Western favorites falter, Cameron's position shift, more MLS analysis
Two of the better teams in the West slipped on the road to Eastern adversaries
Houston's Geoff Cameron was moved to central midfield with promising results
The Red Bulls have their offense going and its coming from unlikely sources
From a pair of struggling Western Conference powers to another Chris Pontius highlight, here are five thoughts from Saturday's MLS action (California Clasico musings are on the way on Monday) ...
1. Seattle, Salt Lake continue to free fall -- They are sleepless in Seattle and reeling in Salt Lake.
The two MLS Western Conference favorites have fallen on hard times, which continued on the road against Eastern Conference foes Saturday night. The Seattle Sounders' midweek, U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal momentum couldn't carry over through stoppage time in New England, with the club failing to win for the eighth straight game. Salt Lake, meanwhile, dropped a third straight league game for the first time in almost five years, never really challenging the Columbus Crew. It's only appropriate that the two do battle on Wednesday for a July 4 spectacle in which both could use a healthy dose of fireworks.
In Seattle's defense, the Revolution's first goal was incorrectly ruled onside, and the late equalizer was set up by a questionable foul call. On top of that, the club was without the suspended Fredy Montero and the injured David Estrada. Those excuses mean nothing in the standings, though. The Sounders failed to see out a game they should have won, and Eddie Johnson supplied plenty of offense with his two goals. The bottom line is that the Sounders appear to be allowing self-doubt to cloud their performances, something that will need to be corrected for a team with playoff and title aspirations.
As for Salt Lake, the club has done the opposite of what the Los Angeles Galaxy was able to do -- that is, drop nine points over the course of three matches. The club has never really had that much success in Columbus to begin with, and with Kyle Beckerman suspended and Jamison Olave and Ned Grabavoy both out injured, Jason Kreis' side faced a bit of adversity even before stepping onto the field at Crew Stadium.
If there's a positive for both Salt Lake and Seattle, it's that while their inability to win has cost them a chance to run away with the top spots in the conference, they still sit in playoff position and have the talent to turn things around. They have, however, opened the door for teams like Los Angeles, Colorado and Chivas USA to creep closer to the pack, though, which should make for a furious race during the summer months.
With both teams needing a win for a mentality boost, expect 90 minutes of desperation on both ends at Rio Tinto Stadium in another marquee game that won't be nationally televised. Seattle will have a hurdle to overcome, though, as Osvaldo Alonso picking up a yellow card against New England means that he is suspended for the match. Just a couple of games after serving a two-game suspension, the Sounders' midfield motor will find himself on the sidelines yet again with his team needing a lift.
2. Cameron moved to midfield -- Houston Dynamo center back Geoff Cameron is the subject of rampant transfer rumors of a move to Europe -- most notably Stoke City and Everton -- and he has enjoyed enough success to have earned a regular place on Jurgen Klinsmann's U.S. national team radar. That did not stop Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear from making a radical shift with Cameron, who has struggled to find consistency in MLS play this season at center back despite figuring to be anchored to for the foreseeable future.
Kinnear credited his permanent move of Cameron to the back line as the final piece to fall into place in order for Houston to make its MLS Cup final run last season, but for the first time this season stationed Cameron in central midfield Saturday night, with Adam Moffat out suspended and the club shifting to a 4-3-3 formation while welcoming right winger and Designated Player Oscar Boniek Garcia to the lineup. Cameron, a Best XI defender in 2009 but one with supreme attacking qualities, showed well with his reduced defensive responsibilities.
His presence as a distributing fulcrum in the center was strong throughout Houston's 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union, which begs the question whether he was put on display in that position to increase the transfer interest and his value as an attacking player or whether Kinnear has in fact done a 180 and concluded that Cameron is best utilized in his midfield considering the center back depth on the club. The development is a notable one on a number of levels for the Dynamo, who are yet again on the verge of potentially losing one of their best overall talents after seeing the likes of Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark bolt for Europe in past years.
3. Colorado gets personnel lift -- There is no denying that the constant rotation of players in and out of the Colorado Rapids' infirmary took its toll on the club finding a semblance of consistency over the last couple of months. Now that Oscar Pareja finally has as close to a full complement of players as he has had in his first season as Rapids coach, though, the club's true colors may finally get a chance to shine though.
On Saturday, Conor Casey and Omar Cummings shared the field for the first time since last July, center back Marvell Wynne is fit after a six-game absence, and oft-injured winger Jamie Smith, who played a role in the club's 2010 MLS Cup triumph, is finally healthy as well. With all of them playing in Colorado's comprehensive 3-0 victory over the Portland Timbers, a team that was riding the high of last weekend's Cascadia Cup victory over Seattle and one desperately seeking its first road win of the year, the Rapids provided some explosive results and perhaps a glimpse into what the coming weeks might bring. With Casey and Cummings, who anchored the Cup-lifting team's front line two years ago, paired back together, and Wynne back in the heart of the defense other players can fall into their roles, and the domino effect can go on down the roster for a team still learning things about itself..
The only integral player yet to return is captain Pablo Mastroeni, who is taking a cautious approach after a concussion. The Rapids have proved to have ample cover at central midfield with goal-scoring Jaime Castrillon, playmaker Martin Rivero and the always-effective Jeff Larentowicz holding things down, though. With Seattle and Salt Lake struggling and the Rapids facing both teams twice in their next seven games, Colorado has the chance to make some moves to return to postseason contention after some recent late-game slip-ups.
4. Red Bulls' offense coming from unlikely sources -- Remember when Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper were carrying the New York Red Bulls and torching defenses around the league?
Those days seem like weeks ago, because they very much are. The club's last six goals -- over a four game span -- have come from Jan Gunnar Solli (2), Brandon Barklage (2), Heath Pearce and Dax McCarty, with Solli producing the club's only tally off an assist from Barklage in the club's 1-1 draw in Toronto FC at BMO Field.
So what has happened to the dynamic forward duo? Cooper has followed up his second four-game scoring streak of the season with a four-game scoring drought, and he's not getting the easy, poachable chances he was getting in past games. Henry, meanwhile, has only played three times since the end of April while fighting through injuries. The Red Bulls have stemmed the tide with others stepping up, but with a missed opportunity for three points in Toronto allowing D.C. United to reclaim sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, Cooper and Henry are going to have to rediscover their scoring touch for New York to reach its ceiling.
5. Pontius continues to make All-Star case -- D.C. United's Chris Pontius continued his strong play with his latest goal, one that is just another bullet point on his All-Star Game resume.
Pontius' single-season, career-high ninth goal came with him stationed on the left wing after he had done most of his damage while stationed up top as a forward. It appears that Pontius' confidence is unshaken no matter where he is stationed on the field, though, and his moment of brilliance at the end of the first half of D.C.'s 3-0 victory over the Montreal Impact was the launching point for a comfortable victory after an otherwise drab and lackluster first half against a reserve-laden Impact lineup. With Montreal decimated by both injuries and weary legs after a mid-week match against Toronto and also being mindful of another mid-week match with Sporting Kansas City on the docket this coming Wednesday, D.C. failed to register a spark until Pontius took over. His run at and cut back on rookie Calum Mallace was so fluid and so in control, and his finish was clinical.
Regardless of whether Pontius gets voted into the All-Star Game by the fans -- he is not even among the top seven midfielders in fan voting as of the latest tabulation this past week -- the odds are strong that he'll be selected to the squad by D.C. and MLS All-Star coach Ben Olsen, who has seen firsthand the kind of quality Pontius brings to the table week-in and week-out.