Here are the ten things we learned from Week 24 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. Toronto Takes Control
The game of the weekend took place in Bridgeview, where those in the Chicago soccer community were calling the Fire’s clash with Toronto FC the biggest game at Toyota Park in five years.
In front of a sellout crowd, with all their big names in the lineup, it should have been an evening to remember for Chicago. Instead, the home team was handily beaten.
Michael Bradley said that Toronto came into this game wanting to “send a message,” and send a message they did. The Reds led for over an hour in total, scoring early, scoring late, and putting in just about as good a road performance against quality opposition as we’ve seen from any team this season.
In the last three weeks, TFC has demolished one Shield rival 4-0 at home and beaten the other 3-1 on the road. They’re averaging two points per game, and have an outside chance to finish with the best goal differential in MLS history.
MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle broke down what Toronto needs to do the rest of the way to be considered the league’s best-ever team on Saturday. The short version? They have a shot.
2. San Jose In Deep Trouble
The Western Conference playoff race cleared up in a hurry this weekend, as the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps both won at home while the San Jose Earthquakes – facing the lowly Philadelphia Union – failed to do so.
San Jose is now firmly on the outside looking in at the playoffs. They’re seventh in the West on both points and points-per-game, and are about to hit the road for three straight and four of their next five.
Of that trio of teams, San Jose has – by far – the worst goal difference, the worst offense, and the least talent. They’ve also got a man at the helm in Chris Leitch who has a total of ten games of MLS coaching experience.
The ‘Quakes aren’t out of the race yet – they play both Portland and Vancouver in back-to-back weeks in October – but they’re on their last legs. A fifth straight season without postseason soccer is the overwhelming likelihood in the Bay.
3. Rapids Facing Steep Rebuild
The first match of the post-Pablo Mastroeni era in Colorado was about as miserable as could have been imagined: a 1-0 home loss to DC United, the league’s worst team, on a near-comical own goal.
The Rapids made the right move in parting ways with Mastroeni, a man who – for all his fine qualities – had his team playing soccer fit for the dark ages.
But there’s still very little sign that the Rapids front office, which produced and published this abomination of an op-ed in The Denver Post on Wednesday, has any clue what it’s doing.
The team’s roster needs serious work and serious investment, especially in the attacking position where the club has been outgunned by its Western Conference rivals since before Mastroeni took over.
Colorado needs to hire a manager with vision, and give that person a significant say in player personnel matters. The Rapids have a huge job in front of them, and their work is only just beginning.
4. Piatti Shines For Montreal
The Montreal Impact, winners of four straight and fresh off of a six-point week, are above the Eastern Conference red line for the first time all season.
Outside of Toronto, the Impact are playing the conference’s best soccer. That’s thanks in large part to the brilliance of Ignacio Piatti, who has six goals over the club’s winning streak and scored first-half braces in both of their games last week.
But all’s not well concerning the Argentine. Piatti is out of contract at the end of the season, and he told the Stade Saputo crowd after Wednesday night’s 3-0 Montreal win over the Chicago Fire that he might be playing his “last ten games here.”
The comment could merely have been a negotiating tactic meant for team president Joey Saputo. Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush said after Saturday’s win over RSL that “If he is, I hope Joey just keeps ignoring the message and [Piatti] keeps sending it.”
The bottom line is that Montreal needs Piatti more than Piatti needs Montreal. He’s the franchise – one of the five best players in MLS, and, currently, the primary reason that the club appears playoff-bound for the third straight season.
If Montreal doesn’t pay Piatti whatever he wants, there are about fifteen other clubs in MLS who will.
5. Dallas’ Woes Continue
It was a potentially dire weekend for San Jose in the Western Conference playoff chase, but it wasn’t such a good weekend for FC Dallas either.
Oscar Pareja’s team went to Sporting Kansas City and was summarily dispatched 2-0, conceding goals in both halves and never really threatening.
Dallas is now winless in four, having lost four of its last six, and is down to fifth place in the Western Conference. They have games in hand on the teams above them – starting with a big matchup against Houston in Frisco on Wednesday night – but the things have gone recently, those games in hand might not count for much.
Dallas’ schedule isn’t about to get any easier. Their next five are against playoff teams, and Mauro Diaz – who hasn’t been himself since returning from injury in late May – didn’t make the trip to Kansas City. It’s all cause for serious concern.
6. Big Win For Portland
The best game of the weekend was played on Friday night in Portland, where the Timbers survived a late red card, got a world class save from Jeff Attinella, and a stoppage time goal to beat the New York Red Bulls 2-0.
Jesse Marsch rotated his team heavily for the game after his regulars went 120 minutes in Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup midweek, and came away much more pleased with his side’s performance than he was displeased with the final result.
For the Timbers, however, the result was all that mattered. They badly needed a win, and – for the first time all season in a tight, physical battle against a quality team – they got the job done.
It could be a turning point. Caleb Porter’s teams have traditionally been strong in the fall, and the Timbers remain one of the West’s most talented teams. If they stiffen up defensively and get stuck in like they did on Friday night, they’re going to make some noise in the coming weeks.
7. NYCFC Guts One Out
Speaking of teams gutting out games: NYCFC was not particularly good and fell behind the New England Revolution in the second half on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, only to save themselves in the final fifteen minutes.
David Villa grabbed the equalizer on a goalmouth scramble with fifteen minutes to go, before rookie Jonathan Lewis turned in a deflected shot in the fourth minute of stoppage time to make it 2-1.
The victory keeps NYCFC in the Supporters’ Shield race, but it also, more importantly vaults them ahead of Chicago – with a Wild Card game at the end of October looming for whichever club finishes third in the East.
This NYC team is good, but it’s also tough. The third New York Derby of the year next week in Harrison should be a war.
8. As Does Seattle
Much like NYCFC, the Seattle Sounders hosted one of their conference’s worst teams in Minnesota United on Sunday, fell behind, got level, and scored a slightly fortuitous winner deep into stoppage time.
That winner – a dubious Clint Dempsey penalty – was a hammer blow to the Loons, who, just two weeks after being walloped 4-0 by the Sounders on their home turf, gave a very good account of themselves.
But Seattle won’t care. The Sounders are back on top of the West, unbeaten in nine, and winners of six of their last seven.
The question for Brian Schmetzer remains how to configure his front six. The Sounders were punchless in this game until Will Bruin came on up top, while Nicolas Lodeiro’s production has slowed of late. Seattle still has room to improve.
9. Maurice Edu Returns
There was a bit of good news out of Bethlehem on Sunday, as U.S. World Cup veteran and former Philadelphia Union captain Maurice Edu made his return to the field for the Union’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel after almost two years away.
It’s been a tortured two years for Edu. The midfielder first went out of the lineup after partially tearing a groin muscle in September of 2015.
He was expected to return for the start of the 2016 season, but he suffered a stress fracture in his left leg in preseason, spent some seven months rehabbing, returned to training in October, and almost immediately broke his left fibula.
At just 31 years of age, Edu – if healthy – can still be a significant contributor for the Union. Here’s hoping his luck finally begins to turn.
10. Another Achievement For Atlanta
20,000 fans at training? Atlanta’s infatuation with its soccer club shows no signs of ceasing.