The uneven nature of Major League Soccer’s opening schedule often makes it difficult for teams to separate themselves from the pack, but after the ninth week of the 2014 season, three teams’ form has created a group of early title favorites. This weekend, Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders, and Sporting Kansas City all found different ways to show why they currently make up that top tier:
- The Sounders fell behind early against Philadelphia but never let the game leave their grasp. Even though the team’s goals didn’t come until the game’s final 30 minutes, there was little doubly Seattle would overcome its hole.
- Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, tempted a series of doubts by taking a two-goal deficit into the final 20 minutes against Chicago. The Western Conference champions responded, however, to stay unbeaten.
- And Sporting Kansas City pulled an SKC special, scoring the first goal before keeping its opponents at arm’s length, with only one moment in Sunday’s first half casting doubt upon the champs’ eventual victory over Columbus.
Particularly with World Cup camps approaching, MLS’s pecking order is bound to change. Through nine weeks, however, three teams are raising the bar. Last year’s conference champions have been joined by the surging Sounders as standard-setters going into the season’s third month.
Here what happened in Week 9:
Toronto FC 1-2 New England Revolution
A tough return for Doneil Henry saw the Canadian international play a major part in both New England goals. Thanks to the defender’s first half giveaway and second half handball, the Revolution were able to claim the franchise’s first victory ever at BMO Field, earning three points that temporarily put Jay Heaps’ team alone at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
Three goals in the match’s first 20 minutes dug a hole San Jose couldn’t climb out of. Pedro Morales’s early brace and Kekuta Manneh’s opener ended up being too much for Chris Wondolowski’s double to overcome, with the San Jose captain scoring in injury time of each half to leave the visitors within one.
Chicago Fire 2-3 Real Salt Lake
First half goals from Mike Magee and Juan Luis Anangonó allowed Chicago, in search of its first win of the season, to enjoy a two-goal lead for most of the match. Starting with João Plata’s 72nd minute goal, however, the Fire embarked on a collapse that snapped the team’s six-match unbeaten streak, with late goals from Álvaro Saborío and Plata allowing RSL to stay the league’s only undefeated club.
Vicente Sánchez’s clever chip in the 20th minute gave Colorado an early lead over their sluggish visitors, but come the hour-mark, LA had a chance to extend its four-game unbeaten run. For the second time this season, however, Robbie Keane failed to convert a potential equalizer from the spot. Pushing his attempt wide right, LA’s captain relegated his team to its second loss of the year, allowing the Rapids to recover from last week’s loss at Seattle.
Seattle Sounders 2-1 Philadelphia Union
Brad Evans returned to the starting lineup with an early own goal, a score that allowed the Union to carry a one-goal edge into the second half. Obafemi Martins, however, took Seattle’s first step toward a fourth straight win, scoring in the 61st minute. When Chad Marshall headed home the winner from a 84th minute corner, the Sounders were back on top of the Western Conference.
Portland Timbers 3-2 D.C. United
Bookend dramatics allowed the Timbers to claim their first victory of the season. Gastón Fernández, 34 seconds into the game, scored Portland’s opener, a goal that was eventually pulled back by Davy Arnaud. A converted corner and an own goal from Futty Danso left the teams tied at two going into injury time, where Maxi Urutti’s 94th minute winner got Portland into the win column.
Erick Torres’s early goal from the spot went for naught as Houston piled on four goals over the ensuing hour, the last of which came from the spot after Dan Kennedy’s understudy, Tim Melia, was sent off. Winning for the first time since mid-March, Houston also broke a 512-minute goalless drought from open play. Chivas USA is winless in eight.
FC Dallas 0-1 New York Red Bulls
Je-Vaughn Watson’s 10th minute red card seemed to doom Dallas, but over the next hour, the home side generated the better chances. In the 71st minute, however, a long through ball from Dax McCarty put Thierry Henry behind the Dallas defense, where the Red Bulls playmaker set up Bradley Wright-Phillips’ sixth goal of the season.
Sporting Kansas City 2-0 Columbus Crew
Jacob Peterson put the home side up after 10 minutes, but a header from Bernardo Añor that was inches from crossing the line nearly brought Columbus back before halftime. In the second, Columbus’s closest chance was whistled dead after Jairo Arrieta was judged offside, with a late goal Claudio Bieler providing insurance. Sporting is back on top of the Eastern Conference.