Posted: Mon March 18, 2013 4:47PM; Updated: Mon March 18, 2013 4:45PM
Avi Creditor

Impact climb to top of MLS Power Rankings after dramatic weekend

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Dom Kinnear
Dynamo coach Dom Kinnearc called diving "a sickening epidemic" around the league.
Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports

MLS' Rivalry Week might not have had the goal barrage most would have hoped for, but drama and storylines oozed out of just about every match in a landmark week:

1. MLS Breakaway's debut. MLS has taken strides over the years, from the construction of state-of-the-art soccer-specific stadiums, to increasing average attendance numbers to improving the quality of play. The one frontier the league has yet to conquer is increasing dull, static TV ratings, but last weekend offered a glimpse into a potential solution.

NBC Sports Network's MLS Breakaway debuted in conjunction with Rivalry Week, offering fans at home whip-around coverage along the lines of NFL's popular RedZone channel. Unfortunately, most of the drama and late-game heroics came during the matches either before or after the four-and-a-half-hour studio show, which featured host Russ Thaler and top broadcast team Arlo White and Kyle Martino offering their instant analysis of games and notable happenings around the league (and impressively doing so immediately after being ushered from calling the D.C.-New York game at Red Bull Arena to the studio in Stamford, Conn.). The poorly timed lack of league-wide action did not take away from the spectacle, though, nor did it subdue the buzz created by MLS in its effort to showcase its league. The fact that MLS has a partner in NBC Sports that is willing to try new and innovative ways to promote the league's TV content is a boon for the present and future.

Breakaway had a multi-pronged effect. It gave home viewers who have a basic cable package exposure to games around the league. It also pressured local MLS broadcasts, which have come under scrutiny, to up their quality, knowing there was national attention. For teams who don't appear on national TV frequently, despite their relative success -- think Columbus and Real Salt Lake -- Breakaway provided a chance for widespread acknowledgment, even if just few-minute doses.

It was not a perfect experience, which is to be expected in the first run-through, although some of that was not in the network's control. With four low-scoring draws and eight total goals spread across six games before the Seattle-Portland nightcap, there was not a whole lot of rapid-fire movement necessary, and the live look-ins did not guarantee any exciting moments. The studio team managed to provide its insight to fill the down time rather seamlessly, regardless. When the games were flashed to as goals were scored, instead of the home broadcast's announcers having their calls aired, it was often the studio hosts narrating the play-by-play, which took a bit away from fans having the feel of being connected to a local broadcast they might not otherwise be able to see.

All things told, though, Saturday was a landmark day in MLS media. We won't know the real impact of Breakaway until ratings come out and it is determined whether it becomes a regular feature, but for at least one night, MLS' TV coverage had a Major League feel to it. That's a step everyone should be able to embrace.

2. Kinnear's fighting words. Houston Dynamo coach Dom Kinnear certainly did not hold back after watching his club fall to FC Dallas on Sunday afternoon.

Kinnear's pointed tirade at Dallas for allegedly diving to earn foul calls turned plenty of heads, for both the content of his comments and the stark, uncensored level of truth they contained. While Kenny Cooper's actions, both allegedly diving and handling the ball that led to Dallas' late game-winning goal, were the ones that pushed Kinnear to the boiling point, his overall message was one directed at a league-wide problem.

For those who missed Kinnear's remarks, he told reporters after the game that, "I've watched this league for three weeks now and it saddens me that we have people who have no problem diving, and looking for fouls and then looking to the heavens. It's a sickening epidemic that's going on in our league and hopefully it cancels itself out here pretty soon. Because some teams play hard, some guys cheat. Sometimes the cheaters win. When you have guys that don't even get looked at, don't get touched, falling on the ground looking for fouls, it makes me want to throw up.

"Hopefully the players look at themselves and realize that they are cheaters, first, and putting the game into total disrespect. And hopefully that's something that we, as coaches and players and as a league, can stop. Because it makes me not want to watch the game."

Now, for these words to come from a coach of Kinnear's stature definitely gives them more credence. Kinnear is traditionally a frank and candid guy, but he hardly toes the line of controversy just for the sake of it. That said, it doesn't take long for certain players to earn the reputation of being a diver (it took Toronto FC newcomer John Bostock about half an hour to put referees on notice), and the league has taken measures to eliminate simulation.

Regardless of whether the league's referees are as adept at catching it as frequently as is necessary, the MLS Disciplinary Committee will continue to enforce its punishments. Otherwise, there's not much else that can be done short of embracing an honor code. Unfortunately, diving happens everywhere, and while in an ideal world MLS would be the world leader in fair play, that's just not a realistic expectation despite Kinnear's warranted frustration.

And, let it be said too, that had Kinnear's own players -- specifically Giles Barnes and his bonehead choice to fire from an angle instead of pass to a wide-open Will Bruin for a sitter -- made better decisions earlier in the match during the run of play, then perhaps Dallas' alleged antics later on would not have been such a hot-button topic.

