Eddie Johnson asked for more, Robert Warzycha reached the end of the road in Columbus and a pair of bicycle kicks highlighted MLS Week 27:
1. Wrong time, wrong place for Eddie Johnson. Most instances when forwards are being accused of not knowing the time and situation, it is at a point late in a game when dribbling to the corner to kill off the clock would be the preferred course of action instead of having a go at goal. For Eddie Johnson, it's a little more complex than that.
Johnson let his play do the talking Saturday night with his second game-winning goal in as many games. Then he let the actual chatter get out of control. There is a time and a place to try and accomplish what Johnson did with his now infamous "Pay me" goal celebration. Saturday night at Crew Stadium -- where he could very well be starting for the USA against Mexico in a little more than a week considering Jozy Altidore's hamstring injury -- was not the appropriate forum.
On one hand, it's hard to blame Johnson for wanting more in his bank account. He has sat back and watched Americans get paid at an unprecedented level in MLS over the last few weeks, and he is likely not alone in believing that his two-season resurgence is worthy of a raise. His modest 2013 guaranteed compensation of $156,333.33 (according to MLS Players' Union documents) is considerably less than what teammate Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are making through their new deals, and after proving himself with 21 goals since his return to MLS, he wants a bigger piece of the pie.
Fair enough. But when a team with championship aspirations like Seattle is on a roll, commanding the spotlight for selfish reasons and creating a noteworthy distraction is the least palatable way to go about demanding more money. Seattle gave the 29-year-old Johnson's floundering career a lifeline, and a public set of demands -- during a game, no less -- is not exactly a just reward for the franchise. Practically speaking, Seattle has its full complement of Designated Players and is not exactly flush with salary cap space. For Johnson to get paid all that much more in the near future, it is very likely that he will either have to go elsewhere or see one of his high-profile teammates get shipped out or take a pay cut.
The new deals procured by Dempsey, Donovan and Omar Gonzalez have become the new barometer by which American players can, and undoubtedly will, compare themselves going forward. The MLS marketplace has shifted dramatically for American players, and those who are national team regulars will want to be compensated accordingly. Johnson, whose USA Q Score is high but not as grand as that of Dempsey or Donovan, wants in, but his celebration, which was augmented by an elongated Twitter interaction, gave off a really poor impression. There is a time and place for Johnson to express his contract concerns. A meeting with general manager Adrian Hanauer and owner Joe Roth certainly would have been more appropriate.
2. Warzycha pays the price. While Johnson's post-scoring actions stole the headlines from Saturday, it was his goal that ultimately signaled the end of the road for Columbus manager Robert Warzycha. The 2009 Supporters' Shield-winning coach was fired Monday after watching his team fall for the eighth time in 11 games -- despite having a man advantage for 83 minutes -- and slip further out of playoff contention.
Warzycha's place on the sideline had been a tenuous one for much of the season, and it was clear that he had outworn his welcome with the club's fans earlier in the campaign. Fans chanted for his demise, while another set created and signed an online petition asking club president and general manager Mark McCullers to make a change. That day has come with technical director and U.S. Under-20 assistant coach Brian Bliss taking the reins for the remainder of the season and perhaps beyond if he proves his worth in the final eight games of the campaign.
It all amounts to an era of transition in Columbus -- two of Warzycha's assistants were axed as well -- with new owner Anthony Precourt evaluating the status quo while looking to make an imprint on the once-proud franchise that has fallen on mediocre times.
3. Can D.C. avoid historic futility?D.C. United could not have hoped for the situation to be any different Saturday night. The final stages of a game against its hated rival, down a goal, with Dwayne De Rosario set to take a penalty kick to even the score. Alas, with the way the season is going for D.C., it could never be that easy. De Rosario's penalty was subsequently saved by Luis Robles, New York held on for the win, and D.C. tumbled to yet another humbling defeat.
It is that defeat that has the league record books on notice, as D.C. is not yet clear of some of the worst seasons in MLS history. With eight games remaining in the season, D.C. is 3-18-5, has scored just 16 goals and still has the following dubious distinctions in play:
Most losses (25 - 1999 New York/New Jersey MetroStars)
Fewest wins (4 - 2001 Tampa Bay Mutiny and 2005 Chivas USA)
Fewest points (14 - 2001 Tampa Bay)
Fewest goals scored (21 - 2010 D.C. United)
Fewest road wins (0 - 2003 LA Galaxy, 2005 Real Salt Lake, 2009 New York Red Bulls, 2011 Vancouver Whitecaps)
Staggeringly enough, D.C. could still be a competitor in next season's CONCACAF Champions League if it can find a way to overcome RSL in the U.S. Open Cup final. But it is just downright baffling that a team that came so close to reaching the MLS Cup one season could be so historically poor the next.
