More than the story: MLS Week 21

Posted by Jason Davis

Summing up Week 21 in Major League Soccer requires no more than five words: Few goals, lots of controversy. While teams around the league struggled to put the ball in the net, two of the league's best teams did battle on the Wasatch Front in a game that saw more than its fair share of MLS-style physicality and a late, late -- perhaps a little unfairly late -- winner.

Toronto FC 0-0 New York Red Bulls - Video

Narrative: The Red Bulls flexed their prodigious muscles last week against one of the top teams in the East, Montreal, in a 4-0 win; Toronto will be in for another Jersey-on-Canada shellacking

Instead of doubling down on their big win last week, the Red Bulls suffered something of a letdown in Toronto. A flat 90 minutes "earned" New York a point, but the lack of goals -- and the lack of chances -- belied a team lacking the motivation to take care of business on the road against one of the worst teams in the league. Maybe it's not all that troubling a trait if New York manages to maintain a playoff position, since getting up for playoff matchups against other good teams shouldn’t be a problem, but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the Red Bulls have crested the hill as an actual MLS Cup contender.

-Vote: MLS goal of the week

The only highlights worth mentioning from the drab BMO Field affair are saves by Luis Robles that preserved the draw for New York, and the play of Toronto’s new designated player Matias Laba. He stood out for Ryan Nelsen's team, for whatever that’s worth in a game hardly worth remembering.

Seattle Sounders 1-1 Colorado Rapids - Video

Narrative: Beaten, bruised, and missing the recalled Eddie Johnson, there’s no predicting how Seattle will respond at home against another playoff contender in the Rapids

Seattle and Colorado played to a fair draw that illustrates just where Seattle stands at this point in the season. Colorado is no doubt thrilled at the road point, collected at the Sounders’ expense; Seattle, on the other hand, is left again to wonder when its season will round into expected form.

Neither team played well offensively, with the Rapids' goal coming on a corner from Drew Moor on one of Colorado’s few chances and Seattle’s on a rebound header by fullback DeAndre Yedlin. Clint Irwin's initial attempt to save Lamar Neagle's initial shot left him out of position to stop Yedlin's goal when the ball ricocheted back into play after hitting the post. It was Yedlin's first goal in his breakout rookie season that has him lined up to participate in the MLS All-Star Game July 31.

Seattle won the battle for shots on goal, though they clearly missed Johnson, who was away on USMNT duty and scored in the Americans’ 5-1 Gold Cup quarterfinal romp over El Salvador.

Montreal Impact 0-0 FC Dallas - Video

Narrative: Two teams that started the season so strongly find themselves in near free-fall--a win for either could go a long way in providing a boost to get them back on track

A scoreless stalemate seemed appropriate for this matchup of one-time conference leaders. Dallas’s rut is deep, with Schellas Hyndman’s team having failed to score for the fourth consecutive game. With no goal, only a strong defensive performance against an onslaught from Montreal represented a silver lining. The Impact held the lion's share of possession, took more shots, and truly threatened more often. FC Dallas kept them at bay thanks to tireless work from defenders and a bit of luck.

The Impact couldn’t break through, pushing their winless streak to five and raising further concern that the fast start obscured issues with Montreal’s ability to handle the rigors of the long MLS season. Age is a concern for manager Marco Schallibaum, exacerbated by Major League Soccer’s unique physical and travel demands. Without leading scorer Marco Di Vaio -- away on a family matter -- the Impact turned to Daniele Paponi to take on lone forward duties.

Both teams are in the midst of bringing in reinforcements during the summer player acquisition window, with the hope a fresh face or two will jumpstart their flagging campaigns. For the time being, both FC Dallas and Montreal remain in playoff spots by narrow margins. A few more disappointing results, and they might soon find themselves looking up at the qualifying places.

There’s no rest for the weary for the Impact. Sporting Kansas City visits on Saturday.

Columbus Crew 0-2 New England - Video

Narrative: The impossible-to-pin down Crew are slight favorites at home against a New England team full of lineup changes

For 90-plus minutes, neither team could score and a third goalless MLS draw of the day looked to be in the cards. Chance after chance went begging as the teams appeared to conspire to waste opportunities. Columbus’s extra rest didn’t do them much good -- despite having the advantage of a first-choice lineup (minus Jairo Arrieta, away on international duty with Costa Rica) while New England juggled several spots after a midweek loss in Colorado -- the Crew lacked any real intent to grab the goal and the three crucial points.

Instead, a late breakdown by goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum on Jose Gonsalves' set-piece header gave New England the winner and the spoils. Gruenebaum’s uncharacteristic error was followed two minutes later by one by the usually steady Chad Marshall, who gifted New England a second goal with a giveaway in his own defensive third. Diego Fagundez finished the goal from a pass by Lee Nguyen.

On paper, Columbus has a team that should at least challenge for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. On the field they don’t seem to be particularly close.

