BREMEN, Germany (AP) – There is being able to shake off deficits, and then there is what the San Jose Earthquakes have been doing in 2012.
The team with the best record in Major League Soccer has turned late-game heroics into standard procedure during a season that has quickly become one heart-racing series of highlights.
The Earthquakes most recent late-game magic came against the Seattle Sounders, a team believed to be capable of challenging San Jose for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Sounders looked like they might turn the tables on San Jose with a stoppage-time goal of their own to tie the score at 1-1 on Saturday night, but the Earthquakes managed to do it yet again. Steven Lenhart delivered a stoppage-time winner in the final minute for the second straight match to give San Jose the victory and extend their lead atop the West.
San Jose isn't the only team that has been adept at comebacks this year. The Chicago Fire produced their sixth victory of the season in matches they have trailed in, scoring three unanswered goals to beat Philadelphia on Sunday night, and to tighten things up in the ultra-competitive Eastern Conference. With the win, Chicago pulled to within five points of Sporting Kansas City and first place in the East.
While San Jose and Chicago kept on surging, D.C. United and Real Salt Lake kept on slumping. D.C. has fallen down to fifth place in the East after their third loss in four matches. Injuries have taken their toll on a D.C. side that still has two games in hand on the current top three teams in the East. Real Salt Lake lost a second straight match and now sit five points out of first place in the West.
No team enjoyed as good a week as Sporting Kansas City. A thrilling penalty kick shootout victory in the U.S. Open Cup Final would have been enough to make the week special, but Sporting KC then won another game at Livestrong Sporting Park, beating D.C. United to grab first place in the East.
Here is how this week's FOX Soccer MLS Power Rankings shook out:
1- SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES
The late-game heroics continued for the Earthquakes, who extended their lead atop the Western Conference to five points with a very easy schedule remaining. San Jose's success has led to surprising U.S. national team call-ups for defender Steven Beitashour and forward Alan Gordon.
2- SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Showed toughness and determination in beating Seattle in the U.S. Open Cup Final, then came right back and beat East rival D.C. United to grab first place. This young team is coming of age and should be a force the rest of the season, though concerns about the offense still linger.
3- HOUSTON DYNAMO
Had their five-match winning streak halted by the New York Red Bulls, but still looked good at times during Friday night's loss. Ricardo Clark made his 2012 debut for the Dynamo and figures to challenge for a starting role sooner rather than later. Consecutive home games on the schedule should help Houston push to regain first place in the East.
4- REAL SALT LAKE
A road loss against a good Vancouver side isn't much to be embarrassed about, but there should start to be some cause for concern about an RSL side that is just not quite playing as well as expected. The team did miss Jamison Olave (out injured) but the more difficult thing to comprehend is RSL's recent attacking slump.
5- NEW YORK RED BULLS
Looked like a completely different team in beating Houston last Friday than they did a week before that in a lethargic loss. New York's win was far from perfect, but recording a shutout against a very good Houston attack should provide a boost. Tim Cahill looked better and should continue to improve as he gets fully fit.
6- SEATTLE SOUNDERS
A promising week turned into a nightmare for the Sounders, who saw their U.S. Open Cup title streak snapped before surrendering a stoppage-time winner in a loss to San Jose. Sigi Schmid chose to rest key starters against the Earthquakes with an eye toward a crucial showdown against Cascadia rival Vancouver.
7- LA GALAXY
Landon Donovan delivered four assists to lead the Galaxy in their Sunday night rout of Chivas USA, but the bigger news for LA was the fact that their first-choice defense played together for the first time this season. With Omar Gonzalez fully recovered, and Todd Dunivant back from injury, we could see LA go on a strong defensive run behind the back-line that dominated MLS last season.
8- VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
An impressive victory against Real Salt Lake helped the Whitecaps climb into a tie for third place in the West with Seattle as Dane Richards continues to pay dividends for his new team. Losing Jay DeMerit was a scary moment, and a cause for concern, but newly-acquired centerback Andy O'Brien impressed in his Whitecaps debut. With games against FC Dallas and Seattle next on the schedule, Vancouver can make a very real push for second place in the West.
9- CHICAGO FIRE
The Fire keep on finding ways to come back after giving up early goals. Chris Rolfe scored a pair and looked very lively in his best match since rejoining the Fire. A very promising performance was turned in by forward Sherjill MacDonald, who looked very quick and skillful. If MacDonald turns out to be an impact forward, the Fire have a very good chance of challenging for first place in the East down the stretch.
10- D.C. UNITED
Injuries have begun to decimate D.C. United, a trend that comes at a time when the team was already struggling. Now, playing without Dwayne DeRosario, Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi, Daniel Woolard and Robbie Russell has taken its toll in the form of another loss, their third in four matches. D.C. United has dropped to fifth place in the East, but the team does hold games in hand.
11- MONTREAL IMPACT
The Impact keep on winning, and Saturday's victory against New England was even more impressive because it marked just their second road win of the season. Montreal has won four of five matches, including three straight since the arrival of Alessandro Del Piero, to climb within three points of D.C. United for the fifth and final playoff spot (though D.C. has four games in hand on Montreal).
12- COLUMBUS CREW
The Crew had their match against Toronto FC postponed in order for them to attend the funeral of Kirk Urso, the Columbus midfielder who died last week. The Crew will return to action on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Galaxy, their first match since Urso passed away.
13- FC DALLAS
Just when you thought Dallas' season was pretty much over, Schellas Hyndman's team manages to climb back into the playoff mix. Dallas jumped up to sixth place in the West, and while the gap to fifth-place Los Angeles is considerable (10 points to be exact), Dallas has hope again after things looked lost just a few weeks ago. Major credit to Kevin Hartman, who has stepped his game up with some outstanding efforts in recent weeks.
14- COLORADO RAPIDS
The Rapids follow up their vital win against RSL with a disappointing defensive performance in a 3-2 loss against a resurgent FC Dallas side that has moved past them in the West standings. The inconsistency the Rapids show, whether it's the attack disappearing or the defense turning in bad games, looks like it will doom Oscar Pareja's side to a year off from the playoffs.
15- PHILADELPHIA UNION
The Union were missing Carlos Valdes and Gabriel Gomez on Sunday, but that's still no excuse for the awful defending Philadelphia displayed in their 3-1 loss. Bakary Soumare made his Union debut and showed some considerable rust, but the quality is there for him to work his way into being a fixture. The bigger question is whether the Union have the forwards to mount a playoff challenge. It is looking more and more like the answer is no.
16- CHIVAS USA
Even Dan Kennedy's heroics couldn't keep Chivas USA from being embarrassed by the LA Galaxy on Sunday. Shalrie Joseph's debut for the Goats was overshadowed by some awful defending and a lackluster effort that makes it seem highly unlikely the Goats can take advantage of the games in hand they currently hold over the teams they are chasing in the West.
17- NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
In a week that saw New England trade away its most recognizable player in Shalrie Joseph, perhaps it was fitting that another former Rev (Montreal's Sanna Nyassi) would deliver the game-winning dagger against them last weekend. Now 13 points off the playoff pace, it may be time for Jay Heaps to start playing youngsters more minutes to get the team ready for 2013.
18- TORONTO FC
Had their match with the Columbus Crew postponed to allow the Crew to attend the funeral of Kirk Urso. The time off could help a team that had dropped two straight matches. A winnable match against Portland awaits, but the schedule after that is a brutal one.
19- PORTLAND TIMBERS
A week off meant no dropped points for the troubled club, which takes on Toronto FC this weekend for a chance to prove they aren't the worst team in the league.