Major League Soccer is taking a couple of weeks off, for the most part. Yes, there are more U.S. Open Cup matches next week, one league game this weekend and another next weekend, plus the usual amount of MLS Reserve League action, but this is the league's version of spring break, and there's good reason for it.
It's the first big international dates of the year, with the start of semifinal-round qualifying in CONCACAF for the 2014 World Cup, more qualifiers in Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania, and next week's kickoff to Euro 2012 -- the biggest event on the calendar before 2013.
Clubs have long complained about MLS's inability to follow an international calendar -- largely dictated by its spring (or late winter, nowadays)-to-late fall schedule and the harsh winters in much of the country -- and the loss of prime talent when national teams get priority to players.
This was MLS's response: a couple of weekends off in June, a light weekend in early September, a weekend without games in mid-October, all in service of the international game and the hardships call-ups can mean for the clubs.
This is also why we have a 34-game schedule rather than a balanced 36-game slate. There's just no space for two more games in a calendar, Commissioner Don Garber says, that's already full from the March 10 MLS openers until Dec. 1, when MLS Cup will be played at the higher-seeded finalist's home.
We don't buy that and don't have a ton of sympathy for the clubs. Rosters can be 30 players. They should be larger and one day might be, but with some revision of roster rules -- enabling short-term signings, a la the NBA, when manpower shortages exist -- clubs could play through the international dates with little trouble. Maybe the big names and a few not so big will go missing, but everyone is affected -- and everyone has a full squad.
The choice is a balanced schedule or the ability, within reason, for clubs to field their best sides at all times. Our vote would be for the former.
Here are this week's power rankings:
1. REAL SALT LAKE (9-3-2, 29 points), Last Week: 1
Week 12: Alvaro Saborio tallies twice, Nat Borchers in stoppage to beat FC Dallas, 3-2; brilliant Luis Gil blast not enough in 3-1 U.S. Open Cup third-round loss to NASL's Minnesota Stars.
Latest: RSL pays huge cost for Open Cup loss after buying the match from the Stars and paying their expenses. Jason Kreis apologizes to the club's owners, says, “I would not want to be a player under me right now.”
International duty: Kyle Beckerman (U.S.), Luis Gil (U.S. U-20), Will Johnson (Canada), Nick Rimando (U.S.), Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica).
Next: Saturday, June 16, vs. Chivas USA at Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m. (Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22).
2. NEW YORK RED BULLS (8-3-2, 26 points), LW: 3
Week 12: Kenny Cooper scores for the third straight game for 1-1 draw with visiting Chivas USA; Heath Pearce finds the net in 3-0 U.S. Open Cup romp at USL Pro's Charleston Battery.
Latest: Thierry Henry's return could spark something special, but the Bulls didn't fare so poorly without him.
International duty: Joel Lindpere (Estonia), Rafa Marquez (Mexico), Roy Miller (Costa Rica), Victor Palsson (Iceland), Dane Richards (Jamaica).
Next: Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match at Harrisburg City Islanders (USL Pro), 4 p.m.; Sunday, June 17 at Chicago, 2 p.m. (NBC Sports Network).
3. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (8-3-1, 25 points), LW: 6
Week 12: Lawndale's Kei Kamara sets up C.J. Sapong, scores his own as Sporting ends four-game winless skid with 2-1 victory over San Jose; Soony Saad nets a pair in 3-2 U.S. Open Cup win over USL Pro's Orlando City SC.
Latest: Sapong ends seven-game drought with an extra assist from Kamara: his boots, after leaving his own at home. “He wouldn't have scored that goal if he didn't have my shoes on,” kids Kamara.
International duty: Roger Espinoza (Honduras), Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone).
Next: Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match vs. Colorado, 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 16, vs. Toronto FC, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
4. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (8-3-3, 27 points), LW: 4
Week 12: Alan Gordon scores at the end for the third straight game as Quakes rally late for 3-2 win over the Galaxy; Simon Dawkins' strikes comes too late in 2-1 loss at Sporting Kansas City; UC Santa Barbara product Sam Garza scores twice for 2-1 U.S. Open Cup victory over NASL's Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Latest: Comeback kids set new standards with Gordon, and Garza gets in the act after Steven Lenhart's pep talk.
International duty: Victor Bernardez (Honduras), Chris Wondolowski (U.S.)
Next: Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup match vs. Minnesota Stars (NASL), 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday, June 20, at Colorado, 6:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
5. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (7-3-3, 24 points), LW: 2
Week 12: Osvaldo Alonso picks up a postgame suspension in 2-0 loss to visiting Columbus; David Estrada prospers from defensive error for a 1-1 draw at Chivas USA; Riverside's Sammy Ochoa nets the final two in 5-1 U.S. Open Cup rout of NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks.
