Monday, April 18, 2011

Staying In Touch

On a weekend packed with great soccer matches, I caught two games on television. Barca-Real Madrid? No thank you. Manchester Cup Derby? Not my cup of tea. Arsenal-Liverpool? Maybe alright for some, but no sir.

In this house, only the best = Saturday, D.C. United in Toronto; Sunday, the L.A. Galaxy in Chicago.

Both games featured huge contributions from players we followed locally, which ended up being the theme of the weekend.

Begin Friday night: IFK Mariehamn played another game in the Finnish Cup, this time against Honka, and won 1-0 on a goal by Toni Lehtinen. Per the match report, the most valuable player of the game was the man most responsible for the shutout, Josh Wicks. In addition to making some great saves to preserve the clean sheet, Lehtinen's goal is reported to have come off a Wicks' boot forward. Mariehamn now moves on to the quarterfinals as one of the final eight teams remaining in the tournament after reaching the semifinals last season. IFK Mariehamn's league season opens on April 28th against Lehtinen's former team and fellow Finnish Cup quarterfinalist, FC Haka. Long may Wicks' good run of play continue.

On Saturday night, Ethan White was handed his third consecutive start anchoring D.C. United's defense against Toronto FC. In the second consecutive league match, he was joined by fellow Terp Marc Burch in the back four. White didn't have a perfect game, but he was solid and fearless and a seminal part of DC's first clean sheet of the regular season. Along with Perry Kitchen and Chris Korb, United has added three very good players from the collegiate ranks to their defense (and all three played Saturday). Questions were raised as to whether White was too eager to leave Maryland, but the early returns from his play indicate that he is a competent professional soccer player who can seamlessly slot into the starting XI.

On Sunday afternoon, the L.A. Galaxy traveled to Chicago and according to the broadcasters the man of the match was another center half from Maryland, Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez netted the game winner off an impressive header connecting with a corner kick. Chad Barrett's strike would have been enough, but Omar got beat late by Dominic Oduro. Despite the lapse, Gonzalez put in another good shift for LA and his ability to score from set plays is going to have to put him in the mix for additional caps with the USMNT. Late in the match, LA's other center half, Leonardo, injured himself badly on an innocuous looking play and is expected to miss the rest of the season. In Leonardo's absence, LA will likely use the All-Terp duo of Gonzalez and AJ Delagarza.

A little later in the day, two other former Terps took to the field for the Portland Timbers' second home game in the MLS. Another game, another gamewinner for a Maryland alum, this time off the foot of Rodney Wallace, who benefited from some nifty dribbling by Kalif Alhassan that took out nearly every Dallas defender leaving Kevin Hartman isolated and exposed. The first person to congratulate Wallace on the fortuitous goal? Jeremy Hall, who put in a 64 minute shift before getting spelled by Darlington Nagbe and things unraveling a bit for Portland as Dallas pulled back two.

It sucks to see Wallace in any MLS jersey other than United's colors, but he could not have landed in a better place. Reunited with Hall, both are privileged to play before a rabid fanbase that make home matches events, not mere games.

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