The savory smell of home cooking wafted through MLS cities all week, as host clubs feasted, going 13W-0L-2D and outscoring visitors 30-8 in 15 games.
Home victories produced new leaders in the Eastern Conference, two new third-place teams in each conference, and a third straight win for Toronto FC under new head coach Paul Mariner. The hosts won the week’s three rivalry games as well.
Conversely, road trips deepened the woes of the suddenly rudderless Portland Timbers and the struggling Colorado Rapids.
We also saw some great goals, more star turns in Los Angeles, and a break-even week for San Jose, who stayed on top of the Western Conference just the same.
Pull up a chair for a sizzling plate of recap:
In his first two seasons in charge of the Red Bulls, Swedish head coach Hans Backe showed a reluctance to trust young American players. He did hand a starting spot to Tim Ream, but the United States international defender was an exception, as Backe regularly fielded line-ups heavy with imports. That has changed dramatically this year, largely due to the team’s injury woes.
Backe has thrown unheralded Americans - players such as Ryan Meara, Tyler Ruthven, Brandon Barklage, Stephen Keel, and Connor Lade - into the fire, and he has been rewarded.
WATCH: Lade assists on Cooper’s goal
On Saturday, the 22-year-old Lade had his best game yet in a New York shirt, setting up Kenny Cooper’s opener in the 43rd minute, and working tirelessly all afternoon in the 2-0 New York victory.
He was also solid in the Red Bulls’ midweek scorcher against Chicago Fire, a 1-0 win for the home team courtesy of Thierry Henry’s sensational volley that pinged in off the far post in the 71st minute.
Another young American, Jonathan Borrajo, showed he could be counted on too, stepping into the Philadelphia Union game on short notice and delivering a solid 74 minutes at right fullback after Barklage went down with a hamstring injury in the early stages.
The two victories kept New York unbeaten at home this season (7W-0L-3D) and lifted them to the top of the Eastern Conference.
The change of practice regarding Americans bodes well for Red Bulls fans, too. Every MLS Cup champion - from the 1996 D.C. United team with Eddie Pope, John Harkes, and Richie Williams, to the 2011 LA Galaxy team featuring Mike Magee, Landon Donovan, and Josh Saunders - has contained multiple Americans.
In fact, the last five MLS Cup champions each played at least eight Americans in the title game, and no team has ever won it with fewer than seven American players seeing the field at some point during the final.
While the Red Bulls finished a solid, seven-point homestand, Houston Dynamo completed a perfect nine-point stint at BBVA Compass Stadium. They, too, are 7W-0L-3D at home, and join New York as the only teams in the league undefeated in their own stadium this season.
But Houston’s impressive stats don’t stop there: after a 2-1 victory over 10-man Sporting Kansas City last Wednesday and a 3-0 romp over Montreal Impact on Saturday, the Dynamo are unbeaten in six consecutive games and in 18 straight at home, dating to last season. They’ve also leapfrogged D.C. United into third place in the Eastern Conference.
In the West, MLS leading scorer Chris Wondolowski failed to find the net, but his San Jose Earthquakes teammate Alan Gordon did his best to pick up the slack, scoring in a 2-1 win over FC Dallas last Wednesday, and in a 2-1 defeat to Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sunday night to push his season total to nine.
Penalties were the story of the week for the Quakes: Wondolowski had a PK re-take saved in the win over Dallas, a victory the Quakes hung on to only after FCD’s Jair Benítez - who has never scored in MLS - missed a penalty that would have tied it in the 94th minute.
WATCH: Was Camilo’s fall a penalty?
San Jose’s Sunday match hinged on a spot kick as well - one the Quakes disputed vehemently - as Camilo Sanvezzo went down in the box after a Sam Cronin slide tackle in the 61st minute.
The referee first waved it off, but then signalled for the penalty after checking with his far-side assistant referee. Barry Robson crushed the ensuing kick to give Vancouver three points and sole possession of third place in the Western Conference - three points clear of Seattle Sounders FC.
Down the coast at The Home Depot Center, the LA Galaxy’s big three of Donovan, Robbie Keane, and David Beckham continued to light it up, playing huge roles in a 2-2 draw at Vancouver last Wednesday and a 3-1 win over Chivas USA on Saturday.
Beckham scored a goal and helped set up 18-year-old Homegrown player Jose Villarreal for an 87th-minute equalizer, as LA rallied from 2-0 down with nine minutes to go in the 2-2 thriller at BC Place.
In the SuperClasico on Saturday, Keane had a goal (assisted by Beckham, with a deadly through ball) and set up one of Donovan’s two goals in a 3-1 Galaxy win.
Keane has six goals in seven games since returning from EURO 2012 with the Republic of Ireland, Donovan has pushed his season totals to nine goals and seven assists, and LA have won six of their past nine games.
Sinking in the West
While LA continue to shore up their season, Portland Timbers and Colorado Rapids are watching theirs crumble. The Timbers, who dismissed coach John Spencer on July 9, lost 1-0 to Chivas USA last Wednesday and were blown out 5-0 by fellow Western Conference stragglers FC Dallas on Saturday.
Interim coach Gavin Wilkinson said Portland, who are 0W-8L-2D on the road this year, “quit” against FC Dallas. The Timbers have lost four straight and sit by themselves in the Western Conference cellar.
The Rapids dropped road games to resurgent Toronto FC (2-1) and Real Salt Lake (2-0) to run their away record to 2W-9L-0D and their current losing streak to five matches.
Oscar Pareja’s men have fallen to seventh place in the West.
Visitors Not Welcome
New England Revolution also hit a rough stretch of road this week, losing 2-1 at Montreal Impact and tying — but playing tough — in a scoreless tilt at Kansas City. The Revs sit one point behind seventh-place Montreal, with three games in hand.
Finally, Columbus Crew helped knock D.C. United out of third place, getting a 46th-minute goal from Chris Birchall and holding on for a 1-0 win, as D.C. threatened late.