Chris Pontius and D.C. United lost 1-0 at Sporting Kansas City on Friday on an 89th-minute goal.
John Rieger/USA Today Sports
Two of the league's flagship franchises and playoff contenders from a year ago find more struggles, and MLS is staring at another fruitless CONCACAF Champions League campaign following another week of action:
1. Atlantic Cup misery. Neither D.C. United nor the New York Red Bulls are likely to be thrilled leading into their next rivalry clash.
This Saturday's Atlantic Cup match at RFK Stadium may ceremonially be renamed the Desperation Cup considering their early-season problems. With a combined 2-6-3 record, the traditional rivals are longing for the playoff form from a season ago while other teams have established a more stable footing during 2013.
There are reasonable explanations, but that they amount to no more than excuses for teams that should be better than their records show. D.C., for example, was always going to be facing a tall order going into Sporting Park without the injured Dwayne De Rosario and Nick DeLeon. Its schedule to start the season has been anything but a walk in the park -- games at Houston, New York and Sporting Kansas City among the first five games.
The fact remains, though, that D.C. has only scored twice. Reasonable opportunities have been hard to come by, and the depth options are just not getting the job done like they were a season ago. De Rosario has battled suspension and injury, Chris Pontius has yet to score and has mustered just two shots on goal. D.C. is needs Pontius to find his New York mojo (he scored five goals against the Red Bulls last season) to spark a resurgence. With five of the next seven games at home, it is quickly becoming a do-or-die stretch for a team that did not figure to struggle in so many ways after a resurgent 2012.
New York, meanwhile, had a massive roster and front-office overhaul in the offseason, so an adjustment period was to be expected. More than a month in, the club's performance is not nearly justifying its payroll. Sure, New York had never won at Toyota Park (0-7-3 all-time now), so Sunday's loss was just another addition to the voodoo the Chicago Fire have held over the Red Bulls, but considering the circumstances -- New York coming off its first win, Chicago being horrendous to start the season -- it figured to be a time when a good, experienced team would find a way to get a result, only for a giant step backward to be taken.
The Red Bulls have been dealing with an injury to Thierry Henry, but they have also had underwhelming performances across the board -- Juninho, Tim Cahill, Luis Robles and Peguy Luyindula. Like the Galaxy showed last season, and like so many others have shown in past seasons, success is determined way more by how a team plays in the summer and fall than March and April, but these two supposed powers are setting poor trends and have created a sense of early urgency heading into their second meeting.
DART: Porter's first win, Irwin's surge highlight Saturday slate
2. CCL glory unlikely for MLS. Another year, another CONCACAF Champions League final that looks destined to be won by a Mexican team.
Both the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders came up short in the home legs of their respective semifinal ties, a recipe for disaster against Mexican clubs the stature of Monterrey and Santos Laguna. MLS shuffled the schedule for Seattle and Los Angeles, provididing bye weeks leading into both legs of the CCL semifinals, but that advantage has meant little on the scoreboard.
LA succumbed to a second-half collapse to two-time defending competition champion Monterrey after looking likely to take a 1-0 edge into the away leg. Seattle, meanwhile, could not prevent Sounders killer Herculez Gomez from scoring an away goal and giving the Mexican side the decisive advantage into the repeat fixture from last year's quarterfinals that saw Santos Laguna paste the Sounders 6-1 at Estadio Corona.
Plenty of the Mexican clubs' dominance in the competition has to deal with the fact that they are not restricted by the same salary cap as MLS teams, which leads to deeper squads and an ability to overcome playing CCL games on short rest from domestic play. Even though the perceived gap between Liga MX and MLS is closing, the balance is still tilted heavily toward the former. Getting a result on Mexican soil isn't completely unfounded anymore considering the progress MLS has made in that area in the past three seasons, but it will be considered a huge surprise if either the Galaxy or Sounders make the final and keep the dream of becoming the first MLS team to appear at the FIFA Club World Cup alive.
3. Know the Laws. The San Jose Earthquakes have a number of reasons for not playing up to the same Supporters' Shield level as they did a season ago. The club faced a pretty rabid injury crisis entering the season, and it can often be difficult to replicate success in a balanced league like MLS. The fact that the Earthquakes did not walk out of their home game against the Vancouver Whitecaps with three points, though, is completely on them.
