Just time for a quick run through the Wednesday night games, and we'll start with the last of the evening first:
The Sounders dominated for 93 minutes and 45 seconds. That included a lovely build-up on the game's first goal, which was reminiscent of last year's Seattle team that ran to the MLS Cup upon Nicolas Lodeiro's arrival (volume up for analysis):
Armchair Analyst: Morris's movement created a huge gap in the OCSC backline, so Lodeiro dimed Bruin for the goal pic.twitter.com/S04yRRqDEK— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) June 22, 2017
Seattle actually moved the ball quite well in this one, often flowing from back-to-front and opening up the Orlando City defense. Their own poor finishing and another USMNT-worthy performance in net from Joe Bendik is what kept the scoreline respectable.
And then some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad defending deep into stoppage time cost them two points. I'm still struggling to figure out how and why the Sounders had only two guys marking three OCSC players at the near post, which naturally resulted in an open header for Scott Sutter and an equalizer that had to feel like a gut-punch for the hosts.
So the Sounders finish the first half of this year the way they started it: Finishing poorly and producing disappointing results that belie the talent on the team. Through 17 games they're eighth in the Western Conference on points per game, which is not ideal title-defense form.
As for the visitors... take the point and run. The Purple Lions have now won just once in their last 10 league games, and they're probably going to be exhausted for Saturday's trip to Chicago. But they're still comfortably above the red line in the East, and are surviving – if not quite thriving – in 180 minutes without Cyle Larin thus far.
Elsewhere in Cascadia things are... well, they're no better. Technically they're not worse – Portland are still above the red line, and sit sixth in the West on PPG – but they have the West's worst record over the last 10 games across all competitions (2-6-2).
Injuries, international call-ups and inconsistent defense have all been culprits. But it's not like the glittery attack has made up for the above in the way that seemed inevitable when the Timbers burst out of the gate in March. Instead they've regressed, and have scored just 12 goals in that 10-game run.
In a vacuum "12 goals in 10 games" is not catastrophically bad, but Portland's rickety defense has needed bailing out pretty often. Pretty often, they haven't gotten it.
MNUFC, by the way, did a wonderful job of driving right at that mismatched Timbers' central defense:
That's just lovely from Kevin Molino, who continues to show he was worth the king's ransom in GAM and TAM MNUFC paid for him. Christian Ramirez, meanwhile, just keeps thinking the game faster than the defenders he's going up against.
LA Galaxy academy product Jack McBean scored two goals. LA Galaxy academy product Bradford Jamieson IV drew the game-icing penalty. LA Galaxy academy product Jose Villarreal's high pressure forced the turnover that led to the opening goal. LA Galaxy academy products Nathan Smith and Jaime Villarreal had solid-if-unspectacular games at right back and central midfield, respectively.
This is how it was supposed to be for the Galaxy, who pioneered the #PlayYourKids thing in a lot of ways. Their academy has been one of the league's best for a decade, and they were the first team to sign Homegrowns in bunches, and they were the first to create their own USL team in order to make certain said Homegrowns got plenty of professional minutes in order to translate that investment into first-team performances.
Except it hasn't really been that way for LA. None of the above guys has ever broken through for regular minutes with the first-team, and only now – after injuries to five starters, and with a sixth at the Confederations Cup in Russia – are they getting significant run.
And they're coming through. LA are now unbeaten in nine games across all competition, and the years those guys spent together with Los Dos was, at times, readily apparent in how comfortable they were playing out of the back:
There were other sequences similar to this, including the one that led to the PK Jamieson drew. LA aren't out there playing tiki-taka, but they're out there trusting each other now. Earlier in the season, when they had multiple guys on the field trying to play hero-ball, that was decidedly not the case.
Unkind words have been written about D.C.'s attack this year, which is understandable given how, um, non-threatening they've generally been. But now Patrick Nyarko is back and things are starting to get better, and the poor Five Stripes had to be on the receiving end of it once again.
Nyarko, more than Lucho Acosta or Patrick Mullins, was the catalyst behind last season's great three-month closing kick. Ok that's not entirely fair: Nyarko, Acosta and Mullins together, along with Lloyd Sam, produced some irresistibly great offense that picked United up from the dregs of the East all the way to fourth place. But Nyarko was the most important piece.
Those guys haven't been healthy and on the pitch all together this year, and D.C. have little functional depth at those spots, and thus you have a season that's felt mostly like a torture chamber. Not so on Wednesday, though (volume up for analysis):
Nyarko was doing this all night. It's not often that a winger is the most influential player on the pitch – by their nature, they just get the ball less than central midfielders. However Nyarko, when he's in full flight, actually is this guy. He drifts inside to get on the ball and eliminate defenders off the dribble then creates chances at an elite clip, or he drifts back post for a header, or he poaches for a rebound, or he (finally and deservedly) buries a half-volley from the top of the box.
If you go back and watch D.C. during the second half of last season, Nyarko was their best player and it wasn't close. They've missed him and needed him back, and they probably need to keep playing at this level if they're going to claw their way back into the playoff race in the East.
It seems impossible, but the fact is they're just four points out and they've done this exact thing before.