NEW YORK — You know it’s been an entertaining round of games when there are no fewer than five legitimate candidates for the Player of the Week award, along with six bona fide Goal of the Week, if not Goal of the Year, contenders.
Throw in half a dozen matches with dramatic late turns, some stunning road results, and a landmark stadium debut, and you have one of the best weeks of 2011. Maybe one of the best weeks of all time. No joke.
Let’s take another look.
When New York’s Juan Agudelo scored his spectacular flick-and-volley against D.C. United in April, we said that if it didn’t win Goal of the Year, we couldn’t wait to see the one that topped it.
Well, I think we saw that one on Saturday night. In the 85th minute at Qwest Field, Vancouver Designated Player Eric Hassli picked off a Seattle clearance near the edge of the box, popped it up and crushed an outrageous dipping volley to the far post from a sharp angle.
The shot pinged off the left upright and into Kasey Keller’s net to lift Whitecaps FC to a 2-2 tie in the first MLS meeting between the longstanding Cascadia rivals.
The strike was as timely as it was spectacular, coming just one minute after Vancouver had seen their 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit on goals by Seattle’s Mauro Rosales and Osvaldo Alonso just three minutes apart.
Vancouver didn’t break their winless streak (now standing at 14 games), but they did get a quality road point, and Hassli’s wonder goal capped one of the most exciting sequences of the 2011 season.
And just down I-5 from the Emerald City, the boys from the Mile High City showed no pity for the Rose City with some stoppage-time heroics of their own. A 92nd-minute equalizer from Drew Moor earned the Rapids out a scrappy 1-0 win at Portland.
WATCH: Hassli slams volley
The terrific goals and fantastic finishes were not limited to the Pacific Northwest.
LA and Toronto also produced an improbable late-game exchange, a Goal of the Week candidate, and another 2-2 scoreline.
With the game tied 1-1 after goals by Chris Birchall (his first-ever in MLS) and Alan Gordon, LA’s Juan Pablo Ángel struck what appeared to be the match-winner, burying a volley from 12 yards in the 90th minute. But Gordon hit back for Toronto on the very last tick of stoppage time, banging in a volley off the top of the right post for a sensational equalizer against his former club.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: LA 2, Toronto 2
The Mendoza Line
Last Wednesday, the week began with a late-game comeback in Columbus, as the Crew got a goal and an assist from Andrés Mendoza to rally past Real Salt Lake, 2-1.
Mendoza’s performance was impressive but spiked with controversy. The 33-year-old Peruvian insisted on taking a 76th-minute penalty kick for Columbus even though the Crew’s Jeff Cunningham also indicated a desire to take the kick and was a) the team’s designated penalty-taker for the game, and b) just one goal away from tying Jaime Moreno for the all-time MLS career scoring lead.
Yeah, it was more than a little awkward, but, fortunately for the entire Crew locker room, Mendoza buried the spot kick. He then turned provider on defender Josh Gardner’s 82nd-minute winner.
Columbus was on the other end of a late-game heartbreaker four days later, when visiting Chicago got a 91st-minute goal from Cristian Nazarit (after great work by fellow sub Orr Barouch) to beat the Crew 1-0 on Sunday.
The win snapped an 11-game winless streak for the visitors, and the goal was their first in three games. Small wonder, then, that interim coach Frank Klopas was hugging everyone in sight, Jimmy V.-style, after the final whistle.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: Columbus 0, Chicago 1
TNT at PHP
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi is surely excited that his team opened Livestrong Sporting Park this past Thursday, but part of him may wish KC could play all their games at FC Dallas’s Pizza Hut Park.
In 2008, Zusi led Maryland to the NCAA title in that venue, scoring the game-winning goal. On Sunday night, the 24-year-old midfielder scored two goals and assisted on another to lead Sporting to a shocking 4-1 win over Dallas at PHP, breaking the Hoops’ nine-game unbeaten streak.
Both of Zusi’s goals were excellent, but the second — a 45-yard free-kick tracer that caught Kevin Hartman by surprise — will join the crowded field for Goal of the Week. So, too, will Brek Shea’s run from midfield past four Kansas City defenders (with a cool finish to the far post) to make it 1-1 in the 32nd minute.
But it was all Sporting after that as Aurélien Collin made it 2-1 in the 49th and Zusi’s howitzer came in the 55th. Even a second yellow to KC midfielder Milos Stojcev couldn’t slow down the visitors: Luke Sassano added a fourth 20 minutes later to complete the rout.
Sporting could’ve used some of that offense three days earlier when they opened the impressive Livestrong Sporting Park with a scoreless draw against Chicago.
There were no goals, but there was some late-match drama. In the 85th minute, Kansas City attacker Omar Bravo was clipped in the box by Chicago defender Bratislav Ristic, prompting a penalty shout from the sellout crowd, which appeared to have a case.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: Dallas 1, Sporting 4
Along with two-goal performances by Zusi, Hassli and Gordon, Week 13 brought a hat-trick from San Jose’s Steven Lenhart and a standout performance from Thierry Henry, who forced an own-goal and scored one after a brilliant individual effort to lead New York to a 2-1 win over New England.
Lenhart struck in the 15th and 22th minutes then set up Simon Dawkins for the eventual gamewinner before adding his third at the hour mark to complete a 4-2 win over D.C. United.
It was a breakout performance by the rangy striker, and with San Jose’s 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski away on international duty, it could not have come at a better time.
The Quakes have won four of their last five and climbed above .500 (5-4-4), while New York (5-2-7) and Henry moved into a tie for first with Philadelphia in the East.
Home Team Blues
In the week’s remaining two games, Fabián Espíndola scored a superb goal on the counterattack (and against the run of play) to lift Real Salt Lake to a 1-1 draw at Philadelphia, and Houston forced an own-goal out of Heath Pearce to down Chivas USA, 2-1.
The Dynamo were one of just three home teams to win this weekend, as hosts went 3-4-4 in 11 games.