Goals in bunches, major transactions and late drama all shared the stage during a riveting MLS Week 18:
1. Clarence Goodson will return to MLS. The summer transfer window both overseas and in MLS isn't open just yet, but big moves have already started to materialize. The latest on this side of the Atlantic Ocean comes via U.S. international center back Goodson, who will return to MLS after signing with the San Jose Earthquakes.
With Goodson back in MLS, three of the top four center backs in the U.S. player pool now ply their trade in the league (Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Goodson) in the final year of a World Cup qualifying cycle. The fourth option, Geoff Cameron, is a year removed from leaving the league for Stoke City, while former stalwart and captain Carlos Bocanegra is linked heavily with a return to the league where he began his career. The latter serves as another reminder that "settling" to play in MLS is far from the albatross that it once was perceived to be; players can be better off playing against the increasing quality of competition in MLS rather than playing in the obscurity of lesser-glorified leagues overseas.
Goodson's acquisition will also surely call into question how long teams should be able to maintain a player's rights. San Jose had Goodson's MLS rights because it selected him in the 2007(!) MLS Expansion Draft from Dallas before he bolted for Scandinavia, thus preventing him from needing to go through the allocation order typically reserved for returning U.S. internationals. While that idiosyncratic league rule does not come into play very often, the league may want to consider putting a cap on player rights (players taken in the SuperDraft that go overseas have their rights held by the drafting team for just two years, for example). Another player in that same boat is Tigres UANL's Jonathan Bornstein, whose rights are held by Chivas USA after the club acquired them from Portland (which selected him in the 2010 expansion draft).
Meanwhile, Earthquakes fans still riding the high after Saturday night's incredible stoppage-time comeback victory over the rival LA Galaxy should temper expectations for what Goodson's acquisition may mean for the team in league play in 2013. On paper, a Justin Morrow-Victor Bernardez-Goodson-Steven Beitashour back line should be among the best in MLS. Goodson's integration to the Earthquakes won't take place for a while, though, considering he'll be with the U.S. national team for the Gold Cup for the duration of July and won't report to his new team until after the tournament. By the time he joins the club, it will have already played up to 22 of 34 games this season, and with two other USA World Cup qualifiers scheduled close to or during San Jose league games, that could mean just 10 MLS matches for Goodson, who will still need to get on the same page with his new unit.
Where he can help the club in a big way, however, is in the CONCACAF Champions League, both on the field and by providing another option for which interim manager Mark Watson can spread minutes without suffering a severe dip in on-field product. San Jose's struggles this year have taken the luster off its Supporters' Shield-winning campaign a season ago, but the Quakes qualified for the region's top competition and were drawn into a group with the Montreal Impact and Guatemalan side Heredia. Since quality depth was a main culprit for many MLS teams' exits from the tournament, San Jose's addition of a piece like Goodson could pay some big dividends in terms of the club's CCL hopes and keeping others fresh for a stretch run at a return to the playoffs.
2. Sporting KC continues its good business. Graham Zusi signed his second contract in 16 months with Sporting Kansas City on Friday, presenting a win-win option for both him and his team in the process.
In signing a new deal, Zusi receives a pay raise, thereby keeping him happy in a place where his career has taken off. Like the aforementioned center backs, playing in MLS has done nothing to hinder Zusi's prospects on the international level, and his consistent outings have made him a top-choice winger in Jurgen Klinsmann's player pool. His new deal is not a guarantee that he will remain in MLS for the long haul, but from the team's perspective -- should Zusi express a desire to go abroad (he trialed with West Ham in the winter) -- it has protected itself by increasing the amount it would take to pry the under-contract player away from Sporting Park.
Maintaining a top player on a new deal is nothing new for Sporting KC. The club did lose Roger Espinoza on a free transfer to Wigan Athletic in a gamble it took chasing a championship when it perhaps could have cashed in on his value immediately after the 2012 Olympics (should Espinoza return to MLS the club does retain his rights, though). Aside from that, however, the club has locked up Besler, Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong and now Zusi to new deals within the last two seasons. By doing so, SKC has continued to give itself the best of both worlds: Keeping its core talent in place and happy for as long as possible, while protecting itself from having its top, most desirable players poached at discounted rates. It is MLS roster management at its best.
3. Chivas USA's never-ending saga adds another chapter. Chivas USA's 2013 season has been met with all the predictability of an improv show.
To recap: The club hired the eccentric Jose Luis "Chelis" Sanchez Sola as manager; completed a significant roster overhaul while paying little attention to the value it received in trades; embarked on a stunning 3-1-1 start; offloaded Juan Agudelo to New England; endured rumors of a team sale; fired Chelis; had its fans hire a plane to fly over a game with a message that it wants owner Jorge Vergara out; and cut four more players on Sunday, including Laurent Courtois, its goal-scorer from Saturday's 1-1 draw that snapped a seven game losing streak.
