Bogert: Toronto's Pozuelo experiment and more we learned on Wednesday

Jackson Yueill, Tommy Thompson, Vako - San Jose Earthquakes - Close up

What a packed night of soccer, with -- wait, OH MY! WAYNE ROONEY DID THE THING!!!

It took seven words to get to that highlight, and honestly, that was probably six words too many. A lot of great things happened, a lot of interesting things, too, but nothing better than that goal from Rooney, which happened to be the lone goal in a 1-0 win for D.C. United over Orlando City

That was one of six MLS matches on the evening that kicked off Week 18, here's what you need to know from the other five.

Alejandro Pozuelo, false nine

First of all, Toronto vs. Atlanta was absolutely bonkers. It had a first-minute goal, four first-half goals, two stoppage-time penalties — one controversial and the other after the final whistle blew — but once the dust settled, Toronto emerged with their first win in nine games. Boy, did Toronto need those three points, but they only came through after Atlanta's Pity Martinez missed a penalty in the 98th minute (more on that in a second) to seal Toronto's 3-2 win

Alejandro Pozuelo lined up as a false No. 9 in a super fluid attack for TFC. The experiment worked well, aided by that first-minute goal, as Pozuelo popped up all over the pitch to influence the game. With two goals and four key passes, he did just that: 

“I used Poz as a false nine because I wanted him to come off the backline to help us overload the midfield and that would help us to create some numbers wide," Vanney said after the game. "Because we kept our No. 8s wider, working with our wide guys. When those 8s were running through the backline, we opened up balls to our wing players and they were able to hit balls across the face of the goal. It’s something I envisioned for a long time."

Conspicuously, though, it's Vanney trying something different than either of his backup strikers in Terrence Boyd and Jordan Hamilton, behind Jozy Altidore (who was busy scoring a bike for the USMNT.) Is Pozuelo at false nine sustainable until Altidore returns from the Gold Cup?

Still waiting for the "PITY MARTINEZ!" game

Bogert: Toronto's Pozuelo experiment and more we learned on Wednesday -

You know what I mean. 

Pity, without Josef Martinez, Tito Villalba and Ezequiel Barco, undoubtedly was expected to lead the Atlanta attack against Toronto. He scored a first-half penalty, and seemed aggressive, but faded before his costly miss from the spot to end the game. 

He now has just two goals and two assists in 14 appearances (10 starts). 

It hasn't come off just yet for the reigning South American Player of the Year and MLS-record transfer. It sounds a bit familiar, though, doesn't it? Barco didn't exactly fly out of the gates with Atlanta last year. More time should be the elixir for Martinez, but, how long will they have to wait?  

The top of the East is wide open...

... every team has holes. Andrew Wiebe tackled this to great effect a few days ago. The Philadelphia Union could have taken a stranglehold on the conference but they are just two points ahead of D.C. and Montreal. Philly drew the New England Revolution 1-1, needing a late equalizer to get a point. It's not a bad result by any means, but it means they have two wins in their last five. 

The thing is, the best version of Philly features a healthy and in-form Marco Fabian, who has been limited to just six starts this season. The best version of their team features a dependable goalscorer, perhaps Andrew Wooten, just signed from the German second tier. We haven't seen their peak form, which is fine because it's June and not October. But, in October, some of these dropped points may mean an extra road game or two in the playoffs. 

The Earthquakes are over the playoff line

With their 2-0 win over Houston, the Earthquakes are officially over the playoff line. Friendly reminder: This is largely the same roster that finished bottom of MLS in 2018 and lost their first four games of 2019 with a -12 goal difference. The Matias Almeyda impact is in full effect. 

Are they overperforming, or will they just continue to get better? Carlos Fierro has been signed and the club is being linked with Argentine forward Andres Rios. What happens after a few transfer windows and Almeyda has a squad with his imprint? 

A random, partially irrelevant observation: The Quakes have a ton of fun set-piece plays (see Vako's first goal). Almeyda is entering Jesse Marsch levels of creativity from dead balls. It's the littles things.  

Holy squad rotation!

Bogert: Toronto's Pozuelo experiment and more we learned on Wednesday -

A midweek cross-country match between two home fixtures for the Portland Timbers certainly suggested some rotation would be afoot, but Gio Savarese decided to go all the way. Savarese made eight changes to the weekend winning side, not even naming Diego Valeri, Brian Fernandez, Sebastian Blanco and Larrys Mabiala to the bench. The young Timbers side fell 2-1 to the Montreal Impact.

It was a key decision; the other side of the back-loaded, home-heavy schedule. They are sprinting downhill with momentum and picking up points at Providence Park, but the congestion means more midweek games. What do you do? Rotate a few players at a time or swap 'em all out for one match? 

Still alive in the U.S. Open Cup, the Timbers will have even more games on the schedule. Right now, they can afford risking a road loss at Montreal to keep legs fresh and maximize opportunities at home. Given the momentum and proximity to seventh place, they should be fine. It's a smart calculated risk.

Another Whitecaps comeback

Bogert: Toronto's Pozuelo experiment and more we learned on Wednesday -

For the second time in four days, the Vancouver Whitecaps stared down the barrel of a 2-0 deficit. For the second time in four days, they clawed out a 2-2 draw. Wednesday's effort against FC Dallas away from home may have been more impressive. 

The game looked like it was over when Dallas scored their second in the 59th minute, but then Yordy Reyna got one back for the 'Caps and they kept fighting until the final whistle. Lucas Venuto laced the equalizer four minutes into stoppage time, keeping the Whitecaps' six-game unbeaten run alive. Unfortunately, though, five of those six results are draws. The real significance of the 2-2 draw: Dallas remain only six points ahead of the Whitecaps.

It's never say die for Marc Dos Santos' side. 

Midweek Nuggets

  • Golazos everywhere. Rooney will get most headlines, but check out these efforts from Vako's deft touch, Orji Okwonkwo's volley and Venuto's late equalizer
  • Do teams need to proactively sub against Ilsinho when he enters the field? It might be time to have a plan for the inevitable. Revs left back Edgar Castillo did as well as anyone has recently, yet he still let him slip by on a couple of occasions. PSA: Don't leave anyone 1v1 with Ilsinho. 
  • Steven Birnbaum was omnipresent for D.C. United against Orlando; What a performance from the defender. 
  • Another young player to watch in MLS: Toronto’s 19-year-old Jacob Shaffelburg, who had an assist in his first MLS start and was a bright spot down the left wing for TFC.  
  • Bruce Arena lined the Revs up in a 4-2-3-1 in his first home match in charge. A sign of things to come?
  • Andrew Carleton forgot his passport prior to Atlanta's trip north of the border and couldn't join the team for their game. One would imagine this is not what Frank de Boer had in mind when he publicly said the midfielder had to grow up to realize his potential.