Los Angeles Soccer: Real Salt Lake

CHIVAS: Sounders end Open Cup dream

July, 11, 2012

Dan KennedySteven Bisig-US PresswireGoalkeeper Dan Kennedy sits alone after Seattle scored one of its four goals Wednesday.

Chivas USA's quest for a trophy ended the same place its last real quest met its end, where every quest, at least for this trophy, seems to come to a close.

The Goats ran into the Seattle Sounders in Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinals, and if their usual trouble spots -- an inability to create chances, costly mistakes in the worst places -- hadn't put them at a sizable disadvantage, then surely the reigning champs' attacking prowess would have done the trick.

The Sounders advanced to a fourth straight U.S. Open Cup title game -- and perhaps an unprecedented fourth straight triumph -- with a 4-1 romp in Tukwila, Wash., where they are 17-0 in the 99-year-old tournament.

Eddie Johnson gave Seattle a 31st-minute lead, Osvaldo Alonso converted a penalty kick at the start of the second half, and Cesar Romero's strike to halve the deficit with about 20 minutes to go was answered by UC Irvine product Brad Evans and Riverside's Sammy Ochoa near the end.

Chivas, which hasn't won a trophy in its 7 1/2-year history, failed in its biggest match since falling in the semifinals two years ago to the Sounders on the same Starfire Sports Complex turf.

“Early in the game was exactly as we expected it to be: a battle for territory, not giving anything up, getting into good spots,” head coach Robin Fraser told ESPN Los Angeles. “I really thought it was going exactly as expected. Then we made a mistake to give up a bad goal, made another mistake for a bad goal to start the second half, then we're chasing the game.”

Chivas, despite ample possession, couldn't penetrate, and the service from the wings wasn't good enough. Starfire's narrow dimensions caused problems, and the Goats didn't get off a shot until the 58th minute -- and didn't get off a good one until Romero, who provided a big spark off the bench, made it 2-1 in the 74th.

That has been the recurring theme all season: Chivas has only 17 goals over 21 games in all competitions, and it's not because chances aren't being taken.

“I'd say I'm running short on patience in terms of scoring goals,” said Fraser, whose team has been shut out in three of its last four Major League Soccer matches and scored more than once only four times all year, twice against lower-level Open Cup opposition. “We'll just continue to work at it, continue to try to get the ball in dangerous spots.”

Seattle will face Sporting Kansas City in the final Aug. 8 at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Sporting won, 2-0, at Philadelphia, with Jacob Peterson tallying from Graham Zusi's free kick in the 65th minute and -- with Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath pushed forward in search of an equalizer -- Zusi scoring from midfield into an empty net deep into stoppage.

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RSL triumph another step forward

June, 21, 2012

If last weekend's victory over Portland wasn't evidence enough that the Galaxy finally is turning their awful campaign into something promising, consider what Major League Soccer's reigning champions pulled off Wednesday night against Real Salt Lake.

Down by two goals after 24 minutes ... on the road ... at 4,550 feet ... against the best team in the league ... the Galaxy took advantage of two gifts, took charge, and walked away with a remarkable 3-2 triumph.

Landon Donovan scored two goals, the first after picking off an lazy, thoughtless back pass from Tony Beltran and the 68th-minute winner from Mike Magee's superb ball behind RSL's backline, and L.A. allowed its host only five shots on goal to improve to 5-8-2 and climb within two points of fifth place, the cutoff for playoff berths.

Before Sunday, the Galaxy had spent a month in the Western Conference cellar. With a win Saturday over Vancouver at Home Depot Center, they could be back in contention.

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GALAXY: Donovan avenges opening loss

June, 20, 2012

The Galaxy let a late two-goal lead slip away in a 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake in their Major League Soccer opener three months ago, the first big stumble in their horrid start to 2012.

L.A. got payback Wednesday night, rallying from a two-goal first-half deficit for a 3-2 victory in Sandy, Utah, notching back-to-back victories for the first time in a month and just the second time all year.

It's just the second Galaxy win in 10 Utah meetings and their first at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Landon Donovan ran onto a brilliant ball from Mike Magee and finished into an open net in the 68th minute to deliver all three points to the Galaxy (5-8-2), who ended a seven-game MLS winless streak with a win Sunday over Portland.

“That's a good win, man,” Donovan said on KDOC's telecast. “We felt a little unjust by what happened at our place a little earlier in the year when they won, and we wanted to get a little revenge. And then we also know if we can manage to get into the playoffs, which we're still pushing for, this might be a place we have to come later, so we wanted to put on a good show.”

Real Salt Lake (10-4-2) remains atop the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield standings. The Galaxy climbed from seventh to sixth place, but will drop back if Chivas USA draws or beats Montreal in a late game Wednesday. That game is tied, 1-1, at halftime.

