Posted: Monday July 9, 2012 12:58PM ; Updated: Monday July 9, 2012 1:07PM
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MLS Week 18 Power Rankings: Zakuani makes emotional return

Story Highlights

Steve Zakuani's return for the Sounders was one of sport's transcendent moments

The Revolution continued to surge, buoyed by the recent signing of Jerry Bengtson

San Jose, D.C. United maintained the top two spots in this week's Power Rankings

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Steve Zakuani made his long-awaited return in the Sounders' 2-1 victory over the Rapids on Saturday.
Steve Zakuani made his long-awaited return in the Sounders' 2-1 victory over the Rapids on Saturday.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

Three stars make their long-awaited returns, a host of scoreless draws occur and MLS' 2012 All-Stars are initially unveiled. That and more from MLS Week 18:

1. Steve Zakuani makes his emotional return. Sports have long produced moments that transcend the action on the field. Some are forced, made-for-TV moments driven by hype. Others are genuine, goose bump-inducing ones that fans of any team can fully appreciate. What transpired at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Saturday most definitely fell into the latter category.

Seattle Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani, whose career was threatened after a horrific tackle by Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan broke his leg last April, took to the field with the Sounders' for the first time since the incident. He entered as a late substitute against Mullan's Rapids and received perhaps the loudest roar from a raucous crowd known for its boisterous noise. That was enough of a spectacle, but Zakuani and Mullan then embraced on the field and exchanged jerseys after the match. That showed everything that fans need to know about the level of character and maturity of both players.

At the time of the tackle, Zakuani was one of the rising attacking stars in MLS, one primed for a move to Europe. Mullan was known for nothing other than being a pure winner, a player with five MLS Cup titles to his name and a reputation as a hard-working winger with a knack for coming through in the clutch. That changed forever after the tackle, which undoubtedly linked the two of for the remainder of their careers, even though the apologies, forgiveness and healing process have all happened behind closed doors. If nothing else, their public embrace provided a clinic on compassion that should allow all parties -- from the players to their teammates to the fans of both teams -- to finally move forward from the incident.

"I've said from Day 1 I had no issues with [Mullan]," Zakuani said following the match. "I had forgiven him a long time ago. There was no problems, but I think it was good to have that public moment for closure. I have a long road ahead of me still in terms of just getting back to playing consistently and consistently well. So that's good. He takes my shirt home. I'll take his shirt home, and I think that chapter's closed."

Aside from the moment's emotional windfall, Zakuani's return gives Seattle a major morale boost at a time when it needs one the most. Mired in a franchise-worst nine-game winless stretch, the Sounders capped off Zakuani's comeback with a victory, perhaps a sign that they, too, are on the verge of closing their own tough chapter.

2. David Ferreira and Omar Gonzalez's comebacks loom large, too. Zakuani's return to the field was the moment of the weekend (and maybe the season), but the returns of two of his Western Conference counterparts were just as significant to their respective teams.

2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira made his long-awaited return, playing 32 minutes off the bench for FC Dallas on Wednesday before starting and going the distance on Saturday night. Dallas has been sorely missing a linking, attacking presence in the middle of the field since Ferreira's replacement, Ricardo Villar, also went down earlier in the year. As a result, Dallas -- a team with so much promise heading into the season -- is stuck in last place in the West and needs a minor miracle simply to reenter the playoff discussion. With Brek Shea seemingly stuck in neutral and a never-ending host of injuries and suspensions making Schellas Hyndman's life difficult, Ferreira's return, at the very least, has the potential to bring the 2010 MLS Cup finalists back to respectability in the coming few months.

As for the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy, 2011 MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez returned well ahead of schedule from a torn ACL, going 45 minutes as a starter against Philadelphia before sitting as an unused substitute against Chicago. The fact that Gonzalez, who was injured while training with FC Nurnberg in January, is already back on the field and in game shape is nothing short of remarkable. His return was not expected until September at the earliest, and even then, he was expected to take a handful of weeks to get back into game rhythm and peak fitness before the playoffs. Instead, Gonzalez has ample time to reassert himself as a dominant player in the back at a time when the Galaxy seem to be figuring things out. The summer transfer window is a time for teams to acquire impact players in hopes of a bolstering their chances down the stretch. But the additions that Dallas and L.A. made this week should prove to be just as pivotal as any potential player signing.

3. The surging Revs add a proven scorer. There are a number of teams to monitor in the second half of the season that didn't exactly impress through the first 17 games. The New England Revolution, however, may be the most intriguing team of all.

