Posted: Mon March 26, 2012 11:38AM; Updated: Mon March 26, 2012 11:39AM
Avi Creditor

Week 3 Power Rankings: Red Bulls back on track; Clark in hot water

Story Highlights

Houston's Colin Clark must be disciplined by the league for his anti-gay slur

Red Bulls' strike force of Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper is teaming nicely

Depth and quality of goalkeeping in MLS this season appears much improved

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Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry nabbed a brace against Colorado as the Red Bulls got their season back on track.
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

A matter of discipline for the league office, a revival in New York, a goalkeeper showcase and more from Week 3 of the MLS season:

1. Colin Clark must be disciplined. MLS officials have a decision to make regarding Houston Dynamo winger Colin Clark, but it's not a matter of if a punishment should be levied, it's a matter of how significant it will be.

In the opening minutes of Houston's 2-0 loss at Seattle, Clark directed an anti-gay slur to a Sounders ball boy, an unbeknown to him, it happened right in front of an NBC Sports Network on-field microphone for the viewing audience to hear with clarity.

While the winger delivered an apology after the game via his Twitter account, MLS needs to take a zero-tolerance stand and at the very least deliver a substantial fine that will grab the attention of players and guide them to keep their emotions in check.

This isn't the first opportunity the league has had to make a statement on this kind of incident this year. Neither MLS nor the Vancouver Whitecaps disciplined current New England Revolution midfield Lee Nguyen for the joke-toned homophobic slur he used on Twitter targeted at teammate Brad Knighton during the preseason. The club issued a statement that he had been addressed and warned but did not take any other action, and the Whitecaps indicated that the incident had nothing to do with his being released weeks later.

While that was an off-field incident between teammates that happened in the social media forum (i.e. making it less of a matter under the league umbrella), Clark's trangession took place during a game on national television, and for the league to not act accordingly and swiftly would reek of naivety and ignorance.

Precedents have been set in other leagues and sports for such actions. In England's League Championship earlier this year, West Ham's Ravel Morrison was fined £7,000 (a little more than $11,000) by the FA for using a homophobic slur on Twitter. The NBA fined Kobe Bryant $100,000 for uttering a derogatory term out of frustration after a call did not go his way, and it also fined Joakim Noah $50,000 for using a slur toward a fan. A fine of that size won't come down on Clark considering the salary discrepancies between MLS, English soccer and the NBA, but MLS has an opportunity to right a wrong and take a stance, either through fine, suspension or a combination of the two.

For a league that is meticulous in crafting its image and shaping how it is perceived, MLS has no choice but to lower the hammer and send a message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.

2. Reinforcements trigger Red Bulls revival. The stars had aligned for the New York Red Bulls heading into Sunday's home opener against the Colorado Rapids. With their Western Conference foe playing without midfield stalwarts Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz and two high-salaried starters making their NY season debuts, the Red Bulls would have had plenty of explaining to do if they couldn't nab a result. Even so, the club's performance was as encouraging an indication the club has given since last year's underwhelming campaign came to a close.

With Wilman Conde looking every bit like the dominant defender of his MLS past and Rafa Marquez restoring order in the midfield coming off suspension, the Red Bulls were a transformed unit for the majority of their 4-1 win over Colorado. Two games of disorganization and a lack of creativity and mobility moving forward gave way to solid possession play, cohesiveness in the back and, most importantly, three points.

The revival can be attributed to three additions to the starting lineup: Conde, Marquez and Kenny Cooper. After two games of coming off the bench, the in-form Cooper was finally handed the start next to Thierry Henry, and the results were prolific. Each nabbed a brace, complemented each other well and gave fits to Colorado's defense. Conde's long-term fitness is a major question mark, but in his first game in almost a year, the former MLS Best XI center back was the anchor in the back the club was sorely lacking.

As for Marquez, the much-maligned Mexican veteran's presence allowed Henry to worry less about trying to facilitate everything by himself from the midfield. Sure, Marquez' clumsy giveaway led directly to the Rapids' goal, but on the whole he showed that the club needs his skill and vision to be successful -- a far cry from last season, when the team seemed to jell more with him off the field. In the subpar Eastern Conference all it takes is one result to get back in the thick of things, and the Red Bulls were able to get that while kicking off a favorable stretch in their schedule.