This Galaxy victory wasn't as simple as Sunday's: Uncharacteristic errors by RSL's backline let L.A. back into the game after falling behind, 2-0, by the 24th minute, and it was on the back foot mostly until Magee netted the equalizer five minutes into the second half.

Defensive breakdowns cost the Galaxy, which went behind in the ninth minute when Kyle Beckerman finished a low cross from Fabian Espindola, who also fed Alvaro Saborio for the second goal in the 24th.

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MLS Power Rankings: Technology time

June, 20, 2012

Dominic Oduro, Wilman CondeJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Red Bull's Wilman Conde clearing of the Fire's Dominic Oduro's shot was the biggest play of the week in MLS.

In just a matter of days, the argument over goal-line technology has been settled. They'll still argue, but after Ukraine was denied a legitimate goal in Tuesday's 1-0 loss to England at Euro 2012, the discussion is moot.

“After last night's match,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter tweeted Wednesday, “GLT is no longer an alternative but a necessity.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has been vocal in his support of goal-line technology, and the week's better argument in favor of implementation occurred in Chicago's 3-1 victory Saturday over visiting New York.

A shot by Fire forward Dominic Oduro, slowed by a deflection off Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara, was cleared as it entered the net by Wilman Conde. The linesman was a little behind the play and screened by a sliding Conde and could not see that the ball had, indeed, crossed fully into the goal. Referee Baldomero Toledo waved play on and cautioned Oduro for protesting.

The incident incensed the Fire, who replied with another goal four minutes later and another 13 minutes after that to pull away.

Marko Devic's goal for Ukraine was just as clear, and John Terry's clearance after it had crossed the line should have been easier to spot. UEFA, led by legendary French midfielder (and anti-technology crusader) Michel Platini, is experimenting with goal judges in this European Championship. Their sole job is to decide if the ball has crossed the line. The goal judge in Donetsk was next to the net staring at the play, and he didn't get it right.

As Michael Ballack noted on ESPN's coverage of the Euros, it's not his fault. Everything's happening so fast, the eyes can't discern exactly where what is at any given moment. ESPN used stop-action video to prove Devic's goal should have counted.

FIFA on July 5 will decide if Platini's alternative or either of two systems, both using technology, at use in England and Denmark should be approved for widespread use. The past week calls for at least one of them to get the nod, and the UEFA boss' chances aren't good.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. REAL SALT LAKE (10-3-2, 32 points), Last Week: 1
Week 15:
Fabian Espindola strikes twice in impressive 3-0 triumph at Chivas USA.
Latest: Javier Morales ready to return to the starting lineup.
Should-be All-Star: Espindola has been unstoppable.
Next: Wednesday vs. Galaxy, 6 p.m. (KDOC/Channel 56 and KWHY/Channel 22); Saturday vs. San Jose, 6 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

2. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (9-3-1, 28 points), LW: 3
Week 15:
C.J. Sapong, Julio Cesar hit the net in 2-0 win over Toronto FC.
Latest: Peter Vermes reveals K.C. has tried to acquire Giovani Dos Santos “a couple times, but there's always been little problems here or there,” mostly money talk with Tottenham. The Mexico star says he wants to stay in Europe.
Should-be All-Star: Aurelien Collin has been splendid at the back.
Next: Wednesday at Seattle, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday at Philadelphia, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal vs. Dayton Dutch Lions (USL Pro), 5:30 p.m.

3. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (8-3-3, 27 points), LW: 4
Week 15:
Latest: When will the Quakes' new stadium open? Could be 2013 or 2014 -- still lots of uncertainty.
Should-be All-Star: Chris Wondolowski, of course.
Next: Wednesday at Colorado, 6:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday at Real Salt Lake, 6 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Tuesday in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal vs. Seattle, 7:30 p.m.

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GALAXY: Is result secondary at RSL?

June, 19, 2012

Landon DonovanStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesLandon Donvon says there's still plenty to play for as the Galaxy tries to build on its recent victory.

There might be no more difficult road game in Major League Soccer than against Real Salt Lake, a combination of atmosphere, altitude and the fact the home team is probably the best side in the league.

It's the challenge facing the Galaxy following a huge step forward on the weekend, but building upon their first victory in two months isn't all about winning.

L.A. could lose Wednesday night at Real Salt Lake and consider it another stride toward where the team wants to be, which is the playoffs. L.A. is just five points out of fifth place -- and 11 out of third, which avoids the wild-card round -- with 20 games to go, and both of those targets would have been easy pickings last year.

But until Sunday night's 1-0 triumph over Portland, a few short stretches of games aside, the 2012 Galaxy haven't had much in common with their predecessors.

“There's still plenty to play for, and there's plenty of hope,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said following Tuesday's training session at Home Depot Center a few hours before the flight to Utah. “I think what's been most frustrating are results are results. Some days they go your way and some days they don't.

