Despite missing its stars, RSL rises to the top of the Power Rankings

Monday July 15th, 2013

With many of RSL's big names missing, Javier Morales has been a constant in the Salt Lake midfield.
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Real Salt Lake continued to live up to its club motto, Camilo stayed hot and more from a highlight-packed MLS Week 20:

1. Real Salt Lake walks the walk. The team really is proving to be the star.

Real Salt Lake loves to boast its team motto, but it has shown on the field that it is more true than ever in 2013. Consider who was missing for Real Salt Lake on Saturday when the club notched its first-ever victory in the state of Texas. Without captain Kyle Beckerman, star forward Alvaro Saborio, standout fullback Tony Beltran and stalwart goalkeeper Nick Rimando, and with backup goalkeeper Josh Saunders going down with an LCL sprain, Real Salt Lake managed to live up to its credo, emphatically topping FC Dallas 3-0 to remain in pole position for the Supporters' Shield.

RSL prides itself on its diamond midfield formation, but Jason Kreis deserves plenty of credit for not being afraid to alter his tactics based on the personnel afforded to him in order to achieve the maximum results. Using the versatile Ned Grabavoy and Yordany Alvarez in the spot that Beckerman typically holds down on his own, Kreis gave FCD a different look while extracting the most from his players. The glue in the middle of all of the personnel alterations has been Javier Morales, with the Argentine playmaker holding things together in the midfield and acting as a constant amid a number of changes. Consider that since he returned to full fitness and started for the first time on April 13, RSL is 9-2-3. During the club's current eight-game unbeaten streak, Morales has three goals and seven assists.

RSL went through a number of major offseason changes and made underwhelming player signings (in the sense that they were not headline-grabbing moves) that caused some to lower expectations in 2013. So much for that. If it was not already made abundantly clear, it is officially time to put a halt on calling 2013 a rebuilding year for RSL and accept the club as a legitimate contender.

2. Camilo continues his charge. There could not have been a more appropriate opponent for the Vancouver Whitecaps Sunday night, because Camilo, in every way, is on fire.

The Brazilian forward's brace against the Chicago Fire brought him to a league-leading 12 goals on the season, matching his career best that he set in his debut season in MLS in 2011. In 2013, though, he has done so on 15 fewer shots and in 14 fewer games, acting as the catalyst for Vancouver's charge up the Western Conference table.

His goals Sunday were the mark of a man playing with supreme confidence. The way in which Camilo welcomed Chicago's new left back Shaun Francis back to MLS was about as rude as it comes, forcing the Jamaican to twist and turn while helplessly watching him blow by to put a shot past Paolo Tornaghi. On his second, he was thwarted by Tornaghi on a breakaway as he attempted to round the goalkeeper, but he persisted. Instead of forcing a shot or deferring to a teammate, Camilo calmly took his time, noted the spacing Chicago's defenders were giving him, and slyly tucked his second goal home.

With three multi-goal games in his last seven appearances and nine goals in that span, Camilo is the player of the moment and a sure bet to be added to Peter Vermes' hand-picked All-Stars to help fill out the MLS squad that will take on AS Roma at the end of the month. More importantly, manager Martin Rennie has found the best way to utilize his supremely skilled attacker, and it is paying major dividends for a third-year club looking to return to the postseason.

3. Red Bulls, Impact head in different directions. How well were things going for the New York Red Bulls Saturday night? So well to the point that Thierry Henry was able to happily hand over penalty kick duties to Peguy Luyindula and afford his fellow Frenchman the chance to break his agonizing scoring drought to cap a 4-0 rout of the suddenly slumping Montreal Impact.

The unselfish act capped a perfect night for the Red Bulls, who have endured their share of ups (a four-game winning streak in April and May, two wins over Montreal, wins over MLS Cup finalists Houston and LA) and downs (the failed Juninho experiment, Roy Miller's early-season follies, an embarrassing 3-0 loss to regional foe Philadelphia) over the course of a rocky season. There is reason to believe that the pieces are falling into place, though, so long as Designated Players Henry and Tim Cahill and center back rock Jamison Olave avoid the injury bug.

On the other end of the spectrum is Montreal, whose fall from relative invincibility has been stunning. The club's current defensive form is cause for all sorts of concern, as the Impact have conceded 12 goals in the last four games after conceding just 17 in the 14 games before that and have completely lost their way. It should be noted that Montreal is still in the driver's seat in the Eastern Conference, trailing Sporting KC by two points and being level on points with New York with two games in hand on both teams. Recent matches have exposed Montreal, though, giving opponents a blueprint for success -- on his halftime interview with MSG, Red Bulls coach Mike Petke openly said the club made a point to get fullback Jeb Brovsky in 1-on-1 situations -- and forcing Marco Schallibaum to consider making some changes to light a spark.

