Major League Soccer Week 21: What We Learned

CARSON, CA - AUGUST 06: Landon Donovan #10 of the Los Angeles Galaxy blows a kiss to the crowd as he walks off the field with teammate Juninho #19 after the victory against FC Dallas at The Home Depot Center on August 6, 2011 in Carson, California. The Galaxy won 3-1. (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)

A full weekend involving all 18 MLS clubs left plenty to ponder over including how good the LA Galaxy are and how in trouble the New York Red Bulls may be right now.

It seems like it's been ages since we last had a weekend where every Major League Soccer club was involved in a league match. Week 21 had it all with 40 goals, five red cards and oddly enough some pretty spectacular goalkeeping. 

A few teams took this weekend and made a statement for their playoff cases while others struggled to find their way yet again. 

The playoff race is already heating up the like summer folks are having in Texas. At the moment the Western Conference still holds a slight edge over the Eastern clubs. Out of the ten possible playoff spots, six of them are being held by teams from the West. 

But those wild card spots certainly aren't safe right now either. Teams like DC United, the Houston Dynamo, the Portland Timbers and even the struggling San Jose Earthquakes are just a few points back of that tenth and final spot. 

LA Flexes Their Muscles

While Wednesday night could have not gone any worse for the Los Angeles Galaxy at JELD-WEN Field against the Portland Timbers. It was a different story Saturday night against an exhausted FC Dallas squad.

Dallas made a few changes in the midweek by signing Colombian Daniel Cruz and trading for forward Maicon Santos. Neither were enough in this one as LA were dominate in the air and on set pieces. David Beckham helped set up two of the Galaxy's three goals from set pieces. 

The win helped push the Galaxy even further away from the Red Stripes. LA now has a little more breathing room in the standings with a six point lead over Dallas. Schellas Hyndman's team may have a game in hand against LA but the way LA plays here it will be tough for Dallas to make up that ground. Same goes for just about any other club here. 

Salt Lake Finds Their Mojo, New York Loses Theirs

Sometimes all you need is a wakeup call. That's what Real Salt Lake got in their last two games when they lost 2-0 to both the Columbus Crew and to Sporting Kansas City. Their defense had disappeared with the loss of Jamison Olave and the offense just had no spark. 

Well a visit from the New York Red Bulls of all clubs seemed to do the trick Saturday night as youngster Luis Gil got on the board for the first time in his career, showing that just about everything was going to go RSL's way that night. Gil's goal made him the tenth-youngest scorer in league history. 

A big reason for RSL's success on Saturday was due to the play of Kyle Beckerman. The All-Star midfielder finally stepped up into the role that the club needed him to. A leader not just in the defensive side but in the offensive side. It may go without saying here that as Beckerman goes for the rest of the year, so will RSL.

New York may have won a little trophy across the pond last week but this result quickly dashed away all thoughts and feelings from that. At 6-6-12 on the season, the Red Bulls somehow lack a punch against the quality sides in the league like RSL but have also struggled to put the teams that they should beat away. 

All New York manager Hans Backe could say about his club's performance was that it was a weak one. 

"We had a very weak performance today, I must say. I don't think I've seen us that weak before in one-and-a-half years. No energy, a number of unforced errors. Conceding goals ... once again, a goal from a set play. We know very well what kind of run Borchers does. It's sloppy, it's very very sloppy. We just need to change things if we're going to reach the playoffs."

Change things you must, but with the lack of depth behind the starters it won't be easy for Backe and company to really change things here.

Unlucky 14

Two clubs saw their 14-game unbeaten runs come to an end this week. LA saw their's end in Portland on Wednesday and on Saturday Sporting Kansas City saw their's come to an end thanks to the Seattle Sounders

We had thought after the win over RSL last week that Sporting was ready to be dubbed as a true playoff contender here from the Eastern Conference. They still should be despite the loss due to the way New York is playing these days but blowing points at home to even a quality team like Seattle doesn't help.

Sporting gave up two late goals to Seattle to see their unbeaten run dash away. Mauro Rosales could easily be the player of the week for his effort late in the game that saw him score the tying goal and the go-ahead goal. 

Seattle now sits a point back of second place in the Western Conference (and the overall league table). With the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League matches for the Sounders on hand, this win was absolutely vital. 

Surging Rapids

With the questioning able consistency going into Friday's match with the Columbus Crew, the Colorado Rapids put a lot of worry to rest when they dashed away the Crew 2-0. Colorado is the top wild card team right now in MLS with 37 points on the year, yet somehow a lot of people (including myself) don't see them as true contenders here for the MLS Cup. 

Give Gary Smith credit though. When Conor Casey went down with a torn Achilles tendon a few weeks back their season looked dead in the water. But improved play from guys like Sanny Nyassi, Brian Mullan and Omar Cummings show that this team won't go quietly into the night with their 2010 MLS Cup win. They've shown in recent weeks that they can easily beat the best of the Eastern Conference but in the end it will most certainly come down to how well they contend with the upcoming CCL slate and a heavier Western Conference schedule to finish out the season.

Hassli Proving His Worth

He may have his shortcomings and get red carded for stupid things but Vancouver Whitecaps striker and Designated Player Eric Hassli has definitely fun to watch. His two goals yesterday not only pushed him to third in the league in scoring. 

I don't know what it is about Hassli but somehow I cannot look away. Maybe it's his bad-boy attitude or way of playing but its certainly fun to watch.

Vancouver may still be a team at the bottom of the league pile but as long as their offense continues to come together with Hassli leading the way their future does look a little brighter. No doubt this will be a club that plays the spoiler role to perfection here in the coming weeks. 

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