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Apr 12, 2010

Goaltenders have a weekend to forget

Hands of stone and brains of mush. That about summed up the weekend for the unofficial MLS Goalkeepers Union. On most days, watching D.C. United keeper Troy Perkins stay rooted to his line to allow Sebastien Le Toux to nod home Philadelphia's opener, or seeing Colorado's Matt Pickens get caught in no-man's land on Kei Kamara's game-winner for Kansas City, would have landed the award for slack goalkeeping. Incredibly, those transgressions didn't even crack the top three. In Houston, the normally reliable Pat Onstad committed the double sin of getting beaten to his near post from the tightest of angles by Los Angeles striker Edson Buddle. Yet New York goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul -- whose handling has historically been suspect -- comprehensively lapped Onstad. In the second half of Saturday's encounter against Chivas USA, Coundoul conspired to take a shot from Chivas midfielder Jesus Padilla that had caromed off his post, and under no pressure at all fumbled the ball into his own net. Yet the award for Goalkeeping Ineptitude in a Leading Role has to go to Philadelphia netminder Chris Seitz, who in the midst of punting the ball up field, succumbed to a Jedi mind trick from wily D.C. United veteran Jaime Moreno. ("You don't need to punt that ball. You will drop the ball at my feet now. These aren't the droids you're looking for.") Not one to forego charity, Moreno duly accepted the gift, rounded Seitz and scored what, at the time, was a priceless equalizer that had to be seen to be believed. Of course, what bordered on ironic overload -- and saved Seitz from leaving Lincoln Financial Field disguised as a Mummer -- was the fact that the Union goalkeeper actually walked off the field victorious thanks to Le Toux's hat trick. This is more than can be said for Messrs. Perkins, Pickens, Onstad and Coundoul. So what got into the league's corps of shot-stoppers? Was it a full moon? Did they eat some bad sushi? Who knows. What's clear is that now comes the biggest test of all, namely seeing which of these keepers has the shortest memory. It's a trait that's part of the job description, and veterans like Perkins and Onstad have been down this road before. In his home debut for San Jose in 2003, Onstad scored a howler of an own goal when he practically spiked the ball into his own net. He only went on to win Goalkeeper of the Year that season as well as an MLS Cup title with the Earthquakes. In 2007, Perkins let in a soft goal against C.D. Guadalajara that eliminated United from what was then known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup. He rallied to help lead DCU to that year's Supporters' Shield. Given the enormity of their gaffes, more eyes will now be focused on Coundoul and Seitz. The Red Bulls' goalkeeper has let in his share of soft goals before, but none quite as embarrassing as Saturday's. Seitz is young and talented, but you can bet that Union head coach Peter Nowak won't be in a forgiving mood if his young keeper can't clean up his game. Hat trick heroes: Buddle has set the early pace in the quest for the Golden Boot, notching his fourth and fifth goals of the season in L.A.'s businesslike 2-0 win over the Dynamo. Yet Buddle was outshone on Saturday courtesy of two hat tricks that were recorded from the unlikeliest of sources. New England's Zack Schilawski needed just 11 second-half minutes to take apart Toronto FC in the Rev's 4-1 victory. In the process, he became just the third rookie in league history to bag three goals in a game, with Columbus' Brian Maisonneuve and New England's Pat Noonan having done so previously. However, Schilawski was the first to perform the feat in his team's home opener. As for Le Toux, he recorded just a solitary goal for Seattle in all of 2009, although it should be noted that he spent most of the season operating out of midfield, as opposed to the forward slot he occupied on Saturday. His game-winning free kick in the 80th minute spared Philadelphia and the raucous crowd of over 33,000 from enduring the teeth-gnashing indignity of squandering a two-goal lead. L.A. sets the early pace: The fact that Los Angeles sports the league's best record after three weeks isn't a surprise, nor is the fact that the Galaxy have yet to concede a goal. But some pretty long odds would have been offered in preseason if you had said that L.A.'s perfect start would be accomplished without a single goal from Landon Donovan. Granted, L.A. has simply exchanged one red-hot scorer for another, with Buddle tallying all of L.A.'s goals so far. And while Donovan has done his bit with two assists, it speaks to the depth and balance of the Galaxy that they have been less reliant so far this year on the U.S. international. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table: Yes, it's early, and with the league's primary transfer window set to close on Thursday, some time still remains to finagle a player acquisition or two. But clearly, some alarm bells have already started to go off for D.C. United and Toronto FC. For United, the injuries are already beginning to pile up and the roster as it's currently constructed seems well short of the creativity, pace and solid defending needed to contend for playoff spot. In Toronto, the same defensive frailties that plagued the team last year show no signs of letting up. The absence of holding midfielder Julian de Guzman from the starting lineup on Saturday certainly unsettled things, and coach Preki's track record of squeezing the most out of his squad means all is not lost. But at the moment, there just aren't enough quality defenders to give the team a fighting chance on most nights. Padilla, Chijindu pave the way for Chivas: While Coundoul's blunder clearly set the Goats on their way to a 2-0 win, the play of Jesus Padilla and Chukwudi Chijindu did plenty to spark Chivas and give Martin Vasquez his first victory as head coach. Padilla entered the match due to Ante Jazic's first-half knee injury, but brought tenacity and energy to the team's attack. His speculative shot helped put the team on top early in second half, and he took his clinching tally with aplomb. Padilla's finishing touch didn't carry over to Chijindu, despite getting some good opportunities. But the man they call "Chucky" added the kind of physical presence up top that the Goats had lacked in their two previous games, as his ability to link with his teammates was a plus. Ray of light for Quakes, Convey: Saturday's 2-1 win over Chicago wasn't San Jose's prettiest performance since its rebirth in 2008, but it nonetheless offered some reasons for hope that the team's disastrous 2009 season is firmly in the past. Some heroic defending from Jason Hernandez helped the Quakes match their road win total for all of last year, and Ike Opara's game-winner came courtesy of an incisive ball from the much-maligned Bobby Convey. Convey caught plenty of heat for his disappointing play last season, and he was unceremoniously yanked at halftime by manager Frank Yallop in San Jose's season-opening loss to Real Salt Lake. And while he certainly struggled at times against the Fire, the fact that he contributed on one of the game's vital plays will give Yallop hope that there is more to come.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He also writes for Centerlinesoccer.com and can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com.

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