“We've got to be better about how we play. And if we play the way we did Sunday and we'd tied the game or lost the game, I think we could live with that. But it's getting back to playing that way. If we play that way in Salt Lake and don't get the result that we want, I think we can live with that.”

The Galaxy had gone eight games without a victory, its U.S. Open Cup opener included, then put together its most complete performance since a 3-1 romp in March over D.C. United despite missing 11 players to injury, suspension and international duty. Last year it didn't matter who wasn't available, L.A. grinded results regardless of personnel; there were clear echoes of that in Sunday's victory.

The schedule, David Beckham noted, is “never ideal when you play on Sunday and have to travel Tuesday and play at [4,550-foot] altitude on Wednesday,” but prevailing over such circumstances is key to turning this season around.

“It's not an easy task the play three days later against, in my opinion, the best team in the league,” Donovan said. “But if we want to get back to where were were last year, then these are the challenges we need to overcome. Last year we didn't make any excuses about anything, we just went about our business, and we want to get back to that.”

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CHIVAS USA: Goats pay for mistakes

June, 17, 2012

CARSON -- Chivas USA has been punished for mistakes all season -- it's a recurring theme for the Goats, and so is how they create so little from a goodly amount of possession.

Both were at play Saturday night, when they ran into a stronger, more precise and -- because of Chivas' unexpected win back in March -- more pumped up Real Salt Lake side, which used its every advantage to post a 3-0 victory before an announced 13,816 at Home Depot Center.

Fabian Espindola scored on each side of halftime and Will Johnson added a stoppage-time strike as RSL (10-3-2, 32 points) extended its unbeaten streak to seven games, became the first MLS club with double-digit wins and restored its lead atop the Supporters' Shield standings after D.C. United had grabbed the top spot a few hours earlier.

An uncharacteristic error from goalkeeper Dan Kennedy led to the first goal, RSL's transition game tore a hole in Chivas' midfield for the second, and the Goats had no answer, struggling again to accomplish something worthwhile in the final third.

“That's been, I'd say, our Achilles all year,” said left back Ante Jazic, who was involved in the error on RSL's opener. “I mean, we do a great job getting to the final third, and then that last pass or the final cross or the final product is lacking.

“It's coming. I think we're playing better as a team in general, but the toughest thing to do in this game is score, and we definitely have to start scoring some goals.”

It's the sixth time in 14 games Chivas (4-7-3, 15 points) has been shut out this season -- and the fifth time in eight home games. Only Toronto FC and Philadelphia, the two worst teams in MLS, have fewer than the Goats' nine goals.

Chivas created virtually nothing worth noting until it was down by two goals, and only Juan Agudelo's 85th-minute header from a Ryan Smith cross tested RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

“Certainly, we have players that we think are good players, and we have to be able to execute,” Goats coach Robin Fraser said. “Tonight we didn't execute in the attacking end, and we took stretches of possession and didn't turn them into dangerous chances.

“I do feel like we've had this conversation many times.”

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CHIVAS: Goats face RSL with real belief

June, 15, 2012

Alejandro MorenoKelvin Kuo/US PresswireAlejandro Moreno says Chivas USA is becoming more competitive and more consistent in its effort.

CARSON -- Chivas USA returns after three weeks away from Major League Soccer's wars confident that their run of form before the break is the start of something real, not just a nifty little streak.

The Goats posted successive results against San Jose, the Galaxy, New York and Seattle -- as good as it gets in this league -- and then added to them with a pair of gritty victories in the U.S. Open Cup, a six-match unbeaten stretch they take into Saturday night's match against another league superpower.

Real Salt Lake (9-3-2), which sits atop MLS's Western Conference and Supporters' Shield standings, always is an intriguing matchup for Chivas (4-6-3), more so this time, perhaps, because of what occurred March 24 in Utah.

Chivas withstood an RSL onslaught the first half hour, gave a fine second-half performance, then pulled off the upset thanks to a heads-up half volley from rookie Casey Townsend, one of just two real chances the Goats created.

This time Chivas is better equipped: Juan Pablo Angel is healthy and sharp, the additions of Juan Agudelo, Jose Erik Correa and Danny Califf have made for a more talented, better-rounded squad, and the results of the last month and three days have bolstered the belief.

“Something we can use as a confidence-builder and as a steppingstone,” said Califf, who arrived in a trade from Philadelphia right before the May 19 SuperClasico victory over the Galaxy. “Those results, it wasn't like we didn't deserve those results. Having that run of form is a big help when you come into games that you know are going to be tough, but you have the recent results where you can say, 'Look, guys, here are games we've played against the best teams and done well, and there's no reason we can't do that again.' ”

Said goalkeeper Dan Kennedy: “After the last month, we've proven we can play with the best. ... With the Open Cup games, we've gained a little more momentum, a little more belief in the group.”

