Jaime Penedo saves the Galaxy, while San Jose lets a win slip away

Sunday August 25th, 2013

Although proficient with his feet, it was keeper Jaime Penedo's hands that secured a win for the Galaxy.
Joe Nicholson/USA Today Sports

The Houston Dynamo made the wrong kind of history, San Jose and Dallas battled to a draw, Los Angeles hailed a new star and a former MVP rolled back the years with a magical goal on an important night of MLS action.

Game of the day

FC Dallas 2, San Jose Earthquakes 2

This match had a handsome start and an ugly finish.

After failing to score on the road since July 3, the Earthquakes were 2-0 up in Frisco after 16 minutes on Saturday night. But Dallas replied with a scrappy goal from Blas Perez three minutes later and Michel equalized with 18 minutes left courtesy of a disputed penalty (aren't they all?).

San Jose had good reason to be upset, as Perez flopped under minimal, if any, contact, as he tried to control a bouncing ball. Referee Baldomero Toledo was persuaded to give the latest in a long line of soft penalties in recent weeks.

It was all set up for a thrilling climax, but some antagonism after that contentious decision seemed to linger and poison the closing stages, which featured three red cards after the 80th minute -- two for the visitor. San Jose substitute Justin Morrow was dismissed for a late and cynical foul on Ramon Nunez, then Dallas striker Kenny Cooper was sent off for retaliating to a bad challenge on him by Victor Bernardez, who also saw red.

It feels like an eternity ago that a self-assured Dallas was atop the Western Conference. This point, coupled with Vancouver's loss, puts the Texans fifth, three ahead of the recovering Earthquakes and eight points behind leaders RSL.

Two clubs either side of Dallas, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, will face off on Sunday night in front of an anticipated crowd of 66,500 at CenturyLink Field for Clint Dempsey's home debut.

Player of the day

Jaime Penedo, Los Angeles Galaxy

Do top teams need top goalkeepers? The evidence from the past two MLS Cup finals suggests not, as the Galaxy won both despite having the distinctly mediocre Josh Saunders between the posts. He left L.A. in the offseason and is now backing up Nick Rimando at Real Salt Lake.

But there is no doubt that Penedo gained two points for Bruce Arena's team on Saturday night with a stunning save late in the game as L.A. held on for a 1-0 victory away to the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Galaxy secured the win through a fine early strike by Landon Donovan.

In the 82nd minute, Kekuta Manneh's shot from distance cannoned off Penedo's lefthand post and rebounded to Jordan Harvey. All alone eight yards out, Harvey looked sure to score. But the 31-year-old Panamanian goalkeeper rose rapidly from his dive and threw himself back across his line to palm away Harvey's shot with his right hand. Penedo arrived out of nowhere to pluck the ball, like a superhero whisking a hapless passerby away from the path of a speeding vehicle.

It was Penedo's third game for the Galaxy since he joined the club earlier this month after impressing during the Gold Cup. He also looked good in his debut, a 4-2 win over RSL, and played in the CONCACAF Champions League earlier in the week.

He seems a low-key signing by Galaxy standards, but Penedo already looks like a significant upgrade on Carlo Cudicini. At first, the Italian's struggles could have been explained away as rust: when he joined, the former Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper had only played one first-team match since April, 2012.

But as this season wore on, it became clear that the 39-year-old's reflexes weren't sharp and his decision making was shaky. Yes, he has some impressive clubs on his resume, such as Spurs, Lazio and Chelsea -- but maybe there's a reason why he hadn't played more than 20 games in a season for those European giants since 2003-04.

In 21 MLS matches, Cudicini's save percentage was a dismal 57%. Penedo may lack Cudicini's name recognition, but he may turn out to be a far shrewder transfer. He's quickly making himself a reputation in MLS, rather than dubiously living off one earned far away and long ago.

The Galaxy moved up to second in the compressed Western Conference with this win. Had Vancouver claimed all the points, it could have been second; instead, it finds itself down in sixth, outside the playoff places.

