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Whitecaps win a thriller; Nagbe scores a stunner; D.C. in despair

Photo: Darryl Dyck/AP

Kenny Miller scored two goals in the Whitecaps' comeback win over the New England Revolution.

The Vancouver Whitecaps came out on top in a high-scoring match, Atiba Harris was ejected for a shocking tackle, and D.C. United continued their terrible run of form this week in MLS.

Game of the day

Colorado Rapids 1, San Jose Earthquakes 2

Even if Colorado came into this contest in form while its opponent was without a win since May 8, the outcome was not too surprising -- coaching changes have a habit of prompting instant turnarounds.

San Jose's first fixture since Mark Watson assumed interim head coach duties after the departure of Frank Yallop produced a first goal of the season for Steven Lenhart. The forward gave the visitors the lead with an excellent strike from distance after a typically direct build-up: long ball, flick-on, shot.

Sam Cronin put the Earthquakes two goals to the good before Nathan Sturgis replied with a header after 67 minutes, prompting a tense climax which saw the Rapids miss several chances.

The stand-out moment of the game, though, was a dreadful "tackle" on Alan Gordon from Rapids midfielder Atiba Harris which earned him an 18th-minute red card from referee Jorge Gonzalez.

Despite ample evidence that officials will severely punish two-footed lunges, here was another potential leg-breaker to add to the collection of horror highlights. By the sideline on halfway, so early in the contest and with Hendry Thomas already challenging Gordon, it was brainless as well as brutal.

Apparently upset by that as well as sundry other aggressive challenges, the two head coaches got into a dispute at the final whistle and both sets of players and benches waded in. Sometimes you wonder why San Jose ever changed its name from the Clash.

Player of the day

Kenny Miller, Vancouver Whitecaps

It may be unfair to the memory of the likes of Mo Johnston, Paul Dalglish and John Spencer, but Scottish players have developed a reputation for being MLS Kryptonite. Barry Robson was ineffective for Vancouver last year and it's noticeable how much more dynamic and dangerous Portland is now that the ponderous Kris Boyd is no longer up front, lumbering after long balls and crosses with all the urgency of continental drift.

Plus, the Scottish league is in decline and the U.S. national team beat Scotland 5-1 in an exhibition last year, harming Tartan credibility in this country. It's not hard to construct the argument that MLS is now a superior competition.

The jury is out on Kenny Miller after his disappointing first year in MLS, when he did little to justify a $1.1 million salary that is the franchise's highest by far. But it's close to returning a favorable verdict. The injury-prone striker scored twice against the New England Revolution on Saturday and has five goals in five starts -- two more than he managed in eight starts in 2012.

The 33-year-old was never quick, which prevented him from becoming a success in the English Premier League with Wolverhampton Wanderers a decade ago. But he was an effective goalscorer in various spells in Scotland and the English second division.

A solid and savvy target man who is good in the air, Miller is under-rated with the ball at his feet. Both his goals against New England were outstanding: a long dribble and neat finish to tie the scores at 2-2, then a fabulous volley from the edge of the area to put Vancouver 4-2 up. The Canadians went on to win 4-3 against opponents who lost defender Andrew Farrell to a red card midway through the first half. Miller looks like a worthy captain in the absence of the injured Jay DeMerit. And displays such as Saturday's justify the faith shown in him by his fellow Scot, head coach Martin Rennie.

Stat of the day

0.4 - points per game averaged by D.C. United

D.C. is on pace to be the worst team in MLS history and after Saturday's loss at home to Toronto FC you have to wonder if that is an unwanted target it is going to reach.

Neither side had won in MLS since their first home fixtures of the season on March 9. For Toronto, that represented an 11 game streak; for United, 12. A tie seemed the logical bet. However, D.C. could not even secure a paltry point, even though they went into the match with a head of steam.

Ben Olsen's team came into the contest presumably buoyed by the 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union that put United into the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open Cup. Key man Dwayne De Rosario scored a hat-trick in that match and grabbed another in the 19th minute thanks to a soft penalty award (D.C.'s first of the season). New signing Alain Rochat was settling in promisingly and De Rosario looked energetic and dangerous.

Were the stars aligning at last for United? No, it turned out that the bright light in the sky was a meteor headed straight at them.

Toronto was level within eleven minutes as Robert Earnshaw headed in Steven Caldwell's free kick -- the 5-8 striker beating 6-1 center back Brandon McDonald in the air. Then Daniel Woolard deflected Luis Silva's free kick into his own net after 41 minutes . It was United's third such gift of the campaign, moving "own goal" to the top of the club's scoring chart. De Rosario and Lionard Pajoy each have two MLS goals.

Once De Rosario was substituted with 20 minutes to go the home team ran out of ideas and never bludgeoned Toronto with the kind of pressure that might have forced it into yet another late blunder. And you can bet the Canadians were fearing the worst when the board went up indicating five minutes of stoppage time (there turned out to be six). But Toronto head coach Ryan Nelsen picked up his first MLS road win of the season against the club where he spent four years as a player. It would be beyond the wit of even the smartest spin doctor to put a positive slant on United's performances, which have been as flat as a Midwest pancake.

United General Manager Dave Kasper did try, telling the Washington Post last Tuesday that Olsen's job is not in danger and that the club is "not giving up on the playoffs. In our league, anything is possible."

In reality, we're not even halfway through the regular season and D.C. can already forget about reaching the postseason, despite the generosity of a system that sees the top five qualify from the ten-team Eastern Conference.

The Houston Dynamo occupied the final slot in 2012 with 53 points from 34 matches. For D.C. to reach just 50 points this year it needs to average 2.32 points per game for the rest of the season (going, say, 14-3-2). The East-leading Montreal Impact is averaging two points per game.

You have to go all the way back to 1999 to find a side with a worse points-per-game tally than D.C. Back then, the MetroStars collected only 15 points from 32 fixtures, a rate of 0.47 points per game.

It's a bizarre collapse for a team that finished with 58 points last year and narrowly lost to Houston in the Eastern Conference finals. It's one thing to be bad. But straight after being so good? At the moment D.C. looks so cursed even Chicago Cubs fans might consider it unlucky.

Goal of the day

Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas

When a former Goal of the Year winner says he's just scored the best strike of his career, you know it's going to be good. "Probably number one," Nagbe told MLSsoccer.com when describing the 52nd-minute goal that was enough to beat FC Dallas at JELD-WEN Field on Saturday.

The 22-year-old has only 13 MLS goals in his career, but a good number of them have been spectacular. Wrongfooting defender George John with a turn that Johan Cruyff would have been proud to call his own, Nagbe spun and sent a curling shot from an acute angle high into the far corner. Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez was magnificent all afternoon yet did not even try to save it.

The win lifted the Timbers to third in the West, two points behind leaders Dallas. But there is no reason for the Texans to feel discouraged. They were without strikers Kenny Cooper and Blas Perez and a third forward, Eric Hassli, came off injured after eight minutes. Missing so much firepower, Dallas still looked sporadically dangerous with Jackson in attack and only a fine save from Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts shortly before halftime denied him a goal.

In the circumstances, Dallas can take comfort from knowing that it took something very special to beat it. With 25 goals from 15 fixtures, Portland is now the top-scoring team in MLS and with all the weapons at head coach Caleb Porter's disposal, plenty of visiting teams will concede more than once in Oregon in the months to come.

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