Week 17 of the MLS season brought with it the return of several U.S. internationals, Houston's return to scoring, the continued heroics of Erick Torres and the birth of a new kind of celebration in Kansas City. Some of it was unique, and some of it was what MLS delivers on a weekly basis.
Here are five storylines from the MLS weekend:
Out of the flame ...
There truly is no rest for the weary, especially when those weary are key members of MLS teams just returning to their clubs after a grueling two-plus-week stretch at the World Cup in Brazil. With depth and form a concern even for clubs currently occupying playoff positions, a handful of U.S. internationals progressed straight from the disappointment of losing to Belgium to an MLS lineup.
Michael Bradley covered more ground through four games in Brazil than any other player in the tournament. Yet there he was, lined up in central midfield for TFC in an Eastern Conference clash against D.C. United. Toronto ultimately lost the game, but Bradley played well. Ryan Nelsen's decision to turn to his star midfielder might have been as much about Bradley's desire and role as a leader as it was about the pragmatic recognition that TFC is better with him, tired or not, than without him.
Jeff Cassar wasted no time in sliding Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando back into the Real Salt Lake lineup. The club earned two of a possible 15 points while the pair was away, highlighting just how crucial the veterans are to RSL's midfield and defensive play, respectively. In their first game back, Beckerman and Rimando helped their team back to the good side of the ledger via a 2-1 win over New England. Brad Davis played a key role in Houston's return to the score sheet in a 2-2 draw with New York.
Stuck in neutral
It was fitting, really, that the Timbers and the Galaxy played to a 2-2 draw at Stub Hub Center on Saturday night. In many ways the game served as the embodiment of underwhelming seasons for two teams picked to be legitimate contenders for Western Conference and MLS Cup silverware. The Timbers and Galaxy entered the game just outside of the playoff places. When the game was over, that's where they remained.
For most of the game, neither side could find its feet. Through an hour of soccer, both the Timbers and the Galaxy looked like teams running out of ideas in a season that requires inspired thinking to get back to where they want -- and expect -- to be.
A burst of action and a flurry of goals changed the score line but not the result. Again, Portland failed to win because of an error, Rauwshan McKenzie's own goal. Again, the Galaxy needed help to get the bare minimum result. Neither team inspired much confidence that its play will rise to the levels presumed before the season began.
When Giles Barnes scored in the first minute of Houston's match against the New York Red Bulls on Friday, it ended a 479-minute goalless run for the men in orange. Over five games, all of them losses, the Dynamo failed to score a single goal.
Perhaps it was no coincidence Houston remembered how to score with Brad Davis back in the lineup. The U.S. international returned from Brazil and immediately made a difference for Dom Kinnear's team, having missed all five of the goalless efforts. Davis scored the penalty that salvaged the draw in addition to providing his usual influence on the attacking end for Houston.
Troubling for Kinnear, long scoring droughts seem to be a feature of this Dynamo team. The Dynamo suffered through a 334-minute run without a goal during March and April. If the Dynamo are going to make their patented run to the playoffs and figure out a way to make some noise when they get there, they'll need to solve their offensive problems.
Cubo on parade
It seems we give Erick "Cubo" Torres more praise in this space than any other MLS player. There's a reason for that: Torres is both very good and very exciting while playing on a poor team. Pound for pound, there isn't a more entertaining package in the league than Chivas USA's young Mexican striker. The consistency with which Torres wows us is on par with the exploits of former Whitecaps star Camilo.
After scoring the lone goal in a win over San Jose in midweek, Torres followed up with another game winner against Montreal on Sunday. It was another Torres special, an acrobatic, overhead kick-type effort on a ball Torres had no business putting in but did anyway. That's Cubo.
Torres now has 12 goals on the year, good enough for a tie for second in the league. That should be good enough to make him an All-Star, where a larger audience can see what ardent observers of MLS already know: Cubo Torres is one of the most exciting players in the league.
Dom Dwyer probably didn't create the selfie goal celebration on Sunday in Kansas City, but he did bring it to MLS. After scoring his 12th goal of the year to give Sporting a lead against Chicago, the English striker grabbed a smartphone and snapped a photo with a few teammates and a group of fans. The moment quickly went viral, making the soccer news in places across the globe.
Dwyer also received a yellow card for the bit of lark, though it's not clear what FIFA law of the game he broke. What's clear is that the former South Florida Bull is loving his time in Kansas City. After Sporting drafted Dwyer in the first round of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, his impatience to play and a poor relationship with Peter Vermes led to him being sent on loan to Orlando City for most of 2013. His return to his parent club has been a smashing success to say the least.
Team of the Week:
Goalkeeper: Clint Irwin
Defenders: Danny Toia, Carlos Bocanegra, Chris Schuler, Kofi Sarkodie
Midfielders: Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Kyle Beckerman, Pedro Morales
Forwards: Bradley Wright-Phillips, Erick Torres