Philadelphia Union 0-0 Portland Timbers - Video

Narrative: The Union’s home-field advantage probably won’t be enough to overcome the Timbers, one of the most consistent teams in the league, and a draw machine away from Jeld-Wen

The game ended in a scoreless draw, but the result might have had more to do with Mother Nature than the efforts of either team. A lengthy lightning storm delayed the second half, disrupting the rhythm of both sides. The stars of the show in a scoreless draw are typically the goalkeepers, and this was no exception. Both Philadelphia's Zac MacMath and Portland's Donovan Ricketts made four saves, preventing a goal that would break the deadlock.

The game had the typical ebbs and flows, but without a goal there’s little more to say. Portland was able to reintegrate captain Will Johnson, back after Gold Cup duty for Canada, while Philadelphia saw the return of Jack McInerney to the front line after his experience in the USMNT camp.

Chicago Fire 4-1 D.C. United - Video

Narrative: United is bad, Chicago is better, and after a two-game losing streak (against two of the league’s better teams), this match has all the makings of a 'get-healthy' game for the Fire

Did United roll over or did the Fire roll United? It’s hard to tell with United these days, and in the end it hardly matters. The Fire picked up three points they had to have by putting four past backup United keeper Joe Willis, two from MLS Player of the Week Chris Rolfe. Rolfe’s first in particular was a pretty goal, facilitated by Joel Lindpere.

-MLS play of the weekend

After Lindpere steamed up the left side past several United players unchallenged, he looped an early cross for the front-running Rolfe. Rolfe one-touched the ball over a charging Willis and into the net less than two minutes from the opening whistle, setting the tone for the day and yet another D.C. United loss.

Lindpere was back in the lineup after being relegated to the bench for a string of games. The Estonian's contributions were obvious, though it’s difficult to put them in context considering the opposition. If the Fire can push Lindpere to the same level as Rolfe and Mike Magee -- the man most easily identified for an improvement in Chicago’s fortunes -- the Fire might make a run at the playoffs. For the time being, Frank Klopas’ team sits five points back of the Houston Dynamo for the East’s last qualifying position.

As for United? It was more of the same, with only a goal from the newly acquired Luis Silva to serve as a positive.

Real Salt Lake 1-2 Sporting Kansas City - Video

Narrative: The marquee matchup of the week pits two of the league's best teams in a game sure to be tense and physical. With RSL at home and riding an eight-game unbeaten streak, they’re the favorites despite the absences of Alvaro Saborio, Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran, and Nick Rimando

The game played out as expected, a fast-moving, highly physical affair rife with legs left in and shoulders barged. It ended in controversy. The first rough moment came off the opening kick, when RSL defender Chris Wingert flattened SKC forward Kei Kamara. Wingert picked up a yellow card, a booking that would come to haunt RSL when Wingert was sent off for a second offenselate in a tied contest. Whether the physical tone was too much for neophyte MLS referee Matthew Foerster was the prevailing talking point afterward.

The teams traded goals -- RSL's from Robbie Findley, in one of his best performances of the year, and SKC's from the on-fire Soony Saad just moments after Wingert’s sending-off -- before the game spiraled out of control. Rough play and Foerster's inconsistent whistles escalated the aggressive tenor, before the fourth official’s board went up with five minutes allotted for injury time.

Six and a half minutes past the 90, and well past the five minutes of indicated added time, Sporting Kansas City won a corner. Ike Opara -- standing in for Matt Besler who was called back into the USMNT -- rose up and headed home the winner, enraging RSL and their fans. Foerster’s inexperience made easy fodder for RSL coach Jason Kreis, despite the likelihood that even the most experienced refs would have had trouble managing the contest.

Lost in the hubbub was the job done by RSL's third-string goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, forced into duty by Rimando's international absence and Josh Saunders injury.

The teams don't play again during the regular season, so Real Salt Lake’s revenge can only come if they meet in the MLS Cup Final. If it happens, Kreis can be assured the assigned referee won’t have fewer than 20 professional games on his resume.

LA Galaxy 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps - Video

Narrative: No Landon Donovan, no Robbie Keane, and a Galaxy side stinging from a last-minute loss last week set things up perfectly for a Vancouver win on the road

Thanks to the Galaxy's young fill-in striker pairing of Jose Villareal and Gyasi Zardes, LA overcame a one-goal deficit. Camilo knocked in his league-leading 13th goal inside the first 20 minutes thanks to a well-worked counterattack. The goal came against the run of play after LA pushed hard for an early lead -- Brad Rusin saved a Hector Jiminez headed off the line and Juninho rattled the crossbar from distance.

However, unlike so many MLS teams on the weekend, LA wouldn't go unrewarded for their attacking play. Jose Villareal leveled the match in the 29th minute on a goal initially ruled offside. When it was determined Zardes did not get a touch that would have put Villareal in an offside position, the call was overturned. The odd nature of the proceedings frustrated the Whitecaps, who were unclear on the correctness of the call.

Zardes showed his prodigious potential on the winner. After collecting a ball over the top, the rookie striker hit Brad Rusin with a clever touch back into the field before calmly slotting the ball past Vancouver keeper Brad Knighton. LA saw out the win in the final moments -- a victory in itself considering their issue giving up goals in the last 15 minutes -- and displayed those attributes that make them contenders no matter occasional blips in form. No Donovan, no Keane, no problem. Youth was served.

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