Here are the ten things we learned from Week 30 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. Toronto Clinches The Shield
In a coronation months in the making, Toronto FC won its and Canada’s first Supporters’ Shield on Saturday night at BMO Field with a resounding 4-2 win over the suddenly-reeling New York Red Bulls.
With 32 games in the books, Toronto has amassed 65 points and lost just five games – two of which came last week with both Jozy Altidore and Giovinco sidelined.
Getting Altidore back certainly helped on Saturday night, as the U.S. striker won the decisive penalty and had a hand in three of TFC’s four goals.
Altidore has had a huge season – easily his best since rejoining MLS three years ago – but the fact that it was Justin Morrow, a wingback, who had a hat-trick in this Shield-clincher sums up TFC’s regular season rather well.
Toronto has slugged all comers from all angles this season. Home and away, with and without their top players, TFC has hardly missed a beat. MLS has had few more deserving regular season champions.
2. Seattle Continues To Flounder
With Sporting Kansas City and Portland both losing on Saturday, the Seattle Sounders went into their Sunday game at Philadelphia with a golden opportunity to jump ahead of the chasing pack for a top-two spot in the Western Conference.
It didn’t happen. Against a Union team with virtually nothing to play for, the Sounders were familiarly listless. They didn’t get a single shot off in the first half, went behind 1-0, and lost by two.
Injuries – Roman Torres, Ozzie Alonso, Christian Roldan, and Victor Rodriguez all missed this game – didn’t help the Sounders’ cause, but the lack of offensive punch isn’t a new concern. Seattle, shutout three of their last four games, has scored multiple goals in just one of their last seven.
The Sounders end the season with two very winnable home games, but time is running short to get the attack in.
3. Last-Gasp Equalizer for Real Salt Lake
The most dramatic moment of the weekend came late on Saturday night in Carson, when Real Salt Lake’s old battle-axe Kyle Beckerman equalized for the ten-men Claret & Cobalt with the last kick of the game.
It might have been the biggest goal RSL has scored since Alvaro Saborio’s in MLS Cup 2013 in K.C. Salt Lake played more than 75 minutes of this game down a man, and more than fifty minutes of it down a goal.
But thanks in large part to the work of David Horst, who came on after the red card and played his best game of the season, RSL hung in – and, ultimately, got the equalizer from an unsurprising source. Of Beckerman’s last five MLS goals, three have come in LA.
RSL is still facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs. Jefferson Savarino is hurt, Marcelo Silva is suspended for next weekend, etc., etc. But at this point, it’s hard to bet against Petke’s men. Their hearts and souls are in it.
4. Don’t Sleep on the Red Bulls
With their loss in Toronto on Saturday night, the New York Red Bulls are now winless in eight – nine if you include the tremendously disappointing loss in the U.S. Open Cup Final to Kansas City.
The Red Bulls are headed for a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference, which will be their worst since 2009. For the first time since 2011, they’re unlikely to crack 50 points. The odds of any significant playoff run look slim.
That said: things aren’t all bad in Harrison. There are several reasons for optimism heading into October.
Gonzalo Veron, two full years into his MLS career, has figured it out. Daniel Royer has slotted back into the lineup and looks good. Tyler Adams continues to grow.
The attacking firepower is there. The team has been on plenty of big stages over the last several years. If Aurelian Colin can get fit in time for the Wild Card game, one of NYC, Chicago, or Atlanta is going to have a mighty difficult matchup on their hands.
5. The Mess Out West
There is, from spots one through eight, zero clarity in the Western Conference. What we have are three tiers of teams: the teams fighting for a first-round bye, the teams fighting to get in, and the teams who are out.
Of the first grouping, Vancouver had the best weekend – grabbing a 1-0 win at SKC, while Seattle and Portland lost on the road.
Of the second grouping, Houston got a much-needed 2-1 home victory over Minnesota, Dallas saved a point in Orlando on a Jesse Gonzalez face-save, RSL got that draw at LA, and the Earthquakes won a do-or-die game against the Timbers.