Unbeaten in the last five matches, the Revolution added another proven commodity by signing Honduran national team staple Jerry Bengtson, a forward with a nose for the goal and an international pedigree, to a Designated Player deal last week. The move eliminates the unpredictability surrounding Jose Moreno and puts Blake Brettschneider, who has done an admirable job when called upon, into more of a supporting role. A league-leading scorer in his native Honduras, Bengtson should also serve as an ideal complement for Saer Sene up top.

The acquisition of Bengtson, who scored in his debut off the bench on Sunday, once again demonstrates the Revs' growing flexibility with their checkbook and their commitment to bringing in international talent. But it is worth noting that Bengtson's impact will be limited over the next month. As one of the overage players on Honduras' Olympic team, he likely will only be able to participate in another two games before departing for Olympic duty. Depending on how Honduras fares -- Los Catrachos are in a pretty stacked group with gold medal favorite Spain, Japan and Morocco -- Bengtson will have no more than 12 games after the Olympics with which to leave his mark as the Revs seek a return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

At the very least, it appears that the Revs' never-ending quest for a reliable front line partnership has finally come to a successful close.

4. The All-Star XIs are announced. The convoluted process that selects the MLS All-Star team has begun to churn out results, with the First XI (not to be confused with the players who will actually start the match) announced on Sunday. Fan voting across multiple platforms accounted for the First XI, with Sporting Kansas City supporters stuffing the ballot box to get goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, center back Aurelien Collin and playmaker Graham Zusi on the squad. The others voted in include now 12-time All-Star Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Chris Wondolowski, Dwayne De Rosario, Heath Pearce, Jay DeMerit and Steve Beitashour.

All 11 players are having All-Star worthy seasons (in the sense that 32 players receive All-Star distinction), so the fans did a decent job of choosing deserving players. If the First XI were determined solely by merit however, who would get the nod? How about a 4-4-2 (from right to left) along the lines of:

GK - Dan Kennedy; D - Beitashour, Jamison Olave, Collin, Alain Rochat; M - Donovan, De Rosario, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Pontius; F - Henry, Wondolowski

As for the XI who would give Chelsea the best battle, I'd take the below 3-5-2, placing plenty of responsibility on the two wingers to get forward while being mindful of tracking back, the two central midfielders to break up the Blues' possession and De Rosario to pull the strings behind the Henry-Wondolowski tandem:

GK - Nick Rimando; D - Geoff Cameron, Olave, Pearce; M - Donovan, Beckerman, De Rosario, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Davis; F - Henry, Wondolowski

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Joe Cannon (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Defenders: Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake), Hernan Pertuz (FC Dallas), Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo), Kevin Alston (New England Revolution)

Midfielders: Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union), Mauro Rosales (Seattle Sounders), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Michael Farfan (Philadelphia Union)

Forwards: Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Week 18 MLS Power Rankings
 
