Posted: Monday August 20, 2012 4:53PM ; Updated: Monday August 20, 2012 4:53PM
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MLS Week 24 Power Rankings: Dodgy officiating steals spotlight

Story Highlights

Suspect decision-making from officials took center stage all over MLS this week

With yet another goal, San Jose's Chris Wondolowski remains on his record pace

Sounders reserve Steve Zakuani scored his first goals at any level in 16 months

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Chris Wondolowski (above) continued his assault on the MLS single-season goals record with a penalty-spot conversion.
Chris Wondolowski (above) continued his assault on the MLS single-season goals record with a penalty-spot conversion.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Stunning displays of officiating and a league office faux pas took plenty of attention away from the players during an action-packed Week 24 in MLS:

1. Eyes on the man in the middle

As D.C. United coach Ben Olsen marched out of the media room in the bowels of RFK Stadium Sunday night, he jokingly asked reporters to leave some cash to cover the fine he will surely receive for his cathartic comments regarding the performance by referee Mark Geiger during his club's 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union. At least he can keep a sense of humor and levity about things while major decisions that can potentially affect the outcome of the postseason race are made with little accountability.

It is easy for players and coaches to point the finger at the official when things don't go their way, but Sunday's instance in Washington was pretty dire. When players are "baffled" and "appalled" and claim the referee is "confused" (all words that emerged from the D.C. locker room, and the same sentiments were echoed by Union players), that's hardly an encouraging sign, especially when the stakes are high. Geiger, one of two CONCACAF officials who worked the men's Olympic tournament and the reigning MLS Referee of the Year, has unfortunately been at the center of controversy on a few occasions this season, and his three red cards and two questionably disallowed goals were at the epicenter of the match between a D.C. team looking to regain a stable foothold in the playoffs and a Philadelphia one desperately trying to give the end of its season more meaning.

"It's the Geiger Show," a typically candid Olsen said. "He wants to make the big call to change games. It's what they do. Coming back from the Olympics, it was his show tonight. His show. Not about the players."

Much stemmed from Geiger's failure to take any action when Philadelphia had players walk slowly off the field while exiting the game on two occasions. That slowly evolved into emotions boiling over and players clashing physically as chaos ensued.

"If you do that over and over and over, eventually it's going to boil up, and that's what I'm talking about," Olsen said. "The managing of the game. Players see that, and it's frustrating, it's helpless."

Added Dwayne De Rosario, who was forced to retake a converted penalty after a light encroachment call in the waning moments of the match and ultimately missed: "When you start to lose the game like that, the first thing the referee should do is call the two captains and say, 'Listen, control your men, or else I'm going to start handing out cards.' There was nothing like that. It was just frustrating. (The officiating) needs to be better."

Geiger wasn't the only referee with suspect decision-making, as in the New York-Portland match that followed the D.C.-Philadelphia appetizer, Jasen Anno blew a play dead for a handball in the box before eventually allowing the goal that followed on Tim Cahill's shot in the run of play, much to the shock and dismay of the Timbers. Would the Red Bulls have gone ahead and scored on the ensuing penalty? There's a good chance, but that doesn't make the call any more reasonable.

"We can't get an answer out of the referee, he won't tell us," Timbers general manager and interim coach Gavin Wilkinson said. "And then you can see the replay very clearly, that he's blowing the whistle well before the ball has gone into the back of the net. Unless I had a different view to everyone else, the staff, and the players, the whistle was blowing. The whistle was blowing before the ball went into the back of the net, and then the decision was changed."

As long as referees don't have to explain their decisions and there is no public acknowledgement or disclosure of any officiating mishaps leading to demotions or punishments, the lack of accountability makes them an easy target for criticism. The fact that there was a pool reporter at Red Bull Arena to question Anno's decision about the Red Bulls' equalizer (Anno actually said he blew his whistle after Cahill's follow-up shot went in the goal. Replays show otherwise.) is certainly a practice that should be used regularly and would lend more insight to players, coaches and spectators for why a decision went a certain way.

