Posted: Monday September 26, 2011 2:32PM ; Updated: Thursday September 29, 2011 5:28PM
Steve Davis
Steve Davis>INSIDE SOCCER

De Rosario transforms D.C. United

Story Highlights

D.C. United's Dwayne De Rosario has moved firmly into the MVP discussion

Juan Pablo Angel looks reinvigorated since his trade to Chivas USA

Playoff race in the Eastern Conference is still up in the air with spots up for grabs

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Dwayne De Rosario
The midseason trade that brought Dwayne De Rosario to D.C. from the Red Bulls looks like the steal of the season.
Tony Quinn/Icon SMI

Know your Major League Soccer -- Five things we learned from Week 28:

1. Dwayne De Rosario time: Dwayne De Rosario has been sneaking up lately on trendy league MVP candidates -- Brek Shea, Thierry Henry, Brad Davis and David Beckham, to name a few.

But his screwball season -- such a wonderful talent, but somehow on his third team in 2011 -- meant De Rosario needed something truly special to insert himself more forcefully into MVP conversations. After all, how can a guy with only half a season spent at his current address be adjudged the most important man in the league?

Well, something special has been delivered. And how.

He was a marvel in a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake. The Canadian international had a hat trick inside 31 minutes Saturday, the earliest ever in MLS. If his goals were a complete package of skill, smarts, accuracy, audacity, pace and grace, his early assist to Andy Najar was every bit as delightful. It truly was the stuff of legends, the league's top individual performance this year. (In fact, best night ever for a man in a D.C. United shirt? Perhaps. You longtime denizens of RFK, discuss. And someone see what Marco Etcheverry has to say about it?)

Never mind that De Rosario probably shouldn't have been playing as karma apparently went on holiday. In a reprehensible burst of selective enforcement, the league chose to ignore De Rosario's sorry, midweek dive against Chivas USA. Serious playoff implications are at stake, and MLS looks really bad on this one. After suspending Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio and United's Charlie Davies for similar stunts, the league chose to look the other way De Rosario's obvious embellishment that gave D.C. United a potential go-ahead penalty kick late on Sept. 21 against Chivas USA. (The spot shot was saved, so the game finished in a 2-2 draw.)

With four rounds remaining, De Rosario leads the league in goals (14) and is fourth in assists (10). He has 10 goals and six assists in 13 appearances for D.C. United. Barring injury, he'll play just over half the season at RFK.

Is that enough? Or with a couple more goals and assists, does it even matter?

And will there be a "lifetime achievement award" sentiment at work here? As it stands, De Rosario is probably the most influential MLS man never to capture a league MVP honor. He's been MLS Best XI five years, a two-time MLS Cup MVP and was runner-up in 2005 for league MVP.

United had 18 points in 15 matches before De Rosario arrived. The side has 20 points in 13 matches since he landed at RFK, so there's a sure impact beyond his individual stats.

It will probably come down to this: can United squeeze into the playoffs? If he can drive the team past the gaggle of fellow playoff pursuers, it may finally be De Ro time in the MVP sweepstakes.

2. Stacked and packed in the East: The Eastern Conference race remains scrambled like eggs; a measly four points separates the top six, with even seventh-place Chicago having a game in hand on most playoff-chasing rivals.

It would be foolish and hardly time efficient to dissect who must do what, as everything remains so fluid. Best bet for now: a quick look at the most favorable schedules remaining.

Houston sits atop the table but has just three matches remaining, lowest among the contenders. With just one road win this year, they travel to Chicago and Portland and then finish by hosting L.A. down in South Texas. So, Dominic Kinnear's remaining slate is the easily the toughest.

D.C. United is easily in the best position, schedule-wise, with six games remaining. The final three are at home, with two against sides (Chicago and Portland) that probably won't be in playoff contention by then. So, it's all there for Olsen's young side.

In between, everyone else is about equal. Philadelphia has an extra game on Sporting Kansas City, Columbus and the Red Bulls, but the game in hand is on the road. And none of the Union's three trips (Chivas USA, Seattle and New York) are pushovers. Sporting Kansas City's path looks just slightly easier than New York's or Columbus'.

