The Portland Timbers keep rolling along, Philadelphia surges up the standings and Mike Magee keeps on scoring for his new club in MLS Week 17 ...
1. Portland rises to the top. If playing a game of Portland Timbers word association, any of the following would describe the clubin 2013: Skillful, cohesive, professional, dangerous, confident, methodical, enforcing, commanding, successful.
None of the above pertained to the first two MLS editions of the club, and while there are a handful of candidates for MLS Coach of the Year at the this juncture -- the exploits of Montreal's Marco Schallibaum, RSL's Jason Kreis, Philadelphia's John Hackworth, Colorado's Oscar Pareja and FC Dallas' Schellas Hyndman merit consideration -- the frontrunner must be Caleb Porter, who has transformed this success-starved franchise.
It is only the halfway point in the season, and Porter and his players are saying all the right things about not getting ahead of themselves, but it is difficult not to marvel at the difference between these Timbers and the last two incarnations of the club. Portland extended its unbeaten run to an astounding 15 games Sunday evening with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids and now shares the lead in the Western Conference standings with Real Salt Lake. That's a far cry from the club that couldn't win away from home and struggled to develop an on-field identity worth having.
The acquisition of captain Will Johnson from Real Salt Lake is proving to be one of the transactions of the season, and Colorado knows that better than anyone considering half of the Canadian midfielder's career-high six goals have come at the expense of the Rapids. His latest goal, a flick-to-self volley at full speed while slicing past a defender, is a Goal of the Season candidate. Wide forward Rodney Wallace continues to play at an All-Star level after his three-assist virtuoso. As a whole, the Timbers truly appear on the same page at all times, whether it be off quick restarts from dead-ball situations or excelling in the buildup with off-ball movement.
Like Porter and his charges have been reiterating, there is plenty to be played and there is always room for improvement, but as long as key players steer clear of the injury bug, the club appears well on its way to making another word that had been foreign to the Timbers suddenly relevant: Playoffs.
2. Rest vs. Rust at PPL. The Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls brought fresh legs to PPL Park for their Sunday matinee. The Union had not played a league match since June 5, whereas the Red Bulls had been inactive in MLS since June 1. Coaches always provide conflicting answers to the age-old question "Is a lengthy layoff good for your club, or does it disrupt your rhythm?" Some say it's great to have the time to recover and recharge. Others say it is difficult to overcome the rust factor. Well, both sides were on show in the rivalry bout.
Philadelphia looked lively, sharp and ready to pounce in the 3-0 victory, one that thrust it into second place in the Eastern Conference behind just the Montreal Impact. New York, meanwhile, was sloppy, out of sorts and a step slow. Granted, the club was playing without Tim Cahill and Jamison Olave and went down to 10 men early after Lloyd Sam's rash two-footed challenge to Danny Cruz, but the Red Bulls were still able to generate plenty of chances and lacked the quality to scrape together a goal with the game still in the balance.
Perhaps the Union's scheduling provided the decisive advantage. While both teams had U.S. Open Cup games during their lulls, the Red Bulls' starters did not have any game action otherwise. Philadelphia, meanwhile, scheduled a pair of friendlies against lower-tier clubs, the latter of which against the affiliate Harrisburg City Islanders last Tuesday allowed the majority of its starters to get 45 minutes in preparation for the weekend. Attention to minor details often leads to grand results, and Philadelphia's actions during its league layoff had the club come out firing while overcoming any lingering rust to snatch an important result.
3. Morrow eats some crow. San Jose Earthquakes left back Justin Morrow had some pointed words regarding a potential loss to D.C. United prior to their Saturday clash, telling MLSSoccer.com, "If you lose to them, it looks terrible. No one wants to lose to D.C. That's how you don't overlook them. We know what will happen if we lose to them."
Now he knows more than anyone else. The U.S. January camp call-up has nobody to blame but himself following the surprising 1-0 defeat at RFK Stadium, one that evened interim manager Mark Watson's record at 1-1-0. Morrow committed the foolish penalty that led to D.C.'s eventual game-winning goal, unnecessarily bailing out Chris Korb inside the box with a rash sliding challenge that granted Chris Pontius a spot kick, which he buried. Morrow also missed a wide-open, straightaway volley from about 12 yards with a chance to tie the game in the final minute of stoppage time. With every chance to put his money where his mouth was, Morrow was unable to come through, having has bulletin-board material backfire in the most unseemly fashion.
