National Writer: Charles Boehm

El Brujo's banger, RSL's road form & more from midweek Matchday 20


If you struggled to keep up with Wednesday's packed slate of MLS action (which ran even longer thanks to multiple weather delays) or just needed to do other things with your night, we've got you covered.

Here's a rundown of some notable moments, trends and #MLSAfterDark talking points from across Matchday 20's dozen games.

Our colleagues at MLS Season Pass have you covered with MLS Wrap-Up as well.

Real Road Warriors

That cauldron of noise and color at CITYPARK that’s been powering St. Louis CITY SC’s surprisingly strong start to life in MLS? Real Salt Lake tamed it with ease on Wednesday, playing over, around and through STL’s high press in a 3-1 W that is RSL’s MLS-best fifth away win of the season:

Two calm finishes from Damir Kreilach and a first career MLS goal for U-20 World Cup standout Diego Luna – who made a strong case here for earning more regular playing time – provided the margin of victory. Unlike many positive road results in this league, where home-field advantage is historically stronger than other North American professional sports, this was no smash-and-grab. The visitors were superior in most statistical categories and managed their lead with composure.

“Just a little bit leggy, just a little bit slow in the thought process, just a little bit delayed in our actions. And unfortunately, as a collective, we let our principles get away for certain moments, and yeah, individuals from the opponent team find spaces, little pockets of space to penalize and hurt us, because if our principles don't succeed in a 2v1 mentality, it gets interesting for the opponent.”

RSL are now up to seventh place in the West, which begs the question: Why can’t they play like this at home, where they’re 2W-4L-3D? Pablo Mastroeni and his staff will surely be digging into that ahead of Minnesota United’s visit to Utah this Saturday.

Brujo bomb, finally

José "El Brujo" Martínez is a defensive midfielder, and a damn good one, maybe the league’s best, for the Philadelphia Union. What he is not, alas, is a regular goalscorer:

So what a perfect encapsulation of MLS midweek madness it is that the Venezuelan international would defy that track record of fruitless potshots from distance with an absolute piledriver in the dying minutes of Philly’s visit to Orlando City, snatching a resourceful 2-2 draw:

You just can’t hit a ball more sweetly than that. After hearing plenty of boos from the Exploria Stadium crowd all night, Brujo was clearly delighted to play the heel here.

The Lions led this one 2-0 in the second half, only to let the win slip away, and head coach Oscar Pareja was particularly aggrieved by a Video Review decision that waved off an Iván Angulo goal – for a foul in the buildup by Ercan Kara on, yes, Martínez – that would’ve extended Orlando’s lead to 3-1:

Caught slipping

Orlando were hardly the only side to blow a lead on Wednesday. Charlotte FC raced out to an early 2-0 advantage over the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey on the strength of an impressive brace from Ben Bender in what RBNY head coach Troy Lesesne later called an “unacceptable” first-half display from his squad.

Then the Red Bulls overwhelmed their guests after the intermission, tilting the field and racking up chances, two of which were eventually converted by Dante Vanzeir and Cam Harper to earn a 2-2 draw for RBNY. CLTFC had little choice but to be content with the outcome, and their efforts to bleed the clock down the stretch suggested they realized as much.

The same scoreline unfolded in Atlanta and Carson, California, thanks to injury-time equalizers in both. Gabi Pereira gave New York City FC a dream start at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with this clever 1v1 finish in literally the first minute:

ATLUTD responded immediately via Tyler Wolff’s fourth goal in his last seven matches, but Pereira struck again after halftime to restore the Pigeons’ lead.

Then, just when it seemed NYCFC’s nine-game winless skid in league play had reached its end, Nick Firmino – an MLS NEXT Pro standout signed to the first team on a short-term contract just this week – played the hero with a last-gasp equalizer to spark bedlam at the Benz:

Later, out in southern California, it was Alan Pulido grabbing the microphone to inflict another round of torture on the LA Galaxy. So much went right for the Gs against Sporting Kansas City: Martin Cáceres nodded home a set piece, striker Preston Judd stepped up to score in the wake of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s season-ending knee injury, Riqui Puig was dropping dimes and Jonathan Bond made a couple of nice saves.

And yet… all it took was one small slip during injury time, and SKC were gifted a last-second penalty kick that Pulido calmly converted to make it 2-2.

Lightning round

In truth, weather was the real star of MD20.

While extreme heat was a pressing concern in both matches on Texas soil, intense thunderstorms roiling across the Lone Star State and Colorado required lengthy delays in Austin FC vs. FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The conditions around the latter game proved so relentless as to necessitate a postponement to another date entirely.

They eventually made it to a full 90 minutes at Q2 Stadium and Shell Energy Stadium, with both home sides rolling to comprehensive victories. Houston’s 4-1 thumping of the Quakes was particularly impressive, as La Naranja nearly quadrupled the Californians' expected-goals number, with Designated Player Héctor Herrera pulling the strings. With a 7W-1L-1D record in Htown, no one in the West has taken more points at home than the Dynamo, and that’s even before the worst of the midsummer heat sets in.

Meanwhile Austin scored three or more goals for the first time since opening day, manhandling Dallas 3-0 to climb above the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line.

Good teams are good at home

File it as a ‘man bites dog’ story if you will, but Wednesday reminded us that one of the fastest paths into the MLS elite is taking care of business at your place.

League-leading FC Cincinnati exploited Toronto FC’s flaws en route to a 3-0 win over the Canadians at TQL Stadium, with Luciano Acosta bagging a goal and an assist to bolster his case for Landon Donovan MLS MVP consideration. That runs Cincy’s home record to an incredible 10W-0L-0D, making them the first team since the 2002 Earthquakes to win their first 10 matches at home to begin a season.

With an also-excellent 7W-1L-0D record in Quebec, CF Montréal have quietly shaken off their brutal early struggles under Hernan Losada to claim a playoff place. This week it was Nashville SC who got victimized, with Bryce Duke slamming home the sole goal in a 1-0 result. And LAFC gave us reasons to believe they’re turning the page on their Concacaf Champions League hangover with a 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders that probably should have ended with a bigger scoreline in their favor.

Kamara focused on history

Chicago Fire FC claimed their first-ever W in Portland (!) with a 2-1 win over the Timbers in an end-to-end match, and they have a 38-year-old striker to thank.

Kei Kamara’s game-winning header, the 144th regular-season goal of his amazing career, moved him one step closer to passing Landon Donovan (145 goals) on the all-time scoring list, with Chris Wondolowski’s record of 171 now looking, if not exactly imminent, at least surprisingly attainable for the charismatic veteran from Sierra Leone.

It was both sweet and symbolic that the assist was served up by Brian Gutiérrez, a teenage homegrown literally young enough to be Kamara’s son. In fact…

“My son will be happy. My son Kendrick loves Brian,” Kamara told reporters with a smile postgame. “All he talks about is Gutiérrez, Gutiérrez. When I tell him that, he's probably celebrating the fact that he passed me the ball.

“He's a great player. When he plays in the middle of the field, he links us and finds the ball, and he knows what to do, and we enjoy doing that. We want to also give him credit for what he's doing when he does have the ball. And again, for me, I love seeing a smile on his face, being a – I'm not going to give myself an elderly name here! But yeah, just being his teammate, so it's good.”