By Ridge Mahoney
The race for playoff places tightened up and so did the power rankings as Houston and Sporting Kansas City posted vital wins to take advantage of Philly's loss in Columbus that extends the Union's winless streak.
1. LOS ANGELES (14-3-9). All of the hullaballo about Robbie Keane’s arrival paid off when scored in his MLS debut, a 2-0 defeat of Northern California rival San Jose. The Galaxy’s attacking look and options as it goes forward in the Concacaf Champions League and MLS have many people mesmerized, but rarely stated is that the defense is now tied with RSL for fewest goals allowed (20). RSL has played fewer games, yet with starting keeper Donovan Ricketts still sidelined, backup Josh Saunders and his mates posted the team’s 12th shutout of the season. Last week: 1.
2. SEATTLE (12-3-9). For the past two months, Mauro Rosales has been one of the league’s best players, and by drilling the only goal of a 1-0 win in Dallas he gained a tad more consideration as Newcomer of the Year. Coach Sigi Schmid was able to juggle his personnel successfully to beat FCD after the Sounders thumped Comunicaciones in the CCL, 4-1. This week is another toughie: at Monterrey (Mexico) Tuesday, at home against Columbus Saturday afternoon. Last week: 3.
3. FC DALLAS (12-5-7). That great win in Mexico City against UNAM in the CCL took its physical and emotional toll when FCD lost at home to Seattle, 1-0. Jeremy Hall, a day after arriving from Portland in a trade, went into the game at right back when Zach Loyd suffered a first-half injury. The pending move of centerback George John to Blackburn further jumbles the back-line picture. With only one win in its last five league games, FCD’s momentum has stalled and it has another rough travel week looming: at Toronto Wednesday in CCL, and a league game three days later in Kansas City. Last week: 2.
4. COLUMBUS (11-7-7). To prove itself as the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Crew needed to beat runner-up (at the time) Philly, which it did, 2-1, for its fourth win in the past five games. That result cost Philly second place, and added further evidence that the Crew’s goalscoring demons may be exercised for good. It has scored seven goals in the last four games, and forwards Emilio Renteria and Andres Mendoza both netted against Philly. Robbie Rogers set up the first goal with the final pass and earned a PK to produce the second. Last week: 5.
5. COLORADO (10-7-11). After debuting in the Concacaf Champions League by beating Isidro Metapan, 3-2, last Wednesday, the Rapids took a pair of one-goal leads against Chivas USA Saturday but had to settle for a 2-2 tie. Caleb Folan and Jeff Larentowicz each netted his sixth goal of the season as captain Drew Moor set a league record by playing the full 90 minutes in his 68th consecutive league game. There’s no time to rest; Colorado plays Tuesday in San Pedro Sula against Real Espana, then heads to Chicago for a weekend league match riding a six-game unbeaten streak in MLS play. Last week: 4.
6. REAL SALT LAKE (10-7-6). Keeper Nick Rimando sat in the goalmouth, his expression stunned and disbelieving, after conceding a last-second winner against Houston in a bitter 3-2 defeat. His visage told much about RSL, which has lost four of its last five. Still holding games in hand, RSL has lost ground and is tied for sixth in the overall standings. Coach Jason Kreis has said the performances of too many players as not good enough. Next up is a crucial encounter at HDC against surging Chivas USA. Last week: 6.
7. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (9-7-9). Kei Kamara nailed a laser-like shot from the edge of the penalty arc Sunday to down D.C. United, 1-0, and present SKC with a six-point week of work after it demolished Portland, 3-1, on Wednesday. The injury-induced holes of attacker Davy Arnaud and centerback Aurelien Collin have been patched, DP Omar Bravo is doing his part, and Roger Espinoza is working out the kinks of playing center mid. With 10 points in the last five games, SKC gets another chance to strut its home record (6-1-4) Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park against FCD. Last week: 11.
8. CHIVAS USA (7-8-10). Sweet finishes by Juan Pablo Angel (from Nick LaBrocca) and Laurent Courtois (Michael Lahoud) brought back Chivas USA from one-goal deficits at Colorado and earned a 2-2 tie. Four straight road games have yielded five points: the tough five-game swing ends Wednesday in Portland, and Chivas USA arrives back home just in time for a monster match Saturday against RSL. Is this the biggest week in the first year of head coach Robin Fraser’s tenure? Until next week, it is. Last week: 8.
9. HOUSTON (8-7-11). Alex Dixon is one Homegrown signing whose value goes beyond that of good publicity. He punctuated his substitute appearance against RSL Saturday with a spectacular winning strike in the final seconds of stoppage time that kicked off a delirious celebration rarely seen at Robertson Stadium during the past two seasons. DP Carlo Costly lasted nearly the entire game (84 minutes) and earned his first assist in his third MLS appearance, and with two assists Brad Davis took over the league lead with 13. On the negative side, Houston had to rally twice at home, but Dixon’s dramatics trumped all else. Last week: 10.
