After waiting what felt like an eternity between MLS seasons, it's hard to believe that four weeks of MLS play have already passed us by. With the conclusion of week four and TFC taking their rightful place just below the playoff spots, let's take a look at what happened outside of the six (or... more specifically outside of the aluminadium we all call Rio Tinto) over the course of the weekend.
We'll start off with a very successful debut for a former TFC fan favourite. In Vancouver, the Whitecaps started off their Cascadia Cup defense on a positive note, once again playing spoiler in a last minute victory against their rivals from the south. The scoring opened on a well-placed free kick from Vancouver's Nicolas Mezquida around the 15 minute mark, after Whitecaps striker Octavio Rivero, whose goal-a-game streak was broken on the evening, was brought down just outside the box. Portland dominated possession for large parts of the match before finally equalizing as Fanendo Adi, who has had a brilliant start to the season, found the back of the net from close range after a bit of scramble in the 18 yard box. Portland then continued to press, looking for the game-winner... this sequence below was among the most impressive non-goals in all the weekend's matches:
Enter Robbie Earnshaw. The former TFC, Chicago Fire, and Welsh international striker was sprung on a counter-attack and did what he does best in a cheeky little chip over the rushing keeper. It was a fantastic debut from Earnshaw, and despite playing for one of TFC's rivals, most Toronto fans would be quite happy to see him do well over the course of the season.
Also of note, with Matias Laba playing the full 90 and Maximiliano Urruti starting (subbed off in the 65th minute) the former TFC contingent was alive and well in this west coast match-up.
Now to make us all feel better, let's move on to Dallas, where another former TFC striker did what he does best, failing to convert two clear opportunities (or even hit the target) in a 0-0 stalemate between Seattle and FC Dallas. That's right, Chad Barrett contributed zero shots on goal to Seattle's... well... zero shots on goal throughout the game, matched only by Dallas'... zero shots on goal (according to stats on the MLS page). All this despite Seattle enjoying over 62% of possession and playing a man up for more than 70 minutes after this interesting play:
A rare moment where advantage is called on a red card offense, served up as a fantastic appetizer for a rare match where neither team registers a shot on target (paging Martins, Dempsey, and Perez...). And Chad Barrett gonna Chad Barrett.
Speaking of scoreless draws, a relatively drab affair in Texas saw neither team coming away the victor as Houston played host to the Colorado Rapids. Tyler Deric put in another impressive performance, keeping him on track for goalkeeper of the year honours (I know it's early), as Colorado generated the better chances of the two sides. Marcelo Sarvas seems to finally be adjusting to life with his new side, as the former Galaxy midfielder was behind several of the big opportunities stymied by the Houston keeper.
In Columbus, the visiting New York Red Bulls enjoyed another solid performance from newly crowned designated player Bradley Wright-Phillips. BWP's goal was a converted penalty- but to be fair, it was his flick forward that led to the penalty in the first place. Wright-Phillips will also be credited with an assist on this game-winner, but that just may be overshadowed by the ridiculous strike that followed it, a long-range chip scored by Mike Grella to put the game away:
Toward the end of the match, in a rare moment that exposed the emotional fragility of Federico Higuain, the Columbus Crew designated player was sent off for a second yellow after yelling at the officials for calling a foul against him. But even a man down, Columbus forced New York Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles to make a remarkable stop to preserve the victory, evidence that the veteran keeper hasn't lost a step.
In New England, the Revolution and Earthquakes played a difficult game in frigid conditions as snow fell throughout large parts of the match. Kelyn Rowe's brace was enough to hold off a second half surge from the Earthquakes, during which Wondolowski converted a penalty to bring San Jose within one. Despite late-game efforts, the Earthwauskes were unable to equalize, and New England brushed the snow off their win column as they recorded their first three points of the season.
In New York City, the David Villa-less NYCFC couldn't overcome a rare converted long throw-in set piece (and great header by Ike Opara) as they failed to find the back of the net in a game where they dominated possession.
Although NYCFC pressed in the late moments of the match, SKC's defenders held their shape and saved the three points for the visitors at Yankee Stadium.
In La Belle Province, the Impact were looking to avoid a double-header loss (following FC Montreal's loss to TFCII) as they hosted a severely depleted Orlando City SC side (with only 3 non-keepers on the bench). IN an action-packed first half, Piatti scored on a penalty after a clear handball from a corner kick to put the Impact in front. Jack McInerney added to the lead with this impressive display of (his occasional) finishing ability.
But then Kaka remembered who he was, and where he was playing. Orlando's star Brazilian assisted a goal and then scored his own as he teamed up with Orlando's lesser Brazilian (Pedro Ribeiro) on both markers. With all four goals scored by the 31st minute, the rest of the match was surprisingly quiet as neither team could generate a good enough opportunity to steal the victory, and Orlando will be thrilled to leave Montreal with a point despite fielding such a shallow squad.
In Chicago, a boisterous crowd of roughly 12 thousand (watch out Orlando record) came out to see their winless team finally record a victory... against another winless team. Brazilian defender Adailton just got enough of his head onto a free kick to re-direct it past the Philadelphia keeper for the game's only goal.
Later in the first half, former Red Quincy Amarikwa had a penalty shout turned down as an apparent handball off of his close-range shot was ignored by the referee. Philadelphia midfielder Fred didn't make his team's job any easier in the second half, when he decided to face-smack an opponent with the ball nowhere in sight leading to a straight red and the Union going down a man. The Fire will be thrilled to finally notch a win, and with renewed confidence (and the return of David Accam) it will be interesting to see how this team performs over the next few games.
Finally, in our neighbouring nation's capital, the Los Angeles Galaxy were unable to preserve a tie as they lost in the dying moments of the match to the home side DC United. Without Keane and Zyardes up front, Los Angeles had to rely on a lesser striker in former TFC towering presence Alan Gordon. United keeper Bill Hamid had an excellent match, as he prevented a point blank Gordon header from finding the back of the net and also stopped a dangerous free kick from LA midfielder Jose Villareal (his crossbar also helped him out on an Ishizaki strike). Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius combined for DC's injury time winner, as the defending champions will make the trip home feeling robbed of a point by the midfielders' late-game heroics.
So with week 4 wrapped up, and the international players' absence leading to some interesting results, the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas find themselves ahead of the pack in their respective conferences (although it is very early). Montreal is still winless, Vancouver has found new ways (or players) to win games at the last minute, Philadelphia continues to look awful, and although Bill Hamid looked to be catching (no pun intended) up to Tyler Deric in overall keeper performance- the latter put in another one of his own fantastic outings to keep Houston relevant and give their fans something to cheer for as they await Cubo's arrival.