4. Fruits of a trade on display. For months, the Columbus Crew had overwhelmingly gotten the better of the winter trade that saw the club acquire Dominic Oduro from the Chicago Fire in exchange for Dilly Duka and the (little did we know how notable they'd become) MLS rights to Robbie Rogers. Oduro had become the team's leading scorer, with seven goals, while Duka had been in and out of the Fire's lineup and failed to contribute much to the team's anemic attack.
Saturday night, the scales tipped more toward the Fire. Oduro drew a penalty that helped Columbus take the lead, but Duka and Magee -- eventually acquired for Rogers' rights -- scored in rapid succession off crosses from Joel Lindpere to turn the tables. Now, that February deal looks beneficial for both sides instead of the one-sided outcome, and the Fire could easily end up being the long-term winner. Magee has scored a goal in each of his six games with the club -- four in MLS, two in the U.S. Open Cup -- and has helped transform a team that looked to be sinking fast into a squad with sudden purpose and hope.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers)
Defenders: Alain Rochat (D.C. United), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Steven Caldwell (Toronto FC)
Midfielders: Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Camilo (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Forwards: Mike Magee (Chicago Fire), Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact), Rodney Wallace (Portland Timbers)
Week 17 MLS Power Rankings
Portland Timbers (7-1-9) Caleb Porter's Timbers are unbeaten in 15 league matches after a 3-0 dismantling of the Rapids at Jeld-Wen Field, but they'll have to wait a little while to build on that momentum. Their next MLS match is July 7 against Columbus. The club remains alive in the U.S. Open Cup with a highly anticipated meeting with FC Dallas in the quarterfinals this week.
Montreal Impact (9-3-2) It seems ages ago that the Impact beat the Dynamo, considering Montreal was off this weekend, but the midweek victory at Stade Saputo was as impressive a showing as any this season. Marco Di Vaio turned in a masterclass showing to boost his MVP credentials. He the Golden Boot lead with Mike Magee and Jack McInerney.
Real Salt Lake (9-5-3) RSL is unbeaten in five after a thorough 2-0 beating of the Sounders, the club's second win in 2013 over the team that caused its elimination from last season's playoffs. Kyle Beckerman's goal was one of the highlights of the week. The captain executed a side volley of extreme difficulty with accuracy, power and precision to augment his overall top showing in stifling the Sounders' forays forward.
FC Dallas (8-3-5) Dallas looked left for dead trailing Sporting Kansas City 2-0 in the final minutes Saturday night, but two late goals, including an equalizer from rookie and U.S. U-20 snub Walker Zimmerman, salvaged a point. Dallas is still winless in three matches and has only beaten struggling D.C. and San Jose in its last eight games, but that is a point that can go a long way in changing the club's mentality, as opposed to dropping a home game to a 10-man opponent.
Philadelphia Union (7-5-4) Conor Casey continues to own New York, tallying an impressive brace (and having another potential goal correctly waved off for offside) in a 2-0 victory over the club's regional rival. Casey now has five goals with the Union and is on pace for his first double-digit season since 2010. More importantly, he is giving the club another scoring outlet when McInerney can't find his scoring touch, as was the case Sunday.
Sporting Kansas City (6-5-5) Sporting KC had not played a league match in three weeks. The return was not as welcoming as it first appeared. The club will feel aggrieved at the red card that C.J. Sapong drew that dropped the club to 10 men Saturday night in Dallas. It could not preserve a 2-0 lead in the waning moments and is winless in its last four.
Los Angeles Galaxy (7-6-3) With Omar Gonzalez back, the Galaxy emerged victorious from the dubiously titled SuperClasico, taking Chivas USA down another peg as stud rookie Gyasi Zardes delivered the game's only goal (and he could have had plenty more as well). Landon Donovan delivered the assist with a well-taken free kick, giving him 112 for his career and tying Preki on the all-time MLS list. With two more, he'll match Carlos Valderamma for second at 114. Steve Ralston's 135 are still a ways away, though.
