Landon Donovan is hoping to work his way back into form and the national-team picture.
Claus Andersen/Getty Images
MLS Week 5 featured the return of a league icon, some tremendous performances off the bench and a record that certainly looks meant to be broken:
1. Week of the SuperSub. The combination of the international break and players recuperating from injuries -- one in particular putting an end to a sabbatical -- resulted in more late-game heroics across MLS.
No in-game entrance was more notable than Landon Donovan, who shrugged off a few-month hiatus and nearly scored within seconds of donning his No. 10 LA Galaxy jersey and the captain's armband for the first time since MLS Cup 2012. While Donovan demonstrated expected rust, he also brings yet another fearful element to a team overflowing with attackers.
The emergence of Jack McBean, 18, whose nifty turn helped set up the Galaxy's first goal Saturday, and continued blossoming of Jose Villarreal, 19, has manager Bruce Arena swimming in a sea of attacking options for the present and the future. It was Villarreal's superb scissor-kick equalizer off the bench that has the Galaxy still unbeaten and looking in fine form as they prepare to take on the two-time defending CONCACAF Champions League winner Monterrey in the CCL semifinals this week.
On the other end, a pair of young Toronto FC subs combined for a stellar moment that nearly delivered another marquee win for first-year manager Ryan Nelsen. Luis Silva and hometown hero Jonathan Osorio combined for an electric play that brought the fans at BMO Field to their feet and demonstrated that Toronto has a bit more attacking depth than in the recent past.
Elsewhere, some of the more established forwards in the league and world made good on their late-game cameos. Thierry Henry produced two wow moments, one on his self-set-up bicycle kick attempt that went just wide, and the other his smooth take down and finish inside the area to deliver the Red Bulls' first win of the Mike Petke era. Conor Casey had thought that he had salvaged a point for the Philadelphia Union in that same match, with the lumbering, veteran American forward making his mark with his new club off the bench with a classic near-post header to level the score prior to Henry's heroics.
Blas Perez returned from Panama international duty to score the game-winner in FC Dallas' 1-0 triumph in New England to push the surging club to the top of the Western Conference standings, and Kenny Miller returned from Scotland international duty to score a consolation goal in the Vancouver Whitecaps' 2-1 loss to Chivas USA. All in all, Saturday was quite the transition period back from the international break for those used to playing straight from the opening whistle.
2. Houston, we have home-field advantage. Congratulations are in order for the Houston Dynamo, who matched Real Salt Lake's streak of 34 matches unbeaten at home across all competitions with a 2-0 dismantling of the Supporters' Shield-holding San Jose Earthquakes.
The Dynamo's streak spans their time at Robertson Stadium and the sparkling BBVA Compass Stadium, which has emerged as one of the true fortresses in MLS. There have been times that Houston has looked vulnerable at its home park -- most notably in games last season against Toronto FC of all teams -- but Dom Kinnear's side always finds a way to navigate the path to at least one point and keep the streak going. Between the narrow field, comfort playing in the Houston humidity, a strong veteran core and a typically passionate fan base, the Dynamo have all the ingredients to continue the streak.
Whereas Real Salt Lake's record ended in demoralizing fashion -- a loss to Monterrey in the 2010-11 CCL final -- Houston certainly has the schedule in its favor to take sole possession. The Dynamo welcome the Chicago Fire, who have looked downright dreadful through four games, to BBVA Compass Stadium in their next home game April 14.
3. What's up with Seattle? The Sounders are quite the conundrum. On paper, this team should be one of the fiercest in MLS, and even though it has struggled in league play, it managed to make it to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. If the Sounders who have shown up in recent league matches appear against Santos Laguna in their two-legged tie, it is going to make for an ugly exit.
The Sounders are 0-3-1, the worst start in franchise history, in last place in the Western Conference. Losing two key starters from the successful teams of the past in Fredy Montero and Jeff Parke was always going to require a period of transition and adjustment. The last two matches have been played at some of the toughest places for opposing teams to win, San Jose and Real Salt Lake. The back line has not looked in sync even though the new pieces, rookie DeAndre Yedlin and veteran Djimi Traore, have been standout individual performers. The cohesiveness and organization will come with time.
