Posted: Mon April 23, 2012 3:53PM; Updated: Mon April 23, 2012 5:36PM
Avi Creditor

MLS Week 7 Power Rankings: KC falls, D.C. continuing to improve

Story Highlights

Sporting KC surprisingly chose not to rotate despite 3 games in a week

D.C. United is performing well despite some big names on the bench

The standard of refereeing in MLS continues to be questionable

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Chris Pontius
Chris Pontius (left) sparked D.C.'s win over New York with a stunning hat trick.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Sporting Kansas City finally loses, while the San Jose Earthquakes continue to rise in Week 7 in MLS:

1. Sporting KC finally goes down. After getting off to one of the best starts in MLS history, Sporting Kansas City can still claim it has yet to be beaten by an opponent after falling on its own sword over the weekend.

That's simplifying things a bit much and taking away credit from Portland, who countered Sporting KC's physical style with brutal physicality and sound defending of its own, but the fact remains that an unforced own goal is all that stands between Sporting KC and being unbeaten. Kris Boyd's teasing cross wasn't met with by single Portland runner, but a lack of communication between Chance Myers and trailing midfielder Julio Cesar resulted in a panicked Myers header into his own goal.

There are other factors that played into Sporting KC's first loss, too. Peter Vermes opted to eschew his depth and trot out his first-choice starting XI despite Saturday being the club's third game in a week's time, likely looking at the bye week to come and thinking that his side would get the rest they need during that period. Weary legs going up against a fully rested Portland side was likely a factor, with a lack of sharpness in the final third resulting in Sporting KC being held goal-less for the first time this season.

Portland, which snapped a four-game losing skid, had plenty of say in the result as well, making the necessary adjustments to stifle Sporting KC's attack. John Spencer opted to stack out-of-favor right back Lovel Palmer behind Jack Jewsbury in a more defense-oriented central midfield to break up KC playmaker Graham Zusi's rhythm. The plan worked, with Spencer saying it was Palmer's best game as a Timber. It is hard to say that a blueprint for countering Blue Hell has been established considering that Sporting KC still had its way in the possession battle, but at the very least, Portland gave some ideas to the teams who have Sporting KC looming on the schedule.

2. D.C. United is rolling, but there is a potential problem. The uplifting aura in the D.C. United locker room is one that has been absent for quite some time, as the club is in the midst of its longest unbeaten streak in about three years. However, there's a tad bit of lingering uneasiness in the nation's capital.

Credit goes to coach Ben Olsen for managing his roster and playing his hot hands, but a number of players thought to be unconditional starters remain nothing more than high-profile reserves. Bill Hamid, Andy Najar, and Designated Players Hamdi Salihi and Branko Boskovic all continue to remain conspicuously absent from the club's lineup despite being healthy and fit.

In Olsen's defense, there is good reason for their respective absences. Joe Willis has been sound in goal ever since Hamid left for U.S. U-23 national team duty; Danny Cruz, who most might forget started in last year's MLS Cup final, has brought an infectious energy to the right wing ever since given the reins when Najar was with the Honduras U-23s; Maicon Santos has emerged as one of the finds on the offseason transfer market, capitalizing while Salihi has struggled to find his footing in MLS; and Boskovic has watched as Dwayne De Rosario has shifted back into a midfield role while Chris Pontius has a go of it up top and rookie Nick DeLeon becomes a fixture on the left wing.

For Hamid, who could generate plenty of transfer value for the club, it's uncertain what will it take for him to reclaim his spot. By letting Willis remain the starter, Olsen is sending the message that Hamid, who as recently as last fall had been called the U.S. national team's No. 2 keeper by Jurgen Klinsmann, is not his bona fide No. 1. By keeping Najar, another potential European transfer target, on the bench and favoring Cruz' work rate and defensive qualities, he is not allowing the 19-year-old winger to develop any semblance of consistency.

At the rate things are going, Salihi is going to find it mighty difficult to get starters' minutes with in-form and versatile players ahead of him. Boskovic, meanwhile, who was talked up all preseason as an integral part of the attack, is an afterthought and is surely doubtful to last in D.C. past July, when the club has an option to extend his stay.

With D.C. clicking offensively and avoiding the mistakes that cost it points over the last few years, having too much depth is a welcome problem for Olsen. Players constantly speak of how in-house competition brings the best out of everyone, but the brewing personnel situation involving four integral members of the club is one worth keeping in mind as the season continues to unfold.