4. MVP candidacies heat up.The MLS MVP race is about as wide open as can be, with rampant parity in the standings making for more legitimate candidates than usual as the regular season enters its penultimate month. There is no runaway winner a la 27-goal scorer Chris Wondolowski last season, meaning that every game and standings-altering result has an impact on the race. Montreal's league-leading scorer Marco Di Vaio and Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee maintain strong cases, but a pair of Western Conference standouts staked their claim to the top individual honor over the weekend.
Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales continues to look like the playmaker that helped spark RSL's change from league doormat to perennial contender, with his bicycle kick setting the tone for RSL's triumph over Portland. The goal was Morales' seventh of the season, which tied a personal best, and it helped maintain RSL's place at the front of the pack gunning for the Supporters' Shield. The confidence, inventiveness and class that Morales has consistently brought to the RSL midfield has been a key part of the club's ability to overcome roster turnover and a number of international/injury absences while being able to perform at a high level.
LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane, meanwhile, continued piling up the statistics with two goals and an assist in a 3-0 win over San Jose, giving him 12 goals and 10 assists in just 16 games. Let those numbers sink in for a moment because the rate at which he is involved with goals is simply confounding. Given the Galaxy's plethora of star power and young attacking options, perhaps it seems as if Keane's presence up top would not be as vital to the Galaxy's fortunes. When the Irishman does not play, though, the club is just 3-6-1, and his runs, vision and passing have been unsolvable commodities to opposing defenses since his signing with the league two years ago.
Just as the races for the playoff places will inevitably go down to the wire, so too will the MVP battle, with individual performances being intertwined with teams' playoff fates.
5. Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo)
Defenders: Fabinho (Philadelphia Union), Doneil Henry (Toronto FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
Midfielders: Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Joao Plata (Real Salt Lake), Erick Torres (Chivas USA)
Week 27 MLS Power Rankings
Real Salt Lake (14-8-6) RSL sent every message it needed to in the last few weeks, first eliminating the Portland Timbers from the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, then going into Portland shorthanded and down a man and coming away with a draw, then hammering home the point by easily handling the Timbers 4-2 Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. Jason Kreis' side now has a well-earned bye week ahead of a crunch clash with Seattle on Sept. 13.
Los Angeles Galaxy (13-9-4) You didn't really think the Galaxy's mini summer hiccup was a sign of imminent doom, did you? With Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane in top form, the Galaxy cruised to a California Clasico triumph, putting past collapses in the rivalry behind them to the tune of a 3-0 rout at the StubHub Center. LA has won three in a row, outscoring opponents 8-2 in that stretch, and is coming around at the right time. Surprise, surprise.
Seattle Sounders (12-8-4) Winners of five of their last six games, the Sounders overcame an early yellow card to Leo Gonzalez to grind out a 1-0 road victory over the Columbus Crew. Clint Dempsey is still looking for his first goal in a Sounders uniform, but his personal drought has done nothing to hamper the club's form since his arrival. The club's depth will be tested some, with Dempsey and Eddie Johnson off to USA camp, Gonzalez suspended and Brad Evans hurt ahead of a two-game week.
Montreal Impact (12-7-6) A 0-0 draw with the Philadelphia Union may not have been the flashiest of results, but it ensured that the Impact shut out their second consecutive conference opponent while preventing the Union from joining the fray at the top of the table. That place belongs to Montreal, which is tied on points with Sporting KC and New York but has two games in hand on both.
Sporting Kansas City (12-9-6) Sporting KC needed Saturday's win over Colorado in the worst way. Graham Zusi's late game-winner put the club back on course and in a three-way tie for first place in the Eastern Conference while ending a two-game losing skid. Sporting KC had dropped four of its last five games, but a confidence-inspiring victory over an in-form Colorado side (sparked by a confidence-inspiring goal from Benny Feilhaber) will certainly do wonders for Peter Vermes' charges.
Portland Timbers (9-5-12) The tables have turned in a hurry for the Timbers, who did not fare well in their recent hellish stretch. Portland lost consecutive games for the first time this season, appears to have its number held by RSL and is winless in three games. Making matters worse, midfield maestro Diego Valeri had to leave the 4-2 loss to RSL with an adductor strain. On the plus side, consecutive games against Toronto FC and Chivas USA might just be the elixir Caleb Porter's side needs.
Colorado Rapids (10-8-9) The Rapids' nine-game unbeaten streak came to a halt as Colorado fell to Sporting KC to lose valuable ground in the Western Conference playoff race. Edson Buddle's goal looked like it might give the Rapids a share of the spoils at Sporting Park, but a late breakdown allowed for Graham Zusi's game-winning strike. Buddle's goal, his fourth of the season, brought him to within three of joining the exclusive 100-goal club, though.