The Goats are clearly capable of more than they were in March and April, but it's all a work in progress. They've continued to struggle creating chances and scoring goals, but netting at least one in their last seven games (just one in six of them) is a step forward after being shut out five times in the first eight matches.

“We're more consistent in some of the things we're trying to do,” captain Alejandro Moreno said. “We're more in tune with things we want to do as a group, and really the attitude and mindset of the group has been positive. ... We're a lot more competitive and a lot more in tune with what it takes to win games in this league with some consistency. We've done that over the course of the last month, and there's a lot of challenges ahead of us, there's a lot of games ahead of us, there's a lot of points to be won ahead of us, and hopefully we can seize these opportunities as they come to us.”

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MLS Power Rankings: Ch-ch-ch-changes

June, 13, 2012

Piotr NowakMike Stobe/Getty Images/New York Red BullsPeter Nowak, who won an MLS Cup as a player in 1998, was fired as Philadelphia coach on Wednesday.

The first coaching changes of the Major League Soccer have come down, neither all that surprising, although one of them is disappointing.

Philadelphia on Wednesday cut ties with Peter Nowak, who took the Union to the playoffs in year two, then dismantled the team piece by piece, infuriating the club's supporters and puzzling the youngsters on the roster.

Nowak, a Polish star who captained Chicago to the 1998 MLS Cup title, coached D.C. to the 2004 crown, served as Bob Bradley's chief assistant with the U.S. national team and guided the U.S. men at the Beijing Olympics four years ago, had dumped fan favorites Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Califf, then last week traded Danny Mwanga -- which the club took with the first pick in its first collegiate draft -- to Portland for Jorge Perlaza, a deal that made a lot of sense tactically.

The other moves, not so much, but the furor had become deafening. Assistant coach John Hackworth steps in as interim coach.

Toronto FC last week made the first change of the year, dismissing former Dutch superstar Aron Winter and giving the reins to director of player development Paul Mariner, the former English star and New England assistant coach. Mariner's first move was to simplify things, dumping Winter's 4-3-3 formation for a traditional 4-4-2.

Winter was ousted after the Reds lost their first nine league games, a mystifying run given the quality in the team. TFC has never been close to a success, but Winter in the past year had brought it to respectability, and many observers -- here, too -- predicted playoffs, especially after the CONCACAF Champions League triumph over the Galaxy. He delivered in the Canadian Championship, guiding the Reds to their fourth straight title and another Champions League berth.

Winter was the victim of circumstances and a management group that has repeatedly made poor decisions, at least until hiring Winter. We would have given him the rest of the season. Nowak? The right move.

Who's next to go? Chivas USA fans were out for Robin Fraser's head earlier this season, but he's going nowhere -- and Goats supporters should be very happy about that. Chivas is going to be very, very good soon.

Toronto had the worst record (1-9-0) in MLS, and Philly's (2-7-2) was No. 2. After that, it's the Galaxy (3-8-2). Should Bruce Arena be worried? We don't believe so, but L.A. has made five of its six head-coaching dismissals (or, in the parlance, agreed mutually to part ways) in midseason. Only two off those fired (Lothar Osiander in 1997 and Steve Sampson in 2006) had worse records than the Galaxy's current mark.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. REAL SALT LAKE (9-3-2, 29 points), Last Week: 1
Week 14:
Latest: Alvaro Saborio's hat trick for Costa Rica has him brimming with confidence for Chivas USA clash.
On the All-Star ballot: G Nick Rimando, D Nat Borchers, D Jamison Olave, M Kyle Beckerman, F Alvaro Saborio, F Fabian Espindola.
Next: Saturday vs. Chivas USA at Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m. (Prime Ticket and KWHY/Channel 22); Wednesday, June 20, vs. Galaxy, 6 p.m. (KDOC/Channel 56 and KWHY/Channel 22).

2. NEW YORK RED BULLS (8-3-2, 26 points), LW: 2
Week 14:
Latest: Thierry Henry back on the mend, missing training with a calf injury. Joel Lindpere and Rafa Marquez return from international duty with knocks.
On the All-Star ballot: G Ryan Meara, D Heath Pearce, M Joel Lindpere, M Dane Richards, F Thierry Henry, F Kenny Cooper.
Next: Sunday at Chicago, 2 p.m. (NBC Sports Network); Wednesday, June 20, at Vancouver, 8 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

3. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (8-3-1, 25 points), LW: 3
Week 14:
Latest: Emergency appendectomy sidelines defender Matt Besler.
On the All-Star ballot: G Jimmy Nielsen, D Aurelien Collin, M Roger Espinoza, M Graham Zusi, F Kei Kamara, F C.J. Sapong.
Next: Saturday vs. Toronto FC, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, June 20, at Seattle, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

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MLS Power Rankings: No upset here

June, 6, 2012
Upsets are good for the U.S. Open Cup, so Major League Soccer's difficulties this year parsing through the competition has made for a more exciting and substantial tournament. More steps toward that should be taken.

