Wednesday, June 1, 2011

United Wins, Strikers Tie

After all the wonderful buzz and glow of FC Barcelona's scintillating victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final this past weekend, we now return to the less poetic realities of American soccer.  Mercifully, this past weekend our beloved DC United snapped the Portland Timbers home winning streak 3 - 2, while our favorite Division 2 side Fort Lauderdale Strikers took one point in the standings from a 0 - 0 away tied match against the Montreal Impact.  It was a dramatic outcome for the weekend, given the immensity of the Jedi Soccer match happening across the pond at Wembley Stadium.

United showed up in Portland already banged up from the early season.  Charlie Davies had a hamstring, and Josh Wolff a strained groin; Goalkeeper Steve Cronin was home with his wife expecting a baby, and former Timbers player Dax McCarty was sidelined with injuries.  Despite these limitations, United struck first in the 13th minute, when Chris Pontius launched a beautiful long volley from the left sideline into the box, where Brett Brettschneider received it and flicked it over to a crashing Perry Kitchen, who calmy punched in the first score of the night.  Just before the half, a goal by the Timbers was dissallowed for offsides, allowing United to take an uncharacteristic lead into halftime on the road.

The Timbers came out of the half on the attack, placing Bill Hamid under great pressure.  Cooper's header goal for Portland in the early half was again dissallowed for offsides, and United dodged another bullet.  Then, in the 60th minute an extraordinary series of events took place, when Cooper was dragged down by Dejan Jakovic in the box, leading to customary Penatly Kick for naughty behavior.  Astonishingly, Bill Hamid made two consecutive saves but each time was ruled by the Referee to have come off his line early, leading to a third try for Portland which was taken by Jewsbury, much to Cooper's frustration.  As the saying goes, 'third time's the charm' and Portland finally pulled even of DC United.

But in the 75th minute, Timbers defenseman Chara was called for a handball in the box, and Chris Pontius calmly scored for DC United on his first try without any additional chances, giving United the lead.  Ten minutes later the game was sealed when United substitute Josh Wolff made a daring and successful solo run into the Timbers defense, giving United the go-ahead goal that sealed the match.  So ended a dramatic and ultimately successful road foray for DC United, who continue to run hot-and-cold this season.  If they can simply stay hot for the next few matches, it would be so much better.

In NASL action, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers were also on the road at Montreal against the Impact.  The match was an exercise in mutual respect, as each side seemed to be playing in fear of their opponents and hence not generating much sustained offense.  Each team blew a point-blank shot during the game-- Idriss Ech Chergui hit the Strikers crossbar for Montreal in the 48th minute, while in the 71st minute Strikers forward Martin Nunez sailed his point-blank shot over the crossbar, and that was the match highlight reel.  Still, a point in the standings from a scoreless tie on the road is not a bad outcome for the Strikers, placing them just ahead of Montreal, third from the bottom of the league standings.  The Fort Lauderdale Strikers have the dubious distinction of having tied more matches (five) than any other NASL side this season.  Change three of those five ties into wins, and the Strikers would be in third place in the league and in the hunt.