Avi Creditor: Impact stay hot at home, O'Dea's solid debut with Toronto, more MLS notes - Sports Illustrated

Impact stay hot at home, O'Dea's big debut with Toronto, more notes

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1. Montreal overcomes confusing sequence, stays hot at home -- The way notorious instigator and San Jose Earthquakes forward Steven Lenhart and Montreal Impact center back Hassoun Camara were going at it in the early going at Stade Saputo in Montreal's 3-1 win over the league-leading Earthquakes, it's no surprise both were given marching orders for a clash that boiled over. Just how the sequence ended up as a penalty kick for the Earthquakes, though, was a little puzzling.


Both Camara and Lenhart were red-carded for their roles in a 19th-minute skirmish in which Lenhart initiated things by throwing a light elbow at Camara, which was answered with a violent swipe. Since the act happened in Montreal's box and Camara was given a card for something while the ball was in play, referee Armando Villarreal awarded San Jose a penalty. If what Lenhart was red-carded for was his initial contact with Camara, though, then where the retaliation happened on the field should not have ultimately mattered in terms of the run of play. Instead of the cards offsetting each other, both players were ejected, but San Jose got the supreme advantage of having a penalty kick, which Chris Wondolowski converted for the game's first goal.

In the end -- and to Montreal's credit -- the unusual play didn't affect the result. The Impact scored three unanswered goals, with the midfield triumvirate of Patrice Bernier, Felipe and Lamar Neagle bossing the match that ended with Montreal having 10-9 player advantage. And with San Jose's chief "Goonies" Alan Gordon (previously suspended) and Lenhart (ejected) unavailable down the stretch, the Earthquakes' late-game mojo never materialized. With the win, the Impact improved to 7-2, including five straight wins at Stade Saputo, their new home. The club's place in the Eastern Conference standings is a bit of fool's gold right now, as Montreal is technically fifth and in the playoff picture while being tied on points and having the goals-scored tiebreaker with D.C. United. That comes with the massive caveat of D.C. having five games in hand on the Impact, though.

2. Grading O'Dea's debut -- Toronto FC lost again Saturday and is way closer to having a top two pick in January's MLS SuperDraft than it is making a late-season surge for the first playoff berth in franchise history, but the club may have finally plugged its deepest hole and found a big part of the solution for its defensive woes.

Charged with becoming the anchor of a work-in-progress Toronto back line, Darren O'Dea did just that in his sparkling debut for the club in its 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City at BMO Field. The loss was in no part O'Dea's fault, who was a rock in the face of one-way traffic. According to statistics outfit Opta, O'Dea came up with nine headers, eight clearances and two blocks, distributed well out of the back and was a constant presence while dealing with Sporting KC's high-pressure play. He appeared to tire down the stretch and cramp up with about 15 minutes to go, but he never appeared to be out of place and should have been a reason why TFC was celebrating a draw against the Eastern Conference's top team instead of wondering what went wrong after the club conceded a soft goal off a routine set piece.

O'Dea certainly would have come in handy in the club's mid-week draw with Portland, but was on international duty with Ireland while the Reds struggled mightily to defend against the Timbers while nursing a late lead. The fact he was able to travel back from Ireland's friendly in Serbia, join the club for a training session and seamlessly transition to a new squad makes his performance all the more impressive. This season has turned into yet another one of TFC searching for building blocks for the future, but in the 25-year-old O'Dea, a former Celtic defender who will be a definite asset in CONCACAF Champions League play, the Reds have uncovered a solid one.

3. Montero thrives again as substitute -- With the way Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero have begun to thrive in their forward partnership for the Seattle Sounders, it would be lunacy to suggest Montero should be reduced to a regular substitute, but the numbers support that unconventional notion.

With his ice-breaking tally off the bench in the second half of Seattle's important 2-0 victory over Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver, Montero has now scored goals in three straight games as a substitute, including last weekend against San Jose in which he entered as an 84th-minute spark plug and managed to tuck home a late equalizer before the Earthquakes ultimately prevailed. One of the more puzzling statistics this season is of Montero's eight goals, five have come in his four games off the bench.

Even with his performances off the bench piquing curiosity, Montero, with his price tag and talent level, is way too valuable for Seattle to have his minutes slashed to those of a reserve, and nobody should expect Seattle to take that course of action even though Sounders coach Sigi Schmid has stripped his starting duties before while he was mired in a scoring slump. In his postgame remarks, though, Schmid explained the reasoning for why Montero was temporarily relegated to bench duty while maintaining the stance that it would not be a regular occurrence. Montero is, however, quite the luxury to have as a bench option should Schmid elect to keep the red-hot Johnson (eight goals in his last 11 games) as a single forward from time to time to give opposing defenses a different look.

4. Chivas narrowly fends off step toward history -- Chivas USA's offensive futility is approaching historic proportions and, if not for Juan Pablo Angel's late equalizer in the club's 1-1 draw with Colorado, the situation would be even more dire.

The Goats have already been shut out 10 times this season with 12 games still remaining on the schedule. The record for most times being shut out in a single season belongs to the 2010 D.C. United team that was blanked an astounding 17 times in 30 matches. One area Chivas USA beats that D.C. team, though, is by totaling the lowest goals per game in the history of the league. With just 15 tallies in 22 matches, Chivas USA is scoring a paltry .68 goals per contest, which is a worse rate than the .70 goals per game (21 goals in 30 games) United scored two years ago.

It is not as if this is a new development for the Goats. Over the last three years, Chivas USA has been the most shutout team in the league, going scoreless 12 times in 2010 and again in 2011. Chivas tried to address the area this season by trading for Juan Agudelo, signing Colombian striker Jose Erick Correa and drafting collegiate standout Casey Townsend, but the club still does not have a master connector in the midfield to make plays happen for others and will continue to have to grind out goals much like the one Angel scored in the 83rd minute Saturday. It makes last year's decision to pass on California-raised playmaker Benny Feilhaber with the top spot in the allocation order -- one that was never used, mind you -- all the more curious.

5. Castillo finds his range -- For the majority of his budding MLS career, FC Dallas winger Fabian Castillo has been all speed, little control or finish, much like the first version of Dominic Oduro prior to his breakout season last year with the Chicago Fire.

Of late, though, Castillo is on a tear and has his radar locked in on target. After his midweek game-winning goal against Vancouver and his opening goal in the club's 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake Saturday, the 20-year-old Castillo now has goals in three straight games and five tallies on the season, and he is finally justifying the transfer fee FC Dallas paid to Deportivo Cali to land him from the club in his native Colombia as a Designated Player in March, 2011.

It is no coincidence David Ferreira's return from injury for FC Dallas has had plenty to do with his countryman's emergence. Ferreira, who scored the game-winner against RSL in dramatic fashion, was the architect of Castillo's goal Saturday, playing him into space for a well-taken finish from a tight angle, and he had a hand in his goal against Vancouver as well. With the two Colombians thriving together and gaining a growing understanding of one another on the field, Castillo, and Dallas' attack as a whole, will continue to reap the rewards. As things stand, the club has scored multiple goals in three straight games and 13 goals in its last six to rapidly ascend the Western Conference standings and make Vancouver and Los Angeles sweat a little bit as they look over their shoulders from their places at the bottom of the playoff picture.