10. PHILADELPHIA (8-6-10). The Union claimed to have been victimized by a harsh handball call on Sheanon Williams that provided Columbus with a penalty kick for its second goal in a 2-1 defeat, yet: a) based on most of its play Philly didn’t deserve the away point; and b) the ball struck Williams’ raised left arm. Philly has sputtered its way to just three points in the last five games and fallen from the three automatic Eastern Conference places. Its last league win and shutout came five weeks ago during a 3-0 win at New England, which it hosts Sunday. Last week: 7.
11. D.C.UNITED (7-7-10). During a two-game road swing to Chicago and Kansas City, United used three keepers, scored one goal, and came home with one point. Josh Wolff’s equalizer at Pizza Hut Park earned a 1-1 tie at during which Steve Cronin replaced Bill Hamid, who suffered a hamstring injury. Joe Willis got the start against SKC and could do nothing about Kei Kamara’s goal, and the offense could do little with the 1-0 scoreline that lasted until the final whistle. The attack should perk up Saturday at home against Portland; in Kansas City, Charlie Davies sat out and Dwayne De Rosario played only the second half. Last week: 10.
12. NEW YORK (6-6-14). For one of the few times this season, a New York tie felt like a good result. Dane Richards’ pair of goals erased a 2-0 deficit at Gillette Stadium, yet tying the Revs, 2-2, did not snap a winless run of eight league matches. New York also fell behind for the third straight game; perhaps a visit by the Galaxy and a sold-out Red Bull Arena will encourage more intensity from the opening kickoff. Last week: 12.
13. PORTLAND (8-12-5). To bolster their playoff quest, the Timbers needed more than a 2-1 midweek win at home against Cascadia Cup rival and expansion counterpart Vancouver, and they couldn’t get it done in Kansas City. They stuck close after conceding an early goal but Diego Chara, who bagged his first MLS goal against the Whitecaps, and company seldom opened up the SKC back line. The 1-0 loss leaves Portland at 1-8-3 on the road yet still within three points of a playoff spot. Last week: 13.
14. CHICAGO (3-7-15). Four points for the Fire! Whoo-hoo! Though it couldn’t hold a 1-0 lead Thursday against D.C. United and tied, 1-1, Chicago duly dispatched TFC, 2-0, on Sunday with goals by Dominic Oduro (his team-high eighth) and Dan Gargan to break a 10-game winless streak. Defender Cory Gibbs returned against TFC after sitting out three games injured. Still the win and tie barely moved the needle of the team’s home record, which even at an improved 2-2-8 is embarrassing. Last week: 17.
15. NEW ENGLAND (4-11-11). You can’t blame new DP Milton Caraglio for a blown 2-0 lead at home against the Red Bulls in what became a 2-2 tie. He hit both Revs’ goals and threatened on several other occasions with powerful, incisive runs into scoring range. The Revs also squandered a 1-0 lead, provided by Ryan Cochrane in the fourth minute, on Wednesday when Houston scored in the last minute of regulation. The four points tossed away darkened New England’s entire persona, not just its already dim playoff hopes. Last week: 16.
16. TORONTO FC (4-12-11). A nice win in Panama City against Tauro FC Thursday took its toll when TFC took the field Sunday in Chicago, where it lost, 2-0. Shots by Ryan Johnson and Julian de Guzman hit the woodwork as TFC’s six-game unbeaten run in all competitions ended. It hosts league foe FC Dallas in the CCL Wednesday, then plays the very beatable Earthquakes, again at BMO Field, on Saturday. The signs of life shown in recent weeks might bode well for MLS 2012, and the CCL is infusing additional experience. Last week: 14.
17. SAN JOSE (5-10-10). The Quakes fell behind early to the Galaxy at HDC by gifting a goal to Robbie Keane when defender Jason Hernandez scuffed an attempted clearance right into this path, yet battled despite going down to 10 men before succumbing to a second goal. The 2-0 defeat extended a winless run to 12 games, and the six ties accumulated during that stretch haven’t helped the playoff cause. Recent signing Edmundo Zura played the last 20 minutes as a sub. Last week: 15.
18. VANCOUVER (3-13-9). The sight of DP Eric Hassli storming off in the 84th minute with the ‘Caps trailing expansion counterpart Portland, 2-0, adds to the woes facing general manager Bobby Lenarduzzi and interim head coach Tom Soehn. A Camilo goal followed Hassli’s departure as the ‘Caps lost for the third time in the last five games to drop their road record to 0-10-4. That move into B.C. Place can’t come soon enough. Last week: 18.