MLS Power Rankings: Donovan nears history, Bulls claim top spot

Monday October 7th, 2013

Landon Donovan is one goal away from breaking the all-time MLS record for goals scored.
Bret Hartman/AP

Landon Donovan rose to the top of the all-time goal-scoring charts, Colorado and LA posted crooked numbers, Camilo made jaws drop and New York clinched a playoff berth in MLS Week 32:

1. Donovan ties Cunningham's record

A little more than seven months ago, it was unclear when Landon Donovan was going to return to the field. It was even more unclear which version of the player would be returning to the field when his playing hiatus came to an end. A rejuvenated one? One still unsure of his place in the game? As it turns out, it was the best version.

Donovan's storybook 2013 added another chapter with him tying Jeff Cunningham's all-time MLS record for goals scored at 134 with his two-goal showing against Chivas USA. Donovan's performance against the Galaxy's fallen rival included all of his attributes. His -- sometimes to a fault -- unselfishness that set up Robbie Keane's first goal. His lethal capability on the counterattack. His instinctual innovation to chip Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy for the record-tying goal. On the heels of his prolific summer with the U.S. national team, which saw him eclipse 50 goals and 50 assists and win the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the Gold Cup, Donovan is zoned in. Regardless of the huge multi-year extension he signed with the Galaxy, Donovan has hardly rested on his expansive laurels as he carries forward in his top form. And to think how close we came to potentially missing out on such greatness.

With three games remaining in the regular season (or just two for Donovan, depending on his availability for the Oct. 16 clash against Montreal after the USA's World Cup qualifiers), Donovan will have ample opportunity to break the goal mark and hold it on his own. There's one record Donovan would surely prefer, though. He, Jeff Agoos and Brian Mullan are tied for the most MLS Cup triumphs in league history, with five apiece. An LA Galaxy three-peat, which would be the first such accomplishment in MLS history, would cap his 2013 by not only cementing his place as not just the most prolific scorer in MLS history, but also the winningest player of all time.

2. Colorado states its case

Anybody out there still doubting the Colorado Rapids' credentials?

The Rapids' 5-1 thrashing of the Seattle Sounders said more about the Rapids and their intentions than it did about the state of Seattle. Sure, it was a wake-up call for the Sounders, who had not lost in seven matches and had appeared to be finding its way to consistent greatness. A Seattle win would have kept things on the right track while inching the club closer to the Supporters' Shield. The loss does not make Seattle any less of a title contender, though it must make its supporters a little more weary and guarded.

Colorado's performance, directly off its opening whistle play, though, was the real statement. Its rookies, Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown, are ready for primetime and can handle the pressure of the spotlight. Its summer signings, Vicente Sanchez and Gabriel Torres, are quality additions finding their comfort zones in MLS at the right time. For all of the injuries that manager Oscar Pareja had to sort through for the opening months of the season, he now has a complete, quality squad. For those who have lost track, after a three-game losing streak in June, Colorado has lost just twice, once to the Portland Timbers and once to Sporting Kansas City, going 8-2-4 in that time while maintaining a low profile in the stacked Western Conference.

The Rapids are not home free just yet, as even with the result, which was one of the top team performances all season, the club is still in must-win mode. In fifth place out West, Colorado leads the San Jose Earthquakes by four points and Vancouver Whitecaps by six with three games to go. Colorado's last three games? At San Jose, at home against Vancouver and at Vancouver. It's all there for the taking, though, and if Saturday's showing is any indication, Colorado has every plan of doing just that.

3. Camilo's wonder strike

Consider the circumstances: A team is in desperate need of points to stay alive in the playoff race. That team just worked its tail off to battle back from a goal down, only to give up another go-ahead strike moments later.

So for Camilo Sanvezzo to be able to pull off his flying, sidewinding scissor kick goal (which was about the only way Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was going to be beaten Sunday night, either that or a deflection), with all of that in play -- not to mention his personal quest to win the Golden Boot -- added even more to the spectacle that was his surefire MLS Goal of the Year.

Camilo's strike was true perfection. It had the awe-inspiring level of athleticism. It had perfect timing. It had perfect technique. It had perfect placement. And most of all, it had a massive degree of significance. Vancouver is still on the outside of the playoff race looking in with three must-win games in the coming weeks, but salvaging that point to stay within six points of fifth-place Colorado (the two teams close the season against each other with a home-and-away series) was of vital importance.

It is also worth noting that in their brief time in the league, the Whitecaps have now accounted for two of the most sensational goals in league history, with both coming in Cascadia clashes no less. Eric Hassli's incredible goal against Seattle in 2011, in which he self volleyed a shot across his body and into the far upper corner over a helpless Kasey Keller coincidentally ensured that game would end 2-2 as well (Portland's Darlington Nagbe took home Goal of the Year honors, though).