Between the two Sunday night matches and the bizarre double red card given by Armando Villarreal in Montreal to Impact defender Hassoun Camara and San Jose forward Steven Lenhart that resulted in a penalty kick for the Earthquakes, former English referee Peter Walton, head of the new Professional Referee Organization charged with improving the level of officiating, will have his hands full with game film this weekend.

"The referee has got to realize that everything is a fight for the playoffs right now," De Rosario said. "They've got to be 100 percent with their calls, and as players are stepping their game up, they have to step their officiating up."

2. Robson's suspension fiasco

Some discipline is in order for the MLS Disciplinary Committee.

The fact that the MLS DC issued a one-game suspension to Vancouver Whitecaps Designated Player Barry Robson for kicking a ball in the direction of a referee Wednesday night is perfectly defensible and falls in line with past punishments this season for such an offense. That the committee waited until the night before the Whitecaps' next match to inform the club of the decision and then announce the decision publicly just hours before Saturday's afternoon game (which had a 1 p.m. start on the West Coast), however, is nothing short of irresponsible and makes for a PR mess that gives cause to those questioning the legitimacy of the process.

According to the Seattle Times, Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie said he didn't know Robson was suspended until 9 p.m. Friday, and Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said he didn't know until the morning of the game, both times at which long-thought-out game plans and lineups are set. The Disciplinary Committee's mission to clean up the game and hold players to a higher standard of gamesmanship on the field has been executed to a pretty successful degree, but there really is no excuse for the short notice, and the committee should hold itself to a higher standard when deciding taking action that has a direct impact on league results. More notice is necessary. It's as simple as that.

3. Wondolowski resumes quest for goal mark

By Chris Wondolowski's lofty standards, he had been in quite the slump. After all of the talk started to snowball of his assault on Roy Lassiter's MLS single-season goal record, one that has stood since the league's inaugural season in 1996, Wondolowski failed to score in four straight games and in six out of seven contests. The four-game drought doubled his longest scoreless stretch this season, but with his penalty kick conversion in Montreal Saturday night, he is set to resume his quest to become the new single-season goal king.

Wondolowski, who has tied his career-high with 18 goals, had not scored since having a converted penalty kick taken off the board after fellow MLS All-Star Justin Morrow was yards offside and correctly whistled for encroachment, so with nine games remaining, Wondolowski is charged with doing what he does best: Finishing a season strong. With eight goals in the last nine games last season and 10 goals in the final eight games of 2010, Wondolowski has a track record of closing out a season in style. He'll need to turn in another Usain Bolt-like dominant final leg of the season to catch Lassiter's tally of 27, though. Of San Jose's nine games left, three come against two of the Western Conference's most goal-prone defenses, Portland and Colorado. There is still hope for Wondolowski, but time is no longer on his side, and breaking the record is far from the certainty that it seemed more than a month ago, after his hat trick against Real Salt Lake had the 30-goal mark seem like a realistic possibility.

4. Zakuani inches closer to return to form

In a weekend where so many different stories and developments managed to grab headlines, one of the more redeeming accounts took place on the reserve level Sunday night, when Seattle Sounders winger Steve Zakuani scored twice in a match against the Los Angeles Galaxy to continue his comeback from a broken leg that nearly ended his playing career.

For Zakuani, the goals were his first in more than 16 months on any level and are perhaps a sign that he may yet be able to contribute to the Sounders' first team this season. Although he has made the substitute's bench a number of times and made one appearance that was one of the moments of the season to date, it has been a mostly frustrating fight back to fitness and form. The Sounders have taken an understandably cautious approach with bringing him back, yet with the club poised to make noise in the MLS postseason for the first time in their brief history, there is still the looming possibility that Zakuani emerges as a meaningful piece of the puzzle for Seattle this season. With his comeback continuing and the addition of on-loan Honduran Olympian Mario Martinez, Schmid is becoming flushed with attacking options in support of Fredy Montero, Eddie Johnson, Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Bill Gaudette (New York Red Bulls)

Defenders: Leo Gonzalez (Seattle Sounders), Darren O'Dea (Toronto FC), George John (FC Dallas)

