MLS Goal of the Week Nominees: Who’ll Finish Second to Sanna Nyassi?

There were some great goals in MLS’s Week 23, from Dane Richards’ sly curl around a defender into the top corner, to Jair Benitez’s terrific free kick.

But they all took a backseat, in our humble opinion, to Montreal attacker Sanna Nyassi’s sensational 70-yard run and sizzling finish past New England keeper Matt Reis.

Take a look:

Note to MLS defenders: do not let Sanna Nyassi build up a head of steam. He becomes unstoppable.

Brek Shea Is Having A Rough Week

Maybe the lanky Dallas winger had already been informed of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans not to include him in this week’s national-team camp when he lashed out in frustration like this last Saturday:

But either way, the outburst (good stiff-upper-lip reaction from the linesman, btw) earned Shea a three-game suspension from Major League Soccer. Incredibly, he wasn’t even carded for it during the game (way to get your linesman’s back, ref), but the league’s new Disciplinary Committee stepped in on Thursday and gave Shea a three-game break.

And you know what? Maybe that’s just what he needs. He’s been run ragged after more than a year of FC Dallas games, US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League matches, national-team appearances and commitments to the U.S. U-23s. It seems like he still hasn’t recovered, as his MLS form has dipped noticeably this season.

Some time off may be just what the doctor ordered, and hopefully will return Shea to the form he found last season, when he did things like this:

A Dislocated Elbow Is Every Bit as Uncomfortable as it Sounds, Carlos Rodriguez Will Attest

FC Dallas tied Real Salt Lake 1-1 in Frisco, Texas, last night, but the main postgame talking point was this freak injury to Hoops winger Carlos Rodriguez:

We’ve witnessed one of those in person, and had a reaction pretty much identical to that of Javier Morales in the above clip.

Dallas went ahead 1-0 just before halftime, when RSL defender Tony Beltran was whistled for a dubious handball in the box and Brek Shea buried the spot kick. Real Salt Lake’s euphoniously named rookie Emiliano Bonfigli equalized in the 72nd minute, settling a chip from Will Johnson and firing the ball past FCD’s backup ’keeper Chris Seitz.

Complete highlights here:

The tie leaves FC Dallas with a 3-3-2 record heading into Saturday’s game at Los Angeles, while Real Salt Lake—winless in their last three and winless alltime in the state of Texas (it’s true)—stand at 5-3-1. They host 0-6-0 Toronto on Saturday.

Red Bulls 2, FC Dallas 0: Galaxy’s Reward for Winning Supporters’ Shield? Facing the Team with the Highest Payroll in the League

It wasn’t always pretty—especially in the first 30 minutes or so, when their backline was under almost constant pressure—but the New York Red Bulls scraped out a 2-0 win over Dallas at Pizza Hut Park last night to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs.

New York will now take on the Los Angeles Galaxy in a two-game, total-goals series that begins on Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena (3:00 ET, ESPN2).

The Galaxy might prefer a different opponent as a reward for racking up the league’s best regular-season record (19-5-10), but the well-paid, high-profile Red Bulls played with a season-long inconsistency that boxed them into the 10th and final seed in the postseason. So here they are, looming as a dangerous first matchup for the Supporters’ Shield winners.

Then again, they may not be as dangerous as they were heading into last night. New York lost right back Jan Gunnar Solli, a key component of their defense and their offense (he regularly gets forward and swings in dangerous crosses), to a red card, and they may have lost right midfielder Dax McCarty to an ankle injury. The status of striker Luke Rodgers, who missed last night’s game with knee swelling, is also in doubt.

But the Red Bulls got the result they needed last night, and once again they had Joel Lindpere to thank for the critical goal that sent them on their way. Lindpere has been the most consistent and most clutch player on the team during the past two seasons. In the 61st minute last night, he ghosted in between Dallas defenders George John and Ugo Ihemelu in the box, and slipped Mehdi Ballouchy’s cross past Kevin Hartman for a 1-0 New York lead.

After Solli’s red in the 79th, the 10-man Red Bulls bunkered in to protect their lead, then iced the game deep into stoppage time, when Henry got behind the pushed-up FCD backline and eventually finished off a breakaway.

