Kansas City midfielder Herculez Gomez didn't say much after receiving physical treatment from New England at the end of last season. Kyle McCarthy writes that Gomez's performance in Saturday night's 3-1 win issued a belated but effective reply.
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Kansas City midfielder Herculez Gomez couldn't help but remember the last time the Wizards played New England. How could he forget?
When New England and Kansas City met to end the 2008 regular season last October, Gomez had a target on his back. Two weeks earlier, Gomez had broken Revolution captain Steve Ralston's right leg with a typical striker's attempt at defense. It wasn't a dirty challenge, just tardy and clumsy. Ralston later said he never had an issue with it and didn't think it was malicious.
The quick turnaround between meetings didn't give the Revolution the chance to heal the emotional wound caused by Ralston's broken leg or grant them the perspective Ralston enjoyed. The injury – and Taylor Twellman's subsequent absence from the playoffs due to a neck injury that still considerably impacts the Revolution's fortunes today – combined with a dreadful run of form to end the season put the kibosh on any realistic playoff aspirations. All of the anger and pent-up frustration at the situation ended up squarely placed on Gomez's shoulders that night.
“From the opening whistle, they looked like they wanted to hurt him,” Kansas City coach Curt Onalfo said after that game.
The evidence wouldn't exactly dissuade a neutral observer from that contention. Gomez suffered four fouls in 45 minutes, a number that comprised a quarter of the total fouls Gomez accumulated in his eight matches with the Wizards last season. The last of those fouls – a high, two-footed challenge from Khano Smith that far exceeded the danger posed by the tackle that broke Ralston's leg – drew a straight red card. Onalfo withdrew Gomez at halftime to ensure his availability for the playoffs and called Smith's tackle “criminal.” Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph, still frustrated and heated at the situation, lashed out at the referee for sending Smith off and wondered whether Gomez had it coming to him for ending Ralston's season.
As lots of people said lots of things that night, Gomez held his fire.
“I have a ton of respect for those guys,” Gomez said back in October. “I don't really have much to say on the situation. I feel terrible about what happened to Steve. I don't know what was going on today. I don't have any comment about that.”
Instead of rushing to respond after that game, Gomez waited until the first of the four meetings between the two sides this season – Kansas City's 3-1 win over New England on Saturday night – to provide his retort.
Entering the match, Gomez wasn't in particularly scintillating form. Gomez had missed most of the preseason after tearing his meniscus and undergoing surgery. In late May, Gomez had his knee drained. The health situation impacted his on-field performance. Gomez started nine matches heading into Saturday night, but never really found his groove.
From the opening whistle, it was clear that Gomez wasn't going to be bothered by anything on this night.
“In a game like this, I felt confident,” Gomez said. “Hopefully, I can carry that into the next game. I have been plagued by injury this season with the surgery. It's been tough coming back, but I felt really good tonight.”
The restored confidence showed through in his play. Though Gomez wasn't on the stat sheet at the end of the evening, his imprint was all over the match. An early long-distance drive forced a smart save from Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis. His clever little through pass set up Davy Arnaud's give and go with Claudio Lopez for the opener, while a diagonal run behind the Revolution defense forced another save from Reis and caused Jeff Larentowicz to rather unfortunately deflect the rebound back into his own net.
Gomez's impressive performance provided the reply he never gave after getting kicked up and down the park that October night. Given the chance to expand upon his play and the motivation behind it, Gomez once again demurred with a slight feint towards the situation he now says is behind him.
“I'd be lying if I said it didn't mean something to me that we got that win,” Gomez said. “But that's passed now. The only thing that means something to me right now is next week's game and the SuperLiga.”
United, Fire put on a show
In the 37th minute of D.C. United's 2-1 win over Chicago on Saturday night, United color commentator Thomas Rongen lauded the quality of play in the contest and compared it to Chicago's 3-2 win over Chivas USA on May 28.
“This is a very well-played game,” Rongen said. “...The technical ability of both teams to move the ball is a good, good product of football right now.”
The incredible part about that observation arises from its timing. Those comments were uttered before Christian Gomez's scintillating set-piece winner and Josh Wicks' impressive penalty save from a well-taken Brian McBride effort.
Rongen's observation was as spot-on as his bow-tie. Both sides played attacking, attractive and tidy football at a good tempo in front of fans Rongen called “the greatest in the United States.” At least for one night, the performance on the field matched the description of those chanting off of it.
Week Thirteen – Questions, Thoughts, and Answers
Monday MLS Breakdown Player of the Week – Cam Weaver, FW, Houston
Two goalkeepers (Danny Cepero and Wicks) and one evergreen playmaker (Guillermo Barros Schelotto) made strong bids for the gong, but the nod goes to a player who wasn't even a member of the Dynamo at the beginning of this week. Dished to Houston in exchange for Chris Wondolowski and a draft pick, Weaver wasted no time settling with his new side. Brian Ching's hamstring injury gave Weaver a chance to start on Wednesday soon after he arrived and he responded by flicking on Pat Onstad's goal kick to set up Stuart Holden's goal in the 1-0 win over Chivas USA. For an encore, Weaver grabbed a brace in Saturday's 3-1 win in FC Dallas. Not a bad week for a guy who couldn't get a run-out in forward-starved San Jose.
