Power Rankings: Omar Gonzalez gets paid; Timbers take top spot

Tuesday August 20th, 2013

Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez is now a rich man after signing a new contract.
Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports

Another landmark contract signing, another LA Galaxy hat trick and some truly highlight-reel goals headlined Week 25 of the MLS campaign:

1. LA, Omar Gonzalez head into uncharted territory: The LA Galaxy filling the club's third Designated Player slot this summer is not a surprise. Players like Frank Lampard and Kaka's were once rumored to be joining the club, and with LA spending like it does, it was fully expected that the season would not end with an open DP slot on the roster. But Omar Gonzalez filling that slot came as a surprise to most.

With just months remaining on the center back anchor's current deal and with outside interest continuing to swirl around the U.S. national team defender, MLS and LA made an unprecedented move by giving the pure defender -- and a young, American one at that -- a lucrative DP deal. With Gonzalez inking the contract, not only does it keep another young U.S. international in the league for the foreseeable future -- which is sure to make commissioner Don Garber smile -- but it sets a new contract standard for star defenders in an ever-changing marketplace.

Gonzalez's resume is surely DP-worthy, given that he is a former league Defender of the Year, MLS Cup MVP and a fixture on the U.S. national team. Gonzalez's reported multi-million dollar deal will allow other standout defenders who elect to stay in MLS (like Gonzalez's USA teammate Matt Besler, who is on the books at a modest $180,000 following his latest new contract) to ask for more, and it gives a whole new realistic level for defenders to strive to meet.

When the 24-year-old Gonzalez is on his game, he is as dominant as they come, even if he is susceptible to the occasional ball-watching lapse for both club and country. His effort in Saturday night's vital win over Real Salt Lake, though, validated his new contract and his status as one of the league's top dogs.

2. The standings shuffle: Some call it parity. Others call it mediocrity. Any way you slice it, the MLS standings are an absolute impossibility to keep track of on a weekly basis. With the playoff push in full effect as we head into the final two months of the season, no fewer than eight teams in each conference have a legitimate case at making the postseason, and the standings positions have gone through more shuffling than a deck of cards on a blackjack table.

Currently, a single point separates four teams in the Eastern Conference, with Sporting Kansas City, New York, Montreal and Philadelphia all within a single result of climbing to the top and all having scored the exact same number of goals (although Montreal has done so in two fewer games). In the West, five points separates the teams currently in the five playoff places, with any number of results sparking another game of standings musical chairs.

Even though the total points tell one story, the points per game standings may give a better indication as to where teams truly lie, as not all teams have played the same number of matches. The teams currently in third place in the respective conferences -- Montreal and Portland -- actually have the highest points per game in the East and West (i.e. a better win and draw percentage), and both have played two fewer games than the teams currently in first place, Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake. Portland, in fact, only has three losses on the season, while every other team in the league has lost at least seven times -- more than twice as frequently.

Seattle, currently in sixth place in the West, actually has the third most points per game in the conference, but because the club has played just 22 games compare to the higher totals of its competitors, it lags behind in the current standings. While the weekly shifting may be cause for a headache, one thing is certain: The competitive evenness across the board in MLS, despite the evolving financial landscape that has manifested itself in the last few weeks, remains as pronounced as ever.

3. Schallibaum's antics are adding up: It's quite easy to see why Montreal Impact manager Marco Schallibaum was given the moniker "The Swiss Volcano."

Mt. Schallibaum erupted again Saturday night, with a verbal sideline melee with D.C. United's Ben Olsen after a hard player collision in front of both of them resulting in yet another sending off for the Impact boss, one that will result in his fourth(!) suspension of the season. The MLS Disciplinary Committee has gone to great lengths to punish players who have been red carded with additional discipline on top of the customary suspension if deemed necessary. It is getting to that point where the committee has to give serious thought to whether managers -- specifically Schallibaum -- should be reprimanded accordingly for being repeat offenders if for nothing else than to send a message to keep the antics to a minimum.

Sometimes (and not necessarily in soccer) a manager's ejection is a calculated move in an effort to inspire a team or light a spark, but it is not as if Schallibaum's explosions have helped the Impact in subsequent matches. The club is 0-1-2 in games which Schallibaum has served his bans, and it appears as if assistant Mauro Biello will be at the helm for a fourth time this season after the latest incident featuring MLS' answer to baseball's late Earl Weaver.

