Posted: Monday June 18, 2012 12:24PM ; Updated: Monday June 18, 2012 12:24PM
Avi Creditor

MLS Week 15 Power Rankings: Philly, Toronto find change is slow

Story Highlights

Phildelphia, Toronto each changed coaches yet still lost in dispiriting fashion

Home teams with new stadiums are 7-1-2 in MLS history in those openers

Vancouver's Barry Robson among those ready to join MLS in transfer window

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MLS has returned in full force after a long international break, with two new coaches, a new stadium, a goal-line controversy and a full slate of matches marking the 2012 season's Week 15:

1. New managers find impact slow to take shape. Often when a team goes through a managerial change, there is an immediate emotional response that leads to inspired performances off the bat and a change -- though not necessarily permanent -- in the club's fortunes. For the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC, though, that was hardly the case in their first experiences under new management.

John Hackworth's first match since taking over in the interim for the ousted Peter Nowak produced a similar result for the Union, who were shut out for the fifth time in 12 games and have scored a league-worst eight goals. To be fair to the Union, they played a much more focused, energetic game under Hackworth, applying heavy pressure and winning the possession battle. Freddy Adu looked extremely spry while running the attack, and one of the moves Hackworth made to differentiate himself from Nowak, handing seldom-used Jack McInerney the start up top, generated a number of early chances. At the very least, there are building blocks for Hackworth to use going forward.

The same cannot be said for Toronto FC, as Paul Mariner had a rough go of it in his first match since replacing Aron Winter. Then again, it might not have mattered if it were Pep Guardiola taking that roster into Livestrong Sporting Park. The familiar combination of self-inflicted wounds, poor execution, bad luck (how did Eric Avila's shot that hit both posts not go in?) and a failure to mark in the box doomed the Reds, who had a few weeks to stew on their first league win before facing the harsh reality that is this season. In his introductory comments after being given the job, Mariner said that only minor tweaks were necessary and that the current group of players was good enough to turn things around. After biding his time and waiting for a much-deserved head-coaching job in MLS, at least Mariner already has coach-speak mastered.

2. Montreal moves into a new home. It's like clockwork: A new MLS stadium opens, and the home team puts on a show and wins.

The Montreal Impact continued that trend by opening the renovated Stade Saputo with a thrashing of the Seattle Sounders, turning in a comprehensive, impressive victory. The Impact, led by the Patrice Bernier-Felipe midfield tandem, played an inspired brand of soccer while completely bossing a stunned Sounders team that sorely missed suspended midfield cog Osvaldo Alonso. The match made home teams either opening a new stadium or playing their first home game as a franchise in the last three years an overwhelming 7-1-2 under such circumstances.

It was quite surprising and a bit underwhelming, though, to see so many empty, blue seats come first kick. Only 17,112 -- more than 3,000 less than full capacity -- turned out for the stadium's re-opening, which is quite disappointing for a team that drew more than 60,000 to Olympic Stadium for a match against the Los Angeles Galaxy and almost 59,000 for the first home match at that same venue against the Chicago Fire. Perhaps there was a lack of fanfare leading into the match, because MLS was flying under the radar during the international break and has been overshadowed by Euro 2012; perhaps it was because Stade Saputo is not an entirely new stadium; perhaps it was because the match was not part of the ESPN/NBC Sports Network package; or perhaps the Impact were not aggressive enough in branding the re-opening as a major event, but for whatever reason, the match lacked the same celebratory feel that emanated from Houston just a little more than a month ago.

Ultimately, what matters most for the Impact is that they came out flying in a permanent place they have to call their own, and they generated some momentum ahead of Designated Player Marco Di Vaio's arrival, which will only spark the attack even more.

3. Goal-line technology implementation needs to happen ASAP. Anybody who caught the 64th minute of the Chicago Fire's 3-1 triumph over the New York Red Bulls saw what should be the final straw in the argument regarding the implementation of goal-line technology into The Beautiful Game, at least in MLS.

