Jozy Altidore had two goals, while Michael Bradley added a goal and an assist. Landon Donovan came off the bench and score – of course he did – two minutes later, stealing the show on national TV. Sacha Kljestan, Benny Feilhaber and Ricardo Clark all picked up assists. DaMarcus Beasley played one of his best games of the year, and Tim Howard stood impossibly tall in net when he was called upon.
It was as if the US men's national team, circa 2010 or so, decided to take center stage all at once. I'll even go ahead and include Juan Agudelo (he was that season's teenaged "flavor of the week" talent for the fanbase) in the mix, since he picked up another assist as the Revs picked up another win.
These are MVP candidates and Comeback Player of the Year candidates and Best XI candidates. They are the past, but they are all still the present and many of them will be the future as well. That is the narrative for this weekend, a story driven home by Donovan's exclamation point of an equalizer (see the video above for more on that).
With that said: Jordan Morris scored his 10th goal on Saturday, becoming just the second American rookie in the league's history to hit double-digits. Jack Harrison, the No. 1 overall pick, grabbed two assists – and the second was to Khiry Shelton, who was 2015's No. 2 overall pick. That year's No. 1 overall pick, Cyle Larin, grabbed his 14th goal.
It is easy to slip into one narrative at the expense of the bigger picture. In this case the big picture paints a league of veterans grinding through the late-summer heat, but doing so side-by-side with younger teammates who are shouldering increasingly large responsibilities.
Some of the above guys (Polster and Shelton were born seven months after Agudelo) aren't that young, and some (Davies!) are impossibly so. Players mature into their roles at different speeds, as has always been the case.
That said: These guys are every bit as much the present and the future as the guys in my lede paragraph. Enjoy them all because this was a hell of a weekend of MLS.
Let's take a look around:
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Kelyn Rowe and Agudelo undressed the Montreal Impact by 3-1 at Stade Saputo on Saturday, largely silencing that bell the 1642MTL supporters group loves to ring.
It was savage from the Revs, who could've won by three or four if the woodwork had been a little bit more kind to Agudelo. It was also very probably necessary in the wake of Tuesday's 4-2 loss at Dallas in the US Open Cup final, since losing that particular game tends to take the wind out of any team's sails (Union fans, who remember the last two Octobers, are nodding right now). They needed the bounce-back and got it.
Jay Heaps tinkered once again, moving to something that looked like a 4-3-2-1 and thus getting Agudelo, Rowe, Fagundez, Lee Nguyen and Kei Kamara all onto the field together in roles where they could do damage.
I'm not sure it mattered, though. New England probably could have lined up in a 6-3-1 because this is how Montreal defended:
And this is how and why the Impact have gone from one of the league's best teams in the spring to a group that should maybe be a little bit worried about their playoff spot with autumn just hours away. Montreal are on 38 points, and the Revs are now on 36. D.C. and Orlando City are on 34, and only two of those four teams are going to make the dance.
I still think it'll be the Impact – a four-point cushion goes a long way in a league where nearly a third of the games end in draws. But there's no reason to be certain there'll be a postseason in Montreal since this team allows opponents to just stroll up the field and hit passes like that.
It's been a recurring probably for the last four months and is the other shoe that drops when a player like Didier Drogba is signed. Drogba scored yet again and he's now got 10 goals and 5 assists in 1540 minutes, which is a DP-caliber return on investment. His lack of defensive range, however, has made the Impact so easy to play through, and as a result they've suffered defensively whenever he's on the field.
Compounding the issue is that guys like Ignacio Piatti, Harry Shipp and Lucas Ontivero, all of whom started, are not the types to make up for someone else's defensive shortcomings, and the over-30 defensive midfield duo of Hernan Bernardello and Marco Donadel don't have the wheels to cover the giant gaps that appear because of it. And thus you get Scott Caldwell gliding into 40 yards of space before putting Kamara and Agudelo through.
