During the long and unrelenting grind of the MLS campaign, coaches, fans and players alike search for those compelling matches to distract them from the status quo and fuel their interest (or their title challenges) going forward.
With all due respect to Thierry Henry's blinding form to start the season and a couple of select team performances here or there, the overall entertainment value (and, somewhat correspondingly, the overall quality and sharpness of play) hasn't quite hit the heights required to warrant such a classification.
It took the better part of four matchdays, but the 2012 campaign found its first match truly worth remembering when Real Salt Lake defeated Portland 3-2 at JELD-WEN Field on Saturday night.
The best part about this rainy affair in Portland: this enthralling 90-minute show offered a little something for everyone. Demand the right approach? Not a problem here with both teams sending numbers forward for much of the evening. Need goals? There were five of them, including a couple of the highest quality. Require strong individual performances? Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Darlington Nagbe supplied three strong ones on a night with several others. Want a tactical battle? John Spencer moved Nagbe around like a chess piece, while Jason Kreis fielded every member of his projected starting XI for the first time this season at one point during the second half.
All of those talking points kept the match moving along at a brisk tempo, but two particular themes ensure this game assumes a prominent place in the discussions for match of the season.
Nagbe's stellar brace captured hearts and minds and underscored his promising future in the game. His first goal – a darting run and a fine, low finish inside the near post – drew rave reviews and leveled the match early in the second half. His second goal – an audacious piece of skill that included a neat touch off the thigh and a sumptuous and unstoppable volley – elicited comparisons to last year's Goal of the Year and set the Timbers on their way to an apparent home victory.
“I think the first one was a throw-in to me, and I took a touch on the guy, went inside and just hit it low and it went in,” Nagbe told reporters after the match. “And the second one, everyone was underplaying the ball and it was bouncing, so I decided to hit it and lucky it went in.”Follow GOAL.COM USA on
The second-year midfielder saw his contributions overshadowed by another display of character from RSL. Jonny Steele and Beckerman (another potential Goal of the Year candidate after the RSL captain drove home a Epindola scoop with a full volley) turned the result around in the late stages and secured some meager form of retribution for a pair of unexpected setbacks against the Timbers last season.
“I felt like we were going to score, but I don’t want to say too much as I would have been happy with a tie,” Kreis told reporters after the match. “However, I felt that the third goal was a little bit of a gift and I walked away with a smile on my face.”
If the events on the evening met with the proper response in burghs outside of Portland, then more than a few folks mirrored that rather unusual sideline gesture as their Saturday nights came to close. It was, after all, the type of scene worthy of that knowing bit of recognition.
Five Points – Week 4
1. On a night filled with man of the match candidates for D.C. United, Dwayne De Rosario once again exerted the greatest influence: Ben Olsen can and should laud his team for its gutsy and impressive display in Friday's critical 4-1 win over FC Dallas. There were times when other United teams may have folded (the inexplicably booted offside call on Blas Perez's opener – check U.S. Soccer's advice to referees, section 11.14, for more details on that one – would have sent weaker teams spiraling, for example) and this group certainly did not. Instead, they used their superiority on the flanks (both Danny Cruz and Nick DeLeon shined), their inconsistent striker (Maicon Santos picked Friday night to submit a good game against his former employer) and, most importantly, their main man in the middle to collect all three points.
De Rosario contributed two assists in the box score, but he influenced the game far more dramatically than it would suggest. FCD operates best when Daniel Hernandez sits in front of the back four and strikes the right balance with Andrew Jacobson right in front of him. De Rosario's persistent movement in his attacking midfield role disrupted FCD's intended approach in that department. Hernandez found himself moving laterally (his range isn't the best these days) and vacating space for others to fill. Jacobson didn't cover correctly most of the time. And with Cruz and DeLeon providing so much support on the flanks (especially Cruz with his work rate on the right), De Rosario found himself freed to create the type of problems that ultimately unraveled FCD on the evening.
2. Another masterclass from Thierry Henry: The French maestro sliced up poor Montréal as he romped to a hat trick and supplied Mehdi Ballouchy with a sublime back heel to fuel the Red Bulls' 5-2 victory. The home side can point to a moment of good fortune – the highly suspect penalty call on Matteo Ferrari on the stroke of halftime to send the teams into the break on level terms at 2-2 – and its helping hand in the final outcome, but it can also suggest that Henry's silky movements and tidy finishes in front of goal spurred an improved second half performance. With Henry in this sort of form, the Red Bulls may yet reach the heights expected of them.
3. MacMath plays his part in ruining Le Toux's fairytale return to PPL Park: Credit the Union goalkeeper for an alert afternoon on and off his goal line. Sébastien Le Toux found himself behind the Philadelphia back four on a couple of occasions as he attempted to mark his return with a goal, but MacMath rushed outside of his penalty area to intervene on a potential first-half break and subsequently surged off his line with seven minutes to play to cut down the angle and prompt Le Toux to fire high from a good position. Neither side really deserved the three points in a dull 0-0 draw, but MacMath did his part to ensure the Union secured their first point of the season anyways.
4. Bold Beckham withdrawal fails to spark Galaxy in disappointing home defeat to New England: Jay Heaps' side posted perhaps the result of the season by scoring twice in the first 13 minutes en route to a 3-1 victory at Los Angeles on Saturday night. New England disrupted Los Angeles from the outset with an aggressive, energetic approach designed to place pressure on the home side. When confronted with such an ambitious set of tactics, the Galaxy defense promptly crumbled twice in short order and the entire side looked a step or two behind the Revs for the entire night.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena needed to do something to jolt his side to life at halftime, but his decision to yank David Beckham as one of two substitutions during the break may ultimately yield more harm than good. Such moves are often more emotional than tactical, though Beckham did struggle at times to keep pace on a wet evening. Instead of provoking his side by withdrawing Beckham (and sacrificing the set piece work that provided the only real threats of the first half), Arena saw his side offer little until the final 20 minutes or so. In the end, the fallout from the move – Beckham, for example, guaranteed further debate on the topic this week when he didn't address reporters after the game and whispers persisted about a halftime conflict in the tunnel as the root cause of the unanticipated change – may just intensify the questions surrounding a team that simply hasn't found its stride or any semblance of a solid defensive shape during the opening stages of the campaign.
5. No Pablo, no problem for Colorado: It took the better part of a half for the Rapids to really get rolling, but they ultimately provided good value for their 2-0 victory over Chicago by enacting the principles Oscar Pareja has espoused since he took control. Pareja asked his team to dictate the terms of the game (check – 60.7 percent possession and 88.5 percent passing accuracy) and establish the tempo of the game (check – decent cadence on the ball and lots of play in wider areas) against the Fire. By all accounts, the Rapids accomplished that brief with aplomb.
The overall success stemmed from an active and tidy night from the midfield three. Jeff Larentowicz (75 out of 80 passes completed, 94 percent completion rate) kept things ticking with a commendable performance as the deepest man in the midfield three. Jaime Castrillón (42 out of 45 passes completed, 93 percent completion rate) offered plenty of box-to-box play. Martín Rivero (56 out of 70 passes completed, 80 percent completed) pulled the strings on his debut, stretched the Fire with plenty of running into awkward spots and supplied the critical feed down the right flank in the buildup to Omar Cummings' opener. Chicago aided the trio's work with low intensity work in central midfield, but this sort of performance relegated the New York disaster (sans Larentowicz, Mastroeni and Rivero, by the bye) to the one-off category and showed that Pareja's preachings have indeed taken hold in short order.
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 MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.