Here are the ten things we learned from Week 13 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. The Once And Future King?
The Seattle Sounders held off the Portland Timbers to win the first meeting of the storied rivals in 2017 by a score of 1-0 on Saturday.
It was another frustrating afternoon at CenturyLink Field for the Timbers, who outshot Seattle 15-5 in the first half and had two legitimate penalty claims waved away by Mark Geiger. Portland is now winless in five.
The Sounders, meanwhile – even after back-to-back wins – don’t look themselves. They were pretty well handled by the Timbers on their home field on Saturday, to the point that goalkeeper Stefan Frei got a yellow card for time wasting in the first half.
Seattle’s attack, despite boasting so much firepower, looked out of sorts. It’s an issue that Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer has to figure out sooner rather than later.
Schmetzer is a beloved figure in Seattle soccer – he was the featured figure in the Emerald City Supporters’ tifo before the game – but he has work to do this season to prove that last year’s post-Nicolas Lodeiro surge to MLS Cup wasn’t a fluke.
2. Atlanta Continues To Roll
There’s no stopping Atlanta United right now.
Atlanta poured in three goals in the space of seven first half minutes and coasted to a 3-1 win over NYCFC – one of the league’s best teams – on Sunday afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Atlanta may be back in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but they boast the league’s second-best goal differential at +10 and lead the league in goals scored with 27.
Taylor Twellman said on the ESPN broadcast that he’s never seen a team as explosive as Atlanta in the history of MLS. He’s right. It’s awfully hard to think of another team that could bury you in the blink of an eye like Atlanta can.
Miguel Almiron, by the way, now has five goals in his last two games. He’s one of the early frontrunners for MVP.
3. California Clasico Delivers
No rivalry in MLS is as dependable for fireworks as is the California Clasico, and LA and San Jose delivered again on Saturday night at Avaya Stadium.
San Jose struck first through Chris Wondolowski, but this was the Galaxy’s evening. After six goals in all, LA ended the night with a 4-2 win and Jelle Van Damme screaming “California is Los Angeles!” into a camera as he walked off the field.
The Galaxy are feeling themselves right now. They’ve won three straight road games and scored nine goals in the process, with Giovani dos Santos reemerging as one of the league’s best attacking players alongside another MVP candidate in Romain Alessandrini.
When LA plays the kind of offense they have since Jermaine Jones got hurt, teams like San Jose simply can’t score with them – and the Galaxy attack will only improve when Gyasi Zardes, still without a goal this year, begins to round into form.
What’s clear is that Jones has to be kept as far away from this team as possible. Perhaps Curt Onalfo should call Patrick Vieira for lessons on how to make an aging star midfielder disappear…
4. Adrian Heath’s Big Day
Saturday’s Minnesota United win over Orlando City at TCF Bank Stadium was all about Loons manager Adrian Heath.
This was Heath’s first meeting with Orlando, the club he coached into MLS, since being fired and replaced by Jason Kreis last summer. His new team won it, 1-0, on Christian Ramirez’s league-leading eighth goal of the season.
Though Orlando dominated the run of play, it wasn’t such a surprising result. Minnesota has been – by some distance – the better team since March. What’s arresting, in hindsight, is that it took Heath just three games and one very good trade to transform a laughingstock expansion team into playoff contender.
Heath knows what he’s doing. He’s a good coach, who, if Ramirez’s goal celebration showed anything, is beloved by his team. The Loons are in good hands.
5. Victor Vazquez Stars For TFC
When Victor Vazquez arrived in Toronto this winter from Cruz Azul, he wasn’t exactly billed as a major signing.
Certainly, Vazquez – a Barcelona product who was once named Belgian footballer of the year during his time with Club Brugge – was known as a crafty attacking player. But in a team with Jozy Altidore and Giovinco, he wasn’t expected to be a main attacking attraction.
But through a spring for the ages, no player has been more instrumental for the Reds than has Vazquez. The Spaniard, who scored twice in Friday’s 5-0 demolition of the Columbus Crew, is playing sensational soccer.
