Power Rankings: Donovan on fire; Davies returning

Monday August 12th, 2013

Landon Donovan scored a hat trick on Sunday against FC Dallas.
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Landon Donovan added three more goals to his resume, Clint Dempsey debuted and the transfer wheels were churning up to the close of the summer window in MLS' Week 24:

1. It's the summer of Landon. Not even 15 months ago, we got our first glimpse into the Landon Donovan we have gotten to know on a more extensive level than ever before. The one who wouldn't be playing forever after all, the one who was headed toward certain burnout and the one whose international career may have been coming to an abrupt halt. We questioned whether we had seen the last of the American soccer icon's best days and genuinely wondered if he was on his final playing legs.

Fast forward to the present, and that all just seems ludicrous, does it not? Say what you'd like about Donovan's decision to step away from the game for a few months this past winter, but it served its purpose and order has been restored on the field for the 31-year-old LA Galaxy star. Playing in a contract year, Donovan is enjoying a summer for the ages for both club and country, with his hat trick in Sunday night's controversial, yet wildly entertaining, 3-3 draw with FC Dallas the latest piece of evidence that there remains plenty in Donovan's tank as another World Cup approaches.

Donovan's three goals give him 130 for his MLS career, catapulting him to within four of Jeff Cunningham's all-time league record. Add that to him eclipsing the 50-50 goal-assist barrier for the U.S. national team, along with his five-goal, seven-assist outing in the Gold Cup and three assists in two league games prior to the competition, and Donovan has been a one-man show for nearly two months. Just as the watch intensified as Chris Wondolowski approached Roy Lassiter's single-season goal mark last season, Donovan Watch can now take full effect for the remainder of the year, with five goals in the final 11 games of the campaign all that is necessary for Donovan to become the unquestioned MLS scoring king.

Clint Dempsey, who made his anticipated Seattle Sounders debut Saturday night, may have taken the baton, or at least put one hand on it, as the face of U.S. Soccer and the premiere mainstream American in the game today, but Donovan has gone to great lengths to remind us all that he remains every bit the player he has always been despite his personal obstacles. Given Dempsey's massive new contract and a reinvigorated Donovan looking like he'll play to another deal of his own, this winter is shaping up to be quite an interesting one for Donovan, the Galaxy and MLS.

2. The writing is on the wall for Cudicini. The close of the MLS summer transfer window was a bit of a bizarro world. Heavy hitters like New York and Los Angeles stayed away from the big Designated Player signings, while Chicago, Montreal and Colorado (yes, that Colorado), all bought in on high-priced talent like Juan Luis Anangono, Hernan Bernardello and Gabriel Torres, respectively. Houston turned to the Honduran marketplace again to land young DP Alexander Lopez.

While months ago many anticipated the Galaxy to be a part of that group and make a DP splash along the lines of a Giovani Dos Santos or Kaka, the club stayed quiet for the most part. It did make one notable signing, though, in bringing aboard Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo in a move that has to be off-putting for veteran shotstopper Carlo Cudicini.

Backup goalkeepers who make $150,000 while taking up an international roster slot are not long for this league, and the writing surely seems on the wall for Cudicini after the Penedo acquisition, especially after yet another head-scratching showing against FC Dallas. Cudicini has been far from the sure thing that Bruce Arena had hoped for when he ushered two-time MLS Cup-winning goalkeeper Josh Saunders out the door to make way for the almost 40-year-old Italian, with his tendency to remain rooted to the ground and unsure of himself in the area becoming more of a trend than a minor blip on the radar.

Penedo is an instinctual goalkeeper who starred in the Gold Cup, helping guide Panama to two wins over Mexico en route to the final, and he has been a fixture in CONCACAF for years. Following Cudicini's first league showing after the signing, it only seems like it is a matter of time before Penedo is given his shot to clean up the inconsistent puzzle that has been the Galaxy defense, at which point Cudicini's time in MLS may very well reach its abrupt end.

3. What's up with Jack Mac? It has sure been some time since Jack McInerney found the back of the net.

After a 10-goal outburst led to a U.S. national team call-up for the Gold Cup and an (eventual) All-Star nod, McInerney has not scored in his last seven games for the Philadelphia Union, a streak stretching back to June 1.

McInerney, who is still tied for the league lead in game-winning goals, looks like a player over-thinking things instead of acting like a decisive forward with a killer instinct. On multiple occasions against D.C. United Saturday night, for example, McInerney was in some great positions but either too hesitant to pull the trigger or took one too many touches to take himself out of those advantageous goal-scoring positions, instead giving defenders or goalkeeper Bill Hamid the time to recover and gain the upper hand.

The frustration for McInerney is evident, as he hung his head low after the final whistle sealed a 2-0 win moments after he came up empty-handed on his final chance of the night. Perhaps his inactivity over the Gold Cup as a practice player and game bystander was a hindrance to his league form, but fortunately for the Union, Conor Casey has been able to pick up where McInerney left off and help the club maintain its point-collecting ways. Slumps happen, and McInerney is too talented of a finisher for this streak to last much longer. Chalk it up to the growing pains of a 20-year-old who has raised the bar for himself so high that when he fails to meet those lofty expectations it makes for a noteworthy development.

