MLS showed its support for Boston, Landon Donovan got back to doing what he does best and FC Dallas remained on fire in an action-packed MLS Week 8 ...
1. MLS supports Boston. New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution supporters typically don't find a lot of common ground. The same goes for New York and Boston fans across the entire sports landscape. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, though, Red Bulls and Revs fans stood together supporting Boston, highlighting a week of touching fan tributes and signs of respect across the league.
Red Bulls and Revolution supporters marched together to Red Bull Arena for Saturday's match, one in which the Red Bulls ran rampant and bounced back from a deflating midweek defeat with a 4-1 victory. The on-field happenings took a backseat to the humanity in the stands though. The "New York Stands With Boston" tifo that stretched across the South Ward for both home matches last week was especially moving. The "Boston Strong" signs scattered throughout the crowd displayed unity between rival cities, and The Standells' "Dirty Water" -- the Red Sox victory song -- blaring over the loudspeakers as opposed to the typical MLS anthem during the processional was a special touch of class from the Red Bulls organization.
There were signs of solidarity across the Atlantic Ocean as well. On Tuesday, Arsenal and Everton players and supporters observed a moment of silence and donned black armbands in honor of the marathon bombing victims and the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy on the 24th anniversary of that incident. At Anfield on Sunday, Liverpool and Chelsea supporters provided a minute-long applause for the same causes.
Sports may bring out the worst in fan behavior -- more so overseas, but recent isolated incidents at matches in Dallas and Portland have shown that American fans are not immune to lunacy -- but there may not be a more unifying force as well, evident across MLS at a time when the American people, specifically those in Boston, needed all the love they could get.
2. Donovan gets back to scoring. He was smiling. He was juggling the ball to himself before corner kicks. He was showing raw emotion, giving props to teammates out of joy and frolicking around the field unabated. Yes, Landon Donovan is enjoying himself again.
Donovan notched his first goal since the penalty kick that wound up winning the 2012 MLS Cup, icing the Galaxy's 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City Saturday night at the Home Depot Center and turning in his best showing since his hiatus expired late last month. Donovan's assist to Marcelo Sarvas also accounted for the goal that snapped Sporting KC's shutout streak at 546 minutes -- whether Sarvas handled the ball in the buildup is another story -- and his liveliness and spry runs were obvious signs of his extended break having served its purpose.
The crescendoing rate at which Donovan has been working his way back into the fray and improving his sharpness on the field should bring a smile to the faces of all Galaxy (and U.S. national team) supporters. Donovan may yet have to prove himself over a sustained period of time before Jurgen Klinsmann calls him back into U.S. camp ahead of upcoming friendlies against Belgium and Germany and three June World Cup qualifiers, but as Donovan, 31, told reporters Saturday, "Don't count the old guy out just yet."
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3. Toronto FC's late show. Say one thing for Toronto games this season: You'd better not turn them off or leave the stadium early.
The Reds endured another last-second collapse and settled for a 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo after appearing to close in on an important victory over the 10-man side Saturday afternoon. The match marked the fourth straight Toronto FC game in which a team scored in the 90th minute or later to level the score. Unfortunately for Toronto, three times it has been the opposition.
On one hand, that Toronto is even in games against the likes of L.A., FC Dallas and Houston is a sign of great growth and maturity. Coach Ryan Nelsen seemingly has his improving side on track. On the other, late-game breakdowns tend to have a snowball effect and create a mental obstacle that defenders have to combat for the long haul. If Toronto can't lock up its late-game defense -- or impersonation of defending evidenced by the horrid attempt to lock down Houston off its late set piece -- then the recent sample size becomes a big-picture issue.
Toronto won't have long to wait to test its late-game mettle. The Canadian championship kicks off this week. Toronto drew the Montreal Impact in the semifinals of the four-team tournament that determines the Great White North's representative in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League. Toronto won the Canadian title the last four years -- getting the best of Vancouver in the final every time -- but given the sharpness gap between the Reds and Impact in the opening weeks of the MLS campaign, it will be anything but easy to capture title No. 5.
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4. Bieler developing a two-sided reputation. Claudio Bieler has proven a shrewd Designated Player signing for Sporting Kansas City, scoring four goals in the club's first eight games and displaying a clinical touch in the final third while he integrates into a new squad. He is also developing a bit of a reputation as a cheap-shot artist, though.
Bieler's elbow to Galaxy defender AJ DeLaGarza's head that drew no card or call is the second time the Argentine striker has connected above the shoulders on an opponent, and it's something worth monitoring going forward. That typically mild-mannered DeLaGarza went off the handle and could barely be restrained by Sporting KC's Graham Zusi -- the best man at his wedding -- after the altercation suggests replays were not misleading and that Bieler indeed delivered a well-placed elbow to DeLaGarza's noggin.
On April 5, Bieler got away with what appeared to be a pretty blatant arm to the throat of D.C. United center back Brandon McDonald, who told the Washington Post that "If he doesn't get suspended, Kansas City has turned into the Lakers," insinuating that SKC players get treated above the law. As noted last week, the MLS Disciplinary Committee has been surprisingly silent on incidents that were suspension- or fine-worthy a season ago, but it will be interesting to see if the committee acts on Bieler's latest controversial incident and whether he becomes a marked man for referees going forward.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Austin Berry (Chicago Fire), Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), George John (FC Dallas)
Midfielders: Jonny Steele (New York Red Bulls), Marcelo Sarvas (LA Galaxy) Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), David Ferreira (FC Dallas), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls)
Forwards: Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union)
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