The Western Conference race in Major League Soccer is shaping up to be a ding-dong battle this season as the Los Angeles Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and Dallas Burn all extended their unbeaten runs to open the 2004 season, highlighting Week Four in MLS play.
The Galaxy won for the second time this season when they extended the miserable start by the Columbus Crew in a 2-0 victory Saturday night at The Home Depot Center, and in so doing took over the lead in the West with eight points and the MLS overall table.
Earlier on Saturday, the Burn also posted their second win in sending the Kansas City Wizards to defeat for the first time with a 1-0 home victory, while the Rapids won for the first time after a pair of draws, sending defending MLS Cup champion San Jose Earthquakes to the bottom of the West with a 1-0 triumph.
Week Four began on Saturday with the Chicago Fire's first victory of 2004, a 1-0 win against D.C. United in Washington, while the MetroStars remained unbeaten and atop the Eastern Conference with a 1-1 draw at home against the New England Revolution on Sunday.
In Carson, Cailf., Carlos Ruiz scored for the fourth consecutive week, running his league-leading total to five goals with two scores against Columbus, which lost for the third consecutive time to open the season.
Ruiz put his side ahead in the 58th minute from the penalty spot after Columbus' Eric Denton hacked down Joseph Ngwenya in the area. Ruiz coolly sent Crew 'keeper Jon Busch the wrong way for the first goal. Ruiz then finished off the match eight minutes from time, neatly meeting a cross from Paul Broome from the left corner and sending it home with a first-time volley.
At the Cotton Bowl, Toni Nhleko's 17th-minute goal gave the Burn a victory for the second consecutive week. A year after finishing with the league's worst record, the Burn began a season unbeaten over three games for just the second time in club history, first since 1998.
It was another lightning-quick counter that led to the Dallas goal. A long, searching ball downfield found Nhleko, who slipped past a falling Kansas City defender and raced into the area. As he crossed in front of goal he rolled a shot back across which slipped in behind two defenders and Wizards 'keeper Tony Meola, the first goal allowed by Kansas City this season.
In Denver, Chris Henderson scored a 26th-minute goal to give the Rapids their first victory and maintain their home unbeaten streak. The Rapids haven't lost in 14 league games going back to last season and with the victory, sent the defending MLS Cup champions to the foot of the Western Conference table.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman collected the ball in his own half and played it 50 yards downfield to Henderson, who ran onto the ball on the right flank with no defenders in sight. Henderson's low drive from inside the penalty area beat San Jose 'keeper Pat Onstad just inside his right-hand post.
At RFK Stadium, last year's other MLS Cup Finalist finally hit home in both the scoring and win column with a 1-0 victory against D.C. United. Damani Ralph's goal just before the hour was their first after 327 scoreless minutes, just a half-hour shy of the longest goalless streak to open a season.
The goal was a terrific individual effort, Ralph turning past one defender in the middle of the field nearly 35 yards from goal then simply outrunning a pair of defenders before slotting the ball home from 12 yards out. It sent United to defeat for a second consecutive week after opening the season with a win and a draw.
At Giants Stadium, the MetroStars remained unbeaten despite not being able to take advantage of a makeshift New England Revolution side racked by injuries, the teams trading goals in short order in the first half of a free-flowing, attractive match.
Rookie Clint Dempsey gave the Revolution the lead after just 12 minutes, pounding home from the spot after Jay Heaps headed down from a corner. But just two minutes the MetroStars answered through Amado Guevara, who curled home a shot from just inside the area after corraling a mis-hit chance.