New York Red Bulls (12-9-6) With Thierry Henry benched, the Red Bulls turned to DP Tim Cahill for the difference-making moment, and the Aussie icon came through with his game-winning goal soon after Nick DeLeon's equalizer in the club's 2-1, Atlantic Cup-clinching victory. Luis Robles also deserves a massive nod for his save of Dwayne De Rosario's penalty kick, which allowed the Red Bulls to remain tied atop the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia Union (10-8-9) The Union could have joined the jumble atop the East with a home win over Montreal, but the club was forced to settle for a 0-0 draw that did little to hurt the team's playoff standing considering the three teams trailing Philadelphia all played to draws as well. Perhaps most impressive was the Union's ability to post a clean sheet with Amobi Okugo suspended and Sheanon Williams forced to play center back.
Houston Dynamo (10-8-7) Adam Moffat's stoppage-time strike allowed Houston to steal a point from Chicago and bounce back from an embarrassing 5-0 defeat to Montreal, keeping pace with the Fire and New England Revolution for the final playoff berth in the East. Houston returns to the field on short rest Wednesday but has to be liking its chances against a Federico Higuain-less Columbus side that just fired its manager.
Vancouver Whitecaps (10-9-7) The Whitecaps can thank unheralded reserve forward Tom Heinemann for a valuable point after the club nearly allowed Chivas USA to come into BC Place and walk away with a victory. Heinemann's finish off Erik Hurtado's cross in stoppage time allowed Vancouver to salvage a 2-2 draw with the Goats when it looked like an embarrassing and potentially debilitating loss was destined to be the outcome.
New England Revolution (10-9-7) New England is still winless at BMO Field, going to 0-2-5 all-time in Toronto after settling for a 1-1 draw against Toronto FC on Saturday. Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe maintained their attacking form by connecting for an early opener, but the Revs failed to build on that and will be kicking themselves for not being able to gain modest distance from teams like Houston and Chicago in the race for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Chicago Fire (10-10-5) The Fire had their chances to put Houston away but failed to take them and then watched as the Dynamo struck back in stoppage time to make Chicago settle for an unsatisfying 1-1 draw at Toyota Park. Chicago remains firmly in position to compete for the fifth place in the East, and with two games against Toronto and one against D.C. still on the schedule, points are certainly there for the taking.
FC Dallas (9-7-10) FC Dallas had about as fruitful of a bye week from a standings standpoint as possible, as the three times directly ahead of the club and the one immediately behind it all dropped points. It can take matters into its own hands by beating Vancouver on Saturday, but the club will have to do so at less than full strength. Goalkeeper Raul Fernandez (Peru) and leading scorer Blas Perez (Panama) will both be on international duty.
San Jose Earthquakes (9-11-7) The clock is running out on San Jose and its playoff aspirations, as the Earthquakes could not overcome the Galaxy while missing a plethora of important players due to suspension. Another suspension could be coming Steven Lenhart's way after his cheap shot on Galaxy defender AJ DeLaGarza should have caught the attention of the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
Columbus Crew (8-13-5) Up a man for 87 minutes, Columbus failed to secure points in a must-have situation and watched the sand in its playoff-chance hourglass fall considerably more. All seven teams ahead of Columbus in the East added at least a point over the weekend, and manager Robert Warzycha paid the price by being fired Monday. Not having Federico Higuain predictably resulted in a lack of productivity, and Columbus faces that prospect again Wednesday against Houston.
Chivas USA (5-14-7) Well hello, Erick Torres. The rising Mexican standout scored two goals for the second consecutive game, taking his season tally to six goals in just seven games since joining the club on loan from parent side Chivas Guadalajara. His bicycle kick to open the scoring was as audacious as it was impressive, as he helped Chivas take points off another playoff contender for the second week in a row.
Toronto FC (4-12-10) The Reds battled back from an early hole to salvage a 1-1 draw with the Revolution, as Andrew Wiedeman's equalizer at the end of the first half put the teams on level pegging. TFC will continue to try and play the role of spoiler going forward, as seven of the last eight games of the season come against teams that are currently in playoff contention.
D.C. United (3-18-5) Dwayne De Rosario's saved penalty kick with the result in the balance was just the latest piece of evidence that it is not D.C.'s year, as the club relinquished the Atlantic Cup to rival New York and saw its winless streak extend to four games. If there is a silver lining, it is that Nick DeLeon got off the block with his first league goal of what has been a frustrating second season in MLS.