When Clint Dempsey left for the World Cup, the Seattle Sounders were in just a little bit of crisis. The Sounders had fallen a point behind in the Supporters' Shield race, they had just lost 5-0 to the New England Revolution, were losing Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin and Brad Evans for some period of time and were facing a run of six matches in which just two were at home.
The popular thinking was that if the Sounders could claim nine of the available 18 points in those games, they'd happily regroup once reinforcement arrived after the World Cup.
Instead, the Sounders have gone 4-0-1 after Saturday's road win over D.C. United. That one came without not just Dempsey and Yedlin -- Evans only ended up missing one full match -- but without leading scorer Obafemi Martins as well, and their once-evaporated Supporters' Shield lead has grown to 10 points. To put that in perspective, there are only 11 points between second place and 19th. At this pace, which seems impossible to maintain, they'd shatter the MLS single-season record with 74 points.
The Sounders have mostly gotten here on the strength of an offense that has scored 33 goals, five more than the next best team. For most of the year, their Achilles heel seemed to be in the back where they've struggled to keep the opposition from hanging crooked numbers. But without any significant changes on defense, the Sounders have quietly improved in that department as well. In the five games since the Revolution debacle, the Sounders have allowed just four goals and registered three shutouts.
There are still reasons to think the Sounders will come back to earth at some point. How the return of Dempsey and Yedlin may affect the attacking/defending balance is something that has not come close to being answered. Stefan Frei still doesn't seem particularly confident in goal. A central midfield that relies on Gonzalo Pineda -- who missed all of 2013 with injury and whose stamina will be tested -- may be due for some regression.
But as the competition for the Supporters' Shield continues to fall by the wayside, this is a race that is quickly becoming the Sounders' race to lose.
Speaking of those Supporters' Shield contenders...
What has happened to Real Salt Lake and the Revolution? After opening the season on a record-tying 12-game unbeaten run, RSL has claimed just two points in their last five and the Revolution have followed up a five-game winning streak with three straight losses. RSL lost to Chivas USA this week, while the Revolution fell 3-1 to the Philadelphia Union at home.
RSL seems to have been particularly hard done by international absences. Without Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio, RSL has little cohesion on defense and look feckless in the attack, being outscored 9-2 in those matches.
The Revolution's problems are a little harder to identify and even tougher to understand. They were outplayed badly on the road against the last-place Montreal Impact, fell 2-0 at home to a Red Bulls team that has gone 1-3-2 in their last six and most recently lost 2-0 at home to a Philadelphia Union team that has three wins in their last 15. Bad defense, poor finishing and generally bad play has suddenly become their modus operandi.
Both teams are still plenty talented and missing the playoffs doesn't seem a real concern, but their struggles do show just how hard it can keep getting results in a league as competitive as MLS.
Will the real Jack Mac please stand up?
Once upon a time, some genius dubbed Jack McInerney the "American Chicharito." This was never about talent, granted, but rather about style of play. Shortly after acquiring the nickname, though, McInerney slumped ... badly. At one point, McInerney had gone nearly five months without scoring and went from Union building block to being traded straight up for Andrew Wenger.
That trade has worked wonders for McInerney's form, though. McInerney scored two more this week, leading the Impact to a 3-0 win over the suddenly hapless Houston Dynamo. He now has four goals in his past four games and six in the 10 matches he's played with the Impact. It took McInerney 26 games to score his last six goals with the Union.
Just how confident is McInerney these days? Check out the rather impossible to describe goal he scored to complete his brace:
*Note: Can someone do a serious study on how Justin Mapp's accountant looks make it easier to pull And1-style moves on defenders?
Timbers splash DP money on defender
The Portland Timbers lost 1-0 at home to Sporting Kansas City this week. In a vacuum, it's an understandable result, Sporting KC continues to be one of the league's top teams and is now tied for the Eastern Conference lead. But taken as part of the growing narrative surrounding the Timbers' season, it's easy to see why they felt compelled to give Designated Player money to defender Liam Ridgewell earlier in the week.
The Timbers have just one win and have allowed 20 goals in 10 home matches. They have yet to register a shutout in front of the Timbers Army and have just one all season, a year after allowing fewer goals than all but one MLS team.
There's been a rotating cast of underperforming characters at center back, where Ridgewell is expected to play. The only reason it hasn't been worse is that Donovan Ricketts has once again been doing solid work bailing out his defenders. Only Luis Robles, Zac MacMath, Tally Hall and Troy Perkins have faced more shots on goal. Signing Ridgewell is a pretty clear indication that Timbers recognize the problem.
Will it work? It's hardly an open-and-shut case. Ridgewell is just the third primarily defensive player to earn a DP deal. Rafa Marquez was a massive disappointment and Omar Gonzalez hasn't quite been the same player since getting his big contract. Ridgewell was primarily a left back with West Bromwich Albion last season, who allowed the six most goals in the Premier League last season. He'll surely be an upgrade, but it's doubtful he'll immediately fix what ails the Timbers.
The Timbers don't need Ridgewell to work miracles, but if this season is to be salvaged they do need him to be a clear upgrade over what they have now.