By Ridge Mahoney
San Jose strengthened its lead atop the Western Conference by rallying with two late goals to win, 2-1, and Cascadia Cup rivals Seattle and Vancouver also won to keep pace. Eastern leader Sporting Kansas City held the No. 1 spot through its bye week, and closest pursuer, D.C. United, extended its unbeaten streak to seven by downing Houston, 3-2.
Teams hoping they can round into form soon are running out of time, as many of them will slog through a busy month of May.
Three midweek games kick off Week 9, and also to be played are the opening games in the Canadian Championship that will determined Canada’s representative in the next phase of Concacaf Champions League play. Toronto, which stunned Los Angeles in the 2011-12 CCL quarterfinals less than two months ago, starts anew at Montreal on Wednesday mired in a record-tying seven-game losing streak to open league play.
The imbalance of games played among teams is narrowing, but still there are teams that have played nine league matches – Montreal and Real Salt Lake, for example – and others, such as Chicago, Houston and Seattle, that have played three fewer.
With the league scheduling a lightened load of games in early June, May will be Midweek Month. Twelve league matches are scheduled for Tuesdays and Wednesdays prior to Memorial Day, and the effect on the Power Rankings could be dramatic.
1. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (7-1-0). The only team to sit out a busy Saturday of nine matches, SKC is still a narrow pick for the top spot. League assist leader Graham Zusi (six) and his teammates get back to work at home against Montreal on Saturday. Last week: 1.
2. SAN JOSE (6-1-1). Another late rally pushed the Quakes past Philly, 2-1, at PPL Park when Steven Lenhart, reverting to the ‘joker’ role by which he broke into MLS with Columbus, came off the bench to score both goals. His exploits earned Player of the Week honors; to San Jose goes a special mention as Team of the Month for outscoring foes, 10-5, while winning three of four in April. Last week: 2.
3. SEATTLE (4-1-1). Inactivity didn’t dull the Sounders last weekend; playing just their third game in the past four weeks, they doused the Fire, 2-1, in Chicago, as Eddie Johnson notched the winner with his first MLS goal since 2007. Mauro Rosales and Adam Johansson returned to the lineup and all hands will be needed as Seattle prepares to play seven league matches in May, starting Wednesday at home against the Galaxy. Last week: 5.
4. REAL SALT LAKE (6-3-0). RSL held serve at home against the league’s worst team, but barely. Johnny Steele forged a 3-2 defeat of Toronto FC by smacking home Kyle Beckerman’s clever layoff in stoppage time. Javier Morales started the play to earn his second assist of the season; his recovery from injury should prevent teams from keying on Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola, and open up the congested defenses RSL has been facing. Last week: 4.
5. VANCOUVER (4-2-2). The ‘Caps inched their goal difference all the way up to plus-one (seven scored, six conceded) by edging past the Crew, 1-0, in Columbus on a Young-Pyo Lee free kick that fooled keeper Andy Gruenebaum. With six shutouts they’ve already surpassed the five whitewashings they managed in 34 games last year. Keeper Joe Cannon said of Lee, "He’s an absolute beast." And who knows a defender better than his goalie? Last week: 6.
6. D.C. UNITED (4-2-2). United fans will be clamoring that their team, not the Quakes, should be Team of the Month. Their case is strong; United ran its unbeaten streak to seven by knocking off Houston, 3-2. It buzzed out of the blocks and prevailed with Dwayne De Rosario’s first goal of the season and a double blast by Maicon Santos. United hadn’t won back-to-back league games since June, 2009. Last week: 8.
7. HOUSTON (2-2-2). The Dynamo’s winless streak stands at four games, during which it has conceded eight goals. Though it rallied to tie D.C. United twice in the second half with goals by Will Bruin, it couldn’t hold on for a point. Bruin leads the team with four goals heading into the final match of a seven-game road swing to start the season. After a match in New York this weekend, Houston opens BBVA Compass Stadium with a rematch against D.C. May 12. Last week: 3.
8. NEW YORK (4-3-1). Yet another fine goal by Thierry Henry also preceded another troubling injury in a 1-0 defeat of New England. He lobbed a ball from Connor Lade over Revs’ keeper Matt Reis early in the match, then hobbled off with a hamstring injury midway through the first half. He’ll be out about a month. Ryan Meara’s first MLS shutout should give his confidence a deserved boost; he’s not the main reason NYRB is near the bottom in goals allowed (14). Last week: 9.
9. FC DALLAS (3-3-3). Keeper Kevin Hartman sat out his third straight game because of back spasms, and Chris Seitz took a shutout into stoppage time, when the Galaxy scored to snag a 1-1 tie at home. Blas Perez drew the penalty kick that Brek Shea fired home for a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute, but in the final seconds FCD couldn’t clear a loose ball and paid for it. That would have been FCD’s first road win; instead it collected its first road point (0-3-1). Last week: 10.