Highlights:

Can the Red Bulls Recreate 2008?

There’s been an acute outbreak of Playoff Fever at the BP HQ. The 2011 MLS postseason kicks off tonight in Frisco, Texas, with a match between FC Dallas and our beloved, beleaguered New York Red Bulls (9:00 ET, Fox Soccer).

We profiled Dallas’s excellent coach Schellas Hyndman for the league site yesterday; please give it a read. Chances are he’ll have his side ready to go tonight, even if they stumbled a bit down the stretch as the games and the injuries piled up. Between the CONCACAF Champions League, the US Open Cup, and the MLS season, Dallas has played 47 games this season. Last year, they played 34, “MLS Cup final included,” Hyndman told us.

The Hoops rested just about every starter (including wingers Marvin Chavez and Brek Shea, Hernandez, goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, defender Zach Loyd and midfielders Daniel Cruz and Ricardo Villar) in the season finale against San Jose this past Saturday, so the core of the team should have their legs back for tonight.

The Red Bulls will have everyone available except striker Luke Rodgers, the pugnacious Englishman who has been surprisingly important to the team this year. In a stat that coach Hans Backe called “frightening,” New York is 9-4-7 with 32 goals scored when Rodgers starts, and 1-4-9 with 18 goals scored when he’s not in the lineup. He won’t be in the lineup tonight as he has knee swelling and didn’t even make the trip to Texas.

So what can we expect from New York tonight? Let’s take stock:

After a bright start to the season, the Red Bulls struggled for most of the summer, racking up a record 16 ties and generally laboring to stay above .500. There were epic collapses at big moments, an embarrassing locker room controversy, an equally embarrassing goalkeeping crisis, misbehavior from a superstar, and a sophomore slump from their promising young centerback.

Yet they bounced back somewhat down the stretch, piecing together enough wins and clutch performances to edge into the playoffs.

And now … well, it’s a brand new season. They certainly have the talent to beat any team in the league, and are capable of making a run. Considering the players they have, it wouldn’t be as surprising as their 2008 playoff odyssey, when New York went 10-11-9 during the season, squeaked into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed, then knocked off Houston and Real Salt Lake to reach the championship game.

They ended up losing that game, 3-1 to Columbus, but the team had a pronounced just-happy-to-be-here attitude back then. If this group somehow gets to the final, you can bet they’ll smell blood in the water.

Of course, they have a long way to go to get there—longer than in 2008, when there were only eight teams in the playoffs.

This year, if they get by Dallas, New York will meet Los Angeles in a home-and-home total-goals series (second game at LA). If they get past that stage, it would be on to the conference final, a do-or-die single game, at either Seattle or Real Salt Lake.

A victory there would put them in the MLS Cup against either Colorado or a team from the East. It would also mean they had earned their berth in the final, having defeated three of the top four teams in the league, all on the road.

But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. It starts tonight, on the road at FCD. If New York is going to get by the first round, they’ll have to be sound defensively, and look to their big guns to snatch a goal or two.

As for the defensive part of the equation, the backline will know when they’ve slipped up, because keeper Frank Rost will revert to his native German. As Tim Ream told The Wall Street Journal, “That’s like your mom calling you by your first, middle and last name all at once. If he slips into German, everybody’s a little on edge.”

Here’s hoping Rost sticks to English all game long, and that striker Juan Agudelo gets a run—you know the 18 year old will be fired up to make a mark if given the chance in a big game like this.

CCL: Toronto Advances; Colorado, LA, Up Next

Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki was in the house at Pizza Hut Park last night, tweeting earlier in the day that he wanted to see “Brek Shea before he goes to the Bundesliga.” But it was Toronto FC’s Joao Plata, not Shea, who shined brightest in the pivotal CONCACAF Champions League clash between the Hoops and the Reds.

The diminutive Ecuadorian set up Danny Koevermans for the game’s first goal in the 28th minute, then added strikes of his own in the 69th and 81st minutes to ice the match and salvage TFC’s season, sending them to the CCL quarterfinals with a 3-0 win after the club had been eliminated from MLS playoff contention on Oct 1.

