April 21, 2002 (www.DailySoccer.com
First-year American players had an impact on play this weekend in Major League Soccer, as the American top-flight league had a full slate of action.
Kelly Gray, a defender who's has been receiving quite a bit of playing time due to the current run of injuries ravaging the Chicago Fire's back line, grabbed the opening goal in the Fire's 2-0 win over the New York-New Jersey MetroStars in a full-blooded battle at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Saturday evening.
The nature of the battle was exemplified by the first-half sending-off of former USA international midfielder Tab Ramos for the MetroStars, and it was a moment that set the tone for the physical encounter. Ramos was shown his marching orders by referee Kevin Stott in the 34th minute for a studs-up tackle on opposite number Peter Nowak, as Stott went on to issue a total of seven yellow cards throughout the proceedings in addition to the red card to Ramos.
"The first goal was very well put together," said Fire coach Bob Bradley, who further hailed his side for keeping their focus in a blood-and-guts affair. "In a tough game, I thought everybody kept their concentration and did a good job. We had some guys who missed some time and it is good to get a win on the road and a shutout."
"I didn't try to hurt the guy," said Ramos about the incident on Nowak, while risking being fined by the league for further comments criticizing Stott's judgement.
"I barely even touched him. I went for the ball, and the next thing I know he's rolling on the ground and the referee pulls out his red card. He's a very nervous ref, and it seems that the games he does get out of hand," added Ramos.
Gray, a fifth-round pick out of the University of Portland by the Fire in this past spring's MLS SuperDraft, scored his first goal as a professional in the 26th minute, volleying past MetroStars goalkeeper Tim Howard in converting a cross from Ante Razov as the Fire went forward and beat the MetroStars' offside trap.
"It was good just getting the first goal. It's a big thing for me and especially in a big game like that," said Gray, who took greater pride in his defensive contributions. "I felt comfortable out there playing with Jim [Curtin] and Carlos [Bocanegra]. We didn't give them a lot of clean chances. I hope to continue to play well and get time."
DaMarcus Beasley added an insurance goal for the Fire ten minutes from time, but goalkeeper Zach Thornton kept the MetroStars honest with a few key saves, including a stop on USA international striker Clint Mathis and a pair of saves on Rodrigo Faria, all in the first half.
"You cannot cheat with Mathis," said Thornton of the stop on Mathis' curling 35-yard free-kick effort midway through the first half. "Our wall did a good job and Jesse [Marsch] said that he got a piece of it. I was able to get over and knock it away."
The Fire, which saw Hristo Stoitchkov make his season debut as a late substitute, did not emerge from this war of attrition unscathed, as defensive midfielder Chris Armas was among the players booked by Stott. As a result, Armas will have to miss next week's home opener against New England through suspension on yellow-card points.
At Crew Stadium, another rookie, Taylor Twellman of the New England Revolution, also struck a well-taken goal-- but Columbus Crew coach Greg Andrulis laid into his team following a lackluster 2-0 defeat to the Revs for the Crew's third loss at home in as many attempts this season.
Goals from Twellman in the tenth minute in his first professional start and a second goal from Jim Rooney 18 minutes later propelled the Revs to their first win of the season, but Andrulis could not hide his frustrations over the manner his team played on Saturday.
"We have to look at whether or not what we are doing is working; look within and make some adjustments. We need to look at where we had success in the past and duplicate it," said Andrulis. "There was just no pressure on the ball and we weren't marking very well."
Twellman, the beneficiary of lineup adjustments made by coach Fernando Clavijo that had Alex Pineda Chacon dropping back to a playmaker's role in favor of Andy Williams, who was benched, and Twellman forming a partnership with Mamadou Diallo up front. Diallo had to come out of the game with an ankle injury in the 39th minute, to be replaced by Jamaican striker Wolde Harris, but the Revs had established their superiority by that time.
"We're roommates and we're getting used to each other. Hopefully this continues," said Twellman, after Diallo set him up with a cross from the byline, leaving the St. Louis University product to turn and volley his shot past Crew goalkeeper Tom Presthus from less than ten yards away.
Rooney doubled his side's lead in the 28th minute, blasting past Presthus from the top of the penalty area after accepting a short pass in open space from Steve Ralston.
Andrulis introduced several attacking-oriented substitutions throughout the second half, but the Crew sill could not solve the stellar goalkeeping of Juergen Sommer in the Revs' nets. Sommer, who had made a couple of point-blank saves on Brian McBride in the first 45 minutes, preserved his clean sheet with a fingertip save of a Dante Washington blast with five minutes remaining.
Ariel Graziani, another player with a new club this season but who is by no means a newcomer to the MLS wars, scored his first goal in league competition for the San Jose Earthquakes as the defending league champions posted a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids at Spartan Stadium in San Jose.
Graziani scored in the 26th minute and Landon Donovan added an insurance goal in the 74th minute to end a dreadful week for the 'Quakes, one which had seen them follow up a league defeat to Kansas City last weekend with a 3-0 midweek drubbing at the hands of Mexican champions Pachuca in the first-leg match of the CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinals.
