Sunday July 10th, 2011

From Dwayne De Rosario's huge goal to Nick LaBrocca's All-Star push, here are five thoughts from Saturday's early MLS matches:

1. De Rosario's relishes the spotlight. Dwayne De Rosario scoring a big-time goal at Red Bull Arena wouldn't be such major news had he still been wearing a New York Red Bulls jersey. The fact that he did so in his new D.C. United kit, however, is a different story.

Less than two weeks after the New York-D.C. trade that saw De Rosario shipped off to a third city this season, the United playmaker did his part in determining the early returns on which team got the better end of the deal in the clubs' final meeting of the season.

De Rosario rounded his trade counterpart, Dax McCarty, to leave a ball off for Josh Wolff. The veteran striker played it back to De Rosario inside the box, where he finished from the right side in the 61st minute of D.C.'s crucial 1-0 victory over the Red Bulls.

De Rosario has had a tumultuous last 10 months, going back to his fake-check-writing incident after scoring a goal while playing for Toronto FC last September. He unsuccessfully tried to secure a place at Celtic FC in Scotland during the offseason before starting the season in Toronto as the Reds' centerpiece. After being traded to New York on April 1, it appeared that he had found his perfect match -- a star-studded team with championship aspirations and the sizable checkbook to go along with it all -- only to be shown the door again two months later.

Now getting settled in a system that suits his talents well and a locker room that can use his leadership qualities and championship experience, De Rosario is in a place where he is wanted, and he is doing his best to vindicate D.C.'s front office for trading the 24-year-old McCarty for his services.

While he's earned a place among the annals of MLS for a number of his accomplishments, he etched his name in the record book yet again by becoming the first player to score a goal for three MLS teams in one season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

As for the Red Bulls, who were coming off a tremendous midweek showing against Toronto FC, they actually captured the Atlantic Cup for the second consecutive season (because of a +3 goal differential in the two D.C.-New York meetings this season) -- marking the first time New York has won the annual rivalry in straight seasons since 2000-2001 -- but the home loss, and having it happen through a De Rosario goal, hardly makes the bragging rights a satisfactory consolation prize.

2. RSL takes battle of Western Conference powers. Real Salt Lake had its MLS Cup title defense ended by FC Dallas in last year's postseason, and while FC Dallas is firmly entrenched in the league's top tier, RSL let its conference foe know that the road to a repeat appearance at MLS Cup may still very well lead through Rio Tinto Stadium.

A rare Kevin Hartman blunder resulted in an Andy Williams freekick trickling into the goal, and Fabian Espindola added an insurance strike moments before the final whistle as RSL made a statement by snapping FCD's three-game winning streak with a 2-0 result.

Even with suspended center back Nat Borchers not in the lineup, Real Salt Lake turned to its rock-solid defense to stifle every Dallas foray forward and strip the Red Stripes of much of their creativity. Reigning MLS Defender of the Year Jamison Olave compensated for Borchers' loss by turning in a dominant performance; Tony Beltran did a tremendous job in locking down the in-form Brek Shea, who had scored in four straight games; and Chris Wingert made perhaps the play of the game, coming up with a goal-line clearance after Shea left a ball for Jackson by the goalmouth with the score still 1-0.

While both teams boast outstanding back lines, RSL continued to make its case to be considered the league's best, as it has only conceded 12 goals in 17 matches this season.

Fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the two powers playing each other again won't have to wait long -- they'll square off in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match in Dallas on Tuesday.

3. Casey continues his torrid stretch. In a year when the top tier of strikers in MLS is a bit undistinguished and underwhelming, burly Colorado Rapids veteran Conor Casey is making a push to remain among the league's elite forwards.

Casey scored for the sixth time in his last seven games in Colorado's 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps. Colorado snapped a seven-game winless stretch at home with the win, doing so by fielding a 4-3-3 with strikers Casey, Omar Cummings and Caleb Folan all starting. Casey reaped the benefits of the new-look formation by taking a pass down off his chest directly to his foot in the area and clinically finishing to open the scoring. His second-half header that forced Joe Cannon to make a diving save led to the eventual game-winning goal on the ensuing rebound.

Considering the departure of Edson Buddle to Europe, the uneven play of Fredy Montero and Alvaro Saborio during the season, the lackluster showing in Los Angeles for Juan Pablo Angel and injuries to players like Cummings, it's been an odd year for the MLS strikers whom we've become accustomed to seeing celebrate on a weekly basis. Casey might not be the flashiest forward in the league, nor is he considered national-team material anymore, but he continues to be a productive force up top for the Rapids.

4. SKC unbeaten streak still alive. After being denied repeatedly by Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, Sporting Kansas City broke through to keep its unbeaten streak intact.

Omar Bravo's stoppage-time header forced a 1-1 draw and extended Sporting KC's stretch of not losing to 10 games (4-0-6). Oddly enough, the goal for Bravo, who used to star for Chivas de Guadalajara, was his third against Chivas USA this season after scoring twice in Sporting KC's season-opening win against the Goats.

The draw maintained SKC's status as one of three MLS teams to be unbeaten at home (Entering Saturday, Philadelphia and Los Angeles were the others). If the club can find a way to earn a result at Houston next weekend, it's streak might continue through the month of July. The team's following nine games are all at Livestrong Sporting Park, and the first two in that bunch are against Eastern Conference doormats Toronto and New England, respectively.

5. Nick LaBrocca, All-Star midfielder? There's more than just one No. 10 with a receding hairline who calls the Home Depot Center home enjoying a strong season.

While Los Angeles Galaxy star Landon Donovan is near the top of the leaderboard for the league's Golden Boot, Chivas USA midfielder Nick LaBrocca isn't too far behind.

LaBrocca scored for the third consecutive game, tallying his sixth goal of the season, which also happened to be the 10,000th in MLS history, in Chivas' draw with Sporting KC. He could've had a couple of others as well, as he hit a shot off the crossbar before his goal and had another goal-bound effort blocked by teammate Marcos Mondaini in the second half.

Acquired on March 11 from Toronto FC in exchange for Alan Gordon, LaBrocca has settled in nicely with the Goats, and is certainly worth mentioning in the MLS All-Star discussion, even with the depth at midfield in the league. Considering that the 26-year-old LaBrocca is having a career year and taking into account what he's meant to his team, he likely deserves a place among the 32 players who earn the All-Star distinction this season.

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