The MLS officials didn’t exactly steal the spotlight during Referee Week, but they did, coincidentally, have their busiest – and one of their most controversial – rounds of the year during the week designated to their trade.
The referees and their assistants issued six red cards in 10 games, missed a cleverly disguised handball in Vancouver that helped create a tying goal, and incorrectly flagged a player for offside on a scoring play in DC.
The missed calls – especially the one that disallowed a Kansas City goal against D.C. – will get a lot of the attention, but the refs fared better when it came to the ejections. Four of the six red cards were completely justified, and the other two (to Blas Pérez and Futty Danso), while debatable, were understandable to the neutral observer.
But the referees were by no means the only story this week. There were big games from Landon Donovan and Ned Grabavoy, an out-and-out thriller in Seattle, and a gripping Cascadia clash in Vancouver.
There were also streaks ended or extended in each of the week’s 10 matches. It’s always difficult to accurately sort out the trends early in the season in the parity-driven MLS, but there are some telling numbers being racked up.
Here are the top 5 most noteworthy streaks of Week 12:
1. Six for Seattle
WATCH: Johnson lifts Sounders past FCD
In the most entertaining match of the week, and the current frontrunner for game of the season, Seattle romped past Western Conference leaders FC Dallas 4-2 to win their third straight and extend their unbeaten run to six games while ending Dallas’ unbeaten string at nine.
With 38,979 fans looking on at CenturyLink Field the Sounders got two goals from Eddie Johnson, a goal and an assist from Lamar Neagle, two assists from Brad Evans, and a late insurance strike from Obafemi Martins.
The game also featured an olimpico from FC Dallas midfielder Michel, a goal-line clearance from Dallas rookie London Woodberry, a two-goal fight-back by the visitors, and a 73rd-minute red card for Pérez, who unintentionally caught Leo González with an elbow while vying for a head ball in the box, opening a cut on the Seattle defender’s face.
The Sounders haven’t cracked the top five in the West standings (yet), but they looked every bit the contender in knocking off the conference leaders – and they haven’t even fielded their first-choice XI for 90 minutes yet.
2. Timbers to 10
With nine minutes to go in Vancouver on Saturday, Portland appeared headed for their first loss since March 9. They were trailing the Whitecaps 2-1 and defender Futty Danso had just been controversially sent off after getting tangled with Vancouver attacker Camilo while chasing a long ball over the top.
WATCH: Valencia pulls Timbers back from the brink
But just three minutes later, substitute forward José “El Trencito” Valencia – son of former New York great Adolfo Valencia – took a looping ball into the box from Will Johnson, made a nifty cutback to shed a defender, and coolly rolled in the equalizer from close range.
If Portland caught a bad break with Danso’s sending off, their account balanced on Valencia’s goal: the 21-year-old striker used his arms to cradle the ball for a split second, controlling it for his deadly cut-back (right).
In any event, the Timbers, who dominated possession (62.7 to 37.3), have now gone unbeaten in 10 straight, and are 1-0-5 on the road this season, one year after producing the league’s worst road record.
3. Red Bulls Rolling
The New York–LA rivalry no longer has David Beckham, but it still features plenty of marquee talent as Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill all suited up for Sunday afternoon’s East Coast vs. West Coast tilt at Red Bull Arena.
WATCH: Cahill’s late goal tops LA
And both teams sailed into the clash on a high: The Galaxy had rolled over Philadelphia 4-1 on Wednesday behind a goal and two assists from Donovan, while the Red Bulls were unbeaten in five straight.
New York made it six in a row with a 91st-minute header from Tim Cahill, who rose above a crowd deep in the LA penalty area to flick Juninho’s free kick into the back of the net for a 1-0 Red Bulls win.
It was the kind of late goal New York have a history of conceding, so Red Bulls fans had to be pleased to be on the other side of it for once – especially in a game that Henry said LA “deserved to win.”
New York will be looking to sock away more points in their next two games before they go on a 22-day respite from MLS action starting on June 2.
4. Failure to Launch In Houston
WATCH: Boswell, Imbongo sent off
Before last week’s 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, the Houston Dynamo hadn’t lost at home in nearly two years. Now, following Saturday’s surprising loss to New England – a team with just six goals to its credit heading into the match – they’ve lost twice at home in seven days.
So much for launching a new assault on the record 36-game run.
Houston fans will understandably view the two-game home skid as a glitch, but the team could be without both of its starting center backs for next week’s game at Sporting Kansas City, as Jermaine Taylor walked off hurt after 10 minutes and Bobby Boswell was red-carded before halftime for an altercation with Revolution striker Dimitry Imbongo.
5. Chivas and D.C. at Sixes and Sevens
D.C. United, one of the proudest franchises in MLS history, winners of three of the first four MLS Cups, finally put a halt to their disastrous losing streak, snapping the skein at seven games with a 1-1 tie against visiting Kansas City.
It’s better than losing, as D.C. players said, but the Black-and-Red were outplayed, and they benefitted from a blown offside call that took a Kansas City goal off the board in the 30th minute.
While D.C. (1-8-2) have been struggling all year, their Western counterparts Chivas USA have tumbled to the bottom of the conference table after a 3-1-1 start. On Sunday night, they were blitzed 4-1 by Real Salt Lake, a defeat that extended the Goats’ winless streak to six games and dropped them to 3-6-2 on the year.
The shape of the top half of each conference remains a work-in-progress, but the lower reaches may be settling in – a notion supported by Chivas coach José Luis “Chelís” Sánchez Solá, who told the press after the team’s third straight lopsided loss, “This is just our level.”