4. Davies returns to MLS, home. Lost in the Dempsey transfer madness is that his first club, the New England Revolution, is playing the high-profile American forward shuffle.

With the news that Juan Agudelo will be bolting MLS at the end of the season to link up with Geoff Cameron, Maurice Edu and Brek Shea at Stoke City on a free transfer, the Revs have brought Charlie Davies back to MLS, where he will play on loan for the rest of the season after a less-than-fruitful stop at Randers in the Danish Superliga.

Davies is almost four years removed from the car accident that nearly took his life and claimed the life of another passenger, and his career has not resumed as he would have hoped -- an 11-goal campaign on loan with D.C. United in 2011 notwithstanding. A move close to home for the New Hampshire native could be just the thing to spark Davies to greater levels, though, while providing the Revs with a new component to assess over the next few months before deciding if he's a suitable long-term replacement.

Assuming Stoke does not come through with a transfer bid to poach Agudelo prior to the close of the European transfer window at the end of the month, the Revs will maintain Agudelo's MLS rights when he leaves for free, an asset that has proven to be a wildcard in MLS trade negotiations. And if Agudelo recovers from his current knee injury to suit up for the Revs alongside Davies and young sparkplug Diego Fagundez, then New England will boast one of the more intriguing, if not potential-over-production, attacking corps in all of MLS. Comeback stories make for great theater, and Davies getting the chance to do so in front of family and friends down the road from where he starred in college is one that should not go overlooked.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)

Defenders: Young-Pyo Lee (Vancouver Whitecaps), Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union), Chris Klute (Colorado Rapids)

Midfielders: Jonathan Osorio (Toronto FC), Nigel Reo Coker (Vancouver Whitecaps), Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia Union), Mauro Rosales (Seattle Sounders)

Forwards: Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Conor Casey (Philadelphia Union)

