One week. Five straight nights of games, seven of them derbies. And this Heineken Rivalry Week had more than bragging rights on the line: the playoff picture is becoming more clear – or hazy, if your club is on the outside looking in and have tears in your eyes.
Here are the three big winners:
Let’s make a checklist of what the Sounders accomplished with their 1-0 victory over Portland on Saturday:
- Moved over the playoff line for the first time this season
- Pushed Portland below the playoff line for the first time in months
- Achieved the second seven-game win streak in MLS streak in the post-shootout era
- Locked down their fifth shutout in nine games
- Put the rest of the Western Conference on notice
For me, the victory over Portland marks their first “Oh, wow!” win during this six-game blitz. Some doubters – me – had worried that they don’t seem to have a specific style to their play. And some people – like me – worried that a team without a style is a team destined to crash at some point. But the Sounders are proving that maybe it just doesn’t matter.
Gio Savarese told reporters after the game that “[Portland] were completely dominating the match” until Seattle scored. And he’s right. But the Sounders have pulled these games out for the (second half of the) last three years. So it’s clearly more than luck.
I crave order and I don’t like or trust when I see things I can’t explain, so I’m not quite to the point of buying the Sounders stock. But you can be sure Dallas, Sporting KC, and LAFC watched Sunday’s game and double-checked their upcoming schedules. Only Sporting will be facing Seattle before the end of the regular season.
Josef Martinez celebrating for Atlanta United. | Dale Zanine - USA Today Images
The Five Stripes picked up another three points in one of the most heated rivalries in MLS, winning 2-1 at Orlando on Friday. The win kept Atlanta undefeated against the Lions in their six derby matches. After the game, Josef Martinez was pretty honest about how he felt about the rivalry in what is one of the all-time best MLS quotes:
Martinez broke the single-season goal scoring record with his game-winning goal on Friday night. He now has 28 on the year and surpassed Bradley Wright-Phillips, Chris Wondolowski, and Roy Lassiter. And he has eight games left in the season to add to that.
The win also extends Atlanta’s unbeaten streak to seven MLS games overall – they have only lost once since May. To boot, they also watched their main challengers for the Supporters’ Shield, NYCFC and the Red Bulls, each drop points in their 1-1 NY Derby draw.
But none of that fully encapsulates Atlanta’s week, because the true essence of what makes Atlanta special extends beyond the field.
Atlanta aren’t just a club that win; they are a club that makes statements. Martinez didn’t just break the record, he annihilated it. He didn’t just score the record-breaking goal on Joe Bendik, he looked him down after he did it. He doesn’t just score goals, he provides a swagger we rarely find in the league. Josef is who Atlanta United are: confident, lethal, and cool.
Friday's goal didn’t just put Martinez on the Mount Rushmore of MLS goal scorers, it exemplified who Atlanta United want to be as a club. Atlanta have won plenty of big games this year, but to set a record the way Josef set a record, there’s not much a team can do to match that.
Sebastian Giovinco is back in form for TFC. | USA Today Images
Toronto’s season wasn’t exactly on the line Saturday night against Montreal, but it was close. If Toronto had lost, Montreal would have moved 12 points ahead of the Reds. TFC’s 3-1 victory, though, means there’s only a six-point gap between the teams. The Canadian Classique was the perfect example of a six-point swing.
It was also a “must-win” game if you look at Toronto’s schedule moving forward. Matt Doyle wrote in his Sunday column: “... between [Toronto] and D.C., I think it's United who have the better shot of catching pipping the Impact for sixth place. TFC's schedule is just too tough.”
And he’s right. Toronto have Portland (away), LAFC (home), Galaxy (home), Red Bulls (away), D.C. (away), and Atlanta (home) as six of their final nine games. Head coach Greg Vanney said the team needed seven more wins to make the playoffs heading into the Montreal game. Montreal provided one of the easier wins left.
Saturday’s win in the Canadian Classique doesn’t get Toronto out of the woods, but it keeps the flashlight in their hands.