Here are the ten things we learned from Week 7 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. Orlando Puts On A Show
There’s something pretty special going on in Orlando.
The Lions have turned heads from the moment they entered MLS with Kaka and a sellout crowd of more than 60,000 at the Citrus Bowl, but what has happened since this club opened its new stadium has been on another level entirely.
With a stoppage time goal from Cyle Larin, Orlando beat the LA Galaxy 2-1 on Saturday afternoon in what is, to this point, the best game of the 2017 MLS season.
Will Johnson opened the scoring early with a sensational goal for Jason Kreis’ team, but the Galaxy – with the help of the goalposts – kept themselves afloat and drew themselves level with ten minutes to go on a fantastic solo goal from Romain Alessandrini.
But in the dying moments, Larin fought off Jermaine Jones and blasted a Johnson corner past Clement Diop for the game winner. Kreis, in response, looked to the heavens as the stadium erupted.
There aren’t many settings across MLS that would have prompted that dramatic a reaction from a coach as accomplished as Kreis in the middle of April. The scene in Orlando – the color, the intensity, and the noise – is something else.
The Lions have now won their first four games at the Orlando City Stadium. The last team to open a building in such style? The Portland Timbers, who won their first five at what is now called Providence Park as an expansion team in 2011.
Orlando, after plenty of tumult in their first two seasons, has arrived.
2. Sporting Impresses in Portland
Since Caleb Porter was hired ahead of the 2013 season, no team in MLS has played the Timbers tougher in Portland than has Sporting Kansas City.
SKC beat the Timbers at Providence Park in 2014 and 2015, and came within a post of knocking them out of the playoffs there in the latter year. Sporting is the only team currently playing in the Western Conference to have more wins than losses in Portland.
On Saturday night, Kansas City was at it again.
Peter Vermes’ team put on a clinic in a convincing 1-0 win over the Timbers, with Dom Dwyer’s goal early in the second half standing up as the winner thanks to the defense of a team that has given up just two goals in their first six games.
The player at the heart of the SKC defensive performance was Ike Opara, who did as good a job on Fanendo Adi as any MLS center back has done in recent memory. Along with Matt Besler, Opara erased Adi from the game.
From front to back, starting with the likes of Dwyer and Benny Feilhaber, Sporting’s buy-in to Vermes’ high-pressing, hard-running system is extraordinarily impressive.
By virtue of moving Graham Zusi to fullback and replacing Soni Mustivar in midfield with Ilie, SKC also appears to have a little more quality on the ball than they have in years past.
Whether this team can score enough goals or keep up this pace remains to be seen. But this was a masterful away performance – one that the Timbers and their supporters know all too well.
3. Montero Bites Seattle
In his first game for Vancouver against the club he made his name with, Fredy Montero didn’t disappoint.
His two goals were enough for the Whitecaps to see off the Seattle Sounders on Friday night in front of a big crowd at BC Place, giving Vancouver back-to-back marquee home wins and putting a charge into what had looked not long ago like a rapidly deflating ‘Caps season.
Vancouver got big performances out of their best players – including David Ousted, who came up with a series of outstanding saves on Clint Dempsey early on – and was rewarded for it.
Seattle, interestingly, is off to an extremely slow start with just six points from their first six games. As they did last year, the team looks labored. It’s a worry for Brian Schmetzer.
4. Union in Crisis
Philadelphia lost 2-0 at home by NYCFC on Friday night, and is now sitting at 0-4-2 to start the season.
It’s gotten ugly for Jim Curtin, who, for the second home game in a row, was booed when introduced by the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium. But only so much blame can be placed at Curtin’s feet. He has the least talented team in MLS.
To compete on their budget, the Union needs to find great players at low prices. This offseason, Ernie Stewart did not do that. This isn’t going to get better for Philadelphia any time soon. They are far behind most of the rest of the league.
In response, fans have stopped showing up in Chester – and, as Taylor Twellman, who was on hand for ESPN, talked about after the game, those fans who have shown up are mostly sitting on their hands. The club is a long way from its early heady days.
