May 2011: MLS best on display as N.Y. - L.A. clash delivers on all counts

It’s not often that a much-hyped game comes close to living up to its billing, but that’s exactly what happened in the showdown of Major League Soccer’s two biggest teams when the New York Red Bulls played to a 1-1 draw at the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday.

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David Beckham (L.A.) and Thierry Henry (N.Y.) battling is out during the top match of the MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy and Red Bulls New York played to a 1-1 draw. (Photo: GettyImages)


 
With five of the league's six players who are making more than $1 million this season on display, it figured the Galaxy and Red Bulls would entertain and each of those big money makers delivered on all accounts, including goals from Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan.


David Beckham setup Donovan’s header off a corner kick just before the half and could have had a few more assists if Juan Pablo Angel was a bit more accurate and Donovan had put a little more power on his shot that rolled toward an open goal that a scrambling Tim Ream hooked off the goal line with a masterful desperation slide. Beckham had yet to play as inspired thus far this season and in spite of the near misses, it was clearly Angel’s best game for L.A since moving from New York during the off-season.


Former FC Barcelona defender Rafa Marquez had the most effective game for the Red Bulls, but it was Henry that stole the show as he ghosted about the pitch. Occasionally out on the left, then up front and other times coming deep from midfield, he was nearly impossible to track and kept the Galaxy off balance all evening. Henry’s classy bit of finishing just three minutes into the match was only surpassed by his highlight reel run in which he juggled the ball six times at a full sprint upfield more than a dozen yards without it touching the ground.

For those keeping score in the fiscal game, based on figures released Saturday by the players' union, Beckham is again the league's highest-paid player at $6.5 million. Henry is next with $5.6 million, followed by Marquez at $4.6 million, while Donovan makes $2.3 million and Angel earns $1.25 million. Although the salaries don’t come close to those of other leagues in Europe and around the world, the $25,816,766 sum of the two teams is nearly half of the $54,162,413 combined total salaries for the other 16 MLS teams.

"They saw great football"


“Tonight, for the neutrals it must have been a good game,” said Henry. ”They saw some great football. We were just trying to pass the ball and it’s refreshing to see that L.A. was trying to do the same. It’s a little sad that it was an even game, but what we’re trying to do is to play football, and that’s what L.A. does as well."


Their goals and skillful play was only part of the entertainment as Henry and Donovan kicked and cajoled and mocked each other on several occasions to the delight of neutrals and devoted fans alike. However the banter never overshadowed the inspired attacking play shown by both sides.


“You’re not going to see too many games like that in our league this year,” said Donovan. “I was impressed how much they put into trying to get after it and win the game. Most teams come here and try to defend for 90 minutes. It was a good, fast game.”


The match could have easily ended 2-2 or 3-3 if it weren’t for superb goalkeeping by Senegalese international Bouna Coundoul for New York and Los Angeles’ Jamaican netminder Donovan Ricketts
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A capacity crowd of 27,000 watched the top match between the two top teams of the Major League Soccer at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. (Photo: GettyImages)


“I think this is probably the best you can see in MLS,” said Red Bull coach Hans Backe. “It probably should have ended up 3-3. It was a very intense game. I can compare it with many leagues in Europe that would be very happy if they had seen a game like this with the number of chances and the technical level, and the work rate. The whole package was very good.”

Win turns into a big loss for Real Salt Lake

Just a couple of weeks ago Real Salt Lake was the envy of the U.S. soccer community, sitting on the verge of a trip to the FIFA World Club Championship and on top of the Western Conference standings.

Suddenly, that’s all changed with the heartbreaking CONCACAF Champions League final loss along with the Galaxy’s surge to the top of the table and now it must find a way to negotiate perhaps the rest of the season without its best player, injured midfielder Javier Morales.

Morales underwent surgery Monday at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center to repair his fractured tibia and fibula, a dislocated ankle and torn ligaments he suffered in his left leg when he was recklessly tackled from behind by Chivas USA’s Marcos Mondaini in the1-0 victory for RSL on Saturday.

Doctors said the 31-year-old playmaker will be out at least four months, but his teammates and coach were assuming he won’t return until next season.

Either way, RSL might have just seen its hopes of winning the MLS Cup and Supporters Shield regular-season title dashed, considering how important Morales has been to its success. Salt Lake was eliminated from the playoffs by FC Dallas last season in a game that Morales missed because of a red-card suspension and although the team is among the deepest in the league, playing four months without its best player could cost it just enough points to keep it off the top of the table.

“He’s one of the best players in the league,” team captain Kyle Beckerman said. “So it’s not only bad for us, it’s bad for the league that he’s not going to be playing.” The MLS Disciplinary Committee will meet in the next couple of days to review the gruesome tackle on Morales, and potentially punish Mondaini the way it did with the nine-game suspension it imposed on Colorado’s Brian Mullan after he broke the leg of Seattle’s Steve Zakuani with a reckless tackle last month.


In the past few weeks, MLS has lost four top players to serious, even career-threatening injuries - Zakuani, David Ferreira, Branko Boskovic and now Morales. It’s no coincidence that these are all skillful attacking players. Two of them in fact, are Designated Players and MLS must crack down on these types of crude or clumsy tackles if it wants to continue to attract high profile players from foreign leagues
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The Portland Timbers remained perfect at home by beating the Philadelphia Union 1-0 on Friday night and Toronto FC got its first win in seven league games by beating the Houston Dynamo 2-1 on Saturday. Nineteen-year-old Ecuadorian forward Joao Plata recorded his first MLS goal and assist in the match and was voted MLS Player of the Week.

All the other weekend matchups ended even. The Columbus Crew played to a 1-1 stalemate with the Seattle Sounders, while D.C. United and FC Dallas; the New England Revolution and the Colorado Rapids; and the Chicago Fire and Vancouver Whitecaps all played to scoreless draws.

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19-year-old Ecuadorian Joan Plato of Toronto FC was elected MLS Player of the Week after the 2-1 win over Houston Dynamo. (Photo: GettyImages)