As for the attack, Obafemi Martins has yet to have a semblance of normalcy with the club, first arriving from Spain for about a day to make his debut ahead of international duty with Nigeria, and then returning from that break to play again Saturday. His partnership with Eddie Johnson can't possibly be fruitless for an extended period of time. The fortunate thing for the Sounders is that the long MLS season and 10-team playoff format makes for a sizable margin for error, especially in March. Don't expect Seattle to stay this down for long.
4. The unexpected Golden Boot showdown. Few (OK, nobody) would have said that one of the individual battles to watch this season was the Mike Magee-Robert Earnshaw tussle in Toronto, but the two current Golden Boot front-runners continued their assault on in their lone head-to-head this season. Are they likely to lead the league in scoring by the end of October? Probably not, but these aren't flukes.
Magee netted his league-leading fifth goal to kick off the scoring in Week 5, completing a fantastic run to the far post to meet Marcelo Sarvas' cross through the area. Magee has already matched his goal output from 2012 and 2011 as a much more efficient finisher. His five tallies on 19 shots are far superior to his five on 56 shots a year ago and 28 the season before. He is now two tallies shy of matching his career-high seven-goal rookie season from a decade ago, and he is showing success is not just a product of service from Robbie Keane and Donovan.
Earnshaw, meanwhile, continues to be the beneficiary of horrendous defense. Whether it was Sporting Kansas City's collective lapse, Carlo Cudicini's massive head-scratcher to come 30 yards off his line on Saturday or a pair of penalty decisions that have gone Toronto's way, the Welshman is quickly making his mark. A good poacher and opportunistic finisher can have loads of success in MLS (see Wondolowski, Chris), and with Earnshaw accounting for four of Toronto FC's five goals, it sure seems the Reds will be leaning on their new signing.
Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Raul Fernandez (FC Dallas)
Defenders: Chance Myers (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
Midfielders: Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Eric Avila (Chivas USA), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Giles Barnes (Houston Dynamo)
|Week 5 MLS Power Rankings|
||Los Angeles Galaxy (2-0-2)
The last remaining unbeaten team in MLS is the defending champion. The Galaxy continue to get it done with key players shuffling in and out of the lineup. Los Angeles was far from its best in Toronto, needing a wonder goal from Jose Villarreal to salvage a point with Robbie Keane recovering from a calf injury. The welcomed back Landon Donovan and have no shortage of attacking options. Be very afraid.
||Montreal Impact (4-1-0)
The Impact are not invisible after all. Kudos for its 4-0-0 start, but the 2-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City exposed the club a bit and drummed up some frustration, especially from manager Marco Schallibaum. The Swiss boss is likely to hear from the MLS Disciplinary Committee for reportedly throwing a water bottle at a referee following the second goal.
||Houston Dynamo (3-1-0)
The manner in which the Dynamo scored in a 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes was a testament to their attacking quality. On one side, Oscar Boniek Garcia used a tremendous individual effort to get by All-Star defender Justin Morrow and send an accurate cross for Will Bruin. On the other, Brad Davis put in his trademark pinpoint service for Giles Barnes. This dynamic team can come at opponents from myriad ways and angles.
||FC Dallas (4-1-0)
The Galaxy might be undefeated, but FC Dallas leads the Western Conference after another convincing performance. The good side of the sometimes enigmatic Raul Fernandez shone through in goal, and Blas Perez's ability to be a difference maker of the bench provided the decisive moment against New England's suddenly stern defensive unit.
||Chivas USA (3-1-1)
Juan Agudelo's apparent hamstring injury is concerning, but the Goats impressed yet again in taking all three points off a Western Conference foe in Vancouver. The attendance, or lack thereof, at the Home Depot Center, for Chivas games remains an issue, but the longer this team wins and scores -- the club has a league-high 10 goals -- the more believers will follow. .
||Real Salt Lake (2-2-1)
RSL looked in command against Seattle, exacting revenge from the 2012 postseason while proving it can win without Alvaro Saborio. Robbie Findley's groin injury takes away a speed element up top for Jason Kreis, but Joao Plata can fill in, and rookie Devon Sandoval showed that he is more than capable, too. With Ned Grabavoy and Nat Borchers working their way back and the club's reserves already getting run, RSL's depth is shining.