3. Goalkeepers rise to the challenge. Week 3 was certainly the week of the goalkeeper.

Eight backstops posted clean sheets, as Seattle's Michael Gspurning, Columbus' Andy Gruenebaum, Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy, San Jose's Jon Busch, New England's Matt Reis and Chicago's Paolo Tornaghi all shut out their opponents while Vancouver's Joe Cannon and D.C.'s Joe Willis (who didn't face a shot, but still) dueled to a 0-0 draw.

Some of the best performances, though, came from those not involved in the shutout brigade. Montreal's Donovan Ricketts turned in the most heroic performance of them all, repeatedly coming up with instinctive, reaction saves to keep the 10-man Impact within range of the Crew. FC Dallas' Kevin Hartman saved a penalty kick and nearly preserved a point against his former club before Sporting Kansas City turned in a one-touch clinic for their late game-winner. New York's Ryan Meara rose to the challenge against Colorado, displaying further evidence that the rookie is ready for the fulltime gig.

Of all of the Week 3 standout keepers, Tornaghi's case is the most fascinating. A former Inter Milan youth product, the 23-year-old Italian is going to make Fire coach Frank Klopas think twice about unconditionally handing the starting job back to Sean Johnson once the U.S. Olympic qualifying run ends considering how composed, poised and steady he has looked in two games. Even if Johnson assumes his place in the starting lineup upon his return as is expected, Tornaghi has proved to be a viable option in the Windy City.

4. Chivas USA establishes identity. Teams often take on the identity of their coach if a message is truly getting across, and that's what appears to be happening at Chivas USA.

The Goats walked into Rio Tinto Stadium and did what opposing teams rarely do, leave with three points. More notably, though, is that they took another step toward establishing their identity as a hardworking, defense-first club performing in the mold of their coach, former MLS standout defender Robin Fraser.

Behind an all-out effort filled with tireless tracking, hard tackling, diving bodies, frantic defending and some top-notch saves, upstart Chivas was able to grit out a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake, poaching a game-winner on a head's-up play by rookie forward Casey Townsend. It's going to take a collective, consistent work rate along the lines of Saturday night's effort to offset the club's personnel deficiencies in the attack, and in the stacked Western Conference the Goats are facing an uphill battle; however, opposing teams have to know that at the very least they're in for a physical bout with a determined side when they face Fraser's charges.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts (Montreal Impact)

