Here are the ten things we learned from Week 29 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. Dallas’ Nosedive Continues
FC Dallas entered this weekend without a win in their last nine games dating back to July 22 – having fallen from first place in the Western Conference to below the playoff red line.
In Minneapolis on Saturday night, the tailspin continued. Dallas had an early goal ruled out for offsides, missed a penalty, had a player sent off, and was walloped 4-1 by Minnesota United. It was a sight to see.
Dallas has a litany of problems. The team doesn’t look bought in. The body language on Saturday was poor, and the defending – especially from Maynor Figeuroa – was shocking.
But talent is a major issue as well. With Matt Hedges and Kellyn Acosta out injured, and Mauro Diaz starting again on the bench, Dallas didn’t even field as much quality as the expansion Loons did on Saturday night.
Dallas has always overachieved under Oscar Pareja. But right now, they’re certainly no more than the sum of their parts.
2. Another Road Collapse For San Jose
San Jose, in prime position to capitalize on the points dropped by Dallas and Houston, went to moribund DC United on Saturday night and let Patrick Mullins score four goals in less time than any other player in MLS history in a 4-0 loss.
If you’re scoring at home, the ‘Quakes are now 1-7-0 on the road under Chris Leitch’s management, having been outscored 27-6 in those games.
Leitch has done some good things in his half-season in charge of San Jose, but there’s no question that the ‘Quakes are more competitive right now on the road if Dom Kinnear is still in charge.
At this rate, even if San Jose does sneak into the playoffs, they’re going to get pummeled in a road Wild Card game. For the league’s sake, it might be best if they miss out.
3. RSL Moves Into Position
Of the four clubs battling for the West’s final two playoff spots, only one is playing postseason-worthy soccer: Mike Petke’s Real Salt Lake.
RSL knocked off the Seattle Sounders 2-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night, winning their fourth-straight at home, and jumping into fifth place in the conference. Now, for the first time all year, FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index has the Claret and Cobalt as a slight favorite to reach the postseason.
It’s been an amazing turnaround. At the beginning of July, RSL was 5-12-2 and shipping goals left and right. Since then, Salt Lake is 7-2-3, and playing some of the league’s best soccer.
Petke, for one, has a Coach of the Year case – and if his team makes the playoffs, they’re going to be a mighty tough out.
4. Revs Move On From Jay Heaps
After a week in which they were outscored 10-1 in games at Atlanta and Kansas City, the New England Revolution became the fifth MLS team to fire their manager this season, parting ways with longtime head coach Jay Heaps.
The Revs have unquestionably been disappointing this year, but the club’s problems run deeper than their now-former coach.
The club’s player acquisition over the last several years – especially on the defensive side of the ball – has been dismal. GM Michael Burns, who was hired alongside Heaps six years ago, now stands directly in the firing line.
And outside of a purely soccer realm, the Revs remain one of the league’s worst clubs. Ownership isn’t engaged, the stadium situation is terrible, and the club’s reputation with players is abysmal.
Heaps has spent nearly his entire professional life with New England – as a player, analyst, and then manager – and it’ll be interesting to see where he lands. The club he leaves behind, meanwhile, has a ton of work to do.
5. NYC Doesn’t Draw in East Hartford
With the Yankees playing a makeup game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, NYCFC was forced play its Saturday afternoon match against the Houston Dynamo at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Connecticut.
The result wasn’t pretty. The announced crowd of 10,165 was the smallest to watch an MLS match all year.
That the crowd was so small – the actual attendance was significantly smaller than the 10,165 announced – wasn’t a surprise. East Hartford is several hours away from New York City, and NYCFC doesn’t have any sort of significant following across state lines.
It was an embarrassing afternoon. A club co-owned by City Football Group and the New York Yankees – two of the world’s most powerful sports brands – exiled to play in front of a paltry crowd the middle of Connecticut.
At this point, New York City needs its own stadium more than it needs a championship. The odds are against it getting either any time soon.
6. Seattle’s Winless Run Continues
The Seattle Sounders had their thirteen-game unbeaten streak snapped on Saturday night in Sandy, but it’s their winless streak – which now sits at five games – that is weighing on Brian Schmetzer and Co.
The primary problem, which has popped up at various points throughout the year, is that Seattle can’t score.
With the loss on Saturday, the Sounders are without a goal in almost 200 minutes dating back to Christian Roldan’s late equalizer against LA two weeks ago at CenturyLink.
Take away a pair of games against Minnesota, and Seattle hasn’t tallied multiple goals in a game since a 3-0 win over San Jose in July – just one day after Dallas got its last win against Montreal.
Time is running out for the Sounders to figure out their attacking woes. If they don’t, their title defense might not make it to November.
7. Minnesota Continues To Make Strides
Slowly but surely, Minnesota United is beginning to hit its stride.
With three wins and a draw in their last five, Minnesota is playing its best soccer of the season – and their 4-1 walloping of FC Dallas on Saturday has the club on its first-ever MLS winning streak.
But even outside of the recent results, there’s plenty for Loons fans to be excited about.
Minnesota sold out the lower bowl of TCF Bank Stadium for the third straight time on Saturday night, after going without a sellout for twelve games between March and July, and the atmosphere has improved accordingly. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of where it was in the spring.
It hasn’t hurt, of course, that the team has improved tremendously. The Loons have a tremendously fun young attacking core, and they’ve played with some real verve over the last two months.
Meanwhile, in St. Paul, after several fits and starts, construction is underway on Allianz Field – which, when it opens in 2019, should be one of MLS’s premier venues.
They might not be Atlanta, but it looks like Minnesota is going to be just fine as an MLS club.
8. Hamid On His Way Out?
With contract negotiations at a standstill, DC United benched Bill Hamid for their game Saturday against San Jose – instead handing a debut to former Columbus Crew goalkeeper Steve Clarke.
The timing of the move was curious – especially in light of a report from Ives Galarcep that a representative of Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt was reportedly in DC to scout Hamid on Saturday.
If the decision to take Hamid out of the lineup was in any way influenced by the knowledge that a European club was in town to watch him, DC should be ashamed.
Whatever the case, it seems unlikely that the club’s longtime starting goalkeeper will be in town to ring in the new stadium in 2018.
9. Michael Ciani A Bust?
It sure looks like it.
The Frenchman has only played three games for the LA Galaxy since signing on a free transfer to replace Jelle Van Damme in August, but he’s been exposed in all of them.
Ciani has had a long and distinguished career in Europe, but at 33 years old, he looks slow in every phase of the game – a la Steven Taylor in Portland at the end of last season.
If LA goes into next season with Ciani as its #1 center back, Galaxy fans should be livid.
10. More Hardware For Sporting
Sporting Kansas City picked up another trophy on Wednesday night, beating the New York Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup Final in a game that never felt in doubt.
Though they’ve won just one MLS Cup under Peter Vermes, Sporting’s run since opening their stadium in 2011 is one of the most impressive in MLS history.
Since then, SKC has the MLS Cup, three Open Cups, made the playoffs in six – soon to be seven – straight seasons, sold out more than 100 straight games, and done it all without any big-name stars.
Peter Vermes is MLS’ longest-tenured coach by a mile, and he’s proven time and again to be one of the league’s best technical directors as well. When the U.S. job comes open next, his name should be at the top of the federation’s list.