In one of the more bizarre sequences of the season, the Quakes gifted the Whitecaps an 11-on-9 advantage when Alan Gordon and Victor Bernardez thought they had time to change their cleats when teammate Sam Cronin went down with an apparent injury. The problem was, Cronin was never tended to by the team's medical staff, and play continued. Gordon and Bernardez, unknown to them or the Earthquakes staff, were unable to reenter the field until a stoppage, which only came after Corey Hertzog made good on the impromptu power play and scored the equalizer that held up in the 1-1 draw.
No matter how unusual the scenario -- in comments made to MLSSoccer.com, Gordon and veteran coach Frank Yallop said they were unaware of the now-unobscured Law of the Game that the players could not return until a stoppage in play -- the use of better judgment had to be expected from an experienced and savvy team like San Jose. Don't expect to see another wardrobe malfunction alter a game in such drastic fashion again soon.
4. Get well soon, Kevin Alston. Off-field matters sometimes trump on-field happenings, and that is the case with New England Revolution defender Kevin Alston. The Revs announced Monday that Alston will take a leave of absence for the team after being diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, a rare, but treatable, form of cancer. In a team statement, the Revs said that Alston is not expected to require hospitalization and that he plans on returning to the team in the future after undergoing treatment.
The 24-year-old outside back has started all of the 116 games in which he has played in the last four-plus seasons (including all four of the Revs' games this season) and was a 2010 MLS All-Star.
5. Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids)
Defenders: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Josh Williams (Columbus Crew)
Midfielders: Diego Chara (Portland Timbers), Hendry Thomas (Colorado Rapids), Daniel Paladini (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers)
Forwards: Ryan Johnson (Portland Timbers), Maicon Santos (Chicago Fire), Dominic Oduro (Columbus Crew)
|Week 6 MLS Power Rankings|
||Los Angeles Galaxy (2-0-2)
The Galaxy may have been off in league play, but losing the home leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Monterrey, especially in the fashion that they did, left a sour taste heading into this week's second leg in Mexico. It's going to take a Herculean effort for the Galaxy to get the road result they need to reach the final.
||Montreal Impact (4-1-0)
The Impact remain at the top of the Eastern Conference following their bye week. Upon their return they will bid adieu to Olympic Stadium after a pair of home games and return to Stade Saputo for a crunch conference clash with the Columbus Crew. In their three meetings last season, the home team won each time.
||FC Dallas (4-1-1)
It is absolutely baffling that FC Dallas broke down in Toronto to the point where a 2-0 lead in the final five minutes was not good enough to deliver the win. It's a clear sign Dallas still has growing up to do before strengthening its hold atop the West. Things turned after George John had to be subbed out at halftime, but regardless, succumbing to Toronto's late comeback is pretty unforgivable, even if it did net a road point after the dust settled.
||Sporting Kansas City (3-1-2)
Claudio Bieler is quietly going about his business as a class DP signing. The Argentine striker netted his fourth goal of the season in dramatic fashion to deliver three more points to a Sporting KC side that seems to have found its way after early, unsteady footing. Congratulations are also in order for manager Peter Vermes, who was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
||Houston Dynamo (3-2-0)
Perhaps distracted by being on the verge of setting the new home unbeaten streak mark, the Dynamo were thoroughly handled by a Portland side that eventually got its deserved payoff in the second half with two goals. Houston was out-possessed, out-passed and out-played at Jeld-Wen Field and missed a chance to pull level with idle Montreal atop the East. .
||Chivas USA (3-1-1)
Without Chelis making any headline-worthy comments, it was a rather quiet week in Chivas USA camp (save Herculez Gomez's April Fools' joke about signing with the club). The Goats did get good news in that Miller Bolanos is back training with the first team (and scored in a scrimmage against Cal FC) after missing the last three games with an ankle injury, providing another attacking option entering a home match against the Colorado Rapids.
||Vancouver Whitecaps (2-2-1)
On one hand, Vancouver should be mighty thankful it walked out of Buck Shaw Stadium with a point after the insane final sequence against the San Jose Earthquakes somehow resulted with the ball not finding the back of the net and with the club's goal being scored under bizarre circumstances, with two Earthquakes not being permitted to re-enter the field. On the other, Martin Rennie's faith in forward Corey Hertzog was repaid with a well-taken goal. The Whitecaps return home after a three-game road trip with momentum.
||Real Salt Lake (2-3-1)
Alvaro Saborio must have a growing hatred for Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Weeks after trying to lead the line in Costa Rica's futile World Cup qualifying loss to the United States under a Colorado blizzard, RSL's star forward returned in the latest installment of the Rocky Mountain Cup and could not find the back of the net. Between his saved penalty and the missed chances before his stoppage-time effort went begging, he'll be happy to turn the page and move on following the 1-0 defeat.
