Posted: Mon April 9, 2012 2:10PM; Updated: Mon April 9, 2012 5:17PM
Avi Creditor

MLS Week 5 Power Rankings: RSL, Sporting KC set for showdown

Story Highlights

The two best teams early in the season are Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake

Chivas USA has been poor at home but suprisingly good on the road

Long-time veterans such as Joe Cannon and Ramiro Corrales have excelled

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Kei Kamara
Kei Kamara (lefT) and Sporting KC passed their biggest test of the season in defeating L.A.
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake take care of business ahead of their showdown, and Chivas USA pulls another stunner. That and more from Week 5 in MLS:

1. League leaders on collision course. With the unbalanced schedule, it's a shame that Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake only meet once this season (at Livestrong Sporting Park Saturday night). At least it's happening when the two sides are both at the top of their respective games -- through the first five weeks, no one else is playing better.

When the two meet, it will also be a fascinating battle of tactics and systems. Peter Vermes' well-oiled 4-3-3 for Kansas City goes up against Jason Kreis' established 4-4-2, and both are coming off important, dominating victories (Sporting KC over the Los Angeles Galaxy and RSL over rival Colorado) to maintain their places atop the table.

Despite all the talent for both teams, the scales are likely to be tilted in the heart of the midfield, where breaking up possession and upsetting the rhythm will be key for both sides. RSL prides itself on bossing the ball and dictating the pace and tempo -- the club has reached the 78 percent accuracy passing mark in every game this season. Captain Kyle Beckerman has been the constant in the diamond-shaped midfield, while injuries have facilitated more playing time for youngsters Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez, who have performed admirably.

Conversely, Sporting KC has held opponents to less than a 70 percent passing clip in all but one game, as Roger Espinoza and Julio Cesar quietly go about their business disrupting opposing forays forward, allowing MLS assist leader Graham Zusi to push ahead and create. Something will have to give in the must-see match of the week.

2. Surprising road warriors. Is there a more perplexing team in the league than Chivas USA?

Winless at home in three matches, Chivas have gone into two of the league's toughest venues for away teams and emerged with six points, adding a surprising win in Portland to its improbable victory at RSL from a few weeks ago.

The Goats have gotten the job done away from home in entirely different manners. Against RSL, they absorbed tons of pressure, leaned on goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and struck for an opportunistic goal after hanging around. Against Portland, Chivas showed its resiliency, not allowing a Kennedy-James Riley gaffe that led to a goal to rile them. Instead, Chivas pounced on a complacent Timbers side and took the action to them in the second half, getting two well-worked, deserved goals orchestrated by speedy winger Ryan Smith.

The lack of consistency in attack likely prevents Chivas from becoming a true force in a loaded conference, but a defense that has conceded just one goal in every game thus far will keep the Goats afloat while they fight and scrap for results. There's plenty of reason to believe that Chivas will make it 3-for-3 away from the Home Depot Center this weekend, too, as they venture to BMO Field to take on pointless Toronto FC.

3. Burch's near-fitting D.C. return. Left back-on-left back hate is pretty uncommon in MLS circles, so when Seattle's Marc Burch let loose on his former club, D.C. United (where he spent five seasons), and his successor, Daniel Woolard, with one of the more awkward and unprovoked instances of trash talk, it naturally captured some attention.

"They had the opportunity to keep me, and they didn't," an irked Burch told the Seattle Times last week in the buildup to Seattle's match at D.C. "It's time to go back and prove that I don't believe that their left back is better than I am. If that's what they think, then that's what they think."

Unfortunately for Burch, whom Seattle traded up to get in the re-entry draft, he only had a few minutes to back up his words. Come first kick, he was sitting on the bench for the first time all season, while the soft-spoken Woolard got the start and was steady in a 90-minute shift for D.C., despite Seattle appearing to make a concerted effort to go right at him on the opening sequences of the match.

After Burch entered the game in what figured to be a time-killing substitution in stoppage time, the opportunity to back up his words presented itself in the form of a free header close to goal off a saved Osvaldo Alonso blast. Burch came oh-so-close to putting a bow on his return, but the crossbar had other ideas, much to the relief of Woolard, D.C. and the RFK Stadium faithful, who emerged with a scoreless draw.

