MLS Week 20 Roundup: Salt Lake Falls, 9-Match Unbeaten Streak Broken and More
It's been a long week for American soccer fans.
With MLS friendlies taking their toll, CONCACAF Champions League finally starting up again and league play taking a break for absolutely none of it, there's a lot to take in.
Let's not even start on the head coach drama at the international level.
This week, some of your favorite teams faced some of the world's best. Conference leaders fell from the top. Streaks were broken. And amidst it all, one MLS squad travelled overseas and will be taking home a trophy for their troubles.
Can the LA Galaxy maintain their spot at the top as they seek a second consecutive Supporters' Shield while Dallas continues to sneak up behind them? Will Seattle ever get over that 7-0 defeat to Manchester United and return to winning form? Who is looking to win the MLS East? And just when will Portland remember how to win at home?
These are the stats, the results, the top stories and everything you need to know from week 20 in Major League Soccer. Enjoy.
Top Story: Rio Tinto Falls (Again)
Columbus Crew 2-0 Real Salt Lake
For the longest time, Rio Tinto Stadium has been a fortress for RSL. Before meeting the Seattle Sounders in May, Real Salt Lake was riding a 29-match home unbeaten streak lasting back to 2009.
While that streak certainly had to end eventually, the Eastern Conference leaders Columbus Crew proved on Saturday that beating RSL at home is not a once-every-two-years occurrence.
The loss is only Salt Lake's fourth loss of the season, despite their injury troubles (most notably, their Argentine playmaker Javier Morales). While a first glance at the standings will show RSL in fifth place in the western conference, they've played far fewer matches thus far than any other MLS side.
In truth, if RSL were in the eastern conference, they would currently be in second place behind Columbus, trailing by only one point with three matches in hand.
While RSL have been strong (despite what the numbers suggest), they have still struggled to recapture the form that saw them in fierce competition for the Supporters' Shield in 2010 and second-place finishers in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League, which they ultimately lost at Rio Tinto against the Mexican side Monterrey (though this did not count against the 29-match MLS streak).
Completing the entire 2010 season without a home loss, of course, was a huge contributing factor in their 2010 western conference second-place finish.
For Columbus, the victory propelled them into the top spot in the MLS East, allowing them to surpass Philadelphia, who lost to defending MLS Cup Champions Colorado on Friday.
Both Columbus goals were scored in the first 10 minutes of the match, one by Eddie Gaven and the other by Tommy Heinemann (both assisted by Robbie Rogers).
In the following 80 minutes of play, Salt Lake simply could not find a way to get back in it and showed that Rio Tinto may not be so much of a fortress after all.
Top Story: Seattle Falls in Houston, Ending 9-Match MLS Unbeaten Streak
Seattle Sounders FC 1:3 Houston Dynamo
On the road in Houston, the Seattle Sounders suffered their first MLS loss in nine matches on Saturday, falling to the Houston Dynamo 3-1 and ending their longest unbeaten streak of the 2011 season.
The Seattle side has been one of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer in recent weeks, strongly contending with the LA Galaxy for the Supporters Shield title and rising in the standings.
But those hopes have diminished as the Sounders fall seven points behind the Galaxy and struggle to find a foothold in recent matches.
The worries began when the Sounders suffered an embarrassing non-MLS 7-0 defeat to the English Champions, Manchester United in front of over 67,000 home fans.
While the majority of the struggle against the powerhouse squad came as the Sounders' reserve players proved to be no match against Wayne Rooney's attacking game (the first-team Sounders actually fared pretty well), it still caused a certain level of damage to Seattle's pride as one of the best teams in American soccer.
That shock carried on into a CONCACAF Champions League match in Panama on Tuesday, as the Sounders failed to find the back of the net and ultimately fell behind in the home-and-away series by one goal.
The Houston match makes it official. The Sounders are slumping.
The Sounders went down by two goals early on in the match, after conceding from Colin Clark and Brian Ching. But they remained hopeful in the knowledge that their last two MLS victories came after responding to early deficits to ultimately take the lead.
That trend was not to be continued, however, as Seattle's continuing goal-scoring woes held them to a single goal by Alvaro Fernandez in the 37th minute, the only goal Seattle has scored in the last three matches.
Brian Ching scored his second goal in the 70th minute, sealing the Sounders' fate and sending them home with plenty of questions left to answer.
The Sounders next face San Francisco from Panama on Tuesday in the second away leg of the aggregate series. They will have to score at least one goal to maintain their hopes at Champions League glory and three goals if San Francisco scores in Seattle (thanks to the away-goal rule).
With the trouble they've had finding the back of the net, the Sounders' hopes are beginning to appear slim.
Still, if they can recapture the form they maintained before their match against Manchester United, a victory at home to win a place in the Champions League group stage may be just the inspiration they need to stop themselves from falling down the MLS standings in the weeks to come.
Top Story: LA Galaxy Maintain Top Spot in Supporters' Shield Race
LA Galaxy 4-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
The LA Galaxy have had plenty of success in the Pacific Northwest over the past couple of seasons, and were happy to make the road trip yet again as they continue their quest for a repeat Supporters' Shield title.
In the MLS season opener, LA visited Seattle and took home all three points from the Sounders to start their season off on the right foot. Vancouver, as LA expected, were no Seattle, and the victory in their second Cascadia road match came a bit easier than it did in the emerald city.
Having scored four goals, including a Landon Donovan brace courtesy of a 75th minute penalty, LA only added to the woes facing Canada's latest expansion club, who are currently maintaining the worst record in Major League Soccer.
