In ways subtle and not so subtle, this was a week to bet the long odds in Major League Soccer.
First and foremost was the silliness in San Jose: What were the odds that two Quakes teammates would choose to depart the field to change their boots, at the same time, and leave their shorthanded teammates to concede a critical goal?
Hard to say exactly, but if you had a warped enough mind to dream up just such a prop bet before the game, well, you’d have hit the jackpot.
That was just the most extreme example in a week threaded with statistical oddities and odds-defying performances.
Here are the Top 5...
You might not have been surprised that the Red Bulls coughed up a 1-0 lead in Chicago on Sunday evening, then lost the game by giving up two late goals. After all, New York have not won in Chicago since 2005, and the franchise has a long history of late bloopers.
But if you had to predict which player or players would be culpable, rugged center back Jámison Olave, who scored New York’s opener in the 27th minute, would be pretty far down your list. Yet there was the experienced defender getting torched by Maicon Santos on Chicago’s go-ahead goal in the 83rd minute, and there he was again, six minutes later, too easily beaten to a far post header by the Fire’s Jeff Larentowicz. The Chicago midfielder looped the ball back across goal for Santos to nod in the insurance goal in the Fire’s 3-1 win.
Experienced center back Markus Holgersson was also switched off on that second play, failing to track Santos at the opposite post.
And right before halftime, New York goalkeeper Luis Robles, a former Bundesliga player who has one cap for the US, misjudged a cross and let Daniel Paladini swoop into his goalmouth and power home the equalizer that gave the Fire momentum heading into the break.
As Red Bulls coach Mike Petke (right) told reporters afterward, it’s not like New York are an inexperienced group: “I’m with guys who are capable of so much more.”
The Timbers certainly believe they’re capable of more than they’ve shown so far this season, but when they lost two key players to injury inside the first 30 minutes of their meeting with 2012 MLS Cup finalists Houston on Saturday night, the odds of their doing so abruptly lengthened.
Suddenly missing their playmaker, Diego Valeri, and rugged center back David Horst, Portland brought on Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Kalif Alhassan, moved Darlington Nagbe into Valeri’s central attacking role, and came barreling out in the second half.
They seized control of the game, getting two goals from Ryan Johnson to nail down a 2-0 win, their first victory of the season and the first of coach Caleb Porter’s MLS career.
Toronto Turn the Tables
Toronto FC generated a second-half rush of their own on Saturday afternoon, and theirs was even more unexpected than Portland’s.
On the back foot against Dallas all day, the Reds trailed 2-0 in the final minutes and looked to be headed to their third loss in five games. Then came an unlikely boost from two even unlikelier sources.
In the 85th minute, striker Justin Braun – who made just 14 appearances last season and hadn’t played yet this year – bundled in a high ball off the head of FCD defender Matt Hedges to make it 2-1.
Five minutes later, TFC right back Darel Russell, whose errant header led to LA’s equalizing goal against the Reds last week, took a looping long ball from Braun, settled it perfectly and crushed a shot from 22 yards in off the far post to make it 2-2.
“Football is a funny game, isn’t it?” TFC boss Ryan Nelsen told reporters afterward. “It can be heartbreaking one week and absolutely as sweet as anything the next.”
Dallas, who had completely controlled the game until Toronto’s late burst, might reverse that sentence, but they could definitely relate.
Irwin in the Books
In Colorado, rookie Clint Irwin (right) became the first goalkeeper in league history to face a penalty kick in each of the first three games of his MLS career.
He followed that statistical oddity with another noteworthy first, becoming the first MLS 'keeper to stop a penalty from Real Salt Lake’s Álvaro Saborío. The Costa Rican striker had been 12-for-12 from the spot since joining MLS in 2010.
Irwin’s seventh-minute, spot-kick save, and his subsequent standout play, preserved a 1-0 win for Colorado and put them in position to win their first Rocky Mountain Cup since 2006.
But for all of the out-of-nowhere moments this week, the prize goes to San Jose’s Alan Gordon and Víctor Bernárdez for their fateful decision in the 60th minute against Vancouver. Having left the field to change their cleats, they were unable to return until the ball went out of play.
Their absence opened the door for Steve-O lookalike Corey Hertzog – who spent last year playing for the third-division Wilmington Hammerheads – to play the unlikely hero. He scored his first MLS goal, lifting Vancouver into a 1-1 tie with the 2012 Supporters’ Shield winners.