Here are the ten things we learned from Week 25 of the 2016 MLS season.
For various reasons, it’s hardly felt at times this year like the Portland Timbers are MLS’ defending champions. But on Sunday afternoon at Providence Park, facing a make-or-break Cascadia derby against Seattle, the Timbers looked the part.
With noted Sounders-killer Fanendo Adi restored to the team, and Seattle clearly out of gas after their excursions in Houston on Wednesday night, the Timbers poured in four goals in 44 minutes in one of the most jaw-dropping halves of the season.
New left back Vytas struck first off of a Jack Jewsbury corner, Adi cleaned up a rebound for his seventh goal in eight Seattle games to make it two, Lucas Melano stuck home the third, and Steven Taylor headed home a Valeri free kick for four.
It’d finish 4-2, and while everyone in green had an excellent afternoon – especially the central midfield pairing of Diego Chara and Jack Jewsbury – it was Adi whose presence most influenced proceedings.
The Nigerian striker, who has endured something of a turbulent year, dominated Chad Marshall and Brad Evans, and was the focal point of a Timbers attack that overran the Sounders with both numbers and intensity time and again in that first half.
If Adi does leave MLS in the winter, one of his legacies will be his exploits in these games. The Timbers are now three points clear of the red line in the Western Conference, and likely on their way to capturing the Cascadia Cup for the first time since 2012.
Caleb Porter’s record in the fall has been MLS’ best over his three years in the league, and if the Timbers can find any sort of consistency down the stretch, that won’t change this year.
As good as the Timbers were, the Sounders had a shocker.
Not only did Seattle fail to match Portland’s predictably high-octane start, but the number of simple mental mistakes that the Sounders made was astounding. All four of the Timbers’ goals came either off of set pieces or loose balls.
It was always takes plenty of will to win in Portland – especially in a derby of this magnitude and importance – and the Sounders simply weren’t up for the fight early on.
Between the unsettling absence of Clint Dempsey due to an irregular heartbeat, the physical toll of the midweek game in Houston, and the emotional toll of the last month in total, this was an understandable letdown. It just couldn’t have come at a worse time.
It’s too early to know whether this result will cost Seattle a playoff place – and Brian Schmetzer his shot at winning the managerial position on a permanent basis – but this team’s immediate future looks a lot more uncertain than it did several days ago.
Toronto FC, winners of six of their last seven games, entered halftime at BMO Field on Saturday night with a man-advantage on a Montreal Impact team that was winless in three – and just a week removed from losing 3-0 to Chicago at home.
It was a slam-dunk for TFC on a night when a win would have taken the Reds five points clear at the top of the Eastern Conference only increased a sudden surge of public optimism surrounding one of the league’s most traditionally self-destructive franchises.
And then, just when you thought they had it all figured out, Toronto reverted to form. A late Ignacio Piatti strike was the only tally of the second half, and it was enough for the Impact to win the 401 Derby in stunning fashion.
It was classic TFC. Inexplicable in every way. Considering the experience and pedigree in Greg Vanney’s team, you’d chalk it up to an off night after a series of outstanding attacking performances. Even before the red card, Toronto hardly threatened.
Still, it’s hard not to feel that there’s a psychological barrier that Toronto has yet to hurdle. Their eventual implosion has become a self-fulfilling prophecy each year. England may be able to relate.
The first bad omen for TFC on this night came early: The Red Patch Boys’ tifo, which read “Our Funhouse/Your Nightmare” struck a very similar chord to the Emerald City Supporters’ “Welcome to Your Nightmare” tifo from the 2013 playoffs – which was unveiled just before the Sounders lost to the Timbers 2-1 at CenturyLink Field.
He said all the right things before and after the game, but Orlando City’s gut-check 2-1 win over NYCFC at the Citrus Bowl on Sunday night had to feel good for a manager who has had few reasons to smile over the last year.
It’s a victory that keeps Orlando firmly in the playoff hunt – the Lions are now just one point back of DC United for sixth place – but it also serves as an affirmation of the work that Kreis has been doing with his team since he got the job in late-July.
Orlando was much, much more sound defensively – especially in central midfield – than it had been in recent weeks. Kaka showing up for the first time in weeks didn’t hurt either.
It was a much-needed result – likely the first of many big wins in the Kreis era in Orlando.
The New York Red Bulls have mostly flown under the radar this season, but if they can figure out how to close out road games, they’ll be among the favorites come playoff time.
Sunday’s 1-0 win over the free-falling New England Revolution was New York’s league-leading tenth home victory of the year. Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored the winner against the Revs, now has sixteen goals despite not scoring in the team’s first seven games.
The Red Bulls have taken leads in eight straight games, and haven’t lost in nine. This is, for all intents and purposes, the same team that won the Supporters’ Shield last year. Though it’s NYCFC and Toronto atop the East, don’t forget about Jesse Marsch’s team.
The Galaxy continued to look fairly rudderless in a drab 0-0 draw against Vancouver in Carson on Wednesday night, in a game in which Robbie Keane didn’t play and Steven Gerrard, Jelle Van Damme, and Gyasi Zardes all got injured.
The return of Robbie Rogers gives the Galaxy some added menace on the wing, but the fact that Van Damme has been one of this team’s most incisive attacking players over the last month tells its own story.
LA appears to be lacking a true driving force in the middle of the field right now. It was a role that Gerrard filled for a brief moment earlier in the year, but he’s been in and out of the lineup for the last month.
It’s a puzzle that Bruce Arena – who, in a rather startling turn of events, accused his team of not taking enough shots on Saturday – seems no closer to solving than he has been at any point during LA’s current seven game winless streak.
The San Jose Earthquakes stood to break through the red line and in the Western Conference playoff places this week with two winnable games against New England and Columbus.
Instead, the ‘Quakes failed to score in either match, taking just a single point from a possible six. Throw in the home loss to Houston two Fridays ago, and it’s been a stretch that could knock San Jose out of the playoffs.
This is a team that looks completely out of ideas offensively. New #10 Henok Goitom has been of no help, despite increased minutes, and even Chris Wondolowski has been out of sorts – just two goals in his last fourteen games.
You just have to wonder if San Jose’s goal-scoring problems reflect poorly on a coach in Dominic Kinnear who has never made any pretense of playing intricate or particularly complicated attacking soccer.
Kinnear’s job doesn’t appear to be in any jeopardy at the moment, but he’s close to missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons between Houston and San Jose. It’s a troubling trend-line for one of the league’s great managers.
It was a six-point week for the Philadelphia Union, who, after losing at home against Toronto last weekend, beat Columbus on the road midweek and then downed Sporting Kansas City in Chester on Saturday.
It was an especially good week for Philly’s much-heralded rookie class, with Josh Yaro coming into the team for Ken Tribbett and playing well at center back. Against the Crew, two rookies – ROY contender Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers – scored the goals.
The hero on Saturday against Sporting was Roland Alberg, who came off the bench and promptly scored his ninth goal in twelve games. When Alberg is on the field with Tranquillo Barnetta and CJ Sapong, Philly’s attack is as good as anyone’s.
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