Monday Postgame: Five huge statements from Week 9 in MLS
It was just a coincidence that the scoreboard in Columbus literally caught fire on Saturday night, but there were a lot of goals in MLS this week.
The Crew scored three in the first half of their game, an eventual 3-0 win over D.C. United (and most importantly, no one was hurt in the blaze), and there were 27 goals spread over the round’s nine matches. Good games were just as plentiful, as hard-fought thrillers unfolded in Vancouver, Kansas City and Carson, Calif., and unlikely contributors popped up all over the slate.
Above all, though, it was a week for Bold Statements – yes, capital "b," capital "s" – as teams and players from coast to coast set about defining who they are as the season takes shape.
Here are the Top 5 statements from Week 9:
5. Boy to Manneh
With his team trailing Western Conference leaders FC Dallas 2-0 early in the second half on Saturday, Vancouver coach Martin Rennie summoned the youngest player on his roster, 18-year-old Gambian Kekuta Manneh, and swapped him in for defensive midfielder Jun Marques Davidson.
WATCH: Manneh gets his first MLS goal
Eighteen minutes later, Manneh – who was not yet born when the US hosted the World Cup in 1994 – controlled a stray ball in the box and hammered a shot inside the near post from 12 yards to make it 2-1. Three minutes after that, he received the ball wide on the left, spun around his defender and made a surging, 45-yard run past the Dallas backline and into the box, where he slipped a pass to Camilo for the equalizer.
Just like that, Vancouver were level at 2-2 and avoided their second straight loss and fourth in their past six games. The 'Caps still have their problems, but Manneh isn’t one of them. As Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie told The Vancouver Sun: “He’s 18 years old, he’s got incredible potential to be a very, very good player and today he showed that.”
4. Impact Go Back On Top
Yep, the Impact are still for real. They may have followed up their season-opening four-game winning streak with a loss and a draw, tumbling out of first place, but Montreal reclaimed the top spot in the East with a 2-0 win over Chicago on Saturday afternoon at Saputo Stadium.
Coach Marco Schällibaum changed his 4-1-4-1 formation to a 4-4-2 to allow striker Marco Di Vaio to play up top alongside his former Bologna teammate Daniele Paponi, whom the team signed on loan last week.
The switch – and the Paponi acquisition – proved effective not only for the ex-Serie A running mates, who combined on Montreal’s second goal in their 2-0 win, but also for attacking midfielder Andrés Romero, working in the spaces underneath the top two. Romero started the scoring with a sweet cutback and curl to the far top corner in the 57th minute.
Montreal lost defender Alessandro Nesta to an apparent groin strain, but the team has increased its depth and versatility, and looks even better prepared to compete over the long haul in the East.
3. Cahill Bags a Brace
New York midfielder and Designated Player Tim Cahill had been saying all the right things for weeks now, as the questions about his lack of goals began to pile up. Scoring is secondary, he told The New York Times, to helping the Red Bulls with their “discipline” in midfield, “and making sure to fill in the holes by not conceding, because we’re going to score goals.”
The Red Bulls were scoring goals, and Cahill has been shouldering more of a defensive load in New York than he ever had in his career in England – and shouldering it well. But for a player who scored 68 goals for Everton (in 278 appearances), and who was given the DP tag by New York, one goal in 20 appearances for the Red Bulls was not cutting it.
WATCH: Cahill’s winner stuns TFC
On Saturday afternoon in Toronto, though, Cahill doubled his career output for New York, pumping home two goals, including the 89th-minute game-winner, in New York’s 2-1 win over the Reds.
It was a bold, if belated, statement about what Cahill is capable of bringing to his team – and New York fans hope it doesn’t end there.
2. Patchwork Galaxy Step Up
The two-time defending champion LA Galaxy spoke volumes on Saturday night in Utah – about their system, their winning culture and their depth.
Missing their top two stars, Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, as well as veteran defender Todd Dunivant, goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini and rising talent Jose Villarreal, the Galaxy went into a packed Rio Tinto Stadium, got two early goals and shepherded out a 2-0 win against a nearly full-strength Western Conference rival and contender.
The win is even more impressive when you consider that LA started two players – striker Charlie Rugg and goalkeeper Brian Rowe – who had never appeared in an MLS match before. They also lost forward Jack McBean to a fractured clavicle early in the second half.
None of it mattered, though, as LA clung to its 2-0 lead (courtesy of leading scorer Mike Magee, and Rugg, who – naturally – scored in his debut) and repelled everything Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman and Luis Gil threw at them. They got a little help from the post, which RSL hit three times, and from the referee, who denied a valid RSL penalty shout, but it was a massive win for Bruce Arena’s side nonetheless.
1. Portland Road Warriors
On Saturday night, the team with the worst road record in the league last season traveled to meet a team with one of the best home records in the league, period – a side that hadn’t lost in its own stadium since July 2012.
WATCH: Chará, Wallace spark Portland
When the home team scored just 40 seconds into the match, the smart money was on the game playing out according to form. But the visitors rallied not once but twice, and snatched a thrilling 3-2 win that extend their unbeaten streak to six games.
Powered by a goal and an assist from striker Ryan Johnson, this Timbers road victory over Sporting Kansas City was arguably the best result in the club’s three-year MLS history, and a clear statement that Caleb Porter’s club intends to take their game to the next level.