MLS: 10 Things We Learned This Weekend
There was plenty of entertainment in MLS this weekend. The conference leaders earned wins, youngsters impressed and lightning strikes forced two teams to play into the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Refereeing performances were also criticized after two major decisions affected Real Salt Lake's game against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
A few teams are also being held back by persistent issues, which cost them dearly in Week 7.
Here are 10 things we learned this weekend in Major League Soccer.
Khiry Shelton Should Start More Often
New York City FC winger Khiry Shelton made four substitute appearances prior to his first MLS start on Thursday against the Philadelphia Union. He demonstrated his pace, pressing and skill on the ball.
It was only a matter of time until he was slotted into the lineup. Whenever he was substituted into a game, NYCFC was far more lethal on attack. Shelton's penetrating runs left opposing defenses on edge.
He did more of the same on Thursday night. The No. 2 pick from this year's SuperDraft assisted Mehdi Ballouchy's goal and threatened the Union back line for most of the game.
Shelton used his strength and speed to muscle the ball away from defenders on two occasions, but he couldn't pick out a teammate after winning possession. He also narrowly missed out on scoring his first goal in the 76th minute.
Head coach Jason Kreis has to give the 21-year-old more starts in the near future.
The San Jose Earthquakes Defense Is a Mess
The New York Red Bulls defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 on Friday, but the hosts could have easily won by four or five goals. This was due to the Earthquakes' sloppy defensive performance.
New York's two goals were scored through crosses into the six-yard box. Felipe and Bradley Wright-Phillips were involved in the buildup before Sacha Kljestan buried the opening goal. San Jose's defenders were slow in reacting to the penetrating passes into the box and allowed too much space to all three Red Bulls players.
The second goal was arguably worse than the first one. Lloyd Sam, who was closed down by Clarence Goodson, sent a cross into the penalty area, which Mike Grella met to double New York's lead.
However, Sanna Nyasi failed to mark Grella, who was wide open in the box. Some might argue that the cross could've been prevented, but if Goodson lunged towards Sam, the Red Bulls winger could have easily dribbled around the Earthquakes center-back.
New York outshot San Jose 21-10 on Friday, per the official MLS website. It doesn't help when the midfield cheaply concedes possession, but the Earthquakes defense is too slow and commits too many basic positional errors to compete in the Western Conference.
When Brad Davis Is in Form, so Is the Houston Dynamo Attack
The Houston Dynamo settled for a draw against D.C. United on Saturday, but Brad Davis was excellent for the second game in a row and played a vital role in creating the goal.
Davis collected the ball from the flank, dribbled towards Sean Franklin and sent in an inch-perfect cross to Will Bruin. The Dynamo striker's header was stopped by Andrew Dykstra, but Ricardo Clark was there for the rebound.
Houston's captain assisted on another goal in the team's 3-0 win against the Montreal Impact in the game on April 11. He was also running amuck on the left flank and causing problems for the Impact defense. He wasn't as impressive on Saturday, but he bailed out his club.
It's not a coincidence to see the Dynamo clicking when Davis is in form.
Individual Mistakes Cost Orlando City SC
Orlando City SC's individual errors at the back continued to get worse as the minutes ticked by in their game against the Columbus Crew.
The first major lapse was committed by Rafael Ramos. The full-back's clearance in his own box was weak, which allowed Ethan Finlay to cross the ball in toward Federico Higuain, who finished neatly into the far post.
The night went downhill for Ramos when he was rightly sent off for a despicable challenge on Waylon Francis. The Portugal under-20 international will likely receive a lengthy ban from the MLS disciplinary committee.
Orlando's awful night continued after Cristian Higuita failed to clear the ball away from danger, which led to Columbus' second goal. The back line was out of position on several occasions after the Crew went up 2-0, which Kei Kamara took advantage of for the third strike of the game.
These types of performances happen on occasion. It's important for Orlando to shake this off and bounce back against a struggling Toronto FC side. If the Lions recover, then this game can be regarded as a write-off.
FC Dallas vs. Toronto FC Should Have Been Postponed
FC Dallas was running rampant against Toronto FC, leading 3-0, until weather delayed the final hour or so of the game.
The delay lasted 206 minutes, per the official MLS website. The match started at 8:30 p.m. local time in Frisco, Texas, but did not finish until early Sunday morning. Toronto scored twice after the restart, but still lost 3-2.
