Monday August 22nd, 2011

From Robbie Keane's debut to the evolving playoff picture, here are five thoughts from this weekend's MLS action:

1. Robbie Keane's immediate impact. The Los Angeles Galaxy are swinging for the fences, and they might have connected on the sweet spot with their latest signing.

New forward and Designated Player Robbie Keane took about 20 minutes to make an impact during his debut as the Galaxy topped the San Jose Earthquakes with ease Saturday night and hold a six-point lead with eight games to play in the race for the Supporters' Shield.


Despite having just a single training session with his new teammates and bouncing around at the club level after being loan material for Tottenham the last two years, Keane showed his transition to MLS should be seamless with his 21st-minute goal. Granted, it helps David Beckham and Landon Donovan will be among those providing him service (Beckham did the honors this time with a sweet assist -- his 11th of the season), but the same was true for Juan Pablo Angel, who couldn't deliver in his brief time with the club.

Keane, 31, provides a more dependable option than Angel up top and also relieves the pressure on the likes of role players Mike Magee and Adam Cristman, who have played well when called upon, but were being counted on entirely too much for a team of that stature and with goals that grand. Keane is no stranger to being a go-to goal option as his 123 Premier League goals would attest, and the early returns suggest that he'll add a dynamic to the Galaxy that makes the front-runners even more of an odds-on favorite to reach MLS Cup, which is being played at their home park.

2. Angel's second chance. Angel's tenure with the Galaxy has to be considered a bust considering the expectations he failed to meet when brought in to replace Edson Buddle's production; however, the low-risk, high-reward nature of his move to Chivas has given him new life and provides a chance for him to salvage his season.

Acquired for just a third-round pick in the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft (i.e. "Here, take him. Please."), Angel's departure opened up the DP spot necessary for the Galaxy to sign Keane, and his arrival at Chivas fills a need for a team teetering on the outside of the playoff picture. Aside from any of the financial burden that Chivas has to take on, Angel could be exactly what the team needs to make a late-season surge.

The owner of one of the best DP seasons in league history, Angel looked reborn and rejuvenated in his debut for the striker-needy Goats, and his opening goal against the Rapids displayed some of his killer technique and instincts that were missing across the hall at the Home Depot Center.

The circumstances for Angel have changed completely. He was expected to be the missing link to a championship run and came at a hefty cost for a club constantly in the spotlight. Now, he's a low-cost potential savior for a team that typically flies under the radar and has little in the way of expectations outside of its own locker room. While the change of scenery for Angel is only figurative in this case, it may prove to be exactly what he needs to round out his sterling MLS career.

3. Seattle's statement and Dallas' state of concern. Much of the attention out west is on the Galaxy, and for good reason, but the Seattle Sounders continue to go about their business and have the look of a contender.

The club's 1-0 triumph over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park sent a another strong statement while propelling it past FCD and into second place in both the Western Conference and the race for the Supporters' Shield.

One of the league's top newcomers, Mauro Rosales, accounted for the lone goal, and the Sounders defense managed to stifle Brek Shea & Co., who all of a sudden haven't won in their last three matches.

FC Dallas, which puts out as solid a lineup from top to bottom as there is in the league, could be in for some long-term trouble, especially if the reported bid by Blackburn for star center back George John gets accepted. The team acquired Jeremy Hall to provide fullback cover while Zach Loyd figures to move centrally, but Loyd, who played in that role against Seattle in place of the suspended John, was injured early in the loss, and left little in the way of depth at center back.

4. Columbus forges forward in the East. Anyone outside of the Columbus Crew locker room or manager Robert Warzycha's family that says they knew Columbus would be in pole position in the Eastern Conference at this point in the season is either lying or should have their own psychic hotline.

As it stands, though, the Crew are the top dogs in the East after a victory over their one-time closest competitor, Philadelphia. The victory was a typical, grind-it-out, score-any-which-way game that is a Columbus hallmark, and the club even survived another bout of penalty-kick drama after Andres Mendoza insisted on taking a spot kick when another player was set to do the honors.

After an offseason roster purge, commitment to a youth movement and some signings that have turned out to be quite shrewd -- Julius James and Sebastian Miranda on the back line are two that come to mind -- Columbus has a firm grasp on first place in the conference and appears to be for real.

The club's upcoming six-game stretch will be quite telling, though, as it faces Seattle to round out the month before a September that includes games against Los Angeles and Eastern Conference contenders Houston, Philadelphia and Kansas City.

5. Balance reigns supreme in postseason picture. The "If the season ended today" table is hardly an accurate metric for determining the actual postseason picture considering that not all teams have played the same amount of games and there's still two months left in the season. It is interesting to point out, though, that for all of the talk about the Western Conference's domination, both the East and the West would have five teams in the playoffs with the way things currently stand.

The fact that the East's first-place team (Columbus, 40), would have the fifth-most points in the West notwithstanding, the league is on its way to avoiding last year's scenario where 75 percent of the playoff teams came from the West.

Despite New York's dumbfounding inability to win -- as evidenced by the club's 14th draw of the season against New England -- the high-priced Red Bulls are clinging to that 10th and final spot and represent the East's fifth slot; however D.C. United, Chivas USA and the Portland Timbers are all within one result of catching New York and have at least one game in hand.

Even if one of those West teams claims that spot, this year's playoffs should be more balanced. That still won't necessarily stop the Colorado Rapids from potentially vying for their second consecutive Eastern Conference title, but at least it's progress.

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