Here are the ten things we learned from Week 6 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. Changed Calculus For Orlando
Orlando City was plenty entertaining during their first two years in MLS, but their inability to do two things – play defense and win home games – meant that they were never a legitimate contender.
But in the first full year of the Jason Kreis era, that appears to be changing.
Orlando beat the New York Red Bulls 1-0 at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday afternoon, winning their third straight home game of the season and keeping their second clean sheet.
The biggest difference this year? Orlando is a far, far more disciplined team than it was under Adrian Heath.
Jonathan Spector has been immense in central defense, Will Johnson has brought an edge, Antonio Nocerino is finally fit – though he did go off injured on Sunday – and, even if he still can’t find the goal, Kreis has worked wonders with Carlos Rivas.
The Lions are currently in second place in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand on first-placed Columbus, they haven’t dropped a point at home, and they’ve got a defense that is conceding less than a goal per game.
The team looks focused and bought in. With or without Kaka, that’s a recipe for success in MLS.
2. What Is Colorado Doing?
The Rapids lost 3-1 in Kansas City on Sunday afternoon, and, plainly, they missed Sam Cronin and Marc Burch – the duo traded to Minnesota two weeks ago.
Colorado struggled to generate pressure in midfield, where Cronin was the team’s best player last year, while the Rapids conceded the opening goal to Sporting fullback Seth Sinovic on Burch’s vacated left side.
Pablo Mastroeni has talked about the Minnesota trade as a way to jumpstart the team’s offense and get the Rapids playing more progressive soccer – which is, in the long run, certainly a good thing.
Here’s the problem: The Rapids aren’t currently equipped to play attacking soccer. Not in the slightest. They simply don’t have the players or the tactical structure to carry games and create more than a handful of quality chances.
What this trade does is make the team’s defense – which carried them to the Western Conference Final last year – that much worse. It’s a ham-handed route to playing better soccer, and it’s could tank the Rapids season.
It seems, somewhat bizarrely, that Mastroeni is willing to make that tradeoff.
3. Thriller at BMO Field
The best game of the weekend was at BMO Field, where Atlanta United again went toe-to-toe with an MLS Cup finalist on the road and gave as good as they got.
Toronto got a first goal of the season from Sebastian Giovinco – who otherwise has gotten off to a slow start in 2017 – and led 2-1 at halftime after wingbacks Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow connected for the go-ahead goal.
But Tata Martino responded by changing to a back five, Atlanta got the equalizer two minutes after the restart, and Toronto was mostly stymied going forward – even after Yamil Asad was sent off for elbow.
It was an excellent game played at high tempo in front of an excellent atmosphere at BMO Field. It might just have been a preview of the Eastern Conference Final.
4. Fire Win First Game of Schweinsteiger Era
The Chicago Fire won their first game of the Bastian Schweinsteiger era on Saturday afternoon at Toyota Park, with Nemanja Nikolic scoring the winner in a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew.
With Juninho suspended for a questionable red card last weekend against Montreal, the Fire started with just Schweinsteiger and captain Dax McCarty in central midfield – and the result was McCarty’s best game thus far for the club.
McCarty had the assist on Nikolic’s goal, and put in a familiarly tireless shift. Schweinsteiger was full of praise for his midfield partner after the game, and rightfully so – he was the best player on the field.
Veljko Paunovic still has to figure out what how to all three of his central midfielders when Juninho returns next week, but it’s safe to say that the Fire are, for the first time since the Blanco years, both relevant and competitive.
5. Petke Opens RSL Career With Snow Win
Mike Petke took charge of Real Salt Lake for the first time on Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, and, in an April snowstorm, coached RSL to their first win since last August against the beleaguered Vancouver Whitecaps.
It wasn’t much of an evening for soccer – and the Whitecaps never looked up for the fight after falling in the Champions League midweek – but Petke was characteristically colorful and there’s more reason for optimism now in Sandy than there was for all but a few months for the Jeff Cassar era.
Petke, in his both his profile and his confidence, cuts a few significant parallels to Kreis. If he can exhibit the same kind of tactical chops, RSL could get back into the playoff race in a soft Western Conference.
6. The Dynamo Hit A Wall
If New England’s convincing 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo Saturday afternoon in Foxborough, showed us anything, it’s that the Dynamo will struggle mightily to score goals if they can’t counter.
The Revs, coming off of a very good result in Portland last Sunday, were conservative enough at home to stop Houston getting any big opportunites in transition and were rewarded for it.
The Dynamo still might need a true playmaker in their midfield, while the Revs seem to have found a keeper in rookie center back Josh Smith.
7. Jermaine Jones
The USMNTer scored his first goal for the LA Galaxy in his club’s 2-0 victory at home over the still-winless Montreal Impact on Friday night, but Jones again made headlines for the wrong reasons.
This time – a week after bitterly complaining about MLS’ vendetta against him after MLSSoccer.com’s Matthew Doyle wrote a column suggesting he shouldn’t start for the US anymore – it was for a dive that got Montreal’s Marco Donadel sent off.
For all of Jones’ talent, his victim complex is extraordinarily grating. It’s no wonder that, despite his effectiveness, he hasn’t lasted more than a year-and-a-half at either of his previous MLS clubs.
8. San Jose Draws Seattle Late
The Earthquakes recaptured some of the old Goonies magic at Avaya Stadium on Saturday night, with Chris Wondolowski scoring just minutes from time to deny Seattle a win in San Jose.
It was a game that the ‘Quakes mostly dominated, but poor finishing – especially from their wingers – was a problem again before the Sounders took a late lead through a fabulous goal from Nicolas Lodiero.
The encouraging sign for the ‘Quakes is that Wondolowski seems to be forming a good understanding with Costa Rican import Marco Ureña. If Dominic Kinnear is to save his job, he’s going to need that partnership to continue to develop.
Aside from the implications for his team, though, Wondo remains an MLS marvel. He now has 30 goals in 48 appearances against Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver.
9. Something A Bit Different
In a league competitively best known for its unpredictability, Saturday’s 2-0 win by FC Dallas over Minnesota United had a decidedly unusual feel.
As MLS continues to expand, and as certain clubs continue to invest more and more in their development systems and first teams, the gap between the top and bottom of the league should widen.
Dallas is years ahead of Minnesota as a club, and the result this weekend was the kind of ho-hum affair we’re accustomed to seeing when the likes of Chelsea play Burnley. We’ll likely see more of this in MLS going forward.
10. Adi Sets Timbers Goalscoring Record
With a penalty at the tail end of his club’s 3-1 win in Philadelphia on Saturday night, Fanendo Adi passed Scottish midfielder John Bain to become the Portland Timbers’ all-time leading goalscorer.
It’s a historic achievement for Adi, who, three short years after arriving in Cascadia from Copenhagen via Lagos, has written himself into the history books of one of the country’s most storied clubs.
Adi’s improvement as a soccer player in the last three years – thanks in large part to the work of Timbers assistant coach Sean McAuley – has been phenomenal. He’s gone from a player who had no idea how to use his body to one of the most dominant forwards in the league.
But Adi has hit this mark so soon in his Timbers career because, through plenty of adversity – some of it self-inflicted – he’s just kept scoring goals.
He hit braces off the bench in 2014 and 2015 when he was stuck behind Maxi Urruti, he continued to score goals last year after having a transfer request denied, and he bounced back from missing a flight last year with two goals against Seattle.
Adi is hugely personally popular with the Timbers – earnest, committed, and upbeat – and like he’s finally getting his due as the best out-and-out #9 in MLS.