Here are the highlights:

FC Dallas—which opened the CCL group-stage by becoming the first MLS club ever to win in Mexico, downing Pumas 1-0 in Mexico City—needed only a draw last night to advance to the quarters. They got some promising forays from Nowitzki’s boy Shea, as well as from Jackson, and Honduran speedster Marvin Chavez, but it was Toronto’s, and Plata’s, night.

TFC joins MLS side Seattle Sounders FC in the CCL quarterfinals, which begin next March.

The Colorado Rapids face Santos Laguna in Mexico tonight (8:00 pm ET, Fox Soccer) with a chance of advancing, and the Los Angeles Galaxy take on Motagua in Honduras on Thursday (10:00 pm ET, Fox Soccer). Wins for both U.S. clubs would put four MLS sides in the CCL quarterfinals.

The Rapids are sending a mixture of reserves and starters to Santos Laguna, a club that routed Colorado 4-1 in their previous CCL meeting.

Midfielders Pablo Mastroeni, Jamie Smith, and Brian Mullan will miss the match, along with defender Tyrone Marshall and first-choice keeper Matt Pickens. Mastroeni (concussion) and Smith (calf) are injured; the other three are being rested for the Rapids’ MLS season finale against Vancouver on Saturday.

Los Angeles’s opponent, Motagua, is already eliminated from the competition, having lost all five of their group-stage games. The Galaxy are sending both David Beckham and Landon Donovan down to Honduras for the game (Robbie Keane is out with a groin strain)—though Donovan (quadriceps) said it will be a gametime decision for him as to whether to play or not.

MLS Roundup: Dallas Clinches Playoffs, Vancouver Dents DC, Keane Update

FC Dallas locked down a berth in the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs last night with a convincing 2-1 win at Chicago’s Toyota Park.

The Hoops dominated the opening 45 minutes, gettting a goal from Jackson just before halftime and one from Daniel Cruz just after the break.

Sebastian Grazzini pulled one back for Chicago with a brilliant effort in the 86th minute, but it was too little too late for the home team, which was down to 10 men at that point after Pavel Pardo had been shown a straight red in the 79th.

The Fire now stand six points shy of the playoffs with two games to play, and will be eliminated from the postseason if New York wins or ties at Kansas City on Saturday afternoon. In other words, they whiffed in—as Chris Russo would say—a big spot last night, at home against a team that entered the game on a four-game losing streak.

FCD’s goals here:

In Vancouver, the Whitecaps won their second straight game at their new digs, clipping the wings of DC United’s playoff hopes with a 2-1 triumph at BC Place.

We’ve said before that Vancouver might be the best last-place team in MLS history—only now they’re no longer in the cellar. Last night’s win gave the Caps 28 points for the season, one more than New England.

In any event, they are, despite their 6-16-10 record, a dangerous and entertaining side—an ideal spoiler for teams with playoff hopes, as DC discovered. They’re fired up to defend their new home turf, and they have the talent to do it—even without playmaker Davide Chiumiento, who was left out of the 18 last night due to an attitude issue, apparently.

No matter: the Caps scored 40 seconds into the game, when Camilo got on the end of a fine cross by Jordan Harvey (who seems to be enjoying the move from left back to left midfield) and turned in his 12th goal of the season.

Vancouver proceeded to dominate the first half, knocking the ball around crisply, and then, just seconds after the break, the Caps produced an almost exact replica of their opener, with Alain Rochat finding Long Tan for a header to make it 2-0. It was Tan’s first career MLS goal and it was also the first goal by a Chinese-born player in MLS history.

United defender Brandon McDonald made it 2-1 with a 58th-minute header, and DC had a penalty shout in the 76th, when a shot ricocheted off Caps midfielder Jeb Brovsky’s arm, but the pleas were waved off and Vancouver held on to win.

Here is Long Tan’s history-making header:

United—which played last night without Dwayne De Rosario, who suited up for Canada in Toronto on Tuesday—is five points off the playoff pace with three games remaining, all at home.