4. Agudelo's goal and GLT: Juan Agudelo's back-heel flick over Sean Johnson may not win Goal of the Year honors (because, let's be honest, the Cascadia ballot stuffing has had plenty of an influence on how that race has unfolded in recent years), but the instinctual, creative and brazen lob surely will be in the mix come the end of the season.

Now the real question: Did it completely cross the goal line? HawkEye goal-line technology was used for the first time in the Premier League this weekend, with it confirming a non goal-scoring play in Chelsea's win over Hull City. It surely could have been handy in determining whether Bakary Soumare's valiant, athletic, last-ditch effort in fact prevented Agudelo from scoring and was perhaps the most impressive goal-line clearance since Tim Ream denied Landon Donovan in 2011 or confirming whether Agudelo's bold act was rightfully rewarded.

Camera angles from the Revolution broadcast were not entirely inconclusive (although the back-angled one made it seem as if the ball had crossed when Soumare attempted his overhead kick, but again, not with 100 percent certainty), yet the assistant referee's call was all that mattered in the end. MLS remains opposed to integrating goal-line technology for the time being (not from an idealistic standpoint, but because of the costs associated with it), leaving the call in the on-field officials' hands. For the Stoke City-bound Agudelo, whose ball very well could have and most likely completely crossed the line, the benefit of the doubt was a deserved end result.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids)

Defenders: Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes)

Midfielders: Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Juninho (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo)

Forwards: Federico Higuain (Columbus Crew), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo)