Despite New York defender Wilman Conde's best effort to pull a Tim Ream circa 2011 and sweep a goal-bound ball off the line, Dominic Oduro's deflected shot that slowly crept its way toward the vacated net clearly crossed the line in full and should have counted as a goal. Instead, referee Baldomero Toledo and his crew -- despite not having the best look at the play -- rewarded Conde's hustle with a no-goal call and allowed play to continue. If players in MLS can't keep up with Oduro's pace, how are assistant referees manning the sidelines expected to do so? To negate all potential human error in situations where good goals go uncounted, implementing replay is a must.

Fortunately for the Fire, the blown call did not matter, as they turned up the pressure and tacked on two more goals to break a 1-1 tie and continue the Red Bulls' woes at Toyota Park, where they are now 0-6-3 all-time. Regardless, the bigger issue remains that in 2012, when fans at the stadium and at home and coaches and players on the sidelines can see a replay within seconds and know unequivocally that a goal was scored, this problem -- no matter how infrequent -- continues to persist.

The International Football Association Board will meet following the conclusion of Euro 2012 to determine whether to approve goal-line technology and which system to potentially use, and as soon as a favorable decision is made, MLS should be on board with implementing the technology into its games. MLS commissioner Don Garber said as much in an April meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors.

"We're interested in being a test league, and we hope that we could achieve that," Garber said. "I would be open to whatever it is that could be done to ensure that we have goal-line technology. There's a lot more that we need to learn about it, understanding the process. The bottom line here is that I would be open to using goal-line technology as soon as it is made available."

That day can't come soon enough.

4. Mid-season contract decisions loom. The summer transfer window opens next week, and a bevy of new players have already signed on to join MLS when eligible, beginning June 27. Vancouver's Barry Robson, Houston's Oscar Boniek Garcia, Columbus' Jairo Arrieta, Chicago's Alex and Montreal's Di Vaio are all attacking talents who have begun or will begin training with their teams ahead of the opening of the window in the coming days.

While those players will be beginning their MLS careers mid-season, there are a couple of players who once joined the league in the summer months and whose contracts are up in the coming weeks, putting pressure on their respective front offices to avoid facing too much turmoil in their own locker rooms. Big decisions are looming for central midfielders in D.C. and Chicago, where salary constraints and front-office preference will play a role in determining whether Branko Boskovic and Sebastian Grazzini will be sticking around for the rest of the year.

Boskovic's situation has been touched on in this space before, and while he does not have a regular place in the starting lineup, the Montenegrin Designated Player has been integral in D.C.'s recent results. He has accounted for assists in the last three matches, including the game-winning one off a free kick in Philadelphia on Saturday. Just a month ago, Boskovic's exit seemed like a safe bet, but he has played his way into making this a tougher call, has demonstrated pinpoint set-piece service and is also a popular player in the D.C. locker room. D.C.'s ideal scenario would be to sign him for the remainder of the season for less money and re-evaluate things in December so as to not ruffle any feathers with the team playing as well as it is.

Grazzini's case is a bit trickier. The Argentine playmaker is only on a $50,400 deal, according to MLS Players Union documents, and with his deal up at the beginning of July, he wants a bigger payday. Grazzini is in somewhat of a Mauro Rosales situation, where the Seattle Designated Player -- oddly enough, also a veteran Argentine playmaker -- was on a veteran minimum deal before earning his big-money contract after a full year with the Sounders. The Fire reportedly maintain an option on Grazzini, the financial ramifications of which are not publicly known, and with Alex, a Brazilian attacker, joining the fold, Chicago has a contingency plan already in place. Can the Fire afford to part ways with one of the few attacking central midfielders in the league who can unlock opposing defenses when given the space? That remains to be seen. The big-picture issue is whether teams will continue to hand out year-long contracts to players entering the league mid-season or if they opt to go the 18-month route that is so prevalent across Europe during the mid-season transfer window. Altering the dynamic and balance of a locker room in the middle of a campaign is a task that must be handled with extreme discretion, and it is something that teams are better off avoiding, if possible.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeepers: Andy Gruenebaum (Columbus Crew)

