Here are the ten things we learned from Week 21 of the 2016 MLS season.
- Schmid’s Farewell to Seattle
Sigi Schmid’s firing on Tuesday may have been seen as a necessity by a number of fans, but it certainly wasn’t greeted with any cheers in Seattle.
Schmid was, until Sunday, the only MLS coach the city had ever known – responsible for seven straight playoff appearances, four US Open Cups, and a Supporters’ Shield. He is one of the main reasons by the Sounders rightly consider themselves one of the continent’s biggest clubs.
On Thursday, the Emerald City Supporters put on a farewell event for Schmid in Seattle. The former manager’s speech, which you can read in full here, was, as you’d expect, full of class, humility, and wisdom.
The event was MLS at its best – community driven, emotional, and uplifting.
Schmid leaves Seattle with his head held high. He should have a future in the league if he wants it.
- Still No Way Around LA For Seattle
Life after Schmid began for the Sounders on Sunday at home against the LA Galaxy, and with it came several boosts – a warm recognition of interim coach and Seattle soccer fixture Brian Schmetzer from the ECS, and a full debut for new DP Nicolas Lodeiro.
Lodeiro was, in a word, excellent. He was the active, creative, consistent playmaking presence that the Sounders have been crying out for all year.
But Seattle, despite dominating the game, still couldn’t get over the finish line against a Galaxy team that seems to be just fine getting badly outshot and securing favorable results all the same – this time, a 1-1 draw against the new-look Sounders.
It seems like a long time ago now, but LA was a mess down the stretch last year. This is a completely different team from the side that won MLS Cup in 2014, and it’s been excellent because Bruce Arena hit home runs on all of his summer moves.
Jelle Van Damme has been the Defender of the Year, Ashley Cole has been good when fit, Nigel de Jong has been excellent when not suspended, Mike Magee has pitched in, and Jeff Larentowicz – who made his 300th career appearance on Sunday – was the steal of the offseason.
- Vancouver’s Last Roll of the Dice
It’s been a hugely frustrating year for the Vancouver Whitecaps, and the last week has been a microcosm of that frustration.
The ‘Caps, in desperate need of the front-line anchor they didn’t get in the winter, traded for Fabian Espindola – only to learn that Espindola had no interest in moving to Vancouver. Détente was reached when Espindola was sold to Necaxa in Mexico.
Then, on Saturday, the Whitecaps took their final swing – working a deal with a Houston for Jamaican forward Giles Barnes.
Barnes is capable of genius, as we saw on numerous occasions last year, but he’s streaky. With Kekuta Manneh out, and Pedro Morales strangely out of sorts, Vancouver was left with no option but to bet he’ll produce.
He can’t get on the field soon enough. Carl Robinson’s team was anemic in a 2-0 loss in Dallas on Sunday, and the Western Conference playoff race is tightening quickly.
Real Salt Lake won on the road against a Philadelphia team badly missing both Vincent Nogueira and Maurice Edu, while both Portland and San Jose have runs in them. The pressure is firmly on the ‘Caps.
- Lampard’s Hat-Trick
The worst signing in MLS history can’t stop scoring.
Frank Lampard became the first player in NYCFC history to score a hat-trick, captaining the Eastern Conference’s best club to a 5-1 curb-stomping of the Colorado Rapids on a turbulent Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
It was a game in which both David Villa and Patrick Vieira were suspended, Lampard stood head and shoulders above every other player on the field. He ripped off seven shots,
It’s easy to forget, but Lampard’s miserable start to life in America – culminating in his debut this season against the Red Bulls, when he was booed by the NYCFC fans – was almost impossible to foresee.
Lampard has always been a consummate professional, renowned for his work ethic, whose game – predicated on timing and goal-scoring – was always more likely to translate to MLS better than, say, Steven Gerrard’s. Lampard now has eight goals in eight games, and it’s hard to imagine NYCFC without him.
