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MLS Western Conference Week 5 - Trendspotting

With five weeks already having passed in the 2012 MLS season, we at Stumptown Footy thought we'd switch things up for the Western Conference Weekly. Instead of providing a short recap of each match, we'll be giving you a rundown of the Western Conference teams by their order in the standings. Let us know in the comments what you think of the change!

The Western teams are quickly establishing trends for themselves, RSL setting the pace with three wins in eight days, and a surging San Jose following closely behind. But the first and second place teams will travel in Week 6 to play the two most dominant teams in the Eastern Conference this weekend, with RSL facing SKC and the Earthquakes heading to Red Bull Arena. The RSL-SKC match will be a particularly telling test of each conference's strength.

Meanwhile, some teams further down the table were bucking trends this week. Chivas put an end to their four-week long streak of 1-0 scorelines by scoring two in Portland (as we're all keenly aware). Dallas finally put a stop to New England's recent tear, as they also finally lived up to their promise on defense. And Vancouver finally opened the floodgates in San Jose, allowing their first three goals of the season.

And then there's Portland. The Timbers hope they haven't fallen into a few negative trends -- letting opponents score first (broken Saturday), letting them come from behind, etc. They'll face a Galaxy squad equally eager to escape a downward spiral this weekend in Los Angeles.

Stumptown Footy's Western Conference Weekly, after the jump.

Real Salt Lake

Last week: 1-0 victory vs Montreal; 2-0 victory vs Colorado

Nine points in eight days. That ain't bad. They pulled it off with a depth few teams have access to. Jason Kreis used 16 players in the ten outfield positions over the three games, only four of whom played in all three contests. Imagine John Spencer having such depth at his disposal. This is what first place teams have.

Their match against Montreal was yet another one in which a not at all dominant performance ended with a win. They then turned around and played Mountain Time Zone rivals the Colorado Rapids and dominated them nearly from start to finish -- they won that one too. Kyle Beckerman's casual physicality denied the still stellar looking Martin Rivera the ability to be effective in the middle of the pitch like he had been against Chicago. And instead of relying on defensive failures in the way they have for much of the season, RSL got their hands dirty (pun) to create their own chances and score.

Week 6 projection: 2-2 draw @ KC

San Jose Earthquakes

Last week: 3-1 victory vs Vancouver

Has anybody else noticed that the Earthquakes are one of the three MLS teams in double digits on points? That their goals allowed per match is second in MLS only to Sporting Kansas City? That Chris Wondolowski has more than a goal per game after five games? That Steven Lenhart is out of the lineup with a tight hamstring for at least another week? Right now the Earthquakes are making themselves very easy to like, as they score the scrappy goals and take advantage of the width provided by their strong flanks, both in the midfield and the defense.

Defensively San Jose continues to get it done, absorbing Vancouver's pressure the whole game long, and constantly forcing their opponents to try to create from far outside the 18. They got a bit lucky at times when Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento figured out ways to break them down, but they maintained their composure and persevered. San Jose prefers to frustrate, rather than dominate, their opponents, and that strategy did just enough against Vancouver.

Week 6 projection: 4-3 loss @ New York

Colorado Rapids

Last week: 2-0 loss @ Salt Lake

My description of RSL above should not take anything away from the effort Colorado gave in opposition. They controlled possession for much of the second half but were unable to get the ball to Omar Cummings in a place where he could do anything with it. And unfortunately for Colorado, RSL has far too much quality in their CBs to give up anything in the air and held the Rapids to just a single shot on goal.

But the Rapids' defense proved yet again why I was foolish to doubt them at the start of the season. They got beat by Fabian Espindola a few times, but Marvell Wynne is a rock at CB. Unfortunately, it was Kosuke Kimura, not Wynne, who was covering Saborio on his goal.

Week 6 projection: 2-1 victory @ Seattle

Vancouver Whitecaps

Last week: 3-1 loss @ San Jose

Well, it finally happened. Vancouver finally got a shot on goal. They also finally got a goal, after two weeks without one. Moreover, as if on cue just minutes after they had broken the record for most scoreless minutes to start a season, Vancouver finally conceded one. And minutes after that they sealed their first defeat of 2012. It was also their first match against a Western Conference opponent that has a city in its name (which, of course, makes me cry a little for the Rose City). The clean sheet streak was impressive, even if weak opponents and a fair amount of luck were significantly responsible.

