There have been many rivalry games scattered throughout this season, but only one official Heineken Rivalry Week this year. And it is now over.
- It kicked off on Wednesday night with a 1-1 draw between the Red Bulls and NYCFC, covered HERE.
- It continued with two more 1-1 draws on Thursday, in Bridgeview and in Houston, covered HERE.
And now let's dive into the nine games spread throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday...
Hail to the King, Baby
Have we officially run out of words to describe Atlanta United's Josef Martinez, who officially incinerated the record books on Friday night in his side's 2-1 win at Orlando City? Is there anything left to say? We know he is lightning fast and jackrabbit quick. We know he can scored with either foot or his head. We know he runs as smart as he does hard.
We know because we see it every week, if it feels like we talk about him every week, it's because we do. And we do because he goes out there every game, week after week, and puts the ball into the back of the net. If you want us to stop talking about him, to stop breaking down each of his 28 (and counting) goals, tell whichever your favorite team is to defend better. Stop Josef and we'll talk about that a ton!
Nobody's really figured out how to do that, though.
Martinez, who is 5-foot-6, has nine headed goals on the year. I still can't get over that stat (and it's not really germane here, but I just had to throw it in). As I said in the above video, this was one of the few times in which he's had to take more than just a single touch before finishing.
"With Josef, we knew he was going to break the record. It was just a matter of if he could do it sooner or later," said Atlanta head coach Tata Martino after the game. "The good thing is he did it sooner. Now this will calm him down. On top of that, he did it with a very nice goal.”
I mean… yeah. The ultimate testament to the guy's greatness is that 1) everybody – not just Martino – knew, by about mid-April, that he would break the record if he stayed healthy, and 2) most people would've been surprised if he didn't do it on Friday night, on national TV in a rival's house. The level of certainty I have that Martinez is going to put the ball in the net every single week is like nothing I've experienced in this league before, and I've been watching it since literally the first-ever kick of the ball in MLS.
As for the game itself, I thought the Lions did a nice job of absorbing pressure through most of it, and were generally very well organized. Jonathan Spector, who had a solid return to action, and Carlos Ascues, who had a useful debut, probably both deserve a good helping of credit there. There's something to build upon, I think.
I also thought that Chris Mueller looked really, really good, to the point of being the best player on the pitch in the first 45 minutes. But it was his turnover off a telegraphed 1-2, 100 yards from goal, that led to Martinez's game-winner. The game is cruel, and the hope in Florida will be that it's also instructive.
The hope in Georgia will be that things keep keeping on. Josef out there banging home goals? Sure. Julian Gressel looking like an old pro at a brand new position? Okey doke. A lead in the Supporters' Shield race and an eye on a record-breaking 70 points? Why not!
You wouldn't have bet against him in April. Don't bet against them now. The Josef Show is ongoing, and it doesn't ever seem to take a week off.
A few more things to ponder...
8. Galaxy and LAFC played to a scrappy rather thanspectacular 1-1 draw late on Friday night, a game that had none of the fireworks we saw in these teams' first two meetings.
It really is a contrast of styles when they play each other. LAFC try to get on the ball and build little triangles up and down the field, drawing defenders toward the ball before trying to cut them out of the play with slip passes and through-balls. For the Galaxy, it's all about sending numbers forward, hitting long balls, and then trying to win as many duels as possible.
LA played 73 long-balls and 23 crosses. LAFC played 55 long-balls and eight crosses.
These teams are nothing alike, and it's made for great drama this year. It's also made for worrying times in Carson, as the Galaxy are winless in five and staring at two straight road games.
RSL had one road win in the past 13 months. They've now picked up two in the past two weeks, which has them up to fourth in the West on points (they're a few notches lower on PPG).
Once the Rapids went down to 10 in this one, it was over. Though to be honest, it looked like the Claret-and-Cobalt were determined (and would be able) to end it early, even when it was 11v11. I'm still not entirely sure what to make of them, but I'll say this: They're 8-4-4 over their last 16 games, which is about half a season's worth of sample size, which is excellent. And those Galaxy road games I was talking about above? The first of them is in Sandy this coming week.
We'll definitely know what to make of both teams after that one.
6. So the really, really impressive performance from the Union came last weekend in that big win over NYCFC. But we've seen that from them before – they're a team that can and often does play good, pretty soccer against good teams, and has had their fair share of wins in those moments.
What we haven't seen from Philly, at any point in the history of the franchise, is a sustained run of form where they're going out there as favorites and just doing the job. Any time they've gotten close to that level they've found a way to fall on their collective face.