No, perhaps a team as offensively stacked as the Galaxy does not need a stellar goalkeeper to win championships. But it can only help, especially if Robbie Keane or Donovan were to pick up an injury and the side was no able to score at will.

Stat of the day

5 - Goals conceded by the Houston Dynamo

It's the sort of scoreline that makes you rub your eyes, look again, then confirm with multiple sources. And even after that, it's still hard to believe. Two-time MLS Cup winner, regular playoff contender and runner-up in the past two finals, the Dynamo has been in existence since 2006. In well over 300 matches, it's never lost as heavily as it did on Saturday night: 5-0 to the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo.

A seven-game winless streak during May and June that featured the demise of Houston's record-setting home unbeaten run prompted some to wonder if Dominic Kinnear's team was as solid as in recent years, but a subsequent 4-1-1 sequence that included last week's 3-1 victory over Seattle silenced the skeptics.

Then came this demolition. Inspired by Justin Mapp, Montreal was rampant against a Dynamo defense missing the reliable center back Jermaine Taylor, who went off with an injury at the break with the score at 2-0.

The Quebec club showed why it has a reputation as one of the deadliest counter-attacking teams in MLS, ruthlessly picking apart dazed opponents after two goals inside three first-half minutes changed the course of what had been an even contest.

Montreal had already beaten the Dynamo 2-0 at home in June. But no one could have foreseen a margin of victory this large, especially since the Dynamo looked to be rounding into form while the Impact has struggled lately.

This, after all, is the time of year when the Dynamo habitually shift up a gear -- as opposed to Saturday's crash. So, was this simply a Houston aberration, or a sign of serious flaws? Certainly, Montreal deserves credit for its performance, which was a reminder of how effective it looked earlier in the campaign.

The outcome lifted the Impact to the top of the Eastern Conference; Houston remains fifth, only two points ahead of the Fire. Chicago and Houston meet at Toyota Park on September 1 in a game that should tell us plenty about both teams' playoff prospects.

Goal of the day

Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United

A clash between the only two Eastern Conference clubs with no hope of reaching the playoffs would not have been on many neutrals' "must-see" lists, though a screening might have been worthy of top billing at a masochists' convention. Yet United's 1-1 tie with Toronto FC did produce six seconds that every fan should watch.

Everyone knows the 35-year-old Canadian is capable of producing excellence. The trouble is that this year he has not produced much of anything. Though more effective in United's run to the U.S. Open Cup final, this was only De Rosario's third MLS goal of the season and his first since June 15. That came from the penalty spot and was also against Toronto, his former club. His other goal was a low free kick against FC Dallas.

Contrast this year's showing with 2011, when he scored 16 times and earned league MVP honors. In each of the past two seasons, De Rosario has supplied twelve assists. This year? One. It's no wonder D.C. is toiling so dismally, having lost so much production from one player and with no one else on Ben Olsen's side stepping up to compensate.

But here was a rare moment of joy. De Rosario brought down a high pass on the left of the penalty box on his left foot with a touch that rolled the ball across his body and helped him to jink past the first challenge. With plenty of defenders behind the ball and the forward heading sideways, it looked like he'd have to pass. But since the instant he peeled away from his marker and collected the ball he'd been plotting an elegant route through the traffic, like a ballet dancer twirling his way along a Manhattan sidewalk at rush hour.

De Rosario skipped past another would-be tackle, going towards the center of the field but away from goal. That greater distance even seemed to help in the end, giving his vicious shot extra time to dip down under the crossbar beyond Joe Bendik's dive. And dribbling at a right angle to the goal before wrapping his right foot around the ball helped De Rosario impart extra spin -- think of how David Beckham used an angled run-up to help bend his free kicks.

This year's statistics tell us it was a freak goal; De Rosario's history and ability say otherwise. But when he can still score like this, with power, precision, technique and above all, confidence, it's bizarre that he has taken 45 shots in MLS this season and found the net only three times.

"I think the last two months, he's been hungry," Olsen told MLSsoccer.com. "He's played with a different look in his eye. He's also getting healthy again, he's getting stronger. He's had two groin injuries, one early in the season, and he hasn't had a good stretch when he's fully fit and healthy."

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