From an unfortunate postponement in Vancouver to stout goalkeeping around the league, here are five thoughts from Saturday's early MLS games ...
1. It's unacceptable for exhibitions to interfere with meaningful league games. Summer club friendlies are great for a number of reasons. Aside from the exposure and financial aspects, fans get to see some of their favorite teams and players from around the world, and MLS players get to go up against some of the finest players on the planet while potentially showing off for European scouts.
There's no excuse for those friendlies to affect league games that actually mean something, though.
Vancouver's afternoon match against Real Salt Lake was postponed because the temporary grass surface that the Whitecaps put down at Empire Field specifically for the World Football Challenge wouldn't drain after a storm and was deemed unplayable a couple of hours before the scheduled first kick. Thankfully, the field should be ready for Monday's all-important friendly between Vancouver and Manchester City (sarcasm alert!).
The fallout and ramifications from the postponement are felt on many fronts. What will be done to accommodate the visiting fans who set aside considerable time and money to make the trip? Why should RSL be forced to add the to-be-rescheduled match against Vancouver to its already cluttered late-season schedule (which was previously altered because of its CONCACAF Champions League run)? What sort of accountability is there for the Whitecaps, who were responsible for the playing surface? Those are just some of the questions the league is faced with after an unfortunate and avoidable situation.
Temporary surfaces that don't drain well and make for dangerous conditions when wet don't belong in the Pacific Northwest, no matter how badly European teams don't want to play on turf. The similar temporary sod surface laid down in Seattle ahead of this coming Wednesday's match between the Sounders and Manchester United also absorbed some rain, and the effects were noticeable in Seattle's wild 4-3 victory over Colorado. Numerous players slipped on the field, including in-form Rapids striker Conor Casey, who needed to be subbed off in the first half after slipping and falling without being contacted and suffering an apparent Achilles injury. Even referee Edwin Jurisevic fell while trailing a potential scoring play.
Friendlies have their purpose, but the need to accommodate non-MLS teams shouldn't wind up altering the course of the season.
2. Rapids miss an opportunity in Seattle. When Colorado coach Gary Smith elected to leave maligned midfielder Brian Mullan at home for the first meeting between the Rapids and Sounders since Mullan's tackle broke Steve Zakuani's leg, he likely made the safe choice. He didn't subject Mullan, who reportedly wanted to make the trip despite battling back spasms, to the venom of Seattle's fans, nor did he subject Mullan to any potential physical retaliation on the field.
He also prevented a chance for all parties involved to take a giant step forward and start to get over the ugly incident.
Had Mullan appeared in Seattle, he could've absorbed the inevitable fan reaction, broken his silence to the media in an appropriate way and taken a calculated approach to making amends with Zakuani, whose recovery appears to be on or even ahead of schedule. For Mullan, whose image is tarnished after formerly being known only as a hard-working veteran and a winner, doing so could have also let him start to rebuild his reputation with the added bonus of it all unfolding on national television.
Instead, the uneasiness between Mullan and all things Seattle continues to linger, the player remains uncomfortably isolated and the storyline is guaranteed to carry over until the next time the two clubs meet, whether it be in the MLS postseason, CONCACAF Champions League or next season.
While Smith's choice to protect Mullan is understandable, holding him back also served as a missed opportunity for everybody to move on.
3. Chris Wondolowski continues to slump, but is it his fault? The San Jose Earthquakes and United States national team striker is mired in a bit of a scoring drought, and his team's tactics aren't helping him out.
With Steven Lenhart playing a target role and Simon Dawkins acting as more of a supporting forward, Wondolowski was relegated to a left midfield role and got completely lost in the offensive shuffle in San Jose's 0-0 draw at Columbus. The league's reigning Golden Boot winner hasn't scored in the four matches he's played since returning from U.S. Gold Cup duty, and by pushing him out wide, San Jose is failing to capitalize on his top assets -- one-touch finishing and commanding attention in the area.
Instead, the Earthquakes settled for numerous attempts from distance, a couple of which were expertly dealt with by Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer, and Wondolowski was often either retreating to see more of the ball or acting as a spectator. It wasn't until the 72nd minute, when Lenhart was taken off, that Wondolowski drifted more forward, and within minutes he had a header on frame that Hesmer stupendously tipped away.
San Jose has now been shut out in five of its last six matches, and keeping its top scoring threat isolated away from the goal is hardly a remedy to that problem.
4. Aurelien Collin is Public Enemy No. 1 in Houston. Sporting Kansas City's French center back certainly left his mark on his team's last-gasp 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo.
Collin was on the receiving end of two frustration fouls deemed to be straight-red-card-worthy by referee Kevin Stott, which resulted in the ejection of Colin Clark in the 51st minute and Brian Ching in the 69th.
With the two-man advantage, K.C. continued to be stifled by Houston's defense and goalkeeper Tally Hall, who were on the verge of their third consecutive clean sheet until Collin struck in the 90th minute. His shot from outside the area took a deflection and wrong-footed Hall in the 90th minute to force the draw and extend K.C.'s unbeaten streak to 11 games.
The draw was quite similar to last week's 1-1 result against Chivas USA, when Goats goalkeeper Dan Kennedy stood on his head only to be beaten by a header from 2011 All-Star Game commissioner pick Omar Bravo in the waning moments.
Instead of dropping three points to a conference foe that it figures to battle for a playoff spot, K.C. again found a way to save face late in a match and now has nine consecutive league games at Livestrong Sporting Park to look forward to with its streak still intact. And it has Collin to thank for that.
5. Goalkeepers were on display across the league. Aside from the goalfest in Seattle, this weekend's matches were littered with tremendous goalkeeping performances and should stir quite the debate as to which keeper was Best XI-worthy.
San Jose's draw with Columbus was less about unfinished chances and more about stout showings from both Hesmer and Earthquakes netminder Jon Busch.
Hall, like he's shown repeatedly in his first season as a starter for the Dynamo, was superb in fending off Sporting K.C. until a moment of misfortune cost him his clean sheet.
Chicago Fire star midfielder Marco Pappa is going to have visions of Portland Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins in nightmares after being repeatedly denied in spectacular fashion in Portland's 1-0 victory, its first road win as an MLS franchise and first win in almost two months. Despite being on the wrong side of the scoreline, Chicago's Sean Johnson was also stellar, coming up with six saves -- a few of the acrobatic variety -- only to be beaten on a penalty kick.
Down at Pizza Hut Park, D.C. United's Bill Hamid and FC Dallas' Kevin Hartman dueled to a scoreless draw for the second time this season, but it was the 20-year-old Hamid that caught the eye, more so because FC Dallas had the lion's share of the game's quality chances. Hamid's ability to take command of the area is impressive, as he's hardly shy in coming off his line to make an aggressive play for the ball.
Oddly enough, Busch, Hartman and Perkins were all jettisoned out of town by their former teams (the former two before the 2010 season) only to find stability and success elsewhere.