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 1 San Jose Earthquakes (W/L/T: 11-4-4)
The Supporters' Shield-leading Earthquakes did not have the strongest week, taking a loss at Portland and playing to a listless draw at FC Dallas. Those are two teams that San Jose should have had no problem putting away. Still, all the results do is set up a match for Western Conference superiority with Real Salt Lake. They'll square off in Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday night with first place on the line.
2 2 D.C. United (10-5-3)
While many teams logged 180 minutes last week, D.C. sat idly on the sideline while its top competitors caught up at 18 matches played. The big news involving D.C. this week comes off the field, though. Tuesday is the anticipated announcement of the new investors in the club, who will undoubtedly be tasked with ending the quest for a soccer-specific stadium in the nation's capital.
3 4 Real Salt Lake (11-6-3)
RSL took advantage of San Jose's slip-up with a home thumping of Portland, one that moved it back within a point of first place in the West although the Earthquakes have played one fewer game. The most encouraging sign in advance of their rematch with San Jose was Alvaro Saborio breaking out. He scored a hat trick after a three-game scoring drought to snap RSL's four-match winless stretch.
4 7 Sporting KC (10-5-3)
Sporting KC's four-point week has the club right back in the mix atop the Eastern Conference, moving it into a dead heat with D.C. United. League play will take a back seat to the U.S. Open Cup this week, though, and Sporting KC will play for the right to host the final if it can knock off Philadelphia Union in the semis.
5 6 Vancouver Whitecaps (8-4-6)
The Whitecaps turned to defense to earn four points, recording two clean sheets over conference foes while scraping together an opportune goal to take three points off Colorado. The integration of Barry Robson should provide a spark for an attack that has underachieved considerably (just 19 goals in 18 games with that forward arsenal), but if nothing else, the defense continues to prove that it is a force to be reckoned with.
6 3 New York Red Bulls (9-5-4)
All of the player absences are starting to catch up with the Red Bulls, which have taken just five points from their last five matches and extended their winless streak in New England to 18 matches. With the summer transfer window open, it seems to be an opportune time for New York to make its anticipated big splash.
7 5 Chicago Fire (8-6-4)
The surging Fire had its potent attack thwarted, with the club failing to muster even a single goal in a draw against Houston and loss to Los Angeles. Marco Pappa's transfer speculation and Sebastian Grazzini's absence have taken their toll, but there should have been more than enough quality attacking pieces on Chicago's roster to avoid the double shutout. A disappointing week, all things considered.
8 8 Houston Dynamo (6-5-7)
There was nothing flashy about Houston's consecutive scoreless draws with Chicago and Sporting Kansas City, but Jermaine Taylor's work along the back line in place of an injured (and perhaps Europe-bound) Geoff Cameron is a notable development for a team still primed to break out. Still, the club has yet to put together a lengthy win streak to separate it from the rest of the middle of the pack in the East.
9 10 Seattle Sounders (8-5-6)
The team's nine-game winless streak is a thing of the past, and boosted by the return of Steve Zakuani, it turns its attention to a U.S. Open Cup semifinal match on Wednesday. The Sounders have their eye on capturing a fourth straight trophy.
10 11 Los Angeles Galaxy (7-10-2)
The Galaxy followed up a disappointing mid-week loss to Philadelphia with a thorough beating of Chicago, getting a brace from Robbie Keane and seemingly not feeling the effects of David Beckham's suspension at Toyota Park. Omar Gonzalez' early return from a torn ACL injury should do wonders for Los Angeles' confidence and overall defense.
11 14 New England Revolution (6-7-4)
Lee Nguyen's consistent play continues to fly under the radar, but he was on top of his game against the Red Bulls with his man-of-the-match performance. Combine that with new DP signing Jerry Bengtson's perfect start for the Revs, and there's plenty to be excited about from an attacking standpoint in New England.
12 9 Columbus Crew (6-6-4)
The Crew wouldn't necessarily have been deserving winners had they held on for a win in Montreal, but the club that entered the match with the leagues' fewest goals conceded should nevertheless be disappointed for yielding two scores in the final 12 minutes. Those points against the Impact were theirs for the taking.
13 12 Chivas USA (5-7-5)
Chivas endured another unspectacular week, holding the Whitecaps to a scoreless draw. But what was impressive was that the Goats were able to do so without Juan Agudelo, Ante Jazic and Osvaldo Minda. Now Chivas is faced with a mid-week task of being the first club to knock off Seattle in U.S. Open Cup play in more than three years. If it is able to win, it would mark one of the more silent runs to an Open Cup final in recent memory.
14 16 Philadelphia Union (5-9-2)
John Hackworth's young guns are really showing signs of emerging, from Jack McInerney's continued stellar play up top to Antoine Hoppenot's consistent spark off the bench to Amobi Okugo's breakout play as a center back. Hackworth deserves a ton of credit for taking the train wreck start to this club's season and molding the Union into a viable side.
15 13 Colorado Rapids (7-10-1)
The Rapids had a nightmare of a week, dropping six points to teams directly above them in the West standings. With losses in four of its last five matches, Colorado has allowed Los Angeles to leapfrog into playoff position and made life significantly harder on itself. On the plus side, a struggling Dallas side is set to come to Dick's Sporting Goods Park, where the Rapids have enjoyed the bulk of their success this season.
16 15 Montreal Impact (6-11-3)
The Impact snapped a three-game losing skid with a last-gasp, come-from-behind effort against the Crew to steal three points. Even more noteworthy, however, was the contribution of Marco Di Vaio to the comeback. He turned in his brightest performance as he continues to settle into MLS.
17 17 Portland Timbers (5-8-4)
Gain momentum with an impressive home victory, lose it all in a subsequent road loss. Rinse. Repeat. That's been the story of the 2012 Portland Timbers.
18 18 FC Dallas (3-9-7)
There are signs that FC Dallas is starting to figure things out, with three straight draws and David Ferreira's return sparking some positive momentum. The problem is, the club's next two games are on the road -- a place where FCD has not won in eight tries this season.
19 19 Toronto FC (2-11-4)
The Reds had been playing with more inspiration under Paul Mariner, but they reverted back to their Aron Winter-like ways Sunday against the Union. Toronto showed that it has not completely turned the corner just yet in its long quest to gain respectability.
 

 
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