Best and Worst from MLS Week 24: Landon Donovan, Doneil Henry and More
American soccer fans had plenty to be proud of in MLS Week 24. For once, it had nothing to do with Clint Dempsey.
Alvaro Saborio continued his ascendancy over MLS competition on Saturday. The Costa Rican scored his ninth goal of the season in a 1-0 victory for Real Salt Lake. Camilo Sanvezzo followed suit with a goal of his own in a 2-0 victory for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Brazilian is now tied for the MLS Golden Boot lead with 14 goals.
The Chicago Fire also joined the winner's circle with a 2-1 victory at Toyota park. The club is now two points out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
But some tough competition kept all the aforementioned parties from making the list of best and worst from MLS Week 24.
Read on to find out why.
Best: Conor Casey's Brace
According to MLS' official website, DC United fielded their youngest starting lineup in franchise history.
Even with James Riley in the starting XI, the average age of the Black and Red on Saturday was 23 years old.
The youngsters were given a lesson on national television by Conor Casey.
The 32-year-old continued his bullish form and led the Philadelphia Union to a 2-0 victory at PPL Park. A capacity crowd of 18,652 were witness to Casey's second brace of the season. The American now has nine goals on the year.
That's one less than Jack McInerney.
According to the club's official website, head coach John Hackworth attributed Casey's success to a change in philosophy:
He scores two goals, fantastic. But what he did early in that game, he changed a little bit of it by dropping deep into the midfield and giving us the ability to play into him and off of him. It changed things for us at the start of that game. So we're really happy for him. He continues to do those things and I've said it all along, we're really glad we have him.
For Philadelphia, the 2-0 victory was the club's 10th win of the season.
With just 10 matches left, the Union remain within striking distance of the Supporters' Shield.
Worst: Doneil Henry's Own Goal
On a night that saw Clint Dempsey make his debut with the Seattle Sounders, it was Toronto FC defender Doneil Henry that stole the show at BMO Field.
Unfortunately for the 20-year-old, it was in a regrettable fashion.
After an early goal from Mauro Rosales, Henry would make his first contribution to the match in the 29th minute. A last-ditch tackle on Sounders forward Obafemi Martins ended the Nigerian's night. The Dempsey era in Seattle commenced five minutes later.
Henry continued his unearthly performance just six minutes after that.
Shoddy defending allowed Lamar Neagle to dribble inside the area with relative ease. The subsequent cross from Neagle would be buried into the net...by Henry.
In his defense, Henry managed to sneak the ball past his own goalkeeper with a clever back heel.
According to the club's official website, TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen was pragmatic after the 2-1 defeat:
We are who we are at the moment. It was just two silly goals off two silly errors. I'm very disappointed in the first goal. The second goal was a bit unfortunate and unlucky, but the lead up wasn't good...However, the guys worked their backsides off against what I think is one of the best teams in this league.
Coach Nelsen's assessment of his club was accurate. TFC did work "their backsides off" after falling behind 2-0.
Jonathan Osario cut the deficit to one in the opening minute of the second half.
Unfortunately for the Reds, a valiant effort wasn't enough to equalize the match in the final 44 minutes.
Best: Kei Kamara's Brace
Kevin Alston's return to the New England Revolution starting lineup didn't go as planned in Week 24. After battling a chronic myelogenous leukemia diagnosis for months, the 25-year-old made his first start at left back since March.
Alston was victimized by Kei Kamara en route to a comprehensive 3-0 victory for Sporting Kansas City. For Kamara, his second brace of the season elevated him to seven goals on the season. His aerial ability proved to be the decisive factor in Kansas City's destruction of the Revolution.
According to club's official website, Soony Saad is counting his blessings between the lines:
It's so easy. You just loft it up there and nine out of 10 times he's going to win it. I think he did really well to win the first one he just climbed above Austin and the second one I kind of saw him through my peripheral and saw a blue shirt running and I thought it was Kei so I just clipped it into the danger area and he did excellent to get to it, but I felt like I scored that's how happy I was. I was really excited and that second one was huge for us
The victory was huge for the sporting-blue club. With the win, Kansas City recaptured the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Somebody remind the New England Revolution that this game is played with 11 men...not nine.
