Posted: Mon March 19, 2012 12:49PM; Updated: Mon March 19, 2012 1:55PM
Avi Creditor

Week 2 Power Rankings: The West rules; Galaxy bounces back in style

Story Highlights

Galaxy broke out of an early season slump with a dominating win against D.C.

Philadelphia looks to have problems at goalkeeper and with captain Danny Califf

L.A.'s David Beckham still appears to get favorable treatment from referees

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Robbie Keane
Galaxy striker Robbie Keane broke out of what his coach had called a mini-slump with a brace against D.C. United.
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The Galaxy steady the ship, and two Eastern Conference contenders are on shaky standing. That and more from Week 2 in Major League Soccer:

1. Talks of a Galaxy crisis were exaggerated. Those ready and eager to write off the Los Angeles Galaxy off had a list of reasons piling up in their favor. The club's disappointing CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals exit, combined with a vulnerable defense and underperforming attacking stars gave legitimate cause for concern after a three-game sample size. But that's just it. It was a three-game sample size. In March. The fact is, the Galaxy might not be as invincible as most made them out to be, but they aren't going to fold, either. The team as a whole has only had a few weeks together, with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane spending their winters on loan in the Premier League. No matter the familiarity between the players in that lineup, it still takes time for all of the pieces in that well-oiled machine to get going. Defensively, there are still plenty of questions. The unit had a steadier outing in a 3-1 win against D.C. United with Andrew Boyens plugged into Omar Gonzalez's vacated central role, but it still got stretched and lacked total organization and was fortunate not to have been beaten by D.C. attackers on a few occasions.

Nevertheless, in the 90 minutes following their 2011 championship ring ceremony on Sunday, the Galaxy displayed the quality that most expected of the star-studded club this season, and the scoreline was kept down only due to the heroics of backup D.C. goalkeeper Joe Willis. After having to play four games in 12 days, the Galaxy won't play a meaningful match for another 13 (against bottom dweller New England, no less), getting the chance to rest any weary legs following a grueling early-season slate. The Galaxy now have company atop a loaded Western Conference, but don't expect them to get left behind in the title race because of an early-March stumble.

2. The real crises are developing in Philadelphia and New York. There's something going on in the Mid-Atlantic, and it's taking a toll on two playoff teams from a year ago. A quick start to the 2012 season was thought to be key for the Philadelphia Union, in order for the club to put its roller coaster of an offseason in the rearview mirror and inspire confidence that the club's moves, including the controversial trade of Sebastien Le Toux, were ultimately for the greater good. Two losses later, the Union are on shaky ground with an unpolished attack, a flustered goalkeeper and an apparent disconnect between coach and captain. The spine of a team is through the center, and issues involving goalkeeper Zac MacMath and center back and captain Danny Califf have only added to the team's early struggles.

Confidence is the most valued trait for a goalkeeper, and despite his saying otherwise, it is rather apparent that MacMath's is waning by the game. His season-opening follies in Portland could have been a product of rainy conditions and a slippery ball, but the second-year keeper was to blame again for letting a cross cleanly sail over him reach to a wide-open Jaime Castrillon by the far post for Colorado's first goal. MacMath also appeared to dive away from Tony Cascio's powerful shot after a defensive breakdown, one that came with Philadelphia having a man-advantage that it could barely use to its favor until it was too late.

In defense of the Union's decision makers, 2011 goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon's return to Colombia was his desire, not the team's, and MacMath had previously demonstrated that he has the skill-set to be a No. 1 keeper. But after Mondragon provided such steady, consistent play last season, MacMath is bringing back memories of the adventure-filled expansion season, when goalkeeping mistakes were part of the norm.

The oddest development for the Union, though, involves Califf, who was scratched from Sunday's starting lineup. While manager Peter Nowak, in his postgame comments to the media, insisted that Califf was dealing with the aftereffects of a meniscus issue in his knee (despite it not being listed on the club's most recent injury report), Califf seemed miffed by the suggestion and claimed to not have an injury of the sort. It's a situation that bears watching going forward. Things will need a sudden upturn next week against Chicago, because the following week the visiting opponent at PPL Park is none other than Le Toux's Vancouver Whitecaps.

A little further up Interstate 95, the sky-high expectations in New York have been met with two underwhelming, flat performances.

Hans Backe refusing to start the in-form Kenny Cooper up top with Thierry Henry for a second straight game was one of the head-scratching decisions of the week. The Red Bulls attack turned in another lifeless showing, albeit against one of the league's better defensive units in Real Salt Lake.

After everything that happened last season, it's hard to believe that Rafa Marquez, fresh off a two-game suspension, could play the role of savior. The Red Bulls will need him to play the role of deep-lying midfield distributor -- a la David Beckham in L.A., Torsten Frings in Toronto, Pavel Pardo in Chicago and Gabriel Gomez in Philadelphia -- to take creative duties off Henry's shoulders and allow the Frenchman to do what he does best: Finish in front of goal.