4. Wondo's confidence is back. Chris Wondolowski's run of form for the U.S. men's national team has the masses talking up his eventual place on the World Cup squad (should the USA qualify), and while he has certainly helped his case with his six goals against Guatemala, Belize and Cuba, there is too much time and too many games to be played to punch his ticket to Brazil as of now. The greater impact of Wondolowski's streak should be on the San Jose Earthquakes' future opponents once the Gold Cup comes to an end.

There is nothing like a bump in confidence to get a striker -- especially a true poacher and finisher like Wondolowski -- going, and with the reigning league MVP locked in and looking like his best self, MLS defenses should be put on notice once the Gold Cup has come to an end.

Even though Wondolowski has as many goals (five) in 17 league games as he does in two games in the Gold Cup, it is not as if he has not been getting his chances in MLS. He has just happened to miss an inordinate amount by his lofty standards. Wondolowski is sixth in the league with 59 shots and fourth with 23 on goal and with him set to return at the end of the month riding his first taste of international success, the Wondolowski who has led the league in goals for the last three seasons could find himself making his charge up the Golden Boot standings yet again.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers)

Defenders: Jamison Olave (N.Y. Red Bulls), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (Portland Timbers), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Eric Alexander (N.Y. Red Bulls), Adam Moffat (Houston Dynamo), Ned Grabavoy (Real Salt Lake), Marcelo Sarvas (LA Galaxy)

