The Pacific Northwest may be the greatest thing ever to happen to Major League Soccer, so we hesitate to complain about the weather out there. You don’t throw away a Rolls Royce because it has a dent in it, as a wise man once said.
But for the second month in a row, we saw a historic Cascadia game played in conditions that would have rained out a week’s worth of baseball games.
In April, it was the Timbers’ home opener against Chicago. This past Saturday, it was the MLS debut of one of the great rivalries in US soccer history: Seattle vs. Portland.
Of course the incredible support for each team turned out in full force, their spirits undampened by the relentless rain (their bodies, on the other hand, were soaked to the bone). And the game was as hard-fought and evenly played as a great rivalry game should be.
But the weather did affect play, and as a result, the biggest fixture on the schedule—which ended 1-1—took a backseat to some compelling performances elsewhere.
There was a hat trick in New York, a brace in Los Angeles and some breakout performances by MLS youngsters all over the map. Not to be outdone, a few canny veterans produced some flourishes, and the weather in some non-Cascadia cities also turned nasty.
Let’s pull on the Gore-Tex and take another look.
After spending the past two years playing almost non-stop, Landon Donovan took some much deserved time off this past offseason. Then he hurt his knee and missed three weeks of the young 2011 season.
What you’re seeing now, then, is a rested and healthy LD rounding into full match fitness. And for Galaxy opponents, it’s a scary sight.
Donovan scored two goals in a two-minute span to pace a 4-1 Galaxy romp over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night. He has seven goals in his past five games. He’s taken over the league lead in scoring this year, and he moved into fourth place on the all-time MLS goals list with 110.
Justin Braun of the Galaxy’s in-stadium rivals, Chivas USA, is also trending upward after a slow beginning. Handed his first start in about a month, Braun made the most of it (and of some horrendous defending by New York), scoring three goals to lead the Goats to a shocking 3-2 upset of New York at Red Bull Arena. Chivas became the first team to travel three times zones and win this season.
Chris Wondolowski, last year’s Golden Boot winner, is also picking up speed. He scored in San Jose’s 1-1 draw at Vancouver on Wednesday and added another against Columbus on Saturday to kick off the Quakes’ 3-0 rout. Wondo has three goals in his last four games, and five overall.
Under the Weather
While those three took a “when it rains it pours,” approach to goal-scoring, the Cascadia Cup opener returned that phrase to its literal meaning. Some Seattle players and coaches suggested that the unusually heavy downpour at Qwest Field favored the Timbers, who play a more direct style than Seattle.
Portland’s equalizer, which canceled Álvaro Fernández’s 52nd-minute opener, was certainly direct. It was also a carbon copy of the Timbers’ winner against Philadelphia the previous week: Mamadou “Futty” Danso rising to meet Jack Jewsbury’s free kick and nodding it home.
Three days earlier and a few hours to the north, Whitecaps FC hosted San Jose under similar heavy rain at Empire Field. The home team produced a soggy effort, falling behind on Wondolowski’s 39th-minute opener and getting outshot 15-5 through 75 minutes.
Vancouver were on the fast-track to defeat until stoppage time, when Davide Chiumiento’s seeing-eye cross found the far corner of Jon Busch’s net to snatch two points out of the visitors’ clutches.
New York and Chivas USA saw their kickoff delayed by 30 minutes because of a lightning-induced power outage at Red Bull Arena, and the Chicago Fire rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie Toronto FC in rainy conditions at BMO Field.
Toronto took that two-goal lead over Chicago thanks to 19-year-old Joao Plata, who led a small platoon of teenagers making waves this week. Plata scored Toronto’s opener in the ninth minute, then set up Maicon Santos for the Reds’ second.
Chicago’s 19-year-old striker Orr Barouch drew the free kick that Marco Pappa buried for Chicago’s first goal, then scored the equalizer himself in the 76th minute.
Lightning-quick 18-year-old Fabián Castillo matched Plata’s heroics, scoring a goal and setting up another (for Brek Shea) in a 2-0 win over visiting Philadelphia.
Philadelphia opened the week with a 1-1 draw against the visiting LA Galaxy, thanks to 19-year-old Danny Mwanga, who pounced on a Sean Franklin’s weak back pass, rounded Donovan Ricketts and buried a late equalizer into the far corner.
While an impressive array of teenagers got on the score sheets this week, league veterans did not leave it to the youngsters to have all the fun.
Donovan’s fellow Designated Players Juan Pablo Ángel and David Beckham also found the net in LA’s 4-1 rout over Kansas City (Beckham on a spectacular free kick), while Thierry Henry scored his fifth of the season in New York’s loss to Chivas USA.
Daniel Hernandez coolly slotted home from the spot to score his first goal since 2002 and lift Dallas to a 1-0 win over Toronto, and Shalrie Joseph also scored on a penalty—drawn by Benny Feilhaber—to give New England a 1-0 win over Vancouver.
Rocky Mountain Rivals
After their gut-punch loss in the CONCACAF Champions League final on April 27, Real Salt Lake stumbled through a 1-0 defeat to Portland in their return to MLS play three days later. Then they took an uppercut in the long-term injury to playmaker Javier Morales on May 7.
They did squeak out a 1-0 win over nine-man Chivas USA after Morales’s injury, but this is still a team reeling from a tough 1-2 combination.
In that light, RSL’s 0-0 draw against Houston this weekend, which extended their home unbeaten streak to 29 games, is not bad. But for a team with real championship aspirations (despite the loss of Morales), it feels like treading water.
You could say the same of Colorado’s 1-1 result at rebuilding D.C. United on Saturday. The defending champs are off to a bumpy, injury-riddled start, so they’ll take the draw, which capped an unbeaten three-game road trip, and hope for healthier days ahead.