Still afraid of the big, bad Quakes

when they want, at least -- the Quakes are still not the best team in the league. By defeating Kansas City -- which many had anointed as such at the two-thirds pole -- San Jose is showing that the proximity of the postseason is motivation enough. Dominic Kinnear should count himself lucky that his team did not have too much ground to make up by the time they woke up.

LANDON FLIPS THE SWITCH: Many insiders say that he brings his "A" game every weekend -- but that surely would be out of sheer respect for the best player in MLS today. Yet the fact is that everyone else outside the Earthquakes can see for themselves when Landon Donovan is playing at his best and takes over a game like only he can.

The USA's victory against Mexico in April, and the San Jose match last weekend were two such instances. In those games Donovan played with a will and determination that set him apart from the other 21 players, no matter whether he scored or created spectacular solo plays. If he is to be considered a champion, those same performances should be replicated every weekend.

Donovan is clearly the best player in MLS, but the reason he is not in the MVP running thus far is that he has not left his mark like fans and observers alike know he can. He has 10 regular season games remaining to change that. Although a subpar effort from Donovan is still enough to make him look good compared to several other players in MLS, that should not be of any satisfaction to him.

WHAT PRICE FIRST PLACE?: First place is only a nominal title in MLS these days. While one would assume the league's top teams have earned their stripes via consistent, productive play, that is not the case with the leading clubs in MLS.

This past weekend, the MetroStars, Los Angeles Galaxy and Kansas City Wizards registered perhaps the most lackluster displays of the round. It's not that any of the three teams were seriously outplayed, but they did not impose themselves in the least, as one would expect from leading sides.

The most disappointing result was probably registered by the Wizards, who were once again presented an opportunity to rise above the Galaxy. Better fortune on Igor Simutenkov's shot that hit the post would have meant an entirely different match but that should not hide the fact that the team showed little personality.

SURPRISE -- ANOTHER NEW ENGLAND CHANGE: With Clint Dempsey still out with a broken jaw and Joey Franchino missing the match with a hip injury, New England head coach Steve Nicol tried Steve Ralston in yet another position. The Revs boss moved Ralston into a central midfield role while shifting Pat Noonan back to the right flank.

The move put Ralston into one more new function after his time at right back and right midfield and seemingly worked out with the veteran scoring a spectacular goal but: José Cancela and Ralston in central midfield is a lightweight combination despite the presence of Shalrie Joseph and, although he's been used there frequently of late, Noonan is not the player to play out wide.

When not burdened with the responsibilities of being a winger (as after Richie Baker came into the match), Noonan emerged as the most threatening element of the Revolution's forward line. He has the touch of trickery, finesse and dominating ball control that gives him another dimension when compared to Taylor Twellman, who is less creative and more direct.

Noonan has clearly upstaged the star forward and if the current situation persists through the end of the year, the Revolution may have some decisions to make with regards to Twellman, who still has one or two opportunities at goal per game but is obviously not registering the scoring frequency of old, especially compared to Noonan.

ADU, NOWAK, UNITED TURN CONSERVATIVE: D.C. United carried their momentum from the midweek game against Colorado into Saturday's match against New England. United came out with the same intensity and sharpness in attack, and although they were unable to upset the Revolution's early defensive posture, they rebounded from the early goal against the run of play to finally take a 2-1 lead in the second half.

But that's where the plot turned. New England turned up the intensity in the second half -- even before the go-ahead goal. Down a goal, New England boss Nicol chose to bring on a pair of attackers in Baker and Felix Brillant, while United coach Peter Nowak countered by bringing on a defender in place of a forward. He followed that up by substituting his attacking midfielder (Freddy Adu) with a holding midfielder (Brian Carroll) in the 81st minute.

The moves did not help stem the steady stream of pressure by New England. Although a positive result could have made Nowak appear brilliant in his orchestrating of substitutions, they were uncharacteristic moves by a team that has never hesitated to take it to the opposition.

Hesitation was something exhibited in Adu's game on the same day. Although he did well to be involved in every attack with positive runs and passes, he was missing some of the bite he had on Wednesday. Adu was very deliberate and careful in his passing and did not venture on many one-on-one dribbling forays.

Especially in the first half, United could have used a bit of unpredictability in their game given how the Revolution were successful in containing the home team. With Adu gradually solidifying a place in the team's new tactical system that features an real attacking midfielder behind the front two, the youngster will not be able to let up with new signing Christian Gomez waiting in the wings.

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK -- COLUMBUS CREW: Along with San Jose's road victory in Kansas City, the Columbus Crew's performance in Los Angeles was notable for the team's balance, possession and overall confidence. Moving Kyle Martino into the attack alongside lone target forward Edson Buddle has given the team the equilibrium it needs in midfield while also liberating Martino to be as creative as he cares to be. With Defender of the Year level seasons from both Robin Fraser and Chad Marshall, the Crew might be hitting stride when it counts most.

Andy Pavon is a freelance soccer writer taking another perspective on the matches of the past weekend, past the box scores and standings. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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