More than the story: MLS Week 20

Posted by Jason Davis

Week 20 in MLS was notable for the quality of goals and the emphatic nature of several big wins. If there are winners, there naturally have to be losers, Of the week’s losers are a couple of notable teams on the slide. The MLS summer is a cruel mistress, and she’s already coming for the first half’s best performing sides.

Philadelphia Union 3-1 Chivas USA - Video

Narrative: Chivas remains an expected win for clubs hosting the Goats, regardless of Chivas USA’s moderate turnaround -- anything less than a victory for the Union would be a disappointment

Philly won, but it took a controversial back-pass call to put the Union ahead for good in a tightly contested, rain-soaked match. Union coach John Hackworth had just been sent off for arguing with officials when referee Jorge Gonzalez penalized Chivas for kicking the ball back to Dan Kennedy during a sequence that didn't come close to living up to the spirit of the rule.

-Vote: MLS goals of the weekend

The resulting indirect free kick, no more than seven yards from goal, ended up in the Chivas net after a two-touch routine set up Michael Farfan's roofed winner. Josue Soto was sent off with a second yellow for arguing the call, giving the Union a man advantage they took advantage of with an insurance goal from Conor Casey in the 89th minute.

Nasty weather in Chester, Pa., made for some ugly soccer, including players slipping and sliding all over the wet field at PPL Park. There’s little to take away from the game beyond the fortunate break handed to the Union.

New York Red Bulls 4-0 Montreal Impact - Video

Narrative: A few weeks ago, this game looked like a true test of the Red Bulls in their bid to remain in the conversation for first in the East; based on the Impact’s recent defensive evidence, however, the Red Bulls entered as clear favorites

In that curious way that is so New York -- the most totally off team in the league when they’re off, but one of the best when they’re on -- the Red Bulls rose up to put in their best performance of the year in a drubbing of once-mighty Montreal. Eric Alexander went off, slaloming through the Impact defense like a lanky Maradona, side-stepping cleats and legs in a sweet display of his under-utilized dribbling prowess to score the first New York goal. The Impact, who probably should have known it was not their day after starting with 10 men thanks to a Justin Mapp sock malfunction, never recovered.

The Impact remain at the of the Eastern Conference standings on points-per-game despite the loss, though the rumble of footsteps behind them grows ever louder as they struggle through their worst stretch of the year. Their two games in hand on overall points leader Sporting Kansas City no longer seems like six points for the taking. Meanwhile, New York displayed their obvious talent in a big game when it mattered, but because it's New York, no one will be comfortable in the Red Bulls ability to maintain actual momentum.

New England Revolution 1-2 Houston Dynamo - Video

Narrative: A total toss-up of a game between two of the Eastern Conference second echelon; New England’s interchangeable creative midfield versus Houston’s direct style

It’s not that Adam Moffat isn't always dangerous with his cannon-like feet, it's just that it's impossible to know when they'll impact a given game. On Saturday in Foxborough, the Scotsman blasted in two goals -- one with each foot -- carrying the Dynamo to a road win over the Revolution. Moffat’s first in particular was a stunner, a 25-yard left-footed volley that flipped New England keeper Bobby Shuttleworth in midair as he desperately tried to get a hand to Moffat's blast.

-Video: MLS play of the weekend

Moffat's second, a low stinging shot with his right foot that hit the post, bounced off a splayed Shuttleworth and trickled into the net, was the winner. If not for the ferocity of the shot, Shuttleworth might have reason to feel embarrassed; as it was, the day simply belonged to Moffat and his lethal shooting.

Saer Sene scored for New England, who saw their chances to draw level reduced when Dimity Imbongo was sent off in the 82nd minute. On another day, the result might have been a Revolution home win or a fair draw.

Sporting Kansas City 3-0 Toronto FC - Video

Narrative: TFC’s drama (the club let team captain Darren O’Dea go a day before the match) follows them into Sporting Park, where the home side is struggling just enough to give the unsettled Canadian side a bit of hope

Hope, dashed. Thanks to Soony Saad’s first goal since 2011, Sporting took the lead inside 25 minutes and tripled down to thrash TFC. Saad added another, and Sporting displayed their devastating team play (though it helps when the other team has mentally boarded the bus) on Claudio Bieler's capper in the 63rd minute. The passing and movement on the goal was the best of Sporting operating with speed and killer instinct they've made their calling card. More than the win, which put Sporting back on top in the East by two points over Montreal, or the scoring of Saad, it was that goal that might be the biggest takeaway for the home team.

TFC remains TFC, with only the promise of summer signings lending any positive feelings to Ryan Nelsen's first year in charge. It’s telling that the biggest story of the year surrounding Toronto is the unsubstantiated rumor of Argentine forward Diego Forlan joining the team; everything about TFC in 2013 (and, let’s be honest, most of the last eight seasons) is based on “maybe.”

