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Sporting KC's stadium debuts; Crew's Cunningham frustrated


Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things you should know about Week 13:

1. Fantastic finishes in Seattle, Los Angeles: Two matches on the West Coast had it all Saturday, great goals, one absolutely stunning goal, evocative subplots and results that came right down to the end.

Seattle and Vancouver met for the first time in an MLS match, so the night was destined to be something special. The Whitecaps, still hunting their first win for interim coach Tom Soehn, scored early but then bunkered as Seattle poured on the offense inside Qwest Field. The Sounders finally hit for one in the 81st, then another three minutes later for a 2-1 lead.

Predictably, the usual sellout crowd was nutso about it all.

This is a good point to mention that Whitecaps forward Eric Hassli might be the most interesting man in MLS. Something crazy and/or eventful is always happening around that man. He already leads the league in red cards, some feat for a forward. One of them, remember, was a second caution for removing his shirt in goal celebration, a stunt that deserves Hall of Fame status in nincompoopery.

But he's also a pretty salty striker. And his late equalizer for the Whitecaps probably even left the Sounders applauding. If you haven't seen it, do. When Seattle's Osvaldo Alonso loses possession in a bad spot, near the corner of his own penalty area, Hassli immediately puts together the plan. So he pops the ball into the air with his first touch and then, summoning all the audacity in Washington state, twists to fire a mortar round of a shot from a remote angle, one that dropped beautifully in behind Kasey Keller. Amazing stuff, capping a wild 2-2 draw.

Down the coast, wildness was happening inside the Home Depot Center as well, where beleaguered Toronto FC faced long odds against Los Angeles. And it was a motivated Galaxy side, too, coming off a poor night, a draw at home against D.C. United.

Toronto conceded an early goal and then lost one of its top players when David Beckham chopped down TFC midfielder Tony Tchani from behind. That's evocative subplot No. 1, for it's the second terrible tackle Beckham has gotten away with this year. At least he didn't injure D.C.'s Josh Wolff earlier this year. Get well soon, Tony Tchani.

The Galaxy seemed to find the game winner when Juan Pablo Angel struck in extra time, only his third this year. But then TFC's Alan Gordon manufactured the next great "Are you kidding me?" moment.

L.A. fans remember Gordon, unfortunately, for his litany of near misses and squandered chances when he wore the Galaxy shirt. So it was insult-to-injury type stuff when Gordon, who had scored the first Toronto goal, nailed a beauty of a 94th-minute equalizer. He won the original header on a long ball forward, then found a ball that L.A. failed to clear and volleyed it wonderfully into the upper corner.

2. KC and the missed PK: The heat is on for Sporting Kansas City to start collecting points, now that the murderer's row of road games is done and Peter Vermes' weary side finally got a match inside Livestrong Sporting Park.

That's why Kansas City players, coaches and fans came unhinged after a particularly galling incident late in SKC's scoreless draw with Chicago on Thursday. Sunday's highly deserved 4-1 win in Dallas takes some sting off Thursday's events, but it still deserves comment.

Michael Kennedy is a veteran MLS referee -- for whatever that means to you. He hasn't been used much this year but the referee pool is stretched right now, mostly due to Gold Cup. So Kennedy was the man in the middle, but absolutely blew it at the critical moment against Chicago -- at what should have been a massive moment for the Sporting Kansas City franchise.

Late in a 0-0 deadlock, Chicago Fire defender Bratislav Ristic completely wiped out SKC attacker Omar Bravo as he drove inside the Fire penalty area. It wasn't even close. In fact, Ristic's tackle was studs-up, as ill-advised and reckless as they come.

What a moment! Sporting Kansas City, on the debut night inside its lovely new park, a man down after goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen handled a ball outside his 18 ... and yet they are about to get the penalty kick and perhaps score the goal that every fan, player and SKC supporter will always remember on a special night.

Except that Kennedy defied all logic and waved "play on." It really was a stunningly poor decision.

