The MLS regular-season schedule is now a full weeklong affair, with league games for Week 20 starting on Wednesday and not concluding until Monday night's showdown between the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy at CenturyLink Field.
That makes the job of pulling out five big threads from the jumbled mass of games a little more difficult but not impossible. It was a week that saw talented players finally show up on the score sheet as well as continuing streaks of futility and frustration over the state of officiating.
Monday Night Futbol
The slate of MLS matches culminated in Seattle with a massive Western Conference showdown between the Sounders and Galaxy. It did not play out exactly to form.
The Galaxy destroyed the Sounders with a barrage of shots in the first half, all of them a direct result of the space the host allowed players like Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes and Landon Donovan. The latter man starred in particular, assisting Zardes for the Galaxy's opener and setting the tone for the fluid attack that L.A. is known for when it is playing at its best.
Seattle's problems might have been caused by more than the absence of center back Chad Marshall due to back spasms, but without him, the Sounders could not handle the movement of Keane and Zardes in front of their back line. Sigi Schmid's side still looks like a shoo-in for the top spot in the West and the Supporters' Shield, but if L.A. is going to play like that with any consistency, the rest of the conference should be on full alert.
It's always the refs
Michael Bradley took the occasion of TFC's 2-1 home loss to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday to blast the quality of MLS officiating. Unfortunately for the midfielder, despite his attempts to frame his complaints as an issue that affected both teams equally, a player from the losing side making such comments always seems like sour grapes.
More interesting than the comments, which few across the league will find reason to argue with, is the question of whether it was wise for him to make them. Bradley is undoubtedly a leader for Toronto and, as the team's highest-paid player, may feel a responsibility to be the mouthpiece for such concerns.
However, the traditional role of referee-criticizer falls to the head coach. With Ryan Nelsen in need of every bit of credibility and gravitas he can get, perhaps it would have been better for the Kiwi coach to take on the job.
As for Bradley, he can most certainly expect a fine from the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
Stretching it out
As mentioned, Week 20 of the MLS season covered nearly a full week with at least one game happening from Wednesday to Monday. The whys of the schedule stretch are likely pretty simple in the end (odd number of teams, summer friendlies and a calendar affected by the World Cup), but they frustrate nevertheless.
The Impact, for example, played two games in three days -- in Utah vs. RSL (a 3-1 loss) and at home vs. the Timbers (a 3-2 loss) -- across the continent from each other. Montreal is not a good team at the moment, but even some of the best clubs in MLS would have trouble with that sort of travel-heavy turnaround.
MLS schedule vagaries have a disproportionate impact on the final standings but are usually forgotten about come playoff time. There might not be any easy fixes, but as we enter the second half of the season, the quirks of the calendar bear watching.
Better late than never
Two players who figured to be crucial to their clubs' respective success this season finally scored their first goals of the season this week. That both of their teams are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race speaks to the contributions others made during their slow starts.
The first is RSL striker Olmes Garcia, a 21-year-old Colombian about whom there are big expectations. Garcia's two-goal day vs. Montreal on Thursday is just what his club needs during a stretch that will have it without top forward Alvaro Saborio due to injury. Garcia is extremely gifted but, like so many young players, has struggled with consistency. His emergence gives coach Jeff Cassar another option to go along with Robbie Findley, Joao Plata and Devon Sandoval.
The second is Colorado Rapids DP Gabriel Torres. Unlike Garcia, a role player in RSL's team, Torres is expected to be a major part of the Colorado attack week in, week out. With expectations that high, it's disappointing it took so long for him to get on the score sheet, which he did vs. Chivas. A look at the standings, however, will fill Pablo Mastroeni & Co. with confidence that the Rapids can reach even higher with an in-form Torres.
Down down down
More misery for the Revolution and coach Jay Heaps, whose side dropped its eighth straight game on Saturday, a 2-1 decision to the visiting Crew. The Revolution are now just two games shy of the all-time MLS record for most losses in a row and could tie Toronto's post-shootout record of nine with one more defeat.
It almost doesn't matter how it's happening anymore. In the latest loss, New England went behind thanks to a brilliant free kick from Federico Higuain that no Revolution player could stop. Even after they managed to level the score through an A.J. Soares header, New England wasn't able to lock things up defensively.
Again, Heaps worked to change things up with formation and personnel tweaks. Again, those changes failed to make a difference in the final score. Would it be a surprise if Heaps' internal monologue is nothing but screaming?
Team of the Week
Goalkeeper: Raul Fernandez
Defenders: Jason Hernandez, Drew Moor, Dan Gargan
Midfielders: Graham Zusi, Federico Higuain, Pedro Morales, Landon Donovan, Diego Valeri
Forwards: Olmes Garcia, Gabriel Torres