10. CHICAGO (2-2-2). Recent signing Arne Freidrich came to MLS as a stabilizing central presence but his own goal set the Fire reeling in what became a roller-coaster 2-1 home loss to Seattle. He tried to block a David Estrada shot and instead steered it past keeper Sean Johnson. Chicago conceded a second goal when Eddie Johnson scored from an offside position, then Marco Pappa lost a goal when an offside Dominic Oduro interfered with the Sounders’ goalie, then Pappa scored when his wind-driven corner kick bounced in off the post. So far in 2012, at home and away Chicago is 1-1-1. Last week: 7.
11. LOS ANGELES (3-3-1). The Galaxy’s ride back to renown hit a big bump when it needed a desperation stoppage-time goal from Pat Noonan to tie FC Dallas. Kudos to Noonan for the storybook finish but Robbie Keane’s missed penalty kick should have put LA ahead, and then it gave away a PK when backup keeper Bill Gaudette committed the foul on Perez. David Beckham’s passing outclassed FCD, though his bellowing at the referee’s assistant when he ignored a suspected handball bordered on ludicrous. Last week: 11.
12. COLORADO (4-4-0). Kamani Hill’s two goals included the clincher in a 4-0 defeat of Chivas USA that was a one-goal game until, in the 81st minute, Hill put away a square pass supplied by Omar Cummings after beating an offside trap near midfield. Rookie Jeff Cascio started up front with Cummings in a 4-4-2 formation for the second straight week and after being denied early, opened the scoring in the 50th minute. With the shutout Matt Pickens tied Joe Cannon’s franchise record of 25 and the Rapids snapped a three-game losing streak. Last week: 13.
13. COLUMBUS (2-4-1). Disallowed goals by Josh Williams (pushing foul on Chad Marshall) and Eddie Gaven (offside), plus an error by keeper Andy Gruenebaum added up to a 1-0 home defeat against Vancouver. The Crew is winless in its last four, of which it has lost three, and is one of only four MLS teams to score less than a goal per game as Coach Robert Warzycha tinkers with his attacking options. Last week: 12.
14. NEW ENGLAND (2-5-0). The Revs fell behind early in New York and despite good chances for Saer Sene, Benny Feihaber and Lee Nguyen were unable to catch up. Sene was also knocked over the penalty area as he wound up to shoot but no foul was called. The Revs lost their third in a row and were blanked for the fourth time this season heading into a daunting double-dip against Colorado Wednesday and at RSL Saturday. Last week: 14.
15. MONTREAL (2-5-2). The Impact is using its temporary home, Olympic Stadium, to good use. A 2-0 defeat of Portland improved its Montreal mark to 2-0-1 as it finishes preparations for the opening of Stade Saputo next month. Bernardo Corradi converted a penalty kick in the 76th minute and Sinisa Ubiparipovic delivered the insurance goal from a Davy Arnaud cross eight minutes later. Defender Matteo Ferrari blunted the Timbers with several timely tackles as Donovan Ricketts posted his first Impact shutout. Last week: 18.
16. CHIVAS USA (3-5-0). Its 4-0 loss to the Rapids illustrated how quickly a close game can be blown apart. But a botched offside trap resulted in Chivas USA being countered from a Colorado goal kick, and that simply can’t happen with the result still in doubt. Chivas USA also has been shut out five times in its eight games. Juan Pablo Angel started his first game since sitting out more than a month with post-concussion issues. Last week: 16.
17. PORTLAND (2-5-1). A foot to the face took keeper Troy Perkins out of the game, and replacement Joe Bendik conceded twice as the Timbers lost in Montreal, 2-0. Recent signing Steven Smith gave away a penalty kick on a tough decision when he slid to block a shot and the ball rebounded off his knee onto his outstretched arm. Both goals came in the last quarter of an hour, an interval during which Portland has conceded seven goals. The attack sputtered: Jorge Perlaza was flagged offside four times before being replaced and Darlington Nagbe failed to make much impact. Last week: 17.
18. PHILADELPHIA (2-4-1). Captain Danny Califf returned to the lineup for the first time since March 31 but the Union’s back line collapsed in the late stages and conceded twice in a 2-1 loss to San Jose. Its shutout streak reached 407 minutes before being halted. Gabriel Gomez scored his team-high third goal of the season to provide a lead Philly squandered on high balls it couldn’t repel as Coach Peter Nowak sat out the second game of his two-match suspension. Last week: 15.
19. TORONTO FC (0-7-0). The bottom team in MLS doesn’t lack for spirit; it tested RSL repeatedly at Rio Tinto Stadium and was seconds away from a 2-2 tie when a stoppage-time strike sent it to a defeat by which it tied Kansas City (1999) for the worst start to a season. Eric Avila eluded Jamison Olave to score an excellent goal early in the second half and from a corner kick Doneil Henry headed his first goal as a pro, but defensively TFC needs a different system, or different players. Last week: 19.