Donovan's message and penalty pain
The last week in MLS, at least until he took the field for the Galaxy on Sunday, was overshadowed by the news of Landon Donovan's exclusion from the U.S. World Cup squad.
By breaking a prestigious record, Donovan continued to dominate the American soccer discussion, but his was not the only interesting storyline of the last week.
It's impossible to start anywhere other than with Donovan's return to the field after Thursday's shocking decision by Jurgen Klinsmann to cut the USMNT's all-time leading goalscorer. Much to Bruce Arena's enjoyment, Donovan broke his scoreless streak with a pair of tallies against the Union on Sunday, leading the Galaxy to a much-needed 4-1 win.
Donovan's first goal gave him sole possession of the record for most goals in MLS history, a feat months in coming. Whatever disappointment Donovan carried into the game over this international snub, he didn't allow it to affect his first game back with LA. Yes, some of the Galaxy's dominance and Donovan's effectiveness was down to a poor Philadelphia performance, but that should not take away from the significance of his achievement.
Donovan's strong game also reopened the debate over his exclusion from the World Cup team. Maybe finally opening his scoring account in an MLS regular season game against a struggling team doesn't really say anything about Donovan's potential to help the national team, but with the possibility of a recall should one of the 23-man team get injured, he's given everyone something to talk about.
Questionable penalty calls marked three games over the weekend. In all three cases, there was reasonable doubt as to whether the defender in question had done anything wrong at all.
In Kansas City on Friday, TFC escaped Sporting Park with a 2-2 draw despite losing Steven Caldwell to a red card and Doneil Henry giving up yet another penalty, his fourth of the year. The penalty call seemed exceedingly harsh, occurring after Henry collided with Juliao at the edge of the box. It's not exactly clear what else Henry could have done differently, but with the burden on the defender to avoid contact, referee Baldomero Toledo was within his rights to blow the whistle.
The same might be true of the penalty call against Corey Ashe in San Jose against Earthquakes striker Steven Lenhart, but again, it was harsh. The ball was loose, and Ashe went shoulder to shoulder against Lenhart. On a mistake-filled night for Houston, the resulting goal gave San Jose a 2-0 lead.
It's much harder to give Ismail Elfath the benefit of the doubt on the penalty call in Vancouver that prevented the Whitecaps from beating the Sounders on Saturday. Jay DeMerit went up for a 50-50 ball against Cam Weaver and when he landed, the whistle had blown for a spot kick. DeMerit was rightly dumbfounded. Gonzalo Pineda's conversion saved the Sounders a point on the road, while the Caps will see it as two points stolen.
When keepers go bad
The Whitecaps were punished by a questionable penalty against Seattle, but they also benefited from a poor decision by Stefan Frei on the other end. Frei was one of a pair of keeps punished for major gaffs that helped their opponents find the net. In San Jose, Tally Hall played a major role in handing two easy goals to the Earthquakes.
In the 36th minute, Hall absent-mindedly picked up a back pass from David Horst, resulting in an indirect free kick inside the box. Khari Stephenson slammed home the set piece, giving the Quakes the first goal of the game. Hall also erred on San Jose's third goal, coming off his line and out of his box in an attempt to win a bounding long ball. Atiba Harris arrived at the same time, and after his header hit the post, slotted home the final goal of the night. Hall is one of the league's better keepers, but the trip to San Jose was one of his worst days.
Frei's mistake was much more spectacular than either of Hall's. After chasing down a loose ball in the corner, Frei attempted a long clearance. Unfortunately for the Sounders goalkeeper, his kick hooked back into the middle of the field. Gershon Koffie subsequently won the ball, speculatively hit a long shot with Frei scrambling to get back, and bounced the ball into the net. The lesson? Never clear the ball to the middle of the field.
There's nothing quite like playing the Montreal Impact to help a team fix their scoring problems. The most recent recipient of Montreal's defensive charity is the Colorado Rapids, who put four goals past Troy Perkins in a dominant 4-1 home win over the Impact on Saturday.
Montreal's problems are deep-seated and tied directly to their personnel, so while there's rightful speculation over Frank Klopas' long-term future as Impact head coach, a change on the sidelines might not fix much. Klopas' status as the third head coach in three years at Stade Saputo says a lot about the organization's lack of stability.
The Impact is not just last in the East 11 games into their season, they are last in a the overall table. The few brights spots they have -- Justin Mapp, Sanna Nyassi, Jack McInerney -- can't cover up they litany of holes across the lineup.
Although it was the defense that failed on Saturday in Colorado, it's worth pointing out that Montreal also has the fewest goals in MLS thus far, and is the only team yet to crack double digits.
Real Salt Lake have not lost a game in 2014.
Through 12 matches, Jeff Cassar's team has at least a point every time they've taken the field. Twelve games unbeaten is good enough to be an MLS record. It's also good enough to have RSL in second place in the Western Conference, with a game in hand on the Sounders.
Saturday's scoreless draw against FC Dallas wasn't their best performance of the year, but it's notable that the club is getting results from games in which they are short-handed (Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio are all away on international duty). On the flip side of that coin, RSL lost Joao Plata to an injury and failed to beat a struggling team coming off a midweek match.
RSL would gladly trade a record unbeaten streak for an MLS Cup, but it's an achievement worth celebrating.
Team of the week