Here are the ten things we learned from Week 19 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. The Fourth of July Massacre
There were plenty of entertaining and important games in MLS’ midweek, fourth of July-centered Week 19 slate. But for pure shock value, nothing we saw over the last two days compared to what happened on Tuesday night at the StubHub Center.
Real Salt Lake – the league’s worst club – dumped six goals past Clemont Diop and beat the LA Galaxy 6-2 in Carson. It was as jaw-dropping a result as we’ve seen in the recent history of MLS.
Consider: RSL entered this game having been outscored 18-6 in their last six games. They woke up Tuesday morning on pace to finish the season with the worst goal differential in MLS history.
LA, meanwhile, had only been defeated in its annual July 4th home game twice in the last fifteen years. The Galaxy had only lost four times at home in the last three seasons.
But they didn’t show up on Tuesday night. And while a certain amount of disorganization would have been understandable, given that the Galaxy are still missing the majority of their starting lineup, the abject indifference that LA played with – in front of a sellout crowd, no less – was stunning.
Especially troubling was that many of the players who simply stopped in the second half were young players who have played for Curt Onalfo for years and should be doing everything in their power to stick with the first team.
There was clearly a void in leadership on Tuesday night. Jelle Van Damme’s absence had something to do with that, but it doesn’t bode well for Onalfo.
In the bigger picture, this isn’t a good time for the Galaxy to be fielding their worst team since 2008 and sending big crowds home with bad impressions. LAFC, now being linked to international stars and finishing its stadium in the heart of the city, debuts in just eight months.
The pressure is on.
2. Sebastian Blanco Settling In
Sebastian Blanco has been plenty good all season for the Portland Timbers, but – considering what the club paid for him and what it is paying him now – his production through the first half of the year had been somewhat disappointing.
But that could be changing. Blanco scored his first goal at Providence Park on Wednesday night in the Timbers’ hugely entertaining 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire, capping a fantastic all-around display.
Along with Diego Valeri, his former youth teammate at Lanus, Blanco ran the game for Portland – cutting infield from his position on the left wing, distributing out of the deep midfield, and making slashing forward runs like the one that resulted in the goal.
Blanco is an excellent competitor with an excellent motor, and there’s little question about his vision or ability on the ball. If he can start producing more regularly, the Timbers’ attack – the talk of the league in March – can get back to its best.
3. Put A Fork in the Revs
A hugely disappointing season in New England hit a new low on Wednesday night, as the Revolution were beaten 3-2 at home by the New York Red Bulls with Gonzalo Veron scoring the winning goal in stoppage time.
The Revs now sit in tenth place in the Eastern Conference, with just five wins and twenty points taken from their first nineteen games, and their problems are myriad. The team remains poor defensively, and while there is attacking talent, the pieces don’t quite fit.
There have been rumors about the team trying to move Teal Bunbury or Kei Kamara in the coming weeks, but regardless of what happens this summer, the playoffs seem a distant hope.
There are only two postseason spots legitimately up for grabs in the East, and New England would have to get around four clubs – including the Red Bulls – to reach sixth. It doesn’t seem likely.
4. Dempsey Earning New Contract?
Clint Dempsey picked up right where he left off in Portland at the end of June on Tuesday night, scoring twice and leading the Seattle Sounders to a convincing 3-1 win in Commerce City over the Colorado Rapids.
Dempsey played from the start as a second striker behind Will Bruin, and was excellent. His second goal was his 200th in all competitions over the span of what has become a long and storied career.
Dempsey’s contract is up at the end of the year, and the consensus during the spring was that this would be his last season with the Sounders. But if he keeps producing, then there could be a chance that Seattle brings him back for 2018 on less money.
Regardless, Dempsey’s playing well opens doors for next year around MLS and keeps him firmly in Bruce Arena’s mind as the U.S. manager prepares for the World Cup.
Dempsey has reached the stage of his career where he’s again going to have to earn – on a game-to-game basis – his minutes and his money. Odds are he’ll be duly motivated.
