Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things we learned from Week 15:
1. The Buck Shaw follies. Hard to say what registered highest on the crazy scale during a strange afternoon at Buck Shaw Stadium in San Jose:
Was it seeing Los Angeles forced to use forward Mike Magee in goal for more than a half? Was it that Los Angeles, already short-handed before kickoff, was playing a man down while dealing with a forward stuck between the pipes? Or, was it that L.A., staring at all that adversity, played some heroically impressive defense in second half and escaped with a 0-0 tie? Or was it watching San Jose struggle so mightily to generate any real danger, while playing at home against a team so ripe for the picking?
Magee must be the smallest man to pay in MLS goal for an entire half since Jorge Campos in the late 90s. But there he was, not just manning goal but making a couple of worthwhile saves when San Jose finally got serious about testing him.
The circumstances: Galaxy starter Donovan Ricketts left with an arm injury that L.A. must deal with now. Then Josh Saunders, probably the league's best backup, allowed San Jose provocateur Steven Lenhart get under his skin and got himself thrown out. That left L.A. without a proper goalkeeper -- so in came Magee.
"I think I blacked out," the Galaxy forward said, explaining how he got the job. "I looked around after Josh Saunders got the red card, and I nominated myself. I did all right I guess. Looking back I have no idea why I nominated myself. I had no idea that after halftime I would be back out on the field. Then it hit me that I was going back in goal, and that was pretty nerve-racking."
2. Epidemic of poor set-piece defending. OK, MLS teams, raise your hand if you think you got the defensive corner kick duties sorted out.
Uh, not so fast there you Red Bulls. You either, Portland Timbers. Heck, can anybody defend a corner kick these days?
Plenty of teams have struggled at times this year to lock down the restarts on defense. But never was the epidemic more damaging than Thursday in Seattle, where the Red Bulls conceded goals on corner kicks (or in the disorganized aftermath) three times. Combined with Greg Sutton's comedy routine in goal for New York, and the visitors barely had a chance in a 4-2 loss.
Lack of focus and discipline on the Red Bulls' part has cost Hans Backe's team a league-high five goal conceded on corner kicks.
In Texas over the weekend, Portland allowed Dallas to score twice off first-half corner kicks in a 4-0 loss.
That was ironic, considering how many set-piece strikes the Timbers have benefitted from this year. In fact, you might even remember a little verbal spat in the spring between Seattle coach Sigi Schmid and Portland boss John Spencer, as Schmid needled the Timbers for scoring so often off dead balls.
Now it's Seattle making all that time spent on restarts rehearsal in practice pay dividends. Schmid's Sounders have scored from corner kicks or free kicks eight times in the last eight matches. Tyson Wahl, hardly a noted free-kick taker in MLS, curled in a beauty as the home team ruined New England's day Sunday at the newly renamed CenturyLink Field.
3. Here comes KC. It really was tempting to get lulled to sleep by Sporting Kansas City, a side that started with such a sand bag around its leg. It toured MLS like a vagabonds for almost three months while its new stadium was finished. Oh, and how the sun rarely shined on Peter Vermes' team after an initial win. Or, that was the perception.
People might have failed to understand what SKC was up against with 10 consecutive road matches. Perspective got twisted. Kansas City failed to impress on too many occasions, but how could they?
Now the side from Livestrong Sporting Park is absolutely living it up, unbeaten in seven matches. (Eight if you include a 5-0 shellacking SKC gave to New England in a U.S. Open Cup match in late May.) Round 15 saw SKC drawing in Philadelphia and seeing home a 2-1 win over Vancouver in the Midwest.
Don't forget, Kansas City was just hit with Gold Cup flu just like so many other sides. They lost central midfielder Stephane Auvray and left back Roger Espinoza. But Vermes improvised and adjusted, moving players around to nice effect.
One bold stroke was moving former center back Julio Cesar to holding midfielder, and the Brazilian didn't do badly at all.
Vermes has also preferred rookie C.J. Sapong lately to Teal Bunbury as a target striker. Sapong rewarded his coach with a useful match Saturday, holding balls and showing some creativity here and there.
With games in hand and a full season's worth of home matches ahead, SKC is in great shape now to start reeling in the Eastern Conference team in front of them.
4. Selective memory among coaches. Here's what New England coach Steve Nicol had to say about his team's 2-1 loss Sunday in Seattle:
"Unless I'm watching a different game, we feel as though we've been robbed again," Nicol said. That was in reference to a first-half foul that called that led to Tyson Wahl's free kick goal. "We're coming away with nothing, which we don't deserve. It's beginning to get a little bit monotonous. It's the same story week-in, week-out. We have to change that. Only we can change it and we have to do it."
Nicol isn't the only one complaining. In fact, that's what has gotten monotonous. Portland coach John Spencer recently complained about being hard done. He got fined.
Red Bulls GM Erik Soler, taking leave of his good senses, put his tirade against MLS officiating on company letterhead and drew a whopper of a $10,000 fine for it last week.
Here's the thing: Nicol has apparently forgotten about an early win over D.C. United, when two big calls fell right for the Revs.
United was disgusted by the happenings and complained, of course. But United, as anyone paying attention lately knows, has benefitted greatly from some of that wobbly refereeing. For instance, Ben Olsen's team got the better end of a controversial call against Los Angeles earlier this year.
Bruce Arena and Los Angeles complained about that one. They complain a lot, in fact. But David Beckham has scythed down two players without seeing red, which was probably deserved in both cases. That seems conveniently forgotten when the whining starts from Beckham and the Galaxy.
We could go on. The point is, everybody gets hard done at some point. But it's a zero sum game, isn't it? For every loser there is a winner when officials err.
So, wouldn't it be better if teams just got on with it. At the very least, the coaches really should drop the selective memory.
5. Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Jimmy Nielsen (Kansas City)
Defenders: Zach Loyd (Dallas), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles), Yamith Cuesta (Chicago), Todd Dunivant (Los Angeles).
Midfielders: Jackson (Dallas), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Mauro Rosales (Seattle).
Forward: Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Andres Mendoza (Columbus), Roger Levesque (Seattle).