||Sporting Kansas City (2-1-2)
Sporting KC's 2-0 win over Montreal sent quite a statement that the club is not ready to relinquish its Eastern Conference heavyweight status just yet. Masterful midfield work from Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber spearheaded a collective effort to deliver the Impact's first loss. After uncharacteristically struggling through the early season, Sporting KC looks back in rhythm.
||Vancouver Whitecaps (2-2-0)
Following two straight wins to open the season, the Whitecaps are trending down with two straight losses, ruing missed opportunities and blown chances. If they keep creating this much, things would figure to play out in their favor, but Vancouver, and its young attacking core, must become more clinical in the final third.
||Columbus Crew (2-1-1)
The Crew will be well rested for their home bout with the Philadelphia Union after a bye week, one in which the club was leapfrogged in the East by Houston and Sporting KC. The off week could not have come at a better time for starting forward Jairo Arrieta, who was not forced into action after returning from international duty with Costa Rica.
||San Jose Earthquakes (2-2-1)
Alan Gordon's return from injury is about the only positive from their 2-0 loss at a dominating Houston. The Earthquakes can still create separation in the Western Conference in April with four games coming against conference foes -- Vancouver, back-to-back with Portland and Chivas USA.
||D.C. United (1-2-1)
The bye week included word that second-year winger Nick DeLeon is set to miss about six weeks with a hamstring injury suffered in the club's last game against Columbus. That is awful news for a team with just two goals in four games and in dire need of an attacking spark. Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius must shoulder the load.
||New York Red Bulls (1-2-2)
Mike Petke earned his first win as Red Bulls manager, but a real nod goes to Tim Cahill, who flew from Australia to New York to start against the Union just days after representing the Socceroos in a World Cup qualifier. Nobody would have begrudged Cahill for taking a seat among the reserves while his body recovered, but his level of commitment is a reason why plenty are willing to overlook his rather sluggish start to his first full MLS season.
||Philadelphia Union (2-2-0)
Conor Casey's second-half header looked to have salvaged a road draw for the Union, but the failure to closely mark Thierry Henry after he came on ultimately led to a dropped point. At the very least, the Freddy Adu saga has reached its end with a move to Bahia and Brazilian veteran Kleberson coming to Philadelphia in return. If the 2002 World Cup winner can live up to his DP status while on loan, the Union may have turned one of the more impressive roster moves of the campaign.
||Seattle Sounders (0-3-1)
Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning can't bail this team out forever. The Austrian netminder has been the sole reason why Seattle has been in position to capture points during a shocking start. Obafemi Martins' acclimation period looks like it's going to have to be accelerated to provide a necessary spark for an underachieving team in unfamiliar territory -- the bottom of the Western Conference table.
||New England Revolution (1-2-1)
The Revs just are not creating enough chances. No matter how well the remade defense has performed -- the Revs have conceded a league-fewest two goals in four games -- the attack is not providing the reward for Jay Heaps' side, and points are slipping away. Saer Sene's limited return to training from a torn ACL is a welcome sight.
||Toronto FC (1-2-1)
Luis Silva sure seems to save his best for his hometown club, doesn't he? The second-year attacker was magical in taking on Omar Gonzalez to set up what seemed to be a game-winning goal for Toronto, only for the Reds to concede late and settle for the draw. On the opposite end, Darel Russell had a horrid showing at right back, practically setting up Villarreal for his equalizer, and Ryan Nelsen may want to go back to what had been working before.
||Portland Timbers (0-1-3)
The Timbers are still winless, but they showed that second-half comebacks, no matter on the road or at home, can be their calling card. Now, it's about finding a way to ensure the club isn't constantly trailing so those one-point hauls can be converted into three with a legitimate chance at rising up the Western Conference.
||Colorado Rapids (0-3-2)
There is the injury bug, and then there is what is encompassing the Rapids. The list of the walking wounded grows, and that combined with defensive anchor Drew Moor's suspension makes for quite the thinned-out squad. That makes the club's showing against Portland -- in which it held a 2-0 lead only to have it slip away -- all the more respectable. A special nod goes to rookie Dillon Powers for opening his MLS account in grand style with a blast from distance.
||Chicago Fire (0-3-1)
The Fire received welcome news during the bye week. Arne Friedrich returned from his rehabilitation in Germany to train with the club, and captain Logan Pause moved closer to his season debut in rehabbing a quad injury. In their absence, the defense has conceded a league-worst nine goals in four games.
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