FC Dallas 0-3 Real Salt Lake - Video

Narrative: Struggling FCD needs to bring their best effort to beat a surging RSL side -- despite the absences of Nick Rimando, Alvaro Saborio, and Kyle Beckerman and the fact that RSL has never won in Texas

The shifting balance of power in the Western Conference was on full display at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco. Real Salt Lake collected three points, and while FC Dallas threatened the Josh Saunders net on multiple occasions in the first half, the former Galaxy keeper playing in Rimando’s stead was up to the initial challenge. When Javier Morales nutmegged Zach Loyd in the 39th minute to give the visitors the lead, the scene was set for the best team in the league (no arguments allowed) to leave Texas with their first three-point haul.

Aside from the signature influence of Javier Morales on RSL’s successful day, Jason Kreis’ club can take heart in the fill-in job done by third-string goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, forced to step in after Saunders left with a knee injury early in the second half.

FCD is going in the wrong direction, and quickly. Missing George John and David Ferreira, Schellas Hyndman's team fell flat at both ends of the field. If and when those players come back, or a summer signing gives them a boost, FC Dallas could be a threat in the West again. Until then, they’re clearly a level below Real Salt Lake.

San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 Seattle Sounders - Video

Narrative: Seattle limps into Buck Shaw Stadium without Obafemi Martins and Shalrie Joseph to take on an Earthquakes team missing their top-scorer but not their hard-nosed resolve

Beyond Walter Martinez's nicely taken goal, there’s little positive to say about this game. Sounders manager Sigi Schmid called it “ugly” -- repeated six times -- and he was probably being kind. The game featured 35 fouls, six yellow cards, and a red to Osvaldo Alonso in added time that is still unexplained. The only thing the game had more of than “ugly” was bumps and bruises -- Seattle lost Brad Evans to a rib contusion in the first half, goalkeeper Michael Gspurning after 45 minutes due to a wrist injury, and Djimi Traore, to what might have been the collective damage done by too much ugly soccer, in the 53rd minute. San Jose's Jason Hernandez also left late in the first half with an injury.

San Jose might take something from the effort moving forward, but Seattle will surely want to treat it as a one-off abomination against the kicking-est team in the league, and hope that their exacerbated injury problems don’t linger into a season-deflating concern.

Portland Timbers 2-1 LA Galaxy - Video

Narrative: The Galaxy remain a prized scalp for the new-look Timbers, and while both teams are missing crucial contributors, now is as good a time as any for Portland to improve their playoff bonafides with a win over the defending champs

An entertaining back-and-forth match ended in a way that is becoming a troubling trend for Bruce Arena’s team -- losing in the final minutes. Andrew Jean-Baptiste’s added-time header gave the Timbers the win, vaulting them into third place in the West and leaving Arena fuming on the sideline. The Galaxy coach took out his frustrations on Portland coach Caleb Porter after the post-game handshake. The odd image of Arena going through the motions of the ritual handshake before launching into a verbal tirade stands as visual representation of LA’s up-and-down season.

Some shoddy defending on both ends had the score tied 1-1 at the half. The teams traded chances, with Portland goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts making a notable save on a Juninho free kick in the second half, before Jean-Baptiste popped up to give the Timbers the lead in the dying moments.

The win gets the Timbers back on the plus side after their undefeated streak was broken in Columbus last week. Meanwhile, LA’s most consistent attribute remains their inconsistency. Thanks to Vancouver’s win on Sunday, LA now sits in the final West playoff spot, just three points ahead of idle Colorado.

Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 Chicago Fire - Video

Narrative: Can high-flying Vancouver’s attack outscore Mike Magee?

Magee didn’t score (though he created several chances), and the Fire's only goal was nothing more than a consolation tally in a game taken over by Brazilian Camilo. After a scoreless first hour and change, Camilo got on the end of a Brad Knighton punt, turned newly signed Fire defender Shaun Francis inside-out, and slotted home the opening goal for the Whitecaps. Just five minutes later, Camilo broke free behind the Fire defense only to have Chicago keeper Paolo Tornaghi take the ball off of his foot with an outstretched hand. The determined Camilo recovered the ball, cut back, and fired home his second goal and the eventual winner.

Kekuta Manneh added a third before Chicago’s Patrick Nyarko ruined Knighton’s shutout bid with a headed effort late in added time. It was a well-deserved win for the Whitecaps, who benefited from a strong effort in the back on the part of Brad Rusin. Despite Magee’s strong play and a solid effort from Chris Rolfe, Vancouver kept the Fire at bay for 94-plus minutes.

Vancouver moves into third place in the West with the win, a position reflective of a strong run of form that sees them with five wins and a draw in their last six matches.

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