||Columbus Crew (2-1-2)
Columbus battled back to secure a home point after falling behind the Philadelphia Union, extending its home unbeaten run to 11 games with the 1-1 draw. Crew fans saw both sides of Dominic Oduro: The incredibly frustrating side, when he sends great chances begging, and the "wow" side, when he displays his burst and finds the net with aplomb, much like his equalizer to salvage the draw.
||San Jose Earthquakes (2-2-2)
We're becoming accustomed to seeing San Jose getting the right bounces in late-game situations, which made the Quakes' inability to put home the late winner after all of that pressure on Vancouver at Buck Shaw Stadium seem all the more unusual. That was just the latest odd development in a night chock full of them for the Earthquakes, who at the very least welcomed Steven Lenhart back after he missed the first five matches of the season.
||Philadelphia Union (2-2-1)
The formula for the Union is pretty simple: Get Jack McInerney the ball in dangerous positions. When the blossoming young forward scores, the Union are 2-0-1. When he doesn't, they are 0-2-0. He found the back of the net again in helping the Union to a valuable road point in Columbus, although the club will be a bit disappointed to have not held on for all three after conceding a second-half equalizer. Sheanon Williams might want to keep an eye out from a memo from the MLS Disciplinary Committee after his rash challenge from behind only netted a yellow card but could have easily been red.
||Portland Timbers (1-1-3)
The signs of improvement in Portland are starting to shine in light of the first win of the Caleb Porter era. The club overcame first-half injuries to starters Diego Valeri and David Horst and still managed to dominate the two-time defending MLS Cup runners-up after halftime. Next up for the Timbers is a rare home-and-away with the San Jose Earthquakes, the first in front of the raucous Timbers Army.
||D.C. United (1-3-1)
It was deja vu for D.C. against Sporting KC, holding tight defensively only to have a breakdown late and allow the hosts to snatch a victory much like they did at RFK Stadium to open the 2012 campaign. Frustration is mounting in the nation's capital. The club needs a player -- Chris Pontius perhaps? -- to seize control and deliver to end its stretch of futility against New York on Saturday night.
||New York Red Bulls (1-3-2)
The volume on the groan meter is getting higher and higher among Red Bulls faithful after another drab and frustrating showing consigned the club to another defeat. After Luis Robles struggled mightily against Chicago, is the writing on the wall for league goalkeeping great Kevin Hartman to seize the No. 1 job? He played 50 shutout minutes in the club's reserve victory over the Fire on Sunday night and provides necessary stability when fully ready.
||New England Revolution (1-2-1)
The Revs had the week off but watched as Toronto FC earned a point and the Chicago Fire won a game to drop the club to last place in the East. The Revs return at a tough venue, Seattle, but at least they have the fortune of playing there while the Sounders are struggling and will be on short rest following their CCL battle Tuesday night in Mexico.
||Toronto FC (1-2-2)
The first half of Toronto's 2-2 draw with Dallas was as poorly played a half as the Reds have had all season, but they deserve a boatload of credit for not folding up and playing all-out until the final whistle when the former would have been the likely path taken in the past. Darel Russell certainly does not look like an answer at right back after another horrifying experience, but his late equalizer was one of the more well-taken goals we'll see all season.
||Colorado Rapids (1-3-2)
Third-stringer no more. Clint Irwin is quickly approaching hero status in Colorado following another standout effort in goal, and a penalty kick save, to help spearhead Colorado's first win and put the club in position to win the Rocky Mountain Cup. Edson Buddle has fallen off the forward radar a bit, but his work in holding off a defender and getting part of his foot to the ball to set up Atiba Harris for the lone goal was a brilliant instance of grit.
||Chicago Fire (1-3-1)
Maicon Santos doesn't always score, but when he does, he scores in bunches. The reserve forward helped Chicago to its first win while stopping the bleeding on what had been a confounding start to the campaign. The Fire won the midfield battle against New York, with Daniel Paladini and Jeff Larentowicz establishing stability to a place on the field where Chicago had struggled to gain a foothold.
||Seattle Sounders (0-3-1)
Dropping the Sounders to the bottom after a week in which they did not play a league match is certainly a bit harsh, but so, too, has been the club's start to the season. The Sounders remain the last team yet to win a game, and no team comes close to matching Seattle's futile 0.25 points per game. Assuming it cannot accomplish the unthinkable and go to Torreon, Mexico, and steal a road CCL result where Santos Laguna typically dominates, then the Sounders will also have to combat another continental hangover while trying to find a remedy to the club's league woes.