• Apparently, there’s discord in Denver, where Colorado Rapids coach Gary Smith is citing a “relationship issue” that could prevent him from continuing to work with Rapids’ technical director and former U.S. international Paul Bravo. (Denver Post, via MLSSoccer’s Kick Off.)

“We need to be able to come to terms with what both of us are at the club, or we need to move on,” Smith said. “One of us does, anyway.”

Not the best way to head into tomorrow night’s Rocky Mountain Cup game against Real Salt Lake, where a victory would clinch a playoff spot for the defending champs. (RSL is already in the postseason.)

• Galaxy striker Robbie Keane’s injury is worse than first reported, and Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trappatoni is not happy that the player went the full 90 against Andorra last Friday instead of reporting the injury and coming off. The coach said Keane “made it worse” by playing a full game with the injury.

No word yet from Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena on the prospect of competing in the playoffs without his top striker.

CCL Roundup: LA Hits Dramatic Late Winner, Colorado Rolls, Dallas Stumbles (But Remains Very Much Alive)

Galaxy midfielder Juninho volleyed in a flick-on from Chad Barrett off a Landon Donovan corner kick in stoppage time last night to give Los Angeles a thrilling 2-1 win over Morelia in CONCACAF Champions League action at the Home Depot Center.

In El Salvador, the Colorado Rapids fielded a reserves-heavy squad against Isidro Metapan yet came away with a 3-1 win, while in Panama City, FC Dallas floundered to a 5-3 loss on a waterlogged pitch against Tauro FC.

• The Galaxy are now tied on nine points with Morelia—which would have advanced to the quarterfinals with a draw—and Costa Rican side Alajuelense, which hosts last-place Motagua of Honduras tonight.

Mike Magee opened the scoring for LA, slotting home a pass from overlapping defender Todd Dunivant. See highlights below:

Los Angeles wraps up the group stage at Motagua on Oct 20.

• Colorado got goals from rookie Eddie Ababio (in his professional debut) and veteran strikers Quincy Amarikwa and Omar Cummings to move into second place in Group B with seven points. The Rapids will need to beat group leaders Santos Laguna, on the road, on Oct 19 to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals.

• Despite two goals from academy product Ruben Luna, FC Dallas produced the worst performance of the three MLS teams in the CCL last night— yet the Hoops still have the clearest path to the quarterfinals. They host Toronto FC in their Group C finale on Oct 18 and can advance with a win or a tie. A win would put them directly into the quarters, while a tie and a loss or tie by Tauro FC against Pumas would do the same.

Here are the highlights from last night’s goalfest, which also featured two red cards for Dallas and one for Tauro:

How Many MLS Teams Can We Get In the CCL Quarterfinals?

After last night’s action, we’ve got one in and four still alive. The league is not likely to place five clubs in the eight-team knockout stage, but three is a genuine possibility. Let’s take a look.

Seattle Sounders FC got two goals from the normally defensive-minded Osvaldo Alonso to tie Comunicaciones 2-2 in Guatemala City last night and clinch a spot in the CCL quarters.

The 25-year-old Cuban midfielder twice pulled his side level, hitting a bouncing volley off a goalmouth scramble just before halftime to make it 1-1, and punching in another in similar circumstances with one minute to play for the crucial final scoreline.

Highlights and postgame comments here:

The Sounders are in first place in Group D with a 3-1-1 record and can finish no worse than second place, regardless of what happens in their group-stage finale against Monterrey (3-2-0) next month.

The result is another highlight in what’s shaping up to be an excellent season for the Pacific Northwest side. The Sounders are headed to the MLS playoffs and have the second-best record in the league (15-6-9); they’ve reached the final of the US Open Cup—where they’ll be looking for their third straight title on Oct 4—and they’re in the CCL knockout stage.

Not bad for a club in just its third year of existence.

Toronto FC hosted UNAM Pumas last night, less than two weeks after the Mexican side had thrashed them 4-0, and just three days after MLS club Chivas USA blanked the Reds 3-0. To make matters worse, Toronto was missing three players, including Torsten Frings, due to suspension, and could not afford a loss if it was to keep its hopes of advancing alive.