Soccer by its nature often rewards underdogs: Cal FC's victory over Portland, given the disparity in possession and number of chances, would be impossible in any other major sport (and perhaps any “minor” sport, too), but who didn't enjoy the Thousand Oaks' club's inspirational run to the fourth round -- the Timbers and their fans aside?

Andy Rose, Jesus Gonzalez
Steven Bisig/US PresswireSeattle's Andy Rose, left, battles against Cal FC midfielder Jesus Gonzalez during Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup game.

Nine MLS clubs, of 16 in the Open Cup, lost to teams from lower divisions, with the Chicago Fire also falling to an amateur team (the Premier Development League's Michigan Bucks). That's what makes the event work. If MLS could sweep aside teams from the second division (North American Soccer League), third division (USL Pro), fourth division (PDL) and lower (U.S. Adult Soccer Association, from which Cal FC came), there's no point to the Cup. Just hold an MLS League Cup.

It would be nice to see a truly blind draw (the pairings are regionalized), and that includes the third-round games, which are tournament openers for MLS clubs. Why can't MLS teams be drawn to play other MLS teams right off the bat? The format favors the big league in that if there were no upsets, all 16 fourth-round teams would be from MLS. How is this a plus?

The best stories in this tournament, the ones we'll remember when it's done, are Cal FC's and the Harrisburg City Islanders'. The USL Pro side's miraculous three-goal comeback in overtime to oust New England in the third round was the game of the Cup. Tuesday night's fourth-round win over New York, also in overtime, had everything going for it: drama, controversy, a stunning end included.

Five MLS teams survived to the June 26 quarterfinals -- Chivas USA, San Jose, Seattle (winner of the last three Open Cups), Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia -- and it's set up so only one (the Earthquakes-Sounders victor) is guaranteed a semifinal spot. That's about perfect, even if there are no further upsets. And it's likely there won't be. Only once since MLS's 1996 arrival has the tournament winner not been an MLS club. Only three times have both finalists not been from MLS.

The quarterfinal slate:

Charlotte Eagles (USL Pro) at Chivas USA (MLS)
Seattle Sounders (MLS) at San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
Dayton Dutch Lions (USL Pro) at Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
Harrisburg City Islanders (USL Pro) at Philadelphia Union (MLS)

Our bet for the semis: Chivas vs. Seattle (a rematch of the 2010 semifinals) and Sporting-Harrisburg. Yes, we're going to go with another upset by the City Islanders, who have an official affiliation with Philly.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. REAL SALT LAKE (9-3-2, 29 points), Last Week: 1
Week 13:
Latest: Garden Grove's Gil out four weeks with an MCL sprain picked up with the U.S. U-20s.
2011 friendlies: None.
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: 2
Week 13:
Red Bulls fall in overtime to the Harrisburg City Islanders, their second Open Cup loss in three years against the USL Pro club.
Latest: New York treats the Open Cup like a serious competition, unlike last year. Fails to reach the quarterfinals, unlike last year. (Dropped second game in the tournament, just like last year.)
2011 friendlies: July 31 vs. Tottenham (England).
Next: Sunday, June 17 at Chicago, 2 p.m. (NBC Sports Network).

3. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (8-3-1, 25 points), LW: 3
Week 13:
Teal Bunbury wraps a a 2-0 Open Cup fourth-round win over Colorado.
Latest: Aurelien Collin's opener in the Open Cup win taken away, changed to a Matt Pickens own goal.
2011 friendlies: Aug. 1 vs. Stoke City (England).
Next: Saturday, June 16, vs. Toronto FC, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

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MLS Power Rankings: A little break

May, 31, 2012

Marcelo, Landon DonovanNicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty ImagesGalaxy captain Landon Donovan, right, is on duty with the U.S. national team.

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).

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MLS Power Rankings: Open horizon

May, 23, 2012
Major League Soccer has a heavy slate this week before heading into a two-week break to accommodate FIFA's international schedule and the start of summer qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

MLS clubs won't be off. The 16 U.S. teams in the league enter the U.S. Open Cup with next week's third-round games, and those that win will play again on June 5.

The importance of America's oldest soccer tournament depends on the club. It's a priority for the Seattle Sounders, who have won the last three titles. Chicago Fire, a finalist last year, needs one more triumph to match the record, five. The New York Red Bulls couldn't care less: Hans Backe sent a reserve team, with an assistant coach, to play the Chicago Fire in last year's quarterfinals.

The Galaxy have won the tournament twice, in 2001 and 2005, lost in two finals and fallen at Seattle in the quarterfinals the past two years. Chivas USA, which could meet the Galaxy in a fourth-round game June 5, has lost its Open Cup opener every year except 2010, when it dropped a semifinal game at Seattle.