"For the referee to miss the moment in an environment like this tonight, there is not a place in the world where it would have been missed like it was tonight," Vermes said. "I'm extremely upset for the organization, for the fans and our team, because they did enough to win the game tonight."

PK decisions happen every game. Referees get some right and some wrong -- but rarely is the wrong decision as egregious as that one.

3. Philly can't miss opportunities: A New York Red Bulls skeleton crew is hanging on at the moment, clinging to dear life and Thierry Henry until the reinforcements return from Gold Cup duty. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has most of its regulars, including everybody from that improved defense. It's a great chance for coach Peter Nowak's team to overtake New York for the Eastern Conference leadership, and maybe even put a little distance between them.

That's why Nowak's men can't afford any more slips like Saturday's inside PPL Park. The Union was all over Real Salt Lake for a half, unlucky not to be ahead by more than a goal. The second half was a different story as the Union lost initiative. RSL was lucky that a foul wasn't called before Fabian Espindola's second-half equalizer, but RSL did well enough after the break to deserve the draw.

Up next for Nowak's men in June: a juicy opportunity for road points at Vancouver and winnable home games against Kansas City and Chivas USA. There's still a lot of season left, but the points gained in June count just as much as ones collected later this summer -- and the Union would do well to remember it.

"It's very frustrating," defender Jordan Harvey told "We had them on the ropes in the first half and we didn't put them away, and it came back to bite us in the butt."

4. Jeff Cunningham stuck: When Jeff Cunningham showed up at the Columbus Crew training camp, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would move past Jaime Moreno to assume the MLS alltime scoring throne. Moreno retired last year with 133 goals. Cunningham went into the season with 132.

Three months in, and Cunningham still has 132.

He could certainly still get his goals -- but it's no guarantee. He hasn't really been in coach Robert Warzycha's plan and is only playing now because of injuries around Crew Stadium.

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Cunningham was in the middle of a somewhat comical scene during Columbus' midweek 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake. Warzycha had designated Cunningham as the penalty taker on the day. And wouldn't you know, a penalty was awarded! But Andres Mendoza, desperate to earn some of his Designated Player salary, wouldn't let Cunningham have the ball. Mendoza scored. Cunningham made nice in the press afterward.

On Sunday, Cunningham spent 73 undistinguished minutes on the field in the Crew's 1-0 loss at home to Chicago. Getting shut out at home by Chicago is not a recipe for further playing time for any striker.

Cunningham, 34 years old and probably at his last MLS stop, probably will get his goal. Maybe even two of them. But if you're a big Jaime Moreno fan (and there are plenty) you do have hope.

5. Team of the Week:

Goalkeeper: Greg Sutton (New York)

Defenders: Drew Moor (Colorado), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Aurelien Collin (Kansas City), Gonzalo Segares (Chicago).

Midfielders: Mauro Rosales (Seattle), Sam Cronin (San Jose), Graham Zusi (Kansas City).

Forwards: Eric Hassli (Vancouver), Alan Gordon (Toronto), Stephen Lenhart (San Jose).

Major League Soccer's facility situation, economically unsustainable and generally pretty dreary just 10 years ago, keeps marching in the right direction. It certainly did when Livestrong Sporting Park opened last week in Kansas City. So all variables considered (facility itself, surface, economics, location, transportation, etc.) here is where everyone ranks:

1. Red Bull Arena, New York: A beautiful ground that could only improve if it was actually inside the city, rather than just across the river in an area still being developed. But rail transport, a bigger capacity than most other MLS-built grounds and the fact that it resides in the nation's largest markets mitigates the minuses (including an atmosphere that's still not consistently what it needs to be.)

2. JELD-WEN Field, Portland: The Timbers' just-renovated grounds would probably top the chart but for the artificial turf. It may be a necessary evil due to the wet climate, but that doesn't make it right for soccer. Everything else is pretty much perfect, a downtown facility packed to the rafters with fans who are bonkers for their side.

