The script was flipped in the MLS Cup rematch to cap off an intriguing MLS Week 10:
1. Dynamo finally rule at Home Depot Center. First things first, let's get this out of the way: The only regular-season meeting between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo -- the two teams to represent the league at the MLS Cup the last two seasons -- should not be occurring at 11 p.m. Eastern on a Sunday. Ever. With MLS struggling for TV ratings as it is and this an opportunity to showcase two of the league's two powers, the Sunday-night-into-Monday-morning time slot is hardly a way of maximizing a captive audience along the lines of what the league is going to be doing with the LA-New York showdown on ESPN2 immediately following the conclusion of the Premier League season in a couple of weeks. Chalk it up as an opportunity lost to feature two deserving sides and league juggernauts in a prime-time slot.
For those who powered through to watch the anticipated showdown, in which the Dynamo flipped the MLS Cup script to secure a rare road win behind Andrew Driver's sublime strike, they saw plenty of change from the Dec. 1 meeting when LA captured its second straight title at Houston's expense. They saw Landon Donovan, whose penalty kick was the game-winning goal in the last title bout, perhaps relinquish PK duties after he dropped to 0-for-2 on the season with his atypically feeble effort from the spot. They saw the multi-faceted Dynamo overcome the absence of star winger Brad Davis to win away from BBVA Compass Stadium. They saw Giles Barnes and Driver continue to play the part of successful international signings on the heels of last season's acquisition of Oscar Boniek Garcia.
They saw the Galaxy continue to lean on rather green players. Bruce Arena turned to rookies Greg Cochrane and Charlie Rugg in big spots once again with Todd Dunivant and Robbie Keane remaining out through injury. Just like Arena did by relying on rookie center back Tommy Meyer last season, expect these early-season minutes to pay major dividends for the Galaxy's cavalcade of young players when they are called upon down the stretch. If that happens to mean another postseason encounter with the Dynamo, though, Sunday's result puts the teams on a more level psychological pegging after Houston did what it has failed to do so many times at the Home Depot Center: Win.
2. Kei Kamara returns. Sporting Kansas City surely did not look like it needed any attacking assistance Sunday after putting on a clinic against Chivas USA and its overmatched three-man back line, but reinforcements are on the way anyway.
Norwich City elected not to exercise its buy option on Kei Kamara, so the player who tallied 30 goals in the last three years for Sporting KC is on his way back to Sporting Park after all. The club had prepared for his permanent absence and has been meshing as a whole since his departure, but now that he is back in the fold, the situation has unfolded as a true win-win for the front office.
Kamara is fully fit after appearing 11 times for Norwich, including a final substitute appearance Saturday. He can slot in immediately as the schedule gets more congested with midweek games, U.S. Open Cup and eventually CONCACAF Champions League later this summer. The hard-working Kamara is a weapon any team in the league would love to have, and he happens to be returning to one with an embarrassment of attacking riches as it is. If Kamara winds up being sold when the European transfer window opens -- according to MLSSoccer.com the club has admitted to there being interested parties -- then Sporting KC ends up with a decent chunk of change along the lines of what it would have received had Norwich made Kamara's transfer permanent.
The least thrilled parties, from a personal standpoint anyway, must be C.J. Sapong and Soony Saad. The young strikers have yet another top-level player to contend with for playing time. Short of that, though, Kamara's return presents an enviable selection problem for Peter Vermes and a headache for Eastern Conference defenses who have seen one of the league's top units get even stronger overnight.
WAHL: Lampard to Galaxy not dead; more MLS news
3. Take a bow, Timbers. The Portland Timbers did not play over the weekend, but the club surely deserves yet another nod for its part in answering the bell for 8-year-old Atticus Lane-Dupre last week.
The Timbers rolled out the red carpet for Lane-Dupre and made his wish came true with a Make-A-Wish event for the ages. With more than 3,000 Timbers supporters cheering on a weekday morning, Lane-Dupre's Green Machine youth team topped the Timbers 10-9 in an exhibition that displayed the class and true colors of the organization from top to bottom.
It is not as if the Timbers did this on a bye week, either. In the midst of a lengthy unbeaten run (which is now at seven games) and coming off perhaps the best road win in club history, they had a game the following night against New England. Nobody would have begrudged the club for toning things down a bit or looking to schedule at a more advantageous time for Caleb Porter and his players.
Instead, the organization went all out, showed a selfless, genuine connection and admiration for Lane-Dupre and set a superb example for how sports can be a vehicle for good. On and off the field, the Timbers have become one of the stories of the young season, and they made Lane-Dupre, who was honored on the capo stand at Jeld-Wen Field the night after his four-goal showing as the club played the Revolution to a 0-0 draw, a true star. Between Soccer Night in Newtown (which is having a second go around in a couple of weeks) and now what the Timbers have done for Lane-Dupre, MLS can hold its head high when it comes to connecting with the community.
4. Philadelphia's defensive conundrum. The Philadelphia Union-Seattle Sounders clash featured more fireworks than Floyd Mayweather's romp over Robert Guerrero, but that's not a positive from an MLS standpoint. When referee Jorge Gonzalez failed to exert any control over the rather testy match early on, it was no surprise to see emotions boil over into physical confrontation.
That said, Philadelphia is way worse for the wear after the 2-2 draw, and that is before the MLS Disciplinary Committee takes a look makes its inevitable rulings later this week. With center back Jeff Parke going down with a hamstring injury earlier in the match and the club already short-handed at center back, Sheanon Williams' inability to control his emotions in an altercation with Seattle's Lamar Neagle cost him and his club dearly.
Both players were sent off, leaving manager John Hackworth with a barren cupboard of center backs behind Amobi Okugo. Bakary Soumare would be a natural replacement, but he has not played a minute this season, and the club has reportedly been exploring options to appease his wishes and deal him away. Williams had slotted over to center back after Parke's injury, but now both will be missing for Saturday's match with the Chicago Fire and potentially again for next Wednesday's crunch clash against the LA Galaxy. It will be an all-hands-on-deck defensive approach for the Union, who have just one win in their last six games.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Bobby Shuttleworth (New England Revolution)
Defenders: Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo)
Midfielders: Danny Cruz (Philadelphia Union), Justin Mapp (Montreal Impact), Sam Cronin (San Jose Earthquakes), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Joao Plata (Real Salt Lake), Claudio Bieler (Sporting Kansas City), Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo)
DART: Red Bulls' resurgence, more San Jose drama; MLS analysis