3. Horrible calls overshadow results. MLS players are being retroactively disciplined on a weekly basis for calls that went missed or overlooked in games, but perhaps referees, too, should be disciplined by MLS and U.S. Soccer's new Professional Referee Organization for their egregious mistakes that have even more of a direct impact on results.

The latest examples involved Ramon Hernandez, who nearly turned the Los Angeles Galaxy's win over the Colorado Rapids into a draw; and Elias Bazakos, who really tilted the scales in favor of the San Jose Earthquakes in their win over Real Salt Lake Saturday night.

Hernandez' penalty call in the 90th minute of a one-goal game has to be among the worst ever granted in the league. The only contact on Jeff Larentowicz' s hopeful lob over the top was initiated by Colorado forward Andre Akpan, who stretched out his right arm to brace himself off Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant and his left arm to do the same off center back David Junior Lopes.

Usually players will be up in arms if they think a penalty is deserved, but Akpan went down on his own accord and didn't seem to have "penalty" cross his mind as he got up, based on his reaction. Yet Hernandez, trailing the play by a good 30 yards and at an awful angle, saw fit to put the result in the balance anyway, sparking a Galaxy protest surrounding the referee that was reminiscent of something found in a testy Barcelona-Real Madrid encounter. The only reason that the poor call isn't the talk of the league is because Josh Saunders saved Omar Cummings' penalty kick, but for Hernandez to be so sure, from so far away on such a routine play with the result riding on the line was just baffling.

In San Jose, Bazakos became the latest referee to be duped by pesky forward Steven Lenhart, who initiated all contact on Jamison Olave's otherwise fair shoulder-to-shoulder challenge that saw the Colombian see red for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and reduced RSL to nine men for the final 23 minutes of the 3-1 Quakes win. In Bazakos' defense, he likely could not see Lenhart grabbing Olave's shorts and yanking the defender into his path from the angle at which he was trailing the play, but like Hernandez, he has to be absolutely certain to make that call with as much at stake because of it.

San Jose, the most improved team in the league, sits in first place in the Western Conference after the win, and victories over trailing clubs RSL and Seattle can be directly attributed to Lenhart living up to his reputation as a wily instigator and one who claimed Bazakos as his latest referee victim.

4. MacMath continues to bounce back. The Philadelphia Union are far from a finished product, and manager Peter Nowak has come under plenty of criticism for how he has handled his roster, but he deserves credit for sticking by his No. 1 goalkeeper during a time which plenty of managers could have given a quick hook.

Zac MacMath's early shaky showings have given way to a 332-minute shutout streak in which the second-year goalkeeper has rediscovered his steady hands and sound positioning to reward Nowak's faith in him. MacMath's resurgence is coming at a time when Philadelphia needs it, too. Injuries to captain Danny Califf and some overall instability at the back have pressed Sheanon Williams into center back duty and underrated rookie right back Ray Gaddis into the starting lineup.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Zac MacMath (Philadelphia Union)

Defenders: A.J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles Galaxy), Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes)

Midfielders: Patrick Nyarko (Chicago Fire), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Lovel Palmer (Portland Timbers), Reggie Lambe (Toronto FC)

Forwards: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Chris Pontius (D.C. United), Maicon Santos (D.C. United)

