Posted: Mon March 25, 2013 12:31PM; Updated: Thu March 28, 2013 7:24PM
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MLS Power Rankings: Surprises, streaks define Week 4

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Marco Di Vaio
Marco Di Vaio scored the only goal in the Impact's win over the Red Bulls on Saturday.
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

The international break and the CONCACAF hexagonal overshadowed MLS Week 4, but the two surprises of the season won again, while a pair of lengthy streaks continued and two others reached their end ...

1. Montreal, Chivas USA keep it up. There may not be a more fascinating pair of MLS stories than the Montreal Impact and Chivas USA. Two non-playoff teams in 2012. Two new, foreign coaches. Two completely different styles and approaches. Two storybook starts to 2013.

Chivas took plenty of flack for some of its offseason moves -- not necessarily for what the moves did for the current roster but for the value, or lack thereof, that the club received in return for its assets -- and begged whether it was savvy enough to navigate through all of MLS' idiosyncrasies. That question was answered to a degree when the club appealed the heinous red card (clubs became able to appeal red cards starting last season under a new policy) given to Joaquin Velazquez last week and had it rightfully overturned. Velazquez wound up scoring the game-winning goal in the 4-1 triumph over Chicago on Sunday evening.

The overall attitude the club projects is a team on the same page, and the way Chivas players immediately seek out Jose Luis "Chelis" Sanchez Sola to hug their eccentric manager after scoring a goal is quite telling of the chemistry. Sure, there is room for improvement, and "Chelis'" unorthodox three-man defense is susceptible to putting goalie Dan Kennedy under immense pressure, but in about three weeks, since the season-opening flop against Columbus, Chivas has taken huge steps in establishing itself as more of a serious squad and less of a punchline.

On a meta-Chivas level, it is quite a pleasant site for U.S. national team fans to see Juan Agudelo blossoming in his starting role. Finally getting the chance to perform with regularity, Agudelo is finding success in spearheading Chivas' attack, and the strength he displayed to shoulder Jeff Larentowicz off the ball before slyly curling an effort inside the far post with his next touch Sunday was one of the more impressive finishes of the season. We've seen Agudelo hit the highlight reel in spurts, but he is starting to string some meaningful performances together, which is invaluable for his continued growth.

Of the two, Montreal figures to have the more legitimate shot at staying power. Its defensive organization and efficient counterattack are suited for sustainable success provided the club's key, but aging, contributors (Alessandro Nesta is already hobbled) can stay healthy. Central midfield stalwart Patrice Bernier is no one-season wonder, as he proved his class last season and has taken it to another level in 2013. Manager Marco Schallibaum appears to have has his methods fine-tuned, and the proof in his rare, seamless transition to MLS is in the product on the field.

It is early, and plenty can happen over the course of a long campaign, but it's safe to say that a month ago few would have pegged Montreal and Chivas to have a combined 6-1-1 record four weeks into the season.

2. Going streaking. The Dynamo are approaching rare air. With a win or draw at BBVA Compass Stadium against the San Jose Earthquakes this weekend, they will match Real Salt Lake's MLS record of 34 straight home games without a loss in all competitions. The last team to trip up the Dynamo in Houston was the Columbus Crew, June 18, 2011 at Robertson Stadium.

The Crew also played spoiler for club with that was waiting for the Dynamo to slip up at home in order to take the longest-home-unbeaten-streak baton, D.C. United. RFK Stadium had been a fortress for more than a year. D.C.'s last home loss came on opening day of last season to Sporting Kansas City, but United came out flat and could not defend Columbus' set pieces with any semblance of organization, and the team's 19-game unbeaten run at RFK is now a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, RSL had never won in Texas, and that dubious mark stretched to 22 games after the short-handed club's 2-0 loss at FC Dallas. Now 0-19-3 all-time in the Lone Star State, RSL has one more chance during the regular season to snap that streak of futility, a return to FC Dallas Stadium on July 13. The club's Rio Tinto Stadium is hosting a U.S. national team group game during the CONCACAF Gold Cup that day, and with all of the extended USA team candidates RSL boasts, the club could again find itself looking down the depth chart in its return to Frisco.

On a more individual level, Colorado Rapids defender Drew Moor was the league's iron man last season, the only field player to play all 90 minutes in all 34 regular-season games (Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen accomplished the feat as well). He won't be able to replicate that mark after his foolish elbow to Marcelo Sarvas' face earned him a red card in the 48th minute of the Rapids' 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy. Not only did Moor have to sit out the final 42 minutes, but he'll also miss the next 90 against the Portland Timbers this weekend and perhaps more if the MLS Disciplinary Committee sees fit. Kudos to Moor -- who also played the entirety of 69 straight regular-season matches between 2009-2011 -- for avoiding suspension and injury during that lengthy time, but, as even he acknowledged in his apologetic postgame comments, his current streak ended with a thoughtless act that not only put his side down a man but granted LA the difference-making penalty kick in the 1-0 result.