Defenders: Kevin Alston (New England Revolution), Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Martin Bonjour (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Midfielders: Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Jackson (FC Dallas), Felipe (Montreal Impact), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Patrick Nyarko (Chicago Fire)

Forwards: Fabian Espindola (Real Salt Lake), Sebastien Le Toux (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Week 15 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 1 Real Salt Lake (W/L/T: 10-3-2)
Rest did not mean rust for RSL, playing their first league game in 21 days. After settling in against Chivas USA, RSL's class took over, with lesser-heralded performances from Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert giving way to the headline-stealing plays by Kyle Beckerman and Fabian Espindola. Don't overlook Javier Morales' involvement on RSL's final goal, either, as the game-changing playmaker continues to work his way back from another injury layoff.
2 5 D.C. United (9-4-3)
The Eastern Conference leaders not only avenged their U.S. Open Cup loss -- doing so by withstanding plenty of pressure from an eager home side in Philadelphia -- but they also managed to equal last year's win total, and the calendar hasn't yet hit July. With the entire roster healthy and the club on a four-game winning streak in league play, D.C. could not be entering Sunday's match at rival New York under any better circumstances.
3 6 Sporting Kansas City (9-3-1)
Even without the normally-dangerous Kei Kamara, Sporting KC was not short on chances against Toronto FC and got key contributions from C.J. Sapong, Julio Cesar and even the seldom-used Jacob Peterson. Even after a mini slump, SKC sits just two points off D.C. United's pace in the East and has three games in hand. Nobody should be taking this team lightly even if the luster from its record start has worn off.
4 2 San Jose Earthquakes (8-3-3)
San Jose was the odd team out over the weekend and won't return from the break until Wednesday's mid-week clash in Colorado, but the club will certainly welcome back Chris Wondolowski and Victor Bernardez from international duty. Bernardez, a dominant Honduran center back, has not suited up for the club since April 14, when he sprained his MCL.
5 4 New York Red Bulls (8-4-2)
New York had been getting the most out of Dax McCarty's tenacity with him in a defensive midfield role, so naturally, with things going well, Hans Backe shuffled his lineup drastically, questionably putting versatile defender Heath Peace in the defensive midfield spot and McCarty in a more advanced role, where he has not fared nearly as well. Even after adjusting his lineup after predictable lapses led to a poor first half, the New York defense was stretched far too often in Chicago. Going into Vancouver with no momentum and no Thierry Henry or Rafa Marquez won't provide an easy way to bounce back.
6 7 Vancouver Whitecaps (7-3-4)
Regardless of being down to 10 men, the Whitecaps kept pushing and pushing, creating chance after chance before Davide Chiumiento's classy ball for Sebastien Le Toux was finished off. While rookie Darren Mattocks' red card put a slight damper on the affair, the three-point haul to keep pace in the West is all that matters, and more good news is on the way: Designated Player Barry Robson gets introduced to local media this week and will begin training with the club ahead of the opening of the summer transfer window.
7 8 Houston Dynamo (5-4-4)
El Capitan will reside in Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium after the Dynamo's Texas derby victory, which was spearheaded by Will Bruin and Adam Moffat. After losing a game during the break without defenders Geoff Cameron, Andre Hainault and Jermaine Taylor, the Dynamo were reminded of how stingy they can be with their top back line intact.
8 3 Seattle Sounders (7-4-3)
Despite early-season success and another promising U.S. Open Cup run, the Sounders have gone five straight league matches without a win and were thoroughly embarrassed in Montreal. The Sounders face a gut-check week with matches against Sporting Kansas City and at rival Portland, with the former being made all the more difficult considering that center back staple Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is suspended for it. Getting Osvaldo Alonso back from his two-game suspension should certainly help, though.
9 10 Chicago Fire (6-5-3)