Consider it the latest chapter to one of the more underrated rivalries in the league, with something unusual constantly happening when Seattle and D.C. do battle.

4. A nod to the old guard. Plenty of focus in MLS these days is on the performances of newcomers, rookies and young rising talent, but the league's wily veterans are still capable of carrying the action.

It starts in goal, with FC Dallas' Kevin Hartman continuing to etch his name in the league record books. Already the all-time leader in games played and started and the goalkeeper with the most wins, shutouts and saves in league history, Hartman. 37, became the first MLS player to hit the 35,000-minute mark -- keeping the 107th clean sheet of his career and first of the season.

Vancouver's Joe Cannon is right on Hartman's tail for most MLS goalkeeping records, but he boasts one record that Hartman does not: 427 consecutive minutes of not conceding a goal to start a season, snapping the record set by the 2007 New York Red Bulls. Caught in a fight for playing time last season with Jay Nolly, the 37-year-old Cannon, a two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, labored through an inaugural Whitecaps campaign in which the club conceded 55 goals and had five shutouts all season. With an improved back line ahead of him and a familiar bounce in his step, Cannon already boasts four shutouts in 2012 and every bit of the athleticism and instincts that have been the hallmarks of his career.

Ramiro Corrales, meanwhile, the last remaining MLS 1996 original, continues to get it done at a high level at left back for the San Jose Earthquakes. The 35-year-old defender still has plenty of life in his legs, displaying pace up the flank after shaking off an ankle injury suffered last week. On Saturday, he had the wherewithal to find Chris Wondolowski sneaking behind the defense on a throw-in to snap Cannon's shutout streak, and he put in a pinpoint cross for Alan Gordon four minutes later for the game-winning header. The new faces of MLS are the future, but the old-timers aren't through just yet.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Donovan Ricketts (Montreal Impact)

Defenders: Ramiro Corrales (San Jose Earthquakes), Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake), Auerlien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)

Midfielders: Ryan Smith (Chivas USA), Roger Espinoza (Sporting Kansas City), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders)