That leaves the Loons, who have had a nice fall, the Rapids, who have discovered a nice player in Stefan Aigner, and the Galaxy, who are now 2-9-5 at home.
There are three teams tied on points for second, and three teams tied on points for sixth. It’s been a down year in the West, but it’s going to be plenty dramatic over the next month.
6. Biello in Trouble?
Mauro Biello is a Montreal Impact legend – a Quebec native who has been with his hometown club in its various iterations as a player, assistant, and manager for more than two decades total.
That said: Biello might be in serious trouble. The Impact have been one of MLS’s most disappointing teams this season, and over the last two months, they’ve absolutely fallen apart.
After losing in Colorado on Saturday in a game that finished nine-against-nine, Montreal has dropped seven of eight. They’re now level on points with New England, Philadelphia, and Orlando.
For a team with as much talent as the Impact have, that’s inexcusable. A rumor midweek linked Alessandro Nesta to the managerial job, and whether Joey Saputo pulls the trigger on that move or not, it’s going to be an uncomfortable couple of months in Montreal.
7. Credit to the Crew
Columbus punched its playoff ticket in its home finale on Saturday, comfortably beating DC United 2-0 behind goals from Josh Williams and Justin Meram.
The Crew are a cut below the East’s best sides this year, but they’ve done an awful lot with what they have – and, just as importantly, they’re playing their best soccer of the year at the right time.
Columbus is now 5-0-3 in their last eight. Two players in particular have led the way.
One is Justin Meram, who has smashed his career high in goals this year and is in the form of his life. The other is Federico Higuain, who, on what is likely his last tour with Columbus, is quietly in double-digit assists for the first time in his MLS years.
This team, despite sharing some of the personnel, is a much changed from the one that lost MLS Cup on home soil two years ago. But unlike last year, Gregg Berhalter has figured out how to make the Crew a contender.
8. To Vancouver As Well
With just three weeks remaining in the season, the Vancouver Whitecaps – defying every odd – lead the Western Conference by a full four points.
All the ‘Caps have done recently is roll up points. They’ve lost just one of their last nine, taking care of business at home, and gutting out the win at SKC this weekend on short rest.
Vancouver has gotten contributions from nearly all of its fleet of young attacking players – from Yordy Reyna to Fredy Montero to Christian Techera to even Erik Hurtado on Saturday – and gotten enough defense to manufacture results. It’s been an impressive run.
It’s still hard to see this Whitecaps team as a legit title contender – they’ve only had one multi-goal win in their last eleven – but in a bad Western Conference, they very well might be one.
9. Chicago Gets Schweinsteiger Back
Though they didn’t beat New York City on Saturday night at Toyota Park, the Chicago Fire had an altogether decent week. It included a big win in San Jose on Wednesday night, and Bastian Schweinsteiger’s first appearance since September 2 against NYCFC.
The Fire seem to have righted the ship somewhat since losing six of seven across July and August, but they’ve been overtaken by Atlanta United and are almost certainly going to have play a Wild Card game at the end of the month.
Getting Schweinsteiger back in the fold before then is key. The Fire lost Michael de Leeuw to injury on Saturday, and their midfield – so good in the June and July – has been inconsistent of late.
With a tough game against Columbus or the Red Bulls looming in the playoffs, the Fire need all hands on deck.
10. All Eyes On Qualifying
Most of MLS is off next weekend for World Cup qualifying, and many of its players will be in action around the globe.
But all eyes around the league will be on the United States’ clash with Panama in Orlando on Friday night, and, after that, on their trip to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.
If things go well and the US qualifies, the end of the season in MLS will proceed as normal. But if things don’t go well, and the US is forced into a November playoff, those games will loom large over the end of the league season.
It’s obviously in MLS’s interest for the US to qualify next week. If that doesn’t happen, the American soccer scene will be an awfully dark place.