Scarier, though, is the lack of cohesion in the team. No pressure on the ball, and the defense playing a high line, and one central defender going with the threat while the other drops...
That's madness. And I'm not sure where it came from (it's not all right to blame all of this on Drogba's unbalancing defensive effect) because this is not the team Montreal were in the spring.
"It keeps going, especially at home," head coach Mauro Biello said afterward. "We can see the fragility of the team here. Obviously, getting scored on after only 30 seconds is not normal. It starts to play in your head. We did not execute defensively, we did not mark properly."
Indeed. They are 0-3-1 with a -8 goal differential in their last four home games and have basically given back the points with good recent road results at Toronto and at Philly. They have put themselves in a precarious position when the last three months should instead have been about fighting with TFC, NYCFC and the Red Bulls for the Eastern Conference title.
They've had their horse shot out from under them at what should've been a moment of triumph. Now it's about survival.
The top six teams in the Supporters' Shield race all drew this weekend, because this is MLS. For some – Dallas, who shook off their title hangover to get a point at NYCFC – the draw probably felt like a win. For others – Colorado, who couldn't crack San Jose's code – it almost certainly felt like a loss.
Who wants to guess what it felt like for Toronto? The Reds came back from a two-goal home deficit to draw 3-3 against the visiting Red Bulls, a result that keeps them top of the East, but also significantly damages their Shield hopes. It was a game that reaffirmed Altidore's bona fides as the hottest goalscorer in the league and arguably the best all-around forward, and it was a game that spoke to the depth the team's built through good drafts and a great academy.
It was a result that hinged on a smart tactical move from Greg Vanney, who abandoned the 4-4-2 diamond early in the second half, sacrificing a central defender in order to move to a 3-5-2 with a pair of true wingbacks and thus forcing New York to defend touchline to touchline, subsequently reducing the effectiveness of the visitors' high pressure.
Forget the goal. Look, instead, at the field position of the RBNY players when Delgado turns the ball over:
Eight of the nine visible Red Bulls are on the strong side. TFC tried repeatedly to shove the ball into that particular gap and paid for it in very real and measurable ways... and then they didn't.
Putting wide players out there to get chalk on their boots was the right move from Vanney, and doing so opened up space for Bradley (who, despite his box score stats, wasn't particularly sharp) to make this play:
A defense that's moving around is a defense that's in at least a little bit of trouble, and the 3-5-2 was invented as a way to destroy teams that clog central midfield. Switching to it was the right call.
"The truth is they threw everything at us, went three in the back and had players out wide and tried to put us under pressure," Kljestan said afterward. "And they did a good job of it."
New York have a lot of answers too, of course. I should have opened the this segment with this tidbit: Bradley Wright-Phillips got his 19th and 20th goals today, and in so doing became the first player in league history to have multiple 20+ goal seasons. If Altidore's the hottest forward in the league then BWP's the most consistent. Kljestan, meanwhile, got his 16th assist, and became the first since Carlos Valderrama to have 30 or more assists across two seasons. Sean Davis had another strong game, as did Muyl, as did Daniel Royer.
But they're left with the same questions now that they had last week, and three weeks ago, and five times in their last 10 games:
Bigger story from that one than the result: Frank Lampard came out before halftime with what looked very much like a left calf injury, which is the same calf that kept him out at the start of the season and plagued him in 2015 as well.
Patrick Vieira compensated by shifting Tommy McNamara into Lampard's spot and putting Shelton in on the wing. If Lampard's missing time over the next month, expect to see more of that look.
Can McNamara play that role? I think so, since his game is – like Lampard's – based upon the speed of his brain rather than the speed of his legs. Shelton, meanwhile, looks ready: His output of 3g/6a in just under 1000 minutes compares favorably to any winger in the league on a per-90 basis.
Still, Lampard's loss shouldn't be ignored. They're 8-4-3 when he starts this year, and 4-5-6 when he doesn't. One of those is a playoff team, and the other isn't.
So the pressure's on the kids. So far, at least, they've lived up to it