3. Goalkeepers have their say. There are always weeks during an MLS campaign when goalkeepers reign supreme and keep opposing attackers at bay, and Week 4 was one of those.

Bill Hamid and Andy Gruenebaum engaged in an "anything you can do I can do better" battle in creating a Save of the Week montage in Columbus' victory at D.C. Hamid's impressive double save to deny Chad Marshall on a side volley and then Tyson Wahl on the point-blank follow-up was matched in crunch time by Gruenebaum. His double stop on Brandon McDonald's shot through traffic and Dwayne De Rosario's close-range rebound in the 72nd minute preserved three points for the Crew, who earned a 2-1 result where their 2012 season effectively came to an end.

"Any time you see someone on the other end make a great save, you obviously don't want to be in that position, but when it happens you have to be there," Gruenebaum said.

The edict was followed by Seattle's Michael Gspurning and San Jose's Jon Busch at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday night. Both made four saves, and Gspurning repeatedly kept his struggling side in the game by denying the Earthquakes, specifically his sprawling effort to deny Chris Wondolowski's effort through crowd-induced smoke and Ramiro Corrales' chance on a breakaway. On the other end, Busch's tremendous double save preserved San Jose's 1-0 win, his dive parrying away Mauro Rosales' low shot from 18 yards and his field awareness allowing him to stuff David Estrada on the rebound.

And finally, Colorado's Clint Irwin deserves a medal for being hung out to dry by his team only to come up time and again in the Rapids' loss at Los Angeles. Making his first MLS start while Matt Pickens begins his recovery from a broken arm, Irwin was under constant pressure and made seven saves -- and very nearly got to Mike Magee's penalty kick -- to prevent Colorado from being completely blown out of the Home Depot Center. Unfortunately for Irwin, indications are he's must be the club's savior considering the lack of defensive cohesion and increasing number of injuries.

4. Change of scenery does wonders. What do Ty Harden, Dan Gargan and Nana Attakora have in common? In 2010, they accounted for a huge chunk of Toronto FC's well-below-average defense and were jettisoned out of town in the following seasons. On Saturday night, they teamed to fortify an injury- and international-duty-stricken back line in San Jose to shut out the Seattle Sounders.

Plenty of factors created the change in fortune, from the aura around San Jose in 2013 being quite different to that around TFC's past teams to the Earthquakes overall having way more quality than those Reds squads to the fact that Seattle was playing with its second-choice strike force. It is quite intriguing what a change of scenery can do for a maligned group, though.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Andy Gruenebaum (Columbus Crew)

Defenders: Josh Williams (Columbus Crew), Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Nana Attakora (San Jose Earthquakes)

Midfielders: Fabian Castillo (FC Dallas), Jackson (FC Dallas), Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Week 4 MLS Power Rankings
 