"I was looking for a long time to get that first goal and I feel very happy to have gotten it," said Graziani, who scored 30 goals in the space of three seasons with the Dallas Burn before an offseason trade brought him to the 'Quakes. "Every goal-scorer feels pressure when they are not scoring, so I'm glad that I was able to do it tonight."
Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop, who had to field a makeshift lineup as midfield general Ronnie Ekelund sat out a red-card ban and two other players, central defender Troy Dayak and winger Ian Russell, were forced to miss out due to illness, saluted the partnership between Graziani and Dwayne DeRosario up front while Donovan assumed Ekelund's normal role in central midfield.
"Graziani and De Rosario looked good together. They combined well and were hungry to score," said Yallop, whose team leapfrogged over the Rapids and Los Angeles Galaxy into first place in the Western Division.
Earthquake players, meanwhile, felt satisfied that they had put a dreadful week behind them. "I thought we got back on track tonight. It was a combination of mentally preparing ourselves and practicing hard. I think the team realized that we can't just show up on game day and get the result, but that we need to get at it every day leading up to the games," said goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
"I think there are a bunch of reasons we played well tonight," added midfielder Richard Mulrooney. "We were very unhappy with the 3-0 result in Mexico because we felt like we played better than the score indicated. Also, we wanted to get revenge on Colorado for beating us three weeks ago while putting on a good performance for our fans."
Rapids coach Tim Hankinson also felt that the 'Quakes were uniquely motivated for this game.
"These are all players [for San Jose] who know their system and know how to play in it. I'm sure their mentality was that they had to get going early in their home park, especially coming off a Wednesday game like they were," said Hankinson.
"We also had that plan, but I don't think we handled the pressure as well as we needed to. They took us out of our game and we never got our possession going, so we had to try to keep making adjustments to keep up with them. Credit to them for a good game, but it's disappointing that we weren't able to establish more of our game," added Hankinson.
An extra-time goal by D.C. United midfielder Ivan McKinley proved to be the difference between Ray Hudson's team and the Kansas City Wizards at RFK Stadium in Washington. McKinley scored in the third minute of the first sudden-death period to allow the home side to snap a two-game losing streak.
"Great night, great win," said D.C. United coach Hudson, whose unexpected introduction of Jaime Moreno for his first action of the season helped inspire the team to the win. "I'm giving the lads a few days off to enjoy this very well-earned victory. God bless Ivan McKinley."
McKinley scored on a rebound from short range after Marco Antonio Etcheverry's free kick beat Wizards goalkeeper Tony Meola but not the post, and McKinley had no trouble heading into the right-hand side of the net to send the partisan crowd home happy.
McKinley's goal justified the dominance D.C. United had enjoyed in the second half, as the win sprung D.C. United to a first-place tie in the Eastern Division alongside the MetroStars and the Fire in the early-season race. "It was a tale of two halves," said Hudson, whose side found themselves level at the end of regulation when Ali Curtis scored his second goal of the season two minutes before Preki equalized at the end of a mazy run for the Wizards in the 73rd minute.
"I thought they were the better team in the first half. I thought we suffocated them enough to stifle them and to shut them down and frustrate them," added Hudson.
Wizards coach Bob Gansler, meanwhile, rued the two points lost, but credited D.C. United for being the better side. "They put on the full-court pressure to begin the second half, and when we thought we weathered the storm, we didn't quite get the play done," said Gansler.
"The response was magnificent though to get that goal right back. Once we got to overtime, I thought we had a good chance to get a result. We are always looking for three points, but one would have been fine today," added Gansler.
"Second-half chances tipped the scale. The game was a tie," emphasized Hudson. "We won it on persistence, bravery, heart and vigor."
Meanwhile, the Dallas Burn and Los Angeles Galaxy battled to the same result as they had last week, a 1-1 draw at the Cotton Bowl. Moreover, the same players scored in this match as what had happened in the Rose Bowl reverse fixture last weekend, as Jason Kreis' second-half strike equalled out Carlos Ruiz's first-half effort.
Ruiz entered the game as the only goal-scorer the Galaxy had known this season, and that fact did not changed as he scored in the 26th minute, converting Alexi Lalas' near-post flick-on header of a Simon Elliott corner kick past Burn 'keeper Matt Jordan.
The Galaxy dominated much of the remaining first-half play amid both teams being stifled by the Texas heat and humidity, but the visitors could not manage a second goal. Ruiz came close to doubling his evening account right before the break, but his point-blank header came crashing off the underside of the crossbar. Kreis would then make Ruiz and the Galaxy pay for that rare profligate miss by scoring in the 62nd minute, riding off a strong Lalas challenge and rounding Galaxy 'keeper Matt Reis before depositing the ball into the back of the net from an acute angle.
Both coaches felt that it was a fair result, and typical of one that has seen the last five out of seven meetings in this series end in honors being shared.
"In the first half, we didn't come out well and that was disappointing," said Burn coach Mike Jeffries. "I thought we were better in the second half. It was a strange 1-1 game in that it was fairly wide open."
"He is always sniffing around the goal," said Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid of Ruiz's efforts that was worthy of at least a point. "He just tries to get on the end of things and that's what makes great goal scorers."