Defenders: Shaun Francis (Columbus Crew), Wilman Conde (New York Red Bulls), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA), Chance Myers (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Patrick Nyarko (Chicago Fire), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders), Sam Cronin (San Jose Earthquakes), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Week 3 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 3 Seattle (W/L/T: 2-0-0)
So much for any potential CONCACAF Champions League hangover. The Sounders certainly got some breaks against Houston and haven't been tested on the road yet, but David Estrada's emergence coupled with getting past the Dynamo without Mauro Rosales are promising signs for a team on a mission.
2 1 Real Salt Lake (2-1-0)
RSL will be kicking themselves for not putting away their chances, and the club's early goal that was waved off after a quick restart seemed to be the result of a questionable officiating decision. It's worth remembering that Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio have yet to start as they reach peak fitness.
3 2 Los Angeles Galaxy (1-1-0)
A much-needed bye week gave the Galaxy a chance to completely turn the page from their CCL debacle while giving the club's weary legs some rest. With focus firmly on league play, L.A. can continue the process of restoring its position as league favorite.
4 4 Sporting Kansas City (3-0-0)
If there's any doubt that Sporting KC plays hard to the final whistle, then the club's game-winning goal against Dallas should erase all of it. With starters Kei Kamara and Chance Myers completing the one-touch sequence with two furious runs at the end of a grinding game, SKC's form, fitness and winning mentality all shone with the three points in the balance.
5 5 Houston Dynamo (2-1-0)
The Dynamo carried a good portion of the game in their loss to Seattle, but a freak deflection and questionable penalty call turned an even bout into a two-goal deficit in a flash. A 2-1 road start is satisfactory, but scoring no goals in the run of play at all has to be worrisome for the men in orange.
6 9 Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-1)
It's the augmented Whitecaps' attack that got all the preseason press, but it's the renovated back line that is starting to turn some heads. The 'Caps are the only team that has yet to concede a goal, while the vaunted attack has mustered just three tallies. A resurgent and fit Jay DeMerit has been integral to the effort.
7 6 Colorado Rapids (2-1-0)
Without Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni, winning in New York was always going to be a tough task, but the Rapids essentially gifted the three points with two early concessions. Just goes to show that no matter how different the system, the two central midfielders are the lifeblood of the club.
8 7 FC Dallas (1-1-1)
If there's a club that will happily welcome the end of CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, it's FCD, which struggled with its wide play and was forced to play left back Jair Benitez and untested homegrown player Bryan Leyva on the wings while Brek Shea and Carlos Rodriguez try to forge a path to London for their respective countries.
9 10 San Jose Earthquakes (2-1-0)
Right with Vancouver in the race for "Most Improved," the Earthquakes haven't allowed a goal in the run of play all season, and the presence of Honduran center back Victor Bernardez is a big reason why. That defensive record will be put to the test in Seattle Saturday night.
10 11 Chicago Fire (1-0-1)
The contributions of Dominic Oduro, Patrick Nyarko and Sebastian Grazzini have become constants, but if Marco Pappa is going to rediscover his top form too and get involved like he did against the Union regularly, then the multipronged Fire attack will be a tough one to handle for any opposition.
11 8 Portland Timbers (1-1-1)
DP striker Kris Boyd's inability to finish a couple of golden chances in front of the goal cost the Timbers at least a point, but more worrisome is the status of Colombian center back Hanyer Mosquera, who suffered an undisclosed facial injury and had to be subbed off early.
12 12 New York Red Bulls (1-2-0)
We've seen this before from the Henry-era Red Bulls -- horrendous one game, impressive the next. Finding that consistency will be the challenge now that the club's major players (save for Luke Rodgers' visa issues and injured Juan Agudelo) are ready to contribute.
13 14 D.C. United (0-2-1)
On the plus side, the back line did not yield a shot on goal to Vancouver, and Argentine center back Emiliano Dudar fit in nicely in his first start, but the attack that was supposed to be carrying the club is still very much in sputter mode.
14 16 Columbus Crew (1-1-0)
Newcomers Milovan Mirosevic and Olmar Vargas both got on the board against the Impact, which is a welcome sight for Crew fans. The club will only go as far as the two attacking reinforcements can carry them.
15 18 Chivas USA (1-2-0)
The result of the week goes to the Goats, who defended as if their lives depended on it and eked out a result against an RSL side that had appeared invincible. It's a huge lift for a club that appeared destined for a dreaded 0-3 start.
16 19 New England Revolution (1-2-0)
Saer Sene's touch of class at the onset of the first win of the Jay Heaps era was crucial, but it was the selfless play of captain Shalrie Joseph in the back that helped ease a personnel crisis and key the victory over the Timbers.
17 13 Philadelphia Union (0-3-0)
This supposed contender is an absolute mess, and the potential for it to get worse before it gets better is looming this weekend as jettisoned star Sebastien Le Toux makes his return to PPL Park for the first time since the controversial decision to trade him. Talk about a must-see match.
18 15 Toronto FC (0-2-0)
The league's worst defense in 2011 is picking up right where it left off, and with do-it-all German Torsten Frings unable to clean up the mess while he recovers from a hamstring strain, the Reds could find themselves expelled from the CCL semifinals in a flash while facing an early table deficit.
19 17 Montreal Impact (0-2-1)
The Impact don't have a large margin for error, so when an early red card and suspect penalty call went against them it spelled doom in Columbus. Justin Braun and Sanna Nyassi both turned in hat tricks against the Red Bulls last year, and Jesse Marsch will hope for one of them to replicate that success in a tough road bout this weekend.
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