Week 25 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Old Rank Team
1 3 Portland Timbers (9-3-11)
The Timbers returned from a bye week shorthanded, without the likes of captain Will Johnson and former captain Jack Jewsbury, but the club managed to hold serve at home against FC Dallas and maintain the highest points per game in the league a win that snapped a three-game winless stretch. Diego Valeri orchestrated both goals in the 2-1 triumph, and the club turns its attention to an anticipated three-game span, with games against RSL sandwiching a Cascadia clash with rival Seattle.
2 1 Real Salt Lake(12-8-5)
RSL was the latest victim of an LA Galaxy hat trick, as Robbie Keane's three goals erased Joao Plata's opener in a disappointing 4-2 loss in what has become one of the league's truly great on-field rivalries. RSL maintains its perch atop the Western Conference, but its margin for error has been narrowed considerably, and with two games against Portland in the next two weeks, the landscape is anything but settled.
3 2 New York Red Bulls (11-8-6)
The Red Bulls dominated possession and most aspects of the run of play against Philadelphia but could not manage to find the back of the net at home against the rival Union and had to settle for a scoreless draw. The club will hope that the quadriceps injury that forced center back stalwart Jamison Olave from the game in the second half will not keep him out of action for an extended period, given his importance to the club's success.
4 5 Colorado Rapids (10-7-9)
With a victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Rapids extended their unbeaten streak to a league-best nine games, while welcoming in its newest face, Panamanian striker Gabriel Torres. Rookie Deshorn Brown stated his intention not to have to concede playing time despite the club's new additions, with his seventh goal helping the Rapids to their 10th win of the season ahead of major tests against Sporting KC and LA.
5 6 Los Angeles Galaxy (11-9-4)
Another week, another hat trick. On the heels of Landon Donovan's stellar performance against FC Dallas, Robbie Keane notched a hat trick of his own to crack the 10-goal barrier (in just 14 games) and guide the Galaxy to an important, statement 4-2 victory over first-place Real Salt Lake. Newly minted Designated Player Omar Gonzalez had a large hand in the result as well, notching a goal while helping lock down Alvaro Saborio, and new goalkeeper Jaime Penedo made a strong case to remain in net with his debut.
6 4 Sporting Kansas City (11-8-6)
Peter Vermes has every right to fume about his side being wrong done on the goal that decided Sunday night's 1-0 loss to San Jose, but that won't alter the standings or the fact that SKC has now dropped three games in its last four matches. It's no coincidence that Graham Zusi has been out injured for three of those games, and his return to full training this past week could not have come at a better time.
7 8 Philadelphia Union (10-7-8)
The Union earned their first point at Red Bull Arena in club history, and it could have been three if Sebastien Le Toux's blast did not ping off the crossbar and instead dipped just an inch or two. The result is still a psychological win for the young Union, who crossed the mental hurdle of not losing in what had been harsh enemy territory and are now just a point off of first place in the Eastern Conference.
8 10 Houston Dynamo (10-7-6)
Well hello, Giles Barnes. The Englishman's two-goal showing against Seattle exuded star quality and lifted the Dynamo to an impressive victory. After consecutive games against Western foes, Houston embarks on a five-game stretch against Eastern Conference competition, with proverbial six-pointers on the line in each contest. It's crunch time for the Dynamo, and Dominic Kinnear's side typically rises to the challenge under such circumstances.
9 7 Seattle Sounders (10-8-4)
Seattle went into BBVA Compass Stadium without Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins (and had Brad Evans in a reserve role), so expecting a triumph in Clint Dempsey's return to his home state may have been a bit much to ask. That said, the defensive line did not have its best night in front of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who returned to action after an arm injury caused a four-game absence.
10 11 Montreal Impact (11-7-5)
The Impact exacted revenge for their loss to D.C. just a couple of weeks back, with Marco Di Vaio getting back into the Golden Boot discussion by notching a brace for his first goals in six weeks. The club turns its attention back to CONCACAF Champions League play on Wednesday, with a trip to Guatemala's CD Heredia and a chance to go to 2-0-0 in group play at stake.
11 9 Vancouver Whitecaps (10-8-6)
Vancouver missed out on a chance to climb higher into the upper echelon in the Western Conference with a listless 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids. In a scheduling quirk, that was the first time the two conference foes met this season, and they will close out the season with consecutive games against one another, with both likely still to be heavy in the playoff mix at the time.
12 14 San Jose Earthquakes (9-10-6)
Chris Wondolowski sure looked to be a step offside on his game-winning goal Sunday night, but the Earthquakes hitman's header held up, and it was all the club needed in a 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City, the team's fourth win in its last five games. For Wondolowski, who has led or been tied for the MLS lead in goals in each of the last three seasons, he now has eight goals and is six off the pace set by Camilo and Mike Magee.
13 15 New England Revolution (9-9-6)
Juan Agudelo's back-heel chip over Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson will surely remain on his highlight reel for years to come and must have made the Stoke City braintrust smile. The forward's return to play coincided with his Goal of the Year candidate, as he helped the Revolution snap a two-game losing skid and keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. Also of note: Charlie Davies making his club debut as he embarks on his two-month audition for a permanent move.
14 12 Chicago Fire (9-10-4)
The Fire's four-game unbeaten run is up in smoke after a loss at New England on a night which emotions ran high at Gillette Stadium. The club will have to go into its match on Friday against Sporting KC without manager Frank Klopas, who was sent off, and center back Bakary Soumare (who nearly cleared Agudelo's goal), as he was red carded after the match ended after getting into it with Revs forward Saer Sene.
15 16 Columbus Crew (8-11-5)
Federico Higuain is surely going to develop the nickname "Chip" soon enough isn't he? The Argentine maestro's latest cheeky goal helped the Crew to a 2-0 win over Toronto FC, sealing the Trillium Cup's home at Crew Stadium. The result was the second straight 2-0 one in Columbus' favor and has the Crew back on the realistic periphery of the playoff picture, but to stay there the club will need a result against RSL in its next match..
16 13 FC Dallas (8-7-9)
Make that 11 straight matches without a win for FCD, which has become the most head-shake-inducing team in the league. New signing Mauro Diaz opened his MLS account and briefly brought FCD level with Portland, before a failure to contain Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe sealed the team's fate. The reprieve for the club may have manifested itself on the schedule, though, with a midweek game against lowly Chivas USA up next.
17 17 Toronto FC (4-12-8)
TFC lost to rival Columbus to miss out on the Trillium Cup for the fifth time in six years, while remaining firmly entrenched among the bottom three teams in the league when it had a chance to close the gap on Columbus and take a stride toward respectability. In another move with an eye on the future, though, the club concluded the long-winded transfer saga to land 22-year-old Argentine forward Maximiliano Urruti.
18 18 D.C. United (3-17-4)
D.C. thought it had eked out a point in Montreal after Conor Doyle's well-taken goal brought the teams level late, but a defensive breakdown in the waning minutes piled yet another heartbreak onto a season full of them, as D.C. lost for a league-leading 17th time and maintained its winless record away from home. Doyle sure looks the part of a forward who can lead the line, and it would behoove the club to purchase his contract outright from Derby County when his loan expires at season's end.
19 19 Chivas USA (4-13-6)
The Goats endured a bye week, and while that meant that nothing worse could have happened to the club on the field, off the field things did not get any better. Between Gabriel Farfan and Tristan Bowen incurring suspensions from the MLS Disciplinary Committee and another former club employee filing a lawsuit for discrimination, the club continues to battle demons in just about every facet.

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