One of the discussions during the delay was, if the match were postponed, whether it would start where it left off or begin in the first minute at 0-0. Kurtis Larson of the Toronto Sun confirmed that it would have resumed in the 42nd minute at 3-0.
However, it's inexcusable to play a match so late. It would be tough to reschedule, but surely the two clubs and MLS could have worked out an agreement instead of allowing the game to continue after such a lengthy delay.
Lamar Neagle Bounced Back
Seattle Sounders winger Lamar Neagle was one of the worst players on the pitch against the LA Galaxy last week. He recovered this week versus the Colorado Rapids with two goals.
The Rapids were admittedly poor and disjointed at the back, but Neagle was clinical when a scoring chance presented itself and he was persistent off the ball as well.
Take nothing away from Neagle, though. He was excellent and deserves the plaudits coming his way.
Referee Ted Unkel Made the Correct Calls
Referee Ted Unkel sent off two Real Salt Lake players in their game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, but both decisions were correct despite the protests of RSL fans and head coach Jeff Cassar.
Sebastian Saucedo saw red for a vicious tackle on Mauro Rosales, who just returned from an ankle injury. The 17-year-old launched himself towards a defenseless Rosales with his studs up and showed no intent of getting the ball.
RSL defender Jamison Olave was also ejected after receiving his second yellow card. His first was handed out after protesting to Unkel in the first half. The second was rightly given when he hauled down Darren Mattocks, who would have been in on goal.
Cassar seemed to be upset about Unkel not giving the Whitecaps any cards, claiming they "could have had a few," per The Province's Marc Weber. RSL midfielder Luke Mulholland thought that Russell Teibert's challenge on Olmes Garcia was similar to Saucedo's tackle, per The Salt Lake Tribune's Chris Kamrani.
It's clear that the hosts did not agree with Unkel's decisions, but he did get both decisions right.
The Current Sporting Kansas City Midfield Is Its Best Trio
Sporting Kansas City lost against the defending champions LA Galaxy, but SKC was impressive despite the injuries to the defense.
Kevin Ellis replaced the injured Ike Opara beside Matt Besler. There were some issues, but that's to be expected with sudden rotation to the back line. What really made an impact for Sporting KC was its midfield.
Ever since Servando Carrasco was deployed as a holding midfielder, SKC has been more efficient on both sides of the pitch. Carrasco sitting deep allows Roger Espinoza and Benny Feilhaber to roam forward and utilize their best attributes: vision, passing and shooting.
Espinoza and Feilhaber occasionally come back to defend, but when the latter started as a defensive midfielder, SKC was often exposed defensively.
It's still not perfect due to the recent changes at the back, but it's already looking promising for Sporting KC.
Fernando Aristeguieta Needs Better Service
The Philadelphia Union's attack was ineffective, apart from a brilliant free kick from Cristian Maidana. One of the reasons why the Union struggled up front was due to the lack of service to striker Fernando Aristeguieta.
The Venezuelan forward isn't a fast player. He's not going to drop deep, collect the ball, lay it off for one of his teammates and then make a run. Conor Casey is similar. He's a strong, physical striker who is good in the air and is a solid finisher.
Philadelphia narrowly missed the playoffs last year after a brilliant run of form towards the end of the 2014 season. They failed to quality for the postseason because Casey stopped receiving service. The Union scored four goals in their final six matches.
It's worth noting that Maidana just returned to full fitness and the Union played on Thursday. However, Aristeguieta hasn't had many quality scoring chances so far this campaign.
Darlington Nagbe Has to Play Further Up the Field
Over the past few games, Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe has been dropping deeper to collect the ball. It was the same situation on Sunday against New York City FC.
However, in the second half, Nagbe moved further up the field. This move resulted in teammate Dairon Asprilla scoring the winning goal. The 24-year-old playmaker started the move with a dribble towards the NYCFC back line, which eventually found its way to Asprilla.
Nagbe also set a record for dribbles completed in an MLS match, per SB Nation's Chris Rifer. This proves that the former No. 2 pick in the 2011 SuperDraft has to play in a more advanced role.
Deploying Nagbe in a deeper role restricts his best qualities. He can make it work, but it's better to have a dynamic playmaker in the final third. It's what gave Portland one of the most dangerous attacks in MLS last year.
Peter Galindo covers MLS and U.S. soccer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @GalindoPW.