Seattle continued to reel, Portland rose to the top of the West, yet it was Vancouver that captured the Cascadia Cup following an abbreviated, but important MLS Week 33.
1. Seattle's swoon continues
As brilliant as the Seattle Sounders have looked at times this season, the only thing that truly matters is the club's playoff performance. And at this rate, the Sounders figure to be entering November in disarray.
The club that was a shoo-in for the Supporters' Shield just a few weeks ago, dished out big money for Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey and boasts star power and depth all over the field has lost the plot, with Sunday's 1-0 loss at rival Portland extending the club's losing streak to three games and winless streak to five. Among those loses are a 5-1 drubbing in Colorado and a 4-1 embarrassment at home against Vancouver.
Dempsey has one more rabona cross attempt and one more dislocated shoulder than he does goals since signing with the club. Midfield anchor Osvaldo Alonso lost all semblance of composure after throwing a flying elbow at Timbers instigator and captain Will Johnson and will be forced to miss at least the next game, pending any further disciplinary action. Michael Gspurning was pulled from goal in favor of Marcus Hahnemann. The club's defense, which had conceded just 29 times in 29 games prior to this losing streak, is out of sorts. Eddie Johnson injured his groin on international duty. Even though the club's on-field performance in Portland showed marked improvement and Steve Zakuani narrowly missed a chance to salvage a tie in stoppage time, the three points still went the other way.
The bottom line is, no matter how much Seattle spends and how much optimism there may have been surrounding the club, the Emerald City outfit will be judged on postseason success and triumphs alone. If the edition of the Sounders that started the season miserably and is ending it in the same manner after a 15-5-2 stretch in the middle is the one that shows up in the playoffs -- the club needs to clinch a berth first, with one win from its last two games enough to do the trick -- it will be yet another offseason of wondering what went wrong instead of celebrating a long-desired MLS Cup trophy.
2. Vancouver's prodigy shines
What was more unlikely entering the last week, Vancouver winning the Cascadia Cup or Kekuta Manneh becoming the youngest player in MLS history to record a hat trick?
The Whitecaps needed an array of results to go their way in order to secure nine points in Cascadia matches and have them hold up. After Camilo rescued a point off Portland in Week 32 with his magical brace, Seattle did the Whitecaps the ultimate favor by failing to secure the single point it would have taken to bring the cup back to CenturyLink Field in their midweek matchup. The Sounders rolled over and allowed the likes of Manneh and Daigo Kobayashi to slice their defense apart in a 4-1 rout. Seattle's 1-0 loss to Portland on Sunday night sealed the deal.
With all of the skilled experience on Vancouver's roster, it was Manneh whose contribution ultimately brought cup to Vancouver for the first time in the club's MLS history. The 18-year-old, Gambia-born forward found the seams, took Seattle's slow-footed, poorly positioned center backs to the woodshed and finished with the composure of an All-Star to more than double his goal total for the year and make the under-fire Martin Rennie look like a tactical genius for inserting him in the starting lineup for just the fourth time this season.
Vancouver needs to take care of business in its final two matches of the season, both of which come against fifth-place Colorado, in order to return to the postseason, but the club enters that stretch with a trophy in hand, another young talent on the rise and a wave of positive momentum.
3. International break conflicts
The argument is as old as MLS, but the league can't possibly continue to schedule season-altering games during international breaks. With the league's point of pride -- parity -- meaning that so many teams are still alive at this late juncture in the season and with more internationally capped players plying their trade in the league, games during the international break are plaguing rosters around MLS more than ever.
The Houston-Sporting Kansas City clash, which features two of the league's stalwart teams pushing for playoff positioning, lacked two impact starters for each side -- Graham Zusi and Matt Besler for Sporting KC and Oscar Boniek Garcia and Jermaine Taylor for Houston. Seattle was forced to play Vancouver and Portland without Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans, and, making matters worse, Johnson tweaked his groin while training with the USA and could enter the playoffs (assuming Seattle clinches) at less than full strength. Colorado, one of the league's hottest teams, had its conference positioning on the line against San Jose without the likes of difference-making forwards Deshorn Brown and Gabriel Torres, while the Earthquakes had to go to battle without center back anchor Victor Bernardez.
Ultimately, a bigger salary cap to create deeper rosters would be a remedy, but the easiest solution is to alter the schedule -- whether that means shortening the length or getting more creative with midweek games during the season -- to prevent playoff and title contenders from having their seasons potentially altered by avoidable personnel conflicts.
4. Wondo's latest accomplishment
Chris Wondolowski is not going to lead MLS in scoring for a fourth straight year, and he most certainly is not going to match his and Roy Lassiter's single-season mark of 27 goals, yet his 2013 campaign was not for nothing. Wondolowski's vital goal to lift San Jose to a 1-0 win over Colorado in their midweek clash was his 10th of the season, giving him four straight seasons of double-digit scoring.
Putting things in perspective, the likes of Landon Donovan, Dwayne De Rosario, Brian Ching, Edson Buddle and Conor Casey, all of whom have at least 60 goals in their careers, have never achieved that feat. Of active players, only Wondolowski, Alvaro Saborio and Carlos Ruiz (the early 2000s one, not the 34-year-old version) have managed to string together four such seasons in a row.
While Wondolowski's overall production is down, it is not for a lack of chances. He still ranks fourth in the league in both shots (97) and shots on goal (42) with a pair of games remaining. In terms of his other seasons of double-digit goals, last year he had 127 shots, with 55 on frame; in 2011 he had 109 and 52 and in his turning-point 2010 campaign, he managed 18 goals off just 68 shots and 36 on target. The conversion efficiency is not there in 2013, but Wondolowski is still getting his looks, and as well all know, it doesn't take much for him to catch fire. With San Jose on the cusp of the playoffs, defenders for LA and FC Dallas better beware.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City)
Defenders: Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps), Ike Opara (Sporting Kansas City), Jose Goncalves (New England Revolution)
Midfielders: Daigo Kobayashi (Vancouver Whitecaps), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Shea Salinas (San Jose Earthquakes), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers)
Forwards: Kekuta Manneh (Vancouver Whitecaps), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Mike Magee (Chicago Fire)
|Week 33 MLS Power Rankings|