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Things we learned from MLS Week 17

The best team in the league lost. The worst won - twice. Another topsy-turvy week of MLS brought fresh lessons.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

1. San Jose has lost its way

This week's 1-0 loss to Chivas USA was the Quakes' third consecutive such result. The World Cup has been hard on several teams in the league, but perhaps none as counter-intuitively as San Jose.

The team lost big-man-at-the-back Victor Bernardez and  star forward Chris Wondolowski to the World Cup break, and has been struggling with injuries all year. But the last game the big names played for San Jose was the May 10 win over FC Dallas, which sparked the Quakes' best run of the year to date: three wins out of four.

Those wins now seem illusory: two of them were over Dallas, and the other came against a Houston side in what we now know to be a five-game winless tailspin. Since then, it has been 1-0 loss followed by 1-0 loss, followed by this week's 1-0 loss.

So the team has had both its best run of the season - two straight wins and five of the 15 goals it has scored to date - and its worst (the current losing streak) without Wondo or Bernardez.

It is now bottom of the Western Conference, and in danger of being regarded as the easiest team to beat in the league. The defense is actually pretty solid: 16 goals against is the third-best record in the league at the moment, behind just LA Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City.

But of the seven games the Quakes have lost this year, all have been by a single goal, and five have been 1-0. If you can't score, you can't win. San Jose has been scoreless in seven out of 15 games played to date.

The team currently has the fewest goals scored in the league, and will be looking to Wondolowski to spark the return of goals and points to its league performances.

San Jose has four of its next six games at home, and one of the road games is a short trip to LA. It can bounce back - it has more than half its regular season still to play. But after this cluster of home games, the Quakes are looking at a brutal back end of the year: nine of their last 13 matches are on the road.

They need to get back on track quickly, or the season may look lost before the end of August.

2. Chivas USA is in the playoff race

You heard me. Two wins this week makes it three in a row and four games unbeaten. The Goats are good...ish.

In point of fact, the Goats have simply been a little bit better than three struggling teams: RSL got beat in the midst of a slump directly attributable to the loss of key players to the World Cup; San Jose's problems have been discussed above; and beating the 2014 Montreal Impact on the last kick of the game is hardly the hallmark of greatness.

The true test of these Goats' mettle lies ahead: they hit the road for the next three weeks, against teams that are among the better sides in the league this year: Vancouver has lost just once in its last 10 games, and just beat the Sounders; D.C. United is top of the Eastern Conference; Colorado's form is uneven, but it has still lost only once in its last six and is third in the West.

If Chivas can get six, four, or even three points out of the next three games, they have a right to be taken seriously.

The six points gained this week pulled the Goats to within five points of the playoff line in the West, and they are six points behind fourth-placed Dallas with two games in hand.

They will be expected to lose their next three matches and sink back into oblivion. If they don't, it will become apparent they have a shot at going out of 2014, and existence (in their current incarnation), with a flourish.

3. The New York Red Bulls were not the most harshly treated by referees in MLS this week

RBNY, as you may know, was denied three points in Houston by a penalty call in the Dynamo's favor that was, simply, wrong.

At least, however, the Red Bulls got away with a point.

The New England Revolution were jobbed out of getting something - maybe even a win - in Salt Lake by two highly questionable decisions. Neither was as straight-up wrong as the decision to give the Dynamo a penalty for Chris Duvall's shoulder touching the ball. But they added up to a worse outcome for the Revs than RBNY suffered in Houston.

First, Chris Schuler won a spot kick because the ref decided Darrius Barnes "undercut" him. Really? Watch the tape: Schuler makes a run into the six-yard box and jumps to get his head on a corner. Barnes goes with him, and is alongside when the RSL man takes to the air. There is certainly contact; Barnes is certainly underneath Schuler and the reason he ends up on the ground on his back.

But it looks a lot like Schuler leans into Barnes when he jumps, and is almost using the Revs man for leverage. Proving an unstable platform for an opponent was apparently sufficient grounds for a penalty.

