Just when you start thinking the standings are starting to settle out, something like this week happens. The Whitecaps beating the Impact on the road, the Red Bulls jumping into the Supporters' Shield lead, Real Salt Lake's defense falling apart. These were not things most people thought would happen as recently as a few weeks ago. But that's what makes MLS so interesting ... right?
Vancouver's playoff aspirations: Saturday's 3-0 road win over the Montreal Impact was the first in six games for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but it didn't look like a weird outlier performance. Even with a couple of functional but unspectacular players up top -- Matt Watson and Tommy Heinemann -- the Caps found an early goal and went on to score two more through Camilo, who notched a brace off the bench with two excellent goals.
Russell Teibert also made a substitute appearance, while Darren Mattocks was an unused substitute on the bench. The Caps have struggled with both form and fitness in their forward group this season, but Camilo and Kenny Miller look great, while Teibert and Mattocks have shown flashes of brilliance.
Saturday also marked the full return of central defender Jay Demerit, who didn't look like he needed time to work his way back to fitness at all. He looked comfortable against Marco Di Vaio and Felipe, playing a big part in his team's clean sheet.
The Caps have been unlucky this season and are better than their 41 points. Perhaps their win over Montreal is the first sign that it's all coming together for them. Hopefully it's not too little, too late.
- Kevin McCauley
The #Henrying Red Bulls: I'm not buying them as Supporters' Shield favorites -- they lead the Sounders by one point but have played two more games -- but you have to like the way they are playing right now. They've now won four in a row, all of which have come after Mike Petke and Thierry Henry got into a training dustup.
Henry, who now has nine goals and eight assists, has looked as good ever, too. No, he didn't have a great game in the 1-0 win over FC Dallas -- in which an own-goal provided the only tally -- but he's been consistently dangerous and has two goals and an assist during the winning streak. He's also sparked a cultural phenomena with his leaning-against-the-goal-post celebration that has since been dubbed #henrying.
Even if they don't win the Shield -- which, believe it or not, would be the first silverware they've won in their existence -- they have to be considered one of the favorites to advance to the MLS Cup out of the Eastern Conference. With the Impact's late fade and the constant inconsistency that has been Sporting Kansas City's season, the Red Bulls look as good as anyone.
Galaxy's faith in Leonardo: The Galaxy got a grand total of 17 matches out of Leonardo in his first three seasons in MLS, but despite some shaky play and a serious knee injury, LA still decided to buy him from Sao Paulo and end the year-to-year loans that kept him with the club. Now, they are finally being rewarded for their belief in the player.
With A.J. DeLaGarza sidelined, Leonardo went from the Galaxy's third centerback to starter and he's playing well enough to justify place in the team. He's shown the physicality that one would expect from a big centerback, but he's also been quick to turn and run as well as step up to cut out attacks early. That was all on display Saturday against the Sounders, when he performed admirably against Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins.
A year ago, LA turned to Tommy Meyer in the playoffs when DeLaGarza was injured and they still captured MLS Cup. But if DeLaGarza is out for this postseason, the Galaxy will turn to Leonardo, and he's showing now that makes the backline even better than it was last playoffs.
RSL's defensive woes: Steven Lenhart scored twice on Saturday to sink Real Salt Lake, with both goals coming on pretty preventable headers. Given that RSL have given up two goals in three consecutive games -- and 14 goals in their past six -- it's fair to call their defensive issues a pattern.
No one wants to pick on Carlos Salcedo, who is a pretty talented young defender and probably a really nice kid. No one wants to pick on Nat Borchers either, since he's been one of the best defenders in MLS for a long time. But both players look their ages at the moment, with Salcedo looking a bit overmatched against top teams and Borchers looking a step slow. Brandon McDonald and Kwame Watson-Siriboe are almost exactly league average defenders and below-average starters.
RSL had twice as many shots as the Earthquakes and 70 percent possession, which isn't shocking, but it didn't matter. They might have the best forward and midfield groups in the league to go along with the best goalkeeper, but their defense looks like a liability. It's probably not going to get much better.
- Kevin McCauley
Impact's once statement-making season: It was just a couple weeks ago when it looked as if the Impact were poised to win the Supporters' Shield and qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Now? It looks like they could be fighting it out in first-round of the playoffs and bombing out of the CCL group stage. The culprit? A pair of home losses to teams they absolutely should be beating and a CCL pummeling at the hands of the Earthquakes.
The first sign of trouble was a couple weeks ago when they blew a lead and then lost a game against the Columbus Crew, a team that was just looking for an excuse to call it quits on the season. They followed that up with an embarrassing 3-0 loss to the Earthquakes that leaves them needing a six-goal victory against Heredia in the final game to have any chance of advancing. The cherry on top of the poop sundae was the 3-0 loss at home to the Whitecaps, a team they've yet to beat in the MLS era.
All is not lost, of course, as the Impact still have six games remaining. Unfortunately, just two of them are at home and only one game is against a team that is out of the playoff race (the season finale against Toronto FC). This could get worse before it gets better.
NBC's dream-rating scenario: All week, all we heard about was how Clint Dempsey would be facing Landon Donovan in MLS for the first time since both became United States national team stars. Never mind that the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy made a pretty good matchup regardless, all we heard about was these two playing against one another.
Well, of course neither ended up playing. News of Dempsey's injury leaked out just a few hours before the game, while Donovan apparently failed a pregame fitness test.
The game still ended up being very exciting, even if it was pretty sloppy as the Galaxy dominated possession but had to settle for a 1-1 tie. Hopefully soccer fans hoping to see a showdown of two of the United States' top players managed to stick around.
"Promotion/Relegation" is a weekly feature that wraps up the most recent happenings around MLS. It does not directly address the concept of promotion and relegation.