In the Red Bulls' defense, their losses have taken place on the road at the homes of two of the better teams in the league, FC Dallas and RSL, but Backe's hot seat will get a whole lot warmer if the club can't come up with a result against a Jeff Larentowicz-less (suspension) Colorado Rapids on national television this weekend.

3. The Beckham Treatment. David Beckham's role in the success, growth and viability of MLS is indisputable, and his productivity on the field continues to spark the Galaxy. That said, the iconic Englishman continues to get away with more misconduct than any other player in MLS. After inexplicably throwing a ball in the direction of a referee in the Galaxy's season-opening game without being disciplined, Beckham delivered a crunching tackle on D.C. United's Marcelo Saragosa and walked away uncarded. It marked the second straight season in which Beckham committed a particularly harsh challenge on a D.C. player, after he came up with a scissoring leg swipe of Josh Wolff at RFK Stadium last April.

Beckham's aggressiveness hasn't gone completely unnoticed -- he tied for the most yellow cards in MLS last season (10). In the aftermath of last season's injuries to Steve Zakuani, David Ferreira and Javier Morales, MLS commissioner Don Garber adamantly said before this season that the league's discipline committee would take a hard line on overly harsh challenges, even those that did not result in in-game whistles or cards, by dealing out fines and suspensions as it sees fit.

It is doubtful that Beckham, will receive postgame discipline for his rough tackle on Sunday, but it does make you wonder what would have happened if it were someeone else who delivered the challenge. The league's effort to clean the game up, protect its players, prevent unnecessary injuries and eliminate embellishment is commendable, but the implementation, especially when concerning the marquee stars in the league, is far from a clear-cut exercise.

4. Estrada rises to challenge in Seattle. David Estrada may yet be worth the first-round pick that the Seattle Sounders used to acquire him in 2010. The UCLA product tallied the most unexpected of hat tricks over the weekend, scoring his first three MLS goals in just his seventh first-team game as a pro. With the club searching for a capable complement to DP striker Fredy Montero for the last two years, it turns out that the solution might have been inside the home locker room at CenturyLink Field after all.

Against Toronto, Estrada showed a strong sense of understanding between himself and Uruguayan DP Alvaro Fernandez, with his well-timed runs past the porous TFC back line taking defensive attention away from Montero.

Seattle fans were disappointed when Emerald City Supporters favorites Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle were traded for one-time U.S. national team striker Eddie Johnson -- but a new fan favorite was born Saturday night. Estrada will force Johnson to earn his minutes when he regains full fitness from his current hip injury.

5. Team of the Week.

Goalkeeper: Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo)

Defenders: Seth Sinovic (Sporting Kansas City), Marvell Wynne (Colorado Rapids), Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps), Ramiro Corrales (San Jose Earthquakes)