That didn't happen on Saturday in a 1-0 win over the visiting Revs. Both teams played ugly – there was little discernible midfield structure for either side, and few sequences of play that drew any ooohs or aaahs from the crowd – but if you want to make the playoffs you have to, from time to time, both play ugly and win ugly.
It took a controversial (but correctly given) goal from Cory Burke, and a Best XI performance from Andre Blake, but Philly did it. Instead of coming back to the chasing pack they climbed three points higher above the fray.
5. Montreal fans got on me back in June, wanting to know why I wasn't writing more about their team. But they ignored what I was writing, which was "you're beating Colorado and San Jose and Orlando City and Houston's reserves. Check back in when the schedule toughens up."
The schedule has toughened up. Saturday's emphatic 3-1 loss at Toronto means Montreal have won just one of their last six, and while they're still above the playoff line, both the Reds and D.C. United are closing.
The issue with Montreal is simple: When they try to attack, they're far too vulnerable defensively. When they decide they want to defend, they generate next to nothing in attack – it's just hit long balls and hope for an Ignacio Piatti miracle on the counter. There is neither balance, nor the ability to toggle smoothly from defense to possession to transition to attack. They are all one thing, or all the other, and usually that's not enough to beat good teams.
TFC look like they're on the verge of becoming a "good team" once again:
But between them and D.C., I think it's United who have the better shot of catching pipping the Impact for sixth place. TFC's schedule is just too tough.
4. I say that even though United lost 1-0 at RBNY on Sunday evening. It was not unexpected given the venue and the opposition, and truth be told 1-1 might have been a more fair result.
The Red Bulls continue to look less good than they have. I think it's because they've lost a bit of their identity. My colleague Bobby Warshaw doesn't quite agree with that:
"They are made to run teams over. And it’s easier to run teams over when you really care. And until then, they are tweaking things.
"Maybe they are worse and we can look back and say it was obvious, but I think there’s just as equal a chance that this is all irrelevant because none of it matters when they go to ATL."
Another way of saying it: RBNY have come up short in big games over the last four years because they've only had one club in the bag. Right now they're working on adding a second club, and are willing to suffer some minor short-term pain (which was on display midweek) for the potential long-term gain.
- It was their seventh straight win, something only one other MLS team has done in the post-shootout era
- It was their first regular-season win in Portland in four years
- It got them above the playoff line for the first time all season
- It knocked the Timbers below the playoff line for the first time in four months
Portland didn't have many ideas in the final 15 minutes of this one after going down 1-0, and while they're still a team that's tough to break down, their lack of a Plan B is starting to take a real toll. Since that six-game winning streak back in May, they've gone just 4-4-5 in league play, and teams have figured out that if you don't give them transition opportunities, they can't get out and run the ball right down your throats.
Here is their passing map for those final 15 minutes:
Green arrows are completed passes, red are incomplete and yellow are key passes (passes that lead to a shot). That's a lot of crosses in any context. It's a suicidally high number of crosses against a three-man central defense of Chad Marshall, Roman Torres and Kim Kee-Hee.
None of this is fatal for Portland as of yet. They still have games in hand, by the eye test I still think they're a top five team in the West, and given their schedule they very much control their own fate.
That control is just starting to slip away a little bit, and the losing streak probably needs to stop on Wednesday night. If it doesn't, then trouble's coming.
2. Nobody should've expected to see Minnesota United go to Children's Mercy Park and attempt to press Sporting KC, but that's exactly what happened in what eventually became a 2-0 SKC win on Saturday night.
It obviously makes some sense: They were without Darwin Quintero, and when they're without Darwin Quintero they're hopeless. New DP Angelo Rodriguez played another ineffective 90, and so their best bet was to try to push up and create offense through their defense. It made sense.
It didn't work, though. SKC weren't dominant, but they were better. And they've now posted four straight shutouts, and four straight wins, and are breathing down FC Dallas's neck at the top of the West.
1. And finally, our Face of the Week goes to the Quakes bench after blowing a 2-0 lead in what became a 3-2 loss, at home, to the Whitecaps:
"I thought I was in rock-bottom before. I found it again."
Those are the words of Chris Wondolowski, who was not able to rescue this team in a cameo as a sub.
The 'Caps are still in the playoff hunt, on 37 points and with an outside shot of getting it done in the West. The Quakes, with 17 points through 25 games, are on track for one of the worst seasons in league history.