Cascadia clubs flourish; Dynamo's run ends; D.C.'s skid continues
Seattle led the charge with a 2-0-0 week that included yet another last-gasp win at Sporting Kansas City (on the strength of another goal by a defender no less) and a 4-0 thrashing of San Jose that certainly looked to confirm that the turning point for the Sounders has certainly arrived. It is no coincidence that Seattle's resurgence has come with Mauro Rosales at his best. The Argentine playmaker has had a goal and an assist in each of his last two starts, including a wondrous free kick right on halftime against San Jose, and the rest of the Seattle attack, including hometown hero Lamar Neagle and backflipping Designated Player Obafemi Martins, has fallen into place as a result.
What is surprising is that the Sounders' surge is coming at this point in the schedule. Their current stretch is about as daunting as it gets: After defeating the defending U.S. Open Cup champions (Sporting Kansas City) and Supporters' Shield holders (San Jose) this past week, they face the current Supporters' Shield front-runners (FC Dallas) followed by the two-time defending MLS Cup champions (LA Galaxy).
Portland, meanwhile, is the hottest non-Dallas team in the league. Unbeaten in nine games, the Timbers (4-1-6) are overwhelming the opposition at times with their high-pressure approach, one that had Chivas USA flummoxed in Sunday's 3-0 romp. Caleb Porter's re-positioning of Rodney Wallace as a wide forward has been one of the revelations of the season and is one of the chief reasons that the Timbers are tied with Dallas in scoring, a league-best 1.64 goals per game.
Vancouver's win over the Galaxy was the first in its MLS history and got the club over a major mental hurdle. That young Canadian attacker Russell Teibert was able to play hero with his two goals off the bench in place of injured Daigo Kobayashi is an added boon for the club that has not exactly had the biggest Canadian presence on its roster. With manager Martin Rennie in constant search of an attacking nucleus to stick to, the 20-year-old has announced his intentions to secure a more regular place on the field.
The timing couldn't be better for all three clubs to be in form: The Cascadia Cup resumes with the second regional matchup of the season when Vancouver hosts Portland on Saturday in a must-see battle.
Sunday night's 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City was Houston's first home defeat in almost two years and the first at BBVA Stadium. Perhaps it was fitting that it was Sporting KC to have the honors. The rivalry between the two Midwest clubs is perhaps one of the more overshadowed, yet evolving, in MLS. The last two seasons Sporting KC has fancied itself as an Eastern Conference contender only to fall in the postseason to Houston (something that the Dynamo made sure to point out via social media when Sporting KC threw an initial Twitterjab of its own after the game went final).
Going even further, the clubs have two of the league's most sparkling facilities, two former U.S. international teammates for managers and two front offices with some of the most prudent and efficient scouting eyes for talent. When they play, a physical battle in which neither side concedes an inch is almost a given. Tempers may reach a boiling point, but there remains a mutual respect across two of the more stable MLS franchises. Consider the landmark loss just another talking point for the timeline of one of MLS' true top matchups.
Despite wholesale changes made by coach Ben Olsen, D.C. failed to end its run of futility in Dallas on Saturday night and lost a franchise-worst seventh straight game. The new personnel showed signs of life -- and Dwayne De Rosario's free-kick goal sure looked like it had "turning point" written all over it -- but it still failed to snap the two trends that have crippled D.C. all season. The club lost on a corner kick that bounced through the box and off JeVaughn Watson's chest for the final dagger.
Conceding early goals will kill a team's confidence and throw a wrench into any game plan, and considering D.C. has yielded 11 goals in the opening 30 minutes of games this season, teams are approaching matchups with a kick-them-while-they're-down mentality. As Houston Dynamo forward Will Bruin, who torched D.C. for two goals and two assists Wednesday, said following a 4-0 triumph at RFK Stadium, "We knew that if we could get on them early, their heads would go down, maybe they wouldn't have as much fight."
It certainly played out that way. With games against enforcing, high-tempo clubs like Sporting KC and Portland up next, it is not as if there is an imminent light at the end of a very dark tunnel for one of the league's prouder franchises.
Buddle is at 95 career MLS goals after his second in as many matches on Saturday. Buddle-watch can go into full effect as he approaches triple digits. Delving even deeper into the numbers, Buddle's 28 career game-winning goals and his 16 career multi-goal games are tied for sixth-most in league history. His four career hat tricks put him one shy of Stern John and Diego Serna for the most in league history. If not for Chris Wondolowski's miracle surge in 2010, Buddle would have a Golden Boot to his name as well.
Considering D.C. United's struggles and Buddle's penchant for scoring in bunches when in form, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Buddle passes De Rosario (currently tied with Taylor Twellman for sixth-most goals all-time at 101) and launches himself even further into the upper echelon of strikers in MLS history by season's end.
Goalkeeper: Zac MacMath (Philadelphia Union)
Defenders: Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo), Futty Danso (Portland Timbers), Zach Scott (Seattle Sounders)
Midfielders: Mauro Rosales (Seattle Sounders), Russell Teibert (Vancouver Whitecaps), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Lamar Neagle (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Rodney Wallace (Portland Timbers)