Philadelphia, PA – We're 10 weeks into the 2013 Major League Soccer season, and there appears to be a shifting of power between the conferences as the standings indicate a four-way deadlock for the top spot in the East.
It's time to delve a bit deeper as we take a look back at the week that was in MLS.
CROWDED AT THE TOP
For the past several seasons, the Eastern Conference has generally been a bit weaker than the West, a trait the league has shared with many other professional North American sports.
As of Monday morning, the Montreal Impact, Houston Dynamo, New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City all have 17 points and are deadlocked for the most points in the conference.
After taking a lot of heat for underperforming early in the season, New York appears to have rounded into form as Saturday's 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew on the road was its third straight victory.
One of the biggest surprises this season has been the play of Montreal, which gutted out a 2-2 draw away from home against the San Jose Earthquakes to remain unbeaten over its last three league matches.
Sporting Kansas City put on a clinic at home against a shorthanded Chivas USA side as Goats goalkeeper Dan Kennedy was shown a red card for a tackle in the box on Paulo Nagamura in the 54th minute. SKC's Claudio Bieler buried the ensuing penalty kick and the hosts rolled to a 4-0 win.
While the last of the East's top dogs pulled out a gritty 1-0 win against the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy behind by Andrew Driver's second-half tally.
Only time will tell as far as how the East will play out over the remainder of the season, but each of those four clubs are in top form and have the quality to win the conference.
HACKWORTH BLASTS OFFICIATING
Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth seems like a very mild-mannered, composed man on the touchline during his club's matches.
But following a fiery 2-2 draw at home to Seattle Sounders in which some questionable decisions were made by referee Jorge Gonzalez, Hackworth lost his cool (and probably some money as well) with some scathing post-game comments.
Late in the match, Union defender Sheanon Williams and Sounders forward Lamar Neagle got into a small shoving match and both players were shown straight red cards for the altercation
Moments later, young Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin was sent off for a rash tackle from behind on Philadelphia midfielder Michael Farfan and with just seconds remaining, the Union's Conor Casey fired one on goal that appeared to hit the outstretched arm of Seattle's Leo Gonzalez, but the penalty wasn't given by referee Gonzalez and the match ended level.
"Look, I'll raise my hand and take the fine," Hackworth said. "Because it has to be said that we cannot be in this league and have this level of play and have officiating be as bad as that."
"That should not have been a draw in any way, shape or form," Hackworth continued. "There's a clear penalty at the end of the game. How it's not called is beyond me."
While the Union will be disappointed not to take three points, one is obviously better than zero and the result leaves the Union with 12 points and in sixth place.
Philadelphia will hit the road to take on Chicago this weekend but will be shorthanded in the back as Williams will miss the match due to suspension and fellow defender Jeff Parke's status is undetermined after he left Saturday's match with an injury.
Former U.S. international Robbie Rogers returned to training with the Los Angeles Galaxy last week after taking a brief sabbatical from the game following his announcement that he was gay.
Rogers' rights are owned by the Chicago Fire following a trade with the Columbus Crew, but it appears Rogers is not interested in suiting up for the Fire.
"I don't want to go to Chicago," Rogers remarked. "I think if it comes down to, 'You can only play in Chicago,' then I probably won't go back. I need to do it somewhere where I'm totally 100 percent comfortable, so I would most likely do it closest to my family."
Rogers grew up in Southern California not far from the Home Depot Center and Los Angeles looks like the most desirable place for Rogers to make his return, but nothing is set in stone.
"I just need a bit more time to evaluate and to see how things play out," he continued, "but I've really enjoyed myself (with the Galaxy). It feels normal to be back."
GOAL OF THE WEEK
This week's honor goes to Houston's Andrew Driver for his 56th-minute strike that handed the defending Eastern Conference champs a 1-0 win over Los Angeles at the Home Depot Center.
New York Red Bulls - The Red Bulls certainly struggled for consistency early in the season, but Saturday's result against Columbus was their third straight victory. Forward Tim Cahill also has begun to find his goal scoring form as the Australian has two in his past two starts. New York's rich vein of form will be put to the test this week as the club hosts Montreal on Wednesday before traveling to Foxboro to face the New England Revolution on Saturday.
Sporting Kansas City - After two subpar outings, SKC got back on track in a big way on Sunday, pounding 10-man Chivas USA by a 4-0 count at home. Designated Player Claudio Bieler has been everything Sporting could have wanted and they have even more good news coming their way as forward Kei Kamara will be returning to the side after his loan spell with Norwich City of the Premier League ends in a few weeks.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC - The Whitecaps looked to be off to a good start after winning their first two games of the season, but that's where the good fortune ended. Vancouver's 2-0 setback to Real Salt Lake on Saturday extended the club's winless run to seven consecutive matches and they have not taken three points since a 2-1 result over Columbus on March 9. Darren Mattocks hasn't been nearly as effective as the club would like him to be. Head coach Martin Rennie needs to find answers quickly.
Toronto FC - It appeared as though Toronto's new management duo of president Kevin Payne and head coach Ryan Nelsen had the club heading in a new direction following a surprising 2-1 defeat of SKC on March 9. But that has been their only victory of the season and the Reds have developed a nasty habit of conceding goals in the final five minutes of matches.
THE PASSION OF SOCCER FANS ...
Sometimes the passion of soccer fans just can not be contained, as this particular editor found out over the weekend at Saturday's Union-Sounders clash at PPL Park.
As I walked back to my seat from the concourse during halftime, one particular fan noticed my Liverpool jersey, looked me straight in the eyes and uttered "(expletive) Liverpool."
Chalk that burst up to the passion of the soccer fan.