Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake take care of business ahead of their showdown, and Chivas USA pulls another stunner. That and more from Week 5 in MLS:
1. League leaders on collision course. With the unbalanced schedule, it's a shame that Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake only meet once this season (at Livestrong Sporting Park Saturday night). At least it's happening when the two sides are both at the top of their respective games -- through the first five weeks, no one else is playing better.
When the two meet, it will also be a fascinating battle of tactics and systems. Peter Vermes' well-oiled 4-3-3 for Kansas City goes up against Jason Kreis' established 4-4-2, and both are coming off important, dominating victories (Sporting KC over the Los Angeles Galaxy and RSL over rival Colorado) to maintain their places atop the table.
Despite all the talent for both teams, the scales are likely to be tilted in the heart of the midfield, where breaking up possession and upsetting the rhythm will be key for both sides. RSL prides itself on bossing the ball and dictating the pace and tempo -- the club has reached the 78 percent accuracy passing mark in every game this season. Captain Kyle Beckerman has been the constant in the diamond-shaped midfield, while injuries have facilitated more playing time for youngsters Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez, who have performed admirably.
Conversely, Sporting KC has held opponents to less than a 70 percent passing clip in all but one game, as Roger Espinoza and Julio Cesar quietly go about their business disrupting opposing forays forward, allowing MLS assist leader Graham Zusi to push ahead and create. Something will have to give in the must-see match of the week.
2. Surprising road warriors. Is there a more perplexing team in the league than Chivas USA?
Winless at home in three matches, Chivas have gone into two of the league's toughest venues for away teams and emerged with six points, adding a surprising win in Portland to its improbable victory at RSL from a few weeks ago.
The Goats have gotten the job done away from home in entirely different manners. Against RSL, they absorbed tons of pressure, leaned on goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and struck for an opportunistic goal after hanging around. Against Portland, Chivas showed its resiliency, not allowing a Kennedy-James Riley gaffe that led to a goal to rile them. Instead, Chivas pounced on a complacent Timbers side and took the action to them in the second half, getting two well-worked, deserved goals orchestrated by speedy winger Ryan Smith.
The lack of consistency in attack likely prevents Chivas from becoming a true force in a loaded conference, but a defense that has conceded just one goal in every game thus far will keep the Goats afloat while they fight and scrap for results. There's plenty of reason to believe that Chivas will make it 3-for-3 away from the Home Depot Center this weekend, too, as they venture to BMO Field to take on pointless Toronto FC.
3. Burch's near-fitting D.C. return. Left back-on-left back hate is pretty uncommon in MLS circles, so when Seattle's Marc Burch let loose on his former club, D.C. United (where he spent five seasons), and his successor, Daniel Woolard, with one of the more awkward and unprovoked instances of trash talk, it naturally captured some attention.
"They had the opportunity to keep me, and they didn't," an irked Burch told the Seattle Times last week in the buildup to Seattle's match at D.C. "It's time to go back and prove that I don't believe that their left back is better than I am. If that's what they think, then that's what they think."
Unfortunately for Burch, whom Seattle traded up to get in the re-entry draft, he only had a few minutes to back up his words. Come first kick, he was sitting on the bench for the first time all season, while the soft-spoken Woolard got the start and was steady in a 90-minute shift for D.C., despite Seattle appearing to make a concerted effort to go right at him on the opening sequences of the match.
After Burch entered the game in what figured to be a time-killing substitution in stoppage time, the opportunity to back up his words presented itself in the form of a free header close to goal off a saved Osvaldo Alonso blast. Burch came oh-so-close to putting a bow on his return, but the crossbar had other ideas, much to the relief of Woolard, D.C. and the RFK Stadium faithful, who emerged with a scoreless draw.
Consider it the latest chapter to one of the more underrated rivalries in the league, with something unusual constantly happening when Seattle and D.C. do battle.
4. A nod to the old guard. Plenty of focus in MLS these days is on the performances of newcomers, rookies and young rising talent, but the league's wily veterans are still capable of carrying the action.
It starts in goal, with FC Dallas' Kevin Hartman continuing to etch his name in the league record books. Already the all-time leader in games played and started and the goalkeeper with the most wins, shutouts and saves in league history, Hartman. 37, became the first MLS player to hit the 35,000-minute mark -- keeping the 107th clean sheet of his career and first of the season.
Vancouver's Joe Cannon is right on Hartman's tail for most MLS goalkeeping records, but he boasts one record that Hartman does not: 427 consecutive minutes of not conceding a goal to start a season, snapping the record set by the 2007 New York Red Bulls. Caught in a fight for playing time last season with Jay Nolly, the 37-year-old Cannon, a two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, labored through an inaugural Whitecaps campaign in which the club conceded 55 goals and had five shutouts all season. With an improved back line ahead of him and a familiar bounce in his step, Cannon already boasts four shutouts in 2012 and every bit of the athleticism and instincts that have been the hallmarks of his career.
Ramiro Corrales, meanwhile, the last remaining MLS 1996 original, continues to get it done at a high level at left back for the San Jose Earthquakes. The 35-year-old defender still has plenty of life in his legs, displaying pace up the flank after shaking off an ankle injury suffered last week. On Saturday, he had the wherewithal to find Chris Wondolowski sneaking behind the defense on a throw-in to snap Cannon's shutout streak, and he put in a pinpoint cross for Alan Gordon four minutes later for the game-winning header. The new faces of MLS are the future, but the old-timers aren't through just yet.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts (Montreal Impact)
Defenders: Ramiro Corrales (San Jose Earthquakes), Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake), Auerlien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)
Midfielders: Ryan Smith (Chivas USA), Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas City), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards: Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Kenny Cooper (New York Red Bulls), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)