Timbers stun Galaxy, while Houston's Moffat nets a beauty
A last-gasp winner settled Saturday's biggest match, Houston produced a Goal of the Season contender, Dallas was thrashed at home and New York shocked a sliding Montreal on a dramatic night of MLS action.
Match of the day
Portland Timbers 2, Los Angeles Galaxy 1
With sellouts routine and a crowd so loud the club store ought to sell earplugs, pretty much every match at JELD-WEN Field has a big-time atmosphere.
The visit of the reigning MLS Cup champion to Oregon could only ever heighten that feeling, and this felt like a trailer for the kind of excitement, tension and talent we can expect to see during the playoffs. No neutral would complain if these teams meet again in the postseason after the drama served up on Saturday.
A header from Marcelo Sarvas lifted Bruce Arena's side to a 17th-minute lead. It was the first league goal the Timbers had conceded at home in four months.
Ryan Johnson hauled Portland level ten minutes later with a close-range finish after a quickly-worked free kick had the Galaxy howling in protest and alleging offside. Referee Baldomero Toledo issued four yellow cards in the space of twelve first-half minutes, testifying to the intensity of the contest.
While his decision making on crosses is less than perfect, Donovan Ricketts is one of the finest shot-stoppers in MLS. The 36-year-old Timbers goalkeeper produced a stunning save to deny Juninho from a free kick in the first half and also repelled a goal-bound attempt by Gyasi Zardes.
In a potentially worrying moment for the Galaxy, Robbie Keane came off in the 79th minute shaking his head, as if he was injured. L.A.'s night was about to get much worse, as Portland snatched a winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Andrew Jean-Baptiste found space in a crowded penalty area, evaded his marker and headed past Carlo Cudicini from Diego Valeri's corner to settle a hotly contested match.
As Timbers players danced with delight on the field, Arena looked livid. Baptiste's decider came only two weeks after the ten-man San Jose Earthquakes turned an L.A. win into a loss with two goals in injury time. Portland is now second in the Western Conference, with the Galaxy once again left to lament its late defensive slackness.
Player of the day
Eric Alexander, New York Red Bulls
The 25-year-old is at his third club in four years, but if he continues to produce performances like Saturday's he should stick around with New York for a while.
A standout college player with the Indiana Hoosiers, the skillful two-way midfielder broke into MLS with FC Dallas in 2010 and became a regular starter, but was traded to Portland in exchange for Jeremy Hall in August 2011.
Though he led the Timbers with six assists last year, the roster's surfeit of attacking midfielders made him expendable as the club looked to fund the acquisition of defender Mikael Silvestre, and Alexander was sent to the Red Bulls in return for allocation money last February.
He's become a favorite of head coach Mike Petke, has started 19 of the club's 20 MLS matches and played a key role from the right wing in Saturday's eyebrow-raising 4-0 home win over the slumping Montreal Impact.
Conceding early has been a problem for the Red Bulls, but here the team was 2-0 up after 16 minutes as the Impact surrendered the Eastern Conference lead in abject fashion. With defenders distracted by a smart run by Fabian Espindola, Alexander dribbled past three opponents and finished expertly to give New York a lead 10 minutes in.
Goals from Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and (at last) Peguy Luyindula made the contest a rout, and the margin of victory could have been higher. After the failure of the Juninho experiment, a Red Bulls midfield with Cahill and Dax McCarty in the center and Jonny Steele and Alexander out wide looks to have the right combination of solidity and creativity.
It's been two months since New York put together back-to-back MLS victories, but Petke's men are now level on points with Montreal in second place behind Sporting Kansas City, who ascended to the top of the standings with a 3-0 stroll past Toronto FC.
Stat of the day
350 - Length, in days, of FC Dallas' now-ended home unbeaten streak
Visitors are messing with Texas. First, the Dynamo's MLS-record streak of 36 games on their own field without defeat was ended by Kansas City in May. On Saturday, Dallas' own proud sequence was brutally terminated by Real Salt Lake after 14 league matches spanning almost a full twelve months.
RSL won 3-0 in Frisco, a dramatic result in line with each franchise's recent form but one that does not tell the entire story of the match. Dallas was firmly on top until Javier Morales scored a cheeky opener on a 39th-minute breakaway, and the next two goals did not arrive until the closing minutes. Dallas dominated possession and had 19 shots to RSL's 11.
Schellas Hyndman's side is still well-placed in the Western Conference, but recent results have undermined its Supporters Shield prospects and suggest a reality check is ongoing after an excellent start to the campaign. Dallas has not won in MLS since May 25, failing to pass the acid test of a tough run of fixtures against some of the league's best teams.
Salt Lake, meanwhile, keeps rolling and next Saturday hosts Kansas City in an East-meets-West collision of conference leaders.
Goal of the day
Adam Moffat, Houston Dynamo vs. New England Revolution
In the first half, Moffat sent a shot straight into the line of gun-toting historical re-enactors who stand behind the goal at Gillette Stadium dressed as figures from the Revolutionary War.
The Dynamo midfielder was a great deal more accurate in the 49th minute as he produced one of the best strikes in MLS so far this season and set the visitors on the path to a 2-1 victory. The militia had the weapons; Moffat had the bullet.
Andrew Driver's corner was cleared to Moffat, whose left-footed volley took less than a second to travel 25 yards and beat Bobby Shuttleworth. The shot was so fiercely struck that though it was hit almost straight at the Revolution goalkeeper from a long way out, he had no chance of stopping it. At a rough estimate, it was traveling at around 70 mph.
"I thought I'd take a touch, but it took a long time to come down so I thought I'd better hit it," Moffat told MLSSoccer.com. "Fortunately for me I caught it well and the goalie saw it late."
The "Moffat Rocket" is becoming a Houston institution. For a combative defensive player who rarely scores, the 27-year-old has a surprising gift for the spectacular. Past evidence that Moffat has jackhammer feet includes his strikes against the Portland Timbers in 2011 and Sporting Kansas City in last year's playoffs.
Saer Sene equalized for New England only six minutes later, but another Moffat effort from afar secured the points for Houston, as his low shot hit a post, then Shuttleworth, and bounced into the net.
Houston's goals ended New England's MLS home shutout streak at four games and widened the gap between the Eastern Conference rivals to five points. The Dynamo occupy the final playoff spot and are within sight of the top teams, yet this was only their second win in the past nine MLS matches.
New England had not lost at home since May 8. On that day, the Dynamo beat D.C. United 4-0 - and none of Houston's strikers has scored since. If the forwards want shooting lessons, they know whom to ask.