After Friday’s game, Toronto manager Greg Vanney called Vazquez “the most clever attacking midfielder in the league by a long shot.” He’s not wrong. Vazquez already has eight assists, and might threaten Sacha Kljestan’s 20-assist mark from last season.
It’s mainly because of Vazquez that TFC has continued to win ever as Giovinco and Altidore have missed time through injury. He’s been a game-changer for a team that didn’t need all that much help to begin with.
6. Mensah A Bust?
To get back to their winning ways this season, the Columbus Crew knew that they needed to improve their defense. In that pursuit, the Crew signed Ghanaian international Jonathan Mensah was over the winter as a DP center back.
But so far, Mensah has struggled. The Crew is just 3-5-1 with Mensah in the lineup, having conceded multiple goals in all but two of those games. Columbus’ best stretch of the season, in fact, came with rookie Alex Crognale starting in Mensah’s place.
Certainly, the Crew have defensive problems that go beyond Mensah. The fullback play has been spotty, Wil Trapp has struggled, and young goalkeeper Zack Steffen has had some bad moments.
But Mensah was brought in to right the ship. That hasn’t happened. His performance in Toronto – when he gave away an early penalty and struggled to track quick attacking play – was a microcosm of how his MLS experience has gone thus far.
Columbus has every reason to be worried about the trajectory of their season, and this is a big reason why.
7. Moving Story in Colorado
Colorado rookie center back Kortne Ford scored his first MLS goal and did as much as anyone to help steer the Rapids to gritty 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night at Dicks’ Sporting Goods Park.
It was a momentous day for Ford, and a badly needed victory for his team. But the goal was special for another reason: It was scored for Ford’s mother, Laurie, who is battling Stage 4 bone cancer.
The Rapids’ supporters’ group, Centennial 38, has set up a GoFundMe to help support Laurie’s treatment, and helped raise awareness and money with a standing ovation in the 24th minute of their May 5th game against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Kortne Ford has a very bright future in soccer – but whatever he goes on to do in the game, his goal on Saturday will always stand apart: a deserved moment for him, and, more importantly, for the woman without whom he wouldn’t be where he is today.
8. Good Times in Chicago
Toronto is, as of now, running away with the Supporters’ Shield. Their closest competitor? That would be the Chicago Fire, who, with a win over FC Dallas on Thursday night in Bridgeview, have stretched their winning streak to four.
Chicago has looked legit ever since bringing Bastian Schweinsteiger aboard three games into the season, but they’ve been especially good of late.
Matt Polster has gotten fit and locked down the troublesome right back position, while Nemanja Nikolic is banging in goals at a league-leading rate.
Through it all, Schweinsteiger has been omnipresent. He hasn’t missed a start since making his debut against Montreal on April 1, and has been heavily involved in the Fire’s resurgent attacking play.
Schweinsteiger goes to show that, despite all of MLS’ very real progress in building stronger and deeper squads, a major signing can still have an outsize impact. Chicago landed their big signing, and their reaping the rewards.
9. Carlos Carmona
MLS’ primary midfield instigators have been in the headlines of late. We saw Diego Chara sent off for Portland in Montreal last weekend, and Roger Espinoza dismissed for Sporting in Colorado this weekend.
But one player to keep an eye on for disciplinary reasons is Atlanta’s Carlos Carmona.
The Chilean midfielder – who was sent off in his MLS debut on Opening Day – has consistently toed the line this season. He’s picked up several more well-earned bookings, and was in the middle of a dustup in the game against NYC this weekend.
None of this should be a surprise. Carmona has, after all, racked up 78 bookings in his career – and now that he’s arrived in MLS, the likes of Chara, Espinoza, Kyle Beckerman, and Osvaldo Alonso have more company.
10. Mauro Diaz Returns
FC Dallas might slumping, but even after a 0-0 home draw with Houston, there is reason for optimism in Frisco.
That’s because Mauro Diaz, seven months after tearing his ACL in the penultimate game of the 2016 regular season, made his return to play on Sunday night – coming on as a substitute in the 81st minute.
It was a welcome sight. Diaz is one MLS’ best players, and Dallas isn’t the same without him. The faster he returns to full fitness, the better.