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 By Jason Davis

LA Galaxy mount late comeback vs. NY Red Bulls while Giovinco nets hat trick

Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter and Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes offer their thoughts on the Timbers 3-0 win in Portland.

Week 22 of the Major League Soccer season saw a referee take the spotlight, while Steven Gerrard's LA Galaxy mounted a late comeback to draw 2-2 against the New York Red Bulls.

As for in-form players in the MLS, Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco and Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey are right up there with the best.

The Toledo Show

At the final whistle in Portland, the scoreline read 3-0, giving the impression that the Timbers had dominated against visiting Sporting Kansas City. And yes, Caleb Porter's team did grab the game by the throat in the last half hour, putting away three excellent chances while smothering Sporting's attack.

But the star of the show wasn't any of the goal scorers -- Diego Valeri, Jack Jewsbury or Fanendo Adi. The man at the center of the events at Providence Park was referee Baldomero Toledo. Toledo heavily altered the proceedings by handing out two red cards in the first half that put each team down to 10 men for the majority of the match.

It looked dire for the home team when Toledo dismissed midfield stalwart Diego Chara for putting his hands in the face of Benny Feilhaber behind the ball. Feilhaber sold the foul with additional theatrics, but Chara should know better than to give the ref an excuse to pull out a red card.

With a pair of understudies at center-back, Portland dug in and kept the game scoreless long enough for Toledo to bring balance back into the game when he sent off Sporting midfielder Soni Mustivar in the 39th minute. Was Mustivar's foul worthy of an ejection? The call was questionable at best, and leaves open the possibility that Toledo was looking for a way to level the numbers.

Take nothing away from the Timbers on a day when a home win was important to staying in the conversation for the playoffs in the Western Conference. Valeri's goal was stellar, and Darlington Nagbe's assist for the second was a work of art. But as is too often the case in Major League Soccer, the referee took center stage and directly impacted the outcome of a game with doubt about the decisions made.

Seattle surge

Whether fair or not, the revival of the Seattle Sounders looks to have come as a result of the firing of Sigi Schmid. Since the longtime manager's dismissal after nearly eight years at the helm, the Sounders have taken a marked step forward in the level of their play. Last week against LA Galaxy, the team played well under interim boss Brian Schmetzer but couldn't finish enough of its excellent chances to secure three points.

On Sunday evening, Seattle had no such trouble against Orlando City on the road in Florida. Jordan Morris starred as the provider, setting up two of Clint Dempsey's hat trick of goals with perfectly timed runs and smart passes. Nicolas Lodeiro was good again in his second appearance with his new team. The defense held firm against the Lions after giving up an early goal.

In general terms, so much about the Sounders was better than it had been for months that it's difficult to pin down the cause. Maybe Schmid's influence on the team had turned negative, or perhaps Sounders players were simply invigorated by the fresh start that his departure represented.

Before the switch and the four points they earned over the last two weeks, Seattle was on the verge of becoming an afterthought in the Western Conference. The club's long streak of playoff appearances -- the Sounders have made the postseason every year of their MLS existence -- remains in jeopardy, but it is still a bit premature to suggest that there's no chance they can rise up the table and get themselves into one of the final spots.

Lodeiro's influence is key. The Uruguayan brings a creative edge Seattle lacked before, and he is already developing excellent chemistry with Morris.

 

Hairston rising

This is MLS. With the restrictions on spending and level of difficulty for clubs to add players that can make a difference midseason, getting a boost from players who emerge from the reserves to make big contributions is crucial in turning a good start into a good season.

The Colorado Rapids have used a strong defensive posture and the influence of a few big-time players to carve out a strong position near the top of the Western Conference standings. Keeping that momentum going was never a given, and with the club's significant investment in Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard, finding a way to inject new energy into the team wasn't going to be easy. At the close of the transfer window, the Rapids found a way to grab an experienced attacker in Sebastien LeToux via trade, and thanks to the emergence of 22-year old Marlon Hairston, there might be enough in the tank to carry them through the schedule.

Hairston put in another excellent performance on Saturday in the Rapids' 2-0 home win over Vancouver. The winger scored and collected an assist, adding a goal to a run that has seen him score in three of Colorado's last four games. Hairston is establishing himself as a first choice player in a team that hasn't always presented much danger on the attacking end. The University of Louisville product's speed and incisive runs are making a difference for Pablo Mastroeni's team.

Li'l Sebastian rides Again

Seattle's new three-pronged attack overwhelmed Orlando City, as the Sounders ended the Lions' 17-match home unbeaten run in a 3-1 win.

Sebastian Giovinco probably won't replicate his astonishing 2015 output this season. Even so, he remains on the verge of another historic campaign in the league.

On Sunday, Giovinco scored three times as Toronto FC romped past the Revolution at BMO Field. Giovinco was at his shooting best, scoring twice with incredible strikes and hitting the bar on two other occasions. Toronto is a better team than they were last year, and Giovinco is suddenly white-hot. Pushing into the playoffs and getting beyond the opening round suddenly seems like a much better possibility.

Chaos in Carson

LA Galaxy overcame a two-goal deficit to pull out a late draw against New York Red Bulls in California.

There's no way to sum up the Galaxy's 2-2 draw with the Red Bulls at the Stub Hub Center on Sunday night that will do the game justice.

New York was forced to use all three of their substitutions in the first 50 minutes thanks to injuries that could have big ramifications on their immediate future. Despite those setbacks, they got goals from Gonzalo Veron and Sean Davis to take a two-goal lead. The Galaxy sleepwalked through the first 80 minutes, only to turn it on with just enough time to make a comeback. In the process, goalkeeper Brian Rowe got away with what looked to be two stone-cold penalty fouls. Arguing the calls got Jesse Marsch sent off, and in the end, no one can be overly excited about the result.

In other words, it was a perfect end to an insane MLS weekend.

Team of the weekend

MLS
Jason Davis' best XI.

What did you take away from the week's MLS action? How did your team fare? Do you agree with Jason's XI? Have your say in the comments section below and join the debate on ESPN FC.

Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

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