Here are the ten things we learned from Week 9 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. Dax McCarty Returns To New York
Dax McCarty made his first trip back to Red Bull Arena as a member of the Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon, and a fantastic Red Bulls crowd of almost 23,000 gave him a hero’s welcome.
They also got to see a very good early-season encounter. The Red Bulls won 2-1, but not before McCarty stung his former team with a game-tying assist – setting up Nemanja Nikolic with a fabulous show-and-go around his Red Bull replacement Tyler Adams.
It mostly remains to be seen whether Jesse Marsch’s Red Bulls system can withstand the loss of such an integral player as McCarty without missing a beat.
It seems unlikely. The early returns, however, aren’t bad. The Red Bulls, after a disjointed start to the season, have now won three straight games by a score of 6-1.
But anyone who watched McCarty sign autographs and take pictures with supporters almost a half-hour after full-time understands that the Red Bulls lost a true lion.
If you are one of those Red Bulls fans – and of the belief that there is more to soccer clubs than just winning games – the loss of McCarty will continue to sting for a long time to come.
2. Portland Shows Well in Dallas
Saturday night’s marquee fixture was a top-of-the-Western Conference clash between Portland and FC Dallas in Frisco, and while the game underwhelmed somewhat, the Timbers still had a very good night.
Dallas never led in a game that easily could have resulted in their first league defeat of the season. It took a moment of magic from Maxi Urruti and a late slip by Portland’s Alvas Powell to salvage a 2-2 draw.
That the Timbers got a result in Frisco minus Diego Valeri – without whom they scored just two goals in four games last season – goes down as one of the most impressive achievements of an impressive young season.
Sebastian Blanco was excellent for Portland in Valeri’s stead, scoring his first goal for the club and setting up a number of other chances.
Blanco’s engine and competitiveness, if maybe not his stature and attacking style, are reminiscent of Rodney Wallace – a player who the Timbers missed immensely last season and who has added immensely to NYCFC on his return to the league this year.
Getting some of that bite back through Blanco has been a boon for the Timbers, who have taken seven points from their first four road games after failing to win a single away match all of last season.
3. LA’s Woes Continue
The LA Galaxy, badly in need of a good performance after being pasted by Seattle last weekend, got the opposite on Saturday night: a dire 0-0 draw against the winless Philadelphia Union at the StubHub Center.
“We have a group that, let’s be honest, we feel pressure,” Curt Onalfo said afterward. “It’s been a very frustrating and difficult start for us.”
Indeed. LA is only ahead of the Union and Colorado in the Supporters’ Shield standings, but more troubling than that has been the bloodless nature of the Galaxy’s recent performances.
The team looks shot, and to make matters worse, the schedule is about to get tough: after getting Chicago at home next weekend, LA has a four-game road trip going into the Gold Cup break looming.
If things haven’t improved by then, Onalfo might not see the summer transfer window. With LAFC ready to make what, by all accounts, will be a grand entrance to the league next year, the Galaxy won’t want to be left behind.
4. Meanwhile in Colorado…
As bad as LA has been, Colorado has been worse.
The Rapids lost and were shutout again on Saturday afternoon, falling in Orlando 2-0 on Kaka’s return from injury. Colorado has now failed to score in five straight halves. In 90 minutes on Saturday, they only managed three shots.
Again, as we’ve said for several years now, it seems like Colorado has no long-term soccer vision. The club traded Sam Cronin and Marc Burch as part of a sudden push to play more attacking soccer, but they have a coach in Pablo Mastroeni who has shown absolutely zero ability to put together competent attacking teams.
It’s been incredibly ugly, and, unlike last year, the Rapids don’t have a dominant defense to compensate.
5. Sporting KC Blows By RSL
2017’s edition of one of MLS’ most underrated rivalries was as about one-sided as they come.
Sporting Kansas City pounded Real Salt Lake 3-0 on Saturday night in a torrential downpour at Children’s Mercy Park, picking up their fourth win of the season against the Western Conference.
It’s early days yet – and SKC have labored considerably down the stretch in recent years – but this feels very much like the first Sporting team since 2013 that has a legitimate shot to win MLS Cup.
