Tense games, few goals define MLS' first 'Rivalry Week'
MLS' first "Rivalry Week" got off to a heated start in Montreal on Saturday, while New York Red Bulls' frustrating start to the season continued against the club that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.
Match of the day
Steve Zakuani's zippy left-wing run and impeccable cross gave Eddie Johnson a simple finish to put the Sounders ahead after 13 minutes. Obafemi Martins, the club's exciting new Designated Player, came on as a second half substitute to make his debut in attack.
But just when Sounders fans were about to celebrate a Cascadia Cup victory and start salivating about the prospect of a regular Johnson and Martins partnership up front, careless defending proved costly.
With one second of normal time remaining, Portland launched the ball into the box. There were five Seattle defenders and only three Timbers players there, yet three Sounders stood next to each other twelve yards out. No one tracked Rodney Wallace, who was left with enough space to head the equalizer from near the penalty spot. In a match charged with so much electricity, it was a surprise to see Seattle's defense switch off.
Stat of the day
Yet there is only one pair of numbers that matters in soccer: the final score, and it was 0-0. But did one of New York's many efforts cross the line?
A minute into stoppage time, Brandon Barklage's deflected header from a corner kick was saved magnificently by DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who had an outstanding match. But the ball was repelled so close to goal, and the replays were so inconclusive from all angles, that you could almost hear a wailing noise sounding like thousands of New York fans chanting "goalline technology" emanating from the stands in Red Bull Arena.
MLS reportedly considered introducing goalline technology this season but decided to wait. It will be used by FIFA at this year's Confederations Cup and next year's World Cup finals - surely a prelude to its arrival in leagues across the planet.
It's coming soon, which is no solace for New York as it searches for its first win of the campaign. But on this occasion, referee Mark Geiger and his assistants almost certainly got it right. DC and Hamid enjoyed the benefit of the doubt.
But in 2013, where technology is so advanced that sensors and cameras can track small moving objects from dozens of miles away, it seems odd that we are still using the phrase "benefit of the doubt" for critical moments in big matches in the most popular sport in the world.
Goal of the day
On an afternoon with several good finishes from acute angles, it might seem strange to pick such a simple goal as
Corner from Federico Higuain, header from eight yards by the Brazilian. It was basic, like a training ground routine, but that is precisely what made it so good. It was the archetype of a plan executed perfectly. Sometimes we overlook the quality of such clinical goals because off-the-cuff strikes that take advantage of defensive mishaps naturally generate more discussion.
Waving like he's just spotted a relative in a crowded airport arrivals hall, Glauber called for the ball as he started his run on the edge of the box, where he was distant enough from goal that no one from San Jose marked him. After all, he's a defender, so it's hardly a priority.
By the time Ramiro Corrales notices Glauber's run, it was too late to block him off and the Crew man easily pushed his opponent away. The high curving corner from Higuain was just right and Glauber met it with a half-dive, half-stoop and powered it low, as he should, between goalkeeper Jon Busch and Rafael Baca on the post.
There will be dozens of inspirational, spontaneous goals scored in MLS this season, so let's take the opportunity to praise an occasion when all those private rehearsals paid off and lines were delivered perfectly in front of the audience.
Player of the day
Matches between local rivals inspire intense passion because it is not just the points at stake but a sense of civic pride and regional identity. Sometimes, inevitably and crowd-pleasingly, it all spills over and rivalry morphs into hostility. Nothing says "Hate thy neighbor" like a derby game.
Eckersley confronted the Impact head coach, Marco Schallibaum, and accused him of being disrespectful for delaying a Toronto throw in by hiding the ball behind his back, according to MLSsoccer.com.
A minor, if unseemly, spat - but where would a good rivalry be without enmity? And Montreal versus Toronto is surely developing into an excellent series on the pitch, even before adding the historical, political and cultural implications that are in play any time Canada's two largest cities are pitted against each other.