While the Sounders haven't really done anything to hurt their chances -- they've gone 1-1-0 since pushing their lead to 10 points after beating D.C. United June 28 -- the lead is now down to three points, with Sporting Kansas City making a charge up the standings. Now, Sporting KC has been helped by playing two more games than the Sounders, but they deserve credit for going 5-0-1 since ending a five-match winless run that seemed to have knocked them out of the Supporters' Shield race.
The Sounders' relative lack of action has also helped D.C. United close the gap, as they are just four points back and have played only one more game. But United have gone 5-1-1 in their past seven, so it's not as if they haven't done their share of work as well.
This weekend saw both Sporting KC and United pull off solid results. Sporting was able to handle the LA Galaxy with relative ease, while United thrashed a Chivas USA side that has looked much better in recent weeks. The Galaxy had come into their match riding an eight-game unbeaten run, while Chivas USA had won four straight.
In Kansas City, Feilhaber is finally playing like the force everyone had expected when he returned to MLS three seasons ago. His wonderful free kick gave KC their first lead against the Galaxy and he now has three goals and five assists this season. His real growth, though, can be seen in some of the other numbers. His 35 key passes are the most of any player who can be reasonably deemed a box-to-box midfielder as he's managed to become KC's creative engine without really sacrificing anything on the defensive side where he still ranks fifth among midfielders in total duels.
None of this suggests the Sounders should "start 2 panic" about their Supporters' Shield lead, but it does serve as a good reminder that there's still almost half the season left to play and a lot can still happen.
Penalties, penalties, penalties
There were nine penalties called during the 13 games played this week. That's a lot. It's also part of a rather shocking trend: MLS referees have awarded 88 penalties in 184 matches this season, a rate of about .48 per game. To put that into perspective, more penalties have been called a little more than halfway through this season than were called in any of the complete last three seasons.
It should be of little surprise, then, that scoring is also up quite a bit:
The question, of course, is why are so many more penalties being called? There's no easy answer, but it would appear as though referees are attempting to tamp down on certain behaviors. It has long been said that the only way to get rid of wrestling in the box on corner kicks, for instance, is to start calling penalties on things that were allowed in the past. We saw a perfect example of this in Wednesday's game between the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union when Eric Alexander tugged down Maurice Edu on a corner kick.
There's no question that there are some very questionable penalties being called as well -- with the Union benefitting from a particularly soft hand ball against the Chicago Fire being a prime example from this week -- but this can also be reasonably deemed part of the growing pains we were promised. Sure, the raw number of penalties seems too high at a quick glance. And, yes, not all of them were deserved. But if MLS really wants to encourage a less physical brand of soccer, more penalties are going to need to be called.
Or, as Alexi Lalas put it:
Dallas is back
FC Dallas started 2014 about as hot as anyone, going 5-1-1 in their first seven. But that was followed by an eight-match winless streak that saw them claim just two points. From a distance, it had all the looks of last year's hot start and subsequent collapse.
Only Oscar Pareja's side has proved far more resilient than their predecessors, though. That eight-game winless run has been followed by a five-match unbeaten streak in which FC Dallas has claimed 11 of 15 possible points that has allowed them to surge into second place in the Western Conference.
The most obvious change to FC Dallas' lineup has been the insertion of Colombian Andres Escobar, whose five starts have coincided exactly with his team's run of good form. Escobar has injected some life and creativity into an attack that had started to look stale following Mauro Diaz's injury. He's also turned Dallas into a team that does most of their attacking down the wings, rather than through the middle as he's also helped unlock Fabian Castillo's play on the opposite side.
The other big part of the turnaround has been the play of Tesho Akindele, the guy who burst into some level of prominence when Dallas picked him with the No. 6 overall pick out of the Colorado School of Mines. After a bit of a slow start, Akindele now has two goals and an assist in his past five games, including tallies in each of his past two.
Dallas has a ways to go before they are considered one of MLS's elite teams, but Pareja seems to have them on the right track.