Midfielders: Lamar Neagle (Montreal Impact), David Ferreira (FC Dallas), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders), Chris Rolfe (Chicago Fire), Sal Zizzo (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy), Kei Kamara (Sporting Kansas City)

Week 24 MLS Power Rankings
 
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 2 Sporting Kansas City (W/L/T: 14-7-4)
Sporting KC had a whale of a time trying to break down Toronto FC's surprisingly resolute back line, but after dominating possession for so long, the U.S. Open Cup champs got their game-winner, won a club-record seventh time away from home and continued solidifying their place atop the Eastern Conference. That place will be put to the test in the coming weeks, though, with home games against both New York and Houston in the offing.
2 1 San Jose Earthquakes (14-6-5)
It is a little troubling that the Earthquakes haven't turned in a thorough 90-minute performance in some time, going 1-2-1 in their last four games to let other teams creep up in the race for the Supporters' Shield. While Alan Gordon will return from his suspension, Steven Lenhart and Jason Hernandez will commence theirs for being red carded against Montreal. Fortunately for San Jose, the club welcomes lightweights Colorado and Chivas USA to Buck Shaw Stadium in the coming weeks to turn things around.
3 3 New York Red Bulls (13-7-5)
The club's comeback against Portland showed a good deal of heart, preserved the team's unbeaten streak at home and prevented high levels of scrutiny for failing to defeat the lowly Timbers, but it also showed the club's defensive vulnerability. Between all of the trades this season, the Red Bulls' capture of goalkeeper Bill Gaudette has proven to be one of the more valuable acquisitions considering how he has covered for some defensive miscues in the absence of injured rookie Ryan Meara.
4 4 Houston Dynamo (11-6-8)
BBVA Compass is still a fortress after Adam Moffat's late equalizer preserved a 1-1 draw against Columbus to keep Houston unbeaten at its new home park. The club's depth will be tested in the coming weeks, as with CONCACAF Champions League matches beginning Houston does not have more than a five-day break in between games until following a Sept. 6 contest at home against Real Salt Lake, a game that ends a five-game, 16-day swing.
5 6 Chicago Fire (12-7-5)
Chris Rolfe continues to thrive in his return to the Fire, and his work in a playmaking role made the club's decision to loan out Sebastian Grazzini much more palatable. One of the more in-form teams in the league at the moment, Chicago can take a major step toward the top of the table by going into RFK Stadium and coming away with a mid-week result against D.C. to create some separation in the playoff race.
6 8 Seattle Sounders (11-6-7)
The Sounders turned in a necessary bounce-back performance in front of another gigantic crowd in Seattle, getting back on track after the U.S. Open Cup disappointment and ensuing heartbreaking loss to San Jose. Star forward Fredy Montero repeated his role as super-sub for the Sounders, and five of his eight goals this season have come in four matches off the bench. No matter how he and Eddie Johnson continue their runs of form, Seattle will take it.
7 9 Los Angeles Galaxy (11-11-4)
The club's mid-week draw against Columbus was played under emotionally difficult circumstances, with the Crew taking to the field for the first time since Kirk Urso's death. Playing without Landon Donovan and David Beckham, the Galaxy were still able to claw their way to a point, with Robbie Keane doing the heavy lifting. After crashing out of the CCL in disappointing fashion this past spring, the Galaxy begin a new quest for regional glory Thursday night before welcoming red-hot FC Dallas to the Home Depot Center this weekend.
8 5 Real Salt Lake (13-10-3)
RSL is unraveling at the most inopportune of times, losers of four straight in all competitions following a last-minute collapse at home against Dallas. There's no doubt that this team has the ability to turn things back on ahead of the postseason, but when will it finally happen? With Tuesday's crucial CCL match at home being a must-win affair, it had better happen soon.
9 7 D.C. United (11-8-4)
D.C. is slipping a bit and has the Montreal Impact creeping behind them in the playoff standings despite having four games in hand on their neighbors the north. United will be able to carve a more comfortable place in the playoff picture with wins over fourth-place Chicago and sixth-place Montreal this week, but the short turnaround to Wednesday's match is compounded by the fact that both Emiliano Dudar and Branko Boskovic are unavailable after being sent off Sunday.
