Pacific Northwest rivals continue to head in opposite directions. That and more after a spirited Week 9 in MLS:
However, in Seattle, the Sounders are quietly going about their business en route to four straight wins and a franchise-best 6-1-1 start despite injuries to key players and lulls for star players.
Teams battling adversity have ready-made excuses for when things don't go their way, which makes what the Sounders have accomplished all the more impressive. Consider the setbacks Seattle has suffered. Influential wingers and Designated Players Alvaro Fernandez and Mauro Rosales missed time and Sigi Schmid had to shuffle his back line. Steve Zakuani is still on his comeback from a career-threatening leg injury. Eddie Johnson had to be reintegrated slowly after coming off some minor knocks. Kasey Keller's successor, Michael Gspurning, recently suffered a hip injury that has paved the way for second-year goalkeeper Bryan Meredith to be pressed into action. Fredy Montero suffered through a six-match scoring drought before his cathartic 35-yard strike this week against the Galaxy.
Yet here are the Sounders, who have conceded a league-stingiest three goals (a Ryan Johnson golazo, a questionable penalty kick against San Jose and a Marco Pappa Olimpico) despite the hurdles. The rotating cast of defenders has maintained a high level of stability in front of Gspurning and Meredith, Rosales' return has sparked the attack and Osvaldo Alonso continues to confirm his elite status by shielding the back line with his trademark tackling skill and endless work rate.
After wading through some adversity, luck is turning Seattle's way now. First, the Galaxy trotted out a B Team lineup for a midweek match at CenturyLink Field, one that the Sounders claimed with ease. Now, FC Dallas will be without Daniel Hernandez and Blas Perez for Wednesday's match after both were red carded in the first half of their loss to the Colorado Rapids Sunday night. Dallas could also be missing Brek Shea, after he was left out of Sunday's match with a fresh case of turf toe, and Montero, Johnson and Rosales are all healthy, in form and meshing together quite nicely. Nothing is a sure thing in MLS -- just ask Sporting Kansas City about how its weekend went -- but all signs point to another three points for the Rave Green.
As for translating this success over the course of the long haul, it is noteworthy that six of the club's eight games have come on the friendly confines and turf of the CLink, where sellout crowds continue to shoulder the load for MLS' average attendance numbers. The schedule has not been particularly brutal, either, so there is still plenty for the Sounders to prove. For a club looking to add silverware to the trophy case other than the three U.S. Open Cups they boast, though, things are right on track.
Offensively, something is lacking. The club has been shut out in consecutive games, and aside from the three-goal outburst in the season opener and the own goal against Sporting KC, the Timbers have only accounted for five goals in their seven other matches. Failing to get one by a Columbus Crew back line that was without center back stalwart Chad Marshall is pretty inexcusable, no matter how well Andy Gruenebaum fared in goal.
With the lack of scoring coming to the forefront, John Spencer shuffled his lineup at home against Columbus to no avail, slotting captain and midfield stalwart Jack Jewsbury at right back, starting Franck Songo'o on one wing and left back Rodney Wallace on the other side of the midfield to try to create a spark. With those moves not panning out, the pressure falls even more on Designated Player Kris Boyd, who has three goals but is not doing nearly enough to finish the chances he has had. Going by the numbers, the start of Boyd's Timbers career is remarkably similar to that of current New York Red Bulls forward Kenny Cooper, as both Boyd and Cooper had three goals through their first nine games as a member of the Timbers. After scoring his third goal, though, Cooper went 14 games without scoring again. Since scoring his third, Boyd has gone three matches without finding the back of the net, and while nobody is screaming panic on that degree just yet, the trickle-down effect it would create if Boyd could get into a consistent groove would certainly relieve the growing tension in the Rose City.
The other issue is that Jeld-Wen Field is not proving to be the fortress the Timbers need it to be considering the club's blown home games to Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake and Saturday's loss-feeling draw with Columbus. On the road, Portland is not proving to be any better than it was in its inaugural season, as the Timbers are one of just three teams yet to claim a road victory (Toronto FC and FC Dallas being the others). The inability to win on the road will come into question again after a 10-day break, with a match at brand new BBVA Compass Stadium against the Houston Dynamo, the team that Boyd spurned to sign with Portland -- and don't think for a second that the Dynamo faithful have forgotten that -- next on the docket.
FC Dallas Stadium was not the host of this year's World Series of Poker, but you wouldn't know that by the pace in which cards were dealt by Mark Geiger in the first half of Sunday night's FCD-Rapids encounter. The second yellow he gave to Hernandez was fair, though it's unclear exactly what Hernandez said to earn his first booking for dissent just a few minutes prior. The real head-scratchers involved not handing down any discipline to Colorado left back Luis Zapata for a hard, reckless challenge from behind while not hesitating to give Perez a straight red for entering into a challenge for the ball with Drew Moor. Perez merited some level of discipline for going into the challenge with his studs up, but with Geiger just minutes removed from forcing Dallas to go short-handed, he should have put a bit more consideration into his decision before completely altering the direction of the game.
Geiger was not the only referee to be noticed more than he should have been this weekend, either. In Seattle, rookie Andy Rose, making his MLS debut, surely deserved a second yellow card for his first-half tackle on Freddy Adu. Had referee Ricardo Salazar not already booked Rose earlier in the match, his decision to let the tackle go most certainly would have been different. It could not have pleased the Union that Rose was integral in the Sounders' surge in the second half, hitting the crossbar with a header and nearly playing Mauro Rosales through for a goal before being subbed off at the hour mark. Seattle could have been reduced to 10 men on a second occasion, too, after Leo Gonzalez' malicious stomp on Sheanon Williams' foot -- one that is likely to be caught by the league's disciplinary committee but another clear decision that Salazar and his crew neglected to make.
At Rio Tinto Stadium, the New England Revolution's Fernando Cardenas was sent off by David Gantar for the final 10 minutes of New England's 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake for...well...it's still trying to be determined. The diminutive Colombian appeared to expose his cleat while extending his leg in a challenge for the ball with Jamison Olave, but he never made contact with the RSL center back and was instead that player who got stepped on. Gantar had sent off Will Johnson for a similar challenge -- one that Johnson actually connected on -- earlier in the match, but the decision to eject Cardenas was either a poor way of evening things out or just a flaw in judgment.
In Toronto, Reggie Lambe did his best Torsten Frings impersonation, clearly clearing a ball of the goal line with his arm without referee Mark Kadlecik or any of his assistants noticing. It did not ultimately matter, as D.C. broke through moments later on a wonderful strike by the in-form Chris Pontius, but had the handball been spotted, Lambe would have been sent off in addition to giving D.C. the penalty. MLS is at the forefront of the instant replay conversation and could experiment with goal-line technology as soon as this summer based on recent comments made by commissioner Don Garber. That potential replay, however, won't cover for some of the poor decision making that MLS coaches and players are forced to account for on a weekly basis.
Goalkeeper: Ryan Meara (New York Red Bulls)
Defenders: Josh Williams (Columbus Crew), Nelson Rivas (Montreal Impact), Alain Rochat (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Midfielders: Mauro Rosales (Seattle Sounders), Marco Pappa (Chicago Fire), Brian Mullan (Colorado Rapids), Felipe (Montreal Impact)
Forwards: Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)