The Open Cup dates to 1913, but the modern era began with MLS's arrival in 1996. Since then, only one non-MLS club has won the title -- the Rochester Raging Rhinos in 1999 -- and all but three finals have pitted MLS clubs.

Eight MLS clubs have won the trophy:
  • D.C. United: 1996, 2008
  • FC Dallas: 1997 (as the Dallas Burn)
  • Chicago Fire: 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006
  • Galaxy: 2001, 2005
  • Columbus Crew: 2002
  • Sporting Kansas City: 2004 (as the Kansas City Wizards)
  • New England Revolution: 2007
  • Seattle Sounders: 2009, 2010, 2011

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. REAL SALT LAKE (8-3-2, 26 points), Last Week: 1
Week 11:
Latest: RSL uses respite to get healthy, gets more time off after taking on Jason Kreis' original club.
U.S. Open Cup assignment: Tuesday vs. Minnesota Stars (NASL), 6 p.m.
Next: Saturday vs. FC Dallas, 6 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

2. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (7-2-2, 23 points), LW: 2
Week 11:
Fredy Montero's last-minute strike leaves absorbing Cascadia Cup clash at Vancouver tied at 2-2.
Latest: Vancouver playmaker Davide Chiumiento's take on the Sounders? “They are a good team, but, really, players on [Seattle], they think they are better than everybody and, personally, I think they have a couple of good guys, but nothing special. They play like they already won the league, or like they've played I don't know where. They are good, but not better than we are.”
U.S. Open Cup assignment: Tuesday vs. Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL) at Tukwila, Wash., 7 p.m.
Next: Wednesday vs. Columbus, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday vs. Chivas USA at Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m. (Fox Sports West and KWHY/Channel 22).

3. NEW YORK RED BULLS (8-3-1, 25 points), LW: 3
Week 11:
Dane Richards provides the winner as Red Bulls win fifth in a row and become first MLS club to beat Impact in Montreal.
Latest: Wilman Conde ready to return from groin injury, looking to get past arrest for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
U.S. Open Cup assignment: Tuesday at Charleston Battery (USL Pro), 4:30 p.m.
Next: Wednesday vs. Chivas USA, 4 p.m. (Univision Deportes).

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MLS Power Rankings: Playoff-bound?

May, 15, 2012

The jockeying among Major League Soccer's hopefuls is already fierce, especially in the Western Conference, in which the new, unbalanced schedule has made absolutely every game vital.

We're only about a third into the regular season -- the playoffs are 5½ months away -- but we're already seeing separation between the contenders and pretenders, although determining which is which can be difficult, especially come playoff time.

Teams go through the ebbs and flows of the season in different rhythms, so just because a team is hot now (witness Sporting Kansas City's start) doesn't mean they'll be so dangerous in a few weeks (K.C. has lost three in a row).

The San Jose Earthquakes looked unbeatable until Vancouver beat them, and Chivas USA were moments away from saddling them with another defeat.

New York's beat-up lineup has won four in a row, all by one goal. Will the Red Bulls go in the tank once they're healthy? Could be, but right now they're one of the rising clubs, up to third in our power rankings.

Also on the rise: The Chicago Fire, who have so much talent and are starting to show it. New England, too -- the Revs just needed a little time to form under new manager Jay Heaps.

The Galaxy and Chivas USA are more difficult to gauge. Both are better than their records, certainly, and if they can solve their problems (L.A.'s primarily at the back, Chivas' mostly up front), watch out.

It's too early to predict who's going to make the playoffs, but that won't stop us. Here's a guess at the top five in each conference:

Western: 1. Real Salt Lake; 2. Seattle; 3. San Jose; 4. Galaxy; 5. Colorado.

Eastern: 1. New York; 2. Chicago; 3. Sporting Kansas City; 4. D.C. United; 5. Houston.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. REAL SALT LAKE (8-3-2, 26 points), Last Week: 2
Week 10:
Few chances for either side in a 0-0 draw at Chicago; Fabian Espindola strikes again to beat the Sounders, 1-0, in a Seattle showdown.
Latest: Weekend off means U.S. call-ups come early: Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman off with the national team for the next (they hope) four weeks.
All-time MLS mark: 80-90-61 (.478) in the regular season, averaging 1.3030 points per game.
Next: Saturday, May 26, vs. FC Dallas, 6 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

2. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (7-2-1, 22 points), LW: 1
Week 10:
Fredy Montero heating up, scores twice in 2-0 win at FC Dallas; Sounders battle gamely in 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake.
Latest: Sigi Schmid, on loss to RSL: “When top teams meet, there's sometimes not a lot that separates the two.”
All-time MLS mark: 51-26-27 (.620), averaging 1.7308 points per game.
Next: Saturday at Vancouver, 2 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 23, vs. Columbus, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

3. NEW YORK RED BULLS (7-3-1, 22 points), LW: 6
Week 10:
Kenny Cooper scores two more winners, in 1-0 victory over Houston and a 3-2 triumph at Philadelphia, as streak reaches four.
Latest: Word is Alessandro Nesta spurned Toronto FC to join the Red Bulls.
All-time MLS mark: 193-218-92 (.486), averaging 1.2903 points per game.
Next: Saturday at Montreal, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 23, vs. Chivas USA, 4 p.m. (Univision Deportes).