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

Week 5 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 1 Real Salt Lake (W/L/T: 5-1-0)
Two more victories, two more clean sheets and a whole lot of momentum for a club that keeps on ticking despite injuries preventing coach Jason Kreis from fielding what most would perceive to be his best XI. That's not a problem for the deepest unit in MLS, though, one that doesn't seem to skip a beat regardless of who is on the field.
2 2 Sporting Kansas City (5-0-0)
There might not be a more well-oiled machine in the league than Sporting KC, a team that thoroughly dominated the Los Angeles Galaxy, the 1-0 score line notwithstanding. Off to the first 5-0 start in MLS (in regulation; remember the shootout era?) since the inaugural 1996 season, SKC has given no indications of slowing down.
3 3 Seattle Sounders (2-1-1)
There's starting to be cause for concern in Seattle, where the attack has dried up considerably in the last two matches after a fast start. With David Estrada tailing off a bit after his breakout beginning and Fredy Montero still yet to find the goal, the heat is on to get going against Colorado at home this weekend. The Sounders would really benefit from a healthy Mauro Rosales right about now.
4 4 Houston Dynamo (2-1-0)
The Dynamo will be well rested after two straight bye weeks, but that advantage will be negated a bit with their opponents this week, the Chicago Fire, also coming off a bye week. For a team that did not score in the run of play in its first three games, Houston's time off should have been spent rectifying its offensive limitations.
5 8 San Jose Earthquakes (4-1-0)
One would think that defenses -- especially those entering the weekend with no goals conceded -- would know better than to let the player with the most goals in MLS over the last two seasons go unmarked on multiple occasions in front of goal. Not that Chris Wondolowski, owner of two more goals and six on the season, is complaining.
6 9 New York Red Bulls (3-2-0)
There's no hotter combo than the Thierry Henry-Kenny Cooper forward tandem in New York, with the two accounting for 12 goals in the last three games, including four against Columbus. The scoreboard was not completely indicative of how often the Red Bulls' defense got burned, though, with some errant point-blank chances, a few big Ryan Meara saves and the crossbar preventing the Crew from getting back in the game.
7 6 Vancouver Whitecaps (2-1-2)
A record shutout streak gave way to a calamity of errors for the vaunted Vancouver D, which had the screws come loose in a 10-minute span in their first loss of the season. That aside, for a club that gave up 55 goals a year ago and had five clean sheets all season to go 427 minutes without conceding to start 2012 is a noble accomplishment.
8 7 Colorado Rapids (3-2-0)
Oscar Pareja's lineup tinkering backfired, and the Rapids never really had a handle on the first of three Rocky Mountain Cup matches this season. That should hopefully put an end to the Drew Moor-at-midfield experiment, one that weakened both the Rapids' midfield and defense for the crucial matchup.
9 10 D.C. United (1-2-2)
There might not be a more astounding stat in MLS than the fact that storied D.C. has not won consecutive league matches since June, 2009. Saturday's hard-fought, scoreless draw against Seattle ensured that stretch will continue for at least a couple of more games.
10 11 FC Dallas (2-2-1)
Boy did Dallas need Ugo Ihemelu's last-second winner against New England, both for confidence and to stay afloat in the West standings. The revolving injury door keeps turning, though, with Fabian Castillo returning but new concerns surrounding Ricardo Villar and George John, who were both forced off early with respective ailments.
11 5 Los Angeles Galaxy (1-3-0)
Really? No shots on goal with an attack that featured Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and Robbie Keane? Just goes to show that the problems in L.A. go way beyond Omar Gonzalez' absence in the back.
12 16 Chivas USA (2-3-0)
The league's most unassuming road warriors did it again, adding a win in Portland to their victory at Real Salt Lake. Ryan Smith's halftime insertion on the wing brought new life and an added dynamic to the Chivas attack, and it begs the question why he wasn't starting to begin with.
13 12 Portland Timbers (1-3-1)
For the second time in as many weeks, Portland let what appeared to be sure points slip away at home. While the atmosphere at Jeld-Wen Field is among the best in the league, the Timbers just aren't finishing the job there in order to be considered serious contenders in a stacked conference.
14 14 Chicago Fire (1-1-1)
Rested and ready to return to action after a week off, the Fire could unveil German international center back Arne Freidrich for his MLS debut against the Dynamo. He went 88 minutes in a Saturday scrimmage against the University of Louisville for his first live action since joining the club.
15 15 New England Revolution (2-3-0)
The Revs deserved a better fate in Dallas than losing at the death after a spirited defensive effort. At the very least, Jose Moreno's long-awaited debut gives the Revs another option up top, with Saer Sene looking a bit worn out against FCD.
16 13 Columbus Crew (2-2-0)
The Crew looked downright junior varsity in the first 45 minutes against the Red Bulls, not even attempting to make life difficult for Henry and Cooper while falling behind 3-0. Even after a more-spirited second-half showing, wins over lesser competition may have masked who the Crew really are.
17 17 Philadelphia Union (0-3-1)
With a week off to reflect on what's gone wrong so far, the Union return to action against a Columbus opponent that's ripe for the picking. Peter Nowak hasn't yet settled on a consistent starting unit, trotting out a different XI in every match this season. With a full complement of players available to him and a couple of weeks to prepare for the Crew, we'll see where some players truly sit in the pecking order.
18 19 Montreal Impact (1-4-1)
Kudos to the Impact for notching the first MLS win in franchise history. That it came at the expense of Canadian rival Toronto FC had to feel sweet for Jesse Marsch & Co., and for players like Shavar Thomas, Lamar Neagle, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Andrew Wenger to come through shows Marsch that he has options and depth to turn to, which really had not been the case before this week.
19 18 Toronto FC (0-4-0)
TFC has hit a new season low. The Reds no longer have the CONCACAF Champions League to mask their overall woes, and they have the dubious distinction of being the only pointless team in MLS. Torsten Frings (hamstring) can't return soon enough.
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