Week 24 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Old Rank Team
1 2 Real Salt Lake (12-7-5)
Days after sealing a place in the U.S. Open Cup final, and sealing hosting rights to boot, RSL topped Houston 1-0 on the strength of an Alvaro Saborio penalty kick to reclaim sole possession of first place in the hunt for the Supporters' Shield. Aside from two losses during the Gold Cup, when the club was depleted of some of its top talent, RSL is 7-0-3 in the last three months. Jason Kreis' side has churned out consistent success more than anyone during this parity-ridden season.
2 1 New York Red Bulls (11-8-5)
The Thierry Henry-less lineup that was trotted out at Crew Stadium did little to trouble the hosts, as the inconsistent Red Bulls followed up a landmark road win with a lackluster road loss in Columbus. The loss dropped the Red Bulls behind Sporting KC by a point atop the Eastern Conference and sets up quite the showdown against regional rival Philadelphia this weekend, with major table implications in play.
3 3 Portland Timbers (8-3-11)
The Timbers' bye week was spoiled by crashing out of the U.S. Open Cup in the semifinals, when a potential home final awaited the club if it could have topped Real Salt Lake. Instead, the trophy chase turns back to league play, where Portland quietly has not won in three matches and hosts FC Dallas before a grueling three-game stretch that includes two matches against RSL and Clint Dempsey's first match in Seattle, where nearly 70,000 will be on hand to take in the spectacle.
4 5 Sporting Kansas City (11-7-6)
Kei Kamara will steal the headlines with his brace guiding Sporting Kansas City to a 3-0 romp over the New England Revolution, but how about the continued contributions from Soony Saad? The young forward continues to flourish, setting up Kamara for both of his headers and ensuring that Graham Zusi's continued absence with a quad injury did not hinder the club, which won for the first time in three games.
5 4 Colorado Rapids (9-7-9)
The Rapids' unbeaten streak stretched to a league-best eight games Sunday night, but failing to come up with a victory over lowly Chivas USA while having a man advantage on two occasions will leave an unsatisfying taste in the club's collective mouth. Martin Rivero's late heroics salvaged the point, though, and with Colorado welcoming forwards Vicente Sanchez and Gabriel Torres prior to the close of the transfer window, manager Oscar Pareja has two new weapons he can deploy for the stretch run. 
6 6 Los Angeles Galaxy (10-9-4)
L.A. will cry foul for the two goals the club conceded that looked like they should have been waved off for offside, but there's nothing that will change the standings after the fact, as the two-time defending champion remains on the edge of the playoff picture. Landon Donovan's hat trick should have been enough to carry the club to victory, but instead the Galaxy enter next weekend's anticipated clash against RSL wanting a little more.
7 9 Seattle Sounders (10-7-4)
The Sounders kicked off the Clint Dempsey era with a victory, with Mauro Rosales stepping up to the plate with a fine showing and an early goal to help Seattle to the three-point haul. The club likely would have preferred the onset of Dempsey's debut to come under different circumstances, with the USA captain entering earlier than expected, in the 34th minute, to replacing an ailing Obafemi Martins. 
8 10 Philadelphia Union (10-7-7)
Conor Casey's resurgent, under-the-radar, season continued, as his brace spearheaded a 2-0 victory for the Union over last-place D.C. While Jack McInerney has struggled to rediscover his top scoring form, Casey -- aided by top MLS assist man Sebastien Le Toux -- has found his, with him picking up the slack and scoring seven goals during McInerney's current drought to help keep the Union alive and well in the Eastern Conference mix.
9 11 Vancouver Whitecaps (10-7-6)
Camilo is back atop the leaderboard for the Golden Boot (tied with Mike Magee) after his latest game-winning goal -- his fourth of the campaign -- helped the Whitecaps end a three-game winless skid and top San Jose 2-0 at BC Place. Nigel Reo-Coker turned in a tremendous shift in the midfield, with coach Martin Rennie reserving post-game praise for the Reo-Coker-Daigo Kobayashi-Gershon Kofie midfield triumvirate that may well get more runouts together after a dominating showing.
10 8 Houston Dynamo (9-7-6)
The Dynamo were stymied by Real Salt Lake in a meeting of two of the league's model franchises, but a soft-yet-clear penalty call on Adam Moffat was all that was necessary to separate the two sides. Houston can brace itself for DempseyMania, with the club welcoming the native Texan and newest Seattle Sounder to BBVA Compass Stadium next weekend prior to its opening match of the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League campaign.
11 7 Montreal Impact (10-7-5)
Coming off a CCL victory over San Jose that forced Marco Schallibaum to mix up his lineup a bit over the weekend, the Impact faltered until it was too late and could not complete a comeback against Chicago before falling 2-1. The Impact, after their red-hot start, are just 2-5-3 in their last 10 league matches but have a golden chance to get back in the win column by hosting D.C. United in a grudge match this weekend after falling to the last-place side earlier this month.
12 12 Chicago Fire (9-9-4)
Despite Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe both not starting, the Fire took the action to the Impact, with Joel Lindpere and Dilly Duka providing the scoring to help the club creep within two points of a playoff place. Rolfe certainly made his impact felt off the bench, though, with a win-preserving goal-line clearance in the dying moments robbing Matteo Ferrari of a would-be equalizer.
13 14 FC Dallas (8-6-9)
FC Dallas can thank a generous assistant referee for allowing two Blas Perez equalizers to stand, as the club clawed its way to a controversial 3-3 draw with LA Sunday night. The tie extended Dallas' winless streak to 10 matches, though, and preventing that from stretching to 11 won't be easy, with a visit to Jeld-Wen Field to take on Portland next up on the schedule.
14 13 San Jose Earthquakes (8-10-6)
San Jose endured a rough week against Canadian competition, falling in its CONCACAF Champions League group stage opener to Montreal before heading to Vancouver and succumbing to a 2-0 defeat in league play. With 10 games remaining in the season, and four of the five teams ahead of San Jose maintaining games in hand on the Earthquakes, the Supporters' Shield holders need to come up with maximum efforts from here on out in order to return to the postseason.
15 15 New England Revolution (8-9-6)
Kevin Alston's return to the starting lineup for the first time since being diagnosed with leukemia was certainly a sight for sore eyes, but the Revs could not come through with a performance necessary in the confines of Sporting Park to walk away with any points and watched Chicago leapfrog them in the playoff hunt. The word that Charlie Davies will be joining the squad should deliver a jolt, both emotionally and on the field for a team stumbling as of late.
16 16 Columbus Crew (7-11-5)
Federico Higuain's two-goal showing guided the Crew to a 2-0 victory over New York that knocked the Red Bulls out of first place. While Higuain opened the scoring with his third penalty attempt against New York and goalkeeper Luis Robles this season, it was his second goal -- a sumptuous chip from some range -- that had the masses swooning Saturday evening.
17 17 Toronto FC (4-11-8)
TFC outplayed Seattle for large stretches of their match Saturday only to squander goals on major defensive lapses, and the club could not complete its comeback and spoil Dempsey's debut. Jonathan Osorio delivered yet another well-taken goal, though, and the Canadian rookie has five goals on the season to throw himself into consideration for Rookie of the Year honors.
18 18 D.C. United (3-16-4)
With a place in the U.S. Open Cup final secure, it certainly looks as if Ben Olsen is going to use the remainder of the regular season to get his young signings some valuable experience, as evidenced by the lineup he sent out at PPL Park Saturday night. With 18-year-old Collin Martin getting his first MLS start and 17-year-old Michael Seaton coming off the bench for his league debut, the future is very much now for D.C. 
19 19 Chivas USA (4-13-6)
The Goats are extremely fortunate to have earned a point at home against Colorado, with undisciplined tackling and lack of composure costing Chivas two players in the 1-1 draw. Dan Kennedy coming up huge on an underwhelming team is no secret, and the goalkeeper was at it again Sunday night, stuffing a Deshorn Brown penalty kick in the early stages after an asinine handball by Steve Purdy, who played the part of basketball rim guardian as opposed to sound soccer center back off a corner kick.

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