RSL's second spot-kick was a worse decision. Again, there is a scramble for the ball in front of the Revs goal. This time around, Chris Tierney gets whistled for a foul on John Stertzer. Tierney certainly trips Stertzer, no question. But Tierney is lunging because he is being yanked back by Devon Sandoval, and is effectively falling over when he makes the foul.

Sandoval's foul is prior to Tierney's, and without an arm dragging him back, the Revs' defender looks favorite to get to the ball and make the clearance without incident.

One such decision in a match can be regarded as unfortunate. Two starts to look like a pattern of erring on the side of awarding penalties whenever the slightest opportunity presents itself. Throw in the decision in Houston, and it definitely looks like a policy.

Add in the fact the Professional Referee Organization attempted to justify a debated decision last week with the suggestion it doesn't want to let "dubious technicalities" suppress the scoreline, and it becomes possible to conclude the league's refereeing is going out of its way to bring more goals to the game.

It is most likely coincidence, but this hasn't been a great week for league's officiating. At least not if it wants a reputation for impartially applying the laws of the game. Of course, last week's bizarre editorial on a blown offside call (is it so difficult to stop short of apparently endorsing mistakes?) might suggest the league's referees aren't particularly interested in such a reputation.

4. It could be a banner year for goal scorers

Bradley Wright-Phillips scored twice this week to take his tally for the season to 14 goals. Dominic Dwyer got one to boost his total for the year to 12; Erick Torres played twice and scored twice, and also has 12 goals in MLS to date. Each can be expected to slow down: they are their respective team's primary scoring threat, they will be closely monitored by opponents.

But each also is very much on pace to get 20 goals in the regular season. If they stay fit, and in their respective starting lineups, for the remainder of the schedule, they "only" need a goal every other game to get to the 20-goal mark. That's both a substantial rate of scoring, and substantially less than they're currently achieving.

Behind them lurk some of the players we might have expected to lead the scoring charts this year: Jermain Defoe, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins each have eight goals to date; Robbie Keane has seven.

It's unlikely Dempsey and Martins will both manage to score 12 times in the Sounders' remaining 17 games - but not impossible: Seattle scores a lot of goals. Keane is actually running a little below his average scoring rate for LA, compared to the last two seasons - so he may have a rapid accumulation of goals ahead of him. Defoe's current rate - 0.75 goals/game - would see him bag another 15 by the end of Toronto's season, and he's arguably still to hit his best form.

One might also note RSL's Joao Plata is running at a similar rate of scoring to Defoe at the moment, and Vicente Sanchez has only played seven games for Colorado but already has six goals.

Fine: some guys are in good form; some may sustain it, some may improve; many will stall. But MLS has never had a season where more than three players finished with 20 goals or more - last year was just the second time it has happened in the league's history. Right now, there are at least eight guys realistically chasing the 20-goal-season target.

Perhaps abetted by the refereeing tendencies already described, this could be the year of the striker in MLS.

5. Nick Rimando is probably going to get his MLS shutout record at home

Rimando has been sitting one clean sheet shy of Kevin Hartman's all-time league record (112) since April 19, when he backstopped Real Salt Lake to a 1-0 win in Portland for his 111th shutout in MLS.

He's back from the World Cup to find his team in a bit of slump, but his return (and that of Kyle Beckerman...and an indulgent referee) helped boost RSL to its first win in six games this week. The team is a very different proposition with its best players in the lineup - there is every reason to believe the recent slide was simply the consequence of their absence.

So RSL should be better than it was, and capable of keeping opponents at bay with the sort of frequency to which Rimando has become accustomed: he averages a shutout roughly every three games for his career (355 MLS regular season games to date).

His first opportunity to match Hartman's record will come next week, 7/12 against LA Galaxy in their hometown, Carson, CA - about 50 miles from Montclair, where Rimando was born. So that's as close to home as he can get in MLS. And the last time RSL visited LA, Rimando stood on his head and got his team off to a winning start to this season. And a shutout.

If the Galaxy does find a goal, RSL will head back to Utah to see out July with three home games.

Rimando should reach the league shutout record this season: that was expected. Now he is odds on to claim at least a share of it in front of one home crowd or another.