Latest: Sounders' threepeat in Open Cup largely about home-field advantage, so they bought the Atlanta game to avoid a cross-country trip. Should U.S. Soccer even allow that? GM Adrian Hanauer says his “main priority is my team … and winning as many tournaments as possible” and notes the cash will help the Silverbacks. “It’s a matter of survival,” he said. “Sometimes taking a check helps you survive and thrive better than the purity of whatever was envisioned by the bureaucrats [making] the structural decisions.”
International duty: None.
Next: Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match vs. Cal FC (USASA), 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 16, at Montreal, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)
6. D.C. UNITED (8-4-3, 27 points), LW: 5
Week 12: Maicon Santos delivers winner in 3-2 triumph over New England; Marcelo Saragosa makes up for penalty kick with overtime strike to beat USL Pro's Richmond Kickers, 2-1, in U.S. Open Cup.
Latest: Four goals, four assists send Dwayne De Rosario to MLS's Player of the Month honor.
International duty: Dwayne De Rosario (U.S.), Dejan Jakovic (Canada).
Next: Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match vs. Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 16, at Philadelphia, 4 p.m. (Galavision).
7. HOUSTON DYNAMO (4-3-4, 16 points), LW: 8
Week 12: Andre Hainault completes rally for 2-1 win over the Galaxy; Dynamo exit U.S. Open Cup with 1-0 loss at NASL's San Antonio Scorpions.
Latest: Reports of interest from England, Germany, Holland and Portugal in center back Geoff Cameron.
International duty: Geoff Cameron (U.S.), Andre Hainault (Canada), Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica).
Next: Thursday in a friendly vs. Valencia (Spain), 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, June 10, at Vancouver, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
8. COLUMBUS CREW (5-4-3, 18 points), LW: 13
Week 12: MLS Player of the Week Emilio Renteria tallies in victories at Seattle (2-0) and over visiting Chicago (2-1); Crew concedes late goals two minutes apart to lose, 2-1, to USL Pro's Dayton Dutch Lions in the U.S. Open Cup.
Latest: Crew make their move by claiming four points on San Jose/Seattle trek, then beating the Fire. Julius James' return from a collapsed lung is the plus in Open Cup defeat.
International duty: None.
Next: Saturday, June 16, at New England, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
9. COLORADO RAPIDS (6-6-1, 19 points), LW: 10
Week 12: Jaime Castillon's late goal beats Montreal, 3-2; Andre Akpan contributes goal and assist in 3-1 U.S. Open Cup victory at NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Latest: Former Loyola Marymount star Bobby Burling, a big center back from Colorado who saw time with the Galaxy and Chivas USA, returns from European trials, plays 90 in a Reserve League game. Could a contract offer follow?
International duty: None.
Next: Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match vs. Colorado, 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 16, at Vancouver, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
10. CHIVAS USA (4-6-3, 15 points), LW: 12
Week 12: Juan Pablo Angel welcomed back to New York as a hero, scores to give Goats a 1-1 draw with Red Bulls; Juan Agudelo's first goal in L.A. provides 1-1 draw with visiting Seattle; Cesar Romero tallies for 1-0 U.S. Open Cup win over PDL amateurs Ventura County Fusion.
Latest: Got to admire Chivas' fight -- they'll never be out of any game. But even the Fusion out-chanced them.
International duty: Ante Jazic (Canada), Oswaldo Minda (Ecuador).
Next: Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match at Carolina RailHawks (NASL), 4:07 p.m.; Saturday, June 16, vs. Real Salt Lake at Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m. (Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22).
11. CHICAGO FIRE (5-4-3, 18 points), LW: 7
Week 12: Marco Pappa scores and assists Sebastian Grazzini in 2-1 comeback win over FC Dallas; Austin Berry halves the deficit in 2-1 loss at Columbus; Fire surrenders late lead in 3-2 overtime loss to PDL amateurs Michigan Bucks in the U.S. Open Cup.
Latest: Inconsistent Fire claim Brimstone Cup vs. Dallas, thanks to Grazzini's gorgeous strike and Sean Johnson's PK save.
International duty: Marco Pappa (Guatemala), Victor Pineda (U.S. U-20).
Next: Saturday at New England, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
12. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (5-3-4, 19 points), LW: 11
Week 12: Losing Sebastien Le Toux to yellow cards costly in 1-0 loss at Toronto FC in the second leg of the Canadian Championship final for 2-1 aggregate defeat; Darren Mattocks' late equalizer provides a 1-1 draw at Portland.
Latest: Mattocks' first MLS goal nabs an away point against a Cascadia Cup rival, lightens the blow from Canadian Championship failure.
International duty: Michael Boxall (New Zealand).
Next: Sunday, June 10, vs. Houston, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
13. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION (4-7-1, 13 points), LW: 9
Week 12: Two quick goals erase two-goal deficit, but Revs fall, 3-2, at D.C. United; three-goal overtime lead is erased, and USL Pro's Harrisburg City Islanders advance on penalties after 3-3 U.S. Open Cup tie.