3. BMO Field, Toronto FC: Unremarkable architecturally and very "first generation" when it comes to bells and whistles, but still an urban ground that's usually full and brimming with city life nearby. The lakefront location inside Exhibition Place is a plus, and they removed the last obstacle preventing BMO from being a great situation by yanking the artificial turf.

4. Home Depot Center, Los Angeles Galaxy, Chivas USA: One of the earlier stadiums built for MLS, it has held up well. The HDC has the biggest capacity of MLS-built grounds. The location isn't great, but it's not bad either. The playing surface suffers frequently due to usage beyond soccer, which is a real shame.

5. Rio Tinto Stadium, Real Salt Lake: The mountain backdrop, artistic design and light rail options all serve to make the stadium in suburban Sandy, Utah, a great place. The crowds don't rise to Seattle and Portland levels, but RSL is generally well supported.

6. Livestrong Sporting Park, Sporting Kansas City: Kansas City ownership didn't miss a trick at the gleaming, high tech new park. It's a bit far outside the urban core, but that looks like the only black mark for now.

7. Qwest Field, Seattle: Soccer-football hybrids are never going to be perfect, although this one comes close. The legions of Sounders fans get a little sensitive when you talk about their artificial turf and the fact that it's too big. But the fact is, it's got artificial turf and it's too big. The brilliant atmosphere and location push it this high in the rankings.

8. PPL Park, Philadelphia: A beautiful stadium, barely a year old, that suffers some due to the sketchy neighborhood, way beyond downtown Philly in suburban Chester. Situated majestically on the Commodore Barry Bridge, some of the camera shots are truly stunning.

9. Toyota Park, Chicago: It's the consummately middle class of MLS grounds. It's a swell stadium, even if unadorned by as many niceties as some others. It's not particularly beautiful from the outside, but it's a nice looking place. The atmosphere is good, even if not as good as in Portland, Seattle, etc. There's public transportation, but it's outside the city and takes some effort to get there.

10. Empire Field, Vancouver: The expansion club is in temporary digs pending renovation of BC Place Stadium, which should be complete later this year (with MLS' first retractable roof). As a one-year solution, Empire isn't bad at all. (Check back next year to see how far up they move on this list.)

11. Pizza Hut Park, FC Dallas: Recent retail and restaurant development around the facility that sit 23 miles north of downtown Dallas make it a slightly better place. Basically, it's a nice stadium that suffers from poor attendance. The abundance of adjacent practice fields is a big plus.

11. DSG Park, Colorado: See Pizza Hut Park above. This one is a pretty place, particularly the well-designed (partial) roof. But it suffers from atmosphere and location outside of town, with very little to do around the grounds.

12. Crew Stadium, Columbus: It will always have a special place in history as the first major U.S. stadium built just for soccer. Trouble is, the facility is like a stadium starter kit, as bare bones as they come, and not in a particularly attractive part of town. They've left millions on the table in 13 years without naming rights revenue.

14. Robertson Stadium, Houston: Robertson Stadium on the University of Houston campus was a good stopgap, where a lack of amenities and cramped field were mitigated by good atmosphere. Houston moves into its new downtown park next year. So, another one set to shoot up the list.

15. RFK Stadium, D.C. United: Not so long ago it was one of the premier MLS parks, even if it was too big. But the MLS field has pretty much lapped battered old RFK, which is now really just a decrepit financial sinkhole -- albeit one that still has a good feel on match day.

16. Buck Shaw Stadium, San Jose: The tiny, Spartan grounds on the University of Santa Clara campus is just a stopgap. But with no solid plan in place, it looks like the Earthquakes are stuck inside the league's smallest park for the foreseeable future. And they sure can't make any money in that place.

17. Gillette Stadium, New England: What is there to say? It's too big, too far out and burdened by artificial turf. And lately, attendance is no better than in other long-suffering markets.