In 2010, the Galaxy finished the season with the best record in Major League Soccer, earning them the Supporters' Shield title for the third time in their history. They've led the 2011 standings through much of the season, hoping for a repeat.
With FC Dallas creeping up behind them, this victory was imperative in that effort. On Sunday, Dallas earned another three points against Chivas USA and would have gained ground if LA came out of Vancouver with any result other than a victory.
In beating the Whitecaps, the LA Galaxy have secured their place in the top spot for yet another week and are still three points ahead of Dallas in the Supporters' Shield race.
The Rest of the Scores
Colorado Rapids 2-1 Philadelphia Union
On the road in Philadelphia, the defending MLS Cup champions removed the Union from their perch at the top of the MLS easter conference.
A decisive Columbus Crew victory in Salt Lake sealed the deal, as Philadelphia falls to second place.
DC United 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes
Canadian International Dwayne de Rosario has proven himself once again to be a valuable new asset to DC United's attacking game, scoring a brace against San Jose on Saturday to defeat the Earthquakes 2-0.
Rosario was acquired by United at the end of June, and has since been involved in every goal recorded by his new club aside from one (an unassisted 35-yard rocket by Andy Najar against Philadelphia).
Chivas USA 0-1 Dallas
Dallas proved once again that they're worthy of contention for the Supporters' Shield, defeating the Goats by one goal at home and widening the gap between themselves and Seattle (now four points).
Dallas currently sits in second place in the western conference, and is only three points back from taking LA's spot at the top.
Toronto FC 2-2 Portland Timbers
The Timbers just can't seem to remember how to win at home. After taking a 2-0 lead and holding strong with twenty minutes left to play, Portland conceded the first goal in the 71st minute. In the 81st, the struggling Toronto side tied the match, leaving Timbers fans wanting more yet again.
While looking to be one of the strongest home-field sides in the MLS at the beginning of the season (winning their first five at Jeld-wen Field), Portland has not celebrated a victory in front of their supporters in the last six home matches.
New England Revolution 1:1 Sporting Kansas City
In a physical match in Kansas City that ultimately led to the red card ejection of A.J. Soares of New England, Sporting Kansas City came from behind to earn a point at home in the 89th minute off an unassisted goal from Teal Bunbury.
After a slow season start amidst a very long road trip, Kansas City have now bounced back to fourth in the easter conference and rising.
Eastern Conference Standings
1. Columbus Crew 34
2. Philadelphia Union 31
3. New York Red Bulls 30
4. Sporting Kansas City 27
5. Houston Dynamo 27
6. DC United 26
7. New England Revolution 21
8. Toronto FC 19
9. Chicago Fire 18
Western Conference Standings
1. LA Galaxy 45
2. FC Dallas 42
3. Seattle Sounders 38
4. Colorado Rapids 34
5. Real Salt Lake 33
6. Chivas USA 26
7. San Jose Earthquakes 24
8. Portland Timbers 22
9. Vancouver Whitecaps 15
The Rest of the News
MLS in CONCACAF
Three MLS Clubs played preliminary qualifying matches for the CONCACAF Champions League tournament this week: Toronto FC, FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders FC.
Toronto faced Real Estell FC from Nicaragua at home, defeating them by one goal, but conceding a crucial goal that could yet prove to be their downfall. Toronto has the edge heading into the away leg, but Real Estell only need to score one goal on their own turf to advance thanks to the away-goal rule.
Dallas, on the other hand, took home an away goal of their own, defeating Alianza FC in El Salvador and bringing the lead back with them to Dallas. A win or a draw will see Dallas FC advance to the tournament's group stage.
The Sounders have a lot of work ahead of them, after suffering a defeat in Panama to San Francisco FC. Seattle conceded a penalty, and gave San Francisco the lead coming back to Seattle.
They will have to score at least one goal to advance, but they'll have to score three if the Panama side manages to find the back of the net in Seattle.
New York Red Bulls Win Emirates Cup in London
It's been a rough stretch for soccer in the United States, with the national squad losing a heartbreaking Gold Cup Final to Mexico, the majority of MLS teams performing poorly in friendly matches with the eyes of the world watching and even one club in particularly falling 7-0 to the defending EPL champions, Manchester United.
Honestly though, it's all to be expected. The U.S. is supposed to be bad at world football. Our teams are supposed to lose.
The problem? Nobody told that to the New York Red Bulls.
While the Emirates Cup, an annual tournament hosted by Arsenal FC in London as part of their preseason training program, might be just for fun (with a few elements of skill-honing and providing valuable minutes on the pitch for young players who wouldn't get them otherwise), it's still a tournament hosting some of the most impressive clubs throughout the world.
Winning it, especially for a team in a league that gets so much criticism for underachieving, is an accomplishment, no matter how small or meaningless the tournament itself might be.
This year, Arsenal hosted three other top teams from around the world, including the New York side, Paris Saint-Germain from French Ligue 1 and Boca Juniors of Argentina. Arsenal, PSG and Boca Juniors are all considered consistent contenders for their country's top league honors.
RBNY first shocked MLS supporters yesterday, when they defeated PSG to take the lead in the tournament. Joel Lindpere scored the only goal of the match, as the Red Bulls surprisingly took care of one of Europe's top sides.
Today, in their final matchup against the host club, New York tied Arsenal (though never scoring for themselves, and reaching a 1-1 scoreline only thanks to a Kyle Bartley own goal) and secured their position as winners of the Emirates Cup with four points.
Notably, PSG returned with a vengeance, defeating Boca Juniors 3-0 in the only other victory in the four-match tournament. PSG took second place, and Arsenal was left in third with two draws in their home stadium.