The change and evolution is far from over, with reports swirling that rising Mexican forward Erick Torres will arrive via loan from Chivas de Guadalajara and that the club is interested in bringing Carlos Bocanegra aboard, should he return to MLS. At this point, it's easy to believe everything and nothing at the same time, because there does not appear to be a clear course of action in place for the floundering franchise.
There is one predictable aspect of Chivas USA's season: All of the instability has landed the club securely at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Little hope is making the rounds in its half of the StubHub Center.
4. Calls for goal-line technology grow. With every instance of controversy involving the goal line, calls for MLS to integrate goal-line technology will continue to grow in scope.
The latest case involved the Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas, with the former's Sheanon Williams appearing to clear Blas Perez's shot in second-half stoppage time off the line with a heroic effort to augment his two-assist day out of the back. That is, until replays showed that the ball clearly had crossed the line, robbing 10-man Dallas of a would-be equalizer. MLS and its referees were bailed out when Perez managed to get his equalizing goal anyway, doing so in the seventh minute of stoppage time, but that type of luck is not particularly common.
While FIFA has accepted goal-line technology and began usage during the Confederations Cup, MLS remains hesitant to take that step because of the costs associated with it. Even so, there has to be a way to rectify a very fixable problem. Good goals -- especially ones that could determine the outcomes of games and even playoff races -- should not go by the wayside. When the fans at home can easily determine in a matter of seconds whether a goal should stand or be denied based on something an out-of-position official might not be able to see, there has to be a secondary option for the league to turn to in order to take care of what matters most: Getting the call right.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union), Jamison Olave (New York Red Bulls), Jordan Harvey (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Midfielders: Daniele Paponi (Montreal Impact), Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids), Nathan Sturgis (Colorado Rapids), Shea Salinas (San Jose Earthquakes)
Forwards: Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Kei Kamara (Sporting Kansas City), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
|Week 18 MLS Power Rankings|
|1 ||1 || ||Portland Timbers (7-1-9) |
The Timbers' unbeaten run stayed at 15 during the club's bye week, and even though Portland trails RSL in the Western Conference standings by three points, it still has a game in hand, the best goal differential (+12) and the most goals scored (28) in the league. Overcoming the losses of players like Will Johnson, Rodney Wallace and Frederic Piquionne to the Gold Cup won't be easy for Caleb Porter's side, however.
|2 ||3 || ||Real Salt Lake (10-5-3) |
RSL won in Canada for the first time, benefiting from some late defensive heroics from Nick Rimando and Nat Borchers to complement Yordany Alvarez's screamer of a goal in a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC. The win was RSL's fourth in a row, and the club is unbeaten in six games. But RSL will get hit by the Gold Cup harder than any other squad: Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, Rimando and Alvaro Saborio all will depart for international duty.
|3 ||2 || ||Montreal Impact (9-4-2) |
What in the world happened to Montreal's disciplined and organized defensive shape? The Colorado Rapids went to town on the Impact in a wild affair at Stade Saputo, with Montreal conceding four times and blowing a 3-2 lead. The overall team lapses took away from Daniele Paponi's well-worked brace and Hassoun Camara's absurd goal, in which he flicked the ball to himself for a bicycle kick -- all from the seat of his pants.
|4 ||4 || ||FC Dallas (9-3-6) |
Dallas was moments away from being robbed of a deserved draw before David Ferreira's blind flick found Blas Perez by the goalpost for the game-tying header in the club's 2-2 result with the Philadelphia Union. Dallas did not win in June, going 0-1-3, with late heroics providing single points in each of the last two matches. Rookie Walker Zimmerman did the honors against Sporting KC in the previous week and added his second career goal against the Union.
|5 ||6 || ||Sporting Kansas City (7-5-5) |
Kei Kamara broke out for a brace that helped Sporting KC to a 3-2 victory over Columbus and snapped an under-the-radar four-game winless stretch. The club is still susceptible to the occasional major defensive lapse, with Seth Sinovic's awful back pass allowing Columbus to equalize for a second time prior to Kamara's heroics. Not losing Graham Zusi or Matt Belser to the USA for the Gold Cup group stage -- as had been agreed upon with U.S. Soccer -- is a major relief for SKC.
|6 ||5 || ||Philadelphia Union (7-5-5) |
The Union should have been able to put away FC Dallas at home and walk away with three points that would have been especially valuable given first-place Montreal's loss. Despite the heroics from defenders Sheanon Williams and Amobi Okugo, though, the Union let a pair of points slip away, and the club now must brace for league-leading scorer Jack McInerney's departure for the Gold Cup.
|7 ||10 || ||New York Red Bulls (8-6-4) |
It goes without saying that the Red Bulls are a much better, more complete side when Tim Cahill and Jamison Olave are healthy and roaming the field. The two stalwarts returned in time for the Red Bulls' clash with the Houston Dynamo and played major roles in the club's 2-0 victory that saw it rise back to second place in the Eastern Conference standings.