4. Open Cup fallout

Real Salt Lake stumbled on the grand stage yet again, and now the question isn't what went wrong so much as it is how will it impact the club -- one with legitimate MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield hopes -- going forward?

The U.S. Open Cup final figured to be a slam dunk for Jason Kreis' side, playing at home against a three-win D.C. United team that had not won an MLS game away from home all season. Instead, D.C. executed its game plan to perfection, past demons rose to the surface and RSL is left wondering if its most clear and best shot at a trophy this season slipped right through its typically sturdy fingers.

The immediate response from RSL was Saturday's 1-1 draw with FC Dallas, in which the club was forced to play a man down for 73 minutes and still managed to eke out a draw against a desperate side. The club showed enough to indicate that it is not on the verge of a meltdown, and RSL's roster is littered with players who are mentally tough and can compartmentalize disappointment. But when the playoffs begin, and if RSL manages to face an adverse situation, will the "not again" mentality that was born in the CONCACAF Champions League against Monterrey return? For a club with so much quality and so intent on adding to its trophy case and returning to the CCL, its propensity to turn out like the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and 2000s is a major concern.

D.C., meanwhile, is playing with house money the rest of the way. United returned to action Friday night and promptly resumed its MLS form, dropping a 3-0 result to Chicago with a makeshift lineup as Ben Olsen gave a number of regulars some well-earned rest. Despite the club being on the verge of rewriting the record books for regular season futility, the fact that D.C. won a trophy, made major progress toward finalizing a stadium deal and uncovered young prospects for the future makes for quite a successful year. It's regular season woes can't be overlooked without question, but given the financial windfall the club has coming its way from winning the Open Cup and missing the playoffs (non-playoff teams are granted allocation money in a way to achieve competitive balance) in addition to the top overall pick in this winter's SuperDraft, D.C. could be primed for a major makeover, both on the field and in the standings, in 2014.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)

Defenders: Drew Moor (Colorado Rapids), Ike Opara (Sporting Kansas City), Bakary Soumare (Chicago Fire)

Midfielders: Dillon Powers (Colorado Rapids), Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

