Chicago gifts Seattle a win, while the Galaxy falls at home
The Seattle Sounders moved closer to the Western Conference summit as the L.A. Galaxy faltered, while Sporting Kansas City reasserted itself in the East and FC Dallas produced one of the goals of the season from a very unlikely source.
Game of the day
Seattle Sounders 2, Chicago Fire 1
Missing U.S. internationals Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey and with Obafemi Martins rusty in his first game for a month, you might have wondered where a Seattle goal would come from. The answer: Chicago.
The Fire was denied a draw when it scored a late own-goal that ensured it would remain outside the playoff places in the Eastern Conference, while the Sounders are up to second in the West, two points below Real Salt Lake with two fixtures in hand.
Chicago deserves credit for coming to a typically boisterous CenturyLink Field to face buoyant opponents and aiming for maximum points. Against a team of Seattle's ability, it took confidence from the Fire to open the game up and press for victory rather than try to keep the match tight in hopes of settling for a point.
Seattle might have taken the lead on the quarter-hour. Two minutes after Lamar Neagle failed to get off a decent shot when well-placed inside the area, he found Martins with a sharp pass and the Nigerian, clear at close range, blasted a left-footed shot over the bar.
That miss looked costly when Mike Magee snuck behind the Seattle defense to collect Dilly Duka's through ball and tucked a composed finish low into the far corner just past Michael Gspurning's grasp. It was the forward's fifteenth goal of the campaign, drawing him level with Marco Di Vaio in the quest for the golden boot, one ahead of Camilo.
However, Magee came off at halftime with what appeared to be a leg muscle injury. While it did not seem serious, Chicago naturally wants to protect the health of its leading scorer given how critical he is to its playoff push.
The Sounders soon had an ideal opportunity to make it 1-1 as the Fire's Bakary Soumare was penalized for handball inside the area. Helpful hint: it's never a good idea for a defender to jump as if he's trying to high-five the ball.
With Brad Evans absent, Osvaldo Alonso took the spot kick. He was denied his first MLS goal since July 2012 by a wonderful save from Sean Johnson. Alonso struck the penalty firmly, but it was at a savable height and not placed far enough towards the corner, giving Johnson the chance to fling himself to his right and push the ball away. With a goalscorer as gifted as Martins on the field, it was hard to fathom why the striker did not assume the responsibility from twelve yards.
After that heroic moment, it must have frustrated the goalkeeper that he was partially at fault for the Sounders' equalizer five minutes before the break. Mauro Rosales sent over a deep cross from the right wing, and Johnson dashed across goal but could only palm the ball to Marc Burch, who centered to give Neagle a simple close-range finish.
Johnson again denied Alonso in the 50th minute, superbly repelling the midfielder's vicious attempt from distance.
Despite a couple of close calls as Seattle surged forward in search of a winner, Chicago deserved a draw. Instead, it succumbed in cruel and hapless fashion to an 89th-minute own goal, as Gonzalo Segares, facing his own net as he ran back to defend, steered Zach Scott's low cross from the left past Johnson.
Player of the day
Claudio Bieler, Sporting Kansas City
Without Graham Zusi (international duty) to create chances and Kei Kamara (sold to Middlesbrough) to polish them off, Kansas City needed a commanding performance from Designated Player Claudio Bieler against the Columbus Crew.
They got one, as Bieler claimed his first goal since mid-July with a penalty kick and then provided an assist for Soony Saad as Peter Vermes' team assumed sole possession of top spot in the East with a 3-0 win over the Crew.
The outcome was a reality check for the away side, which had seen its distant postseason hopes rekindled thanks to a midweek win over Houston in interim head coach Brian Bliss' first match in charge.
When he's firing on all cylinders, the 29-year-old Argentinian forward looks like a complete player, able to create but also willing to work hard defensively. Saturday's goal took him into double-digits for the year.
Sporting's lead could be short-lived, since the Montreal Impact and New York Red Bulls play on Sunday in fixtures with big implications both for the teams chasing first place and those who'd currently settle for fifth. New York visits hot-and-cold Houston while Montreal is away to the New England Revolution.
Stat of the day
4 - Months since the Los Angeles Galaxy last lost at home -- until Saturday
With the Galaxy riding a six-game winning streak at the StubHub Center in all competitions as part of an eight-match home unbeaten run since a 1-0 defeat to the Houston Dynamo on May 5, it looked unlikely that a young Colorado Rapids team would subvert the trend on Saturday night.
But this is one of those weekends when the schedule coincides with international dates, punishing successful clubs by depriving them of their best players. As such, even though Los Angeles has been in an ominous, irresistible mood lately, this was an ideal time to face Bruce Arena's men. The head coach could not call on Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, goalkeeper Jaime Penedo or defender Omar Gonzalez.
Without the scorching-hot attacking pair of Donovan and Keane, perhaps it was not a shock that the Galaxy was blanked for the first time since July 27 -- when it lost 2-0 to the Rapids in Colorado. Los Angeles did muster 18 shots, but the inexperienced strike duo of Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal were unable to beat Clint Irwin.
On an evening replete with exceptional goals, Edson Buddle's winner against his former club was another to savor. Irwin, who started the year as Colorado's third-choice goalkeeper, tied the club record for shutouts in a season, with ten. And the Rapids are now only a point behind the Galaxy in the West, having played one game more.
Goal of the day
Jair Benitez, FC Dallas
An otherwise bland contest featured three excellent strikes from the home team in Frisco, with the grand finale coming courtesy of an 89th-minute goal from 50 yards out.
The Colombian defender dribbled five yards past the halfway line, spied Vancouver keeper David Ousted loitering outside his six-yard box and let loose a high, handsome shot that dipped over Ousted's frantic dive as he backpedalled in a doomed, flailing attempt to escape humiliation.
It was a once-in-a-career perfect storm of technique and cheek from the substitute. Scoring any goal is rare enough for Benitez, who had lost his place in the starting lineup: this was only his second in 121 MLS appearances.
There was a cruel irony for Ousted in the way he was so stunningly caught off his line, since his positioning was shaky throughout and several times he remained rooted under the crossbar rather than charge out to claim a cross. This time, with no apparent danger, he had walked forward to get a closer view of the action at the other end of the field.
Daigo Kobayashi had given Vancouver an early lead with a smart shot from the edge of the box, only for Je-Vaughn Watson to pull Dallas level soon afterwards. A devastating volley from substitute Mauro Diaz restored Dallas' advantage with three minutes to go, and it was hard to imagine anyone scoring a better goal all weekend. That is until, only two minutes later, his teammate had a brainstorm.
The good news for the Whitecaps is that though he did not play, Jay DeMerit was named to the 18-man roster for the first time since suffering an Achilles injury on opening day.