It was close, and the Reds could twice thank the posts for keeping them in it, but Toronto hung on for a 1-1 tie against a reserve-heavy Pumas side.

Peri Marosevic took a nice layoff from Danny Koevermans to put Toronto up 1-0 in the 36th minute, and Marco Palacios tied it up for the visitors six minutes after the break.

Behold Pumas’s Diego De Buen rattling the upright from 30 yards in the highlights below:

Pumas now leads Group C with a 2-1-2 record and eight points while Toronto (2-2-1) is tied with FC Dallas for second with seven points.

Dallas plays at Panamanian side Tauro FC tonight (8:00 ET, Fox Soccer Channel) with a chance to reclaim the top spot. The Hoops have just one goal in their last six games and have struggled to three straight MLS losses. But they did hit the woodwork three times in their most recent game, a 1-0 defeat to Houston on Saturday, and they’ve welcomed back winger Marvin Chavez from injury. Tonight would be a great time to bust out of their slump.

• Much like FC Dallas, Los Angeles jumped out to a fast start in CCL play but has faltered of late, dropping consecutive road games to Morelia (Mex) and Alajuelense (CR) to slip to third place in Group A. The Galaxy faces Morelia at the Home Depot Center tonight (10:00, FSC), and pretty much have to win to keep their quarterfinal hopes alive.

They’ll also be looking to avenge a controversial 2-1 loss to the Mexican side two weeks ago, when LA had a Robbie Keane goal incorrectly disallowed in the waning moments.

The Colorado Rapids are 1-2-1 in Group B and sending a mostly second-choice team to El Salvador for tonight’s matchup against Isidro Metapan (12:30 a.m., FSC, delay).

Metapan was blitzed 6-0 by Mexican side Santos Laguna in its last CCL game, but can clinch a spot in the quarters if it beats Colorado and Santos ties or beats Real Espana in Honduras.

So which of the remaining four MLS clubs will advance? (See current standings here.)

FC Dallas may have the clearest route. If the Hoops can defeat winless Tauro tonight, then they’d head into their final game, on Oct 18 against Toronto, needing only a draw to advance.

Los Angeles needs to beat Morelia at home tonight, a result that, assuming Alajuelense knocks off 0-0-4 Motagua tomorrow, would leave LA and Morelia tied for second with nine points and Alajuelense in first with 12.

The Galaxy faces last-place Motagua in Honduras in its group-stage finale, while Morelia hosts Alajuelense.

If LA wins out, and Morelia beats Alajuelense, the group would wind up with all three teams on 12 points, in which case the first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition between the three. The second tiebreaker is head-to-head goal difference, and the third is head-to-head away goals.

As for Toronto and Colorado, we’d say Dallas is too big an obstacle for the Reds in Group C, and the Rapids, who seem to have placed less of a priority on the CCL than the others, are the biggest longshot of the five MLS teams in the competition.

CCL: Pumas UNAM Crushes TFC; Tauro Ties Dallas

Toronto FC have never been to the playoffs in four previous MLS seasons, and they look unlikely to make the postseason this year.

But after overhauling their roster in midseason, and qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League group stage, the Reds still have plenty to play for in 2011. They could become the first Canadian team ever to reach the quarterfinals of the CCL. To do that, though, they’ll have to come up with some much better performances than the one they produced last night at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario in Mexico City, where the Reds were thumped 4-0 by Pumas UNAM.

The hosts got three goals in the first half from striker Martin Bravo. Highlights below, but TFC fans may want to avert their eyes:

The loss drops Toronto to 1-1-0 and into third place in Group C.

The Reds host Colorado in an MLS match on Saturday, and return to CCL action on Sept 20, when they host Panamanian side Tauro FC, which tied FC Dallas 1-1 last night.

The Hoops scored the fastest goal in CCL history in that game, with midfielder Daniel Cruz finding the net after just 27 seconds, but had a George John strike dubiously called back for offside, and eventually succumbed to some heavy pressure from the visitors, giving up an equalizer just before halftime.

Those highlights below:

Dallas host Thierry Henry and New York on Saturday in MLS play, then welcome Pumas next Wednesday to battle for the CCL Group C lead.