1. Welcome returns for postseason contenders. Week 8 in MLS will be remembered for many reasons. Between three stoppage-time winners, Marco Pappa's wind-aided Olimpico, two world-class designated players missing the target on penalty kicks, Eddie Johnson's first goal since returning to the league and, most notably, the hamstring injury to MVP front-runner Thierry Henry that will keep him out for the next few weeks, there were enough storylines, drama and action to sustain multiple weeks' worth of games.
One aspect of the week that was overshadowed by all of the above, however, was the return of three of the league's more integral players to a trio of teams with legitimate postseason aspirations. Colorado's Conor Casey, Seattle's Mauro Rosales and Houston's Brad Davis all came back from their respective injuries, something that will improve each team's fortunes going forward while contributing to an overall bump in the league's quality of play.
Casey gives Oscar Pareja a true center forward atop his 4-3-3, and while he'll likely be reintegrated bit by bit before becoming the 90-minute workhorse we've been accustomed to seeing in past years, he can help the other pieces in the Rapids' attack fall into more long-term roles. Even though Casey was just an injury-time substitute in his first appearance back since tearing his Achilles' tendon last July, he made an immediate impact, putting a shot on frame that rebounded to Kamani Hill for a Rapids goal.
As for Rosales and Davis, the two finished in the top five in last season's MLS MVP voting, and it is no secret what each brings to his respective team's flanks and set pieces. Seattle and Houston have both stayed afloat without their catalysts, but their attacks were nowhere near their potential without the masterful service that each player is capable of contributing. As with Casey, both Davis, who missed almost a month with a calf injury, and Rosales, who sprained his knee in the Sounders' opening game, were eased into their comebacks. When they hit full stride, look out.
2. Galaxy's PK blunder. As Bruce Arena said following the Los Angeles Galaxy's 1-1 draw with FC Dallas, "If any team has the choice between Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan or (David) Beckham taking penalty kicks, you're real happy."
Fair point, but for Donovan, who had taken every Galaxy penalty kick since June, 2007, to draw a penalty against Dallas only to give way to Keane to take the spot kick was one of the more head-scratching developments of the week. Donovan's motives were simple. He tried to spark his team's struggling attack, as a forward had not accounted for a goal all month until substitute Pat Noonan's unlikely late equalizer. The move backfired, though, as Keane missed, and a chance for maximum points at home went by the wayside.
"I am sure the next time he takes one it will go in," Donovan told reporters after the game. "It's been a while since those guys have hit the net, and we are trying to get them more chances. We are not doing a good enough job getting them chances in front of the goal, so I thought I would help a little bit."
There shouldn't be a next time for Keane or any other Galaxy player, though, unless it comes in a playoff shootout or if Donovan is missing time for whatever reason. The Galaxy haven't exactly been coasting, so for the club to have as close to a sure thing from the spot as there is, and for Donovan to pass on the chance to come through was over-thinking things. The Galaxy need more contributions from Keane and Edson Buddle, but they also need their captain to take control in the big moments.
3. Has the door re-opened for Hamid on a couple of levels? Timing is sometimes everything, and that could prove to be the case for D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
Relegated to a reserve role despite being proclaimed fit after injuring his ankle while on U.S. Olympic qualifying duty, Hamid's opportunity to assume starting duties could be right around the corner after Joe Willis' slip-up nearly cost United a point in their 3-2 victory over Houston. Of course, that's harsh on Willis, who had been nothing but steady since taking over as starter and likely had his howler aided by the downpour at RFK Stadium. Coach Ben Olsen missed his opportunity to reinstate Hamid as soon as he was healthy, though, and if he was waiting for the situation to play itself out his wishes have been answered.
If Hamid is indeed handed the reins by Olsen, it could not come at a better time. With three, maybe four games ahead of Jurgen Klinsmann's training camp before three U.S. national team friendlies and two World Cup qualifiers, Hamid could have a chance to play himself back into the goalkeeping picture, even after his substandard showing during Olympic qualifying. Klinsmann is likely to draw upon Tim Howard and Brad Guzan for two of his three goalkeeper slots, meaning the final place should be reserved for an MLS goalkeeper. While 32-year-old Nick Rimando has been firmly in Klinsmann's plans recently, the U.S. boss also prematurely anointed the 21-year-old Hamid as his No. 2 just last fall. With a few good performances to show that he has rebounded from the Olympic qualifying fiasco, Hamid could very well tempt Klinsmann to keep an eye on the future and bring him in as a youthful presence behind the two U.S. veterans.
4. Montreal finishes off the job. The Montreal Impact are progressively taking the steps needed to get results. It's not as if they had been playing poorly in recent matches, but the finishing touch hadn't been there. After blowing two consecutive second-half leads -- losing to FC Dallas and settling for a draw against D.C. United -- captain Davy Arnaud said, "At some point we have to turn these good performances into wins. The positive is that we feel like we're performing enough to be able to do that."
Arnaud's observations were not false, and that was evidenced by the club's 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers. Playing on their "horrendous" home turf (the accurate description given by Portland head coach John Spencer during an in-game interview), the Impact clawed their way to win No. 2 in a game marred by choppy and chippy play and a lack of precision on both sides.
Even so, Montreal persevered, benefiting by the second ball-to-hand penalty given during the week (Real Salt Lake's Tony Beltran was the other victim against Dallas last Wednesday), with Portland's new left back signing Steven Smith being unfortunate to have blocked a shot only to have the ball pop up on his arm in the area. No matter how many gripes Portland supporters might have with the call, a penalty should have been conceded on the play regardless considering Eric Brunner's blatant jersey grab on Bernardo Corradi in the area leading up to the shot. Arnaud, who had questioned his team's ability to manage a lead, then took things into his own hands by setting up Sinisa Ubiparipovic for the insurance goal that deflated the Timbers. Montreal has a ways to go before becoming a force in MLS, but the signs of growth and improvement are there.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Ryan Meara (New York Red Bulls)
Defenders: Young-Pyo Lee (Vancouver Whitecaps), Shavar Thomas (Montreal Impact), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle Sounders)
Midfielders: Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Marvin Chavez (San Jose Earthquakes), Tony Cascio (Colorado Rapids)
Forwards: Maicon Santos (D.C. United), Steven Lenhart (San Jose Earthquakes)