Galaxy rebound nicely, while a Vancouver goalie steps up
The Galaxy continued to showcase their erratic form, while the Whitecaps were boosted by a superb performance in net and Graham Zusi worked his magic against Chicago.
Los Angeles Galaxy 2, FC Dallas 0
Perhaps the San Jose Earthquakes' last-gasp 3-2 win over the Galaxy last weekend was indeed a turning point -- for the beaten side. Since, San Jose has lost twice while Los Angeles has picked up six points. Just as in its midweek defeat of Columbus, the Galaxy needed late goals to claim victory against Dallas, though this match was far less stressful.
A 65th-minute header from Marcelo Sarvas and a goal from Hector Jimenez with ten minutes to go were enough for the home team at the StubHub Center on Sunday night, and the win was fair reward for a dominant display and the individual excellence of forward Robbie Keane.
Dallas is second in the Western Conference, but that status masks the team's recent toils. It is winless in six games, with a daunting set of fixtures to come: Real Salt Lake this weekend, followed by Montreal, Seattle, the Galaxy again and then Portland.
Meanwhile Los Angeles is up to third, a point below the Texans and level with Portland, its next opponents. Robbie Rogers had one of his liveliest games since joining -- he provided the assist for Jiminez's goal -- which is helpful since Landon Donovan is away with the U.S. national side.
After the collapse against the Earthquakes, there were plenty of questions surrounding Bruce Arena's team. The past week has provided some positive answers, with back-to-back wins and a shutout for a team that has been consistently inconsistent.
Brad Knighton, Vancouver Whitecaps
Strength in depth isn't just about having capable backups for emergencies. It's about how the presence of talented reserves can impact the performances of first-teamer players, by pressuring them into producing their best.
Vancouver signed David Ousted from Danish club Randers on June 20, and it seems that Knighton views the 28-year-old as a serious threat to his position as first-choice goalkeeper. As if adding a player called "Ousted" wasn't enough of a hint already.
Knighton thrived on the challenge on Saturday, making seven saves and securing a shutout against one of the most potent attacks in MLS (at least in theory) as Vancouver beat the Seattle Sounders 2-0 at B.C. Place. The victory was the Whitecaps' first Cascadia Cup win in 13 attempts as an MLS club.
The netminder was unfazed by the lethal reputation of Obafemi Martins or by Eddie Johnson's bleached-blond locks, the hair equivalent of a 100-watt bulb. "That's the best game I've ever played, by far, hands down," Knighton told reporters.
To earn the start he also beat out 38-year-old Joe Cannon, who was between the posts at the beginning of the year but hasn't started in MLS since a 3-1 win over L.A. on May 11. Knighton has extra motivation to perform week in and week out, because he knows how precarious an MLS job can be: this is the 28-year-old's second chance to stick around. He made only 14 starts in four years with the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution and dropped down into the NASL to spend 2011 with the Carolina RailHawks before the Whitecaps rescued him last year.
Knighton did his best work in a short spell on Saturday, making saves from Johnson and Zach Scott midway through the first half before then surging off his line in the 27th minute for a double stop to deny Johnson and Martins on the rebound.
The 'Caps have conceded eleven goals in Knighton's eight starts, but the bottom line is that they have won five and lost only once in that spell, placing Martin Rennie's team in a good position in the Western Conference, especially after this result put distance between Vancouver and Seattle.
15 - Length, in games, of the Portland Timbers' now-ended unbeaten streak
Seemingly growing stronger every week, the Timbers had announced their arrival as a force by emerging intact from some of the toughest venues in MLS, including Dallas, Los Angeles and Kansas City.
Yet Crew Stadium was a problem Portland could not solve on Sunday as it lost 1-0 to Columbus. The result was unlikely outcome, as Robert Warzycha's team has one of the worst home records in MLS -- 3-3-3 -- while the Timbers had not been defeated in the league since a 2-1 loss to Montreal in the second game of the season, going on a club-record tear in the meantime.
Bernardo Anor's fifth-minute header was enough, especially once visiting defender Pa-Modou Kah was sent off only six minutes later for a foul inside the box. Federico Higuain missed the penalty kick, but Portland's attacking options were reduced when head coach Caleb Porter brought on defender Futty Danso for Kalif Alhassan to plug the gap in the back line.
Portland is one of the teams hardest-hit by the Gold Cup, missing Will Johnson, Frederic Piquionne and Rodney Wallace. It still might have escaped Ohio with a point from its first MLS game in two weeks but for a terrific save from Matt Lampson, who denied Darlington Nagbe with three minutes left. Quite a story for the Crew goalkeeper, a late replacement for the injured Andy Gruenebaum. Credit to Lampson for staying focused: it was Portland's only on-target shot of the match.
Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City
Did he mean it? It's not a question we often ask about Zusi, who is one of the most accurate distributors in MLS and also among the most creative.
His goal against the Chicago Fire looked like an overcooked cross, but it curled high and handsome into the far corner all the same, soon after Benny Feilhaber had crashed in Sporting's early opener -- a much-needed goal from a struggling player who was on the U.S. national team scene during the preseason.
Zusi's marker was his fourth league goal of the year and his first in two months. He is only one shy of his total from each of the previous two campaigns but it looks unlikely that he will match his tally of 15 regular-season assists in 2012.
Sporting's progress this year has been stealthy. While rarely playing to its potential, Peter Vermes' team is now second in the Eastern Conference, only a point behind the faltering Montreal Impact, who tied 1-1 with Chivas USA on Sunday. Montreal does have two fixtures in hand.
The outcome was soon overshadowed by strident post-match comments from Fire striker Mike Magee, who came out with some of the strongest public criticism from any player so far this year.
"I can't remember a time in the second half where, during the run of play, we had three players in our attacking box. It's a joke. It's unacceptable. Basically, it seemed like we were just content to leave the game 2-1," he told MLSsoccer.com. "We weren't going to send numbers, we weren't going to take gambles, we were just going kind of say, 'It's 2-1, it's hot. Cool, let's go home and enjoy the rest of our Sunday.' It makes me sick."
Strident words; surprising, too. This was not a veteran issuing a pep talk to a struggling side. The defeat was Chicago's first loss since May 18; Magee himself played well, scored, and is in stunning form, with five goals in six MLS games. And he only joined the Fire on May 25. Yet he already feels settled enough to call out his teammates after a loss that, while disappointing, was hardly unexpected. This was Magee assuming a leadership role and demanding higher standards -- from a position of power, given his current prolific scoring. A member of the supporting cast with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the forward seems determined to be the leading man in Chicago.