Both Ilie Sanchez and Gerso Fernandes look like good signings, with Sanchez especially providing the kind of technical ability in central midfield that Sporting haven’t had week in and week out since the days of Uri Rosell.
But SKC has always been about defense, and if Kansas City’s defense continues to give up less than half a goal per game – as the 2016 Rapids can attest – they’re not going to need very much offense anyway. It could be a fun year in the Heartland.
6. Another Blown Three-Goal Lead
The weekend’s wildest game was played at CenturyLink Field on Saturday night, where, for the second consecutive week, an MLS team blew a three-goal lead.
Last weekend it was the Union. This weekend, it was the New England Revolution who stormed out to a huge advantage in Seattle – only to fall apart as the Sounders made a furious late charge.
Seattle scored all three of its goals after the 75th minute, with Osvaldo Alonso netting the equalizer just two minutes from time. It was a fitting end to a game that started with a Rob Green-esque goalkeeping error from Stefan Frei and could have finished 5-5.
The Sounders are missing Chad Marshall, but one player who appears to be taking a next step is Joevin Jones – whose two assists from left back in this game gives him five on the season. He had just three all of last year.
7. Montreal Limps to Another Defeat
I’d be a little bit worried if I were Mauro Biello.
The Montreal Impact have, unquestionably, been a second half team over the last couple of years. But Impact owner Joey Saputo isn’t known for his patience, and Montreal has made an exceedingly slow start to 2017.
The Impact lost to Vancouver 2-1 at the Stade Saputo on Saturday, and still have just one win – sealed in stoppage time against ten-man Atlanta – to show for their eight outings thus far this season.
A significant reinforcement is on the way for Montreal in Blerim Dzemaili, who should join the team in the coming days, but the Eastern Conference isn’t as weak as it was in 2015 and 2016. The Impact need to kick it up a notch very soon.
8. Acosta A Revelation For DC
Ten minutes into their game in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon, DC United was being played off the field.
Atlanta had forced Bill Hamid into two massive saves in the first two minutes of the game and led 1-0 through a Kenwyne Jones goal.
And then, out of the blue – at a point in the game in which they were enjoyed just 28% of possession – DC struck back, Lamar Neagle forcing an own goal off Michael Parkhurst.
Then, ten minutes later, Luciano Acosta scored a phenomenal solo goal to give Ben Olsen’s team the lead. A counter-attack goal from Sebastian Le Toux in the second half gave DC, incredibly, a reasonably comfortable 3-1 win.
It wouldn’t have happened without the early heroics from Hamid, but on a field with all of Atlanta’s young starlets, Acosta was the best player in the game. For DC to contend, their #10 has to be of the caliber of Piatti, Valeri, and Almiron. On Sunday, he was.
9. Revs’ Suffer Stadium Setback
Friday was another brutally disappointing day for New England Revolution fans, who learned that their club will not be going forward with a project to build a stadium on Boston’s Bayside Exposition Center site.
According to a statement from the Krafts, the team had been trying to reach an agreement to build a privately funded $250 million stadium on the site since 2015. But, for reasons that the Revs deemed “beyond our control,” it’s not going to happen.
The Revolution, 21 years into their existence, will still be stuck in a football stadium in Foxborough for the foreseeable future. With DC United moving to Audi Field next season, the Revs the only original MLS club still playing without their own home.
It’s a bad situation for MLS, which has never truly made a dent in the Boston market, and a sad situation for Revolution fans who are watching the league move forward as their team gets left behind.
10. Pirlo Benched
The end of an era is nigh.
With Patrick Vieira wanting more mobility in midfield against Columbus’ expansive attack on Saturday afternoon, the French manager left Andrea Pirlo out of his team against the Crew – instead opting to start 19-year-old Yangel Herrera in his place.
Pirlo, despite being available off the bench, didn’t see the field. His team won the game without him 3-2, with Jack Harrison starring and scoring twice.
It was an odd sight. There was a time when seemed like Pirlo might play forever. But time does funny things. At the end of his career, the Italian legend will have to fight for minutes like he’s nineteen again himself.