10 10 Vancouver Whitecaps (10-9-7)
A pair of losses to Dallas and Seattle have the Whitecaps teetering on the edge of the Western Conference playoff picture. The Whitecaps still have breathing room but desperately need first-choice center backs Jay DeMerit and Martin Bonjour in the lineup. Barry Robson's return from his one-game suspension will also provide a boost for the club heading into another Cascadia Cup bout in Portland this weekend.
11 12 Montreal Impact (11-13-3)
The Impact improved to 7-2-0 at Stade Saputo with a win over the league-leading Earthquakes and are making life a bit more difficult for its playoff competitors in the East. The odds of Montreal making the playoffs are still not in the club's favor considering that fifth-place D.C. leads the Impact by one point in addition to having four games in hand, but the more Montreal continues to win, the more pressure will be put on United. Their match in Montreal Saturday is a make-or-break date on the calendar.
12 13 FC Dallas (8-11-8)
The hottest team in the league may very well reside in Frisco. With speedy winger Fabian Castillo locked in, Brek Shea returning to form, Kevin Hartman playing at his finest in goal and David Ferreira holding it all together as he turns the clock back to 2010, manager Schellas Hyndman deserves a great deal of credit for managing to stem the tide with a team that looked more likely to capsize than make a late charge for the postseason.
13 11 Columbus Crew (8-8-6)
The Crew were minutes away from becoming the first team to knock off Houston in its new park, and the club's mostly sterling performance was due in large part to the debut of forward and DP Federico Higuain, who was an immediate difference-maker. With him and Jairo Arrieta leading a new-look attack, Columbus can make some noise at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, with its next five games coming against conference teams currently out of postseason contention.
14 14 Chivas USA (7-9-6)
The Goats avoided being shut out for the 11th time this season, but just barely, with Juan Pablo Angel coming to the rescue late in Colorado. There's little reason to believe that Chivas will challenge for a postseason berth even with all of their games in hand, but Dan Kennedy's continued brilliance in goal makes the club's games worth watching nevertheless.
15 15 Philadelphia Union (7-12-3)
Lost amid the chaos at RFK Stadium is that the Union desperately needed three points, and they could not fend of D.C. to hold on to their 1-0 lead. Welcoming a motivated, yet exhausted, RSL team to PPL Park for another nationally televised match Friday won't make life any easier, nor will playing without suspended right back Sheanon Williams. Impressive rookie Ray Gaddis figures to be given another shot in his place.
16 16 New England Revolution (6-13-5)
The Revs appeared to be hard done by an early penalty given to Chicago, but there's no denying which team was the better one over the course of the 90 minutes. The club has not scored multiple goals in any of its last seven games, going 0-6-1 in that time, so coach Jay Heaps has been given no choice but to try and mix things up with his lineup. But is benching Benny Feilhaber really the solution for trying to spark the attack?
17 17 Colorado Rapids (8-15-2)
Another gaffe by the defense turned a 1-0 lead into dropped points for the Rapids, whose season has slipped away. At the very least, Colorado can take matters into its own hands to ensure that it stays out of the conference cellar, as following this weekend's match with San Jose, the Rapids play last-place Portland twice in a span of six days.
18 18 Toronto FC (5-14-5)
Darren O'Dea's debut in the heart of Toronto's defense was a complete success, regardless of the club being on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline against Sporting KC. Despite Reds supporters being used to this line of thinking, the remainder of Toronto's season is all about finding which pieces the club can mold into a winner next season. O'Dea is certainly one of them.
19 19 Portland Timbers (5-13-6)
The Timbers scrapped and clawed to a mid-week point in Toronto before blowing a two-goal lead in New York. If anything, it shows that Portland is getting closer to finding a cure to its road woes, but the inability to finish things off is the mark of a team that has just been battered too many times this season. On the plus side, Darlington Nagbe scoring in consecutive games gives the Timbers some semblance of consistency in the attack.
 

 
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