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Jun 12, 2014

Red Bulls end Foxborough curse, Sounders stay on top

Obafemi Martins scored twice before his first-half dismissal and Lamar Neagle added the winner as the Seattle Sounders beat the Chicago Fire 3-2 Saturday night.

After a pair of midweek matches and a full slate of weekend games, MLS now makes way for the World Cup group stages through a two-week break. This set of matches spanned the spectrum of quality and entertainment, with the requisite bit of controversy thrown in. Although not everyone may be happy to see the break come and momentum halted, MLS looked like a league that could do with a breather.

Long time coming

The Red Bulls went to New England without five -- count them, five -- usual starters to take on Eastern Conference-leading Revolution. New York hadn't beaten the Revs in 20 matches, a streak that went so far back, it effectively covered the lifespan of Gillette Stadium and started when the Red Bulls played under a different name. To say that breaking that streak on Sunday was unexpected would be drastically understating the situation.

But the Red Bulls somehow won 2-0, largely thanks to well-taken chances and the heroics of New York goalkeeper Luis Robles. He was a machine in Foxborough, saving his side time after time as he collected 10 saves. The balance of play, particularly as reflected by the number of chances created by each side, unfolded as one would expect. The Red Bulls scrambled to put an effective team on the field, while the Revolution played all of the exciting attacking talent that launched them to first place in the conference.

The Red Bulls rallied to shock the Revolution at home despite missing five starters.

Yet, luckily for New York, soccer is still a game of scoring goals. The Revolution might feel aggrieved by the result, considering the 22 shots they took, but the Red Bulls earned their win.

Sounding the alarm

Without Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin and Brad Evans for a brief stretch, the Seattle Sounders consolidated their position as the best team in MLS. Saturday's 3-2 win over the Chicago Fire wasn't perfectly played or even indicative of Seattle's full capabilities, but it proved why this Sounders team is on pace for an MLS-record 72 points this season. Great teams win when they're not at their best.

It did take a bit of fortune for Seattle to get to the break in such good shape, however. Obafemi Martins' failure to make Nigeria's World Cup squad left one of the Sounders' most important players available to carry the load while Dempsey is away with the U.S. in Brazil. Take Martins out of the Sounders' lineup, and it's difficult to imagine that they would be sitting on 32 points through 15 games.

Without Martins, Seattle certainly wouldn't have grabbed three points in Chicago. Although he exited in the first half after a red card for an offense that remains something of a mystery, the striker scored his seventh and eighth goals of the year in the win. The rest of the league should be trembling at the possibilities once Seattle returns to full strength, after the U.S. team returns from Brazil.

These are the breaks

Sure, there's the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup to worry about, but for the most part, the two-week break that MLS will take for the World Cup group stage is a precious gift. Every club is tired. Every club has injuries. Every club could use a temporary halt in league hostilities to regroup, get healthy and prepare itself for the grueling summer schedule ahead.

Unless you have momentum, in which case the break is something of an annoyance. Portland stands out as a team that might not want to stop playing; after struggling for months to win one game, the Timbers now have three wins in their past five matches and suddenly look like a team that could make the playoffs (provided they figure out that chronic home-drawing problem). Considering the expectations on coach Caleb Porter's team coming into the season and how underwhelming its start was, every bit of positive energy is priceless -- more priceless than even a bit of rest.

On the opposite end of that spectrum? The Dynamo. They could do with a full month off, another few weeks to fully reintegrate Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia after that, and then a light schedule that would allow for a consolidation of the workmanlike spirit Dominic Kinnear-coached teams are known for.

B.C. stands for Ballin' (out of) Control

The unofficial most fun team in MLS has officially moved up the West Coast from Portland to Vancouver, where the Whitecaps continue to provide high-level entertainment each week.

Featuring a host of talented attacking players like Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks, Russell Teibert, the suddenly unstoppable Erik Hurtado and Argentine gem Pedro Morales, coach Carl Robinson's team is capable of scoring in spurts on a level above any other team in MLS at the moment. It's also, thanks to defensive problems exacerbated by injury, capable of giving up goals in large numbers. The combination is as close to thrill-a-minute as it gets in MLS.

On Saturday, it took a late Morales penalty conversion for the Whitecaps to hold off the Union for a 3-3 draw in Philadelphia. Manneh didn't play, but Hurtado scored the first goal (his fourth goal in four games). The three goals scored and three conceded brought Vancouver's team totals over the past three games to nine scored and eight conceded.

And in first place ...

Somehow, someway, the top team in the Eastern Conference heading into the World Cup break is not defending MLS Cup-winning Sporting Kansas City, defending Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls, big-spending Toronto FC or young and attacking New England Revolution.

It's D.C. United. 2013's last-place D.C. United, a team that appeared so moribund that it was left pondering whether its lot was to be perennial bottom dwellers in a league that very much appeared to have passed it by.

And yes, although the East has been a chaotic division thick with teams unable to put together consistent runs of good play, United and Ben Olsen deserve credit for signing players who could help them climb back to respectability. The acquisitions of Fabian Espindola, Davy Arnaud, Chris Rolfe and Bobby Boswell -- experienced MLS veterans, all of them -- has been key in getting D.C. to this point.

There's a lot of season left, and there's no guarantee United is a contender for anything, but so far, so good.

Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Luis Robles

Defenders: Nick Hagglund, Carlos Bocanegra, Kevin Ellis, Michael Parkhurst

Midfielders: Luis Silva, Harrison Shipp, Cristian Maidana, Fabian Castillo

Strikers: Fanendo Adi, Erik Hurtado