5. Hat Tip To Toronto FC
The Chicago Fire have taken plenty of plaudits over the last month or so and are currently leading the Supporters’ Shield race, but no one should lose sight of the fact that Toronto FC is continuing to have a phenomenal season in its own right.
TFC went down to Florida on Wednesday night and easily dispatched Orlando City by a score of 3-1 behind another fabulous pair of performances from Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco.
Toronto has now won games this season at Vancouver, Seattle, Columbus, and Orlando. They’ve lost just three times, and, unlike the Fire, they won their domestic cup championship last week over Montreal.
Toronto is humming in a way that teams coming off of a trip to MLS Cup rarely do. Considering what has happened to Seattle, or Portland and Columbus last season, Greg Vanney should be in contention for coach of the year.
6. Houston Rolls On
But while Vanney several others should be in contention for coach of the year, the frontrunner at this point in the season for that award should be Houston’s first year manager Wilmer Cabrera.
The Dynamo currently sit in third place in the Western Conference, above the Timbers, Sounders, and Galaxy, having dispatched Montreal 3-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium on Wednesday night for their eighth home win of the year.
It’s hard to emphasize enough how good Houston has been at home. They’ve only dropped four points at BBVA all year, and have scored multiple goals in nine of their ten home games.
Road form remains a concern, but there’s little doubt that the Dynamo will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 – and the Houston attack is about to get even better: Tomás Martínez is rumored to be on his way in from Braga.
7. Yordy Reyna Makes A Splash
One of the most exciting games of the week was played at BC Place in Vancouver, where the Whitecaps beat NYCFC on an 88th minute goal by Vancouver’s Peruvian international Yordy Reyna.
Reyna was supposed to be one of the centerpieces of the Vancouver attack in his first season with the club, but an injury suffered in February saw him miss the first four months of the season.
Reyna made his debut late on in the ‘Caps’ game against Chicago over the weekend, and made the difference off the bench on Wednesday night back in Canada.
Vancouver is by no means a great team, but they absolutely can sneak into the playoffs in the West. Reyna continuing his fast start – and Fredy Montero getting back amongst the goals – would a huge help.
8. Adrian Heath Upset
You have to feel somewhat for the sanity of Adrian Heath, who has spent two of his two-and-a-half years as an MLS manager in charge of expansion teams.
Heath’s Minnesota United, who lost 1-0 at home to Columbus on July 4th, are in their worst run of form since their catastrophic start to the season. The Loons have lost six of their last seven games in all competitions, and Heath is fed up.
Already drastically short of players through injury and international duty, Heath benched Miguel Ibarra and hit out at the Loons NASL star and “three or four others” for lacking energy.
There’s only so much Heath can do. He has one of the thinnest, cheapest teams in MLS, and it’s a long, hard season. Expect the Loons to try to strengthen significantly when the transfer window opens.
9. Pour One Out For The Human Spirit
Remember Colorado’s human spirit-induced four game winning streak to close May and open June? It feels a long way away right now.
The Rapids, 3-1 losers at home on Tuesday, have now lost four of five and given up eleven goals in the process. The defense that kept them in games last year has been shaky, and the attack, as per usual, sub-average.
Outside of Marlon Hariston, who has been a genuine bright spot, Colorado is struggling for answers. They may be looking to move Kevin Doyle, who has never been worth his considerable salary, but they need help in almost every position.
The problem is that since Oscar Pareja left, Colorado has struggled mightily to identify talent. It’ll be a surprise if they’re still in the playoff race come September.
10. Transfer Window Opening
There might not be any games in MLS over the next two weeks, but there shouldn’t be any shortage of activity with the summer transfer window opening next week and numerous clubs looking to strengthen their teams ahead of the stretch run.
LA, Columbus, Minnesota, New England, and RSL are all expected to be active, with LAFC continually linked to big names and several clubs waiting to integrate players they’ve already signed in the past weeks.
As always in MLS, one good summer move can unlock a season. Just ask Seattle.