From FC Dallas' unbeaten run to the end of Sporting Kansas City's extended road trip, here are five thoughts from Saturday's MLS action ...
1. 2010 MLS Cup finalists both continue streaks. Both of last season's MLS Cup finalists are in the midst of some eye-opening streaks.
Cup runner-up FC Dallas extended its unbeaten streak to nine games after its 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution.
What makes Dallas' streak more impressive is the fact that it's happening with David Ferreira on the sidelines. With the reigning league MVP out for the long haul, Dallas has lifted its game to another level and is 6-0-3 since he was injured on April 23 in Vancouver.
Attacking threats Brek Shea and Fabian Castillo are rounding into form, and Marvin Chavez has also come on strong, with his moment of brilliance against New England accounting for the lone goal in the win.
The defense, spearheaded by center backs George John and Ugo Ihemelu, is playing at a lock-down level, and goalkeeper Kevin Hartman continues to organize that unit and come up with big save after big save.
Colorado, meanwhile, played to a draw for the sixth consecutive game, tying an MLS record after its 1-1 home tie with the Philadelphia Union.
The defending champions have been hit a bit by the injury bug, and it's been showing in their lack of ability to put their opposition away. The latest piece of evidence was against Philadelphia, when the club conceded an equalizer to Danny Mwanga just three minutes after taking a lead on Conor Casey's penalty.
In a tightly contested Western Conference table, those dropped points will surely come into play as teams with games-in-hand like Portland, Chivas USA and San Jose prepare to surpass the champs in the standings.
2. A serious scoring shortage. The powers-that-be in the league offices that select the five "Goal of the Week" nominees have a pretty small sample size from which to choose after a dismal offensive showing in Week 12.
Including Friday night's scoreless draw between the Los Angeles Galaxy and D.C. United, 10 teams failed to score this weekend and only 10 goals total were scored in the nine league games. Only two teams, Real Salt Lake and San Jose, managed to score more than one.
By comparison, 11 teams scored at least two goals apiece last weekend (13 if you include the Week 11 games played last Wednesday), including Philadelphia, which scored six, and Columbus and Chivas USA, which played to a 3-3 draw.
What's the reason for the recent lack of attack? The answer is multi-pronged.
For starters, the Gold Cup and other international competitions have depleted MLS of some of its brightest attacking talent. Lower scores should probably be expected over the course of the next month while the likes of Landon Donovan, Alvaro Saborio, Dane Richards, Dwayne De Rosario, Will Johnson, Marco Pappa, Carlos Ruiz and Chris Wondolowski are away on international duty.
On top of all of that, there were some pretty bad misses this weekend (ahem, Josh Wolff, Justin Braun and Andres Mendoza), combined with some stellar goalkeeping. FC Dallas keeper Hartman posted his 100th career shutout, while Kasey Keller, Nick Rimando, Sean Johnson and Stefan Frei stood tall in their respective matches.
Also, two of the teams that were shut out Saturday, Chicago and Vancouver, are still in the beginning stages of their transitions to new coaches. The Fire couldn't convert its chances in its first game under interim coach Frank Klopas. While Vancouver now has two games under Tom Soehn's guidance, the Whitecaps still haven't been able to recover the free-flowing attacking soccer that they displayed in the first few games of the season. Having Designated Player striker Eric "The Red" Hassli suspended for the third time this season because of an ejection certainly didn't help matters.
3. RSL rediscovers its Rio Tinto magic. After having its 29-match home unbeaten streak in league play snapped by the Seattle Sounders last week, Real Salt Lake planted the seeds for a new run at its home fortress with a strong showing in a 2-0 victory over Vancouver at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Jean Alexandre, a holding midfielder-turned-forward, inherited an enormous amount of attacking responsibility with Saborio and Arturo Alvarez gone to the Gold Cup and young dynamic striker Paulo Jr. out injured. The 24-year-old Haitian rewarded Jason Kreis' faith in him by delivering a super goal -- the first of his MLS career -- and a deft assist to have a hand in both RSL scores.
Perhaps more important for RSL, though, was the play of forward Fabian Espindola. The Argentine struggled mightily in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against Monterrey and seemed to be in a funk since then. After showing signs of life last week, Espindola delivered a top-class performance against the Whitecaps and scored the insurance goal that put the game away.
Salt Lake's much-ballyhooed depth is being tested at just about every position between Gold Cup absences (Saborio, Johnson, Alvarez), injuries (Javier Morales, Paulo Jr.) and suspensions (Jamison Olave), but Saturday's win was the first time in a few weeks that RSL performed like the contender that most expect it to be.
4. Pair of first-round rookies saves Columbus. Manager Robert Warzycha and the Columbus Crew technical staff took a gamble in releasing a bunch of the Crew's long-tenured veterans in hopes of turning the roster into a younger side that can compete for years to come.
While the jury is still out on the short- and long-term effects of the Crew's offseason, Warzycha had to be smiling after seeing the combination that saved a point for Columbus in New York.
Justin Meram and Rich Balchan, the club's two 2011 MLS SuperDraft first-round picks, connected in stoppage time, with Balchan scoring off Meram's cross to lift the Crew to a 1-1 draw with the Red Bulls.
Meram got the best of Matt Kassel's University of Maryland when he starred for the University of Michigan during the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals last fall, and in the two rookies' encounter on the professional stage, Meram bested his counterpart yet again.
Getting rare first-team minutes, Meram beat Kassel on a pacey run down the left and crossed to a wide-open Balchan, who easily finished into an open net for his first career goal.
Kassel, a midfielder who is unaccustomed to playing right back, was thrust into the position when starter Jan Gunnar Solli went down with an injury in the first half; Meram, meanwhile, was thrust into the lineup as a substitute after the Crew failed to generate enough offense, and rewarded Warzycha's decision.
While Balchan has been a consistent and versatile contributor since the beginning of the season for Columbus, it's worth watching to see if the spark Meram provided at Red Bull Arena can be the launching pad for the rest of his season while Warzycha looks for a consistent winning combination.
5. Sporting Kansas City's road trip finally ends. With Livestrong Sporting Park set to finally open on Thursday, Sporting Kansas City can stop wandering aimlessly around North America without a home base.
After traveling an estimated 29,000-plus miles to start the season, K.C. ended its 10-game road trip with a point, securing an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Toronto FC at BMO Field.
K.C. has gone 1-6-3 to start its season, but the club's league-worst record appears to be a bit skewed when considering that every other team in the league has played at least five games at home.
The flip side to the newfound optimism for K.C. is that the road-trip excuse no longer applies. Home results must start flowing in, or else the club's patient management may have no option but to make some personnel changes.
All that aside, it will be interesting to see what K.C., which boasts a wealth of attacking talent, can do while competing on a level playing field for the duration of the season.