Big bounces beat KC, 3:0
June 26, 2010
Half a world away from the spotlight in South Africa, Major League Soccer returned to action this weekend. Metro's return engagement required a trip into sweltering Midwestern summer weather in scenic Kansas City against the conference rival Wizards. Considering the fallout from the Rustenburg disaster this afternoon, it was fortunate that Metro's battered fanbase had a victory to enjoy in the evening. Salou Ibrahim tallied the game-winner in the second half, followed by two excellent and entertaining Juan Pablo Angel finishes to keep Metro atop the Eastern Conference table.
Beloved manager "Clever" Hans Backe decided to shake things up a little after the lengthy midseason break. Although the athletic Bouna Coundoul remained the first choice between the sticks, the back four in front of him came out in a slightly different look. In a welcome move, sadly underutilized utility man Carlos Mendes was paired again with stalwart Tim Ream in the middle of defense. Chris Albright ran out for another league start on the right and Danleigh Borman got the nod across from him on the left. The midfield consisted of Estonian hero Joel Lindpere, Seth Stammler, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, and the ever-improving Tony Tchani. Angel and Ibrahim, as previously mentioned, were Backe's forward pairing on the night.
The first half of play was, plainly speaking, dire. It could in fact be due to the oven-like atmosphere in the Midwest on Saturday, or -- equally likely -- it was the result of the three-week layoff the teams had due to the World Cup break. Either way, little of consequence occurred during the game's opening stanza. Both sides had a couple chances; while Kansas City's came about from actual professional-looking build-up, Metro's few threatening opportunities were squandered in an amateurish fashion. Grossly overpaid Ghana (groan) native Salou Ibrahim bungled a pair himself, first awkwardly knocking a cross down with his right foot out of bounds, later climbing atop a Wizards defender near the endline, heading the ball out of bounds with him.
Perhaps in a nod to their fallen comrades in South Africa, both sides decided to show up for the second half and the game came to life shortly after the whistle. The two teams tussled back and forth between their penalty boxes, but thankfully it would be Metro who capitalized on their scoring chances first.
Coundoul's goal kick was headed forward by Angel, and the suddenly appropriately-monied Ibrahim ran the high-bouncing ball and, in full stride, headed it neatly over Wizards keeper Jimmy Nielsen.
From that point forward, it was all Metro as Angel took the opportunity to add to his season tally. In the 82nd minute the Cherubic Assassin beat his marker to another long ball and slotted it between the hapless Nielsen's legs. Just eight minutes later, the margin was three when the Colombian star was hacked down, got up, ran down yet another bounding pass near the endline, cut back inside and dribbled around an embarrassed Nielsen, firing once he had approached the net at a negotiable but acute angle. Nielsen, previously the recipient of the coveted Danish goalkeeper of the year award in 1999 and 2004, looked completely out of his depth tonight. Good thing, then, that Wizards manager Peter Vermes shrewdly ran off one of the most well-regarded keepers in MLS history, Kevin Hartman, in the offseason.
Up next is a trip to Harrisburg, and a reunion with estranged playoff hero Danny Cepero. After the bitter sting of defeat in the World Cup, all eyes are on the domestic league once again. Success in either the Open Cup or in the league itself would go a long way toward dulling the pain of that defeat; if Metro can continue their promising form, relief could be just around the corner.
Lineup: Coundoul, Borman, Ream, Mendes, Albright, Ubiparipovic, Stammler, Lindpere, Tchani, Ibrahim, Angel. Subs: Miller, Chinn, Petke.