Vieira’s team is an interesting proposition this year. They’re still a nightmare defensively, but they’ve also proven surprisingly resilient. This was quite the response to the collapse at Red Bull Arena last week.
As for Colorado, the dam was always going to break at some point. How the Rapids respond will determine whether their early-season success can be sustained as the games get serious.
- Jacob Peterson
The Timbers and Sporting Kansas City may be the two most evenly matched teams in MLS. Three regular season games between the clubs last year produced just a single goal – Krizstian Nemeth’s MLS Goal of the Year – and their Wild Card duel at Providence Park is etched into MLS lore.
So predictably, the first meeting of the season between the two on Sunday was a slugfest – intense, tight, and, at times, brutal. But at the end of the day, it was Jacob Peterson’s headed goal just after halftime that stood up as the winner for the hosts.
In a year in which almost nothing has gone right for Kansas City, Peterson’s production has been a huge reason that Peter Vermes’ team has stayed in the thick of the playoff race.
Peterson – described by Vermes as “untradeable” in the buildup to this game – isn’t a game-breaker. But he’s intelligent, tough, and reliable, and he’s going to be in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.
Sporting appears to have, worryingly for Matt Besler, turned a corner defensively, with Roger Espinoza showing his best form for the first time since rejoining the club from Wigan ahead of the 2015 campaign.
They’re still missing attacking firepower, but this isn’t a team anyone is going to want to play coming down the stretch.
- Dax McCarty Injured
When Nat Borchers ruptured his Achilles last weekend in Portland, Dax McCarty was one of the first players to tweet his well wishes, calling Borchers “one of the classiest defenders in MLS.”
Cruelly, on Sunday, it’d be McCarty on the receiving end of similar messages. The Red Bull captain exited his team’s game in Chicago with what is almost certainly a serious and potentially season-ending knee injury after a tackle from Khaly Thiam.
Injuries are, hands down, the worst part of soccer – and in Borchers and McCarty, if McCarty is indeed out for an extended period of time, MLS has lost two of its best ambassadors and players in the last two weeks.
Competitively, this is an injury that could change the entire landscape of the Eastern Conference and throw the Red Bulls’ season into disarray. Fingers crossed that McCarty plays again in 2016.
- Gregg Berhalter’s Future
Columbus kissed the Trillium Cup goodbye on Sunday as Toronto FC – behind another fantastic performance from Giovinco – breezed to a 3-0 win over the Crew at BMO Field.
It’s been a staggeringly dismal season in Columbus. The Crew has just nineteen points from twenty-one games are without a win in an MLS game since May. It’s a club that looks rudderless and increasingly moribund.
Were Gregg Berhalter any other coach – or were he coaching for any other team – he’d be out of a job. But Berhalter is Crew SC soccer, and the success that his first two seasons in Ohio built up with hands-on owner Anthony Precourt has bought him time.
And yet, as former Crew boss Sigi Schmid can testify, there’s only so much losing a club can take. This is the first big test of Precourt’s ownership, and while Berhalter is his guy, there’s no telling how he’ll respond.
- The Jason Kreis Era in Orlando Begins With A Bang
So far, so good for Jason Kreis in Orlando, as the Lions scored three second half goals for a come-from-behind 3-1 win over the New England Revolution at the Citrus Bowl.
It’s a victory that pulls Orlando level with the Revs on points for the final playoff spot in the East, and Kreis showed immediately why Orlando was so keen to land him – his halftime adjustments, including the introduction of Brek Shea, completely turned the game.
While there were problems under Adrian Heath, it’s worth noting that Orlando has only lost five times this season – a mark that ties them for the least defeats in the Eastern Conference with Montreal.
This is a good team. With Kreis at the helm, it should expect a first playoff birth.
- Dallas Gets Castillo Back
According to Taylor Twellman, and then Steve Davis, and then Oscar Parjea himself, the deal to transfer Fabian Castillo from Dallas to Trabzonspor in Turkey is off.
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