Calen Carr's header helped propel Houston to a 2-0 win over New York while preserving a 19-game unbeaten streak at home.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Taking stock of the MLSers who starred in the Olympics and a pair of statement victories: That and more from MLS' Week 22:
1. Dynamo feeling at home in first place
The Houston Dynamo's prime time clash against the New York Red Bulls Friday was supposed to be an evenly matched prize bout with first place in the Eastern Conference on the line. Instead, it went the way of how pretty much all Dynamo home games at BBVA Compass Stadium have gone -- utter domination and more points for the men in orange.
Houston's comprehensive 2-0 victory made the Dynamo 8-0-3 at their new digs while putting the club in first place tie with Sporting Kansas City after a long climb from the middle of the pack. The Dynamo are now unbeaten at home (both BBVA and Robertson Stadium) in 19 matches spanning the last two seasons. With home-field advantage at stake for the MLS Cup participant with the best regular season record, the Dynamo are dreaming of a return to the final, which will be played in its fortress.
While plenty attribute the Dynamo's home success to intangibles such as weather conditions and humidity, the fact is that Dom Kinnear has his squad playing as well as any in the league right now, and the club's switch to a 4-3-3 -- perhaps the managerial move of the year -- has accentuated the strengths of Houston's personnel. Considering the club's overall form, going undefeated at home in 2012 is a possibility for the Dynamo, considering that five of their remaining six home games are against opponents currently not in playoff position (Columbus, Toronto New England, Montreal, Philadelphia; Real Salt Lake is the exception). The win over New York was as dominant as it gets and sent a message ahead of Friday's rematch at Red Bull Arena, where Houston can put an end to the only other active home unbeaten streak that can challenge theirs.
2. Honduras Olympians carry MLS flag in UK
When the U.S. Under-23 men's national team failed to qualify for the Olympics this spring, the next best thing that could have happened for MLS in the UK was the league's few Olympians going on a deep run and showcasing their abilities on the world stage. Thanks to Honduras' determined performance, that's exactly what happened.
Sporting Kansas City's Roger Espinoza, D.C. United's Andy Najar, New England Revolution's Jerry Bengtson and incoming on-loan Seattle Sounders winger Mario Martinez provided quite an advertisement for MLS during the Olympics, helping Honduras get out of the group stage and even pushing Brazil to the edge even while down a man before succumbing in the quarterfinals. All four players left their marks on the tournament at different junctures, conjuring up smiles in their respective teams' front offices in the process.
No player left a bigger impact than the 25-year-old Espinoza, who is living proof that going through the college system (he was a standout at Ohio State) and MLS can still be a viable option for young players in this country. His omnipresent performance in the midfield against Brazil was eye-opening and a prime example of a player seizing the Olympics moment and using it as a springboard for bigger things.
Najar's speed on the flank was par for the course for him, and his role in setting up the all-MLS goal that knocked off Spain (crossing the field to touch a ball off to Espinoza for a cross to Bengtson) was his most notable contribution, but it was his attention to tracking back and using his pace to defend that caught the eye as well. In his third year as a professional, that has been one of the holes in his game, but with English Premier League teams taking note of his progress, he helped his own cause.
Bengtson's three goals in the group stage spoke for themselves. He has only played two games for the Revolution since signing this summer, but the club has already seen value increase on its investment as Bengtson's name reverberates through the international community. As for Martinez, his integration to Seattle is flying way under the radar considering the club's move to offload Alvaro Fernandez and bring in German playmaker Christian Tiffert, but Martinez -- as he showed against Brazil with his audacious volley for a goal -- offers creativity on the left side and more balance to the Sounders. What fellow Honduran Oscar Boniek Garcia has done to complement Brad Davis in Houston, Martinez can potentially do for Mauro Rosales in Seattle.
Looking forward, Espinoza's case is the most intriguing of the bunch considering he is reportedly out of contract at the end of the season. If genuine, big-money offers come pouring in for Espinoza from Europe ahead of the close of the summer transfer window overseas, then Sporting KC has a decision to make. Considering his importance to the team, is it worth holding onto Espinoza for a possible MLS Cup title run while risking losing him for nothing in the winter? Or does the club make a strict business decision and cash in on the player while it can? It's a fascinating and unexpected development and one that few MLS Cup contenders have had to encounter at such a crucial juncture in the season.
3. No asterisks for this Seattle win
When the Seattle Sounders coasted by the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-0 at CenturyLink Field on May 2, it was a classic "Yeah, but" victory.
Yeah, Seattle won, but the Galaxy were without David Beckham and Robbie Keane and essentially punted the result with the reserve-laden lineup that Bruce Arena selected for the match. There were no excuses this latest time around. Seattle dominated a full-strength Galaxy in their 4-0 rout on Sunday in front of more than 60,000 raucous supporters to deliver a statement as the push for the playoffs heats up.
