From Sporting Kansas City's first act since winning the U.S. Open Cup to a commendable postponement here are a few thoughts from Saturday's MLS action:
It is pretty difficult not to marvel at what Sporting Kansas City was able to accomplish just three days after capturing the U.S. Open Cup following an intense 120 minutes and nerving penalty shootout.
In an important Eastern Conference battle against D.C. United, Sporting KC came out buzzing and used their trademark high pressure to put D.C. on its heels through the opening 20 minutes, putting to rest any speculation that the club would sit back a bit and look to just survive after its mid-week triumph. Perhaps sensing the importance of the game considering the tightly contested playoff race and the fact that New York's win over Houston Friday gave the Red Bulls temporary sole possession of first place, Sporting KC was the aggressor, bossed the possession battle (63 percent-to-37 percent) and earned every one of the three points from the 2-1 victory in front of more than 20,000 at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Granted, D.C. was also at a bit of a disadvantage, playing without injured captain and reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario, among others. D.C. was also forced to throw recently acquired left back Mike Chabala directly into the fire, with a concussion preventing steady starter Daniel Woolard from playing. Even so, that Sporting KC was able to perform so capably is made all the more impressive considering that many of the same players who exerted so much Wednesday looked no worse for the wear Saturday.
Appropriately labeled a "beast" by head coach Peter Vermes earlier in the week, Roger Espinoza played 120 minutes in the Open Cup final and came off in the third minute of stoppage time Saturday, all after Vermes acknowledged that he hurt his shoulder playing at the Olympics for Honduras and might not be able to contribute at the height of his abilities in either match this week. In all, four players who played the full 120 Wednesday went the distance Saturday, and another, Paulo Nagamura, played 88 minutes. With a piece of silverware and a 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League berth already in tow, Sporting KC would have been excused for coming out flat or playing with an emotional hangover. Instead, the club boldly announced its intentions to take this season by the horns and make the Open Cup just the first accomplishment it hopes to celebrate.
While Sporting KC fought plenty of obstacles after the Open Cup final to get a result Saturday, the Seattle Sounders had a higher hurdle to try and clear. Between the physical exhaustion and short rest from the Open Cup, the emotional letdown of failing to win the final and make history in the process with a fourth-straight title and the amount of travel to Kansas City and then to San Jose -- not to mention having to take on the league-leading Earthquakes -- the Sounders ultimately had too much to overcome to successfully turn the page. Add to that San Jose's uncanny ability to score game-winners deep into stoppage time -- pesky forward Steven Lenhart assumed the role Saturday -- and the 2-1 loss seems all the more reasonable.
Seattle had five starters from Wednesday's match begin on the bench (attacking nucleus Fredy Montero, Eddie Johnson and Mauro Rosales among them), but the club came out reinvigorated and inspired, and if not for some misfortune, perhaps the outcome would have been different. Sammy Ochoa hit the crossbar twice, and Johnson and Brad Evans each sent two great second-half chances from close range over the cross bar. If there's something else that Seattle fans can take solace in, it was the first extended look at new Designated Player Christian Tiffert, whose set piece service was immaculate and whose class was evident in spurts. The more acclimated and in-tune with his teammates he gets, the more potent Seattle's attack will be. Dropping the Open Cup final came at a time when Seattle was finding its groove in league play, but with a decently sized margin for error in the quest to lock down a playoff berth, Saturday's last-second disappointment should not derail the Sounders for the long haul.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to dealing with in-season bye weeks. One on hand, the rest is great, it allows injured players to recuperate and for tired players to recharge. On the other, it can lead to rust, disrupt rhythm and get a team off its game. For the Vancouver Whitecaps, they used 14 days off to fine tune things and absolutely thrive in a crucial Western Conference battle against Real Salt Lake.
The gap in quality between last year's expansion Whitecaps and this season's club is quite remarkable, and the club's comprehensive, professional, defensively sound showing (aside for a last-gasp goal for RSL that came too little too late in the 2-1 final) was a nice response to their last match -- a 2-1 loss to RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium two weeks earlier.
The win closes the gap in the race for a top-three spot in the conference, which is important in order to avoid the 4-vs.-5 wildcard matchup considering the advantage the top three seeds have in the fast-pace playoffs. It also gives the Whitecaps points to work with going into a challenging week. The club was already going to be considerably shorthanded for Wednesday's match against FC Dallas, which falls on the FIFA international fixture date, but Saturday night's events mean that more than a quarter of the club's roster won't be available for selection for the conference tussle. In addition to the five players who were called up for international duty (starters Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards and complementary players Carlyle Mitchell, Etienne Barbara, Russell Teibert), Omar Salgado is still on the mend from breaking his foot, starting midfielder Gershon Koffie will be suspended for card accumulation after seeing yellow against RSL and captain Jay DeMerit is potentially concussed after a collision Saturday with goalkeeper Brad Knighton. The Whitecaps proved that they can compete at an elite level with the way they played Saturday, but it will be on the club's depth to carry that momentum into the next match.
Considering the recent fortunes of FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids, it is so easy to forget that less than two years ago both teams were fighting for the MLS Cup in Toronto. As part of the festivities that week, Dallas' David Ferreira was honored as the league's MVP, and slowly but surely he is approaching his top form after more than a year of injury woes.
Ferreira, who missed 28 of 34 games last season and missed the first 17 games of the 2012 campaign, scored his first goal since returning to action in Dallas' 3-2 win over Colorado Saturday, resuming his sorely missed place as the club's field general and offering a reminder of what could have been for the club if he had been healthy from opening day on this season. In many ways, not much as changed for the diminutive Ferreira, who continues to be battered every time he takes to the field. He has suffered 22 fouls in eight matches since his return, making the FCD faithful hold their collective breath every time he goes to the ground and maintaining his reputation as one of the most bruised players in the league. His attacking prowess has returned as well, though. With a goal and three assists in his brief time back, it is no coincidence that Ferreira has helped Dallas to a 3-2-3 mark after his comeback (FCD was 3-9-5 without him) and has the club out of its extended funk, performing like the glue that held together the club's MLS Cup finalist side.
Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew were slated to play Saturday night, but with the sudden and tragic passing of Crew rookie Kirk Urso, Columbus approached TFC about rescheduling the match so the team could attend Urso's funeral. TFC did the right thing and obliged, but the club put itself at a competitive disadvantage while taking the bigger picture into account.
By moving the game to Aug. 22, TFC now has five matches in a 15-day span, including a crucial CONCACAF Champions League game against group favorite Santos Laguna, two games against Sporting Kansas City and one against Houston. Three of those five matches are on the road. The schedule was already congested enough as it was, but now TFC and coach Paul Mariner have a major personnel conundrum with so many games in such a short period. As Urso's death quickly reminded us and put in perspective, there is way more to life than games on the field, and bravo for Toronto FC for acknowledging that, putting its own interests on the back burner and allowing for the Crew to continue the grieving process for their fallen teammate.