While Atlanta United were busy lifting Campeones Cup in a thrilling 3-2 win over Club America, while Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact booked their places in the Canadian Championship final, there were five MLS games on.
A lot happened. It was a typically wild Wednesday in the league. Given how kindly the matchups fell -- staggered, with no two games kicking off at the same time -- let's pause on the normal midweek takeaways structure and take a look at each game.
Orlando City SC 1, Sporting Kansas City 0
Jimmy Medranda playing center forward (yes, you read that correctly). Orlando City playing center backs at both fullback spots for 85 minutes. Blue Man Group partying with The Wall at halftime (!). This is the kind of midweek shenanigans MLS nerds dream of.
Orlando kept their playoff hopes alive — a home loss against Sporting with a fullback playing striker would have been tough to swallow — but didn't look overly convincing. After Sporting got stretched, they should have found a killer goal but didn't. Dom Dwyer missed from six yards again early on, bringing his conversion rate of big chances to 3 for 14 (21%). Not great.
The good news? Nani as a free-roaming No. 10 was interesting, perhaps what his game is best suited for at the moment, even if he'll inevitably drift to the wing where he's played his whole career. How James O'Connor fits Mauricio Pereyra into the starting XI is going to be interesting. What tweaks will be made?
As for Sporting, the Medranda experience was a ton of fun. I'm all for letting hard-working defenders get a shift at center forward for a pure entertainment value. Not so much in a sporting sense, definitely not in a long-term sporting sense. They also have leaned into a lower line of confrontation than they used to. They hardly stepped past the midfield circle to defend, which is a normal counter to a team struggling heavily defensively.
Minnesota United 1, Colorado Rapids 0
The Colorado Rapids are a difficult team to beat. They've been good under interim head coach Conor Casey because they've played simpler, and in turn, more free. What they do well, though, didn't line up against Minnesota.
They have done most of their work on transition and set pieces. Transition? Meet one of the league's greatest ever midfield destroyers in Ozzie Alonso. Set pieces? That's Ike Opara's dojo, fellas. Still, they made Minnesota work for the three points and the Loons earned it. Now they're in second place in the congested Western Conference.
Kevin Molino was really good. He had a beautiful assist, created a penalty with a smart, early cross and should have had at least another assist. Minnesota also missed Mason Toye. Angelo Rodriguez is a different type of striker, Robin Lod is a No. 10-type playing on the wing and Darwin Quintero has morphed fully into a No. 10 this year than last, where he was a nine-and-a-half. Often, they had no one stretching the field with that collection of players (and Ethan Finlay on the bench.) Separation makes the heart grow fonder.
The good news for Colorado? The Rapids have laid a blueprint to struggling teams that make a coaching change early on. Sure, they weren't mathematically eliminated after their winless start under Anthony Hudson, but it was far from likely. So, they acquired a couple of younger players, played more exciting and have tangible building blocks for 2020. Tangible progress.
Real Salt Lake 3, Seattle Sounders 0
Real Salt Lake are a fun team, it needs to be said with greater frequency. More importantly? They're good. With the comprehensive win over Seattle, RSL are now fourth place in the Western Conference. That's legit.
But back to the fun. They have an exciting, interchangeable attacking quartet and have three players lethal from distance. It was Albert Rusnak on Wednesday, but it easily could have been Damir Kreilach or Jefferson Savarino taking aim from deep. They have dribblers, they have pace. When RSL are on, it's a wonderful viewing experience.
Seattle, meanwhile, are not trending in the right direction. They went for a new 3-5-2, which was an interesting wrinkle and ostensibly could have worked — clog the middle, give Raul Ruidiaz support and move Nico Lodeiro further forward — but it didn't work quite that way. Lodeiro wasn't freed to play further forward, at times dropping deeper than he normally has this season to initiate possession.
Lodeiro is a really, really good player, so he's really, really good at a lot of things. He's fine at initiating possession from deep, but, it's really not the most valuable way to use a player of his ability. If you're a fan of RSL, how happy are you when Lodeiro picks up the ball between the center backs in his own half?
LA Galaxy 2, FC Dallas 0
It was a weird game for the LA Galaxy, in the sense that for much of the game they seemed lesser than the sum of their parts. By that mark, the Galaxy have had a lot of weird games in 2019. They still don't know how to get the most out of their talent.
Then, it all came together for a sequence as the Galaxy flashed their ceiling. Starting in their own half with a throw in, they ripped through an efficient five-pass sequence featuring quick combination between Favio Alvarez, Jorgen Skjelvik and Cristian Pavon before ending in a tap in for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. How will they find those moments with consistent regularity?
It doesn't look like it'll come with their starting formation, featuring Julian Araujo as an out-and-out winger. At times, it was a 4-2-3-1 with Araujo playing the way Uriel Antuna might. Other times, it was a 4-4-1-1 with Efra Alvarez drifting between the lines. Still, for all their apparent rough edges, they're finding ways to get points. They ended the night tied for third place in the West.
Dallas slipped below the playoff line thanks to the Timbers' win over Chicago. They've played a game or two more than all the teams they're trailing, as well. They only play three teams currently above the playoff line for the rest of the season, though.
Where will the goals come from?
Portland Timbers 3, Chicago Fire 2
Two brief spells of concern, but an otherwise staid three points for the Timbers. On this 10-game home swing it's what they need and, through two games, it's what they're getting. Portland are over the playoff line and figure to stay there through the season's end, with all the aforementioned home games. It should have been a little easier, being 2-0 up when the Fire got a red card, but the result never seemed in doubt.
Right back Jorge Moreira has quickly become a vital part of the Timbers and what they do, even without his well-taken goal on Wednesday. He's all-action, all the time and owns the right flank. Every game, his impact on the team grows. Another player who is vital to the team? Larrys Mabiala. He exited injured in the first half, which would be a huge loss for Portland if he misses an extended period of time.
Also: It's just been this kind of season for Brian Fernandez. Of course he scored while swinging and missing.
This felt like a missed opportunity for the Fire to fully rotate. A midweek game at Providence Park is never an easy matchup, particularly so with the quality Portland possess this year. Chicago have a string of matches against Eastern Conference foes, critical for their slim playoff hopes. Most of their first-choice XI just chased the Timbers around a man-down. Aleksandar Katai is suspended for the weekend's game after being shown a red on Wednesday.
Still, you can't take away their fight in Portland. It was impressive. They could have folded and got their teeth kicked in, already down two goals and down a man. But they didn't — it's what they'll have to build from heading into the weekend.