For those who might offer that L.A. was operating on short rest because of Thursday night's friendly against Real Madrid, consider that Seattle, too, played Thursday, doing so in a meaningful CONCACAF Champions League match that took way more of a toll on its players than the World Football Challenge friendly at the Home Depot Center. Seattle was quicker to 50-50 balls, pressured aggressively and looked every bit like a team that has turned the corner after a brief summer swoon had plenty questioning its title credentials.
When the Sounders fully integrate newcomers Christian Tiffert and Martinez, the club's front six provides a pretty daunting and formidable unit, at least on paper. Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero lining up in front of a Martinez-Tiffert-Rosales trio that is backed by Osvaldo Alonso is about as strong as it gets in MLS. Questions will linger about the club's consistency in defense and its ability to finally reach its potential in the postseason, but the hope, excitement and anticipation have been restored in The Emerald City.
4. RIP Kirk Urso
For the second time in less than three weeks, the U.S. Soccer community is mourning the tragic passing of one of its own.
Kirk Urso, the hard-working captain of the University of North Carolina's national championship team last winter and a positive contributor for the Columbus Crew in the opening portion of the season before injuries derailed his rookie year, died early Sunday morning from causes that are still being determined. The U.S. Soccer community is a tight-knit one, and between the number of former North Carolina, U.S. youth national team and club teammates and current Crew teammates and opponents, Urso was a beloved and admired figure who passed way too soon and whose sudden death sent shock waves that reverberated throughout the league.
Rest in peace, Kirk.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas)
Defenders: Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo), Hassoun Camara (Montreal Impact), Austin Berry (Chicago Fire)
Midfielders: Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Felipe (Montreal Impact), Joseph Nane (Colorado Rapids), Jack Jewsbury (Portland Timbers), Mauro Rosales (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards: Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders)
|Week 22 MLS Power Rankings|
||San Jose Earthquakes (W/L/T: 13-5-5)
San Jose enjoyed the rest from its bye week, but the Earthquakes enjoyed watching Real Salt Lake lose even more, ensuring that their stay in first place in the West and the Supporters' Shield race continues. The Quakes have a huge clash against surging Seattle looming Saturday night. Chris Wondolowski scored the lone goal in their only other meeting this year back in March, but after a hat trick against RSL he has not scored in his last three matches. Has all the Roy Lassiter record talk put a hex on MLS' Golden Boot front-runner?
||Houston Dynamo (11-5-7)
No team is playing better right now than the Dynamo, a club hitting on all cylinders and getting contributions all over the field. The key to continuing that form lies through the middle of the field, where Jermaine Taylor has excelled as Geoff Cameron's replacement in central defense and Ricardo Clark is being brought back (pending the approval of Cameron's UK work permit that will be the final step in his move to Stoke City) to reprise his role as alpha dog in central midfield.
||Real Salt Lake (13-8-3)
RSL's lackluster showing in Colorado capped off a frustrating week, one that started with CONCACAF Champions League disappointment in Costa Rica and continued with a flat showing against the rival Rapids. It seems as if this club is perpetually in wait-until-we're-fully-healthy mode, and that is the case again after star center back Jamison Olave went down with a hamstring injury in CCL play.
||Sporting Kansas City (12-7-4)
SKC did not exactly wow with its opportunistic win in New England, but road points are road points, and the club will happily take them into this week's U.S. Open Cup final at Livestrong Sporting Park, where the club will be playing for its first trophy since 2004 and a chance to end Seattle's dynasty in the tournament. With Roger Espinoza back in the fold after his Olympic journey, we should see SKC lift its level of play.
||D.C. United (11-7-3)
Even after more than a month away from home, not much has changed at RFK Stadium, as D.C. won for the seventh straight time at home and has not lost there since the opening night of the season on a goal scored in the final seconds of the match. The upcoming August FIFA fixture date will be a busy one for United players, as Dwayne De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic (Canada) and Hamdi Salihi (Albania) have already been called up for national team duty. ighty U.S. national team candidate Chris Pontius be joining them?
||New York Red Bulls (11-7-5)
Just how important is Dax McCarty to the Red Bulls? The club's midfield was completely dominated in Houston, making McCarty's suspension-caused absence more glaring than Tim Cahill's MLS debut. He'll return for the rematch this Friday, but will Wilman Conde join him on the field? That he appeared to ask to be subbed off in the second despite not being hurt could not have gone over well in that locker room.