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MLS Power Rankings: 1 vs. 2, again

May, 9, 2012

Mauro Rosales
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesMauro Rosales has returned from injury to spark Seattle.

Sporting Kansas City beat Real Salt Lake a few weeks ago in a battle between No. 1 and No. 2, according to most of the Major League Soccer “Power Rankings” scattered around the blogosphere.

Now we're at it again.

This time it's the Seattle Sounders and RSL, in the first of three meetings that could determine the Western Conference title, Supporters' Shield and home field for the Dec. 1 MLS Cup. It's Saturday night at 7 and can be seen on the MLS Direct Kick cable/satellite package and online MLS LIVE service.

The Sounders (6-1-1), who were No. 1 in our rankings following each of the the first three weeks, vaulted back into the top spot as Mauro Rosales returned from injury to instigate the attack in impressive shutout victories over the Galaxy and Philadelphia. Previous No. 1 San Jose lost on a last-second goal in Vancouver, and No. 2 Sporting Kansas City were upset at home by expansion Montreal.

Real Salt Lake (7-3-1) has won back-to-back games after a three-game winless streak and moved up from No. 3 to No. 2.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. SEATTLE SOUNDERS (6-1-1, 19 points), Last Week: 4
Week 9:
Healthy Mauro Rosales sparks Sounders to victories over the Galaxy (2-0) and Philadelphia (1-0), setting up Eddie Johnson's winner midweek and scoring the lone goal at the weekend.
Latest: Sounders haven't conceded from the run of play since opening day, a span of 658 minutes.
Most MLS victories: 18, last year, just one fewer than the Galaxy.
Next: Wednesday at FC Dallas, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday vs. Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

2. REAL SALT LAKE (7-3-1, 22 points), LW: 3
Week 9:
Alvaro Saborio nets a pair to beat New England, 2-1, despite being down a man most of the second half.
Latest: Montclair's Nick Rimando up for Save of the Week for two stops vs. New England, and he's won the award three times in the first eight weeks. Shoulder injury will send Valencia's Kyle Reynish between the pipes.
Most MLS victories: 15, each of the last two years.
Next: Wednesday at Chicago, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday at Seattle, 7 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

3. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (7-2-1, 22 points), LW: 1
Week 9:
Chris Wondolowski is MLS's Player of the Week after scoring three goals -- a pair in a 5-3 victory over D.C. United and another in a 2-1 loss at Vancouver.
Latest: Hamstring strain could keep catalyst Marvin Chavez away for nearly a month.
Most MLS victories: 19, in 1999 -- 10 of them in shootouts. The 2005 Supporters' Shield winners won 18.
Next: Sunday vs. Chivas USA, 4 p.m. (Galavision).

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MLS Power Rankings: Cali's other club

May, 2, 2012

San Jose EarthquakesRich Schultz/Getty ImagesSteven Lenhart, right, scored two goals, including a late winner, in San Jose's victory last weekend.

The best team in Major League Soccer at the moment that isn't Sporting Kansas City -- and maybe you can include it, too -- could be considered local, sort of, for neutrals at this end of the state.

The San Jose Earthquakes are off to a 6-1-1 start, are playing with fantastic verve and grit, pulling out tough games at the finish -- witness last week's triumph at Philadelphia, or the week before against Real Salt Lake, or two weeks before that against Vancouver -- and doing so with contributions from a few players we know well down here.

Their only loss: a 1-0 decision in week two against Houston, on a bitterly contested penalty kick. They're atop our Power Rankings for a second straight week.

Here's a quick guide to San Jose's So Cal boys:

F Steven Lenhart: Gnatty striker from Yorba Linda (Esperanza HS/Azusa Pacific University) who's not above taking a fall to win a free kick or penalty. He's hated by everyone except teammates and home fans, and is reigning MLS Player of the Week for a reason.

M Rafael Baca: Intelligent Mexican midfielder from Lawndale (Animo Leadership HS/Loyola Marymount) whose MLS career was delayed by immigration paperwork, but he's been a force since finding the field.

F Cesar Diaz Pizarro: Skilled Peruvian forward from Chino Hills (Ayala HS/UC Riverside) is a rookie with promise. Hasn't yet featured for the first team.