Welcome back to Chicago, Chris Rolfe. The Fire attacker made his second appearance after signing months ago, In his first at Toyota Park, he made an immediate impact off the bench against New York. Manager Frank Klopas has more attacking talent than he has lineup places -- and he is reportedly eyeing a foreign striker when the transfer window opens next week -- but that's a welcome problem for a club that came out of the international break looking hungry and sharp.
10 15 Columbus Crew (5-4-4)
With a hard-fought draw in New England, the Crew have quietly assembled a five-game unbeaten streak and are lingering in playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Despite a rash of injuries, inconsistency in scoring and a lack of lineup continuity, the Crew find a way to keep compiling points. Mid-season kudos are in order for coach Robert Warzycha.
11 9 Colorado Rapids (6-7-1)
The Rapids couldn't take advantage of having an extra man for nearly a third of the match in Vancouver and will rue those dropped points, especially considering how drastic the point swings can be in head-to-head matchups against conference foes. On the plus side, Argentine Martin Rivero is making himself right at home in MLS and is starting to emerge as one of the more dangerous attacking players out there, and he nearly torched the Whitecaps on multiple occasions before ultimately coming up empty.
12 13 Montreal Impact (4-7-3)
The Impact threw one heck of a house re-opening party, returning to the new-look Stade Saputo with a thrashing of the Sounders. The Patrice Bernier-Felipe pairing in central midfield is one of the more underrated yet productive ones in the league, and they overran a Seattle midfield that was lacking the suspended Alonso. The combination of tenacity, feistiness and technical skill that the two bring to the table make them a tough assignment for opposing midfields.
13 11 Chivas USA (4-7-3)
Chivas couldn't replicate their effort from earlier in the season against RSL and fell to a putrid 1-6-1 at home. The loss itself was not as troubling as the lack of opportunities and chances the Goats could piece together in the final third with the Juan Agudelo-Juan Pablo Angel pairing.
14 12 New England Revolution (5-7-2)
The Revs had to be disappointed not to get the full three points at home against the Crew. But Kelyn Rowe and Benny Feilhaber picked up where they left off in the Revs' win over the Fire two weeks ago, showing their creative capabilities in Jay Heaps' midfield. The play of right back Kevin Alston was also quite commendable for the Revs, as the potential-filled All-Star had one of his better performances of the season.
15 14 Los Angeles Galaxy (4-8-2)
Josh Saunders' return to goal coincided with the club's first clean sheet of the season -- which is staggering considering last year's record total -- and the Galaxy managed to protect a lead after losing ones to the Dynamo and Earthquakes prior to the break. The eternal optimist would say this is what the Galaxy need to turn the corner. The cautious realist would warn that half of the Galaxy's wins this year have come at home against struggling Portland and a mid-week trip to RSL is up next.
16 17 Portland Timbers (3-6-4)
There were some notable items to come out of the Timbers' loss to the Galaxy, with the recently traded Danny Mwanga being integrated into the team with a 90-minute showing. Still, there is no room for moral victories or consolation footnotes in the Rose City anymore, not with rival Seattle coming to town on Sunday for a nationally televised Cascadia Cup showdown.
17 16 FC Dallas (3-9-4)
Dallas continues to shoot itself in the foot. Despite Jackson's heroic performance in Houston, Jair Benitez' unnecessary elbow to Colin Clark's head was spotted and earned him a red card, forcing Dallas to play a man down yet again and ultimately costing the club a rivalry match that it needed badly. FCD has played a league-most 16 matches and has just 13 points to show for it.
18 18 Philadelphia Union (2-8-2)
New coach, same results: Part I. Although as stated above, the Union looked much more threatening and inspired than they had in recent weeks, and Freddy Adu appeared energized as the focal point moving forward. If his bevy of attacking teammates could find a way to finish consistently, the Union may yet have life in this otherwise dismal season.
19 19 Toronto FC (1-10-0)
New coach, same results: Part II. Going into Livestrong Sporting Park was going to be tough regardless of who was standing in the coaching box, but it won't get any easier with a follow-up trip to Houston -- one of two unbeaten teams at home remaining in the league.
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