||Seattle Sounders (10-5-7)
Seattle is hitting its stride ahead of one of the more important weeks of the year, with a chance to capture an unprecedented fourth straight U.S. Open Cup on the docket for Wednesday before heading to San Jose for a clash with the first-place Earthquakes. MLS is all about working the form crescendo and peaking at the right time, and Seattle is one of the few teams on track to doing so.
||Chicago Fire (10-7-5)
Chicago took full advantage of having an extra man against Toronto for an equalizer and enjoyed having a two-man advantage after Jeremy Hall had to come off with an injury with Toronto having exhausted all of its subs to score the winner. Was it pretty? Hardly, but effective nonetheless. Frank Klopas had the problem earlier this season of trying to juggle all his attacking pieces while keeping everyone happy, and with Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald brought on board, the names have changed but the issue remains.
||Los Angeles Galaxy (10-11-3)
The club's failure to show up in Seattle was one of the biggest disappointments of the week and showed that even though the Galaxy have come a long way from their horrendous form to start the season, there are still holes being exploited. L.A. can bounce back Sunday against Chivas USA, but the club will have to do so without David Beckham, who is returning to London for the Olympic closing ceremonies.
||Vancouver Whitecaps (9-7-7)
The Whitecaps used their bye week as an opportunity to integrate Kenny Miller and new center back Andy O'Brien into the squad as the club looks to lock down its first postseason berth. With Vancouver taking on RSL this week and Seattle facing San Jose, the race for first place in the West can become a four-team free-for-all after the two front-runners have led the pack for the majority of the season.
||Columbus Crew (8-8-4)
The team's loss to D.C. is nothing but an afterthought after Kirk Urso's sudden death Sunday morning. What the Crew will have to endure this coming week and in the foreseeable future goes way beyond anything that happens on the field, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Urso family and the Crew organization as they wade through this impossibly tough time.
||Montreal Impact (9-13-3)
Jesse Marsch unleashed his strongest, most experienced back line with Nelson Rivas, Alessandro Nesta, Matteo Ferrari and Hassoun Camara combining to shut down Philadelphia's attack; however, that unit will be short lived. The club can plan on playing without Rivas for the near future after his vicious headbutt to Antoine Hoppenot will certainly result in a multi-game suspension from the MLS Disciplinary Committtee.
||Philadelphia Union (7-11-2)
The loss to Montreal stings, but making it even worse was the harsh red card dealt to in-form forward Jack McInerney, which rules him out of Sunday's crucial match against Chicago as the Union cling to life. Will that match feature the debut of center back Bakary Soumare against his former team? With him rounding into full fitness and form and Carlos Valdes leaving for international duty in the following few days, it very well could.
||Chivas USA (5-7-5)
After another bye week, the Goats see the clear task at hand: Trailing rival and fifth-place Los Angeles by seven points with four games in hand, they still have a realistic shot at knocking the champs from their postseason perch. The first step in doing so comes Sunday night in the rubber match of their 2012 SuperClasico series, one that should feature newly acquired central midfielder Shalrie Joseph.
||New England Revolution (6-11-5)
Life after Joseph was especially harsh for the Revs, who got cast aside by Sporting Kansas City and never really challenged their opponents' defense in the 1-0 home loss. DP striker Jerry Bengtson's return from the Olympics will inject life into an attack that looked in need of a serious boost.
||Colorado Rapids (8-14-1)
Congratulations are in order for the Rapids, who broke out of their funk, snapped their six-game losing streak and salvaged some Rocky Mountain pride with their first win over RSL in more than three years. Pablo Mastroeni is not done playing just yet, but while the club's captain continues his recovery from a concussion, he made a pretty compelling case for a post-playing career in the broadcast booth with his commentary Saturday night.
||FC Dallas (5-11-8)
Brek Shea was spirited in his return from a two-game absence, looking dangerous and assisting on FC Dallas' goal, but a questionable second yellow card to Zach Loyd put FCD in a rough spot: Down a man in one of the tougher venues to play as an opposing team. Not even Kevin Hartman's heroic performance could keep the club from losing its lead and settling for one point when it desperately needed three.
||Toronto FC (5-13-4)
Eric Hassli's debut was not as fruitful as Toronto would have hoped for, and the Reds fell for the second league game in a row. On the plus side, Irish center back Darren O'Dea is on the way to correct the club's defensive woes, and the team's CCL campaign is off to a flying start after a 5-1 mid-week win over Salvadoran side CD Aguila.
||Portland Timbers (5-12-5)
The club's five-game losing streak is over thanks to a wonderstrike by Jack Jewsbury, but that does not cover up the fact that the club was pretty poor on the whole until the second yellow to Loyd altered the balance of the match. Portland was stretched defensively on multiple occasions, and offensively, what does it say about Kris Boyd's level of production this season that the DP was taken off for unheralded Bright Dike with the club in need of a goal?