Matt Pickens
Matt Pickens will miss three to four months with a broken arm.
George Frey/Getty Images

3. Kevin Hartman, anybody? The moment Colorado goalkeeper Matt Pickens went down clutching his forearm, plenty of inquiring minds went straight to wondering what Kevin Hartman was doing on Saturday afternoon.

With the goalkeeper who holds the MLS records for games and minutes played, starts, shutouts, wins and saves without a team after being let go by FC Dallas in the offseason, it only seems natural to connect his whereabouts to the situation going on at Dick's Sporting Goods Park right now. Pickens' broken forearm leaves the Rapids in a bind in goal for the next three to four months. Steward Ceus' howler in the opening week hardly inspired confidence with him between the pipes, and even though Clint Irwin was borderline heroic after being rushed into Rocky Mountain Cup duty for his MLS debut, there are fair questions about his long-term prospects. An experienced alternative is certainly a must.

In Hartman's old stomping grounds, Raul Fernandez's latest erratic display has plenty wondering if FCD is really better off with the Peruvian in net. Even though it is unrealistic to expect Schellas Hyndman to do a 180 and turn back to the 38-year-old Hartman, especially given his track record of making a defined break from players he lets go, it is understandable to question why he was jettisoned in the first place. With uncertainty in some nets creeping in and a player of Hartman's stature seemingly available for hire, El Gato may very well find his rightful place back on an MLS roster to add to his storied career.

4. Chivas USA earns more respect. Chivas USA has been an intriguing story for months, but the club is starting to earn its intrigue for the right reason now: Performance on the field.

The Goats salvaging a tie with the rival Galaxy despite being down to 10 men for 50 minutes was worthy of respect. Flamboyant coach Jose Luis "Chelis" Sanchez Sola alluding to that in his -- yet again -- colorful postgame remarks. The bogus red card given by Ricardo Salazar (See Seattle? He does it to other teams too!) put Chivas in a bind, but the club held its own and even managed to find an equalizer after conceding a late go-ahead goal.

Chelis' madness had many wondering if Chivas was going to crash and burn in spectacular fashion, but with his unheralded group of players seemingly buying into what he is selling -- as evidenced by the effort in the club's last two matches -- perhaps MLS commissioner Don Garber's preaching for patience with the club was the right tact after all. Despite the lack of fans it has brought to the stands so far, this club is rapidly becoming must-watch material.

5. Team of the Week. Goalkeeper: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)

Defenders: Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes), Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United), Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Carlos Borja (Chivas USA)

Midfielders: Jonny Steele (New York Red Bulls), Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders), Steve Zakuani (Seattle Sounders)

Forwards: Deshorn Brown (Colorado Rapids), Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact)