Midfielders: Alvaro Fernandez (Seattle Sounders), Ned Grabavoy (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: David Estrada (Seattle Sounders), Kei Kamara (Sporting Kansas City), Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Week 2 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 1 Real Salt Lake (W/L/T: 2-0-0)
Budget conscious-RSL has wins over the league's top two spenders and is clicking on all cylinders. And Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio and Nat Borchers aren't at full fitness yet. MLS beware.
2 2 Los Angeles Galaxy (1-1-0)
If Robbie Keane was struggling with his confidence as Bruce Arena suggested, it didn't show against D.C., especially with his second goal, one that few other strikers in MLS are capable of converting with such power and precision. Order has been restored with the club in the win column for the first time.
3 3 Seattle Sounders (1-0-0)
Seattle turned the page on its CCL drubbing with relative ease behind the first three goals of David Estrada's MLS career. All eyes will be on Mauro Rosales, though, as the Argentine playmaker had to come off against Toronto with an apparent knee injury. The Sounders have the depth to overcome a brief absence, but Rosales means plenty to Seattle's attack and any long-term spell would set the club back in what will be a tightly contested conference race.
4 4 Sporting Kansas City (2-0-0)
While just about the rest of the Eastern Conference struggles to find its footing, Sporting KC is coasting along. The club's home opener was an exercise in thorough domination, with SKC showing no mercy after an early New England red card set the tone for what followed. After having to put together a midseason stretch to make up for lost early points last year, SKC is off an running, tied for first in the East with a five-point edge over the closest pretenders.
5 5 Houston Dynamo (2-0-0)
No goals have been scored in the run of play. Luiz Camargo, one of the club's key midfield performers, has yet to play a single minute. Yet here are the Dynamo, winners of their first two games as part of their season-opening seven-game road trip, matching their total road-win output from a season ago. Not a bad start for the only East-based team to manage a win against the West.
6 8 Colorado Rapids (2-0-0)
Credit the Rapids for going down a man but having the ability to hold on in enemy territory all while not having their best day at the office. Having Jeff Larentowicz suspended after his red card is the only real blemish on the season, which thus far has been filled with passing grades for first-year coach Oscar Pareja.
7 6 FC Dallas (1-0-1)
The club's absences were glaring against Portland, with the attack narrowing sans Brek Shea and Fabian Castillo. Now that Carlos Rodriguez is off to Olympic qualifying as well, it might take a more concerted, direct approach spearheaded by Blas Perez to stem the tide for the next couple weeks.
8 7 Portland Timbers (1-0-1)
The knock on the Timbers last year was their inability to perform away from the confines of Jeld-Wen Field. Fighting from behind to take a point off FCD is certainly a step in the right direction. After conceding the opener, Portland carried most of the game and got its deserved equalizer through Darlington Nagbe, the 2011 second overall draft pick with higher expectations in his sophomore season.
9 13 Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-0)
In Year 2 the Whitecaps have finally achieved road win No. 1 in franchise history. The self proclaimed Rennie-sance is well under way, but the schedule (Montreal, Chivas USA) has been awfully friendly early on as well. The first bit of adversity has crept up on the club, though, with goalkeeper Joe Cannon suffering a quad injury. The 'Caps have an MLS-tested and Rennie-approved backup in Brad Knighton, who starred for Rennie in NASL and maintained order against Chivas.
10 9 San Jose Earthquakes (1-1-0)
Over the course of 90 minutes against the Dynamo, we saw the San Jose team from last year that struggled to create and, following the inclusion of some super subs, the San Jose team expected to show up this year, coming at opponents from varying directions with a bit of flair. Newcomers Marvin Chavez and Tressor Moreno need to be regulars for this team to hit its peak.
11 12 Chicago Fire (0-0-1)
Give the Fire a break. It's not easy being the opponent to open a new stadium for an opponent, let alone having it happen to the club four times in the last three years. All things considered, Chicago weathered Montreal's furious storm and found an equalizer to salvage the point. A bit under the radar is that former Inter Milan youth player Paolo Tornaghi looked mighty comfortable in goal, and the club shouldn't skip a beat with Sean Johnson away at Olympic qualifying.
12 10 New York Red Bulls (0-2-0)
As it turns out, the page was not turned from 2011. The same issues that plagued the club in its futile campaign are rearing their heads again. The five-man midfield used to combat RSL's possession game offered little going forward, and more defensive breakdowns led to a rather formulaic win for the opposition. On the plus side, the East is so poor, that one strong result puts the club back in good conference standing.
13 11 Philadelphia Union (0-2-0)
If there's a silver lining for the Union, it's that striker Lionard Pajoy opened his account and Gabriel Gomez' dead-ball service is a serious weapon. There are far too many questions, though, for a team expecting to take another step forward after its initial playoff appearance in 2011.
14 14 D.C. United (0-1-0)
Dysfunction in the Mid-Atlantic isn't limited to Philly and N.Y. Already without U.S. U-23ers Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid, coach Ben Olsen made curious wholesale changes, taking Designated Players Hamdi Salihi and Branko Boskovic out of the starting lineup against the Galaxy. The Galaxy have one glaring weakness, central defense, and D.C. turns to a third-choice striker and a less-potent midfield? Seemed like a bit of an odd overreaction after the season-opening loss to SKC.
15 15 Toronto FC (0-0-0)
Advancing to the CCL semifinals is a tremendous accomplishment, but the hamstring injury to Torsten Frings could prove to be devastating to the Reds. Through MLS and CONCACAF Champions League play, the 35-year-old German veteran has been TFC's most valuable player, and considering how he has shielded TFC's questionable defense and provided pinpoint service from the back, he arguably does more for his team than any other player in the league. A long spell on the sidelines would be detrimental for TFC's hopes.
16 16 Columbus Crew (0-1-0)
The Crew had a well-timed bye week to try and work out the kinks of what went wrong in the season's opening match, and they'll welcome the expansion Impact for their home opener. No game this early is anything close to a must-win, but one would expect the Crew to be eager and urgent in their approach after their awful debut in Colorado.
17 17 Montreal Impact (0-1-1)
A tremendous atmosphere at Olympic Stadium was met with an inspired performance for the Impact, who were able to secure the first point in franchise history. Suspect back-tracking and central defense play prevented the club from taking all three points, though, and there remains plenty to sort out, from organization to finding the ideal formation for the team's personnel.
18 18 Chivas USA (0-2-0)
Results aren't going the club's way, nor is good fortune after Chivas were denied a penalty when Nick LaBrocca went down in the area. Up top, the club expected big things from Casey Townsend after taking him with the fifth overall pick in the draft, and it looks like the pressure is on with Juan Pablo Angel on the mend with a team-deemed "head contusion." It's not getting any easier for the Goats, as next on the docket is a clash with RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium.
19 19 New England Revolution (0-2-0)
After everything that went wrong last season, how long will it take for a series of negative events to erase the preseason progress this club made? An early red card to converted central midfielder Stephen McCarthy spelled doom for the Revs in Kansas City, forcing Sharlie Joseph to play center back. To say that's far from ideal is an understatement, as Revs fans hope for a mass exodus from the team's infirmary to cover the issues at the back.
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