3. A huge lineup choice looms in New York: Let's forget for a minute that New York's decision to trade away De Rosario currently looks like the king daddy of MLS personnel blunders this year. After all, Toronto traded him away, too.

The Red Bulls may get a chance at some small measure of redemption in terms of managing their salary hogging DPs. But do they dare?

We're speaking of Rafa Marquez, of course. While they issued the "sell" order on a potential league MVP, they kept a man who looks like selfish, destructive locker room catastrophe. Red Bulls boss Hans Backe said "enough" when Marquez scorched his teammates last week, dropping excoriating comments that were unnecessary, unprofessional and utterly tone deaf.

So Backe put the league's third-highest player on the bench for a match the Red Bulls desperately needed to win. And guess what? They got a huge win that put them right back in the thick of the playoff picture.

For those keeping score, the Red Bulls won in Dallas two weeks ago sans Marquez. Then they got roasted at home by Real Salt Lake as Marquez returned. (Of course, that wasn't his fault. Just ask him.) Then they beat Portland at home, sans Marquez, who watched from a suite at Red Bull Arena. Spot the trend?

So now the real toughie: What does Backe do with his lineup? Keep the winning arrangement, and leave a DP on the bench?

Marquez has a point about his fellow defenders. Tim Ream admits he hasn't been good enough this year. Jan Gunnar Solli holds his own as an attacking right back but struggles frequently with defensive chores. Roy Miller is a midlevel MLS left back and utility knife replacement Carlos Mendes is a squad player at best.

But none of that matters. MLS is what it is, and Marquez knows that. A highly paid leader simply cannot dog out less seasoned teammates. So Backe now must weigh the tricky math of addition by subtraction. Can the Red Bulls bond around their desire to show Marquez they aren't a bunch of ninnies who can't kick straight?

We'll see. But consider that Backe talked up Stephen Keel, who has been solid for two consecutive matches as Marquez's replacement. "You need that kind of central defender in the MLS, a center back who is a kind of a cleaner, battles all the time, go for headers and not give the striker too much time to control the ball," Back said. Hmmm.

4. Juan Pablo Angel, where have you been?: After months of fruitless, frustrating searching, Juan Pablo Angel has finally found his scoring shoes. Back story: The formerly high scoring Colombian and his high salary weren't wanted in New York, so they traded him to L.A. this year. But he just couldn't get going, so the Galaxy shipped him across the hall to Chivas USA.

Suddenly, it's "game on!" He has six goals in six outings for the Goats, including two in Saturday's 3-0 win over Toronto. (Justin Braun, with a goal and an assist, was outstanding in this one, too.) All year, everyone has looked at Angel (age 35) and assumed he was done. And he probably is. But ... is he doing just enough at the end to pique some 2012 interest around MLS, perhaps at a renegotiated rate?

5. Team of the Week:

Goalkeeper: Jon Busch (San Jose)

Defenders: Geoff Cameron (Houston), Julio Cesar (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (L.A. Galaxy), A.J. DeLaGarza (L.A. Galaxy).

Midfielders: Dane Richards (New York), Dax McCarty (New York), Brian Carroll (Philadelphia), Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United).

Forward: Fredy Montero (Seattle), Juan Pablo Angel (Chivas USA).

