Here are the ten things we learned from Week 12 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. LAFC Makes A Splash
Los Angeles Football Club doesn’t have a coach, doesn’t have senior players, and doesn’t kick off their first MLS season for another nine months. But it’s becoming clear that LAFC could be one of MLS’ banner franchises as soon as next year.
At a fan rally on Saturday, LAFC announced that it will have a safe-standing supporters’ section, a la Orlando City’s, in its Banc of California Stadium’s North End.
In turn, six LAFC supporters’ groups announced that they have joined to form The 3252 supporters’ union and will stand together in the supporters’ section during matches. The section will have 3,252 seats, priced at $20 per game.
LA – obviously – isn’t known as a rabid sports town. But neither was Atlanta before this year. With a stadium much more centrally located than the LA Galaxy’s Carson-based StubHub Center, the early returns for interest in LAFC have been phenomenal.
The club has sold out its most expensive premium season tickets and, as of February, had 14,000 season ticket deposits. The Galaxy only have around 11,000 season ticket holders, and LAFC’s stadium, set to open next year, is only going to seat 22,000.
When LAFC start bringing in players – Chicharito has been rumored – and a coach, who could be Bob Bradley or Guillermo Barros Schelloto, interest will continue to heat up. This could be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in LA sports.
2. New York City Finally Get Past Orlando
Although they haven’t been the better team during their time in MLS, Orlando City has had New York City FC’s number over the last three seasons.
Orlando had already beaten NYCFC twice this year – once in Florida and once at Yankee Stadium – heading into Sunday night’s showdown at the new Orlando City Stadium where the home team was undefeated.
But this game was all NYCFC. Patrick Vieira’s team took the lead on an early David Villa penalty, doubled their lead before halftime on a lovely team goal scored by Rodney Wallace, got another goal from Villa, and ran out 3-0 winners.
It was an impressive showing from an NYC team playing its third game in eight days. Orlando, meanwhile, is winless in five and has to be slightly worried about its big players.
This was a rough outing for both Kaka – who was completely ineffective and substituted midway through the second half – and Cyle Larin, who missed a penalty and now has just one goal in his last six games.
It’s been a trying month for Jason Kreis. That blistering start to the season is starting to feel a long ways away.
3. Another Show in Atlanta
If ever there was going to be a week for Atlanta’s tremendous home support to fall off slightly, it would have been this week: a game against a fairly low-profile team in Houston kicking off late after an hour-long lightning delay.
But Bobby Dodd Stadium was as raucous as it was in its first three games, and the crowd of almost 45,000 that braved the weather delay was treated to an absolute show.
Miguel Almiron scored Atlanta’s second ever hat-trick in a game that Tata Martino’s men led 4-0 before a late Cubo Torres penalty got the Dynamo on the board and made the final 4-1.
Atlanta is, without question, the most electrifying team in MLS right now. In Almiron they’ve got a player in a class with Ignacio Piatti, Diego Valeri, and Sebastian Giovinco, Nicolas Lodeiro, and David Villa as one of the very best in the league.
But the support transcends any one individual. Every Atlanta home game – in a traditionally subpar sports city where soccer was once an afterthought – has been an incredible spectacle. For MLS, it’s the best story of 2017 so far.
4. Huge Win For San Jose
Dallas’ unbeaten streaks – both to begin the MLS season and at Toyota Stadium – are over thanks to the San Jose Earthquakes, who beat Dallas 1-0 on Saturday night thanks to a wonderful late goal from Jahmir Hyka.
It was the result of the season for a ‘Quakes team that has taken ten points from its last five games and is up to fourth in the Western Conference.
The good news for Dom Kinnear is that San Jose is the contributions it needs from its offseason pickups. Hyka has been good, Danny Hoesen and Marco Ureña have contributed, and Florien Jungwirth has been excellent in central defense.
San Jose isn’t going to light the world on fire, and they’re going to have their off days, but they’re mostly going to scrap and be tough to beat. In a down Western Conference, that should be good enough for first playoff berth since 2012.
5. DC Mired in Tailspin
DC United lost again at home on Saturday, falling 1-0 to the red-hot Chicago Fire. The loss was DC’s third straight at RFK Stadium, and it keeps the team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Injuries have been a problem for DC, who have had key contributors out at various points all year, but this was still an exceedingly ugly homestand, with all three losses came against Eastern Conference opponents.
Ben Olsen said after the game that has team has a talent problem, and he’s not wrong. On paper, DC isn’t a playoff team – especially in this year’s improved East landscape.
But until Audi Field opens next year and DC starts spending money, that talent problem will remain. Olsen has been working around it since he took over as manager in 2011, and it’s far too early to count him and his team out.
6. Good Times in Vancouver
The Vancouver Whitecaps have hit a rich vein of form, beating Western Conferece-leading Sporting Kansas City 2-0 at BC Place on Saturday.
Carl Robinson was able to name an unchanged team for the fifth consecutive match – a record during his stint in Vancouver – and it’s clear that he has a confident team.
Vancouver’s opening goal, scored by Cristian Techera, was one of the best we’ve seen in MLS this year, while the defense – led by a seemingly reformed Kendall Waston – was been excellent.
The ‘Caps have now won three straight home games dating back to the beginning of April, and they have three home games to come to kick off June. If they continue to play well, they’ll be firmly in the playoff picture by the start of the summer.
7. The Union Are Back
The Philadelphia Union are rolling, and, for the first time all year, the bounce was back at Talen Energy Stadium on Saturday night as Jim Curtin’s team came from behind to beat the moribund Colorado Rapids 2-1.
The Union, after going winless in March and April to start the season, have now won four straight by a combined score of 11-1. Caleb Calvert’s goal to open the scoring for Colorado take the lead in this weekend’s game was the first goal that the Union have conceded since a game against Montreal on April 22.
Jim Curtin deserves all the credit in the world for his team’s turnaround. He found a center back pairing in Oguchi Onyewu and Jack Elliott, went with Raymon Gaddis over Keegan Rosenberry, and got Alejandro Bedoya going by giving him a box-to-box role.
But more than all of that, Curtin kept his team believing through its abysmal start. Now Philly is just a point out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and has set a club record for consecutive wins.
8. Portland Struggling
The Portland Timbers – after a scintillating start to the season – have crashed back down to earth.
Portland has mostly been treading water since March, but Saturday afternoon’s trip to Montreal was a nadir. The Timbers lost Diego Chara to an idiotic red card after just eighteen minutes, and were pummeled 4-1.
The Chara red is especially damaging, as Portland has to go to Seattle next weekend ahead of a stretch of seven straight games against Western Conference opponents.
With Chara out, there will be even more pressure on a Timbers’ defense that has, so far, been one of the league’s worst. Both Alvas Powell and Vytas have struggled, and Liam Ridgewell looks unrecognizable from the player he was when he arrived in MLS. Jake Gleeson, to boot, has had a shaky start to the season in goal.
As long as the Timbers can get their first-choice front four on the field together – a problem in May – they’ll score goals. But unless the defense improves, they’re not going anywhere this season. A big game against the Sounders awaits.
9. Minnesota Support Disappoints
It was, of course, always going to be tough for Minnesota to live up to Atlanta on or off the field this year. But even by an objective measure, support for the Loons has been disappointing so far.
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