Portland Timbers were en route to a new record. The team from Oregon, the state on the Pacific, had gone 15 games without defeat and were looking to extend the fourth best streak in the history of Major League Soccer (MLS). Hopes of moving another step closer to the 19-match record set by Columbus Crew and FC Dallas were high. But then the “lumberjacks” – Portland has an axe in its club emblem – had to travel to Columbus on 7 July. A 4th minute header scored by Venezuelan Bernardo Anor sufficed to beat Portland 1-0. For the Timbers, it was their first loss since the 2-1 home defeat against Montreal Impact on 9 March. They then went on to win seven and draw eight matches.
Nevertheless there is little separating the teams in the US and Canadian professional league and the battle for a place in the play-offs is hotting up. Despite their long run, Portland is currently lying only fourth in the Western Conference with 30 points from 18 games. Ahead of them are three established teams that have been dominating the league for a number of years. Topping the table is Real Salt Lake (34 points from 19 games). Immediately behind are FC Dallas (31 from 19) whilst champions Los Angeles Galaxy (30 from 19) are one back in third. A lot can change within the space of a week as there is little to choose between the teams this year.
One place down on Portland in fifth is Vancouver Whitecaps, the Oregon team’s Canadian neighbour (29 from 18). Sixth is Colorado Rapids (27 from 20), the 2010 champions who recently beat Montreal 4-3 and New York 2-0. They are followed by Seattle Sounders on 24 points from just 16 games. San Jose Earthquakes (21 from 20) remain the only – negative – surprise but are still in with a chance of qualifying for the play-offs as was obvious in the 3-2 win against LA Galaxy on 29 June. Only Chivas USA (14 from 18) are way off the pace. Based in Carson, California, the club, which is linked to Deportivo Guadalajara in Mexico, has not won for the last 13 games. Their last victory came when they beat Vancouver 2-1 on 30 March. The 1-1 stalemate against Montreal Impact on 7 July was their third draw in a row and was considered a success. Playing in front of a 18,932 crowd, the Canadians only managed to equalise in the 80th minute when Patrice Bernier struck. Chivas had previously gone ahead in the 55th minute through Eric Avila.
The Eastern Conference is still headed by Montreal Impact. After being added to the MLS as recently as last year, the third Canadian club is on 31 points from 17 games. With Swiss Marco Schällibaum in charge, Montreal has a new-found defensive solidity. However Impact’s style of football can only be best described as unspectacular. Recently the team has let in eight goals in three games of which none were won. Previous to the 1-1 draw against Chivas, there was a 3-3 draw in the all-Canadian duel against Toronto and a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Colorado Rapids. It was only their fourth loss of the season.
In second place in the Eastern Conference is Sporting Kansas City (30 from 19) ahead of New York Red Bulls (28 from 19), Philadelphia Union (29 from 19) and Houston Dynamo (26 from 18). Whilst they all currently occupy the play-off places, there is still a long way to go.
Kansas City’s goals in the 2-1 win against Chicago Fire were scored by Benny Feilhaber, who used to turn out for Hamburg SV, and USA international Graham Zusi. The defeat ended Chicago’s three-match winning run. Fire, where the former German international Arne Friedrich recently retired after being plagued by injuries, are lying eighth (21 from 17). Sixth is New England Revolution (24 from 17) who, after a poor season last year, have turned things round this time around. One position behind them is Columbus Crew. Coached by Robert Warzycha, the win against Portland was their first after three losses in succession. After his impressive displays at the FIFA U 20 World Championship, Wil Trapp duly made his MLS debut. Playing in Crew’s starting line-up alongside Chad Barson, Matt Lampson, Danny O'Rourke and the son of the coach Konrad Warzycha, the midfielder was one of five players from schools in central Ohio. Another player, Josh Williams, was born and raised in the north-eastern part of the state. And unused substitute Ben Speas has progressed through the Crew Soccer Academy.
“The development of young players is improving all the time in the MLS. USA’s football association has been instrumental in making it mandatory for every MLS club to form academies along the lines of the German system,” said national coach Jürgen Klinsmann. Team USA are taking part in the Gold Cup, the international tournament hosted by the USA Football Association, in the first weeks of July for countries in the CONCACAF region. USA strolled to a 6-1 win against newcomer Belize in Portland. Canada however were surprisingly beaten 1-0 by Martinique in Pasadena.
The MLS will continue its season. In the east, only Toronto FC (13 from 17) and DC United (10 from 19) have no chance of advancing. Of all teams, the club based in the capital Washington, where football is highly popular, are once again having a wretched season. A meagre 10 points is all DC have to show from 19 matches of which only two have been won. Hopes of getting back into contention for a play-off place have been postponed to the next campaign.