Whether it was San Jose and D.C. United defending their contender credentials, or Kansas City testing their endurance, teams faced quarterly exams all across Major League Soccer this week.
While LA and Vancouver passed refresher quizzes on winning, Houston, Columbus and New York tested their depth. And in Toronto … well, it was more like, “Testing, testing — Is this thing on?”
By the time it was over, we’d seen 30 goals, one hat-trick, five red cards and a slate of lively games.
Let’s take a look at who passed and who failed.
Real Salt Lake fans will mention the two red cards shown to their team as the main reasons for their 3-1 loss to San Jose this past Saturday, and they’ll have a point.
HIGHLIGHTS: SJ 3, RSL 1
San Jose’s second and third goals—headers by Simon Dawkins and Chris Wondolowski—didn’t come until stoppage time, after the visitors had battled valiantly while down a man for more than an hour and down two men for 21 minutes.
But before the cards came out (and the second one was debatable), San Jose had looked every bit the equals of the 2009 MLS champs and 2011 CONCACAF Champions League finalists, knocking the ball around in a crisp, well-played first 29 minutes.
The Earthquakes produced that impressive opening segment without five first-choice players—Victor Bernardez, Ramiro Corrales, Shea Salinas, Marvin Chavez and Lenhart—and their win vaulted them past RSL into first place in the West with a 5-1-1 record. The level of depth and quality they showed suggested they’ll be tough to shake out of the top spot.
Belted by the Beltway
New York faced a similar test of their depth, traveling to rainy RFK Stadium to take on D.C. United without Rafa Marquez (suspended), Roy Miller (knee), Wilman Conde (groin) and Teemu Tainio (knee).
They did not fare as well as the Quakes—to put it mildly: the Red Bulls were blown out 4-1 as United striker Chris Pontius struck a hat trick, starting in the eighth minute when he dispossessed Thierry Henry and surged forward to smash a shot past New York goalkeeper Ryan Meara.
Pontius added goals in the 32nd and 69th minutes, and rookie winger Nick DeLeon scored in the 36th.
Henry pulled one back for New York with a gorgeous free kick in the 70th minute, but it was too little, too late, and D.C. completed a 4-1 rout that washed away their disappointing 1-1 draw with expansion Montreal on Wednesday, and moved them past their I-95 rivals into second place in the East.
In Columbus, the Houston Dynamo welcomed midfielder Adam Moffat back from suspension but were still without wingers Brad Davis (calf) and Colin Clark (suspension) when they took on the Crew. Columbus also plumbed their roster depth, switching out five players from the previous week’s game.
The hosts looked like they were on their way to a 2-1 win when Eddie Gaven bagged his second goal of the day, a blistering 20-yard half volley, in the 74th minute. But Will Bruin got behind the Crew defense six minutes later and set up Brian Ching for a late equalizer, and Houston withstood a final onslaught to preserve a hard-fought road point.
Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City were also on the road this week, testing their endurance by completing a three-games-in-eight-days stint with matches at Vancouver (Wednesday) and Portland (Saturday).
Against the Whitecaps, they dominated the first 75 minutes and ran up a 3-0 lead before holding on for a 3-1 win. Three days later in Portland, KC saw their season-opening, seven-game winning streak grind to a halt as they fell to the Timbers 1-0 on an own goal by defender Chance Myers.
The result also ended Portland’s four-game losing streak.
The league’s other significant streak continues in Toronto, where the Reds stumbled to a 0-6-0 start, the worst in franchise history, with a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon.
Toronto fans’ hopes for a first win took a heavy blow just 25 seconds into the game when Dominic Oduro turned a Torsten Frings giveaway into a 1-0 lead, scoring the fifth-fastest goal in league history.
At the other end of the spectrum, the defending champion LA Galaxy traveled to Colorado and left with a much-needed three points, downing the Rapids 2-1 on an own goal by Marvell Wynne and a 39th-minute finish by Landon Donovan.
Colorado hit back on a 22-yard laser by Omar Cummings in the 63rd minute, and had a golden chance to tie the game when they were awarded a questionable penalty in stoppage time.
But Josh Saunders stopped Cummings’ attempt from the spot to preserve the victory for the Galaxy, who, with two wins in a row, look to be rounding into form.
Vancouver returned to their winning ways on Saturday night as well, making Camilo’s 11th-minute goal stand up for a 1-0 home victory over FC Dallas.
Before this week’s games kicked off, the league handed down a three-game suspension to Rafa Marquez for tackling Shea Salinas and breaking the Quakes winger’s clavicle in four places during last week’s 2-2 draw between New York and San Jose.
RED CARD: Farfan's tackle clears the benches
While the dust settles on that controversy, the league has a fresh set of plays to review this week following the red cards shown in both the San Jose-RSL and Chivas USA-Philadelphia matches.
The Union finished Saturday’s game down two players and one coach, as Peter Nowak was sent off for entering the field during the melee that erupted after Gabriel Farfan saw red for going studs up into Chivas defender James Riley. Keon Daniel received Philadelphia’s other ejection for a reckless challenge on Ryan Smith in the 75th minute.
Despite being down two men, and being outshot 21-4, Philly held on, riding Freddy Adu’s slick back-heel goal to a 1-0 win.
The result was Chivas USA’s fourth consecutive 1-0 home loss. Fortunately for the Goats, next week they return to the comforts of the road, where they are 3-0 this season.