This week of MLS action saw many U.S. National Team players return to their clubs following World Cup Qualifying matches. They returned to see things staying pretty much as they left them, with the exception of one game in the nation's capital.
Game of the day
FC Dallas 2, Sporting Kansas City 2
As more than a few Miami Heat fans could tell you, it's never wise to go home while there's still hope. Two goals down to a team with arguably the most solid defense in MLS, Dallas looked doomed. The clock ticked toward that moment in every match when some supporters start to grapple with a profound dilemma: Stay loyal or avoid the post-game traffic jam?
But Kansas City was down to ten men and Dallas hadn't lost at home in 2013, so there were hints of possibility. Schellas Hyndman's team duly scored twice in the last three minutes to steal a 2-2 tie and preserve its impressive record in Frisco (7-0-2).
It's often possible to tell the magnitude of a game just by looking at the ferocity of the challenges. Applying that logic, this was one of the biggest matches in MLS so far this season. Exhibit A was Michel's two-footed tackle on Sporting's Kei Kamara midway through the first half - a lunge so bloodthirsty that Quentin Tarantino might think of hiring the Brazilian for his next movie. Kamara was unhurt but highly offended. Referee Mark Geiger ought to have sent Michel for an early shower but did not even brandish a yellow card. Indeed, he did not see fit to issue a caution for any of the match's 37 fouls (24 committed by Kansas City).
Geiger was at once correct and wrong when he awarded Sporting a penalty kick soon after Michel's challenge. Andrew Jacobson attempted to detach Aurelien Collin's shirt as they tangled in the area, but only a second after the referee awarded the foul, Claudio Bieler put the ball in the net. The goal did not count, but the failure to play the advantage didn't end up harming Sporting, as Kamara converted the spot kick. Dallas paid the price for dubious defending again after the break as Je-Vaughn Watson scored an own goal from a corner kick.
With 22 minutes left in the second period, Geiger proved that he had not forgotten to bring his cards when he contentiously dismissed C.J. Sapong in a bizarre incident. Jacobson lay hurt after being crunched by Lawrence Olum and Chance Myers as all three contested a ball in the air. Running past as the ball was sent over for the free kick, Sapong deflected the moving ball, and it struck Jacobsen as he lay on the ground. Geiger decided it was deliberate violent conduct and showed red to the striker. Did Sapong mean it? It seemed unlikely. But even if it wasn't intentional, he probably merited some sort of punishment for showing terrible ball control.
Sporting had been protecting their lead comfortably until then, but the dismissal prompted a frantic finish, and Jacobson and Walker Zimmerman beat goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen with headers. Dallas might even have won it in stoppage time, but Kenny Cooper flashed a long-range shot narrowly wide.
Player of the day
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire
So, how's that Magee for Robbie Rogers trade working out? Well, the Los Angeles Galaxy has not won in four fixtures since the deal, scoring only once (though one would expect them to claim three points against Chivas USA on Sunday). It's no criticism of Rogers, a fine player who is still rusty after a long period away from the sport.
Magee? He has made six appearances in all competitions for the Fire and scored in every one. Magee could hardly be hotter since joining his hometown club. If he is this prolific now, what will he be like in the playoffs, when he notably raises his game?
Magee's form puts an end to the idea that he prospered chiefly because opponents were preoccupied with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan. At Toyota Park, Magee is working with less gifted teammates. His arrival has provided the impetus for a lackluster and goal-shy Fire to hoist itself into playoff contention. The goal against Columbus could hardly have been simpler: A curving cross to the back post from Joel Lindpere that the forward met with his chest from six yards out.
With ten goals already this year (six for the Galaxy, including a hat trick against Chicago in the season opener), Magee has far exceeded his previous regular-season best of seven. That came in 2003, his rookie year, when he was with the then-New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls).
Goal of the day
Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake v. Seattle Sounders
RSL's midfield is earning plaudits as one of the best in MLS, and rightly so when even the holding player can score goals as good as this. The dreadlocked captain demonstrated excellent technique in the 41st minute to lash a bouncing ball high past Michael Gspurning from the edge of the six-yard box after Javier Morales' freekick was deflected by the Sounders' wall.
It was only Beckerman's second goal in twelve months, and it set RSL on their way to a 2-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium that saw the Utah side leapfrog Dallas into first place in the Western Conference. The shutout was notable against a Seattle team that has lately looked potent in attack.
The 59th minute marked a special occasion for Beckerman, too, though not one he's likely to remember with as much fondness as his goal. According to RSL's Twitter feed, he was penalized for a challenge on Obafemi Martins that saw the 31-year-old surpass Jesse Marsch (477) as MLS' all-time fouls leader.
Stat of the day
13 - D.C. United winless streak that ended on Saturday
United's club-record run of MLS futility is finally over thanks to a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes at RFK Stadium.
An 11th-minute penalty from Chris Pontius -- his first goal of the season -- was enough for Ben Olsen's side to collect three points for the first time since a victory over RSL on Mar. 9. Of course, United remains at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and is thirteen points outside of the top five. But here, at last, was something for D.C.'s dedicated fans to cheer.
Olsen started with veterans Dwayne De Rosario, Lionard Pajoy and Carlos Ruiz on the bench, giving 23-year-old Casey Townsend his third league start of the year. The striker was lively and helped create room for Pontius to push forward with more vigor than in recent weeks.
The outcome of this tepid encounter was also a sad reflection on the decline of the Earthquakes -- last year's Supporters Shield winners. A San Jose lineup without the injured Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart was as toothless as an old-timer with a candy habit.