Week 7 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Previous Rank Team
1 1 Sporting Kansas City (W/L/T: 7-1-0)
Despite the loss over the weekend, Sporting KC has little to worry about after managing a convincing win in Vancouver and heading into its bye week after a 1-1 trip to the Pacific Northwest. The aura of invincibility might have taken a hit, but nobody should be questioning the club's current place atop the league.
2 5 San Jose Earthquakes (5-1-1)
Down four starters, San Jose showcased the depth that should keep the club in the hunt for the long haul. Few teams can trot out reserve center backs like Ike Opara and Jason Hernandez and maintain stability in the back like the Earthquakes, the most improved team in the league and the surprise leader in the West.
3 2 Real Salt Lake (5-3-0)
RSL will feel wronged, and rightfully so, for not escaping San Jose with at least a point after Jamison Olave was sent off, and now RSL must attack its midweek game against FC Dallas without the suspended duo of Olave and Fabian Espindola. Like San Jose, though, if there's a team that can stem the tide with some personnel woes, it's RSL.
4 3 Seattle Sounders (3-1-1)
Good news appears on the horizon for the Sounders, who celebrated their bye week with Mauro Rosales' return to action in a reserve game. For a club struggling to find its way offensively, the Argentine playmaker's return will do wonders.
5 4 Houston Dynamo (2-1-2)
One of the worst -- and most uncharacteristic for Houston -- defensive sequences of the season nearly cost the Dynamo points, but the evolving Will Bruin-Brian Ching tandem saved the day and salvaged yet another road point for a Dynamo side that is two matches away from its first home game.
6 7 Vancouver Whitecaps (3-2-2)
Coach Martin Rennie made some bold changes to his lineup, none bigger than making Camilo the centerpiece of his front line. The Brazilian made the difference in the win over Dallas. Also of note is the re-emergence of Omar Salgado, the seldom-used No. 1 overall pick from last season, who operated out of a winger role as opposed to being the target striker more befitting of his 6-foot-4 frame.
7 8 D.C. United (3-2-3)
Hat trick hero Chris Pontius is making his way back onto everyone's radar after his latest showing against the Red Bulls, and the fact that he's doing it out of a forward role means more time on the wing for rookie Nick DeLeon and more time on the bench for DP forward Hamdi Salihi. Also, after a bit of a journeyman career through MLS, Maicon Santos seems to have found a true home in D.C.
8 11 Los Angeles Galaxy (3-3-0)
David Junior Lopes is not the second coming of Fabio Cannavaro, but the Galaxy sure don't look as vulnerable in the back as they had in past weeks since he has come aboard. It also helps that the attack is picking up the slack, with Landon Donovan scoring for his second straight game. The club is a perfect 3-0 this season when the captain scores or has an assist.
9 6 New York Red Bulls (3-3-1)
The Red Bulls had no positive response to Wilman Conde and Teemu Tainio being injured and Rafa Marquez being suspended, meaning the club that was absolutely overran by D.C. could be in for a rough few games ahead. When Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper aren't producing multiple goals, it really exposes just how many problems this high-spending club has.
10 9 FC Dallas (3-3-0)
FC Dallas is one of two teams yet to record a road point this season, as the club's lackluster attack was stymied by Vancouver. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz filled in admirably after a late back injury to starter Kevin Hartman, but FCD can ill afford a long-term layoff for its record-holding anchor in net.
11 10 Colorado Rapids (3-4-0)
It's hard to blame Omar Cummings for Colorado's loss after his golazo and overall 90-minute effort, but his last-minute penalty kick was poorly struck and cost the Rapids, losers of three straight games, a point that was there for the taking.
12 13 Chicago Fire (2-1-2)
Frank Klopas has a number of options considering his personnel, and he played them like a seasoned puppeteer does to a marionette against Toronto, altering his formation down the stretch to walk out of Toronto with a come-from-behind victory. Finding a place on the field for reacquired attacker Chris Rolfe will be his next task.
13 12 Chivas USA (3-4-0)
The trend continues for Chivas: Winless at home, perfect on the road. This weekend's loss to Philadelphia had to sting a bit more considering the Union had two men sent off, and the Goats still couldn't capitalize. Juan Pablo Angel's return from a concussion should spark the attack going forward.
14 15 Philadelphia Union (2-3-1)
Another game, another important contribution from Freddy Adu, who's nifty backheel goal provided the difference in the Union's second straight win. For a player who wasn't even invited to the MLS Combine this winter, Ray Gaddis is surely proving his place in the league with another steady showing at right back.
15 16 Portland Timbers (2-4-1)
Perhaps no team needed a win more than Portland, which got the three points at the expense of the league's hottest team. John Spencer might be on to something by pushing Lovel Palmer into a defensive midfield role, where he can get the most out of the Jamaican international's skill set.
16 14 New England Revolution (2-4-0)
The bye week saw the Revs get leapfrogged in the standings by a few teams, but it also afforded the club time to get some of its injured players rest and some of the new pieces to get more acclimated ahead of next weekend's clash in New York.
17 17 Columbus Crew (2-3-1)
The Crew's attack showed more signs of life against the Dynamo than it had all season, and it's no surprise that Eddie Gaven's emergence had plenty to do with that. Columbus' front office also got a boost this week, with retired defender and USMNT great Frankie Hejduk returning to the club he captained to so much success.
18 18 Montreal Impact (1-5-2)
The Impact's midweek draw to D.C. United unfolded like its previous game -- go ahead on the road in the second half, concede soon after. Road points are nice for Montreal, but the Impact need wins, and they need to learn how to manage their leads. Just the next step in the process for Jesse Marsch's expansion side.
19 19 Toronto FC (0-6-0)
At least the Reds doubled their scoring output for the season and had their first lead of the season, right? Torsten Frings at center back is not the answer. Torsten Frings in the midfield, distributing, making runs forward and protecting the back line is part of the answer. Problem is, there are too many questions for Aron Winter and his staff.
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