Monday Postgame: The West is (still) the best

An unusual weekend, but the Western Conference still rules

Monday Postgame - 7.18.11

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What can you say about a week that featured four red cards, three scoreless draws and a rainout in just eight games?

Well, if you’re following the age-old advice of moms everywhere, you might not want to say anything at all. Then again, you could say it’s the exception that proves the rule: We’ve seen so much exciting stuff week in and week out in 2011 that when the needle dips a bit, the difference is glaring.

But it wasn’t all dour, of course: There was a seven-goal thriller in Seattle, more last-gasp drama from Kansas City and the first road win in franchise history for Portland.

There was also some sensational goalkeeping and a surprising amount of action off the field.

Let’s give it another look.
 

The More Things Change
MLS added two new teams this season, brought in dozens of new players and coaches and relocated a franchise from one conference to the other. But amid all the changes, one element remains the same: the superiority of the Western Conference.

The top three teams in the West (LA, Seattle, FC Dallas) all have more points than the first-place team in the East (Philadelphia), while the West’s fourth-place team, Real Salt Lake, has just one fewer point than the Union—with two games in hand.

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The hottest team among this in-form group are the Seattle Sounders, 4-3 winners over Colorado on Saturday in the most exciting game of the week — and one of the better games of the season.

It started with a bang, as Wells Thompson scored for the visitors in the first minute. The rowdy Seattle crowd was only temporarily silenced, though, as Álvaro Fernández answered just six minutes later with a nice muscling run and a great finish the far post.

The teams traded goals on either side of halftime to set the stage for a furious finish: Seattle went up 4–2 with goals in the 82nd and 84th minute, then Caleb Folan pulled one back for Colorado in the 89th.

It was another quality win for Seattle, who are 6-0-3 in their last nine, and have crept to within a point of first-place LA.

FC Dallas are three points behind Seattle after slogging through a scoreless tie with D.C. United in 100-degree temperatures at Pizza Hut Park, but the Hoops have two games in hand.

Speaking of games in hand, fourth-place Real Salt Lake, who were rained out at Vancouver on Saturday, have four games in hand on first-place LA. The ’Caps–RSL game was postponed because of a waterlogged field.
 

Backstop Brilliance
While the goalkeepers were overwhelmed in Seattle and left almost idle in Dallas (three shots on goal in that game—total), they were nothing short of sensational in three other cities.

Will Hesmer and Jon Busch played a little game of Can you top this? to keep the Columbus–San Jose game scoreless—a slightly ironic outcome considering the Crew were honoring Brian McBride, one of the top goal-scorers in franchise history, in a halftime ceremony that night.

In Los Angeles, Chivas USA’s Dan Kennedy turned in another excellent performance, holding Thierry Henry and New York scoreless for his fifth shutout of the season. The Red Bulls started their new 'keeper, Frank Rost, signed this week as the team’s third DP, and he also pitched a shutout.

Portland’s Troy Perkins made seven saves—including three spectacular ones—and got a little help from his posts, to help deliver the first MLS road win in Timbers history, a 1-0 win over Chicago.
 

Seeing Red
The Portland win was not without controversy, first in a disputed 24th-minute penalty (that Jack Jewsbury buried for the Timbers) and then in a second yellow card shown to Fire defender Yamith Cuesta, reducing the home side to 10 men for the final 27 minutes.

As is often the case with cards, when it rains it pours: Houston saw not one but two reds in their 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City — and still nearly left with all three points.

Brad Davis opened the scoring with an eighth-minute free kick, but after Colin Clark and Brian Ching were red-carded in the 56th and 70th minutes, respectively, the Dynamo simply couldn’t hang on, despite the heroics of 'keeper Tally Hall (eight saves).

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Ching and Clark were both sent off for offenses against KC defender Aurélien Collin; when KC’s equalizer finally arrived, in the 90th minute, it came off the foot of … Collin, of course.

It was the second week in a row in which SKC pulled even on a last-minute goal, and the result extended their unbeaten streak to 11 games. (Kansas City capped the day by signing 27-year-old Brazilian midfielder Jéferson as their second Designated Player after Omar Bravo.)

Sunday night’s New England–Philadelphia game also featured plenty of chippiness. The normally mild-mannered Benny Feilhaber saw a second yellow in the 66th-minute for body-checking Philly striker Carlos Ruiz.

New England had come out flat and gone down 2-0 after just 24 minutes, setting Feilhaber’s frustration to boil. He decked Gabriel Farfan early in the second half and seemed to be on a collision course with another booking.

The Revs surrendered a stoppage-time goal to Sheanon Williams to make it 3-0, a result that put Philadelphia back on top of the Eastern Conference standings, two points clear of New York. New England are in last place in the East.
 

Turnover in Toronto
Scuffling along just two points ahead of the Revs in the East are Toronto FC, a team that have never been to the playoffs and that brought in a whole new coaching staff and soccer brain trust before this season.

In the past few weeks, that staff has overhauled the TFC roster. They signed Designated Players Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans on June 29, and this past week, the Reds shipped out striker Alan Gordon, midfielders Jacob Peterson and Tony Tchani, and defender Nana Attakora, in exchange for former San Jose attacker Ryan Johnson, former Vancouver midfielder Terry Dunfield, former Columbus defender Andy Iro and ex-Crew attacker Leandre Griffit.

The new Reds—including the big-name foreign acquisitions—could trot out together for the first time on Wednesday, when FC Dallas come calling at BMO Field.

Whether or not this group can jell in time save Toronto’s season, it’s going to be entertaining watching them try.