Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things to take away from Week 7:
1. Can someone lend a hand to MLS goalkeepers?: Remember when Major League Soccer was an upstanding league for goalkeepers? You know the whole thing about how the United States produces fellows who are handy with the gloves because we're a nation of hands-on sports? Well ... what happened?
Truth is these things are cyclical. Goalkeeping will once again be a strong position. But there can be no question that the men in the sticks have struggled in 2010. When Kasey Keller is giving away stinkers, you know it's gotten bad.
Keller seem baffled by Jovan Kirovski's 22nd-minute shot in Seattle, moving the wrong way on what would usually be a routine moment for the former U.S. international.
So add Keller to the occasionally naughty list. And it's a long list. Troy Perkins heads it; he has lost his starting spot to 19-year-old Bill Hamid at D.C. United. (Wasn't Perkins essentially the U.S. No. 3 just a year ago? Now he can't start for one of the league's worst teams. That's about a 14-story fall.)
The form of Red Bull's Bouna Coundoul continues to spike tremendously, outstanding one week, woeful the next. One of the four that got by him Saturday in San Jose was pretty lame. Same for William Hesmer, who had a bad night in Columbus. He was a step out of position and looked awkward on New England's second goal. He was just plain bad on the Revs' first one, slow to get down and failing to get his hands behind a Zak Boggs' effort that was on target but nothing special.
Elsewhere, veteran Dario Sala lost his job in Dallas, where Kevin Hartman's offseason acquisition on the cheap is paying off huge.
Pat Onstad, Houston's longtime Steady Eddy in goal, gave away a bad one earlier this year. Chicago's young Andy Dykstra has been predictably wobbly here and there (and isn't getting much help from a back line that desperately misses Gonzalo Segares).
And then there's Chris Seitz, the man in goal for expansion Philadelphia. True, Seitz's defense keeps feeding him to the wolves. But Seitz himself gave away another bad one over the weekend at Salt Lake. With Brad Knighton sitting in wait, you have to wonder how long coach Peter Nowak will put up with the mistakes?
2. Something's got to give in Seattle: There's a serious shakeup coming in Seattle, where coach Sigi Schmid can no longer be content in "tweak" mode. The Sounders have a real problem, and at starts with the form at Qwest Field.
Seattle burst upon the MLS scene last year with surprising results through spring and early summer. The Sounders went meek in home form through the late going of 2009, but they had built a bit of a cushion and everyone was willing to give the expansions darlings a pass.
But the raw numbers don't lie. The Sounders are 3-3-4 in their last 10 MLS matches at Qwest, going back to last August and including a scoreless draw in the playoffs. Even more stunning is that Schmid's team has been shut out in six of those 10, striking just six times in that window.
Saturday, they were on the business end of a 4-0 lashing, and radical shuffling surely is ahead. "I gave some guys a long leash," Schmid said afterward. "That leash just broke."
Even the fabulous fans there are losing patience. At one point they began singing Saturday, "All we are saying ... is give us a goal."
3. Attendance watch: No one can complain about the attendance in Seattle, at least. Despite meager results, the usual "sellout" crowd of 36K and change was in the house Saturday. Good thing, too, because the rest of MLS isn't so great at the gate these days. Overall, things look reasonably static at an average of 16,244. Sponsors and TV execs will be OK with that.
But a closer inspection reveals cracks in the foundation, probably related to the economy but also to the ongoing struggles in places like Colorado, Columbus, Dallas and New England. Chicago is barely keeping pace, and the signs abound that United's form on the field is tamping down enthusiasm in the nation's capital. (Just 12,089 at RFK for an MLS-WPS doubleheader last week, followed by 10,038 for a midweek win over Kansas City.)
Bottom line: 10 of 16 clubs are below the league average in attendance, a number still being propped up by brawny totals in Seattle, Toronto and Los Angeles.
4. Fickle form is standard stuff in MLS: The Galaxy keeps winning. After that, everything else around MLS remains wildly unpredictable.
Chivas USA spanks New England on the road ... but then flat-lined at home against Houston in Round 7. And speaking of Dominic Kinnear's team, the Orange started the extended round of matches by losing to Dallas at home. No matter, they shuffled the lineup and went on the road to upend Chivas USA.
Kansas City couldn't be stopped earlier this year, but now Peter Vermes' side can't score.
Such is life in MLS, where form can come and go as fast as spring storms.
Hope has sprung, at least, for D.C. United, which had a good week despite the 1-0 loss in Dallas. A good night in goal for Hartman, who also had some help from a friendly post and cross bar, partially obscured a much more organized performance from United. Clyde Simms' return as a stabilizing, central anchor for an uncomplicated 4-4-2 helps a bunch.
"I thought we had a really disciplined game plan, I thought we executed it well and we were unlucky on the finishing end," United manager Curt Onalfo said afterward.
Dallas, on the other hand, may have played its worst game of 2010. Schellas Hyndman's team played its fourth match in four cities in 11 days -- and looked it. Still, they found enough at the end of the string, doing to D.C. United what had been done to them in previous road trips to New York and New England: sneak away with the points on a night when they were probably outplayed.
Chicago found a formation that seemed to work briefly and looked pretty good for a couple of outings. But neither Brian McBride not Collins John can produce consistently as a lone striker, so the Fire seems to have regressed over the last two.
Even within matches, the winds can shift considerably. Columbus and Real Salt Lake looked meek for a half Saturday but took control after the break to record wins at home.
Beyond L.A. -- Landon Donovan had a goal and three assists in a dazzling au revoir before World Cup duty -- there is one other team that's been quite consistent since opening day.
San Jose has won four of five since March. Big thanks go to two characters who took their share of public beatings last year: Ramiro Corrales and Bobby Convey. Corrales looks confident again, defending and distributing with intent. Along with Convey, the left side of Buck Shaw is suddenly a force in MLS. Convey had three assists and did brilliant two-way work in Saturday's rout over Red Bull. You have to wonder if he might be in the World Cup picture if he had just played like this toward the back end of 2009?
"Bobby is playing some of the best soccer of his career right now," Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop said Saturday. "And I can't say enough about his effort tonight."
5. Team of the week: Goalkeeper: Kevin Hartman (Dallas); Defenders: Craig Waibel (Houston), Ugo Ihemelu (Dallas), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles), Ramiro Corrales (San Jose). Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles), Bobby Convey (San Jose), Jesus Padilla (Chivas USA), Zak Boggs (New England). Forward: Chad Barrett (Toronto FC).