|8 ||7 || ||Los Angeles Galaxy (7-7-3) |
The Galaxy have plenty of soul searching to do after allowing San Jose to score twice in stoppage time and steal a 3-2 result in the latest edition of the California Clasico. The rivalry has become one of the most entertaining the league has to offer, with Saturday's match coming on the heels of last year's 4-3 thriller that San Jose won at Stanford Stadium.
|9 ||9 || ||Seattle Sounders (6-5-3) |
The Sounders' bye week was littered with major player transaction news, with word that Fredy Montero -- on loan in his native Colombia -- could be sold outright to Sporting Lisbon, while Honduran winger Mario Martinez's loan came to an end as the team attempts to negotiate new terms to retain him. Montero was hardly going to return at any point, but losing Martinez would put a significant dent into Sigi Schmid's depth chart.
|10 ||11 || ||Vancouver Whitecaps (7-5-4) |
Camilo remained hot, scoring his seventh goal in his last six games (albeit this one from the penalty spot) in the Whitecaps' 1-0 victory over D.C. United. As Camilo goes, so does his club. Vancouver is 5-1-1 in its last seven games, but now faces the prospect of a two-game week against Sporting KC and Seattle without the services of integral young attacker Russell Teibert, who will be off on Canadian international duty for the Gold Cup.
|11 ||8 || ||Houston Dynamo (6-6-5) |
The Dynamo are now winless in seven games following a drab showing at Red Bull Arena. Given that Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia both had to miss out -- and also given Dom Kinnear's track record -- there's every reason to think this is just a blip on the radar. Still, the Dynamo will need to overcome Gold Cup personnel losses to turn things around.
|12 ||13 || ||Chicago Fire (5-7-3) |
Finally, a weekend went by without Mike Magee scoring. Then again, the Fire were on a bye week. Magee and his teammates will surely benefit from that rest in the week ahead, with games against San Jose and Sporting KC in a five-day span putting the resurgent club's five-game unbeaten run -- and Magee's seven-game scoring streak -- to the test.
|13 ||15 || ||Colorado Rapids (6-7-5) |
Colorado's young guns keep getting the job done. Rookies Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown were at the heart of Colorado's impressive 4-3, come-from-behind victory in Montreal, in which the Rapids dominated a very good midfield en route to the win. Nathan Sturgis' performance was just the latest in a line of games demonstrating why the team could afford to part ways with longtime leader Pablo Mastroeni.
|14 ||12 || ||New England Revolution (5-5-6) |
Chad Barrett's late equalizer salvaged a point for the Revs, who could not quite break the odd hex that Chivas USA has held over them. New England is now 0-5-2 in its last seven meetings against the Goats. Couple that with the club's loss to lowly D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals, and it was a week to forget for the Revolution, who have failed to build off the momentum sparked by a 5-0 win over the Galaxy in early June.
|15 ||16 || ||San Jose Earthquakes (5-7-6) |
The Goonies live, after all. San Jose's wild 3-2 victory over LA at Stanford Stadium reestablished the Earthquakes' late-game superiority, with Shea Salinas and Alan Gordon doing the honors in taking the two-time defending champion and California rival Galaxy down a peg. The result is just the kind the Quakes needed in order to build momentum after an uneasy first half to the season.
|16 ||14 || ||Columbus Crew (5-7-5) |
Columbus twice battled back from 1-0 deficits in Kansas City only to succumb to a third goal and lose out on any points at Sporting Park. Jairo Arrieta scored for the first time in more than three months, but he won't get a chance to build off that at any point soon after being called into Costa Rica's squad for the Gold Cup at a time when Columbus could use his services the most.
|17 ||19 || ||Chivas USA (3-10-3) |
Chivas snapped its seven-game losing streak, but failed to hold onto a late lead, allowing the Revolution to take a point at the StubHub Center. The losing skid may be over, but the unbeaten streak still lingers at 11 games with a murderer's row of consecutive road games coming up: FC Dallas, Montreal and Philadelphia are in the offing over the next couple of weeks.
|18 ||17 || ||Toronto FC (2-8-6) |
It's hard to believe that Toronto FC did not score at the end of its 1-0 loss to RSL, as three golden chances were denied in the waning moments in spectacular fashion. Jeremy Brockie's persistence and energy up top was a welcome complement to Danny Koevermans, who made his first start since returning from an ACL tear. Given time to develop, the two could form a formidable strike tandem. Problem is, TFC doesn't have much time with which to play considering its current standing.
|19 ||18 || ||D.C. United (2-12-3) |
It's certainly looking like Open Cup or bust for D.C. following another goalless league effort in Saturday night's 1-0 home loss to Vancouver. Manager Ben Olsen put referee Matthew Foerster on blast in his postgame comments for the penalty given to Vancouver and non-PK call that went against his side, and he is surely looking at a forthcoming fine from the league office.