Cue the Ennio Morricone score and lock in the dramatic close-ups: This was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” week in Major League Soccer.
There were breakout performances in Los Angeles and New York, including a Goal-of-the-Year candidate from young Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo.
There were see-saw games, controversial refereeing and some poor results for teams with playoff aspirations.
Finally, and most unfortunately, there was an awful challenge and two injuries that jeopardized the seasons of two of the league’s most creative players.
Let’s get to it.
In his 11-year MLS career—which includes five MLS Cups—Brian Mullan has never been called a dirty player. But his challenge on Steve Zakuani in the third minute of Friday’s Rapids-Sounders game definitely qualified as a “horror tackle,” as the British tabloids would say.
Mullan hurled himself hard at Zakuani, producing a sickening thud on impact—the kind that signals something is terribly wrong. Sure enough, X-rays revealed a broken right fibula and tibia for Zakuani, who underwent successful surgery and will remain in Denver for a few days.
Mullan was shown a straight red, and Seattle went on to win the game 1-0 on a 19th minute goal by Fredy Montero. But the dynamic Zakuani’s loss is a big blow for the player and his team—Zakuani was Seattle’s co-leader in scoring last year with 10 goals—as well as for the league.
Much the same can be said of the injury to 2010 MVP David Ferreira of Dallas, who broke his ankle the following day after a tackle by Vancouver defender Jonathan Leathers at Empire Field.
Leathers’ challenge was not in the same category as Mullan’s—not even close: He didn’t draw a whistle from the ref, much less a card. But the skillful Ferreira’s injury, which may have been a result of his foot catching on the turf, is just as troubling.
(Moments after Ferreira’s injury, Dallas tied the game through a George John header, and went on to win it on an 83rd-minute strike by Ferreira’s replacement, Eric Avila.)
No official timetables have been released, but Zakuani could be out for the season while Ferreira could face a three-month layoff.
Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan (knee) returned from a three-game layoff on Saturday night and made an immediate impact against visiting Portland. Donovan set up Chad Barrett for a goal then added one of his own—all in the first eight minutes of the match.
Donovan struck again in the 67th minute, heading home a deft chip from Juan Pablo Angel to make the final score 3-0 and send the Timbers back to Portland looking for their Jeld-Wen Field mojo.
HIGHLIGHTS: Galaxy 3, Timbers 0
New York Designated Player Thierry Henry produced a similar turn this past Thursday, exploiting some leaky defending by D.C. United to bag two goals and an assist in a 4-0 Red Bulls rout.
Young striker Juan Agudelo put an exclamation point on the victory with a sensational goal in the dying moments. If Agudelo’s flip-and-rip strike doesn’t win Goal of the Year this season, we can’t wait to see the one that tops it.
WATCH: Agudelo's wonder strike
Fate Is In the Cards
It’s often said that the highest compliment you can pay a referee is that you didn’t notice him at all.
Well, we’ve been noticing the refs quite a bit recently in Major League Soccer, and this week was no exception.
In the Toronto–Columbus game on Saturday afternoon, new Reds midfielder Tony Tchani celebrated his first goal for the club by jumping over the BMO Field placards and running to celebrate with the home fans.
When he returned for the restart, the referee showed him a yellow card—Tchani’s second—ending his afternoon. Shorthanded for the entire second half, Toronto gave up an equalizer to Emilio Renteria and had to scrape and claw to hang on for a 1-1 tie.
WATCH: Tchani sees red after celebration
While harsh, the decision against Tchani was within the bounds of FIFA’s Laws of the Game (Law 12, to be exact). Still, it got us thinking: Remember two weeks ago when Charlie Davies hit that penalty to salvage a draw with Los Angeles? After the goal, CD9 bolted the field, hurdled the signboards, climbed a VW car display and tried to enter the vehicle.
When he found the car locked, Davies returned to the field and unleashed “The Bernie” on an unsuspecting audience.
Any card-able offenses in all of that?
Let’s look at the FIFA Laws: Leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission. Check. Unnecessary and excessive display of celebration. You could certainly make the case. Acting in a manner that shows a lack of respect for the game. Hey, a Weekend at Bernie’s reference is extremely disrespectful in any context.
Kidding aside, after seeing Davies’ celebration—and others like it—go unsanctioned, it’s hard to fault Tchani for thinking he was safe to share a little joy with the BMO fans.
The New England–Kansas City game later that day featured the solid MLS debut of US international Benny Feilhaber, who had an assist, and the first MLS goal for recent signing Rajko Lekic—along with a controversial penalty and a disputed ejection.
Fortunately for Revs fans, the ejection (of KC defender Aurelien Collin) canceled out the penalty (on Kevin Alston, for a slight clip of Teal Bunbury), and set the stage for Lekic’s brilliant 83rd-minute header that gave New England a 3-2 win.
The San Jose Earthquakes reached the conference finals last season, but their efforts to build on that strong showing have hit a snag this month.
After falling to New York 3-0 last week, the Quakes returned home to face winless Chivas USA. A perfect opportunity to get back on track, right? Wrong: the Quakes surrendered a 1-0 lead and lost 2-1 on Mariano Trujillo’s 85th-minute put-back of a great Justin Braun effort. (It was Chivas’s first win of the season, and fourth straight game without a loss.)
HIGHLIGHTS: San Jose 1, Chivas USA 2
Chicago had similar hopes to right the ship at home this week after three straight losses. They welcomed the Houston Dynamo to Toyota Park and promptly went up 1-0 on Diego Chaves’ fourth goal of the season.
But a second-half near miss would come back to haunt the Fire as Houston equalized on a Bobby Boswell header seven minutes from time, and the teams split the points.