Houston Dynamo (6-5-5) A hapless loss to Montreal followed by a home draw against lowly Toronto FC did not make for the most productive of weeks for the Dynamo, which are now 0-3-3 in their last six. The club has gone through midseason swoons before only to come back playing its best soccer down the stretch and into the playoffs, so the slump -- coincided with absences for international duty -- is not a huge cause for concern, but Dom Kinnear's side is capable of way more than what it is putting out on the field.
Seattle Sounders (6-5-3) The Sounders have a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde, don't they? At times, Seattle has looked like a complete juggernaut, capable of playing the best soccer in the league. At others, the team falls completely flat, most notably doing so against some of the Western Conference's top competitors in LA and RSL. That was the case again Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium, a 2-0 defeat.
New York Red Bulls (7-6-4) The Red Bulls had chances to take at least a point away from PPL Park despite going down a man after Lloyd Sam's dismissal, but the inability by their attacking players -- most notably Peguy Luyindula and Fabian Espindola -- to finish manageable chances let the team down before the wheels fell off on the back line. Considering goalkeeper Luis Robles' inconsistency, Ryan Meara of Kevin Hartman could see reps in the near future.
Vancouver Whitecaps (6-5-4) The Whitecaps are quietly 4-1-1 in their last six and playing a much more effective attacking style, scoring multiple goals in all of those games. The effort has been spearheaded by Camilo, which was expected. The fact that young Canadian star Russell Teibert has played such a vital role, though, has been a pleasant and vital development
New England Revolution (5-5-5) The Revs had the week off to contemplate the wild nature of their 4-3 defeat to Vancouver while also preparing to compete on opposite coasts in a span of four days. Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal against D.C. United in Maryland on Wednesday will be followed with a clash at Chivas USA on Saturday night. Jay Heaps must balance his roster accordingly. With Andrew Farrell suspended for the league clash against the Goats, though, the rookie can expect to see plenty of minutes in the Open Cup.
Chicago Fire (5-7-3) Arne Friedrich's retirement is not all that shocking. The club has been prepared by trading for center back Bakary Soumare. With Friedrich's salary off the books, the Fire will have some spending money freed up, which could make the in-form side (3-0-2 in its last five MLS matches and advanced to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals) a player down the stretch.
Columbus Crew (5-6-5) The Crew experienced deja vu against the Fire, dropping another 2-1 result to the team that eliminated them from the U.S. Open Cup by the same score. Having Dilly Duka score the equalizer Saturday had to be an extra punch to the gut for the Crew, which was at odds with the player and had to ship him out of town in the winter. Fans are also reportedly chanting for manager Robert Warzycha to be replaced with club legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Colorado Rapids (5-7-5) Colorado has dropped three straight and fallen out of the playoff places. Sunday's result at Portland won't be an easy one to swallow. The club came out on the front foot and looked the more dangerous side, but goals conceded off a quick restart and a goal kick undid all of that good work and turned the tide. The club's level of awareness and execution simply has to be better.
San Jose Earthquakes (4-7-6) Playing without Chris Wondolowski, Victor Bernardez and Steven Lenhart, San Jose earned the dubious distinction of ending D.C. United's lengthy winless streak. The club wanted to usher in a new style of play when moving on from manager Frank Yallop, and that held true in an undesirable way: The late heroics with which San Jose became synonymous under Yallop never materialized.
Toronto FC (2-7-6) Four points out of its road trip to D.C. and Houston was a nice haul for Ryan Nelsen's squad, which heads home to face a Real Salt Lake team yet to win a match in Canada. The 0-0 draw with the Dynamo was shockingly its first clean sheet, with new signing Steven Caldwell making a tangible impact on the back line's fortunes.
D.C. United (2-11-3) D.C. is on the right track after ending its franchise-worst 13-game winless streak agasint San Jose. More importantly, Chris Pontius turned in his first showing of the season that was along the lines of his Best XI-caliber 2012 season, working hard, making chances and scoring a vital goal off a PK to open his 2013 account. Vancouver castaways John Thorrington and Alain Rochat also played major roles as D.C. takes rare positive momentum into the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.
Chivas USA (3-10-2) Winless in 10 and losers of seven straight, Chivas seems to have not even a glimmer of light at the end of its tunnel. With fans reportedly buying a plane to fly a scrolling message regarding their displeasure with owner Jorge Vergara over the StubHub Center Sunday night, things can't get much worse for the club, which manager Jose Luis Real has been tabbed with turning around.