Week 28 MLS Power Rankings
 
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 1 Los Angeles Galaxy (W/L/T: 17-3-10)
Landon Donovan sat the bench to start while David Beckham and Robbie Keane were rested, and yet look what L.A. accomplished anyway: Chad Barrett hit the game winner in Columbus deep in stoppage time, and that's surely game, set and match on the Supporters' Shield.
2 2 Seattle Sounders (15-6-9)
The Cascasdia Cup is theirs. Second place in the West is theirs -- for now, anyway. Fredy Montero hit twice in a 3-1 win at rival Vancouver, and all is well for the Sounders, who still have an Open Cup final and Champions League to contend with.
3 3 Real Salt Lake (15-8-6)
The week started with a bang, an ambush of the Red Bulls in New Jersey. But any momentum was lost somewhere in flight between New York and the nation's capital, where the defense fell apart in a 4-1 loss to D.C. United.
4 5 Sporting Kansas City (10-9-11)
Another tie at home on yet another lost lead at Livestrong Sporting Park. We've all seen this movie before, right? Kei Kamara, who assisted on Omar Bravo's ninth goal of 2011, was outstanding all night.
5 11 Houston (10-8-10)
Geoff Cameron, back where he probably belongs at center back, was good in defense and won the game with a header near the end. The assist in that 1-0 win in Dallas? Brad Davis, of course, with his 14th this year.
6 4 FC Dallas (11-9-7)
This was a very bad eight days around Pizza Hut Park. Three losses at home in two competitions, with zero goals scored. The inability to land an effective striker has never hurt more than it does now. There is some bad luck at work, too; Dallas hit the post three times in Saturday's 1-0 loss to Houston.
7 6 Columbus Crew (11-8-11)
Things have gone horribly sideways for the Crew, with one tie and four losses in their last four. This week's visit to Livestrong Sporting Park is massive, as both sides sit on 41 points, tied for second in the East behind Houston.
8 8 D.C. United (9-8-11)
What a response from two subpar nights, as Dwayne De Rosario's signature night in a United shirt highlighted a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake. The question now becomes: can Ben Olsen's young, up-and-down side put together a couple more of these outstanding nights down the stretch and grab a playoff spot?
9 7 Colorado Rapids (10-9-12)
Ak, but they blew a big chance to pick up more points on Dallas for top Wild Card spot out of the West. The champs, who haven't looked like champs for some time, are winless in their last five.
10 9 Philadelphia (9-7-13)
There have certainly been too many ties lately for Peter Nowak's young team, but Friday's 1-1 draw in Kansas City goes down as a good result. Sebastien Le Toux, who nailed his eighth goal this year, is scoring again, and that's great news around PPL Park.
11 10 New York Red Bulls (8-7-15)
The team made amends for a disastrous midweek loss by beating Portland over the weekend, regaining a tenuous hold on the 10th and final playoff spot -- and rescuing the honor of all those inferior Red Bull players that Rafa Marquez is putting up with.
12 12 Portland Timbers (10-13-7)
The Timbers weren't anything special in New York, but a harsh red card finished off any rally chances in an eventual 2-0 loss to the Red Bulls. The playoffs remain in reach, although a schedule that sees three of four remaining on the road decreases the odds significantly.
13 13 Chivas USA (8-12-11)
A nice 3-0 win over Toronto gave Chivas USA its first home win since late July. Of course, the Goats still can't like their playoff chances -- mostly because they just got their first home win since late July. That interim sinkhole was a killer.
14 17 Chicago Fire (6-8-15)
The home team made mincemeat of New England's high defensive line, pushing those speedy attackers right through the gaps in a 3-2 win. Five games remain, but Frank Klopas' side remains six points out of a playoff spot.
15 15 Toronto FC (6-13-12)
Well, it's officially "CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals or bust" now for TFC. A 3-0 loss at Chivas USA spells final doom for the Canadians' MLS playoff chances - not that it comes as much of a surprise.
16 14 San Jose Earthquakes (6-13-11)
Pulling points out of Colorado was always a tall order, but that's where a summer of discontent left the 'Quakes. So, Frank Yallop's team may still have a postseason heartbeat according to the math, but a 1-1 draw surely means no postseason soccer in the Bay for a
17 16 New England Revolution (5-13-12)
The Revs found a pulse late Sunday at Chicago. Too late, however. So a 3-2 loss will go down as another black mark in what looks like a historically bad season around Gillette Stadium.
18 18 Vancouver Whitecaps (4-15-10)
A starting lineup with a foursome of attacking specialists (Davide Chiumiento, Camilo, Eric Hassli and Mustapha Jarju) just didn't include enough defensive cover in the team's last match at Empire Field, a 3-1 loss to Seattle. The Whitecaps are now, officially, eliminated from playoff contention.
 

 
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