Forwards: Deshorn Brown (Colorado Rapids), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Camilo (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Week 32 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Old Rank Team
1 2 New York Red Bulls (15-9-8)
The Red Bulls, unbeaten in six games, became the first team to clinch a postseason birth in this wild MLS season, with Tim Cahill yet again providing the heroics with his header in the seventh minute of stoppage time to lift the club to a 2-2 draw with New England. Cahill is making a charge toward MVP consideration with his recent play.
2 1 Seattle Sounders (15-9-6)
If Seattle was in need of a wake-up call, it certainly is not now. The Sounders were overwhelmed in Colorado, succumbing to a 5-1 pasting and watching their seven-game unbeaten streak go up in smoke in a hurry. Sigi Schmid's side can turn things around in a hurry by beating Vancouver Wednesday night and not only retaking first place in the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield races but also clinching the Cascadia Cup.
3 3 Real Salt Lake (15-10-7)
RSL bounced back from U.S. Open Cup heartbreak to play FC Dallas to a 1-1 draw despite being shorthanded a man for 73 minutes after Abdoulie Mansally's red card. Seattle's slip-up meant that the draw was good enough to give RSL sole possession of first place in the Western Conference again. As for Alvaro Saborio, his goal made it seven in his last six games for the club, although he has been forced to miss five games in that span.
4 4 Portland Timbers (12-5-14)
The Timbers can thank Donovan Ricketts for another astounding performance in goal, with the Jamaican playing a huge role in keeping Portland alive at BC Place long enough to secure a 2-2 draw with Vancouver. The result means that Portland, which is unbeaten in five games, has no shot at retaining the Cascadia Cup, but is comfortably six points clear of falling out of the playoff picture with three games -- including one against rival Seattle -- to go.
5 5 Sporting Kansas City (15-10-6)
How quietly clutch has Ike Opara been for Sporting KC this season? The backup center back's third goal of the year lifted the club to a 1-0 victory over Columbus and kept hopes of a Supporters' Shield alive. Before Saturday night's strike, one of Opara's goals salvaged a 1-1 draw with D.C., and the other was a stoppage-time winner over RSL.  
6 6 LA Galaxy (14-11-6)
Just when it appears as if the Galaxy are starting to slip, they always tend to go ahead and make sure that all is right in their universe. After a quite four-game winless run, the Galaxy jumped all over rival Chivas USA to snag SuperClasico bragging rights with a 5-0 thrashing. Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes overwhelmed the Goats and helped LA pull four points clear of falling out of the playoff picture with three games to go.
7 9 Colorado Rapids (13-9-9)
For anyone who has not been paying attention, the Rapids are indeed for real. If not for the Cascadia histrionics and Galaxy rout from Sunday night, all the focus would be squarely on Colorado, which posted a 4-0 halftime lead on Seattle before completing its 5-1 victory. Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers each gave voters more to think about for the Rookie of the Year race, while Vicente Sanchez is playing the part of the class midseason signing.
8 8 Houston Dynamo (13-10-8)
Anybody still think the Dynamo are doomed? Houston has followed up its four-game winless run with a four-game unbeaten streak, with Ricardo Clark's beautiful strike lifting the club to a vital 1-0 win over Montreal. The Dynamo now sit third in the Eastern Conference and can rise even higher with games against second-place Sporting KC and first-place New York next up before closing the season against D.C. United.
9 7 Montreal Impact (13-10-7)
It's hard to believe that just six games ago, Montreal dominated Houston to the tune of a 5-0 beating. The Imapct were stifled by the Dynamo 1-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium Friday, failing to win for the fourth straight game. More importantly, the loss -- at least temporarily -- knocked the Impact into the wildcard places in the Eastern Conference after the club was comfortably in the top three for the duration of the season.
10 10 Philadelphia Union(12-10-9)
Kleberson had yet to come close to justifying his Designated Player tag, but the Brazilian World Cup winner came through in a major way with his last-second free kick goal, lifting the 10-man Union to a much-needed three points and 1-0 win over Toronto FC. The win kept Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference playoff places, and three more attainable points are on the table this weekend against last-place D.C.
11 11 New England Revolution (11-11-9)
Was there anything more symbolic of the Revolution's season than what transpired in stoppage time at Red Bull Arena? New England's season, especially recently, has come down to a number of controversial refereeing decisions, and after being granted a controversial penalty kick to go ahead, Andrew Farrell was dubiously forced to the sideline despite not bleeding for New York's last-ditch effort to force a 2-2 draw. The Revs are still alive, but three points would have been huge.
12 15 Chicago Fire (12-12-7)
The Fire took care of business in D.C., with Sean Johnson standing on his head in goal and making eight saves to prevent United from coming up with what would have been a deflating upset. Up top, Juan Luis Anangono's work rate and desire helped create opportunities for the Fire, which were eventually buried by Jeff Larentowicz and Bakary Soumare before Quincy Amarikwa finished off the 3-0 win.
13 13 San Jose Earthquakes(12-11-8)
The Earthquakes did not have bye week results go their way, with the two teams ahead of them, LA and Colorado, both securing lopsided victories to push four points clear of the defending Supporters' Shield winners with three games remaining. San Jose can take business into its own hands, as it plays against both clubs in the next two games, but there is no margin for error.
14 12 Columbus Crew(12-15-5)
Columbus' three-game winning streak is over after a 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, and with it likely went the club's hope at sneaking into the playoff picture. With just two games against New England remaining, the Crew are all but eliminated and look set to miss the postseason for the second straight year. Interim manager Brian Bliss certainly has proven his worth as a viable candidate for the full-time job, though.
15 14 Vancouver Whitecaps(11-11-9)
Camilo's dazzling heroics entertained, brought him back within reach of the Golden Boot and earned him a place on highlight reels everywhere, but they were not enough to lift Vancouver to what it sorely needed: Three points. The Whitecaps admirably fought their way to a 2-2 draw with Portland, but they remain six points out of a playoff berth with three games to go. It's essentially win out, or go home, for Martin Rennie's side.
16 16 FC Dallas (10-10-11)
Up a man for more than 70 minutes, FC Dallas was unable to come up with a decisive performance when it needed one most and needed a late goal by Kenny Cooper just to salvage a point in a 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake. Seven points out of a playoff spot with three games remaining, Schellas Hyndman's side is left wondering where things went wrong after its blistering start to the campaign.
17 17 Chivas USA (6-18-8)
The Goats were blitzed from the opening whistle by the rival Galaxy, winding up down four goals by halftime and having no chance at securing bragging rights in the poorly named SuperClasico. Carlos Bocanegra called the loss "embarrassing," which is exactly right and quite symbolic of Chivas USA's year as a whole, although the club had shown glimpses of starting to right the ship.
18 18 Toronto FC (5-16-11)
TFC gave the Philadelphia Union all it could handle at PPL Park, but goalkeeper Joe Bendik could only turn his head and watch as Kleberson's last-second free kick flew by and sent the Reds to their fourth loss in six games. TFC can still play spoiler with games against Chicago and Montreal remaining before another offseason of major personnel decisions awaits.
19 19 D.C. United (3-22-6)
The U.S. Open Cup champions triumphantly returned home only to resume their putrid league form, conceding backbreaking goals despite carrying the possession in a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Fire Friday night. Ben Olsen is surveying the pieces he wants to carry into next season, and central midfielder Jared Jeffrey certainly looks the part after another stout showing.

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