Here are the ten things we learned from Week 18 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. Get Cincinnati to MLS
The game of the year in American club soccer was played – get this – in the U.S. Open Cup round of sixteen on a warm Wednesday night in June in Cincinnati, Ohio.
FC Cincinnati, of the USL, knocked the MLS-best Chicago Fire out of the tournament on penalty kicks after a heart-stopping 120 minutes in front of a jam-packed sellout crowd of more than 32,000 at Nippert Stadium.
It was an incredible scene. On this night, the U.S. Open Cup felt like the most important competiton in the world. Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose previous extra time games include the World Cup and Champions League Finals, certainly played like it was.
But even he couldn’t crack Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, the 28-year-old veteran from Livonia, Michigan, who is unlikely to be playing USL soccer for much longer.
And Cincinnati shouldn’t be playing in USL for long either. All but a handful of teams already in the league would kill to boast the kind of atmosphere that Cincinnati had on Wednesday night – and it wasn’t the size of the crowd. Those fans were loud, knowledgeable, and decked out in the club’s colors. This wasn’t their first soccer game.
Cincinnati has to figure out its stadium deal – and Cincinnati has been burned by stadium deals in the recent past – but MLS can’t afford to miss out on adding the Queen City to its ranks.
Chicago, it’s worth mentioning, went home on Saturday and decked Vancouver 4-0 for their eighth consecutive win at Toyota Park. But something special happened in Cincinnati on Wednesday night. Hopefully its only the first of many.
2. Speaking of Great Games…
Since the tradition started six years ago, no MLS fixture has been as reliable for drama as the California Clasico at Stanford Stadium – and this year’s edition, played in front of some 50,000 on Saturday night, was of vintage quality.
LA took an early lead through Jelle Van Damme, but, as they always do, San Jose clawed its way back – first tying the game on a fabulous goal from Chris Wondolowski, and then winning it in stoppage time on a strike from Shea Salinas.
No matter who San Jose’s coach is, no matter where they are in the table, and no matter who they have on the field, there’s something about that game at Stanford. For one day a year, the ‘Quakes seem to have the power of god at their beck and call.
LA, meanwhile, is hurting. The Galaxy only traveled sixteen players up the coast for this game, and had just three legitimate starters on hand. Gio dos Santos can’t get back from Russia soon enough.
3. RSL On Record Pace
Real Salt Lake under Jeff Cassar was clearly – ever more so in the last six months of his tenure – a club in decline.