New Rank Old Rank Team
1 1 Montreal Impact (4-0-0)
Montreal did not miss Alessandro Nesta at all. With the veteran Italian defender missing his first game with an adductor injury, the Impact had no problem turning away a Thierry Henry- and Tim Cahill-less Red Bulls side to remain MLS' last perfect side. As for Marco Di Vaio, say one thing about the perpetually offside forward: He never stops knocking on the door. It paid off with the game-winner Saturday. .
2 2 Los Angeles Galaxy (2-0-1)
With international duty and Landon Donovan's continued absence -- set to expire this week -- taking its toll, the Galaxy turned the keys over to youngsters Jose Villarreal and Jack McBean (combined age = David Beckham's 37). The two forwards kept waves of pressure on the hapless Colorado Rapids en route to another win. Mike Magee's penalty kick not only won the game but also restored his lead atop the (early) Golden Boot standings with four goals.
3 4 Houston Dynamo (2-1-0)
The Dynamo's home dominance continued. More impressively, it continued without starters Brad Davis, Oscar Boniek Garcia and Jermaine Taylor, all on international duty. Andrew Driver, Eric Brunner and Warren Creavalle stepped up (it took Creavalle a couple overhit shots to warm up, but still) to deal Vancouver its first loss.
4 3 Vancouver Whitecaps (2-1-0)
Vancouver will be kicking itself for not salvaging at least a point at Houston. The game turned on one play. On a rapid-fire counterattack, Darren Mattocks, whose earlier golazo had given the Whitecaps the lead, failed to play an early cross for streaking rookie Erik Hurtado, carried forward and shot instead. Had Mattocks passed, Vancouver could have gone up 2-0. Instead, Houston scored minutes later and regained control.
5 9 San Jose Earthquakes (2-1-1)
Chris Wondolowski can hit from distance after all. The reigning league MVP's rare blast from outside the area was all the Earthquakes needed to handle a short-handed Seattle Sounders side at Buck Shaw Stadium. Wondolowski added to his productivity against the Rave Green while netting in the run of play for the first time this season. The longer the Earthquakes can tread water without all of their injured stars, the more trouble for the rest of the Western Conference.
6 10 Columbus Crew (2-1-1)
The Crew snapped D.C. United's 19-game home unbeaten run without striker Jairo Arrieta. As opposed to the end of last season when it seemed that either Arrieta or Federico Higuain had to score the club's goals, the Crew's seven goals this season are split among six players. Only right back Josh Williams has multiple tallies.
7 12 FC Dallas (3-1-0)
The pace that FC Dallas can throw at clubs from the midfield among Fabian Castillo, David Ferreira and Jackson is proving a handful for opposing defenses. The trio combined to give Real Salt Lake's makeshift lineup fits. Many pegged 2013 as a breakout year for Castillo, 20. He still has some work to be more than just a speed option, but his go-ahead blast suggested that improvement is well underway.
8 5 D.C. United (1-2-1)
It's hardly time to panic for D.C., but it just looks like something is missing. The attack is nowhere near as fear-inspiring as a season ago, with wingers Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon unable to find consistency in creating chances. Dwayne De Rosario has been markedly quiet in his two games since returning from suspension. Young DP Rafael's 35-yard blast to mark his MLS debut was memorable, but United needs to recover its 2012 mojo.
9 6 Real Salt Lake (1-2-1)
Real Salt Lake never wins in Texas, so expecting the club to do it without starters Alvaro Saborio, Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran and Abdoulie Mansally was a pipe dream. On the flip side, the players down Jason Kreis' depth chart got plenty of experience in their place. Stalwart center back Nat Borchers also returned from injury, which will go a long way in fortifying the back.
10 7 Sporting KC (1-1-2)
The weather elements in New England were not conducive to flowing attacking soccer, and Sporting KC was managing without Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, but four games into the season, this supposed MLS Cup contender has looked anything but. Now, KC must try what four others haven't been able to in 2013: beat the Impact.
11 14 Chivas USA (2-1-1)
The Goats not only turned in another positive result, but they appeared to have fun. For all the questioning of Chelis' methods and team management before the season, it sure looks like this club is molding into a family with a common purpose. Not everything is technically clean across the back, and there are openings for the right opponent to exploit, but Chivas' cast finds a way to get it done.
12 11 Philadelphia Union (2-1-0)
The Union had what amounted to as productive of a bye week as possible. Between topping Mexican side Pumas UNAM in a friendly and seeing Freddy Adu's transfer to Brazilian side Bahia reach its final stages, with midfielder Kleberson said to be heading to Philadelphia in return, a great weight has been lifted off the club -- and its salary cap.
13 8 Seattle Sounders (0-2-1)
Is it worry time for the Sounders? The club's start is tied for the worst in franchise history, and it has managed just one goal, tied for fewest in MLS. There are asterisks, though. Seattle has yet to have its first-choice XI together and has taken strides by reaching the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Wait until Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins have a chance to play together and spearhead the attack before jumping to conclusions.
14 15 New England Revolution (1-1-1)
The Revs are not overpowering anybody, but their commitment to defense has to make coach Jay Heaps proud after a second clean sheet in three games. Considering how much of a sore spot the back line was a season ago, that the club has only conceded one goal in three matches (tied with the Galaxy for the stingiest mark in the league), is a sign of improvement. Now, about finding goals on the other end of the field ... .
15 14 New York Red Bulls (0-2-2)
Four games and counting for the Red Bulls, who have yet to get into the win column in the Mike Petke era. Under any other coach, the team's rabid fanbase may have already turned, but given Petke's iconic stature, he'll have more leeway than any other candidate would have received. On top of all else, going into Montreal without Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Jamison Olave was always going to be a tall task for this work in progress.
16 16 Portland Timbers (0-1-2)
The Timbers were on bye but had two starters make valuable contributions during the international break. Captain Will Johnson assisted in Canada's friendly loss to Japan and Donovan Ricketts started in goal for Jamaica's draw with Panama that gave the Reggae Boyz two points through two CONCACAF hexagonal matches.
17 17 Toronto FC (1-2-0)
With the Reds on a bye week, coach Ryan Nelsen surely took pleasure in his native New Zealand's result over New Caledonia, one that cemented the All Whites' place in a two-legged playoff against CONCACAF's fourth-place finisher for the right to play in the 2014 World Cup. As for Toronto, word continues to swirl about the pending acquisition of 22-year-old Argentine forward Maximiliano Urruti, widely reported to be the club's next Designated Player.
18 18 Colorado Rapids (0-3-1)
The Rapids' early luck is reaching a head-shaking point. Already riddled with injuries, the Rapids watched as captain Pablo Mastroeni and new center back Diego Calderon left with injuries, joining the club's crowded infirmary. It looks like goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who dazzled in goal in his first MLS start, is going to have every opportunity to make the highlight reels with the amount of pressure thrown his way.
19 19 Chicago Fire (0-3-1)
Well at least the Fire finally scored. This is hardly the start manager Frank Klopas envisioned when the club -- a playoff contender in 2012 -- made what seemed like roster improvements heading into 2013. Not having Arne Friedrich or Logan Pause to start the season has hurt, but they're not at fault for the anemic attack.
 
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