Vancouver can take as a positive that they dominated for 62 minutes against San Jose (eek, that sounds a little too familiar). They had numerous chances on goal in the first half, including an open goal chip that couldn't quite get underneath the crossbar. But the Earthquakes teased them into a more open game in the middle of the second half, and while they continued to create chances on offense, the faster pace opened up their defense. Jay Demerit and company had a bit of a meltdown after that, giving up headers from two crosses from the left wing in quick succession late in the match (yet another similarity with the Timbers' recent performance).

Week 6 projection: bye

Seattle Sounders

Last week: 0-0 draw @ DC

The interesting thing about Seattle is that they have had almost no offensive production since the explosion they saw from David Estrada against Toronto. The key words there might well be "against Toronto," a team that has given up more goals than any other team that has not yet had Thierry Henry as an opponent. But their attack will be greatly improved if Mauro Rosales makes his return to the starting lineup this weekend against Colorado.

Without Rosales against DC United, though, Seattle's trend of weak offensive performances continued on Saturday. Seattle brought good energy in the early minutes and appeared to be the better side in the first half, but the best chance they had came in the third minute of stoppage time. It was too little, too late. Once again, though, the Seattle defense proved to be one of the most potent in the Western Conference, tied for the league lead in fewest goals allowed.

Week 6 projection: 2-1 loss vs Colorado

FC Dallas

Last week: 1-0 victory vs New England

Dallas played a rare Thursday evening match against the New England Revolution, and their win resulted from a light foul in a dangerous position. Get used to hearing that, by the way -- the way Ricardo Villar and his teammates writhe about on the ground in fabricated agony (and the way MLS officials stubbornly refuse to penalize such antics) they will likely score quite a few goals that way. In this particular case it was Blas Perez who was gently nudged to the pitch in gut-wrenching pain. Ugo Ihemelu headed in the winner off the set piece.

Other than the goal, Dallas were unable to create many problems for the New England defense, and aside from the occasional breakaways down the flanks by Brek Shea, Dallas spent most of the match playing defense. Fortunately for them their defense looked much stronger than it had the previous two weeks. Even though they allowed New England to control possession and push down the flanks, Dallas did not let them get the ball into a dangerous position.

Week 6 projection: 2-0 victory vs Montreal

Chivas USA

Last week: 2-1 victory @ Portland

I don't want to go into too much detail, because Saturday's loss still smarts a bit. Chivas took advantage of a Timbers side in absolute disarray and came out the victor. They played their usual excellent defense, knocking Darlington Nagbe off his game and keeping the ball away from Kris Boyd's feet.

On offense, they won't find many teams that will so readily allow them to attack from the wings. As sad as it is to say, they won't have the same success against Toronto as they did against Portland.

Week 6 projection: 2-0 loss @ Toronto

Los Angeles Galaxy

Last week: 1-0 loss @ KC

The defensive problems of the LA Galaxy have been well documented, but the anemia present in their offense continues to be a surprise, evidenced by the zero shots on the frame they had against SKC. Give KC some of the credit, of course, as they haven't allowed a shot on goal in 245 consecutive minutes.

They have the pieces, obviously, to succeed up front, but their attack relies an awful lot on quick movement on breakaways. Against Sporting Kansas City, those through balls and long aerial passes to Galaxy striker Robbie Keane were consistently broken up by Aurélien Collin. Shut down Keane and you've shut down most of the Galaxy's attacking threat. Landon Donovan was also well contained by the SKC defense, being given very little space to create. In fact, Mike Magee was the only Galaxy starter to even record a shot during the match, all three of them going off target.

The man of the match for me was Collin, who repeatedly frustrated Keane up front. Throughout the course of the game Collen needed no help from his teammates to deal with the big Irishman, and with Keane out of the picture the Galaxy attack was shut down. The Timbers will need a similar performance from Hanyer Mosquera if they want to find similar success. Of course, they'll also need to figure out what's going on in their center midfield.

Week 6 projection: 3-2 victory vs Portland (I am now firmly in pessimist mode. Emotionally it's much easier.)