Forwards: Thierry Henry (N.Y. Red Bulls), Soony Saad (Sporting Kansas City), Camilo (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Week 20 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Old Rank Team
1 2 Real Salt Lake (11-5-4)
Real Salt Lake conquered Canada. Now it has conquered Texas. The biggest barriers in RSL history have fallen this season, and the club, which is unbeaten in eight games, sits atop the standings in both the Western Conference and the Supporters' Shield. That RSL has been able to be so successful with so many different players missing time for various reasons speaks to the depth of the roster and the coaching job done by Jason Kreis.
2 1 Portland Timbers (8-2-9)
Andrew Jean-Baptiste's last-gasp heroics off a corner kick sealed Portland's latest landmark triumph and helped the Timbers bounce back from their first loss since March with a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy. Like RSL, Portland has lost a good chunk of its nucleus to the Gold Cup, but that has not stopped Caleb Porter's side from playing hard and playing well.
3 5 Sporting Kansas City (9-5-6)
Soony Saad's breakout double was the story of Sporting KC's one-sided 3-0 triumph over Toronto FC, but it was the club's final goal that really left a lasting impression. In a class display of unselfishness, one-touch passing and in-sync team movement, Sporting KC clinically put the Reds away, with Claudio Bieler tallying his ninth goal of the season. After a slight rough patch (by Sporting KC standards) the club has now lost just once in its last nine games and is unbeaten in five.
4 10 Vancouver Whitecaps (9-5-5)
The Western Conference is top heavy with in-form teams, and the Whitecaps can be counted among them. Vancouver turned up the heat in the second half to douse the Fire 3-1 and extend its unbeaten run to five games. Much of the club's success can be attributed to forwards Kenny Miller and Camilo, with the latter scoring nine goals since the start of June to take the lead in the race for the Golden Boot.
5 7 New York Red Bulls (9-7-4)
When the Red Bulls are on their game, they are as tough a group to stop in the league. Problem is, the consistency has not been there from game to game, but the good-side Red Bulls showed up Saturday night against Montreal. Eric Alexander turned in his finest performance since joining the club, displaying the type of class that made him a U.S. national team January camp call-up in 2011.
6 3 Montreal Impact (9-5-4)
Montreal's defense has completely lost the plot. Over the last month, the unit that was putting the clamps down on just about everyone has been leaking goals with regularity. The 4-0 loss to New York marked the third time in the last four games that the Impact conceded at least three times in a game. Alessandro Nesta, especially, looks a step (or three) slow, and with games against FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City on deck, there is not a whole lot of time for Marco Schallibaum's side to get it right.
7 11 Houston Dynamo (8-6-5)
Adam Moffat does not always score, but when he does, it's on a superb rocket. The technical ability he displayed to take a cleared corner kick out of the air and lace a full volley (and almost decapitate New England goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the process) was world-class, and even though his second goal was not quite as vicious, it brought a valuable three points to a Houston side that was missing key components like Brad Davis and Will Bruin but still managed to create some distance in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.
8 8 Los Angeles Galaxy (9-8-3)
The Galaxy are used to thriving in late-game situations and closing games out, which makes the club's struggles in said area in 2013 quite confounding. Bruce Arena was left livid after a concession in stoppage time off a corner kick took a point off the board for the Galaxy and marked the 15th time this season that the club has given up a goal in the last 15 minutes of a game.
9 6 Philadelphia Union (8-6-6)
Unlike the Galaxy, the Union held it together in a late-game scenario to snap a recent trend, taking full advantage of a controversial back pass call and ensuing red card to put away Chivas USA and roll to a 3-1 victory. Anyone who thought Conor Casey would be nothing more than a supplemental piece to the team had it wrong, though, as the veteran has his most goals (seven) since 2010, is healthy and is as effective of a connector and battering ram as he's ever been.
10 4 FC Dallas (8-5-7)
The slide goes on for FC Dallas, which has not scored in three straight games, has not won in seven straight games and is falling back to the middle of the pack after setting a torrid pace out of the gate. Getting George John back to 100 percent would go a long way in FCD tightening things up in the back, as the center back has missed the last four matches and seen his team concede seven goals in that time.
11 9 Seattle Sounders (7-7-3)
Things just did not go Seattle's way Saturday night. Osvaldo Alonso was shockingly sent off upon his return from injury, and the club awaits the results of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning's medical tests with anxious anticipation after he was forced out the contest against San Jose with an arm injury following a late kick from notorious Earthquake Steven Lenhart. Considering the health state of the Seattle's goalkeepers, it would be a gigantic blow for Gspurning to have to miss a large chunk of time.
12 13 Colorado Rapids (7-7-6)
While Colorado was off playing Santos Laguna in a friendly, it had to be pleased with the MLS results that poured in during the bye week. FC Dallas and LA, the two teams directly in front of the Rapids, both fell, while the team directly on the Rapids' heels, Seattle, failed to make good with one of its games in hand. With veteran goalkeeper Matt Pickens returning to action and playing 90 minutes in the friendly, manager Oscar Pareja will have a decision to make after Clint Irwin held the fort so admirably in the injured Pickens' place.
13 12 Chicago Fire (6-9-3)
Mike Magee called out his Fire teammates after last week's disappointing showing against Sporting Kansas City, and while that seemed to have reinvigorated his side for a half in Vancouver, the wheels fell off on the back line, as shoddy defending allowed the Whitecaps to walk away with a victory. Magee looked as dangerous as usual for Chicago, but he failed to factor into a goal for the first time since coming over in a trade with LA.
14 14 New England Revolution (6-6-6)
First things first: Kevin Alston being activated from the disabled list after a bout with leukemia is something anyone can cheer for. On the field, the Revolution certainly will feel like they deserved better against Houston, with an apparent handball in the Dynamo box going uncalled and a late red card to Dimitry Imbongo sealing the club's fate. Perhaps Imbongo should be left off the team sheet on Sept. 28, when the Revs play their final match against the Dynamo this season -- he's been red carded in the first two meetings between the teams.
15 15 San Jose Earthquakes (6-9-6)
San Jose will be proud of its 1-0 victory over Seattle, but the Quakes did not win many style points, resorting to physical tactics to prevent the Sounders from developing any semblance of attacking rhythm. Walter Martinez, however, turned in a nifty strike on his game-winning goal, cutting back on his defender and curling a ball inside the far post to provide all the scoring inconsistent San Jose would need to snap a two-game losing skid.
16 16 Columbus Crew (6-8-5)
Columbus spent its bye week playing against FA Cup champion Wigan Athletic, with rookie forward Ryan Finley supplying the highlight with a goal in the 2-1 defeat to the Latics and former Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza. For Columbus, the upcoming stretch can prove to be a valuable one, as the next five games are against Eastern Conference competition, providing ample opportunities to land accrue some six-point swings as the playoff race heats up.
17 17 Chivas USA (3-11-5)
The Goats' loss to Philadelphia extended their skid to 14 games without a win, setting the new bar for consecutive futility this season. This latest one was not entirely on Chivas, though, as a controversial back pass call and red card gifted the Union a man advantage and an indirect free kick from close range that the was buried to break a 1-1 draw. Chivas had been defending better under new manager Jose Luis Real, evidenced by the three straight draws before Friday, but new arrivals Carlos Bocanegra and Erick Torres could not be coming at a better time.
18 18 Toronto FC (2-9-7)
TFC never looked like it had a chance against Sporting KC, and the player carousel keeps turning in the Reds' locker room. Veteran defender Danny Califf retired, second-year attacking prospect Luis Silva was shipped to D.C. United and Irish international defender Darren O'Dea is inch toward a transfer, according to the club's announcement prior to the weekend fixture. The perpetually rebuilding franchise essentially already has its eye on 2014.
19 19 D.C. United (2-13-4)
D.C. got a chance to see some of its new pieces and youngsters in action, with the newly acquired Silva and Jared Jeffrey and 16-year-old Homegrown Player Michael Seaton all getting run outs against Chivas de Guadalajara in a friendly on Friday. The young nucleus that D.C. is building will ultimately need time to become a force, but Seaton continues to show his potential after setting up Carlos Ruiz for D.C.'s goal in the 1-1 draw on the heels of a standout season on loan with USL PRO's Richmond Kickers.

STRAUS: 18-year-old Fagundez is a star for the Revs -- now the U.S. just needs to get him

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