What were they thinking? Chivas USA's defending...on goal kicks
You may have noted in the previous paragraph that Holden scored against the Goats on Wednesday in the aftermath of a goal kick. Once in a week is bad enough, but Chivas USA managed to concede a second goal started in the opposition's penalty area in the space of five days in Sunday's 2-1 loss at Columbus. Barros Schelotto held off Carey Talley to slot home after collecting Andy Gruenebaum's long goal kick. Ugly stuff from one of the best defensive teams in the league.
“That first goal was absolutely a terrible play by us,” Chivas USA coach Preki said after the Crew overturned the Goats' early lead with the help of that goal kick. “That's the second game in a row we gave up a goal off a goal kick. It was the same in Houston. It was disappointing. Carey Talley said he was fouled on the play but I couldn't see it.”
Eleven observations to start the week
1. McBride is without a goal in league play since May 16. His buildup play has been fine when he's getting the proper service, but the veteran just isn't finishing his chances. Given two gilt-edged opportunities on Saturday night, McBride had a penalty kick saved and directed an effort into the side netting. Given his advanced age (McBride turns 37 on Friday) and the upcoming schedule (three SuperLiga matches ahead on June 20, 23 and 27), it might not be a bad idea for McBride to rest for a couple of those games and recharge the batteries.
2. United coach Tom Soehn's decision to shift Rodney Wallace to defensive midfield seemed like a risky move. Wallace is a certain threat on the left wing with his pace, but those qualities can be diminished depending on how a player approaches his role as one of the two defensive midfielders in a 3-5-2. Some players approach the role as a limited one confined to destroying, but Wallace opted for an all-action display against the Fire. Instead of being content to sit and hold, Wallace used his blazing pace to clean up defensive messes and surge into the opposing penalty area. On this evidence, the move might be a temporary masterstroke until Ben Olsen returns from a hamstring injury in the next week or two.
3. New York has now gone 20 matches (0-14-6) on the road without a victory, a new MLS record for road infamy. At least the Red Bulls gave it a good and honest go in Saturday night's 2-1 loss in Toronto. While the result wasn't there, the effort – particularly in the second half – certainly was. With the reversal of an adverse decision or two and a significantly more attentive response to Sam Cronin's opener, the Red Bulls could have emerged with a creditable draw.
4. “It wasn't a very enjoyable game, but we'll take a scrappy game, an ugly game and a victory after the three defeats that we've just had,” Toronto FC midfielder Carl Robinson told the Toronto Star.
5. Former FC Porto striker Edgaras Jankauskas is expected to join New England on trial this week. Jankauskas, 34, may or may not have anything left in the tank after bouncing around Cyprus, Portugal and Latvia in recent years, but the Revs need to look at all available options with Twellman's health a significant question mark. A former Champions League winner certainly falls into that category, especially if the price is right.
6. “In these 10 games, we've been great,” Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said after his Dynamo brushed aside the Hoops in Frisco to claim El Capitan and extend the side's unbeaten streak to ten matches (8-0-2). “The attitude has been excellent. We try to manage the team as best as we can. Everyone is buying into making sure they work hard for the result for the team.”
7. After dismissing Eddie Lewis for tossing the ball towards a prone Javier Morales in the Galaxy's 2-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday night, referee Jasen Anno has dismissed five players in the six matches he has worked this season. Lewis and Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena didn't like the sending off, but the Galaxy may have had more of a case in protesting the rather rash yellow card handed to the recently interjected Jovan Kirovski on the tackle that set up the entire situation.
8. That play was one of the few times all night when Morales was stuck in one place. The week off due to suspension appeared to do Morales a world of good. When the Argentine playmaker is on his game, his movement creates opportunities for others. In Los Angeles, Morales displayed the best of those qualities by drifting from sideline-to-sideline. The vibrant movement – combined with consistent high pressure and concerted efforts to isolate Yura Movsisyan one-versus-one against Gregg Berhalter and other Galaxy defenders to exploit Movsisyan's speed and quickness advantage – was one of the keys to RSL's first victory since April 25 and first road win since a 3-2 decision at San Jose last September.
9. “When Darren's on the field, he's dangerous,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said after the Earthquakes lost 2-1 in Seattle on Saturday night. “For us to be a good team, he needs to be on the field.” Amen, Frank. Huckerby is consistently dangerous because he acquires the ball in dangerous areas and takes decisive action quickly. A sharp run put him in the perfect spot for San Jose's only goal and only Ryan Johnson's stumble at the far post deprived him of an earlier assist. The Norwich legend may not be fully fit yet, but Yallop knows his side needs his consistent ingenuity.
10. A nice poacher's goal for the game-winner, Mr. Montero, but what about that back pass inside your own penalty area? Then again, the Colombian marksman probably won't find himself dropping that deeply too often this season.
11. Speaking of teams using high pressure to force the opposition to wilt, Columbus basically harried a Chivas USA out of three points on Sunday. When the Goats pick up a lead on the road, they like to sit back and play on the counter like they did on Sunday. Eduardo Lillingston staked them to the advantage, but the Goats just couldn't cope with the Crew in the second half. Columbus pressed up high, forced the visitors into mistakes and turned over the scoreline. Barros Schelotto (10 goals on the season) provided the touches of class to ensure all of that pressure turned into a victory.
BONUS: In a season filled with draws, there were none this weekend.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
Keep up to date with Goal.com's MLS page.