Here are the ten things we learned from Week 11 of the 2016 MLS season.
1. Columbus Acts, Trades Kei Kamara
Thanks in part to a well-placed transfer deadline, it took just four days for the Columbus Crew to ship Kei Kamara out of town after his incredible tirade against Federico Higuain a week last Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium.
Columbus owner Anthony Precourt insisted on Twitter that there was more to the trade of Kamara than met the eye, with manager Gregg Berhalter announcing that the deal had been in the works long before the Montreal game on the 7th.
And considering the speed with which the Crew dealt Kamara – almost inarguably a more valuable player to Columbus than Higuain is – those claims aren’t at all unbelievable.
In the short-term, this is a devastating deal for Columbus. They don’t have anyone who can replace Kamara’s goals. But trading Kamara should sort out what became a toxic locker-room, and give Berhalter flexibility to add a goal-scorer in the summer.
Once the dust settles, the Kamara era will be remembered fondly in Columbus as the one that rejuvenated the club and resulted in an MLS appearance. But if the striker’s time with the Crew proves anything, it’s that success is fleeting – and circumstances can turn in an instant.
2. The Revs Are Fun Again
It wasn’t just Jermaine Jones’ soccer that the Revolution had been missing this year. It was also his personality. In their good moments over the last two years, New England leaned on Jones as a focal point for a mostly young, understated team.
But without Jones this year, the Revs have lacked personality and drive. It’s very much looked like a team in need of coalescing around a central figure – and as talented as he is, that guy hasn’t been Lee Nguyen.
Now, Kamara – with his own outsize personality – can be that focal point. In fact, if his tenure and ouster in Columbus showed anything, it’s that he needs to be the focal point.
Whether Kamara will be in New England long-term is anyone’s guess. But for now, for this season, a season in which the Revs could do damage in a weak Eastern Conference, this move was an absolute must.
3. The Best Game of the Weekend
Was at BMO Field on Saturday night, where Vancouver beat Toronto 4-3.
The match had it all – seven goals, including tremendous solo efforts from Giovinco, Kekuta Manneh, and Pedro Morales, a penalty saved, a potentially major injury, a red card, and drama from start to finish.
But the real headline was Vancouver, a team that has struggled mightily in attack this year, coming in and scoring four goals against a TFC team that had only given up seven all season. The barrage was sparked by Manneh, who was virtually nonexistent as the ‘Caps struggled at the beginning of the season.
With Masato Kudo out for the time being after his horror collision on Wednesday night, and Octavio Rivero’s career in Vancouver beginning to look irretrievable, it’s impetrative for Carl Robinson that Manneh keeps scoring.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s announcement last week that he’d be leaving Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season ignited speculation around MLS that the incomparable Swedish striker might land in America.
The LA Galaxy – who knows how – is the club linked with Ibrahimovic at the moment in a scenario that would require either a rule change or the retirement of Steven Gerrard or Robbie Keane.
But with Gerrard playing well and unlikely to move before the end of the season, and Keane showing no sign of slowing down, another MLS club might be a better fit for Ibrahimovic.
NYCFC, for instance, just has to get Frank Lampard off the books to accommodate a player who might fit better in New York than LA regardless. Seattle, looking for Obafemi Martins’ replacement, would be foolish not to enquire as well.
You’d never – never – count LA out in a DP sweepstakes, and there’s a real chance that Ibrahimovic could end up in China or at Manchester United anyway, but there are possibilities for him all around MLS.
5. Philadelphia Is For Real
The Union only managed two draws in two games this week, but it was the manner in which Philadelphia earned their points that was so impressive.
Twice in four days, the Union went toe-to-toe with the league’s best – playing LA to a 2-2 tie at FirstEnergy Stadium on Wednesday, and then stalemating Montreal 1-1 at Stade Saputo on Saturday.
In both games, Philadelphia came from behind to get a point. But unlike the Rapids, the Union is doing more than just getting results. They’re playing good soccer.
Vincent Nougeira, Tranquillo Barnetta, and Chris Pontius have a lot to do with that, but a reworked defense has had a major hand in Philly’s increased ability on the ball as well.
Josh Yaro has been good in central defense, but Keegan Rosenberry – a player who many felt the Union reached for in the first round of the SuperDraft – has been phenomenal. He looks like a ten-year veteran, and should be in the national team picture before too long.
6. Vic Rauter
TSN’s Vic Rauter, for all intents and purposes the Montreal Impact’s primary play-by-play announcer, remains one of the most enjoyable listens in MLS.
With a distinct, joyful style and a bevy of signature catchphrases, there isn’t an announcer in the league who handles a game like Rauter, a veteran of over 30 years with TSN who is most known for his work calling curling.
Because Montreal’s highest profile games go to TSN’s lead MLS voice Luke Wileman, and because he’s not on in the United States, Rauter’s profile across the league remains low.
But if the Impact continue winning, we’ll get to hear more calls like this from one of the legends of Canadian sportscasting. Led by Wileman and Rauter, TSN continues to outpace both ESPN and FOX Sports on the MLS broadcasting front.
7. Dallas Gets Well
FC Dallas entered last week without a point or a goal in three straight games, and, after going into halftime 1-0 down against the Portland Timbers on Wednesday, it looked like the streak would continue.
It took two goals from very unlikely sources – Ryan Hollingshead and Walker Zimmerman – to turn things around against the Timbers for a 2-1 win, and yank the team out of its collective malaise.
Saturday’s win over Seattle was the best Dallas has played in a month. Mauro Diaz shined, Michael Barrios looked like himself, and the defense played with composure and resolve.
The big question is still up top, where a dreadful run of form has seen Maxi Urruti relegated to the bench. Dallas is figuring out what Portland learned in 2014 – Urruti can’t be an everyday starter for a championship contender. Now, Oscar Pareja has to figure out who can come in and play the part of Fanendo Adi.
8. NYCFC’s Best-Ever Win
New York City FC had their finest moment in MLS in the Sunday nightcap, going to Providence Park and beating the Portland Timbers 2-1.
It was a performance that came seemingly out of nowhere. There was fantastic commitment defensively, composure on the ball, and enough individual brilliance in attack to clinch a win that will reassure the club’s fans and brass that Patrick Vieira has his team on the right track.
Vieira owes a debt of gratitude to the old MLS campaigner Jason Hernandez, who played one of the games of his career. Josh Saunders had several excellent saves behind him, while the likes of Pirlo and Villa hardly put a foot wrong further forward.
NYCFC has never really tasted sustained success. But now, with three straight wins, it’s possible that the league’s most maligned club has turned the corner in a conference that is very much up for grabs.
9. Hilario Grajeda
We’d be remiss, though, if we didn’t mention the role refereeing played in NYC’s triumph.
Hilario Grajeda missed a clear handball on RJ Allen in the immediate lead-up to David Villa’s opening goal, and may have also missed a handball on Pirlo just before Tommy McNamara’s fabulous winner.
It’s been a difficult year for Grajeda, who is returning to the field after missing almost all of 2015 with a foot injury. He also had a nightmarish performance in Harrison a few weeks ago.
Over the years, Grajeda has been one of MLS’ best referees. Here’s hoping he can turn things around.
strong>10. Eastern Conference Woes
The East is NSFW.
Their first place team, the Montreal Impact, wouldn’t even make the playoffs in the West. Real Salt Lake would be one point ahead of them in sixth, with two games in hand. The East is home to seven of the league’s nine worst teams a third of the way through the season.
The conference has certainly been hurt by the terrible form of its two 2015 finalists, the New York Red Bulls and Columbus, but still – having none of the top seven teams in the league is a rather extraordinary embarrassment.
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