A busy midweek in MLS, prior to players returning from international duty at the weekend, brought a new leader in the Eastern Conference and indeed Supporters' Shield running — Montreal Impact. Fellow Canadians Vancouver Whitecaps also won to cap a good few days, while there were contrasting fortunes for Mike Magee and the man who replaced him on the LA Galaxy roster, Robbie Rogers. Magee scored for the fourth straight game as Chicago Fire came from behind to beat Colorado Rapids, while Rogers and the LA Galaxy attack could not get past another former team mate, Donovan Ricketts, in the Portland Timbers goal.

Chicago Fire 2-1 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-0 Portland Timbers

When Robbie Rogers returned to MLS it was major news for obvious reasons and if few of the world media outlets covering the story of the first openly gay athlete to play in a Major League American team were focussing on the man moved on to Chicago Fire in the trade that brought Rogers in, that was perhaps understandable.

Yet as it's turned out, the biggest obstacle that Rogers has had to overcome so far in his return to the league has not been social prejudice (which has thankfully largely been conspicuous by its absence), but the form of Mike Magee, the man he replaced, and who has hit the ground running in Chicago, while Rogers is still working his way back to full match fitness after months on the sideline uncertain whether he had a future in the game at all. So while Rogers got his first start for the Galaxy on Wednesday and was solid enough, if still clearly rusty, in going 70 minutes, Magee was scoring in his fourth successive game for the Fire, joining Jack McInerney at the top of the goalscoring charts, and generally looking like he was relishing being the main man in inspiring his new, hitherto struggling team.

The first sign that Magee was not content to be a subplot had come earlier in the season, before the Rogers to LA story broke, when Mr November had become Mr March — scoring a bunch of early goals for the Galaxy and reminding fans that he was more than just a cult utility player, or someone who existed to complement the movement of more celebrated attackers. Then, as it became clear he was going back to Chicago, Magee wrote a heartfelt letter to Galaxy fans about his gratitude for his time with the club, but suggesting he'd requested the move home.

That proactive version of events was instantly reflected on the field as Magee got down to business. He was everywhere for the Fire against Colorado — scoring a deft penalty and being caught just offside from getting another, and generally inspiring the players around him, before being taken off after a knock in the second half. Rogers by contrast (and the fact that we're referring to the two players in contrast is indicative that the relative value of the trade has become the story) was playing in an LA Galaxy attack that could not break down a resolute Portland Timbers defense, despite the return of the talismanic Robbie Keane.


Like Magee, Rogers was also substituted out, though rather than it being as the result of him being in the heart of the game, it was part of the slow arc of integrating a long-sidelined player into a team. In truth it's unfair to compare where the two players are at right now, but with the Galaxy having already gone through the reintegration process with Landon Donovan, and the side having struggled recently in the international absences of Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez in particular, there's just a sense of immediate focus beginning to drift a little around the Galaxy. As defender Todd Dunivant pointed out after the game, the main ambition the team had was to record a shutout, which they did. A full return to attacking form will have to wait. In Chicago though, Magee's not waiting around.

Montreal Impact 2-0 Houston Dynamo

The Impact went clear at the top of the Supporters Shield standings on Wednesday night — in the process also moving four points clear, with two games in hand, of second-placed New York in the East. A 2-0 win over a sloppy Hosuton Dynamo side, who missed a penalty and gave away a second goal moments later, immediately erased the memory of the team's failure to show up in Columbus at the weekend.

This was more like the creative and clever Impact side we've come to expect this season, rather than the side that were pushed around by the Crew. If the weekend perhaps suggested the Impact can be knocked off their game at times, the Impact's midfield proved adept at staying out of trouble and delivering some inch perfect approach play at the start of their game with Houston, repeatedly getting in behind the Dynamo defense, and eventually getting their reward when Bernier picked a perfect through ball for Felipe to touch the ball through Hall's legs and home.

At that point Houston were in disarray and looking at a big defeat, but perhaps mindful of what the Crew had done to Montreal a few days earlier, they began to impose themselves in and around the Impact box when they could - committing men at set pieces and testing the host's occasionally suspect attitude to 50-50 balls. But having earned what had looked like an unlikely opening they threw it away — Giles Barnes blazing a penalty into Chris-Waddle-orbit after Wil Bruin was judged to have been fouled, and then minutes later Corey Ashe underhitting a back pass to give Marco di Vaio a free run on goal to chip Tally Hall and kill the game early.

Unlike last year's solid expansion season, when a heavily front loaded schedule meant that by the end of the campaign they possibly appeared as slightly more legitimate playoff candidates than they actually were, the stylish 2013 Impact have been reticent about appearing in public, but generally efficient when they've done so — even if they fell back a little after the winning run that opened the season.

That latter drop off in points, if not in all round play, combined with the teams around them playing more games, pushed the Impact back in the pack, though never loose from it, during spring. It blurred the impression of Montreal as contenders (points per game is only so useful a metric when some teams have played nearly half their schedule and some only a third), and it's only now with some of those other teams in the clubhouse of an international break, that we're getting an accurate idea of Montreal's credibility.

They're top on merit. Di Vaio's finishing, now that he's adjusted to the league, has been formidable, and worth the frustration of him being caught offside continually; Bernier continues to be one of the smartest midfielders in the league; and thus far Schallibaum has juggled an aging squad well. Do expect the Columbus Crew thesis about how to beat Montreal to be tested thoroughly over the summer though. As the season deepens and teams become physically stretched, Montreal will find their depth and their competitiveness tested repeatedly by teams who believe their best hope is to outwork them.

Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 Chivas USA

Vancouver's coaching hierarchy have been under some pressure early this season, though they would claim, that like their Canadian rivals Montreal, the schedule has masked their true potential. When I spoke with assistant coach Carl Robinson in New York recently, he echoed head coach Martin Rennie's belief that their form against the top teams had been good, despite the side not getting as many wins as they'd have hoped. They were speaking in the wake of them ending New York's unbeaten run with a come-from-behind win on the road — and it's set a pattern for a new sense of belief from the Whitecaps.

They're till not doing it the easy way though. At the weekend, they went 2-0 down at home to a confident New England side, only for an Andrew Farrell red card to change the game. Vancouver scored three before half time, before just about getting over the line after a late Revs goal in a 4-3 win.

And Vancouver fell behind again on Wednesday, against Chivas USA — Tristan Bowen's spectacular shot into the top corner putting the Whitecaps onto the back foot. With half time only seconds away though, it didn't look like there'd be any repeat of the first half comeback against the Revs, until two goals in 82 seconds of stoppage time turned the game on its head. Jordan Harvey and the in form Camilo got the goals, and Camilo would go on to add a third in the 81st minute, as the Whitecaps climbed above LA, Seattle and Colorado into 4th place (Seattle, who beat Vancouver 3-2 between the New York and New England games, do have two games in hand). They're beginning to back up their coaching team's assessment of where they should be.

It's been a rough introduction for new Chivas head coach Jose Luis Real. The club had been mourning the death in a car crash of youth player Julio Chavez before the game, and while Bowen's goal got them off to a perfect start on the field, and while the overall play looked more confident and organized than in the latter (brief) days of Chelis, there's still a long way to go for what has become a perennially struggling team still adrift at the foot of the West.

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