Worst: Tristan Bowen Spits His Way off the Pitch
Bill Romanowski. Roberto Alomar. Tristan Bowen.
Three professional athletes. Three professional spitters.
In a match marred with controversy, the Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA ended 90 minutes of physical play in a 1-1 draw.
Both clubs had players sent off in the first 49 minutes of the match. A dangerous tackle from Gabriel Farfan in the 33rd minute left the Goats with 10 men on the field. The Rapids were unable to capitalize and lost a man of their own in the 49th minute. A second yellow for Tony Cascio left both clubs a man short.
Then, Bowen decided to up the ante in the most peevish manner possible.
The gesture wasn't as confrontational as Alomar's. The saliva lacked the volume of Romanowski's. But spitting in the direction of Chris Klute was still enough to end Bowen's night...and justifiably so.
Even with the advantage, Colorado needed a late equalizer from Martin Rivero to escape the StubHub Center with a much-needed point.
According to the club's official website, the result wasn't sufficient for head coach Oscar Pareja:
The boys are not happy with a point anymore, which is good. I thought we came back from a game that was weird. With what happened in the game, [and] I've been in those games before, you don't have answers...It was one of those games.
It was "one of those games."
Just your typical MLS match penetrated by red cards and a missed penalty kick.
Best: Landon Donovan. Landon Donovan. Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey?
Alexi Lalas vehemently believes most MLS managers would prefer Donovan if given the choice.
The 31-year-old made his argument for him in Sunday's 3-3 draw with FC Dallas.
Matt Hedges opened the affair in the 14th minute off a corner kick by David Ferreira. The strike ended Dallas' scoring drought at 464 minutes. Blas Perez followed with a brace, which was enough for the Hoops to salvage a point at home.
But it wasn't enough to steal the spotlight from the most decorated player in American soccer history.
Donovan converted his first opportunity in second-half stoppage time. A determined run saw the former captain head the ball over goalkeeper Chris Seitz's reach and into the net. A half-volley in the 73rd minute and an easily placed ball nine minutes later secured Donovan's hat-trick.
According to the club's official website, head coach Bruce Arena was elated following the match:
Landon did a great job tonight. Give him a lot of credit.
Um...don't sound too excited, coach.
The question remains, however: If Dempsey is worth $5 million in MLS, how much is Donovan worth?
The Los Angeles Galaxy will have to answer that question sooner rather than later.
Worst: The Red Bulls Fall Flat..Again
No one plays to level of their competition like the New York Red Bulls.
The Montreal Impact fell from their perch atop the Eastern Conference after being shellacked 4-0 at Red Bull Arena. Real Salt Lake—the current Supporters' Shield leaders—were stunned by a stoppage-time winner. And just last week, Sporting Kansas City were temporarily dethroned in the Eastern Conference after falling 3-2 at home.
Three quality opponents. Three quality wins.
Surely, the Columbus Crew would be easy pickings in Week 24.
New York's 2-0 loss to the Crew wasn't as bad as the scoreless draw the club suffered against a woeful Toronto FC in Week 21.
It was worse.
A punctuated performance by Federico Higuain catapulted the Black and Gold to their first victory in front of their new ownership. A soft penalty opened the affair in the 62nd minute. Higuain then buried the dagger in the 76th minute with the cleverest of chips.
It should be noted, however, that the Red Bulls were devoid of some key personnel. Tim Cahill, Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam were all absent due to injury. All three were unable to make the trip to Columbus.
New York's creative attack stayed with them.
Of the club's 11 attempts on goal, only two truly threatened goalkeeper Matt Lampson.
But the lack of personnel is still no excuse for another uninspired performance on the road against lower competition.
Especially for a club with championship aspirations.
Follow Eduardo on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC