MLS fired out of the post-World Cup-break gates with a flurry of interesting results and stunning goals.
With a group of internationals still away thanks to CONCACAF's success in Brazil, a handful of teams picked up where they left off, with reserve players filling the gaps. Those players who did return had varying levels of success: Boniek Garcia started for Houston in a loss, but Tim Cahill charged off the bench at Red Bull Arena to help save the day.
Cubo, Cubo, Cubo!
One of the more under-covered stories of the 2014 MLS season is the continued brilliance of Chivas USA striker Erick "Cubo" Torres. Torres scored again on Saturday, the lone goal in a 1-0 Chivas win over Real Salt Lake. The tally brought his season total to 10, good enough for third in the Golden Boot race. The goal to beat the defending Western Conference champs wasn't any run-of-the-mill tap-in, however: It was a full-on volley that will be up for goal of the year consideration when the season comes to a close.
Torres is the best thing about a bad team in Los Angeles. Nothing about Wilmer Cabrera's task with the Goats is easy. Not only did he take over a team with a weak roster and little fan support, Chivas USA is a lame-duck team with little reason to put much into the 2014 season. Thankfully he has Torres, a player capable of creating goals out of nothing, without a strong supporting cast around him. Fortunately the club worked out an extension of his loan from C.D. Guadalajara, keeping him in MLS through the season and giving him a chance at the season goal-scoring title.
Go Fast or Go Home
After taking a two-week break for the group stage of the World Cup, MLS is back with a vengeance. Across the league over the weekend, games were played at a breakneck pace, the players on the field releasing a store of energy built up over the break period. It didn't always make for the best quality of soccer, but it did provide entertaining moments and surprising results.
A few teams will rue the lost opportunity the end of the break provided. In New England, the Revolution fell to the Union 3-1, missing out on a chance to climb back on top of the Eastern Conference with a win at home over a team going through a coaching transition. For the Union, the three road points might serve as a jumping-off point for a playoff charge under Jim Curtin. D.C. United wasted an opportunity to take points off of a depleted Sounders side when they couldn't put the ball in the net.
On the flip side of that coin, Montreal picked up four points to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, the Rapids made a statement in a win over the Whitecaps, and Philadelphia took advantage of the restart to knock off the Revolution on the road in New England.
Philly Revitalized by New Man in Charge
New coach, new day in Union land. Philadelphia's 3-1 win in New England was exactly the start interim head coach Jim Curtin needed to instill some confidence in his players as the team goes through yet another coaching shakeup. It's simplistic, but the Union looked very much like a team in need of some enthusiasm, something that was lacking under recently fired coach John Hackworth.
The score line in Foxborough, Massachusetts, flattered the visitors just a bit -- the last Union goal was a product of the Revolution pushing hard for the equalizer -- but that won't matter as Curtin looks to build a new spirit in the club.
Philadelphia waited a long time for the old Sebastien Le Toux to show up after he rejoined the team for a second go-round. While he may not be the attacking star from his first stint with the club, the Frenchman's contributions on Saturday could breed some hope he can help yank the side back into the playoff picture. Throw in a little help from Andrew Wenger, and the Union have reason to believe.
Wherever Tim Cahill plays, he's the heart and soul of the team he's representing. It was true at the World Cup, where despite Australia's three-and-out tournament, Cahill cemented his legendary Socceroo status with a pair of goals. The second, a stunning volley against the Netherlands, will go down as one of the goals of the tournament.
On Friday night at Red Bull Arena, Cahill returned from international duty to once again lift his team. Down a goal in the late going, with the dispiriting possibility of a home loss creeping closer with every second, Mike Petke inserted the Australian DP as a last-gasp sub. Sure enough, he rose up to get his head to a hopeful ball from the back in stoppage time, flicking it expertly wide for striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, who fired it past TFC keeper Joe Bendik.
Heart and soul of the team, doing what a team leader is supposed to do.
On Saturday, the L.A. Galaxy beat the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 at Stanford Stadium. Gyasi Zardes scored the goal, a smart finish from an excellent layoff by Marcelo Sarvas. The Galaxy defense kept a clean sheet, with reserve Tommy Mayer playing a key role in shutting down the Quakes' attack. Even though San Jose was missing several key contributors, the win serves as a boost of confidence for a team that was underachieving until very recently. The Galaxy needed to start well out of the break to continue to build on their recent unbeaten run. Mission accomplished.
Could the win against San Jose presage a strong push toward the playoffs for L.A.? July brings a murderers' row of a schedule that includes games against Portland, New England, RSL, Sporting and Seattle. The first three of those matches are at home. It's a difficult stretch that will nonetheless serve as a litmus test for the Galaxy. Are they good enough to contend?
MLS Team of the Week:Goalkeeper: Zac MacMath (Philadelphia)
Defenders: Tommy Meyer (Los Angeles), Kevin Ellis (Sporting KC), Aurelien Collin (Sporting KC), Heath Pearce (Montreal)
Midfielders: Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia), Gonzalo Pineda (Seattle), Dillon Powers (Colorado), Danny Cruz (Philadelphia)
Strikers: Jack McInerney (Montreal), Erick Torres (Chivas USA)