Green onslaught.
Worst: Carlos Bocanegra's Red Card
Not every American captain had a stellar Week 23.
In only his third start since returning to MLS, CD Chivas USA's Carlos Bocanegra was sent off in Saturday's 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. A reckless challenge on Shea Salinas forced referee Armando Villarreal to give the former American captain his marching orders in the 62nd minute.
The red card made life that much easier for the Earthquakes.
Chris Wondolowski had already opened the affair with a clever header in the 45th minute, and San Jose would make the most of its 58.4 percent possession in the 87th minute. This time, it was a clever chip that allowed Wondolowski to score his seventh goal of the season.
It turns out Belize and a 10-man Chivas USA have more in common than you think.
The 2-0 result was Chivas' second consecutive loss. As for the Quakes, a three-game winning streak has put the club back into the playoff discussion in the Western Conference.
Best: New York Counters Its Way to Victory
They were outshot 27-5. They conceded 64.6 percent of the ball.
So, how exactly did the New York Red Bulls capture a 3-2 victory at Sporting Park?
The answer: Counter. Counter. Counter.
After entering the half deadlocked at one, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke made the decisive adjustment in the 60th minute. Lloyd Sam entered the match in place of Eric Alexander. Three minutes later, Sam let his presence be known.
After receiving a perfect outlet pass from midfielder Ibrahim Sekagya, Sam delivered a through ball to Fabian Espindola. The Argentine made the most of his opportunity by burying the shot in the far left corner.
It took 12 seconds and three perfectly executed passes to give the Red Bulls the lead.
New York's counter didn't end there.
After easily suffocating a Soony Saad shot, Robles offered his best Aaron Rodgers impression in the 69th minute. A Hail Mary toss found the feet of midfielder Johnny Steele past center pitch. The Irishman needed one touch before delivering a cross into the area.
Sam buried the dagger with cold-blooded ease.
This time, it only took 11 seconds and two perfectly executed passes to silence the capacity crowd in Kansas City. The decisive goal—sprung by another perfect counter—gave New York a signature 3-2 win on the road.
Twenty-three seconds. Two goals. That's how you erase 518 minutes of ineptitude.
Worst: Mother Nature's Intervention in Colorado
Apparently, good weather and Dick's Sporting Goods Park doesn't mix.
After a poor challenge from defender Drew Moor, referee Fotis Bazakos pointed to the spot. Alvaro Saborio lined up to take his penalty kick. RSL was poised to take another lead...or so we thought.
Rather than allow Saborio to take his penalty, Bazakos decided to postpone the match. Vicious winds and a tornado warning in the surrounding area marred the entire first half. Safety was now an issue. Saborio would have to wait over an hour before taking his penalty.
Talk about icing the kicker.
According to the post-match comments from head coach Oscar Pareja—which can be found on the club's official website—Castrillon's equalizer was prophetic:
He called it. During the week he told me a few times, "I'm going to score this Saturday," and he said… "I want to fight for this team, I feel ready.” He told me a few times this week, “I'm going to call it, I'm going score on Saturday, the winning goal,” and he did score, it was great.
After the storm comes a calm.
But in Colorado's case, after the storm comes a cup.
Best: Will Bruin Ends His Drought
Welcome back, Will Bruin.
You were gone for much longer than the month of July.
The Houston Dynamo defeated the Columbus Crew 3-1 on Saturday. Goals from Brad Davis and Cam Weaver helped secure the victory, but it was Will Bruin’s finish in the 31st minute that was worthy of note.
According to Peter Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau, the 23-year-old striker snapped a personal goal-scoring drought of 672 minutes. The drought was his longest since his rookie season. That one lasted a painful 1,127 minutes in 2011.
According to the Dynamo’s official website, Bruin is optimistic moving forward:
Whenever you go a while without scoring, it plays with your head. To sit on the bench over there at the Gold Cup kind of made me hungry to get back on the field and play, and I think it’s going to be a good second half of the season.
For the man they call the Dancing Bear, a "good second half of the season" will be needed to match the totals from 2012. The striker leads the club with five goals in 2013, but is still seven goals off his pace from last season.
Worst: Montreal and New England Fall
Not one but two bottom-dwellers shocked the Eastern Conference playoff picture this past weekend.
First, it was DC United who captured an improbable 3-1 victory over the Montreal Impact on Saturday. Goals from Luis Silva, Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey helped increase the club's goal total to 13 this season. Ironically enough, that's also the amount of points DC boasts after 22 matches.
For Silva, his finish in the 19th minute was his third goal in as many matches with the Black and Red.
Not to be outdone, the New England Revolution followed suit with a stunning 1-0 defeat at home to Toronto FC.
Matias Laba opened his MLS account in the second minute after some porous defending from New England sprung the opportunity. The strike proved to be the decisive one. The Reds would escape Gillette Stadium by the slimmest of margins.
For the Impact, the loss highlights one glaring issue: The club is 1-3-3 in its last seven matches. For the Revolution, the loss dropped the club out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
Still don't believe MLS is the most competitive league in the world?
Ask Montreal and New England after Week 23.
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