Latest: Revs' final 10 minutes in Hershey is the greatest MLS collapse since the Galaxy gave up five to San Jose in 2003.
International duty: None.
Next: Saturday vs. Chicago, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
14. MONTREAL IMPACT (3-7-3, 12 points), LW: 15
Week 12: No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wenger pulls Impact even just after the break, but it doesn't last in 3-2 defeat at Colorado.
Latest: Initial impact DP Marco Di Vaio signs, arrives from Serie A, where he scored 142 goals in 342 games with Lazio, Bari, Salernitana, Parma, Juventus, Genoa and Bologna.
International duty: Donovan Ricketts (Jamaica).
Next: Saturday, June 16, vs. Seattle, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)
15. PORTLAND TIMBERS (3-5-4, 13 points), LW: 16
Week 12: Week starts with 1-0 loss in friendly to Spanish La Liga's third-place Valencia CF; Kris Boyd's goal doesn't stand in 1-1 draw with Vancouver; no goals on 43 shots in 1-0 U.S. Open Cup loss to USASA amateurs Cal FC, from Thousand Oaks.
Latest: Open Cup loss to Eric Wynalda's club leaves Timbers dumbfounded. “I don't think there's any explaining it,” John Spencer says. “I don't think I've ever been involved in a game playing or coaching where we've been beaten by an amateur team. I'm bitterly disappointed. You don't use the word 'embarrassed' or 'humiliated' too much in your career. Tonight I felt both.”
International duty: Mamadou “Futty” Danso (Gambia), Jake Gleeson (New Zealand), Lovel Palmer (Jamaica), Steve Purdy (El Salvador), Rodney Wallace (Costa Rica).
Next: Saturday, June 17, vs. Galaxy at Home Depot Center, 4 p.m. (KDOC/Channel 56 and KWHY/Channel 22).
16. GALAXY (3-8-2, 11 points), LW: 14
Week 12: Galaxy let two-goal lead, surrender stoppage-time winner to Alan Gordon in 3-2 loss to San Jose; take early lead and then falter in the Houston heat in a 2-1 defeat; surrender two late goals to drop U.S. Open Cup clash, 2-1, at NASL's Carolina RailHawks.
Latest: Galaxy have nearly hit bottom after giving away three successive leads. Might this season already be lost?
International duty: Landon Donovan (Galaxy), Robbie Keane (Ireland).
Next: Saturday, June 17, vs. Portland at Home Depot Center, 4 p.m. (KDOC/Channel 56 and KWHY/Channel 22).
17. FC DALLAS (3-8-4, 13 points), LW: 17
Week 12: Matt Hedges provides a lead that doesn't last in 2-1 loss at Chicago; Blas Perez scores late equalizer, but Real Salt Lake's stoppage-time goal extends Hoops' winless streak to nine in a 3-2 decision; Dallas bows out of U.S. Open Cup with 2-0 loss to USL Pro's Charlotte Eagles.
Latest: Open Cup loss a snapshot of a season: injuries (in the first half to Zach Loyd and George John), a red card (to Jackson Goncalves with the score 1-0) and defeat. “When I came off the field, I think a fan said it to me best,” said Hoops coach Schellas Hyndman. “And it was the same word I used with the team: Unacceptable. That was an unacceptable performance by professional players.”
International duty: Jonathan Top (U.S. U-20).
Next: Saturday, June 16, at Houston, 2 p.m. (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes).
18. PHILADELPHIA UNION (2-7-2, 8 points), LW: 18
Week 12: Toronto FC makes Union its first victim on 88th-minute goal; Freddy Adu scores twice, adds assist in 3-0 U.S. Open Cup romp over USL Pro's Rochester Rhinos.
Latest: Ready to write off the Union? Us, too, until they hammered a pretty good Rochester team in an Open Cup matchup that produced high upset hopes.
International duty: Gabe Gomez (Panama), Porfirio Lopez (Costa Rica).
Next: Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match at D.C. United, 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 16, vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m. (Galavision).
19. TORONTO FC (1-9-0, 3 points), LW: 19
Week 12: Reggie Lambe scores in 83rd to deliver fourth straight Canadian Championship with a 1-0 victory (2-1 aggregate) over Vancouver; Danny Koevermans comes off the bench, scores at the end, and Reds end losing streak, 1-0, over Philly.
Latest: Worst in the world but best in Canada? CONCACAF Champions League-bound Reds enjoy their first good week since beating the Galaxy in March.
International duty: Julian de Guzman (Canada), Ryan Johnson (Jamaica), Ashtone Morgan (Canada).
Next: Saturday, June 16, vs. Toronto FC, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).
All times Pacific