Generally, if you're trying to win games, you do that by controlling more of the possession, creating more chances and shooting the ball more. This week, though, if you were on a team that played better in all those areas, more often than not you were on the losing side.
The side that looked superior on the stat sheet lost in four of the seven matches involving Western Conference sides last weekend. RSL made the best of their fewer chances against NYRB, as they did against the Galaxy a week before, and they have the tools to keep up that trend. Meanwhile, despite their losses this week, San Jose and Chivas look just a couple of better finishes away from starting their ascendency in the conference.
On the other hand, Vancouver have got to be running short of the pixie dust that has helped them fly undefeated so far. The Rapids, too, got away with a sloppy performance against Philly; they may not be so lucky when they travel to New York next weekend without Jeff Larentowicz. (Then again, Stephen Keel and the NYRBs might not put up much of a fight.)
There were a couple of blowouts, though; the Los Angeles Galaxy cruised to victory against a team that never knew what hit them, and a Seattle newcomer, who had been flying under the radar, had the rest of the league puzzling, "Eddie Who?" as he sliced up Toronto.
The Timbers, meanwhile, drew away against FC Dallas in a tale of two halves not at all influenced by a wind not strong enough to tousle John Spencer's hair. This weekend they'll travel to Massachusetts and try to extend their unbeaten streak on the road against a team that hasn't scored a goal yet.
San Jose Earthquakes 0:1 Houston Dynamo
The Houston Dynamo beat the San Jose Earthquakes on an early penalty kick, despite being outshot 22-8. Adam Moffat played an aerial ball forward to which Brian Ching appeared to have beaten Quakes defender Bernardez. Jon Busch, charging forward, misjudged flight of the ball and threw himself into Ching's midsection. Brad Davis scored the resulting penalty kick.
Look at the stat sheet for the match and you won't be blamed for thinking the result went the other way. San Jose looked to be the superior side, playing the ball effectively down the wings as well as through the middle, but Houston's propensity for physical play and throwing themselves in front of the ball won the day. Chris Wondolowski got his fair share of opportunities but failed to put any of them away, while Steven Lenhart got out-thugged by the Houston defense and was held to just a few off-target shots. Defensively, San Jose kept Houston out of dangerous areas, and, with the exception of the penalty kick, held them to two shots on target.
Seattle Sounders 3:1 Toronto FC
Last week's Player of the Week was Kalif Alhassan, and this here Western Conference wrap is the last time Timbers fans will get to boast about that. David Estrada is the new flavor of the week. While earning a hat-trick in only his seventh appearance for the first team, Estrada repeatedly beat the Toronto offside trap and gave the Toronto defense a night to forget. And those goals weren't fluky, opportunistic goals -- as painful as it is to say, they were all impressive in their creativity and expertly finished.
Of course, by hat-tricking in his first appearance of the season, Estrada has placed a big, cyan/rave green target on his chest, just daring the rest of the league to figure him out. The key for future Sounders opponents will be to deny him the opportunity to make runs behind the defense in the center and force the Seattle attack wide. When Toronto were able to do that they shut down the Sounders' attack. As effective as Alvaro Fernandez and Mauro Rosales are on the wings, they can't do anything to make Estrada and Fredy Montero any taller than 5'9". But that means when the Timbers play Seattle in June, our fullbacks will need to be confident enough to handle Fernandez and Rosales.
Real Salt Lake 2:0 New York Red Bulls
RSL continued their intimidating 2012 campaign, delivering two confident victories against ESPN's perennial top two favorites. Fabian Espindola opened the scoring late in the first half, benefiting from a rather unorthodox ball forward from Paulo Junior that fooled the defense playing the offside trap. Espindola got on the end of another neat pass, this one a pass from Sebastian Velasquez on the end line. Ryan Meara's parry fell immediately to Luis Gil, who one-touched it into the empty net.
Espindola gave Stephen Keel and the Red Bulls' defense problems all night, in spite of the defensive 4-5-1 posture with which Hans Backe started the match. RSL, countering with a 4-4-2 (but Gil played so high it looked a lot like a 4-3-3), lost the possession game and merely matched NYRB in shots on target, but they took better advantage of the chances they had. The fact that NYRB's defense is in shambles right now certainly helped, but RSL is a team that takes advantage of those mistakes. Meanwhile, the RSL defense continue to dominate their side of the pitch, this time requiring far fewer heroic saves from Nick Rimando than they did against LA last week.
Chivas USA 0:1 Vancouver Whitecaps
Here they are, the Whitecaps, tied with Real Salt Lake for the top record in the Western Conference. That, in spite of possessing only 35.5% of the ball against Chivas and managing only two shots on target. The goal they scored came on a corner kick that sailed past several heads on both sides, finally falling to Jay DeMerit, who poked it in for his first MLS goal. Another first for the Caps: first away win in franchise history.
Chivas did possess the ball well, but missing out on the finishing touch of Juan Pablo Angel, they had trouble finishing the chances they created. Chivas showed they're a better team than their 0-2-0 record shows, but after two weeks they still haven't scored a goal -- a dubious distinction they share with the New England Revolution and the Colombus Crew. Still, their defense hasn't allowed a goal from the run of play so far this season, and, as I said, they held the offense-oriented Whitecaps to just two shots on the frame over 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Whitecaps are enjoying a second week in the top 10 in most of power ranking estimations (I don't know if I'll ever fully understand what those rankings are trying to measure), despite a dismal performance against Chivas. They look like a team just barely scraping by on their good looks and charm, their weaknesses obscured as yet by the final results in their first two matches. They have a lot of quality pieces but so far those pieces are not playing together well. They will have to combine better as a team if they want to continue their winning ways.
Philadelphia Union 1:2 Colorado Rapids
Another match in which the dominant team lost. Both teams descended into chippy play by the end, with Jeff Larentowicz receiving two yellow cards for reckless challenges. But Colorado still managed to win the game off two goals against the run of play, the first of which resulting from yet another goalkeeping gaffe by Zach MacMath. Jaime Castrillon scored off MacMath's blunder, and Tony Cascio added the second for the Rapids. As often as the Union were able to break past the Colorado defense, Danny Mwanga was never able to get on the end of the crosses coming in from Gabriel Gómez and company. Lionard Pajoy finally pulled one back for Philly, heading in a cross from Roger Torres in the 67th minute. But that was all they could muster.
Colorado never looked in control of this match. Once again, the 4-3-3 formation Oscar Pareja has promised did not materialize as they played a 4-5-1, and once again Colorado's midfield failed to connect with lone striker Omar Cummings with any consistency. Cummings eventually started working from the wings more often -- it was his service from the left wing that produced the first goal. Defensively, Colorado has some very strong players capable of knocking attackers off the ball, but Philly attackers were routinely able to get behind them.
LA Galaxy 3:1 D.C. United
Oh, you picked the LA Galaxy to win the Supporters Shield again? Well done, you're a genius. Yes, they clobbered the crap out of DC United on Sunday at home, on two goals from Robbie Keane and one from substitute Marcelo Sarvas. A miscue in the LA midfield helped DC get one back, on a beautiful shot in off the far post by Nick DeLeon, but this match was all Galaxy.
The Galaxy looked like a classy team in Week 2, except in those frequent occasions when they decided to stop playing when they disagreed with the referee. They did everything they needed to on the attack -- hold possession, make runs into space, put perfect crosses into the goal area -- and DC simply couldn't keep up with all of it. I mean seriously, eight shots on target to one? That's just not fair.
Portland's next Western opponent will be Real Salt Lake, one of few teams we've never lost to, March 31 at Jeld Wen Field. We'll take a closer look at them next week after they host Chivas USA.