Others: Head coach Frank Yallop was the Galaxy's head coach in 2006-07. Assistant coach Ian Russell played for the Galaxy in 2007. Forward Alan Gordon played many years for the Galaxy and a short span with Chivas USA. Defender Jason Hernandez played for Chivas. Rookie midfielder Sam Garza, a Texan, was a first-round draft pick out of UC Santa Barbara. Defender Josh Suggs, who has been loaned to the NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies, played last year for the L.A. Blues.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (6-1-1, 19 points), Last Week: 1
Week 8:
Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart is MLS Player of the Week after scoring twice, including a gutty stoppage-time winner, for a 2-1 decision at Philadelphia.
Latest: Chris Wondolowski is MLS's Player of the Month for April after scoring four goals with two assists (for season totals of eight and two) in four games as the Quakes took the top spot in the West.
Trophy case: MLS Cup 2001, 2003, Supporters' Shield 2005, Western Conference 2003.
Next: Wednesday vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday at Vancouver, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

2. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (7-1-0, 21 points), LW: 2
Week 8:
Latest: Seth Sinovic undergoes hand surgery, Michael Harrington ready to return to starting XI.
Trophy case: MLS Cup 2000, Supporters' Shield 2000, Western Conference 2004, U.S. Open Cup 2004.
Next: Saturday vs. Montreal, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)

3. REAL SALT LAKE (6-3-1, 19 points), LW: 3
Week 8:
Rookie Emiliano Bonfigli answers iffy penalty in 1-1 draw at FC Dallas; Jonny Steele's stoppage-time strike beats Toronto FC, 3-2.
Latest: Steele, supersub? That's two late goals (one to tie, one to win) off the bench.
Trophy case: MLS Cup 2009, Eastern Conference 2009.
Next: Saturday vs. New England, 5 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 9, at Chicago, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

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MLS Power Rankings: Embrace the future

April, 25, 2012

San Jose EarthquakesEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesChris Wondowski, center right, and Steven Lenhart celebrate a recent goal by San Jose against Salt Lake.

The soccer world appears, more or less, determined to accept goal-line technology, slowly accepting that justice -- being fair and accurate about whether goals count -- trumps a century and a half of tradition.

It's coming soon, perhaps to Major League Soccer soonest of all.

Commissioner Don Garber last week told the Associated Press Sports Editors' gathering in New York that he “would be open to whatever it is that could be done to ensure that we have goal-line technology.”

The game's rule-makers -- the International Football Association Board -- meet July 2, when they could approve one or both of two competing systems, and Garber wants the trial run in MLS.

“The bottom line here,” he said, “is that I would be open to using goal-line technology as soon as it is made available.”

That likely would mean before this season is done.

Here are this week's power rankings:

1. SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES (5-1-1, 16 points), LW: 3
Week 7:
Simon Dawkins and Chris Wondolowski score in stoppage to beat nine-man RSL, 3-1.
Latest: Quakes -- most exciting side in MLS at the moment -- sit alone atop the Western Conference standings for the first time since 2005, when they won the Supporters' Shield. They moved to Houston that offseason, and version 2.0 arrived in San Jose in 2008.
Coaching legend: Frank Yallop won MLS Cups in 2001 and 2003, took the reborn Quakes within a game of the 2010 title game, has current version challenging for the Western Conference lead. Win over RSL was his 100th in the league.
Next: Saturday at Philadelphia, 4 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Wednesday, May 2, vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

2. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (7-1-0, 21 points), Last Week: 1
Week 7:
Winning streak hits seven with 3-1 win at Vancouver, with Aurelien Collin and Lawndale's Kei Kamara again scoring. Run ends with 1-0 loss at Portland.
Latest: K.C. finally falls after Thousand Oaks' Chance Myers scores an own goal vs. Portland, but Peter Vermes isn't displeased: “I'll be real honest. I am happy with the way we played and the fact we didn’t give up many chances. We played well but came up short. ... All in all, I was happy with the performance.”
Coaching legend: Bob Gansler, the U.S. coach at the 1990 World Cup, led the Wizards to the MLS Cup/Supporters' Shield double in his first full season, added the U.S. Open Cup in 2004, won 95 league games in all or part of eight sasons.
Next: Saturday, May 5, vs. Montreal, 4:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick)

3. REAL SALT LAKE (5-3-0, 15 points), LW: 2
Week 7:
Two-footed tackle, last-man foul leaves RSL with nine men, and a draw turns into a 3-1 loss in stoppage at San Jose.
Latest: Elias Bakazkos is “an inexperienced referee, from my point of view,” Lions coach Jason Kreis said. “I don’t know if he’s ever refereed one of our matches before. I think it’s difficult circumstances for him, and he struggled.”
Coaching legend: Kreis stepped straight from the field to the coaches box, brought RSL the MLS Cup crown within two years, a power since.
Next: Wednesday at FC Dallas, 5:30 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick); Saturday vs. Toronto FC, 6 p.m. (MLS Direct Kick).

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