Week 3 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Old Rank Team
1 3 Montreal Impact (3-0-0)
The Impact look less flukey every week. Patrice Bernier commands the midfield, the club is holding its defensive line and getting timely contributions from Davy Arnaud and Marco Di Vaio. Alessandro Nesta's apparent injury that caused him to exit early in the 2-1 win over Toronto FC is cause for concern. It questions whether this aging side -- five key players 32 or older -- can sustain success and health.
2 2 Los Angeles Galaxy (1-0-1)
The defending champs won't be happy with their inability to break down a 10-man Chivas USA side in their Sunday SuperClasico. They especially won't be happy conceding a late equalizer almost immediately after finding a breakthrough with young Jack McBean's goal. The club must wade through the international break. Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez will likely be out for this weekend's match against Colorado.
3 4 Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-0)
The Whitecaps spent Rivalry Week on bye. They now hope to be the first team to win at Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium. With West team save FC Dallas playing to a draw last weekend, the Whitecaps won't have to make up much in the table.
4 1 Houston Dynamo (1-1-0)
Houston got beaten at its own game, conceding two rapid-succession goals off set pieces to fall behind early at FC Dallas. The club equalized but conceded a late winner, compounding the frustration of being eliminated from the CONCACAF Champions League by Santos Laguna.
5 5 D.C. United (1-1-1)
D.C. is scraping its way to early-season points, but there is definitely something lacking in the attack. The club held on for deal life riding goalie Bill Hamid's heroics to salvage a scoreless draw at Red Bull Arena. Captain Dwayne De Rosario's introduction to the season after being banned for the first two games should help, but one goal in three games raises an eyebrow or two.
6 6 Real Salt Lake (1-1-1)
When Alvaro Saborio scores, good things tend to happen. His equalizer salvaged a Rocky Mountain draw at the club's home opener at Rio Tinto Stadium. RSL will be without Saborio's services at FC Dallas, though, as he heads to international duty with Costa Rica. Considering he has scored all of RSL's three goals, the pressure is on someone to step up for Jason Kreis' side.
7 7 Sporting Kansas City (1-1-1)
It's clear Sporting KC is lacking the sharpness that was its calling card in 2012. On Saturday, plenty of that had to do with Chicago's physical approach, but when the club had its chances in the final third it was either too hesitant or too inaccurate. With some expected absences during the World Cup qualifying weekend, SKC may be shorthanded in an attempt to make good on Benny Feilhaber's return to New England.
8 8 Seattle Sounders (0-1-1)
Seattle is in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals and welcomed Obafemi Martins into the fold to fill a void up top, but even with those positives comes the harsh reality that the club has one point from two games and gave away two points failing to close out rival Portland at home in the first Cascadia Cup match.
9 9 San Jose Earthquakes (1-1-1)
San Jose continues to tread water until attacking reinforcements Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon and Marvin Chavez return from injury. Justin Morrow played hero with his equalizer to take a point at Crew Stadium. What was a rare sight was Chris Wondolowski berating teammate Sam Garza for failing to pass to him for what could have been a game-winning goal. Wondolowski later apologized via social media, but the frustration of having no goals in the run of play thus far appears to be settling in for the Golden Boot holder.
10 10 Columbus Crew (1-1-1)
Columbus will wish it could have closed out its home bout against San Jose after Glauber's well-taken header off a corner kick had given the Crew the lead. To win would have been extra sweet given Eddie Gaven's absence, but the club was left with a home draw. Youngster Ben Speas looked mighty spry in Gaven's place, giving Robert Warzycha another reliable option for midfield depth.
11 12 Philadelphia Union (2-1-0)
The Union are not winning pretty, but they are getting results. Jack McInerney's continued growth as an impact forward provided another three points for the club, which is starting to believe in itself again after a trying 2012. There is plenty to feel good about heading into the club's bye ahead of the Week 5 battle against regional rival New York.
12 15 FC Dallas (2-1-0)
Dallas was a bit fortunate to walk out of its rivalry match with El Capitan in tow after failing miserably to close out what was a 2-0 game and instead needing to be bailed out by Kenny Cooper's controversial 90th-minute winner. There is reason to question some of the late-game decision making, specifically by Michel, that allowed Houston to almost steal a point from a game it had no business winning.
13 11 New York Red Bulls (0-1-2)
All of those chances against D.C., with nothing but a point to show for it. The Red Bulls must be wondering what they must do to score after outshooting D.C. 24-5. The reports that the knock that forced Thierry Henry out of the game in the waning moments is not serious are a sigh of relief, though.
14 14 Chivas USA (1-1-1)
After a couple of bounce-back performances, Chivas is trending in the right direction. Fighting for a draw despite being a man down for more than a full half was quite commendable. For rookie Carlos Alvarez, who grew up in Los Angeles, to have his first professional goal come in a SuperClasico at the Home Depot Center is an early career highlight. .
15 13 New England Revolution (1-1-0)
Before the season it appeared goals were going to be hard to come by unless Jerry Bengtson became a consistent scorer like with the Honduran national team. His suspect finishing in Philadelphia was the latest example of how reliant the Revs are going to be on him until other alternatives either regain health (namely Saer Sene) or step up.
16 17 Portland Timbers (0-1-2)
Sometimes seasons can hinge on a single moment. Rodney Wallace's last-gasp equalizer in Seattle could be that moment for Portland. Instead of opening at 0-2-1 with a loss to their chief rival, the Timbers can leave Seattle with a sense of accomplishment, even if they were outplayed for the bulk of the match. Considering the team's history of futility on the road, it's a great building block for Caleb Porter's crew.
17 16 Toronto FC (1-2-0)
Toronto's Robert Earnshaw-John Bostock attacking combo was neutralized by the stout Montreal Impact defense, resulting in the Reds returning to the loss column after a watershed win over Sporting Kansas City. That sends TFC to its bye on a sour note. The Galaxy come to BMO Field in two weeks.
18 19 Colorado Rapids (0-2-1)
Colorado has dealt with a rash of injuries. The latest to starting goalkeeper Matt Pickens, out three to four months with a broken arm, the club can't absorb. Clint Irwin held his own in treacherous territory, but there is little chance that Oscar Pareja is prepared to turn the reins over to him for the long haul. On the plus side, rookie forward Deshorn Brown displayed his athleticism and ability to create havoc, and Edson Buddle is nearing his return from injury.
19 18 Chicago Fire (0-2-1)
Make that three games and no goals for the league's most disappointing team. Ordinarily, going into Kansas City and walking out with a point could be seen in a positive light, but the Fire ceded plenty of possession, hardly threatened -- save for the occasional Chris Rolfe solo effort -- and resorted to overly physical play to take all fluidity out of the game. There is plenty of pressure to win Sunday's home match against Chivas USA.
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