Martins lifts Sounders to first win, Galaxy edge Sporting K.C.
Contrasting streaks ended for the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City, the New York Red Bulls thrashed the New England Revolution and Toronto FC gave up a late goal yet again on a busy day of MLS action.
Player of the day
Signed to help bring a first MLS title to Seattle, right now the Sounders are simply relieved that Obafemi Martins provided the club with its first three points of a season that is eight weeks old.
The Nigerian striker has an exceptional pedigree: Five years at Inter Milan before Newcastle United paid a transfer fee in excess of $15 million to take him to the English Premier League in 2006, handing him the iconic No. 9 jersey previously worn by club legend Alan Shearer.
After a fitful, injury-struck spell, he moved in 2009 to Wolfsburg, then the reigning German champions. In 2010, he headed to big-spending Rubin Kazan, who had won the Russian league the previous year.
A loan spell back in England with Birmingham City saw him score the winning goal against Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final. Then last year, he joined Levante in Spain in search of more frequent playing time. Martins found the net nine times in 2012-13 for the La Liga side, his last game coming in the Europa League against Rubin last month.
Injuries and inconsistency are a concern, but with a resume that deep, it's no wonder Seattle activated Martins' $4-million release clause and made him a designated player. And he is only 28 years old.
He scored the only goal against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday with a composed finish in the 27th minute as goalkeeper Clint Irwin parried Shalrie Joseph's fierce shot into the striker's path. That Seattle claimed three points at the sixth attempt to end its status as the only winless club in MLS also owed much to the excellence of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning. Sigi Schmid's team has scored only three times in MLS this term. But in Martins, Seattle has a player with the potential to rub shoulders with the likes of Chris Wondolowski, Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry at the top of the scoring charts. And an acrobatic goal celebration worthy of an Olympic gymnast.
Game of the day
This inter-conference clash at the Home Depot Center between two of the best teams in MLS did not disappoint, as the MLS Cup holder showed its class and edged a match which had the intensity and sense of occasion of a post-season encounter.
The opening goal came on a controversial 28th-minute counter-attack, Landon Donovan crossing from the left for Marcelo Sarvas to tap in, though Sarvas handled the ball earlier in the move.
That ended SKC's shutout streak at 546 minutes. Peter Vermes' men went five fixtures without conceding after losing 2-1 to Toronto on March 9. But they looked heavy-legged Saturday, only three days after beating the Red Bulls on the road.
Inside the last 20 minutes, L.A. again caught out its opponents with a devastating break. Keane raced clear on the left and could have taken a shot. As a rule, prolific strikers are not known for their generosity, but he slipped the ball across the face of goal. It gave Donovan the easiest of chances for his first goal of the season on the night he also recorded his first assist. It was like he'd never been away.
Goal of the day
Substitute Jamison Olave blocks off Chris Tierney's left-wing cross. Dax McCarty collects the ball just outside the penalty box and flicks a short pass beyond the charging Lee Nguyen to Fabian Espindola, who sidesteps Kalifa Cisse and finds Johnny Steele. He brings the ball past halfway with a brisk 20-yard run, looking this way, then that, sucking in Stephen McCarthy and Andrew Farrell.
The right back loses track of Henry for a moment, and that's enough for the Frenchman to find a surprising burst of pace in his 35-year-old legs as he cuts in from the left wing and surges behind Farrell, who's only 21. Cisse's just jogging back, tired or lazy, so Steele has the space to plot a 15-yard forward pass between Farrell and McCarthy that's sly perfection.
Henry greets it mid-stride with his right foot and dribbles diagonally in on goal, like he's done a thousand times. Behind, Farrell's flailing; one, two touches with the right boot, and Henry's into the area. Farrell knows he's only got two choices now: Let him shoot or hack him down. He goes with the first.
Henry stutters slightly as he prepares to strike the bobbling ball, waits until he's within fifteen yards and Bobby Shuttleworth's advancing out of the net, then strokes the ball low into the far corner, his momentum on the follow-through sending him sliding on his backside towards the goalkeeper.
Box-to-box, five players, thirteen touches, fifteen seconds. A defense so tight it had conceded only twice in its past five fixtures was clinically unscrewed by a classic counter-attack.
The 82nd-minute goal effectively settled the contest, too. New York was leading the New England Revolution 2-1 at the time. Mike Petke's team went on to win 4-1 at Red Bull Arena in a match given special resonance as New England's first since the Boston bombings.
New York's players wore black armbands bearing the word "BOSTON". Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis' father-in-law was reported to be in critical condition this week after being seriously injured in last Monday's attack.
Stat of the day
The temperature drop in degrees Fahrenheit between the Houston Dynamo's 2-1 win at BBVA Compass Stadium over the Chicago Fire last Sunday and their 1-1 tie in Toronto on Saturday.
The heat and humidity of south-east Texas partly explains the Dynamo's exceptional home record. This time it was Toronto FC's turn to enjoy the home advantage of a very different climate: near-freezing conditions and strong winds as unexpected snow flurries hit southern Ontario.
The visitors were never at ease on BMO Field's sluggish surface. Houston rarely threatened, especially after losing midfielders Adam Moffat and Brad Davis to apparent muscle injuries. Jeremy Hall gave Toronto a 58th-minute lead from distance. Then Dynamo defender Jermaine Taylor was sent off for a professional foul on Robert Earnshaw, who tumbled theatrically with what might be described as a professional fall.
Houston seemed spent and created nothing while Toronto's forward movement was attractive and innovative. But Ryan Nelsen's team conceded a sloppy stoppage-time goal for the second successive match, substitute Warren Creavalle re-directing a Ricardo Clark header high into the net.
It was Toronto's fourth draw in a row. Looking on the sunny side, they are unbeaten in 2013 at their Arctic arena. But their next two home games are against the Montreal Impact and Red Bulls, teams from cities all too familiar with bad weather.