Sunday May 22nd, 2011

From the highly anticipated SuperClasico to a case of déjà vu in Seattle, here are five thoughts from Saturday's MLS action ...

1. Los Angeles is still Galaxy territory. The Los Angeles Galaxy hardly dominated Chivas USA in the latest installment of their SuperClasico derby, but that didn't stop L.A. from extending its stretch of dominance over its Home Depot Center rival.

Chad Barrett's first-half goal off David Beckham's free kick was all the Galaxy needed to top the Goats 1-0 and keep Chivas winless in the series since 2007.

Alejandro Moreno was robbed by goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts from close range, Justin Braun missed a golden chance on a header in the first half and Ben Zemanski hit the post in the second half to account for Chivas' best opportunities in a rivalry game that was devoid of numerous chances or bad blood. Instead, both teams were pretty sound defensively, with Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez and Chivas center back Heath Pearce standing out.

The most disappointing aspect of the match was all of the visibly empty seats at the HDC, the announced sellout crowd of 27,000 notwithstanding. Los Angeles sports crowds are notorious for being late-arrivers, but considering that Landon Donovan called Chivas the "hottest team in the league" this past week and considering that the Galaxy are riding high atop the Western Conference standings, it was somewhat unsettling to spot sections full of empty seats for the better part of a match featuring two bitter rivals who both happen to be playing at a high level.

2. Set pieces harm, save Red Bulls. Once again, the New York Red Bulls were let down by their set-piece defending. After seeing the look of disappointment on the faces of Houston Dynamo defenders after they equalized on a set piece of their own, perhaps the Red Bulls will find a way to correct their one glaring weakness.

A week after being victimized by Chivas USA on set pieces, the Red Bulls nearly let a point slip away by yielding another goal off a corner kick to the Houston Dynamo late in their 2-2 draw. Goalkeeper Greg Sutton, who was selected by Hans Backe over starter Bouna Coundoul to help stabilize things on set plays, spilled a rebound off Geoff Cameron's free header to Koke, who scored his first MLS goal to give Houston a 2-1 lead.

New York answered on a late set piece of its own though, as substitute Mehdi Ballouchy connected on Joel Lindpere's stoppage-time corner kick to pull the Red Bulls even.

For a team with championship aspirations, the Red Bulls' set-piece defending is a pretty glaring underbelly, and it's one that keeps rearing its head. Whether it's a matter of organization, communication or effort, one would imagine that the likes of Rafa Marquez, Tim Ream & Co. will find a way to correct the team's biggest flaw. Until then, it remains a source of goals for opposing teams to exploit.

3. Dane and the Dynamo. Dane Richards continues to be a thorn in the Dynamo's side.

Three years after being an omnipresent force in the playoff game that prevented the Dynamo from going for an unprecedented MLS Cup three-peat, the Jamaican winger continues to torment Houston.

Richards told reporters this past week that if he got the chance to silence Houston's supporters, he would. He got it 39 seconds into the match, blasting a shot from outside the area past Houston keeper Tally Hall after a nice piece of direct play between Teemu Tainio and Luke Rodgers.

Richards is the main reason why Corey Ashe was shifted to left back by Houston coach Dominic Kinnear -- an experiment that has resulted with Ashe becoming a mainstay and an above-average option at the position. The Dynamo's need to counter Richards' speed on the right side facilitated the move, and Ashe did a solid job of keeping Richards under wraps when the two locked horns again Saturday night.

Just like in the teams' first meeting, though, Richards dipped into the middle of the field to cause the damage, doing so away from his marker. Sometimes a player just has a team's number.

4. Union attack breaks through. The Philadelphia Union offense hadn't scored more than one goal in any game through nine matches this season. In a span of 11 minutes in the second half of their 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire, that all changed.

Rookie Michael Farfan scored his first career goal on a shot from distance off a designed free-kick play, and Carlos Ruiz scored on a spectacular effort from a few yards behind that same spot off a failed set piece to help the Union snap a three-game winless streak.

Nobody is mistaking Ruiz for the same player that won league MVP honors back in 2002, but he still shows flashes of his trademark flair, and his game-winner was one of the goals of the season to date. Granted, it came off his own lackluster free kick, but Ruiz pounced on the rebound of his effort from distance, took a touch to get the ball airborne and looped a left-footed volley under the crossbar from about 35 yards out.

The goal sent the Fire to its eighth straight result without a victory. It was a surprise to many that Carlos de Los Cobos was brought back for a second season at the helm of the club, and with eight points through 10 games and an ever-rotating starting lineup, he's certainly not helping his cause in staying in Chicago much longer.

5. Déjà vu for Seattle, Kansas City. For the second time in 13 months, the Seattle Sounders waited until stoppage time to slay Sporting Kansas City at Qwest Field.

Last April it was unheralded Mike Fucito scoring in the second minute of stoppage time to salvage a 1-0 victory over the then-Wizards. With SKC's first clean sheet of the 2011 season just moments away from becoming a reality, an even more unlikely goal scorer stepped into the spotlight for the Sounders.

Veteran defender Jeff Parke tallied his first MLS goal since 2004, heading Tyson Wahl's corner kick in the third minute of stoppage time by keeper Jimmy Nielsen, who tumbled into the side netting in disbelief.

Kansas City's first home game at new Livestrong Sporting Park can't come soon enough. The battered club is left licking its wounds again as its 10-game road trip winds down. Matches at Colorado and Toronto beckon before the June 9 stadium opener against Chicago.

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