5. Colorado’s Home Unbeaten Streak Ends
If Philadelphia is clearly the East’s worst team on paper, Colorado is in the same position in the West.
The Rapids, now temporarily down both Axel Sjoberg and Tim Howard, saw their long home unbeaten streak end on Saturday night when RSL struck two times in the last ten minutes to snatch a 2-1 win at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Colorado has now, after not conceding two goals at home all of last season, conceded two at home to both Salt Lake and Minnesota. It’s a worrying trend for the Rapids, who simply – whatever system Pablo Mastroeni deploys – aren’t going to have their offense carry them to the playoffs.
Mike Petke, meanwhile, is off to a 2-0 start as RSL boss. Brooks Lennon looks like a keeper for them.
6. The Red Bulls Get Their Second Wind
The New York Red Bulls’ start to 2017 wasn’t as phenomenally slow as their winless start to 2016 was, but it hasn’t been pretty.
Going into Saturday’s game against DC United at Red Bull Arena, Jesse Marsch’s team was winless in four and averaging just over a point a game.
Much of that – and Sacha Kljestan’s struggles – was down to the 4-2-2-2 formation which the Red Bulls, for whatever reason, started the season in. New York’s attack was a shadow of the juggernaut that finished atop the East the last two years.
Then, against DC, Marsch went back to the 4-2-3-1 and his team responded by barely breaking a sweat in a 2-0 win.
It was the seventh game of 2016 when the Red Bulls finally got their first win, and – though they’ve pummeled DC United at home over the last several years – the hope is that, like last year, the victory will be a springboard for a string of positive results.
7. Hope for Minnesota
It wasn’t perfect by any means, but Minnesota United got arguably the best result of its short MLS life on Saturday night in Houston by coming from two goals down in the second half to draw the Dynamo.
Though it came with some truly horrifying set piece defending – and a very, very poor outing from Francisco Calvo, who has to be this team’s best player on the backline – this was another positive night for the Loons.
Christian Ramirez is the real deal up top, and, throughout the game, Minnesota created the better chances from the run of play – and if the comeback showed anything, it’s that this team is still very much bought in and fighting.
The Loons now get four of their next five at home against the likes of Colorado and San Jose. They might be in the thick of the playoff race by this time next month.
8. Tests Upcoming For Chicago
The signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger, schedule wise, came at a very good time for Chicago.
The Fire got Schweinsteiger’s first three games at home – a plus both from a competitive and marketing prospective – and they took advantage, drawing Montreal, beating Columbus, and pasting the ten-man New England Revolution on Saturday.
The next three weeks, though, will give Schweinsteiger a better introduction to the league and test the Fire’s mettle.
Chicago now has to go to Toronto, to the Red Bulls, and to LA. Veljko Paunovic would likely take three points from the trip. We’ll see what they can muster.
9. Poor Decision by Alan Kelly
Alan Kelly doesn’t miss many calls, but the Irishman’s sending off of Atlanta United’s Gonzalez Pirez on Saturday afternoon at Stade Saputo was as costly a mistake as we’ve seen from a referee all season.
Pirez was dismissed just before halftime for, in Kelly’s view, grabbing a goal-bound Mauro Mancosu. It was an extremely harsh decision. Kelly had a tough angle on the play, but Pirez – though he left an arm out – barley made contact with the Montreal attacker.
Ignacio Piatti would convert the resulting penalty, and the Impact, in stoppage time, would score the winner and bag their first victory of the season.
It was a relief for Mauro Biello, but even in defeat, Atlanta could hardly do wrong. They were the better team at full-strength, and easily could have escaped with a point. They go to RSL in what should be a very interesting game on Saturday.
10. David Villa’s Wonder Goal
You likely won’t see a more stupefying goal in MLS this year than the one scored late on by the great David Villa for NYCFC at Philadelphia on Friday night.
Few players would even have attempted what Villa pulled off, hitting a volley between two defenders and beating Andre Blake from 50 yards out.
Villa is quickly becoming one of the best DP signings in league history – and, thankfully for City fans, he shows no signs of slowing down.