Player absences and summer heat notwithstanding, can anything be gleaned by last weekend's results, when teams aspiring to join the top-tier clubs and playing at home couldn't beat said members of the elite?
Houston beat the Wizards at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, and Chicago handed the Rapids only their second home loss ever on the Fourth of July. Both Kansas City and Colorado squandered a vital chance to prove they can beat a top team at home, and though head coaches Curt Onalfo and Gary Smith, respectively, can preach to their players that one defeat doesn't forecast the future, and that the Red Bulls last year shrugged off a mediocre record to reach MLS Cup, something other than discourse has to instill confidence.
For Kansas City, it was yet another example of creating good chances and failing to score on any of them. It was shut out for the second time in the last three home league games, again displaying a peculiar inability to use the confines and atmosphere of its temporary facility (CommunityAmerica Ballpark) to its advantage. It is a very mediocre 3-3-2 at home in 2009.
Since moving from San Jose prior to the 2006 season, the Dynamo has proven time and time again it can win by pressuring and forcing mistakes, but can also grind out results, especially against the Wizards. In its last four away games against the Wizards, Houston has won three and tied one. In five games against Houston, Onalfo has yet to win one.
Colorado fell behind, 2-0, and without Omar Cummings and Colin Clark managed just one goal in a 2-1 defeat to disappoint a sellout crowd of 19,680 fans by losing at home for the first time in 2009. The Fire broke a 10-game winless streak in Colorado with goals by Marco Pappa and Wilman Conde seven minutes apart in the first half, during which it held Colorado without a shot on goal.
Though the Rapids scored when Jacob Peterson put away the rebound of a saved Conor Casey shot, they squandered an opportunity to fire up a big crowd with a win. Without that Fourth of July crowd, Colorado is averaging less than 12,000 fans per game, and while attendance in many MLS cities is down, the team is scrambling to increase its presence in the Denver sports market. There hasn't been much follow-through since it moved into a splendid stadium, Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
Compare the home failures of Kansas City and Colorado to the road point earned by D.C. United with a 1-1 tie at defending champion Columbus, which had won its last four home games. D.C. did what Houston and Chicago did; get a lead on the road, and increase the pressure on the home team. United conceded an equalizer, yet bombarded the Crew goal with 22 shots, which isn't how teams normally approach road games.
One weekend doesn't a season make, yet by earning a tough road point, United retained a share of the Eastern lead with Chicago, though the Fire has played two fewer games. Houston's road record (4-3-1) is second only to that of Chicago (5-1-3) and is why it holds a four-point lead over Chivas USA (2-3-2 on the road) atop the Western Conference.
Last year, the Red Bulls reached MLS Cup by winning twice on the road despite a horrible (1-8-6) away record during the regular season. A repeat of that aberration this season is unlikely, and one can see how much that stirring run has helped New York this season.